Friday, June 25, 2021

The Book of the Dead: Control and Entropy in Ancient Egypt

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

 The Book of the Dead:
Control and Entropy in Ancient Egypt

In 1993, while going for my Master’s in Media Ecology at New York University, I took an independent course which took place in Egypt, titled “Communication and Culture in Ancient Egypt,” led by Dr. Terence P. Moran. We visited the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx, the tombs of Im-Ho-Tep (architect of the Pyramids) and Tutankhamun, the Valley of the Kings and Queens, Karnak, and many other monuments. This is the paper I wrote as my final project, about the religion of Osiris, and how the Ancient Egyptians looked at the technology of textual communication regarding life, and especially death. I have included the notes written by Dr. Moran.

* * *

Socrates was apprehensive of the written word and the harm to society that may arise from its use. Quoted by Plato, in Phaedrus, Socrates stated [Moran: speaking as Amun]:

“The discovery of [the written word] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves… You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be heroes of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.”

Plato wrote down this statement during the third century BCE.


Nearly four millennia before Socrates expressed his conviction, writing had already been in wide use in Egypt in the form of hieroglyphics, or word-pictures (from the Greek hieros, “sacred,” and gluptein, “to carve in stone) [Quirke and Spencer, p. 121]. An entire caste of society was trained as scribes. Through years of training, a scribe would know as many as seven hundred hieroglyphs. Nearly every statue, temple, tomb and wall were inscribed with stories of the artists, or the pharaoh, or with religious legends of mythology. Meticulously carved into stone, or painted on wood or sheets of papyrus, the scribes’ work survived over the centuries to describe like during this flourishing period of Egyptian History. [Moran’s comment: It is worth noting that all the Pharaoh’s family were also taught how to read and write. Then, as now, communication meant control.].

Many of the surviving texts of this civilization describe invoices of textiles, livestock and other goods. There also remain texts of poetry, daily religious prayers and magical incantations, ceremonies and beliefs, histories of gods, the origin of the universe, and a large quantity of information on the afterlife of the dead. The latter has been collected into what is commonly known as The Book of the Dead, or Pert em hru, literally translated as Chapters of the Coming Forth by Day [Hope, p. 17] [Moran: Note the differences between these two titles; the original one tells so much about how the Egyptians viewed life and death].

Thoth and Ammit

The Book of the Dead, which dates from the early New Kingdom (c. 1567-1320 BCE) [Armour, p. 10], is a primer for the recently deceased, a guide to understanding how to protect oneself from the dangers of the afterlife, how to get servants to do the required labor for the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing), and especially how to behave and converse with the gods when one meets them (including Thoth, Anubis, Horus, and especially Osiris, the Lord of the Dead) as, for instance having to avoid the devouring of one’s heart by the demon goddess Ammit (whose body was part lion and hippopotamus, with the head of a crocodile).

The origin of The Book of the Dead, a compilation of numerous texts collected from fragments of papyri, is unknown and may be older than the Egyptian culture itself. The beliefs were possibly brought by immigrants or invaders. For the Egyptians, The Book of the Dead dealt with the realm of the mystic, and was controlled by the clergy.


The earliest known recorded versions of these passages and stories are usually referred to as the Pyramid Texts, beginning approximately 2345 BCE. The texts were taken from hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of various pyramids and tombs as ancient as the V and VI Dynasties in Saqqara (Memphis).

The Pyramid Texts, also known as the Heliopolitan Recension, were made up of 714 “utterances,” which had a number of functions, including “a funeral ritual and a ritual of mortuary offerings at the tomb, magical charms, very ancient rituals of worship, ancient religious hymns, fragments of old myths, and prayers and petitions on behalf of the dead king” [Breasted, 71]. The oldest texts are based on the dominant belief in the sun-god Ra (or Re). There is no mention of death in the early Pyramid Texts except in reference to the unworthy or a foe. The pharaoh did not die, bur rather went to join Ra and other gods in the celestial hereafter, becoming an equal with the gods.

Pyramid Texts

In the religious tradition of the solar faith [Breasted, pp. 65-93], there was no heaven or hell, but a heaven-like celestial place which the dead follower shared wit the gods, as one of their members. Osiris, on the other hand, “represented the realm and the dominion of death, to which the follower of Re was not delivered up” [Breasted, p. 93]. Osiris’ acceptance rose later in Egyptian mythology.

The tradition of Osiris as the king of the netherworld, which grew more popular with the collective community, originated in the Delta region of Northern Egypt (e.g., Alexandria) and “migrated up the Nile” [Breasted, p. 107]. This belief came in direct conflict with the State’s official religion of a celestial afterlife for the pharaoh and Ra. In much of the early Pyramid Texts, there was an open hostility towards the Osiris netherworld by the celestial hereafter, including some exorcisms to keep Osiris and his family (e.g., Isis, Horus, Set, Nephthys) from entering the solar tomb of the pyramid. Diametrically opposed, Ra ruled the afterlife of the sky and Osiris ruled the underground netherworld. In time, the popularity of the netherworld would overcome that of the celestial sun-god. Part of this acceptance was the belief in a resurrection by Osiris from death. As with Christianity, the possibility of a life-after-death meant a hard life might have its rewards (as well as punishments) in the next “world,” even if it meant as a servant to the pharaoh and his god companions.

