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Entries in stephan rau (11)

Tuesday
Dec182012

On a String at the Bottom of the World +20 

My First Rebirth Day

December 18, 1992 was one of my birthdays. Or I guess we need to call it a rebirth day since it really has nothing to do with departing the body of another human being. Until a somewhat early breakfast that morning, there was a creeping depression upon me. It wasn't that depression was new. There had been some precedent, especially in the period since about two and a half years before. But at this time, it was a new thing that I began entering the dangerous thought space of suicidal ideation. Now, remember we're talking about 20 years ago when I was 19. The facts show a pretty ordinary list of happenings and life situations that are almost painfully ordinary on paper. But when one is experiencing the stuff of life that is unfamiliar, maybe without guides or a map, it can certainly be nerve racking and scary. So that period was a threshold time. The particulars are easy to name: I was going through my first couple years of community college courses with no idea what it was leading to; I was not employed and my last job went south so fast and furious it ended in a restraining order against me which was in full effect; I'd just returned from Europe in the late summer and felt rudderless because that also signified the last time I'd see my friend Steve (and so far that has been exactly the case, despite some occasional talk on the phone or Skype). The distance of dear friends and the pointlessness of schooling, and the oddness of my new "friend" Matt and our exiled drummer status all conspired. Matt, in the shadows of people who did seem to be true friends, was just too odd for the first year or so for me to feel we were friends. He was more someone to pass time with. Starting to get a bit of carnal knowledge of my first girlfriend certainly fired up feelings in this period about to be chronicled. But then finding that she was not the panacea I needed to mend all the other disruptions of life was cause for more despair.

Melissa, or, Don't Climb the Orange Tree Looking for Apples

Melissa was 16 and I turned 19 a couple months after we started going out. The fact that she was sort of a sometimes friend from childhood was always in my mind. Was this just a thing of convenience? She'd made overtures even a year or more before we got together, despite an almost insurmountable distance of .... nine miles! She came onto the scene as a girlfriend at the very end of June 1992, and with only two weeks before I went on my six-week trip to Germany, we spent an inordinate amount of time together. The events of the year or so prior led me to be really needy after so many alienating experiences. So when she came onto the scene and we had those misty eyed experiences, I was rearin' to go with it. Nevermind it was the sappiest puppy love fluff you ever saw. Dang. I was already 18! I needed something to happen. The emotional center of my trip to Germany was an odd thing, as I've written. Prior to starting with Melissa, I was singularly fixated on making the trip to make good on a promise to come back and spend a more proper period of time with my friend Steve there. But instead, once on the trip, the whole focus shifted in a big way: get back home to Melissa. I did not originally plan to be homesick. I planned to throw myself headlong into my experience in Germany. Coming back then was odd because I didn't really have a plan except to go to school and look for some work, and spend as much time exploring the world with Melissa as possible. The rest was a cloud of variables I had no comprehension of.

I came home in late August and started strong. I went to school and did pretty good work. Matt and I resumed getting out to parking garages to make drum mayhem on Sunday afternoons or at night. We even started to shift our approach to accommodate sheets of ill-executed lyrical material that at least gave us some structure and something to focus on, and then maybe laugh at upon playback of our recordings. I looked for jobs mostly because the expectation was to get some work, but I was quite distracted by Melissa and of course prioritized time with her. In nearly perfect clockwork motion, weekends from Friday afternoon till late evening on Sunday were given to her. That entailed my riding my bike three miles over to my grandparents's place to pick up the Ford, then to drive it up to Mira Mesa, nine miles from my house in the other direction. I got to keep the car at home for the weekend. But I'd go up there each weekend day—yep, three times. And each time would be filled with as much as we could wedge in, most of the time. And since I had the car, I sort of was the chauffeur for her and some friends. There were some instances of off days or other spontaneous occasions when I got up there midweek for a little mice-when-the-cats-away kind of play. I even biked up there once in the middle of the school week. So it went for a while during the fall after I returned in late August. On top of all that, there were letters and journals written to each other. The fluff factor was high. Because "these are the moments you hang on to forever," to this day I have a calendar marked with numbers reflecting how many hours we spent that day. And this went on the entire seven months and three weeks. From that, I could tell you now how many hours we spent together. Sick, eh? Teen love.

The irony is that Melissa was really kind of a closed up case who probably had ideas and words waiting to explode out of her but much of the time I found she was either in awe of my greatness (er... she wanted me that whole year before we got together, dig?) or too intimidated by her dad and other voices that encouraged her to shutup and be cute as a girl. So she liked to spend time but rarely could say what she needed to say. Some letters broke some ground but really it was quite stifled. Attempts to draw something more conversational from her were usually frustrating. She was at that point where her curiosity was leading her farther from her young girl moorings and she only had a cousin to talk to about what she should be doing with me. Her mom a bit, but obviously less so. The fact that her parents were friends of my old man (and her dad worked in the same factory as he) meant that we knew each other enough to have some history, but of course, the risk was ever that they'd talk. Her mom loved me and gave me some kind nudging in the right direction. Her dad was a no bullshit kind of guy who didn't mince his words much. Melissa obviously had to fear him. Lots of time was spent inviting her out of that fearful silence so we might have a more interesting relationship.

What all that meant was that the one person I was investing so much time into was coming to be found as kind of a dead end. She listened to me tell tales of frustration with distance and loss but she herself could not fill the gaps, even conversationally. Being only 16, her level of experience was even less than mine, so that further limited what we'd be able to cover. Her world was that of a sheltered girl's: a busy school band schedule with other extracirricular activites. Many weekends during that season she had to go to her marching band meets all over the county. I went along to many of them. It was very foreign to me but it kept us together on days otherwise occupied. Melissa was fond of fanciful, fluffy stuff and listening to all the sappy radio dedications at night on the soft rock station. She and I did our own dedications on the air, and I think that was a way for her to get something of her message across to me. But it was no less sappy, and while I played along, I always wished there to be more substance.

That Damned Television

She watched lots of TV and movies. (With that mindless habit, she set a precedent for my generally despising television, but particularly when it seems to be more important than whatever relationship I am in at the time. More outrageously for me is when the TV is on and it's not even really being watched. It's just overstimulating aural and visual noise. There are enough cases of that over the years.) The TV proved to be a major sticking point, in the way that it seemed we could never connect when it was on. And I needed connection. One journal entry recalls a sort of passive-aggressive game played with channel switching from her choice of Fox showing Married With Children and my preference for PBS. After that exchange I found it preferable to leap to and to do her family's dishes rather than be sidelined by TV. And dumb TV at that. I even went to talk to her mom in the other room...about math. As the fall season went on and I didn't find work within biking distance, and all those weekends felt like sugar highs and their resultant crashes when I could have used some protein to sustain me. My mood shifted downward. With the march of time I felt like we should be getting more physical if we weren't going to be having great and profound conversations. I was 19 after all. She was willing to tease me some but then retreated. She was 16 after all. So for all the time spent there, on one level or another did not meet my needs.

It seems that season of 1992 started to disabuse me of the lofty ideas I had of what a romantic life would bring. I mean, popular culture paints a pretty picture of it all, and while we had our fluffy expressions of fondness, at least doing it in a paint-by-numbers kind of way, I was finding that the kind of relationship I was longing for was not going to come from anyone three years my junior, particularly with her set of interests. I think it was the onset of this realization that started to take me downward more than I tended to. For all the time prior to Melissa, the imagination of some kind of love relationship was free to wander, unmoored to reality. The lofty visions of what might be possible with Shelby, for example—a smart, engaged and socially aware peer of mine (only nine days younger, even) —were met with a dawning reality that Melissa, the consumate couch potato and homebody with little girl dreams—would be only a way point on the road toward something deeper and more fulfilling. On the surface, frustration might have been because of the pent up 19 year old male energy to get laid and being "stuck" with a girl who wasn't going there yet and who could barely be persuaded to shut off the TV and be present in the relationship that she herself pined for, but who kept feeding a bit of carnal experience out then withdrawing. But seeing the journals now, it's quite evident that far bigger issues were trying to be met and enacted but with a partner who had utterly no ability to do so, if only because her life experience was as sheltered as mine, and a few years less, at that. The discord between us was barely understandable and I got to acting out some things that later on proved to be patterns that needed addressing, and some I'm ashamed to say, persist when I wish they wouldn't.

The Revolving Door of Friends

I never really bonded with anyone for the long term while taking classes at Mesa. Having no more than three classes at once kept the frequency and repetition of encountering people somewhat low. Since people there were no longer my peers from within a few miles of my house, there was little chance of crossing paths with these new classmates. In the same way, there was no history to draw upon. I liked school well enough but obviously I waited for it to be over with so I could get back to Melissa or to my silly songs and playing drums. I didn't retain much connection with anyone from high school either. But by the end of 1992, the social patterns were disrupted enough and that caused concern. It felt like someone else's life I was leading when confronted with my new options.

The life I'd grown to like included pursuing Shelby, despite her being so fickle and doing such a thing as returning a couple years' worth of letters to me in February 1992 for crossing her sense of moneylending decorum. Obviously, the pursuit of Shelby had to be put on hold while with Melissa. But that felt odd to me, and sometimes I resented that Shelby got a little too excited for me and Melissa hooking up, for that was to mean that she was demonstrating some relief that I'd not be able to pursue her. Shelby herself was in northern California by then and so the physical distance was then, as usual, a bar to doing much with Shelby anyway, even as friends.

Matt was a newcomer as of a year before and certainly a wildcard but shortly after my trip to Germany he had expressed some sentiment that we might be becoming friends—maybe because he was finding some home strife and he was eyeing the spare bedroom at my house just in case he needed an out. Since we didn't work together any longer, most of our time was spent somehow linked to Rhythmic Catharsis. We had one of those kinds of mutually abusive "friendships" but he weathered things better than I did, at least outwardly. I didn't always know what to make of it. Was it good natured ribbing that he was pulling on me, or worse? And some of the things he did to be antisocial... oy!

Returning from Germany was a troublesome thing because it closed up the in-person friendship with Steve. Once a fellow student (exchange) at my school, doing fun things and gettting to know each other on weekends for a semester, and chumming at school, that was now all over with, particularly after two trips to Europe. Who knew where the future would lead, but to this date, we've not seen each other in person since then. He is an intelligent, articulate, and balanced male peer of mine who also demonstrated perhaps the best openness of them all. (Funny, during the writing of this entry, Steve called me completely out of the blue. I can't recall talking to him for two years. He'll later make my point behind this entry.)

The Old Man

In scanning my journal from the period, I was rather surprised to have penned the following about my old man on October 5th, 1992:

I woke up. William gave me shit. Like usual. I asked him for an allowance for food. He gave me a lecture on getting a job. He just doesn't listen to me. Or if he does, it means so little. Or he reinterprets it to mean I'm stupid or whatever. After two or three tries, I just lost out on the allowance, and certain grocery items he doesn't like me to have. And I got the job lecture anyway. God, I hate it when he tells me that everything I know is wrong. I'm out of money [I find that a bit much, but Europe and months of unemployed time did wear things down] and all he's worried about is making a return in his motorcycle seat business [something he bought in early 1989 from his friend who made the company name, but that was never maintained enough to be more than an also-ran in the business]. Bullshit! He's got to pay himself off before he's going to help me. Maybe he'd rather not have my help. Does he deserve it? If he won't support me in something so simple as eating, should I help him? I'm almost getting to the point where I'd like to leave this ouse, perhaps in favor of my grandparents' house, where at least I'd be needed [ironic I'd say this since I used to be rather mercinary in helping them so I could borrow the car so regularly]. And it would almost be convenient. At any rate, I'm tired of being less than I am. Maybe I'm not much, but do I need to be told so? Can he encourage me rather than tell me I'm all wrong? And he also is trying to restrict me from using the car.

In 1992, I didn't yet know how some of those same things would play out over the years in ways that seem even more savage. At the time it was just maddening. Who was he to obstruct me in such ways? I watched him do a poor job of keeping a business even in his chosen field of interest. It was a precedent for watching the things he did as a landlord, driving me to more complete madness a decade later, while I indeed did live in my grandparents' house, having moved there and for some years feeling he held no sway over my housing. This habit he has of outright declaring things "wrong" to my face—stuff that interests me, that I enjoy—has been around for a long time and always came wrapped in a rather smug delivery style. And this talk about wishing he might just encourage me is nothing new, either. By the time I wrote this entry, the various ways he tried to get me to think of music as "just a hobby" and not as something worth my total devotion, were already well despised. Here I am these 20 years later and that damned voice still buzzes my ears like a fly I can't kill but that I keep swatting at. Sad as I know all you kind people would say it was, it's been the gift that kept on giving. And yet, for all his talk about education and "you can never learn too much," and other such talk and other admonitions to get a real job, he never saw fit to actually finance my schooling at a level beyond Mesa. These days, with such sickening comments to reflect on, it's easy to see how such crap kept things destabilized just enough. He could cast just enough doubt to weaken trust and thwart enthusiasm.

Drifting from the Woman who Loves Me

In another ripple, it was also becoming harder and harder to spend the time I spent with my grandmother, indulging in talk of life and relationships. With the unfolding events with Melissa especially, I found myself not able to let her in on the big news of my life. My grandmother, while as much of a confidant as I ever had, was 64 years older than I was. She was conservative but tolerant. It's hard to say what mind I had about reporting to her about Melissa. Maybe it was so simple as to expect that she knew what kinds of things would be entailed. Or maybe I realized well enough she might cast some disapproval upon the news of getting familiar with a girl so young. At any rate, this certainly began a period of increasing opacity. At that time, it might have been harmless, but in retrospect of course, that worked against us in later events. So I lost that vital connection with the one woman left in my family, and the one person who did not talk in doublespeak and sarcasm and did not rely on intimidation by a chosen word or look in the eye. I guess that's just the agony of growing up and getting oneself formed by the other things in the world. With the creeping depression, it would seem foolish to have not kept transparent and honest about how life was going. Major loss not welcoming input from her.

