Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Institutionalized "Thugism"

In the wake of the Biker Shootout in Waco, Texas, the knee-jerk tempest-in-a-teapot debate of the day on CNN was: "Why don't the media call white bikers Thugs?" For one thing, CNN is the world's largest media outlet, so if they had wanted to call them thugs, that network's editorializing journalists had a great opportunity to call them that on the air (they did not).  For another thing, virtually all media outlets have (unconsciously?) labeled outlaw motorcycle clubs as motorcycle GANGS instead.  Does that not implicitly accuse them of thuggery, merely by slapping a gang label on them?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 13



Chapter 13
Atlas Belched

Later that day:
By the time I finally reached my stockbroker, it was far too late to cut my losses. What used to be stock worth $3,000,000 on Friday had, by Monday morning, spiraled down to about 300-grand (but only in theory was it worth even that much, since very few investors were buying at any price in this panic stricken market). As the world's stock exchanges plunged to unheard-of depths on that so-called Black Monday, I mentally castigated myself: Just look at you now, big shot! You imagined that you were some kind of half-ass heroic capitalist straight out of an Ayn Rand novel, but now you're virtually broke and probably don't even have a job anymore!

I had never felt so stupid in my entire life, for in a span of just a few months I managed to violate every personal standard of thriftiness, prudence and humility I ever held, and paid a heavy financial price for it. I had always despised the unbecoming human trait of hubris, yet had been just as guilty of hubris as any stereotypical Captain of Industry or Dallas oil man or Wall Street investment banker.

My forlorn prediction about being relegated to the unemployment line proved to be all too accurate. On Friday, five days after the markets crashed, Herb informed me that since the company was suddenly cash-strapped, I was being laid-off from my $36,000-a-year position. Then he turned around and begged me to work weekends (without pay) from home on my personal computer until the economy rebounded. With reluctance I agreed to do so, even while believing that under these dire circumstances an economic rebound was a year or more down the road. I thought with glum resignation: Back to the fucking temp agency!

The next time I saw my sexy new turbocharged Corvette, the car seemed to mock me like a high-maintenance trophy-wife whom I could no longer financially support. There was no way I could afford to keep that high-powered gas guzzler. However, analogous to a divorce settlement, even more money would go down the drain if I parted with “her” at this time.

Having managed to outsmart myself right out of three-million bucks, I now swore that if the opportunity to get-rich-quick ever arose again, I would take the money and run - with alacrity.

* * *
Within a week of my getting laid-off, Tina suffered the same fate at the Rainier Plaza Hotel, due to a flood of trade convention cancellations coming in the wake of the market crash. As for Angie, she had quit her latest waitress gig at Denny's Restaurant months ago, under the misapprehension that henceforth I would have an unlimited amount of cash to burn. Now we were getting-by on unemployment checks, supplemented to a certain extent by my almost worthless Servercomp stock.

From late-October until the end of the holiday season, I, following Angie's example, fell easily into a life of sloth, sexual debauchery and an overindulgence of booze - in keeping with this festive time of year. One delightful benefit (at least for myself) of our collective unemployment: there were many more opportunities and more time for the three of us to be in bed together - an uncommon occurrence of late. By Christmastime, though, our perpetual bacchanalia disintegrated because of the constant bickering that came with being cooped-up together for such a long time. Tina got so disgusted with Angie and me that she decided to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve staying with various family members around town. 

Around noon on Christmas Day, as Angie and I nursed routine hangovers, Tina had some choice parting words for us just before leaving to visit her mother: “I gotta find me a job before I lose my fuckin' mind hangin' 'round here! And as for you muthafuckas, ya better git yer shit together soon or you'll find yerself back at the trailer park - without me!” She then voiced with facetious yuletide cheer: “Happy Holidays!” and, as she normally did when making an exit, slammed the front door behind her.

* * *
January 1988
Seized with post-holiday boredom (and worried that the disgruntled Tina might decide to move-out), I obtained an IBM system operator job through my old temp agency, right after the turn of the new year. To my surprise and relief, life soon settled down to a semblance of normalcy once again. And the nation's economy was recovering faster than anyone had anticipated, rendering the nightmare of Black Monday a disturbing but quickly fading memory. Even the price of my stock had stabilized, climbing to over one-dollar per share and gaining a few cents every week. Investors were apparently beginning to realize that unlike the other recent high-tech start-ups (many of which were now defunct), Servercomp was a going concern and had actually turned a respectable profit the year before.

By February, my most worrisome problems were behind me - just in time for new problems to develop. First came the weird phone calls I began to receive at home: a male voice on the line asked, “Denny?”

He sounded a lot like a friend of mine who lived in the apartment below. “Yeah - Dan? Hey, I just found out that I'm on-call tonight, so I won't be able to go to the game after all.”

“I'm afraid this isn't a game, Denny.”

“Whoa - what? Who the hell is this?”

“Just a friend.”

“Is that so. Well, I could always use another friend, but something tells me it wouldn't work out.”

“That's too bad - I merely wanted to do you a favor by saving you a ton of money.”

“For a telemarketer, you sure got a strange sales pitch.”

“No, I'm not trying to sell you anything. I just called to let you know that it would be advisable for you to unload all of your stock in the computer company you own - before it's too late. There are certain potential legal problems associated with that company, problems which have drawn the interest of the FBI.”