Osiris and Maat

Also rising out of the Osiris myth was the Maat (the concept of truth and ethics, as she is the goddess of truth who judged the deceased and was the daughter of Ra; sometimes known as Ma’at) [Armour, pp. 161-162]. This trial increased the possibility of resurrection and regeneration if the heart of the deceased is lighter than the feather (or total obliteration in the jaws of Ammit, the “devouress,” if the heart outweighs the feather).

Through the found fragments in the pyramids at Saqqara and Heliopolis, it has become evident that as “the Pyramid Texts were eventually Osirianisied” [Breasted, p. 109], which included some editing of the Pyramid Texts by priests following each successive pharaoh, found throughout the chiseled hieroglyphics in a series of five pyramids.

The mortuary passages of this period were excavated exclusively in the royal tombs and were meant only for the kings and gods, and especially Ra. The Pyramid Texts were mostly absent in the tombs of the nobles [Breasted, p. 72].

The information encased within the Pyramid Texts were held closely by the priests of the Solar religion. What information they “published” was chiseled into tombs that were sealed, never to be opened or seen, thereby creating a cybernetic system to control the contents of knowledge that was the privilege of the priests, pharaohs, and gods. The priests and scribes were not permitted to use the information for their own “souls” to guide them to the celestial grounds.


The purpose of any cybernetic system is to effect control, and any system is vulnerable to entropy, including information. Over time – in this example, hundred of years – as the religion itself changed from a Ra-based center to the overwhelmingly popular Osiris-based center, as explained above, belief in Osiris became egalitarian: everyone dies. It is the favourability of the possibility of resurrection through Osiris that became the religious equalizing factor, among the peasant classes, though the nobles were the first to employ the mortuary texts [Moran: Note how writing was used to control death (entropy), first by the pharaohs, the by the nobles, later by everyone].

Through the centuries, as the priests slowly lost their thrall-like grip on the funerary texts, it became common to find sections of what has been collectively known as the Pyramid Texts painted on the many layers of the sarcophagi of nobles, who could afford to hire the priests to prepare the texts, and the highly trained scribes to do the writing and art work needed to prepare the to meet Thoth, on the path to join Osiris. At this stage the funerary texts are known as the Coffin Texts because of the location of their inscriptions. The time frame for this function is the Middle Kingdom, or XI to XIII Dynasties [Hope, 186].

Coffin Text

This period, approximately 2080 to 1650 BCE, saw the reunion of the Two Lands (North and South), private burials in mastabas and rock tombs, and the appearance of human-shaped sarcophagi. It was on these multi-layered anthropoid inner (wooden) and outer (stone) casings that the Coffin Texts began to appear.

There were still differences between the pharaoh’s burials and those of lower classes in the elaborateness of the ceremonies and the size of the burial place, and in the hearing of the priests to recite prayers and magic spells. However, the texts and rituals – and the resurrection – were shared by all. These texts were similar to the later Pyramid Texts, serving the same functions, but having been appropriated and adopted by the middle and official classes, they included the addition of “unofficial” popular mortuary literature. In theory, even the lowest class of peasants could be allowed to purchase the possibility of deification, but they could not afford the fee [Wilson, p. 117].

The influence of the previous Ra-based celestial religion was a strong foundation on which the beliefs were raised, so there was a coalescing of the celestial and netherworld afterlives. James Breasted states that “in the Pyramid Texts Osiris was lifted skyward, while in the Coffin Texts and The Book of the Dead, Re was dragged earthward” [Breasted, p. 237].

Much of the funerary literature of the time consisted of charms to protect the deceased from various dangers, such as having one’s head removed or the body decaying in the netherworld. As the priests found the selling of these charms quite lucrative, they became more creative about the possible dangers in the hereafter, continually writing new charms and spells that became part of the increasing Coffin Texts.

Due to the desegregation of the funerary texts to numerous classes of people, a need arose for a more substantial number of coffins to have the information inscribed upon them. No longer needing to be carefully chiseled on the stone walls of pyramids, stelas and tombs, as they had been for royal personages, the Coffin Texts, carved and written with pen-and-ink onto wood, were often copied from previous texts with “carelessness and inaccuracy, the effort being to fill up the planks with writing as fast as possible” [Breasted, p. 236]. Often the same chapters were rewritten a number of times for this purpose.

Whereas redundancy tends to defeat entropy, in this case the repetition did not overcome this process due to the lack of consistency in the information. This produced a text that proved more erratic and less understood, rather than clarified by repetition. The information, rather than evolving into precision, becomes superfluous due to the dissimilarities in story and detail. At the early stages of the texts, much of the content was dogmatic rhetoric not wholly understood by most who used it; as it was copied more and more inaccurately, it was increasingly misunderstood and communicated by rote. It is this lack of concordant detail that proves the entropic character of the textual information.