Distance from Church Life

Having been at some distance from church for about a year or more by the time this depressive episode was taking hold of me, I was at some loss, at least relative to the days when I used to be a regular participant. Work at Subway put the first crack in the wall when schedules overflowed on Saturday nights and kept me up way too late to get sleep and feel like getting to church on Sunday. And of course, if there were other things at church, scheduled later in the evenings on most any day, I passed that up for the newfound earning potential. It was a sad trade but certainly a needed misstep to ultimately shape the course of later, more redeeming events. Then, after Subway, it was just a period of drifting, and then Europe, and then Melissa. All that was the stuff of distraction from living among folks who at the time often demonstrated a lot more love and acceptance than the home life I knew. My journal tells me that in November I went to the first Shalom group meeting since January. That group was one I helped to found and for a while was the safe spot where those of us in high school tried to share and make sense of our evolving lives and struggles. (It was in that group where I got to know something of Kelli when she joined in 1990.) No doubt that staying away from that group helped isolate me, but since I was a graduate, I was nearly aging out of the group, and so it wasn't impossible to reason being gone. But in retrospect, I really could have used that setting to voice my increasing concerns.

Unmasking the Evidence of Despair

I was feeling pretty lost as the end of 1992 approached. My journal from November 26 that year was brief and to the point in one of the purest expressions probably found to that point. In giant scrawling, I wrote: "I hate this fucking life!!! and no one seems to understand it." And then, in my usual way, I went on for a few pages in some detail. (All were very original thoughts, I know. I suffered alone, yup.) Melissa and I had gone to the mountains one cold autumn day and I was feeling I should get out and just do some primal screaming. Maybe even she would like to do so herself. But at the stop we made, she retracted and we stayed in the car. The placid exterior that passed for my default identity was chipping and cracking. Melissa started to register some fear at what my various mood swings and talks were pointing to. The same journal from November 26 was grappling with what later was known as the shadow and feeling that the masks I'd worn for others must come off. Melissa would be one of the first to see the new, hurting, angry, confused me. It was the first real identity crisis. Not knowing who I was of course made it hard to articulate what I needed. It made it hard to see any role I might play as being worthwhile. Around this time, I had written a poem that bore the title of this blog post, trying, in fewer words than usual, to capture my feelings. The medium was only starting to become appealing to me. All of us who have passed that point can probably chuckle at how worked up one gets during those times. But at the time, those are the biggest questions. The darkest places. The mightiest challenges. In spiritual language now available to me, it's the agony of new birth into something else. Back then, maybe it would have done some good if someone stuck a copy of Catcher in the Rye before me.

Crisis of Faith

Perhaps the only safe harbor I had wasn't with family. It wasn't with a girlfriend. It wasn't in a work life. It wasn't even my "friends" such as they were then. It wasn't church, per se, but it did turn out that I'd need to call upon figures from church who had looked after me before and had a bigger picture for me to fit within. I did go to church with great regularity for the period of mid 1989 into early 1991. I say it was with "regularity" because it'd be misleading to say I went "religiously." That's because in the church setting where I went there was a very heady atmosphere that is still apparent these days, but more so then when certain figures were present and a certain dynamic formed around them. The effect was particularly notable because the pastor, Jerry Lawritson, has often been seen as intellectual in his liberal theology. At any rate, as a teen I barely understood a word he said but knew he had my back from some very key pastoral moments. He surely thought of the Shalom community in part because he saw need from some of us in high school who had deeper streams of concern than could be let to see the light of day in regular activities around church.

His associate pastor, Judy Slaughter, arrived on the scene at the same time in the mid 80s. She was a gregarious, attentive presence in my life. Early on she picked up on discord that I was far from being able to articulate and she let me tell it to her straight. Better still, she responded straight. Over time, the two of them operated in loving ways to nudge me along in a better direction as living in a home with just a dominating father and having recently met my mother for the first time, with the struggles that accompanied that reunion after the party favors were put away. They knew my dark side before I knew it and tried to hedge against it with only some help from my grandmother.

I was not really a believer even in the better times, and by this period, I made an early declaration that I was having a crisis of faith and starting to get nihilistic. I saw others' faith turning up good fruit, but I was not able to see it myself. Or maybe I was expecting the the apple while climbing the orange tree? Yet, in the same journal from late on Thanksgiving Day, I did express thankfulness for Melissa's family's taking me in (one time even letting me stay over when things got real hot and testy at home with the old man), and even her aunt's contribution of $10 when at the time I understood her to not really have a lot to give. (Years later, a picture emerged of her life then: living in a part of town known for being a meth alley, some notable dental issues, and then some talk from other sources, I came to think she might have been embedded in that scene. Hard to say for sure, but in my journal from December 14, 1992, she and I had talked about all sorts of things for hours and with regard to my jobless state, she offered help if it meant "lying, cheating, or stealing." Hmmm...) The last part of the paragraph ends with:

I'm not used to that generous behavior. They may not be saints but they all have warm hearts and take care of people when they can, even if they shouldn't. They treat me like one of their own. That's about all I have to be thankful for.

Even a few lines like that, following the lines above them, show what a confusing world it was then. Was that all I had to be thankful for? Was that not something pretty nice, for which I ought to give thanks? Such nuances were far from my mind then. Even now, I find myself in similar situations.

An interesting thing happens in my journals from time to time. I might write one of those despairing messages one time and then not write for a few days or weeks, maybe feeling I said all there was to say. And then the very next entry would start with some disclaimer kind of message announcing "what a difference a day makes." And then an entry would flow, celebrating all sorts of inversions and pleasant surprises and developments that somehow renewed me since the entry before. That has been the push and the pull of life for me for a long time. I suppose it's that way with everyone else. But I didn't really see it. It was just confusion. It took someone else to interpret such a thing in a way that I could digest.

Jerry and Judy to the Rescue

For the time I was involved extensively at church, I was a big participant in life there. In some ways, that might be far more evidence of meaningful belief than just intellectual assent to theological ideas. All that tended to be over my head, but I felt that in that community at that time, I was welcomed and offered an alternative path to get through the minefield of adolescence. Calling on that sense that there is some alternative to the world I knew, by the time December 18 rolled around and I was feeling at the end of my string at the bottom of the World, I called and asked if Jerry and Judy could give me some time to vent and seek some counsel. I met with Jerry for lunch on December 4th but don't have any record of what was taken from that meeting.

On December 7th, 1992, I got an hour to talk to Judy and I'm sure I spilled all the frustrations and internal mayhem before her. The journal says it was a day of some great relief, particularly since Judy was a real trusted person. Taking in all this mess I poured out, she used the word "depression" to sum it up. While I might have used the word before that, I suspect for me to have written it down, it would suggest that for a trusted adult to use it meant I felt validated, even if it was just in naming the beast. She had some things to offer as ways to meet it. Getting a job of any sort would help put the brakes on the emotional slide. It didn't have to be career stuff, just something to give shape to life, get some independence back, get out of the spiraling thoughts.

After being kind of a Subway snob and trying to get a job at any of the very few stores I could readily ride to from either school or home, but not being able to on account of being sort of blacklisted from the restraining order put on me by the Levys, I had to look at other options. In mid December, I paid a visit to the Jack In The Box on Genessee, perfectly between school and home. The Subway snob in me declared it unclean and beneath me, otherwise there was no reason not to have applied any time in the several months prior. Who knew that some clown would end up saving my life?

Let's not get ahead of the story here. This is pretty much why this entry was written, anyway. 

The record shows that December 15-16 reached a pretty low point where I was getting the first ideations of suicide. Apparently a friend of Melissa's had done the deed a week or so before and that sort of paved the way for me to ruminate and entertain such ideas myself. It was probably abusive but it was inevitable that I'd have to let Melissa in on this. This opened up a testy but revelatory conversation with her. In some ways, it might be seen as the first with that kind of honesty, forcing aside the puppy love which had become by then so nauseating to be surrounded with. She said she'd hate me if I went through with taking my life. That didn't register, especially since the six months before was all about loving me, blah, blah, blah. She couldn't really handle the talk and sort of froze up. I later heard she turned to some other dude, a mutual friend of her suicidal friend, for some ear time. For my part, I even found that a bit of a breakthrough with Matt took place when I let him in on what I was feeling and experiencing.

I at least had the sense to call Jerry and ask if we could get together with Judy. The next day, we did get together for breakfast at the Broken Yolk, a popular breakfast joint not far from the church. It was sort of like the paramedics arrived on the scene to defib and resuscitate me. These were two of the people for whom I had the most respect and trust. For them to take such an interest in my life has always registered in a big way with me. Both had recently been briefed on my increasingly confused and fragile state, and surely part of the morning was given to the latest news and confused perspective I bought that day.

Jerry in particular, being a pastor, knows the world hurts. He'd see it from working with his people for days after weeks after months after years. But his philosopical background and his interests in the massively disruptive 20th century and his "Jewish soul" no doubt give him profound insight into the kind of mental anguish that is the hallmark of our time. Since he realizes the world is plenty messed up, he doesn't need to be surprised to find it at the more granular level of the individual. I suspect to know the darkness like he seems to, he must surely have his own brushes with such existential despair. One can't just know what this is about having read it in books alone. Most of this I found out about him years later. At the time, I thought he just knew this because he was a pastor. Jerry got his place as pastor in no small part because he was asked why he should be the guy to pastor the church. He replied that he was a good listener. And so I could vouch for that, time and time again. A day like that Friday at the Broken Yolk is as important as it is not because anyone rolled up his or her sleeves and got to work under the hood of my life, but that he and Judy took the time to really listen and help me get things out of my head. But on a day like that, when the talk of suicidal ideation is more than garden variety downer talk, they needed to do more than listen.

Judy was always able to bring the down-to-earth, friendly, nearly motherly approach to her work. She had been ordained more recently while serving the church, and so people like me and our youth group were part of her educational and formational experiences as a professional. I probably gave her more than my share, but she was ever keen on helping any way she could and always was very appreciative of my trusting her to help.

The takeaway lessons that came from that day were perhaps few in number but great in import. All the things I said were validated and I felt heard. A great lesson from the day was one that I don't seem to have learned anywhere prior. Jerry said suicidal ideation is one thing, and perhaps far more common and normal than anyone lets on. He wanted me to know that to hurt is to be human, and to not wish that away. He cautioned that when that hurt is not accepted and aired is when things go tragically wrong. To hurt is human. It means one is alive and sensitive to the world. It's not a fault or a shortcoming. People who don't feel, don't hurt. But that's not the human lot. What he did want to clarify is that while the agony of existence is great, to snuff oneself is a selfish act, one that forfeits a hard won position of resistance against all that darkness that is already so prevalent and ready to move in on those who don't remain vigilant. It's as if to say "all hands are needed on deck for this life."

Another major lesson was just that if we take life as a book (where we simply can't skim ahead), we just don't know what the next page will bring. Or the next chapter. Well, hasn't that been the truth? Yeah, kid, what a difference a day makes. I left the breakfast with a renewed spirit, thanks to a steroidal dose of empathic listening, encouragement, advice, and a lot of love.

The Clown that Saved My Life

It wasn't merely abstract talk. The lesson of "what a difference a day makes" was about to be embodied in the day itself. Just the day before our breakfast meeting, I'd gone to Jack in the Box and after applying there got a callback with an interview offer for later on the 18th—hours after the breakfast wound up and left me with more determination to engage in life. I had thoughts about how the interview would go. Probably some question about why I wanted to be there, etc. What would I say? Since this was really the first job interview that seemed normal after the first two jobs I had, each with their own oddball ways of getting hired, how much of my life would need coverage? What if they found out I was depressed? Does that help or hinder? I'm sure when I got there it was far simpler than I would allow it to be in my head, and certain questions were to get certain answers and that's that. I got lucky. They had expressed at some point later on that they were looking for a friendly looking, white, native English speaker for their counter/register work. I got the job. What a difference a day makes.

So it wasn't the job that launched me on a glorious career in management at a major fast food company. Nope. I worked there for about a month, starting just the week following the booster breakfast. The five weeks that I did work there seemed rather lighter, like life was okay. Then the national e. coli scare happened and the company pared back their crews, and guys like me with no seniority were given several weeks off during the entire month of February. I would ride by to check in a couple times a week. And when I did get back, I was in there for a month or so and then with no real back up plan but feeling at some distance from the life I had when I started there, I turned in my notice sometime in April. Yeah, the job was not career stuff but it did do what I needed it to do: give me something to fill time, get some money for a while, start to see life differently. After a few weeks off, I happened upon another Subway that I could get to if I drove. I applied and got that job and it launched me into yet another major phase of life. But that's for another journal.

During that period of the layoff from Jack's, Melissa and I broke up and I was pretty torn up about that but not so much that I turned back to my despair before December 18. It was dark, but the lessons resonated in me: who knew what the next page brought?

As if to Prove the Point

This is a bit of a distraction from the core of the story about how fuggin' depressed I was at the end of 1992, but it makes a good point. Consider this. Just at the end of the year, in the last few days, I got a new boombox that featured a dual cassette player/recorder and a simple input for a microphone. In only a week, Matt and I went out to play some Rhythmic Catharsis songs out in our favorite parking garage. I took that boombox along and got a sound that surpassed what I ever had. And then most especially, the day after we did that, my life changed. It changed because for the first time, I was able to bounce the tape we made while adding new sounds of some additional percussion instruments and some voices. It wasn't what is properly known as overdubbing but it accomplished the layering of sound that gets you to the same place. That then was the bug that bit me, drawing me into the world of recording. For at least the next ten years from that point on, recording and creating music was a huge part of what I felt I was. The past ten years a bit less so but I still do it, and really, I have to say it was from that early time, just a couple weeks after I thought I was spent on life.

Keep turning the page. Keep turning those corners...

Thursday
Aug232012

Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +20

Some six weeks ago I wrote about the tearful departure on my first trip to Germany. This time, you get to read about the second trip, started a year and a day after the first trip concluded, and ending twenty years ago today, nearly six weeks after it started. This summer of 2012 has gone by pretty fast and in many ways has been an endless bummer, so even without my particular fondness for recalling some of these turning point experiences, I've found myself pining for what now seems like the best summer I ever had. Indulge me.

Six weeks can go by fast. And, after the emotional runup to the second trip to Germany—a period that essentially lasted the one year and one day between trips—six weeks seemed like a big ripoff. It proved to be enough though. Recall that most of my anticipatory time was spent with little on my mind but for this trip. I barely had a plan for what to do afterwards. But then all that focus was shattered by a girl. With Melissa appearing on the scene just two weeks prior to the trip, I found myself conflicted. Not about starting the trip. Not about being there. No, I'd say it was more that I had conditioned myself to not think much past August 23rd 1992, and here I was with a new girlfriend. My first girlfriend. And jeeze...that meant there was a reason to get homesick. A reason to come home. A reason to think of a future that consisted of more than taking three more classes at Mesa College and going out and wailing on the drums at odd hours in parking garages and other exotic locations. My plans sort of got spoiled with this girl stuff.

