Friday, July 29, 2016

Still Crazy After All These Years

I've struggled with mania and depression all my life. One time I was hospitalized, locked up and treated until I came down. Since that experience I've spent my life trying to explain how it was brought on by unique circumstances and I've been very vigilant to make sure it never happens again. (See “Insanity” in my blog)

A few years ago I heard an interview and I realized there was nothing unique about my experience at all.  It is just your garden variety mental illness and the name of that illness is bipolar. I am bipolar and I have learned to live with it. I've done OK,. Twenty-four years ago and 20 years after my hospitalization I went too far again. That time I wasn't caught. I've had a lifetime of doing the best I can.

Bipolar and alcoholism are closely related and for awhile it seemed like everyone in AA was bipolar. It took me awhile to realize “bipolar” was plain old manic-depression. I didn't think I was bipolar then, maybe a little bit manic-depressive but not bipolar.

My mental crash and burn, locked up in an Air Force psychiatric ward, occurred in 1970. I've always regarded it as a unique and scary event in my life. For years afterwards I guarded against a recurrence. In the Air Force I fought against a label and got my experience labeled a drug reaction, at least that's what they told me. I never answered yes to any question about mental illness. For a short time I did serve on the board of the Los Angeles Mental Health Association and was a volunteer in their programs. I felt a kinship with the crazies we served. They were like my friends and myself on the Psych Ward at Lackenheath.

When I got sober in 1983 I was afraid of life without alcohol I would not be able to treat my episodes of euphoria, short circuit the mania I always feared. Alcohol calmed the agitation that made mania so uncomfortable. I had some sense it stopped the mania. The insanity of alcoholism was another problem and one that I was not as aware of until I had been sober for awhile. When I stayed sober I felt less fear of insanity. It seemed I had found a way to deal with myself and find equanimity.

AA is not proof against insanity. In 1992 I was 10 years sober and working my program when I had a long manic episode that I wasn't aware of at the time. It deeply affected me personally and professionally. There were incidents of being out of control that I looked back on with embarrassment and I don't think at the time I was fully aware until much later how much mania affected my life.

Even with that my insanity never came up until over 30 years after the incident in the Air Force. I took a psych test to be a peace officer. Somehow the test showed an anomaly that I had to explain. I was honest on the test and I was honest, and positive in my interview with the psychologist. I was passed and became a juvenile hall counselor, a peace officer.

It came up again when I took the psych test to become a sworn peace officer, a cop. I got a letter asking me to send my medical records from the Air Force to Sacramento. Who knew they still existed but they did and I sent them on to Sacramento. A long six months passed and I was scheduled for an interview with a psychiatrist. The contracted psychiatrist also consulted with San Francisco Juvenile Hall. We talked about Unit B-4 where I worked. Apparently for him anyone who could work well on unit B-4 was good enough to be a police officer and he passed me.

As a police officer I was very aware that in a way I had slipped through the cracks. There were highly stressful situations that occurred and long nights without sleep, but I was careful to control my stress and never let the lack of sleep go on very long. The Angel Island Fire was one of those incidents and there was a lot of euphoria in the event itself, being part of a force that in the end won, but afterwards, I enjoyed the calm and slowed down, finding a balance within a few days.

In 2011 I retired as a California State Park Ranger. It has been 46 years since 1970 and my stay at Lackenheath hospital. After 1970 there was never again a mention of any insanity or mental illness in any of my personnel files and no lock downs in any special wards.

In the interview on NPR I heard someone tell about their struggle with bipolar illness throughout their life. They had struggled with it and overcome it, though it was always there and they had gone on to a successful life.

The person's story resonated with me. Yes, I am bipolar. Bipolar is a mental illness. I have struggled with it, fought it, and lived a good life without being overcome. But I have a mental illness. I am just another person with mental illness, a mild case maybe, but who's to say.

I've been known as a risk taker, an unpredictable and volatile personality. How much of that is personality, how much is insanity? I suppose it's a spectrum. Most of the time I'm within the norm.

