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Entries in sabbath (8)

Tuesday
Oct122010

Ed’s Saturn-plus-Sabbath Saguaro and Smores Shindig

This is a bit of text I wrote on the 10/9 to attempt to make my 37th birthday one of significance since it falls between the more notorious 30th and 4oth birthdays. I uttered a shortened version of it at my party on Sunday the 10th. There were several people from a few strands of life:  from my present church, past church, from work, from extended home life and from the "pre-Saturn" period discussed below. Interestingly, a couple people already commented on the mix of folks there that night—from a couple guests and their young young kiddies to some of my folks who are entitled to discounts at restaurants! The whole time was special. I spent the day cooking a few dishes, and everyone brought more. I ended up sending a number of folks out with arms full of food. For my birthday, I was pleased to be so generous.

birthday poster for ed's 37th: a collage of the dead saguaro and other oddness.Happy birthday to me!

The last decade has been one of considerable change for me. In some ways even I don’t recognize the Ed who once walked the earth then. In a lot of ways, that is a good thing!

In late 2000 and about the age of 27, I heard about something called “Saturn Return” for the first time from Bryan Beller, bass player in Mike Keneally’s band (with whom I worked off and on, and that I was a drooling fanboy of). Saturn Return is an astrological way to understand a life cycle of 27-30 years, the interval approximating the namesake planet’s full revolution around the sun. I don’t put a lot of stock in the astrological idea but Bryan’s tales of life upheaval around that age, reevaluating old roles and methods, was something that I knew awaited me. I felt it. A lot of life needed reevaluation since so much of my life then was unfulfilling and dead feeling. I was depressed and sometimes entertained suicide, and was only then making first steps to dig out of that hole.

One thing to address was my broken family. I took on the task of starting a new period of relations with my mother—the third such period following earlier times around the ages of 12-14 and later at 20-21. This caused upset with my father which still has not resolved itself. My grandmother on my father’s side was in her last months at the age of 91, and I don’t know that we closed the gap between us, but it was shrunk some in the months we had to talk before she was overtaken by dementia and then died, leaving me to find my way out of the crossfire between parents who hated each other and used me as the rag doll to be ignited and tossed between camps.

Maybe astrology is crap but there certainly was something to this 27 year thing!

The years from my 27th birthday till my 30th were indeed times of the strife and upheaval that the Saturn Return idea predicted. They were a time of death and of life revealing itself to me in the paradoxical way that these things happen. By the end of age 29, I was feeling more suicidal than ever, but never really let on to more than a couple people. It isn’t that I wanted to do it. I just wanted another life, and the life that needed living was not yet claimed. But weeks before my 30th birthday in 2003, I spent 11 days in a place called Halcyon House, a residential facility meant to address people in crisis, and to get a shot of new information and perspective with an aim to return to life better able to cope. One of the therapists was excellent at recognizing I had an existential crisis of intersecting life circumstances that just overwhelmed at the core. So he addressed me at that level.

Halcyon was one of the greatest things that happened to me, reorienting my compass in a way that nothing else had done until then. The quasi-monastic pace and order of things provided boundaries, and the lessons and therapy sessions got me off to a start in an examined life. Following that experience, I kept on with solo therapy for three years or more, couples therapy when Kelli and I were planning to get married and for a good while afterward. Visits with pastors, mentors, spiritual directors, and friends have all helped maintain that discipline through times that kept on being tough, often as a result of the shattered family experience.

It was just around that time when I also happened to get a first affinity for Jesus of Nazareth, the human man who became more and more appealing to me when by some divine and serendipitous circumstances, was presented to me as the quintessential human. He slowly became my hero as I found him to be quite countercultural, always seeming to turn conventional wisdom on its head. As I found myself in existential strife at both the personal level (family and home issues, feeling a failure, etc.) and the world level (peak oil, Bush-era political shenanigans, consumerism), the mind of Jesus seemed to have something that could address my concerns at both levels. It was the beginning of putting the pieces back together.

Okay, so that explains the first thirty years, and the whole Saturn description of things. Now, that Sabbath part, which, when added to the 30 years already discussed, gives me some reason to think that 37 is a birthday worth some reflection.

The Sabbath is not just a day off every week. It is a way of conceptualizing what is important, setting boundaries, framing time, and even economic relationships. A sabbath cycle, as mapped out in the book of Leviticus, is in sevens; a weekly cycle where people rest intentionally and participate in community life together; a yearly cycle where land is let to rest so it will remain vital; and a cycle of seven of those seven year cycles, ending in a year called the Jubilee. The Jubilee is the 50th year when debts are canceled and society is allowed to reset to maintain just relationships, and to reinstate people to the community who have been imprisoned or fallen through the cracks.

The idea of Sabbath is to organize relief and renewal opportunities into daily life; to place a boundary around work for human, animal, land, and social institutions so that the vitality is not sucked out of same, and so that justice can be done. Right relationship will prevail, says the logic underlying the Sabbath, and it will be done with intent to provide the space and a dose of God's grace to fill it.

My existential dilemma began with a relational crisis and is slowly being mended by equal and opposite effort and a lot of grace. Days of lonely agonizing in the pre-Saturn era have given way to more in-person relationships in the Sabbath era. Loss of the ever-troubling relationships with my parents have given way to many more father and mother figures than I ever had at once, some playing a role in practical ways, and others filling a massive gap in cultivating a spiritual life that my parents could not possibly fulfill under the best of conditions. Brothers and sisters that aren’t in the picture any longer are fading memories as people emerge to take part in shared life, vital conversations, and mutual assistance, in some ways filling the holes left by my family of origin. Grandparents, the keepers of the accumulated wisdom and they who delight in my progress as a person, well, they keep coming out of the woodwork! A time like tonight, a festive time to celebrate milestones in life, have been far richer than any I can remember with my family of origin, at least since before the age of ten or so.

Sabbath, a way of framing time to ensure renewal for all species, a way of ensuring that life is given a moment to just be, is something that I turn to when today (I was even asked to work this Sunday [when I had my party], of all days!) I need to prioritize one sacred day a week to make room for church, family, community and personal time. It wasn’t always so; the pre-Saturn days were times when I worked anytime and had no life, and used it as an excuse to remain at a distance from people. That of course was death for me, so by tenacity of will, I buck the occasional push to work on Sundays so that I can purposely maintain relationships with the people who have stepped in to be my new family.

