ARE YOU ENJOYING YOUR TIME SPACE ADVENTURE?
An Adventure Story – Birth
This is a tale that may punch holes in how you currently perceive reality. This is definitely the case if you do not believe that you have complete control over the shaping of your personal reality. All of this will be much easier to assimilate if you were born in this millennium – after the year 2000.
If that is you, you came hardwired for the digital age. The odds are very good that you find using technology fairly simple. You may find the older crowd comes to you to ask you how things work. Previous generations didn’t get into this game with a lot of the digital age programming you got. If you are in that older group, you can still figure it out but it just does not come as naturally to most of you.
This difference in our basic programming is much of what this story is about. If you are currently convinced that reality is not something that differs greatly from individual to individual it is likely to take you longer to become proficient at altering YOUR future reality to match your desires. There will likely be some re-programming for you to really accept that you have control over the direction your life takes.
There is a commonly held opinion that life just happens and you do your best to deal with it. The opposite of that is the realization that you are in control of much of the story the “character” you have designed is living.
Some people may get offended when they are told that life is really an adventure game that should not be taken as seriously as most people make it. You are primarily here to have fun. Many people believe that the wrongs they have been dealt by others give them justification to be angry and hurt. They want sympathy and demand someone fix these injustices. Maybe they blame themselves thinking it is something they have done and that their performance is constantly being judged. There is no higher power “judging” you. You are the only one who matters when it comes to evaluating how well you are playing the game. If you do something that does not work out how you want it to, learn from it and try a different approach. Did you get mad at yourself when you fell while learning to walk? Probably not – you just got up and tried again, gaining in skill with each attempt. That is how you should approach every task you decide you need to accomplish. Make everything an adventure and leave judgment to the less informed.
A key realization for you is the knowledge that reality is whatever you believe it to be. Your reality should not be what someone on the Internet claims or what is presented in the media unless those things are pleasing to you. Those views of the world will affect your reality to the degree you expose your bio-computer brain to the information but only to the degree you decide to “believe in” the information. If you don’t believe in those “facts”, they will have no relevance in your life experience.
Creating a More Compassionate Future
We are not here simply to witness Creation – we are the Creators.
Crisis and challenge arise not to punish or defeat us but to inspire us to design new and improved solutions that promote balance and order.
We must not become complacent and settle for any dis-ease. Imagining and believing in a world of balance and harmony is our true purpose.
To stay on course we need only follow our feelings along a decision path that brings the most satisfaction, happiness and peace to our experience of the world.
We will make mistakes but that is how we are designed to learn and sharpen our abilities. Our lives have great importance because with every thought and deed we are shaping the future.
We are at the edge of Creation. In every moment everything is new again because it is all a product of our consciousness. What was no longer has importance – what will be is always up to us.
Believe in yourself and share your strength and light with the world. You are a peacemaker and you are capable of channeling unlimited power to heal and spread love and joy wherever you direct your attention.
We are warriors of Spirit. We are the Designers of Reality.
Welcome to a new adventure. It is a story where you learn how to have intentional control over what happens in your day to day life.
Regardless of what your current life situation is, you can alter the reality of your daily life.
We are at the point in time space where Creation is taking place. You are the Designer of Reality™. The question is, are you doing it intentionally or are you on a kind of auto-pilot simply responding to the world around you?
Your Part in the Adventure
Directed by what you are inspired to desire, your objective is to realize those aspirations in this time and space dimension. Everything starts first as an idea. It is your consciousness that will convert it to a physical entity. By consciously envisioning and believing in the future you desire, you will have a transformational effect on all of Creation. This is what you are here for and if you follow this path you will find great enjoyment and satisfaction as you learn to increase your ability to intentionally create your world.
Visit www.LaunchTSA.com to learn more.
There was a Bob Marley tune and some laughter on the light breeze as Willie pulled up. Glad to be off the main road, he parked the dinged up rental car in a dirt parking lot carved out of da bush. He had the 360 air conditioning of four rolled down windows going as he took a last big draw from the spliff he had found in the ash tray. He wondered if all the rental cars came with one.
Dropping the spliff back in the ash tray for later, he looked out the open passenger window and nearly screeched out loud. A huge bird zoomed straight at him and landed on the car door sending a buffet of air at him from its jagged wings. There was a flashback in his brain to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and his hand shot up to cover his eyes so they wouldn’t get peeked out. Then the bird talked to him. “Who are you?” He lowered his hand to take the bird in – it was big and green grey with an evil looking beak. “Willie” he said cautiously. “Who are you?” demanded the bird. “Willie” he said. “Who are you?” screeched the bird a third time – this went on for about five minutes before the bird flew away leaving Willie totally confused.
He had come here in search of enlightenment. It was all very strange. In his head he sang “what a long strange trip it’s been” – the Grateful Dead song but to a Reggae beat. Willie really liked the two “Fire on the Mountain” CD’s of Reggafied Dead tunes. He couldn’t recall if Truckin’ was in the mix – must have been.
There are said to be many roads to enlightenment and Willie had given up looking for a map. He was just going on instinct and possibly clouded perceptions. A little herb often helped. The important thing was that reality shifted in subtle ways so that you could no longer be certain that what you perceived at any moment was all there was to the world around you. Some people go through their whole life cock sure that their sense of what reality is is all there is. Anybody that does not see it their way is simply wrong. They are clearly not on the road to enlightenment. In fact, Willie was totally certain that anyone who thought they had all the answers was mentally and spiritually deficient.
Willie had made a lot of twists and turns on his road and wasn’t at all sure of where he was going but he had a lot of questions seeking answers. Jah only knew why he thought he might find some answers way off the mainstream at Club Tropical. Any of his friends would have felt it was pretty farfetched and that he was just going to chill out and party in the tropics. Well, if that was all it turned out to be, that would be fine too. It would just be one more little side trip. He sat back to collect his thoughts and calm himself down. He could hear lightly crashing waves in the distance and the rustle of the breeze through the dense tropical foliage. It was soothing after the bird incident and the harrowing drive from the hotel.
The car door creaked as Willie opened it sending some unseen birds and other creatures scattering in alarm. In the distance, Willie heard the opening bars of a song called Celebrate Life. It was a favorite of Willie’s for the music and the message. Willie had seen the song’s creator, Lucky Dube, live several times. His performances were always a joy to behold. Lucky was from South Africa and his blend of African riddums with Reggae was infectious. His message, like Marley’s, was one of hope and the determination to rise above despair and the hardships of life. Both of them came out of often cruel societies. The apartheid in South Africa made things even worse for Lucky than Bob growing up in Trench Town, Jamaica. In Trench Town there was poverty and violence but not the racial hatred and separation of South Africa.
Willie had never understood racial hatred. Particularly in the U.S., it was supposed to be “live and let live” – as long as you don’t try to impose your ideas on others or do anything that will cause them physical harm, you should be free to do what you want. Apartheid in South Africa was just one notch above slavery. It consisted of a body of laws giving a white minority the right to segregate, exploit and terrorize native Africans along with any people of mixed race. Lucky and his family had no human or political rights when he was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. He was born on a small farm near the town of Ermelo which was a little over 100 miles from the capital of Johannesburg. He was raised by his grandmother and at six or seven started working in local gardens to help support his household. His grandmother eventually got him in school and it was in the school choir that the door to his future opened. Everyone liked Lucky and his sweet voice and the school became his refuge.
Lucky and some friends found some instruments one day at school and began practicing with them. Eventually Lucky’s first band, The Skyway Band, was formed and even though the school eventually took the instruments away, Lucky was clear on his direction. One of his cousin’s had a band called The Love Brothers and, knowing how good Lucky’s voice was, they were glad to have him join them. They mostly played a traditional Zulu music called Mbaqanga. The music was perfect for dancing and often blended in social commentary.
Lucky was attracted to Reggae music through the songs of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh among others. He heard the same cry’s for freedom and equality that he felt in his own heart. In live shows, the Reggae tracks got particularly strong responses and so, after a few albums of mostly traditional Zulu and Africaans styling, he locked in to a Reggae beat on “Think About the Children”. This was the politically tinged Reggae sound that Lucky would become famous for around the world while being shunned at home in Apartheid South African. His musical voice joined other rebel South African voices such as Nelson Mandela and the power of their message chipped away at the roots of Apartheid. He took that message around the world and Willie went to his shows whenever he was in town. He saw him many times in NYC and a final time, a couple of years before he was killed with his brother Pete, at a beach bar club in Fort Lauderdale, on a beautiful tropical night. It was a magical night.
As Willie walked toward the entrance to Ras John’s Club Tropical listening to Lucky’s “Celebrate Life”, the irony saddened him. This was one of Lucky’s last songs and spoke about how we lived in a world of crazy people who often did terrible things but that we must not let that overwhelm us, we had to rise above it and celebrate Life. Apartheid abolished and living with his family in Johannesburg as an international celebrity and cultural hero to his countrymen, he was fatally shot in an attempt to steal his car after dropping a couple of his children off their uncle’s house. Gone, just like that. Willie figured Lucky had sure scored some Karmic points with what had given the world. His message of celebrating life had always come through loud and clear. Willie thought it would be nice if a lot of people who had far less trauma in their lives would get that message and help spread it.
A stone walkway lit by flaming torches on tall poles lead from the edge of the dirt clearing where Willie had parked to the open entrance to the club. Lucky’s voice singing Celebrate Life rose above the sounds of talking, laughter and clanking of glasses and dishes. Willie looked around and figured this was a pretty good place to celebrate life for a few hours at least. He saw an empty table by a window looking out toward the beach and took a seat. There were a couple of dozen other people there, spread out between the bar that extended out to an open air deck and the other tables. An unoccupied stage was at the other end of the room where Willie was sitting. The walls were covered with all kinds of musical mementos from framed LP’s to photos, posters and ticket stubs. The floors were smooth and shiny, Willie imagined from plenty of dancing feet. Big bamboo fans turned lazily from the ceiling.
As Willie was taking it all in, a short dark skinned girl in shorts and a bikini top came over to Willie and said, “Welcome back”. Willie thought for a minute trying to remember if he possibly could have been here before and then said, “Thanks”. The girl said, “You gonna have a nice cold Red Stripe?”. Willie said sure. Lot’s of Rastas didn’t drink alcohol at all but Red Stripe was still the official beer of Reggae being the main brew in Jamaica. Moments later, she brought the Red Stripe and Willie sat back and took a sip. He was suddenly totally exhausted. He must have dozed off because all of a sudden he was back in South Florida driving to work.
He was on his way to a phone room in one of the zillion strip malls, this one near the beach in Fort Lauderdale. He was one of a crew of wipe outs hawking vacations to unsuspecting victims in the mid-west who could be talked into an all expense paid trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. All they had to do was live through a couple of grueling hours being harassed about why they should buy a time share for a lifetime of future vacations in Florida. But, of course, they had already been talked into buying a free luxury vacation, paying only the fees and government taxes that “we are required to charge you”. The free vacation somehow turns into a little shy of $500 but these guys have the script down. “You deserve it, don’t you?” “You realize you are saving almost two grand, how many times do you get a chance like this?” “Don’t you want to do something special with your wife?” “Let’s get this booked on your credit card now so I can give you a $50 pre-booking discount. Do you want to use Visa or MasterCard?”
Willie got a stack of cards each night when he went in, color coded for time zone. You don’t want to get people during dinner. Each person listed on the cards supposedly had turned it in at some County Fair or possibly their hair salon for a chance to win a free vacation. Willie was calling them, one after another to give them the exciting news. He’d make $75 bucks for each deal he closed. On a good night, out of maybe a hundred dials, he could get four deals and $300 bucks. Not bad. Of course the room only averaged two deals a dialer a night. The hotshot guy on the team was an out of work stockbroker. The field was filled out with a few chain smoking off and on alcoholics; a couple of tough guy probable ex-cons, a guy who sounded great on the phone but never said a word to anyone else and former media exec, Willie. Interestingly, the nicest guy was the manager, Scott. The asshole was the money guy, probable main owner, Arnie Stein.
Each night at the beginning of the shift, Arnie screamed at everyone and told them they were all expendable and could be out anytime he felt like it. This was really a primo job so everyone acted suitably cowering. Then Arnie would go out, probably to hit the bar in the hotel across the street, and Scott would give everyone the pep talk telling everyone how hard the field group had worked to get qualified leads – and they were HOT – less than a month old. And, by the way, “you guys have a kick ass deal that will give these people the greatest time of their lives”. It was up to the team to get people to make the right choice.
Willie was a born salesperson and as long as he believed in his product he could sell with the best of them. Luckily, Willie was also very good at selling himself on why what he was selling was great and, in this case, why his “future vacationers” were really getting a great deal. Most of the phone crew couldn’t care less. Willie doubted they ever even thought about it. Willie somehow felt that if he was deceiving people in some way that was a bad thing. He obviously couldn’t even allude to any apprehensions with Arnie but Scott had more of an open ear. Scott said, “Hey, nobody is getting ripped off here. It’s a decent trip.” Willie left it at that.
The ASVacations.com gig lasted until Willie actually took one of the trips himself. He took one of the Bahamas deals that was an option they offered occasionally. It was not horrible but he was sure glad he didn’t have the credit to pay the down payment on the timeshare.
The trip started out with the cruise to the Bahamas on the Mystic Queen out of Fort Lauderdale. This was not Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines but it was OK. The Mystic Queen was basically a party boat with staterooms. You could book a stateroom but it would be just as a place to hang out or get laid since there were no overnight stays. The boat went back and forth from the islands once a day and sold huge quantities of alcohol each way. Once three miles out to sea from port, the ship was known for some wildness and debauchery which inevitable was a bit shocking for some of the ASVacation.com Midwesterners. Willie certainly didn’t mind that part. He even scored a joint from one of the ship’s room stewards. They made a big deal about checking people for drugs on embarkation and Willie suspected it was just to insure better sales on board. Not everyone wanted Rum Punches. Even so, Willie took advantage of his complimentary coupons for three free punches.
Willie enjoyed lounging on a deck chair watching bikini clad drunk girls frolic around on deck. After the joint and the two Rum punches he couldn’t imagine anything much nicer. There was a constant breeze and the vibration of the ship’s massive engines as the ship plowed across the ocean toward the Bahamas. The air smelled great and Willie thought, “Wow, this really is a great trip”. He really got excited when they pulled in to port and the shuttle bus began ferrying people to their hotels. Magnificent. Really beautiful. But then they arrived at The Sunset Resort, the ASVacations.com timeshare property. A big sign stated “REMODLING”.
Willie headed to the front desk in the vacant open air lobby. The only sounds were the swish of ceiling fans and some tinny steel drums playing the Beatles’ Penny Lane that was coming out of ceiling speakers. A dark skinned girl with somewhat oriental features and short straight blond hair with an orange streak down one side sat text messaging on her phone behind the front desk. Willie was fascinated by her hair. He walked over and stood watching her for about 30 seconds before she reluctantly put down the phone and asked Willie if he had a reservation. Willie checked his ASVacations.com “Excursion Package” and gave her his confirmation number. She checked her computer and gave Willie an electronic key for room 210 but told him he needed to wait for the ASVacations representative who would be along shortly. “You can leave your bag here if you like or I can have it sent up to your room” the girl said. “It would be great if you could get it sent up to the room”. “No problem” said the girl. Willie gave her a $3.00 tip and turned to survey the lobby again.
He’d be needing a nap after all the drinks and the food he ate at the non-stop buffet during the morning cruise. Nonetheless he headed to the tiki bar for his complimentary welcome rum punch. The little ASVacations coupon was right there when he was searching for his confirmation number. Walking out of the lobby past the pool, he decided that the place was not unappealing but it seemed oddly deserted. The pool area was empty except for a couple of Japanese guys who were sitting at the bar talking to a tall and buxom blond bartender. She was outfitted in a bikini that seemed a size too small for her. As Willie walked up, one of the two guys sitting there took a soccer ball shot at her cleavage with a small ice cube. It clipped her shoulder and she said “Ya gotta score to melt one Toyota Joe”. “How about I score if I melt one, Blondie?” he shot back. “We’ll see about that – for now it stays a buck a shot.” The nap was less appealing now. Willie thought maybe he should get into the game.
Willie had been trying to get in the game or rather back in the game since he left New York. Willie grew up in New Jersey and was a teenager in the greatest time to be a teenager, the 60’s. The only thing that screwed things up was racial tension and the Vietnam War but those things in some ways added to the excitement by putting some real villains out there to fight. It gave everyone a great reason to give the finger to the establishment. It was a new world and the Age of Aquarius was taking over. Music was at its center and Willie was all about music.
There was a stint with the accordion and a hand me down clarinet his mom found in the attic but they didn’t last past elementary school. Willie was always ambitious though. He and his buddy Lex came up with their first entrepreneurial venture in middle school, or Junior High as it was called then. They wanted 10 gear bikes and Willie’s dad had said, “Come up with half the money and I’ll match it”. Lex’s dad agreed to the deal too after much coaxing. They decided on house numbers as a pressing need. Some fluorescent yellow paint, some black paint, brushes and stencils and they were ready to go. The pitch was, if there was an accident and an ambulance was trying to find your home, with your house number painted in fluorescent yellow on a black background right on the curb, the emergency crew would get right to the house. They did two hundred houses in a month and a half and got their Schwinn 10-speeds by mid-summer.
The painting had been kind of tedious and dirty work so Willie switched to a career in Vaudeville doing magic acts and puppet shows for kids parties. He would have liked to be in a band but this was pretty good money. Since he couldn’t play an instrument it made it even more important to be able to play music. The kid’s parties fueled the financial needs involved in buying records and sneaking into New York to the Café Au Go Go or The Fillmore East for concerts. His parents had a decent amount of money but they wouldn’t give it to him to buy records every week much less to go with his buddy Lex into the city. He and Lex were always at each other’s house so they would tell each of their mom’s they were staying at the other’s house and get on the train or bus to the city. It worked out great because the black sheep of the family, Willie’s mom’s brother, had a place in Greenwich Village and always got a kick out of having them come by after a concert to get drunk with him and crash for the night. Willie always thought he particularly enjoyed that they were all conspiring to pull something over on his sister.
It was a great time for concerts. His first show was in the very early sixties when he talked his parents into taking him to see the Beach Boys at an armory not far from their home in NJ. Willie was to see them many more times over the years but they were probably never better than that night on one of their first tours. Willie’s mom was always a big Beach Boys fan after that while his dad stayed neutral on the issue. His first solo event, actually with a date, was seeing the Dave Clark Five at Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ. Willie’s dad drove them down and was going to pick them up after the show. This was a big deal because Willie hadn’t been on many dates yet and he really liked Gilda. He would have loved it if things had gotten a little more serious with Gilda but that never happened. Maybe one reason the relationship with Gilda never went any further was because she realized at that show that Willie was far more interested in the music than he was in her. With a wall of sound, power rock show accompanied by some really cool black light and strobe effects to their big song, “Glad All Over”, the Dave Clark Five blew him away.
Until he got to high school Willie was kind of dependent on his parents to get him to shows but there was Sammy Davis Jr. and Seton Hall University and a show at a county fair with Dr. Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band. They were not quite the Beach Boys or the DC5, but Willie realized that there was just something magic about live music, particularly in a big concert setting. Willie in particular remembered, or thought he remembered, a night when he and Lex went in to the Café Au Go Go to see John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, a brand new Steve Miller Blues Band right after he had left Mayall and then the headliner, The Grateful Dead. As if that was not enough to top it off that happened to be the early show at the 120 seat Au Go Go and Willie and Lex had tickets for the Murray the K Christmas Show at the Village Theater a few blocks away. From 1958 until 1967, Murray “the K” Kaufman ruled the airwaves of New York as the top Rock DJ. He helped move listeners to FM radio with a free form style that quickly attracted listeners like Willie who were past the bubble gum pop of AM where Top 40 remained king for a while. Murray the K, with his multimedia theater shows, he helped pave the way for places like the Fillmore East which was soon to take over the Village Theater.
On the bill this night were Richie Havens, The Chambers Brothers and The Doors. Their seats were about 15 rows back in the orchestra section on the right side. Where the Au Go Go show had been very intimate – almost like being at a private show, this was a several thousand seat theater and the stage was filled with a massive sound system. Havens, playing just acoustic guitar, started things off with an energetic and soulful performance. The Chambers Brothers raised the volume a few notches and did a fifteen minute version of “Time”, there big finale. Then the Doors.
Willie had seen the Doors once before while on a family vacation in Annapolis, Maryland two summers before. His parents had a boat and the family had cruised down from NJ. On the way to there, Willie heard on the radio that the Doors were playing at The Armory in a dance concert. No seats, just open admission. Willie was only 16 at the time but he told his parent he had to go. His 12 year old brother Pete wanted to go too. Finally, mom consented to let them both go as long as Willie took care of Pete. As soon as they finished an early dinner, they called a cab to get them to the Armory. Willie wanted to get there early in case there were not many tickets left. They got in quickly and found only a few dozen people inside. Walking around, Willie spotted none other than Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek also just walking around talking together. With only one album out, they were just starting their rise to super stardom. Still, Willie couldn’t believe they were just walking around. He didn’t think it would be cool to interrupt their conversation – he didn’t really know what he would say anyway. Willie kind of followed them around at an unobnoxious distance until they eventually headed back stage. The place shortly began to fill up. It was about another hour and Ray Manzerek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger began an instrumental introduction that was to lead into “Backdoor Man” as Morrison joined them on stage. Willie hoped Pete was OK – he had lost track of him as he moved up to stand right by the stage. There may have been disasters among the Doors tour dates but this was not one of them. The band was playing a lot of new material from the soon to be released “Strange Days” album and it was amazing stuff. Just when Willie thought things could not get any better, they did. This really cute girl with long black hair was next to him in the crowd. They were both dancing to the music and bumped each other casually a few times and then she began dancing close to him with with some intent. It was all kind of like a dream. Morrison and the Doors a few feet away, playing an amazing concert, and this gorgeous girl rubbing her hands on his back and starting to kiss him. The kisses got deeper and deeper and the music more and more intense. A long intricate version of “When the Music’s Over” finished the set but Willie was having a hard time focusing his attention between the kisses and the music. The dream ended and the girl, after a couple of last, lighter kisses vanished into the parting crowd. Willie stood there stunned, in shock, exhilarated. He was brought back to reality by his brother who said, “shouldn’t we go find a cab back?”. Willie said, “yeah” and began walking to the exit looking for the girl. He was in love and it was already over.
The Doors at the Village Theater was a great show but as Willie listened, he knew it was not going to match that night in Annapolis. Willie and Lex followed up the concert with a 2 AM snack at the Hip Bagel on Bleeker Street. The whole night had cost them less than twenty bucks each. Talk about a great deal. They were both worn out from the excitement as they walked the few blocks to Willie’s uncle’s apartment on Prince Street hoping he was home and willing to let them in. He was a little grumpy and groggy from sleep but buzzed the door so they could get in and went back to bed. Willie and Left a few hours later after getting a little sleep on the couches. Uncle was still snoring in the bedroom as was his cat that, from the looks of it, must have drunk the couple of cans of beer that sat empty by his water bowl. He was breathing but didn’t even look up to acknowledge Willie and Lex as they left.
One of the things that always impressed Willie at concerts was the lighting effects that went along with the show. Before the late 60’s, most concerts were just a band on stage or in a dance hall with some plain background and setting. That was how the Beach boys show had been but the Dave Clark five concert had shown a new direction. Willie remembered how much the strobes and black lights had added to the impact of the music. The Fillmore East had the most sophisticated lighting and staging going with the Joshua Light Show. It was as big a deal as the band that played. Using all of the regular stage lights mixed with other placed on stage around the band and a huge rear screen projector system, the Joshua Light Show produced what often was described as a mind altering blend of colors and images.
Willie figured he would probably never get to be a good enough musician to play in a decent band but, he knew he could do light. With the Joshua Light Show as a model, Willie launched a new business, The Iron Lung Lighting company. He didn’t have a lot of money to invest but he had always been good at rigging things together. His mother always told him he was making Rube Goldberg devices. Willie didn’t thing the connotation was entirely positive but he liked the sound of it. The Iron Lung Lighting Company was one big Rube Goldberg device.
Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg was best known for his series of popular cartoons depicting Rube Goldberg machines, complex devices that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways.
There were actually several contests around the world known as Rube Goldberg contests which challenged high school students to make a complex machine to perform a simple task. Too bad Willie had not know about that, his equipment surely would have qualified for a prize. He had strung together twelve push button light switches and numerous dimmer controls and other buttons mounted in the top of a large black painted box. Numerous numbered light sockets were mounted in one of the other sides. There was a second box with a swivel handle on top and six plug sockets. Into this one, Willie had made a rotating contact that, depending on the position of the swivel handle would put two of the six plug sockets in the on postion. The final section to the Iron Lung Lighting company control panel was a collection of half a dozen foot pedals. All of these items were really just switches that allowed Willie to turn on and off whatever he plugged into the various plug sockets. He experimented a little with an overhead projector using a couple of clear glass plates with oil and water to make amebic like shapes on a projection screen like Joshua did but it required another person or two to be done right and Willie didn’t want to have to have anybody to help him other than maybe carrying the equipment around.
Willie got very good with creating pulsating effects in time with the music. He would play the panel he had built like a percussion instrument, smashing on buttons and pedals with hands and feet in time to the music. Instead of the overhead projectors, he added a couple of slide projectors and he made all kinds of slides of actual and abstract images that he projected on or behind the bands he worked with. Willie usually set his equipment up on a portion of the stage so he could be right in the action. He loved it because he was finally on stage. The band’s loved it because it made their shows much “bigger” and “cooler”.
Being the entrepreneur, Willie began going to churches and schools and offering to “produce” dance concerts for them. He would do advertising, get the band booked and have the Iron Lund Lighting Company doing their thing for a percent of the ticket sales. They usually backed out the cost of the band and any hard costs such as rental of the hall or securty if that had to be covered. Willie would then split the remaining profit with the church group or other organization. He partnered up with some his good friends from High School who had a band called Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, and they all made some pretty good money through out high school.
Willie was part of a group that called themselves the Cretin Company. Everyone in the group all prided themselves as living a bit on the edge or at least what a group of affluent suburban teenagers would consider on the edge. The Cretins chose to take on an outcast role in the social structure of their high school. Columbia High School had very much the atmosphere of a college in those late 60’s time. It was very liberal and academic. Plenty of stuck up kids from wealthy families totally on the college career track. Then there were the Cretins. No interest in school sports or other activities, just doing enough to get decent grades but more focused on adventure and music and parties.
One or another in the group would often announce before school that the building had been burned down and that school was cancelled. Everyone would hop in cars and it would be off to the Pancake House for a long breakfast of headed north to Vernon Valley for a day of skiing. If it was spring time, maybe it would be a couple of hours drive down to Beach Haven on the Jersey shore for a few hours and back in time to get home at the regular after school hour.
If the Iron Lung Lighting Company and the band were not working on a Friday or Saturday night, it was time for a party, usually at Willie’s house. His parents had lots of friends and were usually out either or both nights. Willie also had a great stereo system and all the Iron Lung Lighting equipment set up in his big room on the third floor of the house. When he had started high school, his parents had fixed up the room and let him move up there from the bedroom next to theirs on the second floor that he had shared with Pete since their little sister had been born.
They got away with a lot. The older brother of one of the Cretin Company members was the delivery guy for a local liquor store. Well, Mr. Brodie had a lot of weekend orders of beer and assorted beverages. Willie’s standard line for proper protocol was always “My dad’s up in the shower, I’ll sigh for it and he gave me the money to pay you, including a good tip.” Things went well for some time and never got out of hand – at least no one ever called the cops. But, one night, Willie’s mom and dad came home after only being gone an hour or so. Willie always kept the beer in a big bucket of ice in the bushes below his third floor window. He had a long rope with a hook on it that he would lower down, snare a six pack and pull it up and into his window. Well on this night that his parents came home early, there were only a few people up in his room and he figure the party could continue. Unfortunately, as the next six pack of beer was being pulled up from the ice bucket, his mother was at the kitchen sink cleaning some dishes and saw the six pack go by the window right in front of her.
A short time after this, Willie’s dad called up to him and told him to come downstairs. Willie was told about his mother’s experience and his father then took him out to the side of the house where there were still three six packs on ice, hidden in the bushes at the side of the house. The last time Willie had been caught doing something in the bushes at the side of the house he had gotten the belt. For a moment he thought that was going to happen again but his father simply said, “Tell everyone to go home and don’t let this happen again.” That was the end of the parties at Willie’s house but college was only six months away.
That final summer before college, Willie got a cushy job as a lifeguard at a country club. Willie’s parents had always been members of the club. Willie’s grandfather had been the one that originally joined for the golf. When Willie was growing up, they had a spring fed lake for swimming that was always icy cold. Being spring fed, it never was much over 60 degrees even in the middle of the summer. It never really bothered Willie as a kid but he was very glad that by the time he became a lifeguard, they had built a pool with a heater.
Other than probably getting too much sun, Willie was in the best shape of his life. He was swimming a mile or more everyday unless thunder storms drove him from the pool. The parents and kids at the country club all liked Willie and the rest of the life guards. None of them were too crazy about the life guard boss though. He was a gym teacher during the winter months. He liked a very strict routine which somehow didn’t seem required at the country club. He liked to take advantage of his golf privileges at the club which meant he could usually get a tee time on weekdays and would be out of the way for a few hours two or three days a week. Weekends were tough though. He was on the case full time and the place would get packed. Willie’s biggest musical regret, other than not seeing the original incarnation of Cream play live, was missing Woodstock. It took place over a long weekend in August and Willie was told in no uncertain terms by the boss that if he took off he shouldn’t bother to come back. It was too good a job to give up.
It proved to be a good decision, although a tough one like lots in life. Turns out one of the other life guards had a dad that was a big shot at NBC. Since NBC was owned by the big record company, RCA Victor – Elvis’s label among others. They didn’t have too many really cool artists but, here was the door to the music industry for Willie. Willie had graduated from Rutgers in the spring so this was the last summer before a real job was called for. After a couple of weeks of procrastination he finally worked up the courage to ask the big exec about getting a job at RCA. The guy even turned out to be VP of Human Resources but he said the route would be Guest Relations at the NBC Studios and then maybe find a job posting to get over to RCA. “But, you will have to interview first” he said. Willie figured that it was necessary to show people he was competent to show school kids and seniors around the fabled NBC Studios. The hardest part was the horse sounds in the old NBC Radio sound effects studio but Willie’s magic show and puppet show background put him in good stead.
At the time 19 NBC vice presidents had started in Guest Relations which was encouraging but Willie didn’t see any Record moguls in the mug shots that covered the walls in the staff lounge areas where he hung out between tours. Willie thought he was doing pretty good in the job category so far. He got started at NBC just two weeks after his final summer season at the country club ended. It was kind of fun and not particularly tough even if he was out late at a concert or a bit hung over when he came in. He often went in early and hung out in the studio with Imus In The Morning. It was those earlier years when Imus was really funny. Willie got to watch, live it the studio, great original comedy that would be copied by morning show hosts around the country. There were not a lot of people in the studio, usually just Willie and the engineer. Willie never said much to Imus because there was always the feeling that the slightest wrong move would get him kicked out and banned forever. Imus would usually still be on the air when Willie would bring his first tour group around. As log as he wasn’t too wrapped up in a bit, Imus would give Willie a little nod of acknowledgement and Willie would tell his tour group how he had a really good job because he often got to just hang out in the studio with Imus. That Guest Relations uniform was Willies first All Access Pass – he could pretty much go anywhere in the NBC studios with it on. As good a job as it was, Willie knew it was not a career. They only let you stay in Guest Relations about 18 months. Willie decided it was time to get a real job and started searching the job postings looking for the big music industry job.