“Bullshit. And why would you help me, anyhow? What's in it for you? Oh I get it now - you work for a brokerage house and you're trying to scare me into selling cheap. Man, I'm gonna kick my broker's ass if if I find out that he gave you my home number.” Before he could explain anything, I said just before hanging up, “Just forget it, okay? And don't ever call me here again!”

Not long after that, I dropped by the downtown offices of Barnum & Barnum for a face-to-face talk with a friendly young guy named Doug Feld, my stockbroker, who was leaving his office as I arrived there. He said, while shaking my hand, “Oh, hi Mister Smith. Anything I can do for you? Um, I was just going down the block to get something to eat - care to join me?”

“No thanks, I already ate. I just wanted to ask you a quick question. Let's take a walk.” We spoke briefly on the way to a fast-food place on the corner. I told him about the odd phone call, leaving out the part about “certain potential legal problems” with the FBI. “...and he mentioned inside information about the company - which obviously I can't tell you about - otherwise I wouldn't take him seriously. The only thing I wanna know is, did anyone at your office happen to give this guy my home number?”

Startled, yet at the same time looking unperturbed, he replied firmly, “Oh no, I never reveal my clients' personal info, and I'm the only who has access to it. So, you think somebody wants you to dump your stock so he can snatch it up at a bargain basement price, eh? If he's that eager to acquire so many shares, perhaps you should buy some.”

“That's not a bad idea, now that I'm working again. I'll call you later this afternoon and we can discuss it.”

Although still desiring to know who had called me and why, I was much more interested in knowing whether or not his claim of an FBI investigation of Servercomp was true. Therefore, after parting ways with Feld in front of a deliciously aromatic teriyaki joint, I drove a few miles to Servercomp's modest two-story headquarters building, where I had hardly set foot since getting laid-off. There I chatted with Joey and Herb and with the few office staffers still on the payroll, such as my old friend Shelly. While talking to Shelly and her co-workers, I casually fished for any bad news or scurrilous rumors about the company - without revealing anything myself. As far as I could ascertain from our conversations, nothing was out of the ordinary. And Joey appeared to be in a good mood for a change, probably because the price of company stock had risen 10 cents that day, closing at a dollar-fifty.

I wanted to believe that the anonymous caller had lied about an FBI investigation. But if he had been on the level, then how would he get access to such information? The only ones I knew that had serious connections within government were the guys who for years had tried to recruit me to work for an unnamed federal agency.

A week later, around the beginning of March, I received another upsetting call, while working my computer temp job for the Seattle School District. I answered the phone, “Information Services, Denny speaking.”

“While there's still time, you need to break all ties with those sick perverts who run the company, before you lose everything.”

“Oh, jeez. What the fuck are you talking about? Who's a pervert?”

 But the line was already dead. At least he hadn't called me at home this time.


Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 12



Chapter 12
Capitalist Propaganda


Sept. 1987
On a rare day away from the Servercomp offices, I was relaxing on the balcony at home that early-autumn afternoon, enjoying what was probably the last warm weather we would get for the next eight months. While I reclined in a deck chair and read the novel Atlas Shrugged for the third time, Tina and Angie conversed loudly over the dreadful pop music blaring from the living room TV. Just as I began reading the part where John Galt goes-off on a 63-page didactic diatribe against collectivism, Tina's voice screeched from inside the apartment, through the open sliding glass door, "Hercules, git yer funky ass in here!”

“WHAT!”

Marta is on fuckin' TV! HURRY!"

“BULLSHIT!” Then I stuck my head inside the apartment and took a gander at the screen. On a music video on MTV, Marta's ass gyrated wildly as she sang her brand-new release, something called Love Me Up and Down. Gobsmacked, I rushed back into the apartment.

While lip-synching to the awful disco-flavored tune, Marta tossed her ice-blonde mane and flashed a perfectly white, Look-Ma-No-Cavities, open-mouthed smile. As my eyes were riveted to the TV, Tina glanced up at me and said, “Look, Angie - Hercules is gittin' a hard-on.”

That wasn't exactly true. “Yeah, right,” I grumbled distractedly, while cold sweat beaded on my forehead.

After the video mercifully ended, Marta was sitting in the company of a fatuously hip MTV host, who started babbling: "Marta is in the studio with us tonight to discuss her new recording career. But let's start with a little of your background, Marta.”

“Vell, I grew-up in Frankfurt, Germany...”

“...Now, your father is an airline pilot and you recently lived in the United States?”

“Yes, in 1985 I lived in the marvelous city of Seattle, Vashington. Of course, having a 747 captain as a father, I have had many opportunities to travel all over the verld.”

“And until this summer, you were attending university in Leipzig, Germany, studying aeronautics. Excellent!”

“Yes. I had originally intended to pursue a career as a commercial pilot, but somehow I have become a pop star instead,” she concluded, tongue-in-cheek.

“Incidentally, your debut album - Seething Lust - is currently in the Top 100 throughout Europe, so congratulations!” The young male host with spiky bleach-blonde hair abruptly changed the subject, clapping his hands once and addressing the camera: “All right! As our viewers in Europe may be aware of, Marta began her showbiz career in adult films...”

Angie, discombobulated, asked rhetorically: "What the fuck!?"

Tina looked narrowly at Angie. "Surprised? Ya know damned well she made dirty movies while she lived here."

I jumped in and sarcastically offered to Tina, “I suppose this is all my fault too.”

