Thursday, May 28, 2009


"Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government [...] The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done." Peter Berenson, Founder of Amnesty International

I've been a member of Amnesty International for many years. I have a thing about fighting for the underdog, I always like to see them triumph over the mighty powers that be.
It doesn't always turn out that way.
All countries, or the governments controlling those countries, commit human rights abuses. Our own country is not an exception. We have a long history of mistreating individuals and groups. From the American Indians, to Japanese Americans interred after Pearl Harbor, to torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Countries enforce their laws and policies upon their own populace through the overwhelming use, or threat of force and imprisonment, either by local police, federal police, covert police actions, death squads, and domestic military force. And those are just the countries that are not in the midst of civil war, or at war with foreign entities.
Our own country maintains a strong judicial and legislative system that keeps, or is supposed to keep the power of the executive branch in check. This has not always been effective. George W Bush disregarded our own laws, international laws, and the Constitution of the United States, to archive political gains. The examples most prominent being the illegal attack and occupation of Iraq, domestic spying by the NSA, and the use of torture.
If our own country, touted as a moral leader in the world, cannot hold its own government in check, imagine what it is like to live in a dictatorship, such as North Korea, where its president dines on exquisite international cuisine while its populace starves, with most of the countries resources routed toward military weapons programs (currently two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, are being detained in North Korea for entering the country illegally from China, and supposed espionage activities, and are awaiting trial. Their detention is a transparent bid to gain leverage with the United Nations and the U.S., after conducting several short range missile launches, and an underground nuclear test). Or in religious fundamentalist countries, like many in the middle east, where women are subdued and subjugated by 6th century beliefs.
When leaders are held unaccountable for their actions, and they control ruthless government organs that monitor and control their own people, the most gross atrocities can take place with little fear of retribution.
In the past dictatorial regimes have been very successful in hiding their atrocities by suppressing or controlling domestic media outlets, and denying access to international observers and press. Millions have died with their stories untold. The world was unaware of the Holocaust until the Russian and American military liberated Germany's concentration camps. No one knew of the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge until Dith Pran escaped from Cambodia, and the Vietnamese invaded the country.
Even today, in the Darfur region of Sudan, hundreds of thousands have been exterminated at the hands of their own government. Political considerations, and the thirst for oil, seem to stem the tide of justice, even while the world watches in horror.
Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and many others, act as independent watch dogs, reporting human rights abuses in over 150 countries, including the United States. They are not loved by these countries. But their mission has been vital, and remains so to this day.
For the prisoner of conscience, who has been imprisoned for political or religious beliefs not favored by their government, Amnesty International, by publicizing their plight to the rest of the world, and the use of massive letter writing campaigns ( which I participate in regularly) may be their only hope of being brought to trial, and eventual release.
These are the five main categories that AI deals with:
Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Ending Torture and Execution, Rights of Refugees and the Rights of Prisoners of Conscience.
I can't put it any better than Wikipedia already has:
"Some specific aims are to abolish the death penalty, end extra judicial executions and "disappearances," ensure prison conditions meet international human rights standards, ensure prompt and fair trial for all political prisoners, ensure free education to all children worldwide, decriminalize abortion, fight impunity from systems of justice, end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, free all prisoners of conscience, promote economic, social and cultural rights for marginalized communities, protect human rights defenders, promote religious tolerance, stop torture and ill-treatment, stop unlawful killings in armed conflict, and to uphold the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
To further these aims, Amnesty International has developed several techniques to publicize information and mobilize public opinion. The organization considers as one of its strengths the publication of impartial and accurate reports. Reports are researched by interviewing victims and officials, observing trials, working with local human rights activists and by monitoring the media. It aims to issue timely press releases and publishes information in newsletters and on web sites. It also sends official missions to countries to make courteous but insistent inquiries."
This constant endeavor has always seemed exceptionally worthwhile to me. If it does to you, dear reader, please visit Amnesty International at: 
And join the effort.
Today is the 48th Anniversary of AI's founding.
Happy birthday.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


My lovely case manager, Erin, returned from clown exile Monday night, and came to work yesterday extra crispy.
What I mean by that is that during her journey she strayed a bit too long in the sun and got a bit sun burned.
"Again?" I asked her.
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going to have to buy you some sun block," I told her.
"I don't like sun block."
"And you don't like being sun burned either, do you?" What a nag I am.
"I guess I should start wearing it," she admitted.
The above was a phone conversation. When I finally saw her she definitely looked like she had spent some time in the Arizona sun, but not too bad, but her back looked like an overcooked lobster.
"It hurts," she told me. "I'm wearing my yoga clothes all day because my regular clothes ride up and down my skin too much."
I sympathized.
Fortunately yesterday was yoga day!
"Yoga" is an ancient Sanskrit word referring to a system of physical and mental exercises originating in India. It has close ties with Hinduism and Buddhism.
I have practiced rudimentary forms of the physical exercises of yoga for many years during my morning workout and meditations. I have been able to do this because I own a book that describes some of the various positions and techniques associated with the discipline. It even has pictures.
However, I've not had the opportunity to be taught yoga by a real teacher. Not until a few months ago.
Thanks to Erin, who along with case manager Paul, founded our weekly yoga class with Beth, a professional teacher, I can now enjoy the benefits of yoga with the guidance of someone who knows what they're doing.
Those of us who come to our class, being the unruly bunch of "clients" that we are, would certainly qualify as beginners. And Beth appreciates this, and tailors our sessions accordingly. Still, it's not easy by any means. I often find myself panting and sweating in the middle of our sessions, taking my mind away from my breathing which I'm supposed to be constantly monitoring, and turning it toward a longing for our distant cool down section, when all I have to do is lay flat on my back and relax, relax, relax.
For example, let me take a moment to describe one of our classes... yesterday's:
I arrived at the Defiance Space behind the Produce Hotel at five minutes to one. Don't ask me why this cavernous room, filled with maintenance supplies, tables, and chairs, is called the Defiance Space, no one knows. Even Beth asked why.
"I have no idea," Erin said.
Paul was still gallivanting around Michigan yesterday, so when I got there it was just Beth, Erin, and myself. We would soon be joined by a young man from from one of the SRHT hotels not under the purview of Erin or Paul, and Gena, from the Olympia. Our class soon began.
Beth is a beautiful young woman in her twenties, with shoulder length brown hair. Her voice is always soothing, almost hypnotic, which comes in handy while teaching yoga.
She always begins by instructing us to lie flat on our backs and to become aware of our breathing, gradually lengthening our inhales and exhales, until we come to a state of natural deep breathing. All during the class, Beth is playing soothing, rhythmic, Indian yoga music and sounds from her music and sound machine. The room's lights are subdued.
Beth was aware of Erin's delicate condition (sunburn) , and advised that she could lie on her side to breath, if that was more comfortable, or use a chair.
Next we graduated to some stretching positions, still on our backs. Stretching one leg, then the other. One arm, then the other. "Really stretch out those limbs," Beth will dictate. "Stretch as much as you can."
"I wanted to do some twisting positions today, some we haven't done before, but because it might be painful for Erin, we'll stick with stretching," Beth said.
And stretch we did, by golly. We stretched on our backs, on our sides, on our bellies. Contorting this way and that.
"Okay," Beth said, "Let's move to some balancing positions.
Oh no! Not the balancing positions!
"Now lie flat on your stomack and raise your left arm and right leg. Remember your breathing. Now raise your right arm and left leg. Good. Now raise both arms and both legs. Hold it. Breath. Good."
Good for her!
"Now let's do some balancing positions while standing. Good. Plant your feet squarely on your mat." (we have mats) "Really root them down like you were a tree. Good, good. Now bring your hands to your heart center. Good. Now let's slide your right foot on top of your left, as high up your leg as you feel comfortable. Good. If you feel comfortable and want to challenge yourself, you can try closing your eyes."
I did this, fell over, got back up.
"Good. Don't fall down again, Rick, it interrupts your breathing. Now let's try it the other way. Slide your left foot on top of your right. Really root down that right foot. Slide your left foot as high as you feel comfortable. Keep your eyes open, Rick. Good, good. Very good. Now let's try something we haven't done before, and really challenge ourselves. Slide both feet up at the same time."
What the...
Needless to say I couldn't quite manage that one. Erin and Beth are really good at it though, I must say.
We always end our sessions on our backs, breathing deeply, saying our mantra, aware of our breath. Then Beth directs us into the fair-well Scorpion Position, pictured at the top of this post. I have to admit it took me a while to master this pose, but it was certainly worth it.
"Hold it, good, now thank yourself for coming to yoga today. You could have done many things, but you chose to do something good for yourself. Now cross your feet, and repeat after me, namaste."
"Have a wonderful week."
"Thank you, Beth."
I should inform you, dear readers, that parts of the above account are a parody. The truth is Beth's classes are always fun, challenging, and motivating, and we all thank her for coming each week.
If you live in the LA region, dear readers, and wish to hire Beth as your very own yoga instructor, there is a link to her web site on Paul's blog, at:
I highly recommend it.
After class we roll up our mats, and go our separate ways.
Before leaving yesterday Beth asked if any of us had seen Monday's marathon.
"I did," I said. "I was there for the start." (see, Memorial Day)
"I was in the bike race," she said proudly.
"Wow," I said. "That started at five in the morning."
"It took us two and a half hours to finish."
"Gee Beth, the wheel chairs were faster than that."
"I know."
After Beth drove off, I walked Erin back to her office.
"Now I'm hungry again," she told me. We had eaten breakfast earlier at the Hippie Kitchen.
"Do you have something to eat?" I asked.
I brought her down some of my teriyaki chicken and white rice splashed with soy sauce, I had prepared for my dinner. I feel a responsibility to keep my case manager well nourished.
"Was it good?" I asked her a little later when I came back for Support Group.
"Oh, it was so good. Thank you, Rick."
"That's alright. I wanted to test it before I ate it myself."
Paul was gone, and no one else showed up for Support Group, so I told Erin it was okay if we canceled this week, as we both had lots of work to do.
I regret that decision now. A whole week without support!
Excuse me while I relapse.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