The final stage of the funerary text, the aforementioned The Book of the Dead, was made possible by the rise of the use of papyrus paper which was relatively inexpensive and, more importantly, portable. As the centuries passed, it was becoming more impractical for nobles to have large tombs built, especially for those of the lower classes and of lesser wealth. As the population grew, space became more precious and less affordable, both economically and geographically.

Book of the Dead: Anubis weighs heart and feather, 
while Thoth and Ammit watch and wait to left,
with negative confession judges above

One of the inclusions to the funerary texts of this period is a higher sense of moral vision to achieve divine recognition and a joyous afterlife. Besides Thoth, Anubis and other principal gods of judgment, there were now forty-two additional judges who had names such as “Bone Breaker that Came out of Hierakonpolis” and “Blood Eater that Came out of the Place of Execution” [Breasted, p. 257]. For these gods arose what became known as the negative confession, in which the deceased must state one confession to each of the forty-two judges (e.g., “I did not rob,” “I did not make falsehoods in the place of truth”) [Breasted, p 257]. The newly departed must know the names of each of the gods verbatim, and chapters of The Book of the Dead were produced by the priests to guide the deceased’s progress through these trials.

The term “Book of the Dead” is actually a misnomer, as the “guide” is not actually a “book” but a collection of random chapters to prepare the deceased for the next world, as well as religious invocations and ceremonial prayers.  Written on papyrus scrolls ranging from 20 to 90 feet in length, 14 to 18 inches in width, and containing from 75 to well over 100 chapters [Budge, p. xxx], the scrolls were usually placed between the legs of the deceased before mummification.

The popularity of the papyrus invocations was so widespread that priests and scribes pre-prepared scrolls and later filled in the names of the deceased, such as with the most complete copy of The Book of the Dead presently known, called The Papyri of Ani, which is housed in the British Museum. Dating from the XVIII Dynasty (1500-1400 BCE), it was found at Thebes in the 19th Century CE.

As with the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, there is no fixed order for the vignettes; it was up to the scribes or priests to choose which selections would be included and in which order. The amount of money paid determined how many chapters would comprise a particular roll (The Papyri of Ani contained 186 chapters and was 78 feet long [Budge, pp. cxliii-clii]).

Due again to economics, one of the major changes in the evolution of the Pyramid texts to The Book of the Dead was the addition of the ceremonial chapters.  Previously, priests and mourners would be hired to sing prayers and hymns for the deceased. Through the entropic necessity of catering to a mass population, the texts became more common, less specified, and less complex. Much of the ceremonial texts were eventually removed. What remained of the highly ritualistic mortuary texts were the prayers and chants to be said by the deceased themselves in the netherworld [Budge, p. xxx].

As well as the religious significance of The Book of the Dead, the technological aspects leading up to the mass use affected is “time binding.” [McLuhan, p. 37] [Moran: McLuhan is here using a concept he learned from Harold Innis’ The Bias of Communication], inherently cybernetic due to its resistance to modification, as well as low accessibility to the general population, resulting from its lack of mobility. A high degree of skill, artistic endeavor, and training (“technic”) were necessary to become a scribe who worked with a stone medium. This was especially true concerning the funeral carvings, which were located inside sealed tombs. Even in many temples, the inner chambers were sealed to all but a hierarchy of priests, with only a solitary high priest(ess) allowed into the core cell.

Although McLuhan refers to the hieroglyphic form of writing as a cool medium, the use of papyri caused its “hotting up,” thereby “unifying spaces horizontally, both in political and entertainment empires” [McLuhan, p. 37]. This is also true for religious – as well as funerary – texts. As the information pluralized, the knowledge of the texts centralized a larger portion of the civilization. The accessibility of the papyri medium resulted in a speeding up of communication technique, enabling the religious authority a means to extend further throughout the kingdom [McLuhan, p. 96].

In this case, a hotter medium, or technology, can dominate over an older, cooler one. Through the rise of the use of papyri, the spread of the information of the possibility of a life-after-death as presented in The Book of the Dead was no exception. Despite this outgrowth, the Egyptian culture managed to survive for many centuries beyond the introduction of the revolutionary process of recording and transporting information on a portable medium. Partially, this was due to the need for the development of transportable culture [Ellul, p. 116]. As the Egyptian civilization crept upriver on the Nile, further from the Delta and toward Aswan and beyond, the stories of the gods and an Osirian netherworld came with it.

Despite the flexibility of content imparted by the copied text, which exposes the communication method to an entropic loss of information, part of the reason why the culture remained strong for so many millennia, was the older, cooler medium of “writing” hieroglyphics on stone. Since some information was chiseled in rock, some consistency was preserved in the stories that remained throughout most of the texts. This was solidified more after the rise of the Osiris myth since it was not until after Ra was superseded that the texts were preserved in more public places (e.g., obelisks, or stelas), rather than in the sealed tombs.

