There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune

From the Archives: The Launch Party


In honour of the imminent farewell to the City By The Bay, I am including a piece from the heady millennial days. In April, 2000, the tech bubble was just beginning to fray at the edges (heralded by Dr. Diamond's infamous "my poker buddies say I should buy some tech stocks" phone call). Double Barrel and I took advantage by crashing one of the insane launch parties that perfectly captured the zeitgeist.

April 28, 2000
South of Market,
San Francisco

I was slightly early in arriving outside Club NV, on Howard St., in an area of town whose evening desolation belied the frenzied daytime confluence of dot-com drones. Hesitating outside, cellphone in hand, I wondered whether there remained any lingering pretense of exclusivity. Would the financiers of this particular soiree tolerate glib interlopers to their all-important Launch Party?

This term may need some explanation: a Launch Party is the eGilded Age’s equivalent of a debutante’s first ball – the moment when a startup emerges from its boudoir, primped and coiffed before Society. Society, in this case, being Silicon Valley techies, angels, and venture capitalists.

Once we were shooed into the reception area, however, it became quite clear that this party was open to all comers (except, naturally, the elderly). Nobody checked our credentials or even asked whether or not we had been invited (we hadn’t). Formalities ensued: we were the recipients of a gushing welcome by some perky PR bunnies; we were given nametags; our business cards were sacrificed for a raffle; we were presented with coupons for free schlock. Having gained ingress, we made a beeline toward the focal point of a startup’s launch event.

We headed straight for the bar.

It is curious how the very idea of free cocktails causes even the most staid and inveterately sober of individuals to lose all faculties of reason. Curiouser still is the behavior of people when confronted with free food in sparse quantities. Picture a cocktail waitress laden with dainty hors-d’oeuvres emerging from some murky recess only to be beset by a gaggle of grown men and women pouncing on her from every direction. Imagine, if your sensibilities permit, thirtysomethings bounding across the room in order to grab with earnest avarice a cheddar-cheese-and-tomato nacho.

I was aghast.

These people would literally break mid-conversation, scamper ten feet, eagerly grab at a snack and then return to their interlocutors as if nothing had happened. When five or six fellow human beings do this at once, from different directions, the effect is alarming. I struggled to recall where I had seen this type of behavior before. Later, I remembered: the Monte Carlo Aquarium’s piranha cage at feeding time. If every society is three meals away from revolution, I fervently hope that San Francisco catering agencies and eateries have sufficient capacity to meet demand.

Having downed a gin and tonic, I re-equipped myself with a screwdriver (the kind you sip) and headed to the small clumps of cocktail-chatterers. The conversation was predictable: job descriptions; business model summaries; stock market opinions. The attire ranged from the dolorous “business casual” to rather smart evening wear. One eager young man even showed up in a suit, but it turned out that he had just arrived three weeks ago from the East Coast and was looking for a job. “Three weeks?!” a tall, smirking guy exclaimed loudly, “I’m surprised you haven’t found anything yet!” The poor shmuck in the suit was clearly 404 – Valley-speak for without a clue.

The Suit Guy was engaged in the only conversation I heard throughout the evening that centered on the business of the startup that was funding the whole shebang. To this day, I have no idea what that company was pretending to do.

Mid-way through the evening, after numerous cocktails and Michael Jackson numbers, a formal acknowledgement was made by our hosts. A gentleman with a Slavic accent grabbed a mike on the makeshift podium and gave a speech thanking people for coming and breathlessly describing the cosmically wonderful prospects for his nascent enterprise.

It is difficult not to become reflexively wary whenever one is confronted by the vacuous optimism of the internet set. Every obstacle is thought a challenge, every setback an opportunity. This mentality is essential for the advancement of a dynamic sector of risk takers, and is a tribute to America’s entrepreneurial spirit. However it makes for catastrophically moribund conversation. Nasdaq is up? Great! Increased valuations will spawn greater Valley prosperity. Nasdaq is down? Perfect! This will weed out the also-rans, alleviate the labor shortage, and maybe even moderate the spiraling cost of real estate. The overarching enthusiasm permeating the entire room quickly became a nauseating perfume of sanguinity.

Mind you, it was not the perfume of success. There were at least five other parties that evening in late April, Y2K, and this particular one was clearly not the province of parvenus and newly-minted millionaires. This evening’s crowd was populated by an earnest set of newcomers to the internet feast who were both eager to grab their share of the riches and at the same time were pestered by a nagging doubt that the party was over and The Great Shakeout had begun. That this surreptitious whisper even existed was all the more reason to maintain a feverish optimism at all costs.