Willie diligently searched the positions were posted that week. There was a job as junior cable puller, a union job on the TV side. Not really what Willie had in mind. He already had some bias against the union. One day he was paging Three On A Match. This translates to an usher at one of NBC’s game shows. It was 9AM and the taping was supposed to start. The audience was there, the cast was there but the curtain puller had not shown up. Now, even though it was just a matter of pulling a rope that would raise the curtain, no one was allowed to do it but an authorized curtain puller. Not even another union guy. They had to call out and get another “curtain puller” which took about 45 minutes. Probably cost about $50 thousand in expenses. Anyway, Willie had reservations about unions. He decided to take a walk from 30 Rock the couple of blocks over to the RCA Studios and see what he could find out.
The lobby was small, red and had a big version of the RCA Victor dog Nipper sitting there and taking up about a third of the space. A very cute girl in her twenties sat behind the reception desk. Willie approached and said he worked at NBC and wanted to find out about getting a job at RCA. “They put out job postings for internal hires” she said. “Would you like a copy?” “Yeah” said Willie. She got up and went through a door behind the desk. She was back in a few seconds and handed Willie the list. It was the same one posted in the guest relations staff lounge. Willie said “But there is nothing on here for RCA”. She replied that she didn’t think there was very often. Most people were apparently “outside hires”.
Willie decided he couldn’t be too picky or he might end up with no job at the end of 18 months and little to show for his time unless he intended on being a professional tour guide. When the next listing came out he studied every entry and one caught his eye: clerk/typist NBC TV Commitment Control. Willie went through the interview process and thought it went okay. He had two people he had to talk to. First, the guy he would work directly with, Bob Garcia Jones. He was a big, sharply dressed guy who had been at NBC a few years. Willie was to find out he would have preferred to be a famous tenor but this seemed the closest to the music business he was going to get. Anyway, luckily, Bob Hall must have decided he would be okay sharing his not large office with Willie.
Willie was passed on for a final interview with Noel Radcliff, an NBC lifer who was manager of the department. Noel was a jovial guy who Willie learned could be very firm when anything got screwed up. Bob Jones had put in the word that Willie was good with him apparently so Noel was just making sure he didn’t think Bob was making a big mistake. Willie talked about the Guest Relations staff – Noel had started there too it turned out. Willie talked about Rutgers and how excited he was to now be at NBC. Noel asked him if he would like to start the week after next.
Giving his two weeks notice, Willie managed to squeeze in a few more Imus in the Morning shows and avoid getting caught up in some low level crime on the Guest Relations staff. It probably happened periodically but Willie had never been involved. It was simple. Each tour patron got a basic non-descript ticket that was then supposed to be torn in half when someone started their tour. Well, the way it worked was the ticket taker would not bother to tear the tickets in half and would just take them. After the tour group was off, the un-torn tickets would return to the ticket booth to be resold. Since the gate was tallied by the tickets dispensed, each resold ticket meant the ticket price could be split between the ticket taker and the ticket seller in the booth. Obviously they couldn’t get too greedy or they would be caught but skimming three or four tickets a tour was easy. Willie stuck to giving his last couple of weeks of tours and being glad he was moving on to bigger and better things.
Willie picked up the work quickly. That was not the case for many who had been at NBC for years. They were making the transition to computers and many on the staff thought it was crazy and was going to be totally unreliable. Up until shortly before Willie started, all the network TV commercials had been written down in log books and scheduled using a big cork board where and advertiser and commercial name on a slip of paper would be pinned to the cork board in the spot indicating a time slot for airing. A whole week would be on the wall with all the little slips of paper indicating Coca Cola and Bufferin commercials tacked up. Each day it would be someone’s job to type out the commercial schedule based on what was on the cork board. It would then be sent to broadcast control where the engineers would put the appropriate tapes in for broadcast through the day. This was all changing: automation. And people hated it.
Willie would simply enter the data in the computer and automatically, commercial broadcast schedules would be printed up and sent to broadcast control. In a few years, the commercials would automatically be slotted into shows and the only human in the process would be the person in Willie’s job. The people that had been doing the jobs for many years hated this whole deal. Some basically refused to give up their notebooks and insisted on duplicating everything done in the computer because they simply didn’t trust the machines. Willie actually felt bad for them because it was obvious to him that everything was so much easier to control and monitor in the computers but he know they were really scared of the change. They saw it as throwing out the whole way they had done business for as long as they could remember with all of their carefully managed systems becoming archaic. Willie sensed rightly that many were wondering if they would end up left behind like their notebooks full of commercial schedules. While they groaned and moaned about the changes, Willie jumped right in. He took to computers right away, learned fast and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do it any other way. This inevitably scored some points for Willie with his managers since they knew there was no going back.
Bob Garcia Hall and Willie were responsible for scheduling all of the Daytime and Saturday Morning commercials for NBC TV. Willie’s business career got off to a nice start. Both Bob and department manager Noel were really good guys – professional, friendly and easy to work for as long as you did your part. They both liked Willie because he put 100% into his work and took it very seriously. He could have been fine with less effort but Willie really believed that whatever you did, you should try to be great at it. Everyone appreciated the enthusiasm and positive attitude Willie brought to work each day.
Over the next couple of months, Willie and Bob Hall became pretty good friends – it was very much a work relationship but one where Bob was willing to take Willie into his personal life a bit. Turns out Bob was very into the arts. Besides his interest in opera, he had a good friend named Pablo Romero who was an abstract artist with heavy Spanish and South American influences. Bob was going to have some people over to his home for a showing and sale and he invited Willie. Willie took the F train uptown after work and got off at 86th Street. It was a Friday night in the early fall and people were out enjoying sitting outdoors at the dozens of restaurants seeming to be on every block along the main streets. Willie enjoyed walking in New York, particularly when the weather was so nice.
Bob Garcia Hall’s apartment was on the upper east side of New York City on 89th Street. It was a nice old building with a uniformed doorman sitting at a little desk with a big vase of colorful flowers sitting on it. A very dignified looking older couple came in with Willie and said they were going to the Garcia Hall apartment. The doorman had them sign in and then told them to take the elevator to the fifth floor. “5D” he said. As they walked toward the elevators, Willie told the doorman he was also going to the Hall apartment. He signed in. “5D” the doorman said. By the time Willie got to the elevator, the door had closed so he pushed the button to bring it back down. It hit five and after a few seconds headed back down for Willie. The door opened on five. The walls of the hallway were painted a coffee brown with dark brown trim. An oriental design carpet ran down the middle of the polished wood floors. Each door looked to be of heavy mahogany. Willie found 5D and rang the bell. Bob Hall came to the door in a more casual outfit than what he wore to work but very distinguished and expensive looking anyway. “Willie, I am so glad you came” he said and gestured Willie in telling him to make himself at home. “Get a drink and some food, take a look at Pablo’s paintings. Linda is here from the office so you will find someone you know.”
Linda was a black woman and one of the legal people that went over all of the NBC commercial contracts. All Willie really knew about her was that she collected antique bottles – she had bought a couple that Willie found at a craft fair one weekend. He walked in, curious to see what Bob’s place looked like. It was very nice and fit the building. Bob’s Spanish ancestry clearly was a key defining element in his life. From paintings on the walls to fabrics on chairs and couches to all kinds of curious artifacts, it could very well have been an apartment in Madrid or maybe Acapulco. It was not huge but had the entrance hallway, a nice size living room, a small kitchen and two bedrooms each with a full bathroom. There were Pablo Romero paintings on display in each room – except for the bathrooms – so Willie felt it was okay to look around each room.
The art of Pablo Romero was full of bright colors and big shapes. Some were totally abstract and the characters that populated others were abstract in the sense of having exaggerated features and were kept quite two-dimensional by large fields of color and little shading. The bold reds, oranges and yellows were highlighted by edges of 24-carrat gold paint and wide black lines. Willie found the stuff very striking and really liked quite a bit of it. One of Willie’s several majors at Rutgers had been Art and he had spent many hours visiting avant-garde art museums in NYC. Pablo’s stuff reminded him of the feel of much of what he had seen then with a definite South American flavor. One piece in particular caught his eye. It was a somehow old looking couple against and orange red sky, nearly matching the slightly more pink of their faces in a flat, probably spray painted finish. They had green brown clothes on that were a mix of crayon and water color with acrylic highlights. They stared wistfully at each other. It was entitled “to be sung to the tune of With Every Beat of My Heart”. Willie was not making much money at that time but the price tag said $300 and he decided if the frame came with it he was going to buy it. Bob introduced him to Pablo and Willie liked him right away. He also got him to agree to include the frame. Pablo said he would meet Willie after work one night next week to give it to him. As things turned out, this was just the first of his Pablo Romero purchases.
Willie thought he was doing well at NBC so far. He had moved from clerk/typist to Assistant Commercial Coordinator for Daytime and Saturday Morning Network TV in less than six months. He had a job that counted. A mistake on his part could cost tens of thousands of dollars – he liked that. He did not plan on making any costly mistakes but he liked the responsibility. The issue was money, not enough of it. He had a girlfriend named Wendy who was quickly rising in the ranks at an advertising agency. She was a Media Planner and on her way to Associate Media Director probably within the year. She often told him how she though NBC stood for Nice But Cheap. She was already making quite a bit more than Willie already and had bigger raises in line than Willie did.
Willie was mulling over this situation one weekend when he got a call from a woman he knew well from his lifeguard days at the country club, a Mrs. Gershon. He had always been good friends with her daughter Linda. After exchanging some pleasantries, she told Willie that her husband and her had recently started a new business. They had always thought a great deal of Willie’s attitude and work ethic and wondered if he would be interested in working with them on a part-time basis. They were a well off couple. Mr. Gershon had been an Olympic medalist in skating and had a very successful business teaching skating to aspiring athletes. Willie reminded her that he was not a particularly good skater. She laughed and said it was a marketing business outside of skating and she thought Willie would be very good at it. To Willie, it was like a prayer being answered. Here he was sitting in the kitchen of his apartment trying to figure out how he was going to earn more money and out of the blue, this call. “Sounds great to me” Willie said. “What’s the business?” Mrs. Gershon asked him if he was available to come by their house next Wednesday night at 8PM to discuss it. He said sure and hung up the phone wishing he didn’t have to wait almost a week to find out more.
On the following Monday night, Mrs. Gershon called him again. “Hi Willie. Just wanted to make sure you were coming Wednesday night.” Willie said he would be there. She told him he should wear business clothes since there were going to be some other people from the company there and she wanted to make sure he made a good impression. Willie told her he would be coming straight from work so that would be no problem. Mrs. Gershon reminded him she wanted to get started at 8PM and to please be on time. Willie said “No problem, I’ll be there.” Willie didn’t have the slightest idea what to expect but it felt like one of those destiny at work moments.
On Wednesday, Willie finished getting all of the end of the day updates done and got ready to leave NBC right on time at 5PM. Willie usually worked until nearly 6PM but he might not be able to be on time getting to the Gershon’s house if he did that tonight. Bob Hall usually left before Willie but today Willie said goodbye to him, wished his a good night and headed out to the elevators. It was rush hour. The elevators were packed and Willie had to let the first over crowded one go before getting a ride down from the 11th floor at 30 Rockefeller Center. It was a great building with its wall and ceiling paintings, art deco fixtures and massive sculptures. Between the building and all of the exciting things that took place in it, Willie thought he had a really great place to work.
It was convenient too. Willie usually walked to Port Authority Bus Terminal which was between 41st and 42nd Street on Eight Avenue. 30 Rock was at 49th and 6th so it was not a long walk. Right at 5 o’clock the streets were really packed with rivers of people. That could be a little unpleasant sometimes but you got used to it. Once to Port Authority he was quickly on his way through the Lincoln Tunnel and over to North Bergen on the 5:30 bus. Willie lived on Boulevard East in an apartment building named the Park Hudson. Boulevard East ran parallel to the Hudson River and Willie’s 12th floor one bedroom apartment looked across the river at midtown Manhattan. The Park Hudson was reasonably priced, was an easy computer from the city, had a great view and he could usually find a parking space on the street for his car without too much trouble. Willie thought it was much better than living in the city since as good a spot would have easily cost him double what he was paying.
A quick trip up to the apartment for bite to eat and then Willie headed down to find his car. Since he didn’t drive it every day, the big challenges were remembering where it was and the day on which it had to be moved to avoid a ticket. Today it was easy, the bright yellow Volkswagen Superbeetle was parked near the Boulevard East corner on a side street a couple of blocks from the Park Hudson. Willie unlocked it and hoped in. Turning the key, a cassette came to life in the tape player blasting “Gudbuy T’ Jane”, a Slade song covered by Willie’s brother’s band Whiplash. They covered a bunch of Slade songs but this was his favorite because his brother sang it really well and played some killer lead guitar. Willie was always a little jealous of Pete since he was actually in a band playing in top clubs in the tri-state area. He would have liked to revive the Iron Lung Lighting Company and talk Pete into working together but he was into the JOB thing now and getting home at dawn most every night wouldn’t work.
Pete had started playing bass at first. Pete had been to The Doors show with Willie and some other good concerts as well but a band named Mountain was the trigger. Willie’s love of music had certainly had an effect on Pete and Willie was an early fan of Mountain. They really got introduced to the world at Woodstock but Willie had been coming close to blowing out his stereo speakers for a few months before that with the roaring guitar of Leslie West (who was a mountain of a man at well over 300 pounds) the bass of Felix Popallardi and drums of Corky Lang. The raw power of the band and guitar work impressed Pete a lot more than the more vocal oriented bands like the Doors. Willie found out that one of the people he worked with was married to Mountain’s manager. When they were doing a New Jersey gig at Upsala University, Willie arranged for Pete to go to the rehearsal session in the afternoon. Pete got to hang out, listen to the session and even talk a while to Felix. The rest as they say “is history”.
Pete was still living at home at the time and within weeks of the Mountain encounter, our parents family room basement was transformed into a rehearsal hall crammed from floor to ceiling with amplifiers and equipment. There was little room for more than the band members and a couch for occasional visitors. It is a wonder our Dad didn’t totally flip out. This was probably the result of mother who enjoyed the people around and wasn’t fazed by the loud music. Luckily, there was enough distance between the houses and enough tolerance on the part of the neighbors that the cops were not regularly called for heavy metal disturbance of the peace. Over a couple of months Pete and the band mates he had drafted got good enough to audition at some local clubs.
After one of the auditions, a guy, probably in his 30’s, with curly blond hair and two twenty something girls on his arm came up to Pete. “You the leader of this group?” Pete said “basically.” “If you want to make it in this business, you are going to need a manager. I like what I hear but you guys need work – in more ways than one” the guy said. Pete asked him what he had in mind. “You guys got a job tonight?” “No” said Pete. “Talk to the rest of the crew and see if they would like to join me for dinner at The Black Angus Steakhouse. Here’s a card. Call me and let me know how many of you there will be. Let’s make it 8PM. You know where it is?” “Yeah, I do” said Willie. “I don’t know if everybody has the bucks for dinner there though”. “I’ll handle it” said the guy. Willie looked down at the card as the guy and two girls walked toward the exit and left. Rick Decker was the name on the card.
Pete was very leery about the whole situation. He was also very serious about becoming successful and he knew that would require help along the way. He asked the guys. They were unanimous about a free dinner at the steakhouse. They didn’t think they needed a manager though. Pete stayed neutral. He gave Decker a call and said it would be five at 8.
They had the “Band Van” they had recently gotten to haul all the equipment around in so they all climbed into that with Pete behind the wheel and headed to the Black Angus Steak House. They went to the desk and said they were meeting Rick Decker. The hostess told them he was in the private dining room upstairs. The guys in the band gave each other looks with some raised eyebrows and headed up the stairs.
The place was designed to look like an old time, fancy New Orleans steakhouse. It was gaudy and ornate as far as Pete was concerned but the food had a very good reputation. At the top of the stairs there was a short hallway that led to the private dining room. It was big enough for probably fifty people but there were only three people in the room. A large table in the center was elegantly set with plates, silverware and flowers in several little vases. From there rose Rick Decker dressed in an extremely well tailored black suit and black shirt to greet them. With his well tanned face and big head of very blond bushy hair, he looked ready for magazine photo shoot. The two girls that were with him at the club remained seated wearing what looked to be matching dresses with the exception that one was bright red and the other was a bright blue. They each wore matching necklaces which Pete noticed mainly because the big gem stone hanging from each added to the seductive picture the girls presented in their tightly tailored low cut dresses.
Decker said, “It’s Pete, right?” “Yes” said Pete. “Well Pete, I’m glad you and the guys could come. A couple of people I respect have said good things about you and after hearing the audition today, I think I might like working with you.” Decker introduced himself to everyone and then asked each of the band to introduce themselves and tell where they were from and how they happened to get in the band. Pete noticed the two girls were making notes on everything said. Pete introduced himself last and said very little other than his name and the fact that he wanted to establish a very successful career in music. “Good, that’s good” said Rick Decker and gestured for them to all sit down.
Decker said, “Thanks for coming. I hope you like this place; I thought it would be a good place to talk. I’ll tell you a little about myself and then tell you what I have in mind.” Decker then told them how he had a lot of business interests, he had started young.
Decker claimed to have gone to Columbia University in NYC when he was 12, living in his own apartment in the city. He graduated college when he was 15 and headed to medical school to become a brain surgeon because people had always teased him about being clumsy with his hands. Pete guessed he figured he could somehow get back at them by not being clumsy working on people’s brains. After graduation with highest honors and a short internship before he was twenty, Decker had gotten bored with the whole thing and decided he had done it for the wrong reasons. Turns out he also had a photographic memory and a good knack for cards. Dumping medicine, he headed to the Caribbean and proceeded to build up a small fortune playing blackjack and counting cards in casino after casino. He had a couple of close calls where to preserve his life he had to spend a few grand to get flown off an island in the middle of the night to avoid casino goons who thought he had somehow cheated. At 22 he retired from gambling as a profession and decided to become an inventor. I the last ten years he had been granted over fifty patents with many more still pending. He said the company that he had set up to handle licensing and royalties for the patent made him about 5 million last year and that that number was likely to go up each year. Now, he wanted to get into the entertainment industry and that was why he was here.
The guys in the band were wearing barely acceptable attire to get into the restaurant and their t-shirts that included all kinds of obscure slogans and logos along with jeans in various degrees of disarray would have had people staring in the main dining room. The first thing Decker said after he finished his biography was “we need to do something about the cloths, we need a look” Pete said, “What’s wrong with what we have on? We’re playing clubs, not Las Vegas.” Decker said, “you guys are playing dives. Do you want to start playing some real gigs?” There were hesitant nods around the table from the band but Pete could see they were all just staring at him to make the next move. “OK, what do you have in mind?” Pete said to Decker.
While they ordered and ate, Decker laid out his plan. First, he wanted to get them all in to a hairstylist to get a start on a “look”. Next, he had a guy that was working on a “ROCK” clothing line who would trade some clothes for promotion. Next, he wanted to work on song selection and see what they could do about coming up with at least half a dozen songs of original material. He said if the band couldn’t come up with anything good at first, he would get some writers to help out. He wanted to get an EP recorded as soon as possible to have something to sell at gigs. He agreed to pay them $500 a week as a salary plus they would split 75% of what they earned from live shows and merchandise sales above that, after expenses of course. Decker would get 25% of earnings.
Other than some rehearsal sessions, there was not much playing over the next three weeks. There was a lot of activity though. The hair stylist did a lot of frosting and highlighting but kept the haircuts fairly simple so the guys would be able to get on stage without having a stylist on staff. No one had any problem with the hair but the clothes were a big ordeal. Decker wanted a “glam” look with high boots and high heels. Leather pants replaced the jeans and some totally crazy shirts with frills and sequins plus a leather vest as an option replaced the t-shirts. Decker even wanted a little makeup to top it off. It took three days of arguing and threats from Decker before the guys went for it.
Willie had arrived out front of the Gershon house and popped out the tape of his brother’s band before turning off the car. He had to make a point of getting to a show soon to hear and see how they were doing. Now, what was this going to be all about? Willie could sure use extra money. NBC was OK but it sure seemed like it was going to be a long haul before he made any real money. He had not seen the Gershon’s in a couple of years but he had always liked them. When he was in his art phase during college, they had even bought a couple of his paintings. He was also a little flattered that they had thought of him to work with them on whatever this was. Anyway, Willie felt good about it and had a feeling this was some kind of turning point for him. He adjusted his tie, got out of the car and headed across the street to the house. There were a few cars parked outside including a really nice looking Corvette. He rang the bell.
Mrs. Gershon opened the door and gave a big smile when she saw Willie. “How are you Mrs. Gershon?” “I’m doing very well and I am so glad you were able to come. There is some coffee and soda over there” she pointed to a table across the entrance hall, outside the living room. “There are a few other people here and I’ll introduce you to everyone after you get yourself something”.
Willie poured himself a cup of coffee and took a couple of sugar cookies. Mrs. Gershon lead Willie into the living room where there were six other people. One of them stepped forward immediately and held out his hand saying “Hi, I’m Lou Beruka”. “Willie Ashmead” Willie said. Mrs. Gershon put her hand on Willie’s shoulder and said, “Hans will be down shortly. I think you know the Weilly’s, Marion and Paul?” They were members at the Country Club and Willie said “Hi, nice to see you.” Marion Weilly said “I don’t think we have ever seen you in a suit, other than a bathing suit that is.” Willie smiled and was glad he had worn a suit and tie. He was actually dressed better than Paul who was wearing a golf shirt. Willie said “Mrs Gershon had said it was a business meeting of sorts so I thought I should dress appropriately.” Mrs. Gershon then guided Willie over to another couple and introduced them. This second couple was introduced as the Gershon family dentist and his wife.
Following the introductions and some brief conversation about the fact that Willie had worked at the country club and was now working for NBC at 30 Rock in New Your City, Willie took an empty chair and sat back curiously wondering what all of this was going to be about. He figured this Lou guy was going to be doing some kind of presentation – he had a large white board set up on an easel at what seemed to be the “front” of the room. It looked like the furniture had been shifted around a bit from its normal living room setting.
Shortly after Willie had taken his seat, he had to get up again to greet former Olympic Silver Medal winner, now local ice skating coach, Hans Gershon. Hans greeted Willie warmly and went around the room to the other guests doing the same. Willie did not know Mr. Gershon as well as he knew his wife and the rest of the family. Mr. Gershon had always been very busy with his skating school and seldom got to the country club. The exception was swim meets where his daughter was one of the top swimmers. Willie was one of the coaches of the country club swim team as a part of his job. After all the greetings were done, Hans took a seat at the back of the room and looked a little like he did not know what was going on. Mrs. Gershon was in hushed conversation with Lou at the front of the room. Lou looked at his watch and Willie heard him say “we will get started at 8:20”.
Willie checked his watch. It was 8:15. The next five minutes went slowly with Lou standing out by the coffee and cookies in the hall sipping on a cup. Willie heard little bits of conversation from the others in the room, mostly things like “what is this all about?” and “I guess it’s too late to leave”. Willie just had a positive sense of anticipation; he was ready for something new.
At 8:20 on the dot, Lou walked up to the front of the room with Mrs. Gershon. Mrs. Gershon started things off with “Good evening everyone, I am so glad you could come. Hans and I are very excited about this new business we have launched and we were eager to share it with a few people that we thought highly of and felt we would enjoy working with. Hans does quite well with the skating school but he would also like to be able to retire one day with a decent amount of money. That’s why we have started another business. Lou’s wife, Barbara, is also an award winning professional figure skater and is teaching some of Hans’ former students. She and Lou discussed this opportunity with us some weeks back and after learning more about it, which you will tonight, we were eager to move forward with it. Now, I am going to let Lou explain how the business is structured and what it could mean for you. Let me introduce again, Lou Beruka.”
As Mrs. Gershon walked to the back of the room to sit by Hans, Lou began by telling the group how pleased he was to be able to be involved in business with people of the caliber of Hans and Nancy Gershon and thanked them for welcoming everyone into their home tonight. Lou then talked about how a lot of people were not really happy with their day to day live and their economic situation but they were stuck in a rut and many of them believed they had no alternatives. “That’s life” they would say and go about their daily routine and thinking “Someday Isle” with no idea how to get there. Most people thought they were locked in to a J.O.B. – “Just over broke” Lou said. “But, that does not have to be. Entrepreneurs, independent business people have always been getting out of the rut and taking charge of their own futures in this country.” Lou continued. “Tonight we are going to share a plan of action with you that is proven and duplicatable. We are not going to offer you a get rich quick scheme – it will take some dedication and determination but you can create the financial future you would like for yourself starting tonight”.
Lou then went to the white board and wrote DREAM BIG! “Why not?” he said. “The main reason most people suffer with less than they would like to make of their lives is because they don’t know what to do or they are afraid to do anything – afraid of failure, afraid of criticism from friends and family in the same rut that they are in. But, it does not have to be that way for you because someone thought enough of you to invite you here tonight.” Lou then asked each of us what we would like to have if we could have or do anything we wanted. Answers came back from the group: travel, a boat, a corvette, tuition money for college. Everyone contributed two or three things they wanted and Lou wrote them all on the board. After we finished going around the room, Lou said “You each have some dreams for your future, that’s great! But, and here’s the BIG but, they are just dreams unless you have a plan to turn them into reality and are willing to take the necessary actions. Tonight is about how you can turn your dreams into reality.”
Willie liked Lou and he was excited about what he was hearing. He was even more curious about where all this was going but he had already decided he was along for the ride. Lou proceeded to describe a business building effort where you built a network of people working with you and shared in the profits. Everyone in the network had to generate some sales of a wide variety of products but they could do a lot of it by “being their own best customer.” It seemed the company offered everything from detergents and just about any household product you could think of to a full line of nutrition and cosmetic products. The target was apparently to do a minimum of about $150 dollars a month in sales. Willie figured with the available products, he could probably get pretty close to that by himself.
Nest, was building your network. With a simple progression of threes, you could generate some very substantial income. Willie’s first task would be to find three partners to work with and then help them sponsor three partners and keep duplicating this process. It was a team effort since everyone benefited from expansion of the sales network. If Willie could build three groups or legs as Lou called them, seven deep with the three three three process he could qualify as a “Direct Distributor”. At that point Willie would be earning more from his own business than what he made at NBC – and he could still have the NBC income too because he could do it all without leaving NBC.
Lou finished up by showing everyone a sampling of products and saying that everyone would get a set to take home and try out and that Lou would set up a time sometime in the next couple of days to follow up and answer any questions. Lou then pointed out a magazine called the Amagram that was in the sample pack. On the cover was an attractive couple who had been very successful in the business and who were apparently making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The company was called Amway. Willie thought he had heard of Amway but was not really sure. Lou then flipped to the back of the magazine that showed pictures of dozens of individuals and couple that had built Direct Distributor businesses of better. One of the pictures was of Lou and his wife Barbara.
Mrs. Gershon came to the white board with Lou and thanked him for doing the presentation. She said this was a great example of how the business worked because while Lou and Barbara had “sponsored” the Gershon’s, Lou was here to help them build their business. She then passed out cards to get contact information from each of us that she pointed out could be used to substantiate the tax deduction they would be able to take because they had a home based business. There were two check boxes on the card: one was “I’m excited about this opportunity and want to get started right away” and the other was, “I’m interested but have more questions”. Willie didn’t want to sound too eager so he checked the second option.
It turned out Lou lived in Long Island but nonetheless, he said he would be glad to come over to Willie’s apartment in North Bergen the following night. Willie gave him directions for the hour drive and thanked Lou for the sample pack. He thanked Hans and Mrs. Gershon for thinking of him and headed out to his car. Unless he discovered some “catch” when Lou came over the next night, he figured he was in!
Willie got through the next day at NBC without mentioning anything about the business he was about to start to anyone. Lou had said not to talk to anyone about it until after they had the follow up meeting. The products in the sample pack looked to all be of high quality and they were all things Willie normally purchased at the supermarket so why not buy them from himself instead. Of course, they seemed a bit pricey but they were all “concentrated”. In the magazine, with hugely successful couple on the cover, there were some price comparison charts that illustrated the cost per use versus the top brands and it all looked reasonable as a sales pitch. Everybody used products like these everyday and Willie didn’t think it would be that hard to get a few customers. After all to follow the business building plan Lou had laid out last night, he only needed to move about $150 worth of products each month – of course he needed to put together a network of about 100 people doing the same thing to start making some big bucks. Lou apparently had done it in a little over a year so Willie figured he should be able to do it too.
That night, the buzzer from the main entrance of Willie’s building rang right at the appointed time. Willie clicked the talk button and said “Hi, who is it?”. The answer was not what Willie expected, “Rick Gates, Lou had something come up and I told him I would be glad to cover for him.” “OK” said Willie, “Come on up, 18B.”
Rick was a tall and lanky guy who turned out to be a professional tennis player in his day job. He was good looking and probably very popular with the women in the country club tennis clinics he did. Rick was doing quite nicely financially working with the upper crust and their kids on Long Island. “So”, Willie said, “since you have such a nice job, what got you started in this business?” Rick said that he enjoyed it for one thing and that in sports, age or an injury can quickly put you out of business. He was interested in have a little more control over his financial future. He thought this business was great because you were your own boss, could set your own hours and had not limit on how much money you could earn. With his tennis lessons, there were only so many hours in the day and there were definite limits on what he could charge even if he won some pro events.
Rick summarized the plan that Lou had laid out the night before and explained that the first objective would be to sponsor three people or couples. If someone was married, forget about get just one of them on board. If you they were not both willing to give the business a try, it was unlikely either would ever stick with it. Lou had suggested making a list of all of the people Willie might like to talk to about being in business with him and Rick asked to take a look at it. Willie had about twenty names. Rick was impressed and told Willie that the first step would be to listen to the first three training tapes for some pointers and then schedule a meeting like the one at the Gershon’s and invite several of the people on Willie’s list. Rick said that he or Lou would do the presentation and help Willie follow up with everyone that came. It all sounded reasonable to Willie but he still didn’t know what the price tag was.
It turned out Rick wanted a check for $372.00 but he assured Willie that he would be getting back $237.00 of it and generating his first business volume from those that he sponsored. The “kit” he had gotten the night before was $79.00 – he needed at least three of those for signing up his initial goal of three associates – that was the $237.00. The balance was for his own kit and Independent Distributor sign up package and business manual. Rick said he or Lou would bring some extra kits in case Willie ended up having more than three interested people or couples at the meeting. This was the first test of Willie’s enthusiasm. $372.00 was quite a bit of money for him at the moment. Both Rick and Lou had made a good impression on Willie, he had enjoyed listening to the tape by the guy on the cover of the Amagram that was in the kit and the products seemed easy enough to sell. He got his check book out, wrote the check and signed the Independent Distributor application. Rich congratulated him on getting started in his own business.
It was not his first business of course. The house number painting business, the puppet and magic show business and the Iron Lung Lighting Company business had all been good. Willie was certain he had a lot more to work with here though and some good people to help him make it successful.
The next day after work, Willie decided to go hear his brother’s Pete’s band at a club on the Jersey shore. He had not seen them in a while and was curious to see how they were doing with their new manager. He took his training tapes along – the car ride would give him a great chance to listen to them. Rich had suggested that when driving Willie could make his car a “success university on wheels”. Willie was anxious to get started so he jumped on the idea. It was a little over an hour drive to the club where Pete was playing so he figured he could get through one tape each way.
The first tape was titled “Success Will Not Attack You”. The speaker was Jody Victor, the guy from the cover of the Amagram. Willie very quickly decided he liked this guy. He was a very good speaker and easily sucked Willie in to his message and how true it was. The gist of it was that it was very unlikely that success would sneak up on you and attack you but it was very likely that friends and family might attack your success. Well meaning of course, or possibly but none the same, they were likely to be the one’s saying “just stick with that job you have at NBC” or why are you getting involved in some kind of business scam?” or “My mom’s cousin tried that and it didn’t work.” Jody said you would always find people who would “try and steal your dream” which was why it was so important to stay focused on where you wanted to go.
