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Monday
Jul222013

Years that End in "3"

It's now the middle of 2013 and I have barely blogged this year. This is one of the posts I've put off for months now, particularly since Buber Dog died and took the wind out of my sails. You see, the types of +20, +15+, and +10 posts that I have been writing since about 2009 are rather involved. But since 20 years on is a convenient time to have a glance back and measure the distance travelled, those coming of age years are starting in kind of fast and furious. I didn't plan to keep it going but it's sort of in my nature and things don't feel complete if I don't honor the urge.

Very practically speaking, I am also in circles trying to figure out what I want to do with blog platforms, either to move to Squarespace's new platform (a year old and getting better, but would be a LOT of work to make this site sing there) or to just get out of Squarespace altogether, and back to Wordpress. That would be a pain in the ass too. And then there is just staying here and bearing the frustration of how to present my posts to an audience I doubt even exists anymore. I digress.

The years that end in the number three have traditionally been transitional years. Of late, now that I have some language for it, I call them my death years. I was sort of dreading what might be in store for me in 2013, ascending to my 40th birthday in October. Entertaining writing such a sprawling post kind of depressed me if I were to write it before this May when I got the call from my new job, and a favorable interview, and then the position in June. But prior to that I was depressed out of my mind again. The Escondido move is something that is slow in reconciling though it's showing its benefits. The death of Buber Dog stressed both of us out, and in many ways we're grieving his loss and might be for a while still. So far, up till early May, 2013 was looking like it fit a pattern of those damned years ending in "3."

The summertime in those years seems to be particularly rich in some big changes. The summers fall in my "9" years, just on the eve of the decade years that bring something new eventually. But at the time, there can be a lot of uncertainty and confusion. Only in the space between 29 and 39 did I finally start to understand things in the language of spirituality, particularly Christian spirituality, in a way where these stark times could be seen not as the stuff of endings but as transformative experiences on the way to new beginnings. So this time around, even though there was some real downer time that could be said to be as bad as the times before, I could remain attentive and remember to wait for what comes next.

Lest you think I am just making this up, imagining a pattern, here is what I have in mind. Things come remarkably on time in these years.

1973

Nineteen seventy-three, the year of my birth, was both the ending and the beginning rolled into one trip from the womb into the cold world that probably could not give a rat's ass if I were to show up or not. Some people interpret the Exile from the Garden in Genesis to be symbolic of birth itself, separation from the only is-ness we ever knew, into the harsh world outside. Of course, we're all bornsomehow. Without really knowing it then, or for a decade or two more, that day of October 12 was when I was issued my pack for life, loaded up with all manner of ill feelings, conflicts and outright hostilities, broken relations, and more. Of course this pack has been mine to open up, often at this blog, in public, where the light might hit it and rob it of its power. So chalk 1973 up as the primordial death experience. (Actually, if you knew how much my mom probably smoked then, she was sort of giving me the stuff of death in utero!)

1983

A decade later, I was nearly unaware of who my mother was. There were faint ideas gleaned from extremely fragmentary tales about her. I think I knew I had siblings from her other family. For the longest time, the picture I had of her until I met her in 1986 was that she was tall, slender, with long blonde hair. If you knew what I knew about genetics then (nothing), you'd see my platinum blonde hair of my younger years and deduce that too! But in 1983 mom (Christina, aka Toni) basically did not exist. Eda did. Eda was my mom, for all intents and purposes. While I was aware she was not my own mom, she played the role willingly and with a good, compassionate heart that even my own mom is seemingly impossible to demonstrate toward me.

But life at Artesian Street was not as idyllic as my childhood stats might indicate. While my old man had a house that did provide a relatively good anchor to my existence, the fact is, the house has proven to be more important any anyone else who lives there with him. Eda, 22 years his senior, and having been married to a few men before, was growing apart from him as she found herself needing to develop her spirituality in her late 50s. For some time, she'd been in her own bedroom. I don't know how to indicate the distance that must have developed but I do recall arguments and being sent outside so they could hash it all out. And some time later, she told me of some threats of physical violence he had made that proved to be her last straw. She had to get out of there. Withsome sympathetic friends, and even the support of my grandmother, she left our house during this very week in 1983, thirty years ago now.

I wrote about Eda's comings and goings in a previous post.

The loss of Eda coincided with the fact that I had been expelled from my childhood school, Hawthorne, and had to find a new school. The search for a school during the first half of the summer (driving around town looking at magnet schools, chauffeured by my grandmother) was some of the last time spent with Eda during that era. Starting a new school made things more foreign than they needed to be. There was some of the usual harassment by other kids, especially once they found that my mom had just left, but I had a very understanding male teacher for the two years I went to Longfellow, and he helped deflect that.

The Longfellow experience introduced me to a wider demographic of kids than I'd have been among in my neighborhood school. It was a Spanish magnet program so there was a bit of an ethnic broadening to include Spanish speaking people (yes, Mexicans!) but also significantly more blacks than at Hawthorne. I suppose that has done me some good, though I was real lax with learning Spanish. I wish I had the presence of mind to know that would have done me good in the workplace 20-30 years later!)

The rebirth experience that moved me from the death experience of losing the only woman I'd called mom was one that took some years to piece together. Not to say it's complicated; I just didn't see it that way for a while. The autumn season around my birthday was when I was offered drum or guitar lessons. I opted for drums, having seen some young black kid come into the one room music store and do his lesson while I was at the store with grandmother Virginia. I suspect the lessons were something that were offered to help me get on with life after Eda left. Virginia drove me down there to the College area every couple weeks for a year and a half. Once she and my grandfather bought me my first drumset in early 1985, it wasn't too long before I lost interest. Then it took until 1989 before I found my own reasons to play.

1993

Two major endings happened in 1993, one of which was just on time during the summer. (The first was the breakup with Melissa, detailed out in an utterly brilliant 10,000 word journal earlier this year.) The other major breakup was perhaps more meaningful to me since it was one of those "artistic differences" that get us brooding muso types into so much trouble.

I've written about Rhythmic Catharsis some but sort of left the task of describing the end period to ...well, probably this year. I guess it's safe to say that at the time, RC felt more vital than having a girlfriend. There certainly was more friction in the "lovers quarrels" with Matt Zuniga, and if things went well, more reward. The task of RC was to give me some goal and purpose in my life when there wasn't much else going on. The fact that Matt rebelled so thoroughly made me more determined to make something happen. The project that defined the summer of 1993 was trying to get prepared to play a live show, like at a real place, not just in our usual parking garages or maybe at my house. Under the best of conditions, Matt was a thorn in my side, but the idea of playing in public made him completely obstinate, and any attempt to actually tighten up our drum-and-vocal songs was usually met with outrageously out of place vocal noises and other bits that just showed he wasn't going to try. I had to re-read journals from the era to recall how intolerable I got at his being that difficult. I had the yelling fits when we were out at the garages. I smashed my home phone. The whole thing with Matt and I arose because we could not play drums at home, so we went to garages. But that was just a way to blow off steam at first, and evolved into trying to play songs even withour limited means. Bashing those out could be fun but it seemed time to try to develop it so it would be stage ready. It's no stranger than some punk acts.

Because RC was really my baby, he could do whatever he wanted and not really feel too bad. RC gave me pride in accomplishment. At a time when the girlfriend broke up with me and I opted out of attending Mesa College (beginning the inadvertent ten year break), RC was something to challenge me to do better. For Matt to piss all over it was devastating. After some weeks of thinking we'd go to the Sprit club (across the street from the second Subway job I had), Matt utterly flaked on me as I went to pick him up. I was livid upon furious upon pissed. I recall getting to his place in the evening and he was watching Beavis and Butthead with his roommate. He just backed out entirely (maybe this is my karma for the Melissa ASB ball thing earlier in the year). I drove down to the club anyway, set up my stuff on stage and asked for a vocal mic, which of course had not been the plan. Then I proceeded to make my way through the set the best I could. It sucked donkey balls in every way except for the fact I did it under the conditions that day. The audience was just the club staff and maybe Bill Francis, who a short while earlier had moved into the trailer at our house when he fell on hard times.

The show was not the big thing. I had words with Matt later in the week and that started us into about a five month silent spell that only broke in January of 1994. What ended up happening though was that the Spirit club let me come back and do the same thing another couple times! Not sure I did any better considering I had never really tried to drum and sing at once. It was hard enough to even suck at one or the other! But both at once? Yeah. It turns out that the third show I did that way, in mid September was the start of a new era in my musical life. I did my solo RC show and another group, New Electron Symphony (NES) had no drummer and was instead using tapes and otherwise just grooving hard on their instruments. We shared the stage for their set and I played on two raucous jams. That launched me into a several month period jamming with them in their space—a geographic and psychic shift that needed to happen after all the Matt drama. Since the others were older, I was made the student and learned something about musicality that I would never have arrived at in the completely reckless non-tonal setting of Rhythmic Catharsis. When I later took on some new projects and further musical work later on, NES proved to be a key experience, even as short as it was. It's fair to say that the sonic atmosphere of some of my stuff like Receiving andAural Sects owes itself very much to NES.

An odd thing happened in the period though. It was definitely one of those death periods. RC was dead and never really came back in the same way despite an eventual reunion with Matt. But while playing with NES I had a sinking feeling that I was done with music. Done. Done. Done. Not so, said Ian McGehee, the mastermind of the group. He promised me lots of experiences lay ahead. It was kind of a liminal period in those days, feeling dead in one way but the future also not having taken a real shape yet. Interestingly, during the early part of 1994, the feeling kept on. And even though I later took out a couple ads in the local rag, and found some new playing opportunities, it was still surreal how I felt done with music. Odder still was that I was buying more drum gear—new pedal, a few cymbals, and other stuff—even as it seemed I was ready to pack it in. And then I totally shocked myself when I bought new drums almost exactly one year to the day after RC split up, and just at the time when the band at the time, Slaves by Trade, was making bigger plans by cutting a demo. Then we broke up. But that's next year's story.

2003

Now this is the part of this entry that I actually dread the most. Not because it's so painful or anything (though it was) but more that by 2003, the matters were more grave and nebulous and existential. It's a terribly hard year to unpack on a good day when I feel chatty. Since a lot of those things have been dissected in this blog since some of it was front page news (the blog started in 2002), there's no point in retelling it all now.

The year was spent as a 29 year old who was having a crisis of faith in life. Depression was the background noise but I had not really understood it as I later would once various teachers emerged to interpret those experiences for me in the light of the spiritual journey. By that point, the years of family strife, grief, stagnation in the work world, and frustration about not getting new music projects done all piled up on me. Throw in a bit of girl trouble as my ex called me out of nowhere and added to the general confusion. That year of 2003 happened in part because I realized sometime around the start of the year that I had grown separate from my inner life in recent years when I started to shut down in overwhelm after the deaths of two grandmothers, revelations of family misdeeds, and the restructuring of life at home (being ordered to have roommates now that grandmother was gone and the old man was able to throw a party as my new landlord). The matter of living at the house where I'd lived while grandmother Virginia was alive was something that frustrated my old man, who long had designs on that house. He didn't anticipate I'd live there. So he rearranged his plans to let me live there from 2001-2005 but acted out his frustration that I was there in a real passive aggressive way. He made two significant alterations to the house that were illegal (no permit and not even consulting code) and tasteless and not really needed. At the same time he ignored my requests for things that really needed to be done there. When I asserted that the quality of work needed to be better than what he was doing, he abandoned the project of a bathroom refinishing and let me do it myself. I had some fat and lazy roommates that trashed the place too, so as the year progressed, the reality was upon me that no one but me cared about that house. From landlord and tenants, the place was being sabotaged. I just lived—and thought I'd die there.

Musically, I was real frustrated. After almost a year of giving a good try at starting a band and providing space, instruments, and recording gear to the cause, the ever-changing cast of musicians that came by did not stick around. One guitarist, not really in the running for this band idea because he was too good, said that I had not really paid my dues and I wasn't ready to be some Frank Zappa or Mike Keneally or Ian Anderson. Even a decade later, the old Rhythmic Catharsis ghost visited me. Band leading was not my thing. I also had to face that all the year I bought and sold and traded in the wake of my grandmother's death was not really helping my creativity. The more elaborate two room studio arrangement made it next to impossible to do recording like I once did, but my heart was not in recording; it was in interacting with people, and that was crashing hard at times. (I had just enough glimpses of my ideas played by trios and a short lived quartet or two to be real excited.) It was a substitute for what I really wanted and needed. In July 2003 I packed my stuff up and left it in Hog Heaven Studio's original small room and tried to not enter the place. Certainly nothing got done.

