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July-20-2002,
My Lunch with The Major...By The Philosopher

I have had substantial contact with The Major by phone and E-mail for over a year, but until earlier this month I had never met him in person.

Part of the reason for this is that meeting The Major necessitates leaving the United States, because ever since he killed that guy in Vegas he can.t come back to this country or he.ll be immediately arrested at the border.

But in spite of whatever inconveniences, we decided that it would be a good idea to finally meet face to face, to talk about the pros and cons of the site in recent times, possible changes for the future, my role on the site, etc. We made the arrangements for our meeting by phone.

Specifically, at The Major.s urging we decided to meet in an obscure country to the north called .Canada,. at a Chinese restaurant not too far from where he resides.

Seeing as how I was starting in California, this was quite the lengthy drive for me. I traversed well over 2,000 miles just to get to the spot in Michigan where I would cross the border.

In order to keep my mind sharp on a long, solitary road trip like this, I like to spend the drive contemplating some of the profoundest of philosophical questions. For example, this time around I wrestled with such puzzlers as What is the meaning of life?, If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?, What would happen if an SUV were raised by a family of sports cars?, and Do you have stairs in your house? Before I knew it, I was crossing over to Canada.

At the border, I paid $1.50 to the Canadian customs agent. I had only American money, but she accepted it. (Like pretty much everything Canadian, Canadian currency somewhat resembles the real thing, but is worth considerably less.) In exchange, she gave me a Canadian flag pin, a Canadian flag refrigerator magnet, and permission to enter her country. (There was no full cavity search. That.s $2.00 extra.)

I found the natives of this land.called .Canadians..to be a simple but mostly friendly people. As long as one speaks slowly and in words of two syllables or less, it is not too difficult to communicate with them.

After another hour or so drive, I arrived at the meeting place in London, Ontario that The Major had selected. From the outside it looked like an ordinary Chinese restaurant.

Moments after I entered, I was approached by a tall 40-ish Asian man who appeared to be the restaurant host. .Good day, sir!. he greeted me in a cheerful yet professional manner, .You join us today for lunch?.

.Well, actually I.m here to see The Major,. I replied. Immediately his demeanor became serious. There was a general hush from those within earshot. He stood motionless, observing me carefully without responding. There was an awkward silence, awkward for me at least. He appeared to be waiting for something more. Had he not understood me? Was there something he wanted me to do or say or explain? Why was he just standing there?

Oh yes, I remembered. The password. I had put it out of my mind, because I had assumed The Major had been kidding with me on the phone. But evidently not. Tentatively, and feeling just a little bit foolish, I said in a low voice, .Sting blows..

He responded with a solemn nod of approval. He then ushered me toward the lounge. .Please to wait in here, sir,. he told me, .Will return for you in only a moment..

I took a seat at a small table as he hurried off. I thought about how close I finally was to meeting The Major face to face, and of the things we would likely discuss.

My reverie was interrupted when I became aware that there were two teenage girls observing me from about fifteen feet away with considerable interest, and indeed excitement. They were urgently whispering back and forth. The blonde had a vaguely Britney Spears look, though a few pounds heavier and without the freakish space between her eyes. The brunette was slightly taller, skinny, had maybe overdone the make up a bit, and had a small ring through a piercing in her right nostril. I tried not to make it obvious that I was aware of their watching me.

I gathered that they were trying to work up the courage to approach me, each one urging the other forward. .Oh my god! Ask him!. the one would say in a lowered voice. .Oooh, you ask him!. the other would reply. .Go ahead!. .Oh my god! Like, OK. No, no! You do it!. .I can.t do it! You do it!. .Oh my god!.

Finally the blonde, partly of her own volition and partly due to being pushed by the brunette, took several steps in my direction. She stopped in front of me. I looked directly at her for the first time. Her eyes grew bigger for a moment and her face reddened, then she bashfully looked down at the floor between us with a shy smile. .Umm, like,. she giggled self-consciously as she made little circles in the carpet with the toe of her right shoe, .We just wanted to know, like, are you a philosopher?.

.Yes. Yes I am,. I replied.

.Oh my god!. she said as she glanced over her shoulder at her friend, who by now had gathered the courage to sidle up next to her. They were having even more trouble containing their excitement now. .Oh my god!. the brunette said to me, .Say something logical!.

I decided to indulge them with a quick summary of Plato.s Theory of Forms that I sometimes use for such occasions. Two or three sentences into it, the blonde looked alarmingly close to swooning, and I found myself wondering which way she.d fall and whether I could or should attempt to catch her.

I didn.t have to worry about it for long, though, as by now the man who had greeted me at the door had returned and was impatiently shooing the girls away from the table. He then turned back to me, .So sorry, sir! So sorry!. He motioned me to get up and accompany him. .This way, sir. I show you. Right this way..

He led me through the restaurant. The closer we got to the farthest corner, the more I sensed the people at the tables pausing and watching us.

