Thursday, November 16, 2017

Taxes?

This week in my article I tackle my views on  taxes and the evil 1%. (Read it here)

But in reality this is more focused on us as individuals than it is on congress. I generally feel what we do is far more important than what congress does. So, what are my views on what congress should do?

I am very concerned with deficit spending and our debt. Everyone I talk to is. And every person, and for that matter, every president has a solution. The solution everyone always has is to do exactly what their side of the isle wants. What do I mean? When a Republican wins election he says he will get rid of deficits by slashing domestic spending, slashing it so much that he will be able to lower taxes, increase military spending and still eliminate the deficit. Democrats will get rid of the deficit by raising taxes on the rich and cutting military spending. They will raise taxes so much that they will have more money for increased domestic spending and still be rid of the deficit.

These are always their campaign promises, yet what really happens. Without a willingness to compromise, Republicans can somehow find the political fortitude to cut taxes, but somehow lack the political capital to meaningfully cut spending. So, the debt only goes up. Democrats seem to muster the political strength to increase domestic programs and spending, but somehow can't seem to actually effectively raise taxes. So, the debt also goes up. So what do we get? More and more deficits, more and more debt. (This is aptly shown in one of my favorite Studio C skits) They all say the deficit is a huge issue and cry foul when the other party wants to raise it, but somehow become blind to it when their own party wants to raise it. The same democrats who will moan that the deficit will increase under current GOP tax cuts didn't seem too worried when the ARRA was being passed, knowing full well it would raise our deficit. Similarly many Republicans who said it was immoral to even consider ARRA given what it would do to the deficit, now somehow feel that a tax plan that massively increases deficits is okay.

I would like to see a congress and president finally embrace the fact that this issue is so important that they have to be willing to do things unpopular with their party in order to compromise and move the needle. That means Republicans willing to raise taxes, and cut military spending and Democrats willing to cut domestic spending. Could such heretics of their parties sacred cows get elected? Probably not. And that is why we will continue to get each president promise a way out of deficit spending only to see it go on.

(In my lifetime the only time we got close to truly having true surplus was in 2000 when the debt was raised by a meager 17 Billion dollars, very minor compared to most other years. How was this accomplished. Clinton both raised taxes, had a booming economy, cut military spending and yes, cut domestic spending. He, a democrat, worked with a republican congress to actually cut a domestic program. But did any President since follow suite, work with the other side and really take a hit to find a decent compromise? No, push only what their side wants and the debt has done nothing but climb.)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Paralegal to Prostitute

Jennifer and Myself in Denver



Jennifer was only 12 years old when she first found herself living on the streets. Mom demanded she attend school and she just wanted to goof off. "Most nights, I would find someone’s couch to crash on," she remembers. By 13, she was into drugs and in and out of juvenile detention. At 19, she was pregnant, and she gave birth prematurely to a boy who came out heavily addicted to alcohol and drugs. Not surprisingly, the state took the child. But finding foster care for such a high needs infant can be difficult (see my post on Doug Broadbent).

The state was lucky. A nurse with all the right background and knowledge had recently decided to foster. This would be her first and last foster child because after 6 months they were sick of being foster parents and simply wanted to be parents. The couple approached Jennifer and asked that she give up any rights to the child to allow them to adopt. While it was hard, she agreed, "They were going to give him a much better chance at life than I was prepared to give."

Since the birth, her personal life had not improved. Drugs still ruled her every action, and shortly after the adoption was finalized she again found herself in jail. However jail proved exactly what she needed. She went straight from jail to a rehabilitation facility. She was released at age 22 and that is when she began to get her life back. After acquiring her GED, she entered school at University of Colorado Denver to work on a Political Science degree. She married, got a job as a waitress, and most importantly, stayed sober. As she neared graduation she began to feel maybe Political Science was a mistake and took side classes to get a certificate as a paralegal. As she neared graduation she began an internship in her new field.

Then it happened. It had been 7 years of sobriety, but avoiding drugs doesn't guarantee an easy life. Her marriage was hurting and it ended in an ugly divorce. "After the divorce, I felt like a failure and just lost all my motivation." She lost her internship, dropped out of school and returned to drugs, streets and crime. That was five years ago.