By 9 o’clock, the abundance of liquor and absence of any food of real substance caused the crowd to thin as merrymakers departed for more gastronomic districts such as the Marina or the Mission. Anyway, a San Francisco party never lasts very late – one wouldn’t want to compromise the next morning’s frenetic pursuit of glittering digital gold.

Sic Transit Gloria Cow Hollow


I write this sitting in my apartment without any furniture or telecommunications, poaching off a neighbor's internet, waiting for the movers to cart away the remainder of my possessions.

I'm not sure when I'll see the stuff in boxes, since importing into Turkey requires documentation and approvals, filled in triplicate with the proper TPS cover sheets. Therefore I have attempted to pack as much as possible into the suitcases out of which I shall presumably be living for the foreseeable future.

A few days ago, my best friend Ace (aka the Original Swine) calls up and says "Are ya living like a gypsy yet?"

Yes, now I am living like a gypsy.

Couple of blog-related issues:
1) You can leave comments by clicking on the numbers next to the posts.
2) I have shortened the long posts on the main page (such as the Paris Hilton story) - by clicking on the titles one may access the full posts. I do not know how to code, so this is the best I can come up with.
3) My father asks that you do not take the "about" section literally. "People will think we threw you out of the house," he said, not a little piqued. Yes, Virginia, the internet is a pack of lies.

Sunrise on Rainier


Well, just to try something new: this is a sunrise on Mount Rainier taken in August, 2004 by my buddy DC on our way up the mountain. DC, EnduranceJay, Double Barrel and I made it to the summit, whereas Jiggy Donuts was left on the aptly-named Disappointment Cleaver, bundled in sleeping bags with explicit instructions not to move. Good times. Posted by Picasa

Editor's Note: By popular demand, this is the original Paris Hilton story, from August 2004. I wrote this because not 12 hours after the incident occurred I had numerous voicemails from bosses and clients calling from New York asking about details regarding my escapades in LA-LA-land. Eventually it was passed around to the entire Executive Committee of the firm, who were forever suspicious of the fact that my deals seemed to require me to visit places like South Beach or the Sunset Strip.

The following is true.

As I walked past the bouncer into the [redacted] restaurant, I couldn’t help but reflect on an eventful and productive day. We had, during the preceding hours, visited four properties, toured two real estate submarkets, lunched and dined with prospective clients and enjoyed a brisk run in the Hollywood Hills. Truly, diligence is the mother of good fortune: I could now look forward to a relaxing chat with JK, proprietor of the [redacted] Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood.

Our quiet tête-à-tête was not to begin immediately, however; we found JK engaged in animated discussion with a member of his staff. It seemed that Fate, in her wisdom, had burdened Mr. K with that noxious entity known as MaryKateAndAshleyOlsen, scourge of publicans nationwide.

“The Olsen Twins are here, Sunset” he sighed. “I need to make sure they are not served because I will not allow us to lose our license.”

My eyebrows arched in a mixture of commiseration and alarm. It wasn’t too long ago that we had hired an attorney whose sole mandate was to navigate the Byzantine statutes of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Sensible men avoid any hint of rift or misunderstanding with that particular authority. We agreed that under no circumstances should wine, beer or spirit touch the delicate lips of those young millionairesses. JK gave strict instructions to the bartenders, while I privately vowed to intercede with violence, if necessary, to prevent the demon rum from corrupting the nation’s youth.

“I describe my job as ‘kindergarten teacher’,” JK explained, emphasizing his point with animated gesticulations. “It’s me trying to explain to fifty people in plain English how to do their jobs! I told ‘em I wanted wristbands, but they used stamps. Stamps can rub off, you know!”

Satisfied that his displeasure had been adequately transmitted to the rank and file, JK selected a comfortable chair where he could survey the scene and we began our little conference. The topic consisted mainly of business matters which are not germane to this chronicle. Every so often, JK would be interrupted by an acquaintance (a producer, perhaps, or a designer), to whom we were dutifully introduced. One fellow, it seems, worked for JK's partner.

“Oh,” I nodded, obtusely, “one of your limited partners?”

I had gotten the wrong end of the stick. JK had meant his life partner, an American neologism I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of. He went on to describe this gentleman in glowing terms, expounding on his considerable virtues and achievements.

“Well, I guess that’s lucky for you,” I pointed out, in a manner I thought judicious.

“And lucky for him, too, you mean!” he shot back, with mock indignation.

