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Entries in church (38)

Sunday
Oct072012

Life in the Hidden Valley

Eventually, there would be a first time. It never happened in my younger years when these decisions were made for me and never during the years when I could have done so myself (and probably should have, if I were to have listened to my various adult and peer counsel). Most exceptionally, I never did it when it made the most sense and probably would have settled the domestic strife in 2005 associated with getting evicted at my intended long term home. (2005 would have been the chance to move to Kelli's seminary town, Claremont, CA but we stayed in San Diego and she commuted weekly for seven semesters.)

I never moved house to a location outside of San Diego. Until this year, about five months ago.

Now that I have, I'm deep in that worried spot, wondering if it was the right thing to do. The problem isn't so much how far I've moved, but more a matter perhaps of moving not far enough. Y'see, Escondido is just 30 miles from where I was earlier in the year. Same county. Only a half hour and I'm back in my default life in San Diego—all the social networks. Church life for both of us (at different but not distant churches). Job opportunities. Dental, medical, and even pet services that we have not yet decided to change to Escondido area ones. All that stuff was left to be conducted in our hometown while the primary benefit is that since Kelli is the bread (and butter, with her second job) winner, with her office located up here, it made sense finally to accommodate her, unlike in 2005 and the Claremont debacle.

Since 2002 or so, in the wake of 9/11, I've been more gasoline conscious. And of course in 2004-2005 I was particularly concerned with peak oil and the implications it would have in daily life. (My thoughts from that period in particular were the stuff that essentially launched this blog, and those two years have voluminous posts, many about the constellation of topics around peak oil.) Years later now, not so interested in the topic at that level, the fact is, I still make decisions with it in mind. No one really wanted to listen but I have kept watch and monitor my driving pretty strictly much of the time. And that means of course that to live 30 miles away from a life that used to wrap around me in about a four-mile radius demands some judicious planning. With gas prices now at the highest I've ever seen, a simple trip down there and back will cost about $10 or more.

Clearly, the move to be nearer to Kelli's work has been a success, and would be more so if her territory as hospice chaplain didn't drift a time or two since we got here. But barring that, it's still good that she doesn't have to plan to do a daily camping trip, carrying everything she'd need to spend a day in her car, out in the field or at the office. She barely gets to the office anymore, instead doing a lot of work in her room. Phone calls, charting, and other bits that she used to do at the office or in the field are now done before leaving for the day. Nice. It's good to see more of her. On the whole, she tends to get home earlier, but believe it or not, even the shorter distances are troubled with the fact that she has to use the CA-78, which gets to be a nightmare at rush hour. But mostly, the move was good. Her San Diego position is mostly a contingency-based, on call kind of position that only happens four days a month. Some days her job is to call in and wait for further word, and to get paid in the process. Nice. Others are the expected patient visits and pay handsomely. She'd like to quit the job but every couple weeks the paycheck is found to be useful for powering through credit card debt (both of us paid off now) and now a car loan and the ever-present and painful student loans at nearly a grand per month. Keeping a good connection with that second office might be handy if there is a time when she might apply for an internal transfer, and maybe drop the job up here.

As for my part, I get myself in knots about this. I've been trying to build a life up here. Job applications and resumes sent out to places within about a ten mile space. I've been giving more attention to my musical pursuits since departing my post at JEM in August (freeing up vast amounts of time). The city library is nearby so I've dropped in a couple times, even meeting up with their "Library You" program manager, talking about helping their effort to record local folks to help build up a local body of work with video and audio. A couple cash gigs have been gotten in the region (audio book editing, a website, housesitting), and other options might turn up some work: more audio book work, maybe a percussion gig, maybe live audio too. I got close to getting a cheesy gig driving premium cheese to Los Angeles area destinations but I think if I ever get to work for that place, it might be because I was overselling myself and I think the guy realized that it'd be a waste to have me on the road, and instead doing something more creative and supportive. I got a referral from a fellow at church who turned me on to a local jam company, which also needed an LA driver, so I am preparing to start with them next week. Tiny operation. More later...

I've gotten to the local pub and tried to absorb Irish music on guitar (not happening so far) and percussion (all that Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention is starting to pay off), and hope eventually to let that turn into new opportunities. I haven't biked much because for all the time so far, up until the last few days, it has been so damned hot and/or humid. I mostly stay home during the days unless there is reason to go somewhere, and I have to say that I've driven more than I'd like. At night, we're able to walk the dog into town if we want. The pub is just under a mile. I bike over with guitar and some small percussion and maybe Kelli comes by later with Buber Dog and we walk back after a beer. We walk to explore the hood and to get some basics done. It's neat having services nearby. An amazing old school donut shop is all too tempting. We're not totally central in town but it's not far out either. The city is a bit spread out, with newer areas being deployed farther out into the hinterlands. We're essentially in the barrio here, something I anticipated but did not realize would be so true. We're off the main drag in a way that is quiet as regards city traffic, but we're in a neighborhood that tends to be loud: radios, industrial traffic, dogs, chatter en Espanol.

All that noise on my street started a chain reaction that ended with my resignation from JEM, first finding it hard to produce a recording without noise, and without burning up in my office room with closed windows. The last episode I produced featured what amounted to an audio tour of the various noises, and narration of how that was already changing things. I didn't expect my whole volunteer position would be found to be so tenuous after that. Anyhow, during July and August it got very hard to justify the time spent doing that, particularly when I lost my unemployment benefits after a year and a half, and needed to spend more time patching up that damage. The handoff to the others was not without its problems, even as I was tutoring them. The fact is, I held the key to the JEM digital kingdom and it would be hard to hand it over in any way since no one else really had been so acquainted with it all.

The fact of JEM's podcasting and all my volunteer work with them seems to remain that it was successful while I was in the neighborhood near the office. Notice the bookended period: I moved to North Park in October 2009 and announced that I could do volunteer work starting in December. Then the opposite happened once I moved here: got here in May 2012 and was separating three months later after finding the geographic challenge was frustrating, holding so many conversations and tutorials over the web with people who really need to see stuff in person. Recording sessions could be done any of a number of ways but the best way would be up here where it was hot and miserable and it would be hard to get a guest to come up. It just all fell on its face. But for this telling, you need to know that seeing it all evaporate in a month or two was disorienting, especially as the season here was swelling in temperature, and there seemed to be no relief from the heat unless I drove to San Diego or hit the mall or library (the latter two not my usual choices).

The summer was a hell of a time in terms of heat (it would be hotter here by default but I'm convinced now we're getting some stranger weather from world level issues). But it was also a handwringer about the job situation, especially when, in August, that changed and my UI payments came to an end. Feeling that all my time at JEM was still a thing that didn't particularly qualify me to do other work I see listed, I was pretty crushed at the lack of responses to my more computer related queries. Yet I hated the idea of just driving trucks or doing warehouse work. My landlord was nice enough to smile upon my musical pursuits, even drums, but I kept that aside until about a month ago when I set up and wailed with real drumsticks (not whip sticks or rods) for the first time in years. The urge to make music has been growing in me, and something is demanding that attention of me, so I've been spending time each week on guitar, bass, songwriting, a bit of drums, or generally getting some musical knowledge and trying to (gasp!) learn some things I should have learned long ago. Getting to the pub has given me a real carefree opportunity to absorb some material and to meet folks.

But still, the feeling of incompleteness when I consider that there is a life I am missing down in my hometown... It seems Wednesday is a day to pile up several things in San Diego and go see some people. I don't get to church much anymore because for me it was not particularly about the Sunday worship but more about the things during the week, the things that form the community I enjoyed. Not being able to do that with a 15 minute bike ride, or to carpool with a fellow member has been isolating. Kelli and I might head down to San Diego on a Sunday morning, and maybe go to two churches. But since I don't like worship and feel like things are different, it's like going through the motions. Even while at church, I am not in church. I tend to wander off to another room, either to read or to seize the solitary time. That kind of thing was something that took hold especially after returning from my two great desert times in Arizona and New Mexico in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As many churches as there are in Escondido, none are of our denomination (I lie, one is but it's more independent and whacky), and the others nearby are far by my standard. It's easier to just keep getting to San Diego with Kelli, who doesn't want to leave her church. And that's the one I don't want to go to. It's odd. We even drove up to Murrieta to try a small UCC/DOC church there. I'm just not feelin' the church life now.

But the good news is that on the musical front, I've given more time to do some aspect of musical development most days. It's not as aggressive a schedule as I'd like to engage in but it's more than I've done in years. A few Craigslist ad responses have given me a couple more options to explore. I've been able to justify trips to San Diego that include a songwriter Meetup group that I've enjoyed several times this year. I've spent more time with guitar/bass/theory websites and just trying to develop my hands and ears to more quickly acquire new repertoire. It comes rather easier than it used to but man, it's an uphill battle. The big challenge for me, trying to pursue music now, is to realize I'm 39 and can't keep living with the echoes of all the negative voices, all the "reasonable" voices telling me about "music should just be a hobby" and other such limiting talk. It's taken a lot of wrestling to push past that and to start to develop again. I just know that a number of musical experiences in the last couple years have been nudging me in the direction of more music. And yes, I'm glad I still have enough tools to work with and can still jump to another instrument at a moment's notice. I'm looking forward to being able to play drums and hopefully return to recording sometime while I'm here. I'd like to get some work so I could afford lessons on one or two instruments.

I hate to say it but we already talk about whether we should leave this town. If we waited for our lease to expire, we'd go in May or June. Or I suppose we could pay absurd money to break contract. But as long as Kelli anchors it up here with her job, it's hard to justify leaving back to San Diego. For me, seeking a job as I am, I fear getting a job in San Diego. It could be pretty expensive just in commuting costs. There's no way in hell I could get a job that pays as well as hers so if I did get such a job, driving my truck, it would cost more in real terms and as a percentage of my wage to do such a thing as commuting from here to San Diego (central). We moved up here because we'd save five trips a week or more, about about $300 in gas per week. For me to take a job in San Diego while living in Escondido is not too different than Kelli taking a job in Escondido while living in San Diego. But that's not our concern yet. It's just a measure of how crazy things are.

Aside from the economics of it, of course we're feeling cut off from our people. And aside from that too, it's harder to ask people to come up here. All summer, with the heat raging like it has, we've not even entertained having the house warming party for the folks who helped us move up here. (A house cooling party would be better.) My cooking interests have all but dried up since getting here since the kitchen is hot by nature and of course ridiculous with any appliances on. The fans have run continuously until last week when it finally got to feeling like a comfortable day in my hometown. The bills, shared in part with a fellow in the flat behind us, are absurdly expensive in part because we're in a smaller city with a whole other utility scheme, and in part because our co-tenant has AC and we don't. We just got approval from our landlord to put in fans. He's pretty cool and tried earlier in the summer to get fans but it was too late to even find them. He's such a good landlord (unlike the various parties who have taken our money for the last five places we've been in) that we have mixed feelings about letting him accommodate us only to turn around and move before the summer kicks in, just one year after we got here.

