Sunday, November 11, 2012

Taking Control

I've lost a lot of weight. Feels great, but last week I got my head shaved. I’ll tell you why…

I spent the first decade of the 21st century 125 pounds overweight. I wrecked my back making for a convenient excuse to cover my weight gain. I was sad, depressed, and it turns out I was deeply angry. I didn't know about the anger until two years ago. A job I loved was gone, and an uncertain future loomed.
In December of 2006 I stopped drinking. I am an alcoholic, and there’s no pretty way to say this. It was a health issue by then and a financial problem too. So I stopped. The following February I began my first semester at Monterey Peninsula College planning to take the composition, and writing classes. I ended up in Oceanography and Spanish along with my English class. I discovered I’m good at science, and my uncertain future now had a focus. My money is limited and I can only afford two or three classes each semester. This makes for slow going, but I’m enjoying the ride.

The writing classes have been the most important for me. Not because they’ve given me more options, but because they unlocked parts of my psyche allowing me to discover things about myself. The anger I talked about was revealed while writing a poem for class. It scared me due to the darkness I was tapping into. I had no idea where it came from. The poem was about a hero who is called upon to save the day, but at the final second he turns his back and lets the bad guys win.

So what does this have to do with shaving my head?

As my weight-loss became substantial I began to see a familiar face in the mirror. Sure, it was great to see the old, thinner me in the morning again. The problem was that a short while after this some old bad habits returned. Not the drinking, but some of the game-playing I used to keep myself out of the race. There was a moment where I worried about losing the progress I’ve made, and so my hair had to go. When I was thin my hair was usually long-ish; now when I see my reflection I see the current me, and the focus has returned.

Six months from now my hair will be long again, and I should be another forty pounds lighter. The way I see it, by then I should have the bad habits under control, or at least farther along with the rest of my life so they can’t reach me.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Barracks Shadow Man

     So many of the ghosts I’ve seen I didn’t get a good look at. They look like regular people, and unless they’re wearing period clothes it is usually impossible to spot them. Fort Ord evens the playing field somewhat because most of the ghosts there are wearing a uniform and the style of uniform gives away their age. I’ve told you about the African-American in the OG (pickle-suit), and the guy sitting in my truck wearing an Army orderly’s uniform.

     There was also the Captain who almost knocked me over one morning. I was on the alley between the 2-27 barracks, and I was reading the stickers still on the windows of the upper floors. As I turned I had to jump to one side as this man wearing the old khaki uniform, and captain’s bars on his shoulders barreled past me. In a step and a half he vanished. I can still see him. He wore the old bus-driver hat, and carried a brown leather briefcase. He had a determined look on his face. The cut of the uniform placed him in the late 1950s to early 1960s.

Charlie 3-9 Barracks. He sat at the far entrance.

     A year or so later I was simply out for a walk. Fort Ord is at the halfway point between my home, and the peninsula. It’s a great place to walk because the distances are marked, and you can keep track of who far you’ve gone. I was finishing up a three-mile loop, and decided to cut up through the alley between the Machu, 3-9 barracks. The end I approached from is almost blocked by a pair of Monterey Cypress trees. Their long branches reach across the alley entrance, and they make it impossible to see through to the other side.

     I came up at an angle which allowed me to walk under one tree, and out onto the alley way. As I rounded the corner of the neighboring building I saw movement on the steps of the opposite barracks.  I stopped as this place can be tricky with gangs, and homeless folks sometimes hanging out. What I saw blew my mind.

The tree I stood beneath as I watched him.

     Sitting on the steps of the barracks was a man. He wore the camouflage pants, and the black Corcoran combat boots. The upper half of his body was a shadowy outline. I could see enough definition that I could tell he was smoking a cigarette. I stood there looking at him - really looking at him in detail. There was no question about what he was. He didn’t react to the wind blowing through the trees. He just sat on the steps, head hunched just so, and every once in a while taking a drag from his invisible cigarette.

     I marveled at his lower half. The sun reflected from the shine of his boots. I could see his laces tied at the top. He had something in the thigh cargo pockets of his pants, and the brass buckle glinted. I wondered what might happen if I touched him. Would I feel anything?

     The shadowy upper half was interesting too. It resembled a garden variety shadow in its consistency. It was solid, and I couldn’t see through it. I could make out the fingers on each hand as they rested just above his knees.

     His head turned my direction, and he sat up straight. He took one last puff, stood up, and turned to walk inside. He vanished as he went through the door. He had seen me. I assumed he was a residual vision; a recording in space time. I was wrong. This guy posed a bunch of questions about how things work on the other side. Why stay there? Do ghosts get cigarette breaks? Why not wear comfortable shoes? Why keep your boot s shined?

     I walked up those steps, and pulled the door open. Standing just inside I stood listening for the sound of boots. It was silent. I apologized in a calm voice, and I left. Of all of my ghost sightings this one remains the most interesting to me. I know there were two suicides in the building during the time-frame of the ghost’s uniform. Maybe he feels a sense of duty to the men he left behind. Maybe he feels like a failure, and cannot move on.

      I hope he finds a way to let go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Scary Ghosts

    Ghosts don’t scare me. Well, most ghosts don’t scare me. Most of the time I don’t realize they’re a ghost as most of them just look like regular people. Even the few times where I knew I was looking at a ghost I was not frightened, just fascinated as I tried to take in as much information as I could. Still, there are a couple of times where I was scared enough to run.

     The first one was classic. I had slipped into one of the huge three-story barracks to locate a mural I’d been told about. The barracks was essentially a large apartment building. The first floor was pitch black. The windows were all boarded up. I had a small flashlight, but the pure darkness engulfed the beam so I could only see what was in the light beam. I found the mural in the mess hall; a Cobra painted on the wall, and I snapped a few pictures. I figured where there was one mural there should be more so I searched the entire building. I love poking around abandoned places, there is a thrill of discovery, and the thrill of breaking the law makes it a unique experience.
I found nothing more to photograph. I returned carefully down stairs to the huge entry hall. I waited a moment by the doorway to listen for footsteps. The last thing I needed was to walk right into a cop. So I’m standing there in the pitch black and a voice comes from behind me.

     “Hey buddy.” A male voice said.

     I clicked on my light as I swung around. I was sure I was going to see a police officer standing there with a huge grin on his face. Instead the hallway was empty. The voice had come from less than a foot away. I bolted out of the door and ran all the way back to my truck.
Looking back I can still hear the voice. It sounded curious, like “Hey buddy, what are you doing here?” I had heard voices before, but it was in another building where I was on a well-lit floor. That time I heard two men yelling at each other on a floor below me. I had just come from that floor, and it was empty.

     The second scary ghost happened in the daylight.

