Little Rock, Arkansas
A few months after curling up on the couch, nothing short of a miracle happened. I got a random phone call from a woman named Alison from a company called Acxiom. She said, “Joseph, we reviewed your resume from Monster dotcom and think that you might be a great fit for an opening we have in Brazil.” I was beside myself. My resume mapped right in. They wanted an international business development manager to expand their information technology company into Latin America. That was perfect. I spoke both Spanish and Portuguese. I didn’t know what the technology was, but it had something to do with direct marketing, like compiling and integrating databases for companies to send out junk mail. My mood went from feeling six feet under to overexcitement in less than a few short moments.
I flew to Chicago to interview in the offices of a client I was to be working for. It was one of the largest and most prestigious advertising companies in the world, Leo Burnett. They interviewed me in English and Portuguese and were very impressed. I finally was able to start climbing out of my depression. I started to get very excited. The company made me a great offer, which I immediately accepted. With salary, benefits, and a large expense account, I was making over six figures. “Finally,” I said. “I’m back.” Maybe not with aspirations of millions and millions, but I'm back with a nice expatriate opportunity in a country I so much wanted to visit.
I went through two months of training at the company headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were over 4,000 employees at the company and just about every one of them was sharp as a tack. The first day of training, we reported a nondescript four story building in Conway, Arkansas. We were seated in a dark room in the basement and a technical engineer with a thick southern drawl fired up a Powerpoint Presentation to give an overview of the company. We learned that they had been around since the late 1960’s and possessed the largest consumer marketing database in the world. I didn’t realize the implications of that at the time. We learned they had a lot of computers in various locations to run all sorts of programs to talk to each other, but I couldn’t conceptualize all that was going on. Once the presentation was finished, all of a sudden, the blinds from floor to ceiling started retracting upward revealing one of the largest network operating centers in the world. There were stacks and rows of computers as far as the eye could see. It was the size of a football field with billions of dollars’ worth of equipment there. We were directly overlooking the command and control center which had screens with weather reports and current events to monitor any threat to the building and all other buildings throughout the country. It looked like the control center from the movie Wargames. I was extremely impressed.
I got to know what the company did a little better, which was integrate databases so that a customer, say, Dell Computers, could remove the duplicate records in their files and clean up their contact info such as home address and e-mail. Then I learned the company compiled billions of lists about consumers that were used to enhance a database by adding information to a record. So if Dell sends me a record of John Doe, I can tell them that John likes golf as he reads from Golfer’s Digest, he takes cruises every year, his home value is ‘x’ and makes ‘y’ amount of dollars per year.
I thought, “Holy Cow! These guys are the Big Brothers the conspiracy theorists were talking about.” They can see everything about us. They had data on ninety-seven percent of all consumers in the U.S. and a large percent of European and Asian consumers. I had no idea I what I was getting into. I learned that there are very strict rules and guidelines put forth by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to protect consumer data, but still…. they had power.
I did a little digging around the company and learned that the company was known for using mass amounts of data to help in US presidential campaigns. Then I found out the company’s CEO was friends with Bill Clinton, and not only that, his then current White House Chief of Staff, Mack McClarty was on the Acxiom Board of Directors. I started coming back to life and thought, “If I play my cards right with these guys, I could make it to the top again.”
In the first two months in Little Rock, I single-handedly wrote the company’s strategic business plan to expand into Latin America. They had already targeted Brazil, but they wanted me to research possibilities of expansion in Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Mexico. With all of the knowledge I gained at Thunderbird, this paper was a piece of cake. My manager was so impressed with the document, she sent it to her boss. Her boss sent it to his boss and it ended up on the desk of the company officers. I couldn’t believe it. From sitting on a couch two months prior, to having the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company congratulate you for doing a great job. I was so fired up. They told me to spend six months to a year in Brazil to do a feasibility study and determine whether the company should expand there by growing the company organically from the ground up or buying an existing competitor.
My wife and I arrived in Brazil right during Carnaval. Our great friend from Thunderbird picked us up at the airport and then whisked us away to the beautiful Portuguese colonial town of Ouro Preto. We were living the dream. I can’t describe how much fun we had drinking and dancing in the streets with thousands of young college kids. There were parades, Carnaval girls and percussion bands and the whole shebang. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t want to return to reality, although I knew I couldn’t blow this chance of excelling at this work opportunity.
My first day at work I was introduced to a man within the company that I didn’t know existed up to that point. He was kind of their special ops agent that did projects for the company on all continents. His name was Mr. Campos. He talked like a drill sergeant and was very much regimented. I later came to know that he worked in a covert government group in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam era. I wondered if I sought these kind of people out or do they just find me? We butted heads at first. He was on a mission to Brazil with another department of the company and we were stepping on each other’s toes a little. Turns out I had to eventually report directly to him as well my other boss. He turned out to be my best mentor in life.
