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Monday
Jul222013

Years that End in "3"

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

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

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

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

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

1973

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

1983

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

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

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

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

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

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

1993

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

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

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

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

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

2003

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

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

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

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

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

2013

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

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

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

The Worst Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Often Go Awry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday
Jun092013

What's on my Plate, You Ask?

I have to admit that sitting down to write in the blog entry window here is a rather foreign thing to me these days. The last few months have been some of the lightest months since I started blogging in 2002. I've certainly sat down to try a few things but usually have closed out before long, knowing the time suck that was sure to follow. Sorry to leave you all on the edge of your seats.

I've had some rough times until recently. Most of this year has been in the midst of depression and then grief at the loss of Buber the Dog. Times have been challenging during the entire period since I lost my unemployment benefits in August 2012, but every month made it harder with the pittance of an income I got from doing some deliveries from a local handcrafted jam company and a small bit of other audio/recording work. Rent time got to be rather hellish as me and the wifey navigated the waters of how much I could contribute and how much I'd use of my savings to pay for such an expense, and how long that would last and what might happen if I bled that dry. That, on top of a lot of feeling of disconnection from my San Diego life, was utter hell sometimes. Being in Escondido feels hot and suffocating in real terms but feeling that the life I knew was in another town kept me frustrated. The job search is never really worthy of much enthusiasm anyway, as one job application/callback/interview or another turned up nothing. My level of physical activity dropped significantly, feeling too numb to move sometimes (because of the pointlessness I felt), or the real heat of the day. Some weight gain, and a clearly less fit physical frame has been a clear sign of something not right.

Buber's death in March hurt too. The house fell silent and still. Kelli found herself racked with grief and guilt about being so busy in the time preceding his death. Little daily domestic patterns went away for good because of Buber. Larger ones, like walking him at night, were also our family time, and ever since then we've not been too regular in walking the neighborhood. It's not good for our health to ignore the walks, and the days that were already long and shapeless for that period became worse when Kelli and I were having tough times relating, with the walks being brushed aside altogether most nights. It's one of those things that gets us away from all the rest of life's distractions and lets us have our relationship time and perhaps some new input as we stroll. We're working on it.

During the months from October-May I had some opportunities while delivering jam to attempt to pay visits to family members in the greater LA area. That met with the usual rejections, even as I tried to keep on topic and not try to inflame anyone. Maybe even say some more compassionate things than I think they expect of me. In trying to wish my mom happy birthday, I ended up having a chance to meet up (a week or so later) with my nephew while returning from an LA route. It was the first time since 2001 that someone from that clan actually agreed to meet with me. I'm quite glad it happened and hope for some good things to happen as I slowly discover some of the cracks in the wall of a family system that has usually been an "all in or all out" thing for me. With some persistence, social media options, and some grace, I've found even a few friendly contacts that have not shut me out and that understand my struggle enough to be more open.

I worked at delivering jam for three days a month since the very end of September. There were three routes and I was paid a flat rate per day. Taken in consideration of how I had to pick up the van in San Diego a day before the route left my house in Escondido at 4:15 am, it was really not a great paying gig. To do a day's work took two days over about 14 hours and it ended up being something like minimum wage. But it was cash only, took only a couple days a month, and they gave me a per diem allowance to get lunch. And some super tasty jam, too! The three routes each got their own Monday until the holiday season when it made sense to stock up in time for the holiday food-buying spree preceding Thanksgiving and then Christmas. We combined two routes into one two-day run. For two months I found a private house to stay at and then the rest were at hotels in the LA area so I could do a lot of stops and then go "home" for the night and start early the next day with just a couple remaining stops and maybe some last minute trips to stores closer to San Diego. All that enlarged time and awareness of the region gave me the chance to try to be in contact with family. There were more misses than hits but the meeting with my nephew did in fact make the whole time worthwhile. I suppose what I did not earn in money, there was a bonus in the freedom to route myself and try to touch the family with some detours through their neighborhoods old and new.

Musically, I've been going to the pub here in Escondido fairly consistently since July and have been playing cajon since October when Kelli bought me a cheap cajon to help me have a more appropriate instrument to bring to the traditional Irish sessions. I've fashioned a bit of a style using brushes and rod sticks. It works well for the Irish/Celtic/Bluegrass and Country that turns up there. In the absence of any other social connections up in Escondido, that session and some things in its orbit have been key to feeling like life has any pleasure at times. Sometimes I pick up a guitar there and hack my way through some of the tunes. I've been intrigued by mandolin and picked that up a time or two. One day, I hope I can get in on bass.

The San Diego Songwriters meetup group is something I've taken part in with about 2/3 consistency since February 2012 before we moved. I have been getting to some meetings, collaborated on a few songs (either as writer or as musical support/recording). The group participates in a local songwriting challenge and showcase called The Game. I have not yet finished my own songs for that but just a week ago I played five songs on cajon for other writers who wanted some extra power behind their tunes at the showcase event. Only two of them sent me material in advance, so I winged it (wung it?) on the others.

Musically, back home, I have my drums set up and sounding pretty good. I have a neighborhood that can't really complain about the noise because most of them are louder than me! So I have spent some time trying to reconnect with that instrument that used to mean the world to me but has for almost a decade been a foreigner to me. I also spend time with bass, trying to pick out parts to pop songs and exposing myself to unfamiliar tunes, hoping to test my ears. A year and a half ago I got a bass that I converted to fretless, so it's a challenge to put that on and try playing on it, especially "cold." Guitar time is mostly acoustic and used to either noodle or perhaps get some basis for songs down. The electric could be cranked up some too. I've done small bits of recording in order to work out some of the SD Songwriters songs, but recording is not my focus now. I did try making a new recording of the drums to my song Tired from 1999. I find I need to shed on drums to recover my sense of time and feel that I think I once had. Maybe I didn't. Frankly, I find the fretless bass or even the mandolin a more invigorating challenge!

But really, this era has been the most musically active since 2005 or maybe even 2003. And the most positive and collaborative since I am allowing myself to realize I don't really know much after all. I do and I don't. I have a broad understanding but not a very great ability. So it can be in service of some things, and not others.

And then, the big news, towering rather high over everything else because of course it means I'm in a new age of life here: I got a job finally. You read right. After about two years and a third, it came. The whack part of it is that it took a year to finally fall into place. See, I submitted a resume to a certain brewery up in Escondido last year in May once we decided to move. I got a call back and talked to the HR recruiter for a good 20 minutes. I suppose I didn't have a clear resume and it was hard to form the words in answer to a question that was fairly direct: "is truck driving what you really want to do?" I recalled thinking and saying that I'd like to drive to get in and maybe get into a subsequent position elsewhere in the company, maybe in the media area. I suppose that showed a bit of non-commitment so I got passed over. But I sent the resume in another couple times, most recently in April, with a reminder we'd talked before. This time I got the callback and talked again at some length. There was another position open. Still a driver, but not for the beer distribution. Instead, there was a new position at the commissary, supplying the original restaurant and two new ones about to open. I had no idea that the commissary existed but it sounded more suitable to me than lugging beer kegs.

I got an interview in the week of the call. I did some LinkedIn research on who I'd be meeting with. The HR person and the kitchen manager were both at companies I used to deliver to at Specialty Produce. I felt a bit more comfortable. When I met the kitchen manager, Larry, he recognized me and asked me if I rode in. That was interesting because I had not seen him in about two and a half years and I while recall talking to him, I don't recall details. But he remembered I was an agreeable chap when delivering to his catering kitchen, and that I rode a bike for commuting. This was going well. I got a chance to meet with him in private and we found ourselves laughing off the last jobs we had, and he thought well of me, with compliments and a vision that I could be more responsible than the younger guys he sees coming through. He then led me to the HR office and from outside the door I could hear some smiling voices. On the way out, HR asked who I'd like to have contacted as references. One was back at Specialty, and coincidentally, a part time figure at the last place Larry worked. And folks who own the jam company. May 10 was a good antidote for the depression.

It took nearly two weeks before I heard back but they called back and said they would expand the wage on offer to meet me halfway or better between their original estimate and my old wage. I was told it would take a couple weeks to start after their offer letter was approved, sent to me, returned, and then a physical completed. Just two days after the physical, I was in. As of this writing, I've just completed the first week. This is the first time I feel maybe my resume worked for me, as did social media and some connections and prior contacts in the industry.

After all that time of not having a job, the lack of structure and the lack of money kept me in a small world, sedentary, and pretty down. The matter of losing my pup companion, struggling to eke out any identity in relation to family, and having limited resources to keep connected to life in San Diego (30 miles away for most purposes), has all stacked up against me and sort of driven me a little neurotic. Having a job again gives a good chunk of structure to the day and weeks. There are some notable similarities to the last job at Specialty. I'm still in the restaurant industry, and even more so since I am working in a kitchen. There are some food benefits in addition to the coveted FT health benefits. The commute is very short and bikeable. The mission of the company is very compatible with personal values I hold, especially after being shaped by forces such as Jubilee Economics. My workdays start and stop at predictable enough times; I'm not "on the job" around the clock with mental energy going to endlessly creative pursuits (such as when doing all sorts of IT work as a volunteer, not knowing when to finish a project, if that is even possible). There is a pendulum swing for me, wavering between the poles of punch-the-clock labor jobs that can become soul sucking if it's not in some alignment with who I see myself as, and then the explosive periods of freelancing work, marked by creative and exploratory energy during periods of unemployment from the clock jobs. Right now, the security of a clock job is appealing. Within the new company, there is some latitude to be creative and integral, either within the job I have now, or elsewhere in the company.

The economics of time shifts when for once, hours away from work become more valuable. With all the hours available during unemployment, it's hard to get anything done. There's little incentive to hurry or be efficient. Even a year after moving to Escondido, we have not really nested in the house with pictures on the walls. Part of that is the heat encountered last summer when we moved in. And then for months we've worried we made a decision worthy of regret even though the landlord has been hands down the best we've had and has honored many requests. But now that Kelli's office is literally on the other side of the hill from here, just a mile away, and my job is just a couple miles out, there's no practical reason to entertain moving again. It just took a year before we could feel better about that.

Surely I'm feeling rosier than I have for a while but as I watch the news about economics, environment, and all the other things that seem to be hitting the red, I try not to delude myself that this is the start of my ride off into the sunset of consumer bliss and a happy home. It seems every day there are plenty of articles and posts about the open trap door swallowing the middle class. Even making what Kelli makes is not enough when you consider how much she pays in academic debt. Adding half as much again helps but it's not really enough to hold fast against inflation and not much to save. Fortunately, aside from her car loan and student loans, we are quite in control over any garden variety consumer debt.

Sure, my new wage just added half of Kelli's wage into our household purse. There are things that I have been saying I'd fix or upgrade when the money was right. Actually, having a job after all this time brings with it a kind of fearful suspicion that what follows is a consumer streak after a lot of deferrals. I'd like to not wait till my computer is so out of date as my old G4 before I replace it. I want to convert one of my bikes to a geared bike. I got my first smartphone this year but it's a glitchy refurb model gotten at a steep discount that makes an iPhone look pretty appealing. My truck's steering alignment is a bit out after a trip to Death Valley that involved some uncharacteristic off roading. Kelli and I want to finally rid ourselves of cookware with teflon. I have long wanted to get a new acoustic guitar that is actually chosen to suit me after using a second hand axe for 19 years. At this very time in 2005, I had an order for a custom electric guitar build that was cut short with the eviction news that came eight years ago this week. I still have fancy thoughts of getting such a guitar but have shelved it during the years when my music activity went dormant. I've wanted to get a keyboard instrument again, but the most useful one would be a MIDI controller to play the virtual instruments on my computer. But I'd savor having an acoustic piano again, a full circle move if it ever happens. Thoughts of taking music lessons are always near me; I'd like most to start with vocal and guitar lessons to open up my options for songwriting and performance. Depending on how I feel from doing some physical work again, I may decide to do the unthinkable and pay for a gym membership for the first time. Sustaining my presence on the web also takes some money, and I'd like to get a Soundcloud account that has capacity enough to present all my featured recordings, with the idea of remixing older ones now that I've finally recovered all my VS-880 era recordings as WAV files which can be worked with today.

And yes, those are just the things for myself. When I was at Specialty I also was able to give about 6% of my income to church. I felt like someone for once, being about 35 and able to do that. Losing my job a couple years ago began a long period of feeling that I had not contributed a fair share. That was heightened by moving out of town and being far less able to even participate and donate time. Now I'm cresting into my 40s and I feel I should support my church, or even the in-transition MALEs movement as they create an identity outside of Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation. Those are the two leading orgs I'd like to support because I've received a lot from each already, and there are certainly others that are worthy of some assistance.

According to those last two paragraphs, I've already spent my first year's wages!

Okay, so you can see that there is a lot of things of concern that I could easily have blogged about a little at a time. But since there are so many nebulous connections, it's hard to know where to start or stop. Such is the state of my mind and heart; so many options and demands to try to honor, the easier and perhaps more right response, is to brush it aside.

I've actually been thinking of retiring TAPKAE.com. I don't even know who reads it. I keep it for an online reference to things I want to share, but I doubt people actually come here because of anything I want to share. If anything, it's Googlebombed when people do some odd searches. It's not a resume/portfolio site. It's not really anything but my journal in words, sounds, and images. I have tried to use the new Squarespace (the service I use for this site) version 6 but have not found it ideal for all the kinds of content I have here. But even to sustain this version 5 is to pay a pretty chunk of money every year. I've wondered about my choice of content being so public, but the matter is, if I don't pay, it goes away. If I do pay, I want to keep it up and growing, but still have no real sense that anyone gives a shit. Staying on SS version 5 is clunky to say the least, and 6 is slick but lacks control. Part of me wants to just take it all down and make my blogs into PDFs for myself. I have no idea how to progress. Better to just brush it aside.

