Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rarely Tapped Corridors

The cascading resonance resounding
darkly in a cave, illuminated haphazardly
by a single candle's furtive flickering
licks of light, floats harmoniously,
like a shuttlecock, blithely rambling

a nonsensical contrapuntal interjection
in the conversation shared by wave
and shore. A furtively flitting firefly
careens in the moist evening air,
sporadically blinking its luminescent,

arboreal beacon encoding recalcitrant
themes injected onto the common epistles'
veins, coursing through the dramatis personae
occupying life's succulent stage. Fascinations
fastidously fasten wholistic hermetic caprices

courageously, contemplating uncommon
theses shared by the finely-tuned,
prankster-experienced experimenters
whose acidicly altered electromagnetic
fields overlapped rarely tapped corridors

through the universally sublime fabric.
Calloused fingertips flit across
Jerry Garcia's fretboard, missing
no fingers at all, delivering mantras
to life's moonlight sonata. Caressing

the underbelly of an expectant supplicant,
teasing undulations of cozmic proportions
calculate the astonished agitation
which adulations' arrogance accumulates.
Zapping a voltaic, synaptic pathway,

marginal, mocking Meanderthals
congregate in solipstic quicksand,
while intuitive shuttlecock trails
etch irridescent, glowing patterns
through our rarely tapped corridors.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Sidewalk Streets of Despair

Blue tip matches travel
the dinosaur's path, ringing
in a right ear, spinning
in dizzying circles, fingertips
sky-grazing while alligator roach
clip protected, day glo faces
radiate snickers, bars cross
windowpanes' louvered blinds.

Who carves initials
upon the tree of woe?

A magician's trunk falls
to the wayside, mimicking
carols lilt through the hot
summer night.

But, can you dig it, man?

Can you take your jive ass, honkified,
plastic paid for, mystery misery
to the ocean's edge for all to see,
bare witness to salty tears for
the horror-filled TV screen - death
images destroying villages in desert
jungles, and jungle deserts glorified
slaughter at epicene generals' command?

Can you get your freak-on to fatherless
children, walking, dazed, in circles
on the sidewalk streets of despair, wailing
beside mommy's body lying lifeless,
curbside, in the blood-flowing gutter?

Do your vibrations groove to
fourteen-year-old children snorting
crack on southside street corners
in the unchaperoned night, sucking
down Old English with crusty old bums
who collect the change off asphalt to pay
for that 7 AM, start-your-day-off-tight,
morning, wakeup beer?

Will you trip to the buttoned down, spit
shined, Starbucks junkies, the fat cats
who prowl gated alleys and calculate
profits while digging cemetaries
in foreclosed track-home backyards?

Do you keep on truckin', brother,
while babies' malnourished bellies
distend, and distempered dogs' drool
anticipates masters' rabid-foamed
injunctions wheedling eminent
domain inflicted repossession?

Hallucinated reality cloys
close-knit, joyful bundles'
wrap: feather fabric's fantasy - try
washin' away each hopscotch square
on the sidewalk streets of despair.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Reviewing the Realities of Reaganomics' Supply Side Strategies and Their Effects on the Current American Economic Recession

Questions mount on a daily basis in the media and among the American public with regard to the efficacy of President Obama's economic stimulus plan. News reports circulate, underlining the mismanagement of the stimulus funds as exorbitant amounts are funneled into the accounts of already absurdly wealthy executives. There seems to be no end to the constant stream of failing businesses closing their doors as they cease their commercial operations. Each month, it seems, unemployment rises to new highs as those businesses which do continue to pursue their commercial enterprises feel the need to lay off more workers in order to cut costs as they attempt to keep their bottom lines within viably acceptable profit margins. Meanwhile, the national debt soars to new heights, so astronomical as to be incomprehensible to the average citizen.

As the economic crisis deepens, it spreads to more industries, and threatens to consume every last thread of the fiber we call the contemporary global economy. President Obama hitched his economic policies, and suggested solutions designed to remedy the current economic collapse, to those initiated by George W. Bush's failed attempts to stave off economic woe at the end of his second term. Obama, together with the Democratic Party controlled Congress, only slightly watered down Bush's approach, with a kind of kinder, gentler version of Bush's policies. Obama suggests that to do nothing would be irresponsible. But, just as "Doubleya" rushed into action against Iraq militarily without conducting a national discussion to determine both consensus and obtain as many views for solutions as possible, Obama has also rushed into action to stem and reverse the economic meltdown the world currently faces with his stimulus without the benefit of, not only a national consensus but in this instance, an international consensus since the economic catastrophe and its rectification are global in nature and effect.

What, indeed, are those policies which are currently being used to counter the economic ruin facing the world's burgeoning global economy, you might ask. Let's have a look at the policies and procedures endemic to the stimulus packages employed by Bush and Obama.

The stimulus employed by Bush was to infuse capital into the business sector. There were two major calamities impending at the time Bush acted. One precipice upon which the Bush Administration teetered revealed itself as the lending industry - banks (and other lenders) had over extended credit with regard to home loans (as well as credit cards, but that won't really hit for a few months yet), therefore these lending institutions were forced to consolidate, rid themselves of bad debt holdings, go out of business, and/or restrict the availability of new loans (in every avenue of lending), the value of real estate and homes plummeted, thus the sale of new homes and previously owned homes almost came to a complete standstill, and builders found no market for newly created housing and no lenders willing to finance construction. The second economic precipice revealed itself as being the automotive industry (although the country will soon discover it extends to every facet and branch of the retail sales industry).

Bush's response was to adhere to the principles of Reaganomics, otherwise known as Supply Side Economics. Allow me to provide a brief review of the economic theory foundational to this line of thinking.

Essentially, the idea behind Supply Side Economics lies in two faith-based tenets which continue to be bandied about today as if they arise from observable facts. The first is that the marketplace will always correct itself naturally, and thus, not only does not need to be regulated, but to actually impose regulations on the marketplace would result in adverse effects on the "natural" corrections the marketplace would otherwise institute. The second faith-based tenet lies in the "Trickle Down Theory" which suggests that the most advantageous system to promote Capitalism is to reduce taxes on corporations and super wealthy individuals in conjunction with encouraging excessive investment (both private through the stock market and public through governmental subsidies and funding for research and development) in corporations and the super wealthy. The expected benefit, according to those people who advanced and who continue to advance this theory is that those who hire workers will be left with money in their accounts with which to continue to employ those workers and, in fact, increase the number of workers hired as well as increase the income of the working public.

Let's look at these two tenets of Supply Side Economics individually.

The marketplace certainly does react to the changing conditions upon which commerce operates. There are a number of indicators which elicit adjustments in the marketplace. For instance, if too much of a particular commodity or product is present in the marketplace, two things tend to occur, the price of that item is temporarily reduced and the item's manufacturers or developers tend to reduce production for a while to reduce the supply. Once the supply is reduced, the demand is expected to increase, warranting a commensurate increase in the price of that item. Now, if too little of a product or commodity is present in the marketplace, the suppliers or manufacturers will raise prices because the item is in demand. The increase in demand increases the value of the item. It is expected that the suppliers or manufacturers of the item will then increase production of the item to meet the demand. At that point, according to theory, the price should be reduced to reflect the reduced demand.

However, the way things actually work, as any consumer can tell us, is that once the price for something goes up, it rarely comes down once the marketplace returns to a state of equilibrium. The result is what we call inflation. Inflation occurs when the prices for a number of products and services increase and remain at the newly established higher level. Normally, the consequence of inflated prices becoming established as new median prices will cause increases in the earnings and income for individuals in the workforce of that industry. However, it is also almost a maxim that the amount of wage increase never equals the amount of price increase during inflation. For example, one will generally see a 2% rise in income being accompanied by a 4% or 5% rise in the cost of living index.

The "natural" correction just described yields an unfair and inequitable advantage to businesses in a commensurate detriment to the workers. First, the prices of products increase faster than the income of workers. Second, because there are more consumers for products and services than there are workers yields a disproportionate advantage to the business entities as seen in increased business profits in geometric proportion. Just imagine a product produced by a business. That business might have one hundred employees, but sells its product or service to one million consumers. If the workers get a 2% yearly raise, multiplied by 100 employees, the cost of business can be computed as 2% multiplied by 100 people or 200% total. However, if the product price is increased by just 4%, the actual increase in profits to the business can be computed as 4% multiplied by 1,000,000 consumers of the product, or 4,000,000%. This explains one way in which the rich are always getting richer at the expense of the poor and middle class, who are always getting poorer by comparison in the degree to which the rich get richer.

Another manner exemplary of how supply and demand work hand-in-hand with the so-called "naturally correcting marketplace" occurs with regard to workers and wages. In many, if not most, industries and career fields, workers receive an annual raise in their rate of pay. What employers do after their workforce receives an annual pay increase is raise the price on the product or service that employer provides to the public. The interesting observation from this example reveals to us that, while the workers in that industry received an increase in their income, there is no guarantee that the consumers of the product or service have received a commensurate increase in income. So, the cost of living for the broad mass of consumers increases even though the earnings of the broad mass of consumers may have stagnated, or increased to a lesser degree than the cost of that good or service merits.