I saw her near a Wal-Mart holding a sign that said, “Trying to pick myself up by going lower." When asked to explain, she said that she was trying to get a job as a sign flipper which many considered low, but any job would be higher for her. She said she was guilty of anything to get the drugs, but had finally decided that stealing and prostitution weren't worth it and that she had stopped those. She recounted how even begging was a step up from those.

As I thought of the lessons I learned from Jennifer, I thought of Oswaldo, another person dragged into a life of addiction at a young age. I also thought of how hard it would be to give up your only son. Even though the state had taken the child, if she hadn’t given up rights, he could be bouncing around in our legal system from foster home to foster home to this day. She did exactly what someone who loves their child should do, give him the best chance for happiness in a home with a loving father and mother. She said it better than I could: "I am proud of myself for giving him up, no matter how hard it was, and I'm grateful for the great parents who are raising him."

But the other thing I can't get out of my mind is the night 5 years ago when she felt so empty. When the failure of her marriage made her feel a failure at life to the point that she was ready to reenter the hell of addiction she had left seven years before. Why couldn't someone have been there to take her to dinner that night? To help her see how far she had come and how much she had to keep fighting for? If she had not slipped back into the darkness of her past that night, where might she be today?

Who around us is struggling today? Who is about to fall? Those in the depths of despair won't usually call out for help. Rather, we need to be in touch with their needs and call them up, seek them out, and rescue them before they surrender to whatever hell is closing in.

I wasn't there for Jennifer that day, but who can I be there for today?




If you liked this check out my last Homeless post: Devastating Debt

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Improving Historic Preservation

This week I write about how Boulder City could work together to improve historic preservation. (Read Here).

I try to layout things I would want to see if I were going to vote on a measure that increases the strength of our historic preservation laws. But truth is, what I want to see is not nearly as important as what the council wants to see, and is willing to vote for.

It is clear that Councilman McManus is the easy vote on this. He has brought up items in the past that would strengthen historical preservation. The problem is, it was always seen as too limiting to property rights and was voted down.

So the focus needs to be on the other four votes, if historic preservation change is going to occur. In the most recent election Councilman Harhay made it very clear that he believes in, and would protect property rights. With that said, I believe, all on the council believe in, and see the value in historic preservation. What is needed is to find language that strikes the proper balance between preservation and property rights. A great place to start is by conversing with Councilwoman Leavitt, Councilman Schuman and Harhay, as well as the Mayor to find a balance they could support. Then a good balance could be found and something might pass. This will take compromise, work and working with those we don’t always agree with.

However, if those trying to get this to pass, simply move forward with crafting the language, and constantly paint the council as outsiders working against them, with language such as, “We got to show them they must vote for this or ruin their political careers” or  “ We crafted something great but they and their crony’s are probably going to vote it down...recall.” Then we will have an, “us vs. them.” and it won’t pass.

I sure like the first option much more. And truthfully feel it has the best chance of success. What about you?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Quick thought on thoughts and The Las Vegas shooting

"Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results."  --Willie Nelson

Much has been said, and rightly so, about the power of positive thinking. But we typically apply that to thoughts about ourselves. Think about making the shot in basketball or getting the promotion at work. But what about the media we choose to partake of and how we think about it.

When a hurricane hits do we only focus on death toll and devastation or the thousand acts of heroism, selflessness, and service that follow.

When we follow news on politics do we only look for scandal, attacks and disagreement and avoid the news of the hundreds of men and women who work day in and day out in politics because they truely hope to improve our society.

I write a little about this and how it apples to the horrid and cowardly incident, that was full of wonderful and heroic men and women in Las Vegas. Here is the article

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chapter 3- The Blind Date

In case you missed the earlier chapters, I'd read them first. Here they are: Chapter 1 and
Chapter 2

Chapter 3- The Blind Date

The doorbell rang a few minutes before six o'clock. "Well, he's certainly prompt." Julie thought.

She opened the door to see Ricky, who looked older than she expected. His graying temples indicated years that Jill’s pictures had not shown. It wasn’t a bad thing; Julie actually preferred a man with some wisdom and experience.

"So, you must be Julie," Ricky said with a smile.

“And you’re Ricky."

He paused. “Well, I guess I am."

Julie furrowed her brow. It was pretty rare that people forgot their own name. Seeing her concern, he quickly said, "I'll explain on the way. Shall we?" He offered Julie his arm.

