I am concluding my series of memoir-notes posts. The last of these will probably be it for a while. I have been focusing on the time up until I was officially awarded my Bachelors degree in philosophy which was January 7th 2000. I was at the time 28 years old.
I first had the idea of writing something like a memoir back in my Sartre class in 1998 (when I found out about Existential Psychoanalysis). I was by that time scouring SF book stores trying to find interesting philosophy books. I remember coming across The Story I tell Myself and I was instantly jealous that I had not thought of that title first. But I felt extremely uncomfortable actually doing anything about it. People I talked to seemed to have had very different experiences from mine (in differing ways) but I thought it was presumptuous to think about writing something like this. Who would care? Maybe once I finished my PhD, I thought, it might make an interesting story. And so I put it on hold.
I didn’t really do anything about it until I moved to New York in 2003. I moved in the summer and had some time to kill before the semester started so I thought I would use that time to start writing a rough draft. I still thought that if I ever did actually get my PhD then the story might be worth telling. I wrote quite a bit of what is in these posts that summer. But doing so brought back all kinds of bad memories and actually made me doubt myself. It really forcibly brought home to me that it was just me, the runaway juvenile delinquent burnout trying to pretend to have profound ideas. I had to stop writing.
I started writing again in 2011 or 2012 but the same thing happened, this time worse because I was doing pretty well professionally. It wasn’t like I was trying to hide my past but I was trying to ignore it and I don’t remember thinking about my past much those days. With the help of Facebook I rediscovered some of my past self but at that point I was worried about getting tenure and I did not want to advertise my past too loudly. I was asked to do an interview for a documentary to accompany a book on education after incarceration by a colleague of mine at LaGuardia and after that I felt kind of obligated to get serious about the project. Plus I realized that I was forgetting some stuff. Even getting this far has been difficult and I am sure there are many errors. Once January 2017 came around and I realized it had been 20 years since I left the mortuary and transferred to SF State I figured it was time to stop stalling and face up to my past.
I had at one point been thinking of this series as part 1 of a larger work. At this point I plan on coming back at some point and writing about the time between January 7th 2000 and roughly September 3rd 2018 (the 10 year anniversary of my successful dissertation defense). That would cover my two years of graduate school at SF state (and the forming of Mob-L), one year of graduate school at the University of Connecticut (and my stint in a Hindi band), 5 years of graduate school at CUNY (and my helping to found the New York Consciousness Collective) and then 10 years of being ‘on the scene’ in New York philosophy (and the Qualia Fest in the New York Times). That is a very different story than the one I have been telling!
But I probably won’t get around to that until sometime around 2038!…In the meantime I’ll be editing these posts and trying to turn them into an actual narrative (and correcting the five billion typos), maybe even look into doing it over a Sabbatical…ah, that’d be nice!
As always if you know anything about these events let me know! I am sure half of this is wrong and the other half is misleading!
I am continuing my series of memoir-posts. At this point we have caught up to where I began this story, which was my transferring to CSU San Francisco in January of 1997. I still can’t believe that was 20 years ago! Back in those days you did not know how you did in your classes until the next semester was about to begin. On top of that I had had a rough summer so I did not get my grades until I was back in SF.
Despite all of the other stuff I had done ok my first semester at SF State. I earned an A in my English Composition class (I wrote my final paper on A Rose for Emily by Faulkner…fitting don’t you think?), an A- in my ‘philosophical analysis’ class (basically a pro seminar for all new philosophy majors). I earned a B+ in my Intro to the Study of Language class. I also earned a B- in my philosophy of language course with Kent Bach. I really liked that class. At that time I was really interested in language. I remember Dr. Bach came into class one day and says that he had been at a conference with John Searle and had in his presentation said he wanted to define a new speech act that he named the “Absearle that P” speech act and he said he would symbolize it with a middle finger. I instantly liked and respected him but he did not like my final paper which was pretty much the entire basis of our grade. I was feeling very at odds with Putnam’s intuitions bout Twin Earth. It seemed obvious to me that there was water on Twin Earth in some sense but more importantly Putnam had argued that if we found out that what we call ‘cats’ were really Martian robots in disguise sent to spy on us (or whatever) we would have falsified ‘cats are animals’ and so it wasn’t analytic. I argued that we would have discovered that there were no cats on planet earth. I had the very strong intuition that we should say “those aren’t cats! Those are Martian robots!” because I thought ‘cats are animals’ was analytically true.
In my Space, Time, Relativity, and the Universe class I earned a C-. I was upset by this because I felt like the class had consisted mostly of stories about Einstein, which I enjoyed, but they were unrelated to what showed up on the test and there was no book for the class. I went and complained about my grade and the professor basically said ‘oh well’. I remember I said it would be a shame if I had to complain to the chair and he sat there looking at me, dispassionately, and said he didn’t think it would be such a shame. I gave up on it at that point.
So a bit of a mixed bag my first semester but even so though I did pretty good and I definitely did better than I had been doing at Cuesta (averaging about a 3.0 my first semester at SF State versus my 2.27 cumulative for Community College). What was most important to me was that I had done ok in my philosophy courses. Dr. Bach had a reputation for being a very difficult professor (rumor on the street was that he had studied with Quine, who apparently was some kind of famous philosopher) and so I actually thought that B- wasn’t a bad first grade from him. In addition I had received very positive feedback on my paper on C. S. Stevenson and contemporary philosophy of language connecting what I was doing in my other class with the philosophical analysis class. So I was happy with my progress and ready to get back to business.
September 19th 1997 (California ID photo). I am around 25 or so in this photo
By that time my Driver’s License had been suspended. My car (the Nissan Pulsar) had been ticketed many times for illegal parking (I was clueless about the parking regulations in SF) and shortly after I moved up there it had been towed. I just ignored the whole thing. I vaguely remember that I found out it would cost as must to pay off the tickets as it had cost to buy the car in the first place, so I let it go. They told it would be auctioned off if I didn’t pay and I said I hoped they got a good price for it and walked away. The car had served me well but you did not really need one in the city and I was struggling just to stay in my classes at that point (I don’t know when this was but sometime before March 1997). That was before I moved into the dorms and then I had got a ticket for rolling through a stop sign and had never taken care of it (someone begged me to drive them somewhere, borrowing a car from someone else in the dorms, I forget the whole scenario but I vaguely remember the borrowed car was a VW bus, and that it kind of reminded me of my Baja bug). As a result I ended up obtaining a California ID in September of 1997. I did not get my Driver’s License back again until 2002 when I was getting ready to move to Connecticut.
Just before the Fall 1997 semester begins I move in with Annamarie, who everyone just called Anna, and her friend Lisa (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure). I had met both of these girls in the dorms and at the time I thought that Lisa was very attractive. Anna was from somewhere up in Northern California. Her mother was from Panama and her father was a white guy. She had dark curly hair and brown eyes that shined with a mischievous twinkle. Lisa is a freckled red-haired Irish girl with thin lips. Anna is short, about 5′ 2″ and Lisa is tall, about 6′ 1″. They made quite the pair. Apparently they had been roommates in the dorms and had this place with another roommate who left. That is why they needed another person. I had money from financial aid and so they let me move into the room. Anna was a photography major and she took amazing pictures. I thought she was really talented.
Their apartment was in a complex that was a bit south of the SF state campus in a town called Daly City. This was much nicer than living in the dorms. I had nothing but a few clothes so I went to Burlington Coat Factory and bought a bunch of bedding. Then I went to Thrift Town and bought a whole new set of clothes. I remember they had all kinds of polo shirts so I bought like 7 or 8 of them, and a bunch of corduroy pants. In addition they had this London Fog trench coat that I loved.
It was also right around this time that I saw South Park for the first time. This show blew my mind. People were big fans of Bart Simpson but at that time I found it a bit tame. He was a bad boy? Not really! These kids were bad in a way that I recognized but I could not believe that the show was actually on the television.
Anna and Lisa are really into ecstasy and I try that for the first time at this point. It is really a great experience but I do not like the way I feel afterwards. Anna and I did E and went to a coupe of shows (she even took me to some underground Rave) and eventually we ended up dating. She was also a vegetarian and I think actually this may have been the first relationship I had ever had with another vegetarian.
I am taking a very full load of classes this semester. I have registered for Existentialism (with Helen Heise), Nietzsche and Post-Modernism (with Sandra Luft), Ethics (with Peter Radcliffe), Ethics and Medicine (I can’t remember who taught this but I think it was Mary Anne Warren), History of Christian Thought I, and Ancient Philosophy (both with John Glannville). Six classes all together and all upper division philosophy courses.
Professor Heise was very intelligent and I ended up taking a lot of classes with her, but she had this English accent that sounded as though she were faking it (and the rumor was that she was an American so that she was faking it). I didn’t care. I loved that class and one thing I remember very clearly is that we read Doestevesky’s Crime and Punishment and I loved it. As usual that started me down the path of trying to find and read all of Doestevesky’s books (which led me to a whole Russian author phase, and I ended up reading some Bulgakov, especially The Master and Margarita). I then read The Brothers Karamazov and was very impressed. The problem of evil that had so haunted me was very nicely laid out. The suffering of one child was enough to falsify the existence of God; A-fucking-men, brother! The most interesting thing, to me, at the time, was that it was very hard to tell which character was ‘speaking for’ Doestevesky. They all seemed like distinct people with distinct psychologies. Of course we also read Camus and The Stranger and The Plague were really fascinating.
At some point mid-way through the semester I remember Anna is telling me that she wants to stop taking E because it is interfering with her school work (at that point she was doing a lot of E). She says she promised that she would stop and she hopes that is enough. I remember we argued about that for a long time. I was holding the “there is no momentum in consciousness” line from Sartre. I was finding the ideas I encountered in the Existentialism class to be very convincing. Previous to this I had found other philosophers and ideas interesting but this seemed to relate directly to my lived experience. I thought that the idea that in order to quit something (or keep doing it) one must quit anew every moment, consciously re-choosing to continue, very profound. It is not enough to simply quit and to have that decision carry forward some force into the future. One must choose again to quit when one is tempted. Anna and I used to argue endlessly about Sartre and personal responsibility!
On Halloween of that year I remember everyone was getting dressed to go out, Halloween in San Francisco is a big deal, and we had all taken E and were going to the Castro, when suddenly I had what I thought was a good idea for my final paper for the Existentialism class. I had had this idea that everyday actions require Bad Faith. I cannot get into a car without the assumption that it is safe and that I will make it through. I forget exactly how I developed it but it may have been that unless we explicitly acknowledge that we could die in the car we weren’t being authentic. We must face up to the possibility of imminent death at any second, yet society is set up to systematically avoid engagement with death, thus making most of us in Bad Fait most of the time. Or it may have been that doing this was impossible and therefore inauthenticity was unavoidable. I forget (I wish I had a copy of that paper!) but I do remember that at the time I felt like I had hit on a big idea and this is probably the first time that I had thought that I was contributing something of my own in a paper. It felt really good to be sitting there getting my ideas out (ok, I was on E but still) and when everyone was ready to leave I said I was going to stay and work on this paper (I remember vividly the sound of the keyboard and the way the keys felt on my fingertips, it felt amazing). I ended up getting an A- in that class.
The class on Nietzsche and Post-Modernism was really frustrating for me. Professor Luft had us reading a lot of Derrida and he seemed to be arguing that everything is a text to be interpreted and that there is no fact of the matter about its correct interpretation. As a newly minted Grecian I find this position laughable. I argue in my final paper that metaphors depend on literal meanings which have definite truth values and so it is pointless to say that everything is metaphor or that there is no literal meaning or no objective answer to the question of what a given author intended by saying or writing something (this sounded like sophistry to me at the time). Professor Luft was very critical of my paper and actually returns to me a 3-page typed response! She ends it by saying that she is sorry to have to be so harsh but she is only doing so because ‘she thinks that I am actually trying to learn’. I respond by going to her office hour and arguing that her comments actually support my paper, or at least that is how I interpreted them. She was not amused, but I did earn an A- in the class.
I am also taking an ethics class taught by Peter Radcliffe. I remember that I wrote my final paper trying to reconcile an evolutionary account of the truth of moral judgements with emotivism (which I had discovered the previous semester) and Radcliffe wrote “you have a thesis, you make an argument…but why emotivism?”I remember laughing when I read that comment (after noting that I earned an A, of course)…I didn’t really have a good answer. Emotivism just seemed to me to capture something important about moral judgements. It resonated with my own experience of moral judgements but I rejected any kind of moral relativism so I was looking for a way to supplement what I thought was good (emotions play a role in moral judgement by partially constituting them and that is what we express when we say ‘this is wrong’) but I wanted to be able to say that some moral judgements are true. This project ultimately became my dissertation.
That is also the semester I have two courses with Dr. Glanville. I have spoken about this a bit in another place so I won’t dwell on it too much here but I will note that I earned an A in the History of Christian Thought class and an A- in Ancient Philosophy. That was six intense courses and three As and three A-s, and I had even made the Dean’s List. I remember being completely shocked by that. The Dean’s list?! I had never achieved something like that before and I was feeling like studying philosophy was what I was meant to do. As a side note I can say that I really enjoyed the close textual analysis that Dr. Glannville provided us. We read through important dialogues of Plato and Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Dr. Glannville would stop every word or so and fill us in on all of the context, all of the detail in the background. It was truly amazing that someone could know as much as this man did.
At some point around the end of 1997 I find out that some people I had known briefly from the dorms (and from my Wild and Crazy Summer) were looking for a roommate. I find this out through a guy who is in my Nietzsche class, named Joe. He was a really cool guy that was a good artist and we used to talk about Nietzsche a lot. It turns out he knows Noah and they are looking for one more person to get this house they found. At that point I am starting to feel weird about living with my girlfriend (Anna and I had started dating by that time and it was strange starting as roommates and then becoming a couple that lived together). They had four people and were looking for a fifth. Once I was on board they took me out to the candidate place to check it out and we were all excited.
This house was pretty close to the campus (a 10 minute bus ride) and was located in the Sunset district of SF. It was large with a huge living room and kitchen and three bedrooms. Downstairs was a garage and a big back yard. At that point I had bad credit. I had been evicted from several apartments and I had bills from my trips to the emergency room that I had never paid. But we had enough people to get the lease signed and so we moved in. I lived in that house for the rest of the time I was in San Francisco, all in all about four years which is, I think, the longest I had lived at any one place in my entire life up to that point.
There were five of us in there at the start. At the beginning I was sharing a room with Noah. He has a bed on one side of the room, and I have a bed on the other just like in the dorms. In the back room we have Jessie, who has her own room. And then in the very back room, past the bathroom and through the kitchen, we have Joe and Henry. Noah is in the film school at SF State which has a pretty good reputation. Joe is in the fine arts school (he is a painter) and Henry is studying music composition. Jessie wants to go to law school. The best thing about this, for me, at the time, was that there was a communal bookcase in the living room and everyone put books out there. That is how I discovered Kurt Vonnegut. Time Quakes had just came out and so I read it, and Slaughterous 5. And as usual I started to read all of the stuff I could find by the author I liked. I had two favorites that stood out to me. The first was Player Piano which I thought was his absolute best piece of work and the other was Bluebeard which I really liked as well. In addition I read Philip K. Dick for the first time. I had always loved sci-fi but I had never read anything by him. Needless to say it was very cool to discover that stuff.
The spring of 1998 semester begins sometime in January and I am also taking six courses again. I take Communication Theory (I forget who taught this but it was a communications class), Metaphysics (with Helen Heise), Theory of Knowledge (with Anton Anotole), Philosophy of Mind (with Kent Bach), Cognitive Science (with John J. Kim), and Modern Philosophy (with James Syfers).
Noah, my roommate is in my metaphysics class with me. He was not a philosopher but he was a filmmaker and he wanted to be exposed to strange ideas to inspire him. We read a book by Bruce Aune. I enjoyed that class and it was my first sense of philosophy as debate. Heise was all about arguments and we tore that book to shreds in that classroom.
I found the communication theory class to be dull and boring. They mentioned some of the philosophy of language but it was offered as something to know, not something to think about and discuss. SF State had as part of their General Education requirements that you takes classes in a series of designated ‘clusters’. These clusters were thematic groups of classes that you would spread out over your time in any order you wanted. When I had arrived I was very interested in language and so I had signed up for the language cluster (hence in my first semester I had the Intro to the Study of Language class which was part of it). This communication theory class was part of that ‘cluster’ as well so I had to take it but I hated it. I had to give a presentation and I chose to talk about Pierce and the theory of signs. As part of my talk I had a friend of our, a guy named Jack, and my roommate Jessie burst into the class in the midst of a loud and angry (and fake) argument. You could hear them yelling in the hallway and then he shoved her into the classroom calling her a name or something like that. She stumbled in the classroom as I am in the middle of explaining Pierce’s theory of sign and I pretend to be surprised like everyone else. Even the professor was stunned and hadn’t reacted yet. Then I said ‘freeze’ and they stopped in mid-motion like a freeze frame. I then walked over and pointed out the signs and what they signified. Wife in curlers, dude in wife-beater complete with stain. I got an A on that but my professor had a stern talk with me in his office.
I was also finding out that I wasn’t into epistemology. We read Plato’s Theatetus and I remember feeling like it was a joke compared to the way we would have read it with Dr. Glannville. We also read Linda Alcoff’s Real Knowing, and I remember not getting it at all but a lot of my classmates were really excited about that book.
February 13th 1998 I see the Greyboy Allstars at the Elbo Room in the Mission District and they instantly become my new favorite band. This was a great club and I would go there quite a bit. The place was packed and the band was awesome. I remember being really drunk at some point and grabbing a shaker off the stage and shaking it. Karl Denson, their amazing saxophonist and band leader, came over and grabbed it from me, saying “c’mon man, that’s not cool!” and I slurred back that I was sorry and they were awesome. I remember I had their album A town called Earth and I would play it while I worked at the on campus coffee shop, where, incidentally, I learned how to use an expresso machine. People would constantly ask me who the band was. I had already been introduced to Medeski, Martin, and Wood through Ethan at the mortuary but this was something else. I remember going to Amoeba Records on Haight Street and combing through their collection looking for anything by Karl Denson or any of the other members of the Allstars.
I also remember watching the Seinfeld finale live (this was May 13, 1998). Before that time I had not really watched TV very much. I mean I had as a kid but even then we couldn’t afford cable (my mom’s boyfriend at some point had HBO and that was awesome!). There was a TV at Anna’s place but we had not had one in the dorms, and we didn’t have one in the mortuary. At my other places we had a TV but no cable. In Arroyo Grande we had a VCR and used to watch Monty Python almost everyday, and I was sucked into Days of Our Lives for a brief period but here we would all watch TV on Thursday nights and then at night before we went to bed we watched the syndicated reruns. Simpsons, followed by Friends and Blind Date (the first reality show besides Cops I had ever seen!). That is where I learned to love both of those shows.
At that point I had broken up with Anna and had met Sarah. Sarah was a psychology major and we got along really well. In fact I think one of our first time hanging out after class may have been to watch the Seinfeld finale. I remember arguing with her about Frued’s notion of the unconscious and Sartre’s argument that repression makes no sense because it requires you to know what you are repressing (how else could you explain the fact that you repress only the right cognitive states and desires?) and thus requires that you be in Bad Faith (inauthentic). Sarah was really cool but we were very different people. She listened to Tori Amos while taking a bubble bath in candlelight, and that combination of things seemed alien to me. I also remember one night laying in bed listening to Nora Jones and feeling really sad. Why would anyone want to feel this way? Much later when I actually say Nora Jones I was flabbergasted by it. That woman was the one singing like that?
At that time I worked at the various coffee shops around campus and I was usually super amped on coffee a lot of the time. The campus coffee shop was a lot of fun. It would get unbelievably buy and with the music and the fast-paced flow of the customers the time flies by in an instant. I remember coming home from the coffee shop and everyone in the house would be super high and paying video games and I would come in a be vibrating on a different level. They would all be sitting in the living room playing video games and I would be tidying up around them and it felt like time had slowed down and I was moving at light speed
After seeing Karl Denson I started to miss playing the drums so I used my financial aid money to buy a cheap CB 700 drum set. It was a real piece of shit but it got me back into jamming. We would also play music in the garage. Henry was a composer and keyboardist and Joe was a guitarist and I was the drummer. We had a lot of fun down there just messing around. Henry was also a very weird guy. He had composed a final piece that was to be performed by student musicians and he had noted it very strangely. At one point he wrote “play as if running away” under one series of notes. I wish I had seen that performance!
Except for the boring classes everything at school was good. The philosophy of mind class was amazing and that is where I first really became aware of the philosophy of mind as its own thing. We were using the new The Nature of Consciousness anthology edited by Ned Block, Owen Flanagan and Güven Güzeldere and I was instantly hooked. We were reading selected essays out of the book but I was reading all of the essays in the book. Language seemed less interesting to me now that I knew about issues related to consciousness and how neuroscience was trying to command the attention of philosophers. This was another class that paired a graduate seminar with an undergraduate class. It turned out that this was Bach’s deal. But I liked it because the class discussion was sometimes pretty good and I was really starting to see that philosophy was still being done and that I could keep up with the graduate students. At that point I was buying books on philosophy in my spare time and I was reading Searle a lot and even went and saw him give a talk down at Stanford. I think that may have been the first philosophy talk I ever attended (if you don’t count Jello Biafra’s talk way back when!)
After we had read David Rosenthal’s chapter on Higher-order theories of consciousness Kent asked us what we had thought. I said that it was about the dumbest thing I had ever read since the last thing we had read and Dr. Bach (and the class) laughed. But Bach surprised me by saying ‘I’ll tell him you said that’. I was getting the sense that the professors at SF State were actually pretty connected and that philosophy was still an ongoing endeavor. That is when I realized that there was Graduate School and started thinking about where I wanted to go. I don’t have a computer back then but we did have a computer lab (Anna had a computer (but no internet) at her place) and I remember going online and trying to find out about the authors of the papers we were reading.
This is also the first time I was exposed to Dan Dennett’s work and at the time I was enraged by it. Quine Qualia? What the fuck was this guy talking about? A lot of people seemed to think that qualia were mysterious. I knew them as the shit that changed when hallucinating. I very rarely had the sense that my visual hallucinations were real. Sure, there were exceptional cases where I got sucked up into the hallucination, and there was the very exceptional cases of the overdose on sleeping pills, but mostly I could always tells that my experience was shifting, not the actual word. Even when I had momentary lapses, and took the breathing lines of the table as indicating that the table really was morphing into something else, I usually was able to come back to the realization that this was a hallucination. If I grabbed for the table my hand would make contact, etc. I took LSD (or whatever) so of course things are trippy right now, I would often think to myself. In that class I wrote my final paper on Time and the Observer and accused Dennett of being a verificationalist (pretty low hanging fruit).
I was also taking a class on cognitive science, which focused mostly on Chomsky and his theory of an innate Language Acquisition Device (LAD). This class was taught by Dr. Kim, and rumor on the street was that he had a PhD from M.I.T and had worked with Stevan Pinker (who apparently was some kind of big psychologist). At that point I only knew Chomsky as the author of Manufacturing Consent, which by the way I loved and greatly admired. It finally gave a principled reason for my studied avoidance of sports! Dr. Kim was always hanging out in front of the Psych building smoking a cigarette before class and I still smoked at that time so I would stand out there and talk with him. I really liked him and I learned a lot from him.
At the same time I was also enjoying the Modern Philosophy class. But this was the second time that I had read the Meditations, and I was starting to doubt them (get it? ;). Our professor asked us to try to think of something that Descartes had never doubted. I wrote that he had never doubted that he had conscious experience. He never entertained the idea that he might be a zombie. If Descartes had met Dennett would the Meditations have turned out radically differently or would ‘I think therefore I am’ still come out true?
I was coming back from one of my cognitive science classes on my way to philosophy of mind. In the cognitive science class (offered in the Psychology department) we were talking a lot about how language would have to be processed, and constructing a flowchart (Boxology at its pinnacle) but no one was talking about the physical implementation of these ideas. In my Modern Phil class we were re-reading Descartes and there too we were arguing about whether the mind was identical to the brain or not, but without any real mention of the brain. Even in the philosophy of mind course there was a lot of lip service to the brain but there were no details (C-fibers anyone?). Isn’t it important to understand how the brain works, I thought, I mean if consciousness produces physical activity then really mustn’t it just be some kind of brain activity?
I stopped walking and took a deep breath. That was hard for me to accept. That meant that the scrawny asthmatic feeble meat bag that my intellect was chained to really was me. That is what I was. I am meat. This was incredibly depressing to me because I have always felt alienated and hindered by my body (in fact I used to think that I could have been born from different parents, and actually wished that it had happened when I was younger, but now I was realizing that my other beliefs required me to rethink this). But over time I have made peace with it. At any rate the point is that this really influenced me to start taking neuroscience courses, which I started doing the next semester.
Sometime in 1998 I hear that Derrida is going to be giving a talk at U.C. Davis. I had read a lot of him in the postmodern class and I thought it would be fun to drive up and see what was going on. We drive up and it is ridiculous. The conference title itself is very long. It is,
Culture and Materiality: A Post-Millenarian Conference — à propos of Paul de Man’s Aesthetic Ideology — to consider trajectories for ‘”materialist’ thought in the afterlife of theory, cultural studies, and Marxist critique
At the time I had no idea what this meant but I had started to think that I should see some living philosophers and had kind of thought of this like going to a concert. I am pretty sure this was sometime in April of 1998 (maybe around Spring Break?). This concert-esque feeling is enhanced when we get there. People are wearing Derrida T-Shirts. It felt like a really awkward Dead show and I half expected someone to be holding up their finger looking for a ticket into the festivities. One tee-shirt had Derrida crouched over a TNT detonator in the midst of plunging the handle. The detonator is connected to a bunch of TNT that is piled around the word ‘Modernity’. Holy shit. I had never seen something like this before! Derrida comes out and he is the best dressed philosopher that I have ever seen. As I remember it he had some kind of pinstripe suit on and a canary yellow tie. This was not the look I was used to from my professors at SF State! He says his talk is on Augustine’s confessions but I would not have known that from listening to him. I left thinking that a lot of bullshit had happened but the people I was with were very excited and we argued about it the whole drive back to SF. I can’t verify this but as I remember it Derrida went over his allotted time and the next speaker had to be bumped. IN doing some research for this post I found out that they apparently published these talks as a book!
I think it was over the summer of 1998 that I started playing with George Adelson. I would see George when I picked up my mail and we would always chat. Nothing exciting just small talk but he was really funny. Eventually once I had a drum set and I knew he was a guitarist we suggested that we get together to play sometime. I was looking for someone to play with so when he said he played jazz and funk and rock and that he just loved to play and didn’t care how good I was (or wasn’t) we decided to do it. We began playing with some bassist he knew and then another bassist that he knew (this guy was a local lawyer, doing corporate law, and this is the first time I saw someone like that smoke weed. It was a shock!). George was a local kid who was born and raised in San Francisco. He was a really good guitar player but he had a difficult time writing his own material (or so I thought). He was always futzing about trying to think of some ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ way to ‘tweak the chords’. The end result was that not much was written and/or what was written sounded really smooth-jazz-esque (to my inexperienced ear). One day we were down in the garage jamming and I had just got the new John Schofield album with Medeski, Martin, and Wood as the Rhythm section. It was called A Gogo and I was really into it at the time. I pulled it out and played one of my favorite tunes, Hotntot, and told George to learn it. He did, right there on the spot just listening by ear. I was like, oh it is on! After that I went out and bought an expensive drum set (the one I still have) and we formed Maggie’s Pacifier. I don’t know why we chose that name but I think it is a testament to how much I loved the Simpsons at that point. I do remember that at some point we started calling ourselves the Sunset Players Club, which was good. I think we even made little Club Cards that I printed out and distributed at parties. If you brought one back to the next party you could get a free keg cup. I wish I had one of those cards left around!
I think this may have been my first attempt at computer art (picture downloaded illegally from the nascent internet)
Somehow we met a bassist who was also a percussionist. At that time he was in music school (the same music school George had gone to). We had a small collection of covers that I was calling ‘new school favorites’ and I had convinced George to think of them as like playing standards. Among them was the Schofield tune, and FunkFoot by Grover Washington Jr. In addition we had two Greyboy Allstars tunes and some other ones that I don’t remember. We played some house parties and eventually recorded a demo in the garage. We were just a three piece and we recorded it all live. There were originally four or five songs but they are all lost except for these two. I think they almost hold up! George’s playing still sounds great! My drumming makes me cringe at moments but I think it is a pretty good representation of what I sounded like back in 1998 or so. Not bad for just a year or so of trying to play jazz-funk (without knowing anything about jazz or funk) and just under 10 years playing the drums altogether (at that point I still only officially practiced three rudiments: the single roll, the double role, and the paradiddle). Our plan at that point was to use the demo to try to move from house parties to bars.
Happy Friends; a cover of a Greyboy Allstars tune
Fire Eater; another Greyboy Allstars cover
George and I after playing one of our house parties (I am on the left holding a giant (and empty) bottle of tequila)
George had been playing since he was very young and he was really very good. The songs we played were mostly just an excuse for him to solo over them. He told me that is what he did at home. He used a sequencer to record chord changes and then practiced soloing over it. I used to love to listen to him solo while we were playing. The bassist also played congas and eventually he would have the bass and the congas set up and we had a lot of fun playing together. I loved playing for people and watching everyone dancing. We were getting good feedback from people and some of my classmates thought we sounded like the Grateful Dead which surprised me. George and I used to endlessly argue about music. He was a jazz head and knew everything about music, I knew nothing at at all but had a lot of opinions. He always used to talk shit about death metal saying it all sounded the same and then when I said the very same thing about jazz he got all upset. Each solo is so different! So was each riff on a Cannibal Corpse album!
It was also in the summer of 1998 that Something about Mary came out and I remember seeing that with George. People were laughing so hard in the theatre that we had togo back and see the movie again because we couldn’t hear all of the jokes! I also got a job at a coffee Shop/cafe in the Richmond district. It was called Cafe Muse and I remember there was an earthquake when I was working there. This place served food as well as coffee.
In the Fall of 1998 I again took six classes (my third semester in a row of taking six classes, and I took five my first semester, making 23 classes in 4 semesters!). I had made the Dean’s list the previous two semesters and there was so much interesting stuff out there! I took Introductory Latin (I had come to believe that it would help with all the philosophy lingo), a class on ‘Words, Culture, Change’ (for my language cluster). I learned about proto-indo-European the way they think they discovered it by regressing words back through time and cultures to find common roots and then extrapolating from there), a seminar in ‘Basic Metaphysics’ (another with Peter Radcliffe. This was a graduate class where we read a book on freedom and moral responsibility), a class in Cognitive Neuroscience in the psychology department, a Cellular Neuroscience class in the biology department, and a class on Sartre.
The cellular neuroscience class was very difficult and involved a lot of mathematics. In particular we learned about the Hodgkin-Huxley equations which model neurons as electronic circuits. I had an ok time with the mathematical part but I was at a severe disadvantage because I had never taken a basic biology course (or any biology course at all, actually) so I did not know a lot of what was taken for granted by the professor. I spent a lot of time in the library trying to catch up. I didn’t do great in that class (getting a C+) but the professor was impressed that I had done that well (he was skeptical that a philosophy major should be in that class and told me to drop it early in the semester).
In the cognitive neuroscience class I saw a brain for the first time and I was introduced to the interdisciplinary home I was looking for. At that time I was talking to my mom again and I remember her being very upset by my decision to study the brain. She told me that as a vegetarian I could not be a part of such a discipline because of animal experimentation. I made the argument that without that experimentation I would have been dead (I had bad asthma as a kid) and then she launched into a tirade about modern medicine. I know that it is horrible to think about what animals go through but I believe that there is no other way to proceed.