Her sharp knuckles lashed out in rebuttal, jamming painfully into my ribcage as she scolded, 
"Quiet, you - I wanna hear what this slut has to say for herself.”

Marta continued, “...I also have a new adult video release on the market.” With a titter, she added, “It's called Orgasmic Fury tee-hee!” Then she gushed in earnest, “I am extremely pleased vith the response of all my new American fans. My videos have been doing quite vell in North America since I made the covers of all the popular adult magazines."

"That's really awesome - so Marta, how long have you been involved in adult cinema?"

"For about two years now. I began performing in adult films ven I vas 18..."

Indignant Tina erupted. "Eight-fuckin'-teen! That lyin' little cocksucka!"

The MTV host looked at the camera and announced, “Now here's another new music video from Marta that I know you'll enjoy - it's called You Hit My G-Spot, Baby...”

* * *
Early-Oct. 1987
Never in my life had I possessed so much money at one time. For the past two weeks, ever since Servercomp's now-diluted shares began trading on NASDAQ's Over-the-Counter exchange, there had been a huge run-up in the value of those shares (I then owned 250,000 watered-down shares worth, at the time, well over one million dollars). The true monetary value of the company did not appear to justify its current market valuation. However, investors were in the midst of a torrid love affair with under-capitalized high-tech start-ups like ours. Even a frugal financial conservative such as myself was caught up in the irrational fantasy of unending profits in the stock market. As a consequence, when the latest quarterly dividend check from Servercomp arrived in the mail, I blew it all on a large down payment on a turbocharged 1987 Chevy Corvette convertible. That was uncharacteristically impulsive and extravagant of me, but I convinced myself that the 'Vette was a well deserved reward for all the long hours I had worked all year. When I brought that flaming orange road racer home for the first time, Tina, suitably impressed, whistled low and said, “That's a hot ride, Herc - let's go for a spin! You rent that for the weekend?”

With a carefree grin I replied, “Hell no, I bought it.”

Her response to that left me crestfallen: “Do what! Ha,” she laughed without humor. “Yer gonna have lotsa fun drivin' yer kids to daycare in that thing.”

The blood drained from my cheeks in alarm, as I feared that this was her clever way of informing me that she or Angie was pregnant. “Er - I thought we all agreed that we don't want kids right now.”

“Yeah – er, “she mocked. “Don'tcha know by now that shit don't always workout the way you want it when you want it, Hercules? Anyway, ya told me you were sick of this apartment and thinkin' about buyin' a house. So how much was that muthafuckin' car? 30-grand?”

“Forty-two grand, actually, “I replied, clearing my throat. “But I'm still buying a house - and even that car phone you've been hinting-at for your birthday.” With a shrug, I added, “If I ever need money, I'll just unload a few thousand shares - a drop in the bucket, babe.”

“You been scarin' the hell outta me lately, Herc. I think I liked ya better when you were a cheap-ass skinflint. You must have millions stashed in the bank, the way ya been tossin' Benjamins around like a dope dealer.”

“Don't be ridiculous. Any extra money we do have is tied-up in stock.”

One of the more rational reasons why the price of Servercomp stock was skyrocketing was that the nation's number-one internet provider, Compuserve, was trying to buy a controlling interest in the company. Its takeover attempt was in angry response to our recent foray into the business computer services and support market, a market in which Compuserve earned the bulk of its profits. But Compuserve's hostile move was stymied at the moment as the only Servercomp stock available on the open market was of the Preferred type, which conveyed no voting rights. Nearly all of the voting stock was closely held by corporate officers Joey Blowers, Herb Toker and Rob Oldham. In addition, a small block of voting stock was held by the founders of Microno Software, the Seattle-area billionaires Milt Gaines and Allen Paulsen.

Friday, Oct. 16 - two weeks later:
It was almost embarrassing to dwell on how high the value of my shares had risen this month. All the stock markets had been trending slightly downward all week, but that had not lessened Compuserve's determination to swallow our company. Compuserve had recently tendered a stunning bid of $15 per share for a majority stake, and the Wall Street Journal fueled the rumor that Servercomp's board was very close to accepting the bid, which drove the share-price ever upward. That rumor happened to be absolutely false, according to what Joey, our CEO, had told investors during a stockholders meeting the previous day. Then he had gone on to declare, “It's obvious that they want to buy us out merely to shut us down permanently, but in order to do so they're gonna have to pay out the ass. Now, if they make us an offer we can't refuse, like 25 dollars or more per share - and I doubt they ever will - the board may well consider it. In the event that we do accept such an offer at some future date, I would advise everyone to hang onto your shares.”

As planned, Angie and I flew to Las Vegas on that Friday morning and spent the weekend there. To Tina's misfortune, she couldn't come along since it was impossible for her to get time off from work right then.

While staying at The Mirage, which at the time was the most luxurious, expensive hotel in Vegas, we burned through many thousands of dollars gambling at casinos up and down The Strip. Thousands more were spent on gold jewelry and fancy clothes for Angie and Tina. I was just relieved that I hadn't succumbed to the temptation to unload a bunch of stock earlier that week.

On Saturday, Angie and I stood on our balcony at The Mirage and watched the sunset saturating the entire sky with deep shades of orange and red. She hugged my side and said in happiness, “Oh Denny I think this has been the best weekend ever - I love you!”