A few days ago I was working on my blog and it was going very well, I became euphoric at the way the words were coming together and worked late into the morning one night. There it was the euphoria that becomes insomnia that gets worse and becomes mania. So I did what I've tried to do all my life since 1970, I got careful about my sleep. I made myself go to bed on time. No more staying up late. This morning I got up at 5:30 am. I'll continue to monitor my sleep, make sure I get enough, go to bed when I don't feel like it, stay in bed when I feel like getting up. I will get enough sleep and the mild euphoria I'm experiencing will pass. No danger of going into mania, only a slight and lingering fear of what could happen.

As I finish this two weeks later I know that was a phase of euphoria that passed. Euphoria puts me on edge. What happens if I can't make myself fall asleep, if the insomnia and mania continues? But one more time it didn't.

Thanks to Paul Simon 1975 for the title

Monday, July 11, 2016

On Becoming a Protestant

In a Glasgow pub an American returning from the urinal through a narrow passage was accosted by two locals and backed up against the wall. “Are ye a Protestant or ye Catholic?” he was asked.

“I'm an agnostic,” the American said.

“That's all well and good man,”one of the locals answered, “but are ye a Catholic agnostic or a Protestant agnostic?”

 was baptized at St. Robert Bellarimine Catholic Church. I attended St. Robert Bellarmine Grammar School, St. Francis of Asissi High School, and two years at Loyola University of Los Angeles. Most of my life I've identified myself as Irish Catholic, explaining that it wasn't so much a religion as a political statement.

In my 20's I ceased to believe in the divinity of Jesus and by the time I was thirty I was pretty much an agnostic. I did and continue to believe in ritual and tradition and the connection we make through ritual with what is beyond our understanding. I sent my sons to Catholic schools, more because the alternative in the urban neighborhood we lived in was unacceptable than from any need to make them Catholics, but I did want them be exposed to a world view that was more about service than materialism. I became an active member of the local parish. I was OK as long as we didn't talk about theology and the stories I heard from the pulpit were so familiar they seemed like old friends to be accepted, not necessarily believed, but not openly questioned.

And then I got divorced. There's not much room for a divorced man with an active social life in the Catholic Church. I like church, I like the community of it. At the same time I got sober through a 12 Step Program. While my atheism/agnosticism was becoming more refined I experienced the miracle of recovery and the blessing of grace. For awhile I attended Episcopalian services. As I got more deeply involved it was obvious that Episcopalians, Christians, believe in Jesus Christ and while it didn't seem to be required it did make me feel out of step.

One day a Jewish girlfriend asked me to explain the Trinity.. I wasn't much of a believer but I had always hung on to the idea that Catholicism and Christianity was a reasonable way to view the world, that it made sense, just not to me. As I tried to explain the Trinity, the reasonableness of it vanished, like the Psych 101 picture of the cups and the faces, once I tried to explain it, the Trinity went away. It was the moment that my Christian viewpoint vanished.

My alienation from Catholicism was only confirmed when John Paul II canonized St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei.

When I went to Mt. Diablo State Park, I realized I was going to be alone in a community where I didn't know anyone. I was reading Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone which had me thinking about connecting with community in a way beyond what AA offered, I searched around having some idea that Unitarians might be interesting. Before that my only experience with Unitarians was going to 12 step meetings in a Unitarian Church in Santa Monica and reading the posters and bulletin boards in the room we used.

I attended a service of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek. I was amazed, it was the first church I had ever attended that didn't care about belief or dogma and didn't require I accept some sort of defined metaphysics. I could openly talk about my experience and beliefs, talk about the questions, not the answers. I was among similar minded people in an open and free thinking church.

When Suzette and I first began seeing each other she was searching for a church she might attend. She was brought up Catholic and attended Catholic school just as I had. I took her to a Unitarian Universalist Church and I was pleased when she took to it immediately. When Suzette and I left Angel Island we looked for a Unitarian Church we could attend. When we went to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, transplanted from Berkeley to Kensington in 1961, we found a home. Within the year we became members.

