Pen used to fill out an exam.

How Not to Get a Job

My Professional Origins

In which:

I wrote a recklessly inappropriate job-seeking letter.

I got a job because of a confused belief that I was a woman.

A violent doomsday-obsessed cult became involved.

Things eventually worked out.

Many web sites purport to explain How to Get a Job. Here, in contrast, is how not to do that. It worked for me, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Background: I went through Purdue University, undergraduate and then grad school in Electrical Engineering, with the department renamed Electrical and Computer Engineering by the end of grad school.

After finally finishing a Ph.D., I had a Research Scientist position at the university for a year in the early 1990s. A Research Scientist only gets paid if there's adequate research funding, so that only lasted a year.

Now what?

Cummins and the "Help Wanted" Ad

I knew someone who worked at Cummins, the company that builds engines. He told me that they were looking for help with network expansion and improvement. Part-time work as a consultant was a possibility.

That turned into working there about half time for three years. I would drive down to southern Indiana early Monday morning, stay three nights in a cheap motel while working about ten hours a day Monday through Thursday, and drive home late Thursday night. I repeated that about half the weeks, typically two weeks on and two weeks off, but sometimes three to four weeks in a row going there or staying away.

IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, charged very low membership dues for students and fairly low dues for your first year after graduation. I remained a member until the dues went up, receiving their monthly IEEE Spectrum magazine.

Free time in the evenings at a cheap motel along the Interstate highway let me catch up on reading, including magazines.

The back pages of IEEE Spectrum listed job postings from corporations and universities. Those ads were in tiny font, making the back pages a grey haze.

The training company shall remain anonymous for reasons that will become increasingly clear as this tale unfolds.

But then a training company must have become desperate, because they paid for slightly larger bold font for their "help wanted" ad. It caught my attention.

The ad said that the company taught short courses in Japan about computers and networking. They needed native-fluent Japanese speakers with technical backgrounds to teach these courses. I was interested in teaching, but all I could do in Japanese was mispronounce "Hello" and "Thank you".

The Inappropriate Letter and its Strange Replies

I sent the training company a letter that violated all the usual rules of how to apply for a job. It surely made it clear that I knew nothing about their company. I had no idea of the topics of their courses, and I was unqualified for the referenced job. But, here's a resume as I would be interested in teaching short technical courses in English and maybe they had some use for that.

About six months later a letter arrived, addressed to Roberta Cromwell. I was, and probably still am, the only person named "Cromwell" in town, so it came to me. It said something along the lines of:

Dear Roberta —

Thank you for enquiring about teaching our course 378, "Internetworking with Novell Netware". However, we do not feel that you are qualified.

Yes, Novell Netware, this was the mid 1990s. I was vaguely aware of Netware, an alternative to TCP/IP. Windows 3.1 had recently come out, it was the first Microsoft operating system that included networking in the OS. Up to then you had to add something, and Netware was one alternative.

However, I certainly hadn't enquired about any teaching job related to Netware! Well, I live in a college town. A local bar would give you a free drink if you brought in a job rejection letter. So I got something out of the mysterious letter. By that time I had largely forgotten about my non-Japanese teaching letter.

A Novell Netware server that has been running continuously for 16.5 years.

Yes, Novell had its strengths, including servers that could stay up for 16.5 years.

A month or two later, a second letter arrived for Roberta:

Dear Roberta —

Thank you for enquiring about teaching our course 389, "Internetworking with TCP/IP". However, we do not feel that you are qualified.

Well, that was a little insulting, I felt that I knew the TCP/IP protocol stack. And, this letter was as mysterious as the first Roberta letter. Who were these people rejecting applications that I didn't recall sending? Oh well, another free drink.

Six to twelve more months passed, and a third letter arrived for Roberta:

Dear Roberta —

Thank you for enquiring about teaching our course 389, "Internetworking with TCP/IP". We feel that you might be qualified. Please telephone A—— P—— at (406)-XXX-YYYY at your earliest convenience.