All I know is that for the entire summer, I barely left the house on my own except to do job interviews, a few trips to San Diego, and some local spots in the evening. Or when Kelli was going down there, I'd just hitch a ride even if I didn't need to go for anything. Just getting out was good. Being with my wife is good. My room is relatively large and home to a lot of things for me but it's hot and miserable with just those two windows and a door. The patterns of a life lived without willy-nilly use of gasoline are a bit rough at times. I was depressed for much of the summer, particularly after leaving JEM and realizing that there was so much time to fill, either doing a lame job search, or feeling bad from being caught in a mind with many creative urges but a body that is well taxed by the summer heat and humidity, and a soul troubled by so many options. It all conspired to get not much done. The smallest things like doing dishes or laundry or putting things away was taxing. Venturing to the garage (out back in the alley behind the back house, and insanely fucking hot in there) during the day, or even the mailbox, required mental effort and usually didn't get done until evening. There are so many things to do that conflict and vie for my time that I can only go in circles some day. And frankly it's easier to get nothing done. Job search, musical practice, chores, process trip pictures for wall hangings and gifts, do some blogging, get to San Diego, spend time with Kelli, fight with printer, beat back the idiocy with communications companies. The list goes on.

So that's most of what you need to know about our lives in Escondido. After that, it's just details.

Saturday
Jun092012

Casa Kansas

Kansas street house just minutes before pulling away for the last time in May 2012

The previous post was a long way of saying I moved house. But it didn't do justice when it comes to saying what I left behind. The old house at 3967 Kansas Street was a place that deserves some words. It is the first place that Kelli and I lived in and actually liked and had no real reason to leave except that it was far from where our bread is buttered up in Escondido. It was the first place we did a ritual walkabout in the last days before leaving, honoring what the house meant to us for the two years and eight months we were there.

Here on the site, I just created a gallery that illustrates much of the really memorable stuff that made Casa Kansas special. Why not go see it. There are considerable notes to accompany the pictures, and you can view larger version in the lightbox mode. Just click.

Hiding in Public

For some years now, I've not reported on where I lived for some concern about my old man and his history of snooping us out and sometimes doing some unwelcome stuff. The last that happened was in the last days of our previous house on Nashville St. I had made the mistake of giving out the address there to someone in mutual contact, and I think that might have made it easy for him to pay us a visit, unbidden. 

But there is a lot of life that happens at one's house and it sucks to keep that from the official record. (I just happen to keep a publicly viewable record.) The fact is though, Casa Kansas was nearly more a community hangout than just "our house." Lots of people knew where it was because it was a hub of community life for us. In fact, I counted 70 people who graced us with their presence at our dinners, parties, or JEM related work including podcast recording sessions. And really, there's a feeling in me that begs to be honored with a public telling of the story of how life was so rich there.

Backstory

I found it in a different way than others of our houses. I was driving the neighborhood as a volunteer delivery driver for Special Delivery in September 2009. My eyes were open for places then because our old place on Nashville was in foreclosure and it seemed an unstable place, and I wasn't satisfied that our landlords could hold it together. One day while delivering to the apartment complex next door, I spotted the sign on this house and by late September had put the money down on it. It is in a richly varied part of town, with some of the most innovative and interesting restaurants, plenty of walkable streets with services and just as far from church as the previous house had been. About the only thing not to like was the commute home from work. I had just agreed to move to a place upon one of the great mesas in San Diego, from a place that was closer to sea level and at about the same elevation as where I worked. In 2009 though, that was a welcome challenge, seeing how that was my pinnacle of biking activity. After paying my deposit at Kansas, I went to the bike shop and got a new cog for my fixed gear bike, a lower gear for making the hill at Washington St. near work. I would do that hill at least five times a week for the coming year and more.

At $1500 rent, even as I signed up I felt queasy. Kelli was just freshly out of her hospital residency, so her stipend was no more. I was earning about $2400 take home then, sometimes less, to the tune of about $2200. I had no idea how we'd do it if she didn't get work in the coming months. It was kind of miraculous how we held it together. Casa Kansas left me feeling quite overextended. But it was a charming 3-bedroom in a charming, walkable neighborhood, and near work and church for me. Bikeable area that was also near Jubilee Economics Ministries office too. But this house was also the latest in a series of ever-rising rent rates that we faced. Rents at my old place on Quapaw were enviably low for me, at $150. The thought was not lost on me at Casa Kansas that our new rate was TEN TIMES that. Of course, Quapaw was an unusual deal even in the Kelli year (it went up to $450 then), but still...the margin it allowed to work or not work, to risk living a bit was nice. It just came at a steep emotional price. In between Quapaw and Kansas, there were more realistic rates that climbed each time we moved, for the most part: $775 at our first apartment; $600 up to $800 at the Calabrese Compound (the shift was when we lost one roommate and split the $1200 into thirds instead of quarters); $1200 for our share at Nashville, and now $1500 for the entire place at Kansas. It was dizzying. And worrying.

Thanksgiving dinner 2010 with the MHUCC young adults bunchThanksgiving 2010 with Young Adults group

Open House, Community Hub

Setting that aside for a bit, we opened our place up to friends from church and other circles. The young adults group at church was the first major bunch of new friends that came by for the Thanksgiving dinner about a month or so after we moved in. A few of them, Margie, Nichol, and Amanda, helped us move in a scramble when the Nashville house situation crumbled a bit faster than we planned. I got a box truck from work, and one buddy from there helped out too for a couple nights. The whole Kansas era was one defined by community life, and Kansas had the most open door so far.

The place had the charm that accompanies houses of its kind. A craftsman style place from 1922, it was pushing 90 years old when we got there. Stylish and useful built in cabinets and drawers, wood floors (mostly), a pretty big kitchen, and other features from days gone by were things that were functional and novel to tell people about. Being so centrally located was handy. Being in walking distance to a dozen quality restaurants was an easy hook to "come over to my place." It was in short distance to Balboa Park where the Critical Mass ride launches once a month (I rode it several times), and where three dog runs were available. The JEM office was just a mile away so it made it easy for Lee Van Ham to ride over and do podcasts and other media work. It wasn't far out of the way so I might have Kelli drop me off at church and then I'd just bum a ride back with someone going that way. We had Sunday dinners with spontaneous lists of folks. Kelli had a bible study series. Birthdays, New Years Day wine parties, and other events all happened there.

Backdrop for Life

Even aside from what actually happened onsite, the Kansas years were the backdrop for a great many developments for both of us and the communities we operate in: my male initiation and the trip to New Mexico a year later that was as important; we had time and will to do some regional travel to desert locations like Death Valley, Salton Sea, Joshua Tree, and other regional points; Kelli became a professional chaplain by getting not one but two hospice positions while there; she was ordained too; I was let go from my job but spent considerable time helping Jubilee Economics Ministries with all manner of digital tools; so too with the newly created Women Who Speak In Church, a way to help Kelli and Amanda network with other women in ministry, especially those getting into it; I briefly rehearsed some music with MHUCC players there and also made the most strides in a long time, trying to get back to making music with the help of the nearby store, New Expressions Music and a couple Meetup groups that introduced me to folk music and songwriter groups; Kelli's growing place in UCC at a national level, bringing her disability ministry concerns to a wider audience, and I suppose a lot more still.

Torelli fixed gear bike which has been my main ride since 2009My main ride as of July 2009

The Five Mile Radius

For those years, I found that I could live within about a five mile radius most of the time, and often just three or so. Church was at the far end of that three mile radius, but the Kansas era was largely shaped by the time at MHUCC. At times, it was like I rode grooves into the street along University Avenue. I liked riding to church but didn't really like the route I had to take. While there were a few alternatives, none was really any improvement upon just throwing in my lot with the rest of the madmen on the road and charging along the too-narrow stretch from Kansas to Park, and then into the vast sea of asphalt from Park to 10th, and then back into the smaller streets that get me to Washington, closer to church. When I worked at Specialty Produce, I rode nearly the same route, but without any detours off University or the part of Washington that drops off the mesa and down to Specialty. I sort of got tired from doing that commute since I'd ride the same path to church and work for about three miles, and on a busy week with five days of work and a few things happening at church, I suppose I could rack up nine trips along that road per week.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

The economic tide shifted toward Escondido though, particularly after a year and more of my being unemployed. Kelli got her job there as a per diem in early 2010 but it took until September 2011 before she got Amanda's vacated job as a full time chaplain at the same place. (This is in addition to her working back down in San Diego at another firm, also as per diem chaplain. She keeps busy.) The miles up to Escondido take their toll on the car and take time from both of us. Having seen Amanda move to north county for the same job just as we started off at Kansas, we knew it might just be a matter of time once she got the full time offer. The hospice down in San Diego though did make tentative offers at about the same time but never gave enough detail to really lock in to a position there, so then it became clear our fate was linked to Escondido. But how long would it last, commuting those 30-45 minutes each way? The math says that to do that for 48 weeks a year, it would be about 13,000 miles. That's a lot of gas, and mostly a lot of time on the road that isn't spent living together. And sometimes even after all that, Kelli might need to come home and chart the day's visits. Or she might need to work a few nights per month at the local hospice, or even two Saturdays. That was just too much. Buying the car in April forced us to evaluate where exactly that money would come from. Fortunately the car payment could be offset with a reduction in the gasoline bill from moving house, this time to a place that for the first time was actually less expensive than the one before.

Amanda, just a short while after getting the green light to become ordained. She was camping out at Kansas for the weekend before we moved.

The State of the State Street

Kansas was more than just a house. It had spirit. It was a venue for a lot of growth for both of us. It was a hub of activity that is not insignificant. It's impossible to know the trajectory of influence. Who knows what one of our JEM podcasts will become when the ideas therein are scattered about in the minds of people who saw the economics of life one way and then the JEM way? Who will hear those words and change the world? Same with the prospects yet to be evident from both Kelli and Amanda launching their professional careers with the help of this house. Who knows what they shall do in the realm of disability inclusion or therapy for those abused within church settings? Or for the young women who are yet to enter ministry? So many areas of promise met and mingled at this house for just shy of three years. It was vibrant there in a way that no other residence but for a short while at Quapaw was. I never learned this stuff from my home life, except maybe seeing it from a bit of a distance of age when my grandmother was more socially engaged when I was a boy.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli and I did a walkabout during the one day we had to cooperatively work on cleaning the place out upon moving. I did much of the work myself, but on one evening we toured the rooms and paused to reflect on what the place meant to us. To be glad for all the friends and experiences that made the place special. It was quite moving. All told, I was there cleaning the place for six days and nights so I got a chance to let my mind wander and to be ready for that moment. 

I wonder what other stories that house has to tell, if just a couple years there was so rich for us?

Sunday
Jan152012

Get Thee to Church +10

I have to admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed as I embark upon some attempt to put down some thoughts on so many anniversary dates that are rolling around and evoking memories of 5-, 10-, and more such yearly intervals. One I'd be remiss to not reflect upon is my return to church life this time ten years ago. After a decade or so of nearly perfect non-attendance, all that reversed itself in the same weeks as it became apparent Kelli and I were finding ourselves a couple. It was a magical time, whether or not I believed in the magic in which I was immersed.

Continuing from the posts preceding this, after the New Year's events that brought Kelli and I into a relationship, it was barely a week into all that when I decided to head to church with her, and to show my face at a worship service for the first time since I don't know when. That is, if you exclude my quite regular attendance at Christmas, a service that I recall making an attempt to get to even during that otherwise distant period. Aside from that, for those years I just don't think I got to church except for attending my grandmother's memorial in June of 2001.