And that's what's on my plate these last months.

Sunday
Oct072012

Life in the Hidden Valley

Eventually, there would be a first time. It never happened in my younger years when these decisions were made for me and never during the years when I could have done so myself (and probably should have, if I were to have listened to my various adult and peer counsel). Most exceptionally, I never did it when it made the most sense and probably would have settled the domestic strife in 2005 associated with getting evicted at my intended long term home. (2005 would have been the chance to move to Kelli's seminary town, Claremont, CA but we stayed in San Diego and she commuted weekly for seven semesters.)

I never moved house to a location outside of San Diego. Until this year, about five months ago.

Now that I have, I'm deep in that worried spot, wondering if it was the right thing to do. The problem isn't so much how far I've moved, but more a matter perhaps of moving not far enough. Y'see, Escondido is just 30 miles from where I was earlier in the year. Same county. Only a half hour and I'm back in my default life in San Diego—all the social networks. Church life for both of us (at different but not distant churches). Job opportunities. Dental, medical, and even pet services that we have not yet decided to change to Escondido area ones. All that stuff was left to be conducted in our hometown while the primary benefit is that since Kelli is the bread (and butter, with her second job) winner, with her office located up here, it made sense finally to accommodate her, unlike in 2005 and the Claremont debacle.

Since 2002 or so, in the wake of 9/11, I've been more gasoline conscious. And of course in 2004-2005 I was particularly concerned with peak oil and the implications it would have in daily life. (My thoughts from that period in particular were the stuff that essentially launched this blog, and those two years have voluminous posts, many about the constellation of topics around peak oil.) Years later now, not so interested in the topic at that level, the fact is, I still make decisions with it in mind. No one really wanted to listen but I have kept watch and monitor my driving pretty strictly much of the time. And that means of course that to live 30 miles away from a life that used to wrap around me in about a four-mile radius demands some judicious planning. With gas prices now at the highest I've ever seen, a simple trip down there and back will cost about $10 or more.

Clearly, the move to be nearer to Kelli's work has been a success, and would be more so if her territory as hospice chaplain didn't drift a time or two since we got here. But barring that, it's still good that she doesn't have to plan to do a daily camping trip, carrying everything she'd need to spend a day in her car, out in the field or at the office. She barely gets to the office anymore, instead doing a lot of work in her room. Phone calls, charting, and other bits that she used to do at the office or in the field are now done before leaving for the day. Nice. It's good to see more of her. On the whole, she tends to get home earlier, but believe it or not, even the shorter distances are troubled with the fact that she has to use the CA-78, which gets to be a nightmare at rush hour. But mostly, the move was good. Her San Diego position is mostly a contingency-based, on call kind of position that only happens four days a month. Some days her job is to call in and wait for further word, and to get paid in the process. Nice. Others are the expected patient visits and pay handsomely. She'd like to quit the job but every couple weeks the paycheck is found to be useful for powering through credit card debt (both of us paid off now) and now a car loan and the ever-present and painful student loans at nearly a grand per month. Keeping a good connection with that second office might be handy if there is a time when she might apply for an internal transfer, and maybe drop the job up here.

As for my part, I get myself in knots about this. I've been trying to build a life up here. Job applications and resumes sent out to places within about a ten mile space. I've been giving more attention to my musical pursuits since departing my post at JEM in August (freeing up vast amounts of time). The city library is nearby so I've dropped in a couple times, even meeting up with their "Library You" program manager, talking about helping their effort to record local folks to help build up a local body of work with video and audio. A couple cash gigs have been gotten in the region (audio book editing, a website, housesitting), and other options might turn up some work: more audio book work, maybe a percussion gig, maybe live audio too. I got close to getting a cheesy gig driving premium cheese to Los Angeles area destinations but I think if I ever get to work for that place, it might be because I was overselling myself and I think the guy realized that it'd be a waste to have me on the road, and instead doing something more creative and supportive. I got a referral from a fellow at church who turned me on to a local jam company, which also needed an LA driver, so I am preparing to start with them next week. Tiny operation. More later...

I've gotten to the local pub and tried to absorb Irish music on guitar (not happening so far) and percussion (all that Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention is starting to pay off), and hope eventually to let that turn into new opportunities. I haven't biked much because for all the time so far, up until the last few days, it has been so damned hot and/or humid. I mostly stay home during the days unless there is reason to go somewhere, and I have to say that I've driven more than I'd like. At night, we're able to walk the dog into town if we want. The pub is just under a mile. I bike over with guitar and some small percussion and maybe Kelli comes by later with Buber Dog and we walk back after a beer. We walk to explore the hood and to get some basics done. It's neat having services nearby. An amazing old school donut shop is all too tempting. We're not totally central in town but it's not far out either. The city is a bit spread out, with newer areas being deployed farther out into the hinterlands. We're essentially in the barrio here, something I anticipated but did not realize would be so true. We're off the main drag in a way that is quiet as regards city traffic, but we're in a neighborhood that tends to be loud: radios, industrial traffic, dogs, chatter en Espanol.

All that noise on my street started a chain reaction that ended with my resignation from JEM, first finding it hard to produce a recording without noise, and without burning up in my office room with closed windows. The last episode I produced featured what amounted to an audio tour of the various noises, and narration of how that was already changing things. I didn't expect my whole volunteer position would be found to be so tenuous after that. Anyhow, during July and August it got very hard to justify the time spent doing that, particularly when I lost my unemployment benefits after a year and a half, and needed to spend more time patching up that damage. The handoff to the others was not without its problems, even as I was tutoring them. The fact is, I held the key to the JEM digital kingdom and it would be hard to hand it over in any way since no one else really had been so acquainted with it all.

The fact of JEM's podcasting and all my volunteer work with them seems to remain that it was successful while I was in the neighborhood near the office. Notice the bookended period: I moved to North Park in October 2009 and announced that I could do volunteer work starting in December. Then the opposite happened once I moved here: got here in May 2012 and was separating three months later after finding the geographic challenge was frustrating, holding so many conversations and tutorials over the web with people who really need to see stuff in person. Recording sessions could be done any of a number of ways but the best way would be up here where it was hot and miserable and it would be hard to get a guest to come up. It just all fell on its face. But for this telling, you need to know that seeing it all evaporate in a month or two was disorienting, especially as the season here was swelling in temperature, and there seemed to be no relief from the heat unless I drove to San Diego or hit the mall or library (the latter two not my usual choices).

The summer was a hell of a time in terms of heat (it would be hotter here by default but I'm convinced now we're getting some stranger weather from world level issues). But it was also a handwringer about the job situation, especially when, in August, that changed and my UI payments came to an end. Feeling that all my time at JEM was still a thing that didn't particularly qualify me to do other work I see listed, I was pretty crushed at the lack of responses to my more computer related queries. Yet I hated the idea of just driving trucks or doing warehouse work. My landlord was nice enough to smile upon my musical pursuits, even drums, but I kept that aside until about a month ago when I set up and wailed with real drumsticks (not whip sticks or rods) for the first time in years. The urge to make music has been growing in me, and something is demanding that attention of me, so I've been spending time each week on guitar, bass, songwriting, a bit of drums, or generally getting some musical knowledge and trying to (gasp!) learn some things I should have learned long ago. Getting to the pub has given me a real carefree opportunity to absorb some material and to meet folks.

But still, the feeling of incompleteness when I consider that there is a life I am missing down in my hometown... It seems Wednesday is a day to pile up several things in San Diego and go see some people. I don't get to church much anymore because for me it was not particularly about the Sunday worship but more about the things during the week, the things that form the community I enjoyed. Not being able to do that with a 15 minute bike ride, or to carpool with a fellow member has been isolating. Kelli and I might head down to San Diego on a Sunday morning, and maybe go to two churches. But since I don't like worship and feel like things are different, it's like going through the motions. Even while at church, I am not in church. I tend to wander off to another room, either to read or to seize the solitary time. That kind of thing was something that took hold especially after returning from my two great desert times in Arizona and New Mexico in 2010 and 2011, respectively. As many churches as there are in Escondido, none are of our denomination (I lie, one is but it's more independent and whacky), and the others nearby are far by my standard. It's easier to just keep getting to San Diego with Kelli, who doesn't want to leave her church. And that's the one I don't want to go to. It's odd. We even drove up to Murrieta to try a small UCC/DOC church there. I'm just not feelin' the church life now.

But the good news is that on the musical front, I've given more time to do some aspect of musical development most days. It's not as aggressive a schedule as I'd like to engage in but it's more than I've done in years. A few Craigslist ad responses have given me a couple more options to explore. I've been able to justify trips to San Diego that include a songwriter Meetup group that I've enjoyed several times this year. I've spent more time with guitar/bass/theory websites and just trying to develop my hands and ears to more quickly acquire new repertoire. It comes rather easier than it used to but man, it's an uphill battle. The big challenge for me, trying to pursue music now, is to realize I'm 39 and can't keep living with the echoes of all the negative voices, all the "reasonable" voices telling me about "music should just be a hobby" and other such limiting talk. It's taken a lot of wrestling to push past that and to start to develop again. I just know that a number of musical experiences in the last couple years have been nudging me in the direction of more music. And yes, I'm glad I still have enough tools to work with and can still jump to another instrument at a moment's notice. I'm looking forward to being able to play drums and hopefully return to recording sometime while I'm here. I'd like to get some work so I could afford lessons on one or two instruments.

I hate to say it but we already talk about whether we should leave this town. If we waited for our lease to expire, we'd go in May or June. Or I suppose we could pay absurd money to break contract. But as long as Kelli anchors it up here with her job, it's hard to justify leaving back to San Diego. For me, seeking a job as I am, I fear getting a job in San Diego. It could be pretty expensive just in commuting costs. There's no way in hell I could get a job that pays as well as hers so if I did get such a job, driving my truck, it would cost more in real terms and as a percentage of my wage to do such a thing as commuting from here to San Diego (central). We moved up here because we'd save five trips a week or more, about about $300 in gas per week. For me to take a job in San Diego while living in Escondido is not too different than Kelli taking a job in Escondido while living in San Diego. But that's not our concern yet. It's just a measure of how crazy things are.

Aside from the economics of it, of course we're feeling cut off from our people. And aside from that too, it's harder to ask people to come up here. All summer, with the heat raging like it has, we've not even entertained having the house warming party for the folks who helped us move up here. (A house cooling party would be better.) My cooking interests have all but dried up since getting here since the kitchen is hot by nature and of course ridiculous with any appliances on. The fans have run continuously until last week when it finally got to feeling like a comfortable day in my hometown. The bills, shared in part with a fellow in the flat behind us, are absurdly expensive in part because we're in a smaller city with a whole other utility scheme, and in part because our co-tenant has AC and we don't. We just got approval from our landlord to put in fans. He's pretty cool and tried earlier in the summer to get fans but it was too late to even find them. He's such a good landlord (unlike the various parties who have taken our money for the last five places we've been in) that we have mixed feelings about letting him accommodate us only to turn around and move before the summer kicks in, just one year after we got here.

All I know is that for the entire summer, I barely left the house on my own except to do job interviews, a few trips to San Diego, and some local spots in the evening. Or when Kelli was going down there, I'd just hitch a ride even if I didn't need to go for anything. Just getting out was good. Being with my wife is good. My room is relatively large and home to a lot of things for me but it's hot and miserable with just those two windows and a door. The patterns of a life lived without willy-nilly use of gasoline are a bit rough at times. I was depressed for much of the summer, particularly after leaving JEM and realizing that there was so much time to fill, either doing a lame job search, or feeling bad from being caught in a mind with many creative urges but a body that is well taxed by the summer heat and humidity, and a soul troubled by so many options. It all conspired to get not much done. The smallest things like doing dishes or laundry or putting things away was taxing. Venturing to the garage (out back in the alley behind the back house, and insanely fucking hot in there) during the day, or even the mailbox, required mental effort and usually didn't get done until evening. There are so many things to do that conflict and vie for my time that I can only go in circles some day. And frankly it's easier to get nothing done. Job search, musical practice, chores, process trip pictures for wall hangings and gifts, do some blogging, get to San Diego, spend time with Kelli, fight with printer, beat back the idiocy with communications companies. The list goes on.

So that's most of what you need to know about our lives in Escondido. After that, it's just details.

Saturday
Aug112012

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

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

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

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

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

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

1994: the Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alaska Ice at New Years

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

1995-1996: the Blackout

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

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

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

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

Pizza and Beer... for Dolphins

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

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

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

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

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

I Wasn't Supposed to be at Work That Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hog Heaven Halcyon Days, Shelby-powered

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

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

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

Wednesday
Aug082012

Donate

Allow me to function as a beggar for a moment.

I don't sell anything at this site. I mostly tell a long story that probably interests no one but me and a few friends.

But for a couple years now I've been motivated primarily to do extensive volunteer work to do some web projects that I believe in. If you've been a reader at Jubilee Economics or a listener at The Common Good Podcast, or if you've been supporting the professional clergy women of Women Who Speak In Church, then you've had a chance to see the main body of web work I've done to help people around me. Much of it has been of my own initiative to see these causes get a higher profile, and to build community farther and wider than their local networks could facilitate. Collectively, most weeks while unemployed for a year and a half now, I've spent at least full time on one or all of these plus setup and a considerable amount of the social media and digital administrative work that surrounds the main sites, not to mention occasional bits of support for other tangential projects. It fills my time with more meaningful activity than just watching TV (which I've boycotted since 1997).

