Welcome to TAPKAE.com

"I don't see how anyone would want to read it all for fun." —Robert Fripp

Entries in angst (38)

Wednesday
Oct122011

Bye Bye Black Sheep

It's my 38th birthday today. The blog post title, amusingly rendered in a Photoshopped birthday invitation to people, was indicative of a more powerful current in my life: that of finding identity even in the messy business that comes from being born to a rather dysfunctional set of people. A letter like this has been brewing for years. This is who I am as I make first steps into my 39th year: gaining clarity in how I can deal with family, and what I need from it (but know that I can't ever really expect it. Also, feeling the urge to move toward forgiveness while still holding people accountable. I am moving increasingly toward the needed letting go. I consider this part of the grief work. The title is in reference to my black sheep status, always being apart from a larger flock, relegated to another sector. But it also speaks of my own discarding of the boundaries that kept me there, and a kind of assertiveness and presence that has sort of been taking shape in the last several months within me. I am the dismissed black sheep of the family. But now I am dismissing that role itself with a new stance that is shaped by a deepening understanding of what Jesus' experience might teach about how to absorb pain, gracefully.

The following is addressed to my (half-) sister Christina Lyke, ten years my senior. It is perhaps the last thing I'll be saying to her for a few years, given the pattern of a really estranged relationship that is only punctuated every few years when I try to process the distance and the hurt with what I hope are a new set of tools and methods. It always turns out to be a one-sided effort that crashes and burns faster and faster each time.

On a drop in visit to my mom's house in Long Beach a few weeks ago I found out from Chris' son that our brother died—in March 2011! No one bothered to let me know. The longstanding estrangement is a hostile one, mainly from her side. I sent a handwritten card not to her, but to our mom (equally estranged), with a note of sympathy and an invitation to my birthday gathering this coming weekend. Mom didn't respond directly to that. Chris did the dirty work of replying via Facebook. This letter is part of a thread between she and I where I asked to be put in touch with either James' wife or his twin brother so that I might be able to do a bit of grief work. Chris has apparently appointed herself spokesperson for everyone and has been blocking any attempt to communicate with curt and increasingly testy responses. I asked her to let them speak in their own voices because I really don't believe her.

This is my most recent but likely last hurrah to say what's on my mind. I've tried to keep my tone level and genuine, but she finds me unbearable and the last I saw of her four years ago was a time when she put on a display of absolutely ridiculous show value, yelling and shouting and waving hands and all that—quite a song and dance, and not something that spoke of her being ten years older than me. It also happened to be the very same time when Kelli met that branch of my family for the first time ever (except some phone calls with Chris in 2003 when I was in Halcyon). Anyhow, I am feeling differently than I used to, and from a place of recognition that the pain is so great and has had such a distorting effect, I sort of want to try another tact. For all my words and feelings, the precedent suggests that this will be met with nothing but hostility. The letter starts in protest, responding to her total disregard that maybe I too need to process James' death. Just dismissed me and told me to get over it on my own.

Chris—

Mourning is a community activity, not an individual one. I also don't usually mess around with "chit chat" either. [She said she wasn't writing her responses to engage in chit chat, and that she would thank me to go away and not write more.] I take things more seriously than that. You don't have the right to unilaterally set the terms of relationship for everyone. Besides, why would you want to? It seems more than you even want to be part of. I think it would be better to have your cooperation. If not, then I know well enough what to expect. But the stonewall approach might just leave me looking for whatever holes in the fence I can find. And over time, I plan to find them. I think it is sad that this state of things seems preferable.

I just don't understand why you've taken the path you have, keeping me at a distance, even as I dared trust you to tell me the truth. I never doubted that what you said was true. I wish it wasn't so. I wish there was a way to make that point clear, and that I've had my own kinds of hurts that has kept me from even talking to my old man for the last five years—and unheard of time of silence. I wrote an open letter to him on Father's Day this year that might be as pointless as trying to convince you of anything at this point, but I have kept my distance but under certain conditions welcome a change in the course. [I get a feeling he is in his lonely room snickering at me still trying to clean up a mess that he helped create for me. It might be the gift that keeps on giving for him.]

Chris, I was willing to share your life and its hurts in whatever way I could. There isn't much else I could have given you. I wish you could see that for that decision, I took a bigger hit than I anticipated. I gambled for the sake of having a relationship with you because I did feel that there would be a chance at recovering something we both felt was lost, and that doing so was worth a risk to my precious stability. And then you shut me out rather inexplicably. I'm trying not to be bitter, but really, what you did was buck-passing the hurt; scapegoating. And yet, from the tone you've had for the times I've been in any contact with you (for several years now), it doesn't seem like you're feeling any less conflicted or hurt. [The explosive response to my presence alone at mom's in 11/07 was a clear confirmation of that. Her Facebook profile says she's training to be a drug and alchohol counselor. The thought of her in a healing role kind of scares me, really.] I don't think your strategy has worked for you.

I'd love for our old stuff to be turned into the basis for something constructive. I really don't like strife. It sucks way more energy than it returns. But your cooperation is a key part of that. At one time I thought you wanted me to be your understanding little brother. I still am—as much as I can be. But the trend is that you don't don't want that. What changed? Why? You might have set your feelings aside but I still hurt for you, and the hurt that I think everyone lives with but has brushed under the carpet. It's plain to see it is still at work, from the few bits of exchange that I have to judge by.

I don't mind physical distance and that we don't play a great day to day role in each other's lives. I just wish it didn't bring with it the harsh tones and curt responses. Even being civil and cooperative, keeping me in the loop about who's getting born [she mentioned that she had a grandchild on the way, due today, but neglected to say which of her sons was about to become papa] or who's dying...that's about all I feel I should ask. One day mom will be gone too. Will I read about that on MySpace or Facebook, or hear about it years later? Put yourself in my shoes for a moment.

I don't know if this is intentional but when I am blocked out from even having civil discourse with the family, that is not just a matter of denying me (all of us really) a place at the dinner table or the photo albums, it also robs me in particular of a sense of history of who I am, be that the son of royalty or the son of saints or the son of thieves and murderers. It is a gross unfairness to take that much from me. I have a sketch of who is involved, but I don't know much when it comes to even tracing my own genealogy or the stories of who came from where and what they were like. Is that part of the strategy? Or just an unintended consequence of a hairtrigger avoidance of me? What this means is that as I am dealing with fragmentary memory of my own experience and an even more fragmentary second-hand memory, I could forget things or altogether choose to put my own story together. I could tell any story I want. I could make you a princess or a harlot according to how I feel. I could make it all up. But that is disingenuous. I would rather be reasonable, and to not place the blame out of unprocessed hurt, and not to inflate people larger than life. The real story is big enough, and tragic enough. I can tell it straight. But blocking me from having the facts does not do any good. I wish you'd not be so rigid about withholding the kinds of information that still instructs me on who I am, whether that is good, bad, or whatever.

In a similar way, I feel that it is wrong of you to play gatekeeper especially at this time, and to block the flow of legitimate emotional response to James' death. That is unfair of you.

I still love you Chris. I love you as a human being, and as a person with whom I know I share a troubled past at the hands of a troubled man. I have long said that I felt a closer bond with you than anyone else in mom's side of the family. It's a troubled bond, but those can be made into strong bonds under certain conditions. I don't love the strife. You're still a child of God the same as I am, or as even my old man is. [This one is pretty radical assertion for her. Be prepared to duck from whatever projectiles might come this way!] When you know that in your heart, when you know that to be true, I think something transformative will happen. People who know they are children of God and accept that message deep down inside don't have to play the games that divide people from one another. In a paradoxical way, in the way that spirituality is always paradoxical, I owe you a debt of gratitude for even your repeated rejection. It forced me into new areas of life that I probably never would have volunteered into. In the same way, I owe a similar debt of gratitude to my old man for a similar but unconventional way of teaching me. And mom too. And Nikki. (Don't you think it a bit odd that the bunch of you sit on the same bench in that regard?) That is the irony of the spiritual life—that all the hurts can instruct. I'm just glad I've had the right directors—pastors, spiritual directors, friends, therapists—who have generally moved me and my story toward something different than I was inclined.

But you didn't know that. You don't really know what my life has been for the last several years. You know only that I chime in once in a while, that I seem a speed bump on your path or a thorn in your roses. If that is all you hear from me, then I can understand. But that is not who I am the other times. Ask anyone. I explore life. I grapple with pain—mine, yours, my old man's, mom's, that of the world. I am creative and resourceful. I am a loving husband of seven years now. I do time consuming volunteer projects for non profit orgs. I have different and evolving roles at church, including facilitating a young adults group that in some ways is a surrogate for playing a responsible role in the lives of my nephews and nieces—something that I found myself willing to do a decade ago, but so far have been dismissed from.

I can't say to you that your perception of me is wrong. There are perfectly true things—even negative things—that you say that are true. But that is not the whole record. It is fragmentary at best. Incomplete. Outdated. The fact is, I am more than the little brother you lost some three and a half decades ago, or in the times since. When you want to pick up the phone and have a reasonable conversation, or when you want to come to my birthday, or to church on any Sunday, or to meet up on an unimportant Tuesday afternoon, then maybe there is a chance to integrate something new about me and the life I lead. There is plenty to find out. And that is just my side of things. Kelli has plenty of interesting stories too about her life. And you probably have too.

As I write, it is about ten minutes from the time when, 38 years ago, I was born. The stories I have received from you and mom and the twins about the old days have both broken my heart and led to my restoration in the ever-unfolding drama of my movie that is made in one conversation or letter or Facebook post at a time. I still have a flush of feeling when I consider that for a while you were acting as my caretaker while mom was at work, and that from that experience, you were linked to me in a profound way. You've said as much to me. You and the twins both told me of heartache from the separation and drama. I might never know your hurt at the level you do, and I might not even be able to articulate my own hurt that operates at a level I can't even tap into. In that, we are again brother and sister again, children of the same forces.

One thing you don't have control over is that I have the power to forgive you. I have the power to feel your hurt and not hold it against you. I have the power to receive even your rejection and to still see you as my sister, if not of the same mother, then of the same experience at the hands of a hurtful man. And if not that, then you're still my sister in God's grand family in which each of us is a beloved son or daughter. Neither you nor anyone else can shut me out of that.

It is now 4:25. My birthday all over again. Peace and love to you, my sister.

Monday
Aug222011

Subway, Center of the Universe + 20

My second job was a rather unintentional change in my life. It came about as an unintended side effect of visiting the Subway sandwich shop in Clairemont Square on the way to one of the last church picnics of the year. It was newly opened earlier in the summer, just about the time I was in Europe in July (something I know was worthy of writing about this summer but that is a pretty big story to tell, and therefore, haven't). On the way to the picnic sometime about late in the afternoon on August 14th, I stopped in for a sammich and there was a pretty empty shop with manager Steve chillin' at the counter (he'd later be heard to say, "if you got time to lean, you got time to clean"). The essential banter, preserved in my journal from the period, went as follows:

Me: "I'd like a Cold Cut Combo please."

Steve: "Here, have a cookie."

"What? For free?

"Yeah. I need to get rid of the older ones. So... do you need a job?"

"No."

"You financially secure or something?"

"No, that's not a problem."

"So you're saying you need a job..."

"I guess I am."

I got an application on the spot, brought it back and was told to come back in the morning. I did, and in five minutes, I was a Subway employee. I started a week later on this day, August 22nd. Just days before, my grandfather bought me a pretty nice bike, a Hard Rock from Specialized in a lovely pearlized white. The fact that he spent a whopping $300 and more for it was huge then. That fact put my bike ownership into a new era; it was the nicest bike thus far, and one that wasn't a heavy steel Huffy or whatever else was available then. I rode down the sidewalks for the mile and a half to Subway, and at about midnight, rode back the same way. It got a good bit of use on my Mesa College commute which was either rather longer a ride or was too hilly to enjoy much. I mixed it up over time. The bike served me well for about two years, later being replaced by the Escort given to me officially on my 20th birthday in 1993, but having already been mine to use much of the year before that, at least on weekends. 