     I had gone to East Garrison, which is the dark-side of the moon at Fort Ord, and parked my truck at the gate. I was with my friend, Mike, a former Army Ranger, and Navajo. Mike likes to run, and I don’t so what we do is plan to link up at a specific location within a window of time. He’ll run five miles in twenty minutes, and we decide to link up on a large road just opposite of the huge ammo bunkers just south of the Pre-Ranger site. It’s a two mile hike for me, but I like the challenge.

     I chugged my way up the road, into the trees, down into a slot canyon, and made the road in exactly twenty minutes. I was feeling like Superman. I waited for Mike…and waited…and waited. No problem; in our planning we had a secondary plan that if we didn’t link up at the appointed time we would return along a set course until we got back to the truck. I figured we’d bump into each other at some point on the way back.

     I began walking down the hill. I hear Mike call my name. I call out “Hooah!” the universal greeting of grunts everywhere. There is silence. Oh well, he knows where I am, and he’ll find me. I continue moving, and a short time later I here Mike call my name again. He sounds closer, but now I have moved down the ridge to a point where I my view into the canyon is obscured by the Manzanita that grows thick here. I yell Mike’s name, but there is no response. I yell “Hooah Ranger!” and suddenly there is the sound of radio communication. It sounded like someone had a police radio somewhere below me in the canyon. It seemed fairly close.

     The voice stopped. I shrug, and continue moving. Then I hear Mike call my name again. I stop and yell “Hooah Ranger” again. The radio chatter erupts from the canyon again. This time it sounds closer. Fuck this, I’m running. I take off at a good clip down a side trail that takes me into taller trees, and thick brush. I hear Mike call me again, and the radio chatter pipes up immediately. Now it seems to be coming from close by. Close enough I should see the source, but I don’t. The brush is so thick I should hear someone moving through it.

     The radio chatter is now following me.

     I’m running downhill along a narrowing trail, and the radio thing is keeping up with me just off to my left. I can hear someone relaying my position on this radio, and a voice responding ordering to stay with me. I pick my knees up and I run as fast as I can. The narrow trail finally broke out into a wide open space just about the BLM road. I got down to the road, and continued to run all the way to Barloy Canyon Road. The Radio chatter stopped somewhere on the way.

     I got back to my truck in record time. Mike joined me a few minutes later. I asked him why he didn't link up after he saw me. I told him I heard him call me, and he told me he had seen on the ridge, and called to me. He said he didn’t hear me call back. Then he saw me head down the ridge, so he figured he’d meet me back at the truck later. It asked him why he kept calling me.
He said he only called me once.

     I tell him I heard his voice calling me a couple of times. I tell him about the radio sounds, and how it followed me down the ridge. Mike shook his head. He didn't hear any of that. Driving back to Pacific Grove we discussed possible explanations. Maybe sound bouncing off of the fog. Maybe there was a SEAL team working in the area (SEALs still train at Fort Ord). We both agreed it wasn't a SEAL team as those guys just don’t make noise in the field. It is the only time I have ever felt fear when encountering the unknown.

The Hospital Ghost

     For about six years I roamed the abandoned Fort Ord slipping into empty buildings searching for murals to photograph. The Army base is essentially a small city spread out between Marina to the north, and Seaside to the south. On this autumn day I was working the older part of the base on the Marina side. It was built during WWII, and added onto as the base grew. I had parked my truck in a parking lot in the area of the old base hospital. I grabbed my Canon and headed off into the maze of wooden buildings.

     When I was about a half mile away I realized I’d left my extra film on the floor of my truck. I turned around cursing myself, and walked back to the truck. Sneaking into buildings requires timing and luck so this mistake was throwing everything off. Closing in on the parking area I see a man sitting in the passenger seat of my truck. “Oh great, some asshole is robbing my truck!” I think. I change my angel of approach so that I come up from the blind spot. I pull my multi-tool from my pocket, and open the pliers.

     Why not the knife? Great question, I don’t know how to fight with a knife. Knives complicate things. Pliers make better sense for the tactically less inclined because all one needs to do is jab, and squeeze hard. It doesn't matter where you grab someone with the pliers, they will scream, and they will comply. I ran scenarios in my head as I made my way to my truck.
Then I stopped. The guy wasn't moving.

     He was sitting in the passenger seat looking straight ahead. He had short hair, and a thin light-brown mustache. He wore a white, short-sleeve shirt. He wasn’t rifling through my glove box, and he was alone. My truck was the only vehicle in the lot. I put away my pliers. This guy obviously had mental problems, and a violent confrontation would have been a bad idea. I stepped to my right until I was in his view. He turned to look at me. The sadness on his face was profound. He made eye contact. There was a moment of shock as he saw me.

     He vanished.

     I stood there for a few seconds not sure what to do. I opened the door just to make sure he hadn't I don’t know…slid under the seat or something. He was gone. I grabbed my film, locked the door, and walked around my truck to make sure it was secure. I resumed my hunting, but my mind dwelled on the guy I’s seen sitting in my truck.

     I had a ghost in my truck at Fort Ord once before. He was invisible, but I could smell him. The odor of boot polish and chewing tobacco was over-powering. I decided to play it cool. I started talking to him as if he were there. I told him he could ride along until I got to the front gate, but he’d have to leave there. Then I gave him a guided tour of the new CSUMB campus, and the various changes going on. At the front gate the odor went away.

     There was no scent in my truck this time. When I’d finished my jaunt I sat in my truck for a while looking in the same direction my guest had been looking. What was he seeing in his world which could bring such sadness? I turned the key, and drove home.

     A few weeks later I bought a copy of “The Soldier Factory” about the author’s time at Fort Ord in the late 1960s. He told about working as an orderly at the base hospital, and how it would fill after large battles in Vietnam as the hospitals in Hawaii and San Francisco overflowed with seriously wounded men. It turns out many of the men whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. actually died at Fort Ord.

     The man sitting in my truck was wearing the white uniform of an Army medic or orderly. I now understand the sadness in his face. The horror he must have seen, and the suffering must have been too much. Of my many ghost encounters this one was the most heart breaking for me. My dad was a medic around the same time, my mother was also a medic, and I have five cousins who fought in Vietnam.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Ghost Story #1 for Halloween: The Neighbor

            In 2002 I got my current job working front desk at a small motel in Monterey, California. I had been out of work for a year, so any job was welcome, and I came to enjoy the work. The hours are a pain in the ass. I work Shift 2 which starts at 3:00PM, and ends at 11:00PM. This gets me home around 11:30PM on a good night. The hours took a while to adjust to. Usually I’d come home and make a sandwich. Standing in the kitchen I would often see my neighbor, Dean, working at his workbench on the enclosed deck of his home.
            Dean was a retired Merchant Marine who taught marksmanship at the Moss Landing shooting range. Dean packed his own rounds (meaning he made his own bullets) using a special press. I would see him working away in his workshop-deck often. Dean was the kind of neighbor you dream of. He had three cats, he was quiet, and he was great with tools. He saved my butt on many home improvement fiascoes  So that February when I started my job it was nice to see a familiar face when I got home from work.