The Sartre class was another with Helen Heise. This time we were reading Being and Nothingness and I remember scouring the bookstores of San Francisco looking for any books by him. My final paper for that class argued that Sartre’s notion that the fundamental attitude toward the other was conflict (because they turn you into an object instead of a subject) was itself a choice. Some may choose to become an object, like Emily had in a Rose for Emily (or so I thought).
In non-academic related things I take Noah to see P-Funk at the Fillmore in 1998 and he is hooked. He ends up taking a History of Funk class at SF state and George Clinton came to the class to give a talk/Q&A and I got to go. It was so cool to see him in the classroom. He was mostly talking about how he hadn’t made any money from all of those songs because he didn’t license them and let people sample them but that he felt it was important and that it kept Funk music alive (by letting hip-hop sample it). I found that very interesting.
I see Dave Matthews band October 31st 1998 with Sarah. I was never really into their albums but these guys are amazing live.
I made the Dean’s List again in the Fall of 1998, making it three this semester in a row.
Over the break between classes most people went home to their families but I stayed in SF and played Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time (released in November of 1998). I loved that game and spent months playing it. Another thing I remember related to Zelda is that my roommate used to make these movies using a video camera. He had a nice Macintosh computer (a G3 I think) and we used that a lot but he was always coming up with shit for us to act out. I was working at the coffee shop and we had had an expresso machine in our house after that and it had exploded. Somehow as a result we used to make big bowls of expresso and then we would ladle it out into individual cups. Somehow we got the idea of doing a horror film that we called Ladlehand. It was about someone who worked at a coffee shop and the expresso machine blew up and in the process fused a ladle to his hand. He was also hideously scarred and mutated and so wore a mask. He then went on a killing spree. I played Ladlehand and wore a hockey mask and used the ladle. It makes no sense to anyone who didn’t know that we were using the ladle to scoop coffee but it was fun to make. I used my best death metal growl and we came up with all kinds of creative ways to have death scenes. It was a lot of fun and the end result was a big hit. In fact I remember sometime later meeting some people who knew about Ladlehand, and I didn’t know them which was strange! Anyway the reason it is related to this time is that in the movie you can hear the Zelda theme song playing in the background because they were filming some scenes without me and I was playing it in the other room (and we never re-tapped and overdubbed the audio). Man, I wish I still had that, I’ll bet it is ridiculous!
On New Year’s 1998 I went with some people from school to Tahoe, which was a lot of fun. I had never been there and it was a pretty cool experience. One thing I remember though is that we were driving up there and I was in the back seat and I remember listening to them talking in the front seat and they were talking about how good Christmas dinner had been. The duck so succulent it fell of the bone, etc. I sat back there overwhelmed with sadness. These were nice people but their lives were fueled by the death of innocent animals. I sat in the back seat trying to hide the fact that I was softly crying. We got up there and we ended up meeting some other people from SF State. One of them was a girl I knew via Anna, her name was Gabriella (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure). I really liked Gabriella. She had a quick wit and she had very curly hair with a slender nose that made her look somewhat like an elegant bird. I really liked her and we got really drunk and had sex.
I wanted us to hang out and date but she said no because she was friends with Anna and Anna could never know. I remember feeling really frustrated by this. Anna and I ended up getting back together shortly after that and I was feeling guilty because Gabriella was around and we were keeping this secret. I felt like we had done nothing wrong because Anna and I were broken up at the time. The day after Valentine’s day I was feeling especially bad and I came clean. I think this was the first time I noticed in myself a strong urge to tell the truth and confront the consequences rather than lie and avoid it. I was becoming a different person, the kind of person who wanted to be good and didn’t want to lie and hide things. Anna was pissed off but we worked through it.
However, she talked to Gabriella who denied the whole thing. She said that I was making it up. This infuriated me and I remember thinking this must have been how other people felt when I lied to them as a kid. Anna believed me because I had told her some details about the night and it turns out that Gabriella had come back from out Tahoe trip and told Anna about this ‘really cool guy’ that she had met up there and even told her some of the details about our sexual encounter. When I told her this, without knowing about what Gabriella had said a while back, Anna knew I wasn’t lying but it was a very dramatic experience and it really interfered with my semester.
In theSpring of 1999I was scheduled to take Intermediate Latin, Philosophy of Art (with Anita Silvers), and Neural Systems, a biology course. I remember starting the semester January 27th and then all of the Anna/Gabriella drama was unfolding and I only needed one more class to graduate anyway. So I withdrew from all but one class. Pretty soon I was too distracted and just withdrew from the remaining class and then I mostly worked and saw a lot of music and played with Maggie’s Pacifier/The Sunset Player’s Club.
My roommate was a waiter at Olive Garden and his tips compared to mine from the Cafe were no comparison. I applied for a job at the Olive Garden but did not have any experience. I asked my girlfriend if I could give this restaurant her number. The restaurant was called Organicity and it was a vegetarian place. I really wanted to work there but I had no experience so I listed my girlfriend as a reference and said she was the manager of a restaurant that had gone out of business. They called her and she gave me a good reference. I had no idea what I was doing! I loved working at a vegetarian restaurant but the chef was a real asshole. One thing I remember is that one of the girls I was worked with quit because she went on tour with Macy Grey as a back up singer. I really sucked at this job at first but I picked it up pretty quickly.
March was a really cool month. I saw the Greyboy Allstars March 27th at the Filmore. I loved the Filmore and these guys were at their peak at this time (or so it seamed to me at the time). I was up front alternately dancing my heart out and being awed by the performances of these guys. I had been in this same room to see Luna but this was way better! I remember thinking about seeing all of the people sitting on the floor, the band sucking the energy from the room. This was the polar opposite.
March 31 –The Matrix released. I won’t go on and on about how awesome this movie was for a philosophy major to see but I will say that it was cool because you really had no idea what the movie was about. All of the ads simply asked ‘What is the matrix?’…I also developed my theory that the reason Keanu Reeves was chosen to act in the film was because the movie was so deep that they thought even he couldn’t ruin it.
May 5th we have a Cinco De Mayo party at Anna’s house and the Sunset Player’s Club is playing in the living room. We have by that time found a trumpeter/ keyboardist named Paul (remember no real names unless they are a public figure). This guy was really good and we would play Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay which I absolutely loved. He set up a four track and recorded our session that night. For a long time after that I listened to it. I thought it came out amazing. I remember I was taking Epinepherine pills (for asthma) and drinking way too much. I ended up passing out after our second set and waking myself up by chocking on my own vomit. People said I was walking around after that but I have no memory of it.
Maggie’s Pacifier broke up shortly after that. As I recall it it was over an argument about vegetarianism where I had become overly agitated. The trumpeter, who was a really nice guy actually, tried to get everyone to reconcile afterwards saying it was just the alcohol and let’s keep playing. I think that maybe this even took place over email! Anyway I remember not having it at all. We had been out by the river after jamming at a gig (I think it was the SF Boat Club) and George was saying that he sort of knew that eating meat was bad but it just tasted too good to stop and that just sent me over the edge. Of course it tastes good (I assume), but we have reason and we don’t shit in the street even though it feels good. So I quit Maggie’s Pacifier/The Player’s Club. I remember the bassist was very upset but that was a hot button issue for me. To me it sounded like someone saying that they knew rape was wrong but just enjoyed it too much to quit. I thought it was funny because after being all indignant and arguing from a Kantian and Utilitarian moral high ground, the trumpeter responded with “well, sometimes you drop the beat when we are playing and I was overlooking it because we were having fun” and I laughed out loud because I already knew that and it wasn’t the same kind of insult at all but it did inspire me to get a practice pad and a metronome.
May 19th –The Phantom Menace is released. Needless to say I was a huge Star Wars fan and I was very excited for this movie to come out. When I found out that they had (veggie-)beefed up this famous theatre in SF to show it and that Lucas was going to be there to give a little talk before the showing I was like, we GOT to go! So we decided to camp out in line (they were not selling pre-tickets). At the time we had this awesome R2-D2 cooler that we had stolen from a 7-11. They had it out front with ice in it and we just wheeled it away. We used to keep it in the garage and put kegs in it when we had house parties. We brought R2 with us to the line and it was a big hit. I forget how long we camped out but it was definitely a couple of days. I think I went home one night and slept in my bed but the other night I slept on the concrete. The line itself was a lot of fun, like a very ultra nerdy Dead show parking lot. We drank vodka and ate Red Vines and at night we ran through Golden Gate Park and had a massive light saber battle.
The showing was at midnight and soon they started letting us go in. We were not actually all that far back and actually got good seats. Obviously we couldn’t take R2 with us so we stashed it over behind a dumpster and went inside. George Lucas was there and everyone was in a raucous good mood. I forget what he said but he said some stuff and then the movie started. Everyone cheers and then a hush…and then there is some CGI underwater scene which isn’t too bad but then fucking Jar-Jar Binks shows up. We get out of the theatre and R2 is gone! Man that sucked.
Somehow I got a job selling candy. I think I saw the advertisement in the newspaper or something. It was advertised as a way to make money and see free music. I called them up and went for an interview. Basically they hired you as a sub-contractor and you had to wear this uniform and carry around this tray of candy that you bought from them. The candy would cost X amount of dollars and at the end of the night you would have to pay them for any candy that was not returned. Anything extra you got to keep. This was a very strange job but by that time I was the King of Strange Jobs and I took it. The first concert I worked was June 5th and it was the Guiness Fleadh in Golden Gate Park and I sell candy and see Ben Harper, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and Jon Lee Hooker, plus a bunch of others. I really liked Ben Harper after that.
July 1999 we see Blair Witch Project. At the time I didn’t really like this movie. I had heard that people were getting sick while watching it but I didn’t experience that. I also didn’t find the movie very scary. I had seen much worse. I eventually did come to see what was scary about that movie and it was the putting oneself into the place of the hunted people. I remember thinking that you have to have achieved a level of security in your life to feel threatened by that and I felt that maybe this was me progressing.
Joe takes me to see Ween at the Warfield in August of 1999. It is a great show. I was never a super huge fan of Ween (Joe was a super huge fan) but that show was amazing. They had this drummer who was killing it and they had actually developed into pretty decent players! Their edition of Party Like its 1999 rocked the house. They were up on stage passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels (or something) and they were chugging it straight from the battle and then playing a song. I was impressed.
In September 1999 I am ready to finish up. I just need one class and I will be able to graduate. I take Philosophy of Natural Sciences and we read Quantum Mechanics and Experience and it blows me away and inspires me to learn more about quantum mechanics. I had read about string theory all those years ago in juvenile hall and I had taken the physics class at SF State but other than that I had not payed much attention. I remember finding the Official String Theory website and learning about the Second Revolution and the various dualities that had been discovered. This was exciting stuff! I also take Law and Society (which I found boring. The method of arguing from Stare Decisis is stifling to me), The Nuclear Revolution (from which I withdrew), and a graduate class preparing students for a big M.A. exam on Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Kant (this was my second time officially enrolling in a graduate level course while I was an undergrad). I was not a graduate student and I wasn’t taking the exam but I wanted to prep for it because I was applying to graduate schools.
Another concert I sold candy at was at Shoreline and it was a Bridge School Benefit show. This one was in October of 1999 and had an amazing line up of Neil Young, The Who, Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Billy Corgan & James Iha, Tom Waits (Day 1 only), Lucinda Williams, and Brian Wilson. That was a really fun concert. I remember standing there with the candy strapped around my neck and at first everyone sees you but avoided you. A few beers and joints later and you are mobbed. I had a lot of fun that night and ended up trading candy for drugs (I had to pay for the candy out of pocket which was fine with me). I also sold candy at a Gay Pride event in the Castro and that was a wild experience! I remember standing there and seeing all kinds of naked people, some guys some women. That was fairly normal for San Francisco (in the Castro). I saw one very attractive women walk by and I couldn’t help staring. As she walked by she looked over her shoulder and said “this isn’t for you, breeder”.
The semester ended and I got a job at an Italian restaurant out in North Beach. The owner is a short Italian guy named Giuseppe (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure). Giuseppe is a real piece of work and there are so many crazy stories about him, but I’ll come back to this some other time because I worked for him the next year as well. The point here is that on New Year’s Eve 1999, which was a Friday, I am planning on working that night at the Italian restaurant rather than going out anywhere. I wanted to work because you get a lot of money in tips and I wanted to buy my own computer. (By the way that was a fun night -all of the waitstaff were getting hammered while we were working and I made more money than I ever had in a single night before!)
By that time I had heard about the Tucson conferences and the Philosophical Gourmet and I knew that Rutgers and NYU were the best schools for philosophy of mind. I used to drool over the webpage for the 1997 NYU seminar on mind and language (the 1998 one wasn’t bas either). I applied to both of them and was rejected. NYU sent me something from the Tisch School of Interdisciplinary Studies and I could have possibly gone there and taken classes at NYU in their philosophy department (so said the material) but that isn’t what I wanted. I forget when this was but I had only applied to those two places and then I did not know what to do. Some person was calling me saying they were from Berkeley and I was suspicious of that (they were leaving messages our communal answering machine, remember those?), so not knowing what to do I applied to the Graduate Program at SF State. Besides which I never felt at ease at Berkeley. The campus was beautiful and I had audited a couple of classes there once I found out that we could do so (one in bio and one in philosophy with Searle) but I always felt out of place there. Anyway so I applied hastily to the M.A. program at SF State. I remember I wrote my essay in the little box on the form and it was total last minute BS.
But I had been accepted. So I would be starting the Spring 2000 semester as a graduate student in the philosophy program. I thought that if I was going to be serious about being in grad school then I should have my own computer (and I had already enrolled in four classes: two in the biology department, Neural Systems (from which I had withdrawn in the spring of 1999) and Human Sensory Processes (a graduate seminar in the biology department) and two graduate level philosophy seminars, Wittgenstein (with Peter Radcliffe), and Early Medieval Philosophy (with Glanville)).
I didn’t go to my graduation but I did feel an immense pride. Nothing much really changed immediately after that. I was still living in the same place and I was still going to SF State but on January 7th, 2000 I had crossed an invisible line. I had earned a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and I was soon to be a graduate student in philosophy. I was especially proud that I had earned my way into SF State after having been there and gotten to know the philosophy professors. These professors knew me, not very well admittedly, but it had been 2 and 1/2 years and that is plenty of time to fuck up! But no, I had excelled and they had wanted me to continue in their program. I was sad that I wasn’t going to New York but I was also excited to continue at SF State.
Through one of the classes I was in I met this dude named Guido (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure). He was a beginning bassist and I was a freshly out of the death metal scene drummer. He suggested we get together and jam, which we did a few times. One time we even took mushrooms and jammed together and we had a lot of fun. I remember that we recorded the whole thing and while we were playing I felt like I wasn’t moving my arms. I had this feeling like they were rubber bands with vibration in them. When we listen back to it the next day we were surprised to find that some of it sounds pretty good.
After we had known each other a little bit Guido tells me that he lives and works at a mortuary/funeral home. He says that he doesn’t unusually tell people this right off the bat because people find it weird and off putting. Guido is a nice guy but he also a total hippie. I am pretty sure he is studying holistic medicine or something like that at this time at Cuesta. He has a black belt but he also stops when he sees road kill and says a Buddhist prayer for the spirit of the animal. In short not my kind of person but we got along well and I needed a place to stay. He tells me that they are looking for a roommate at the mortuary. He said it was a cool gig, free rent and good money. I needed the money and I was crashing at a friend’s house who lived with his parents so I jumped at the chance.
I went over to meet the rest of the people at the house. Driving up to the mortuary there is a huge parking lot and then a big white building, looking very nondescript. This place is right downtown San Luis, and right next to a place I used to eat at all the time, but somehow I had never noticed it before. There is a main entrance I can see but we go around to the side entrance. I can see that in back of the main building there is another building, and off to the side another. There is, on the side, a little alley like entrance way that leads to a short concrete flight of steps. Going up those steps puts you in a semi-enclosed area where there is a single door. Guido opens the door with a key and we go inside. Once inside I see a normal living room. There is a kitchen off to my left in front of me and further to the left another door. To the right is a hallway that leads to a short flight of steps. On the left just before the steps is a door and I can see a sink and some toothbrushes in there. Right after that is another door and I can see that it is a bedroom. Some guys are hanging around sitting on one of the three couches. Directly across from where I am standing is a desk with what looks like an office phone on it. It has a lot of buttons and lights.
“Hey everyone,” begins Guido “this is Richard, they guy I was telling you about,” as he says this the two guys on the couches nod at me. “That is Bill” Guido continues pointing to a shortish guy with dark hair. He is wearing a Cal Poly shirt tucked into jeans and a very large belt buckle. Bill was from somewhere near Santa Barbara and is going to Cal Poly studying civil engineering. Bill nods as though he is used to wearing a cowboy hat.
“And I’m Zach” the other guys says. It turns out that Zach is the one leaving and the one I am going to replace. They give me a tour of the rest of the place. Up the short flight of stairs I had seen earlier there was a corner and the building turned to the left. On the right hand side was a small room and that became my room. It was big enough for a bed, a small dresser, and it had a window. It really reminded me of the room I had had in juvenile hall. Turning left at my room there another short flight of stairs and then further down the hallway another room at the end. That is where Bill lived. I would get the little cubby that Zach had been in. It was funny that he had the smallest room because he was a tall lanky guy.
I moved in on New Year’s Eve 1995. The folks had a big Bar-B-Q to welcome me and I moved my stuff into my room. The room was small but I didn’t have much of anything. I had recently sold my drum set in an attempt to distance myself from the death metal scene and to attempt to focus on school. So all in all the move was pretty easy! Zack’s band played that night and I found out that he was a good drummer. I also got a tour of the rest of the facilities. There was the chapel where they had services, funerals, etc. This place had an alter and a bunch of pews and best of all a giant pipe organ. There was the business office where they met with grieving families and worked out the details. There was the coffin display room where they had all kinds of caskets and urns that people could choose from. In the back there was the embalming room where they would do autopsies and embalming as well as other things like applying make up and doing hair. Out back in one of the other buildings I had seen there was the ice box which is where we stored the corpses and the furnace that we used to cremate the bodies. A one-stop death shop.
It turned out that the apartment which we lived in was attached to the main building. The door I had seen in the living room, by the kitchen, opened directly into the coffin display room. That door always creeped me out and the first few weeks I was in there I did not want to have my back to that door; “that is where the zombies will come from,” I used to joke.
The way the thing worked was as follows. We always worked in two man shifts with one man off. One person was “on duty” which meant they were the designated person and their job was to hang out at the house and to answer the mortuary phone, which we had a line in our house. That was the office-looking phone I had seen when I first came in. While you were on duty you could not leave the mortuary unless there were a death somewhere. During the day we would ignore the phone and be alerted to anything we needed to do by the office staff but after 5:00 p.m. it was our responsibility to answer it. People would call for one of a few reasons. One would be to arrange some kind of funeral service or to arrange a time to bring in the clothes or other personal items for a recently deceased loved one. The other was to report that there was a body. In most cases the people had been into the mortuary to make arrangements and then when the person died we would transport the remains back to the chapel. However the mortuary also had a deal with the sheriff’s office. Every other month we would handle all of the police needs (at least I think it was every other month).
While one person was always at the mortuary on duty the other person in the team was free to come and go as they pleased. They only had to carry with them a beeper and be within 10-20 minutes of the mortuary. The reason for this was that if we had a call that meant we had to transport a body then the home person would beep the pager alerting you to the fact that there was a body in need of pick up. You were then supposed to immediately drop whatever you were doing and head back to the mortuary. We called that beeper ‘the Grim Beeper’. The person who had to stay at the mortuary was in charge of any paperwork and dealing with the police/family members. The person with the Grim Beeper was mostly there to help physically move the body. Both of the people were required to wear a suit and tie. And since we often had to go into people’s homes with them still there we had to very professional and respectful.
Once the beeper went off you would go back home, change into a suit provided by the mortuary and then get in the official mortuary van and drive out to wherever the body happened to be. A lot of times it was a home or a hospital but it could literally be anywhere. Wherever there was death we would go. Rent was provided and on top of that we got paid by the body (I forget the actual rate per body but it was different depending on where we had to go) and to work funeral services (handing out programs, being an usher, etc). These two man teams would work for two weeks straight while the other was off. At the end of the two weeks the person on duty would be off duty while the previous holder of the Grim Beeper went On Duty and the person who was off got the beeper. This meant that we had one month of work and two weeks off and mostly worked at nights (though there were daytime deaths as well).
I am very nervous about the job at this point because I have never actually seen a dead body but I have seen lots and lots of horror films and death metal lyrics. I remember at some point during my moving in party the office phone started ringing. It was late by that time and the band had stopped playing. We were mostly just hanging around telling stories and talking shit. The phone rang and everyone became silent. Bill, who was on duty that night gave everyone a stern look to ensure total silence and then picked up the phone “Such and Such Chapel and Funeral Home this is Bill speaking how may I help you?” he begins in a very professional phone voice. I was impressed. He starts nodding and saying ‘ah ha, uh uh” and then writing something on a piece of paper he says “we will have someone from the mortuary over very soon. Please be on the lookout for our van, and our condolences at this very difficult time.” He hangs up the phone and says “we got one! Let’s suit up!” In a way that reminds me of Ghostbusters. Guido has the Grim Beeper that night but he is already there so they go off to their rooms to put their suits on. They tell me I should wear Zack’s suit and come along just to observe. By this time I am drunk and so say ok.
The suit is much too long for me. Zach is at least six foot three and this has been his suit for a while. The van is a two seater and the back is empty except for the gurney. I had to sit in between in the floor. I really hated that van. I would sit in the front seat and could hear the creaking of the gurney behind me. I always half-expected to feel an icy cold hand on my shoulder as the corpse on the gurney bites into my flesh and I swerved off the road into….but in my time at the mortuary I experienced 0 supernatural events. We show up at this guy’s house and the corpse is in the bedroom still in bed. It is an older gentleman who died of seeming natural causes. Guido shows me how to get a sheet underneath him. Roll him on one side (grab by shoulder and hip and pull), insert sheet. Roll him on the other side, pull sheet through. Once the sheet is underneath then we can move them onto the gurney. Once on the gurney we strap them down and cover them up. Then we move them to the van and load them up. We check with the family for any paperwork and give them a card.
I was standing by the back of the van waiting for Guido when this young kid comes up to me. He looks up at me and says, “Gramppy is in heaven now, right?” I am standing there looking at this kid wondering what to say (what I am thinking is that Gramppy is in the van) when Guido comes over and grabs me. “We gotta go man,” he says and pulls me away. I look back and the kid is standing there crying. I get in the van and look at the silent lump on the gurney. What have I gotten myself into? We drive back to the mortuary and drop the paperwork off in the office. We then unload the body from the van and take it into the back where the ice box is. We unload the body from the gurney and heave it onto the slab. This person died in an expected way and so there will be no autopsy. The doctors already know what happened. There will be funeral services shortly.
Since I didn’t do anything I only earned partial pay for that ride. $26 for the loss of my innocence.
I eventually worked one of the funeral services for some extra money. I handed out programs and stood by the door. This was a very strange experience. I had never been to a funeral at that point and this was a Catholic ceremony so there was a lot of call and response. I was really caught off guard by how well oiled the whole process was. It reminded me of a very sad P-Funk concert and I realized what they meant when they said that kind of music had taken gospel and made it sexy.
Balaram lived down the street from the mortuary and we would spend a lot of time smoking weed and paying music and playing street fighter 2. He would continually kick my ass but I would never give up. It was a good working relationship. His father, Shival, had a place at the end of the block. During the day Shival was locked inside his house. He could be seen in the morning on his way to the liquor store and returning with a six pack of beer. He would then go inside and smoke, practice guitar, do yoga, and pray. He would come out in the evening to play whatever gig he had scheduled and hang out. I really liked Shival, everyone did, and when he was drunk he would tell the most amazing stories. The downstairs of his building is where Balaram lived. He had a nice set up down there and we would jam down there sometimes.
I really sucked at the drums back then, much more than I do now! But still Shival would let me sit in on the drums every once in a while and eventually I got to play a couple gigs as the main drummer. One was a night at the local club Tortilla Flats and the other was at a wedding. By the time I moved away he was suggesting that maybe I should stay. He said I didn’t have any technical skills but that could be learned if he worked with me. But what I did have, he continued, was a strong sense of rhythm and he could play with me. He said he knew that I was a real drummer because when I played I played the beat and didn’t add in a bunch of fills all over the place. I agreed that I liked to play the beat but I just didn’t know how to do fills! He didn’t like to rehearse much and if I needed to learn anything Balalram would work with me on it. Shival really only had one rule and that was that he never wanted to have to look over his shoulder at you and if you didn’t fuck up the rhythm he wouldn’t look at you.
Their regular drummer at the time, a guy who worked at Cal Poly by day and drummed with them by night named Maurice. He was really really good. He offered to trade drum lessons for weed and I agreed. My first lesson he wrote down single strokes, double strokes and paradiddles and showed me what they sounded like when played well. He told me to practice that. I kept that paper for a long time and really that was the only drum lesson I ever had. He wanted to keep it going but I lost my weed connection and couldn’t afford to buy it and give it to him. I heard he took it personally and thought that I was some young upstart who though he was too good to be taught by an old burnout like Maurice. Not the case at all! But then when he found out that Shival was even considering working with me he was really mad. It turns out that he had a pretty serious drug problem and I think that is why Shival wanted to find someone who could play without the drugs. I wish I had continued studying with him but I did realize that drumming was an art that involved manipulating these two pieces of wood in time. I would bring that with me to San Francisco.
I ended up playing with a dancehall reggae singer known as Mellow Max and we played a couple of gigs. He was from Jamaica and had a thick Jamaican accent. We called ourselves Mr. Roper (from Three’s Company). We actually opened for another reggae band at SLO Brew and had a really good recording of it. It actually sounded pretty good. Authentic even. I was surprised. Mellow Max was a terrible rapper but with his accent you couldn’t tell that his rhymes were no good.
The Spring 1996 semester would have started in January 1996 and I was officially working at the mortuary during the next two semesters. That semester I took a class on government (a required class), and a speech class, and I also took my very first Introduction to Logic course. The professor was Peter Dill who apparently still teaches out at Cuesta College. We used an early edition of Hurley’s Concise Introduction to Logic and I really loved that class.
At the time I was dating a girl named Amanda who was a local girl from Atascadero. She was beautiful. Strawberry blond hair, freckles, slim and a nice body. Great personality. I really liked her a lot. I heard that P-Funk was playing up in San Francisco March 9th 1996 at the Maritime Hall and Amanda and I decided to drive up and see if we could get in. We drove up and the concert was sold out so we hung around outside not knowing what to do. I eventually see that there is a back door where they are loading equipment in. We wait until they are done and then sneak in. There is a stair well and we hide in there for a bit. We then go up stairs and we end up coming out into the hall where the concert is going to be taking place. We are in! And we are early. The band is on stage warming up. We are sitting on a bench and I start talking to this crazy looking guy next to me. He is the bus driver and he assumes that I am a roadie. He has this giant 7-11 Slurpee Big Gulp cup and he hands it to me. Inside it is filled with mushrooms. I look back at him and he is looking at me like ‘hurry up!’ so I grab a handful and pass them to Amanda. Amanda and I eat a handful and we enjoy the concert. It is amazing. They do the entire Mother Ship landing and Bootsy makes a guest appearance. I realize this is as close as I will ever get to seeing that historic event. This is like an echo of that cosmic funky groove in spacetime left by the Mothership tour.
Afterwards Amanda is too fucked to drive so we decide to hang around in SF for a bit. We end up over by the Sutro baths. This place is really cool and I remember jumping from rock to rock and feeling like spiderman. I also remember seeing the foam on the beach being blown by the wind. It looked like some kind of translucent slug creatures moving in herds across the beach. Eventually I start to feel like I can drive. She is sleeping with her head in my lap and I am shrooming hard. As we drive down the Pacific Coast Highway I am watching the moon over the ocean and almost drive off of the rode. This wakes her up. We sit in the car until a cop pulls over and asks us what we are doing. Just coming home. He tells us to move along so I am driving again. We make it home but it is a wild trip!
I really liked Amanda but she had had a hard life. We dated off and on and I told her that I loved her. She told me that she had heard that a lot and that people were in love with how she made them feel about themselves. I thought that was sad. We ended up breaking up and I remember I wrote her a letter where I tried to lay out the reasons for our breakup in a series of valid syllogisms. She wrote ‘WHORE’ in lipstick on my Nissan Pulsar and I remember leaving it on for weeks and driving the car around with it.
One day I was hanging outside of Barnes and Nobles and I saw this girl there. I started talking to her and told her I lived in a mortuary. Her name was Carrie and she was instantly into it. There are two kinds of people out there: Those that are interested in the fact that I worked in a mortuary and those that are not interested in that fact. She was interested. I took her back to my place and gave her the tour. We ended up having sex in a coffin in the coffin display room. She lived in Santa Cruz and I would drive up to see her every now and again. One time when I was up there she wanted to go see Luna in San Francisco. I had plans to see Primus the next day but figured it couldn’t hurt. I was on break and so had a lot of time.
We both took acid and drove up to S.F May 3rd 1996. The plan was to stop by her friend’s place and get some weed before we went to the concert. She told me to drop her off and then circle the block and come back and pick her up. By that time I was frying pretty good and as I turned right and then turned right again I was suddenly on the freeway. I did not mean to get on the freeway but it had happened. I drove until I could get off and then I had to find my way back to Carrie. I had been in SF before but did not know it well at that point. I thought there was no way to know where I had dropped her off. I started driving in concentric circle-ish patters until, randomly, I saw Carrie on the corner. She was so mad at me. She thought that I had ditched her. We went to the concert.
It was so trippy. The music was not my scene at all. It was very melancholy and slow. At that time I really did not like melancholy music. My view was that life was difficult enough and that music should inspire energy not suck it from you.
The very next day I was supposed to see Primus in Santa Barbara so I drove back to San Luis after dropping Carrie in Santa Cruz. That was May 4th 1996. We take mushrooms and the show is amazing. The opening band is called Weapon of Choice and they become my new favorite band. They were a heavy-ish funk group who liked to sing about doing nutmeg. We tried doing it, as I found out some famous jazz musicians were into it, but it never had any effect one me. At any rate they opened for Primus in Santa Barbara and we loved the show.
Afterwards we are walking back to the car but I keep hearing this weird noise and I start following it. It leads me to a tattoo parlor where someone is getting a late night tattoo. The door is open so I come in and ask how much to get my tongue pierced. He tells me and I decide to do it. I was sitting in the chair and he grabs these forceps and grabs my tongue. To me it seems like he pulls out my tounge to an impossible length and then he stabs me, I mean pierces the tongue. It hurts and my head explodes into tiny fragments and is re-assembled into an exact replica. I get up and no one seems to notice that I am a replica. I worry that they will notice because the real me does not have a tounge ring.
The next morning I wake up and my tongue is swollen and I cannot eat any food. I try to put a can of soup into the blender and suck it through a straw but it is so thick that the sucking hurts just as bad.
After the concert we head over to Haight Street and we are walking around checking shit out. I have a can of Pringles and after a while I start shaking it and saying ‘Pringles for doses’ to anyone who would pass by. “Pringles for doses’ shake, shake. ‘Pringles for doses’ shake, shake. Most people ignore me or laugh but I persist. ‘Pringles for doses’ I say in a louder voice. Shake, shake goes the Pringles can. After a while some guy stops and says ‘open your mouth” I do and he puts in a whole strip of acid. That is 10 hits of paper and this is by far the most I have ever done at one time in my life. It was only blotter and who knows how strong it was but I had the trip of my life. I gave the guy a stack of Pringles and walked away happy at last. The acid started to come on while I was playing chess with some street kid. He beat me and we started to play again. He was starting to beat me again and I felt like all my options were closing in on me. I felt like I had no chance. I saw a bus across the street and I literally got up and ran away and jumped on the bus. I did not know where my friends were that I came with. On the bus I swore I kept hearing this eerie music. I would learn later that it was simply the noise these electric buses made. But at the time it was creepy, like a sci-fi electric opera sung by a corpse with decaying vocal chords.
