After my first stint at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in 1989, I looked for work when I returned to New York after the holidays. I was living in a so-called SRO (single room occupant) at the corner of West 28th Street and Eighth Avenue next to the Fashion Institute and the The Ballroom (it’s last location, 253 West 28th Street). I once saw Peggy Lee getting out of her limo to play there.
As for the apartment building, it had four floors above the ground floor retail. Each floor had its own restroom and shower though the second was a little different. It, too, was commercial though I doubt it was zoned for that with the City. It was a brothel. I had been told that girls would come down from Canada and work there for a time and then go back with their savings and go to school. Some were Canadian, some came from other, mostly Asian and Spanish-speaking countries.
One time a Buddhist monk, who apparently did not speak English, handed me the card to the place as I was going in. I held up two fingers, explaining where it was he needed to go. Whether he was administering to someone who lived there, partaking in a portion of his training to let go of the physical, or just cheating on his vows, I don’t know.
Rent was week to week. As I recall, it started at $80 per week and increased at some point to $90 per week. The family who acted as landlords for the bank or whoever owned the place were Australian, though the matron, Gracia, AKA “the Grace,” was Italian by birth.
The work I found to pay the rent that year was temp work. I had been somewhat proficient with computers from school and so found that scoring decently on word processing and spreadsheet tests as well as general computer knowledge (and phones, copy machines, fax machines, etc.) was in high demand.
The first short stint I had as I recall was filling in for someone who had called in sick at Philip Morris. I think it was only four hours or so. The tasks that needed to be done I got done in half a day which apparently made those present wonder if the person who had called in was the “right fit” for the position. They took the entire day to do copies.
Positive reports with Raven (that was the lady’s name) at the temp agency got me better jobs quickly.
The next job was at, I’m not entirely sure what the proper name is, but they recorded television shows off of satellites and then sold/delivered the tapes to local television stations. I think the location was in Queens. Might have been Brooklyn.
That didn’t last long. Though most of the folks there adored me, the boss was having none of it. I tended to wear docksiders without socks and he found that a little too relaxed for his corporate vision, I suppose.
The next job was longer-term and was again at Philip Morris. At that time, they owned Kraft, Oscar Meyer, various foods such as Entenmann’s and I think Pepsi and/or 7-Up, Miller Beer, and of course many cigarette brands. In Japan, Lark was popular and the ads often included anyone who had played James Bond and sometimes people who looked like people who had played James Bond or who maybe played a James Bond knockoff. (I’m thinking James Coburn was one such fellow).
Their pair of buildings were the only office buildings in the City at that time where smoking was legal. Additionally, there were set break times when the coffee and snack machines would become free of charge in order to encourage the schedule.
Though you might not think that a temp would find himself anywhere near the corporate officers, the job was working the A/V room and preparing for the annual stockholders’ meeting. Though I had very little contact with them, I did on occasion deliver something to the desk of one VP who stood about 6′-4″. The man had a box of Cuban cigars (very illegal in the US) on his desk out in the open.
These people were interesting characters. The CEO, Hamish Maxwell, had worked his way up from the mailroom it was said. It was also said that he disliked children, but I don’t think that was true. At some point in the past there had been a slide of a kid eating something that PM sold and he didn’t like the slide. As if delivered via lightning bolt to worshippers of Zeus, that whim on one day become fact, law.
I found the culture there to be extremely paranoid. My direct supervisor, a lady with the last name Jacobs (that might not be the correct spelling), would do things like keep emails from her male co-workers when the email contained the slightest bit of flirtation. She said she might need to use it one day. Visions of ambitious ancient Romans and the intrigues of the deMedicis flashed through my head.
My supervisor’s boss, a man named Nick Rolli , was a ballsy man of Italian descent who I could not help but like. He walked around like he owned the place and had a free, easy, fearless demeanor that contrasted my supervisor’s constant fear of being replaced or stabbed in the back.
She ran hot and cold where I was concerned. I once got a random call from a telemarketer and was attempting to get off of the phone with them when she walked into the A/V room. She said nothing to me, but I got a call from Raven complaining that I was taking “personal calls.”
On the flip side, she showed me how to use the Macs (they were using Apple for everyday work) to write up my acting resume. She could be quite charming and nurturing when she wanted to be.
As the meeting date approached, it finally became time to meet with the board and get feedback for the proposed slide show and video presentations. As I said, they were quite the characters. There was one fellow who was head of R&D, a tall man with a tall head who certainly seemed the part of genius. He seemed deep in thought while walking down the hall.
The company believed that smoking tobacco was going to be illegal by the year 2000 and were looking into alternate uses for it (and, it would turn out, ways to avoid that which seemed like a legal certainty at the time, and perhaps a little bit of a Y2K panic of a different kind). Food was top of the list, though I think they looked into some of those things we normally associate with hemp advocates (paper, clothing, rope, etc.).
