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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. My old man 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 at-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 would do just that. Checks would be arriving each month, I was told. 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 once, and Lindberg Park twice—once as the initial gathering, and another time a few weeks later, on the day before a new school semester staring 8th grade. 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.


The Unraveling +15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The What's Up

I've been a bit quiet as of late. Some of that is because I've decided to pick up a guitar again after a year or so, sit myself down for a while these past few weeks and learn some songs. It is a discipline I have never really engaged in, learning other people's songs on guitar or keyboards. So, lyric sheets and chord sheets in hand, I chip away at at least mapping the song out, learning the vocal part, and hamfistedly working on the guitar part. In some cases, I am working on songs that have no existing chord sheets available online so I've had to resort to actually trying my hand at doing such things myself. I am looking forward again to a period of musical expression, but this time I anticipate I won't try too hard to channel that energy toward recording or writing my own stuff. I have never really approached things like I am doing right now, so this is new and exciting. I have a few songs targeted—songs by Kevin Gilbert, Nik Kershaw, Jethro Tull and others.

I've also been active in church a lot lately, immersing myself in some balance of being ministered to and doing a bit of ministry for others. I am also seated on the board of Christian Education and in that regard, function in the church as an officer with a bit of responsibility, though I don't know that a few months of that has been all that big a deal for me yet. Though I did have a say in inviting Lee Van Ham to the church to do a forum in three parts, and that was a great thing to sign my name to. Most of my effort has been in helping to create a community among the young adults there. I found myself being handed the reins to a barely-scheduled roster of folks back in June and over the summer and since, I've helped shepherd it into a regular gathering occasion and a couple potluck meal occasions and some occasional lunches after church. Beyond the intentional dates there are also budding relationships among the folks who participate, some increased participation in some church activities, and a couple new members. I am quite proud of what has been happening. I also participate in a spiritual development group that has been together for a year or more now. Most of the members are mature women hardly any younger than parental age for me, but we've all come in and been straightforward in our struggles and faith lives, and have had a thriving little community in there too. Some are widows. One pair are life partners. Some are radical activists and others conservative. One is a convert from Judaism. Then there is me, the lone straight young male. We all come and be honest. My church has been a splendid place that has become my family in the total absence of other family (save for Kelli and her family in Florida). I get a whole new set of friends who in various ways plug the holes left by parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. I have to think that my church is church done right.

Then of course there is biking, which is detailed well enough in my other entries on truck mileage. Read the archives. Suffice to say, I am quite proud of leaving my truck parked most of the time, and finding I can bike just about anywhere I commonly need to go, and I can do it on a single gear bike. It has been a good time of transcending my erstwhile limitations. I've also been quite the bike advocate at work and church.

And, at work, I can look at the roster of drivers and claim that half of them have been my ridealong trainees. In fact, for the few days each of them is in my truck, they are the few that I get a chance to get to know some. Many of them are younger than me, and I find myself sometimes saying things that, ahem, sound mentor-like. Actually, it has been quite good to have that chance to do that and then have the opportunity to speak from that experience when I convene the young adult crew at church.

Kelli has finished her schooling (last December) and graduated (in May) and also finished off her chaplaincy education (in August). The past few months has been the first time off since before school started in 2005. She's taken the opportunity to get some fitness activity to help get her past years of a passive approach to healing from her car accident in 2002. She found a doctor who disregarded years of other opinions and encouraged her to get exercise, citing that there was no medical reason not to and every good reason to get with the program. So she's found yoga and water aerobics and has been doing those regularly. Anyhow, she is feeling far better and is in a better frame of mind for the next big thing. She is inching toward ordination, but first has to go before the Association of local churches to get a green light so she can finally circulate her profile (resume, if you will) far and wide, seeking a formal call from a congregation which would then constitute a call to ordained ministry. So, the heavy lifting is done. A couple months more till this Association council, and then she is off and running. I'm quite proud of her.

Oh, and I guess I would be remiss to say that all this is going on even while we had to find new housing on account of our screwball landlords letting the property fall into foreclosure! It seems they have essentially not paid the mortgage on the house we have been faithfully paying on until after we got the notice to sell posted on our door in August. We tried to be in touch with them but they were silent or difficult and the sale date kept getting moved back. It might be okay, you say, but it got to be a pain in the ass living in suspense. So finally we pulled up in a hurry in October and moved with the help of some of the young adults people and one dude from work. I was able to get a box truck from work that we used on two nights. And a good thing. That was some intense shit. Our new house is spacious inside and has three bedrooms, but we got the price we got because it is without a back yard or garage. Buber is good about staying inside, so we don't need to worry about a yard. We miss having a garage where stuff can just be tossed into corners. The closest we have to that here is an attic crawl space that is sizable and keeps the empties.

A word to the wise. Never get AT&T service unless you'll suffocate without it. Long story. Needless to say, I came running back to T Mobile like a repentant womanizer.


Mulch Madness

ed's toyota truck at the landfill, getting a cubic yard of compost. the mound peaks higher than the cab part of the body and the whole tail end is sagging!It is now an annual ritual to go out in March and fetch a truckload of compost to enrich the garden. Since the start of 2007 I've done this about five times now, once each spring and once later on in the summer or fall. The best way to get it in the truck is to let the crew just use the skiploader to dump about a cubic yard. It is a little imprecise as you can see, but it saves half the work of moving it. Maybe I should have checked the air pressure in the tires before embarking this time. Driving it off the landfill was like skippering a boat! At any rate, you can't go wrong for the price. All this was just $5 and some gas and shoveling time back home.

ed with a nasty looking garden tool for weeding. the attitude adjusterWeapons of Grass DestructionFor turning the stuff into the existing ground, I do it the hard way. No roto-tillers for me, no. It's shovels, rakes, and whatever else it takes. This year I decided to get this cultivator tool. I call it a weapon of grass destruction, but have nicknamed it "The Attitude Adjuster." It looks a little like Cthulu from a Lovecraft novel. Ugly, that is, but handy. I guess if I had any more ground to work, I'd lose the pride in my old-timey approach and go for the roto-tiller. So far it is bearable and a nice way to spend a late winter/early spring evening.