I wanted to find the hotel but I had no idea where it was. I knew it was close to the park and I was asking the bus driver if he knew where it was. Some random guy sitting in front of the bus started talking to me “Oh, you mean that hotel on the corner?”
“Yes, on the corner!” I responded.
“Oh yeah, it’s got a tree out in front?”
“Yeah, yeah it does!”
“The tree is by the sidewalk?”
“Yes! That’s exactly right!”
This went on for a while. To this day I don’t if this guy was fucking with me or not but I did eventually make it to the hotel. Everyone else was there and passed out but I was still frying balls. So I sat there in the dark all by myself and I started going through everyone’s bags. Every so often I would find a beer and drink it. Eventually people woke up and there I was. “Oh hey you made it!” They had not known what had happened to me and by that time I was beyond the use of words.
I was still tripping but not as bad as the night before. But I felt like this was going to be a never ending trip. I could not shake the felling that my brain was short circuiting.
We headed over to the concert but somehow I get separated from the rest of my group. I saw a guy I knew from SLO there and he was tripping too. We were over in the pit for Rage against the Machine and I was instantly a huge fan of those guys. So we hung out. I couldn’t find my friends. I found out later that they looked for me but eventually went back to San Luis without me. Whoever I was with said they had hitchhiked and so I said I would hitchhike back with him.
That trip back was a wild and crazy trip and it ended up taking three days to make it back to the mortuary. One of the nights we ended up sleeping on top of a McDonald’s roof and eating food out of their dumpster. This was in Gilroy or some such place south of SF. We slept by the heating vent to stay warm and in the morning we were back on the road. One night we slept in the back of a church in a little play land they had for kids. We huddled up in the playhouse to keep warm. It was not fun. By the third day I was near my breaking point. All I could think about was that I was desperate to be home, to sleep in my own bed, but that my home was a fucking mortuary filled with death. How in the world did my life end up with me feeling safe in the house of the dead? I couldn’t help feeling like I had asked for this. My curiosity about death had led me here. Most of the time I wanted to get away from the mortuary and now I was desperate, I would do anything, to be back there. This really fucked with my head.
We did eventually make it back and everyone was like “we thought you were dead!” Nope, still alive but my brain was fried. Years later when I reconnected with a lot of these people on Facebook, Ethan (remember no real names) said he felt bad for that. I had actually forgotten that they left me there and just remembered it as one of the times I was hitchhiking. After that incident, which I eventually came to refer to as The Incident, I was not interested in taking acid anymore. I think I did one more time in the mortuary and I just felt like I skipped the fun part and went to the feeling of being a computer with water thrown on it (probably it was just bad blotter with some strychnine or something in it). I do remember arguing with someone about a Tom Robbins plotline. In Another Roadside Attraction Robbins depicts a scene where someone walks past the bones of Jesus Christ and just ‘feels’ their presence. They know that someone important is buried there. Somehow this came up and this guy was really emphatically in agreement that there would be some special kind of feeling where I argued that you would just walk by without any special feelings at all. We could be sitting on the bones of Jesus right now, I said, and we would not know it. This actually led to a heated argument (I don’t know why, we were both on acid) and I remember associating that feeling of frustration with being on acid at that point.
In the fall of 1996 I took a World Cultures class (a repeat of the anthropology course I took my first semester and earned a D in; this class was as boring the second time as it was the first and I got a D in it again), an English course that I really liked and where I read Noam Chomsky for the first time. I also had a human sexuality course (the only class I earned an A in my entire time at community college!) and a stretching routines course. And finally I took another class with Mr. Dill. This time it was World Religions and I really liked that class. I was very surprised to find out the relationship between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Balaram and Shival were Hare Krishna and so I especially enjoyed learning about Buddhism and Hinduism. It was around this time I got my large eyes of buddha tattoo. I remember when Shival first saw that tattoo he said “oh man, you’re in service now!”. By the way this is also when I got the big tribal piece on my left leg.
I felt I had learned everything I could from Cuesta and I wanted to continue. I was also sick of San Luis Obispo. It was the same shit all of the time. Everyone knew everyone (it had a population of about 40,000 back then I think). There were only so many things to do. Farmer’s market on Thursday, drinking on the weekend, play a gig on third Thursday’s etc. repeat. I wanted to be in a city. And I really wanted to be in San Francisco which I had really come to like. I applied to CSU Long Beach and San Francisco and U.C. Merced (I think it was Merced). I hated Fresno but they had an awesome Cog Sci program that I was interested in. I ended up getting into Merced and SF State (Long Beach requested my High School transcripts, and I was like “which one?” and wrote that school off) but I chose San Francisco. Plans were made. I would move to S.F. to start the Spring 1997 semester in the philosophy program there.
During all of this I was doing my month on/two weeks off routine at the mortuary. At some point Bill graduated and my friend Ethan moved in. He was a drummer who played in my friend’s death metal band. He also had a drinking and meth addiction problem, most of which he had kept hidden at that point (his parents were Mormons (his dad was one of my professors)). I don’t remember all of the calls that I had to go on and I certainly do not remember the order that they were in so instead of trying to work them into the stuff I do remember I am just going to go through them below. Some of it is somewhat gruesome so you could just skip this part. I also don’t know anyone’s names here. My roommate Ethan used to very curious about these people, who they were, what they left behind. I never wanted to know that. I tried as much as possible to think of them as couches that needed to be moved. They were just physical items. I joked with my mom at one point that I had seen too many zombie movies to be living here and she said that any spirits would leave immediately. Why would they stick around their body when they just discovered the astral plane? Insert double eye-roll here. Anyways, I know that that is a calloused way of thinking, especially to their loved ones, and I apologize for that but this was a tough situation to deal with and that is the way I dealt with it.
One thing I remember was that at night we had to go through the mortuary and turn off all of the lights. We had to go through the coffin room, through the chapel, and into the business office and then work our way back checking all the lights, and all the doors. There was one light that would turn on and off randomly that really creeped us out. I have to admit that I got the shivers a few times down there but I used to force myself to walk slowly, and calmly through there. I didn’t really believe that a ghost was turning that light on and off and so I refused to scurry past it like the others did.
Ok, so here goes, here are some of the calls that I remember during my time. I really don’t remember when these occurred. They could have been at anytime during the year. These are not all of the calls I went on but this is what still haunts my dreams.
If I were you I would stop reading now.
The Time we Almost Hit a Deer
Needless to say this job was very stressful. We could get a call at any hour of the day, whether noon or midnight or anywhere in between. Sometimes we would get a call at 2:00 a.m., and then I would have class the next morning. It was surreal.
One night we were up late drinking vodka and shooting bottle caps at each other. I finally passed out at 3:30 in the morning. At 4:00 I am awoken by the roommate. “we’ve got one”. I am pretty tired and still kind of wasted but I get dressed and we head out. It is an out of town call and we drive out past Cuesta. We get the body no problem and we are on our way back to the mortuary. We are on a tiny two lane road and there are no streetlights. It is pitch dark out and there is nothing around in sight. All of a sudden I see these two glowing points in the darkness. “what the fuck?” I start to say and then we are swerving. We swerve to the left. We swerve to the right. The gurney in the back is locked down so isn’t flying around but there is a tire jack that was left back there and that is flying around back there and it flies up and hits me in the back of the head. I see a bright light and I am not sure what the hell is going on. Finally we get the car under control. I am bleeding but not too badly. It was a fucking deer and my roommate had swerved to avoid it and kept his cool and did not flip the van. We look in the back to check on the body. It is fucked. The guy’s face was bashed in and his legs and arms were broken. For a guy who died of a heart attack this was not good. We got back an explained what had happened. The owners convinced the family to have a cremation instead of an open casket service and they agreed. They never knew what had happened to their loved one.
The Time I got a Call While on Mushrooms
We partied a lot at the mortuary. One time I was taking mushrooms and Balaram, Max and I were playing at some open mic at some bar in downtown SLO. I had the Grim Beeper but it had been almost two weeks and there had been no calls, what are the odds we would get one? I was up there when the beeper went off. “Oh shit I gotta go” I said as we cut the tune short. I left and everyone in the club seemed a bit confused. I was shrooming pretty good by the time I got back and I told Guido that this was so. He told me to get my shit together and get dressed so I did. We went out to the place and it was a home. The family was all gathered in the living room and they had like 6 or 7 little dogs. There were wiener dogs, and some other kinds as well. My roommate was handling the family and I was standing there and the dogs kept looking at me. One of them was growling softly under its breath and I was telling it to shush under mine. It started barking. They know! The dogs are on to me. They were yelling “he’s tripping! Hey everyone look at him he’s tripping’ No one else noticed and the owners told the dogs to shush. We went into the room where the body was and asked the family to wait outside. As we began to get the body ready to move to the gurney I thought that I saw the person breathing.
I said “hey man this guy is still alive”.
My roommate looked at me, “what?”
“he’s still alive look he’s breathing!” I tried to pull him off the gurney and back onto the bed. “He’s not dead! What are we doing? This isn’t right!”
I was starting to loose it. My roommate grabbed me and looked me in the eye “he’s fucking dead” and the he pounded on his chest with both fists “dead! He’s dead! Get it together!” I snapped out of it and we got the hell out of there.
I made it back to the club and we even got back on stage and played a bit more!
The Time we picked Up a Baby
On this particular call we went out to a hospital. We had the stretcher and we were ready to transport the body when we went into the room and saw a newborn baby. It’s head had not properly sealed and it had been torn open during childbirth. It’s skull was split in two and looked like a split melon. We looked at each other. This thing wouldn’t fit on the gurney. What should we do. Bill wrapped it up in swaddling and picked it up. He held it like a football player holds a football on a long run and we walked out. The thing was gruesome and he was trying to hide it from the other people in the hospital. We would later jokingly refer to this kind of thing as a sneak-a-touchdown. And we would only send one person.
More money that way.
The Time we picked up my Roommate’s Grade School Teacher
One call we went on was to a house that had the doors locked and the windows shut. The neighbors had called because of the smell. We had the sheriff out there and they opened the door. Inside was a heavy man who had died at least a week ago. Apparently he was cold just before he dies so he turned the heater on full blast. As a result he was in an advanced state of decomposition. As we walked in I saw that my roommate stopped dead in his tracks and was starring at the body. What’s the matter? I asked. He said that’s my fifth grade teacher MR. So and So. Holy shit!?! Really? Yep he said, so lets get to work. The guy was really decomposing and was full of gas. His body was really bloated. We went to roll him over so that we could get the sheet underneath him. As Guido was turning his head his finger sunk into the skin. Guido jumped back shouting “oh fuck!” the guy fell back on his back and his stomach split open and a great big WHOOSH! of putrid air came gushing out. As Guido was inhaling and jumping back he takes a big bong-hit like inhalation of the gasses. HE blanches and instantly vomits. ‘Reek of putrefaction’ indeed I thought! We eventually had to put the gurney at the foot of the bed and pull him down. It was disgusting.
The Time we picked up a Suicide Victim
This call was out in Los Osos near where I had used to live. This person had put a .357 into his mouth and pulled the trigger. We walked in and he was sitting in the back yard facing the fence. “Probably watching the sunset one last time” I thought. As I approached his back was to me. I could see a huge hole in the back of his head where the bullet had exited. I could see all the way down to the back of his teeth. Something I will never forget. He was up on the second floor and it was a real pain in the ass getting the gurney down.
The Time I had to Deal with the Police
There was one call we went on where we had been right smack in the middle of a huge party at our apartment and I was kind of liquored up. I was on duty and so I had to run point. I had to handle the paperwork and talk to any police/family members. We showed up and there was a large police presence there. Cops were standing around everywhere. Lights were flashing everywhere. I was sort of panicking but there is nothing I can do. I try to keep a straight face. I pull up and roll down the window. “Where should I park?” I ask the nearest officer. He points to the driveway and tells me to back in. Remember this is a van. It is a large vehicle and I am three sheets to the wind drunk. I am going to have to back this huge van up and into a small drive way with about 30 or so police officers standing around.
It was very strange for me to be dealing with police in a positive way. In fact though one time I was so drunk and I was driving back to the mortuary from the 7-11 and I was driving the wrong way up a one way street. A policeman pulled me over and he immediately recognized me from the mortuary. He told me he had done the same thing when he was in college and told me to walk home and leave me car. Sleep it off! he yelled at me as I stumbled down the sidewalk. Really a very different experience with the police!
Bring Out yer Dead
We developed a very dark sense of humor at the mortuary and I was having recurring nightmares. I would dream that my roommates were trying to strap me down to the gurney and I would yell “I’m not dead! I’m not dead!” my roommates would hold me down chanting in unison ‘you are dead! You. Are. Fucking. Dead…D…E…A…D” over and over again. I would wake up with my heart beating fast.
We had this dry erase board in the bathroom. One month we were kind of broke and we started joking about how it would be nice if a bus full of children would go off a cliff or something because we would make a lot of money without much effort that way. I went into the bathroom and wrote ‘Bring Out Yer Dead’ on the wall in honor of Monty Python. That weekend we had a record amount of deaths. We filled up the entire walk in freezer and had bodies in the embalming rooms as well. There was a murder victim we found under a house (very decayed, had been there a while), a kid who drowned out a the river (carrying that kid to the van was enough to make me cry), a car accident that killed 7 people (I remember the driver had hit the steering wheel so hard that it had embedded into his frontal lobe about two or three inches. I had to pull his head off of the steering wheel). We made lots of money but I couldn’t help but feel that we had tempted fate somehow. We decided not to make those kinds of jokes anymore.
I’m Not Dead Yet!
One call we went on we show up at the house and the person was not actually dead yet. That really bothered me a lot. I had not ever seen anyone die before. They were always long dead by the time I showed up. This person was still (minimally) alive and laying in a hospice medical bed in their living room. We are talking to the family who is explaining that they thought he had passed but he just was breathing very shallowly. I am saying that we will have to come back later when this guy in the bed suddenly blurts out ‘now begins the great teddy bear’ or at least that is what we all thought we heard.
Other not Fun Stuff
I also saw some organ harvesting and “helped” to perform an autopsy. The organ harvesters came for somebody’s eyes. They have to act quickly while the body is still fresh. I held the eyelids as they extracted the actual eyeball. During the autopsy I saw them make the Y incision and I got to use the bone saw to open up the skull. Afterwards I saw them put all of the organs into the stomach and sew them up. Obviously I had no business doing that and I should not have even been allowed back there but this guy thought it was funny to see my reaction.
There was also a call I went on where we went to the hospital and picked up someone who was still on the operating table. They had tubes and wires attached to them, their shirt was ripped open. They had tried to save this person and failed.
There was another call where we discovered someone who died of cancer. They hand an enormous tumor.
The Saddest One Yet
At some point I started working as a flower delivery guy. It is funny how working around death makes you crave feeling alive. We did lots of stupid stuff like that and now that I look back on it is seems to me that we just wanted to feel alive. For example I remember we had a cooking contest to see who could make the spiciest spaghetti dish. Everyone made a dish that others had to eat. You lost by not finishing the dish. I was at one point dating two girls, one of whom worked at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and who would bring me a box of caramel apples and candy every night.
Anyway somehow I got the chance to do this flower delivery gig and I jumped at it. It was part time and not very stressful. I drove a van provided by the flower shop. They loaded it up and I simply drove around town delivering these flowers, I liked it because I was usually the best thing that happened to these people. I would drive up in my van and knock on the door and there would be no death and no sorrow, just a person whose eyes would light up.
One time I delivered something for mother’s day to a kindly old lady. It was sad, I thought, how her kids didn’t visit her and sent me instead. But she had been happy. About a week later I had to come to that same house in my other van and there she was. The flowers were dead and so was she. It was really depressing.
All in all if I had known then what I know now I would not have taken this job at the mortuary. Death is incredibly sad and disgusting. After leaving the mortuary in January of 1997 I lost my taste for violent horror films pretty much all together.
I am continuing to write a series a memoir-notes. In the last of these I left off right when I had decided to enroll in Community College. I know that my first semester began in August 1994 but it is not totally clear what I was doing the first part of this year. I am pretty sure I was living at the preschool for part of that time, though I don’t really know.
I do know it was during that time when I reconnected with my immediate family. I hung out with my sister and my aunt a bit and I found out that both had a pretty rough time while I was gone. My sister had had a brain tumor. My sister had always had dizzy spells and fainted a couple of times when we were young. We had taken her to the doctor many times. She was unusually big for her age, her eyes bulged out of her face a bit and we knew something was wrong but the doctors never found anything. They tried to do a CAT scan and my sister would not stay still long enough. She fought it very hard. Anyway, after I had ran away from home she was out riding a horse one day (my sister was very much an equestrian) and the horse threw her. She hit her head and as a result went to the emergency room. While there they discovered that she had a massive brain tumor. As she described it the tumor took up over three-quaters of her skull cavity and her entire brain was squashed into the front 1/4 of her cranium. She said it was very scary having brain surgery and that she was on medication but felt fine. She was still riding, showing, and competing on horseback. I was amazed by her story. And here I had thought my appendectomy was hardcore. She came out and heard Mortalis, my band at the time, play and she was impressed by how ‘energetic’ the music was (she herself was into country at the time).
It was good to see her and I was impressed by her story but we didn’t really get along very well. She wanted to rehash everything that had happened with our mom and to catch me up on what she had done to her since I had left. She thought that I would be as happy to bash our mom as she was and was eager to find someone to bond with over the experience. At the time I was not interested in rehashing. I was looking forward not backwards (it took over 20 years for me to start to look back on those events! And some of them I still don’t want to look back on!). My mom felt hurt by what my sister had done and my sister was hurt by what my mom had done. I wanted to stay out it as much as possible.
I heard that my uncle was getting remarried so my sister and I drove down there with my aunt. My aunt had been shot by her ex-boyfriend when I was 11 or so and had been paralyzed from the waist down as a result. She was in a wheelchair but had recently bought a car that was rigged up to allow her to operate the pedals with her hands and so she could drive. She needed help getting her chair into the the trunk after she got in (and getting it out) but other than that she was good. Oh, how angry she got if she ever found someone parking in the handicap spot! Anyway we went to the wedding down in LA. My uncle had been in Vietnam and had come back a very different person. He had had an aneurysm in his brain after he returned and had another personality change. He was an air traffic controller but after the aneurysm he became a born-again Christian and went to clown college, where he met the woman who he was now marrying.
The wedding was interesting (involving crystals and a harp players). My mom was not invited because she was not getting along with my uncle over something or other. I found the inter-family dram to be very off putting and for the most part I tried to stay out of all of it. My sister had wanted to be a vet at some point and had started school but never finished. No one else in my family had gone to school and they all seemed to think that studying philosophy was a waste of time. They also wanted to bash my mom, and I had a lot of anger towards her as well, but I wanted to try to get to know her as a person. She seemed sincere at the time that she had changed and wanted a second chance. I was willing to give it to her but the rest of the family was not. As a result I tended to keep to my own business. I had a lot going on in my own life at the time!
From what I was saying before you may be thinking that I was probably taking a lot of acid during this time, and that is correct, but it is not like acid was the only hallucinogenic I did back in those days. I really enjoyed taking LSD and had done paper (all with funny names), liquid (dropped on Cheetos, and once a Tums antacid just for “irony”), and gel tab LSD (black pyramid being among the best I had). I had also taken Orange Sunshine which was a designer drug supposedly like a combination of LSD and mescaline. And of course there was mushrooms. I really found that LSD and mushrooms were very different. Mushrooms gave me more of a body high and to be honest I think I had more “Bad Trips” on mushrooms. They seemed to put me more in tune with my body and nature and at the time I did not really enjoy that.
By the way, I am breaking one of my past self’s cardinal rules by talking about all of this. I used to be pretty vocal that it was uninteresting to hear about other people’s hallucinogenic experiences. Listening to someone talk about their experience on acid, I used to say, was a bit like listening to someone tell you about their dream. To the person telling the story it is all very interesting but to the rest of us it is just a random sequence of events. And I recognize that this is all a bit self-indulgent but I am for the most part just trying to get stuff straight in my head and going through this stuff helps. But I am also leaving a lot of the details out of what I would call “workaday” acid trips and just focusing on ones that stand out in some dramatic fashion.
At some point Jay had got some mushrooms, and much like those magic fungi, he has popped back up out of no where. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and as I remember it he just showed up randomly with some mushrooms. I don’t know exactly when this was but I am thinking that this must have been sometime in early to mid 1994 but before I started Cuesta. We ate them and went wandering around town. I really liked the period after taking the hallucinogens and before them kicking in. There was a nervous excitement that was addictive and then after a while the shadows began to flicker and the world took on a subtle glow somewhat like concrete in the early morning sunlight just after it has rained…and then who knows what would happen?
In California at that time there were many homeless people populating the downtown area. They would eventually try to get them to move out of the downtown area, and this was a big controversy in the city of San Luis Obispo, but at this point there were a number of them on their cardboard, huddled in doorways of shops, and especially by the water fountain in the Mission, which is where we were. Jay got super paranoid and started thinking the homeless people were undercover cops and that they were watching us or at least that is what he was saying. Jay liked to fuck with people and it was hard to tell if he was serious, especially on drugs, but the homeless people did look menacing. And the eyes on that tree were looking at us a bit funny. I felt as though I was walking down the sidewalk and that as I was doing so I was stretching out like a long worm. I was leaving a trail of myself like the bikes in Tron. I see a movie theatre and the tree seems to say that we should go in and get off the streets. Point of No Return is playing but for some reason I think it is going to be Point Break, which I thought of as a funny movie (my favorite movies at this time were Bad Taste, and the Evil Dead series, along with Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and I’m Going to Git you Sucka), so I was totally unprepared for what happened.
As we are sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start things are moving and dancing and I am starting to see images on the screen even though it is blank. But the images slide off the screen and behind the thick red curtain that lines the wall. I wonder what they are doing back there? I think that but I hear myself saying “Hot in here?” as I start to take off my shirt. “You can’t do that!” Jay says, but I am already staring at my stomach by that point and as I start to think “I am not here, this is not me…” the movie starts.
The movie begins with a group of kids walking towards a drug store. The sign out front should read ‘pharmacy’ but instead it says ‘drugs’ and I start thinking that the movie knows that I am tripping. Yes, I think that the movie knows that I am tripping. How could it know? I wonder. Then all hell breaks loose. I won’t describe the whole movie but anyone who knows the plot knows that she becomes a super secret agent that is contracted to kill at a moment’s notice while living a seeming normal life. She seems so normal but then she goes and kills a bunch of people. This movie is insane and it is very violent. But by the end you realize that she just wants to be free. She is no longer the kid that they brought in at the beginning. She is a normal person. By this point I am really invested in the movie and I really want her to be free.
We come out of the movie and we are talking about how trippy it is. “Anyone one of these people could be undercover like she was” I say pointing at a random stranger walking by. “Yeah, I know” says Jay. We are heading over to this party that we know is happening and somehow we end up in a Taco Bell. I guess I had to use the bathroom because I am in there peeing when I notice some guy comes in and take the urinal next to me. There are other urinals (a seeming infinite fractal expanding series of urinals actually) so I am wondering why he is standing right next to me (but then I start thinking that maybe he isn’t close to me and I am tripping). We are both standing there peeing and not looking at or talking to each other and I start to wonder if he’s under cover and perhaps has been sent to kill me. He looks normal but so does she. I start thinking that I could easily kill him before he kills me. I wonder what kind special training he has had? He looks over at me, sort of worriedly, and I realize that I am losing my mind. Holy shit, he can tell that I am insane. I have to get out of here.
We make it to the party and there are a lot of people there. I start to make my way to the keg and it feels like I am swimming in the crowd of people and I worry that I will inhale some of the people and need CPR. I finally make it and cling to the keg while getting a beer. As I am standing there I look around and it looks like I am in a horror fun house. Everyone’s faces are twisted and distorted. Their exaggerated features a grotesque imitation of personhood. I figured out later that drunk people and Shrooming people are a bad mix. Drunk people are slurring their words and making all kinds of sincere facial expressions and it is really too much for someone who is hallucinating. At some point I end up talking to a friend of mine and after a while I say that I am tripping balls. He says ‘really? I can’t tell!’ and I had an epiphany. I realized that no one else could tell what was happening in my mind and that as long as I acted like they did and made appropriate noises at appropriate times people would assume that I was normal. I went around the party making noises and and trying to imitate the grotesquely exaggerated facial expressions I saw. People made seemingly appropriate noises in response. I wondered what the noises I was making meant and then I wondered how I knew what I was wondering?
Of course I wasn’t just taking drugs. I still loved to read and I remember that I was reading Red Dragon by Thomas Harris around this time. I remember vividly one night being so terrified by this book that I had to go to a Denny’s to continue reading it. I just wanted there to be other people around (and I didn’t want to stop reading the book). I was also working and playing in my death metal band. After Mutilation recorded it’s demo (in 1992) we had some line up changes. There is a lot of personal drama that I won’t go into but you can fill a lot of it in yourself I am sure. At some point the bassist and guitarist left and we met another guitar player and his playing reminded me of Deicide and so I thought he was very good. Way better than our previous guitar player (I thought, anyway). But at that point we were still Cannibalistic Mutilation.
Eventually Mac, the singer, for Cannibalistic Mutilation, got a girlfriend and this caused a huge and stupid fight over how he spent his time. I think we may have been supposed to play at some house party in Fresno (and had made flyers etc) and he said couldn’t go. His girlfriend didn’t think it was a good idea (or something). So after our fight he was out of the group. The new guitarist said he knew a singer and thus Mortalis was formed probably sometime in 1993/1994 though I really can’t remember the exact dates. Sadly there are no records of Mortalis that I know of. There was some video and we had some pretty decent recordings but they were all lost in the Great Storage Place Fiasco of 1997. We found a new bassist who used to play for another local band (and who went on to found Neighborhood Creep) but he eventually left and was replaced by Jonathan Boyle who was usually a guitarist but played bass in this band. We played a lot of house parties but we also organized several outdoor shows. One was in Cuesta Park and we had to get permits for amplified music. Another was at Pirate’s Cove, the local nude beach, and we had to pack all of our gear and then lower it down to the beach on ropes (the beach was at the base of some cliffs).
It was in the midst of all of this that I started community college in August of 1994. Cuesta was a two-year college and it was located out just past the juvenile hall that I spent time in just a few year ago. I would often reflect on how strange it was to be going down that same road but heading out to the Cuesta campus instead of juvy. Incidentally the prison and the pound were also out down that road. I loved the Cuesta campus it was beautiful. I was a bit older than the average freshman (I was about 23 at the time) but I looked young and no one seemed to really mind.
I also remembered Cuesta from when I was a kid. My mom had taken one art class out there and she did not really like it. She had been painting since she was a child and she had won several art contests (you can see some of her work here) but she did not like studying art. She claimed that she wanted to learn how to paint in her own voice and she did not want to be turned into someone else. She had this idea that by studying painting she would become unoriginal because she would adopt the techniques of the teacher and therefore not really be expressing herself. I never really thought about it but this is probably part of the reason that my first semester at Cuesta I did not take any music classes. I saw that they had music theory and even a percussion class but I never thought of music as something that you could study in school (possibly also related to the fact that I went to a so-called ‘Basic School’ that focused on the Three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic (and please don’t point out that only one of them actually has an R in it, that is frowned upon!)). Music and science were optional).
Before the semester started I had to do several interviews with the program that was helping me, and I had to take an aptitude test. I forget what the results were, but they were good enough for them to help me. They would set you up with the financial aid paperwork and give you a book voucher. At that time tuition at a community college in California was inexpensive. It was something like 10 dollars a unit, meaning you could take a class for about $30 (plus fees). I could afford that but books were expensive so the voucher was welcome. Plus I took advantage of it and would shop for as many books as I could find. I did not know it at the time but California has as part of its history affordable higher-education and I was incredibly shocked when I came out to New York and found tuition to be very different!
I enrolled in World Cultures (an anthropology course), Humanities: Western Culture 1A, which was a yearlong class on the history of western culture. It featured an art professor, a history professor, and an English professor. It met three times a week and each week we would focus on one period of time, getting an overview of important historical events and then the next day seeing art from that period and then the next day reading some important piece of writing from that period. I remember that we started with the Epic of Gilgamesh, which I had never heard of before and I was blown away by it. In fact I still to this day discuss it in my intro to philosophy class. That class was a very cool class and I really think there should be more courses like this. Putting art, history and literature together helps make the past real, or at least it did for me.
I also enrolled in an Introduction to Philosophy course and an Introduction to Psychology class. My philosophy professor was an adjunct (of course I had no idea what that meant at the time!) and I am pretty sure his name was Mr. Knight and that he owned a local sausage factory as well. He was always telling us how practical philosophy was, how it could help us avoid being taken in by advertising, etc but honestly that made me less interested in it. I ended up dropping the psychology and declaring philosophy as my major. I didn’t like the psychology class because it felt more like therapy than an actual class. Whoever the professor was, I do not remember, would let people go on and on about their personal problems. It seemed like every time he said something someone would raise their hand to share an experience. Meanwhile I was reading Descartes’ meditations in the philosophy class (we used an early edition of Elements of Philosophy by Enoch Stumpf, a book I used when I first began teaching intro to philosophy at Brooklyn College many years later) and he says that he is sitting by the fire and he does not know if he is awake or asleep. “I’ve been there!” I thought to myself. But then from there he proceeds to draw some fairly controversial conclusions. That the mind is separate from the body being chief among them (in my mind). I was pretty convinced by that argument at the time. Of course I am not my body, I thought. My body is weak and I am strong. My body holds my mind back. I felt shackled to my body, alienated from it.
I liked going back to school but in those early days I was not taking it very seriously. I did not take notes or fully devote myself to the classes. But I did meet a bunch of non-death metal people. One group of people were from out of town and they liked to snowboard. I took mushrooms with these guys after class one day and we sat around playing a game called Asshole. It is a card game designed to get you very drunk. I had never been snowboarding but they invited me to go so I went (I think this may have been in the winter of 1994 but am not sure). I had no gear but they said I could rent it when we got there. I had never really seen snow before. Living in Los Angeles as a kid we were inland and I didn’t even know there were mountains near us until after I moved away from L.A. In Pismo it never snowed and my mom hated the snow. We get there and I do get a snow board and boots but I don’t think I need any snow gear. These guys are impressed because they think that means I am confident I won’t fall because I must be good. But I am just stupid! The first day out I did fall a lot but I picked it up pretty quickly. It was like skating but with the board strapped to your foot. Being in snow was different than concrete but it was not too hard. I was sore by the end of the day though and I was also soaked. I hadn’t really realized that since I was warm I would melt any snow I came into contact with and my pants and shirt were soaking wet by the end of the day. By the second day I bought some snow gear and then was getting pretty good. We did a night session where we all took mushrooms and I remember gliding down the mountain and I could veritably feel the power of the Earth as I hurtled down this majestic mountain (ok so we were in Big Bear but still it was pretty majestic to me). I remember thinking about gravity being the curvature of spacetime and I felt like I was bending and carving spacetime itself with my snowboard. After our session we watch Disney’s Fantasia, which I had never seen, and I found it very creepy. I actually ended up buying a snowboard from these guys and I went a few times before I moved to San Francisco in 1997 and lost everything in the Great Storage Place Fiasco of 1997.
As I recall it I was experiencing a real clash at this time. The guys I hung around with in the “death metal scene” thought I was wasting my time going to school. They didn’t like these people who came into town and trashed the place and then left. But I had rediscovered my love of academics. It was like I had forgotten that I enjoyed school. But now I remembered.
