eNewsChannels BOOK SERIAL: “Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G: Chapter 44 – “Assignment: Weirdsville.”
Meeting a reptile in human form is startling, to say the least. Sure, there are people who enjoy lizards (the clowns who do that annoying gecko advertising, for example), but a real-life human snake is frightening. One of these scary creatures is a guy named Angelo Mozilo and I had the misfortune of meeting him at a time when he was scamming America as the head of a firm called Countrywide.
If you didn’t follow the story on the news, Countrywide contributed mightily to the republican-led dismantling of the U.S. economy and Mozilo himself agreed to pay a $67.5 million settlement to avoid trial on civil fraud and insider trading charges. Sounds like a big fine, but if you’ve stolen hundreds of millions of dollars, you’d love the opportunity to pay back just a percentage of it while lounging around your mansion. That is a lot less painful than paying back all of it and going to prison. Besides, there is some speculation that Bank of America picked up the tab.
Wait, what? What does BofA have to do with it? That slimy financial institution purchased the scummy mortgage lending outfit. BofA bought the big C for four billion bucks in a 2008 deal orchestrated by an empty suit named Ken “Clueless” Lewis. But I digress.
In the spirit of full disclosure (something that was an alien concept to the GOP and Countrywide sleazeballs) it should be noted that my company did a lot of advertising and public relations work for a design firm that had Countrywide as a client. How’d that work out? Glad you asked . . .
Show and Sell
The promotional events for Countrywide were many and varied, ranging from private dinners at the finest restaurants to the staging of huge entertainment spectaculars. One evening’s program involved operatic arias, pop music, scenes from Shakespeare, comedians, acrobats, jugglers, and people on unicycles. The audience was comprised of mortgage brokers and bankers, most of whom had no taste so the idea was to throw everything at them and hope they’d keep eating the free hors d’oeuvres and guzzling the free drinks before staggering back to their hotel rooms clutching the latest hype about Countrywide’s dodges, swindles, and con games.
My part in all this was primarily limited to writing text for the posters, invitations, and program notes. Oh, and the text for some of the propaganda pieces. To this day, there is quite a lot of guilt on my part (which is what prompts this confession).
While thousands of people were invited to Countrywide’s big shows, the small private dinners were important to Mozilo for conducting backroom wheeling-and-dealing. For some reason, my writing gig got expanded to the finding of five-star restaurants with private dining rooms. This involved visiting prospective restaurants and sampling the food, which was a tough job but someone had to do it.
There was one weekend when I was flown to a tourist-friendly city where my time was spent scooting around town to try an appetizer here, an entree there, and writing up notes to be used by the corporate event planner who would finalize the guest lists. And then I’d write the personal, private, patrician letters that would be sent to the mucky-mucks in the mortgage industry who were going to receive the bribe while listening to the crooked sales pitch. Oops, I mean consume the complimentary meal while hearing the perfectly legitimate business proposition, wink wink.
One of Countrywide’s humongous events combined a dinner, a show, and an interactive party. To give you an idea of the size of the thing, an entire department store was rented out for the evening. The whole place, every floor, was decked out to look like the Palace of Versailles at the time of Louis XIV.
All the chefs, servers, and pourers at the food stations and bars were costumed as if they belonged in the court of le Roi-Soleil [The Sun King]. Local actors were hired to play courtiers, noblemen and ladies, all in full costumes, make-up, and powdered wigs. On every floor were photo-op tableaux; my favorite was the one with the guillotine.
The food was delicious and the wine pretty good, plus there was enough of it to choke a herd of horses. Since Mozilo and company could not see a way to make a profit by choking animals, any nearby beasts remained safe. But the defenseless American citizens who sought mortgages to purchase family homes were being plotted against at all these events and the guillotine was symbolic of what would eventually happen to the U.S. and global economy.
Just as an aside, many of us wonder why there are not large angry crowds with pitchforks and torches outside Mozilo Manor. I’m just saying.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Fat Elvis!