I spent six months in Sao Paolo, Brazil with my wife living in a beautiful high rise on the thirtieth floor with a pool on the roof. The company paid for my cabs, business dinners, lodging and gave me a hardship allowance because the cost of living was higher than in Little Rock.
There were about twenty fun Thunderbird friends that I knew well living there at the time. We had an excellent social life. Work was hard, but not too taxing on the brain. I was exercising every weekend in the park playing Ultimate Frisbee with excellent Brazilian athletes. My life was well balanced in Brazil and I made it back without the manic alter ego, Mr. Neutron, rearing his ugly head. I was chemically balanced and never got too manic for a prolonged amount of time. My final determination was that the company ought to wait a few years prior to entering into Brazil. Mr. Campos agreed. The market environment was not ripe enough at the time. I handed in my final report to management, packed my bags and flew back to headquarters.
Back to Little Rock
In August of 2001, I returned back to the United States to Little Rock, Arkansas for six months with my wife. The company wanted me to be more exposed to their US products and services, so they placed me on the Sear’s Roebuck account. I didn’t really have a role other than to shadow the team in their meetings.
One day Mr. Campos came to town from overseas and met me for lunch. He said, “You’re going to go to the Direct Marketing Association Conference in Chicago next week. I’ve arranged to you to fly in the corporate jet with the big wigs. George Bush Sr. will be the keynote speaker. Behave!” I was so excited to have the opportunity I went out and celebrated with my wife.
The next week I got everything in order; bought new shoes and a Jerry Garcia tie. I showed up to the private airport early. The Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer came walking in with their wives. I almost soiled my pants. I was with the most important people in the company and there was J.P., the new kid on the block that was supposed to help take the firm global. I felt like Forrest Gump running into a brush with greatness. We boarded the Gulf Stream 4 and the CEO got into the cockpit. I had no idea that he was a pilot. We zoomed down the runway and the CEO lifted the steering controls and we took off practically straight up into the sky. You should have seen the look on all of the passengers’ faces. The G-force was incredible.
I conducted my meetings with a few clients and met up with old colleagues from Mexico and Brazil. The speech by George Bush was fantastic. I was right up front. He wasn’t there to talk about direct marketing, but he did speak to the industry a little bit. The crux of his speech was how proud he was to have his son in the presidency and how he was detached from the day to day decision making unlike many people thought.
The 9/11 Manic Trigger
Turns out my coworker on my team, Mr. McAvoy, has a sister that is the White House secretary to Bill Clinton. Another huge contact to put into my quiver.
On the morning of 9/11, I was in a large meeting in the ‘war room’ with about 20 executives and managers from IBM, Acxiom, and Sear’s Roebuck. I was the youngest guy in the room. At one point my colleague asked me to get something off of his desk down the hall. When I passed by the T.V. in the break room, I saw that the first plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I thought, “Oh shit. My sister!” My older sister was working the tower that got hit first, but I didn’t know what floor she was on.
I went back into the war room to tell everybody and they looked at me like, “So the heck what.” Only ONE guy got out of his chair to come back to the break room to watch as the events played out.
About thirty minutes later my father called me to tell me my sister had escaped the building without harm and was bunkered up at her old boyfriend’s house a block and a half away. I was still scared because I knew that if the tower fell, it could still get her for sure. We didn’t hear back from her for hours after the second tower came down. Finally, I got the call that she had run like a bat out of hell up to midtown.
Sure enough, the apartment she was holed up in was heavily damaged by the debris. I was so relieved beyond belief. The assholes from the war room were more interested in how they were going to get rental cars to drive back to Chicago. They just didn’t see the magnitude of the situation.
A terrible world event such as this is a major trigger for a manic depressive person. This sent me to the moon. I was so enraged for weeks. I wanted to personally go to Afghanistan and kill Bin Laden myself. It just made me want to get involved somehow, someway.
Hunting for Terrorists
I received a call from my boss about two weeks after the attack. He said, “It’s important and it’s urgent.” He wanted me to report to his office in five minutes. I was a building away so I ran as fast as I could. He explained, ”You are going to start working on a secret government project with a new task force Bush has just assembled. It involves the FAA and it is to see how Acxiom data might be used to catch terrorists and make air travel safer. I need you to just sit on the meetings pay close attention because we are going to need you to take this project to our allied nations.” I thought, “Cool! I’ve personally got skin in the game now in the biggest homeland tragedy since Pearl Harbor.”
The objective of the mission was to find a way to better ascertain who was getting on an airplane. The passenger would get to the check in counter and have to answer three ‘out of wallet’ questions, that is, three questions that couldn’t be known by a person who may have tried to steal an identity. So the question would be formed using Acxiom data. It might be, “What was the color of your ’97 Mustang you owned?” If you answered wrong, the person at the counter wouldn’t know it, but the message would go to the surveillance center at the airport. If the person got three wrong, the feds might approach the person in the airport or even put a marshal on the plane to sit next to him.
