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Entries in housing (44)

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.

Saturday
Aug112012

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day +15

Put this under "it was a great thing at the time, but..."

Fifteen years ago today there was a damned interesting coincidence that for a few years to follow was something that perhaps stepped up my trust in the universe, God, or whathaveyou. It did defy logic, that's for sure and I held on to it like Gollum and his "my Precious." These days it's far less a thing, but I don't think I've ever told the tale. If you need to see it in context, you'd have to insert this tale into its rightful place, about five years before this TAPKAE blog really got started.

You people now have the benefit of reading a massive spoiler post I wrote a couple years ago about how the entire Shelby Duncan era came crashing to an end in one day. That letter was a hard one to write, and in some ways I wish I'd written it years before. There were plenty of times when a saner person than I could have seen the writing on the walls and just washed his hands of it. Where were those saner persons when I needed to be one of them?

But the stuff of the heart is messy business. The mind wants to map what the heart feels. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it is a miserable failure. With Shelby, for about 12 years, there was plenty of this going on. We were never an item, and of course, that persistent frustration, and the repeated attempts to change that, were the drama. There is no real kiss to tell about. Not even really a feel up. There is this imagination that things could be this way or that, but all that was elusive and as I've said before, all that was known well enough by 1991, just a couple years after we met.

A picture Shelby sent from Alaska in 1994. Before Skype, such an image sustained me, perhaps senselessly, until the next I'd see her. Unfortunately, the next I saw her crashed and burned for too many reasons.

1994: the Setup

But being the pup on a pantleg like I am, I was wayyyy too into trying to analyze things. But the time that seemed most final between us was during 1995 in the wake of a nine day trip up to Seattle, WA and then to Fairbanks, AK. It was something that put an end to a very long period of having not seen her in San Diego. Even with her being "just" a friend, it was a long time to go without in-person contact. I recall it being a year and a half prior to my trip. I booked the trip during a period of 1994 when I was just given an advance on my inheritance from my grandfather. I bought the ticket in September for about $900 and winced a bit at that but was glad to get on with the adventure of seeing her in two distant states, and for a week and a quarter. Such time was unheard of. The year 1994 was a good year. This seemed like a good thing. I was riding high.

But on August 13 of that year, things went changing. That's the day I met Robin at a Slaves by Trade band party and of course, the fact she lived in town and was "available" meant that we dove headlong into the stuff of relationship in a way that could never be accomplished with Shelby. But you see... after months of anticipatory talk, the plane ticket to see Shelby was bought in the first several weeks of this new relationship when we weren't yet bonded to the point where it seemed a conflict. So after those few weeks, the reality was that while I had my feet on the ground with one girl, I was heading off to see another for a week and more, and more so, it was to be in the weeks after Christmas and over New Year's. Yep. Alaska in the dead of winter! Robin might have ribbed me some about seeing another girl for that time and under such conditions as those (where who in their right mind would leave the house anyway?) It wasn't a big conflict or anything; I think I knew it was literally better to have the um, bird in the hand, rather than the two in the bush.

The thing is, I'm rather convinced Robin willingly played unprotected roulette with our intimacy. Chalk it up to all sorts of potential psychological reasons about unfulfilled this or that, but that is how it seems. I gather it was some need to escape a family situation, but just three months and five days after we met (November 18th), she asked me to marry her and for a few days, I was in that mood of going with it, but I cooled my heels and realized that at 21 and with her as my first sexual partner, I was not ready to even pretend. So five days later (November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving), after a lot of that agonizing soul searching that goes on at times like that, I bowed out but said I'd still be interested in things as they had been for those first three months, but no marriage plans, or even an engagement. That was just too much.

The vitriolic letter my mom wrote to put me in my place in 1995, referencing the Thanksgiving snafu. Thanks for the compassion, mom.The vitriolic letter my mom wrote to put me in my place in 1995, referencing the Thanksgiving snafu. Thanks for the compassion, mom.

(It seems that was one of the more troublemaking decisions I ever made. On the heels of that declaration, I had to notify my mom that we were not coming to the first Thanksgiving dinner that we would have had in all the years since 1986. And since I had taken ill and was really in a mess, neither would I. Unfortunately, that firm decision was made on Thanksgiving morning, after she already started in on making a feast for the day. For four people. And two of us pulled out. She could still make a vitriolic statement about that even today if you were to ask her. She later decided to deduct $50 of payment from a $300 "loan" I made her in August of that year during one of the best periods I ever had in her company, just around the time I met Robin. But she decided to make that point months and months later in 1995, well after she had stated she'd pay me back. I've since come to find that my mom does that with other family members and with larger numbers. I digress.)

A couple weeks after that troubled Thanksgiving week, Robin and I engaged in one of those regrettable unprotected encounters that goes on to write a whole new history for people. Another roulette time that sometimes I've wondered about. Was it an intentional thing to be so risky just weeks after that big rejection of the proposal? Was it a trap? It's speculation, but plausible stuff. People do that. I'm as guilty as her, but at the age of 20, while young ladies can override knowledge of facts and figures and consequences with foolishness, ultimately, it was a decision of hers to participate (unprotected) in the whole thing.

If all that weren't enough, the presence of my odd friend Matt Zuniga was an odd thing to estimate once I got a girlfriend. The way he talks is suitable for the locker room or to accompany our midnight drum jams in industrial parks, but he was always inclined to be a tad more raunchy than I would like, particularly around Robin. Sometimes she played back with some equally suggestive talk. There were some times in the week before I left for my trip when I swear our relationship was on the rocks because of this. Since Robin didn't drive at that time, Matt drove me to the airport and Robin was along to see me off. After the weeks of them doing all sorts of flirtatious talk that I ordinarily don't engage in, my trip to the airport was littered with more such talk, and in light of all the innuendo, who knew what was really meant about Matt offering to "take Robin home." I flew out of town wondering how those two would conduct themselves while I was gone. There were later times when I was present in the room and when I got some idea of how things could have gone. But this is a family show...

Letter to my old man, chewing him out for charging me rent because I put a lock on my door to keep him from snooping.Letter to my old man, chewing him out for charging me rent because I put a lock on my door to keep him from snooping.

In addition, only two days before I left I was told by my old man that I might need to move my stuff out of the house so he could rent the place in January. Excuse me? He told me that just before Christmas. I left on December 26th and would be gone through the 4th of the new year. He offered to move my stuff for me. That was grossly offensive considering that much of that year was troubled by his intrusions upon my room, causing me to make the decision to put a lock on the door. That subsequently became his permission to start charging me $100 rent: all because he could not leave my stuff alone.

