don corleone.
© 2000 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>


So a good friend and I were planning on going on a vacation together, along with a bunch of our other friends. I had been friends with this guy for years, but he had recently gotten rich at an internet startup. He had always been an upbeat, energetic guy, but this latest turn just sent his self-confidence through the roof.

Anyway, we were making preparations for the trip, and somehow it had come to pass that his bicycle was at my house. I called him up to discuss how to get it from here to where it needed to be, and got his voicemail. I was on my way out, so I said, ``well, I guess I'll just assume that this is your problem and you'll coordinate with me about when you're going to pick it up.''

He called back and said that assuming it was his problem wasn't fair since it was at my house, so it was ``our'' problem. Then he launched into a rather long speech about how doing this was really what I wanted so that I'd have karma points with him while we were on this trip, because he was the life of the party, he was the guy you wanted have something owed to you by, blah blah blah. I said to him,

``So, instead of trying to buy people all the time, why don't you try just saying please?''

He paused: this seemed to kind of throw him for a loop. Finally he said,

``This is how I say please.''

And that was pretty much the problem with him, in a nutshell: his relationships were based on power. He had some kind of Don Corleone fantasy going on, that he was this Godfather figure: ``some day, and that day may never come, I may ask a favor of you.'' He just loved having people in his debt. He was incredibly generous, but he always let you know that he was giving you something. It was clear to everyone that none of his generosity was without strings, and I wasn't the only one who found this gross.

I tried to talk to him about this, about how he had changed, how he was treating people differently. One of his professed goals at the time was to travel around the world, spend a couple of weeks in one city then move on to the next, and do this for several years. This confused me: it really didn't sound like any fun, because if you did that, you'd always be a stranger. You'd never know anyone for longer than a few weeks! You'd rarely see your close friends, and you'd never get close to anyone, you just wouldn't have time.

He claimed to think that, because of the starry wisdom that his new favorite drug (Ecstasy) has given him, he had this superhuman ability to tell when people were trying to use him, and when they were really his friends, so that he would not be in danger of attracting sycophants. He understood people so much better now, you see. He also thought that this incredible chemical empathy also let him have friendships in a tenth the time of other people (``why does it have to be about hours logged?'' he asked.) So the fact that he would be flitting all over the world and only ever hanging out with people for a few days or weeks and then not seeing them again would not mean that he wouldn't have lasting friendships. They would be deep, lasting friendships that happened to only last a few weeks.

Then it got worse from there: he turned into a drug dealer. Well, I suppose ``dealer'' isn't the right word, since he didn't charge people money for it, but he found that providing drugs to his so-called friends in massive quantities would leave them feeling even more indebted to him, or at least, more likely to hang around with him. What more efficient way to collect a set of shallow friends, superficial acquaintances, groupies and hangers-on?

He had an assembly line going on at one point -- there were like 20 or 30 people he was providing with drugs for the evening, and they were all trying to pile into his RV to get them. He kicked them out and told them to come in one at a time. His brand new girlfriend would stand at the door and say ``next'', and someone would come in. ``What do you need?'' ``I need two hits of ecstasy, and half a hit of acid.'' He would then dole it out from his giant zip-lock bag of candy. ``Thanks, man,'' would say his new best friend for the night.

Someone else once said to me, ``I think that some people's brains are wired in such a way that once they hit a certain `money threshhold' they feel compelled, and indeed, maybe, a certain moral obligation, to act like complete fucking morons.''

I haven't spoken to my former pal in more than a year. I understand he hasn't wrapped himself around a telephone pole just yet.

Don't do drugs, kids. Stay in school.

This is just one example of a pattern I've seen repeated many times. It's not always about drugs, but it's always about money.

I've read a lot of hype about how these crazy young kids make their millions and then keep living in the same hovel they did before, and never actually spend their money, and so on -- I'm sure you've read articles like that too. But you know, in my experience, it's just not true. I've known dozens of instant-millionaires so far (from Netscape as well as other companies), and basically, I don't speak to any of them any more, because the money changed them and turned them into fairly creepy people. People who spend $10k on a wristwatch and then brag about it (while trying to aloofly sound like they're not bragging about it.) People whose sense of self-worth has gone nonlinear, because when they look at their brokerage statement, they forget that, while skill was certainly a component of why they got to where they did, luck was also a huge component. Most of these people have never worked for a company that built a good product and failed anyway. They don't have any understanding of the fact that skill is often necessary, but always insufficient. They believe their hype.

And I've come to realize that I just don't like rich people.

This is pretty inconvenient, because it means that all of my friends are still non-rich people, which means they have day jobs, and can't come out and play. This is a big part of why I went and strapped myself back on the treadmill, and started a new company: not because I felt any desire to work, but because I couldn't think of anything better to do during the day. Simply because I was not sufficiently in touch with my inner Slack.

I keep asking people if money has changed me, but they assure me that, no, I'm still the same obnoxious asshole I always was. So at least there's that.


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