The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Identified as a trouble maker by the authorities since childhood, and resolved to live up to the description, Charles Carreon soon discovered that mischief is most effectively fomented through speech. Having mastered the art of flinging verbal pipe-bombs and molotov cocktails at an early age, he refined his skills by writing legal briefs and journalistic exposes, while developing a poetic style that meandered from the lyrical to the political. Journey with him into the dark caves of the human experience, illuminated by the torch of an outraged sense of injustice.

Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:58 am


It was late November 2000. We were tracking the progress of our weapons arcing toward ground zero. They met a little anti-missile defense in the form of motions to strike the declarations of Carreon and Whatley, with their wild tales of Cohen’s evil deeds, but the days of easy deflection were over for Cohen. We vaporized his obstructions, and our weapons continued en route to their targets.

Judge Ware had finally set the hearing for a date we hoped would stick -- November 27th -- and the entire Oregon team was coming down to see what our efforts would produce. Although Gary invited us all to stay at his new place on Third Street, it was an aesthetic purgatory in a run-down industrial district across from the wharfs. Gary had lost old Bob Deschl as his computer geek and pizza procurer, replacing him with a tweeker named Crab whose sleeping habits were irregular. Crab bragged about his remodeling skills, but gritty brick dust coated everything in the house for months, including the bed sheets, rendering it uninhabitable by members of the fairer sex. Not that Gary seemed to mind. He called his new headquarters Dogpatch, named after the bar down the street, and was building out a dungeon in the basement, forging a new, kinkier image.

With victory approaching, and relief in sight, crappy lodgings were more than I expected my wife, child and fellow-lawyer to endure. So Tara, Ana, Sue and I stayed at the Lighthouse Hotel in Pacifica that has great views of the pounding surf, and is just twenty minutes north of the San Jose federal courthouse.

The morning of the 27th, the weather was sunny as Tara steered the Camry South on the 280 through the rolling green hills that fringe the Pacific coast. We sailed past the exit to Half-Moon Bay, the Stanford campus, and Sandhill Road, and rolled into San Jose, down the broad curving streets, and into the parking lot south of the Federal Courthouse. Inside, we met up with Wagstaffe and Pam, who would be arguing the trademark issue after Jim tackled the main issue of conversion of personal property. The bright, sunlit areas on the second floor of the courthouse were rather solemn, but our mood was bright. Diestel showed up, smiling with friendly anticipation. Ana and Sue talked cheerfully with everyone. Tara and Diestel hit it off. In the last year, Gary’s team had swelled to three firms and eight lawyers -- two from my office, two from Diestel’s, and four from Jim’s.

Then Gary showed up with a copy of the San Jose Mercury News. There it was, on the front page, below the fold, with a color picture of Judge Ware -- an article about the case. Wagstaffe had finally come through with the publicity he said he could conjure, and it was the first time an article about the case had hit the print media. All prior articles had been digital only. Somehow, the fact that the mainstream news had already picked it up made it seem more likely that we would win. How, after all, could Judge Ware tell the whole world that Cohen, a convicted con-man, should keep what he had stolen? Perhaps Gary had been right all along, and what was simply needed was that everyone should know that “the guy stole it!”

In the courtroom, Jim, Pam, Gary and I sat down at the large conference-sized counsel table next to the jury box, settling into the blue leather swivel rockers edged with faceted brass tacks. Tara, Sue and Ana sat in the gallery on our side of the aisle -- the left side, as we sat facing the bench. It was one of those moments that make you proud to be a lawyer, despite what you know about the profession. The surroundings pull it out of you, as you contemplate the majestic symbols on the wall, and enjoy the physical separation between those who sit at counsel table and those who do not. You appreciate the size of the room, the solemnity of the bailiff, the mental isolation of the court reporter, the indulgent power of the clerk who takes business cards and speaks with the advocates. I for one cannot forget, when standing in a federal courtroom, that this is the place, for good or ill, where right and wrong are distinguished from each other in our society, in a free-for-all of debate and argument, a fast-changing flow of facts and rules that only experts can navigate.

When the case was called and we introduced ourselves, Judge Ware seemed his usual self, but his opening words suggested something more. He began:

“Well, although this matter has been before this court in a number of different ways and in a number of different motions, and I’m familiar with the background, I’m presented here with an opportunity to adjudicate the case summarily on an argument that, as a matter of law, there’s a basis for declaratory relief being granted in favor of the plaintiff and requesting certain injunctive relief.”

Alluding to the large volume of our submissions, Judge Ware continued:

“I doubt if I would have enough time in the day today if you wanted to repeat all the arguments that you’ve made in your papers, but I wanted to give you a brief opportunity to say by way of oral presentation to the court anything you would wish to add.”

Jim began. Directing Judge Ware’s attention to the forged letter, he laid out the facts in parallel statements:

“There’s no dispute that the signature at the bottom of this page from Ms. Dimmick is forgery. There’s no dispute as to that fact. No one is arguing that this document effectuated a transfer of this domain name. There’s no dispute that Ms. Dimmick had no involvement or connection with Online Classifieds, none whatsoever. In fact, there is no dispute that Mr. Cohen prepared this letter with his friend Vito Franco. There’s no dispute that the first line of this letter saying that Mr. Cohen supposedly had numerous conversations with Ms. Dimmick was a lie. He had no conversations with her.”

With a series of gentle nods, Judge Ware confirmed the indisputability of this trio of facts. Jim continued attacking the letter, saying it was “implausible, to say the least, that an Internet company that sells online advertising would not have a connection to the Internet.” Judge Ware’s face showed that he agreed with this proposition. Judge Ware also appeared willing to infer that Cohen had substituted his own email address for Gary’s on the registration form so that, as Jim put it, “if NSI actually checked up on the bizarre letter, they would call up and say ‘Did you mean to transfer?’ and he would have impersonated Mr. Kremen.” Since ordinarily, an error in the contact fields of a computer document wouldn’t give rise to an inference of fraudulent intent, Jim deftly sprinkled mud in Cohen’s direction, alluding to his theft of the Kinko’s documents: “I would ordinarily not make that assumption, if we didn’t have a substantial history of this man impersonating people his whole life, and he’s done it in this case, impersonating a lawyer to get documents.”

Using the knife of undisputed facts to reveal the place where the decision had to be made, Jim cut to the heart of the issue:

“The signature is forged -- it’s undisputed. It’s forged ab initio, and all title transfers fail as a matter of law; therefore, the domain name must be returned and NSI has already submitted itself to your Honor’s jurisdiction to do that, to return the domain name.”

Latin phrases sometimes seem to say more than the English equivalent, or at least lawyers like to think so. Take the term ab initio, which means “from the beginning,” and provides the root for words like “initiate” and “initially.” Beginnings are fundamental to the distinctions the law must draw to establish who owns a piece of property. Ownership rights arise from lawful beginnings. Illicit beginnings generate only illegitimate claims of ownership. Law distinguishes legitimate rights from illegitimate claims. Property law is almost entirely the product of inheritance litigation, and English property law denied bastards the right to inherit a crown, a fortune, or a title. In essence, we were arguing that Cohen had a bastard’s claim to Sex.Com, and nothing more. He was a pretender, a usurper, a man without good title, and Gary Kremen was the true heir.

Judge Ware had taken it all in. Cohen’s claim was void from the beginning, because as the old rule says so simply, “no lawful title can arise from theft.” But the law has another principle of great age, which is that only those with “standing” can bring a civil suit to correct a civil wrong. Only someone who stands to inherit has standing to contest a will. Only the defrauded person can complain of a fraud. And only the person who owned a piece of property when it was stolen can file a civil complaint for conversion. Referring to Cohen’s standing argument as a “piece of confetti,” Jim dismissed “the suggestion that Mr. Cohen somehow can get away from summary judgment because the domain name was not owned by Mr. Kremen.” His argument is an excellent example of how to keep the focus on your opponent, even when the attack is on your own client’s status:

“It’s perhaps glib, but let me say it, your Honor. His argument is that ‘I stole from someone, but I don’t know from whom. It wasn’t Mr. Kremen.’ That’s not his standing to make that argument. He is not here. If someone else wants to come into this courtroom and say, ‘We’re the owner,’ they have the power to do that, but that’s not before your Honor.”

So Cohen had no standing to contest Kremen’s standing! Wagstaffe had stolen Cohen’s weapon and deftly turned it against him. Judge Ware’s face showed satisfaction at this artful turn of phrase. Nevertheless, artful phrases are not enough to win summary judgment, where every essential fact must be indisputable. We needed to remove every cloud on Gary’s title to Sex.Com, particularly those cast by his own careless statements at deposition. Fortunately, Gary had managed to obtain declarations from five of his former business partners at Electric Classifieds, Inc., whom I will call the “ECI Insiders.” As you may recall, ECI purchased Online Classifieds, Inc. (OCI). The ECI Insiders all swore that Sex.Com had always remained Gary’s personal property, and had never been assigned to OCI. Wagstaffe now laid the declarations of the ECI Insiders on the table:

“Attached as Exhibit F to my declaration are all of the declarations from people at OCI that say we never acquired Sex.Com. There is no witness in this case who says that OCI acquired Sex.Com and Mr. Kremen’s testimony, if it is read with any care whatsoever, does not say that Sex.Com was transferred to OCI.”

The team hadn’t been all of one mind about including the declarations of the ECI Insiders, because Pam and Michael were inclined to shy away from the issue, and didn’t even mention the five declarations in their legal brief in support of summary judgment. But Gary and I knew we needed the declarations, which had cost Gary a lot of time and effort to obtain. I had not addressed the problem at the writing stage, and it’s not the best practice to just toss some declarations in to the record for unexplained reasons. Nevertheless, at the last moment during our three-day marathon in Wagstaffe’s office, I had pointed out to Gary that his painfully garnered declarations weren’t being included in our submissions. After a short discussion with Wagstaffe, who agreed with our thinking, he attached them as Exhibit “F” to his own declaration. Watching Judge Ware’s approving look as he took in their importance, I was very glad Gary had been able to obtain them, and that I had made the necessary fuss to get them into the record. The ECI Insider declarations put paid to Cohen’s “standing” argument with a five-pointed seal.

Jim wrapped up his argument by passing the torch to Pam, continuing his use of festive metaphor: “So the trademark piece of confetti -- Ms. Urueta can address that.” Pam had decided to burn the confetti by arguing that no one could trademark Sex.Com. This is called proving more than you need to, but for Pam it was easier than understanding all the facts. The USPTO had already determined that Sex.Com was a descriptive mark that Cohen could trademark by showing that, despite its descriptive character, the mark had acquired “secondary meaning.” I had no argument with that conclusion, and simply contended that Cohen had tricked the USPTO into approving the registration with false statements. Cohen’s declaration that said he’d used Sex.Com in commerce long before he stole the domain in 1995 was a complete invention, and all the use of Sex.Com he’d gotten since he stole it was illegitimate. We could have gotten Cohen’s trademark registration set aside for fraud, while preserving our right to trademark the domain lawfully. However, to make such an argument would have required Pam to have a greater grasp of the facts in the USPTO file, and frankly, at the time, I was not fully up to speed on trademark issues, so Pam’s strategy became our strategy.

Pam was operating like many intelligent young lawyers do -- entirely on theory, and thus she took a theoretical tack that destroyed the future to secure the present:

“When analyzing whether or not Sex.Com can be marked in the first place, the court needs to look at the word ‘sex.’ Mr. Cohen makes the argument that Sex.Com is not generic, it is descriptive, but even that argument, your Honor, fails. For a descriptive mark to be trademarked it needs to acquire secondary meaning, and all Mr. Cohen has done is offer thirteen declarations, submitted by friends of Mr. Cohen’s, that go to the prior use of Sex.Com.”

Just thirteen declarations? On any ordinary day, that sounds like a lot of evidence -- thirteen declarations should be enough to bulwark the arguable validity of a trademark that the US Patent & Trademark Office had already concluded was protectable as a descriptive mark possessed of secondary meaning. Thirteen unrebutted declarations, as these all were, would seem likely to raise an issue of fact.

Pam needed to explain why thirteen declarations meant nothing:

“Those thirteen declarations don’t establish secondary meaning, and even if they did, those secondary meanings aren’t a survey of the relevant market. Mr. Cohen needs to show this court that, worldwide, a consumer would associate Sex.Com with YNATA, and he has failed to do that.”

Now this was a good point -- Cohen’s declarations didn’t even attempt to establish secondary meaning. Ironically, it would’ve been easy to do so, because every day, lots and lots of people type “” into their browser and hit “return.” One might presume they knew what they expected to find there. The statistics necessary to make a good “secondary meaning” argument were all there in Cohen’s computer, and he didn’t use them.

As her argument went on, Pam meandered deeper into theoretical realms, arguing there was no “likelihood of confusion” between Gary’s “use” of the domain and Cohen’s operation of the website. That was strange territory because Gary had never used Sex.Com at all, so any claim of confusion was absurd. Gary had no use, so how could it ever have conflicted with Cohen’s use? Pam theorized that Gary might someday market chocolate chip cookies through Sex.Com, and that would not infringe on Cohen’s use of it as a sex site. Theoretically, she posited, Cohen might come back to court with a trademark claim if Gary abandoned the theoretical sale of chocolate chip cookies and reverted to selling pornography. She had run so far into the woods that she was running out the other side.