.Ah, here we are, sir!. he said. He pulled aside a beaded curtain, allowing me to step through into a separate, very small room. .In here. Yes, please, sir, if you will. Right in here..

Through the haze of the cigar smoke, I recognized The Major, familiar to me of course from the website. He was sitting on some large cushions on the floor, his back to the wall, facing me across a short-legged table. A laptop computer was open on the table, and I noticed multiple cell phones on the floor around him. The tinted glasses, the five o.clock shadow.it was unmistakably him. He was in full uniform, though I noticed there were two buttons missing from the front, presumably popped off by his expanding girth.

.You.re alone?. he demanded, as he leaned to the side to peer suspiciously past me. But when I started to answer, he grunted and impatiently motioned me to sit down, as if to indicate that he trusted his own instincts on the matter more than any answer I might give him.

I took a seat on a single thin cushion across the table from him. .Philosopher, eh?. he said. I smiled and nodded. He chuckled oddly as he sized me up. The chuckle turned into a laugh, which developed into a guffaw. Soon he was roaring with maniacal laughter. His face reddened, and the laughter rolled up out of him from somewhere deep inside, louder and louder.

I knew not what to do. Eventually I found myself involuntarily joining him in laughter, though mine was but a nervous and tentative response. But a split second after I started to laugh, I was laughing alone. With stunning abruptness he had shut off his laughter altogether at its seemingly most out of control stage. He was now staring at me with a chilling and unnatural intensity.

But that lasted for only a few moments before his eyes instead darted furtively from side to side. .My enemies,. he muttered vaguely, .The movers. The shills. The scammers. Ah, my enemies will never gain the advantage over me.. He appeared to be talking to himself. It was eerily like he might not even still be aware that I was in the room with him.

He took a long swig from a bottle of gin that apparently had been by his side the whole time, partially obscured from my line of sight by the table. As he went to set the bottle back down, he changed his mind, seemingly remembering I was there, and proffered it across the table.

.Drink?. he barked. .Well, no,. I replied, .No thank you. I--. He pulled the bottle back. .Figures,. he said, in a tone that was decidedly not one of approval.

.Ding. went his laptop, and then a few seconds later .Ding. again. Indeed, it sounded off countless times while I was there. I soon inferred that The Major had set his computer in such a way that he was alerted to every new post on Major Wager by a Don Best-like bell.

Each time it went off, he had to read the post immediately, even if it meant breaking off in mid sentence with me. It was difficult communicating with him, but there was nothing I could do. Every .ding. redirected his attention to the screen, and as often as not he composed an angry rebuttal on the spot.

.Take that Doggie!. he would say as he typed away with a sinister grin. Then turning to me, .How do you spell .rapscallion.?. I replied, .I think it.s--. .Oh hell, never mind. D-I-P-S-H-I-T. That.s good enough!. Then after another big swig from his bottle, he.d read his creation, and click to post it with a self-satisfied chuckle.

The phones were another constant interruption. .I don.t waste my time with flunkies like you, sister! This is The Major! Put me through to Spiro on the double!. .If The Devil told you he.d take care of it, then he.ll take care of it! Quit your whining!. .I don.t want to hear about any pussy .wise guy clause.! Pay the man the money you owe him or I.ll tear you a new asshole in the forums!. .Lock the goddamn thread if he won.t edit out those names, Minnow! Jesus, when are you going to grow a pair!. .Impossible! Comp Fan would see through it in a heartbeat!.

Occasionally we.d work in a few words of conversation amidst the whirlwind of activity. .So how the hell was the drive, Philosopher?.

.Oh, not bad. I--.

.You hungry?! Where.s the goddamn food?!. He raised his hands over his head and clapped sharply twice. Within seconds a young Asian lad hurried through the beads to where The Major was sitting. He bent down to receive The Major.s harshly whispered instructions. Then he retired from the room, walking backwards and bowing obsequiously several times.

The Major then produced a long scroll, which he spread out on the table. It was apparently some form of map or diagram, though I couldn.t make heads or tails of it. .This will explain everything!. he said excitedly as he positioned little markers of various shapes and colors on it.

Unfortunately his .explanation. only baffled me all the more. .These are the wise guys. These are the bonuses. Now, if you take these bonuses and give them to these movers, then what about these books over here getting blackmailed in the forums?! Now if the feds are down here, what.s supposed to happen in this other jurisdiction? You want me to worry about these scalpers? What the hell do you want me to do for those scumbags?! And Eddie.s still holed up down here somewhere!. He became increasingly loud and agitated, and incomprehensible, the longer he spoke. He motioned vaguely toward a corner of the scroll. .The Devil lost his nerve! The Devil was a fool! Margarita was ours I tell you!.

Ding! The Major had to read and respond to another attack post.

.And.the.horse.you.rode.in.on!. he narrated as he finished his typing a few moments later. .Now, where was I? Oh yeah, if this is the Prescription, and this is Securebuxx, and this is Railbird, then all I have to do is move this here, slide this over here, and...