Shelby in Alaska in the dead of winter, holding her catA rare picture of Shelby, taken while I was at her place in Fairbanks, AK

The Alaska Ice at New Years

I'll have to cut this part shorter than it deserves because this post is really about Shelby and the August 11, 1997 event, but suffice to say, the trip was a troubled one though not for the reasons I suspected. Because it was bound to be awkward under the conditions of just seeing Shelby, or seeing her after a long time, I was there with a case of nerves that was just dismal. Being in strange new places (in the winter, there is just a few hours of daylight that looks about as bright as at 8 am here) was even more to dislocate me. And then the fear that Robin was late during the time I was gone added more anxiety. Calls back to her got me a "don't worry, it's fine" message that I distrusted as the time passed. I was really a troubled dude that week and a half and didn't make a good impression.

1995-1996: the Blackout

Coming home, the first order of business was to get Robin to Planned Parenthood on January 5th to see what fate awaited us. I think she was plenty surprised herself that she was pregnant and at five weeks already. Five weeks, eh? I know what night that was. Just days after that nullified engagement. Hmmm. She scheduled an appointment for a termination to be done the following week on January 12th. I paid my half of the $260 and took her there and did all the stuff that seemed right at the time. After that experience she was on the pill and at least there was a safety net that wasn't there before. People have already chewed me out for this whole episode, so refrain, okay?

Meanwhile, it took a few weeks before I wrote to Shelby to tell her how life was upon my return. First off, everything going on with Robin demanded attention, and really, I knew that the trip had not gone well and I was not sure discussing it would have helped much. But I got a letter off to her anyway. I suppose that at the age of 21 I did not have the tact she would have prefered me to have. Apparently I came off as crass to her (which was not hard to do; she was a harsh judge of things) when I wrote to tell her "the problem was solved." Fair enough. I didn't hear from Shelby until December, just before Christmas! And when I did, she chewed me out for being so crass and that while I was in Alaska I was "a pill" and condescending to her friends. Probably, given the weight of circumstances then. She apparently just forgot about writing to me for the better part of a year. But then something about Christmas (not even her holiday, as she professed to be agnostic) warmed her enough to send that lashing letter. She didn't even mind that there was an abortion involved. I hoped not. She was a flaming liberal pro-choice person according to her other rants. But she insisted I was too devoid of emotion or compassion to put it the way I did. And then nearly a year went by. I got that card just in time to "enjoy" my holidays. 

That was the end, for all I knew. I don't even recall if I wrote back. But I did not hear from her again. Now I can tell you the story I set out to tell.

My business card with full address to my apartment with my gear and all. That was dumb.My business card from 1997-1998.

Pizza and Beer... for Dolphins

Robin and I spent about two-thirds of 1996 in a slow breakup mode. Somewhere in the midst of that, on August 25th I got the pressure to leave my home of nearly 23 years (I moved nearly all I owned in two car/vanloads, done in a smash and grab motion that lasted about two hours on the following day) and after a few days or so at my grandmother's house, I took up residence in Robin's comparable childhood home in La Mesa. I was a two month guest more than anything and since that fall season of 1996 was filled with a bunch of stress and strife and life readjustment, that finally put the fire under me to seek out the kind of income that would actually let me get free of such drama. Feeling empowered by the newness of my truck, purchased on September 17th, I got a job at Pizza Hut in La Mesa, not even a mile from Robin's place. It was just about the beginning of October and by the end of the month, was moving into an apartment in Clairemont, now 12 miles away. The driving didn't hurt because with the tip money from being a pizza delivery guy, there was always cash in my pocket, and back then gas was about $1.25 a gallon anyway. But the time on the road might be a liability getting there at the wrong time of day when a lot of traffic out the eastbound 8 freeway would bunch up and make that a tedious drive.

Keneally's 1099 statement for me after the tour.Mike Keneally's 1099 statement for the tour

No worry though. Aside from Pizza Hut there was not much else to report to in life. I gave up working for Rockola once it was clear that Pizza Hut could more than pay for the $270 room I lived in and the few expenses I had. I had bought my truck outright in September so I never had a payment after the first two payments I made. The solitary room was indeed a new experience for me. Robin visited a couple times in November when it was a new thing, but for the most part, we were done. And then the big break happened. Mike Keneally called me to go on a tour as drum and bass assistant for his band Beer For Dolphins for five weeks, starting on November 18th, not quite three weeks after I got settled into the apartment and starting in just five days! Read bass player Bryan Beller's accounts in his blog from the period [Google listings show more of that.] In that period, I barely gave it a second thought. I told Pizza Hut I had to take several weeks off and if they could reserve my job, great, and if not, maybe I could work something out at the local Clairemont store. Essentially, I quit that lucrative position and went to work my dream gig for my favorite musician. It was a great injection of purpose and meaning for me after all the drama that the year had brought. Mike paid me out of his own pocket about $37 a day for 35 days—a flat $1325 when all was said and done. (The thing is, I had agreed to do the tour for even less than that but the situation on the ground was that I was co-opted by the Steve Vai crew to help out loading the truck upon which the BFD gear was riding piggyback, and Mike took that into consideration and paid a bit more than we agreed to initially.) That was no significant loss compared to what I was making, and being out of my usual, troubled space at home would do me good. It also helped put the distance between me and Robin that was necessary to envision a life not in that relationship. As it happened, we lasted about one week after I returned, then I broke up with her. I don't recall talking to her on the phone while I was gone, but maybe a couple times. I was glad to get free.

When I returned, I took about two weeks to regroup, did some local gigs including the incredibly arduous New Year's gig for Dr. Feelgood, where I had to break into my grandmother's house. (We had agreed I could store things, and over night if needed, so I could get some work from local musicians who had me move their gear and keep it at times.) In early January I was able to get a job at the Clairemont Pizza Hut and worked their until just after Super Bowl weekend in early February. Then I transferred back over to La Mesa because I found it more profitable.

So that sets the stage for the rest of this story. Now you know the oddness that is Shelby and the oddness that is her coming and going in my life. You've seen how I was involved with Robin and how that influenced Shelby to be even harder a person to deal with, cutting out of the scene for over two years. You see how I had this yo-yo relationship with La Mesa for a while thanks to Robin and Pizza Hut. So get this...

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day

My bedroom studio, a modest few tape decks, mixer, effects module, and some guitar around. I barely ever used the drums during the time I was at that apartment, except off site.My bedroom studio in mid 1997, shortly before I bought the VS-880, coincident with running into Shelby at the parking lot a couple days before.

