28 February 2014

"We Have Lift Off I Am Officially 60" The Conclusion of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

My big bro and I some years ago.
"I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition." - John Lennon after The Beatles rooftop concert their last live performance.

The best time to be happy is right now. And I am.

If I had to do it all over again...well I don’t and neither does anyone else. It’s rather the point of this whole exercise. We get second chances at certain things but not the whole thing itself. This life business. We have to make do with what we did do.

Someone recently asked me if it was difficult to write some of what I’ve described here. The answer is no. Some of it was difficult to live through but writing about it after the fact is a stroll around the block.

I was a shortstop in Little League.
Some people I know claim that their lives have been wonderfully free of any serious problems or turmoil. How dreadfully dull. Of course one shouldn't look for heartache and strife and I hope that my children avoid it but it is through the hard times the misfortunes and the upsets that we learn and grow and become. We can't always control what happens to us but we do control how we respond. In given situations sometimes we crumble or tumble and other times respond and grow and grain strength.

I’m not entirely certain what this exercise of living on planet Earth for however long we get is all about. Many pretend to know and to that end they create entire religious beliefs that in turn sometimes get into conflict with people who have different belief systems. These conflicts have resulted in the premature deaths of tens of millions of people over the millennia. Rigid belief systems have caused irreparable damage in other ways too. Limiting self expression oppressing groups of people and stifling creativity are just a few examples. I find myself much happier acknowledging that I don’t know what its all about but continually trying to understand what I can and never stopping in my pursuit of enlightenment.

My approach to life has been to lower my shoulder and forge ahead. It has served me well as an employee. I show up and put in a day’s work for a day’s pay. Meanwhile I find pleasure in the arts principally films literature and music and by getting as many yuks in the course of a day as is possible. I also keep fit which is and end in itself. Long hard runs feel really good at the time and create euphoria in their immediate aftermath. I subsequently enjoy not having a protruding belly. Of course the primary ingredient to a happy life is love. To love and be loved are the greatest experiences one can hope for in life.

It seems I’m heading in the direction of giving advice so I’ll go ahead and get on with it.

Richard’s Tips For A Happy Healthy Life

Have a high fiber diet. No details just trust me on this one.
Plenty of sex. I assume there are no questions here.
Develop an appreciation for the arts. This can include sports as well but principally I refer to arts in the traditional sense.
Stay fit. It’s not so much a matter of living longer but so that you can be healthy and thus enjoy the time you have. Exercise helps you emotionally as much if not more than physically.
Never stop learning. If you do your intellect atrophies. Warning: the more you learn the more you'll want to learn.
Accentuate the positive. There is more than enough to be negative about and it is important to shine a light on all the horrors and annoyances of the world but for goodness sake live in what is positive.
Have positive obsessions. Obsess about things that make you happy or at least leave you feeling fulfilled.

Chico News & Review staff 1978. As usual I manage to be the
center of attention.
Vote for and support the champions of the oppressed and unfortunate. If you’re looking for a political figure or party to back why not settle on those who fight for the poor the voiceless the forgotten and the needy. Any party or person who exists to keep the rich and powerful entrenched needs strong opposition.
Don’t brood over your mistakes. Learn from them and move on.
Find work that you love so that it doesn’t feel like work. I was asked not long ago when I planned on retiring. Why would I retire from a job I love so much? It’s like asking someone when they’re going to stop eating pizza. Only when I have to.
Have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change and the courage to change the things you can. Having the wisdom to know the difference is good too.
Laugh. Whenever possible. It’s really good for you.

So here I am at six zero (I refuse to preface with “the big”). I still feel like a kid and unless I’m around small children I always feel like one of the younger ones in a room full of people. When I was a kid, older people were grown ups or adults. They were people of an unimaginable age who knew better and did things like pay bills and work at jobs and they could be mean and were hopelessly square. Supposedly I became a grown up at some point as I worked and paid bills and knew better and could be mean too but I don’t think I was ever hopelessly square and never felt fully mature or old. Maybe I’m all screwed up in this respect or maybe I’ve got it together. In either case life’s worked out pretty well. I keep expecting to some day feel like a grown up but I’m not losing sleep over it.

I’ve had some bad breaks and made colossal mistakes and made bewildering decisions along with outright stupid ones but I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. I’ve learned the importance of humility. Suffice to say that I’ve figured out that to find my own worst enemy all I need is a mirror. I can also find in that mirror a pretty decent guy who never meant any harm and may have made a small contribution to the world. Oh and if I’m looking in that mirror today I hope I’m seeing someone who is going to be around a lot longer. Life is just getting to be really fun.

(This series is dedicated to my mother Gertrude Marie Hourula (nee Kurki). Mom, I’m sorry we never really got a chance to talk.)

27 February 2014

"TIme May Change Me But I Can't Trace Time" Part 14 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Yours truly in Paris last May.

“Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” - Jack Kerouac.
Great now what do I do? I’d been a public school teacher for 20 years. I was 54 years old and my skill set was limited to teaching editing and writing. It took me all of about three weeks to set my next course in motion. I would teach ESL to adults. I had a very good if somewhat foolish reason for reaching this decision: it would allow me to move to Europe and teach there. Perfect. I sort of forgot the part about having a wife who was not ready to pull up stakes and changes continents on my whim. It took me an embarrassingly long time to see that we weren’t leaving any time soon. (I hasten to add that this plan could well be set in motion when the missus retires.)

Be that as it may going back to school to get a TEFL certificate (Teacher of a Foreign Language) is one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made.

Through my coursework at UC Berkeley Extension I met some wonderful fellow students (many in my age group) and had some truly grand professors highlighted by Dr. Sedique Popal one of the best people I’ve ever met -- let alone took classes from.

But while I was taking classes by night and weekend I would need to bring in a bit of cash. So I took my vast teaching experience to the fetid cesspool that is the Oakland Unified School District (Berkeley Unified and I were done with each other) and began the easy and impossible task of being a sub again.

Substitute teaching has the considerable benefits of not requiring one to grade papers, plan lessons or attend meetings. But the rest of the job can be either frightfully boring or just plain horrible. Not to mention depressing. But that’s if one contemplates it and once I left whatever site I was at for the day I managed to put the work day out of my mind.

Students have always treated substitute teachers like they are the lowest form of society and when you go into a hell hole like Oakland it can be particularly bad. If a school was especially bad I simply crossed it off my list. Oakland is a big district so there were still plenty of schools to be slightly less miserable at. The response of administrators and staff to the mayhem that could take place with a sub in the room varied. Some schools had a zero tolerance for misbehavior and dealt with ruffians swiftly and efficiently. Others took their sweet time with mealy mouthed responses and at still others you were left to twist in the wind. At one high school there was all manner of insanity going on in a classroom. I spotted a vice principal passing by and told him of the miscreants and their misdeeds. His response: “leave the teacher a note she’s pretty good at following up.” He then went on his way. Suffice to say I never showed up at that madhouse again.

Some of my better subbing days were at a continuation high school where the students who couldn’t hack it in the regular schools were sent. The creme de la creme in reverse. All the rotten apples in one place. It no doubt sounds counterintuitive to suggest that this was a nicer place to be assigned but it was. Many of these kids had parole officers most had had some sort of scrap with the law and all had far far better things to do then with mess teachers even if they were subs. Most students simply didn’t show up. Those that did were either there for social interaction or in rare cases to work towards their graduation. Most subs would not go to the school which meant I got plenty of gigs there. The students would test me. They would try to bully me and when they saw I didn’t scare would leave me alone. The way to earn respect is to not flinch and  I didn’t. Students had no end game if they tried intimidation. They were never going to hit you because that would mean expulsion and jail. So I got a reputation among the students and the pretty much let me be and I let them be.