In that latter example, we see the seeds of runaway inflation. We also see that the effect is not caused by a natural adjustment in the marketplace, but a forced adjustment made by employers (sellers in the marketplace) which is disproportionate to the actual conditions in the marketplace. The example I’ll use here is baseball tickets. If the cost of doing business for a baseball team increases, say 5%, the size of the increase will have to be disproportionate to the earning power of the average worker. I say this because baseball players make at minimum in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on up to tens of millions of dollars. However, the average guy taking his family to a game or two a year will face prices for seats, parking and concessions which will grow exorbitantly higher than that workers salary will grow (assuming that consumer earns between tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars). This exhibits yet another manner in which the marketplace correction disproportionately favors businesses to the commensurate disadvantage of the consumer.

There exists yet another factor which constantly affects the marketplace and it can be seen in the ever-growing population. Rising population totals create a greater demand for products and services. Theoretically, the presence of more people (indicating the presence of more consumers) and the consequent increase in demand for products and services should result in an increase in the workforce (or number of employees hired by businesses) so that businesses can meet the increased demand for their products and services. However, what we actually have seen over the last several decades is that rather than increasing the number of employees, businesses employ: new technologies to increase production, new methods of business operation to increase employee production, or just plain impose greater demands on the employees already employed to increase their production. Again, this is evidence of how the marketplace does not really adjust itself proportionally, equitably or "naturally" to changes in the marketplace.

Now, let's divert our attention to the "Trickle Down Theory" tenet of Supply Side Economics.

Those who promote the "Trickle Down Theory" want us to believe that government taxation on businesses imposes an impediment on those businesses for hiring employees and that government investment in the forms of subsidies and grants for new research are also necessary to assure that businesses will not only be able to hire and continually employ a consistently growing workforce, but also so those companies will be able to remain competitive on the world market. The final result of this governmental favoritism and/or protectionism for its corporations lies in the idea that out of the ever-increasing profits corporations inevitably will garner, workers will benefit not only because they will continue to have their jobs and that the size of the workforce will continue to grow proportionally to the size of overall population growth (given that that overall population growth represents the ever-increasing size of consumers and hence demand for products and services), but also because workers will see ever-increasing wages due to the ever-increasing profitability of the employers.

The first objection I feel compelled to raise is that the reasons given actually contradict the first premise, that the marketplace will always adjust itself naturally. If the marketplace will adjust naturally, then the government will never need to take action to protect or advance the profitability of those corporations existing within its borders. To suggest the government must take these actions of favoritism is to contradict the premise that the market will adjust itself naturally, and exposes the whole system of belief as a sham and as being the "voodoo economics" which it was called when first introduced.

The second most obvious objection to this theory resides in the idea that production, and hence profits, can be ever-increasing. We live in a finite world, with a finite amount of natural resources, and with a finite population size that the planet can ultimately sustain. That being true, we cannot sustain infinite increases in profits, markets shares, product production or consumers for the products and services.

The third objection to "Trickle Down" reveals itself in the disproportionate amount of wealth being spread between the upper class, the middle class, and the poverty class. I'll detail that below.

The "trickle," in actuality, is a negative number for the poverty class. Nothing trickles down to those suffering from poverty, not jobs, not an increase in social services, not an increase in money for those social services the government extends. Sure, those receiving food stamps get a small increase in their allotments from time to time. The maximum benefit for food stamps for a single recipient in 2007 was $160 per month. In 2008, the maximum benefit for a single recipient was $176 per month (a $16 dollar increase per month). In 2009, the maximum benefit for a single recipient will soon grow to $200 per month (a $24 per month increase). The percentages sound like a lot of money (10% in 2008 and almost 14% in 2009). However, when one stops to realize the food stamps benefits actually dole out at the following rates for a 30 day month: $5.33 per day in 2007, $5.87 in 2008 and soon will rise to $6.67 in 2009, one can clearly see how these benefits don't come anywhere near keeping pace with inflation and the rising costs of all food items. (This is just one example of how "Trickle Down" never does, and never will, keep pace with inflation's ever-rising cost of living for the poor.)

The middle class generally see regular, but modest, increases in their incomes. However, as previously noted, those increases in income never approach the cost of products and services as they also increase due to inflation as corporations seek to keep their "market shares" and "profitability indices" exhibiting "upward trends." Again, "Trickle Down" does not keep pace with inflation, resulting in a net deficit quality of living to the middle class. Now, factor in that in the current economic climate, massive numbers of formerly middle class workers are losing their jobs (and homes), and one can clearly see that "Trickle Down" is just a euphemism for consolidating all wealth into the hands and accounts of the largest corporations and the super wealthy.

The fourth objection arises from a current view of the current economic situation. If either the "Trickle Down Theory," or the naturally correcting marketplace, really worked, we would not be in the mess in which we presently find ourselves.

One may ask, “Why don't the ‘Trickle Down Theory’ and the naturally correcting marketplace maintain economic equilibrium?”

Marx and Engels suggested in 1848 in their book, Das Kapital, that the essential thrust of Capitalism was to engender greed which resulted in the "dog eat dog" and "survival of the fittest" competitive strategies endemic to Capitalism. Most proponents of Capitalism would argue that the system they offered in its place, Communism, failed, disproving their theories. I believe we must re-think that assumption. Just because the system they created to replace Capitalism failed does not mean they were wrong about the essential attributes of Capitalism. The more one looks at the continuing history of Capitalism, the more one sees the critiques of Capitalism Marx and Engels enumerated have a basis in fact with regard to the way Capitalism manifests itself in practical application.

One can go back to the Panic of 1837 for an early example of how a speculative fever led to a bubble bursting on May 10, 1837 which was followed by a five year depression, the failure of many banks and record high unemployment figures at the time. Nearly 100 years later, another speculative fever led to the stock market crash in 1929 and another protracted depression. In 1987, yet another speculative fever led to a significant market drop, the demise of the Savings and Loan industry and a significant recession. Any honest look at the current market has to yield yet again, the same conclusion, a speculative fever in the market led to collapses in the lending sector, which has spread to nearly every industry since, the closing of many banks and the consolidation of others, and at the least a severe recession which still possesses the potential to result in a protracted depression. I've only just skimmed the surface of the historical record here, and one could easily add many more examples, but in the name of brevity, I'll stop there. The speculative fevers described in each economic collapse mentioned above was not just the result of the greed Marx and Engels predicted, the continuing, cyclical manifestations of the speculative fever/greed syndrome proves Marx and Engels’ point, the arising of greed is an endemic problem with which Capitalism will always be infested.

The problem with Supply Side Economics is the continual investiture of funds, tax breaks, and government grants into the hands of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the nation. Just as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, wealth and privilege induce greed and super wealth and excessive privilege induce excessively supreme greed. There is no getting around this foible in human psychology. At some point, humanity must come to grips with the idea that we are who we are, and we must find ways to protect ourselves from the basest and most basic, pervasive and endemic qualities within human nature.

I want to go on record here as actively and adamantly advancing the premise that Demand Side Economics will provide the only way out of the economic crisis currently afflicting the global economy. Let me explain why.

When Supply Side Economics finds commerce in the present situation, a cycle of futility ensues. Corporations find their profits are not only failing to increase, deficits overtake profits. In order to maintain profitability, the corporations cut the workforce (lay people off). With a reduced workforce, there are fewer consumers who have the purchasing power to consume corporate products and services. Thus, corporate profits take another hit. Consequently, more people are laid off. This cycle is repeatable and will continue to repeat itself, constantly scaling down not only the size of the workforce and the amount of products produced, but it also exaggerates the discrepancy of lifestyle between the wealthy and everyone else. The middle class is eroded and most of those within its ranks are rendered poor, joining the ranks of the poverty class. This cycle is unavoidable as long as Supply Side Economics is pursued (and Supply Side Economics are what Obama is pursuing with his version of the stimulus package - change you can count on, indeed, what a farce).

However, Demand Side Economics reveals a whole different cycle. If funds and tax breaks are invested in the broad mass, the consumer class (including the poor), vast numbers of individuals discover they possess a considerable amount of discretionary income with which to purchase products. As more and more people purchase more and more products, the profits and profitability of corporations increase. In addition, the demand for products and services increase. In this scenario, two conditions arise. Corporations' profits increase, meaning they are financially able to hire more people, and the increased demand for products and services forces the corporations to hire more people in order to increase production to meet the demand.

Now, token amounts of money given to the consumer class will not be sufficient to incite the consumer to purchase products. The $500 Obama wants to give individual taxpayers and $1000 to families does not provide enough of a stimulus to the economy. The stimulus needed is for individuals and families to find themselves with sufficient discretionary funds to make major purchases. $1000 will not assist in the purchase of a car or a house. In fact, $500 and $1000 will be eaten up by the increased cost of living we are all facing. Just $10 per week for an individual (the equivalent of a one-time $500 stimulus to an individual doesn't even equal $10 per week for 52 weeks) will only cover the increased expense at the market for groceries.

In reality, for any stimulus to effectively incite a cycle of spending/profits increases/hiring which is what is required at the moment, that stimulus would probably have to be more like $10,000 to $20,000 for every individual (the poor included) and $20,000 to $40,000 for a family. No funds should be extended to "save" failing banks and other lending institutions. I agree that the government must purchase all the debt of a bank which fails, and the government must be willing to restructure the bad loans which caused the banks to fail, in a humanitarian manner intended to assist homebuyers and other debtors to keep what they have and offer them a way to pay back the debts in a reasonable and prudent fashion.

