One day I got a call from a stranger who wanted to meet with me and my wife for dinner. I was very reluctant to accept until he began to tell me how much he knew about me. He told me his name was Donald Rhodes. He had read my technical papers and had met people I had called on while assisting top salesmen from DataGraphics. My curiosity got the best of me and so we made a date and he flew in to San Diego. We met in the poshest restaurant in town and we had a nice meal before getting down to business. He was looking for a sales manager. How could I be a sales manager when I had never been a salesman? No problem, he knew I was the man. I had been the technical backup for every sale he lost in the last six months. He represented the competitor of DataGraphics, Benson-Lehner. He offered me a high base salary and a large commission override for everything sold in the country. It sounded good and Jane wanted me to go for it. It also helped that a promotion that I had hoped for at DataGraphics had been filled by an outsider who did not know the business but had an MBA degree.
I had to sell a newer model microfilm recorder at a lower price; but it had not been widely tested in the marketplace. In fact, in some ways it missed the mark for quality. I started immediately and began to try to pick up the easy sales while the house was being sold in San Diego. I had a bachelor apartment in Van Nuys close to the plant and went down to San Diego on weekends to take care of business. When the house sold, we bought a four bedroom Eichler style home, with a swimming pool, in Granada Hills.
I had never made so much money in all my life. I was selling machines as fast as the factory could put them out. In addition to that, I was bugging the chief engineer to make some changes to improve quality and features in order to get a larger share of the market. At first he accepted my input, because I had increased sales so much; but after a while I became an irritant to him. How much is plenty of money? I always gauged it by how long it would take to pay for a decent house for a family my size. Usually it was three years salary; but for my first year I made more in commissions than my house cost. I was putting the money in the bank and buying cars. I got an Oldsmobile 98 station wagon with woody sides and a black Cougar sports coupe with a big engine. It seems like I would burn rubber just getting it out of the garage.
One day, a visitor came to talk about Microfiche cameras. He was young and six foot seven inches tall. He filled the room. I thought he wanted to sell us something but soon I could see he was deceiving us. He was trying to pick my brain for product ideas. When I got him alone, I called his bluff and challenged him to tell me what was really on his mind. It turns out that he was checking me out for product knowledge to see if I could design the next generation Microfilm recorder. “For whom?” I asked.
“For a new company; consisting of me, Ron Mogen, and Glen Kimball, chief engineer at Alpha Graphics Typesetter Company, and you. I want you to meet our financier, Eugene McGovern.”
Well, that was startling! I thought about how I had tried to get Benson-Lehner to fund a new design to compete with DataGraphics and I realized I had outgrown this little company in a little over a year.
Ron, Glenn, and I met Eugene at the Bel Aire Country Club. Bob Newhart was teeing off at the first hole. Eugene was a dead ringer for Eddie Albert. Eugene was Dean Martin’s golf buddy. Eugene was stinkin' rich and it was obvious. We talked about a grand plan where we would have a ‘Sub Chapter S’ corporation and go public on the third round of financing. How does this work? We all put in money for initial stock worth $10 a share and in three years when we go public at $100 a share we get rich. Also, founders will be offered stock options before we go public. Get rich quick, I liked that.
Where does the rest of the money come from? Have we got enough to start? Eugene does, don’t worry, besides he knows a lot of people; Dean Martin, Kirk Kerkorian, and some people from Telex. We would call on all these people in the next three years.
In the next three years I would work harder than I have ever worked before. I dumped all my cash into the company. We set up a temporary office on Ventura Boulevard overlooking Jon Peters Hair Salon. It was such a temptation to just watch the movie starlets come and go in their transparent blouses and no bras. It was 1968 and the Sexual Freedom League was open for business and it was safe to go naked and have sex and who knows what all. And I was busy working against a deadline to write the design specifications on the world’s fastest Microfilm recorder. In 60 days we completed that phase and needed a factory floor to build the prototype. That was a 2,000 square foot factory in Van Nuys close to Benson-Lehner. We had about six months to build a working prototype and get it to Las Vegas for the Fall Joint Computer Conference; a show that eventually became COMDEX.