I had intended to go to Paris, France, last weekend, as my lovely case manager Erin had escaped from the clowns and had fled to Arizona, and Paul had flown to Michigan, and I refused to be out traveled by these two up-starts. However, I soon remembered that the 24th Los Angeles Marathon was scheduled for Monday, yesterday, and took solace that while my adventuresome and restless case managers were gallivanting all across the country, I could stay right here at home and be a witness to a world class athletic competition for free, and with relatively little effort. Paul especially would miss out as he has competed in three such marathons back east... where they run like the Northern Wind.
The race was set for 7:20 in the morning. This happened to be on the 25th of May, Memorial Day, and my friend Ron's 59th birthday.
Boy, I'm glad I'm not as old as he is.
Oh, by the way, for those of you who've read my post, Do The Right Thing, I wasn't able to watch Terminator Salvation on Memorial Day. No, I watched it the night before, and the popcorn was good.
I left my box a little after 5:30, just at sunrise, and walked west on Sixth. I knew the buses would be all screwed up this morning, so walking was in order. It being before 6 o'clock, the street was still littered with people sleeping in sleeping bags, in tents, in shopping carts, or just laying on the sidewalk with blankets, or plastic bags over them. They were especially concentrated near the Midnight Mission, on San Pedro. The police would soon come to move them along, or the police wanna-bes, guys wearing red and purple shirts with "Public Safety," printed on them, riding around on bicycles.
One elderly black man mumbled something at me from the church entrance on the corner. I don't think he knew what he was saying.
I've lived on the streets only once for any appreciable length of time, and if you've read the Salvation Diary entries, dear reader, you caught the tail end of that experience. Besides being dangerous, and feeling isolated and alone, I found being homeless and on the street exceptionally boring. I passed the seemingly unending hours by reading Tom Clancy novels as slowly as possible, and smoking cigarettes and drinking rum. I often wonder at all the people I see sitting around in the cement parks, and Mission court yards, doing nothing but staring off into space. I just couldn't do that, no matter how down I got.
I passed the morning crowd sitting on the sidewalk at the Food Mart on San Julian, already open for business, and continued west.
Broadway was still pretty much deserted when I got there around 6:00. I walked north to Fifth Street, and continued west. I didn't see any runners until I got all the way to Olive, about four blocks from the starting point at Sixth and Figueroa. I had brought two library books with me, and I placed them in the drop off box in front of Central Library, then mingled with the crowd.
It was a beautiful day for a marathon. Overcast, but not humid. 15,000 participants were milling about waiting to start. Men, women, little kids, big kids, all dressed pretty much alike, in running shorts, tennis or running shoes, and with what they call a racing bib tied across their chests, or mid-section, with their ID number stenciled across it. Most of the attractive women and girls I saw always attempted to wear the shortest shorts available. I don't know why.
The biking contingent had already begun at 5:00. I made my way through security to the starting line. Police were in abundance, there being no crime allowed in Marathon Day. At 6:54, by my watch, the Wheelchair Race got underway, and these were not your average wheel chairs, oh my, no. These chairs were built for speed, and they zoomed away and were out of sight within a minute.
At 7:08 twelve elite (those with a realistic chance of winning) women runners took off, 16 minutes and 57 seconds before the elite men, and everybody else. How chivalrous! But what happened to Women's Lib, and sexual equality? I mean really!
Mayor Villaraigosa was there. Police Chief Bratton was there. Top Sheriff Baca was there as well, because no crime is allowed on Marathon Day. The mayor got on a microphone and requested a short moment of silence for those who gave their lives in service to their country. The National Anthem was sung by the Honda Choir. Then around 7:24, we took off.
I say we because I thought to myself since I was already there I might as well tag along for a bit, just to see what happened. I did have my gardening shoes on, which are tennis shoes, falling apart tennis shoes, so I was ready to go. I took a piece of square cardboard from a homeless individual begging for change, giving him a dollar, and wrote "XXX" on one side, and tied it around my neck with my lucky shoe string. I started out at about fifty rows behind the front runners, but those around me were too slow, and I soon made my way to the front of the pack. You can see me on the left in the picture at the top of this post.
Now I have never really fancied running. Like personal homelessness it is boring to me. One foot after another in endless repetition. However, I can apply myself if need be.
At mile 2 of the 26.2 mile route, I caught up with the pack of 20 or so front running men.
"Hi!," I said, "How's it going guys?!"
A few gave me a strange look. Most just kept running at a steady pace.
I grabbed a bottle of water from somebody and drank a little. Running is thirsty work.
Most of these guys were from Kenya, or Ethiopia, of all places. Not an American among them. I decided to find out what they knew about our current national holiday.
I ran up to one of the runners.
"Hi, what's your name?" I asked.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Rick! Rick Joyce," I said.
"Get away."
I could see he wanted to learn about American customs. I turned around and ran backwards so I could speak to him face to face.
"What's your name?" I asked.
He answered, but I couldn't quite make out what he was saying as at the time we were passing a whole bunch of Japanese-American people playing Tycho drums on the sidewalk.
"What was that?"
"Leave me alone!"
"Did you know that Memorial Day was once called Decoration Day?" I lit up a cigar and took a drag. As far as I knew smoking was not prohibited.
He looked horrified as he watched me.
"Yes, Memorial Day is a special day we Americans set aside to commemorate those men and women who have died while serving in our military."
"Get out of here!"
He seemed a bit perturbed, so I threw down my smoke, turned around, said, "Good luck! See ya later." I then took off to see if I could find the women. They are usually easier to talk to.
I left the guys behind and in about twenty minutes, near the eighteen mile mark, I caught up with them.
"Hi!" I said.
"Who are you?" Always with the questions these runners. This one was a pretty Russian lady, in her mid-twenties, I'd say.
"Rick! Rick Joyce. And who are you?"
"Hi Tatyana. How you holding up?"
"I'm Okay."
"Did you know that today is a national holiday in this country?"
"Yes. Memorial Day," she panted. "First celebrated to honor your Union Soldiers who died in the Civil War, then expanded to all American soldiers who died in any war."
Wow, this was one smart Russian!
"That's absolutely right, Tatyana. Well, I have to go now. It was certainly nice meeting you."
I didn't know it at the time, but she would go on to finish second in the race, and first in the women's competition.
I told her I had to leave because we were approaching the intersection of San Vicente and Wilshire, and I wanted to make the Memorial Day barbecue at the Westwood VA. So I pulled away from the ladies and kept running to Westwood. This was certainly good exercise.
I had two hamburgers, one hot dog, and some potato salad at the annual VA picnic, than ran back across town back to my box, in time to watch the end of the marathon on TV.
By then I was pretty tired and I took a little nap.
When I woke up fifteen minutes later, I was forced to watch CNN for the rest of the day, as MSNBC insists on showing what it is like to live in prison on weekends and holidays.
Because there is no news allowed on Memorial Day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Erin's Birthday Party

Last week my lovely case manager Erin celebrated her 25th birthday. Now I am very fond of Erin as can be seen by reading my post, Erin's Star. I don't give out stars to just anybody, you know! No, you have to be very special to receive a huge, fusioning ball of hydrogen from me.
Now I wanted to make her birthday as special for her as I could, and accordingly have spent the last two years planning a celebration for her on her birthday.
Come to think of it, that's fairly strange as I first met Erin just last November. Oh well, we don't have time to go into that right now... on to her party.
The first thing to do was to ascertain if she was actually going to be here on her birthday. It fell on one of her work days, that was true, but that did not guarantee that she would not take the day off to selfishly celebrate by herself and her friends. How could I find out this vital information without arousing her suspicions? She is extremely smart and a formidable opponent in any endeavor. I would have to be very tricky.
First I asked case manager Paul to find out Erin's plans for that day, he being her coworker and all, it would not seem unusual for him to ask. But Paul proved useless in such matters, in fact he ignored my Email plea completely. What would I do?
I came up with an idea. It took a lot of nerve, but I plunged ahead.
"Dear Erin (I always begin all of my Emails to Erin with Dear, and have told her that if she receives one without that particular salutation, that would mean that I had been captured and she should immediately alert the authorities. Unless, of course, it was the authorities that had captured me in the first place), are you going to be here on your birthday?" I asked her in an innocent looking Email, with a birthday haiku attached. It went almost exactly like this:

The Lady Erin
Celebrates her birthday soon,
Quarter century

She replied: Thank you Rick! That was lovely! Yes, I will be here for my birthday! Unless somebody steals me away and takes me to a birthday spa-treatment surprise or something! (but I'm pretty sure that won't happen, so.. I’ll be here!)

She is nothing if not refreshingly honest.
Through painstaking investigative efforts (I asked her) I discovered her schedule for the day in question. I had only a small window of opportunity as she had a meeting with her bosses in the morning, and was scheduled to work over at the dreaded Olympia Hotel in the afternoon.
I laid my plans.
Paul did turn out to be useful for something. He is an exceptionally talented musician and plays in a band that performs throughout the Southland. Keyboards and guitar. He plays the piano for us just before our yoga class to lull us into a false sense of security.
I asked him to learn two songs to play for Erin. Now I at one time was also in a band, sort of. A long time ago, but I don't know how to play any musical instruments. I can't even play the tambourine very well, as shall be evidenced. I can sing my fool head off though, and hoped Paul would accompany me in John Lennon's tribute to Bob Dylan, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," one of my favorites of The Beatles, and "Rock and Roll," from Led Zeppelin. I later asked Paul to forget the Zeppelin song as we didn't have a drummer, and that song just isn't the same without drums.
Next, what birthday party would be complete without a birthday cake? I spent thirteen hours the night before her birthday slaving away in my kitchen, finally producing an exquisite chocolate sheet cake, with a hidden layer of chocolate goo (that's what it says on the package, "Chocolate Goo"), painstakingly frosted with red flowers, green trim, and the words, "Happy Birthday Erin," etched in red right on top. I stowed this in my refrigerator so it wouldn't melt.
The day and hour approached. I waited patiently in the lobby outside of Erin's office for her return from her meeting. Two hours. Then I heard the front door slam, and there she was, her cell phone/Blackberry/Epod, or whatever it is she's constantly talking through, glued to her ear, as she blithely entered her office.
"Happy birthday!" I called out to her.
She turned around and smiled. "Thank you. I'll be right out." She disappeared inside her office.
Paul entered with guitar case in hand. "I'll be right back," I told him.
I hurriedly went to my box and got the cake and the bag of birthday goodies, then returned to their office. She was still in there. If I had waited for her to come out as she had just indicated, I'd still be waiting! I looked through the shaded window inside. Erin was still yacking on her communication device. Yack, yack, yack. I waited for her to finish, cake in hand, before I entered. She just wouldn't stop!
What in God's name do these girls have to yack so much about, dear readers? Yack, yack, yack. If she's not doing that, she's texting. Text, text, text. Paul too.
This is a typical phone conversation between me and my best friend Ron:
"Hey Ron..."
"What's up Richard?"
"Loan me twenty bucks."
"I'll meet you at the Hippie Kitchen."
"See ya."
You see the elegant economy don't you, dear readers? We have longer conversations, but only when we can see each other.
Anyway, Erin refused to stop talking, but I saw her get up from her desk and head for the door. I hurriedly lit the one candle on her cake (the thought of lighting 26 of the little bastards had stressed me out) and just stood there like a smiling jack ass.
She opened the door and stopped as she saw me holding her cake.
"Happy birthday," I said.
"I'll call you back," she told whoever it was she had been speaking to. "Thank you, Rick."
We entered the office. Paul and I sang the Happy Birthday Song to her, and she blew out her candle.
"I made it myself," I told her.
"Sure you... why thank you, Rick. It's beautiful. It means so much to me that you made it yourself."
"I made the candle too!"
I opened the bag of birthday goodies and took out the birthday hats and passed them around. I presented Erin with the traditional fake birthday bonsai tree, with "Happy Birthday Erin," scrawled across the base. I gave her some birthday Skittles, and birthday turkey stuffing. I brought out paper plates and plastic spoons for the cake, as well as a great big knife for her to cut it with. And I gave her her birthday present, a neat little box, wrapped up in Happy Birthday Paper.
She unwrapped it to find it filled with white tissue. Upon further investigation, she discovered a smooth, oval shaped, black rock.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Read the card," I instructed.
She did, and she found out that the rock had come from the Bonsai section at the Huntington Gardens. The card said something like: "Please keep this rock so you will always remember. Happy Birthday from all of us!" The "all of us" representing her many other clients.
At the bottom of her gift box she found a plastic case holding seven DVDs.
"Cosmos?" she asked. "What's this."
"It's the nicest thing I could have gotten for you. It was a mini-series about science, and the cosmos. Just watch the first episode..."
"Oh, I know I'll like it."
"At the time it came out it was the most popular science series ever on PBS."
Now it was time for our song. Paul and I had not rehearsed the song, but he had learned the music. We played it one time while Erin was out of the room, and when she returned we played it for her, while she recorded it on Paul's digital camera. Erin refused to wear her birthday hat, but Paul and I did. Apparently my crappy tambourine playing screwed up the sound, but you can observe the results, dear reader, as Paul later published it on his blog at:
or on You Tube at:
That done, it was time to present Erin with her star. I forced her to read Erin's Star directly from this blog, then presented her with a hard copy of the Official Title Certificate and Order of Transfer, and the Erin's Star post itself.
For my efforts, although I did not ask for it (alright, I did ask for one latter on), I received a very nice hug.
We had cake, then the clowns arrived, right on schedule. Eight of them. They began various clown activities, blowing up balloons, pantomime, acrobatics. Speaking of balloons, I flipped the switch, and two hundred balloons and streamers fell from the ceiling (odd that Erin hadn't noticed them) and landed about us. Erin cried out in delight! The circus animals came next. One of the elephants made a mess on Paul's desk, but they were otherwise well behaved. The dancing girls arrived. I began singing "Livin' la Vida Loca," with a lamp shade on my head. Men swallowed swords and breathed fire. The bears and tigers scared Paul a bit, as he cowered to one side. The trapeze took up an entire corner. A man was shot out of a giant cannon. The fireworks began. Erin took a ride on one of the many horses. It was definitely getting crowded, and a little smokey in there.
Other nearby residents heard what was going on and joined us. A Conga line started. The cake was consumed. Punch was procured. Erin was lifted on her chair by the clowns 25 times in honer of her new age.
While I was distracted with an angry mongoose, the clowns made off with Erin. She hasn't been heard from since.
F- - king clowns! They're always doing stuff like that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do The Right Thing

