Roberta’s Pyramid

Here’s a true story from my early career.


“She believed that if she positioned a certain part of her body at a specific spot inside a house shaped like a pyramid, and engaged in a popular physical activity, then all the powers of the universe, cosmic, sensual and spiritual, would concentrate at that spot, to create an irrepressible psycho-physiological hormonal rush ending in a much sought after finale. When she said, “I’m hiring you to find that spot,” I was confused, because I didn’t know which spot she meant, the pyramid’s, or hers.”

I have been cursed by a client! Really!! It was a curse placed upon me by a white-magic-practicing witch. It was 1977, my first year in business. I was contacted by a local owner of one of those trendy “enlightened” book stores. More than a bookstore owner, she was a self-proclaimed doctor of parapsychology, a psychic, a fortune teller, a mystic, a seer, a spirit-channeling guide, a link to (mentally add mysterious music and echoes) the other side…side…side…side.

She wanted me to design a new house for her, a scale model of The Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. Only, hers wasn’t going to be in a glamorous location outside Cairo, but in a field outside Wetumpka, Alabama. Pyramid Power was big in the 70’s, and she was big into it. I was just getting started and would accept anything, even this weird Wetumpka wonder. We agreed on a fee, and I drew the plans.

During those days, my best friend Curtis would drop by my apartment in the evening after he finished his day’s work as the news director of a local television station. My work day lasted into the night, so he would sit and I would draw. We discussed the pyramid project and he saw all the books about pyramids, both the math and mysticism, which I had found at the local library. I studied the proportions of the Great Pyramid. I also studied Pyramidology so I could better understand Roberta’s objectives, secondary of which were the shape and proportion of the building, and keeping food fresher longer, and focusing psychic energy and productive power. The primary objective was to create a counterpart of the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid, then plan for her bedroom and bed to be there, specifically where her pelvis would lie in the bed, precisely, so she could experience the thing pyramidology promised, she believed: intense, body shaking, hours-long orgasms. She was very enthusiastic when telling me about it. I should have walked away, but I didn’t, so I studied everything I could find about the Queen’s Chamber and the power of great sex reputedly offered by that spot.

My main objective was to make accurate plans, which when built, would be a home of exactly the ratio of length to breadth to height as the stack of stone it was mimicking. Also, because my plans would be so accurate, when she did get to the moment when her pelvis was put into alignment with that very special point in space within the paranormal polyhedron, and she did all the things associated with creating an orgasm, and nothing happened, it wouldn’t be my fault.

So, I designed the house, and delivered the plan. She refused to pay. I asked why. Her reasons: business was bad, which was not true; and her husband was suddenly and unexpectedly divorcing her, which was true. Years later I would meet him and hear his side, the side that did not want to be married to a maniacal mystic, the side that for the sake of his children and himself chose to no longer put up with a steady stream of gullible dropping-by-the-house customer wannabe’s, all desperately needing a self-proclaimed doctor of parapsychology, a psychic, a fortune teller, a mystic, a seer, a spirit-channeling guide, a link to the other side….. side…. side…. side, who could predict their future, and find their missing cat.

The Cat Story

Stepping aside for a moment, I’d like to tell you The Cat Story. My first appointment with Roberta was on an August afternoon. It was an unseasonably hot day. One of her male secretaries interrupted the meeting because Mrs. So-n-So, apparently a very high-paying regular client, couldn’t find her cat and she wanted Roberta to divine its location. Without hesitation, Roberta said, “Tell her to look under the front porch. Tell her we’ll stay on the phone until she comes back with the cat.” Moments later Mrs. So-n-So was back on the phone happily announcing that the cat was exactly where Roberta’s revelation had proclaimed. Roberta turned to me and said, “It’s a hundred and five degrees outside. Where else is a cat going to find a cool spot?” Then to the secretary, “Bill her four hundred, no five, five hundred dollars.”

So, I sued her…. in Small Claims Court……. for the entire fee…one hundred and fifty dollars. She didn’t like it and made sure I knew it. She used a messenger.

Working for her as a personal secretary, her first assistant, was a weaselly little man named Gary. For that matter, all of her assistants were male. In the weeks leading up to our court appearance (a big phrase to connect with a measly $150), Gary would call me and make threats. At first the threats were empty, hollow promises like, “You’ll never win,” and “We’ll never have to pay.” Then they became violent, like, “We’ll be waiting for you with a baseball bat,” and, “We’ll tear you to pieces.” I won’t say I wasn’t worried, and in the weeks before the hearing, whenever I left my little apartment, which was also my design studio – a grandiose title for a drawing table in a spare bedroom – I was careful to look for Gary or some other bat wielding, male assistant-henchman, but they were never there. Also, during the month before the court date, my business boomed. I was hired by client after client, adding at least one new job each day. It was so exciting to hear the phone ring,……. until a week before the trial, when Gary called again.