(Now I have been greatly indebted to Lee Van Ham of Jubilee Economics Ministries for being one of the heroes of the last several years. He introduced me to biblical economics, Sabbath, and a vastly liberating thought system that helps me reach for the root of things. He’s in Chicago right now, opening other people’s minds at a mens’ retreat.)

So now I’ve explained the time part of this account, the 27+3+7 kind of math that gets me to the present at the big 3-7. And about that Saguaro?

My week in the Arizona desert for my Mens Rites of Passage was in a splendid canyon in central Arizona, the heart of the Sonoran desert where the saguaro cactus grow to be 20’ tall, like lampposts or telephone poles. Arizona state pretty miserably fails the welcome to immigrants test but it at least makes a felony of damaging or destroying these elegant towers that dot the landscape for hundreds of miles. (There is a case of some fool who shot one down, only to have it crush him to death as it fell on his dumb ass.) Saguaro with just a vertical tower are the young ones. It takes about 80 years to grow an arm. Hah! Thinking of it from my age perspective, it takes twice my age to mature enough to grow another stage. Maybe I am blessed to be on my path already. A couple hikes in the desert brought me face to face (figuratively speaking) with these things, which from ground level, are mighty. They stand like disciplined sages who have seen it all. That alone is a spiritual lesson, whether or not my teachers said a word.

dead saguaro cactus with its ribs looking like a cross and crucified man at onceDead saguaro cactus in ArizonaUpon return, I did a bit of research and found  of a Saguaro skeleton—ribs that drooped on a horizontal axis in a way that looked rather like the arms of a crucified man. That image of course is one of the most central images in human history. The picture I am referencing somehow looks like it is both the cross and the crucified in one form. The cross is a paradoxical symbol of the worst pain that humans can inflict and the place at which one can find God’s greatest love. Or, put this way, the intersection of the opposites of life is on the cross. My take on that is in my sense of relationship with others. That which was killing me was also the thing to save me. So goes spiritual paradox!

In 2003, I sort of articulated my feeling of being crucified by my womenfolk in a piece of photo collage art that I made that summer. The world was turned upside down, framed in by the female biological symbol which doubled as a cross, all perched on something indicating Golgotha. I was pretty torn up then.

I don’t recall any art that conveyed the equally shattered relationship with my father, but my blog poured all that out as the drama ensued for years to come. I spilled a lot of pixels processing that.

All of which is to convey a picture of how shattered things were. By the start of 2008, and one more attempt to relate to my mother alone (that lasted about three weeks at best), and after a solid year of staying clear of my father, I was making half serious talk about having a mock memorial service to make it possible to move on, to find new energy to live a life not so dragged down by all the toxic personalities I happened to be related to. Obviously we didn’t do that, but even framing my situation in those terms helped clarify what must be done.

Later that year I found myself drawing closer to my new church and the life there, which included small groups around spiritual development, young adults, and some book study interests. By later in the year, I was connecting with a new church in a way that felt my own, venturing into new relationships as a person with greater clarity and optimism. I joined that congregation in 2009 after a year or more of feeling it out, and feeling it was my time to step into community life, to throw my lot in.

The cross of broken relationships led to the resurrection of relationship itself. This makes resurrection undeniably real for me, and something not limited to a historical event of 2000 years ago. It may be that but I am here to say it is this too. Many among us might chafe at the language of being born again, but I don’t refute the spiritual truth underlying that. I put a finer point on it though, without even distorting the phenomenon of the transformation that takes place. If one is reborn at all, it is to be reborn for others. Reborn not for the sake of oneself, but for the sake of others, for community. My rebirth has been pretty agonizing for me, but one thing after another points to moving toward filling a role in the lives around me. I find it nigh impossible to even do some of the stuff I used to do for myself, like the endless hours in the recording studio, isolated, often angry and hurt, and all that stuff. That seems inaccessible to me now, even for trying to do so. Just as well. These days I find myself cooking for guests, opening my house, enjoying married life, doing digital media work pro bono for JEM, facilitating the young adults group, or sort of mentoring some of the younger guys at work—all stuff that had no precedent in the pre-Saturn time, but seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing now. It all flows so much better than the attempts a musicking a decade ago.  Maybe the idea of being born again would be less irritating if more people understood it as being reborn for the good of others. It would be a shame to endure all that mess of a life like I had in those years, only to come back as myself!

Saturn, Sabbath, Saguaro. Oh, it is fun alliteration, but each has had some value in framing my experience in this last decade of reinvention. Now, the Smores… that should be self explanatory!

Sunday
Jan172010

De Ja(nuary) Vu

The winter time, particularly in January, brings a slowdown to a lot of industries including mine. It certainly doesn't help that the economy is what it is, but I have seen that coming for years now. Kelli isn't working right now so I had to bite the bullet and reprise my schedule at work like I had last year at this time. Since the days kind of sputter out after 3-5 pm, my shifts have all had to struggle to even reach my eight hours, never mind surpassing that by much. I've been a squeaky wheel about needing to maintain 40 hours so fortunately that was granted but to do it, I had to take the 6 am shift again. Last year's spell doing that was recorded here—cold times on the bike in the pre-dawn hours. This year I hear we have storms that might press me to drive to work. In a highly unusual concession to my present need, I am working today, a Sunday. I will feel cheap and used. The last Sunday I did was in April and I had the indignity of having a parking incident with some guy who would not move his car though able to. I ended up tapping his bumper and he got all inflamed. Meh! All the commercial spots I routinely expect to find are open season for all. Easy work, nasty parking in downtown. No church for me today. That is the real bummer of all.

Friday
Dec252009

Christmas Eve

A lot of people go to church on Christmas and perhaps on no other day but Easter. Maybe they are busy all the time, or maybe they don't care. Some go to just those two services probably not even sure why they do so. I've done it myself—being the "Christmas Christian"—bypassing Easter because for a long time I felt no affinity for that event either. (Never mind it is the central event in the Christian experience. Duh!) But these things change, and now I do things differently.