I have to admit at times I'm an idiot.
The rest of the time I'm a blithering idiot.
As you may recall, dear reader, last Martin Luther King Jr. Day I participated in then President Elect Obama's call for a day of national service by giving blood (see the post, Blood). For engaging in this selfless act I received some nice apple juice, several cookies, and a free pass to the AMC theater chain. I was given a choice of that or a pass to some other theater chain, Pacific maybe. But I thought, AMC, I can use that for the mall theater in Pasadena.
When I go to the movies I basically go to one of two theaters. One at City Walk, on top of a hill in Universal Studios, or the one in Pasadena. Each is relatively easy for me to get to, via the MTA Red Line (a subway to North Hollywood), or the Gold Line (light rail to Pasadena).
Last Friday the latest film in the Terminator franchise opened, Terminator Salvation, starring the volatile actor, Christian Bale. This was the last of the May blockbuster releases for this year (the other two being, Star Trek, and Angels and Demons, both of which I'd already seen at home), so I decided to make use of my free AMC pass and go see a big movie in a real theater, with popcorn and everything.
I had gotten a goodly amount of work done by 10:00 AM, last Friday, and decided to take off for the first show in Pasadena, beginning at 11:30. I left my box and decided to walk north on Alameda to Union Station, where the trains are, just for the exercise. I'd already been down that way once earlier that morning on a trip to the VA clinic on Temple. I went there for a blood test, to see how my poor thyroid was doing, or not doing, and to give Dr. Kimberly, my lovely psychologist, Erin's business card, so she could contact my lovely case manager in order to contact Beth, my lovely yoga instructor, because Dr. Kimberly, my lovely psychologist, was interested in starting a lovely yoga class at the VA.
For my part I can't wait to see a whole bunch of cranky old veteran's stretching their spines.
Anyway, I made it to Union Station. It wasn't hard. I had 50 minutes to make it to the show. Fortunately a Gold Line train was waiting to take off, and I boarded. Soon we were on our way, me and my fellow passengers. We passed the infamous Twin Towers, the largest jail in the world, on our way to the Chinatown Station, then on to Pasadena. I got off at the Memorial Park Station, just north of Colorado Boulevard, and walked toward the large outdoor mall, where the Paseo Stadium Theaters where located. I arrived with fifteen minutes to spare, and presented my free pass to the lovely box office lady.
"This is not AMC," she told me.
"It isn't?"
I walked away, a little embarrassed, and looked at the marque, and sure enough the sign said, "Pacific Paseo Stadium Theater." I stood there for a good five minutes punching myself in the head aghast at my own stupidity, until others around me began to take notice. For some reason I had equated this Pasadena theater as being an AMC, and didn't bother to make sure. Well, there was only one thing to do, bound and determined to see the movie as I was, and that was to find a real AMC.
Now I used to live in Pasadena, and I knew there had been an AMC in Old Town, so I walked west on Colorado to where it had been. No luck, it had been taken over by the Laemmle chain.
Damn you Laemmle!
Okay, I walked south to the Gold Line Del Mar Station and headed back downtown.
From Union Station, I took the Red Line to the 7th & Metro station, and walked to the Central Library. The time was 12:10, and I was surprised I was able to reserve one of their computers, as they are usually all gone by ten after. But I got one, and looked up AMC theaters on the Internet. I discovered that the City Walk theater was an AMC. Great. But I also found one that was closer to downtown, a Magic Johnson AMC Theater, at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr, and Crenshaw. I looked up how to get there in time for the 1:15 show, and walked to Broadway, and caught a 740 Rapid.
I got there twenty minutes before the movie began. All I had to do was find the theater, as it was not in sight. I asked two people who gave me incomplete directions, walked around like a madman, finally locating the movie house on the opposite side of the mall. I had ten minutes left.
Gleefully, I presented my free pass to another lovely box office attendant.
"These are only good for movies that are more than two weeks old," she told me.
What the f- - k!
"What the..., it doesn't say that on the back of the ticket," I retorted.
"I'm sorry, that's our policy."
I walked outside, tore up the pass which had given me more trouble than it was worth, and returned home, defeated.
I wrote AMC corporate a strongly worded letter, asking if the two week rule was their official policy, which didn't make any sense to me. Even though I had a free admission pass, by turning me away they lost all the revenue from what I would have spent at their concession stand. As I had been particularly hungry and thirsty that day, I would have inevitably spent a hundred dollars or more. Maybe a hundred and fifty with the Juju beans.
Fortunately, my friend Ron came over and gave me half of a Dominoes pizza, with everything on it except anchovies, that one of his clients had given him at work. That helped to ease my mood. Then we went for a walk.
Well I tried to do the right thing and watch the movie in a conventual manor. Now I would be forced to resort to other more insidious methods. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!
I'll be watching Terminator Salvation in my box, eating my own damn popcorn, by Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States gained control of the entire island of Cuba after Spain refused to recognize its independence. In 1903 the United States accepted a perpetual lease from the first president of Cuba, an American citizen, for the area around Guantanamo Bay, at the southern tip of the island, for coaling and a navel station. In 1934 the lease was made permanent unless both parties agreed to break it, or the U.S. abandoned the property. After the revolution of 1959, the base was exceptionably unpopular with the Castro regime, and the leases validity was challenged by that government. The U.S. argued that since Castro did cash the first rental payment offered to his regime, that action validated the lease, and we are there to this day. In 2002 a small portion of the navel station was used to detain several hundred men, some caught by American forces in Afghanistan, though most were sold to U.S. forces by warlords and others who received a bounty for each individual, providing a vested interest in turning in as many suspects as possible, regardless of actual guilt of connection to terrorists organizations.
According to Wikipedia, since 2001, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo, some children as old as 13. Of these detainees, 420 have been released without charge. This demonstrates that all of those that are brought to the facility are not automatically guilty of any crime. Of all the detainees brought to Guantanamo Bay only 3 have been convicted of any charge.
President George W Bush designated the detainees "enemy combatants," rather than prisoners of war, contending that they are not obligated to conform to the rules of the Geneva Convention, and since the facility is on foreign soil they are not entitled to protections provided by U.S. law. They are in limbo, and can be held without charge for as long as the military, and the Bush administration wanted. Accordingly, accusations of torture and prisoner abuse have been made, and Guantanamo Bay has become an international symbol for the the reckless disregard for law, and barbaric interrogation techniques practiced under the Bush administration, and a recruitment tool for enemies of the United States.
During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised to close the detention facility at Gauntanamo Bay. After winning the election, he signed an Executive Order stating it would be closed within one year.
Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted 90 to 6 to withhold funds to close the detention facility. Only 6 democrats voted for it. The explanation provided was the Obama had not yet presented a plan on what to do with the 240 remaining detainees.
The republicans, with Dick Cheney at the lead, have used this issue to promote fear, stating repeatedly that these "terrorists," are the "worst of the worst," and that these detainees must stay at Gauntanamo, and the facility kept open. They say the detainees cannot be brought on American soil and tried under U.S. law because they are just too dangerous. They claim that the president plans to bring them here and set them lose within our communities. They really say that. They have already judged these individuals, even though they have not been brought to trial, or military tribunal, and vilify them as monsters capable of anything, and the only place they can be kept safely is in Cuba. Congressmen and women, and Senators, have said they will not accept these prisoners within the districts, even some democrats, and even the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid.
Well, as Rachel Maddow rightly pointed out last night on her program, one thing the United States is really good at is locking people up in prison. We really love to do that. We love to do it so much that our country has the highest incarceration percentage than any other country in the world. 1 out of every 100 people in the United States is behind bars. Incarceration is a highly lucrative business in this country, with prisons operated by private contractors, who have a profit interest in maintaining a high prisoner rate. That is a whole problem in itself, but my point is that we are very good at imprisoning violent offenders, domestic terrorists, murderers, and just about anyone else.
So if we can safely hold the likes of Charles Manson, Theodore Kaczynski (uni-bomber), Richard Reid (shoe bomber, and no relation to Harry... I think), as well as other assorted serial killers, rapists, and murders, I'm fairly certain we can handle the 80 or so Guantanamo detainees that the U.S. still plans to prosecute, in a fairly secure and safe manner, finally bringing these individuals into the legal system, and close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, thereby denying our enemies a tool for recruiting new members, and help to keep our country safer and less likely to be attacked again, as we were in 9/11.
I assure you, dear readers, our president has no plans to let these detainees run around our communities and cities on their way to court. It is extremely unlikely you will ever run into Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at your local 7 Eleven anytime soon.
I suggest it is time to release the men from legal limbo, put them to trial in our legal system, discover their guilt or innocence, and either release them or sentence them appropriately.
And close the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay. Then maybe we can get to work on all the other prisons we operate around the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Erin's Star

My lovely case manager, Erin, will soon celebrate the beginning of her twenty-fifth year on this planet with us. I am particularly glad that of all the habitable planets in the galaxy she chose the Earth, and at this point in time to come live with us as she is very nice and fun to talk to.
She is very pretty too... for a girl.
A little hippie girl. I once told her, at a Cooking Club when she was wearing her "Free Love" T-shirt, that she would fit in well with all the other hippie chicks in Haight Ashbury during the 1960s.
You can see so for yourself, dear reader, in the above picture, taken at the Huntington Gardens as she is about to molest that poor goose. Notice her cool "walking backwards technique," used in order to throw the goose off guard, as every time the goose looks her way it appears that she is walking away, then when it's too late... pounce!
She is also very smart, quick as a whip.
A moment of truth, when I first was introduced to Erin I had no first impression, other than this little ragamuffin is going to be my case manager?! Very soon however, I was enchanted by her vibrancy and honesty, and I wanted to get to know her better.
I have no idea why I thought this, but I did, "She might be smarter than me." Of course that soon proved to be false, but she was, and is to this day, enchanting.
She is filled with integrity also. I would believe anything that she told me, as she is completely without guile.
She is very adventurous. She told me so once.
She is an extremely capable parallel parker. I have first hand knowledge of this.
She smiles every time I come into her office, well 95% of the time anyway. I have the ability to make her laugh, or at least smile pretty much whenever I want to. She's easy.
Listen to this, as it is very true. Erin's parents did a wonderful job raising her. I salute you, mom of Erin (or step-mom of Erin, or whatever. I am unfamiliar with Erin's immediate family details), and you, dad of Erin. You guys did a wonderful job! I congratulate you. Good job dad, and quick thinking on your part, grabbing young Erin and pulling her back from the precipitous abyss of the Grand Canyon, devourer of little girls. Thank you.
I'd be after her myself if she were a couple of years younger, despite the Cootie Factor. Don't get me wrong, I having nothing against older women. Ofttimes, experience triumphs over physical stamina, this is true. But as a rule I don't like to take the chance, for my partners wellbeing, entirely.
All kidding aside, if I were to ever have a daughter I wish she would be just like Erin. I certainly was a mess at her age.
Enough of this idle flattery! I don't want her to get a swelled head, so I must quote an excerpt from an earlier post. I have the author's permission.
"By the way again, I can write anything I want to about my case managers Erin and Paul, without fear of retribution, because they never read any of my stuff. Like this:
Erin has a big funny looking nose and green hair.
See, nothing happened."
I won't go into the ensuing bout of violent revenge which followed. I still haven't recovered fully.
In any case, once in a fit of jealous rage she proclaimed that one day she would have a star of her own (see "Pathfinder & Phoenix"). As a writer I have it within my power to do anything. So it is my great pleasure to grant Erin her wish, and officially proclaim a well established star as her very own.
First, I must transform myself into the Master of the Universe. I've just snapped my fingers and it is done. I am now the Master of the Universe, and it is now within my power to grant permanent ownership of stellar masses to whomever I please. I now proclaim that the star formerly known as Groombridge 1618, is to be converted to Erin _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _'_ Star (she will know how to fill in the blanks), or Erin's Star, for short.
Excuse me while I revert from Master of the Universe back to Rick Joyce.