It is also true that the government will have to invest in government funded projects which will translate into jobs. However, the jobs should be created in industries which will survive long into the future.

Investing in jobs for road repair when it is clear that Climate Change will have to render the automobile industry extinct in the next 10 to 20 years is not a prudent or wise decision. Investing in the creation of climate friendly, rapid transit based on magnetic and solar and wind generated electric power systems will be creating jobs and industries and methods of transporting our public in ways which will last for several decades into the future, maybe even the entire millennium.

Investing in saving GM and Ford when those companies will not be able to exist long into the future anyway does not make sense as a prudent investment. Investing in companies who will create clean sources of power and investing in assisting those companies to create assembly lines so that their products can be made immediately affordable to the public does make sense at the same time as it will create jobs which will be sustainable for many decades to come.

Saving banks from failure does not make sense. The time period which the government is able to save the banks, and auto producers, for several hundred million dollars, only means 3 to 6 more months of solvency. That's absurd.

However, moving our economies away from debt does make sense. This is the time to learn to pay as we go, as individuals, as corporations and businesses, and, indeed, as nations too, in the long run. If the last 200 years of debt as a way of life, and the constant failures in the economy, both on individual and national levels, doesn't teach us that debt is never a sustainable basis for any economy, then we will doom ourselves to repeating this catastrophe again and again in the future. Getting un-addicted to debt is the surest way to creating not only a road to recovery for our present economy, but also a path to a sustainable economy in the future. Everyone on the planet aspires to affluence. What that means varies from person to person and culture to culture. However, once we all learn to see affluence in sustainable terms, it will be possible, with the eradication of debt as a way of life and the eradication of wealth and poverty together, to create a system which will afford a sensible, ecologically friendly and sustainable affluence into the future. I am not talking about socialism or Communism or Capitalism or any other ism. I am suggesting that the Star Trek vision, one in which all are equally affluent and equally able to pursue our dreams and aspirations, without excess and without destroying the environment is a goal for which we can aim, should seek, and can hope to attain.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Avenging Dragon

Witness the avenging dragon!
He breathes fire in the night,
forcing you to notice
the future's starving children,
entombed by the bondage
of today's commerce.
Yet unborn waifs spit up
lungs, hurling a bloody pile,
overtaxed by their ancestors'
bequeathed burden. Who
represented their right
to consider and refuse?
No soul guarded against
usurping politicians
who funneled inconceivable
mountains of money
into the wealthy's vaults,
hoping to save their own
position, prestige and power.
And you let them,
in your lustful orgy
advancing today's interests
over tomorrow's foreclosure.
The avenging dragon roars
with Robespierrean authority,
as collecting masses coalesce
into a single spirited voice,
"Today marks the beginning
of the end of wealth."

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Flying Squirrels' Wailing Lamentations

Frozen outside,
on roughly coarse crags,
the vanilla king rode
on the back of a coal
colored panther
flinging Melipona bees
at dark orchid pods
until ice cream rained
over every velvety carpet
that stubbornly refused
to stimulate consumption.

Acorns, meanwhile, ceased
issuing from oaks and hickory
nuts eschewed to be chewed
with inanimate reincarnation,
leaving a whole generation
of starving, skinny, crazed
squirrels to offer their bodies
as asphalt roadkill sacrifices
to the great nut god -
for whose favor they pined
throughout the unfalling
autumn failing in 2008.

The god of nuts, cruelly
and remorselessly
denied sustenance
to flying squirrels,
relegating them to a fate
Boris and Natasha never
succeeded to inflict on Rocky.

"What's a few squirrels,"
pundits deadpanned in the Post,
as the entire east coast
became an acorn free zone.

The god of nuts bellowed
bellicose guffaws, as he schemed
in league with the vanilla king,
and the risen-cream's rain
suffocated each bank's acorn
retirement stash squirreled away.

The flying squirrels' wailing
lamentations fell on deaf ears,
echoing through empty safes'
depositories; for redemption,
the sole solution
offered by the vanilla king
sanctioned doling out more
bees to pollinate the orchids
believing that increased vanilla
wealth would end up trickling
down to feed the squirrels.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Unquenchable Thirst

Concrete and asphalt sprouted palm trees
as the caravansari out-flanked the oasis
in every direction. The one-time savanna,
bared of all nurtrient laden vegetation
by the grinding, pulsing prurient horns
blaring out "The Stripper," bore witness
to shrinking wetlands' evaporation while
deep within Gaia's bowels her black, oozing
blood gushed upward, poisoning the sky
with the fool's gold of scheming human
design. Metropoli blossomed on the polluted
banks. Glaciers, melted by the stifling,
rising temperatures, which should have fed
irrigating rivers who wailed the agonizing
screams of poverty's emaciated children,
while the bottled remnants wound their
way to the lap of luxury, shipped across
the globe, slaking the opulent craving
of a nation who polluted their own
waters into actual undrinkability
with the plastic, petroleum chemicals
they force-fed into Gaia's dusty dermis.
The nation's public only cries out
in concern for their wallets' reduced fat,
blinded to the onrushing sandstorm
of unquenchable thirst.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


A four year old boy and his caged
parakeet enjoyed the back yard sun -
the blue bird chirped freedom's song,
the melody regaled the child; an itch
willed the cage open. "Birdie
flies away, Mommy!
" His glee
erupted. "Oh, no, it can't
survive on it's own,
" she
cautioned. The boy's little legs
churned after the bird, standing
perched on the warm sidewalk.
The boy bent down and reached
out, but the blue wings flitted
the parakeet just beyond reach.
Again. "If I step on it, birdie
can't fly away," he pensively
considered. Splat. Cradling
the lifeless bird in his hands,
the boy bubbled, "Look,
Mommy, I saved birdie!"

A little while later, the boy
turned 18 and attended college,
where he met her - long, brown
hair, always barefoot, soft
voiced, in blue jeans and
blue work shirt - a calm
dove. Picnicking in the rose
garden, hearkening to bootlegs -
Springfield, especially "Bluebird,"
the line "Do you think she loves
you / Do you think at all" always
drew fidgety facial portraits
out of the notes in the sky
between them. His Venice
Beach hippie pad, awaited
her arrival one summer day,
but his phone failed to call
in time; an accidental motorist
suffocated her mortal flame.

On a February afternoon,
the boy became a 37 year
old man, as he tended his
garden planter. A parakeet
with shimmering blue
feathers, alit at his feet
and hopped right into
his cupped palm. Perched
on his head and shoulders
they spent years together,
though occasional business
trips took the man away.
One December, a friend
asked to stay at the man's
home. When the man
returned, he found
the blue bird entombed
in a small box, which
he buried in the garden.

As the boy's 56 year old
back bends with time's
passing pain, and organs
fail one after another,
the blues of his loneliness
elicit new words for
those Bluebird lines,
"Did I say I love you,
Did I love at all?"

The lines "Do you think she loves you / Do you think at all" are from Bluebird copyright 1968, Stephen Stills, and appear without anyone's permission.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Until I Find Myself

I have been inspired to write about the experiences which follow for a few reasons.

The first comes from my having recently read John Irving's book, "Until I Find You," and he deals with similar themes in the story he wrote. Irving's writing inspired me to try to detail my story in order to work on my prose style.

However, while reading "Until I Find You," I found myself focusing on the memories to be detailed in this blog entry. As I meditated upon them and their meaning to me at this point in my life, and as I came closer to understanding one of the themes in Irving's book - that memories are not always as accurate as they may seem to be to the rememberer - I began to experience spontaneously recovered memories of the incident. Consequently, I have acquired a deeper understanding of what happened to me all those years ago. I am struggling with revealing this part of my personal history, so it must be of profound importance that I do so. Hence, the second reason for offering this story in my blog.

A third reason arises from the realization that the more of myself I am able to expose, the greater is my honesty to both others and with myself, and the greater connection I am capable of making with both others and myself.

Finally, I find a therapeutic value in revealing my deepest and darkest secrets. So, a fourth reason for writing this blog entry arises from personal growth which can be gained by tearing to shreds the holds over me which are expressed by: fear of being judged by others, self-recriminations because of self-judgement, and a reduced self-image, self-love and self-acceptance which arise due to my inability to accept some of the experiences from my past and some of the elements of my nature.

When I was a child, a particular memory would arise in my mind unprompted. That memory surfaced into my conscious thoughts. The memory was of a time during the end of my 6th year. School had already started, and I was in the 2nd grade, so it was sometime between early September and my 7th birthday that Halloween. A man I had barely met, and only knew for a few days, led me into the bathroom in my parents bedroom. A stall shower stood in that bathroom. This man, who I would later know as Uncle Bill, was preparing both of us to take a shower, however, I was hesitant.

"Your daddy takes a shower with you sometimes, doesn't he?"

I nodded my head, indicating yes.

"Well, we're all boys here, so there's nothing wrong. Come on, boy, get with it," he retorted with a smile on his face but insistence in his voice

After that, I remember entering the shower with Bill. However, that is as far as the memory progressed.

I have three earlier memories which color the circumstances encompassed by this experience.