You see, for a long time I used to tell myself that there was no church but CCCPB, where I was essentially born and raised, and where I had some good experiences during my teen years. It would be wrong to characterize myself as a nice church boy, except maybe in my teen years, especially during a bright spell in 1988-1990. That my grandmother Virginia was a founding member might carry some weight, but I wasn't making such a claim because of that. I had a few other church experiences and never liked them much. I got in trouble or was just a distraction at other churches that the old man and Eda took me to in the late 70s/early 80s as Eda in particular was feeling a call in life to get some religion and therefore was experimenting with all sorts of stuff. CCCPB was at least a place I was linked to in a deep enough way to feel it was somewhat an extension of the family. Not so at a scattered bunch of other churches and services at whatever other congregations—Church of Christ, megachurch stuff, other things that now give me the creeps in their conservative and other aspects that can be offputting if you don't totally buy into it all. Usually, all the roads led back to CCCPB.

High School Era

In other journals I've told of my pastor Jerry Lawritson, who, even by the time I'd entered high school had turned my life around for the better. He and his associate pastor Judy Slaughter were my best advocates for me during my teens, particularly when I was there in church, affording them a chance to play such roles in my life. They both arrived on the scene in 1985-86 and so were among the first adults I trusted in those middle and high school years. My motives for getting to church were rather flimsy for a while. I was never a believer. While my grandmother Virginia was molding me to be pious, I never really subscribed to miracles and resurrection and all that. It was all fantasy stuff because, as these things go, it's not true until you live it. My cynical streak was already alive and well. For various reasons I went to church, but not to really get with God. Maybe I went to the summer vacation bible school for a week, but was fickle about going at other times. Maybe there was a special gathering, or maybe I just felt like going one week and not the other. I was a regular at summer picnics on the bay every Wednesday, but I tended to talk to adults and try to get into their world. I wasn't too deeply into my peer group; I didn't go to school with them for geographical reasons. Even at CCCPB I got into some trouble, being rather careless and a bit of a go-it-alone soul. But it was the church that persisted for me, and with Jerry and Judy's advocacy and their creation of cirriculum to support people of my age (most specifically the Shalom Group), I was shaped into something better than I started with. Despite her general agnostic and often antagonistic manner, I met Shelby Duncan in the midst of this period. I can't lie that in the very end of 1988 and for several weeks into 1989, my main motivation to get to church was to be around her. In those early days, seeing her on Christmas Day in 1988, or for a few weeks afterward was as much an encounter as I ever had with an angel, or as much as I knew about salvation. Of course, as loyal TAPKAE.com readers know, that all changed!

And then in August 1990, some young girl named Kelli came to the church with her mom Kay and started in on all sorts of church life like they had been there all along. Kelli was only 14 then but had an old soul to her, and even though she had been gone for seven years in Florida, she knew people at church from before that when she and mama Kay were there in Kelli's earliest years. Kay reported that she was my Sunday school teacher back then. I didn't remember such a thing, but they both joined in on the church life and since Kelli was not particularly part of the familiar faces in the youth group, I took to her a bit more, and with less prejudice. She had an outgoing manner about her, and was pretty intense for that age. And she was willing to talk to me after I professed a love for Jethro Tull—something so notable it was worthy of telling at our wedding as part of the back story. Our church musical cliques were pretty much divided along the lines of the two major radio stations playing classic cock rock or alternative rock. KGB played the former and 91X the latter. It seemed never the twain would meet. Most of the church kids were listening to 91X and could be found gathering around the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrisey, et al. When Kelli arrived and was talking about Bob Dylan, CSNY, and other old acts, I felt safe to talk Tull with her. During our time in the Shalom Group (a covenantal, highly personal small group mostly comprised of high school age group with some adults including Jerry and Judy), Kelli and I got to know each other at some level. It paved the way for our later conversations outside of church during the dark and silent years during the 90s.

I had an intense spell of church life from late June 1989 and into early 1991. I took part in all the activities I could, given my school schedule and age. I was consulted during the summer of 1989 about what I thought could be done for those of us in high school. Those ideas helped shape the Shalom Group. I went to Jerry's class on Martin Buber and pretended to understand it. More than anything it was a chance to be among seemingly responsible adults who egged me on in positive ways. I was the first 16 year old deacon, probably because of some shared effort to help me move toward a place of responsibility and investment in the community. The Deacons there are the body that take responsibility for the spiritual care there, usually visiting people and making calls and otherwise supplying the spiritual needs of the congregation. I was honored and took on the role but left the board after about eight months when I returned to school for my senior year, but also as I was facing my first experience with depression and the confusion that goes with that. The Shalom Group was founded to aid in navigating the Scylla and Charibdys of that age, and in there I would have opened up in the way I thought I could, as did the others. Maybe I sold myself short, but compared to others' stories, I felt like I was living a tame life, so maybe I missed the chance to really let the group do its magic. My mounting depression during the summer of 1990 was something that went under-reported. So it was years later in 2003 when I smiled my way through painful weeks, trying to look the part of being well adjusted and happy while at church. Church is supposed to make people happy, isn't it?

In the earlier days, I never much liked being in church worship service. Being a teen, we had our Sunday school group prior to the service, so we were in the sanctuary with the rest of the folks. But we usually sat in our little row, together. I was sort of in the null space between two worlds for much of that time. I neither identified with my peers (I fancied them more hip than I) nor did I really understand the nature of the worship service. Jerry's sermons would challenge people three times my age and more, so I was doomed as a teen. What did I know about his favorite topics and personalities? I was far, far, from learning anything about (and certainly absorbing) Wiesel, Heschel, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Buber, Einstein, and others who for him embodied the resisting power of the gospel in that century. All along, Jerry was pointing the way at a cross section of figures who brought a human image into the most inhumane circumstances of the 19th/20th centuries. His sermons were unabashedly challenging. Still are. I knew he was different. But I didn't appreciate that from his sermons, or his special event lectures he'd do once a year. I sort of tolerated being in worship but I loved being a student at his side. I'd be seen to lurk near him to sort of absorb whatever I could of what he said, or more selfishly, any praise he'd heap upon me. In some ways he was father like to me in ways my old man never could be, and as my 2003 experience at Halcyon showed, to accomplish that, he had to put my old man in his place directly sometimes. Jerry went to bat for me a lot of times. I never forgot that.

Cracks in the Wall: 1991-92

In early 1991 though I was fading. I was quite enjoying my senior year at school. In fact, it was the only year I actually enjoyed. So I dared to live in that world instead of church. I was getting to know my German classmate Stephan Rau. Despite going to Madison, he lived some miles away, and so during that 1990-91 period, our best shot at spending time together outside of school was over the weekends. In early 1991, feeling a call to some new adventure and feeling like time was a-wastin', I opted for hanging out with him for much of the remainder of the school year. The resulting distance from church got a little testy for me. I started to see it more objectively after that intense year and a half period and got more touchy and contrarian at anything on the weeks I did visit, even when I didn't need to be. But after graduation Steve left and it was back to regular life during the summer. Upon my return to school, this time at Mesa College, I found myself relenting and falling back into church life somewhat. It never felt so important to me as it did in 11th grade but I soldiered on for a while. Eventually I let my work life at Subway get in the way. The late Saturday nights and the early Sunday mornings clashed long enough to break down whatever drive I did have to participate in church life. In March 1992, Judy had a party upon her departure to serve another church and after that, it was never the same and I didn't make it a priority to get to church. I do recall meeting with Jerry in the period surrounding the Subway crisis in the spring, seeking some counsel. Starting up a relationship with Melissa in the middle of that year, and getting to Europe for the summer was more stuff to keep me at a distance. Finally, I don't think I had anything going on at church after early 1993. But the future was laid out for me when, during the breakup phase with Melissa, I called upon Jerry for some perspective, and around the same time I was talking to Kelli like we were old friends even by then. Church life was done.

Time off for Bad Behavior

The intervening years were dotted with Kelli encounters that sometimes kept me in touch with what was going on. I was rather stunned to hear a couple of key families—Calabrese and Prince—had both divorced during the 90s. Both were key parts of what made church seem thriving for so long. Kids from each family were Kelli's best friends and our peers in Shalom. One friend got into some trouble with some cult. Daniel was selling drugs and eventually was murdered in 2001. (I had told Kelli about a chance run in with him as I was selling my CD in 1998. He paid me all I asked but I reported to her that he whipped out an astounding wad of cash to pay me my $10.) Kelli's tales were titillating. I must have told her about dark times, and she told me of hers too. Considering we weren't exactly first-call friends for daily life, we were ready to pick up and be quite available to each other after some prolonged spells. We worked on a recording in 1998-99. She was gone for a couple years to school in Oakland. I got way depressed a time or two because of girls or family life. Life happened. Even though she reported to me something about the dark side of church, I was intrigued but not dissuaded from eventually getting back there...someday.

2001

Then, as I've reported many times here, when she returned in 2001, we got closer during a period when life's challenge was mounting. Sister Chris reported molestation. Grandma Virginia died. Daniel's murder hit both Kelli and I but was particularly jarring for her; Daniel was like a brother to her in a lot of ways. September 11 happened and changed how I saw the world. I helped Kelli move house. Parties involved alcohol. Family disaster. Holidays. The pace was picking up and moving us closer together. Life's pathos was becoming more overwhelming for me, while after those couple college years at Mills, Kelli was also morphing too. Having attended Christmas service just a week before our big date on January 1, followed by a warm and inviting party afterward at Cheryl's house (one of the divorcees mentioned above), I felt like the church family was where I needed to be. (It didn't hurt to discover that the former organist, Connie, was mother of a drummer I had worked with during the dark years and had come to like: Cliff Almond.) You gotta understand that CCCPB, being a more liberal church, was a place that was inclined to like their wine. Kelli has held them to task on other occasions when that was inappropriate (around the kids at official engagements), but the adults? Oh, watch out! Anyhow, that party helped me feel comfortable again as I was reminded of a chemistry and conviviality that I was sorely lacking and was never able to find elsewhere. (As long as elsewhere was in my world of audio jobs and a social circle that basically had a 50% overlap with many of the people I worked around.) That there was some wine flowing wasn't cause for concern. It made the place more real. Being in Jerry's universe again held promise.

Return of the Prodigal Son, Return of Wonder

So just a couple weeks after that Christmas Eve party, I went to church with Kelli. I don't recall making any big pronouncement in advance, not even to Kelli. I was testing the waters. It was a sunny day. I was welcomed. People asked how I was. They missed me. In a lot of ways it seemed like I finally reached the oasis after years of going it alone in the desert. After five years of being without a partner, and perhaps nine or ten years of being out of church, that life was getting old. And then, almost at once, both of those were reversed in almost a single gesture. After family breakdown, death, and growing existential angst, it was time for answers to come from beyond my own mind. A year after Shelby was driven from the scene, I was feeling like if I went to church, I wouldn't need to hear her agnostic and doubting voice like I did back in the early days. Seeing a return to church as some admission it was time to grow up, I was beginning to entertain how I'd contribute in my way. Of course, it concerned how I might install a sound system. But that was far off. Reconnection was the order of the day. I also felt that maybe after some time I might finally understand something about Jerry's preaching!