Of course, since Melissa was live and in the flesh, rather unlike the inaccessible and fickle Shelby, she at least served a functional role of being a girlfriend. She was young however and rather prone to the stuff of 16 year olds. I had no interest in the stuff of 16 year olds when I was that age, so that whole scene was not really anything of interest three years later when I was about to turn 19. However, since she did posess the body of a woman, I did take some interest. And with two weeks of a "taste test" before I left for Germany, I was of course now interested in returning to the exploratory prospects she offered. She proved something of a distraction from my great trip!

Oh, it got to be kind of an embarrassment when mail would be collected at the Rau haus in Garching. Melissa sent so much mail. One piece a day, I guess it was. Just halfway through the roadtrip, I got notice from Christoph that "[your] woman's crazy!" It was all that kind of coy, breathy, rose-hued kind of marshmallow fluff that 16 year old girls would write. Of course, it was totally welcome but I wish there was a way for it to not have reached the host mailbox. And then, you see, Steve and I hit the road for about half my time there and so the mail actually piled up for that time! I got the occasional phone notice that the pile was growing while we were gone. She may have timed some pieces such that I returned before they got to Germany. Jeeze. I wrote some stuff back to her but I can't imagine it being so prolific.

The Roadtrip


[View Ed in Germany, 1992 in a larger map.]

Steve and I did a road trip for just about two weeks. Originally my notes indicated we would have more of a crew going along, but it turned out to be he and I, which was probably as is should be. You can see the map here and if you follow from the cluster in the lower right, our trip headed westward from Garching (east of Munich) over to the French border via the towns of the Romantische Strasse (the Romantic Road, the charming and pretty well preserved Medieval towns that evoke old Germany) and then on up to Hildesheim and Celle, the northernmost point I have been to in Germany.

We mostly stayed in youth hostels while on the tour. That was an interesting thing because a lot of the hostellers were hikers, bikers, and other young itinerants from around the world who more or less arrived on foot and did larger leaps by bike or train. We arrived in Steve's dad's Mercedes Benz. Oh, it wasn't that the Raus were rich. They were comfortable, yes, but since Steve's dad Gerhard was a manager at a foundry just a few blocks from the house, he was willing to give up the car for two weeks (how cool is that?). If needed, Steve's brother Christoph was in town with the other car. Running around in the Benz of course meant I didn't get that quintessential Euro-touring experience, the Eurail trains, and the car's freedom did sort of cater to my American-ness. In some cases, at destinations along the Mosel River, there were some hostels placed in damn odd places, up the hills in old fortresses. I recall joking about that with fellow travellers and the ease of arrival thanks to the car. Hiking or biking some of those hills would have been a bear.

Other nights we camped or spent with a family friend or in the case of the few days in Hildesheim at the end of the roadtrip, Steve's aunt put us up in a gastehaus, a rather nice bed and breakfast kind of place. I think it was this one, just around the corner from his aunt's flat. In Saarlouis, close to the French border, we had a night at the house of a friend of Steve's father, who originated from that region. I don't remember our hostess but for the fact she entertained us for the day then drove us into town for the evening and gave us 100DM to spend on whatever, which must have been a bonus of about $70 of free money. Beers? Tasty dinner? Gelato? People watching? It was a steaming hot night and my notes recall it was a pretty good time before we caught a taxi back. That night was the last before it got so heavy it had to rain. For the weeks prior to that it was nearly unbearable. I remember sitting in the Benz, stopped at a parking space, just dripping while sitting still. Finally in Saarlouis, all that gave way overnight and the next day we awoke to the sweet sound of rain and a kind of permission to relax for a bit until we were ready to go.

I kept a notebook for the trip and it's actually of some use to me now, but there are plenty of Melissa distractions in there that I wish were piped down some. Not being a committed world traveller yet, I didn't have as much detail about the places I went. I wrote off a bunch of places as boring or tedious. Just recall I was there to see a good friend and to kill time. I couldn't really pretend to know or care much about the locations. Shallow American, I know. That said, while that is a failure of who I was in 1992, there is a lot of insight and understanding that even my shallow survey experience has added to my education that in the post 9/11 world has tempered my American blindness to the rest of the world.

Scattered throughout the journal book are some notes on the new food options that I tried: Greek (a little more than just a gyro sandwich from a mall food court, not to mention ouzo—an adventure for an 18 year old!), Yugoslavian, something more like authentic Italian, obviously several German dishes, including liver and onions, and a thing called leberkase (liver cheese). One night I broke off from Steve and had to suspend my Euro travels and do something familiar: eat Chinese.

Hildesheim

Hildesheim turned out to be a downer for me. Falling at the end of the roadtrip and close to the end of the six week trip, it naturally fell in that period of growing homesickness. Because it was not really a time of cafe-hopping and young person's fun times, instead spent with Steve's aunt Christina, with some family and social events (pretty completely in German, of course) during the time we were there, the fun went out of it in a big way. By that time in the tour my ankles and feet were complaining a lot. It also rained more and generally had a feeling of gloom over it all. Christina, a dentist and a socialite, did keep things happening with dinners, shopping (she bought Steve and I new dress shirts), and a day trip up to Celle a little farther north, but by this time in the tour my heart was already making its way home. This development alone startled me because of all the fervent anticipation that was building up before I landed in Germany. Melissa did her best to make me homesick, and I gather from reading my journal that Steve and I were getting a bit testy. He was probably impatient with me at points. It had that feeling that it went on about a week too long by the time we got to Hildesheim. It takes a distracted mind to do what I did then and consider all there was to see and do as "boring."

Last Days in Garching

On the 18th, we burned it on back across country from north to south in about six hours (the Benz on the autobahn was an asset here: my journal says we did some stretches at 120 miles per hour). All the sightseeing was done. No more stops but to take a piss and eat. Steve and I returned to our usual selves as we traversed the country and moved out of the area that was cloudy and gloomy. Once we were in familiar space and able to separate a bit, I retired to my domain there and read the stack of Melissa mail that had arrived while on the roadtrip. There were ten new pieces. I read all that and the ones I already had, twice through. My journal flowed with a couple pages of giddiness that today seems painful to review. We'd really only spent two weeks together and by this point, about five apart and I was dreaming of the future and looking for the great patterns of it all. Oy!

A couple days following our return were low key, amounting to time alone down near the Alz river behind their house, and making mix tapes from whatever I could gather from the Brothers Rau CD collection. (Steve had a quite cool tape deck that just seemed to mow down the stuff I had at home and those tapes are still in a box in the closet. Hearing them transports me back to this special period.) Little post trip duties like cleaning the car and tent and transitioning my pack to make ready to leave for San Diego were things that started to make the heart heavy as it was becoming apparent that the trip was indeed nearing its end.

On the 21st, just a couple days before landing in San Diego, there was one more trip out to Munich. This time it was the Brothers Rau and Steve's girl Ina who was along to see her brother in the hospital. We stopped in a huge music instrument store and Christoph bought a saxophone he'd been stalking. Steve bought a harmonica. For my part, I happened into a new line of Premier drums called Signia. It was a small jazz-fusion style kit with an 8, 10, 12, 14 set of toms that were some of the most amazing drums I'd heard to that point. I didn't realize that in just under two years, I'd end up owning a set of my own.

On the way back from Munich, we dropped Ina off at her home in Waldkraiburg. That was supposed to be the last I'd see of her. She was a lovely but timid creature who would write notes to me in English but hardly uttered a word in English. Later on that same day, the party at the church in Garching filled the evening. I doubt it was a party thrown in my honor but all the characters were there and I got a chance to see people who had brought some good times. Two girls, Simone and Pebbles (Baerbels), with whom a lot of fun was had that summer, were there. Simone had to leave a bit early but spent some time listening to tales from the trip. (I think she liked me. The pix all show her eyes set upon me in just such a way.) There was some free flowing drinks and a brewing thunderstorm that was quite the send off for this trip. Then, rather surprisingly, Ina appeared somewhat later on. Even more surprisingly, she spoke to me in English after not saying but a few words or sentences in all the number of times we'd seen each other that summer. She said that she felt the earlier farewell came up short so she got a ride over to Garching—about 16 miles—so she could say a nicer goodbye. No worries if she also planned to be with Steve too, but that was a sweet gesture. Once she did have to go, she offered a kiss too.

As the rest of the revelers were getting merry in their drink, there were fewer and fewer people to talk to. Fortunately, one fellow of about 16, Andreas, spent a couple hours from midnight till about 3 am talking about music and our novice philosophies on life. I seem to have enjoyed that talk as something of a substitute for talks that I'd hoped Steve and I would have had that summer. After Andreas left, everyone was making fools of themselves and that proved to be my recreation for the remainder of the party. I hesitate to report that the record indicates I dared do some karaoke singing once the crowd thinned. Even if it was just Dire Straits, that still makes me cringe, having some knowledge of what my vocal ability was in 1992!

The thunderstorm which was growing in intensity. I even naively tried to shoot pictures of it. While that was a silly pursuit, the thrill of waiting for the next burst of lightning was exciting. Not wanting to let the moment slip away so fast, in a lull moment, I had a chance to pull some pictures out and let my mind wander. Pictures of Melissa, Steve, and Shelby led me to wonder the ways the future would unfold, especially since now it would seem Steve would not be seen again—something that even these 20 years later has been proven true. At that time though, I was troubled by the distance that seemed to open up in the last week or so prior to this night of partying. It did feel that a period of history was closing and who knew what might come next. Eventually a very piss drunk Steve walked on home and finally at about 4:15 in the morning, Christoph and I sauntered on to the house too.

One Day Left in Germany

Saturday morning was low intensity. Eventually we all rose and got down to the church to clean up. On returning to the house, I packed up my stuff for real this time. The day had one of those quiet and reflective feelings about it. It was slower. The summer was still in force but since it was two months past solstice, the days were feeling shorter and of course the mixed feelings of impending departure and homecoming were heavy upon me. I milled around the yard. I went into the trees that lined the far reaches of the back yard. I visited the tree where I once carved EL+SD the year before. I updated it to reflect the current optimism embodied in the letters EL+MM. Christoph was playing his new sax in the back yard. Steve and I went a few streets over to where there were some horses. We took them a box of apples and fed them to the gentle beasts. The country feel of it felt welcoming and right. I was years and years from really feeling the rightness of it, but I got a glimpse of that slower pace, that more timeless world where even the technophilic Germans inhabit.

A further glimpse of that longer view on life was had while watching Steve's 90 year old grandfather Heinrich butter his bread that day. Or maybe it was that day that stuck most. I'd seen him do it over and over. A simple ritual repeated time and time again in his nine decades almost perfectly corresponding with those decades of the 20th century itself. I never got to talk to him directly, but his age suggests he might have been in World War One and of course deeply affected by the devastating Second World War. And all that rebuilding and change that followed. But I'll bet that as all that drama came and went, the task of preparing his breakfast didn't change all that much. I still think of what Steve's father Gerhard said to me about American bread: "You Americans have the best grain in the world but you make the worst bread ever!" In 2012, we Americans seek out "artisan" bread that tries to emulate the stuff Heinrich ate day in and day out for the better part of one century. We call those breads exceptional, but to the average German, bread is just a way of life. I can still see and taste the few of the endless varieties that I was able to sample while there. None of it is like the spongy and bland stuff we make here. To make it a bit more appealing, on the first trip I was shown the glorious goopy chocolate and hazelnut concoction, Nutella. A nice spread of full tilt butter and some good swipes of Nutella and even the most unusual dark grain bread was eagerly chomped up. For breakfasts, that and some of the best damned yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in, and full fat milk by the glassful was just like being in paradise. It was like that because back at home, all I knew was processed food. And, increasingly, food was more processed to remove fat and other bad stuff. But in Germany, I got a taste of real food, fat and all. It was glorious.

After dinner and some slide show of some pix Steve got, my night was real short. I got to bed close to midnight after saying all the requisite goodbyes to those who would not be seeing me off at 2:30 am. By that time in the summer, Christoph had taken a job at the foundry where his dad was a manager. (He had 3rd shift, starting at 10 pm, something that suited the insanely hot work around molten metal. Work like that was more a matter of financial independence and being responsible. He's since gone on to be a neurologist.) We left the house at 3:30 so we could get to the airport in Erding (northeast of Munich) by 5 am. This trip wound down in some ways like the first one. That is to say that the silence accompanied both of us all the way to Munich. But in some ways, this trip was far harder because there was really no idea of when we'd see each other again. It all seemed that maybe the trip had given us a week too much of each other. I had no visions for working at a place like Subway again so I could come back. This was it. If I was to travel, I'd probably want to see a different place for the simple reason that there are so many other places to see. It might be that we anticipated he'd come over to the USA for a trip eventually, but even these two decades later, that's not brought us together, even though he travels for work.

This send off at the Munich International Airport was brief and sorrowful, but for different reasons than the year before. This time words just failed us. Maybe silence would have been better than the poor attempts to cap the experience. "That's it." "Thanks." "Have a good life." "Keep in touch." "I can't come back next year." It led me to write thoughts on the plane trip back, thoughts that indicate some sense of a future I barely knew could exist when I was building up all that anticipation for the year prior. It seemed to me as I flew over the UK and the north Atlantic that Germany had filled the role it was to fill for me and that it was safe to move on, safe to get into whatever relationship would happen with Melissa. Even Shelby's departure for Alaska was something that made way for that.

The Return to San Diego

The fact was that as the sun was coming up in Germany on that Sunday morning of the 23rd, it was beginning the last day of summer for me before I'd have the cold water of a new school semester thrown upon my face. The very next day I was to sit in class, probably at 10 am. In fact, even that first day for me was everyone else's third day of class. I somehow got some pass to skip out since my trip was planned back in April and the semester dates weren't known. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There was still one day to live. Most of it was going to be a travel day, but back at home there would at least be one special someone for me to see, and it looked like we'd get a couple hours to be together.

Eleven hours on a plane or two finally got me to LAX where I passed through customs without a hitch. There was some cause to worry about that because I was carrying three bottles of wine in a cardboard poster tube. I wasn't sure if that would draw attention and get this 18 year old in trouble. But nothing happened. Then, upon leaving the giant LAX airport with my old man, the first stop was just outside the complex at a Subway. Okay, I got trained on eating good German food, but I missed Subway. Despite all the drama at the store where I once worked, I was still of the mind that I ate better there than at any other place and better still than at home where my old man could be called on to make stuff that curled my lip and wrinkled my brow. I greedily gobbled down whatever sandwich I got there. And then we burned it on home to San Diego. At least it was a Sunday afternoon.