A magazine once assigned me to cover an Elvis impersonator. (I know! As you can imagine, my reaction was on the order of you’vegottobefuckingkiddingme.) They said “It’s a ‘plus one’,” as though they knew they couldn’t get away with just offering me a single ticket. My reaction was still negative, so they upped it to a “plus three” and now it became interesting to me because I knew some people who would find this outing to be a scream.
“That sounds campy!” was the response to my invitation. Camp, for those of you not up on antiquated homosexual argot, is defined as an event so banal, vulgar, fake, and/or affected that it can be viewed as humorous. In other words, something that is sinfully good in its shameful badness.
The show was camp, all right, including taking place in a tavern, the kind of place where you would expect to meet the real-life Soprano family. The band was imaginary, meaning the soundman played pre-recorded music. He put on a few instrumental numbers first, to warm up the teeming crowd, which consisted of a couple of drunks at the bar and our foursome (me, Jackie, Stan, and Mary). Someone had taken the time to light candles on all the tables in the place, and their flickering created a sense of paranormal life in the room.
Things already felt eerie when my date Jackie said, “My foot is on something.” We used our booth’s candle to peer under the table. Electrical wiring ran across the floor, heading in the general direction of the soundman. I kicked the cables as far away from our feet as possible, which put some of them out in the aisle. A few moments later, a passing waiter attempted to kick them back under our table. We changed booths.
The “band” segued into a scratchy LP track of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (proudly announced by the soundman as “Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey”). The real Elvis often used that two-minute excerpt to lead up to his first appearance on stage. Excitement spread through the building like a fart under a sheet.
The impersonator himself was dressed like the rock ‘n’ roll icon (thin Elvis) but was clearly in his declining years (fat Elvis) and his voice left something to be desired.
“Vocally he’s Elvis-lite but visually he’s Elvis-heavy,” Stan noted.
“I always sort of liked Wayne Newton,” Jackie said.
“That note was flat,” said Stan.
“Ouch, that one was sharp,” said Jackie.
“My glass is chipped,” said Mary.
“And it’s got a crack,” said Stan.
“And it’s leaking,” I pointed out.
We had the waiter bring a fresh drink. “That’s not what I ordered,” said Mary after one sip.
“Is the glass okay?” asked Stan.
“Let’s quit while we’re ahead,” he said, switching glasses with her. He sipped hers and said “Hmmm, interesting.”
“What is it?”
“Tastes like rum and cough syrup.”
“Always one of my favorites.”
“Mine, too. I also enjoy hot tea and tomato juice. Oh, and a bullet to the head.”
“We’re not going to be ordering dinner, are we?” asked Jackie, a note of concern in her voice.
“Only if you assure me you have properly made out your will,” I told her.
“Because there’s an Italian place just a few miles from here.”
“There’s a German place in the next county, too, for that matter.”
“And if we left now, we’d be there sooner than if we leave later.”
But our short-attention-span brains got distracted. We noticed that Fat Fake Elvis was into some stage antics while the soundman kept bringing up a recording of applause on the tavern’s public address system. Terrific effect: six patrons amidst a sea of empty chairs, and recorded applause blaring through the tavern’s speaker system.
Meanwhile, Fat Fake Elvis took a scarf from an assistant, put it around his neck, mopped his brow with it, kissed it, removed it, and tossed it into the audience. Or into the room where an audience would be. A woman who looked suspiciously like FFE’s sister was lurking at the foot of the stage to fetch each one.
“This is exciting,” said Mary.
“The fun is intense,” I said, unafraid to plagiarize Noel Coward.
Fat Fake Elvis had apparently run out of breath because the next number was a recording of the real Elvis while FFE lip-synched it. We gave this number a standing ovation and headed toward the door.
“Enjoying the show?” said a hard-looking woman who was either forty-going-on-seventy or had spent too much time smoking cigarettes while sitting under a phalanx of tanning lamps.