Julie was pleasantly surprised by his chivalry. She had never seen someone outside a movie offer his arm to a woman. She found it cute and was touched by how proper he was.

"Thank
you," she said as she took his arm, and they headed for the car. He opened both the gate and the car door. He did it so naturally that Julie guessed he must date often, he was just too good at it to not be well practied.

Once
they were seated in the car and on their way down the street, Ricky began to explain his pause at the door. “Ricky is my name, sort of, but I'm not used to being called that. Bry is about the only one who still does."

See, in high school, I thought Ricky sounded cooler than Rich or Richard, so I went with it. Once in college, I realized that being cool wasn't so important so I dropped it. But to Bry, I will always be Ricky."

"What would you like me to call you?" Julie asked.

"Oh, it’s up to you, but most people call me Rich."

"Rich it is,” she quipped.

"So what about you? Do you prefer I call you Julie or something else?"

This was a more difficult question then one might guess. Julie was already beginning to like Rich, and she would rather he call her “Jewels,” because that’s what her close friends called her. But would it sound desperate to ask for that kind of closeness so soon? Even though she was thinking tell him to call you Jewels, she said quickly, "Julie is fine."

“So what kind of music do you like?” He said, obviously using a preplanned chip at the ice.

Knowing that Larry was still anxious to take her to see Garth Brooks and fearing he may have her bugged, she went against country. "I like classical." That was a safe answer and made her look smart.

"Oh, I never could get into classical. I guess I've always thought only old people like it." Ouch, strike one, thought Julie. At least he's honest, I mean, who really is gutsy enough to admit they hate classical?

"Do you like monster ballads?" Rich offered.

"You mean, like guys with long hair, tights, and lipstick singing love songs?" Julie asked, with a hint of disgust.

"I guess I've never thought of them like that, but yeah."

"Here, let me see your CDs. I'm sure we can find something we both like." Julie reached for Rich’s CD case and began to flip through it.

Metallica, Led Zeppelin, ACDC... Clearly, if they had something in common, it was not going to be music. She was about to give up when she got near the end.

"Wait a minute, is this Celine Dion?” she said in a feigned surprise.

"Oh, is that in there?" he said, rather embarrassed. "I swear it was planted there by my enemies."

"Well, thank goodness for your enemies," she said as she popped the disc into the CD player.

His smile made it clear he was happy she had found something she liked.

"So, besides listening to bad music, what do you like to do?" he asked.

She remembered now why she didn't like first dates. What could she really say to that? The truth was, she liked to watch TV, but that was not a respectable response to impress a date. Talking to friends came to mind next, but that was not much better. A few lies crossed her mind, such as I like to run marathons, or I like to read scientific papers, but knowing that a lie might come back to bite her, she went with, "I like to cook." This was sort of true – she did cook on occasion.

"Really? What’s your specialty?”

“Oh, I try different things, but mostly I like to do Asian or Thai food.”

“Now there is something we can agree on. You are good at making Thai food, and I am actually quite skilled at eating it.” Rich gave her a sly smile.

Their conversation kept a steady pace all the way to Cheesecake Factory, where they were to meet with Bryan and Becky. Julie and Rich walked in to find that their friends had already been seated, which saved them an awkward wait for a table.

Becky greeted them enthusiastically. “Sit down, we have some appetizers coming!”

“Hey Ricky, did you drive the Mustang?” Bryan asked, excitedly.

“You know I won’t take that car out of the garage when I know I will be anywhere near you,” Rich replied.

“You could’ve picked me up in a Mustang?” Julie asked, trying to sound hurt.

Bryan added, “Not just any Mustang, but a ’67 Mustang. The same one we had in high school.”

We had? Bry is a bit mistaken by saying, ‘we had’. It is the Mustang that I had. I did make the mistake of letting him drive it once. That led to my having to put on the only non-original part that car has, the driver’s side door.”

“Oh, look, the food is here,” Bryan said, trying to change the subject.

“I want to hear the story,” Julie requested.

“It is not my husband’s proudest moment,” Becky said.

Rich settled in to tell the tale with a smile on his face. “Bry pulls up after taking it for a drive and sees Jill Schlesinger. He gets the bright idea to call out to her to give her ride. She doesn’t hear him, so he gets out to wave her down and leaves the door open without the parking brake on. The car rolls back past a gate at the school, and the door gets ripped off.” Rich chuckled. “And I couldn’t even be mad, because I was the crazy guy who let him borrow the car.”