Now things were getting interesting while remaining mysterious.

I searched through all the letters I had ever written, at the time troff files in ~/junk/letters/ as this was before I switched to LaTeX. Ah, here it is, a letter to a training company in Virginia, written about a year and a half ago. And yes, I had correctly spelled my name as "Robert" in the letter and the accompanying resume.

In that era there were telephone directories, large softcover books listing people and businesses along with their phone numbers. These books typically started with background information, such as warnings against using your telephone while in the bathtub or during thunderstorms. They also included a map of area codes. Let me make sure that the 406 area code is Virginia.

Map of North American telephone area codes.

Before Google and even before AltaVista, civilization relied upon paper-based archives of information.

Hmmm, no, Virginia has several area codes but none are 406. Maybe I'm to call an office across the Potomac river in the District of Columbia or Maryland? No, 406 isn't there, either.

It took a while for me to notice that 406 was the area code for the entire state of Montana. I went back to the received letter to verify that it was mailed from Virginia but it told me to call a number in Montana. What was going on?

Montana is two time zones west of me, so I waited until at least 11:00 AM to make the call. I was very apologetic — "I'm sorry to bother you, but this training company in Virginia asked me to call you. And if you are expecting the call, then you probably expect me to be a woman named Roberta. There seems to have been confusion, at least over my name."

I had contacted the appropriate person! Things became a little more clear as he explained that he had written the course in question. He happened to live in Montana. The training company very appropriately insists that their instructors should not be full-time teachers. They should work in the field so they really understand how things work, and can provide practical examples.

SNMP or the Simple Network Management Protocol is only simple in comparison to the even more complicated alternatives.

We chatted for a while about what I was doing for Cummins and what else I had done. He concluded that while I was somewhat vague about SNMP (and who isn't), I would probably be a pretty good match to this topic. He gave me the name and telephone number of someone I should contact in the Virginia office of the training company.

I called her and introduced myself, explaining that there had been a slight mixup about my name. She said that she would be sending material to me, it was important for me go look through it before we could proceed.

Urgencies Arise

A FedEx package arrived a few days later. It had my full attention.

This was the mid 1990s. I still considered FedEx shipping to be something you would only resort to in extreme situations, the way most people thought of telegrams in the 1930s and 1940s. She hadn't told me that the shipment would arrive via what I considered to be emergency handling.

Inside was a VHS cassette and a letter telling me that the content of the tape was extremely important. I should watch it immediately, and then return it in the enclosed pre-paid FedEx shipping material.

VHS video cassette tape, front side.

A VHS cassette — magneto-mechanical storage media containing magnetic tape on which analog NTSC signals have been recorded.

VHS video cassette tape, front side.

This 18.7 x 10.2 x 2.5 cm device was once the state of the art of video recording technology. It had sound and color and everything.

Leisure suit from https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/12/f70/beto-00-plastics-wkshp-dec-2019-biddle.pdf

Imagine this but in brown. This image is from, believe it or not, a U.S. Department of Energy document.

I closed the blinds for optimal viewing, turned on the TV and VCR, loaded the tape, and...

A man wearing a suit with the jacket lapels reaching almost to his shoulders and with the trouser legs flared, garb with 1970s Leisure Suits in its heritage, walked into the camera's field of view. The camera was centered on an overhead projector, equipment of similar vintage.

He announced that he was going to explain some matters of extreme importance.

Overhead projector from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overheadprojektor#/media/Datei:OverheadReise1.JPG.

Overhead projector, image from Wikipedia.

Overhead projectors were still in common use in the mid 1990s, before document cameras and video projection became standard.

An overhead projector is a box containing a light source with a Fresnel lens as its top surface. You place a page-sized transparent sheet on the top surface, and a lens and mirror suspended above it forms an image on a screen.