There was, among the slides we prepared, one of a child with Vegemite all over his face and hands as he delightfully ate the stuff. Rolli was taking a chance. It was the only time I saw him sweating bullets and nervous. As soon as the slide popped up, he began making apologies to Hamish.
Hamish smiled and immediately said he liked it. The man chuckled and said to leave it in.
This, along with what happened next, sums up nearly completely my view of large corporations. You have the cognitive dissonance of what was true, essentially an inviolable law of physics, crushed completely because the boss doesn’t feel any need to explain himself when he makes decisions. His underlings are forced then to guess why such a decision was made and that guess becomes fact, gets spread around like the Watchtower magazine or a papal bull.
I was told about this one day at work. As the previous year’s stockholders’ meeting was nearing, one of the board members found something that he didn’t like. Thousands of copies of the stockholders meeting books were all reprinted without the “error” the very next day. That was when I learned about another aspect of big business: corporate waste. It is incredible how much they spend on lobbyists to finagle some benefit through Congress on the one hand and waste money on the other without batting an eye. It seemed somehow obscene. The cost of shredding the old ones was probably itself immense. Then the rush print job to get the new ones in time for the stockholders’ meeting. This likely seven figures spent in a day or two.
(Of course, two decade later I would learn that the Federal government had more in common with those aspects of corporate America than differences.)
I had heard that there was most every year protesters at the stockholders meeting. Rolli told me that they were primarily gays and gay advocates. I had no idea what connection there could possibly be between gays and tobacco. The whole thing seemed entirely foreign to me.
However, whether out of sport, paranoia or too much testosterone I don’t know, Rolli one day asked me if I was planning on protesting. He seemed half-serious, as if he wondered if “the gays” had somehow managed to infiltrate the inner offices of a major corporation.
The result of that was me overcompensating on pretending to be straight, I’m sad to say. It had been my way of coping for years anyway in rural Tennessee, so it came naturally. The result of that pressure on my psyche had been a bad temper (speaking of character faults). I’d later become infamous in my early years of work for blowups that rarely lasted for more than a few minutes. Pressure from being in the closet sometimes lead to frustration aimed at other things that, really, weren’t a big deal. By 2004 or so, I realized this when I came our to my boss and co-worker. It was as though a weight had been lifted.
Back in ’89-’90, there was another time when Ms. Jacobs and I got into an argument. Rolli happened to be there and, hilariously as I looked back on it, did not take sides. He merely contributed running commentary, not entirely unlike a sportscaster. He also chimed in with fairly neutral comments occasionally.
For example, when I said, “Is it too much to be asked to be treated like a human being?”, Rolli said, “Now, Chris, there are no human beings here.” I could not help but laugh.
When the project was done and I was on my way back to the Festival, they found a replacement. I was training him and having lunch with him during the end of my stint. He was a really nice fellow with connections to the music industry. He had even met and shared a smoke with my musical idol, Sting. He also had some really nice Armani suits.
I planned to warn him about the supervisor, but it turned out that Raven had already done so. In fact, I found out then that I had been the third person in the position and the only one that had lasted more than a few weeks.
On my last day, two things happened. My supervisor claimed that several remote controls were missing from the A/V room. Then she stated that my organization of the slides had not been at all what she had told me to do. In essence, I was both a thief and a failure according to her.
Rolli watched on stonefaced. Clearly, I was not coming back. She was afraid I might replace her and so made a fuss that last day to secure her position. I found out later that my replacement had been admonished for wearing his fine suits to work.
In April of 1990, I got invited to an Easter party by one of my fellow interns. He and his wife were invited up to a small get together by one or two guys who had started a theater show called The Blue Man Group. I had no idea what that was at the time and really am not clear now on just when it became the sensation that it later became.
At the party, someone brought in some Entenmann’s baked dessert of one kind or other. One of our hosts admonished him. When the person who brought it asked why, the gent said he wasn’t quite sure but he knew it was “bad”.
“Philip Morris owns it,” I offered.
Of course I had to follow up with, “Why is Philip Morris despised by gays, though?”
My intern friend was “kind” enough to tell them where I worked. He thought that was downright hilarious as I recall. I spent the next several minutes explaining that I was merely temping, didn’t understand the politics, etc.
Then it was explained: Jesse Helms. Big Tobacco kept him flush with election campaign cash and Helms had some of the most anti-gay positions of any legislator. In their view, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard were lobbying and supporting anti-civil rights legislation.
When I at last departed the shindig, my kind host gave me a look similar to the one my dogs would give me after I had been gone for more than a few days. The dogs always assumed, it seemed to me, that I had gotten lost. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t brain-damaged or had lost my keen sense of smell (that all beings must have because canines do) and therefore be prone to do it again.