We quickly became involved with the church. Our daughter Paloma enjoyed the pre-school and we enjoyed the social connections . Bill and Barbara Hamilton-Holway were the co-ministers. They were warm, loving, and interesting people. Laura, the family minister, was wonderful.

One day early on at dinner Paloma held up her hands making two 'U's with her thumb and index fingers and said “U, U for Unitarian Universalist.” I thought, oh my god, she's being propagandized and then I realized, no that was a big reason we joined a Church. Since then she's learned the principles, been through a course of early childhood sex education, performed in various plays and skits and played the harp for a Vesper Service. She's knows we're not Christians as some of her evangelizing classmates have been, not followers of Jesus or Mohamed. As we discussed it she suggested instead that we're followers of Martin Luther King Jr. Close enough, I thought.

I was asked to join the religious education group, Sunday School. I read to the pre-school group Paloma was in and enjoyed it. Slowly I began to admit I am a Sunday School teacher, which sounds incredibly Protestant to me. I now teach kindergarten and will stay with that age group for awhile. I know it's shallow but just the sound of these things grates on my Catholic soul. Anyone who knows Unitarians knows that we number among us a significant number of ex-Catholics, along with Jews, atheists, and others who would never describe themselves as Protestants but . . .
The history and tradition of the Unitarians and Universalists is a direct line from the dissenters in the Reformation. The tradition of a unified godhead goes back to the third century C.E. and there have been unitarians since then, many burned at the stake and in the Reformation they were burned by both Protestant and Catholic Trinitarians. However the real roots of today's Unitarianism go back to the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century and Chritisan rationalists like J.B. Priestley. Charles Darwin had Unitarian connections. Early in the 19th century Harvard Divinity School began to have a Unitarian bent to it.

Like the Congregationalist, descendants of the Puritans, the Unitarians were from upper crust Boston.  In the 19th century it was said of the Unitarians, “They believe in the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighborhood of Boston.” In Ireland the Unitarians, there is a congregation in Dublin and one in Cork, are direct descendants of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians, similar to our descent from the Puritanas. The evolution of religion seems to naturally flow to a rationalist acceptance of the indefinable divine and awe at the miracle of the universe and our interconnectedness in it. Or something like that. The Unitarians of today have a direct ancestry to the opening of minds in the Reformation through the Age of Enlightenment. It is a Protestant heritage, not a Catholic one.

The Irish website says, “Our ethos is ‘faith guided by reason and conscience’ and we advocate liberal and tolerant Christianity.” I think they're saying they're Protestants though I'm sure some of their congregants aren't and among us UU's that's OK.

In Unitarian Universalist congregations there are Catholics, Jews and Buddhists and there are Christians. It varies in the United States. Our church in Berkeley and many like us don't see ourselves as Christian. There's a joke about Unitarians that the only time you hear the name of Jesus in a Unitarian Church is when the janitor falls down the basement steps. When a minister talks too much about the Bible or Jesus in churches like ours some people complain. I don't complain but I do cringe.

However the UUCB service is the traditional non-conforming Protestant liturgy, hymns, preaching from the pulpit and more hymns. Music is also an important element of our services. Lately the services last an hour and a half, something else some of us complain about. Socializing afterwards can be another hour or two. And I attend board meetings, talks, family events, trainings, and more. Suzette and I probably go to the church at least once or twice a week other than Sunday. All that time spent at church makes me feel much more Protestant than Catholic. As a Catholic I went to a 45 minute mass on Sunday and school events. No Sunday school and little socializing at church. I feel like an Evangelical who goes to church most of Sunday, Bible study one night a week, church dinners another night and maybe something else.

When I first started going to the UU church I told my park mates that I attended the Church of the God Who Isn't. I didn't want anyone to think I was a “Christian,” one of those evangelicals who thinks everyone but they are going to hell. But when I became a Sunday School teacher I thought it was time that I own up to what I've become. So I told people I taught Sunday School without qualifying it, me and Jimmy Carter, not bad company. I even put it on my resume when asked about my teaching experience. The formerly welcoming principle at the school I wanted to volunteer at wouldn't return my phone calls. I suspect she thought I was one of those Christian fundamentalists. I did get a job at Coronado Elementary School. I believe even fundamentalists have a right to teach in our schools, I just don't happen to be one, but I am a Sunday School teacher.