The clear plastic sheets or transparencies or foils can be printed on a laser printer, and then you can annotate them with felt-tipped markers. A four-day course with plenty of time spent on labs might still go through a heavy stack of nearly 400 pre-printed sheets. Then the instructor would also have a pack of blank slides on which to draw and write additional content.

Or, for further awkwardness, the projector might have a pair of crank-handled reels feeding a long continuous strip of clear plastic like a scroll across the illuminated projecting surface. Static electricity builds up from pulling individual sheets off the stack. Opposing static charge builds up as the long plastic scroll is pulled across the large glass lens. The result, especially in cold, dry weather, is that individual sheets simply refuse to lie aligned the way you try to place them on the projector.

He discussed the various issues of pre-printed and blank transparent film, after lengthy explanations and demonstrations of how to properly clean all lens surfaces and the mirror, and how to properly align and focus an overhead projector, especially challenging in confined spaces where the result can be an extreme keystone-shaped distortion of the original rectangular page.

Then, as an advanced topic, how to change a burned-out bulb, perhaps the most urgent of all overhead projector emergencies short of it catching on fire.

After a half hour of explanations of how to prepare, maintain, and use an overhead projector, that video ended with a few seconds of static, some horizontal and vertical rolling, and a new segment of video began.

It was the same guy wearing a similar suit in a similar setting. This time there were two overhead projectors on separate tables, with a T-shaped space beyond and between the tables for the speaker.

He started by explaining that the T-shaped space was an absolute requirement for classroom layout, as it was the way to achieve the goal of this training video — ensure applause at the conclusion of the course.

If you manage to get people to applaud at the end of an event, right before they fill out the course evaluation, individuals will generally give the event higher marks. Even if someone didn't like the class and doesn't applaud, they are likely to subconsciously think "Well, I didn't think this was fantastic, but the other people applauded so it must have been pretty good after all."

There is a way to get people to applaud. You coerce that behavior through discomfort. And here was a half-hour video explanation and demonstration of how to do that.

You make it clear that you are reaching the end of the material. As you are wrapping things up, you switch off the projector holding the next-to-last slide. Then your grand conclusion, and you thank them for attending, while you switch off the other projector.

Then, and this was explained and demonstrated multiple times, you stand in that space between the two projectors and remain absolutely silent and motionless.

Human nature abhors a vacuum. You just presented an explicit "This is the grand finale". Don't move, don't say anything. With an adequately long and uncomfortable silence and stillness, you are almost guaranteed that someone will start to applaud just to break up the awkward atmosphere. Then others will join in.

This was the secret method of ensuring high evaluation scores, which was the whole point.

Overhead projector from https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%A9troprojecteur#/media/Fichier:OHP-sch.JPG

Overhead projector, image from Wikipedia.

That half-hour video ended (I did not applaud), there was another burst of static and vertical rolling, and then a third video segment began. The first had been much ado about nothing, and the second had seemed downright strange, so I figured that this third segment must be the vital content.

Nope. It was the same guy, the same setting, and a half-hour presentation that combined the highlights of overhead projector operation and forced applause solicitation.

When that ended, I left the VCR running for the remaining half hour of snow on the screen and hissing audio because surely the urgent shipment via FedEx must have been used for some good reason.

No, there was nothing else on the tape.

I rewound the video cassette and packaged it in the pre-paid pack. I drove to the FedEx office that afternoon, so it would go out in that evening's shipment. They had paid for the most expensive next-afternoon delivery in both directions. They obviously were anxious to get this vital resource back to headquarters.

I sent email to my contact at the company when I returned home, saying that I had watched all the videos on the tape and put it into that evening's FedEx shipment.

She called me the next day, asking when I could travel to Virginia to sit in on a run of that course. They would purchase my airline ticket and hotel room, and pay me government per diem rates. She listed the dates that the course would be running in the near future, and I picked a week.