I sure hope its not true that things happen in threes. Or else I will need a few bath towels to clean up.

Last night I was fetching a large bottle of balsamic vinaigrette dressing from a top shelf at home—one that was a bit of a stretch for me. It was stacked on its side on top of a couple others similarly stacked. I fumbled it from that height and it crashed down on the sink counter, blowing off its plastic lid (the top cracked off entirely) and spewing its oily substance all over the counter, but it hit with such force that a lot of it became decoration for the wall across the room, the fridge, the cutting table, and the stove too. The floor was turned into an oil slick above all. But since it was right next to me, it was like a bath of the stuff while being dressed. Ick. A torrent of obscenities was all I could muster, leaving Kelli to jump up as if it had been an actual emergency because she didn't really know what happened. She dutifully left her dinner and we set about cleaning up this domestic Exxon Valdez incident. Paper towels in hand, and a bucket of soapy water helped, as did cobbling together some more nasty-dirty fabric stuff that would make a good wash.

Then, because that wasn't good enough, there was an encore today at work. I had two gallons of blue cheese dressing to take to a sports bar. The shop was short on crates and good boxes so I grabbed one that was good enough. Better to use a bad box than to try to grip two jugs of this stuff, I thought. So I got to the place, box under my arm. All was going well till the box broke open at one end and let one gallon of that goopy stuff fall to the concrete floor just as I turn toward the customer area. Exploding dressing jug aside, it sort of bruised my ego that I was only able to successfully deliver only 50% of my order to a guy who is sort of cranky and short of small talk. But it went okay. He quickly got me a fistful of towels to go clean it up on my own. For those who will need to know this stuff, it takes a lot of towels to sop up half a gallon of thick oozing dressing. (I used eight just to get it off the floor, never mind actually cleaning the residue.)

I ended up having to deliver the replacement. This one I put in a crate and protected it like a baby.

I was thinking on the way out, none of this would happen in outer space.


Mmmm, Tastes Like Chicken

Chicken is a versatile meat that lends itself to many recipes. Here are some that I like, with names that seem to capture the flair well.

  • Steamed artichokes with mayo or butter and garlic, with lemon and oil marinated chicken with herbs. It evokes a Mediterranean vibe when served with warm pita bread. I call this one "Choked Chicken."
  • Or, tonight we had a salad with some chicken that was marinated and let to simmer in a delightful parmesan and shiitake mushroom sauce. I call it "Chicken Shiit Salad."
  • In an effort to eat less meat, we have sometimes experimented with some of the soy/tofu substitutes for common meat products. Trader Joe's has a pretty adequate chicken substitute made of tofu. I thought it was a tad dry but if it were let to simmer in a sauce of some sort, it would be even better. The name "meatless chicken" is so unfortunate when you could call it by a far more succinct and memorable name using the words tofu and chicken.: "tofucken." Caution must be exercised so it isn't confused with foot fetish sex or anything else that falls under the term "toe fucking."

First Day Of School

buber the dog in the trunk of kelli's car, where he tries to interfere with her plans to go to schoolAfter a summer that spanned about three and a half months, Kelli had to return to school once more. This time, it is her final semester, but from this perspective, it is the seventh time we've had this experience of going our separate ways for about 16 weeks at a time. She commutes weekly to school about 130 miles away, and is gone only three days usually but this summer in particular, I know we were both anxious about it all starting up again. Buber the Dog is also anxious and doesn't like the days when he sees the rolling suitcases pulled out. He knows something's up. He is attached to Kelli like velcro, so he doesn't take well to seeing her go. (Heck, he doesn't even like it when she leaves the couch for a drink.) He puts on his best show to convince her to stay, including something I have heard of but not seen until today.

Unfortunately for the pup, he has to witness her go about 16 times each semester, but on the bright side, he knows she comes back, and on that day, he bursts with all the doggy joy in the world.

As for myself, it is an odd experience as it always has been. This semester and the last one were the only ones where we were more or less in the same situation in life. Each semester has started with various combinations of living address, employment or not, one dog or the other (Okua or Buber), and so forth. Kelli's schooling started in 2005 and each semester has been defined differently because we've moved so often and my work history has been so checkered. But most of this year, I've had one job and we've had one house spanning two semesters. While the rhythmic aspect of Kelli's comings and goings is familiar, the jarring part has been that the scenery has changed a lot, and stretches of unemployment on my part, and overwhelm on Kelli's part (schooling, and two internships) have left us a bit dizzy. We have fluidly shifted roles according to who is busy and drained; during the summer my work was draining so she did most of the domestic stuff and had a meal ready. Last semester, despite doing the same work during the day, I did a lot of cooking and stuff for Kelli and Suzanne who both would retire to their respective academic caves and come out for grub. Now, at the end of the summer, with Kelli coming and going each week we will probably find ourselves drifting back to that pattern for a while.

buber in the trunk, but kelli is kissing him to say she'll be back before long.But for Buber, he retreats to where Kelli's spirit can usually be found—right now, he's on her side of the bed, but he might just as likely be under her desk or in her recliner chair. He doesn't do his fussypup routine much when it is just he and I. Despite his clear preference for Kelli, he does make a good buddy when she is gone. He's a good dog. Still, Kelli is the center of the household here, so we're a bit adrift without her.