As a four year old, I was outside playing one day with an older boy on the block where I lived in 1956 Northridge, California. This was a time when the milkman left bottles of cold milk on the front porch in the mornings and the Helms Bakery delivery man drove up in his station wagon woody to deliver baked goods every mid-afternoon. I would start my mornings with Howdy Doody, then run outside to play. Well, this mid-morning, I had to urinate while playing some game with this new friend. The older boy with whom I was playing didn't want to interrupt our play, so he suggested I go over to the tan colored brick wall by my house separating the front yard from the side yard, and go there. I did.

My mother must have heard me urinating. She came out the side door and asked me what I was doing.

"I had to tinkle, Mommy," I explained.

"But you do that inside, in the bathroom," she admonished.

"I know," I replied with downcast eyes. Then I looked up and met her gaze. "But he (and here I used the name of my playmate, though I cannot remember it now) told me it was ok to go here." However, when I turned to point in the direction of my playmate, he was long gone and no where to be seen.

My mother instructed me to come inside. I was told not to play with that boy ever again. I was also instructed to always use the bathroom indoors, and never to expose myself outside or to any stranger.

At some point during kindergarten, which would have been when I was five, so after Halloween of 1957, our family moved from Northridge to a home in Linda Vista, a suburb of San Diego. During the summer of 1958, my cousin Janice came to stay with us. Janice was the daughter of my mother's sister, Marilyn. Now, Janice was older than I, her birthday being 4 days and 4 years before mine. So, I was nearing my 7th birthday as she closed in on her 11th. I had twin beds in my bedroom, so Janice stayed in my bedroom with me, in the other bed.

On the first night of her stay, she got out of bed and came into mine. Janice cuddled close to me. Then, she kissed me on my lips. A skant gasp escaped my mouth. She put a finger over my lips and whispered in my ear to hush, to be very quiet. We embraced under the covers and she kissed me again and again with urgency and passion. I can't remember how many days she stayed with us, however, I do remember that each night one of us went to the other's bed where we cuddled and kissed. As the nights passed along, our hands explored each others body as well. She especially liked to grasp my penis and play with it. I achieved erections from her games, not knowing what they were. I even remember she kissed and licked me to erections.

One night, we must have made too much noise, because my father got out of bed and came to my room, telling us to be quiet. I huddled close to Janice, trying to look like one body. I watched him look from her bed to my bed and back. I'll never know if he knew I was in bed with Janice, but he just turned and went back to bed with my mother. After he left, I went back to my own bed, stealthily.

I had a friend who lived down the street from me in San Diego, whose name was Colleen. She was a year younger than I. We both loved Popeye cartoons. At our house, my father had purchased and installled an antenna tall enough to receive television transmissions from Los Angeles as well as San Diego. Colleen's family did not have such an antenna. So, we would invariably meet at Colleen's home to watch Popeye on San Diego TV, and then we'd run over to my house to see an LA broadcast. We also played other games together, either at her home or at mine.

One day, when I had gone over to Colleen's home and we were playing, she wanted to play house. I didn't know what she meant at first, so I went along with it. She explained I'd be the daddy, and she'd be the mommy, and her dolls would be the babies. Colleen had a toy stove, so she pretended to cook meals. We played with the dolls, then put them to bed. At some point, Colleen decided it was night time, and announced it was time for Mommy and Daddy to go to bed. Now, this was after my experience with Janice, so I understood that this was something we shouldn't be doing.

I told her we shouldn't play this game. However, Colleen just said it was what all parents do and decided it was ok. I allowed myself to be talked into it. Now, this was completely innocent - we didn't kiss or touch or anything. We just kind of laid there next to each other, fully clothed and probably, in a moment or two, Colleen would have decided it was morning and we'd have gotten out of bed. Unfortunately, Colleen's mother came in to check on us, probably because we had grown too quiet. Well, Naomi scolded us both, telling us never to do that again, and then she sent me home. Of course, I was scolded again when I got home, and we were grounded for a week. Needless to say, we never played that game again.

Each of these three experiences preceeded Bill taking me into the shower. I remembered each vividly, in its entirety. Why, then, could I not remember anything more from the time that Bill took me into the shower with him? What was I repressing? I couldn't fathom why I had a missing piece to this memory. Then, for many years, the memory faded into the distance and ceased being something I recalled.

As I read "Until I Find You," this memory started to return to the surface. "Why now?" I wondered. So, I started to try to piece the puzzle together. That began with the arrival of other memories from my childhood.

One which resurfaced during the time I was reading "Until I Find You" concerned the events of a night when I was 8 years old. Please allow me to preface it with some of the details which lead up to the experience and which contain significance in the grand scheme of events relating to the core story.

My father left my mother in San Diego. They separated. He went to Saudi Arabia, working for the government as a foreman on a construction project. He left before we moved from San Diego. That explains the presence of Bill at our house there, right at the end of my and my mother's stay in that house. Bill must have traveled from LA to San Diego to assist my mother with the move. You see, Bill was, as I would later find out, my mother's sister, Marilyn's latest boyfriend. He was also a foreman for a steel fabrication and ironwork construction company. Likely, in that role, he could have taken time off if necessary to help my mother, or they could have been between jobs.

Now, was he sleeping with my mother during his stay? I cannot say. That he took me into the bathroom in my mother's room may or may not be suggestive of anything. I do not want to cast aspersions on my mother's character, however, I know that years later, long after she and my father divorced (and that divorce didn't occur until 1974), she had an affair with a married man who was an old boyfriend of hers from high school. My mother was, over the years, prone to many dark moods when she felt wronged, and she might have slept with Bill to get even with my father for leaving her.

Regarding Bill, I also know that he had made remarks on numerous occasions after my parents divorced that I need not worry about my mother in old age, that he would take her in and she could live in the house with he and Marilyn (who he married sometime in the mid-60s). I also know that Bill sometimes made suggestive remarks to my mother, even in my and my father's presence. Finally, at the business location for the steel and ironwork fabrication company, Bill had a huge collection of pornographic material, not just picture books, but also sex novels of all kinds detailing many strange and bizarre fantasies. (I know this because I went to work for Bill for a few years in the 80s and saw the collection).

In any event, my mother and I moved next door to her parents. We moved into a converted garage which was made into a one bedroom. I slept on the couch in the living room. This garage was attached to a two bedroom home in which Marilyn resided with her children Janice and Ricky, who was male and a year and a half younger than I. I was introduced to Bill at this point as Marilyn's boyfriend, and I recall now having been a bit dumbfounded why I was being reintroduced to someone I had met previously.

Eventually, my mother and father reconciled, and he came to live with us there. A few months later, he moved us out and into a home of our own. It was while we resided in the converted garage and after my father had returned to live with us there that the next event took place.

One night, my parents went with Marilyn and Bill out to dinner. They left us with Janice and another, slightly older girl who babysat for us all. Ricky and I were in his bedroom playing some game, likely a board game. When we finished the game, he suggested playing doctor. I had no idea what that was. He took me in his closet and showed me. Janice and the babysitter found us there. Naturally, they told our parents. I remember trying to explain to my parents that Janice had done the same thing with me in San Diego. She denied it, and everyone believed her.

As that memory resurfaced into my consciousness last month, I began to think about the odd coincidence that both Janice and Ricky (who would have been about 6 years old at the time) were sexually active (to a childish degree) and both initiated sexual games with me, and both had a fascination with my penis. I wasn't yet able to put all the pieces together or recapture any of the missing memory from that day with Bill.

That Ricky and Janice molested me, made me wonder if Bill had molested them. Maybe it was because of Bill molesting them that they became sexually precocious and initiated me into their games. Maybe, because he probably would have admonished them to keep his secret, they would have kept their sexual games secret, even from each other. Maybe that also explained why Janice, who had been a very normal, straight laced, conformist of the mid-60s, turned into a heroin using biker girl in the late 60s, left home, and never wanted anything to do with Marilyn or Bill after she left.

Finally, after understanding there might be a relationship between all these circumstantial facts, my memory of that day in the shower grew full and complete. I recalled what happened in that shower.

I remembered my face being just about the height of his penis. I remembered him lifting me in his arms, holding me in the water as he played with my penis. I remembered Bill putting me back down and telling me to play with him the way he had with me. I remembered him constantly repeating to me what a good boy I was as I did what he told me to do. I remembered him getting hard. I remembered Bill wanting me to kiss his erection and lick it. I remembered him telling me to open my mouth and him inserting himself into my mouth as he had me stroking his shaft. I remembered him taking himself out and shooting on my face. Finally, I remembered him telling me this would be our little secret and that no one should know about it.

After all these recollections had come rushing back and reached their conclusion, I just sat down and cried. I was furious and wanted to wring his neck right then and there. I was panicked because I was confused and afraid to admit to myself how much Bill had ruined my life during that moment when he sexually abused me. I was shocked that I never told anyone about it, and that I had forgotten all the horrid details of being an innocent little boy violated. I was afraid to ever let anyone know about this experience. And then, I began to cry, uncontrollably, for hours as I sat in a Tucson park, all alone, with no one in the world who cared about me or what had happened, no one with whom I could share the story so I might be comforted. Instead, I sat there with tears streaming from my eyes, ashamed and irate.

