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An Alternate You
Can there be only one?
For the past several months, Adrianne and Sylvia and I have been watching Fringe, which is terrific show and was one of those shows that I never missed an episode of when it first aired. One of the cool things about rewatching it now is that it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten a lot of the smaller plot points so that in many ways it feels like I’m seeing it for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar with Fringe, it’s a sci-fi show that originally came out in 2008 and was created by JJ Abrams, who also did Alias, Lost, Star Trek, and a ton of other things. Fringe centers around a special division of the FBI that investigates all sorts of paranormal phenomenon—think of it as The X-Files meets The Twilight Zone. It’s one of those shows that you find yourself talking about after watching an episode, which I absolutely used to do with friends when it first came out and it’s what Adrianne and Sylvia and I still do now.
One of the big themes of the show is that there are two universes, our “real” universe and another universe that is just slightly different and is populated by the same, but alternate versions of us. In our universe, a brilliant scientist named Walter Bishop figured out a way to cross over to the other universe in an attempt to save the alternate version of his dying son. His actions cause a disruption in the fabric of space-time and the two universes begin to deteriorate. That’s the main story arc of the show and it spans all five seasons. A few days ago, we were all sitting around the dinner table talking about the show and we asked one another what we thought the “other” version of us might be like if in fact there was an alternate universe—or multiple alternates if the theories around it are true. Sylvia actually had a terrific response. She said that it’s impossible to know how or who we would be without first knowing in what ways the alternate universe is different to our own, which I thought was a really insightful answer. It got me thinking about how changes in our situation or surroundings—our universe, if you will—can affect who or what we become in response.
I used to work at a stereo store called The Good Guys in Woodland Hills, California in the car audio department and one day a guy came in to get a new stereo for his wife’s Mercedes station wagon. I ended up selling him a whole system and we were out in the install bay talking—we had been talking for a half-hour or so at this point—and he asked me what I really wanted to do. “What do you mean?” I asked. He said something like “Well, you don’t want to install car stereos your whole life, right? So what do you want to do?” Honestly, I didn’t really have an answer. I was living in Malibu Canyon with my girlfriend at the time and one of the guys I worked with (who I’m still friends with) was teaching me to surf, so life was okay for a 22-year-old in Southern California. After the install was done, we kept talking for a bit and he told me that he worked at a place called 525 Post Production in Hollywood. He said that he thought I would love it and asked whether I’d like to come check it out for a tour some time. I told him that sounded great and he said to give him a call and he’d set it up but, honestly, I didn’t really think much about it after he left. A couple weeks later, I’m at work—I think it was a Monday—and I get a call and it’s Steve. He said he was surprised he hadn’t heard from me and asked whether I was still interested in checking out where he worked. I said sure and we set up something for later in the week.
So the day comes and I drive over the hill into Hollywood and get to 525, which at the time was in this gorgeous Art Deco building on the corner of Cole and Santa Monica. I go in and I tell the receptionist that I’m there to see Steve Hendricks and she asks me to have a seat. A couple minutes later, I was greeted by Steve’s assistant who told me that he was busy and that he asked her to give me a tour and we would catch up later. Now at this point, I’m thinking that maybe Steve doesn’t just work here as some random employee, but I’ll come back to that. Not only that, I really had no idea what the 525 was, other than it had something to do with video production. As we toured the place looking at edit bays and machine rooms, I was catching little glimpses of what was on the monitors—some of which I recognized—but the bigger takeaway was the feeling that this was a serious facility. We finished touring both buildings and made our way back to the main lobby where the assistant asked me to wait while she checked to see whether Steve was available. A couple minutes later she comes back and says that he’s ready for me and we make our way up this spiral staircase into the tower of the building where Steve’s office was and, again, I’m thinking there is way more to this than I had originally thought. We get to the top, she opens the door and there’s Steve, all smiles, hand outstretched. We shake hands and he says something like, “Thanks for coming down. What did you think?” I told him that I really didn’t know what I had just seen but that it seemed like an incredible facility. He kind of laughed and told me a little about what they did and who some of their clients were—which was also amazing—and then he said, “So, do you think you might like work here?” I remember being a little stunned and I told him that I’d love to but that I had no idea what I would be qualified to do. He said that I’d start as a client assistant, which was basically a production assistant, doing whatever they needed—picking up and delivering tapes, making cappuccinos for clients—and that I could work my way up from there. He also explained that 525 had a policy that allowed employees to get “checked out” on the various equipment they had so that you could effectively get paid to learn how to edit on what was at the time state of the art gear like a Paintbox or a Henry, which was fantastic. We talked for a bit more and he said, “Well?” I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I told him that it sounded great. He stood up and said something like, “Fantastic! My assistant will get you all set up.” We shook hands, I thanked him for his time and away I went. A couple weeks later, after giving my notice at The Good Guys, I was a 525 employee.
For the next couple years, it was just like Steve said. I delivered tapes, went on lunch runs, and made cappuccinos. What made it amazing were the clients that I did those things for and the work that they were doing while they were there. 525 was the place for music video editing in the 90s and I would regularly see incredible musicians like U2 or Madonna or Bon Jovi—basically everyone who was in heavy rotation on MTV at the time—in the edit bays or just coming and going. While the rule was that you weren’t supposed to talk to the clients, sometimes they would say hello or something and I’d find myself talking to Lyle Lovett in the hallway or bringing snacks to the bay where Dwight Yoakam was working on the video for 1000 Miles Form Nowhere. Then there were the surreal moments, like having Lol Creme toss me the keys to his Mercedes and telling me to park it someplace nice. I had a great time working there, but seeing the work that was being done made me realize that somewhere in the mix of art and technology was where I wanted to be.
Even though it was brief, my time at 525 was a pivotal moment in my life and for the next several years after leaving, I continued to explore that intersection between art and technology and I worked with a bunch of really terrific people and occasionally built some pretty amazing things. To bring this full circle, it’s hard to imagine what an alternate version of me might look like because I feel like I’ve been given so many incredible opportunities that I’ve already been multiple alternate versions of me in this timeline in this universe. If there is a takeaway from the opportunities I’ve had to tack or pivot, I think it’s that in most of them, I wasn’t consciously looking for a change or a new thing. But when an opportunity presented itself, I was able to let go of my own fear around an unknown outcome and instead just leap—and I think for the most part, it’s worked out pretty well.
As I’ve been getting more into synths and making my own electronic music, I’m finding myself checking out the setups of various musicians whose work I admire, just to see what their spaces are like. Recently, I came across a studio tour Jean-Michel Jarre made of his current space in Paris which, as you might expect, is pretty incredible. I first became a fan of Jean-Michel in college after listening to his incredible album Oxygene, which I can’t recommend highly enough.
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