“I love you too, sweetie. Life is damned good right now and it's gonna get even better. Come on, let's go back inside and get naked.”

“Hell yeah!”

* * *
Black Monday”: Oct. 19, 1987
When the alarm clock went off at 7am, I awoke with a loud groan, still feeling the aftereffects of our fun weekend. Having drunk much more alcohol than usual, I suffered from a pulsating headache. After leaving the bathroom, I noticed the red light flashing on the phone answering machine, so I played-back the single message which had been recorded at 5:30 that morning: “Hi Mister Smith, this is Doug Feld at Barnum & Barnum.” It was my stockbroker. “Hey call me back as soon as you can - the exchanges in New York are in free fall, and Servercomp is down two points already, so you might want to buy a put option...” I called him back immediately but all there was on the line was elevator music, and every so often a soothing female voice assured me that a representative would assist me shortly. While waiting impatiently on the phone, I watched the Today show on TV.

Stock tickers were crawling along the bottom of the screen as a financial reporter gloomily informed viewers: “...This is shaping-up to be the worst day on Wall Street since the infamous stock market crash of October, 1929. With six hours still remaining until the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down a whopping 380 points from Friday, and NASDAQ is down 72 points...One of the few winners today is Compuserve, trading 50 cents a share higher after withdrawing their $15-dollar a share bid for smaller rival Servercomp, whose over-the-counter shares today fell from Friday's close of 11.25 down to 98 cents before trading was halted - a drop of over 90%...”

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop









Friday, February 27, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 11


Chapter 11
Mind Bender

Mid-August 1987
Lately I got some vindictive pleasure over the startling news that Xeno Corporation, my former employer, had declared bankruptcy. Most of its remaining Seattle workforce (including three of Servercomp's current investors) were put on the unemployment line. Xeno simply couldn't cut it against the competition from personal computer software, which was transforming the business computing market. And even its feared competitor, the mighty IBM, was having trouble adjusting to the new reality.

Shelly, the young woman I trained to replace me at Xeno, had lost her job there. But on my recommendation, she was quickly hired by Servercomp as a second-shift system administrator, since business was now brisk enough to justify staffing the office late into the night. Business was so good, in fact, that I was finally getting paid for my work and was able to quit my tedious temp job. My position at Servercomp was only slightly more interesting, though: when I wasn't recovering crashed servers, I was processing customer credit card transactions or performing other mundane accounting chores - not exactly the career on the cutting edge of technology I had envisioned. The work wasn't fulfilling but it was potentially rewarding. Whenever the workday got too boring, I consoled myself with the thought that eight cents of every dollar of profit would eventually end-up in my pocket.

Within a few days of quitting the temp agency (and probably not by coincidence), a representative of MJ Recruiters contacted me at Servercomp. I had not heard from them since early-1986. Over the phone, I told the recruiter, a man whom I knew only as Augustus, “I'm really busy, so we better make this a quick conversation. Hey, how did you get this number, anyway?”

He said, “I got it from an interested client.”

“I wonder if they know my unlisted home number, too - never mind, dumb question. Well, you can tell them that I'm very happy with my current situation.”

“All right, but don't be too hasty. They're making an extremely generous offer.” Chuckling, he added, “You were pretty smart to hold-out this long.”

“That was easy enough to do, since I have no interest in government work anymore.” Becoming impatient, I told him, “For the life of me, I can't understand why they keep trying to hire me. I'm just a nobody - a clerk, for chrissakes.”

“I believe we've talked about that before, Denny. They merely want somebody who can start working immediately, without going through a long drawn-out vetting process. Say, could we set-up a face-to-face meeting? I can't go into very much detail on the phone.”

“Naw, I'm sure it would just be a waste of our time. Um, just out of curiosity, what are they offering this time - 45, 50 grand a year?”

Since I had just displayed a bit of interest in spite of myself, he ramped-up the enthusiasm. “Even better than that, Denny! Come on, man, let's get together and at least discuss it.”

With my my mind already made-up, I turned him down flat. “It wouldn't do any good, Augustus. As your client must be aware of by now, I'm part-owner of this business, and so far, things are going great. I don't plan on doing anything else for the duration.”

“I understand. Well, good luck with the computer business. Here's my new contact number, in the event that you change your mind someday...” I absently scribbled his number on a scrap of paper and stuck it into a forgotten corner in my wallet, with no expectation of ever calling him.
During the early-80s, after being discharged from the US Air Force, I hadn't been overly surprised to be recruited for a civilian government position. But now, six years later, their interest in me was as strong as ever, if not more so. While it was true that the military had entrusted me with highly classified intelligence, that in itself did not explain the government's persistence.

The only really unusual duty I pulled while in the military occurred near the end of my enlistment, in 1980, after volunteering (for a $1,000 bonus) to spend a weekend in McLean, Virginia, where I underwent a battery of psychological tests being conducted by an unnamed government agency. Among the tests I took were the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Gittinger Personality Assessment System. They never did reveal to me any of the test results. But apparently I had scored enough “correct” answers, because one month later I was invited to volunteer for further testing conducted at an undisclosed location in the Las Vegas area. I happily volunteered - for the $2,000 bonus they offered for participating. The tests were being conducted 60 miles northwest of Nellis Air Force Base, where I was stationed.