Pizza Hut in La Mesa turned out to be a pretty lucrative job for me that year. I was newly free of my childhood home, newly free of a troubled relationship, and newly inspired by the Keneally tour (getting to watch Toss Panos play drums every night was just amazing, even when he was piss-assed drunk and angry). I spent my time working on my recordings in my little bedroom (they turned into Hog Heaven), and when I wasn't doing that, I went to work at Pizza Hut. I usually worked at Pizza Hut in the evenings and did about 30-35 hours there most weeks and probably brought in $1300, mostly in cash. I was living like a king, it seemed. I worked different days but probably had a few main days I could rely upon. I didn't do gigs unless they fit around Pizza Hut. For a while in the summer my roommate's friend and drummer in their band, let me record my drums at his house not far away. It was all very fluid.

So one Monday in August when I was not scheduled to work, I got a call asking me to come in to help relieve some shortage. I was asked to come in whenever I could. I cautioned that I lived 12 miles out and the rush hour would be slowing me down but I'd get in to help. That was good enough for them. They were desperate. I don't recall the specifics of whether I burned a path out there or whether I dilly-dallied or stopped to gas up but sometime in the five o'clock hour I arrived in the parking lot at 8000 La Mesa Boulevard where the Pizza Hut was. Maybe or maybe not did I stop to finish hearing what was on the radio. I wasn't being timed so I didn't hurry. Maybe or maybe not did I pay great attention to the many pedestrians moving in and out of the Vons store that my Pizza Hut was anchored to. Carefree. Today was bonus money, and just for a few hours. My calendar shows that it was 6-9:30 and that there were $29 in tips. Nice.

As I walked up to the store from about halfway down the parking lot, I heard my name called just about as I was to pass two women going by. Well holy hell! It was none other than Shelby! That warranted a double take. She was walking along with her mom. I don't recall if I knew that he mom lived there then or if that was news to me, but indeed she did live nearby on Mt. Helix, and Shelby was visiting from out of town. Only this time it was not from Alaska but a clear opposite part of the world—Louisiana. She was a student at LSU doing her Masters work, just about to start her last year there. We said a few small words and probably refreshed each other on phone numbers and gave a hug. She seemed happy to see me. And of course, having come to expect I might never talk to or see her again, I was excited to see her too.

She was visiting for one week. I just happened to be there on my day off. I was asked to come in whenever I could. I was in rush hour traffic for too long. I could have let one more traffic light or pedestrian slow me down. Or I could have been there one minute earlier or parked over one more stall. Immediately I set about the thoughts of what a remarkable meeting this was. You could imagine I could barely keep myself from bouncing off the walls. Yes, I remembered the troubled history. Yes I remembered the emotionally frustrating metaphorically slammed doors. I never lost that. But a day like this, after a year that was filled with its painful lows and empty accomplishments (working just for money never means anything to me, and aside from my recording, life was damned boring), it felt like I got part of myself back. It was a day to rejoice in, unambiguously. It was a gift from I don't know where. And it would be over three years before the tension mounted and broke again, in the form of that letter that I linked to above. For now, the order of the day was to be happy to have reconnected.

We talked on the phone that night. I don't know for how long or about what, but in those two years and nearly eight months since our last time being in the same place, it was probably quite a story. Three days later, on the 14th, we met at the La Mesa Barnes and Noble and got some lunch at Schlotzky's next door. It was a grand old time. I was over three years from spending a comparable day in La Mesa in late 2000, and one that instead of signalling the start of a great new period, signalled the end of the entire thing after 12 years. But that day at Barnes and Noble, it was electrifying again. It felt right. Some people do that to a person.

I've risked many detours to get to that story, a story that perhaps was far more magical when it happened than after I have parted ways with her, and after having told the Shelby story in many other ways here at this site. But let me just detour again to bracket this time in another way.

Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music cover, a giant hog with some reindeer antlers upon its head, towing a sleighThe last "complete" feeling project that came out of Hog Heaven, December 2000. But HHS went on until mid 2005, usually with far less passion and conviction as during the three years when Shelby and the VS-880 were in some mysterious conspiracy.

Hog Heaven Halcyon Days, Shelby-powered

A parallel interest in the summer of 1997 was to upgrade my recording gear. I selected the Roland VS-880. I saved my cash during that summer and on August 13th, was prepared to buy the 880. Among the things that Shelby and I talked about was that new purchase. We were sitting there in La Mesa and that recorder was at that point just a new toy I had barely unpacked. Of course, that machine was the single best tool that helped me unlock a creativity that spanned for about three years and some change. It was the heart of Hog Heaven Studio, starting in mid 1998. I used it for everything there. The last project I did there (excluding smaller things that never really reached completion) was the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music disk I recorded in December 2000 in the two weeks or so prior to Christmas. It was the last explosive period of recording creativity that happened there before so many changes. It also happened to conclude within a day or two of the last day I saw Shelby, and the day that I finally put my long-bottled up thoughts onto paper and delivered them to her mom's house in La Mesa. You might say that the VS-880 era was Shelby-powered. When she was gone, that whole enterprise deflated in a huge way. Sure, there were other experiences and people involved, but that whole period was definitely fed by her as my muse. Especially the last year or so of it when Receiving was done.

It's pretty clear I overestimated what could be done within that relationship. After it crashed and burned she lambasted me for misrepresenting myself and the terms of our relationship. Yeah, maybe. I was scared to speak up until I was about to explode. And when I did, yes, it all did crash big. All these years later since early 2001, I've never once heard from her. She's a fickle person. And maybe that's not what I need in life. Other people of course have diverted my attention from the kinds of wishful thinking that I once indulged in. Kelli certainly is as present as Shelby was absent, and we live a life of availability to one another.

But something still amazes me. Over the years, I have Googled nearly everyone of interest in my life and Shelby is one who has such an amazingly low profile online. I did write to her a couple times, either to old addresses or once on Facebook, ten years after our blowout. Nearly all the other people I've contacted this way have responded to my thoughtful attempts at reconciliation and reconnection. Shelby is dogged in her avoidance of that. It's one of those things that, as it always has, will let my mind fill in the blanks. Be all that as it may, it doesn't change the story of times like the day when I wasn't supposed to be at work, came in "whenever," was stuck in rush hour traffic, waited for pedestrians, and then walked at whatever pace through the parking lot, and was nearly miraculously rewarded with a chance to rekindle a friendship that had brought me to both extremes of joy and pain prior to that as she often had some harsh criticism of the way I lived my life or how I naively expressed myself in situations that were like being under water, but that for a while—a day, a month, three years, kept feeding me somehow with the stuff of vitality and purpose in life. Even the rather disastrous collapse of all that can't take those experiences away.