At the time, however, I had no criticisms. Pam’s words were just a merry tinkle in my ears as I watched Judge Ware’s face, the mirror of my fate. Reading the transcript today, Pam sounds like a fruit loop, but Cohen’s case had been marked for death, and Judge Ware was happy to hear a nice young lady prattle on with such confidence. He could adopt her argument. It was probably correct, or not too far wrong. More importantly, Cohen’s number was up. Judge Ware was going to pull the trigger.

Dorband stood up, and began by arguing, as he had for years, that Gary lacked standing to sue, because the domain had been registered in the name of Online Classifieds, Inc., a non-existent corporation. Although Judge Ware tried to maintain the appearance of judicial neutrality, he failed. His face registered disgust as he listened to about a hundred words of Dorband’s argument, then began rebutting it vigorously with his own counter-argument. Cohen, said Judge Ware, had used a forged letter to acquire the domain! His claim was based on no valid title! He had no standing to object to Gary’s standing! He had stolen documents produced under subpoena!

It warms an advocate’s heart to hear the judge reciting his own arguments, and I swiveled in my chair at counsel table to pass amazed and delighted looks to Tara, Ana, and Sue, who reciprocated with subtle nods.

When Judge Ware concluded there was nothing new from Cohen’s side, he set aside legal issues and just asked Dorband where Cohen was. When Dorband said Cohen wasn’t there, and didn’t have to be, it was not what the judge wanted to hear. He was sick of phantoms, of conjuration, of endless wordplay. Like a lion tamed by an enchantment, suddenly recovering his ferocity, he turned on the enchanter. His cool exterior dissolved, and sharp angles of displeasure showed in the folds of his robe. It was time to back off, but a weary Dorband dug in his heels, his silver head bobbing somewhat as he deflected one after another of the judge’s hostile questions. Judge Ware seemed shocked by the mildness of Dorband’s deflections, as if some emotion from him, some acknowledgement that the spell was unwinding, was required.

Judge Ware had wanted to be sure that Dorband had no evidence to rebut the claims of actual fraud and theft. We had exposed the workings of Cohen’s larcenous machine in our papers, and Judge Ware had apparently examined them in detail. He had clearly watched the video. Only that could explain his rage, barely restrained by judicial decorum, which revealed itself as a slow detonation proceeding in Judge Ware’s consciousness. That suppressed explosion was setting off an even bigger charge of outrage that had slowly accumulated in the judge’s mind, fed by all the evidence drawn from our briefs and exhibits -- Cohen’s lifetime of crime, his liberal use of forgery to take what was not his, the network of phony companies with nonexistent directors, the pipeline of cash, the entire map of Cohen’s Big Lie. Though it had all seemed unlikely upon first hearing, we had proven it all, even down to catching Cohen on video stealing bank records.

When Cohen decided to steal the Wells Fargo documents, he blithely staked the last of his personal capital on a wild bet, probably without even thinking about what he was doing. When the camera caught him at his game, he lost everything. After that, Cohen was just a thief, and the judge knew how to deal with thieves.

Judge Ware had been fully primed when he took the bench. He knew all he needed to know about Steven Michael Cohen, and nothing Dorband said had changed his mind. He was now permitting himself to go ballistic. His voice began to rumble like thunder. I turned back toward my crew and gave them the raised-eyebrows look. They returned the same look. It was real. We had arrived on the plain of judgment.

Like the wind that announces the onset of a sudden storm, Judge Ware swept the last of Dorband’s arguments aside, and declared that he was ruling in Gary’s favor on everything. He was directing NSI to immediately put the registration in Gary’s name. He was freezing all Cohen’s real estate and monetary assets, and he was going to require Cohen to pay a bond into Court to secure the judgment he intended to levy against him. He would reduce his order to writing during the noon hour, and we could pick it up after lunch. So that Cohen didn’t pull any clever tricks before then, he told Dorband to call Cohen immediately and tell him that the freeze order was effective now.

The thunder of Judge Ware’s voice had barely subsided when Dorband asked whether he was imposing a temporary or a permanent injunction. Judge Ware answered that it was permanent. Dorband then ventured to ask about the trial date. Judge Ware took umbrage at the very notion of a trial, as his response made clear: “Trial? What trial? There is nothing left for a jury to try!”
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:58 am


As Gary’s team poured out of the courthouse, victorious and exultant, we tasted the sweetness of complete vindication, and immediate attention from TV news. Gary urged me to step forward to get my share of the acclaim, so he, Wagstaffe and I addressed the cameras in turn. We had lunch at the nearby Spaghetti Company, and frankly, the event felt incongruously ho-hum. Jim, Pam, Gary, Tara, Ana, Sue and I gathered ‘round the table and congratulated each on the work, but the true festive feeling that characterizes most courtroom victories was lacking. For one thing, the work was anything but done. After lunch, Wagstaffe and Pam headed back to their office, and I returned to the courthouse.

Although Judge Ware had spoken his order from the bench, warning Dorband to phone Cohen immediately and tell him not to move a dime from his left pocket to his right, this was only a stopgap through the lunch hour. We could pick up the written order at one o’clock. At one o’clock I was at the door of the judge’s chambers. I waited a short while until Judge Ware’s large, impassive bailiff opened the door and handed me the order.

I read each page eagerly and with amazement. Judge Ware had given us everything. His Order was virtually unchanged from Gary’s original wish list, in fact he’d just signed what we gave him, with minor alterations. He had filled in a number where Wagstaffe and Gary left a blank for how much Cohen should pay as a bond to secure his right to proceed to trial. It was $25,000,000. As I examined the Order, the wave of amazement that had engulfed me rose higher, bearing me buoyantly down the hall, down the elevator, and floating, all smiles, past the guards I’d gotten to know over the past year, out the doors, into the bright San Jose afternoon.

The Kinko’s across the street from the courthouse became our command post. The first thing I did was get a stack of fax cover sheets, and started faxing the Order to all of the banks and securities houses that held Cohen’s assets. I also arranged for immediate filing of the Order in the title records of the Rancho Santa Fe house and the Godinez house. Gary rented a workstation and started downloading congratulatory e-mails. His cell phone rang constantly, as callers he’d never talked to before in his life interrupted each other to offer congratulations. We had barely finished lunch, and the world knew. Not, of course, the world at large. Not my relatives, like my Aunt Pearl or my brother Aaron; not my fellow lawyers back in Oregon, not my friends and acquaintances. They wouldn’t find out until I told them. No, this world that knew all about our victory and that was suddenly clamoring at our door was a world I had never really thought about. It hadn’t mattered to me when I was pursuing Sex.Com. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but now we had arrived in Cohen’s world -- the world of online sex.

Although I’d spent nearly two years battling to acquire the crown jewel of Internet pornography, I knew little about the top players, or how they garnered so much loot. I was about to learn that Sex.Com produced extremely high returns on investment for a small number of very wealthy people, and they all wanted to keep those high returns coming. Indeed, as the phone callers made clear, there was nothing they wanted more than to be very nice to the new owners of Sex.Com, and to keep their advertising running without the briefest lapse.

Sex.Com was now our business, and Gary had an idea that seemed logical, but I had always avoided considering. He wanted me to be the lawyer for our company. Things had changed, and he urged me to step into a new role. I objected that I had a lot of discovery left to do to unravel the whole money web, and recover what we could from the wreckage of Cohen’s machine.

Leaning forward to emphasize his words, Gary said, “Don’t you understand? You don’t have to do that anymore!” I could quit working on subpoenas and discovery, trial preparation and all that other stuff. I could leave that for the hired guns -- Wagstaffe, Marty Moroski, and Pam Urueta. There was plenty of cash to pay them, and I was needed in the position of General Counsel for Grant Media, LLC.

So we made plans. Plans that ran rough-shod over the year-end holidays. We had to make the scene with a lot of people. People in New York, Toronto and LA, who ran companies with names like Crescent, Orgasm, and New Frontier. We had planned to end our victory by selling the name to the big-time adult media people, whoever they were, but now, as they all came calling, fawning, and obsequious, a different idea took hold. We could do this. We could run Sex.Com. Why not? We were smart, tough, and had proven ourselves in battle.

We were big in porn, and porn was riding the biggest wave in history, the earliest of early adopters of a technology that barely had a name. Suddenly, it seemed the name would have to be Sex.Com. I suspect that this vision had seized the entire porn world simultaneously, giving a big jolt to an industry that, despite its cutting-edge image, is actually dominated by some very old ideas. By unseating Cohen, we had accomplished the largest single power shift the porn world had ever seen. We had also done it in the face of great skepticism from the porn world itself. Ron Levi, Seth Warshavsky, and their pet lawyers Joel Dichter and Katie Diemer, had backed away from the battle, possibly bought off by Cohen with traffic and cash. Gary had turned down deals with other porn magnates, like Serge Birbrair. From the perspective of hindsight, many of the porn players felt as if they had placed their bets badly. The guy that they’d all laughed at as the self-proclaimed “Big Dummy” had turned out to be the Big Winner. Would Gary punish them all by actually converting it into a “woman-friendly” format, as the mainstream press had reported? That idea struck most pornographers as possibly the dumbest idea in the world, like letting your prize horses sit out the Kentucky Derby because you didn’t want them to get tired. Quite simply, their world had been turned upside down, and inquiring pornographers wanted to know -- what would we be doing with the site? We had them in the palm of our hand.

If this was baseball, we had knocked the ball out of the park, and it was time to take a victory lap of the bases. First base would be the Big Apple, to meet our new webhost and advertising seller, Yishai Hibari, whom Gary had chosen to run the website and collect the advertising wire transfers in exchange for fifteen percent of the take, paid monthly. The fifteen-percent number was considerably less than the proposal offered by Jonathan Silverstein and various others who had approached Gary immediately after the November 27th victory, so it seemed all right to me. Yishai thus received an immediate share in the venture equal to my own, just for being the bagman. Of course if I’d known how to hook up a job like Yishai’s, I wouldn’t have become a lawyer.
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:58 am


We met Yishai in a very stylish, expensive Manhattan bar and restaurant with sky-high prices. He’s a handsome Israeli man, partial to dark suits, and according to Sue Whatley, our ear on the street, the subject of mafia jokes. Ron Levy seems to take particular pleasure in murmuring that he never speaks ill of Yishai because he doesn’t want to sleep with the fishes.

The night we arrived, Gary and I were to meet Yishai at a very fancy restaurant where Gary surprised me by knocking back several large gin and tonics, while I drank a few beers. Yishai didn’t drink alcohol, and had an apologetic air, as if it were unfortunate that the world forced us to think about money all the time, but what was there for it? The evening was pure socializing, and we barely discussed business. He is a classical pianist, and seemed to have a protective attitude toward his wife. We exchanged a lot of platitudes about family values. When we parted, I felt like we had gone into business with a very serious man who had favored me with his most charming aspect. He wore his gentility like a protective suit for navigating the dark waters of sexual finance.

The next morning, Gary and I walked to a building not far from our hotel. Yishai met us in an upstairs office where he said they were opening up some new space to accommodate rows of computer desks. In a large, sparsely furnished conference room, Yishai and two assistants, a couple of former Mossad guys, gave us a presentation that projected live feeds from a high-speed Net connection on a big screen. They provided us with detailed statistics about our site that amazed me with their specificity and abundance. Type-ins were cascading into those magical six letters like rain into a mountain lake, a lake of pure liquid cash. It was dizzying. It was exciting. It was partly mine, and everyone acted like I was a co-owner of a very desirable asset.

But in the midst of the exhilaration, a dark tinge invaded my mind, and grew deeper as the hours passed surfing the Net on the enormous browser in Yishai’s Manhattan conference room. The big screen shimmered with the energy of millions of minds cascading in from everywhere, colliding with the images and words that populated Sex.Com. From our digital vantage-point, online humanity appeared as a vast throng of eyeballs speeding through a functionally infinite universe of colors, images, text, and video. The statistics Yishai provided showed nearly a million hits daily, sorted by the equivalent price per click being charged to each of the short list of buyers, some of whom were in for $50,000 per month.

