Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 4

Part 3 here.

If this wasn’t a job, I might find the finished product as attractive as our customers seem to feel. As it stands, I don’t really have the luxury. I never was the Peeping Tom sort, but I can at least intellectually understand why people are willing to pay the price for such veracity. If one finds oneself pleased by the sight of a woman clutching a handful of toilet paper, far be it for me to pass judgment. The spectacle never did much for me, but it does a great deal for many.

I guess I’m a bit more pragmatic. I’m attracted to the girl-next-door, the sort that might be interested in a guy like me. Beautiful women intimidate me. I see them on the street or through my viewfinder and question whether they’d ever be attracted to me. Our audience wants the girls who look like runway models, and that’s quite a tall order. I have no control over who enters the next dressing room. I wish I could tell them that beauty comes in many forms.

For the first time in my life, I’ve become skillful in something besides good intentions. As an adolescent, I was always attracted to films about hit men, the glamor of living a lone-wolf existence, the craft involved, and the insistent need for secrecy. I might not have approved of the tactics or the brutality of it, but I sensed it gave a man like me a purpose. I always shyly kept to myself, letting few people into the particulars of my life. I know it limited me socially, but I struggled to find a job where I’d have only sporadic contact with others.

Now, I fit someone’s profile. I never had to brave the indignity of demeaning vocational tests and overly polite job counselors. No one cared about my references or my flimsy resume. The two most important questions asked were whether I was willing to do it and would I keep the nature of my vocation a complete secret. I assented eagerly to both. If asked, I was to say that I edited raw film for a pornography website. No one ever asked any further questions.  

To this day, I don’t even know who my immediate boss is. The interview prior to my hire was conducted completely online through chat. I saw no faces and they did not see mine. Specifically they asked about my computer skills with a particular editing software program and stressed that, should I be hired,  I was to follow closely the demands and requests of our customer base. A week later I was scanning my inbox and found a job offer waiting for me. I accepted by way of calling an unlisted cell phone number with an out-of-town area code. The digits were included in the text of the e-mail.  I was told I would start in a week and to delete the message immediately.

We do have the law on our side, or at least in our back pocket. We have the impotence of the current statues on the books. What we do and how we do it is tough to prosecute. Most states have laws on the books defending women and girls who have been videotaped or photographed without their consent, but they are mostly used to protect children. If the parties involved are legal adults, it’s a different matter. We’ve insisted upon strict secrecy to make sure that those on film or in a photograph never come across their own image for any reason. If there’s ever any doubt, we pixilate faces or distinguishing marks.

Thus far, we’ve been lucky, though established protocols are in place should a woman make an accusation. We’ve made enough money by now to offer generous cash settlements that, in other endeavors, have ensured upon silence in a flash. Bad publicity is anathema of what we want. We bill ourselves, in long-established parlance, as a gentleman’s club. Once one person steps forward, the press starts digging into our content and three more women follow suit. We can pay off three people, but not thirty or three hundred.

Trying to skirt the issue is needlessly suspicious. My papers are legit and my employment is too. We even go to the trouble to hire a handful of women willing to strip and pose in conventional fashion, but that’s for deception’s sake. Anyone who signs up knows what he or she is really getting. We even have a handful of female members. Subterfuge is remarkably easy in the internet age.

If you listen to the politicians speak and take their rhetoric seriously, you might concur that I worked for one of those All-American startup small businesses boosting the economy with ingenuity and effort. It was certainly established with both in mind, but I doubt anyone would want to equate economic stimulus with a small online fetish pornography company. I know we’ve provided the basic needs of many, enough to keep us afloat from quarter to quarter.

I don’t rationalize what I do, but neither do I feel guilty. It’s interesting work and beats anything else I did beforehand. I take pleasure in my handiwork, especially in the editing room that doubles as one corner of the living room in my small apartment. In post-production, I do my best to make every word spoken come out as clear as a bell, removing extraneous noise. Customers have e-mailed us to say that the best videos make them feel like they’re actually in the room themselves, observing every moment and every sound. The fly in the wall effect is our goal every time out.