Through the long history of Egypt’s fascination with the soul (ba) after death, the leading cause of change in the stages of culture pertaining to the mortuary texts was not the advancement of hieroglyphic writing, but the technological advancement of the medium upon which it was stored. Starting on static stone, moving to painted and cared wood, and then to transportable papyrus, the dissemination of information, which started from the aloof royalty alone, was able to reach the mass population. Paradoxically, despite the many changes, growth, and “hotting up” of this culture, it was able to maintain some level of consistency, somewhat holding at bay the ever-raging tides of entropy, by having at its core a heart of stone.


Armour, Robert A. (1986). Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.

Breasted, James Henry (1933). The Dawn of Consciousness. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Budge, E.A. Wallis (1967). The Book of the Dead… The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum: The Egyptian Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation, a Running Translation, Introduction, Etc. New York: Dover Publications (Reproduction of 1895 edition).

Campbell, Jeremy (1982). Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

DeFleur, Melvin L. and Sandra Ball-Rokeach (1966). Theories of Mass Communication. New York: David McKay Company, Inc.

Ellul, Jacques (1964). The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books.

Hope, Murray (1984). Practical Egyptian Magic. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Ions, Veronica (1982). Library of the World’s Myths and Legends: Egyptian Mythology. New York: Peter Bedrick Books.

McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Penguin Books.

Quirke, Stephen and Jeffrey Spencer, Eds. (1992). The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Wilson, John A. (1951). The Burden of Egypt: An Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Odd Jobs Stories II

Odd Jobs Stories II

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

Due to the success of my previous work-related stories, I thought I would continue with other work experiences that are either unsettling or joyous.

* * *

For a two-week period during 1983, I worked as a messenger out of the Lincoln Building, which is on 42nd Street, across from Grand Central Train Station. I was between work as a typesetter, and I took it what is now known as a “survival job.”

It was pretty standard work, either picking up packages or dropping them off after getting a signature. I found it kind of mundane, though three of my friends were also messengers around that time, and two of them liked it because it gave them the freedom to be out and about, one did not.

For one of my deliveries, I had to go to the Associated Press office around the corner from the “30 Rock,” the NBC building, right near Rockefeller Plaza’s skating rink. I brought the package, and the person I was delivering it to in a crowded room full of desks (an early “open office” concept, I guess), commented that he could not find his pen. It was right next to him on his desk, and without saying a word, I pointed to it, to help him out.

With extreme condescension (I honestly believe he did not realize the level of it as I remembered it), he said, “Oh, aren’t you a smart one. Maybe we should hire you?” It was solid white male privilege.

All 115 pounds of me leaned into him and said in a clear sotto voce that others could hear (honestly, I was not doing that intentionally, I was just fed up), “Listen, I am doing this job because I have no choice right now. I have a Bachelor’s Degree and cannot find work, so don’t you dare talk to me or anyone else in my position like that, unless you know the person and their story.”

With that, I took the signed package out of his hand, turned around, and walked out without looking back. As I left the building, I was sure that would be my last day because this guy would go full “Karen” and complain to my boss. Honestly, I did not care if that happened, I believed it was worth it to stand up for myself.

Much to the guy’s credit, I did not hear anything from my boss about it, so I am assuming he did not call. Perhaps he learned a lesson, one would hope.

I left the job four days later to work as a temp at PBS Thirteen, where I typed out the proposal for the infamous Aba Eban documentary, “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews.” (1984). I also worked there for two weeks when something permanent came out.

* * *

I learned not to assume about anyone else’s position early on, having had jobs that dealt with the public such as scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins, or an usher and ticket ripper at a local movie palace.

While I was a proofreader, we had a young African-American man who delivered the mail. Whenever he dropped mail on my desk, I said hello, and asked his name. He just glared at me and walked on. But I am persistent.

Going forward, every single time he dropped off mail, I would always say hello and ask his name. Finally, after a while, he got mad, and said, “Why do you want to know?!”

My response was, “I see you every single day, and just like any of my other co-workers, I want to be friendly. I do not just say it to you, I say it to everyone. Also, I used to be a mail clerk at my first office job at 99 Church Street (next to the Woolworth Building), so I understand.” With that he walked off.

The next time he came around, before I could even say anything, he said, “My name is Leroy.” I stood up and shook his hand, and said, “Hello Leroy. Since we have to work together, I hope we can be at least civil.”

I found his reply kind of shocking. He said, “I have worked here for two years, and in that time, not one person has acknowledged me other than to give me something to mail. No one has ever asked my name or said thank you.”

My response, in a quiet voice – and this was not something that would fly today – was “Fuck them. That is their issue. If they are going to be so obnoxious, they don’t deserve to have you say hello. For me, I’m glad to know you.”

From that point on, whenever he came by, he had a big smile on his face (as did I), and we’d briefly chat (he could not stay long because he needed to finish his rounds).

