Gaia Progressive Action–1991–1 week–Full-Time Door-to-door canvasser.
One of the hippies at my house–the guy who insulted me for being disgusted by women with hairy legs and armpits–worked for a group called Clean Water Action. I thought something in that line might be worth checking out, but I didn’t want to have to work with that self-righteous asshole every day. Instead, I got hired by something called Gaia Progressive Action. I very quickly learned I was ill-suited for it.
Every day I had to take about an hour-long bus trip down into South Austin, arriving in mid- to late-morning. The other workers would shuffle in and guzzle a lot of coffee, trying to wake up, and then we’d be subjected to an hour-long planning and strategy meeting by our supervisors. We would then pile into three or four vans and drive for two hours down into North San Antonio. We’d pull up in a parking lot, then look for a place to have lunch.
An hour later we’d drive to some North San Antonio neighborhood I never knew existed, and we’d grab our pens, sign-up sheets, clip boards, and pamphlets, and hit the streets. We were doing a door-to-door campaign that pertained to a dam that either had just been built or proposed for construction. I forget, because, then as now, I don’t know anything about San Antonio politics, and personally, I thought it was a matter for the people of San Antonio to argue about, with no help from interlopers from Austin.
The catch was, we were not only supposed to get people to sign our petition, but join our group as well and make a financial contribution. This required sales skills I did not have. Plus, this all took place in August in Texas during the afternoon, and the heat and the humidity was more than I could stand. I spent a lot of time standing under trees—if I could find any—bent over, hands on my knees, panting and sipping out of my water bottle. I’m sure the people who saw me were put off by my sweaty hair and clothes and heavy, labored breathing. And I in turn was rather disgusted by how informally these people dressed to answer the door. I didn’t want to have to see all these people with their grubby, unclipped toenails.
Naturally, I was unsuccessful. If I collected any donations at all they were few and small. By the end of the week I wasn’t even remotely close to my quota level.
I liked some of my co-workers. We’d work until about an hour after sundown, until it was impossible to read the house numbers, then head back, arriving in Austin around 11pm. A few of my co-workers invited me to hang out with them, drink, sink into a jacuzzi. But I was exhausted. And I really didn’t have much time left before I had to get back up and start the cycle all over again.
One of my supervisors, a fat hippie girl, struck me as a bit of a flake. Once when I was riding around in her van, after she’d dropped everyone else off, she outlined her vision of the future, when the fascists would take over the United States, and she’d flee to an island somewhere with her hippie friends and start a commune.
On the Monday of my second week I was called into the office of one of the big shots and fired. I had been trained, they said, and I should’ve gotten the hang of things and started raking in the donations by the previous Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. Playing the whore I said I had eleven years of experience as a political campaigner—surely they had something I could do that didn’t involve door-to-door selling. But no, all they were looking for was canvassers. They finished by handing me my paycheck and saying that they hoped that if I supported their mission I’d at some point actually become a member of Gaia Progressive Action, and make a financial contribution to the cause. I just smiled weakly and made for the door.
Unknown Tele-marketing Company–1991–1 day–Part-time Tele-marketer.
I interviewed for a job as a security guard, but was later told by the company’s owner he didn’t have an opening right then, though he might later on. So I went back to job hunting, and was soon hired by another tele-marketing firm, the name of which I’ve since forgotten. Its office was located downtown.
The guy with whom I interviewed was disturbingly perky, positive, and cheerful. Nothing fazed him. There were no problems. Everything to him was “Great!” And he made a fatal misstep with me—he called me “Jim” after I introduced myself as “James.”
“Jim” is a friendly, informal name, but I am neither a friendly nor an informal person. I like to keep a stiff, official distance between me and most other people. I don’t like people taking liberties with my dignity. And I don’t like them thinking they’re my buddy or treating me as such until I’ve given them permission to do so.
This guy had studied his Dale Carnegie—he knew you were supposed to use the other person’s name liberally. But every time he said “Jim” I winced, and every time he shrugged off something that was bad or at least indifferent as “Great!,” my stomach twisted up.
