They say you should write what you know. Well, I do.
Last year, I posted a script excerpt from the upcoming second episode of Your Face is a Saxophone. This bit of the script shows off the evolution of Andrew’s character since I wrote the first episode; an evolution which is, for the most part, a careen in the exact same direction.
There’s a very specific reason that I didn’t merely stick to Andrew’s character, but rather turned it up to 11. Shortly after the first episode of Your Face is a Saxophone debuted, my life imitated my art.
In Episode 3, Andrew will make this rant, which is I swear to god almost verbatim something that the person I’m about to tell you about said to me. I can’t make this shit up:
I met a guy — let’s call him Deuce Shmagner, because I’m not looking to call him out by his real name, tempting as it may be — who was running a small, in-person Bitcoin exchange. This was back when Bitcoins were a dollar each, and there was no online way to turn small quantities of them into cash (besides the kinda-sketchy Liberty Reserve option at MtGox). I was raising money for Your Face is a Saxophone at the time through Kickstarter, and some people wanted to donate Bitcoin. For people donating outside of Kickstarter, I was having Dave hold onto the money and pledge it to the project, so it’d end up counting. Hence why I needed to convert the Bitcoin to dollars.
So, I met Deuce in his apartment, sold him my 6 Bitcoin, and we ended up talking. As it turned out, we shared a lot of the same ideas and ideals (or so I thhought at the time). Technological optimism. Money as just a means to an end. Skepticism of authority. An entrepreneurial spirit. A desire to empower people. Deuce ended up watching Your Face is a Saxophone later on, and thought it was brilliant.
Several days later, I was beginning to freak out about finances. I’d burnt through a lot of money working on YFIAS non-stop for the past several months, without any income to offset my expenses. The Kickstarter campaign had stagnated, and the Intarnetz wasn’t nearly as excited about the whole thing as I’d hoped. Living in my parents’ house was taking a psychological toll on me, and I’d no idea where I could get the money to get out.
Then, Deuce spoke to me again. He had a business proposal for me, about selling Bitcoin to people for him and taking commission; if they liked, we’d set them up with a MyBitcoin account, and manage it for them. I responded by saying I had a business proposal of my own: redesigning their website, because despite the fact that they were legit, the site was kind of sketchy looking (For example, describing one’s company as “an extremely reputable Bitcoin dealer” has sort of the opposite effect).
Instead, Deuce told me that their Bitcoin business was a side project, and offered me a job in something more my speed. He and his boyfriend, who we’ll call Ted, were looking to found a new Internet TV network (which we’ll call “DeuceTV”) a la Revision3 or TWiT, but for the masses. There’d still be tech shows, but they’d be aimed at non-geeks, and among a whole slew of others on non-technical, more mainstream topics. And it’d have a global focus, with some Spanish-language shows, and eventually expanding into whichever other languages we could find people to speak. As icing on the cake, it’d all be CC-BY licensed. He wanted me to come on as the VP of Programming.
Pay would be low; they were funding it all from their bank accounts. We agreed on $1200 a month, which was about minimum wage for the hours I’d be working. That was enough to afford rent and food (but not much else) in an apartment I’d found with a friend in Harlem (The hours I was to be working meant commuting from Long Island wasn’t much of an option). It would be tough, but Deuce assured me that this rate would be temporary. Pay would go up as soon as the profits started coming in, which wouldn’t take too long.
We’d work early mornings till noon. After noon, they needed the apartment free for Ted to work as a chiropractor, and Deuce to do, um, IT consulting or something; it was never quite clear. Those were their pay-the-rent jobs. Once DeuceTV was profitable, we’d shift hours.
I was skeptical, but maybe, just maybe, this guy knew what he was doing. And I was desperate to get my own place and start becoming self-sufficient. So I said okay.
It felt good at first. Deuce would greet me with a hug every day I came in, because that’s just how we members of The Homosexual Agenda roll. He was my “boss” technically, but also a friend, it felt like. He and Ted and I could talk to each other on the same level. Just three guys starting up a company together.
It was around day two that everything started to go downhill.
Apparently, we were going to start with twelve shows, and we’d be launching on April 1st. This was on March 1st when Deuce told me this. This prospect was objectively insane.
Oh, but don’t worry, it’s okay, Deuce said. They’re basically going to be the same show, but about different topics. We’ll just sit down in front of these webcams with guests and talk. Or talk about stuff by ourselves. We don’t need “fancy production values”. As you can imagine, this is the point at which my excitement began to evaporate.