So more and more I tell people I attend church, a Unitarian Universalist church and less and less do I explain it. Let them think what they will.

But I feel very far removed from my Catholic roots. I surprised myself when I followed the election of the Pope so closely and I still have strong opinions about the new Pope and how far he should go. But I am no longer Catholic; I am a Unitarian. Unitarian Universalism has a Protestant heritage and it does not feel or act Catholic in any way.

At Episcopal churches I felt like a dissenting Catholic. As an Irish Catholic, Catholicism wasn't just a religion, it was a connection with my Irish heritage, Irish independence, and Irish specialness, even here in the United States. My Irish bias, bigotry maybe, is deeply rooted. When I meet someone who claims to be Irish, reflexively I think if you weren't raised Catholic how can you be Irish. The truth of it is that just having an Irish name or some Irish ancestor doesn't make a person Irish. It's the culture, the traditions and the shared history. It doesn't have to be Irish Catholic but it most often is, the shared history of nuns and St. Mary Queen of the Martyrs school. The Catholic church, the local parish with it's Irish pastor, was the keeper of our culture, our tie with the Emerald Isle.

That world is gone. There are no Irish pastors left, not a bad thing. The local parish instead of being a bridge to the larger world and at the same time protection against it has become an alien place to me. The progressive church of my youth has become the conservative church of today. While my own world has grown in acceptance and tolerance the Catholic Church has regressed. Irish Catholics are as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. While I take pride in Ted Kennedy, there's no pride in Paul Ryan.

In Ireland I met Irish who were Church of Ireland, the Anglican Irish Church, Unitarian, and Protestant, all of whom were at least as Irish and patriotiotic as I am. One doesn't have to be Catholic to be Irish and I can convert to a Protestant Intellectual tradition that runs through Ireland as well. But it feels like I've given up something for my conversion. Nonetheless I'm proud to be a Unitarian.

Like the Commitments in Roddy Doyle's novel of the same name, I'm Unitarian (almost Protestant) and I'm proud.

And if confronted in a Glasgow pub I might just dodge the bullet and tell them I'm a Celtic fan, the Irish Nationalist Football Club in Glasgow, and an Irish Unitarian.


The UUs as we call ourselves share the 7 principles which are the basis of our community:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  5. The right of conscience and the use of democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
 The Unitarians and the Universalists merged in 1961. It's easiest to simply say Unitarian but in fact we are Unitarian Universalists. An early crack in my Catholic faith occurred when I heard the Episcopalian Bishop Pike of San Francisco preach a Universalist message.

 Feeling my nostalgia for the Catholic Mass I sometimes sneak off to an Epsicopalian church for a mass. One time in Richmond I went to the local Episcopal Church. The church in Richmond is named Holy Trinity. I felt like a Unitarian heretic. Now I go to Iglesia Santiago in Oakland, a less inflammatory named Epsicopal church. Of course, both of these Episcopal churches are well attended by a lot of ex-Catholics. There are a lot of us.

Unitarian beliefs have evolved a long way from just asserting that there is only one God. The joke is that in the 1990's the Unitarians updated their belief from: There is only one God, to there is only one god more or less.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Book Review

You Had to Be There: From Web Town to Psych Ward – A Memoir
by Terrence McCarthy
Published June 15, 2010 by Createspace

Sometimes when I'm with my friend Bob and his wife Penny, she will interrupt him saying “TMI, Bob.” Too much Information. So when Bob and I get together without Penny we exchange TMI and tell the whole story, sometimes for the third or fourth time. I think it's in those long detours to explain that Bob and I learn about each other and tell each other who we really are.

Terrence McCarthy's memoir “You Had to Be There” is TMI. McCarthy's memoir is incredibly honest. In reading it we learn who Terrence McCarthy really is. In his unpolished style with detours and repetitions McCarthy seems unconsciously to reveal more and more about himself.