To my astonishment, the psychological examinations I endured next involved the testing of my potential psychic abilities. Shortly after arriving at a deceptively rundown-looking scientific laboratory located on a federal facility near Mercury, Nevada, I was tested for my talent at guessing the symbols printed on cards drawn from a deck of Zener Cards, an Extra-Sensory Perception test which most people are familiar with. Then, after receiving a rudimentary course in meditation delivered by a yoga specialist, I was given another run-through on the Zener Cards. In a slightly different test, they gave me the task of guessing the exact order of a well-shuffled 52-card deck of regular playing cards which lay untouched on a table before me. Next came a test of my psychokinetic ability: I sat in front of an extremely sensitive, delicately balanced set of scientific scales and attempted to tip the scales - even by a miniscule amount - by force of will power alone. On that first day, I underwent these three tests repeatedly, with each repetition preceded by a 15-minute session of meditation and controlled breathing.

The second day's activities began with an hour of meditation followed by a test in telepathy: I was placed in a tiny, windowless sound-proofed room. On the table inside was a closed-circuit TV monitor, a pencil and a sketch pad. At 30-second intervals, a randomly-selected image appeared on the screen. Then I would concentrate on the image, such as a zebra or a baseball or what-have-you, and try to broadcast the image mentally to another test subject who was sitting in a similar room down the hall. After 20 minutes of my being the “sender”, the monitor went dark and then I became the “receiver” of mental images. Every 30 seconds a musical tone would sound, prompting me to scrawl a crude picture of whatever image popped into my mind at that moment. This procedure was repeated during all of the third day, between increasingly long meditation sessions.

I had been told beforehand that the tests would take three days to complete. But as I packed my overnight bag for the drive back home to Nellis that afternoon, the Duty Officer - an army lieutenant - came to my private room and asked me to report ASAP to the office of Dr Bender, who was this classified project's lead parapsychologist. I would have been shocked if he had not been affiliated with the CIA in some way. Kindly-looking Dr Bender had been lurking in the background throughout these psychic experiments, but I had never spoken with that distinguished white-haired researcher. Moreover, all test subjects - 12 of us - had been kept in virtual isolation from each other and also from the personnel who were conducting the tests.

I knocked on the doctor's door, and he bade me to enter. “Hello! Have a seat, Sergeant Smith.” Closing a manila folder, he said, “Well, I've been looking over your personnel files and medical records. You'd make a fine candidate for another round of tests we have planned over the next two days. Now if you agree to participate, your bonus will be doubled.”

“Really? That's cool. But what's so special about me? Did I do well in the tests?”

“Sorry, but we can't delve into the subject of your tests scores. The particular thing that qualifies you for further testing is your record of drug usage - specifically, LSD and marijuana.”

Slightly embarrassed, I replied hesitantly. “Aah, not, not anymore, doctor. I'll lose my security clearance if I fail another urine test.”

He leaned back in his executive chair and said, “That won't be a problem.” He went on to explain that the upcoming tests would be identical to the ones I had already taken, the only difference being that prior to the first day of testing I would consume a relatively moderate dose (300 micrograms) of LSD. For the second day, each test would start with my taking an ever-increasing dose of distilled extract of marijuana (THC), in pill form. With nothing better to do than return to my paper-shuffling job, I signed the Informed Consent release form and signed one other form, titled Temporary Exemption From the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The doc then told me, “Copies of these will go into your security file, so there won't be any trouble, I can assure you.” Hearing that, I was unsure whether or not that was actually a good thing, since my enlistment was nearly at an end anyway.

The psychic tests I took under the influence of LSD didn't appear to turn out well, although I never was informed of the results. In the past, I had dropped acid experimentally, in high-school, but the hallucinogenic effects felt during those youthful trips were nothing compared to the way this Pure CIA Acid affected me. As soon as the acid began to deliver a pleasant body buzz, I underwent the Zener Card test. About halfway through the test, I noticed that my grandfather's reedy voice seemed to be speaking into my ear, telling me the name of each symbol on the cards - circle, cross, square, star or wavy lines - which I faithfully repeated aloud as a research assistant drew them one-by-one from the deck. After the last card, I chuckled in amusement and said, “Thanks, grampa!” The young assistant gave me an askance look, as if I had been referring to him.

At the start of the psychokinesis test, 30 minutes later, I was laughing helplessly at the notion that it was possible to move objects with the power of the mind. I gesticulated with arms and hands elaborately as if casting a magic spell, and then I observed arcs of iridescent blue light flaring from my fingertips. I commanded with a pompous air, “Sim-sim-salobim! I hereby order this delicate scientific instrument to be physically influenced merely by the force of my indomitable will - so move, motherfucker! WAAHAHOOOHAHA!”

With my mind in a dense fog, and intense colors swirling before my eyes, orderlies assisted me while I staggered down the hall to a sound-proofed room for the telepathy test. The LSD was peaking at its maximum effect as I entered the claustrophobic room. A female lab assistant's voice came over the loudspeaker, “Sergeant Smith, for the first round you'll be the receiver. The test will begin in 60 seconds.” I howled with raucous laughter because she sounded like Minnie Mouse after breathing helium.

The first musical tone prompted me to draw a picture of a vampire bat with huge fangs, then a cockroach 30 seconds later. My hilarious mood abruptly degraded to vague paranoia. The next sketch was of a bleeding Christ on the Cross. The badly-drawn Jesus suddenly became animated, lifting his thorn-crowned head and telling me, “Believe in me and thus the force of thy will shall be as great as mine own.”