I only had vague plans to be in Mesa College for the new school year. Starting at Subway was a rather surprising development but one that gave me the funds to fulfill my stated idea of getting back to Europe the next summer. I worked at Subway for eight months until mid April 1992. I had no idea how that job would shape my life, or how it functioned as a hub for so much else that happened.

I started as a closer and remained so almost exclusively. What changed it was in the last month when the store was sold to an oddball and cranky Jewish family from New York. When I started, the store was open until midnight, and it took a while to close after that. I had a coworker there until about 10 pm, and then I was on my own. That arrangement lasted about two months for me. The store was new and bit off more than it could chew and on later review, they saw that I was overwhelmed at the end, and frankly, a bit vulnerable. The video camera recorded me there some nights after 1 am, and I was interrogated about why I was so late in getting out. They changed the hours back to 11pm with two closers and things flowed a lot better. I found it a bit more social that way. Being new at working and life in general, I was given to be a bit of a fame seeker in the way I shared (or didn't share) duties at dinner rush time. I was dared one day by Chuck, the rather salty-mouthed but sometimes hilariously funny perv of an owner-operator, to lose the name "Slugger." It was a measure of my line speed. So I took it to another extreme and often accepted no help out front, instructing my even-newer-than-I coworkers to stay back in prep land even during dinner. I hated prep, so I was willing to take on the entire dinner line to avoid it. That made me fast but sometimes drew some attention when it backfired and the customers narced me out to Chuck or Steve, asking why the prep person was not coming out to help. Based on the fact that I was quickly becoming the longest tenured closer there even at my few weeks or months, I sort of had the unofficial role of being the shift manager, and really not being able to do that too well. That broke down after several weeks and I ended up finding it was rather nicer dealing with prep, dirty dishes, and other behind the scenes stuff, and letting someone else do the line.

Work vs. Life

I might have been on a wandering schedule prior to Subway, on account of being a recently graduated guy with no plans but for community college (classes starting at noon). But it was Subway that was the first structural piece of my life that kept me on a late schedule. Places like that typically will schedule a young and easily put-upon worker at any old time. No different with me. My work schedule changed each week but often included Saturday nights. It wasn't too long before I was skipping church life on Sunday because I was going to bed at almost 3 am and found it a drag to get up at eight in the morning to get ready. At the time it was a worthy exchange largely because working as much as I could was what was going to pay for a much longed for second trip to Europe. I basically sold my soul to get back to Europe in 1992, and the Subway adventure was filled with new experiences, characters, and some indignities that culminated in a big way with the Levy family taking the store over in March 1992 and ultimately firing me and subsequently getting a restraining order placed on me. 

That whole period after graduating from high school and for a good long year afterward was rather a depressing time. My school schedule could tolerate the work schedule. My classes pretty much were limited to a noon to 2:30 schedule. I typically was scheduled to work at 5-12 or later on 4-11. I was getting to bed at three in the morning after wedging homework into the time between. I was probably waking up at 10 am with time to do last minute homework and to do the half hour ride to school. I was taking just a couple classes each semester at Mesa, and working about 20-35 hours at Subway. I was happily eating Subway food almost exclusively for my dinners, it being sooooo vastly better than the stuff my old man served. In fact, it was with this job that I was emancipated from eating his creations or his selections, so I was delighted with being able to escape that and to eat something that tasted better and might have been better for me.

The culinary possibilities were a step up but the social ones were not so. Even in high school, I wasn't surrounded by any great friends who helped me fill the time on a daily basis. I was in touch at a rather minimal level with people from Madison. Steve and Shelby were gone. I missed them both a great deal. I never made any friends at Mesa. I had church friends who helped in this period, and after some months away from church early in 1991, I returned to things, but not quite as completely as a couple years before. Essentially, my new social circle was at Subway, though it was quite an acquired taste. And it was far from mutual. Really, I found myself there on my days off, just to get my dinner and to hang out for a while some nights. Or to get there a bit early and do the same. 

Fellow Workers

The owner, Chuck Perricone, was a 50ish businessman with some expertise who owned two other Subways prior to this one. He was plenty aware of the franchise compliance requirements and generally was an ace at complying, as long as us riff-raff were on board. He was a pretty precise guy and could dish out enough venom to be clear and motivating, but he was also a likeable guy who would spend lull times telling stories that kept a couple of us in stitches. Pardon the misogyny for a moment.

All the girls at the place were pretty young. Even relative to me, it seemed. High school girls almost exclusively. For a while, Marne, Steve Rau's prom date, worked there. A couple other young girls were there, looking almost too angelic to be true. Most were shimmering blondes. It couldn't have been a mistake on Chuck's part. He and manager Steve, the guy with the cookies, were obviously going for a young and good looking theme in those early days. One time Chuck was telling Steve and I, or maybe Matt too, how he was reminded by his wife (co-operator) that girls were supposed to wear slacks, not the yoga style stretch pants that they all seemed to wear and from which he turned a blind eye. His wife said they were out of compliance. "Oh?" he said, "not with those butts in them, they aren't!!!"

Steve, no less inclined to be a testosterone-filled man than Chuck, was not above his reptile brain during the times when he would lay eyes on an incoming female customer that inspired something in him, and he'd call one of us out to make her sandwich while he retreated to the prep area, out of sight of the customer but in clear view of us on the line. He'd be back there making outrageously exaggerated sexual pumping gestures, or maybe doing the tongue in cheek "fellatio" thing in an equally over the top way. It was sometimes impossible to keep a straight face out on the line! Another of Steve's gimmicks was to shout out a number, a code for us guys, that graded these incoming women in about the same way as a judge at a sporting event would hold up a card with a number from one to ten. Even these one word utterances of Steve's were enough to send us into hysterics as his outrageous gestures behind the counter! The party wound to a close eventually as Steve got into some trouble and enough of us were arrayed against him. That was subsumed IIRC, when the news of the sale to the Levy family was announced. They he just gave up caring and became like a passive-aggressive acting dead weight till it was his time to go.

There was a generic school notebook left for all of us to write in, to make requests of Chuck or Steve, or to trash the performance of the previous shift, and to make excuses for our own bad work (which usually involved trashing the previous shift). It was a place of many a snarky comment, some goofiness, condescension, passive aggressive talk, name calling, and occasionally something useful! It was commented upon by the most recent shift and again by the one that followed. In the Perricone-Levy transfer I took it for myself as a souvenir of the good old days with Chuck. It was in that book that we felt close enough that we might even take swipes at Chuck himself. Matt took to calling him "Chucken" and later on, "Super Chucken." One time he drew a likeness of Chuck with a superhero cape and hat, Chuck's glasses and four chicken feet.

Matt

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kit. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks before! 

Matt brought the drums over to his upstairs studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was in my big Tull and Rush period (I even wrote a paper for English class about those bands!), and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

It took me a long time to figure him out. I recall one night at his place I saw on his dining room table a paper with a list titled "how to fill out a job application." He had methodically written out all the types of things he'd need to put down on such a document. It was neatly written, as was all his writing. It struck me as odd considering he was otherwise a character that was seemingly so at odds with regular social norms. I had thoughts for a while there was some kind of mental illness or lower intellectual capacity at work. Over time I abandoned that but held on to what seemed obvious even in exchanges closer to the present day: he was risk averse and rather slothful, favoring a pretty easy way out whereever he could take one. I get the feeling that even his job at Subway was something that he was pressed into, and favoring the path of less resistance, he stayed at that Subway or another for about five years.

Matt was rather bold with some of his antisocial rants and occasional gestures. It was rather shocking for a guy who was recently going to church a lot and from a setting that was pretty conservative. Some of it seemed just so over the top that it could only be a show, but sometimes I was taken rather aback. There were times when he'd snarl openly at an old woman, or do this almost demonic scowling voice concealed with a cough or not concealed at all, with bug eyes, saying "HAGGGGGHHHH!" He called old women "old bags" probably due to a pretty frustrated relationship with his grandmother. I seem to recall he had some troubles sneaking his girl friends to his studio and had to resort to more clever tricks to do so under the aegis of his aging grandmother. I was half fascinated and half horrified at some of the stuff he did and said.

Some of the stuff he said could be hurtful or alienating. I often think I ended up with him in the picture as a low point originally. For almost a year we were more a pair of isolated and alienated individuals that found each other's company and were able to tolerate each other enough as long as the drums were set up and ready to play so we could both blow off steam and kill time. It took until my return from my second trip to Europe—nearly a year into our "friendship" before we got to a place where we talked at any personal depth. Prior to that, he'd tell me to shut up about such stuff. Over time though, he has said that I've been a loyal friend and that he's apologetic for distance between us. He usually says such stuff after some great breakdown of his life. There were times when I had to defend friendship with him as a priority compared to the other characters at the time. At the moment, it has been a year and more since we talked by email, and upon my dare to step up with his kid and conduct himself in a way that wouldn't so closely echo the stuff he experienced, he dropped out promptly. One day he'll come around. 

Sarah

I still don't know how to count this one in but another character on the scene just about that time was Sarah MacBeck Swineherd [not her actual name, by request]. She was a flirtatious one who wasn't afraid to go around grabbing the ass cheeks of some of us male coworkers. Matt spoke a bit disparigingly of her but still wasn't above being a 20 year old male and proclaiming he'd "do her." (He could be heard making frequent statements of this sort. Not all were too discreet. What else should I expect of the guy who introduced me to porn?) Matt had the uncanny position of living in a room addition above his grandmother's garage, with a window facing into a property just catty-corner from there—Sarah's house! He regaled me with tales about his monitoring her, though I think he was often full of fiction or at least hyperbole. It was his brazen ability to tell such tales that made me think for a long time they might be real. I hope my political discernment ability is a bit keener these days.

Anyhow, the time came when Sarah and I worked some shifts together and while she had been a bit more flirtatious while among a few of us guys at once, she was not so in person, alone. She was a bit more real in that setting and sometime early in November we found ourselves closing the store together and talking outside for some time, walking her home one night and getting a peck on the cheek (which by my records seems to have been the "first kiss," though I always attribute that to having happened with Melissa the next year), and even doing a midnight call stunt that required calling "time" and using her call waiting phone so it wouldn't ring out loud.  Eventually we went on a sorta-date by meeting up at Subway in a "coincidental" appearance at the Subway for our respective dinners. We dropped in to the Hungry Stick, a billiards hall/sports bar that apparently wasn't closed to us teenagers at the time. Then we went to the Clairemont theater and saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Of course, a bit of dark space didn't hurt, but even then I was way too uptight and controlled to go for it. Even rubbing her back and trading heads and shoulders was pushing me into new territory! My journal says it was a nice time though, that I just about forgot who I was with—in a good way, not so subject to the ticker of comments that Matt might have made about her.

On exiting the theater, there was some guy named Brett who I guess we both knew, but that had gone to my school earlier in the year (Sarah went to the "other school" at Clairemont High), and that I, in a position as TA in an English class, had positively narced out as a drug dealer. This dude was expelled and arrested. Running into him months later on what might be one of my first dates ever was cause to break things off a bit sooner than planned. Sarah and I were walking toward her place, in a direction opposite my place, and we were found again by this drug dude who shouted threats from a ways away. Sarah basically gave me the "Run! Forrest! Run!" line and I gave her a kiss, and that was about all of the Sarah McBeck Swineherd story. Not long afterward, she was gone from Subway and at least said she was moving from the area altogether (though I think that was temporary if at all). Calling her house in vain to at least close up that date night was agonizing. Matt told me he had something similarly dead end happen with her and tried to get me to leave it alone. Sarah was subject of many a young man's conversation and even some phone pranks for years to come. I now recall one of those pranks, a "pizza party" thrown for her on April Fools' Day 1994, where from our Subway store (two whole years after I was canned), I called three delivery orders in to competing pizza shops, with her address as the target. Me and another Subway guy, Marc Shanahan (worthy of his own few blog stories), went over to her street to watch as the pizza guys arrived at her house.

