Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Observatory And Beyond The Infinite 2

It was truly sickening. My city covered in a blanket of air filth. They say the levels of air pollution have been steadily decreasing recently due to aggressive environmental actions, but you sure couldn't tell that day. I could hardly make out my bank building, downtown, it was so hazy.
A little depressed by the view I walked away from the railing and stopped looking at it. I found myself in front of a bronze bust of the actor James Dean. This was a memoriam to honor his short life, and also to note that the last scenes from "Rebel Without A Cause" were filmed at the observatory, the second of the three films he completed before his death in a car crash in 1955, and after he made a reputation for himself as a maker of breakfast sausage.
Now it was time for the observatory.
Which has an interesting history. After making money through mining investments, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith (he never actually attained the rank of Colonel during his lifetime, but liked being called one) purchased Rancho Los Feliz in 1882, and turned it into an ostrich farm. Tired of the antics of the ghost of Antonio Feliz (a previous owner of the property), he donated 3,015 acres to the city of Los Angeles in 1896. After being released from San Quentin Prison for shooting his wife in the face in 1903 (she survived), Griffith attempted to donate $100,000 to the city to build an observatory, which refused the offer calling it a bribe. However, after his death in 1919, the city began to build what Griffith wanted, the result being the Greek Theater (completed in 1930, and the observatory (completed in 1935).
Griffith Observatory was never meant to be a working astronomical observation platform, although there are large telescopes on the roof. The lights of the city below would always hamper viewing the cosmos. It had been intended to always be available to the public as a museum of sorts, with exhibits concerning astronomy and science in general. Admission has always been free.
In 2002 the observatory was closed to undergo a 93 million dollar renovation, restoring the building, replacing the planetarium dome, and adding space for new exhibits. It reopened in November of 2006.
I have visited the observatory many times throughout my life, as a child, and young drug addled adult. I remember going there with my first wife, Michelle, and boogying during the laser light shows to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Beethoven. I had not been there since the renovation.
I entered the front doors, happy to be out of the heat, and was glad to see my old friend, the Foucault Pendulum. Suspended from the high ceiling by a thin wire (energy supplied by magnets keep it swinging) is a large gold ball with a little pointer secured to its bottom. It was designed to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth, and the direction of its swing completes an entire circle every 24 hours. The staff place tiny pegs on the floor which the pendulum knock over to mark its movement.
I stood and stared at it for a while, but I have never doubted that the Earth rotates on its axis each day, and soon moved on.
The east and west wings of the observatories ground floor contain exhibits on tides, geological formations throughout the region, devices to observe the sun, models of the stellar types, and other interesting items. I witnessed a demonstration of Tesla Coil spewing electrical charges through the air which frightened me badly. Then I went downstairs and learned how to make a comet.
This area was all new to me. They put a cafe, gift shop, a whole bunch of new exhibits, and the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, where I attended a twenty minute show concerning meteors, asteroids, and comets. The theater has 200 seats and was about half filled with Saturday visitors when the show began. One inquisitive little Hispanic girl, not more than six or seven, sitting to my immediate right with her mother and sister, called down to one of the presenters on the stage below when asked if anyone had any science questions, "What are you going to do with that stuff?" She was referring to a table which had various glass beakers, bowls, and other scientific paraphernalia resting on its surface.
"We're going to make a comet," he said.
"Cool... awesome," she noted.
It was cool, and awesome. As I'm sure you already know, dear readers, a comet, such as Halley's which visits the inner solar system every 75 to 76 years, is nothing more than a big, dirty snowball, that when approaching the sun, sheds water vapor, and other volatile chemicals from its surface creating the magnificent tails that comets are closely associated with.
The show began and pictures were displayed on the central screen. At one point the question was asked to the audience what were the three states of water. "Liquid," the audience responded, and the guide giving the show held high a beaker half filled with water to demonstrate. "Ice," the audience responded. "Or solid," the guide clarified, holding another beaker of ice chunks. "And what else?" he asked. The audience was less sure of this one. "Vapor," the guide declared, "Water vapor, which is invisible."
"Water is invisible!" my little Hispanic friend exclaimed in wonder.
Then he made a comet. The guide poured into a large plastic bag some water, added silicon (sand), carbon (charcoal), ammonia (a few squirts of window cleaner), then simulated the cold of space by adding chunks of dry ice (carbon dioxide) and gravity by squeezing the bag for about twenty seconds. The result, a little dirty snowball, which is basically what a comet nucleus is. One of the attendants held the little comet (using thick gloves) for closer inspection as we exited the theater, after we all promised not to touch (it was very cold).
My lovely case manager, Erin, when I told her of this exhibition and process, was struck dumb with cool indifference.
I checked out the rest of the basements displays. Models of each of our solar systems planets covered one wall, and the wall opposite boasts the largest astronomically accurate image ever constructed, a 152 foot long, by 20 feet high image of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, which you can stand and look at, or view from 60 feet away through telescopes. Awesome.
I took a look at the 12 inch Zeiss telescope on the roof before returning home. Visitors were not allowed to look through it, but I'm sure that if I were to I could surely see beyond the infinite.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Observatory And Beyond The Infinite

I returned to my box last Saturday morning after having visited the Donut/Noodle People, and greedily consumed one glazed donut while sipping hot coffee and watching Vincent Price in "The Tingler," ("SCREAM FOR YOUR LIVES!") on my computer.
A little later, just after 10:00, I went downstairs and collected Jose, and we both made our way to the Hippie Kitchen for a little brunch of, you guessed it... beans and salad... and a little pre-buttered bread (thank God I don't have to butter my own... I get so nervous!).
Jose is an amicable young man, who just celebrated his 41st birthday (of which we celebrated by having breakfast downtown, then seeing the film, "Transformers 2." Horrible movie). However, he is a bit reticent, and not much of a talker. Quite often I feel that I have to pry information from him just to keep some semblance of a conversation going. I believe he'd be perfectly happy to not speak at all. Not that he is not willing to talk, but his conversation is economical, and he does not waste time with superfluous speech.
We finished our nutritive and savory meal and returned to our respective boxes.
"I'll come and get you in about an hour. Okay, Jose?"
"At twelve. Alright."
I used this time wisely by taking a trip downtown to the Central Library they have down there, and returned the copy of 2001 A Space Odyssey we had shown the day before at Movie Day, and which was currently driving my lovely case manager, Erin, crazy. I also picked up my bus pass for next month from a local check cashing facility.
Back right on time, I returned to Jose's box and knocked on his front door. I heard some shuffling inside, and then he opened up. He stared back at me a little blurry eyed, as if I had awakened him.
"I don't feel very well," he told me.
I rightly assumed he was telling me this in order to cancel his participation in the day's outing.
"Sorry," he said.
"That's okay, Jose. I'll see ya later."
Undaunted, with my time now my own, I returned to my box and continued transcribing while watching the last half of the film "Breakdown," with Kurt Russell, and the late, great J.T. Walsh, before leaving for the observatory, all by myself, at 1:00.
The day was horrendously sunny, and warm. I brought my book, The Evolution of God, with me to read on the Red Line, always wishing to make good use of my free time (by now I was learning of the transition from polytheism to monotheism in the Middle East, specifically Israel).
I caught the North Hollywood bound Red Line subway at Pershing Square, to the Vermont/Sunset station, then returned to the light of day at the intersection of Vermont and Sunset. Many people were walking about, and many vehicles were going from one place to another on the busy streets and boulevards.
The observatory could be clearly seen in the hills northwest of where I was standing, while waiting for the Observatory Dash bus to whisk me away. It's unusual architecture and stately setting gave it a majestic stance sitting proudly above the LA basin.
I waited approximately 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. At one point a young black gentleman, dressed in black pants, white dress shirt, and tie, came out of the Red Line station and approached me.
"Which way is Hollywood Boulevard?" he asked.
Quite lost in any other ares outside of downtown, and the San Fernando Valley, where I spent much of my formative years, I took him over to the nearby MTA transit map, located where we both were currently standing, then where Hollywood Bl. was supposed to be, while remembering that Hollywood was just north of Sunset, and directed the young man to the next major intersection north of us.
"Thank you," he said while walking away.
Another good deed done.
Soon and old fashioned trolly like bus made a right turn off of Sunset onto Vermont and the bus stop where I was standing. There was no sign intimating that this vehicle was going anywhere near the Griffith Observatory, such is the obfuscating nature of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (unfortunately I could not blame this on the MTA (Metro Transit Authority), as the Dash lines are run directly by the city, and I was forced to pay 25 cents (American) to ride each way). But being adventurous myself (take that young Erin!), I bravely asked the driver of said bus if he was going to the observatory.
"Yes, sir!" he exclaimed.
I hurriedly boarded the trolly, which was outfitted with wooden benches on each side, giving the bus an air of authenticity, while simultaneously making my shapely, rock hard butt exceptionally sore.
We took off, making a right turn east on Hollywood Bl., then north through the Los Feliz residential area.
I admired the scenery, wanting to get off the bus and walk around. There were nice open air cafes to go to and sit and eat in pleasant conversation with pleasant friends. Nice homes and apartment buildings lined the streets. I fanaticized about moving there.
My fellow trolly passengers had fun pulling on the Stop Request levers, which were connected to real brass clanging bell type devices, which were very loud. I had the beginning of a headache by the time we began climbing the hills north of Los Feliz, past the Greek Theater (Where I once saw Jerry Lewis perform, of all people, when I was just a teen).
We entered the full parking lot, and there it was, the Griffith Observatory, in Griffith Park, and the city of Los Angeles beyond, esconded in a nice thick blanket of nitrogen oxides, tropospheric ozone, volatile organic compounds, peroxyacyl nitrates, and aldehydes, commonly known as smog. Something I've been breathing in on a constant basis for at least 46 of my 53 years.
I'm afraid that when I retire and move to Ireland, or up north to Monterey, the change in my baseline pollutant level will finally kill me.
We shall see.
To Be Continued.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Lily Belle Burk

Last Friday night, after a busy, consummated work week, I relaxed while enjoying a meal of Weenie Tots and mixed vegetables while watching the romantic comedy (chick flick) He's Just Not That Into You, starring Drew Barrymore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Frangela, and my favorite contemporary actress, Jennifer Connelly. There may have been one or two male actors in the cast somewhere, or else how could the case be made that men are pigs.
My answer to the ever ongoing observation that men are pigs because they do not follow the dictates of women's evolutionary mandates, is simply this... if women were men they'd act like pigs too (or appear to at least)!
I must admit the only reason that I watched the film was to see Ms Connelly, in what for her was a rare appearance in a basically comedic role, her reputation (and Academy Award) being based primarily in the dramatic genre. I think she came through with flying colors, as I really enjoyed her character, and sympathized with that character's unique priorities (she gets more upset about her husband lying to her about his continued smoking, than his affair with Johansson). Her scene with contactor Luis Guzman was hilarious, and I hope she will attempt more straight forward comedy in the future.
After the film I felt the need to balance out all the hilariousness with Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. Moyers, the former Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson, and a liberal commentator, explored the issue of national health care that is currently winding its way through Congress, the concensus tonight being that the medical insurance industry, and pharmaceutical industry have already received so many concessions from lawmakers that they are going to come out of this as winners no matter what congress passes, and that tax payer backed subsidies will continue to flow through their big pockets. Still, they don't want a public option as competition, and they expecially don't want single payer (universal) health care, which they have effectively lobbied off the table. Which is why, one guest surmised, we should scrap the current bill, and return to the single payer option. I tend to agree.
The second half of the show explored the possible connection between extreme right wing attack talk radio and television hosts, such as Michael Savage (Weiner), Bill O'Rielly, and Glen Beck, labeling those that disagree with them as traitors, communists, and murderers (O'Rielly repeatedly calling abortion provider, Dr. George R. Tiller, a mass murderer (who was later murdered inside his own church), and Beck stating he'd like to kill Michael Moore) etc., and actual acts of violence carried out against these targets, or those who closely... or remotely, represent them.
How could there possibly be a connection?!
At least the show was an hours respite from the ongoing controversy of a Cambridge MA, police Sargeant arresting Professor Henry Gates for disorderly conduct within his own home. Granted President Obama did not help matters much by calling the action stupid, but Erin's God! This story's been on the news twenty four/seven since it happened, being labeled as a blatant case of racial profiling. I think this story has received so much twenty four hour attention simply because the cable networks run twenty four hours, and as Stephie Miller points out, describing the confrontation as more of a "man thing," or macho encounter, than racial in nature. Again, I tend to agree.
Enough already! Stop! I'm tired of hearing about it. Both of you go have a beer with Barack. There is no problem that cannot be solved with alcohol.
Anyway, the very next day, a Saturday as it turns out, Jose and I planned to visit the Griffith Observatory, located conveniently enough in Griffith Park, in the hills above Hollywood, just east of the famous "Hollywood" sign.
But first, before we left, nourishment must be procured. After transposing for a few hours, documents in the Salvation Diary series, at 7:00, I decided to stretch out for awhile, and went to the garden to water it.
I found two cats out there, suspiciously close to our garden, hurriedly running away as I approached. They may have been running away because I was trying to squirt them with the hose I happened to be holding. They disappeared into the brush on the other side of the chain-link fence that is the eastern border of our garden.
I also found two young men on the other side of the fence, which was very unusual, as I had really never seen anyone out there before. They seemed to be taking measurements of some kind, thereby obscuring their obvious tresspassing with some form of legitimacy. Still I hosed them off thoroughly, much to their surprise and consternation. Angry shouts and threats of retribution were directed, I believe, in my direction. I made a hasty retreat.
Next I made my way west on Sixth Street to Towne and waited patiently for some nice Asian people to arrive and hand out glazed donuts and Ramen noodle soup. They are connected with some church (I don't know which one as the printing on the vehicles they arrive in are written in Asian) and come every week around that time in the morning. When I got there they had not arrived yet, and I took my place in the small line that was starting. I was there for the tasty donuts.
While I waited I couldn't help but notice two Asian gentlemen playing music right across the street from where I was standing. One man playing guitar, keyboards, and providing the lead vocals. His friend was playing the drums.
They were almost impossible not to notice. They played some Credence Clear Water Revival songs, "California Dreaming" by The Mamas and the Papas, Eagles, etc. During a break the purpose of their display became apparent when the singer said we were all there celebrating God.
I was there for the donuts.
Soon the donut and noodle people came. The line had grown to over a block long. I got mine, seven donuts, and I took the soup too, then was on my way home.
Unbeknownst to me, and unknown to me until Monday morning, approximately and hour and forty five minutes before I secured my 7 donuts, the body of Lily Belle Burk, age 17, was found near the intersection of Fifth St. and Alameda, about a block from my box. She was discovered by an employee of a nearby business, presumably the same gas station where Paul and I had inflated his dolly's tires a few days previously (see, Puzzles & Bricks). She was found in her own black Volvo, in the passenger seat, apparently having been bludgeoned to death and her neck slashed. There were signs of a struggle.
She had left her home in Los Feliz the day before at about 2:30 to pick up some papers for her mother from the Southwestern University School of Law, where her mother worked as an adjunct professor. About an hour later she made calls to both of her parents asking them how she might get cash from an ATM machine using her credit card, something her card was not set up to do. Her parents state that she did not sound distressed.
She did not return Friday night and her parents contacted police and filed a missing persons report.
The next morning her body was discovered. Police estimate she had been dead from 5:00PM the day before.
That Friday at 5:30PM, Charlie Samuel, aged 50, was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia on 3rd Street. His fingerprints were discovered in Lily's Volvo and is now being held on suspicion of murder without bail. Sources said Samuel had a previous history of assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and kidnaping, and if he did indeed kill that lovely young girl I am ashamed that I am against the death penalty.
From the LA Times: "The thing we want people to know about Lily is that she was a beautiful person and that she was looking forward to her life. She was funny, warm, kind and empathetic. She was deeply and widely loved," read the statement from her parents, Deborah Drooz and Gregory Burk, a Times freelancer who writes about pop music.
Burk was supposed to begin her senior year at Oakwood School in North Hollywood in the fall.
She was set to star in her high school's production of a David Mamet play and planned to volunteer helping the homeless this summer."
Dear Erin, I hope your heaven is real, and Lily now resides there.
My sincere condolences go to her parents, family, and friends.
May she rest in peace.
Update from NBC Los Angeles, May 28th 2010:

Charlie Samuel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the July 24, 2009, slaying of Lily Belle Burk. During the sentencing hearing, he apologized to the girl's family.

He pleaded guilty first-degree murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, second-degree robbery, attempted first-degree ATM robbery, carjacking and kidnapping for carjacking. He admitted special circumstance allegations of murder during a carjacking, kidnapping and robbery.

The plea deal saved him from a possible death sentence

Monday, July 27, 2009

2001 A Space Odyssey

"Hello Erin. Would you like me to sing a song?"

Why, dear readers, does cable programming play the same movies over and over again, quite often on the same day? Why, I ask you, why?
By that as it may, for this week's Movie Day Erin and I thought it would be a good idea to show Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Let me tell you why.
Several months ago, during our basketball session of the Drama Free Support Group, the question was asked of all the participants, what is your favorite movie?
I do not believe my lovely case manager, Erin, was able to come up with a definitive answer, her mind overloading over all the possibilities. I, however, replied, "Two thousand one, A Space Odyssey."
"Oh, I should probably watch that then," Erin stated.
That was a very nice compliment she paid me by expressing a desire to watch my favorite film, even though she had no idea what it was about. Paul had not seen it either. I shouldn't have been surprised as the movie was released 16 years before Erin was born. Still I have an intense desire to spread my interests throughout the known universe.
Accordingly, I made a DVD of 2001 for Erin, and gave it to her to watch at home at her leisure, which she gladly accepted, while stating she was, "very excited to watch it."
Young people though quite often don't know, or do what is best for them, preferring to carry on with their own provincial interests and agenda, rather than mine. Over time it became alarmingly clear that Erin had not yet seen the movie, preferring to watch reruns of Arrested Development and The Office, or worse... animated feature films.
After months of heated effort a compromise was struck and it was decided that 2001 A Space Odyssey would be shown last Friday, July 24th, at our new Movie Day time of 2:00.
One problem became apparent as Movie Day rushed toward us. Lovely Erin could not find the DVD.
I energetically checked out a copy from the Central Library, here in downtown Los Angeles (I even got to hear an audio interview of Kubrick made in 1966, I had not heard previously, on the Special Features disk), thus saving the day. We both decided to blame the missing DVD on Erin's lovely roommate, Leah, who obviously ran off with the disk in order to watch it in secret, thereby maintaining her reputation as a non-fan of science fiction.
Finally Movie Day arrived. Erin and I were both "very excited," (that's what happens when one gives up alcohol and drugs, you can get "very excited" about almost any f - - king thing) about watching it. At two o'clock on the 24th, she appeared magically with bags of microwave popcorn and cold sodas. There were about six others present to watch the film (or just to get some free popcorn and soda), and we were ready to go.
Unfortunately, someone who remains unknown had managed to screw up the big screen television set in the lobby so a connection with a DVD player could not be made, and forcing us to use my small 13 inch portable color TV instead.
Now 2001 is a grand, majestic film, with a sound track that is vital and vibrant. It is most suited for a wide screen theatrical presentation (Indeed, I first saw 2001 at the then Cinerama Dome, the landmark movie theater in Hollywood, which is now the Arclight), not a television screen, especially not a inky dinky little 13 inch TV in which the volume sound control is exceptionally limited. Still, we gave it a shot.
Wikipedia tells us that 2001 A Space Odyssey has been ranked number 22 on the American Film Institute's list: 100 Years... 100 Movies. Number 40 on their 100 Years... 100 Thrills. It is included on their 100 Years... 100 Quotes: "Open the pod bay doors, Hal." Hal has been listed #13 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heros and Villains. It is the only science fiction film to make the Sight and Sound poll for ten best movies, and tops the Online Film Critics Society list of greatest science fiction film of all time. It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in their National Film Registry. Other lists the film appears on are 50 Films to See Before You Die (#6), The Village Voice 100 Best Films of the 20th Century (#11), the Sight and Sound Top Ten Poll (#6), and Roger Ebert's Top Ten (#2). In 1995 the Vatican named it one of the 45 best films ever made.
Still I had predicted our small audience's reaction fairly accurately (Except for Erin, who maintained an active interest through the whole movie, changing seats once in order to remain alert in the warm lobby, probably in deference to me, rather than genuine interest in what she was watching), boredom. Statements such as the following were common: "Rick (during the Dawn of Man sequence, which did spark a lively debate concerning creationism vs evolution. Most in the audience preferring creationism (Erin did like the little chimps that were used to portray the proto-human's babies, and I don't think she liked HAL, calling the 9000 series computer, "manipulative")), there are going to be people in this movie, aren't there?" Or, "There's not a whole bunch of talking in this, is there?" And the ever popular, "What the hells going on!?" At some points three of the remaining audience members (whose numbers climbed and ebbed periodically) besides myself, Erin, and one other, were so engrossed that they expended all of their available energy and had to take a nap, heads flung back in their seats, some snoring appreciably (prompting a rare admonition from Erin, who loudly clapped her hands, stating, "No snoring at Movie Day!").
Finally, as we approached the end of the film, and throughout the "Jupiter, and Beyond the Infinite" sequence (which I must admit has always bothered me a tad. How can one be beyond the infinite, when the definition of infinite is without boundary), my favorite reactions were from Erin herself. "I have no idea what is going on," she stated while watching Bowman proceed through the Stargate, and my absolute favorite, while watching the Starchild approach the Earth, and Thus Spake Zarathustra presents itself for the third and final time, Erin, I believe a bit frustrated, said, "If this ends like this I'm going to shoot myself in the face!"
I have since Emailed Erin strongly requesting that she refrain from shooting herself in her pretty face, a drastic action that is totally unnecessary in my opinion. I had warned her before seeing the movie that the end may be a bit... ambiguous.
"You were right," she told me.
Perhaps, I've proposed to her, 2010, the Year We Make Contact, the sequel to 2001, which I plan to show in the upcoming weeks, will clear up any questions she may have.
Or perhaps not.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Puzzles & Bricks

Last Wednesday at around 5:00 in the afternoon I walked downstairs to sign up for the next days Cooking Club. Usually the sign up list is withdrawn by this time so my lovely case manager Erin, and Paul can go out into the world and purchase the ingredients for the next days session, having a good idea of how much they'll need by the amount of people who have signed up.
The sign up list is necessary so that any Tom, Dick, or Harry who happens to show up at the kitchen of the Olympia while we are preparing a meal, and who suddenly decides they want to join up and partake of the goodies, will not be allowed to, and sent away with the kindly admonishment from Erin or Paul, "You're more than welcome to join us. Just sign up next week..." Usually those who are sent away rarely do sign up, I don't know why. Some people just aren't joiners and stand as monuments of independence. Hungry monuments of independence. Thus, we have a small core group of regulars who consistently participate.
Also, little tolerance is shown for those who arrive at the Cooking Club 15 minutes late, or more, and are sent away even if they had signed up. Our case managers rightly want those who come and actually participate in the food preparation process to enjoy the fruits of their labor, rather than give away those fruits to latecomers who had no involvement in preparing the meal. The go away grumbling.
In any case, the sign up list had not been posted Monday, or Tuesday, or by noon on Wednesday. So at 5:00 I went down to see what was up.
Much to my surprise I found a nice poster announcing the cancellation of this weeks Cooking Club due to lack of funds.
"The Fourth of July barbecue was very expensive," Erin later told me.
Instead we were invited to come on down to the lobby Thursday at noon, to work on "fun," puzzles.
Now I happened to know what puzzles my case managers had in mind. And you do as well, dear readers, if you read this blog's last post (see, The Greatest Thing 2). And I also knew the quantity of "fun," that would be provided was highly questionable.
However, I was willing to go along, anticipating another hour of scrambling my mind around fitting little jigsaw pieces together with our new dice, playing cards, poker chips, chess pieces, dominoes, picture puzzle. 1000 pieces.
On Thursday mornings Erin and Paul work over at the Olympia, trying to help those poor, pathetic, individuals crying out for help, to get their life together. They stop doing that by 11:30 and usually begin the Cooking Club. This Thursday, however, they would return to their offices by noon, to begin working on "fun" puzzles in the lobby.
I was down there waiting for them to arrive. They were late of course. Erin by five minutes, Paul by about twenty. "He had to drive someone somewhere," Erin explained.
Wanting to keep my lovely case manager well nourished, I had brought back a plate from the Hippie Kitchen for her. Split peas with chicken, salad, pre-buttered bread, and a small cup of cherries (with pits). Erin loves cherries.
She was very happy that I had thought of her nutritional needs as she had not bothered to bring any lunch for herself. I don't know why.
I sat with her as she ate her lunch and we chatted. I enjoy talking to her very much, and always admire her point of view and respect her opinions on every subject.
Lunch finished, we were ready to retrieve the puzzle from the depths of the basement.
As we entered, Peggy came up behind us, and said, "I like those shorts, you sure look pretty."
"Why thank you, Peggy," I said.
"I was talking to Erin."
"Thank you," Erin said. She did look pretty. She always does. Big deal.
Anyway we brought the puzzle up the stairs and began our work.
I helped Erin finish up the border, and we were very happy when it was completed, now having a rectangular base to fill in. Erin was intensely involved in figuring out the puzzle, exclaiming delightedly when discovering pieces that fit together nicely. She has a knack for this type of activity, so much so that I've christened her, "The Puzzler." She should be the Super Villain in the next Batman movie. "I will puzzle you to death, Capped Crusader!"
Paul soon joined us, then Hardy. Jose stopped by for a little while, then left. Lester and Robert sat and watched us intently, but did not offer to help, which is the norm with these two. Robert wanted to quiz me about the band Led Zeppelin, and ask Erin for a ride to the gym the next day.
He's always trying to take advantage of the kindness of our two case managers. A typical Republican. Not only that, a black Republican. Not only that, a black Republican on unemployment. Not only that, a black Republican on unemployment who voted for McCain and who now enjoys the increased unemployment benefits that the Obama administration has provided!
"Ley me get this straight, Robert." I asked. "You want a ride each day to the gym so you can exercise, because there is a big hill you would have to walk up in order to reach the gym. Wouldn't walking, or riding your bike up that hill constitute exercise?"
"It's a big hill." he replied.
"Then call a cab."
Erin and Paul continued to feverishly fit pieces together, hogging all of the good ones. An hour passed, then two. It took me an hour to find one piece, and I was increasingly getting frustrated, and thought quite seriously of committing Seppuku, the Japanese ritual form of suicide by disembowelment.
At 2:00 I couldn't take it anymore and returned to my box to call my dear sister in Bullhead. Her stomach continues to bother her, and her back. These things happen as we get older, except for myself.
I refuse to age, have stopped as a matter of fact.
We spoke for a half hour, the I returned to the puzzle.
"Rick, where were you?!" Erin asked. "You were gone so long."
I explained that I had been speaking to my lovely sister. I had changed shirts as well.
"Here," Erin instructed,"you work on this little portion."
I soon put together that little portion, and felt mildly better about the whole thing. Erin meanwhile, had put together a massive portion at the south end of the frame, all except two pieces smack in the middle.
"Ohhh," Erin exclaimed, finding one piece, and fitting it into the puzzle happily.
"See," I said, "I'm no match for your puzzle prowess."
"Yes you are, Rick. Keep looking."
Erin and I raced to find that one piece. Paul had other plans.
"Guess what, Rick?"
"I have a load of bricks in my truck for the garden."
"Really? That's great!"
Paul had been waiting to get some free bricks to build a raised portion in the garden. He had apparently found some.
"Want'a help me unload them?" Paul asked.
"Of course. Erin, stop looking for that piece while I help Paul, please."
Paul and I wheeled out his big dolly (conveyance consisting of a wheeled platform used to move heavy objects) to his truck which was illegally parked on the sidewalk just outside.
It was true. Paul did have bricks in there. About 150 of them. We placed the bricks onto the dolly (horizontal mode) in rows of two, about five brick rows high, then discovered that we couldn't move it because the dolly's inflatable tires were flat.
"Why don't we go to the gas station and put air in these tires, Paul?"
"Do you think we should?"
"Yes, I do. It will be a lot easier to move this dolly, and we won't damage the tires."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Let's do it."
First, we took three rows of bricks off the dolly, and managed to wheel the rest to the garden in back, where we unceremoniously dumped them near where we hoped to build the raised garden.
We then drove up Alameda to the nearby truck station and filled the dollies tires with compressed air.
As Paul and I came from the garden for another load we noticed that a police car had parked near the back of Paul's truck, and it looked awfully like the lone officer was writing a parking ticket. Paul talked to the officer, and I began loading the dolly up, showing the officer exactly what it was we were doing.
This cop turned out to be cool and did not issue Paul a ticket.
Yea, LAPD!
We finished unloading the bricks, no thanks to Robert, who just sat and watched us.
"Thanks for helping out, Robert," Paul said sarcastically.
"Yeah, thanks."
"No, problem," he said, sarcasm rolling off of him like water off an elephant seal, which he slightly resembles.
We returned to the puzzle. Erin was working feverishly by herself now, the others becoming exhausted, or already having committed Seppuku. She had not yet found the one missing piece that would complete the large bottom section.
"Good," I said.
"What was that, Rick?" she asked.
"Are you sure? I could swear I heard you say something."
"Not me."
The missing piece we knew, was ill-regular shaped, with half of a red turtle printed on it.
Finally... finally, I found it, and victoriously fit into its sacred position.
"Very good, Rick!" Erin exclaimed, clearly outraged.
We worked on that puzzle for four and a quarter hours, with about half left to be done. By this time even Paul was burnt out and had disappeared. Erin and I gingerly returned the puzzle to the basement.
Goodbye mighty puzzle. Until we meet again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Greatest Thing 2