How Does Your Garden Grow?

ed holding the attitude adjuster, a weapon of grass destructionMe with my weapon of grass destructionWhen we got to our house in Bay Park, the yard was dingy and mostly grown over with grass and weeds. Most of it still is like that, except for our precious little garden which is now in its second season. Last year we were a bit more careful about what was planted. We picked a range of things to try out but it was all picked out to the last plant or seedling. As we went, we fed the compost bin and kept a pretty good balance and got some nice black loam from the city-supplied black igloo. Only a bit of it went back to the garden. It took a good long time to actually fill it up so I was hesitant to dig any of the decayed material out. It would cook better if it was left to fill and decay, and the summer heat would accelerate that process.

Then I got the gig as veggie monger, and have brought home a lot of veggies not only to eat but I've captured some waste product and fed it to the bin. All in all, there are a great many types of veggies and fruits which have joined the delightful decaying heap.

Usually, the idea is to keep the mix in balance between carbon and nitrogen sources, or the balance between the living and the dead, the newly picked stuff and the dried out stuff like sawdust, cardboard, and so forth. I think Kelli jumped the gun and spread some of it before it was hot enough for long enough to cook out the seeds. The stuff was certainly black, but I guess it would need to have been left to cook for a few months in order to kill the seeds. Anyhow, some of this stuff got turned into the garden soil in a few places—not uniformly because of the existing plants and their roots—and within a few days, we began seeing the um, fruits of our mistake.

That is, if you can call free plants "mistakes." What we got was a whole bunch of tomato plants that started cropping up just where the compost was prematurely mixed into the land. How many varieties of tomatoes have I brought home either to eat or to feed the bin? I have no idea, but there were some hardy seeds in there that took advantage of the extra rich soil! Now our garden has a number of tomato plants scattered about and though we've dug out many that would be far too densely clustered, there are way more tomato plants than the two we ever planted this year! We don't know which of the new ones will turn up what sort of fruit, though one is looking like it is turning up some green heirloom type. Our intended plants are Romas, and little tiny things at that. But I guess we need not worry about our tomato supply this summer. We may need to make new friends in order to give them away!

the beanstalk rose up to roof level and moreThe beanstalkIn a slightly more restrained way, there are some eager volunteer pepper plants which are cropping up in just as random a fashion. A short couple steps away there turned up a whole bunch of corn plants that had to be thinned. The earlier, intended corn was not any good so we composted that and apparently some of that wasn't cooked well either so it was more than happy to take root. Kelli has dubbed the region "chaos corner" as the new volunteers blur the lines of the old rank-and-file layout of the original planting. Tomatoes and peppers are now mingling among rosemary, basil, chard, jalapenos, green onions, strawberries, and the amazing bean plants that have scaled their poles up to the height of the crest in the roof, about 12 feet in the sky! (It takes a ladder to harvest that one.) Also volunteering is a big plant—a vine of some sort—that looks like it either has a round green squash or a watermelon on it. We don't even know what awaits us.

I went and got a truckload of the more usable topsoil compost from the landfill. Apparently that stuff is cooked for at least two months in massive heaps, and is let to break down. This is my third such truckload of black earth; the first was for the initial planting, the second one excited the garden some months later. For only $5 for a full Toyota load full (dumped in with a giant skiploader), you can't go wrong. This time we just spread the stuff out instead of trying to mix it in. The first couple applications of that much compost and other amendments was not easy using only manual labor and hand tools. This time I was hoping to apply it in a blanket fashion so that it might retain water during these hot months, and to also remain a looser soil. The existing soil, despite some amendments, had the tendency to get packed more.

kelli planting and tending the garden in the eveningKelli planting new veggies at Nashville St.I find gardening enhances my spiritual perspective both as spectator and participant. There is life and death; intention and chance; chaos and order, and other life lessons that reveal themselves to the attentive soul. I don't even do as much of this as I would like; work is quite a task that fills my days. I do fancy it an art. It is a joy to come home and see my little plot (about the size of a nicely sized bedroom—about 200 sq ft) defy logic on a daily basis. The bean pole itself was something to watch as it rocketed up the wire grid then the short bamboo then the long bamboo. While I don't end up harvesting or tending the plants as much as Kelli does, I do end up working the compost, and there is a lesson in there too. Even the compost retrains a mind to see that there is less waste out there that can't be put to good use. So it fosters an alertness and a resourcefulness that maybe can't be learned the same way in daily life around computers, plastic, and other stuff that defines our daily environment. The compost is full of worms and bugs of all sorts delighting in my detritus, and who, when spread around the garden, work more diligently than I to make it a great place that will hopefully provide quality nourishment, and the means to share and meet people, or deepen other relationships. Like I found last summer after I was fired from a job that did not appreciate me, the tomatoes spoke in opposition to that. The tomatoes from two plants were there to greet me the next day, full of life and color, and really, full of grace. Grace, I say, because there was only so much I did for them, the rest was mostly miraculous outworkings of the universe at large, all things beyond my control. The tomatoes didn't grow like they did because I earned it in any way. They just are. Tomatoes are only tomatoes. They lead lives with no complications and pretensions such as we know. And on that day a year ago, they instructed me that is was okay to just be. It is rather like what Jesus said about the birds of the sky having no worries. God will take care of things for us just like for the birds. If we let it be so.

