For those of you new to this blog, yes, it's true. The "I" normally narrating these posts is a fictional construct based on a Chicago man, Mark Donahue. Let me give you a little background. …
In late 2002, Donahue — creator of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute-funded Picodiribibi blog — pitched the idea of a new blog following his e-dating exploits in Chicago to Internet match site MeatMarket.com. Because Donahue's romantic prospects were zero, it quickly became a guide for young straight men on what not to do when trying to meet single women.
In early 2003, MeatMarket caught the eye of Thomas "Tom" Alva Edison Blister IV, president and CEO of the Woundup Cluster Bomb Spring-Trigger Corporation. Woundup Corp. bought the site that January as part of a new push into the Web services and entertainment space.
Blister concluded that there wasn't much longevity in a blog about a man striking out again and again and again with women, so after a great deal of market research, it was determined a spinoff blog detailing a Gen X slacker navigating the rough waters of a quarter-life crisis in the big city would appeal to more readers and generate ad revenue.
The original Woundup was born. Donahue was brought on as a consultant to work with the seven-person content team. As part of the arrangement, Donahue agreed to let Woundup Corp. claim exclusive rights to the details of his life, with its writers having the power to use him as a fictional construct on the blog, creating new happenings as he tried to find his way in Chicago.
Donahue very quickly chafed at this setup and had just filed a lawsuit when he was killed in a tragic jet ski accident off Boca Raton, Fla., in March 2003. The content team continued his online incarnation, with no revelation of the real-life inspiration ever made.
The Woundup blog was largely ignored in the U.S. but enjoyed runaway success in Argentina, Turkey, Latvia and Israel. It was never clear why the story of a young, snobbish American ne'er-do-well would resonate with other cultures, so the team continued to craft content in the same manner, not wishing to upset the formula. Mark was given a girlfriend, whom he eventually moved in with and married, later having two children.
In 2009, Woundup Corp. — overstretched by new forays into commercial real estate, ethanol-powered jets and silicone facial-enhancing implants — was rocked by the recession. Our CFO suspended the Woundup blog and all of us were, ahem, let go. The cover story was that Mark had become too busy to write because of his new baby.
So why is the blog back now? Woundup Corp. scaled down its portfolio in 2010, focusing on its core defense and security verticals. But rights to the entertainment arm were never sold off, it being a pet project of Tom Blister's. Eventually, I knew he'd come knocking.
I'd landed a plum job by that time, copy-editing reports for the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana. When I got to the office one bright July morning I found the door already open. Blister sat in my chair, feet upon the desk. His pants were customarily short at the ankle, and I saw the little white silhouette of a golfer on his socks.
"Nice setup you got here. Very nice. Say, I had a question for you. Now that you're in this line. … I keep having this dream about my dead aunt Rachel. She's wearing a red cocktail dress but has the head of a rhesus monkey. She wants me to go with her to Cape May. You think it means something?"
I didn't answer. He stood and took me in with a lupine smile. His eyes were watery from drinking.
"Still kind of a fat-ass, Kraputnik. I'd think reading all this sex stuff 'd make you wanna shape up. Get yourself a piece."
"I'm happily married. I have two kids now."
"That right? Still the same broad. The one with the little—"
"Annie. Yes. Right."
He wore a tan sport coat and navy blue checked shirt. He put his hands in his pockets and nervously searched for change, which he jingled.
"Kraputnik. I'm not going to beat around here." He paused, cocking his head sideways at me, the light on his teeth.
"We're putting the band back together."
I said nothing but looked at the manuscript draft on the desk: Transgressive Fantasies in Heterosexual Relations. I was hoping to show it to Annie later that night.
"Woundup. The boys in finance said it could be solvent again. Did a little market research and seems people like you are getting older and feel crowded out by these younger Millenials, whatever the fuck you call 'em. GenXers, they still need a voice. You can be that voice. ... ... ... Also they all make more money now so — christ is that steak sauce on your shirt?"
The faded brown spot above my breast pocket was indeed still there. A reminder of a night with the in-laws at Steve Alford's #15 restaurant. My advantage disintegrated.
"You'd be an idiot not to take it. Come back to Chicago. Out of this cow-fucker town."
"I like it here."
"It's full of cow fuckers and inbred Nazis. Look around for chrissake."
He was closer to me now. A shorter man, his blue pale eyes were circled with red lines. I tried to play it cool.
"Why not hire a whole new crew? I don't know. Maybe you should go after a younger audience. Really, our sun is setting—"
"Goddammit BECAUSE I NEED YOU KRAPUTNIK."
He was inches from my face, panting. The capillaries in his cheeks glowed.
Quieter. "I need you … "
Blister put his head against my chest and his thin arms around my waist. A smell of Canoe and gin. He might've been crying.
"The next study is on group sex—"
"Christ any two people who would do you at the same time must be dead or catatonic."
He mumbled this to the floor.
"What's it going to take," he asked.
His grip on my waist tightened. I winced. After a long moment he let go and stood to face me, straightening his jacket. His eyes were still moist but he carried himself with new calmness. An attempt to regain some dignity.
"Fine. 65. Report for work on Monday. Your flat-chested wife can take care of the house and all that shit. Unless you've got an open marriage or a dog as a mistress or something. You would do that kind of thing, you degenerate."
"I'll think about it."
He looked at me then turned and, before leaving, swatted the manual off my desk with a quick, brisk extension of his arm.
"Kiss my ass, Kraputnik."
He slammed the door. I picked up the manuscript and smoothed its plastic cover. Annie said she'd bought a $15 bottle of wine and would be making pesto gnocchi. The door opened again. It was old Dr. Kriesler, one of the institute's head researchers.
"Glad I caught you, Ethan. Listen, I'm going to give transgressive fantasies to Satalamacchia, only because he did the last one. Why don't you get started on this."
He placed a yellow manual before me, smiled and left. I turned it over. Involuntary Celibacy and Male Self-Image.
I pushed the book aside and sat back in my chair. I wondered if the dime bag of marijuana I'd taped to the bottom of my desk in the Woundup office three years ago was still there.
I was going to need it.