It was also at this time that I started having real panic attacks. The first one I had was on acid. I was frying and having a good time and suddenly I felt like my heart was beating too fast and I felt a pain in my chest. I became very dizzy and I went to lay down and don’t know how long I laid there but I felt like I was floating above my body and that I could see myself dying and decaying right in front of my eyes, but at the same time I was paralyzed and could not move at all. It was my first really bad trip on LSD and it was only much later that I realized that it was a panic attack. Looking back on it before this I had really only ever worried about external threats. Even when I had to have emergency appendectomy I didn’t feel too worried about it. I was confident my body would heal if I let it. But now I felt attacked from the inside.
I had another incident that was so bad I called my mom from the emergency room. I thought I was having a heart attack. They did cardio tests on me and everything. I found out later, by talking with my mom, that she had panic attacks as well and that she was diagnosed with agoraphobia.
One other time a bunch of us we’re going to see Interview with the Vampire which had just come out. I really liked Anne Rice and was excited. I remember that during the scene where Lestat is trying to get the other guy to kill the prostitute and she is crying and covered in blood. I suddenly yelled out loud “somebody help her!” And stood up and ran to the bathroom. I wanted to wash my face but my hands were already wet. I looked down at them and could see my vision start to tunnel. I hadn’t taken anything except marijuana that day so this feeling was odd. I stumbled out of the bathroom and fell back against the wall. I woke up sitting on the floor with my back against the wall. A small crowd had gathered and people were asking if I was ok.
I started drinking coffee for the first time in my life in the middle of my first semester (prepping for finals in Barnes and Nobles with a group of students was my first coffee ever!). I had always been against coffee drinking. It’s funny now but when I was young I used to criticize my grandma for always drinking coffee. Anyway I was studying for finals with a group from class and I had had a lot of coffee. I was also planning on sleeping in the park (I was couch surfing at that point after leaving the preschool) and so I got some sleeping pills from the 7-11. I thought it would help me get a good night’s sleep before the exam but I took too many (I never got sleepy so kept taking them) and started to feel very funny. I got very nervous and took myself to the emergency room. I don’t really remember when this was but I associate it with finals and with Half Asleep in Frogs Pajamas, which I was reading at the time (It had just come out and I would sit in Barnes and Nobles and read the book without buying it). I forget how I discovered Tom Robbins but I loved his books and I read all of them in this period. Back then I liked to pick an author and read all of their work. This particular book was a real trip because it is written in the second person and so really puts you into the story, or so it felt to me at the time.
But anyway I had the most vivid hallucinations I have ever had, including watching an entire episode of Dukes of Hazard on a cabinet door and having a full conversation with a nurse who turned out not to exist. I had by then hallucinated quite a bit but this was truly realistic, fully immersive hallucinating in a way I had not experienced. And just from coffee and sleeping pills! They made me drink charcoal and kept me overnight. They thought that I had tried to commit suicide and the scars on my wrist were not helping my case.
My right forearm, taken in 2015 when I got my neuron tattoo but also visible are what’s left of the scars that have caused so much trouble
My story that I was a new coffee drinker (at age 23) and had tried to use sleeping pills to come down before my test was not sounding convincing to them. Homeless-kid-tries-to-commit-suicide-in-the-park was a story that they knew. They had a psychologist come up and talk to me and I explained what had happened and that I had an exam that I wanted to get to. They let me go but it was not a fun experience. I remember I showed up to the final exam a little late but mostly on time but I was not prepared at all. It was an in class blue-book exam. I had no idea what the questions were about. As I recall they were about some war or other and some policy or other. I had nothing to say so as I sat there I formulated a plan. I wrote an introductory paragraph ‘in this essay I will explain why the policy had the effect of causing this war, etc’ then I went to the last page and wrote, ‘so as I have shown this policy has had this effect’. I then undid the staple holding the pages in and took but all of the middle pages. Because of the way these things are made the first and the past page are really the same piece of paper so what I had wrote was still there. I pocketed the papers and turned in the exam. Of course the professors were not fooled at all and were not buying my story but I stuck to my story (that I had written the whole essay and it must have fallen out) and they agreed to let me take the exam over again. I earned a C.
In January of 1995 the spring semester at Cuesta starts. I take Humanities 1b, the second half of the year long course and a computer/typing class. The humanities class met in a giant auditorium and we had little direct contact with these professors but they were the same ones from the previous semester. I never knew if they remembered me or not. I also take an epistemology course, which is my first philosophy class officially as a philosophy major. I remember that it was in that class that I first encountered someone who really believed in skepticism, that we did not know that the external world existed, and we used to argue endlessly about this. I was a staunch realist at the time. I also remember thinking that Jay would love this stuff. He had already formulated the thesis of skepticism on many acid trips.
That semester I ended up meeting a guy named Arturo (remember no real names unless the person is a public figure) and his friend Lydia. They were major potheads but also into the Grateful Dead. They were both fairly well off and Arturo didn’t mind too much if I mooched off of him. Arturo was a very jovial very large and round hispanic guy. He talked as though he was out of breath and was always mischievously charming when he interacted with you. At first it might seem like he is faking it but that is just him. Lydia was the daughter of someone who ran a big name brand company (I forget exactly what it was but chances are you have used this product) and she is a very attractive blonde, with a somewhat midwestern-hippy vibe about her. She had a credit card from her parents and had already dropped out of school and was just hanging with Arturo. We would try to smoke as much weed as we could. We would try to overdose (though as it turns out you can’t overdoes on marijuana). I remember seeing Pulp Fiction with these guys and being so high that we later forgot we had seen that movie and got all excited to see it (for the first time), went back to the same theatre to see it and then we remembered about halfway through the movie that we had already seen it, and seen it together!
Sometime in my second semester at Cuesta I moved into a house with a bunch of roommates. Among them were Lydia and Arturo and a guy named Balaram who was the bassist for a local reggae band called The Shival Experience (fronted by local legend Shival Redwine, who was Balaram’s father (incidentally Balaram is still currently playing in a band called Boombala). And some other guy who I can’t remember. This was big house that had an upstairs, a downstairs, a backyard, and a garage out in front. I had my drums in the garage and we would practice out there. We also had many parties there and the bands would play in the living room. This place was fairly close to Cuesta, but not really. It was still at least seven miles out the country road.
Mortalis played on KCPR’s metal show and we got quite a good recording from it. KCPR was the radio show of Cal Poly but it had a fairly esteemed history (Weird Al started there). I wish I still had the recording. I remember they interviewed us and the singer at the time said that we were engaged in a kind of sonic guerrilla warfare in that we would show up anywhere, house parties, the park, etc, and play violent extreme music. The singer for Mortalis opened a T-Shirt shop and had a giant professional silk screening set up. At one point we had three or four different Mortalis shirts. They were awesome and I wish I still had one!
We had a big house party where Mortalis and Emetic played. There used to be some video of that show that was unbelievable. It showed the mosh pit in our living room and people stage diving off the second story balcony. At one point someone gets slammed into the sliding glass door and the entire door comes off its hinges (but didn’t break). I remember that Balaram was out of town and we put all of the living room furniture into Balaram’s room and someone stole something in the process or something got broken, or something happened. Shival had to come over and adjudicate. He sat there smoking a joint and listening to both sides and then, like a Rastafarian King Solomon he solved the problem. I don’t remember the details but I do remember being impressed with how fair and even-handed he seemed to be, trying to understand all sides before coming to a decision.
I had to hitchhike to Cuesta for my classes. Usually this wasn’t much of a problem. If you left at the right time most of the traffic out that way was going to Cuesta and I was never late because of hitchhiking. One time I was picked up by this guy who had some hash and we smoked it on the way out to class. I showed up and it was art day in the World Culture 1B class. I sat in the auditorium high as could be looking at the art. Amazing, the history of the world. Amazing how far we have come since then. Amazing how far we have to go. I was floating, and then the light came on. Class was over.
That semester I also had a computer/typing class and that is where I found out that no one really cared about BASIC anymore. Everyone was talking about C+ and C++ and I didn’t know anything about those things.
We all took a trip to Disney Land and did black pyramid LSD gel tabs. It was amazing and my mom tells me I came back very impressed by the ‘smog sets’. That must have been in March or April of 1995 (or thereabouts) because I remember it was right when the Indiana Jones ride came out. Our first ride on that was a dramatic experience. Waiting in line on acid is an interesting experience and then add on top of that the strange distractions they have in there and that was quite an adventure in and of itself. The ride is even crazier though and at the end, they have this animatronic Indiana hanging from a rope and my friend thought he was a real person. He was crying and screaming for someone to rescue this guy and then the big boulder came. It was dramatic. Once we were done we hurried to Space Mountain, and then quickly back to Indiana. We must have done that 5 or 6 times that day.
At some point the semester ended and I completed my final exams. The end of my freshman year of college! In retrospect I think I did ok for all the other stuff going on in my life. I earned mostly Cs with an occasional B (in computers/typing!) and D (in anthropology). I was not really applying myself but I was learning a lot. And, more importantly, I had acquired a checklist of what I needed to do in order to get my General Education certification and then I could transfer to a four-year college as a junior. I was taking out loans and working when I needed to but I had finally found a way forward. At the time I remember thinking that it was a good thing I had played so much Zelda because graduating from college was just like playing a video game. Instead of three quests before you get a key to unlock a sword it was three classes before you get a certification that unlocks the next course (or whatever). Video games, at least of that sort, were like training for bureaucracy. Very different from the Last Strarfighter plot where they train us to become star fighters, I thought.
During the summer I hung out with Arturo and Lydia a lot. I saw the Grateful Dead with them a few times. One time I remember was June 4th 1995 at Shoreline Amphitheater. I can’t remember if I went in this time or not. I saw the Dead a couple of times in this period but only went into the concert once. I vaguely remember that it all felt very commercial. Everyone was in the parking lot selling stuff, people were holding their finger’s up looking for tickets. From inside you could hear them play Fire on the Mountain. It seemed to me like an amusement park ride, like something from Disney Land where you go to see vaguely menacing half-alive figures repeat their programed motions. I do remember being inside at one of the Dead shows I went to and seeing the drum intermission, which really blew me away. I also saw the spinners for the first time. These people would just spin and spin and spin and I remember thinking it was like the world’s most gentle mosh pit.
Ballarom introduced me to his father’s reggae band, The Shival Experience, and I remember a bunch of us going up to Big Sur to hear them play. I don’t remember when but I am guessing it was sometime in the summer of 1995. I had met Shival already but never heard him play. I had only just recently been introduced to reggae music and was interested to check it out. We took orange sunshine and danced in the mud while the sun set behind the band. Shivel was an amazing guitarist and Ballroom was an amazing bassist and Maurice was an amazing drummer. And together they made amazing music. And dancing in the mud was amazingly fun. As we jumped and splashed in the mud I looked around and saw all of the smiling faces, cute girls and happy guys, jumping, clapping, the deep tones of the reggae bass pulsing, with the one-drop beat from the drum accenting the downbeat of the rhythm; this was an experience I had never ever had before and it was amazing. I loved music but I had never experienced music’s power to bring transcendent joy and happiness. It sounds stupid now but I had always found it to express rage and power or silly fun (like Weird Al and the Beastie Boys) or melancholy. Sure there was a majestic beauty to death metal, a lot of it is inspired by classical music, believe it or not, but it is not the same. After that I really wanted to learn how to play the drums like Maurice, the drummer for the Shival Experience. I wanted to be able to make people move like I had just been moving. I wanted to make people feel what I had just felt.
My CA Driver’s License photo from July 11th 1995…just after I shaved off the “cat turds” and started working at Ross (I am wearing my Ross outfit)
Because I was friends with Balaram, who had had dreadlocks since he was born, and since I saw all the white hippies with dreads at the Grateful Dead shows I went to, (and because I am an idiot) I decided to grow some as well. I remember getting some Rain Oil and rubbing it into my hair. And I eventually did get dreadlocks, which my friends called ‘the cat turds’. Talk about cultural appropriation! I was clueless but someone did call me a ‘race traitor’ and another asked me if I knew which race I was in. I remember I had some kind of carved bead in one of the dreads and as it grew it would whack me in the forehead when I head-bangged. I needed to find a job and so I eventually shaved the dreads off. I really resented it because people looked at me like they thought I was a skinhead, which I was not!
On one memorable trip we went to see the Jerry Garcia Band (I am pretty sure that is who it is though I could be wrong…it may have been RatDog who I remember seeing at some point), as it turns out this was just before he died but we did not know that at the time. I think this was in 1995 but I don’t really remember exactly wen. Arturo was driving and we had this plastic inflatable swimming pool in the back of his hatchback car. It was filled with ice and beer. We were hauling ass down the freeway drinking and passing around a pipe full of weed. Arturo was steering with his knee while lifting the pipe and holding a beer between his legs. Do not try this at home! We made it to Ventura and went to some place that either Lydia or Arturo had friends at. There we continued to pre-party. We made Flaming Dr. Peppers and took a bunch of Xanex. For a while I sat on the couch and was simply unable to recall how one’s face ought to be composed when one was not talking. How does one hold one’s lips? One’s tongue? It was crazy but it was time to go to the show. We show up and the parking lot is hopping as usual. People are selling burritos and beer and grilled cheese, and everyone is smoking and dancing. Good scene. That’s when I try Nitrous for the first time.
Arturo sees someone with a tank and some balloons and says “oh, let’s get some Nitrous!”
“What’s that?” I mumble/splutter in reply.
He looks at me and says “oh, you’re in for a treat!” and rushes over to the guy. “Will you trade some smoke for two balloons?” he asks in his breathless but sultry way. He is moving his eyebrows in a way that suggests the answer should be yes.
“Yeah man” the guys responds. I get the balloon and Arturo tells me to inhales it and breathe it. He demonstrates. So I do so as well. Immediately I feel light-headed. My vision starts to narrow and I hear this pulsating sound WAH-wah-WAH-WAH-wah-WAH… And then I am lying on the ground. Everyone is looking at me.
“You just phished!” I was informed by the crowd. That’s when you pass out and start violently shaking and twitching. Like a fish on the ground. Arturo holds out his hand and helps me up. Then he says ‘open your mouth, I scored some doses’. “Cool” I say and open my mouth.
Things after that are a bit hazy but somehow I end up separated from Lydia and Arturo and I am wondering around the parking lot fucked out of my mind on drugs. Everything looks the same. There are row after row of cars and people with dreads and they all look the same. I stop and talk to some of them and then wander on. Smoke here, drink there, wander around. At some point I see this van and for some reason I think that Arturo might be in there. So I walk up to it and slide back the door. Inside there are what appears to be infinite people writhing around. All in various stages of undress and in the midst of various sexual acts. It looked like a scene from Caligula mixed with the scene from Indiana Jones when they open the snake pit and see all of the writing snakes down below. This van was a portal to the Ancient Roman times and I was witnessing a long past event. But I wasn’t and I noticed that some guy was yelling at me
“What the fuck are you doing?!?! Shut the fucking door, asshole”
“Romani Ite Domun, fuckhead” I blurt back (quoting a line from Monty Python for some reason…it means ‘Romans go home!’) and then I turn and start running in the other direction. I see Arturo off in the distance. He was a very large Hispanic dude with a big floppy hat. How could you miss him? I am yelling “hey Arturo” and he sees me and waves. And then I run full speed into a car hood that I had not seen and face plant right into it. Finally some violence at one of these shows!
Arturo had come up with the idea that he could make some money by selling Nitrous balloons at a show and that we could steal tanks of nitrous and then take them to shows to sell. He found a welding supply place that had a bunch of tanks sitting around. They were heavy so at first they were just left out in the open. He jumped over the fence and dragged one of the tanks back. We had to help him get it over the fence. After that they started locking them up and building enclosures around them so we had to stop but we did have that one tank and he did take it to some shows and sell balloons. By that time I was over Nitrous. I had learned that when you inhale it the lung prefers nitrous to oxygen and so you are actually suffocating. I could not get it out of my head that doing Nitrous and drowning would feel about the same and that made it no fun for me.
I get a job at Ross as a cashier and I am fairly good at it. It is funny because old ladies are asking me if I know their granddaughters and one of the guys who I work with tells me that ‘I clean up nice’ after I tell him a bit about my history. Ross is funny because they don’t have any security system in the store. What they instead have is a tapped recording that comes on at random intervals. The recording says ‘Security to shoes’ or ‘security to women’s dresses’. The idea is that this gives the impression that there is security and that they are busting shoplifters, but really they aren’t. So cheesy. I let my friends come in and get clothes for free. Basically if they come through my line I will let them go with paying a minimal amount. Needless to say this makes me popular. Eventually I am set up and busted as part of a sting. They have someone come through my line and buy something that is 9.99. They give me a $50.00 and as I am counting back the change they leave. I look up and they are gone. So I set the money on the side of the register. They don’t come back and at the end of my shift and so I pocket the money. As I clock out and prepare to leave I am approached and asked to come into the back. What for? Well, that lady was a set up and I stole her money. What? She never came back! How is that stealing. I should have left a note in case she came back. Ok, I thought, but I have done way worse than this. Either way they fired me and I was told that I was banned from Ross forever. I laughed. Really?
When I heard that Jerry Garcia had died and that there was a big memorial going on up in San Francisco I decided it would be fun to go. It was scheduled to be held August 13th 1995 in Golden Gate Park and I had never been there. So I decided to hitchhike up there since I had a few weeks off. It was a great trip. The ride up there was fairly easy ad I got picked up by some deadhead in a bus. We drank and smoked the whole way up there. We got to the park and I got dosed with acid. I was in the drum circle when these rose petals started falling from the sky. It was a trip. To this day I cannot tell if those rose petals falling from the sky were real or not. I especially remember that there were a lot of people crying.
After the drum circle died down I remember there were these two hippies playing together and they motioned for me to sit down and join them. I did and I was trying to play along but I really did not know how to play these kind of hand percussion instruments. One of them stopped and said “we are trying to have a conversation and you keep interrupting us and yelling” at the time I was very embarrassed by that but it did make me aware that I wanted to learn how to drum in different styles. I had never thought of percussion as a language and the idea that different rhythms could have a back and forth was very intriguing to me.
Getting home was a bit tougher. I sat for a long time sort of coming down from acid in the middle of nowhere until someone stopped. It was this white guy who was clearly tweaking on something. He sad that he saw me there and had to get me out before some “fucking [expletive deleted]” saw me. I was shocked that he said the n-word to me but he automatically assumed that I would be cool with that (my hair was just beginning to grow back and I still looked somewhat like a skinhead at first glance). I was like, yeah, good thing. He offered me a line of something and so I snorted it. Then he started telling me that he had just got out of prison and was looking for a job, his girlfriend had cheated on him while he was in prison and he didn’t know if the kid she was pregnant with was really his. I made small talk about being in the group home and he drove me for a bit and then dropped me off about half an hour later. I sat at that point for a good long while until some black guy picked me up. He was a copy repairman and we smoked a big fat joint and made small talk. He told me that he drove a lot and picked up hitchhikers for company on the drive. I didn’t tell him about the guy that had just dropped me off but it was an interesting pair of experiences. The white guy had only picked me up because of how I looked, not like the black guy who picked me up in spite of how I looked. Each of them had liked me and made for interesting conversation but you could not put those two people into the same room without a large problem. I found that to be really sad at that point.
I still wasn’t all the way home so I still had some hitchhiking to do. I got picked up by some guy and by this time it is late and I am tired. He tells me it is fine if I sleep so I doze off. I wake up and we are pulled over and he is rubbing my inner thigh. As I come to and access the situation I elbow him hard in the face. He is sputtering and yelling and blood is flowing down his face as I scramble out of the car. I realize that we are at a rest stop and I start running towards the highway. He is yelling after me “fuck you anyways, man! I was doing you a favor, you ingrate!” I am flipping him off over my shoulder as I book it towards the onramp. I made it back ok after that without any problems. I rarely had any problems while hitchhiking and that was one of a small number of cases where things went bad for me.
The fall semester would have started in late August of 1995. I take Environmental science, where I write my paper arguing that we should Pave the World and grow all plants on the moon (and import oxygen from the moon and export carbon dioxide to the moon, etc; I got a B in that class!), chemistry, and algebra. I really liked the chemistry class and was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly physics. The professor was the father of a friend of mine who was a drummer in another death metal band. My friend told me that his family was Mormon and I thought that is was odd that someone who had those beliefs could teach a science class. In the algebra class I did not really apply myself. I had already made it through calculus and so felt this was a bit remedial.
September 6th 1995 –P-Funk at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz. I think this is the first time that see P-Funk. I think I may have gone with Arturo and Lydia but to be honest I cannot remember. But what I do remember is that I was blown away by this concert. I was instantly turned into a huge P-Funk fan.
On my 24th birthday Lydia tells me she has a surprise for me. We are going up to see Phish and she has a quarter ounce of mushrooms in the form of one big mushroom. We split that one big mushroom. We drive up there and I am shrooming good and hard. I was never really into Phish and I felt bad for the Deadheads who were trying to find a new home. I had heard that Phish was breaking up their tour dates to make it very hard to follow them like people did with the dead but then when we got in and the band started a chess game with the audience. I was very confused.
At one point during the show, in between songs, everyone all at once starts to sing happy birthday and I lose my mind. It is my birthday and the entire Shoreline Amphitheater is now singing happy birthday. At this point my birthday is a closely guarded secret that I reveal to only a select few. I really don’t want people to know and so I am very unnerved by this experience. It turns out that I have the same birthday as one of the members of Phish, which I found out when the crowd got to ‘happy birthday dear…Phish band member’ and then I found the entire thing very funny. How easy it is to slip into the assumption that you yourself are the star of the movie! I was just an extra in this production.
I start to panic, my palms are getting sweaty and then Phish sing ‘we’re glad, glad, glad that you’re alive’ and I agreed and calmed down. I also remember vaguely liking ‘run like an antelope out of control’ but I mostly felt that their music was not fun to dance to.
I really don’t remember how any of this came about but at some point we all have to leave the house we were living in. I think we were evicted from the house but I actually don’t recall. I do remember that I was getting sick of the death metal scene and all of the meth that was showing up there. I had done meth a few times and I was always very impressed with my drumming ability while playing on it but I had seen people really hit rock bottom on it and I didn’t like how long it lasted for. After seeing Shival on Orange Sunshine and the happy mud covered faces of cute girls and then comparing that to the blood soaked faces of angry men slam dancing to a band called Suffocation (or whatever) I wanted the former. Death Metal seemed like a dead end and school was opening up new horizons. I did not want to stop and so I quit my death metal band (which did not go over well) and decided to focus 100% on school.
I had a friend who told me about a job opening up at a local mortuary. It was free rent and decent money, and at a mortuary? I was intrigued.
I am continuing my series of memoir-note posts. I left off in the last post leaving Fresno so perhaps I should start with that. It is Fourth of July, after all, and this period is all about discovering my own freedom. Sartre once said that freedom is what you do with what has been done to you, or something to that effect, and though I did not know about Sartre or the Stoic tradition that this quote is reminiscent of, this is definitely the kind of freedom I experienced before being let out of the Group Home. I was controlled by my mom and eventually by the State but I never really felt unfree. I could do whatever I wanted as long as I was smart enough and willing to pay the price and I certainly felt I had more freedom in the group home than I did at home. And it is also true that I ran away a lot and so spent periods of time on my own but I had never just been told that I was on my own now; Good luck and so Long! Looking back on it I can see that I definitely overreacted a bit and some of the stuff from this period is pretty ridiculous but I am going to try to get what I remember out. There are so many details that I am leaving out because these are just notes to try to get the sequence of events straight, and also remember that I am not using any real names unless the person is a public figure.
Twinkie in 1983
So in the last post I had just got my first real tattoo and was on my way back to the Central Coast. I am pretty sure that this must have been sometime around April of 1990. I had not been in contact with my family at all during my time in the system, although I can’t help but think that maybe I heard from my mom at some point telling me that our family dog Twinkie had been put down because of a broken back but I may have found that out when I returned (either way I was really sad about that). We had had Twinkie since she was born and we all loved her a great deal. My mom’s boyfriend bought her for us after our previous dog was run over by a truck in front of his house. She was also a Weiner dog (he name was name Tasha). He thought a new dog would cheer her up. At first my mom hated Twinkie (who I got to name) but eventually she became her best friend. Twinkie was old and jumped off the couch and broke her back and because of that she had to be put down.
Anyway I drove all the way from Fresno to San Luis without any problems. The drive itself is only a couple of hours but I guess I must have been driving somewhat late because I remember being really sleepy on the way there. I had to roll the window down and blast the music to keep from falling asleep. As soon as I got off the highway in San Luis I was pulled over. The policeman said that I had been weaving and thought I was drinking and driving. I wasn’t, I was just tired and he let me go. To be perfectly honest I do not remember if I had my driver’s license at that point. I am pretty sure I did not but I do not have any corroboration of that.
I had been driving since I was 12 or 13. My mom had agoraphobia at that time and often would not leave the house for weeks. She would send me out in the car to run errands. One time a Jehovah’s Witness friend of hers called and said they swore they saw me driving our car around town. My mom was really embarrassed by that and told me to be more careful. Anyway, I knew how to drive (Obviously, I stole a motorcycle) but I had never got a driver’s license. Before I ran away I was too young and once in the group home we were not allowed. When I got out of the group home I had a couple of different vehicles. The Caddy, and also a little moped that I had briefly, but I don’t remember ever going to the DMV in Fresno. As I remember it, it never occurred to me to get a license to drive (or insurance, or registering the car) and I just drove my car around and never had any problems.
This time I did. The officer did not write me a ticket (I am pretty sure) but he wouldn’t let me drive. I told him I would walk somewhere to get a ride and that I knew someone with a license. I would come back with them and pick up the car. He said he would wait so I walked around the corner and waited out of sight. He eventually left and I came back but I slept in the car just to be sure. The next morning I had to drive from San Luis to Morro Bay where Maddy lived. This car had some issue where it would drain the battery while you drove it so you had to either leave it running, have a new battery, or get a jump (or some other way to charge the battery). Since the car had been sitting overnight there was no chance it would start but I kept jumper cables in the trunk (if worse came to worse we would pop hoods and look for batteries to steal…some places in Fresno were wise and people would chain their hoods shut) and so I got them out and stood on the hood holding them up over my head. Eventually someone pulled over and offered me a jump and I was on my way.
Maddy lived with her mother and sister, who was slightly younger than her, and she was not expecting me. I pulled up in my giant Caddy and knocked on the door (remember I can’t turn the Caddy off unless I have another battery or a way to charge it). She was very surprised to see me. It turns out she had her own room in the garage and she told me to come back later that night after her parents went to sleep. I did and we soon started dating after that. This would turn out to be my first long-term relationship and I was probably just about to turn 19. I stayed with Maddy for a few days hanging somewhere during the day and sneaking into her garage at night. Her parents figured it out at some point and I needed a place to stay. Somehow I had got my mom’s telephone number (I think from my aunt) and so I called her.
We talked on the phone for a bit and then decided to meet. I found out that she had met someone, a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, and they were planning on getting married (they did in 1993 I think). My mom and I had a big reconciliation. I told her that I was not interested in rehashing the past and that I was an adult now and things would be different. She apologized for what had happened in the past, and so did I. She really seemed to have changed. Since I had been away she had seriously devoted herself to being a Jehovah’s Witness and she was being very nice to me. She even offered to let me stay with her out in her place in Arroyo Grande. My sister had just recently “moved out” (it’s a long, long story!) and so there was room for me. I remember I drove my car over there and then it pretty much died. I still objected to her religious views but I could tell that they were helping her. I told her that I was an adult now and we could be friends even though we disagreed.
At some point I started working out at the Sport Launch out at Avila Beach. This job had really early morning hours. I was used to working the night shift at McDonalds, from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.. When you get off at 2 in the morning you usually end up hanging out, partying, or whatever for a few more hours, going to bed sometimes at 8 or 9 a.m. and sleep until 2 pm or so. I didn’t mind working this shift. It allowed me for the most part to do what I wanted and to avoid other people which I preferred. The Sport Launch had even stranger hours. I had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. and worked until noon. That is when the fishermen went out apparently. I liked working out at the Sport Launch. Sure it was a lot of dead fish coming through and as a vegetarian I was repulsed by it (but also this is where I first some some of the stranger fish, like a ling cod or a halibut, which I had never seen before) but the fishermen were for the most part nice. We made good money, and tips if we didn’t ding the boat. I also liked working the boat crane. It was fun to strap the boats in and then hoist them out into the water and then back in at the end of their trip. On top of that they would often come back in shit faced and leave any extra beers with us. After work I would hang out at the beach. I liked being back out at Avila. I had worked out there as a pre-teen (I think) on a summer youth work thing we got through our being on welfare. I spent the summer out at Avila picking up trash on the beach and sweeping the sidewalk. It was a lot more fun to be out there as an adult!
I did not stay with my mom long. She claimed ‘weird stuff’ begins to happen at this point. I didn’t really remember this time period too clearly but I have spoken to my mom about it pretty recently. She claims that it might be good that I don’t remember it because it may be a way of protecting myself. According to her there was some kind of supernatural being that followed me to the house. She swears, and she really believes this, that she saw a tall (over 9 feet tall!) hooded figure gliding down the hallway and into my room. She followed it and saw it standing at the foot of my bed. She says she was overcome by dread and sat outside my room all night reading bible verses to protect me. There were a couple of other things as well, but I won’t go over them. At the time I was morphing into an atheist and did not really believe in the supernatural. But my mom tells me that I told her about my dabbling in satanism, which began up in Boonville (according to her, I don’t really remember any of this too clearly). She says that I told her that I saw demons and that they looked like angels of light. To be completely honest I do vaguely remember telling her that but I also remember telling a lot of people a lot of things. I was mostly playing the same game that I had played with the psychologists. I had a knack for knowing what someone wanted to hear (or not hear) and I would often just say those things (even if they were flat-out falsehoods). I did not respect the truth the way I do now and I thought of lying as making a move in chess. The goal was to get the other person to do something and the game required figuring out what you could say to get them to do it. I told her all of this when I spoke with her recently and she didn’t believe it. She thinks I am in denial about the satanic influences on my life.
I have to admit that I had gone through the phase where I thought it would be cool to be the Anti-Christ. I remember reading The Omen and wishing I had a secret mark on my head. But I didn’t really believe in any of that stuff. In the first place cruelty for cruelty’s sake never appealed to me. In the second place there just seemed to me to be no evidence at all for any kind of supernatural machinations. Meanwhile science seemed to be the more reliable guide. At some point my mom and I got into a big argument over her claims about a code in the bible that no Human could reproduce and the shroud of Turin counting as scientific proof of what the Bible says. I remember being so filled with rage at this idea. I could think of an infinite number of more plausible explanations. Why not aliens? (by the way, this is what I take happens in book The Bible Code II!).
Shortly after that my mom received a sudden eviction notice. She had 30 days to get out. As she tells the story it was because I had come back into her life and Satan was unhappy about that since I might be turned toward the light. As I remember it the landlord’s son (or something) needed a place to stay and he was giving them our place. At any rate my mom says she eventually ended up staying in grampa’s and grandma’s vacant house (they had just bought a new place) until they caught her and told her to stay with them. My mom claimed (and still claims) that this was Satan punishing her for trying to get me to come back to God. Insert eye-roll here.
Jay and I in our apartment circa 1991 or so (I am on the left)
I was making decent money at the Sport Launch and I move into a place with my friend Jay. I don’t even know how I originally met this guy. The apartment complex was pretty cool. We had a one-bedroom apartment. I had the bedroom and Jay lived in the living room. We had a guy who lived in the building who sold weed and other drugs, and we hand a guy, Jeff, who was an outpatient at a mental hospital. He had schizophrenia but was managing it with medication. These were our neighbors. This place was right by the McDonalds that I had worked at as a kid and Jay got a job there.