Still reverting.

Okay, back to normal.
Want to know all about your new star, Erin? Well, if you insist.
Erin's Star is a K6.0V class, flare type, yellow dwarf, young and small, just like you. It is located in the constellation Ursa Major, and is only 15.848 light years (93,164,454,914,213.84 miles) from Earth, making it the 44th closest!
Its apparent magnitude is 6.59, being a measure of it's brightness to an observer on Earth minus the atmosphere. The absolute magnitude of Erin's Star, which is the intrinsic brightness of the star, is 8.16. Isn't that wonderful!
It's surface temperature is approximately 4,000 Kelvin, or 6,740.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is located at 10h 11m 22.1s right ascension, and has a declination of +49 degrees, 27' 15", and is about a billion years old.
There's a whole bunch of other stuff you can learn about your Star, Erin, just by looking up Groombridge 1618 in Wikipedia, as they haven't had time to change the name to "Erin's Star" yet (sorry Stephen Groombridge, go find another one).
In any case, below is your Official Title Certificate and Order of Transfer:
Official Title Certificate and Order of Transfer
I the Undersigned, Authorized by the Power of Self Importance
Hereby Transfer Ownership of the Stellar Mass Located At
10h 11m 22.1s Right Ascension, +49 Degrees 27' 15" Declination
In the Sovereign Constellation of Ursa Major to
On This Day of Her Birth
May _ _, 2009
Master of the Universe
Signed _________________________________
Master of the Universe
Your Star will be copy writed in the International Master of the Universe Star Registry Retail Value: $57.00US
There It's done. Have a good time with your new star Erin. It's a big responsibility. Now you have to feed it, take it for walks, and clean up its messes.
May it keep you warm wherever you go.
And Happy Birthday!!!
Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, "What a crappy present to give to sweet Erin, a piece of worthless paper that will never stand up in court." I say balderdash! And will personally stand behind all legal challenges associated with the above transaction.
Besides, we also gave her a rock.
Hi Julia!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Friend Of The Sparrows

Yesterday, at the beginning of our Garden Club session, while we were inspecting a pepper seedling just outside the case manager's office, I asked Paul how his weekend had been.
He looked at me in that thoughtful manner of his, and said, "It was fine. I got some new contacts (lens)."
A little later, out in the garden proper, in the spirit of reciprocality, Paul asked me how my weekend had been. At the time he was cutting little pieces of cardboard into tiny rectangles, and taping them around the stems of our pepper plants, and then covering them with Vaseline in an ongoing effort to stop insects from eating our plants.
I replied, "It was fine. I cleaned my box, and got my laundry done." This was true. I did those things. "I published a list of the things I'll miss when I'm dead that I wrote in 1990." (see The Death List)
"Oh," Paul said, "the things you'll miss when you're dead?"
"Yes, I figured I better write it before I actually die, because afterward it will be too late."
"That's true. Can you give me an example of something on the list?"
"Covalent bonding," I told him.
"What's that?"
"It is a form of molecular bonding, atoms sharing electrons, that kind of thing."
"You're going to miss that?"
"Yes! I'm going to miss all of my molecular reactions."
"Rick, you're so funny."
This is not a laughing matter! I will miss all of my molecular reactions. Every single one of them.
The lovely Erin, for her part, had a much more exciting weekend.
"How was your weekend, Erin?" I asked her.
She thought a moment, then said, "It was great. San Francisco was great. We went to this race thing, and dressed up as trolls, and walked along. I've never seen so many naked old men in my life."
"Oh, that does sound repulsive, even to me."
"You dressed as a troll. A cave troll, or a mountain troll?"
"I don't know! I dressed as a troll."
Erin's much too pretty to be a viable troll. Maybe a hybrid troll/elf, but never a troll. Brutish creatures.
"What was the name of this event?" I asked.
"It's just an eight mile race..."
7.46 miles to be exact. Erin was referring to the Annual Bay to Breakers footrace, running from the downtown area, to the Pacific Ocean, which is held on the third Sunday of May. Previously nudity, drinking, and floats were allowed, but a crackdown was supposedly put into effect this year. According to Erin the crackdown was not that all effective.
"They also have something called a Love Fest, where there is also a lot of nudity," Erin informed me, "and where people actually have sex in public, and the police look the other way..."
"Oh really. When is that?"
She looked at me and smiled. "You're going to have to find out yourself. Dirty old man."
"I just asked a question!"
I take exception to being referred to as old.
The Love Fest is in late September/early October.
Paul came up to us.
"Erin spent her weekend looking at naked old men," I told him.
"Really," he said. "I'm going to Michigan Thursday night."
"You are," I said, "so you're not going to be here for Movie Day again?"
"Neither am I," Erin said, "I'm going to Arizona to see my family."
Jesus, these kids! I will not be out traveled by them! I will miss Movie Day too, and go to... Paris! Yes, the one in France! Top that, Erin and Paul.
I believe a passport will come in handy.
"Did you visit Alcatraz?" I asked Erin.
"No, but we saw it from the bay."
"I've been to Alcatraz."
"As an inmate?" Paul asked.
"Very funny."
"Did you escape from Alcatraz?" Erin asked.
"No, but I saw the cell where Frank Morris escaped, which was the basis for the Clint Eastwood movie. And I saw where the Birdman of Alcatraz lived."
"Birdman from Alcatraz?" Erin asked. "What's that? Was he half man, half bird?"
"Yeah. That's exactly what he was. No, he was a prisoner, portrayed by Burt Lancaster in a movie, that cared for sparrows, and other birds, and with time became an expert on birds."
I'm speaking of Robert Stroud, who kept his birds while serving in Leavenworth, before being transferred to Alcatraz. He was considered a psychopath.
Many are.
Speaking of sparrows, one alighted on my left shoulder after everyone else had left and began speaking to me. At the time I thought this rather odd, as usually talking birds alight on my right shoulder.
"Peesst," it said to me. "Are you Richard Joyce who lives in the nearby box?"
"Why yes, I am. Why do you ask?"
"I have been searching the hills and valleys for you for the last fortnight. You are the human who rescued one of my brethren several weeks ago?"
"Huumm, oh yes! I remember. The little bird who got caught in our window." (see Beautiful Little Bird)
"That little bird," the sparrow continued, "was a prince of our royal family of the Order of Sparrows. Prince Aka de Tagogilein."
"Yes, it is true. His father the king has sent me to find you and let you know how appreciative he is for saving the prince's life."
"Well, you tell the king it was my pleasure. How is the prince doing."
"He's fine. Wife trouble. You know how it is."
"I certainly do."
"I've been instructed to tell you that you will be a friend of the sparrows forever."
"Wow! I don't know what to say. I'm deeply honored."
"Do you need anything... sparrowwize?"
"Ah, not right now... not that I can think of..."
"Pigeons giving you any problems?"
"No, not really."
"Okay. If you ever need anything, just find a close sparrow, and tell him your new sparrow name."
"What's that?"
"Ebu dec Handikcourtsby."
"Alright, I'll have to write that down when I get inside."
"Don't forget."
"I won't. You speak very good English for a sparrow."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh nothing, nothing, I just meant..."
"Thanks. Well goodbye for now, friend of the sparrows."
With that the little bird flew off into the distance.
Damn, I thought to myself too late. I could have asked them to eat all of our bugs!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Dick

Ex (thank God) Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter have crawled out of their undisclosed location appearing in various interviews attempting to revise history, promote fear, bash the Obama administration, and admit he is a war criminal.
He insists that the torturing of suspected terrorists is the only way to keep America safe from attack, that the use of torture has provided actionable intelligence that saved thousands of lives and has kept the country safe since 9/11, that since torture works it is justified, and that the discontinuing of torturing by the present administration is tantamount to inviting another horrendous attack on American soil. At the same time he maintains that torture was never implemented, but admits that waterboarding was done repeatedly on certain individuals, and that he authorized it and championed its use.
Why anyone would believe a word this guy says on any subject is beyond me. This is the same guy that stated Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq was training Al Qaeda agents, and that Iraq was a serious threat to the United States, all of which have proved to be untrue.
Why he is doing this is unclear, but some motivations can be suggested. He is trying to rationalize his own illegal actions by maintaining that they were justified by the greater good of keeping the country safe from attack. The ends outweigh the means theory. He may be attempting to insulate himself from his own criminal prosecution by, what, blatantly admitting his culpability? Only a republican mind would come up with that one. And of course how can he pass up the opportunity to bash the current president and his policies. Quite frankly, I don't know why he is speaking up like he is, but I don't believe he's doing himself any favors. Methinks he doth protest too much.
He offers not a shred of evidence to support his position, and none of the interviewers he has selected has asked for any. He points to classified CIA documents that will supposedly vindicate the use of torture and prove its use has saved "thousands" of American lives. He, and other right wing "strategists" who parrot his words, point to the a 2002 plot to fly a plane into my beloved US Bank Tower (which houses my bank and favorite ATM) which was foiled due to information attained from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The only problem with this contention is that Sheikh Mohammed was not captured until March of 2003. But reality has never stopped the republicans from trying to maintain their agenda, which is to spread lies and misinformation to further their goals.
First and foremost, waterboarding is a form of torture. Our own country prosecuted Japanese soldiers in World War II for using it. Torture is illegal in this country and under international law, therefore Cheney has admitted publically to criminal acts, and warrants prosecution (as well as ex (thank God) President Bush, and other officials of his administration. Pure and simple. Whether torture works at getting reliable, actionable intelligence is completely irrelevant. It would have no bearing on the fact that a serious crime has been committed, even if it were true, which it's not. The "smoking gun" rationalization (the quick use of torture to stop an impending major attack) is just a theoretical query. What if this happens, or that. Well, if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle. Any theoretical query can be used to justify any position. And for any of you right wing nut jobs who keep repeating over and over again that waterboarding is simply "getting splashed with a little water," I invite you to try it, just like Sean Hannity was asked to do, which he accepted, and has since reneged.
It has recently been revealed that Cheney had authorized the specific use of torture on certain individuals to establish and Iraq/Al Qaeda connection where none had existed. This would suggest that torturing was used for purely political reasons, which is especially onerous because he was consciencely attempting to justify an unnecessary and unjustifiable war, which he knew to be unnecessary and unjustifiable, and which has directly led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, a crime far more dire than authorizing the use of torture on individuals.
The republican's current scheme to divert attention from themselves (other than Cheney) is to admit that torture occurred and that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi knew about it, and therefore was responsible for it, or at least as guilty as anyone else if investigations eventually take place. How this absolves the Bush administration and its officials of criminal acts is also unclear, but contrary to their intention, this ploy only continues to publicize the crimes of the preceding administration. Speaker Pelosi was briefed in interrogation techniques in a deliberate attempt to implicate democrats in republican crimes, but she has since stated that the CIA misled her at these briefs, and the CIA has since stated that although it is not their policy to mislead members of Congress, she may be right.
The Bush administration should be investigated and prosecuted for its many crimes. This may come to pass through no fault of the Obama administration, caused by the attention the republicans keep heaping upon the subject of torture, exactly like Mr. Cheney is doing. I for one hope he keeps bringing the spotlight on his own misbehavior and that it will eventually lead to his downfall.
And as far as keeping the country safe, Dick, on whose watch did 9/11 take place, and who ignored all the warnings simply because they came from Bill Clinton's people?
You certainly have a lot to answer for, Mr Cheney. The sooner the better.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Salvation Diary 6

