Sunday, April 29, 2007

Green Vanity

I flew to Las Vegas this weekend for the annual semiconductor broker meet up. We fly in from all over the world to shake hands with other brokers who have gouged us on pricing and shipped only a few days late and allowed us to do the same to our customer. We wink and nod at each other, and pat our wallets and clink our fifth Jack & Coke. During the day of the two-day event, there are seminars warning us yet again about the mass amounts of counterfeit chips coming out of Asia. Representatives from watchdog companies give us lectures. They go to the podium dressed in golf shirts and sunburns. They pull up their shorts, turn on the overhead projector illuminating grafts of high-risk regions and the staggering reports of fake-chip injustice. They tap the mic and say, "Will you idiots please stop buying parts out of store fronts in China?" We veterans never go to these lectures. The best brokers don't subscribe to the paranoia, no matter how real the problem, because, hey, that tenth time we bought unmarked chips out of a parking lot in Shijiazhuang turned out to not only pass inspection, but only one in twelve parts failed on our customer's circuit board! Aaannnnddd, most importantly, we made twenty-two grand profit on the deal. Those are the odds we're willing to live with. Oh, we're a slimy bunch.

At night, parties are thrown and this is why we come. We convene in pits of nightclub bars and slither around. We pin our cards to our lapels and count how many new brokers have started up this year; a few more out of Long Island, more in Massachusetts, some out of Silicon Valley. My former boss used to say, "Any whiff of business and brokers pop up like mushrooms on a wet morning." The semiconductor business is not good now, hasn't been in years, but it doesn't stop the fungi from sprouting anyway. Even in a down market we make way more than a hero's pay. If teachers and firefighters would only broker excess books and hoses, and parts of their soul, they'd make more money too. We spend the majority of the parties reminiscing past deals: "Remember when we scored five hundred thousand capacitors from that mom-and-pop dealer in Berlin? That sucker was asleep at the wheel!" Or we complain about the market: "There will never again be an Allocation of 2000, my friends." And then we top off the evening big-timing each other: "I've cornered the Lithuanian market on battery sales" which is probably true because if the chip market has been shitty, we'll find a new widget to hustle.

I've gone to the broker show every year but one in the last fourteen years. I've twice gone eight months pregnant and still got hit on. I've had to break up a fist fight between one of my co-workers and a guy that fucked him out of some parts by selling to another broker who paid five cents more. I've dragged many a drunken co-worker from the parties with their heels dangling on their fingers. I've had a very straight forward business conversation that was capped with the question: "So, what are doing for sex tonight?" To which I laughed and said, "Well, it doesn't involve you." And he said, "Ok, then. Let me know if you need any more of those AMD processors from last week. Just scored a couple pallets out of the Ukraine." I said, "Will do." Brokers: Always slinging some kind of shit, always playing their odds.

Every year I stay up until four in the morning both nights. During the day, I always walk and shop for hours and never gamble. I always go to the spa even when I'm not getting a massage; I'll just change into the robe, hit the steam room, the jacuzzi and read magazines for hours drinking the lemon-cucumber water. Each year I do the same things except each year I do less and less work-related stuff to make sure I get in enough quality relaxing time, alone. Alone is what I hardly ever am at home so it's nice to hog a bed, throw my clothes on the floor, spend a ridiculous amount of time getting ready with a basketball game blaring in the back and with bad hotel coffee in pretty cups on the bathroom counter along with every single toiletry I own spread about. And the robe. I live in a hotel robe when I'm in Vegas.