Becoming agitated, I shouted at whoever could hear me, “You guys are just fucking with my head, now - Jesus never spoke English!”

Then Dr Bender's soothing voice came over the intercom. “Sergeant Smith, are you all right? Are you able to continue?”

I replied, “Yeah, tell Jesus I'm fine and dandy.”

“Just breathe deeply for a moment and relax. Close your eyes and rest. Hang in there, Sergeant, we'll be done in less than an hour.”

I followed the doctor's instructions and did begin to feel calmer. Just as the next tone sounded, an image of an extra-terrestrial being popped into my head. The slender, gray ET had a bulbous skull and enormous almond-shaped eyes, looking like the dead aliens I had seen in photos within secret Air Force Intelligence reports. A few seconds after beginning to draw it on paper, I threw the pencil down in horror and yelled, “Hey, fuck this! You people don't really give a shit about ESP - this is all about trying to pick my brain to find out what I know! That's none of the CIA's goddam business!” I bolted out of my chair so fast I almost fell on my face. I tried opening the door but it was locked, setting-off a panic attack. “Lemme outta here, you brainwashing bastards!” I rattled the doorknob and pounded on the thin metal wall . “Unlock this fucking door!” As it turned out, I had merely locked the door from the inside without realizing it. So ended the tests while zonked on LSD - a little prematurely.

After getting nine hours of sleep that night, I felt fairly normal again, and the tests performed next day under the influence of THC went more smoothly, although it was very difficult to stay awake after consuming the equivalent of about five grams of potent pot within a short time span. Later that night, during the hour-long drive back to Nellis Air Force Base, I swore to myself, “I'm never gonna volunteer for anything again - for no amount of fuckin' money!”

Flash forward to the summer of '87:
Not many days after being contacted by Augustus, I was browsing through a used-book store in downtown Seattle. I came across an old paperback which I had seen in libraries and bookstores on occasion but had never even bothered to open. It was titled Psychic Discoveries of the Soviet Union, published way back in 1970. Now I seized it off the shelf and stood there reading it in fascination for nearly an hour. The hair on the back of my neck bristled as I learned that over 20 years ago, the Russians had been conducting the same psychic experiments I had undergone in Mercury, Nevada in 1980. However, the Russian experiments went one step further: test subjects were put in isolation, where they attempted to identify and observe pre-selected objects or people or even sounds such as conversations, at a remote location - even from miles away. The purpose of that, as one might guess, was to develop the capability of psychic spying.

I then wondered, Is THAT the real reason why the government is so eager to hire me?



Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 10


Chapter 10
Computer Game - Level II

Feb. 1987
After receiving some positive write-ups in computer hobbyist magazines, and a two-page feature story in the Seattle Post-Impressionist newspaper, Servercomp began turning a small profit. To the disappointment of investors who were short on cash, though, all profits had to be plowed right back into additional servers and phone lines to handle the huge increase in online traffic, which had been building steadily for months but was now exploding. Most of the magazine reviews had praised the fast response-times of Servercomp's servers, which was largely due to the company's very close proximity to the city's main Bell Telephone switching center. Joey Blowers, the company CEO, once told me that that was a big reason why he had been so keen to lease the particular office space that Servercomp now occupied.

One evening in mid-March, the company held an impromptu office party/shareholders meeting, partly in celebration of the accountant's report that for the month of February Servercomp had turned a profit of over $6,000 - the most by far in its eight months of existence. Nearly all of the major shareholders were in attendance as Joey, white and in his early-30s, made an announcement: “All the recent media buzz surrounding the company has drawn the interest of several venture capitalists, so the board of directors - namely Herb, Ron and myself - has voted unanimously to authorize the issuance of 20 additional shares, increasing the number of company shares to 120.” Then, after some investors made noises of protest, Joey held up his hands and continued. “I knew you wouldn't like the sound of that, but we have no choice but to raise more capital to continue the rapid increase of our file storage capacity and phone-line capacity, or else we won't be able to compete with America On-Line and Prodigy. Look at it philosophically: 80 percent of something is infinitely better than 100 percent of nothing.” Then he clapped once and with a sly smile said, “Now, allow me to tell you guys something you'll like much better: those 20 shares will be sold for 30,000 dollars - each!” That elicited an appreciative sigh from everyone, including myself. The value of my own holdings, originally $5,000, had suddenly ballooned to over $250,000 (in theory). I wasn't going to say a word about that to Angie, as she would fall under the delusion that we were wealthy.

Wanting to drive home before I could drink too much of the freely flowing champagne, I grabbed my coat and said my goodbyes. Our Chief Operations Officer, Herb Toker, a tall and fat white guy of around 40, took me aside. With his breathy voice and noticeable lisp, which was exaggerated by the champagne, he asked, “I wath wondering, Denny - are you still working at that temp job?”

“Yeah, but it's just a way to pay the bills for the time being.”

“So you're doing okay financially, then?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Uh, why do you ask?”

“Well, I wath just going to ask if you'd be interested in selling some of your share-th back to the company. You'd get at least 30 thousand per share, perhap-th more.”

“Angie would love it if I did that, but I have no plans to sell my holdings.” I added with a laugh, “Especially now, just as it's getting interesting. Those hundreds of hours I worked for no pay are finally starting to pay-off, apparently. I can't believe how many new customers have signed-up this month - more than 500 and the month is only half over. It's getting hard to stay on top of everything, now.”
 