It was, I’m not sure how long after that I got word. Some members of the board of Philip Morris had to step down. They had lied to Congress about what they knew about the effects of tobacco smoking, buried an old report about it, and the resulting scandal forced them out for the good of the company, though the official news I have found seems to give other reasons.
Remember this as you read on: I had absolutely nothing to do with any of that. I was completely in the dark about the larger political landscape until I learned about it just as I wrote above.
You might be wondering at this point why I am writing this. Why the denials? As I move forward, you’ll see that something (likely one or several intelligence agencies and their private contractors) came down on me like a ton of bricks. There are likely many excuses that were given and all or most of them are false. (Just wait until I get to Wikileaks).
I just don’t believe there is such a thing as a covert operative who can completely forget what he or she has done. And even if there were, I’m quite certain I’d have remembered something, found a clue. My presence there (and my continued presence other places as you’ll see) I don’t believe to be a coincidence but neither do I think it’s because I have another personality that I am unaware of. Jason Bourne is not living inside my head, hiding from me. It’s preposterous and as you’ll see, what affected me can and possibly already has affected you as well.
This is an example of a phony narrative designed to make me question my own part in events, to make other people distrustful of me, to cover up whatever it was was actually happening, and to justify the really, really horrible way I have been treated by the Federal government and its “will do anything for money” private contractors.
Taking an educated guess, I’d say that surveillance technology was far more advanced than we think thought it was at the time and/or there were actual operatives or informants inside Philip Morris and I was just the patsy, the scapegoat, in case something went wrong.
Now, think about that. If I were going to lie, wouldn’t it be more effective, more interesting, more dramatic, etc. to say that I was spying on them? It would make this story more marketable, would make me, among some, a hero.
It just isn’t so. I’m not going to lie. It is instead my belief that individuals within the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency were engaging in insider trading and other financial crimes under the guise of gathering national security intelligence . What happened to Philip Morris stock around that time? More importantly, what was going to happen to Philip Morris stock after that time? Surveillance beyond what most of us figured was possible in 1990 might tell you that if you were at NSA or CIA. Is the reason this practice has gone unnoticed until now because some financial intelligence is also shared, perhaps indirectly, with oversight in the Legislative branch and select high-ranking officials in the Executive? As guaranteed way of making money as there could be, a “cheat,” a method considered unfair because it gives a few unfair advantage over the many who also seek to earn via smart investing.
That’s not even taking into full consideration the possibility of covert ops designed specifically to generate particular outcomes. It becomes a compound problem at that point, endangering the economic stability of the country and even the world. Think of it as fixing horse races. How long before people either stop betting, or the ones doing the fixing, knowing who will win, soak up all the money?
They used me as a scapegoat. If their intelligence gathering was detected, they had a patsy to take the fall for it; someone to stand in as a seeming HUMINT operative, but really a knallkopf for advanced, corrupt use of ELINT or SIGINT.
Maybe a better word is zombie.
1 Rolli was appointed VP of Investor Relations and Financial Communications for PM International in 2007, http://www.sec.gov/spotlight/xbrl/2007/nmrolli_bio.pdf
2 VICE, “These Are the Financial Disclosure Forms the NSA Said Would Threaten National Security,” Jason Leopold, 10 October 2014:
The agency refused VICE News’ July request for copies of Alexander’s financial disclosure reports, which he is required to fill out annually under a federal law known as the Ethics and Government Act. The law also states that government agencies are required to release the files upon request.
But attorney Shadey Brown, who is the NSA’s ethics officer, said in a July 23 letter that the NSA has routinely denied requests for copies of its officials’ financial disclosure reports under the National Security Agency Act of 1959. That law authorizes the NSA to withhold virtually everything about the inner workings of the agency, including data about the names, titles, and salaries of people the agency employs.
BuzzFeed, “Exclusive: Key NSA Official Has Another Business At Her Home: Powerful National Security Agency official registered ‘electronics’ business at her home before her husband set up intelligence business there, BuzzFeed News finds. Her company owns a plane and a condo,” Aram Roston, 16 October 2014:
Foreign Policy, “Why Was the NSA Chief Playing the Market?: Newly released documents show the NSA chief was investing his money in commodities so obscure that most financial pros stay away,” Shane Harris, 22 October 2014:
Intercept, All the NSA Will Say About Its Alarmingly Entrepreneurial Top Spy Is That She’s Resigning,” Murtaza Hussain, 24 October 2014:
And note the profit motive for CIA while we’re at it:
Mattermark, “106 Startups Who Received Investment from the C.I.A. + Most Frequent In-Q-Tel Co-Investors,” Danielle Morrill, 16 September 2013:
While In-Q-Tel is itself a non-profit, there is clearly the ability here to watch cutting edge technology closely and to invest accordingly. Also, non-profit does not mean non-lucrative. Bonuses and large salaries are not forbidden under the model.