Working day and night for the next six months we assembled the prototype and shipped it to Las Vegas where we installed it in the 30th floor penthouse suite of the International Hotel compliments of Kirk Kerkorian. We didn’t have a booth at the convention but we had Elvis’s suite in the largest hotel in the world, free of charge. Elvis was moved to the 29th floor for 10 days. Jane and I slept in Elvis’s bed one night. Our company also had Caesar and Cleopatra’s suites in Caesar’s Palace and we had our hospitality suite at Dean Martin’s suite in the Riviera. Eugene McGovern took us on a nightclub tour after the convention and we simply strode through the casinos past the people standing in line and the red velvet rope dropped like magic and we went straight to the front table of the theatre where setups and whole bottles of booze already were on the table and sat down as the show began. This happened three times that night. I have commented after that experience, “I tried rich and I tried poor and I like rich better.”
I continued to work long hard hours and travel the country with Ron Mogen pitching the goods. I remember the night we walked into a big hotel in Dayton, Ohio, home of National Cash Register, a very conservative bunch; and I did a little tap dance in the lobby and said, “We’re Goodman and Mogen, I’m Goodman (pause) and he’s Mogen.” Remember, I am 5’4” and he is 6’7”; an unlikely couple to be tap dancing together.
My past experience came in handy in the design of the CMS7000, the model name of our system. I designed the font and character generator for both the English language and the Japanese version. I had studied font design in the night courses I took at Texas Western College. I had designed the proportional font for the DataGraphics graphics printer. The Japanese were very good customers and bought about 50% of the machines we manufactured.
I had become another person, no longer going to church, no longer sober; and no longer watching over the raising of my family. I was dragging Jane along with me. Jane was having problems with my daughter Dee. I did not know how physical their conflicts had become, but it was serious.
Then on February 9, 1971 at 6:05 AM the big 6.5 quake hit LA., centered only a few miles from our house. It was a boom like the end of the world. We all jumped out of bed and headed for the living room. That first jolt was only a bump compared to what happened next.
An Eichler style home is all glass on the back side of the house. We stood in the living room, facing the glass, looking at our swimming pool and cinder block back fence. The water got up out of the pool like a giant amoeba and moved towards the house. We felt ourselves stumbling backwards as though someone was pulling the rug out from under us. The water came within a few feet of the glass doors and then flattened out on the ground and we felt the glass coming towards us like the rug was being pulled the other way and then the back wall fell over and we could see the back of our neighbors house for the first time. This was surreal. Then we smelled vinegar and catsup and whatever was in our kitchen cabinets. Everything was dumped on the floor. The bookcases and all the books were on the girls’ beds and nobody was hurt. We all grabbed something for our feet, there was glass everywhere.
We went out the front door and met all our neighbors in the street. Al Molinaro, the guy who played the cop on Odd Couple and the hamburger slinger on Happy Days, was there. Dee had babysat for the Molinaros for over a year before she realized Al was on TV.
Someone had a radio and we listened and realized there was a great deal of damage and that aftershocks were causing even more. The Veterans Hospital had pancaked and crushed the whole fleet of ambulances for the area. The Van Norman earthen dam was cracked and it was likely the water behind the dam was going to flood the valley. They called out the boundaries of the area to be vacated and we were in it; if fact, the spillway was at the end of the block we lived on. The whole neighborhood jumped into their cars and drove away. We went about four miles to the house of one of the other people in my company and asked to come in. By that time, some TV was back on the air. It might be three days or more before they would know the condition of the dam. I had airplane tickets and my bags were packed to go to New Orleans for a Microfilm standards conference. I dropped by our factory; which was now a large 120,000 square foot building in Canoga Park. Every time an aftershock would come it would squirt dust out of the cracks in the concrete floor. Some of the employees’ families were hanging out there because they felt safer than at home. It was February and too cold to sleep in a tent in the yard. I figured I was taking up space so I went to the airport and flew to New Orleans for my meeting. I thought it would be calmer there. In the hotel you could feel the pumps that moves the water out of the delta to prevent the city from sinking rocking the building. It wasn’t any calmer here than back home. When my business was done, I flew back home. I hadn’t counted on this, but who did?
