Everyone remembers something different about the 1970s - and some of you, reading this, may remember nothing at all, since that decade preceded your blessed arrival.
To paraphrase Dickens: "it was the worst of times...but, for some people, it was the best of times".
The 70s invented "oil shocks" and "stagflation". We unloaded Tricky Dick, once and for all, but replaced him with the anti-president Gerald Ford - who was then followed by a peanut farmer, Jimmy: righteous, homespun, and, in the end, also severely underqualified for the job.
We had video of helicopters on the roof of our embassy in South Vietnam: taking off the desperate people who wanted to fold up their lives and go with us. We had really big cars. We had really big hair. We had some of the worst popular music ever recorded.
For me, as a young father - and husband - discovering the on-ramps and potholes of married life, 3 years which fell in the middle of the decade combined both best, and worst. Hoping for nothing more than a quiet and prosperous life, I was pulled into a kind of hall of mirrors: where a lot of my assumptions turned out to be inside out, or upside down. But I'll be quick to admit that it was all very instructive. I learned about disappointment, desire, deception, loyalty, and pain. I learned that, for me, there really is no such thing as a "bad" orgasm - and I am now fully conversant with just about every type of anal lubricant available (although I hardly ever have a chance to use that fund of knowledge anymore).
It was the kind of journey that few other people have taken, and may have been the wrong kind of adventure for me: coming, as it did, to that confusing end.
But, even if I had those years to live over again, I'm not sure I would want them to go any other way.
If only because I was so rarely bored.
Getting back to the current events of 1975, this story begins shortly before the arrival of Jimmy and Rosslyn: as I finished 3 agonizing months of unemployment by landing an entry-level position with the Coincidental Insurance Company.
To get this job was a huge relief: settling a lot of controversy at home, since I had walked out of my previous job (at a big bookstore) on the spur of the moment, in deep disgust - with some very rosy hopes for the future.
I explained those hopes the night after my sudden resignation. I sat quietly, in the dining room, while the righteous hurricane summoned up by my wife swirled around me: assuring her, again and again, that everything would be fine. My plan was that I would go freelance - as a writer - and turn my old typewriter into cash right away.
My disagreement with the bosses at the bookstore was fortuitous: a happy accident - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - a chance to really show what I could do.
I would finally be a writer. My own boss, guiding my own destiny.
I would be crazy not to take the chance.
My wife responded that I was just crazy, irresponsible, selfish, immature, and continued her furious monologues - day after day - until I gave in, found the classified section from the Post, and started circling the ads that might re-establish the kind of paycheck bondage she was ambitious for me to have.
As it happened, there - in the classifieds - was an insurance company: hiring to start immediately. A few days later - after a rudimentary typing test and some interview questions about what kind of a bird I would be (if I were a bird) - I picked up a schedule for the bus I would be riding to work every day, and I started off on the wrong foot by being 10 minutes late for new employee orientation.
But Coincidental kept me on, despite that unpromising start, and - with domestic peace restored by the new flow of paychecks - I tried to persuade myself that I was still lucky. A durable company, with plenty of room for advancement, had made a place for me - and, now, it was up to me to guide my destiny into a secure channel.
And maybe be a writer some day. Or on weekends. Or in the early, early morning - like Hemingway, or Sylvia Plath.
Coincidental Insurance, which specialized in medical coverage, was an active, bustling place. Although you wouldn't have guessed it from the look of their formerly-cutting-edge office building in the foothills, just off the Interstate.
The structure had been an architectural marvel in the 1960s. By the time I got there: not so marvelous, and starting to fall apart.
The company made money the same way that medical insurers still make money today: by collecting premiums as fast as humanly possible, and then delaying and deferring the payment of claims as long as humanly possible. If the subscriber had not received at least one collection notice by the time we got around to cutting a check, then we were moving too fast.
