Ten Years at LaGuardia

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!

Circa 1987

I am continuing to write a semi-regular series of memoir-notes posts. This all started because I realized that it was 20 years ago, in 1997, that I left the mortuary and moved to San Francisco. That led me to realize that 40 years ago, in 1977, my mom left my father and Los Angeles to move to the Central Coast (and appeared on the Merv Griffen Show!). And I have just recently realized that it was in the summer of 1987 that I ran away from home and was arrested. 30 years ago! Wow, time does fly! And wow, years ending in 7 seem to be big moving years…I wonder what big move 2017 may yet have in store for me 😉

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.

One Wild and Crazy (and Endless) Summer: The Summer of 1997

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 bustanut@sfsu.edu…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 medeski1@excite.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!

 

The Beginning: 1971-1977

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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December 1977

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.

January-March 1997

I have been meaning to start to write some autobiographical posts and, maybe it has something to do with being trapped inside during this snowstorm, maybe something else, but I started thinking about my first semester at San Francisco State University.

It was 20 years ago, way back in January of 1997, and I was living and working at a mortuary and crematorium slash chapel and funeral home while I was also attending community college at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. I had started Cuesta College in August of 1994 and had gone from hitchhiking to school everyday while working here and there to driving my Nisan Pulsar to school every day while living and working at the mortuary. I found out about this place through a person I met at school and thought it was a good chance to live rent free while making some money. Boy was I wrong! I had lived at the mortuary for at least a year, though to be honest I cannot remember how long I lived there, or how many bodies I came into contact with. There are some memorable ones, and the rest is a bit of a blur. That was a dramatic time and at some point I will try to write something about my time in the mortuary, but even though it has now been over 20 years it still haunts me and I don’t think I’m ready to relive that time.

At any rate in January of 1997 my time at the mortuary, at Cuesta, and indeed in the Central Coast of California, were drawing to an end. I was getting ready to move to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University, where I had been accepted as a transfer student. I’ll get to that but first I had to deal with an old court case that had unexpectedly threatened to hold me back. A while back when I had first started at Cuesta I had been in a fight with someone who had gone on to press charges against me. I did not realize this until I was pulled over for an unrelated incident and found out that there was a warrant for my arrest. To make a somewhat long story short I had hit someone in the head with a 40 ounce bottle of Old English. The judge in the case was worried about the nature of the incident. The use of the bottle made him want to convict me of assault with a deadly weapon. They told me that I could make a plea to aggravated assault and that if I did not take the deal it could go to trial and I would face worse; up to five years in jail. I was familiar with this routine from my time in Juvy and stood my ground. I must have gone to court three times before the judge gave me community service for disturbing the peace. It was a very odd feeling to be literally on the verge of moving to pursue a college degree and then facing the possibility of being dragged back into my old patterns of activities and ending up arrested and in jail, this time as an adult. It was very frightening but it also served to remind me why I was going to school. I did not want to be that kind of person anymore and I had seen a glimpse of the kind of person that I could become. After completing my community service me and the guys at the Mortuary took one last snow boarding trip. It was the day of Super Bowl 31, Sunday January 26th 1997 and we had the mountain all to ourselves. Classes were set to begin Wednesday January 29th and my plan was to put my stuff into storage and drive up the day before classes started. I thought I could stay in a hotel for a week or so while looking for a place to live. I had not pre-arranged any place but I thought it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Boy was I wrong!

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My first student ID at SF State

My first semester I was taking five classes, which I had registered for already. I had been to SF a few times in recent years to see bands (like P-Funk, Luna, and Free Tibet concerts) and for Jerry Garcia’s memorial in Golden Gate Park (it’s a long story!). The only time I went to SF specifically because of SFSU was to go to the orientation which must have taken place in late 1996. At any rate my first semester had a nice mix of class. I was taking a second year english course (we read a lot of short stories and some Shakespear), a physics class on Space, Time, the Universe, and Relativity, a linguistics course introducing one to the study of language, a philosophical analysis course, and a philosophy of language class taught by Kent Bach. This was a very heavy load and I had a lot going on. It was harder having a car in San Francisco than I thought and I ended up staying in a residential hotel located in the Tenderloin district, which was pretty far away from the SFSU campus. This was a pretty seedy place where there was one bathroom located on the floor that was shared by all of the tenets and where you could find used condoms in the hallway. Classy all the way. Parking around SFSU was tough and so I started taking public transportation and leaving my car. Especially after it stopped starting. It was eventually towed and I found out it would cost more to get it back than it actually cost to purchase it. So I let it go.