Reading my journal from the period suggested I was really grappling with seeing a girl who seemed genuine but who seemed to have a reputation for some stuff I didn't subscribe to. You gotta remember, I was preserving myself for Shelby for years, and this Sarah experience was starting to press me into questioning things at the tender age of 18—that birthday being just three weeks before. I wrote that my love life options were maddening—on one hand, Shelby was seemingly not interested in guys and not interested in me in particular, and Sarah was not able to count the guys she'd been with. I even admitted to wanting to give up on Shelby for her emotional distance. I didn't, and so I hung on for another nine years till the end of 2000! (I just got to thinking this Sarah story is an underexamined piece of things. I forgot how she was sort of a first, and what was in my head at the time.)

The Levy Jew Crew Sale

Getting into the late part of things here, the story really should be told elsewhere next year. But the essentials are that during the Chuck Perricone era, I was a loyal and determined employee. The store changed hands on March 11th, and up to that point he was grooming me for success at Subway. He struck me as a decent guy who knew business, and in the absence of my 21st century understanding of and relationship to business, I was ready to try for whatever I could at that level. So I paid good attention to him. Eventually the crew shifted so much that by the changeover, I was third in the place after Chuck and Steve. I'm sure Chuck put in a word for me with the Levys—Abe, a cranky and stereotypical Israeli Jewish businessman who brazenly told customers off and changed deals as he saw fit, and his wife who was the same in the business regard but was more of a New Yorker. Their kids, ages spanning 13-21, were brought in to augment the crew, andeveryone but for Matt, Angela, and me were cut out—and then I was cut a month later for my trouble, trying to save Subway from these wayward franchisees. The landscape changed in a big way. One or the other Levy worked the store from opening to closing, and had at least one kid on the scene most days. Matt and I were not allowed to work together. The three of us who did carry over had our hours cut notably. They had Matt and I doing split shifts over lunch and then closing. Over a longer period of time, they weasled out of paying Matt overtime, and often had him do split shifts or 12 hour shifts with no overtime. I watched as Abe did one offensive thing after another that went exactly against the grain of what Chuck had taught me. I took on a Subway apologist position and wrote to the national office about it.

Arlene, not inclined to suffer complaints from some disposable kid like me, especially when directed at her husband, pretended to care until one night a month after takeover. It was really out of character for her to be there for closing, but she was there. So were her sons Adam and Josh, the oldest two, and Matt was there too. There was a kind of sense that the night was slow, but it was that so many people were there getting it all done. There was even time for screwing off outside. I think Adam was kind of a double agent who didn't want to work for his parents and did some things to befriend Matt and I with the help of his fancy Nissan Z car with an insanely cool stereo in it. But then I recall that Adam watched me clean the cabinets with utmost precision and told me not to worry about it. I said that was the only way I knew how to do it, and that is how I did it all the time for the first seven months and that's why the store was so clean and attractive. He didn't care and thought it was a waste of time. I think this was about the final straw.

After that unusual night, the following morning of April 12th I was told I was no longer employed there. I guess they thought that was the end and I'd just disappear. Maybe they didn't bargain that I'd drop in on Matt on his shifts and get some food. Or at least I'd meet up with him after work. They found that out and told me I couldn't come by, and just a couple weeks later, I received a restraining order legally declaring that for a period of a year. I had to go to court to pretend to defend myself. I got letters from Chuck himself and my pastor Jerry at church saying I was not as they described me. I was pretty devastated that it came to that, and more so because they just wrote down all sorts of trumped up charges like that I was throwing rocks at their windows, or that I defaced their cars or some such crap. I liked Subway, worked as hard as I ever did at a job (even at "sub"sequent positions). These people brought out a righteous indignation in me. It was just days after getting fired that Matt and I were at his place after work and we were writing a pretty scathing and kinda anti-semitic rant in song form that ultimately kicked off a new period for us—Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) that not long afterward became Rhythmic Catharsis. I called it "Roly Poly Porky Boys" partly to describe their physical shape (Abe and Arlene were fat, and Adam was getting there), and to include the offensive use of a pig product, just to jab a little more. As scathing as it was, I don't recall it being fictional. If I saw it now, there are still big parts of it I'd defend just as a person who still thinks they were crooked and unfair businesspeople.

Epilogue

It was clear that Subway was in my life to serve a purpose in that first 1991-92 period: to get to Europe to see Steve Rau once more. It was something that I knew and was focused on achieving. In the end, it was quite clear. I bought my flight ticket for a thousand dollars or more on April 7th and got fired on April 12th. The fact that Matt stayed at that store through the entire Levy era was remarkable. He lasted into the era of its next owners, a family of Indians who had equally odd practices but were generally better Subway franchisees. After the year of my restraining order, on the very day it expired, I ritually went to Matt's store with a girl I thought I was seeing at the time (Jen Cody, probably the only "older woman" I ever went out with, at two years my senior) and got some food, and began a period of hanging out all over again, getting free food whenever I could. The Levys were known to be the rogues in this town. I worked at another store starting about a year after all this went down and found from that experience no one liked the Levys. (Their screwy antics were confirmed a few years later when they tried to sue a Walgreen's store for injury from a security guard's actions as he tried to prevent papa Abe from stealing some video games for his son. That took some 'splainin'.) My trip to Europe was great for my soul after all that time. (I actually did kiss the ground upon getting to the Frankfurt Airport one year and one day after I got home from my prior trip.) I felt vindicated for putting up with it all.

Matt and I were defined by Subway for years to come, hanging out at each other's stores until sometime in late 1996. Subway outlasted our drumming efforts and the recordings that we made as Rhythmic Catharis. His step dad did my taxes for years. His grandmother's old dining table is now mine. (I had some other pieces too when they cleared out the house his grandmother was in.) Over time, it seems like girls got the better of him though I still get the feeling he is glad I've been a friend. 

Tuesday
Jul262011

Letter to Katie

Katie,

This is your uncle Ed. I wrote a similar but far shorter letter to Cameron a couple years back. With the passing of a couple more years, I thought maybe I’d address the same general message to you but with another open approach. Now, I ordinarily don’t write young teen girls letters of this sort. But we are family and nothing can erase that. And I have to focus my thoughts quite carefully because I know that this will be scrutinized and criticized if it is read by anyone else. That is the pattern. I know it well. I have been on both sides of that kind of scrutiny. To avoid any such commentary that I have some agenda, I am posting this message to my website, where it can be seen publicly, and if need be, commented upon. I don’t have anything to hide here. I am going to reference earlier times but I plan to address you as an intelligent, articulate, compassionate young person moving toward adulthood.

I intend this for your eyes only, but I sort of anticipate that that won't be the case. I sincerely hope you’ll read it and try to understand where I’m coming from, and most of all to trust it comes from a genuine place in me, okay? Ultimately, this message is for you and you alone. If you do choose to show it to anyone, please do so after you have had a chance to understand what I am saying. That said, I guess I hope it will even reach you, and that I won’t be blocked on Facebook. Trust me, I hate doing things this way. But the message is more important than the family politics.

I only want to be clear with a central point that I don't know if I can make with others in the family. Trust me, I have tried to seek relationship with people that we both are related to. So far, it has not worked out. But I retain a glimmer of faith, even against the odds.

In 2000, at Thanksgiving time, I was reunited with the family for the third time. That is when I met you for first time. You were just shy of four years old then. I was at a time when I wanted to start a process of healing my life after plenty of hurt. When I first got in touch with your mom just a week before Thanksgiving, that was the first I heard of you. When I did meet you, and got to spend time with you on the big day, something in my chilled heart started to melt at the prospect of being an uncle to you, maybe in a way that I wasn’t able to be for Danny and Joey before you, or even Cameron. I saw new promise to be someone else, to think of someone else. I don’t know how that sounds to a person of your age, but at the age of 27, I was just beginning to think that it was my time to step into some new shoes for what was starting to seem a new period in life.

Let me be clear. There are books to read. There are lectures and sermons and advertisements that tell people what they can do to be better people who are better liked, more successful, richer, and all that. But none of that is what reached into my heart that cold gray November day. Spending a holiday with you did what nothing else did. We watched a movie. Played around. Went for a walk around the block. It wasn’t much at all. But it was something to start a long process of moving toward another kind of life that I needed to live. I don’t expect you to remember it. Your experience and mine were vastly different anyway. I am not even asking for another such experience, though I would welcome a chance to be in normal relations with you and the others. But again, this is about you and it is about me. What passed between you and me that day was just that you gave me a gift that was without foreknowledge, without discussion, without strings. It was only you being you, and me receiving that almost as if it were water after a long walk in the desert. Some call divine grace “unmerited favor.” It seems as good a way to describe my experience that weekend. At the time, I don’t know what qualified me to get that glimmer of optimism, meaning, hope. The fact is, nothing qualified me. Such is grace.

In this case, this wasn’t a matter of either of us living up to anything. Moments like these happen all the time but not everyone is ready to receive them, and if they are, it is still another stage to actually do something in response. For that moment, I was somehow open to it. For my part, I was struck with a new feeling that for once, life was not about me. I started finding my thoughts leading to what I could do for you and the others. For a while, I was advocating preserving a piano that Sofia (I hardly ever saw grandma’s name spelled out, maybe I got it wrong) had, just in case it might do you or anyone else some good.

A letter like this comes out of the blue. I know that. In other places and times, I’ve had similar letters come out of nowhere. It happens because life doesn’t fit into the containers people like to think it fits into. It is messy. Feelings are notoriously hard to settle down. The heart is an odd thing. It morphs, changes allegiances, develops. It is full of passion for some things and cold to others. My own mom might still tell stories about her driving past my house in San Diego, only to sob like all the painful separation stuff of old was happening at that moment. I never knew of these drive-bys until long after the fact. I think it is safe to say that there is too much pain for all involved. Not everything was painful though…

Your mom probably won’t tell you this but upon the few reunions we’ve had, she’s been quite excited to have me in the picture for a while. I have letters that clearly show this. Letters at the age of 8-9 that were covered with messages of love, hearts, and all that. A letter at the age of 16 suggested we go to her prom together (getting past the brother/sister thing on account of no one really knowing who I was). Some might think that odd. I did too, but was just happy to have my little sister back after some years of not being in each other’s lives. She’s a good person inside. I know it. I met that in her during less complicated times. I mean her no ill will. I never meant to hurt her, though apparently I have. I don’t know what, if anything, will put any of that straight. Less and less do I consider it my work to do. That’s God’s work, if it is going to happen at all. But again, I am addressing you now.

A fervent wish I have is that from your generation onward, things can be different. It was the wish I had after that Thanksgiving of 2000 started to sink in. It still is my wish. I still wish there was a simpler way (and frankly, less sneaky) to openly be in relationship. I don’t know if anyone else will listen or believe me when I do say that the distance I feel is terribly hard to cope with. You at least have a blank slate, and it is that clearer take on life I’d like to look at for a moment.

I know it’s a few years before you’re totally free to make decisions on your behalf. It’s too early to decide who to befriend without parental review and input, and at what price to other relationships in your life. I totally realize that my name is toxic in your setting—with others. But I don’t want for that to be your automatic and default position, and that is why I am writing this.

While in my high school years, I spent years writing in secret to my step mom Eda. We used my pastor’s house or the church as a go-between for the letters. It was because she was a vital person in my life up till about the age of 10 and took an interest in my well being. Once I turned 18 and she returned from Mexico, we reunited and have typically had an in-person relationship. She writes letters just the same as before, but above ground. Just to check in on me and the life I lead. It has been almost 20 years since we reunited in person.

In a similar way, I am daring to write to you for the same reasons. Of course I invite your response. I invite it this week. Next year. Or if it takes till you’re 18 and free to do as you please, then so be it. Maybe longer. The point is that no one around you is prepared to tell you who I am, or what my interests are. What they can tell you is their perspective on my actions from times that were inherently awkward times (reunited with long lost family, facing deaths of family members, new girlfriends, depression, and so on). I won’t say their understanding of things is wrong. It is just woefully incomplete. If you are a person who fancies herself free of mind and heart, the door is open to one day seek me out and find out for yourself. Same for Cameron and the others, if so inclined. Maybe right now doesn’t make any sense or will be outright forbidden. Maybe right now it isn’t welcome of me to make the offer. It’s on your time if you want to pick up the threads and make something of this.