Saturday
Jun092012

Casa Kansas

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

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

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

Hiding in Public

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

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

Backstory

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

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

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

Open House, Community Hub

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

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

Backdrop for Life

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

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

The Five Mile Radius

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

The Economics of Escondido Employment

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

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

The State of the State Street

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

We're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

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

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

Friday
Jun082012

Beautiful Hidden Valley

In spring 2010, Kelli got a part time at a hospice agency in San Diego's north county. She worked there as a per diem chaplain for over a year. She had another job that overlapped it for a while. And then she got another per diem chaplain position at a hospice in urban San Diego. Juggling the two per diem schedules was unruly. Finally, in summer 2011 she got a full time spot at the first one, despite what appeared to be a kind of unwitting bidding war for her. Both places had full time spots turn available, and it was an interesting time waiting to see which would settle down first. What was at stake was that we realized for her to work in north county, we'd see less of each other as she spent time in commuting, and with a job that required her to drive a lot even while in north county, she'd be at the wheel seemingly all the time.

Kelli's spiffy new Mazda 3, all sporty and red, just before we went off the lot with it.

The Car

In April we paid a visit to a Mazda dealership up there and ended up getting Kelli a newish car. It's the first of its sort she has ever had. Late model, valid warrantee, nice features, sporty, in good condition. On April 20, we came home with the new car. It was the first time I'd had that experience since I got my truck from a dealer in 1996. About the same time as the car purchase, Kelli was keen to drive me around in some of the areas where she works, up in the rural reaches of the north county. A pleasure drive turned into checking out some rental houses in the next couple weeks.

buber dog slumped over the recliner chair looking all lost and wistfulWe're not in Kansas anymore, Buber

Kelli's Work

And then checking those houses out gave us the clarity we needed: living over 30 miles from her office was taking time from us. Spotty dinner times because the work day finishes just "whenever" and then she'd have an hour or more of charting to do. Tired Kelli, especially if she went to exercise at the YMCA or picked up some groceries after work. We couldn't always walk Buber Dog together. Evening activities at church? Hit or miss, at least doing them together. Once every couple months or so, she has a one week period of being on call. It pays whether she's called or not, but there were times when she came all the way home at quitting time for her regular day's work, only to be called back. And on some occasions, she was pulled back again like a yo-yo. Weeks like that were brutal. Fortunately they were rare. Some on-call weeks had no calls at all.

And that's just her full time job. The other requires four shifts a month, and the way Kelli's broken it up is to do two weeknights and two Saturdays a month. On top of all that, she's also a board member on a national board of disability ministry for our denomination, the UCC. That takes some meeting time and other work. And even more so, all this is not particularly the stuff she got into ministry to do: be a pastor at a church. That process has borne no fruit so far, so as time has passed, the realization is that Kelli right now has many chaplaincy opportunities that actually pay well enough to juggle the rent, car, and most critically, the student loan payments that are just bruising each month. Okay fine, but the time suck of the commute was something that made things rougher than they needed to be.

The Economics of Escondido Employment

Calculations revealed that to move near her primary job would cut out about 13,000 miles/year JUST on her five day week commute. That turns into some real money when looking at the gasoline bill. Not pushing the new car that hard would stretch its lifespan appreciably. But by far, the option for a better quality of life not spent on the road (even in the new car with Bluetooth and all sorts of creature comforts) was more compelling. So we found a place in Escondido pretty close to work. Her mileage compensation kicks in after the distance from home to office is surpassed. You can imagine that cutting that to two miles or so is more attractive than driving 30 miles or so. That means that nearly all her work day behind the wheel is on the company dime. And moreso, some of the work that she'd go to an office to do can be done at home, so her work day is partially spent here now in our new house. Phone calls, charting, prepping other notes and planning for presentations to the others in her office... all that can be done here.

Roses, citrus trees and a white picket fence. Cute.Our new pad with roses and white picket fence. Awww...

Home Sweet Home...again

Where is here? Here is a cute little late 40s/early 50s house with our first white picket fence and rose bushes in the front yard. It's a tad smaller than the one we had in North Park, and after that place, we miss the built in features like cabinets, book shelves, and so on. While it's an older house, it's not 90 years old like in North Park. It's old enough to have real hardwood floors (a bit abused but recently refinished and glassy smooth) but new enough to have a number of remodeled features like brand new windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom features, pretty new and complete set of appliances. The microwave is the first one I've had in my kitchen since early 2007 when our old one died and we didn't replace it and took to living without regular access to such a device, but having some access while we lived with Suzanne, where she had a microwave in her granny flat. The presence of a dishwasher is officially the first time I've either had one, or more specifically, one that works. The one at the Calabrese Compound didn't work and that was just fine with me. I am perfectly content to wash dishes the old fashioned way. The only other place that may have had one was my old apartment on Mt. Ada in 1997, and I don't recall that being the case.

We live across from an industrial part of town, so there's trucks and ugly buildings across the road from our door. Industry across the street makes for a loud environment most days.

The problem with here being here is that here is also in a neighborhood that borders an industrial part of town, and with big trucks literally outside my front window, it's noisy. The area is nearly entirely Latino and while that isn't the problem, all the folks like to play music that I don't particularly know or like, and my neighbor, one of those junkyard kinds of guys who works on cars, has the radio on while he works, blasting it with the mile-a-minute announcements and commerciales en Espanol. I guess I could have spent some more time sussing the place out. The matter of noise is one thing for general livability but I also have on my mind what it might mean when I want to record. Only today did I record a bit of test material to see what I am in for. The double pane windows help.

My landlord saw that on the rental application I answered a certain question about risky property with "guitar, bass, drums." I was tentative about it but he okayed us anyway and said "that's cool, just keep the guy in the back cottage in the loop and respect him." With all the noise in the area, it might be justifiable to set up the drums and play in the house. That's something I did a small bit of at North Park but for which I was very self conscious. It's really been since the Calabrese Compound days of 2006 that I've played drums in a full-tilt way. And the last I've played actually inside the house was in Quapaw at the short lived post-demolition Hog Heaven. My room here now has just enough space to set up some drums and perhaps other stuff.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

We certainly didn't do this move for social reasons. In that regard it barely makes an ounce of sense. In fact, not only is it a step backwards, it's a leap backwards when you consider that in North Park we were in a highly walkable area that was in reach of everything. Church was bikeable; Lee of JEM came by on his bike to do podcasts and guests were constantly flowing in and out of the place; the music store down the road was the meeting place for two groups I was starting to get involved with; restaurants were plentiful and of great quality. Yep, Escondido has some big shoes to fill. The mileage now is +30 miles to just about anywhere. Church is a few miles more. We might not get down there weekly.