I was put to work immediately, without training, just to see how good I’d be selling whatever crap it was this company sold.
There is hanging over every tele-marketing office a sickening, disturbing pall of fear, failure, and desperation. No one works in tele-marketing because they’re a success in life. No one uses tele-marketing as a stepping stone to better things.
A tele-marketing office is a vortex of misery. The worst of the lot, like this place, are decorated with posters with vague affirmations exhorting the workers to try harder and dream bigger. They don’t pay their employees a living wage, and they add insult to injury by offering contests as incentives—three-day vacations to New Orleans or Orlando, a new car, cheap electronics. To these poor losers those are trappings of the good life, bold manifestations you have finally made it, that you are living large in that dee-luxe apartment in the sky, that you are the mack.
There is something about these incentive contests that has always struck me as cruel, sadistic, racist, and classist. It is a squeezing of the last ounce of hope from a hopeless group of people.
I couldn’t handle this fucking job or this “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”-chirping Pollyanna of a manager. I finished my shift and I never went back. He tried to call me to see if I would at least pick up my one day’s worth of pay, but I did not respond. I didn’t want to see that fucker ever again.
Tyler & Anderson–1992–2 1/2 months. Full-Time Head of Opposition Research for a friend’s political consulting firm.
When I moved to Austin in 1989 I looked up Bill Tyler. I met him at his apartment downtown in the company of one of his frat brothers and he seemed embarrassed to know me. A few minutes later I was out on Congress Avenue waiting for a bus and they drove by. The windows were rolled down in their car. They both looked at me, Bill said something to his friend, they laughed, and drove on. For some reason, that made me feel poor and embarrassed, as if they regarded me as trash, and indeed, I had to borrow $100 from Bill a few weeks later.
After that I kept my distance. In early 1992, though, Bill called me. He and another guy, Tad Anderson, had started a political consulting firm and wanted to hire me for some political dirty tricks. I was eager to please, because I thought if I did this task well they might give me a good job and I could quit Sir Galahad Security.
I was paid to rent a private mailbox, then mail out some political attack letters bearing my name and that mailbox address. I assume the smear campaign went okay. I forget what I was paid.
In late spring Bill called me up and suggested that I get together with him and Tad and discuss the idea of me working for them. We got together at the Dog and Duck Pub. Early in that long evening Eric A___, an eccentric I knew from New Guild, happened by and sat with us for a few minutes.
Eric’s latest odd practice was going everywhere barefoot. Eventually his feet became blackened and scored with weirdly ridged callouses. What he hoped to prove with this I’ll never know. Later he gave this up and took to eschewing bathing. He was convinced that as long as he ate organically-grown food he wouldn’t stink. As of this writing Eric’s gone about twenty years without a bath. And yes, he does stink.
Bill and Tad and I proceeded to get drunk. You see, Bill was always very insecure, and a mean drunk, and it enraged him if he was drunk and anyone around him was less drunk or sober. So that if I ever drank with him he’d always try to force me to drink more than I wanted to.
I told him that our old high school friend and his one-time college room-mate Zack Miller had just come out of the closet. He flew into a rage and said if Zack made any trouble for him he’d call this goomba he knew, an aide to a former New Jersey governor, and have Zack killed. I tried to assure Bill that there were probably whole days that went by when Zack didn’t even remember Bill existed.
About two-thirds of the way through the evening Bill and Tad made their pitch: they would hire me as Head of Opposition Research, and though they could initially only pay me a mere $500 a month, by the end of summer they swore I’d be earning $1000 or more. In those days $1000 a month seemed a fortune, but $500 wasn’t really enough to survive on. But since Bill was my friend I believed he’d come through, so we all shook hands and got even more drunk.
I started in June. Tyler and Anderson was based out of an A-List downtown building—100 Congress, and though the office had a spectacular view up Congress Avenue to the dome of the Capitol and the UT Tower, it was substantially smaller than my efficiency apartment. It contained a large desk, a desk chair, two side chairs, a love seat, and a small credenza for the computer. There wasn’t any room for anything else. Bill and Tad took turns all day playing boss behind the desk. Indeed, I very soon got the impression that I was not working for businessmen at all, but little boys who were pretending to be businessmen.