The quake didn’t hurt the house, it just flexed and lost a little spackle at the corners. The back of the house was mostly sliding glass doors and shear walls to add rigidity. There were foot long windows at ceiling height in all exterior walls at the front and sides. Eichler homes survived the quake much better than boxy peaked roof homes that didn’t flex. Brick and masonry homes and churches just collapsed in a heap.
There are a lot of cinderblock walls around the San Fernando Valley and they would lean a little more each day and then one day fall down.
You could sit in a parking lot in front of a strip mall and watch the windows. When you saw your reflection move it was an aftershock. After a while you just imagined aftershocks anyway. Sometimes you would see a person walking, then stop and hold arms out at their sides as if to balance, and then look around. It was a nervous time.
And then the business was ready for the third infusion of money. We had collected 39 million dollars in revenue but it cost us 43 million. Ordinarily this would still be a viable startup. Most of our development costs had been recovered. Another six months of profit would put us in the black. Telex backed out of that level of cash infusion and insisted on sending out their hatchet man. Telex had their own problems. They had been making tape drives to replace IBM units on big computers but IBM kept changing the wiring on the mainframe so that replacement drives were not always wired right to be plug to plug compatible. Telex sued IBM and it was the biggest lawsuit ever. It went on for ten years.
And then one day, the sheriff put a lock on the door and we were out of a job. I had two cars, a house mortgage, and a mossy swimming pool.
1971 was a bad year to be unemployed. There were PhDs pumping gas in Pasadena, home of Jet Propulsion Labs. I went to the unemployment office on my Honda 90 motorbike to save gas. All our cash had been in the company and the loss of income was painful. I began to scramble for ways to raise cash. I had an idea to speed up the DataGraphics machine I had worked on and submitted a proposal to my former employer. I applied for TV sales jobs in furniture stores. They laughed. I was ‘overqualified’ they said.
I learned that the only source of $50 bills was the unemployment office. When you pulled out a $50 bill at the grocery store, everybody knew. It was like food stamps. For some reason, all my shirts turned black at the armpits. They were being washed properly but my body was screaming for help.
Somehow we got an invitation to attend an ‘opportunity meeting’. In desperation we went and that’s when we met Will Page. These meetings were held in Holiday Inn meeting rooms and consisted of seeing a film and hearing people tell how easy it is to make $100,000 a year in your spare time. Will used to sell airplanes to European countries for Boeing, then they said he was too old; so he heard about Bestline and now he is happier and making more money selling soap. It was a pyramid club but organized like a network sales operation. You got to play the game by putting in $3,000 for which you got a garage full of soap products you could sell for $6,000 and the opportunity to get someone to either sell the soap or convince other people to buy a garage full of soap. Anyone else you recruited was worth about $800 for you and $400 to the person who recruited you. No one was selling the soap. Everyone was obviously trying to get other people to fill their garage with soap. There were motivational speakers and sales training and conventions and a lot of hullabaloo.
Will was very charming. I liked him and Jane simply loved him. Jane wanted to do it and began to press me, but we had no cash. I asked my mother for a loan; and on the day it was time to transfer the cash to Bestline I chickened out. I thought it was the wrong thing to do and it went against my core principles; which I had a hard time justifying considering the shape I was in. Jane went ballistic! She called me a coward and worthless and insisted our relationship depended on making a success of this. I caved.
We now began to make fliers and put them on car windshields and called all our friends and tried to herd people into the opportunity meetings. Before long it began to work. We were signing people up. We were believing the sales pitch. We were associating with successful people driving new Jaguars XJ12s. It was magic.
And then, Roger Blue called and told me he had a job opening in LA for a production manager. He knew it was beneath me but he knew I was hurting. Roger knew me because I had sold him about a dozen CMS7000s for the Transamerica Service Bureau, SynerGraphics. My knowledge of the system I had created would be a valuable asset to the LA office. I took his offer.