With the money I am earning I buy my first drum set and Jay and I start our first band. We were called Distraction, and I wrote all the songs and Jay sang, and I am pretty sure the guitarist and bassist lived in the apartment complex as well. I wish I had some kind of recording from those days. We did have a demo of sorts recorded in our apartment that we called ‘Eternal Vigilance’. I vaguely remember renting a four-track recorder to make this and Jay doing the artwork for the cover. I wrote the lyrics and they were all about freedom and the state, control and power. The themes of my life! Except for one song called ‘Die, Fly! Die!’ that my mom swears could have been a hit. How I wish I could find some of the lyrics!
It was around that time that I officially quit skating. I just hurt myself too much and it began to interfere with my drumming. Suddenly a twisted ankle meant no drumming for a few days and I was already better at drumming than i had ever been at skating so I quit.
I really do not remember when I lived in this place but I am guessing it must have been late 1990 or early 19991 when we moved in. I do remember that shortly after we moved in we heard that Slayer was playing in L.A. and I really wanted to go. Jay, at the time, was into punk and not into any kind of metal. He was really into the Dead Kennedy’s and The Exploited, etc. I really liked the shows but I was getting more and more into Death Metal and not really into the punk/hardcore stuff as much. Even so I remember that we went and saw Jello Biafra speak at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to this that happened in May of 1991. But my point is that Jay was not interested in seeing Slayer while I thought of them fondly as a band I was really into when I was younger and I still liked Reign in Blood, and Hell Awaits had become a staple by that time as well so I was still into it. This was just before the ‘Clash of the Titans’ tour I am pretty sure. I think that this was in January of 1991 at the L.A. Sports Arena and it was the Touring the Abyss tour.
I had sold my car at that point and so I had no way to get there. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to make the roughly 3 hour drive so I decided to hitchhike there and so off I went. I made it there no problem. It took a few rides but nothing that serious. I had begun to think of hitchhiking as a reliable form of transportation by that point. I was good at making small talk and I had very rarely had any problems. The concert was amazing, the place was packed. They started the concert by playing Reining Blood and ended it with Angel of Death and didn’t play too much from their Season in Abyss or South of Heaven albums. I had a great time even though I never made it to the main floor. I was up in the bleachers and I could see the giant pit circling below me, like the Giant Red Spot on Mars. At some point people began to tear the cushions off of their seats and throw them through the air. You could see them flying across the field of view, it looked pretty cool! Towards the end people from the Mezzanine began to jump over the walls and to rush into the pit. It looked somewhat like a waterfall of people. And then there was Slayer, a giant pentagram behind them, Kerry King with a wristband of spikes. I wanted to get down there as well but I could not find any way to do so.
On the way out I stood by the parking lot exit with my thumb out so that every car that left that concert saw me. I got picked up by a group of guys coming home from the concert and they were going to San Luis Obispo. Score! I got in and they were all drinking vodka and orange juice and smoking a pipe. Excellent. The guy driving was a bit of a psycho though. We were driving on a windy two-lane road (a short cut from Santa Barbara though the mountains) and when we would come around a corner he would turn off his lights and get in the other lane. No cars were coming but there was no way he could have known that. Everyone in the car was hollering and drinking. It was amazing but also terrifying. As we got further along though, people began to pass out. In fact the guy driving began to doze off! I look over at some point and see his head resting back against the seatbelt strap and his eyes closed his breathing regular. We were by that time back on the 101 freeway which is for the most part straight so we weren’t in immediate danger but I could see a curve coming. “Hey man, look out!” I yell. He jerks awake and laughs. At that point I make small talk just to keep this motherfucker awake. We make it back safely.
I saw Slayer again that year in Fresno at the Wilson Theatre, and I think this was in March of 1991. Testament opened. This was at the Wilson Theatre back in Fresno. I think I went up there with Maddy and her friends and it was the first time I was back in Fresno since I had moved to the central coast. The venue was a lot smaller and I thought it would be cool to see them. Tom Araya chided the audience for slam dancing and asked us to just enjoy the music, right before going into ‘die by the sword’. Slayer was selling out! But then the singer for Testament came out and said ‘fuck that, kill yourselves!” and the crowed went wild. The power went out at that show and there was an awesome drum solo by Lombardo to fill the time. I caught a drumstick at that show.
Jay was also an amateur tattooist and we made a homemade tattoo gun out of a motor from a Walkman, a pen cap and some guitar strings that we sharpened on the concrete. That is where I got three of my tattoos. My first tattoo from Jay was a Dead Kennedys logo on my right arm. He didn’t press hard enough and it came out after about a month and a half. I actually thought it was pretty cool to have semi-permeant tattoos! Great business idea. Forget about henna tattoos! Get a real one that fades away, and then get another! After that he did the ‘Skate’ on my left hand. He also did a Corrosion of Conformity logo and the artwork from a Suicidal Tendencies album (Controlled by Hatred/Feel like Shit…deja vu) as well that I still have. Truth be told I was never really all that into these bands, I liked them but they were not my thing. But I did like the imagery and what they stood for so I was ok having the tattoo.
I also got hepatitis, or at least I think I did. Shortly after getting one of the tattoos I became very sick. I was sick for weeks and finally I started turning a bit yellow so I went to the emergency room. They did some tests and told me that if I had had hepatitis then it was gone now. I was like, Ok, guess I’m fine then!
At some point the fishing season ended and so I lost my job at the sport launch. I needed a job and Jay told me McDonald’s (where he was working) was hiring. It was strange being back at the McDonald’s that I had worked at as a teenager.
I would also play this video game at a place by the McDonalds. This was some kind of diner that offered car service, or something like that. I am pretty sure the game was called Kid Niki. I would get off at 2 a.m. and go over there and it would be out in the parking lot. It was a great game. It was off in the corner of this place, out in the open but chained to the wall. It was directly underneath a light post that shone on it making it look a bit isolated or spotlighted. I had to plug it in (and once ran a 60 foot extension cord to my house to do so), but once it was on it took quarters just like all games. The Nintendo had been out since before I had been arrested but I never got to have one. I had friends who had an Atari and an Apple IIE but I never did. The best I got was an old Pong station and once I had a computer found at a thrift store that used cassette tapes and I played Oregon Trail on that. This was as close as I had come to having a game at home!
At some point Jay got fired from McDonald’s. This was because he pulled the fire alarm during lunch rush. This made the fire extinguishers spray foam all over all of the grills and deep friars. We had to shut the whole store down and clean all of that stuff up. It was a real pain in the ass. He said he did it to get out of work early.
I was fired shortly after that, I think, but am not 100% sure, because we had a massive sauce fight. We were working late and we had these sauce guns. I had been on the closing shift for a while now and preferred it. I came in at 5 p.m. and worked until 2 am. The store closed at 11 or something like that and the rest of the time was spent cleaning up and doing the final closing procedures. But anyway we had these special caulk-guns to squirt the sauces onto the buns. One was for mayonnaise, one for secret sauce (used on the Big Mac), one for tauter sauce. We started shooting them at each other and then we started running around hiding and shooting. Those were good times. I had a name tag, which I resented, so I had written ‘Dr. Strange’ on it. At this point in time this might have been my prize possession, coming in right after my (newly acquired) drum set and skateboard. Unfortunately my name tag had come off and they found it in the sauce in the morning. I was fired.
After being fired for a while we would still watch the McDonald’s since we lived so close. I remember one time we were really drunk and bored and someone who was there at the time, I forget who, thought it would be fun to prank call them. He called and said “the capitalist regime is polluting the people” or some such and that he had a bomb in the building that would go off at noon. He thought it would shut the place down all day but it didn’t. They shut down for an hour or so. The police showed up. They looked around and left. But I did find out that they were pissed because that hour was during lunch and that is their busiest time. That must have been in late 1990. I can’t imagine doing something like that in today’s climate!
Another night we were particularly wasted and we went over to the playground, which was outside in front of the McDonald’s, and were messing around. I see the big Ronald McDonald statue and I started kicking it. Jay came over and we both began kicking it. The thing cracked at the knees and I got the idea that we could break it off and take it with us. So we did. We took it back to our apartment. What should we do with it? Well, we had Jeff the mental out-patient who was a bit schizophrenic down in the other apartment. So we broke into his house and put the statue in his shower. We had it half hidden so that only the big yellow hand (or was it a big red hand?) stuck out. We then went home to await the mayhem! And we did not have to wait long. He came home, with us peeking out the window, and went into his house. A few minutes later we heard screaming, a large crash, and he came running over to our place yelling that something was in his shower and he thought he had hurt them pretty badly. We laughed so hard I nearly started crying. Of course we couldn’t keep it and after we calmed Jeff down we decided to take it out to the woods and dump it. It lay there at the bottom of a ditch looking sad and abandoned and I remember feeling a bit guilty leaving it there. ‘Keep your chin up up you Son of a Bitch’, I thought to myself as we walked up the embankment.
The next day we got a knock at the door. It was a detective who was investigating the disappearance of the statue. He knew that we had worked at the McDonalds and that we had been fired. We said we don’t know anything about it. He asked us where we were on the date in question and we made up some excuse. They had nothing on us and after harassing us for a while the detective left. They did eventually find the statue in the ditch and it was repaired.
At this time I was experimenting with a lot of drugs. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of smoking weed and a lot of taking acid and mushrooms. I took acid quite a bit.
I remember the first time I took LSD we got it from the neighbor who said it came in with The Dead. At the time I did not know about the Grateful Dead (well, I had heard “Touch of Gray” on MTV but I did not know about Deadheads or their history, as I would soon find out!) so I thought it was something more gruesome. We took it and as soon as I swallowed it Jay smiled and said “you’ll never be sane again,” and I remember grinning and saying “I never was to begin with!” or something but I can’t really remember so let’s say I said “all I wanted was a pepsi” ;). Jay kept a stone-cold deadpan and said,
“no, I heard of a guy who took so much acid that he thinks he is a cantaloupe! That’s right, the fruit! They found him in a corner saying ‘leave me alone, I’m a cantaloupe!”
“Bullshit!” I retorted
“No,” he continued “seriously! And I heard that Jeff was normal before he took acid as well. That’s why they call it *acid* -it dissolves your brain!”
This continued for a while and then we were off on our wild adventure. Jay thought that he saw Snuffaluffagus and went chasing after him. We had to track him through the streets. We eventually found him in the local cemetery staring at a headstone. He claimed that Snffaluffagus had gone into the grave and he started to try to dig it up with his bare hands, clawing at the grass and screaming for Snuffy to come back. Truth be told I had never watched Sesame Street so I did not know until later that he was chasing a giant Wooly Mammoth from a kid’s show. We climbed up the hill a bit and we could see all of Arroyo Grande and the highway below. I saw all of the cars driving, each a little distance from the other and each one lighting up only the path directly in front of it. None of their lights extended more than a few hundred feet in front of them. I thought that this was a perfect metaphor for most people’s lives. They see only a few feet in front of them. We look no farther ahead than we need to in order to get to the next spot. All the while surrounded by a vast and seemingly endless darkness.
Another time I was walking over an overpass, tripping balls. I looked over the guardrail and saw all of the cars going in one direction with blinding white headlights. The other side of the highway had cars going away from me and all I could see were the red taillights. I started to think that the white lights were angels going up to heaven and the red lights were demons going down to hell. I really started to feel as though I were standing on a vertical surface watching these things flying up and down. There really is no ‘up’ or ‘down’ I thought to myself. I started to get vertigo and then I got dizzy and tried to step back but I stepped towards the railing and bumped into it, almost going over. Jay grabbed me yelling “what the fuck are you doing?” I looked at him and said, ‘We need to jam with the angels and party with the demons’. I couldn’t tell if he answered me back because his face was an undulating, shifting, mess of lines and so I could not tell if he was talking.
Each time I took acid I had some kind of mind altering, Earth-shattering realization. I began to think that everyone should take acid at least a few times. Since I was not really a believer in the supernatural I found it amazing that what I took to be reality could be so altered by just taking a drug. I very rarely had hallucinations so severe that I thought they were really real. Most of the time I could tell that I was frying and that this was my experience of the world, not the world itself, that was altered. I began to wonder if that meant that when I wasn’t frying my experience could be misleading yet convincing. People told me I was becoming a burn out but in retrospect I think I was becoming a philosopher!
At some point I got another car. As I have already said I moved to the central coast with my Cadillac. I sold that car and bought a motorcycle, which caught on fire when I drove it, then I bought a dodge Dart. That car was good but its brakes pulled to the left so I sold it to someone I had worked with at McDonalds. With that money I bought a Chevy Impala which I liked a lot. I eventually traded that car for a Volkswagen Baja Bug. That car was awesome but not my style so I sold it and bought a Nissan Pulsar. That is the car that I took with me to San Francisco. These will come up at various points but I thought I would list them here. I honestly cannot remember when I got my first driver’s license. As I said I was too young before I was arrested and I am pretty sure I did not get it when I got out. I vaguely remember taking the driving test the first time but I think it was in San Luis Obispo and it may have been around this time. I am pretty sure I had to use Maddy’s mom’s car to take it.
So at one point a friend of Jay’s was flying into LAX and Jay said we should drive down there and pick them up. He would pay for gas. So I said sure thing as long as he would drive I would take acid and enjoy the ride. On the day of the trip I drop acid and we go out to the car. He gets in and then realizes that he cannot drive a stick. So I end up driving. So we head out towards L.A. Part of the way through the drive I start tripping hard. I am just trying to keep the car in front of me a proper distance while trying not to think to hard about what distance really is. We have the music up loud. Suddenly the car in front of me hits its brakes and so I hit mine. This car had breaks that pulled to the left and the harder you hit them the harder it pulled. The result in this case was that it pulled really hard to the left so much so that the car was pulled in that direction. I panicked and pulled hard in the other direction and then we started spinning. I think we must have spun three or four times and bounced off the center divider before we came to a rest in the ditch on the side of the road. This was near Santa Barbara.
For a moment afterwards everything seemed normal. The music was playing, I had my hand on the wheel and Jay was sitting there and I said “man, I’m tripping hard. I thought we just spun into the ditch” and he says to me “we did!” We get out and climb down the embankment looking for a phone (this was before cell phones!). We eventually call a tow truck. We get back to the car and there is a cop there. I panic and tell Jay that he has to say that he was driving. The cop had just seen the car on the side of the rode and pulled over to check it out. He asks what is going on and Jay tells him the truth (for the most part minus me driving on acid). The car is functional and we are going to tow it to a shop and have the alignment checked. The cop listens, then looks at me and points right at me and his finger seems enormous in my face. He then says “You drive” and starts laughing. At this point I can’t tell if he is kidding or if he is accusing me or what the fuck is happening. I feel the urge to bolt but I keep a straight face (what is straight, anyway?) and Jay laughs and says ‘sure thing officer, it’s his car anyways’. The officer looks satisfied and leaves. This whole encounter blows my mind. As I get back into the car I am wondering if Jay and the police officer communicated something to each other through their laughs.
After we get back on the road I am trying to get a grip on myself. We still have at least an hour’s drive. I think I can still make it. Remember, Jay can’t drive and so I have to do the driving. After a while the cars in front of me begin to look like they have faces. The taillights are the eyes and the bumpers are the mouths. Each car has a certain personality. Some are mocking, some are encouraging. I find myself racing to pass a particularly smug looking Honda and then, feeling guilty, I let it pass me to explain that we are in a hurry. Jay tells me to get a grip and stop driving like a fucking maniac.
We finally get to L.A. but we are lost. I pull into a drive through to ask for directions.
“How do you get to LAX?” I asked (I think that is what I said). The person in the drive through window starts talking to me and they are waving their hands and arms and saying “you get on the 101 to the 5 to the 408 to the 654 and then you take the 107 to the 987” or at least that is what it seems like to me. I cannot follow what they are saying to me at all so I start repeating it back to them but in a made up nonsense order “so, you take the 909 to the 567 to the 453? Why not the 476 to the 321?” All the while I am waving my hands around randomly trying to imitate what they had just done. The person looks really confused and Jay is laughing uncontrollably so I just hit the gas and take off. But the car is not in gear and so the engine just reves. In a panic I throw it into gear and peel out of the drive-through. At this point I am too far gone and we are somewhere near or in L.A. so we go to a Denny’s and sit there to order something. I remember looking at my refection in the spoon on the table for what seems like a very long time. We eat but none of us have any money so we have to dine and dash. But we get the friend and drive back with no issues.
Since neither Jay nor I were working we eventually get evicted from this apartment. We decided to have a massive blowout party and trash the joint. I don’t know when this was but it was sometime in 1991. Our band Distraction played and we ate pot brownies and took acid. I remember being so high that I thought I was part of couch. I literally felt like I was part of the fibers of the couch. I sat there watching everything happen but I had no ability to communicate at all. People sat next to me and talked but I could not respond. I was the couch. I felt trapped inside my body and I could not move. “Couches don’t move,” I explain to the person sitting next to me, “and I am a couch, so it is only natural that I am not moving”. “But you are moving,” they say and then I realize that I am not a couch. With a massive exertion of the will I stood up. We played our set and that helped. I sat behind the drum set watching my hands move and with the drum sticks in my hand I felt like a magician waving a wand. I wasn’t playing songs, I was conjuring spirits. People were moshing in the living room and afterwards we trashed the joint. I smashed out the sink and used it to bust up the toilet. We punched holes through the walls. That place was destroyed. And then we left.
After we were evicted I ended up back in Maddy’s garage. By this time we were a steady couple and her mom begrudgingly let me stay for a while. Her friend Mac played drums and was into death metal. He got me into Cannibal Corpse and Deicide, which I of course loved. Eaten Back to Life quickly became my favorite album and I used to listen to it religiously. Originally Mac was a drummer but he decided that I was a better drummer than he was. At this point I had only been playing for a couple of years so I was surprised but we decided to form a band. Mac’s mom worked during the day and so we would write songs and rehearse with Mac’s friend on guitar and bass. We officially formed Mutilation. This is also when I discovered Zelda. Mac had it and he had played it before but Link to the Past had just came out. Man I loved that game and spent hours, and hours, and hours playing it. Mac would have to kick me out of his room.
Mac and Jay did not get along. This was mostly because of a time we all took acid together. Jay was trying to convince everyone that in reality we were all one giant eyeball flying through space. Jay enjoyed fucking with people but Mac and his friends did not. I kept in touch with Jay but we drifted apart because I was out in Morro Bay with Maddy and Mac most of the time.
At some point in 1991 I got a job at the Burger King in Morro Bay. I started as a cashier and went to the drive through. By this time I was good at the drive through. We also used to play a game where we would see who could say the most ridiculous thing to someone in the drive through without getting caught. We would say things like ‘so that two order of flies and and a flopper with fleas?’ and then bust up laughing when they said “yes, that’s right”. The worst anyone ever did was when we were supposed to say ‘Welcome to Burger King, may I take your order’ someone would say “welcome to Burger King, may I fuck your daughter?” and then they would say “yes, uh I would like…” and we would all laugh.
I had a patented stealing technique that I had developed back in Fresno to make extra money at McDonalds. Any order that I took through the drive-through (it didn’t work face-to-face) I would add a dollar to the total and tell the customer that total. So if the total was 5.49 I would tell them 6.49. As they came though and paid I would make a tally on the register with a pencil. At the end of the day I would take that number of dollars from the register. On a good day I would make over a hundred dollars. The hardest part was getting the money out of the register without anyone noticing.
Not every customer would pay. Some would ask, “6.49? For that?’ and I would always add one of something they had ordered. So, if they order a burger and fries and a drink I would say,
“that’s a burger, two fries, and a drink?”
“no, one fry”…
“Oh, sorry about, 5.49 at the window”.
It was fool proof and I made a lot of extra money doing it. Sadly I could not keep my mouth shut and I told other people about my method. They started doing it but were not as discrete as I was. They got caught and fired. To their credit (?) they did not rat me out but I knew I had to stop doing that, I can’t help but feel partially responsible for the new order-readouts by the cars they have now.
It wasn’t very long before I was promoted to night manager. At this point I had been working in fast food for a while so I knew the drill but I was still surprised when I was approached with the offer. The job was basically to babysit high school students and then to do some rudimentary bookkeeping and sometimes the ordering for the store. The most important thing to do was to make sure the safe with the day’s take was locked when you left.
Working at this job I was able to get my own apartment by myself. It was the first time I had ever really lived all by myself in a house. I had a one bedroom in a nice little complex by the Burger King. I would hang out during the day until 5:00, then go to work, get off at 2:00, hang out and party with my fellow night peeps and then do it all over again. On my days off I would practice in the band and occasionally we would have gigs. In between we would see concerts. I wish I had more documented evidence of those gigs. I used to have recordings and pictures, etc but they were all lost in the Great Storage Place Fiasco of 1997. Anyway, it was not a bad living. I was on salary and making what for me was truly good money for the first time in my life.
During this entire time I was still dating Maddy, who really was my first official girlfriend. She had been a swimmer in high school and she was really funny. I really liked her but our relationship was not good. Looking back on it I can see I was re-enacting all of the things from my relationship with my mom. We would break up, yell and scream, then I would beg her to come back and it would start all over again. At the worst point I came home to my apartment and found that the door was already open. Inside I found medical supplies, some wrappings and tubing. I didn’t know what had happened but I soon found out that Maddy had broken in and tried to kill herself by taking an overdose of something. She had intended for me to come home and find her but when I didn’t get back when she expected she had called 911. Another time after a big fight she called 911 and told them that I had threatened to kill my self by driving my car off a cliff. This was not actually true at all but when the police officer came out to my place to talk to me and saw the scars on my wrist they took me in for a 51/50 observation. This is when they hold you for 48 hours for psychiatric observation. Given my history I was freaking out. But the more I freaked out the more angry I got the more they thought that maybe there was a problem. Through a Herculean effort of self-control I was able to maintain my composure while in there and they released me. Being back inside reminded me what was at stake. It was funny to me because when I was a kid I thought that being inside was no big deal. I had more freedom in there than at home I would often remark. But now I had had a taste of real freedom and I did not want that taken away.
One of the great concerts I saw was Sick of It All, Sacred Reich, Napalm Death, and Sepultura. According to Google this was August 30th 1991. I have a vague feeling that someone (not me) spit on Sick of it All or something like that and that there was a fight as a result that delayed the concert a bit but Napalm Death was amazing. I was fully into their album Harmony Corruption and I remember being very excited that they played Scum, which was an all-time favorite of mine, but it was Sepultura that brought the house down. Their tribal-inspired rhythms and mid-tempo songs make for violent slam dancing. The whole place was one seething rage-pit and it was one of the few times I have ever really been scared that I might be seriously hurt in a mosh pit. I wasn’t but I did end up with a black eye and a swollen lip. I really enjoyed slam dancing but it was definitely not anything goes. If you got knocked down people helped you up, if you were hurt badly people helped you get medical attention. I did occasionally hear about people bringing razor blades into the pit and people trying to really hurt people in there, so there was always that risk, but for the most part it was just a way of thrashing about with the music. But in that room it really felt like you could be seriously hurt. The entire place was undulating and pulsating to the music and it truly felt like the entire concert hall was a mosh pit.
I remember watching the drummer and being awe-struck. He was able to do things with one hand that I could not do with both of mine! Truly inspiring. And when I learned that he was self taught I was flabbergasted. After the show we were buying beer and we saw him, the drummer for Sepulture, buying a pack of socks. We were amazed.
I must have worked at Burger King for most of 1992. I was being introduced to another way of living. Mac’s mom would go to work in the morning, leaving the house to Mac and his friends. We would hang out and play music, Zelda, or whatever and then his mom would come home and make dinner and often chocolate cake. Then we would all sit around and watch taped Days of Our Lives. I became quite familiar with the plot lines for a while there.
With the money I was making at Burger King we had a rehearsal space at a local storage place that had a lot of bands in it. I put a lot of my money into the Mutilation demo.
Deceased Visions Track 2 from Molesting the Remains by Mutilation
I don’t remember exactly when we recorded this but it was sometime in 1992. Since I was a self-taught drummer who had only been playing for a couple of years at that point I was always self-conscious about my drumming. In the beginning I thought that each riff needed to have some specific kind of drum beat and I was always surprised that I was able to think of one to go along with the riff. The concept of drumming as keeping time never occurred to me. Instead I thought of the drum parts as functions of the guitar riffs. It never occurred to me that different drummers might come up with different drum parts for the same riff and I was always trying to find “the correct” drum part for a song. It was a real advance, for me, when I realized that as long as I was on time I could do whatever I wanted.
In those early days I was completely mystified by the drum set. When I purchased it the kit was all broken down so I had to figure out how to set it up. I remember wondering what the correct way of setting it up was and someone told me that it should just be comfortable for me I didn’t know what was comfortable because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing. I knew what kind of drumming I liked and I simply tried to play like that. I thought of drumming a lot like skating but with rhythms instead of tricks. Mostly I saw a lot of music, and listened to a lot of it and tried to play the kind of stuff that I heard. I saw a lot of great concerts back then, too many to name all of them, but a couple stand out.
One was Obituary, Agnostic Front, Malevolent Creation, and Cannibal Corpse. Another was Deicide on the Legion Tour. At this concert one of my friends ended up getting a tattoo from one of the bands that was opening and as a result we got to go back stage. I met Steve Ashiem and I remember thinking that his hand shake was so fucking firm. It blew me away. We also saw but did not met Glen Benton and we could see the upside cross burned into his forehead. These guys were apparently true believers and while I wasn’t I felt that was more respectful than Slayer who I had begun to view as a bunch of sell outs.
Anyhow, back to the Mutilation demo. The studio was really fun and it is the only time I have ever really recorded in a professional studio. It was Moon Studios in Arroyo Grande and back then they used to do a lot of death metal recording. We each were in different rooms and we played with headphones on and then went back and did the other tracks. We had enough money to produce a few of these tapes and we got them distributed via Wild Rags Records. This was a very eccentric record label that billed itself as the ‘smallest but heaviest record label’ in America, or something like that. They had a small review of it (along with a bunch of other ones but we were very happy none the less!) in the Art Gore special issue of The Wild Rag zine.
This was in the “New Update” section of the Wild Rag…haha
I had just turned 21 and things weren’t going that bad. I was free. I had a decent job making decent money. I had an apartment of my own and I had realized my childhood dream of playing in a band. We even had our own demo and had played gigs. This is when I decided to get the Mutilation logo tattooed. I liked the design but it turns out it was premature because we had to change our name shortly after we found out that there was another band called Mutilation! We changed it to Cannibalistic Mutilation and had shirts printed by hand.
And then one day the owner of the Burger King I managed told me that I was an excellent employee and that some day I would own my own Burger King. I had never really thought about it that way and I suddenly saw that my life was heading in a direction that I did not want it to go in. I could see myself just as he did at that moment. I could end up owning a store, being a successful businessman, but it would all be based on selling hamburgers. I had by that time worked in fast food for most of my life. I started at McDonald’s when I was 13, went back again when I was released. As a vegetarian it was hard for me to be around so much meat but I was in survival mode (and really the frozen circles we had to put on the grill were about as far removed from actual meat as you could get!). I was behind enemy lines and had to make do. Besides, as long as I worked there I could control what I ate. I was allowed to make my own food and so could make sure the buns never touched the grill, that the fries were in fresh oil with no fish bits, etc. But I couldn’t really be that person.
I quit that day.
But since I no longer had a job I could not afford my apartment and so I was evicted, again. This time I did not have a blowout party and trash the joint. Instead I just refused to leave. I hid whenever someone came by. At that point I was not overly concerned about the future. I used to joke around by telling people that I only planned on living until I was 23. I figured once you turn 21 you can legally drink but by the time you are 23 it would be getting old. I didn’t at that point have any intentions of killing my self but I did have a reckless abandon with respect to the future. Eventually they put up a notice that said that the sheriff would be there in the morning to escort me out. At that point I left.
Me and Jon Boyle in the storage/rehearsal place circa 1993 or so (I am on the left explaining some important point about the song arrangement, I am sure)
I ended up staying in a room I found for rent, until the guy said his finance was moving in and I had to be out asap. At that point I ended up moving into our rehearsal space. This must have been in 1993 but I really can’t remember. I also got the chicken pox. It turns out that I had not had them as a kid. At night by myself in the storage facility, covered head to toe in Chicken Pox and itching, I recalled the story of Job and how he had been described as itching so badly that he used broken shards of pottery to scratch the boils. What an asshole this God character is that he would allow this amount of suffering to test someone’s faith. No amount of reward could justify this (especially without consent). I also spent a lot of time thinking about how the itching felt. I remember trying to distinguish the itchiness of individual bumps on my arm or legs. Was *that* one more itchy than *that* one? It was hard to tell
Cannibalistic Mutilation circa 1993. Mac singing, Jonathan Boyle on guitar and me on drums in the background
Anyway, in general I spent a lot of time at this rehearsal space. Really it was a complex of storage sheds that a lot of bands used for rehearsal. There were at east 10 or so bands out there. There was us, Cannibalistic Mutilation, and there was John’s other band Desinence. There was also Charlie Christ, Psychotrope, Terminal Human Combustion, and old school groups like No Remorse. Then there were a bunch of other bands that I can’t even remember. Deeds of Flesh eventually emerged as that era’s most successful group (I think). They came out of a previous band (Charlie Christ) that a bandmate of mine also played in. I tried out for them at some point (later in like 1995 or 1996) but they were way out of my league (they eventually released this so, yeah, way out of my league.)
Honestly I don’t remember when this was taken. I thought it was my reunion with my mom in 1990 but that shirt I am wearing must be from 1992 or 1993 (from the drum competition at the Drum Circuit, where I entered as the drummer for Human Stew)
Somehow I ended up living out in Atascadero with a roommate who was not around much for most of 1993. At first I got a job at the local McDonlds but that didn’t work out. I forget why but I do remember that I found out that they put beef powder in their curly fries and that really pissed me off. Was nothing safe? I then found a job at some local liquor store as a cashier. I don’t remember much about that place except one day I had to debone a bunch of roasted chickens. Ripping these tiny corpses I felt like the monster on one of Cannibal Corpse’s albums (Butchered at Birth) and I did not like it. I vaguely remember drinking a lot of Natural Ice. I also had a job at a retail store called Srouse-Rietz but that did not last very long.
One day I got a call from my dad. Apparently my mom had given him my number. I told him that I did not have much to say to him and I don’t think we talked for very long. That was the last time I talked to him. I vaguely remember telling him that if I ever saw him in person I did not know whether I would hug him or hit him. I found out much later that he died in 2010. I guess I felt a little said about that but mostly I thought of this guy as a stranger. It is always sad when someone dies but I did not know him. My mom tells me that as I kid I really loved him but I don’t remember that. All I remember is that he did not try to contact me until it was too late.
I really do not have any idea how this came about but somehow I ended up getting a job at a pre-school in Los Osos in 1994. I lived above the pre-school and after the school closed my job was to clean it up and make it ready for the next day. In exchange I got free rent in the place above. It was a good gig and I was happy to have it. So all together it was ok. I got free rent and I had a day job at a local gas station that was one of those encased-in-glass kind of jobs.
One time I was on acid with some friends at the house and somebody came by with a friend of a friend of mine. I had my Impala at the time and this person had a powder blue Volkswagen Bug. It looked like a cartoon. I saw it through the window and was fascinated with it. I offered to trade him my car for his. He thought I was joking. Nope. Let’s do it! And we did! He left in my Impala and I had the bug. We took it out to the beach that night and drove it in the dunes. It had roll bars and a cage and we did end up rolling it. It got stuck on its roof and we had to push it. Then it had a dent in the roof and I had to kick it to get it to pop out.
The bug was a beast! It was loud and it smelled like gasoline in the driver’s seat. The gearbox was fucked and it would pop out of 4th gear. You had to use this bungee cord to hook it and latch it to the frame of the seat to keep it in that gear. It also did not have a tape player so I did not really like to drive it. I always joked that I felt like I was in a German war machine in it. I had the bug for a while but eventually got rid of it.