My present church, Mission Hills UCC, has more of a focus on keeping to the church liturgical seasons through the church year from the start of Advent, through the period of Christmas, onward to Lent and Easter, and the rest of the year dubbed Ordinary Time. Realizing that there is some flow and a narrative that I have been missing and just never knew about, I've committed to going regularly enough that I've cycled all the way through a liturgical year and more. To finally get some understanding why holidays are placed like they are, and what they mean in context has been quite enlightening. To understand how they count time through a spiritual journey has made that journey more appealing. There is something about understanding one's life ordeals and victories in a larger narrative context that is humbling and gratitude inducing.

The last full year and more I have biked to church almost exclusively. The distance isn't great but on the whole it isn't quite something you do when you feel lazy. But my goal is not to go to church out of some laziness or habit. Biking has made those trips into a bit of effort, at least enough to create in me a feeling of real presence when I do get there. And, I don't just get in on Sundays; other activities keep me participating in one group or activity most weeks, and a few times a week at that. So the logic is the same for those occasions as on Sunday services: to participate intentionally.

In that regard, even my commute is an extension of my sense of discipleship and what I must do to harmonize the in-church and out-of-church life. It is one of the more obvious examples, and one that seems to be attractive to others. Right now I think I am the one guy who is seen most often on a bike. There are others with more experience in racing or touring or club riding, but for the time, I am the guy who commutes most regularly.

To throw myself a challenge and to justify some additional holiday caloric intake (ahem!), I decided to push myself a bit on my favorite church holiday—Christmas Eve. My church has two services at 5 pm and 10 pm. Another church I once participated in has one at 7 pm but it is in La Mesa, about 12 miles from my church! I originally envisioned riding a few miles to my church for the early service, burning out of there to the other one for their 7 pm service, then heading back to the late one at my church. I ended up losing a bit of time to some unforeseen but needed volunteer work, drafted into delivering meals with Kelli and the dog (whom we thought we'd take to the park only because we were told we'd have the day off from delivering), so I didn't get to the first service. Little matter because I still got to the later two services, and clocked about 24 miles doing it!

You might be wondering where Kelli was in all this. It goes like this. She had a 6 pm service at her church in PB (that's three churches now—this one used to be my congregation before I left in 2007), where she reads the scripture lesson each year. She has a friend from school who got a church in another denomination, with her congregation being two blocks from my church (four churches, follow?). So she went there for a 9 pm service. We reconvened for our shared Christmas service at MHUCC. After the riding through various San Diego microclimate regions with temperatures ranging between cold and colder (particularly in shorts, see?), I accepted a ride with Kelli to get dinner with a couple friends of hers—the newly placed pastor at the Methodist church and Amanda, member of my church but friend of Kelli's by way of chaplaincy work. We ate some greasy spoon chow at Rudford's diner until late.

We had one more thing on the agenda. One of the young men in the young adults group I help facilitate works third shift as a security guard at a big complex near my place. He participates in some of our gatherings, but his schedule being what it is, working from 10 pm till 6 am, I thought maybe he'd be stuck working Christmas Eve. And he was. So for a few minutes we sought him out and chatted for maybe 15 more minutes as he did his rounds. (We joked about being the angels coming to the shepherd guarding his flock by night on Christmas Eve.) By then we were pretty worn out. It was after 1 am.

Tradition, nice as it is sometimes, deserves to be jolted from time to time. I have not participated in the commercial Christmas activities that most people get themselves into. This year I only gave one gift—one of my bikes—so I have to do other stuff in the name of Christmas. Last night, as I biked across town, there were plenty of homeless folks out there, some manning the street corners in hope for some money. Unfortunately, traveling light as I was, there wasn't much to do for them. Other years we've headed to the East Village of Downtown where the many homeless—the dregs of society as some would have it—congregate each night, and all the more in the winter since San Diego is about as nice a place to be homeless this time of year. We've taken some goods down to give away. This year we got to see our friend at work so he wouldn't feel the holiday came and went without notice. I don't know exactly what any of this really accomplishes, but I feel wretched for not giving it a go. Even witnessing the all-too-unseen world is good for a person. Being on a bike removes the ability to keep the window rolled up. At times, I found myself shouting out a greeting as I passed by.

All in all, it was quite a Christmas to remember. One that had a bit of the expected stuff, but not done in the asleep-at-the-wheel way, and one that had a bit of good work thrown in.

Monday
Jun082009

Exile And Return

Exile and return is a major theme in the Bible, and therefore in the lives of Jews and Christians. There is of course the Exile ("big E") of being carried off to Babylon for a couple generations, watching Jerusalem being laid waste and the agony of not knowing how or even if it would be possible to worship Yahweh while displaced from his favored city on earth. But more broadly speaking, the Bible as a whole tells of exile and return, starting with Genesis and being sent from Eden—the primeval state of undivided wholeness—into the world where division is a central fact of life. It seems we thought we knew better than our creator. From wholeness to being fragmented, we are exiled and through the bible, God does all sorts of tricks to get us back into one piece. None of them work too well or has much promise until a genius moment of presenting Jesus to the world, a figure who subverts all our typical understandings of what is required to live a faithful life. By the end of the bible story, the early believers and writers concluded that Jesus was the cure for this division in our lives. He was, for them, the end of spiritual exile. If we haven't forgotten it, even today he is the end of our spiritual exiles, as individuals (ah, I hate to say it: your "personal lord and savior") and also as all of humanity (through his commandment to love one's neighbor like oneself), offering the example of what we need to function as the community God envisions for us—the Kingdom of God.

My recent experience of joining a church by conscious decision has raised some questions for me. It is the first time I joined a church by intent, and not just by being confirmed into my existing congregation—an experience which does not seem to register clearly with me as a definitive moment in my life. Part of the reason for joining my new congregation has been that unlike the old one, there is a structure in place for actually doing some spiritual discernment and development work in a group setting, among many other ways to live a satisfying community life. My experience initially was a bit timid, but I was interested in being open with people. I actually didn't have plans to join as a member; that sort of grew on me over the last nine months or so. Suffice to say, having a setting in which to explore themes of how I experience the divine moving in my life has been an agent that helped me feel that this congregation was right for me.

If I do get any revelations from God, then they surely come in the "still small voice" variety such as Elijah experienced in Kings. I have to admit to being sort of dense in that regard. But revelations aren't always presentations of things not yet known; often it just takes a new insight to put together the pieces of many things already well known. Some write this off as coincidence. I have to wonder how it all works. But I am gaining in trust that it does, and that it happens for reasons we learn only on reflection.