            Later that month I was doing emergency plumbing repair under my house. As I crawled out into the sunlight I heard the crunching of footsteps on Dean’s gravel-covered yard behind me. It was Dean coming around the back of his home. He greeted me with his usual charm. We talked about my latest plumbing adventure. Dean had undergone heart surgery a few months before, and I commented how great he looked. When I asked him if his heart was bothering him he said “No, not anymore.”

            We made some more small talk, and then we both had to get back to work. As I crawled back under the house I heard him crunch away. A few nights later I got home around midnight, and I was warming up some food on the stove. As a I waited I looked out of the kitchen window to see Dean working in his faded yellow bathrobe. He turned and waved at me, and then returned to his work. I filled my plate, and went off to the living room to eat.

            Two days later I’m getting into my truck to go to work, and I see two people come out of Dean’s house. The people, a man and woman, were well dressed, but Dean told me if I ever saw anyone strange around his place to call the sheriffs. Dean had a number of guns in a safe. So I went over to find out who they were. They told me they were just checking on Dean’s home. I asked if they meant they were feeding his cats they told me the cats were long gone. I asked them why Dean got rid of his cats…
     They told me Dean was dead.

     I was shocked. I said I didn't hear the ambulance. They told me he had died back in November of last year. I was incredulous. I told them I had seen Dean two nights ago, and we had just had a conversation face to face only a few days before that. I told them I was calling the police. Thankfully the neighbor from across the street, who had heard this exchange, came over to calm me down, and told me that Dean had indeed died four months before so I didn't have to call anyone.

            I apologized and left. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if I had somehow screwed up the days I’d seen Dean, but I decided I was solid. I still had the receipt from the hardware store for my plumbing repair. I never saw Dean again. Many nights I look out my kitchen window hoping to see him again. When I work in my yard I hope to hear his footsteps crunching on the gravel behind me. I think about all of the questions I could have asked him that day. I doubt he could have answered them, but still just to have had that chance. All we talked about was how plumbing was a pain in the ass, life isn’t easy, and how his heart had stopped bothering him.

            I tell people who've never seen a ghost the odds are they have, but they didn't know the person they saw was dead. I enjoy the irony of being knowledgeable about ghosts, and having one walk right up to me in the middle of a sunny day to say a few word without me having a clue. I miss Dean too. He was a great guy, and I know wherever he is now he’s doing well.  

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Ghosts: The Quick & Dirty Explanations

     I am asked by friends why I believe in ghosts. The subtext is why does a smart guy believe in ghosts? I ask them to define what a ghost is exactly. Their answers vary a bit, but the gist is ghosts are spirits of the dead.

                I don’t believe ghosts are the spirits of the dead.

     I don’t know what they are, but over the years I’ve kept my ears open for scientific explanations. The big culprit so far is a phenomenon called Infrasound. It is low-frequency sound waves which seem to affect people’s minds. The other guilty party is atmospheric contamination. Some of this is due to climate change. These don’t explain all of the aspects to all hauntings, but they seem to be present in the majority of cases. I reviewed my library of true-ghost stories, and I took notes. I found all hauntings had one or more things in common.

     The first element is underground water. Most old (haunted) houses are built over, or next to a well. In cold climates it made sense to build over the well to keep from going into the snow for water. Water evaporates creating negative ions. These ions form a field which is sometimes strong enough to influence the atmosphere. Batteries will often drain as the negative ions complete the circuit in flashlights, and electrical gear. Their influence on people is not clear, but I suspect they are behind the feeling of being touched.
Underground streams and rivers compound the ions with additional microwave radiation. These are not high levels, not enough to cook your lunch, but enough to make you feel like you’re being watched. In areas where there is Limestone the water will flow at various speeds generating measurably different fields of energy.

     Limestone itself is another suspect. Limestone is prone to caves made by the underground rivers. These caves generate infrasound where they open to the outside. Limestone gives off CO2 when exposed to acids. CO2 in low doses will cause hallucinations such as hearing voices, and seeing shadows. A home built over Limestone can be a ghost-generating factory.

     CO2 (the cause behind rapid climate change) is also a suspect in hauntings. The first thing a good ghost hunter checks is the CO2 levels in a home. The housing boom in the 1990s resulted in a lot of poorly installed heating systems which resulted in CO2 poisoning. The symptoms read like a paranormal thriller.

     The housing boom lead to another fringe cause which was spurred by toxic sheet-rock from China. The sheetrock seemed to affect electrical wiring, and appliances. The gas caused a list of symptoms, but the CDC made no serious study of the threat to people. There is a correlation between the rises of reported hauntings in brand new homes. Theories of Indian burial grounds were rampant. Now it seems the cause was the construction itself.

     The 1990s saw the rise of the McMansion, over-sized single family homes with huge square footage. The large open floor plans generate infrasound in large doses. Then you compound things with a poorly installed heating system, and toxic sheetrock, and the rise in the number of people believing in ghosts makes sense.

     These influences don’t explain everything. They don’t explain why people with no knowledge of a location’s history will see the same apparitions, or experience the exact same events that others have. I suspect they enhance these encounters for some people. Not everyone can sing, many people cannot color-coordinate their clothes, and there are a few people who hate chocolate. People are built differently so how they are influenced by the things I’ve listed here will be unique to each individual.

     As I said, I don’t believe ghosts are spirits of the dead. I believe they are manifestations of a variety of atmospheric influences we have yet to discover. I plan to keep looking.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

That Summer of 1969

     I was born in 1964. My earliest memory of my dad being awe inspired was watching him watch a Gemini Space launch on the TV in late 1966. Dad was a know-it-all, and he went to great lengths not to be impressed. I watched him hold his breath as the rocket cleared the launch tower. I knew this was a big deal.
By 1968 my parents divorced, and I lived with my grandparents in Carmel, CA. My grandfather had been a science teacher after graduating college in 1910. The space program had his full attention. We had plastic Revell models of the Apollo command module, and the lunar lander which we built. By the summer of 1969 my brother, and my grandfather were as up-to-speed on the moon shot as any American could have been.

     My grandfather would often sit back in his chair rubbing his bald head as he marveled at the progress mankind had made since his birth in 1891. He has seen the first automobiles on a railroad flat-car rolling through his hometown of Green City, MO. He had flown on a Wright-Flyer. His father’s general store was the first place in town to have a telephone, and the whole town would come to use it. He saw radio born and die. He saw his first movie in 1909, it cost a nickel, and there was no sound. He would later see the first “talkies”, then see movies in color, and finally buy a television so he could watch those movies in his living room.