In accordance with our policy, the raw files successfully uploaded to the server and central control are then promptly destroyed. No need to leave a paper trail or an electronic one. Like a criminal wiping clean the fingerprints, I wipe over the hard drive three times before starting a new assignment. I never said this wasn’t a little sketchy or chancy, but perhaps this sort of business appeals to my rebellious side.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Keeping the Faith When Dialogue Is Difficult

Some years back, the committee of which I was clerk decided to Elder a Friend for sharing vocal ministry too frequently. As long-term readers may recall, I aimed to deal as fairly with him as I could, but he took immediate offense and never returned to Meeting again. I wanted to open a free-flowing dialogue based on mutual respect, but he was content to take his ball and go home. Before parting ways, he accused me of acting as the Meeting police (which I was not) and gave me at best three minutes of his time.

Punishment in any form was not my intention, but he saw the steps we took as malevolent and offensive. Those of us who must enforce the rules may need to be reminded again that one can't plan for everything. We often expect that rational discourse alone is sufficient. Surely we can communicate on a higher plane, we think. If that were truly the case, if you will pardon a brief political aside, Barack Obama would be the most effective American president ever. I wish that reason and logic, not feelings and emotional impressions were more powerful.

Hand-wringing attitudes are adopted by too many Quaker Meetings and Churches, and often they only create inertia. Rarely do they ever produce positive outcomes, reinforce proper conduct, and encourage right thinking. But rather than dwell on what doesn't work, I'd rather embrace a more optimistic attitude with an eye towards the future. I've since moved on to a different Meeting. It's a warm, caring, stable place and I'm happy to spend First Day in its company. I appreciate that people don't fight over the smallest stakes possible only to be needlessly contentious and in control of something, no matter how minuscule.

It would be too easy to make a big deal about what is to follow, to wax indignant, if you will. I'll provide only as much background as is necessary, then quickly move on. The Friend I noted above showed up at Meeting for Worship yesterday, still nursing a grudge, very much still licking his wounds. I was in the middle of speaking to someone else when he arrived on the scene during post-Worship refreshments and fellowship. He took great pains to pull said Friend away from me, to monopolize her time and attention by way of power play. It was a little like having someone forcibly remove a dancing partner by rudely cutting in, mid-song.

I didn't take offense to it because I had a hard time taking his approach seriously. It was rendered weakly, for one. He wanted to make me upset, but the immaturity of the approach made me smile instead. A few seconds before, I'd tried once again to initiate conversation with him, this time to explain the approach we'd taken. He avoided eye contact completely, acting in a manner I can best describe as nasty nice. I wanted the opportunity to talk and reach a resolution, but he was not of a similar mindset.

In the future, if I see him, I'll make another attempt at confrontation. I'm not mad at him. Truthfully, I never was. As I told him then, he would have been in full compliance with our wishes if he agreed to space out his vocal ministry from week to week. Surely that wasn't asking too much.

I was trying to spare him of the grief I experienced when I committed the same faux paus. It's an easy mistake to make, particularly when members and attenders hold unwritten rules that are never spelled out, especially for newcomers. I became convinced in a small Meeting where I was given the wonderful opportunity to give frequent vocal ministry. I never dreamed that such conduct could be verboten elsewhere. If I could have spoken freely with him, I know we would have reached an understanding.

I'm fond of a particular quotation. It says that there isn't a single person one can't love if one hears his or her story. And I agree, but it's contingent upon the other party to share that story with another. Otherwise, both parties are flying blind, totally unaware, potentially at odds.

Unprogrammed Worship is meant to be a collective exercise. When it becomes too focused on individual expression, everyone loses out. For me, personally, one of the most difficult lessons to learn was that people who were considerably older than me in years were capable of acting many years younger. I was a precocious child who wanted to be older and felt more comfortable around adults. It seemed incomprehensible that adulthood might be a state of being that is avoided as often as it is embraced.

Now I know better. But situations like these routinely crop up in ways that aren't strictly religious. It might be popular to be mindful of the foods I take into my body and the products I buy. This are no doubt important, but we are also in control of the conscious decisions we make in the way we treat others. Old fashioned virtues like kindness, compassion, and honesty are equally important parts of our Testimonies. I'll leave hair-splitting to others who feel the need to regiment and calibrate their life choices to the micrometer. Those are worldly games, and my focus goes well beyond the cares of this life.

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 3

Part 2 here.
Part 1 here.

I check my phone for a text message.


That store always makes me nervous. It provides considerable challenges even when it is not packed to the gills. I know that whatever I salvage from this trip is going to come at great risk and what is usable won’t be much. Apparently it’s a popular location for our subscribers, which is why I keep coming back here against my better judgment.