You see, I’d taken a look at Deuce and Ted’s previous work. It was blurry, grainy webcam footage of them sitting behind their computers, sometimes with a guest uncomfortably sandwiched between them, or a 4:3 image of a Skype chat stretched onto the 16:9 monitor (aaaagh) behind them. It was completely unedited — there were no titles, no graphics, and no removal of the ten seconds at the beginning where Deuce was pressing the frigging record button and waiting awkwardly for the opening music cue to start. I’d assumed that I was being brought on to improve some of this. Apparently, not to a very great extent.
So, it turned out we were going for quantity-over-quality. There would be nothing to differentiate us from every other amateur videoblogger, and certainly not come out ahead of TWiT or Revision3. And yet somehow this was going to lead to lucrative sponsorship deals.
Oh, but people like me, said Deuce. People don’t care about fancy production values, they just care about the content. Everyone likes to listen to what I say. Lots of people watch my videos. I have thousands of Twitter followers, and they’re totally not all spam bots or people trying to sell Internet Marketing Secrets, I swear. Pay no attention to Oybek, the kid from Uzbekistan who I pay $200 a month to mass-follow people on Twitter and then unfollow them if they don’t follow me back; I’m legitimately popular. We’ll have no problem and we’ll be making lots of money, just like how I said Bitcoins would be worth $1000 each before the end of the year. I know what I’m talking about, because I was a manager at a Fortune 400 company.
Note that he never specified which Fortune 400 company he worked at, nor why he’s the only person in the world who says “Fortune 400″ instead of “500″ or “100″. But I digress.
At this point, I had become what I hated: the guy only in it for the money. A shit amount of money — $1200 a month in Manhattan is nothing — but money nonetheless. The prospect of DeuceTV being anything that I could reasonably be proud of had evaporated by about day four, so I was only putting in the bare minimum amount of work that would get me my pay. Note the word “pay”, not “paycheck” — we’re talking off-the-books cash here, because we’re Libertarians and government is stupid and Ayn Rand is erotica.
Well, okay, I admit, I still had a small glimmer of hope. And you know what, for as aggravating as Deuce was, he was still a nice guy. Even though his business strategies were starting to bother the hell out of me, he still felt like a good friend to have.
Until I would wonder what the fuck I was thinking, after he did something like this:
I was helping Deuce set up a Podtrac account for DeuceTV, and as we looked through the FAQ, there was a question we had that wasn’t answered. I think it was something about iTunes integration, I don’t remember. So he looked up their phone number and called them.
It’s an answering machine. Of course it’s an answering machine, because he’s calling at 8 in the morning. This is the message he leaves:
Hi, this is Deuce Shmagner at DeuceTV, call me back at [whatever his number was].
No mention of the actual question. No reason for them to call us back. Nobody has actually heard of him or DeuceTV, so why is he acting like they have?
I mention these things to him, and he says, “Well, if they don’t call back, that’s their problem.”
Well, no, actually, it’s our problem because we’re the ones who are trying to find out if you know what fuck it I’m not even gonna try.
My cynicism was cemented when we had the SEO discussion. Deuce, through the extremely scientific and empirical means of some PageRank checker website, had determined that WordPress.com has a “nine out of ten PageRank”, whatever the fuck that means. Therefore, we’d need to create individual WordPress blogs for every single show, because that would be search engine gold or someshit.
The problem with WordPress.com is that we’d have limited control over the site design and user experience. If, as Deuce hoped, the ruse worked, and these WordPress blogs catapulted to the top of all sorts of search queries, then people would be confused as hell. They’d see these sites of radically different design to DeuceTV.com, and probably be under the impression that they weren’t affiliated.
I’ve seen some porn sites use tactics like this. Deuce wanted to use it for Oprah-like shows.
I started to get emotional in arguing against this. If, in fact, this search engine voodoo worked, it would be pissing on brand-building for the possibility of short-term ad dollars. To achieve his big social change goals, we didn’t want mindless search engine traffic stumbling on DeuceTV, we wanted people who actually cared about the programming and wanted to see it. Just because you get a lot of pageviews doesn’t mean they’re the ones you want. But who was I kidding? DeuceTV clearly wasn’t about making the world a better place, and Deuce was lying to himself if he thought so.
Anyway, it turned out that Deuce and Ted were going to be on vacation in Spain three weeks into us working together. Apparently they found some kind of travel hacking deal on plane tickets, and invited the entire family along. Great, Deuce, take a big vacation two weeks before launching your company.