Born at the beginning of the Baby Boom, growing up in an unremarkable town in an ordinary family McCarthy is in some ways a Baby Boomer Everyman. It isn't the usual memoir we read, grunts in Vietnam, famous reporters or writers, movers and shakers, people who make history or stand in the middle of it. But he's not Everyman, he's Terry McCarthy and in reading the book he has written we come to know Terry McCarthy like a good friend.

If I were teaching a class about the 60s and 70s in America I would assign “You Had to Be There” as required reading. It is full of anecdotes that make the era real. He struggles with his inner demon and goes from one college to another and finally drops out. He joins the Air Force and goes to Myrtle Beach and then England while Vietnam is raging. He gets out of the Air Force and is lost at home, finding a job in a local factory or mill, meets his future wife in a local watering hole, finishes college, becomes a journalist, a copywriter and then quits and works for 11 years in a locked psych ward as a counselor.

It's not the stuff of history but in fact it really is, an ordinary life in extraordinary times, lived well and with great awareness. It is ordinary and good people like Terrence McCarthy who make an age what it is and in this Terrence McCarthy is an extraordinary person, a person I enjoyed getting to know.

I hope McCarthy gives us a sequel, this book brings us to the middle of a good life.  A sequel and we can share with McCarthy the insights of growing old. More information, please.

You Had to Be There at Amazon

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Photo credit see below
Tuesday Paloma and I flew to Mexico City. By this time it's a familiar place to both of us. Twenty years ago I met Araceli Rocha. She came up to Los Angeles from Mexico to work at California Commerce Bank,a subsidiary of her employer Banamex, where I had just started working the year before. She was nearly engaged to Raul Gomes and I was nearly engaged to Susan. Araceli and I became good friends, a brother sister relationship. I have three sisters. I like women. I find them attractive but I also enjoy them as equals, though I've come to realize women are often our superiors in many ways, as Araceli and my sisters would quickly agree. Araceli is an attractive woman but our relationship has always been that of friends.

I became friends with Raul and Araceli became friends with Susan and that continued after her marriage and mine. There were visits to Mexico and return visits to us in the United States.

I love Mexico and after 1995 any visits to Mexico always included a few days in Mexico City which I learned to call D.F., day efeh. When Araceli was in Los Angeles she learned to speak English and I was learning to speak Spanish. We became each other's teachers. In 2001 I attended Araceli's daughter's baptism and became the godfather, one of two, an official Mexican padrino and myself the padrino norteamericano.

Fianna eventually attended bilingual school. I attended her graduation from escuela primeria. She gave the English address. This time we are here to attend her graduation from escuela secundaria, middle school.

This year Araceli and Raul are estranged. Susan and I are divorced and I am married to Suzette. Suzette and I have visited here together as well. Two years ago Paloma and I stayed a month with the Gomes Rochas. Paloma was four. Now Paloma attends a bilingual school. This year we are here again.

Yes come down, of course. It makes no difference.” Araceli uses “of course” a lot. I'm not sure what my overworked Spanish phrases are. I'm sure I have them. Of course. Suzette my wife is staying in Oakland. We're not estranged. She can't take a whole month off work and will join us for the last two weeks.

From our arrival at the airport it is obvious that the relationship between Araceli and me will stay the same as it has been. Raul is still living in the back room separated from the house. Raul and I are still friends. Later Araceli tells me with excitement that she is talking to an old boyfriend from Guadalajara.

Thank god, I like having Araceli as a friend, una amiga mia. My life is not simple but at least this part is not too complicated.

Mexico. The immigration officer looked at the address on my visa application and said, “¿Queda con su familia?” You're staying with family. Si, yes we are. We drive across town, the Rochas live in Atizapan de Zaragoza on the west side of D.F. in the state of Mexico. The airport is on the east side. Tia Pilar is the driver. As compadre I am part of Araceli's family, so I know her sisters, Pilar, Delores, Axochitli, and Yatzil and her brother Roberto, her mother Conchita. In the car I call Pilar Delores. I know she is the dentista, the one sister I easily recognize but I mix the names and with the others the faces.