"Salvation" Artist Amanda Milke

And my current concern is with ridding my life of alcohol and drugs, and learning to live a content life in a sober fashion. I told Richard that right now, A.A. is my higher power, and I try to follow its tenets. I can intellectually understand how A.A. works (one alcoholic helping another, a group of similarly afflicted people getting together to help overcome that problems grasp… the Herd Theory), and I can feel its power when at meetings. I can intellectually grasp the concept of God (Supreme Being, creator of all things… the Turtle Theory), but do not believe that concept exits, in and of itself. So, I have a difficulty using the Higher Power concept in my recovery. Maybe one day I’ll experience a spiritual awakening and be able to accept the more conventional idea of what God is. If so, I’m all for it. It would certainly make things a lot easier (think for a moment how easy it is to be an honest and unapologetic agnostic at best, atheist at worst, in a predominately Christian nation, especially considering Christianity’s penchant for evangelical imperialism).
But I have no doubt that A.A works, so right now that is my higher power. And that’s okay.
Now I feel I can do another Fourth Step. The First: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – That our lives had become unmanageable,” I think I have finally beaten into my head. This very important step cannot be overlooked or compromised in any way. To do so is to flirt with disaster. I have relapsed too many times because I forgot how powerless I was over alcohol, or decided to not care about how unmanageable my life became, and once again strove for the empty false security and heedless oblivion a drug induced euphoria instantly gave to me.
That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? People have asked me repeatedly, why do I drink like that? Why do I hate myself so? Why do I want to live like that?
It’s almost impossible for a nonalcoholic or drug addict to understand.
I don’t hate myself. I think I’m a fairly decent human being, better than some, worse than others (if there is such a thing as better or worse). I may be very insecure, and have a certain capacity to withstand a certain amount of emotional pain, which I don’t care for, and which I’ve discovered drugs and alcohol completely alleviate instantaneously. I can choose to take a drink and not experience what I had believed to be a great deal of pain, or I can choose not to. Those are my only options. I have no others. I can choose to deal with life’s difficulties, joys, temporal concerns in a slow and systematic way, at the same time experiencing constant nagging sufferance, stress, and strain, or find instant (although temporary) relief that the ever present bottle brings.
Up to this point I have chosen the easy way. The temporary way, the solution that solves nothing.
Why? Because I’m an alcoholic, that’s why. No other explanation is necessary.
Why am I an alcoholic? It was always my dream. My first grade teacher one day asked us what it was we wanted to become in life, and I raised my little hand, and said, “A stinking drunk,” and have stuck to that vision ever since despite great sacrifice and hardship, never gaving up, finally achieving my goal. How many millions never get to realize their deepest ambitions?
But I’m being facetious. I do now realize that I am one, and realize what being an alcoholic means and that continuing to drink alcohol is not a satisfactory solution for what ails me. Through a series of disastrous lifetime experiences I have come to this conclusion. I seem to be slow learner in this regard. Many of us are. I had to do what is known as “hitting bottom.” Delve into so much pain that I just didn’t want to hide in denial anymore, and actually made a decision to help myself to never have to live that way again. The Park was my bottom. When I was ready to really understand that, and came to understand that, I understood it, and had completed the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The task at hand is to learn how to live life, with all of its pain and sorrow, with all of its joy and happiness, with all of its mundane, repetitious boredom, with its apparent lack of meaning and purpose – without having to anesthetize myself throughout it, and thereby allow myself to become exposed to the truth, beauty, and significance of what being alive and self-aware really is. I can no longer use things out of myself to help me. I must learn to look within.
Other people can help, but they can’t do it for me. That’s where A.A. comes in. Ultimately it comes back to me. If I truly want to learn a new way of life, set new behavior patterns for myself (which admittedly, is probably the most difficult thing any of us will ever have to do), if I truly want to stop living the way I have in the past, then I must make learning how to change, successfully and positively, the most important thing in my life. Nothing can be more important. NOTHING! No person, place, or thing, can ever be more important that my sobriety. I can’t love, protect, help, or be with someone if I’m not sober. Sobriety first; everything else second. I believe I really have no other choice.
Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Insane is a very appropriate word to describe the way I used to live. I have no trouble admitting that. I am told that a lot of us have difficulty with this Step because they can’t identify with insanity. As I said, I have no problem with that at all. If most of us took an honest look at the way we used to act and live while drinking and using, this part of the second Step shouldn’t be difficult. As for the second part of the Step; I believe that A.A. can restore me to sanity. Right now, that’s good enough.
Here’s the tickler (for me, at least), Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him. Or her. Or it. If I substitute the letters, A.A., or thought of God as in the Buddhist’s “Everything,” or “Oneness,” then I can live with Step Three. That’s all that’s necessary.
The writing of this journal could be considered as an attempt at Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This journal, more than likely will be a more detailed inventory than any the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous will suggest. Which is fine. It’s just going to take a while to complete.
Which is all right too.
In the meantime I’ll probably do a simpler version. A less detailed one, purely for personal maintenance purposes. I’ve done one before. I may do another. As Sigmund Freud often said, “It couldn’t hurt.”
Richard and I also discussed death. He told me that he did not fear death because life was never his. It was a gift from his higher power. Interesting, but probably a bunch of bullshit. He’ll squirm like the rest of us when his time comes.
I told him that I didn’t fear death all that much either (which is true to a point. It’s not happening to me right now, so I’m not particularly concerned with it at the moment), but that the idea of it really pisses me off.
He asked me why.
I told him that for me death represents a cessation of awareness. I won’t be able to experience the things I had always wanted to experience, but had never been able to. Death made me realize how I had wasted my life by drinking and drugging, or that I’ll never get a chance to be successful at what I wished to achieve in life.
It was all pretty depressing really.
I didn’t tell him about another reason. That I would be forgotten. That I would return to nothingness, which is pretty frustrating when you think about it. No one will remember my having been here. I’ll be just another faceless individual that had once existed. A statistic.
I didn’t tell him that because I hadn’t thought of it until I started writing this all down. It really is wonderful to realize that we’ve all defeated insurmountable odds to be here, to be self-aware, if only for a little while (99.99999999999999999998% of the universe is unaware of its own existence). It’s like winning the state lottery every week for a million years. That’s quite a comforting feeling.
He asked me what I though success meant.
I told him that success for me was to be able to experience the simple but important things in life (important to me, at least). To have a family I could love, a woman I could be in love with and be friends with, maybe have children. To have real friends who honestly care about you, not just when things are going well, or when it’s convenient for them to be friends. To have a home. To earn a living doing something I enjoyed doing. To be able to help other people. That would seem to be a great success to me. Material possessions, or social status does not really enter into it.
He said I can still do those things.
He is right. I can still do, or experience those things, some of them at least.
He asked me what school I wanted to attend. I had previously told him that I wished to continue my education. I told him I didn’t know. Glendale, I supposed. I hadn’t really though about it much. I told him I still had a lot of this program to complete, and when (and if) I graduated, I would be seeing the people from the California Department of Rehabilitation, where we would surely discuss this very issue.
These people were the same ones who were financing Richard’s own continuing education. I told him that right now I was just taking things one day at a time.
Richard said he could lend me one of his textbooks on alcohol and drug rehabilitation if I wanted. He knew I was interested in the field, and psychology in general.
I said sure, that would be great.
By now it was two o’clock, which is afternoon break time. We both went to get coffee and donuts (little circles of death, Richard calls them).
I wrote some in the lobby, mainly because Shirley was there, and by sitting in the lobby I get to watch her walk around.
Is this behavior bordering on lecherousness and perversion?
Yes, and delightedly so!
No, not really. I wouldn’t get to see, or talk to her at all if I were sitting somewhere else. How is one supposed to overcome their isolationist tendencies and get to know people if one doesn’t try? Or at least, hang around.
I also read while I was there. I could still be found sitting in the lobby at five-forty, when Jill walked in to begin her group counseling session. Playing the Ice Goddess, she ignored me completely, playing hard to get.
God I want her! But I know she will never be mine.
Obviously it’s her loss.
Later, Gordon, Brian Montague (my new roommate, a sixties holdout), myself, and Kevin Rockoff, went to the Ramo Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology, right here in Pasadena. We went in Gordon’s car, that he bought for $200.00 a few days ago. Nobody knows where Gordon got $200.00, and beneficiaries are not supposed to have cars. We used it anyway, rebels that we are. We went there to hear the Occidental Caltech Symphony Orchestra perform L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2, by George Bizet (of “Carmen” fame), and a cello and Orchestra, by Arthur Honegger, and Symphony No. 7, in A Major, Op. 92, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
I tend to enjoy classical music (but I can’t stand operas, or movie musicals (except Bob Fosse). How often do you see people walking down a street in the rain breaking out into song and dance? Okay, it happens every once in a while, but not often enough to make it remotely believable), so this was a real treat for me. I don’t know much about classical music, but I know that I enjoy most of it, and I’m very grateful that I’ll probably never have to play it. It seems a bit complicated. The musicians tonight were wonderful though. All those different people, with their different lives, customs, attitudes, and specialties, coming together for a short while to meld their talents into a coherent piece of music. And it was free.
How does one describe a symphony with mere words? One can’t. Nevertheless, it was an amazing thing to see and hear. I went there for the Beethoven, but found I enjoyed the first two pieces much more. This is something I shall have to do again.
I hope, many, many times.
November 21 Wednesday Day 70
I got up and had breakfast again. Then went back to bed.
After lunch I read a short story by H.P. Lovecraft called, “The Tomb.”
Richard came by and dropped off the book, I’ll Quit Tomorrow, by Vernon Johnson. That was nice of him, and very appropriate. I seem to be telling myself that very same thing a lot lately. Maybe this is an attempt by my higher power to get in touch with me.
Anyway, I spent most of the day writing and helping out around the desk, as I’ve been hanging around the lobby too much.
I got angry with one guy who tried to tell me how to do my job. Very silly of me. I was at fault to begin with, and not concerned with providing what he wanted because I didn’t like him. Very unprofessional. But then, this is not my profession. Still, I guess I should apologize. And I would to, if I was not afraid that my apology would make the incident a bigger deal than it already was. Stuff like this tends to nag at me, and I kept thinking about it for the rest of the evening.
In group counseling with Ed Reitz (George went home to San Diego, for the Thanksgiving weekend), we were called upon to describe, very briefly, our essential selves, and then describe how others might see us. Talk about being put on the spot.
When it was my turn, I replied, “Well, let’s see, talk about being put on the spot.” Ed didn’t seem to mind putting people on the spot at all. “Let’s see,” I continued, “I guess I could describe myself as being curious, sincere, fairly intelligent, fairly responsible when I’m not drinking. Alcoholic and drug addicted. I have a strong sense of humor, bordering on the bizarre. I’m interested in the physical sciences, psychology, philosophy, literature, and good movies…” I stopped because I couldn’t think of anything to say with everybody looking at me. There are qualities and attributes that I possess that I don’t care for. I can be impatient, selfish, obsessive, and sometimes dishonest. If I’m drinking, there’s no end to the stupid, ill-considered things I can do, and have done. But that’s not the real me, and for me to ever get nasty I have to be pushed into it. Usually I’m very amicable when I drink. I just want to get high, escape, have a good time, then go to sleep.
