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Miss Adult Sweet Tart

First performed A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, San Francisco


For a long while this probably won’t seem like a love story, but I assure you that it is.

Oh, what the hell, I’ll get the love story started right away.

A little background. When I was 23 years old, I worked at a management consultancy, and one of my assignments was for the Sunbeam Conglomerate, owner of the DoubleTree Inn hotel chain, Sammy’s restaurants, NorWest Bank, several travel agencies, and the Sunbeam candy division, maker of Sweet Tarts. In an effort to better cross-market its properties, Sunbeam had datamined for patterns in credit card receipts for 38 million Americans who had spent money at any Sunbeam property. Statisticians from the University of Texas had isolated one single person who was the prototype bellweather of their target market. She was known at Sunbeam as Miss Adult Sweet Tart, because she was one of the rare adult women to buy Sweet Tart candy. Her credit card bills were sent to Aurora, Colorado, outside Denver. Her name was Katherine Riley.

It was my job to go undercover and get to know her, this bellweather. To observe her other buying patterns. I was 23, she was 24. She designed sets for print commercials. I picked her up in a bookstore. During the day I killed time at a desk at an advertising firm that Sunbeam owned.

What I hadn’t told my bosses was that I, too, bought Sweet Tarts. Maybe once a week. I loved the powder scent that was released right when you unwrap the foilpaper. Having so much in common, Katherine and I fell in love. It was soulmate love, the sense that I’d known her already for a long time and just rediscovered her. A sense of "of course-ness." A sense it was meant to be. Destiny. Surreptitiously, I produced one hell of a detailed report, stats which would lead Sunbeam, in the interest of cross-marketing to the other 38 million Americans she represented, to float $800 million in 80s junk bonds and acquire sixteen other corporations who’s products Katherine also purchased.

Eventually I had to confess about the report. Katherine couldn’t take the news. It crushed her. It wasn’t just that she didn’t want to be the bellweather for 38 million americans anymore. She lost faith that my love was real, believed that I had faked it all this time for Sunbeam. I’d abused her trust. And it was eleven years before I ever saw her again. Eleven years, but that the thing about soulmate love: you never doubt that you’ll see her sometime.

Okay, high tech and entrepreneurs, I know, I know, that’s what I’m supposed to talk about.

When it comes to Silicon Valley and all that money they make, the question that everyone wants to know is, is it luck, or is it genius? Is it "Right place at right time" kind of lucky, or is it tremendous hard work? I believe it’s neither. The first beneficial coincidence seems like random luck. But when there’s a streak of extraordinary coincidences--a streak that could not be random--it feels like destiny.

But you can’t ask entrepreneurs what it is, because they develop a tremendously self-fulfilling psychology that is close to delusion. I know because I’ve been through it now, so let me tell you the Six Stages of Belief: 1.Whorl of Kismet. 2.Aggrandizement of Mission. 3.Singularity of Fixation. 4.Strategic Inflection Point in the Tradeoff between Personal Life and Career. 5.Inevitable Onset of Reality. 6.Denial of Reality.

You know, I think back, and it’s amazing to me, if I’d never left the window open to clear the air that one night, none of this would ever have happened.

My friend Charlie Crane came over the next morning, sat down on my toilet, and nearly froze his buns. If you’ve seen me read before, you might have heard me list the 7 Habits of Highly Engineered People, and for Habit #2, "they will keep on fixing what’s not broken until it’s broken," I was always thinking of Charlie. Charlie’s an engineer, and when he comes over to my house he is always finding things to fix. One of his favorites is to rehang doors so they swing in a direction that conserves space. So when Charlie sat down on the cold toilet seat, his mind started thinking---What if hot water ran through the toilet seat? And right there, he started to take apart my toilet. Big mistake. The water at the end of the hot pipe is standing water, it cools off. It was a month before we could sit down again at my house.

Now, Charlie is a materials engineer. During this time, Charlie was at his lab down at Lockheed, trying to come up with a polyresin casing material, when he cooked a concoction too long and ended up with a very hard rubbery material that, amazingly, had a resting state temperature of about 95 degrees. It stayed warm, unless you held it in your hand, in which it transferred heat to your skin and cooled off slowly. So Charlie, who could have done any number of things with this new material, had this other problem on his hands of having ruined my toilet. Coincidence still? Maybe. He gave his material the nickname Morphastic, morphable plastic, and made me a toilet seat out of it.

And oh, my, what a toilet seat! A throne! Because not only did it heat your butt, the heat transference softens the material and in about ten seconds, it adapts to your shape. I was doing some of my very best thinking of the day on that toilet seat. My morning ritual was a whole new experience of peace and calm.