I suppose I want to run down a few things you almost certainly don’t know about me or the world I live in.

First off, my name, Edward, from the Old English means “wealthy (Ed) guardian (ward).” The name “Lucas” fairly certainly is a nod to St. Luke, or more simply, the writer of the Gospel of Luke—quite an excellent book of the Bible, and coincidentally my favorite of the Gospels. Lucas has been shaped by Greek, Spanish, English, and other European cultures and appears in various spellings, but all nations having a traditional tie to Christianity, it most clearly is rooted in “St. Luke.” As far as the wealthy goes, I don’t feel I’ve ever been wealthy in monetary terms. I might have had some money courtesy of family members here (leaving me modest inheritances) but really, I am not rich by any stretch. I am actually not working now. I am a bit more irresponsible than it takes to get rich. But maybe the guardian part applies in some way. But not a guardian with a weapon, stationed outside some place of perceived importance. If anything, I am a guardian of a kind of consciousness, of feelings, of narratives/stories. Writing a letter like this is my guardianship of a kind of inner flame that I know I can’t let go out. This flame has the power to burn or the power to warm. I guess I doggedly believe I can keep at the right distance to remain warm, not flame broiled!

My dog, Buber, is named after a philosopher, Martin Buber, who perhaps is best known by his book I and Thou. I rather pretentiously read it when I was 11th grade but didn’t really get it until I reread it with almost the same group at the age of 31 when it was something that helped articulate a life I already led. The basics of I and Thou is that the purest relationship happens between two beings with no foresight, no planning, and often only a flash of awareness. You might consider it a shot of total divine grace when two beings meet at the level Martin Buber was talking about. My dog is a patient dog with big eyes and a look that just melts the heart. He likes sitting. He has an intense gaze that is spellbinding if you meet it unsuspecting. Animals have a lot to teach us about our inner lives.

My wife Kelli and I have been married for nearly seven years. We have dated since the start of 2002. We met as teens in church youth group in 1990—21 years ago next month. Going back a bit further, her mom says we were in the Sunday School together as kids and that she was my teacher. Even I don’t remember that, though there are pictures to prove it. Kelli and I were married in the same church we attended at various times in life. Once upon a time my own parents were married there and I was baptized there. I was the first 16 year old elected to the board of deacons there and had a lot of great times there when I was just a little older than you. Most recently, Kelli was ordained to the ministry (ceremony held at the same church) after years of slogging it out at school, internships, and all that professional preparation. Now she is Rev. Kelli, and I am perfectly proud of her. She works as a hospice chaplain, but is aiming to be a pastor at a church. But pastor or not, she has been my angel by my side for a lot of years, and is as clear a sign of divine grace as I know. Again, nothing I did qualified me for her sticking by me. Grace, my dear. Grace.

I have since left that church but Kelli retains her membership there. My new church since 2008 has been a great place to grow and contribute. I was on the board of Christian Education for a couple years. I facilitate a young adults group (20-35) and sometimes directly teach bits of it, incorporating bible study when useful, but whatever else is handy for the cause. Other things include house parties here and elsewhere. I participated in a spiritual development group for two years.

Realizing that church can be valuable but not the last word in pursuing spiritual development, last year I attended an intensive ritual week for male initiation. Held in an utterly amazing area in Arizona, the great patterns of life and death were essentially written onto my heart in an indelible way. I wholeheartedly recommend such a thing for my nephews and brothers in their formation as complete men. A related opportunity for being in nature and having an ear open for the divine calling came this year when I went to New Mexico to be on a sheep ranch for a couple weeks, among other places in the state that I was interested in, all of which helped reiterate some great lessons in life in an unforgettable way that can only be lived, not really discussed.

My father and I have not talked in close to five years. I know that he is quite the divisive figure at your households, but I too am hurt by him and find his methods quite unbearable and after a huge amount of hard times with him finally had to peel away to preserve myself and move on. I don’t know if anyone will ever hear that with the fullness of heart that I intend, but that is the case. It puts me and my sisters and mother a little closer together than I think they realize. Kelli and I keep our distance but do concern ourselves with his human wellbeing. I think of him as a hurt person who never learned to do anything with his pain. It clearly does a lot of damage—to others, and to himself.

When I am not sneaking messages to you or other family members via the social media sites, I do productive work for an organization dedicated to helping people practice better economic choices with peaceful sustainability in mind. I do all the web work, record and post the podcasts and periodically write material myself. Another site I am shepherding is one for Kelli and some clergywomen buddies to be a community and educational resource. My own site is intensely personal and has been getting a lot of input lately based on my personal archive which I guess I serve as the guardian for. It is from some of this material that my feeling stirred to write this letter.

One thing that I have to note is that in 1994 my mom wrote me a letter that suggested I go to school to learn journalism, or photojournalism. She thought my writing was good enough to suggest I follow it. That letter, in its simplicity, is one of the purest forms of encouragement from her that I have to point to. It does not contain any of the conflict of other notes or talks. I found it again recently (though I always knew about it), and realized that my work with websites (particularly my own) was my own way of following up on that lead. I still shoot pictures. I write better. I tell a story. Journalism is a form of guardianship, after all. It guards the truth as one knows it.

I do not have a degree but I have attended a number of classes. Most have been basic college things but things that I have a particular interest in: art, music, history, humanities, psychology. For the last several years, despite being interested in working on my degree, I decided it was a better plan to support Kelli through seminary, which took over three years, but her longer education plan has taken about six. I do lament not having the focus to finish a degree in a far more reasonable time, but I have always sought to learn somehow. These days I have been far more moved to work on the part of me that no school can educate: my soul. And in that, everything is my teacher. The success or failure of this letter has the power to teach me. So I can dare to do this.

Katie, my niece, I only hope I can bend your ear toward me and whatever yet-unknown contributions I could make to your life. I know I can’t do it alone. Not by charm. Not by persuasion. Not by much of anything, really. I can really only play so that the ball gets to your court—all I can do it pitch to you. (I suppose I should use softball terms here!) I guess I only hope that you won’t shut me out. Not as an uncle, not as a man, not as a human. I’ve worked on the latter two: trying to learn something about being a man, and especially about being a human. The fact of the matter is that if I am to be an uncle, it will be possible by the interaction with you and your cousins.

I won’t kid you. I live a bit far away in San Diego. I’m not in the neighborhood but I’m still a couple hours away which does constitute a day trip. We don’t really have much in common in terms of interests. I clearly am at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what you’ve been up to. It looks like you’re doing well in softball and dancing. Probably better than I did in drumming as a kid, and clearly better than I did in my short two game soccer career at the age of eight! Sports aren’t my thing. Looking at life is. Examining relationships, community, love, pain, and all that are what I do. Maybe I’ve been called to it. Maybe I’ve clamored for it. Maybe I’ve been thrust there against my own will. Every one of us eventually gets older and eventually wants to do our part to light the way for the next person who might come stumbling by in the dark of life.

I only want you to know that I write this from a place of vulnerability, and any future letters of this sort will come from that same place. I perfectly well know that rejection and indifference or outright hostility greet my attempts at relationship. I can only tell you this is quite saddening, and does none of us any good. But the thing is, none of us are qualified to be family. We just are family. I know it hasn’t worked out with everyone else. That is why I am turning to you, as one human, one individual to another, to weigh whether that is really the way to go. From my viewpoint, it is a failure. A sad failure. But I was 14 once and people promised me that every decision could be made for the better or for the worse. History between you and me is quite minimal. It could be considered flimsy, or wide open for development. I am just extending a hand, advocating for the latter option.

You can see that this is a big letter. I only write big letters to people I care about. The rest of the world has Twitter to say their small ideas in small ways. I use Twitter too, but never to say anything of lasting value. Since I have tended to move house in recent years, I offer my church as a permanent address where you can ultimately reach me if all else fails. I hope anyone will see that I am not trying to mask my message behind any layers. If people must write their comments of criticism or praise, I welcome them to write to my pastor, Rev. Scott Landis. The church has been there 100 years this fall. I expect they’ll be there when you write.

I just want you to know…

Love,

uncle ed

Monday
Jul042011

The Unraveling +15

It was on this day in 1996 that my grandfather Norman died. I might be buttering things up to say that we were close or that he was the beloved patriarch, or any such stuff. For my grandmother, his partner of 61 years and more, I suppose she was relieved somehow. But really, that is speculation. Even on that side of his death, I guess there are vast areas about their lives I'll never know. I can't blame her, but I'd say it was more my grandmother's task to build me up according to a loftier vision of possibility than to revisit any of the hard times of her past, particularly when it comes to the intra-family dynamics. There is so much I just don't know about how people thought and felt. Or so it seems.

You can read other blogs of mine from this day in years past. I've been writing them for some years now. This year's angle seems to be a bit of surprise at the passing of time. Fifteen years now since Norman died, and in the clearness of hindsight (but it wasn't impossible to imagine prior to his death), the descent into family chaos began just about as fast. His death opened up the power vacuum into which my old man stepped. Or, that sounds rather polite and graceful. There was a kind of arm-twisting coerciveness to it. When Norman died, Viginia was quite well possessed of her facilities. She had no interest in really changing the plan, no matter how much her son wanted to push and prod into alternative living arrangements in the same house. As far as I remember, she regarded it as a nuisance to be dealt with.

Norman was buried with full military honors at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary. I still drop in once in a while, particularly when guests are in town. If nothing else, he has the nicest real estate ever, overlooking the bay and Coronado and downtown. The day he was buried was a rainy one, which if I recall means that life is about to renew somehow. I don't know what time frame that is referring to, because so far there has been a lot of heartache. I don't rule out the long term, but we aren't there yet, and what I am certain of so far is that there has been a lot of pain and dissolution. 

The wild card that I doubt anyone saw in advance was the presence of Bill Francis. Bill was a 40ish guy who had fallen on hard times about three years before. On two occasions he had lived at my house, first in a trailer out back, and then in a shed. Both times lasted several months and were accompanied with some expectation of labor around the yard, or on projects headed by the old man. Being essentially homeless and without regular work, he was falling through the cracks of life, losing his health, relations, possessions, and all that. He had a general skill set that included a strength in construction (from years of building Houston, TX) and some automotive repair. He also braved any other work he was asked to do, sometimes foolishly. And more foolishly, he did stuff he had no business doing sometimes. He did tend to be a homeless pack rat kind of person, hanging on to anything that might constitute value for sale or projects he would possibly be engaged in. I found him to be a nice guy who befriended me at a time of transition into young adulthood—about 19-20 years old. He was like an uncle to me.

I never liked the way my old man treated him. The offer to stay in the trailer or shed upset me, particularly since we had a bedroom to spare. But I was always shown how dirty Bill was. (Really? He worked like mad at anything put in front of him, and had no access to our showers.) Or I suppose any of a number of arguments were made to keep Bill outside the house, even for social time. They were half justified, particularly later on when in the weeks following Norman's death, it had a vague ring of mutually agreeable value to have Bill Francis take a vacated room in the house with my grandmother, and to help her with meals, shopping, and house related tasks, and maybe construction on the patio enclosure.

I was his advocate. I got to know a generous side of Bill. He gave money that he barely had, often to help a friend of his who had a few kids and had it harder than he. So I vouched for him before my grandmother. He wasn't a bad guy, but he was definitely having hard times by 1996. Some stability would do him good, so it seemed. Anyhow, barely three weeks later, he was moving into the house. I recall that by the 19th, he was in, and maybe it was then that the following happened, and really started to accelerate the issues of adjustment for my grandmother.