But today, as I conclude writing the details of the experience, I feel pity for him as well as pity for me as a little boy. Maybe Bill had been abused like this when he was a child. I know that when I hit the "publish post" button, I will have revealed entirely too much to the world. Yet, I also know, I will have revealed entirely too little for my own benefit. Inside, I am crying as I type this. I cry not only tears of pain for having relived the experience once again, but also tears of release. I can finally let go of the trauma. With the trauma, the drama also departs. I feel more whole now as I finally come to grips with accepting times and events long past and their strings no longer linger, they have no hold over me anymore.

Monday, March 9, 2009


A brilliant, white light flashes
brightly across my mind's inner eye
as it gasps it's last breath
upon a starless, midnight sky.

Shivers shudder across the nerve ends
of a cold, clammy flesh - rigor
mortis claims muscles suspended
in the mid-clench of harrowed horror.

The final, echoing footsteps
upon damp cathedral tiles
ring a call to the faithful
flocking to frankincensed aisles.

Flying as if drifting -
a fishing float upon a lake -
as distant fog horns bellow
insistent synapses awake.

A memory's streamlined streak
impels a chocolate flavored ferris wheel
'round and 'round a rutted track
where ancient children's voices squeal.

Beyond the last marching band
in the neverlasting parade route,
sensations lose significance when
thick-tendriled, hemp clouds erase all doubt.

Surreptitious eyes sneak furtive glances
where no occular fantasies resound
and yet the sullen, starless stillness
reflects carnal appetites' compound.

Soon all elliptical collisions
and anatomical incisions
replace individual decisions
with universally envisioned revisions.

An eye stills sees and mouth yet tastes,
a heart surely beats while the body aches;
while one mind thinks, erudition pastes
individual units into unified keepsakes.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On an American Homeless Odyssey

We are, all of us, everywhere, poised upon some precipice in one or more areas of our lives. Relationships sail along on waters seemingly as smooth as glass. Nonetheless, storm clouds seem to billow up from nowhere at odd moments when we least expect them. Careers march their progress along apparently natural pathways until shifting winds alter trade parameters, upsetting traditional market patterns, thus creating imbalances which industrialists address with a lack of creative insight by reducing the workforce, placing road blocks in the boulevards to continued employment and economic security. The mettle of enduring friendships often erodes when the forge's heat exceeds convenience's limits. During those moments which impose life's greatest challenges, people - individuals, families, friends, communities and nations - must learn to band more closely together, coming to one another's assistance, lessening each other's burdens, cooperating in a harmony of mutuality, expressing understanding and communal empathy, and building an atmosphere of social unity. Those kinds of behavior patterns offer the only real opportunities for weathering the onslaught of sudden calamity.

However, the only model the contemporary world possesses for dealing with global catastrophe finds its roots in capitalism's expression of the Puritan ethic. The viewpoint endemic to that paradigm expresses only one potential solution: compete harder, with a leaner overhead and overwhelm the competition with a more efficient business model. Out from such an approach, the individual seeks to hang on to possessions, hold tight to belief systems and find a way to defeat one's competitor(s) - who are always one's neighbors and counterparts, fellow human beings. Thus the competitive model to which we cling stresses disunity, disharmony and disassociation. In the process, the self is exalted over all other interests. In this way, survival of the fittest breeds inhumanity on all levels, coalescing humanity's focus solely on self-interest.

In the contemporary world, the ramifications arising from the capitalist's approach to all areas of life (competition and a determination to defeat all others in one's own quest to gain a reasonable life) yields two related and predictable outcomes: 1) the rise of a super-wealthy class, along with 2) the rapidly growing underbelly of capitalism's waste as seen in the ever-spreading homeless phenomenon. Homelessness spreads throughout the contemporary culture at an alarmingly and exponentially increasing rate.

Those people espousing the contemporary world's version of the Puritan ethic tell you that homelessness only arises in those who are: 1) too lazy to work, 2) too stupid to learn the skills necessary to work, 3) addicted to a substance and consequently rendered unfit for the work force, and/or 4) psychologically/emotionally unfit for acceptable social interaction in the contemporary work force. The entire line of thinking which gives rise to the use of those four circumstances as explaining away the social maladjustment and economic plight of homelessness derives from elitist propaganda, spread and nurtured over the years, and which has now risen to the level of conventional wisdom. However, this propaganda does not gain veracity simply because it has become culturally accepted.

In the first place, there is no single model which can be applied as the common face of the homeless. Men and women of all ages, from all backgrounds, with varying levels of educational advancement, differing religious and political beliefs, and even multifaceted lifestyles all comprise the ranks of the homeless. Psychologists want to name all homeless as bipolar and give them mind-control drugs to reduce the vigor with which they express their individuality so the psychologists can then take the now malleable individualist and shape him or her into a meek, conforming automaton who will act in what society deems as acceptable behavior. Meanwhile, city governments enact laws declaring that no one may sleep on the streets, in the parks, or other areas within city limits.

Many of us who are homeless are highly intelligent individuals who possess an extensive work history of having been employed in highly responsible positions. Many of us are life-long non-conformists who refuse to be forced to not only accept but willingly conform to the culturally accepted lifestyle. Many of us believe that much of what comprises the culturally acceptable lifestyle is actually immoral, unethical and unnatural. Many of us have been cast aside by proper society as no longer offering a worthwhile contribution. Many of us suffer from injuries or ailments, yet find that the government refuses to cover under the terms of the disability insurance the citizen has paid into one's entire working life. Many of us function in the world just fine, finding employment, occasionally shelter, often camping out, and enjoy the mobility afforded in this lifestyle to move from city to city with the passage of seasons or years much the same way as the cowboy did in the 1800s. However, none of us are going to go away simply because you decree through municipal legislation that we cannot sleep within your city limits. Furthermore, many of you will find yourselves in the same situation during the next 2 or 3 years as this economy continues to reel, sputter and crumble due to mismanagement and corporate greed.

Let me provide a little glimpse into the homeless existence.

Most shelters are administered by the Salvation Army or other religious entities. Nearly all of these religious entities are Christian. The food served to individuals staying in a shelter is provided by charitable entities (sometimes, but very rarely, individuals) who are most often church groups. In order to stay, and eat, in a Christian run shelter, the individual is always required to participate in some kind of extended religious prayer service (the Salvation Army usually requires a half hour, other Christian groups require as much as an hour of prayer in conjunction with an actual worship service, all before the meal will ever be served) administered by the shelter's affiliation. Even when an individual finds shelter with a non-denominational, secular facility, many of the church groups who serve food require a pre-meal prayer.

I happened to stay in a secular shelter. I am primarily a Taoist/Zen Buddhist who does not believe in a thinking creator who consciously willed our physical universe into being and that there is no real plan or reason for existence other than to experience, grow and share love, honor and respect to, from and between all life. I could never, in good conscience, stay at a Salvation Army shelter or Gospel Mission shelter. The prayer requirements would be oppressive and the constant shoving down my throat of religious dogma would be demeaning to me and my beliefs as well as an unwelcome expression of superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

The shelter where I resided has beds for 100 men. Every shelter has requirements that homeless individuals must follow in order to remain continuously at the shelter. Salvation Army shelters put one to work, unpaid mind you, for several weeks or months in return for staying at the shelter. At the secular shelter where I stay, one must sign up with the "works" program and accept any job offered. Those are usually manual labor and normally pay at 10 cents per hour over minimum wage. If one is disabled, or has filed a claim with Social Security for disability benefits, that individual is, not only, not required to register for work, but is required to not look for work and may not accept work (meaning that individual will not have any source for money until the Social Security claim is decided (and those usually take a couple of years). Everyone, at all shelters, from what I can ascertain, is required to provide a daily breathalyzer sample as one re-enters the facility at night (meanwhile, pot smokers and hard drug users can come and go as they please without any real check or test). One cannot have any amount of alcohol on one's breath exposed by the test. If one does, one is denied entry, has their items given to them, and they are sent packing back to the streets.

I believe the length of continuous stay is limited at all shelters. The shelter where I was located allows one up to 90 days, but one must meet weekly eligibility requirements and have one's eligibility approved by one's case manager each week. In other words, one may stay for up to 90 consecutive days, but is approved for 7 days at a time (and, of course, any day one could be expelled from the facility for breaking a rule). Once one finishes one's initial 90 days, that homeless man must return to the streets for a minimum of 90 days before he may return to the shelter. At that point, the individual may choose between a 30 consecutive day stay (which would conclude the total number of days that individual may stay at the shelter during a calendar year or a 5 day stay. If an individual opts for the 5 day stay, that homeless individual must return to the streets for another 15 days minimum before he or she can return for another 5 day stay. One faces a cap in the total amount of 120 days in the shelter for a calendar year. If a homeless individual enters the shelter on the 90 day program and screws up along the way (for instance, comes in with an alcohol reading on the breathalyzer, or gets in a fight with another person residing in the shelter, or refuses work offered by the "works" program, or breaks some other rule) that individual will only be eligible for stays of 5 days at a time with 15 non-shelter staying day interludes. However, the remaining days not used from the original 90 consecutive day stay, continue as eligible days within the 120 day total framework.

The shelter within which I resided is a warehouse. There are 100 single sized bunk beds (50 upper bunks and 50 lower bunks) in the facility. The communal shower accommodates up to 6 people at a time. The shelter provides 3 urinals and 3 toilets along with 6 sinks. The dining hall does not have room for all 100 men at one time. However, there is a large outside patio area with several picnic tables and benches one can use as additional dining space.