During that death period of late July and August, I started watching movies with an intensity I'd never brought to that activity. For a long time, I'd barely watched movies. I had no real interest. I hated paying to go to theaters. I did not have a video rental card. Netflix was not even around. But something was calling me to watch movies like I was a madman. And these weren't just fluffy things to pass the time. No, I made a list of some dense and heavy shit to watch that maybe I'd heard about but never seen. Edgy, hard. Challenging. I needed an emotional jackhammering to crack into a place in me that needed to be let out to see the light of day again. I at least made some mental list and made my way through the following movies: The Deer HunterThe Last Temptation of ChristThreadsThe Day AfterSaving Private RyanSchindler's ListApocalypse Now. And probably more. It was hot and humid that season and for the first time ever, I had a TV and VCR set up in my room with the sole purpose of hitting myself so hard so that I might feel again. Watching gripping war movies or nuclear disaster films and other dystopic stuff takes you to a place that you don't naturally want to go to. The single most effective film that left an impression on me was The Last Temptation of Christ. When it first came out in 1989, my church youth group was taken to see it as a field trip. That is, everyone but me. My conservative family crew knew only enough about it to deny me the chance to see it with the group, and with two pastor figures who would be able to place it in a larger context. So that was on my list. When I watched it in 2003, I cried buckets because it was the first glimpse I got of Jesus as a man who understood the kind of internal torment and confusion that I knew. I could only wonder how I'd have turned out if I had a clue about that when I was 16, if I'd seen the movie then.

By far the biggest death of these years that end in "3" was what followed all that movie watching and studio closure. In 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the date when I bought a bottle of sleeping pills with the intent to down a bunch of them but ended up chickening out and spending a week and a half in a residential transitional home, I wrote a very detailed blog which I'll direct you to now. Back in the present moment, having skimmed that blog, I'm a bit surprised at how complete it was, even as it happened before I got into later men's work via the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, etc. The tenth anniversary of that date is coming up in a few weeks. If ever there was a time of rebirth into new life, it was during that period. It wasn't that everything was rosy after Halcyon; it wasn't. But periods like that reshuffle the pack and I emerged with new understanding that fueled me for the next leg of the journey.

2013

Seeing what a time it's been with those decades marked by 3's, this year was looking ominous. The fact it is also my 40th year also lent a bit of gravitas to it too for reasons that many already recognize from pop culture and its claims of 40 starting the over-the-hill era. Being the third year of my unemployed and sedentary life, I could certainly feel the shift in my physical being. Last year's departure from Jubilee Economics was not really as graceful as I'd envisioned. Looking for work and getting little or no response, or outright denied, certainly weighed on me. Losing Buber Dog really deflated me at just about the time I wanted to write about many things that might just end up as summaries in this post. Musically, things have generally been better than in years, since I am regularly playing cajon at the pub each week, and trying to write songs and collaborate with songwriters I meet in the San Diego Songwriters Meetup. Collectively, to some extent or another, those engagements have had me play most of my instruments (even appearing on fretless bass), making me thankful I did not do as I thought I'd do in 2003: sell all my stuff and get out of music.

The doom was on the horizon earlier on before I got my new job. Financially, over the years, Kelli and I have sort of been hanging by a thread as the prevailing trend has been for one of us to be working while the other is in a period of unemployment or school or something. Hardly in the 11.5 years we've been together has there been a time when both of us had jobs at the same time. The previous period that actually sustained us was in 2004-2005 when we both worked at senior centers, but were also living cheaper before the old man evicted us in mid 2005. All the time since, we've had a jumbled time of financial rises and falls with income from a mix of jobs, unemployment insurance, grants, stipends, found work, gear sales. We've lived on miracles. The new thing this time around is that she's been the full time, professionally credentialed earner and I've been unemployed. Last year's loss of my unemployment checks caused us a lot of rough times around rent time when she expected me to draw down savings and I thought it better to spend from income. In the end we did a mix of both, but I did hold off on spending savings on rent. The whole matter was real hard to cope with since there was no way to know when I could get a job. The search this time was real challenging since it drew on for so long and I was so hopeful that the time with Jubilee Economics would help me establish myself as capable in the Web field. I put out applications to places I hated myself for visiting. This time more than others, I was trying to apply to places where I felt I'd not sell myself out so grossly. A few things were food delivery jobs that threatened to take over life as I knew it. A few were name brand mega corporations that we love to hate. But the baffling ones were Costco, and some of the grocery stores that I thought would be a good fit: Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Jimbo's...all seeming the right size, close to home (all within a couple blocks of each other too), and dealing in food, which my resume tilts toward more and more now. 

Life got to feeling pretty pointless again with all that and with the fact that Kelli is pretty busy in her work and volunteer (national church level) life. Kelli and I paid a couple visits to a therapist and it was evident we'd need to keep going to address a host of things that have taken shape since we last went to a therapist in 2005 or so. A few months back I had tried to get a bit of solo therapy but realized that I'd be paying a lot of money just to tell the old stories again, and to not really be understood when I spoke of things that mean something to me, like how I choose to use a car or bike, or how to spend money or how I want to not have kids, etc.. The therapists have not one bit of control over the life I need to lead outside, and can't really make the real troublesome stuff go away (fixing families that don't think they're broken, global matters, etc.). What they'd tell me is to make better decisions: keep associated with good people and don't isolate, get exercise, eat better. The thing is, it helps if you have some money to do some things. Or the mental discipline to get into routines that are beneficial. I'm sure all that helps, but what had worked for me before during the Specialty Produce era was that I had a physically demanding job, biked to and from work, was in my church community as participant and leader, and ate better. But take away the job (for whatever reason) and the commute is gone, the better food is neither a work benefit (free produce) or something that is so easily afforded at the stores, and of course, the days are not filled with activity. Furthermore, moving to Escondido is still a thing that strains relationships with my life in San Diego. I barely get to church anymore and the distance and gas is a turn off to participating in non-worship activities unless I happen to have other reasons to be there. But gone are the days when it's a 15 minute bike ride for a meeting or a bible study. As an unemployed person, I had time but no money. Now I have money but the timing is awkward enough (I start work at 6 so the bedtime needs to be around 10) when factoring in the drive. And I still have not decided the round trip drive is something I want to do as often as something interesting comes up.

The Worst Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Often Go Awry

To be frank, this year was feeling mighty much like those earlier years. About all that saved me was the knowledge that those things were survived and something else lurked around whatever corner they turned out to be. Still, feeling as dreadful I did and feeling filled with futility as I was earlier in the spring is nothing enjoyable. Feeling cut off from people, even at home, is agonizing. Having become dependent on someone at the age of 38-39 is disheartening but can happen. Witnessing Buber's somewhat quick decline and seeing him transition into a lifeless husk of the beloved animal we knew was a totally new thing for me. I was real low this winter and spring. I just wanted out again.

One of the great things I've learned from the various teachers along the way in the last several years was that suicidal ideation is normal. Acting on it, not so. The soul does get weary and longs for a way out, for the drastic shift from this to that, from here to there. That much is unstoppable. But of course physical death isn't the answer that we're really looking for. That is more of a conditioned expectation that if we can't live life one way, then we must die. The spiritual traditions hedge against that by reminding us that the matter of change is something we must always cope with. Nothing dies without something being created anew. And nothing is created anew without something having died. It's not just spiritual fluff; it happens to the very matter of the Universe. The stars are born and ultimately die and are turned into something else. Having best learned from Christianity, this is the stuff of the death and resurrection. Neither can happen without the other. Something in my life has to die so something can be reborn. And then again. And again. The pattern is true as anything. But as you see from this glance back at some previous years, the lessons are slow to be learned.

In the month of May, I was able to do a number of days' work with a bandleader who has been working in town for a few decades. Funny, I had never met him even though some familiar faces have worked in his band over the years. He got me on some load ins and load outs, a couple operator gigs, and a little bit troubleshooting a church sound system. He paid me pretty well, but after months and months of no real income except for delivering jam, it was a princely sum! The fact most of that work was physical was handy since it helped prepare me for what was next.

It just so happened that after having sent in a third or fourth resume to the company I am now with, I got a call again like I had when I first got to Escondido in May 2012. This time I interviewed over the phone was a bit like the last time except there was a new position that seemed a better fit for me. Instead of moving beer, there was a kitchen commissary position that would let me deliver to the two restaurants that were being launched this summer. This was the beginning of seeing things anew once again. I was kind of incredulous at the prospect. My negative thoughts flooded in. But then I thought, Shit! I've been looking for almost two and a half years now and have sent my stuff in a few times to this place. Something can happen. I got an interview and prior to that, from emailed messages, found some info to do some research on LinkedIn. Found that the HR director used to work at a place I delivered to, as well as the kitchen manager, who also used to work at a kitchen I delivered to! When I got my interview, that small bit of info helped melt the ice early on. Even though I hate interviews and feel stuffy as fuck in that kind of clothing, it went well. My prospective manager recognized me from when I delivered to his old company. He asked me if I biked there. For him to say that was a trick of memory! I'd not talked to him since no later than the first week in January 2011, but he remembered I used to talk about biking and commuting. (Then later on he told me he hated his old company and had been stiffed for a couple tens of thousands of dollars.) The job offer came a couple weeks later when they decided to actually raise the wage based on my experience at Specialty. Nice. I could start in early June once the drug check and physical was done. And I did. Now it's about seven weeks I've been there.

So that was a rather big change from my earlier, worst laid plans to be depressed and shut down. Funny, I don't typically associate my full time work experiences with much positive, but it seems that the long gestation period between jobs (or even since wrapping up activity with Jubilee Economics) was helping me find a far better fit of a job. Finding that I'd already met the kitchen manager was a good start. I know from LinkedIn evidence he looked at my resume there a few times before I got the offer. And since. He just took me into his office the other day and said he wants me to be the lead driver there who sets the standard for two other guys and tends to driving/delivery related concerns. He said he'd back me up and get me whatever I need to do the job right. And get this... this is where it gets so amazing.

All the hang wringing about getting a job was agonizing until this one started to flow my way. Since September last year I have delivered jam for a tiny family operated business that is gaining currency in the area with their delicious homestyle jams. My work was to deliver the product to Whole Foods Markets in the greater LA area using their van. I'd go down to San Diego the day before to get the loaded van, then park at my house and leave at 4 am. I did a whirlwind trip up to Orange county once a month, and a two day trip to cover a number of more northerly destinations once a month. I did just three days' work for $375 cash and if nothing else, that was all I got for a wage that month. (They did have me do some other web work but much of that period was lean.) When I got to dancing with the new company, looking forward to a full time spot, I knew I'd need to jam on the jam. They recruited Tom, who they knew from their farmers market activity where he was selling cheeses in another stall. He rode along with me for a day after I was in negotiations and after my interview. Just as we got back to my house, I got a call that I'd be sent an offer letter. And so it was that my jam delivery days were done and Tom was in. Once I started, I was able to find that a second position was still open to do a part time version of what I'd be doing. The part timer would be the weekend relief for me (delivering to two spots in San Diego) and the other guy who does the local work. I texted Tom and said he should apply since he told me he'd been looking for something real for a year and more. I also mentioned to manager Larry and buyer Eric and one of the HR ladies that he was looking and would send in a resume. It took a month or so to get things together but he's actually starting tomorrow and I get to train him. Again! (I think the folks back at the jam company were a little puzzled when they heard from the same recruiter asking about the guy they just brought on a few weeks before!)

This puts me in the really odd place of saying that one never really knows the trajectory of life and death and life again. Is there anything in my past that would suggest that I had what it took to get not one but two jobs at the same company in the space of a couple months? I'm laughing as I even write that!

Somehow, a bit of mercy landed upon me this summer. Given my tendencies, I could be rehashing all the old stuff at great length on this blog. Could be absorbed in what a bummer year this year needs to be to complete some pattern that exists only in my mind. Could have endless unemployed time to do all that. But no. It seems that won't be how this year, and especially this summer, plays out. Just when it looked like a death was on the horizon, a resurrection appears.

Friday
Jul132012

Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +21

Since about 2009, I've written a lot about what happened "twenty years ago‚" maybe to preserve memory or to finally take advantage of the richness of expression that the web allows. Today I'd like to push past that some. I'd like to tell about an experience 21 years ago. I sort of dropped the ball last summer by not reporting on my first trip to Europe. I was busy and of course, a trip of that sort is too tall a tale to tell in one post, or even a few.

