Lunch With Java Man He doesn't drink; he doesn't listen; he doesn't even eat. As Internet junkies storm the mess halls of Manhattan, the art of the schmooze heads back to the Stone Age.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – If it had happened once, I would have forgotten about it. If it had happened twice, I would have chalked it up to a weird phenomenon born of greed and desperation. Then I would have forgiven and forgotten about it.

But it's gone way, way past that now. I've had two lunches and three perfectly serviceable afterwork drinks ruined by this thing. It's time I did something. Right here. Right now.

I don't mean to be unkind. I know these guys can't help themselves. It's not the real them that's spewing out this stuff. But the monster has hold of their tongues and won't let go. So if you were born between 1963 and 1975, tear your nose away from your browser and sit up straight, you fricking loser. I'm talking to you.

I go to lunch the other day with this guy who has chased me down like Hemingway did a wounded hyena--patiently, never losing its spoor, waiting until it grew inattentive, and then pouncing and taking the poor, essentially defenseless animal down. In this case the weapon was a cellular phone, wielded from the street over and over again, like a bludgeon.

I get to the restaurant, one of my favorites, on time--but look! He's there already, his Nokia on the table before him. The air hums around him like electricity gone liquid. He is hunched over a folder, writing and drinking coffee. Coffee? Who drinks coffee before a meal? There's nothing wrong with it--I once saw a waitress doing it at a Stuckeys outside Kansas City. It's just odd in a Midtown restaurant, that's all.

"Hey," he says as I sit down. He pumps my hand. His grip is hard, bony. A little cold. I make a joke about the coffee.

"I don't drink that much," he says. He's not offended, but he's taking the matter seriously. "I have two cups. Every day. I didn't get my second cup this morning." He is taut and wiry. He's lost a little hair since the last time I saw him, which is kind of unfair, since he's barely grazing the wrong side of 30.

"How you been?" I ask, wishing it was socially acceptable to have a couple of martinis. Something's wrong. I can feel it. The body language is all off; the restaurant is noisy.

"Fine!" he shrieks, flattening me against the back of my seat. "So, anyhow," he continues (enough small talk!), "as we move down the road the need for broadband solutions to the gateway issues is going to be centrally dominated by questions of interface and content generation! That's why is literally exploding!"

What he said after that is lost to me, like a conversation that seems important in a dream, only to evaporate when splashed by the morning light. When I tune back in, I hear: "The venture so far has a book value of $48 trillion, based on the backing of Forbisher & Rummy, as well as the incredible vote of confidence it's generated at Lazard Pere & Fils and Capital New Capital!"

"That's great!" I'm trying to concentrate--I swear to God I am. This thing is so important to him. And who knows? Maybe it should be important to me. It's fully possible that in two years this fellow is going to be a multimillionaire, and I'm going to be an old boomer with hair in my ears, looking for consulting work with an eager wolverine such as he. Listen, Bing! Listen!

But it's an Internet pitch, you know? Even the best are 62% bullshit, with a call on the other 38%. Here's what a typical one is made of:

--Hyperbole: Everything is huge! Massive! Delectable!

--Vague technical babble: Portals! Page frames! Hit rates! Yowza!

--Name dropping: Barry Bratislava is doing the financing.

--Threats of future incontinence: You're on the bus or not, dude.

--Delusions of grandeur: We're going to be rich! Rich, I tell you!

--Naked appeals for assistance: Can't I meet your entire senior management?

Where is the waitress, goddamn it!? Oh good. Here she is. This is a Chinese-Japanese-fusion kind of place. We're supposed to share. He orders medallions of raw salmon and a green salad. I order a mountain of something else. When it comes, he pushes his plates aside, leaving me to feed alone like a dog at the dish. I estimate that by the end of the meal I have eaten food intended for two strapping adults and drunk enough water to suffuse a small tree. After promising him several of my internal organs, I leave him at the table. He does not walk out with me for the traditional handshake; he is writing on a blotter and drinking coffee.

This phenomenon is not evident among boomers, aging hipsters, or old square dudes in pinstripes. It's strictly a Gen-X thing. The speed. The need. The blunt edge. So take the following in the spirit in which it is intended, you weenies:

--Talk slow! We hear slow. Not that we don't speak fast when it's called for. But sometimes it's not. And stop talking every now and then, Mr. Jabberwock, dude.

--Listen! The other guy will respond, and then you reply to that. See? We are not sponges to be squeezed for contacts. We are men and women with personal rhythms to be picked up and danced to!

--Can you make/take a joke? Face it, there is nothing funny about the Internet. There are no Internet jokes. People who talk about the Internet are very, very earnest, even the pornographers. That is why no one should talk about the Internet for more than ten minutes running, at the end of the meal.

--Watch your posture. Look around at civilized people. They lean back in their chairs. They slouch. They angle forward now and then, sharing conspiratorial insights. They may even share a companionable silence!

--Eat your food--while the other person is eating his. That's part of the experience. And if you're just drinking, drink. Get it?

--Speak English. The mix of cyber/Internet/arcane financing lingo is nauseating. I can't take it anymore. Shut up!

--Stop selling, you fool. Stop! Stop! Have a cookie!

--Let me offer. I know what you want: money and access to power. If I think you deserve either, I'll let you know.

And oh, yeah. By the way. Can I have a little piece of that initial public offering you were talking about?

What the hell was it again?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.