Actually, it was okay, because that’s what I was here for. During the week they were gone, I would work from home, building the entire DeuceTV website all by myself, and create motion graphic opening sequences for all twelve motherfucking shows. The latter, I had pushed for — it was the one small concession of “fancy production values” that Deuce had allowed — but it was still quite a lot to do in a week. Especially combined with cobbling together an entire website, something I wasn’t very good at and didn’t really enjoy all that much.
Admittedly, I should have stood up and said it was too much work before accepting the responsibility. But he was paying me seven bucks an hour for it all, so I figured I had room to screw up.
Lo and behold, my work was complicated by a crisis. I don’t want to get too deep into it, but long story short, my roommate was moving us to a new apartment three weeks after I’d just moved into the new one, and didn’t think to tell me about it until it was happening. Also unpaid Con Ed bills and power outages. Needless to say, I was going to have to cut features from the website in order to get it done on time, and only finish motion graphics for the shows we were planning to tape the first week. I emailed Deuce explaining the situation. He didn’t seem to object.
And so, I got a functional and perfectly fine website ready, and prepared graphics for three shows, while somehow managing to scrape by with my mental health. I walked into Deuce’s apartment the day after they got back to New York, and showed off the website.
Deuce was not impressed. And had quite a bit to say to me.
His tirade hit these major points:
- I don’t want to hear about your personal drama in emails. Go gab about it to your girlfriends.
- You’re not paying me. I’m paying you. If you were paying me, then you could tell me what to do. But I tell you what to do because I’m paying you.
- By “telling me what to do”, I’m referring to the fact that you told me that you were going to make cuts from the website. Oh, and that thing with the WordPress blogs last week. That’s not your decision, because I’m paying you.
- Oybek never says “this is how it’s gonna be,” he just says, “yes boss, whatever you say boss”, because Oybek’s not paying me; I’m paying Oybek.
- You know, in Spain, when I was having this really refreshing bath, I was telling Ted, I’m never going to hire anyone again. I’m just going to take unpaid interns, and they’ll have to prove themselves.
- Oh, and by the way, there are lots of people who are desperate to do work for me. Look at Mohammed in Egypt. He’s working for free. I’m not even paying him.
- Maybe we should give you less hours? Because this website doesn’t look like you worked eight hours a day on it, because I was inside your head after all and know exactly how long it took, and if you can’t work eight hours a day, maybe we should pay you less. Or do you want to be an unpaid intern?
- You’re not paying me. I’m paying you.
Now, given the fact that A) I was being treated as a friend throughout this entire endeavor, and B) my job title included “Vice President”, it wasn’t all that unreasonable of me to assume that I could A) actually mention why I would need to make cuts to finish my work, and B) make decisions autonomously. See, Deuce was paying me, but not to work for him — I was working for the company. Or so I’d had every reason to be under that impression.
But I didn’t have my wits about me to say as much at the time. Firstly, I was caught off-guard by this sudden outburst, and secondly, as soon as he started talking about cutting my hours and paying me less, my brain immediately went into calculator mode. With less pay, there would be no way I could afford to stay in my new apartment, and if I couldn’t stay in the apartment, this shit job was hardly worth dragging myself to the Long Island Railroad for.
So, after Deuce finally stopped talking, and a long moment to choose my words, I said, “I realize that there are many people who are desperate for this job, and would do more work than I have for less. But I’m not desperate.” And I walked out.
Not that there actually are all that many people desperate to work with Deuce Shmagner, but hey, I already said I wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the heat of the moment. Technically, Deuce still owes me about $200 for the work I did while he was in Spain, but I was more concerned with getting the fuck out than pressing the issue.
Later, Deuce ended up pissing off the Bitcoin community, and they found out that his last business had been involved in mortgage fraud. He was living in New York because he was on the run from the state of Illinois. So he was a convicted scam artist too. Lovely.
Ultimately, I don’t regret working with Deuce; it was a screenwriting goldmine. I will never, ever again struggle to write the character of a pompous, egocentric, hypocritical douche. But there’s one thing about Deuce which I’m not sure comes through unless you really get to meet him, face-to-face. I don’t think Deuce knows that he’s a douchebag and a con man. I think he genuinely believes his own bullshit, and really does feel like he’s working to make the world a better place.
In one of our conversations about corporate influence in politics, Deuce mentioned an idea to me: the “accidental conspiracy.” It happens when a bunch of organizations, doing what they believe to be right, end up entirely by accident causing damage so massive to the world that it seems like it was intentional and coordinated. That about sums up Deuce Wagner. He is a walking, talking, living, breathing, anthropomorphization of an accidental conspiracy.