I liked the pre-school. The kids were nice and they left me alone during the day. At night I would eat the left over snacks and put the place back together.
At some point I saw my mom pull up in the gas station I was working at. We had been in some fight or other and so had been out of touch for a bit. She told me about this program that her husband was involved with called the Private Industry Council that might be able to help me get into college if I was interested. At the time I wasn’t really interested. The people I hung out with did not like the college students who came into town and then were gone a few years later. And I didn’t think I needed to go back to college.
I eventually had to move out of the pre-school (some of the parents had complained about me and my friends being there) and I figured maybe I should look into this school situation.
My mom had given me a number to call and so I called it. I set up an appointment and I went to meet with the woman who would be my caseworker. Basically they would help you register, apply for financial aid, and give you a voucher for books. In return you had to agree to do a follow up ten years later to see what happened and where you were. I agreed to give it a shot and enrolled in Cuesta College in August 1994. I was 22 but would be 23 soon.
I am continuing to write a semi-regular series of memoir-notes posts. Some of these are harder to write than others but this one was especially difficult. Not only are the memories so distant (and thus sparse and hazy), but I myself feel very distant from who I was at this stage in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I can still ‘see myself in him’ so to speak, and I definitely want to take ownership and responsibility for what I have done, but at this point in my life I had not even yet caught a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. I can definitely say that this was one of the absolute low points of my life.
It’s also funny because now that I am going over everything with a fine-toothed comb it looks like it was just the last two years of high school that I was “in the system”. In my mind it seemed longer. Another instance of the funny ways that memory betrays us. Before I started all of this I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the details and chronology of events of my life but I am finding out that I was wrong. I mean, I teach the neuroscience and psychology of memory all the time and so knew theoretically that memories are easily distorted, especially when one recalls them and learns new information (that will often get filed away as part of the original memory), but it was still a surprise to see that even I was susceptible (Oh, the hubris!).
I previously talked about what I think is the first group home I was sent to, which is the one in Santa Barbara. After that I am pretty sure I went to Boonville or Mendocino California. This place was way out in the boonies, up north of San Francisco in California. It had a camp-like feel to it, with different bunks, a communal eating area, and an on-site school. My transcripts say I was there in January 1988 and I do not know how long I was there. I also don’t remember when I had turned myself in after running away from the group home in Santa Barbara. I am pretty sure it must have been late 1987 but I don’t know.
One of the things I liked best about this place was breakfast. In the morning they would set out rows and rows of boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and milk. All down the communal dining area, where there were rows of panic table-like tables and chairs. This was wonderful because, first of all as a vegetarian I could eat it (and as much as I wanted). and second of all I didn’t have to worry about any meat (which I found disgusting) being around me. I have a vivid memory of being in juvy and having rib night and being in the dining hall where everyone was eating ribs. I could hear the cacophony of smacking lips, rending flesh, and clacking silverware and as I looked around the room I saw what appeared to me to be a mob of flesh-crazed zombies. Everywhere I looked I saw someone gnawing on a bone, or pulling some flesh from a bone, with sauce everywhere. This was really traumatic for me. I had as usual given my ribs away and was eating side dishes (the best a veggie can get at a rib joint!)…anyway the point is Honey Nut Cheerios was a double win!
It was up in Boonville that I heard Metallica’s Garage Days revisited. I had left all of my stuff at home and they did not allow us to listen to that kind of music in the group homes. But up in Boonville I learned a really nice trick. It turns out that if you put in some paper into a slot at the top of a commercial cassette you can record over whatever it was before. One of the guys there took a Kenny Loggins tape and recorded a bunch of stuff on it for me. I forget what was on there exactly but I remember it had some Voivod (I don’t remember what was on there but this is still awesome), Sodom (I am pretty sure Nuclear Winter was on there. I really liked these guys and later I found out old Slayer had this kind of thrash sound), Bathory (I am pretty sure from Under the Sign of the Black Mark), and Cryptic Slaughter (this I remember was from Convicted, which I really liked) and then there was Septic Death which I found out later was fronted by Pushead (this was definitely Need so Much Attention). A nice eclectic mix! There was some other stuff on there as well but I have lost all of that. I had that cassette for a long time after that. Once I learned this trick I used it a lot.
I really don’t know how long I was up there but I remember liking it and for the most part getting along with everyone (it was a large place with a lot of guys, not coed). I forget the details but as I remember it I fell in with some trouble makers and somehow ended up being kicked out. I vaguely remember somehow cutting my wrist really badly, somehow a door had closed on it while we were sneaking out or something like that, on accident and someone telling me to pour salt on the wound to ‘seal’ it. So I did. I never got stitches and still have that scar.
I really don’t remember how I was kicked out of that group home. I have some memories of it but I don’t trust them. But I am pretty sure I was back in San Luis Juvenile Hall by February or March of 1988. I do know that once I went back in I was very unhappy. I was getting into more fights and one time when they sent me to my room for my mandatory 3 hour confinement I had an epiphany. I realized that they couldn’t really do very much to me and so far all they had really done was “send me to my room” which was in essence a glorified time out. I thought that if I just stayed in my room they would have no power over me and so when they came to let me out I said I would rather stay. They had no problem with that. At first. I don’t know how long I stayed in confinement (remember I had books, a toilet, and a window so it wasn’t really solitary confinement). Every day they would come and ask if I was coming out and I would smugly say I wasn’t finished with my book, or something, and they would leave me in there. A counselor came and talked to me, and I explained that I was just very engrossed in my book and I would be sure to come out when I was done. But then I started another one). I really don’t know how long this went on but by then end they were begging me to come out. I was being offered special privileges, I could watch movies, they were talking about seeing if they could get Zork for me to play, or even possibly I could attend classes at the local high school on a furlough. They were trying. I wasn’t. I came out only to shower or to go to court. I can’t remember exactly what I was reading but at this time I was into Piers Anthony. I had liked the Xanth series when I was younger but at this time I was into the Incarnations of Immortality series (and the Apprentice Adept series…at that time I liked to read through an author’s work before moving to the next author). And then I got sent to another group home.
This one was in San Luis Obispo, which was nice. I am pretty sure I was there from March until sometime in July of 1988. This was way more of a ‘behavioral therapy’ kind of place. It was mostly staffed by counselors and psychologists and they worked regular shifts so it felt a little like still being in Juvy. There was a lot of one on one counseling, complete with Rorschach ink blots and everything. Because of my stint in “solitary” I was ‘forced’ to have special privileges the other kids were didn’t get. I had to attend San Luis High School, not the court school. I was also allowed to have some after school free time for social engagements. I told them that I joined the debate team and then skipped it and went to a drainage canal by our house. I swept it out over a period of time (I don’t remember how long it took, at least several days) and then would skate in it. I don’t even know where I got this skateboard. I don’t think it was the one I had before I was arrested. I know I ended up with a Philips but I am not sure what I had at this point. But I spent a lot of time in that drainage canal trying to carve and grind. Practicing dropping in, etc. I really wanted to skate a ramp but of course I had no access to that, and to be honest though I tried very hard I was not all that good at skating. I could do it and it was often my main source of transportation and some tricks I could nail but honestly, my oiling was weak. I was never really able to get my back leg up high enough and so would often catch my back truck on things.
I really wanted to be good at skating. In fact, I pretty much really wanted to be good at anything I ever heard of! Back when I was younger, I wanted to be a ninja and I used to ‘train’ for it all the time (I read you had to run a mile with a sheet of paper held to your chest by the wind to qualify for training and I gave myself an asthma attack trying to do this). I am not sure why this is, but when I see someone else do something that makes it look effortless, seamless, graceful, fluid, etc, I want to do it myself. It just looks like so much fun! But really what happened is I tried a lot and hurt myself. A lot.
Anyway, eventually they found out that I was not going to the debate team meetings after school and this led to a confrontation (at least this is what I think happened). I was kicked out and sent back to juvy. This must have been early-to-mid summer 1988. After sometime inside again I found out that I was being sent to Fresno for a ‘last chance’ group home. I was going to be driven out there by my case worker (or something) in a car, which was a new one.
I must have went out there in late summer because I am pretty certain I started at Central High School in Fresno for my senior year, or at least I think I came in pretty near to the beginning of the school year in 1988 (my senior year since I graduated in 1989). I thought I spent my 17th birthday in juvy but now that I am thinking about it, it may actually have been at the group home in Fresno (though I have a feeling I may have been back to juvy one last time…I wish I had more records from this time period!). So far I am counting five different High Schools from 1985-1989 (counting juvy as a school, I did earn credits in there!). Oh well, I was used to this. I had gone to two different Junior Highs (having been expelled from one for blowing up my teacher’s desk with a brick of firecrackers), and several elementary schools (at least three I think).
This group home was very large and had several houses all over Fresno. There were six boys to a house and two ‘house parents’. These were people (not psychologists) who lived at the house and managed the boys. I think there must have been 6 or 7 houses overall (though I really don’t know and it may have been more because the group meetings seemed to have a lot of kids) and we all met regularly for group counseling. I am pretty sure I came in and was at one house but soon got moved to the “problem” house.
In this house there was me, my roommate Big E (remember I am not using any real names except for public figures), who we usually just called E. E was a very large black guy from Oakland. He had been in a gang there, which I found out later, was pretty fearsome and well known to locals in Oakland. I, of course, did not know that at the time! There was also a black guy named Kieth who was a muscle head, very buffed out. A Latino guy named Juan who I had known briefly from one of my times in juvy, and then there was Jerry. He was a sleazy kind of kid and no one really liked him. There was one other kid who was in our house as well but I really cannot remember who it was. I think they may have only been there for a short time.
E was very funny and we got along very well. I remember one time, shortly after I arrived in the house, we were wrestling in our room. I had been on the wrestling team my freshman year in high school and I enjoyed it. We were doing a mix of greco-roman and WWF (I went through a brief period of interest, liking the Ultimate Warrior). E pinned me down to the ground and held me there demanding that I tap out. I wouldn’t. This guy was very fat and I was very thin and his entire belly was shoved in my face. I struggled but eventually passed out. I woke up and Keith and Juan were peering down at me, I looked over at E and he was grinning. He said “casper got heart” (or something to that effect) and after that we became really good friends.
We also got into a lot of trouble. We had a central heating vent in our room and we could lift the cover and use it to stash stuff in. We also noticed that we had a phone outlet in our room so I stole a phone from K-Mart and we would charge people to make phone calls. This was before cell phones and we were only allowed one phone call per week in that place. Funnily enough this is how I acquired Slayer’s new album South of Heaven. At the time I had mixed feelings about it. Some of the songs were ok but it was no Reign in Blood! Eventually it kind of grew on me but it really wasn’t the same.
Besides I had progressed to more extreme music. I still had my old mix tape with Sodom and Bathory, etc. But I had somehow also discovered Napalm Death and I was really into them. Their album Scum was at that time my favorite. I recently re-listened to it and I think it holds up! I also had Carcass’ Reek of Purification which I really loved. I especially liked how they named their solos and that they were allegedly med students. I was also into a band called NuclearAssault and of course Exodus, who had just released Fabulous Disaster and D.R.I. and a bunch of others. I had heard the Dead Keneddys but their music just seemed like rock-a-billy to me. I like it now but it wasn’t angry enough for me back then. I had to secretly acquire these albums, then record them over a ‘dummy’ tape. It was an arduous process. But the result was that I could listen to my music and when they inspected my stuff all they saw was Madonna, Kenny Loggins, and other acceptable music.
I was allowed to go to regular high school whereas most of the other kids in the home went to a private in-house school. Our house was pretty close to the campus and I would ride my skateboard to school. Being a ‘group home kid’ at a public high school is not exactly fun and I was definitely an outsider but I hung out with a cool group of girls (and their friends).
One kind of funny story is that I remember being in the library at school and finding Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. This book had the cover torn off of it and happened to be in the non-fiction section. I read it with a sense of disbelief. Was this a real interview with someone claiming to be a vampire? Of course I wanted to be a vampire, like everyone else, but I didn’t want to drink blood. Could there be a vegetarian vampire? Probably not. But I remember going up to the librarian and asking if this was a true story. I remember she laughed out loud at me and I was really embarrassed and just basically bolted for the door.
I don’t remember exactly when this was but I got a Thrasher magazine or TransWorld Skating magazine and I saw that someone had their nose pierced and I wanted to do that. So I got a safety pin and pierced my nose and re-pierced my ear (I had originally just pierced the left ear (as was the custom back then!) back in the 8th grade but my mom had forced me to remove it). I recall that at first I did not have the guts to stick the safety pin all the way through the back side of my nostril. It just hurt too much. I remember standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom and trying to will myself to push the point through the skin and every time I did I just couldn’t really push it. I didn’t want to take it out because I had already spent a lot of time on it.
So I wore the safety pin half-way through and went to school. That day once I got home I did get the safety pin all the way through. One day I wore a fork in my nose to school. Yes, that’s right, I took a fork from the silverware tray, bent it and put one of the tines through the hole and wore it as a nose ring. We were not allowed to have our ears (or any other body parts) pierced and so any jewelry I had would have been confiscated. Of course there was an old trick that I learned about in juvy whereby you could take a tine of a comb or brush, break it off and use it to keep your earring hole open. I had had my safety pin confiscated and so had to use a fork to keep the hole open. I forget when I officially stopped wearing my nose ring but at some point I remember I wore a chain that ran from my nose to my ear. Man, I wish I had a picture of that!
I had also by this time started hurting myself pretty often. Some of it was to show off for the other kids. For instance we used to play “bloody knuckles” a lot. This is a game where you take a comb or a brush (or you can use your fist if you don’t have any of the above). One person rests the comb on their fist while the other tries to grab it and smack their fist before they can pull it away. If you were hit the person got to go again. If you pulled your hand away fast enough it was your turn. I liked this game and was pretty good at it. We would also play a version of chicken where we would take a cigarette (they were easy to get, but I didn’t smoke at that point) and then two guys would put their forearms together, skin to skin, and someone would drop the lit cigarette at the place where the two skins met. The first person to pull their arm away “lost”. I never lost. We would also take Bic lighters and heat them up and then brand ourselves. The resulting burn resembled a smiley face. In addition to that I would also cut myself with a knife. At first I did it as part of my Satanic Rituals. These were mostly aimed at getting a certain girl to notice me or getting revenge on some asshole who had done something to me. Strictly low-level stuff that I read about in books. But it did involved cutting and eventually I just did it for the cutting. I was semi-open to the idea of the super natural and if the “magic” had ever worked I might have adjusted my beliefs in various things but these little excursions into magic never paid off.
This was also the first time I tried to tattoo myself. A lot of people at school and inside the group homes had tattoos on their hands, usually signifying some kind of gang affiliation. I wanted to signify my non-affiliation with any gang and so I wanted to tattoo “Skate” on my hand around the spot where gang signs were. I had heard that you could do so by taking a safety pin and wrapping a thread around the tip. Then, one could take toothpaste (for color), and ash, mix them together with water and make a kind of tattoo ink. I tried this and tried to “hand poke” a tattoo on my left hand but it never really came out very well. I would eventually get this done by my roommate once I got out of the group home and moved back to the Central Coast but I will get to that later. Really, at this time, this was just an excuse to cut myself in a different way.
I felt totally powerless and since I had been raised by a religious person I thought that the best way to get power was via Satanism. I finally realized that I was still playing into my mom’s idealology. I was an idle child rebelling by being the opposite of what he had been taught. But real rebellion meant rejecting the whole system. Why believe in God and Satan in the first pace? So I gave up the Satanism and officially became an Atheist at some point, but I still liked that kind of music because it was shocking. I certainly was not into evil, I mean real evil. When I listened to Slayer (or whatever) I didn’t see an endorsement of evil but rather an indictment of any alleged super natural creator. It was a litany of the atrocities allowed by any such being. I was raised vegetarian and I had a pretty strong innate sense of justice and fairness (though I didn’t always live up to them!). The Satanism I was looking into (i.e. mostly the Satanic Bible by Anton LeVay) was more of a kind of embracing of one’s true self. Of course, if one is a child molester or murder then embracing one’s true self is less than ideal but as long as one is fairly normal this is a just a strange version of the ethics of authenticity. As a side note I always rejected the ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ line from Crowley for just this kind of ‘what about child molesters?’ objection.
I got into a couple of fights at this group home. One of them was in the house and one for them was at school. The one at school happened while I was in the library. I don’t remember what I was doing but I noticed this guy at the other table staring at me. I did not know him. He pointed at me and then pointed outside. He then got up and went outside so I followed him. I walked out saying ‘what’s up dude?’ and he hit me square in the jaw. I remember hearing a sound and feeling kind of numb. I had been hit many times before so it did not knock me out or put me down but I did loose my shit. I attacked the guy smashing him in the face with both fists. I then grabbed him by the hair and slammed his face into the lockers. After that I kind of grated his face on the vents on the lockers. Smashing it in and rubbing it upwards. I did this until someone pulled me off of him. In the principle’s office he came out and said he would see me soon, so I punched him in the face yelling that he could see me now. I was suspended from school for a while over that but they eventually let me back in because it was unprovoked. I heard that this guys and his friends were out and about looking for me. Ha ha, let them come to the group home I thought. I have a vague memory of being out in the park late at night and running into some of this guys friends, and one pulling knife on us, but it is very hazy.
During this time that I was suspended I was attending the in-house group home school. One day things were a buzz. Everyone was talking about this new kid who was coming to the group home. Apparently this kid was a member a white power gang. At this time I was the only other white guy in the group home. Everyone by this time knew that I wasn’t “in the game”. I had never belonged to a gang, and was vocally anti-racist. I used to joke around a lot by point at my arm and saying “don’t let this fool you! I’m only white on the outside,” as everyone was laughing (usually) I would add “luckily that where it count’s though!’
I certainly didn’t know about white privilege back then. In fact I had a very naive Libertarian outlook on life and was saying thing like anyone could make, just look at me! But honestly, I am not sure if a non-white kid with my same aptitude (or lack thereof) from where I was from could have made as easily as I did. I don’t want to minimize what I went through but I have to admit that I was treated differently from day one. I had a sense that people thought I was ‘smart’ or ‘bright’ and that I was treated differently for this. Looking back on it I would definitely say it was white privilege at work. Anyway, I had tried to stay in principle neutral as between gangs and used to say that I was from wherever my skateboard was currently touching ground. By this time I had the full on Tony Hawk haircut and a giant Corey O’Brian skeleton and fireball T-Shirt that I had cut up and turned into a jacket patch. Holy shit! I wish I had a picture of that! At any rate the point is that I was not into white power and that there was going to be violence on this day. Everyone in the house was upset and acting out and I think there were some fights over this but actually I can’t remember all of it clearly. I have a very vague memory of a large fight breaking out during school but honestly it is too vauge to take seriously and I can’t really believe that the staff did not anticipate something like that.
One day at school I found out that Metallica was going to be playing in Fresno as part of their Damaged Justice tour. The show was December 14, 1988 at the Selland Arena and this was my first concert. I had just turned 17 and I was determined to go to that concert. Somehow the group home found out that I intended on going and they told me that I could not go and I told them that there was no way in hell they were going to stop me. They warned me against going. I said fuck it and took off towards the concert. Fresno Treatment center was unique in one way. Usually when I ran away from a group home they notified the police and then the police would look for you (or not). But here, when someone ran away, they would get all of the houses together in their vans (each house had a van of their own) and they would drive around Fresno looking for you. They finally spotted me skating down the street towards the concert and the van pulled over. Everyone jumped out and I was booking it down the street. Suddenly another van comes around the corner and cuts me off. They grab me and I am trying to fight them off but I can’t and they start dragging me back towards the van. There are people on the street watching this whole thing and so I start yelling, “help! Help! I’m being kidnapped”. One person sort of looks concerned and asks what is going on but no one does anything. They throw me in the van and take me back to the group home.
The whole time I am telling them that I will just leave again and so they took my shoes from me to make sure that I couldn’t go. But I was not going to let that stop me! I jumped out of our second story window and then headed towards the concert. I was used to being barefoot and in fact before I was arrested I preferred being barefoot (that is how I stepped on a nail and had to get a tetanus shot but that was way earlier). Besides I had my skateboard and so did not have to walk on the concrete too much. But now I know that they are looking for me so at some point I jump on a city bus. I transfer to the bus that drives by where the concert is and I just ride it. We must have done the route three times and I am seeing these vans all over town but these idiots don’t ever think to look at the busses driving by. I wait until the concert is about to start, get off at the right stop and I’m in the concert!
The concert was awesome and I remember being blown away by the stage show. They had a giant Statue of Liberty that exploded and Kirk Hammet came out and stood on its head and soloed. This was the first time I had ever seen a pit and I was instantly hooked. It looked like fun so I went in barefoot and all! I loved being in the pit. As I said I had been hit before and it felt good to get in there and bash the fuck out of people. By the end of the night I was a bruised and bloodied mess. And I loved it. After the concert was over I made my way back to the group home and slept in my own bed. They found me there in the morning and they were very surprised! I remember there were some consequences for this but I forget what.
One particularly disturbing event involved one of the new kids in our house. I forget his name but he was even crazier than I was. Big E and Keith and I got along with pretty well but there was this other guy named Jerry that no one liked. Jerry was a bit greasy, and he was a diabetic, and he liked to whine a lot. Well, Jerry for some reason was saying he was going to tell the house parents about our little operation in the heating vents and none of us were happy about it. So one night I got woken up and it is Big E telling me to get up because we’re going after Jerry. So I get up and come out into the hallway. There is the new guy with a bottle of Pert, or Prell or something, in his hand, you know the shampoo. He says, “stay here and if you see anyone coming knock on this door” and then all three of them go into Jerry’s room. I hear a scream and then some struggling. No one is coming so I just hold my position. After a bit they come out and we high tail it back to our rooms. Big E and I jump into our respective beds and start to pretend we are sleeping. I can hear Jerry screaming from the other room. “What the fuck did you do to him?” I whisper. E responds by hissing that I should shut the fuck up. So I do.
It turns out that they had held him down, taken off his pants, and inserted the Pert bottle into his anus and squeezed. The new guy had put the whole bottle of shampoo into his rectum. That was pretty messed up, to say the least, and is probably the worst thing that I was personally involved in. I didn’t recognize it at the time but this was the only sexual assault I heard about during my time in the juvenile justice system and I was a part of it! The worst part is that at the time I thought he deserved it. I don’t really remember what happened as a result of that but somehow I have a feeling the new guy got blamed for it and sent back to juvy. I kind of remember them getting all us up and questioning us one by one. I just did what I always did. I stuck to my story. I was asleep and then I heard screaming. It is strange how when you are in the midst of these kinds of experiences you don’t even realize how fucked up they are. They seem like business as usual.
One day I was walking from my physics class to my P.E. class and all of a sudden I fell down in agonizing pain. This was in early 1989. I started to vomit and roll around in agony. I was in bad shape. So they rushed me to the hospital but they didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had been sick occasionally before but it had always gotten better on its own so I never did anything about it. I had a pretty high tolerance for pain and besides that my motto at the time was ‘you either die or you get better, either way things work out fine’. They ran a bunch of tests on me including a Barium Enema (which really sucked) and an x-ray. They said they would call us with the results and sent us on our way. I was feeling a little bit better but I was still in bad shape. When we got home there a message on the answering machine that was asking where we had went and saying that I was scheduled for emergency surgery as soon as I could get back to the hospital. I vaguely thought that this wasn’t good but I was in so much pain that I could not really focus. I arrived back to the hospital and once they knew it was me they rushed me to the surgery prep area. I was on a cart wearing my shorts with a big skull on the side of them and the nurse said ‘do you think that’s appropriate?’ looking at the skull, I yelled back ‘do you think I give a fuck?’ As they strapped me to the table (right arm across my chest, exposing my side) and ran the I.V. all I could think about were the lyrics to a slayer song “surgery, with no anesthesia, feel the knife pierce you intensely” and then the guitar riff, over and over (this song was about Auswitzch and obviously what I was going through was nothing like what was depicted in the song but this is what I was hearing in my head) until the nurse asks me to count backwards from 100. 100, 99…I begin and the next thing I know I wake up and someone is holding a little baggie with a bunch of shit in it saying ‘this was your appendix’
”can I keep it?” I squeak back.
“No, it’s hospital property now” whoever it was responded.
”well fuck you then” I slurred back and drifted off into unconsciousness
I lay in my hospital bed recovering. The doctor said I needed to spend a day, maybe two in the hospital. The people from the group home had left to tend to the other kids and so I was at the hospital all by myself. It was boring. I used the phone by the bed to call the group home and I told them that the doctor had said that I was free to go. They didn’t know any better and said they would be right over to get me. I pulled out the I.V. and got dressed. It hurt. A lot. They arrived and helped me to the car and took me home. I was on the couch watching T.V. when the phone rang. The house parent went to answer it. I could hear a loud frantic voice on the other end
“Hello?! Yes, uh, we seem to have misplaced the boy you brought in. He was in his room, but now he is gone and we don’t know what happened to him!”
The house parent looked at me on the couch and then said that I was there and that I had told them that it was ok for me to come home. I could hear them on the other end loudly denying that they had said it was ok for me to leave the hospital. Uh oh, busted! But since I was already there they said it might be too traumatic to come all the way back so as long as I rested I could stay put. The very next day I was outside, a bit stir crazy, and I was trying to ride my skateboard in the street. I tried to do an ollie and then felt a rush of pain and wetness. I had pulled out the staples and stitches, but not just the surface ones, the ones in the deep layers of the incisions. Back to the hospital where I got a lot of ‘we told you so’ looks. I learned my lesson and let it heal.
Eventually I was let out of Fresno Treatment Center. They let me go at midnight of my 18th birthday. During the summer of 1989 I was required to take summer school and they were helping me get enrolled in Fresno City College. Someone in the group home was helping me to find a place to live after I got out. I ended up living with another, somewhat older guy, name Julio who was a previous “graduate” of the group home I was in. He was a construction worker who had a nice car with “Metallica” stenciled on the back window. I ended up getting a job at the local McDonalds (I had worked at a McDonald’s back in my freshman year and so knew the routine) and hanging around in Fresno with some people I had known in High School.
Shortly after getting out of Fresno Treatment Center. This must have been in 1989 or 1990..
It was odd for me to suddenly be out on my own. I was used to having to ask to use the bathroom and having someone monitor my every move at all times. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I was free. I know now that I overdid it a bit but at the time I couldn’t believe it. You mean, for the most part, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want? Holy shit! I remember the first time I ever got drunk happened just shortly after I was let out of the group home (at a hotel party, remember those?) and I also started smoking cigarettes.
Another thing I remember from 1989 was my seeing Warrant at the Wilson Theatre. This was obviously not my kind of music but my roommate, Julio, told me there would be a lot of girls there and he liked the music. We both liked Metallica but for me that was on the light end of the spectrum whereas for him it was on the heavy end. He was a full-on Hessian. Long flowing hair, a great physique from physical labor. The girls loved him. So I went. I remember getting really drunk and at one point I ended up on Julio’s shoulder’s yelling at the band that they sucked. The singer was trying to swat at me with the microphone stand and I think I ended up running up on stage and getting into a fight with one of the bouncers.
We also went to see Motley Crue, again at Selland Arena, in February of 1990 and I remember spitting on the guitar player and they were very unhappy about it. They stopped the show and he grabbed the microphone and yelled “who the fuck just did that?!?” I kind of remember flipping him off and all of the fans around me pushing and yelling at me. I responded by trying to start a pit and was escorted out. At the time I thought it was hilarious and was proud to have spit on Motley Crue but obviously I don’t endorse that kind of behavior now! I would also have to add that the laser light show they had was pretty good!
I remember one night Julio and I were at the bowling alley, which was a local hotspot in Fresno, believe it or not, and we met these two girls. I really liked one of them but she ended up hooking up with Julio that night. I could hear them the room next door and I remember feeling very upset by it. This kind of thing happened to me a lot. Anyway, at some point this girl, named Maddy, moved with her sister and family to Morro Bay. We used to keep in touch with phone calls (on a land line!) and I think even a couple of letters back and forth (hand written! Oh man, those were the days!).
Eventually at some point I was really depressed and tried to “commit suicide”. This must have been part of the way through 1990. I put it into quotes because I did not really want to die. I am pretty sure what I wanted was attention from a girl, or help, or something like that. But I got a razor and instead of nicking like I did before I cut deep. I also cut my right arm (at that point I mostly cut my left arm, because that’s the “bad arm” haha). One slash was kind of hesitant, and then again a little harder, and then once a little harder, and then a final deep gash. I had heard that if one was serious about this one should cut length wise so I did, but I did not hit any of the veins. I bleed a lot and got light headed but that was it. I woke up the next morning and realized I had to go. Why was I in Fresno any?
I packed up my Cadillac El Dorado that I had bought for $500 (that’s a whole different story but this tank of a car had some issue where every time you started it the battery would drain and so you had to either get a new battery or charge it every time you drove it…I would often just leave it running if I had to make a stop) and decided to head to Morro Bay to visit Maddy. She was always telling me to come out so I thought I would finally do so. On the way out of town I saw a tattoo shop and decided to get a real tattoo. I had a skate mag and I brought it in with a picture of the Santa Cruz Screaming Hand and I got it done for 50 bucks cash. I got back in my Caddy, with newly tattooed arm hanging out of the rolled down car window, and I headed out of town.
The spring semester is finally coming to an end for us (classes end next week; we are on a slightly different schedule than the rest of CUNY) and while I was getting ready for the end of the semester I realized that this marks the end of my 10th year at LaGuardia! I officially started at LaGuardia September 1st 2007 but I was interviewed sometime in June of 2007. This is definitely the longest I have ever held one job in my entire life! If you count the four years I taught at Brooklyn College before coming to LaGuardia that makes 14 years working for CUNY! I hadn’t really been planning on including this period in my current series of memoir-note posts. The plan was roughly to get up to the point where I earned my Bachelor’s degree (January 2000; I am currently up to 1987 or so) and save graduate school and beyond for a possible ‘second volume’ in the future (Volume I=the life of the body; Volume II=The Life of the Mind ?) but I can’t help adding a couple of comments about what was going on in my life 10 years ago.
Back in 2007 I was a graduate student with at least a year and a half or so of work on my dissertation (which I finished in the summer of 2008 and defended September 3rd 2008). It is a long story (aren’t they all!), but I had started working on my dissertation officially in 2006 and at that time it had been a project that I had had on the back burner for a while. I worked on it for about a year with my committee and then had to basically start the project over because of various things.
I was also a full time faculty member at Brooklyn College teaching 5 classes a semester (and beginning to form what would be the New York Consciousness Collective), on what is known as a Substitute Line. These are two year contracts that are limited and non-renewable. I started at Brooklyn College in the fall of 2003 as an adjunct lecturer and I really liked teaching there. Especially since I was allowed to teach philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, scientific revolutions, and philosophy of psychology (as well as Ethics, Business Ethics, and Intro to Philosophy). I knew my time as a Sub was coming to an end (I had been hired on the two-year contract in 2005 and so in 2007 it was up). I had had a taste of what a full-time salary was like and I didn’t see how we could go back to just what an adjunct makes. As a result I was on the job market pretty heavy at that point. I forget how many places I applied to but it was quite a few. I was really hoping to leave New York and wasn’t planning on applying to LaGuardia at all but the chair of our department at Brooklyn College told me that I should apply there and that it was a really great place to work.
So I did.