Ed then asked me what I thought others might think of me. I told him that I had no idea what others might think of me. I’m not a real demonstrative kind of guy. More your strong and silent type, but also very sensitive and nurturing. I guess I consider myself to be rather androgynous actually, in a masculine sort of way. That’s how I imagine others might see me.
Really, I don’t have the faintest idea how others might see me. Except that I’m ruggedly handsome, and intensely modest.
Seriously though, I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it.
When I finished fumbling around with my answer, Ed said, “Okay,” and went on to the next person.
After group I played a game of cribbage with Warren, and lost. Then I watched, “Star Trek, the Next Generation.” In this episode Picard and Wesley crashed on to a barren planet in a shuttle craft, while a very contrived entity hogged all the water.
That happens all too often.
After, “Star Trek,” I wrote for a while. In fact, I’m writing right now, in real time. I’m now sitting in the large T.V. room, and I’m the only one here. A New Perry Mason thriller is on. Debbie Reynolds is the guest star. Jack Crosley and Thomas Bommarito are shampooing the carpet in the lobby. The have just finished in the room I’m sitting in right now, and they are really busy resenting the fact that I’m sitting where they had just finished cleaning without giving the carpet a good chance to dry. A guy by the name of Sheldon just came out of one of the small T.V. rooms and hiccupped. Jack just came by and told me to go to bed. I suppose I will. Eventually. It is getting kind of late. I will go up to my room, grab the Lovecraft book, and go to the bathroom to read and smoke cigarettes for a while, then go to bed.
Now, having written about it, I suppose I should go make it happen, just to make my account perfectly accurate, and all.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. A very big deal around here.
November 22 Thanksgiving Day Day 71
Thanksgiving Day. A day of thanks for our many blessings.
Yeah right!
I am forced to get out of bed earlier than I would have liked. Anytime I am forced by some outside agency to get out of bed earlier than I would have liked, I’m not too damned thankful. Sometimes I may even get rather grumpy. Women have told me this. It doesn’t pay to be grumpy around here though. Someone just might slap me upside the head if I got grumpy at them, and then we would both be thrown out of here and be back in the Park.
So I got up, depressed by base, immature feelings, trudged to the showers which were abnormally filled with other grunting, smoking, farting, Thanksgivers in various states of undress. I found an empty shower stall and went for it. Freshly laundered, I was in the act of dressing when I heard my name called over the PA system.
I rushed down to the desk. Mr. Vasquez wanted me to take attendance at the ten a.m. chapel service. I consented to do this with some trepidation. We’ve had an inordinate amount of new people come into the program within the last week or so, and I didn’t know them all by name. As I stood at the back of the chapel, they rushed me as I tried to check off each person. I found it impossible to keep up with them. I remembered the advice Mr. Vasquez had given to me for times like these: “Don’t Panic!” Words to live by. At all times I looked like I had everything under perfect control.
I marked everyone as being present.
A nice hour long service ensued. Ed Reitz sang a song for us. These Salvation Army people really get off on singing songs. They sing their heads off every chance they get.
There was a little recognition ceremony for a few of the guys who had completed Salvation Army Adherent classes. Victor and Kevin Rockoff were among them, the brown nosing bastards.
After chapel we had our big Thanksgiving Day lunch/dinner. The Major and his lovely wife, and guests wanted to show us all what nice, regular people they were by serving us the food. We even had a Colonel helping out.
I hung out around the lobby after lunch, watching everybody, and reading the book that Richard had lent to me. I spent most of my shift reading, and taking notes on what I had read.
It is a very good book, so far. I read about how and why alcoholics start to drink, how they get hooked, the increasing emotional cost paid by the alcoholic, and/or chemically dependent person. The feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, free-floating anxiety we addicts share. The defense systems we use to keep on going, that keep us out of touch with reality so we can’t see what’s happening to us, let alone begin to deal with it. We use denial, rationalization, projection, all to protect ourselves from pain. Or we try to forget, or ignore the pain and degradation our continuing drinking and drug use causes through blackouts, repression, and euphoric recall.
It’s not that alcoholics don’t see what’s happening to them and don’t care. They can’t see at all! They’re own memory and defenses won’t let them realize that they are sick.
As has been mentioned, this is the only disease that makes those who have it insist that they don’t!
This is when some form of intervention must come into play for there to be any chance of the addict to begin recovery.
Mine was the rejection by my family, and so called friends. The realization that no one was going to fix me except myself.
And the loneliness of those lost days in the Park.
November 23 Friday Day 72
Work was boring. I was bored after the first twenty-five minutes. The enigmatic Russell Burke, one of our janitors, walked by and said, “Hello.” He always does that.
Victor called me into his office and told me that he liked animal stories. He offered a book that he’d been reading as proof of this statement. He had been reading, Big Mutt. I didn’t catch who the author was. He told me that what he liked about these novels and stories is that when he reads them they help him to relax. I believed him. I recommended Animal Farm, by George Orwell.
He said he would be eager to read it.
I continued studying the I’ll Quit Tomorrow book. I read of forced intervention, when family members or an employer of the addict (I will use the label “addict,” now to describe both those addicted to alcohol and those addicted to other drugs and behaviors, unless specificity is required) confront the dependent person with detailed instances of intolerable behavior brought about by their using. Note that the confrontation is made by significant people the addict will having the most difficulty ignoring, and whom they care most about, or is affected by the most.
Specific instances of painful incidents (times, dates, witnesses, etc.) are used because they are impossible to refute.
The intervention, although extremely difficult for everyone involved (I confess, I got a little misty reading of a typical confrontation), is necessary in order to bring about a crisis in the addict’s life, and bypass the defense barriers normally employs to disregard the problems they incur while using, and allow them to see themselves as others see them. To bring them back to reality, the point being to get them into some form of treatment as soon as possible (immediately).
The book is of the opinion that the intervention should be brought about as early in the disease process as possible. To sit back and do nothing, and wait for the addict to hit bottom is not recommended. The addict’s bottom may be death, at which point intervention is deemed unnecessary. Also, the longer the addict participates in their disease, the harder they will be to treat once treatment has begun.
The book goes on to describe the typical hospital treatment program.
Intervention did not work for me. I am a stubborn and hardheaded individual, much to my personnel determent. My mother tried a form of intervention. Jan and Debbie tried it. I was already aware a problem existed when they tried it, and it still did no good. I had to hit bottom, if in fact I have done so.
I hope I have.
I’ve been in a hospital treatment program for drug dependency, and it did not stop me from drinking. It did help me understand my disease, and to this day I will continue to draw from that experience to help me remain sober. Hospital treatment programs have helped many people, but I drank the day I got out. I still had a nice little apartment I could go to and hide in, with my nice color TV and VCR. I had to lose that stuff before I could stop drinking.
After work, I went upstairs to the bathroom and started reading a science fiction novel by Kilgore Trout, who is himself a fictional character created by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who is himself a fictional character created by Eliot Rosewater. The title of the novel is, Venus on the Half Shell.
I read until two a.m., then went to bed.
November 24 Saturday Day 73
I roused myself in time for lunch. I’ve figured out that if I stay up late at night, I tend to sleep in late in the morning (I must be unconsciously depressed to crave sleep the way I have. I must be bummed out over not having stopped smoking yet, thus putting my behavior into conflict with my value system. How’s that for being a shithouse psychologist). If I go to bed early, I have trouble getting to sleep. A puzzling predicament.
I was hanging around the lobby after lunch, and before work, when my good janitor friend, Jerold (Jerry) Schimmele came in from an outing. He sat next to me and we bantered back and forth. Skip Grinnell was finishing his shift when he asked Jerry if he wanted his key. Jerry said, yes, and Skip offered him a breath test (S.O.P.). After he blew, Skip’s facial expression suddenly changed, and he asked that I come over to verify the test results. The breath-a-lizer read: .05. Jerry had been drinking. He probably had had a beer or two within the last couple of hours. Unfortunately for Jerry, or anyone else who comes in after drinking, automatic termination occurs if the machine reads as much as .01. Skip asked Jerry to have a seat and wait for Mr. Vasquez to return from Star Video.
He was busted. At once Jerry’s demeanor altered noticeably. He instantly became incommunicado, embarrassed, and distraught. Having been in his position (a bustee), I could certainly empathize with him, and could guess what he was feeling and imagine what he was thinking: “I fucked up! I fucked up! Fucked up! Fucked up! Fucked up! Did I mention that I FUCKED UP! Why did I do that? Why? Why? What am I gonna do now? One minute, everything’s alright, the next I’m on the street. Where do I go? Where do I go now? Got no place to go. Oh, Jesus, help me!”
Jerry admitted to me and Skip that he had been drinking. We let him get a coat from his locker upstairs, and he left without waiting for Mr. Vasquez.
Later, an employee of the center, Roger Cunningham, found Jerry sitting alone in the Park. He apparently took Jerry to a motel for the night.
I’ll hope he’ll be all right. I hope he makes it through this. From what I understand, his family has good as abandoned him. Just like my family has abandoned me. The Sally is the best place for him right now. Just like it is for me.
I wish him well.
God, I hate this disease.
November 25 Sunday Day 74
I stayed up until two in the morning, reading in the bathroom. I don’t know why. I went to bed with my clothes still on.
I woke to the gentle tapping of Mr. Pandolfi’s clipboard against my boots. I opened my eyes and said, “Ohra orha….” as he retreated softly back into the darkness.
I arose at five-forty, grabbed a tie and razor, and was at work by six.
Typical Sunday for me. Mr. Vasquez was quite busy though. The Annual “Do Da Parade,” was going on nearby on Colorado Blvd., and Robert was trying to squeeze a buck out of it by selling parking spaces from the Thrift Store and As Is Yard at seven bucks a pop. By the end of the day we made about $300.00, which will go to the Salvation Army’s World Service Office, in London, to help finance their imperialistic expansion across the globe.
It is a fairly unconventional parade, I’ told, just about anybody with a costume can join in.
While he was running around I had time to read a few chapters from, I’ll Quit Tomorrow. One of them dealt with relapse. A curious phenomenon, one with which I’ve had much personal experience.
This is when seemingly intelligent, well intentioned individuals who have already lived through the pain and degradation associated with an alcohol and drug related lifestyle, and have admitted to themselves that they have a chronic, progressive, fatal illness, and who have stopped using, having gone through the lengthy and agonizing process of withdrawal, for some reason start using again. Being progressive, the illness never tones down or gets better. If the alcoholic was downing two-fifths of tequila a day when they stopped drinking, once they relapse, a shot or two won’t satisfy them. It will be right back to two-fifths a day.
Addicts tend to relapse repeatedly. I did that for many years.
The book attempts to explain why this occurs, or at least one of the reasons. It seems it all has to do with potentiality.
While drinking, (before initial recovery) an alcoholic will eventually experience a period of emotional deterioration:
“Normal self-esteem, is replaced progressively by discomfort, twinges of remorse, severe and chronic remorse, self-hatred, and at last self-loathing that may even reach suicidal proportions. The illness causes the individual to move emotionally downward from A to B:
A: Emotional deterioration
B: Recovery
These negative feelings potentate the equal and opposite feelings (conservation of energy), so that people after successful intervention and initial recovery often experience euphoria.
To put it one way, the more one knows what it is to actually suffer pain (1), the more one would knows what it would be like not to suffer pain (2). Likewise, the more one knows what it would really be like to hate oneself (3), the more one would know what it would be like not to hate oneself (4). And so on through the long list of negative feelings in the alcoholic:
C: Positive feelings are potentialized
Negative feelings are experienced
Because the suffering had been so severe, they now know what it is like not to suffer! And this occurred in a short period of time.”
Let us say that a persons “response to treatment has been good. Abstinence time goes on and things, as he sees them, are simply getting better and better, at home, on the job, and health wise as well. He will be comparing what is now with what was then.