In those early weeks and months, Kelli and I probably were fooling no one as we both arrived around the same time, and both with equally wet hair, but for a while we were not yet able to admit that we were a couple, if we knew it ourselves! Still, there was something so right feeling, so proper about how this was unfolding. I had a feeling that I was floating above life, as if in a dream. This went on for much of 2002, it seemed. It seemed too good to be true. Yet, it wasn't that we were all romantic, doing that dating stuff that you'd do if you had just met. We had already established a rootedness from all those years of church and friendship that followed. It was definitely fate-filled. It had some kind of pre-ordained feeling about it. Life was just developing organically, it seemed.

I went to church the next week. After that, we drove down to the tidepools in Point Loma. I'd never been there. This was all new to me. It was most likely January 13th—still very much a winter day, but it was a Santa Ana day here where it is warm, sunny, and clear as the desert air is basically swept backward over to the ocean. The sun was low in the clear sky (barring only the layer of smog that settles near sea level in a brown coat during a Santa Ana). The clouds were thin and wispy. The water was exciting as it crashed the cliffs at the boundary between the terrestrial world and the world of Neptune. There was a feeling of newness. It was like I had new eyes to see the world. And it was beautiful again. Kelli might be a pretty serious student or activist or now clergy person, but don't be fooled! She has a goofy, childlike streak in her too, and frankly it's infectious. She is in touch with a joy that I remembered was that of childhood. And it was already dawning on me in those first couple weeks that the part of me that had forgotten about that kind of wonder and joy was only in a freeze. It wasn't lost forever. It was ready to come back, and as we were looking at the tidepools, it was an apophatic spiritual experience to sense that I could reconnect with that part of me that seemed so lost. That realization stifled words and demanded my presence. Maybe this is why Kelli and I almost never trade letters to each other. I did try to write letter to Kelli in the early years. It was rarely doable in the same way that one can't catch lightning in a bottle. When people sort through all my stuff, don't look for letters addressed to Kelli. So far, there are hardly a few that exist.

Fitting in: 2002-2007

Returning to church that January was the start of a nearly unbroken period of church attendance for just over five years at CCCPB. Right away I realized it was not the same place. We weren't the kids anymore. Our peers were gone and visited only when in town. A couple key families were gone, or after divorces, there was just one partner still regularly attending. A few activities from the old days remained, but it was different as everyone was ten years older and for the most part, there weren't too many new faces. The congregation was smaller by a noticable number. Sure, it wasn't going to be the same. I did meet up with a couple folks who were new and found that it was easier to relate to them as a young adult rather than as a teen. A couple of them are still guests at our house today. For all the rest of the time I stayed there until five years ago, I felt that that dynamic was at work. I felt like I was somehow in my grandmother's shadow. Or that I'd always be the teen kid there. I did make effort to contribute my time primarily. The biggest time donation was recording the audio every week, starting around Thanksgiving 2002. It kept me coming all the time, and listening. And since I found that Jerry was far more understandable now that I was an adult who was hungry, hungry, and hungry again, it was never really work to get to church to hear him and record him. I rebuilt the church website twice (that was testy because the woman who did the work before had some big insecurity issues). I aided the sound system's design and installation, and ran it for six months before it and all the other "work" drove me nuts, as I was shifting into a place where I needed to establish personal relations at church, not be doing unpaid technical and media work. But for about four and a half of the five years I was there, it was a good place for me. I never seemed to connect with it like when I was a teen, but it did give Kelli a new family to interact with together. Of course, that was highlighted at our wedding, as we tied the knot, perhaps the first couple of our sort there.

I came back to church only willing to roll with the questions. I knew the world got to be far more challenging a place in September 2001. But my world was already overwhelming. It's not like I got there and ran up to the altar and prostrated myself. No. I'm not so expressive. But returning made the way safe to plug away at the big issues. It gave me a lens for seeing things anew. I was introduced to the people and the stories that spoke to my situation. Jerry was a personal hero a few times over, but particularly during my Halcyon stay and for a couple years following that when he directly helped me get to ongoing therapy. Such was his personal commitment. During that period, instead of working according to my faulty plan of suicide, where he would be the pastor to say a few words over me before a final rest, he was the pastor who presided at my wedding not quite a year after that, and who knew in a very real way what a victory that was. All the more victorious that I'd marry a nice church girl who he'd also participated in forming at so many levels, and who he has since seen to ordination at that same altar.

Bittersweet Realizations

I used to say that CCCPB was the only church for me. Not so. It might be more right to say that it was right for me to land back there. For years I avoided any church the best I could. Most of my encounters with church were doing sound for slick, high budget megachurches or other evangelical groups that rubbed me the wrong way with their theology and smarm (and still do). I was unable to understand religion. It was all jibberish. At least I didn't let those more conservative churches provide the interpretations about all this. I held out until I was able to return to CCCPB where I could finally learn at least the academic parts in a more responsible manner with interpreters that helped bring out the messages not of condemnation but of liberation. My church at CCCPB was a community—dysfunctional as Kelli reported, and more so as I spent my time there—but one that I could relate to. And one where at least a couple people were true allies. The theology is bold and daring. It's liberating. But it isn't a warm and fuzzy place. Unfortunately, while the congregation has a liberal theology that I totally dig for myriad reasons, there isn't a framework like the Shalom Group to connect people now. I've been gone for five years, and hearing directly from Jerry that such a group would not happen there in 2006 was a deal breaker. That's when it started to feel less a fit. It coincided with the matter of how to recognize my tech/media contributions, and when I got ideas from my newfound friendship with Lee Van Ham, but if I knew there was a community life, or a close encounter group like Shalom, I might have stuck it out longer. For me, that is more important than the details of any theology. Why Jerry was led to tell me there'd be no such group is still a tragic mystery to me. Okay, he knows people at another level. But he knew what it meant to have Shalom Group before. I felt let down. And since, I've seen all sorts of other inexplicable things as I watch from a distance but otherwise know what's going on through Kelli and others. It makes me sad. And sometimes I feel like I abandoned the ship. Maybe I should have been bailing some water too? I don't know. I know I made my contribution of time and felt at the end of it wasn't sure what was accomplished. These days I watch from afar and see how the things I used to contribute are all neglected at best (the audio system is woefully underused, and the recording archive is a shadow of what I kept) and reverted at worst. (The website is dismally bad now compared to what I left behind.) I've been back for some special services, usually related to Kelli preaching or during the period surrounding her ordination. I did get back to CCCPB for Christmas a few weeks ago. The sermon was good, as ever. But the congregation was thin and just a shadow of what it was before. Still, upon going outside for a candlelight singing of Silent Night in the chilly winter air, I did get a bit of emotion as that still to me is an essential part of Christmas, and was so during the dark years. I did get a feeling of it all being good at some level. All good maybe, but not all for me.

After 2007

These days my faith walk is mainly done in the context of Mission Hills UCC, but is shaped in a big way by two other major forces: Jubilee Economics and Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Taken together, they reflect a range of concerns both practical and abstract, with areas of individual work and community life; with a chance to examine a man's place in the cosmos and in the human economy on Earth, but even more so to realize the connection between them. Justice is a thread that runs through all this. I even get to do audio and web work for JEM since that part of me seems to be a persistent and vital part of what I bring to these things. As I think of that early time ten years ago, particularly at the tidepools, it makes sense that a moment like that was a very spiritual one, and one that now I have MHUCC, JEM, and CAC to help me interpret as such, and to see how such times are what life is really all about: seeing and feeling connection at a mystical level. And moreso, each in its own way helps cultivate the soil where such encounters might take place. I didn't sense a lot of that at CCCPB. At least not within official functions and even in worship. There is a lot of good information there, but as Richard Rohr cautions, good religion is about transformation. Still, I can't slight Jerry for introducing me to figures who I have not really even begun to appreciate at a deep level: Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, King; Tillich, Wiesel, Solzhenitsyn, and several others who in Jerry's telling have made real the honest human struggles in our age. It's not that Jerry didn't teach the Bible; he showed how wonder and grace is alive in the world, even in the gulags and the concentration camps—those being the examples of the radical resistance that show the true cost of discipleship for those who would be followers of truth. (I often think he was talking over the heads of the congregation.) 

CCCPB's weak point has been that there isn't a church structure to keep people connected at the level like I now find at MHUCC. In 2006, I desperately needed that. After almost a year out of church in 2007, I needed the community of a good church, just so I could be a human again. Not a favorite son of the congregation. Not a webmaster or audio man. Just a human who was grasping at some big questions of existence. Mission Hills slowly became that for me as I warmed to that congregation. I had to get over my old idea that there was no church for me but CCCPB. In one of those God upsets that life deals to a guy like me with a cocky attitude like that, I found that CCCPB was but a stepping stone to a far richer life in a church setting. When blood family and my first church family were all things I felt I had lost, Mission Hills started me on a road to seeing it another way. It isn't perfect but there are a great many layers to it that help keep things in perspective. I've gotten to know a range of people in different contexts. I've mostly stayed clear of technical involvements. I've concentrated on relationships, which for me is where it's at. In that regard I've been both giver and receiver, both as a pew sitter/small group participant and in some capacity of leadership on the Christian Education commission and as facilitator for the young adults group. While Kelli appears at young adults gatherings, and sometimes at worship and other occasions, she is still rooted to CCCPB and causes me to shake my head at her persistence there. It's family to her. I count Mission Hills as family for me now. Even a couple weeks ago Scott preached on the family of water being stronger than the family of blood. Kelli and I live a somewhat divided church life now. But for her to let me be at MHUCC with an all new setting has been good. I've had a chance to relate to church on my own terms for the first time ever. I'm not going because it's my family's church. And I'm not going because my wife is the pastor. I'm not going for the sake of momentum, or association, or even coercion. I rather like it that way. At MHUCC people are connected. There is information but there is transformation too. It just feels right. It feels right because I am free to go there and be authentic and present far more than I felt able at CCCPB. On days when I hurt, I can say so. On days when I am happy, I might be glowing and ready to just sit down with anyone and trade stories. This is all stuff I wasn't able to do easily at CCCPB. I wasn't that person there. Or I felt like I had to be the guy who finished the recording before talking to people. And then half of them had left. 

The last decade has been quite a transformational one. I was just on the threshold of realizing things had to change back in 2002. At that time, I had no idea that Kelli felt called to ministry. I didn't know she'd go to seminary and get into ministry work, or that I'd read a few books of hers and develop my own parallel knowledge of some of the same things, or that I'd be swept up like I was. In some ways, early 2002 was a birthday. It wasn't just a 28th birthday. In some ways it was a rebirth day. And as you can see, it was just one of a chain of such times. I've had even more rebirthdays: emerging from Halcyon in September 2003 was one. Wedding day was another. Maybe even getting evicted was another, though it was agonizing and prolonged labor. And again I'd say that that devilish December 14, 2006 was one more still. They keep coming. The soul keeps having chances to be reinvented anew; to see the world with new lenses just like that day at the tidepools with Kelli. A decade ago I would have thought it jibberish if someone told me this story. How soon could my doubting Thomas side come up to challenge it all. Yet the cracks in that wall got bigger and bigger until the facade burst and collapsed with the help of a mix of personal and national tragedy, family loss, economic downturn, an old friend morphing into a bride, and the shimmering sun and waves at the tidepools that day. It isn't that God started working in my life that time ten years ago. I just was ready to admit that was the case all along. And that it was easier to fall into the river and go with it than to fight it. In actual water terms, I can't swim to save my life. Not so different in the God river, but then again, in the God river, one doesn't save one's own life.