Initially I was sent to a variety of state office buildings to either request print-outs of data or research it myself. They refused to give me money for cabs, then had the gall to complain when I took too long getting back to the office by bus. And then they piled pettiness onto that and refused to give me bus fare.
Tyler and Anderson barely stayed afloat, because Karl Rove had the leading Republican political consulting firm in town and he did not allow serious competition. But Tyler and Anderson were small fry. Most of their clients were middle-aged white guys looking to get elected or re-elected to the State Legislature.
I got a good look at these men. They were all either brain-dead puppets who mouthed whatever their handlers told them to say, or evil, manipulative schemers who were in politics to amass power and wealth for themselves and their friends. I quickly began to sour on politics, a field that had fascinated me for twelve years.
One day I told the guys that I’d noticed an item in UT’s “Daily Texan” newspaper. The University had published a formal announcement in the legal notices section of the paper listing a number of defunct or apparently defunct student organizations. These groups had funds deposited with the University, and if officials from those groups did not step forward to claim those funds, they would become University property. One of the groups was the old Texas College Republicans.
Bill laughed and shook his head.
–Man, I’ve not thought of them in awhile. We sure did a number on you. You and all your chapter. We used you and played you and all the other schools like a harp, just to get the votes we needed and to do the dirty work.
I suppressed my shock, faked a smile, and snorted a chuckle.
–Yeah, that was a true farce from start to finish, wasn’t it?
But in actuality, that was the first time it had even occurred to me that I had been used, that the whole College Republican thing was an enormous con game, and I’d been the mark, the biggest butt of the joke. You see, I had this terrible failing in those days—I believed that when a friend promised you something, he was telling the truth. After all, he was your friend, right?
Let me break down the principals–
Tad grew up in poverty and you could still see that in the physiognomy of his face. His face looked scrambled. He was trying to marry his way into social acceptance. He was dating a gal who was a member of an old family, prominent in Texas history.
Bill was an odd bird. We’d been friends since 1976, when I discovered he was the only other ostentatiously intelligent kid in my new school. He was known for his deep, impressive speaking voice and his skills of persuasion. Everyone was convinced he’d grow up and become President.
He was also extremely insecure, and often boasted, when drunk or sober, of how he was better than me in every way, that he would become far more successful than I would ever be, and that one day I would work for him.
He was physically and emotionally abusive of me. Once when I was a guest at his house, he woke me one morning by attacking me with a pig whip. He would convince me to tell him which were the girls to whom I bore secret crushes, and then would blackmail me, threatening to tell the whole school my secrets unless I did something humiliating, like kiss his boots in public. Often I had big bruises on my legs and shins from where he’d kick me with those boots. And I had such huge self-esteem issues and such incredible difficulty getting girls to like me that I would submit to this abuse and debase myself.
Then he would turn around and do me a huge favor.
I was convinced that he would be true to his word, that eventually everything would even out, he’d stop abusing me, and treat me nicely one-hundred percent of the time, and he’d make us both wealthy, powerful land owners and politicians.
Bill was also the most virulently homophobic person I ever met. When we were in high school somebody suggested that Bill and I were more than just friends and Bill almost tore the guy apart. During conventions and road trips he refused to share beds with his buddies, because he was afraid of the teasing that might result.
One day, Bill, Tad, and I were walking to lunch and spotted a section of sidewalk where someone had scratched in an inverted triangle and spray-painted it pink. Tad growled in disgust, but Bill cursed and tried to violently scrape away the paint with the toe of his shoe, then threatened to call the City of Austin and file a complaint.
When Bill joined the Sig Ep fraternity in the mid-eighties, he used to call me up and brag about all the rich and powerful people with whom he was now keeping company. One of his frat brothers was Scott McClellan, who became White House Press Secretary for George W. Bush.