Tuesday, at our weekly Drama Free Support Group, case manager Paul ratted me out.
The week before of course had been our trip to the LACMA, but the Tuesday previous to that Paul had purchased two 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles he thought it would be nice to introduce to the group for possible construction. We elected to start what appeared to be the hardest, I can't even remember what the picture was, but I do recall there were very few distinguishing features to help us out. We worked on that damn thing for and hour and fifteen minutes while singing songs, doing somersaults, and precision knitting. During all that time I managed to get exactly... 4 pieces to interlock. I must admit I had to use a little force on two of them.
Yesterday we returned to the puzzles. Paul came out of his office and said," Erin wants to try the other puzzle."
"Quitter," I burst out before adequately thinking about it.
"Is that okay with you guys?" I was there alongside Jose and Hardy. Rodney would soon come forth.
"Whatever Erin wants," I told Paul.
Paul smiled, and said, "You're so funny, Rick," then returned to his office to get the new puzzle, the picture being of a series of dice, poker chips, playing cards, all kinds of little features we could hunt for.
Paul soon returned with the new puzzle, which I opened with my handy dandy Bosun Knife, and poured the contents onto two tables we found there in the lobby. We had put a nice big piece of cardboard on top of the table so we could later transport the puzzle effectively.
"What's Erin waiting for? A written invitation?" I asked.
"She's busy," Paul explained.
When she finally did emerge, she came out with guns a blazing.
"I am not a quitter, Rick!"
Oh you bastard, Paul! He gave me up just like that!
"Ah... I didn't say that."
"Yes you did. We can still do the other puzzle."
"In that case, I agree, you're not a quitter. You're a postponer!"
"That's better."
We got to work on the new puzzle. All of us intently looking for pieces that would fit together.
Erin chose to find all the edge pieces to put together the frame, or border. Jose helped her, finding straight edged pieces to deliver to my lovely case manager.
"You know," I said, "there should be little numbers on the back of each of these pieces. This is too hard." Everyone agreed with me.
Soon Erin decided that she did not have enough room on our table to make the frame, so she found another piece of cardboard and moved to another close by table and worked, with Jose and myself bringing her straight edged pieces.
This indicates that Erin is not only a postponer, but an isolationist, possibly an elitist, as well.
Anyway, we worked on throughout the afternoon. After one hour and fifteen minutes I had put together exactly... four pieces.
"Got that border done yet?" I asked Erin, knowing full well she hadn't.
"Give me a freak'en break."
We all lost track of the time.
Erin asked me, "What time is it?"
"Five thirty," I told her. That was a joke. That would have been after the time she and Paul usually go home.
Erin was not amused.
"What time is it, Jose?"
"Four fifteen."
"I have to go."
We delicately put the puzzle away in the basement, hoping that the maintenance people would not mess them up.
Anyway, I wanted to relate a nice story about one of the greatest things that have happened to me since I've been living here downtown.
I told this story to my lovely case manager once in a nearby McDonalds restaurant while waiting for her iced coffee (vanilla).
I told her this:
One day, several years ago, I had made my way to the bus stop near the corner of Sixth and Central, on the northeast corner, to be exact. At the time it was raining quite hard, and a little river of water was rushing on the street near the sidewalk, rushing into the storm drain.
Fairly soon an 18 bus pulled up to the stop... and me, and opened its forward door.
Inside was a beautiful little Hispanic girl, who couldn't have been any more than four or five years old, all dressed up for the inclement weather, looking just adorable. Her mother was at the top of the steps, busy with the driver. The little girl came down the steps, looked at me, looked down at the rushing water in the street below between her and the sidewalk, then looked back at me.
And this is what happened.
She gave me a great big smile while raising both of her little arms way up toward me, thereby demanding that I pick her up and safely transport her across the watery abyss onto the safety of the sidewalk.
At this point in my story, Erin went, "Ahhhhh."
I dutifully did as the little girl demanded, settling her gently onto the sidewalk. Her mother came down and thanked me, and they continued on their way.
I got on the bus and continued on my way.
And I'll always remember that as one of the greatest things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Insanity Of US Health Care

Okay, let's get this straight. There are approximately 43 to 90 million people in the United States that do not have health insurance. About 25 million are underinsured. Our country spends more on health care per person than any other on the planet, yet underperforms consistently relative to other countries and differs most notably in the fact that Americans have no universal health insurance coverage, according to the Commonwealth Fund. In fact, The US ranked last in most areas, including access to health care, patient safety, timeliness of care, efficiency and equity. Americans were also last in terms of whether they had a regular physician. Since the late 1990’s, health care spending has increased at a faster rate of growth than has gross domestic product, inflation, and population. In the latest year data was available (2003), total national spending on health care rose to $1.67 trillion, or $5,670 per person. According to the World Health Organization (done in the year 2000. They no longer provide this service due to the complexity involved, but there is certainly no indication that anything in the United States has changed for the better since then) the United States ranked 37th in the world for best health care systems, right between Costa Rica and Slovenia (Ireland, I'm proud to say, ranked 19th). France is ranked number 1, Great Britain 18th, and our Canadian neighbors 30th. Chile has a better health care system than we do. The Washington Post reports that the US spends $1.00 in every $6.00 on health care, while still not providing universal coverage for all. More than 70% of Americans want some type of public option that will provide competition for the privatized medical insurance industry to bring rapidly escalating costs under control
Yet according to our Republican friends in Congress and the media everything is just hunky dory. According to Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Rielly, Beck, and other right wing psychopaths, the United States has the very best health care system in the world, and insist that it should be left alone, that no health care crisis exists, and that the President's plans to reform the health care system are nothing more than a socialist plot to enslave the nation. They offer no evidence for their constant blathering to their brain dead audience, still they don't require simple things such as facts or evidence... they have scare tactics, that's what has worked in the past, and that's their tool of choice now.
Republican Congressmen and women at least admit there is a problem with the system. Millions are left out of it, and costs are too high. Yet they offer no alternative solutions, no plan of their own. They just don't want Obama's plan, for purely political reasons while millions of Americans languish, and die under the current system, which provides billions of dollars for the heath care, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries, which, wow, guess what, uses that money to lobby, and provide campaign contributions to the very lawmakers who are intrusted to provide national health care policy, Democrats and Republican alike.
The Senate Finance Committee, led by Chairman, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, has effectively left single payer (universal) health care off the table. The American public has overwhelmingly expressed support for universal, or single payer health care, such as is in effect in those countries mentioned above that have been ranked with better health care systems than our own, France, Great Britain, and Canada. The Republicans cry out that this would be government controlled (socialist. So what? I've never seen so many people so scared of a word) health care, placing bureaucrats between patients and their doctors, they complain of monumental costs, and the destruction of private insurance. All of these scare tactics have proven to be false (1. We already enjoy single payer health care, government run, with medicare and the Veteran's Administration and I've heard no one complain about the quality of service of these institutions (there certainly are some problems, but none comparable to having private insurance for our vets and older citizens) 2. Republicans don't mention the already existing beauracracy of private health insurance officials denying service to their members for pre-exhisting conditions, and other reasons, in order to cut their operating costs. Remember, private insurance is in business to make money, and they do that by denying service, not providing it. 3. They never mention the gigantic costs of maintaining the current system as mentioned above), but remember these are the Republicans, who don't use facts or reality in their calculations. Let me be clear. The private health insurance company's, the pharmaceutical industry, and private health providers will stop at nothing to stop health care reform legislation at any cost, as they know their profits will plummet if they are forced to compete in the market place with government backed service. The Republican Party is the party of big business, and are the lackies of invested corporations, and will move to stop or delay any attempts of the current administration to reform health care as it would cut into their master's profits, and for purely ideological reasons, as they're currently against anything President Obama has put forth, just because he put it forth, even though they provide no alternative, and their actions are contrary to the interests of the American public and their own constituencies. The money put forth by the current health care industry to lawmakers either through lobbying efforts, or campaign contributions, extends to Democrats as well. It is no coincidence that Senator Baucas has shelved the option of single payer insurance for the countries millions of uninsured, and his being the largest beneficiary of campaign contribution largesse, to the tune of 1.5 million in 2007 and 2008. In other words he's been bought and paid for, at the expense of the tax payers who pay his salary, and who he should be looking out for, rather than multi-billion dollar corporations that want to keep things just the way they are.
Have I mentioned that this country is insane?
The President has stated that the time for health care reform is now. He wants legislation, with some kind of public option (single payer has indeed been taken off the bargaining table, but this would still provide competition for the private insurance industry unless they manipulate thelegislature to their advantage) legislation on his desk by the time Congress goes on vacation next month. The Republicans of course want to scrap any reform, or delay it. Fortunately, it doesn't matter what the Republicans want, because the Democrats own both houses of Congress. They have the votes to pass a reform bill without the Republicans.
All we need is for those conservative Democrats in Congress to get on board.
I suggest to them that they put the nation and its citizens who have been denied health services for decades before the interests of those who would maintain the status quo and do nothing at all. The attempt to reform the US health care system has been ongoing for more than 50 years. Now is our chance to finally do it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Erin's Chicken Dance