But back in "reality" there are perfectly good economic and social reasons to hone one's green thumb. I think though that while people will understand that most readily, given the prices for the food that is provided commercially, the intangible quality of gardening will also infect people's souls too. I think it is a good thing as we realize that a lot of technological promises have been made that can't be kept. Gardening instructs us to live by our sensibilities, in consideration of nature and her rhythms and laws, in community, and with the satisfaction of knowing that even beyond the satisfaction of our own work, there is a dose of grace that touches the whole thing. If it were Forrest Gump speaking, he'd say, "you never know what you're gonna get." And contrary to the materialist view of the world with its various methods for analyzing and measuring trade-offs, that isn't all bad. (I don't know if I have technically broken even on my total investment, nor do I really care. The reward is substantial in ways that can't be measured.) The human drive to conquer nature is what is killing us, both as creatures and as human beings. The whole project of civilization involves being at war with nature, but maybe we should reflect on the ways in which we can be "civilized" and kill ourselves, or be civilized and still enjoy a world worth living in, where life can be witnessed and cherished, even in the null points of death. It might take restraint. Or maybe it will take the breakdown of The Machine. Gardening isn't anti-science or anti-technology. Rather it depends on observation and the use of various means to work toward a positive end—hopefully one that allows people dignity beyond basic survival. But what we have now is an over-reach of science-backed technology, and it is one that is killing us in so many ways we don't even realize it.

For now, I await the randomness of whatever the universe sees fit to provide in my little patch of dirt in the back yard. And, I consider myself lucky to have the dirt at all.


Of House And Home

It seems that the last blog actually touched a nerve in some of the most loyal fans of TAPKAE.com, and a few unexpected ones came out of the woodwork in response to the part about my father. Even he decided to go the most circuitous route and contact not me but my stepmother (a softer path than contacting me directly, it seems, even though he has my email address, phone, and the blogs here often have comment fields, not to mention he could figure out how to leave a letter at places I frequent). He wrote to her in response to the last blog, saying something lamenting the way I talk about him and that he did not have my physical address, and that I never told him I moved house sometime in the last year or so. Well, that much is by design; most of my life he has owned the property where I have lived, or was a short way from inheriting it, and with a wife to cooperate with, his record with us says that we should not disclose such information since he has been quite a destabilizing force for the entire time (six years) that we have been in our present relationship.

His letter to my stepmother seemed quite flowery and well written considering the fact that his correspondence with me usually includes no greeting or goodbye, and often is cold and businesslike, reminding me it's rent day or some such landlord talk. But in this new letter, he said he'd be needing double hip replacement surgery in the next year and a half. Not clear what he aimed to accomplish with this notice, but either it is a legit plea for some help or it could lead to other strained relationship troubles, that for one year and a couple weeks I have been blissfully removed from. I've long hoped for some change in him but last year I decided I was off the project that might ever bring that, so after my words with him in the street at my last house, I had to let it go. In actuality now he does not control me, and I rather like it. That's not to say I am not swayed by the whole drama. It is after all, quite central to defining my path, whether I like it or not.

I think of my father as a cross between a few men of movie fame: Colonel Frank Fitts (of American Beauty), Ebenezer Scrooge, and Darth Vader. You can figure it out. They all have some part of him in the way they treat people as secondary to their needs for order, power, money. Two of them were redeemed eventually, one had to kill an innocent man who inadvertently found out his secret identity and the basis of his hateful attitudes. One had a forgiving son who realized he was being sucked into the same dark hole as his father had been, and he rejected that and managed to get both out of that hole together. The other had a nephew who persistently nudged and lived out an alternative value system not based on money. The other had a son who called him on his failings, and left. I am somewhere in the midst of these son/nephew figures.

What I am not into is being manipulated by money anymore, or being insulted and reminded that my place is to be a dumb teenager, or any such things. If my father can move on from the role he played then, then maybe things can go better. Sad to put it this way, but for the $515k he apparently sold my old house for, I hope he can afford the finest in medical care. He speaks of betrayal, and his veiled request to be in contact does set me up to fall into a sort of trap of how money has mediated and often dissolved my family relations over the years. A few people hearing this story now have dared me to act like the Christian that I supposedly say I am, and to "do the right thing." Well, the right thing is not clear to me and I don't think that a hasty "religiously correct" statement of any forgiveness will do any good if it doesn't come from a genuine place in me. Some can use such a sentiment to say I should continue to be trod upon (invoking the 'turn the other cheek' lesson—something that has been done plenty of times, I assure you). I really don't wish to be trod upon nor do I even wish to continue this stupid pissing contest with him. It sucks vastly more energy out of me than I want to give to such a losing pursuit. Hence, taking a year off. Not being trod upon by his economic ideas and his desperate attempts to externalize his own failings, fears, and hatreds has done me some good. I hope it has done him some good to have time to wonder why people don't wish to associate with him, including me. But I have no idea if he ascribes value to such things, or if it is just time passing and making his heart harder. Right now my most important project is my marriage, and establishing that as my new home since my earlier sense of home has been so patiently and consistently deconstructed in large part because of things my father has done. So, I beg a bit of tolerance too as I seek to make right what has been slowly toppled throughout my life, in a way that suits me, and with a willing participant who knows what it means to me.