Those early weeks were tough. I was there all alone in the city and thrown head over heels into very deep philosophical waters. I remember one night sitting in my residential hotel reading Austin on performative utterances and feeling like I was in way over my head. The philosophy of language class was a mixed seminar that combined an undergraduate class along with a graduate seminar in the same room. I did not realize this at first. Anyway, as I was reading Austin, the distinction between locutionary act, what is said, and illocutionary act, what speech act is performed, seemed clear to me. However, I could not understand what the perlocutionary act was supposed to be. In particular I remember reading the example given over and over. It was ‘don’t do that’ or something, and it was offered as an example of someone protesting against doing the thing in question. The perlocutionary act was listed as ‘he pulled me up, checked me’ and I had no idea what this meant. Looking back on it now it seems like this was an example of the way in which the language used was just not familiar to me. Another example was from Russell’s paper On Denoting. He tells the story about George IV inquiring whether Scott was the author of Waverley. At the time this made no sense to me, though I think I understood the point being made. Years later I learned the whole story (in a class with Nathan Salmon) and then I realized it is a good example!

I eventually ran out of my financial aid money and so could not afford to stay in the residential hotel. The housing market in SF in the late 90s was very tough. I didn’t know it at the time but people were asking professors if they would let students stay with them! I was out looking for a place every chance I got but I also had a lot of work to do for school and I found it easy to get lost in what I was learning. Once I ran out of money and had my car towed I did not know what to do. The semester was not even half way over and I had no where to live and no money. I took to hanging around on campus and staying in the library. They had a 24 hour study area and computer lab and people slept there occasionally. One night I hid in the library until they locked it down just to get a few hours sleep straight. I remember one day, after about three or four days of this, a fellow student in my english lit class approached me and asked if I knew where to get any heroin. I said I didn’t and did not use the stuff. They replied that they could tell when someone was strung out by the dark circles under their eyes. I laughed and said that was because I was living in the 24 hour study section of the library!

I had no food and no money for food but I found out I could get a voucher to help with lunch and I applied for a couple of those. Once those ran out I took to ordering food and standing in line to pay for it but since it was so busy it was easy to slip out of line and just start eating. That worked a couple of times until one of the cooks one day came over to me and said that he had seen what I had done and that he would let it go this time but next time he wouldn’t. I knew I couldn’t pull that stunt again. I forget exactly how it happened but somehow I found out about the dormitories on campus, and especially the residential food hall. I went to inquire about the possibility of getting into the dorms but they said they were full. It was, after all, halfway through the semester! I was bummed but I scoped out the food hall and discovered that there was a back entrance that went in through the kitchen and into the dining hall. I went in desperate and hungry. People were working but no one payed any attention to me. I walked cautiously through the kitchen into the dining hall, grabbed a tray and just stood for a second admiring all of the food. It was basically exactly like a Sizzler all you can eat buffet. It was then that I first heard the Spice Girls song ‘if you wanna be my lover’. It was played on a loop on a TV they had in there.

I soon found out that they had an opening in one of the dorm rooms but that I could not move in until after Spring Break. That was great news! All I had to do was to hang in until then. I decided I would head back to San Luis Obispo and crash with friends during spring break. I could come back to SF afterwards and be in the dorms. I did not want to stay in the mortuary so I ended up staying with an old friend that played in a band with one of my band mates from the past. We played Resident Evil and took it easy and it was nice being back. I was planning on taking the bus from San Luis to SF but the bus made a pit stop somewhere along the 101 and I got out to use the bathroom. I must have been in there too long because when I came out the bus had left. My backpack was on the bus with my books for the semester. I figured I would have to hitchhike back to SF but somehow ended up hitchhiking back to San Luis.

While I was in San Luis I found out that all of my stuff which I had put into storage had been sold. They told me that they had tried to contact me and when they couldn’t they auctioned off the stuff they could and trashed the rest. I couldn’t really blame them, I had signed something saying this would happen and I had been hard to contact being homeless and all. This included not only all of my clothes, my photo albums, music collection, personal keepsakes, artwork from my mother, and furniture but also my drum set and all of my books from my time at Cuesta College. At first I was really depressed. I ended up staying there for another week, thereby missing a week of classes, and I did seriously think about not going back. But I did. They even had my books for the semester and backpack at the Greyhound bus station in SF! Not bad.

So there I was, 25 years old and living in a dormitory with a bunch of people who had already known each other for half of the semester. To make matters worse I soon found out that the reason there had suddenly been a room available was because no one wanted to be roommates with Doug (not his/her real name). Doug had apparently been the major source for a school newspaper article on campus drug use. He had named names and there had been a crackdown as a result. Needless to say he was not liked in the residential hall. For my own part I was surprised by how much like living in a group home and being in juvenile hall this experience was.