I don't know who really suggested it or told me it needed doing, but one day Bill and I were cleaning out what used to be my grandfather's room (and which a couple years later was mine). I guess this was a dismal moment that never should have been. Bill and I worked our way through all sorts of stuff, some of which was clearly Norman's and some more clearly Virginia's. Stuff that got thrown out included both of their things, and because it was under the radar, it became an I-said, he-said kind of thing. That one day soon inflamed my grandmother in a huge way, and for the first time that I can recall, her wrath came down on me. It was quite unexpected and shocking. An extension of all that came when my old man began charging me with there being missing silver items. I positively had not seen such things and was completely unaware of their very existence. In fact, the accusation he made was the first I heard of such items. I think there is some other funny business going on. But the weight of having gotten my grandmother pissed at me, and then being accused of stealing silver was a clear break with the old days. 

At around the same time (and possibly related to all this), the pressure was mounting for me to leave my childhood home on Artesian St. I had friction about paying a nominal rent to my old man (one that was prompted when I put a proper lock on my bedroom door after he peeked in on me and my girlfriend Robin at 5 am one day in September 1994). At the time of this family disintegration and strife, I was working exclusively as an assistant to Rockola, and probably made just a couple hundred dollars a month, maybe $500 or so at best. To pay $100 was possible but painful because it changed the terms of the relationship into one where I paid for what I got for free for so many years. Finally, in August 1996, messages were being sent that I should be on my way. (I seem to remember being told my old man wanted to make room for some Russian woman he planned on marrying, and who was about to arrive any day now.)

I was in a bind. The pressure was on to get out of the house where I was living, but the welcome mat at my grandmother's was rolled up and taken away after the room cleaning debacle.  I went out and looked for apartments with Robin, but it was at the wrong time for us: we were in the midst of an eight month period that was a long, slow breakup. I, as always, had my fears about whether I'd make enough money to afford a shared apartment that went for a whopping $600! (Robin had just started at her illustrious career with Wal Mart that May.) Thinking back to a year before when her first attempt at moving out of home lasted just a month and a half, and our dissolving relationship, I retreated.

Bill apparently got pretty comfortable in the house though. His packrat side came out, as he brought in as much stuff as possible into the room he had, and overflow running into the pseudo-garage "storeroom" that once he was gone, became Hog Heaven Studio. He had auto parts, devices, files, boxes, tools, hardware, and so much shit that a couple years later it took my old man and me several truckloads to move out to a storage locker. But before it got so packed, it was looking like he was doing his role in the house for a while. He set out to get the patio cover done, but like these things tend to do, it took forever as he was getting distracted by other jobs that came up. Eventually, his time got spread too thin. Or he got sick. Or he didn't have materials. Or my old man interfered. Or— anything, really. 

But what really pushed my buttons and drove me to regret vouching for him was a couple of occasions that made me sense he was far too comfortable there. First was when I finally got the pressure and did my two hour move from home in two cars, the following weeks were times when I was in a kind of quasi-homeless state. I took everything over to my grandmother's house, having no other place to drop stuff. But since this was a month after the whole room cleaning incident, it was not a great welcome. She slapped conditions on me and my stuff, like it was just a temporary thing. I was not given a key, but since it was summer, I knew the windows were open. I was working for Rockola, typically not done and back home till about 2-3 in the morning. One night I got a ride back from one of their club gigs and climbed into the window after knocking on doors and windows to get Bill up. No answer. So I entered and got my night's rest. Sort of. The news got out that I broke in and I got flack for that from old man and grandmother alike, thanks to Bill's newly adopted informant role. 

One time, shortly after I left my house, I had to spend at least some time at grandmother's place. I had Bill start to work on my car, as it was in need of a timing job. I think it was on the same day as I came back from the Rockola gig and climbed into the window, my punishment was that my old man rolled my car off the ramps and into the street, and in the process, messed up any timing relationship within the engine. I was pretty much forced to tow it. Bill insisted that he get paid for his work. I told him to piss off. I got him into a cushy housing deal, and if he had to be paid, he'd get paid when the work was done, not before. All this was of no concern to my old man. He just left my car in the street. I had to have it towed to a more agreeable location outside Bob Tedde's house elsewhere in Clairemont, and then again to a shop. Then that shop charged me $300 for what became the final repair. Days later, I took it down to the Toyota dealership, and with $8000 check in hand, I bought my truck (which I still have). The trade in credit on the Ford was $150.

The other instance of Bill's not opening the house was rather later, on New Year's Eve when I was asked to carry and store band equipment for Dr. Feelgood. At the time I had an upstairs apartment with a not-too-safe situation for storage. I was also with the flu, feeling quite weak. I spent the evening at my apartment, sleeping. I had an agreement with my grandmother finally that let me use the storeroom space to keep things if needed to make money. But I had no key, so I had to knock and ring. I'd have expected Bill to answer. I rarely got much advance notice about when these things would happpen, so I basically needed to be able to act on the spot sometimes, like on NYE 1997. Dr. Feelgood asked me about storing things just as I got to the gig at 1:30 am. I had no easy way to do anything but show up and expect to store things at the house. Calling would be pretty distracting. So I appeared at the house at about 3 am, did the knocking and ringing for over half an hour. In the back of my truck, the gear was unprotected from the mounting drizzle which turned to rain. I had to have something happen. Bill did not answer, but I heard his stirrings. There was no shelter for gear so it was now make-or-break, and I still did not imagine lugging all that gear up the stairs to my apartment. I found the kitchen window was unlocked, so I finally climbed in, and just as soon as I did, Bill was right there, shouting at me. I was shattered. He went in to wake my grandmother (or to get her involved anyway—she was always up late), and got her all upset at the confusion. He dialed 911, but by the time he did that, I stormed out and raced to my apartment where I defied all logic and fought the flu, the rain, the stairs, and the rage against so many people who had turned on me, who I once called family or friends.

The first morning of the new year was started with a call from my old man telling me I had to get my stuff out of the house at Quapaw. For my little "stunt" of breaking in so that I might save other people's gear from the rain, and so that I might make a bit of money, I had this extra burden. So I had to go over and collect a lot of stuff, including two drum sets (one that sat in my closet and one in the living room—the latter always giving me a fear of theft) and who knows what else. It was hell. The rest of 1997 was more hell but it had lots to do with the shifting alliances of the four of us. Sometimes Bill and my grandmother were pitted against me and the old man. Sometimes me and g-ma against the old man. Sometimes Lucas vs. Francis. Cops were called. Adult protective services had g-ma as a case. One of Bill's friends sued the old man for moving a car that Bill was "repairing." The old man towed it off the driveway and down several blocks, provoking a lot of ire. All this was dismal and disorienting. Who knew who to trust?

It wasn't all rosy when Norman was alive, but there was not this kind of chaos. I am torn between knowing he was the stern patriarch who I never connected with, and who later on seemed pretty grounded and normal in comparison to what followed. So much of the story of TAPKAE.com revolves around the power vacuum that he left for his son to fill. Norman did see it coming though. His granting me over $10,000 in cash and about $5,000 in stock was an attempt to bypass that. I have drums and a truck to show for it now, and I have essentially paid my way through the Art Institute of CA on those funds. It is something, I guess. I'd still rather have had a property to live in, to shelter me and Kelli from the market swings. Or maybe more to have a family that didn't crumble so fast and furiously. But I guess that was not my package in life. 

Thursday
Dec092010

Nik Kershaw at 10

big artist head shot of nik kershaw, one of my musical heroesNik KershawTime flies. Ten years and some weeks already since I was riding in the car one night with Mike Thaxton and then, unannounced, he put in a CD with a powerful backbeat and an undeniable synth hook and a blaring horn section where a guitar solo might have been. At the time, scarcely a few notes in, I thought it was Eric Clapton's 1986 song It's In The Way That You Use It. I commented that it was good to hear that Clapton song after all this time. I had to bite my tongue when Mike straightened me out and told me it was Nik Kershaw's song Wouldn't It Be Good. Just as well. It had been even more years since I heard that one too, and this was a joyous reunion. Mixing up the songs was not impossible; Clapton was in his horns-and-background-girl-singers, 80s rock mode when he did In The Way. Glitzy 80s soulful rock stuff. Having both songs before me right now, it makes sense to mistake Nik's song (done in 1984, Clapton's in 1986), at least sonically, and with just a few notes to judge by. But I could never get into Clapton like I did with Nik Kershaw.

I think Mike had prefaced that night with some notice that he wanted me to hear some Nik Kershaw because he thought there was some loose parallel to the sound and career of Kevin Gilbert. Invoking KG was a surefire way to get my attention because Thax himself had given me a load of KG over the year prior, and that was the single most valuable artist for me then. What is interesting is that while Mike gave me a lot of KG in a hurry, there was a lot less NK available, though he did provide me with a copy of 15 Minutes and a year or so later, with To Be Frank. But it all hung on that one playing of Wouldn't It Be Good, that one November night, probably after a Magnificent Meatsticks session. That song still has some sort of magnetic attraction for me. I guess Mike's selling of NK by referencing Gilbert was to highlight that both had an insanely quantized and clear electronic sound in the 1980s that gave way to more organic and gritty acoustic-classic rock sounding instrumentation, greasier vocals, and generally more raw sound in the 1990s and present. In both cases, that was an appealing shift, though more so in Kershaw's case, I enjoy quite a bit of the earlier stuff. Another appealing thing for me was that both had a strong self-produced sound with each playing a number of instruments and minding the production too. Each has a distinctive voice that is applied in interesting ways. Sounded like promising stuff, this Nik Kershaw.

If my recollection of things is right, I didn't know it at the time, but Nik Kershaw became like a trusted new friend to me that season. Having hardly any prior experience with his music except for a vague recollection from 1984 of seeing the video of Wouldn't It Be Good, I was ready for his music to hit me with full force, not being diluted by endless radio play or other overexposure. Just as well. His CD 15 Minutes, the first he did after many years off and gone from the limelight, was the first full disk I heard, and this during the first weeks of the new wave of family drama that began about this time in 2000. For a few months from the fall of 2000 through the winter of 2001, it seemed the only disks I had in my 5-disk changer was 15 Minutes, Radiohead's Kid A, Jeff Buckley's Grace, Mike Keneally's Dancing, and Kevin Gilbert's Shaming of the True. That was the soundtrack to a time of depression met with a hopeful reunion with one side of my family which in turn was a provocative move for the other side, all with the exhaustion of finishing my own CD not long before and wondering when that would be pressed. Having just turned 27 shortly before, I was in deep. Whoever this Nik Kershaw dude was, he gave me a total gift with 15 minutes. I can't listen to it now without evoking memories of a cold empty house where my grandmother had left by ambulance and which the newly deregulated ($200) energy bill came down heavily upon me; angry letters; a day in the therapist's office (my sister's therapist); the lonely, tear-filled, raging 90 minute ride home from Long Beach at one in the morning; the smashing of tables and chairs and the spray painted message upon the tabletop, put out by the street for all to see; the fading moments of my grandmother's life, she sadly having seen the genie in the bottle finally get uncorked, and her befuddled response and complete helplessness to do anything but listen to me until she was overwhelmed; the endless hours of mining her belongings left behind; the painting of the house to make it my own; the trips to the CB therapist; the signing up for school at AIC—All that life for four or five months was accompanied in part with one great album of songs from a guy who I had hardly heard of a few months before.

Mike Thaxton eventually got me a copy of To Be Frank, the follow up to 15 Minutes. This came to me at another time in life, about a year later, when a lot of that edgy drama had subsided into a livable life. Maybe it was that that led me to not savor this album the same way. The songs are just as good but they didn't hit me the same. There are some that I do totally love now, but on the whole, I don't have the same experience with that disk. The uncharted territory remained so for a few years to come: with the exception of Wouldn't It Be Good, I had not heard a note of his 1980s era stuff. That took a few years to get to. At that time there wasn't YouTube to help find stuff to listen to, nor was there iTunes Music Store, so I relied on some alternative means to collect even a partial bunch of his songs from that era.