Another was heir to a South Texas/San Antonio-based cable TV fortune. When this guy turned 21, he rented out a dance club in downtown Austin, which was a straight club on some nights, gay on others, and really pulled out the stops to make it a memorable occasion. A professional DJ spun records, and the front entrance was paved with hundreds of silver dollars. Bill bragged that he’d been fortunate enough to be one of the handful of people this guy invited into his VIP Lounge, to enjoy very old, very expensive Scotch.
And I in turn was fortunate enough to be in the offices of Tyler and Anderson the day one of Bill’s fraternity brothers called to announce that Cable Guy had just thrown an equally lavish party, to celebrate his coming out. Bill flew into a rage so intense that he was actually stammering. He couldn’t say enough bad things about the guy he’d once boasted of knowing.
I wondered if Bill had a secret, closeted life. Once a classmate of ours transferred from UT to Sam Houston for a semester and said Austin was full of stories of Bill’s cocaine addiction. I asked Bill about it, he adamantly denied it, then called the classmate and threatened him with physical violence unless the rumors stopped.
I’d never seen any of Bill’s girlfriends. He was supposedly dating one gal when I started working for him, but a few weeks later he bragged about how he’d coldly dumped her at a fancy reception. He dated very little in high school. He claimed to have taken a few boozing and whoring trips to Mexico in college.
When we were in a play our senior year of high school we had a cast party after a drama contest and both got very drunk. Bill talked the other guys into overpowering me and tearing off my pants. Three years later when I went up to visit him at his frat house in Austin over the 1985 July 4th weekend, I went out one night by myself, and when I got back to the house, Bill and several of his frat brothers were drunk and wrestling in the living room. He told them to jump me and strip me of my pants, shirt, and underwear. I can’t help but wonder about his motivation for that.
When a few guys tried out for our high school cheer-leading squad, he pitched a fit, saying such behavior was unmanly and effeminate. (Sure, at least two of those guys turned out to be gay in later life, but that’s beside the point.) When our English teacher assigned us “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” he said he didn’t want to read such an “overtly homosexual book,” and read passages aloud in class in a mocking, exaggerated manner, to elicit the laughter of our classmates and underscore his argument.
One thing that struck me about Bill, Tad, and all their clients was the boring sameness of their appearance. Everybody looked exactly alike, had the same generic haircut, and wore the same two-button navy blue suit with the same unassuming necktie. I noticed Tad giving me sideways looks, as if something was bothering him. Eventually he spoke up:
–You know, if we discuss the matter and all agree that you’ll be staying with us longer, past the summer—you know, becoming a permanent member of the firm–we’re gonna have to discuss your appearance. The way you dress is a little too wild for our line of work, and your hair’s much too long. I’ve seen how the clients look at you. And I’ve noticed you never look them directly in the eye. That makes them uncomfortable. And most importantly, if you wind up staying with us, we’re gonna have to insist that you get rid of that moustache.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that they thought they had that degree of authority over me to where they could tell me how I should or should not look.
It was beginning to dawn on me that this job was a bad idea. Most of the clients had such small budgets that they couldn’t afford to pay our firm and a legislative office staff, so I was often pressed into service to write letters and newsletters to constituents. I also liked to rewrite things Bill and Tad wrote because of their use of such trendy lingo as “impact” when they meant to say “affect.”
There were no set business hours and Bill and Tad opened or closed for the day whenever they pleased. But after I strolled in two days in a row well after 9am, Bill scolded me, and spoke in the manner of an adult employer addressing a child.
Well, I was damned if I was going to put up with that. I’d known Bill since I was twelve. We’d gone to school together, stayed at one another’s homes, gone on trips, gotten drunk, and busted our asses on political campaigns. In 1989 I’d walked through a rainstorm just to make it to his father’s funeral. I refused to be talked down to, to be treated as anything less than an equal. But for the time being I held my tongue. I didn’t tell Bill to go fuck himself.