Sunday
Sep112011

Drumming, Strumming, and Humming

ed on drums with two members of the new MHUCC praise band, playing in the parkToday I was in a whole new situation in more ways than one, or maybe more ways than two or three. You see, while drumming isn't anything new to me, and I've done some public performance on drums, I have never performed publicly on bass except as a kind of joke (with Rockola and their stage gimmicks), and have never ever been part of a music making ensemble for church. And furthermore, I've never really played guitar in public to account for much, and even more so never tried to sing for any public outside of my 2006 voice class at Mesa. And still furthermore, until just a few weeks ago, it was almost impossible to have done much of anything in the aim of singing AND playing at once; my skills just did not go there.

And yet today all of that was put to some use.

ed on bass with members of the new praise band in the parkLoyal readers of this fine journal know the struggle I've had with music for the last decade. And it has been one decade and a bit more since the old Hog Heaven glory days. Over time it has been apparent that if I was going to keep doing anything in music the game would have to shift to another focus. Mainly, the focus would have to move from my solo-oriented musicking. (Which was originally considered a way to learn stuff that would eventually let me be more versatile in other musical situations beyond playing drums in grunge and classic rock bands that were in abundance here in SD in 1995.) I didn't know it would take so many years to even get where I am now. All the life that has been chronicled here had to happen. As my understanding shifted, it was clear I'd have to make music for different reasons. All the years of basically being a listener more than a player were times that I've had a chance to connect with music in a way that I perhaps haven't done prior to, say, 2003, but now with more experience and learning to bring to my role as a listener, hearing more of the life in the songs that I like, and connecting with it more readily. I've found myself shifting my listening focus from some of the instrumentally focused ears I had for drum parts (when I was just a a drummer), or instrumental parts (when I began to incorporate guitar, bass, and keys), or for a few years now I have been able to better hear and appreciate vocal music, or the vocals in the midst of a full mix. Having had just a bit of training at a basic level, that opened me up to imagining how it was done and allowing myself some leeway to explore my own voice some. But mainly to let the expressiveness hit me. Connecting with more singer-songwriter artists of various genres has helped me shift focus too.

Years ago when I went to church at CCCPB, I got into drumming at just about exactly the same time in 1989. My intentional church life and drumming go together as partners in the narrative in my life, but aside from one jokey cymbal crash for a church play in 1990, and aside from last year's picnic show playing blues and country and oldies with the Broken Strings, performing in the midst of several local UCC churches, I have never until today—that's about 22 years now—played in a worship setting, on any instrument. But today I was in a trio that played a number of musical pieces for an outdoor service, and for my part, I was on drums primarily, bass for one song, and came equipped to play guitar and to sing, but the set list got changed some on account of the synchronicity of the worship service falling on the 9/11 anniversary. But once we finished and were in picnic mode, I did actually take guitar to a circle of people and, in a kind of giddy way that once was on display when I did my first "performance" for my old man and grandfolks in August 1989, I was excited to try out some newfound musical ability.

The extra odd factor is that most of the drum and bass stuff I played was out of a songbook that the UCC has formed recently, based on praise music. And to be rather blunt, I never liked the stuff and have often been rather unsparing in mocking the stuff. Many reasons for this, but I could address that as muso-artist ("the stuff is just brainlessly simple choruses that ape pop song conventions"); or I could take it on as a sound engineer (bands of amateur and semipro players with a mixed bag of gear and an even more mixed bag of stage skills makes for a messy mix); or I could talk about the rather inane theological ideas that comprise the lyrics. I would make these arguments because I have always hungered for musical sophistication and complexity (whether that is of any use or not), or because I worked for The Rock Church for a year or more as audio tech who had to wire stages with unusual and shifting musician lineups, or because I came from a liberal theological tradition that can be a bit snobbish sounding at times but that does pursue unusual avenues of theological thought and inquiry. To me, praise music has never done it for me. It just smacks of the church appropriating the common culture to get the hook in the mouth of the vulnerable. To me, it's pretty smarmy stuff musically and theologically. It wasn't enough to just have a rock or pop band instrumentation; it had to have screens, Internet video feeds, and the whole song and dance. I used to mock it all by saying, "how in the world did Jesus ever get any attention without all this shit?" My coarse but effective guide is that the more a church is invested in a modern day pop gospel band and screens and other showy things, the less I expect to be interested. To me, the goal appears to out-produce the secular world. On stages, as an audio man accustomed to working on professional stages with professional bands who "play for the stage," it could be rather dreadful as less experienced players come in with bad mic technique and sub-par gear, and ask for things they have no idea about. In fact, after about a year or so of working for the Rock Church, that was one gig I told Mitch (my boss for those Rock shows) that I never wanted to do again. And for a few years, that worked out.

During my years of distance from music, repeatedly talking about wanting to play music in a collaborative effort and not with solo ambition, I have kept the musical flame alive only by basic life support means. Obviously I kept a share of gear that allows me to get back into my guitar, bass, drums, and recording ability. The keyboards are all gone though. (I find myself a vulture, circling over a piano shop that is going out of business soon, waiting for the fire sale on an upright, just so I could get back to where I was in early 1996!) Since no place I have lived since 2006 has given me a Hog Heaven style studio environment, I have never had all my gear at my disposal, with most being stacked and put away. The acoustic guitar generally was around, and sometimes I'd bring the bass out and with either I'd strum or thump along to music or download some chord sheets and try to throw myself into unfamiliar territory. Some I'd try to sing. I have a lyric folder that has some ideas that have a few chord changes, but as alluring as working toward being a singer-songwriter has been, not feeling the "voice" in me has left me rather disappointed. I have had musings that maybe I need to do a cover album of songs I've connected with—Nik Kershaw, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Mark Knopfler (all from England in the 80s, mainly!) Aside from the few shows with the Broken Strings in the years since early 2008, that was about all the music being made. Period.

the drums were Ringo-style with a 4 piece kit and two cymbals. Pretty lean stuff.Then about a month ago I heard of a woman at church, a new member whom I had not met, was interested in praise music. When I heard about this I was not yet thinking I'd be involved with it, and the news was from a friend who washed her hands of that kind of sound when exiting the Southern Baptist world (with an ex-husband who played such music too). But somehow a week or so later, the topic came up again and it was drawing me in at least as a chance to play music and learn some new stuff, clearly in a setting I had no expectation of ever joining in on. Today's date was given as the first performance date, so somehow I offered that I was interested and could be called on to play drums or maybe bass or vocal parts. With just a few weeks to go, that is just what happened. All of it. We started off two times at the church and then another three times here at the house. It was just three of us—she on guitar and voice, and another on piano and voice and a generally handy sense of musical director for it all. I started on bass the first night, then brought a "toy" kit of kick, snare, hat, and ride only, but when we got to my place, I had the range of things set up and ready. Even guitar. One night we had no keys so with just two of us, we strummed a bit and listened to music that might fill the bill or get us rolling anyway. Built some rapport. While I am far from a sight reader, it is getting easier to read lead sheets (chords/lyrics only) and to give it a go. I have found that if I start off attempting both an instrumental part and the vocal part at about the same time, I have better luck integrating the two and for the few songs that I've tried that way, I've done better at doing two parts.

None of the songs are blindingly difficult but I find that at last I have to work from some basic building blocks of songmaking in order to progress. Slowly I am reversing the longstanding relationship to musicking that defined my older days: I was a recording artist, not a musician. Recording was the finished canvas, instruments were the paintbrushes and other tools to achieve that end. That means that my attempt to always come up with new recorded sounds was more attractive than getting the fundamentals right, which is generally regarded as a no-no. Occasionally a song did turn up and maybe it was memorable (Tired, I Wanna Be Your Puppy, The Power of Disco Compels You) but really, songwriting was accidental more than anything. And none of my stuff has been played live because I fancied myself in the vein of Steely Dan, The Beatles, and others who really just wanted to make recordings and not face the pressure to perform their work.

One thing that probably won't change is that the audio engineer part of me will wrestle with how to deliver a stage performance using electric instruments and amplification while also being seated at a dynamic acoustic instrument that takes more effort to play quietly than loudly. So for me at the drums to not have monitors to hear the others even over my own sound is rather challenging. And I'm not playing with much intensity at this or the Broken Strings type gigs. I use rod sticks, whip sticks, and those types of implements. But then people out in the audience, or hypersensitive people who are worried about "too loud" will emerge for certain, asking for the sound to be turned down. To me, that essentially neuters the performance on drums, while everyone else more or less has a knob to reach for and can still play with the same feel and abandon without making as much sound. (And I doubt that anyone will offer an electronic drum kit anytime soon.) Without monitors and a tiny sound system as we had today, at best I was able to get one speaker to be stacked upon my bass rig which itself was next to the drums where it was sort of audible but still not loud. Later video clearly shows the system was too low. The vocals were impossible to hear, the keys barely audible against the drums. 

What I foresee is that beyond "just" being a musician in this setting, sooner or later I will need to speak up in favor of some sane audio practices first using the minimal gear available in effective ways, and possibly incorporating more. But then there is still the cultural momentum of the congregation. Some will not like praise music because it is unfamiliar. Some because it smacks of a rather conflicted mix of conservative theology and "liberal" liturgy. Some will hear it and think it is just too loud. Or whatever. But really, since praise music is essentially pop music, gospel, rock and other styles that are essentially of the contemporary era of music, electrified and amplified, to do it like it's meant to be done means there is stretching to be done. Or to do it with a bit of a more acoustic instrumentation might mean there would have to be people with those types of instrumentation. I'd love to hammer on a djembe drum for some things, but not for everything. I play kit. Kit is rather loud when played with conviction. Loud is often misunderstood and cautioned against. 

About five years ago the cracks were showing in the wall at my old church where I had spent an August week installing a system meant to improve the church life. But it was majorly misunderstood and no one knows it even today. No one knows what to do with it. It is severely overengineered for an attitude like the one that exists there. But what I have found needs to happen is before these kinds of major decisions are made that will affect so many, the church needs to have some kind of visioning committee to evaluate potential impact, and to have some idea of feasibility. Something like a sound system needs to be operated weekly. Who will do that? And who are the various subs? What will the system be called on to do on the off days? Who will coordinate what needs to happen technically with any changes in the liturgy, with different ensembles playing, or more mics for guest speakers or whatever? I basically left my last church under a lot of pressure that I was the only guy who knew how to operate the new system and the culture there was mostly ignorant of what I was talking about, and if not ignorant, all sorts of factors conspired to make my ideas impractical. But by then, I realized that I was not in worship anyway, I was an audio tech again, and this time one that did not get paid, but was also utterly alone and was not part of a larger team to make stuff work right.

I know none of that has to happen. My present church is rather larger and far more conscious about major decisions. I would love to just show up and play music. But it is hard to suffer for long with bad sound after being responsible for making pros sound good. I can flex with regard to theology in the songs, or to play unfamiliar instruments in the name of taking some musical risk and enjoying camraderie. But bad sound just irks. People recognize bad sound but can't always articulate what is wrong. People maybe even are forgiving to either the amateurs or the intermediates who show up and give it a good try for the sake of worship. But really, to do praise music right, it takes some commitment to a certain level of technical quality. And again, I get the feeling I might be the only one who can bring this up, and fear that it will be somewhat mixed in its reception. 