Holding onto to money with this tenacity, Coincidental put the "profit" back into non-profit. Even though, officially, the company was not supposed to be making any money at all, senior management humped for profit every working day. It was the scoreboard of their lives, and it would have been useless to ask them to stop. They wanted to pretend that they were just like the "big boys": gathering money, and not letting any money get back out.
Their dedication to the bottom line gave them an excuse to dedicate a special part of the building to themselves called Staff Row: quiet, secluded, profoundly carpetted, and patrolled by senior women carrying letter openers.
Staff Row was a world unto itself, and you had to have a very good reason to be there: especially during lunch time, when its inhabitants had food set up on steam tables, so they could eat in their offices - and not be obligated to meet with the "little people" downstairs.
But I never set foot in Staff Row. It is the rest of the building that has some relevance for my adventures.
Accounting was another enclave where not a lot of people went for fun. It faced north, toward the hills, was 99.7% male, and featured the quiet chatter of desktop terminals, and the occasional zip of an adding machine. The accountants favored short sleeve shirts, with ties - and had their hair very short, against the fashion of the time.
Computer Services - in the basement, with no view at all - was 100% male. They worked underground: like the gnomes in the games that many of them played in their spare time. Computer Services was the place to visit to if you had any questions about any science fiction topic. They would also explain computer stuff to you, as well, if you were very, very insistent. The Mainframe - reliably refrigerated - resided down there, in a mystical space of its own. From there it sent feelers up through the walls of the building, and we all used just that one computer: through what were called "dumb" terminals.
As hard as it is to believe, these days, it was the only computer in the whole place. Like God, it was the Mainframe - and the Mainframe created everything else.
The rest of the building - the vast majority of it - was devoted to the Claims Department.
This was where I began my new career.
Claims faced south - so there was sunshine coming in all year around - and it was a vast landscape of women, sitting in rows and rows of cubicles.
No one had ever calculated the male-female ratio for Claims, because the calculation would have been pointless. It was a totally feminine environment: with just a few men in the mailroom. The masculine gender flickered through Claims Processing, but those men never stuck around for long. The job didn't pay that well, there was a lot of sitting still, and there was no one around to talk sports.
From Day One, I was afloat in an ocean of women. Women opening mail, adjusting claims, taking telephone calls, women telling women what to do, and women reporting to other women. Women everywhere: with silk flowers, pictures of their children, meaningless little knick-knacks on their desks, freshening their lipstick, trying not to be overheard while calling their husbands, boasting about their children, pumping lotion on their hands, messing with their hair.
A few my age, or younger, and might be called attractive - but they were usually bubbling about their upcoming weddings.
Some were fat enough so that they looked like they had been poured into their cars when I saw them behind the wheel.
A few were in sight of retirement, and the cakes they would get at their going away parties.
But most were moms with kids: in jeans and t-shirts. As I learned more about the job, the economics of the "mommies" started to baffle me. Taking a cold, hard look at their wages, the vast majority - who arrived at work by car - were working for their car payments, and their child care: expenses they would not have had if they had chosen to remain unemployed. As it was, after plowing through other people's medical troubles - and going blind looking at "green screen" monitors - 40 hours a week, they had a little something to contribute to a mortgage on a house they couldn't afford.
And that was it. They were essentially working so they could pay the expenses of working.
Still, I have to admit that the Claims Floor - on the whole - was a happy place. Most of my peers seemed content with their work, and happy to be out of the house.
I made some solid friends during the 6 years I was there.
And I like to think that - during the 3 years I'll be describing - I had the most intense sex that anyone on the planet has ever had.
Although I don't mean to brag.
On the topic of "bragging", as you read this - and get a better understanding of my strange popularity during those years - you may consider my claims of sexual stamina to be greatly exaggerated. As a matter of fact, you may come to the conclusion that I'm just a shameless liar.
I'll now speak in my defense: talking, a little, about the sexual dynamics of being married.