     Now his black & white television was going to show him two men walk on the moon.  He rousted us from bed at five in the morning so we wouldn’t miss the launch. It was important to him that we saw the launch, and took in as much of the event we could. He kept saying things would never be the same if we landed on the moon. I sat with my brother on the floor wearing my pajamas with the feet on them. The Saturn V rocket rumbled on the screen as it lifted off. Frank McGee’s voice narrated the whole thing. Once they were in orbit we all relaxed.

     The three day flight was filled with updates here and there which we never missed.  The landing was surreal. My four year-old brain was overwhelmed by emotions, and input as the cardboard image of the lander stopped on the moon. Then the fuzzy image of Neil Armstrong on the TV climbing down the ladder, and then his famous words. It was late at night on the California coast. When the broadcast ended we all went outside to look up at the full moon. For the first time in human history there was someone in the moon looking back at us. The mission continued to the splash-down without a hitch. We watched it all as a family.

     Today Neil Armstrong passed away. I admired him for the things he never did as much as for his Apollo & Gemini flights. He never cashed in in his fame. He could have been everywhere. He could have been insanely wealthy just for being the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong embodied dignity. He was there for NASA when they would ask, but he never took the spotlight away from what the agency was doing in the present. In so many ways Neil Armstrong was the guy the world thinks of when they define what an American is. Neil was always quick to remind everyone about all the people who worked on the Apollo project, and they deserved more credit for their work because they’d made it so easy to do his.
In today’s world of reality show douche baggery, millionaires who are good with a ball who are assholes, and politicians who will throw their own children into a bonfire to win Neil Armstrong stands in the minority we once called  MEN. The country has lost a treasure today. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

My First Ghost(s).

     The first time I saw a ghost I didn’t know it was a ghost. This is common, and I wonder how many other people have encountered a ghost without knowing it. They look normal. Sometimes they’re dressed in old clothes depending on their age, but so often they are mistaken for actors hired for historical recreations. Most are ignored as we walk on by maybe giving a polite nod to the stranger on the street. Most of us rarely notice the living, so passing an arm’s length away from someone who’s been dead for many years is entirely possible.

     My first ghost showed up in the pizza parlor where I worked as the prep-cook. I was 18 years old. The pizza parlor was in the small shopping center down the street from my home. I had worked there about two years already, and it was my home away from home. At this time of my life I often awoke at 3:00am full of energy, and it would take hours to return to sleep. When I’d finally wake I’d feel like shit for much of the day. I decided the next time this happened I would just get out of bed, and go to work. This is exactly what I did, and for three weeks I thought I had figured it all out.

     So on that Wednesday morning, when I saw the ghost, my eyes popped open around 3:10am. I was up, in the shower, dressed, and out the door in fifteen minutes (this amazes me today because it takes me ten minutes just to make it from my bed to the shower today). I didn’t have a car. I didn’t need one. I loved the way the cool morning air of Carmel pinched my cheeks as I crossed Highway 1. I had a key to the restaurant and there was no real manager so I could do whatever I pleased.

The pickup window. Cathy is in the kitchen.

     The pizza parlor itself was essentially a glorified tunnel with the only windows located at the front. The kitchen was also located in the front, and it wrapped around to the left ending with a long bar at the end. The large pick-up window faced the salad bar, and beyond that was the long dining room. Behind the bar was the huge walk-in refrigerator. In the far corner was the pantry where I did the prep-work.

My late friend, Randy, at the bar. The dining room behind him. I saw the man  standing in front of the  second  post back.

     I made my prep list and began with making pizza dough. I kept the lights off in the dining room because they attracted homeless people (we called them River Rats) who would bang on the door demanding food. A dark restaurant made me invisible. The circuit which powered the rear stockroom also powered the arcade games. Their lights were just bright enough for me to get around, and I could play Asteroids once I’d finished my prep work until we opened. The 25-pound bags of pizza dough mix were in the rear store room so I made a point to get them first.

The old prep-cook carrying bags of dough mix. The office  is to the left behind the bar.

     With the dough mix churning in the Hobart I began work on the other items on my list. I sliced mushrooms, and diced lettuce for the salad bar. There was an order to this, as it was a light day I knew I could knock out the other stuff in the half hour it would take to make the three batches of dough. Once the Hobart was free I could use it to grate the cheese. I had my Panasonic boom-box blasting Van Halen and Ozzy so I was in my own universe.

     The Monterey Jack cheese came in 50-pound blocks. We had a special two-handled knife to cut these blocks into smaller blocks which could fit into the Hobart’s grating attachment. This was also the endless source for “Cutting the cheese” jokes. As I said before I had been here two years. In that time I had developed the sixth-sense every restaurant worker has: the ability to tell when someone behind you is glaring at you. You’ve been there, your order’s taking too long, your coffee’s empty, and your wait person seems to have forgotten you so you shoot invisible death-rays into their heads. As I pushed the blade through the cheese block I instinctively looked up.

     Through the small glassless window of the pantry door I saw a man watching me from the dining room.
I looked down for a second and looked back up. He was still there. He stood silhouetted against the glowing lights of the Stargate Defender game in the middle of the dining room. He was shorter than me. His arms were folded. I couldn’t make out any facial detail but I could tell he wasn’t happy to see me.

     Two months before the pizza parlor had been burglarized. They have come in from the side entrance from the access hall where the dumpster was housed. They had cleaned out all of the video games, the petty cash, and took my first boom box. So as I stood frozen in the pantry I thought they’d come back. No cell phones in 1982. The nearest phone was out in the kitchen. I was locked in, and the front door was not an option anyway. I was a typical 18 year-old male, you know, stupid, and I reached for a carving knife.

     Now armed with the cheese knife and the carving knife I walked slowly to the pantry’s swinging door. I never took my eyes off of the man in the dining room, and he never moved. I took a deep breath. I kicked the door open as I yelled something brave.

He was gone.

     Standing there in front of the ice machine I looked out onto a very empty dining room. He had to still be inside. The side door was a steel fire door which made a loud whoomp when it closed, and that was his only way out. The two bathroom doors also made enough noise to signal that he’d gone in either one of them. I wanted to run for a second, and then I got pissed off. I turned on all of the lights so I could search the entire pizza parlor.

     I checked the garbage-hall door (the side door) first.

     It was locked.

     I kicked open the lady’s room door.


    I kicked open the men’s room door.

    I moved out to the center of the dining room to check the rear where the arcade games were. There was enough space between each for an adult man to hide, so going down the center was the safest move for me. My heart was pounding as I made it to the back wall. There was nobody here. This left the rear party room. I dashed through the entry way to avoid being jumped. It was empty too. I checked the rear exit door finding it secure. This left the long, dark garbage hall to search.

