Cardmember Since, Um, Noon

Am Ex I’m not gloating. It’s just that it blows my mind that I’m now, officially, the kind of guy who carries a corporate card.

“Corporate” has always been a dirty word for me. It makes me think of unethical, hob knobbing straw men in generic suits. It makes me think of greed, uniformity, and homogeneity, anonymous airports, hotel rooms and rental cars.

Growing up, I never really had any bad corporate experiences (ie: toxic chemicals in the backyard). Neither of my parents were terribly corporate. To the contrary, I worked for mom and pop operations: Berwyn Video (not Blockbuster), Uncommon Grounds (not Starbucks).

I read a lot of Thoreau in college. I’m sure that didn’t help. At one point, I threatened to drop out, move to a cabin in the mountains, and read books all the time. (My father talked me out of it.)

Still, I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, culture (at least whatever corner with which I identify) certainly disparages corporations — and for good reason. From Triangle Waist to DuPont, Exxon to Enron, corporations have a long history of exploitation, polution, avarice and fraud.

I think the primary reason I’ve never thought of myself as corporate is fairly obvious (and probably unworthy of exposition): rock ‘n roll.

I wrote a strange little song called “Corporate” (it’s on “Out Of Your Head,” my catchy but oddly uneven sophomore CD) just after moving to New York in 1995. It wasn’t just the canyons of skyscrapers that had me spooked. It was the kneejerk rush to judgement upon meeting someone new. The first question was always the same.

“What do you do?”

I was interning at Men’s Journal at the time (soon to freelance for Rolling Stone Online) trying to convert a journalism degree and eighteen months at an upstate newspaper into my half of the rent. I scribbled these lyrics on Wenner Media letterhead:

What do you do?
What did you say?
How do you fit into the food chain?

The road to here is long and well chronicled. Taken from a thousand feet, or by someone who’s just met me, it might add up:

High School Paper + Rock Band + Journalism Degree + 15 Years = VP, MTV News

I still hear the strains of Bob Mould’s “Company Book” ringing in my ears:

In the epilogue the company man
Takes his company life with his company hands
In his revelation he decrees
Extinction of faceless robots like himself
Spawned from the company book

Twenty years after taking the reigns at The Conestoga Spoke (I was the guy who changed the masthead from Helvetica to Times), though, as I charged a conference to my new corporate card, iit’s still kind of perplexing. I don’t feel corporate. I’m ethical, non-exploitative. I don’t wear a suit (though I’m pretty sure I am one). Still, a guy can’t help but wonder…

How do I fit into the food chain?

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