The courses were mostly four-day events. The instructor would travel on Sunday afternoon and evening, and then set up the classroom, build the network, and load the software on Monday. The equipment and material would have arrived on Friday evening and waited at the site until Monday.

If it was an on-site event for one company or government agency, it would be convenient for someone to escort the instructor to the classroom on Monday. If it were a public event, where the attendees would be from a mix of organizations, it might be in a meeting room at a hotel. Again, Monday setup would be easy.

I would also arrive on Sunday for the course I was attending, and help the instructor set up the classroom and network on Monday. The class would run Tuesday through Friday. At the end of the afternoon on Friday the instructor loads the equipment back into the shipping cases and turns it over to the contracted shippers. Or, if it was at one of the training company's facilities, just straighten up the room after pulling out any specialized equipment needed for that class. For the one I was going to, that included a couple of Cisco routers.

The Class at the End of the World

The class went well. The instructor was a guy originally from the UK who just chuckled when I told him about the videotape, saying that he was surprised they were still using it.

I also told him about my confusion about calling someone in Montana. His explanation, a much shortened version as I later learned, was that the company had had an unpleasant surprise about five years ago.

One Sunday afternoon the on-call staff for the logistics department received a phone call from an instructor scheduled to teach a course that week. The instructor said that he had canceled his airline ticket and wouldn't be traveling to the course. He had been told in a church service that morning that the world would end in the middle of the following week.

There's a situation most corporations haven't prepared for. That started a scramble to find a replacement. While they were doing that, a few more such doomsday notices came in. And, some potential replacements said that they couldn't step in to do the class because they had also been told that the world was coming to an end in the next few days.

The training company only then realized that several of their instructors, some of whom were also course authors, lived in and around the same compound in Montana. Their charismatic leader "Guru Ma" had been telling them for several years to build fallout shelters and stockpile food and water. That weekend, she told them that doomsday had arrived.

The world didn't end, as we know.

The training company had to cancel a few class events a day before they were to start, as they couldn't find replacements for all the instructors who would be spending at least the first part of that week in bunkers in Montana.

The training company told the doomsday crew of instructors that they would no longer have them teach courses, although they could remain as course authors. For which, if your course sells well, you are paid through a royalty system. The course author I had talked to had left the group but continued to live in the region. He had convinced the company that he no longer followed "Guru Ma", and had returned to teaching from time to time.

All that came as a surprise to me, and led me to many further questions. But I eventually concluded that it was in the past. I wouldn't be working for or with cult members.

The training company would have had no clue about cult involvement from course material the involved authors wrote. The courses were on networking protocols, programming, and related technical topics. Doomsday beliefs wouldn't appear. The company did seem to have been rather unobservant, apparently not wondering why several instructors lived in the same small community in Montana. But, as the never-cult-involved instructor teaching my class told me, a few management figures had left the company around the time of the failed doomsday prophecy, at least partly because of letting the situation develop.

OK, I won't flee immediately, but I will be very careful and observant as I tentatively continue through the on-boarding process.

A month later they sent me to a three-day "train the trainer" course. There was a little on overhead projector configuration and maintenance, and a little on soliciting applause at the end, but not much. I had asked the instructor who taught the networking class I had attended about that, and he laughed and said that no instructors did that.

Then, a few months later, I did a "co-teaching" event where an experienced author and I presented the material and ran the labs as a team. He told me that we would not be doing the "trick them into applauding" manipulation. As for Montana, he seemed to have heard almost nothing about the doomsday week and he had never lived anywhere close to Montana.

AltaVista and Yahoo! Search launched in 1995, Northern Light and Google Search in 1997.

This was in the very early years of Internet search engines. It wasn't until later that I learned more about the compound in Montana.

The Montana Cult Compound Connection

Theosophy was founded in 1875, based mostly on the writings of Russian mystic Helena Blavatsky. She maintained that she received teachings and messages from an ancient secret brotherhood of Masters, beings of great wisdom and supernatural powers who were working to revive an ancient religion which had once been practiced around the world. She was repeatedly accused of fraud because of her efforts to demonstrate apparent supernatural phenomena supporting her claims of communications with the Masters.