It takes a lot of time to explore and learn the ins and outs of software, evolving technologies, and to train people back at the orgs to use things. It's a full time job, and one that often spans nearly around the clock. Almost all of it is unpaid except in some cases when some software is purchased for me to use for the cause or offshoot efforts perhaps bring a bit of cash. But make no mistake; it's not an income to pay the bills. It keeps me from driving trucks or doing stage work, which I would gladly consider part of a past life. But I need to be empowered to move with what my gut tells me to do. Any support that helps me to be of service to orgs that really don't have a budget but do have a world-changing message is worthy of support. Maybe it takes crowdfunding to help float by.

All this is work I feel compelled to deliver on before I set about doing things that are my own work. Doing all this volunteer stuff not particularly time spent on this site, which is a pretty transparent document spanning a decade now, and one that says who I am and what I am about and how I've struggled with meaning in life. (By the way, this site costs $192/year in hosting and I have to pay it up in a week.) It's not time spent trying to reconnect with a nearly lost love, music. It's not time in my church community. It's not time seeing family. (You know from reading this site that with my family situation, that doesn't take too much time.)

I recently had to make the sad decision to tell Jubilee Economics that I'd have to back out of most of the work I've done so I could focus on the job search. I'd take that back if there was a way to sustain myself in a way that didn't so sharply demarcate the line between "work I feel compelled to do" and "work that pays a wage."

So I invite you to make a freewill donation of any amount with PayPal. Do it because you know what TAPKAE.com means as a record of trying to live an undivided life of some integrity, or because you know that the job market sucks. Or because you like what you've learned from one of the sites I've built and shepherded, or because you're just a cool person. Any of the above? All of the above?

Thank you.

Monday
Jul092012

The Cover Letter I've Always Wanted to Write

My old man and I when I was about seven.Me and the old man, c. 1981

The Making of a Know it All

When I was young, maybe in about 1981 or so, my old man bought a book for me called "The Volume Library." I think it was a rare time when a traveling salesman got an audience at the doorstep of my house. The book was a enormous blue volume of something like 3000 pages and the name in gold text embossed on the cover and binding. For all I knew at the tender age of seven or eight, everything there was to know was in there. It had a good range of topics that were presented encyclopedia style but divided into major groups of topics. It had some cool clear pages with layered images where those would do good, like for anatomical modeling. I never finished reading it but there were some things that attracted a fascination that persisted even after the book faded from novelty status. There were things that I kept reading over and over, or pictures that drew me back.

I haven't seen the book in years, at least since 1996 when I left that house at 22 and in a panic had to leave a lot of stuff behind back at dear ol' dad's place.

The WWW as Liberal Studies

These days, the Web is the place where I direct my curiosity, and it is usually richly rewarded. Wikipedia is the most clear heir to The Volume Library, at least in terms of my ability to go to one place and get at least an introduction to a topic, that will launch me in myriad directions. These days, the world becomes a very big place with the use of hyperlinks drawing me every which way, something that the would leave The Volume Library green with envy. In a period during about 2007-2009, I was fond of hitting the random article button on Wikipedia and getting lost for a few hours, perhaps a few nights a week. While I had my favorite kinds of topics to pursue, the rolling dice method got me out of my comfort zone, and I hit enough articles that they couldn't ALL be the worst ones on Wikipedia. I even edited a few here and there.

The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.The studio door at Hog Heaven in 2005, just hours before it was demolished. The Magnificent Meatsticks sticker remained but I had to take down the two Richard Meltzer San Diego Reader reviews that were hung below it.

Aside from the insane options that the web offers me solely as a reader, of course the thing that sucks me in is that it is all a two-way street where not only am I consumer but I can be a producer too. And this year marks ten years that I've put my self into the web, making it a place that isn't just "out there" but "in here" too. I was 28 when I got my first website bearing my identity exclusively (this site), and it was a year and a half before that when I was dabbling in such things as mp3.com, the first place my music appeared digitally. (And, interestingly enough, my most throwaway "musical" effort, The Magnificent Meatsticks, was given a higher profile because of mp3.com and some bold move to curry favor with old school rock critic Richard Meltzer [song NSFW] who actually wrote a favorable review because it wasn't formulaic dinosaur rock.) A quarter of my life has been spent online now.

The Web has been a lot of things to me, but I'd be remiss if I were to not say that it really has been a major classroom for my liberal education. Granted, it's not accredited, but the explosion of available information at all levels, and all aspects of life, has been invaluable in a way that I doubt four years of education could touch. Facts and figures alone are valuable, but because the web is fed not by some gatekeeping body that determines what is real knowledge, and what is not, I can get a feel for what life is like at the granular level in someone's own life. The authenticity is unmatched. As you devoted TAPKAE.com readers no doubt see, I have thrown in my lot with that, and still there is plenty I withhold even after the 3000-, 5000- and more word entries here. There is plenty I don't have time to report on, lest I miss living a life in the first place.

A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery A banner outside my old middle school. See my gallery "Afternoon In America" for the caption.

Life from Outside the Ivory Towers

I didn't go to college except for several semesters of mostly humanities/arts/GE classes at the local community college. The semesters themselves were usually scattered from one another. In the 1991-1993 period I went continuously but part time; in the return period from 2003 onward, there were four more semesters scattered across three years. In some ways, I feel like I've failed myself. In other ways, living itself is a classroom, and the Web has filled in some of the informational gaps. I have consoled myself with knowing there are autodidacts out there like Frank Zappa who have done just fine without going through the education mill. In Frank's unsparing words,

Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you've got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.

People in their educated ivory towers will sneer upon sentiments like that, but the view from the outside is just as valid as the view from the inside. When I was 19, 20 in 1993, the cracks in the wall were apparent to me: news reports time and time again were telling us college students were graduating and hoping to win coveted gigs at McDonald's. At the very same time, I was wrestling with an early incarnation of one of my periodic crises of meaning in life. I mean, around that time, I was wrapping up a fourth semester at Mesa College (taking piano and basic musicianship classes, the two classes remaining after I dropped the philosophy class early on), during which I barely spent time at my job at Jack In The Box, due to the crisis of e. coli tainted meat that winter of 1993. I had barely started the job in late December 1992 during my first period of depression and suicidal ideation, only to be laid off for a month or so when the contamination scare hit the news. After returning, I was feeling hopelessly unable to bear with such a job and gracefully bowed out after one troubled week. Ironic, considering it seemed to be what more and more college graduates were left with as a viable option. Oh well. Let them have that shit. My heart led me elsewhere.

I took what I thought would be a semester or maybe one year off from Mesa College and then found that ten years later, during another crisis in life, I'd start up again. But let me not get ahead of myself. I've got thousands of more words for you.

Me at my slick drumset, 1993, outside in a concrete parking lot at an office park.Quite possibly taken on the same day as I am narrating in this post. I only recall being to this place once.

The Hero's Call to Adventure, put on Hold

In 1993 there was no World Wide Web. Not for me at least. That was the domain of the geeks and engineers with pocket protectors in the world I just checked out of. It'd be another two years before I saw the first email address in print. That summer, I was out with Matt Zuniga, doing some drumming and screaming out in a parking garage in Kearny Mesa. It was a hot June day about a month after my semester ended. I just got a job at Subway, which for some reason, I felt far more at ease with than at Jack In The Box. I don't know why that is, but it was so, even after the drama at another store one year before. I was having the first itches to do something that felt self-determined. I didn't know what. I thought of geographic moves but I couldn't determine where I'd like to go. I thought of stepping up the kinds of things we did as Rhythmic Catharsis but was aware that Matt thought all we did was silly and just a way to blow off steam. I thought of a few things. But my kryptonite stopped me.

It's a cloud I live under. Fighting back the feelings of futility and the depression that usually accompanies it is hard, and is breaking through it harder still. The latter happens at times and sustains itself for a while. And then something changes and the parted waters of futility come crashing back at me, and I get swept up in it all for a while, then get somehow dropped on another shore in life. In more recent years, I've accepted that there are spiritual growth lessons involved in all this and usually see the sense to it in hindsight, particularly if I was able to extract a kernel of lesson material in the midst of the chaos.

I spent my early online years not adding much but noise and dissonance to the Web commons. If I could, I'd erase nearly everything from 2000-2003. Of course, Google has its mitts on it and all are free to read it if one knows all the aliases I used during those years. I am willing to own it. In 2004, realizing self-criticism was perhaps more called for than criticism of others in certain real and virtual social circles where I operated, I turned more inward and backed out of most of the online boards and social forums where I had earned a name as a troll — or worse. At the same time, emerging from the nearly deadly depression of 2003, the world was shown anew to me in such a way that enlarged me again, putting my problems in a larger context that had first been shocking and disorienting, but then later paved the way for further development.

Route 66 Gas stationOne of several shots I took during the EONSNOW era of 2005, showing "independent" gas stations that appeared where name brand locations were closing down. All the names had some kind of nostalgic quality to them, evoking the good old days of automotive freedom, etc.

When I heard about peak oil in 2004, it was still a pretty esoteric, out of the way means of understanding the world's dilemmas, and one that few gravitated toward. Less than the particulars of how much oil is or isn't available, the reading I did brought me to grips with the big questions of ultimate meaning in life, but first by mercilessly promising to remove the comfortable life I anticipated I'd lead as a citizen of the empire. It all appeared on my radar in the same season as I got married at the age of 30. In fact, on the altar that special day, I had in my mind that the future could not possibly be what everyone was telling me it would be. Peak oil, which I still believe to be a valid shaper of macroeconomic reality, is something that forced me to see myself differently, relative to the world. It was a good bit of humble pie to munch upon prior to wedding day. It disabused me of certain expectations from married life and got me on a firmer ground of reality. In that way, the debate of whether peak oil is real or not is immaterial to me.

Kelli and I leaving the altarIt is accomplished!

The year or so after the wedding was given to a lot of reading on the topic, several blogs that showed the emerging consciousness I was breaking into, and then for a while, doing some film showings to share what I had learned. A site I launched, EONSNOW.org (long since deleted), was an intersection of those interests with my ability to do websites. I was able to ape other people's words and sentiments, but the inner work was not done yet. I knew the topics well enough but they were in my head, and nowhere else. Eventually, in early 2006 I dropped out of all the EONSNOW stuff and found that another group was able to take me deeper into those concerns, and with a kind of language that took some learning but that did a better of job of showing how deeply rooted our modern dilemma is. I'm talking of course of Jubilee Economics Ministries, JEM.

Jubilee Economics Ministries

For a season in mid 2006 I met with Lee Van Ham of JEM and read a book he gave me, The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life. It was uncompromising in its assessment of how modern economics are rigged against the poor in the Southern Hemisphere, and those "developing" countries outside the Western world. And it was fiercely faithful to the prophetic tradition in the Bible, a tradition that is best epitomized by the life of Jesus. It wasn't just spiritual fluff and it wasn't capitalist propaganda either. It was written by Ross and Gloria Kinsler, lifelong missionaries who saw the reality in Latin America, and who have dedicated their lives to helping the folks in those countries by giving them the theological tools that are needed to resist the neoliberal economics juggernaut that has displaced so many people and upset traditional ways, all so the industrial world can make and sell more stuff. It was really a life changing book, and one in which I saw my own struggle with a landlord father who made decisions for my life that didn't include me. That year, the macro of the world's issues and the micro of my issues were found to be related and in some ways, overlapping significantly. As I've heard it said, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." EONSNOW was my own attempt to make sense of this new understanding of things but it was limited in depth and as those types of topics can be rather doom-laden, sometimes it left more shade than light. Masked knowledge does that. Then, feeling like I had little else to add to the discussion, I called Lee in early 2006.

Lee Van Ham unwittingly became a spiritual father figure to me that year and since. Being a retired pastor helped justify calling him that, but I never knew him as a pastor. I did know him as a person who offered a frank and transparent account of his own struggle with the big issues, and more than others who preceded him in my peak oil related wanderings, he was looking for some way to live hopefully in the face of what is a tremendous challenge: living with the realization that this way of life we live is unsustainable and one day not far from now, will be untenable and will ultimately fail. My peak oil explorations suggested that was not far off, and certainly my lifetime will be the transition period. Lee paved the way for me to understand the Bible in a whole new way, with an eye to the economic themes that permeate it. He's been a great interpreter in that way, and he always surprises me at how he can take familiar texts that made no sense, and turn them into something that explains not just the text, but how the world works. Pretty remarkable.

So of course I wanted to be near that. A few years later, upon encountering Fr. Richard Rohr's teachings about fathers and male spirituality, I had the language for how I saw Lee: he was the spiritual father that emerged when my old man's role in my life came to an end, and when he could not lead me where I needed to go, Lee happened onto the scene as if it were a shift change at Jack In The Box. For the years from about 2007-2009, I met with him periodically, emailed, and if there was a JEM event or course, I went. But it was a bit less than in 2006. In late 2009, once I moved to North Park, one mile from his office, I offered to volunteer at the office for four hours a month doing rather mundane stuff so that Lee might have more time to be the visionary at JEM, with a bit less of the boring office work. At least I'd be able to talk in person some and keep the JEM consciousness alive in my life. As we spent some hours together that December, we got to talking media options, and he again asked me if I had ideas for the JEM website.