The larger picture, aside from the obvious economic case for moving, is one of feeling like I needed to repent a bit for Kelli's benefit. The last time it made a lot of sense to act according to what she was doing, I was not ready. I'm talking of course back in 2005 when we got evicted (this same day seven years ago, essentially) and when it might have been a good idea to pull up and get to Claremont, CA where her school was. I was scared shitless during that period and found a job here. It was also important since my/our therapists were here, family friends, church friends, and all that. It would have been too jarring to move that far out during that traumatic period. But I've always known that would have been a better thing to do since Kelli's progress has the power to be the economic backbone of things. So this time around, after the years of living with her gone part time, and then even after getting her back after all that preparation time, losing her to business-as-usual, it seemed time to relocate so we can get her off the I-15 (the road she cut tracks into from her seminary commuting schedule for seven semesters).

Shaking the Dirt Loose?

There's a part of me that wonders if, in one of those odd universal, fateful ways, this move is bigger than just the move to Escondido. Does it somehow register in a bigger way than just picking up and going up the road some thirty miles? Does it get me out of my comfort zone? I've felt for a long time that staying in San Diego is a sign of laziness or something else. It's a nice enough town, but I've sidelined other calls for adventure outside my little region. I've been aware for some years now that I never lived outside a ten mile radius from where I was born (at Sharp Hospital in Kearny Mesa). In fact, the measurements I took from Sharp to each house I've been in has made that claim even narrower. When measured directly as the crow flies, the previous peak distance was 7.65 miles out to Robin's house where I stayed for a couple months in 1996. But I never changed my postal address, so that's more of a technicality. Of the places I've actually had my mail sent to, the greatest distance was at the Calabrese Compound, at just under five miles (as the crow flies). All the others settled in a bit less than that. Now it's about 22 miles, or more like 30 by the roads. It doesn't seem like much, but this is the first time I've lived outside San Diego. We'll see what opportunity presents itself now that I've had the dirt shaken off my roots.

I have been upstepping my job search, perhaps aided by at least the firmness of the knowledge of what town I'll be in. For a while there it was hard to look at ads for jobs and have in the back of my mind that I could get a job and realize that it would still be better for Kelli to be spared the drive, and that maybe I'd have to look for work again in a new place. There's a show production company that might want to get me on their roster, and if I get paid at a decent rate for doing some mixing jobs, that might not be too bad, and not particularly a routine punch-the-clock place. I still have my reservations about that kind of work, but after all this time, it would be nice to actually get any income. But I did one show with this company and it went over quite well, which is in contrast to the experiences that mostly led me to walk away from that industry nearly ten years ago.

And then I wonder if now that we've made such a step that it's time for Kelli to get a break. She submitted her UCC pastoral candidate profile to 30 more churches nationwide. If she were to get a church, the unfortunate fact is that most of the pastoral positions so far have been seen to be a reduction in pay, and some appreciable amount like 20-40%. Since hospice is funded by Medicare and UCC churches by individuals in a community who rise and fall with the economy, one will be less stable, or be drawing from a smaller pool of funds in the first place. So it's a mixed feeling, looking forward to getting a church but knowing that it might not hold things together even as well as they are going now. Still, the move felt right and maybe somehow the universe will take notice that we're ready to do something different.

There's something that says to me that Kelli and I should figure out whatever big plan in life we might have and use this breakthrough moment to act on things we've sidelined while occupied with the usual life in our comfort zone, our home town of San Diego. She's got a rising star in UCC disability ministry work, and I've been urging her to develop a personal web site that casts her as an expert in the field worthy of consultant work, speaking, etc. It would be a way to work together.

So farewell for now to San Diego. The training wheels are coming off at last.

Thursday
Jun072012

Proto-Blogging at TAPKAE.com +10

While my monthly archive might reflect a longer history than what I am about to write about here, the real beginning of this blog was on June 7th, 2002—still in the days before the actual blog technology existed (for me anyway). A small few entries have been added into the chronology to tell a story. Since I am just telling my own story anyway, they serve to fill in the historical record and it doesn't really matter if I play fast and loose with the entry dates, posting things into their proper place after the fact.

In the days before I discovered B2 blogger and later on, Wordpress, or still later on, Squarespace (which I now use as of 2011), there was no word "blogging." I just made a new HTML entry on the index page, and when it came time for a new one, I copied that entry over to the "archive" page and entered another on the index page. It was a bit lame but without a dynamic, PHP/database-driven site it was all I had. I didn't do it long enough to really get ridiculous. I've seen some sites that kept on that way and had to create archive pages that each carried oh, several months or a year's worth of entries, and then on to a new archive page. Only about two years of monthly posts accumulated that way and it wasn't too hard to manage the entries prior to discovering "real" blogging. I then started bringing stuff into the new formats in 2004 when my new hosting plan at Startlogic included something called B2 Blogger as part of the package. If I recall right, Startlogic offered a whopping 1 GB of space which dwarfed the 100 mb that my prior host Mavweb offered. I suppose Mavweb was state of the art a few years before when Mike Thaxton selected it and got me started in 2001.

But aside from all that, this blog got fired up in earnest on this day ten years ago. In many ways it was a simpler time and I didn't have all that much on my mind. Only a couple months before I had finished my year of school at Art Institute of California, so I was anticipating becoming a brilliant and high paid web designer (ahem!). Strike that. I was trying to get a couple crappy web design gigs with friends or friends of friends, and hoping my still-novice skills were up to the task if anything but pretty basic Dreamweaver-assisted HTML sites were needed. (Rockola's Mark Decerbo was one of the first to ever take me up on my work. Surprisingly, his site is still up, though a bit outdated as of 2007.) AIC turned out to be a rather disappointing place with regard to the proportioning of the subjects relative to the goal of a web design certificate program. The entirety of the web design courses included summaries of the Macromedia suite within 12 weeks. The other 36 weeks were broken into three 12 week blocks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a CD-ROM production that included Macromedia Director and Adobe Premier primarily. But the web stuff was but one quarter of it all, and seemingly an afterthought. And above all, it was just a "design" emphasis. Never really learned coding there, and never anything with any real functionality. I recall being a bit miffed that I never was really showed stuff like Javascript or how to build CGI email forms and other stuff that really was, well... useful.