“Awesome show,” I said. “Just going outside for a smoke.”
“Goodie, I’ll come with you,” she said.
Oh my yes, goodie.
Outside in the parking lot, Ms. Leatherface introduced herself as the proprietor and proceeded to give us about nineteen excuses why there wasn’t a packed house this evening. In the same way that we were on a smoke break despite none of us being smokers, we all believed her spiel despite, you know, not believing her spiel. She then assured us that drinks and dinner were on the house. All of us exchanged glances and I did not see temptation on anyone’s face.
“Just don’t order the steak or chicken,” she said. “The chefs are foreign and they just absolutely ruin them.”
“But they’re great with fish and salads, right?” I asked her.
Stan looked alarmed at my sarcasm. Perhaps I had gone too far? When suddenly, we were saved.
“Missy?” The voice came from the tavern door. The proprietor ignored it at first as she attempted to recite the menu from memory. “Missy?” This time the voice was louder and more insistent.
“Not now! Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Yes, Missy. But the kitchen is on fire.”
She strode away to handle her latest crisis and we set an all-time record for four people entering a car and getting out of a parking lot. And I think we should get extra points because the girls did it in high heels.
Relax, Damn It!
Name a profession and somebody has formed an association to represent their goals, aspirations, and legislative interests. There is a Directory of US-Based Associations that contains 55,000 groups and societies, which works out to eleven hundred of them for each state.
The list is daunting and includes PSI (Pet Sitters International), BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management), ILAR (International League of Associations for Rheumatology), CBC (Children’s Book Council), AEASA (Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa), and NWA (no, not the rap group but the National Weather Association).
Sooner or later, one of those organizations had to hire me and it turned out to be for a convention of the Association of Clinical Relational Interpersonal Psychologists. (Yeah, not their real name.) Their annual convocation was to be held inside The Towering Inferno, otherwise known as the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites located on a quiet little corner of downtown Los Angeles where woe unto ye who pull a car into their lot without a parking permit. It was a hoot to watch the faces of people who drove up to the kiosk after spending a couple hours at a hotel event.
“Fifty bucks?! Are you nuts??!!!”
“No sir. We accept credit cards as well as cash.”
“We were only here for two hours!”
“Yes sir, I see that. The first hour is free, which is why you are only being charged fifty dollars.”
On the surface, working for a group of psychologists appeared to be a good gig for a writer because those folks love words. Look what I was able to do to our poor defenseless English language:
We didn’t just invite their members to a convention. No, we went way beyond that: Allow us to extend to you a cordial invitation to a collegial opportunity for the sharing of industry-wide information on a multi-level track dedicated to maximizing the possibilities for intra-specialty interfaces. Or some such rot as that.
We didn’t simply promise an exciting closing night event. No, we went in a different direction: Be assured that every attendee will be able to revel in a series of exhilarating experiences within an atmosphere of continual dialoguing while engaging in a cohesive celebratory observation of a penultimate festive and triumphant occurrence. Yada-yada.
Indubitably, the words were a bit refulgent. Um, wait . . . Yup, that was overkill. But it’s probably better than the opposite approach, which would be something closer to this: Hey gang, c’mon and, I mean, like, y’know, par-tay!
As was said, the word nerd side of me was having fun. But more than loving words, I love communication, so there is nothing but contempt in my heart for the tortured sentences used in the blather that was used to promote the confab.
There was some idea that I would write an article for the shrink newsletter, a kind of summary of the event, so my services were also booked for the big evening shindig, which was held in a huge auditorium several levels beneath the glittering monstrosity of the hotel’s lobby. It turned out to be a kind of new-age group-hug for nine hundred people.
The gurus who were the flavors-of-the-moment (winners of something called the Relational Interpersonal Psychologists of the Year) took turns saying soothing things into a microphone in an attempt to mesmerize the nearly one thousand folks who were milling around or sitting on the floor of an otherwise sterile ballroom.
“Think of a special secret place in the quietest corner of your mind,” whispered one of the spirit-guides.