When I set up next to a woman in an adjacent room, I have little to no idea of what she looks like. I have to rely on my ears, not my eyes. Based on what I’ve heard, I assume the occupant is a woman in her late teens. This is confirmed when I peek slightly over the divider, using my camera attachment like a flexible periscope.

She’s also trying on bathing suits, but only the brassiere portion. She calls out to an unseen friend who is also trying on clothes. A group of girls appear to have gone on a shopping trip together.

Maybe we should go to Target later.

Yeah, we should, she replies.    

Her voice is girlish and youthful, very much the stereotypical high femme girly girl with immaculately applied makeup and blow-dryed hair. The audience likes women like her, based on the statistics and the research. When one considers the number of highly ranked and liked downloads, women like her are among our most favored. There’s commission in it for me if stumble upon a particularly creative and revealing setup and produce a particularly popular clip.

That depends on luck more than it does skill. Much like the dynamics of a viral video, it’s often difficult to predict success and interest. Videos I thought were fairly unimpressive have at times struck a chord.

Assuming I had a girlfriend, I might be able to take on-the-job experience and apply it to my love life. I’ve seen hundreds of women preen and primp before the mirror, scrutinizing themselves in a way they would only do in strictest privacy. That ritual in insecurity can take whole minutes before I need to start filming. I often have to do lots of editing to compress ten minutes live action into two or three.

After going through an elaborate, private ritual of self-scrutiny, each subject puts on a new outfit or element of clothing. Aesthetically speaking, this is, in many ways, much more interesting to observe. Sex is one thing, but vulnerability and perceived total secrecy is even more private than that. We may be more comfortable as sexual beings in the outside world, on our own terms. We are considerably much less confident when our bodily flaws are on display. Our worst critics are ourselves.  

I’ve done this for five years and I’ve developed a sixth sense about this location. Something about this place makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m tempted to leave a few minutes early. The effect reminds me of gambling. Should you chance upon a winning streak, the best decision is in knowing when to quit.  The odds are in your favor only to an extent. Eventually, mathematically speaking, your luck will swing against you. Time to cut one’s losses and move elsewhere.

As I alluded to earlier, the pay isn’t what I’d prefer, but neither do I have to work terribly odd hours. Once I slaved away as a security guard at an exclusive golf course. My assignment was the graveyard shift, 7 pm to 7 am. Twelve hour shifts will really take it out of you, as well hitting the bed after the sun has risen. I don’t have to guard ice machines and golf clubs at early mornings anymore, and I’m thankful for that much. It’s tough to be strictly ethical when you’ve never had much money. Even with the constant threat of great terror that would come from being discovered, my work is generally fun.

One learns to not ask questions of one’s superiors. Plausibility denial is a good strategy. I don’t even know the name of who puts clips and pictures online. I send them along in edited form to a purposefully innocuous e-mail address. I am instructed only to use it for video submissions. Few of my contributions are ever returned for being of insufficient quality or for needing additional video edits. An operation this intensive and complex could only work in a large city, which is how I’ve learned nearly every neighborhood and general area, even if I’ve gotten completely lost a time or two.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Quote of the Week

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."- Proverbs 16:18

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Life as the Great White Hope

He's a good player. And he's the right color, too.

The person speaking about me is a booster. I'd played football for him in Pop Warner league. While still children, our helmets and shoulder pads appear bigger than we are. We all look like Michael Dukakis’ ill-advised campaign ad, showing the candidate piloting a tank. We look cute rather than intimidating. I'm scared to death of this coach, to be blunt, but he's always let me know that I'm one of his favorites.

Kids from third grade onward are allowed to suit up. They take their first few tentative strides with helmets, padding, and other protective measures belted and strapped on. School years are broken down into weight classes. Each grade, each birthday passed by, players are allowed to gain an additional ten pounds. I started in fourth grade, when the maximum a boy can weigh is 90 pounds. By the time I’m in sixth grade, I can get up to 110 pounds, but no more.

A big kid, I always stepped on the scale prior to games close to the absolute threshold. Sometimes I had to run laps around the field to lose water weight before the action started. Even at a young age, my broad shoulders and large build meant that I would be an offensive lineman. Legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson always called players like me the big uglies or the fat bodies. The description is a truthful one, though I'm a cute kid with a baby face. I’m not exactly menacing, at least not yet.