“That'th the kind of problem we like, eh, “Herb happily replied.

“Yeah, really.” My tongue loosened by alcohol, I then brought up an issue that had occupied my thoughts, on-and-off, for the past few months: “Although it makes it tough to keep illegal activity off our system. Have you seen what goes-on these days? Half of our new customers appear to be local prostitutes and pimps trying to drum-up business in the chat rooms.”

Herb dismissed my concerns with a flap of his hand. “Oh, don't worry about that, Denny. That'th why we got so many rules of conduct listed in the small print in the customers' contracts, legally covering our a-thes by banning every kind of criminal activity. Like you said, it'th getting almost impossible to stay on top of everything, but if the law ever becomes interested in one of our customer-th, of cour-th we'll cooperate.”

Now more-or-less reconciled to the situation, I made the rationalizing statement, “Yeah, I don't suppose that anyone at Sprint or A-T-and-T loses any sleep just because customers use their phone lines to commit crimes.”

“Prethithly.”

* * *
One July day in 1987, I walked the short distance from home to downtown to pick-up my rather anemic paycheck at the temp agency. Lately I had been dreaming about the day when I could finally ditch the keyboard pounding data entry job, ever since receiving my very first quarterly dividend from Servercomp recently. And it was hard not to dwell on the fact that my shares in the company were worth roughly $350,000. After a long day of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-inducing keypunching, I couldn't resist fantasizing about the kind of cool cars and electronic crap I could afford if I cashed-in immediately.

After depositing my paycheck at the bank, I killed time on that beautiful afternoon by mingling with tourists on the waterfront. At nearby Pike Place Market, I stopped and perused reading material at a big news stand which stocked every major out-of-town newspaper as well as hundreds of magazine titles. While scanning the covers on the large selection of dirty magazines, I saw a female face on the cover of XXX Video Review that looked oddly familiar. I yanked the magazine out of the rack and stared at the gorgeous young ice-blonde porn star. “That's Marta? No fuckin' way!” I said under my breath. Then I read the cover blurb next to her: Marta Eicher - Europe's Hottest New Adult Video Starlet! “Eicher, hell - more like Eichenburger.” Still, I scarcely believed it was actually her until I flipped through the magazine and found a short bio about her. It said that she was 18 years old, born in Frankfurt, Germany and had lived in the US in 1985.  Eighteen months had passed since the last time I saw Marta.

I paid the 10 bucks for the porn mag and could hardly wait to get home to show it to Tina and Angie. Tina then exclaimed, "Good Lord, look at all the filth in this magazine! Angie, check-out this big black muthafucka that Marta's givin' a blowjob to - now, he's hung! “ Then she turned to me and admonished, This is all yer fault, Herc."

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Mother Knows Best

August 1986
Only halfheartedly looking for a new job, I was still collecting unemployment checks. But as for Tina, she didn't remain unemployed for very long. Just last week, Seattle's only four-star hotel - the Rainier Plaza - took her on as a part-time front-desk clerk at higher wages than what Hilton had paid her, and offered good prospects for promotion. Therefore, I felt somewhat less guilty for having indirectly caused her termination at the Hilton. After Tina lost her job, I was too fearful of her hair-trigger temper to tell her about my role in that. But now I was finally emboldened enough to broach the subject with her.

The first weekend after she got hired, the three of us celebrated the happy occasion by attending Sunday brunch at Rainier Plaza, a massive, 1920s-era hotel whose masonry exterior walls with their decorative terra cotta “gingerbread” made the place resemble a glorified county courthouse. But its huge lobby and other public spaces were quite beautiful, with winding staircases of pink marble and wrought iron, the glossy walnut furniture, vividly colorful Tiffany stained-glass lamps and soaring, cathedral-like vaulted ceilings.

I sensed a happily expansive mood at our table as we partook of the Rainier's first-class buffet. At least, I felt that way myself. Between bites of eggs Benedict and a delectably seasoned fried salmon cake, I said to Tina. “This place sure puts the Hilton to shame. I guess things didn't workout too badly after all.”

Tina cut into tender roast leg of lamb and replied, “Yeah, I should get fired more often, huh.”

“I was feeling sort of responsible for that, but now - “

She glanced up, pretty brown eyes flashing at me. “Whaddya mean by that, Herc?”

You know, for ratting-out A.J. - and not just for the drive-by. He made this sleazy video tape with Marta, see, and - ”

“I was wonderin' when you'd bring that up.” Undoubtedly she had learned of the offending tape from Angie, who studiously avoided my gaze and made a big show of enjoying her thick, pastry-like waffles topped with fresh blueberries and whipped cream:

“Mmmm - yummy!”

“The tape, you mean?” I asked rhetorically, stalling for time to think. “I was going to tell you about it, that day at your mom's place when those guys in the car shot at us. But after that happened, it didn't seem important anymore.”

Chewing intently, Tina waved her silver fork and muttered, “Whatever. I don't see what that had to do with me anyways.”

“The thing is, A.J. made the tape at a room at the Hilton, on top of whatever illegal crap he was doing there. I didn't know that at the time, though.” The last sentence is basically true, although glossing-over details which I considered extraneous.