Guy and Edna Ballard, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beloved_Mensagers.jpg

Guy and Edna Ballard, founders of the "I AM" Activity Movement, from Wikipedia.

In the early 1930s in Chicago, Guy and Edna Ballard founded the "I AM" Activity Movement. It was derived from Theosophy and featured Ascended Masters, spiritually enlightened beings who had once been ordinary humans but had then gone through a series of spiritual transformations and reincarnations.

The movement, which is still around, says that the Ballards were such beings, having been through many reincarnations while becoming increasingly enlightened. Guy was credited as having previously lived as Richard the Lionheart and George Washington, with Edna having been Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I of England, and Benjamin Franklin. Among many others, in both cases.

Guy Ballard wrote the book Unveiled Mysteries under the pen name Godfré Ray King. It's available at bahaistudies.net in PDF and at sacred-texts.com with chapter-by-chapter HTML. It contains tales of lost civilizations in South America and Africa, well-stocked sanctuaries beneath North American mountain ranges, visitors from Venus, and the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu. As the digitizer of both versions comments, "The book is written in a breathless style with a more than liberal amount of em-dashes, Inappropriate Capitalization, and melodramatic plot-points which resemble golden-age pulp sci-fi. There are incoherent, surreal rants which would not be out of place at a Church of the Subgenius rally."

Much of it was lifted from earlier Theosophy and Atlantis texts. The Ballards were sued by the family and estate of Frederick Spencer Oliver in 1941. Oliver had published the book A Dweller on Two Planets. Oliver presented himself as the amanuensis who merely recorded what was dictated to him. The book was purportedly dictated by "Phylos the Thibetan", also known as "Yol Gorro", a resident of Atlantis who thus was the true author. He describes Atlanteans as having anti-gravity powered aircraft and submarines, voice-operated typewriters, high-speed trains, wireless telephony, and air conditioners, plus travel to Venus. And, lots of discussion of reincarnation and karma.

Guy Ballard plagiarized the material heavily, and Oliver's estate sued him for that. But, as the judge observed, the original foreword to Oliver's book clearly stated that it purported to be a work of history, and that Oliver was merely the typist. Ballard had made similar claims about his book. Phylos the Thibetan or Yol Gorro might have a case, if they hadn't been dead for millennia according to the Atlantis claims.

The "I AM" Activity Movement peaked with up to a million followers in 1938. Some of them had been recruited from the Silver Legion of America, an underground fascist and Nazi sympathizer organization headquartered in North Carolina.

Guy died in 1939, then Edna and their son were convicted of fraud in 1942.

Meanwhile, the auspiciously named Mark Prophet claimed that he was first contacted by the Ascended Masters in 1936 at the age of 18. In 1945 he joined the Rosicrucians. In 1952 he founded a group he called the Ashram, sending out periodic letters with content he claimed to have received from the Ascended Masters. Around 1956 he came in contact with The Bridge to Freedom, an offshoot of the I AM Activity. In August 1958 Mark Prophet sent the final communication to the members of the Ashram, announcing the establishment of The Summit Lighthouse, to be based in Washington, D.C. In 1964 he married Elizabeth Clare Wulf.

Mark Prophet died in February 1973, leaving his wife Elizabeth Clare Prophet as the leader of the organization. She changed its name to the Church Universal and Triumphant or CUT in 1975. Its theology includes elements of Buddhism and Christianity, esoteric mysticism and alchemy, angels and nature spirits, and communications received from Ascended Masters, both those from Blavatsky's writings and those added since.

