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Looking at them, I felt for the first time a stab of envy for these princes of the new Internet economy as they stood with hands in pockets under the trees. I envied them their money, their clothes and expensive haircuts, and most of all I envied them their timing. They were surfers who had caught the perfect wave and were riding it all the way to the beach, where gold and the love of beautiful women awaited them. Or at the very least, the smiles of a few Playmates, some of whom could be seen filing out of the VIP bungalow along with a handful of more StreamSearchers.
Tired of watching new arrivals spill out of the shuttle bus and walk through the VIP entrance, a ritual that was supposed to keep reporters enthralled for hours, I went and sat on a nearby wall. There I got into a conversation with a guy called Andy Rosen, CEO of ugwap.com, a wireless entertainment portal, and uground.com, a Web site on which I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, the winning entry in the StreamSearch film competition, was already showing. Andy was from England, and looked elegantly raffish in a techie sort of way: receding curly brown hair, artful scrawl of stubble, black jacket and blue silk shirt worn outside his trousers. His eyes gleamed enthusiastically through small black-framed glasses.
Immediately we got into one of those conversations that only those who grew up in the Old World and now find themselves standing outside the Playboy Mansion on the West Coast of America get into: what we're doing in L.A., when we came over, what we think about it now. It was fun talking. I liked him a lot. Furthermore, he and his wife, Peggy, were going to make sure I got some dinner. Still, there was a divide between us: Andy was a cyber-optimist, and I wasn't. There were plenty of things wrong with the present, but, in my mind, being unable to shop on a cell phone wasn't one of them. (Thanks to something called Wireless Access Protocol, Andy could already shop on his. It was the next big thing, he told me.) Perhaps it was simply a matter of temperament. There have always been people excited about the future, but they were called scientists and lived in laboratories, where they belonged. Now, like a virus, the future has left the laboratory and entered the population at large, where it can be heard talking loudly in restaurants about bandwidth and DSL lines, usually to someone who isn't there.
Eddie, my Rogers & Cowan handler, turned out to be a good sport. After he saw me going in with Andy and Peggy, he left me alone. Perhaps it was just the ghostly vibes emanating from those fun-filled '70s, but it felt terrific to be inside a giant, circus-size tent on the Playboy grounds, even if the actual awards ceremony turned out to be a snooze. (The best moment came when one of the statuettes broke in two and Garry Marshall, who emceed, yelled, "You people are going to go out of business!") The enormous stone bar to the right as I walked in; the impressively large grotto pool straight ahead of me . . . Not even the bank of computer monitors at which guests nervously checked their portfolios could spoil the effect. Here, one thought, looking around and breathing the rich, photosynthesized air, it was still possible to Have a Good Time.
For a lot of people, of course -- the people who worked for companies like StreamSearch -- this was the Good Time, the time when youth and economic opportunity fell into a long, seemingly endless embrace. Unfortunately, the opportunities for some real embracing were limited: As the evening wore on, the number of women at the party diminished rapidly. That, it has to be said, was the one nagging little problem. Just as all the men in the room were reaching that ideal point of inebriation when feelings turn into words and to like a woman is to say so, the few women to be found could barely be seen for the guys standing around them like trees. To suffer such a fate at the Playboy Mansion seemed especially cruel.