Getting out of school put me back into an unstructured world after a year. It had been a year of change, and not just because of schooling. In that one year from the start of April 2001 to that time a year later, my grandmother had died; I was in solo therapy for several months into the fall of 2001 in response to the family crisis around my older sister's big revelations earlier in 2001; I had entered kicking and screaming into the new age following my grandmother's death because my old man took over the house I lived in already for three years and ordered that I get two roommates; I got my first computer as just one way of blowing the inheritance I got (the rest was blown with an even larger display of gear acquisition for the studio); the notorious terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened and changed the work prospects for my industry of event audio; I finally finished Receiving; Kelli and I had gotten together during the winter and she had her car accident not long later; I was playing bass for a few months in an exciting trio with Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington, and sometimes with the mighty Todd Larowe (listen: All Things Frippy and Return to Zero). Oh, those are the high points. Or low points. But in the midst of all that, I got the first drafts of TAPKAE.com done and then finally cut the first settled version loose on the world in May or June, and the first "blog" was posted. It is relatively brief because I had not yet embraced the long, detailed, and boring voice I have since attained here!

Rebecca Vaughan of Loaf, with Matt Zuniga's handiwork in the backgroundIt was around that time when I found that Hog Heaven Studio was bursting at the seams. The crazy influx of new gear during the summer before saw to that. With my grandmother gone, I took over the two rooms she called her own, clearing them out and painting them for the first time in perhaps all the years she and my grandfather had been there. One room was a bedroom with a bathroom attached, and the remodeling of that was one of the projects that was alluded to in the first blog. The other room, a rather generous 15'x17' space, was the room immediately adjacent Hog Heaven Studio. Together, they were two spaces carved from what was once a garage. Hog Heaven extended the garage street side wall some 6' more and so was split down the middle by a space that was on the flat part of the garage, and also on the sloped part of the driveway. Inside, I had leveled the floor but the beam through the middle indicated the old garage face. In the great room, I set up my living quarters in 2001 after the new rental arrangement was established. I got the entire wing of the house to do as I wanted, so I cut a mouse hole from Hog Heaven into the great room and went about using the band Loaf as my guinea pigs to try out the studio options that would result. I did two sessions spaced out by a year or so, but that first session with the whole band, I had the bass and drums in the studio with me (an odd thing that later was resolved with moving the control room into the great room later in the year), and then I used the great room for the guitars, keys, and Rebecca's lead vocal and percussion. I used upturned love seats and mattresses to provide guitar amp baffles. The Roland VS-2480, my then-new recorder, able to capture 16 inputs at once with no compromise, was relatively mind blowing after years of using the VS-880 and the four inputs it provided. At any rate, the new opportunities for using up to three rooms to record in was exciting. It was a whole new age for Hog Heaven Studio.

Kelli, later on in 2002One thing that is conspicuously absent from the site for some time (even into 2003) is any mention of Kelli and the fact we'd entered into a new relationship at the start of 2002. By the time we did that, we'd known each other for over 11 years anyway. I recall much of 2002 was a time when it felt like I was floating, particularly in that new relationship. However, it wasn't a feeling of being totally lovestruck. It's hard to say what it was, but perhaps because Kelli's presence put to an end the five year dry spell that preceded this new era, or perhaps that Kelli and I were old friends in a new role that seemed too good to be true and could have dissolved, or perhaps that her presence also brought with it a new feeling that I should get to church and start the process of grounding myself in something different than the years before. Hard to say. I didn't want to try to capture lightning in a bottle by writing about it. Kelli was talked around on the blog, usually mentioning "my girlfriend" during 2002-2003. If her name is in the entries from that period, it's because I redacted those entries to right that wrong in 2011.

I'm glad I have these few entries from 2002 because there is precious little digital evidence of my life from that first year or so of computer ownership. I had some problems with my data going off to digital heaven, particularly so with the folder that contained my Microsoft Entourage data. In one shot in the late summer of 2002, I erased about a year of my life's notes, calendar dates, emails. Bad move. Worse yet, I had not kept a parallel record in a paper calendar like I had for all years prior. So there's a big blackout during that period. And maybe things are as they are supposed to be, even with that giant flub. The period was one of transition at a deep level. Losing data was perhaps part of the exercise of getting lost in more ways than one, this time a way of losing control over things. And, since I have tended to be a keen historian and curator of my own life, a lesson might be gleaned that to overmanage things is of no use.

 

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. 

Saturday
Sep172011

140,165 Miles on the White Donkey

The White Donkey is always ready to rollThat's how many miles I've driven my Toyota truck since I bought it this day 15 years ago. Taken as a simple average, that's about 9,345 miles each year, but I think the devoted readers of TAPKAE.com know that the trend has generally been a downward one since about 2002. I have to say though that this year I am keeping only skeletal records for the year, and certainly my trip to New Mexico cast another 1,800 miles into the mix. Again though, disregarding that trip and the exceptional stuff, the daily discipline is still there. Even still, this year, even with those road trips, is only 3,547 so far. A bit more than recent years, but still pretty confined to about a third of the 15 year average.

I'm missing two hubcaps (as of this year, just before I left for New Mexico). The radio is a hit or miss thing, and even on hits it seems to distort at what to me is a listenable level, but gets worse above that. The headlights are rather dim from moisture inside the lamps. The back bumper is a bit warped from the time when a postal truck accidentally was let to roll down a slight incline and used my truck as a barrier. The bumper up front is dented from letting my old man talk me into pushing a car into his back yard. The right side door lock hasn't worked for a decade it seems. The back fender is dented some from an unfortunate early era (within the first year I got the truck) pizza delivery mishap. I haven't washed it but once in the last five years. The bench seat has been replaced with a reupholstered version. No one would confuse it for anything but a work truck.

I bought it in the midst of a disaster. My grandfather had squirreled away about $12,000 in stock for me when he died, and only a month and a half later when I was also squeezed out of my childhood home by the deeds and attitudes of an increasingly unbearable old man, I was also faced with needing to get my Ford Escort fixed. (I had shopped for a Totota truck two years before that when I was given a $10,000 gift/inheritance in 1994. Some of that went to the Premier drum kit I still have, some went to a trip to Alaska to see Shelby, and some was just squandered between jobs. But the stock was the last hurrah. The money that wasn't used to buy the truck was left alone for some time until I heard about Roth IRA and put it there in 2001—just months before 9/11 caused the economy to crash and my IRA to go with it. While watching that money plummet I was also racking up a student loan bill at AIC. Years later, I paid that off with the rebuilt stock money that I had since withdrawn from the IRA. Possibly foolish, but it got me out of debt which I regard as wise.) 