On this, the day after the 40th anniversary of Mankind's first step onto another world (the moon), I'd like to discuss Erin's Chicken Dance.
Now traditionally the Chicken Dance is an oompah song composed by the Swiss accordion (Handharmonika) player, Werner Thomas, from Davos, Switzerland in the 1950s.
The name of the original song was "Der Eententanz" (The Duck Dance). Sometime in the late 1970's the song acquired the name "Vogeltanz" (The Bird Dance), Vogerltanz (Little Bird Dance or Birdie Dance).
The dance was introduced in the United States in 1981 during the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oktoberfest by the Heilbronn Band from Germany. They wanted to demonstrate the dance in costume, but there were no duck costumes available anywhere near Tulsa. At a local television station, however, a chicken costume was available which was donated for use at the festival, giving the "Chicken Dance" its name.
Interesting as this may be it has absolutely nothing to do with Erin's Chicken Dance, which she apparently discovered while watching the now defunct television sitcom, Arrested Development.
Let's step back a moment and take a look at this with a fresh perspective.
Apparently, during our Fourth of July festivities on the Second, games and feats of physical endurance had been planned, with lovely gifts to be given away. However, with the clowns making off with Erin and all, the tragedy of Robert and the triffids, and the general melee, not to mention the hoopla, the gifts were never given out and remained within the cavernous interior of Erin and Paul's office, specifically encircling Erin's desk.
"It was most unsettling," she would later tell me.
Not wishing to let the situation escalate, the two industrious (and in Erin's case... adventurous), case managers came up with the idea of disposing of these pesky gifts during an impromptu Bingo game, to be held, for some unfathomable reason, smack dab in the middle of when our Thursday Cooking Club should have been taking place.
Near 11:45 last Thursday, Jose and I, fresh from the Hippie Kitchen, arrived at the Defiance Space (where we hold our yoga classes) just as both Erin and Paul drove up.
Erin, dressed in a brown blouse and Summer shorts, unlocked the door. Paul said, "I forgot the prizes. I knew it was just too easy. I got the sodas and chips, and thought, wow, that was too easy."
I offered my services, and Paul and I drove back to his office and collected the brightly colored gift bags, about 15 in all.
"Should we get ice?" Paul asked me.
"The sodas aren't cold?"
"Do we have a tub?"
"Yes, we should get ice."
We drove to the nearby ice store and purchased a 40 pound bag of cubed ice particles, then returned to the Defiance Space.
I held the heavy bag of ice over the tub while Erin and Paul threw cans of soda in. Erin used my Bosun knife to cut open the top of the bag of ice and I began to pour it over the soda.
"Should I cut it some more?" Erin asked me.
"A little. Just to the point where the ice comes out."
Soon the twelve of us who showed had cold sodas to drink and chips to eat, while we hungrily watched Erin eat a Subway sandwich, and Evelyn, one of Erin's and Paul's supervisors, munch on Church's chicken.
Anyway, soon the game began.
The game Bingo can be traced back to Italy in the 1500s, in a game called... ah, skip it.
Evelyn, Erin, and Paul seem to enjoy calling out the Bingo numbers, making all kinds of weird sounds while maintaining a festive atmosphere. They would tease us, asking us, "what numbers do you need?" and "Who's close? Who needs one more?" Stuff like that. They were certifiable.
I stifled a yawn.
At one point, for some reason, Erin broke out in her chicken dance, high stepping forward, while flapping her arms. She did this repeatedly, thoroughly enjoying herself.
It was rather alarming actually.
Her boss, and many others liked it and laughed with Erin in joy.
I happened to win a gift bag that day. Jose was the only one who did not, although he won a dollar for guessing correctly the number of a bingo ball Paul had pulled before calling it.
I received some badly needed shampoo, a toothbrush, some nonfat lard, and a bright new coffee cup that I'm using right now for tea. Please excuse me while I take a sip.
Eeemm, that was good.
Today when prompted by Diane out back during our Garden Club meeting, Erin performed the Chicken Dance yet again. Her uninhibited nature is exceptionally charming.
I have to admit, I'm secretly practicing her technique late at night, up in my box. Please don't tell anybody.
I should have it perfected within a year or two.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shakespeare Turns Savage

This past Saturday, after viciously cleaning my box and catching up on my laundry, and after a hearty breakfast at the Hippie Kitchen (beans, salad, and guacamole), I caught up on my Email, finalized my budget all the way through May of next year (including my annual shopping trip to Narayangarh, Nepal), and writing the Uncle Walter post while watching, The 40 Year Old Virgin, I attended a local performance of Shakespeare's pastoral comedy, As You Like It, with my friend Christa, who was visiting from Ridgecrest.
She's a lovely girl I met a couple of years ago in Nevada, who I helped move back near her dear mother here in California. Lovely woman.
Anyway, we made our way to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, on Temple, near Grand, by seven. The stage and seating were outside of the church, and all of the reserved seating had already been taken, but the Shakespeare Festival/LA has a long standing tradition of not turning anyone away, especially if you bring a canned good for the Food Bank of Southern California (eat your heart out San Francisco). Christa brought a can of watercress that I had given her, and I brought some instant yams. It had been bright and too sunny all day, and the sun would not go down for another hour, which was just about when the play began. It was warm, neither of us bringing a coat or jacket.
As You Like It is not my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies, that would be A Mid-Summer Night's Dream (after seeing Diana Rigg perform in it in 1969. Speaking of which, Happy Birthday Dame Diana! And Natalie Wood! Diana is 71 today, and Natalie would have been). However we thoroughly enjoyed the production's portrayal of the travails of Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando and all the rest. I hadn't seen Shakespeare since the same company performed The Merry Wives of Windsor in Pershing Square back in 2002.
Speaking of which again, there was a promised free concert at the Downtown Stage of Pershing Square Sunday afternoon, which one web site said began at three, and which did not specify who would be playing. But I thought it would be fun, and Christa agreed.
Pershing Square is a 5 acre, block sized public park in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by Hill Street and Olive, on the east and west sides respectively, and Fifth and Sixth on the north and south. It's been in existence under various names since 1866, and became a nice place for homeless people to hangout during the day. It was renovated in 1992, and now has a big pond on the south side that is continuously refilled by a fountain, and a ten story purple bell tower. The north side of the park is cemented in with a thin layer of grass situated in strategic strips. The picture above was taken pretty much where the stage was set for Sunday's concert, facing south. Interestingly enough, the base of the large building shown in the upper middle of that picture is the City National Bank Building, which is over twenty stories tall, and the sight of the last job I had working for somebody else. Customer Service for the City of Los Angeles Parking Enforcement, arguably the worst job I ever had. Anyway, once in the park you are surrounded by skyscrapers on every side, and the park links the Jewelery District on the south, with the Financial District, and Bunker Hill, on the north.
Christa and I got there early, around one forty-five, not knowing how many people would eventually show, and secured a nice spot on the west side of the lawn, our own table and lawn chairs, under a nice shady tree. We needn't of gotten there so early, as the information I had gotten had been wrong, and the show did not begin until four. That was okay, we had a nice chat, and although it was intolerably sunny, there was a goodly breeze and not too hot.
After a while Christa listened to her I pod, and took a book from my backpack, and skimmed through it. "The Evolution of God," by Robert Wright. Well, God had to evolve too, you know. He didn't just fall out of the cabbage patch! And there is a reason that prehistoric cave paintings never show the crucifixion. The one true God had not made Christianity available to those living 30,000 years ago. What's up with that?
I soon got sleepy from reading, and began looking at the pigeons and sparrows battling each other for food, and determined that life without arms and hands is hard. I mean wings are great! You get to fly all over the place, and you probably won't develop the fear of heights that I have. But the act of eating is a particularly difficult one. For instance, I noticed one little sparrow who had the good fortune to secure a nice big piece of a potato chip. He had it in it's little beak, and very soon all of the other sparrows and pigeons wanted some of that potato chip. So it flew away high into a nearby tree to get away from his competitors. One problem though, in order to eat the potato chip he had to let go of it, which when he did, the chip fell all the way down to the ground. He had to soar after it to secure it once more, just as a big old pigeon was about to get it. But our sparrow got there just before the pigeon, got it in it's little beak again, and took it way up into another tree. And the whole thing started over again, until the little sparrow flew out of my sight without yet getting to munch down on any of that tasty and nutritious potato chip.
Life without arms and legs is hard. And frustrating, I imagine.
The band had been setting up all of the while this was going on, taking their sweet time about it. At four o'clock, the Savage City Band was announced, and they swung into an instrumental intro number. This band, I later found out, hails from Orange County, our misguided conservative neighbors to the south. It was a ten piece band, with a four man brass section, keyboards, drummer, bass and lead guitar, and a dedicated tambourine player. The lead singer was a immense, six foot tall, redhead, by the name of Deanna Savage, which may have been the source of the band's name. I don't know for sure.
The played mostly R&B, original and cover tunes. Ms Savage was good. The band was good. I thought we were listening to a cross between Heart with a brass section, or Chicago, or Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishman Band with a female singer. They even played Feeling Alright, Dave Mason's song that Cocker made famous.
Everybody there, Christa and I, all had a great time. We had to leave after the first set so we could grab some dinner before going to see the new Johnny Depp film, Public Enemies, before Christa left for Ridgecrest.
I really had no desire to see this film, even though Michael Mann, the director is consistently good, especially in the crime genera. Like "Valkyrie," I knew how it would turn out, having watched a television documentary on the life of John Dillinger (played by Depp in the film) with my mother as she recovered from oral surgery 40 years ago. It was a good film! I was not disappointed. Mann was great as usual, Depp and Christian Bale, and the rest of the cast and production were top notch. I'm glad we went.
But the interesting thing to me, what amazes me the most, is the complex engineering that evolution and natural selection has provided for the brain, that allows us, allowed me to remember that afternoon with my mother lying on the couch, clearly in pain, with me sitting close by, watching a television show about John Dillinger, so many years ago. I knew Dillinger had worn a mustache. And it bothered me that for most of the film Depp was not wearing one. Not until the end of the film did he wear a mustache.
Maybe I remember that day so clearly because of this. I remember my mother asking me after the scene when Dillinger was shot dead in front of the movie theater, "Is that how you want to wind up?"
"No," I told her.
Dear mother, I'm sorry I caused you so much pain, and I told you that when you were alive. And you'll be happy to know that so far I've resisted the urge to rob a bank.
Not one.
So far.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Uncle Walter

Friday night, as I returned from a quick trip to the Try And Save supermarket to buy some nice buffalo meat, I turned on my television to The Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, to hear her say, "Walter Cronkite has passed away at the age of 92."
This saddened me greatly although the news was not unexpected. I had mentioned in this blog recently that he was very ill and not expected to recover. But still the news came as a shock.
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was an American Broadcast Journalist most closely associated with the CBS television network, anchoring (indeed, the term "Anchorman" was originally applied to Walter) their evening news broadcast from 1962 to 1981, setting the standard for news journalism excellence during that tenure. According to frequent viewer polling he was called "The most trusted man in America," for his enthusiasm for reporting, his integrity in never bowing to corporate or outside pressure, and his kind demeanor, often being referred to as Uncle Walter.
Walter was born in November of 1916, three years before my father, in St Joseph, Missouri, the son, and grandson of dentists. He was a college dropout, just like me, and took jobs as a reporter of news and sports for newspapers. In 1936 he met his future wife Mary Elizabeth Maxwell while working as a radio sports announcer in Kansas City. They married on 1940, and remained married until her death in 2005. They had three children.
He became a top journalist covering stories in World War Two in North Africa and Europe. He was one of eight journalists to be selected by the Army to fly on bombing raids over Germany. He even landed on a glider with the 101 Airborne Division, my dad's outfit, and covered the Battle of the Buldge. Perhaps Walter and my father met, who knows?
At the invitation of Edward R Morrow, he joined CBS in 1950. He gained praise for his coverage of both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952, the first to be covered on national television, and where the term "anchor," was applied to his work.
In 1962 he succeeded Douglas Edwards as the anchorman for the CBS Evening News. He was thrilled with the unexpected job offer, and made sure to never ask his bosses why he was given the job in fear that it would be taken away because he didn't already know. In that position he became an American icon.
The broadcast was expanded from 15 minutes to 30 in 1963, making him the first anchor of an American network 30 minute nightly news program. His competition was the NBC Huntley-Brinkley Report, with the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who consistently beat CBS in ratings, until NBC execs decided to decrease the news budget, allowing The CBS Evening News program to gain in viewership from 1968 on. He trained himself to report the news at a slower than average 124 words per minute in order to be easily understood, and continued to be the top rated anchor until his retirement in 1981.
Walter and I had at least one thing in common... our passion for astronomy and the space program. In 1969 his coverage of the Apollo 11 and 13 missions was the most watched in the nation, and I was one of those viewers.
During his tenure as anchor he covered the assignations of President Kennedy (fighting back tears as he reported of his death) and Martin Luther King. He declared that the War in Vietnam was unwinnable (try an imagine a major news anchor saying something like that about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration), prompting President Johnson to state, "If I lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
He made a brief appearance on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as himself. I happen to own a VHS tape of another episode of that program, in which Mary, while trying to get Mr. Grant to forgive her for telling a colleague about a dalliance of his, offered to even things out by telling him of one of her own. "You know him," she said. "He came for a brief visit, and we had... a thing... and that man was... Walter Cronkite." Lou Grant cracked a smile and all was forgiven.
My memories of Walter are rather vague, at least during his time as the anchor of the CBS news. While he had that position I was busy being a drug addled teenager in High School, and he retired while I was in the Navy, overseas and far away. I remember him more clearly from special programs he hosted concerning science and current events. And I have a DVD of George Clooney's production of Fail Safe, which Walter introduced. Like Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, and Arthur C Clarke, Walter was one of the dwindling few who have been known to me throughout my entire life. His wisdom, integrity, decency, and passion for the truth will be sorely missed. My condolences go to his family and friends.
He died at his home in Manhattan yesterday, surrounded by his family.
"And that's the way it is."
May he rest in peace.