When his birthday came around, I bought a card and had everyone in my Department sign it, other than my boss who thought it was a waste of time. I left there before Leroy’s next birthday, but I hope things went well for him.

* * *

During the Bicentennial, I worked at a Baskin-Robbins that was on Seventh Avenue South, a block away from the infamous Stonewall (post-riot). My pal Dennis, who worked there, got me the interview. That store does not exist anymore. It was there I met infamous tightrope walker Phillippe Petite (story HERE). Other famous people I served included Barbara Walters, Mark Lenard (who played Spock’s father in the original “Star Trek” series; d. 1996), and the infamous porn actor Marc Stevens (“Mr. 10-1/2”; d. 1989), who lived nearby.

While I was there, it was Fleet Week, and sailors from all over the world stopped by, which was pretty exciting. I mentioned it to one of my customers, as I made his cone, and he suggested I greet the Greek sailors with “nafas skata,” which he said was hello.

There are two expressions I can speak in Greek, both of which are profanities. What he suggested I say is translated as “eat shit.” This really pissed me off. I replied, “Why would you do that?! I know what that means!” With his cone in my hand, I took a bite out of it, and told him to get out of the store and never come back (not that I had the power to do that, really). He seemed shocked that I knew it, and walked out embarrassed, but not as much as I would have been if I had listened to him.

At another point, the boss hired two teenyboppers who were the spoiled daughters of the Liquor Store next door. They were incredibly obnoxious and “mean girls.” They kept threatening to get us fired if we did not do their work for them.

One day, I was listening to a live tape of the Ramones I had made when the store was slow. One of the girls (I think they were around 16 years old), without asking, turned my tape, threw it on the counter, and put on a cassette of the Bay City Rollers. I said something like, “Hey, I was listening to that!” She said, “Too bad, now we’re listening to this.”

I had enough of them. I picked up the huge flat knife that was used to cut cakes, and slammed it down on the counter, cutting the wire to the cassette player. “Now we’re listening to nothing.”

I really thought I was going to be fired, but instead, I spliced the wires together so the cassette player worked again, and never heard about it any more. But the two kids never messed with me again.

I left the store later that year when the owner lost the business to his wife in a divorce settlement, and she let everyone go and started the staff from scratch. Not much longer after that, she sold the store and it became a trendy restaurant.

* * *

At a media company, for quite a while I shared a room with three other people that faced 53rd Street, where I could look out the window and see DC Comics who had all this cool merch in their windows, and could also see the David Letterman Theater. I saw him a number of times, and the Eagles of Death Metal played right below us. I took pictures and sent them to the band, and they were snarky about it, accusing me of being a possible sniper. Assholes. Their band is not that great, anyway.

Eventually the management moved us to the Broadway side, into an open office room. We would go in on Thanksgiving and watch the parade go by from the second storey window. That was amazing. And yes, I took pictures.

During the work days when they moved me there, I sat across from one of the sales people, that I really did not like. He thought it was because he was gay and I was homophobic. Nope, the reason was because he would constantly be using the speaker phone, which made it really hard to concentrate on my job. So annoying and rude. I asked him to stop, but he said, “I bring in the money, so suck it up,” essentially.

After my whining enough, they moved me to the other side of the floor facing 7th Avenue, and my view was of Lindy’s Restaurant (since closed; I worked in an office in that building for a few years) and the Sheraton New York Times Square. Eventually, they moved me back into that room that held the three of us, when I left to move out of the city.

* * *

While I worked at a multinational corporation doing PowerPoint slides for presentations in the 1990 to early 2000s, I was the fastest of the bunch. My work may not have been the prettiest, but if there was an intense deadline, I was the one who they came to; I made myself valuable. In a time when most people could do about fifteen slides a day, I could do twenty-five. Remember, this is old school PowerPoint, which was not as simple as it is now. There was one co-worker who was quite slow, and could only do about seven slides a day. Whenever I teamed with her, I did the majority of the work, which was frustrating.

My boss left to be a “preacher’s wife,” which was taking up a lot of her time and of course, his work – which was less pay – came first because he was head of the household. To replace her, they picked the person who was extremely slow, which I did not understand. It made no sense to me.

A few days after she was installed, she called me into her office and read me the riot act over something really miniscule. Honestly, I don’t think I heard much of what she said. My mind was in overdrive, thinking, “Oh, I get it, she’s trying to establish authority. We were co-workers and now she’s a supervisor, so she needs to make it clear she is in charge.” When she finished, rather than getting defensive and angry, I said, “Okay, I won’t do that again.”

After that, we were okay. Other co-workers were put off by it, because I was not the only one she did that with, and I said, “Give her time,” and explained about the whole “new boss” thing.

Within a short time, she became the best boss I had at that job. She stood up for most of us and defended us when consultants were not happy.

She did have one major flaw, though: she absolutely hated gay women. There were a lot of gay men in our group, and she had no problem with them, but she was convinced that the lesbian workers were going to hit on her 50s, overweight self. I felt bad for one of my co-workers, who we bonded over her being a writer and musician, and we are still good friends to this day. The boss did not treat her well, and she did not stay long.