I can't think of a time when a male friend ever evoked this feeling in me upon parting ways. Had I ever cried at such a time? Oh, I recall the summer of 1985 when my 5th-6th grade school pal Michael Lane moved to Porterville, CA (a place I first drove to only last year on Thanksgiving Day) after we got free of Longfellow Elementary. I missed the toilet jokes and playing with Transformers and whatever else, even a fondness for Garfield the cat. I do remember moping around when Michael was gone. I was about to enter 7th grade, with the sense of unfamiliarity that that could bring, even as I anticipated many of my peers there would be people I already knew from my time at Hawthorne elementary from K-4.

The lineup shot of four of us goofing off the day before graduationThe day before graduation: Trudi (exchange student from Germany, my prom date and Shelby's friend at school); Shelby; Steve; and me.

1991 Personal Zeitgeist

Years later—this time in 1991 after the next six year block of institutional brainwashing—I stood at a train station in Munich, Germany and had several months' experience come to a rather emotional close. This time, just weeks after graduating from high school, the future did indeed seem wide open again, and maybe too wide. What would fill the gap? Who was I in this new context? Was this the end of things? I didn't have any idea about a life after high school. I was only focused enough to anticipate the summer ahead with an incredibly twitterpated crush on my non-girlfriend girl-friend Shelby Duncan. She was due to return from her trip to Russia one week after this day that I am about to recall for you. And my heart was about to explode out of my chest all that time she was gone. But all that, as all you TAPKAE.com readers no doubt already know, was a rather futile form of masochism that I subjected myself to for some years.

Steve at the last dinner before graduation and his departure from San Diego

As the saying goes, it's better to have a bird in hand than two in the bush. On this day 21 years ago, that was really the case, though agonizingly so. The Shelby thing was already in decline by the end of high school. Most of the script was written by about a year or so before when it was made "clear" to me that she'd never really be interested in me, at least that way. Things had evolved somewhat, but never enough to really turn things around. But that didn't stop me from going to Europe and etching the various bits of lovestruck grafitti into park benches, trees, and even Alpine snow banks. I didn't let that history dissuade me from my imagination-run-amok. With Shelby, I had two birds in the bush.

With my German friend Stephan (Steve) Rau, I sort of had my bird in hand. Only it wasn't a literal "in hand" because we were just good pals in that second semester of my senior year. We had met in the first days of that special year, placed as we were in the Government/Economics class taught by Harry Steinmetz, the man who I still hold up as the model teacher in a school setting. (His father, Harry Steinmetz, Sr., is in the history books and was clearly an influence on the man I studied under on three occasions in high school and years later at Mesa College.) In that class Steve and I were in contact and had gotten to find some common interests and could enjoy having some lunch together in the courtyard with some others. But it wasn't until January when we finally spent any time outside of school. There was something to that. He did live about six miles away, which, when you consider the geography of San Diego from my house to his host family's place, was a bit of a challenge on a bike. Eventually, the spirit of carpe diem seized me and we went out to see one of the laser light shows at the Fleet IMAX theater in Balboa Park. It's amazing how fast a semester goes, and there it was, gone. I started to feel a bit like I could be a better host to show him a bit of my town.

Like Father, Like Son. Sort of.

In another universe, and for many years prior to senior year, my old man had regaled me with tales of his first trip to Europe—when he was 17 and fresh out of high school in 1963. Back in my own life, I had taken two years of German language classes in 10th and 11th grade. A lot of my interest in language was sparked that summer of 1988 just before entering 10th grade. I excelled at German in the controlled conditions of the classroom, and knowing something of German (the mother tongue from which English arose) helped my English understanding. For those couple years, I read up or otherwise was intrigued by German culture and history. Because those years were still in the Cold War era, there was still an East and West Germany. The old man, reading properly that I was interested in this of my own accord, fed my enthusiasm with trips to one or two of the German theme villages in Southern California. And then it started... he started suggesting that I could go to Europe after I graduated high school. After all, I had the money now. And then when he realized Steve and I were getting to be buddies, he stepped it up. I wasn't that interested in going to Europe. I mean, that money was for something else. A car maybe? More cowbells to complete my drum kit?

I rejected it at first. Not because I didn't think it neat to have a new buddy. Not long after the laser show, we found ourselves doing some weekend trips to local sights (including one day trip including Shelby that lived on for years later), but one day in February I stayed over at his host family's place, watching Monty Python movies (Life of Bryan, Meaning of Life) and probably listening to a lot of music, and most importantly, having a talk that really set the tone for a quality of relationship that I think we both were stunned by. Some conversations just put new marker pins on the map of life. This was one of those. But it still didn't really make me wish to go to Europe that summer.

My bank book with the deposit record of checks from my mom up until the trip in 1991.My bank book with the record of deposits leading up to the trip.

By April, the flow of events had brought Steve and I into more regular time spent together and getting to know each other, and the nudging persisted until finally I bought the plane ticket and started to anticipate the trip. Back then it was a simple thing to anticipate, and of course as things developed with my new friendship, the emotional investment in it developed too. Oddly, it was not a "gift" from him to me. At least not out of his pocket. You see, this is where the family stuff has to sour the story. Long story short, that $3700 in the bank was "mine" in an account bearing my name but that was not able to be drawn from until my 18th birthday in October 1991. What didn't really become clear until many years later was exactly how crookedly how that money came to have my name on it.

The Trip

Finally, graduation time came and the glory days of senior year were turning into history. The time we had together in San Diego was winding down and then finally ran out. Steve's father Gerhard flew in to watch the graduation in person and to have dinner with us the night before. Shortly afterward they took off to do a couple weeks of touring in the Southwestern areas. My travel plans were to leave on June 27 and to return on July 13th. But the trip would be essentially two experiences: the tour with the old man and at the end of it all, the four days at Steve's place in Garching an der Alz, a town in the southeast of what was then West Germany. It is about 60 miles from Munich.

The trip with the old man was primarily a tour of parts of Switzerland, including a couple days in Geneva (my first jet lag), a couple in Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn, and a few other places that echoed his 1963 trip. The tour took us through miniscule corners of Italy, France (in the shadow of Mont Blanc), and a short half day pass through Innsbruck, Austria. By those little detours can I say that I've been to those countries, but I can't really say I've seen France or Italy or even much of Austria. By far, the feature attraction for me was getting to Garching and seeing what Steve's world was like. Of course, my four days there would pale in comparison to his school year in San Diego. We'd do what we could. The old man, my driver and tour manager to that point, stayed one night in Garching (where he regaled everyone with his tales from his 1963 trip and another to Berlin in 1989-90 just as the Berlin Wall was coming down) then went out and amused himself for a few days and left me and Steve to our youthful pursuits. We'd rendezvous in Munich on the 12th and fly home early on the 13th.

Since Steve had not been seen there in about ten months, there was plenty of social life for him to get back into. Family to reconnect with and games to play. Friends to see, places to go. Errands to run in towns like Muhldorf, Altoetting, Neuotting, and Burghausen. It gave an easy opportunity to bring me along to some of it. I had my first 35mm camera with me but knew nothing about it. I wish I had because then I wouldn't have unintentionally rewound the film after every shot. I went to one photo developer in Garching and found to my horror that most of my pictures while there were wasted! In some cases, Steve and I drove back to locations and shot some more, and others were just lost. The journal I kept each day told something of the story but doesn't age well, being filled with so many of the little in jokes and comic references that were the currency of the banter between Steve and I at the time, but has since lost its charm for me, and is therefore hard to read without cringing.

Drinking age there is 16 so for this 17 year old, I wasn't out of the loop when it came time to hang out and shoot pool, or to go to dinner with Steve and his father and brother Christoph. Christoph himself was preparing to go to the US for an exchange year in Utah, so he was inquisitive about the USA. We all liked music and were talking about it and even took an hour or two and jammed some—Steve on piano, Christoph on sax, and me on whatever I could find. I think my drumset was a music stand and coffee can or something. (When in town, we hit music stores as often as possible. I was in search of Jethro Tull bootlegs.) Their place was a generously sized house on a lot that seemed chateau like, and that extended some way back into the woods and that had a river (the Alz) just down an embankment. There was farmland everwhere, broken up by the forests that had not yet been cleared. It was a bit tedious a landscape but beautiful nonetheless because it was still respected and towns were not the anchors of sprawl that we expect here.

It was hot, hot, hot, and on top of that, it was humid. Being so far inland was a new thing for me, and I guess I never expected Europe to be so hot. My journal reflects that we were just trying to stay cool and relaxed unless there was somewhere to go. We biked down to the river and hung out in the water, but it would be a year before I would enter that river in shorts. Nope, my years-long exclusive pants-wearing personal habit would not be broken at home. I had to go to Germany in 1992 to find the heat so miserable that I donned shorts for the first time in seven years, and was subjected to ridicule for it! Those hot times made for a nice outdoor grilling experience. The food was always good, and I was able perhaps for the first time to eat a diet of "real" food. You know, full power butter and cream; fresh fruit and old world cheeses, meats, breads, and other delicacies. And Nutella! I ate and ate and ate like there was no tomorrow because it was like it was the first time I was really eating. The beers and brats of course were delightful on those hot days. I'd barely had any beer before getting to Germany so I had little reference, but there I learned to enjoy a good Pilsner as part of a meal.

Trains

Four days isn't long to take in and try to wrap up a friendship that developed over nearly a year. The time in Germany was spent doing a lot of things that were new and exciting and didn't really leave us the chance to talk at length like we had in the states. Maybe we didn't need to. Or maybe it was too hard to face the facts. Who knew when or if we'd see each other again? Finally the day came when Steve and I were off to Munich on the train. It would be the last half day to spend together. He had to get back and I had to fly home the next morning. The powerful emotions of the day were hard to push away, and it was clear that July 12th was a day when we both fought back the salties. A day of quiet as the morning breakfast goes about in near silence except for the goodbyes and deep thanks I had to say to Gerhard and the brothers' grandfather Heinrich, a 90 year old gentleman who spoke little and with whom I could barely communicate except through gestures and smiles. Christoph must have been in school still or had other business so Steve and I had to brave it alone and make the most of a day that made us both sore. Maybe this was the end of this trip, but I was starting to feel drawn to the idea of coming over again next year.

The train ride was mostly silent and awkward. I think I dozed off and was found with a bit of that loose jaw drool starting when I jumped to and caught Steve snickering some. We got to Munich, a mighty city of stone and people, of art and commerce, of ideas and history. And of music stores. We hit one giant store in the Viktualienmarkt where I hunted for some more Tull and Fairport Convention. We had to rendezvous with the old man on arrival so I could offload my travel bags at his hotel room, but I seem to remember being alone with Steve after that, getting lunch, sitting at a cafe, and sort of trying not to lock eyes because, well, that would make us all sappy.

nasty letter from the old man in the early days of my 3rd period with mom. he likes to try to remind me of the good old days and things he did for me, including the first europe trip that she paid for only by his manipulations of the law.Enlarge to read the manipulative language my old man uses to justify some nasty behavior. He loves to cite this train station experience as his handiwork and successful parenting.

The big moment eventually came about mid afternoon. We three were at the train station, and for probably half an hour before the train left, there was hardly a word passing between Steve and me. Getting out onto the waiting area near the train stop pushed all the salt water in me to just behind my eyelids. The old man, no doubt beaming in pride at the results of this rather carefully orchestrated idea that spanned many years of planning and arm-twisting, waited at a bit of a distance. He saw it all. Steve and I finally had to do that last handshake, that last hug and a muttered message of my intent to try to come back the next year, and his final exit onto the train. That's when the flood of emotion washed over me. This clearly was no Michael Lane moving to Porterville. Porterville, even at 300 miles from home, felt close, as if a day trip would suffice to see a distant friend. Even without knowing the kinds of dirty tricks that resulted in the money for this trip, it seemed a huge task to raise new money for a second trip and to plan the trip for next year. I had no idea how that would go. With no job and only about half as much money, it was a dream.

The face of a friend in the window of a train car moving the other direction is indeed rather like the movies make it out to be. I was dazed. It was small comfort to be milling around in Munich with my old man for the rest of the day. I might as well jump on a plane and go home to my imaginary girlfriend Shelby and pretend this never happened. But that flight would come soon enough even though it would be an agonizing week of suspense and heart acrobatics for me while waiting for Shelby to come home to San Diego after her sojourn in Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sure, I had a little something to look forward to: I'd have school to go to in the fall, starting classes at Mesa College, but my heart was with Shelby and Steve. And, as said above, I realized Shelby was a long shot and that things could very well not work out no matter how far my heart would leap out of my chest. So that left me with that feeling surrounding the knowledge that really Steve was the biggest loss since he'd been the biggest gain up till now. I was anticipating the long distance phone bill and the awkwardly scheduled talks we'd have, spanning eight time zones. I was also anticipating passing music back and forth with (get this...) cassette tapes. Before leaving Munich, I'd bought a couple packages of tapes at what was then a very satisfactory exchange rate of 1.78DM : 1USD.