Finally I got my TOEFL certificate and was freed from the drudgery of subbing. I could actually teach again.  Really teach. My own lessons to my own students in my own classroom. And this time I’d be with cooperative mature appreciative students. Bliss.

In July of 2011 I started working at an international language school in San Francisco. I am still there today. The first few months working there was like a long protracted orgasm. Students from all over the world -- most between 18-25 but of all ages beyond -- who were polite kind smart and happy. To teach happy people! My co workers were the nicest people on the planet and funny clever and full of mirth. The boss was totally supportive of teachers and a regular human being with a soul and heart. This was a school?

Some of the initial euphoria has died off now two and half years later and many of my original colleagues have moved on as has the boss. But the new boss is equally grand and the new teachers are wonderful too. I’m still treated to delightful students. Thus far I have had students from at least 41 different countries.

Since leaving public school teaching I’ve finally resumed writing regularly and this blog is but one example. I’ve completed a second novel (the first done while I was teaching has been rejected too many times to count and I believe the primary reason for this is that it is no damn good) which I am readying for publication and a prolonged stint on the best seller list (a fella can dream). I’ve also made progress on a third which will become an international sensation (again dreaming is right not a privilege) and I have started writing poetry as my poetry blog proves.

There has also been two trips to Europe which have -- among other things -- caused me to fall madly in love with Paris. I know I’m not the first. A long overdue sojourn to Finland is up next.

During my last year of public school teaching my father died. Though he was 92 it was too soon. Dad had lived 91 healthy happy productive years before a fluke fall caused a head injury from which he died ten months later. Aimo Hourula was a remarkable man and I miss him still. He was beloved by both his sons and six grandchildren in addition to countless others. The man knew how to live. Dad pursued life with energy and enthusiasm setting an example I hope to follow.

Two years ago my big brother died much much too soon at the age of 64 as I recounted on this blog the day it happened. I can only hope to be half as good a man as he was. Mom had died in 2001 a few years before I was able to forgive her for unwittingly putting me through hell. When my big brother died I was left the sole survivor of the family I grew up in. It was and still is a weird feeling. At times I feel desperately alone. I am extremely fortunate to have a family of my own. Nothing means more to me. The kiddies are grown and I must say the missus and I did a good job or raising them.

Tomorrow this series concludes.

25 February 2014

"Disrupting the Dharma of My Teaching " Part 13 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

The last team that I coached.

“Teachers, let me tell you, are born deceivers of the lowest sort, since what they want from life is impossible -- time-freed existential youth forever. it commits them to terrible deceptions and departures from the truth”. - From The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
During my first year as a teacher I gave my classes a test. When grading them I was disappointed to note  that a higher percentage than I would have expected failed or barely passed. I was mystified. I thought it was a good fair test and that I had adequately prepared them. I spotted the principal in the hallways right after school and told her what had transpired. Her reply was as follows: “that’s a sign of bad teaching.” And she walked away.

And this ladies and gents was one of the better administrators I encountered. (She later went on to be the superintendent of a school district.) They got worse. Much.

After over 20 years in public schools it is my considered opinion that the average school administrator is a species best kept away from teachers, students and schools in general. They are soulless bureaucrats whose primary talents lie in quoting the “latest research” avoiding law suits and genuflecting before any fellow administrator to whom they answer. They are of course all former teachers and they are generally people who have total amnesia when it comes to understanding what goes on in a classroom. I didn’t care for ‘em.

Part of their creation is the modern form of teacher evaluation. The following is absolutely true: in all the evaluations I had as a teacher, not one ever looked at the kind of tests I gave, how I prepared students for tests or how I graded them. Not one ever looked at the kind of projects I assigned, how I prepared students for them or how I graded them. Not once did anyone look into the homework I gave or how I related to students on a one-on-one basis -- an essential part of teaching. Here’s what was looked at: the arrangement of my desks, the amount of student work on my walls and the allegation that I was once reading the newspaper during a district staff development meeting.

Suffice to say that administrators were the bane of my existence. Students could be difficult but they had the excuse of being 13 or so years old. Some parents were a bit eccentric nutty or abrasive but the vast majority were peaches. Fellow teachers -- with an exception or two -- were paragons. Indeed the average public school teacher is a saint and I was humbled and honored to be among their company.

My late great friend Grizz goofing with a student.
I made many friends during my public schools days and none was better than the multi named Grizz. Born Richard Brown and mostly known as Rick as a teen he got the nickname Grizzly or Grizz which is what most of us called him. He changed his named to Saad Muhammad when he became a Muslim. Grizz was a wrestler and a competitor in world’s strongest man competitions who traveled the globe displaying feats of strength and in the process meeting various bigwigs include her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Grizz was once in the Guinness book of world records for having the world’s largest biceps.

At our school he was one of a trio of student safety officers who protected our student body, dealt with disciplinary issues and counseled wayward youth. In the latter area Grizz excelled. Here was a big mountain of man with a booming voice softly extolling the virtues of a getting an education and leading a disciplined life. Students loved him. He in turn loved students and loved life. He was an erudite chap who, though lacking a formal education past high school, was a well read man who could discuss all manner of topics be they current events, sports history or crime lore. Grizz was a sensitive man who was easily moved to tears when we discussed our mutual hero Muhammad Ali. He was the best friend I ever had. We thought of one another as brothers. He called me -- most affectionally mind you -- a Finnish nigger.

Most of all Grizz loved his two step sons and his own natural son. This made his death in 2002 of liver and kidney failure especially tragic. The boys were two six and twelve years old. I miss the man still as I will for the remainder of my days.

If you want to go into the teaching profession you’ve got to have a real flaming passion burning like a wildfire. You can’t go in half assed. Teachers get knocked on their rears on a daily basis and have to be able to bounce back up without hesitation. Patience is not enough in fact I’m not so sure its a virtue for educators. You haven’t got time to be patient you’ve got to push pull and kick to get results. I was more than once told that I played soccer with reckless abandon. Well I taught that way too. Most students responded positively though I rubbed some the wrong way. I was at least successful at combatting the boredom that surrounds middle school students like a fog. Besides innovative lesson plans I was an effective lecturer because -- as even administrators had to admit -- I was a natural storyteller and what is history but stories.

The bests parts of my job were not actually when I was teaching history. One was as the faculty advisor to the school newspaper. We produced a terrific monthly paper for years on end filled with hard news charming features hilarious comedy pieces and thoughtful columns and editorials. My main function was to turn over the running of the paper to students and stay out of their way. I gave them suggestions, guidance and my trust and they responded wonderfully. The other role I loved was as the school’s soccer coach. We had a dynasty and moreover our players (both boys and girls) represented the school admirably. While I was often frustrated with trying to teach hellions I loved coaching and mentoring young people who were eager to be there. I can objectively say that I was loved as a coach. My secrets were making sure players enjoyed themselves (“play hard have fun” I always said) and felt good about themselves. Simple really. I still miss coaching and likely always will.

Andy Samberg was a student of mine.
I was far happier in my work than I ever realized. It is hard to be self analytical when you are so thoroughly absorbed with what you’re doing. But in being so immersed in my work I was losing who I was and what I was doing. I had become something other than myself. I had ceased to be Richard or Rip or Riku or Ace or Rich the Finn or anything else I’d been or been called. I was so wrapped up in being Mr. Hourula I didn’t know who I had buried within myself.

Eventually I had enough. I could have dealt with students and all the attendant headaches for longer but the goddamned administrators...They didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. Once an administrator told me that I should never trust an administrator. I later discovered that he was one of the ones I couldn’t trust.

In August of 2008 I resigned. The expression “the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders” perfectly describes how I felt. I could have skipped down the street. Truth: I skipped down the street.

I was and am very proud of the service I gave to the school the community and of course the students who entered my classrooms. I could have been a better teacher but for a lot of students I was pretty damn good.

