The general belief that one human year equals seven years in a dog's life is wrong, Mike Daisey tells us. It depends on the breed and size of the dog, and charts based on this sliding scale were posted all over the Seattle headquarters of Amazon.com, where Daisey worked for 21 intense, bizarre dog years from July 1998 to February 2000.
Like everybody else at that vast dot-com, Mike, who came away with a major in Aesthetics and a minor in Medieval History from Colby College, Maine, was made to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before going on payroll at what, in his innocence, he took to be "a lesbian Internet bookstore." Some bookstore.
"One year and one day after I quit Amazon, I started this show, at a little pub in Seattle called Speakeasy Back Room, which has since, unfortunately, burned down." It was a first, groping version of the hilarious yet scary 21 Dog Years: Doing Time@ Amazon.com that, fuller fleshed, is now rocking Off-Broadway's historic Cherry Lane Theatre with cyberlaughter. The director is his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory.
In the course of 90 minutes, Daisey bounces from the Zero Mostelish embodiment of a herd of wounded dinosaurs (his co-workers) kept alive on a ceaseless supply of bagels, to the galactic blandness of a Customers' Service rep advising "You, the consumer" of "[your] duty to wait on the phone four or six hours to talk to us," to a short course on the intricacies of "metrics" (once known as Stakhanovism, or how hard can the bastards push us?), to the extraordinary moment when one of Daisey's pink-baby hands frantically murders the "stupid metaphorical" other.
That's when Daisey, who'd gone to work at Amazon.com for the dental insurance, got out. But not before he'd written a few jolly letters to Jeff Bezos, the real-life CEO and founder of Amazon.com, a man who loves dogs so much he has packs of them wandering through the halls there. Bezos has not yet answered the correspondence. "Once at a Business Development session I spilled coffee on him, by accident," Daisey says in an offstage reflection after the show. "Our moment of greatest intimacy." The two basic truths he learned from his 21 dog years at Amazon.com are that(1) "individuals, unlike corporations, are generally not insane," but (2) the world is well stocked with other individuals who "are not early adapters to the Internet . . . . They have no money, they have no computers, and they live in asylums."
Mike Daisey, though he admits to being the kind of "freak" the dot-coms are always trying to recruit — "I don't know if I'm as much a freak now as I was then, but yeah" — is, as the saying goes, crazy like a fox. Born in New Jersey 29 years ago, raised in Maine, he'd held some pretty outlandish jobs before Amazon: blood plasma seller, rape counselor, cow innard remover at a slaughter house, night janitor in a home for the violently mentally ill.
His fox — tall, slim Jean-Michele, the granddaughter of Catholic refugees from Poland — isn't crazy at all. She and Mike met as fellow actors "in a really bad German Expressionist play" in Seattle. They now live in Brooklyn. She's working on a book about her grandmother. Mike, who back in college wrote and produced a play about Bertolt Brecht, thinks he might like to do that again. He can always advertise it on Amazon.com.
—By Roger Maxwell