An Inspiration for Microserfs


by Steve Abatangle

In case there's confusion: my girlfriend is not the woman who contributed to Microserfs: Marie. Rather, the contributor is a friend of mine and my girlfriend named Jean. Here's the story:

Marie, my SO, has a WWW page about Beck, the guy who does "Loser," etc. She receives a lot of email feedback, since Beck has quite the underground following.

One mail she got was from someone called Jean who made really funny, sassy remarks; Marie got to writing back and forth with her, and they got to be buds. Since all concerned live in the SF Bay Area, they (Marie and Jean) started talking about meeting for coffee or something.

My friend, Jean, is a strong influence for the Susan character; sitting next to me at the dinner was the influence for Bug Barbecue (her name is on the contributors list). "Ethan" turns out to be Nathan Shedroff, the guy who runs vivid, an SF web house.

Jean suggests: hey, why don't we meet at the Douglas Coupland book signing? She explains that she helped him with the book (she adds: Be Impressed) and will be at the signing. Marie and I are obviously excited and impressed; Marie says that we'll be there.

We show up at the book signing, which was at the San Jose Tech Museum. All attendees were required to wear clean-room suits, which Douglas' assistants supplied. No, this was for real: we all looked like we were wearing puffy white space suits. This was a requirement; no suit, no enter.

My timing being particularly good, I realized I needed to use the men's facilities just after zipping into the suit. So, I tell Marie - who's still trying to pull the awkward suit on - and find the proper door.

Who'd guess that my first real-life glimpse of the Man Who Named a Generation would be in a public restroom? Worse yet: why was there a girl in there with him? Did he really need that much help primping at the mirror?

"Don't worry; she's married," Douglas says to me. I said that this hardly mattered, and headed for a stall rather than the urinal. Now, for some odd reason, I started wondering if the girl there was Jean. We hadn't much of a physical description to go by; it was just a feeling. I thought maybe I should ask, but I just let it slide. There were hundreds of people there, so it was pretty unlikely, right?

Back at the signing, Marie and I ate some hors d'oeuvres and then split up to search for Jean. I figured the best bet would be to hang around Douglas' general area and listen.

I was right: Douglas started introducing some friends to other friends, and the name "Jean" popped up. As soon as I had a chance, I walked up cold to this person and said: "Are you here to meet Marie and Steve?"

She was of course, and ironically enough, it was the same girl I'd seen in the men's room.

Afterwards, we actually had dinner with Mr. Coupland (and he paid). He does like wine a lot. Anyway, it was neat (to put it stupidly). Douglas is a nice, unassuming, definitely shy person. We met Jean's husband Harrison, who was one of the Newton guys in Microserfs having the conversation about frequent flier miles (Jean says this convo actually happened). We met someone else named Marie, who is Marie's boss and is the geek in Microserfs who Has a Life (remember the house with no nerf toys etc?).

After dinner, and more than a few glasses, we all walked back goofing off and singing - Douglas and I ended up doing a spontaneous rendition of "One Tin Soldier" (the theme song from Billy Jack).

I guess the most striking thing about this experience was that it was clear how Douglas came to write the story and book. Being from Canada, near WA, he's got an obvious interest in technology and those who create it. Through mutual friends he descends into the Silicon Valley and does research by hanging around -- just as I'd imagined. The people we met who were the basis for the book characters seemed like their literary counterparts in ways, and not at all like them in other ways. It was easy to sense Douglas' role in shaping the story.

Here's the queerest thing about this experience: it took us a while to realize that it was a big deal. The dinner was so, well, normal, so like any other celebratory dinner you might have with some friends, that it was natural to forget that we were with a famous author and his flavors of the month.

Webmaster's Note: 1) Due to Steve 's request, all the names in this tale, excluding Steve's, have been changed for their own protection, 2) Also, the story has been editted to integrate the two original messages on this story and 3) Lastly thanx a lot to Steve who told me this story and let me put it on the Web to share with everyone else.