One of the people I helped get a job there was my Academic Advisor for my Master’s program at New York University, Janet Sternberg. She needed the job to pay for her final push towards her doctorate, and this helped her enormously. It was great working with her. She was from Brazil originally, and when she was an undergrad there, she was approached by NASA to be the voice of Portuguese on the “Golden Record” in 1977 for the spaceship Voyager, which was sent into space.

One day we were hanging out at her desk, and she mentioned that she was going to check her voice messages at home. She turned red and became all excited, stating, “There was a message from NASA to let me know that my voice had just passed Pluto!”

You can see Janet and hear her message HERE

* * *

One of the problems of working for a Fortune 500 company, and I have been employed at a few, is there is a deep divide between the “grunt” workers (office clerks, administrative assistants, mail clerks, etc.) and the consultants (Ivy Leaguers who could have earned their degree or had their parents “help” them), even with those who claim the corporation to be non-hierarchical. I was an office worker, and the lowest level of consultant was making more than three times a year more than me. One actually had the nerve to tell me that hour by hour, they made less than me. Excuse me, but I never made your starting $140,000 salary, with all my overtime. Not even close. They were not only clueless, but oft times they were oblivious to how privileged they were.

So many times I have held the door to an elevator, or in a hallway because they were behind me, and they would just walk through, like I was the doorman, with no acknowledgement or even a glance. At those points, I would say to their backs, in a loud and minor tone voice, “You’re welcome!” Sometimes they would turn around and apologize, but usually they kept on going.

I understand they worked long hours, but so did I. I was once on a project and was heading home at 10 PM, and got on an elevator with someone I didn’t know. He smiled and said, “Half day?” I thought this was hysterical and told him so, and he said that most times people would get offended.

We really had to step carefully because, as I said, even though the company considered itself non-hierarchical, we generally had to walk on egg shells. An Administrative Assistant I knew quit in frustration because the person she was working for had left an envelope on her chair with a yellow stickie that said, “Please sent to…” and the full address. The mail pickup box was literally in front of her desk. He could have just written the address on it himself, but felt it was below his station. She said to me, “I am his Assistant, not his servant.” She went on to become a nurse.

One time I was working with a young Harvard graduate who was somewhat new to the company. He would walk down the halls singing at the top of his lungs, like no one else mattered. At the time, I was given the information to input on sheets of paper. Sometimes they would do the swirling delete, or “kill” proofreading symbol and put the page at the back to indicate it was not to be used anymore. Well, in this situation, the page had a the “kill” mark but was in the middle of the stack, so I was not sure if it was to be included or not (perhaps someone changed their mind). I said, “Hey, Mark, what’s with this page?”

In an incredibly condescending tone, like he was talking to a 10-year-old, this 25-year-old said to my 40s self, “Oh, that’s a kill symbol. It means take it out.” What went through my mind was, “Y’know, I was editor of my college newspaper before you were swimming in your father’s balls, and you want to tell me what a “kill” symbol is?!” What I said, though, was “thank you, Mark.” And then continued working.

In another project, I was helping out a co-worker. I had agreed to work two hours past my shift until 10 PM to help them out. I was working away, and at about 8 PM, the team leader ordered supper for everyone else on the team – except for me – and he did it on my phone, less than a foot from me.

At 10 PM, I was hungry with all the empty containers around my desk, and I said, “Well, it’s time. Bye.” The team leader said, “But we’re not done.”

“Perhaps, but I am. Bye.” Yes, I was punishing them for their inconsiderate nature. If they would have bought me supper, I would have stayed all night to help them (yeah, I’m a food whore), but I was hungry and they needed a lesson.

The next day, my boss called me into the office to ask why I had left. I said, I had not eaten since lunch and was really hungry, and when they ordered food for themselves and just did not think to included me, like I’m a robot rather than a Robert, I left.” My boss shook his head, called them assholes, and I left his office, never hearing about it again.

* * *

This is more of a lemonade out of lemons story: at this same Fortune 500 company, I was – at some point – a newbie. I had just gone through training, and was assigned to my first project. The consultant gave me a stack of papers, and sat down at a desk next to me, continuing to work while I put together his meeting slides.

At one point, I said to him, “This bullet point starts with “e.g., “and ends with “for example.” That’s redundant. Which one do you want?”

Rather than saying one or the other, he started to scream at me, in the middle of this large room with 50 of my new co-workers that I did not really know yet. “Who are you,” he fumed, “to tell me how to write! You work for me, so you do what I say without question!” At this point he started snapping his fingers in front of my face. “I am your superior. I am more educated than you, so you do what I say! If I put in on the paper, you type it in!” He went on for about five minutes like that, with everyone in the room looking.

When he finished, I put up a finger as if to say, “Hold on.” I called the head of his team, and put it on speaker phone. In a calm voice, without even mentioning this person was there, I said, “Hey, Jack, I have a bullet point here with both an “e.g.,” and “for example.” I stopped there.