Afterward: Yeah, Whatever

It was hot that day. Humid, and the clouds were building for a storm. Me and the old man did some walking around town and took in some lunch and a tasty Lowenbrau on the Hofgarten, the giant area where the Oktoberfests are held in the Bavarian capitol. Eventually we had to settle in for the night. The day ahead was one of travel from early in the German morning into late in the San Diego evening. Because I was not part of the original reservation at his hotel, and because he's a wily fellow, the hotel staff did not recognize me yet seemed quite interested in my status there. Steve and I had gone in earlier to drop my bags and were looked past as "assistants." I got in at night okay.

Sometime in the middle of the night I was woken by the most insane thunderstorm I'd ever experienced. Outrageously loud and bright. It seemed like it was directly overhead. The dense layout of the old city, and the stone construction of the buildings all led to it being explosive sounding. It was nearly scary. It kept the trip from ending on anything like a normal note, if that was possible. I probably lost some sleep. The next morning, we had to escape the hotel. I grabbed my things and did a dash past the woman at the counter who shouted out at me, trying to get me to come back, or at least to find out what my room number was. We just raced past her and out to the train station, bound for the airport.

To be continued in 1992...

Thursday
Dec222011

Solstice Sweetheart Sunshine, or Kelli's Blue Light Special

Oh, I sort of feel that 2011 was more a task of historical recap rather than a telling of new developments. I can't help it; I've had more time than usual, and so many great upheavals and developments have cycled this year as anniversaries roll by. I've kept to the notable ones that have now clocked 5, 10, 15, 20, and even 25 years. But here is one more that is too important to ignore. If you have the stomach for the post just before this one, an epic tale of parental and familial disharmony, read that one then come back to this one. I'll wait. It's all part of the greatest story ever told, man...

The 2001 Paradigm Shift

The year 2001 started one way, and ended in a rather unpredictable way that nothing earlier in the year would have suggested. As the journal before this will tell you at great length, to start the year, I was allied with my mom and her family and was at odds with the old man down here. But then the epic email flame battle happened in mid December and pretty much put an end to mom relations for a few years to come—six years before I talked to her again, and about half that before having some talk and emails with Chris during 2003-4. During that time the relationship with my old man had become that of business primarily, as he now owned the house I was in and was okay with my staying there if I was sort of the eyes and ears on site, and if I paid my $150 rent upon the $1,000 I was to collect from renters. By the time Christmas rolled around, it had been an arrangement that was stable for six months, even after the epic drama at the start of the year surrounding my sister's tales of molestation. It was stable because it was essentially a unilateral arrangement. I never much liked having roommates in the house but found it okay for a while. Sure, I got cheap rent, but I also got repeated messages that the arrangement was a fragile one, and anything could change. For about a year and a half or more, it went on like this.

During 2001 I was at the Art Institute of California, learning some of the digital tools that enabled me to make a new leap in creative expression in a visual realm. Most of my projects were related to my desire to self-promote my musician identity, with my CD Receiving being a feature. But of course, I was finding other uses for tools like Photoshop.

By Christmas I was feeling a bit differently toward my old man. In the wake of the MomNikki email flame battle, the picture was very different. In fact, in some perverse way, my old man was indeed the one left standing after all the savage brutality wreaked upon my heart that year. It was a perverse twist of fate, and seeing how he still did provide me with a place to live after all of it, I guess my heart softened in those couple weeks at the end of the year. Wanting to honor that somehow (it was never my intent to alienate him by relating to my mom, but that was the only way it would work for him), I made a rather crude attempt to collage several pictures of he and I into an 8x11. Each drew on some of the more innocent-seeming times, and each was accompanied with the year. The idea was to kind of rebuild things some with a bit of nostalgia from simpler times.

I worked on that collage evidently in the couple days between the email flame war and the date I am chronicling now—December 22nd. I had my computer at home and with the help of several pictures I scanned at school, I got this thing presentable just in time for Christmas. But I needed a frame to call it finished.

The K-Mart Redemption

December 22nd was a Saturday that year. I headed out to the Mission Valley Ikea that evening around 8 pm, thinking there would be some frames worthy of the job. I couldn't find anything in the right size. Flustered, I went to the nearby Office Depot or Staples or something like that but couldn't find anything suitable there either. In the same lot, just as those places were closing, there was a K-Mart. I didn't really subscribe to the whole God program like I do now, but I realized the universe was playing a joke on me if I had to go in there.

You see, K-Mart was the scene of the crime for me when I was a student in middle and high school. It was the place where me and the old man faced off during back-to-school season. It was always tense. He never thought much of going anywhere else, and he would take me there, pick out a selection of lame garments he deemed acceptable, and would tell me to pick from that. I rebelled the best I could. I hated those experiences passionately. All that was loathsome between us was exemplified in those early experiences. In fact, that kind of method of his was essentially applied later on when he got ownership of Virginia's house, and the whole sickening refrain was enough to drive me mad. It's not an exaggeration to say that. What I thought was the stuff of my childhood revisited me even as I was about to turn 30 and beyond!

Anyhow, since K-Mart was open on that Saturday night, and it was right there in front of me, and that this occasion needn't be loaded up with that old anxiety, I went in and set about finding a frame to enclose a photo memoir of...the good old days with my dad! I marveled at how life unfolds with merciless irony.

As if to prove that any of us—certainly I—live in a state of partial awareness of how the universe works, and that our limited consciousness often is exposed, leaving us naked before reality so deep we'd drown if it was presented all at once, what should this little visit to K-Mart have to show me that evening? I no sooner walked in and approached the photo shop area at the front of the store that I turned a corner and saw a familiar figure: Kelli Parrish. Yep. The nice church girl that I'd known for over eleven years by then, most of which was time spent outside of church circles. My friend. My collaborator on a recording project. And, impossibly far from my mind that evening, my future wife. She was in there getting some pictures  of her mom developed just as I was running around trying to get the finishing element for the most exceptional Christmas present I'd given my dad in a long time! As she always does, she asked me how I was since we saw each other last, having some drinks on the 7th with a feisty girl friend of hers who set my heart aflutter right away. I asked her if she wanted to hang out and I could tell her how my few weeks had been.

We went to her place in City Heights not too far away. She was renting a big trailer on a property that had been sublet several ways. It was a funky place. Real tight but passable for her as a newly minted college graduate who was in transition. There I got to tell her about the MomNikki crash and burn of the week prior, and the great loss it seemed to be. In those post-9/11 days, work was rather depressed and scattered, and December, usually a boom time with corporate and social parties making up a nice fat month before the lean times of the winter to come, was rather light in that department. There was some work but it wasn't like I expected. So I had lots of time kill with ruminations and email flame battles! There was no life outside of that little bit of work, going to AIC classes most weekdays, and maybe some music activity. I was pretty much unaccountable to anyone or anything. But it was easy to find time to hang out with a dear friend near the holidays. Something told me that being around Kelli then might be uplifting, maybe even one of the very few bright spots in the midst of this drama.

I bought Kelli up to speed on things and somehow we got in touch with her friend Suzanne (yep, our roommate years later). We headed down to Suzanne's place near La Mesa and with her and her brother or cousin (I think), we went to Denny's across the street for some midnight munchies. It was a pleasant distraction, but when it was over, we went back to Kelli's trailer for more discussion about how things were going. Eventually it was time for her to hit the hay and in a way that sort of was a repeat of another instance some years before, she let me stay with her. We were both single and in our own ways yearning for some connection so that night was one that blurred the line between our days as friends from church and the relationship we have now. For me, it was almost exactly five years since Robin and I had been together, a couple years since the Sarah chapter was brought to a unilateral end, and of course since then the family thing was heaped on as an extra dose of heartache. Kelli was voicing frustrations with a guy she was peeling away from, and we both were lamenting the murderous loss of our church friend Daniel Calabrese—Phil's son. September 11 also refocused our thoughts to deeper currents in life. I think each of us trusted each other deeply as we stayed the night together for the first time in a few years.

The next morning, she went to church as she usually would. I didn't. I wasn't there yet, but a time like this was leading me to hunger for a deeper connection to life. Since it was just on the eve of Christmas Eve itself, I did feel compelled to go to the Christmas Eve service at church, much as I always had, but with new thoughts stirring in me, particularly as both Kelli and I went to an after-party at Cheryl's place, where for the first time in about a decade, I was in the company of people I knew I could trust. They were people who made my teenage years safer and more fulfilling, and it might be fair to say that the last time I felt any real safety in the world was in those years. Being there at the wine and cheese party felt like a homecoming to me. Even though Kelli and I had our night together, it was one of silence and trust, in a way that we knew things were okay, but that giving voice to anything would be superfluous. So as a result, we didn't talk about that night for a long time to come. Being among church folk at the party but Kelli and I did not yet identify as a couple that night (and even months later I was still pretending we weren't a couple while in church settings but apparently no one was fooled). But we were definitely in a new territory in life. If I had to characterize the feeling, it was like she was a sister that had brought me back to the fold. Yeah, that's about the way to convey our pre-2002 relationship either linked with or free of church life, with a few notable exceptions that must be maintained so the sister metaphor isn't distorted.

A week later, on New Year's Eve, we spent some time again at her Amy's place, or in her car, chasing around trying to find the right bar to celebrate at. Amy was cute and Irish and on the two occasions I met her, I was trying to pick up on her. Despite some closer encounters with Kelli, I have to say I was still not sure that we were "relationship" material. None of it was meant out of disrespect; I just didn't really see things working that way, or that knowing myself, I'd screw that up too, and then who would be my trusted female friend like she had been? The Amy thing was done before it started, really, since on that New Year's Eve, she was in the company of some boyfriend who wasn't there the first day we met, and, until it was clear they had gone to bed together after the NYE boozing, didn't appear to be with her. Meanwhile, Kelli had crashed on Amy's bed before Amy and her guy went to the floor and did their thing, leaving me and one other odd dude to sit on the porch and talk about all sorts of odd shit including the underground market for lampshades made out of Jewish concentration camp victims's skins! It was outrageous. What a way to start the new year! But I digress.

Solstice Sunshine Sweetheart

It was winter now. The solstice had just happened the day before. It wasn't until this year of 2011 when I saw the solstice as a larger player than could be recognized at that time. You see, the solstice is the liminal time when the sun is simultaneously proclaimed dead and yet is being reborn. The light is at its faintest as the days grow shorter and shorter, and yet the light starts on a rebound. In a real powerful way, now I look at that solstice moment of 2001 as not just a moment of cosmological turnaround that everyone in the northern hemisphere shares in, but seeing that Kelli and I have now been together for a decade, the evidence is that her presence signified the coming of the light, out of that dark space of diminishing light from the life I knew. I was 28 years old—just the age when life really gets in one's face and asks deeper questions and forces deeper insights. It is like 28 is itself a solstice. (Around that time I was prepared to honor the deep changes needed, but I was using a limited vocabulary from astrology, which I never embraced beyond this one instance. But the first language I had to explore these changes was the "Saturn Return" which aptly and compellingly described the matter then. These days I've found the Christian language of transformation and rebirth to do the trick in a less cheesy way.)

A decade with Kelli puts both of us in new territory. We've been together longer than our parents ever were with any of their partners. We have grandparents to look to for examples of relationships longer than this. Those relationships weren't without their troubles, but somehow there was something worth sustaining. Seeing things in this more cosmological framework places us into a drama far larger than that of our own, or that of our families of origin. Even once we were clear we were paired up, we were never into the storybook romance. We've always been rooted in deeper stuff. To some it might be rather shocking to learn we aren't the wine/roses/chocolate/love letters sort. There is some of that, but it is rather minimal. From early on, I guess I was fed up with the shallower expressions of love and was hungering for something far deeper. Apparently Kelli was too. And, as handy as it was to have known and trusted her with other news over the eleven years prior, I can't say that those years paved the way to a blissful marriage. We still had to learn the mechanical parts. We still had to work past old hangups and fears. We still had to work out how we'd be allies to get life done at so many levels: the daily stuff AND the longer terms stuff that keeps revealing itself in ever-unfolding layers of our being.

In one week, on January 1st, we will have been together as a couple for a decade. That date is one given to reflect a new stage in our physical relationship, but the origin date of our deeper connection is far more elusive. That goes back a lot of years before 2002; 2002 is when we essentially called off the search for other partners and sort of cashed in some of the emotional capital we'd built up with each other. For the sake of blogging though, this period of the last bit of 2001 and into 2002 is a rich time to explore how we transitioned.