Bringing my wife into the picture - for the first time - I think most of us will agree that becoming a "mommy" marks a deep transition in a woman's life. It's entirely possible for a woman to fall "in love" with her children - and so, "out of love" with their father. Other women, in the wake of motherhood, just find it hard to allot time to all the people that need their time. And still others, having had a child emerge from their vagina, feel that it's undignified, and just plain coarse to let a penis come back into that golden avenue.
In the first years of our marriage (our "honeymoon", let's call it), my wife would actually pursue me around the house - in a naked game of hide and seek - and her prize for catching me was a long, lingering fuck in whatever corner of the house I was captured.
Then that person who pursued me so recklessly disappeared.
I had no idea where.
After the first baby, the games came to an end. Our Quality Time was greatly reduced (but there still was Quality Time).
After the second baby, there was just weary duty - and a sense of marital obligation. As my legal wife, she had a legal mandate to allow my penis into her hole. She could sleep through that operation - or read through it - or watch television over my shoulder. At one time, or another, she pursued all 3 of those strategies (although never simultaneously).
And finally, after the third baby - an accident, pure and simple - I was introduced to the pleasures of oral sex almost exclusively. My wife, Phizz, was firm in stating that there would be no more children. No more. No more. No more.
It was blowjobs, for the foreseeable future. Which sounds like good news: until I mention the schedule to which I was assigned.
1) I could assume that my cock would be in my wife's mouth some time on my birthday.
2) Chances were good that I would get blown on Christmas Eve: when the children took our threats to stay in bed more seriously than other times.
3) And I occasionally found myself in the middle of a suck during no particular special occasion when Phizz was drunk - but not too drunk.
Candidly comparing drunk and sober: the sober jobs were adequate - mildly satisfying, occasionally good. The drunken ones were, routinely, disasters (during one miserable episode, she threw up on our favorite duvet, ruining it).
So it's not that I arrived at Coincidental Insurance in a state of celibacy. I could reliably anticipate sexual satisfaction - with a partner - something like 5 times a year. This was the limitation I accepted as a married man.
But, keep in mind that I was still a normal man, with normal levels of all the manly hormones: interested in variety and spontaneity, desperately interested in women all of my life.
Without pointing the finger at my wife, her neglect made it almost inevitable that - among all those Coincidental women - I would be almost continuously In Love (with someone other than my wife). And not a mild kind of Love: but the real caution-to-the-winds, daredevil, Sleepless in Seattle kind of emotional tidal wave that everyone writes about, everyone yearns for, and everyone is so terrified of: since to experience it is to lose any kind of rational control you have over your life.
A strange condition for a grown man to be in.
But that's what happened.
And it all began with Kriss: the First of those Great Loves. For over a year, my waking obsession: the water that I drank, the air that I breathed. What I wanted the most in life: with no hope of ever getting it.
To be accurate, though, I want to point out that - the first time I saw her - I did not think: Here's someone who will hurt and disappoint me until my dying day.
Because I didn't know that's what she was going to do.
I also didn't think: this is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Because there were plenty of better-looking women walking around Denver, Colorado - and in magazines - and on television.
I had been fighting boredom, tooth and nail, at Coincidental for a solid 6 months when Kriss was introduced to our Processing team. It was part of Coincidental's corporate culture that team meetings should be short: so, every morning, our staff crowded into Peggy's office - and remained standing during reports and assignments.
Kriss was sitting across the room from me while we gathered.
At first glance, she seemed to a little androgynous: feisty and sarcastic: with a whole catalog of sly looks, and a whole inventory of innuendo. Her body type was the one I had always adored: rail-thin, long legged, and as pale as the moon. Small breasts, short hair - more than halfway toward looking like a very stylish boy.
She smiled winningly as she was displayed in Peggy's office that morning - and she purred a response to her introduction, a response that seemed open and friendly. Unlike most of the working moms on the Floor, she was a real clothes horse, and - that morning - was wrapped in a dress basically in the shape of a tube, made of some thin tactile fabric the color of sea foam. A fabric belt defined her narrow waist. White high heels, and white stockings, completed the look.