Friday, July 17, 2009


"The Eye of God"
or, The Helix Nebula?
You Decide

First, congratulations are in order for this, our 100th post! So congratulations, Rick!
Why thank you very much.
Some of my dear readers may remember that this site's very first post dealt with God (in the form of Morgan Freeman) directing me to begin this endeavor. He even said it was okay if I made arguments against his very existence. He doesn't care... He's God... and knows he exists, and doesn't need us to believe or disbelieve in him, her, or... whatever.
So let us spend some time examining our old friend God, or religion more accurately, and its place in the modern world.
Last night while watching an episode of the comedic animated show, "Futurama," (my late night television viewing habits when I can't get to sleep are somewhat suspect) a familiar theme presented itself to me (my lovely case manager, Erin, should be surprised by this line of dialogue, "Who would have thought that Hell actually exists... and is in New Jersey!" Bender, the shows mischievous and amoral robot character easily was seduced to become addicted to rushing large voltages of electricity through his systems, much the same way that alcoholics become addicted to alcohol. His friends provide an intervention, and he discovers salvation through becoming involved in robot church activities and dogma. His friends soon cannot stand this new and improved, goody goody Bender, and seduce him into relapse, setting up his speedy departure to Robot Hell (in New Jersey!).
In real life those addicted to alcohol and drugs often turn to religion, or spirituality to help them solve their problems, indeed they are often coerced into religious based programs, and forced to attend that program's particular brand of philosophical lectures, or services. Those of you who have been courageous and industrious enough to wade through the Salvation Diary series, are well aware that the Salvation Army ARC program basically forces its "beneficiaries," to attend two evangelical church services a week, submit to "Work Therapy," and a host of other conditions to "be allowed," the rehabilitation services the program provides, as well as food and housing.
So, despite these institutions often being labeled as charities, their goals are often not altruistic at all. The rehabilitation is a byproduct of their activities... salvation and conversion are their ultimate goals, ingestion of new converts the reward for their services. And a very good case can be made that the powerful are willfully taking advantage of the weak to bolster their own ranks.
Being an atheist I do not believe that God, spirituality, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Shiva, Mohammed, religion, or any other entity has anything at all to do with any individuals eventual long term sobriety. I would rather attribute their success to environmental pressures, genetics, and psychological considerations. The idea of God, or a "higher power," as a tool helps them, as well as many others who face dire circumstances. Of course men (and women) are social animals, and getting together in groups with others who face a similar problem is usually quite helpful.
Erin once professed to me her love of mathematics, an interest I do not share. Naturally, being the idiot that I am, I asked her how she could reconcile her belief in God and Heaven with her fondness of tackling problems that can be empirically solved and proven. She was kind enough to respond in an Email to me at length that she did love truth and things that can be proven, but that she could feel God's presence in her very core, that she has always sensed him, and that he has played a beneficial and integral part in her life. She also feels no great need to prove his exitance, and never attempts to do so.
Now this is the position of the Theist, and I love it, and would never attempt to sway her to any other position, especially on something that obviously means so much to her, and which I could never provide proof otherwise. If that works for her I think thats great, and more power to her.
I have heard that argument for the existence of God many times before. My own dear sister, Cheryl holds the same, or a similar belief. I have to point out however, that their belief is "feeling," based, a psychological phenomena, and always subject to individual interpretation, and resistant to independent investigation.
There are so many arguments for the non-existence of God since the advent of science that I hesitate to go into it. Now remember, science is not some independent evil entity out to disprove or humiliate other's cherished beliefs. All it really is, all it ever has been, is a three part method. Come up with an idea, test that idea through experiment, then have the results severely reviewed by peers. That's it! A self correcting process that has revealed the secrets of the universe to us in such a relatively short time. It reveals truths about us, our world, our bodies, and the cosmos that may be contrary to certain closely held personal beliefs, but it is the only tool thus far developed that we can consistently apply to our lives that can be quantitatively explained and understood. None other exists.
I will continue this discussion elsewhere, but let me present the main thrust of my concern about cultural values, and closely held overt religious beliefs in our modern world, which has been exhaustively commented on by Sam Harris, and others.
Despite the personal benefits that Erin, my sister, and millions of others derive from their belief in a God that is beneficial to them, organized religion has always been an instrument of the powerful to subjugate the weaker masses. It is currently being used to implement political ideology, subvert feminine equality and health, and promote provincial rationalizations that have no place in our current state of progression.
When ones highest possible ideological goal is to kill as many innocent believers of a dissimilar faith and culture as possible, as has been the case throughout recorded history, I believe it is time to consider the possibility that our species has outgrown the need for religion, especially in this time of nuclear and biological weaponry.
I don't think that we can afford God any more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Salvation Diary 9