So what compelled me to dig out a box of my journals and letters from the summer and first year after graduating high school (1991-92)? Especially since all that sort of stuff (filed neatly in annual collections in a series of boxes) now is garage filler, and no longer within reach in my closet like it tended to be for years before I began to move house every few months. For a long time, I did too much of this digging and I forgot to live in the moment, by hanging onto a detailed memory of all sorts of stuff that perhaps expired in usefulness before it was even written down! Having not had that opportunity in most of the Kelli years (since 2002), now it seems safer to periodically have a look. I draw some interesting revelations from this material.

This week I revisited the 1991-92 box featuring absurd amounts of pining for Shelby Duncan, a certain girl who never reciprocated my feelings (and with whom I kept that that dance going for another eight years or so—don't ask); stories about my early outside drumming under bridges and at other places because my home neighbors hated the noise; the news of an ever-growing drumset, with a few drawings indicating the changes; a few other minor tales of girls who never ended up being more than a fantasy or peck on the cheek; a considerable cache of letters from my first girlfriend Melissa; subversive correspondence from my stepmom who exited the family in 1983 but who wrote to me on the sly for some years before our early 1992 reunion; my early experiences and embarrassing writings at Mesa college...

But even more ink was given to how ridiculously bored I was, and how busy I was at work at Subway, and how I was often desperately lonely—enough to make a social life by going to work on my off hours!

The time I am speaking of is now approximately smack dab in the middle of my life. I graduated at 17 and started Subway and classes at Mesa a few months later, and turned 18 shortly after that. Now I am twice that age, nearly 36. One thing that I have always been aware of is how I spent roughly the last two years of high school as a pretty regular and committed churchgoing guy. I did a lot of things there. In fact, I did everything I could do there. It was my community. I wasn't really so connected to my peers; I was always more into adult conversations and concerns. (I went to study Martin Buber at an evening meeting when I was 16.) It was a good time on the whole. That is, until years later when I began to see them too as a family riddled with their own dysfunctions. Anyhow, let me not spoil what was perhaps a lifesaver on a number of occasions. At that time, ignorance was bliss. I felt cared for there, and put a lot of time into it for a while.

When I got the job at Subway, I was put on the closing shift, a shift that got me out of work at nearly one in the morning. I worked alone past 10 pm. My school schedule could accommodate that; class started at noon. But church started for me at 9 am, so for at least the first two months or so while the newly opened store got its bearings, it was closing at midnight. Eventually it changed to 11 pm and provided a partner, and things went better. But by then I had already made the critical decision: something in my schedule had to give, and the choice I made was one of economic benefit over community. I basically sent myself into exile from my community, for want of the sort of independence that having a first job seems to offer.

The journals for those eight months of Subway—and several months that followed—reflect an honest attempt to play by the rules and do a good job. If ever I played the part of the company man, this was it. I was the more senior of the closers after just two months. I really didn't know how to handle the task of delegating responsibility, even though I knew all the jobs well enough. I really put myself into it. Eventually, I took a day shift and got a bit closer to my boss, a delightfully sarcastic and funny guy named Chuck. I was third place after him and the manager Steve. In some ways, Chuck began to like me more than Steve and his complacency. But Chuck had plans to offload the store only about eight months after he opened it. I was apprehensive whether my hard work would amount to anything since new owners meant that I'd probably be reduced in rank or let go. Long story short, it didn't do me any good at all. In fact, it was really just rejected by the new owners, and sent me into a whole mess of drama that terminated in a court restraining order against me! Anyhow, I had internalized the values of the marketplace, and was living that story.

Meanwhile, I was desperately disconnected when away from work. I had Matt Zuniga as a new "friend" but he was way too weird for me. But we shared my drums when we went and did our outside noisemaking and from that effort to kill time came all my interest in recording music and making tapes and later CD's. My best friend from high school, Stephan, was an exchange student who had since gone back to Germany. I had gone to Europe that summer of 1991, and toiled mightily at Subway solely to pay for another trip to Steve's house in 1992, to more properly close up our in-person friendship before who knows what would take over as "real life." Matt, by comparison, was no one. (Of course I feel differently now, but he was quite a character then, unlike any I had known.)

Oh, what misery it all consisted of.

In my journals I noticed scarcely a mention of church. That's because I essentially dropped out as much as I had been in for a couple years. I don't suppose it actually had to be that way. I just had no sense of balance. After Subway began closing earlier in the evening, I guess there was no actual reason for not being able to go to church on Sunday mornings, or to do other activities. But for whatever reason, I stayed away, somehow feeling that this new world of work and school was more important. But wow! All the journals were quite miserable. Maybe it would have been better to stick around at church, to retain that community life. What I didn't know then was that my time off would last for about ten years, until I was 28. This Subway experience was just the beginning of a long dark period.

Fast forward to 2005 when I was developing enough of a sense of self to take a stand when employers threw me shifts that would intrude upon my life. Essentially, my firing from AV Concepts was based on my sticking to my guns for my own good. (They didn't seem to mind the request for Sunday off, but they chafed at my retention of my weeknights off so I could go to therapy to get my life in order after that disastrous summer.) That was one step in redeeming my 1991 decision to wander from church. And, early last year when I got my current job, I was in a dreadful way when it looked like I'd have no control over the hours I work because it seemed that they could get me just about any time from 4 am till 8 pm, seven days a week except for three Sundays I negotiated to have off each month. I did the math of the total hours they could draw from in a month and just about went into shock at how much of my life could be tapped for commercial work. This was quite upsetting since in 2006 after AVC, I was quite into learning about sabbath economics, and one central idea is that work should have limitations put around it so it doesn't take a person over. And that is just what it seemed might happen. Over several months, I played company man enough to negotiate a fixed schedule that has at least fluctuated within reason, and not by shocking daily jumps of five hours forward or back. I've been able to have Sundays off since September, and it has been good.

Good because I have the feeling of returning now that there is a niche of time carved for this purpose. Strictly speaking it is not a return to my old church life because that is history to me now. The return to feeling part of a community is running strong in me now. Having the time to take part helps, but having the will to do so is more satisfying. I mean, at any point in the dark years of exile, I could have chosen to drop by at church at least sometimes. I didn't. Somehow, I am taking back the decision to let the Market inform my value system. In 1991, it was an innocent and curious youthful enough move to see what another world is like. I didn't realize my age would nearly double before I found it in me to take my place in the body of Christ, with the conviction that that was a better choice to make. Some people, I suppose, never come back. And I suppose some don't get as far away as I feel I did.