Now I could take on new adventures -- the most important of which was self discovery. This would be accompanied by a sudden and most personally welcome boom in my writing.

Before I move on from my public school teaching career I offer the following anecdotes each of which -- I swear to whatever deity you worship -- is true.
Once received a note from a tardy student written by her mother which said the following: “Please excuse Rochanda for being late she had a painful bowl movement.” You know what if you pass a bowl through your rectum it is bound to hurt.
On a test a student once identified Pearl Harbor as “the woman who dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.” I guess that’s why they named a naval base after her.
Asked to describe village life in West Africa during the time of the European Slave Trade one student wrote that “it would be hard cause you wouldn’t have no cable TV.” Truth.
During the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal a female student stood up for Clinton saying that it was his wife’s fault for not doing all the things she was supposed to then followed up by asking to me “Mr. Hourula don’t your wife regularly give you.....” I’ll leave the rest to your imagination suffice to say she used a graphic term for a certain sexual act. This query -- as inappropriate as it was in a middle school classroom -- produced one of the greatest laughs I’ve ever enjoyed.
I was once mystified because none of my students knew who James Naismith the inventor of basketball was. Finally I indicated a student named Sam and said: “he invented what Sam does after school everyday.” To which Maura replied (without missing a beat): “James Naismith invented mastrubation?” Ya can’t make this stuff up.

23 February 2014

"Those Who Can Teach" Part 12 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

A daughter and I vacationing in Oregon.
If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. - Laurence J. Peter
Well that was weird.

I mean that 20 years of teaching in an urban middle school. I mean seriously what was that all about?

In retrospect I was terribly ill suited for the profession being someone who suffers fools badly. An ill tempered impatient person. Add to that the various medications that were essentially being experimented on me and more of that I-know-better attitude and my natural desire to rebel against authority (bit awkward when you are an authority) and trying to stay clean and sober and....

But you know it all worked out surprisingly well. I’ve got scores of lovely notes and letters and cards from appreciative students and parents and still encounter former students and parents who gush about my positive impact. (Then again if I ever encountered a former administrator he/she/it would likely make the sign of the cross and hightail it in the other direction).

Upon completing my student teaching gig I toiled as a substitute teacher for one year. The next year I was a stay-at-home dad with oldest daughter. It was one of the happiest years of my life but when it was over I needed to practice my new craft. I was determined to get a job at the Berkeley junior high (it would only later become known as a middle school) where I had student taught. This was somewhat quixotic as competition was then quite stiff for history jobs especially in Berkeley. But lo and behold after a half year more as a sub a position opened up and I had my dream job.

It was a dream and a nightmare and my fantasy reality for the next 18 years. I had loved being there as a student teacher and a regular sub because it was such a damn fun place to work featuring a faculty and staff that had created a family atmosphere. These people knew their jobs and they knew how to enjoy life and have parties and support one another. I was quickly welcomed owing to my enthusiastic and witty personality. The veterans were less welcoming as I soon became aloof and conceited and assumed I knew better. My brashness became prickly and unpleasant and I managed to rub people the wrong way. But at the same time I made strong allies and friends. It was -- I soon found out -- a house divided.

While I wasn’t the ideal co-worker I took to my new found profession with zeal. I was a natural in front of a room full of people especially given my infectious love of history. I provided innovative lesson plans and combined  a boredom fighting sense of humor with strong assignments tests and projects. I was in short a pretty good teacher.

Meanwhile another daughter came along and I found that I loved being a dad. Still do. I honestly don’t know what all the fuss about. Parenthood is complicated far more than it needs to be by mean well-meaning souls. If you love your children wholly and completely most of it comes quite naturally. I’ve always adored my daughters and despite being a general grump around the house much of the time have served them well (they are welcome to correct me on this score if I am in error).

The teacher’s life fits quite well with parenthood as one is usually home early and has Summers off along with a couple of other weeks here and there. The kiddies got a good dose of their dad and never seemed to mind.

Teaching is rigorous work. The hours are agreeable even if one has after school duties of some sort and a pile of papers to grade the work day is never too long. However the mind never stops working. At the back of your brain -- if not right there up front -- are all the incidents that took place in the course of day. Pondering what went wrong with a lesson what can be done about this child or that or those and missteps taken. There is further the non stop planning and tinkering and wondering and second guessing. Also if one is involved with the school in general -- as we all were -- there’s even more on the proverbial plate.

No wonder I would often sleep for over 12 hours on the first day of Summer break. The mind was finally clear of all that clutter.

Teaching at a middle school is at once totally enervating and totally energizing. It is certainly never dull. No two days are alike. It takes tremendous patience understanding and tolerance and a ceaseless desire to one up oneself. Staff meetings were difficult when it came to making decisions as you had a room full of people who were forever trying to build a better mouse trap. There are umpteen ways to teach anything and teachers are often sifting through the options.

One thing I loved about where I worked was the incredible diversity of the student population. I could never have taught at a school that did not have the kind of mix of black white asian hispanic rich poor talented struggling students that we did. I have had former students go on to all eight Ivy league schools not to mention Cal and Stanfurd and other prominent universities. I have former students who are doctors professors and engineers and a TV star. I have also had students who died violently or went to prison (one for a double homicide) or became drug addicts.

Most students were largely formed as the human being they were to go on to be by the time they entered my classroom but occasionally there would be a student who could be influenced positively. Certainly many found comfort support and positive human interaction in the classroom. Just being someone who cared could mean a lot.

Like all teachers I complained ceaselessly about my little charges but like most teachers I never failed to give 100% when they showed up in my room. I loved my work and I was proud of it. I loved being a dad and I was proud of that too. I had settled down.

21 February 2014

"I'll Drink to That" Part 11 of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent. I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer, it's the Nile. Nat, it's the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra. - From The Lost Weekend directed by Billy Wilder.
There's a point at which the alcohol starts drinking you. Forget control. Just forget it man. That's long gone. In its place you've got a sodden mind that answers only to the siren song of b-o-o-z-e. The rest of your life is secondary -- hell even subservient. It's some serious shit. I didn't get it. Not even. I didn't even have a clue when I started looking forward to the coming hangover because it meant a hair of the dog. Hair....more like the whole damn coat.

And so I devolved.

One manages. As earlier noted I positively flourished in a masters program and subsequently got my teaching credential. I managed to hold down an editing job and embarked on married life. Most people would have thought I was fine. Most people don’t see you up close. I was not unhappy mind you. I was just not at all healthy emotionally and not making life pleasant for those around me. Worst of all I was looking down a precipice I couldn’t see and about to fall in.

Then in September 1987....Admitted we were powerless over alcohol. How liberating. It is such a relief to surrender and admit to yourself that drinking liquor is not something you can be trusted with. Not something that you can do. Ever again. That option is forever off the table. It’s not even up for consideration.

If you’re smart about it you’ll see it as the most empowering thing you can do. The ultimate act of self well and self control and self possession. The most selfish act you can commit as a drunk is to give up the sauce.

Drunks relapse because they just don’t get it. They don’t see that they’ve won. That their quitting is the greatest victory. They want to be taken care of. They want mommy. They want the booze to tell them what to do how to feel how to act where to go. The responsibility of decision making is too much. They want to be in charge when in fact they are allowing the liquor run the show.

I never thought for one second during the time I was drinking that I had a problem with alcohol. Not one. I saw people who -- I at least thought -- drank way more than I did. Maybe they had a problem. But me? C’mon get serious. I was so happy with booze, it was my best best best friend. It not only got me high it was a companion a talking point a social structure a means to a world. Granted a blurry world but one I happily navigated. Sober was just the time between drunks. Necessary but basically uninteresting. I felt sorry for little kids pets and any sap who choose not to drink. Never mind that my wife was a tee totaler. That was her deal and suited her. But other non drinkers were monumental failures because they were missing out on the be all of living.