More stories of Bryan’s and Rich’s past began to flow, and Becky added a few about Julie from their past. Time flew as the food came, and Becky got up and said, “I need to use the restroom.” She got up and stared at Julie. Julie looked back as to say, “what?” Becky gritted her teeth. “Julie, care to join me?”

Julie said, “Oh.” She had never bought into the companion restroom visits, but she knew Becky was not one to argue with, so she got up and said, “I’ll go too, just in case Becky forgets to wash her hands.”

Once out of earshot, Becky started in. “So, what do you think?”

Julie wanted to be coy but decided she wouldn’t be any good at it. “He is actually normal!”

“Wow, normal. Such a glowing review.”

“Okay, he is better than normal. I think I kinda like him!”

“What, did I just hear Julie, cold-hearted, man-eating Julie, say she thinks she kind of likes someone?” Becky teased.

“Speaking of glowing reviews, thanks for the cold-hearted, man-eating label!”

“Okay, you aren’t that bad, but I don’t usually hear you say you like a guy! I can’t wait for the wedding!”

“You just keep quiet and don’t ruin it for me,” Julie said, joking, but deep down she hoped Becky wouldn’t say anything that would ruin her chances with Rich.

The rest of the dinner date flew by in a whirlwind of laughter and chatter. The date plans had been restricted to only dinner, at Julie’s insistence. She was so used to blind dates going badly that she didn’t want to prolong the pain. Now, as Rich drove her home, she regretted this decision and wished the date could continue.

Once they pulled up to Julie’s house, Rich, as he had been all night, was the perfect gentleman and opened her door. They walked together toward the door, and Julie thought she better speak first. She didn't want to rush things, but she had to say, "Rich, I had a great time."

"Yea, it was a lot of fun." He said casually.

They paused at the doorstep.

"Well, it’s been a long time since I said good night on my door step. I think the last time I did, my parents were on the other side." She said with a smile.

"I guess it has been a long time for me too," Rich said.

There was a pause, and Julie hoped Rich would ask for a second date, but all he said was, "Thanks again, Julie," and he gave her a quick hug.

It was ending. The date would end, and she wanted to see Rich again. It looked like he was about to say good night, so Julie blurted out, "We should do this again soon!" She looked at Rich, hoping for a positive response. His facial expression quickly told her she had struck on a topic he wished to avoid and she instantly regretted saying it. If nothing were said she'd have hope but she felt that being suffed out as he spoke.

"Julie, I had a good time, but..." He paused. Oh, here we go, Julie thought.
Rich continued, "Bry asked if I would be willing to try a blind date. I thought I was ready but after tonight I'm convinced I'm not. That Celine Dion CD in the back of my case was Rachel’s. Tonight was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it made me miss Rachel too much. I'm not sure when or if I'd want to do this again." His voice trailed off as he finished.

Julie quickly jumped in, "I completely understand, that makes perfect sense."
There was an awkward pause, as neither knew what else to say. Rich broke the silence, "Well, good night, Julie, thanks again." He walked back to his car.

Julie watched as he drove away. Once his brake lights faded into the distance, she rushed inside, collapsed onto the couch, and began to weep. Part of her was angry at herself for crying. She had just met the guy! Earlier today, she had been happy, and nothing much had changed since then.

She hated that she had allowed her emotions to get wrapped up in a man she hardly knew. She hated that she had to keep lying to her mom, Larry, and Harold. Why couldn’t she just be happily single; why did she have to date? Her emotions were rushing through her, and she now found herself yelling and sobbing into the couch pillow. “If I were married, my mom wouldn't pester me all day! If I were married, Larry would leave me alone! If I were married, Harold wouldn't approach me! If I were married, there would be no blind dates, and if I were married I wouldn't have awkwardly messed everything up with Rich!”

With the last statement she broke out into sobs again. After a few moments, she began to calm down. She didn't think she believed half of what she said, but it felt good to get it out. She didn't really have any desire to be married. What she really wanted was to be single, and have everyone else think she was married.

As she sat up, her gaze went to the newspaper lying where she usually left it, half read, out on the coffee table. Her mind shot back to her earlier conversation with Becky and the strange ad that they had joked about.  She picked up the classified section, turned to the ad, and read it again. This time she had a very different perspective than she had had at lunch earlier that day.