Mexico is a big city and it takes an hour to get across it. We go to Conchita's house and pick up Fianna my goddaughter and Conchita and we all go to Bisquets, Paloma's favorite place from our visit before. It is a coffee shop and the food is as good as Denny's in a Mexican way, the simple standards and sandwiches, malteds, coffee with milk, a specialty.

I'm not sure it's still Paloma's favorite. Our next time out to eat, Fianna, Paloma and I find a place on our own in La Condessa, the hippest neighborhood in all of Mexico City, while Araceli has lunch with her life coach across the way. At six Paloma is very proud that she likes sushi, a taste she acquired having lunch with me at my regular Japanese place near Lake Merritt in Oakland. She had a California roll which for her is sushi. So we go to Mushi Mushi, her choice, a Mexican sushi bar. They have a conveyor belt with sushi on it that goes between the tables, like a Japanese Mexican Dim Sum. Paloma is delighted and has California roll again. Afterwards at Cassava Roots, a new Mexican chain, we have tapioca bubble tea drinks, I have coffee.

Photo from

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Mission, San Francisco

I went to the Mission today. I rode my bike down to the BART Fruitvale Station, left my bike at the free bike valet service and rode the BART in to the City. Even at 9am the BART is crowded, no seats left, the cars are old and tired and it's expensive. The BART was good 50 years ago, but it badly needs updating today.

The Mission is an amazing place. I first visited the Mission 21 years ago, a barrio in the heart of San Francisco, a dense hub of all things latin. It was a cool place to live even then, teeming with vitality and history. Friends there were cool people living in old Victorians. A few years later I first noticed gentrification starting on Valencia Street, fancy restaurants, bars and cafes that were cool and expensive. Since I retired and moved to the East Bay I haven't been to the City much and hardly at all to the Mission. In the time I've been gone gentrification has attacked the Mission with a vengeance. Gentrification is pushing east from Valencia which is now full of boutiques, cafes, bookstores, galleries and clothing stores. Apparently gentry shop for clothes a lot.

Now the gentrification is striking at the heart of the Mission itself, taking over Mission Avenue and gobbling homes and lots on the backstreets, renovating some, new construction on others. The local color, the shops, the restaurants are still there but the rents are going up and what's there and been there is being squeezed out.

I'm not opposed to gentrification outright. Everyone needs a place to live. Subsidized housing and set asides are bromides for the lucky few who get it, while the rest of the poor are just pushed out and people with ordinary jobs can't even think about living in the City. In my opinion the whole system needs revamping, how people earn a living, how we pay people, how housing is built and how it's financed. In the meantime we let the market make all these decisions for us and claim there's little that can be done to stop it and then we do even less.

Even East Oakland is feeling the pressures of the market, the poor are being pushed further out and ordinary working people can barely afford to live here. Suzette and I have a comfortable house we squeezed into last year and we look forward to the improvements that gentrification will slowly make in our neighborhood. All things remaining equal, – let's not think or do anything about global warming or solve our social problems with real changes, – and after 10, 15, 20 years we'll be able to sell our house for an outrageous sum and move out of the city.

I had lunch with my friend John who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma in his lungs. He had radiation and just this week learned that the treatment got most of it, that there is something still there, it may just be scar tissue or it may be cancer. The type of cancer is very slow moving and in six months they'll check again, scar tissue and things are good, cancer, more treatment.

John is an amazingly strong person. He's a philosopher and a songwriter and incredibly well read. He looks almost down and out, never has taken much interest in his own appearance, but he reads the classics and knows writers some but not all of whom I have heard of. A few I've read excerpts or paragraphs from. He claims to have read Tacitus in the original Latin and understood it. I'm skeptical of anyone reading Latin but in John's case it could be true. After all he's Italian.

John and I used to smoke cigars together. With John I'd smoke Parodis, those little stumpy Italian cigars that look like something you might find on a city sidewalk. If I had a fatal prognosis I'd start smoking cigars again. John agrees. We didn't smoke any cigars today.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I like churches.  I love the variety of architecture and I love the variety of churches.  It seems in Richmond we have more churches than any other place I've ever been.  The Latter Rain Church of God in Christ is one of my favorites.  