But if you had asked me in my youth how I'd meet my partner and wife, I most certainly would not have said that I'd meet her at or that I'd have a turning point experience at K-Mart while trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of relations with my old man! That, my friends, is a good God-joke. One time years later, I was recalling how all this went, and Kelli gleefully proclaimed I was her "blue light special!" Only true love can tolerate such bruising comments!

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley, November 2011

Wednesday
Dec142011

Dysfunctional December

This December I have the rather weighty and somewhat ignominious matter of some gross family dysfunction to reflect upon. And you could say that for the past several years, that has been the case. All true. This year we get to the rather rounded and convenient numbers of five and ten. Much of this has already been written here. I guess what gnaws at me is that for all the time having passed, nothing has been resolved. I feel like I've used the time for learning, but I'm not sure the other parties have progressed.

I'm talking of course about two parents and two separate meltdown experiences: the first with Mommy Dearest during this very week in 2001, and with Father Knows Best on this very day in 2006. In mom's case, it hasn't been an unbroken period since that sad email flame battle (which was more the work of my sister Nikki). For about two months at the end of 2007 and a short few days into 2008, there was some attempt at connection but that bombed out again as mom and Nikki and Chris all aligned against me once again. In dear ol' dad's case, it has now been five years since direct communication has passed between us. Or, as I'll say later, two years since I've said anything in response.

To get this out here in front, I'm not really glad of this. I'm not even happy with my own handling of things. I'm complicit in it too. After being turned into their plaything in my adult years about a decade ago, even years after I was just their legal plaything as an infant and into my teens, the whole strain of things grinds one down and makes it hard to always work from any rational mind. My life story essentially is one of being broken by the interplay of these two characters, either directly or by proxy. I have been left to pick up the tab on their party together, and then some of the sequels to that. There are plenty of regrettable moments in the whole sad story.

In my defense though, you have to realize what kind of emotional stonewalling has been the tactic of the various characters involved. So far, my experience has been that neither side has been able to address things at the level I'd move to. In each case, there is a good does of shutdown that goes on; on my mom's side, it is accompanied with a smokescreen of vitriolic statements and open hostility; in my old man's case, it's more or less a blanking face and a physical departure from the tension and then his subsequent manipulations as he's often been responsible for the places I've lived in. In either case, I really feel that my message isn't being heard, no matter what volume or tone my voice, or no matter what choice of words. In desperation, I err on the side of more volume and more colorful words of the sort that can get a person fired from a job. I don't like it. I know when it happens that I'm consumed by the wrong stuff. But at moments like these monumental breakdowns with people I share fundamental relationships with, after trying anything else, it seems the only thing left to do. And then I shrink back into a fearful state of not knowing if I just wrecked things more. This thought is accompanied by a feeling of liberation, that I have no business aspiring to be a member of a club that so clearly throws up barriers to membership. Maybe then it makes sense to start to wash my hands of it all. Such has been the pattern when things have gone this way.

Mommy Dearest Meltdown

Telling this story is so difficult because of the way the elements are interlaced in a way that might inspire and even confound authors of soap operas! Certain themes are present and criss-cross in three dimensions of time, space, and emotion. In 2001, the meltdown was preceded by a Thanksgiving dinner that symbolized a huge shift from the year before. What happened a year before in 2000 was almost magical, even though there was a giant cloud over it that I was not aware of at the time. My grandmother (mom's mom Sofia) had died just the week before Thanksgiving in 2000, and my reunion with them all (I dub it "version 3") happened literally in the wake of that—or, specifically two days before when her memorial was held. It was the first I had seen of anyone among them since March 1996 (in the case of seeing mom, but that was explosive and terrible), and more completely, I might have to say that it had been since late 1994/early 1995 that things were normative between us. Thanksgiving 2000 was party like, with the entire gang, including my aunt Lisa and uncle Steve. I met niece Katie that week and fell in love. The coming year was the time when reality settled in as sister Chris made her allegations against my old man, crediting him with molestation and other abuses. That of course rocked my world but made me feel for her and that side of the family in a way that I'd never felt. So as the holidays approached in 2001, I naturally thought maybe it would be a bit like the year before. I was wrong in a big way.

What I didn't realize was how the matter of Sofia's estate was causing friction between mom and aunt Lisa. I still don't know the stories, but it seems to have been quite divisive even to this day. So back then, when I was putting my two cents in about wishing I could buy one of Sofia's two grand pianos, and hoping that maybe one would be kept around for the benefit of the family, especially young Katie or any other kids that might come along, I was sort of an extraneous voice in that matter. And, in my mom's usual way, she hung on to it for some time and didn't say anything. Some weeks before Thanksgiving 2001 I inquired if she was having dinner again and that I'd like to be there. (This was meant to address and correct a giant faux pas in 1994 when I skipped out on Thanksgiving dinner at just about the last minute just as I felt overwhelmed by the five day engagement to Robin, which I cancelled the day before.) I did end up getting to Thanksgiving dinner in 2001 but it was a quite subdued affair of mom, Nikki and Katie, Steve, and probably no one else. It was a head-down time. By that time, Nikki had not even bothered to talk to me since the end of 2000. Yep, most of the year that I was back in the picture, she had shut me out. I've never really understood it though maybe I could repeat a few things she's said. It just doesn't make sense. On the way home from that strained dinner, I visited Chris separately. She was back in San Pedro living with her sons' Cuban family. By comparison, visiting her that night was fun.

In the first half of December 2001, there started up an email thread with me and mom writing about some things. I was pressing on about the pianos, and asking if she would put me in touch with Lisa. I didn't know what to make of her reluctance to do so. I had come into an inheritance that summer and was semi-seriously thinking of buying one myself. (Of all the money spent on musical gear that summer and traded or sold off within a year or two later, I wish I had bought a piano instead.) Somehow, Nikki got involved in this email conversation, even as she was replying using mom's address, almost as if she was her secretary. The rather innocuous talk about pianos and my intent to be supportive of anyone's interest in music gave way to larger themes of alienation and the shape of family and reproductive decisions, having kids so young as she and mom and Chris all did. And for my trouble, Nikki saw fit to throw up in my face the matter of Robin's abortion—one thing that she seemed accepting of when I told her about it on the very first reunion night at Sofia's memorial a year before. She also decided to make declarations that I shouldn't invite myself to "other people's holiday dinners." Beg your pardon, Nikki? She's my mom too, and that's a family style holiday. Okay. All that went south fast! By just a few weeks after Thanksgiving, "version 3" was in the trash. My memory tells me it was December 16th. Done deal. It was one of the first email flame battles I had (the other was with Shelby earlier in the year), and it spared nothing in its incinerating blaze. It was a tragic lesson in how digital communication was sorely lacking.

I was quite devastated. My reason for getting in touch with that side of the family in 2000 was to help piece life back together after many years of depression and angst. Seeking reunion was one major proactive step toward getting my own life back into some shape. Seeing it crumble all over again was painful, especially after the molestation news caused a permanent upset in things down here in San Diego. The genie was out of the bottle with that one, and with that being the case, there wasn't even a "normal" life to return to in the world with which I was familiar. This was uncharted territory.

There is a bit of an exception to that, but it doesn't really change the game much.

Conning the Con: Old Man, 2006

In 2000, my old man found out that I was in a renewed period of relations with mom and her crew. I never intended to tell him, nor was it his business. But he did find out (almost certainly from Virginia while she was in the hospital) and made it his business, and his meddling set a feedback loop into action and his warnings to me to leave them alone went unheeded as I told mom and Chris about his notices, and they in turn moved closer to opening up the old dusty vault and then finally Chris delivered her old news about how she was abused by him. That day was momentous and wretched. I cursed the day I was born. The coming months were dismal. My grandmother Virginia died in April, and the house I was in became his. It was too valuable a tool for him to manipulate me with. He knew I wanted stability, but he knew that my "disobedience" (I was 27 at the time, and living at Virginia's house for nearly three years before she died. We had our own deal going) was going to cause problems, and I'm convinced he was perfectly okay with playing house games to keep me off balance following my pursuit of family completeness. Just a couple months after Virginia died, the house was dressed up in new carpet and a few other bits. I had already painted it on my own during the six months I had it to myself. But now he demanded I rent it out in part. I could stay but I had to be the resident manager on his behalf. Okay. I got to stay. I got to keep my studio space, which that summer grew to be as big as ever. I rented two rooms to younger guys.

By the end of 2001, things leveled out with him under those terms. Nothing more was said about family matters. It was strictly a business relationship that was useful enough to both of us. That basic arrangement went on until mid 2005. Lots has been written here about that. Suffice to say, at the end of the year in 2001, staying at my house was a comfort, even as it was terribly ironic that I no longer trusted my old man as far as I could throw him. 

But in 2006, the picture was quite different. The meltdown was epic. This was nearly a year and a half after the eviction, but I was still not content with his property grab. By this time, Kelli and I had moved twice and we were living about a mile from our old house, at the house of Mr. Calabrese, a church friend of Kelli's and mine. He had two houses next door to each other. The one we were in was usually rented to his son and Brazilian daughter-in-law but they were out of the country for one year. The old house on Quapaw was rented out to a couple and was partially open to Kelli and me for keeping some things as we would at a storage locker—one rare concession that was granted us. (One night Kelli was longing for a teddy bear that was in a box there. I drove over to the house in the middle of the night, and almost burglar like opened up our area and grabbed the bear and went back to Kelli with it as she slept. She was quite surprised at finding it next to her when she woke!) After having made so many keys during the rental years, I had a few left over even after I turned in a fistful of them upon my departure. My old man is a wily fellow, and I knew his tricks and decided to reserve a few for myself.

The rental arrangement with the couple came to an end in September 2006, and then it was to be empty. He had already ordered me to take my stuff out, and I'd collected the miscellaneous furniture and boxes earlier in the summer. The old man gave a date when the couple would be leaving, and said that if there was anything else I should want to get, we could go over there and get it. He was offering that he'd be there to let me in. But since I had the key, I went over the day before, just after the couple left, and grabbed all the stuff that prior verbal agreement or actual receipts said was mine to take:

  • Washer and dryer
  • Fireplace screen (a big beefy thing that the old man made some years before)
  • AC outlet cover plates, light switch plates (all stainless steel that I'd bought myself)
  • Small hardware I'd installed
  • Vertical blinds on four large windows (I'd bought them in the period before Virginia died)
  • Dining room and other light fixtures (also from before Virginia died)
  • And everything else I could lay hands on that wasn't something he bought or inherited—rather random junk

I needed little more than a piano dolly and a screwdriver and wrench to get it all. Then I took it to my new house and offloaded it into the back yard, behind a gate. Some went into the garage which was locked. I cleaned the place out of everything I could find. All that was left of what I put up or installed was the paint on the walls. 

He called me the next day to see when I'd like to come over and get things. I told him I already got the stuff the day before. He did a double take. I told him 'yeah, it's all okay. I got everything.' He drove over to Quapaw and had a look then came over to where I was at to confront me. He was rather stunned. I told him I had everything and that I'd take it all back and reinstall it if he wanted to include me in his little financial games which never seemed to include me or Kelli. The stuff was essentially useless to me, and barely worth selling or trading in most cases (the laundry machines being the most profitable at $225 for the both of them). I didn't really want the stuff at all, but I was tired of his total dominance in the matter, and felt that if he can inherit a place and move toward selling it, that I, as a seven year resident who was inclined to stay and do my share to the best of my ability, should be able to share in the profits.

That didn't register with him. It never does. It's all him or it's nothing. Somehow, I suppose that even after this little stunt I had enough keys to return again on November 29—two months later—and employed another bit of subversive "Occupation" (a word that now has currency in situations like this). This one was straight out of his own playbook, from the chapter on messing with locks: he used to take combination locks that had missing combinations or were left open and he'd drill them out enough to read the tumblers. Or he'd gut a padlock and use it for looks only or to work in some confounding way. This time it was my turn to con the con for once. I was able to get into the back of the house so I could unlock the front door. There, the steel screen door could be opened and its lock disassembled. I took it apart, gutted its interior, turned the barrel backward so it wouldn't open from the outside, and reassembled it with the thing in a locked position. While the lock was taken apart, I was able to remove the realtor's lock box and hid it elsewhere on the property. It was proto-Occupy! It was just an inconvenience measure made in protest.