No longer did she think this man was weird but very wise. This was likely a man in the same situation she was in. Of course, he was. Surely hundreds must be in their situation! He wasn't crazy, but courageous. He was brave enough to do something she wished she had the guts to do, even if it was not socially acceptable.


She grabbed the paper and headed for the computer. She had secretly speculated that, after the date with Rich, she might have a boyfriend. She now hoped, after this strange night, she might land a fiancé. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

You can vote... as long as you're not Mormon.

This week I wrote an article about Mormons and Boulder City Politics (Click Here).

In the article, I mentioned some of the early political and religious persecution that Mormons faced in Missouri in 1838. Among those that were driven from their homes in the freezing cold as part of Governor Boggs Extermination Order was one of my great grandfathers, John Telford. Below is an except from his history:

"At one time during this distressing period when he and all of his family except Robert were down in bed with chills and fever, the mob came and ordered them out of their home. The victims of this fever were very ill, but John and his wife were fortunate that their worst time occurred on alternate days so when one was too sick to get up it was possible for the other to help take care of the children. On the day that the mob came John was so helpless and ill that it aroused the sympathy of one member of the mob who objected to the heartless treatment imposed upon them by the mobbers and interceded for them, and got the mob to consent to let them remain in their home until the following day, but when the morning came conditions were even worse and neither John nor his wife were able to get up when the mob returned. This only added to the fury of the men and they threatened to burn the family with the house unless they would denounce Joseph Smith as an imposter. This they refused to do although the mobbers devised every means to get them to discredit the Prophet. When their efforts failed they prepared to carry out their inhumane threats, but the man who had interceded for them on the previous day defied the mob and carried the family out of the house, against the blasphemous threats of the mobbers. He helped them to get away in safety by marching with his gun between their wagon and the anger crazed mob for a mile while their home and their crops and all their possessions were consumed by fire, Even the great stacks of sacked wheat that was piled in the yard during the harvest was also burned by the infuriated mob."

Reading this account has always brought me grief for the suffering caused to my forefathers because of the fear and prejudice of these early frontiersmen, but it was discussing this with my Father that I discovered something that I had not known about Mormons and politics in his home state. Idaho's constitution specifically denied Mormons the right to vote, hold office, or serve on a jury.  It was in the year 1889 that Idaho drafted their constitution. In order to ensure that congress approved their petition to become a state they felt the need to distance themselves from Mormons. At the time Mormons were not very popular due to their practice of polygamy. In fact the United States had passed the Edmunds Act in 1882 that specifically bared polygamist, people cohabiting and anyone belonging to an organization that promoted polygamy or cohabitation from voting or holding office.  Since Mormons belong to an organization that promoted polygamy they all were restricted from voting, even though only 1% of them actually practiced polygamy. The Idaho constitution followed suit, except it added the word celestial marriage to polygamy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints officially stopped the practice of polygamy by an official declaration by Prophet Wilford Woodruff in 1890. At this point, under the Edmunds Act they could vote, however in Idaho it was still in question. In 1908, it was taken to the Idaho supreme court  in (Toncray vs. Budge) and determined that celestial marriage was not polygamy but anyone who had a monogamous marriage in the temple, and since Mormons encouraged people to marry in the temple, it applied to all Mormons. Therefore if you were Mormon, you could not vote. They even expanded that it applied to all who are, or ever were, Mormon. This was done because the fear that people would denounce the church, vote, and then go back. I could not find how extensively this provision was enforced and when exactly it stopped. (Some claim it stopped when the test act, the act relating to making people sign a statement that they were not Mormon, was repealed in 1892, however Toncray vs. Budge came after this time, so it clearly was still upheld, at least in the courts.) It was clear that the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 60's would have likely put an end to the practice, if it hadn't already stopped.

In 1982 a Mormon and Native American Larry Echo Hawk was voted into the Idaho State Legislature, it was by no means the first time a Mormon was elected, but what made it different was that also on the ballot was the Idaho Remove Voter Disqualification Amendment. It proposed removing the language that barred Mormons from voting. Part of the reason was that Mormons who served in the state always had a hard time promising to defend the state constitution that barred them from voting or holding office. It passed 65% to 35%, with over a third of the population voting to leave the language barring Mormons from voting on the books.