Willie could easily see it happening with this business, “network marketing”. Lots of people just assumed it was a pyramid scheme. There were plenty of those around, they came and went with a few pros making a lot of money and most people losing money. Selling get rich quick schemes has always had a market. Amway was quite different. It was not the first “network marketing” company but it was the company that made network marketing a real business. Jody made it quite clear, even with the title of the first tape, that success was not going to jump out and get you, it was something that you had to pay a price for. You had to earn if it was going to last and keep paying you dividends.
Turned out Jody was the son of one of the couples that founded Amway back in 1959. They started with a handful of friends an one product – an all natural liquid soap called Frisk. “Don’t risk it, Frisk it!” was the slogan. Jody told their story on the tape. How they started with nothing but an idea and a dream. They probably never dreamed at the beginning that it would grow to be a major, multi-national corporation doing billions in business. Jody remembered, as a kid, helping his parents glue labels on the Frisk bottles and sitting in his room on countless nights listening to his dad tell people about the business in the living room of their house. They had none of the tools and support that existed now. No track record of success, just a clear vision of what could be and a lot of determination.
Jody saw his dad and mom go from modest means to private jets as he grew up. The thing he was most proud of was that they never lost sight of where they had started and the fact that the people like Willie, just starting out, were the future and needed to be guaranteed the same opportunity they had. Jody made it very clear that even though in many ways it was a lot easier now with a duplicatable path to success, it would still take the kind of dedication and effort that his parents put in to become really great at it. If you just wanted a some extra money, just follow the plan and do it consistently and you would likely make a good second income. But, if you had really big dreams, this business could also deliver them to you. It was up to you to “walk the walk” but you would have a team of success minded people in your corner to help you along the way. This was a business of people helping people. As the tape finished, Willie felt good about his decision to get into this and liked the idea of having this guy Jody Victor as a business partner.
Willie made a left into the parking lot of the Cracker Ranch Club in Bricktown, NJ. The lot was about three quarters full which was good for a weeknight. Pete had dealt with his share of dream stealers for his choice of Rock Music as a career. Willie had always encouraged him though and was glad Pete had been making a good income with it. Maybe this new manager would get them to the next level. Willie was curious about this Rick Decker. Pete had not had much to say but that he was going to play along and see what happened. Decker was getting them in the studio to record their originals and a couple of their best covers. He also had gotten them a better paying deal for playing clubs like Cracker Ranch.
Willie walked in the front door and was hit by a sonic boom. Strobes were flashing to the drums and bass beat of Whiplash. Manager Decker had changed the name from Hotshot to Whiplash as part of his makeover. As Willie looked around, he mentally made the adjustment from “university of success” in his car to Jersey shore rock club and bar. There didn’t seem to be anybody in here trying to look like a business person. In fact, the dress code was way extreme different. Willie was a little taken aback by his brother’s outfit. Jeans and t-shirts had been replaced with high healed red leather boots that went up well above Pete’s knees. Black leather pants came up out of the boots and he had a wide belt covered with pointed silver studs and a big buckle. He had on what looked like a purple kind of fluffy silk shirt open half way down his chest and bunch of necklaces hanging around his neck. Willie thought the eye makeup took it over the top but hey, it was rock n’ roll.
Boots were really in. One of the “Cracker T” girls came up to Willie and asked him what she could get him. She too was wearing high boots though nothing like brother Pete’s. Two very nice legs came out of the almost knee high boots and were capped off with a short black pleated skirt, a few inches of flat stomach and a cut-off baseball jersey with the “Cracker T” logo over her left breast. Willie knew from an article in the Asbury Park Press that they got the name because during the warmer months of the year, they had a t-ball softball team that played charity events. Willie ordered a Budweiser and gave her his credit card to start a tab. She didn’t bother proofing him but he clearly looked older than most of the people in the club. As she walked back toward the bar, Willie took note of the number 9 on the back of her Cracker T baseball jersey.
Pete noticed Willie as he moved a bit closer to the stage and between songs said “We are gonna play a song by Slade now which you might know. My brother just walked into the house and it is a favorite of his. Good to see ya Willie! I’ll let you buy me a drink when we break.” They launched into the song and Pete nailed a particularly good guitar solo into the middle of the song. Willie was having fun. Live music was most always a blast and Willie always had fun seeing Pete play. While Willie watched the band rock through the song, he could not miss two tall girls up by the front of the stage. They stood out not only because they were very striking but because their clothes and overall style just looked expensive which was not the norm for this crowd. Willie was amused to see that they were wearing matching brightly colored shirts with a Dr. Seuss character and the words “Thing One” embroidered on the back of one and “Thing Two” on the other. Their eyes were glued to the guys in the band as they began gyrating to the beat as Pete kicked the band into gear. The Cracker 9 girl tapped Willie on the shoulder to get his attention. She handed him an icy cold beer from a tray full of drinks. Thinking there were a lot of nice numbers in the room, Willie thanked her and turned back to the stage. Whiplash roared through a half dozen songs that kept Thing One and Two dancing along with the rest of the enthusiastic crowd.
The break came a little before midnight. Willie was going to have to take off soon or he would be struggling to stay awake the next day at work. The band powered down some of the equipment and headed off the side of the stage to a dressing room area. Willie headed that way as a huge guy who looked like a Norseman moved in front of the door to keep unwanted visitors out of the backstage area. He moved aside as Thing One and Two walked to and through the door. Willie came up behind them and the big guy said, “Hi Willie, how you been?” “I’ve been doing good Claude, how about you?” “I’m cool. This Decker guy has been gettin us better money and we have been playing better places. Still plenty of drunk assholes and skanky girls wanting to hang with the band. Keeps me busy. Not as many fight lately though which is kind of a shame. I need more exercise than helping lug equipment around. “ Willie said, “OK Claude, catch you later” and went through the door.
Inside the door was a fairly large room, big couches and arm chairs up against three of the walls with an air hockey table and a long table full of food and drinks on the other. Worn oriental carpets covered most of a well polished wooden floor and concert posters and assorted memorabilia from years of shows at the club filled most every inch the walls and ceiling. Willie hadn’t really had any dinner and the food table looked tasty. It was probably not as elaborate as it was on night’s acts a notch or two above Whiplash were playing but there was still plenty to choose from. Cheese, nuts, crackers, a big steamer tray of General Tso’s Chicken and fried rice, another warmer tray with pizza slices in it and a big bowl of oranges and apples.
Pete saw Willie and said “Some desserts are supposed to come out too – maybe next break”. The two Thing girls both had arms around Pete. Seeing Willie’s obvious interest in the girls, Pete said “Hey Willie, you want a lap dance?” Before Willie could answer, the girl with the Thing One shirt said, “That’s your brother, isn’t it Pete?” Pete said “sure is.” The girl said, “Let me give him a lap dance, that would be fun.” Willie was a little taken a back but it sure sounded like fun to him. Pete smiled and said, “Go for it but wait until we go back out, I need to talk to Willie.”
Willie walked over and shook hands with Pete. “You guys are sounding great tonight” Willie said. “Thanks, Decker has been working us like crazy. He has some producer re-doing my songs and putting together new stuff. Anyway, listen, he wants to see if you can get him to someone at NBC. He’s not here tonight, thank God, but he’ll probably give you a call next week” said Pete. “What’s he want?” said Willie. “I don’t know but he is really into networking and has this idea that you can get him to someone with Saturday Night Live” answered Pete. “I don’t know anyone at Saturday Night Live” said Willie. The live comedy and music TV show was based in Studio 8H which was on the eighth floor at 30 Rock. Willie’s office was on the twelfth floor, a short elevator ride away. He had worked the show a couple of times when he was on the Guest Relations staff but he had never gotten to know anyone on the staff there. Pete said, “Don’t worry about, just humor him. He’s a little whacked but he is very smart. Anything you want to hear in the next set?” Willie thought a moment and said, “How about ‘Here I Go Again’, the Whitesnake song?” “Done deal. I gotta get something to eat and drink before we go back out.” said Pete as he turned and walked across to the buffet table with Thing One and Two trailing him.
Willie took the chance to get a beer from the cooler. Next to the cooler bass player Chad and drummer Stix were playing air hockey and cursing back and forth at each other. “Wow, that’s a cheat. Tell im Willie!” said Chad. “What?” said Willie. “He freakin stopped the goal with his hand!” “Never happened.” Said Stix. “Bull shit” said Chad. When Willie didn’t jump in to umpire, Chad and Stix ignored him and went back to the game. Willie watched absentmindedly as the game rapidly became more chaotic. Willie’s eyes wandered back to the buffet table where Thing One and Two were still standing with Pete, each drinking a glass of wine. Willie wondered if anyone remembered the lap dance he thought for a few seconds he was going to get.
Claude stuck his big head into the room and said, “Time for you guys to get back out here.” “OK mom” said Pete. He downed the drink he had in his hand and said, “let’s go guys.” Chad throw the air hockey puck at Stix just missing his head, gave him the finger and headed out. Stix gave Willie a big smile and said, “sore loser” and headed toward the door out to the club behind Chad. The fourth member of the band, Richie had been half asleep in one of the big armchairs and got up slowly, yawning. “I need some coffee” said Richie, stretching. Thing Two quickly poured a cup, added some sugar to it and carried it over to Richie. Richie reached out his hand for the cup and then took a sip. “Thanks”, said Richie as Thing Two put her arm around his waist and moved him out through the door leaving Thing One and Willie as the last two in the back stage area. Thing One headed over to Willie running the fingers of her left hand through her long black hair. “Hi Willie, my name’s Jessy. Come over here.” she said as she took hold of his arm and pulled him toward one of the big chairs. She pushed him down into the chair and as the band began playing “Here I Go Again” and sat on his lap. Jessy took Willie’s hands and placed them on her firm thighs as she began to shift her weight back and forth on his lap. To Willie it was like a dream. She smelled delicious and with her hands now on Willie’s she moved to the music, pressing and rhythmically moving her butt against the bulge in Willie’s pants. Willie wanted to put his arms around her but she held his hands firmly to her legs. It was obvious Jessy had done this before. She knew exactly how to move to make it very pleasurable for Willie. As the band brought the song to a massive climax, Jessy did the same for Willie. To cheers and applause from the crowd outside, Jessy got up, turned and gave Willie a kiss on the forehead and then walked to and out the door.
Willie sat there, dazed for a few minutes before getting up and deciding it was time to head home. Claude was at the door as Willie went out into the club. “Good seeing you” he said to Willie. “Yeah” said Wiliie, “It was fun. Tell Pete I had a great time.” Willie walked to the bar and closed his bar tab. He looked back at the stage as he headed to the club exit. Jessy turned his way, made eye contact and gave him a smile and a quick wave and then turned back to the stage dancing next to Thing Two. In a bit of an altered state, Willie left the club, got in his car and made the trek home.
Willie had had his first sexual experience in ninth grade. He had kissed girls before – he had never gone through a phase of not liking girls. Kit Sideman had been his next door neighbor. She was the same age as Willie and they had played together since as far back as he could remember. There bedroom windows were opposite each other. With no cell phones or text messaging in use yet, Kit and Willie had strung a line between their two windows over the fifty feet of their two driveways and some yard space. With the line, they could pull a cup back and forth and exchange messages and items small enough to fit in the cup. They had lots of fun growing up but the closest to anything sexual was when they set up men’s and women’s bathrooms in the bushes at the side of Willie’s house. It was all very innocent but Willie’s dad got wind of it and was not happy.
It was one of the only times Willie got the belt. His dad threatened the belt often, taking it off, folding it in half and cracking the sides together in a loud whiplash like sound. This time, he was really mad. Willie tried to explain that it was no big deal and they did have separate boys and girls bathrooms. His Dad didn’t care and said it was disgusting. Willie ended up getting three good swats on his butt with the belt which didn’t end up hurting that much. He wasn’t going to forget the message though. Just because you don’t think there is anything wrong with what you are doing does not mean others won’t be violently opposed to it.
Willie and Kit were grounded for a few days but were soon back having fun although they stuck with the bathrooms in their respective houses. They never could really figure out what the big deal had been. It probably came down to sexual issues for the parents. They couldn’t control it all though. Kit and Willie never did any kissing or anything at all sexual, they were just real good friends, totally unaffected by any male female relationship. That first real sexual experience came near the end of Junior High when Willie’s mom and dad went out with another couple for dinner. The couple had a daughter the same age as Willie. Willie had known her for years but they had never spent much time together.
After the parents left, Willie and the girl finished the dinner his Mom had made them. They had been sitting in the dining room and Willie suggested they go to the library and listen to some music. His dad’s stereo system was set up in there and Willie had a bunch of his records in there that he wanted to listen to. He could crank them up nice and loud with mom and dad out.
The library was at the opposite side of the house. Willie’s home was a three story, center hall colonial. That meant that inside the front door was a room that was used as an entrance hall. Across from the door was a wide staircase leading up to the second floor. It was on that staircase that Willie had gotten the belt before being told to go upstairs to his room. The floor of the hall was covered with a big oriental rug his grandmother had brought back from India many years before. To the right of the front door of the house off the hall was the dining room. To the other side was the living room with several couches and chairs surrounding a big fireplace. The living room was kind of off limits to Willie and his friends. His parent usually had cocktails before dinner in there every night but other than that it was reserved for when they had company. Passing through the living room, the next room, almost as large but more warmly decorated was the “library”. It was called the library because there were many shelves built into the walls of the room filled with books. Most were scholarly books owned by Willie’s grandmother. She had been a teacher of English and Latin among other languages. She had taught English at a University in Rome for several years before Willie’s mom and brothers were born. Willie loved the old books, particularly because he was sure many were quite valuable.
It was not the books Willie was interested in as he headed to the library with his female guest. He always loved playing music for people. He played a bunch of forty fives that were more top forty oriented and some other new stuff he had gotten. Finally he decided to play the Doors first album as a kind of finale. He loved turning up the volume and getting lost in the music. He put on the LP and sat back on the couch next to his guest. They had no drugs or alcohol, just the music and being alone in the big house to drift with into some kind of altered reality. Maybe it had something to do with the Doors music because it was like at the concert in Annapolis. With hardly a word said, Willie found himself making out with this girl, sharing deep passionate kisses, their tongues playing with each other. Before long, Willie was feeling her breasts through her shirt and she was rubbing her had on his pants. She didn’t go any further into his pants but soon Willie, possibly trying to inspire her, had moved his hand to the top of her pants and slowly eased it in against her warm skin. As the Door’s “Light My Fire” came on, Willie’s hand moved down and his fingers found a very warm and wet vagina. While it had all happened automatically it seemed, this was all new to Willie. He moved his fingers around and in and out gently while they continued to kiss passionately. She squeezed his penis through his pants and they were both lost in the music and the moment until startlingly they heard the front door open and the return of the parents.
Willie, in a kind of shell shocked state, heard his dad yell to say “turn down the music”. The Doors had gotten to the final track on the album, The End. And it was. Willie made a quick recovery as did his extremely sensual and exciting guest. They managed to look reasonably normal by the time the parents walked into the library. It was apparent the girl’s parents were ready to leave right away and before Willie had a chance to really say anything else to the girl, she was gone. Just like in Annapolis, he and a girl had had this magical time together listening to Doors music and then she was gone never to be seen again.
Willie had several off and on again girl friends in high school. The Cretin Company with the outcast, hippie image they projected combined with the band, Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, and Willie’s Iron Lung Lighting Company always seemed to always attract some interesting girls. Willie was always very into kissing and breasts. Being the 60’s, the era of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll were fully in swing and Willie could probably have gone a lot further with sex but he was content with oral and tactile stimulation. He was sure some of his friends were doing more because there was always talk of birth control pills and the sort but Willie somehow felt intercourse represented too big a commitment. The fact that you could end up with a baby with someone was a big deal and he was in no rush to be that committed.
Willie came closest to going all the way during Spring Break the second year at Rutgers. He had gone to a hotel on a lake in Pennsylvania. A lot of other kids from the general area were there too. His friend Lex had flown in from Denver, where he was going to school, to meet up with Willie and the two of them had rented a speed boat for the week. Willie loved spending his time cruising around while Lex spent his time horseback riding and working on an early season tan by the pool. Toward the end of the week as Willie came into the dock to get some fuel, a girl walked, took Willies rope, tied it to a cleat and asked if he could use a first mate. They spent much of the day together cruising in the boat. Her name was Rhonda and after sitting for a half hour or so on the front passenger seat, she moved back next to Willie. Willie was to find out she was there with her parents and had been desperate to get away from them. Willie had been her savior and she said he deserved a kiss. Willie was OK with they were quickly so involved in the kissing that Willie almost crashed the boat into a buoy.
After a couple of hours or cruising and kissing, Willie docked at a little lakeside restaurant for an early dinner. It was quiet compared to the hotel that was filled with partying college kids. They ordered sodas and sandwiches to a table just a couple of steps up from the dock. Rhonda was not particularly talkative but the pauses in conversation were not uncomfortable because every few minutes she would pull Willie’s face towards hers for another hungry kiss. Willie sensed some desperation in Rhonda but he was never to find out much about it. After dinner they went back out in the boat on the dark water of the lake and she nearly did become Willie’s first mate. Willie knew she was willing. Maybe she was even wanting which was nice but there was something about this sense of desperation he got from her that held him back. A small boat with no room to lie down comfortably was not really how he had pictured things would be from all his years of reading Playboy. He wanted something a little nicer. Rhonda did not push it, she just became even less talkative and pretty much just sat in the boat until Willie pulled back in at the hotel docks. They tied the boat up and she put her arms around him, gave him one last big kiss and then said “Willie, you are a very nice boy. Thanks one of the nicer afternoons and evenings I have ever had.” Willie said, “Maybe we can do it again tomorrow.” Without another word, Rhonda walked briskly away and up the stairs to the hotel. Willie checked at the desk the next morning to get Rhonda’s room number only to be told her and her family had checked out late last night. Willie hoped she had not gotten in trouble for being out with him but he sensed he would never know or ever see her again. This seemed to be a recurring situation with women. At least they were very nice dreams.
College for Willie seemed uneventful on the surface but a lot went on. He was going to Rutgers The State University in New Brunswick, NJ. It was the only school he had applied to even though his guidance counselor at Columbia High School had said he wouldn’t get in. Willie’s grandfather, James Edward Curtis had gone there before law school at Harvard. He went on to become a famous lawyer, working for US Steel and Standard Oil. During the stock market crash in the Great Depression, he invested every spare penny in the blue chip type stocks. His feeling was that if most of these major companies didn’t come back at some point, the country was done for. His investment philosophy paid off and netted him a very nice net worth some years later. Among many philanthropic efforts on his part was an endowment to Rutgers. Willie did not think that would be forgotten when he sent his application in including an essay about his grandfather to answer the question “Why do you want to go to Rutgers?”
Willie started Rutgers in the fall of 1968. It was a tumultuous time in the United States, particularly for college AND draft age kids. Willie didn’t know anyone who had gone to Vietnam but plenty of kids his age were there. Columbia HS, filled with predominantly college bound, had mostly upscale students that got one deferment or another to stay out of the war. A lot of them including Willie would become eligible after graduation if the war was still going on. That all seemed a long way away to Willie but it didn’t keep him from participating in some of the demonstrations and sit-ins that were to take place in protest of the war over the next four years. To Willie, these events always seemed to social events if not outright parties. There were plenty of people who took it all very seriously Willie guessed but he was more interested in enjoying his college experience.
Much of the Iron Lung Lighting Company equipment had ended up in his dorm room which made it quite the party hang out. They were not suppose to have alcohol in the dorms but there was always plenty around and lots of great marijuana from all sorts of exotic locations. Girls were not allowed either but that didn’t stop them. Willie went to a few Frat parties where they were trying to get new members but he liked having his own party location better. People were always hanging around in his room or hanging in the hall outside listening to music and enjoying the vibe. It got a little dicey when a girl needed the bathroom as there was only one per floor and it was open with showers, stalls and urinals all in the same location. Luckily most of the guys were pretty respectful even when falling down drunk since the repercussions of an incident would have been very bad for everyone.
Willie thought he should prepare for some job in business and therefore, he started with a major in Economics and a minor in communications. After one year with an introduction to micro and macro economics, Willie decided that “you are only in college once” and he wasn’t going to waste it on such boring crap. He switched his major to art with the minor in communications. It was a good decision from an enjoyment factor and Willie doubted it would make much difference in his career. The first year he had also taken Chinese. He had had the language as an elective in High School where it had been combined with a cooking class – at least the teacher loved to cook so he decided to make a sampling of Chinese cuisine a part of each class. That had been a key reason Willie signed up for the course and Mr. Lou turned out to be a very good cook. At Rutgers they didn’t do the cooking part and the class was at 8am on Monday to top it off, at the opposite side of the campus from Willie’s dorm. It was always a struggle getting there, particularly on the many cold, gray wintery mornings. There were a couple of bright spots in the class for Willie. Twice a very cute Chinese girl fell asleep on his shoulder during class. Willie hardly dared move, not wanting to wake her up as he inhaled the wonderful smell of her hair. She could sleep and still get an A in the class – she already spoke Chinese. Willie was not going to do so well, missing the cooking and not really having any interest in learning Chinese.
The Art went a lot better. Rutgers had a close relation to American modern art. New Brunswick was an important centre for avant-garde art in the 1950s-70s with several artists such as Allan Kaprow, George Segal, George Brecht, Robert Whitman, Robert Watts, Lucas Samaras, Geoffrey Hendricks and Roy Lichtenstein; some of which had taught at Rutgers University. This group of artists were sometimes referred to as the ‘New Jersey School’ or the ‘New Brunswick School of Painting’. Dr. Prichard headed up the Art Program at Rutgers and he was friends with many of those associated with “New Jersey School”.
Dr. Prichard assigned the class to go into New Your City a couple of times a month to visit a list of galleries he would provide to see new work in a variety of artistic styles. Willie loved it all. Many of the galleries were very obscure and or private with Willie only gaining access because he was one of Prichard’s students. Willie thought it was all very cool and he liked a lot of the art as well. Of most interest to him were mechanical sculptures and odd machines that some of the artists came up with. Willie came up with his own for his big project of the year. It was called BubMach 1 and got him a third place the Rutgers Art Show. It was an odd device that ended up in the few Iron Lung Light Show presentations Willie had after starting college. The best part though was the afternoon Willie went over to the student center where the winning art works were on display and sat against the wall just watching and listening to people’s reactions to BubMach 1. The base was an old suitcase with three panels cut in the front that changed color a random intervals. Various wires and hoses came out of the suitcase and lead up to an antique Kodak photo printer light box that also blinked erratically. On the glass where photo paper and negative were to be placed sat a bottle of colored water with hoses that blew a constant stream of bubbles in the water. The final element brought it all together by adding some mystery. Inside the suitcase was a tape recorder that played a one hour continuous loop tape soundtrack that Willie had recorded with all kinds of strange sounds. BubMach got a lot of attention from attendees at the art show with some of the more stoned in the crowd sitting and watching BubMach for extended periods of time. No one seemed sure of what it was supposed to be or if it had some kind of purpose which was exactly what Willie wanted. Since few of the show attendees knew Willie, he could just hang out and have fun watching people’s reactions.
One of the afternoons of the art show, Willie’s roommate, Dan came over to hang out with Willie. Dan’s major was Religion and he was very into the whole Age of Aquarious world view. Willie had grown up a Presbyterian. This was a relatively liberal branch of Christianity that had not made it difficult for participate. The Assistant Minister even spent six weeks with a study of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Philosophy as part of the High School Sunday School classes. Willie thought that was very cool and this was one of the first events that got him interested in Spiritual philosophy. Willie and Dan often discussed their ideas on how the Universe worked. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had done a lecture at Rutgers that Willie had missed but Dan had gone to. Maharishi and his trancendental meditation had gotten put in a spotlight by The Beatles.
The Beatles met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in August 1967, studying with him in Bangor, Wales, and in early 1968 attended a TM teacher-training course in Rishikesh, India. (Much of their “White Album” was written during their stay in Rishikesh. Dan had decided to at least go to an introductory session for the TM course and he wanted Willie to join him.
Willw found out through Dan that the technique was taught by certified TM instructors in a standardized, seven-step procedure, consisting of two introductory lectures, and a personal interview that were all free of charge. If you decided to take the actual instruction, Willie and Dan would have to pay $200 which was a half price student discounted fee. Two-hour instruction sessions given on each of four consecutive days followed. As it turned out, Willie decided to take the course and Dan passed on it having an issue with the fact that there was a charge which somehow interferred with his Age Of Aquarius sensibilities. Willie was told to bring a piece of fruit, some rice and clean white handkerchief to the first training session which was to be part of a short ceremony performed by and for the teacher. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Willie was given his secret mantra.
The mantra was a sound pattern that is used as an anchor during each of two 20 minute daily mediation sessions. Willie found the process quite easy. You were not to concentrate or struggle to do anything during the mediation. You would just gradually start repeating the mantra to yourself. Whenever you noticed your thoughts had wandered to something else, you would gently return to repeating the mantra to yourself. Willie left the first session with the TM instructor wondering whether he had been slipped a drug at some point. During the mediation, Willie felt like he had left his body and after, he was in a buzzed state for a couple of hours. He was very impressed. They had made a big deal about not taking any non-prescription drugs for a week before the instruction and no alcohol for two days. Willie was not to have as dramatic an experience each time he meditated but it was a great example of altered states of consciousness without drugs.
Transcendental Meditation had some very simple concepts on the surface backed up by a growing body of scientific research. The basic idea was that through regular meditation, you would gradually release built up stresses in the body and nervous system. The result would be that you would experience better health, a better attitude and would gradually function more in line with your true abilities. The stress caused blocks in your system that held you back would effortlessly be broken down and released. As more and more stress was released and the brain and nervous system began functioning at a higher level, you were firmly on the path to Enlightenment whatever that was.
In Willie’s senior year, he had room for an extra elective and decided on a course in comparative religions. He had gotten interested in learning more about the major religions from his conversations on the subject with Dan. He had learned a fair amount about the Hindu religion which served as the foundation for Maharishi’s teachings even though they were presented in a secular rather than religious framework. He was brought up a Christian but also knew quite a bit about Judaism since through school his friends had been split fairly evenly between Jews and Christians. He always enjoyed the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah parties. The course proved to be fascinating to Willie and as he was completing the final exam in the class, he had an epiphany. All the major religions were saying basically the same thing. They just had different words for it, different ceremonies associated with it but in the end they were each guides to successful living that overlapped more than they were in conflict with each other. It also made it clear to Willie that anyone who thought they had THE answer was sadly misguided. There were clearly different paths to enlightenment. The only thing Willie knew for sure from that point on was that it was important to be on or at least looking for the road to enlightenment – at least in the sense that what the average person took for reality was only part of the story. Willie wanted to find out what else was there to be discovered.
One of the drunk Japanese guys at the bar was about to take another goal shot at the bartender’s cleavage. The other one said “Could you enlighten us on how we might get you take that bathing suit top off?” The word “enlighten” caught Willie’s attention as he looked up from his drink at the Sunset Resort Bar. He had gone a bit astray lately. He still meditated at least once a day but the years of listening to positive motivation tapes and reading all kinds of self help and new age books most everyday was on a hiatus. “Screw it” he thought and ordered another drink. The bartender had done nothing to enlighten her customers about how they might get to see her breasts sans bikini top but Willie expected with a good enough tip, enlightenment could be had. Willie decided to leave the two guys to their quest and find his room.
He had the key for his room but had been asked to check in with the ASVacations representative first thing. He was sure they would find him even if he avoided them since the time share sales pitch was the whole reason they partially underwrote the cost of the trip. Willie was pretty sure they would want to get a time set for the “tour”. He decided to play along and went back to the lobby to see if anyone else had shown up. There was a girl talking to what appeared to be a family of four at the ASVacations desk. She was showing them a brochure and was making notes on a form held in place on a clip board in her hand. She was dressed in a navy skirt that extended below her knees, matching blue high heeled shoes with a matching jacket and a light blue blouse. An ASVacations name tag was prominently affixed to the right lapel of the jacket.
Willie waited until she had finished with the family before approaching her. “So, how can I buy a room at this place so I can come anytime I want to?” said Willie. “That’s not usually the first question we get asked but I am sure I can accommodate your request” she said in reply. .”My name is Debra Delay, what’s yours?” “Ashmead, Willie Ashmead” he said. She began carefully checking the list on one of the pages of her clip board. “Ah, yes, Willie, here you are. Room 210 – did you get your key?”. Willie gave her an affirmative nod.
By appearance, Debra Delay was of nondescript ethnic background. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous but she was attractive in a tough, street smart kind of way. She also had an infectious smile that put a smile on Willie’s face each time she paused, smile and looked him in the eyes. It seemed a little practiced but he still liked it. Her face was framed by straight black hair that just brushed the shoulder of a gray pinstriped business suit jacket. Willie thought she seemed a bit over dressed but he figured that ASVacations wanted to put forward a very professional image as part of the sales strategy. “Upscale but not expensive” – that was one of the sales lines in Willie’s telemarketing script.
“Well, Mr. Ashmead, it appears you know the deal here. It is noted on your reservation that you work for the company in the Fort Lauderdale office. Is that correct?” “Yes, and please call me Willie.” “OK Willie. You think you would like to have a vacation getaway like this? You know we have many other properties as well and you can even trade locations with other resort owners. When would you like to take your tour of this property? It takes about 90 minutes and we can do it either of the next two mornings at 10AM after we treat you to a complimentary breakfast buffet or at 1:30 PM in the afternoon following a complimentary lunch buffet. “ Willie said, “Can’t I skip it since I am with the company?” “Absolutely not” said Debra. “That’s the only reason you are here, as you know. No sales pitch, no complimentary anything.” “Let’s get it over with then,” said Willie. “Tomorrow morning.” “Breakfast starts at 8:30 AM – just bring your meal voucher” and Debra turned to talk to a couple that had walked up.
Willie decided to find his room and see if his bag had made it up there. Two elevators were off to one side of the front desk and a stairway was positioned on the other side. Willie took the stairs. Freshly painted white banisters and polished light colored wood stairs with a light brown carpet runner lead up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs was a rattan table with a pot of brightly colored tropical flowers and a house phone sitting on it. A sign above the table told Willie his room was to the right and down the hall. Willie found the room about half way down the hall and slid the key card in the slot in the door. Once inside, he found the room pleasant enough. The color scheme was white with brown trim. The floor was a highly polished dark brown wood. Light blue Curtains bracketing glass sliding doors at the far end of the room were complimented by a bedspread in a matching shade of blue. There was a comfortable looking chair to the side of the sliding doors upholstered in a vaguely tropical pattern of greens and blues with splashes of color that looked like abstract followers. The furnishings were completed by a dark hued rattan desk and matching. Some freshly cut tropical flowers sat in a vase atop the desk. Not bad thought Willie.
Willie wondered how much it cost to be one of 52 owners of this or one of the other rooms. That was the deal they were going to pitch Willie on tomorrow during the mandatory property tour. He was not looking forward to that but hey, they said “only ninety minutes” and he would get a nice breakfast first, probably with plenty of Mimosas’ or Bloody Mary’s to loosen people up a bit. Willie would be safe though, he was pretty sure he didn’t have enough on his credit card for the required deposit.
Willie’s suitcase was sitting just inside the door of the room on a little folding stand. Willie changed into a bathing suit and Bob Marley t-shirt and decided to lie down for a little nap. He figured he would get a couple of hours of sleep and then head down for cocktails before dinner. After that he would see if there was any night life in the area. Willie pulled a pillow out from under the bedspread and lay down on the bed. It was soft but firm enough to be comfortable. Within seconds he was asleep.
He looked out the car windows as he drove into the Bronx. He had stopped home after work to pick up his white board and a few prospect kits for the meeting. He had met a girl at work and pitched her on getting started in her own business. He never mentioned Amway or much about what was entailed but told her if she didn’t want to depend totally on NBC for income and would like to earn more, he would help her. She was a secretary and Willie was kind of a semi executive so that gave him a little credibility with her. He should have pitched some of the network sales people or production people – you were supposed to try and sponsor UP – but Willie was still building the confidence for that plus at work, he didn’t think he should be too open about his new business. Anyway, the girl, Monica Lee, signed up after getting together with Willie for lunch time pitches a couple of times. He was headed to Monica’s apartment in the Bronx for her first “meeting.” She was to invite four or five singles or couples and Willie was going to do the presentation.