     It was also empty with no signs of disturbance, and the doors at either end were locked from the inside. I returned to finish my work, and when I was done I left the pizza parlor to sit in the diner at the far end of the parking lot until the sun came up.

     I wrote this event off to being there so early, and I theorized somehow part of my brain was still asleep. However on following mornings as I worked away I would feel someone watching me from the dining room. A couple of times I reflexively dropped what I was doing to help the person waiting at the bar, as I often did during business hours, only to remember as I walked out of the pantry that I was locked inside the place alone. One morning I stepped out of the walk-in refrigerator to hear twice girls whispering from the salad bar area on the other side of the bar. I stepped to the end of the counter but saw nobody.

     I stopped going to work so early in the morning. I was certain it was just too early for my brain to work.
Less than two weeks later I was killing the late evening at the pizza place. I had nothing better to do, all of my friends were either working there, or were up at a concert in Oakland. I sat with the shift manager, Danny, and the janitor, Ray, at the table closest to the bar. We were making the usual shop-talk, and telling the usual bad jokes as we waited for the place to close. Ray looked at his watch, and then he asked us if we’d hang out until he finished the janitorial work that night. We both agreed. Danny asked him why.
Ray told us a story.

     He was vacuuming the rear dining room (were the video games were) when he looked up to see two girls about the age of fourteen or fifteen walking toward the bar. He assumed they’d been smoking weed in the restroom, and nobody had checked before locking the door. He turned off his vacuum cleaner to let them out, but as the machine fell silent the girls had vanished. He quickly ran up to search the kitchen, and then the restrooms yet found no one. The next night he came out of the side hallway from the men’s room to see a dark man standing in the back dining room watching him. As he began to ask what the guy thought he was doing the man vanished. Ray quickly locked up and went home. He finished his work the next morning when he knew other people would be there.

     He’d seen the same guy I’d seen.

     Danny said he’d seen the two girls walk past the office door at the end of the bar a couple of times when he was there in the morning alone. He then said he’d thought he’d seen a dark man in the dining room from the corner of his eye, but he wrote it off to long work hours. We sat there in silence for a good minute. Danny and I helped Ray clean up in record time. We decided not to tell anyone. We figured if we were really seeing thing others would too, and if not then we three had a cool story for Halloween.  The wait wasn’t too long.

     Maybe three days later I was closing down the place with the girls, Cathy & Mo (short for Maureen). I had finished my stuff and sat in the front booth where I was soon joined by Cathy. We talked as we waited for Mo to change. Suddenly I could hear the coffee pot on the Bunn begin to rattle. Cathy looked over to see a girl with blonde hair next to the ice machine. She yelled “Mo!” just as the coffee pot flew off the top hot plate of the Bunn machine. Then from the back dining room we hear Mo ask Cathy what was going on.  Cathy looked at me, looked back at Mo, and then got up to look into the kitchen. I went back to check the pot. Somehow it didn’t break in the fall, which was weird because I’d seen them break for less of an impact.
We got out of there fast ending up at the all night diner until Cathy had calmed down enough to drive home. As we sat there I filled her in on what I knew. She was happy not to tell anyone about the incident until more people had seen things.

This picture shows the bar with the pantry door behind the two  men. Just behind the man on the right is the walk-in refrigerator door. The Bunn coffee maker is just out of view on the left.

      As it turned out it wasn’t a long wait. Within the week most of the crew had seen either the man or the two girls in the dining room. Being young we all decided to hang out before work to hash out what was going on (because teenagers are experts in just about everything).

     We decided we had all seen something. Some of the most serious people had an encounter, and this made it credible. The next big question was why? I had been there for two years, Cathy had been there for three, and a few others had been on staff for a year. We had all been in the restaurant alone at many times, and none of us had seen anything strange. Why now? We settled on the theory that construction for the new half of the shopping center had awoken something. My sighting began six weeks after they’d first break ground.

     We did some checking. The initial construction company had been fired, and replaced overnight. In California when construction crews discover burial sites they must halt, and allow for the state to excavate the area. This can cost a lot of money in delays for the contractor. We thought the sudden replacement of the construction crew might have been linked to something dug up. We could never find out more because the new guys knew nothing, and the owner’s people said nothing.

     Over the next couple of weeks things continued to happen. The heavy fire-door would slam for no reason. This continued even after we locked it from the inside. Footsteps were heard walking around the salad bar in the mornings. One of the favorite tricks was to freak someone out as they punched in the code to deactivate the alarm in less than 90 seconds. The fire-door would usually slam. The most memorable incident was the sound of approaching footsteps which sounded like someone walking through an inch of water. I complemented the invisible man on that one.

     After one stressful shift I was alone, and I was getting ready to turn on the alarm. The keypad was located on the wall at the end of the bar. I turned off all of the lights. Just as I reached for the pad I hear a coffee mug jingling. Over on the bar next to the register was a try filled with mugs. The one in the middle of the tray was visibly shaking.
     “You’re gonna have to do something a little more spectacular than that. I just not in the mood tonight” I said to whatever. Damned if that coffee mug didn’t fly up, and bounce down the bar until it fell off the end landing at my feet.  I saluted the unseen, entered the code, and left.

     At some point Danny suggested we do a séance complete with his Ouija board. The first one was a complete waste of time. Danny stuck the Ouija on a shelf in the office and forgot about it. The following week I was recounting the séance to our bartender. When I showed him the board in the office he suggested we try again that night after work. As it turned out a mutual friend was in earshot and begged to be included too. Once everyone else had gone I got out the board.

     The bartender and I decided to wear blindfolds so we couldn’t rig the answers. We wrapped towels around our heads, and gave the third guy a pen to write stuff down. With the lights turned off we placed our fingers on the Planchette and began asking questions. For the first few minutes I felt like an idiot. I’m sitting in a dark pizza parlor with a towel wrapped around my head with Mormon bartender who’s doing the same thing. Then the bartender starts asking questions. The Planchette began to move under my fingers.
“Do you want us to leave?” he asked. The Planchette suddenly jerked to a point on the board where it froze. The bartender and I whipped off our blindfolds to see the board. The answer was “NO.”

     We stood up together, I turned on the alarm, and we went out the front door. The third guy was begging to know what had happened. Neither of us spoke until the bartender’s pickup truck was at the stoplight at the front of the center. We looked at each other as we both blurted out “was that you?” We filled the third guy in. That pointer was yanked hard under our fingers. One of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. The bartender quit soon after this.

     The janitor, Ray, would last another year, but only because he’d come in the mornings to clean. His wife worked in the kitchen anyway. One Sunday morning the ghost was on a tear. I saw him twice that morning already, and I ignored him. So he picked on Ray. First thing was to slam that fire door while Ray was coming out of the Lady’s room directly opposite. He was startled pretty bad, and had to sit for a while. Then later I was in the kitchen and happened to look up to see the dark man standing by the hallway leading to the fire door. Ray saw him too. He looked at me, I said I’d seen him, and he started crying. Ray was a good guy, his parents were killed by Nazis in France, and for this tough guy to break down was unreal.