Pod-What???

It's always hard being diplomatic in those circumstances. I had sort of avoided talking about it thus far because I knew that it was done by Kyle, a volunteer, in earnest, but that Kyle was not really a web guy. And since everyone is a volunteer, I just accepted it was what it was, and maybe that's all they wanted it to be. The ante was upped however in early 2010 because a disappointing rejection letter arrived that announced that there'd be no funding for a DVD project that Lee was interested in putting together. Amid a flurry of brainstormed options, I suggested this thing called podcasting. I knew enough to describe it, but that was all. It seemed Lee had ever unfolding ideas that grew and grew and took explanation. He was a pastor, someone who did a lot of public speaking for inspiration and persuasion. Podcasting was something that I, as an erstwhile studio operator, was able to make happen so that his distinct voice and passion would register as it was meant to be heard. I didn't know about the web part of podcasting aside from a basic test I had done a few years before, but that would follow. We could come up with a plan for delivering sustained content, right?

Lee had never heard of it. When I tell the story, I usually mention that he said something like "pod-WHAT?" It's not much of an exaggeration. I explained it would take a commitment because of the episodic nature of the format. We drafted a list of how we might fill 15 or so episodes and decided there would be stuff to talk about for a while to come.

Lee and Kyle, being older fellows in their 60s then (and Lee in his early 70s now), were not natively immersed in this kind of stuff, so I found myself having to translate a language I was barely able to learn as I went. I think I confused them both more than I should have. As I produced a demo of the show, it became apparent that the web structure that JEM would need was far beyond the plain HTML site Kyle had curated for some years. So I got drawn into that. I first tried to get the XML feed happening there then thought it easier to redo the entire site in Wordpress. I started the transfer and then heard about Squarespace. And, since the idea was for me to turn it back over to them, it made more sense. Squarespace's interface is simpler and the site maintenance was taken care of since it is a paid service. I was burning out on Wordpress for my own site and welcomed the simple approach of Squarespace, knowing the guys would prefer such a straightforward platform. When the podcast had three episodes recorded and edited, I finally got the feed to be accepted at iTunes on the first try using the default Squarespace feed, and was relieved in a huge way. Previous submissions using a small XML authoring program were not accepted at iTunes even after five tries. So about two years ago now, we were all babes in the woods. Lee and I did podcasts together for four real episodes, and then detoured for a one off video episode giving a progress report on the new web developments. Then we got into interviewing guests. As of this writing, we're 27 episodes strong.

Media Not Just About Me

That same summer, I was fresh out of my male initiation experience in Arizona and at that life changing week, I found myself talking to another Lee, closer to my age, who was a great conversation partner in my struggle with digital media and the techno-treadmill. At the time, I had barely started the podcasts and sort of saw that I'd be drawn in to more digital life after letting my digital publishing interests fade for a few years. In the mean time, browsers were decaying, and I was enjoying nearly a year of being the facilitator of the young adults group at church. I was often heard to celebrate the in-person nature of that group, and was dismissive of social media. I was reporting all this to Lee the younger in the desert, and since then I've never talked to him again by any means. I guess he was meant to be one of those pivot people that you meet once and have your life changed, and that's all there is to it.

What emerged was a feeling that my new online work would be for others. It felt like a logical stage, building upon the stages that came before: self-interested young musician with a CD to sell; disruptive troll; reborn student of life and world issues but with a preachy tone; blogger who faded from all that into a period of self-reflection and some discernment; and then it seemed it was time to take all those experiences and insights back to the web. This time, the purpose would be to build community around a big idea — one that isn't even mine. In some ways, doing the JEM site work and the podcasting is not too different than what I did for my church in Pacific Beach; there too I recorded the messages of a pastor who had very keen world-aware insights, and then used a website to publish the audio. Without the XML feed, it was what I've come to call "proto podcasting" — delivering the same kind of content but without the subscription model.

Screen shot of a recording within Logic ProApple's Logic Pro where I did a lot of podcast episodes.

Doing the work far exceeded the four hours a month I anticipated giving to JEM. In some ways that was cheap of me anyway, considering the gift of life-changing, paradigm-shifting knowledge they had already opened up for me. So I accepted that my time was to be given freely to do what I could to multiply the effort and amplify the message. And then of course, to be doing so many things meant that for the first time in a few years, I was doing web publishing again, at a more elevated profile than before, and that would be resume fodder. Squarespace paved the way for me to be more creative with the visual aspects than I had been for years. It also gave me a platform where I could not break too much of the site at once. But by far the biggest new thing was all the social media options.

Social Media Quicksand

Now, THAT is the time suck. Editing a podcast episode takes too long and my method might be a bit heavy handed, but it comes to an end and the show gets released on time every month. Social media of course knows and respects no boundaries, it seems. And I didn't know anything about it all. I grudgingly entered Facebook for the second time in July 2010 so I could help launch JEM's page. I got on Twitter too. I had no idea about best practices or any of that. Even after so many years of using a blog for these long journals, I didn't really know how to use the format for actually moving messages. Somehow, early on I got onto a different track and only when I started to help JEM did I realize how far my approach diverged from what would be beneficial for a nonprofit org. The social media layer too was something that I feel I entered into without a clue, and sometimes, like today, feel that I still have no clue, if I am to gauge by the interaction I get on pages I manage. (I know there's probably some Human Resources person reading this bit of self-sabotage as they try to disqualify me, ready to toss my resume in the e-trash. Do it if you must. I'm self-sabotaging for a purpose anyway. I'm weeding you out just like you weed me out. I'm preemptively slamming the doors shut that I have no business walking through in the first place. More later.)

Kyrptonite

Here's where the kryptonite comes in again. I have done so many hours of volunteer work and reached into so many aspects of webmastering I never thought I'd encounter. But when it comes time to look for a job, a real job, and one that perhaps would let me finally put to use this kind of interest and that would help develop it, I freeze. I totally freeze in my tracks. When I read an ad on Craigslist and some nameless place wants a "designer" or "coder" I immediately know I am neither. In some ways I am more than both, and in others, less than either. Ditto for "social media expert" or "SEO expert." I've done ALL those things to some degree but not well. Having departed the world of Wordpress for the most part, I've gotten a bit far from that platform which by all appearances, was kind of a step backward away from the most commercially viable web platform out there. I just know that when I used it (and I did for about four years), I was scared out of doing my own web work, not knowing my way around editing the templates, or feeling hopelessly lost in database related work, updates, and actually losing data. In some ways, it was easier to justify driving trucks for a living. When looking for work now, like I have for the last year and one half (as of this week), I can't square with the lists of requests for this skill or that. I hate selling myself, so I sell myself short. Maybe. I've learned a lot of things on my own, but it's not been prep for any job, even the few internships that I've applied to — situations where I'd work for too cheap so I can prove myself worthy of MAYBE working for cheap. It seems like people have to be formed nearly completely for a fucking internship. How the hell?

I hate resumes with a passion. I have several. I've tried chronological resumes. I've tried functional resumes. I've tried the cute online resumes where I plug in my credentials and it looks like a hip designer did it (and yes, I realize that doesn't reflect well on my own skills in the field). But if I am to be somewhat complete, it gets weird and confusing for HR people, I guess. Maybe they work from some formula that doesn't let them parse how a guy with audio/staging experience, senior social service experience, web and audio production experience, and non profit experience could possibly get a job at their place, even if it was straight down the line what they're asking for. I am torn. I can't tell if I'm completely free or boxed in. And I guess if I don't know after all these years, no one else will, either.

What I really need is for my work with JEM and its related entities to pay somehow. It's hard to swing it though; JEM operates on a budget less than $10,000 a year anyway, and everyone is a volunteer. If anything, I'm holding on to a vague idea that someone will take notice of the stuff I've done and somehow change the picture. It's probably a lost cause hoping for that. If anything, the numbers have seen a downward trend during the recessionary years, just like other major orgs have seen. JEM lives according to the graceful delivery of Manna from Heaven each year. So the next hope is that someone who sees what I do will have some paying opportunities on other projects. But it's hard to justify that since I know that all the stuff I have done with JEM is more of a meandering, creative process that has taken hundreds or thousands of hours, and that even when reduced to 10% of that would be more than most people want to pay to get a site launched at so many dollars per hour. Since I never "designed" the JEM web presence as it appears now, it's hard to put a price tag on it when talking to people about their prospective projects. Not being a very good salesperson, and not being a good business person, I have a history of being rather trampled in the projects I've taken on. I hate to admit it, Ms. HR Manager, but I sort of suck at that. 

my name is on the in/out board at work. Big whooptie fucking doo!My name on the sign at AE Scantech while I was the shipping manager.

Dumb Jobs that Take Over Your Life

And that's why I keep looking at "dumb" jobs like driving. Ones that start at one time and end at another and have a record of paying the bills for six, twelve, or even eighteen months at a time. Within a few hours or days of my toil, I get paid. Fair enough. It is a safe feeling after having done always-on-call freelance audio work that paid erratically, or after trying my hand in 2002-2003 at studio recording or web work, none of which ever paid off much more than guitar strings or drum heads! To find a job where I punch the clock is both a breath of fresh air and a kick in the balls. I say that because the kick in the balls part of it means that to hold those jobs, my soul is sucked from me, my generative capacity to be creative put in jeopardy, and my energy usually sapped. During the period at AE Scantech, it was coincident with my breaking up with my church. In the six months or so that I worked there, I did little else at home but for gardening and web surfing. I was out of church all but the first few weeks there and for a couple months afterward. And with that, a lot of social life was lost. AV Concepts before it was dismal, being loaded up with the drama and pain surrounding the forced move from my home, and the fact they laid me off after their scheduling needs clashed with my need to get my head straight in the wake of eviction. The eviction stress on Kelli and I was great, and then she started school about the same time, on a commuting basis that took her away for three days/two nights every week.

Ten potato bags broke open this day in the big truck. What hell.While I could demonstrate mastery over the roads and destinations, it's harder to master a wet potato bag that opens up and dumps its load all over the truck and ground. Ten such bags are harder still to master.

Specialty Produce was better because eventually I was able to strike a balance between the daily work and the spiritual-social life at church and elsewhere, but in the early days, I dreaded the prospect of their ability to command up to 16 hours of my day for about 27 days a month. Somehow, every day after the fourth day there (in January 2008 when I called in sick with a wicked flu and was nearly fired for it) was a miracle. And that it lasted for one week short of three years was stupendously miraculous. And when they did let me go, it was probably again for the matter of scheduling and my need for boundaries so this work doesn't totally suck the life out of me.

Sabbath as Antidote to Jobs That Take Over Your Life

You see, a major lesson that Lee taught me by the words of the Kinslers and by his own example was that of Sabbath. The short form of the lesson is that Sabbath is a resistive measure against endless work, a hedge against being subsumed in the system. Yet for someone like me who tends to dive fairly deeply into things I enjoy for prolonged spells, it's hard to set up the boundaries. It was like that with building plastic models as a teen. Same for drumming which replaced it in high school. And more so when out of school and left to explore music more fully for some years at Hog Heaven. And now it seems that there's been two years or more of going full-tilt at web work, even for the organization that preaches the message of resisting the demands of the work world, the needs of the Market.

Meanwhile, the opposite is true in the "real" work life. I have to have my boundaries so I don't get drawn into the undertow. And I suppose it has cost me a few jobs now. It isn't coincidental those jobs come to an end. I am not putting all my energy into them. At least, not my soul's energy. I shouldn't be there, and after a while that becomes apparent. A favorite book of mine, Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak, has gotten a few readings in recent years, and there I learned that I have to admit the failure of these jobs to "stick" reflects the honest fact that I don't belong there, and that while there are lessons offered in each experience, they are all pointers toward something else, even if the process is a subtractive one marked by failure, discontent, hurt, and all that. As Palmer says from his Quaker upbringing and their keen sense of vocational discernment, "way opens and way closes."

These days, my days are spent with a lot of work that would be handsomely rewarded if I were on some company roster somewhere. It's impossible to say where things start and end because really my mind is one scattered mess with my computer screen indicating graphically a fraction of what's on my mind. I'm rather at wit's end now. Sitting down at TAPKAE.com and writing out several thousand words that no one actually reads is somehow my reward for all this. Don't ask. It's about the only thing that seems to get done in a contiguous block most of the time I sit down to do it. But all the rest of the time, I am nearly lost in browser tabs; email windows for my own stuff, JEM's, and sometimes other accounts; maybe recording/editing a podcast episode; tutoring Lee or Gerald (a newcomer to JEM's media world) via chat or Skype, or hammering out long emails or Google Docs in the same manner; maybe trying to take in a podcast or some iTunes music; often trying to keep up with social media stuff, including a number of RSS feeds that help confuse or deliver me to new prospects; and then there's certainly doing JEM web stuff like proofreading and cleaning pasted-in entries of the digital junk that accompanies that process. Oh, and a periodic revamp of the entire site to help integrate things I've learned along the way and want to implement. They're cool enough to let me play with it that way. They realize it's for the good.

Practicing Bleeding on Craigslist

And then I have to try to wedge in the legitmate job search, which to me is rather like practicing bleeding. To even fire up the Craigslist tab is a task I utterly dread. To decide to click on "nonprofit jobs" and search through things I am not qualified for because I have no degree, or that are just obviously insanely high turnover positions like political campaigning — it's depressing, though periodically something seems to fit. But really, do I want to do a part time, socially beneficial job helping seniors for $8 an hour for three hours a day every third day but split into two shifts from 7-8 in the morning and 4-6 at night?