Even now there is woefully little on iTunes America store, and the CDs are damned hard to track down for a decent price, but I've gathered much of the 80s stuff by one download or another. I don't have a favorite full album from the four that he made in the 80s, but I tend to favor The Riddle and Radio Musicola. My understanding and appreciation for Nik's 80s era stuff was helped along considerably by the analysis of Patrick Daily. More recently, I found out about another thoughtful but more fan-oriented take on NK's music which helped shed more understanding. (The Patrick Daily dissection did a lot to help me understand more about music, and he analyzes more artists in similar fashion on his website.) Dissections did not scare me away because I already had an emotional connection with the music and I always appreciate a deeper look at it or what motivates its creation. Not particularly being of age in the period when this 80s era stuff was coming out, Daily's study about gender roles and New Men was an interesting perspective. His observation that despite the synthesized gloss and glitter, Nik is essentially protesting the capitalist culture even as he embraces the trappings of same. All that has given me more to look at while listening. But dissection or none, I am usually enthralled by the interesting harmonic and melodic turns this music takes. With a mix of live drums played by some of the best in the biz, and sequenced drums playing some nearly impossible parts, and sometimes doubled up parts using acoustic and electronic parts, there is rhythmic excitement too. At times Nik's voice seems exactly like Stevie Wonder. An odd thing, considering Nik is a very white dude from Britain. But not surprising considering he would have had Stevie's music to digest all during his formative years before he even cut his first album. At times I hear a sophistication and production spit and polish that one regards Steely Dan as having, but without the pretense and snobbiness that seems to accompany SD. One song, Know How, is a bunch of clever but subtle word and rhythmic play, and has this enormously satisfying Weather Report style bridge.

The thing is, I just don't know what I like about Nik's music. I know know that it speaks to me in its onion-like layers of meaning revealing themselves over time. There is no shortage of melodies that have sunk their hooks deep into me. This to me is the sign of good music, and even popular music can be good if it can keep peeling the layers away. I have to keep mining the recordings because Nik doesn't tour the States. There is a kind of longing that I have as this reality sinks in. Maybe that is part of what makes Kevin Gilbert and Jeff Buckley so appealing—the book is closed on those guys, and Nik and I are unlikely to cross paths unless I get to Blighty or Europe. I have never seen any of his 80s albums in the flesh; never read the liner notes or chewed on the lyrics like so many other albums I've held in hand. So I have to do what I can to forge an ongoing relationship with the material that I do have.

Friday
Oct082010

Sloth and Comeuppance

Today would have been my grandmother's 101st birthday. Born in 1909 and ultimately checking out in the spring of 2001, her birthday in 2000—a decade ago—was the last one she celebrated. I wasn't there. I still have a feeling of regret for being distant even as I lived under the same roof. My only comfort is that she did have a family that took care of her and they made her life quite a bit better in the end. Just a month and a half after she turned 91, she had a fall and spent the night in the bathroom, crying for help all night and into the morning until her main caretaker, Connie, showed up around 11.

This isn't breaking news to some of my confidantes from the last decade, but on that night, I was completely selfish and lapsed in my responsibility to another human being. I came home late that Sunday night after Thanksgiving, sometime in the wee hours around 2 am or so. I walked in and heard her occasional cries for assistance. I even looked in on her cracked doorway and walked away, maybe soured by the already-overwhelming smell of an old woman who soiled herself in the bathroom. Those days I went to bed at nearly dawn so it was probably hours I was fully conscious of her situation. I did nothing. I just was in my own selfish space. It was a complete moral failure on my part. I don't know for sure, but I do recall that my mind sometimes entertained that her final days could not be far off. Maybe I was under that impression on that night. I just don't know what I was thinking, if I was thinking at all.

To the extent that I was thinking, I can only say it was that I somehow knew that if anyone found her, it would be the beginning of a shift that no other measures could have brought about. She was stubbornly attached to living in that house (and of course so was I), but when her needs escalated to regular meals and other care that I never provided anyway (by arrangement essentially), she would still not want to leave. To have someone else find her in such a sad state would be the only thing that would sort of force the hand of fate, causing her to need to go to where she might be better taken care of. My lame part in it all went unquestioned, so I never really had to defend my actions because no one really knew I knew. After all, who is to say what time she fell versus what time I came home? Everyone knew I was out or otherwise occupied late. And I am not surprised if they also thought of me as selfish and distant.

It took me about three more years until I was finally able to speak of this night while I was in Halcyon House, in an environment that forced me to consider my life at a deep level. It had to finally be addressed while sitting with my pastor who made a few calls out there to see me. Not being from a denomination that emphasizes confession, I had heard him make some semi-ironic comments on "confession is good for the soul." Well, it certainly was in this case. Later, in the desert on my initiation rites, I ran down a huge list of things in my mind, this among them, and presented them to God to deal with. No bolts of lightning or flash floods to deal with me; just a message that it is okay to move on and to act more compassionately when the next moment presents itself.

My grandmother did indeed start a new life after that fall and inglorious night on the bathroom floor. She was at the hospital for a few weeks. She didn't have any real problems except for her age related ones. She didn't break anything. But they kept her for a while to make sure all was well. While visiting her there, she seemed a lot more chipper and chatty than at home. I was relieved in some way to see her getting a lot of care that perhaps would not have been the case otherwise. The last time I remember seeing her and my old man in the same room was in those weeks at the hospital. All was not really well, but some things were getting better.

In a sort of karmic way, my slothful moment that Sunday night was answered by what had to be a misspoken word on her part in the presence of my old man. G-ma was no doubt medicated and feelin' fine when she lapsed in her memory of what details to keep from whom, and those details included the newly revealed fact that I was in a new period of relationship with my mother. This was something I had revealed on the weekend before she fell, to her and my stepmom and stepsister only. I wasn't there to hear it, but this has to be how it played out. From that moment on, with this news in the wrong hands, my distanced participation in events was brought to an end with my old man getting the sensitive information that I had no intention of sharing directly. This led us to blowout arguments, mean spirited letters dropped on my truck window, and much angst in the immediate aftermath, and ultimately to the game playing with the house that fills this journal from 2004-2006.

Tonight my dear wife is agonizing over some stomach and intestinal woes with a dose of a fever to boot. It kept her from work for a day or two, from decent sleep and from eating. I've had to do the little things to take care of her—the trip to the store for the chicken soup and orange juice. It probably isn't anything major and won't be a defining instance in either of our lives, except maybe for me as I look at it as one more chance to settle up for that one night when I failed one of the great women in my life.

Sunday
Apr182010

Walter

IDONTUNDERSTANDTHEDEATHOFAMANWHOWASSOSMARTANDHADSEEMING
LYSOMUCHGOINGFORHIMBUTCOULDNOTACCEPTALIFETHATINVOLVEDAFAULT
YBRAINLOTSOFPEOPLEHAVEFAULTYBRAINSBUTDONOTBRINGTHEJOYTHATYO
UDIDANDTHATYOUWOULDHAVEBROUGHTEVENWITHHALFABRAINBECAUSES
OMANYPEOPLEWORKWITHSOMUCHLESSBUTWESOMEHOWLOVETHEMANYWA
YBECAUSEGODSEEMSTOLOVEPEOPLENOMATTERHOWTHEYAREMADEORMOD
IFIEDBECAUSEGODISLOVEANDJESUSISMERCYANDTHESPIRITISGRACEAND
WENEEDTHEMALLTOLIVEORELSEWEHAVENOTHINGTOLIVEFOREVENTHOUGH
IDIDNOTKNOWYOUWELLYOUDIDLEAVEAMARKONMYLIFEANDTHATOFOTHER
SEVENIFTHATMARKISNOWAHOLECUTOUTLIKEACOOKIECUTTERSTAMPONO
URHEARTSANDNOMILKCANSOOTHTHEHURTFORSOMANYOFUSAREINPAINT
OOANDDONTGOOUTLIKEYOUEVENTHOUGHWEMIGHTLIKETODOJUSTTHATF
ORREASONSTHATMAKEPERFECTSENSETOUSEVENTHOUGHWEALONEAREN
OTINCHARGEOFTHINGSANDSOOFTENTHINKWEAREWEJUSTARENOTORELS
EWEMIGHTDOSOMETHINGCARELESSORFOOLISHORDESTRUCTIVELIKETHI
STHINGYOUDIDTHISWEEKWILLBEHARDANDWEHAVETOASKOURSELVESHO
WTOUNTANGLEALLTHISBECAUSEOURMINDSARELIKESPAGHETTIANDOURH
EARTSARELIKEMEATBALLSANDALLWEREALLYWANTEDWASTOSITANDLAUG
HANDWEEPTOGETHERINTHEBODYOFCHRISTBECAUSETHATISALLTHATMAT
TERSIFYOULETITBUTIDONTKNOWIFTHATISTHEWAYYOUFELTABOUTTHISOR
ANYTHINGELSEEVENTHOUGHYOUCLEARLYTHOUGHALOTABOUTALOTOFTHI
NGSWORTHTHINKINGABOUTBUTDIDYOUTHINKOFHOWTOOMANYHEARTS
HAVEHOLESTHESHAPEOFYOUINTHEMANDHOWTHEYWILLNEVERREALLYHE
ALTHEWAYTHEYONCEWEREORISTHISSOMEODDPHILOSOPICALWAYTOMAK
EUSTHINKOUTISDETHEBOXINSOMEWAYTHATMAYBESOCRATESORSARTRE
MIGHTLEADUSTODOUNTOOTHERASYOUWOULDHAVETHEMDOUNTOYOUKN
OWTHISISGONNABEAROUGHTHINGTOGETPASTTHISISATWOWAYSTREETM
ANBUTHALFTHELANESARESHUTDOWNANDWEDALLLOVETOEVACUATEFRO
MOURVARIOUSFORMSOFHELLASWEKNOWITANDTRUSTMEWEKNOWITBUT
WEDONTKNOWIFANYONEELSEWILLHELPUSTOKNOWITWILLBEOKAYIFWE
SURRENDERTOGODSNEWPLANSWHICHTRANSCENDKNOWINGANDUNKNO
WINGBUTREQUIRETRUSTINWHATWECANTSEEORHOLDORCONTAINBECAU
SEITISSOBIGANDGRANDWECANTCOMPREHENDITALLNEITHERDOESANYO
NEELSEKNOWWEKNOWITANDTHEREINLIESTHEDILEMMAOFALIFEOFFAITH
OFTHESTRUGGLETOSURVIVETHISMORTALCOILTHATYOUSHUFFLEDOFFOF
BEFOREYOURTIMEWASUPMAKINGUSLAUGHANDCRYBUTCRYWEDIDTODAY
YOUSHOULDHAVESEENITBUTIFYOUHADYOUWOULDHAVEBEENTHEREWIT
HUSANDTHATWOULDHAVEMADEITALLREALLYUNNECCESARYWOULDNTIT?

Wednesday
Feb062008

Billy The Kid, 1964

Recent posts have come down hard on certain people who used to be relatives of mine. And certain of my die-hard fans and readers have asked if perhaps I have not done enough to be diplomatic and all. I feel that efforts have been made; after that, some people really prove their entrenchment in old patterns and responses to situations and just can't be persuaded to adapt to new realities.

In 2000-2001, I was left in a house of my grandmother's in the months before her death in April of 2001. I had the house to myself for about six months and it was clear she was not coming back after a fall, stroke, and a few weeks in the hospital during December 2000. At the same time, my "Y unit" (formerly known as father) was making mischief regarding her financial affairs, house, and generally driving her to frustration. One day in December 2000 (the 7th), he came back to my house and told me about how she wouldn't budge on these issues. It was on this day when my entire family relationship began to unravel in a serious way through death and estrangement. On that day, he apparently discovered (at least he voiced it—he had about a week and a half to have discovered it) that I was starting a new chapter with my "X unit" (formerly mother) and the family relations that accompany it. He and I had an argument that day and it ended with him storming out of the house. He was clearly having a bad day, facing my determination to relate to the other half of my family, and my grandmother's intent to retain control over her finances. Promptly—even later that night—he left a hastily crafted and vitriolic letter on my truck (scanned image here) without even announcing his presence.

