Falling Into a Lifelong Career
Filed under : General Stories
Written on March 22, 2015
It really wasn’t my intention to be in my mid-late 30s primarily as a web designer, secondarily as a comedian. I thought I was supposed to be a lead singer in a band. In some alternate universe, I’m screamin’ out the hits. Maybe in that alternate universe, I can actually sing.
So, how did I end up making websites for the past ~20 years? Well, it’s kind of about a girl. Odd that I don’t remember her name anymore, but let’s call her Stella (cause I feel like it started with an “S”). She was in my Junior year Spanish class (which means I’m 17 in this story, and the year is 1996). Also in that class was the aforementioned Jake. Both Jake and I had a thing for Stella, but she had a boyfriend – let’s call him Tom. Tom was her polar opposite. She was this punk chick with ripped jeans and homemade rock shirts, rarely had a “normal” hair color, cursed like a sailor. Her boyfriend was this thin, short-blonde-haired, completely preppy kid. I mean : button-up shirt, tucked in, slacks and khakis, with an heir of disgust about people around him, and he never hung out with her and her friends. They only hung out in private. If one of us walked up to her while they were, say, kissing in the hallway – he’d actually pull away from her, shoot us a dirty look, tell her “I’ll see you later” and walk away.
Naturally, Jake and I delighted in making fun of him. Constantly. I got the impression that she didn’t like him a whole lot, but she’d known him awhile and just kinda went with it. Maybe she thought she couldn’t do better. Maybe it was parental pressure. I couldn’t just ask her outright why she was with him (though Jake did, many times, and she’d laugh).
One day in class, I think it was a Wednesday, Jake came in and slapped down little pieces of paper on some peoples’ desks with a “hey, check out my website!“. I thought “Jake made a fucking… website? Normal people can, just, like… make websites??”. When I got home, checking out Jake’s website was my first priority.
It wasn’t much to look at. Your standard Angelfire page – just a garishly bright background, way too many GIFs, high-school-era one-liner jokes, an attempt at a bio, a photo of him, and a guestbook. It didn’t look particularly difficult, but I had no idea how it was done.
The next day, at the beginning of class (we were usually allowed 10 mins of “free time” for that class cause the teacher was often late), Stella said “hey, Jake, did you see what I wrote in your guestbook?” and they both laughed. Ooohh.. they’ve got inside jokes! FUCK!. Another girl in our class piped up “ohh you’re talking about Jake’s site! OMG IT’S SO FUNNY!”. WTF? Attractive women are talking about websites? in 1996?. I needed to get more info. I asked Jake how he did it. On the sly, almost whispering, he said “dude – it’s fuckin’ easy. Just go to this website and it walks you through it”.
I got home that day, pulled up Angelfire, and a few minutes later I had a little home for my band – Terratism. But it was terribly shitty looking. Nothing going on. I started trying to make changes, but there were so many things Angelfire’s interface wouldn’t let me change. I went searching for a similar service, and found Geocities. I was able to do a little more with Geocities, but there was a gift above their little point-and-click editor. That gift was : “If you want full customization – check out our HTML editor!”. I clicked and became immediately confused. “HTML is the language of the web”, it said, “Don’t know HTML? Check out these tutorials…”.
I must’ve been up until 2am that night learning and typing and testing out the intricacies of HTML. While I was originally just gonna do what Jake did (so I could show off my website the next day), I decided I’d hold off and do it over the weekend.
That weekend, I built my first-ever website. It featured animated GIFs that I made myself…
I had a splash page..
…and I had 3 frames in a frameset, so the navigation and our logo would stay in place while you browsed the website…
…and I had MIDI music in the background, and graphics that changed when you moused-over them. For its time, this website was pretty alright. I was ready to go in on Monday and slap down my (much shorter than Angelfire, cause I paid $5 to get a “premium URL” on Geocities) URL on any slip of paper in sight.
The following day, Tuesday, Jake came in and said “hey, I checked out your website, man…” – I was thinkin’ “alriiiiight”, but then he finished with the douche move – “…you must’ve spent like all weekend on that. I just threw together some bullshit”. Ahh.. there it is. The way to undermine someone’s efforts is to claim they “tried too hard” while you “totally didn’t even try”. Thankfully, this brief convo spurred Stella to jump in and say “it’s fuckin’ awesome! Teach me what you know!”. I wasn’t sure if she was serious, but now was my chance : “sure, let’s… hang out and build websites” (I said, half-sarcastically, just in case she was kidding). She gave me her number, and told me to call her that night.
Over the next few weeks, we actually hung out quite a bit. She didn’t have a car, so I’d drive out to her place. Her parents were never home. Tom was always “coming over later” so I usually had to leave by around 10pm.
Our hanging out came to a pretty abrupt end – her and her family were moving away soon. I remember the last night we hung out. Tom wasn’t coming over later. She wanted to just hang out with me, alone, to get high and talk. We cuddled. We even had a brief makeout, but she stopped it a few minutes in and said it “wouldn’t be right to do that to Tom”. As I was leaving, I asked her to try and leave room in her schedule for us to hangout before she moved. She said “I did”.
She moved the next day, and I never saw her again. It took me a few days to realize she wasn’t lying about leaving room in her schedule – she was just speaking in the past-tense. About a year later, she wrote me a letter (yes, an actual letter) and in it she expressed regret for not just dumping Tom before she left, saying “he was totally not my type! what was I thinking?”. What indeed.
I went on to spend the better part of my Senior year in high school working on music with the band, and teaching my Graphic Design class how to make websites. In the early days, I pretty much swapped little HTML and graphics work on a barter-like system. Eventually, I got good enough that actual companies hired me and here I am almost 20 years later, typing things onto a website and hoping it’ll impress pretty girls.