Someone's work van stopped too close to the railroad tracks and the boom came down on it.This is the kind of absent mindedness that can plague a person in an unsatisfying work position. This is not me though.

The next category to be searched is usually "transportation" which is a tad more promising for actual living wage earning, but gets me downright depressed. I mean, really. I've done three jobs that were nearly exclusively defined by driving. I am good at it. I rank well. But let's face it... it is not anywhere near where my real interests or passions lead. I can do these things mechanically but not with any real feeling. I don't belong there. After a while, that becomes evident to all.

Next category, a step down from that, is "customer service" which usually cues me to get up and take a piss and stare at the mirror for a while in disgust of what I see. Who the fuck is it that is about to open up the ads and apply for some fucking barista job? Or for some other equally pointless job? It certainly isn't the Me I feel I am. Maybe some temporary inhabitant of my physical shell, but an alien to my soul. This character should be eradicated. Tarred and feathered, and chased out of town! What a disgrace. The movie Clerks is not just cinema for me.

Following that, I might start to check in the various Craigslist categories that might include web and media work. Believe it or not, this is what I am actually er, trained in, or have some experience in, and when the terms are favorable, actually enjoy. But because there is a gulf between the experience I have and the requirements they list, I cower. I run. It's time for another break, already. Time to get a drink. In Escondido, I hope for a beer to take the edge off. But fresh squeezed lemonade would help. Let me go pick some lemons. Oh...that reminds me, the dog shit needs to be picked up in the front yard. Let me think this out. How would my resume go? Should I write that email? Has Lee or Gerald responded in a state of greater confusion about the chat we had? Oy!!! Anything but looking at Craigslist will do for now. They want a UX/UI expert. They want Wordpress. They want SEO mastery. They want a portfolio. What am I to do? Prepare a resume for a place that I am clearly no fit for? Time to get back to doing what I at least pretend I do well. At least in JEM I'm a big fish and people seem to value it. It just doesn't pay. I don't like it much, but I like it more: picking up dog shit is somehow able to give me a sense of accomplishment.

Other Craigslist categories come to mind, and feeling like I need to relax and open up some, I look at others, including some of the off the wall stuff in the Gigs. I did find a one off audio editing job last week that I was extremely well qualified for, even though I had never done audio book editing. All those years cutting sermons and podcasts got me $212.50 for eight hours' work — $25 an hour which is adequate considering it's simple timeline bushwhacking with no real thought put into it. Woo Hoo! The mind has to wonder what that pay rate would have done for me during those church sermons and podcast programs which are edited even more completely. $212.50. But that's gone with two household bills. Back to that job I passed over in the Transport ads... but can I really see myself as a fucking tow truck driver?

EONSNOW page in 2006EONSNOW homepage, 2006.

The Breadcrumbs of Vocational Discernment

Today I was doing some of the routine chat talk with Lee and Gerald—guys I like and respect for their lifestyles and experience—and I was cracking as I was trying to negotiate redesigning the podcast's programming in the light of Gerald being a new creative partner in it all. But despite his background in public radio, church music and therefore church life, and PR and other things of interest, he still takes a lot of tutoring at new technologies and blogging. His message is impeccable and urgent and excites the part of me that set out to do EONSNOW in 2005, but his delivery will take some work in this new media world. But as I dive more and more into web stuff, I am confronted with a vast insecurity complex — kryptonite again. The more I read about best practices in podcasting, social media, blogging (all the stuff I like most about being online), the more I feel like I miss the mark, and that my own methods have perhaps worked against JEM more than for them. I could be woefully wrong, but that's the feeling. Even direct questions at Facebook do not elicit the answers or the participation. My pact with myself was that this new era of web involvement was to be for building web community has been met with a realization that I don't seem to accomplish that too well. JEM's ideas are not my own ideas. I see myself as a conduit through which Lee's or Gerald's ideas pass. That seemed like a better deal to make than in the days of EONSNOW when my ideas were naive and perhaps a bit vitriolic. In JEM, I do about the same thing as I set out to do with EONSNOW, except the ideas I move are those of others who have about twice as much life experience and authority as I have. And more education.

Magazine cover for school project. Dreadful.A mock magazine cover for an assignment in Quark. One of the insanely dumb things I did while at Art Institute of CA in 2001-2002. Totally worthless.

We Don't Need No Education

But I don't beat myself up about the education thing too much. I'm sure there are plenty of you HR people out there who are trashing my resume because it doesn't reflect my ability to put up with the rat race and hurdle jumping path of the education mills and their methods for teaching me next to worthless shit at considerable expense that will follow me for a decade to come. But let's remember, I didn't hear about peak oil at school. I didn't learn about the global economic picture's grave injustices from school. Nearly all my current web publishing knowledge did not come from a school (and the stuff that I did pay $6,600 for was essentially worthless even as it was flowing from the instructors' mouths). I did not learn how to befriend a homebound senior citizen at school. I did not learn how to podcast at school. I did not learn how to cook for my wife at school. I did not learn how to appreciate the Easter tree near Julian, CA in school. And I sure as fuck don't miss the debt that I would have racked up at school. I don't miss it in the same way that I don't miss ever making a car payment in my life.

The irony is, even to this day, I have a tenth grade worksheet that indicates I did learn about population dieoff back in the spring of 1989 at the education mill at 4899 Doliva Dr. in San Diego. But who was poised to tell me that it would apply not just to bacteria in petrie dishes and bunnies in Australia, and instead to all of humanity and the lifestyle I live? Okay, score one for the education mill, but it was up to me scouring the Web and serendipitously meeting wise people who could explain what it means when humanity finally ate all the sugar in the dish and is bound to dieoff because it's going to drown in its own shit. No class discussion on that one.

Sign for a thanksgiving day race to feed the hungry.A sign that I caption as "burning too many calories to help those who have too few," a form of misguided charity toward those with less.

Why Me, Why Now?

With an awareness like that, it's hard to wake up in the morning and go through the pretty mindless pursuits of going to work, or even looking for work. And it's a mind-scattering thing to have to play that game enough while getting some money from the state, all the while knowing that 99.99% of what I could locate in Craigslist is stuff that I am not called to do at any deep level. I might be an undereducated, polemic-writing, failure of a social media manager, but I wake up in the morning more enlightened than some who have dizzying amounts of education and a full alphabet following their given names. I wake up and often have the question on my mind, "why me? why now?" I live in the awareness that I am a part of the problem too, and that most days, I can't turn off the awareness that I am caught in a lie: either to be part of the system, or to pretend that I am not part of the system, but to work dilligently at exposing it. It's paralyzing, yes. It's a moral quandary deciding to use the tools of the empire to bring the empire to truth. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future, that there is no good technology without a dark side. (I didn't learn that in school, see?) It's a tragic bind to realize the computer is both a major part of the problem and a vital part of some solution. Or to realize that rationalizing that is total bullshit too. When you wake up in the morning and know humanity is headed for a brick wall at full speed, it almost doesn't matter what you do, or how loud you wail in Cassandra's shrill tones.

A poster I made in 2004 with iconic image of Dubya saluting like a Nazi with a caption that declares dictatorships are good as long as he's the dictatorSome of Dubya's statements were unusually candid for those who operate the reins of power. In 2004 I thought it was a slam dunk that he'd be beaten. Shows what I know. But this and other posters contributed to the "war effort" against him.

When you are enlightened in such a way, you look at the world's issues with different eyes. There are more educated humans alive today, but less educated humanity. Do you suppose that there is a correlation between the sheer amount of university level education — unlocking the secrets of the world, the planet, the universe, even — and the problem all humanity is faced with today? Was there a time when humanity ever faced extinction, and the biosphere with it? Did such a time ever really happen before we got educated? Not only are the education mills rather dumb pursuits as Frank Zappa said, but it appears that they are outright dangerous, at least without the balancing effect of a deep spirituality that can reconnect what compartmentalized education breaks apart methodically.

Funny, the record shows that a young and cocky, uneducated but insightful wandering preacher 2000 years ago rocked the foundations of history and the course of the world. It wasn't because he was university educated. The irony was that by adopting the religion that bore his name as the state religion, the state ended up imploding upon itself. That fire was too hot to handle, even for the mightiest power the world had known to that point. And so it will be once more. And again. And then again after that. Score one for the uneducated masses who don't know enough to break the world.

The Test Came Before the Lessons

Did the 19 year old Jack In The Box worker bee have this insight in 1993? Not a chance. Did I know what I was hoping to accomplish when I decided my time at Mesa College was spinning my wheels for no discernable reason, and left for a year that became ten? Hell no. Did I know that the abortion my girlfriend had not too long after that fateful decision to leave school had would shape my geo-political perspective that says that having children in the Western/Industrialized world is contributing to the crisis? Of course not. Did I realize that heart-rending night when she and I were hours from breaking off an engagement to be married that I stepped off the bus going to a place I have no business arriving at? I was just working from the hunch in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, by evasive tactics, laziness, fear, loss, or other things, I've arrived where I am. But you see, where I am, what I know, and what I do is about as valid as anyone else's claims to same. Sure, my spell at reading endless Wikipedia entries during 2007-2008 is not a college degree, but it didn't do harm. It's not valid by one measure but is completely valid by another. Education comes in all forms, and I have Fr. Rohr to thank for that teaching, at least in that he was the first to make that thought stick. And, as a blurb on my site's sidebar now says, "we may misunderstand but we do not misexperience." Another tidbit that I'm pretty certain emerged from Rohr's teachings over these last three years was that "something isn't true until you yourself experience it." In September 2003 while I was in a residential therapy center for a week and a half getting my head straight after the single most devastating depression I have had (on the eve of turning 30, and just under one year before I got married), my experience was validated by a really cool therapist who walked me through all that. I still have the Oscar Wilde quote he wrote for me, "Life is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson later."

A liberal education is given in all manner of class rooms, board rooms, chat rooms, and even bed rooms. But maybe one thing I look at differently is that eventually that kind of education puts the world back together into a whole, whereas the education mill likes to take things apart and to constantly divide reality. It's not to say that kind of education will permanently damage a person, but it will certainly take some para-scholastic experience to round out the person, and yes, it could easily delay the progress toward a rounded humanity. Life happens just as surely with someone who got their worthless piece of paper as it has to me, but sometimes the mind is shaped in such a way in the education mill that causes resistance to this other equally valid way of learning, or a sense of mistrust of it. And it isn't without consequence; life is not facts and figures alone, and the people who think that it is tend to also be ones motivated to move into positions of influence and power, who shape political, economic, and thought at the macro level.

When I work in the context of JEM, I am able to operate in a space where the large world issues and my own experiences are not dismissed, but looking at them with some responsible attitude is encouraged. I get to be creative and functional in a place where the incomplete and mixed up me is somehow an asset. Having the scattered experience and interests I have has served to make me more qualified in that setting, not less. It isn't that JEM is a pleasure dome I wish not to escape. I pull my hair out some days in the effort to pull rabbits out of hats there. But the work, while not always feeling like it's firing on all cylinders, does not feel pointless like delivering architectural plans a year after I was showing The End of Suburbia and shrieking like Cassandra about all that. I knew I sold myself out getting that job, but I needed something. At least after that job I waited out the temptation to take a job at a car dealership as a parts driver.

Naming and Unmasking the Powers

Indulge me a bit of Walter Wink-inspired thoughts on naming and unmasking the powers. And pardon me as I vent several years of frustration in the workplace. The Human Resources staff professional will be my pinata for the occasion.

So there you are, Madam HR executive in a cute little suit and high heels, bespectacled in cute little fake horn rimmed glasses and sporting that little tiny pony tail or bun with highlighted streaks that you corporate types seem to wear, evaluating whether I am fit for your widget wrangling position on the shop floor. Totally unfit. I'm not what you're looking for. In fact, throw that resume out but be sure to recycle it. Oh? It hit the bin long before I finished that sentence? The email delete button is a wonderful thing? What power you hold with that button! Maybe there's a thousand of me sending resumes in and you're there not only canning me prematurely but also looking to see who among your employees are worthy of being fired because they are looking for other work, and they just happen to have sent their resume into your inbox, unwittingly signing their own pink slip, or at least inviting scrutiny about their loyalty. Is this what all that education has done for the world? Given you the ability to pan hundreds of people from livelihoods without even so much as a polite response or a chance at a human encounter? Given you a place of power to cut people out of jobs while you hang out with your iPhone wielding friends, sipping fucking martinis in the fucking Gaslamp Quarter, ranting about how miserable your life is? Maybe it's because your position is a worthless one to begin with, the kind of makework that makes some people look good while others are sent to the bin according to some formula? Some of you use too many words in your job listings and dismiss people like me before I get the courage up to even try to fill out a resume. Others lead me in with sparsely worded listings that say next to nothing about the job, the compensation, the location, and the industry. It's okay to waste MY time responding to an ad to ferret out that kind of information?

I've seen you in town. I've worked for you already if you've known it or not. I was the the pee-on who delivered architectural plans to the contractors that turned your home in Clairemont into a McMansion. Or that built your new place on the outskirts of Del Mar or in the fire-prone hinterregions of Poway. I'm the guy who delivered the plans for that building you work in. It's an ugly monstrosity of glass and steel that shows no humanity or grace, and no sense of caring about the world around it. Yep. I was part of that too.

Me onstage with classic rock cover band Rockola, for whom I worked for a few years. I was on stage playing a bit of bass as one of the stage gimmicks.Sometimes I got to do this little bit of bass playing on stage with Rockola at Blind Melons club. All the rest of the time, I was side stage and in danger of being trampled by drunken fucks.