How it all changed I’ll never understand.

I woke up one early autumn Sunday morning after a full day of heavy drinking preceded by a night of heavy drinking and I just knew. With every fiber of my being. The lightening had struck.

What happened while I slept? Was there something someone said that I never consciously remembered that finally sank in? Nahhh. Did god almighty intervene? Yeah right. Did I just figure it out in my sleep?  Yeah how would that work?

But I got out of bed magically free of a hangover and walked over to the sofa where my wife had chosen to sleep to be away from my drunken self and said: “I have a problem.” Just like that. (For the record she responded by saying: “I know.")

I was somber I was sober (no pun) and I was determined. Here was a moment that I could build the rest of my life on. I was to be a new man. One who eschewed the drink. Brighter happier more fulfilled days were ahead and I’d never be a jerk again. I was such a dumb cluck that I didn’t realize two things that are oh so clear now: 1) I was so very right 2) I was so very wrong.

Life changed for sure. I was entering a whole new phase its true. I was yes yes yes free of alcohol. But I had not yet learned to live with out. That my friends is a whole other deal.

My name is mine and I’m.... Dig it.

19 February 2014

"The Wanderer Meets Panic" Part Ten of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

People live from one play to the next. In between, before the curtain goes up, they don’t quite know what the plot will be or what part will be right for them, they stand there at a loss, waiting to see what will happen, their instincts folded up like an umbrella, squirming, incoherent, reduced to themselves, that is, to nothing. Cows without a train. -   From Journey to the End of Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine

Then I just left it all. That career I was loving and excelling in. Just stopped. Like it was too good or something. Mysteriously to everyone including myself today I went to Sacramento and worked for a student lobbying organization. Then I went to Cambridge and made sandwiches for people like Michael Dukakis at Harvard. Then I sold kitchenware in Boston then furniture. Then I was back in Chico bumming smokes and buying cheap beer and chasing my one true love then I was in Berkeley selling shoes at a JC Penny’s then I was a bank teller and I don’t know why it took them three months to fire me. Then I worked security at a souvenir shop at Pier 39 in San Francisco and it took them just six weeks to can me. Then I fell ass backwards into a part time editing gig for a law firm which led to a full time gig making decent cash editing for a top SF accounting firm. Office job. I could afford plenty of good scotch and blow. I was sky rocketing nowhere. The only writing I was doing all these years was love letters to K who was herself moving about a bit. Spent a lot of time in bars. One in particular in Berkeley. So I moved a five minute walk from it. Sitting there one night between swapping lies with other regulars I thought maybe I should become a history teacher. I was 30 years old.

So I took out some student loans and went back to school -- this time SF State -- to get a BA in history. Then I’d get the MA.

Just like that I decided. Did it too. Fancy that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.....(Which come to think of it is pretty hard to do, I mean after all you are yourself so to get ahead of your own self is...you get the idea.)

It was in my late 20s that another cruel blow struck. Whack! You might think that being an abused child of a schizophrenic, alcoholic would be enough to deal with for one life. You’d be right. So I wasn’t terribly excited to have more piled onto my psychological plate. But there you go. Shit certainly happens.

Welcome acute panic disorder. You may well have had anxiety attacks and maybe even suffered a full blown panic attack. Take that panic attack and multiply by ten and you know what I’ve gone through too many times to count. It was a helluva thing back then -- not that it isn’t today -- because I couldn’t tell exactly what the hell was going on and neither could doctors whether medical ones or psychological ones. I had years of misdiagnosis and was prescribed all manner of medications many of which with nasty side effects and still others that were no help it all. I had a condition that was not well understand. Add to this was the frustration of trying to tell other people about it. How many times did I get the: “oh yeah I get those all the times they’re nothing.” Nothing indeed.

Imagine feeling like reality had just stopped being real. Like you’d gotten a ten megaton blast of bad acid that just hit. Like your mind was fast leaving your body behind. Like stark raving terror. I’d always get asked by doctors if I felt like I was dying. My standard reply was along these lines: I wish. Feeling death was imminent would be preferable to feeling that one had just been catapulted towards hell.

As a bonus to the panic attacks came anticipatory anxiety. That is the anticipation of another trip to hell.  These could be triggered by anything from being an a location where I had previously suffered an attack to waking up in the morning. Once one got going it might as well have been the real deal. Inevitably I began to anticipate the anticipation. I found solace in sleep alcohol and laughter so these became things I specialized in.

Eventually -- this eventually took many years -- it was determined that my condition was “physiological in nature” and could only be treated through a combination of medication and therapy. Both remedies are problematic I assure you. It took many years to get the right meds and I’m happy to say that today I’m on about the smallest possible dosage and rarely have an attack and when I do have coping mechanisms. As for the therapy part I hadn’t ever really finished talking about mom anyway so what was one other topic for the agenda?

Of course in the early days of my newfound friend the acute panic attack there was a ready cure that I often employed: booze. I’ll tell you it did the trick. The last thing I needed was another excuse to drink but in my case I never really needed excuses anyway. “Chug a lug chug a lug. Makes ya want to holler hidy hoe burns your tummy don’t you know. Chug a lug chug a lug.”

My experiences with mom had left me wondering if I too would go off my rocker one day. The panic attacks and their attendant emotional toll had me further contemplating the possibility. It's a helluva nagging thing to wonder if your sanity -- such as it is -- has a shorter life span than you do.

So armed with medications I entered SF State and zealously pursued my education. I had the great fortune of having two absolutely marvelous professors namely the late Dr. John Tricamo and Dr. James V. Compton. They took my love of history and turned into a flaming passion that has not yet died out. Despite all the mess in my life I was learning and growing and realizing that teaching history might end up being a good career.

Despite a steady regimen of alcohol consumption I completed a two years master’s program in one year and graduated with distinction. I can neither explain nor fathom this.

In other news by this time K had moved in with me in and nearly 28 years on (26 of which as husband and wife) the relationship is better than ever. Some people have all the luck.

17 February 2014

"Big Fish in a Small Pond" Part Nine of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

I'm a shooting star leaping through the skies

Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity

I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva

I'm gonna go go go

There's no stopping me

I'm burning through the sky yeah!
Two hundred degrees
That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic man out of you

Don't stop me now
I'm having such a good time
I'm having a ball
Don't stop me now
If you wanna have a good time
Just give me a call
- Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen

There I was on top of the world. The big fish in the little pond. I was in my early twenties handsome healthy and in a career I loved and was good at. Social occasions were second nature to me. Especially those that involved alcohol. I had friends and lovers galore and not a care in the world. It felt like unbridled joy was my new lot in life. Mom was hundreds of miles and years away. Step mom was a nuisance but she too lived far away. Big brother was back after several years in Finland and he now boasted a Finnish wife of great charm and intelligence.

In the Chico of the late Seventies I was something of a celebrity. My byline dominated the pages of the nascent Chico News & Review. I had even been the answer to a popular local radio show’s quiz. I was sportswriter extraordinaire but also a fearless news reporter likening myself to Woodward and Bernstein who through their exposure of Watergate and subsequent book and the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford (All the President’s Men) were heroes to all fledging reporters.

My attire was carefully planned each day to look as cool and cute and yet professional as possible. Long blonde locks kissed my shoulders and I generally wore a sly smile. Ever present was a natty jacket with big pockets. In one I kept my ever handy spiral notebook in another a pint of whiskey. In an inside pocket was a pack of smokes. My diet consisted mostly of coffee booze and cigarettes with occasional big meals thrown in. Sleep was not indulged in except for prolonged weekend hibernations to catch up. Any form of exercise was now eschewed though I did not hesitate to boast of my past athletic accomplishments complete with exaggerations.