On to the next stage in belief building: aggrandizement of the mission. Yes, we were proposing to reinvent the toilet seat, but Charlie and I saw ourselves as more than that. Our mission was to be ambassadors for the peaceful moment in a world of chaos, to deepen and lengthen sincere reflection. Our inspiration was Antaeus, the god in Greek Mythology who flew around all day but replenished his strength only when he touched the ground. We wanted to replenish people when their bum graced the throne.

Then, the stage of fixation: ignoring other options and strategies to pursue a single tangible objective. It feels like your future is calling out to you. You can’t help but chase it. Our fixation was to get the Morphastic toilet seat in Bill Gates $40 million home on the shores of Lake Washington, where--a coincidence again?--I used to waterski as a child. We were so confident of our crapper seat that we knew all we had to do was install it on Gates’ toilet, and the next morning it would sell itself.

Gates’ cyberpalace was a high tech Xanadu, a test site for computer assisted living. There was some just darn cool things; a 60 foot pool with underwater speakers, a trampoline room with 20 foot ceilings, a stream stocked with tigerfish. But what makes his house distinctive is the electronic clothing pin, which tells the house who and where you are, so rooms light up as you enter a room (to your lighting settings) and dim as you exit. Music follows you around the house. The house will know everything about your preferences. So if you don’t take phone calls during dinner, the phone won’t ring, et cetera.

I had no plan. Charlie left it up to me. I left it up to fate. It was either my destiny to get in to the mansion or not. So one night last March I drove there, and the guard at the gate didn’t even take my name, he just held out a keypad for me to punch in my PIN number. I tried "2001," since someone always uses that one. The guard said, "Here you go, Mr. Kinsley," and handed me a safety pin with an imbedded microchip and a little blue ribbon.

These iron gates in front of the house opened on my approach, and carrying the toilet seat I went into the house, which I could tell you more about, but I think it was best said by Margaret Talbot writing in the New Republic, when she was paraphrasing Christopher Lasch in the Atlantic, who interviewed the novelist and Republican speechwriter Mark Helprin after he had read an account of Gates’ abode in a Harper’s Magazine reading that had actually been excerpted from a Scott Rosenberg column in Salon:

I quote: "What great wealth procures for itself is not excess but insulation, carefully calibrated, from the contigencies and disruptions of daily life as most people live it. The Gates house is the perfect symbol of the new elite. It is not a monument to excess so much as a monument to control. For the baby boomer aristocracy, control--over social reality, over the biological reality of reproduction and aging--has become an obsession. There are many ways to achieve this kind of mastery over one’s environment, but Gates may have hit upon the surest: build yourself a technological cocoon that anticipates your every need and protects you not only from danger, but from serendipity."

You see, that scares me, because eliminating serendipity eliminates the possibility of destiny.

I got as far as the kitchen door when I saw him through the entryway. He was entertaining an entourage of Japanese businessmen by demonstrating his appliances. Gates was taller than I but withery of build, and his apricot coiffure had a waves-in-a-storm look, with tufts breaking like whitecaps. His vast eyeglasses were fencelike, guarding his face.

It turned out these men represented the company that made the Japanese high tech toilet, Matsushita Electric Works. Yes, another whorl of kismet. I had arrived on the scene just as Gates and Matsushita were negotiating a deal on their high tech toilet! Gates was willing to keep their toilet in his dream home, but he wanted money for it, $8 million for two years. He knew what the most famous home in the world was worth. He was auctioning off his home to the highest bidders. The home, which had cost him $40 million to build, had already earned $60 million in up-front product placement fees. Muzak, which was in the midst of a corporate redesign and is also based in Seattle, had paid $12 million to provide Xanadu with its audio atmosphere. A titanium knife company had paid $60,000 just to get their grapefruit knife in his kitchen drawer.

Now, I knew the Matsushita toilet. I called it the seat of anal paranoia ... spray systems, self-cleaning systems with a plastic baggie sleeve that snakes over the seat, scent releasing buttons, completely high-tech. But their toilet had ignored the most important part, the seat. It was thin hard plastic, an airplane seat, for a little Japanese rear end.

The Matsushita people wanted to pay only $2 million, because that is what a Michigan furnishings company had paid for the bathtub. They weren’t making any headway. Gates was caustic and antagonistic, as he always is, rocking like a rhesus and using Socratic dialogue to humiliate his negotiating adversaries. "Tell me what makes a bathtub as important as a toilet," he demanded, and so on.

That’s when I stepped in, waving my Morphastic toilet seat and talking about warm bums. They didn’t throw me out because Gates seemed to presume I was with Matsushita, sort of a surprise feature extra, brought in at the last minute to get him to back down to $2 million. And the Matsushita guys thought I must be with Gates. They were all excited to try the Morphastic out.

So we all went in the bathroom, and I just tipped up the Japanese airplane seat and rested the Morphastic on the rim. All the Japanese guys had brought their bathing suits, because they’d heard about the 60 foot pool with underwater music, so they all changed into these tightey whitey underwear that I guess was somehow not embarassing to them. Meanwhile, Gates took the throne. The door was closed but I heard him use his cell phone to make a call, he said to someone, "you’ve got to get over here right away."