When I got home around 6 pm, I checked the mail, showered, and scrambled out fast so I could go see Melissa at her aunt and cousin's apartment just about a block from where I used to work at Subway. I went to get my bike from the shed and in my haste, I inadvertently knocked over a hopper of sand for sandblasting. I raced on over to the apartment on the bike, and must have been a blur as I carried that bike up to the third floor apartment. I locked up the bike out of view, peered in and sized up that I could make my bold entrance in one swift move. Striking a tough guy's rugged voice, I waltzed right in saying, "Hey, do I have to knock or can I just barge right in???" In no time, Melissa was off the couch! A few minutes later when we peeled ourselves apart, she started to shower me with little artifacts of devotion during that prolonged absence, et cetera, et cetera. Just recall that I had been gone almost six of the not quite eight weeks we'd been going together.

We walked on over to the local park and playground and found a place where we sucked face for a couple hours to make up for lost time. Around 9 pm we headed back toward the apartment but ended up at the Mickey D's across the street (and just across the lot from my old Subway, where I was officially on restraining order until May of the next year). I saw that buddy Matt was over at Subway so I sent Melissa over to give him the news that I was back. He came over and gave me a few minutes' greeting and rather surprised me by his being sort of not himself. That is, where did the rather crude and impetuous Matt go? This was a Matt who seemed to have missed me some. After he left, I dared walk by Subway on the way to the Baskin Robbins for a bit of a treat. Then it started to sink in how tired I was. I'd been up for 30 hours by that point. I woke up at 2:30 in Germany, which was like being up at 6 pm on Saturday night in San Diego. And prior to that I had only about two or three hours' sleep anyway. It added up to most of 50 hours if I was to consider Saturday in Germany. I was ready to drop. Melissa and I went back to her aunt's place where I collected my new collection of knickknacks and after a shorter than usual farewell, I made my way home on the bike. It was quite a day.

The Day After

I got to bed maybe around 11 and at 6 am the next morning I had to get up and take the rental car back to the Enterprise yard by 9. (The old man would ordinarily have a truck or motorcycle to choose from.) But before that I fixed up my room a bit and blasted some music that I'd brought back home, and some mix tapes that Melissa gave me. I don't know how many nights she had to sit by the radio, listening to the soft rock station KYXY, to capture those songs to a couple 90 minute tapes, but she did. (Even to this day, some of those crude starts and stops are so imprinted in my memory that hearing the songs played as complete recordings or with different DJ talk still sounds odd to me. I still have a soft spot for Chicago's You Come To My Senses for blasting out of the speakers that morning with punch and clarity. Okay... I digress.) I drove the car over to the yard and was nearly late to school. I recall racing that thing around like crazy, even though it was an automatic. Part of it was still a bit of adrenaline about being home, but really, I think I was just trying to emulate the style of driving I experienced in Germany. While there, I had a few minutes re-learning how to drive stick and must have picked up a "wait to brake" idea. I recall driving like a madman as I returned that car.

While at school, I found I was dropped from one class already and could not get one or two others, and then settled on a couple that I was able to get. There wasn't much to school that day except maybe that as I went to the restroom I took off my clip on sunglasses that I got earlier in the year and had worn all around Germany. I set them down on the porcelain and then walked off and left them there. Upon returning, I could not find them. Dang. I could get all around a foreign country with them but then I lose them in my hometown!

I rode off to get lunch at Subway on the way home from school. Stopped to buy some singles of hitherto unheard Def Leppard tunes and filled out an application at that same music store. I hadn't worked since mid April, so the funds were feeling low and the morale was still at a place of acceptability. That wore away as the months went on and I got more and more depressed as winter set in. As it happened, it took until December 18 before I got a job at Jack in the Box. Interestingly, that was the ticket out of a mounting crisis of depression that only earlier that day was being discussed over breakfast with Jerry and Judy, my pastor and associate pastor/youth leader at church—a place I had not really gone to in about a year. As for the rest of the first whole day back, my grandmother came over and helped me to run some errands in the car, and I told her all about the trip. Shelby called from her dad's place in Hayward, CA and we reconnected after the two months since we saw each other.

Life was just about to start all over. School. Job search. Playing drums and creating the basis of rudimentary songs with Matt. A new girlfriend who was new and yet not new at once. We'd been "together" for almost two months. I was planning to take her out to dinner later in the week when we'd mark our two month anniversary. But it was more like our three week aniversary. (I anticipated maybe one bottle of wine would go to that, but that idea was soundly trounced early on by parental pressure. So I donated one bottle to her parents.) 

Germany was in my rearview mirror now. Auf wiedersehn, Deutschland.

Saturday
Jul142012

Rückkehr nach Deutschland +20

...Continued from yesterday. But the story picks up a year later.

Not content with that Munich parting of the ways a year and a day earlier, I touched down in Germany once again and promptly kissed the airport floor. You read right. I did really kiss the stone tile floor at the Munich airport terminal on July 14th, 1992. The time between was a sandwich filler of, well, sandwich making at Subway, and a lot of filler time surrounding what little my life had been during that time of alienation and estrangement and frustration and even a legal matter that I came out the loser for. During the later part of that yearlong period, two things emerged that saved it from a complete writeoff of a life: the increased activity with Matt Zuniga, my fellow exiled drummer boy/death metal screamer, and the start of a new relationship just two weeks before I was due to fly off to Germany.

Pathetic Life

In the grand scheme of things, I had it good. But since it's a little like a fish not knowing what water is, my pathetic little life of broken hearts, work strife, the old man having a new girlfriend (and then just as quickly losing her) and adjustments after high school seemed to be the stuff of existential angst at times. Getting all the way through high school without a girlfriend does make one prone to panic or worry. Having your imaginary girlfriend send all your letters back after a misunderstanding over $4.20 loan for a sandwich did put me on edge during a period when so many things were new and unfamiliar. Hardly a one of my high school era contacts (from school) were durable personalities that remained in the picture that first year out. I was in an ambivalent period toward church. I began to let work dominate my life, with the sustaining community of church folk being pushed aside for the independence that work seemed to allow. The hours were pushing hard against church hours, and eventually I just stopped going. Meeting Matt at Subway was more of a shock than a salve to me then. But in that weird way, he did prove to be the leading buddy for that era, the guy with whom I spent time. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel like a step backwards in those early days. Matt and Steve could not be two more different people. What a new thing, pondering that both had their place in my life. Sooner or later though, there has to be someone to help a guy discover porn!

With my return to Germany being about the only thing of any meaning to me that year, everything was just a hurdle or a pothole or other obstacle it seemed. It felt like I'd die if I didn't get back to Germany to see a friend. Maybe I invested too heavily that way, and maybe it would be a miserable failure or who knows what. But the trip was all that mattered. I had hardly any plan for how to live a meaningful life after it though. The late breaking developments with Melissa changed that — in my journal from July 13, 1992, I asked why that day had the extraordinary ability to make people sad (last year leaving Steve and this year leaving Melissa). But prior to starting up with Melissa, there was some hope of doing more exiled drumming with Matt, and a semester to return to at school.

(All you people should be happy that I'm telling you what a hard time I was having. That has been a longer thread in my life anyway, always having some existential discontent at work. I tell you this because if you were offered my sappy ass journals from the first months with Melissa — well, let me not even dwell there. I cringe at it. I'm a bit stunned by how fast my fretting about getting to Germany turned to the most saccharine and sappy fluff. Girls!)

The Teutonic Toil Trade-off

I'd also have to look for work. Having gotten fired from Subway in April, I guess I asked around for work for a little while, but probably didn't expect much, knowing that I'd be leaving soon and I'd be in an odd place to either explain that yes I was interested in the job but would need to leave for the summer. Or it would be a deal breaker to stay quiet and then make an announcement that I was leaving. More awkward still would be any request that my job be held while I was gone. At less than six weeks prior to takeoff, I pretty much gave up looking until my return in August. In June, local drummer Craig Zarkos was the first ever to ask me to be his drum tech, though his work involved trips to Los Angeles. I turned him down because I had other plans for the summer, and why the hell would I want to be a drum tech? The coming job search was gleefully delayed until my return to my default San Diego life, but even upon my return, it took most of four months to land a gig — at fucking Jackin' The Box. I do have to say though that by that time — December 18, 1992 — I was having my first real existential depression and suicidal ideation. Even getting the gig at JIB was cause to start to see life a little differently. It did just enough of that before the rather unfortunate e. coli scare nearly shut them down, causing dudes like me to get put "on call" for a month or so while all that got ironed out. Of course, I did not get called. Skeleton crew was good enough for them.

The miracle of getting to Germany was made all the more poignant because of the timing of the purchase of my flight ticket. I bought that on April 7, 1992 for something like $960 or so, but then was fired from Subway just under one week later on the 12th. When faced with a coincidence like that, the only thing to do is to take a breath and proclaim that Subway served its purpose. After that initial and financially bruising commitment to the trip, the next thing to do was to get a new camera that I would not be troubled by, and that would be automatically advancing and which would not let me do something so stupid as to rewind my film as I shot it! Maybe I had forgotten how hot it was the year before, and maybe I had no idea how hot it would be this summer, particularly since this trip would be nearly three times as long. Having not worn shorts for about seven years, I did not entertain the idea. Not long after getting there, it would become pretty apparent that my apparel was appallingly antithetical to the arduously antagonistic temperatures. I finally broke one day and some shorts were offered to me before the bunch of us headed down to the Alz river not far from Steve's house. Aside from all that, I was amply prepared to enjoy my time.

Fly Day

I had spent much of the Sunday before my flight with Melissa, and for part of the day, with Matt in a few hours of Rhythmic Catharsis jamming. I had this habit of making a note of how many hours Melissa and I spent each time we got together. This quantification didn't serve any real purpose except to make me a slave to stuff that never should have been. I guess it did have some use to a horny 18 year old guy who frankly got a little anxious about time slipping away outside of any relationship. Nonetheless, the record shows that on July 12, 1992, we spent 13 hours together. Understandable, considering it would be the last we'd see of each other for nearly six weeks. She had her mom bring her down for a special final send off that was documented as lasting 20 minutes on the day, just before I finally got in the car with my old man and drove off to Los Angeles. He had a few errands to run while in LA and my flight was not set to leave until 7:40pm and apparently it left an hour and a half later. We left sometime around noon, I guess.

I was impressed by the late setting of the sun in Europe. After all, the latitude is higher there and the summer daylight was just past its solstice peak. Getting to Munich at 9pm was still partially lit up. I was met by Steve, brother Christoph, their friend Werner, and most surprisingly, Steve's new girlfriend Ina. This whole girl thing threw us both off, compared to the experience of 1991. I think he'd gone out with her for a while but of course for me, Melissa was just a two week experience for me. Shelby, worth a mention because she was settling in a a friend after we made up following the nightmarish experience of her sending my letters back to me by USPS, was nowhere near the figure that she was the year before. While Steve and I have never been more than buddies who had some far-reaching conversations, of course, having girlfriends does sort of change the dynamic, and I think I must have felt something of a loss that after all those 52 weeks, things would not just be he and I. Of course, I did anticipate that I'd be immersed in his life among friends for half the trip or so, and then we'd go out for a two week road trip that was just the two of us. I don't recall having raised the issue. It would have only been stressful. 

Once I landed and kissed the airport floor, the whole crew of us somehow got to an outdoor carnival kind of event, probably in Waldkraiburg where Ina lived. I might have enjoyed it more if I were rested. Eventually we cut that short and were on our way to the Rau haus in Garching a. d. Alz.

My journal entry from the travel day (spanning perhaps more than 15 hours) was surprisingly short for such a momentous time, and also considering how long I was on the flights from Los Angeles to Geneva, then on to Zurich, and finally to Munich. In a lot of ways it was a total throwaway entry but there is a note to myself to refer to a microcassette tape that I anticipated would be my journal for the trip. I doubt I got more than a couple nights into that project before it lost its appeal. I think I still have the tape but no machine. I wonder what that kid would say to me if I were to play it now? I do still recall sitting in the Rau living room that first night, up until midnight or afterward, jet lagged and tired, but so bleepin' happy to be on German soil again.


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Friday
Jul132012

Auf Wiedersehn, Deutschland +21

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

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

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

1991 Personal Zeitgeist

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

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

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

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

Like Father, Like Son. Sort of.

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

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

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

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

The Trip

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

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

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

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

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

Trains

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

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

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

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

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

Afterward: Yeah, Whatever

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

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

To be continued in 1992...

Tuesday
Mar272012

Sandwich Art Imitating Life Imitating Sandwich Art +20

You know you don't amount to much when your life feels like it is held together or drawn apart by a fast food job. For a young person who is starting to struggle with gaining independence and identity, a job of any sort glistens with a kind of promise, even with the pitfalls that accompany working for places that will alternately over- and underwork a person according to unseen forces, usually for as close to minimum wage as possible. So it was with me at my second job (and the first that happened after graduating high school). Around this season of 1992, 20 years ago now, it pretty much turned on a dime from day to day, or week to week. Working at Subway Sandwiches #10731 (the ability for the brain to retain such information is one of the natural wonders of the world) went from a blessing to a curse in a small way just like most jobs do, but in March 1992 it really got to be way more of a soap opera drama than any fast food joint should be allowed. For an 18 year old kid who didn't have but one goal in life at that point—saving to get to Germany for the summer—it was worth the indignities for a while, but then it got just over the top with the change in ownership at my store. The actual usefulness of the place drew to a close by mid April, but the whole experience during that era has continued to unfold in a fractal-like manner.

His Chuckness

If ever there was a risk of me becoming a "company man" it was at that Subway up until March 1992. But that came crashing down in the space of a few weeks, and was a totally exploded idea by the 12th of April. The owner I worked under until March 10th was Chuck Perricone, a delightfully salty but serious businessman of about 50, and a well-respected franchisee from what I could tell. (I profiled him and other experiences in other entries that can be found with a tag search of Subway.) He had a few other stores in Miramar and Mira Mesa, about 8-10 miles out. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew to start this store from scratch. I never got the story, but in February, employees started to get news that the store would be sold. Soon after, a Jewish couple (yes, that affects the story), Abe and Arlene Levy started working in the shop, as was required for new owners to gain experience before they could take over. I didn't like them much from the start but was advised by Chuck that maybe they'd keep some of the staff on for continuity's sake. And, by that point, I was the third in line after Chuck and manager Steve. And Steve was already making his exit by being careless and flip. It got to be annoying while he was still on Chuck's crew, but on the last day, March 10th, Steve became one like me and Matt Zuniga, and we cut up and had some fun, even in Chuck's presence! Chuck seemed inclined to put in a good word for me with the Levys since I had pretty much earned the reputation as a brownnoser by then. Whether he did or not, I persisted in my meticulous cleaning and was pretty good on the line after about seven months there. I thought that might earn me some grace with the Levys.

