Extra Goodies

Below are goodies that could not be included in the book due to space constraints. Enjoy.

Extra Goodies — The Mark Bernay Society

Once upon a time, back in the mid-1960s, there was a phone phreak — we'll call him Richard — who lived in Los Angeles. Being a phone phreak, it was only natural that he hung out on loop arounds. And one day, on one of those loop arounds, he stumbled on something cool: "I heard someone just playing an echo machine... I'd call one side of the loop around and suddenly everything I said was being echoed." Intrigued that there seemed to be a person on the line orchestrating the echo effects, he spent some time listening — and trying to figure out who was behind it.

Through a mutual friend, Richard discovered that the man behind the curtain was a fellow Los Angeles phone phreak named Al Diamond. Richard arranged an introduction and made plans to visit Diamond.

Al Diamond's basement conference (click to enlarge)

"So I go over to Al's house and I'm totally blown away," Richard remembers. "He had this basement... he had equipment absolutely everywhere." Richard was particularly impressed by Diamond's telephonic infrastructure: "I thought I was good because I had two [phone lines]... but he had maybe 7 or 8 phone lines back then. He had equipment to play recordings. This was before you could buy your own answering machine... he had built equipment where he could put a regular tape recording on the line and people could call in and hear a recording, and he could play that recording to multiple lines at once.

"Also he had this little switchboard he built where he could take the recording off those lines and have them become a conference instead, so people calling those different numbers would all be connected to each other. So he would run the conference line manually when he had a chance, where he would answer each line individually, ask who it was, just to make sure who was really there and it wasn't just a prank call, and then he'd push a button to put them into the conference. So he would do that for an hour at a time and then get bored with it and put it back on the recording.

A Harmless Prank ...

"One of the things Al would like to do was make prank calls to people and tape record them and play back to themselves what they had just said," Richard remembers. "So one day when I was over there, and a couple of map workers were over there, and they were making different kinds of prank calls to people ... one of the kids over there knew this guy named Mark Bernay and they were making prank calls to him. Al decides to tape record Bernay and play his voice back to himself.

"So Mark says 'hello.' Al rewinds the tape quickly and Mark hears his own voice saying 'hello.' And then Mark says, 'there's somebody else on the line,' because he was talking to one person but suddenly he hears this other voice and doesn't realize it's himself! So he says, 'there's somebody else on the line, who is it?' Al repeats each sentence [back] to him, so he's talking to himself. 'Who's the male voice?' 'This is Mark Bernay.' 'How could you be Mark Bernay?' 'That's who I am.'"

An unintended side effect of this prank was that Diamond wound up with a tape recording of Bernay talking to himself — a tape that seemed to be endowed with a certain kind of practical-joke magic: "We tried making prank calls to other random people and just playing this tape to them, of Mark Bernay, one sentence at a time," Richard says, "and we found that people would talk to it! You could even play it two or three times, they would continue talking to it, until they finally realized something is wrong."

"[Richard] was fascinated with that recording," Al Diamond remembers. "He latched on to it. I don't understand to this day why it was so funny and interesting to him, but he kept repeating the recording to everybody he knew, and we joked about it."

... Leads to the Birth of a New Society

It was around this time, about 1967, that the phone phreaks were starting to use handles to obscure their identity a little bit. In honor of the tape, Richard decided to call himself Mark Bernay.

"[W]e formed this joke society, this essentially joke society, called the Mark Bernay Society, where about the only thing we did was that people would take on the name Bernay as their last name," Richard says. "They'd keep their regular first name but they'd become Bernay as their last name." One of the first members was Al Diamond — aka Al Bernay. "I was always President of the Society and [Al] was the Pacific Branch Coordinator. "

The Society eventually grew to about a dozen members and became known for its eccentric little rules, most of which sprang from the Mark Bernay tape recording. Society member Norm Zimon, aka Norm Bernay, says they went something like this:

Every Bernay had to learn the Mark Bernay Speech and be able to recite it:

"Hello? There's somebody else on the line... Who is this? ... Who's the male voice? ... This is Mark Bernay... No, ah, who are you ... I'm Mark, Mark Bernay, who are you? ... How could YOU be Mark Bernay?... That's who I am...? I have to go... Good b... "

The syntax of the language derived from the Speech and wasn't too difficult to master:

First, you would never say "hi" to a fellow MBS member. You would say "hello party," a nod to the language of telephone operators back in the day. The proper response would be, "Hello party." This could repeat as many as three times in a row. The only acceptable substitute for "hello party" was "Jell-o Parfait." Also, a round of "hello parties" could occur anywhere in the middle of a sentence without warning.

Whenever possible, you would ask a "How could" question. The most proper response was a "That's who" response, but anything starting with a "That's who/what/where/when/how" was acceptable. For example:

"How could you do that?" "That's what I could do."

"How could that be purple?" "That's what it is."

"How could pigs fly?" "That's what they could do."

"How could he be Mark Bernay?" "That's who he is."

Get the general idea? At one point in the early 70s, "that's where it's at" became an allowable response for any "how could" question.

The number nine would always be pronounced as "niner"; this was an offshoot of Mark Bernay and several other MBS members studying for their aircraft pilots' licenses. The only allowable alternative to pronouncing nine as "niner" was called Reverse Bernay, in which "er" was added to every digit except nine. For example,

Three-er, four-er, five-er, six-er, seven-er, eight-er, nine.

Finally, in honor of the tape recording being cut off in the middle of Mark Bernay saying goodbye, when terminating a telephone call you were required to say:

"I have to go. Good b..."

The closest pronunciation of b... would be "buh," the sound created when hanging up in mid-goodbye.

The phone phreak Mark Bernay became world famous as a result of Ron Rosenbaum's 1971 Esquire article, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," in which Bernay was described as the "Johnny Appleseed" of phone phreaking. The original Mark Bernay attained a little bit of reflected fame, likely unwanted, from the phone phreak Mark Bernay's use of his name. The phone phreak Mark Bernay reports that he had an "email conversation with the real Mark in 2009(er) but he never responded to my last email and I am not in touch with him now."

Sources and Notes

"Richard" quotes are from "Slurpcast with Mark and Wes," July 2008. The Al Diamond quote is from an author interview with Al Diamond, 2008. Photos courtesy Mark Bernay.

Norm Zimon's description of the Mark Bernay Society rules was originally posted on his web site and is used here, slightly edited, with permission.

Interesting: Phone Trips, Mark Bernay's collection of old telephone recordings.