All the rest of my peers, crowding into the office, for that morning meeting, wondered how she could afford that dress. I assumed her husband had bought it for her, since she had a huge diamond on her left hand.
That meant she was off limits, for me - and for everyone else.
All the same, I couldn't stop looking at her, despite the fact that she registered me looking.
When our eyes met, she didn't look through me, or past me, as I thought she would. She seemed not to mind that I was memorizing her shape. She actually seemed to be measuring me for something.
Peggy wanted to explain to us what Kriss would be doing. She would be a Special Projects Coordinator. She would not be working with our team permanently. There were just some things that management wanted to look into, and she was going to look into them. And we were all happy to be informed of that.
The preliminaries completed: our heavy computer printouts (the claims we were going to "adjust" that day) were duly passed out, and my co-workers dispersed.
But I didn't get my usual load of paper, and I was asked to stay behind as the others left.
Peggy - all 311 pounds of her - groaned into her office chair - and gestured toward Kriss, who had also stayed behind.
"Kriss is here to audit the kind of problems you've been playing with the last month or so. And maybe we can straighten out the algorithm we're using for these subrogation claims."
Peggy started shifting some papers around on her desk - and Kriss, who had been watching both of us carefully, leaned in my direction...while brazenly pulled down the collar of her dress: so I could see that she was going without a bra...which meant that I got a clear look at her alabaster breasts while my boss sat 6 feet away.
As she did this, Kriss' expression wasn't generous. Essentially, she was telling me: You wanted to see something? Here it is.
Her expression wasn't generous. But she was smiling ear to ear - and she had flashed me so quickly that Peggy never even noticed.
I said as little as possible, to avoid stammering.
"Happy to help out."
"Then Kriss can go back to Accounting, and you can catch up with your real work."
As we left the office, Kriss thanked Peggy for her warm welcome, and we took the long walk back to my cubicle, which was next to the windows, facing south. The cubicle opposite had been emptied by a recent resignation - and I thought maybe that was why Kriss was assigned to work with me, since we would be able to work closely while she would have a cubicle of her own - a pencil cup of her own - a bottle of water of her own - a coffee mug of her own - and a legal pad.
No pictures of her family - or any personal items whatsoever - the whole time she sat there.
I was the one with the folder of cases, and I started sorting through them nervously.
"Which one of these would you like to start with?"
"Doesn't matter. I need to grab a cigarette first, though."
She was looking at me, then. Straight into my eyes. From the very beginning, she encouraged me to be reckless, even though we had to talk in low voices, because gossip in the cubicles was lethal.
So I was reckless. I needed to confront her.
"What was that in Peggy's office?"
"What was what?"
"You're wearing a ring that says you're a married woman."
"And a married woman I am. Really married. Till death us do part, as they say."
"Then why are you showing me your tits - and all the rest of you?"
"I thought you might like to see. Now you don't have to guess."
She let a few seconds pass.
"It's a nice package, isn't it?"
A question for which I had no answer: so she left.
She had a slow, swaying walk: like a palm tree, yielding to the warm afternoon wind, in some seductive city near the sea. She was obviously happy to have me look at her swaying - and not look back herself. And so I looked.
And, by the time I sat back down to begin work, I had a brand new, bright erection - that actually ached a little.
Then, a few minutes later, she decided to have another little bit of fun.
Returning from her cigarette break - smelling of tar and nicotine - she waited until I was clandestinely looking at her, and bent over to open the bottom drawer of her empty desk. The open collar of her dress followed the force of gravity, and I got another glimpse of unblemished skin, undefended breasts, and dark brown nipples.
Reflexively, I quickly looked away: just catching an impression of her secret smile, reacting to my reaction.
In closing this first chapter, I will explain that - to understand that little peep show, and the crooked smile that went along with it - would be to understand Kriss completely. Then, understanding that, you would understand a little of why my desire for her, my longing for her, and my hopes for her were all so childish and futile.
END OF CHAPTER ONE