There was never any problem finding dates. I was also part of a social whirl which included eligible women in my age group. I had no inclination to settle on one in particular. If you said I was a cad I’d not argue. But to most I was a wit and dazzling conversationalist. (It was at this time that I met the woman who nine years later I would marry. But that relationship shall not be discussed here. Suffice to say however that it -- along with the children resulting from it -- are the great joys of my life.)

The fact is that I was a damn good reporter being diligent persistent clever and unafraid. If nothing else it fed my enormous ego to write a good story and receive the subsequent encomiums. A particular talent was interviews. I knew how to charm or cajole or probe as the subject and person required. I was fair and balanced long before an entire network pretended to be. No one was better aware of my talents than I. Depending on how one looks at it I was at my best/worst. I certainly had a high opinion of myself which in some respects wasn’t the worst possible circumstance I could place myself in. But I had no sense of balance no perspective and not an ounce of humility. One looks back at such a lad and sees him headed for a rather dramatic fall. What a surprise then that -- as will be recounted in the next installment -- the fall was so slow, self inflicted and strange and utterly lacking in drama.

Meanwhile the newspaper was a vibrant part of an energetic town. I thought I was living in the center of the universe. Previously Berkeley had been the coolest place in the world but now it was Chico. Everything about my circumstances in the first few months of 1979 were perfect. I was even trying to quit smoking. So why did I leave this eden?

15 February 2014

“Finland Redux Romance and a Possible Career” Part Eight of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Big brother and I in Finland 1973

I still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste 
was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

- David Bowie Changes

Back to Finland where I met “an older woman” (June). I was 19 and she 23. That’s a helluva gap when the 19 year old has a certain naiveté about matters of the heart and genitalia and the 23 year old is quite worldly in both. My chance encounter with this British hussy was to have enormous consequences in my life. There was the whirlwind romance which was as much an exploitation of me as anything else. Then her departure for the states and my wanderlust which saw me off to the UK. There I stayed with friends in Bournemouth and June’s family in Wales and nobody in London. I pub crawled with a reckless passion and lived off fish and chips and went to soccer matches (Arsenal!). But I also longed for June who was staying in the Bay Area. She had her hooks in me but good. Eventually I ended my travels in pursuit of her. Stupid. Entirely on me. I can badmouth her in retrospect but I was just an idiot.

So I was stuck back home with crazy mother. Dad had finally wised up and divorced but then married the first bimbo who came along. Step mother made dad fairly happy for the rest of his days but boy could he have done better. She was a non stop smoker and talker who despite yakking constantly never said a damn thing. She also drank like the proverbial fish though she spent her later years in one long dry drunk. The family was never impressed but dad was so whatever.

June had little use for me and was trolling the area for other men who she could take greater advantage of. Given her sultry good looks and let us say charms that was no problem.

I was miserable. Aunt and Uncle made the mistake of inviting mom over to Thanksgiving because dad was in Tahoe with his new flame. It was all good for awhile but I knew what was coming and drank accordingly. Sure enough mom went off fueled by her own alcohol consumption, screaming at one and all. I have vague awful memories. Worst day of my life and may its horror never be exceeded.

Back to Chico I went to seriously pursue a degree and girls my own age and of course bacchanalia. The latter was particularly easy to find.

Keggers were parties where there was -- depending upon the anticipated size of the gathering -- one or two or more kegs of beer. Usually you just kicked in a couple of bucks (if that) and chugged away. They were usually indoor/outdoor affairs and in Chico typicallu drew a nice balance of males and females. The bigger ones even had live bands. They were a great way to meet people which is to say pick up chicks. I always drank until I had the courage to talk to girls and of course if I drank too much I ended up slurring to them. Somehow hangovers were not overly dramatic in those days largely owing to sticking to plain ole beer.

I did manage to mix scholastic pursuits into my life but this was of secondary importance. It was all about fun and the future was not to be considered. Dreams and fantasies about future days could and would be indulged but any sort of plans and goals were so much a bother introducing as they did strong doses of reality -- something I’d had bad experiences with.

Somehow I managed to settle on a major in journalism and this led inevitably to a place on the school newspaper. Not only was I good reporter but I loved having a byline and quickly achieving a modicum of notoriety. There is also an element of power and influence attached to being a journalist even -- maybe especially -- on a small college town school rag. I was on to something and had something to hang my hat on. Dad was proud of me as he started receiving copies of the paper with his son’s name in it.

My skirt chasing inevitably led to a few romances. While I was skilled at finding dates and lovers I was none to keen on keeping them around for very long and totally inept at the art of the break up. I did not have the attention span to stay with a relationship for very long and couldn’t be bothered letting a girl down easily or for that matter at all. Then I met Becky. There was something about her that was quite different. Here was a girl who I could profess love to and seek a commitment with. We’d barely met before we moved in together. Thirty Nine years later I scratch my head about this one. Becky was of modest intelligence lacking intellectual curiosity and not possessive of any great talents save perhaps sexually. In any case I fell madly in love with the notion of being madly in love and proposed marriage. It was Becky who saw that we were mismatched and after nearly a year moved out and left me alone and miserable.

I got over it. It took awhile but meeting other women and drinking and of course the news beat were all pleasant distractions. After a few months I felt relieved that I’d gotten out of the relationship before I made a very big mistake or before we created a bouncing one.

Meanwhile the newspaper was constantly rankling the school administration and we had become too good to be merely a school newspaper. The Wildcat was going to become the Chico News & Review an independent newspaper and I was to be a co founder. Shit was about to get real.

13 February 2014

"Heroics Travel and College" Part Seven of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Nor Cal champs. That's me holding the game ball.

No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes...

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free......

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

The Who - Behind Blue Eyes

I finally went to Finland in the Summer of 1970.  Dad sent me on my own at age 16 for six weeks. He trusted his boys. A week previous my soccer team flew to Los Angeles where we won the California State Championship. We won in overtime. I scored the winning goal. I was a hero. I was going to Finland on my own. I was a experienced with drugs and alcohol and girls liked me and I had made out and knew it was only a matter of time before I went all the way. Mom’s insanity was no longer a secret and as awful as it still was at least I wasn’t carrying it alone. I had a lot of friends of various description and my grades were good -- not that I cared all that much. I was an unstoppable force of of wonder and splendor. Soaring the lengths and depths of eternal opaque hugging happy perfection.

In Finland I marveled at the deep blues of all the lakes and the deep greens of all the trees. The place was clean the people were polite and quiet and very white and they spoke the same language I’d been hearing at family gatherings all my life except now it was all over. In the streets on trains and in cafes.  I took the train north to meet my paternal grandmother in the small town of Nivala where dad had been born and raised.

I was picked up at the train station by one of dad’s four sisters and her husband. We drove to the house. My grandmother emerged. It was like seeing Abraham Lincoln. Someone I’d heard about all my life and she was real. And she was colorful and funny (perhaps the genetic source for my wonderful sense of humor). I was in awe of this little woman. All five feet no inches of her.

Subsequently I met two more of my aunts and one of my dad’s brothers (the other had moved to California before I was born and was as grand an uncle as anyone ever had). I also met a dozen or so cousins some younger than me others my age and still others adults with children. All told my grandmother had 18 grandchildren. Not a bad haul.

Much of the trip I spent on my own traveling throughout Finland. Never lost. Never lonely. Never afraid. Never anything less than very happy.

The next 12 months were -- in retrospect -- anti-climatic but I was too happy with life to notice. The most momentous decision I made was which college I would attend. I picked Chico State because at the time it had one of the four top soccer programs in the state -- I was disinclined to leave California. The other three colleges were USF, UCLA and San Jose State. Two in the Bay Area and one in LA. Not interested. So sight unseen I enrolled in this school three hours north of Berkeley in the relatively small town of Chico. I did not realize that at the time that I was also going to one of the top party schools in the country. A well earned reputation that wouldn't start to fade until after I’d been part of that party scene for a few years.