In the weeks since Willie had signed up, he felt he had gotten almost as good as Lou in doing the presentation. This was the fifth or sixth solo meeting Willie had done but he was feeling a little nervous, mainly because the neighborhood looked kind of bad. He hoped his yellow Super Beetle would be safe on the street. He was a little concerned about his personal safety. Monica seemed very nice and was very professional at work though so Willie was reasonably sure she would not put him in a bad position. After all, she had already invested a couple of hundred bucks in getting started so he could help her earn extra money.
He found a spot on the main street about a half block from the entrance to Monica’s building. It was a clearly a rough neighborhood and with his white skin, gray trowsers, blue blazer, white shirt and tie, he clearly stood out among the people out on the street. Three teenagers walked toward him as he got the white board and easel out of his car. Willie could see they were kind of snickering among themselves as they approached. When they had almost reached him, the door of Monica’s building opened and Monica called down the street to Willie. “Hi, Willie, need any help?” Willie noted a little mental sigh of relief and called back, “No, I think I have everything Monica.” The three boys walked past him, now ignoring him, as he closed up the car.
Monica’s apartment was up five flights of stairs. Living here would certainly help keep you in shape. When they made it to Monica’s apartment, she opened the door for Willie and led him in. There was a small kitchen off the short entrance hallway where Monica had a tray of Amway foodbars cut up in little squares next to a big coffee pot. There was a well dressed black guy filling a cup of coffee who turned to look at Willie. Monica said “Samuel, this is Willie Ashmead, my business partner.” Samuel held out his hand with a quizzical look on his face and said “Hello”. Samuel looked like he worked out regularly at a heavy duty gym with his large upper arms barely fitting in the sleeves of his dark suit jacket. He wore a black silk shirt buttoned to the top with no tie. Quite strikingly, he had a wide snake skin belt with a big gold buckle and matching snake skin boots. “Samuel owns a couple of hair salons, Willie.” “No wonder your haie always looks so beautiful” said Willie, getting to score a couple of points with both of them.
“Let me introduce you to the others.” She led Willie into the living room. The place was not fancy by any means but had a pleasant cozy feel to it. Closest to the hallway, there was a table with four chairs around it and placemat with New York City scenes in front of each chair. Two windows were at the far end of the room with couch sitting between them. Three people sat on the couch. A couple of big stuffed armchairs were also occupied. Willie noted that there were four folding chairs leaning against one of the walls. Two of the people on the couch were a husband and wife from Monica’s church. The man was a plumber and the woman a teacher at the church’s after school. The third person on the couch was a cousin of Monica’s and Willie clearly felt this guy was not happy about any of this. He barely gave a nod of his head when Monica introduced him and Willie. The other couple were friends of Monica’s parents and lived a few blocks away. Monica’s parents had moved to Alabama when her dad got a job with Hyundai. After the introductions, Wiliie told Monica he thought the best place to set up the white board would be by the dining table and he started getting set up. It was a little after 8:00 and he wanted to start right at 8:20. It only took him a couple of minutes to set up the board and get the markers and eraser out on his bag. He had brought one of the prospect kits up to the apartment in its unmarked white cardboard box and he set that off to the side of the board.
He had time for some coffee and a cookie and walked back to the little kitchen. The salon owner, Samuel, was still in there and nodded when Willie came in. “How is it you know Monica, Mr. Ashmead?” “You can call me Willie. We both work at NBC” said Willie and then asked “How is the salon business?” Samuel, sizing Willie up, looked him straight in the eyes and said things had been going well. He went on to tell Willie that he had come this evening mainly because he liked Monica and her family and wanted to make sure she was not being taken advantage of. Willie told him they were working with a company that had been around for many years and was doing over a billion dollars in business annually. “I think you will at the very least think this is something with potential for Monica if not for yourself” Willie said. “Let me just get some coffee and one of those cookies and we’ll get started.” Samuel said “all right” and headed out to the living room.
At 8:20 on the dot, Monica introduced Willie to the group. Over the next 45 minutes, Willie went through the presentation in a very similar manner to how he had seen it presented the first time by Lou. The crowd was a little different than at the Gershons’s. In particular, Monica’s cousin sat on the couch playing with a switch blade knife and staring malevolently at Willie. It was a little distracting to say the least but Willie kept his cool and kept going. When he was done, he was happy with two things right away. The cousin got up abruptly and left saying “thanks for making waste the f—ing night Monica!” and Samuel turned out to be very interested in the business. He wanted to know more about the cosmetic and nutrition products as well as getting samples of the shampoo and conditioner. He thought he might be able to use them in his salons if they were reasonably high in quality. Willie gave him the prospect kit he had brought up from the car and agreed to meet him at his salon on Saturday morning, a couple of days later, to discuss getting him started as Monica’s first associate. The friends of Monica’s parents said they would be glad to buy products from Monica but were not interested in being in the business. Willie told then he had kit in the car that he could get them but they insisted a catalog was all they wanted and they left shortly after Samuel. Monica asked Willie if he thought things had gone well and he told her she did a good job. He wanted her to join him when he did the follow up with Samuel on Saturday. She said “You did a great job with the presentation tonight. I don’t think I am going to be able to do it by myself.” “You will be fine. Don’t worry about it right now though. You have me plus there are open meetings you can take people to” said Willie. “I’m looking forward to following up with Samuel.”
Willie managed to get out to his car and on the way home without incident. He was going to see Lou at another meeting the next night so he called him when he got home and asked him to bring some brochures on the cosmetics and nutritional products along with anything else that might be interesting for a salon owner. Samuel Henderson was a real good prospect. Willie hadn’t been doing the business that long but he knew when someone had more than a passing interest. Samuel had asked good questions about the products. He was already considering the angles and how he could leverage success with Amway through his salon business. He also knew his customers could be a good source of business partners and customers. Samuel’s big concern was product quality. Willie was satisfied that the quality was there but Samuel would have to be convinced.
Even though it was almost midnight when Willie got home, he called Lou. Lou immediately answered the phone and when he found out it was Willie wanted a full report on the evening. Hearing about Monica’s knife wielding cousin, Lou said “I hope he wasn’t interested. We do have some great knives though but no switch blades.” Lou said he would pull together a bunch of stuff on the cosmetic, personal care and nutrition lines for Willie but the good news was that one of the couples in Rick’s group, the Nathan’s, also owned a salon. Lou said he would check and see if Bob Nathan could join Willie for the follow up with Samuel. Lou said the Nathan’s were very successful and had gone Direct in less than a year. Willie thanked Lou and told him he would see him at the open meeting the next night.
It turned out that Bob Nathan came to the open meeting which was held every Wednesday night at a Holiday Inn in Hempstead, Long Island. It was another lengthy drive for Willie but at least he could write off all his expenses now that he had his own business. Bob had helped Lou pick out materials and a few sample products to take to Samuel and said he would be glad to come help with the follow up. Willie was psyched – Samuel was going to end up being Monica’s first partner, Willie could feel it. He also could easily picture the salon owner building a really good business.
Monica , Bob Nathan and Willie met Samuel at his salon at 10am that Saturday morning. First thing Samuel did was ask Willie for bottles of the Satinique shampoo and conditioner. He called for Karen, one of his stylists, and told her to use the Satinique when she washed the hair of her next client and report back to him when she was done. Bob Nathan introduced himself and told Samuel about his salon and his experiences with the products. He told Samuel that besides the hair care products, he had done well with the Artistry cosmetic line and some of the nutrition products as well. One of the women in Bob’s group had gone to the Artistry Institute and had become an excellent makeup artist. A makeup makeover along with a fresh hir styling was a great way to sell cosmetics. Another of the distributors in bob’s group specialized in the nutrition product area and handled sales to customers for this area. A third person focused on household cleaners which they promoted as environmentally friendly and hypoallergenic. Several of Bob’s customers had also joined him in starting their own businesses, modeling how Bob’s other distributors worked. “Samuel, I think you will find you can be very successful duplicating this formula” said Bob. While they waited for the product review from Karen, Willie went through the details of the business once more for Samuel and answered a few questions about shipping, inventory and paperwork. Karen stuck her head in the back office where they were meeting and said, “It’s nice – left the hair with good body, nice sheen and manageable – I wouldn’t have a problem using it.” “Thanks Karen” said Samuel. Monica made a big sigh of relief and said “I’m so glad she liked it.” Samuel said, “Alright, I guess we’ll give this a try, I like the concept.”
Samuel did do well and quickly. He followed Bob Nathan’s lead and the two of them became good friends and each was very successful with the model Bob had developed. By this point, Willie had personally sponsored four people but none of the others was as promising as Monica with Samuel in her group. The way to be successful in this business was to get at least three groups going with a Samuel or two in them. Then help get someone in each of those groups up to a monthly business volume of 7500 PV so they became Direct Distributors. This worked out to about $10,000 in business monthly. You would become a D.D. in the process and then with three D’D.’s in your group, you would qualify for ongoing commissions on all the business of each of these groups.
Samuel would end up going direct in a record three months. Willie’s next star ended up being the brother of a guy he had met one night in a club when he had gone to see his brother Pete’s band. Joe Palanski had been a Force Recon Marine in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia – and possibly other classified spots where his very existence would have been denied if he were caught. After completing several active tours of duty, he became a recruiter for the Marines in Newark, New Jersey. He was ruthless and obsessed with achievement. He consistently had the highest recruitment numbers each month for the whole north east and usually the country. He had recently left the service because he was fed up with restrictive regulations and criticism of his recruitment style. But, Joe saw a good fit for his skills with Amway.
Willie had to endure hours of Joe telling him tales of forced marches with packs willed with rocks and full gear in 100 degree heat and taking out enemies in malaria infested jungle villages. Most everyone was weak physically and in values according to Joe. The principals were also a little questionable to Willie since Joe could talk easily about how satisfying it was to slice some “gooks” throat. Willie tried to avoid the military conversations. Joe looked at him as a “four F bastard” because he had been rejected from service for obscure medical reasons. Willie suspected that part of the macho marine maniac persona was a front for a deep seated insecurity – maybe Joe’s dad had abused and belittled him constantly as a child. Anyway, when Joe wanted to, he could be very personable, particularly with women.
When it came to Amway, Joe was like a machine. He hadn’t gotten a job in the month since his final exit from the Newark Marine Recruiting office so his new distributorship became his full time gig and he poured the same “take no prisoners” attitude into it as if he were recruiting new Marines. Willie was quickly aware that this was going to be quite a different organization than Samuel’s. Joe recruited several former Marines he had served with that now lived in various places around the country. Willie had showed Joe that they had an extensive library of materials to promote a duplicatable system of growth but Joe thought it was “weak.” He was not going to “coddle” people. He created his own training manual and plan of action that was like a battle strategy with strict timetables and rigid goals. His team got one week to sponsor their three front line people. Then, after a phone interview, if Joe thought them good enough, he would get on a plane and fly out for two weeks of intensive business building and training. His objective was to get the first three “legs” at least three deep with one seven or more deep. Based on overall business statistics this created the basis for a group that would continue to build and not whither. The key was identifying a few “leaders” that would drive and encourage the rest of the group.
Willie would get screaming calls from distant cities about what shitheads most of the people in the country were – how America was done for because of the incompetent, lazy, undisciplined individuals that filled our cities and towns. Lou and the rest of Willie’s “upline” didn’t want anything to do with Joe if they could avoid it – there couple of meetings had been rather tense affairs since Joe clearly thought there was no way he could “report” to these ice skater tennis types. Luckily, Joe didn’t want any help – he was building his own brand of Amway. He would end up expiring from a massive heart attack some years later after being threatened with expulsion from the business for abusive pressuring of “recruits” and forcing purchases of various sales manuals and other “tools” he marketed to his distributors. By the time that happened though, he had already helped make Willie a lot of money as he succeeded in getting over 1200 distributors in his organization in the first year and winning a trip on the private Amway yacht to their exclusive retreat on Peter Island in the Caribbean.
Willie got his third solid leg started with a guy that he met at the bus stop along Boulevard East on his way to work in the city. Dick Hampton was an architect working for a firm that was owned by a self centered jerk who treated his staff like indentured servants. Dick’s wife Donna was an executive with a South American airline and from the first time Willie met her, it was clear she thought her husband could do better for himself than the place he worked. Unlike Samuel and Joe, Dick and Donna were not going to take off on their own. This was the much more common situation in Amway. A leader like Willie, with the help of leaders in his “up-line,” would spend a lot of time to help a couple build their business. Willie usually spent three nights a week and Saturday mornings doing meetings and follow ups for himself and the Hamptons. Occasionally, Samuel or Monica would ask for help with a follow up or a presentation.
He was making about $1000 a month in extra income from his business which made his NBC income livable but he was ready to move up in the ranks at NBC. He had gotten a lot of confidence in working with people and sales. The NBC TV sales staff were the ones that made the big money as far as he could tell. They had the ideal job. Expense account lunches in New York City’s best restaurants most every day, occasional sales trips around the country to nice hotels and more great restaurants plus, it seemed they could pretty much come and go as they pleased. Willie began lobbying for one of the sales positions – ideally in the Today/Tonight Show division. This sales team was in charge of ad sales for Saturday Night Live which was a top NBC property and even a little closer to music since live performances by top acts was a key feature of the show.
For six months Willie pushed with his boss and the Vice President of the Sales Administration area. The VP, a woman by the name of Joan Lanz, liked Willie. She knew he was a very hard worker and put a 100% effort into every assignment he got. NBC had created a sales intern position for a sharp black guy who had been hired out of an MBA program at Columbia University. He was supposed to be in the position for less than 90 days before being moved onto the sales staff. Joan decided Willie would replace him instead of dissolving the position which had been the original plan.
The new job came with a lot more authority. Willie reported directly to Joan, the VP. He was in charge of advertiser audience guarantees. Audience guarantees allowed the TV sales staff to sell commercial inventory for a particular cost per point. Cost-Per-Thousand (CPM) And Cost-Per-Point (CPP) were the two standard methods of evaluating the value of advertising time. CPM is a ratio based on how much it costs the advertiser to have a commercial seen or heard by a thousand people. CPP is a ratio based on how much it costs to buy one rating point, or one percent of the population of the country. Before guarantees became a common practice for many advertisers, advertising agencies would invest heavily in research to evaluate the likely audience for a new program or would rely on the audience numbers from previous ratings periods. With a guarantee, if the going rate was a $3.00 CPM ($3.00 for every 1000 people that tuned in to a show) and then the ratings came in and indicated that the numbers were lower than guaranteed, Willie would give out extra commercial spots until they equaled the amount of audience, or “impressions” that the guarantee called for. Willie’s job was to assign the extra commercial spots from unsold inventory, ideally not using any premium value spots unless they were going unsold anyway.
Everyday Willie would run comparisons of various advertiser guarantees and current show audience performance. It was his job to make sure nothing got too far our of whack. Because he had the ability to give our commercial time in some of the most expensive TV programs on the air, he often had the network TV sales staff coming to him looking for favors. “Can I get P&G a bonus spot in Days of Our Lives?” or “It would really help me out if I could get Budweiser and extra spot right before the music act on this week’s Saturday Night Live”. Willie got very good at knowing what he could do and what he shouldn’t do. Joan Lanz had been a network sales person so she knew the need to manipulate the inventory a bit to keep advertisers happy. The nice thing was that she trusted Willie to handle it and did not spend a lot of time looking over his shoulder. He had helped save the ass of one or more sales people several times when they had forgotten to book or change something for a client. He had helped all of them score points with different clients along with making sure promised guarantees were met. Joan got good feedback about Willie’s work and Willie also got the occasional lunch invitation to a nice restaurant. It was a job Willie liked but it was still not enough money.
Willie woke up in the hotel room in the Bahamas. Not enough money he thought. There was not even any personal satisfaction now. What kind of satisfaction was there in cold calling people and trying to talk them into a somewhat discount, kinda vacation where they were going to be harassed about buying into a dubious time share vacation property. At least the boat and the hotel had not been too bad so far. A lot of people might actually think this was a really nice little vacation. Willie couldn’t help thinking back to his trips to Jamaica and renting the house at Tryall or when he stayed with friends at a beautiful house outside Mo Bay called Windsong or the cruises on the QE II or… he didn’t want to think about it. “Just be thankful for all the great stuff you have gotten to do” he told himself. “Life’s and adventure.” Just when he was about to give himself permission to be depressed, there was a knock at the door.
It was Debra Delay. “What about drinks and dinner on the house?” she said. She had changed into a far less formal tropical print dress and sandals, giving her a much sexier look than the business suit at the ASVacations reception desk. “Sounds good to me” said Willie. “Give me about 15 minutes for a quick shower and a change of clothes – you look great by the way – I’ll meet you down stairs?” “Make it the beach bar” she said as she turned and headed for the stairs. Willie watched he go. She was really quite attractive. Maybe this was going to be a lot better little excursion than Willie had thought.
There were three couples sitting at the beach bar along with Debra when Willie got there. The Japanese guys were gone and so was the bar maiden that had been serving them drinks. She had been replaced by a dreadlocked young man wearing a Winston Rodney Burning Spear shirt. Debra introduced Willie to him as he took the seat next to her. His name was Clayton and he was a local. His dad had worked at the hotel for several years as a chef so Clayton had had an in for one of the better jobs around. Debra told Willie that Clayton could also help him out if he wanted to sample some of the local ganja. Things were really looking up, Willie thought.
It turned out that the other three couples at the bar were all ASVacations guests. Debra had already met them all. The couple sitting closest to them was average looking. Tall, kinda of skinny guy and short, somewhat plump probably wife. Debra said the wife had not been too talkative but the guy had spent twenty minutes at the reception desk talking about conspiracy theories and how taking down the twin towers in NYC had been an “in side job” just to scare people and let the “Cheney Bush” administration take away the people’s rights in the name of security. He said a secret world government, the Illuminate, or something like that was behind it all and probably had their hand in Bahamian politics too. Debra thought the scariest part was that he was a clinical hypnotist – she was not sure what the exact term was but, he hypnotized people to help them get over psychological problems. She whispered to Willie, “Can you imagine the kind of things he might be saying to these people he has under his influence while they are in a hypnotic trance.”
The next couple down the bar were older – late 60’s probably. The guy was a dentist from somewhere in Kansas and his wife worked as his office receptionist. Debra said she would put even money on it that they would buy in to the time share deal. The third couple was the most noticeable at the bar. The girl was tall and very attractive. The guy was also good looking in a dark Italian kind of way, maybe Greek background – Willie was not sure. He was noticeable mainly because he was loud and obnoxious. He had clearly had quite a few drinks and he was not one of your jovial drinkers. He was one of those guys that you could see ending up in a fight whether he started it or not. Willie felt bad for the girl. You could tell she was tense with concern over her partner’s behavior and she kept rubbing his back and talking in his ear working to keep him reined in Willie suspected.
One thing Willie was not was a fighter – fist fighter that is. He’d fight as hard as anyone for things he wanted and the occasional cause that caught his attention but fights in bars and back alleys were not on his agenda. Willie had very little fear when it came to interactions with other people – he simply avoided confrontations with people like this guy. Unfortunately, the guy had gotten up and was headed straight for Debra and Willie. Both Debra and Willie tried to act as if they were not aware of the guy’s menacing approach but he quickly made it clear that he was not going to be ignored. He came up quite close to Debra and as she turned to face him, he practically spit in her face, “Is this your boss, is this guy with the fucking ASVacations shit resorts company too?” Debra calmly said “Excuse me but why are you yelling at me and no, he is another guest at the hotel.” “I’m yelling because the shitheads you work for treated me like I was some kind of lowlife because I didn’t want to buy a piece of a shit room in this shit hotel” The girl came rushing over and said, “Dick, please, let’s just go get something to eat.” “No, these bastards suck.”
Debra slowly stood and said in a soft but firm voice, “Mr. Rice, if you don’t back off and calm down, I will have to call security and your vacation will end up being less enjoyable than you have found it so far.” Dick moved even closer to Debra and said “Who the hell do you think you are?” His girlfriend was repeatedly saying “Stop, let’s just go” but Dick was ignoring her. Willie felt forced to take a position as this guy was clearly threatening Debra, possibly physically. Willie stood up and said, “Dick, why don’t you just write a complaint to the company when you get home?”
“And who are you?” Dick said. “Just another guest like the lady already said and you are making a real ass of yourself and annoying everyone so get lost.” Avoidance was not looking to be on the bill tonight. As the words came out of Willie’s mouth, he could see the blood rushing to the guys head and his eyes looked like they were going to bulge out of their sockets. Willie saw the fist coming like it was in slow motion. His consciousness had made a subtle shift in response to the circumstances. He had been a big fan of the TV show Kung Fu with David Carodine when it was on. It had inspired him to take Kung Fu classes for about six months. His thinking was very clear as he began to move to the right of the path of the incoming fist. The secret was to use your opponent’s force as your weapon. Instead of blocking the blow, Willie reached up and grabbed the arm, pulling it past him and adding to its momentum. The result was that Dick was carried forward along the path his arm was going and in his inebriated state, he went crashing into an empty table and chairs that collapsed under his weight. Dick didn’t get up. As the girlfriend rushed to his side, a couple of half empty drink glasses slid from the smashed table, spilling their contents all over the apparently unconscious Dick. Debra called security on her cell phone, quickly told them the situation and then said to Willie, “Let’s go to dinner. Clayton and the security guys will clean up the mess”.
“That was a nice move, Mr. Ashmead,” said Debra. Willie was charged up from the adrenalin rush of the last couple of minutes and he put his arm around Debra’s back and calmly said “Well thank you Ms. Delay. Couldn’t have that troublesome jerk bothering you. But it sounds like I’m in for a tough time share sales pitch tomorrow morning.” “I’ll tell them to take it easy on you”
The restaurant was at the other side of the resort’s property and also right at the edge of the beach like the bar. A covered stone walkway, with dense foliage on both sides was lighted by flaming torches. It led back from the beach to the restaurant’s entrance. Another outdoor bar was up a couple of steps at the side of the wide doors that lead into the enclosed area of the restaurant. An outdoor roof circled the building, shielding bar and dining tables from direct sun and rain. The sun was just going down and it was very pleasant out. Debra asked Willie if he was okay with sitting outside and he said he would prefer it. Just inside the entrance doors, was a reception desk and a small black woman who appeared to be in her 70’s. Debra said, “Good evening Mrs. Booker, how are you tonight?” “Very well Miss Delay, thank you. Two for dinner?” “Yes, an outdoor table on the beach side if possible” said Debra. “No problem, Miss Delay”. She picked up two menus and a wine list and led them across the restaurant’s interior to another set of wide open doors on the beach side of the building. There were about twenty tables of various sizes comfortably arranged in the interior. A half dozen were occupied. The wood building was painted all white inside with highly polished wooden floors stained a light tan color. Each table was covered with a pink table cloth and decorated with polished silver wear, white napkins, fresh flowers and a candle. At each place setting included white china plates, with the dinner plate bearing a bright red flower and the name restaurant’s name, Alpinia. Alpinia was the name of the pictured flower which was originally from Malaya, and was now found throughout the tropics.
Mrs. Booker led the way through the open doors at the far side and to a nice table with the same décor on the outside terrace with a beautiful view of the beach. The sun was about to drop below the distant horizon and the sky was streaked with oranges and reds over the deep blue of the water. A three quarter moon could be seen overhead, getting brighter as the sunlight faded. The gentle sound of the ocean waves mixed with a soft jazzy, reggae, calypso sounding music coming from little speakers that were strategically placed throughout the building. Willie sat down after Debra was seated thinking you couldn’t do much better than this if it was all a dream.
Willie was staring at the Pablo Romero painting, “To be sung to the tune of “With every beat of my Heart” that was hung on his living room wall, thinking Pablo might be interested in becoming an Amway distributor. Pablo was selling a few paintings each month but he was not getting the kind of money that would make that enough to live on. Willie met up with him for lunch at La Bon Soup on 56th Street. Willie liked the place – they had great bread and, of course good soups. It was very French, not Paris probably but what you would find in the countryside. The restaurant was narrow with a row of tables to each side of a central walkway. Paintings by unknown Haitian artists covered the walls and each had a price tag to alert potential buyers. Maybe Pablo could find a restaurant that would display and sell his work.
A nice but not spacious bar was at the back left by stairs that led up to two dining rooms on the second floor. Pablo followed Willie up the stairs and they were led to a table in the mostly full room. A few of the people looked like tourists or shoppers but most were people like Willie who worked at an office in the area.
Willie had a pad and a couple of brochures with him, ready to go over with Pablo but ended up deciding to hold off on the business pitch. Pablo told him that he was trying to raise money to go live in Spain for a while. Turned out he had an offer for Willie. He brought out a small photo album filled with photos of his paintings. Pablo wanted to find out if Willie would buy a portfolio of 24 pictures. Some were very simple sketches, some were finished pieces like the one that hung on Willie’s living room wall, most were somewhere in between. Pablo wanted $2000 for the whole group. It was quite a bit of money but with the added income from his Amway business, Willie figured he could do it. He wanted to be able to help Pablo out and he figured one day the painting might be worth a lot. The thing that tipped the balance for Willie was that Pablo’s “Last Supper” was to be included – this was done in a similar style to the painting Willie had already bought from Pablo. Pablo knew it was a favorite and Willie thought it made this a very attractive deal.
The two talked as they enjoyed the delicious onion soup and the restaurant’s crusty French bread. A salad of mixed greens topped with a light nutty dressing followed the “bon” soup. Turned out Pablo had family in Spain, outside Barcelona. They were apparently quite wealthy and the family was going to make a comfortable cottage available for Pablo to live in and set up his studio. He just needed to manage to get there on his own. Willie was sad he had never gotten to know Pablo better – he really was a nice guy – and now he was going to move to Spain. Willie did a little bookkeeping in his head and figured he could manage the $2000. He told Pablo that if he would frame “The Last Supper” to match “To Be Sung to the Tune Of…” that he would go for it. Pablo agreed. Willie told him he would drive to Pablo’s apartment in Queens on Saturday morning to give him the money and pick up the paintings.
Willie was actually quite excited as he drove to Queens a couple of days later. NBC paycheck in the bank, he comfortably could lay out the money and he thought that there was a real chance Pablo Romero might become famous one day. The only reason he had doubts was because Pablo didn’t seem to believe it himself. Willie had already learned that to achieve most any goal, you needed a certain level of confidence that you were going to do it. Maybe getting to Barcelona would change that.
Willie suspected that whether it was here in NYC or in Barcelona, Pablo was going to need a mentor to push and prod him along before he was going to find greatness. That was the only reason Willie had excelled with Amway. He was surrounded by high achievers and had one of Amway’s highest achievers of all time, Jody Victor, in his direct line of sponsorship. His becoming a Direct Distributor had been driven by wanting to be a part of Jody Victor becoming the first second generation Crown Direct Distributor with the company. Becoming a part of something bigger than yourself was a big help at blowing by all the challenges and obstacles that always got in your way when you were reaching for a big goal. Willie was not sure if Pablo had a burning passion for his art or just wanted to pay the rent. If paying the rent was the driving force, he was not likely to ever achieve more of a goal than that and it sounded like Pablo was not going to need to pay rent for his cottage outside Barcelona. One way or another, he would be at a turning point.
Willie had parked his car on a side street just off Jamaica Avenue in Queens. He was just a few blocks from Randy’s Records. The original store was in Kingston, Jamaica and the New York store, dubbed VP Records, was founded in 1979 by Vincent “Randy” Chin and his wife Patricia Chin. Willie knew it as Randy’s and had visited the store a few times since becoming a Reggae fanatic one night at a party in New York City.
It was probably 1974 and Willie had been invited to a party on the upper West Side of Manhattan. It was a dignified, doorman building. After being identified and securing permission to go up to the penthouse floor, the doorman walked Willie back to a special elevator, inserted and turned a key that brought the elevator down. As the door opened, Willie said “Thanks” and pushed the up button.
“Good evening, Sir” said the doorman as the door closed.
The apartment belonged to Raymond Greentree. He was a black art director with a small advertising agency called Zebra. Willie found out that they had made an offbeat movie about the “black and white” agency. The uniqueness was that it was primarily black owned and managed with some white employees to provide the zebra effect (black and white stripes). This was still an unusual thing in the mid 70’s. Willie found the party unique as well, at least for him. The apartment was huge. It occupied most of the top floor of the building and felt extra grand because of high ceilings throughout. Willie had been greeted as he came off the elevator by a woman who appeared dressed for a Mardi Gras parade. She was there to take coats and provide drinks from a bar that had been set up by the door. A hallway led to a large living room that easily accommodated the 35 or 40 people that mingled about. Across the living room there were French doors that opened to a balcony where tables and chairs were set up. Another 15 or 20 people were out there. “Nice” thought Willie.
The guests were a very eclectic mix, mostly black and all very dignified looking. In his sport jacket and jeans, Willie felt a bit under dressed. He downed the Perroni beer he had gotten at the door and set out to find Savana, the girl from work who had invited him. First he went out on the balcony. It was covered with a blue canvas awning that spanned the thirty foot width and twenty foot depth of the terrace. Willie got a second Perroni at the outdoor bar. It was a bit cold but two large gas heaters beyond the overhang of the awning took the edge off the cool air. Savana was not in the mix out here.
Willie walked back into the living room. There were a few people he recognized. Among them was the six foot six inch tall Frank Mingo who was hard to miss. He had been the first African American account executive at J. Walter Thompson, one of the top ad agencies. He had moved to another big player, McCann-Erickson, Inc., where he was a vice president and account supervisor with his big account Miller Brewing. Willie had met Mingo at an NAB cocktail party at the Bull and Bear in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel after one of the monthly broadcaster’s luncheons. One of the TV sales guys had invited Willie as a thank you for help moving some commercial inventory around. In the often cut-throat, money focuses world of big time advertising, Frank Mingo was known and respected as much for being a really nice guy as for his immense marketing skills.
Willie walked over the Frank Mingo who was in conversation with another man but turned to acknowledge Willie after a moment. “Mr. Mingo, I met you a few weeks back after an NAB luncheon,” said Willie. “I work with Chuck Norwig who I believe calls on you at McCann. Nice to see you again.” “Good to see you too. This is Sam Chisholm, a good friend of mine” said Frank Mingo. Willie held out his hand and shuck hands with Sam Chisholm saying “My name’s Willie Ashmead and I work at NBC” “What do you do there?” asked Chisholm. “Right now I am responsible for tracking all of the advertiser guarantees and handling makegoods for audience shortfalls but, I am hoping to get into sales soon.” “Well, then maybe we will have the opportunity to work together at some point. Nice to meet you” said Sam Chisholm. Willie nodded to both of them and moved on to try again to find Savana.
As Willie walked around, trays of all kinds of little food treats came by which Willie eagerly sampled. The light jazz sounds of an electric piano out on the terrace mingled with the many conversations in the room and the swish swish of slowly turning overhead fans. As Willie explored he found that there were three large bedrooms. A couple of card tables had been set up in one and several people were playing poker. It didn’t look to be a money game but they all seemed to be playing very seriously. The next bedroom had a rack for coats but the big attraction in this room was a big pinball machine that had another group of people laughing and talking around it watching a guy Willie was pretty sure was Charlie Davis, the first Black ACC Player of the Year back in 1971. This was quite a party.