The statistics also told a dark story. Although the site was nominally under our control, we were still selling traffic to the same people who had been buying traffic from Cohen, except for Jordan Levinson, whom Gary had insisted on dropping at once, rejecting Yishai’s entreaties on his behalf. The largest advertisers were Wired Solutions, Yishai himself, and Ron Levi, who had been buying traffic from Cohen through a straw man when we took over the domain. They were all running the same gross-out contest that had evolved during the Cohen days, a race in which graphic artists competed to find the lowest common denominator of human desire. Was it a fresh face receiving a rain of semen from a rigid penis all over her innocent face, splattering her eyes, and cheeks, matting her lovely young hair with slime? Perhaps it was a short video clip of an anal sex routine accelerated just a bit and pinched into a three-second loop. There were so many ways to say the same thing, and Sex.Com was the only place pornographers could say it to the whole world, without restraint. Yishai believed in Cohen’s stupid, direct approach, and feared any attempts to improve on it. Although Ocean Fund press releases had once crowed about a website “a thousand pages deep,” Cohen had actually kept the website to one page, with six banners costing fifty-thousand dollars each, and a single row of text links that sold for between six and nine-thousand dollars apiece. The one-page banner-farm format kept the cyber-real estate scarce, and accordingly expensive. Cohen set his rates, then let the industry integrate his charges into their pricing. Levinson said that with Cohen, it was always “his way or the highway.” All advertising revenues were paid in advance by wire transfer, and gratefully so. Serious pornographers were happy to pay for the traffic, especially those with the graphics skills and large image libraries to deploy the smut wonderlands that took the millennium by storm. Cohen had also given advertisers total freedom to post any picture or text link they thought would score a click, which kept the advertiser’s conversion rates high, and ad rates similarly so. You might say that, by combining totally free speech with a completely free market, Cohen had found the sweet spot at the top of the profit pyramid. Certainly Yishai’s report, with its short list of big numbers, made it clear that the status quo at Sex.Com was very profitable.

Cohen’s version of Sex.Com was popular for another reason that fans of open markets might appreciate -- the lack of intrusive government regulations. Cohen had never reported any of his transactions to the IRS, the Treasury Department, or any other agency of government. This leads to the possibility that some of the millions of dollars that Cohen had pumped through the Omnitec account was simply being laundered from various illicit sources, and may not have reflected real advertising revenue. After all, even AOL had to admit to doing hundreds of millions of dollars in “wash” advertising deals that were simply a way to kite checks for astronomical sums. Cohen was always dabbling in ways to inflate his income and skim a profit, and he wouldn’t have blushed at the opportunity to launder a few bundles of drug or gun money. This might account for occasional fluctuations in Sex.Com’s monthly revenue, like the month in 2000 when Omnitec received a million in deposits, a substantial upward deviation from the standard 400K. So you never know -- maybe Cohen really did have some friends in Caracas who were gunrunners -- I never went to see.

Even discounting total Sex.Com revenue somewhat for the possibility that Cohen was actively exchanging black money for white, there were plenty of real clicks being sold to pornographers for their conversion value. In those days, before Google had gone into the business of selling clicks, the term “conversions” was heard almost exclusively in porn circles. Conversions, as most every person knows now, are simply sales, cash transfers via credit card for website signups, that in those days usually cost $20 to $30 dollars each before merchant fees. Profit is calculated based on a simple formula, because certain website traffic will convert at an ascertainable rate. Some traffic is utter garbage from a pornographer’s viewpoint -- converting at low rates, or not at all. The question is, of course, who is doing the clicking? And in the case of people seeking pornsite conversions, how old is that person, and what is their sex? According to Fernando of Wired Solutions, Sex.Com traffic converted at unheard-of rates, suggested to him that the bulk of visitors were young and sexually inexperienced, typing in the most obvious Internet address to find the object of their desires. In the aggregate, they were clicking at the rate of around 200 clicks per second, and converting at rates sometimes as high as one out of fifty -- an unheard of rate during a time when conversion rates of one in two-hundred and fifty were considered extremely profitable. Fernando was a corpulent Latino whose face filled with delight when discussing the unbelievable conversion rates he had seen with Sex.Com traffic. It made me quite uneasy.

When we met in New York to formally sign the hosting and commissions deal with Yishai, we discussed ending the gross-out contest still taking place on the page. Since such agreements don’t always look right when you put them in writing, we verbally agreed that within thirty days, advertisers would no longer be allowed to display “penetration” or “girls who look underage.” We agreed to immediately stop running text links that smacked of criminality or conduct generally acknowledged to be depraved, like incest and bestiality. Aside from these small adjustments, we weren’t changing the site at all. We were afraid to scare off advertisers, and since the word on the street was unclear about Gary, we needed to reassure the markets. Yishai wanted to pour a pitcher of ice water on the idea that Sex.Com might become a “woman friendly” site, as we had suggested in our press release and court filings. Haha, very funny! As Steve Sherman had told me during our breakfast meeting -- “Get real, this is pornography!” The end result of the meeting with Yishai was that the Cohen format stayed in place. One page of banner ads, a list of advertisers you could count on two hands, and pure profits of at least $400,000 per month. Not a formula you want to tinker with.

Toward the end of the day, Yishai took us to meet his boss, Richard Martino. They talked about how their company, Crescent Communications, was about to buy a midwestern phone company. They took us on a very boring facilities tour, which consisted of views of eight accountants housed like cattle with their computers, calculating all day long. On the way out of our meeting with Richard, Yishai pulled me aside. They would be happy to pay $15,000,000 for the name -- half now, the rest in payments.

Back in the hotel room Gary and I were occupying jointly at Yishai’s expense, I told Gary that Yishai had offered to buy the domain. He responded as I’d expected, utterly disinterested, and said he was going out. I was alone in New York City. I took a shower. I lay in the tub, letting the numberless drops cascade off my body into the narrow beige porcelain concavity. The hotel tub was small and cramped in the supposedly fancy hotel. Apparently, regardless of how much money we were going to have, Gary would still be extremely parsimonious, and the facilities could still be banal.

But I had a much bigger problem. All the money in the world would not change the fact that I was getting rich on the exploitation and degradation of women. I was very tired, and felt like crying as I lay in the tub, feeling that every drop of water was a click of someone accessing an image of some girl being photographed forever like a captive animal, and some poor sucker’s cash rolling down the drain. I felt like the sewer, collecting all those unwanted moments and mistakes made by young, foolish people with basic needs for love and money. I felt for the women and men, embracing each other lovelessly, doing things they’d balk at doing at gunpoint, just for a little cash. I felt like I was riding with my rich friends on an ocean liner floating on a sea of garbage. I lay in the tub a long time, wasting water and listening to it gurgling down the drain.
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:59 am


Leaving New York, Gary and I hopped a plane north to Toronto, crossing into the comparatively relaxed atmosphere of Canadian airports and hotels, where I suddenly realized Gary and I were really keyed-up. I had adopted his habit of walking bent forward, leaning into the wind of the omnipresent opposition, pressing ever onward. Our impatience didn’t quicken the slow pace of the Canadian airport clerks, who questioned us mildly and used ball point pens to fill out new airline tickets after they bumped us off our flight for snow up north. It felt like a plot designed to cause the brains of time-conscious Americans like Gary and myself to explode with rage and frustration. Get a printer!

In the Canadian customs waiting area, I practiced relaxing my mind while closely studying a display case of all kinds of stuff you can’t import into Canada, like rhino horn, endangered birds, live snakes and other Asians-themed novelties. The display looked like it had been assembled by a seventh-grader for Science Day. It was dull and obvious, but far more interesting than the concrete floors, metallic surfaces and scuffed vinyl of the baggage depot. We were eventually asked to queue up and be subjected to a quick, skeptical eye from an official servant of the Crown, before being admitted to Toronto, the city of snow and concrete.

In the cab from the airport, Gary and I fiddled with our cell phones, answering calls and inflating our self-importance as we rode through the dark. Sue had set us up to meet Dave Vanderpool from Python and Meir Strahlberg of Orgasm and We met in their large spacious offices, where racks of caged servers pumped cash in a clean room, and rows of computers awaited the workers who would arrive again tomorrow to optimize and upload sexy pictures to the Net. The layout was more interesting than the stable of accountants Yishai had shown us in New York. We talked about, and Gary collected kudos for creating After getting acquainted, we left the office and walked down quiet, dark streets to an opulent bar with huge ceilings and black floor-to-ceiling wall drapes. Men were smoking cigars and leaning back with exaggerated ease. There were few women anywhere, and none at our table.

I played my role as consigliore to the big man at Sex.Com, and received encouragement for my performance from everyone except Gary, who was noticeably off his feed. But our companions were jolly enough, and while we sat in the opulent, sophisticated lounge, Gary tried to seem interested in the conversation. Sitting back sipping a pint of good, Canadian draft, I contemplated the appearances of our industry colleagues. Demian, who worked for Meir, was devilishly handsome in goth attire, long black curls and a goatee. Dave was a tall, blonde impeccably groomed Northern European sophisticate who looked like he would be comfortable anywhere the elegant are found. Meir’s delicate frame was smoothly packaged in preppy clothes. He made eye contact, and used delicate gestures and words when he spoke to me. The three made good company, and seemed to prove that minting money on the Internet needn’t turn you into a grim servitor of cash like Yishai or his boss, Richard Martino.

We dined at a large, round table stacked with silver, china, and starched napkins carefully folded into fan-shapes that looked like chickens roosting on our plates. There we sat, five knaves dining like kings, and discussing the electronic skin trade. Demian talked knowledgeably about “content,” what pornsites sell, saying more is always better. offered several hundred thousand images, streaming videos, a silly astrology column that lampooned sun-signs for their sexual foibles, and various other gimmicks. Suffice it to say that having a dirty mind seemed to be an asset in this business, and discussions of the product led to the inevitable conclusion that inducing masturbation among the clientele drove profits. Hence, the slogan for was “keeping Kleenex in business . . .”

I thought perhaps we’d have some fun with these guys, but Gary’s mood went completely sour sometime during dinner, and he decided to go to bed early. If I’d thought about it, I might have deduced that forced breaks in Gary’s pharmaceutical regimen, such as those imposed by air travel, might be causing the downturn in his mood that had been evident for the last several days. After Gary left, I headed out to the streets with Meir, Dave and Demian. They teased each other like kids as we navigated the icy sidewalks and heaps of dirty snow. Dave was minding the business, though, and quickly flagged down a cab that we piled into noisily, jostling and joking. The club they’d chosen for our evening entertainment offered up two floors of nubile women gliding about in revealing outfits, and lounging with customers on large couches and chairs. When they weren’t working the customers one-on-one, they danced sensually in brass-railed enclosures, like imaginary creatures trapped in bottles of colored light. When the music stopped, they were freed from the spell, and moved about the railed stages, squatting on six-inch heels to collect their tips from the floor, while murmuring thanks with their beautiful mouths and eyes.

Demian made the most of our entrance. The boys were obviously known for their generosity. We all settled down among soft cushions and chatted while various women came up to talk with us and hang out. They even seemed to actually want to talk to us. Given who I was with, I figured they did a certain amount of recruiting here, so the goodwill I felt might be genuine. After engaging in the obligatory good-natured ogling and salacious talk, we settled into a mood of professional relaxation. I chose a golden-skinned Maltese woman with almond-shaped eyes and a lovely smile as my conversation companion. I rarely want anyone but my wife to push her ass in my face, and once I made it clear that she could relax, that I was having a good time just sitting next to someone as pretty as she was, and that my friends were paying the fee for her idleness, she was good with it. I suspect that most exotic dancers have kids, and this young lady fit the mold. We talked about her little boy, and how she enjoyed her work because it allowed her time and money to care for him. I drank several more Canadian beers, and after a couple of hours, the place was closing, so we left. The party broke up on the sidewalk, with Demian taking off by himself to walk home, weaving slightly around the mounds of snow. Meir and Dave flagged down a taxi and dropped me off at the hotel, on the way remarking that in this city, the cops keep an eye on the prostitutes to make sure they’re okay.

Back in the hotel room Gary and I were sharing, he snorted and gasped through his fitful dreams. I don’t know about now, but in those days, he slept poorly, and while I’m not a light sleeper, it could keep me awake listening to him struggle with basic respiration. But the beer wrapped me in a blanket of oblivion, and when I awoke, it was a new day, and we were on our way back to the States.

From Toronto, our plane drew a great big diagonal line southwest across the continental United States, landing in LA, where we had been invited to attend the Christmas party for New Frontier, the only publicly traded U.S. company dedicated to selling sex online, and trading on the NASDAQ under the symbol NOOF. Gary and I had been talking with Greg Dumas of New Frontier for months, going back to the days when Gary was trolling for bankers to help with legal fees. Of course, like all the other smut dealers, New Frontier hadn’t taken us seriously, or responded in any meaningful way to our funding overtures, but hey, that was before the victory. Nowadays, wherever we went, it was all a big chorus of, “We love you, Man!” So that’s what we’d grown to expect, and why we were here, a couple of days before Christmas, looking for a rented hall near Sunset and Vine. I was on my own turf, and found the location easily in the rental car, but as had become the norm, Gary seemed bored and distracted.

I soon realized that we had been invited to the classic year-end LA company party, where corporate bigwigs and their wives are distributed evenly among the circular banquet tables, rubbing elbows with middle managers in a ritual atmosphere of artificial bonhomie. It was so familiar. We had the Nazi-style bouncers with muscles bulging under their black t-shirts, sporting cropped blonde haircuts and surly faces. There was a spread of shrimp cocktail, a vast array of cheese cubes, veggies with dip, and an open bar. Folks were eating under the bug lights out on a patio, where rented propane heaters dispelled the chill of the ocean breeze blowing up Sunset Boulevard.