The day begins with lights on and a good morning announcement over the loud speaker at 5 A.M. The dining area is opened for coffee at that time. The coffee is usually very weak, and many men purchase their own instant coffee to have a decently flavored cup. The coffee maker/dispenser is pulled by about 5:30 A.M., so one had best be quick if one wants a cup. Breakfast is usually served at about 5:45 A.M. The breakfast varies, depending on which charity is providing that meal. One day a week “clients” usually receive scrambled eggs with cut up hot dogs in them (they call it quiche). On another day, “clients” receive scrambled eggs and bacon. Once in a while, four students from the University of Arizona drop by to feed the sheltered men breakfast omelets consisting of diced potatoes, scrambled eggs, grated cheese and beans or sausage in a flour tortilla. The shelter also serves some breakfasts. When it does, the meals are: one day a week is reserved for pancakes, another for French toast, another day is usually reserved for cold cereal and a fourth day is reserved for oatmeal or cream of wheat. Only on rare occasions does the shelter prepare eggs and sausage for inhabitants.

All shelter occupants at all shelters are sent packing, and must be out the door by 7 A.M. If one does not have a job, one must go looking for work. That usually begins with a trip to the "works" facility to register and see if they have any work for you that day. If one does not have a job, that individual's continued residency is earned by showing 10 jobs applied for per week. Since I am disabled and pursuing a disability claim, I was not allowed to look for work, but I was still sent out at 7 A.M. with everyone else. None of the “clients” may return to the shelter and be on the lot before 4:30 P.M. Doors for re-entry open at 5 P.M. What men do between 7 A.M. and 5 P.M. is up to each individual. The homeless men must fill their own days.

Dinner is usually served about 5:45 P.M. Dinner usually consists of a main dish, a side dish, bread and a dessert. The main dish nearly always contains meat. The rare times when it does not contain meat, it contains cheese. If there is a vegetable, it is nearly always put in with the main dish. The side dish is nearly always coleslaw or a green salad (and salads are nearly always just lettuce out of a bag). Very rarely, canned corn is served as a side dish instead of salad. The main dishes might be spaghetti with meat sauce, meat lasagna, sloppy Joes, macaroni and ground beef in a sauce, bean burritos, or a dish they call gumbo but which is boiled beans with some kind of meat in it (and no okra). I'm sure you understand, there are variations of these kinds of meals, usually with ground beef as the basis. Once a month, a family brings fried chicken.

The men are not allowed to bring food into the shelter. Therefore, if we want to eat, we must eat that which is served to us. I am a vegetarian. I am unable to process meat through my bowels. If I eat meat, I end up not being able to relieve myself of waste. Several weeks into my stay, I saw my physician. During the course of that doctor visit, I was informed that because of my high blood pressure, I may not eat dairy products anymore (no milk, no cheese, no butter, no yogurt and no eggs). Also, an analysis of some kidney stones I passed revealed that the stones are 70% calcium caused by excess calcium buildup from green leafy vegetables, especially spinach. I was told to stop eating green leafy vegetable matter (salads), to stop eating beans of all kinds, and to stay away from calcium enriched items (like orange juice which has calcium added). As you can see, from that point forward, I could no longer eat anything served at the shelter with the breakfast exceptions of cold cereal (but without the milk), pancakes, and oatmeal or cream of wheat (again without any milk on them) and the dinner exceptions of the occasional corn side dish and some of the desserts.

I receive food stamps. The amount I receive basically allowed me to spend $5.50 per day (that amount was increased on April 1st to about $6.60 per day). So, I have to live on what I can purchase at the grocery store for that amount. I find I can get an apple, an orange (or tangelo sometimes), a couple of bananas, two or three Roma tomatoes, an avocado or two, a carrot stick or two, some juice, a bread roll or two, a small tub of potato salad (if I get this I must reduce my vegetables and fruit somewhat) and maybe even a treat like an apple fritter or cherry turnover each day. It's not a lot, but I make do.

The shelter where I stayed offers another service which I believe is unique to it among shelters nationally. This shelter has a van capable of seating 12 people. So, the shelter provides one ride (for up to 12 men) in the morning from the shelter and makes stops at the closest DES office (Department of Economic Security, the office which administers state economic aid), the Guadalupe "soup kitchen" (this charity operates 7 days a week, is funded and staffed by a Catholic church) where one may obtain morning coffee, day old bread donated by the bakeries of local supermarkets, and sack lunches prepared by the Guadalupe staff. The third stop offered by the van was a downtown park, however, due to the current economic crisis the third stop was changed to a branch, day office of the homeless shelter near that park. At 4:45 P.M., the van did return to the downtown park to pick up as many as 12 men who wanted to ride back in it to the shelter. However, when the economy turned sour, the ride “home” was discontinued entirely. Nonetheless, I think this is a pretty remarkable kindness offered by that shelter.

In the evening, after the dining room is cleaned up from dinner service, the room and the patio are open for client use. Cigarette smokers tend to congregate outside since smoking is not allowed indoors. The shelter has a couple of chessboards for those who want to play chess. A water fountain is provided in the dining hall (strangely enough, another one is provided in the bathroom area). A large screen, flat screen TV was donated for the dining room. However, the TV doesn't go on until about 7:30 P.M. It is at about 8 P.M. when a snack is provided and a DVD is selected for evening viewing. One may stay up as late at night as one's inclination or whimsy dictates. However, after the movie is over, the TV goes off. Sometimes the snack is fruit. Sometimes it is cookies. Once a week the snack is a sandwich (a piece of lunch meat inside two pieces of bread, plain - no mayo or mustard). However, the usual snack provided is pretzels.

The shower is open for use 23 hours per day. There is a hygiene table which offers soap, shaving cream, roll on deodorant and shampoo. However, the shampoo and the shaving cream are doled out in small doses, just enough for one usage. The soap bars are small and don't seem to make much in the way of suds. The deodorant is communal, so if one wants to use it, one applies it at the table (and the same roll on dispenser is used for each person who uses it). One can also apply a dab of toothpaste to one's toothbrush from a communal tube. No mouthwash is allowed into the shelter, because mouthwash contains alcohol and could be used for drinking purposes. The same is true of after shave lotion. One may also obtain a Q-tip a day. The shelter stopped supplying razors due to the budget crunch it incurred along with the rest of the nation. I was fortunate because I had my own Q-tips, shaving cream, deodorant, toothpaste, razors, bath soap and shampoo while staying at the shelter.

For most people, the lifestyle provided by this shelter wouldn't be too bad. The food, especially, is great for people with a normal diet. However, there exist circumstances making life in any shelter, even one as kind and giving as the one in which I dwelled, less than desirable.

The mix of men residing there is varied.

Some men in the shelter are what I think of as being, institutionally homeless. Those are the men who really do not want to work. They are mostly alcoholics and drug addicts. They come in for a day or two, or maybe even 5. They do this when the money they receive from their government check (VA pension, Social Security pension when old enough, Disability check, etc.) runs out toward the end of the month. As soon as the new month arrives, they go rent a room in a motel, buy the substance of their choice, and binge until they are broke again. These men are prone to arguments. They might even be dangerous.

Also present are methadone users. These are the men, who theoretically are using methadone to quit their heroin habit. However, most of them never really kick. They stay addicted to methadone, getting weaned down to low levels, but then getting sick enough to need more. I can't tell you how many there are, but there are more than just a few as I've become aware of at least three, without even asking. Some of these men are prone to theft, and one's personal items are not necessarily safe in the shelter.

Let me offer this example. I had coffee stolen a few days running when one of the methadone users weaseled his way into a “stay in” program for a few days in a row. He had asked me for coffee and I told him, "No, I don't ask for anything from anyone and can't give anything to anyone." Well, he just took it. One morning, I confronted him about it. We were called into the office to speak to one of the shelter managers. I was calm, kept my arms folded on my chest and leaned back against a desk while I explained why I suspected him (and there was strong circumstantial evidence, and I admitted it was circumstantial). The man came at me as he started his reply. I didn't flinch, but I didn't move to protect myself either. The shelter case worked got in between us, protecting me from any possible attack, and wrote the other man up for it. I felt I had to stand my ground and protect my possessions if I were to be respected and my property kept safe. It seemed to have worked, for a while.

With the institutionally homeless, the drama never really ends and they will bring it into the life of anyone they decide they don’t like. For instance, a few days to a week after I had the “conflict” with the thief, someone ratted on him for using drugs. There is a woman who is in charge of the shelter, so she decided to go through his belongings to see if he was in possession of any drugs. She never actually found any. However, the whole time she was conducting her search (and when one enters the shelter, one signs a waiver allowing one’s belongings to be searched at any time during one’s stay), the man continued to get in her face and spoke in a very loud voice as he expressed denial. He was expelled from the shelter. I’m sure he was expelled because he couldn’t control his behavior with her just as he couldn’t with me.

After that, I did occasionally run into this man. At first he accused me of ratting on him, which I didn’t and couldn’t because I wasn’t aware enough of his activities to be in a position to rat him out. Furthermore, I wouldn’t do that anyway. I am well aware that could get one killed or severely injured. He later found out I didn’t rat on him. Nonetheless, whenever he ran into me, he always had some accusation to sling in my direction. One time, as we rode on the same bus, he commented that he wished he had a gun so he could kill me. His reasoning was that, because I got him in trouble once (notice he never accepted any personal responsibility for any of his own actions), and he was written up for it, that led to him being evicted.