I've been dared to see the good in him. Well, there is good in him, but he has done so much to eclipse it with his outward deeds, for so long, that frankly, it's barely visible. Like Darth Vader, his main flaw is that he remains dedicated to his cause after it has failed him mightily. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is something one can take only so far. It is an addiction to being right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that maybe it's the wrong thing to hang on to. The day I had hoped would lead us to some new era was when we talked candidly at the residential house I was at after my suicidal spell in September 2003. But it did nothing to change his behavior because even a week later he was up to exactly the same insensitive deeds that contributed to my despair in the first place. He could do that because there is an emotional dimension to life that he has managed to ignore, and so he was able to deny that I was sick and troubled by it. Imagine if I were able to just deny that he had arthritis in the same way as he denied I had any reason to be depressed or troubled. Even my pastor, in on one meeting at that residential facility looked my father in the eye and told him that he would have to accept that this depression of mine existed and that it has a real effect on my life, and that he must take it seriously. A week later, it was as if that whole range of conversations had not taken place.

The other unfortunate thing is that most of the good experiences that I might point to (the ones that he might like me to feel good about) were the sorts of things that he manipulated into existence, and as I uncover bits of that, what were my formerly great memories about a trip to Europe or going camping or even certain aspects of my relationship with my stepmother, or other stuff worth remembering, has been damaged by learning how they were contrived events or somehow tinged with a feeling of being "manufactured." (There are some things about camping trips that are too wretched to recall here, believe it or not, but he knows what the trailer meant to me and some of my siblings.)

This will be a long enough piece to read, so here is the last written and honest attempt I made to "meet" him while not refraining from speaking my mind on his approach to being a landlord, a role which eclipsed his ability to be a father, and one he seemed to want more than being a father. This is dated October 13, 2006, a day after my 33rd birthday, and shortly after I took damn near every last thing out of my old house on Quapaw, including all that I bought to spruce it up in good faith that I might be seen as a responsible contributor to the place: light fixtures, blinds, and spiffy stainless steel jack plates for the AC outlets. We "communicated" a couple times following this before the eventful blowout in the street on December 17th, triggering the year of silence.

Dad, I don't know if you are really wondering why I stripped the last of my stuff out of the house, or if you are content to believe whatever it is you already believe, but here is what I have to offer. I don't mean to make this confrontational, but I do plan to be straightforward with my reasoning and my requests. I did that primarily to make clear what that house has left after "I" leave and only "you" are left. Aside from the paint colors and some choice of hardware, "I" have left. The point is to show that maybe I did indeed add something to the place in terms of functionality and aesthetics. The house looks as it does because that is what you claim to own, and what I claim to own, I have on my patio right now. That stuff is essentially useless for me. I don't anticipate it has any real resale value. But you have a house that will sell for far more than you "paid" for it (even in a worst case scenario), and even with the expenses you have incurred in owning it, those costs are still nothing compared to what you stand to gain. Please think on that. You get a great deal, I get scraps at best. Now, maybe you had some plan to include me in this whole house selling deal. But such a thing has never been talked about clearly, so I assume that there was none. If you are prepared to talk about an equitable deal that includes me in some 50% share (in writing), you can have blinds and other things back and I will work with you. I don't really need them. To me, they are just a device to make a point, and are ultimately junk. To you, they are the bits of gloss that either make or break the appearance of a house worth living in. You either have to buy them new, or you can have this back from me. But I really need you to think about this business of making a fair deal to me and legitimating it in writing, not in some abstract empty sounding spoken statement.

You've said you felt betrayed by my calling the city. This comes years after I felt betrayed by the way you've managed that house in a way that shows a lot of disregard for how I felt (which on the whole was a continuation of many years of such instances). This was a very repetitive pattern for about three years from 2001-2004 mainly. One time after another, you hardly took any consideration of what I was asking for, and plotted your own course. But that should not surprise me; when I was a kid, I listened at one family dinner after another what your plans were for that house when either of your parents died or became unable to live normally. So, I know your designs on that house go back for over 20 years, and likely more. You considered it yours long before either of them died. And once your mother died, it was only three days afterward when the first piece of major change began to be enacted—the garage. This is always interesting to me because when you started work on the 26th of April 2001, it was just three months after you wrote a letter to me telling me to not call you or talk to you or set foot on your property. In your letter, you stipulated that I should not do any of that for one year, which would logically end at the later part of January 2002. But only three months later, when grandmother died and you had a clean shot at the house, you began work, thus cutting that one year down by nine months! What is it? If she had lived out all those nine months and more, you may have had no reason to do any of that work there, nor any legal justification for doing so. It was not yours. You and she were estranged for the last few months of her life because she didn't want your input on how to run her affairs. I can't help but notice that once the last of your parents were out of the way, that house became your play toy. And it did not matter how I felt about any of it.

In one way or another, the way I see it, you have done one thing after another to devalue it. When I was there, you did the two major projects that did not need doing (and that I did not want), but among the smaller ones were things like utterly mutilating trees for no good reason. I noticed this week that the tree that Kelli and I planted in 2004 to commemorate our engagement was cut back to almost nothing, its red flowers utterly struck from the front yard. Some time before, it was the dismemberment of an orange tree that has taken a few years to grow back. That same summer, it was the cutting back of the oleanders which hid the ugly side of the fence. And it was the removal of two of the hedges around the patio, and the removal of all the lower level (visible) branches. Or, among other things, there were choices you made to NOT carpet my floor, or to install a window right. What this means to me is that you take out some sort of anger or something on this house. I could understand if you actually lived there and had to make a decision to cut shrubs so you could work on a wall, or to do something that affected you primarily. But all the things I have mentioned are things you did as an absentee landlord that didn't affect your environment. If you never liked the house because it's not near three levels of schools, or because it's not close enough to a main street, or something else, that should not mean you need to come over and degrade it piece by piece, room by room, with no apparent care for me, who lived there and had to see it every day.