And getting on to the pivotal stuff, just two weeks after the lock stunt, another drive by on December 14th revealed that the house was indeed up for sale, replete with the sign out front. Or maybe it had been that way but this one day inspired a streak of righteous indignation and a last ditch effort to get my voice heard. I availed myself of a Sharpie marker on hand and scrawled a protest message in "open letter" format—my own 95 Theses posted in public. Seeing that sign gave me a clear feeling that my ship was sinking, and it was all I could do to write an impassioned Occupy-style note on the realtor's sign. (I had had my biting words with the realtor himself earlier on, searing him for taking his profit off this dreadful family breakdown that accompanied this sale. Later on, I had the presence of mind to write a few haiku about it all.) 

The sign, written just before dusk on a day not long before the solstice, was left for all to see. I thought it might be a day before I heard about it. I had barely left for home over at the Calabrese Compound, sat down to dinner with Kelli, and then there was a knock at the door. It was the old man. Best I can tell, he must have been informed by a neighbor named Len, a guy about the old man's age, and who was just crotchety enough and buddy enough with my old man that he'd rat me out. (I know he called before about noise in the early days of my renting the place. Len also came by one day and in some conversation was going on about all sort of antisemitic talk about Jewish conspiracies and the New World Order. Quite a character. His wife was rather sweet by comparison.) At any rate, barely an hour passed until the old man was on my doorstep. It was a bit of a shock but I had to expect it. I didn't know it would be the defining moment that would put an unprecedented five years between us.

The Betrayal Ratio

I answered. He had the sign with him. I confirmed it was my work. In fact, I told him to come inside. I demanded it. I told him to "come in and sit the fuck down!" He refused and I reiterated that maybe he needed to come in and listen to me for a change. Not accepting my generous offer of hospitality, within moments he made his way out to the driveway and then to the front of the house, down a deep driveway. I let him have it. I'm pretty sure he was threatening me about the missing lock box and the earlier house cleanout. My notes say more about my giving him the third degree about betrayal. Somehow, he likes to claim that I betrayed him with my calling the city. It might be that way for him. But his more absurd claim is that he never betrayed his parents and their trust. And he also has made similarly absurd claims that the trust level was (or should be) 100%. Um, I'm afraid he's clueless as to how his own mother felt. But on this evening of December 14, 2006, that betrayal statement set me off in a huge way and I incinerated him as he tried to escape to his truck out on the street. I was literally screaming in such a way my throat hurt. It was epic. Kelli followed us outside and was watching from the driveway.

What the hell was there to carry on about at such outrageous and disruptive levels? He wanted to talk betrayal. He had one or two things that he could level against me: turning him in for illegal construction and perhaps relating to my mom against his wishes. (There might be something lost to memory but those are the ones I know he felt burnt by.) But what about the strand of betrayals he's spun all through my life? I had a nice long list that was fresh on my tongue at the time: 

  • Molested my sister which led to all sorts of unknown dysfunction that exploded years later
  • Cost me my relationship with my mom time and time again due to his various ways of manipulating her legally and financially
  • Threatening my step mom with violence enough that "no dentist could fix the damage" and causing her to flee for her safety
  • The totally uncalled for instance of throwing my childhood dog over the fence when she was in his way as he worked
  • Never really made a plan for me to get to college but always made talk that I "could never learn too much"
  • Never really showed me genuine support for playing music, and always commenting and acting in such a way that undermined my own ability to commit in a deep way
  • Using draconian disciplinary methods to try to make me a better student while I was trying to just be a kid who was dealing with the usual mess of new adolescent experiences, with the added load of 8th grade being the year I met my mom and her family and tried to adjust to that
  • Opened a locked door to spy on me and my new girlfriend Robin in the wee hours in September 1994—he didn't know we were fully awake and knew
  • Charging me rent to put a lock on the door in response to that violation—his messed up actions caused me to have to pay...him?
  • Telling me to leave home so he could have a Russian woman move in, and who never did
  • Eavesdropping on me from upon the roof as I talk to my girlfriend
  • Took my car off the work ramps while getting the timing done, causing me towing and repair fees at a commercial shop
  • Sided with Bill Francis (tenant/"helper" at Virginia's house after she was widowed) on New Year's Day 1997, essentially re-evicting me from a house he did not own months after the pressure to leave his house
  • Essentially ignoring my needs as a tenant at that same house when I was a paying and contributing resident, and always fast-tracking his own ideas of how to "raise the value of the house" which proved to be useless, illegal, tasteless, and offensive to me
  • Not attending my wedding, let alone supporting it in any way at all
  • Evicting Kelli and I early in our marriage so that he could make his point about my choice to rebuild a relationship with mom 

And that might just be a partial list. But the meat of it is there in a general chronological order. Over time, you might say he meddled in or totally wrecked my relationships with women time and time again. And not just girlfriends. He's cost me two mothers. He's said and done things that threatened to sabotage things with Kelli too, and seeing that coming, I was not about to stand for that. It was an intense 15 minutes if it was even that long. He made his way for his truck and drove off. Kelli and I regrouped. It was one of those sweaty palms, frantic and pacing times, not knowing what all that had unleashed except pure passion.

Epilogue

The following day, he sent me an email saying the realtor was planning to press charges for the matter of the missing lock box. I never responded. I think it was bluff-calling on his part, and I think that if the matter is to be settled, let the one who has the most to gain take a modest few dollars and pay for it out of his profits!

On December 18th, after a weekend of hand-wringing and discussion about the Thursday before, Kelli and I both resolved his presence was threatening enough to need to at least attempt limiting it. So we went to the family courthouse and applied for a restraining order which we did not get. But even the gesture of doing that was a huge step up in our young marriage of just two years and a few months. After the two years of couples' therapy where we had to repeatedly deal with a triangulated relationship with my old man and the house as the third party in our relationship, it was a breakthrough moment of clarity, that I'd look after Kelli's interests before my own, or before I let worries about what it took to protect the house sideline what I should be doing for Kelli. 

In the middle of 2007, I was left to find the house had been sold in April for $515,000. I found the listing online months after the fact. I was not even notified. It was far from the $569,000 I think he thought he'd get if he got prime market price. His dumb remodeling efforts cost him. I knew they weren't needed and would add nothing. He didn't listen to me. So he paid. And I am happy to assume that the state of the house was not even as nice as when I lived there, so I hope that cost some more. And why shouldn't it? It's a box of stucco, sheetrock, wood, and other bits. He inherited it and took everything for himself. I can't tell exactly how much he invested into it after he got it, but I reason that with new carpet a time or two, the material and labor in doing the remodel work (none of it good), and taxes, I can't even really get the number up to $20,000—his total investment into the structure and the taxes. I'm sure the city got him for something. Any way you cut it, $515,000 is far more than he deserved to collect, given his antics during the decade preceding the sale, and in some ways, throughout his whole relationship with his parents.

The time since that fiery night in December has been nearly silent. Most of the communication was aimed at me, but in a few cases channeled through Kelli, as he or maybe even a caretaker or some other party called or emailed one of us. There was one invitation in 2008 to sit and have some summer evening date with step mom Eda, her son Rene, and his new interest at the time—the guest list being what he would still like to remind me of as "the family" I knew. But in the same letter, the dripping condescension that suggests Kelli is the undermining element to our glorious family picture is unacceptable. Another letter was channeled to me through my former pastor, and it drips with more of that black and white thinking that glorifies the Lucas family mythology and degrades all else. He also made a drop of several of my old books at yet another house following the year at the Calabrese Compound. I got word that he needed hip replacement, and he sent an email, written in the third person, saying he would be in the hospital this date to that. I've stayed clear of responding. What I have to say gets said on this blog. I know he reads it, or used to read it. I can't tell if he's losing his mind, but he's certainly into some incredibly immature thinking with plenty of distortions and omissions. The couple things I've heard from him about any effort to change the course seem to sabotage that message. I don't see anything that indicates any real change of heart, contrition, or a new spirit of any mutuality. My Father's Day offer to reconnect still stands: a year or more of family therapy must guide it, and since he's enjoyed the windfall of cash, he can pay for it. I think he's too full of himself to do it. I'll gladly be proven wrong.

The carnage is pretty severe. Each parent is unable to relate to me. Each blames me for reminding them of the other. Each harbors so much anger about things far in the past. Neither seems to claim much responsibility for the shape of things. In some ways, they are perfectly created for each other. The thought amuses me. But I feel bad for them. They are literally pitiful. What a miserable life to lead! I don't hate them. I wish they'd get their shit together as people. It seems even their advancing age (both 67 now) hasn't really taken an edge off. For mom, she lost a son to the law in 1974 (me), and a son to death in 2011 (James), but she's locked into her story enough that even when I show my face, it is the safer thing to do to ignore me, even though I've heard stories about the huge hole in her heart after I was taken from her. For the old man, he still has the same house as he had in 1970. It's the same house he drove my mom out of; my step mom too; several tenants; and ultimately me. When's he going to see that has failed him? When's he going to find that no relationships equals a death? I think of them both as tragic figures unable to learn new ways to live.

For me, this all has been a great teaching/learning experience. Oh, a lot of it has been heart-rending stuff in the moment. Fortunately I've had a great many teachers and advocates and therapists who have helped channel me toward newer understandings. Fortunately I have Kelli. Kelli has been a total angel. She's been the best thing that has happened in my life. Ever. Make no mistakes about it. Don't any of you ever misquote or distort that. Kelli has been an agent of bringing balance into this picture where for a lot of years, there was none. (Soon I will tell the story about her arrival on the scene ten years ago now, my eyes for her being opened by the 2001 and 2006 story told here.)

Some of my teachers have been known to say, "God comes disguised as your life." One favorite scripture that I've had to mull over and take seriously is one where Jesus is alerted by a disciple that his mother and siblings are outside waiting for him. He replies (paraphrasing), 'who are my mother and my siblings? The ones that do the will of my Father are my family.' All this deconstruction has happened for a reason, to draw me out of a rather parochial picture of what family is and has driven me to actually reinvent what all that means and how I might function within a larger, more nebulous picture of family. Kelli is a key building block of that new paradigm. While we don't really talk much of having kids, we do realize that it is a noble goal to chart a course together that itself is an act of resistance to the kinds of things that dissolved parental relationships for both of us. And in another way, relationships forged within church or other spiritually situated settings also have a way of patching up the damage and building new relationships in ways that the old original ones only hinted at. I find myself often dripping in gratitude that my broken, dysfunctional clan of origin has given way to seeing many new members in a new, nebulous family of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and others. 

Friday
Aug122011

Meeting Mom Again for the First Time—25 years On

I was born nearly 38 years ago. But for all intents and purposes, I met my mom as a 12 year old on this day 25 years ago. It was rather unceremonious, and linked to a newly reheated battle between parent-figures who wanted to play games with me as the ball to be hogged as often as either of them were able to get it. 

One day in August 1986, after returning from the day care for us pre-teen kids (at Patty Hurt's place), I was told to make ready to go meet someone. He and I got on the motorcycle and rode over to the Bob's Big Boy across from the Superior court on Clairemont Mesa Blvd where my mom and her mom were there to greet me for the first time in my memory. There had been times before when I was rather young but those left no lasting impressions on me. Pictures of the gifts they gave me were keen to not feature mom or others who visited my grandparents' place. 

That day in Bob's Big Boy I was introduced (by notes on napkins and some pictures I still have) to two sisters, three brothers, two nephews, an aunt and uncle, all of which I pretty much didn't know I had. It ushered in a period of a lot of newness, promise, and adjustment. My old man feigned being interested. Everything else I know about his exchanges with this family suggests to me that on this occasion in 1986, he knew that he got got. The con got conned.

There is no empirical evidence for this but it was pretty clear that this is the case. Since I was raised apart from that side of the family, the tales I got over here were always portraying them as as fault, or that somehow mom wasn't fit or stable to take care of me, and that quite frankly, the Lucas people were all so much better at this. So it was for most of the time till this reunion. Then, from what I can tell, in late 1985 or early 1986, my old man went to court to stick the knife in just a bit deeper, by claiming that mom should pay child support. In March 1986, he took me to a scenic viewpoint near Julian, CA near where he and my grandfather were buying a house for vacation/leisure use, and in one of those kind of saccharine father-son moments, he asked me what I would like to wish for while staring out over the desert and Salton Sea. He planted some answers that I might hope for, to get the ball rolling, and the one of interest now is "fifty dollars a month." 