Bill and Tad decided that the state records had yielded all the dirt they were going to (and to tell the truth, we didn’t find much that we could use), so I was put to work doing data entry. Since the computer was too big to move and the only place in the office where it would fit was behind the desk, and since Bill and Tad couldn’t pretend to be big-shot, high-powered political consultants unless one of them was sitting behind that big desk at all times, it was decided I should come in to work at night. Since this meant I could avoid Bill and Tad and sleep during the daytime, I was all for this.
Like most people in those days, I had no computer skills at all, but the guys showed me just enough to get by, and because they assumed I was ignorant, inept, and slow, I was able to get away with doing very little. Indeed, one of the perks of this new assignment was that whenever I felt like it I could walk down the hall to a conference room and watch my favorite late night TV shows. I’d finish up around 4 or 5am, and since the buses weren’t running, Max would come pick me up, and we’d go somewhere for breakfast before he dropped me off.
Despite the fact that most of the clients were small-time businessmen, penny ante lawyers, dentists, or ranchers turned amateur politicians, Bill and Tad seemed almost intimidated by them. They’d mock these guys behind their backs, but were very reticent about pressing them to pay their bills on time. Eventually, Bill and Tad got so behind that they were giving my paycheck several days late, which got me in trouble with my impatient landlord. Summer had come to an end and I’d still not gotten my raise. And I was sick of Bill acting like my old drinking buddy one day and my dictatorial boss the next.
So I turned in my two week notice. Sir Galahad was a shitty, humiliating, low-paying job, but at least Rod mostly kept out of my hair, and the paychecks would always show up sooner or later. Apparently my letter of resignation was a real shocker. Tad didn’t seem to know what to say. Bill was quiet as well, but was grinding his teeth, and I could tell he was trying to suppress his anger.
One of my father’s main criticisms of Bill was that he never finished anything he started. He’d give up halfway, then have an excuse for doing so. And in this case, I’ll have to say my father was absolutely right.
Though Bill and Tad were busy working to get a half-dozen clients elected in November, and trying and failing to keep their political consulting business afloat, their minds were already wandering and they were planning a new venture. They did a lot of business with a local sign printing company, and lately had been talking with the owner about investing some money and becoming his partners.
Since it was clear Bill and Tad were uncomfortable having me around now, they decided to give me a new assignment for my last two weeks with their firm—something I could do away from their office.
Bill took me to another floor in the building, to a small, narrow room with a long counter down one side, three chairs, and three phones. He gave me a stack of phone books and computer print-outs, and told me to call all over Texas and the neighboring states, to county seats, county Republican headquarters, and other likely places, and try to sell the people with whom I talked on inexpensively-printed political signs for the 1993 election year.
It didn’t take me long to get the drift—everybody was too focused on the November 1992 election to even begin to think about 1993. I was wasting my time.
But how would I spend the next two weeks in this little cell? Well, I knew I’d never get the kind of money I thought Bill and Tad owed me for the humiliation they’d put me through. Bill had thrown our sixteen year friendship on the trash heap, just to cheat me over something as trivial as money. And of course I was still smarting from that revelation he’d used me during the 1984 campaign.
So I started making phone calls, all over the country. Long distance phone calls were expensive in those days, and I really couldn’t afford to make them on my home phone. So I called friends I’d not spoken to in years. I called up museums, historic houses, libraries, archives, and other sites and ordered materials:
–Yes?….Library of Congress?….Is this the Historic American Buildings Survey?….Out to lunch?….When do you expect….?….Okay….No, that’s all right. I’ll hold.
On the afternoon of my last day, I finished making my last recreational phone call and went to the Tyler and Anderson office. Bill handed me my last paycheck. Neither Bill nor Tad looked me in the eye when I shook their hands. I walked out with a smirk on my face, then went to cash that check before Bill tried to stop payment.
I walked up the street and did some shopping at Congress Avenue Booksellers, then crossed the street and caught a bus, sitting by the window on the west side. I saw Bill striding down the sidewalk on the west side of Congress Avenue, heading south, grimacing. He looked over at the bus. Did he see me? He looked angry, defeated, as if he’d been bested. The bus pulled away. I never saw him again after that.