Our chat was very pleasant and light-hearted, both due to the fact that JK had good news to share and due to the refined ambience of the retaurant. Our table was perched on a raised level which comprises the main bar and overlooks the rest of the room, with the patio and pool shimmering beyond. Overhead, dark art deco ceiling beams extend inward from crenellated eaves and are separated by illuminated skylights. Wall-mounted lanterns softly emit a fan-shaped fuchsia glow. The effect, in toto, is rather striking.

Presently, we wrapped up our discussion and JK, weary from his flight from New York, sauntered off to bed. I grabbed my cocktail, eased back in my chair and took in the growing scene of revelry. A few moments later, JK was unexpectedly back. He fixed us with a wide, mischievous grin.

“Hey, you guys want to meet Paris Hilton?”

I couldn’t even bend my mind around the many implications of this question. I deferred to my colleague, DF.

“Umm, yeah, we would!” she answered, in the tone that one takes with tiresome people who wait for responses to obviously rhetorical questions.

JK led the way through the crowd and I followed behind, with bated breath and whispering humbleness. As I pushed my way through the throng, I casually noted that I was brushing aside one of the aforementioned Olsen miscreants. She gave me a sidelong glance. “Scuse me,” I murmured, absently, as I looked past her.

Seconds later, we found Miss Hilton, dancing by herself, with the crowd discreetly pretending not to gawk from a distance. She was very tall and very blonde and had made liberal use of her eye shadow. Her cocktail dress looked rather expensive.

“Sunset Shazz, meet Paris Hilton,” announced JK, using an unnecessarily grand, formal tone.

“Pleased to meet you” she cooed, delicately proffering a lithe hand.

At this moment, I could have said: “Have we met? Oh no, it’s that I recognize you from your internet video.” Fortunately, the cautious aspect of my character judged the remark to be a tad infelicitous. Instead, I merely took her hand and bleated a cordial “how’d’you do?”
She was gently swaying back and forth, dancing some sort of crazy heiress dance, when she turned to JK to ask him a question. I couldn’t quite catch what she was saying since every word she spoke was an exaggerated whisper.

“Oh, Paris,” exclaimed JK, suddenly. “I loved your new Guess ad in Vanity Fair! You look great! Sunset, you know what I’m talking about, right?”

The expression of abject cluelessness that graced my visage, although well known to my schoolteachers, was unfamiliar to poor JK. “Huh?” I replied, with all the eloquence I could muster.

“The Guess ad?” He gave me a meaningful glance. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”

I gathered from his widening eyes that he desired that I answer in the affirmative. “Oh sure!” I replied airily, in what I hoped was the worldly, cosmopolitan manner of a man who reads Vanity Fair assiduously, paying particular attention to the jeans advertisements. “Paris, the shots look great. Really, really good.”

“Thank you,” she simpered.

I was beginning to enjoy myself. “Paris, it’s really good that you know JK,” I heard myself saying. “He is the enfant terrible of the hotel industry.” JK let out a big bellow of a laugh. “Everyone in the industry either loves him or fears him,” I added.

Laying it on a bit thick, I know, but as I say, I was enjoying myself. Paris looked vaguely puzzled by the last, absurd statement, while JK was reduced to mild hysterics. Evidently, despite her pedigree, young Miss Hilton has little knowledge of – or interest in – the hotel industry. In the next world, old Conrad weeps for his progeny.

As Paris swayed to the music, pouting vapidly at no one in particular, I realized I could not stand there forever. I remembered my manners. “Well, it was very lovely to have met you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” she smiled.

This time, the crowd parted before us, as though we had suddenly been granted the imprimatur of Important Persons. Again, one half of the Olsen duo glanced our way. She was a tiny, timorous waif with an enormous coiffure. While most of her shopping needs were met in the petite department, her millinery was clearly plus-sized. A less charitable observer might have described her as “plain”.

“That Olsen twin keeps looking our way,” commented DF. “She’s probably checking you out.”

“Yeah,” I laughed, “she’s wondering, ‘who’s that mysterious man?’”

Actually, my best guess is that she was pondering how a hundred and fifty million dollar self-made fortune still left her upstaged by a vacuous celebutante whose main résumé line reads “participant, amateur erotic cinéma vérité”. Perfidy, thy name is Hollywood.

As we had no intention of carrying on discussions with eighteen-year-old teensploitative* tycoons, we retired to the terrace and drank by the pool, dissecting the cult of celebrity. I knew that my friend PMcG, a real star-fucker, would get a kick out of this one. The rest of the evening was moribund, and the comparative dullness reminded me of something JK had said earlier.

“Whatever you think about Paris Hilton,” he explained, “she delivers. She is always just as you had imagined, only more so.”