The Jew Crew

The next day, Abe and Arlene took over. And immediately their presence was felt. Hours were cut. Days were cut. Split shifts of about 10-2 and 6-11 (nine hours) were part of the scheduling strategy (more so after I left). One or the other of them worked a morning or evening shift each day, and so I worked with Abe mostly for closing shifts. They had three sons, ranging from about 12-21, and at least one of them were on the scene too. Adam, the oldest, was often on my shifts, apparently as "the" Levy for that shift. I guess it was easy for them to slash labor when they only retained three employees (Matt, Angela, and me), and then the rest is done with five family members who probably all lived in the same household. My records indicate that only two of the last days I worked there were shared with Matt. If I recall right, Matt and I alternated nights, and Angela worked days. Maybe Matt did days too, in a split shift arrangement. In about no time, it made a lot of sense.

A franchise like Subway has a regional compliance overseer fellow come by every few weeks to measure a store's compliance with the national standard. Are the onions cut the right way? Are there the right number of slices of each meat in each sandwich prep layout? Are the breads being cut with the Subway "U" channel? All that stuff is monitored and graded. I got to know enough about it all while Chuck was there, and right away, I saw the Levys deviating. Maybe it was a bit less meat here, or not offering condiments there. Corner cutting. Even coupons that were for national promotions, say, for any 6", were honored with an option to get the cheapest three sandwiches—a Cold Cut Combo or Veggie or Meatball, for example. Customers would come in and ask for the special and Abe flatly rejected it and offered his shoddy substitute instead. The customer might not want it. Maybe he was cowed into another, more expensive sandwich at list price. Or maybe he got the cheap stuff. Or maybe he left. Under Chuck this would be punishable by death, but here it was... the new owner himself was pulling this trick!

I said the Levys were Jewish. Unfortunately, Abe in particular, a late 40s looking guy probably from Israel with a thick accent to boot, rather rotund and bespectacled, was a spittin' image for the stereotypical money grubbing Jew. He made no bones about it. It was like he relished the act of raking in money. One day in full sight of customers during a lull in business, I asked him why he was gaming the offers like he was. Or why he didn't want me to spend so much time cleaning. Or whatever was done so differently from Chuck's method. He went to the register, opened it up, and with a stern voice possessed with capitalist fervor, exclaimed that all he cared about was if that thing was full each night. I think a couple customers turned their heads. The one day Matt and I worked together, just before the end, he caught us standing and talking a bit. He got all riled up, hollering across the work area and in plain earshot of all, "What is this booolshit? What does it mean? Am I paying you to stand around and boooolshit?" He issued me my check for the week and sent me out early. A customer asked me if I was fired, and I said I didn't know. He sounded genuinely concerned and said he'd register his own complaint about the matter. The very next day Abe was arguing with customers about their order and Abe decided the best solution was for them to be kicked out.

Arlene was a bit less demonstrative. She was a bit more level headed in general but after my naive attempt to narc out Abe's antics, I'm pretty sure she started to plot my demise there. Saying she was more level headed was relative; she seemed to hail from New York and had the thick accent you'd expect, and not a small bit of New Yawk attitude. But she wasn't so blatant as Abe to tell off a customer, or to almost hug and kiss the cash register. Since her kids were all there, she did seem a bit motherly, but let's not make too much of that. She was a mama bear.

Their sons were obviously not so annoying, but I had a hard time figuring out if Adam was a turncoat since he was the Levy-on-schedule many nights when I closed. In the end, I think he was kind of a double agent. He had a Z car that had a pretty bad assed stereo and speaker system in it, and one night he invited Matt and I to put on some CDs. It was pretty intense. I suppose he got some extra perspective on us that way. He was already cautioning me to not clean as much as I was inclined to. After all, Chuck used to intone, "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." I kept a very, very clean shop. I thought that would be of use to them but they told me to just get the job done. Nothing special.

Maybe they thought they were running their own deli in New Yawk, and that the franchise rules didn't matter. Or maybe they were short timing it. I don't know. I just know they did everything just about the opposite as I had learned, and that seemed impossible if they wanted to carry on as franchisees.

Germany?

Steve Rau and I at senior breakfast before graduation, June 1991The entire reason I put up with Subway was to get to Germany. I can't say that earning a glorified minimum wage at a 20-30 hour job as a sandwich jock was worth much beyond this one goal of mine, except that it did help pay for the trip. The calendar bears this out in a pretty clear way: I bought my flight ticket (nearly $1000) at the Triple A office next door on April 7th and was fired from Subway on April 12th. Germany was like the promised land that year and all the ups and downs of Subway and everything else only strengthened my resolve. It's hard to communicate what a feeling it was to get back there after the all-too-short few days I spent in Garching in 1991 with school buddy Stephan Rau. Graduating from Madison the year before brought our in person relationship to an end, were it not for the trip I took there just weeks later. But it was just a taste, staying at his place for a few days at the end of a larger tour my old man put together. Not having a clue how, I told Steve I'd "come back next year." It was a bit audacious considering I had no job or too much more in savings when I said that. During the exactly one year between leaving in 1991 and arriving in 1992, the year of Subway and of starting in on college courses, the year of being exiled from the house to play drums, the year of being pretty depressed since my already small social circle from high school and church was turned into something unrecognizable, and that almost dangerously revolved around Subway itself... during that year, Germany was the white city on the hill for me. Nothing seemed right without it. Of course, I had no idea what would become of me after I got back, but that was so far in the future. How soon could July 13th arrive?

Drummers With Attitudes/the Pig Thing 

At "the bridge" March 1992 where DWA was launched, at least on tapeWith my only option to play drums having been reduced to literally playing outside, requiring lugging the kit around in Matt's car most times, he and I spent time on weekends or afternoons before we reported to work. We found a quite acceptable location in Mission Valley, located in a rather secure and sheltered space that wasn't claustrophobic. What gave us a bit of sustained fun was the advent of recording and having something to document our youthful exploits. Of course, it was all really dumb shit. On March 8th, the recording that basically launched us as "Drummers With Attitudes" was done in this spot under a freeway bridge. Matt and I, being pretty bored with lives of apparent meaninglessness, were horsing around, breaking glass, yelling, and honking the car horn and whatever else we could do to blow off steam that accumulated as we worked at Subway during the good old days! That humble boom box recording turned out to be the cornerstone of a sustained effort pretending I was a musician with a band that I was responsible for, and making recordings and doing promo stuff, even including a joke fanzine a few months later—a prototype effort at a blog, essentially.

But on the evening of Abe Levy's big cash register outburst and his busting Matt and me for standing and talking after lunch rush, Matt and I retired to his studio apartment after work. Both of us were rather shocked with how the day went, what with working two shifts each, and all the Abeisms from that day, we were blowing off steam and somehow started to talk all sorts of shit that found its way onto paper in some joke "rap" that might be delivered over some drums one day out at the bridge. To read it now would be pretty dismal at many levels. A rant that smacks of antisemitism and um, a lack of sensitivity about body diversity? Check. A dreadful attempt at songwriting? Check. The anger of young men full of self-righteousness, and who know everything? Check. Yep, it's pretty lame and I'm pretty sure it is gone now. But you know what? It was essentially all true as far as our experience went. To us, or at least to me, it wasn't exaggeration to say we were dealing with fat, greedy Jews. The title itself was meant to be rather offensive too, in order to make every possible stab. "Roly Poly Porky Boys" was meant to condescend just as much. I might have to give myself more credit for being "punk" than I typically have, but even legit punk music was rather more refined and musical than this! If anything, the drums and vocal nature of things hinted a direction closer to rap or hip hop, which neither of us really liked, but gave us a couple references for naming ourselves and other bits along the way. Later in the year, one of our recordings was entitled Acoustic Rap or Acousti-Crap?

I didn't intend to launch my music career with such a wretched thing. I didn't intend to launch a band with songs at all. But such a thing slowly took shape as I drew inspiration from being disillusioned and angry at things. I put pen to paper and wrote some of the worst dreck ever using all cliches available to me. We made our first attempt at recording it just two days after I got canned. And then there was one unusual instance that emerged when Matt and I hauled up to some warehouse north of here and jammed with a guitarist and bassist I used to go to school with who made admirably meathead metal out of RPPB and recorded it the day after our first recording at my house. (On a clandestine basis, we set up at my house, but all the truly fun playing was done on the run.)

The pig fetish that people associate with I am associated grew out of this sordid mess. I assure you it didn't start with pink, fluffy toys. Hog Heaven did start with toys in 1996, but this is where the entire pig thing begins.

The Firing

Things might have been looking up that week at Subway. I worked five days in one calendar week which was notable considering the downward tendency of late. April 9 was the infamous Abe day. The 11th was unusually well staffed at night. Matt and I were let to work together. But in a break with the previous month's pattern, Arlene was in the office, and son Josh (the middle son, probably 16) was there too. With all that staffing, cleaning got done quickly. We were standing around, making our fun. We had no business so we got pretty casual and even ended up taking our little laugh session outside to the parking lot. There was probably some shit talking. No Arlene though. Still in the office. While I had the chance, I told her about Abe's antics the previous days and pronounced them wrongheaded. Apparently she and I got into some words. Yeah, all that crashed and burned like bacon wrapped shrimp at a yeshiva cafeteria! I don't recall what happened in what order, but the night was an odd mix, like the gathering of clouds before the storm. How could it be that I just argued with my boss yet was outside laughing it up with her son and my always troublemaking buddy coworker?

The answer came clearly enough the next morning when I was called by Arlene and told I was done there. It was Palm Sunday, which of course meant nothing to her, and really, probably nothing to me at that time. But if it was any concern to her, I guess she might as well fire the uppity kid before Passover.

Matt, not being one of much conviction in such matters, was retained and worked there so long he outlasted the Levys and ended up working some time for the family of Indian owners that took over after them. They didn't know or care about the Levy drama so in 1995-96 I started to hang out on Matt's shift which resulted in some amazing examples of Clerks-like use of business space that went far beyond anything that happened while I worked there! But in 1992, so much for the vague ideas of solidarity that if he or Angela or I got canned, we'd all walk out on the Levys. He and I kept on with bad attitudes about the whole thing, but he somehow managed to keep his head down and play their game. I never really liked it and I used to egg him on to challenge the split shift thing and other bits he regaled me with over time. In the days and weeks after getting fired, I carried on my usual trips there to get dinner, or to meet up with Matt after work. Of course this didn't meet Levy family favor, and they tried to dismiss me. At least, they kept me outside and wanted me gone.

The Law

On April 28th, I was in my driveway, probably talking to my old man as he worked in the garage. A car drove up and presented me with an envelope of documents. I didn't know what to make of this stranger walking up and passing this off on me, but inside was a restraining order from the court on behalf of the Levys. It contained a few bits of truth but mostly was trumped up with hyperbolic accounts of the threat I supposedly posed to them. Small things like kicking around a bit of wood bark in the parking lot while waiting for Matt to get out of work was transformed into throwing rocks at their windows. The order dictated that I'd stay 1000' from the store for one year. I had to go to court to say my two sentences in vain. But before doing that I was able to get a character witness letter from Chuck Perrecone, the previous owner, who reported me as an excellent employee. I got a letter from my pastor, who said that while diplomacy training might be of use, but a restraining order was overkill. Of course, when is the law going to take sides with an 18 year old over such a thing as this? Any business owner is going to be favored going in.

Since the restraining order came after our little song, the biting criticism already voiced in that bit of anti-Hallmark verse was validated and I seem to recall extending the lyrics or making a sequel. I was both bitter and self righteous. I wrote to Subway corporate in Connecticut and told them about the Levy debacle. I took to getting my dinner at another local Subway, making sure to report the Levy method just in case I could get another jab in. I was a pup on the pantleg for a few minutes there, but it was pretty pointless. I wasn't used to being rejected like this. Anyway, I had Germany coming up on the calendar, and while in a holding pattern for that, it was a big thing for me to set about refinishing my drum set and embracing the DWA activity as something more productive than staying immersed all the Subway crap going on.

The Law Taketh, the Law Giveth

Matt's ability to stay at that shop for about four years after all this astounded me. And then he only left because he joined the army. Now that didn't make any more sense to me than his Subway tenure. While I was on restraining order I pretty much kept my distance but flirted a bit. After all, my bank was across the parking lot! On the day when the order expired in May 1993, I sort of made an occasion to go in for a bit of nosh as if celebrating a birthday, accompanied with a girl, Jenn Cody, who was more than a school acquaintance but less than a date. That whole gesture of course carried a bit of a mocking air about it, and I don't remember if it was just Matt there who would have known, but I did do it. At about that same time in May 1993, I got a job at another Subway with a different owner, one who knew all about the Levys (from being in the same office as the local compliance monitors worked from) and shared my opinion of them. My time at that Subway came and went in about a year and a half and the Levys still owned 10731.

The fact that Matt worked there still led to a number of rather comic times, but one instance that vindicated my attitude that the Levys were up to no good was when Matt showed me some legal court documents relating an instance where Abe and his youngest son were in a CVS or Sav-On store or something like it, and were trying to shoplift some video tapes. Abe, being a chunky dude, maybe was hiding stuff under an oversized coat or something. As he and his son were leaving the store, the security team closed in on him and challenged him to stop and drop the goods. He put up some resistance and was wrestled to the ground and apparently got hurt. This lawsuit somehow was trying to accomplish the most ridiculous bit of table turning where Abe was suing for some compensation to help offset expenses associated with injuries from rough handling. Ahem?

Epilogue

Some months ago I got a blog response from Angela, who at the time was only about 16 or 17. She had searched for Matt on Google and found nothing much except the post I wrote last year that illustrated how Subway was at the intersection of so many parts of my life then. She was quite amused at my recollection, and we wrote some notes back and forth about the "good old days." To the extent that's true, it really should be limited to the Chuck months. Not much of it is inherently good, especially if you're a young guy yet to have scored with a girl yet, not really connected at your new school, or if you've faded from your once-vital church community, and also aware that the home and family picture is shifting too. It's not all that great when your "best friend" sends an envelope of your letters back to you because you misspeak about money. It's not too exceptional when you don't feel you're born to make sandwiches, not born to serve customers, not born to mop floors, and not born to give a shit about a company that could just as easily throw you under the bus—even for being "too" dedicated to your work.

