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The Artist Leaving the Googleplex


For $11 an hour I stocked nonfiction and worked the register at Black Oak Books in Berkeley, a used bookstore otherwise staffed by aging, garrulous intellectuals without institutional affiliation. For $12 an hour I assisted Sam Green, a filmmaker whose first documentary, The Weather Underground, chronicled the radical group from the 1960s responsible for bombing the US Capitol, the Pentagon, and the United States Department of State. The Weathermen always phoned their targets beforehand, after the bomb had been planted, to avoid hurting anybody. I worked these jobs in 2007, before the economic meltdown and the sudden growth of the second tech bubble. It was a pre-Airbnb, pre-Uber, pre-I-can’t-get-a-reservation-anywhere-in-the-Mission-District-on-a-Monday-night San Francisco.

My partner and I moved from a divorcee’s guest room in Berkeley to fulfill a low-income requirement in an unfinished luxury loft of smoothly poured concrete near downtown. We lived there for four months until the unit sold for $1.2 million. We ended up at Artists Television Access, in a room occupied by Divine before the media arts organization with anarchist leanings moved into the building. I socialized with Marxist organizers from the labor union UNITE HERE!, Marxist graduate students from UC Berkeley’s rhetoric program, and Marxist workers from different affinity groups. Walking home from a book-group meeting with members of the Workers International League, I felt a surge of affect, like I was starting to accomplish what I had moved out to San Francisco to do—which was to be political.

After four months my knowledge began to feel unmarketable. I found myself wondering if I would ever be able to afford the objects that adorned my middle-class childhood memories. A job posting on the Bay Area Video Coalition website for a video producer led to an interview with an anonymous company in Mountain View. I was picked up by a middle manager named Bert in a Prius at the Caltrain station. As we drove past the Computer History Museum and into a large corporate campus, it occurred to me that I was competing for a position at Google, and had been, technically, since I’d stepped into the vehicle. Upon exiting, I confronted a chaos of identical, sky-blue cruiser bikes just organized enough to seem suspicious, like a set-piece for first-time visitors.

We entered 1600 Amphitheater Drive through one of many sets of large glass doors, and I halted in front of a row of six digital prints of the Google logo, all on the same 3 × 5 foot canvas, each one done in the style of a different modern master—Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, and Pollock. The Pollock was a basic Photoshop splatter-brush defacement, while the Monet was an epic travesty: an impressionistic GOOGLE floating nowhere above three lily pads. The Dali was a shotgun marriage between the Persistence of Memory and the famous insignia. The collapsed sense of space and time resonated most with its surroundings. “Yeah, they like to do art projects here,” said Bert impatiently.

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