One afternoon, I receive a phone call from one of the people I restored e-mail and web connectivity to. He runs a Department of Defense contracting business. He says, “Michael, you know a lot of people, do you know any good Flash designers?”. I think for a second and say, I know a really good Flash designer but he just recovered over 300 web sites from Katrina and kinda has his hands full. I ask for more details and he says that the contract is with the Department of Defense, specifically the Department of the Navy.
It’s hard to explain but at that age, I was chasing “the” project. I wanted something a big name. I wanted a major portfolio piece. Nothing is bigger than the military. I ask what it’s paying. It’s significant.
We all have a price and you’re a liar if you don’t believe you have one. The only catch is that I have to work in a secure facility. I think that I’m probably not allowed to drink there. He asks if I have any skeletons in my closet. Besides my FBI file, I’m clean. He asks about the FBI file and I tell him this story.
I really was on the fence on whether to mention the FBI story in a book about my professional life but it’s a fairly humorous story which features a character who will soon to become a very controversial individual.
Around 2003, a hacker named Adrian Lamo was arrested by the FBI for compromising The New York Times, adding his name to the internal database of expert sources and using the paper’s LexisNexis account to conduct research on some high profile people.
Adrian was known previously as “The Homeless Hacker” which made for a interesting man hunt until he eventually turns himself in. Now when Adrian turned himself in, a FBI agent took the computer he had in his possession and began going through it with a fine toothed comb. This includes investigating every single Web site bookmarked on this machine. One of those bookmarks was to my personal blog page which has a fairly suspicious name.
The FBI agent does a WHOIS lookup on the domain name and sees my parent’s address. He picks up the phone and calls and asks for Michael. My mom answers, listens to the agent, who is at first, thinking it’s one of Michael’s friends playing a joke. He assures her he isn’t. She takes down his phone number and calls me and says it didn’t sound like a joke and I should give him a call.
I remember mixing a drink, despite it being very early in the morning and dialing the number. I told the agent that I’d be willing to talk to him but I might have to call him back upon retaining some council, he understands. The agent asks me general questions about myself, my computer experience, if I’ve ever met Adrian, I hadn’t, he was a friend of a friend and he must have appreciated my sense of humor of my blog.
The agent thanks me for my time and I attempt to go about my day.
Adrian would get headlines in 2010 when he reported to the U.S. Army authorities that Manning had claimed to have leaked a huge cache of documents, including 260,000 classified U.S diplomatic cables, to the Wikileaks organization.
This has cast Adrian has an villian and a snitch in the hacker community but I can honestly see his viewpoint. If I had been in trouble with the FBI before and someone was trying to involve me in a historically large leak, I might have turned them in to save my own skin. I’m a firm believer that the whole situation is a million shades of gray.
I fill out the extensive background check information, send it off, and wait. They contact me and tell them I’ve been approved and they send over the formal agreement.
Desperate for a chance to leave Memphis for my favorite city in the world, I accept the agreement and start to figure out how I’m going to run my web hosting and domain registration business while building Web sites for the greatest country in the world.
I leave Peter in charge of point2point, sell and give away every single thing I own except for a computer and clothes and buy a Amtrak ticket. I’ll never forget what it was like, laying there in my empty apartment the night before I get on the train. A minimalistic Buddhist type excitement, never realizing how tied down material possessions own you.
I arrive in New Orleans, rent a car, head back to St Vincent’s Guest House and begin my new life. After a few weeks of apartment hunting in a city that has very little habitable buildings, I finally found a available apartment in Midcity and moved in. Living in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina was a very interesting experience. With so much of the city destroyed, walking the dog in the evenings through the wreckage was very surreal. Being able to see the stars at night because there were so few lights, the scary packs of dogs roaming the streets and the streets lined with refrigerators.
I spent 2 years working on a computer based training program for the Navy which was both extremely rewarding and extremely soul crushing. The high points where meeting the 7 foot tall Marines who have used my software, thought it looked beautiful and also extremely to use. The low points were realizing that we were on a maintenance project, just making the necessary changes and getting paid to sit there.
After those 2 years I understand why our country is in the economic state it’s in. The amount of contractors sitting around just collecting paychecks was mind boggling and depressing at the same time.
I ran point2point from my Navy cubicle because the work we were getting paid to do literally took me 2 hours a week to complete. My boss didn’t care because he was busy running his DoD recruiting business from his cube. I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to work on this project but the soul crushing cubicle lifestyle had worn away at my core beliefs.
I packed up my cubicle and never looked back. Returning back to running a Web design company, I hit the ground running. I moved to the Garden District and found myself the nearest coffee shop and restaurant to use as a base of operations.
No business plan except to build sites and get a good reputation for be affordable yet providing good work, I started out doing ads in local the newspapers and working from word of mouth.
Cafe Rani on Magazine Street quickly because my pseudo office. With the coffee shop next door I had the best of both worlds. Networking anyway I can, I slowly started to build up new sites and the rest is history.
After a messy break up, I ended up moving to Carondelet where I moved my virtual office to the New Orleans Burger and Seafood on St Charles which I lived next door to. In retrospect I was happy in this life but often felt wondering what’s next.