Digression aside, the truck was a crisis decision that worked out. I sold about $8,000 worth of the stuff and put in about a grand of my own money to but it outright. My girlfriend at the time even put in about $500 to buy the Lo-Jack system that mercifully never had to get used. (But I used to fret when it was a pretty new vehicle.) The Ford fetched me $150 of trade in value, in part because I did not prepare it in any way but also because it was nearing the end of the Ford lifetime, at 95,000+ miles. I had already replaced the head and done numerous other fixes with the "help" of just about anyone who I could afford or not. The last repair I had was to get the timing done by a real mechanic with a real shop, after having tried to let my grandmother's new housemate Bill Francis work on it, and during which my old man decided to terrorize me some by taking it off the working ramps and causing the system to get all out of sync. That last repair bill—about a week before I traded it away—was for $300. I only got half of that in trade! It was a basket case that I was glad to see go.

When I bought it, I had barely had much experience driving stick, so it was a bit of a learning curve at first. I did have a job the year before that had me drive a similar truck, but I was rather sloppy with it and sometimes abusive of it as I learned to drive it. When Robin and I left the dealership rather late that September 17th, 1996, I had sweaty palms from just closing the biggest purchase deal I have ever made (even to this day). We went to the ARCO at Genesee and Clairemont Mesa Blvd. to buy gas. The tank was pretty empty so I filled it up. Cost all of $14 and some change! (That seems so quaint now just like people and their $0.12/gallon tales from the 70s.) I was sort of living at Robin's in La Mesa. I was in an odd place. I was barely working for Rockola around then, just got ousted from home, was unwelcome at my grandmother's place, and on top of all that, Robin and I were in the middle of what I called an eight month breakup that lasted from about April till the end of that year. But I had a new-ish truck! 

I anticipated it would cost me less to operate since it probably wasn't going to be problematic. And it generally wasn't. I had bought it from the dealership that had used that very vehicle as its parts truck. That's how it got its 78k miles in just two years. That's about 39k each year! Far more than I use it, you see. What I did realize, given my situation, was that I needed to get some work that had some potential to change things some for me. I was feeling quite devastated in that state. Living at Robin's was testy, given our relationship that was in an off-on-off-on state for so long. It was at her parents' place anyway and that is awkward on any day of the week. Rockola (Bob, mainly) was washing hands of me, and even though there were a few things that turned up as other musicians in town discovered my availability, the need for my own apartment space was clear, and taking care of my new ride was key to enabling me to work as an assistant and cartage guy. But since music related work was not so empowering then, given the network I had, I turned to Pizza Hut and got that gig in La Mesa at the start of October. I was quite delighted the day I got the call while at Robin's place. It was the first time in a year or so since Advance Recording Products that I had a "real" job. All the time since I was just doing music tech work and getting paid what little I was worth then.

After about a month at Pizza Hut, I was looking in the San Diego Reader for apartments or rooms to rent. For the first time ever I was feeling empowered enough to do so. I looked at just one or two and ended up at a place in Clairemont (with my job now in La Mesa, about nine miles away), where I got one bedroom for $270 for the first year or so. I moved in on Halloween and was invited to some fun on the town with one of my new roommates, Art Pacheco, and his girlfriend. We went to the Red Fox Room in University Heights, and listened to some torch singer and watched freaks in their costumes. It was a plunge into a new world where the characters were unfamiliar. The lock on my door, flimsy as it was, was all that kept the world at bay but since we all paid our shares and were strangers, I do not know of any intrusions like I was getting familiar with at home. The bills were legit and shared. It was kind of scary, not least of which because I was in an apartment with people coming and going all the time in the area. I used to check on my truck a few times a day and night. 

Working at Pizza Hut did not require a new vehicle and in some ways I'm bummed that I used the new truck for that because within a year I got it dented upon one ill-considered backing up. But aside from that, I was able to drive it confidently and reliably report to work where I got what seemed like a king's ransom over well over a thousand dollars a month. That was epic. I used to dream fancifully of getting $800 from Rockola back in 1995. This led me to wonder why I bothered with them, but I did have an attitude that was rather self aware that I had no business doing this work if I was to ever seek happiness. 

Just about as quickly as my life seemed back on track, with new truck and new apartment, I was at Wal Mart one day. (November 13th, one of the extremely few dates I ever set foot in there and about one of three or four that I bought anything at a Wal Mart.) I was buying a new phone for my room when I got a page from an 818- area code. I had no idea who that was so I blew it off till I was rid of Matt and Robin for the day. When I got home, it was on the answering machine...a call from none other than Mike Keneally. The message he left offered me a crappy paying gig doing drum and bass tech and driving on his tour that was to begin soon. In FIVE days it would be starting. At that time, I was a drooling fanboy and almost took no time in saying yes. It meant that I basically would have to quit the Pizza Hut gig, park my truck somewhere (ended up at the old man's back yard under covering tarps), and to be gone from Robin for five weeks, which eventually turned out to be just what the doctor ordered to finally put the distance between us that we were not able to achieve. I basically dropped everything to work for about $37/day for each day gone. It wasn't much but for a few weeks' work, it was stable and no less than Pizza Hut. And it was gonna be fun like nothing else I had done for work!

After getting a wishy washy word that I could come back to Pizza Hut when I was done with the tour, I basically just got ready to go. Parked the truck under the tarps at the old man's back yard. That took some doing because one of his strategies in getting me to move originally involved game playing with ripping my keys off and holding them hostage. I have a hard time understanding his motives, but once in a while it makes sense to trust him more than the world around. 

Skipping ahead the better part of these 15 years, I reiterate one more time that this was a purchase well made. It's odd but it was only with my trip to Arizona early last year that I actually started driving it across country. No kidding. Prior to that trip, as far as I had ever driven it was on day trips that generally did not ever top 300-400 miles at a stretch, and even those were rather few and far between. Trips to the LA area, Palm Springs, El Centro and Salton Sea are about as far as I ever took the truck. Then last year I decided to drive to Arizona. And then to Death Valley. And to Joshua Tree. The thing runs great. So I went to New Mexico (after replacing the radiator though, and some other work), and then off to Big Bear. Now Kelli and I are cooking up other plans for more such travel. It's just a reliable little donkey I got here.