I arrived in Chico for soccer tryouts and it was over 100 degrees. I was from Berkeley were hot was 75. This was fucking nuts and we were supposed to play soccer in it. But we did and I would sweat gallons but made the team and had a helluva time adjusting to not being the star.

Freshman year in college is freedom. Away from home no one to report to and once the soccer season was over it was like look out. Parties. Girls. Beer. Hanging out with the boys. Really discovering that whole male bonding process and trying to be an equal and showing your tough and macho and a little smart but not too much. There were so many rules to be a guy among guys and I was coming from Berkeley in the Sixties which was a different world and I was having to become a different person but I already thought I was special and better because like I said I was from Berkeley which was special transitive property I was special. An athlete and smarter than anyone and hipper and my better-than-thou didn’t go over well with everyone. Cocky son of a bitch.

I drank too much. Way too. I was too good for this bullshit man.  Classes were a bore. The parties were great my friends just fine but there had to be more. Much. Got grandma’s inheritance and after sophomore year split for Europe. No idea what I was doing. Living in the moment I guess.

11 February 2014

"You Say You Want a Revolution..." Part Six of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Call out the instigator
Because there's something in the air
We've got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution's here
And you know it's right
And you know that it's right
- From ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman
I really didn’t know what I was doing or why I was there or who I was politically or what it was all about. I knew that it was the cool thing to do the right thing to do -- somehow I was sure -- and we were good and they were wrong and power to the people right on. Then from a helicopter flying above us came the tear gas. Clouds of it. On us. From above. Courtesy of the government.

I knew at the moment that I would never forget this as long as I lived. So far I was right.

There were gasps of disbelief incredulity shock and wonder and anger and fear and so we ran and ran.

Now I knew. Now I fucking well knew what I was doing and why I was there and who I was politically and what it was all about. I was a radical protesting US involvement in Vietnam and that the draft was wrong and that I had a duty as a citizen to protest though I hardly would ever again think of myself as an American. My supposed government had attacked me and others as we congregated on the University of California, Berkeley campus to protest the war and the ongoing ROTC program.

It was neither the first nor last time I would cut high school to join in protests on the Cal campus. But from now on I would have a greater sense of purpose. I’d followed the news closely since the Kennedy assassination via both Walter Cronkite on CBS and the newspapers. This was a time when there were lots of newspapers and they were thick and rich with information and cost little. TV didn’t dominate the news they just provided the moving pictures and summaries. There was no internet to provide even more figurative noise.

There was a lot to follow in the Sixties what with Vietnam and Civil Rights and then Black Power and the emerging women’s movement along with events in Europe and Africa and other parts of the Far East and the whole cold war and a new breed of politicians and politics sneaking into movies TV and especially music. Oh yeah the music. All these anthems to what we were doing and how we were feeling. It was being voiced by diverse styles from groups and people like Hendrix and the Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young and the Stones and Joan Baez and the Doors and of course The Beatles. Always The Beatles. The music confirmed the rightness of our vision and the importance of our mission and how it was all wrapped up in the cool of culture and the colorful. This was no black and white Eisenhower dark suited America. This was a tie dye spirited righteous hip Amerika. Right on!

Once I walked towards Sproul Plaza on the Cal campus for a demonstration and on the path saw Blue Meanies actually trying to hide behind little bushes. The Blue Meanies were what we called the tac squad officers who were bright blue uniforms. I also saw dozens of police at the track stadium evidently coordinating for the days activities. I later ran as the police charged us and saw a tear gas canister hurtling down in front of me. It was as if I was the wide receiver going out for a deep pass and the canister was the ball that was being thrown just out of my reach. It landed a few feet in front of me and I got a good full dosage in the face. I stumbled to the ground by Strawberry Creek and kneeled there. Someone came from behind me and pulled me up by the scruff of the neck. Fortunately it was not a cop. Whoever it was said “come on man you gotta keep going.” I did and eventually my vision came back. As I fled the campus that day there were cops spread out every twenty feet or so and they were grabbing protestors as they ran by. I waited until two had just nabbed someone and ran through the breach and didn’t stop until I was back in my afternoon class at Berkeley High.

I saw the national guard on street corners. I saw the national guard bivouacked at the park across the street from my high school. I saw people throwing rocks at cops. I saw people getting clubbed by night sticks.

I saw the best minds of my generation....

A spirit of rebellion and I was all about it. We were going to change the world for the better bringing peace love and justice. We represented the oppressed everywhere. Our enemies were the rich and powerful. Whether the police in riot gear or the dark suited short haired guys wearing sun glasses who were taking our pictures. Nixon symbolized the enemy perfectly as the squarest man in Amerika with his stupid short hair cut and awkwardness. Ronald Reagan then the governor of California was another hated enemy. He spoke his animus towards us in no uncertain terms the slimy greasy haired crypto fascist. We had heroes like the musicians and Mario Savio and Angela Davis and Jerry Rubin and other hip smart progressives. We were cool.

I believed in our cause. It was about youth and hair love and peace. Make love not war. Meanwhile I was getting stoned and playing soccer and following sports and watching stupid sit coms and arguing with dad about how long I could grow my hair. Oh yeah and I was also taking a real strong interest in girls. They were soft and pretty and had nice smiles and cute voices and their bodies moved in different ways when they walked. I was ridiculously shy especially because -- maybe -- some girls told me how cute I was and that felt really good but scared me and the first time I made out with a girl it was like a trip to the moon. Swoon.

09 February 2014

"Psychedelic Shack That's Where It's At" Part Five of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness. - Allen Ginsberg
With other jocks I was the hippie. With hippies I was the jock. With squares I was a stoner with stoners I was a square. How did you want me? I’d be the opposite. But I was never confused I was always true to my inner whirling dervish of a brain all its high dives and pratfalls and whopping contradictions. I just wanted to be oppositional. And I was.

Mom finally came out. I guess she couldn’t contain it anymore. She moved from dad’s room and treated everyone to her own raging raving madness. Big brother came home one weekend from college and got the full dose. I heard him cry that night. I never had the luxury. Mom had always just been that way it had been my reality. Poor Dad. Figuratively a two by four had bashed him in the head. No sense to be of made of it. They had -- as he said to me years later -- "a good thing going." He was living the American dream. Now it was a nightmare. There was his loving wife screaming utter nonsense at him. At me. At the air. Well welcome to my world everyone. My misery at last had company.

For as long as I could remember I had hid in my imagination. Creating entire worlds. In some of them dwelled great athletes performing amazing exploits (like the imaginary basketball star Horatio Kumquat.) Others took place on European battlefields during World War II where I -- hopelessly outnumbered -- killed or captured dozens of Nazis. In still others I was a James Bond like super spy. My vivid imagination took me on some wild trips. Now some more serious if artificial trips were to come. Whippee!

The terrifying sounds of my own life pounding desperately against my ear drums from inside. The sense that my life force was ebbing away from my  body and heading to the stratosphere. The sheer terror of being. Of being a being. Of living. Alive felt like pure horror. Depression would have seemed bliss in comparison. The room felt a quarter of the size and there could not be any stopping the walls from growing ever closer until they consumed my being. It felt like nothingness would follow. A void that I’d live through fully aware.  Taunted by the spacial reality of my own hell. You see the LSD had turned on me. It was twisting me inside out.

What a good friend it had started out to be.

Was Mooney and Norman who encouraged me. They’d tripped a couple of times. Surely this must be the next logical step for me in my progression. My raising awareness. Taking consciousness to a new height. Discovery of self and answers to age old questions about the nature of the universe. I was on my way to great times and answers. Enlightenment.