His voice came booming out of the speaker phone that everyone in the room could hear, “What idiot wrote that? Don’t they educate anyone anymore?” Remember, this guy had proclaimed that he was more educated than me. Jack continued, “If you know enough to catch it, I’ll trust you to know what to do about it. I’ll talk to my team about it later.”

I hung up the phone, and turned to the yeller and said, calmly, “So, do you want the “etc.” or the “for example”? He stormed out of the room and never spoke to me again during the three weeks I worked with his team. I got a quiet applause from my co-workers, and I was “in” at that point.

On my way home that night, I was thinking about it. “Hmm, he said he was more educated than me. I have a Bachelors. He has an MBA, which is a Masters. This company will pay for my Masters once I’m done with my probation.”

Six months later when my probation ended, I went down to New York University and signed up for a Masters program in Media Ecology, which I achieved, and all I paid was the fees and for the books. My Masters cost me about $2,000. I have that entitled guy to thank for that.

* * *

I have told this story before in a blog about photography:

I worked with someone who stopped talking to me at one point, and I was disturbed, trying to figure out what I had done to offend her. A couple of months later, I inquired with another co-worker with whom we were both friendly: seems the icy treatment was because she thought my taking candid photos (people talking, grabbing food, etc.) at a company Halloween costume function was "creepy." 

The photos we took were put up on the company intranet, and I saw that nearly all the ones she had personally taken were of people standing still with big toothy grins across their faces turned directly to the camera. I find those kinds of shots can be boring and unrealistic: reportage rather than reporting. To me, my photos felt like they had more life and were natural, with no forced smiles. Most people loved them, but not her. 

When I found out the reason for the silent treatment, I felt better, because it was not something I had actually done to her, but rather her interpretation of my actions. I have no power over that, and I just let it go.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

PIGSHIT: Diary of a Loved One, 1982: Life in a Rock’n’Roll Band [1983]

Text by Gary Pig Gold / FFanzeen, 1983 / 2021
Images from the Internet

PIGSHIT: Diary of a Loved One, 1982: Life in a Rock’n’Roll Band

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #10, dated 1983. It was written by columnist Gary Pig Gold.

Gary is one of my favorite rock historian writers. I became familiar with him from his originally Mississauga, Ontario-based fanzine, The Pig Paper. His column and blog are still active after all these years. I’ve seen him play a few times, including with the Dave Rave Conspiracy and in the alt country Ghost Rockets, but unfortunately, never with the Loved Ones, who achieved cult status. Gary has lived in a few places both in the States and in Canada, and it’s important to know that he is a huge Beach Boys aficionado. – RBF, 2021 

Jan. 1: No New Year’s Eve party for The Loved Ones (to play at, either!), but was 1981 really worth ushering out, anyway?

Jan. 4: “Bubbles” (possibly not her real name), a gurl with a fake Australian accent I met at the Plimsouls’ Xmas party, calls to say she’d happily pose n-u-d-e for the Pig Paper. Time for my fanzine to go color/glossy/fold-out?

Jan. 16: I guess not. Pig Paper 14 covertly photocopied overnight in the Redondo Beach offices of American Container Corp., and if the Xeroxer hadn’t kept jamming up, I could’ve had this latest ish On the Streets of L.A. tomorrow morning!

Dennis Wilson and Gary Pig Gold

Jan. 25: Remember Gary Usher (“In My Room,” “Sacramento,” “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (et. al)? He was actually interested in producing The Loved Ones – till he discovered our publishing wasn’t up for grabs. “I’m not hungry anymore, y’know,” Gary [d. 1990] informs me today. Huh?

Feb. 7: Ronnie Furness, an old ex-Loved One, called all the way from Tahsis, British Columbia (big lumber town where he’s now employed) to confirm the rumors he’s heard that I’m not a coke addict. No, I’m not, even though I now live in Southern California. (I ate a slew of hash brownies once though, whilst watching Ride the Wild Surf on Channel 11…).

Feb. 11: My pal, Johnny Wonderful, of local Stray Cat copy-cat combo the Debonairs, calls to say yes – he can get an interview with the Blasters for Pig Paper 15.

Feb. 22: Murray the K dies and the Blasters sign to Warner Bros. Interview still on, however, sez Johnny.

Feb. 26: Tonight, Pig Productions was to present the Crowd’s gala Farewell Show at the Belmont Shores Lion Club, but a rival promoter (disguised as a not-so-mild-mannered reporter from the Cal State Long Beach newspaper) kindly informed the Powers That Be that the Crowd were, quote, “The West Coast’s most dreaded punk rock band.” Consequently, Pig Productions (along with 450 impatient ticket holders, not to mention the Crowd) arrive at the Lions club to find a sign reading Show Cancelled: Go Home! nailed across the doorway. Pig Productions immediately retires from the concert promotion business and changes its PO Box and phone numbers.

