Monday, February 1, 2016

Things I love, at the corner, dreaming, something beautiful, the Old Golden Land, I’m on the way, Beanie!

At the corner of Market and Church

Once again, some of the photos will have nothing to do with the text. I was thinking, what photos would I like to look at in a year or five years?
I love (or like a lot)… babies, puppies, flowers (especially fragrant ones), parents being sweet to their child, pretty women, baking bread, San Francisco… At first I thought I would make an inclusive list, but stopped at what is here. Of course there are people, but I already write about them a lot (Leslie, David, John, Jeff, others). I love each one of you, named here or not.
There was a woman on the cold January downtown corner near First Presbyterian. She had that skinny, jittery look of methamphetamine, complete with gurning around an unlit cigarette hanging out of her mouth. A man walked to the corner. He had tardive dyskinesia with tongue thrusting and grimacing (surely from too much Prolixin or Stelazine or whatever drug). I saw him give the woman a light with all the smoothness of a man in a tuxedo in some kind of old-time upscale night club.
Sourdough with currants, pecans, cinnamon

Yesterday I was listening to Neil Young singing about a dream his wife had - "It’s a dream, only a dream, and it's fading now..." and I felt my own meaning to the words and was so so sad to think that maybe all this with Leslie was a dream. Now I think, if it was all a dream, what a dream! 
My friend continues to waste away. A couple of days ago, I said to her husband, When I first started coming here, I think I was very helpful. Now… I’m seeing something beautiful (and so sad).
Something beautiful like with only a couple of exceptions, every time I come in, her husband is lying on the bed with her, massaging her legs, cradling her, wiping her lips, loving her.
Something beautiful like seeing him sitting against some pillows and her (she couldn’t weigh more than about 60 pounds now) propped up and leaning into his embrace.
Something beautiful like it’s all so clean, no smells, no tv, the altar moved from place to place depending on which way she’s lying (oh, so small now) on the bed… this is sacred space.
Something beautiful like love and faithfulness as real and palpable as the walls of this room I’m writing in right now.
Something beautiful like her husband and her mother touching her in ways I know are to memorize the feel of her.
She was born in hell (Cambodia 1975) – and her mother kept her alive through the Khmer Rouge years and across the border and across America and 39 years later here they both are on this bed in a room overlooking a playground.
Speaking of vision quests, I recited/sang this to her yesterday:
Keep on walking where the angel showed
(All will be One, all will be One)
Traveling where the angels trod
Over in the old golden land

In the golden book of the golden game
The golden angel wrote my name

When the deal goes down I’ll put on my crown
Over in the old golden land

I won’t need to kiss you when we’re there
(All will be One, all will be One)
I won’t need to miss you when we’re there
Over in the old golden land

We’ll understand it better in the sweet bye and bye
(All will be One, all will be One)
You won’t need to worry and you won’t have to cry
Over in the old golden land.
(Robin Williamson)
Sourdough with currants, pecans, cinnamon

After I left their apartment yesterday afternoon, I went on to Baylor emergency for the abdominal pain that’s bothered me for about a week. Trying for a couple of days to decide if I should go. Then I asked myself, what would I say to someone in my situation? It’s a no-brainer: Go. I went. I have acute pancreatitis. Haha, I’m glad I went! Liquid diet for a few days, then small, low fat meals, no alcohol (no prob – I quit that 40+ years ago), those kinds of things. Way better than cancer of the pancreas!
Actually, I didn’t completely give alcohol up. A few years ago walking along a street in Saigon, Leslie saw a sign saying, Beer – 10,000 dong (about $.50). Let’s go in, she said. From then on, that became an evening ritual for us… in Saigon, Hanoi, Hue, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Dallas. Good times. 
Lying in the room, waiting for sonogram results, thinking, it was just a day ago that I was thinking about pancreatic cancer. And that now there is some chance I may have it (and relief that I didn't). Sometimes Leslie and I would call one another Beanie or Cecil. Lying in the ED room, looking into the distance, looking toward the Old Golden Land, and I’m smiling and thinking, “I’m on the way, Beanie!”
In the garden

I may be a one-woman man.

I’ll try to be around and about. But if I’m not, then you know that I’m behind your eyelids, and I’ll meet you there.” 
Terence McKenna)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I want to be like Mary Magdalene

Three weeks into seeing my friend twice daily as life slowly slips away from her wracked and wasted body. Three weeks since she first said, “I’m ready to go” and now she’s whispering, “I want to die…” and “Why can’t I die?” Her suffering is infinitely sad and unnecessary. That’s the way suffering seems to go so often. I notice that despite the sadness I don’t seem to completely connect with it. I wonder if I’ve lost so much I don’t have that much connection left.
I remember in Vietnam when I became impervious to the horror. And fear? Fear, I spit in your fucking face.
It was dark by the time I got into the perimeter of a Marine battalion on an operation at the DMZ. I reported to the commanding officer, who told me to stay with the command group. Some of them were asleep by then, so I lay down beside them and slept the night through.
In the morning I discovered that I was sleeping next to some dead men wrapped in ponchos and laid out next to the command group. Their gear was lying piled nearby and I found a C-ration can of cinnamon roll (my favorite) in one man’s pack. I had started to eat it when some Marines asked for help lifting bodies onto the back of a quad 20 tracked/armored vehicle. There were two men on top of the vehicle and two of us below and I was holding the cinnamon roll in my teeth as we lifted the first man up. His body was tilted up and I was below and a dark liquid ran out of the poncho and down my upraised arm and I couldn’t let go or the body would have gone to the ground and the liquid slid down my arm, down my side.
It was the heart of darkness. The horror. So much for impervious.
Photo of photos of condemned children
S21/Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh
Later it got worse, when the bodies and ponchos started to cook on top of the engine vents as we fought through the morning.

When I first started seeing my friend after she had become so sick, she would ask me to stay and I would. When she went home from the hospital I committed to coming twice daily to her apartment and I did. At first it was a lot of time and a lot to do. Later, there was less to do, but I’m still coming because I said I would. Now I’m only a witness to her suffering.

I thought about Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane right before he was murdered. “Remain here… watch with me,” he said to his disciples. They didn’t do it. I deeply don’t want to let my friend down like the disciples let Jesus down. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, the one who didn’t give up, the one who watched with Jesus through the awful suffering and through the end, who was witness to the suffering, the one who stayed. (And I get it that three weeks isn't very long.)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Days of innocence, of family secrets; being beautiful; mostly good days

Annual cover, Thomas Jefferson High School
Except for the yearbook cover and the last photo, the pictures here are from Leslie’s iPhone… the world through her eyes.
Days of innocence; days of family secrets.
Everything was perfect back then and it was of utmost importance to maintain that myth – within individuals, families, communities, cultures…
Of course there were true good parts too, sweet things, beautiful things. Leslie and I fell in love during these days – when we all really did look kind of like the photo on the annual cover. We fell in love in that environment, that consciousness.
Then along came youth culture, the consciousness revolution, the sexual revolution, civil rights, women’s liberation, the war, the peace movement, all of that – we were the first rock & roll generation. It was a decade like no other before or since in the history of the world!
Now, there are still family secrets, but now there are places to go for help. Now it is a crime for teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. to not report suspected child abuse. Now there is awareness. Now the interview with the child and the police is not a bleeding nightmare for the victim (Respect and Love to Det. Lt. Walsh and Asst. DA Karnutsis – sorry about the spelling. They made it happen in Dallas). For the times they are a’changing.
A photograph of love
Now I know what a Majestic Feeling is.
1967… I would hear someone say, “_______ is so beautiful.” I’d think, “She’s not so beautiful.” Or someone would say, “He’s a beautiful person,” and I’d think, “What! He’s a guy. A guy can’t be beautiful.” But then my mind opened and I realized she is beautiful; he is beautiful; and most incredible of all, I am beautiful!”
When you find out who you are,
David in our Noe apartment, fall 2014
Beautiful, beyond your dreams
If someone had asked me if I ever dreamed myself as beautiful, I’d have thought they were crazy. Yet somewhere deep inside, from the beginning, deeper than consciousness, deeper than words I did dream of being beautiful. I awakened and became beautiful (you know, now and again).
At the same time, Leslie was showing me, loving me how to do beautiful… and I was reaching out, reaching beyond my misperceptions about myself and thus my misperceptions about others.
Another factor in the awakening was war. I came out of that war wounded, sick, soul-sick, skinny, tense, with violence barely below the surface – yet in all that, committed to somehow never lose track of the war, never lose track of being alive.
For the ones who had a notion,
A notion deep inside,
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.
One of our hangouts - patio at Thorough Breads
These things worked together in the creation of who and what I might be: the war-driven drive to be fully alive, Leslie’s love and the example of her life, and the changes in my consciousness.
How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful.
How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole.
People say things. Sometimes I’m staggered at what people have endured and how some things resonate all through people’s lives. Sometimes it’s extraordinarily difficult, even impossible to “choose to be happy.” Here’s to the ones who have endured – and to those who didn’t endure. And a Curse on those who cause such pain.
On Market Street
I wrote this in 2008: I was in the Parkland Psychiatric Emergency Room, in one of the little interview rooms with a woman, her daughter, her granddaughter, and one of my students. Their story was that the grandmother had learned that her husband was molesting her granddaughter – just as he had molested her daughter. “He’s not going to get away with it again, God-damn him.” There is a curse – the real thing.  
Two hard days the past few days. Otherwise I’m doing pretty well. There have been days in the past few weeks that I’ve actually not been more than ready for the day to be over(!).
Today I finished cleaning the house for Christmas. Part of the cleaning was moving everything off Leslie’s shrine so I could dust and rub the wood with oil, then put everything back. Of course everything in/on the shrine is of the greatest significance and I was sad and grateful and lonely for some hours.
I’ll be out shopping or whatever and see so many couples. It’s like that’s our natural state – in relationship.

Monday, December 7, 2015

On the street, drugs, AIDS, nine months, park party

I write different things on different days and sometimes rearrange things, so who knows what day something is really written on.
Walking along upper Market/Castro/Noe/Church…
David and Charles on Castro... all those people
  • Super pretty young woman zipping along on a Razor scooter – Wow!
  • Man alternately raving and begging.
  • The man who sells flowers two blocks from my apartment, Guy, walking up the sidewalk carrying a bouquet. “Are you doing a home delivery?” “No, I’m starting my second career, singing in the studio.”
  • Lovers walking, embracing (this is a town full of lovers).
  • Two men shouting at each other, “m-f this, m-f that, g-d m-f the other.” They weren’t upset or anything, just shouting at each other.
  • Old man wearing a black leather jacket walking an old dog. “There’s a couple of old dogs,” I said. We both laughed and the dog just stood there, glad for a rest, I’m sure.
  • Many of the people with babies carry them in a harness so the baby is facing forward, little legs kind of flopping along. Wouldn’t it be grand to be able to see the world like those babies!

Harvey Milk shrine in the Castro.
He was assassinated in 1978. 
I already knew that drugs like enalapril, omeprazole, levaquin, and so on can do wonderful things (and also can be dangerous). But it really came home to me when about 20 years ago I started prescribing them and following people over time. The first serious illness I cured was pneumonia – in a woman who wasn’t responding to treatment through a public hospital. I gave her Biaxin XL 1 gm qd for 10 days and I forget what else and she got well. I went to her apartment on Gaston several times working on getting the dosing right. Always a few gangsters around. For the rest of our time at Agape the woman would come in every few months mostly just to kind of say hello.
Yesterday evening, David, Charles, and I walked to the Castro for a farewell dinner at Eureka!, one of my favorite places. When we turned on to Castro, I realized that the sidewalks were covered in chalked names. It was World AIDS Day and the names were a memorial to the many, many thousands who died from this terrible disease. I was stunned. There were little buckets of chalk for anyone who wanted to add a name or idea. After I got home I decided to walk back to Castro and add Rueben’s name. Little known fact about Leslie: she helped take care of Rueben when he was sick.
Sidewalk memorials. Rueben.
Today marked nine months since Leslie passed away. What a ride we had and what (a different kind of) a ride this grief and mourning have been. Looking back on this time – and really it’s been hard since last November when Leslie began having difficulties – I realize I’ve gone about as deep into grief as I can go (famous last words!) and I realize I’m afraid of more pain. God almighty, it’s been hard. The first 6 months I was I don’t know what I was. I was going, Leslie, oh my sweet Leslie. I was in awe of her everything. I was so sad for her, for us, our beautiful life together. I spent a lot of time being grateful, too. The next two months I was feeling sorry for myself. The last 3 weeks I’m not as sad.
It was a perfect day to get a Christmas tree. I can hardly believe I did it. It would have been easy to think never mind and not have a tree. I bet nobody would be surprised. But there it is.
Hippie Hill drum circle on a Sunday afternoon.
Here comes the didgeridoo!
Saturday: Breakfast at Taco Joint with Ron. Home. Go to used stuff store looking for ceramic pie pans, thinking wouldn’t it be nice to give people pecan or apple pies in nice pans. On the way, I saw a farmers market and knew Don would be there, so stopped and hung out with Don and Tia for awhile. On to used things store but no pie pans. Got a tree. Patched a hole in the side of the house where a squirrel had chewed its way in (Thanks for telling me, Jay!). Went to Whole Foods and ran into someone I’ve known a long time and had a disturbing interaction with him. Got lights on tree. Started with decos and John came by and hung out for awhile while I put decos on. Dinner at Whole Foods. I’m sure I would never bring my own Cajun chicken grilled in John’s “Big Green Egg” and my own bread from Acme Bakery and get $.78 worth of lettuce to enjoy the sometimes convivial atmosphere of WF (saw Stephen from psytrance scene, so that was nice). The front of the house smells like a Christmas tree.

Atrium Obscurum park party. Sarah Spirals
doing the opening dance/flagging
Sunday: Park party in Fort Worth with Atrium Obscurum. Brought cookies (chocolate chip with extra chocolate and nuts). Helped with set-up. Spent the afternoon talking with people – a lot of nice people who I like a lot. Good music throughout. It was a beautiful day.