My bank deposit book leading up to my trip to Europe in 1991That was in March. Accounting for a bit of administrative lag through the courts, I could understand now how in May I got the first check from a mystery woman named Christina Weiss. Fifty bucks, sure as anything. I began to get a story about how she needed to be reminded she had a son she left, and this was for that reason. Checks would be arriving each month. They continued to arrive until my 18th birthday, though somewhere in the span of time the payments were reduced to $25 a month. This was the old man's great job of sticking the knife in and giving it a bit more of a twist than his original legal custodial victories when I was a tot. Those victories are said by my mom to be the results of three way collusion with my grandfather and the lawyers. So she says. I don't know for sure but it does fit the "boys club" dealmaking model that I do know of. 

But his strategy probably backfired. I think his goal was to extract some money from mom so that I'd have some sign that she was contributing to my life. She resented it all along, and was always suspect that the money went to him and not to me. Not so. It did go to a bank account for the remainder of my juvenile days. It paid my way to Europe in 1991. She was relieved in 1994 when we had a second major reunion period, and I told her that the money did get to me but that I was only able to make deposits, and finally that the Europe trip was a worthy way to use it. But I am ahead of things here.

I suspect that the May-August lag was another court scheduling matter, but I'd guess that her resentment at having to pay for a child she couldn't see took her to the court to contest that, and to demand some share in my upbringing. This seems to me to be why she'd be in San Diego, about 110 miles from her usual life in San Pedro. It seems that she got a victory to see me and to have me up to her place on a fairly regular basis. The old man knew where that could lead and he never liked it. So I have to think that this was rather humiliating for him. Everything else I know about him is vehemently opposed to my relationship with mom and that family.

After the first Bob's Big Boy day, we had a couple reunions here in San Diego in the couple weeks before school started. We met at Mission Bay a time or two, and Lindberg Park once on the day before school. After that, I began a period of biweekly trips up to her place in San Pedro, spending weekends up there with my younger brother Steve and his full sister Nikki. Also around was our older sister Christie, the one who has really turned my life inside out, and her kids. Some day I'll get some of those pix up. At that time, things were optimistic, but you can see the look on my old man's face that he wasn't digging it. For my part, I was delighted to have siblings to play with.

Mom wrote in a birthday card a couple months after the initial reunion:

Our family is whole again having you with us. We have a lot of time to make up for and the future holds great promise for us all. God Bless you Eddie.

Two report cards a year apart: end of 8th grade and the end of 9thStarting school in 1986, I was so distracted by the newness of the family dynamics, I had miserable grades and my old man made me pay for it by some draconian restrictions for the second year running. Two years in a row I had gotten to my birthday on October 12th, given new toys or models to build, and then to get a school six-week progress report card and/or call home that doomed me. He took all my models and supplies, and all my toys and put them into a locked trailer out in front of the house where they stayed for the whole school year or till the grades were elevated. The idea was to make me focus on schoolwork, and to somehow pretend I was not a kid who had to play and be creative. The loophole was that I could engage in such a life at anyone else's house, but that's no way to build models. What his method did, if anything, was to embitter me. It was bad enough in 7th grade when there was none of this family drama going on. The second year was devastating, and in its way made me cling more to my mom, who at that time in early 8th grade, was seen as the good cop.

She was heroic and played a kind of political game with my old man. I still recall the day I got the devastating D report card and called her at work. It was a new thing to do something that kids probably take for granted. Eda, my step mom, never worked and was almost always reliably at home when I came home. But she had been gone for just over three years by the time this 8th grade story was unfolding. Calling my own mom for counsel on how to deal with this was something new to me. It wasn't always so, but at that moment, she did provide some refuge. (My tune 8th Grade Report Card is a reference to this period, and that one report card when I got a 1.0 GPA, otherwise known as all D's, or something equivalent. The opening part of it is drenched in D power chords and octaves, hence the title.) 

The other major thing I have to give her props for was from the following year when she bypassed the old man's specific request to not buy me jeans I wanted—specifically Levi's, and more specifically the shrink to fit 501s. She did an end run around that and took me to Mervyn's with Steve and Nikki for back-to-school shopping. I got exactly the pants I wanted and for years, I was as loyal to Levi's as I could be. I even recall telling a school counselor early in 9th grade about this very thing as he was trying to get some basics on my motivations and personality. I recall telling him what utter hell it was to go shopping with the old man, who was always ready to give me a range of lame choices and told to pick five from that selection. And Levi's never made the cut. He'd get me other jeans, or he'd make poor attempts at something more classy, but it was garbage. My grandmother was the alternative who might at least let me make my own decisions about the kinds of conservative, quasi-preppy stuff I'd wear. Until my mom came on the scene, it was looking hopeless in that regard. She blew the roof off with that one purchase of 501s.

The thing that I didn't appreciate so well as it was happening is that those earlier reunion days of late 1986 and into 1987 were times when mom took time off her second job some weekends to spend time with me, to make the place a bit more social, and to generally make me welcome. There were plenty of times when the weekend was spent with a trip to a major mall, out getting stuff, or hair cuts, or seeing movies or whatever. I think she was paying in plastic. Eventually she had to wind that down, and as she did so, the weekends that I visited were spent more at the house and sometimes even going with Steve and Nikki to work with her overnight at the answering service where she worked. It was a dingy place in Harbor City. It wasn't quite as much fun. I recall that taking a few rolls of toilet paper was either okay or necessary. She worked that job overnight on Friday and Saturday nights, in addition to being at a major commercial glass factory during the regular workweek.

I was always clear that they lived a different life than I. Their house in San Pedro was about the same age as mine but it was dingy, brown from smoke (I came home hacking hard, and one day went to the school nurse for it), dirty from children, messy from carelessness and the need for rest when it was attainable. It was different for sure. There were essentially two families there with single moms and their children: mom with Steve and Nikki, who all slept in one giant bed, and Chris who had her kids in the other room on a bunk bed. Six people in two rooms. And they were a volatile set. Mom and Chris have a knack for flying off the handle. Chris smacked Steve with kitchen implements, one time breaking a big wooden spoon on his back. Another time it was a carrot. Another time still it was flying high heel shoes. This was all new to me. Shocking, even. It might be that for the simple reason that I didn't have other kids to share my space with, which, in the absence of Eda was bigger than ever. A three bedroom place for a father and son? Spare room? It was this difference that was always used as a device to guide me to seeing how "good" I had it. To this day, the old man will level a case against the life they led. It isn't that he's wrong. It's also that he's not completely right. Returning to my house in San Diego was usually a downer when considering the trips to the mall, or watching TV together or having a big feast was not going to happen for a few weeks. But when it came to relative calm, space, and a pretty tidy house, it was nice to be home, excepting of course, the business of having my toys taken away for seven or eight months at once! As mentioned before, this two world stuff was very disrupting academically. 

The romance was over after Easter of 1987. That was the first major crack in the wall that brought the seemingly festive and permissive early days to a close. The first period, as I call it, sputtered out over 1987-1988. I didn't expect it was going to come back, but there have been the subsequent reunions that start rather bright and then burn out. It's been a pattern. More recently, I've taken to doing clandestine correspondence to communicate something, but that falls on its face too. 

Many more images are available at the family gallery and are captioned with generous notes.

Sunday
Jun192011

A Facebook Fathers Day

Kelli asked me if I was ready to come out of a four and a half year long silence between me and Willy, the man who used to be called my dad. Or maybe my father. But since one is too cozy for the kind of relationship we have, and the other is too formal for a guy who often acts in ways that a five year old might, I have to stick with Willy. Or "The Old Man." Or maybe like when both parents were giving me hell around 2005-7, the "Y-Unit."

Facebook readers out there can participate if you want. There is a guy on FB called Beemey Smith. It is his bogus account for doing some sneaky stuff. You can report him or block him, or if you think this is important enough, you can forward this to him by FB or even Snail Mail it anonymously to 

William Lucas 
5052 Artesian St. 
San Diego, CA, 92117 

Let your conscience be your guide.

Onward. Kelli dared me to keep to one page. That's a lot for me. A lot in its brevity, I mean! What would I say?

Stop being landlord. Stop being the builder. Stop being right. Stop being condescending to Kelli and blaming our trouble on her. Stop hating my mom for doing what a single mother has to do to take care of her kids in a world stacked against her. Stop obsessing about material shit and finances. Stop belittling me like I was 10 years old. Stop ignoring ideas I have that might actually do some good and make me feel like a partner in all this. Stop living like the whiny little boy you must have been when your dad and mom were willing to do anything to keep you around so they wouldn't lose you too. (Eldest son to drowning at 12, and a stillborn daughter.)

Start finding something to like about Kelli. Start thanking my mom for her share in giving you such a loving, smart, compassionate, articulate, handsome son. Start asking questions about timeless things. Start telling me about hurt and strife and pain like you lived it. Start sharing more. Start opening your house to people. Start trusting people. Start conversations that show you are interested in other people. Start taking accountability for your own misdeeds and shortcomings. Start taking God seriously as if your life was a gift from her.

My public offer for breaking out of nearly five years of estrangement is this: You go to at least one year of family therapy with me. Two might be better. Or more. There is plenty of work to do. You pay. You pay for the best qualified male therapist you can find (since you don't trust women to lead you, but I don't mind you facing that it isn't about what they do, it is about what you do in these situations). You'll pay because this is one way to start putting things back in order after your financial windfall from the house you sold out from under me and Kelli. Money isn't the issue for a guy who cashed in on a $515,000 house near the peak of the market. Will is. When the time is right for you to do this work, I'll know because you'll call me and ask for it. You know how to be in touch. Start with the right words and I might even respond. The right words will probably feel funny and hard to say. They won't roll off your tongue like the old lines did. This is a good thing. Trust it. Go with it.

The moment will come when you realize your method of dividing and conquering has failed. Your inability to relate to people normally has failed. Your loneliness has mounted. Your money and your house are meaningless in the realization that nothing else exists for you. Neither of them love you. You'll find yourself at the end of the line of that kind of life program. You won't know what to do with yourself. You might feel like I did in 2003: suicidal. Rage filled. Lost. Disconnected. Hurt. These are the signs that something good is about to come. On the verge of something big.

You SHOULD mourn the loss of relation. I do so every day. My answer was finally to start to build it up again, but I don't kid myself that I am not the sole architect of any renewal. Kelli has been invaluable in that regard, and even she is compelled by a larger force than she understands. She even asks about you. We talk about you like we care. But we just don't know what to do about you. This is why I am not going to stand for your badmouthing of our relationship, as if she was the wedge between us, as if she ushered in the end of a golden age. She has been the best thing to happen to this family in ages, returning a much needed feminine element to the balance. When you're ready, you can admit that and join the party. It will require getting over a whole host of long-held beliefs about women, about young people, about clergy, about wives. About relationship. Consider it a dare. Consider it the terms that will need to be met before you and I get very far, therapy sessions or none.

I do feel compassion for you and I sort of have an understanding for the situations I know you've been in. But I don't see the wisdom in your methods that so far have demonstrated an uncanny ability to drive people away from you. Or to prune things of beauty from the space you inhabit. It must be a lonely place in there. It's scary to look at from out here. All we have is your actions to judge by. When you eventually come around, we'll know because you'll be a lot more transparent and open. Generosity will flow. A smile won't be crooked. Laughter will be genuine and warm instead of self-conscious and cackling.

Becoming human can be scary. You're 67 now. Give up the old shit that hasn't worked. Give it up! No parents are here for you to either impress or to manipulate. All the shit that drove us apart is not working for you. All the ownership of property and even the selling of property has not helped either of us be part of any family. Maybe that isn't what matters after all. None of that matters. It is all dressing. Now it can be seen for being threadbare and bankrupt. It is not the relationship you need. The security you offered people was a good thing once, a long time ago. Now that same source of security has become a weapon and has scared people out of your life, bringing you to this day. It is a failed plan. So give it up. Give in to being someone who isn't defined by all that. Give in to someone who sees relationship in terms of quality of exchange of good will and time. When you're past doing the hard work you've done all your life, you need something else to get you by.

In the men's work that has done me good, that is the movement from living as your false self to being your true self. True self is creative, not destructive. Giving, not taking. Loving, not loathsome. It is already in you. But the outer layers have to come off. Better they can be peeled like onion skin, and not jackhammered like stone. You can't engineer your way into true self. It happens to people who get out of the way. That hasn't been your method as long as I can assess. You can only want it and be open to where that desire takes you. But almost invariably, you'll only want it on your worst day alive. I can't tell if you've gotten there yet.

The terms are at least a year of family therapy, once or twice a week. You pay. That will be your incentive to show up and stay the whole session. The rest follows.