Six months later Bill called my home and tried to make nice. I spoke in a pleasant manner, and faked my geniality. He filled me in on recent events. Half of their clients had been defeated in the November election. A few of those that had been elected had, upon taking their seats in the Legislature, voted in a manner that displeased the Republican leadership, and were now, effectively, “non-persons.” Another client, Bob Compson, in whose office Bill had interned in college, had been re-elected, but was now under indictment for savings-and-loan fraud. Tad, who had gone back to law school, had left Tyler and Anderson and was devoting most of his time to Bob’s defense.
Bill explained that it was ultimately a good thing that I’d left the company:
–When you left we were having trouble paying you on time. Had you stayed longer we’d have had trouble paying you at all.
Their clients had gotten seriously delinquent with their bill-paying. Bill and Tad had to give up the office at 100 Congress for something less lavish over a bar.
–We weren’t able to make the printing company deal work. We just didn’t have the capital. And you know all those sales call you made for us? The bill for that ran to $2,000! That just about sunk us right there.
–Wow, are you serious? That’s outrageous.
–Well, hey. It was really good talking with you. I want us to get together some time and have a drink.
–But next time you have to take the initiative and make the call, okay?
I had no intention of speaking to him again, and I never did.
Later that summer former Texas Governor John Connally died. Both Bill and I had been inspired to get into politics after reading a Connally biography in high school. I wondered if Bill was going to the funeral, which was to be open to the public. For old time’s sake I decided to call him, but I called his office at 3 in the morning. The phone was disconnected.
I attended the funeral, which was presided over by Billy Graham. All the living Texas Governors were there, as was Lady Bird Johnson and Richard Nixon. I got an excellent seat, between the Mayor of Houston and the Austin reporter who broke the Charles Whitman story, behind Jack Valenti, but well in front of former Senator Ralph Yarborough. I appeared on CNN. Bill did not attend.
My mother later told me that one of the few times my father ever had a positive thing to say about me was when I quit Tyler and Anderson. She quoted,
–“Well, if he can finally tell Trey Tyler to kiss his ass he might amount to something after all.”
Years later, after my politics had drifted from the Far Right to the Far Left, I wondered what had ever become of Bill. After all, George W. Bush was President and Bill’s former frat brother Scott McClellan was White House Spokesman. Surely by now Bill had run for office or done something notable. I did a Google search for him. There were a few mentions of him working again as a political consultant. Then I came across an old political newsletter that said Bill had been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor.
I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. I couldn’t find any obituaries. I had no intention of looking him up. I knew a deathbed reconciliation would appeal to his sense of the dramatic and possibly make him feel better, but I didn’t want to make him feel better. He was an asshole who’d treated me abominably and had abused my friendship.
In 2006, a few days before I took my first trip to Europe both my mother and my friend Max e-mailed me Bill’s obituary. My mother seemed to think the news would upset me, but on the contrary I was rather pleased to hear it. I e-mailed my mother back and told her about how Bill had abused me and how he and his frat brothers had stripped me naked back in 1985….
Bill’s mom had Jesused the obit up, thickly ladling in such phrases as “deep personal faith in his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” as speaking of his “honesty” and “personal integrity.” He was survived by his mother, sisters, nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces, and “dearest friend Paul,” whom the Austin paper described as his “business partner.”
Stat-tex—1993–1 month—Part-Time Market Researcher.
In the summer of 1993 I finally went back to school—this time at Austin Community College. And I actually made a point of attending class faithfully, studying hard, doing my homework, and getting good grades. It kept me pretty busy and for a time I didn’t work at all, security work having largely dried up for the summer.
My friend Tim worked at a market research firm called Stat-tex and told me they were hiring for a new project, so I interviewed and got the job. We were to work on something called the “Tucson Travel Study.”
For about six months a select group of people in Tucson were asked to keep a log book in their car and jot down the departure address and destination address for every car trip they took, long or short, whether it was across town or to the corner store. These log books were sent to Stat-tex and the data was printed out onto spread sheets.