“Find the deepest core of your ultimate satisfaction,” whispered another fluid Druid.
That’s the kind of thing that was reverberating out of the room’s booming public address system. “Find the deepest core of your ultimate satisfaction” was spoken in a soothing intimate tone and then, several thousand watts of power later, the nice, soft, relaxing message was boosted into the auditorium at the approximate sonic level of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner during takeoff. “Find-ind-ind the deepest-est-est core-ore-ore of your ultimate satisfaction-action-action-action.”
Soft-spoken speaker number one gave way to softer-spoken speaker number two and so on in a round-robin event of attempted mass hypnosis. The Shamans whispered while the sound system shouted.
But the disparity between the “awww-what-a-pretty-kitty” tone and the sonic punch of the amplification wasn’t the only oddity. Taking place behind-the-scenes were ego clashes and turf wars. When not on stage in the spotlights, these well-educated, well-spoken, and well-dressed ladies and gentlemen were making some Very Important Points about such things as the speaking order of the presenters, the exact number of seconds each person occupied the podium, who was allowed into which dressing room, and other items of Earth Shattering Importance. They even exchanged words over the backstage refreshments, arguing about the coldness of the bottled water, the hotness of the tea, and the availability of throat lozenges. Oh, and they displayed outright contempt for the techniques and credentials of their so-called colleagues.
Being backstage put me in the ideal place to hear the public presentations as well as the private wars. Positioning myself midway between the stage and the hallway to the dressing rooms allowed me to hear two different types of theatrical exhibition. Out on-stage, the soothsayers were doing their “all is calm, all is bright” shtick; once off-stage, these same people were viciously attacking each other like there was no tomorrow.
“Feel the contentment that comes from inner peace,” one oracle whispered into the microphone just before tip-toing off the podium to confront the others backstage by hissing, “Stop hogging the mic, you worthless quacks.” Which didn’t go over as well as you might expect.
“You asshole!” was the consensus reply, which for some reason did not usher in a feeling of calm and camaraderie.
In One Ear and In the Other
By remaining in that auditory sweet spot, I could listen to the on-stage sweetness-and-light as well as the backstage kerosene-and-vitriol, both at the same time:
Whispered with a smile on-stage: “This rainbow will shelter you and your feelings . . . ”
Hissed through gritted teeth backstage: “You goddamn phony jerkoff!”
Whispered: “Let the relaxation spread throughout your very soul . . . ”
Hissed: “Fuck you and your inner whore crackpot concepts!”
Whispered: “As the spirit-guide takes your hand, let it give you safety and strength . . . ”
Hissed: “You’re a shithead shithead shithead!”
Sometimes the two divergent messages coalesced into one stream-of-consciousness dichotomy of brouhaha:
Love is peace is contentment is joy is / Stupidity and idiocy! That’s the only way to describe you and your / Inner dreams that are being made into reality just by / Murdering you and celebrating it as a mercy killing that would / Take your positivity onto a mountaintop of satisfaction as well as the achievement of your / Guts spilling out on the carpet in a benefit for all mankind and / I can lead you to a waterfall of serenity that will / Stun everyone with your lunatic fringe ideas that / Place your trust in the love of the inner voice as it tells you to / Fuck off and die!
It was an interesting conference, to say the least. A lot of great points were made, don’t you agree? Something for everyone. But the best thing I heard the whole day was when the parking kiosk guy took my permit and told me, “No charge! Hope you enjoyed your stay at the hotel and please visit us again soon.”
“I’ll be back,” I told him, “whenever you guys solve this downtown parking problem.” Still waiting.
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“Secret Sex, A Book Alive Online,” written and lived by John Scott G, is Copr. © 2011-2012 by JSG, all rights reserved under U.S. and international copyright conventions. Commercial use in any form is forbidden without express written permission of the author. Originally published on eNewsChannels.com with permission. Credits: Book cover design: Phil Hatten.