When I travel, I like to slather myself in magazines; just pour them all over myself. I'll read anything glossy and with a pretty cover (Sucka!), but maybe I shouldn't have read the Vanity Fair 2nd Annual Green Issue on the plane ride in, right before touching down in a city that is grotesquely taxing on planet's energy reserves. Way to make myself feel badly for my weekend of broker bullshittin and grand Mami relaxation time. The articles in Vanity Fair tuned my senses to high-acute. Everything seemed techno-sensual and noteworthy. A young handsome cabbie speaking Street English with a thick Russian accent opened the door to his cab, which was a tomb of cologne. Perfumes and the like usually make me gag, but this smelled soft and confident, like a baby powder for men. The cabbie drove with his wrist, leaning and tapping fingers on the dash board and I looked out to the ever reconstructed Vegas. My heart ached over the excess. The extremity seemed so desperate; a throwing up of hands as to say, Fuck it, we're going out with a bang.

I didn't touch the Vanity Fair again, but placed it carefully in my bag to be combed over with much more concentrated consideration later. Ok, maybe I reread the part that specifically called out semiconductors as highly non-green. One of the articles specifically mentioned a capacitor that's made with tantalum. Tantalum is made from a rare mineral only found in the caves of some third world nation. This especially kicked me in the guts because in the year 2000 there was a tantalum capacitor shortage and I was so good at sourcing them that they called me the Tantalum Queen. My company made -- and I'm being modest -- a FUCKING SHITLOAD, A CITY-LOAD, a third-world-country-load, of money because of this shortage and in part because of my buying skills. I won Employee of the Year in our highest earning year ever. Which now, I dunno, sinks me. Depleting the world of natural resources; squandering my skills for misuse and greed and the degradation of the poor . . . ok, I won't start this shit again, but the title Tantalum Queen seems an embarrassment now, y'know?

I read many other articles this weekend too that taught me things; things I can't all recall because there was no pen in the spa robe. OH, I learned the origins of the word snafu, a military term, which means "situation normal, all fucked up." The word seems so innocent and openly used and the definition for some reason gave me great satisfaction. Fubar is the cousin to snafu and it means "fucked up beyond all recognition." And this seems sadly hip and tough -- an honest recognition AND a mask to pain -- because it was, after all, made up by the military. I read about a new film I can't wait to see. It's just out and called Offside. It fictionalizes (sort of) the world of female soccer fans in Iran, who are many and who are not allowed inside a stadium to watch a match. I read about Patricia Moreno who developed a form of exercise called intenSati that involves movement and verbal self affirmation. On the surface it seems corny and Secret-ish though Moreno has been developing it for years. When I learned that she invented this style to save her siblings from debilitating ailments, and succeeded, I loved her a lot for it. We know nothing beyond a surface; we are babies to a situation's real depth.

Which brings me back to the broker show. I played it light this weekend. I chilled. I hung with old industry friends who are great characters and are fun for lively conversation. I talked very little about business, and I tried not to look too much beyond the weekend, nor too much into the past. I just treaded lightly, in a robe, and told my ever maturing Consciousness of Purity that Monday was a fine day to start weighing heavy on me again.


Marigoldie said...

"We are babies to a situation's real depth." Well said for sure.

This subject matter--all of it--would be a great book, you know.

Maven said...

I was just going to say the same thing. Both things, actually.

acumamakiki said...

I loved this post. And now I'll go find my Vanity Fair green issue so I can try to learn what a semi-conductor actually is, instead of faux-nodding my head whenever you mention your work.

Being in a hotel room and bed alone sounds like some kind of nirvana. This July will be my first experience in that realm (although I am sharing the room, 2 beds) and I'm so snagging the robe.

Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Aha! So you or a broker of your ilk bears responsibility for the four consecutive component failures on my motherboard. "Fails one out of twelve times" indeed! If your stuff goes into medical devices, try a one-in-twelve failure rate on human beings.

madness rivera said...

Way to make me feel worse, Jonathan! But in reality, medical and very large companies have stringent testing guide lines for chips where the counterfeit or faulty shite doesn't fly. Your mother board, however, may be partly our doing -- though there are very legitimite chip brokers out there -- or it may be the doing of your drive manufacturer cutting their own corners. We're hardly the only slimbags in the technology world.