I finished the semester and did pretty well. Even more surprisingly I can see now that I learned a lot during that semester and that some of the ideas I had stuck with me and ended up becoming part of later projects (see the preface to my dissertation for more on this). The summer of 1997 was pretty memorable as well. Hopefully I’ll get to that next time!

Remembering Dr. John J. Glanville

I recently was saddened to discover that a former professor of mine, John J. Glanville at SF State University, passed away. Dr. Glanville, as I knew him (he referred to me a Mr. Brown, saying he would call me ‘Richard’ after I had earned my M.A.), was one of those professors who you either loved or hated. He had very high standards and was not squeamish about hurting one’s feelings if he thought one’s answers/work was sub-par. I was one of the one’s that loved him (I took 5 class with him, where I learned everything I know about Ancient Philosophy. He would often remark that for someone with my modern interests I gave “unusual attention to the history of Ancient and Medieval philosophy”) so I thought I would take a couple of minutes to reflect on his influence on me.

I transfered to SF State as an undergraduate in the Spring of 1997. Coming from a community college, I was very excited to be at a four-year school and to be taking classes in my major. In the Fall of 1997 I took Ancient Philosophy and History of Christian Thought, both with Dr. Glanville. Dr. Glanville was a very intimidating figure in the classroom, always asking questions about the readings and chastising those who did not know the answers. But he was also a teacher who took his job seriously and I have never had so much feedback on papers and exams as I did from him. I would turn in 10 double-spaced pages and get back the same 10 pages with copious notes in the margin and between the lines full of challenges, comments, queries, encouragement, etc. All written in tiny print and in pencil. He once famously wrote on one of my classmate’s papers (who shall remain nameless), “I have stopped reading for fear of what I might find,” a testament to his blunt no-nonsense approach. It was the first time I had ever felt like someone was taking my work seriously. For me it was a tremendous feeling. But beyond this gruff task master exterior lay an intellect and wit that was hard to surpass. He could be quite funny in the class, often making jokes that dated him, and it was obvious that he kept up with the literature, often making a comment about a new book or article on Parmenides or Democritus. As tough as he was on our work, he was twice as hard on his own work. We read a couple of his papers in grad seminars and they were excellent. He would say ‘I’ll send them off when they are better’ and we would be blown away; how could they be better? I surmise that there must be several books worth of material lying around in his house. I hope these come out some day and he is recognized for the tremendous scholar that he was.

I remember one particular incident in the History of Christian Thought class I took with him. I was to give a presentation on the section of Acts (I don’t recall the specific passage) where they discuss an encounter with Greek philosophy. Those who know me know that I am agnostic about the existence of God but I am not, nor have I ever been, agnostic about extant religions. I find that they have been a major force for evil in the history of Human Beings, well, at any rate, the point is that I started that presentation by writing on the board a quote from Neitzsche: “There is only one Christian and he died on the cross”. I then proceeded to criticize the metaphysical and epistemological principles of Christianity, arguing that they lost the argument with the Greek philosophers. I later found out that Dr. Glanville was deeply religious but he did not stop me or show anger of any kind (some annoyance seeped out as I recall ;). Rather, he engaged with the arguments that I was presenting in a serious way, trying to show me that I did not quite have it right, and that some of what I said was apt, etc. Now, as an instructor myself, I can only imagine what his real thoughts must have been!

In spite of all this Dr. Glanville ended up writing me a letter of recommendation when I applied to PhD programs in late 2001. He sent me a copy of the letter with a short handwritten note on it. I still to this day find it to be some of the nicest things ever said about me and one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. I here quote a short bit of the letter,

Brown has a lively imagination which he knows how to apply in the service of philosophy. This put him in sync with the thought experiments found in the Pre-Socratics and the response in kind needed by modern readers to test their hypotheses. I am reminded of Heisenberg’s observation on the challenge to his imagination in arousing his mind to a life of work in theoretical physics –the challenge offered, he says, by his study of the Pre-Socratics on the Gymnasium level of German education. –Just the sort of stimulus so often missing in the education of our American youth.

In my considered judgment Richard Brown will one day make significant contributions in the area of Philosophical Psychology. His record of talks and publications already portend that, as does his MA record with us at SFSU.

Dr. Glanville then hand wrote on the letter “Richard, now you have to live up to it!” (This was the first time he had ever called me ‘Richard’, by the way). I used to joke that my 2006 paper “What is a Brain State?” which was published in the journal Philosophical Psychology had discharged this obligation. I always thought I would run into him at some apa meeting and get to make that joke in person. Sadly I won’t get that opportunity. Nor will I get the opportunity to thank him in person for his belief in me, his patience with my ignorance, his stern criticisms of my sloppiness, and his impact on my life. But I like to think he knows already. I am sure he had that level of impact on countless students. We should all be so lucky.

Rest in Peace Dr Glanville.