SYNGEd

A year in the life of a dot-com employee

Management was undeterred. We'd frequently get e-mails saying that potential investors were coming by and asking if we could all please be typing at our desks so the mostly empty office would look productive. One afternoon, the editorial department was even told to take a day to rearrange our barren offices so they looked (in the words of the management missive) more "hip," with "the feeling of a lot of people still working there." We broke down nine desks; created the company's second Ping-Pong table; and constructed a "media room" out of couches, a butterfly chair and cheap inflatable furniture from Urban Outfitters. The visit passed without a glimmer of hope.

Finally, in January 2001, everything—work, enthusiasm, funding—slowed to a tedious grind. Since Synge had only a couple of clients to write for, we sat through hours of downtime. Now, instead of writing the usual three stories per day (with a combined word count of about 2,500), I was working my way through all those books I had pretended to read in college.

One thing made coming to work interesting in those final weeks: a morning cup of coffee and a jalapeƱo bagel while I logged on to FuckedCompany.com. For those not initiated in the phenomenon, FuckedCompany is nothing more than a website with message boards that allow anonymous dot-com employees to vent about their jobs. At its best, the site is a raw, honest look at the trappings of Internet warfare; at its worst, it's a way for spurned dot-com worker bees to air out their employers' dirtiest laundry. For Synge, it was both.

Ex-Synge (and a few current) employees took to FuckedCompany's message boards with a vengeance. Eventually, every secret, scandal and rumor was posted on the site. The relationship between our CEO and Spicy was the subject of much detailed speculation. It wasn't so much that they dated but that they seemed to want to hide it. In the doomed ship of our office, the actual substance of their relationship—friendly? romantic?—became a bigger issue than the Clinton/Lewinsky affair.

So when I wasn't reading a book or monitoring FuckedCompany, I was playing Ping-Pong and secretly hoping someone in management would secure a client so that the editorial staff could start writing again.

But it was too late. Now, instead of phone calls from publicists trying to sell us on their celebrity du jour, we were fielding calls from creditors asking for the CEO.

"Thanks for calling Synge," one of us would usually answer. "How can I direct your call?"

Put the caller on hold. Page the CEO's office. Get told by CEO to take another message.

"I'm sorry, the CEO is away from his desk right now. Can I take a message?"

There were a lot of those calls in the final weeks—mostly from creditors but quite a few from the CEO's family, too, most likely asking him what he was doing with all their money. It was rumored that the final weeks of Synge were being funded by the CEO's wealthy relations. It wasn't uncommon to walk past the CEO's office and see him staring at the ground with his head in his hands.

I genuinely felt bad for him in those last few days. I even felt bad for him when our paychecks started bouncing and all he could do was tell us to wait a few more days and try to deposit them again. That disclaimer spawned a ritual: a co-worker and I made biweekly "coffee runs," which were actually trips to Synge's bank to cash our checks right after we received them.

On one such coffee run, I received a warning from the universe.

"Hello, I'd like to cash this check," I told the gray-haired, grandmotherly teller at Bank of America. "Any denomination is fine."

She handed me a stack of new twenties and mentioned something about good timing. The co-worker I came to the bank with was working with a teller to my left, but her transaction wasn't going as smoothly.

"I'm sorry," her teller said. "There was a recent withdrawal on this account that would make it impossible to cover your check."

No clients. Creditors calling all day. A depressed CEO. Bouncing paychecks. They were all obvious signs that Synge's future was limited. If this wasn't the end, we could sure see it from where we stood. But the reality of impending doom didn't strike me until my managing editor was asked to cease all magazine-subscription renewals.

I was scheduled for my one-year review about a week after I overheard the boss put the kibosh on magazine renewals. I knew a raise was out of the question, but I'd go along with the charade of a formal job-performance review anyway. My managing editor set up a meeting after lunch at 1 p.m. We never got around to it: the CEO sent out another of those group e-mails to the last six employees at 12:23 p.m.:

Guys,

I have some bad news. The funding that was promised to us last Friday did not go through. Therefore, I have no choice but to let everyone go effective today. I will mail you a check next Friday for work done from Feb. 1 through Feb. 7, but the company cannot afford any severance. I thought we were on the right track, but the market conditions have proved too difficult—I wish things could have worked out a bit better.

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