My response to him was to ignore him. I never looked at him and never responded to anything he said. I was pretending he didn’t exist. I liked to think of him as a figment of everyone else’s imagination. Things didn’t end there, however. Recently, I had some shower shoes stolen from my property. The shoes had pumpkins on them (my birthday being Halloween, it seemed fitting to have and use those shoes), so I realized no one would dare wear them around the facility. But I also realized this was likely a message. He had some new friends who, shortly before the theft, had come to stay at the shelter. I believed it was a statement, letting me know, “See, we can take anything of yours we want at any time.” I brought the loss to the attention of the man on duty, be he wasn’t concerned.

Now, at the same time as this occurred, that night and for the 3 nights preceding its occurrence, no charities showed up to feed us. The shelter didn’t have much on hand available. The dinners, which weren’t very edible for me in the first place, turned into something you wouldn’t feed your dog as table scraps. Given that I wasn’t feeling safe there any longer, the lack of food available to me, and the cutting back on services in general, I decided it was time to leave the shelter (at about the 60th day).

I’ve been struggling mightily since. I found a dry wash near the University in a residential neighborhood that seemed safe, so I spent a night there. I didn’t see anyone come around that night. So, I felt it was safe enough to leave my backpack there with most of my things in it. There was an area where the road went over the wash, a cemented bridge over a cemented wash. The thing was, it was blocked on the other end because it was cemented closed. Consequently, most of the area was completely dark. I put the backpack way in the back of that darkened area, thinking it wouldn’t be seen there. Well, I left the U of A before dark only to discover that someone did find it, had torn it all apart, and was laying there taking possession of my things. I chased him off, but realized I couldn’t leave my things there, so I needed a new sleeping site.

I spent one night in the University of Arizona library, working on my writing all night. The next night, I couldn’t stay at the U of A because they announced they were going to check for non-students between 1 AM and 7 AM, times the library computers are reserved for students, faculty and staff only. I spent that night in a 24 hour Laundromat. The next day, I had a suggestion made by some people I knew from the shelter about a place to stay where I had a general familiarity already with the location. It was in the dry Santa Cruz River, where I stayed when I first arrived in Tucson, but further south, just out of the city limits, meaning fewer potential hassles with the police. I stayed there the first night incident free. I even took a trial walk out to a Walgreens to pick up a prescription that was ready, a walk that probably took me a couple of hours. I left my backpack, and when I returned, it was there and no one had bothered my area. I finally felt safe. Well, I shouldn’t have. The next day, when I returned from the U of A, my sleeping bag, plastic tarp and backpack had been stolen. In the backpack were all of my clothes (other than what I am still wearing), all my paperwork from the doctor, my application for housing assistance, the paperwork for my Social Security Disability claim, and a folder in which I had placed the last of the photos from my life which I had saved (photos of old girlfriends, old friends, clippings from stories about me in newspapers and magazines, autographs from famous people I had met, and other personal items of memorabilia).

From this description of my experiences, you can begin to see what it is like to be a homeless person today. The petty becomes your focus. Drama circles in on you, even when you are trying to do nothing more than stay away from the world and its circumstances. There is really no where one can feel safe. There is no way to be certain you can hold on to anything, even your sanity. Just when you think you have secured some measure of routine and some reasonable lifestyle, the buzzards circling overhead will strike from above and eat your flesh while you are alive. Don’t ever get comfortable. Don’t ever let your guard down. Don’t ever feel safe. Don’t trust anyone.

I’m sure you are wondering, “Why doesn’t he return to the shelter?” Well, I can’t. Because I left, there is either a 30 or 90 day waiting period before I could return to it. But, since you’re likely still thinking the shelter isn’t half bad, allow me to return to describing shelter life, there’s more you ought to know.

The shelter also has its fair share of ex-cons. Some of them get on a program which aids them in re-integrating with society. Most of them end up become institutionally homeless. Most of them have addictions to one or more substances. They can be argumentative and dangerous as well. They are also prone to theft.

In addition to these men, the shelter houses a number of people, like I, trying to obtain Social Security Disability benefits. Some of us are really infirmed (again, like I, who Social Security seems to think is willing to make myself homeless just to avoid work, so benefits are denied, and one must learn to play the institutional bureaucracy game). Others are looking for a free ride. One also discovers that there are a large number of former military veterans living in shelters. It seems, over the last several decades, all of you out there who have demanded we support our troops when they are sent off to war refuse to support those same troops when they come home. They often return with PTSD. They have difficulty finding employment, and many end up on the streets - unwanted and no longer of use to the society who sent them to fight battles on their behalf.

There seemed to be a fair number of pot smokers at the shelter. There also seemed to be a fairly constant supply of pot. I don't use any these days. However, in the morning, when walking away from the shelter, I was always greeted with the aroma of burning marijuana in the air, announcing to everyone except the shelter workers that a group of men stood nearby, smoking marijuana. Since I did not know who I could and could not trust, and therefore, did not want to risk my bed if someone decided to rat me out (read, Mr. Methadone Man), I'm stayed clean. Besides, I really don't need it, and I never really liked the wake and bake. I never got anything done and later in the afternoon I ended up with a headache from the wake and bake, so I tended to eschew that scenario. At the end of my time living at a friend's home, I was only having a couple of hits a night anyway, and only when he offered (I, obviously, didn't have any money with which to purchase pot). I don’t really miss marijuana. However, it was the best pain reliever for my chronic back pain which I have yet found.

There are clearly a number of drinkers among the homeless in the shelter. I do not know how they get away with it, but I saw empty half pint and pint bottles of Popov vodka on the ground, so someone is drinking and getting away with it. I hardly ever drank during the last several years. So, not drinking was not an issue for me. Clearly though, Popov seems to be an alcohol used often, because I see empty bottles of it all over Tucson in my daily travels. Maybe it's cheap? (Perhaps one can say, "One knows when one is bottoming out because one starts drinking Popov Vodka.")

The hygiene habits of many of the men in the shelter leave a lot to be desired. No one covers their mouth when they cough or sneeze. When I first got there (and was eating the food), one man coughed directly at my plate of food. Needless to say, I was sick for 2 weeks after that. Few of the men wash their hands after using the restroom. Some don't shower regularly. A few never shower at all (and smell like it, too!). Some men never seem to even change their clothing, let alone turn their dirty clothes in for laundry service (which comes up for everyone in the shelter every 8 days - and which I took care to make sure I used each time my turn arose). There is no Kleenex provided in the shelter. So, rather than tear off a bit of toilet paper, nearly every man in the shelter, and nearly all homeless men I see on the street, simply uses one finger to close one nostril and blows hard out the other. They may do that into a bathroom sink, into a large trash can, while they are standing next to you and engaged in conversation, or just anywhere when the urge strikes them. One could become jaded to the occurrence except that the really liquid, runny mucus which comes out sometimes drools down their facial hair or face. The art of "hocking a loogie" has been mastered by most of these guys, too. Perhaps I am a little too squeamish for some of these practices? However, I do, nonetheless, find them repulsive.

Another of my pet peeves while staying at the shelter concerned how a particular situation was handled. One sightless man lived among us. When he needed to get around in the "dorm," he usually asked someone near him to lead him. So, when he needed to urinate, all the men who help him lead him to the urinal. However, by the time the sightless man gets ready to urinate he invariably misses the urinal and ends up urinating right on the floor by the urinal. So, there is nearly always a puddle of his urine on the floor by the urinal that one would have to stand in to urinate at that particular stall. I really don't get why the men who lead him didn't simply suggest that, since he never gets it in the urinal (and it isn't his fault), why not lead him to the toilet so he could sit down and be fairly certain of hitting the mark? I guess that would be too much to ask. I guess it was also too much to ask to have a restroom sanitary enough not to present such a health hazard.

I also have to wonder at the logic behind sending all of the men out of the shelter for 10 hours every day from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. Is this not a reversal of AA/NA principles? With so many men at the shelter having substance abuse issues, isn't the idea of sending them back out to the streets essentially one which puts the addict back into the very same environment, among the very same people and in the same situations which would provide temptation and potentially lead to relapse? I understand that the shelter cannot take on the problems of 100 men 24/7 unless it has a much larger staff and one trained to handle a wide variety of psychological, socially adaptive, and emotional issues. However, sending them right back into the environment which reinforces substance abuse rather than deters it doesn't make any sense either. The shelter does provide a couple of AA meetings per week in the evening, but I am sorry, I just don't think that is enough to offset ten hours per day, 7 days per week of re-immersing the addict/alcoholic into the environment of temptation and among the association of users.

What do homeless people do with their days? Some panhandle. Some drink and/or use drugs. Some get methadone and find a quiet park in which they sleep most of the day away. Some walk around, not really knowing what to do, looking for coins on the ground. Some shoplift. Some look for work. Some go to the library and read or use the computers, mostly playing online poker or mob wars. Some find friends, hang out and talk the day away. Some do puzzles. Some work on their writing projects, or pen new blog entries. Some find a place to watch TV, or watch their favorite shows on the computer at the library.