I don't suppose people think that having a "real" job is an experience of exile. Much of the time it is deemed the only socially responsible thing to do, and the wise person makes all the time for what work requires. But consider the compromises that often accompany commercial work. And consider how things are torn asunder now in the "job market." The facade of the Market-as-deity is crumbling now. Maybe the crumbling of that—expressed by increasing layoffs in most sectors—will call people out of exile. Maybe it will call them out or even force them out of the individualistic pursuits of material gain over whatever community or family life they had to leave behind to accomplish that. What, but for the collapse of an economic system that is constructed on division of labor and division of relations, could be better? It sort of strikes dead the notion of "what's good for the corporation is good for America." Little by little, news reports and other anecdotes are indicating a shift away from the predominant story of the Market-god (upheld as it were by our sacrifices to it, in the form of our working hours and consumption that follows—giving back in money what we did not give in labor), and toward the types of community solidarity and togetherness that has been brushed aside, but that is the only thing that will save us and bring us back home from exile.

The urban life is a disconnected life based on consumption more than generation, a proposition which is inherently unsustainable. Our dilemma is a new one mainly because of our flight from the land to the city. It is no surprise we find so much alienation if we are fundamentally detached from the basis for our lives. The urban existence is literally an uprooting from the soil, from the ground people have traditionally been tied to, and where—for generations at a stretch—networks of relations have been constructed out of necessity. Some might argue that we have to embrace the new reality of urbanization and get on with it. But that is the way of death. We don't have that luxury. Just because we have a brave new world doesn't mean it's not foolish new world. No less a figure than Jesus spoke about the deadly trends in this type of lifestyle: his good news, his gospel, was that there is a life of vibrancy for those who reject such things as the world has created. I don't say this to be a Luddite-traditionalist, but the path of higher technology and more urbanization is the way of death so far, and we don't have time to mess it up anymore. You might think of it as "old is the new new." The ancient wisdom had it as right as we need it to be today. There seems to be a reawakening to this, and manifestations of it are turning up in various community efforts—in small scale agriculture, church community, arts, even online where things like Wikipedia restore the notion of the commons, where the world is seen as a place to be shared because of our common lot. It is a rejection of much of the centralized power and top-down order imposed by political and corporate structures of our time. People may think our present world situation is better off religion-free, but as I think theologian John Cobb would say, this is a profoundly religious matter. What we need is to get rid of the bad religion and bad myths that will destroy us if we live by them. Maybe what we need is the "religionless Christianity" that Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of.

The story of exile from Eden is a story of being separated from that which gives eternal (wholeness of) life, and it seems that it tells a story that narrates the move from decentralized roaming peoples who had what they needed for the taking from the common pot, into the world of cities and their inherent structure based on hierarchy, classification and division, not to mention scarcity from the not-natural notion of private ownership. Sure, for a while we've dabbled in our human knowledge and our economic orgies that glorify individual pursuits, but all that has been exile for us. Notice if you will that that system isn't doing too well now! The story of Jesus, by contrast, is the story of reinstatement to our whole humanity; by again living the life undivided from God and the divine plenty. Jesus didn't speak in terms of the modern corporate world, or of Adam Smith's economic theories. He spoke to us in terms of nature and its indiscriminate providence. No wonder we can't find our way. We've declared war on nature, and by doing so, we've declared war on ourselves. So a return from exile is needed. Repentance. Metanoia.

I've seen my little part in it in my microcosmic version of that struggle, and have decided to turn toward what promises the life I left behind for a decade and more. I feel like I got part of myself back when I got happened into community again—even though it is really not the same bunch as before. We are, after all, relational beings who gain our identity from our relations to others. Little surprise then that for a decade there, I really didn't know who in the world I was because I was cut out of so many life-giving connections. The last few weeks have had a remarkable feeling that I am coming home.

Sunday
Dec282008

Jew Repellant

shrimp wrapped in prosciutto bacon, hardly kosherOne restaurant in town obviously isn't interested in attracting or retaining a Jewish clientele.

Shrimp wrapped in prosciutto bacon??? What is less kosher than that? I guess it could be worse if it was all served on the Sabbath and people were made to cook it themselves (work).

Saturday
Jan262008

Week Two

This week at the veggie-monger's was one whole hell of a lot better than last week, but I have my reservations.

I had a one day weekend on Saturday and returned on Sunday morning, but this time I started at 11 am which is far more to my liking than 4 am. I do resent being suckered into doing Sunday work though, and the last instance I can remember of doing commercial, actually employed work on a Sunday was almost two years ago while working for AV Concepts on that fateful trip to San Fransisco with the 24' truck. And prior to that it was some long time as well. I've been able to keep Sundays from contamination for the most part. Anyhow, on this day, the first week or so at the new job, I couldn't do much. It wasn't a pain in the ass or anything, but I feel a little used when I work on Sunday, and I miss the home life or church experience that isn't being had by zipping around the city for hire. This particular day was fine and I did pretty well considering it was the first solo excursions I've done there. I made 14 stops which is pretty much on par for a day's work doing this "short driving" that I was doing—it isn't route-based. It is sort of the make up runs and last minute orders, and is very much in-out work. My bout with the cold didn't plague me; I spent Saturday trying to mend up and it was mostly contained by Sunday. It hasn't bothered me since.

The rest of the week (through Thursday) was pretty straight hours from 10-6 or a bit later, but on Monday morning, I had the brief meeting with Bob the boss. He gave me a great review (premature, thinks me) and lauded me for being "high functioning" and for respecting the protocols—paperwork and other stuff that guys tend to forget or ignore. Then it got a little prickly for me because he used this opportunity to say that he was looking forward to having me do route driving—the stuff that starts at 4 am, and that he gave me this rather more handsome wage because he thought I'd do great for the company in that route driver position, and he wanted to reward that. Now, this is where things got prickly. I don't particularly remember signing up for the route driver position, though I do remember him talking about it, but also talking about the short driver position, which is what I would prefer. I get the feeling there will be friction as I try to dodge this route driver spot with its insane start time (and correspondingly insane bedtime which would cut me off from all sorts of activities I like to do in evenings). If there has to be friction, I'd rather take a pay cut and take the hours that fit me. I am not into this idea of going to bed at fucking 7 pm, not even for a decent wage. Anyhow, for the moment, Bob thought well of me and he got me situated with some of the accoutrements I'd need for the job anyway—radio phone, hand truck and a lock for it, and the "bible" —a huge spiral bound copy of their product list with nice prose descriptions of all the veggies and fruits they have to peddle.