Followers called her "Guru Ma" or "Mother". She told them about messages she was supposedly receiving from Ascended Masters including Jesus; Maitreya (the Theosophy version, not the traditional Buddha of the future who will reinstate the dharma); various Bodhisattvas; Confucius; and Sanat Kumara, the head of the Spiritual Hierarchy of Earth who lives in Shambhala, also called the City of Enoch, "a floating city manifested on the etheric plane somewhere above the Gobi Desert."

Elizabeth Prophet taught that Mark Prophet became the Ascended Master Lanello upon his death, the name being a combination of Sir Lancelot and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, two of his many purported former incarnations. Others include a high priest at the Temple of the Solar Logos in Atlantis; Noah; Ikhnaton; Aesop; Mark the Evangelist; Origen; Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism; Clovis I, the first king of France; Saladin; St. Bonaventure; Louis XIV, king of France; and Alexei Nikolaevich, son of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.

The CUT moved its headquarters to Pasadena, California, in 1976. In 1978 they moved to the Gillette mansion, the razor entrepreneur's former home in the Santa Monica mountains.

In 1981, the organization purchased the former Malcolm Forbes Ranch, property covering 49 square kilometers or 12,000 acres, near Gardiner, Montana, just outside the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Further purchases increased that to 134 square kilometers or 33,000 acres.

In the mid 1980s, Prophet began telling her followers that the end of the world would come in 1990 with a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The only possibly safe place was the church's Montana property, if they built adequate bomb shelters stocked with food and water. Plus, as it turned out, adequate weaponry.

AP News article, Dec 2 1989 New York Times article, Apr 24 1990 Nightline on the CUT, May 17 1990 Insider article

In 1989, the FBI, BATF, and state and local law enforcement agencies began investigating. Members including Prophet's new husband, Edward Francis, had purchased weapons illegally using false identification. These included seven Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns, traditionally called the "Ma Deuce" which might have made it especially attractive to followers of "Guru Ma". Plus, enough AR-15-style rifles to arm 200 members, some sniper rifles, and ammunition for all the weapons.

$ cal 4 1990
     April 1990
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
 1  2  3  4  5  6  7
 8  9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 

Elizabeth Clare Prophet had, well, prophesied that nuclear war would start on April 24, 1990. That was the Tuesday of the week of the sudden class cancellations. She said that it would also involve "intense negative karma" and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. By that time the organization had 750 staff members, 250 of whom were children, plus about 2,000 other people living on the compound. The staff was paid $50 to $75 per month. Followers living outside the main compound had to pay for their own shelters, costing up to $10,000, and provide their own housing, mostly mobile homes.

On that very day prophesied as the start of the nuclear war leading to the end of the world, a judge in Livingston, Montana ordered a halt in the construction of a large underground bomb shelter. Prophet called it "Noah's Ark in the Earth". State officials said that 31,000 gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline had leaked from its underground storage tanks. Prophet said that "only one gallon made it into the creek."

That week and the rest of 1990 passed without nuclear war. Prophet announced that the community had averted the war through their prayers. But the group began to shrink. Four years later, I was asked to call the former member.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in November 1998, and others began speaking for her. She died on October 2009.

Church doctrine then announced that she had become the Ascended Lady Master Clare, and that she had previously lived as Martha of Bethany; Clare of Assisi; St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century mystic; Marie Antoinette; and Duchess Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, making her prior incarnation the big sister of her eventual husband. Ewww.

None of her children wanted any role in the remainders of the cult. One announced that he was a militant atheist. Another became a "conservative blogger on Facebook", which of course means "right-wing crank". Authorities estimate that 100 to 200 followers created splinter groups that still exist, some in the area of the original ranch. Much of the cult's assets were sold off, but the CUT still operates a "Royal Teton Ranch" and "Summit University" on some of the former property. Former members have announced that they are now receiving dictations from Ascended Masters, and have set up their own centers in Livingston, Montana, and Tuscon, Arizona.