The comment about my race is even more telling. Forty years earlier, most elite college athletes in the South were exclusively white. It wasn’t until the early Seventies that Southeastern Conference teams began to desegregate. By the time it's my turn, 70% of the players on a college team are black. To be sure, there are a few positions where whites still predominate. Quarterback is one. Place kicker is a second, followed closely by punter. And then comes O-linemen like me.

Every snap from center to quarterback is a collision and a fight for position. After every game my arms are covered with deep bruises and small cuts. Nothing productive happens unless we shove and push and block for running backs, who take advantage of the huge holes and running lanes we create in opposing defenses. No one notices us much as long as we're doing our job. But should we fail, suddenly we're completely to blame.

It's a position that requires much humility. Offensive linemen can be superstars, but they have to be legendary talents. If we are merely competent, few fans will learn our names. Sometimes there's an anonymity present in the position, a way to hide behind my helmet so no one can see my face. If I miss a block, I know it immediately and pray that the source of the error is not traced back to me.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes I miss my assignment and the quarterback gets sacked. Sometimes I arrive on the scene at the perfect moment. Most of the time, I give the player with the ball a second or two to make a cut and run for positive yardage. Linemen don’t have to be flashy. Instead, they have to be productive.

The booster took a shine to me from an early age. This started when I was still in elementary school. The grooming of jocks for greater success starts at that soon an age. When I moved up to the high school level, my advocate dangled promises of college scholarships in front of me. Like so many Alabama-bred kids, I grew up a Crimson Tide fan. Millions of young boys have that same dream, but I learn quickly that I'm simply not good enough to punch my ticket to Tuscaloosa. It’s a letdown, but I choke back my disappointment.

If I get a slot on a team, it will be for a lower-tier SEC school like Kentucky or Vanderbilt. My college tuition will be covered in full, but I'm not sure I can stomach a career of mediocre 5-7 seasons. I know I won’t be pleased to miss out on the fun of a bowl game, year after year. I'm smart enough to let my academic skills take me elsewhere. The odds of making a pro team after college are against me, because I'm proficient, but not stellar. If ratings like these existed at the time, I’d be a three star recruit with tons of potential, but I know my limitations better than anyone else.

My booster nevertheless is persistent. His connections have been built by a political patronage system. If he pleads my case and I do well, he does well, too. He's a crusty old Yellow Dog Democrat with a curious admiration for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. About the time I'm ready to start middle school, a new political face arrives on the scene. His name is Clinton and he's a rising star in the party.

It's 1992. Arkansas has joined the Southeastern Conference after years of competing in the Southwest Conference. Instead of playing teams based mainly in Texas, most of its schedule will be devoted to taking on universities in the Deep South. Simultaneously, the governor of Arkansas manages to win the Democratic Nomination for President. Candidate Clinton is in attendance when his team plays Alabama in Little Rock. He arrives late and doesn't stay for the whole game. The Razorbacks lose, but not its favorite son.

The booster has some salacious stories to tell about this newcomer. He's apparently got a fondness for the ladies and he and his wife have got some kind of arrangement worked out. He shows up at retreats with whomever he happens to be bedding at the moment. Oh, no one can prove anything, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty damning. This is mighty powerful hearsay. It will eventually lead to impeachment proceedings, six years later. But as we know now, that's in the future. What was then little more than gossip is likely not going to be disputed two and a half decades later.

In the meantime, no one hates practicing more than I do. No one feels more isolated, alone, and alienated. My friends are geeks and budding scholars, but most of my teammates are dumb jocks. The games are fun, but practices drag on for hours and involve wind sprints. I could be one of the popular kids and benefit from the reverence and personality cults granted to jocks. I could have a cheerleader for a girlfriend, but I resist. I'd feel like a terrible phony. I already feel like I'm leading an inauthentic life as an impostor.

Anyone who has ever played a competitive team sport like football knows how quickly time progresses in a game settings. It feels as though one is existing in a dream state. Adrenalin flows. A game that lasts three hours in duration feels like ten minutes to its participants. I've received numerous nicks and cuts in the middle of a game and not felt them until the final whistle is blown. I love the the blood sport involved and thrive on it.