"Salvation" Artist Amanda Milky

January 1, 1991 New Years Day Day 111
New Year’s Day! Another beginning for me. Hopefully 1991 can be my first full year without drugs. And if everything goes right, maybe without cigarettes as well. A year starts with a day though, and I must make the best of today before anything else.
I had Pandolfi wake me at four-thirty, and I actually got up at five-ten, and got to the desk by six.
Major Johnson was down there, pacing back and forth between the dining room and the desk. There were about a million Salvation Army officers, ranking from Captain to Commissioner (Captain – low, Commissioner – way up there) mooching breakfast, walking around, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Major Johnson was worrying about everything going smoothly, as he was the host. I imagine it was a little nerve racking for him.
He was sweating the proverbial load.
Mr. Vasquez, although technically off duty this morning, was out in Red Shield 4 at the time. He had gotten up earlier than I had, so he could pick up the special order of donuts from Tastee’s. He probably would have been back by the time I got to the desk if it wasn’t for all those police barricades, even though he was equipped with a special pass.
All the officers and their families soon sat down to breakfast, wanting to get an early start, and get to their parade seats on time.
Mr. Vasquez finally made it back after explaining to the police that there would be about 200 irate Majorettes around here if the donuts didn’t get back to them right smartly.
Major and Mrs. Johnson did not eat breakfast until all of their fellow officers had cleared out. Even then, the Major went outside to see his guest off, while I talked to Jenny at the desk. She was looking at him through the window, and said, “Come on Johnson, I’m hungry. Quit wheeling and dealing. You’re too old to be a Colonel.”
The warehouse was used as a formation point for a marching band from Illinois. Robert was sent to make another run for more donuts, and sanitary napkins.
I, of course, did not get to personally see the parade, as I was working. I have never seen the Rose Parade in person. Thirty two years in southern California and I’ve never once gone. When I was much younger I may have wanted to see it, but I don’t anymore. I used to walk in parades all of the time while I was in Boot Camp. That’s all we did mostly, walk in parades, and pretend we knew what we were doing when asked to put out fires. And make our beds neatly.
It’s good to know how to put out a fire when living on board a ship. Or a boat. I never got the chance, though.
When I walked in parades in Boot Camp, I had the distinct honor to carry the flag of the proud state of Idaho. It was heavy. These days, I’m quite tired of parades.
I did catch a glimpse or two of the Rose Parade on television, and I could hear the different marching bands play from the residence.
During the later parts of my shift I did manage to get some writing and reading done. I began, The Treatment of Alcoholism, by Edgar P. Nace, M.D. This book is intended to be of use to drug treatment professionals, psychiatrists, psychiatric residents, and medical students. Maybe even psychologists. Not being any of those I will still attempt to muddle through it.
I was a bit tired after work, so I laid down in my room, while watching, “Zorro, the Gay Blade,” on T.V. I feel asleep.
Uncharacteristically, I stayed in my room most of the evening, only going down for a quick cheeseburger around six-thirty. I even forgot about bingo, for heaven’s sake.
I watched Roman Polansky’s (and Robert Town’s), “Chinatown,” with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. What a great movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s music score was extraordinary.
My father’s name was Roman. Roman Raymond. Unlike Mr. Polansky, he didn’t have many terrible things happen to him in his life, except World War II, and his own death.
I read some more, and then fell asleep.
I also did not have a cigarette all day. That’s probably why I hid in my room all night. I just wasn’t very good company.
January 2 Wednesday Day 112
I awoke at a little after five to the frightening visage of Wolf Pandolfi looming over me, saying, “It’s five o’clock, Rick.”
He was right, of course.
I said, “Thanks Wolf.”
He said, “Okay,” and then left.
I came down at six, did not eat breakfast, but did enjoy a cup of decaffeinated tea with some milk in it.
I felt good. It felt good to have one day of not smoking already behind me, which led me to begin thinking about smoking, which I did not want to do. So I started to think about something else. I began thinking about horseradish for awhile, which led me to think about how much I liked horseradish along with a nice, free radical laden, steak, which made me start thinking about food in general, which made me hungry, which made me want to eat food, which I was trying to cut down on, so I attempted to think of something else.
I thought about how good a cigarette was right after eating a good meal.
I decided I should just stop thinking for a while, which is usually good advice on almost any occasion.
Now it was time to choose who had the best dorm, best bed, and cleanest area. I was tired of giving it to dorm 41, which Tommy Bommarito (who suspiciously happened to reside at 41 E) being the residence laundry man, had all day to make all of the beds real nice, and get the dorm smelling good. So I gave it to 33, which being their laundry day, looked absolutely wretched. Clarence Bliss, my fellow deskman, who was asleep in his bed when I looked in, added to the general clutter.
I wrote, then managed to read a couple of chapters of the “Treatment,” book.
Mr. Vasquez was nowhere to be found. I think he slept for most of the day up in his room.
Major and Mrs. Johnson did not show for Wednesday night chapel. I guess they were too tired after all of the activities yesterday.
Still, we had over a hundred guys here needing to have their respective souls saved. Oh well.
I hope they soon recover.
When Mr. Vasquez finally did come down, he immediately began to clean both of the recently vacated apartments, cleaning up after those Salvation Army slobs.
He is compulsive concerning the cleanliness of those apartments. I don’t know why.
As I gave Tommy Bommarito his insulin, I said, “Hey Tommy, we have a little extra laundry for you in the morning.”
He had expected it. “Yeah, from the apartments.”
“Yeah, the lower apartment.”
“What about the upstairs apartment?” he asked.
“I don’t know about that yet,” I answered. “All I know is that there are three pillowcases filled with dirty laundry, waiting for you in the lower apartment.”
“Really?” he lisped. Tommy lisped because he has hardly any teeth, which he explains, hurts the formation of his speech pattern. This condition has come about mainly due to a combination of bureaucratic hesitancy, and a display of frustration because of it. Claude Hudson, the very same institution where I shall have my teeth looked at, in its wisdom saw fit to relieve Tommy of his upper choppers in anticipation of implanting brand new false ones. Unfortunately for Tom, the installation date has been repeatedly postponed, for one reason or another, for almost six months now.
Tommy thus far has reacted violently to the news of this unfortunate situation on at least one occasion, resulting in security guards being called to the dentist’s office in response to his displayed outrage. The guards removed the verbally abusive, lisping young man, negating his then current appointment, requiring a new one be made, and prolonging his discomfort for at least a month, further insuring that Tommy would be unlikely to see his new teeth before the end of January.
“Could you remind me,” Tommy asked, continuing about the extra laundry, “tomorrow morning at devotions? Because I’ll forget.”
“At devotions?”
“Okay, but then I might forget. Could you remind me to remind you, so I won’t forget to remind you?”
“Yeah, sure. Good idea.”
While making my rounds, I overheard on the television that Brandon Tartakoff, president of NBC entertainment, had been seriously hurt in an automobile accident. Mr. Tartakoff is more or less responsible for choosing what shows will be shown on the NBC line up, and on what night, and at what time they will be shown. I saw a picture of his lovely wife.
I don’t watch a whole lot of television anymore, not really, and when I do, it’s either “Star Trek,” “Married with Children,” or old and new movies. I sincerely feel, or heavily lean towards the opinion that programming on the three major networks is stupid beyond endurance. So I am not what you would call a big fan of Mr. Tartakoff’s.
But I have certainly never wished Tartakoff, or anyone in his profession any ill will, and I do hope that he and his family recover fully and quickly. But my thoughts as I heard this story, of this accident was… so what? He was involved in a car crash. Just like a hundred or a thousand other people this time of year. Do those other people warrant air-time on the nightly news. No way. What about Joe Nacardo, who lost his whole family? Is that story on national television? Or Walter Wilks who died? Sometimes I get miffed that so little attention is paid to the people who really matter. Who do real things in their lives. Who are.
Charles Peary was two minutes late getting back tonight. I let him in anyway. He didn’t even say thank you.
Wait until next time, Charlie!
After work, I went to my room and read part of, The Milagro Beanfield War, then went to sleep, adding another day to my life, in which I learned something, enjoyed myself, talked and laughed with others people, ate in moderation, did not drink, and did not smoke. And maybe even helped someone with something.
It will be my great pleasure if I can do as much tomorrow.
January 3 Thursday Day 113
I did not love someone though. Maybe that will come back into my life someday.
I feel very good. Since I’ve stopped smoking, I find I have a lot more energy, so I tend to get a lot more things accomplished, and sleep doesn’t concern me as much.
It’s raining today. It does that around here sometimes. Not too bad in the morning, moderate to heavy later in the day, and constant.
I took the paperwork over while it was still drizzling. That done, I farted around the residence for most of the morning and afternoon. With my newfound energy, I worked out briefly (very briefly). I wrote, and on two occasions braved the downpour, and crossed the street to search for clients in need of counseling.
I forgot to mention that I saw my old friend, or boss, or acquaintance actually, Carlos Noble, yesterday, who I had once worked for on the dock at the Canoga Park ARC. He was standing in the foyer of the front office, trying to be admitted, and looking quite distressed.
After two years of sobriety (cocaine), Carlos had relapsed, and for one reason or another, had made his way to Pasadena. Just like I did. Carlos is thirty-three years old. A short, bright and witty, thin black fellow, a musician who used to wear a sporty ponytail. He had been employed by Capt. Strickland to supervise the dock, and help on the phones in the office when needed. After relapsing he had hid in his apartment, not talking to anyone, not answering his telephone, isolating. People worried about him called, and he would not answer. He even knew who was calling him because they would announce themselves over his answering machine. He never called them back. I’m sure he felt ashamed, his self-esteem non-existent. Not wanting to face the fact that he had relapsed after two long years he submerged into his addiction, the one thing guaranteed to take the pain away, and at the same time make it one hundred times worse.
He didn’t even talk to his own girlfriend.
Capt. Strickland called his machine one day, and told him to get his ass back to work. That’s when Carlos came to Pasadena. He couldn’t face going back to Canoga Park. I knew how he felt.
Carlos had arrived here too late to be admitted. Clarence made him stay at Union Station for the night, and he returned today. I gave him a bed in my old dorm, #14A, right near the door. I told him I was glad to see him, and glad that he had gotten out of the rain. I also told him that I knew how he felt, and things would get better.
Nobody wants to hear that crap though.
He was someone I had looked up to as a person who had succeeded in the program. Something to aspire toward. Now he was still an inspiration, although in a different way. He reminds me that all we have is a daily reprieve. That the disease that I suffer from is insidious, and is even now growing in power through potentiality, and I that I must be constantly vigilant if I am to retain what little I have now, and keep the promise of the future. One day at a time.
Rudi also called today. He let me know that he had relapsed again. Big surprise. He wanted to know if his clothes were still here. I assured him we would keep his stuff for at least thirty days. He wanted to know if I knew of any programs he could get into. I had Kevin talk to him about Union Station.
Rudi and Carlos knew each other at Canoga Park. I knew Carlos from Canoga Park. I knew Rudi from Van Nuys. We alcoholics travel in tight circles.
January 4 Friday Day 114
I had put in a wake up call for five. Art Svensk woke me at five-twenty eight. I got up at nine-fifty seven. I went to the weight room, with all of my newfound energy and enthusiasm, and worked out briefly again, then went upstairs to shave, brush my teeth, shower, meditate, shampoo and condition my flowing locks, and dry off. Then I got dressed.
I read from the “12 & 12” in the lobby (The 12 & 12 being a thin book published by A.A., detailing the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous), and learned all about the Forth Step in order to prepare myself to confront my character defects.
The Fourth Step goes like this “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Easier said than done.
I ate too much spaghetti for lunch, but was still able to make out to the lobby to write.
I felt good again today. I’m very proud of myself that I have now gone without cigarettes for three days. The hardest part of quitting should now be over. Actually, the hardest part is to stay quit.
Unfortunately for me, when I feel good like this, that’s the time I most crave a cigarette. If I actually smoked a cigarette, I know I would automatically feel like an itty bitty little piece of dog poop that’s been stepped on, then run over by a truck. Plus, it would start that whole addiction cycle once again. So I must keep 100% alert, like Mr. Vasquez, and guard against slip-ups and relapse.
Speaking of Mr. Vasquez, he let me give out the weekly gratuity today. I did that in the small dining room. As the men came back from work I had them line up, sign for it, then handed each a manilla envelope containing their weekly allotment of cash, and canteen cards. I did this for approximately seventy-five guys. Everything went smoothly.
Six new clients to orientate, including Carlos. So far, he seems to be spending most of his time bowling. He still has not contacted his girlfriend.
Once again, Charles Perry barely made it back in time before curfew. Eleven-fifty eight.
I retired upstairs after work. Where else would I go? I put some medicine on my butt, and continued reading from the Milagro book. I felt very content, and wanted to smoke a cigarette desperately.
So I went to sleep.
January 5 Saturday Day 115
I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I made my way to the weight room and loosened up a bit. I didn’t left any weights, just loosened.
I had some porridge and gruel for breakfast, and then sat in the lobby while trying to decide whether or not I wanted to go to the Union Station Big Book study meeting.
I decided it wasn’t important whether I wanted to or not, that I should just get up off my soft, nicely rounded but hard muscled, complacent ass, and go.
So I went.
As always, and much to my delight, it turned out to be a fascinating experience. Not withstanding that the majority of those attending didn’t give two hoots about A.A., and are only there for the shelter Union Station provides. The ones who do care are what’s all about.
We read from the Big Book’s preface, this morning. Interesting. After one individual would recite a paragraph or two, they, and several others would share their opinions on what had just been read, and how it related to them. I had, until that very moment, had thought the prefix rather straightforward. But I was amazed by the various, and multicolored responses elicited this morning.
After returning to the residence, I wrote, then after being assured by Robert Vasquez that the Post Office outlet near Vons would be open today, I took Kari’s birthday package to mail it.
It was closed, of course, so I purchased a lotto ticket at Vons, and came back.
Then I took off again, and ran around the park a few times, until my side began to hurt. I stopped at the mini-mart on Raymond, and bought a pack of Newport cigarettes for Carlos, then returned to the residence for lunch.
Jack Crosley has decided that he would rather be a janitor than on the desk. As fortune would have it, we happened to lose a janitor today. Literally. Russell Star was last seen at approximately eleven a.m. All that remained of him was his locker key, which was found at the back end of the residence, on the loading dock by the kitchen.
So Jack was given his job. Another chapter in the life and times of Jack Crosley.
This turn of events had saved the janitorial career of Russell Burke. Mr. Vasquez had decided to send Russell back to work in the warehouse after catching asleep in his bed during working hours, a common habit of Russell’s. Mr. Vasquez had intended to put Jack in Burke’s spot, but since Starr disappeared, Jack was needed to fill that spot instead.
As of the moment, the residential janitorial staff consists of Jerold Schimmele, Jack Crosley, and Russell Burke, my spiritual advisor. Russell will move to the first floor position (better to keep an eye on him).
Eddie Gillespie joins our desk staff. An older, white gentleman, he has worked the desk before. This is his seventh time at the ARC, which is where he winters. He spends the rest of the year under the Arroyo Street Bridge. He tells me that he comes back to the Sally whenever his bath water starts to freeze.
By the end of my shift we had lost three more people. Victor Marlow (who had been my barber) blew a .07, and was given the boot. My old desk companion, Charles Perry gave me a ring to let me know he would not be able to make it back tonight. It seemed the local police required his presence for the weekend (he was in jail), for some unstated reason. And Art Martinez, the man who had sorted through all of the donated shoes, did not make curfew.
I wish them all well.
After work I went upstairs and started smoking again.
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
January 6 Sunday Day 116
It was hard to get and out of bed, but at the last possible moment I managed it. I took a look at myself in a mirror, and owing to the fact that my hair had remained relatively unbent during the night; I skipped a shower and dressed for church.
I got to the front desk just as Major and Mrs. Johnson came in.
Every time the Major comes in on Sunday mornings, he asks, “Well fellows, what’s the score?” What he means by that is, how many clients had we lost so far throughout the weekend. We usually lay out the client’s name cards for him to examine. Attached to the card is a photograph of that person. I would then explain to him the circumstances behind each individual’s departure. We had nine this morning.
Major Johnson seemed concerned that these men were somehow acting in concert, and had conspired together to create this mass exodus in an attempt to disrupt the warehouse operations. I explained to the Major that it was my considered opinion that these clients were acting independently of each other, considering that those ho had departed and left on different days and at different times, and that so far as I knew, none had ever associated with each other.
My assumption, I believe, was a safe one. Alcoholics and drug addicts rarely behave in any organized manner.
Even when they want to.
I did my usher routine, up at chapel. While we were singing, reciting some responsive reading, giving testimonies, and listening to the Major’s sermon, I was having sexual fantasies concerning the pretty, eighteen year old, guest piano player, in her tight, trim, Salvation Army black dress, which accentuated her shapely lags nicely.
After the service I was sitting in the canteen, enjoying a richly deserved cup of coffee, when my friend Carlos came by and told me that Doug Criswell, a mutual friend from the Canoga Park ARC, would be by in about a hour or so, to drop off some of Carlos’s possessions.
I said fine, that I would like to see him again.
I read for a while, up in my room, then went for a walk.
The day passed, as days do.
One day I’ll run out of days. That’s happened to every living human, so far.
I wondered what my last day would be like, and when it would come.
I lost horribly at bingo again.
I was loitering at the desk, looking through the TV guide we have there, trying to decide whether to watch “The New Twilight Zone,” on channel 7, at midnight, or “Tales from the Darkside,” on channel 5, when out of the corner of my eye (peripheral vision is a wonderful thing), I saw someone come in, and Clarence Bliss asked if he could help him.
“Yeah, I’m here to see Carlos Noble…and,” as Doug noticed me, “Richard Joyce.” We shook hands and embraced.
Doug is a tall, good looking Caucasian (honky) type person, with thick blonde hair, a mustache, and is very laid back and easy going, very smart, observant, and witty.
He works as a plumber, and now enjoys about fourteen months of sobriety; He and I were in the same group counseling class at Canoga Park, and I had always appreciated his quiet sanity and thoughtful observations. I could always sense his sincere desire to live free of the curse of alcoholism and drug addiction.
We found Carlos, and took them down to the atrium and showed Doug around a little. Carlos had not seen Doug since he had relapsed, and was acting a bit depressed and ashamed because he had screwed up. He will eventually get over that. Doug had seen me relapse as well, so actually I was feeling only marginally less anxious than Carlos. Doug is a good and decent man though, and it was genuinely good to see him.
We were standing outside, saying goodbye, when first Warren, then Andre Laws walked by. Both knew Doug.
Doug left, saying he would drop by next week. I went upstairs to read.
I came back down eventually, and watched “Married with Children,” then went up to the sample room with Robert. He showed me a little of how the urine analyzer worked again. I then returned to my room and read some more.
After eleven, as I made my way back from the restroom, I overheard some of the guys talking about three more clients we lost this evening. Two A.W.O.L.s, Gerald Duepke and Jesurun Howard, and one for drinking, Warren Bahr.
January 7 Monday Day 117
I slept in a little this morning, until ten-fifteen. When I got up I chastised myself for wasting half the day, then took a shower and dressed.
I wrote in the lobby after lunch.
One disadvantage of hanging around the lobby is that I am quite often called upon to perform some service for someone, such as running an errand for Mr. Vasquez, or filling in behind the desk whenever the need arises. I usually don’t mind, and am happy to help out.
So when Mr. Vasquez went to the weekly Gratuity Board meeting across the street, I was not surprised when people, learning of his absence, began to come to me with their petty problems, concerns, and inquires.
Four new clients entered our domain this morning. Each of them would be required to provide us with a sample of their urine, so we could analyze it upstairs in the sample room. We do that to new guys to determine the baseline levels of cocaine and/or cannabinoids still within their system. If a later test were to discover a higher or equal level of either of these substances, it would be a good indication that the drug had been reintroduced into their systems, and probably not by accident or coercion (“They forced me to smoke it!!!”), thus we will usually ask them to depart in an expeditious manner.
I thought I’d help Robert out by labeling four sample cups with each new person’s name. I was doing this when Mark Tisdale came up to me and told me that Warren was upstairs sleeping on his bed.
Clarence Bliss had already told me that. He had found out from Mark also. Mark had told him just before he went across the street to vent his outrage at this procedural discrepancy to anyone who would listen to him. He probably didn’t find anyone who would listen to him, though, so he came back to the residence to bother me. No one would listen to Mark because he was perceived to be a sniveling, conniving, ratty, spoiled, little crybaby. The reason that he wanted me to know that Warren was sleeping upstairs was because I was the lead desk person, and whose job it was, supposedly, to go get Warren out of here.
He was right, I guess. It probably was my job to go talk to Warren, but I didn’t want to do it, thus I also ignored Mark. Clarence had already woke Warren up anyway, and reminded him that he needed to leave.
It was true that Warren needed to leave. He had to leave because he had been naughty last night. The only reason he was in the residence at all was so he could pack his stuff. He must have been hung over from all of the peppermint schnapps he had consumed last night (over a quart), and decided to take a little nap.
He had been up quite late as well, which I’m sure added to his general dilapidated condition. He had been ejected from the residence at twelve-thirty in the morning, after telling Robert how sorry he was for getting plastered.
After Clarence woke Warren, Warren being Warren, got up and took a leisurely shower, further enraging Mark Tisdale, who when all is said and done, did have a personal interest in seeing to Warren’s departure.
Warren after all, did try to kill him.
Among others.
I am told that after I last saw Warren yesterday, at around eight-thirty p.m., he got smashed. He picked a fight with Tisdale, threatening to kill him, pulled a knife on his roommate, Chris Carter, tried to pick fights with two X-ray technicians from the Breast Imaging Center (oh, how do I get a job there?) down the street, tore up one of his own fifty dollar bills, asked someone else’s girlfriend to drive him downtown where he could score some coke, and was witnessed generally stumbling around all over the place.
Mr. Vasquez wrote on the termination report that Warren had been, and I quote, “Acting in an unusual manner.”
Warren had somehow made it back to his dorm, where Mr. Vasquez finally cornered him, and got him with the breath-a-lizer. He blew a 1.7.
Today, after Warren had his shower I talked to him about what had happened. He told me that he didn’t remember anything from the night before. He hoped that he could stay with his mom for a few days. He would have to lie to her, of course, tell her that he had gotten thrown out for some other reason than for what he had.
He might be able to get an $16 an hour job in Palmdale, he told me.
He gave the addresses and phone numbers of his mom and sister. I gave him some bus passes, wished him well, and saw him on his way.
I have a feeling he’ll be back.
Sometimes it gets real hard to see this same sick cycle repeat itself over and over and over again. You meet someone, get to know them, maybe their families, become friends, then they relapse and they’re out of your life instantly, and more than likely, forever.
In Bible Study tonight, we discussed the Hebrews in the Old Testament. Seems there were a lot of them. I then went to my room and read, rearranged some new clothes I had acquired over the weekend, and went to bed.
There would be an Advisory Board breakfast in the morning, and I had a four-thirty wake up call.
January 8 Tuesday Day 118
I was woke by Mr. Pandolfi at four-thirty exactly, and actually got up at that time.
I reached the desk just as Kevin Rockoff announced the special five a.m. wake up call over the PA system. Everyone wishing to have breakfast needed to get up a little earlier this morning due to the Board meeting. Breakfast was served promptly at five-forty five, and the dining room was cleared by six-thirty, to give the kitchen crew time to set up for the forty or so, Board members expected at seven-thirty.