I was 16 years old.


It was less than a year since I’d first gotten drunk. I hadn’t yet gotten stoned. I was a virgin. I was a junior in high school. I was about to have my mind blown for the cost of one hit of acid -- $1. One dollar to expand my brain. I would never be the same.

The three of us went up to Tilden Park atop and among the Berkeley Hills. A wooded area would be ideal, or so I was told.

Dropped the acid. It would take about an hour for it to “come on.”

Where was a I first where was I last how do you conquer a brain so fast. Rolling hills rolling trees  moving flowers and stationary bees. Suddenly I was watching myself from a far. As if. Gone then back. This was trippin’. Whole new concept to perception. Wild weird and wonderful mix with whole grain natural adolescent confusion. A profusion of thought coming from deeper recesses of my mind. Loss of control. It had been given to the drug which told me where to go. Freedom from the conventional thinking slavery to the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. But I did not care.

The world of my dad’s Oldsmobile little league record players grandma’s peanut butter cookies cub scouts Gomer Pyle and even on out of whack mother seemed decadent silly arcane and so fucking square. I was in the world of understanding I had left common Earth bound thinking and was in another universe. Floating through the thoughts and ideas and conceptions only accessible to mind expanders.

And it was fun.

Oh I was having fun. Rolling down a grassy hill, tumbling and squealing was the most -- the -- most fun. Fun. Wow. I’d ever. Had. Wonderful this was all of it and

I walked and talked we said so much that was so profound as we watched the colors and experienced this man. We walked through a picnic site where a family was picnicking. “I’m back” I said with amazement. For my brain had gone elsewhere for a bit and had returned just as I passed by these people. They stared at me in wonder as I continued: “I was gone but now I’m back.”

Squares! Straight people who didn’t trip who weren’t so cool as we were. We were the coolest people on Earth. Est. Most. Superlatives. Now I teach them now to my foreign students. Comparatives and superlatives and how I lived them then. Comparing always myself with the norm and being the superlative most. LSD was making me even more fucking arrogant because I was no smarter and cooler than the rest of the world. So far out.

So really really really really really really really really really far. Far fucking out. Man.

The trip was a pure joy and Mooney and Norman and I were kings of our worlds. And when I came down it was a gentle peaceful landing. Thank you tour guides thank you for taking me on this trip. My first. Memorable like you wouldn’t understand the word memorable ever again because you had a new way of looking at the world. Zowie. High!

Now it all made sense. We were part of something bigger. This huge collective consciousness that was all intertwined and wrapped up in one huge psychedelic sense of otherness. We were beyond the squares the Nixons the suits the dead enders and business people. We were really on to something special. Had access, the key to really understanding things like what that monolith was in 2001. We were riding high. Young and in love with life and for peace and rock music and ending all war. The world didn’t have to be black and white (Leave it to Beaver -- you’re out!) there were colors man. So many and they could dance and swirl and so could we. Dropping acid was the way to get out by getting inside our own brains and seeing how they related to the universe...or some shit like that.

Man we were going to have fun.

And the truth of course was that I had no fucking idea what was going on just that I wanted to be part of it and be able to keep doing what I wanted to especially if it meant not really having to work hard at things except maybe playing soccer which I was really so good at and dug doing because of that and I was going to be a superstar and it was cool to play soccer because it wasn’t a sport for the squares or the Nixons or the suits but a European South American kind of thing that the squares didn’t really dig but it was so much cooler than baseball and football and basketball (which by the way I still dug but that was a separate issue although I’m not sure how I couldn’t think of all that shit at once you know plus there was still a bunch of that shit on TV that I liked to watch though I’d admit to few that I did). So I was part of something but my own person who’d do his own thing high. High. Hi.

Bleeding orange and rapid fire raspberry and digging the tools of the decadent likeness of the sapphire wonderings of later people and dances of rebellion and sticking those purple guitar notes into the darkness and creating the light and the bright and the out of the sight and I could and would and should and there was wood and carpet and larger and lime and fuck the slime of the establishment and no war in Vietnam or any place and me me me me me me I was the one. Let’s all have fun and if you don’t follow our grooviness then you’re part of the problem and the enemy unless you’re like my Dad or another Finn or a soccer player or one of my favorite athletes but not if you’re like a conservative. Blasting the rhymes and stopping the crimes against us. Privilege. Wap! Smash and grab the perfection of this wonderful being of beingness and I understand it all or at least how to get there. Another hit of acid. Okay?

And I did. Next time it was still good but not as. Next next time there was a hard landing coming down and I did not dig. Eventually I got to the point where the landings started early and they were horrific crashes in which misery was multiplied by like a thousand and I needed to take thorazine which Mooney had to keep from flipping out completely. Maybe booze and coke and weed would do for me. This trip pin' stuff was too fucking much if you fell.

07 February 2014

"The Beatles Change Everything" Part Four of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”  - from 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac 
I was the first person at my school to learn of President Kennedy's assassination.  I always walked to grandma's for lunch as noted previously. Usually I sat down to eat and watch The Donna Reed show but this one Friday there was no Donna Reed. Instead some guys in suits were talking about the president being dead. I thought that John F. Kennedy had to be the greatest guy on the planet at least the smartest and most important -- hey, I was nine years old. After eating I caught up with my friends at the school playground and told them the news. They didn't believe me. Why should they? We returned to class after the bell rang but Ms. Phillips -- our teacher who seemed to be about 100 years old -- wasn't waiting for us. A minute or so later she walked in with a few tears on her cheeks and told us the president had been killed. (It made quite an impression on my classmates that I had been telling the truth and that they had heard it from me first.) We got to go home. Like a lot of Americans we spent a most of the weekend in front of our TV sets. Dumbstruck. However I was in stupid Sunday school when Oswald was killed by Ruby. You better believe the president's assassination had a profound affect on me. For one thing I took it for granted that those rare public figures who we trusted or admired could be taken away. When four years later Dr. King and RFK were killed well I had very little faith in ....much of anything.  Jaded at an early age. Helluva way to go through life. First mom was a loony now the president killed. What the hell could you count on? (I later spent a lot of time research the JFK assassination and have become convinced that he was killed as the result of a conspiracy that the government had covered up. So add cynicism to the mix.) I was nine so I kept on keeping on my primary focus was on being a kid.  But it felt like there was permanent overcast until....

Everything changed a few weeks before my 10th birthday. There was this rock group called The Beatles that appeared on The Ed Sullivan. I was curious. I watched. I was stunned. The world opened up in ways I hadn’t imagined. There was music and hair and girls and this feeling this really very different feeling. Like there was a world aside from games and school and parents and it existed as much within me -- if I let it -- as it did outside of me. But it was this all encompassing thing that was beautiful and had....


That was it. There was a beat. And there was excitement beyond touchdowns and home runs. There were dreams and reality mixed together in this wonderful collage like I had new blood. Wow.

(I had to grow my hair out.)

I had to think about being...cool. Cool became like a thing in my life. A style a way a separateness from the ordinary and I knew then if I didn’t already that I was different. I was special beyond just being like a unique person and all I was part of this difference this new thing this cool and this rhythm and this beat. Excitement. Yeah know I could fly. I didn’t have these words for it yet but soon The Who would say it: talkin’ bout my generation.

And ya know what else? Fuck the traffic patrol -- that was for squares. That was for them. Ya see at Jefferson if you were in the 5th and 6th grades you could be in the traffic patrol and get a special hat and sweater and carry the big sign on the street corners before and after school and you’d get out of class a couple times a week to drill. No no not me. I was eligible all right which made it all the sweeter to say no thanks and that thanks was not emphasized but sort of out of the corner of the mouth. So while the “good kids” had drills and the girls went to home ec I was left with the bad boys and damned if I didn’t find some kindred spirits. It was The Beatles for them and being different and knowing we were special. On we go.