They knew mine was a brand spanking new house plan business, a struggling startup for which, until very recently, clients and jobs were scarce. I had nothing. They knew it. They thought they could use it. That’s why Gary called a week before the trial date.

“Now you’ll be sorry,” he began. “She’s had enough,” he added snidely. Then, in a tone of voice, that through the phone conveyed the sneer on his face, he jibed slowly for effect, “How has business been the last few weeks? Pretty bad, huh? She’s put a curse on you! But drop the case, and she’ll lift the curse.”

My answer, “Please tell her that I wish I had known. I would have more appreciated the curse she put on me. But also tell her that this has been the best month of my career and ask her to please do it again.”

CLICK! …. That was Gary hanging up hard.

Court date arrived. Judge Sanky was on the small-claims-court bench. I stated my case. She stated hers. Curtis testified that he had seen all the books I had studied.

Judge Sanky was a no-nonsense adjudicator with a long line of other cases for the day behind ours, so he cut straight to the point. We barely got to tell our stories because, from the beginning, he asked cut-to-the-core questions, mostly of her, like, “Did you hire him to draw plans?” and “Did he draw them?” and “So why won’t you pay?” She answered: “Yes,” “Yes” and “Because my husband is divorcing me over this house and I’ll never get to build it, so I shouldn’t have to pay.”

“I find,” he said to all in the courtroom, “in favor of the plaintiff (that was me). “You,” he said to her, “have fourteen days to pay him the one hundred and fifty dollars he’s suing for plus the court cost of fifty dollars. Then he picked up his gavel. I was looking forward to it coming down with a loud hammer blow, a sort of Perry Mason moment to announce my huge legal victory, but he hardly tapped it. Anyway, I won.

The defendant had fourteen days to comply with the judge’s order. She took them, all. At noon on the fourteenth day, Gary showed up at my door. With him was a young man, Stan, another of her male assistants, this time assigned to help Gary complete this court-ordered payment.

I opened the door to see Gary and Stan smirking. Each was holding a bag. The bags appeared heavy. “We’re here to pay you.” Gary said, as he lifted his bag to cradle it in his arms. Stan did the same.

I let them in. I wanted the money. Gary asked where he could put the bags, and I directed him to a small 1960’s vintage Formica-topped table. It was white with gold flecks and was flanked by four chairs upholstered in white plastic imprinted sporadically with simulated gold threads, just so you get the atmosphere. It served as both dining room furniture and a conference table where I met with clients. Gary and Stan clunked the bags on the table. They seemed to make a metallic rattle when they landed.

“There’s your money,” Gary sneered, pointing to the bags. Then he pushed a piece of paper across the table and added, “Sign this receipt.”

“Not so fast,” I said, and I opened the bags. Each was filled with pennies.

The Penny Scarcity Story

We have to step aside, again, for The Penny Scarcity Story. Around 1977, inflation was high. The penny lost so much value that people didn’t bother to carry the little coin. Instead, when change was made for purchases, and that change included pennies, those pennies were only pocketed or pursed long enough to get them home, where they would be dropped into a jar, or shoebox, or ashtray, where they would remain, never to be pocketed or pursed again. The result was a scarcity of pennies, a shortage so severe the national news networks reported about it. Curtis even talked about it on his news broadcasts. This part about Curtis will be important in a few minutes.

So, I’m standing in my apartment looking at two big bags of pennies, which Gary says is my court ordered payment. That’s two hundred dollars… in pennies… two hundred times one hundred…  twenty thousand pennies. “You’re paying in pennies?” I asked. “Yes.” Gary answered as he and Stan each beamed a smug grin – Gary’s was ear to ear.

I needed to buy some time to think. I asked them to wait a minute, then went into the drafting room (spare bedroom with a drawing table), and called Mr. Cates, the longtime family attorney. I asked him if I had to accept twenty thousand pennies as payment, when Roberta and Gary and Stan were obviously just trying to be…well…trying. Mr. Cates advised me to take the pennies because they were legal currency, and if I refused, then Roberta could always say she had tried to pay but I rejected the payment, “which,” he added, “may be what she’s hoping for. So, take the money.” My countenance sank. I felt powerless, as I thanked him and hung up the phone.

I didn’t want to go back to the table or the pennies or Gary and Stan. Afterall, Gary had threatened me with violence and bodily harm. That’s when I tapped my inner strength and came up with a plan. It was a great plan, a strong plan that exhibited my professionalism and manliness. I would call my daddy.