At this point let’s say, a stray thought moves through the person’s mind. ‘Maybe it isn’t true, after all, that I’m an alcoholic,’ or ‘Maybe it isn’t true that alcoholics can’t drink safely, a little, from time to time, on special occasions…’”
I would like to point out that the book fails to explain why these thoughts occur. The typical answer seems to be that the person did not immerse himself (or herself) into recovery (or A.A., or religion, or a hospital treatment after care, or whatever.) by attending meetings, building an usable outside support system, and literally brainwashing ourselves to the point where taking another drink is wholly unacceptable. Sometimes we forget, or want to forget the insidious power that alcohol, or drugs maintain over our lives, and the better we feel, the more sure we are that we will never sink once again into the despair we once suffered in the past. Trifling, everyday frustrations, nag at us, causing an existential distress that becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. We multiply the pain into eternity! It overwhelms us. And we alcoholics know how to stop that pain, how to repress it, know how to forget get it, to delay it, at least for a little while. We know how to do that instantly! We can cope with out problems tomorrow, but today we’ll take a little rest. One drink, that’s all. We can stop after just one. After a drink we’ll be able to think a little more clearly, act more rationally, have a better perspective. Just one drink. Then maybe just one more. Just one more, that’s all, and then I’ll stop. Maybe I’ll drink just for today, and then tomorrow I’ll stop drinking forever, and then get my life back. Tomorrow. I guess if I’m just drinking today, I can have as much as I want. What difference will it make? Just today I’ll drink. Just for right now, just one more itty bitty, teensy weensy, little dinky drinkie poo.
D. Relapse Potentiated feelings are actualized.
“While there are variations to the pattern, nevertheless, in a relatively short period of experimentation, if one is a typical alcoholic, he (or she) will plunge emotionally back to E. And it is to be noted that his new emotional state seems much worse than it was the first time (B). This may well be because the potentiation was, in fact, greater.” The illness progresses even when the alcoholic is not drinking (or when the addict is not using).
E. Positive feelings potentiate the negative counterparts
“In any case, now because the emotional pain is back making its demands, all the old defenses are revived and regrouped, this the entire alcoholic syndrome reappears in force.”
Now I know all about relapse.
After work I walked to the supermarket and purchased some birthday cards for my mom and my sister, as both celebrate their respective births next month. I don’t particularly care for store bought cards, but if I made my own they would think that I was too cheap to buy them some.
I was the big winner at bingo tonight. I won seven canteen cards! That’s the absolute most one can win in one night.
Oh boy!
I watched some TV, then went to bed early, as I was very tired.
The wind was blowing outside. A very cold wind. I knew that because some idiot left the window open above my bed. I told my roommates that I would personally find the key to the door to the roof, so those that felt the need for fresh, ice cold air while sleeping can bed out there. I though of Jerry Schimmele.
I pulled the covers up closer and went to sleep.
November 26 Monday Day 75
I woke up and went to breakfast, and returned to bed.
I was rudely woken by the distant, but steadily increasing volume of sound made by a raging vacuum cleaner headed my way.
I attempted to ignore it. I refused to open my eyes and accept the existence of the perpetrator of this domestic upheaval. I thought that maybe it would go away having completed its task, and leave me to my slumber. No such luck.
Someone began to talk to me.
“Hey, Rick.”
I opened my eyes. It was Jerry Schimmele.
“They gave me thirty day restriction.” He turned off the vacuum and stood near the foot of my bed.
“Nuuraccgo,” I wittily replied.
“But they told me, if it ever happened again, don’t bother to come back.” He looked at me and swallowed, his eyes bulging out the cute little way they do, as if to say, “what do you think of that?”
“Good to see you, Jerry. I’m glad you’re here. We were all worried about you.”
“Yeah, well. I was kinda worried myself,” he said and smiled.
Jerry was not suspended from the center for the usual thirty day period, because he had a relatively good record, was not too much of a trouble maker, and had been here almost a year. And Mr. Vasquez liked him. The Major too, I guess. Besides, the administration can change the rules to suit its own purposes any times it wishes to, simply because they can. Just like the government.
Along with the thirty-day restriction, Jerry also managed a drop in gratuity from $15.00 a week, down to $5.00, until further notice.
It’s better than being on the street with nowhere to go.
Being thrown out of the Salvation Army, certainly is a form of intervention. It forced Jerry to face that if he drinks a beer or two while living here, he can, and will be expelled. He had forgotten that.
Like all of us, he may, or may not drink again. But he’s been reminded of the consequences of that action.
I’ve fallen in love with another counselor. Her name is Wendy, a very cute blonde person, slight of build, like Stacy. She comes here on Monday mornings. I hang out in the lobby when she’s here sometimes, whenever I can drag my ass out of bed, that is. Like Jill, Wendy has a tendency to wear long, flowing dresses, which can be very discouraging. I hang around the lobby anyway.
Work went well. I like working on Mondays with Mr. Vasquez. Things get busy, busy, busy. Things in general.
George came back and conducted Bible Study this evening, the last class he will have here. We talked about the differences between the Old and New Testaments.
One’s real old, the other’s not so new.
November 27 Tuesday Day 76
Today is one of my well deserved days off.
I finished I’ll Quit Tomorrow, this morning. A very good book. I highly recommend it.
Finishing it up taxed me so completely that I had to take a little nap to recuperate.
Richard, my counselor, came by for our weekly chat later. He discussed himself for most of our session. I sat back, nodded my head when appropriate, and said, “Yeah, I agree.”
Then I had some nice tostados for lunch. I really like Mexican food. And women.
I had found a box the night before that was just the right size and shape to mail my sister’s birthday presents in. So I put the presents in there. I cushioned them with newspaper, then walked across the street to the warehouse, to the Bric-A-Brac Department.
Yes, we really do have a Bric-A-Brac Department.
I asked Molly, the Bric-A-Brac lady, to loan me some strapping tape to close the box.
Molly said, “Who are you?”
Returning to the residence, I borrowed a felt pen from Victor, and wrote my sister’s address on the box (she also lives in Bullhead City, about a mile away from my mother). All finished, I put the box in my locker. It’s a little too early to mail it yet.
Then I went to the lobby and wrote for awhile, and wait for Shirley to show. She didn’t.
After I finished writing I put my laundry in the washer, and went back downstairs and rearranged all the pages of this journal. Then I put my clothes in the dryer, and walked to the store. When I got back, I made my bed and checked my laundry and noticed that I had neglected to turn the dryer on.
So I turned it on.
I had dinner after that, then took my clothes out of the dryer and put them away, then went back to the lobby to write some more.
Shirley had arrived. We said hi, to each other.
Jill came at five-forty, and I can tell you that I was a little nervous having two women I’m in love with, both in the building at the same time.
Soon it was time for Step Study. Same old thing. The first three Steps. Tonight we talked about Step Two. Boy, if we progressed a bit, and actually talked about Step Four, I might have a heart attack.
After Step Study, I enjoyed an egg and cheese sandwich at the canteen. I had plans to play cribbage with Warren, but he had already started a game with Dan.
What a dick.
I returned to the lobby, and wrote and watched Jill for awhile.
As a matter of fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. It is now 9:28:08 in real time, and Jill just walked out the door, saying, “Oh! It’s cold out there.”
She’s right. It is cold out there.
That’s why I’m in here.
Now that the show was over, I thought I’d head upstairs to the bathroom, and read and smoke cigarettes. Then later I’ll go to bed.
Another day in the life of a recovering alcoholic.
November 28 Wednesday Day 77
I was sitting on the toilet when I heard my name called over the P.A.
I feel a little nervous sometimes when I hear my name called like that, similar to how I feel when a police car pulls up directly behind me when I’m stopped at a red light. Guilty of something, even though I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I remember how I had been set up at the Van Nuys center, so I went to the desk with an air of caution.
It was just my counselor, Richard, wanting to give me another book. This one was, Understanding Alcohol, by Jean Kinney S.S.W., and Gaven Leaton. After having read a little of it, it seemed like an owners manual for the disease of alcoholism. Everything you ever wanted to know (or didn’t want to know) about alcohol and alcoholism is in the book. Everything! Lots of facts and figures and statistics. Very useful. I’ll need to acquire a copy for my own. I have some theories about alcoholism and drug addiction in this country, and how we as a nation have mucked up dealing with these important social issues.
Suddenly I’m exceedingly interested in social issues.
I suppose a lot of addicts begin thinking about saving the world while in early recovery. Me Too! We have all this energy for one thing. We’re not drugging ourselves silly any more, and we have to do something to keep us busy. And like I mentioned previously, we feel guilty for wasting so much of our lives, and we want to help others. I do realize I can’t help anyone else if I don’t first help myself, which, yes, is selfish, but the way it has to be for the time being. I’ll tackle the world tomorrow.
Fat chance I have saving the world anyway.
But, you never know.
So for now I’ll file away all my thoughts and plans for world saving for some time in the future, like a chipmunk with its nuts.
After Richard left I ate lunch, the said hello to Noah, the parrot. Don Jones, the warehouse janitor, and Charles Purcell, the shop supervisor, have erected a large and wonderful electric train set in the atrium. This is done every year so the neighborhood children can look at it when we invite them in for an annual Christmas party. It’s set up right next to the two parakeets, who look down on it with icy indifference.
I said goodbye to George. Today was his last day here at the ARC. I shook his hand and wished him good luck. I told him that I had benefited from our brief acquaintance. He thanked me, and said that it meant a lot to him to hear that. He said that he hoped that if he had accomplished anything, he had been fair about it. I told him that I thought he had.
What a kiss ass I am.
George is not perfect, and certainly not a people pleaser. A lot of people around here will be glad to see him go. But nobody’s perfect, not even me. The people who want to see him go are more than likely those who are not working any kind of program, and they disliked George because he let them know it.
George, though not an alcoholic, is a nicotine addict who stopped smoking twenty years ago. He has an intuitive grasp of addiction issues, backed up with many years of academic and counseling experience. And he doesn’t fuck around.
I’ll miss him.
At chapel tonight we all said goodbye to him during the testimonial portion of the service. I’m sure George was pleased with the overwhelming positive response.
I wish him well.
November 29 Thursday Day 78
I have a cold. It’s the second since I’ve been here. I sat around a lot, and was miserable all day.
I hate being sick and having to work. The time goes by so slow. Especially working with Victor. He’s an all right person, I guess. He has a lousy job and tries to make the best of it. He tries and tries. He also takes undo advantage of the authority his position provides him, but we all do that to some extent.
He upholds the rules and regulations around here, and he does an adequate job, but he does not have the knack of enforcing the rules without irritating everybody.
Mr. Vasquez has that knack. He can chastise you harshly (and does) without you even knowing that you’ve been chastised. You will walk away smiling and shaking your head, and you will do, or not do, according to his direction, what he wants you to do.
An example: one day while in the midst of some chore, Robert Vasquez will suddenly stop. No movement can be discerned as he quietly gazes off into the distance, resembling a contemplative, skinny version of Mr. Magoo. A sly, knowing smile appears from nowhere. He slowly reaches for the telephone, his eyes still fixed on some distant point, his fingers punch in the code that activates the P.A. system. He raises the receiver to his lips and utters these words: “May I have your attention in the residence, please. All you people waiting in the line to eat chow in the canteen area. Stay off my walls and windows. Otherwise, I’ll volunteer you for a little Saturday work. Thank you for your cooperation.” He’ll put down the receiver and watch his victims for a while. Several fellows in line straighten up and disengage themselves from the wall. Others don’t seem to get the hint.
Mr. Vasquez will now pounce with the swiftness of a striking cobra. He walks into the canteen area, walks up the line of potential diners, takes stock of an offending individual without saying a word, scribbling something down on a clip board and moving on before that person has time to react, alter his position, or think of an excuse.
You really can’t help but laugh and admire his abilities.
Victor is another story. His confrontations lack finesse. Most leave him feeling hurt and filled with resentment. I am one of the few people around here who has the opportunity to view the inner Victor, and understand him, a little, and am probably the closest he has at what could be called a friend. Yet, he still manages, with relative ease, to every so often piss me off. Like today.
