Mike Daisey in 21 Dog Years(Photo: Melanie Grizzel)
Mike Daisey in 21 Dog Years
(Photo: Melanie Grizzel)
Much more so than your average storefront operation, internet businesses carry a certain aura of mystery. As you and millions of other people across the globe browse Amazon.com, shopping for books, CDs, and all sorts of junk, you might wonder what's happening on the other side of the screen. Who are the faces behind the interface? Who makes up this army of retailers that provides us with everything we need, delivered right to our front door?

In his one-man show 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, now in full production at the Cherry Lane Theatre following a hit run at last year's NYC Fringe Festival, former Amazon employee Mike Daisey lets us in on some trade secrets. First and most fundamental: nobody there knows what the hell they're doing. Second, the people who do actually know what they're doing don't care. The internet-savvy have been aware of these facts for a long time, but there are still many people laboring under the misapprehension that Customer Service will really help get their book to them faster. Nope, Daisey informs us; there's not one single thing they can do but listen to you complain.

It seems that Daisey was a full-time temp before a cavity made him consider getting a real job with insurance benefits. Though he starts off in the soul-destroying world of Customer Service at Amazon, he miraculously makes his way up the ladder. He does this not through hard work but thanks to the ingenuity of a man who hates his job so much that he has ceased to care if he keeps it. For example, when the manager tells him that he needs to resolve customer problems at a faster pace, Daisey discovers that the machine tracking his progress can't tell the difference between a "resolved problem" and a hang-up. When he is interviewed for higher-level positions, he realizes that the more BS he talks, the more they think he knows. Soon, he has talked his way into Amazon's Seattle headquarters and that most murky of internet company departments, Business Development.

If Customer Service is an unhappy place where hostile worker drones keep the company running smoothly, Business Development is where everyone is too preoccupied with watching their stocks rise to wonder if their business model actually makes sense. Daisey is a sensible man but he admits to enjoying the high of it all and to indulging in the worship of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the man whose little internet bookstore was going to make them all rich. However, when Daisey's depressive manager won't talk to him anymore, when it occurs to him that he is literally getting paid for doing nothing, and even more so when he realizes that everyone else in the office is earning millions more, Daisey has to put a stop to the madness. (To this day, he is at a loss for words when trying to articulate his job description.)

Daisey tries to explain the unexplainablein 21 Dog Years(Photo: Melanie Grizzel)
Daisey tries to explain the unexplainable
in 21 Dog Years
(Photo: Melanie Grizzel)
A couple years ago, documentary filmmakers D A Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Jehane Noujaim made StartUp.com, which documents the inception, rise, and downfall of an internet company called govworks.com. The film is a lesson in the danger of hubris as two men see their dreams of cashing in on the internet craze dashed and watch their friendship go down with the company. StartUp.com is about how companies get started and fail due to incompetence; 21 Dog Years is about how companies seem to thrive in spite of incompetence. Daisey gives us the employee's view, showing what it's like to be the befuddled observer who finds himself caught up in the enthusiasm of his bosses and co-workers but extricates himself before being eaten alive.

Daisey, who has a couple other one-man shows under his belt, is a great storyteller. The beginning of 21 Dog Years is a little slow, but Daisey is funnier and funnier as he gets further into the inner workings of Amazon.com. The show is directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, and she serves her husband well.

21 Dog Years is a brief and hilarious explanation of how the internet industry rose and fell, like Icarus flying toward the sun. Though the industry survived the dot-com carnage of 2000, its wings were singed; given Daisey's account of this world full of blind ambition, dumb ideas, and pop psychology in place of sound business practices, it's easy to see why. Daisey insists that he will never venture into that territory again...and, after hearing his descriptions of the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes at Amazon.com, you'll probably never bother to call Customer Service again.