How the public reacts to homeless people and homelessness in general imposes a profound influence on the homeless. Let me offer myself as an example.

My appearance tended to cross boundaries before I had my belongings stolen. I was always clean and neat. I smelled decent. However, I also wandered around some of the time with nothing to do, looking for change on the ground. I do that even when I am going somewhere in particular. I also have a much darker tan than one would expect of someone not living a homeless lifestyle not named George Hamilton. I use the computers at the University of Arizona, and because of my age (56 years), I do not look like someone who belongs there (I don't dress like a professor and don't carry books, notebooks, writing paper or go to classrooms and certainly do not look like someone in his early twenties who might be expected to be a student). Yet, my clothing, even now, does not look disheveled or filthy. I still make sure to wash my face and hands as often as ever, and I take showers as often as I can (up to three times a week). Sometimes, when I eat my lunch, I sit on a park bench (or just munch while using the computer at the U of A), but, other times, I have to sit at a bus stop to eat. One dead give-away of being homeless is carrying too much stuff around, or carrying bedding around.

Consequently, I am sometimes approached by homeless people asking for change or cigarettes or bus fare. However, I also get stares from people who show their disdain and contempt, clearly viewing themselves as superior to me. Hey, people, I am the same guy today I was a few months ago. I'm still the same man who worked on "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Annabelle's Wish." I'm still a published poet. If you look me up online, you'd think I was "somebody." But, when college students see me on campus or when someone approaches a bus stop and sees me sitting there eating my lunch, I become sub-human in their eyes and am treated as such.

I've got news for you, folks, all homeless are not drug-addict, alcoholic, panhandling, smelly, unkempt, useless bums. I've met a homeless man who speak 14 languages, fluently (!), and just wants to escape being badgered by the CIA into working for them. Another homeless man I met (about half my age) dropped out of the University of Arizona, though he was a philosophy major and has a clear and keen mind. I've seen other homeless: who travel the world, who can offer keen insight into most situations, who are excellent chefs, and on and on. There is a wealth of talent and skill among the homeless which is not being utilized for the betterment of society and the individual's opportunity to lead a productive and affluent life. This is not the fault of the homeless person, nor does it render that person as being less than human, or at least a substandard human who deserves to be treated with disdain if treated anyway at all.

The way the economy is going, more and more of you are going to be joining me on the streets before much longer. Don't think it can't happen to you, because if you do, you will be the exact person homelessness will take in its grasp. I've seen married couples in free clinics for the homeless seeking badly needed medical attention because they lost their jobs, their homes and their medical insurance. I've met skilled tradesmen who have been rendered homeless, men in their 30s, who should be in the prime of their lives. I've met people with naïve personalities and trusting natures, taken advantage of by others and rendered homeless as a result, and then continually robbed of their own funds as they con the naïve into supplying liquor and drugs just to retain their friendship. I've met youngsters in their late teens and twenties who cannot adapt to the current culture and don't want to because they find it anathema.

Everyone alive deserves a little respect and to be treated like an equal. Sure, it's no longer politically correct (and consequently, not socially acceptable) to treat racial, ethnic and religious minorities as less than equal. However, nearly every single one of you, nearly every day of your life treats the homeless as inferior. By treating us that way, you reinforce poor self images which were ingrained by demanding parents. You reinforce our lack of belief in ourselves.
Consequently, you help keep us in our position. You, who want to preach about Christian charity, can go do something nice for someone once a month, or maybe donate a few bucks to a charity once a year, and pat yourselves on the back. You daily actions and attitudes expressed to the homeless belie that image of the charitable humanitarian and brand you as being a social elitist and classist bigot.

Do not believe that your savior will absolve you of your arrogant inhumanity and narcissistic sense of superiority. No, because if the stories about your savior are to be believed, he took the leper in his arms and healed the leper, he stopped the stoning of a prostitute and he loved all the downtrodden and he damned the consumerist, elitist commerce practiced in the temple, while preaching a message that sought to bridge the divide of classes, demanded everyone live a daily life which exemplified the teachings of their religion, denigrated opulence, scorned wealth, and offered love and inclusion to the poor, the hopeless and the downtrodden! Indeed, ask yourselves just how would Jesus treat the homeless? Would he scorn them, ridicule them, ignore them, refuse them aid, food or shelter? No! He would tell you they are your brothers and sisters and must be treated as such.

Well, the saddest truth of all is that the continued manner in which this generation, this culture, and this economy seek to proceed in the face of so much suffering will doom you to the same fate as those you scorn today. Your economy is in an accelerating downward spiral. You are caught in a cycle - too few people have enough discretionary income to buy the products the wealthy want to sell you. So, the wealthy lay off more people as a means of trying to maintain their income level through reducing expenditures. The more people laid off, the fewer products bought, leading to more layoffs and on and on. This will continue until the widespread poverty becomes so perversely proliferated that the poor will rise up against the wealthy on a global scale. You cannot defeat the economic enemy called poverty with competitive, truculent, avaricious capitalism. You must create a new model. The model must be one in which all people can share a modest, responsible affluence, no one should be wealthy and no one should be poor. That is the goal this world must learn to pursue. You must learn to work cooperatively, harmoniously, responsibly, ecologically, and humanely to create a better future, a lasting future, a peaceful future, and a fulfilling future.
This essay has been selected by Sabellapress for inclusion in an anthology which they will publish and release in the summer of 2009 under the title, "Unhoused Voices: Granting Change for the Homeless."

Monday, March 2, 2009

This Charitable Nation

This charitable nation sends vast sums of money to aid those unfortunates who suffer from the harsh calamities natural disasters wreck. This charitable nation air lifts food, water and medical supplies to the needy and starving citizens in foreign countries. This charitable nation deposes dictators in foreign countries, and in the process of bringing the "freedom of democracy" to the people of those countries, this charitable nation destroys their infrastructure, decimates their economies, induces civil war and imposes a martial law more restrictive than the preceding dictator's government exerted. This charitable nation wants to erect its own Berlin Wall, seeking to prevent the natural, migratory and instinctual urges of the poor who only want their fair share of the affluence available within its borders. This charitable nation supplies funds, and sometimes even equipment and manpower, to assist in rebuilding the infrastructure relevant to the businesses within its own cities - while ignoring the needs: evacuation, food, health, housing and welfare of the citizens in those cities - devastated by natural disaster. This charitable nation offers hundreds of billions of dollars to businesses and businessmen whose insatiable greed induced them to exercise poor decisions, wrecking havoc in the national and world economies, while supplying the mere pittance of $500 to most of its citizens, all of whom were affected by the economic collapse and most of whom engaged in no contracts or other circumstances which led to or induced that collapse. Meanwhile, this charitable nation provides no relief whatsoever to the poorest citizens - who need assistance the most but will, instead, find public assistance to the poor, as well as privately funded charitable assistance to the poor, drastically cut. This charitable nation spends exorbitant sums for projects and policies its elected officials deem necessary, whether or not the citizens concur, and then passes on the bill for payment to its children and grandchildren with accumulated, usurious rates of interest at the same time as incorporating irrational and economically stifling inflation. This charitable nation provides tax shelters and itemized deductions to the wealthy, enabling them to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, while the middle class is taxed into poverty. This charitable nation systematically reduces funding to the poor and those who give aid to the poor, stealing the shelters for the homeless as it both creates more homeless everyday and also enacts laws to prevent the homeless from camping on any land within its national borders. This charitable nation has converted LBJ's war on poverty into a war against the poor, everywhere, seemingly seeking to exterminate the poor of every land in a cultural/economic genocide.

The Disenchantress

A teenage enchantress stroked
her chestnut hair one hundred
times every night, gazing
into her full length mirror,
mirror on the wall, pronouncing
herself fairest of them all,
imagining herself in the arms
of the football team captain
in a far off future land
of make believe: white picket
fence surrounding the well
manicured yard of a two-story,
upper crust, suburban home.

Amid the congregation of social
hangers-on, she pointed out misfortune
dripping from the sweat of a feebled,
balding man, a two week stench
perfumed the tattered, dirty clothing
draping from his emaciated body. They
all laughed and snickered, as they gawked
mockingly in his direction, reducing his
crumpled form into a cultural stereotype -
a sub-human.

Years later, the former enchantress
still holds court - now, her snaggle-tooth
mouth verbally accosts strangers,
wheedlingly pleading for spare change
along the Venice Beach boardwalk,
laughing with her disheveled retinue,
each one spitting epithets at ignoring,
affluent passersby, while clear, cheap
vodka drools from crooked mouths.

Somewhere in her backpack,
the disenchantress clings
to the hair brush which once endowed
her chestnut tresses with a sparkling
sheen. It reclines, unused, almost
forgotten, along with the faded memory
of her smug, finger-pointing superiority,
hidden by her collection of methadone,
syringes, a packet of rolling tobacco
and papers, a couple of hamburgers she
liberated from a garbage can, her extra
panties, soiled and scented with brown
and red stains, and her secret stash
of vodka for later that night, when
she would awaken, shaking, coughing,
and spitting up blood from her failing
liver, dreaming about the fairy tale
ending to life her mother once promised.

This poem has been selected by Sabellapress for inclusion in an anthology which they will publish and release in the summer of 2009 under the title, "Unhoused Voices: Granting Change for the Homeless."