Sometimes I don't the fight for our freedoms as seriously as I should. The years where we didn't allow people to vote because of race, gender or religion seemed so far in the past that I have generally felt removed from those experiences, but 1982 or even the 1908, wasn't that long ago and we need to stay engaged to ensure it doesn't happen again to any group of people, no matter how small and strange or how large and influential they appear to be.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Devastating debt

Tom and Keith-Tom is the older gentleman

Deciding on dinner when I’m out of town and alone can be tough. I get tired of fast food, and sitting alone in a sit-down restaurant is not my style. Once, while in Denver with my family, we all went to Casa Bonita, a restaurant full of interesting scenery and a big waterfall that performers dive into while patrons eat. I drove over to the restaurant, thinking I might go again, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk in alone. I begin walking down the street.

Colfax Street was likely at one time a nice road, but now it’s rundown and flanked with smoke shops, pawnshops, and tattoo and massage parlors. A few blocks down, Walmart has built up a very nice shopping center with a dry riverbed and bridge, set back a little from the road.
This is clearly a popular place for the homeless to gather. I approach two men and start a conversation. Keith came from Pennsylvania (an interview from earlier)

Tom is older and has been in Denver since 1985. He grew up in Helena, Montana, the youngest of 8 kids. He has lost track of all of his siblings. He heard that one of his brothers, who had been a Catholic Priest in San Francisco, had died of AIDS, but he didn’t find out about it until several years later.

In 1978, Tom graduated from high school and worked in Helena for 7 years. Then in 1985, he decided to come out to Denver for an ACDC concert. He never went back. “I loved the weather, the mountains, and the atmosphere, so I decided to stay. Shortly after that, I fell in love, got married, and had a daughter.”

“What did you do for a living?”

“Heating and cooling mechanic. I even went to school at Metro Tech for drafting, but that didn’t work out.”

“You ever see your kid?”

“I haven’t seen my daughter in 5 years. She’s 30 now and lives in Denver, or at least she did last time I saw her. See, when she was 8, I came home from work one day, and everything was gone—my wife, my daughter, and the furniture. I took 3 weeks off work to look for them. Turns out she had run off with her ex-husband. She took my daughter, and her stepdad raised her as her father. She even took his name.”

Tom is surprisingly void of emotion as he tells this tragic story. He shows no bitterness towards his ex-wife or this man who replaced him in his family. It is not clear if time has healed his wounds or if he really feels this was best situation for his daughter anyway.

I’d seen such family breakups be the catalyst for homelessness, so I ask, “Is that when you became homeless?”

“No, I went back to work and did okay for another 10 years or so. Shortly after my wife left, in 1991, I bought a home. It was a nice 3-bed, 2-bath home, and the payment was only $450. But I took out several home equity loans, and my payment became over $900, so I sold it so it wouldn’t get foreclosed on. That is when I found myself on the streets.”

We talked for over an hour as we ate a sandwich from Jimmy John’s. Keith and Tom told me how they avoided downtown because of crime, how they remove “no smoking” signs at bus stops, and how it’s only safe to gather in groups of less than 4 and not on the Wal-Mart side of the channel.
Homelessness is almost never to be blamed on a single cause it’s usually multi-faceted a broken home, addiction, mental illness, adventure, etc. But sometimes you can see a primary cause, and for Tom, it was debt. As Tom spoke, I could see and how crushing debt can be, and I felt deeply grateful for my parents and church leaders who regularly spoke out about the negative impact of debt.

His story also led me to ask myself, Do we make getting debt too easy? Do we do enough to discourage debt? Would the financial advisers call the loans Tom had taken out and that eventually put him on the streets, ‘good debt’?

As noted above, choosing where to eat when out of town can be difficult. If I had chosen to eat alone, I could have had a much nicer meal for what I spent that night, but I am certain it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable or satisfying.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Fasting...weird

Lately, my mind has pondered a lot about my youth, and how lucky I am, given how stupid I was, to be where I am today.  There have been many points that are making this more and more obvious but the reason I bring this up today, is fasting.

I wrote a little about fasting and how it relates to helping those in Harvy and Irma in my article in the Boulder City Review (see here). But I recall how stupid I used to think fasting was. No matter how many Sunday school lessons I sat through on it, I just didn't see the point. It just felt like a way to torture myself by not eating. And given that the only reason I did it was that my sister, Ta, watched me like a hawk, that was likely all I was doing. Frankly, I could see why some people just think its weird.