My father arrived less than five minutes later. I introduced him to Gary and Stan and showed him the pennies. I took him to the other room where I told him what Mr. Cates had said. He took it all in and immediately understood the situation. We returned to the table. My father asked if there was a receipt. I said yes. He asked if I had signed it. I said no. He said good because we didn’t actually know if there was two hundred dollars’ worth of pennies in those two bags.

My father turned to Gary and Stan and said, “Alright, gentlemen, have a seat. We’re counting pennies.” The expressions on the faces of Gay and Stan revealed that this is not what they expected, but as my father and I sat down, so did they.

The instructions my father gave to all of us were simple: make stacks of pennies ten coins high, then arrange the stacks in groups of ten, each group being one dollar. Once the tabletop was covered, so went the plan, we would assess the number of groups, then clear the table, placing the counted coins in one of the bags, and begin again with the next batch of one-cent pieces. We began this process at 12:40pm. Slump-shouldered and dejected, Gary and Stan began to follow the plan.

Thirty minutes had passed. The tabletop was almost covered. Stan remarked that it was going pretty fast, and his spirit seemed to lift a little. That’s when my father exclaimed, “What is this?!” He was holding up a slug, a blank of copper, an unembossed coin. Looking straight at Gary, he sternly questioned, “What are you trying to pull?” Gary was taken aback. “N-n-n nothing.” he stuttered. My father got right in Gary’s face, nose to nose, and said, “It doesn’t look like n-n-n-nothing to me, Gary. How many of these have we missed? How many slugs did you put in here? Now, we have to start all over.” Then he raked every penny off the table. As the pennies fell to the floor so did the countenance of Gary and Stan.

We began the count, anew. Three more times my father found slug-related reasons to rake off the table. Each time he waited a little longer before springing the what-are-you-trying-to-pull ploy. But every time got the same response from Gary and Stan – loss of hope to ever leave. After it would end and they were gone, he would tell me that it was the same slug over and over. He was just sticking it in whenever he needed it. Bravo, Daddy!

One round ended abruptly when my father made the ‘discovery’ that Gary had put the counted coins in the wrong bag. He dumped it out and we started over, again.

By now three hours had passed. I was energized and strengthened by my father’s strategy, though, at the moment, I didn’t know about the same-slug-repetition. I even had a diabolical idea of my own. It was about penny scarcity. I called Curtis and told him the hoarders causing the penny shortage were in my apartment and suggested that he send a film crew and get the story. He did. Within half an hour of the call, a videographer and a reporter showed up at my apartment. They filmed the counting process and asked Gary and Stan why they were penny hoarders, and did they understand that they were harming the whole nation with this unchecked accumulation of hard currency. Both were too flustered to answer. After about twenty minutes, the crew left, and we continued to count.

We made it through two tabletops full of ten-coin stacks, and about halfway through what would be the last round. Stan, once again, sighed with relief that it was almost over. My father glanced at me, his expression clearly saying, “Stan only thinks it’s over.” Then as he reached into the middle of the table to place another stack of ten, my father flicked his little finger and knocked over several stacks. They toppled, domino-style, almost in a liquid ripple across the table. My father exclaimed, “I am so sorry, gentlemen. That was entirely my fault. But, we still have to start over.” Coins were raked. Countenances fell. Hope was dashed. It was a beautiful thing to see.

It was 6:45pm, six hours and five minutes since we began to count, when my father finally called an end to Gary’s and Stan’s torture. He instructed me to go ahead and sign the receipt, even though we never finished hand-counting all the pennies, a chore which, under normal circumstances, would take about forty-five minutes to do by hand. The next day I went to the bank and had the pennies counted by machine. It took five minutes.

I’m sure Gary and Stan scurried back to Roberta and recounted the excruciating ordeal of their own back-fired plan, including the part about them all being portrayed as penny hoarders on the local news. Roberta called the TV station and threatened Curtis with legal action if he put the story on the air. Curtis responded with, “1. Please do because then we can report about it, and 2. It’s already been sent to the national network, so you’ll have to take it up with the network’s legal department.” She was never heard from again. The story never ran on TV. It was already old news.

Gary moved away. Not because of this debacle, but he did leave.

Stan sent a note to apologize, and to inform me that he had quit his job that same night.

After her husband divorced her and took the children, Roberta moved to Florida, where she joined a coven of white witches. But, the story goes, they wouldn’t let her be in charge, so her powers withered and she died alone and orgasmless. If only she had paid for the pyramid plans, this story might have been about a happy ending.


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