Willie finally found Savana in the last of the bedrooms. This room was set up as a library and media room with a big leather couch and several very comfortable looking armchairs. In front of the couch sat a glass table that had three projectors built into it for projection TV. The beams of light fell on a screen mounted on the wall. In the dim light, the pictures of a basketball game were bright and clear. Willie was very impressed but the thing that stole his attention was the sound from a stereo system built into a cabinet on another wall. Savana was sitting in a chair by the turntable reading an album cover. Willie took the chair next to her. She gave Willie a big smile and said, “I was wondering if you were going to come.” Willie sat back and listened to the music. There was an unusual rhythm that was new to Willie with very prominent drums and bass. The lead singer had a powerful, emotional voice and the other voices created some nice harmonies. “What is this?” Willie asked Savana. She handed him the album cover. “Catch a Fire” by Bob Marley and the Wailers it said with a black guy on the cover lighting up a big joint. Willie was mesmerized and as people drifted in and out of the room, Willie sat there and listened to both sides of the album with a feeling of great discovery. This was new and powerful in a different way than The Beatles, Beach Boys, Spirit or Mountain which were all favorites of Willie’s. It hit him even harder than the first time he had heard The Doors first album.
Willie had become oblivious the rest of the party and Savana had wandered off to do a little socializing on her own since Willie was paying no attention to her. All Willie could think about was heading to the record store first thing in the morning to buy a copy of this album and see if there was anything else by this band the Wailers. After a second listen to side one of the album, Willie went to find Savana and thank her for inviting him and for putting that record on the turntable. As Willie drove home, the rock mix on WNEW-FM just didn’t seem to cut it at the moment. Willie wondered if a lot of people knew about this Bob Marley guy and he had somehow missed it.
Right after graduating from Rutgers, Willie had gone for a week to the Playboy Club in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. A piano player by the name of Leslie Butler had entertained in the late afternoon and evenings by the pool bar. He had recorded music tracks that he played along with which had had what Willie was to learn was a Reggae beat. Leslie Butler came from a jazz background which gave the music a lighter, more bouncy feel. He also remembered hearing a song, “My Boy Lollipop” that had a similar beat but Marley was rawer and more urgent with stories of suffering and hope.
That night at the upper Westside apartment overlooking Central Park listening to “Catch a Fire” started a whole new chapter in Willie’s love of music. The next day, Willie headed back into the city and up Broadway to Tower Records, the best music store in the city. Willie asked about Reggae and found they had a whole section. “Catch a Fire” and a newer album, “Burnin’” were featured prominently. He bought both of them along with a compilation album from a movie soundtrack to a movie called “The Harder They Come”.
NBC was getting frustrating. The job was OK, certainly not too difficult or even particularly boring. It was just very routine and Willie wanted more. With his Amway business he was surrounded by ambitious people who all dreamed of a life of wealth and travel and nice cars. Willie had always thought that kind of life was his destiny. He had pretty much had everything fall into place for him up till now but he was concerned that he was stuck in the doldrums.
He was getting a great business and sales course working with Jody Victor’s mentoring and the books and tapes that were constantly fed to everyone in the organization. There was not enough money though, at least so far. It was a fine second income particularly with all the good vibes that went along with it but he sure wasn’t close to being able to quit his day job. That was just it – the day job was feeling like a dead end. Aspiring to be Noel, the manager of Willie’s department just wasn’t very inspiring. He probably made decent money and would be there till they pushed him into retirement but Willie couldn’t imagine the forever day in and day out of that.
He knew sales was the place to be but how to get there. The sales people at NBC TV were the country club set. They never seemed to work particularly hard except during the month or two of upfront selling after the May sweeps when the final ratings were in and the new shows for the next season were announced. About eighty percent of the commercial inventory for the year would be sold in over a couple of months. First would be Prime Time – the expensive 8 PM to 11 Pm shows that grabbed the most audience. Next would be the Today Tonight late night early morning programs that now included a hot new show, Saturday Night Live. Finally, the Daytime and Saturday Morning inventory would go by sometime in August. Made for a hectic summer but then it would be mostly nice lunches and golf outings and cocktail parties for the rest of the year all in the name of relationship building. The sales team was a diverse group of individuals. About the only thing they had in common was that they were all good at building those relationships. Willie had always done well handling people and was comfortable with most everyone. You could not have a better relationship building training course than Amway.
Joan Lapley was the VP of the commercial administration departments where Willie was a staff member. Joan could be tough, particularly during the upfront season as the staffs ability to process the orders, in order and accurately was crucial to the maximum profitability of the network. Top shows could get sold out for the year in days and the normally easy going sales people would be fighting to get in the front of the line with their orders. They were booking 80% of their income for the year so when something didn’t clear because another person’s order had scooped up the last of the inventory, it was a big issue. The staff was very focused during this time period and Willie excelled working under the pressure. It was the time of the year he loved the best with the pressure giving everything a real feeling of importance.
Joan Lapley was very aware of her staff and who did what when it counted most. Willie’s efforts did not go unnoticed. For several of the sales people Wiliie was the “go to guy” when there was an urgent issue and a couple of them even put in a good word for Willie with Joan as the upfront came to a close. With the pace slowing down, Willie’s doldrum feelings came back and he decided he needed to talk to Joan and see how she foresaw his career going. When Willie approached her it was obvious to him that she liked him and had a genuine interest in his plight. Willie told her that sales was where he wanted to be. Joan pointed out that a TV Network sales job was one of the most desirable jobs in New York City and that there were a very limited number of them to be had. She also told Willie that she thought he might be very good at it with a little more “seasoning” as she put it.
Turned out that a couple of month’s later, right after the New Year, Joan called Willie into her office and said she had a plan. The department had created a job for a sharp black guy with all kinds of academic credentials including a Masters degree from Wharton named Dennis. Affirmative Action had been the driving force in the creation of the position but there was no shortage of qualifications. Anyway, Dennis was just about done with a pre-planned six month stint and was headed for the sales staff in the Today Tonight show department. Joan was going to give his job to Willie.
The next day Willie began sitting in with Dennis to see what he did. The prices for commercial inventory were established based on projections of how many people were expected to watch each show. To make it easier to close deals at higher prices, the network would guarantee that the Neilson ratings would come out after the shows aired and indicate that the projected audience size was achieved. If a show fell below the guarantee, the sales people would come see Dennis to get bonus spots to “make good” on the missed audience impressions. Dennis’ job was to keep track of the guarantees and make sure the needed inventory was available for the make goods. It was clear to Willie that this was an important job. It was also its own department, a one person department reporting directly to Joan Lapley.
A decent raise came with the new job and a private office. Willie was also getting close to becoming a Direct Distributor in Amway which was now earning him between one and two thousand dollars a month. Willie was feeling good about things and decided he was doing well enough to get a new car. The Super Beetle would make a good trade in. Willie’s dad had worked for Mercedes Benz for many years and was able to help get a good deal on a Mercedes 300 Diesel. A new job and a new car – not a bad way to start a new year.
Savana visited Willie in his new office once or twice a week. It was a cozy spot. The office did not have a window and Willie, not liking the overhead fluorescents’, had talked Joan into letting him get a couple of table lamps. Combined with a large mahogany desk, matching cabinet along one wall, a leather desk chair on wheels and a comfortable arm chair at the side of Willie’s desk made it a comfortable spot to visit. Willie often had a guest but most times it was one of the sales people checking up on guarantees or getting a replacement for a commercial that got bumped or aired in error. Savana was always a welcome visitor as she gave Willie a good reason to take a little break.
Savana stood in the doorway of Willie’s office and said, “I saw a poster on my way in to work today, Willie. In fact, I took it down and brought it with. I thought you would like to have it since you have become such a big Reggae music fan.” She came the rest of the way into the office and held up a black, red and white cardboard poster announcing that Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Survival Tour was making a stop at the Apollo Theater in Harlem for four nights. “Oh wow” exclaimed Willie. He knew one way or another he was going to be there. “Will you go with me Savana?” asked Willie. “Why, so you have a black escort to protect you up in Harlem?” The thought had crossed Willie’s mind but he really enjoyed Savana’s company and after all she had ultimately been responsible for his introduction to Reggae Music at the Party she had invited him to at Raymond Greentree’s. Before Willie could answer her question, she said of course I want to go, that’s why I brought you the poster.” Willie left a little early from work to get down to the Ticketron at Macy’s before 5PM so he could get a couple of tickets before they were sold out.
Turned out it was lucky Willie went right away. The Orchestra and Mezzanine were sold out already but Willie was able to get two $8 tickets in the front of the balcony for the Friday night show. Savana had invited Willie up to her apartment for dinner before the show. She lived on the upper Westside, not as far up as Harlem but on the way. Willie took the F Train up to 103rd Street after work and walked the couple of blocks to Savana’s building. She buzzed him in the front door and he took the elevator up to the fifth floor where he found her standing in the hallway outside her door. “Come on in Willie, we don’t have a lot of time.” Savana went to the fridge in her small kitchen and brought Willie a cold Red Stripe.
“Have a seat while I finish up the dinner” she said. Willie sat on the brown suede couch and sunk deep into the soft comfortable cushions. The Wailer’s “Natty Dread” album was on the turntable and the faint smell of a sandlewood incense was in the air. It was a nice place, Willie thought as he relaxed and took a sip of the cold beer. The lamp on the end table beside Willie was a carved and painted baby giraffe standing next to a much taller adult giraffe whose head could be seen just below the bottom of the black lamp shade. On the walls were several paintings that appeared to be Haitian in origin and one that Willie recognized to be by Pablo Romero, their bright colors bringing life to the room. The couch faced the curtained windows at the far end of the room with a table set for dinner in front of them. The floors were a dark warn wood.
“You have a nice place here Savana” said Willie. “Thanks” said Savana as she walked out of the kitchen and put a plate of grilled chicken and a big salad bowl on the table. “Come eat.” Side one of Natty Dread was just finishing so Willie flipped the record over and lowered the needle into the groove before heading to the table. Savana brought out a plate with some corn on the cob and butter along with some Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce and a bottle of jerk sauce. Willie waited for Savana to sit and then took the other chair. He said “Thanks for inviting me, this is really great.”
The food turned out to be delicious and Savana talked about her relatives in the Caribbean. None were from Jamaica. Her dad was from Bermuda and her mom’s parents had moved to Queens from Nevis right before her mom started school. Willie asked how her parents were and Savana told him that her dad had gone to work for the car company Studebacker back in the late 40’s picking parts in their parts department in Roselle, NJ. He eventually became a manager and when much of the company was taken over by Mercedes-Benz in the 60’s he ended up one of the highest placed black management people in the German car company’s operation. He stayed with them until taking early retirement when they moved the offices to Mahwah, NJ. Now he traded Caribbean products and artifacts on Ebay. “My mom actually went to Columbia University and got a Masters in occupational therapy and still works two or three days a week at the Harlem Hospital Center on Lenox Avenue” said Savana. “I think she is disappointed in me for not going into medicine.”
Willie had already finished when Savana ate the last bite of her chicken and said, “Help me clear the table and we’ll get going. Betty Wright comes on first but let’s not miss any of the show, I’ve never been to the Apollo.” As Willie got up to help, he said “Well, I’m glad we are going together – I’ve been to a lot of concerts but this is going to a hard one to top I think. Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Apollo Theater – how could it not be a wonderful thing?” “I think you are right Willie Ashmead and thanks for taking me. Let’s go!” said Savana.
They went out into the cool October night and caught a “D” train up to 125th Street. Willie was filled with nervous excitement. A first trip to Harlem and headed straight to the citadel of Black Music in America: The Apollo Theater. And, there for four nights was Bob Marley. Easily the most influential of any black artist trying to reach out to the Afro American audience here in the States. Lead by college kids he had a huge white following along with the transported Caribbean population around the U.S. that had founded communities in many of the big cities. But, much to his personal disappointment, he had made little impression on the Motown soul, blues, gospel and jazz loving masses of the black population around the country. At the Apollo he hoped to get their attention.
Based on the crowds flowing into the lobby of the historic theater, Marley was getting a shot. Willies skin was many tones lighter than that of most of the other smiling, excited faces headed to seats in the theater. Another white face caught Willie’s attention ahead of him and Savana in the crowd. She spotted him at the same time Willie did and said “Isn’t that Robert Palmer?” Palmer had released a Reggae tinged album named Pressure Drop in 1975 that was a favorite of Willie’s. Thanks in big part to Marley, rock music had been a big influence on contemporary music from raw and rough bands like The Clash to more Pop artists like Palmer and Paul Simon. Willie was sure other hot commodities, of various ethnic origins, were sprinkled through the crowd tonight. This was a big event – the start of the Wailers “Survival” world tour and right at the heart of black music in America. There was a hint of ganja in the air and the excitement was building.
Moving up the narrow stairways to the balcony was like being on the New York Subway in rush hour. Willie was pressed against Savana who was tight in front of him as they moved with the crowd. His hands on her hips held her in place in front of him not that there was much chance of them getting separated on the packed stairway. Willie thought how what had started with Savana being a friend and escort for this event was feeling much more like a date. Willie gave a little squeeze to Savana’s waist and she took hold of his hands, not to push them away but to pull them around her waist. She turned her head and looked back at him with a big smile saying, ”This is irie!” Willie pulled her a little closer and said “That’s a good word for it.”
They finally made it to their seats, high up in the theater but still with a good view of the stage. Betty Wright got a polite reception from the crowd but it was all about anticipation of what was to come. Betty sang for only about 35 minutes but it was the break between acts that seemed interminable. Finally, flashlights moved around the stage and the band was there. Bass and drums began the riddum as billows of smoke began to fill the air. Organ and chink a chink of guitar joined to build a familiar groove that came to a crescendo with a huge burst of applause welcoming Marley to the stage. In a little over an hour it was over and Willie and Savana sat slightly dazed as the crowd began making their way out of the theater. It was almost like the afterglow of sex as they looked at each other smiling, knowing they had shared a very special time together.
They moved out of the theater onto 125th Street, the air quite cold after the heat of the theater with a hint of the coming winter in the air. Savana put her arm around Willie’s waist and pulled him around to give him a warm kiss before quickly guiding him forward toward the subway entrance down the street. Willie noticed a few not particularly friendly looks from black males as they walked down the street, Savana’s arm still holding them close together. Suddenly heading down the stairs to the subway platform seemed a little foreboding and Willie decided to hail a passing cab. The yellow car pulled over to them at the curb and Willie opened the door for Savana who slid in followed by Willie. He closed the door behind him, feeling safe in the warm, well worn cab. He smiled as he looked at the dashboard that looked like a combination of a religious shrine and a family photo album. The quite obviously Indian, turban headed driver said, “Where too?” with a definite accent. “105th and Broadway” said Willie. He put his arm around Savana’s shoulders and was about to give her a kiss when the drive, looking in the rearview mirror, said “No kissing in the car please.” “Why’s that?” asked Willie. “Policy of company”, said the drive and pulled away from the curb into traffic.
Savana and Willie sat quietly during the short trip to her apartment building. It wasn’t late since Marley would do two shows at the Apollo this night and they had been to the early show. Savana asked Willie if he wanted to come up to her apartment for another beer before heading home but Willie decided to call it a night. He didn’t know if he was ready to get real serious with Savana or even if she had that in mind but he didn’t want to take any chances of tainting the night. Willie asked the driver to wait for a minute as they pulled up in front of the building and he walked Savana to her door. She turned, putting her arms lightly around his waist and said “Very nice night Willie, thank you.” “I can’t imagine a much nicer night in so many ways” said Willie as he put his arms round her and gave her an extended kiss only to be ended by the taxi driver honking his horn and yelling out the side window, “Hurry up mister”. Willie and Savana gave each other a smile and Savana said “Give me a call tomorrow” as she turned and headed into the building. Willie watched her until the lobby elevator door opened and in flashing him a last smile and little wave. With a hint of regret that he had not followed her up to her apartment, Willie got back in the cab and his mind went back to the concert. It already seemed a bit like a dream as he headed down to Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch a bus across the river.
There was a heavy Spiritual quality was infused into Marley’s music. The infectious beat was the main defining characteristic of the music but it was Marley’s words and deep emotion that took the music to a higher level and would propel Marley to worldwide stardom in the few remaining years of his life. He was what Willie would come to think of as a “Reluctant Messiah”. In his own personal Spiritual quest a book by Richard Bach, “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” was probably Willie’s all time favorite book.
“Illusions” is the story of a barn-storming pilot vagabonding his way across the Midwest in an old airplane who meets a very unusual guy by the name of Donald Shimoda in a cornfield in Illinois. The two had landed their antique bi-planes in the same field in preparation for a day of taking local residents on short flights for a few bucks each. What starts out as picturesque slice of Americana evolves into a much more complex story as Donald begins to exhibit very extraordinary talents like floating wrenches and vaporizing clouds. The story unfolded to present a worldview very much in line with the direction Willie’s thinking had taken him. A world view that said much of what we perceived as “reality” was actually illusion. It was reality only by choice and the individual mental conditioning we were all exposed to from birth.
Donald didn’t want the job of Messiah, he was just thrust into it much like a more well know Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. In fact it was a real burden because people immediately realized he was somehow different even if they didn’t witness any “miracles”. Stay in any one place too long and people would want to become one of his “followers” – mobs of people would seemingly begin coming from nowhere – thus the lone pilot flying from cornfield to small town airport was a chance to stay off the radar.
Marley certainly didn’t try and stay off the radar but his message was his life. Compassion, love and understanding were at the core. Hope and determination were the means. He even promoted another reluctant messiah as a vehicle for his Spiritual ideas and a second coming of Christ. Jah Rastafari in the personal of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia and claimed direct descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He was crowned “King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”. Rastafarianism was a religion born in Jamaica in the 1930’s that saw Selassie as the second coming of Christ and built a religion mixing Christian and African traditions. Like with Donald Shimoda, the reaction of people could be overwhelming at times. Selassie had no idea how big a thing Rastafarianism had become in Jamaica – he did not pronounce himself to be a second coming of Christ. A couple of Time Magazine articles in the early 1930’s covered his coronation as Emperor. Marcus Garvey, a dynamic and influential black businessman and charismatic leader, who had launched a “Back to Africa” movement saw the coronation and the link to King Solomon as a clear sign that Selassie was in fact God incarnate. When he made a State visit to Jamaica, thousands mobbed the airport with people desperate to just catch of glimpse of him.
While Selassie never claimed to be the Christ, Marley did much to spread that message around the globe and as with all reluctant Messiahs; it was the ideas and not the man that were important. Marley never got to meet Jah Rastafari in person but the words and deeds of Selassie had a considerable impact even though most people around the world knew nothing of his religious stature in Jamaica. Selassie made Ethiopia the first country to join the League of Nations and was a strong spokesman against the rise of the Nazi’s in Germany and Italy. He was the only head of State to address the General Assembly and his 1936 speech was a call of courage and moral determination. “Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgment in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment.” Emperor Selassie’s eloquent address earned him worldwide recognition and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” award but the requested support did not come and Ethiopia was overwhelmed by Hitler’s Italian contingent and Selassie was driven into a five year exile.
He returned to his throne after the war and continued to speak out about the responsibility of the more powerful and rich nations to assist the less fortunate world citizens. In 1968 he again addressed a World body, this time the United Nations. Parts of that speech became the lyrics to a powerful Marley song that directly presented central themes in both of their philosophies. “That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.”
Willie didn’t think Selassie was necessarily the second coming of Christ but he really didn’t feel it was too important anymore than it was important whether Jesus was some kind of divine super human. The message was what was important. Selassie had a message the resonated with his own religious group in Jamaica – a message of compassion and the dignity of all people. Willie doubted there was much of anything Jesus would disagree with in that message. Willie had come to the conclusion that there were a lot of reluctant Messiah’s and their apostles throughout history. Unfortunately all too often their messages got subverted to be put into the service of individuals out to control the masses or drive their own agendas. Willie decided as far as “Religions” were concerned, Rastafarianism stacked up about as well as all the rest.
On the bus ride home Willie decided it was time for a dive into some spirituality. He knew there was more to it than what any one religion professed. Willie didn’t think you needed any go between to be in touch with a higher power. Mahareshi didn’t push his religious agenda just the value of meditation to unburden the mind and ultimately lead to more clarity and even enlightenment whatever that really was or if it really was. Willie didn’t know why a TM retreat all of a sudden seemed like the thing to do after his night with Marley and Savana at the Apollo but he decided that was what he was going to do.
Willie had read a great book titled “A Season in Heaven” by William Gibson. Like Willie, Gibson was also on a quest for enlightenment or at least a taste of cosmic consciousness. He had journeyed to a depopulated sea resort, La Antilla, about a three hour car ride from Seville in Spain for a residence course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Willie believed Maharishi was another reluctant Messiah and even after the publicity that hit the world stage after the Beatles became TMer’s, Maharishi was still somewhat accessible to attendees of residence courses as long as it happened to be one where he was actually there and not just on video tape. Messiah’s had it easier these days – they could reach the masses on video and satellite conferences. This made it easier for all the charlatans out there too of course. There were plenty of big talkers who had massive followings and pulled in huge annual revenues that Willie felt went from the misguided to the outright deceivers consumed by the personal power given them by their pulpits. Reluctant Messiah’s they were not – they were hungry for the adulation and revenue. Maharishi was clearly of a different breed.
Right after the first of the New Year, there was a residence course scheduled at a hotel in Asbury Park, NJ. Willie signed up paying the $250 that covered the four day retreat including the hotel and meals. It was a cold dreary winter day in January as Willie arrived at the hotel after the hour drive from North Bergen. The hotel was also kind of bleak looking Willie thought as he parked his car in the parking lot. Willie was starting to have second thoughts about the whole thing which surprised him because he had really been looking forward to it. It had seemed such a good way to start the New Year. He had taken a couple of days off work and had nothing pressing to interfere with the four days. No one he had told about the retreat had thought it particularly stupid – most were curious about what Willie’s experience would be.
Now, here he was, not even in the hotel yet and he was considering leaving. For some reason, he just felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was just the stark look of the hotel and the dreary day. He grabbed his bag and headed to the door of the hotel.
Inside it was a bit more inviting but not much. The fragrance of sandalwood incense masked a residual sanitized hotel smell. Everything seemed to be in muted grey green colors with cream colored trim and it was very quiet. Several people were milling around the lobby area with no apparent purpose in mind and they all smiled rather blankly at Willie as they passed him. The front desk was directly opposite from the front door across an expanse of dingy green carpet. The whole hotel had been booked for the residence course but it was clear from the bored attitude of the reception person at the front desk that this was the regular staff. Willie gave his name and the be speckled schoolmarm looking woman reviewed a list of attendees. “Your roommate has not checked in yet” she said. “Roommate?” said Willie. “Yes, you’re in a double.” Willie’s spirits sank further. This was not working out as he had anticipated but then again, he had had reservations about this adventure since he had started the drive down it to hotel.
By the time he had checked in and gone up to the room, he had decided he was going home. He didn’t even open his bag. He headed back to the front desk and told the woman he suddenly felt very ill and was going to have to cancel his stay. She looked at him and pulled back as if suddenly afraid he or at least his germs would attack her. “You’ll have to talk to one of the TM people. This weekend was all pre-booked and paid for – that is if you are thinking you will get some money back.” Willie clearly wanted money back so he asked where one of the “TM people” were. She picked up a walkie talkie and said “Front Desk, Please”.
A few minutes later, a guy with shoulder length hair wearing a tie, grey sport jacket and brown corduroy pants walked up to the desk and spoke to the woman. She looked Willie’s direction and briefly pointed at him. The guy, a little older than Willie, walked over to him and said “Jai Guru Dev” to which Willie responded in kind. Guru Dev had been Maharishi’s teacher and the phrase meant basically “all thanks to Guru Dev”. “I understand you are feeling ill and don’t think you can stay?” “Yes” said Willie. “Well, the event is fully booked and we do have some waiting list people so I can probably arrange a refund for you but are you sure you don’t want to stay? The rounding could be very good for you”. Rounding was one thing that Willie had been very interested in doing. Normally, you meditated twice a day for twenty minutes each time. When rounding, there were multiple meditating sessions in “rounds” with the body’s metabolism slowing far more than normal with the goal of benefiting the nervous system by helping clear away blockages of stress and emotional trauma. Willie felt too much anxiety to relax in this moment and the TM person was picking up on Willie’s lack of ease and said “Maybe another time would be better for you to immerse yourself in the field of all potential. Come back over to the front desk and I’ll see about a refund.” Minutes later, Willie was back in his car and feeling like some dreadful sentence had been commuted making him a free man once again. It was odd but then there is a time for every season or something like that he thought as he got back on the Garden State Parkway and headed north.
The New Year underway, Willie throw himself into work with a new passion, determined to start really accomplishing something. He set his sights on getting into sales at NBC sooner rather than later. He also began putting all of his spare time into his Amway business where he was on the verge of becoming a Pearl Direct. Sam and Joe had both gone Direct already so Willie had two strong legs but that was not enough to stand on for the Pearl level. Sam and Joe were both passing 20,000 BV (business volume) a month with no problem which made them very strong legs and pay Willie money for years to come even if he just maintained a small personal sales volume each month. But that third leg, that was the killer. He had already run off a few of his friends because he got so disgusted with them that they wouldn’t even buy products from him let alone take a shot at being a distributor. Dick Hampton was still struggling along but even though he had the desire, he didn’t seem to be able to turn up the heat to take the wheel by himself. It was up to Willie to pick him up and carry him which Willie didn’t mind but he needed another leader, someone he could kick start into action who would then take control and make things happen. Willie didn’t think Dick could really picture himself being a big success and that pretty much doomed you to never getting there or even staying on the road. It was sad but Willie had seen a lot of people like that in this business: big dreams paired with a underlying belief in the futility of any real hope for greatness that repeatedly knocked them off course, most often when they were at arm’s length from a big achievement. Willie figured this was what gave Amway a bad name with so many people – the promise, the dream was real, but you still had to have extraordinary people and sales skills or the determination of a top athlete to continuously push and discipline yourself.
Willie began sponsoring new front line people – if he ever wanted to go Diamond, he would need six Direct legs – even to Willie, seemed a little out of reach at the moment. He just wanted number three. He found him in Greg Bagzy. He met Greg one night at a sleazy but famous club called CBGB’s in Manhattan. He was there recording his brother’s band, Whiplash. Greg had come at the invitation of Rick Decker. He was some kind of event producer and Decker was no doubt trying to find some way to take advantage of him. Greg came over to look at Willie’s tape recorder. It was a Revox with two big 12” reels sitting atop a Dolby noise processor. Greg said “Nice deck”.
The Revox A77 was the premier tape recorder out there and had been a big purchase for Willie. There had been a strike at NBC when Willie was in Commitment Control and Willie had been drafted into service as a video engineer. It was a long six months with Willie reporting to work on the Today Show at 5am on Monday through Thursday and then 1am on Fridays to allow extra time to prepare for “remotes” from various States around the country. A remote was a live broadcast from some location outside the studio and working out the satellite links and logistics always took time when you needed to be prepared for a live broadcast. This was all very exciting for Willie – it was really the best job he had ever had, being the video engineer for a major network live TV program five days a week. If he actually had the job, he would be earning more than double what he currently made and to think, they were on strike because they wanted more. Willie thought, “why not. If they could get it” but it had to be rather hard being out of work for six months without their current paychecks. Anyway, Willie was getting part of their pay and ended up with a six grand bonus at the end of the six months which made the extended hours in the studio plus four hours a day at his regular desk seem well worth it.
Pete’s band got the advantage of having really high end recordings and Greg seemed impressed. He told Willie how he had been here a while back and recorded a double bill of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. He had had a much less excellent Wollensak. Willie didn’t know much about Springsteen but he knew Marley and as a result struck up a conversation with Greg with a goal of getting a copy of the tape. Greg had apparently moved recently and said he thought the tape was in a box of stuff in his mother’s attic. Willie was almost in shock that someone would have a recording of one of Marley’s first US shows and not be treating it like gold. Willie had all the shows he had secretly recorded at the Fillmore and other spots carefully archived and the thought of a potentially very valuable tape in a hot attic seemed crazy. He said as much to Greg who apparently didn’t care except as it concerned the potential monetary value.
Greg was definitely interested in making money and this gave Willie the easy road to getting a new Amway distributor. “I’m working on a business project right now that you might be able to make quite a bit of money with” Willie said. “I travel a lot with my job so It probably wouldn’t work out” said Greg. “That could actually be a big asset with this business” said Willie. “Well, tell me about it” said Greg. “Can’t really do that here but do you have some time Saturday morning?” Greg said Saturday would work as long as it was not too early. Willie got Greg’s address and they set a time for 11am.
On Saturday, Willie found out that Greg was an event producer for traveling expos with a fondness for strip clubs. He also liked what he saw in Willie’s white board presentation and something happened that had certainly never happened to Willie before. Greg said he was going out of town in a couple of days but would have people over at 8pm tonight if Willie would come back and do the presentation again. Willie said, “We’re going to have to buy some supplies – distributor kits at least – how many people do you think you will have?” “I gather I need to find three key people as a first step so let’s say six” Greg answered. Willie said “If they are married, make sure you get the husband or wife to come too.” “Done, anything else?” “Yes, I wouldn’t say anything much about the business; just get them here so I can lay the whole thing out” said Willie. “I’m just telling them I am starting a new business and want them to work with me on it. I’ll also tell them there is a small investment for some supplies so they should bring their checkbooks” said Greg.
Willie got Greg officially signed up and got a check from him to cover his distributor kit and three extra’s to have for tonight. When he left, he called Lou to see if he was home so he could pick up more distributor kits. Lou answered right away and told Willie to head on over. It was about an hour drive to Lou’s house in Port Washington on Long Island. A bunch of cars parked in Lou’s driveway and along the street greeted Willie got there. Lou and Barb’s sponsor, Rick, was there and a few other distributors buying supplies and talking about the business. Lou had some burgers and hotdogs on a backyard grill lots of Nutrilte Active 8 drink on ice in pitchers. The burgers and hotdogs didn’t come from Amway but most everything else in this household did.
Lou and Rick told Willie that they hoped Greg didn’t flame out if things didn’t go well right away. Willie hoped that too but he had a feeling that Greg was going to work out but probably in unorthodox ways. That night his suspicions were confirmed as he found a room filled with the most non-Amway group he had ever seen in one living room. One of the couples was actually two girls who apparently were both “exotic” dancers. Next we had three “roadies” who traveled with Greg much of the time working on setup and teardown of the expos at convention centers around the country. Then there was the relatively normal looking expo booking person and her husband who owned a “head” shop in Greenwich Village. The final person was a surprise, Claude, the guy who worked for Willie’s brother’s band as security and heavy lifter. “Hi Willie” said Claude. “Claude, how do you know Greg?” asked Willie and he shook Claude’s huge hand.
Claude explained that he had done security for Greg at concerts Greg was involved with. Turned out Claude had worked for John Lennon and his entourage doing everything from managing a band for him to ferrying illicit substances down to Coconut Grove in Florida for parties and Greg had produced some events for the Lennon’s in the same period. Their paths had crossed many times over the years and they had actually met for the first time in a while when Pete’s band was playing at CBGB’s. Claude told Willie that Greg had called that afternoon and said “I’m in business with Whiplash Pete’s brother on a new project and I don’t think he so, I’m here.” “Great” said Willie wondering if this was all getting too convoluted. Greg was smart telling Claude not to say anything to Pete. Pete thought the business was a combination of scam and waste of time.
Greg gave the perfect introduction telling everyone that with the help of a team of people Willie had become very successful at this business and was launching a new organization with Greg. He told them that he and Willie would be helping them build the business because the more successful they were, the more successful he and Willie would be but they would never be limited by anyone else’s success, they could end up making more money with this than him and Willie combined. The group liked what they heard and everyone but the most normal couple – event booking agent and Head shop store owner husband – joined on the spot that night. This was not how things usually went to say the least but this was all quite unusual.