Tuesday
Jul052011

Indomitable Nashville

Life goes on, with or without our "help." It goes on with or without our management. Life just knows how to carry on. It doesn't need us to dominate it, to subdue it, or to pretend we're anything important. Life is just programmed to keep going.

We started our garden as one of the first orders of business upon moving to Nashville St. in early 2007. It was the first major garden project we worked on for ourselves. (The one at the previous house the year before was really Phil and Nancy's initiative in our back yard.) In mid-March 2007, Kelli and I enlisted help from Tara and Kalyn, friends from church, to tear up and strip grass from the bedroom-sized plot that had been fallow for years. We had a truckload of nice wood shavings and other organic material, chicken shit, and worm casings that we mixed into the sandy loam. It was quite a day's work. That garden produced for us for three years. There were a number of spiritual lessons that emerged from working the soil, tending plants, and of course, reaping the returns.

The second year was the start of a period when I could go nuts with composting, especially since I was able to bring home so much veggie food from work. Some of the compost was accidentally scattered too early, so the second year started a period of volunteer veggies that turned up and were pretty hardy. The third year I started an open compost pile in the back quadrant of the yard, and fed it with leaves and a weekly-delivered bag of cuttings from Stingaree restaurant. One of the chefs lived a mile from me and dropped it over my fence!

But then we got into a few months of bad news about our landlord's losing the house due to their being on the take for all the time we were there. They didn't pay their mortgage apparently, so we started getting rumblings and then confirmation that there was supposed to be an auction. We could have ridden it out longer, but we stopped paying rent until they told us what was going on. It dissolved in a few days in October 2009, so we moved in a scramble, narrowly avoiding the cutoff named on a pay or quit notice. That is, Kelli and I moved. Suzanne was not so sure about the legality of things, or what the status was. And, as a person who does not find moving too fun or convenient (as a late-term grad student who has disabilities), she was inclined to ride out all she could. She did. It took about eight months before the bank firmly had the house and gave her a year's extension at the lease rate that she had prior to the end of the landlord's ownership. But, since she was only one third of the original $1,800 agreement, and they knew they were going down (and liked Suzanne well enough, more than they like Kelli and me), they wrote her a new lease for $600 for the whole place just before the bank got it. So she got to stay one more year at the place for $600 a month! A two bedroom house with a granny flat, yards, garage— $600! She made a killing on that. But that just came to an end. Suzanne herself had to move last month.

We're all quite friendly, house or no house. Suzanne enlisted Kelli or me to do occasional yard work, lawn mowing, trimming, and all. She sort of minded the garden in its first year after we left. It still had a few plants that soldiered on during 2010. We got over there often enough to see it, but it was getting grown over little by little. Earlier this year, I went to cut the lawn and was quite moved by the presence of the bell pepper plant fighting the good fight. The crop was not going to be any good, but it showed up anyway. There wasn't anything else showing at the time, so I mowed on over it all, after saying a few kind words to the plot, thanking it for producing against the odds, and giving me a lot of instruction over the years.

the peppers giving it a last go. photo taken from view point of the lawnmower operator. looks like a dire situation.

That was back in March, just before I headed off to New Mexico. More recently, the time came for us to gather our things that we had left for Suzanne to use, or that we had moved back over into the garage for basic storage. In the midst of our comings and goings, I spotted the chives and mint pictured below. Chives in blossom, rich with flavor. Mint, spreading as it does, underground, spreading roots and ready to pop up all over the place. It was the gift that kept on giving.

chives and their flowers rising up through the grass and weeds.

mint in vivid green color just a couple feet from the chives. it spreads all about the quadrant it was planted in.

It just heightened my awareness of something I already knew to be true: the garden wasn't my invention. It wasn't to glorify me in any way. I really know diddly squat about gardening. Maybe just enough to be dangerous. Gardening draws a person into a dance with mystery. There are things that one can bring to the table; conditions that can be put in place. But I can't make the seed grow. It doesn't need much from me. Even after mowing the plot a few times over during its fallow year and a half since we left, a couple plants soldier on, speaking life where others see failure, disappointment, neglect, and even abuse. The universe has a place for all that. Life has a place for all that. To drive by, you see a fallow plot that is rather unkempt and grown over with grass and weeds. Ah, but look closer.

Saturday
Dec292007

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.

Wednesday
Oct242007

Keeping The Home Fires Burning

Mercifully, from my Bay Park section of San Diego, we have it good. Unlike the last fire of 2003, when we were holed up for days and the air was pumpkin orange on the first morning after the fire began in Ramona, this week has not been that intolerable at my house. We've been able to get out some and leave the windows open to some degree. The lack of humidity has been a bummer though as it has that dehydrating effect. So far the worst part for me has been the all day TV watching, and remaining awake through the night, not really getting any sleep till about 6 am on Tuesday. While neither of the primary fires actually are a direct threat, the unpredictable nature of the winds, and the ever growing evacuation zones have been nerve wracking to contemplate. Mercifully again, the winds on Tuesday started to blow their proper way from west to east, at least in part. Looking at the wind trends throughout the county has been interesting though, because it just is so wild, and certain places are blowing one direction in keeping with the east-west Santa Ana pattern, and other areas have the opposite. What is unnerving is how the fires are generally converging, and how we can be in this safe pod, buffered by maybe 15 and more miles of city and highly built out land, but the county around us is on fire, forming something of a C-shaped wall. We have three freeways out of here. I hope they all don't get shut down at once or too close to one another!

So, we're fine here in actual terms. No direct threat. An offer was made to stay at the intentional community/monastery where Kelli stays while at school (125 miles or so), but it seems better still to remain here with all our stuff instead of gambling on leaving and not having certainty that we could come back easily to get more stuff, or whatever the moment required. At this point, she and other commuter students seem to have abandoned school for this week, so they could keep on task at home. At least thinking ahead, we made our list of priority items, and in general, we doubt we should have to go, but it has been sobering to actually entertain how little we could really move given our little Noah's Arks. We also have Suzanne to think about (uses a wheel chair), as well as Buber the Dog.

Some friends or work contacts live up in the mandatory evacuation zones, and a couple are in the worst areas. One seems like he couldn't be but blocks from the RB fire. I can't help but wonder about any of my senior clients I once served in Poway, Scripps Ranch, RB, Penasquitos, and some of those places. I have no idea who is alive since 2003, but can you imagine dodging that year's bullet and living to see this?

All this makes it hard to carry on a job search. Who knows, maybe this might make it easier to find something? Damn irony. Won't place my bets on it though.