I was getting no responses and I was getting worried. I even considered the possibility that blogging was having some kind of detrimental effect (I had received an anonymous email after all). I wasn’t sure but I brushed off the concern (no one even reads my blog!). It is striking that I didn’t talk to anyone about where or how I should apply. I just did it because I needed to get a job. I had taken out over 100 thousand dollars in debt. I started taking loans out my first semester of community college back in 1994 and took the last one out in 2003 or 2004. I was taking a lot of classes so I mostly used the loans to support myself over those ten years. I did work here and there, most notably at the mortuary (which I’ll get to later) but also at several coffee shops and restaurants in San Francisco and a few other odds and ends, but that was usually during breaks between semesters. So, I knew that once I defended my dissertation and was awarded my PhD (should I be so lucky) I would have to start paying that back. And so I *needed* to find a job. I was really really nervous. I had known going into this whole thing that it was a long shot and that the market was pretty bad for philosophers (and this was before 2008!) but I really had no other choices (or so it seemed to me at the time). I had been on the market the year before (in 2006) and got an interview but ultimately nothing panned out so it was really wearing on me at this time. If I graduated with all of that debt and then failed to find a job (and/or then failed to get tenure…but one step at a time!)…
On top of all of that I had just found out that my aunt had died. This is a very sad story that is probably best for another time but I had been very close with my aunt before I ran away from home. She had had a very rough life and back in 1982/1983 she was kidnapped at gunpoint by an ex-boyfriend, driven to a secluded place, told that if he could not have her then no one could, and shot point blank in the chest. The coward then turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the stomach. They both survived but my aunt was paralyzed from the waist down after that. Her life spiraled from there (I will skip all of the details) and though she was a strong independent woman I don’t think she every fully recovered from that event. I lost contact with my family when I moved to Connecticut in August of 2002 and was focused on graduate school.
It turns out that my mom had hired a private detective to find me and she found me teaching out at Brooklyn College. She called and left a message with the department secretary and left her number saying she had ‘information’ I might want. I am pretty sure this was in late 2006 or early 2007. I eventually called her back and she told me about my aunt. That really hit me hard. It was a such a sad, pointless, story. I hadn’t talked to her in years but it brought back a flood of memories and threw me for a loop for a few weeks. I also found out that both of my mom’s parents (my grandparents) had died in 2002. I had talked to both of them sometime before I moved to Connecticut and apparently my grandma had died shortly after that, in May 2002, and my Grandfather followed her a few months later in August. The last time I spoke with her I told her that I was sorry for all of the trouble that I had caused as a kid and how much I appreciated her and grandpa sticking by us through it all and letting us live with them when we needed to. She said she was proud of me but that they never expected me to be the one that did so well. I remember trying to explain Sartre to her. People are not static objects, they can change if they choose to change. Not just once, but every day.
It turned out that my grandfather had dementia from Alzheimer’s and would get angry and upset. He would misplace his keys, for instance, and then accuse my grandma of hiding the keys. Apparently she was terrified of him and so she took a bunch of sleeping pills and killed herself. She was laying on her bed with a bunch of photos of the family from when they were all young played out around her. After that my grandfather just withered and kind of gave up. So, my favorite aunt died of a drug overdose, her last words were “I think something’s wrong” according to my mom, my grandmother committed suicide because of my grandfather’s potentially violent rages. So I was not in the greatest of moods back then. I kept hearing my mom’s words from the last time we spoke echoing in my mind. All of this had happened while I was ‘polishing the brass on a sinking ship’. If I had stayed in California was there anything that have been done differently? It seemed like my life might still ultimately end up like that of the rest of my family. Maybe I hadn’t come as far as I thought I had.
But then I got a phone call one day from LaGuardia asking me if I was available for an interview. This was the only place that had contacted me at this point (I did hear from one other place but that was later). All of my eggs were suddenly in this basket!
I was overjoyed at having an interview, but not entirely happy that it was here in New York. New York is great for philosophy but if you don’t have a lot of money it is difficult to live here. But anyway, it turned out they were holding the interview on a Friday and I just happened to be going to the Society for Philosophy and Psychology meeting up in Toronto Canada to present a poster of “Consciousness, (Higher-Order) Thoughts, and What It’s Like” (blog post here). The plans were all set and I asked if there was any chance to reschedule. I was told they would get back to me. I hung up the phone and then, in shock, realized what I had done. Had I just passed on this interview? Should I call back and say I would cancel my trip? I was panicking and my wife (then girlfriend) was at work. I was about to call back when the phone rang. It was them. I answered and was told that they really wanted to interview me and could I come in the following Monday (or something). I said no problem. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was the only one coming in for an interview that day. They were all meeting just to interview me. Luckily I was in the city already so it was no big issue to get there.
As I sat in the office waiting for my interview, nervous of course, the secretary, Alice (remember no real names) who I later came to know really well said to me “you want to work here?” I nodded. She laughed and said “you should run!” and I laughed nervously with her. After that an older professor walked by, stopped and looked at me and said “you’re applying for the philosophy job?” I nodded and he turned to the secretary and said “he has a great tie on, hire him!” and walked out of the room. What had I got myself into?
After my first interview I had a second with the Vice President, and then a third and final interview with the President. I think that was in July. I did not find out that I was actually hired until mid-August and was hurriedly prepping for a Philosophy of Religion course (I had never taught this course before but obviously I was interested in the topic!). I stopped teaching philosophy of Religion regularly back in 2009 (I think) since we hired people who actually knew what they were doing.
My interview was actually a lot of fun and I really liked the environment at LaGuardia. I had started at a Community College myself and so I knew the power that education had to transform lives for the better. I still believe that. It is funny because at the end of the interview they asked me if I had anything I wanted to say to the hiring committee and I said that I had come into the interview not knowing if I would be happy at LaGuardia but that they had convinced me that this would be a great place to work. I walked out feeling good but also wondering if I should have said that. Truth be told, I did not really want to stay in New York. Back then I was still hoping to ultimately end up back in California and was naively assuming that if it didn’t work out this year I would try again next year. Boy was I wrong.
I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if they had not decided to take a chance on me. For most of my life I thought of myself as a Californian more than anything else but now I am proud to be an honorary New Yorker (14 years in the city!) and a part of the world’s community college. Here’s to 10 more years!
But back to 1987, events are hazy –it has been 30 years after all and I spent most of the intervening time trying to forget this stuff!– and a lot of this is pieced together from my own memory, talking to my mom, and my high school transcripts which I recently acquired. I am hoping to fill in some of the details later but it is turning out to be harder than I thought to get any records from this time (and no pictures at all!). By 1987 I was 15 years old and starting the second semester of my sophomore year in high school. I had started 9th grade in the fall of 1985 and had done ok the first year. I was averaging about a C/C+ doing very well in classes I was interested, like Electronics (earning an A), and doing very poorly in classes I did not care about, like World Geography (earning a D). I remember thinking that these places they were telling me about didn’t seem real. I mean I believed they were there but I had never been there my self. I had only been in Los Angeles and the Central Coast of California and I had my own problems to deal with.
1985 is also the year that my mom started ‘studying’ with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I will come back at some point and talk more about this period (and this post on 1987 is turning out to be on 1985-86!). But I think some of this is important context. My mom had been going to various religious places of worship trying to find a place where she fit in for as long as I can remember. She had always been very spiritual (she tells me now) and had even wanted to be a nun when she was a child (I did not know this in the 1980s). She took us to a synagogue one time and I remember the way they wrote and how they did not write the name of God on the board, or whatever. My mom worked with a women who was a Jehovah’s Witness already and she had told my mom that God’s name was Jehovah and so my mom asked this Rabbi if that was true and he ‘rebuked’ her saying that no one knew the name of God and that it was unpronounceable by humans, etc. My mom was deeply troubled by this and, according to her, she called the local Kingdom Hall demanding to speak with someone. She said that her friend had been lied to and that they had no right to go around telling people that this was God’s name, etc. They asked if they could come and speak with her in person and she agreed. They sent over a woman named Sara (remember I am not using any real names) and they talked for hours and hours. That is how it began.
I had found the things they were saying more reasonable than the stuff I had heard from other places. They did not believe in Hell, for example, because it conflicted with their conception of God as all-loving and I found that reasonable. In fact I had been kicked out of Sunday School for arguing with the teacher about the existence of Hell. I said that I did not think God could love us the way they said if he was willing to have people sent to Hell for any amount of time. They told me to leave and not to come back until I did believe in Hell. Needless to say I never went back! But even though I found the Jehovah’s Witness version of Christianity less objectionable and more logically consistent than others I did not believe what they were saying. At all. At the time what is called the problem of evil was really on my mind (I did not know that is what is was called of course). Why did God allow so much suffering? Jack the Ripper? The Holocaust?! My own life?
The answer? That God was waiting for humans to realize that they could not live without God (as Satan had suggested to Adam and Eve) and then once the scenario had played out, and there could be no doubt by anyone that humans could not live without God, He would step in, smite Satan and restore the Earth to the paradise state in the Garden. Then, there would a 1000 year reign of peace where the dead were resurrected and educated about the true nature of God, and then Satan would be let loose one last time and anyone who abandoned God at that point would be ‘erased from the Book of life’, which they interpreted as just ceasing to exist. It was an interesting story, and the 1,000 year bit at the end seemed fair. After all, God would not be hidden at that point (after the ‘great tribulation’ where Jesus comes back and all) so there would be a total epistemic shift, if any of this were real.
“But, why wait?” I asked. “Why not just smite Satan *now* and stop all the suffering which is currently happening (not to mention all the future suffering before ‘the end of this system of things’)?”
Because, I was told, in case anyone ever tries to suggest this again in the future God can say, “look we let that play out and it didn’t work,” but I found that unbelievable. Literally I could not believe that response. It used to infuriate me. God was supposed to know everything and so He knew how it was all going to play out, and Satan knew that God knew that; so why is everyone waiting? It made no sense to me at all. A supremely powerful, morally perfect being is trying to prove a point to someone? This doesn’t sound like a fully rational being (and neither is Satan, obviously, if there is no recognition that an all-knowing being already knows how this little rebellion will work out). No, this sounded more like Star Wars to me! That is, this sounded like a man-made story full of all too Human embellishments. In addition I never understood why there should be any consequences for rejecting God. If I am truly made with reason and free will then I should be able to do what I want. ‘But you owe God for your life’ I was told. No I do not. I remember endlessly arguing with these guys about this. How can I owe somebody for a gift that I did not ask for? Little did I know it but I was very close to being an Existentialist back then! I felt ‘condemned to be free’. It was as though someone shows up and says here is this wonderful gift I got you, a new house upstate (say), now to show me how grateful you are devote your life to me or I will burn the house down (while you watch after you have lived there for 50 years or whatever)! Give me a break! That is not rational behavior. That is desperate, moody, needy behavior.
In 1986 I started my sophomore year and did well again. In particular I took a speech class where I met the new English professor who had recently started a speech team at our high school. Due to my performance in the class I ended up joining the speech team. I really enjoyed the speech team, and competed in a couple of events. I vaguely remember one being in Simi Valley, or Moorpark College. I wish I knew when those competitions actually were but I cannot find anything about them online. I competed in several categories including original Oratory and Extemporaneous. There was a girl on the team who did Dramatic Interpretation and was really into Woody Allen. I remember sneaking out at night to see her and getting picked up by the police. The policeman brought me home and stayed to talk to my mom for hours. They ended up dating and as a result I had to join the Police Explorers club, which I hated. I recall having to direct traffic at one of the Strawberry Festivals they had, dressed in the uniform, and seeing some of the kids from school. They laughed and called me a Narc. At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant but I got the feeling it wasn’t good.
I also remember joining the Columbia House Music Club. This was one of those 20 cassette tapes for penny kind of things that could only have happened in the 1980s! I remember ordering all kinds of music. I used to listen to the Casey Cassum countdown and I liked some of the music (like the Beastie Boys) but I wanted some shocking music. Remember getting Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and a bunch of others, and not really understanding what all the fuss was about. I listened to Iron Maiden and liked the drawings of Eddy a lot but the music was too much like ordinary rock and roll. The one thing I did get from them was Metallica Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, which I was an instant fan of. I recall one speech competition that I was not allowed to go to, for some reason, and listening to Master of Puppets. That song, to me, was about being controlled and for me the controller was my mom. Later when I found out it was really about drug use I was surprised. But then again, that is just another form of control. That and Slayer, which I found out about shortly after that. When I heard Reign in Blood I knew I had found what I was looking for. Here was music that sounded as angry as I felt, and was as shocking to the world as I felt shocked by the world. Slayer became my favorite band, followed closely by Metallica.
And now back to 1987. Apparently I was taking books from the local library without checking them out. I had forgotten about this but I am pretty sure my mom is correct about this. She doesn’t remember when she caught me but I think it must have been in April or May of 1987. I had a lot of books that I wanted to keep and so instead of checking them out I would just put them in my bag and take them home. These were mostly books about math and physics that I used during my research for my Original Oratory speech that I gave at the competitions. It was a very basic speech laying out the basics of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the suggestion that this theory allows for the realistic possibility of time travel (what we now call time dilation and on a side note, I just bought Brian Greene’s kids book about time dilation!). Looking back on it I wish I had also found and read something on quantum mechanics but it was relativity that captured my interest back then. I would soon find out about string theory (in juvenile hall) and That was really fascinating. I was at the time hoping to go to Cal Tech or Harvey Mudd College and study theoretical physics.
At any rate my mom tells me that she went into my room and found stacks of books from the library and that some of them were never even checked out! She demanded that I return the books to the library and apologize and at the same time forbade me from going to any further speech competitions. I first went to the speech competition and then I did not go back home when we returned. It may have been a bit earlier and I am misremembering it but if I am right it must have been in May or June of 1987. I had a ten speed bike that I rode a lot (I had wanted to be in the Tour De France back then!) and I just started to ride. I went out through the back roads. I was familiar with the area from exploring plus from when I was going out looking for odd jobs (that is another story but back in junior high my mom would tell me to go out and not come home until I had earned x amount of dollars. I would would go door to door asking for work and end up raking leaves, washing cars, etc). I rode for the rest of the day and by night fall I was somewhere that I did not recognize. I can’t really remember where this was but it was somewhere out between Arroyo Grande and Atascadero. I remember riding my bike though some pretty sketchy and deserted places and along dirt trails through some kinds of hills or something.
Eventually I came to a place that looked like a small town. It was getting dark and there was a kind of crossroads situation. I did not know where I was or which way I was going. I also realized that I had not brought anything with me at all. I had the clothes I had been wearing during the day and my bike. That was it. I had been riding for hours and I suddenly felt very alone and scared. I remember sitting there on the side of the road and finally feeling overwhelmed and I started to cry. After a while though, nothing had changed. I was still sitting in the dirt by the side of the road with no money and no food and no idea where I was. I decided I had to do something. I looked around the little town I was in a bit and I eventually found a little saloon. It was closed by this point but I could see that they had food inside and a cash register on the counter. After a bit of hemming and hawing I eventually broke the window and went in. I had been stealing things for a while now, from mom and grandparents, and from my job as a paper boy and at McDonalds and at school in the coffee shop) but I had not broken into any place before. I was nervous but I was also hungry. I found some soda and some bread and checked the register. Nothing. But then I noticed that there was a lot of money on the ceiling of this place. It had stuff written on it like ‘good luck!’ and so on. But there was a lot of it. I took as much as I could. Most of it was one dollar bills but there were some bigger bills as well. I grabbed as much as I could and got out of there. With the adrenaline I was pumped to get back on the road and I got on my bike and rode out of town as fast as I could. At the time I didn’t quite realize what I had done but when I did I felt bad about it. Those bills were obviously from the opening of this place and I am sure whoever owned it was not happy at all.
A while later I was cold and tired and I needed a place to lay low. I found a movie theatre somewhere off the road I was riding on and thought that would be a good place to hang out for a while. I left my bike outside and went in. I am pretty sure Full Metal Jacket was the movie that I saw and it really blew me away. I knew my uncle had been in Vietnam but he never really talked about it, except very rarely. I came out of that theatre with the Mickey Mouse theme song stuck in my head and realized that my bike was gone. I wondered around a while and eventually, exhausted, found a pile of tires in back of a gas station that I tried to sleep on. I was woken up by some police officers who were asking me what I was doing there. Apparently a 15 year old white kid sleeping on a pile of tires aroused their suspicion. I was very frightened because my mom had told me once (in a fit of rage) that kids like me would be ‘eaten alive’ in jail. But these officers were very nice, asking me what my names was. They did not book me and they apparently had no idea about my earlier B&E. In fact they drove me all the way home. My mom was very angry but had been worried as well. That didn’t stop her from hitting me with a broom but I don’t want to dwell on those kinds of details.
My mom felt powerless and had not had a good upbringing herself. So when she hit me and screamed at me and told me she was sorry I had been born and that she wished she had not been so loyal and stuck by me, I know she was just a desperately scared woman who was reenacting her own childhood abuse. I know that now. But at the time I hated her with all my heart. I also hated the police for bringing me back home. From my point of view they had just taken me right back to the prison I had just escaped from. My grades in school were tanking. I ended up with all Fs that semester, even in the classes I loved most, which were my programming in BASIC class (where I first met ELIZA and dreamed of becoming a programmer and designing the Ultimate Zork-like game), Electronics II (where we built a robot from a kit and programmed to do basic tasks like drive down the aisle), and speech forensics (the speech team). I was required to work (I had been working officially since 1985 according to Social Security (but had been doing so unofficially since 7h or 8th grade) and I had no friends. I was not allowed to go anywhere expect school, work, and then home where I endured what I thought of as mental and physical abuse.
By the summer things with me and my mom were coming to a head as well. She was taking me and my sister out to Fresno to attend a big Jehovah’s Witness convention which was held July 4th 1987. This was when my mom was baptized and officially became a Jehovah’s Witness. I am pretty sure my sister was as well. I was not. I absolutely refused to be baptized. I remember that we were all getting into the car and the car would not start. My mom started crying and saying that Satan was trying to stop us from getting to the convention and I thought that was malarkey. Why would Satan care about us getting there I asked? My mom told me that we were special and that we had a lot of power and could a lot of good for God, especially me she said. I must admit that I liked the idea of being the special chosen one battling the forces of evil. It had a very Star Wars feel to it but I just could not believe that our car didn’t start because of that. My mom prayed and tried again. The car started.
She turned to me and said, smugly, “see, Richard God is more powerful than Satan” and I remember feeling overwhelmed with rage at how stupid that very idea was! I was sure it was something mechanical that had failed in the car and it was just luck that it started after she prayed! Maybe she had flooded it and it just needed to rest. There were a million more likely explanations besides Satan’s special interest in my family! I don’t really remember too much about the convention itself except that someone there had a really new computer and I was really interested in it. Whoever it was that owned it was impressed by how much I knew (I was really into BASIC programming back then).
The details of all of this are hazy but it must have been a couple of weeks after her baptism that ran away again. I remember she was sitting in the bathtub, like she liked to do, and she was yelling at me about something I had done. She was screaming that I needed to study the bible and that this was her house and as long as she paid the bills I would follow her rules and I suddenly broke. I interrupted her and screamed “no! I need to start living MY LIFE” and I stormed out of the house. I am pretty sure I went to the library, which is where I spent a lot of time. I wanted to be a little smarter this time since I had been so easily caught the few times I had snuck out/ran away before.
At this time I remember I was working at a local minimart in a gas station. I wasn’t there for very long but I definitely did work there. I was going to work, going to the library and then sneaking into my room at night. The apartment we had at that time was upstairs and had a downstairs shed that we had turned into a separate room for me. I would sneak in late at night and then sneak out early in the morning. The only bathroom was upstairs and I did not go into the main house but there was a bathroom at the gas station I worked at and I remember brushing my teeth and washing up in there. I think I did that for a few days though I don’t really remember. My mom has told me since then that she saw the signs of my having slept there and felt comforted by that, knowing I was still around somewhere.
One morning as I was sneaking out I happened to see a motorcycle sitting in a drive way with the keys in the ignition. It was a big bike, and Honda 750 or something like that, with a dragon decal on the side and I wanted it. It had the keys in it so I decided to take it. I pushed it out of the driveway and down to the end of the block to try and start it. I remember it was very hard to start with the kick-starter and I did not know how to shift the gears so once I did get it started I kept stalling it out. But I did figure it out. I don’t know how long I had that motorcycle but I drove it to work, parked it out back and then worked. I am pretty sure I drove it to school and parked it in the main parking lot and everyone was looking at me. I have a feeling that this may have been for registration for the upcoming 1987-1988 year. My transcripts say that I was a no-show for that year so I don’t think I actually made it to any classes.
I wish I had more of these dates down! I don’t even remember how long I had this motorcycle for. Anyway, I remember at some point wanting a book from the library (yes I drove the motorcycle there) and they did not have it. They said they did have it at the bigger library in Santa Maria so I decided to drive up there. It was down the freeway about 20 minutes or so and I remember driving in my shorts and a tee-shirt on the freeway. The ground was moving so fast it looked like it was standing still! I think I made it to the library and was in there for a while and on my way home I noticed a cop car start following me. I tried to keep my cool and turned into a parking structure to see what they would do. They turned as well and I knew I was busted.
I had no I.D. on me and I was not from Santa Maria. I also remembered that the last time I was picked up by the cops they simply brought me back home and made my life worse (so I thought at the time anyway). So when they asked me my name I told them that it was Alex Wolfe. I had been reading the Ken Follett novel Key to Rebecca and I thought that was a great name (I had also previously written to the CIA requesting to become a sleeper agent so as to get away from my mom…this was after I read a book on how to apply to the CIA). So they booked me under that name and took me the holding room. I used to think they took me to the general jail but now I don’t remember. They may have taken me to a juvenile facility. I am not sure. I do remember being in with a lot of other people at some point and I obviously stood out. I was pretty much the only scrawny white teenager in the place. Some people asked me what I was in for and I told them steeling a motor cycle and resisting arrest and they all laughed. They said ‘yeah right! You?’. I remember feeling really angry at the time. Of course me, what the fuck were they talking about? Of course looking back on it now I can see that I was the beneficiary of white privilege. People looked at me and assumed I was innocent. After all didn’t I look that way? Blond hair, blue eyes with a twinkle? Check. Seemingly intelligent and inquisitive? Check. Seemingly outgoing and personable? Check. Couldn’t have been me. Of course I didn’t feel like any of those things but that is what people saw when they looked at me.
They asked me for an address and I gave them a made up one (I think I told them Lompoc or something, again not sure). I waited in lockup while they went to contact my parents. Remember that they were going to contact the parents of Alex Wolfe at a made up address. Obviously they found no such address and they came back to me and told me as much. I told them that the house was in the back of another house and that you could not see it from the road. I based the whole story on the way that my mom’s boyfriend’s property had had a guest house, with its own address, in the back of the property. So it was kind of true, at least it was true that there were places like this! But obviously they did not find that place either. I don’t know what my plan was but I kept to my story. I was Alex Wolfe from Santa Maria or, er, uh, Lompoc (or whatever). I was used to interrogation from my mom. She would question me for hours trying to get me to admit to doing something (stealing or sneaking out) and I would never do so. She tells me now that my silence drove her to a frenzy and she just wanted some kind of reaction from me. She would hit me and scream at me and I would try me best to just stand there and take it. Glaring at her but taking it. So when these guys were asking me questions in a friendly manner without any hitting or yelling about how they were sorry I was born and that they should drop me off somewhere, I felt like it was a cake walk.
As I remember the story it was a receptionist in the juvenile hall that finally recognized me. Believe it or not she was a Jehovah’s Witness and she had been at the convention where my mom was baptized and she had met both my sister and I. Somehow she contacted my mom and when she found out that I had just vanished recently she knew that it was me they had in custody. My mom came out and IDed me. I tried to insist that I did not recognize her but she had no problem establishing my identity. So now they knew I was not Alex Wolfe. And the only way they had ever known was through a random Jehovah’s Witness connection! At the time I remember the psychologist telling me that I had lied so convincingly that perhaps I had multiple personalities and asking me if I ever ‘lost time’…I remember thinking this guy was a jackass. I didn’t have multiple personalities, I just knew how to lie really well. And I was used to having to do it while resisting physical and verbal abuse. Sitting in a chair, comfortable and fed, the game was easy to play! I really wish I could see what those guys were writing down. This was the first of many encounters I had with ‘child psychologists’ and I always had the feeling of messing with them but I sometimes wonder if they knew that and were just playing along. I tried contacting the places I was at and they told me those records were long ago destroyed. I guess I’ll never know.
I really do not remember how long I was locked up in Santa Maria but I remember standing trial for Grand Theft Auto there. Someday I hope to get my arrest record and maybe even a transcript of this trial. Since no one took me seriously when I said that I had taken the motorcycle when I went into court and they asked for my plea, I pleaded Not Guilty. And so the whole thing went to trial. The owner of the motorcycle had to come and testify. The arresting officer testified. I had to testify. It was obvious that I had done it. They had caught me riding the bike! I was ultimately convicted and sent back to San Luis Obispo for sentencing. I wish I could find the transcripts of those proceedings!
I remember that when the time came to take me back to San Luis Obispo I had to be shackled and handcuffed. I was taken to a van with a bunch of inmates. These were people going either to prison or the California Youth Authority, which was were serious criminal offenders went. I remember being in there and being really scared. I did not know what to expect once I got to San Luis. So far things had not been like my mom told me but it was still new to me. At some point we pulled over to use the restroom and I remember them taking us one by one into the bathroom. I saw an elderly woman watching me shuffle by in my shackles and orange jump suit and she looked very shocked to see me. I have a memory of sitting there in the van, waiting for someone else to use the restroom, and talking with the driver who was watching me and someone else in the back. he started bragging about what a good shot he was and telling me how he could hit a deer from this or that far away and I said “bet you couldn’t hit someone running away”. He looked at me and said that he could hit me from across the street. I said “what?” and he said “yeah, I’ll unlock your shackles and cuffs and give you a head start. I’ll wait until you are across the street and the hit you in the leg. That’ll show you what a good shot I am”. I looked at the gas station. Could I make it to the pumps and hide and then dart across the street. I looked back and saw him eyeing me. Was he serious I wondered? I laughed nervously and said something like ‘yeah ok, right’ and the moment passed.
Again I do not have access to the exact dates but my high school transcript says that I was in juvenile hall in September of 1987 in San luis Obispo. I vaguely remember getting to the place that was called Juvenile Services Facility. It was a place I would come to know well over the next couple of years. I spent my 16th and 17th birthday in that place. Ironically it was located right next door (I mean literally) to Cuesta Community College, which I would attend 1994-1997, though I didn’t know it then. I was in the back of the van when we pulled up and when they took me in for processing I was very scared.
But this wasn’t the worst place in the world. It was coed and people mostly had their own rooms. Each room had a window, a bed, a toilet and that was it. I actually enjoyed it and did a lot of reading. We could also play chess and watch movies in the common area. For our time outside we had a volley ball court and we could play wife ball (no real bats for us angry kids!). I remember we used to play cards a lot and would play Speed for push ups. The in-house school had a computer and they even let me play Where in the World is carmen San Diego, which I actually liked a lot. It wasn’t Zork but it was still ok. All in all this place was ok, except for the occasional scuffle things were mostly orderly and there were no killings or extremely brutal beatings during my time there.
I remember watching Ferris Bueller on movie night for the first time and having a crush on two of the girls who came in and out. Nothing happened between us, I was way too shy back then to even think telling her how I felt or of trying to have sex in the bathroom of juvenile hall, but I heard that others did. This place was unique, I found out later, because it had private bathrooms. Of course they weren’t really private because they did not lock from the inside but they had a door and only one person at a time would be in there. What I remember most was having a massive crush on a girl, whose name was Sabra, and then she was sent home. That night I lay in my room and cried myself to sleep. It was so frustrating not being able to see her any more or even know if I would ever see her again. She was back in the next week.
I had a couple of incidents, one of which was over chess. My mom had taught me how to play and I used to play all the time. I never studied it and even though I was on the chess club in high school I was not very good. But I was ok. I beat some guy and talked shit about it and that started a fight. I held my own and was surprised how being hit in a fight was mostly the same as being hit at home. It didn’t really faze me. I could take a punch and not miss a beat, which comes in handy in a fight! That was the first time I experienced “the burrito” which was the technique used by the staff to subdue unruly teenagers. They had this thick fire blanket that they kept in the back. They would take it out and rush you and wrap you up in this blanket like a burrito, more like a rolled carpet, but then they would carry you to your room for solitary confinement.
Aside from that it was mostly school during the day and lights out by 9. I did really well in school and excellent on the standardized tests. At some point they bought me a calculus book and let me work on it at my own pace. I remember going to court while here and confronting my mom. She wanted me to come home and the judge was inclined to grant her request. He wanted to send me home. I could not believe it! After all this and they just wanted to send me home? I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if i had not been a blond hair blue eyed, semi-bright kid. At any rate I was made a ward of the court and assigned a case worker who was going to find me a group home. The one down side was that being a vegetarian made it hard to eat. We all ate in a giant mess hall area with benches. We were served the same meal and there was no negotiating. If you didn’t eat meat, and if they were serving ribs, or hamburger, then you either ate it or starved. I chose to starve and traded my meat to met eaters for extra milk, and veggie side dishes. This had the added benefit of making me popular with many different ‘kinds’ of people. There were people in gangs in there but I was not associated with any of them. When people asked me where I was from or ‘what I claimed’ (code words for a potential fight about to happen) I used to joke that I was from wherever my skateboard was at the moment or that I was from California. And it is true that for most of my life I primarily identified as a California (as opposed to an American, or whatever) I had moved around enough to not really feel like any place was truly home and I had not really left California at all at that point in my life. I will talk about some of this more but I found that being a skater definitely helped me in the group homes. Skating had a kind of rebellious-individual-who-can-take-pain image about it and that allowed me to stay neutral in the various clicks and ganges that I encountered, which on the whole was a good thing!
But back to the point, although I can’t be sure I think this may have been in October of 1987. I remember spending my 16th birthday in juvenile hall. My High School transcripts say that I earned credits from the San Luis Juvenile Court 9/87-3/88 and I am not sure if that means that the initial stay was six months long. At this point the dates become very hazy. I know that I was sent to four different group homes. Two I stayed at for very short durations. The shortest was a group home in Santa Barbara. This place was beautiful and I remember the house parents taking us out to the park and showing us around downtown Santa Barbara but somehow the other boys there didn’t like me. I was into skating at the time, I had just started getting into it before running away, after losing my ten speed. I think we got into a fight over some kind of surfer versus skater bullshit. All I remember is that it was four against one and I was getting my ass kicked. I managed to break away from them and ran to the bathroom. I locked the door and then they grabbed a screwdriver and were trying to get the handle off to get into the room. I panicked and jumped out of the window. I was totally paranoid that they would be after me and so I hid out for the rest of the day in Santa Barbara trying to figure out what to do. I decided to head back to San Luis and so I started walking. I walked all day and all night until someone pulled over and offered me a ride. I got in (stupid but I was desperate!). Luckily this person was actually nice and drove me to San Luis. I ended up staying with someone I had known from high school and who used to be a neighbor of mine at some point. The next morning I went to the police station and turned myself in.
You see, at that point I had started to like it in juvenile hall. I understood how it worked in there and I felt like I had more freedom to be myself there than I did at home. When I was brought back I found out that this was a typical pattern. There was a few kids that were regulars in juvy. You went back in, went before the judge, they added more time onto your ‘suspended sentence’ and then they started to look for another group home. There was a saying in Juvy that when you got out you could tell if you were coming back by whether you looked over your shoulder or not on the car ride out. I very often did find myself looking over my shoulder as I left (I must have been in and out at least 4 times). I would wonder what they were doing tonight, and miss my ‘friends’. How fucked up is that?