Happy Father's Day.

ed

Sunday
May082011

Mother's Day

This year for Mothers Day, I suppose I could entertain thoughts of women who have played mother-like roles in the absence of the relations that were my birthright. Nancy and Sharon come to mind. But this year my own mother's birthday was also on Easter Sunday, and today of course brings it all back to mind whether I like it or not. Across the ebb and flow of the years, we've generally had estranged relations, with a period of about five years off, and maybe one year on. Lately, I've been in another period of unease about the whole thing, this time a bit ahead of schedule. It has been three years since the last attempt crashed and burned.

The fact is, I know my mother has had a rough life before and after I came onto the scene. I know she's torn up by the sordid events she's narrated for me over the years. I know she's done what she thinks is right in the moment. I know we've had our own kinds of heartbreak and suffering at the hands of the same man.

What breaks my heart is that the damage seems so thorough that that message won't ever be made clear to her. Three years ago, the entirety of family collapse was such that I was half joking that it would be a good idea to have a public memorial service to mark the state of affairs. But that sounds a bit bogus. I mean, yes, I do live without support or even contact with people who once constituted family, but I can't pretend completely that they don't actually walk the earth anymore.

Some people have families die in car/plane/boat accidents or acts of genocide and war. Tragic as it is, the finality of that seems to at least take one to a place where it is inarguable as to what has happened. As for my situation, all of these people still walk the earth, breathe the air, and drink the water. Most are 100 miles away, one still in my hometown. Years of estrangement takes its toll. Years of therapy to move on helps get past particular crises but doesn't change the underlying reality that everything is shattered but still so close.

At the moment, I am not the football they used to volley or play games to win and control. I am a free person, except for the ghost that hangs around. In an odd way, this terrible and painful series of experiences has led me to understand both parents in more forgiving ways, and I am wrestling with how to channel that. I am also wrestling with the fact that history tells me that no real good will come of this for myself, but that in being so damned stubborn and persistent, I will be acting not so much in reaction but proaction. It could very well be that this is a dumb thing for me to concern myself with. Lots of people ask me to consider that.

My hero, Jesus, preceded me in understanding how family just doesn't get it when junior grows up and forms a self. 'No prophet is accepted in his hometown, etc.,' 'Who are my mother and brothers and sisters but those who do the will of my Father in heaven?' This has certainly paved the way for me to move toward other figures who offer more life and vitality as I struggle to molt the old skin of my identity as a son/brother/uncle/nephew to all the people who now keep their distance or are so toxic that I can't really be around. Still, the gravitational pull is strong. I know there is precious little that can be fixed; the brokenness is too great. I often feel I am the only one who recognizes it and perhaps has a scrap of a clue what to do about it. Everyone else is locked up tight, frozen at the soul level. I've done a range of things, followed a few paths to try to make sense of all this and at least set it aside so I could progress as myself.

The men's work that I have done primarily is built on one goal: to help men realize their beloved sonship of God. (No slight to the ladies out there: you can claim your beloved daughter status too.) This isn't radical or new. Mark's gospel puts it up front: before Jesus was the heroic, larger than life figure we know him as, he first discovered his innate beloved sonship. The rest flowed from that. He was able to relinquish all the other markers of social prestige and standing—"normal" family and clan relations first and foremost, and to love and live as he was loved by God. I wonder if the whole Joseph story was a way of conveying Jesus too was from what we call broken and dysfunctional families, and that the only father worth a damn was God, who he called "daddy," a title which otherwise would have been the term for Joseph.

What is clear from my own experience and from the path that Jesus laid out is that this business of beloved sonship of God is hard business. Who among us—the lay people, the clergy, the scholars—knows what happened in the missing years of Jesus' life, and what kind of heart rending questions drove him to join the cult of the crazy baptist at the river, and then go off and live so counterculturally, but with a particular message that only the Father in heaven matters? What sort of agonizing dissolution of normative relations did he have to endure before he was empowered to get past the birth-issued family relations and all the shit they can drag a person through?

My first answers to this kind of thing came three years ago when I think I understood the pain and rejection that gay and lesbian people might feel when faced with owning who they are, particularly before family members who spent a lot of years shaping them according to other ideas, other aspirations. Maybe it wasn't coincidental that the church I found myself drawn to was a place where such folks gravitated toward in order to feel the kind of safety to be oneself. I didn't know how similar it was until a few years ago I found myself on the outside of all the family I ever knew, all for the sake of exercising some self determination, or marrying the "wrong" person (a woman, no less!), and otherwise finding myself.

If claiming my beloved sonship of God is what I must do, then I suppose to ride for real, I have to let the training wheels go. In fairness, it isn't that they did me no good; it is that they have become limiting, in the way.

Sky, ever hungryA few weeks ago I was at a ranch in New Mexico where a mutt dog named Sky had her puppies in the space beneath the trailers. I never saw the pups with my own eyes. Maybe they were miracle, virgin birth pups since no father was present. Whatever the origin, I know I was oddly compelled to feed Sky. I was overcome with a feeling of compassion for her, and fed her almost obscene amounts of food, which she gobbled up as if her tongue was a conveyor belt! She drank a gallon of water at a single stop. She went on to steal into the trash enclosure and compost heap for whatever else she could find. I could not help but think of what kinds of things my mother had to do to protect her kids, even me.

In nature, there is no right and wrong. There is just survival. We humans make the laws that limit or even prohibit survival. We certainly have the kinds of laws that divide people unnaturally. That is the legal basis for the separation between my mother and I. But after that expired, on a few occasions of trying to reconnect and revive relationship, things went no better. A lot of times it has felt like death. Trying to earn my own mother's love feels like death, and is something I intellectually know is uncalled for and impossible. Jackhammering through all the layers of alienation and mistrust and hurt is a vast task that I am not particularly wise to embark upon. Been there, done that. I can't really change the hearts and minds of 67 year olds who have racked up so much hurt in a lifetime and never learned to deal with it. I know people do what they think is right in order to self preserve and to survive. I guess that is what happened here. Sometimes I feel like the pup that got dropped on the escape path and had to be forsaken for the greater good. For whose greater good, I can't say.

But there is also the parable about the 99 pups and the one pup for which God doesn't rest until it is found... That's it! (Okay, so I paraphrased.)

Friday
Apr222011

With Death, Resurrection

It isn't that I had nothing to write for a journal in the last month. I did. I kept my notes in my old journal book that I started in shortly after it was given me by my mom for Christmas 2000. I wrote in that book for about seven months or so. The last entry was dated just days before I received my first computer. The rest, obviously, is history, mostly done on this site, or with a record of sent emails, and only a few short bursts of paper journal writing around special times like my stay at Halcyon or during the Rites of Passage last year. So that book that mom gave me sat empty for nearly a perfect decade. I knew it was only half used and was often left to wonder when I might pick it up to write again. What was going to be exceptional enough, or different enough to warrant using it again?

The book was the one where all the deep dark secrets of family were falling out of the various places they had been hiding. At the age of 27, the life I thought I had led and the life I thought I was about to lead were radically upset with outrageous revelations of a family life that preceded my arrival on the scene, and the early days of my life. The first half of this book contains within it my discovery and the worst of the news, and my response—anger, depression, grief, denial, and the whole sickening soup of it all. In some ways, it is clear to see, particularly on this Good Friday, that experience as a death of one version of myself, though of course, it was far from my imagination that a resurrected life awaited. At that time, there was plenty of darkness to go around.

me, 1978 with the table in the backgroundMe, c. 1978 with the table in the background at the Quapaw house

me and virginia 1981.Virginia and me, Christmas 1981Clearly there was no computer to be used while I was on my trip, nor was I interested in using one. So I took this journal along. What more, I took the table that I used to write at! The table, a dining room table that was at my house on Quapaw for as long as I ever went there, was the place where I sat for family dinners, sat to build plastic models or assemble puzzles as a kid, or to read or be read to by my grandmother. I typically was seated at the side up against the giant sliding glass door, facing the wall of the dining room with the kitchen on the back of that wall. I used to provoke some sharp responses when I leaned my chair back against the window frame, lest I fall through and shards come down on me and cut me to pieces or something.

When, in late November 2000, my grandmother fell and later got taken out of the house for the last time, I had the house to myself for six months before the situation changed and I got roommates. I took to writing at the dining room table instead of in my room, this time taking the spot my grandmother used to take, just opposite my old spot. It afforded me the view out the window instead. Usually I wrote after midnight when the world was quiet, but that seat at the table would otherwise be the place to look at the patio and the garden-like back yard with its terraced hillside overgrown with ivy. On a good day, it was a delightful suburban back yard with color and life. There were citrus trees and another pretty big tree.

the patio as seen from the vantage point of the old table. shot after it got turned into a jail cell, but after the jail cell got partially knocked out to be within compliance.From the dining room, summer 2005, as we were moving. The modified patio is now reduced back to something reasonable but it was still dark. The orange tree is starting to show some life nearly two years after it was hacked to a stump and primary branches.

That was, on a good day. G-ma died ten years ago tomorrow. After she died, and for a couple years, no one really took care of the back yard so it was on auto pilot. I guess I raked and cut a few things, but really I was in another place and so the back yard withered some. Then, in early 2003, the landlord-father of mine came over and began to knock out the wooden and colored-fiberglass patio to replace it with one that was dominated with block and steel, essentially replacing the open feeling, sunny enclosure with what I called a jail cell. It made the dining room and the living room quite dark and shady since the window faced west. So all the southern and western was essentially lost to this project. I never wanted it. I protested. I lost that battle too just like another equally hairbrained idea to hastily enclose the carport and fashion a garage. All of this was tasteless and illegal work. But the business of ignoring my requests and ideas was what helped push me toward depression and angst. At the same time, the roommates I had, two lazy and thrill-seeking guys of about 22-25 were trashing what left of the back yard with their slingshot and BB gun target practice. The owner, the man who once fancied himself father of mine, took saw to the oleanders on the fence and the lemon tree, leaving ugly oleander "trees" when they were nicer as fence-concealing shrubs, and just a stump and main branches on the lemon tree! It was outrageous. He didn't live there! He didn't have to see how ugly it was once he left!

When eventually the fissures turned into giant faults in the ground between us, and he evicted Kelli and me, all our furniture became a ball and chain. We had two dining room sets (one from a donation from a friend's family, and the one I am writing about), and so much else, some stuff duplicated needlessly, but that once fit in that large house. We've moved several times since that summer of 2005, and while we've had our ways to force things into place, or to store them at friend's houses or a garage, finally I found that I could donate the dining room table to the Red Mesa camp in New Mexico. Along with it went a pair of end tables that had taken a bit of a beating and were a bit awkward to fit places, and were essentially replaced by others that fit within the overall scheme of our natural wood furniture.

I got to Red Mesa on a Sunday night and put the three tables together in the living room of the bunk house, a double wide modular trailer house that was in a state of extensive remodeling. Bare wood floors, partially removed wainscoting on the walls. No real kitchen cabinetry, and no oven. Minimal furniture. Dusty with ranch dirt and fireplace ash and cat dander. It was a pretty stark place and I wondered what I got myself into for almost two weeks!

the table now at Red Mesa, New Mexico.The table, at its new home at Red Mesa

I was able to sit at the old dining room table on Monday. The journal was there for me to write in. Almost a decade had passed since I wrote in to log this trip. Then a remarkable thought sprung to mind. I realized I was once again at the table, with the journal, and once again at a giant window, but this time the window was not the window to the jail cell my father created in his uncanny knack for erecting walls, fences, gates, and other barriers. This time it wasn't even the parochial vista of my suburban back yard, not even in its beautiful incarnation with plants and vines. This was an even bigger view, facing south out of the trailer house and looking across the rolling hills in the foreground and maybe a hundred miles more to the mountains.

This realization about the table and journal, once brought to mind on my first full day there, gave me a way to view other happenings at Red Mesa. The ones that stick with me are similar realizations of death and resurrection are the stuff of life. The most potent of these chart a distinction between deeds and attitudes I was raised around, and new chances to respond to analagous situations. I may have to keep the lid on some of that for a while to let it sink in and teach me more, but sooner or later, I'll notice it affecting words and deeds of my own.

Sunday
Sep272009

Pyrotherapy

You never know what sort of family relics you can get rid of till you try. All sorts of household junk, books, pictures, old furniture. Just heave it all in. With a family as dead as mine, no one is there to care anyway so it may as well all go in. It was such a good time I even tossed in some old master recordings of my own. It is so much easier and satisfying than hosting a yard sale. Most of it was junk anyway and not worth sitting around for a day, just to be talked down to pennies. Good riddance.

Sunday
Jun292008

Fun With Hip Replacement Surgery

Jim Kunstler's account of the process and aftermath. It's pretty funny at points. He calls it a "medical comedy."

Or, do it yourself!