I've seen you in town. I've done sound at your pathetic corporate parties where you dance mindlessly to the music that used to be vitally important, socially relevant PROTEST music a generation ago (even the DISCO music that you mock with bullshit costumes stood for someone's liberation a generation ago), and I've seen you all twirling about, drunk and too stupid to exit the clubs at 1:55 in the morning. Some of you probably tried to kiss me then too while I was putting the guitars away, and no one seemed to mind that they were encroaching on my workspace at the mixer, or at the side of the stage. You know...that stuff I did there was work too, and my attention was supposed to be paid toward the performance on STAGE, not to your little song and dance asking for the stupidest shit: Can you hold the sitar or bang on the bongos sitting side stage? No! Could I put some more guitar in the mix? No! You got ten bucks and you want the five piece band to play (and the crew to wait) an extra half hour? Fuck you! It's bad enough we get treated like the fucking Guatemalan maids at these same hotels — or even worse — with a tip like that. I just didn't have my own iPhone and Facebook in 1999 when the parties were getting outrageous in corporate America or else I'd have put up videos or audio myself to show what idiots you and your executive co-workers can be in those situations. Oh, it was all a party, and the money flowed like water toward those parties. I'd presume so because the machine was getting finely tuned by the late 1990s. Corporate profits up, no doubt because the HR department was honed to a fine edge, able to excise all the riff-raff and keen on making the few remaining people simultaneously run faster and harder while looking over their shoulder where the axe was waiting for them too. Then the recession hit and the party was over. Good riddance. But you got to keep your job.

I saw this guy repeatedly while delivering to Gordon Biersch in Mission Valley. Sometimes I had some food to give him. And he was one of the guys who was still among the living.

Oh, I've seen you in town. You're the people who bought the fancy foodie dishes made from the produce I delivered to 101 fancy restaurants, resorts, and hotels in town where I got to enter through the ass-end of the place with grime and food waste and even — wait for it — laborers! I'll bet there were some who struck a deal to work under the table because they were undocumented and you were in need of a bit of margin so you could afford that die-cut embossed menu for tonight's wine list. You're the people who shit $100 bills and throw out half-eaten plates of gourmet food because you can. I can't say for sure how many of those homeless people out there were your own handiwork, but they are certainly the handiwork of the system you belong to. Outside those same restaurants you can be seen making fools of yourself, probably drunk there too, and likely oblivious to the homeless folks that line the streets in the area, and that are expected to kindly step aside and relocate to the outer reaches of East Village so you can go out for a nice night on the town. Maybe one day you'll get to meet them. And I hope it's not just a field trip experience.

And some years ago, when you were a little less drunk at lunch time, and when I used to work at Subway, you were the one who thought I was no one because of the stupid green shirt and hat I wore. I didn't like you then either. It was a gut feeling then. I didn't have a blog to rant on then, but I did control what went into your sandwich. Other far less scrupulous (and possibly disgruntled) people than I now make those same sandwiches. And you don't know what is really in that Taco Bell "meat," do you?

The funny thing is, you get to enter "my office" and essentially set the agenda with some inane antics and plenty of condescension. You come on to MY stages, you eat the food I deliver, you boss me around in MY office at Subway, or Jack In The Fucking Box, or even for Pizza Slut or Dumb, I Know's Pizza. But is the same true for my ability to enter YOUR office and call the shots? Not with that electronic fence you have around it that barricades me at my own computer browser. Not with that veneer of coolly isolated professionalism in shades of corporate blue and gray. Not with the minimum wage earning security guard who thinks he's someone because of the badge and the key to the gated parking lots that surround your ivory towers and your dark satanic malls (sic). Do I get to come in and make a scene in your office? Dance on your desk, let my cock hang out, kiss you in my swirling and oblivious state of drunkenness? Hell no. My office is in the world. Your office is behind closed doors. I don't get to meet you to talk about getting a job. I don't get to have a human exchange to explain myself. You really don't care anyway. Or if you do at a personal level, it's not your job to act on that feeling, professionally. It's a one way thing that gives you HR people some upper hand. For a time, maybe.

Okay, enough snarkasm. Even HR professionals are people too. A bit unaware of how offensive and useless their professional role is, but they're people who have a home and kids to feed. I just hope they wake up and repent for taking those positions and for aiding a corrupt system to ever more corruption.

Still, I've been waiting for the collapse of the corporate model as we have come to know it because the corporate form as we know it has outlasted its usefulness and the antics needed to prop up its validity are increasingly implausible. It has already jumped the shark. No one really likes it anymore except those still enjoying the party, and that number is growing fewer and fewer as the system eats itself alive. No one really faithfully shows up to support it. And an economy based in mutual fear can't last. In JEM or out of it, I learned that it's a model that is doomed to consume itself because of its own success and gluttony. I'd like to sit by and watch, and maybe even give it a shove on its way out of town. It might run a little past the end of my lifetime, or it might finish itself off by the time I get my senior discount at restaurants. I don't know. But be ye warned: the economy is here to serve humanity, not the other way around. And the big structures ALWAYS fail in the end —empires, churches, monarchies, and soon, corporations. As Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The Soul of Work

I could think of myself as too poorly educated to join into the workforce, but I happen to think of myself as too well educated to join in the workforce. Or, let's say, at least a certain kind of workforce. It isn't that manual labor is below me. In some ways, it's far more gratifying than neuroacrobatics. As I said, even picking up dog shit sometimes gives me a bit more of a sense of accomplishment than all sorts of pixel wrangling and syllable splicing and I really dig cooking for friends (a completely separate task from picking up dog shit). Both keep me feeling grounded. It's far more grounded and integrity-filled than a lot of marketing and media work I might persue if I was actually good at this stuff. It's not any of that. It's that when you see what these jobs lead to in a big picture, it's damn hard to want to put energy into it all. More than depression that just brings me down, it makes my heart ache that people still believe in some of these pursuits. I'd gladly work in a bakery for the right reasons rather than being some overeducated fuck doing some kind of smart person's work for the wrong reasons, in a position that might be responsible for digging humanity a bigger hole than the current one. The workplace does not really earn the respect and loyalty of working people now because everyone knows the axe is about to fall any minute. The whole thing is rigged to fail eventually because as one market after another is squeezed like a lemon, eventually everyone will realize they've been had. The funny thing is, it won't matter until the educated, degree holding mostly white people find themselves at the short end of the stick before things will change. It's the people inside the system who are the last to see it for what it is. The rest of us are waiting for it to fall apart and for there to be a time when the entry fee is bearable, and the show is good enough to stay and watch all the way through.

But what do I know? I'm just a college dropout with a chip on my shoulder, right? And you read this entire thing and say, 'is that all?' It's no more a waste of your time than it is for me to fill out those fucking online applications with the psychological profile questions that give me all the choices to answer that suit you but not me. I've applied for enough of those and being forced to answer a question using four disagreeable options is not my cup of tea. What is the point of asking me if I would handle working in a noisy, busy, chaotic, hellish workspace and expecting me to answer the A-D spectrum from "yes, I love this kind of thing and my life is incomplete without it" and "no, I can't hack it"? If I'm applying to your fucking job and I have entered the place as a customer, don't you think I know it's a hellhole of a place to work with asshole customers and round-the-clock noise? Is anyone really made to live under those conditions, or just desperate enough to accept them so they can afford not to sell their children to some rich and smart looking HR manager who has a nice job and can buy such unnecessary items as surplus offspring from poor people made poor by the swift strokes of the pens that other HR managers hold?

Just Send Money

It's not that my attitude is bad. It is realistic. Work is not valued like it should be. The fact is, I give more time and passion to JEM than I gave to any one of the jobs I've had and I don't really get paid but for some new software and a nice share of "attaboys." I can't even make a plausible argument that my state unemployment payment for $1,404 approximates the value I offer to JEM. The sad fact is, as one of my early web design mentors said, "the problem with nonprofits is that they're too nonprofitable." My favorite jobs and duties have been in the nonprofit realm, but never at the places that get the glory. And when you think about what a disgrace it is that JEM flies so far below the radar, that's heartbreaking. I mean, JEM, a tiny nonprofit with a handful of people who care, is not even a speck of dust in the desert. But we show up and soldier on with some vision of how to do economics differently than the system that is going down the toilet now and taking everything with it. You'd think that this world-saving heroic effort would pay better, even if I'm a bit lacking in the real ability to get participation and SEO rankings. Living with a divided mind and no particular income makes it hard to know what foot to put forward: do I totally immerse myself in learning the web tools and services and best practices? Or what?What part of the 40+ hours I put in each week is not valuable somehow so that even my own relatively slim expenses can be met and some left over to squirrel away for a global warming induced rainy day in the mid summer?

So I spend my days with my scattered mind, unsure whether I should either dive into or minimize my JEM work. All the other options seem empty, pointless, backwards. The math works out that if I were only to optimistically reproduce my state income, even 30 people sending in $50 a month would do that, though to take it seriously, I'd need more to accommodate the deductions that would be required. Are there not 30 people out there who think that there's some worth in moving a message like JEM's and who are able and willing to help me get by so I can better answer a call to do meaningful work? One day the state payments are gonna be done, and I'll get into the desperation mode again and take whatever dumb shit emerges. Or maybe there will be some freelance work. But what the fuck does it take to actually cover my ass while doing the thing that comes closest to calling upon my training, my interests, and my experience?

It's five o' clock in the morning. Let me go to be so I can get up at nine and get back to my work. This was all done on "my time." Good thing I set up PayPal for invoicing that editing gig. Now I can put a "donate" button on my site too! This post took me about eleven hours over two days to write and edit this. It's nearly double the length of my previously extravagantly long posts, but obviously it's not without a bit of thought and passion that took these 38 years to accumulate. What's that worth to anyone? Your call. Thanks for reading.

Then again, maybe I could get a job being a roving salesman, selling print copies of Wikipedia as I go?

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.

Tuesday
Jan032012

Blogging in 2012

I'm looking at my calendar of 2012 and anticipating that I could blog myself silly this year, if I were only to retrace my steps of either of the years of 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992, and perhaps even 1987. All those years of course are moving back in fives, and as I consider them, they all have some juicy stuff to ponder and to revisit here. Even taking just two of those years is enough to bite off and try to chew; the year 2002 is the opening year of life with Kelli, but 1992—20 years ago now—was filled with various coming-of-age moments that just beg for some consideration now. 

In 2011 I blogged a lot about stuff happening in 1991 and 2001, each of those being years with a lot of pivotal stuff happening. I realize I didn't even write about one major piece of that year: my trip to Europe. I've written around it in other posts, but just about the time I would have written something, or maybe even transcribed my journal of the trip, I was really intimidated at it. My writing from that period, and on that particular trip, was insanely immature and distracted and therefore nearly impossible to imagine presenting here. So it sat and other things got worked on. Scanning and presenting some long-hidden documents that help illustrate some of the stories is very time consuming, but it did enrich the entries in some places. Even scanning choice items is rather labor intensive and really kind of ridiculous considering no one reads this blog anyway, but I've longed for an online scrapbook and now have done a lot to get the whole story out the best I can, considering I don't live in a vacuum.

So what might you see this year as those key years' anniversaries pile up this year? It could all of this and more, or maybe just a few highlights. I just don't know how I'll feel as a date comes around and begs of me a bit of my time to mull over.

1987

  • A bit far back but I'd like to assess that year as a year when the first major period of relations with my mom and family there was finally sent its first shocks and the distance started for the first time. Things did carry on into 1988, but the first cracks in the wall for me came in 1987.
  • Getting orthodontic braces was linked to the mom story in a pivotal instance, but otherwise was cause for teen confusion and identity issues. A talk with my pastor one day before that started, and weeks before starting 9th grade is also a major thing that shaped me for years to come.

1992

  • This one is pretty rich. It's the first full year after high school. Lots of emptiness and alienation as I tried to find out who I was after high school and in the midst of two major friends being out of my life. Even though Nirvana and Seattle was exploding musically, I was hunkering down into Genesis and Dire Straits, unable to really be part of my peer group at the same time as a whole new scene developed around me.
  • I reconnected with my step mom Eda after all the years since she left in mid 1983. We'd been writing for some years prior to our in-person reunion in January but this was the start of a new era, for better or for worse. In a lot of ways, the modifier word, "step-" is a lame thing to have to add to her title since in a lot of ways she did fill the role of mom better for me than my own mom has, even as she's been given her chances over the years.
  • Subway was my job and I was as close as I'd ever come to being a "company man." After a couple months of that, the store was sold to some really uptight New Yorkers who really spoiled things when they fired me and got legal on me.
  • Subway buddy Matt Zuniga and I were drummers on the run, or as we called ourselves for a few months, Drummers With Attitudes (original, eh?) and later on, Rhythmic Catharsis. DWA/RC was essentially my entry into being a "recording artist" and self publisher. In some ways, the drum-vocal-noise "music" was just secondary to the chance to do ridiculously antisocial and annoyingly self promotional nonsense. 
  • First girlfriend Melissa and the resulting carnal knowledge. And some insanely naive and embarrassing writings that accompanied that. 
  • I took my second trip to Germany during the summer and that was the fulfillment of a year's hopes and anticipation. Six weeks out of the nation on my own initiative was a huge step. Seeing my friend Stephan Rau in Germany was a vastly better closure to the time we enjoyed as friends in 1990-91 at school and for the few days I saw him in Germany just a month after graduation in 1991. 
  • Joblessness after the Subway era was frustrating to start with and was prolonged by the trip to Germany, and then prolonged more by starting another year at Mesa College while being rather distracted by my new girlfriend. Getting a job at Jack In The Box was hardly the answer to my prayers, but it sort of was.
  • Even my 16 year old girlfriend and her undying puppy love for me was no match for my first "adult" depressive episode that arose in the aftermath of my trip, knowing that what had held me together for a year—working like mad at Subway and putting up with the indignities there, and many indignities and frustrations that came from the general picture of being thrown into a new world that year. My first suicidal ideations came as a young 19 year old. Oddly, getting a job at Jack's helped me bail the water some at just the right moment. 
  • Chalk that up to one more great talk with my pastor Jerry and youth pastor Judy, who had both been instrumental in prior years.