I had endured similar events a half-dozen times during my years in the LA lawfirm scene, and immediately sensed that this was going to be one dull evening. My expectations were fulfilled with a vengeance, as Gary and I were virtually ignored in the glow of self-love radiating from the NOOFers. Whether blinded by the glare of the radiant heaters that warmed the outdoor dining area, or simply the glamour of their own splendid empire, not one bigwig did what Gary expected -- stop everything, move people aside, and seat him at his table as a guest of honor. Apparently, Greg Dumas had failed to circulate a memo about how to court Gary. Not one person approached with a rapt look to ask him big questions and bestow their admiration.

As the evening crushed down on us, I absorbed the poignant absurdity. New Frontier had actually outdone itself with the music, supplementing the DJ’s sonic output with what has now become a commonplace, but was then rather unique -- a handsome, energetic male dancer, his naked upper body toned by the southern sun, his lower body swathed in an Indian-style wrap, feet as bare as if he had been performing on Venice Beach. He was beating a big conga drum, dancing, singing along to the recorded music, his face shining with ecstasy. He was like an ad for health, youth, beauty, and celebration.

A throng of office-help swirled below the bare-chested dance-leader. The messenger boys and photocopy guys were outdoing themselves in their black suits, deploying clichéd male dance postures to ensnare the skinny LA women who are only magnetized by moves they’ve seen a thousand times before. The event inverted class relations for one night, during which the subordinates demonstrate how much they enjoy the event, in contrast with their bosses, who are so stiff they never make it out to the dance floor, or just take a few turns for the sake of the night. Their uptight asses shake weakly as their silly smiles say it’s all good fun, the boss can never dance -- that’s not how it works -- and everybody’s dignity survives intact.

I sat on a thumping speaker above the dancing crowd watching Gary from a distance. I’d left him hounding a couple of New Frontier execs about “Where’s my escort?” Looking around the room at the abundance of top-shelf booty, I could understand Gary’s take on the scene. I don’t think he seriously meant he expected an escort -- he hadn’t asked for one in Toronto, where the service could’ve been easily and lawfully provided. He was just ribbing the self-stuck, ignorant NOOFers -- “Isn’t this a sex company? Aren’t we in LA, ground zero for sex and money? Isn’t it Christmas? Don’t I own Sex.Com? Where are my presents?”

Any serious hopes for a linkup between New Frontier and Sex.Com was doomed that night. Some weeks later, I heard from Gary that New Frontier had offered to buy Sex.Com for three times yearly revenue in stock, approximately $24,000,000. Since New Frontier rose markedly in 2001, this would have been a nice deal, but if the company really had any interest in courting Gary, it wasn’t visible that night. Too bad -- New Frontier had legitimacy, and even though it had over fifteen-thousand domain names, Sex.Com had better web-traffic, and much higher conversion rates. New Frontier was also a public company with relatively transparent finances and big contracts to supply adult cable-TV programming. Cross-marketing through Sex.Com would have given them an instantly recognizable brand in an industry where aside from Playboy and Hustler, brands don’t matter. Sex.Com, with its unforgettable six letters and Internet cachet, could have become the third most recognizable name in the minds of sexually curious men everywhere. My old friend Steve Marshank strongly advised me to make this deal happen, and I didn’t listen. But as Steve Cohen was fond of saying, “If wishes and buts were apples and nuts, Oh, what a fine Christmas we’d have.”
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:59 am


From L.A. we returned to San Francisco to face an inevitable, tension-filled exchange. It had been nearly a month since we got control of Sex.Com and with the assistance of Richard Idell, Gary had formed Grant Media, LLC and established a bank account into which Yishai had already deposited $385,000. Gary had been sitting on a bill for eight-hundred and fifty hours worth of legal work I had done on credit, since around July of 2000, when Gary’s money got scarce, and what he had went to costs and Wagstaffe’s firm. I hadn’t said a word about the money since November 27th, so when we got back to Gary’s new house on Third Street, I had to raise the issue.

I only had about a four-hour layover in the bay area before my flight left for Oregon, so the exchange was time-pressured. After we got back from the airport, I sat down with Gary in his bedroom, amid the chaos of jumbled bed clothes, heaps of clothing and the usual snowfall of papers covering his battered gray desk. I sat on the bed, and Gary sat on his office chair while I explained that we needed to do our 15% split now, and I wanted to be paid $10,000 in costs that I’d advanced. Also, before we won the name, Gary had said that we would both have signature authority on the account. It was time to give me signature authority. Gary’s lips became tight, as he shook his head and said, “No.”

Gary said before we figured my cut, I should pay him back for all the money he’d paid Wagstaffe and other lawyers to help with the case. I figured I owed him 15% of that expense, but he didn’t agree, and said I owed him all of Wagstaffe’s fees, several hundred thousand dollars. Our written agreement didn’t say who would pay if Gary hired more lawyers, so we had a bit of a problem, but I couldn’t wait to resolve it. We reached a temporary resolution by agreeing we’d leave $85,000 in the account, and divide the remaining $300,000 between us, with me receiving $45,000, fifteen percent of 300K. My unpaid hourly fees would wait, and so would Gary’s claim for reimbursement of Wagstaffe’s fees.

I waited outside Redwood Bank on Montgomery Street in Gary’s car while he wire transferred the forty-five thousand to my account. When he got back he gave me the pink receipt for the wire transfer. I was much relieved and thanked him for the payment. The atmosphere between us was troubled as he drove me back to the airport. In the familiar atmosphere of the Crab Pot restaurant on the SFO departure level, I reflected on my situation, and ate a crab sandwich on white drenched with Tabasco sauce, preceded by a bowl of clam chowder. A week’s worth of tension had built up inside me, so I had an oversize glass of beer, then another. Watching the airliners and service vehicles prowling the tarmac outside the restaurant windows, taking passing notice of the TV news on the screens behind the bar, I encouraged myself to relax, but it was a tough sell.

When I got back to Oregon, I was able to pay some bills, and began considering the process of closing down my law practice to take a job as house counsel for Sex.Com. The more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea. The meeting with Yishai and the look of the website scared me. Word was getting around among the lawyers in town that I had won the Sex.Com case. Sooner or later it was going to be discovered by one of the enemies you make in some profusion when you practice law in a rural area. Some lawyer might report it to the Oregon State Bar and make an ethics complaint, saying that owning an adult website that displayed free fuck movies without the barest age-verification requirement, was conduct “likely to expose the legal profession to disrepute.” Money comes and goes, I realized, but you can be a lawyer your whole life, and as I now knew more clearly than ever, a lawyer can spin straw into gold, given the right opportunity.

So I started writing Gary an e-mail which began with “Thanks for the offer of a job,” and ended three pages later after a long discussion of a lot of my internal gripes about his behavior. I didn’t plan on sending it right away. I’d written at least a half-dozen e-mails that I’d never sent to Gary, venting my frustrations first, then adopting a more thoughtful approach after considered reflection. I had planned to do the same thing with this one -- get it off my chest, then come back to it and say only the important, essential stuff. I usually composed large documents in Word, and without thinking about it, I had written the whole thing in Outlook Express. After venting for I while, I went to do a shortcut save, and ZIP! The email was gone. It went. Gary had it. Oh SHIT. In Word, CTRL-S means SAVE. The CTRL key is right next to the ALT key, which was what I hit, and in Outlook Express, “ALT-S” means “SEND.”
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:59 am


“In El Dorado-town there is a great bullfighter.
His hair is red as blood,
His eyes are screamin’ blue.
And when the gate goes up,
The crowd gets so excited.
Then he comes dancin’ out,
Dressed in gold lame’.
He kills the bull
And lives another day.”

-- Neil Young, Eldorado

In Arizona, the power of precious metal has shaped the people and the land. My mother grew up in a town called Morenci, that once had the world’s largest open pit copper mine. We went there only once. The town was a big hole in the ground, with tiny trucks maneuvering down a spiraling road into a huge, flat pit. We drove past the few buildings that lined the perimeter road ringing the enormous hole. I asked my mom where her house was, and she gestured toward the center of the gaping chasm, laughingly responding with only a single phrase, “Oh, it was out there, honey.” We never discussed it again.

People have seen mirages of great wealth in the desert. As a child I learned of Pizarro, who went seeking a utopia and ended by kidnapping the Inca God-King and ransoming him back to his people for a roomful of gold. After accepting the gold, Pizarro killed the Inca king anyway, ending the life of a man known to his people as “The Son of the Sun.” Pizarro himself was murdered a few years later by his co-venturers, who thought, heaven knows why, that he was too greedy. I heard other tales of gold, like the story of the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix and Mesa, where a goodly number of folks have died inserting their lives into a puzzle of their own making.

I was most affected by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven. It was the first novel I ever read, at the tender age of four, and my unforeseen choice of reading material caused some concern among the grownups. The cover of the paperback edition I’d found on my father’s bookshelf showed a gang of grizzled miners wearing clothing worn out from hard labor, battling each other amid the ruins of their mining camp, each one clutching a gun and a bag of gold. From rents in several of the bags, precious gold spilled in long thin triangles. As I read the story and understood the plot, it broke my heart to see the bright dust piling up in mounds on the desert soil. The men had extracted it through months of backbreaking labor that had, nevertheless, been filled with the joy of mutual effort. I wanted to end the madness that had caused these men, flush with the fruits of their labors, to unleash hatred and violence upon each other, when all they had to do was share. I wanted to stop the gold from spilling on the ground, or catch at least a little of it in my own cup. Perhaps I was pained so deeply by the story because of that very love for gold that destroyed the miners in B. Traven’s book.

Like a poisoned arrow, my email went straight to Gary’s heart. He was on the phone to me within seconds. It was not the sort of thing he liked to receive. I did not know what to tell him except that I hadn’t intended to send it, and argued that the contents were not that inflammatory after all. In truth, I had somehow obscured from myself how gravely I had injured myself. A bizarre twist of fate had revealed me out of uniform, less than perfectly loyal in spirit. I now have no clear memory of that time period, when the magic I was handling exploded in my face. I only know that I went on, because the damage had been done and the only way was forward.

There were two dedicated intercessors -- Sue Whatley and Phil Father, who now held a nominal two percent interest in Sex.Com, Gary’s gift to Phil for being his partner in Kremen, Father & Partners (there were no partners). It now seemed like a good thing I had decided to attend the Internext trade show in Vegas during the dawning days of January 2001. At first I thought I’d skip it, and leave it to Gary, Sue, and Phil. But after hanging out with the Python and Orgasm people, and spending quality time with Yishai, I thought perhaps I should show my face at the trade show.

Gary had given Sue Whatley the job of exploring the big players in the online porn business. She had identified the usual suspects -- Luke Ford, the gossip columnist, Ron Levy, the King of CyberErotica, Jonathan Silverstein, a perennial player, Serge Birbrair, and various others. The goings-on at Internext were apparently somewhat risqué, or so I was lead to believe, which is why I at first thought it would be more lawyerly to not attend. When I changed my mind, and decided to go, Gary was grumpy about it, and said he would allow me to come. And that had been before he got my draft email. Now that Microsoft Outlook Express had spilled the beans about my discontent with the new regime, Gary simmered on medium high all the time. He ignored my emails or replied so tersely it was clear he was freezing me out. Still, I figured I’d make the trip, and Sue rearranged our flight and room plans easily. Gary and Phil had booked rooms at the Hard Rock Hotel, where ostensibly there were more chicks. Sue and I would share a suite at the Venetian, the convention venue.

So there I was, in the lobby of the Venetian Hotel and Casino, with its huge, curving portico, and doormen in pseudo-Italian outfits, equipped with wireless mikes that enabled some of them to sing operatic airs while hailing cabs. It was all dissonant and dazzling, in that offhand way Vegas has of jumbling megalithic glitter into a supposedly cool thing -- the Strip! In this glamorous environment, Sue and I were short on glitz. A tall woman, Sue wore big, black, platform-soled boots, and concealed her entire person under a full-length pink flannel coat that looked a lot like a housecoat. Wearing Dan Post boots, black Levis, and a tired leather motorcycle jacket, I didn’t look like I needed to change companions. She was dowdy and I was scruffy. We were perfect for each other. As we stood in the long line snaking up to the desk, we observed crowds of young men in leather sport-coats, wearing jewelry, occasionally looking up from absorption in their cell-phone conversation to hail the person they were talking to. They seemed to be there for “the Show,” as industry-types refer to the yearly Internext bash. There were geeky types, gothish people, and occasional gaggles of chicks who looked like they might be passing out literature or adorning a trade-show booth.

Sue and I checked into the room, which wasn’t a suite, but was a split-level big enough to appease my desire for a small slice of luxury. After freshening up, we headed back downstairs to face my first post-email meeting with Gary. Extremely stressed is how I would describe my condition. On the elevator ride to the casino floor, a young man and woman, both impeccably attired, were going down with their bags. The woman was a breathtaking brunette around twenty-four, with hair like chestnut-colored silk falling to well below her shoulders. The young man had sandy brown hair, wore clothing that was casually high-class, and looked like he belonged behind the wheel of a Porsche.

The brunette asked us “Checking in?”

“Yep,” I answered, with a smile.