But practice is very different. I absolutely hate the massive physical exertion required. My body temperature rises to potentially dangerous levels during fall camp in August. Summer is the South is trying for everyone. In 100 degree Fahrenheit heat, I’m asked to sacrifice my body every day but Sunday. I'm in the best shape of my life, but overexertion and heat stroke is always a possibility in soaring heat indexes and high humidity. The body cools itself by sweating, but in 100% humidity, the moisture has nowhere to go, so it runs down my face in trails. My hair is sopping wet, as though I’d just taken a shower.

I decide to quit. No one can understand why. They're sure I'll change my mind later. Why would I turn down the admiration and adulation given to all popular kids? They're certain I'll come back to the fold eventually to confess my guilt. The booster intercedes, seeking to force my hand. My father is wined and dined at an impromptu visit to Lexington, Kentucky. The former governor, Martha Layne Collins, is notably present. The symbolism and intent is obvious. I can be a Wildcat football player, or at least given a favorable shot at winning a position.

My decision does not change. I do not regret it.

Later in life, well into my adulthood, I saw an early 1960's British film entitled This Sporting Life. One of its main characters is also a booster, who discovers a budding young rugby player in the North of England. Unlike Frank Machin, the athlete, I am not a violent, amoral hell-raiser. The quiet, shy, and reserved booster in the film is the exact opposite of the man who made my case and cheered me onward. But that bit of celluloid does remind me of my aggressive play and my take-no-prisoners attitude while on the playing field. Truth be told, I held a special hate for everyone I faced. I channeled the way I felt into being a tireless player who never got rattled and played hard on every down.

I could have been a successful soldier who kills efficiently and ruthlessly. And it would have won me awards and promotions. I did my job without complaint. I never taunted other players or made a great show of celebration. That wasn't exactly my M.O. Instead, I was coldly efficient like a surgeon. I would have brought that same attitude with me wherever I went. Football is a game of momentum swings, but I seemed to be largely immune to them. Win or lose, I gave it my all.

It would have been an adjustment for me to play on a team where racial dynamics were flipped. My high school was 90% white. Only a handful of players were black. These days, winning Southeastern Conference teams sport rosters where most of the combatants are black. They usually come from small towns and, quite often, the ghetto. Black players who come from poverty have an incentive to do well and to make good. They are given a chance for social mobility, a social mobility not easily granted otherwise, and they would be fools not to grab hold of the opportunity.

My booster said I was the right color for a reason. In his mind and in the mind of many others, I was the Great White Hope. I was the white knight on a powerful steed, seeking to equalize the racial balance of a football team. It's one of the uncomfortable realities that led me to choose a different path for myself.

Black Lives Matter on the football field. However, they may not matter as much when their talent is used up and thoroughly exhausted. And there will always be calls for the next white superstar to make a name for himself in sports that are now black-dominated. This will be the case no matter how post-racial a society we become. If my mindset were different, if I was acquiescent and cowed and pressured, I might have been pushed into that role. But it would have only kept me miserable. Today I live for myself, not as anyone’s bargaining chip or quid pro quo.

Saturday Video

Oh, why not.

Baby, baby, let's get together
Honey, honey, me and you
And do the things, ah, do the things
That we like to do

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight

Baby, baby, I'll meet you
Same place, same time
Where we can get together
And ease up our mind

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, hey
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, get down tonight, baby

Oh, do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, hey
Do a little dance, make a little love
Get down tonight, whoo, get down tonight, baby

Get down, get down

Get down, get down, get down, get down, get down tonight baby

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 2

Part 1 here.
I’m not smart enough or proficient enough for setups like those. Since none of us receives formal training, what we bring to the table are skills we’ve likely cultivated as a hobby, often to appease our own private peccadilloes. Those jobs I’ve just mentioned pay more because there’s increased risk involved and arguably more work. I’m not sure how to remove mortar around bricks or to chisel a small opening for a camera lens, nor do I care to learn.

I make enough. My paychecks never bounce, but they always come from a front company that is totally legit, but vague. For what it’s worth, I’m good at what I do. I never have to leave the city and I don’t scout my own assignments. In the summer, certain people are assigned to beach detail, setting up cameras inside shower stalls where women change into bathing suits. Year-round, some find ingenious ways to enter and visually document women’s locker rooms at pools, spas, and gyms.

The only drawback for me is that weekends are always busy. When everyone else is out having fun, I’ve hit four or five dressing rooms, usually in the touristy part of town. I’ve done this long enough to know what to expect and when to expect it. If nothing especially interesting shows up within a few minutes, I know of alternate locations that have worked well before.