Your oft-repeated line about "raising the value of the house" is relative to nothing if it was something to be lived in. But you took it to be an investment property—it always had to be making money, even off me and Kelli. If not for renting or selling, why add a jail cell of a patio that no one wanted? Or a garage that was done illegally and with a lot of flaws and no real attempt to make it actually look good? Instead of doing those things, you always had the option to install vinyl windows in the bedroom I kept, or a floor in that same room. We finally got the big room done after a few years, and that was the only one of its sort. Instead of a garage, I asked that we get the big room done with a floor. Had you done that early on, that bedroom would have a nice floor, and not a painted one. The list goes on. I ask for something you won't give, and you give something I didn't ask for. And in the process, I got sicker and sicker of it. The value of the house, for me as a resident, actually went down as things got done that didn't need to be done, and things that needed doing took months or years.

I need you to realize that I think you sold me out first. I sold you out once I realized you would not give an inch on that place. That place was my home, both as a box to put my stuff, and as a place to have a real fondness for because it had many meanings. I don't know what it was to you, except the leading evidence shows it is just a headache to think about and to manage. That house for me was not just a box of stucco and wood and concrete. I can't put a price on what it was because all of my investment, once stripped of blinds and jack plates and light fixtures, is in my heart somewhere. It's abstract for me. It's a feeling. What is that worth? Living there was supposed to be one way for me to feel connected to people I can't ever be around any more, or to be a place to set up my own family future with Kelli. But long before I called the city and told them that you were doing illegal stuff, I was watching you dismantle and rearrange my home with no thought of what I wanted. Instead, from the get go, all I heard about was how that house was not valuable enough (this said while I thought of it as the best place I'd lived thus far). Funny, considering you had nothing in it to lose, only to gain. I watched how your house got repeated work done to it year in and year out, and it got worse and worse, more and more haphazard by the year. I didn't have anything to do with calling your house in to the city, but it got you in trouble for the same reason as my house did. Your workmanship, your ideas and attitude. If you had at least listened to me about what I though would work at my house, I would not have called. When all was said and done, that was why I called, period. And a week later, I wanted to knock myself off, it had gotten that bad. You think of my call as a betrayal. I think of it as doing what I was put there to do: to make sure no one harmed the house, and to look out for it responsibly. I gave you lots of feedback on each project you embarked on. You wanted nothing of it. You didn't listen. Your money was worth more than my well being? Is that not something of a betrayal?

I've seen both houses get trees cut down and ripped out. I've seen your specialty construction items go up at both places: walls, gates, fences. In other words, I've seen natural beauty stripped out and devices meant to divide people were put in. Your house is loaded with extra walls, gates, fences that went in since I lived there. What is it with you that you do this?

You own properties with a minimal amount of trees and a great number of walls, gates, and fences and locks. It speaks volumes to me. To me, that progression degrades a house because it betrays trust—it assumes fear is a correct and desirable worldview. It destroys the inherent beauty of natural life. A patio with poorly placed windows or no windows can only allow darkness to thrive. Both patios you built have done that—darkness where there should be light. Walls where there should be open air. Almost every tree and bush is gone from your yard. Many of those in my yard are trimmed back crudely as if to suggest it's only a matter of time before they are gone entirely. There is a theme here.

So, the final terminus, the point of destination in that line of thinking is that you have two houses, shorn of trees, and loaded with walls and gates. And the division has come primarily between you and me. Is that by design or just a necessary byproduct? I've seen one person after another driven out of your house, and now your house(s). Finally, it was me. Does this come when someone attacks your perceived wealth? Who else is left to drive out?

So you have a house that I used to live in, and it has a lot of stuff missing that makes it a house worth renting or buying. Kelli and I made it a home. There is a difference. The "home" went out of it in July 2005. Some parts of the "house" were mine to take too, and they are out of it. What is left is mostly your work, your effect on the place. It looked to me like you didn't like what you saw left behind. And even it was painted all a bland shade of white, it would still look bad with no fixtures, jack plates, window coverings, boring flat walls devoid of texture, and a patchwork floor that is different in most rooms. I worked hard within some limited parameters to make it look nicer than I found it. I did that because it invested me into that place. Kelli did likewise. We thought we had a home for some time to come.

If you want to sell it, that's your business. It's not my albatross on my neck anymore. I think you made your point already about being betrayed. I wish you'd give up this game now. You displaced me from my home where I DID work to show I was responsible. You made my life a lot of hell for a while last summer. I have thought about it. This is what I have come up with. You made your point. I made my point. You have already "lost" money off that house in the last year because you rented it for less than Kelli and me and two others paid for it. Then you "lost" money on it since the market has chilled out. And it will take longer to fix it any so that you can do either again, which is even more of a financial hit. My main point is, that house will be worth less and less with all this time passing. And even if you did get what you wanted for it, at the cost of a sustained difficult relationship with me, you really lost anyway. We don't need to have a sustained difficult relationship. But as I said in a previous letter, either you meet me on my terms in part, or we don't meet. I'm out of the house, you got what you want. But that you did come see Kelli preach, and made some efforts around your birthday shows something that maybe it's not all dead and gone. But I can't rest with that if I still have to be bugged that you got this house free and clear and refuse to share it in any meaningful way with me. I'm 33 now, not necessarily a 13 year old that you can set in his place with a glance or a word or a blanket dismissal: "you're wrong".