Apparently this map or whatever it was made perfect sense to him. Or then again, maybe not, since fifteen minutes into his presentation he said, .Oh wait a minute. This is upside down,. and had to start the whole thing over.

Eventually he swept all his little markers away impatiently and rolled his scroll back up. He wagged a finger at me and proclaimed, .Just watch our Alexa numbers explode after our next campaign! The whole offshore world will be mine!.

The food arrived, carried in efficiently and wordlessly by a team of servers. Soon the table was full of an array of tempting dishes.

One of the servers stayed behind. The Major took another swallow from his gin bottle and carefully watched the man dip his chop sticks into each dish in turn and taste a small morsel of every one of them. He showed no visible ill effects from doing so. Only then did The Major dismiss him and commence his meal.

As I ate, I wondered aloud if perhaps that particular safeguard could be considered excessive. The Major looked at me suspiciously. .Oh, Samurai would love for me to let my guard down like that,. he said between bites of mooshu pork.

Suddenly he picked up an egg roll and flung it violently across the room, startling me sufficiently to cause me to spill tea down the front of my shirt. .Peep! Peep!. he shouted insistently as he pointed in the direction of something that only he could see, .There! Behind the potted plant!.

Somehow, through all the website dings, and the phone calls, and the second and third courses, and the bizarre outbursts, we ended up getting a decent amount of business done. We talked about the sportsbook industry. We talked about Major Wager, and my future role on the site. I felt we came to a pretty good understanding of what I would be contributing.

There remained, however, the sticky issue of compensation. I had been concerned about this stage all along, as I have never been good at haggling. But I felt it was important to take a stand on this occasion, to hold out for what I believed I truly deserved.

As much as anything, I felt I needed to do this to counter the misconception of philosophers as some sort of ivory tower utopians with little practical knowledge and abilities. If I could hold my own in negotiations with The Major, then maybe in some small way I.d be doing my part to put that canard to rest once and for all.

I had hoped to hear his offer first, but somehow he maneuvered things to where I had to go first. OK, one point for him, but we.re just getting started. Stay cool, I told myself, keep your focus.

I took a deep breath and launched into my proposal. In exchange for all of the work we had decided I would do, I proposed a four figure monthly salary, along with certain add-ons for special projects that could boost it into the five figure range.

I had more, but I paused for his response. He was stone-faced. I decided to move on.

I asked for stock options in Major Wager, a 401K, and an expense account (to include twice yearly trips offshore to investigate the sportsbooks in person). I made certain points in favor of my receiving these items, but sensed that I was sounding too defensive in trying to justify them. So, trying to feign a confidence I wasn.t fully feeling, I proceeded with the remaining items on my list, including full medical and dental coverage, and air fare and accommodations for each year.s Major Wager convention in Las Vegas.

He was silent through it all. As I spoke I searched for some indication of his reaction, but his face was impassive. Did I detect a slight raising of an eyebrow in response to a couple of the items? I couldn.t say for sure. He was one cool customer.

I concluded by proposing that my compensation package include membership in the country club where all the watchdog site owners hang out. I stopped, rather abruptly perhaps, but I had said what I needed to say, and now it was his turn.

The room was deathly quiet. I was conscious of my heart beating, conscious of my breathing as I waited.

The Major.s eyes were directed down at the table in front of him. His face bore a slight frown. I could sense the wheels turning in his head as he thought through my proposed compensation package item by item.

I realized that I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward expectantly. Self-consciously I shifted back. .Don.t accept his first offer, don.t accept his first offer,. I silently repeated to myself.

After an excruciatingly long minute or so of silence, he nodded to himself almost imperceptibly, as if he had come to a decision. He looked up at me and in a calm steady voice made his counter proposal:

.I.ll give you a Major Wager hat,. he said.

OK, there it is. It.s well short of what you.re asking for, but stay in control, think before you answer. Stay firm. Don.t let him manipulate you into taking less than you have coming to you. But might he withdraw his offer if you don.t jump at it, and so you.ll end up with even less? No, don.t think that way. Don.t think that way. Stay focused. Bring to bear all your negotiating savvy. Settle in for a long fight.

I told The Major that that was unacceptable, that he would have to do better.

Negotiations continued. I lost all track of time. Was it minutes? Hours? Days? I could not say. All I knew was that I had to outlast him, for my honor and for the honor of philosophers and other academics and intellectuals who for too long have been dismissed as naï, impractical dreamers. It was long, it was intense, it was ugly at times. My memory is a blur of arguing, pleading, shouting, threatening, sobbing uncontrollably, laughing, embracing, pledging eternal loyalty to each other, and cursing each other. And the incessant dinging of The Major.s laptop.

Finally, I broke him. I was closer to unconsciousness than to consciousness, I barely knew where I was, the room was spinning, and I could no longer make out more than the haziest outline of The Major through his thick cigar smoke. But as if from a great distance I heard his weary words:

.All right, it.s settled then. [Long sigh as he gathered up the strength to finish his statement.] I.ll give you TWO Major Wager hats..



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