But unlike those who know how to conceal a hidden camera which runs for hours, then edit it down proficiently, my usable videos might last for a minute tops, or at best they might last for no more than five. To correct my earlier mistakes, I try to keep my hand motionless and I don’t make a sound.

At the moment, I’ve just finished up recording a young woman who appears to be in her early twenties. On my knees in the next stall, shooting upwards, the tiny camera lens poking over the partition, I’ve managed to take an effective camera angle. She is too busy trying on swimwear and then talking on a cell phone to know what I’m doing.

These are the easy ones. Posted on every door in the changing area is a reminder that it isn’t sanitary to try on bathing suits without first donning underwear. This woman doesn’t seem to notice, but I could care less about store policy. She stays reasonably still and will be a popular upload.

What makes my work even possible is the way the cubicles are laid out. In many stores, the men’s facilities are right next to the women’s. In stores where men and women are placed far apart, my job is impossible. We usually hit the smaller stores for this reason, though once again, finding an adequate location is a task best left to someone else. As I leave, the woman continues to speak excitedly to an unknown party, entirely naked, conversing enthusiastically about some person who is a dickhead, in her words. I’ve been here long enough.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 1

I've decided to post a lengthy short story here. It is several pages long, and I'll be sharing it with you one section at a time. The main character is not likable on purpose.


The Voyeur Mafioso, Part 1

To be honest, I’m not sure what led me into this unconventional career. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that much of our forbidden thoughts and fantasies are fueled in large part by the basics of voyeurism, my trade. Particularly, our private glee and secret arousal is a result of observing something supposedly off-limits and verboten. We desperately want to see something we know we shouldn’t.

With time, those fantasies grow more refined, layered, and amplified due of our own advanced personal tastes. These are enhanced by an increase in life experiences. I know when mine began. They started in middle school gym class, seeing if I could look up the shorts of girls. I rarely succeeded, but when on the odd chance I did, it felt as though I’d had something akin to a religious experience.

When I began to give it some thought in my teens, voyeurism in any form appeared to skirt a line somewhere between acceptable and unacceptable conduct. If not against the law, it was, at best, invasion of privacy. But, as I learned years later, it paid. A black market existed for it.

This is why I made the decision I did. I had to buy my own equipment at first, though I was eventually reimbursed for it within the first month or two. Digital video cameras are a fraction of the size they used to be, as are the lenses, and I learned many ways to disguise what I was doing along the way. Concealment was my stock in trade and I coupled that with enough raw nerve and boldness to achieve every target goal.

Every morning, even Saturday and Sunday, I received a fresh e-mail from my boss. They were usually curt and to the point, typed in all caps. DRESSING ROOMS IN HECKART, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM, COLLEGE STUDENT RUSH.

I mused to myself that one wouldn’t want to hang around that location for too long, as that would attract attention.

Technology makes much possible that was once impossible, or at least consigned to the realm of speculative fantasy. Photographs are much easier, because they take only a fraction of a second or two, but the customers clamor for videos. Don’t worry about trying to find our website. You won’t come close unless you’re an expert in navigating parts of the web beyond the reach of Google or have a few hours to spend linking from site to site.

Most of our business is spread by word of mouth, though at times a few persistent and lucky people have encountered our site on a whim and subscribed. It’s safer that way. Everyone knows the risk involved.

Every assignment has its own challenges and unknown variables. One day at a department store I spied only middle aged women, which is fine for some tastes, but we tend to get more requests for the younger set. I’ll let our customers provide the color commentary. For me, this is just a job. My foremost responsibility is not getting caught. I’ll concede there is a degree of taboo fun present for me sporadically, but that’s mostly faded into the background. In a terrible sort of way, I’ve become a professional, a label that always eluded me beforehand in every other occupation I tried.

How I do it is a trade secret I would largely prefer to keep hidden. I have to retain some secrets. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t learned overnight. In the beginning, I silently observed whomever entered a stall. I then balanced uneasily on a chair or by whatever elevation was possible for me. My focus was on an immediately adjacent room. Half-standing, half-crouching, peeking just over the partition, I recorded a few moments or so before noiselessly ducking back down for protection. Before I perfected my technique, I almost got caught on more than one occasion. My first few attempts were unusable because I couldn’t hold my hand steady. I was too nervous.