That left Jane to do the Bestline business. Jane had been attending UC Northridge for a sociology degree and was almost finished up. She did a project that interviewed older women that were going back to school. The project was to discover the underlying reasons. I reviewed her research and noted that almost all were preparing to leave unhappy marriages or had already set divorce wheels in motion. In almost all cases the husbands were giving their wives a hard time and objected to their schooling. It was quite an eye opener. I commented to Jane, “You are qualified to be in the group you are studying. Have you asked yourself these questions?”
I don’t think I got a straight answer.
Being production manager for a data service bureau is a 24/7 responsibility; and so you hope to be able to hire dependable people. The office was in the Occidental Insurance Tower on Olive Street in downtown LA; and it was about a 40 minute drive to get there from Granada Hills. I tried not to travel at rush hour; which would have almost doubled the time on the road. Sometimes I would receive a call at 2 AM and have to race into the office and stay with the problem until it was solved. It was good to be back at work and getting a paycheck, but my life was becoming unraveled.
On October 27, 1971, my birthday, I was preparing to make love to my wife who stunned me with the following statement. “I don’t love you anymore, I love someone else.”
“Who? Who could it be? It couldn’t be Will, he has a wonderful wife, Ruth, and a 16-year-old daughter. Who could it be?” It was Will.
My first response was to try to reason with her. “Will has a family, what about Ruth? For that matter, what about me?” Reason didn’t work.
I found Will’s thank you letters for what a nice time he had with her and decided maybe Will was more reasonable; after all, he is a man like me, and I’m reasonable. We made a coffee date and met in a public place. I laid out the reasoning and he agreed with me. This was going to mess up too many lives. He would just call it off.
Jane went ballistic. “What’s the big idea of you making my decisions? This is my life and I make the decisions.” I think she must have called Will a coward too, because after a while he caved.
One weekend she disappeared and on Monday morning when it was time to get the kids ready for school she was still not home. I began to call around to some of our friends to get a clue. I called a friend, Mary, in San Diego. She said she had seen her earlier in the weekend, but nothing more. I then called the Del Coronado Hotel and asked if Will Page was still checked in. He was. That hotel had been our favorite romantic spot on a peninsula in the bay at San Diego.
I thought we were being civil. We continued to sleep in the same bed and be polite for the sake of the kids, but one morning Jane just had to have it out and began to shout in my face and provoke me. I stayed calm; which was the wrong thing to do. She really wanted to provoke me and I didn’t take the bait. She hit me and scratched my face and that provoked me; and I held her tightly by the wrist until she quieted down. Meanwhile, the kids had been aroused and were calling at the door. I opened it and with a bloody face announced that it was over, the marriage would come to an end. Things were quiet for a while and Jane felt ashamed.
Dee had been visiting on some weekends with her birth mother, Toni, who now lived in Huntington Beach. When Toni came to pick up Dee, she had a man with her who served me an envelope containing about 40 pages of a complaint asking for custody of Dee. I was flabbergasted and lost my cool. I was angry, but I couldn’t be clear what to be angry about. Toni had abandoned Dee for seven years and then only made contact on rare occasions. Dee had not been completely accepted by Jane and had some serious unresolved problems. I felt totally abandoned. “If only Dee had waited, we could have had a good life together.” I thought.
We had court appearances and Jane stood with me dutifully. When Dee was gone I became resentful and blamed Jane. I eventually gave in and agreed to an uncontested divorce and asked Jane for one last favor. I needed a wife’s permission to get a vasectomy. She agreed and drove me home from the Planned Parenthood clinic after the procedure.
We tried to save money and have a single attorney divorce using a friend I had worked with; but he proved inept and got himself jailed for accepting a stolen car for his fee. We tried again with two attorneys; and once the papers had been signed I moved my stereo out and into a downtown apartment closer to my work
I squeezed out one more favor. Since I had a good job and a car to trade, I got a yellow 1972 Toyota Celica.