Spending a Year in a Communist Compound (Part 2)

Filed under : Serial Stories, Weird Stories

Story 92 of 365

Est. Reading Time 7 minutes

(if you missed Part 1, you’re gonna be confused)

My first week in Seattle was surprisingly uneventful. Or at least… not that memorable. It was mostly house hunting, and a series of coffee shops, little restaurants, and the occasional bar. I was only 20 at the time, and I’d still never been drunk, so I didn’t really care about bars that much. I was always the designated driver, though, so I got free soda most of the places we went. I remember it didn’t take long for us to find a house and actually get moved in.

The house we picked was a tri-level grey house in a mostly pastel neighborhood in Seattle’s University District (aka “U District”). It didn’t look altogether that different from the photo in the header of this post, but much less regal (and we didn’t have the cool brick work around the patio — it was just grey-painted wood). The band decided to retrofit the basement into a recording studio and practice space. Shane and Pat lived in the two tiny rooms in the back of the basement. Chris & Christine had one of the bedrooms on the main floor, their mom took the master bedroom, and Andrew and I took the upstairs attic. Andrew and Amanda had the big room (naturally) in the attic, and I got this weird-ass tiny room that you could only stand up in about 10 square feet of the room because the ceiling was sloped. It didn’t even have a door. I had to pull the door off my creepy-ass closet and use that as my door. No door knob, just filled it with duct tape and used tabs on either side to open/close it. It had a little latch on the top which didn’t stop anyone from just busting it open whenever they wanted, but at least if they went to push it open they’d feel resistance and know “oh, Mitcz wants privacy”.

Andrew and I setup the attic mostly as an office space. We were able to run ethernet cables all over up there, and we dropped a couple separate lines down the stairs or through closets, which wired most of the house. We got ourselves hooked up on what was – at the time – a “screaming fast” 256k DSL connection. I was amazed that, for all the talk I’d heard about rain in Seattle, I still hadn’t seen it. I even started to believe people who said “yeah, it’s not that much rainier than other places”. But then the first day of rain starts. And it continues for what feels like nonstop rain for another 8 months. And when you live in an attic with a rickety old window, you actually hear the wind, and sometimes loose wood flaps against the side of the house, and you realize “oh. this is how it’s gonna be. forever and always”.

Chris laid out some rules, early on. He said “this isn’t a democracy, this is a communist compound. We work together, we all benefit. You work alone, you stand alone, you’re out of the circle. You’re free to make that decision at any time, but it’s lonely on the outside”. At the time, I figured he was just being dramatic. But, over the course of a year, I found myself standing alone more often than not. Everyone in the house worked, except for Chris. Apparently his sole job was “being creative”. When the other band members got their paychecks, they were turned over to Chris. If they wanted to access their own bank accounts, they had to get their debit cards from Chris, tell him how much they’d be spending, what they’d be spending it on, and return with receipts. His girlfriend Christine also didn’t work, at first, and lived on the fruits of the labor force of the band. Eventually, she also got a job, and Chris handled her bank account as well — and he was a joint account holder on that one.

When Andrew and I finished the FrogFaith website, he was tasked with drumming up clients while I was working a day job to keep myself (and the business) afloat. It’s like Andrew and I had our own little communist compound outside of the Republic of Chris. For my part, I took a job as a waiter at the first-ever Denny’s along the main street of the U District. I told Andrew I’d work there until we got our first $2000 job.

I’d only worked there for maybe 2 months before Andrew walked in, said “let’s blow this joint” and handed me a check from our first client for $2300. I finished out my shift, and never went back. I had to actually get a bank account, though, because I’d been off the banking grid since my attempted bank fraud maneuver. I actually worried I wasn’t allowed to get a bank account. But, it all went fine. I now had money, and a bank account, and a debit card, and no one could touch it but me. I paid Andrew out of the account, never the other way around — mostly because he hated bank accounts.

Our first client came by way of some shady tactics and a little luck. Andrew’s plan to drum up clients was to do an email blast. You might call it SPAM e-mail. Cause… well, it was. He found a company called Earthonline that provided both ends of the dildo that ass-fucked your inbox in the mid-late 90s up through about mid-2004. If you had your own email list, they had software that could clean it, prep it for email blasting, and organize it for maximum performance. If you needed a server to blast 1000s of emails out to that list, they had servers on the ready for just such an occasion. If you had none of it, they would even sell you chunks of “leads” based on how much you wanted to spend, and who you wanted to hit 1their lead generation was their biggest hit. to promote it, they had little rubber balls with a map of the earth on it. The tagline below their logo ...continue. I designed a relatively attractive little email template, Andrew and I wrote some copy, and he fired up the Earthonline suite of services to blast 10,000 people in a single evening. Total cost? About $140.

Back then, SPAM wasn’t a big deal. There were no laws. Google was a tiny little barely-known company 2they incorporated September 1998 and the first time I’d ever heard of them was in 2001, and was in no position to punish spam servers. Companies were willy-nilly with their privacy policy and entire companies were purchased for 100s of 1000s of dollars just for access to their mailing list. It was such a non-issue that the emails we sent out had our own corporate email contact (clients@frogfaith.com, I think?) as the reply-to address. When we woke up the next morning, we had about 400 “FUCK YOU! SPAMMERS!”, about 100 potential clients, of which only about 30 of them even seemed worth pursuing.

We got a call from the CEO of Earthonline — I think his name was Brad. He said he liked our email design, and “I love this crazy website you guys made!”. He wanted more whiz-flash-bang on his own website, and wanted us to work as consultants on an ongoing basis. Andrew somehow talked him into sending us a deposit check “before we can even begin the work”, and that was the $2300 check he brought to me at Denny’s.

FrogFaith was ready to roll. But, Chris knew we hit paydirt. He said “well… I guess dinner’s on you guys tonight. Let’s go out!”. I said “I… don’t think we should be going out to restaurant with 8 people and racking up a huge tab. We’ve gotta make this last. This is now our sole source of income”. That was the first time I saw Chris’s policy in action. He went off on a rant about “all the things the house has done for [me]”, chief amongst them being “let you stay in Seattle”. He remembered every dollar coffee, every homemade sandwich, every penny that I was so much as present during the spending of. Andrew pulled me aside and said “listen, Chris is gonna flip his fucking lid — let’s do the dinner thing. I’ll take it out of my pay”. Chris later found out that Andrew took it out of “his” pay, and I got an hour-long lecture from him the following day, about “how things fucking work around here”. He was furious that I had the gall to join them for that celebration dinner when Andrew was the one picking up the tab. I tried to explain that it was a company decision (and that my portion of the meal was paid from my funds), but he’s a master of manipulation and twisting of words, and he had a comeback for everything I said. One example was when I made the bold decision to call him out on withholding everyone’s finances while he did nothing. He said “I’m the fucking accountant. They asked me to hold onto their finances, to keep the spending under control. I’m the songwriter of the band, I do everything. You .. just fucking sit there on a computer and push buttons. OOOhhhh! Big man! so much work!”.

It was useless. I had to just shut up and wait for him to run out of steam. All I knew was : I was hanging on to that fucking debit card. As long as I had that, Chris couldn’t touch me.

( header photo credit 3brewbooks on Flickr )

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. their lead generation was their biggest hit. to promote it, they had little rubber balls with a map of the earth on it. The tagline below their logo on the earth-ball said, and I quote “squeeze the earth for all it’s worth”
2. they incorporated September 1998 and the first time I’d ever heard of them was in 2001
3. brewbooks on Flickr