In the couple weeks to follow, I showed his letter to my X unit and Chris (another womb-fruit from the X unit, formerly known as half sister), who laughed, cried, and spat at the whole thing. Chris wrote a letter to Y unit and told him to butt out of our affairs, and that he was doing no good if he interfered. So not long after, he responded with this letter and its back side. (He references on the back side the fact that I changed the lock to the house, and that I had done that before. It was back in 1994 when I first changed the lock on my bedroom door because he had decided to open the "toy" lock as me and my girlfriend were in bed—at 5 in the morning. We never let on that we were awake at that time, so it was a bit of a shock years later when I confronted him about it in good detail. Anyhow, that first lock change was the start of when he decided it was time to charge me rent at home. Apparently my adulthood began when he was unable to refrain from such intrusiveness.)

In January, as detailed in an earlier journal, Chris took me to a therapist of hers and told me about all sorts of devastating stuff that happened to her as she once lived in the house where I grew up—a story of molestation and emotional manipulation of Chris and her brothers James and John. I was quite angry, as that earlier blog said. I waited a couple weeks before I confronted my Y unit about it, but my first request was that after so many years, I wanted to collect my personal photo albums that had been stored in a shed at his house. He and I had fallen into a good amount of mutual dislike in the last few weeks, so he presumed that I just wanted to destroy them. So he rejected my request. Finally, I decided that if I had to break into the shed, I would do so so that my memories could be stored wherever I lived, and not relegated to a damp shed somewhere. The exchange resulted in an accidentally broken window on his apartment door. He wrote not long afterwards and asked that I do not bother him for one year—not to write, speak, or set foot on his property (scanned image here). It happened that that was a one way request. His mother died only 3 months later—and at that prompting, it suddenly became okay for him to invade MY space at the house. He began his construction projects only days after she died. These are the same projects that did not need to be done nor did he do them legally, and later, I was compelled to call the city to report the illegal and tasteless work.

During the time when I had the house to myself, I was able to sort my grandmother's stuff undisturbed. Certain things I kept because they are about the only real pictures of family that are left for me. One such piece of evidence of how life was before my time is this letter (three pages merged into one for convenience) that interprets a psychological report on my Y unit which pretty much confirmed a lot for me, given how the Y unit was behaving at that time, and certainly since then. I don't remember particularly where I found it. The whole project of sorting through stuff in a house that had been continually lived in for 32 years was a huge one. But it was hidden, for certain. It was marked in my grandmother's writing, "Personal and Private." The words within are written by one Paul Gaston—the pastor at the church where my family not only attended, but helped to found. (Read a bit about the church history and Gaston.) Gaston married my parents for their brief moment of bliss and he also baptized me. The church of course is where Kelli and I met, and where we got married, among many other experiences. So the words of Paul Gaston meant something to my grandparents and now, to me. Anyhow, on my Y unit's 20th birthday, this report was delivered or interpreted by Paul. I don't know anything else about the experience, but I can well enough imagine how it went from the description. Realize that this is a full nine years before I was born, and now of course is pushing toward 44 years ago. It alludes to things that only my Y unit can explain, but I doubt that he will. It indicates certain things that my X unit has used as argument fodder to diminish the Lucas family. There are a lot of things that it is and a lot of things that is isn't but one thing it does is lay down a case that shoots my Y unit's repeated themes full of holes. He likes to talk about how my X unit messed up his life and he likes to say that my calling the city was the first betrayal in the family, or more that he never betrayed the trust between he and his parents, and supposedly not between he and I. Well, you tell me after reading this.

Big fans of TAPKAE.com have read of his many exploits. Read the 1964 letter above and see how that sits with some of the stuff I've been writing here for years.

More recently, as a pretty shoddy response to my side of the story, he has been able to make an inept and self-serving response in the form of this letter, which was forwarded to me by my pastor of many years. He had to route it to me this way because I never announced where I am living now. If you read the various material as of late, and the 1964 evaluation, you might understand why. In this new piece of poetry of his, he extols the great virtues of the family I was raised with—his father, his mother, his second wife, and ultimately him—and he paints the picture in Manichean colors of all good or all evil. My X unit is relegated to "asshole bitch." Hey, I'm not here to defend her either. Both of them can go off and slog it out with each other. I'm done being between them and their proxy battling, conducted on me-as-the-battlefield. The 1964 assessment speaks of his distorted thoughts. Wouldn't that explain how he can presently prop up his parents as the bringers of great virtue and love when in that same 1964 document he seemed to have ambivalence and hostility about them both? More appallingly is his notion that I have a good wife because of him—because he taught me how to love? I assure you I am not married to Kelli because he taught me anything about love, women, or how to get along with another human being. Excuse me? But isn't this the guy who molested my sister and was divorced from my mother before I was out of diapers? And the guy who extorted her out of "child support" money years after he had won custody of me? And was he not the one who, in a state of conflict and desperation, told my step mom that he would hit her so hard that no dentist could repair the damage (a line of thought which compelled her to leave not very long afterwards)? Was he not the one who would sell a house out from under his son and not share in the profits or even make other accommodations? Was this the guy who skipped his son's wedding out of contempt for how I chose to relate to family as I saw fit? Was this not the guy who tried to manipulate both his parents into scoring as much property (ultimately and variously holding the title to his own house, one in Julian, and the one I lived in) as the family ever had? Was this not the guy who decided to build or allow illegal construction on both of his houses, and decided to essentially estrange himself from his last living relationship (me) to prove he was right somehow? Was this not the guy who sat in a five-way meeting with me, Kelli, our pastor, and a therapist at the crisis house in 2003 and was told that I was in dire straits emotionally, and that he needed to pay attention to that dimension in my life? Is this not the guy who comes feebly before me now with some tacit request for understanding and possibly help as he has been diagnosed with bad hips that need replacement? He got that way in part because he jumped off a roof while eavesdropping in 1993—one more of his less desirable deeds.

Am I just making this stuff up, or was there something to a younger version of my Y unit? What does it really say about him when he can't hide behind his excuse that I betrayed him or that my X unit messed up his life? He can't even blame it on the girlfriend that he "lost" in his mid-20s—the woman who he says "should have been" my mother if he had his way. This psych evaluation predates all that! Who was this person so long ago? Well, I'm certain it would take some miracle to get his actual side of the story (with any emotional depth attached, and one that doesn't blame everyone else), so all that is left to do is to present the one document I possess that helps explain things that are part of my life. Sure, I have pictures of him and his dog, or of his bike trips, and some friends. And I have some stories of his, or drawings. But this runs deeper than all that. What was it about this paper that was so tragic and hated that it was buried from sight? And why was it right for me to find it just when it helped explain a lot about how life was unfolding for me (2001)?

Oh, sure, its easy to say something like, 'well, that paper is 44 years old and surely he has changed, hasn't he?' You want to know the truth as I see it? Not really. If anything, he has circled his wagons around those same thoughts and actions that the psychologist observed. It seems that he had his act well established by the age of 20, and it only got more perfected—if you can call it that—as time went on. Sure, I was spared being parented by an alcoholic, but look at what I got in exchange! The abusive stuff (physical and sexual) went on to the degree that it did outside of my field of vision, but the emotional and economic abuse was what I lived with. Lots of ridicule for just being younger, and for most of my life, he has owned the house I lived in and has somehow used that against me, even as an adult. It isn't normal for a person to push people around him so hard that they all scatter in varying degrees of bitterness and anger. But from the vantage point that 2008 offers us, that is about all he has done successfully.

Watch, at some point there will be some bit of response to this blog that will try to manipulate me somehow. It will try to bend history to suit his purposes. It will be self-serving. Maybe vitriolic. It will paint me as if I was under great influence of my X unit. It will do anything but examine his motives for doing the things he has done that have hurt people. It will do anything but own that part of himself. It will do anything but make a genuine effort to develop a new story in light of all that has changed over time. As you can see from the letter of a few weeks ago, it will be a feeble attempt compared to the volume of stuff I write. I think it's pitiful and sad. The more I write, the less he can say. It doesn't matter what I do; he has no genuine response that is crafted to make any real change. He doesn't want it. His primary allegiance is to his house on 5052 Artesian Street (where I grew up). That was his first marriage in every real sense, and the one thing in this life to which he is still married. People can come and go. Wives can file for divorce. Parents can die. An only son can get clinically depressed and want to commit suicide. No matter. Who are those people anyway? Just challengers to his kingdom, his material goods and worldly possessions. They—WE—are nobodys really. Who will he become if that house becomes nothing? Whose heart is he invested in? How many people will give a shit when he comes in his moment of need? Has he pushed them all away? Was it all an accident, or was the groundwork laid for this years and years ago? What does it say of a person who has remained a slave to a belief system or process that has removed everything from his life, piece by piece, and in some startling instances, seemingly without remorse?

Friday
Feb012008

Something I Said?

People don't like me because I use the words I use and the way in which I use them.

Oh.

Saturday
Jan122008

Seven. Or, The Case For Gay Marriage And Adoption

my folks and older sister edited together for reference. otherwise, mom and sister are sworn enemies against dad.My birthday is on the 12th of October, 1973—a fact which one might take to mean that I was conceived nine months before that, presumably on January 12th, by some utterly unmentionable act perpetrated by the man and older woman pictured here. I find it hard to believe that these two people ever had sex, but I guess there is one scrap of proof, and he is here to tell you this story today—on another January 12th, but 35 years later!

It doesn't make much sense what drew those two together in the early days, or what held them together for the couple years they were involved with one another. It is easier for me to understand what binds them together now. I've had to wonder about their days together because the idea is so dissonant in my mind, not just imagining the actual act of a male-female encounter, but their whole manner of dealing with each other. The evidence from this point of view is total hatred and loathing for one another that has maintained itself for a third of a century. In their own ways, they are able to express this even today as if it was only this morning that they had their last argument. Remarkable. The Y-unit (formerly known as father) is a silent, stiff upper lip sort that comes from a more British-like and rigid upbringing though he can tremble a bit when really stirred up, but then closes down and leaves. The X-unit (formerly known as mother) is far more demonstrative in her hatred (the Mexican-Greek passions get fired up here), with elevated voice and a harsh tone. She also takes more sips off her vodka cocktail and gets less and less coherent as she talks.

The story that was given to me by these people was roughly like so: the Y unit had to work in shipyards far enough away from the house he bought in San Diego that he needed accommodation up in the Long Beach area, and somehow, these people met casually and before long, he was able to stay conveniently at her place up there while keeping a house down here. Both were anchored to their respective cities; San Pedro in her case, and San Diego in his. But eventually, she was persuaded to move down to his place in San Diego with her twin boys and the girl above. I've heard them describe their time at that house as their brand of hell, even while the other side tells that he was lifting them out of poverty and a filthy, hateful home life they knew up there in SP.

The other woman above also sprang from my mother's womb about ten years before me, from what sounds to be an equally fucked up pairing. (And she had more kids from another man after the time with my Y-unit. My X-unit sure knew how to pick 'em!) Her name is Christina, after her mother. Interestingly, both have the female form of the name Christian and yet I know some very un-Christian things about them. Oh, well, it's just a name, right? I once felt a great kinship with this younger Christina—even more than I felt for the older one. Christina the Younger was a big sister to me and in the stories that are passed down to me, she was sometimes mother to me too when the actual X-unit had to be gone to work or something like that. Or maybe I was just the living doll she had around that age. But the stories I heard for years warmed my heart and made me feel close to her. She had an interesting perspective on me that I cherished—not that of an adult's so much as it was of a kid's. That she was in my life before I even was, was intriguing. And since our relationship was a very on-off affair, the mystery of all this persisted. By the time I was about two years old, she and all the others on that side of the family were out of my life until shortly before I turned 13.

One of the things that seemed to make it hell down here in San Diego was that my Y unit had a way of isolating Christina the Younger and doing some unsavory explorations on her. He denies it in his silence when confronted about it. All this molestation business was totally unknown to me until this morning seven years ago, on the 12th of January, 2001. It was in a therapist's office in San Pedro where both Christinas took me to tell this story in a safer place. For years, young Christina had been stewing on this decision to tell me about all that. She had seen me grow up in five- to seven-year spurts as our reunions brought us together at the ages (me) of 12-14, 20-21, 27-28. In late 2000, when my Y unit decided to meddle in my affairs surrounding who I might relate to and not, and at what price, Christina the Younger decided to finally come clean with her long-held secret.