Let me put it to you this way. You share "your house", and I can share "my home" and maybe we can all do better than we've done for the last several years. One day you will need me more than I will need a box of stucco and wood at 4250 Quapaw. If you have some sort of old ghosts at work in your decision making about that house, now is the time to let all that shit go. It won't work. But if you choose to hog that whole estate and not share, I can still choose to associate with other people. It's that easy. Don't forget me, and I won't forget you. Remembering that my grandparents wanted to include me directly on their estate settlements is something maybe you could consider. This is not all your wealth to manage. They intended for me to have "something, not nothing," and not "nothing AND a strained relationship" with you also.

I assure you that I didn't just set this up by some trick. I enjoyed your birthday and that week when we actually could meet on another level other than this business level, and I wish that was all we had. But it can't be that way as long as I know you are so adamant about retaining that house all for yourself, or projecting an image of doing so. When am I going to be invited to the table to make a plan? When you can cut me and Kelli in on a fair share of half this estate, then you and I can resume what would pass for normal family relations. Otherwise, we have what we have. Periodically, I will try again, and realize that things are the same, then retreat for a while.

I know you went to see [a therapist we both know] at least once. I've had many instances when I thought maybe we should meet with a therapist there, but I don't know if you would do it. But I think that is the only effective way to get around all this and make something happen for the better. Your call.

Thanks for reading.



grandmother virginia lucas at age 90 in her favorite chair in the dining room by the giant windowToday is my late grandmother's birthday. Virginia would have been 98 today. Even her actual 91 years were a mighty feat of endurance through a century that so drastically reinvented the world and life in it. She saw many things come and go in that time. Some were regarded as great progress (she lauded science and inspired my curiosity about the lunar landings and so forth), and some were huge steps back (Elvis pretty much was the end of music for her). Some things never really wavered for her (she was always devoted to church life on the lay ministerial, social, and charitable levels). I know there were things that she was not willing to adapt to because they flew in the face of tradition. Our church was among those that began to use gender inclusive language, and she was not hip to that at all. 'Why can't they just let God be a HE like he has always been?' This trend really messed with her traditional Christmas favorites. I don't know if it is that she actively supported patriarchal systems, or only knew that the fight was so great as to not really feel it worth the effort to change things, certainly not in her late 70s or so.

Of all the things that came and went, I have a feeling though she would come unglued if she knew what happened to her family in the wake of her passing in early 2001. I think she saw visions of it before she died; she wanted it not to be this way. She had many reasons to think it would turn out bad. And it has. In some ways, while the worst of it happened after she died, even the five years before that saw a lot of division and fracturing in the wake of my grandfather's death in 1996. I think his death was like pulling the king pin out of a complex mechanism, and all the pieces fell away into a scattered heap. I know the ensuing drama between she and my father and I was something that never let her grieve her partner's loss—after over 61 years of marriage. We had the added complexity of a certain fellow named Bill Francis who was ostensibly going to help her out for room and board in return. And that was a colossal mistake that I unfortunately endorsed in the early days of the arrangement, based on what had been, to that point, a friendship. I later came to regret that, as it ended up having some wild unforeseen things happen. All of which, coupled with losing my grandfather, turned into a giant nightmare of a family meltdown.

My father made no secret about his ideas for how to commandeer their house after they were gone, and his influence was not wanted while only my grandmother remained. Yet, for a long time after that bitter summer of 1996, she and I were at odds too, which at the time was just the way things were, but on reflection, was a tragedy for me, and a great disservice to her. Not long after this Bill Francis guy was finally sent out of the house after a year and a half, I moved in, though I did not kid anyone that I would help out. I was very selfish then. I also worked a real erratic schedule in the music industry which really was not the sort that would let me be of service to someone who needed regular attention. (She did have regular care for about four years thanks to the neighbors and their extended family and church friends.) I paid bills or rent or both. But we did not have much of an emotional relationship. That had been pushed aside for years, and the woman I once went to with all my concerns just became a stodgy old roommate who passed judgment on my lifestyle and whom I avoided willfully. Really sad, and I may have to deal with that for years. There were a few instances of crossing that chasm, but they were exceptions and occurred nowhere near as often as when I was a kid and teen.

There were times when I overstepped my verbal rental agreement and got her irate at that, but I never had designs on her whole house. I just wanted my room and the studio space, and by sake of the reality of the situation, other space would be available because she could not possibly use it all. On the other hand, my father always had designs for how to make it into a split residence where she or he could live in half the place and rent out the other half. It became his project since he likes to tinker with stuff like that. But both his folks shrugged him off during their lives, and nothing really changed there. Until of course they were both gone and he would be free to do what he wanted. It happened that the peak of the housing market coincided with the few years after Virginia died. The part I don't think my father anticipated (in his earlier schemes) was that I would be living in the house when she died. I was there almost three years before she died, and continued for a few more after that under the new regime. He had always promised me that my studio would be subject to being dismantled on event of her death. That it lasted four more years was remarkable to me. He and I, after her death, had a huge blowout that ended up setting up the patterns of the next few years. The terms were agreed upon that he'd rent out a couple rooms that I would care for, and the rent rate would be just a little more than two rooms could fetch, therefore snookering me into that nominal rent that would still make me indebted to him. It served as an irritating reminder of what only five years before I had left when I stormed out of his house in two hours, taking everything that would fit into two cars.

