Why Was the Dot-Com Boom So Bad, Again?

The new New Economy: Making "spirit rocks" in a dank basement and attending "Manifesting Money the Psychic Way"

The phrase "arts and crafts" sends most artists into cold sweats, but not nearly as quickly as the phrase "data entry," which is why we responded recently to a Craigslist job posting for "arts and crafts production." A few days later, we are invited to a "group interview," and, all too aware of how hard jobs are to come by these days, enthusiastically agree to participate. We frantically search for something appropriate to wear. Alas, financial suffering has wreaked havoc on our wardrobe. Temping has worn our "corporate casual" options threadbare; what remains in interview-worthy condition, if perfect for Wall Street, is, we fear, way off the mark for -- oh, let's say -- some dank basement studio where they make spirit rocks.

In the end, we wear the black suit (with alligator bag) to our meeting with "Linda," a 35-ish woman who is sporting trendy, form-fitting pants, heavy-duty makeup, and almost-black nail polish. Among the 20 or so Craigslisters who show up are plenty of disheveled hippie-girls in misshapen sweaters and saggy skirts or pants, occasionally sporting an ever-so-subtle layer of what we assume is cat hair. There are two fortysomethings looking bitter and vaguely '80s, a few conservative Asian girls who do not speak, and one striking woman who later explains she is a stylist.

To start, Linda gives a history of her company, which makes a product called "spirit rocks,"* small, attractive, jewel-toned discs of alternately polished and frosted glass. The history extends from the very beginning, when the rocks were but a dream, to the glory of their appearance on the Oprah television show in 1999. She believes in the spiritual power of the rocks and wants everyone who makes them to really believe, too, lest negative energy be left on the product, and we suddenly realize: This is about to get ugly.

Yes, we are actually going to create spirit rocks -- en masse, in a dank, crowded basement, right in front of Linda.

Spirit rocks are made via a semi-industrial process that involves drawing inspirational words with masking fluid that, after drying, gets sandblasted off. The words are applied with a tiny, spray-gun- type gadget that releases hot pink gel when you press a foot pedal. This process is likened to driving a stick shift car, but before we can pop the spirit rock clutch, we must learn Linda's "font."

We are given scratch paper and pens and then gather round to watch Linda demonstrate how to make the word "believe" in her font, which really isn't a font in any typographic sense, but simply left-handed writing. "Is anyone in the room left-handed?" she asks. No -- but one of the hippie girls says she is trying to learn. (We feel somewhat lightheaded as Linda notes that left-handedness is really not something that can be learned: "You are or you aren't," she explains.)

Soon we are sitting in a room full of right-handed people trying to write row upon awkward row of the word "believe" in a way that makes the word seem to have been written by a lefty. Linda paces around, making notes on a clipboard. Inevitably, it is time to put aside practice paper and step up to the spirit rocks themselves, and we become an utter disaster, creating rocks that are illegible and covered with little pink blobs of gel. Linda looks disapprovingly at our hideous efforts; we are speechless, ashamed, and vaguely guilty.

Now -- interviews. One by one, we explain, in front of one another, why we want to make spirit rocks, and why we are the best choice for the job. The prattle is as sad and clichéd as one might imagine; there is talk about a "family environment" and work that is "spiritual" and "more about the heart rather than money." Practical applicants claim to "enjoy repetitive tasks" or feel the job will help them "hone their skills."

Finally, it's our turn, and, frankly, we're having a bit of a personal crisis. How have we ended up, at age 28, in a moldy basement, competing unsuccessfully with strangers for the right to write on chunks of glass? How?

How?

We proceed to stumble into an explanation that our long-term goals involve bringing our own line of products to market, and we would like to learn from a small company that has had success in doing so. Several candidates look at us with open contempt; Linda frowns and picks up our script-practicing papers while we're talking -- which makes us angry somehow. We know it's wrong, but we hear ourselves taking a little stab at Linda: "You know, I mean, how do I take an idea from my studio to ... Oprah?"

Linda looks at us with profound sadness and sympathy. Some applicants mirror her expression and shake their heads in sad agreement. Others laugh, but we know they are the bitter few whose rocks were as bad as ours. Clearly we have failed on many levels. But where do we go from here? Well, Oprah's on at 4. We'll see what she has to say about success.-- Andrea Nelson

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