Tina slowly shook her head. “Sheeit, you were sooo concerned about that little bitch. Did'ja ever fuck her or git a blow job? Tell the truth, now.”

“Oh, hell no!” I hissed with honest indignation. “And would you please tone it down? People are looking at us.” Then I signed and continued. “Okay, so I kissed her once or twice - but that's all. Actually, she kissed me once or twice.” I had left out only one extraneous detail: Marta, while we were together in Tina's bathroom several months ago, had rubbed my bulging fly while attempting to slide her tongue down my throat.

Tina turned to Angie and jerked her thumb in my direction. “That evil temptress tried to molest this poor innocent boy - HA! Whaddya think, Ange? Do ya believe that bool-shit?

“Sure I believe him - Denny's always been such a lousy liar,” Angie replied with a wry expression on her face.

“Yer damn lucky, smart guy - this time,” Tina said portentously.

* * *
Sept. 1986
Servercomp, the dial-up online service I had invested in, had now been in business for three months. Our very first users were computer hobbyists who operated online forums and bulletin boards . In exchange for letting us host their members' activities on our servers, we paid these hobbyists - called “sysops” in online lingo - a nominal fee and gave them toll-free access to our servers from anywhere in the US (thanks to a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission in 1985, long-distance rates for sending/receiving computer data were much lower than for voice communication). The recent advent of certain internet protocols allowed Servercomp's servers easy access to the large number of independent servers connected to USENET, a loosely-knit nationwide network of computer enthusiasts who ran newgroups, bulletin boards and online forums. Those features, in turn, attracted a flood of new users from the Seattle area (and some from out-of-state) who wanted access to the free online games, primitive email services and file exchange services that our affiliates provided. As an added attraction, we also offered chatting in real-time, which was something relatively new in the small online world.

Having plenty of time on my hands, I spent every weekend and many weeknights on-call, connecting to the servers on my new IBM-PC from home to ensure that everything was functioning properly. The clunky PC and mind-numbingly slow dial-up modem had set me back $2,000. In order to stop the alarming drain on my bank accounts, I had recently accepted a deadly dull temp job as a data entry specialist.

After three months in business, Servercomp had thousands of frequent users but no revenue was coming in. So far, the only one making any money was our accountant. Fortunately that was soon to change, since our advertising campaign appearing in various computer magazines had just hit the newsstands. Within a few weeks, hundreds of people were paying us $25 per month to gain online access. The initial ad campaign generated just enough cash-flow to cover the lease payments on the building and the high monthly phone bill, much to the relief of all the investors.

* * *
Dec. 1986
Angie, Tina, and I celebrated our first Christmas together, and Angie insisted that I invite my mother over for Christmas dinner. Angie's own mom still lived in southern California, where she moved after her father, Angelo, died in a car wreck in Seattle almost two years ago. I recalled with embarrassment the patronizing tone with which my sainted mother spoke to me last February, when she found out I was dating a black woman.

"She's not gonna appreciate our living arrangements," I whined in dread anticipation..

"Herc's afraid of his own mama, Ange," Tina said, just before busting a gut.

"Okay, you asked for it," I muttered. So then I invited my 48-year old Fundamentalist Christian mother to Christmas dinner.

On Christmas Day, mother and I were having a conversation at my apartment: “...So, honey, how's that business venture of yours going?”

“Oh, it's going, all right. Nobody's making any money yet, unfortunately.”

“What is it that your company does, again? I never have really understood it.”

“Well, to be honest, neither have I, ma, “I replied with a chuckle. “The simplest way to describe it is that we provide a way for people to send written messages to each other on their computers.”

“And how is that done?”

“Over phone lines.”

“Sounds like a fancy way to send telegrams.”

“It is, ma. Only it's much, much cheaper.”

That's a rather impersonal way to communicate. I think I'll stick with the telephone.”

“Who knows, ma? Some day you might be able to talk on the computer.”

“Well, I'll be. So, how much does a computer cost?”

“About two grand.”

“I'll keep my phone, thank you very much.”

Tina came home from her visiting her mother just as Angie, my mother and I were setting the table for dinner. "Ma, I'd like to introduce you to Tina."

Mother's personality was half Roman matron-half southern belle: She told me: "Tina is a lovely creature, Denton - "

"Tina lives here, ma. She moved in over four months ago - "

"Splitting the rent three ways - how economical!"

As Tina strode into the dining room just then, I replied to mother, "That's not exactly why - "

"Missus Smith, it's so nice to meet you!" said Tina with a huge smile plastered on her face.

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, my dear.” Turning to me, she teased, “Denton has always been secretive - haven't you, son?"

My cheeks burned as I replied, "Naw - I was getting around to it."

We ate dinner (which featured a slightly burnt turkey) and made more awkward conversation. Finally, mother took her leave. "Well, I have to pay a few more calls, so I'll be on my way." Then I walked her to her car. "Merry Christmas, honey. I hope you and Angie get married and give me some grandkids. Angie loves you very much, Praise the Lord."

"I know she does. I, I love them both, ma."

"You'll be badly hurt, dear."

I nodded involuntarily, as if in agreement, although I replied: "Yeah, well, that might be true, but I'll be no worse-off than I was before. G'night, ma."

When I went back inside, Tina flatly stated: “Yer mama hates me, Herc.”

“Tsk, she doesn't hate you any more than your mother hates me.”

“Yup - she hates me.”

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop