I’ll always love my momma, she’s my favorite girl.

I just texted my sister on the first anniversary of mom passing. I noted that our mom was not a stand out mom. But she was a good enough mom for me. They certainly do not do movies or write books about moms like mine. She was generally quiet and solitary throughout her last years. But she was loyal, moral and good-humored. Frugal but generous. By living 102 years she endured more losses than I can comprehend. She was not very affectionate but from what I saw of my grandmother, it would have been amazing if she was. I think my sister Karen and I taught her to say “I love you”. I say that because I do not remember her ever saying it until later in life and we had repeated it to her a thousand times.

I owed her in many ways. She was frequently called to schools to discuss my behavior. She shrugged off my being flunked in my religious classes at the synagogue. When I was ten, I vividly recall how she tried to save me from a significant beating I was getting from my dad and she paid for her intervention. I started running away at 13. She found me hours later wandering the streets. Where else was I to go. She delivered me to psychologists and psychiatrists in an attempt to keep me from completely unraveling before I could turn 16.

I owed her for getting me out of police lock-up twice, going to court, paying an attorney on my felony charges. I owed her for laughing at neighbors who complained to her about my smoking pot (long before pot was fashionable). I owed her for the many years I was a teenage runaway and those nights she spent sleepless, crying and worrying if I was dead or alive. I owed her for helping me pay for law school.

Maybe I owed her for keeping the family together when every fiber of my being cried for its end. Why do I assume that economic insecurity would have been preferable to physical safety. The beatings and terror are the ground from which many a rich and humorous anecdote have sprouted. They shaped me in ways I could not have predicted and made me the lawyer of choice for persons who did harmful things for no apparent reason.

I sucked at being her child. I was getting better at it every year and I am glad that I was a much better son in the final reel. I wish it had occurred to me sooner to be a better son but it did not! (I will credit Ajahn Panumat, a Thai Buddhist monk with starting me on the path on my 55th birthday. He told me to call my mom and thank her as but for her, I have no life.) I would be a shallow person indeed if I did not recognize the neglect and indifference I showed towards my mother’s feelings much of her life.

So to pen an homage to the departed seems to be something we do to assuage our grief and our guilt. I do not have much of either in great abundance but I have my share of both.

Ready for Change!!

You are not a racist or indifferent to the suffering of others. You are probably religious and moral and care what happens to those less fortunate. So I urge you to watch the video of George Floyd’s last moments, trying to be heard as he was suffocated, “asphyxiation from sustained pressure”.
I was almost drowned once at the age of 14. I was held underwater by a large classmate. I could not breathe. I panicked and thought I would die. My body screamed for air! I passed out. I lived in panic of drowning for about 40 more years and I reacted violently to anyone touching my throat or trying to horseplay with me in a swimming pool.


So I urge everyone to imagine that suddenly you are prevented from and so, unable to breathe and you know that you are dying. In desperation you cry out for help. You use your last breaths to beg for your life. But to no avail. The person who holds your life, your air, in his hands, ignores you and kills you. On purpose or unintentionally, he kills you. But for him, you would live to see another day.

I appreciate your doing this and giving life and breath to this story.

Or maybe you think it is okay for cops to mete out justice in the streets. You think George Floyd brought about his own death by resisting arrest and he opened the door to be killed in that moment, on that street by that cop. Maybe you think his life is worth less than yours, or your son’s or your dad. Maybe because you do not trust Black people, or criminals or because you trust cops completely. I do not know what would bring about that callous response to the 8.5 minute video of a man’s life taken from him with calm cool detachment.

I grew up in Chicago. Between 2002 and 2006, a Cook County Special Prosecutor, retired Justice Edward Egan, investigated allegations that a group of homicide detectives had tortured black suspects including attaching a car battery to suspects testicles and shocking them into confessing crimes. Special Prosecutor Egan concluded that a Lt. Burge and officers under his command had likely committed torture, but that any crimes were outside the state statute of limitations and could not be prosecuted.


On August 9, 1997, NYPD Officer Justin Volpe in Brooklyn sodomized suspect Abner Louima with a broken broom handle in a 70th Precinct bathroom. Officer Volpe eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

5 NYPD plainclothes officers thought Amadou Diallo fit the description of a serial rapist. The officers followed him to his apartment building. When Diallo reached into his jacket, officers fired 41 rounds, 19 hitting Diallo. No gun was found on Diallo, only a wallet he pulled out to identify himself and a bag of videotapes.

The list of Black people murdered or tortured by police is lengthy and justice rare. So whatever your reason for failing to understand the nature of the anger/rage now, get over it. Your dad was a cop, you were a cop, your best friend told you it is a hoax, your president fed you a line of bullshit or whatever, I urge you either find your sense of connection to the rage or shut up. Everyone of us must demand, despite our own perceptions, bias or prejudice, that police misconduct must stop, things must change and we are the reason it will change. We will give voice to the disenfranchised, voiceless, victims of social and legal inequities. Be with them or shut up. There is no room left for more brutality and misconduct without retort and consequence. Screw blue flu. We will provide safety and security if need be for all our fellows who are vulnerable to police brutality, be that a person of color or white, male or female. This is the moment in history where we can make a difference.

Difficult Times (an ode to my sister)

The following is a disjointed, rambling stream of conscious blog written in the early early hours of the day. I am jet-lagged and sleep deprived but I persist.

Half political, half sentimental follows.
I was on Facebook overnight unable to sleep and bored. It occurred to me how comforting that my sister hates trump. My whole family actually hates him. But my younger of two sisters I refer to has been the back-up matriarch of our family with her demand for control, her attention to detail and her love and affection. It is a bonus and I love that she is not only an extraordinary care-taker but frequently surpasses me, on social media, expressing her total disdain for trump and her admiration for progressive values.

I am the baby of a family of 4 siblings. I have had my challenges with each of my 2 sisters and one brother. I considered resigning from my family of origin at one time but ultimately decided that I belonged.

It is helpful that this sister has been the glue which was needed as my parents aged and died. I have seen memes for family members to show appreciation for each other but my sister deserves more than a meme.

When our parents pass it often leaves us children, despite being grown, feeling vulnerable and abandoned. It is my gift to be a member of a family that has a core of affection and cohesion which sheltered me from the ill-effects of parental loss.

I am mentioning this because I know so many families now torn by politics and many more who fight with each other over the late-life care and passing of their parents. My family has successfully navigated the loss of both parents and the election of trump. Two potential family crises.

My sister Karen was the rock during my mom’s final health crisis. I am spared long term guilt, about being a son so distant, about my mom’s care because my sister was ever attentive and present. I was constantly assured my mom was in good hands getting the best care.

I am the only tattooed, drug addict, gun toting Buddhist in my family. But no matter how strange and far I stray from my origins, I have never been shunned/rejected by my family. Sadly so many of my peers have not been so lucky.

Values are important to me. My 3 siblings all have humanistic, progressive values at their core. We don’t fight over gay rights or universal access to health care or civil rights for all. (They hate guns but none of us is as rabid as we used to be on the subject)
I don’t envy those that come home to visit a household airing Fox News.

May all families know the affection and respect of shared values. May all families navigate the loss of parents with dignity and love for each other. May all splintered families find healing when the dust of politics settles.

Would I ever return to being a Buddhist monk?

The question has been asked of me many times. I have asked me many times. Here in Thailand there is opportunity to ordain again. But here in Thailand I do not think so.

In case you did not know, I was ordained as a novice 10 years ago. I lived in a Thai temple in Arizona for a little over 4 months. I lived there with 3 Thai monks, two who were bilingual. I was a bull in a china shop but I was serious and dedicated. I had planned to stay longer but some events required my attention and I could not do so as a monastic.

Monks live by very strict rules. 227 rules actually. They affect every area of life, dress, eating, grooming, traveling, socializing and much more. As I am in Thailand for my first time if I were to ordain, I would be limiting my ability to travel around. New monks are generally required to be in the company of a senior monk. They rarely can travel at night. They cannot go to entertainment venues, such as a Muy Thai match (Thai martial art)

As it is, I am very connected to the things that matter most to me about being a monk. I am with them constantly learning more and more about the history and ceremonies and teachings of the Buddha. My constant companions are monks who are all in university and are preparing to graduate. Each one has been in the monastic life for at least 10 years, starting when they were as young as 12 as novices.

Traveling and eating together I am constantly asking them questions. And they are practicing their English so they are forcing me to think about how I explain many things including English slang. Sometimes we have to resort to an Internet translator.

The monks are also teaching me some basic Thai words, and how to get around and how to integrate into a monastic community as a lay-person (non-monk). They are telling me stories about their countries of origin, Myanmar and Laos.

As part of the monastic community, I arise at 4.45 AM or earlier so I will chant the morning chants with them. I help clean the temple grounds and then go out on the alms rounds with them. I know the difficulties I would face were I to try walking barefoot for 2 miles everyday to collect alms/food. I usually have morning meals with the monks. Their last meal must be completed by mid-day. But unlike them, I can leave the temple in the late afternoon and get something more to eat. But of course I too must be in bed early to rest up for the next morning. So what would I benefit from ordination. Probably ego. As a lay-person I am essentially an attendant to the monks until the completion of the lunch meal. Then we often go out touring in the afternoon or helping me with errands like immigration.

If I travel Thailand as a monk I will be presented with the difficulty of eating my meal before noon. We have had to cut short some morning touring to eat and sometimes they just pass on the meal because it got too late, which would make me crazy. They cannot wear sunglasses or play musical instruments. Their robes are well-suited for most days but quite another matter in very hot or very cold weather. Monks generally hang their robes out around the temple to dry. I go to a laundry service because underpants should not be part of a temple clothes-dry line.

The monks wear sandals or flip flops when walking after alms. They have walked many miles with me that way. I am quite spoiled podiatrically speaking, and suffer if I do not have my vibram soled shoes when walking on hard surfaces.

In addition, while I am proficient at certain Pali chanting, I do not have it memorized, I am also not conversant with many additional chants used by the monks for specific moments. There is the blessing given on the alms round many times but sadly I do not have any skill in chanting it……yet. Pali is considered the language of the Buddha and was used to teach the Buddha’s lessons to his listeners. From Britannica “Pāli language, classical and liturgical language of the Theravāda Buddhist canon, a Middle Indo-Aryan language of north Indian origin. On the whole, Pāli seems closely related to the Old Indo-Aryan Vedic and Sanskrit dialects but is apparently not directly descended from either of these.”

So the truth is, at least for now, I have many of the benefits of being a monk but not the limitations. As a first time visitor to Asia, I think it is best for all that I not ordain again. Perhaps my next visit.

An open heart? A heavy heart!

I been trying to write this post. I have the feelings clear but have struggled days/hours for words. I discovered over the years that I had a secret from myself. Something strange happens to me constantly. I have an issue with empathy or in my case, maybe over empathy.

Years ago, when I was small, I knew a psychological and emotional pain deep down. I was afraid of my dad, of other kids, and of teachers. So early on I began to empathize with suffering. Around the age of 17, I began to fill out physically. And then I began to fight back. But it was mostly psychological.

If I see a dead animal by the side of the road, I imagine their death and I pray it was swift and painless. I see so many dead squirrels and rabbits on my bike rides. Also armadillos, and opossums. I hit an animal on the highway in Missouri at 70 mph and it messed up my mind for hours.

When I see films of animals in the wild being killed I feel empathy and pain (and change the channel). As a lawyer, when I lost clients’ cases I felt empathy and pain. If they went to prison, I tell you it felt like a part of me went too.

The world is now experiencing a series of crises. And I have trouble on a daily basis with the consternation and frustration that I am losing the world I seek to occupy. In its stead there is an ambiance of fear, anger and open hostility towards the values and communities that I hold dear.

I am not aligned with conservative values and ideology. But I never harbored such hostility towards the actions and speech of the conservative leaders. At the helm, is now Trump.

I have spent the past 10 years doing the Buddhist practice of generating loving/kindness, and the development of compassion. I made tremendous progress in the way I thought and acted. I learned to pause when agitated. I learned to think before I retaliated. Retaliated for some offense that often was merely my perception and not reality.

I do not hurt any living beings intentionally. I do not feel superior rights to the animal kingdom. I have not earned the right to practice dominion over the earth and all beings contained therein. I do not believe that my need for gasoline means I can justify or support the military actions against oil states. It can get murky at times. Do I have an open heart for terrorists, child abusers, opioid manufacturers?

The Buddhas did not seem to be too troubled by the bad actor. They would continue to have compassion for the evil, mean-spirited, the greedy and the profane. I am no Buddha but I can aspire to be like one.

I do not know how long I will aspire to an open heart. I was on a good run until recent political events. But the Buddhist vows I took, which I take seriously are as follows

To refrain taking life
To refrain from stealing, taking that which has not been freely given
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from lies or false speech and To refrain from taking intoxicating substances.

Buddhism is a very moral practice as is 12 steps. The Buddhist meditation is to develop wisdom and reflect on loving kindness which is designed to develop compassion.  I am committed to grow in a moral and compassionate manner. Very much like other moral dictates found in religions.

What is your practice? Are you Christian? Jewish? Do you Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  Do you ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Do you exclude foreigners as “non-neighbors”? Do you exclude homosexuals? Do you exclude criminals?   “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Are you truly on the path? Do you know the path? 

The LORD said to Moses Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

 Each of you revere your mother and father, and keep my sabbaths. I, the LORD, am your God. Do not turn aside to idols, nor make molten gods for yourselves. I, the LORD, am your God.

When you sacrifice your communion sacrifice to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that it is acceptable on your behalf. It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice or on the following day. Whatever is left over until the third day shall be burned in fire. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it will be a desecrated offering and not be accepted; whoever eats of it then shall bear the penalty for having profaned what is sacred to the LORD. Such a one shall be cut off from the people.

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.

 You shall not steal. You shall not deceive or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.i I am the LORD. You shall not exploit your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your people; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

 You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.

Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

 If a man has sexual relations with a female slave who has been acquired by another man but has not yet been redeemed or given her freedom, an investigation shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she has not been freed.   The man shall bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting as his reparation to the LORD a ram as a reparation offering.   With the ram of the reparation offering the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the wrong the man has committed, so that he will be forgiven for the wrong he has committed.

When you come into the land and plant any fruit tree there, first look upon its fruit as if it were uncircumcised. For three years, it shall be uncircumcised for you; it may not be eaten.    In the fourth year, however, all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration. Not until the fifth year may you eat its fruit, to increase the yield for you. I, the LORD, am your God.

Do not eat anything with the blood still in it. Do not recite charms or practice soothsaying. Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard. Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.  You shall not degrade your daughter by making a prostitute of her; otherwise the land will prostitute itself and become full of lewdness. Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the LORD.  

Do not turn to ghosts or consult spirits, by which you will be defiled. I, the LORD, am your God. Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old, and fear your God. I am the LORD.

Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity. You shall have a true scale and true weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Be careful, then, to observe all my statutes and decrees. I am the LORD.

Look up Leviticus 19:9–18: if you need verification. Examine the 5 Book of Moses

I close as usual with blessings for all. May all beings be free from all harm. May all being live their lives free from danger and may they be safe and comfortable,  Free from disease, disaster and pain. May all who have physical and/or mental limitations be aided by those who do not.  May all who are lonely find companions. May those in areas of great turmoil, famine and terror find peace and comfort and may those who create conflict and suffering be transformed.

I rested on my laurels, turned out it was a cactus.

Everybody, without exception has struggled with relationships. That would include family, friends, lovers and colleagues, et al. Some relationships seem to evolve easily but all hit bumps on the road. Some relationships are a struggle from the beginning but we need to manage them and accommodate them because of circumstances.
 
I have days where I am in love with everyone I meet. My words flow smoothly and freely and none are offended. Other days I reflect on and wonder, what the hell happened?. Who are these people and why are they , “mad”, “disappointed” “hostile” with me.
 
I can let human interactions dictate how I feel about myself. I am constantly examining how, what and why did I do, say or act in a certain way. Was it right? Selfish? Judgmental? Kind? Compassionate? You get what I am saying.
 
I know I am a good person but I also know I am capable of insensitivity, cruelty and obliviousness to the feelings of others. I know cause they often tell me so. But I am none of those behaviors purposely. So it is imperative that I do a self-inventory, daily to see how I am behaving, growing, or stagnating. Then you hear me write about coping fatigue. Meaning I am tired of examining my actions and motives. I just want to show up and let life unfold without effort.
 
But when I meditate and sit mindfully, I see clearly, it is my circus and they are my monkeys. Without vigilance I can be exasperating and difficult to the very people I cherish or seek positive interactions with.
 
IT is not enough to be smart and sensible. “Compassion and wisdom need to function together, combined with skillfulness, tolerance and patience. If we give ourselves the time and space to really observe our own thoughts and actions, good can come about. We give ourselves and others a lot of space in which to function properly; rather than act selfishly, we act selflessly.” VENERABLE KHANDRO RINPOCHE
 
I am tired of coping, seriously. I tire of going to meditation, the gym, AA meetings, and bike rides in the hellacious heat. But the reward is a healthier spiritual, emotional and physical life. Relationships can adversely affect or compliment this life and the effort to improve them is valuable and necessary.

You may be right, I may be crazy

I spent my teen years strolling the streets of the south side of Chicago. All times of day and night. Stoned, sober, rain, shine, cold, hot it just did not matter. If I could avoid home, I did. What I marvel at now is how scared I was much of the time.

I was fascinated by the streets, the sounds, the smells and the sights. I can recall walking alone and fights breaking out in alleyways between 2 guys for reasons I know not. Police cars would cruise by real slow measuring up whether to stop and frisk me. I was often carrying marijuana and I was always scared of a police search. ( I calculate that I have been stopped and searched by police over 40 times.)

Another common sight was groups of young boys on their stingray bicycles with banana seats and high handle bars with colorful streamers at the handle bar ends.

Frankly I have always found the inner-city of Chicago to be fascinating and terrifying. Gardens growing in front of small older homes next door to boarded up homes with fallen chain link fences and discarded beer bottles. (Homes there now often sport a large red X sign on the building front. Chicago assigns red “X” signs to tell firefighters and other first-responders that it is structurally unsound and should take precautions when responding to emergencies there. It’s also a reminder to anyone who might wander into this vacant building that they should stay out.)  Older Black women are watering those pretty gardens or sitting on porches with their hand fans. At the end of the block is a park with young men playing basketball, while another group sits on the park benches drinking wine and smoking pot.

I knew all the gang signs in case I was challenged, but frankly I was either simply chased or ignored. But I knew that a any teen boy or a woman alone were likely prey. The inner-city has no shortage of predators. But the more I lived there the more I saw why. Kids were being groomed to be hard. Show no weakness or you will be picked on. Look like lunch and you will be eaten.

For some, jail and prison time were like badges of courage and considered a necessary stop on the road to street success. The manifestation of toughness starts with the way you move and the way you dress. I certainly dressed for success. I wore sunglasses night and day, jeans and button down Italian knits, Florsheim shoes or sneakers. In jacket weather I wore leather jackets, one that went to the hips only and one that went to the thighs. I stole both jackets from parties I went to. I never had clothing money then.

My basic menu was a loaf of french bread and cream cheese. I bought the bread and stole the cream cheese. Sometimes I would be able to steal a pack of deli meat like bologna or roast beef (the cheap kind). My dining room was usually a park bench or some front stoop of a 3 flat. The other food source was going to restaurants and running out on the check. I did not really run, I kind of casually walked out as though I had just paid the bill. One time an owner followed me to the street. He let me know he had a handgun in his rear pocket and was screaming at me. I feigned confusion and luckily I had enough to pay the bill.

So I have flashbacks of days long gone. I still love the memories. Watching the world in my youth unfold in front of me taught me so much about life. I should have modified my behavior at times to respect my fear. I should have stayed out of inner-city alleys and taverns. It is only looking back that I can appreciate the value of following my curiosity rather than my fear.

My favorite book which I first read when I was about 9 years old was Knock on Any Door by Willard Motley. His description of Chicago’s skid row and lower-income communities was so graphic that when I was old enough to seek out those same streets, off I went.

I am now the book. Or a book. I am a story of sights, sounds and smells. I wish I had the skill to depict it as I experienced it. I wish we could grasp what abject poverty feels like in its glory and in its shame. Often imitated but never duplicated, the south side of our many large cities is a marvelous tapestry of brilliance, imagination and pain because if you look closely, beneath the fallen tear drops of grief are blood stains of violence covering crushed dreams. But keep moving and you will hear the beautiful staccato of jazz riffs and rap and then the rubbing sounds of local writers’ erasers as they craft great American songs and stories.

I’m not dead yet. I will be back.

 

Mom’s first birthday away.

I am not prone to melancholy. I am generally even keel. But today is the first time my mom is not around on a September 13th to wish her happy birthday. Today I am reminded that it took me too long to become the son she could be proud of. It took me too long to see the chaos and difficulties I imposed on my family especially back in the old days with jails, addiction and academic and economic failures..
I have no reason to fear going to jail again but I will fear that my mom is not around to bail me out. Because she is the only person I could trust to help me out of any jam. I rarely asked but she never failed.
I never fucked up enough for her to give up. She could be indifferent and aloof emotionally to family and friends. Why? I do not know. But she physically tried to protect me from bodily harm and tried to put herself between me and my father the one time when he seemed to have lost control while disciplining me.
My dad could be violent but the only time he put a hand on my mom was that day And that same day I tried to kill him. Yes, I mean that on that day when I was 10, I made an full on attempt to poison him. 
I never doubted from that day that if he got physical with her again, I would do him great bodily harm. But that was the only time he touched her in anger and we never had to find out if I could improve my plan.
I am in full-on melancholy that I made so many apologies and amends to so many people over the years and it never occurred to me to do the same for her. Yes, I changed and acted better and was a better son. But it would have taken many more years of right behavior to have begun to make up for what I put my mom through. Not just as a kid but with my divorces, money problems, fights with family members in front of her and more.
From early grade school my mom had to visit school teachers and listen to the myriad of complaints about my lack of scholastic accomplishments and my behavioral issues. She heard it all but all she seemed to remember from it was the part where they said I was smart and she did not dwell, at least openly, about what a shame my behavior was.
Nothing prepared my mom for taking me, when I was 17, to the Cook County felony courthouse and watching as the judge admonished us that I was facing 6 to 15 years in prison. What was she to think as the plainclothes Chicago Police officers warned her on the way out of the courthouse that I was living amongst a criminal element that would get me killed or result in further charges.
Imagine having a teen-age son who only comes home when he is physically broken with mono and has no place left to go. And imagine that shortly after you get him health care and bring him back to good health, he disappears back into the streets.
Yea, I owed. I will always owe.
Remember To Sir With Love. Some lyrics,
“And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart “
The melancholy is impermanent. It will fade. More often I will remember my mom’s last 5 days and how she looked so pretty to me. I will recall how I would talk to her early each day after the caretaker left and my sister had not yet arrived, I would speak to her. She was already in a drug stupor when I arrived so we did not converse. But in case she could hear me, I talked to her. I like to assume that somewhere in that drug addled mind she heard love from me and my sisters.
I tell you that she died the perfect death. She was getting good medical care. Her kids were with her. Her granddaughter was laying beside her and she just stopped breathing. It was a month ago.
The point is not that I suck at being a son or that I dwell in recriminations. The point is that when my best caretaker died, then did I have to face my fear of living without a security blanket. Now I know that when I am called to be an adult I am, more than ever, keenly aware of how much of a child I still am. The narrative about me as a son should highlight that when I stroll down memory lane, there will always be ample evidence that I am one of the lucky ones who got a mom who will always be remembered with great love and affection, because she earned it.

Thought I knew something.

I know things. At least I think I know or knew. I know things I do not care to share although I consider them important things to know. I know about the New Testament and I know about the first 5 books called the Torah/Pentateuch. I know about Buddhism and Islam and Hinduism. I know about good and evil and kindness and unkind. The list is endless of what I think I know. I know law, cars and handguns. I know heartache, joy, envy and admiration and more .
In a time far far away, I met Reverend Steve Swanson a Lutheran minister at the Resurrection Lutheran Church. His charity made me admire Christians. His willingness to support my efforts helping gang kids that were scorned and feared made me want to understand his kind better. I read the New Testament for the first time after I met Steve and Father Leslie an equally kind Episcopal priest.
The area of social services is filled with Christian organizations and people who give to those in need without regard for country of origin, race or religion.
So many kind and beautiful and loving people.
Today my experience with many Christians makes me wonder if I learned anything about Christianity. Their language is not of compassion and love but of anger and resentments. They post about the war on Christianity and Christmas. They say that the serious problems of today originate with a lack of their God in the government, and the schools and sexual freedom and socialism. Many freely post ugly memes about Muslims and Sharia law while hailing patriotism and military force.
It is not just a small group of religious persons I refer to. It is many I personally encounter and they seem more interested in getting me to take Jesus in my heart than saving people from abject poverty, hunger and violence. I am doing fine, worry about your Christian brothers and sisters from the south, clamoring for shelter
If I were ever to take Jesus into my heart, that moment passed when I left social services and Chicago and moved to the bible belt. Because today I am just an object tolerated and admired but not accepted and loved. (Most of my friends would surely dispute my characterization so please note these are my thoughts alone and not the opinions of management.)
I know nothing about a world where the environment and people are expendable. I always believed that entry to heaven was through good works not correct religion. All that I thought I know is in doubt.
Israel is not the Jewish homeland I thought it was. Religious Jews and Christians do not behave with the moral authority I once credited them with. My hate for Palestinians is long gone and my admiration for the Israeli military gone with it.
My father took me to the library every week since I was old enough to remember and made me read. I read hundreds of books as a child on many subjects. Tons of biographies and history. I went to school and sat in class bored but attentive. I passed every test ever given me including the law school admission test and the bar exams.
But despite tears spent in study and experience I am reduced to fighting for my intellectual and spiritual survivor with folks that have never said they needed to examine themselves in the course of growing up and getting right. They do not cite to me the Great Books as influences in their world views. I deeply admired the principles of the great civil rights leaders I read about especially Dr Martin Luther KIng Jr. I have never abandoned the idea of peace, love and understanding.
But the enthusiasm we shared in my younger days of saving people who had less than us is gone. There are no Dr. Kings or Rev Steve Swansons or Father Leslies. The churches of my youth like the University Church in Hyde Park seem like part of a fictional short story now.
I do not know you people who can argue for incarceration and walls. I do not know you who scoff at the destruction of wildlife and wilderness.
I am trained as a Buddhist teacher and could teach how to meditate and to incorporate a deep and abiding morality into everyday actions. I could teach techniques for self-liberation, developing compassion and freedom from craving. But, not much is more impenetrable than a closed mind.

“In the spiritual search doubt is beneficial, a closed mind is not. Doubt used wisely assists enlightenment; a closed mind assists ignorance.”  Ian Gardner

If there is a God, I thank her for the Greta Thunberg, David Hogg and other young people that stand up for the quality of life, liberty and safety.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Jesus Christ   (No exceptions/no substitutions)

 

Not too late for redemption! If we dig in and let go of our fears of losing the United States to those people. You know them, the poor, smelly Hispanics coming here to take advantage of our wealth, education and generosity. I know they look different and speak a different language, but I know many of you will not park more than 100 steps in the supermarket parking lot in the heat. But you have bee told and it is true that many have braved conditions you would never ever submit to in order to become our neighbor. They walked and sometimes crawled through dirt, desert and water to slip under the barbed wires of the countries standing between them and us. And they will be so grateful that they will work harder and cheaper than anyone else you know. They will clean your toilets, wash your dishes, and care for your kids. They will work any shift at any job just to give their child good education.

Do not do it for them. Do it for you. For your country which will someday be Hispanic again. And you can take comfort knowing that you made sure your children and grandchildren are led by the Hispanic politicians who learned love and tolerance from us. The country will be led by well-educated, well-traveled Christians who will protect the air and water your grandchild will have.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. Robert Louis Stevenson

Now it is time to plant the seeds that will surround our newcomers in the love and acceptance and tolerance that is the due of all who want and need what we have. And if the Muslim wants to obey Sharia Law, know that your Jewish Orthodox neighbor may still follow halakhah, Jewish Law. How can you demand adherence to your biblical tenets while ignoring mine? So if you believe the bible demands it then you should also live amongst those who will abide by it. Your neighborhood will deny gays marriage and abortion will be outlawed, in your neighborhood of fellow believes.

I will likely be found in a community of Buddhists, Christians and Jews, Gays and transgenders  and many others who believe in live and let live. I will thoroughly enjoy the ethnic food selection and the multitude of languages and cultures on daily display.

In exchange for your cooperation, I will personally stop the war on Christmas including continue to get students a week off for Christmas. I will demand children be given the right to silently pray in school and that they continue to have Sunday off to go to church!

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In closing, I thought I knew much but I may know nothing.

Let us bow our heads and pray.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

God, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

What would Buddha do? Would Buddha kick your ass?

I seem to befuddle a number of you about how I self-identify as a Buddhist and a gangster (figuratively not literally). In fact, that is the tip of the yin yang universe I identify with. I also consider myself a warrior and a healer, a superficial intellect, a brilliantly poor student, and more. I have made peace with my inclinations and intentions which are almost always guided by principles of kindness/compassion and fairness.
 
I have no illusions about where I have been and where I am now. I do not practice Buddhism with an intention to become an enlightened being, escape suffering and find Nirvana. I practice Buddhism because I found it to be what I needed. I tested the practices especially meditation and I found them reliable and effective in alleviating the causes of my difficulties which are mostly self-inflicted and psychological. Sometimes it is also effective to bark and bite a motherfucker when triggered. May not be as socially acceptable but I can make it work for me.
 
Those friends closest to me report that I am generally more calm and patient since I began meditating. I am also older and less physically intimidating than I used to be. But I am sincere when you hear me say that I will fuck someone up.
 
The monks knew this about me when they allowed me to ordain and live among them. They had no illusions about my propensity for aggression and even violence. But to wrap myself in the saffron robes of a monk was like wrapping oneself in a reverse bomb suit used to protect a bomb removal expert. I found the robes contained the explosion within. It did not extinguish my ability to wage war but it surely ameliorated it. And although I am no longer living as a monk and I do not wear the robes, the effect was undeniably positive and enduring. It will take many more years before I will have as much experience in meditation as I do in martial arts. I can rely upon muscle memory when I draw my handgun. It takes far more effort to sit and eat mindfully.
I have an extensive vocabulary to convey hostility. The language of peace often leaves me speechless. I admit, love and peace do not need an extensive vocabulary.  But to be very clear, I am not without the tools of skillful speech. I safely navigated the inner-city for many years without being harmed or harming anyone. When I worked with street gangs, the kids responded well to the verbal deescalation techniques that I used. In fact they reacted far better than the myriad of mean drunks I have had to neutralize.
If you know me and are waiting for me to reside in a perpetual state of calm, then you are a believer in miracles, not conversions.  I have no plans to walk on water or levitate in this lifetime. What seems to be a safe bet is that I will keep practicing Buddhism, lawyering, fatherhood, 12 steps and bicycling.
“It is better to be a warrior tending to his garden than a gardener in a war.” Chinese proverb

Dear fondest memories,

I participate in Facebook on various pages and groups. One is for my old neighborhood, in Chicago, Hyde Park. This weekend we had a long exchange about an issue important to me and it stimulated me to finish this dialogue I have been working on. I intended this for public consumption but it may be too personal to all but those that lived it. My previous blog posts have touched on many aspects of my youth and its indiscretions and failures. I fail sometimes to pay homage to the environment which I thrived and drowned in.

When I was 14, my family moved from an area in Chicago called South Shore to Hyde Park (HP) a neighborhood 10 minutes north. Kind of like moving from the Earth to Mars.

So for my first 14 years, I got used to anti-Semitism and racial animus in South Shore. There were white kids in my high school, known as “greasers” that hated Jews and Blacks. Jews were generally not friends with Blacks but there was rarely any hostilities between them.  Of course that is a shallow description but all that is needed for the moment. The South Shore high school was populated with the traditional cliques “popular” kids, nerds, athletes, etc. There was an additional cliquish element. Jewish high school fraternities and sororities which mimicked the Greek system. These were ranked by cool. The more popular attracted cooler kids and athletes. I joined a fraternity, Phi Omega Pi, (POPS). We were considered slightly cooler than kids who were unable to be admitted to and rejected from the fraternities. We met weekly, and had social activities like house parties and athletic leagues. I barely navigated the social chasm between my black friends and white friends.

And so it went until I was sent away to New Hampshire for educational rehabilitation. All fodder for more blogging someday.

When I landed upon the shores of Hyde Park, I found a new world. One of the first things I noticed was the presence of the counter-culture which would become known as the “60s” and hippies. The center of this culture seemed to reside on “57th Street”, in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

Shortly after we moved to HP, I ran away from home, again. It was the summer of 1968, I was 15. I was new to the neighborhood and did not know many kids. I had just finished my 3rd year of high school but my first year of a New Hampshire boarding school.

First order of business as a runaway was to seek shelter. I had heard if I went and hung out on 57th street, I would hear about “crash pads”, apartments where runaways would be welcome to sleep.

So I went there and hung out all that day and evening. None of the young people I asked  knew of a crash pad. It got late and people started going home. I had no where to go. I had a toothbrush and a few dollars. When the local restaurant locked its doors and the streets cleared, a guy about 4 years older than me named Arsene offered to let me crash at his parents’ home a block away. His parents were out of town and he and his friend Otis were going there. He let me sleep there until his family returned a few days later. By then I had met other kids and had got my bearings. We remained friends and I remain grateful for his intervention and invitation.

Strangely, I do not remember much about the summer after that. I do not know where I stayed or who I stayed with. But I did not go home. I did not go to the Democratic National Riots in Grant Park although it was a short train ride away.

As I integrated into my new hood, I enjoyed some of the differences. Nobody called me a dirty Jew anymore. Black kids and white kids mingled freely. Athletes were rarely held in the highest esteem. Some kids were notably smart without being picked on. Teens and young adults gravitated to this 57th street and shared food and marijuana. The summer of love greeted us. I grew my hair and dropped acid, LSD. I smoked a lot of pot. We walked a short ways to hang out on Lake Michigan and at the famed Museum of Science and Industry. Many of the young men and women were musical, math or science prodigies, gang members, writers and artists. It was by no means a community immune from the ravages of urban ills like racial and sexual violence, police misconduct and addiction. In fact, HP bordered three of the most poverty stricken areas in the United States.

Summer ended. It was time to go back to boarding school. I agreed to meet my mom and a suitcase at the corner by my now beloved 57th Street and go to the airport to go back to boarding school. The local kids were going back to school but I could not stay in Chicago as I was not enrolled in any local school. So I ended my days on the run and returned to Tilton School. That story ought to be good for some more blog posts.

Within hours of getting back to the school in Tilton NH. the hassle started. My long hair became an object of derision just as my being a Midwesterner had always been. I found some hip kids to pal around with but my fate was sealed quickly. I was expelled 3 weeks after school began and returned to Chicago.

The public high school near my parents was called Kenwood. Calling it a high school is a stretch. It was an old grade school which housed only freshmen, sophomore and junior year students. Gym class required we walk 4 blocks to the local YMCA and the lunch room was the auditorium. No lunch tables.

I turned 16 and a few months later I dropped out of school, left home and focused my time researching recreational drugs and their effect on a 16 year old white Jewish male. I shot heroin, sniffed glue and snorted coke and ingested barbiturates. I marched against the war, got arrested for pot and theft, advocated overthrowing the government and offing the Pigs (police). Lost my virginity, aided and abetted the Black Panther Party and was found to be mentally unfit for military service.

Also while I was 16, I met Tony James at a local church, by the University. Inside the church in a large room was a food service/coffee house, where anyone was welcome to buy a snack and sit and study, or hang out. Cheap, warm and welcomed, count me in. More on the church to follow.

Tony was on the run from home like me. We banded together to survive. We hung out till nighttime then slept wherever we could. Sometimes in church basements, friends apartments or the homes of adults that took pity on us. We dodged authorities and dealt drugs together. Tony had been in jail a few times already for theft and he introduced me to burglarizing homes.

We could be relied upon to have stolen stereos and marijuana to sell. I saved money and we got our own apartment and lived as outlaws. He was tall and black. I was short and white. We proclaimed, Mighty mighty Spade and Whitey. Some weekends we would travel the short distance to the famed blues lounges where Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters performed. We stood toe to toe against violent predators. But in the end, like so many youthful HP tales, it ended badly. He and his girlfriend ripped off my money and to hide his betrayal, he spread rumors intended to cause me physical harm.

Hyde Park was my most formative years. My time there was relatively short. I moved on to the north side when I was around 20 years old. My friends still lived in Hyde Park and I visited often but I was slowly pulling away. I did return in 1983 to assume the position of drug counselor to local adolescents for the BRASS Foundation and then as the manager/counselor of the alcohol and drug detox unit at the Hyde Park Hospital. I left again when I was accepted into law school in 1985.

All this to say that I carry the experience of Hyde Park in my blood and bones. It shaped my life indelibly. The rest of my life would be a testament to it. I became a social worker to disturbed adolescents because a local church helped me turn my life around. I became a lawyer because I knew the fear of being arrested at 17 for drugs and facing a lengthy prison sentence. I became an activist for legalization of marijuana, an environmentalist and a humanist. I worked as a drug counselor in the inner-city. The YMCA of Chicago hired me to work in a racially riven community to try and ameliorate and mitigate the ill effects of the racial hostilities there. (That did not work out well.)

I learned in HP that I would never be alone standing up to racial and economic inequality.  I saw that the inequality cut into the fabric of our society, schools, courts and jobs. I would never be silent or tolerate bullies. I saw the arising of consciousness and the deadening of souls from drugs.

I am still friends with most of my pals from that time and place. We continue to share compassion and empathy for other humans and animals. Sadly, many lived too fast and died too young. Hard drugs and alcohol decimated my posse. The survivors have a bond that remains unbroken after 50 plus years. We had Lake Michigan to play in and watch sunrises. The University of Chicago introduced us to smart kids from all around the planet and to score drugs from. I burgled and terrorized them. The university was a helluva source of jobs though. I got fired as a dishwasher there.

I know many people who go back to where they were raised and knock on the doors of old pals. I cannot do that. They died or they moved. One of the last of the originals, was an original. His name was Tony Roberts. He was the smartest, hottest mess I ever befriended. He was black, fat and the most prolific martial artistic I knew. He could talk the birds (and ladies) from the trees but he could not abandon a life of lies and fantasies that he surrounded himself with. He could be the epitome of the whole sub-culture of the over under-achievers that proliferated my teen age years. No persons were ever smarter and more talented and did less with their lives than my pals.

Although I have blogged about this institution before, a special word about the University Church for the Disciples of Christ. Also known by its coffee house name, The Blue Gargoyle. It is where I was to meet the seminarian/social worker Loel Callahan who would jump start my return to society. He modeled for me the path to what was to be my career in social work.

The church is where I met the original members of the University of Chicago’s Gay Lib and the Women’s Lib clubs, who came to the church for needed meeting space when the University turned them away as undesirables. I met the young students who became CADRE, the Chicago Area Draft Resistance, an important group of young men who opposed the Vietnam war. The inviting atmosphere was not lost on various black gangs who met and fought each other and really did spill blood inside and outside the church. Most important to me is that I was the first leader of the youth group which was comprised of a bunch of great big beautiful fuck ups, and not so fucked up. While turning me from a life of crime was like turning an aircraft carrier, the role I had in this program was the beginning.

I am about to return to the neighborhood and break bread with old pals. I have been doing this every year as long as I can remember. I don’t have high school reunions to go to, having never graduated, but I have my friends from the teen years in Hyde Park. We come from wherever we now live to celebrate our friendship, community and history.

I imagine every neighborhood has its great moments, good people and love. But for just a brief moment between 1968 and the mid 1970s, I was a part of one of the greatest cultural movements/experiments in history. I was in the right place and it must have been the right time. Simultaneously, I was in the wrong place and it must have been the wrong time.

The appropriate song….

 

 

 

 

History repeated. Justice denied.

I have here updated and edited a Wikipedia post on the following event. Like acts of genocide, like the Holocaust, we need to remember. Remember so as to honor victims and to effect cultural change in the policies and training of police work.
20 years ago, In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Amadu Diallo, a Haitian immigrant, was returning from a meal as he approached his apartment building. At about 12:40 a.m., police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, who were all in street clothes, entered the building vestibule that Amadu entered and testified that they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers, and flashed their neck badges in the darkened hallway. The lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. The officers opened fire on Diallo, claiming that they believed he  had furtively gestured and was holding a gun. During the shooting, officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers continued until they had fired 41 shots with semi-automatic handguns. More than half the shots fired missed, but Diallo was hit 19 times.
An investigation found no weapon on or near Diallo; only his wallet. The internal affairs department ruled the officers had acted legally and within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances with the information they had.
On March 25, 1999, a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. On December 16, an appellate court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York, based on pretrial publicity made a fair trial in New York City impossible. On February 25, 2000, a jury in Albany acquitted the officers of all charges. Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed black man, 22-year-old Patrick Bailey, died after Boss shot him on October 31, 1997. In 2012, Boss was the only remaining officer working for the NYPD. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly restored Boss’ ability to carry a firearm and he received a promotion to sergeant despite objections from Diallo’s mother and civil rights activists.

Years later in Arizona an officer was acquitted of second-degree murder charges, and officials released graphic video showing Daniel Shaver crawling on his hands and knees and begging for his life in the moments before he was shot and killed by police in January 2016.  Shaver died in one of at least 963 fatal police shootings in 2016, according to a Washington Post database.

The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place in Chicago IL on October 20, 2014,  when the 17-year-old African American was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was reported to have been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Initial police reports described the incident such that Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.

When the police released a dash cam video of the shooting thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald had been walking away from the police when he was shot. Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and was released on bail on November 30. On October 5, 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty at trial of second degree murder, and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a handgun. He received a light prison sentence.

 

As Sonny and Cher sing,

Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss
The cars keep going faster all the time
Bums still cry, “Hey buddy, have you got a dime?”

And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

I grow weary of trying to stimulate the public into recognizing the deficiency of police training and policies and accountability. But cannot give up. Some shit is too important.

THE TUNNELS

I grew up near the shore of Lake Michigan. To visit the lake requires maneuvering over, or under the highway which runs between the lake and the city.

I am tripping. In my teen years I am usually just traveling in my head, going places I want to be, avoiding places I really am. I see the tunnel (sometimes called viaduct) up ahead. The tunnel goes under the Lake Shore Drive and out to the lake. As I enter the tunnel I hear the echo of my feet. It is that reverb you get only in a shower or in a tunnel. Listen to my whistle. It sounds so full it sounds orchestral. I hear the rhythms in my head. The beat comes echoing off my feet. You know the routine. I whistle while I work. I will walk this road so many times in my life. And I will always listen. The first time I came down one of these tunnels was when I was very young. The light fades and the temperature drops in the tunnel. The smells are more pungent. Sometimes I hold my nose so I don’t have to smell the urine. The kid in me gets excited at the notion of traveling through the dimness. The tunnel provides fullness to my sound, and anxiety to my fears.

One night, Pee Wee and I head to the Point, a lakefront park on the south side. Pee Wee was a founder and member of the Blackstone rangers. He was a short man, several years older than me, and he worked in produce at the local small grocery store. He liked wine and reefer. And he loved being a member of the Main 21. So called the board of 21 leaders that ruled this gang of tens of thousands of young men.

Anyway, we were walking out at the Point one evening. There weren’t too many white people out there at night but I didn’t worry as I was with friends. White people always left the lakefront when it got dark. Then the beach belonged to the black folks. The many conga drums picked up a beat. The radios played louder, the smell of reefer always swirling around here and there. This night Pee Wee showed me how well he could roll a joint even though he was staggering drunk.  We wandered around the lake front, people watching and getting our own buzz going which had started that evening off with some Richard’s Wild Irish Rose. For the uninitiated it is a wine whose bouquet is well regarded on skid rows everywhere.

The weather was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold.  We left the drummers on the south end, and we began to explore. All of the sudden Pee Wee tells me to “be cool.” There is urgency to his voice. He isn’t loud; in fact he is obviously trying to make sure only I hear him. I say, “What’s up?”

He again urges me to be cool and his voice is strained. He is worried. He tells me to just keep walking and head for the park exit. We move that way. I ask him to tell me why. He explains that he has been spotted by a group of Gangster Disciples, enemies of the Stones, and they are coming behind us. I see the tunnel come into view.  It is the way out. But it is where we are most vulnerable to a trap and attack. As we enter the tunnel the urgency of our footsteps reverberates. I start thinking about how  loud a gunshot is gonna sound in here. The tunnel is narrow and I know if they move on us in here we are through. But we can’t run. Gotta keep cool. I hear the voices draw closer. If we can make it to the end, there is usually a squad car parked on the other side this time of night. They are keeping an eye on the large number of young black men, most who reside in the tough communities located a short distance away.

In that tunnel, my feet sound loud and the beat erratic. The sound betrays that I am ill at ease.  I aged in that tunnel. When I came out of the other end I was surely an older person.

It wasn’t too much longer after that night than I found myself back up at the point at night w/Pee Wee again and JD, my girlfriend, and Pee Wee’s girlfriend.

We were walking around getting high and listening for the drums that were always there. As we approached the circle where the drummers were gathered, JD grabbed my arm and yelped. I turned and looked at her and I could see fear written in every line of her face, her eyes almost bulging and her mouth drawn so tight, almost cartoonishly. Then she told me that the large black guy approaching us was one of the guys that had raped her recently. I had hunted this faceless bastard before, but I had only had a vague description. He towered over us. He was at least 6’3″ and was dressed in an African shirt called a dashiki. He had a dashiki cap on his head too. I looked around and there were obviously some friends of his there, dressed in a similar manner. He came up to us. She was gripping my hand tightly. He began to talk to her and put his hand to her neckerchief and play with the ring holding it on. He commented on what a nice ring it was. I rolled her behind me with my wrist and got my body between them. He stared at me and I at him. I was trying to calculate how we could escape since he had size, numbers and evil on his side.

Black Hercules was there, dancing the way he always did to the drums. He was a magnificent bodied man who dressed as though he were entering or departing the jungle. He wore shorts and a leather vest without a shirt. His hair was like a mane, long, dark, stringy, curly. He rarely spoke and appeared to live on the streets. But he had muscles in places most people got no places. He was always smiling when he would see me, but I don’t remember him ever speaking. I never knew if his silence was the result of some mental defect or simply his demeanor. I wondered if he would recognize the danger to us and intervene if violence ensued. Then Pee Wee stepped in and introduced himself to this large man. Pee Wee had sensed the bad vibes. He nodded to the man, exchanged some greetings then told us it was time to leave. He told the large man “I’ll be seeing you around brother.”  It was a strange and ominous departure between the two. I didn’t want to leave because even though I was clearly at a disadvantage I wanted revenge. I wanted to knock the smirk off his face and make him feel Jan’s rage and fear.  But Pee Wee was insistent and corralled us.

Then the 4 of us began the long walk across the park to the tunnel. I was uncertain that Pee Wee’s presence would serve to deter anything. He was shorter than I and just wasn’t an imposing guy. But we entered the tunnel and left the bad man behind. We stopped at the first store on 55th and Pee Wee made a phone call. Then he told us he would see us later and goodbye.

Turns out he arranged a war party for the large man, courtesy of the Blackstone Rangers. Not sure of all that transpired after that as Pee Wee was AWOL from the hood for a while.  When he reappeared he told me he had been in jail for the attack on the man and his friends. Shortly thereafter Pee Wee offered me membership in the Black Stones. Tempting, but what little sanity I held on to in those days said “no” to the offer of membership in what was mostly, largely, almost exclusively a black gang.

Years later I would walk through a similar tunnel on the North side (Belmont Avenue) to visit the lakefront. Back then I was about 25 and doing street work with teens in the area. This night I was off duty and just walking around with a girlfriend who also worked with young people. We crossed under the road to walk along the lakefront, heedless of what was waiting. I had my resonant whistle going with a happy carefree song. It may have been Up, UP & Away by the 5th Dimension. It’s a great tunnel song. But no sooner had we left the tunnel and come out into the lamp lit night than we were told that Knuckles was freaking out and needed help. Knuckles was an older Puerto Rican gang member I knew, and he was losing control from PCP.

I always liked Knuckles. I spent most of my work hours interacting with gangs. He enjoyed his rep as an older gang member without any of the obligations of ganghood. He was usually high and lazy but he never disrespected what I was trying to do with the kids in the hood. It was his young wife Gail, who approached and told me he was hallucinating. She was distressed by what he was doing and saying. I asked if he was “dusted”, (as in angel dust/PCP, animal tranquilizer)? She said he had done some much earlier but not for hours. She doubted it was the cause of his behavior.

“Hey Knuckles man, what you doing?”  “Nothing” he said. “Why are u trippin’?”  “I’m fine man, except I had a hallucination. I imagined I had my little brother in my hands and I was beating him. I imagined that I was killing him. Beating him with my fists and kneeing him in his head. It seemed so real.”

“It’s the “dust” I told him. “It’s just your mind reeling from the high, one bad moment in an otherwise good day. You been out here partying with your wife and buddies and the shit is fucking with you.”

“No man, it isn’t the dust. That was hours ago.” his face would contort and his fists were clenching and unclenching. His eyes were wild.

“Hey dude, you are scaring me, I said.  I wish you wouldn’t act like that. Makes me nervous to stand here and you looking so crazed. Come back down please.”  Knuckles was much taller than me. He was a tall wiry guy with a goatee. He usually dressed in a sleeveless T. He was about 21. He had been in the gang a long time but inactive at present as he actually tried to be a married young man. He had kids and they meant something to him.

Knuckles looked up at me and turned his head to the side as though he were examining me. I was nervous as hell. Guys on angel dust can exhibit unusual strength. Paramedics who are dispatched to transport users of  dust to psychiatric facilities know to fear “dust” users.

I figured I stunk of fear. In my experience, persons having a psychotic break get agitated if they get mixed messages. I didn’t want him to get more confused by my acting all brave if he smelled the fear. So I just stuck by the truth so I could keep him listening.  “You scare me man when you act like this. I don’t want you to freak out and hit me or something.”    “I ain’t gonna hit you man. I am cool.”

“I know you are, but try to breathe deep and relax. Keep your mind right here with me and stop letting it run away with you. You can do it man. You gotta just stay right here and right now man. See, your wife is over there and she is nervous about how you are doing. We gonna take care of you, but you gotta help.”

“Its all cool man, really,” he said. I could see he was trying to stay with me. I told him to breathe deep and he tried. He was talking, successfully struggling to stay in the moment. The hallucinations would start again when he drifted.

Then it got weird. One of his homeboys walked up, a tall blond guy who was horribly alcoholic and not particularly bright. He operated off of one kidney; because one was removed from an accident or stabbing.  I can’t remember which. Well he walked up intoxicated, with a beer can in his hand and punched Knuckles in the chest and told him to “stop fucking around.” Knuckles became agitated again and told him to back off. The other guy was trying to make light of it and act as if it was all under control. He was laughing and woofing at Knuckles about, “you ain’t gonna do SHIT!”

I asked the guy to leave but he refused. He said Knuckles was cool and he would hang with him and everything would be cool. Knuckles face was looking taut again. His eyes were hostile and fearful. I kept talking to him.

“Let’s get your wife man and sit down somewhere. You need to relax and these guys are drunk.”

His wife was nervous. She didn’t want me to bring him over to her. She was a small thing and she was afraid he was gonna flip out violently. She was afraid to be there when he got crazy. But I reassured her I would stay and he would be all right. I didn’t know if that was true but I didn’t want to be alone with him either or alone with him and his drunk buddies. I feared he would get nuts and violent too and I didn’t want to be the closest thing. I figured my chances were better at keeping him cool if his wife was there.

It didn’t help that I had a date with me. It was Memorial Day weekend. I couldn’t run if he got ugly if the date didn’t run too. I would have to stay long enough to make sure she was cool and that would be all the time he needed to attack me. When you know an attack may come at any moment, you stay on the balls of your feet. You want to be able to scramble quick and not get caught off-balance. Having a date with you screwed up the escape dynamics.

We hadn’t been out often, and I figured this would be the last time. She could probably find funnier ways to spend Memorial Day. The good part is since she was a social worker too, so she was sensitive to the task before me.

That DUST is some shit man. It can really wig someone out. I have seen it take multiple guys to restrain someone in Knuckles condition. I tried to recruit some other neighborhood teens that I knew that were drinking nearby, in case it did get out of control. What if he attacked me? How much damage could he do before they pulled him off me? I had no confidence these kids would intervene.

I am worn out from the memory of the night. He finally calmed down and lay on the grass lawn at the beach. His wife Gail thanked me.

I took my date and we crossed back under the tunnel and we went to a nearby Asian restaurant for some food and a rare alcoholic drink. I needed a while to come down off the fear. My date, Peggy and I are still friends.

 

 

I don’t even know who I am not. (I grow slower than grass. Much slower.)

Warning, the word I appears a bunch!

Relationships! I could write the book, “How to not have relationships”.

Laurie and I divorced years ago. Occasionally I will write her some explanation, apology or indictment of our brief history as husband and wife. Each letter supposed it was more insightful than the preceding ones. On my side, I send letters to people as the spirit moves me, so as to explain and/or pardon my behavior that I look back on with regrets. I get very few letters from old flames. Nobody feels compelled to explain their lack of bad behavior.

I am always vulnerable and still fall prey to the need for affection, respect, and acceptance. When I do not get what I want I manufacture petty resentments and righteous indignation. I seem to have two options, to be victim or victor.

Writing a blog is a dicey proposition. It brings into play this concern/need for acceptance. When I blog, I will sometimes hear a kind word about my writings and experience the satisfaction of sharing and being heard. I cannot express how much effort is needed to produce clear written expressions. Unlike in social media where I whip out some quick post,  I need long hard hours of producing drafts and thinking hard, asking myself, what will be understood by the reader. Upon publication, if I think I failed or no one read it, I turn on myself.

This idea of being a victim came up many years ago. I saw my inclination to characterize myself as a victim when I did an Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Step self-inventory 37 years ago. Malady identified, treated, case solved and closed. Not so fast buster. Seems the remedy was not a cure, merely remission.

I do not consciously pursue to be a victim or the victor. I am much too dignified and sensitive to allow myself to wallow in self-pity or arrogance. I believe that! But in truth my ability to see me clearly is always clouded. It is the nature of reality, my mind, that there are inherent barriers to self-knowledge.

Last week I had lunch with Ginny, a dear friend. She said I often speak like a victim, ruminating and resentful over old matters. I realize I have talked this way for so long I do not hear it. I do not harbor all the pettiness that springs from my lips. But I am so used to a way of speech, acerbic, biting and aggressive that I hardly hear myself. Despite years of personal efforts at reformation and rehabilitation I have barely put a dent in my speech. I am still more comfortable with a lifetime of verbal aggression than a few years of practicing skillful, compassionate tones. If I let my mind drift, I slip into old ways that can only be described as mindless.

I was born into insecurity and fear. I survived at a cost. The antidote was to become larger and tougher than my tormentors. In the process I locked into many risky behaviors that were maladjusted but seemed to serve me well. Gangs, crimes, drugs, sex, etc.

Addiction was just one of the outcomes of my lifestyle choices. The basic text of Narcotics Anonymous says,  “The spiritual part of our addiction is our total self-centeredness. ……..Denial, substitution, rationalization, justification, distrust of others, guilt, embarrassment, dereliction, degradation, isolation, and loss of control are all results of our disease.” I add a touch of arrogance, a cupful of insecurity and a smidgen of hostility.

I do not blame addiction for my lack of social grace. I know many people who have never taken a mood altering substance that fit the above description. Self-centered and selfish is not limited to addicts.

The Buddha described people as “asleep”. When Prince Siddhartha became enlightened, he was there-after referred to as Buddha. Buddha means ‘Awakened One’, someone who has awakened from the sleep of ignorance and sees things as they really are. The obstacles to awakening are,

  1. greed
  2. hate
  3. delusion
  4. conceit
  5. wrong views
  6. doubt
  7. lethargy
  8. restlessness
  9. shamelessness
  10. recklessness

I am lucky. Because of my addiction to drugs, in my attempts to mature I have invited and been aided and abetted by others. My village is populated with friends and mentors who tend to be smart, spiritual and giving. They see my defects and my corrects from a perspective I just do not have. In exchange for giving honesty, I get honesty.

The moment I think I got it, I don’t got it. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”– Plato

“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,

Come the solution!

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation “some fact of my life” unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous,

The Buddhist path comes to a similar albeit more invigorating conclusion. My years of 12 step and Buddhism have been like mentally mixing nitro and glycerin.

So here is what I think about my relationships today. After many years of self-reflection. I can glimpse the depth and breadth of my spiritual malady. My spirituality is not about religion or God, neither of which I have much of a relationship with. My salvation lies in my ability to just be kind and allow myself to be completely confused and disconcerted by life without needing to “fix” my life. In the past I looked everywhere, inside and out for answers but found nothing of value contained therein. In that void though, within myself, there is storage enough for every bad feeling I have ever felt. I can be consistently uncomfortable without blame or bitterness. Mindful meditation opens me up to the awareness that reflecting on loving kindness is a practical practice. I am kind in heart if not yet in language.

My salvation lies in surrounding myself with humble, smart, sensitive people who care enough to share with me but not enable me. Slowly they have shown me in the past couple of years that if one is not naturally sweet and kind, then make the fucking effort to be so. Buddha teaches that by being kind to others I am being kind to myself.

Imagine as described in Alcoholics Anonymous….”My inability to accept the harsh realities of life had resulted in a disillusioned cynic, clothed in a protective armor against the world’s misunderstanding. That armor had turned into prison walls, locking me in loneliness—and fear. All I had left was an iron determination to live my own life in spite of the alien world—and here I was, an inwardly frightened, outwardly defiant person, who desperately needed a prop to keep going.”

What I find stunning about my own life is how much I resemble a disillusioned cynic despite my effort to improve. I have been a sick puppy yet I was and continue to be a good person who always tried to be fair, honest and kind. A man who protected the weak, stood for his truth and truly hated injustice. I never, ever intend to be mean without provocation.  I continually trusted others despite the resulting, recurring losses of material and spiritual possessions. Give freely, take sparingly.

Anyways back to my original point. All the years of introspection and confession to my ex-wife and suddenly I do not believe any of it. Not lies. Just ignorance. Oh, some of what I shared was surely accurate and it was all well-intentioned, but it was always an attempt at a depth which the more I plumb the more I realize how over my head I am.

What it must be like to have been married to, or dated a man who carried a gun religiously. Who tolerated no slight from friend or stranger. What is it like to share space with a man who battles passionately every injustice he sees as the passion burns him out from the inside? How do you feel loved by someone who dismisses your feelings as he rescues the next cat or kid or both the day before your wedding.

I am so gratified that sometimes my mouth speaks what my heart feels. I wish I could always be more skillful and mindful in my speech.

The good news is that writing a blog regularly, teaching meditation and going to 12 step meetings is like working out and riding a bike. It results in a mental and emotional aerobic type capacity to keep carrying me up the mountain. So from up here it is uphill all the way, but now when I look back, I see a beautiful vista of where I have been. I am learning not to judge it, me or you. This vessel I call me, has an infinite capacity for memories of pain and pleasure. The idea that I cannot keep going is nothing more than a fleeting although frequent thought.

I think I have written my last epistle to my ex. I have exhausted both of our abilities to have these exchanges. It could never be nearly as revealing as I imagined. And she reads my blog sometimes so she can hear about it with everyone else.

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Who am I?

If there is a me, this might be. Can you summarize a life? I did so much living, I cannot recall half of it. But memories flow when I find that those memories may be helpful to others. I also realize that all I am in many regards, is memory. This moment fades immediately into a memory.  Here I lay out the substance of memories which comprise the path I follow to freedom from suffering. I have learned studying the Buddha that the most precious moment in my life is this moment. If you read through I hope it will be worthy of your time.

I am 66 years old. I am recently identifying as a lawyer, meditation teacher and  recovering addict. I relate to Marilyn Monroe when she said, “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”

I arrive here by luck and by being very street smart.  I spent most of my teens on the streets of Chicago, as a runaway from a physically abusive dad. While my family was affluent, I chose to live in poverty and crime, sometimes living on pieces of foam in the basements of apartment buildings and churches. I spent my teens stealing property, selling drugs, hitching rides and evading pedophiles.

Fightin’, killin’, wine and women gonna put me to my grave
Runnin’, hidin’, losin’, cryin’, nothing left to save
But my life
Stood on a ridge and shunned religion, thinking the world was mine
I made my break and a big mistake, stealin’ when I should have been buyin’
Uriah Heap

Probability of survival, low.

When I was 23, I created the nonprofit youth agency called Local Motion Inc. because it was the only way I could get a job working with teens. All the established youth programs I applied to declared that my lack of any formal college education disqualified me. So I hired me, I learned how to write grants for funding, and spent most of my time working in the streets with the toughest kids I could find. I was drawn to spending nights on street corners inhabited by gang members. My goal was to draw them away from the violence and facilitate their productive participation in society.

I dropped out of high school at 16. I tested and received a GED, high school equivalency when I was 18. I didn’t see the inside of a classroom again until 11 years later when I began a college program called University Without Walls. I spent 2 years in (and out of) the program getting a bachelors degree. My college program was interrupted when I went into drug treatment. After being clean of drugs for a year I returned to college and social services. Got my addictions counselor certification and my Bachelors in Human Services.

In 1985, at the age of 33, I enrolled in the John Marshall Law School. I was awarded a law degree 2.5 years later. I continued to work as a social worker with high risk populations in the inner city until I began a solo law practice in 1988. My own experiences as a street urchin and a drug abuser made me feel drawn back to the streets even as a lawyer. I could stay with what I had come to know the best, the streets! I have learned most of the tricks of survival by always bringing my work to the streets and the streets to my work.

I have been in numerous life and death encounters, including being shot at a few times. I have been witness to or involved in probably 100 violent incidents. Some days I saw multiple assaults. I have seen hate and most of its permutations. Probability of survival, low.

I am licensed to practice law in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. I studied law with some of the best trial lawyers in America including Gerry Spence and Racehorse Haynes. I loved doing trials and represented clients in all types of criminal and civil cases. I am especially proud of my representation of those accused of murder. The stakes for the accused are almost incalculable.

Moved to Dallas TX when I was 43 with my second wife. She was a corporate executive and I started the DFW Gun Range and Training Center,  the largest firearms training center in Dallas. Studied handguns tactics with some of the best, Thunder Ranch, Gunsite Academy, and the Executive Protection Institute among others. I was certified by the state of Texas to teach police and security firearms and the laws of use of deadly force. Survival odds, improved.

I made a best friend of my little brother Ricky when I became a Big Brother of Chicago over 35 years ago. He was 8 years old then.  My second and best wife and I became foster parents to Danny, an 11 year old I met when the juvenile court in Chicago assigned me to assist in his criminal defense.

I have owned 7 businesses including 3 nightclubs. I regard nightclubs as a world infused, infested with drugs, alcohol and pain. Probability of survival, low.

So let us summarize what I think I am. I do fail more than I succeed but my failures are so delightful to others that I enjoy sharing them when opportunity knocks. So I identify with my failures. At the same time, my failures were harnessed to create subsequent successes. I identify with that.

If I get past labels, it is because I realize that saying I love biking Dallas or hiking Tucson AZ. is not satisfactory. Teaching Buddhist meditation for several years at the Buddhist Center of Dallas and being present for my daughters/family Annastacia and Alexandria, does not explain who I am now.

Should it be a thing that I relapsed on drugs for 10 years but in 2007 I reengaged with and remain in 12 step recovery?  Does my study of Buddhism help sketch out who I am?

Funny story. On my way to losing a fortune during the economic tsunami of 2008, I befriended a Buddhist monk from Thailand who was living in Tucson Arizona. He and I hiked hundreds of  miles of mountain trails discussing and learning meditation the next 2 years. Then I ordained as a novice Buddhist monk and lived in his monastery for a little over 4 months. That monk, Ajahn Sarayut, taught me how to meditate and then to teach.  Odds of survival, very good.

I eat healthy, treat the Earth with respect and seek the companionship of great spirits. I have two mottos. Do no harm. And, Be humble, because I may be wrong.

I do wish to label me not. I prefer to be what I can be as the moment dictates what is true and right. My study of the Buddha taught me that the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment would lead to a state of calm well-being and to use that calm state to look at all experience in terms of suffering and freedom from suffering.

I am certain that I must be accepting of everything. I may not approve but with a gentleness I never knew, I must accept the pleasure and adversities and how fleeting both are. Drug addiction was a quick way to allay my emotional discomfort. Meditation is a slower, safer more skillful way to free myself from the very torment that drove me to abuse chemicals, relationships and money.

The time I spend trying to be certain of the solidity of things and thoughts the more suffering I have. When I bathe in the uncertainty of everything including myself, while it is bewildering, it is liberating. When I sit a look closely, there is nothing I can cling to with certainty. I was asked to challenge myself as to where my thoughts began and where the went when they left. I was challenged by my teachers to show that my thoughts and emotions were mine to possess by adhering to happy thoughts and pleasant emotions. I accepted the challenge and discovered I could not successfully cling to my thoughts or emotions.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.

If I fail to stand for what I believe I would fail to be who I think I am. When I act mindlessly, not mindfully, when acting selfishly not selflessly, and when my intentions are unwholesome, then I am not who I want to be.

Who am I? Have not a clue. I no longer intend to let the armor around my heart remain there. I have been letting go of the pain of life’s encounters which close me, protect me and subvert me when I wish to love. Breathing in I am mindful I am breathing in. I practice in meditation to be aware of the physical sensation of the breath, in and out. When I am fully mindful, meditating  the sediment of mindlessness settles. There is then a clarity which I never had of this moment and all the pain of yesterday and the anxiety of tomorrow is dissolved. I am free to love my family and friends and even strangers without the rubbish of judgment and opinions I love attaching to.

 

The practice of meditation and loving kindness can be a source of suffering.

I hate this empathy thing. I drove across country recently. I could not help but notice many cows in fields on extremely hot days without shelter. I ruminated that a mammal is left to fend without shelter. Wild animals can seek shelter. But these cows could do nothing. They were fenced in, no cover in view. Other cows were in fields with trees or structures and they were all gathered out of the sun, to escape the heat. Domesticated mammals are often in the hands of  persons who are indifferent to the animal’s comfort or worse exposed to torture.

I find I suffer at these observations. I want to do something. I want to mitigate, ameliorate or prevent the neglect and/or abuse of all living things. I cannot prevent harm to all living things. But do I in some way contribute. Do I create a market place that makes the raising and selling of animals desirable/profitable? Should I worry about the other animals like horses and livestock which are equally helpless? Should I lobby for domesticated animals to have access to food and shelter? Should I advocate to criminalize the farmer who forgoes the cost of providing such? Could our economy tolerate the elimination of meat and chicken consumption and the reliance of so many on the industry.

I do not have answers. I do not even purport to judge consumers. I just want to stop my own suffering by mitigating my contribution to this marketplace. My time eating meat may be coming to an end soon.

Pets are equally helpless. On Facebook this week alone, there was a video of a dog being gleefully hung by a teenage boy. The next day a photo appeared of a dog who had had fireworks placed in his mouth and detonated by another teen. Should I do more to alleviate the suffering of homeless cats and dogs? Is it not enough that I care for 2 rescue cats?

Sometimes I even worry that being a U.S. citizen means I contribute to the suffering of untold numbers of humans worldwide. I have no desire to surrender or denounce my citizenship. But maybe I should do more about resisting the military/industrial complex.

Again, no answers. Just questions today.

“What can ever equal the memory of being young together?” ― Michael Stein, In the Age of Love

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Tennessee Williams
If memory serves me well, I was born a baby on the South Side of Chicago. I admit I tend to recall trauma better than the “good” times. Around 5th or 6th grade, I discovered the presence of prejudice. I found I was an object of religious hatred in my neighborhood followed by couple of years later by racial hostilities. More on that in a later blog.
When I was 15, we moved a mere 10 minutes away to Hyde Park (HP), home of the University of Chicago. It was a community which, I was surprised to find, was not consumed with religious and racial animus. I arrived just in time to join the emerging drug culture. (Drugs and fellowship did dull my trauma.)
Shortly after my family moved to HP I became a runaway living on the streets. The street in front of a local coffee house, the Medici, seemed to be ground zero for the hippie generation on Chicago’s south side just as Old Town served the north side. It was not uncommon for me to arrive there and hangout from lunch-time to police-gonna-arrest-me-for-curfew time.
I thought that everyone who smoked pot, dropped LSD and was cool hung out or visited 57th Street where the Medici was located then. I acquired another peer group around the same time. A handful of newly met friends were more, or at least as, immersed in crime as drugs. My choice of crimes was burglary, taught to me by one of my new pals.
Many of the kids I met in HP were already old friends with each other, having gone to grade schools together. I never went to grade school in HP as I relocated from South Shore after 2 years of high school. I actually arrived in HP after my expulsion from boarding school and briefly attended the local high school which was really a dismal former grade school. I dropped out almost as quickly. In any case I was a late arrival to the scene and labored to purge my already heightened paranoia of the religious and racial hostilities I had come to expect.  
Annually I return to the scene of the crime called the teen years. A handful of pals gather to meet and catch each other up to date. This week, I posted to a Hyde Park Facebook page that I would be visiting from Texas soon and maybe we do a get together. The group has a few thousand members and folks I do not know chimed in. My first reaction was
I mentioned that I know a core of “classic” Hyde Parkers but few beyond that circle. (I define classic HPer as one who grew up in the late 60-early 70s).
I now discover there are clearly many “classics” who never frequented 57th, who were likely just as cool as my pals. Being 66 years old, I find it challenging to connect to new people. But I find a delight into connecting with the semi-stranger with whom I share the bond of being a teen in HP.
I have lived in many places and visited far more. Only a handful of times have I found people sharing a fondness for their old hood as strong as that shared fondness for Hyde Park. There is a strong streak of pride at growing up in a diverse community which housed mediocrity and brilliance side by side in a contented drug stupor.
Like many, I grew up and left the hood. I returned for a couple of years as a drug counselor but my clients were either younger than or older than my age group.
So if there is a neighborhood get together, I may be in the presence of many persons this summer who I never met and will only share the bond of growing up in the same time and place together. I am confident of the bond which ties us together as much or more as I would find in a school reunion.
God willing no one will recall that I was the person who burglarized their parent’s home or sold them a weak grade of marijuana. Pot was not as reliably good back in those days. I myself smoked many a joint which may have been half oregano.
Anyways to the title of this blog. I consistently have affection for my early disturbed, traumatic upbringing and all the players who participated. Maybe this year, I will introduce the memories of those who were not really there in person but were there in fellowship because they will have strolled the same streets, entered the same churches and dodged the same police. In other words, when I go back to the old hood, I will be open to the universe of strangers and the camaraderie of shared adolescence.

Debate is dead. Long live the King!

Let us no longer debate the merits of the trump presidency. The evidence of his lies is overwhelming and those of my friends who support him have not undertaken to challenge his integrity despite overwhelming evidence in the actual interview and tweets of his own making. You cannot ask of anyone, to hold Clinton or anyone else accountable as a substitute and diversion of trump’s lies. You embarrass yourselves to continue to defend the lies. Today, he claims $91 billion went to Puerto Rico relief. In fact, $11 billion has been sent to the island so far — far less than the more than $120 billion the federal government has spent (and continues to spend) in response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
 
How can I defend or debate his presidency when not one of you will acknowledge a single lie much less the plethora of lies he drools out from his mouth. He sickens the populace that engages in fact checking.
 
I have been friends and colleagues with Puerto Ricans my entire life, unlike the president. I actually know where PR is and most important, I know what it is. A US territory. Not a separate country or place. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/02/gidley-puerto-rico-country-1249076
 
If you are going to remain unwilling to engage in a dialogue that recognizes and acknowledges his lies, there can be no debate. Debate at its finest is an educational process where viewpoints supported by facts are presented. The antithesis of debate is the reliance upon lies and character assassination to prevail. Thus since you will not resort to the legitimate tools of debate I must drown trump in invectives and vitriol.
 
Ultimately, my dear conservatives, issues like gun control will be implemented without your input because the decision-makers will find it fruitless to discuss an issue which is devoid of facts.
 
From the pro-trump conservative website The New American, “Trump has accused top FBI officials of “treason.” Among other individuals excoriated by Trump, former FBI boss James Comey was dubbed a “terrible guy,” and former CIA boss (and an admitted supporter of the Soviet-controlled Communist Party USA in the 1970s) John Brennan was slammed as a “sick person.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, meanwhile, was slammed by Trump as a “criminal,” while the chorus in Congress and beyond demanding his resignation continues to grow. Trump has also lashed out repeatedly at what he calls the “criminal Deep State.”
 
Perhaps more importantly, following the end of Mueller’s investigation, Trump again said there was “treason” — potentially a capital offense — going on in what had transpired. “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things — I would say treasonous things — against our country,” the president told reporters, without specifying exactly who he was talking about. “And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country — we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening — those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.”
I wish I could be counted amongst the enemies of trump who will be investigated and denounced and perhaps tried for treason. I wish my voice were loud enough, influential enough to be a candidate for such an attack. I would welcome the forum of a trial where a jury of fellow citizens would be forced by oath to hear “FACTS” and dispense with prejudice and decide who has the greater credibility. I would prevail!.
Senator Joseph McCarthy tried to rid the country of his enemies andt opponents by red-baiting them.  He was initially embraced with enthusiasm by the small-minded. But eventually, enough Americans realized that efforts to purge/silence the country of its own neighbors was really an evil effort, lacking in morality and void of integrity. So too shall trump come to know that whatever blood he causes to be shed or persons to be harmed by neighbors or government, he himself will fall in the battle he wages against truth and justice.
King trump will continue to damage the very fabric of our culture and society. But ultimately if truth gets the final say, he will be exposed as the emperor without the clothes of decency and integrity and certainly and figuratively his presidency will bleed to death of a thousand cuts of his deceit.

Am I the purveyor of Vitriol.

Someone I am friends with accused or maybe simply observed that many of my Facebook posts are vitriolic, that is caustic and cruel criticisms. I think I replied by saying these posts reflect my observations but that I personally am not consumed with bitterness as I thought that was his suggestion. His response was multi-layered but what got to me was his statement that he was more concerned about my words effect on others.

I am concerned and it stimulated me to reflect on my activities. Here is my view point which I fantasize is a valid view point.

I declared on Facebook on many occasions that I was going to abstain from trump-centric posts. In fact after the election of 2016 I urged restraint and caution and giving trump an opportunity to demonstrate he had the right stuff. Alas, he failed every single time he opened his mouth. Every single time. So my hope to remain non-partisan quickly faded. And to remain silent in the face of his statements, policies and actions seemed like acquiescence and endorsement.

I read and watch the news daily for articles that might interest me. I am willing to read non-partisan editorials and articles and even a significant number of partisan, left and right. I read studies on subjects for the sole purpose of ascertaining the truth of the matter asserted. I read studies to determine my own opinions on issues. As a result, sometimes I abandon my position and other times I find I am bolstered by the empirical and anecdotal evidence.

Myself, my parents and siblings, nephews and nieces are Jewish. My siblings and I grew up in the aftermath of the Holocaust. We were introduced to the horrors at an early age, through, film, books and first person narratives. My Hebrew school teachers were Holocaust survivors. We can’t do anything about the Holocaust now. But we can be loud and resist any attempts to sow the seeds of hate of any religious, ethnic, or racial community. One thing that marks the early days of the Holocaust was the silence of the neighbors and countrymen of the Jews and even Jews themselves.

I grew up being called Kike and Christ killer and Yid and more. These are intended as hateful appellations for a Jew. It happened to me in my neighborhood, in my high schools and especially in the boarding school I was sent to in my early teens. I hear the slights in business by people saying well-meaning but prejudicial statements about Jewish business people.

“Never Again” means something special to Jews. It is a declaration that we will never be silent again and allow a holocaust. I should not think that we would remain silent when any minority is threatened. When I see the rise of White Nationalists/Supremacists (nazis), I get hostile. Even when I see these movements divert focus from their hate of Jews and attack people of color, gays, Muslims, I take it personally.

Do I slip into vitriol? Clearly I do. Must I? Yep! There are others I admire who can walk the line of dignity and diplomacy. They can use their oral and writing skills to persuade and/or object. I engaged in counseling with a Catholic priest in Chicago in 1983. He was a wise and sober man. We talked about my approach to counseling others and the way I spoke in personal relationships. He offered that my style was a gift of God in that my propensity for bluntness and unpleasant roughness was “God’s way of turning up the volume”. His opinion he explained was that what I say to people in earnest is something others have said to them before but may not have been heard. So I was God’s way of turning up the volume so that if something needed being said, it would be heard.

We were referencing my counseling style and personal including romantic relationships. But I found that even in my radio career and social media participation, my style also gives voice to many who agree with me but do not feel permission or comfortable expressing their feelings.

Is it un-Buddhist to say things that are not loving or kind? I do not purport that my caustic or sarcastic remarks are Buddha like. But I do state unequivocally that it does not reflect negatively on my Buddhist practice. Monks would possibly disappoint me if they were to behave as I do. On the other hand I know monks who dislike trump and the types of values he espouses.

Budgets express values. The trump budget is a values statement. Budgets require choices, and when something is funded rather than another thing we reveal the values that drive us. The new presidential budget may reflect trump’s values but it does not reflect mine. So I criticize. And to the extent that the burden is going to fall on the least able of our country, I rail against the allocations it calls for. I argue for the health, safety and welfare of the “us and the “them” instead of a border wall between us versus them.

So am I the purveyor of vitriol? I cannot deny it seems so. Am I guilty of harmful intent? Nope. Could I do better? Maybe. Do I believe as Buddha taught that speech should be true, necessary, kind and spoken at the right time? Absolutely. I promise true and always to be accurate. I think it necessary to criticize and resist when I see values taking hold in my country, state, community which I believe to be harmful, hateful or unwholesome. That to me is a form of kindness.

I ask, when is the right time to speak if I first pass the thresholds for right speech? No matter what I decide, it is a subjective standard. No one can say for me when. They can suggest based on their perception but it is just another subjective application.

I believe, the time to speak out against this administration, is now. Lest we forget and give their values space and time to take root and grow. I have never been driven to be so partisan before. I was raised a democrat but prided myself on being independent. A liberal who owned the gun range and advocated for gun owners right to carry and other gun rights. I advocated for responsible fiscal management. Now I am unable to straddle partisan lines as gun owner groups do not relinquish nor compromise in an effort to find reasonable regulations. Many fiscal conservatives now advocate the elimination of poverty programs and oft times the oppression and disenfranchisement of the vote of the have-nots.

I apologize that words which I find descriptive of my opinions are sometimes harsh, virulent, even mean-spirited and bitter. My bad!

 

Is being a Snitch a bad thing?

Enough years have passed that I can now tell the story. When I was 17-18 years old and living in Hyde Park Chicago, I was arrested twice for felonies. The arresting police officers both times were Sgt. Doyle and Officer Andrew Alinovich who were assigned to the Vice Squad, 21st Police District.

At some point during my police custody I was told I could help myself if I gave information which would lead to the arrest of others. I admit, I was scared. As scared as I have ever been. I can still recall some of my thoughts. I remembered being told the following two sayings. “Happy as a sissy in the Cook County Jail” (Chicago). The other, “Go in bitching, come out swishing.”

Both are references to the culture of rape inside the county jail. The officers said to me on one occasion that, “with your long hair you will be somebody’s bitch before the night is over.” FYI, I was 5’7″, weighed about 130 lbs and had long dark hair.

In addition to the immediate threat of jail, there was the additional fear of the Illinois prison system where the rape culture was as much or more prominent. Many of my friends had been to jail or prison and told me how dangerous it was and various survival tips. Tip number one. When other prisoners begin to threaten to attack me, jump on the biggest one and fight for my life. They told me I would lose and get beat up but I would get the respect of the other prisoners for being a “man”. And maybe if I showed them I was a man, they might not rape me. Not a strategy I wanted to test out.

The first time, I was in the station and a lieutenant walked by and asked the arresting officers how old was I. When he was advised that I was 17, he told them to take away my pack of Marlborough cigarettes because I was not old enough to have them. Sgt Doyle replied that it was okay because I was going to cooperate. He looked at me as if for confirmation and he let me have one of my cigarettes. I lit it and he waited for my actual cooperation. When I blew the smoke out of my lungs but did not speak, he said, “stop with the fucking smoke signals Cochise and start talking!”

So, I sat in police custody, chewed my lower lip half off and thought about who, what where I could tell the police about which might result in my release. My mind raced like never before. The officers just stared at me waiting for me to tell them something. Names of wrong-doers came to mind. I evaluated at lightning speed the various persons and what I knew about them.

So now the reveal at the time of my first felony arrest. I think my voice was shaking when I said, “I don’t know anything that you want to know”.  The look of disdain on  Sergeant Doyle’s face had a hint of hatred, he turned and typed up my arrest report before transferring me to a cell where I was held alone. Several hours later I bonded out, unharmed.

The first arrest led to a sentence of court supervision for one year. If I violated my court supervision, I could be sent to an Illinois prison for 6 to 15 years. The second time I was arrested was about year or so later. This Sunday morning, Alinovich and Doyle spotted me standing outside a coffee-shop at the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard.

Pulling up alongside me, they ordered me into their unmarked police car. They searched me quite thoroughly. I had no drugs on me. What I did have was a draft card belonging to someone else which I carried to buy alcohol and avoid curfew violations. I will never forget the look on Officer Alinovich’s face as he discovered the card. He asked me with glee if I knew the penalty for unlawful possession of a draft card. He was delighted to share with me that,

Anyone shown to have possession of any selective service card not duly issued to him, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to establish an intent to use such certificate for purposes of false identification or representation, and may be fined up to  $10,000 or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The cuffs went on and off we began the drive to the police station. I begged them to let me go. I told them my court supervision was one more week and this would violate my condition of supervision. Sgt Doyle pulled over and stopped on a quiet street. He turned around and asked me what I could tell him to help myself. Who was I willing to give up?

At the time of my first arrest I did not know that I was facing a lengthy prison sentence under Illinois law. I had been charged with possession of marijuana and possession of stolen or mislaid property. Both felonies.

Now I knew what the stakes were now. I remembered the judge admonishing me of the period of incarceration I would face upon a finding that I had failed to abide by the conditions of my supervision. I was on the verge of tears thinking of the consequences. I am sure I would have cried but I knew that somehow that would make things worse.

Both officers were turned around in the car looking at me in the back seat. Man, the silence was deafening. The noise in my head was deafening. Again I raced through the possibilities of cooperating, who to snitch out and how to survive being a snitch.

I do not know if it was true, but I convinced myself in that moment that being a snitch was a core violation of my values and that I would not be safe if I did provide information. I finally broke the silence and told them I could not help. Once again, the look of disdain was prominent on both their faces. They turned and Doyle put the car back in gear and off we went.

Just as we neared the main road to the station, (Lake Shore Drive) Doyle pulled to the curb. He looked at Alinovich and told him “get him the fuck out this car”. Alinovich looked confused and unsure. Doyle repeated, “just get him out of my fucking car”. Alinovich opened the back door from the outside, uncuffed me, got back in the car and off they drove. No explanation. No charges.

About a week later I appeared in court and my supervision was terminated successfully. I met Officer Alinovich two more times. Once he walked in to my dad’s lumber yard with his family to buy building materials for his house. I was in my early 20s. We chatted amicably and of course I gave him the police discount.

The next time I was in downtown Chicago and encountered him inside a building on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. He told me he was now assigned to taxicab violation enforcement. The Vice Squads had been renamed, Tactical Patrol. Doyle had either retired or died, I cannot recall which. We were pleasant to each other.

I was arrested a couple of more times by other Chicago police for a variety of crimes. But I was never offered freedom in exchange for information. I am glad I do not have to look back on my past and mull over how I decided to be a snitch. But full disclosure, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, I do not know why or how I refrained.

Footnote. Many years later I did a television interview along with a Chicago Police Commander on the subject of street gangs. We chatted afterwards and we realized he had been assigned to the Gang Crimes unit in my community when I was young. He asked me as an aside if I wanted to guess who had been a snitch. I had no one in mind so he told me. It was a young man I knew fairly well and to whom I had sold what I believed to be a stolen US army rifle. I have discovered over the years that I was often closer to peril than I knew. But those stories are for another day.