When he had originally delivered this puzzling epigram, I had merely nodded insincerely. Now, with the passage of time and the luxury of reflection, I think I see what he meant.

*”Teensploitation” is one of the newest additions to the lexicon, according to the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Associated Press, July 31, 2004). I have used what I presume to be the adjectival form of the word.

"Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."

- Goethe

"I look at everybody else, and. . . they got the Cristals and they got the pretty girls, and they got the Benzes and everything. So that's kind of like the mediocre stage for everything right now. You want to take it to that next level. That's what I wanna do."

- The Notorious B.I.G., interview, 1997

Ambling into my old local watering hole, the Black Horse London Deli, I mentioned the above quote from Goethe to James, the publican. Now James, like all good bartenders, has a degree in English literature, reads Latin, and has translated Goethe from the original German. "Sunset," he began, "Goethe is considered the last of the Scholastics; the last man to truly possess all of the accumulated human knowledge of the time."

Good man, Goethe. Well, the Notorious B.I.G., along with his erstwhile-friend-turned-nemesis Tupac Shakur, represented the last of rap's Golden Age. Again, a man worth listening to.

And so, 2007 is jointly dedicated to Boldness and to the Next Level. Life in San Francisco has been entertaining and memorable, but over the last few years I have been increasingly conscious of lingering in a "mediocre stage" where I'm accomplishing very little that is meaningful and lasting. Too comfortable, this cozy West Coast lifestyle. Therefore, I have elected to shake things up a bit, introduce some new stresses with the view that comfort leads to mediocrity whereas stress, correctly applied, tends to bring out one's best.

Wha? Internet? You mean they've built a machine where people can spend hours of their lives chattering inanely to one another, self-publishing their moronic pronouncements and playing Texas Hold 'Em? Seriously? Well, whenever I see human beings behaving with heroic stupidity I say to myself "I gotta get me some of that action!"

Therefore, I have started this blog.

In order to maintain a tissue-like veil of anonymity (as opposed to veil of ignorance), I have chosen to call myself Sunset Shazz. This was a name given to me by Double Barrel after I began spending a lot of time on the Sunset Strip leeching off the likes of Hef and P Hilt. Those were the days, eh.

Anyway, it shouldn't be that tough for you not to use my real name. Until I was nineteen years old, the only person who ever used my real name was Mrs. Armstrong, my high school business studies teacher. And she used it sneeringly, the bitch. Told me I'd never amount to anything. WHO'S THE LOSER NOW, EH?!!

Er, sorry about that. Anyway, the point is that not even my mother uses my real name. The pseudonym Shazz is in fact a contraction of Shazzy, which was a monicker given to me by my cousin Shmuckbottom when I lived in London. One drizzly day we were walking in Leicester Square when an African mother said to her little son "come here, Shazzy!", and Shmuckbottom looked at me and pronounced "henceforth, you shall be known as MC Shazzy D, the lyrical gangster." Years later, when a whole circle of friends in San Francisco (Double Barrel, Sammy Dub, Iceman, TDC inter alia) would routinely call me Shazzy, I once asked them "do you even know why you call me this?" Of course, they didn't, which is a wonderful example of what Richard Dawkins would call a "meme", or what my dad Dr. Diamond would call "bloody nonsense".

Well, had I followed my initial hair-brained scheme and moved to LA, I would properly be Sunset Shazz. Instead, I'm following a hairier-brained scheme by moving to Istanbul and Double Barrel hasn't yet thought of the appropriate nickname for this period of my life. Which brings me to the real reason I'm starting this thing: I will miss many of you (others I won't; you know who you are, respectively) and this seems to be the most efficient way to maintain contact.

Please understand that my mother reads this, hence it won't read like some of the stories I have sent out in past (The Vegas Chronicles, The Time We All Got Arrested At Faisal's Bachelor Party, etc.) But it should provide a modicum of entertainment as I often find myself in the sorts of escapades where hilarity tends to ensue.

One last point: "Taken At The Flood" was the name of a column I wrote for the short-lived and sadly defunct I shall post those columns when I have a moment.

- Sunset

About me

  • I'm Sunset Shazz
  • Living the dream in Istanbul, Turkey
  • I grew up in the hardscrabble streets of suburban Ottawa, Ontario, committing petty crime, insulting the elderly - basically the classic misspent youth. When I was 19, I moved to West Philly, where I put myself through the Wharton School by dealing crack and hustling. After stints in Paris and London, I eventually graduated and moved to San Francisco, where I put in eight years hard labor working for The Man. But now I pop bottles with models, deciding cracked crab or lobster - who says mobsters don't prosper?
    More information about this blog.
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