But for today, I was happy to play all the instruments I have (but for electric guitar), and to try my hand at some new musical material, and to cut loose some with people who knew me but perhaps were rather surpised to see me up there at all, perhaps having no knowledge that I played anything. I really fancy the idea of finally integrating the two big threads of my life somehow.

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. 

Sunday
Aug152010

Debut Drumming

drumming with the Broken Strings in the park. fun.I played drums today at a picnic put on by a group of six UCC churches in San Diego. I played in a band called the Broken Strings. I used to play with them for a short while in early 2008, and the last time we played together was the last time I drummed that much, except for a bit of studio testing here and some djembe drumming at the rites in Arizona. So it has been since April 2008 when I played any of this material, or indeed heard any of it. The Strings are a branch of the church that I used to go to for a while as a buffer between my old church and the present one. The usually don't have a drummer or anything else, so they play real low key gigs as favors and fun. (A couple of the guys are brothers and play at their father's nursing home, for example.) The mix of tunes is so uncharacteristically me—old country, show tunes, early rock and roll, blues, pop standards. I originally played guitar for a day or two with them till it made sense to play drums because no one else was.

Today at the picnic, a few members of my church were present, and even after a few years of them knowing me, it came as a surprise for them to see me at the kit, playing two sets. Then I realized it was August 15th, the day when, 21 years ago, I picked up the sticks for the first time in about four or five years. A couple weeks later, after some dabbling in old drum instruction books, I debuted my playing before my family. Today was sort of like that, but with nary an announcement to anyone but Kelli of course. In fact, I haven't even been to church lately to announce anything. So it was a fun thing to play, but we shall see what people think. They're used to experiencing a whole other person.

I'm sort of amazed I could play as well as I did after more than two years of not playing, and despite never even hearing the names of a few tunes that showed up on the set list! Furthermore, since this is a living room fun band, this wasn't a gig using a real sound system. All was left to chance for hearing one another, as everyone is responsible for his own levels. It got crazy sometimes, not so much in its loudness as in its quietness that made vocals and guitars damned hard to cue off of. But hey. It's good for the soul to play, and good for the brain to be thrown into such unprepared circumstances.

Monday
Jul052010

Biblical Literacy

The following is a message to the Mission Hills UCC young adults group which I somewhat unwittingly took the reins of early last summer. Starting at about the same time, I was elected to the Christian Education commission at church and when asked what my interest was, I answered "biblical literacy." The young adults group is something I lay out some vision for, but don't particularly steer; it is primarily through emails like this one below that I offer some idea of what we might work towards. (And then, who knows what happens when we really meet up in person a couple times a month.) This one tried to speak to a growing readiness to do some bible study, but in a way that doesn't put the answer before the question.

I'd like for us to answer a call that has come from a few of our number to address some type of bible study effort. Before we start naming any particular books or themes to work on, I was thinking we need to take a bit of time orienting ourselves to what the Bible itself is, how we feel about it (love it, reverence it, misunderstand it, fear it, shrug it off). This is important stuff for Protestants, since it is a foundational belief that the Bible ("sola scriptura") coupled with individual conscience—and not church authority and dogmatic pronouncement—is the key to salvation. There are too many ways to draw great things out of the book. Some can read it to extract literature, others to glimpse a dose of history or age-old wisdom, but our interest of course, as Christians, is to let it lead us to transformed lives aligned with God. As a more liberal bunch who believes God is still speaking, we can read it however we like, letting it touch us at whatever level we are ready to be touched at.

There is a wide open space between the conservative and liberal poles of the bible study debate: ours should be a task to walk through the middle and not be drawn in by the absolutism and literalism of the conservative position nor should we fancy it rendered quaint and old fashioned by modern standards, a handy guidebook at best, but essentially a footnote from the pre-scientific age that has nothing much to offer a generally liberal culture. The fact is, we can take the old text to task and ask it to reveal itself to us in our time and place. And we should. Read in the right frame of mind, and given the right tools to help, I assure you the power it has to shock members of both polar sets. It is primarily about human nature and struggle. So far it has not expired in that regard. When one reads it, one should begin to feel smaller yet paradoxically empowered by the realization that none of what we experience now is new; already by the time of its writing, the biblical text was struggling with age-old dilemmas. Jesus and his approach to life was the big answer to the big questions for them and for us.

In a practical way, we owe it to ourselves to know this stuff just so we can know when other people are using it dangerously. And there is plenty of that going on now. It is our text, our revelation of God as much as it is theirs, so it is incumbent upon us to step up and claim it as unabashedly as they, and hopefully put it to better use. Wallowing in ignorance of it won't help. Our aim should be to read what they brush aside and hopefully wrap new meaning around the stuff that has served their position too well for too long. This is not left-right dichotomous thinking here; just a way of clarifying that this text obviously can be put to good use or ill. It belongs to neither side and yet both sides at once. This is where one brings in personal conscience. The Protestant reformation (our UCC predecessors going pretty far back in that history) was powered by the belief that individuals ought to have their own relationship with the text in their own language, to liberate souls one at a time. (Depending on your starting point, you can be liberated from a conservative position or a liberal position!) To ignore the text is to dangerously flirt with reversing that revolutionary ideal by neglect. Hence, my interest in promoting biblical literacy among you and others I meet.

There are plenty of people at church, and even in our midst [a couple pastors/chaplains in the making], who can teach the stuff, but it would make for good conversation now to see how we feel about it. What sort of histories do we have in relation to the Good Book? What do you think is in there that you need to uncover? What are you sick of already? How much of it is true? What is true about it? Why is it so complicated? Why does it exist at all? Why do we need it now? Why not chew on those things a bit before we meet again, and in the coming seasons, and maybe we can establish some direction. Even if the actual study doesn't happen within our bunch, then at least we can be clearer in appealing to [our church CE staff] as to what needs to be taught. For now, let's allow some of these questions to shape part of our time together.

Tuesday
Apr202010

Walter

Oh, man of mighty intellect
Oh, man with the brain
Oh, man with all the answers
Oh, man in silent pain

If you were only half the man you thought you were
With only half a brain
There’d still be plenty enough to go around
Then half as much again

But now we see you’ve gone away
By some oddly ordained plan
The hole that’s left’s an unholy one
Shaped wholly by one man

Sad the way this open mind
Somehow has failed to see
What life awaits just steps ahead
Life that won’t ever be…

Oh man with brains that go on for days
And laughter just the same
There’s more to life than intellect
But I’ve no chance now to explain

Sunday
Apr182010

Walter

IDONTUNDERSTANDTHEDEATHOFAMANWHOWASSOSMARTANDHADSEEMING
LYSOMUCHGOINGFORHIMBUTCOULDNOTACCEPTALIFETHATINVOLVEDAFAULT
YBRAINLOTSOFPEOPLEHAVEFAULTYBRAINSBUTDONOTBRINGTHEJOYTHATYO
UDIDANDTHATYOUWOULDHAVEBROUGHTEVENWITHHALFABRAINBECAUSES
OMANYPEOPLEWORKWITHSOMUCHLESSBUTWESOMEHOWLOVETHEMANYWA
YBECAUSEGODSEEMSTOLOVEPEOPLENOMATTERHOWTHEYAREMADEORMOD
IFIEDBECAUSEGODISLOVEANDJESUSISMERCYANDTHESPIRITISGRACEAND
WENEEDTHEMALLTOLIVEORELSEWEHAVENOTHINGTOLIVEFOREVENTHOUGH
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SEVENIFTHATMARKISNOWAHOLECUTOUTLIKEACOOKIECUTTERSTAMPONO
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WINGBUTREQUIRETRUSTINWHATWECANTSEEORHOLDORCONTAINBECAU
SEITISSOBIGANDGRANDWECANTCOMPREHENDITALLNEITHERDOESANYO
NEELSEKNOWWEKNOWITANDTHEREINLIESTHEDILEMMAOFALIFEOFFAITH
OFTHESTRUGGLETOSURVIVETHISMORTALCOILTHATYOUSHUFFLEDOFFOF
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HUSANDTHATWOULDHAVEMADEITALLREALLYUNNECCESARYWOULDNTIT?

Thursday
Apr152010

Nineteen Ninety

Holy Hell. Twenty years ago I was 16 years old. What you are about to read is more than half a lifetime ago. Gasp! I'm not sure if any of it is worth recalling or reading but for those of you brave enough to soldier on, here goes another chapter in the rites of passage-plus-twenty series here on TAPKAE dot com. I guess it functions as a test of memory if nothing else!

I guess if I had to offer a synopsis of the year, I'd have to just use the words drums, Rush/Neil Peart, Shelby, driver's license/accident, depression, Hobby City, junior-senior year, church, and finally Kelli. I guess it was quite a year, but who would have guessed so at the time? At that time I was just an awkward teenager only barely dabbling with coming out of a shell and daring to do some new stuff or meeting new people. Much of the narrative is helped along by the presence of drums in my life; that was my budding interest then, sort of like bikes are now, and the catalyst for new social steps. I guess I have to tell a few stories about loud cylindrical shaped items and things that go thud and boom.

ed at the drums in 1989 on his 4 piece ringo kitMe with my first kit, late 1989I started the year wanting to get a "real" cowbell for my kit that, in August 1989, I had dusted off and set up again after about four or five years of not playing. After the basic Ringo type of kit, the cowbell seemed to be a pretty useful accessory. I actually had one of those souvenir cowbells that you can get in Switzerland but it was not intended for this kind of use and was promptly bent out of shape after a few weeks of playing. I'm not sure that was well received by my dad. So in January, after some time of anticipation, I talked my grandmother into taking me to Music Mart when it was down on Morena Blvd. by the San Diego river. (That proved to be a fateful trip; I met salesman Dave Flewelling there that day, and he figured into a mentor for a while, and later on still I worked as a tech and rented stuff to him from time to time. Then once he came and rebuilt the electrical in a room I was remodeling.) I got my "real" cowbell, one made for drum set use, and a mount and some other goodies, and was immediately trained to expect the "bro deal" at music stores. Weeks later, I sold that silver wrapped kit (a real generic Taiwanese Pearl style ripoff) and bought another kit that, in retrospect, was not really any better except that it was a five piece with a deeper steel snare and maybe had better hardware. I had lusted for this kit for months, and just about this time in 1990—March—I plunked down about $350 (I think) for it. I got it at New World Music and Sound, a music store just two blocks from my house that mainly dealt in high end electronic music gear, but stooped to sell a good range of acoustic kits too, including a bunch of Premier brand drums that set me keen on that brand, well in advance of my owning my present Premiers. (More significantly, this is where I discovered King Crimson a couple years later—a case of aural assault, but in a good way.)