I don’t know the identities of anyone else who works this same basic job. This is a condition of employment. We can’t be seen at the same place too frequently or be somehow linked together due to guilt by association. Some men are assigned very different tasks from my own. Those who are skilled with hidden cameras have a basic understanding of concealing their equipment in an inconspicuous way, inside walls, bricks, bathrooms, and showers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Another Reason Why Gun Control Doesn't Go Far Enough

Many Americans don't realize that substantial gun control legislation is already on the books. If one observed the arguments and counter-arguments currently raging, one might think this country has done nothing at all. In the midst of recent violence against young black men and police officers, we forget that established precedent exists. Loopholes within the existing legal language are at fault. Then, as now, the Gun Control Act of 1968 faced a hefty headwind in committee and barely made it to the President's desk. Then, as now, the National Rifle Association tried its best to kill it. It is still far too easy to buy a gun, forty-eight years later.

Passage of the Gun Control Act was initially prompted by the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The President was shot and killed with a rifle purchased by mail-order from an ad in National Rifle Association (NRA) magazine American Rifleman. Congressional hearings followed and a ban on mail-order gun sales was discussed, but no law was passed until 1968.
At the hearings NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth supported a ban on mail-order sales, stating, "We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States."

When the NRA starts speaking sense, the world has indeed flipped upside down. Then-President Lyndon Johnson spoke lucidly upon signing the Gun Control Act.
"Congress adopted most of our recommendations. But this bill—as big as this bill is—still falls short, because we just could not get the Congress to carry out the requests we made of them. I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licensing of those who carry those guns. For the fact of life is that there are over 160 million guns in this country—more firearms than families."

What separates today from the frightening times of 1968 is the extreme pessimism of the American people. Back then, many young people and activists believed that a true revolution was imminent. Others were afraid and disgusted, and they made up Nixon's (not Trump's) silent majority. To a generation large in numbers that continues to actively shape our national discourse, these were the proverbial birth pangs of a better world order.

But with that order came an uptick in violence and a corresponding increase in handgun sales from the beginning of the 1960's to the end of the decade. Even women began packing heat and heading for firing ranges to test their aim.

I can't help but be reminded of a particular book I read in college. Robert Penn Warren's novel All the King's Men is a story of a Louisiana demagogue named Willie Stark. Now a classic, the novel discusses the nature of politics and power. Jack Burden is Willie's right hand man. Jack's last name is chosen deliberately. He will bear the burden of his boss's actions no matter what. Eventually forced into an ethical dilemma, Burden can no longer dig up dirt and discredit Stark's opponents any longer. He can no longer be the Karl Rove of the Depression-era Deep South.   

Jack Burden remembers the years during which Willie Stark rose to power. While Willie was Mason County Treasurer, he became embroiled in a controversy over the building contract for the new school. The head of the city council awarded the contract to the business partner of one of his relatives, no doubt receiving a healthy kickback for doing so. 
One day during a fire drill at the new school, a fire escape collapsed due to faulty construction and three students died. At the funeral, one of the bereaved fathers stood by Willie and cried aloud that he had been punished for voting against an honest man. After that, Willie was a local hero. 

This is proof that sometimes times have to get worse before they get better. How many more people must die before Congress acts responsibly and President Obama signs the bill into law? I pray daily for real reform, but as a student of history, I recognize how easy it is to over-correct and over-compensate, pushing through legislation that is reactionary rather than wise. The public will eventually clamor for something to be done as one voice. The NRA may be powerful, but public will is strong when people fear for their lives and the lives of those they love.

This underscores a much more revealing trend. People are demoralized and disengaged from politics this go-round. I have seen relatively few Donald Trump t-shirts and bumper stickers, but the same is true for Hillary Clinton. It seems almost hard to conceive how tuned in so many of us were at this time eight years ago. Record crowds will not stand in the freezing cold on Inauguration Day.

We will lose a chief executive who has underwhelmed at times, but who has run an almost drama-free, scandal-proof Administration. Bill Maher has said much the same thing himself. It seems almost inconceivable, considering how difficult, even impossible, it is to prevent unflattering news from being widely disseminated in the Internet age. 

I hate to admit this, but conservative writer and interview subject George Will was correct to a degree. He said that the Obama phenomenon was metaphorical cotton candy and would eventually melt away. One wonder if he reached this conclusion due to some acumen in predicting the future. If so, I grant him the credit he is due. Should Hillary Clinton be elected, I expect change that I can believe in, now more than ever.