A week later, Willie was doing a white board presentation in a “Gentlemen’s Club” in Brooklyn on Saturday morning before they opened for business. With all the lights on, the place looked pretty sleazy and the owner joked that the Amway cleaning products could be put to great use right here. Willie just imagined Amway founder Rich DeVos and Jay VanAndel seeing a press release someday about how Club Tigress in Brooklyn, NY was maintained “exclusively with high quality Amway cleaning products sold to the club by independent distributors, Missy Saigon and Rachel Lush”. What if all these people actually get really involved and show up at an Amway Rally Willie thought. Many of the Amway types were quite conservative or at the very least what one would classify as preppy or suburban types – government workers, school teachers, generally your average citizens quite far from the fringes of humanity represented by Team Greg or as Greg came to refer to them, “The Lechers and Bitches”.
The club girls had great luck signing up guys and created their own duplicatable pattern for success. Lap dances and bare breasts had a lot to do with it and they sold a lot of product. They eventually had several girls who became very enthused with the Artistry beauty products and the nutrition items as a road to take them legit and get out of the “skin business”. Greg created a whole network from city to city bringing roadies, struggling band members and strip club girls together convincing them that by working with what they knew, they could climb out to a rich world of Amway affluence. Greg turned out to be almost as good at building the dream as Jody Victor.
As his organization grew, he began producing his own distributor rallies, knowing that his group would not fit in with Willie’s other groups. Willie enjoyed going to the events staged for Greg’s group as they were always filled with a lot of totally hot women who wanted to look like professional business women but still looked more like professional escorts. They weren’t giving out any lap dances but the guys they had recruited still got affectionate attention. There was lots of friendly hugging and kissing in Amway groups normally but the hugging and kissing in this group had a pronounced lascivious slant to it. Willie made it to Pearl Direct with Greg’s group the third personal direct leg added to his two established legs. It was not to last though because Greg picked up a bunch of new shows to produce and there was no one to duplicate his group management style. Eventually two of the girls ended up going direct and earned enough so that they only worked the club scene on Friday and Saturday nights. It was not quite a success story for the Amagram, Amway’s monthly magazine recognizing successful distributors, but they were happy and had earned a lot more personal confidence along with building a nice size “legit” business.
Willie was just finishing a marathon reading of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and David Schwartz’s “The Magic of Thinking Big” and it all felt very appropriate as he stood at the podium in the large hall at the Long Island Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. He was getting a standing ovation following a slide show celebrating his getting to the Pearl Direct level in Amway. Greg Bagzy had put the collection together and backed it with Willie’s song choice of the Reggae hit, “You Can Get It If You Really Want It” by Jimmy Cliff. Greg had kept to his word that he would keep it “professional” and make even his group look like serious business people. The end result was fun, exciting and uplifting which was the goal for the event. Willie looked down from the stage to the front row where Samuel and his wife, Joe and Greg with his apparent fiancé leading the applause. Willie stepped to the mike as the applause began to die down and said, “This is all the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. It started with Lou and Rick who lit our flame and helped keep it from going out with their constant encouragement and willingness to do whatever it took to help us build success. Then along came three very special people, Samuel Paterson, Joe Polanski and Greg Bagzy. Together we have helped a lot of people light a flame that grew into a burning desire to make their own dreams come true and reinvent themselves, rising to new levels of self-esteem and personal achievement. I congratulate and thank you all.” With that Willie gave a quick wave and left the podium to more applause. It was a good feeling but interestingly, the thing that was on his mind as he accepted hugs and handshakes from dozens of his “business associates” and friends in the enthusiastic crowd, was getting a network sales position at NBC. Willie had seen a small article in Billboard that NBC was considering starting a youth oriented radio network. When Willie saw the article he had an overwhelming feeling of “this is it!”.
NBC’s adventurous president, Fred Silverman, had come up with the idea to start a new radio network targeted at college age and above young adults. An 18-34 year old demographic that was very attractive to advertisers and not reached by the traditional news based NBC Radio Network that skewed older. The networks were based on the news product of NBC. Stations would become part of the network to get the hourly NBC newscasts. The network would get to include a minute or two of advertising time in those newscasts. The new young adult network would do the same thing, it would just change the news reports to cover information deemed more interesting to “young adults” – more youth culture, drugs and music oriented stories. Many of the “old boys” at NBC thought it was near sacrilege to “degrade” the esteemed NBC news product in this was – news was news, not entertainment. But, from a commercial aspect it just made too much sense and that would soon change the news industry dramatically. At this stage it was still just an experiment that the old line NBC Radio network people wanted nothing to do with. That was a good thing because it probably would not have worked if a new culture had not been created for it. It was a big stretch to think that big establishment corporation, NBC, could ever convince top Rock Radio stations around the country that it could do anything acceptably “cool” to get any of their air time. Then again, the fledgling Saturday Night Live was pretty “cool”.
Right after the Monday morning managers meeting was over Willie went straight to Joan Lapley, the VP of his department, and told her he wanted to get one of the Sales positions with this new Rock n’ Roll oriented network. Joan told Willie there would be a lot of people with strong radio sales backgrounds going for the three or four Account Executive spots and that it would be a long shot. But, Willie simply said “I am going to be selling for The Source!” and his enthusiasm won her over and she promised to call the guy who was heading up the New York Sales office, Chuck Downes. He had been with NBC a long time and she knew him well.
A couple of days later, Willie got a call to set up an interview with Chuck Downes. The interview was set up for later that week – they were moving fast. Willie could hardly concentrate on his work as he envisioned how different his job would be going out and calling on ad agencies around the city. After all of the Amway presentations he had done, talking to groups of people of people he didn’t really know had become second nature. He had no doubt he could do it but he still needed to convince some other people. Willie knew a lot of the secrets though. He didn’t necessarily know this was one of the secrets but he really believed he was going to get the job. It was much like when his guidance counselor in high school had told him he wasn’t so sure Willie could get into Rutgers and Willie had not even bothered to put in an application to any other college, he was so determined and sure that Rutgers was where he was going.
When the day of the interview came, Willie spent most of his time watching the clock. Savana stopped by to wish him luck and he told her she should talk to Joan Lapley about taking over his job if she thought it would be a good move for her. She laughed and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. The interview was at eleven so Willie finished up a couple of things and then closed his office door so he could just sit quietly. He felt that the job was his unless he screwed up somehow. He knew confidence and enthusiasm were the keys. He closed his eyes and decided to meditate for a few minutes to help eliminate any nervousness. He didn’t know what Chuck Downes looked like but he pictured himself talking to him filled with excitement about the job and the opportunity to be part of his sales team. He told him about all of the Amway presentations and the professionalism of the Jody Victor organization. He told him about his passion for music and how he had grown up with the stations that would make up their network. He told him that he needed a real “fan” – someone who would really connect to the audience and talk about how that audience connected with these stations and what they broadcast.
Eleven o’clock came. Willie headed up a few floors in the building to the offices that were being set up for “The Source” which was to be the network’s name. Before Willie knew it, it was over and the clearest element in Willie’s head was that Chuck Downes was missing his right arm and that he sometimes got the nickname “Lefty”. Other than that, it was all a bit of a blur. Savana came to see him as soon as he got back to ask him how it went. He told her he thought it had gone well and that Chuck Downes seemed like a nice guy but it was in the hands of destiny. Savana knew Willie clearly felt getting the job was destiny but didn’t want to be too cocky about it in case he might somehow jinx it.
The next morning Willie went into Joan Lapley’s office. She looked up and smiled at him and said “He liked you. He has a bunch of people to see but wants to make a decision by next week.” The time dragged for the rest of the week. Then Monday went by and nothing. Tuesday. Wednesday. Willie asked Joan again on Thursday morning if she had heard anything. Nothing. Then, right after lunch, Willie got a phone call from Chuck Downes’ secretary. She said, “Mr. Downes wants to know if you can meet him at The 21 Club at 3:30 pm?” Willie said, “Absolutely, I’ll be there. Thanks.” He hung up the phone with the nervous excitement of Christmas morning in his stomach.
The original version of the 21 Club had opened in Greenwich village in 1922 as a prohibition era speakeasy. In 1929 the club moved to West 49th Street and became much more exclusive where it was called the Puncheon Club. In 1929, to make way for the construction of Rockefeller Center, the club moved to its current location and changed its name to “Jack and Charlie’s 21”.
Although raided by police numerous times during Prohibition, Jack and Charlie never got caught. The Club had installed a system of levers that was used to tip the shelves of the bar, sweeping the liquor bottles through a chute and into the city’s sewers as soon as a raid began. The bar also included a secret wine cellar, which was accessed through a hidden door in a brick wall which opened into the basement of the building next door.
Every President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt had dined at 21, and the restaurant has been frequented by so many celebrities that many of them had favorite tables. Willie had never been to The 21 Club and couldn’t help but believe that his invitation was a very good sign. Chuck Downes had a favorite table and he was sitting at it not far from the front door when Willie entered. Chuck Downes didn’t stand but gestured for Willie to take a seat. Willie gave him a big smile and said “Thank you”, taking a seat. Chuck Downes smiled back, shock his head a bit as if somewhat in disbelief and said “I have thought a lot about this and even though, on paper, you are not the person that would seem to be the best candidate, something tells me you are the person I need. It didn’t hurt that I had several people in the company call me to tell me they thought you would do a great job for me either, of course. So, congratulations, I’d like you to be part of The Source sales team.” Willie said, “Mr. Downes, thanks very much, I know I am going to do a great job for you.” “I believe you will and call me Chuck” said Mr. Downes.
Willie ordered a beer and Chuck told him a little about the plans for the network. They were still working out commission structures and client assignments but Willie would get a list of ad agencies to call on with target clients for whom the network’s target audience focused on 18-34 year old males would be interested. Chuck had already spoken to Joan Lapley and he told Willie, “Joan said she was alright with you starting a week from Monday. She has apparently decided to hire a friend of yours to replace you – someone named Savana – and she wanted you to get a full week with her doing training.” “Wow”, thought Willie. Chuck was probably in his late 40’s and clearly out of the target demographic but he told Willie that NBC had hired some Rock radio people to put the programming together. He spent the next hour telling Willie what he knew of about how the network was being put together. Besides news, The Source would be producing live music specials and concert broadcasts. Some very talented people were drafted to make sure the “product” would appeal to radio station program directors around the country. As they talked Willie decided he had to keep his excitement in check or Chuck might think he was too naïve or unprofessional or something of the sort. Selling ad time in concerts and music specials sure seemed like a perfect job to Willie. He couldn’t wait to get started.
Willie thought this was one of the nicer restaurants he had been in, since he had left New York anyway. There were plenty of good restaurants in south Florida but Willie’s budget didn’t have room in it for really good restaurants. He looked across the table at Debra, who was smiling at him. Willie smiled back at her and said, “It was very nice of you to invite me to dinner. This is a nice place.” “And the food’s quite good too. If you like fish, I’ll suggest you have whatever the local catch of the day is” said Debra. A waiter in a pink shirt matching the table clothes came over to the table to get a drink order. Willie ordered a Red Stripe and Debra told the waiter she would have a glass of Chablis from the bottle already open in kitchen fridge. “Yes Miss Delay,” said the waiter and quickly walked back to the interior of the restaurant. They were alone on the outdoor deck of the restaurant. “This is really nice. I might even be thinking about buying into the timeshare deal if I had the extra money. Do you get a commission if I buy in?” said Willie. “I’m straight salary with a bar and restaurant budget to butter up possible customers like you. I’ll probably get a note questioning whether I really thought you were a serious purchase prospect” said Debra.
The sound of the waves in the distance and the restaurant’s soft background music was very soothing. The waiter came with their drinks. After he left them alone again, Debra asked Willie, “So what are you doing working for this company? You somehow don’t fit the mold based on the other sales and marketing people I’ve met.” “It’s a long story but thanks. I have certainly had higher profile sales jobs. I won’t be doing this much longer. I thought it might be reasonably easy money but it isn’t and the whole thing has been pretty demoralizing” said Willie. “I should have a new job with a television production company as an associate producer in a few weeks. It seems like it should be good,” Willie continued. Debra could tell Willie wasn’t that confident about the prospects of the new job but let it go and asked him if he had decided what he wanted to have for dinner. “Gazpacho, the fish special you recommended and a side Caesar salad” Willie answered. Willie was glad Debra had changed the subject because he was losing the relaxed, positive mood of their dinner. One thing Willie had learned for sure was the importance of savoring nice experiences while you were in them and not get distracted by past or possible future events.
Willie loved the Caribbean. That was the reason he had moved to Florida – it had weather similar to the Caribbean but was still the U.S. It had seemed a “safe” move and Willie had arrogantly thought he was a Master of the Universe who could reinvent himself and make plenty of money long before New York cash out ran out. Willie had been humbled and forced into a new reality by South Florida. But his thinking was getting distracted from the moment again. On this balmy night with Debra across from him and the seductive soundtrack of the waves and music the dream was very real and romantic.
Willie didn’t let the rest of the world through time and space intrude on the rest of the evening. He stayed focused on Debra and the delicious meal. As she had promised, the fresh local catch was excellent. Willie feasted on Strawberry Ginger Teriyaki Snapper which he had not totally liked the sound of but his mouth found to be delicious. He and Debra talked about the island and life here as they ate. Debra felt very lucky and while she did not get paid a lot, she thought she had the better job than anyone else at ASvactaions.com. Greeting people, buying people drinks and the occasional dinner – except for a few jerks like the guy at the bar tonight, it was very pleasant. Debra had worked at the company’s home office in Atlanta as an Executive Assistant before getting the island assignment. It hadn’t hurt that her boss’s wife was convinced he was having an affair with Debra. Shipping her out of the country had made everyone happy. Debra told Willie that while there had been no affair, her boss had made more than his share of politically incorrect remarks, plenty of which had been overheard by co-workers. She could have had a nice harassment suit but the job was a much better solution.
Willie told Debra that, particularly sitting here in this beautiful spot enjoying a great dinner, it seemed like a very nice life. “I get lonely sometimes for home and my family but I have been very happy here” said Debra. “The biggest thing I worry about is that I am somehow missing out on something. Like my life, while it is very nice, is kind of on hold and I’m not on track to what I am supposed to do or be. I don’t know, it’s just a vague uneasiness that bothers me sometimes” she continued.
“I think everyone eventually has some of those feelings if they are paying attention” said Willie. “Everything had seemed very clear to me for a long time. I thought I had it together professionally and spiritually and then over the last few years so much has changed and I find myself working very hard just to get back to a feeling that I have some control over my life but I am not sure that that’s the idea at all anymore” Willie concluded. “So what is the idea do you think Willie?” asked Debra. “Well part of it is clearly living in the moment. Ram Dass wrote a great book called ‘Be Here Now’. In a Zen kind of way that says it. Lot’s of people spend most of their time either reliving past ‘glory days’, regretting past things they did or didn’t do or worrying about something that might happen in the future. It’s only in the now moment that you have any chance to do anything. The thing a coach will tell you over and over if you are playing tennis for example is keep your eye on the ball. That’s the ‘be here now’ moment that all of the outcomes of action center on” said Willie. He had been looking off into space and he turned his attention back to Debra to see if she thought he had a few screws loose or if what he said made some kind of sense to her. She said “I agree I guess but what about having some definite direction, something you want to accomplish or place you want to get to?” “Yeah, I think that is very important. Sticking with tennis as our analogy, Tim Gallwey wrote a great book called ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’. Keeping your eye on the ball was definitely a part of that but the other part was envisioning in ‘your mind’s eye’ where you wanted the ball to go – kind of previewing to outcome without taking your eye off the ball” explained Willie. “He even suggested that by watching top players play, you could improve your own game by helping program your mind to see the outcomes you wanted. Apparently, there are a lot of top athletes who make this kind of mental rehearsal a part of their training. So, what we are supposed to do is stay totally focused on just what is happening on one level and on another level, be creating these pictures of what we want to happen. I have no question that it works but I also think it’s very difficult to do on an ongoing basis. I keep running into two problems. One, I’m not always sure what I want to happen. Two, I have trouble believing it is anything but wishful thinking with little likelihood of ever really happening. And that is why it is so hard – the faith part of the equation, said Willie.
“Wow, you’ve thought about this a lot haven’t you Willie?, said Debra. “Particularly since things started having outcomes I didn’t want too much of the time. But, then there are times like this when I can truly say thank you Universe for this moment and, I have been blessed with a lot of times like that. I don’t want to lose focus on this moment because it would be all too easy to get swallowed up in coulda shoulda woulda’s from the past or the possible nightmares the future might bring. Luckily, I have always been able to stay optimistic about the future so I have not gotten caught up in imagining too dismal a future for myself – but I guess I have failed to send out that clear image of the outcome I want as if it already had happened. As I said, it’s not easy or at least it hasn’t been lately.” Debra said, “Let’s stay in this moment then. How are you picturing the rest of this evening?”
A vision of Debra in his arms came immediately into his head and he focused his drifting attention on her again and looked into her eyes. She said, “I’m reading similar images in our minds. Just don’t forget you have your tour tomorrow morning and have to be up early to welcome everyone to the complimentary breakfast.” They finished off diner with some fresh fruit and hardly another word then took a walk out on the moonlit beach and Willie’s vision became reality.
Debra left the room before Willie awoke but he found a note saying “Thanks for the great conversation and a wonderful night! See you later. Don’t be late for your tour or I will really get a reprimand!!” She signed it with a “D” inside a heart. This trip has really turned out great, thought Willie. He could already feel the edges of anxiety undermining the warm glow of the past night with concern about where things would go with Debra and how the “tour” would go and having to go back to the job schlepping the ASVacations.com packages to people like they were blessed to get the chance… “Stop!” he mentally yelled at his own mind. First of all, the trip wasn’t over yet and second, hadn’t he listened to a thing he said last night? He immediately shifted his thinking to trying to figure out if he would be able to resist hugging and kissing Debra at the complimentary breakfast. He realized this was still not really being in the present moment but it was a much nicer view of the future.
Debra wasn’t there when he went to the breakfast. There was another girl there he had never seen before. He asked her where Debra was and she said she didn’t know a Debra. Willie said, “She has the job you apparently have too, helping and managing the ASVacations.com guests – she was supposed to be here this morning.”
“Oh, you probably are talking about Ms. Delay? Willie nodded. “Apparently her Dad got real sick and they got her on a flight to Atlanta this morning. She’s probably on her way to the airport by now.” Willie felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. Just when things really seemed to be in a good place the bottom had fallen out again. He really liked Debra and she seemed to like him and they had had this great night together and now, puff, she was gone. Of course he felt bad for her and hoped it would all work out but it seemed to him too often lately, that he was getting the brunt of some big cosmic joke because he had screwed up somehow. It was cruel. Give the guy a little taste of heaven and then rip it out of his grasp.
He had breakfast and then went to the time share sales pitch. They were smooth and had the pitch down to science. They even got Willie thinking that if he knew Debra was going to be working here he might have tried to figure out a way to buy in but, as he knew before he came, when they ran his credit card and did a credit check he came up unacceptable. They knew he was “staff” so that part had not been a big surprise but he irritated them by demanding throughout the tour and close that someone get him Debra’s address or phone number. The salesperson he was assigned to was decent to him but then Big Al, “the closer” came out in his emerald green blazer and demanded to know if Willie knew anyone who could afford to buy in – and maybe he would find some contact info for Debra. Willie could name a bunch of people that could afford it but no one he was going to subject to Big Al.
The rest of his stay on the island was anti-climactic to say the least. Even surrounded by the beautiful setting and a sunny day in the low 80’s with casual ocean breezes bringing the palm fronds to life, he couldn’t push back the anxiety about returning to the studio apartment in Hollywood, Florida and working nights in the ASVacations.com phone room. At least he had the interview with Big Pictures Inc. and the possibility of a new job coming up on Tuesday. He was really bummed out about Debra. There had been some great women in Willie’s life and somehow, he seemed to lose them all.
On Monday morning Willie started training Savana to take over his Network Commercial Administrator job. Savana was a sharp student and Willie had no doubt that she would be do fine with the job. It would take a while to learn the peculiarities of the different TV Network sales people but she was good with people and most of the sales team already knew her. Savana was a little nervous but Willie told her that even though there was a lot more responsibility in the new job, it was not particularly difficult. By Thursday afternoon, Savana was relaxing and feeling much more confident that she was not going to do something stupid and lose NBC millions of dollars. All of the sales people had come over to wish Willie well with his new job and been introduced to Savana if they did not already know her. A couple of them kidded her that they were going to make her life miserable but everybody was encouraging. After all, they would all need her help sooner or later to help them solve client problems.
As they finished up the day’s work on Thursday, Willie told Savana that Israel Vibration was playing the next night at SOB’s, a club downtown, and he wanted to find out if she would like to go with him for a celebratory dinner for their new jobs. Israel Vibration was one of Savana’s favorite Reggae bands and she immediately said yes. Willie would be taking the bus in so he wouldn’t need to worry about his car. He and Savana could take a cab or subway down to SOB’s on Varick Street in Greenwich Village after work. They would probably be there quite a while before the concert started but it was a good place for dinner and they could be assured a table right by the stage.
Being the music fanatic that Willie was, besides being excited about going to see the show with Savana, it would be a great recording opportunity. Willie love live music and never missed a chance to get a recording when there was a concert on the radio or TV. For things at home, he had the Revox A77 which captured all the quality his Marantz tuner could deliver. In the past he had snuck a cassette machine into The Fillmore East but the recordings had never been great. Recently he had gotten a professional grade Sony cassette recorder from one of the news guys at NBC who had gotten a new machine. It had been used for interviews but would be perfect for music too. Willie invested in a stereo Sony microphone to use with it and this gave him a nice mobile recording setup. As he packed the tape machine, mike, some blank Maxell cassettes and extra batteries in his briefcase, he wondered if, now that he was going to be a network radio sales guy, he was taking a possibly serious risk. Secretly making a recording of a concert was clearly against club and artist policies but Willie didn’t really think there were any major laws involved. He was sure there was probably more of an issue with the two to three joints he planned to bring to the show. For a moment though, he considered just leaving the tape recorder home but after a few seconds consideration, the idea of getting a real nice recording of a live Israel Vibration show overcame his concerns.
Friday afternoon Willie had a final meeting with his current boss, Joan Lapley, where he updated her on the status of everything and told her he believed Savana would do a great job. Joan told Willie that she thought he was also going to do a great job with his new sales position at The Source and to make sure he stopped by every once in a while to say hello. Willie assured her that he would and thanked her for the recommendation she gave to Chuck Dowling. He knew that without it, he would not have gotten the job. Joan asked Willie, “Are you nervous about this big change?” Willie smiled and said, “No, just excited to get started.” She nodded and without another word, Willie turned and left her office with an overwhelming feeling that a new and vibrant future was opening to him like one door was closing and another opening. Now, he was just having second thoughts about the tape recorder in his briefcase as he took the elevator down from his office in this part of the building at 30 Rockefeller Center for the last time.
Talk about a rush of emotion and energy Willie thought to himself as Savana gave him a warm hug as she greeted him in the lobby. Willie had always loved this building and he wanted to soak in a sense of the grandeur it represented. In this moment, it brought to mind Ayn Rands “The Fountainhead” with Willie feeling a kinship with its charismatic central character, Howard Roark. Here he stood at a new beginning in the massive Art Deco symbol of capitalism built by the Rockefellers with its massive wall painting by Spanish Artist, Jose Maria Sert, titled “American Progress” covering the walls and high vaulted ceiling above him.
“You didn’t smoke one of those joints already, did you?” Savana whispered as she looked amused at Willie’s awestruck appearance. “Sorry,” said Willie “and no, I just feel at such a crossroads, and my direction just seems so clear and right and I have this sense that I willed it to happen. I don’t know, it’s a little strange.” “Well you deserve it and so do I so let’s go celebrate” said Savana. Willie was ready, back in the here and now and ready to go. They headed toward the West end of the building past the elevators that Willie would start taking up to his office on Monday and then out to 6th Avenue. The subway at 50th and 7th Avenue would take them practically to the door of SOB’s.
Another advantage of getting to the club early along with being in “business clothes” was that no one bothered to look for hidden contraband or tape recorders. There were only about a dozen people inside at tables and few at the bar. Willie was able to get a choice recording location about ten feet back from center stage. Willie had stopped to buy an extra pack of Marlboros at a newsstand on the corner so he was set for the night. They ordered a couple of Red Stripe beers and Willie lite a cigarette. He only smoked at night but on a night out he could easily smoke a pack. SOB’s was not real big – probably could hold a couple of hundred people, not much more than that and there were only about twenty five tables. Willie was there fairly often since it was probably the main venue for Reggae in the city. The size made it a great spot to see bands – no matter where you were, you were no more than fifty feet from the stage and tonight Willie and Savana’s table was practically part of the stage.
A great sound system pumped out a mix of mostly Reggae and other World Music that was loud but not so as to make talking impossible. Savana and Willie talked about the Marley show and other Reggae concerts they had been to. Willie told Savana that his dream was to one day have a club, kind of like this but ideally with a beach, in the Caribbean one day. Savana said, “You know Willie, I can picture you picking the records to play while playing host. You should probably read Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop the Carnival” before you go running off to the islands though.” “Don’t worry; it’s off in the future somewhere. I have a whole new adventure starting right here,” said Willy.
The waiter brought another round of Red Stripes and Willie and Savana both ordered coconut shrimp and rice for dinner. As they talked and ate, the time zoomed by and almost catching Willie by surprise, the appearance of tech crew on stage indicated that the first set was about to start. Willie reached into his briefcase and extracted the Sony microphone that was already plugged in to the tape recorder. Earlier he had loaded a fresh tape and positioned the recorder in his bag to give him easy access to the record button and volume control. He positioned the mike discreetly on the table, camouflaged by his napkin and other items on the table top. If someone looked carefully, they would see the microphone but the place was getting crowded now and Willie doubted any security types would spot it. Their waiter might see it but Willie doubted he would see any benefit in exposing Willie as a taping pirate.
Over the next few minutes, SOB’s filled up with people, some standing in front of Willie and Savana’s table. They didn’t seriously block the view of the raised stage – Willie just hoped they weren’t the talkative type that would be heard continuously over his recording. He told Savana to try not to talk so the microphone would pick her up during songs. A round of applause went out from the crowd as the vocal trio of Cecil “Skeleton” Spence, Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig, and Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin made their way to the stage. All three had been afflicted with Polio and had actually met in a rehabilitation center in Kingston. Willie thought they were quite an inspiring story, crippled in early childhood and living in poverty, they had gone their separate ways only to find each other again after each becoming Rastafarians. Their mutual faith gave them a bond and it would also give them their first big break when a Rastafarian religious group, The Twelve Tribes of Israel, agreed to finance a record for them. They soon found themselves working with top producers and opening shows for Bob Marley and Dennis Brown. Now here they were with several successful albums behind them and on their own at a top music club in New York City with probably plenty of the music intelligencia from the media in the crowd. Willie was glad he had brought the tape recorder.
As the band started playing Willie casually reached into his briefcase that was leaning up against the side of his chair and adjusted the volume controls to optimum level. He then reached into his sport jacket pocket and got one of the joints he had brought along which he lit, took a long drag and passed to Savana. There was already the smell of herb in the room so he was not concerned about anyone giving them any trouble for smoking the joint. It was nice mellow herb and its effects mixed with the slight buzz of the Red Stripes sent Willie totally into the riddum of the music. The band was as tight as the trios harmonies and there was a palpable sense of joy and positvibes filling the club. Glasses clinked and joints lit up around the room with some people trading smiles and high fiving each other while others were locked in near trance like states moving to the music. Willie felt like Heaven could not be any better than this and then Savana leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and he went up another level.
Willie had originally thought they would leave after the first set because he was supposed to be at an Amway function on Long Island the next afternoon but this was too perfect and Savana didn’t want to go. She put her arm around his neck and gave him a big kiss on the lips. That was a first, Willie thought. If he had to skip the Amway rally, so be it. During the break between the sets he talked to Savana about how unbelievable it was that he was going to be working for a Rock radio company that was going to do live concert recordings of top acts for syndication on major stations around the country – and he was going to get paid for selling the advertising time. As a fan, he knew the right audience was there and there would be high appeal for all the companies trying to sell to that valuable 18-34 audience. Savana said there probably wouldn’t be any Reggae in the programming but Willie loved Rock music too and besides, a Bob Marley concert certainly was not out of the question, particularly since Eric Clapton had scored a big hit with Marley’s “I Shot the Sherriff”.
The second set was equally strong with extended versions of “Highway Robbery” and “Same Song”, two of Willie’s favorites. During the break, Willie had checked the recording on the first cassette and although it was hard to be sure with all of the noise in SOB’s, it sounded like a pretty clean recording and the volume levels were good. Willie changed cassettes during the break and gave the tape of the first set to Savana in case he got taping and they confiscated the tape – at least he would have set one. Another joint shared between him and Savana and a few more Red Stripes blended very nicely with the music and when the band asked how everyone was doing, Willie forgot the mike on the table briefly and yelled a very loud “Irie!” which meant good, great, cool in Jamaican.
The second set wrapped up a little before 1am. Willie shut off the tape recorder and closed up the bag. The club would be clearing out fairly fast so he wasn’t concerned about being hassled on the way out – pirate recording session completed successfully. Savana and he gathered up their stuff and headed for the door. Once outside with recorder and tapes safe in his possession, Willie could relax. He was anxious to hear how it turned out. “I can’t wait to hear how the tape turned out – that was a really great show,” Willie said to Savana. She grabbed his arm to head him off toward the subway station and said, “Come up to my apartment and we can listen to some of it.” The last bus from Port Authority to New Jersey was in about an hour and Willie said, “I’ll never make it to the bus on time.” “Just stay at my place, Willie – you can sleep on the couch” Savana stated firmly. “Are you sure?” said Willie. “Absolutely” said Savana.
They walked to the subway station arm in arm. It was a Friday night with lot’s of people still out on the streets. The cold fresh air felt good after the smoky warm air inside SOB’s. They headed down the stairs into the subway station and almost immediately got an uptown train. It was not crowded but Savana sat close to Willie. They were quiet on the ride north. So much was going through Willie’s head but when Savana put her hand on Willie’s leg when the subway car made a sudden jerking to one side, it brought his attention firmly back to the moment. They had almost spent the night together after the Bob Marley concert at the Apollo but being co-workers and all, Willie had thought better of it. As of Monday, they would be working in totally separate areas of the company. There had been an unstated affection between them for a long time and Willie acknowledged to himself how much he liked her. Holding her close would be very nice.
They reached her stop and made the short walk to her apartment building. They took the elevator up without a word and Savana proceeded Willie down the hall to her door and opened it. Once inside, Savana took Willie’s coat, went to the kitchen and brought out a Red Stripe for each of them. “OK, I know you’re dying to hear it so, let’s put one of your bootlegs in the machine and see how it sounds,” Savana said, getting the tape of the first set out of her bag. She walked over to her stereo and turned on the amp and cassette machine, slid the tape in and pushed “Play.” It was not a “broadcast” quality recording because of the crowd noise but it sounded quite close to what it had sounded like sitting at their table. Willie got the last joint out of his pocket and lit it up, taking a big hit before passing it to Savana. She inhaled some of the pungent smoke and then put the joint in an ashtray, turned to face Willie and pulled his head close to hers, her lips quickly finding his. This was the first time they had really kissed and it was a long and sweet discovery, their tongues exploring each other’s mouth. Willie stopped analyzing the situation and feel head over heels into the moment.
As Israel Vibration played softly in the background, Savana rose in front of Willie and slowly unbuttoned her blouse, tossing it at Willie. Then she unhooked her bra and dropped it to the floor. “God, you are beautiful” Willie said as she removed her pants, her dark bronze colored skin glowing in the soft light of the apartment. “You’re not sleeping on the couch, Willie. Come into my bedroom” said Savana grabbing his hand and pulling him up off the couch. All Willie could think about sometime later as he drifted off to sleep was how wonderful and soft her skin felt next to his.