With a slightly rueful expression, she said, “We’re checking out.” She paused, then supplemented this with an explanation, “We’ve been here a long time.” Silence. The gentleman was reasonably handsome, but seemed drained of virility. What was this sad story all about? A dentist who had left wife and kids, being jerked back to reality? An oil scion who’d just run through his trust fund, responding to a warning call from his accountant? Something had turned out badly, probably at the gaming tables. The elevator doors opened, and the sounds of the casino flooded in -- batteries of slot machines chiming out the promise of abundant returns for those eager to achieve the unlikely goal of instant riches. We crossed the gaming floor to the Grand Lux Restaurant, where Gary and Phil were waiting. On the way, we saw scores of the young industry players dressed identically in black-on-black, leaning against craps and roulette tables, looking slightly bored with what they hoped seemed like big bets.

Inside the Grand Lux, we found Gary and Phil in a booth. Phil rose to meet us solicitously, while Gary remained seated, his clenched right fist planted firmly on a hardcopy of my excessively candid email. He had grown a goatee, and someone had joined it to a comb-over that accentuated his bald spot. He looked like maybe he had hired a stylist, so I complimented him on the look. He responded with an acid smile that suggested I did not mean it. Shallow breaths heaved his shoulders, as if stoking a fire in his chest. In the booth that seated four, I sat diagonally to Gary, maximizing the available distance between us, in an effort to avoid spontaneous combustion.

Into this situation, Sue and Phil maneuvered expertly like a couple of bomb squad vehicles covered with blast cushions, spraying foam everywhere. Both were extremely obsequious to both Gary and myself. Phil asked me to reconsider my decision not to join the company as an employee, which was of course flattering, because I wasn’t sure Gary wanted me as a Grant Media employee, anyway. It seemed that Phil had prepared the ground well, though, because he was focused on getting me back into the company. I had to be okay with that, because I was sure Gary would not make it easy for an absentee partner. Within twenty minutes, the atmosphere had cooled considerably. The igneous heat that had suffused Gary’s body retreated into a tiny point of nuclear heat, gleaming in the recesses of his eyes. In my heart, I fervently hoped that I could withdraw the sudden mis-step that had abruptly landed me on the wrong side of the Rubicon.

We finished our dinner, and with rising spirits, headed up to our room for more refreshments. We were putting the past behind us, and Sue was now in control of our agenda. The first stop. she informed us, was Yishai’s party, on the upper level in a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant Yishai had rented at a reputed cost of $50,000. Not bad for a business expense, and less than a month of his share of Sex.Com revenue. It was so nice knowing we were helping him stay afloat. As Gary and I strode through the Venetian mall under the big, fake sky they’ve painted on the ceiling, past the landlocked gondoliers in their marble-lined canals, he threw his arm around me and looked into my eyes, enthusing, unbelievably, “Isn’t this great?” To which I was only able to agree. Hoo-ya! We were team

Yishai’s party was just like Yishai -- so upscale and lavish that you could mistake the guests for actual rich people. Polished silverware, white table cloths, spreads of higher-quality fare, and plenty of good-quality wine and champagne. It was not much of a surprise to see Joel Dichter. But when my eyes focused on his conversation partner, and I realized he was talking to Katie Diemer, it was dejavu all over again. Since they were the only people I knew there, I said hi to Joel and Katie. Joel seemed amused at my presence at the party, and Katie said, “Well, this must be quite a feather in your cap.” Ah yes, the feather in my cap. I had almost forgotten about it, worried as I was about the color of the cap itself, which I was certain had started out white, but was looking increasingly grey, or even darker. I acknowledged her compliment and took my leave of the compromised pair.

Then came another bizarre exchange, as our host Yishai importuned me by seeking amnesty on behalf of Jordan Levinson, Cohen’s Sex.Com bagman. Jordan, who had been scarfing up a percentage of advertising sales, was blameless, Yishai explained. Hardly. I knew Jordan was one of the younger members of a family of seasoned fraudsters with their roots in phone-sex (euphemistically called “audiotext” in the industry) and phone-fraud. His uncle, I believe, was one of the celebrated rate-gougers at Crown Communications, a company that the FTC had taken down a few years back. I wanted to go to the bathroom and see if someone had written “DUMBASS” on my forehead, because why would I want to keep doing business with Cohen’s confederate? Nevertheless, Jordan now stood before me, impeccably garbed in black-on-black, beseeching me to please understand that he had never been in sympathy with Cohen, and really wanted to keep buying traffic. Jordan had been buying less than $10,000 per month of traffic through small text links that reputedly converted at a very high rate, so there was plenty of money still on the branch for him, waiting to be plucked, even though he was already stuffed with stolen Sex.Com money. He asked me to please not sue him. I was disoriented. Yishai was our partner now, and being a turncoat seemed to be the way of things around him. I looked around. Where was Gary? Sue sidled up to tell me that Gary was, at this very moment, telling Katie Diemer that he would sue her. Accordingly, the fight with Levinson would still be on as well. Levinson’s peace overtures were poorly timed, and left me feeling as confused as a field commander receiving a call that should have been routed to the spy guys.

I felt completely out of place wearing a tattered motorcycle jacket amongst all these well-dressed desperadoes. I stood alone, looking listlessly at the little round tables covered with wineglasses and plates bearing abandoned wedges of brie, cut veggies, and fractured water crackers. I felt like I had lost my sleek profile. My black jeans were crumpling down, bagging about the knees, and the heels of my boots felt big and heavy. Gary was still sporting the rumpled sweatshirt that gave him his Michelin Man profile, but it wasn’t radiating any Silicon Valley geek cachet. It just looked like he was cheap and clueless, especially with the new hairdo and goatee. Sue was humbly moving about in the midst of all the refined vampires with downcast eyes. Christ, I thought, Gary should have bought her a coat. Phil Father was elegant in his own black-on-black outfit, but was obviously just window dressing. I had to face it -- in this crowd, the Sex.Com crew was nikulturni. The experience must have depressed Gary, too, because when we left, he and Phil headed back to the Hardrock Café, ostensibly to look for chicks.

As night turned to morning in the sunless caverns of the Venetian, I stuck with Sue, whose ever-accommodating shy smile, knowing eyes, blond curls, baby-like features, and throaty laugh increasingly reminded me how nice big German girls can look. She was playing a lowbrow, supersized ingénue, and managing to draw more favorable attention than I would have expected. She was blossoming in the scene, making connections in person with people she’d been gabbing with for months on the Net. She didn’t look like a model, which was a plus, because we avoided awkward exchanges and were able to answer inquiries by jointly presenting ourselves as the Sex.Com lawyers. Besides which, she was comfortable in an environment where sex, sex toys, fetishes, bestiality, and other marginal subjects fed bottom line. Sue was quickly becoming one of the boys, mixing easily with important players, and I was very thankful for her knowledge of the business, about which I was still fundamentally clueless.

Industry insiders usually turned adoring when we said we were the Sex.Com lawyers who had beheaded Cohen, the old dragon. It had been an upset victory, because no one in the industry thought Gary had a chance of knocking Cohen off the throne. Paul Wolfowitz should’ve been there to see what it’s like to be received as liberators, because we were the toast of the night. We were receiving accolades for making the world safe for ordinary, decent smut peddlers. I got a sloppy kiss from a porn star. We were the new face of Sex.Com, and a kinder, gentler face it seemed, no doubt, as long as you were looking at me or Sue.

Left to ourselves, Sue and I wandered through hotel lobbies, across gambling floors, into restaurants and bars, collecting kudos, networking and passing out business cards that Tara had printed for us back in Oregon. They had vintage erotica pictures on them and looked humorous and light, but a little ambiguous. Eventually we made it back to our room and turned in for the night. The next morning, Sue had arranged a big meeting with Ron Levy, at his request. We were supposed to hook up with Ron’s people on the show floor for directions.

The next morning, Sue and I were up, taking care of business. The trade show exhibition floor was enormous. About three hundred booths vied for attention in a room big enough to store a couple of jumbo jets. Above us hung thirty foot banners displaying enhanced blondes overprinted with logos in blue, pink, yellow and silver rendered in visual perfection with high-tech printing. Website logos were everywhere, notable for the extreme obviousness of their appeal -- “Hardcoremoney” -- “” -- “Cyber Erotica” -- “Porn Profits” -- “Babenet” -- all rendered in bright colors and dynamic characters. The air was shimmering with skin tones, bright colors and metallic sheen. Precise, crisp images of idealized females are the product, and they received pride of place at this exhibition.

Visually, the scene was titillating, but the audio track was tedious. The theme music for the sex industry is a blend of featureless beats that demonstrates disrespect for all legitimate musical forms. At the CyberErotica booth, you couldn’t get away from the tired sounds, because Ron had hired a half-dozen slightly past-prime Barbies to bump and grind to the rhythmic dreck that oozed from banks of black loudspeakers. The exhibition of tired hip-swiveling, listless shoulder-rotation, arrogant chin-pointing, and bored pouting would sap anyone’s enthusiasm for the sex business. Where, I wondered, had they found these women? They lacked funk, spunk and everything else that would have enlivened their presentation of God’s basic handiwork. No wonder Viagra was so much in demand.

The desultory dancers adorning the CyberErotica booth were appropriate, though, because Ron Levy is oblivious to everything about sex except its ability to generate conversions. Call it professional focus. And Ron had a proposal he wanted to present to Gary in the secluded comfort of his hotel room. We approached a member of the scurrying posse of Ron-worshipers clustered around his trade show booth, the largest on the floor. We met Ron’s Canadian lawyer, and he gave us the room number and directions to Ron’s extremely expensive room, which was off in some exclusive wing of the hotel. Ron was ready, so I called Gary and Phil to request their presence at the Venetian. Phil said he’d be getting Gary moving, but it might be tough.

I think Phil had to use a winch or other device to get Gary out of bed, because he looked about as bad as he did when Dorband asked him if he ever took drugs that might affect his memory. Whatever he’d ingested, it seemed to have obliterated all memories, going back to childhood. I felt his pain. He could barely talk, and I was sure that whatever he was hearing, he wasn’t understanding. He looked like a sick dog that might have to be put down, because it was just suffering too much. Gary had always gotten sweaty palms when he thought how it would go with Ron. It was by now part of the lore of the case that Ron had invested $150,000 in Joel Dichter’s representation of Gary. Rumor had it that Ron felt some sense of entitlement based on that investment, even though Gary had fired Dichter and Diemer years before, declaring the whole deal a dead letter.

I wasn’t worried at all. We owned Sex.Com. If Ron wanted to make a deal, we could evaluate his offer just like Yishai’s or NOOF’s or anybody else’s. It would have been nice to have Gary’s brain operational that morning, but for the moment, it wasn’t taking calls. Gary was going where he was led, up the elevator and down the long halls of the Venetian to the wide double doors of a suite that Sue told us Ron was renting for $4,500 per night.

Admitted to the suite by a black-T-shirted CyberErotica servitor, we walked into a large white room where Ron was sitting at the head of a conference table a short walk from the entryway. Two packs of Marlboro Lights were stacked to his left, and he occasionally adjusted their position with his left hand, squaring them up parallel with the edge of the large, white table. We sat at a comfortable distance from the great man, Gary and Phil on one side, Sue and I on the other. After getting Gary’s approval in the form of a light nod, I took over as the speaker for Sex.Com. This wasn’t difficult, because Ron made what seemed like a reasonable proposal -- CyberErotica would license the Sex.Com name for $400,000 per month, and would pay us 40% of all the money over that amount that CE brought in from the website. It was a one-year deal, renewable. Ron had no paperwork to review, but if we were interested, he’d have his lawyer write it up. I said sure, write it up, and with that, the interview was over. We finished our coffee -- way too strong -- and were back out in the hall. For me, it was just one more experience with astronomical numbers and blasé pornographers. I was getting used to this. Gary, relieved simply to have a stressful meeting behind him, caught a cab back to the Hard Rock with Phil.

I accompanied Sue out to the front of the Venetian so she could have a smoke, and there we met a balding, sixty-ish English guy, puffing his unfiltered cigarette with earnest enjoyment. Sue introduced the fellow, who was dressed as unstylishly as we were. His name was Mike Sweet, aka, “The Dirty Old Man,” a Canadian porn star. Mike had the laconic style of a fellow who has no real point of connection with the social aspect of the industry, claims he knows zip about chicks, money transfer, etcetera. His partner, Steve Sweet, he said, had brought him to Vegas for the show. He didn’t know what it was about, didn’t care. Mike droned on stylishly, exuding grandfatherly amusement for the whole affair. Within six months, I would be working for Mike, and I would be privy to his true name, his true passions and just how difficult a job it is to be an aging porn star. Mike has a fascination with military history, and an extensive knowledge of many of the more frightening arts of persuasion. He has, on occasion, paid pain-resistant models one-dollar-per needle-insertion. That’s Canadian dollars. The top earner took home $200 bucks. When I got to know him, Mike became scary -- not like Yishai, or Ron, or Gary. Scary in his own way, because his mind went into places that I feared I was never meant to go. But at the time, he seemed like a sweet old porno grandpa, involved in some kind of bizarre and profitable family enterprise.