Work each day was pretty okay to deal with. Every now and then I got a bit overwhelmed as stacks of boxes got shuffled and I had to learn how to read invoices and track down what exactly goes with which destination. Other embarrassments came from a similar unfamiliarity with how quantities are arrived at. Certain things come from sources denominated in pounds, actual numbers, or just "case". Then, picking just the specified quantities can be interesting as they can be specified in similarly mixed ways. It wasn't unheard of to pick three fruits where three cases was what was specified—or the opposite. No one flew off the handle, fortunately, but there were some embarrassing instances of delivering a woefully short order or delivering too much and looking a little stupid. Not all of those orders were ones that I pulled, either. Some were pulled by "experts" who man the cooler exclusively. Oh well.

I drove a different vehicle most days. There were two different Chevy Astro vans which did the job but which I liked least. One had a running board that kept tripping me up every time I got out. The fun car was a PT Cruiser with a manual transmission. That was a joy to drive because it was like a little race car compared to the vans, and had a great CD player. There was also an F-150 truck which was sort of nice too, but on that day I had mixed feelings about it because the first order of the day was 600 lbs of potatoes (12 bags), and the end of the day had me taking out almost 450 lbs of watermelon (7 cases), among other things. One day was slowed down when I was assigned the PT Cruiser but when I got there it had a flat tire and it took two hours to have it fixed properly. So I was temporarily assigned one of the cab-over refrigerated trucks, which was bearable but more than I wanted to deal with, having not driven such a vehicle for almost two years now. I was reinstated to the PT after a couple deliveries. Far nicer. At least that bigger truck didn't have air brakes. I've never used a truck with air brakes except for a brief job of reparking one of the big trucks here during the week, requiring a rather nimble U-turn on a hill, and backing into a narrow driveway, and left-side parallel parking to boot! In the dark! That was a bit startling, but I did it. The air brakes were interesting and even though I drove all of about one block or so, I was really jarred with the sensitivity. It was like I was new at driving all over again. One more reason why I don't want a morning route.

There has been a lot of confusion about lunch breaks at this job. I have different answers from everyone. The first week, I didn't take a proper lunch break except once—clocked off, and sitting down. The route drivers don't seem to take breaks. Of course, I found a couple of them come in an hour late, and some get a muffin or something at the occasional stop. The word seems to be "take a break when you can but don't tell us." There have been tales that while overtime is not really appreciated much, it is looked past if your numbers are good. Other tales have said that there is a move afoot to just deduct a half hour from each day, after the fact. This of course draws ire from drivers who maybe did actually work straight through the day. I so far have been working straight through and leaving half an hour before my shift is scheduled to end. I signed a waiver that said I could work straight eight and not hold the company liable. But I'd still like a break so I can rest. I bring my food; that's not the problem. But I do get a little drowsy later in the day. Driving is very demanding of attention. So, a couple times this week, I was asking if I'd get out on time (to me—after a real eight hours' work) and some feedback came that 'your shift is over at 6:30.' When I said I worked straight through, I was told it was up to me to take a break. WTF? Everyone tells me something different. I am about to ask that my shift be moved forward an hour to 9-5:30 so that I can take the break and still get out with time to do evening activities—two of which start at 6:30 and are next to impossible to get to if I am to leave at that time, barring overtime.

So while the work itself isn't too horrible, and I am dealing with the cooler and freezer, I worry that there will be a challenge getting a decent schedule. I just see it coming. Someone's gonna tell me I don't belong there if I can't work when they need me to.

Friday
Jan182008

Helluva First Week

It has been about five months since I parted ways with Scantech, and most of that time I enjoyed not being a wage slave. It takes a bit of frugality to make such a span of time "happen" but there was enough to go around. The universe provides. I originally hit the streets with a decent amount of force in the first month after leaving Scantech, but came to feel disillusioned after a month or so of rejections and no-gos. Finally in December I got a decent bite.

I had sent in a resume earlier in my search—October I think—and didn't hear anything, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try again. After getting a ten year DMV report (usually three- or seven- year reports have sufficed), I was able to be in for an interview at a produce company in town, not far from where I live. Sometime in early-mid December I was able to come to meet Bob the Boss, though I had only bargained to meet with an ops manager who is actually younger than me. Bob the Boss took a liking to my resume with its variety of roles—driver, customer service, audio, social service, web, writing, and whatever else. So he started me at what he called $3 more than his usual starting rate. He gave me a chance to sort of name my own range and he at least offered me something near the top of that range. I hope I didn't cut myself short—but considering last year I started Scantech for $5 less, this was a nice deal! Bob told me all about the drivers, the culture of the shop (mostly Hispanic), and asked if I'd be okay working in the cooler part of the time. I had just had my second round of gum surgery so I asked that I have a few weeks to heal and get past the holidays, and that I could begin in mid January. He was okay with that so we shook on it.

I went in to sign some papers and stuff on the Friday before I was to work. Then I was told I'd be training with some drivers on a different route each day, and oh, the shifts will start at 4 or 5 am! Well, most of you know that I am a night owl and that the work I had been doing for a couple weeks prior was night work. I'd be getting to bed at 3 am, not getting out of bed! So on just a couple days' notice, I had to prep to wake up at 3 am the first day. I was dreading. Saturday and Sunday morning each pushed my waking hour back about two and half hours so that I could do it. It was the weirdest thing to get to bed at 8 pm. The last time I did that was in fucking elementary school!