We, the minimum wage “researchers,” were gathered around a table with pens, maps of Tucson, and some printed forms. The maps were divided into coded grids. The squares along the first row were marked, from left to right, “A1,” “A2,” “A3,” and so on. Row 2 was marked “B1,” “B2,” and so forth. We were to look up a departure address, find the coded grid it matched, and mark that code down on our form. Then we were to look up the destination address, and find the coded grid it matched, and mark that down next to it.
Ideally, all this data was to be gathered together and analyzed by the company, so city planners and other officials would know which streets had the most and least traffic, which destinations were popular, and which weren’t, and other such hoo-hah.
Tim and I raced through this assignment, going through spread sheet after spread sheet, filling out our forms at a quick clip. Our co-workers whined to the supervisors that the work was hard, that they really didn’t understand it. Then they saw how well Tim and I were doing and concluded were both, 1) geniuses, and 2) longtime Tucson natives. No, we explained, neither of us had so much a visited Tucson before. We just knew how to read maps.
I was with Stat-tex for less than a month before I got called back to Sir Galahad. Tim stayed with the company for several years, becoming some sort of manager. The Tucson Travel Study was a colossal failure, thanks to the ignorance and incompetence of the “researchers” the company employed. Indeed, the City of Tucson actually considered suing Stat-tex for a time.
Also working at Stat-tex at the time was Cy Dahl, a guy Tim and I had known and fucked with for a few years. When Tim and I lived in the New Guild Student Co-op, Cy would take his meals there. He lived a block away in what he pretentiously called a “flat,” in a run-down apartment building that was essentially a slow-moving hotel.
Cy was middle-aged, and had been skulking along the fringes of the film business for years. His closest brush with fame had been when he wrote a scene that was used in the film “Slacker.” In the scene, a conspiracy theorist claims the CIA had constructed a space station on Mars. The sad thing is that Cy didn’t write the scene for laughs—he actually believed it was true. He was dangerously paranoid.
During his time at New Guild, Cy became convinced that I had spent most of the 1980s in Nicaragua training the contras for the CIA, and that I was living in the co-op in order to infiltrate the counterculture. The crazier Cy got the more elaborate his theories became. He eventually decided that I, a security guard at the time, Tim, a cab driver, and our friend Tony, a jazz musician, were the three most powerful intelligence operatives in our part of the world, and this made him very, very nervous.
Tony didn’t waste his time tormenting Cy, but Tim did, because he enjoys stirring up chaos, and I did, because I was angry at Cy for embarrassing me once.
Cy was having a nice time tele-marketing for Stat-tex, using the assumed name “Bruce Wagner,” (after the unshaven, perpetually scowling writer of Hollywood-themed novels), when Tim joined the company, followed shortly thereafter by me. And Cy’s gaskets began to melt down.
Tim and I worked in a different part of the office, but whenever we saw Cy we’d exchange cryptic expressions like “The eagle flies at midnight” and “Cinderella has lost her glass slipper. Repeat, Cinderella has lost her glass slipper.”
And when I disappeared just as suddenly as I had arrived, Cy lost it, ran upstairs to the executive offices, screamed that he was not going to sit still while the CIA set up a secret organization behind the seemingly respectable front of Stat-tex, and that he was resigning, effective immediately. And with that, he ran out of the building.
I was away from Austin from 1994 to 1998, and I saw Cy twice more, in 2000 and 2001. The first time I went into a downtown sandwich shop at lunchtime, and while waiting in line I looked around and saw Cy, wide-eyed and terrified, cowering at a corner table. I smiled, then looked back a minute later and saw that he’d fled. The next, and indeed, last time I saw him was in Book People bookstore. He was coming up the stairs as I was walking down. I smirked and acted as if I was speaking into a tiny microphone hidden in the point of my collar. Cy gave me a wide berth and scampered off.
Several years later Tim did a Google search on Cy and learned he’d committed suicide a few years before.