     I left the pizza place after two more years. I moved across the parking lot to the Crossroads Cinemas. It wasn’t haunted, and it was a great place to make out. I’d been there nine months, and one night after locking up the theater a few of us went to the diner to drink coffee, and shoot the breeze.

      We’d only been seated for a few minutes before two Sheriff’s deputies walked in and approached our table. They asked us who we were, and why we were out so late (it was after midnight).  I explained where we worked, and why we were out late. Then one of the deputies recognized me from the theater, and all was cool. I asked what the problem was, and they said somebody was messing with the janitor at the pizza parlor. They went and sat at the counter, and we shrugged. Then Ray and his oldest son, Charlie, came into the diner, and marched straight up to our table.

     “Just tell me it was you.” He said. I looked at him shaking my head.
“Just tell me it was you, and I’ll have a good laugh.” He said. I told him I’d just got off work, and the other two people worked with me. I asked him what was wrong, and pointed to the deputies as I told him about being questioned a few minutes before. He sat down. His hands shook, and he was sweating badly.

     He said that he and Charlie had shown up at the pizza parlor to start cleaning at 11:00pm. Within minutes they heard loud noises coming from the garbage hall. It sounded like cardboard boxes being tossed around. Charlie went out to take a look. He found boxes thrown up and down the length of the hall, but both doors were locked. He returned to the dining room, but before he could fill Ray in the sounds began again. This time something pounded on the door too. This time Ray opened the door. The noises stopped as it swung open. Ray cursed at the culprit, and locked the door.

     He called mall security, and the lone guard walked over where he met Ray, and Charlie outside of the pizza parlor. As Ray was explaining the situation the sounds erupted again from the garbage hall. They could hear it clearly from outside. The security guard suggested it must be raccoons. Ray escorted him to the garbage hall door inside, and the guard went in to take a look. The sounds stopped again. The guard searched the entire hall, which was seventy feet from end to end. He found only cardboard boxes strewn from one end to the other.

     He came out shaking his head. He found no signs of animals, and the doors were locked. Then the noise started up again. This time it sounded as if the boxes were being thrown from both ends at once. Then something pounded on the door again. The guard checked again. There was nobody in the hall. He suggested they all exit the restaurant until the sheriffs came, and then he called them.

     A squad car arrived in under a minute. As they stood out front explaining the problem, ruckus resumed inside the hallway again for the deputies to hear, and they drew their guns as they went inside. They search the hallway too, and found nothing. Once back outside they didn’t have time to report before the noise started again. The deputies, according to Ray, looked at each other, and said they’d done everything they could do. They told Ray to lock up and come back tomorrow, and then they left.

      Ray just left the lights on, locked the door, and went home. He saw me through the window of the diner, and decided to stop in to see if I had decided to pull a prank on him.  I told Ray I hadn’t thought about the pizza parlor since I’d left. I was surprised by Ray’s story, and noted he was shook up. He quit the place a few days later.

     My life went on largely ghost-free until the 1990s. As things changed my visits to the shopping center dwindled for a time. On one Halloween I happened to be down there for a hair appointment, and I stopped into the book store to see what was new (and because there was a cute redhead dressed as a cat). We started talking. She mentioned she liked working there because the place had a ghost. I asked her if it was a dark man or two girls, and she told me she’d seen both
     The last time I’d heard about the ghosts at the shopping center was two years ago. It’s nice to know their still there. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lightfighter - Lightwriter

The most common questions any writer gets are: Where do you get your ideas? What is your approach to writing? How do I become a better writer? When do you find the time to write? How do you deal with writer’s block? There are a few more but they are variations of these enquiries.  The answers given are usually basic no-nonsense maxims. Seriously, how any writer becomes a good writer is by writing (and writing, and writing, and writing). Writing a lot develops discipline and opens doors in one’s brain they didn’t know where there before. This is how it’s been for me. However it’s time to be honest and reveal the key aspect those who ask me are never told. This will require a story.

     After an injury to my lower back my life went out the window. As the rest of my life underwent reinvention the first idea was to write a book about the 7th Infantry Division (Light) which had been based at Fort Ord, California. How hard could it be? The problem was focusing on research, which was a whole separate headache, instead of writing which lead to the creation of a huge mess. The mess led to classes at Monterey Peninsula College to shore up my writing skills. I have always been a writer, there are hand-written stories (or parts of stories) tucked away in my closet going back to high school, but I never thought about taking it seriously until 2007. Composition 1A lead to Comp. 1B, which lead to Comp.2, followed by Survey of English Literature, and those lead me to the Creative Writing classes. The goal being to write a quality narrative, which will bring the 7thID back to life, and put the reader out at Fort Ord wearing 75-pounds of gear in the freezing indigo of Monterey Bay nights.

     Whatever else I will become known for writing, I will always be ingrained by my research of the one Army division that got it all right, and was able to operate at a superior level with little more than the will to do so. So my writing secret is the application of infantry training and doctrine to my writing mind-set.  The 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment’s barracks (the one with the Ninja painted facing the parking lot) used to have maxims painted on the front. Those which I apply to writing are:

Train as you will fight. Conduct meaningful and challenging training.

Train at all levels concurrently

Fight light – own the night

     So I write. I write anywhere, at any time, and this is done so there is no excuse for not being able to write. The 7th’s breed of soldier was named “Lightfighter”, and they could fight anywhere in the world. This is because they trained in Iceland, Alaska, Korea, Fort Irwin (in the Mojave Desert), Panama, Honduras, Arizona, and countless other locations. The Lightfighter knew he could be anywhere in the world within thirty hours with no warning. This has translated to those times when there is no story to write, the challenge becomes working on weak spots with fundamental exercises.  Sometimes it’s looking at a picture and describing details. Maybe I take something off my Twitter feed to make a one page story. Other times I work out set pieces for action stories, and then cull the narrative until it flows like sand between toes.