Day One

Defying the laws of my personal constitution, I awoke at 3 am and headed off to work hours before the cock would crow. I clocked in about ten minutes early. The shop was pretty empty of people but there were rows and rows of boxes of all sorts of produce ready to be loaded onto trucks headed to all sectors of the county, it seemed. I was to wait for one fellow named Fernando. He got there about 4:15, but not after I had met another driver, Carlos A., who upon hearing I was a new driver immediately thought, 'someone's gonna get fired!' Fernando did appear and we loaded his truck which took all of about 15 minutes. He was an expert of nine years there, and this was a smallish load for a slow day. I was already a bit bummed by the fact that I had gotten there about 25 minutes before I was of any use, but after the loading, I was told that it would take another half hour or so before we could get the invoices and then leave. It was about 5 am when we got the invoices, but we couldn't leave because there was a truck that had just pulled in with all the new stock on it and some of that was stuff we'd need, and all of what we needed was at the head of the trailer. Perfect. There was about an hour of frenzied activity as all the drivers arrived and each had to clamor for what was on that incoming truck. There was some comedy about how they decided to do it. All the produce was on pallets but the electric pallet jack could not cross the abrupt height change from truck to dock, and the forklift could not really get a good grip on the pallets where they sat. So about eight guys offered about twice as many opinions while about three of them did the work. Eventually there was some success in using a lighter manual pallet jack and moving it as close as possible to the trailer's end, where the forklift could take over. I just felt superfluous there. Finally at about 6:00, Fernando and I were able to leave.

We did his usual route for the day, mostly in Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. It wasn't a linear route. Delivery destinations are not planned according to what makes good sense in mileage terms. No, no, no! It's all about who is open and who has come to expect service before fucking yesterday. So we crisscrossed from Del Mar to RSF and back, and hit Solana Beach, and then some more Del Mar. Really inefficient, says Peak Oil Boy. Some destinations were more chatty than others. Some we just dropped things outside and left. We returned to the shop and did one more short run before the shift was over. I left at 11:15, having not taken a lunch break, but having munched along the way. The shift then was about 45 minutes short of eight hours, but no sense in fussing. I was tired enough from the sleep disruption. It was an odd feeling to have done a whole days' work before the strike of noon!

I started feeling a cough that morning by about 8. It got worse during the day, but it didn't seem to warrant attention.

Day Two

I started at 5 am today and that seemed somewhat easier, despite there not being much real advantage. There was no wasted time like the morning before, so Jose and I loaded his truck and we took off. I guess I coughed some, but it wasn't awful yet. But during the course of the day, I think the messed up sleep and the winter morning temperatures started to interact with the getting in and out of refrigerated trucks. I think that certainly complicated any respiratory issues I already had brewing. Jose was a nice fellow about my age. His English was hard to understand but I got a good idea of him being a family man. He told me how Bob the Boss had done some very accommodating things when he needed to tend to his family for prolonged periods of time, but he also said he was frustrated that he was not a route driver with his own route. Bob insisted on retaining him as the universal driver who could stand in for anyone on a moment's notice. Of the work for this week, this shift took me out as far as I think the company goes, and the shift was the longest, clocking in at about eight and a half hours straight.

This too was a tangled web of destinations, running from a three-kitchen micro destination at La Costa resort, and then a bunch of places in Carlsbad, Oceanside, RSF, and one all the way up in Gopher Canyon. By the end of the shift, I was a little shaky. I chalked it up to truck jitters from the road time. I got out of the shop about 1:30 as the schedule said, but that was uninterrupted activity since 5. On the way out I felt like taking a nap, but a short one for fear of jinxing myself and losing sleep that night. Kelli was about to come home from her 12 day excursion to Florida, and I was technically supposed to be in bed at the hour she would fly in, so Suz picked her up instead. By the time I laid down for this nap, I started to realize I may be with fever. I was sweating and cold at the same time. I napped for a bit as intended, but for the next four hours I was sore and the coughing was getting worse. I finally went to bed about 8 and slept well, even sleeping through Kelli coming home and climbing into bed after almost two weeks gone. So much for a big welcome back.

Day Three

Started my shift this day at 5 again despite feeling that I should have taken the day off. The cold was seeming that bad by then. But I soldiered on, being linked with Carlos A. who would be the tour guide for the beach area route. I got there in time to load his truck with him, and we got out of there by 6. Once again, this was a seemingly random organization of destinations based on politics and opening hours. We cut through Mission Beach many times to connect Pacific Beach and Point Loma. Carlos A. is 21 and the most American of the Mexican drivers, though he often toggled in and out of conversation on the company cell phone with the Bluetooth bud in his ear. The company provides Blackberry devices so that drivers can play more active roles as CS reps. Of course I had no idea if he was talking business since much of the shop speaks Spanish, and almost all of the cooks and kitchen staff or receiving clerks do as well. We at least got into talking some politics when he wasn't talking business. Being a young guy, he sort of drove me mad with some of the young guy mindset that he kept. I wasn't in the mood for much today, not least of which was his talk about gettin' with chicks, keeping the radio on at all times, and the conversations with whoever invaded the cab via Bluetooth. It was all just noise to me. I was getting more and more tired and sore. Since his route is not as far from the shop as the others, we returned there a few times to keep getting stuff to take to places we had already been to.

Somehow I got home and napped a bit and carried on as normal for a few hours, but went to bed at 8 after a movie or something. This was the first day that Kelli was back and she had cleaned house and tidied up what had reverted to a bachelor pad for a week and a half. I was in sad shape by the end of the shift that day. It really spoiled any great reunion I was hoping for.

Day Four

This was the day when I awoke at 4 and decided to call in sick. I was feverish with sweating while shivering, sore all over, and congested and coughing. It wasn't fun. By this time I knew that the last few days were a bad mix of cold, odd hours, new job, no lunch breaks, and a diet that gave way to the uncertainty that each placed on me. I just felt drained of energy. I called in and left a message with an unknown fellow, who passed on word to Bob, though I was told to call back at 8 when Bob would be there. I did but he was in a meeting and had already heard. I felt really bad that I was taking off, but what a crappy state to be in, and to be around food, that's a no-no. I went to bed the night before at about 8 and finally I woke up at oh, say, 2:30 PM on Thursday! I had only made trips to the bathroom or to make that call, otherwise I slept about 18-19 hours straight! Kelli went and got a shitload of OTC drugs, orange juice, and other goodies to help out. Otherwise, that day I was useless. I wrote to Bob to briefly explain why I had to take the day off, and assured him I wasn't a flake. But he wrote back something that really floored me, saying that new people often misjudge what it takes to work in that environment and that maybe this was not the job for me. I called him right after that, with Kelli's urging. I don't know how final he meant to sound, but I found myself trying to talk my way into a job I felt I lost only days after beginning. He said I could come back in tomorrow if I was able, and we'd go from there.