The task force also wanted to use black lists of suspect terrorists to match against the Acxiom data. If there would have been a hit, for sure the person would be immediately detained and interrogated.
The American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) representatives were present during the discussions to determine whether the constitutional rights of the people were compromised. This was really Big Brother in action. After two weeks of discussions, it was determined that the data could not be comingled with government data and the plan would not be allowed to proceed. Bummer. There goes my chance to make a true difference in the world. My mood shifted from excellent to piss poor in an instant.
After the speech I walked through the vestibule and there were TVs turned on to CNN. The top story was that the Skydeck of the Sear’s Tower was reopening for the first time since 9/11. I turned to my Mexican colleague and said, “Quick. Let’s go.” We ditched the conference at midday which was a no-no. Our boss had expectations that we meet with a certain company in the afternoon. We didn’t care. We get to the tower and stand in a huge line that’s been waiting there for over 45 minutes. It turns out that the wait in line was due to the fact that George Bush was up there cutting the ribbon with Mayor Rich Daly.
The big news companies were all there; CNN, FOX, NBC ABC, and CBS. I woman came up to me and asked me to say something on camera about the event. She was from NBC. I said, “Yes, I believe the American people should put away their fears of terrorists and move on about their business.” That was it. I kid you not, my boss is watching the national news tuned into NBC and sees me waiting in line! What are the odds? I was on his shit list for a while, but I thought it was worth it.
Back to Phoenix
I moved back to Phoenix to be the team leader in the International Solution Center to work on a project for American Express. The company flew me to Japan, England, Germany and Mexico. There were many trials and tribulations as I tried my hardest to not get manic. One day the company made a poor decision to take out the regional expert for Latin America, Mr. Campos and replace him with two managers that had no clue about the region. They left me hanging without resources, namely a budget. I got upset and had verbal blowouts with my boss regarding our strategy. The situation started making me very manic.
Signs from God or Manic Hallucinations?
Back in Phoenix one night in 2004, I was conceptualizing a solution to a work problem and drew a geometric representation of how we could filter the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ using people’s personal data from Acxiom. In other words, we would get the black list data from the government that tells us who are committing crimes and weed them out with help of Acxiom’s ability to locate and profile a person in a nanosecond. The drawing looked like an isosceles triangle with another triangle resting upside down on top of it, kind of like an hour glass.
I got out of my chair and roamed over to the book shelf. For some cosmic reason, my eyes went straight to the book ‘Pyramid Power’. I did not even know that owned that particular book. It must have been Mariam’s. I arbitrarily opened the book close to the middle to a random page, and BOOM! I almost hit the floor. There was an exact drawing of the one I had just made. I didn’t know how to process this. It was nothing short of miraculous. No way could that have been a coincidence.
God had my full attention. I didn’t think it meant anything other than God’s way to say, “Listen up. I’ve got something to tell you.” How I interpreted it was that it was a sign that my Presidential plan was validated and I ought to continue to the next step. Mr. Neutron lives on with renewed synchronicity.
It was safe to say that I was in a very elevated, manic state. I went into the bedroom and took the laminated map of the world down off the wall and brought it to the kitchen table. My mind started to go a million miles a minute. I took an erasable pen and started drawing circles around cities that I thought I had to go to carry out my master plan to save the world. I picked out Beijing, Hong Kong, Moscow, Cairo, Havana and several others.
I could not get to sleep that night. My wife was concerned that I was losing my sleep and becoming over excited, so I lied down in bed next to her and pretended to snore until she went to sleep. Our house in north Scottsdale was up in the mountains in an upscale, gated community that butted up against a nature preserve. I was fearless thinking that God would protect me on my walk, even though there were lots of snakes, scorpions and wild pigs that would enter the perimeter of the community.
I would hike to the top of the highest hill around where I had a personal conversation with God. I would take deep breaths of the dry, hot, desert air and exhale slowly until I was in an almost trance like state.
That particular night, I heard God speaking to me in audible words and said that I should say the following whenever I was in doubt of his presence. “Lord, give me the strength and thy breath shall be ONE.” I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I interpreted it as I was breathing the air simultaneously with God himself and that he would protect me as I tried to achieve these grandiose plans to save the world.
I returned home from my long walk and, for some unknown reason, started to put a collection of odd personalized items like drawings, pictures, and Hallmark cards into a briefcase. I thought I had to bury it on that hill for a treasure hunting game sometime to be unearthed in the future once my plot was revealed. It was essentially a sacred time capsule. Suddenly, I heard Mariam wake up and I quickly aborted the mission.