At a lunch meeting later that day, Sue and I met with Fernando, Ben and Mike from Wired Solutions, which had been buying $150,000 of traffic from Cohen’s Sex.Com and had maintained that level of buying after Gary took over. These were, by definition, customers, so we wanted to treat them well, and show an interest in their business. Fernando was a moderately obese young man of Latino ancestry, who at that time owned a place in Barbados, which he said got very claustrophobic after a few days. Ben was a Massachusetts prep with a yen for ecstasy that some said might be available from a certain blonde Sex.Com team member. He and Sue made fast friends. I hit it off with Mike, a wiry techie who worked at the Wired Solutions headquarters in Santa Fe. He had a lot of questions about the lawsuit we’d just won, and volunteered plenty of information about Wired’s business. Fernando gushed about the conversion rates for Sex.Com “type-ins,” clicks that originated from direct requests for the domain, typed directly into the address bar of the surfer’s web browser. Unlike search engine clicks, Fernando explained, type-ins to Sex.Com were coming from very young people, who had just figured out how to navigate using a web browser, and were therefore highly susceptible to backbrain stimulation induced by the sexual imagery flashing on the website twenty-four hours of every worldwide day. Suddenly, I started to worry all over again about the ethics of the present condition of the website. It was looking smarter and smarter to consider a partnership with some established player to manage Sex.Com, someone other than Yishai and Richard Martino, perhaps like Ron or Fernando, who knew how to make a bundle without getting in trouble. I wished that Gary were there to hear some of these things, so we could discuss them together, but I was beginning to intuit that Gary didn’t want to be my partner in this business.

After meeting with the Wired Solutions guys, Sue and I cruised the showroom floor one last time. Sue was assiduous in collecting all the VIP passes and free drink cards we would need to assume our properly exalted place in the hierarchy of porn magnates during the last night’s blowout. As it winds down, the three-day sextravaganza debouches into a swirling vortex of obscene self-love, the aptly named “Pimp and Ho Ball.” Staged in a huge ballroom, powered by expensive light shows and computerized beats, populated with skinny young men and hired women, the scene is well lubricated with a healthy injection of free drinks, available of course to those with free drink cards. I had a pocketful that Sue had provided, and stuck to a diet of cranberry vodkas and the occasional Red Bull.

The real fun at the Pimp and Ho Ball isn’t the music, the dancing, the achievement awards for excellence in smut distribution, or the drably scripted stage patter between the porn industry leaders and the crowd of sycophantic webmasters. The fun is about getting things sorted by pecking order. There are three kinds of free tickets given out. The regular ticket will get you in the door. A VIP ticket will get you up one set of stairs. A special VIP ticket will get you to the third floor balcony area, where private rooms have been rented by the majors. And in an extremely elevated location, were no one gets in without an invitation from a true skin-trade tycoon, there is a room where it is rumored you can smoke a joint with Ron. But Sue was the only Sex.Commer to allegedly get into that room, and it’s still a rumor to me.

That night, I spent most of my time with Ben, the Wired Solutions ecstasy-head, who seemed to enjoy my company, after Gary drifted away and Sue went looking for Ron’s secret hideaway. Up in a private room I met the most intelligent, genuinely attractive woman I’d discovered at the show -- Jamie Sweet. She was Steve Sweet’s girlfriend, and therefore obscurely related to Mike Sweet, aka The Dirty Old Man. Jamie and Steve were dressed in pajamas, and were fun and easy to talk to. It’s strangely cosmopolitan to stand, casually talking with a woman in her pajamas, while leaning against a bar where an anatomically correct, flesh-colored simulacrum of a female ass has two Corona bottles stuck into it, one protruding from the simulated anus, the other from the snug, rubber vagina. I delicately removed the beverage containers from the sex toy as an act of politeness, which Jamie acknowledged with a little laugh. We had a nice chat about sexual freedom and the liberating power of erotica. She introduced me to Steve, over six feet, probably a hundred and eighty pounds, dressed in a leopard print bathrobe and silk pajamas. Steve’s shark-like grin, military-style buzzcut, and impressive build bespoke a powerful man with abundant personal charisma and ready access to large sums. I liked him immediately, although I knew nothing about him. He briefly expressed admiration for my litigation prowess, then left me to chat with Jamie, which I kept right on doing for the next half-hour, until Ben and I decided to drift on to some other place.

I found Sue, who had been up in the ganja den with Ron, so she said. We parted company with Ben, who went in quest of a new source of serotonin to heal his overstimulated dopamine receptors. The hours drained away like dark water, leaving us on the faintly brightening shores of a Las Vegas dawn. Susanne and I had checked out of our hotel already, because in some sort of half-assed cost-saving, Gary had only booked his room for the last night. So on the last night of the fun, Sue and I were the homeless Sex.Commers. My plane was leaving sometime that morning, so with our luggage in tow, we caught a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel, there to enjoy what remained of Gary’s meager hospitality.

Gary’s room at the Hard Rock was much smaller than what Sue and I had at the Venetian. She and I showed up with our luggage at around 4:30 in the morning. Gary was wadded up in the bedclothes like a hundred-and-ninety-pound infant with a comb-over. He looked tortured. Phil was exhausted, and offered us the couch and mini bar. My boss, my partner, my client, snored, snorted and shifted his body repeatedly in the room, which was slowly brightening.

I stood on the balcony and looked toward the bright lights of the Vegas Strip. My brain felt tenderized from lack of sleep and all of the yelling I had done to make myself heard while conversing in smoke-filled rooms drowned in hip-hop noise. The lights ringing the profiles of the hotels and casinos seemed to shimmer with beauty, with hope. In the dusty dawn, the colored lights twinkled brightly in a world where I had membership in the upper crust of low occupations.

The six-letter mantra that had fueled my obsession for nearly two years was still overbearing in my mind, but now, it seemed to exude fulfillment. It was the gleaming sun of morning that was about to rise over the summertime of my life. I had made it. I had done something in the world of money, power, and influence. I had mounted the heights. Standing in my heavy boots, which I hadn’t removed from my feet in at least twenty hours, I felt well able to move ahead into the new world I had helped to conquer. I would get on with some of the white hat stuff. We would change Sex.Com for the better.

As I turned these thoughts over in my mind, they began to turn me over. I felt divorced from the earth as persistent thoughts of self-importance lifted my spirits. Nevertheless, after three days of outshining Gary with the people who were responsible for making Sex.Com valuable, I had a strange presentiment. As glamorous as it was to be a warrior, I might be a liability in time of peace.

Looking out over the Vegas skyline, hearing Gary thrashing his sheets in an effort to find a niche of unconsciousness in which to stuff his mind, I remembered the way the fire in his eyes had retreated, but not disappeared. Taking refuge in sleep and intoxication, he had hidden from me ever since the brief reconciliation in the Grand Lux. Hearing him snort and convulse his way through fitful dreams, it did not, frankly, look good for me. I knew what I dared not tell myself. Gary had come to mistrust me. His pain was breeding inside him, darkening his mind with suspicion, jealousy and hatred. He suspected me because I’d expressed secret thoughts. He was jealous of me because I had a wife, kids, a house, and now, money too. He hated me because I was starting to enjoy my new position as a principal in Sex.Com, and he hadn’t approved my ascent to that role.

Whether it was preordained or not, I knew from that moment forward that soon we would be adversaries. Lying there, lost in the darkness of a fitful sleep, Gary was hiding from his power, from the terrifying adulation of an amoral crowd, but even as he did, the power of Sex.Com was filling him up like water fills a hollow space underground. The power of Sex.Com had no love for me or anyone. No longer the slave girl whom we had liberated, she now appeared like the whore of Babylon, bestower of all earthly pleasures, enslaver of her devotees. She had Gary completely in her power, and was seducing him utterly with her most powerful, one-syllable mantra, the mantra known only to one person, now pounding away in Gary’s heart over and over again -- mine... mine... mine... and every now and then... all mine.

The sun was rising on a new world, filled with gold and its power. It was my first morning in El Dorado. Outwardly dressed in crumpled black clothes, stinking with cigarette smoke, inwardly I looked up to behold a golden sun at its zenith, blazing in a cobalt sky. I heard the crowd’s cheer as the barred gate across the arena slowly rose. The bull charged through the gate on pounding hooves, tossed his horns this way and that, then found me. When the bull charges, I remembered, the bullfighter stands his ground. The bull, not the man, must move. The bull trotted up to face me from a near distance. He lowered his head, scuffed the sand, and looked up at me. I saw the red coals hidden deep in eyes that did not recognize me. I gripped my sword and planted my feet.
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:00 am


As I walked out of the Hard Rock Hotel to find a cab, the sun rose full above the eastern horizon, and the hard light scrubbed the glitter off the town. I saw the cheap stucco walls, potted oases, empty parking lots and ubiquitous billboards offering big meals, big payouts, and big entertainment. After three days of being pummeled by boring beats in smoky atmospheres flowing with free drinks, I was ready for home. As the cab rolled down sun-scoured avenues, the driver reminisced in generalities. He began with, “People in this town...” and concluded with, “They’re all into that Ecstasy.” To which I responded, “Tell me about it!”

After Vegas, communications with Gary decayed, and black tension seeped into my life. Wagstaffe’s office continued to report to me diligently, informing me about trial preparation in deferential letters. On the surface, I was cocksure and optimistic about the future, planning to continue meeting with prospective partners and helping Gary sort through their proposals. On the surface, Gary and Phil sent me e-mails about various business opportunities with industry players, soliciting my remarks. Under the surface there was little sense of interest on their part, and I felt like I was on suspension.

After Vegas, I promptly went looking for trouble and found it. I became obsessed with changing the look of Sex.Com. Everyday I checked the website to see if the changes we had agreed on back in New York had been made yet. And every day I found the same old gross-out contest. I started emailing and calling Yishai every other day or so, to ask him why the banners were still showing all the radically distasteful shit that they had always been showing. I called Wired Solutions and asked why their ads were still so raunchy -- hadn’t Yishai told them to tune it back? They told me that Yishai had said it to them, but his own banners were still as nasty as ever, so they couldn’t afford to back off the hardcore while he was still pushing it.

Feeling that I’d been saddled with this relationship with Yishai, I started insisting in emails to Gary that he had breached his promise to control the appearance of the website, and demanding that we give Yishai the required thirty-day notice of our intention to end the relationship. I tried various angles to create points of division. I told Yishai I couldn’t have Joel Dichter in the relationship. No worries, said Yishai -- Joel was not indispensable. Joel called and said he was resigning as Yishai’s lawyer with respect to Sex.Com. When I couldn’t complain about that, I came back to the nasty content issue, and wouldn’t leave it alone. After being in Vegas with all the click-mongers, I thought I knew something, and I couldn’t believe that our website was obliged to be the absolute sewer of Internet sex. We were the premier type-in domain on the entire Internet. We could do better than to spatter our white hat with mud. Boy, was I dumb.

The entire thing exploded on January 15th, Martin Luther King Day, in San Francisco. I was heading back from Reno with Tara and Ana, where we’d stayed for a few days as the invited guests of the owner of XXX.Com. He had pitched me a proposal to manage Sex.Com, and I was trying to organize a meeting so he could talk to Gary and Phil about it. Actually, I’d tentatively arranged for Gary to meet us in Reno, but he dropped off the map that weekend. He wouldn’t answer his cell phone, and when I finally got hold of him, his mood was foul. He’d spent a miserable weekend entertaining an auburn-haired woman he met in Vegas. When I asked him about the experience, hoping he’d had some fun, his answer was filled with bitterness: “Total waste of a day. She made me go and see her kid.” He sounded disgusted, convinced that once again, he’d been used for his money.

As if seeking my own destruction, I directed myself straight into the path of Gary’s anger. Knowing that he was spoiling for a fight, I told him I was coming to San Francisco to do business. I told him I had been monitoring the appearance of Sex.Com, and nothing had changed. The gross-out contest had to end. I wanted Yishai’s contract cancelled, and since our agreement required thirty days notice to cancel, the 15th was the day. I told Gary I was on my way with a letter that I wanted to send to Yishai. I might as well have danced on an old pirate’s bunions.

Tara, Ana, Gary and I met at a sushi place up the street from “Dogpatch,” Gary’s new house on 3rd Street. He was keyed up to an intense pitch, perspiring heavily. His energy had turned to iron. As we sat at the table, I tried to speak, but conversation skated off him. He was a gauche, graceless, bellowing beast. Suddenly, my cell phone rang and I answered. While I was talking, Gary devoured the sushi off my plate. The call was from a bonehead spam outfit that was trying to pressure Gary into a deal by threatening to launch their own website, which they intended to call “TheNewSex.Com.” The caller was an obvious jackass, and when I told Gary who it was, he exploded -- “Tell that guy if he calls me one more time, I’ll fucking sue him!” I ended the call, and tried to placate Gary, but he just stormed out, leaving me with an empty plate and a sense of doom.

Hungry, rattled, and humiliated in front of my wife and daughter, I followed Gary back to the office and continued to beleaguer him with demands to review and approve my letter canceling Yishai’s contract. He read it, but wouldn’t approve it. We revised it until there was nothing left, and then he told me he would write and send his own letter. Then he disappeared from his office. No one could find him, so we left and got on the freeway for home. Three hours later, as Tara and I drove north on I-5, with Ana riding in the back seat, Gary called. The conversation was short and one-sided. It ended with Gary shouting “See you in court!”
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:02 am


“Whom the gods would destroy, they first seek to anger.”