They both slept late the next morning, but Savana got up before Willie and made coffee. The smell of the coffee and the sounds from the kitchen finally woke Willie. “Good Morning Savana” he yelled. “Hi Willie, I just made coffee.” “You mind if I meditate for twenty minutes or so before I get out of bed?” Willie asked. “No, that’s fine, I’m going to take a shower” Savana replied. As Willie meditated, he couldn’t help but picture Savana in the shower as the sounds filtered through the bathroom door. He almost cut his meditation short to go jump in the shower with her but the water went off just as he was about to get out of the bed. Eyes still closed, Willie heard Savana come out of the bathroom and next he felt her crawling up on the bed. Just as he opened his eyes, still naked from the shower, she straddled his crossed legs where he was sitting up in her bed and gave him a hug that pushed his face between her breasts. The fresh smell of Dove soap on her skin tantalized his nose. She pushed him back and said, “Sadly, you will have to go after a little breakfast since I have a bunch of things that I must do today” said Savana. “Alright, I’m supposed to go to an Amway rally out on Long Island this afternoon but I don’t think I am going to make it” Willie answered. “We’ll do this again soon though” said Savana. “I surely hope so” said Willy.
Willy caught a bus back to North Bergen and called Joe and Samuel as soon as he got home to let them know he probably wasn’t going to be at the rally. They reminded him he was supposed to be introducing some of the speakers but they would cover for him. Willie looked at the clock and decided he could make it for the second half if he showered quickly and left. “Maybe I can be there by 3 – I’ll come. See you in a while” and he hung up the phone.
Willie stuck the cassette of the first Israel Vibration set into his dual cassette machine to make a dub. He wanted to take it with him to listen to on the car ride to Long Island but he didn’t want to take the original. Willie was always careful to preserve the quality of his original recordings. With records, he would record them on tape and listen to the tapes rather than having the record player needle drag through the vinyl grooves over and over. With his master tapes, he would make a second tape copy and play that one since the audio tape was even more fragile than the vinyl records.
There was very little traffic and Willie made good time on the trip to Manhasset where the rally was. The time flew by for his with his tape from the night before as a soundtrack. He would have to call Debra as soon as he got home and find out if he could see her tomorrow. Every time he heard her voice in the background on the tape, a pang of desire to be with her hit him. They had been friends for a couple of years but it was totally different now. Willie felt like his life was going at a hundred miles an hour, there was so much going on. He’d read Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” recently and he really felt he was manifesting things nicely. Based on everything he knew, he was starting what for him was a dream job on Monday. All of a sudden he had a woman in his life that he was very excited about to put it mildly. And, he was about to arrive at a rally where at one point or another during the afternoon, hundreds of people would probably be giving him a standing ovation.
He pulled into the parking lot by the hotel and saw Jane Snaps and a few other people having a cigarette outside. Willie got out of the car and headed to the group. When Jane saw him, she headed out to meet him and gave him a big hug. He gave her a quick kiss and a big smile hello. “How’s is going?” Willie asked. “Very good and I have someone new I want to introduce you to” said Jane. “His name is Elliot and he is a salesman at the Jaguar dealership in Great Neck. I met him when I went in to drive a couple of their new models since I plan on owning one. Can’t afford it yet but, I wanted to be able to “see and feel” myself behind the wheel.” Willie gave another big smile and said, “That kind of thinking has really worked for me lately. I can see you in a nice, new Jaguar with no trouble. I’d be glad to meet Elliot.”
Several more people came up to Willie and gave him either a hug or firm handshake as he entered the large room where they were having the rally. Signs saying “You can do it”, “Non-stop to the top” and other positive affirmations covered the walls. Willie loved these functions – even if you were having a bad day, it was very hard to go through one of these sessions without soaking up enough positive energy to get you feeling good about life. “Live the Dream” was one of the popular lines. This one was almost a Zen koan with meaning beyond the actual words. The “Live the Dream” philosophy could be tied back to lots of the books promoted in the Amway business but one book in particular stood out in Willie’s mind, “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen had been published first in 1902 and was inspired by the Bible verse in Proverbs, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The idea was that if Jane could really see and feel herself driving that Jaguar, and believe in her mind that it was going to happen without a doubt, God or some unnamed universal energy force would create the circumstances necessary for it to become reality. In this moment, Willie knew it worked. By normal business standards, Willie should never have gotten the job as a Network Account Executive at NBC’s The Source but he had KNOWN he was going to be working there. After the first meeting with Chuck Dowling he even had a sense of familiarity, like he had already known him and they were comrades in some way. “You gotta believe!” he said to Jane. “That car is going to be yours, Jane. Be sure to decide on the model and color so you make sure you get the one you really want.” She nodded and said, “Here’s Elliott.”
Elliott seemed like a sharp guy and Willie liked him. After talking to Elliot for a while, it was unclear who was selling who. While Elliott seemed genuinely interested in being a part of Jane’s network marketing group, Willie thought he might be just as interested in networking to find potential Jaguar buyers. There was no reason that that would not still work out well for Jane so he just congratulated Elliot on diversifying his professional opportunities by joining a great business building team. Willie shock Elliot’s hand again and went to find the chair that had been saved for him on the front row.
As Willie took a seat, his “upline” and mentor in the business, Lou, took the stage and announced they were going to get started again. They had a guest speaker for the second half of the rally: Doug Weed. Weed was currently working on a biography of Ronald Reagan but he was best known to this group for “Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Dream”, a book he co-wrote with one of Amway’s top distributors, Dexter Yeager. Willie was not a fan of Yeager, who he felt was the kind of brash, obnoxious and showy type that gave Amway a bad name but he liked Doug Weed. He had some of Doug’s tape sets. His talk today would undoubtedly follow the theme of the book. Willie wasn’t going to get to introduce him but he was asked to introduce a visiting Diamond Direct couple who were traveling with Doug and would be the “official” introducers of the headliner after a short speech about their personal experiences.
Lou signaled Willie to come up to the stage. As he walked up the steps and over to the podium, he got the standing ovation he had been looking forward to along with a few “Go Willie!” shouts from the audience. Willie loved chances to get up in front of a crowd like this – you could really do no wrong as long as you delivered a positive message. Willie rarely had any difficulty delivering a positive message and it was particularly easy today with everything going on in his life right now. He wished Savana was there to see this but it might have all been a little over the top for her. The level of enthusiasm took some getting used to. Willie started talking as the applause tapered off. “Hi, my name is Willie Ashmead and I am a Pearl Direct distributor, thanks to the help of many in this audience.” There was a short round of applause. “Life is wonderful, particularly when you can fill it with a great bunch of people like you.” Willie paused and briefly scanned the audience. “People who want to make a difference, a positive difference in the lives of others. People who are striving to live a bold, exciting today and tomorrow as they dream a dream for themselves and their families and do what it takes to make it real.” There was another round of applause. “Today, we have some real dream makers with us and I am very pleased to invite to the stage, Drew and Nancy Stapleton, Diamond Direct Distributors from Butte, Montana”.
As was the norm in the Jody Victor branch of the Amway business, there was nothing hokey about the speakers. They could have been there to pump up a group of brokers at an investment firm. This was all about the American Dream and individual achievement. The talks, while focused on Amway, served just as well to charge Willie up about the new job he was starting Monday morning. Willie had a new dream to make reality now: he was going to be one of the top network radio sales people in the country.
Willie’s Amway business was never quite the same. He still went to a lot of the rallies and did some Open Business Meetings or OBM’s as they were called. He had too many good friends and had worked too hard to just drop out of it. Plus, with Amway, he had built a network of people all with their own independent businesses who would continue to produce revenue for him for years to come even if he didn’t do much. Greg’s “outlaw” leg was falling apart but Samuel and Joe were going strong so the money would keep coming in even though it might be less. But Willie had a new focus and a new dream, he was going to be great at The Source.
Day one Chuck presented a network competitive analysis to Willie and the two other sales people that had been hired so far. The other two both had radio sales experience – one was from a local Rock radio station and the other had been with the ABC Radio Networks. They were an odd mix. The guy, Al, seemed very straight, that was the only way Willie could describe it. In school he would have been called a nerd. As Chuck did the competitive analysis, it was clear Al knew all of the numbers in more depth than Chuck was sharing them. Ginger as the third member of the team, the one hired from ABC. To Willie, she was the classic New York Jew. She was a bit loud, very self-assured and “pushy” – he thought that was the best way to describe it. He liked both of them and they immediately formed a bond of comradory. Willie hadn’t known it but apparently “the street” didn’t give them very good odds of being successful. Ginger said that right here in this building, The NBC Radio Networks had wanted nothing to do with the fledgling operation. This really brought them together as a team determined to succeed and with a full understanding success was based on revenue. A whole crew of very talented people from Frank Cody working on the programming, Dan Forth lining up affiliate stations and many others had been brought together to build something new and special from scratch. All this heightened the excitement and sense of destiny for Willie – he was part of starting a new chapter in Rock n’ Roll. In Junior High he saw the rise of Cousin Brucey and Murry the K on AM radio in New York. Motown to the Beatles and Beach Boys. Then in college, FM radio came alive with long album tracks and more obscure artists. Now, FM Radio had nearly replaced AM for audience dominance and Willie was going to help launch the first Rock Radio Network on the top FM stations around the country.
Willie’s “draw”, money he was paid bi-weekly, was almost twenty thousand dollars more than he had been making. He was expected to make enough sales to cover that draw in commissions plus quite a bit more.
Chuck had divvied up the various ad agencies based on their client lists and the importance to them of reaching an 18-34, primarily male audience that made up the bulk of the listeners for the radio stations The Source was focused on affiliating with. Dan Forth had been working for several weeks already on lining up those stations. He was the front line of the sales effort. If he was not successful selling program directors on the value of affiliating with the network, Chuck’s ad sales team would have nothing to sell. The reason ad agency buyers would buy from Willie was because they could get commercials on stations around the country in one purchase more efficiently than buying spots on each of the individual stations. Dan had already hit the magic 80% of the country covered that made them a network with what would be looked at as a “national” audience.
The NBC name would provide the confidence to ad agencies that they would get what was promised to them. If they bought spots in a 6am to 10am time slot, they could be confident that NBC would police and provide enough value in programming to their stations so that would be what actually happened. Ginger had worked for a program syndicator – a broadcast company that produced and marketed special programs to stations like concerts – and had left because too often their shows would not get aired at all on many of the big stations or they would run after midnight instead of in the more heavily listened to 8pm to 12 midnight time slot. So, even though The Source had no connection to the well established NBC Radio Network, the relationship was still very valuable.
Chuck gave Willie some great clients to get started with, the U.S. Army at the top of the list. Willie had protested the war in Vietnam during college and had had a 98 in the draft lottery. That just about guaranteed he would be going to Southeast Asia when he graduated from college unless the war ended. The war didn’t end but higher powers intervened on Willie’s behalf and for obscure reasons associated with a triple compressed fractured skull he had gotten in fourth grade, he failed the physical. Friends of his had gone to elaborate lengths to try and get deferments for one thing or another. One friend had even moved to Canada.
Willie had been very nervous going down to the draft board in Newark for the physical. He was still in his final summer as a life guard and hadn’t even gotten the first job at NBC yet. Somehow the idea of him going to Fort Dix for boot camp and then being shipped off to Vietnam just didn’t seem real to him. He had still been nervous because his fate in life was hanging in the balance and he had no idea, other than the war ending, why he wouldn’t be going. At the physical, they had one of those lists of “things you have ever experienced”. “Headaches?” Yes. “Nausea?” Yes. “Dizziness?” Yes. “Blurry Vision?” Yes. He checked everything he had ever experienced. But the clincher was out of left field. His reflexes were somehow better on his left that his right or visa versa and they should have been the other way around because he was right handed. So, a high fly thrown one night before dinner by his dad and landing in his head instead of his baseball glove had turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to him. Even though it almost killed him, it very likely saved his life as the draft board doctor deemed all these elements made it unsafe for him to be a soldier. What a wonderful irony that had been Willie thought as he headed down 6th Avenue to make his first call on the network buyer for the U.S. Army account.
Willie had never had anything but respect and concern for the soldiers. He just thought the war was a big mistake and Americans were dying in some foreign civil war where we didn’t even know if we were fighting for the right side. The war had finally been over for a few years now and Willy had no problem with people joining the Army if they wanted to. So, he had no moral objection to U.S. Army advertising and to top it off, the buyer turned out to be a very attractive girl about the same age as Willie. Nina dressed very professionally but always seemed very alluring to Willie. Over the years to come, Nina would be one of the key buyers Willie would call on and Willie always loved seeing her, not just because of the ad dollars she was responsible for. But those ad dollars and their respective jobs always kept it a business relationship. Willie had no idea if Nina shared any sense of the physical attraction he felt and never was too know.
Willie liked most everyone he called on. In general it was a great group of people. Lots of different types and personalities but Willie’s Amway experience had prepared him well to build working relationships with all kinds of people. Plus, he was a number one fan of his product. For years his favorite radio station had been WNEW-FM and he rarely missed a concert or music special they aired. Now he was selling time in those very programs. And The Source was producing some great shows. They had enlisted the help of the top people in the industry to record and produce concerts by the biggest artists in Rock music. When Willie talked to buyers and clients, he talked with passion about the product and the audience that he could very honestly claim to epitomize. He had been the kid throwing concert parties in his dorm room and listening to the radio non-stop. Now, if he wasn’t lucky enough to get a copy of the record set that was sent to stations who were broadcasting a Source Concert, he would still have the Revox A77 going to record the show on tape off the air. Now, it was even more fun because he would always hear commercials he had sold running in the shows. He used to pause the recorder during commercial breaks but now he occasionally would keep a particular spot in the recording.
For Willie it was an easy sale and as his income went up, his attention to his Amway business went down. He still went to most of the rallies but his personal sponsorship efforts and the number of presentations he did dropped to one open meeting a week at his apartment and then one meeting a month. Greg’s group was virtually nonexistent at this point but Joe and Samuel were still going strong and both were on track to be Diamonds. Joe had gotten married to a former Army nurse named Susan and with his help, she built a big time retail business with the Amway cosmetics and nutrition lines. For Joe it was a fulltime business. Susan still worked as a nurse but only part time in what was nearly a volunteer position at an assisted living center where her mother was living. A lot of the little old ladies looked very pretty with Susan selling them Artistry Cosmetics and helping them do their makeup every day she was there. Samuel and his wife had a constant influx of customers and prospects through his salon business. He now had three salons and they each used and sold the personal care products. As Willie’s personal activity had gone down, the monthly checks went down but he was still getting over a thousand a month in Amway income thanks to Joe and Samuel.
Willie’s weeks were filled with visits to ad agencies and lunches in great New York restaurants. Taking buyers and clients out and wining and dining them was a key part of his job. It clearly didn’t hurt the process of getting business from buyers for whom it was a key perk of their jobs and it was also a great way to get the people Willie was selling to out of their offices and in a neutral environment where business could be discussed in a less formal more social way. Lots of Willie’s deals got put together and agreed upon over a lunch or drinks. Willie thought the whole process was great fun and he was quite good at it since people genuinely seemed to enjoy being with Willie. He was known for his upbeat, enthusiastic, positive attitude and the fact that he really enjoyed the company of most of the people he went out with made it easy.
Ginger and Al did equally well selling The Source’s ad time and the whole team that was responsible for The Source was on fire. They were at the right place at the right time and everything they did seemed to just fall in place exactly as they planned it. About the same time Willie started, Ellyn Ambrose had been made Vice President and General Manager of The Source and under her management, the network won both Peabody and Armstrong awards for excellence in broadcasting. Willie was making great money and having lots of fun doing it and the company as a whole was doing far better than anyone had predicted. The downside to all that success was that NBC decided to merge The Source with the long established but no longer vibrant NBC Radio Network.
For everyone who had had a part in making The Source a huge success, this was a crushing blow. There was nothing exciting about the NBC Radio News Network. It was strictly a “numbers” sale. The sales people were selling rating points and audience impressions. The Source was about intangible value that an advertiser could get by having their brand associated with a Rolling Stones Concert broadcast or a holiday special that would be the soundtrack for parties around the country. Willie would still be selling The Source ad time but now he would also have to package that with selling NBC radio newcasts on old line stations. Several of the “team” left for greener pastures or just a more Rock n’ Roll environment. Ellyn Ambrose left – she had no interest of subjecting herself to the “old boy” entrenched management at the combined networks. Chuck Dowling was told he could stay, but as just one of the sales people.
Overnight, the highly motivated, entrepreneurial operation was gone and filling out call reports seemed to become more important than getting orders. Willie still was consistently one of the top billers which seemed to bug the crap out of management since he was always late with the call reports and was not particularly quick in taking direction when it pushed him into areas for which he had no interest. Possibly to get back at him, they began assigning “tough” clients to him – one’s other salespeople had had problems with. For Willie, this was just fine. He relished the chance to win them over and tell his management that he sure didn’t find any problem with them. In most cases he ended up getting bigger orders from these tough clients than anyone previously had. Again, it was his enthusiasm and the people skills he had developed with Amway that won the day for him.
It was a Saturday Morning and Willie and Savana were in no rush to get up. They had gotten rid of Willie’s North Bergen apartment in New Jersey and Savana’s on the upper Westside and traded them for a spot on Second Avenue just above 37th Street. The place was not real big but was the penthouse appartment located on the top two floors of the building. On the first level, they had a living room area, an eat-in kitchen, full bathroom and a small guest bedroom that they had turned into a home office. The upstairs was the really cool part. Except for the bathroom and walk-in closet, it was all bedroom with the side opposite the bottom end of their bed mostly window with a glass door that opened onto a rooftop patio with chairs and potted plants. The view was what had sealed the deal on the choice of this spot. As Willie lay in bed, a majestic, unobscurred view of the Empire State Building was perfectly framed by the windows. The way the building was positioned, no other nearby building had a line of sight into their penthouse so the curtains could be left open unless they wanted to block out the morning sun.
Savana rolled over and put her arm across Willie’s chest, giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Want to go out for breakfast?” Savana said. One of the best parts of living in Manhattan was that any time of day you could find great spots to eat and hangout within walking distance of wherever you happened to be. Willie and Savana had a few favorite places for lazy Saturday or Sunday morning breakfasts. Willie said, “Let’s sit out on the rood to meditate and then we’ll go.” Savana had taken up TM and most mornings they meditated and did Yoga Asanas together. They had a mat that they rolled out on the floor between the bottom of the bed and the windows to do the Yoga stretching exercises. As they did the exercises, Willie couldn’t help but be distracted admiring how luscious Savana looked doing the postures wearing nothing but a pair of his jockey shorts. Her dark skin was radiant in the morning sun streaming through the windows.
After finishing the few minutes of yoga, they each wrapped a blanket around themselves and went out onto the roof patio. It was a beautiful early Spring morning with a temperature probably in the upper 50’s. They had two cushioned lounge chairs and sat down in them next to each other facing out to the view of the Empire State building. They started out with five minutes of Pranayama alternate nostril breathing to calm the body after the yoga exercises and then they gently moved into meditation by letting each of their mantras flow into their consciousness. It was an easy and pleasant process that could go from very busy with thoughts popping up continuously to attract the attention of consciousness and the 20 minutes seeming to go on forever to times when the time seemed to pass in an instant. Today, with the sounds of the city surrounding them, his awareness of their surroundings passed in and out of his consciousness with a pleasant rhythm. As he let the mantra go and shifted his attention back to a focus on the sounds and smells around him, he felt relaxed and refreshed. After a few moments he got up slowly, leaving Savana to finish her meditation, and headed inside for a quick shower before getting dressed.
He was hoping Savana might join him in the shower and they could have a little fun soaping each other up but no such luck today. Willie didn’t want to use all the hot water up so he shut the shower off and got out. She was standing there naked herself as he dripped water on the bathroom floor and reached out and pulled her close to him in a wet hug. It was a delicious few moments and then she said “Alright, go get dried off and dressed so you can take me to breakfast.” Willie reluctantly let her step back. She picked a towel from a nearby shelf and handed it to him, giving him a kiss as she stepped by him and into the shower.
Willie dressed quickly and went downstairs to make some coffee. By the time the coffee had brewed and he had poured himself a tall glass over ice with a splash of milk, Savana was dressed and ready to go. Willie drank most of the glass of iced coffee in a couple of big gulps and asked Savana if she wanted a cup. She said she would wait till they were at breakfast. They each took light coats from the closet by the front door and headed out to and down the short hall to the elevator. Once out on the street the energy of the city hit them. Saturdays mornings were busy in the residential areas of the city with people doing errands and walking dogs and finding nice places for a coffee or a meal. There was a little restaurant with some outdoor tables that they both liked a few blocks away. It was warm enough to sit outside with the late morning sun high in the sky warming up everything it touched. Savana and Willie found a nice sun drenched table waiting for them when they got there.
While they enjoyed the late morning breakfast, Willie talked to Savana about how much his feelings about his job had changed. “It just doesn’t have the energy we had when it was just The Source” said Willie. Most everyone at The Source had been in the primary demographic of the networks audience: 18-34 years old. The same had been true for the NBC Radio Networks but their demo was definitely 35 plus. They were all longtime NBC or industry veterans. Willie’s sense was that most of them, management anyway, thought of him as an inexperienced kid who thought he was immune from management control because he had been lucky enough to benefit from the quick growth of The Source. Willie had gone on to effectively prove he could sell the NBC News product and really did well with a talk radio network NBC launched called Talknet. The old line NBC guys were used to just selling audience numbers and had a hard time getting good ad rates for the fledgling talk network. Willie excelled at it because the way to get higher rates was to sell the personalities and custom ads with the hosts doing voiceovers. With The Source, Willie sold the value of the programming environment. He had gotten very good at selling the idea that this type of advertising might not deliver as many advertising impressions but it delivered higher impact impressions deserving a higher rate than the straight audience numbers might suggest.
Willie was to find over and over again over the years that when he became dissatisfied with something and started resenting it, sooner of later it went away whether Willie really was ready or not. In the case of the job with NBC Radio, the timing was perfect. In fact, it almost felt magical to Willie. The process started with a special edition of Billboard Magazine featuring a comprehensive write up on a company called Westwood One. Willie had heard of WW1 but did not know much about them until he picked up the copy of Billboard at the office. The company had just gone public and had earned a good reputation as the top syndicator of special programming focused on contemporary music. They had their own 24-track mobile recording studio that traveled around the country recording concerts for broadcast. They produced music interview programs and other music specials and built ad hoc networks for the shows with stations around the country.
Willie had listened to many of the WW1 concert broadcasts on WNEW-FM. He had never thought about the company as a place to work until he read through the copy of Billboard. Syndicators generally had a bad name since many claimed stations and audience numbers when selling their programming that never ended up existing. Shows that were supposed to run in the prime listening hours of 8pm to midnight would end up running at three in the morning or not at all. It appeared that Westwood had placed a lot of attention on getting affidavits from stations to document exactly when each program aired. They would then provide copies of the affidavits to clients or their agencies to back up their station and audience claims. It was obvious reading through the statements from radio station program directors and industry professionals in the Billboard that they were also getting respect and loyalty from top Rock, Country and R&B stations because of the high quality of the programming they produced. As Willie read through the issue, he thought “what a great place to work”.
Here’s the magical part. After Savana and Willie had their brunch in midtown on that Saturday morning, they had driven over to North Bergen NJ to drop Willie’s car off for service. Willie was going to take a bus from the city after work to pick it up Tuesday or Wednesday the following week. So, for the first time in a long time, Willie was walking to Port Authority Bus Terminal from 30 Rock. Willie had learned that things that seemed like coincidence were often things falling into place as they were meant to and that luck was opportunity meeting preparedness. Walking along the crowded NYC rush hour streets, Willie realized a bathroom break would be good before getting on the possibly long bus ride to North Bergen in traffic. Walking west on 47th Street Willie was coming up to one of his favorite Chinese restaurants, Dish of Salt. He figured he’d go in, have a Tsingtao Beer and use the bathroom – he certainly didn’t want to be stuck using the bathrooms at The Port Authority. He walked in and got a friendly greeting from the hostess at the door, declined a table and said he was just going to the bar. As he walked toward the bar he realized that there were a lot of people he knew in here tonight – an unusual amount of them and mostly from the former staff of The Source.
Willie made his quick bathroom stop and then came back out into the crowd of people. Right in front of him was Ellyn Ambrose talking with Dan Formento. Ellyn had been the top person at The Source and Dan was one of their award winning Program Directors. “What’s everyone doing here?” Willie asked as he stopped in front of Ellyn and Dan. Dan said, “Ellyn has just been made VP Operations for Westwood One and we’re having a little impromptu party for her.” “Wow,” said Willie, “that’s great. Westwood One is one of the few places I would consider leaving NBC for.” “Are you serious about that?” said Ellyn. “Absolutely” said Willie. “They seem to be really great company.” “Willie, I want you to call Ron Hartenbaum tomorrow. Here’s his number” said Ellyn as she wrote it on the back of a Dish of Salt pack of matches. “He’s the VP of Sales and he is working on expanding the sales team” she continued. Willie thanked Ellyn and said he would call Ron in the morning. He forgot about the beer he was going to have and headed to the restaurant entrance and back out to the busy sidewalk. As he walked in kind of a daze to the bus terminal, he knew with an absolute certainty that has days at NBC were over, a page had turned, a new chapter was beginning.
When he got back to the city with his car and up to the apartment, Savana was upstairs watching TV from the bed with spectacular view of the brightly illuminated Empire State building framed in the windows behind the TV. It all seemed more magical and beautiful that ever with this beautiful girl waiting for him and the exciting news he had to tell her. Willie felt like he was walking on air and Savana picked up on his excited energy. “What is it?” she said, smiling at him with a question mark in her eyes. Willie told her about The Dish of Salt and how it had hit him as he walked out the restaurant door that he was going to be working for Westwood One and that he knew with certainty there would be no more stuffy old managers focused on call reports and selling programming he couldn’t get excited about. Savana turned off the TV and told Willie to come get in bed. The next couple of hours were filled with happy and excited lovemaking and laughter as they celebrated something that had but hadn’t yet happened.
The next morning, Willie waited until 10am before calling – he didn’t want to seem to anxious. Then, he got the Dish of Salt pack of matches out of his pocket and dialed the number on the back. A friendly sounding voice answered, “Hi, this is Ron Hartenbaum, how can I help you?” Willie responded, “This is Willie Ashmead and Ellyn Ambrose suggested that I give you a call.” “Hi Willie, I’m glad you called. So, do you want to get started right away or do we have to get together for lunch first.” Even though Willie was feeling very sure he was going to Westwood One, he hadn’t necessarily thought things would go so fast. After all, he had been at NBC for 12 years and could be quite confident he would always have a good job and a nice retirement package if he stayed and this Westwood One was a relatively new company and an unknown for Willie. “Let’s have lunch first” said Willie. “OK” said Ron, “Romeo Salta on 56th between 5th and 6th at 12:15.” “That would be great” said Willie, “I’ll be there”.
Romeo Salta had been a top New York restaurant for about 20 years. It was one of the first in the city to offer elegant Northern Italian cooking, and was considered to be one of the three or four best Italian restaurants in the world (including Italy). Pasta was prepared at the table and served fresh and hot and the room exuded a warm old world charm. Willie had always wanted to have lunch or dinner there but the prices were a bit high for his NBC expense account. As he walked the six blocks from 30 Rock to the restaurant his meeting with Chuck Dowling at The Twenty One Club several years ago was very fresh in his mind. The excited anticipation was exactly the same. The restaurant was on the south side of the street, almost a 5th Avenue. As Willie walked up the street from 6th, he took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself as he approached the entrance for Romeo Salta. His heart felt like it was going ninety miles an hour and he forced himself to relax, pausing for a moment outside the restaurant. He didn’t want to come across the wrong way when he met Ron. He just needed to be his usual friendly, upbeat self. He said a quick little prayer asking God to help him be calm and confident and not do anything stupid. That reassured him as a clear sense came to him that he was walking through a door that had already been opened for him.
Willie entered the restaurant. It was an elegant room filled with reds and bronze and white linen table clothes with formally dressed waiters moving among the tables. Today’s lunchtime dinners had not all arrived yet but about half of beautifully set tables of silver, and crystal glasses and signature china were occupied. Willie told the Maître d’ that he was looking for Ron Hartenbaum and he was quickly guided over to a table a few in from the door. “Mr. Hartenbaum, your guest has arrived” he said to Ron as he pulled out a chair for Willie to sit down. Willie reached out a hand to Ron as Ron stood and they each introduced themselves quickly before Willie sat down in the waiting chair with a “Thank you” to the Maître d’.
“Ellyn Ambrose called me last night and said she though I should hire you for our sales staff” said Ron. “Well, I think that would be great” said Willie. And so, within the span of what seemed a few seconds, Willie was officially joining the Westwood One New York Sales Team. Willie and Ron hit it off like they had been old friends reconnecting. The lunch was delicious and the conversation gave them each a sketch of the other’s background. Ron was maybe a couple of years younger than Willie and had taken over sales for Westwood One founder Norm Pattiz a few years before after a successful career start at a top NY Ad Agency. He had done very well for Norm and the two had gotten the company to over 12 million in annual sales revenue backed up by a highly talented and driven programming and station relation team of people.
The Westwood One IPO had gone very well because of the positive industry reputation and the high profit margin of the programming. Every show they produced became part of an archive that could be culled from and edited to produce new shows at very little cost. A concert once recorded could be recycled many times. Even for the music interview shows with the likes of Tom Petty or Eric Clapton or Elton John did not require any artist fees other than maybe some food, drink and travel expenses related to getting together for the interview segments. The shows were an important promotional tool for artists and record companies so Westwood One could get all the big names they wanted, particularly if the artist or band had a new album coming out. The prominence of the artists tied to new releases also made the job for WW1 station relations easy. Westwood was producing programs that consistently drew large listening audiences for the stations and they often came with market exclusivity which meant that no other music interview or concert broadcast by the artist would be available from any other company or given to any other station in the radio stations broadcast market within a 30 or 60 day window of time. The company had already proven they could generate high revenues with this formula and Norm Pattiz’s aggressive marketing style was already moving them ahead of syndication rivals like “The King Biscuit Flower Hour” that also did concert specials. The money raised from the IPO would be used to build all three legs of the team: Advertiser Sales, Station Sales and Programming. The Westwood One subsidized Billboard Special Edition was already touting the company as the number one radio syndication company and Willie knew that he was going to be part of making that a very definite reality.
In the days that followed, Willie gave his two week notice to NBC and was told that since he was going to a competitor, he should pack up and leave fairly quickly and shouldn’t remove any files or other company materials from the primacies. Willie excitement was tinged with a little sadness. He had had a great time at NBC in general and special perks like sneaking off for an hour or two to the Saturday Night Live studios on the 8th floor at 30 Rock to sit in on Wednesday afternoon musical rehearsals by performers like Peter Tosh would be gone. He thought back to the mornings sitting in the studio with Imus for his AM drive radio program on WNBC AM before starting his Paige and Guide duties. The three plus months working during the strike on the Today Show with Barbara Walters and Jim Hartz. Lot’s of fun times but Willie knew the future held a lot more excitement. Willie had agreed to have his stuff cleared out and to give a complete update on his accounts to the New York Sales Manager by Friday and Chuck Dowling notified everyone there would be a little Farewell Party on the Friday afternoon at the 21 Club – talk about going full circle.
The following Monday, Willie showed up at the midtown offices of Westwood One to meet the rest of the team and get a game plan and client / agency list from Ron. Ron had given Willie some primo accounts. He would still get to work with the lovely Nina at NW Ayer on the US Army account and the tough cookie Katie at American Home Products who has already told him she didn’t trust syndicated radio. “They all lie about their numbers” she told him when he had given her the news he was moving to WW1. She new Willie had always been straight with her and he thought she had gotten to like him as well. Anyway, overcoming objections was what sales was all about. As more than one sales guru had stated, the sale didn’t begin until the first “no”. The biggest plum on Willie’s list and a clear statement that Ron had a lot of faith in him was the Anheuser-Busch was on the list. They were already one of the company’s biggest advertisers and were sure to grow as the program offerings expanded with more male 18-34 year old targeted programming (or for them Male 21 to 34 officially). Ron had provided Willie with a great start. Willie’s first job would be introduce himself to those at NY ad agencies that were new for him and give people he already knew “the exciting news”.