Oh, the story is long and tedious. But suffice to say, he got ownership of it because Virginia was not able to alter her legal plans for the house before she died. She wanted me to have at least a share, and some near her said that she was talking about the entire place. She had asked me if I wanted it, and my answer deferred to her wisdom, but this conversation was had after she had a stroke and was not herself. It also happened shortly after my father realized a closet full of skeletons was about to be opened, and he was helpless to do anything about it, except to punish the curiosity that I had to relate to my mother and siblings. He had a nasty secret to keep regarding some sexual misconduct and a minor, and he knew that it would totally fuck everything up. And it did. In a preemptive strike against my curiosity, he assured me in a letter [image] that we would have hard times ahead if I followed this path of curiosity. And we did. Once he owned "my" house, he did as he wanted. His work was tasteless, inconsiderate of actual need, and illegal. I called him directly on the first two; the latter I turned over to the city because I knew there was no way to rein in his work but to call the city (who promised me anonymity but fucked up some administrative details that had exactly the opposite effect). At the end of a depressing summer of watching him enact all his lame work upon the place, I had it. I had it with life as well. So what if the city bust his balls? He had no respect for me, and I was checking out, for all I was concerned.

He never understood anything of my suicidal ideation. He never understood emotional pain moving a person to act like I was acting. Eventually, he figured out that I turned him in, and that began a process that led to my being evicted (along with Kelli and our roommate and dog). After we left, he rented the place for nine months or so, but about a year ago, it was emptied out for the last time, and I went and collected all my remaining items in a clean sweep—appliances, light fixtures, blinds, and stainless steel AC outlet cover plates! He was livid, and came to my current house to make some fuss about how I put this stuff before him, yadda yadda. Perhaps he got a clue how I felt? That property is more important than his one remaining family member?

It took me until June this year to see where it actually was leading to. I found out by a fucking Google search that my house was sold in April. At least it was far less than the nearly $560k he wanted. It looks like it went for $515k and even that is far too great a reward for his behavior from the last several years, particularly with me, but over a lifetime of manipulation and arrogance. He had no need to sell it. If all he wanted was money, he could have collected a rent check with me living there. He did that for a few years while I was there. But he had to jerk me around to make his point that I should not have contacted my mother. So he had to pull the house out from under me, undermining my stability that he and my grandfather had spent all my lifetime promising would be mine.

So back to grandmother. She perfectly well knew stuff like this would happen. Even my grandfather did. I think it is a dreadful shame how it all fell apart. Everything they worked for fell into my father's hands and has been sold off so as to benefit himself. I have furniture, a truck, some gear from various inherited money, some personal artifacts, and memories. But I have lots of pain as I realize that I never really grieved the loss of either of my grandparents. Both instances drove wedges between my father and me. There has never been any family effort to mourn properly, and now there is no family anyway. The extent of any ritualistic closing of their books of life was limited to their memorials; my grandfather's on Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetary with an 18 gun salute; and grandmother's being sort of a thrown-together affair at the church which both my father and I attended but did not have any hand in organizing. I did deliver an impromptu message of thanks that was phrased in such a way to irk my father and shake him up some in front of my grandmother's biggest fans. But that was all. After that, it was 'we now return to our regularly scheduled family meltdown.'

The only way I can emerge victorious from all this is that while the old man was able to wrangle the house and get it on the market and sell it for an unconscionable sum, I was the one who got the home. He got the stucco and wood; I got the home life which he abandoned years ago because his agenda was more important. Without the home life, a place is just a box devoid of meaning. I have no idea what he will do with $515k but he won't ever be able to piece together the family again, and it will be a long road to ever reminding me what I should remember him for other than systematically destroying my family from before I was born, and seeing to it that his agenda comes out ahead of anyone else's. At this point, from whatever scraps available to me, I try to put something back together. Kelli is an invaluable help in that regard. She is an ally in seeing that life does not devolve into an empty pursuit of materialism and power. We live modestly, but we are so in love in a way my father could only ever be jealous of, no matter how many houses he has ever held titles to at once, or how many wives and girlfriends he's screwed over.

As for Virginia, I know she'd be heartbroken to see this. This isn't what she toiled for. This isn't why she stayed married for 61 years. Not to see the family dissolve not in the midst of poverty and hardship, but at the peak of the market when the house was supposedly at its peak. All her traditional Christian upbringing and activism was not to lead to this—a house divided. No, I know in my heart she would never have signed her name to this. But I know she's out and about somehow, her spirit informing Kelli and me on how to be together, how to seek out divine guidance in bewildering times. She and my grandfather got married—an optimistic move—in 1935, in the thick of the Great Depression when cooperation was the ticket out of the hard life into something more bearable. My father happened into exactly the opposite. He came of age in the age of explosive materialism, hard men standing their ground on the world stage, and coincident with the rise of the party of greed (GOP, backwards). But I see it another way. After my father's generation has forgotten what a struggle is, and has reshaped the world in a way that trivializes the values that prior generations held, there will have to be a return to more durable values not based on exploiting each other, especially inside the family. I don't share a lot of the particular values that my grandmother held dear, though through Christianity, I know there is a wellspring there to draw from, and to formulate something based on what I now see is wrong. My father dropped the ball in this regard. He has nothing to teach me about family values because he has labored for years to undermine them to this day. The only family value he could reliably be counted to hold up is 'father knows best.' But even that is bullshit, because no father in his right mind wants the family to fall apart.

So, happy birthday, G-ma. The only present I have to give is for you to know that I want to pick up your thread and make something again, after some distractions kept me occupied. The house is gone, so we can't meet there. I did what I could. I know you understand and did what you could. But I kept the home, with your help. Some is in the garage, some in my heart, and some is between Kelli and I (and Buber, our pup who would have been a great buddy for you those last few years). Shalom.