I took this new kit and kept it in my room, one with single pane windows and louvered windows above. They were naturally loud in a room that was woefully unfit to contain them. The matter of volume got to be contentious pretty fast. My old man had an oft-repeated chorus of "the drums don't belong in the house." He was willing enough to put up with a couple hours a day of my jamming to the few artists I had recordings of in the first year of my drumming era: Tull, Def Leppard, Fairport Convention, Aerosmith, Rush. He was sort of okay with that, but the neighbor's patience was always wearing thin and I think he wore down the old man as often as he could. Another almost hilarious episode involved my setting up the drums in the garage once, just downstairs from the studio apartment that we rented out. The tenant that year was this uptight middle aged dude who didn't get humored by all this, even though I played in the middle of the day on the weekend or something. He complained to my old man, who in turn offered him a set of earplugs (this was one of the very few times my old man stood up for my interests in music). Tenant boy wasn't amused so he sued for some money, and I guess he left. This was the beginning of the end for my house-bound drumming days. After that it was never to be taken for granted, and usually when I did set up and play it was on the sly, or almost intentionally to mess with our neighbor.

All that year and for years to follow, the drumset was like an ever-unfinished sculpture. I fantasized about "finishing" it but that never happened until I sold it in 1997! I found that money flowed toward the kit, always messing with hardware options, cymbals, heads, pedals, etc. Oh, and more cowbells! (Cue the Christopher Walken SNL episode.) Here is where I must tell the story about getting a job.

The job called me out of the blue one day, but it was only because I had made my face known for a couple years before as a sycophantic kid who just had endless time to hang out on the weekends. So one day in April of 1990, Mark Bahlmann called me and offered me to work at the Command Post, one part of a larger hobby store called Hobby City. By that time, I had almost completely left the model building life that was my consuming interest until I got into drums in August 1989. But he knew I knew enough to come in and be helpful for something like $4.25 an hour, 15 hours a week or so. I had helped them move to that location in Kearney Mesa, working for free product. He called me on a Sunday and wanted to know if I could fill in that day. I had my reservations about working on Sundays, coming from a family setting that had never demonstrated that and actually urged me against it, and also regularly going to church of my own volition. Anyhow, the job was mine for the taking and I did weekends for a while till the summer came, then I did a few short hours till Jeff came in once his school hours were over. It was never as fun as when buddy Ross Shekelton worked at the old location in the glory days (when I spent literally nine hours a weekend across two days, and for eight months in a row! I was the guy who fetched lunch and stuff to be paid for in product.) In 1990 though I was paid each week, and it was so little that they could just pay me out of the register if I cashed my check there—about $85 or so. This was heady stuff. My first job.

The joke of all these things was this: there was a physical layout you need to envision to enjoy how I justified spending all my money on drum stuff that summer. The Command Post was on Convoy Ct. and is the northernmost point of my illustration. Music Mart had moved that summer up to Convoy St., just about a block south from Command Post. (That area of town was a form of heaven then, or would have been if I did both model building and drumming at once!) Then, there was a Union Bank (not my bank) that was immediately next to Music Mart, but just south of it. The three places form almost a straight line. I used to joke that I spent all my money at Music Mart on the way to the bank on payday, because the trip from work to bank was interrupted by the music store! Hah! I spent enough time at Music Mart that the whole Command Post experience of old reconstructed itself there: I got to know product, learned the craft, met the personalities, and ultimately got a job there some years later. (These days I tend to do the same thing at the bike shop—some things never change!)

Now, all this solo drumming stuff is just enough to annoy the neighbors, so sooner or later I needed to apply it. Just as if according to plan, there was a rock concert put on at the school, featuring five bands that played a range of styles: metal, reggae, prog, funk-fusion, Christian rock. The band that loaded up on prog stuff played a couple Rush songs that I was just then getting into. They were the most impressive to me in terms of sheer musicality, though my understanding of that was not great then, my understanding that Rush was an act to respect was firmly in mind. It turned out that one of the drummers in that show, Mike Bedard, became a friend later on and of course, played on recordings of mine. At the time he was playing in the band that did mostly Metallica covers, and I was not impressed at all. But the band that played the Rush covers—Tom Sawyer and 2112—left an impression on me and I went in search of Rush music finally, after a couple years of being urged along by Command Post big-brother-buddy Ross.

That show also influenced a couple other guys who sat in the same audience. Tomas Enriquez and Shawn Zizzo approached me later on about playing drums in their AC/DC and Zep influenced band they were starting. We did one Memorial Day weekend jam at my house, and because they weren't Jethro Tull, I wasn't interested! Having no bass was odd too, and so we shelved that idea for about a year till there was a talent show in our senior year. When we did play together finally, we played the Run DMC take on Walk This Way—on the same stage as this 1990 concert, this time able to have some senior class fun putting on a memorable show involving white boys emulating their black hip hop heroes. That experience was perhaps the high point of my high school experience.

It was about this time when I started recording my drumming for the sake of being able to review how I was progressing. I grabbed whatever tape deck was on hand and put it to use. I used to record aimless improvisations and my attempts at the songs I liked from the few artists I know of and was listening to then. More notably, I made little cassette cards with the essential information on these performances. I used a copy machine, clip art, and my typewriter to tease myself that this stuff was a proper recording. This is the start of my recording career, and the start of my graphic and layout interest. These days, after progressing through this cut/copy/paste paper work, and later on to digital covers for tapes and CDs, and ultimately for a glass mastered and commercial ready CD, it is charming to see how it was important for me not only record something but to explain it too in some text and graphic presentation.

rush album presto band portraitRush, taken from the Presto album cover, featuring Alex Lifeson and the hair that I decided I wanted but never had the time or talent to maintainThe drama and theater class teacher (Dennis Hollenbeck, who put the talent shows on) had a brother (Geoff), who was my English teacher one year. I dropped in on him periodically because I had a good rapport with him. Geoff somehow had a copy of Rush's new album (on vinyl!) Presto just sitting there at his classroom desk. He let me borrow it for a week or so, and I devoured it. It was several songs from that album that I was playing on the day when our studio apartment tenant got fussy. This one album launched me into getting into Rush that year, about as fast and furious as the year before when I bought nearly everything from Jethro Tull. (Somehow, I was in a mindset that once I started a band's catalog, I thought I had to finish it all.) About as fast as this was happening, I got some Neil Peart posters that Ludwig drums put out as promotional fodder. I was, as it seems to happen with drumming kids about this age, in my Neil Peart phase. The secret handshake in musical circles involved asking "can you play YYZ/Tom Sawyer/La Villa Strangiato?" The effect on drum tuning was that my snare was tight as could be, and my toms also were too high. I literally had, by the end of the year, built up my version of the cowbell tree that Peart had made famous. Seeing his enormous kit of course sent feelings of inferiority through me, and the answer was to gear up and buy more stuff!

ed playing borrowed bass guitar. not very well.Sort of playing a borrowed bass, but notice the Neil Peart posters that Shelby tormented me aboutThese days it is all good for a chuckle, but back then it was a voyage to manhood. A rite of passage. It was important shit, learning every one of Peart's licks and having too big a kit to wail on. But some saw through it. My odd friend at the time, Shelby, always into everything that is anti-prog—Beatles, folk-rock, punk, goth, whatever—visited my room just in the peak of this period, about May of that year, and she gave me nothing but hell about it for years to come. Years later when she wanted to put me down, she just had to remind me of the Neil Peart posters on my wall for about a year or two back in 1990-1992 or so. And those were—as much as ever—the glory days of our friendship. That semester, she used to come up to my area in Clairemont to take a night class while in high school. She got dropped off at my house and we walked a couple blocks to the school. That was about as much time as we routinely had to spend together, and a chunk of it always garnered some crap about the posters! Shit.

Despite this humiliation, I was determined to make moves on her in my naive and awkward way. I don't remember the full details of how all this went, but one thing was that I wrote a personal ad in the Reader. This was when you had to type 25 words or less on a card and mail it in the old fashioned way. It wasn't poetry or anything, but it took all this energy I had for her and put it somewhere, and committed to at least one statement. And it was promptly dismissed. All I needed to know about her was learned that spring of 1990 when such a great gesture was knocked down so swiftly. I guess I was too enamored with what had already passed into history between us to realize there was wayyyy too much difference between us. Later on she chewed me out for being condescending and for "misrepresenting the terms of our friendship." Hey. It's not like the whole Peart poster thing didn't smack of snark from her! It only took me another ten years to get her out of my system, by finally spelling out exactly what was on my mind all that time.

Okay, so 1990 was not the year for girls. Sort of. But explaining how it sort of was requires plenty of backstory. I'll get there. I promise.

The summer of 1989 was the first time when I actually found a great life in going to church and inhabiting the community there. All that was in full swing as we moved into 1990. I had done most everything that a 16 year old could do there, and was enjoying it greatly. In the early part of the year, I was nominated to the board of deacons, my age being quite distinctive for that board. The deacons were the more spiritually nurturing body and I know the folks who nudged me into that position wanted to cultivate that side of me, so giving me a place as a church officer was one way of doing that. The confidence of the congregation was nice, but really, by the late spring and early summer I was feeling spread too thin there, and so in September I resigned my post as deacon. I think that feeling coincided with getting my first job which I remember leading me to a divided mind about my priorities. I found myself in a blue mood that season, as I think I was going to church for the morning then heading to work for the afternoon. This was something I was warned of by my family. And in the recent years, I've dared to return to my roots in my conviction to not willingly work Sundays. But at that point, there was friction inside me as two very different worlds sought my attention. I ended up being led toward the commercial work more than the church life for many years. This one spell however was a teaser because my time at Command Post was only about four or five months, and it was over a week before I went back to school in the fall. That allowed me to return to a life around church activities, but by then, the cat was out of the bag in terms of my emotional life. Drumming was my main attraction, but unfortunately, that often had accompanying it a tendency toward retail-induced therapy, the short-lived thing that that is. I also realized that since this summer was the first to not be a supervised time during the days, I was left to my own devices at home for most of the days, not really sure what to do if I wasn't at work, hanging out at the music store, or actually playing drums. I found it to be a new thing, this feeling of isolation from folks.

I had been biking around since a kid and this was the first year I was able to take driving lessons. That had a teasing effect because I had no car nor any plans to get one. All summer long as I was buying various stuff for my drum kit, I remember riding the rather risky road across Clairemont Mesa Blvd., crossing the freeway cloverleaf, all while carrying whatever I could while pedaling the bike—cymbal stands, cymbal set, who knows. I finally took my driving test and passed it on the third of July, after a rather dumb turn-on-red instance disqualified me from a first go around a week earlier. Then, just under one month later, I had the indignity of having an accident in my grandmother's sedan while on the way home from a church picnic. The other party, Jennifer, was another of my youth group—the daughter of our associate pastor and youth leader Judy! She and another member of our group were leaving from a picnic at Mission Bay, and driving to her house up on Mt. Soledad. I was in the lead and missed the left turn I meant to take. Thinking she was farther back than she was, I yanked a late left turn and she came around that same side and hit my car in the front fender area. It was odd explaining how the car behind me hit the front left of my car. Like me, Jennifer had just gotten her license just a couple weeks before. It made for an interesting tension that year, as my driving privilege was revoked as soon as I had earned it, and it was awkward between my family and Judy until all that got resolved.