Lucifer cast from Heaven might have been more enraged than I was after my ouster from But as his cry of rage ripped the sky, God’s favorite angel took a third of heaven’s stars with him into exile. I had only my wife and children, Peter and myself to share the sad news. Sue promptly threw her lot in with Gary, moving to San Francisco. My outrage was unbearable. Had I not triumphed? Had I not been hailed as a conqueror, with adoring crowds acknowledging my role as Gary’s general in the halls of the Venetian, while magnates inclined their heads in respect?

In two months I’d gone from unknown lawyer to top-flight litigator to porn mogul to ousted Sex.Com partner. I had been counting my millions since I first saw the pipeline of cash from Union Bank Fort Lauderdale to Wells Fargo Anaheim Hills. They were mine already, by contract, and I intended to have them. I couldn’t go back to my former life as a country lawyer. I had resigned from the list of federal public defenders, cancelled my yellow pages ads, and ended my lease with Peter.

I had made a dreadful miscalculation. My self-flattering mirror was shattered, and the broken shards reflected a frightening visage. Grim lines of determination sealed over stark hollows of grief. A mild smile occasionally softened my look of steely obsession, but no one gained my attention, because my mind was now totally obsessed with a grey chessboard of claims to be made and rebutted, allies to be gathered, and a war chest to be accumulated. I had begun to think harder than I had ever thought before, and what I thought was an unending stream of aggression. I would destroy Gary, humble Idell, and redeem Sue from captivity.

I could hear Gary taunting, “Now you find the lawyers. You pay the fees. You wait for motions to be decided, then postponed. You try facing the mechanized firepower of the hired guns! Enjoy!” And I took up the challenge, filing a lawsuit against Gary for breach of contract, and moving to withdraw as his counsel for nonpayment of fees.

One man pointed me in another direction. When I appeared in his court before the trial with a motion to withdraw as Gary’s counsel, Judge Ware’s features drooped in sympathy as he gently asked me why I was leaving now, when I had been there from the beginning. I drank up that small draft of recognition, like the last flash of water in the parched bed of a disappearing stream.

Judge Ware counseled us in chambers to mediate our dispute. We mediated. I hired an expensive and well-respected lawyer from Ashland who had once interviewed me for a job in LA when he was a partner at a New York law firm. He was not cheap, but the mediation had to be done properly, with a name lawyer. My lawyer negotiated well at the mediation, and we got up to a number that, in retrospect, would have been a good result. But on that day, I couldn’t accept it. The atmosphere was poisoned. I had imposed only one condition on the mediation - that Richard Idell not be there. But Idell ended up talking to Gary on the cell phone all day, throwing sand in the gears with one piece of negative advice after another, until we just had to get the hell out of there. My lawyer’s bill was over seven-thousand bucks for a few days of representation, so after I paid that bill, I realized I had to convince some lawyer to take forty percent of fifteen percent of Sex.Com, or the game was over.
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:03 am


“The way leads not back, toward innocence, but onward, deeper into sin.”

-- Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf

With my law practice shut down and no money coming in from Sex.Com, I had a bit of a money problem. I’d gotten two months of fifteen percent of the profits, so I was up by ninety-grand through Christmastime, then watched the stack disappearing like a woodpile during a cold winter. I was depressed as hell, sleeping ‘till eleven every day, buying trinkets for entertainment’s sake, throwing the occasional party for local friends to brighten my mood, and researching the sex industry online for the first time. I decided to educate myself about online law and business. I started a website for my wife as an experiment, and she took to it with a lot of enthusiasm, so we spent our days pecking at our computers together, while I tried to figure out where my future was going to come from.

Spring appeared on the horizon, and in March I started looking for work. I called Steve Sweet, the man who looked so good in a bathrobe at the Pimp ‘n Ho Ball. He was up in Vancouver, the headquarters of Sweet Entertainment. When I called, he at first teased me by suggesting I actually wanted to talk to his girlfriend Jamie, but I told him that no, I wanted to talk about working for Sweet Entertainment.

Canadians have a long tradition of selling contraband to Americans. Edmonton, north of the Midwestern United States, was a bootlegger’s paradise in the nineteen-twenties, the railhead for an underground railway that delivered countless barrels of whisky to speakeasies in Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and other parched areas. Canadian banks got fat with loot deposited by Bugsy Moran, Al Capone, and Joe Kennedy.

In Vancouver, the legal, cinematic, and financial infrastructure was all in place to build a thriving Canadian adult film industry. The Canadian attitude toward sex is flexible. Canadian law forbids only the depiction of extremely degrading scenes combining violence with sex and submission. Canadian girls can be very beautiful, and in Vancouver, BC, the native film industry had familiarized many a young lad with the techniques of video production. Canadian banks maintain offshore operations in former British territories, like the Bahamas, Bermuda, Antigua, and Barbuda, thus providing one-stop money-laundering and tax avoidance services for those smart or rapacious enough to pursue such “asset protection” strategies.

Canadian pornographers operate websites in the US and charge for memberships in American dollars. Back in 2001, each American dollar bought nearly two Canadian dollars, so every thirty-dollar signup to a Sweet Entertainment website generated nearly sixty Canadian dollars. As a result, Sweet Entertainment, operating out of Vancouver’s sprawling whore-and-heroin district, hauled in very large bucks.

In April 2001, Sweet Entertainment was hosting the second annual “West Coast Webmasters Convention,” an event that had made quite a splash in its first year. Lawyers willing to talk to pornographers about the legal aspects of the business were big draws at these adult industry trade shows, so Steve Sweet was enthusiastic when I offered to speak at the event, and urged me to come up for the three-day bash. Sweet would sponsor my hotel room at the event venue, and there was free food and drink courtesy of the sponsors all day and most of the night. It was a two-day drive from Ashland, and the first opportunity since Vegas to see if I could get any altitude in the online sex business.

My ambivalent feelings toward porn had grown and grown. I was now facing some painfully discovered facts about the sex industry and myself. If I did not keep my hand in the sex industry, my claim to own fifteen percent of Sex.Com would evaporate. I had learned a lot from Gary about putting together an army, and like Gary, I hoped to find someone to finance my efforts to recover control over my share of the business. In the meantime, the online sex industry was the only place I could charge people three hundred dollars an hour for my work, and find clients glad to pay it.

But would anyone hire a guy who was suing his own client? More to the point -- would anyone in the adult industry risk offending Gary, the lord of Sex.Com, by hiring me? I staved off despair by remembering an aphorism of Balthasar Gracian’s: “A wise man makes better use of his enemies than a fool makes of his friends.” Behold, the new owner of Sex.Com had already made enemies in the industry. Word was, the site was turning from a supernova into a white dwarf.

Gary had no interest in networking with porn kingpins, and quickly exhausted Ron Levy’s patience with proposed amendments to the four hundred thousand per month licensing proposal. Ron retaliated by abandoning his advertising on Sex.Com, which he had been buying through a straw man at the rate of fifty thousand per month. Ron’s withdrawal from his role as a secret Sex.Com advertiser was the first vote of no-confidence that Gary received from the online sex business, and would not be the last. Gary dumped Yishai as his webhost and advertising agent, so Yishai stopped buying traffic, and there went another hundred-grand a month. After Gary implemented a redesign with zero visual appeal, Sex.Com became an industry laughingstock for its ability to scare off porn-seekers. As industry flack Kimmy Kim, a dead ringer for a used-up Joni Mitchell, remarked in my presence -- “Say whatever the fuck you want about Steve Cohen, he knew how to make money.”

Gary was becoming notorious as an industry outsider who could turn gold into lead. His background as a highly educated dot-commer made the criticism more delicious for porn insiders who, in the wake of the dot-bomb stock market crash of 2000, could brag that they were making more money online than had lost. Sex.Com seemed to be headed for what would have once seemed impossible to achieve -- obscurity.

As a result, clicks from Gary’s Sex.Com weren’t converting to paying memberships the way Cohen’s clicks had. One of the people who had lost money buying traffic from Gary was Steve Sweet. Thus, I was able to use Steve’s animosity toward Gary to jump-start our relationship.

I prepared a lecture for the Sweet event that I called “The Seven Commandments of Adult Webmastering.” I’d probably revise the lecture if I gave it again today, but it went over fairly well at the time. The gist of it was actually lifted from a principle enunciated by Napoleon Hill inThink and Grow Rich, my Dad’s favorite self-help book. Only wealth that is honestly gained can give one security, comfort, and satisfaction. I advised the assembled crowd of some eighty or ninety webmasters to let honesty be their watchword, to deal with honest people, and to be cautious with respect to the obscenity laws.

I avoided the approach followed by the established porn lawyers, who shook down some pornographers with a protection racket by promising that the Bush administration was going to crack down on Internet porn and throw all the big players in jail. While I had been very aware of my own vulnerability as a lawyer-owner of a website that was operating with blatant disregard for the obscenity laws, I saw no reason to believe that a purge of the Net-porn business was in the offing. The business simply produced too damn much money to shut down. The credit card companies would never allow it. Since porn was likely here to stay, I argued that the people who do the dirty work could gain legitimacy by acting legitimately.

There was also a future beyond porn, because those who made money in online adult would have a head start on making money in straight commerce, as it matured. I compared the early Internet economy to that of San Francisco during the Gold Rush. In 1849, most merchants sold mining tools, liquor and sex. Today, those industries still exist, but have a smaller piece of the Bay Area economy. Similarly, the Internet had discovered sex first, but its role would inevitably shrink as the Net attracted more and more straight businesses. My advice to the pornographers was to stay honest, stay profitable, stay free, and be around to harvest the really big money that would come as the Internet became the world’s global marketplace. People applauded and smiled at the end of the lecture, and a few came up to talk with me afterward.

Soon I ran into Ben from Wired Solutions, the smooth north-easterner with so much intelligence, charm and breeding. His first question was, “Did he fuck you?”

The life of a loser is full of such pleasant exchanges.

“Yes, he did,” I answered.

Ben immediately announced, “I knew it!”

Not really a fun start to the encounter, but Ben was sympathetic, and helped to lift my spirits at the convention, talking me up to everyone we met. He was a high status pornographer, and if he said I was the shit, then no one was going to argue with him. We settled down in Ben’s hotel room, crowded with wheeler-dealers networking with their cellphones, sucking down bottles of Canadian beer, and wondering where they would locate their favorite substances there in Vancouver. Ben introduced me to everyone as the incredible lawyer who had won Sex.Com and yet ended up empty-handed. It’s not the easiest intro to deal with.

As the evening’s inebriation project got underway, Ben volunteered that he was willing to testify at any proceeding on my behalf. I didn’t think Ben had been privy to anything that I would need testimony about, and had to ask him, “Testify to what?” Ben answered that, one night at a strip club in Santa Fe, while they were both wired on crank, Gary had explained to Ben how he was going to fuck Charles out of his fifteen percent of He said another lawyer was going to step in and take the credit, make it look like Charles had breached his agreements, and Charles would be cut out. Receiving this information was like adding some heavy metals to a cocktail of battery acid and hazardous waste - I hardly noticed the change in flavor, but it was possibly more bitter.

I absorbed the news and tried to balance my emotions, put on a game face, and do what I’d come to do - set myself up as a lawyer in the industry. I had only one chip to ante up, or I could go back to defending drug dealers in Southern Oregon. There was only one identifiable group of clients who would be meaningfully impressed by meeting the lawyer who won Sex.Com, and they were all around me. Using Ben as a life-support device for my credibility, I circulated among them.

I liked the people I was meeting. Almost all of them were Canadians, young, good-looking and good-humored. Like Bonnie and Russell of Streetlight Productions, Tom Sweet from Sweet Entertainment, and Zak Zarry of Porncity. Each one expressed their appreciation that I had brought a bit of justice to a corrupt business. These folks clearly weren’t going to be stuck in porn for the rest of their lives. Zak aspired to be a lawyer and seemed likely achieve his goal. Bonnie and Russell sold their business for a healthy chunk of change a year or so later. Tom Sweet and I sized each other up professionally during a brief chat outside a night club. As I understood it, he was Steve’s brother, and thus at the top of the Sweet food chain, so I tried to make a good impression.

Eventually, around midnight or so, I ran into Ben again on a dance floor where pornographers were milling about without attempting any dance steps. The lights were swirling and music was pounding all around us as he shouted into my ear that he’d just gone up to see the top porn czars way upstairs, including Ron Levy, Ron Gould, and other people whose names I didn’t know. He had told them the whole story about me and Gary, that Gary was no good, and no one should deal with him. And he would testify! He would testify! The Ecstasy was really kicking in, and I knew that whatever Ben said now, it was the dopamine talking. It was sad. In this place filled with frivolity, anxiety and greed, my best friend was a rave-drug addict with delusions of grandeur.