He told me to change my pants.
Me! The perfect deskman.
I had on a gray pair of jeans, dress jeans you might say, which I had worn last Monday night when working with Robert, but Victor didn’t want me to wear them. He said I was out of uniform. He said I should be wearing slacks.
I hate slacks.
This of course, was a minor irritation that I successfully amplified into a major one. Not feeling very well to begin with (excuse), and being busy doing something at the time that he mentioned it (excuse), provided the perfect opportunity for me to get angry with him. Minor irritations get to us alcoholic people, so I argued with him a while, which did absolutely no good whatsoever. I then repressed my anger, and changed my pants. Soon I began to realize how minor this incident really was, and that these things will happen when dealing with Victor, and proceeded to get on with my life, which at the time consisted of being stuck behind the desk while sick and miserable.
Later, after work, walking by the laundry room, I saw Richardo Montgomery, the thirty year old, black guy, who if you recall, entered the center the same day I did. He wears his hair in sort of a raised flat-top (I call him “Aircraft Carrier Head,” sometimes). He enjoys a muscular build (not unlike myself), is very handsome (again, not unlike myself), and is very amiable, usually smiling and filled with laughter.
We call him “Rico,” most of the time. Besides from being a skilled pot washer on the kitchen staff, Rico serves another very useful function. He stirs people up, or agitates them, and takes immense pleasure in doing so (whereas Victor does the same, but without the mischievousness). Some of us in the center, left to our own devices, tend to stagnate and get into ruts, and Rico is wonderful at getting these individuals incensed, and moving again. Rico maintains that it is vital to agitate others in order to stay sober. He asks everyone he sees if they’re all right. “You all right?” he says, again and again. He believes that he is making a nuisance of himself, when I for one am happy that somebody cares enough to ask me how I am each and every day. Twelve times a day. I’m sure others are also.
Anyway, I espied Rico in the laundry room, folding some clothes. He looked at me, “You all right?” I assured him that I was, but that I had a mild cold, one for which he probably couldn’t do anything about, and thanked him anyway for asking.
Then I thought I would be tricky, and attempt to agitate him. I asked, “Rico, do they call you ‘Reek,’ for short?”
But he is the master. He said, “No, they usually call me, ‘sir,’ or, ‘get out of my house!’ or, ‘please don’t hurt me,’ or, ‘just take it and leave.’”
I walked away, thoroughly agitated.
November 30 Friday Day 79
At two o’clock this afternoon, I took a break from doing nothing to have some coffee and donuts with all of the other in-house workers, but there were no donuts. All that were offered were some stinking muffins. Not that I have anything against muffins. I don’t. I like a good muffin as much as the next man. I like muffins when they’re nice and warm, with melted butter throughout. But the muffins presented today were cold and hard. Nobody ate any.
Enough about muffins.
I wrote until it was time to go to work. A very typical Friday afternoon. Only one person went on a weekend pass, David Earl, the young, honky, forklift driver.
George Staub and his wife came in at about four-thirty. They were going to spend the night in the downstairs apartment, before leaving for Phoenix in the morning. Dale and Jenny (Major and Mrs. Johnson) picked them up at five-fifteen, to go to dinner.
Just after seven the phone rang. I thought nothing of it, as it rings all the time.
I answered, “Salvation Army residence. Rick speaking, may I help you?”
“Uummm yes. This is the Salvation Army, right?” a masculine voice asked.
“Yes it is.”
“And you provide shelter for the homeless?”
“Well,” I replied, “this is a program for recovering alcoholics and drug addicted people. Males.”
“And your address is fifty-six, west Del Mar, in Pasadena?”
“Are you the one to talk to, to obtain a list of the people living there?” he asked.
Ah haw!
“I’m sorry. We can’t provide that information over the phone.”
“Why not?”
“Because of the privacy act.”
“Oh. So if I came down there, I could find out who lives there?”
“Even if you came down I couldn’t give out any information about who, or who does not live here, sir. I’m sorry. I would have to direct you to the program director or the intake officer, and they would not be available until Monday morning.”
“How about if this person was a wanted criminal? A rapist?” he persisted.
“I’m still not allowed to give out any information.”
“Isn’t that kind of silly?”
“Silly, or not, sir,” now I was getting a little peeved, “I can’t give out that information.”
“This is the Temple City Sheriff’s station calling. Who can give me this information?”
“One moment, sir.” I put down the phone, and yelled, “Victor! There’s someone on the phone for you.”
Victor came out of the office and took the call.
The men who come here for help have a certain right to privacy. Sometimes they don’t want anybody to know they are here and undergoing therapy for drug and alcohol abuse. Some wish to deny this information even to their families. We (I’m speaking as if I were a staff member) have to respect that right. I for one, would not appreciate someone giving out my name and address to certain creditors. Not that I wish to stiff them, I’m just not ready to deal with them. I will deal with them at some later date, but not right now. At the same time we do not wish to harbor felons. However, I have been given stern directions not to breach the center’s rules regarding client privacy, and for no other reason than to save my own ass, I intend to do just that.
Or pass the buck, as I did so expertly with young Victor Robinson.
The cops (if the guy on the phone really is a cop I’ll eat a plutonium omelet) can sit outside and wait for whoever it is they’re looking for to come out, if they want them that badly, and then bust them. Or produce a search or arrest warrant, Monday morning to Ed, or Clarence.
Besides, I’m not all that fond of police officers in general. I’m sure there are some good ones. Really I am! But I’ve had some awful experiences with a few, enough to manifest a certain degree of ambivalence and caution when dealing with them.
After a minute or two, after Victor had reiterated our policy numerous times, he gave the insistent caller our address (which they already had, apparently), and hung up.
“That guy was psycho,” Victor exclaimed.
“If the sheriffs are coming over here, I’m leaving,” I told him. I still had an outstanding warrant for a failure to appear on a drunk in public charge I received while living in the Park. I had been scheduled to appear in court the day after I came to the ARC, and didn’t go. I plan to take care of this eventually (always tomorrow).
“Me too,” Victor said.
Simultaneously, we both took off our I.D. badges, and put them away in our trouser pockets.
Victor went to tell Mr. Vasquez what happened. He came down and called the Temple City police, but could get no clear answers from them. He then handed me his room keys, saying, “I’m going out for awhile. If they come with a warrant, let them take anybody and everybody!”
“As if I’d try and stop them,” Victor said.
“Doesn’t it strike you as being more than a little curious,” I asked Victor after Mr. Vasquez had left, “that once Mr. Vasquez found out the police might be coming, he takes off, in what might call a distinct hurry?”
We both mused.
No one from any police department showed up.
After an hour, Mr. Vasquez returned. “Gee,” he said, “when I came back, for a while there, I thought I’d see… what was the name of that movie… Fred Astaire was in it, yes… about the submarine…”
“Oh,” I said.
“Gregory Peck was in it, too.”
“On the Beach,” I remembered.
“On the Beach?”
“Remember when they went to San Francisco? To check the radiation, or something?”
“Yes sir.”
“And no one was there. That’s what I thought I’d see when I came back. The whole place deserted.” We laughed.
Matthew Moore came in from work at about ten-thirty. I opened the canteen and heated a fish dinner for him.
Soon I shall write about Matthew. If I can. It might help to prepare me for the more arduous and subtle task of describing Russell Burke.
December 1 Saturday Day 80
Speaking of Gregory Peck, I once helped him make a telephone call to Beijing, China, while working for AT&T. He tried to call direct, but mistakenly dialed an “O” before the country code, and got me instead. I put the call through at a direct dial charge, being the nice guy that I am.
“Thank you,” he said.
A beautiful, sunny, but crisp day here in Southern California, nice enough to lure me outside to take a short stroll. Stopping at the desk on my way out, I asked Skip if he wanted me to buy him a lottery ticket, as I was going to the Vons supermarket to buy one for myself. After long and careful deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that if I never purchase a lottery ticket my chances of winning the lottery are fairly slim. Skip gave me a dollar for his, and I was on my way.
I picked up some cigarettes while at the market, and a Christmas card for my lovely and precocious, young niece, who is all of six years old. Her name is Kerri Lynn (after Ginger and Amber, respectively. Oops, just kidding), and she is the love of my life.
I bought the lottery tickets from an automated lottery ticket machine, then walked to the thrift store and purchased one birthday, and one Christmas present for my mother.
On previous Christmas’s, I have been known to go wild with gift giving, and spend two or three million dollars (extreme exaggeration) on a single person (usually Jan). But now, making only fourteen dollars a week, I can only afford one or two presents a week from the thrift store, until eventually everyone is taken care of.
I took my stuff back to the residence, and all my roommates told me that I was a chump for buying the presents at list price. That anyone of them could have gotten them much cheaper. I reminded them that I did not have all their underworld connections, and they told me to come to them the next time I needed something.
While writing in the canteen area, Gordon came over and we somehow began talking about Paul Gauguin, the French painter and woodcut artist. We both wondered what Gauguin would have thought of today’s computer graphics, and set a date to visit the Norton Simon Museum, which is within walking distance of the residence.
Work went well. For me. Victor almost got into a violent confrontation with one of the house barbers two minutes after he began his shift. Poor Victor.
Mr. Vasquez went out at five, then called back at nine-thirty to let us know he wouldn’t be back tonight.
The old coot must be getting some somewhere.
Matthew Moore called. “Is Bo Bo Bo Bo Bo Bo ah Ba Ba Bob there?”
“No Matthew. This is Rick. What do you need?”
“Ta ta ta ta tell him I I I I I I I I I I I I I’ve got got got got got to work, over over ov overtime ta ta ta tonight.”
“So what time will you be in, Matthew?”
“To ta ta ta te te to ta ta two o’clooaaaacck.”
“Okay, Matthew. But I want you to know that I’m not going to wait up for you.”
“F f fa fa fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa fa faaa fa fa fine.”
I read for most of the rest of the evening. The Understanding Alcohol book.
Everybody came in on time, no A.W.O.L.s. Gordon blew a lot of air on my thumb as he took the breath test, which led me to believe he may have been trying to beat the machine. I hope he knows what he’s doing. If he tries to do it again I’ll have to talk to him about it.
I read for a while after work, then went to bed to try to get some sleep before I faced Pandolfi in the morning.
I had the same old dream. Giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago.
Will it never end?
December 2 Sunday Day 81
I awoke to the gentle WHAP! WHAP! Of Mr. Pandolfi, striking my feet with his clipboard again. I took a nice shower, pulled on my clothes, and was down at the desk by six a.m.
For the next thirty minutes I was treated to an account of Wolf’s amorous adventures. I was amazed he was able to make it last for thirty minutes, but he managed.
Mr. Vasquez rolled in from his night on the town at seven-thirty, right before the Major and Mrs. J got here.
Nothing that was very interesting happened at work. Different people came and went. They’re always doing that. They give me their keys and I mark down the time they left (when they’re leaving) on a piece of graph paper especially designed for that purpose. When they return, I mark down that time, and give them a breath test along with their key. Very exciting stuff. Gordon left at one-thirty seven.
Russell Burke walked by, raised his hand and waved at me, while saying, “Hi, how ya doing?”
I answered, “Fine Russell. How are you doing?”
He said, “Okay, fine,” still walking. “The Rams are winning. They’re doing good,” as he made a fast exit around the corner.
Russell likes to keep a low profile.
I tried to read as much as possible, but inconsiderate people kept interrupting me, wanting to come and go.
Mr. Vasquez went upstairs to take a nap at two o’clock, or said he was. Shortly after he left I saw him through the window in the canteen area vacuuming.
I got off work ten minutes late (our new deskman, Clarence Bliss had overslept), then went upstairs and read an article on quantum mechanics, in Discovery Magazine.
I consumed a couple of pieces of pizza at dinner, the first pizza I’ve had in over three months. I sprinkled artificial bacon pieces over them.
I watched a repeat episode of “Star Trek, the Next Generation.” It was the season premier show, concerning the Borg. The season’s not even half way over and they’re already showing repeats.
I lost every game at bingo. My self-esteem diminished considerably.
Afterwards, I got myself a seat in the small TV room, in anticipation of the big Sunday night VCR movie, which I knew to be “A Fish Called Wanda,” a comedy about sex, deceit, and seafood. I’m in love with Jamie Lee Curtis.
When the movie was over I walked around the residence, then talked to Warren and my new roommate for a while, then read.
When I went to bed at midnight, Brian, who has the bed next to mine, was still awake. He told me that Gordon had not made it back for curfew. I thought of Gauguin as I fell asleep.