1997

  • The year kicked off with a breakup from Robin after nearly two and a half years. It felt like freedom even though I was a wreck inside and didn't realize it.
  • Kind of related to that, I also made a decision to avoid television and have generally kept true to that ever since, at least as far as owning one, paying for service, or scheduling my life in accordance with TV schedules.
  • The first full year out of my childhood home. I lived for the first time with total strangers. That was something that was clear, but in some ways, seeing what happened in the year or so after my grandfather died led me to see a side of my family in a way that made them seem like total strangers.
  • Coming off the tour with Mike Keneally in late December 1996, I was energized to play music, record like mad, and to trust my creative instinct. I recorded Hog Heaven early on and then redid parts of it for my first CD release using my new VS-880 recorder, which really ushered in the glory days of my recording era.
  • The Shelby matter was brought back (after a two and a half year silence) by a total chance meeting that sometimes I wish never happened, but at the time was the stuff of miracle.
  • Laboring at Pizza Hut was the first lucrative job I had. It was able to give me some idea that I could live on my own (with roommates, really) but I knew I was kidding myself that I could do it for long. Another job was more absurdly mismatched. At 24, I was rather in need of direction and was years from such a thing.

2002

  • Kelli and I got together. Duh! After five years of the single life and all the strife that went into that, Kelli and I got together in a way that surpasses Lennon and McCartney, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Peas and Carrots, or even peanut butter and chocolate!
  • Graduated from Art Institute of California with almost no skills and even less confidence. And with a new debt burden that irritates the fuck out of me even today, even as I paid it off five years ago or more.
  • I faced weak work prospects for much of the year, but was able to find that the depressed state of things in the audio world gave me time to explore my new relationship as something that gave me life and opened my eyes to a dimension of wonder again in a way that nothing else had. 
  • Work did open up at a senior center where Kelli worked. Lame pay, but it was a great lesson in regaining some humanity and compassion that a lot of years had diminished. It was a very humble position but a transformative one where it's clear God went to work on me.
  • Musically I was able to return to my project of trying to play within a band context. There was some neat stuff happening that year even as it started to seem like it was not the same me at work in that music and studio environment, which had peaked and started into a decline just as the year started off.
  • I also was in the first year of using a computer of my own, and was experiencing the technical and relationship difficulties that went with that: in some cases, losing a lot of data and in other cases, creating cyber-carnage wherever I went, it seemed.
  • TAPKAE.com came online with its first full site dedicated mainly to my musical identity in support of Receiving. It was self indulgent but in a real self indulgent way. I say that knowing this present site is rather much about me, but does that with a different aim than I had in 2002.

2007

  • Another year, another crappy job to deal with. This time I was trying to hold the fort for as long as possible while Kelli was at school. For my trouble, I got about six and a half months' worth of value from that job.
  • We set up our first garden at our new place—the third place we lived in less than two years. The garden was good for soothing our souls and learning lessons that can't be taught any other way.
  • Buber the Dog! Buber too continues to be one my one of my sprititual teachers. 
  • A good thing he was because I made a move I never really thought I'd have to make. One I didn't want to make. I left my church, and in doing so, it felt like even another family member was taken from me. It took eight months before I went to church again, and then that was at another church that had a transitional role before I got into the one I am at now, but with new ideas of what I needed from church, and how I might situate myself in that world again, according to who I am, and not according to who my family member was, or even that my wife is a clergyperson.
  • Dental hell. All the years of avoidance came down on me finally as I had to meet the enemy. Scaling. Gum surgery. Bone reshaping. It wasn't fun. But it was sort of theologically provocative as I began to recognize the resurrection after the death. God can teach that in any old way. I learned it in part from having to sit in the dental chair with my heart beating out of my chest.

So you see? I could spend some time unpacking all that and more. I reckon it's not really productive to live in the past, but from where I am at, it is productive to remind me of what it has to teach me. And, since my art is essentially the life I lead, it helps to know what has worked or felt good versus what has not worked or that has left me at odds with myself. No one else seems to keep this documentary of who I am, what has happened to me, or what I think of it all. What I've enjoyed seeing in the last year since the new TAPKAE.com (Squarespace era) has exploded into a completeness never before seen at this domain, has been to gather the scattered pieces together and enjoy the mosaic of it all. Some is nice fabric; some is shattered glass; some is mangled metal or broken drumsticks or guitar strings. In some ways, I consider this the long form of my epitaph. Maybe one day someone will be tasked with reading all this and distilling one snappy line suitable for engraving into rock.

Monday
Aug222011

Subway, Center of the Universe + 20

My second job was a rather unintentional change in my life. It came about as an unintended side effect of visiting the Subway sandwich shop in Clairemont Square on the way to one of the last church picnics of the year. It was newly opened earlier in the summer, just about the time I was in Europe in July (something I know was worthy of writing about this summer but that is a pretty big story to tell, and therefore, haven't). On the way to the picnic sometime about late in the afternoon on August 14th, I stopped in for a sammich and there was a pretty empty shop with manager Steve chillin' at the counter (he'd later be heard to say, "if you got time to lean, you got time to clean"). The essential banter, preserved in my journal from the period, went as follows:

Me: "I'd like a Cold Cut Combo please."

Steve: "Here, have a cookie."

"What? For free?

"Yeah. I need to get rid of the older ones. So... do you need a job?"

"No."

"You financially secure or something?"

"No, that's not a problem."

"So you're saying you need a job..."

"I guess I am."

I got an application on the spot, brought it back and was told to come back in the morning. I did, and in five minutes, I was a Subway employee. I started a week later on this day, August 22nd. Just days before, my grandfather bought me a pretty nice bike, a Hard Rock from Specialized in a lovely pearlized white. The fact that he spent a whopping $300 and more for it was huge then. That fact put my bike ownership into a new era; it was the nicest bike thus far, and one that wasn't a heavy steel Huffy or whatever else was available then. I rode down the sidewalks for the mile and a half to Subway, and at about midnight, rode back the same way. It got a good bit of use on my Mesa College commute which was either rather longer a ride or was too hilly to enjoy much. I mixed it up over time. The bike served me well for about two years, later being replaced by the Escort given to me officially on my 20th birthday in 1993, but having already been mine to use much of the year before that, at least on weekends. 

I only had vague plans to be in Mesa College for the new school year. Starting at Subway was a rather surprising development but one that gave me the funds to fulfill my stated idea of getting back to Europe the next summer. I worked at Subway for eight months until mid April 1992. I had no idea how that job would shape my life, or how it functioned as a hub for so much else that happened.

I started as a closer and remained so almost exclusively. What changed it was in the last month when the store was sold to an oddball and cranky Jewish family from New York. When I started, the store was open until midnight, and it took a while to close after that. I had a coworker there until about 10 pm, and then I was on my own. That arrangement lasted about two months for me. The store was new and bit off more than it could chew and on later review, they saw that I was overwhelmed at the end, and frankly, a bit vulnerable. The video camera recorded me there some nights after 1 am, and I was interrogated about why I was so late in getting out. They changed the hours back to 11pm with two closers and things flowed a lot better. I found it a bit more social that way. Being new at working and life in general, I was given to be a bit of a fame seeker in the way I shared (or didn't share) duties at dinner rush time. I was dared one day by Chuck, the rather salty-mouthed but sometimes hilariously funny perv of an owner-operator, to lose the name "Slugger." It was a measure of my line speed. So I took it to another extreme and often accepted no help out front, instructing my even-newer-than-I coworkers to stay back in prep land even during dinner. I hated prep, so I was willing to take on the entire dinner line to avoid it. That made me fast but sometimes drew some attention when it backfired and the customers narced me out to Chuck or Steve, asking why the prep person was not coming out to help. Based on the fact that I was quickly becoming the longest tenured closer there even at my few weeks or months, I sort of had the unofficial role of being the shift manager, and really not being able to do that too well. That broke down after several weeks and I ended up finding it was rather nicer dealing with prep, dirty dishes, and other behind the scenes stuff, and letting someone else do the line.

Work vs. Life

I might have been on a wandering schedule prior to Subway, on account of being a recently graduated guy with no plans but for community college (classes starting at noon). But it was Subway that was the first structural piece of my life that kept me on a late schedule. Places like that typically will schedule a young and easily put-upon worker at any old time. No different with me. My work schedule changed each week but often included Saturday nights. It wasn't too long before I was skipping church life on Sunday because I was going to bed at almost 3 am and found it a drag to get up at eight in the morning to get ready. At the time it was a worthy exchange largely because working as much as I could was what was going to pay for a much longed for second trip to Europe. I basically sold my soul to get back to Europe in 1992, and the Subway adventure was filled with new experiences, characters, and some indignities that culminated in a big way with the Levy family taking the store over in March 1992 and ultimately firing me and subsequently getting a restraining order placed on me. 

That whole period after graduating from high school and for a good long year afterward was rather a depressing time. My school schedule could tolerate the work schedule. My classes pretty much were limited to a noon to 2:30 schedule. I typically was scheduled to work at 5-12 or later on 4-11. I was getting to bed at three in the morning after wedging homework into the time between. I was probably waking up at 10 am with time to do last minute homework and to do the half hour ride to school. I was taking just a couple classes each semester at Mesa, and working about 20-35 hours at Subway. I was happily eating Subway food almost exclusively for my dinners, it being sooooo vastly better than the stuff my old man served. In fact, it was with this job that I was emancipated from eating his creations or his selections, so I was delighted with being able to escape that and to eat something that tasted better and might have been better for me.

The culinary possibilities were a step up but the social ones were not so. Even in high school, I wasn't surrounded by any great friends who helped me fill the time on a daily basis. I was in touch at a rather minimal level with people from Madison. Steve and Shelby were gone. I missed them both a great deal. I never made any friends at Mesa. I had church friends who helped in this period, and after some months away from church early in 1991, I returned to things, but not quite as completely as a couple years before. Essentially, my new social circle was at Subway, though it was quite an acquired taste. And it was far from mutual. Really, I found myself there on my days off, just to get my dinner and to hang out for a while some nights. Or to get there a bit early and do the same. 

Fellow Workers

The owner, Chuck Perricone, was a 50ish businessman with some expertise who owned two other Subways prior to this one. He was plenty aware of the franchise compliance requirements and generally was an ace at complying, as long as us riff-raff were on board. He was a pretty precise guy and could dish out enough venom to be clear and motivating, but he was also a likeable guy who would spend lull times telling stories that kept a couple of us in stitches. Pardon the misogyny for a moment.

All the girls at the place were pretty young. Even relative to me, it seemed. High school girls almost exclusively. For a while, Marne, Steve Rau's prom date, worked there. A couple other young girls were there, looking almost too angelic to be true. Most were shimmering blondes. It couldn't have been a mistake on Chuck's part. He and manager Steve, the guy with the cookies, were obviously going for a young and good looking theme in those early days. One time Chuck was telling Steve and I, or maybe Matt too, how he was reminded by his wife (co-operator) that girls were supposed to wear slacks, not the yoga style stretch pants that they all seemed to wear and from which he turned a blind eye. His wife said they were out of compliance. "Oh?" he said, "not with those butts in them, they aren't!!!"

Steve, no less inclined to be a testosterone-filled man than Chuck, was not above his reptile brain during the times when he would lay eyes on an incoming female customer that inspired something in him, and he'd call one of us out to make her sandwich while he retreated to the prep area, out of sight of the customer but in clear view of us on the line. He'd be back there making outrageously exaggerated sexual pumping gestures, or maybe doing the tongue in cheek "fellatio" thing in an equally over the top way. It was sometimes impossible to keep a straight face out on the line! Another of Steve's gimmicks was to shout out a number, a code for us guys, that graded these incoming women in about the same way as a judge at a sporting event would hold up a card with a number from one to ten. Even these one word utterances of Steve's were enough to send us into hysterics as his outrageous gestures behind the counter! The party wound to a close eventually as Steve got into some trouble and enough of us were arrayed against him. That was subsumed IIRC, when the news of the sale to the Levy family was announced. They he just gave up caring and became like a passive-aggressive acting dead weight till it was his time to go.

There was a generic school notebook left for all of us to write in, to make requests of Chuck or Steve, or to trash the performance of the previous shift, and to make excuses for our own bad work (which usually involved trashing the previous shift). It was a place of many a snarky comment, some goofiness, condescension, passive aggressive talk, name calling, and occasionally something useful! It was commented upon by the most recent shift and again by the one that followed. In the Perricone-Levy transfer I took it for myself as a souvenir of the good old days with Chuck. It was in that book that we felt close enough that we might even take swipes at Chuck himself. Matt took to calling him "Chucken" and later on, "Super Chucken." One time he drew a likeness of Chuck with a superhero cape and hat, Chuck's glasses and four chicken feet.