The morning was cold and wet. Being on a bohemian night owl schedule (usually going to bed at 5-6 am), getting up at 8 am was absurd and inconvenient but this was important to show some solidarity with Chris ll. We drove there and the wait at the lobby seemed to take forever. I really didn't know what I'd hear. I knew the Y unit used to soak the X unit's cigarettes in water and put them back. Or I knew that I had been quasi-legally stolen from my X unit's arms as an infant, and rewarded to my Y unit's family for permanent custody. I thought this meeting would elaborate on things of that sort. In the session, as I was told this, I was minimally demonstrative for most of it, though tense. No tears. I don't know what to make of that, but that didn't hold for very long. I had heard things from my step mother that caused me to believe this fellow womb-spawn of mine. I did believe it was not out of the realm of possibility that this was what my Y unit could do. He's done some creepy things that I know of in my own experience. Chris' tears and pain were obviously real at some level, and I didn't discount it as coming from a real place, and I don't mean to now. I do believe this is real.

I went out of there pretty numb, and since it was already a cruel winter's day filled with cold and rain, I was all the more numb. I felt closer to her than ever; for part of the day we went back to her apartment and she pulled out photo albums that I had never seen before. There were the other siblings that I was raised apart from. My mind was desperately trying to fit images of my own past into the pictures that I was now seeing. I had been interested in Photoshop, and as I was doing this, I was already thinking of images that I could digitally paste together to create the "proper" pictures of an undivided family. My X unit drove me home to her house and I remember telling her about Shelby, the imaginary girlfriend I had for twelve years, and how only about two weeks or so before, she and I had our last words after I dared to be straight with her about my true feelings, and how I had masked them for all that time. I held together moderately well for the course of the day, but at about midnight I decided to go home to San Diego.

It is a miracle I got home from that drive because it was one of the most foolish things I ever did in a motor vehicle. I had barely gotten on the freeway onramp less than a mile from X unit's house and was already enraptured with agony. I really should have turned back then, but I didn't. The 105 mile drive from Long Beach to San Diego was made into something like an 80-90 minute project, and I was barely able to see through my tears and squinted eyes. I was barely in control of the truck because most of the time was slamming the wheel or pulling my hair or something equally angst-ridden, but ultimately amounting to nothing. What did manifest was that when I got home shortly before 3 am, I promptly smashed a funky old dining room set that got in my way (something that now would sell nicely on the 50s-60s kitsch market). I obliterated the chairs on the kitchen floor; the table legs I tore off. The table top was thrown out the front door, then recovered when I set it up beside a tree on the street parkway with the message "BILL LUCAS IS A CHILD MOLESTER" spray painted in white on the top and aimed toward traffic. I don't know what else I broke that night, but I was in a mood to destroy. I had to stop myself before I resorted to actual crime on his property. But I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to! I don't know if I ever knew such rage before.

The following morning, the sign drew attention next door where my grandmother was in a hospice situation with the folks who had been taking care of her for a few years, and who had set themselves up to do long term care and hospice at home. There was some flap about my sign. The man, Wayne, was a minister in a conservative evangelical church and he didn't quite appreciate the attention. My grandmother had that look of a person who knew that the secret went on a little too long, and that she seemed to have some part to play in it, and didn't manage to die early enough to escape it, nor be at the right age or situation in life to do anything about it. The look on her face was one of, 'my God, it's all falling apart, and you haven't even taken me yet!' Wayne and his wife Lucy talked to me. I spent some time in the studio trying to nearly destroy my drums by hitting them so hard I thought they'd break. I blew out my voice as I screamed at the top of my lungs in that space, while pummeling the drums. My X unit called and after hearing about my few hours away from her house, said I should come back up for a few days, at least so as not to be alone. So pretty fast, I drove up to Long Beach again and stayed for half a week. Her house was colder than the Arctic in winter, and at least I had a heater at home, but I had the entire house to myself at home and it was a dangerous place to be.

Why am I telling you all this? Why do these family secrets need to be revealed? Isn't there enough hurt? I've heard questions of that sort over the years. Who ever had the right to keep this stuff a secret, or to do things so shameful in the first place? All of a sudden in late 2000 and 2001, everything I knew about family was thrown up in the air for reevaluation, and here I am, seven years later, still coming to grips with the fact that they all have failed me. They've lied to me. They've cheated me out of an honest, whole life that was mine to have if they could get out of the way. How did Chris ever "deserve" to be touched the way she was, or violated in that way as a ten year old? What did I do to warrant my parent's divorce and hateful separation, and then to be haunted by it now at the age of 34 after years of thwarted attempts on both sides to make good? These people hate each other so much they didn't bother to notice the damage they have done to me as they persisted in using me as a pawn to destroy the other in ways that really made the destroyer look pathetic. At this point, I am washing my hands of them both. Both have failed me in a profound way, and they have failed me all my life. Maybe they hooked up for an unlucky fuck. Maybe that is why I am here. But neither showed me what I needed to live and love. Both are pathetic and entrenched in their roles. They will never get out. The irony is that they hate each other so much that they are ideal for one another. The joke is on them. They are so alike. They can have each other, for all I care.

As for Chris, that is the real heartbreaker for me. She and I seemed on good terms for the rest of 2001 when even things between X unit and me fell apart. And for a while in 2003-2004 she was at least able to stay in touch by phone and email. But then just before my wedding she dropped out after I tried to get her to be the only blood relative of mine to come to that great event. This past year has been a year when she has tried her damnedest to ignore me and my story about all that has happened since the big day at the therapist's. It seems like she has contented herself with offloading her cross to me and calling it my "baggage" when I wish to discuss things with her. So that too is dead. My Y unit probably delights in discovering this. He did warn me that I'd have great suffering from dabbling with these people, and he assured me that he would contribute to that in his own way for my closet-opening choice to relate to the X unit family in 2000.

And now the part about gay marriage and adoption. You thought I had forgot about it, eh?

At my new church, there is a couple of gay men who adopted five kids and had them baptized at once in a great heartwarming baptism a couple months ago. The kids are all siblings who were had by the same mother but by a few different fathers. These fellows had adopted one kid and then as it became known to them that there were more, they adopted them too. The kids are part black, and don't look anything like the white and latino looking couple that decided to love them more than anyone else did—including their own parents. The baptism ceremony delighted me at a deep level. I saw a vision of love that works right, even when almost nothing on the outer veneer of it looks like the "handbook" says it should. Who am I to hate a gay couple now, and who am I to say they shouldn't have a chance to share love with kids who may not have that chance from their own biological families? Have my heterosexual parents done a better job of parenting together—or apart? People make a big fuss about gays undermining traditional family institutions. Which ones are those? The institutions that quietly molest young girls while mother and brothers are out of the house? Or the ones that drink during pregnancy, and drink in middle age till one hits the ground three times in an hour? Or maybe the heterosexual marriage is the institution that uses children to bolster a broken self image? (My X unit had six kids starting at 19, Chris had three starting at 17, and younger womb-spawn Nikki has one from when she bedded an "asshole" (her word) at the age of 18 and broke up with him not long later.) What does this crap-talk about gays threatening family values really mean, anyway? I don't feel too good about getting standard-issue hetero people for parents who have loved me only to the extent that I am willing to hate the other so that he or she doesn't feel threatened. (There is a great song by Diedra McCalla called "Mama Loves Me" which just melts me—it's about how the alternative families are as good as anything as long as they have love.)

Look at the picture again and see the face of family values as I know them—or knew them, considering I am throwing them both out now (and everyone attached to them). Maybe they can raise a toast and congratulate each other on how they both fucked things up for me and let me sort it out on my own. I hope they both read this. Maybe they will hate me. Maybe they will hate each other. Maybe they will hate themselves, but that is less likely because both are so full of themselves and so sure that what they did is right and good. They are experts in placing blame at the other's feet. Having been kicked around for some years now, I have seen what each has laid at the other's feet. All very unsavory. Even if my Y unit didn't particularly do as Chris said, he has done things that I know to be a violation and hurtful to me and some people I know. He is not off the hook. He can gloat that he was right about ruining things for me because I chose to relate to my X unit—he certainly lived up to that, and he was right enough about everyone else—but his reasoning and story is bankrupt too. I hope he doesn't kid himself about that.

Thirty five years ago today I was conceived. Seven years ago was a day that nearly put me in the grave. But somehow by the grace of God or something, I didn't let it all destroy me, having things unravel as they did that winter day, or many times since. Seven is a rather mystical number, across all traditions there is some significance of that number. I'm not into numerological bullshit, but it is a time to reflect. During the summer of 2007 I watched a British TV/documentary series called the UP! Series where every seven years a group of British people from a range of class situations would be interviewed and would tell their stories about life. Some changed drastically from who they seemed they might become—upwardly and downwardly—and some stayed the same more or less. If nothing else, it is a way of seeing lives lived in stop motion, time lapsed ways and seeing how people rise above or fall below a given situation—or not. It is hard not to see oneself in the people being interviewed, and comparing stories. By my age, as people were interviewed for the fifth time (out of seven shows now), people were facing parental deaths, having kids, marriages—and even divorces. Some were rising in the ranks at work, or falling out of society altogether. Some were more hardened, and some were more philosophic and introspective as they met life. Some delighted in certain upticks in their standard of living.

Seven years ago, who was I? In some ways I don't recognize that person. Nietzsche is known for saying something like, "he who has a why can bear with any how." I had to find my why because I was neither provided with one, and what I did have was dismantled mercilessly while I watched. At that time seven years ago, I was a musician who loved getting gear. I was very materialistic. I was prone to easy depression while not understanding that soul-blackout as having meaning or context. Things have evolved a lot, but I don't kid myself. There is plenty to learn and grow from. It is only in this twisted way that I can offer any degree of thanks to these people who have taken all your time reading about today. Unfortunately, my classroom has been in a home life that is typically shattered in one way or another, and even when it has had the outward appearance of normality (the part my Y unit loves to pride himself on), there was underlying discontent. There has been a conspiracy of silence and darkness for so long, and this is just blowing that out of the water. So I hope that these people read this and implode on themselves. I just don't want to be party to their machinations and manipulations and they don't deserve my tacit support any longer, hence the exposes here and elsewhere. Their tactics have already proven faulty and dangerous and have no use for a guy like me who plans to be happily married for life, built on more trust and cooperation than has been demonstrated to me. I guess I have learned from each in terms of the negative corollaries to what I hope to achieve.

It is only a matter of time before I actually hold a memorial I am already planning in order to put these dead people behind me and to move on. Some friends of mine and a number of clergy have congratulated the idea. Some people have genocide or plane crashes to explain how they lost their entire family. What do I have to credit for the dissolution of my family? Materialism? Molestation? Alcoholism? Greed? TV/Pop culture? Property values? Maybe it is ego-run-amok. Pride. Yeah, that's a good one. Who are these people to beat their chests and make noise about how the other did all the damage, when they both have done the damage and just choose to walk off when confronted with the evidence? One robbed me of a house, the other—who used to cry because I was torn out of her arms as a babe—now is so unable to cope that she can't even make an attempt to relate to me when I come to her door with heart on my sleeve. They have shed me, and after some time trying to make sense of that while hoping for their cooperation, I feel free to shed them.

Back to the gay thing for a minute. This business of watching my family members fall away in terms of support of who I am in actuality (and not in their minds) is not all that unlike the sorts of things that gay folks endure when they decide to come out and live comfortably in their own skins as their own person, and not as the prefab person that was issued during childhood and youth. I never thought I would identify with such a story as this but I guess that if life is a classroom to teach lessons for use in life, then I've been schooled accordingly. What used to inflame me to anger—and some destructive anger at that—is something that has motivated me to be a lot more compassionate when I am able to see how I have already learned the lesson that has prepared me for whatever is before me. Again, I feel now that I couldn't hate a person who is out of the closet, having experienced the ordeal that is a years-long process of awakening to a true identity and living out of that conviction. And if they want to have kids to love, more power to them! There are many ways to do worse, and I know a couple of them.