Mr. Vasquez came down at six-fifteen, and immediately shifted into a mad cleaning frenzy, which much like a shark’s feeding frenzy, can be a horrible thing to witness. Much of my morning was spent keeping out of his way.
The Board people arrived almost on time. All dressed nicely, trim and proper, as Board members should be, were directed to the dining room, where I could hear them chattering away. About one fourth were women. They discussed the general condition of the Pasadena ARC, and stuffed themselves silly with free food.
Meanwhile, in a hallway not far away, Jack Crosley was making as much noise as one could possibly make using a vacuum cleaner, merrily cleaning and slurping up vagrant dust to his heart’s content. The Major quickly came and closed a partition door, effectively muffling Jack’s enthusiastic endeavors.
When the meeting adjourned, those who wished too were invited on a tour of the residence and warehouse, conducted by Mrs. Major and Ed Reitz. Most declined the offer. They had seen the place before.
Mr. Vasquez relieved me early so I could catch a bus downtown for my big dentist’s appointment at the Claude Hudson Medical Clinic.
I got there at one-thirty seven, for a two o’clock appointment. I was seated in the dentist’s chair at two oh one, and the horror that followed lasted exactly twenty-seven minutes.
I was there to have my teeth cleaned.
The tool that is used to clean a person’s teeth is not a drill, I know this. It is more like a vibrating jackhammer specifically designed to chisel away at plaque and tarter build up, ridding the oral cavity of enclaves where infection and tooth decay can promulgate. It is a deceptively safe and harmless looking device, that put into the right hands causes the maximum amount of discomfort to a patient, without actually requiring physical restraints in order to keep them still. The dentist will methodically search out the most sensitive areas for exploration, utilizing unnerving cunning and patience, all the while duping his helpless and unsuspecting quarry into a false sense of security and calm, the plunge his weapon, mercilessly and insistently with quiet determination and abandon. He will finish with a particularly tender spot, allowing his victim to dare hope that the worst may be over, only to return with a sudden vengeance, DIGGING, DIGGING, and DIGGING! He (or she, whatever the case may be) will gleefully proceed underneath the gums, causing them to bleed and get so sore that your mouth will be of absolutely no use to you for 4.7 days. He will deposit a siphoning device upon your tongue, theoretically to remove debris and excess fluid, but the instrument is designed in such a way as to immediately begin migrating towards the back of your mouth, down into your gullet, making you wonder if you ever see the light of day again. All the while said dentist will be smiling mischievously, suppressing a slight chuckle, but you won’t be able to see the smile because of the gauze mask he is wearing, and the chuckle will be disguised as sighs of concentrated effort, because he is stifling himself, and will never, under any circumstances, let known his true intentions.
Which are?
Dean Koontz writes in his novel, Twilight Eyes, of a race of demons, who disguised as humans, live and breed among us, and feed off of our fear and pain, who’s only goal is the complete destruction of mankind (womankind too).
I firmly believe that all dentists and lawyers are members of that race.
After my dentist finished he removed his mask, and said, “You were great! You didn’t scream once.” I could tell that he was sorely disappointed.
The truth be known, I was too petrified to move, let alone scream.
I kept spitting out blood as I made my way to the bus stop.
I got back to the residence just in time for dinner. Liver.
That figured.
It really made no difference to me what was served though. At right about that time my teeth and gums were beginning to seize up on me, and got so sore that I couldn’t chew a boiled marshmallow if my life depended on it.
That’s pretty sore. My mouth would remain that way for a long, long time.
In group tonight, with Jill, she asked us what our high and low points were since she had last seen us two weeks ago.
I told her that everyday that I remained sober was a high point.
I could tell from her immense yawn that she was impressed with my snappy revelation.
My low point had been at the dentist that afternoon, and seeing so many guys relapse and get thrown out.
Al Watts returned this evening for the Twelve Step Study group, in which we never go beyond Step Three. Tonight, Step One was on the menu. Again.
I wrote in the lobby before going up to my lonely room to read for as long as I could keep my eyes open.
January 9 Wednesday Day 119
At five a.m. Wolf Pandolfi entered my room to wake me. I said, “Thanks Wolf,” and promptly jumped out of bed at five-fifty one.
Another wonderful and glorious seventeen hour work day here at the Pasadena Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. I rubbed my hands together and smiled in quite anticipation.
I was at the desk by six-fifteen, and all was well.
While walking past the large screen television I learned from a news program that our Secretary of State, James Baker, and his Iraqi counterpart, Tarik Aziz, were scheduled to meet today, hopefully discussing ways to avert the impending war.
At least they’re doing something constructive with their time.
For my part, I kept fairly busy throughout the day, learning more of the maintenance and supply side of my job. I got to write a little as well.
At mid-week chapel, Major Johnson pointed out that the United States and Iraq may soon be at war. He told us that the peace talks broke down, and that the United Nations Security Counsel has set a January Fifteenth deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, or else they will be expelled by use of military force. I think that both sides underestimate the amount of casualties they shall suffer. Iraq contends that if attacked, it will in turn attack Israel. The U.S. Defense Department is asking to mobilize one million more reservists.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that this situation saddens me. I pray everyday for the continued strength that allows me to stay sober, for the health of my family and their friends, the ability, intelligence, and fortitude to help others if I can. I pray now for the U.N. forces, and the Iraqi forces (they are men and women just like us, and not responsible for the aggressive action of their leaders), for the innocents who will surely perish if war does transpire, for the entire human race, and for life throughout the universe.
Some may delude themselves, or be struck by temporary situations, but nobody really wants to die.
January 10 Thursday Day 120
Another long workday. Not an unusual one though.
Dr. Ed Reitz came over and wanted to do a dorm inspection. Specifically the kitchen dorms, 16 and 17. He wanted to do this because he happened to look in these dorms yesterday, and lived to tell the tale.
“It looked like a Claymore mine went off in there,” he said.
“All of my childish dreams of destruction and devastation are real,” I added, “they exist.”
Today the dorms took a 180-degree turn and passed inspection. Ed decided to go on and check all of the dorms while he was here. I had been handing out written warnings for messy areas and unkempt beds for the last few days, and the hint was taken, with all of the dorms passing Ed’s scrutiny.
“Next time we’ll take a look at the private rooms,” he said.
I shuddered.
I have not cleaned my room since I moved in it. I must admit I have though about it a few times, but have not been able to get past the initial planning stages. I need to correct this.
I passed by Rico in the lobby. He was talking to his new girlfriend on one of the pay phones. Her name is Tina. She’s married. They’re having what’s known as an extramarital affair.
I said, “How’s it going Rico? You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m all right, Richard. You all right?”
“Yeah. That Tina?”
“Say hello for me, will ya.”
“Richard says hello,” he said into the phone. “Hummm. Richard. The deskman. Hummm. She says hello back.,” he told me.
“Tell her that I love her and miss her. Ask her if she’s wearing anything that’s liable to give me an erection.”
“Richard says that he hopes he gets a chance to meet you.”
Later, I went out back in the alley, behind the kitchen, to check the fenced area where some of the guys lock up their bicycles. I wanted to see if the lock securing the gate to that area was still there, because Dan Aspell, my old roommate, took the key last night, just before he went AWOL. He left at ten-forty five, fifteen minutes before curfew, saying he was going to the store, and didn’t come back.
As I approached the kitchen’s back door from outside, I noticed an arm sticking out of it. It was hard to miss. A lit cigarette was held in the fingers of the hand attached to said arm, which it turns out, was attached to Ray Wittenburg, the weekend cook. Soon the entire Ray came out and began smoking. He thrust his other arm back into the kitchen so he wouldn’t be locked out. Ray is one of the few older gentlemen here, at around 55, or so, who truly believes in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and adheres to all of its tenets, sincerely desiring to make a change in his life and stop drinking. I admire his plasticity of mind and thinking. Most of the men his age who live here are rather set in their ways, and used to their bottoms, if you will, accepting as incontrovertible fact that their lives will never get any better than they are at present, and are just marking time, like my friend Mr. Schimmele, or the new deskman, Eddie Gillispie. They have no intentions whatsoever to stop drinking, even when they know full well it will eventually kill them. Eddie tells me that he’s just waiting for the Spring thaw, then he’s headed back to “the weeds.”
Such is their life.
Ray would be leaving in a few weeks to go back to work. He’s a plaster person. He plasters things, walls presumably. I began to talk to him about the importance of outside support systems since he would soon be leaving.
I don’t blame him for leaving. They only let him cook three meals during the week, and always the same. Fish on Friday, Polish sausages on Saturday, and leftovers on Sunday. This tends to stifle all of his creative instincts. Unbearable!
Ray is also one of the only two clients who have the luscious Stacy as his counselor.
Dennis Smith drove up on his forklift as we were talking. He wanted to smoke a cigarette also.
He asked me, “Am I really in your book?”
I said, “Yes, of course. So is Ray.”
Dennis seemed to be happy about this. He told me that he thought being in my book might somehow improve his chances of getting laid.
I kept falling asleep during the Substance Abuse seminar. I was sitting right next to Richard Bennett, who was giving the lecture. How embarrassing. I couldn’t help it though. I couldn’t keep my peepers open.
The beautiful Stacy returned to us this evening, back from a two-week vacation. She has such a nice smile. Women generally do. She reported that she had gone deep sea fishing while on her vacation, and that she had caught the biggest fish in her group. It had been a rock cod, she said.
If I were a fish, and had to be caught, I’d want Stacy to catch me.
She had caught another fish as well, she said. She couldn’t remember the name of it, but that it had been big and green.
I used to fish. I used to like it too. Then one day I got tired of killing things, even dumb little fish, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I was very tired by the time I got finished for the day, so went to sleep pretty quickly after I went to bed.
Before sleep did reach me I thought about my country being one day closer to war.
January 11 Friday Day 121
I slept in a little this morning. After lunch, I wrote, then got ready for work. Work went well, for me.
Mr. Vasquez had a rough time of it though.
At five-thirty I notice Ray Hunt passing by the desk. Ray is one of our truck drivers, who had recently strained his back, and was currently using crutches to help alleviate the pain he was experiencing. I asked him if he would mind sitting in on the new client orientation this evening. He gave me a puzzled look and asked why. I told him that I wanted to use him as an example of what happens to those who don’t follow the rules around here.
Near seven-thirty, the Night Crawler called me over the radio to let me know that their brakes had malfunctioned, and they were stuck in Tujunga. I had to go get Mr. Vasquez, who at that very moment had sent Reuben Smith down to get me because he had locked himself out of his room again, and was standing around in his underwear waiting for me to come up and let him back in his room using my master key.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” was his reaction upon learning of the stalled truck.
He took Jack De Wilde, our mechanic, and Ray Hunt (the only available truck driver) to Tujunga in another truck to rescue Lee Franklin and Dennis.
When they arrived they gave the truck they had arrived in to Lee and Dennis so they could finish their route. Robert, Ray, and Jack stayed to try to patch up the brake system well enough to get the vehicle back to Pasadena. While making this attempt, Mr. Vasquez and Jack were working under the truck’s hood, having given Ray, who was behind the wheel, express instructions to not start the engine.
I guess Ray didn’t hear them very well, or had thought they had told him to start the engine, which he promptly did, which caused Robert and Jack to immediately be sprayed profusely with a gooey combination of brake fluid and motor oil.
Such is life. Sometimes it is our fate to be sprayed profusely with brake fluid and motor oil.
Eddie Acuna later came by and talked with me at the desk. He told me that I should follow his advice more often, and learn how to speak Spanish. He said that they only spoke Spanish in Heaven.
Nicky Paloma checked out. He had only been here a few days, and he seemed in a bit of a hurry to leave. Sam Varela did not return by curfew.
Mr. Vasquez locked himself out of his room once more.
And I would find out the next morning that someone had stolen my long time friend and advisor, Noah the Parrot.
January 12 Saturday Day 122
I slept in until lunchtime. When I came down I learned of Noah’s disappearance.
“We’re missing our parrot, and this is the prime suspect,” Robert said, holding Nicky Paloma’s file card for me to see. “That’s why I continue to say, check all bags! Coming and going. If these guys give you any trouble, tell me, and their outa here.”
“Somebody stole Noah!” I couldn’t believe it. “Someone would take a bird from its cage, stuff it in a bag, and walk past us and out the door?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what happened. He probably took Noah, bless her little soul, and sold it to get some dope, or to impress his little girlfriend he had over here the other day. He was seen tampering with the cage after Robinson put up the cover for the night. Gillespie tells me he was in a big hurry to get out of here, and that he was carrying a small bag. All the circumstantial evidence points to Paloma.”
I still couldn’t believe it! Of all the things that are worth something around here; televisions, VCRs, radios, office equipment, Stacy, items that are actually worth stealing, somebody instead had birdnapped my friend Noah.
To top it off the suspected theft had occurred on my shift!
I was really pissed off.
I remembered working with mistreated animals during a three year stint as a veterinary assistant. That got me really angry too. I remembered feelings of hatred for the owners of those abused creatures, and desiring to extract some type of revenge upon them. At those times my regard for human intelligence and self-awareness, the qualities that supposedly set us apart from, and one step above the rest of our animal cousins, was at an all-time low. During those times I certainly cared more for the lives and welfare of those defenseless, innocent, and trusting dogs, cats, and gerbils, than I did for those “humans” that were responsible for their care.
I did not feel kindly for Mr. Paloma. No one around here did. Noah was well liked.
Noah was… is a fine and noble bird. A friend, confidant, a hell of a good listener. I will miss her sagely comments and kind chatter. Her substantial wit, and famine charm.
I hope she bites Paloma’s hand off.
Once someone made the mistake of sticking his nose inside of Noah’s cage. They came away minus a good chunk of that appendage. He never did it again.
Latter in the evening, Eddie Acuna and I, chased away some people who were helping themselves to some donated furniture near the trailer drop off. I wasn’t too happy about any kind of thievery today, and it made me feel a little better about losing Noah.
Also today, Congress gave its approval to the President to go to war if he should happen to think that a wise course.
It’s good to have permission.
January 13 Sunday Day 123
The Major chuckled when he heard of Noah’s theft. Either he couldn’t believe that someone would want to steal her, or he didn’t care all that much for the bird. I believe it was a little of both.
I have been told that once while the Major was escorting some VIPs around the facility, one of them, a Major’s wife, tried to coax Noah into speaking. The bird was stonily quiet however, as only she could be sometimes. Major Johnson, wishing to be a gracious host and brown noser, came to his guests aid and attempted to get Noah to say a few words. Dear reader, knowing Noah as well as you must by now, I am sure you can guess what transpired. The Major succeeded, much to everyone’s astonishment.
“Fuck you, baby!” Noah squawked.
The atrium cleared out immediately.
Major Johnson suggested that we call the police and make a missing bird report.
Later, I took a walk down Fair Oaks Boulevard. It really is wonderful living in Southern California. It was a warm, almost hot and sunny day. While most of the country was shivering and hiding under the covers, I had to take my coat off to keep from sweating.
The weather’s just too great. Who cares about the crime, gang warfare, drive-by-shootings, overcrowding, gamma ray bursters, pollution, and traffic problems?
When I returned I wrote a letter to my dear, sweat sister. To me, it seemed like a nice letter. Sometimes my sister and mother have a little trouble understanding, or coping with my sense of humor. I can’t blame them. After all, they are both relatively normal individuals.
I hoped my sister would like my letter.
I then did something I haven’t done for quite a while, for over a year actually. I sat down and watched and entire football game on TV. It was a playoff game, which made it especially interesting. My favorite team, the Los Angeles Raiders, beat the snot out of the sissy Cincinnati Bengals. 20 to 10.
Russell Burke walked by while I was watching it. He said, “Hi.”
It pains me to say that I don’t believe the Raiders will make it to the Super bowl. They’ll probably get creamed by Buffalo next week.
Suddenly it occurred to me that it was exceptionally odd, a luxury to be able to concern myself with such a trivial event like a football game. I felt some shame when I began to wonder what it was like for the people in Iraq, or Israel, or Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait right now, wondering what they were doing to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon. What they were thinking about.
It occurred to me they might be concerned they would not be alive to see another Sunday.
I ate dinner with Mr. Vasquez, then helped Joe Najar pack his stuff. Mr. Vasquez had discovered an unexplained increase of cannabinoid by-products in Joe’s urine.
I watched “Star Trek, the Next Generation,” which seemed to be showing first run episodes again. This one was about a Vulcan traitor, and Mr. Data learning to dance.
I fell asleep watching “Married with Children.”
January 14 Monday Day 124
I had put in for a five-thirty wake up, but Clarence forgot to write my name down on the wake up list, so Pandolfi didn’t wake me, resulting in my sleeping, quite blissfully I might add, clear through till nine-forty five.
I had planned to go to Pasadena’s Municipal Court this morning, and take care of that little legal problem I mentioned before. I had even gotten a nice letter from Clarence Orion, describing the ARC’s program, and what a conscientious person I’ve become, and all.
I have hesitated until now, mainly because I tend to dislike putting my fate into other’s hands. I realize now that they really can’t do much to me for a simple drunk in public charge, and failure to appear, especially if I surrender to the court of my own free will. Or I hoped they couldn’t. I also knew I would feel much better after getting this cleared up, and it was no longer hanging over my head.
But since Clarence Bliss neglected to add my name to the wake up list, I didn’t go to court, and a fugitive I’ll remain.
For a little while at least. I feel a fond kinship with Richard Kimble.
As I was busy writing in the lobby the renowned Zulu Brothers passed by (Rico Montgomery and Reuben Smith) on their way to the small TV room, to watch their stories (“All My Children” and “One Life to Live”).
I took a walk, on another fabulously sunny day, to the post office, to mail my letter to my sister.
Upon my return I skimmed through the rather large and formidable looking book, 100 Years of the National Geographic, and also made myself useful by helping out at the desk.
We studied those Hebrews some more during Bible Study.
To top the night off I attended an outside AA meeting. There were a lot of pretty girls there. I suppose the fact that the meeting was held at the Casa de Los Amigos, a woman’s recovery home, had something to do with that.
I fell in love three times.
January 15 Tuesday Day 125
Back to work!
I had the opportunity to talk to my counselor, Richard Purdy. I tell him the same thing every time I talk to him, which must be pretty frustrating for him. I tell him about how ell I’m doing, that I’m not having too many problems, that I’m continuing to work the program, that I get along with almost everybody, and that I’m getting used to, and comfortable with my new duties at the desk.
He says, “That’s good. That’s nice.”
Then he tries to create problems for me.
He wants me to rush into school.
I do want to go to school, but I’m not interested into rushing into anything right now.
He tells me things like, “You can’t live here forever.”
I tell him things like, “I haven’t even finished the program yet!” and “Right now I’m taking it pretty slow, day by day.”
It may seem that I’m having an easy time at staying sober.
I am.
Only because I’ve put myself into a situation where it is fairly easy to maintain sobriety. Further, I have the advantage of knowing exactly what would happen if I took a drink or drug. Personal devastation would happen. I know this because I’ve relapsed so many times in the past. I think it’s finally gotten through to me that I cannot ever drink or use drugs. It’s just not for me. It’s for other people, not me. I understand that now, I accept that, and I don’t make a big deal of it. I don’t even think about that much anymore. I don’t mind people who drink or use drugs, some can get away with that I guess, and it doesn’t seem to hurt them, or mess up their lives. Great! More power to them.
It’s just not for me. I can’t do it anymore.
I’m deathly afraid of relapse. Of hitting bottom again. Of the Park. It’s easy to stay sober, to do something like sobriety, when you’ve that kind of fear.
Maybe that constant anxiety and fear helps me to appreciate each and every sober day, and the joy of life unclouded by the mists and befuddlement of alcoholism and drug addiction.
I know through experience how irresistible the first drink can be, and how easy it is to go ahead and drink it. And after that all is lost.
I feel that is unlikely that real alcoholics will remain sober for any significant length of time on their first try. Some do, I know this, I have met them, but I believe they are few, and the exception. I would not be succeeding now if I hadn’t failed so many times in the past.
All in all, the total, whole experience of staying sober, of learning to stay sober, is not easy.
But well worth the trouble.
Jill and I actually talked tonight during group, and afterward. How exciting! She asked everybody how their week had been. I told her the same thing I told Richard, that everything was okay, that I was progressing. She said, “Good, that’s nice.”
Like a good short story, counselors need conflict and drama to keep happy.
I told her of my low point during the week, that someone had stolen Noah, the Parrot. She seemed really interested and concerned, even angry. She wondered about the type of person who would steal a poor, defenseless, somewhat innocent, 10 inch tall, green shaggy looking parrot.
I told her who.
Apparently she knew Nicky. She said that the next time she saw him, she would ring his neck.
Now I know for certain that Jill is a nice person, besides being infinitely gorgeous.
Next I attended the Twelve Step Study, where I learned all about Step Two. Again.
Afterwards, Jill caught me reading an encyclopedia in the lobby. She said that she liked the idea of me reading the encyclopedia, cover to cover. She asked if I was good at the game, Trivial Pursuit. I told her I guessed I was (how lame).
I stink at Trivial Pursuit.
Everybody does. Except Jeopardy contestants.
She thought my reading was significant enough to mention it in her counseling notations, in the much guarded counseling books.
Again, we at the desk are by no means authorized to read what is in those books. It’s just our job to guard them.
I myself, read everything they put in there. Items pertaining only to myself, of course. I already know how everybody else is doing.
I had finished reading the Tom Clancy book, A Clear and Present Danger, a few days ago. I thought the premise very interesting. The President of the United States wished to be reelected and had promised to do something about the importation of illegal drugs into the country. He decided to treat Medelin cartel, in Colombia, as a sovereign state which had committed an act of war by smuggling drugs into the U.S., thus disrupting our society and economy. As the title suggests, the president decided the drug trade presented a clear and present danger toward the American people, and began covert military operations within Colombia.
The last time I checked, in 1983 alone, alcohol, drug, and mental disorders cost the American taxpayers about $116,000,000,000.00, directly and indirectly. The trade in illegal drugs has only increased since then. I would certainly agree that the drain that amount of money puts on our economy annually, coupled with the cost in lives and human tragedy, would certainly constitute a clear and present danger to the United States. But unless we are willing to invade Colombia, Peru, Burma, Afghanistan, and a whole lot of other countries, it remains unlikely U.S. efforts to stop the drug trade at its source will succeed. History backs my up. We have never been able to significantly curtail the amount of illegal drugs crossing our boarders, never.
We certainly don't have the backbone, or where-with-all, to make illegal drugs legal, and thereby taking the trade away from foreign cartels and criminal enterprises, as we did when we repelled prohibition, thus being able to control the problem with some measure of rational intelligence. That has been political suicide for anyone who seriously dared to propose the idea. That's why we only hear about legalization from those politicians who have already retired and have nothing to lose.
Maybe Clancy is right and we should use the military to invade Colombia, Peru, Burma, Afghanistan, and a who bunch of other countries. That might just be the answer. The United States has rarely shied away from using force to settle minor difficulties.
And that's how we've treated the drug problem in this country, as a minor difficulty.
Our government is much more concerned about oil. That's a major difficulty.
At nine o'clock this evening the United Nations Security Counsel's deadline for Iraq to pull out of Iraq passed.
The Iraqi army is still there.
January 16 Wednesday Day 126