I didn’t know it at the time but there were basically three ‘tracts’ in the juvenile justice system. The first was your basic drug offender. These people came in and were sent to some kind of rehab. I never had any drug-related charges. I had, of course, been exposed to drugs via my mom and her boyfriends (it was the 70s! and then it was the 80s! I mean, C’mon!) but I did not really use any (I tried alcohol, and cigarettes and marijuana but I did not use them regularly like some kids did. My mom was way too strict for me to get away with anything like that!). The second was violent crimes. Depending on the seriousness these people could be sent to the California Youth Authority, which was the ‘big leagues’ for juvenile offenders. There were a few kids who came through who were ultimately sentenced to CYA, or “see ya!” as we called it, and they were kept out of the general population area. Though I got into occasional fights I was not classified as a violent offender and I never had any assault related charges as a juvenile (that I know of).
I was in a different ‘tract’ classified as a kid with ‘behavioral problems’. What this meant is that the kinds of group homes they looked for for me were all geared towards helping kids deal with behavioral issues. Each one was different. One was a large camp-like place focusing on discipline, (in Mendocino Ca), another was run by a single family and more like a foster home (Santa Barbara), another was more like a mental institution and had regular 9-5, 5-2, 2-10 shifts (San Luis Obispo), another was a bunch of different houses with live-in staff and group counseling (Fresno). I don’t really remember the order that I was in these group homes but I think after my initial processing into the system I was sent to the group home in Santa Barbara (in late 1987?), and then up to Mendocino California (in January 1988), and then in San Luis Obispo (in March/April of 1988). The final one was in Fresno and I am pretty sure I got there in the late summer of 1988 (and was released in 1989) but I will have to get to all of that later.
It may be the warm weather and some wishful thinking but I have been thinking about the summer of 1997. In the last post I focused mainly on thinking about January-March of 1997. But actually the spring 1997 semester would have ended May 21st and I would have been back from spring break in early April so that left about a month and a half of the spring semester left out of the last post. So before getting to the summer let me back up a bit.
I wish I had more specific information on the dates of the events in question but as I mentioned in my previous post I think it must have been in March of 1997 that I found out about my storage space. I had put everything into storage except a backpack full of clothes, which I had brought up to SF with me. My naive plan was to go up and find a place to live and then come back for my stuff but after the fiasco that ensued, I became much more focused on surviving the day. Truth be told I forgot all about my storage space for a bit there and I was just trying to figure out how to sneak into the ‘mess hall’ of the dorms. But it was devastating to find out that I had lost all of that stuff. Sure it was bad loosing all of the big-item stuff. I had a snowboard at that point, and some nice furniture including a piece that my mom had refinished and given to me as a house warming present (if she only knew what happened at that house!), and a lot of music. It was all cassette tapes but I had a lot of them. That was bad but what was worse was that I had lost all of my clothes and all of my books from my classes at Cuesta Community College. I was one of those who liked to keep their books after the classes ended and those books had been paid for by the Private Industry Council with their book voucher program. I had even bought books for classes I did not take but that had interesting looking books. I used to love to go to the bookstore with the book voucher in hand and stroll down every aisle, looking at every class being offered and checking to see if any of the books looked interesting. So I had acquired a lot of books. All gone.
But the worst of all was that I lost all of my personal memorabilia. I had scrap books with lots of pictures. I really did not like to have my picture taken so I avoided it like the plague but I had a lot of pictures of other people and of my bands playing various gigs. I had recordings of all that stuff and some video, I had letters that I had written to various people, etc. I also had some very valuable artwork that my mom had done when she was she took her one art class at Cuesta College when I was young.That stuff was irreplaceable and when I asked about it they told me they had sold what they could and the rest had been thrown away. That was a real blow and at the time I remember thinking, ‘ah well, it’s like a fresh start without any baggage’. In a sense I had been born anew and I gradually convinced myself that letting go of all the anger and pain of my past was the best thing to do anyway. I still had my financial aid money for the fall yet to come and now I had a place to stay in the dorms so I decided to go back to SF State.
Right before I decided to go back up I was partying one night with some people and one of them told me they were a piercer. At that point all I had pierced was my tongue, I hadn’t put in any earrings (though I had had my ears pierced well before, and my nipple, and my belly button). I forget how it happened but somehow I ended up getting the skin between my eyes pierced. I guess this is sometimes called the ‘third-eye’ piercing, but I had a little horseshoe in and I thought it looked ok. I forget how long I had that in, I eventually took it out because it was hard to wear sunglasses with it in, but I know that it was in when I went back to SF and into the dorms. I had already taken the Greyhound bus once, with unsuccessful results, and I was still very broke, so I think this is when I decided to take the Green Tortoise back to SF (honestly it may have been a different time but whatever). This was a pretty laid back bus/hostel and people were actually smoking weed on the busride on the way up. It drove all the way up the coast and dropped me off at the green tortoise hostel. From there I went downtown to the bus station to check on my backpack and they had it! After that I made my way back to campus and checked into the dorms.
After I returned to SF I picked up where I had left off, class-wise, and moved into the dorms (i.e. located myself and my backpack there) but I had missed a week of classes. Some of my professors did not care but in others I had missed an exam, or a paper, or some combination of them both. In the English class I had especially missed some work that was important for my grade. I did not now how to get out of this so I lied and told the professor that my mom died. I could even produce a fake death certificate if I needed to since I had access to the paper work at the mortuary. As it was the professor immediately forgave all of my work, which was great, but then I had to see them for the rest of the semester, and sometimes even afterwards, and then I would have to pretend I was still sad over the whole thing. Looking back on this I am again amazed at how unnecessary all of this was. I am sure this person would have let me make up the assignments, or that it would not have been a big deal to fail, but at the time this was the only way I knew how to navigate an institution.
That would have been in early April. Later in April, but when I don’t exactly know, I also remember going to see the local band T. J. Kirk with a girl I had met in the dorms. One of my roommates from the mortuary, Ethan (remember I am not using anyone’s real name), had introduced me to Medeski, Martin, and Wood and I really liked them. In fact one of my early email addresses was ‘medeski’ or something like that. I ended up seeing them play quite a bit but at the time I was excited to see T.J. Kirk. Their drummer was amazing and Charlie Hunter is a musical phenom who plays the bass and guitar on the same instrument (seriously).
Speaking of email, and as a bit of a digression, I remember the reason I had to get a new email address was because the one I had chosen as my SFSU email address was really inappropriate. It was firstname.lastname@example.org…at the time that I thought of it, believe it or not, it did not dawn on me that this phrase had sexual connotations.
It is a bit of a long story but there was a band that I really liked called Weapon of Choice. They were a freaky funky group that were obsessed with nutmeg. They sang about it a lot, and we even tried it at the mortuary because we heard it really messed you up, but it never really worked. It did make it hard for me to ever eat nutmeg again! Even in small doses it reminds me of the tea we made. Anyway, the point is this band talked about nuts a lot. The singer called himself meganut and all their songs were about nutmeg (‘highperspice’, ‘nutty nutmeg fantasy’, and such). I saw these guys open for Primus the night I had my tongue pierced on mushrooms (that is a story for another occasion but it was May 4th 1996…actually by the time this happened it may have been May 5th :)) and they really made an impression on me. At any rate the point is that at the time I moved into the dorms I listened to these guys a lot and I picked bustanut because of that. But no one else had ever heard of this band and everyone thought it was a reference to sex so I had to change it. I am not sure when I changed it, it may not have been until I was starting to teach at SF State as a graduate student in 2000…but I am not sure about that…either way luckily I did not have to use that email address very often! Then when I changed it to email@example.com people thought my name was Medeski and that’s when I came up with ‘onemorebrown’.
But getting back to the T.J. Kirk show, I actually forget the name of the girl I went with, someone from the dorms, but she had some good acid. We took the acid and I remember we went to the venue, I am not sure where it was but I have a feeling it may have been the Maritime Hall, but we went in and no one was there. We sat in the floor by the front of the stage and we were talking and starting to trip. I remember being pretty nervous because this was the first time I had really tripped since The Incident (a story for another time, but The Incident took place in June of 1996 (at the Free Tibet concert in Golden Gate Park) and at the time I swore it would be the last time I ever took LSD in my life). But then it felt like I turned around and whereas a moment ago there was just a few people now there were many people and the place was in fact packed! I turned back around but the band was playing and I was tuning in to them. They were not nearly as tight as they were on their album and the night was a bit of a disappointment. I vaguely remember that I did not enjoy taking the acid. I explained to people that it just felt like I skipped the fun part and went straight to the brain-fried feeling I had had at the end of The Incident. But it wasn’t as bad. Still, I wasn’t looking to do it again.
As a side note I should say that I stopped taking these kinds of drugs back in 1997 but from about 1990 or so until 1997 I experimented heavily with drugs. Mostly LSD and mushrooms but also some other stuff here and there. I have resolved to try to be as open and honest about this as possible but it may not reflect well one me all the time and I certainly do not endorse all of my previous actions from the vantage point of old age. It is strange to think that there was a time when I felt more like myself when I was on LSD than I did when I was sober. But there it is. I will discuss all of this at a later point.
At some point I found out that a girl I had known from back in SLO had gone up to UC Davis and I went up there to hangout with her a couple of times. She was really smart and I liked her a lot but things got complicated. I will leave out the details but I will just say that I regret the way things went. Even so, going up to Davis was really cool. This town has a nice small college town vibe about it.
Finals would have been done sometime towards the of May. My first semester at a four year college! Part of me couldn’t believe that I had finished it. I wondered how I did in my classes but did not know. Back then you could call a number and get your grades but you had to wait a couple of months before you could do so. In the meantime all you could do was to call and wait to see if it said ‘no update’. So, what was I going to do over the summer?
Somehow I had met another girl in the dorms who said that I could come with her to her home in Riverside after the semester ended and crash for a bit. We got along really well, but it was strictly Platonic. She had a really intense boyfriend who had even cut off the tip of his finger to impress her with how devoted to her she was, and I was not interested in getting caught up in, or between, anything like that. Her name was Hillary (remember I am not using any real names) and, as I said, we got along great. I had nothing else to do until the Fall semester started and so I figured I would bum around for the summer. I did not officially have a place to live that summer but I thought I could hang for a while in Riverside then head over to Redondo where I knew still another girl who was working in a coffee shop for the summer.
I didn’t have anything with me except a backpack full of clothes and some books so it was easy for me to move. The dorm room was furnished and everything else I had was lost in the great storage place fiasco, so I was good to go. We headed down to Riverside and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We got there and I found out that she was staying at her parents house and it was big. I mean huge. I don’t think her parents were there or if there were I don’t think I ever met them. And there was a guest house out back where I could crash. This was living in style, which was good because I had very limited money until my financial aid check came in for the Fall.
The guest house was nice. It had two stories, a big TV and a fully stocked bar. I met her boyfriend and his friends. They were all younger than me but pretty cool. They were into the local punk scene and some played in a band together. I cannot remember the name of the band but they liked that I used to play in a death metal band. Hillary kept saying that her friends usually didn’t like anyone, but they really liked me. I had that line before but I was having fun and things seemed to be going well. That is until a couple of major incidents.
The first of these happened at a big party that Hillary and company took me to. This was a very large house party and it was fun. We were partying and everything was going great until all of a sudden we heard gun shots. I don’t recall all of the details but I did recently find an article in the LA times about the incident. I was in the courtyard in the back, as far as I remember, and the shooting took place outside. I was not injured and no one I was with was either. It turned out that one of Hillary’s friends had their car shot up by the police in the exchange. The police kept us in the court yard and were letting people out one-by-one and questioning them. Meanwhile we were just kept waiting, and with nothing to drink or smoke (or eat)!
Eventually it was my turn to get out and I remember talking to the police. I had no ID, and no money in my wallet. Nothing but sand actually. I remember the policeman looking at the sand and jokingly asking me if it was crystal meth. It wasn’t. It was sand. They let me go without incident but the whole thing shook me up. I saw the bodies in their body bags and the blood on the street and it reminded me of being in the mortuary. It wasn’t long ago, I thought to myself as I looked at the zipped body bag in the street, that I would have been pulling up in my van, with my nice suit on, ready to pick up these bodies and take them away.
I don’t remember too much after that. Only that I had not slept and then when I finally got back to Hillary’s I was too wired to sleep. I sat on the big couch and turned on the big TV. Independence Day was on so I decided to watch it. For some reason I became very emotional while it was playing. So much violence, so pointless. Does it really go on and on forever? Throughout the galaxy, the universe, is it just one crushing nightmare after the next? Looking back on it I was probably in some kind of shock or something but it was not fun.
That would have been in June of 1997. I don’t know how long after that but one night we were partying with the whole crew. There was a lot of drinking. A LOT. Towards the end of the night Hillary’s boyfriend gets into her parents private bar, where the good stuff is. She objects but he is drunk and not having it. He wants to do shots with me and I remember we get into this macho shot-taking space. We were going through all the different bottles: a shot of this, a shot of that. Slam it back! Next one! I don’t know how many I had or what happened but the next thing I remember I am being hit in the head. it was like a lightning strike and suddenly I was like what is going on here, why did you hit me?!! It was a mess. Everyone was shit faced.
The next morning I had a hangover like you could not believe plus I had a big black eye. Hillary came up to the room at some point and gave me a vallium and some water. I think I was out for the entire next day. at some point I got up and Hillary started to tell me what had happened. Apparently everything was fine and then I started yelling at her boyfriend telling him that the kind of music they listen to wasn’t really punk and that they didn’t know shit about the real world out here in Riverside. I had absolutely no memory of this but apparently he did and he still wanted to kick my ass. But, due to the fact that they all really liked me he had decided not to fight me but to just exile me from Riverside! I felt bad but I had already by that time adopted my policy that if I had said something when I was drunk then I must have really meant it. Hillary told me I had to get out right now. So I left.
I was still feeling really hungover but I decided to just speed up my plan and head over to Redondo beach. So I started to hitchhike. I don’t remember how long I waited but I did eventually get picked up by someone. Th traffic was bad but this guy had a nice car, which was a convertible and he was drinking beer from a can. He offered me one and made small talk while cruising down the 10 freeway. I made it to Redondo that day but it turns out that my other friend, Chrissy, was not in town. The people at her work said she had gone on a camping trip and would be back the next day. Ok, I thought, so I’ll wait.
It was warm out and we were at the beach so decided to sleep on the beach. I had a book with me. I don’t exactly remember which one it was but I do remember that at the time I was reading a lot of Anne Rice. I had read the vampire series and it wasn’t in that series. I think it may have been Lasher, but I don’t know. What I do remember is that it was a beautiful moonlit night and I was virtually alone on the beach. I used my backpack as a pillow and had a blanket I had brought with me. I was out there curled up in a remote part of the beach, well past midnight reading my Anne Rice book and it was creeping me the fuck out. I did not sleep a wink that night. Every noise I jumped, every wave I flinched. Great book!
The next day I get up and bum around the beach. Shower in the ocean and then off to hook up with Chrissy. And I am in luck. She is there but she is planning on heading back to SF the next day for some family stuff and then to go see the House of Smoking Grooves tour at Shoreline. This has P-Funk and Cypress Hill and Erika Badu and sounds like fun so I tag along. I think we even got into a fender bender in SF in her truck while trying to find a 7/11 (one I would later live by and frequent all the time!) but I am not 100% sure this was on that trip. At any rate the concert is awesome and she has to drive back down to Redondo and then do some family stuff but she offers to drop me in San Luis on her way back down to LA, which is good for me.
I don’t know all of the details of this bit either but I end up back in San Luis and planning an epic adventure with Ethan from the mortuary and a bunch of other people from the old group. We start with a trip to Ventura to see Phish at the Ventura Fairgrounds. The plan was to make a quick/short tip into Mexico to go down to Rosorito, and then head up to Northern California to go to Reggae on the River. I can’t remember if we went to Mexico before Phish or not, but that seems likely. However I don’t think we were there for all three days of reggae on the River either. Phish was playing July 30th and Reggae on the River was happening August 1-3 so it was tight but doable! We decided to not waste money on hotels and we brought a tent. Our plan was to crash on the beach as much as possible.
Overall the trip was a blast but when we tried to sleep on the beach in Mexico we ended up getting robbed. Luckily we had buried most of our valuables (i.e. drugs) at a rest stop before crossing the border but it was still not fun. We were sleeping and then someone was tapping me in between the eyes with a gun. When I woke up they told me to give them all of our money and we did. They left but we were scared they would come back and so we did not sleep well at all. the next day we headed back across the boarder.
Once across the boarder we saw Phish and the slept on the beach. This time we found a nice secluded place and slept in a tent. I am assuming someone we met at the Phish show had the tent but really it is a blur. We woke up in the morning and there was a massive swarm of insects. We were all dirty and stinky and I suggested we go to the local school and use the showers in their gym. I had learned the hard way that there were all kinds of things one could find on a campus. We ended up finding Santa Barbara Community College and we all took a shower there. I think I have a vague memory of someone catching us or something like that. But everyone escaped and was a lot cleaner!
I don’t remember much about how we got up north or what happened at the river but I do have a vague memory of camping and swimming and having a blast. I also feel like for some reason they wanted to leave before I did. I was with someone, but I forget who but I think it was Patrick, and we decided to stay and hitchhike back. Patrick was a local boy from San Luis or thereabouts and he was a bit wild. As a bit of a digression Patrick was famous in the Morro Bay area because he partied really hard and one night, while he was passed out, his friends put him in the back of a pick up truck and were going to drive him hime. He woke up back there and, confused about his whereabouts, stood up to see what was going on, and flew out of the back of the truck while they were doing about 65 or 70. He survived!
Anyway, Patrick and I got picked up by some people heading out of the concert and they had some nice black diamond gel tabs and shared some with us. We took it because we were drunk and high and in a car. Once we got to SF we realized these guys were not going back to San Luis. They dropped us off in SF and then there we were, a long way from anyone we knew, and the acid was starting to kick in good, plus it was getting dark. I remember standing there in downtown SF, a place I would later know very well, but which at the time seems very dark and menacing. The streets were very dirty, with newspapers flying around and the shadows were starting to creep. In the back of my mind I could begin to hear the eerie music familiar from The Incident. I was starting to lose it…
…when I suddenly remembered that I had the phone number of someone I knew from the dorms. As I remember it the number was written on a scrap of paper in my backpack and we had to dig it out and use a public payphone (remember those?) to make the call. It was getting dark and the numbers were moving and breathing on the scrap of paper but I could read them! I had to hurry and dial and hope someone was there! This was a long shot as Noah was the drug dealer on our floor and he always had good weed. We weren’t really friends at that point but I had seen him and bought things from him. I called him up and said we were here in SF. He said that he and his friends had their own apartment and we should come by. They gave us directions and we made it over there. I am sure they must have thought we were weird because we were frying balls, but they were also partying and no one seemed to notice (or at least I don’t remember them noticing!). Noah let us crash there and I think we ended up staying a couple of days with them. They were in the Stonestown Galleria, which was an apartment complex right by SF state. I don’t remember how long I stayed in SF that time but I do know that classes began August 27 so I had about a month to kill before having to be back. And I had no place to live.
I seem to remember that Patrick and I hitchhiked back to San Luis. At least I remember that we panhandled a lot and made some actual money for food. In fact I seem to recall that at some point a gay couple picked us up. They said they had seen us there an hour before and then came back to see if we were still there. We were. They said they could take us to half-moon Bay and we thanked them. Then the said they would take us to Denny’s and feed us, which they did. Finally they decided to just drive us all the way back to San Luis Obispo! One thing hitchhiking will teach you is that everything is hopeless until it isn’t! By that time I had begun to think of hitchhiking a bit like fishing. You sit in one spot and cast a line and, if you are patient and wait long enough, you will eventually get a bite. And if you’re lucky you might meet someone interesting!
I don’t remember exactly how it happened but some girls I knew from the dorms had an apartment and needed a roommate. Maybe I heard about this from Noah? I am not sure. But I did make arrangements to move in with them. One of them even became a longterm girlfriend of mine. And then afterwards I ended up living with Noah and his group of friends until I left SF. And so, much like a typical student in the dorms, I had made connections that would last my entire college career. I felt like even though I had arrived in a non-standard way living in the dorms was a good experience. Granted I did it for only half of a semester and I had been homeless before that so maybe I am putting too much of a rose tint on the dorms!
At any rate with a place to live, a fresh infusion of financial aid money, and a wild first semester and summer behind me I was ready to get back to SF State. I had registered for 6 classes: all of them upper division philosophy classes! I was planning on taking existentialism with Helen Heise, ethics with Peter Radcliffe, Nietzsche and postmodernism with Sandra Luft, ethics in medicine with Anita Silvers, as well as history of Christian thought and ancient philosophy both with John Glanville. The fall 1997 semester was really exciting and at that time I loved studying philosophy. I even made the Dean’s List for the first time in fall of 1997. This was really the first time I can remember when I felt like I was doing something that I enjoyed and also was good at it! At least in terms of the grades and feedback on papers goes. In other areas the two had not gone together. I wanted to be good at skating and I tried very hard to get better, practicing all the time, and still never really got good. That was frustrating. With drumming I had the experience of getting better as I practiced but I knew, having seen firsthand what people could do with training and dedication, that I didn’t have it in me. At this time I didn’t even have a drum set and so wasn’t sure I would ever play again. But with academics I suddenly felt like I remembered ‘oh, yeah! I like thinking about this stuff! And I’m ok at it!’. It certainly was a lot more fun than working at McDonald’s or Burger King! Now…could I make any money doing it? That was the question.
I will have more to say about the fall of 1997 but looking at my financial records from back then it is funny to see that I had $310.00 in (taxable) earnings for that year! I can’t help but wonder where that came from. Was it a residual paycheck from the mortuary? I really can’t remember working at all in 1997.
Also since the topic came up I can say that September 14th 1997 was the last time I took LSD. Somehow I got some paper tabs and was going to go see Santana at the Shoreline Amphitheater, a place I knew well and had tripped at many times before, but the acid was not any good. We spent the entire night waiting for something to happen (talk about introspection!) and Santana was cheesy and uninspired. If I were to be very very dramatic I might say that that first time I took acid and wondered if I would ever be sane again seemed a distant thing of the past and in retrospect it was somewhat comforting to take some and NOT trip…it felt like the end of an era. Maybe the whole thing had been one long bad trip…yeah, that would explain a lot…luckily The Matrix hadn’t come out yet!
As promised I am continuing to write a series of autobiographical posts which I am planning to use as the basis for a memoir. A lot of this stuff is really jumbled in my memory. I have done some research online and talked to family members about a lot of this but even so the series of events is not entirely clear. This early period is especially hard since we know that nobody has memories from the first three years of their lives and to make matters worse I have very few pictures from back then. Most of what I am talking about here I have heard in story form from one family member or another but as usual take it all with a grain of salt.
My mother and father sometime around 1969
My parents met in High School and ended up dropping out and eloping (yes there are words that start with ‘e’ that don’t have anything to do with the internet). It was a different world back then and I gather that neither of the parents thought much of their proposed son/daughter-in-law. I think that was in 1968 or somewhere thereabouts. My mom was an artist (she still is) who had been winning art competitions and my father was a musician and interested in claymation. I have never heard any of his music (that I know of) but I am told that he was pretty good and wrote a lot of music as well.
One of my mom’s drawing won a contest and was featured in a calendar put out for he next year (1969, I think). Sadly, she never got to see the calendar because it was sent to her mother’s house and she had eloped by then. I have tried to find a digitized version of the calendar but haven’t been able to so far. Her parents did not encourage her artistic endeavors, but that is perhaps another story. Both of my parents were vegetarian at the time and decided to raise their kids vegetarian.
I am told that my father was drafted into the army and was scheduled to be sent to Vietnam. During his physical he told them he had asthma and they said he seemed fine. This was before I was born but I don’t know what year. My mom tells me that he packed and was ready to ship out, they even had a tearful goodbye, but when he reported for duty he had a serious asthma attack and was sent home. Discharged that very day. He came back home with his stuff. I haven’t been able to verify this story but if it is even partially true it is pretty amazing. I had uncles who did go to Vietnam and they came back profoundly different people, who wouldn’t after being exposed to the horrors of the Vietnam war? And, of course, many people never came back at all. Had my father actually been sent to Vietnam there is a strong possibility that I would never have been born!
Moments after my birth
But I was! I was born in LaMirada California a couple of years later in 1971. My mom tells me that at the time she did not know very much about childbirth and was not given a lot of options. She was given an epidermal and as a result I became stuck in the birth canal. I have found that this is quite common (or used to be anyway). The doctors had to go in with forceps and pull me out by the head. Apparently this was a pretty common procedure but in the process they did some damage to my head. As a result I was puffy and swollen and I did not breathe right away. The doctors warned my mom that this may have some averse effects on my early brain development. Some might suggest that this sure does explain a lot!
Thankfully I don’t remember any of that but I do look rather worse for the wear in my first picture! My mom tells me that when she brought me home from the hospital they did not have a crib or anything and that I used to sleep in one of our dresser drawers.
My sister was born in 1973 when I was 1 and 1/2 years old. By then my mom had learned a bit in her attempt to raise me vegetarian and she had a natural childbirth. I don’t know where we lived at the time but it was somewhere in Los Angeles. Apparently having kids was more than my father bargained for and I am told that he claimed that we were holding back his music career. They were both young, in their early 20s, and had had bad childhoods themselves. Looking back on it all I can see how hard it must have been to have been so young and on your own with 2 kids, having been young and on my own I can’t imagine what it would have been like had there been children when I was their age.
But at any rate my father began began to drink heavily and at some point it got bad enough that my mom decided to leave him. He would get his paycheck and head to the local bar. My mom tells me she would be at home waiting to see if he came home with any money or not. He was also physically abusive. I don’t know when this was but I have narrowed it down to probably sometime in late 1973 or 1974. So I would have been 2 or 3 depending on the timing. I really don’t remember any of this but my mom tells me that my sister and I were terrified when they would fight. The first time she tried to leave him she waited until my father came home one night on payday and was drunk and passed out. His pants were on the floor in the bathroom and she went in and took whatever cash was left over and took my sister and I and took a bus to my grandparents house. They lived up the coast in Pismo Beach, which was part of the Central Coast of California.
My mom and I, 1975 or so
They had a place close to downtown Pismo Beach on Price St. This was a lovely place that had an antique store beneath it (which I think my grandfather ran/owned). I have very very vague memories of staying here at that time but none of them are very clear. My mom tells me that at some point my father came down and tried to get her back. When she refused he camped out in the back yard and my grandmother became furious and told us all to leave. We went back to L.A. and ended up staying in a hotel in El Monte.
As I said my sister and I were raised vegetarian and my mom tells me that on our way back to L.A. we stopped at a Salvation Army in Santa Barbara. I have no memory of this but apparently everyone there really liked me and when they were serving food they wanted to be nice to me. They were serving beans with cut up hotdogs in it and to be nice to me they put in an additional whole hotdog into my serving. My mom says she saw this but was afraid to say anything about it because she knew that meant I would not eat it. I was sitting in a high chair and when I saw the hotdog I was very angry. I stabbed it with a fork, climbed up onto my high chair, held the fork over my head, and shouted ‘WE DON’T EAT THIS!’. I feel like I would have flung the hotdog as well, but that may be my imagination. My mom says that she was embarrassed but secretly her and my dad were very proud. They were taken aside by the person running the food line and told they should teach me about being grateful for what I had. As anyone who has every come into any kind of contact with me knows, this story foreshadows a great deal!
I do not know how long we were back in El Monte, but I think we must have left again in 1976 or 1977. This part of the story is hard to reveal. Apparently I used to play out in the front of the hotel we were staying at (I think this was in El Monte but can’t be sure). I had a Big Wheel that I used to ride around. One day, I am told, I was out there as usual, my father was at work and I do not know where my mom was, inside I assume. Again, I do not really remember this, and in fact did not really remember it had even happened until I was in my twenties and talked to my mom about it, but I am told that at the time I reported that some man had offered me money if I came with him. I did go with him. Apparently he took me to a place where a lot of busses were stored and into one of the parked busses, where he said his wallet was. I went in and he grabbed me from behind and tried to pull my overalls off. I squirmed away and ran home. I came home crying and frightened. The police came and took a report and I was apparently really embarrassed when I had to explain that this guy had tried to grope my genitals. All of this is what my mom told me about what she remembers me telling her on that day. I don’t have any really clear memories of the event so all I can do is report what she has told me. One last chilling detail is that he apparently yelled “I know where you live,” as I ran away and as a result I was pretty paranoid that he would come back for me.
My mom also tells me that soon afterwards I was starting school. She says I did not go to preschool or kindergarten and that she would not let me attend school until the State of California mandated it, so this must have been 1st Grade. I am pretty sure that would mean that I was 6 years old at the time but I haven’t been able to confirm this (I wonder of the police report still exists?)…Either way, apparently right after this I was starting school wherever this happened, which I am assuming was in El Monte but may have been somewhere else in the Los Angeles area, and I was supposed to be taking the school bus. My mom walked me to the bus stop and the bus came to take me to school, my First Day of School! For some reason or other I missed the school bus after school and just sat on the school steps not knowing what to do. My mom was waiting for me at the bus stop after school to walk me home but I did not get off the bus. She became very worried. She thought the abductor had come back and taken me again. Frantic, she went to the school and found me sitting on the steps. I was ok but she was terrified and told my father that we had to move. He apparently responded by saying that I was fine now, and my mom tells me that she knew she had to leave him.
Somehow we ended up staying in a shelter for battered women called Haven House. Probably I was 5 around this time (in 1977 or so then) and I do have some very vague memories of Haven House. They had an Easy Bake Oven that I liked to bake with, for example. At some point we got our own place in Pasadena, though I really do not remember it at all. Maybe it was on Paso Robles St.?
Apparently the place we were staying at was pretty seedy and downstairs in the corner apartment a pimp lived with a bunch of girls that he ran. My mom says he was really nice to her, and was very cultured and she became friendly with a couple of his girls. They told her that she could make a lot of money if she became a prostitute. My mom has told me, now that she is getting on in age, that she is proud that she resisted that offer. She was at a low point, by herself with two kids, with a low paying job. At any rate she turned down the offer and the pimp respected her for that. One thing that I do sort of remember is that some guy was coming over to the pimps place and pointed to my mom, who was talking with one of the prostitutes, and asked ‘how much for her?’ to which the pimp responded with a right hook that sent the guy tumbling backwards. He stumbled and fell over the railing on the porch and into the bushes. At the time I had no idea what was going on. I had vaguely remembered living in Pasadena and the nice black man who lived downstairs who I would sometimes hang out with during the day. When I found out that he was a pimp and the women I knew were prostitutes I was a bit surprised!
Anyway, my mom says she was at that point still hanging around Haven House and through them she got the opportunity to go on the Merv Griffin Show. The show was on battered women and they had come to Haven House to ask if there was anyone there who might be good for the show. The recommended my mom.
The show was filmed December 15th 1977, when I would have been 6 and my sister was 4. My mom tells me that the only reason she agreed to do it was to get some extra money so that she could buy Christmas presents for my sister and I but that she did not get the money until after Christmas. The show was hosted by William C. Rader, who I had never heard of until I starting researching the show, but apparently he was a psychiatrist on tv a lot back then. They had my mom, a woman who had killed her husband, and a man who used to beat his wife. I contacted the holder of the footage and they say they have footage of that show still but I haven’t been able to get ahold of it. It would be really interesting to see it!
My aunt had come down to be in the audience of the show with my sister and I and she talked my mom into coming back down to the central coast to be involved with a catering truck business that they had started down there. And so we moved back to the central coast. I don’t know exactly when this was but according to my mom we were staying with my grandparents when they saw the episode of the Merv Griffen show air. My mom said on the show that her husband was an alcoholic just like her own father (my grandfather) and this made my grandmother very angry. In fact she was so mad that she kicked all of us out. Somehow my mom met a man who had an apartment for rent and since he liked her he gave her a deal on the place and we moved into it. That must have been 1978 or so and I would have been 6 or 7 depending on the exact timing.
So, even though I was born in Los Angeles I really identify the Central Coast of California as where I am from. My earliest clear memories are from living there in the famous 5 Cities….but I’ll get to that next month.