Later that night, as we settled into the three-til-dawn shift back in Ben’s room, and the manic waves subsided in his mindstream, he revealed why he wanted to destroy Gary Kremen, whose trip to Santa Fe to meet the Wired Solutions people had nearly derailed Ben’s sleaze career. Ben explained that Gary had invited Ben to leave Wired Solutions and go to work for Sex.Com. Ben told Gary he was interested. Then Gary, apparently deciding that he would benefit most by injecting chaos into the situation, told Ben’s boss Fernando that Ben was willing to jump ship. Fernando, seizing the opportunity to trace little incision lines on Ben’s soft belly, forced Ben to admit his disloyal sentiments and beg for his job. Endowed with a blueblood’s taste for vengeance, Ben lusted for payback, and once again, in an apparently sober condition, swore that when I needed his testimony, he’d be there. I had high hopes that perhaps, at the right moment, he would provide the testimony that would prove that Gary had in fact planned my destruction.

It was also interesting to know that the top guys were attending the Sweet event, a sure sign that the Canadian porn community was important to the industry as a whole. One prominent person who had not yet been seen at the conference was Gary Kremen. Sometime that first night, I ran into Sue, now playing Nurse Feelgood to Gary, who said Gary was in his room, in an abysmal condition, possibly near death. She was embarrassed to be seen in this role, but by disclosing confidences about Sex.Com, hoped to win my approval. She was dying to get away from him, but needed money, she said. He was paying her five thousand a month, more than she’d ever been paid as a lawyer, and she wasn’t lawyering. I wanted to hear more about Gary’s mental and physical health being on the skids. After what I’d recently heard from Ben, Gary couldn’t be close enough to death to satisfy me until he was actually in hell, roasting on a spit. She said that, given how he was abusing his body with controlled substances, she was worried about it all the time, and had a dream where he was lying dead with a mass of foam emerging from his mouth. The image confirmed my then-current impression of Gary as a huge insect that predated on warm-blooded beings.

I had to wait until the second night of the conference to see my dearest enemy at the really big bash Sweet hosted at a conference center someplace across the Lions Gate Bridge, on an island with a beautiful view of Vancouver. The party started around two in the afternoon, so I drove across the bridge and settled in early to enjoy the views across the water from the ranch-style convention center. It was much better than even the nicest lawfirm all-day picnic, with excellent free food and drinks, white tablecloths, silverware, and real wine glasses. At these affairs, rich dilettantes mingle with the techies, photographers, and financiers who spin profit out of digital images and sophisticated tracking programs. Steve Sweet was there, the big shark with the toothy grin, and briefly welcomed me to the event before going on to mingle with others.

It was fun and scary to be in this world, and not on a leash. I wondered -- could I get my spoon in here somewhere? I was free to do what I could with this wild, untamed energy, but with a few top guys controlling the big money, and most of them as eager to avoid conflict with Gary as they had been to avoid conflict with Cohen in his day, I feared I’d be blocked at every turn. I was standing outside on a deck with a view, sipping wine, when someone came up and told me, significantly, that Gary had arrived. Some people had apparently been anticipating this moment. Would we meet? Would we fight?, like a volcano with a history of past eruptions, was making noises again. Neither of us had need of a scene, however. I approached Gary as soon as I spotted him, noting without surprise that he seemed healthy as a horse. Sue had obviously been exaggerating his condition in an effort to cheer me up. We exchanged insincere pleasantries, then I returned to circulating through the crowd, sipping drinks and swapping business cards.

Eventually it got dark outside, and people started settling into friendly groups at candlelit tables. I hadn’t found anyplace to settle down until a tall, older guy with a craggy face and posture slightly bent at the waist, asked me if I’d like to join him and his friends for a drink, if it wasn’t beneath me to drink with some poor webmasters. This was the first reference I’d heard to any class distinctions in the big happy family of pornographers. Thus I met Ed, a humble Canadian webmaster who has no doubt by now got title to that piece of island property he was planning to buy off the coast of British Columbia. Ed was completely independent, and had an unglamorous view of the industry. He’d started out in cabinet making, he told me, but when his knees, elbows and back got creaky, he learned computer repair. He did that for awhile, then discovered it was easier and more profitable to make free porn sites, and sell the traffic to the big paysite owners. He was making $10,000 Canadian a month at that time, although as the years went by, he continually reported declines in profits-per-website, as more competitors entered his field.

Kind, good humored, and aware of his limitations, Ed figured that since he didn’t design the world, he couldn’t account for people’s inclinations. His goal was to drive porn surfers to click the “Join Now” button at a big paysite that would send him a commission. His goal was summed up in an industry aphorism -- “Tease, don’t please.” Ed explained that most webmasters made sites that were too attractive. They not only “teased,” they “pleased.” Since webmasters only earn a commission when surfers leave their website to sign up at a sponsor’s paysite, Ed wanted his sponsor’s website to look far more attractive than his own. As a result, Ed’s sites were some of the ugliest on the Net.

Sitting with Ed and his friend Carol, my drink consumption kept ahead of my paranoia and sense of alienation. For Ed, it was a presumed good that we were all alive, enjoying free beer, food, and pleasant companions. We all have stories to tell, stories worth listening to, and although at the end of the night, we each face the darkness by ourselves, we can watch out for each other along the way. As the evening drew to a close, around one-thirty in the morning, we went to the parking lot, but as I headed towards my car, Ed and Carol suggested that I ride the bus back to the hotel. He offered to meet me the next day and drive me out to pick up my Camry during lunch. I accepted his offer as the only wise choice, but one obstacle had to be overcome. Sex.Com had sponsored the bus, and Gary was sure to be on it.

Canadians, however, take driving under the influence of drink very seriously, much more seriously for example than auto break-ins, which are ubiquitous and rarely punished. Since the Mounties are known for always getting their man, I didn’t want to be that man. Once on the bus, I discovered that the only seat left was right next to Gary Kremen. I sat in it. We were both three sheets to the wind. Like two soldiers wounded in battle from opposing sides in the war, temporarily unable to kill each other, we did not talk about the battle. When I got back to the hotel, I had another beer and crawled into bed around three or four in the morning. Around lunchtime the next day, Ed drove me out to the island in an old T-bird. I picked up my car and returned to the hotel.
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Re: The Sex.Com Chronicles, by Charles Carreon

Postby admin » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:03 am


On the last day of the Vancouver show, I wanted to hook up with Steve and Jamie, the beau and belle of the ball, but they were keeping a low profile. I asked one of their black-tee-shirted family-members, easily identifiable with their “SEG” logos in red and white, and all surnamed “Sweet,” if I could get an audience. A brief meeting was arranged, after which Tom Sweet took over as my guide. We visited the Sweet production studio in the Hastings district. The operation was housed in a two-story walkup location off a grimy street. There were two levels of buzz-through security, narrow halls, and low ceilings. The uniform color scheme was military gray. Steve’s office was narrow like a closet, and people had to practically line up to see him. Steve’s desk was a piece of second-hand furniture, and through the window behind his swivel chair you could see an industrial skyline, complete with cranes, factories and smog. The decor said loud and clear, “Don’t ask for a fucking thing.”

The studio was a single room with different “sets” on each wall, and multiple doors that locked up tight as a drum when shooting was in progress. The actresses, not the props, are the focus of attention in these productions, which were directed and filmed by the ever-affable Rey Damasco, a charming man of Filipino ancestry. Rey, who of course went by the name of Rey Sweet, could put the most skittish filly at ease with respect to her intrinsic sexual charms, the proper use of sex toys, the ease of feigning orgasm, and many other details essential to a proper adult film performance. Skilled in the use of the amazing Buttcam, a gimmick camera that Steve had designed to literally explore the inner recesses of the human body, Rey had obtained deep internal views of the elimination canals of many people. If he ever decides to go into medicine, he’ll have a head start on the other guys when it comes to diagnosing colon cancer.

Sweet’s real gimmick, though, was simulated torture. This was where Mike Sweet, whom I’d met back in Vegas, earned his keep. His dungeon was realistically created. The floor was thick with wax, the walls had been painted to simulate blood smears, and the worktables and walls were adorned with whips, hooks, and weights. From the ceiling hung pulleys and chains. The only seats available looked very uncomfortable and had straps and buckles on them. Thus it seemed I’d stumbled into the lair of a twisted family headed by a dungeon master. Not the only torturer on the payroll, however, Mike was assisted in the business of punishing the guilty by Paige, a blond dominatrix with precise and exacting skills, and a pair of blue jeans entirely stitched together up the inside and outside seams with safety pins. Paige had the unique distinction of not being a Sweet. Her stage name was merely “Miss Pain,” and in addition to running a site called, she was the official webmistress for, a scary-ass website if ever I saw one.

The Sweet dungeon tempted one to entertain strange notions, which had to be the appeal of the whole bondage and domination scene. The allure was not entirely lost on me, and I experienced brief confusion when Paige suggested that I join her for a session in the dungeon. I declined with a laugh, and told her I’d have to take a rain check. Though the safety pins had me tuned up to a responsive pitch, being hoisted off the ground in chains, even by an attractive blonde, would still have to be forced upon me. Of course, being filmed in that condition would be so damaging to my own image as a dominating male that I couldn’t entertain the notion seriously, even for purposes of career advancement. Although there is a California lawyer who is also a porn actor, and the California Bar association takes no umbrage at the fact, somehow I doubt that the Oregon Bar would adopt the same liberal attitude.

When I got back from Canada, I kept in touch with Tom Sweet, making myself available to consult on some Sweet issues. It wasn’t long before I had snagged a copyright infringement lawsuit. Steve was a big believer in pursuing copyright infringers, and a Texas company called E-Race had made the mistake of lifting about three-hundred Sweet images for their own use at a website called The E-Race partners compounded their error by failing to take Steve’s demands for settlement seriously. Sweet Entertainment Group had hired a copyright lawyer in Century City to file suit about a year before, but aside from escalating bills and demands for payment, Steve and Tom hadn’t seen much progress toward the goal of crushing their opponents.

I was in Phoenix having breakfast with my brother, his wife, and Tara, when the call came in from Tom Sweet. I was frankly elated, and my brother, a career prosecutor, was astounded. How on earth, he wondered, could I live in this fashion? He’d worked for the City of Phoenix for nearly thirty years, he said, and would be utterly lost if he didn’t have that place to go every morning. I, however, was like a bird, he said, and flapped his arms like wings to demonstrate how strange my metamorphosis into an aerial performer seemed to him. Admittedly, the whole lifestyle had an edge to it. Tom had authorized me to drop in on his LA lawyer and find out what the hell was going on.

Two days later, Tara and I were in LA, reviewing the files of Sweet Entertainment Group, Inc. vs. E-Race. Fortunately, they revealed a great deal of lackadaisical work on the part of the Sweet lawyer, and I was able to give Tom an effective and alarming pitch. The case was mired in delay, and Sweet had been billed for the cost of fixing two major errors committed by their lawyer, who had not been sending them complete reports about the progress of the litigation. Deadlines to complete discovery were running out, and the future of the case was not positive. The Sweet lawyer was politely apologetic, and while he hoped to get paid his outstanding bill, could tell that he was losing the client. I received authorization from Tom to copy the whole file and plan to take over the litigation, then pending in Orange County Federal Court. My retainer of ten-thousand dollars would be in the mail. Looking for trouble had paid off again.

During the next couple of months, I started kicking E-Race’s ass with discovery, and soon had the principals of the company sitting in their lawyer’s conference room in LA. Tom Sweet came down to savor the pleasure of observing their discomfort. Instead, peace broke out in the middle of the deposition. Frank Walley, one of the E-Race principals, and one of the best salesmen I have ever met in my life, simply stopped the show, and asked if he could make an off the record proposal. If Sweet would acquire E-Race, all the problems could go away. There was plenty of money to be made, he said, and being sued by Sweet had not been a picnic. They were ready to share. Tom was receptive, got on the phone to Steve, and got authority to negotiate once I completed the depositions. We finished the depositions relatively quickly, since their lawyer interposed no objections and let me learn the things I needed to for purposes of keeping the litigation in an aggressive posture. We were done with the testimony by four o’clock, and then adjourned to drink tequila across the street and hammer out the makings of my first porn-industry merger.

A few weeks later, Tom and I flew to Dallas to perform due diligence on our acquisition target. The first day there, we had lunch with Frank and his wife in an expensive peasant-style Italian restaurant with tasteful décor. Frank’s wife is a classic Texas blonde who can’t believe what men have to do to make money. Frank kept trying to lure us away from our homework by urging us to stop grinding the paperwork and take a trip with him out to the racetrack, where we could find out what it feels like to drive the E-Race Porsche at a hundred-and-sixty miles and hour. It was a cool smokescreen, but Tom and I stayed on task. We could see why Frank had attempted to deflect our attention from the books. E-Race had been mismanaged rather radically, and although its cashflow was good, its expenses were way out of line. Tom and I agreed we couldn’t acquire the company. The best we could do was cherry-pick the assets and leave the liabilities on the table, which ultimately is what we did.

The trip to Texas confirmed that Tom and I had good rapport, even down to little things like using the onboard GPS system in our rented SUV to negotiate the Dallas freeways. Tom is a highly ambitious intellectual, and working for Gary had been a two-year post-graduate program in how to deal with such people. A few weeks later, I received a job offer from Sweet to be the company’s General Counsel at ten thousand US dollars per month, with the hope, but not the requirement, that I would eventually move to Vancouver.
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