     These things are done so when the stories spill from my head I don’t waste time wrestling with mechanics, and I can just write. There is also a lot of reading going on. Reading for fun and reading about writing. Answers to every writer’s puzzle can be found in a classic novel or poem. Whatever the problem, it is a safe bet some other writer has solved it in a way you can use. I write horror so I read horror. When I began writing westerns I picked up short story collections by the best writers of the genre. To bring Max Chrome to life the stories of Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, and Ed Ruggero paved the way. As the 7thID trained with armies of other countries, I “train” with different authors.
Fighting light meant no relying on a huge apparatus to get the job done. I apply this by writing light. Don’t use twenty words if three will do. The Lightfighters could read the ground, and take an objective in an economic –yet – dashing way. When a story forms in my head I can tell how long it will be, and my writing is calibrated to achieve it. I find people are more forgiving if I don’t take too much of their time. When the novels begin I’m sure concise narrative will move the story along while engrossing the reader as well.
     The Army loves to complicate things whenever possible, so the 7th ID was doomed from the start. The Lightfighters drilled in the fundamentals so when the call came they performed in combat in exemplary fashion. Everything step by step, though not always in order, until the job was done and they went home. So I drill and I write and I hang with other writers. I listen, read, and practice so I can write in any reasonable situation. This is done to avoid over-thinking once the story is in the breech. Over-thinking is a problem for every writer. It is a seizure-like mental breakdown. For non-writers this is seen most often in football where the place-kicker blows a short field goal, or a golfer misses a short putt. They failed mentally because too much was going on in their heads. Writing a story of any length is like balancing a marble on a two-by-four and if you think about it too much the marble ends up on the ground.

     The things I learned from the Lightfightesr have helped me to not lose my marbles at the critical moments of story writing. Their approach to soldiering has informed my assault on writing. Their hard work went unappreciated, yet all 200 men I have interviewed would do it all over again if they could. They would put on all their gear; head out into the night to dig fighting positions, and freeze their nuts off just to be Lightfighters again. All I have to do is sit in my room and write to be part of a community. So I do. I will always be the bastard child of the 7th’s Lightfighters. Lightfighters and Lightwriters understand often only reward from all the hard work done is the knowledge you did it. The key to the Lightfighter’s success was their commanders kept raising the bar, then dared them to surpass, and they did – every time. So I raise my bar whenever possible too. I’m probably a good enough writer now to get around, but I want to write better.

 So I drill and I write.

Friday, May 04, 2012

I Fix Robert Frost

Poetry. Sometimes it needs help, and when it does they call me...

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference”  - Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference as the Highway Patrol ignores this road. I hauled balls. ”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. Fine, don’t fucking believe me”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. I shot an albatross up in that bitch”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference since the Arby’s on this road was 30% cheaper than the one where everyone goes. Hell yes.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference…alright, not really but I I can get a few idiots to take the other road I can get home faster.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. I was able to walk for miles without pants.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference , I shot a bunch of deer without having to get out of the car.”

““Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference; I discovered a deep seeded need to start a forest fire. So I did.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference, the lone gas station along the way has a stash of Lithuanian Wombat/Midget Porn under the checkout counter. Ask for “Ivan” and tell him “Frosty send me”.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference since I’d had my Hummer for three years, but hadn’t gone off-road once. I almost hit a skunk. Guess it was my lucky day.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference since I have Alzheimers it all looks the same anyway. Who are you?”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. I haven’t littered from a moving car in a long time. It felt good.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference when I got to the river where the bridge is out (this is why nobody takes this road). I backed up a quarter-mile, floored the gas, and then I jumped the river just like in the movies. I always wanted to do that. Up your’s, Burt Reynolds. ”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. There’s an Indian casino there.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference; I found some dude’s wallet. I bought all four seasons of “Charles in Charge” on DVD with his credit card. Sucker.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. Nobody misses hitchhikers here.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference; while I was having lunch at Stucky’s the busboy told me about how on the “Girls Next Door” DVDs they don’t pixelate the nudity. I used their free Wi-Fi to order all of the seasons on Amazon.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. I drove in reverse.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference for now I know where to dump toxic waste without getting caught.”

“Two roads diverged in the woods, and I –
I took the road less traveled by. And it made all the difference. I thought I’d never get to pop a wheelie in my Prius.”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Last Miracle

     In 2012 there is the disillusionment which comes in the beginning of every century as old ideas fight to hold power over a world where they no longer fit. As a result everything is questioned, and everything seems to lack relevance in the current time. Religion is one of those ideas undergoing review, and with the internet the social inbreeding on every issue has become compounded making almost every issue outrageously polarized to a point beyond reasonable discussion.

So I know almost nobody will read this, and half of those who do will spaz-out reflexively.

     The universe as established operates under a strict set of rules. They cannot be broken, even by a supreme being, as everything would spin out of control. I pondered this for a long time during my spiritual quest. How could God just intervene in a situation without screwing up the flow of time & space? My answer for a long time was God could not just step in like Superman to save the day.

     On October 17, 1989 the earth moved under a mountain named Loma Prieta  east of Santa Cruz, California. This caused an earthquake which measured 6.9 or 7.0 (depending on who you ask). It killed a couple hundred people, most of those in Oakland, California, when the Nimitz Freeway’s Cypress Structure collapsed. It shook the fuck out of my house, and I have PTSD related to the event.

     At the time the local media marveled at the low casualty count. The San Francisco Chronicle’s 10/18/1989 edition’s headline screamed thousands feared dead. Yet once the concrete road-beds were lifted few cars were found underneath. There was no real mystery as to why. The Oakland Athletics (A’s), and the San Francisco Giants were playing each other in the World Series making for the biggest week of parties since the end of World War II. Businesses let employees off work early so they could get home, or wherever they were going to watch the game. So those who would have been on the Nimitz freeway at 5:04pm were already in front of a TV when the quake struck. Families which normally had varying activities were all together, and people who were normally alone were with friends.

It was almost the perfect time for an earthquake.

     Sometime in the mid-1990s as I worked to resolve my spirituality with my rational world view these facts came back to me on one of the anniversaries of the temblor. KGO ABC7 in San Francisco had one of the best documentaries about the quake, and the one word repeated throughout was “Miracle”, and I began to wonder if a miracle had in fact been in play on that October day. The question became where would I find evidence of a miracle if there was one? 

  The answer quickly came to me: Baseball.

     Remember, I said the universe is governed by laws which cannot be broken. God is looking at earth’s schedule where the earthquake is looming. How can God save thousands of people without revealing his existence, and how can God save people without breaking important laws of physics? It dawned on me there was one place he could intervene which would set events into motion which would save a lot of people, and this place was Candlestick Park. Candlestick Park was home to the Giants, and notorious for unpredictable winds.

Baseball would be the key to saving lives. Knowledge of baseball would reveal the truth.

     The 1989 Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball that year. Ask anybody. They had a batting  average of .261; first in the league, an on-base-percentage of .319 which was second in the league, and a pitching staff which had an ERA of 3.43. The 1989 Cubs featured Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston, Andre Dawson, and Rick Sutcliffe. These men were some of the best to ever play the game, and 1989 was their best year as a team.

     They faced off against the SF Giants. The Giants were a good team, but essentially backed into the playoffs that year. They played in a weak division, within the National League which was not as stellar as the American League at the time. The Giants crushed the Cubs in the first NLCS game 11 to 3, but the Cubs returned the favor in the next game with a score of 9 to 5. The series moved to San Francisco where the Giants won the third game 6 to 4 mostly with clutch pitching in the late innings. So it all came down to the 5th game. If the Cubs win they return home to play the 6th game in Chicago.