So yeah my cockiness came out early. Helped along by my abilities in sports. I wouldn’t know true stardom until I started excelling in soccer in my teens but I was pretty good at everything despite being short.

I tried my had at music but had no affinity for it. That was okay I’d someday be famous for other things like writing a novel. I was on my way and The Beatles would provide the soundtrack.

05 February 2014

"Paralysis by Analysis" Part Three of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

I have a friend
I've never seen
He hides his head
inside a dream
Someone should call him
and see if he can come out.
Try to lose
the down that he's found.
                   --  Neil Young from Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Yeah like I was saying I was a fun loving lad surrounded by love and brimming with good health and energy. But....

Imagine the terrified little boy cowering in a corner of the house desperately wishing it weren’t so pretending it wasn’t so gamely trying to block it all out. It was too horrible to fathom let alone contemplate. There was no making sense of it so my very young mind had to pretend. Pretend it wasn’t there. Thus developed an acute sensitivity to unpleasant noises and a furtive oft employed imagination. I knew from blocking out the horrors that reality could provide.

You see it was mom. Dear old mom. The person who gave birth to me at whom’s breast I suckled. It was my mother. She was a raving lunatic. At times that is. Like times when we were alone in the house together (and presumably when she was by herself). When big brother or dad came home, mom returned to normal. Goddamned what a cruel joke to pull on a small child. Adding this confusion to the mix of angry ravings at absent or imaginary figures emanating from mother dear.

The notion of telling a sole what I was exposed to never occurred to me and I never did it. She had to -- and eventually years later did -- “come out” as a loonie herself. I’d be damned if I’d tell dad or anyone else: “say you know when you’re not around mom cusses and yells and has imaginary conversations and it scares me really badly.” I could barely admit the truth to myself. And hell they might not even believe me. What five year old outs mother to father as a crazy person?

So there it was. Stark insanity. And there I was. Innocent youth. Time heals all wounds but can leave permanent scars. I’ve shared this story with people ever since leaving home. Mostly of course with a string of psychiatrists. Mostly strict Freudians with furrowed brows and stoic faces betraying no emotion. Offering no comments though sometimes admitting to some skepticism. Once when I was 19 years old a novice shrink brought to a room full of experienced colleagues to relate my peculiar story. There was a large oval table with half a dozen analysts staring at me as I entered. Their cold eyes considered me as I said “hi.” No one responded. I felt awkward. But I told my story. They regarded me with interest. The woman among them seemed to frown at one point but whether it was out of sympathy or disapproval of me was unclear. The consequence of this sharing was...well nothing that I know of. I’m sure that my novice shrink consulted with his wise veteran colleagues but he never shared any of it with me. Not a thing. And I asked. I only got him to talk when I announced I was going to quit therapy as I found it unproductive. He protested vehemently but was unable to give a compelling reason for why I should continue baring my soul to a person who might as well have been sound asleep.

This was just one in a series of seeming deaf mutes I was to recount my childhood to. There were two who managed to say more than: our time is up. One was not a psychiatrist at all but a therapist. She was a young woman about my age at the time and she actually expressed thoughts and suggestions and was -- dare I say it -- thus helpful. The second was the most recent head shrinker I saw. Yeah he spoke too but mostly in an effort to talk about our mutual interests in the Giants and Cal sports. On my dime he wanted to talk about these things! When I was having financial concerns he suggested I touch my father for some of my inheritance. Even back when I was in my most drug addled states I wouldn’t have contemplated such a course.

Suffice to say I have quite mixed feelings on psychiatry. The worst damage they do is an insistence on prescribing medication for the slightest cause. The last bloke tried to get to take pills because street noises bothered me.

Well that was a helluva digression.

Point is that my childhood wasn’t all peaches and cream. But I was a Cub Scout, played organized football soccer baseball and basketball, went to Summer camps rode my bike, played hide and seek and watched endless hours of moronic sitcoms and smiled constantly. People can be pretty fucking resilient.

03 February 2014

"Just Call me Rip" Part Two of My Month Long Autobiographical Series - Countdown to 60

That's me on dad's lap. Mom next to us then grandparents and big brother far right front.
Genius is the recovery of childhood at will. -
Arthur Rimbaud
I was really really good at being a child. I knew playing. I knew imagination. I knew games. I did not know in my youth brooding or prolonged sulks or pouts I was an unabashed lover of fun and pursued it with precocious zeal bordering on mania. I loved to run and be chased and to throw and kick and laugh and giggle. I loved attention but not affection -- no never that. Love was to be unspoken and not displayed just sensed. I -- this wild bundle of cute -- received love unconditionally from family and friends.

My parents and big brother and a few other relatives called me Rip. There’s no one around anymore to ask about the origins of the nickname but I like to assume it had something to do with the manner in which I tore through my existence.

Trees. I loved to climb them and once at about five I fell from one and landed head first. A rather nasty cut opened up and blood poured. (I remember this from my own memory not from being told about it.) My dad took me the mirror and showed me my bleeding head and said that as a man I needn’t cry. So I stopped then and there and that may well have been the last time I cried until I was an adult. He took me to the doctor for stitches. The doctor expressed amazement at my bravery. I knew how to impress my old man.

You would think that I bought hook line and sinker into the whole macho lifestyle but that wasn’t  the case. I did use hook line and sinker a few times to fish but it never became a passion. My hunting days ended before they started. I had a bee bee gun with which I shot a bird from quite a distance. I remember watching the dead bird fall from it’s branch to the ground and feeling sickly sad even as dad came over to congratulate my marksmanship. I never wanted to kill an animal again.

My earliest memories are of the duplex we lived in until I was four but they are vague and doubtless influenced by what elders subsequently told me. I do remember our move to 1426 Grove Street where I was to spend the next 13 years. It was the classic middle American house to grow up in with a big backyard and trees and lots of dirt and even a shack where dad kept his tools. Later dad would build me a treehouse right there in our redwood tree.

Berkeley in the early 1960s seemed less the hotbed of radical protests and hippies it was to become than a bucolic small town straight out of Leave it to Beaver. Just like the Beaver I had a wiser taller older brother. Picket fences and corner market and burger joint with a jukebox where teens hung out helped round out our neighborhood scene. A few blocks away was an empty lot rich in blackberry bushes that I used to go to with big brother for fruit feasts that would stain our sweatshirts. That lot has since housed a bank an apartment building and a store.

In my childhood Berkeley still had traditional parades down main street that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Anytown USA. The mayor was a Republican. My parents were Democrats as were about 99% of all Finnish-Americans and my mother was a poll worker on the day of the contentious 1960 election. Political rancor was not so acerbic then what with the absence of cable TV and the internet. My early memories are of an idyllic life featuring the greatest dad in the world a cool big brother fun cousins and friends and loving grandparents. There was a dark cloud amidst all this however....

I started school almost a full year earlier than I should have and consequently I was invariably the youngest of any given group I was in for many years to come. This has helped make me feel like the kid in any group I'm in no matter that I'm years older than anyone else.

I want to Jefferson Elementary School which was just a block away from my grandparents' house so like my big brother before me I went to Grandma's house everyday for lunch through the sixth grade where I was joined by a golden retriever named Sisu (a Finnish word for courage that has special significance to my people). And I walked to and from school despite a distance of about seven blocks. Children were allowed to walk the streets unsupervised back then. There was infinitely less paranoia. The idea of play dates would have seemed ludicrous. We managed to find people to play with on our own. One of my first friends and my best for many years was Mark who himself had some Finnish ancestry. He would go on to take LSD an ungodly number of times and do severe damage to his brain as a consequence. But as a child he shared my zeal for play and the pursuit of it with what can only be called reckless abandon.