Silicon Follies

Chapter 20: Liz regroups at the chateau

By Thomas Scoville

Published May 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Liz and Laurel took their breakfast al fresco on the postage-stamp patio of their cottage on the edge of the barrio.

They drank coffee and ate cereal. Nearby, Angus stalked a moth, lashing his tail righteously.

Liz reacquainted herself with the mid-morning sun. She hadn't seen much of it during her brief career at TeraMemory -- a career that, in the light of day following Liz's executive mauling, was most definitely finished. The two women rehashed the grisly scene that had played out in Barry's office the previous day.

Laurel pressed for details. "Was there anyone else around? Did anybody see?"

"No, no one. It only lasted a minute. And it was after 6. The receptionist had already gone home," Liz lamented. "It's such an outrage. I mean  I know I'm not really cut out for high-tech, and I wasn't going to work there forever "

Laurel completed the thought, speaking around a mouthful of granola. "But it would have been nice to leave on your own terms. It's not fair that you're the one who has to go because some testosterone-poisoned megalomaniac can't get it together enough to recognize obvious personal boundaries. It's worse than getting fired."

Liz made a cruel smile. "Oh, the irony. Remember a few months ago, when I came home, terrified he'd fire me? If only  I just wish I'd left after the exploding e-mail incident, when my instincts told me to. God, this is such a wretched  comedy." She managed a halfhearted laugh in spite of herself. Angus furiously batted at an oak leaf.

"It's just the injustice of it all -- in an unequal power relationship, when the guy steps over the line, it's the woman who has to leave. Like it's her fault. And now I'm unemployed." She pushed out her lower lip and made a mock-pathetic, Keane-child face.

Laurel responded with her own over-the-top gaze of tenderness and sympathy. "Oh, don't you go a-worrying, little Lizzie. A pal from the Bistro and I are starting a little catering company, and we're going to need extra hands. You won't go homeless. And, anyway, we still have the chateau."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Chateau des Araignees -- "Castle of Spiders" -- was the name they had affectionately given the tiny, ancient, slightly bug-infested two-bedroom cottage they shared in Mountain View. In the age before monolithic computer companies roamed the Valley, the surrounding neighborhood had been home to miles of fruit orchards. Clusters of ramshackle micro-bungalows had been constructed to house the migrant labor that brought in the harvest. Fifty years later, these shacks were the only affordable rental alternative for people who didn't want to live in boxed-in, apartmental proximity to scores of engineers with implausibly large stereos.

Despite the bad insulation and unreliable plumbing, there was something comforting about these modest dwellings. They recalled a slower, more secure world that had been all but driven out by the progress of the information age. There were even a few derelict remnants of the orchards. Liz and Laura nursed a struggling apricot tree that leaned out from a corner of their little yard.

Home ownership was, of course, completely out of the question. Even solidly employed techies making $100,000 a year couldn't pull it off. A two-bedroom house on a quarter-acre lot was out of reach, unless you had rich parents or won the stock-option lottery. Single, nontechnical women didn't stand much of a chance in a real estate market where, as Laurel once overheard a real estate agent at the Bistro say between bites, "a million dollars buys you a tear-down."

All of this served to underscore the insecurity of life in Silicon Valley. In a place where people changed jobs at a furious rate -- even when they weren't being fired or sexually harassed -- and the dominating technology-related industries were in constant flux, it was impossible to find a place you could personally, and financially, call your own. The result was a kind of bivouac mentality; the future was a big silicon question mark. Liz had even heard rumors that a local developer was bulldozing the fruit-picker's shacks in the name of "higher and better use" -- more plainly, high-density townhouses.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Later that day, Liz kindled her courage and called TeraMemory to arrange for the delivery of her final paycheck. Cassie, the VP of Human Resources, had apparently been primed for her call. Liz was unprepared for the gross injustice of the greeting. It took her breath away.

"Ms. Toulouse? Yes  Mr. Dominic informs me you've resigned. And right during the WHIP crunch. What a dirty trick," she said tartly.

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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