     So on Monday, October 9th, 1989, the Cubs went to work. They held the Giants scoreless until the seventh inning. Will Clark gets a triple, and then Kevin Mitchell hits a sacrifice fly to deep centerfield to score Clark. This ties the game at 1 to 1. In the eighth inning when the Giants come to the plate the first batter, Ken Oberkfell, flies-out to the left field line. Next Jose Uribe strikes out swinging. Chicago is in control. All they need is one more out to close the inning. This is where the game seems to fall apart for the Cubs. Candy Maldonado, Brett Butler, and Robbie Thompson all walk loading the bases for Will Clark.

     Will Clark started playing baseball after his dog brought him a baseball, and then a glove one summer. It was as if the universe had chosen Will Clark to play baseball. Maybe only for this one game. Will Clark hits a bloop single to center field scoring Maldonado, and Butler. So with two outs Chicago loaded the bases for Will Clark who hits a single.

This is where (if you believe in this kind of this) God stepped in.

     The ball sailed just above the second baseman’s mitt, and dropped right in the dead space between him and the center fielder. A simple bloop single would make the difference between thousands of people dead, and the final Loma Prieta death toll of 63. This is a thing of beauty. In front of a crowded stadium and in front of a TV audience God hangs a baseball an extra second to score two runs which results in both Bay Area home teams facing each other in the World Series which is when the earthquake will occur. Thousands of people are off the roads as businesses close early. People are gathered together in homes, or bars to watch the game.

     The Chicago Cubs should have gone to the World Series. It was their year. They would have beat the Oakland A’s who would be later to discovered as steroid abusers. Oakland only won one World Series during the “Bash Brothers” era, and this was to the San Francisco Giants. Ask anybody who knows baseball, they’ll tell you the same thing.  The Cubs were sacrificed for to save countless lives. No big laws of the universe were bent, or broken to achieve the miracle. Twenty-two years later I’m the only one to put it all together. I understand I might be reading more into this story than there really is, but I used to love baseball so it makes me feel good to think it played a part in saving people’s lives in a way few can articulate.

So now you know.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

At The Wall (Again)

I’m a writer. I've always been a writer. When I was seven my best friend, Ricky Bradshaw, showed me how to fold blank paper in half, and then staple the fold to make a book. If my grandmother wasn't so cheap about her typing paper I would have written 300 books while in the second grade. These books were usually 12 pages long, and the stories were about Tyrannosaurus kicking ass. It was all there: a strong character, a plot, and a resolution. By third grade I’d branched out to the USS Constitution sinking pirate ships. In junior high school I retreated into my head as my world went sideways, but I still managed to write a story here and there.

In high school I wrote a lot. My freshman English teacher, Mr. Scheckler, encouraged me to write him stories. It was his way of keeping me interested in class, and to his credit it worked. I wrote 12 stories for him. After high school I still wrote once in a while. There was always a college rule notebook in my desk which I would write in when the urge hit me. I find these stories when I clean out my closet, or my truck. Most I don’t remember writing. They’re like gold to me now. I think about the other stories I've written which have been lost, and it boggles my mind.

The problem was before I realized I was a writer I thought being a writer meant you had to be published. This is my mistake. There are people who earn their living as writers who are not writers. Writing is a means to an end. They have no passion for their work beyond its dollar value. I have spent a great deal of time lamenting becoming a guitarist because of the years I felt I wasted becoming good at playing. Now I’m glad I did it. The very things I did to become a quality guitarist are the same thing pushing me along to becoming a good writer. Silly drills, writing prompts, description exercises, and throw-away stories are sharpening my skills. The next barrier is the one in my head.

The key to becoming a good guitarist was practice. Education, reading books, magazines, and studying the work of other players was important. Without practice it was all wasted. I practiced guitar an average of four hours a day, seven days a week. On some days I played as much as ten hours. My fingers are deformed from holding a pick for thousands of hours, or as Larry Carlton pointed out I “have the hands of a guitar player” as witness to my dedication. My skills as a writer grow with each story I finish, but the real action starts when I sit my ass down to write at a dedicated time every day. As I said, this is the wall in my head I need to get over, around, under, or destroy.

Let me clue you in on the monster in my head. I had terrible things done to me as a child. I was lucky to get help from gifted people along the way who guided me away from many dark paths. However the damage is there, and on some days it seems as fresh as ever. I call it the monster because giving it a shape and a face helps me fight it. Playing guitar helped me connect to the larger IT of the universe allowing me to create free of ego. The monster fed and justified my addiction to booze. He gave me an excuse to quit. The irony is through writing I have been able to unearth damage to my psyche I wouldn't have found any other way. With each story I write it has become harder for the monster to hide.

So now I’m at that wall. On this side is everything I know, my life from birth to now, some success within reason, and a lot of self-doubt. On the other side? Success, maybe, a life without the monster in my head is certain. So at this moment I think about women we studied in Citizen’s Police Academy. They chose to stay with an abusive husband because it’s safer than the unknown. At this point in life I can’t see how the unknown can be any worse than my life up to now. So here I am one more time. All I have to do is grab the brass ring.

Stay tuned.

On Ronnie Montrose

I haven’t written much about guitar though my screen-name is Axxman. I should fix this.

I began playing guitar in September 1978. To be honest my brother loved rock music more than I did at the time, and the evidence for this was his massive 1200 album collection. I benefitted from this by having access to just about every cool rock album there was. My own collection would grow to 500 before CDs took over. The other benefit was my brother’s to the point critiques of my playing progress, and this mostly consisted of “you suck”, “do better”, or he’d just shake his head as he walked out of the room. On the bright side he was always bringing home albums of guys he thought I should know about.

Ronnie Montrose was one of those guys.

The album was Gamma. The song which had the biggest impact was “Thunder and Lightning”. It was just a rocking song where Montrose was spotlighted. Unlike Van Halen, who is probably from another planet, Montrose’s playing was accessible -NOT EASY – but a style I could wrap my young guitarist brain around. I never fell in love with Ronnie Montrose, mostly because of his choice of questionable singers, but I always liked him.

I saw Ronnie Montrose three different times by accident. By accident means he wasn’t on the original bill when I bought the tickets. Bill Graham (his manager, and Bay Area concert promoter) would add him to the ticket later. So I saw him with Humble Pie and Ted Nugent. He opened for Blue Oyster Cult. The last time I saw him was at Oakland for a Day on the Green with Santana, Toto, and Journey.

Montrose was liked by most people he knew which speaks to his character. I just thought he’d always be around, or at least be around longer. I hope he’s happy wherever he’s gone to, I sincerely wish this for him.