Issue 14

Mar. 3: After months of postal undercover work, I succeed in tracking down notorious pal o’ John’n’Yoko, David The Pope Smokes Dope Peel [d. 2017], yet he refuses to author a regular Pig Paper column.

Mar. 12: Desperate for a way to take their act on the road and get it together, The Loved Ones covertly set up their equipment in an empty second-storey classroom at nearby Cal State Long Beach, draw a crowd of three, open up all the windows, play a 14-minute set, and spend the remainder of the night in the campus jail. Blasters interview still on though, sez Johnny W.

Apr. 30: The Blasters’ manager, Celia, sends me a letter which reads, in part, “As for the Pig Paper 15 interview, frankly, I doubt it. The timing is not right. Like most Americans, the Blasters like to have some time just of relax.” Interview still on, however, insists Johnny.

May 5: I read somewhere that Gary Lewis and the Playboys recently reformed (who hasn’t?) and are recording a comeback LP (who isn’t?) so, ever the hit hunter, I visit their publisher with a cassette-full of my most rocked-up originals, versions of Goffin [d. 2014] and King (or at least Kooper and Russell) dancing in my head. “These originals aren’t rocked up enough,” the publisher quickly informs me as I’m shown the door, bus fare already in hand.

May 6: Undaunted, I begin writing and recording the latest Loved Ones demo-tape.

May 13: A gigantic Blasters interview is just published in the latest issue of L.A. Weekly magazine.

May 24: Lester Bangs dies and the Blasters leave for a European tour of indefinite length. Interview may not now occur, confesses Johnny not-so-Wonderful-anymore.

Jun. 19: Loved Ones demo-tape hand delivered to local “New Wave” station KNAC-FM. Airplay refused: “These songs aren’t rocked-up enough,” the program director quickly informs me as I’m shown the door, etc.

Jun. 20: Undaunted, I begin work remixing the Loved Ones’ demos. This time removing the Dolby noise reduction unit and boosting all levels well into the red.

Jul. 14: New and improved Loved Ones demo-tape hand-delivered to legendary Surf City face-about-town Rodney Bingenheimer, who quickly refuses to give it airplay on hiss legendary Pasadena radio show because, “This tape’s rocked-up too much.” Thoroughly daunted, I start becoming a coke addict.

Jul. 15: I find myself near Hollywood and Vine, attending two tapings of the Merv Griffin Show. I also find myself being forcibly ejected from the theater shortly thereafterwards, after heckling Moon Zappa as she lip-syncs to “Valley Girl.” This is particularly embarrassing as tonight’s guest host is my long-time idol, Dick Clark [d. 2012].

Jul. 20: My roommate moves out on me.

Jul. 21: My rent is raised.

Jul. 23: The Loved Ones play Our First Party Gig! and steal an amp from our opening act by way of payment.

Aug. 6: Veteran Pig Paper fan Greg Shaw [d. 2004] writes to say he luvs the Loved Ones’ demo-tape, even though, quote, “The songs sound too much like Gary Lewis and the Playboys.”

Aug. 8: Pig Picks to Click, 1982, No. 1: Saw a great band playing in the middle of the Seventh Street Recreational Park this afternoon – The Falling Idols. Remember: You Read It First in FFanzeen.

Aug. 14: The Loved Ones play Our Second Party Gig!, ‘way the way 100 miles south in San Diego. Between sets, I drive farther south to Tijuana, Mexico for dinner, and bring home a mucho case of food poisoning.

Aug. 24: The Loved Ones play Our First Club Gig!, opening for the Cat Burglars (the who?) at the Concert Factory (the what?) and earn Our First Paycheck! ($14).

Sep. 2: The Loved Ones play Our Second Club Gig! at the Concert Factory, opening for the Lucky Strikes (the who?) and The Jets (ditto) and earn Our Second Paycheck! ($14 in change).

Sep. 10: I begin work for The New Music Review in order to supplement my paychecks, and discover amongst my first pile of vinyl to review, Pig Picks to Click, 1982, No. 2: Six and Six and Later On, by the ultra-ESP Records-sounding Jandek (available from Corwood Industries, PO Box 15375, Houston, Texas 77020). Buy These Albums! [Ed. Note: That address is still viable, or you can contact Corwood online HERE – RBF, 2021.) 

Sept. 17: The Loved Ones play Our Third – and Biggest – Gig! to date: opening for the Suburban Lawns at the prestigious Radio City club. We are not paid but do not notice.

Sep. 30: A pretty gigantic Blasters interview is just published in the latest issue of Flipside magazine. I wonder whatever became of Johnny Wonderful?

Oct 7: The Concert Factory requests further Loved Ones bookings. Fearful of being thrust into too high of a tax bracket, I decline.

Oct. 21: I receive a letter from Robert Barry FFrancos, which reads, in part, “As far as your column goes, fer sher, send it along anytime. If you want, write something about “Life in a Rock’n’Roll Band” or some (Pig)Shit like that.”