The day was short; I went to bed at 8 again and had to get up at 3 in order to start at 4. For my trouble, I slept soundly for about five hours till maybe 1 when Kelli came to bed, and not again after that. There is this fear I have of jinxing my sleep on these critical nights. I don't look at the clock during the night because I might look and find that I have 45 minutes left and won't be able to sleep, or I might look and find I have three hours left to sleep, then won't be able to sleep because I keep doing calculations of how much time I have left to get a few good winks in. There have been a few examples of this dreadful occurrence in the past year, and each gives me another thought to mull over as I hope to get to sleep. I hate it. Today the "don't look" idea jinxed me as much as what happens when I do look. I think what I need is an "on/off" switch. Anyhow, I must have done okay with the 19 hour spell the night and day before because I got up after about five hours of sleep and two more hours of trying, and I felt sort of refreshed.

Day Five

This one started early again. Hah. It's all unnatural, starting work two hours before the fucking sun appears! But today it was more ridiculous than ever. I was scheduled for 4, so I dutifully clocked in on the button and set about finding out who my tour guide was for the day. Today I got the other Carlos: Carlos G. He didn't appear at 4; nor at 4:15 like Fernando did days before. In fact, I saw Fernando at about 4:30 and he said that CG doesn't usually get there till about 5:30! That entire first hour and a half was tense and sort of angering for me. I didn't really have any direction, and why the fuck was I told to come in at 4 if my guy can saunter in an hour and a half late? I stood around some, hunted for a hand truck for the day (they are usually locked up, each designated for individual employees). I met a few people. Only one or two did I tell about the cold and the day off. One lady—a rotund, mid 40s looking lady who I have seen to wear some sort of blatantly Catholic T shirt—suggested that maybe I just chill (um, wrong word) in the employee break room. So I did but got bored there and saw that two cameras were trained on the space, rendering me not so invisible. So I halfheartedly petitioned this woman for something to do, preferably outside the cooler. I was wearing a couple shirts and a hoodie pullover with a knit cap beneath and I was still cold, but really I didn't want to risk getting overexposed to the cold air. The coming shift would be exposure enough. Since I was in a catch 22 of not wanting to disclose my sick condition, and not wanting to look bad, I erred on the side of not looking bad, and sure enough, the person who didn't know I had a cold took me into the freezer (!) of all places and bid me to collect this box or that. Man, that was shitty times, even though it probably didn't last but a minute or two.

CG finally got there and we loaded up his truck. But he was the silent sort who barely spoke directions to me. He speaks fine English when he spoke to me at all. So I felt like shit from being sick (making me not want to talk and let more cold air in), but felt sort of dumb having to wait for direction at most every turn. We had a bit of small talk on the way to La Jolla where he has ruled the roost for about eight years. Again, it was a zig zag path we cut up and down every street and alley in LJ. He was the most nimble of the drivers, whipping his cab over 16' truck around like a Miata. He was a fan of slowing down about 40% at red lights and stop signs. LJ is quite hilly and there are all sorts of interesting little bistros and other places tucked into odd spaces, and kitchen access is pretty precarious at times. Lots of steps to traverse. Angles too. I was better rested but still remained fully suited for almost all the day. I felt like Ralphie's brother in Christmas Story. It wasn't that bloating, but I felt cut off from the world. The clogged sinuses and ears; the cold nipping at my nose; the ache in my muscles from fever and inactivity. It was nasty feeling. CG made me do a lot of the work, just as someone said he would. Wrong fucking day for that. But I survived.

We returned to the shop by 8:30 and I wondered how in the hell we could do a whole route in two and a half hours and spin out a whole eight hour shift. I got the first actual lunch break this day since he had to wait for another round of things to deliver. Then when my break was over, I got word we'd be going soon. Hah. He had me load about five hand-truck loads of stuff to the truck which awaited not in the loading dock but on the street, which is gotten to by passing through the cooler! Dammit. So I cut back and forth through there a few times, hating it but dealing. Then I waited at the truck for him. And waited. And waited. It was about 30 minutes I waited out at the truck. I saw him load some stuff, come back, go out. Eventually, around a quarter of 10 we left for La Jolla again and did an equally nonsensical drive as any we'd already done that morning. Somehow, he spun it all out for another couple hours, and we got back and I punched out at 12:30 ish, making eight hours pretty squarely.

I got a chance to talk to Bob's brother Roger who does scheduling, and he had heard I was interested in a moment of his time. I found that at least the early morning thing was done, and that Sundays are not genuinely necessary but that they like a Sunday a month to be added on. He assured me that I'd always get my 40 a week, but likely more. Well, that helped allay some fears from the day before. Part of this day's stress was fearing that things might be over there. I was half expecting to be given my leave at the end of the shift.

Oddly, I wasn't as tired even at the end of the shift, but I was keen to clean up and rest a bit before Kelli and I ran some errands. I found my appetite was back when I downed a burrito from my favorite shop, and found myself wanting for more. We at last had a chance to connect a bit while we ate at the park near our house. And then somehow instead of hitting the hay at 8 pm, I lasted till past 11! That means that I have been up for 20 hours but awake for closer to 22. Damn. I spent the day getting a lot of orange juice and some of the OTC drugs into my system.

And that is how my first week at work went. Next week I actually get to begin doing the job for which I was hired (short driving—not the routes that I've been doing), and at the hours that I agreed to. Sunday: 11 am. It's getting sleepy time here.

Thursday
Feb102005

Hibernation

Today I woke up at 10:30 am after going to bed at about 3 am. I was awake for a half hour or so and tried to read in bed some. Fell asleep for another hour and a half (my midday nap, as it were). Glenn and I were going to get together at noon but he couldn't get here till after 1 or so, so the extra nap was nice. We got some chow and did the music thing till Kelli came home at 5 or so. Then he left and I took a nap on the couch while Kelli made cookies. Then we went to the taco shop for some chow (second burrito today but a different place and type of burrito). Came home and took another nap. It's now 11:45. I think the napping is done for today, but maybe tomorrow I'll just sleep in some.