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

Friday, January 09, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 8 (revised)

Chapter 8
(Mostly) True American History

Late-June 1986
Owing to the combustible mixture of sizzling temperatures, high sexual tension and excessive alcohol consumption, summertime in the US is often referred to as The Silly Season, and Americans tend to blow-off political steam that time of year. On occasion, especially in wartime, they express their seasonal exuberance by rioting in the streets, but in most years they just have angry public debates about whatever hot-button issue the media happen to be hyping at that moment. Due to the influence of a conservative electorate (and the absence of a major war), the media's boogiemen of choice during that summer of '86 were drugs and pornography.

The re-election of President Roland R Regulus in 1984 had seemingly reaffirmed the conservative social policies that his administration had espoused in his first term. Not surprisingly, though, there was a severe dichotomy between political ideals and societal reality. Although the administration paid heavy lip-service to family values, law-and-order and all-around clean living, the volume of hard drugs being smuggled into the United States had never been greater. To help combat this drug crisis, the First Lady - Nan Regulus - earnestly advised America's youth: “Just Say Uh-Uh”.

Here's a perverse example of the Regulus Administration's get-tough-on-criminals policy: Since the early-80s, the White House had been flouting federal law by illegally funding anti-Sandanista insurgents in Nicaragua with the proceeds derived from the sale of TOW missiles to Iran. However, after a congressional hearing blew their cover in 1985, the president's operatives needed to find new surreptitious sources of cash. By mid-1986, rumor had it that profits from cocaine now flooding-in from Columbia were being used to finance the administration's private war on communism in Nicaragua and El Salvador. But about that sordid subject, the nation's major news organizations remained silent.

On the pornography front, the ultra-conservative US Attorney-General Edwin Moose got the summer silliness rolling by publicly denouncing the newsstand display of obscene materials such as Playboy magazine, as well as vilifying “filthy lyrics in rock and rap so-called music”. Those public statements were laughable, but what occurred next was not very funny: one of America's most famous (or infamous) porn stars, Tammi Lorraine (born Wanda Mae Glutzenheimer), who purportedly was in her early-20s, caused a legal firestorm upon announcing last week that she was only 15-years old when her “motion picture” career began, three years before. She had managed to gain employment in the porn industry through the use of a faked California driver's license obtained from her mother's sleazy no-good boyfriend. During the years in which Miss Glutzenheimer was a minor, her producers had released dozens of titles featuring her - all of them top sellers.

Attorney-General Moose responded within 24-hours by ordering the largest search-and-seizure operation in American history. Federal law enforcement reacted so quickly that it seemed like the Department of Justice had been poised and ready to pounce, as though Tammi Lorraine was part of a government sting operation.

So, thousands of FBI agents and US Marshals, in search of her illegally produced hardcore films, immediately began conducting raids on every adult video outlet and distributor in the country. Producers and distributors who had ever marketed Lorraine's sex films soon found themselves in jail. And over the next week, almost a million copies of her tapes and films were pulled from store shelves and eventually destroyed. At the same time, Moose issued a statement warning private owners of her films/tapes to destroy all of them in their possession - or else face a prison term if caught with them (I sheepishly admit to having once owned a Tammi Lorraine sex tape, although I had already thrown it away long ago due to its being worn-out from repeated viewings).

The FBI's parallel investigation of the interstate commerce in pornography revealed additional illegal films (unrelated to the Lorraine case), touching-off a wave of mass arrests in the environs of San Fernando Valley, California, where most commercial X-rated videos were produced. Then Congress quickly sprang into action (an exceedingly rare occurrence indeed): the House Majority Leader fast-tracked stringent new federal laws requiring producers of X-rated films/videos to maintain meticulous records on all performers and to verify their legal status as adults, on pain of a harsh prison sentence. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued subpoenas to leading porn industry producers, ordering them to testify before the committee (but not until after Congress' four-week summer vacation).

Around the nation, church groups and concerned mothers picketed and chanted slogans (“NO MORE PORN!”) outside the dwindling number of adult movie theaters, which by now were being supplanted by home video. The only people still patronizing them were those in the market for a prostitute or who couldn't afford a VCR.

In Seattle that summer, one of the last remaining adult movie houses in the city - The Embassy Theater - shut its doors permanently after a pipe-bomb exploded inside its nearly empty auditorium. A few days later, the United States Attorney for Seattle, flanked on either side by the Prince County Prosecutor and Sheriff Pat Nuttingham, announced at a press conference the federal RICO indictments of various “officers” of the BWM gang. The gang, as an entity, was charged with the production and interstate transport of child pornography, and conspiracy to promote prostitution across state lines, along with more mundane charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. This was all very surreal to me, after having played a small role in this affair.

As for Tammi Lorraine, things turned-out rather well for her. Legally, she got off scot-free and managed to use her current notoriety as a springboard to a mainstream movie career, with cult comedy producer/director Jim Walters having recently signed her to a three-picture deal.

Eventually, the federal criminal charges against Tammi Lorraine's agents and producers were quietly dropped, for one very embarrassing reason: Two years before, while Tammi was still a minor, the government had issued her a US passport on the basis of the same phony driver's license she had used to get hired in adult films in the first place! 

Copyright 2014 by K.D. Bishop