Willie was one of five on the NY Sales team. There was a Chicago office being staffed with a Sales Manager and two sales people plus there would be an LA sales person. A few short weeks later, on the 4th of July no less, Willie was on a plan flying out to Los Angeles for the first ever national sales meeting for the newly expanded Westwood One Radio Networks. It was the first of many trips to LA and as Willie gazed out of the airplane window at firework displays from spots all over the nighttime landscape below, he could not have been any more excited. As solid and dependable as everything had been at NBC, it just felt to Willie that now he had hit the big time. He was now a major league player.
Norm Pattiz, the dynamic and charismatic entrepreneur that had founded Westwood One had rented out a block of rooms at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel. The hotel certainly set the tone for rich rewards and high expectations. It was located at 9500 Wilshire Boulevard on the east side of South Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The E-shaped structure is built of a special Tuscan stone and Carrara marble in the Italian Renaissance architecture style and regularly hosted the top Hollywood stars along with rich and famous visitors from around the world. A car had been waiting for Willie at LAX and had delivered him to the hotel a little after 9PM local time. There was a fruit basket and bottle of wine in his room with a note saying that Norm Pattiz wanted to meet everyone for a welcome drink in the cocktail lounge at 10PM.
Willie quickly unpacked his bag and picked out one of the ties he had brought along to go with the light blue shirt and blue blazer he was wearing. Not too dressy and not too casual – Willie figured that would be about right. Willie pulled a pack of Marlboro lights out of his overcoat pocket and lite a cigarette. He had smoked cigarettes off and on since high school. While at NBC it started to be less acceptable to smoke in the office and he had decided he would only smoke after work in the evenings. He found he could often still smoke a pack by the time he went to bed, particularly if he had a few beers as well. He tried to keep it to a half a pack a day. Anyway, after the excitement today and the anticipation of meeting everyone down in the lounge, the cigarette break gave him a chance to relax a minute and focus on getting in a calm and attentive frame of mind. His enthusiasm had been a key to being hired for both of his big sales jobs and that came pretty naturally – in fact, he just felt he had to keep it in check to maintain the proper level of professionalism. He finished the cigarette, took a few bits from an apple in his fruit basket and headed out to the elevators.
There was a ting of nervousness as he road down to the first floor in the elevator. He knew all the New York people of course but had never met any of the rest of the team including Mr. Pattiz. Ron H greeted Willie as he entered the cocktail lounge, asking him if he had a good flight. Willie shook his hand with a big smile and said everything was great as Ron moved on to welcome other arrivals. By a couple of minutes after 10, everyone was there and Willie was in the process of introducing himself to those he didn’t know. An attractive girl, probably in her late 20’s was the Los Angeles sales team and Willie had already heard she was a real shark. She had a reputation of being aggressive and getting what she wanted from clients. She was not particularly warm and friendly when he said hello to her – not unfriendly, just a little pre-occupied. Ron told him later that she had been sales manager in her previous job and was a little unsettled about not being the boss. The Chicago team was headed up by an outspoken street tough guy named Greg. After talking to him a couple of minutes, Willie was quite certain Greg was committed to a Chicago Bears approach to sales mixed with a Rock n’ Roll “Live fast and Die Young” attitude. Willie found Greg’s demeanor a little threatening but he suspected they would end up having some good times together. By comparison, Greg’s two sales people came across as a bit meek or at least stiff, less outgoing. Greg was clearly was coach Ditka and they were going to be his obedient team or else. The New York team was a mixed bag. Tom from Mutual who was more like the old boy crew at NBC than the rock n’ roll hot shot that Willie though of himself as. Dan was a very preppy cool guy – very friendly and enthusiastic like Willie. Jane was clearly a rocker and Willie had already heard stories of her hanging out and partying with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith in his NY apartment. Willie liked her and the rough edge she seemed to have. Finally, there was Ginger, who had worked with Willie when The Source got started. She was as loud and “bull in a china shop” as ever and full of life and laughter. Willie had never thought of her as a friend but they had always worked well together. So that was the team, all together on the 4th of July in the cocktail lounge of the Beverly Wilshire Beverly Hills Hotel, waiting for the arrival of company Founder and CEO –President, Norm Pattiz.
The next couple of hours were very exciting for Willie. Being a Network Radio Account Executive at NBC had seemed like a big time job but it was nothing compared to the excitement and energy Norm Pattiz generated that night. He told his story, which Willie would repeat many times over the coming years. Norm had been the Sales Manager at a local TV station in LA. He had a nice life and had found a girl he loved and was to marry. A week before the wedding, the TV Station manager fired him to bring in his brother law as the new Sales Manager. There was a conspicuously empty table at the wedding the next week. It was obviously a big blow. Like a lot of success stories, it also was the catalyst for greatness. He had put aside $10,000 in a savings account and with that and a great idea, he started what would become Westwood One.
The great idea was to offer short interviews with hot performers to Rock Stations around the country. The reason it was a great idea was because it was win win for everyone. The artists being interviewed had an album or concert tour to promote. The radio station would get an exclusive for their listening area and Norm produced the segments so that the on-air personality would get a script and could make it like he or she was asking the star the questions. All the station had to do for Norm was give him one minute of air time in the segment for a commercial. If Norm could get enough stations around the country to carry the segment, he would have a nationally syndicated radio network with an audience that would be very attractive to advertisers who wanted to reach the very important 18 to 34 year old, mostly male, rock radio audience.
Norm spent the next few months selling the segment to radio stations. Because it was a novel concept that Station Program Directors could envision appealing to their audience, he was successful even in the big and crucial markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It worked because big artists like Tom Petty, Crosby, Stills and Nash and dozens of others wanted to reach the same audience that advertisers and radio stations wanted. As Norm closed in on having enough stations and markets covered, he began changing his focus to the advertiser sales. He needed to hit the magic 80% of the potential national audience for big companies to consider it a “national” buy. If this didn’t happen, he would be forced to make more than 100 individual sales for each of the stations carrying the segment. With an unshakable belief in his concept and its value, perseverance, and all the money he had in the bank, he succeeded in getting enough stations and getting a big national sponsor, Warner Lambert.
The year went well with Norm’s time spent lining up artists for the interview segments and schmoozing the stations and key staff at Warner Lambert and their ad agency. As the year progressed, Norm and Westwood met every goal they had promised and then some. As the buying season for national radio approached, Norm flew to New York a few times to visit the client in New Jersey and meet with the network radio buyer at the agency. It took a few meetings but the buyer finally told Norm the deal would be renewed for a second year. Norm flew back to LA the next day totally excited. Budweiser was looking good as a future client but for the moment Warner Lambert was paying the bills and Norm just had to keep them happy or so he thought.
As the final shows of the current agreement aired in late summer months, Norm sent over the paperwork for the coming year with a hand written thank you note to be accompanied by an order of fresh flowers from a NYC florist. When three days had gone by and there had been no phone message or fax, he became concerned that there had been a problem with the delivery. First Norm called the florist. Delivery of the flowers with the package Norm had sent to go with the flowers had been made that Monday morning as scheduled. The buyer’s name was Sheila Rap and she was Norm’s next call. The main receptionist answered the phone even though Norm had dialed Sheila’s extension. Maybe she was on vacation Norm thought. He made some small talk with the receptionist asking her about her summer and if she had taken vacation yet. Then Norm asked her if Sheila was on vacation and the answer knocked him for a loop. Sheila had been let go, possibly had had a mental breakdown of some sort and had created a bunch of problems. That was more than the receptionist probably should have said thought Norm as he asked to speak to Sheila’s former boss.
Charlie Tee was the guy. Norm knew him too of course but not that well. When he got Charlie on the line he introduced himself and said he was calling about the Westwood One syndicated radio program contract. He wanted to find out who his new contact person should be since he had just learned Sheila was gone. There was a pause on Charlie’s end of the conversation and then he finally said, “I got the flowers, very nice. We have a problem though.” “What kind of problem?” said Norm. “Well,” Charlie said, “the order never even was submitted let alone approved. Sheila kind of went off the deep end and did several things that are causing a lot of people problems.” Causing a lot of people problems Norm thought – this could put him out of business.
It was just weeks before the new broadcast season was to begin and up until moments ago, Norm had thought Warner Lambert owned the entire commercial inventory and would be the source of revenue to pay the bills for the coming year. Charlie Tee agreed to meet with Norm the next week to discuss the situation but made no indication that the situation was going to be changed. Budgets had been allocated and spent and Westwood One had never been put on the list. Norm was desperate for a solution. He called the client and they told him that Charlie had informed them of the problems created by Sheila but they were not in a position to add money to the advertising budget at this time even though everyone really liked what Norm was doing. It was not the first time Norm had felt desperate and desperation forced him to try and think up some solution to a seemingly hopeless situation. The idea came to him on the plane.
Norm had flown the Redeye in from LA and landed just after 6am at LaGuardia Airport. He had gotten an early check in room at the Berkshire Hotel on E. 52nd Street in midtown. As soon as the cab from the airport dropped him there, he went to his room and took a shower and dressed in fresh clothes. The Berkshire has a nice breakfast which he decided to enjoy while he collected his thoughts. The outrageous plan he had concocted was to tell Charlie Tee that he would run pretty much the entire schedule that he had thought Warner Lambert and their agency had purchased in exchange for a letter and contract stating that he would get the deal with a modest increase in rate for the following broadcast year. This would mean that Warner Lambert would get two years of commercial time in Westwood One programming for the cost of one. It was not, on the surface, a great deal for Norm but it was a great deal for Charlie and his client. He agreed and Norm got his contract which he was then able to take to his bank in Culver City, CA and get a loan that would cover most of his operating expenses.
And so, the beat went on and now a short few years later the company had gone public and was the talk of the broadcast industry and Willie and the team were all in LA for the first National Sales Team meeting. Warner Lambert was still the biggest sponsor but many more had been added to the roster along with several new programs. The company was ready to grow here in the cocktail lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel was the team that was going to do it. The next couple of days were filled with meetings with Station Relations, Programming, Contract Administration, a tour of the West Coast office and the 24-Track Mobile Recording Studio… it was all very exciting. Willie definitely felt like he was there at the start of something big. On the third day, Norm hosted a dinner at The Ivy, his favorite restaurant in LA, and toasted the team with Krystal Champagne telling them they had a big task ahead but that if they lived up to their end, they would be the best paid sales team on the street. Willie liked the sound of that and he couldn’t wait to get back to New York to get to work.
Willie sat at his table along the rail in the upstairs seating area at the Fifth Avenue Grill on 15th and 5th in lower Manhattan. This might be one of the last times he was here but it sure had been great. His only regret was that he hadn’t gotten more involved with the restaurant as an owner. His Westwood One expense account had put a lot of dollars in the till and he spent plenty of time hanging out with Chris, another owner and the GM of the restaurant. Chris had been manager at The Water Club, a long time top NY restaurant on the East River off the FDR Drive at 27th Street and had jumped at the chance to have his own spot when he was approached by one of the partners in Perton Securities. On a shoestring budget of 50k Chris had turned a clothing warehouse into a posh 5th Avenue eatery.
Only problem had been seemingly constant construction to the adjacent street and sidewalk during the three years they had had the place. Nonetheless, Chris’ frugal management and the great food prepared by a husband and wife chef and pastry chef had generated good traffic and quite a few loyal customers. At Willie’s suggestion, Norm Pattiz had even hosted one of Westwood One’s Christmas Parties there which had been the most profitable night in the restaurant’s history with the open bar and free flowing Krystal Champaign. Perton Securities also made sure they had plenty of business luncheons and dinners there and it all helped. Now an up and coming chef by the name of Bobby Flay was buying it and while Willie would make about $10k on the sale, his days as a restaurant owner would be done, at least for now.
Willie had done well at Westwood One. Early on in the first couple of years after the Beverly Hills sales meeting he had distinguished himself as consistently one of the top sales people in the company. It was easy for him because he really loved the product. For Willie, being involved with top rock radio stations and 24-track mobile recording studios and live concerts, was a dream come true. Norm had continued on his road to becoming a media star which was great for sales and Willie enthusiasm level for product and company kept the sales rolling in. It was hard for even icy long time media buyers not to get infected with the excitement Willie generated for Westwood One. His Amway experience had also made it easy for him to be comfortable and develop rapport with all kinds of people. He also had a way of making people feel he really had their interests at heart as much as Westwood One’s. This all proved to be an excellent formula for success. There were three highlights that Willie was really proud of.
The first had been with a wine company. For many years their primary product had been a strong and inexpensive wine that would never make it to the wine menu at The 5th Avenue Grill. They didn’t do much broadcast advertising and network radio was seldom even in the mix. Print, billboards and bus station placards were about it. Willie had gotten them to put a few grand every once in a while into The Walt Love Show on urban radio but nothing more. Willie decided that should change when they launched a new brand, a wine cooler. The wine cooler which was a carbonated wine and fruit juice mix appealed to a broader and younger audience. The fruity taste made it easy to drink too much of and Willie felt that was perfect for a Rock n’ Roll audience.
Willie had had great luck with Budweiser which was his biggest and one of the company’s biggest accounts. The wine coolers would be more of a female beverage than Budweiser which skewed male but the primary demo was still 21 to 34 year olds where Westwood One programming ruled. Willie knew Steve, the media director at the winery who was really the decision maker even though the company’s ad agency liked to think they were. Willie always tried to go straight to the client whenever he could. Agencies were almost entirely focused on numbers. If a company had someone like Steve of the Budweiser brand group, they ran the show and had the agency implement their strategy. They were much more likely to do something because it made marketing sense even if the numbers of people reached was uncertain. There was not much creativity in the marketing of the wine company’s long time flagship brand but the wine cooler was a different story – a totally different target audience. It was Rock and Roll!
Westwood One had an Eagles 4th of July Special planned that was targeted perfectly for the wine cooler and Willie set up a meeting with Steve to pitch it. The first thing Steve said was, “Willie, you know I am not a big fan of network radio advertising”. Willie responded, “But now you have a different audience to reach and Westwood One is definitely one of the best ways to reach them. Why do you think we do so much business with Budweiser and Coca Cola? ”. Willie had put together a nice proposal giving all of the details on the Eagles special from pictures and background on the band, the list of stations that would be broadcasting the show on the 4th of July holiday and audience projections. Willie was proposing make the wine cooler a quarter sponsor with presenting billboards in addition to their commercials. The show was three hours and Willie was including five sixty second spots and five 10 second “presented in part by Moon Glow Cooler” billboards which would give the brand a strong presence in the show. The price tag was $27,000 for the quarter sponsor package which was a lot more per spot than Steve had ever paid for his other brand. Willie knew Steve was a big Eagle’s fan and Willie had been pre-selling the idea of make Rock Radio part of the wine cooler media mix. Willie went through all of the reasons the show was perfect for Moon Glow. Steve was still hemming and hawing about it until Willie throw in another ten billboards in the pre-broadcast promotional announcements. Willie said how about saying in the promo announcements, “Pick up some Moon Glow Cooler to enjoy during Westwood One’s Eagles 4th of July Special”. That did it for Steve. Willie left with a handshake sealing the deal, an appointment to meet up for lunch the following week and a new sponsor.
Willie got a couple of hundred promo sheets on the Eagles special for Steve to send out to distributors around the country to let them know about the sponsorship. Positives reactions poured in to Steve following the holiday weekend and Willie was poised to up the ante. The BIG sale at Westwood One was a concert tour sponsorship. Willie was already visualizing arena signage saying “Moon Glow Cooler and The Westwood One Radio Networks present a to be determined big group’s U.S. Concert Tour”. This would require an investment almost twenty times larger than Steve had made with the 4th of July Special. Willie knew it was going to happen though because, besides being right for the brand, Steve was a Rock n’ Roller like Willie. Willie had gotten Steve to a backstage party for George Michael’s show at Madison Square Garden and made sure Steve got introduced to George. Steve ate it up. The fact that he cold “own” a whole tour was too attractive to pass up. Willie just had to make sure Westwood’s talent acquisition guy, David, got the right band.
Willie began bugging David daily. It had to be a band that was mainstream rock and appealed to females as well as males since female drinkers were the core consumers of Moon Glow Cooler. David hit a home run and got a deal with Stevie Nicks. That was about as good as it could get and Steve signed off on a $480,000 package almost immediately. It was a lot of money but would create a lot of awareness and hundreds of promotional opportunities for the brand. “Moon Glow Cooler presents” would be on tickets, newspaper ads, concert posters, radio station promotions, and a whole series of Westwood One Radio Network ads and “tour updates”. There would be VIP tickets and passes to concert and the Moon Glow backstage parties for distributors and their kids along with fifty radio station winners in each of the tour cities. Stevie Nicks would even do a “meet and greet” in the ten biggest cities with photo ops for Steve and other Moon Glow representatives. Sales soared and everyone had a great time. Over the next couple of years, Willie took Moon Glow from a $27,000 4th of July Special to a series of music marketing campaigns generating over 2.5 million dollars in sponsorships.
Chris stopped by Willie’s table on the upper level of the Fifth Avenue Grill on his round of visits to say hello to guests and see if they were pleased with their restaurant experience. Chris had mixed emotions about the pending sale of the restaurant and Willie could see he was not his usual crazed but upbeat self. He had done a great job with running and staffing the restaurant but it had taken its toll on him. He had agreed to the sale because he knew he was getting burned out by the constant pressure to stay profitable. The husband and wife chef team were always fighting and threatening to leave. The price of laundering table clothes and napkins kept going up. You always had to keep a close eye on bartenders to make sure the tabs ended up in the register and not their pockets. Every day was a long day.
“Are you happy about the sale Willie?” asked Chris. “Well, I am sure going to miss being able to come in to such a great restaurant as an owner able to reserve this really nice table most anytime I want” said Willie. Willie knew the business with the special table had occasionally irritated Chris who had other good customers that would love to get the table as well. “The closing should be next week according to Randy”. Randy was the CFO of Perton Securities who had been the primary financers of the restaurant and now had put together the sale. For them it had been just a fun diversion that had gotten started when Perry had asked Chris one night while dining at the Water Club if he would like his own restaurant. It had been a whirlwind three years and Chris was proud of what he had accomplished. Willie thanked him for doing such a good job and Chris moved on to greet the guests at the next table. A waiter delivered Willie’s gourmet pizza and an icy cold Budweiser. The cuisine that Chris and his two chef’s had established for the restaurant was a California style mix of salads, awesome soups, special pizzas, fish and meat dishes and fancy desserts. When Willie was here for lunch, he usually got the pizza.
As he started eating he thought about a lunch almost two years ago at Sylvia’s in Harlem. He was meeting with the music director of the Apollo Theater to talk to him about doing a live concert series from the theater for Westwood One. According to just about everybody at WW1, it was a mission impossible. No one figured very white guy Willie could get a deal with the Sutton family who were the owners of the Apollo. That was the main reason Willie wanted the deal – because they said it couldn’t be done. Willie was always pushing the envelope and had made a lot of money for the company with his “creative” deals. On this one, to top it off, he had been told that he would be responsible for selling all the advertising in the show as well and if it didn’t get sold out it would not get on the air. This had just added to the excitement for Willie who for whatever reason was sure he was going to do it. He could see all of the pieces coming together in his head.
The lunch with Clarence, who turned out to be executive director of theater operations, went well from the moment Willie told him that the last time he had been to the Apollo was to see Bob Marley and The Wailers. Then Willie launched into his pitch. He talked about how Marley had wanted to play The Apollo because it was a centerpiece of specifically Black but really all music in this country. He told him that a live network radio concert series would be a great way to build on the theater’s reputation and bring a whole roster of top talent to the venue. Willie talked about the 24-track mobile recording studio being parked outside the theater with a satellite truck beaming the live concert feed to stations all around the country on a Saturday Night every month. He talked about bringing big sponsors in to promote and finance the whole project. He talked about how all Clarence and the Suttons had to do was coordinate the things going on in the theater and sell the tickets and Westwood One would do everything else. Clarence was pretty well sold by the end of lunch but he said it might not be as easy getting the Sutton’s on board because they tended to be leery of anyone outside a close knit group of people they worked with.
A meeting was set up for the following week and it turned out that Willie’s enthusiasm and sincerity in his pitch about building on the greatness of the Apollo’s legacy won the day. Willie had the first part of the deal. Now, he needed the sponsors. Unbeknownst to Budweiser, Willie had gotten the Miller Brewing account for the urban audience. It was not a direct conflict because he had nothing to do with Miller’s general ad budget or anything to do with Budweiser’s urban budget but it was a tricky situation with the cutthroat competition between the brands. Willie had gotten the account mainly because he knew people like Sam Chisolm and Frank Mingo through his girlfriend Savana. Mingo Jones Advertising, where they worked, handled all of Miller’s urban advertising. They were key to his plan for the Apollo. Willie was planning on Miller being the presenting sponsor for the show.
The rates Willie wanted were quite high because there would be little victory in accomplishing the impossible deal if Westwood One didn’t make a decent profit on the project. Willie knew it was going to be a monster task getting talent, lining up stations and pulling off the monthly live satellite broadcast. Mingo Jones liked the concept and Willie sweetened the deal for them by including a consulting deal to provide audience demographics and research support for the project. It was also reasonable to assume that Miller brands might displace other beers at the theater for the duration of the concert series. Willie had pre-sold Miller’s agency on the project – they doubted his ability to get a deal with the Sutton’s as well. Less than a week after getting the Sutton sign off on the project, Willie had a deal with Miller in place.
The next target was the U.S. Army. Their ad agency handled both general and urban market advertising. With Westwood One’s very strong 18-34 audience numbers, Willie got almost as much business from them as Budweiser. Westwood One had only one ongoing urban radio series which was The Countdown with Walt Love. Walt was the urban radio equivalent to Casey Kasem on top 40 radio. Willie always got some of the Army budget in Walt but he told the agency how excited he was to be able to get them into this show. Westwood One had always served the Army well and they happened to have an abundance of urban ad dollars available. Less than a week after writing up the Miller deal, Willie had a little over half the commercial time in “Live From The Apollo” sold as the U.S. Army was landed.
The next piece was the hard one or at least the one Willie was most concerned about getting. He knew it felt right though. AT&T. This would definitely be a “client” sell because AT&T was much more numbers conscious and conservative in their buying than the two sponsors Willie had in hand. The agency would never move on it because even though Westwood had a good reputation, all of the audience numbers were projections with no historical data – too risky, Willie knew he could not sell numbers. He had to sell value. The value he was going to sell to AT&T was that as a top brand and socially conscious company this was something so positive, they could not afford not to do it. Willie headed out to Basking Ridge, NJ and AT&T corporate headquarters for a meeting with their urban marketing team. We told them how Westwood One was working to help revitalize this centerpiece of American Music, a theater central to Black History in this country. He told the Basking Ridge executives that this was a perfect and important extension of their ongoing support of culture and the arts. He told them Miller and the U.S. Army were already in. He gave them the proposal documenting the history of the Apollo and its need to be revitalized since some of its past glory had faded in recent years. With AT&T’s help, together they could reestablish the prominence of The Apollo as a centerpiece of American Music. The executives told Willie it looked interesting but they would have to get back to him. He got a call from their agency on Monday of the following week with the news they were going to move forward with the show as proposed.
Willie’s next call was to Steve, not for Moon Glow Cooler which Miller might object to but for some dollars from the older skewing Red Wine urban brand. Steve was glad to help Willie close out the show’s inventory buying one sixty second spot in each broadcast. Willie’s work should have been done at this point with deal impossible completed but now he had to keep everyone’s eye on the ball to make sure Westwood One delivered on the big expectations Willie had gotten everyone excited about being part of.
Luckily, Willie had the best team in the industry backing him up. He would have to hassle station relations regularly to push harder to get stations on board and listen to bitching by the talent relations department all year about what a pain in the ass this deal was. On the premier of the show, Willie was at a part with several of his friends from Amway on Long Island and at 10pm he left the party and headed out to the car with Savana. They each brought a cold Miller with them and sat in the cool night air listening to Chaka Kahn coming in Live From The Apollo eighty or ninety miles away up in Harlem.
Willie decided to have desert. The Fifth Avenue Grill had two deserts that Willie found it hard to resist. Key Lime Pie and a deep dish Apple Crisp with a side of freshly made vanilla ice cream. He really wished he had gotten Savana to come to lunch with him – he was really feeling quite sad about this probably being his last meal at the restaurant. Chris came by the table again on his way down stairs and Willie stopped him. “Chris, how about we have a goodbye party for friends and regular customers. We could give away some champagne and hors d’oeuvres, maybe get some live music.” Willie said. Chris answered, “As long as the Perton boys don’t object, that would be fine with me.” Willie said he would make a phone call and let Chris know later. The party would probably have to be the following Monday night. The closing was on Wednesday and Chris needed a day to shut everything down and move out anything not going with the sale. Willie decided that was it, Monday night. His waiter came by to ask if he wanted anything else and Willie ordered the Apple Crisp and Ice Cream.
While Willie waited for the waiter to come back with his desert, he thought about the other Westwood One deal that had been a favorite. The Budweiser brand group had called him and told him that they had $400,000 that they needed to find a creative way to spend quickly or they would lose the budget. They asked Willie if he thought he could come up with something. Willie, of course, had welcomed that challenge. He asked for a few days to come up with something and set up a meeting for the following week in St. Louis. That night sitting at home, after a few Buds, he was flipping through New Age Magazine and saw an article on Halley’s Comet. The comet came whizzing by the Earth every 75 to 76 years and it was on its way. It would be visible for several weeks and the best viewing time would be during the first week or two of February. It came to Willie in a flash: Budweiser and The Westwood One Radio Networks present The Halley’s Comet World Tour. That sounded like a king of tours just made for the king of beers.
Willie floated the idea at the office the next day and got the response his ideas often generated. “Willie, think you had a little too much to drink or smoke last night.” But, Willie was sure the Bud brand group would love it and he began putting the tour sponsorship presentation together. They would run “tour updates” in all of the Westwood One programs Budweiser Comet Watching parties with local radio stations around the country. When Willie met with the brand group his good feeling about were confirmed. They loved the concept and within days their promotion company had fleshed things out with a contest to win a Caribbean cruise the second week of February when the comet would be at its most visible. Budweiser Halley’s Comet World Tour sweepstakes announcements would run in Westwood programming. Local stations would get fluorescent Budweiser mugs, mini telescopes, World Tour t-shirts and other items for their parties. As a nice bonus, the brand group sent Willie a couple of tickets for the cruise finale aboard the S.S. Norway in February. It was one more of those deals that just left everyone in the office shaking their heads and had inspired one of the Willie’s fellow sales people to christen him “The Radio Jedi”, a title Willie was very proud of.
Of course, there was a downside occasionally. Willie’s creative deals had lead the Securities and Exchange Commission to subpoena him when Westwood One was being investigated following some large stock sales that happened to precede the first down month in company profits since they had gone public. They questioned whether the way certain of Willie’s deals had been billed had been use to artificially inflate revenues prior to the large stock sales. Willie had adamantly insisted that the billing had been right in line with standard industry practices. Willie had been VP Sales for over a year before taking over as VP Business Development and Director of Music Marketing and he was very familiar with much of Westwood One’s business so he had to deal with two days of high pressure interrogation. In the end, Willie’s consistency and confidence in his responses to the SEC investigators apparently satisfied them that they could not establish any illegal manipulation of the company revenue picture, at least as far as he was involved.
Whiplash, Willie’s brother’s band, was too heavy for a Fifth Avenue Grill party but Willie had a great idea. Willie had recently met a very cool guy trying to get a Hi-8 video network going. Hi-8 was a new video format delivering high video and audio quality without the need for big bulky camera set ups. Decker, Pete’s band manager/promotional partner had hired this guy to shoot some concert footage of Whiplash. His name was Jay Blocker and Willie had hit it off with him right away during a recent Whiplash show at CBGB’s. Willie had discovered they had a mutual interest in Reggae and that Blocker had recently shoot some video of a group named the Burning Brass. The three girls that were the key part of the band spent most of their time as the brass section for Reggae icon, Burning Spear touring the world. Willie called Blocker to see if he could find out if they were in town and might be willing to play at the Fifth Avenue Grill closing party.
The brass in the Burning Brass were saxophonist Jenny Hill along with Nilda Richards on trombone and Pam Fleming on trumpet. Apparently Jay had reached them without trouble because while Willie was fixing up a Chicken Caesar salad for Savana and him to have for dinner, Savana told Willie to pick up the phone – a Jenny Hill was on the line. Willie picked up the phone and said, “Wow, this is great. I take it Jay Blocker got you to give me a call?” “Yes” said Jenny. “Well, is there any chance you are in town or will be next Monday night and willing to play at a party? There will be a bunch of investor types and plenty of people from media there.” said Willie. “Does that mean you were thinking you could get the gig for free?” said Jenny. “I got to admit that I don’t know if I have a budget for this yet.” Willie responded. He wasn’t making enough money to volunteer to pay for the band himself. “If the band is available, let me know what it will take and I will find out.” “We’re in town for a couple of weeks and Jay said he would shoot some video of the show for us to use so it could work out. There’s no problem with Nilda and Pam but the other guys are going to want some money to do it. They’re not part of the Burning Spear Experience so they’re counting on something clicking with the Brass. There’s four of them plus our sound guy. Can you come up with $500 for each of them?” asked Jenny. Willie said, “Let me make a few calls and get back to you, okay?”. Jenny gave him a number and said to get back to her as soon as possible so she would have time to get everything together. As soon as Willie was off the phone he looked up Randy’s home number. Randy was Perton’s decision maker when it came to stuff like this and he liked parties. Willie had no idea if Randy liked Reggae Music but when he got him on the phone he just talked about three hot girls in the Burning Brass band and Randy liked the sound of it. Randy said he would go for it as long as Willie could get enough people there to have a chance of turning a profit on dinners and drinks. Willie didn’t think that would be a big challenge so he thanked Randy and told him to make sure everyone at Perton knew about the party.
Next, Willie called Chris and told him the party was a go. “You gotta make room for a band too” he told Chris. Chris said, “I’m on it. I like being able to end this adventure with a nice finale. Willie’s next call was to Jenny who sounded very pleased it was a go. She asked if she could invite some people and Willie said absolutely. He told her to call if she had any questions.
When Willie got back from the ASVacations.com trip, he called the number he had finally gotten for Debra in Atlanta and left a message for her with his home phone number. A couple of days later, he had the interview at Big Pictures for the Associate Producer job. There seemed to be a lot of activity in the three story building and the company had a large warehouse next door that housed a soundstage, state-of-the-art TV production control room and a product fulfillment center. Willie had been given a quick tour before being taken back to the reception area on the first floor of the main building. He was here to meet Jack Stern, CEO of Big Pictures and Doug Smith who was President of the division Willie was hoping to work for. The division produced home shopping network type programs selling a variety of products.
Willie told Jack and Doug about his experiences at NBC – Jack had all kinds of TV and film memorabilia on the walls of his office and lots of pictures of himself with people like Jerry Seinfeld and Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen clearly was a big interest with more exposure in the pictures and posters than anyone but Jack himself. Willie thought it looked like a TV producer’s office should look and he was suitably impressed as he figured he was supposed to be.
Jack asked Willie why he wanted to work for Big Pictures. Willie told him that while he had done alright with ASVacations.com but that he really wanted something closer to what he had done in New York. Jack and Doug exchanged a kind of knowing smile that Willie didn’t grasp the significance of but took as a good sign. Doug asked Willie what he knew about infomercials and Willie told them all about his day at The Home Shopping Network hawking the all-in-one balloon bag and bouncing chair. The fact that he had sold $70,000 worth of the all-in-one balloon bag and bouncing chairs during a total of four half hour segments over a long 24 hours was the best received of anything he had said to them. Jack said “I think we can work something out. Call Doug in the A.M.”
TO BE CONTINUED…