Matt

One afternoon, October 20th or so, I was at the shop eating my Spicy Italian and this spikey haired, tattooed, earring-, torn jeans-, and Doc Marten wearing guy came in and asked for Steve. He looked a bit older than me, closer to Steve's ripe age of 27. He was actually 20, and was looking for work. Maybe he already had filled out his application. A week later I saw him donning a red Subway shirt and training behind Darius, a huge black dude who looked intimidating but was a pretty cool figure. His name was Matt Zuniga. I didn't know it then but I had just met the guy who helped shape my next several years and who was an unwitting impetus that led to my "recording career." I never would have guessed that his rather grungy looking self and my rather uptight and nerdy self would have interacted. But we found ourselves in our own respective states of exile with regards to family and society, and found that drums led us to help each other out.

It was quite well timed that I would meet him at the end of October. We worked together a couple times and eventually the topic of drums came up. He said he liked drums. And that he didn't have a set. The situation was becoming that my house was drying up as a viable place to play. Having heard about this, Matt promptly said I could set up at his house, and that he could keep them set up, all no problem if I'd go for it and let him play the kit. I was intrigued but really cagey about it. Who was this guy? He dressed like a punk or something. He was kinda unreliable at work. I barely met him a few weeks before! 

Matt brought the drums over to his upstairs studio apartment on the day before Thanksgiving. With a lot of concern of my own and some urging from the old man, I wrote up a contract with a detailed list of the equipment and the terms involved if I were to do this. Matt kind of laughed it off but went with my uptight contract idea. He signed it the day after Thanksgiving. While I might have been to his place a time or three before that, this clearly made me interested in getting over there more so I could get the use of my own stuff. His apartment was a rather mediocre place that tended toward mid 70s decor and was made darker still by his inclination to cover the windows with heavy curtains (or maybe that was just to help dampen the drums). The drum arrangement brought us together to kill time and talk music. I found he was into some really extreme music. Grindcore? WTF did I know about that? I was in my big Tull and Rush period (I even wrote a paper for English class about those bands!), and at least he gave Tull a try. (He favored the harder stuff from the earlier albums. Anything that smacked of gritty Black Sabbath minor chord stuff, basically.) What we did find was a pretty immediate affinity for Rush. Matt was open about his love of porn so it was almost no time before he and I were hanging out and he decided to put some on while having dinner after work (which would have been about midnight or so). Hanging out with Matt was for a long time akin to eating forbidden fruit. Even working late was odd, so going to his place at midnight and coming home at almost 3 am was truly a new adventure. 

It took me a long time to figure him out. I recall one night at his place I saw on his dining room table a paper with a list titled "how to fill out a job application." He had methodically written out all the types of things he'd need to put down on such a document. It was neatly written, as was all his writing. It struck me as odd considering he was otherwise a character that was seemingly so at odds with regular social norms. I had thoughts for a while there was some kind of mental illness or lower intellectual capacity at work. Over time I abandoned that but held on to what seemed obvious even in exchanges closer to the present day: he was risk averse and rather slothful, favoring a pretty easy way out whereever he could take one. I get the feeling that even his job at Subway was something that he was pressed into, and favoring the path of less resistance, he stayed at that Subway or another for about five years.

Matt was rather bold with some of his antisocial rants and occasional gestures. It was rather shocking for a guy who was recently going to church a lot and from a setting that was pretty conservative. Some of it seemed just so over the top that it could only be a show, but sometimes I was taken rather aback. There were times when he'd snarl openly at an old woman, or do this almost demonic scowling voice concealed with a cough or not concealed at all, with bug eyes, saying "HAGGGGGHHHH!" He called old women "old bags" probably due to a pretty frustrated relationship with his grandmother. I seem to recall he had some troubles sneaking his girl friends to his studio and had to resort to more clever tricks to do so under the aegis of his aging grandmother. I was half fascinated and half horrified at some of the stuff he did and said.

Some of the stuff he said could be hurtful or alienating. I often think I ended up with him in the picture as a low point originally. For almost a year we were more a pair of isolated and alienated individuals that found each other's company and were able to tolerate each other enough as long as the drums were set up and ready to play so we could both blow off steam and kill time. It took until my return from my second trip to Europe—nearly a year into our "friendship" before we got to a place where we talked at any personal depth. Prior to that, he'd tell me to shut up about such stuff. Over time though, he has said that I've been a loyal friend and that he's apologetic for distance between us. He usually says such stuff after some great breakdown of his life. There were times when I had to defend friendship with him as a priority compared to the other characters at the time. At the moment, it has been a year and more since we talked by email, and upon my dare to step up with his kid and conduct himself in a way that wouldn't so closely echo the stuff he experienced, he dropped out promptly. One day he'll come around. 

Sarah

I still don't know how to count this one in but another character on the scene just about that time was Sarah MacBeck Swineherd [not her actual name, by request]. She was a flirtatious one who wasn't afraid to go around grabbing the ass cheeks of some of us male coworkers. Matt spoke a bit disparigingly of her but still wasn't above being a 20 year old male and proclaiming he'd "do her." (He could be heard making frequent statements of this sort. Not all were too discreet. What else should I expect of the guy who introduced me to porn?) Matt had the uncanny position of living in a room addition above his grandmother's garage, with a window facing into a property just catty-corner from there—Sarah's house! He regaled me with tales about his monitoring her, though I think he was often full of fiction or at least hyperbole. It was his brazen ability to tell such tales that made me think for a long time they might be real. I hope my political discernment ability is a bit keener these days.

Anyhow, the time came when Sarah and I worked some shifts together and while she had been a bit more flirtatious while among a few of us guys at once, she was not so in person, alone. She was a bit more real in that setting and sometime early in November we found ourselves closing the store together and talking outside for some time, walking her home one night and getting a peck on the cheek (which by my records seems to have been the "first kiss," though I always attribute that to having happened with Melissa the next year), and even doing a midnight call stunt that required calling "time" and using her call waiting phone so it wouldn't ring out loud.  Eventually we went on a sorta-date by meeting up at Subway in a "coincidental" appearance at the Subway for our respective dinners. We dropped in to the Hungry Stick, a billiards hall/sports bar that apparently wasn't closed to us teenagers at the time. Then we went to the Clairemont theater and saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Of course, a bit of dark space didn't hurt, but even then I was way too uptight and controlled to go for it. Even rubbing her back and trading heads and shoulders was pushing me into new territory! My journal says it was a nice time though, that I just about forgot who I was with—in a good way, not so subject to the ticker of comments that Matt might have made about her.

On exiting the theater, there was some guy named Brett who I guess we both knew, but that had gone to my school earlier in the year (Sarah went to the "other school" at Clairemont High), and that I, in a position as TA in an English class, had positively narced out as a drug dealer. This dude was expelled and arrested. Running into him months later on what might be one of my first dates ever was cause to break things off a bit sooner than planned. Sarah and I were walking toward her place, in a direction opposite my place, and we were found again by this drug dude who shouted threats from a ways away. Sarah basically gave me the "Run! Forrest! Run!" line and I gave her a kiss, and that was about all of the Sarah McBeck Swineherd story. Not long afterward, she was gone from Subway and at least said she was moving from the area altogether (though I think that was temporary if at all). Calling her house in vain to at least close up that date night was agonizing. Matt told me he had something similarly dead end happen with her and tried to get me to leave it alone. Sarah was subject of many a young man's conversation and even some phone pranks for years to come. I now recall one of those pranks, a "pizza party" thrown for her on April Fools' Day 1994, where from our Subway store (two whole years after I was canned), I called three delivery orders in to competing pizza shops, with her address as the target. Me and another Subway guy, Marc Shanahan (worthy of his own few blog stories), went over to her street to watch as the pizza guys arrived at her house.

Reading my journal from the period suggested I was really grappling with seeing a girl who seemed genuine but who seemed to have a reputation for some stuff I didn't subscribe to. You gotta remember, I was preserving myself for Shelby for years, and this Sarah experience was starting to press me into questioning things at the tender age of 18—that birthday being just three weeks before. I wrote that my love life options were maddening—on one hand, Shelby was seemingly not interested in guys and not interested in me in particular, and Sarah was not able to count the guys she'd been with. I even admitted to wanting to give up on Shelby for her emotional distance. I didn't, and so I hung on for another nine years till the end of 2000! (I just got to thinking this Sarah story is an underexamined piece of things. I forgot how she was sort of a first, and what was in my head at the time.)

The Levy Jew Crew Sale

Getting into the late part of things here, the story really should be told elsewhere next year. But the essentials are that during the Chuck Perricone era, I was a loyal and determined employee. The store changed hands on March 11th, and up to that point he was grooming me for success at Subway. He struck me as a decent guy who knew business, and in the absence of my 21st century understanding of and relationship to business, I was ready to try for whatever I could at that level. So I paid good attention to him. Eventually the crew shifted so much that by the changeover, I was third in the place after Chuck and Steve. I'm sure Chuck put in a word for me with the Levys—Abe, a cranky and stereotypical Israeli Jewish businessman who brazenly told customers off and changed deals as he saw fit, and his wife who was the same in the business regard but was more of a New Yorker. Their kids, ages spanning 13-21, were brought in to augment the crew, andeveryone but for Matt, Angela, and me were cut out—and then I was cut a month later for my trouble, trying to save Subway from these wayward franchisees. The landscape changed in a big way. One or the other Levy worked the store from opening to closing, and had at least one kid on the scene most days. Matt and I were not allowed to work together. The three of us who did carry over had our hours cut notably. They had Matt and I doing split shifts over lunch and then closing. Over a longer period of time, they weasled out of paying Matt overtime, and often had him do split shifts or 12 hour shifts with no overtime. I watched as Abe did one offensive thing after another that went exactly against the grain of what Chuck had taught me. I took on a Subway apologist position and wrote to the national office about it.

Arlene, not inclined to suffer complaints from some disposable kid like me, especially when directed at her husband, pretended to care until one night a month after takeover. It was really out of character for her to be there for closing, but she was there. So were her sons Adam and Josh, the oldest two, and Matt was there too. There was a kind of sense that the night was slow, but it was that so many people were there getting it all done. There was even time for screwing off outside. I think Adam was kind of a double agent who didn't want to work for his parents and did some things to befriend Matt and I with the help of his fancy Nissan Z car with an insanely cool stereo in it. But then I recall that Adam watched me clean the cabinets with utmost precision and told me not to worry about it. I said that was the only way I knew how to do it, and that is how I did it all the time for the first seven months and that's why the store was so clean and attractive. He didn't care and thought it was a waste of time. I think this was about the final straw.

After that unusual night, the following morning of April 12th I was told I was no longer employed there. I guess they thought that was the end and I'd just disappear. Maybe they didn't bargain that I'd drop in on Matt on his shifts and get some food. Or at least I'd meet up with him after work. They found that out and told me I couldn't come by, and just a couple weeks later, I received a restraining order legally declaring that for a period of a year. I had to go to court to pretend to defend myself. I got letters from Chuck himself and my pastor Jerry at church saying I was not as they described me. I was pretty devastated that it came to that, and more so because they just wrote down all sorts of trumped up charges like that I was throwing rocks at their windows, or that I defaced their cars or some such crap. I liked Subway, worked as hard as I ever did at a job (even at "sub"sequent positions). These people brought out a righteous indignation in me. It was just days after getting fired that Matt and I were at his place after work and we were writing a pretty scathing and kinda anti-semitic rant in song form that ultimately kicked off a new period for us—Drummers With Attitudes (DWA) that not long afterward became Rhythmic Catharsis. I called it "Roly Poly Porky Boys" partly to describe their physical shape (Abe and Arlene were fat, and Adam was getting there), and to include the offensive use of a pig product, just to jab a little more. As scathing as it was, I don't recall it being fictional. If I saw it now, there are still big parts of it I'd defend just as a person who still thinks they were crooked and unfair businesspeople.

Epilogue

It was clear that Subway was in my life to serve a purpose in that first 1991-92 period: to get to Europe to see Steve Rau once more. It was something that I knew and was focused on achieving. In the end, it was quite clear. I bought my flight ticket for a thousand dollars or more on April 7th and got fired on April 12th. The fact that Matt stayed at that store through the entire Levy era was remarkable. He lasted into the era of its next owners, a family of Indians who had equally odd practices but were generally better Subway franchisees. After the year of my restraining order, on the very day it expired, I ritually went to Matt's store with a girl I thought I was seeing at the time (Jen Cody, probably the only "older woman" I ever went out with, at two years my senior) and got some food, and began a period of hanging out all over again, getting free food whenever I could. The Levys were known to be the rogues in this town. I worked at another store starting about a year after all this went down and found from that experience no one liked the Levys. (Their screwy antics were confirmed a few years later when they tried to sue a Walgreen's store for injury from a security guard's actions as he tried to prevent papa Abe from stealing some video games for his son. That took some 'splainin'.) My trip to Europe was great for my soul after all that time. (I actually did kiss the ground upon getting to the Frankfurt Airport one year and one day after I got home from my prior trip.) I felt vindicated for putting up with it all.

Matt and I were defined by Subway for years to come, hanging out at each other's stores until sometime in late 1996. Subway outlasted our drumming efforts and the recordings that we made as Rhythmic Catharis. His step dad did my taxes for years. His grandmother's old dining table is now mine. (I had some other pieces too when they cleared out the house his grandmother was in.) Over time, it seems like girls got the better of him though I still get the feeling he is glad I've been a friend. 

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.