Chronologically, this tale closes the book on the first Subway job from August 1991 to about May 1992. After this, there is the other store that in due time will be told about next year. Subway might have just been a job to work and walk away from if it wasn't the backdrop for such a period of life as it was. Or certainly if Matt had not been part of it not just during my time there, but for years later. Who knew in those sunny summer days in August 1991 how such a job would end, particularly in the way it spun off my "development" as an "artist"? Really, I'm still chiefly glad that it served the purpose that I most consciously articulated: to get to Germany. Later on this year, I anticipate I'll be telling that story. At least I hope to. I realize that I didn't even write anything about my first trip last summer! I was caught up in graduation memoirs and a bit later on with 20th reunion stuff. I should do better this year since that trip was so important to me.

Wednesday
Jun222011

The +20 Blues

All you loyal readers out there have seen the +20 posts around here that take a stroll down memory lane and look at my coming of age. I've felt that 1989 was when things started to matter in a way worth taking note of, so I have been doing a couple years of this now. But of course, we are at the 20th anniversary of graduating from high school, so that kind of makes 2011 notable.

In a few hours I plan to send off a check to the organizer of the reunion event. It is not an expensive affair. It's just being held at a sports bar (um, maybe I should stay home?) but all told, it's $50 for Kelli and me and that is pretty cheap kicks. I hear tell of a picnic on the following day.

One thing that I think people always ask themselves is if this reunion routine is worth anything. I went to my ten year, never expecting much, and not getting much in return. Some people hated high school. I got along better as it went grade to grade. I ended feeling quite okay about it. So I had few qualms about going to the reunion in 2001. I actually had a few nice things to say to some people who did encourage me to play music, even if it was typically yearbook fodder. I was uncynically willing to take that encouragement at face value.

Again, I have had scarcely any contact with anyone in the intervening ten years. Just a periodic chat relationship with the organizer, who was someone I ran into at Costco about a year before the last reunion. Aside from that, no sustained relationships except with Steve Rau, my German friend, and even he and I go long periods between calls. This time around though, there is Facebook and Skype and all that. I just spent nearly four hours on Skype a week ago, talking to the organizer, Candie, and Bryan, a fellow I had some friendly ties with back then. That was a whole new kind of time, talking to them! Shi-yat... when we were in school together, I recall my first encounter with a "chat room" in the library. One person at one computer could talk to another person at the neighboring computer by sending messages back and forth! I had little use for it then. I hated computers.

So how to make sense of it all? Talking by Skype to people I barely know, but having this uncanny ability to draw from some of the same experiences? A couple of us scanning our yearbooks, holding them up to the camera, and cutting up like old pals. So odd. Got some new Facebook friends too. (Also interesting is that by total surprise, I found a first grade picture of Shelby Duncan. It was something I had seen but not in ages, and I can't recall if it was through someone at Madison or from Shelby herself. Was an odd mixing of types.)

Now that I have done extensive work bringing my monster-journal Life At The Top into the digital realm, I recall that all the stories of any real substance and transformation pretty much have little to do with my fellow Warhawks (I called the mascot "Warthogs" then). Stories about church, wanting to be a teacher, Shelby, the most important parts of befriending Steve, and a few others are largely talking about stuff that happened outside the schoolyard walls. Some things are retold in LAAT that are school-related, but they tend to be less important in a larger sense. I noticed there was a lot of talk about when I felt recognized or when I somehow had my ego stroked. It is a fair thing to have one's ego develop as a young person, so I suppose that was what it was. I'd like if it didn't sound so self serving. Such was my aptitude for writing and reflecting. It was a personal journal, after all.

We'll see if things like the social media and Skype do anything to sustain things. Already, after a giddy day of being plunged into that stuff and looking sites over, I am of mixed mind about this. No doubt everyone has had their rocky 20 years, like me. What I do wonder is if, with all the distractions of life today, can people work their way backwards and slow down a bit to connect beyond the superficial stuff? Reading my LATT journal indicates that I was not into superficial relationships then. And I tended to think of a lot of school relationships as wanting for substance. I didn't feel too connected to people then. That is why Steve and Shelby were so huge then, and why I spilled so much ink to talk about it. I'd like to connect to people more now, especially after life kinds of dulls the edges between people, and eventually it would be nice to see more commonality than difference. No doubt the popular kids have taken their lumps too, and maybe there is something to talk about that runs below the surface. Here's hoping.

Sunday
Jun122011

Life At The Top + 20

scan of the original manuscript of Life at the Top.The original draft of Life At The TopIn a gesture perhaps only of significance to me, I have now posted to this site my original journal entry that set the pace for about ten years of handwritten entries, and now about ten years of electronic entries. The documentation is elsewhere on the site, and also on this post which features the entire text of the thing with just enough fixes for clarity. It also features several pictures and documents to help spice it up so you can see some of the characters involved. It is a long, 6,000 word entry that takes on a range of experiences during my high school time, with a particular emphasis on my senior year, which was perhaps as good as it got for me in my academic career.

At the time of its original writing, I was barely aware of my future. I had only a big plan to go to Europe a few weeks later with my old man. I was planning to go to Mesa College in the fall, which doesn't exactly show a total plan for a glorious future! It was sort of standard issue stuff. I never applied to any colleges as a senior. I had no big ambitions. I wanted to play my drums, listen to my music (it was on that same day after graduation when I bought my first Yes cassette, 90125). I was head over heels for Shelby, who is well discussed in the entry. (Told from the perspective my naive, wishful point of view that interestingly was already tempered with the kind of insight I needed to know all about how things would play out, and did!) I had no more than a few weeks' future, really.

On reading the giant entry now, several times over in the course of transcribing and editing, what strikes me is how many of my present concerns are somehow present in this document from 1991 that narrates experiences and impressions and hopes from the years leading up to it. As I seek the clues that lead me to understand really what my life's purpose is, evidence like this is revealing and compelling. Either it is stated that I am interested in X, Y, or Z, or sometimes the negative is true: the signs are that all along, I should not be engaged in X, Y, or Z.

One thing that stands out is how in the few months I worked at my first job, I worked on Sundays for a while. People don't think a lot about that anymore but at the time, I was cautioned from my conservative family folk that I shouldn't work on Sunday. You might say teenage rebellion would drive me to reject that. But what happened was that the hobby store (that I used to hang out at endlessly the year before) called me and asked me to work for a bit. They knew I loved the place (true a year before before I abandoned the hobby and got into drums) and would do it. Almost immediately I began to feel at a distance from my church community where I had been a part for nearly a solid year before. I had established the community relationships there, and traded it in for a minimum wage job that I worked at for just a few months, not even always on Sundays. Life At The Top, the journal, tells about that season of mid-1990 being one of depression, alienation, even suicidal ideation. After that, I had a hard time reestablishing a connection to the church, and began a long history of searching for ways to fill a void using work, consumption, and other means. Only later on in 2005 when I met Lee Van Ham did I start to understand the Sabbath idea of rest and renewal in a community setting. I've now been willing to stand up for keeping Sundays for that purpose, even at the cost of losing my jobs. I am not certain, but I think that was a contributing factor in losing my last job. I know such boundaries were clear causes for another dismissal.

Reading Life At The Top now just makes me want to cuddle my 17-year old self, and soothingly say, "forget Shelby." It is true. I knew the patterns by the time I graduated. She never wanted to be with me. But such was the power of desire. I basically went blind for another ten years, even as I knew what I needed to know by two and a half years into it all. But the initial revelation of the power of having a friend was real. I did feel heard. I did feel like someone cared enough. That is the legacy of Shelby, to help make the world safe enough to recognize that those things could happen in my life. But as I tried to hold that flame too close, I got burned, and kept trying over the years, till finally I was willing to grab it for all it was worth, get baptized by the fire, and released into a new form, no longer slave to the delusion that stayed with me for exactly twelve years and a week. But in 1991, I was building up in a huge way to win her over with ...something? There were enough optimism-producing moments to keep me strung along, but that was me interpreting things, not what she was sending.

In all fairness to her, I should point out that she was an early voice for the more liberal strands of thought I have aligned myself with. Politically, socially, environmentally, she was planting seeds of consciousness in my mind well before I knew what it meant. I sort of wish I had a chance to thank her for that, even as it was just distracting talk that always seemed to criticize my lifestyle (of blindness) back when it was happening. Her international and interstate travels and studies always made her interesting. I never felt interesting, I guess. She had conviction that I could not fathom. She also had an athiestic streak that always made me confused, especially in how we met at a church! But I guess that was just another way to learn things as an anthropologist would, hanging out with the savages, as it were. I do know she was always too much for me. I don't have a problem imagining how a girl of her intellect and enthusiasm for life would not be interested in an uptight guy like me who was only then starting to encounter a world outside of a conservative family life shaped by the military and Norman Rockwell. I only wish I had been able to not delude myself so much, and perhaps to let it go and find other girls to date who were emotionally available.

Speaking of that, I noticed there is no mention of Kelli in Life At The Top. None in particular, but when I am talking about youth group, Adventure Class, Shalom Group, and some other church references happening after mid 1990, I am speaking too of my future bride. One great divine joke on me was that I tolerated the Shelby indignities for so long, feeling that a long history of friendship would pave the way for more. What I did not see coming up in the rear view mirror was that exactly that was happening with Kelli over a decade and more before we started "dating" in 2001-2! In fact, that is where the decade + of history went to add up to something, not with Shelby! She and I had a slow building relationship that involved our intimate moments along the way, that so far has turned into the much wanted, much needed relationship of stability that I had been pining for. I just didn't see it that way. It was a matter of not trying so desperately to manage the thing; Kelli and I were pretty casual friends but we shared deeply when we did meet up. Funny too that she was of a liberal mind, well experienced in life, and had a deep social, environmental, and political consciousness too. (Clearly she is not living as an athiest either.) But in 1991, who knew where the 14-year old Kelli and I were going?

Stephan and I are in occasional contact. Over the years, we have been in touch by letters or by phone, but I rather like the Skype option. He's in Germany mainly, working for a major tire company. After getting a degree in engineering and working for a manufacturer of convertible car tops, he now works as a traveling rep on an international scale, primarily in the Eurozone. It has been 19 years since I saw him on my second trip to Europe in 1992. I still feel there is a quality of friendship with him that is hard to attain with my stateside connections. In 1991, he was the first male with whom I had the kind of exchange that put Shelby on the map. But of course, since amorous love doesn't play a clouding role, we've had that kind of depth in conversation often enough, and while living for a lot of years thinking he had a better life than me (on account of being a university graduate with a "good job"), our more recent communications have leveled us back to two men who have had girl problems, job issues, regrets, and the like—bringing us full circle back to the original spark that brought us together as close friends in early 1991.

(My new look at Life At The Top revealed I downplayed Steve while masking some of the statements about Shelby that reflected my mixed mind about her. This year's transcription tried to reconcile that and other similar issues of self-censorship, aiming to recapture the spirit of the manuscript with a few fixes for clarity and style. But the heart is back!)

Jerry Lawritson, my pastor in LATT, is no longer my pastor. But I still regard him highly as a teacher, and perhaps the best one of them all, given the nature of his message and the period of time he has been around to offer it. In fact, for my Young Adults event last night, I was willing to go to bat for the Book of Revelation based on the materials he has provided over the years, but was nice enough to share with me this month, even four years after I left his church, and joined another. At least prior to that departure in 2007, he continued to be quite an advocate for me in my deepest life struggles. He was who I called when I knew it was madness to have a bottle of sleeping pills lined up like chorus girls on my desk. He helped make possible two years of therapy (don't tell anyone) following that. But for reasons not known to me, the setting of that church was not the right place for me to grow up and put to use the lessons I learned from him. The type of family situations I was in up to about 2007 was something that I knew he was unable to fully address. Eventually I felt that I had to move on. For a lot of years, he was father to me when it came to teaching lessons of wisdom and for hanging on to life. So it was heartbreaking when I had to admit that that era was over in 2007, a little shy of 20 years since that first epic conversation at the beach picnic in LATT. With one exception in 2008, we have not talked about things at that level since I left. And that one time in 2008 was an epic occassion that was unlike any other I've had with him. I sort of feel there was more authenticity in that exchange between two men who had to part ways than in the years of our pastor/young congregant relationship.

Judy Slaughter was in town for a couple years after LATT was written, but for some years was 30 miles away in Escondido as senior pastor of another church. That period was during my decade-long spell of not attending church, so I lost touch for a while. She's in Hawaii now. Was pastor there at a couple churches, but is now quite troubled by health issues and most of the time, I talk to her husband Jay, who speaks on her behalf. The times I've talked to her, or emailed her, have been nice in how she is always validating to me. She and Jerry were huge figures in keeping me on track during high school. The Shalom community, a side group of youth in the church around the early 90s, was a place where Kelli and I got to know each other, and it was all Jerry and Judy's initiative, with them taking me out to lunch sometimes to get my input on what might be needed in such a group.

Harry Steinmetz was big in 12th grade but also on a couple other occassions: I had a public speaking class with him in 9th grade, and again, years later at Mesa College in 2003, I took another public speaking class with him at Mesa College just as I was in my suicidal crisis and subsequent return to life. Some of the things I spoke of in class were linked to that experience, and the experience of being reborn during that same semester. He egged me on, knowing that I wasn't just uttering the words off the page. A later experience, during 2005, I was flyering the school for my Peak Oil forum, and I came by his classroom, not even as a student. He called me up to the front to do an improptu speech and Q&A on peak oil and to make my pitch for coming to the event! He has always been a learned man who love to teach, and to help animate people with a spirit and vitality for their work. It isn't enough just to learn the topics. I occasionally run into in town and give him the latest news. He also is responsible for my preference for public radio listening. No one but him.

My step mom Eda is still around though we are in a period of estrangement. She just turned 89 last month. I feel mixed about keeping silent with her, but for a year or so in 2008, but I have been put off by her increasing intolerance and condescension about being married to a liberal woman who doesn't just stay home and serve me, or (and this is probably the kicker) that Kelli was on the path to be ordained as a full-fledged minister. Every meeting is likely to touch on some aspect of those related topics. For a woman who talks as much God as she does, you'd think that she'd see that God can call anyone to ministry. Or that the duties of married and work life can be balanced out so both parties are reasonably content. I know there is a paradigm gap between us; clearly she is of another age. But she is quite sharp of mind. She still is "there." Still, I do tend to identify her more strongly as my mom than I do with my own mother. There is both quantitative and qualitative support for this. In fact, in my senior yearbook memories (a block of text where we could put anything, often looking like txtmsgspeek) I did proclaim that "EDAISMYMUM."