It had been a fairly normal 17 hour work day as I came out of the upstairs restroom, near three-forty five p.m., when Jerry Schimmele told me that Kevin Rockoff had heard over the radio that United States military forces had attacked Iraq.
It seems that my country is now at war with a relatively small Arab nation (although the military powerhouse of that region. We were now killing people in the Garden of Eden.
The war doesn't affect me very much, personally. I have no friends or relatives over there to worry about. My routine for the day would not change very much. I continued to Give Tommy Bommorito and Ruben Perez their insulin when they needed it, made dorm inspections, did paperwork, peddle canteen cards, make announcements, go to chapel, see that people got counseled, put up the damn bar in the Thrift Store parking lot. The only noticeable difference in my routine was that I watched the T.V. a little more in the evening, and felt sick.
While in mid-week chapel I wanted to get up and testify for the first time since I lived here. I wanted to thank the God I don't believe in for my life and self-awareness, for my families health and well being. For my continued sobriety. And for a quick resolution to the conflict in the Persian Gulf.
But I couldn't. I just sat there.
When I went to bed I cried for those already dead.
January 17 Thursday Day 127
Another day.
The networks are broadcasting constant coverage of events in the Middle East. Some of the guys in the residence are complaining, telling me they are missing their favorite morning cartoons, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I tried to sooth them, agreeing that the war is indeed, very inconvenient for all.
I hate war. Or killing, violence, and brutality, in all their manifestations. That does not mean I don't believe this particular war to be necessary. I do believe it to be necessary only because the situation was allowed to progress to this point. The United States was buddy-buddy with Iraq and Saddam a few months before the invasion of Kuwait. The CIA should have anticipated Iraq's intentions before they occurred, and taken steps to counter them.
I believe we wouldn't be in this mess if it were not for the fear our leaders have that our nation's supply of oil will be affected by Iraq's invasion. That's the only reason that makes any sense. True, we will also be liberating the Kuwaiti's from the cruel mistreatment they are sure to face under Saddam's influence, but our nation has no history of coming to the rescue of other nations under duress unless we've been provoked (Pearl Harbor), or our national interests were in some form of jeopardy (WW I, or the perceived threat of world domination of communism). Is the high price of oil worth dying and killing for? Apparently it is, according to President Bush. True, Saddam Husain is a sociopathic mass killer, but that didn't bother us when he was at war with Iran. Hell, we supplied him with weapons! But threaten our oil supply, and look out...