To add to a complicated time, I discovered just a couple weeks after that that I had a cyst on my chest. It decided to make itself known while at a church lock-in event when we hosted a congregation from Arizona. It was supposed to be a good time but I just remember it being a downer as I had to wonder what that lump was, and avoid hitting it (a bit hard to do when you'd rather be all active and playful and stuff). It was something I had to live with. No doctor said it was cause for alarm until two years later when I finally had surgery to get it excised.

kelli in 1992 or soKelli, circa 1992But on to happier things. It was also this summer that perhaps the biggest thing happened, though it did not seem so at the time. It didn't even seem so ten years later. In the midst of all this church activity in our rather small church family, we had a couple new faces turn up one August day. Two people—a mother and daughter duo—by the name of Kay and Kelli turned up and before long announced they had been regulars there years ago. I didn't recognize them, but they seemed like nice people. They were likely to be found wearing flowing garb, colorful stuff. Denim or overalls, tee shirts with left-leaning political statements or tie dye, quilt skirts with interesting patchwork design. It was as if they emerged out of Northern California. Not quite. They said they came in from Florida after a seven year stay there. They were different enough from anyone at church. Kelli, only 14 at the time, was into classic rock and protest and folk music. I dared speak the name Jethro Tull and she didn't run the other direction or smile and ignore me. Kay promptly got into singing in church, accompanied by her autoharp or guitar, and she sounded like an angel. Kelli had an immediate rapport with certain of our youth group because she indeed knew a number of them from the days—seven years and more before—when she used to be there at the church all the same as them—and me, sort of.

The story goes that she used to bug me back in Sunday School. I guess I was about eight and she was five or so. That is, I did not attend too regularly, but apparently we were there as kids, and Kay was, at times, my Sunday School teacher. Even though I didn't really recognize these two, they joined into the current church life and I found myself befriending them. Little did I know that 14 years later, I'd marry Kelli after all that time, both in and out of church life, mostly spent as emotionally close friends, but usually at some physical distance. (But in that blue summer of 1990, nothing led me to think I would marry a nice church girl, and particularly not the one who later really went the "church girl" distance, right now as I write, awaiting her chance at ordination! No, in 1990, my heart was set on Shelby. Ah, youth.) As the years progressed, I moved house for Kelli many times, but the first of such instances was done that first year as they got established here in town. It was one way that we established a type of relationship that was rather unlike the more established families at church, folks who I didn't get to know in this way.

ed senior photos, posing like a cool artist with his chrome snare drumOne of the portraits from my senior year photo session

Alas, that summer had to come to an end. It was made a bit more bitter by the loss of the job at Command Post, a move which was really just a release of my services by Mark Bahlmann. Just as well, it came at a time when I needed to go back to school. Also happening just before school was the last attempt to get my senior photos done. I had a chance to do that in the early summer but bypassed it due to my downer mood, and never really wanting much of my school life but to do it and get through it. Finally, I did go for the photo session in the studio. I took my new Premier snare drum, decked out in its diamond chrome finish. That figured into at least one pose. Another was another casual pose still involving a drumming theme, and then there was the official yearbook pose. The photographer was really a hoot to pose for. She was drawing something out of me that had been dormant for months. I had fun. I was not into it going in, but by the end, I was ready to face that last year of school, refreshed somehow. It was my turn at being a senior. Eventually, I got the portraits back, and because I had waited till the last minute, other mysterious figures in the shadows got to pick my yearbook picture. Unfortunately, they selected the dorkiest one of the bunch. There were some that were without glasses, better hair, a nicely relaxed but mature look—but no!—they picked the one with bad droopy hair, glasses, and a half cracked grin. Ick. That is how I shall be remembered for all eternity!

One thing that was different was that after that summer of work, I had some money to buy my own clothing, instead of enduring the agonizing annual ritual of back-to-school shopping for school clothes. This was the first year I had this option, and while I didn't go out and buy all sorts of rebellious garb, I did at least have the dignity of getting stuff I liked well enough. It is hard to convey what horrible times I had (as I fought and usually lost the battle with my old man) every August until then, particularly in high school. I started my senior year feeling more relaxed.

daniel and kelli do prom, 1994 or so.Kelli with Daniel, our fallen friend, all of us members of the Shalom Community at our churchI seem to remember the emphasis shifting a bit away from the church life I led quite keenly for about a year, and more toward my life at school. I didn't leave church life but since senior year is a time filled with many distractions, I think I lost the focus on church life. I remember participating still in the youth group, specifically a subset of that group called the Shalom Community, where the high school age kids had a great open but confidential forum to address issues candidly and with some adult perspective. By the time I started school in 1990, the Shalom crowd was welcoming a second wave of members, but since our church was small, some of those were siblings of kids who started the Shalom group a year before, and so the dynamic was thrown off. I remember the second year was not as engaging as the first, in part for that reason. It is through this group that Kelli and I both saw the early glimpses of our inner lives, giving us the start to our (now nearly 20 year) relationship. At that time of course, nothing seemed exceptional or suggestive of a history such as we've now racked up. But that is essentially our humble beginning as friends, and the basis for what we have now.

Back in the school life, it is important to at least mention the early days of my friendship with Stephan Rau from Germany. He appeared in my government and economics class with Harry Steinmetz, a teacher I had once before for public speaking, and once a decade and more later for another public speaking class at Mesa College. Stephan was the token foreign exchange student that year. I suppose he and I sat pretty close to one another then, probably got situated in small groups for certain things, etc. I remember we used to get lunch together, among some other people that I can't remember now. Sometime early on we discovered a wacky news broadcast on KGB-FM that we both liked. That was one of the things that got us laughing together, and kept us in some humor for a time to come. But that first semester was not really the time when we really thought of each other as good friends—that will come later in the second semester, so stay tuned till early next year or so.

With the status of senior classman, I did get a small ego kick. Whether I sought it or not, I did notice that it came with a change in social acceptance. I actually enjoyed my senior year, and I wasn't one of those who badmouthed the whole experience from the start. I did get a bit of senioritis in the second semester (therefore not part of this chapter) but for the most part I didn't mind the experience because in general, I came to like school more as it went, rather than less. By the fall semester my depression had subsided in the face of back-to-normal activity in a school setting with people who generally afforded me more respect than I had come to expect to that point.

As for the rest of the school experience, it sort of has clouded over. The senior year experience did finally jostle me to open up from a pretty closed shell in years prior. I remember joining a club—the Future Educators club—and attending some meetings. I don't remember what all went on there but I still do fancy myself interested in education, but am woefully behind in getting any sort of credentials. I was on the school newspaper, the Talon, that year. I really was ho-hum on that for a while, and quite mediocre at it but it was a distinctly different class experience. Mostly I talked Rush and drums with a sycophantic underclassman named Derek Vigeant, who later got madly into Rush and then also seems to have since made some name for himself in the world of comic books. I remember letting him come over to play on my drums on occasion. In my British Lit class, I remember having this ability to totally sweet talk my way through things. I did do the work; but I was the darling of the teacher and the TA because I actually liked the subject, and used to bring in Fairport Convention music and compare that to the stuff I was learning in class. In Steinmetz's  government class I had a friendly rivalry with a certain Robert Asimovic, the likable guy who seemed to ace everything he did—academics, sports, drama, etc. To even hold my own against him was good for the ego. (I still run into him once in a while in town; he has managed restaurants around here, and last I saw of him he was managing one where I made deliveries. We've even met while getting haircuts.) I took a computer class that year—programming, I guess—I hated it more than I thought possible. I think that within the year I also engaged in my first computer chat from one machine to another while doing newspaper work. I totally didn't see the point but thought it was fun BSing with a buddy across the room. How things have changed. I guess a bit of that early newspaper experience helped form the basis for my web work. Interesting thought.

One night early in the first week of the school semester I didn't get to sleep before having a sustained vision of myself as a lecturer at a school assembly, possibly speaking to a bunch of kids from about fifth grade on up. I saw myself speaking about relationships, family, friends, peer pressure, and so on. It was some heartfelt inspirational stuff. (I'm sure it would be embarrassing now but it clearly demanded my attention that night.) I suppose having envisioned myself in that sort of role, I've acted out some of that in smaller venues and in various relationships since. There is still a lingering desire to be thought of as a teacher, but not one who "just" teaches a subject in school. So I suppose it was that sleepless night that drove me to go to see if I could connect with Charlotte Eastland, one of the elementary school teachers I liked and who was an advocate for me back when I was in third grade. I went over to the school after hours one day and found her (this was so far before the 9/11 paranoia about people walking on to school campuses). We struck up a conversation that lasted a couple hours. After talking for a while about all that had happened since third grade, she took me to a faculty room and dug out a yearbook from 1972-3. Part of what I had to report that day was that I had in those years finally "met my mom" a few years before in 1986. I'm not sure that I could have known this—only that she seemed to have some great understanding of me when she was my teacher—but she had once been teacher to siblings of mine, back in the early 70s. (I can't remember if it was sister Chris or twin brothers John and James but the twins seem to be the right age.) Yep, they were ten and eight years older than me, respectively, and plain as day there they were in that yearbook. They seemed like vastly different people in those pictures—ones I had never seen because of the politics in my family. Anyhow, Mrs. Eastland was finally able to come clean on this morsel of information that was probably squelched when I was a kid. It didn't magically transform things for me. By that point, I was already done with what became known as the "first period" of my relationship with my mom's family (the one started in summer 1986 and sputtering out by late 1988 after some difficulty and silence), and there was not yet any return on the horizon. Eventually of course, history played out so there have been four such periods. Mrs. Eastland's revelation did do something to set my mind thinking about larger life events, and for that, I am grateful. On a few occasions during my senior year, I dropped in and talked a bit, but also was given the chance to come in and volunteer in her class. I'd have to say she left me with more of an education than you might expect of a third grade teacher. I sort of hope I get to tell her sometime.

Now I am pushing the boundaries of my memory, trying to recall what made this year worth reporting on. This is the last of the calendar years before I began journaling and keeping a calendar. In 1991, on the occasion of graduating from high school, I began my journaling period that covered a pretty solid ten years. But in 1990, I guess I was only beginning to have the sorts of experiences that I deemed noteworthy. In 1990, who would have known where the blue mood was leading to, or that it presaged many depressive episodes to come? In 1990, who knew that some animated tie-dye wearing folksy chick from Florida would become my wife? In 1990, who knew that my first experiences working on Sunday would lead me to working with a non profit organization that places the Sabbath at the center of an alternative vision of the world and economics? And in 1990, who would have known that I might be the facilitator of a young adults group at church, where in some ways I do function as teacher, but more so from experience gleaned from the Shalom Community, try to take whatever insight about life and relationship and inner life, and put it to some use so that it isn't something that just keeps me wallowing in depression?

A few years ago Kelli gave me a book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. It is a great book about allowing yourself to open to what your true vocation is, what you're meant to do in life. He points out that the clues are littered throughout life, and only after what seems like a scattered life does one have the chance to find out what all that builds to. Jobs, hobbies, other things like volunteer efforts and the roles we play in our lives all have some clues. Some things are very clearly not meant to stick but contain some aspect that has enduring significance, and when seen in the midst of other roles and interests, things come into some focus, suggesting further direction. My favorite chapter dealt with depression, and that it is a time like that when your real soul work has its chance to be done, that it is not an enemy trying to crush you but a friend pushing you back down to ground where it is safe to stand. Nineteen Ninety is a year when a lot of seeds were sown in my life, and, like in the case of the visits with Charlotte Eastland, other earlier seeds were watered. Even depression has its role to play; this was just the first of the times it took to my stage. We're entering the period of my examined life, the life outside Eden. This was a year when I tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Some of it was sweet, some bitter, but all of it ushered in a new life that is unfolding still. What, twenty years later, does it say to me?