The Church Universal and Triumphant continues to be influential. Michael Flynn was the Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2012 until his "chaotic management style" led to his forced retirement in August 2014. Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Advisor, said in an email that Flynn was "abusive with staff, didn't listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc." Flynn's subordinates referred to his repeated dubious assessments as "Flynn Facts".

Flynn became an advisor to Donald Trump's Presidential campaign, where he forwarded anti-Semitic remarks and championed conspiracy theories. He was sworn in as Trump's National Security Advisor on January 22, 2017, and resigned just 23 days later on February 13, making his the shortest tenure in that office. Information had surfaced about his lies regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and he was also under investigation for illegal lobbying work on behalf of the government of Turkey.

Starting in 2020, Michael Flynn became more involved in the QAnon conspiracy movement. He began calling for violent organizations including the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, and related "Patriot" groups to become more involved in election interference. Michael Flynn also began plagiarizing Elizabeth Prophet's CUT sermons in his public addresses.

But the Job Worked Out

As far as I could ever tell, none of the staff at the training company were affiliated with the CUT by the time I entered the prospective instructor pipeline. Unobservant and sloppy with paperwork, sure, but not actual cult members. It wasn't until much later that I gradually learned more about the Montana connection, leading to my learning about the CUT, its origins, and its failed prophecies.

Some time around 2002-2005 I was teaching at one of the training company's facilities, and went to dinner one evening with three other instructors also teaching that week. We got to telling our origin stories, when and how we started teaching for the company. Had a prize been awarded for most startling story, I would have won.

One of the other instructors was especially intrigued. His eyes got bigger and bigger as I told my story. Finally he said, "That was you?"

He had lived closed to the company's Virginia headquarters around the time that I first made contact. After I had sent my letter and they had sent two rejection letters to "Roberta", he had been talked into briefly managing the instructor pool.

Meanwhile, the company had become worried that they were about to be sued. It had to do with the instructor being their own roadie — you arrive well before the class and spend the day before it setting up the room. That includes moving shipping crates and unloading the equipment. And at that time, that included wooden shipping crates holding full-sized desktop computers along with full-sized CRT-based monitors.

One of the instructors was complaining that, as a woman hired for technical knowledge and teaching skills, the physical exertion just wasn't practical. The company said something like "Oh, come on, all the other instructors do it without complaining", and she responded by asking for an example of a woman who unloaded and set up the computers for her course events. They couldn't come up with one.

Upper management jumped on this guy who had just started managing the instructor pool, demanding that he produce a female instructor who taught classes that weren't in the company facilities where the staff set things up. He didn't have one, and so upper management demanded that he get one immediately. They looked back through their files and...

I was only offered the teaching position because they thought I was a woman.

It was no big deal when I contacted them and said that the course author thought I was qualified, and by the way, you have my name slightly misspelled. Neither the person I talked to nor the person who corrected the database entry knew about my connection to upper management's demand.

A few months later, upper management told the poor guy stuck in the instructor management role to produce the woman that he had announced was being hired. There was no sign of any such woman, then or at any time in the past. Upper management went into a state of increased rage and panic, to the point that he said that was it, he had taken enough, he was quitting the management position and going back to just teaching classes.

I started apologizing for my inadvertent role in his job loss, but he said no, he should have quit it earlier.

And, You Just Can't Completely Avoid Violent Cultists

Of course the CUT had no monopoly on potentially violent doomsday obsession in the U.S. There was an instructor that I slightly knew, both of us having taught classes at the same facility from time to time. In 2010 I encountered him again. Now he was gloomy, constantly muttering about the complete collapse of civilization within the next six to twelve months. By 2015 it reached the point where presenting material about databases, or preparing for the PMP certification test, or whatever he was supposed to be teaching, was getting in the way of his main goal of talking about a violent Rapture-related doomsday that for some reason still hadn't arrived.

The training company stopped asking him to teach courses before they had to involve law enforcement to get him out of a training facility. For the next couple of years he emailed me requests to get on linkedin.com and be his business friend. I never responded.

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