Looking now at LATT, I was struck by my struggle to simultaneously branch out and sink roots. I did feel that I was coming to life and that must be what trees do: bigger top branches require deeper and wider roots. I was never on the cutting edge of anything, nor even a few steps back. Things like opening my mouth to risk an answer in class, or wearing one pink shirt, or playing drums in public for the first time were huge to me. I was grappling with being simultaneously drawn in by and repulsed by institutions. I wasn't a rebel or slacker at school, but I was also inclined to do "just well enough." I was immersed in my church because of the community there, then I got a job and all that inverted itself and I was later writing how I couldn't stand my experiences at church. My journalism class progress report essentially shows ambivalence about the kinds of authoritative bodies I was surrounded by. I was grappling with being taken into a system. Not so very different than what I grapple with now.

I detect a bit of a wannabe/patronizing tone in my narrative about tutoring math to three people who really were classmates of mine, not particularly friends of any deep nature. Tina Moraga did in fact go way back to the early days of elementary school, but I think by the time LATT was written, I had just gotten to know her a bit more. I don't recall knowing her well prior to that. So the tone was a bit inauthentic to my senses now. Interestingly, in 2003-05, I was delivering to an older man who lived across the street from her grandmother's and I got some occasional updates about Tina. I do recall having a talk with her a year or so after high school and she did tell me about some screwed up and manipulative marriage that was doomed. It did hurt to hear about all that. But I think the tone in LATT is a bit too eager to help. Too much inspirational speaker about it. But whatever works. We graduated. With the exception of occasions like a reunion next month, there is pretty much nothing of contact between me and my classmates.

Interesting that my senior year interests included being a teacher/mentor, and that I mentioned that history was important. The matter of interpersonal relations runs through the entire LATT journal too. And the fact that I was on the school paper, making my initial attempts at journalism was a kicker too. Isn't all that the basis for what I am doing now? It kind of warms my heart that somehow, I am still doing what I wanted. In fact, yesterday's Young Adults event was something that tied all that together in some way. I am older than most of the group so there is always a bit of a mentor/mentee kind of relationship hovering but not clearly defined; the matter of presenting the Book of Revelation as a document requiring historical understanding, and then following it with a movie (What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire) that is basically a 10,000 year history lesson of human endeavors sort of shows that history figures into my concerns now; the discussion turned to how people act in society, for good or for ill, true to themselves or not (and even facilitating the discussion to that point is an act of mentoring); and then of course, the kinds of material I write and present at my "classes" do have a teacher's or a journalist's heart about them. And to tie it all together, there is a Christian-rooted message behind it. I suppose by this analysis you could say that I either haven't developed, or I am doing what I have always thought I should be doing!

The question does arise. Why does any of this matter? It's the past! It is, and it is not. Even the original entry admits that looking at things like this is my way. As you'll see on TAPKAE.com since about 2009, there are a sprinking of posts that are of a "+20" nature. It is like Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." All I really have is my life and experiences and they are as important to me as anyone elses who has scaled the ladder of power, or who has a doctorate or who has won the olympics. And, in a way that is perhaps more recognizeably true in the twenty years since, it is a scattered bunch of things if I were to list them on paper. My resume reminds me of this, but what holds it together? It seems that no one but me puts in the time to figure out what the longer threads are and where they lead. I do get clues from people on the outside of my mind; people do recognize things, but it is not their job. The 17 year old me who wrote LATT was discovering how scattered pieces were, and looking for a pattern, maybe or maybe not knowing where to go (I think not so, at least consciously). Now, at 37, with 20 years fewer to live my life, the clues are rather interesting to trace. I did myself some good service by charting all that I have over twenty years. I still wish for more depth. Not always was I able to go past reciting the events and their times and places. But who was I inside? Learning anything about emotional vocabulary came much later. Spiritual vocabulary later still.

Leaving these kinds of journalistic breadcrumbs help me find my way home to who I am. I feel like I'd be lost without them.

Thursday
Jan062011

1991

With the coming of 2011, we now reach a year 20 years removed from my high school graduation year, with enough pivotal events and feelings and new experiences that some of it might crop up for contemporary reflection. It was the first year when I journaled my life. I had written smaller, one page deals for a few years prior to that, each chronicling the school year just ended. In keeping with that relatively short tradition, I wrote a journal on the day after I graduated in June, 1991. That was a rather sprawling thing that spanned something like 12-16 sheets of letter stationery. For its time, it was a huge document that might have trumped the length of any school paper I had written to date. Some of it is rather embarrassing now, but there was a good deal of it that is clearly the start of my particular style for writing long blog entries now. Telling the story of my senior year was not just a matter of telling a story of the nine months leading up to that journal; I had to tell some of my history from childhood, and particularly to trace a path from one experience with my pastor in the summer of 1987, just shortly before I entered high school. I suppose I might dig this thing out for a re-read since it did function as a turning point in my life, particularly as a way to self-reflect.

Oh, then I suppose maybe there might be something said about my trip to Europe. I am glad it happened, but it always seemed like a very engineered experience on the part of my old man, but even more so now that I have more clarity about the manipulations he made to help me finance it. It was something he always wanted me to be able to do, based on his experience doing something similar at about the same time in his life. I actually had little interest in making the trip until by total coincidence, during my senior year, I met up with a foreign exchange student, Stephan Rau, who came to my school for that year and became a great friend. We had some in-class chatter and maybe ate lunch together sometimes, but it was in the second semester in the winter-spring of 1991 when we spent time outside of school, seeing laser shows, going to races/smashemup derby, and other outings. The one that put us on the map as solid friends was an all nighter watching Monty Python movies (that were totally lost on me then) and talking till the wee hours about the sorts of inner life that had gone largely undisclosed with anyone by that age, and especially a fellow male. It was unique. Even though I had taken two years of German in school I spoke none around Steve. I could read some and had some affinity for the culture, but I had no interest in a trip to Europe until about April 1991, scant months before I actually went there in June. It was a taste of things that demanded to be sated by a return trip the following year, with a goal to spend a suitable time wrapping things up with Stephan, knowing (rightly) that it would be a long time before we saw each other again. A recent Skype call left me with some hope that he might come to the States for a honeymoon trip this year.

There is the matter of getting my second job at a Subway sandwich shop, but it was the first job I got without being a sycophantic kid at the hobby store for years before being invited to come fill in for a few months. That job at Subway was more than a few bucks for my time; maybe now I can reflect on some of the soft lessons that went along with that.

Related to Subway is my almost schizoid friendship with Matt Zuniga, whom I met there. We started out with his announcing an interest in playing drums just at the same time as I was faced with a moratorium on playing them at home in a space that could not contain the sound adequately. That led me to seeing our little drum-vocal duo as some of my first "band" and first experiences with recording and publishing—something I still understand myself to be doing in the form of podcasts and websites. Matt and I have had intense on periods and more intense off periods. Right now we're in an off period.

1991—and particularly the second half—was also a year of complicated feelings and an inner life that was in turmoil. I spent the first half of the year and then the month surrounding my European trip just about exploding with anticipation for a relationship with my then-friend Shelby. A huge reason for the ongoing journaling was to make sense of the minutiae surrounding every conversation and glance and gift that passed between us. Really, I was pretty much aware of all I needed to know about her by the end of 1991 and all the other nine years I continued on were of no real help to advance my cause. But I spilled a gallon of ink over the years trying to sort it all out and make my case in my head for how she'd be my savior.

I needed one because of the shock of being out of my world of high school. It wasn't that I was so deep within it. Usually I was just skated by or was a total wallflower, except for some transcendent experiences in my senior year. But all of a sudden, that ordered life of classes and familiar faces was a done deal. So I found the summer to be rather depressing and melancholic, particularly after coming back from Europe, and particularly after some souring times with Shelby not long after. I was trying to hang on to my place in church life, but by that time, the new independence from school, and the job demands at Subway (particularly the midnight closing hour that meant I left at 1 am) ate away at the regularity of church attendance, and by early 1992, I was sort of out of that too. What started out as a social and friendly time with Steve and some of the folks at school gave way to a downright depressing time filled with emotional distance from a lot of people, and insecurity about how to engage in my new life of Subway work as a de facto shift leader/trainer and the classes at Mesa College.

Not going out of town or out of state to attend college has always left me feeling that I didn't commit because Mesa College seemed at the time like an extension of high school work, but with fewer classes. So I took eight units, six units, nine units until I just kind of cut out after four semesters. I still don't have a degree, despite all the semesters I have taken there back in 1991-93 and from 2003-2006. I've had to rely on being a part time auto-didact and upon my good looks (!) to get by. With Mesa, it was just classes I was taking, repeating a longstanding pattern in my life of not really pursuing extracurricular life to enhance the stuff the school serves up. Selling myself short, I know.

However, a small bit of celebrity came my way when I played drums in a band for the school talent show in the spring of 1991. We played "Walk This Way" in something more like its RUN-DMC incarnation. That was a blast, and it was good for the ego to have some peers recognize me as someone to play the drums, but also for me to finally get something accomplished in the extracurricular life. It had the unintended consequence of reintroducing me to one Melissa McCain, a girl I used to know as a kid (our fathers were work buddies with a bit of neighborhood history), and who later on became my first girlfriend—a whole year and more after graduation! The breakup following in 1993 led me to some confidential and trust-building conversations with one Kelli Parrish, another girl I knew as a child...

On reflection, 1991 was a year that in some ways still resonates in interesting ways. Some of this will get unpacked over the year. I feel it.

Wednesday
Jun112008

Life At The Top, Redux

I still feel that my best reflection on the years since high school graduation was written in 2006. You can revisit that entry here. I haven't reread it though I checked last year, and even then I had to concede that there wasn't much I would need to do but refer to the 2006 entry for a great idea of what life has been for me since that pivotal point. The year of 2006 was 15 years on, and this year—17 years on—doesn't mean anything in its "17-ness" but it does invoke the thought that it was indeed half a lifetime ago when I donned cap and gown for a while and did the worthless tossing of the tassel from one side to the next, not to mention the actual tossing of the cap into the air for some unknown reason.

ed standing behind drum kit, dressed in tux, ready for prom nightBut one important thing did come out of that period. On the day after graduation from Madison, it was a "June gloom" Wednesday. It was odd to be at home on a day in the middle of a week. Wednesdays were school days, by Jove! It didn't yet feel like summer. It wasn't hot or cold, but it was too hot to do work and too cool to sit around. I biked over to The Wherehouse at Clairemont Square and bought a copy of Yes' 90125 on cassette (don't ask me why I didn't get it on CD). I might have played drums a bit. The day was sort of surreal. There was not a sense that it was the summer yet, as such a feeling doesn't sink in for a few days or weeks. But there was some current of sensation that I had crossed a new precipice. It was like putting on a piece of clothing which hasn't yet been broken in, but that had promise.

Aside from what was an otherwise mundane day after a week of finals, senior breakfast, rehearsal, yearbook signing, family dinner (and one with Steve Rau and his dad from Germany) and other senior class activities, I did do one thing that clearly was to leave a mark on how I did life from then on. On that June 12th, I had the house to myself until my old man came home from work in the afternoon. On a couple school years' past, I wrote some short reflection on what the year had been to me, but this year there seemed to be more to say than what one page would hold. I ended up penning the first of the sort of journals that initially filled notebooks and other media like this blog. Oh, the ink flowed that day. I wrote a huge, sprawling reflection on life, but mainly focusing on the high school experience that now finally had the cap put on it.

It was off to a bit of a pretentious but hopeful start in its title alone. I called it "Life at the Top" and following the date, I subtitled it, "the day after the end of my life." I guess that points to the great uncertainty of the future, which for me was not planned beyond a summer of drumming as much as I could, a trip to Europe, and mentally preparing to go to community college in August. Really. I had no great plans to go to the school of my choice and major in one thing or another. So at that point, it was as if I was living past the end of my life as I had known it, and really had no idea what came next, what would define life for me. The title spoke of an optimism that I felt, because I think the year before was the beginning of a sense that my life amounted to something, even in its struggles, and for that school year, I felt good somehow. So began the self-introspective journals, seeking some system to the random flux of things, personalities, lessons.

Life at the top for me then described that I had an academically successful year that also had a few extra experiences which made that year special. There was the well received talent show performance of Walk This Way; the April Fool's prank on Katrina; the Future Educator's club; the articles I wrote for the school paper; all the great times hanging out with Stephan Rau from Germany; holding my own against ace student Robert Asimovic in Government class; being a TA in a sophomore English class; "the" photo session before prom; the Ameri-Kraut outing to Balboa Park with Stephan, Shelby, Trudi (latter two from Mission Bay high, but Trudi was also from Germany, and my unenthusiastic prom date); and more. That was much of the stuff that defined that year alone, but there were other things that shaped me during the high school period.

I told how I was inspired by Rick Allen to play the drums. And in 11th grade, play the drums, I did! It became my all-consuming interest. By senior year, I was already known as a drummer, and certainly, the talent show helped bring that to the fore. I remember a community carnival held the weekend after the talent show and some girl came up and recognized me from the show and complimented it. So much for my face-in-the-crowd status of years before.

It was during that time when I defiantly got in touch with my step mom Eda who had by that time moved to Mexico and back. She was persona non grata around my house for years since her 1983 departure and 1984 divorce. It took some doing to get letters to and from her, but it worked out so that she was back in the picture (at least with letters) by the time I graduated. And that was good timing too, since she always seemed like mom to me, and by the time I graduated, I had already known a couple years of silence between my biological mother's family and me (the First Era, as it came to be known). So in this Life at the Top journal, I was commenting on how that renewal of relationship with Eda was for me.

