Silicon Follies

Chapter 18: The women's locker room game -- Decathlon of the flesh

By Thomas Scoville

Published May 15, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

"God, you're dating Barry D.? Wow, I dated him like 10 years ago -- when did the first Saab turbo come out? It was right around the time I got my first convertible on lease."

Candy listened keenly, slipping on her neon-green running tights as her companion -- Leslie, a marketing executive from a non-rival tech firm -- peeled off her own Victoria's Secret battle gear and continued her kiss-and-tell.

"He was in sales for Amdahl then. But then he went to AMD, and then that start-up that flamed out.

"I even interviewed at TeraMemory right after they started up, but I ended up at Cadence instead. Better stock options, or so I thought. Boy, if I only knew what I know now. A Tera recruiter hit me up last year, but I figured it's too late in the game for that. I missed the window -- they don't bonus the way they used to, and the quarterly trips to Hawaii? That went out about five quarters ago."

Their conversation was still relatively tame, given the context. The women's locker room of the Decathlon Club was every Silicon Valley career guy's nightmare: an estrogen-loaded, free-fire gossip zone, hermetically sealed from the boys' network. Fortunately, few of the guys had any idea of what went on in there. It would definitely keep them awake at night, knowing that their careers -- and their masculinity -- were regularly deconstructed under keen feminine scrutiny.

Nearly all Silicon Valley companies gave their management employees free -- or nearly free -- Decathlon memberships. This was not motivated by generosity; the corporate officers were well aware that -- far from being an actual opportunity for health, recreation and stress reduction -- time spent at the Decathlon was a thinly veiled continuation of life at the office. It was yet another ploy to maximize management's productivity.

It worked. Strategic alliances were forged upon adjacent Stairmasters. Lucrative connections were made in the pool. Spandex-clad VPs were lured from one company to another, straining all the while on Cybex machines.

And -- at least in the women's locker room -- the dish was dished. Candy's exchange with her associate was much more than idle chat; she was on a fishing expedition. Ever since Barry had begun launching salvos of propositions in her direction, Candy had been evaluating the strategic possibilities of such a liaison. She continued her exploration while lacing up her running shoes.

"Oh, really? I didn't know you two knew each other," she lied, feigning surprise. "I just came to TeraMemory last year -- VP Sales, Western region."

"Oh, very nice," Leslie congratulated, then took the offensive. "Were you in a relationship with B.D. before?"

Ever conscious of the velocity of rumor, Candy effected a little spin control. "Oh, God no. Not that there's much of a relationship now, even," she commented. "We've only been out a few times." Then she planted a barb: "Besides, I think he's a little old for me. And I'm determined not to be one of those chicks who does every |ber-goober in sight. Like that woman in marketing over at WebTV who gets with every -- and I do mean every -- nerd of the moment. People have to follow her conquests with an org chart, like bing-bing-bing."

Leslie beveled a sidelong, knowing look. "Oh, I know. I think I even know who you're talking about. There are a few women like that around -- gung-ho gals who use everything in the toolbox. They call them piranha ladies, the ones who sleep with all the heavies -- Ellison, Jobs, Sonsini.

"They all have accounts at Tiffany and Tom Wing -- you know, over at Stanford Mall? So the geek du jour -- who is, like, by definition style-challenged -- can drop by and get her what she wants. Really personal and spontaneous, you know?" She adjusted her jog bra and rolled her eyes. "It's like a never-ending wedding registry, but with hard project deadlines and deliverables. By the third date, it's tennis bracelet time, go or no go."

Cautionary tales aside, Candy decided she was satisfied with her own projection of distance and control over the situation with Barry. "Well, I think I've got B.D.'s number, anyway," she said assuredly.

But then Leslie pulled out the rug.

"Of course, you do know he's married, right? That's the rumor, anyway. Nobody's ever met her, but the story is that he's been trying to shake her forever. I didn't find out about it until I'd been seeing him for eight months. At which point I un-speed-dialed him -- home, cell and office.

"Besides, everyone says he's gotten mean in the last few years. And really aggressive -- every woman at Tera who's ever been alone with the guy has a story to tell. And they all end up getting fired." Leslie wrinkled her face into a mask of discretion, pitching her words low. "Even if they do go along with it. It just takes a little longer that way."

Candy tensed, and rose to her feet a little unsteadily, blood pounding in her ears. She managed to pass off her wooziness as a vanity mirror-check, then moved to withdraw from the dialogue.

"Well, I'll see you later, then. I have a date with a treadmill."

Leslie, ever the gameswoman, put her stamp on things. "Let's hope it's single," she shot back with a perfect, toothy smile.

Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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