The Japanese men were very excited and kept knocking on the bathroom door, saying "Mister Gates, our turn, our turn." But Gates kepts saying "shut up, I’m thinking." When he finally came out, he’d figured it all out. He’d done some serious thinking on that toilet, in that moment. As he talked, it soon became clear that Bill Gates knew far more about crap that we’d ever considered. Forget about 2 million versus 8 million. Now, he wanted to buy my seat and the entire Matsushita toilet division.

Gates always wanted to put a computer in every home. And that he couldn’t manage to get into every home had haunted him. He’d bought into NBC and TCI, but that was just a virtual presence in the home. He was obsessed with having a physical thing in the home.

It was amazing to watch his mind work. Here was what he figured out as he sat there, warming his tush. The toilet could be leveraged. Just as Windows is the graphical user interface between the human being and the computer, lo, the whole internet, he said, the toilet seat is the user interface between the human being and the toilet, lo, the entire plumbing network. Under the economic Doctrine of Channel Control, which states that by controlling any one link of the pipeline or channel one can de facto control the entire channel, Gates knew that he could leverage the toilet seat to control the world’s water supply. First, the toilet seat hinges are altered slightly: if you want this MS toilet seat to fit properly on your toilet, you’d better buy the MS toilet rim. From the rim to the bowl. From the bowl to the plumbing. From the plumbing to the sewage system. From the sewage system to the water supply. He could control all of it. He could control where we crapped, how we crapped, who we crapped with. If you control man’s ability to crap, you control his sphincter, and by the Doctrine of Channel Control, you control mankind.

It was a match made for the cover of Vanity Fair. Bill Gates strategy with Matsushita’s jet stream toilet with my Morphastic toilet seat. The deal that warmed billions.

But .. there was a catch. I said the next phase is the Strategic Inflection Point in the Tradeoff bw Career and Personal Life, which is when there’s no looking back, you can’t jockey both sides any more, you’ve made your choice. And that was about to come. The marriage of toilet to seat to monopolist was dependent upon one other person, Microsoft’s official tester. No Microsoft product got out the door without her testing it. Nothing had gone into the Xanadu without her authorization, not even the titanium grapefruit knife.

Suddenly, I smelled Sweet Tarts. At first, I thought it was the masking scent that was released from the Matsushita, but when she came into the room, I couldn’t believe it. It was HER! Katherine. Miss Adult Sweet Tart, the one true love of my life. Katherine Riley. The human sunbeam. My heart pounded, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Katherine was Bill Gates’ little secret. Her heart broken by me so long ago, she had taken her role as bellweather princess and sold it to the highest bidder. Whatever she wanted, he knew that at least 38 million Americans would want. 38 million computer mice, 38 million web browsers, 38 million CDROM Encyclopedias.

Now, Katherine, the one love of my life, controlled my destiny.

It all happened so fast. I was struck with lovesickness. It was unprofessional of me, but I blubbered it out, I couldn’t help it. "I still love you. I always loved you."

She was in tears, too. "You’re just saying that so I’ll like your toilet."

"No, no, I mean it. I would do anything for your love again."

She said, "Give up the toilet then. Take it out of this equation. Sign it away to Bill and then tell me you love me when there’s nothing in it for you."

And then she really had me. If I said no, she would hate my toilet out of spite, If I said, yes, I at least had a chance for her love.

Quickly, on a napkin, I signed away the rights to the Morphastic seat. We embraced, we kissed. But then-- ... her eyes closed. We’d always kissed with our eyes open. When we parted, I saw the napkin was gone. Stage five: the inevitable onset of reality. What had I done? My seat was about the acknowledgment that we crap, it was about recognizing a good crap and owning that feeling. The Matsushita toilet, with all its sprays and scents, covered up the fact that we crap, it made crapping less like crapping. Theirs was the opposite of our mission.

I told Katherine I wanted to leave. I had to leave, right then, I couldn’t think about it. Stage Six: The Denial of Reality. Yes dear, she said. We headed for the door, I was hyperventilating. I had to get through those iron gates, and I slipped ahead of Katherine just a few feet. "It’ll all be over soon, dear," she said, and then the next thing I knew the gates had closed behind me, with Katherine still inside. I turned to look but she wasn’t even looking back, she was walking to the house.

He was waiting in the doorway for her. I watched Gates put his hand on her neck and ride it down to her shoulder, in such a way ... And I saw, knew, that there was something there, something between them.... a business trip, first class side by side seats, some champagne to celebrate a deal, him being taken by the way she laughs. 38 million Sealy posturepedics, 38 million Kimono latex condoms, 38 million Americans who make the same sighs as her, the same severity of clench.