I also devoted wayyyy too many words to the matter of Shelby, something I would continue to do for about another—ahem!—ten years! But at that time, I was filled with optimism for how things would play out with her. She was, rightly speaking, a person who really ignited something in me when I was ultra uptight and conservative and paved the way for me to peer a lot deeper into life, but even by the time of writing LatT, was witnessing the patterns that would play out for years to come, and many of the hurtful things that happened in those subsequent years had some sort of precedent that I chose to ignore. (The summer following this journal was utterly filled with journaling about the relationship that was all but destined to explode between us. My god, that was pathetic, but hey! One day I shall burn all that shit in effigy!) To be fair, there was a time when Shelby was everything good in life, but maybe I need to remind myself that most of that was really a far shorter period than I let on to, back in 1988-89. But not to rain on the parade of 1991, there was complete and unbridled optimism about her place in life. Still, sometimes the best-learned lessons are those that are learned with greatest difficulty so from today's vantage point, I still value it all somehow. It was, as I say, preparatory for all that really matters now (even if it took exactly 12 years to learn what I needed to learn before I graduated from that particular school of hard knocks).

I also reflected on how my high school experience was marked by academic improvement all the way through compared to my earlier school experience. I actually liked a lot of it. This is in contrast to a lot of people who hate school and want to do all they can to avoid it. But I never ditched classes or any of that. I wasn't an ace student, but I began with a 2.17 and graduated with a 3.33 which at least showed that I made a good effort. But in LatT, I reflected on a day shortly before ninth grade began a few summers before. It was the first of a series of transformative experiences linked to my church, and more specifically, my pastor Jerry. That one day in 1987 somehow lit a fire under me, and centered me for a good while to come, and somehow instead of ruining my high school experience with the usual teen angst, I did pretty well, and by graduation, I was pleasantly surprised at myself. There was a time in 11th grade when I was so into my church life that it was hard to decompress at the end of a weekend and to step into the shoes of a student. It was during that time when I took part in the church's book study on Martin Buber's book, I and Thou. I'm fairly certain I was the only one of my peers who did that.

Part of what made senior year good was that I was more social in the school setting. I spent time writing about that in LatT. I was not very much so in the years before. I was just a face in the crowd. My old man always hounded me to make the most of high school because as he'd say, they're the "best years of your life." Maybe it was for him. I don't think I could say it, but something was at work that made more of the last year at Madison. Steve Rau was not a sidekick of mine, but he did embolden me in the way that having "someone in your corner" can do. He was smart and likable. Maybe I rode his coattails, but something was at work within me, and he and I had a relationship on the outside of the school schedule, and even as I occasionally talk to him these days, there is a rapport that lets us be free to talk. Back then, we were seen a lot together. Later developments took me to his place on two consecutive trips to Germany, and that of course was an experience which was key to enlarging my world view. But at the time, we started off with laser light shows, movies, stock car racing, overnighters, local tourism, and a healthy dose of humor from KGB-FM before they totally sucked balls. My world of mid 1991 was well defined by Stephan and Shelby.

Ed holding snare drum in casual senior class posed pictureI had my own brand of teenage angst, but it wasn't acted out the same as many others. For that, I am grateful to my church which at the time had a thriving program that kept me feeling included in activities that were stimulating, socially and emotionally. But I did get to having depression in late 11th grade. It coincided with starting my first job—ironically at the place where I loved to hang out every weekend just a year before. I wrote about how the doldrums of the summer of 1990 were brought to an end when I finally let go and went to the photo session for my senior photo. By that time, the routines of church activity were time consuming, especially when coupled with school and my love for drums. I willfully ignored a first chance to get the senior class photo session done and put it off till the last chance was offered. I had some fun. The photographer made me feel at ease somehow, and that carried over into the final year, and in its way, was the kick in the ass that was needed to go to another level, the same as the 1987 conversation with Jerry had done a while before. The photo session included a few poses, and my prop of course was the wonderfully shiny chrome Premier snare drum that I bought a few weeks before. Unfortunately, the decision for the photo to be used in the annual was made by some faceless entity and the worst possible, ugliest, most conservative and stiff looking picture was picked for inclusion. Damn it. I should have done the first session in June!

I typed up the entire Life at the Top journal and made copies of it back in the day when I only had a word processing typewriter and had to go to copy machine at the post office or school or something. It was a gift I gave out to some significant people back then. I don't know if it was really life at the top, but that period had some worthwhile pointers to what was meaningful then and now is a tentatively useful yardstick of progress since. I think a lot of it is corny as hell now, but some of the players went on to play roles for years later, and some still do. Step mom Eda and I still are in contact, and we get together several times a year for long days of talk and lunch. Some of the time spent at the church leads directly to today; Jerry from church continued to be a great teacher for years and years. I still consider him the best teacher I ever had, even though I had to part with the church. Kelli was a girl who came to town from Florida with her mom, both seeming hippy-like in their wild colors and their talk about folk music and stuff. She and I took part in a lot of stuff back then, but I had no idea I'd end up marrying her! (Though she did let me talk fondly of Jethro Tull, and let me give her copies of my Tull recordings.) It is funny to reflect that part of what I told myself in order to endure the trials with Shelby was that it was important to build a history, and then that would sustain a relationship somehow. Of all the ink spilled to that end, the fact is that it was Kelli—with hardly a thing mentioned in journals for years and years to come—who ended up quietly being that friend and confidante that completely flew under my radar for just as many years as Shelby was in the picture. Now, that is pretty remarkable.

Friday
Jun112004

On This Day, 13 Years Ago

I graduated from Madison High School in Sandy Eggo. There was a Bush in the White House back then too. Oh, and a war with Iraq just a few months earlier! But at this very time, I was looking forward to traveling to Europe to meet up with my good friend Steve, who had been my buddy that year in school as an exchange student from Germany. Part of my trip was to see his town and stay at his place for a few days. The following year, I went back for six weeks. On this particular year of 2004, I don't particularly think overseas travel is too wise an idea for an American. I have heard mixed stories. I guess most of Europe would be pretty safe overall, but right now, world events are sort of making me shelf the idea. And yet, I realize that isolating is part of the problem. My world view was well improved from traveling, and these days, I think a huge part of the problem is the American world view, or lack thereof. American hubris has been a huge problem lately, and some think the solution is more hubris. Some think the problem is solvable with more attitude, more macho, more guns, a nastier outward look, tougher talk, et cetera. If anyone from a non-American country is reading this, let me separate myself from this idiocy.

Thirteen years ago, I fell for the party line. I had no political affiliation, but from my years as a military aircraft buff, and proximity to a Reagan/Bush republican war vet grandfather, generally speaking, I was not opposed to the Gulf War. I was just stupid, and went along for the ride. I think I would have seen it differently if I were 18, but at this moment, I was 17. I was always enamored with military firepower, but the human cost of that power was not something I appreciated. I still get a hard on when an F-18 flies over, but now I think that as amazing a feat as it is to create such a machine, we still don't have the means or the sense to render them unneeded. There was a lot I was not awake for. I did have a great teacher that year though who did in fact lay down some foundational material for me in the government class, and he did eventually be the cause for me listening to NPR many years later. I never would have thought that years later, the survey course in government and politics would come in handy as I seek to understand and now protest another war in Iraq brought to us by another Bush in the White House. Jeeze, I hope this isn't going to be a trend!

There was this picture of me taken sometime in the Gulf war days, of me standing in front of an American flag in my bedroom, spanning the entire width of my covered-over window, with my drums in the foreground (maybe because of a pose, but likely because the room was small). I see that pic now, and I cringe. But then I think, 'why should I cringe because I once believed in my country?' I was never really a flag waving patriotic dude. Not that I never waved one or put one out, but I just never got passionate about it. Now, too many times, I feel pretty ashamed of being an American. We've fucked up. We really have. I pin the blame on the government AND the people. The people let the government do things, some by neglect, and some by their own greed. Americans don't want to give up the mad consumption of resources to which we have become accustomed. That isn't the government's fault, though the government is doing the same thing, giving a certain validation to civilians. Maybe the government could do something to encourage conservation in its varied forms, but really, this is a capitalistic, opportunistic place. Our economy DEMANDS that we consume, and not just what we consumed yesterday, we need to consume MORE than that. So really, some of our problems now in foreign affairs come from—what else?—consumption. Our nation is largely defined by its productivity and economy. We put our faith in the markets, in profit, in growth. Well, we came to our natural borders of oceans and neighbor countries, and now we take our rapacious demand for resources to consume, to resell, to pillage, all the way to the other side of the world.

This country was founded in the company of trade interests, greed, and the severance from traditional values. The Spanish wanted gold, the Dutch wanted furs. The English wanted to get free of religious persecution. The rest is history. The New World was a place that didn't need to be respected because no one who came here from Europe felt there was anyone or anything to respect, and the ethos of individuality was growing up in tandem with the development of this land. So blatant and exploitative commercial and development interests are really part of the national DNA. In light of today's mess, well, it is easy to see the lineage. Four hundred years ago though, there was almost no way this land could be destroyed so recklessly, and so efficiently. Well, since we are "Christian nation" (cough), we have now established dominion over the earth, what do we do with that dominion? Destroy her and her people. We really got that down to a science. All of a sudden, a little hunting and trapping, and gold pillaging doesn't look so bad, given the crass commercialism we deal with today, and are attempting to export to all corners of the globe.

There was some irony after 9/11. We felt sorry for ourselves. Sorry for what? Sorry for the long-delayed response to our creeping imperialism and colonization? Do we really think our shit doesn't stink? After 9/11, I heard that people didn't want to cash in on the tragedy with T-shirts and hats and other souveniers. Why the hell not? We love to cash in on everyone else's loss and pain. Why the double standard? Isn't it the Great American Way to sell shit no matter what? So why can't people raid the 9/11 rubble and take whatever they can find and go sell it on the corner, or on EBay? Geeze—it would be so American! I mean, you want the government to look the other way so you can do business, right? If the government shouldn't get in your way, why should good taste and compassion? Sell stuff. It's the American way.

But I digress. I was talking about being a patriot. I suppose 13 years ago I was a patriot because I followed a pack. I never voted Republican, so I wasn't that blind, but wasn't clear over to the other side either. It was really more apathy than anything else, and lack of any sense of connection to anything larger than me. Well, people ask me (when I talk like this) if I hate America, or some even ask me why I hate America, as if it were unquestionably true that I do. I don't hate America. But I am not the flag waver, or the dude who goes to political fundraisers, or the one who enlisted for the service, or the one who absorbs hours and hours of media, and buys all the fluff. No, I am the patriotic American who wants to reawaken what is good in this country. Just today, I did something that I am proud of but really wish I didn't have to do. Actually, I did it all week. I think of it as a lesson in civics and civility.

My job as a home delivered meals driver just got a small extension to administering a congregate meal program at one of the company's sites. Just yesterday, some administrative lackey consultant announced to the assembled seniors that if there was food left at the end of the lunch hour, it either had to be served as seconds for the usual fee, or thrown away. The thing is, this entire program operates on a donation basis, and legally, we can't even ask for money, though the "suggested donation" is $3.50. Some pay that much, some pay less, and some pay more. Some don't pay. Our job is to feed people, and providing a reservation is made and there is food, we can't tell a person "no" because they can't pay the suggested donation. But the zenith of absurdity is the idea that if there is food left in the trays, it must be thrown away or sold. No middle ground. And even more absurdly, this is being told to a whole room full of people who lived during the Great Depression! These are people who know and appreciate the value of the food and don't generally waste it. Needless to say, there was unrest in the room after this.

Okay, then back on the driving part of my route, all this week there have been too many meals at the end of the day, from late cancellations and absences. So I have up to five meals left, and that is way too much. I don't like having that happen, but happen it does. Some I give to the harder up clients, but occasionally, I take some home, or give it to the random homeless person. This week, I had to actually seek out some homeless to give this to. This is food that, since it was not paid for by any client, supposedly needs to be thrown away. Is that stupid, or is that stupid? Realize our program is always running a threadbare budget, so it is never really in the black anyway, but to actually throw food out is just the finest in bureaucratic nonsense. Today, after hearing that county consultant urge us to waste food, I had this burning resolve to do the opposite. There was this one homeless guy I passed at a busy intersection, and had to stop by on the return trip. I grabbed a couple of meals and gave them to him while I was stopped at the light. They were nice and hot, and the side items were nice and cold. He was overjoyed, and sat down on the grass with his stuff, and started chowing down, his back to me. All this emotion was welling up in me, partially from cold hard rationale, and some from a growing sense of compassion I have from doing the work I do. I sort of gazed at this guy, feeling really good about what I did, but then realized how wrong it is that I should ever have to do that. I sort of had to choke back a tear as I thought about it all.

This country loves to think of itself as the richest, most compassionate or ethically sound, etc. etc. True, we have great resources, great minds, and maybe even great compassion. But it isn't always on display. Can anyone tell me why I had to give away food that was slated for the garbage can? The guy didn't pay for it. Does that mean he shouldn't eat, or does it mean he can't eat it off a plate with a modicum of dignity, like the rest of us? Should he wait to pick it out of the trash? Is this something to be proud of? Is this America? But wait—we can send food aid off to foreign countries. We can pay farmers to NOT grow crops, or to NOT take them to market. People can become obese from gluttony. Restaurants and grocery stores don't sell everything they buy and stock. We have more corn than we can use, ultimately turning it into a wide range of products from sodas to gas additives to chips. Seriously, we have more food than we know what to do with, but we can't or won't give it to people who can't pay, even within our own borders. But we can promise African nations $15 billion for AIDS prevention, and the absurdity du jour, we can pay for this stupid and morally bankrupt war, with a ticket of well over 100 billion dollars. Sorry folks, that just isn't the hallmark of a compassionate society. How many meals can Dick Grasso buy with that $180 million dollars he got from the NYSE, just for LEAVING? Of course, it is folly to ever think that he could ever part with a few bucks, even though he is richer than sin, and would be at a quarter of that amount.

So am I a patriot, or an America hater? Does the true patriot simply take the party line, with a chaser of soma, and just go on with the blinders? By that definition, I suppose I am not a patriot. Or should I just slap a "United We Stand" or "We Will Never Forget!" sticker on my jacked up F250 or Excursion? I have neither, and would never put one of those absurd stickers on my car. Strike two, I must not be a patriot. Well, sorry, this un-American just wants to feed a few people without fanfare, preferably using the system against itself to the benefit of those who otherwise stand no chance. Sort of a Robin Hood, I guess. Or I just want to tell people to wake the fuck up from this silly fantasy we have about being a great nation because we can kick anyone's ass. That alone, does not a great nation make.

I have one American flag. It was the one my grandfather's casket was covered in on July 10, 1996. I have never unfurled it from that day on. It remains just as the Marine color guard folded it—tight as origami. I don't fly the flag now. But when I did 13 years ago, I was completely missing the point. I hope at least that much has changed in 13 years.