I think if Jesus were here today or if he came back he would preach in a church like this.   

Latter Rain Church of God in Christ
474 Spring Street

Or maybe here at the Iglesia Apostolica Nuevo Plumaje where there are free coffee and donut on Sunday before the service.  

Iglesia Apostolica Nuevo Plumaje
2959 Cutting Boulevard

Mt. Olive Church of God in Christ
445 South 25 Street

Southside Church of Christ
1501 Florida Avenue

Our Lady of Mercy
301 W. Richmond Avenue
Point Richmond

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Random Thoughts December 15th

I'm changing my blog and what it's all about. For a couple of years now since I finished my biography, posted on this blog, I've tried to start a regimen of writing thoughtful essays, columns as it were on weighty subjects. I was going to write something about Feguson. But it just seems too difficult to get started, all the things I think about don't coalesce when I try to put them down in an essay.

And about Feguson. When it first happened I was pretty much on the side of the cop, though the town and local police forces didn't do themselves any honor. More information came in and it looked confusing. Feguson became a national cause. Did I say I'm a retired cop – I've been there when I don't know what the suspect is going to do, my gun drawn, and the wrong move and I'm going to fire. Yes, to do the job, we tell ourselves it's important to be willing to be in situations like that and we tell ourselves returning home is important to our families and if that means making a life and death decision quickly and then being wrong, well that's the risk of the job.

I know cops don't go out looking for people to shoot and they don't shoot people because of their race. But I do know that there are some cops that make bad decisions out there. Sometimes they don't know when to back off or they don't know how to approach a suspect without jacking them up or getting jacked up themselves. Maybe they stereotype too much forget that everyone is an individual.

And I know that black kids are more likely to get shot than white kids. Feguson definitely could use some Black cops, but who voted for an all white city council? In my opinion exercising voting rights is the best way to protest injustice.

And then I think about the recent elections in Richmond. Because they were off year elections turnout was low. Chevron tried to buy the election, funding a slate of candidates favorable to their agenda. They lost. They lost because turnout was low and the African American precincts with majorities for the Chevron candidates were overwhelmed by the other voters. The head of the Chevron slate was a well known Black councilmember. In America we have democracy and the mess that we have in Federal and state governments is what we voted for.

So today I was driving up San Pablo Avenue and just before Miller Drive saw the flashing lights of a fire truck in the middle of the street, a Sheriff's car was coming up beside the traffic and it was obvious there had been an accident at the intersection of Miller and San Pablo, It was raining heavily. This is our second series of storms in a few days, the roads were slick and wet, running with water. More fire engines and paramedics were pulling up as we crawled up the hill, two Richmond Police were coming down the hill Code 3, lights flashing, sirens screaming.

The accident was only one car, a Volvo straddling the center parkway, its front axle broken and the car was dented and banged up as if it had rolled. There was a woman sitting in the driver's seat and on the other side someone was holding an umbrella over the passenger side. The firefighters were moving with that deliberate slowness that indicated the situation was serious. In the distance I could hear the wail of an ambulance on its way to the scene.

We're getting ready for Christmas, the tree is up. I've bought gifts for Suzette and still have to buy Paloma gifts. She got a big girl's bicycle for her birthday, so Christmas will be a nail painting set, puzzles, and probably I'll relent and get a Barbie doll.

“How many Barbie dolls do you have?”


“You need another one?”


Later Paloma informed us that Emily has 15 Barbie dolls. We countered that maybe she got some of them from her older sister, a freshman at Cal. That argument didn't impress Paloma. I think she thought she needed an older sister who would go to Cal and leave Barbies behind.

And I think about that Volvo and the woman in the front seat who was probably on her way down the hill on an errand like we were coming back from. And I think about the passenger shielded from the rain and what their injuries might have been. How old are they? Was it a child?

Instead of dinner and VCR recordings of Wild Kratts, the background noise to writing this, they're probably at a hospital or maybe worse.

Life is fragile. In a moment it can be turned upside down or even ended. And the rest of us go on.