Yahoo! and the paper mache Elvis

Internet search engines suck. They tempt you with 10,382 matches, but then you have to weed through the 8,241 porno sites to find the information you wanted on Popsicles.

Yahoo is the exception, and here's the reason: people categorize the sites. Yes, actual people. They check out the content, they categorize. They weed. If you search for "begging", you get begging! Amazing!

Yahoo has earned its place as an Internet powerhouse. Number one in traffic worldwide. Number one bookmarked site.

Davina's Letter

When I finished the first revision of this web-page, way back in February 1997, I submitted my web-page to a few different search engines. In a few days, I received a form letter from Yahoo! Stating that my web site had been added to Yahoo! This was good, but what really made my day was the letter from Davina, the Yahoo! surfer, simply saying that she liked my site and that I did a good job. Alright!

After a few victory laps around the Internet, I wrote her back thanking her, Yahoo!, the academy, and all the little people who made my web site possible. I proceeded to tout my achievement at work and at home. Davina and I exchanged a few emails regarding our jobs and paper-mache. Yahoo! and MCI were beginning to iron out the details of a join business venture: Yahoo! Online. It was like finding a pen-pal in a sister company. At some point she asked how much I would charge for a paper mache Elvis. I responded with a note explaining that I didn't require money, but that I would do it for dinner and the Yahoo! Grand tour. Also I specified that it had to be "race-car Elvis" and not older Elvis. Eventually she agreed, and I set to work.

I gathered some critical information about Elvis on the web, and bought a few postcards to help determine an appropriate pose. Next I played with the Elvis form in Poser 2, by Fractal Design so that I had a (virtual) 3-D model to work from. I decided to leave out the guitar and to include a microphone stand so he would be stable.

I plotted out a frame and bought a few ten foot pine 1x2s. I proceeded to cut the wood to lengths and screwed together the most haphazard structure of my whole life. There wasn't a 90° angle on the whole darn frame. Skeletal Elvis turned out great. I never would have believed that something so crooked could be that strong.


Chicken Wire Thighs

Next, I borrowed my father's cable stapler and began stapling chicken wire to the frame to give the limbs form. Chicken wire is great stuff, flexible yet strong. Unfortunately, whenever you cut it, you get sharp wire ends that generally poke and scratch you. This takes some getting used to.

I tried a head made of chicken wire first, then abandoned that for a paper bag stuffed with newspaper. For the hands I used plastic tubing held in place with coat-hanger wire. My brother Mike had warned me that people will notice bad hands first, so I took extra care to get them right.


With the frame done, I began the mache process. My paper mache recipe has evolved over the years and now it consists of flour and water only. The flour was $1.80. Paper Mache isn't the finest art medium, but you have got to love the price!

Endless Paperwork

Elvis was one of my first chicken-wire frames, and it makes a real difference. With a balloon frame, the paper itself provides the structure, so you must have 3 layers of paper all over so that the structure is strong enough to not collapse when the balloons inside burst. With chicken wire, all that is required is one and a half layers, so that the surface is continuous and the sculpture isn't translucent. This saves a lot of time. Over the next few days, I covered the frame with paper, one strip at a time. It went pretty quickly, and I found that rendering the human form is very satisfying.

Secret MCI Operation

My original plan was to mount a camera and video transmitter inside Elvis' chest cavity, so I could maintain a constant surveillance on the Yahoo! operation. This "Memphis Horse" idea depended on the Yahoo! premises not having microwave shielding on the upper floors. Unfortunately, early recon revealed that Yahoo! security was tighter than their whimsical name indicated. Operation Memphis Horse was terminated.



For the microphone stand, I used PVC tubing and chicken wire. I also wired a tiny light inside the microphone to illuminate Elvis' face. The microphone cord is actually a power cord. I was afraid that a bright light would be too hot for a paper housing, so I used a tiny neon light bulb.

When the paper skin was complete & dry, I gave it a coat of Gesso and started in on the painting. I am not much of a painter, so I kept the colors simple and cartoonish.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion about how Elvis' clothes should look. I made him pretty 50's, but I didn't want him to be confused with a paper mache James Dean, so I gave him gray pants and a plum jacket.

Three-quarters of the way through painting, I had to do some reconstructive surgery on Elvis' hair. The pompadour was not grand enough. This required re-mache and repainting most of the head - a giant hassle, but the result was a much more recognizable Elvis.

With Elvis complete, I took some pictures and made arrangements with Davina for his delivery. She revealed an intention to install Elvis at her workplace. This was great news to me, and I offered to deliver to Yahoo's front door.

Elvis has left the building

On April 2nd, 1998, I got a job as a roadie for The King of Rock and Roll. He barely fit into the back of my hatchback. I really wanted him to ride shotgun, so I could scare people on the road and use the carpool lanes, but his pose didn't allow it, even with the microphone detached. I drove carefully through some light rain. I couldn't afford a car accident, because the mangled Elvis would have stunned even a veteran paramedic. I forgot to bring the address along, but I had Davina's office number, so I called her once I got to Santa Clara and she guided me in using Yahoo Maps.

Davina was at the Yahoo! Headquarters entrance, smiling and smoking. A small reception met me, and helped unload and re-assemble the king. We put him right in the reception area, near the giant purple chairs. Davina was very happy with her new pal and everyone was friendly and at least a little impressed. My full-length tour of the Yahoo! complex began immediately.


Inside Yahoo!

I saw the incredible 3 foosball-table breakroom, the infamous wall of whiteboards and dozens of computer geeks! I met surfers and engineers and some business types. I saw at least 45 cardboard character stand-ups, from movie stars to Nobel Laureates. I even got to hold the fish.

I asked if I could go into the basement to see the boiler room for the search engine, but Davina explained that Yahoo! Is actually a "website index", and that it requires only solar energy. In sum, it was amazing, like a tour of the Pentagon, Disneyland and Skywalker Ranch all rolled into one... well, except there weren't any golf carts.

At the end of the tour, Davina was anxious to show her appreciation by buying me an extravagant dinner at the Ritz, but I convinced her that was unnecessary and that I wanted a place where I could get a milkshake. We found one and a great dinner at the Tumbleweed Café in San Francisco, and Davina paid for the whole thing.

Driving home that night, I was a little sad, Elvis was gone, and an empty room awaited me in Sacramento. Then I realized, I still had half a roll of chicken wire!


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