The more I age, the more I am impressed with how wise occasional fasting is.

The world is full of good men who spread misery or fail to meet their potential because they cannot do the good they want to do. Why? Because they cannot let go of their own physical needs. They degrade women and break the hearts of their wives to gratify sexual passions. They leave their own children destitute because the drink has more pull on them than a job. They steal from their fellow man, due to the desperate need to get the next high. Even those without such obvious failings can be guilty of allow passions to rob them. We wake up but can hardly think until we have had a coffee, or energy drink. We go to work but by 9 o'clock spend more time thinking about what we will eat for lunch than what we are working on.

While these minor personal addictions may not be so great as to cause us to destroy our family, does our focus on our own needs limit our ability to help others? Can we really be open to figuring out what we can do for others when we are worried about our next drink, cigarette, meal, sexual encounter, etc?

Men become great by learning to sacrifice their immediate desires in pursuit of something better. And at it's core that is exactly what fasting and fast offerings can teach us. It is meant to give us power to find and focus on goals and pursuits that are bigger than us. It is to learn to be able to set aside our own desires, even our most basic needs, when called upon to be able to open our mind and hearts to others. It to teach us that no carnal appetite should be so strong as to distract us from celestial objectives.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him...Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Singing Through Life

The boy belted "I Am a Child of God" out with enthusiasm. When it came to singing, he did not have much talent but he did have desire. The chorister was a very talented chorister for such an inexperienced choir. Indeed, "overqualified" was an understatement in every way. She was skilled in music, a natural leader and exceptional teacher, so her spending her time teaching young kids who had little hope of becoming great, may have appeared to be a waste of talent. Why didn't the church have her oversee a large adult class or choir, or serve in a "more important" leadership calling? Such would have been far more fitting. But she had been asked to lead the off key youth, so that is what she did. And even with his lack of skill, she was willing to work with desire. She asked the boy if he would like to prepare for a solo. She and her equally skilled accompanist met on Saturday's and weeknights to help him improve his voice. In a short time he was performing solos for the little congregation. Was he great? No. But he was improving.

The work was not easy. They worked with him often and continued to lead the young choir. Now this is the exciting part. Can you guess what happened? The children performed in a choir that put the Von Trapps to shame? The young boy grew up to perform in the Met? Top the music charts? No, nothing so exceptional. Rather he grew with music being a significant part of his life that he shares with his wife, children and local congregation.

I love music. I play the piano on occasion for church, love to sing in choirs and, on occasion, still sing a solo at church. Joye Cummings was not the only influence in my life that pushed me towards music. No doubt, my parents who forced me, against my will, to play the piano (which I am exceptionally grateful for) deserve some of the credit. But as I attended Sister Cummings funeral this Summer, it struck me how much of a positive impact she had on my life. Music and the few abilities I have with singing and other instruments have greatly enriched me.

Joye Cummings, my primary chorister, passed away on July 22, 2017


Most of us who coach little league won't ever coach the next Bo Jackson. But we will coach many, perhaps hundreds of kids whose lives will be enriched by what we teach them. I am exceptionally blessed because of the volunteers in my life. That is why I wrote the article that was published in the Boulder City Review today (click here to read it). So while it may be a bit of a fluff piece, I truly am grateful for all those in any community, but especially here in Boulder City, who give so much time and effort to making our lives and community more enriched.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Drugs...It's always the drugs.



One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Monk. If you have not taken the time to watch every episode, I highly recommend you quit your job and stay home and watch them tomorrow. "You'll thank me later."

There is one episode, pictured above, where Monk goes to Mexico. The two detectives, when asked what led to the murder, answer, "Drugs...it was drugs...it's always the drugs."

"But the man drowned while sky diving," Monk puzzles.

"Trust me, Monk. It's the drugs."

Before I started interviewing homeless. I had the idea, and still feel many around me have the idea, that in many ways, that is the usually the answer for homelessness. "Why are they homeless?"

"It's the drugs."

Once I started interviewing people, I was surprised how often it was not drugs. Was drugs a significant issue? Yes. Was it the key issue for some. Yes (see story of Oswaldo). But the drugs we usually see as the problem...heroin, meth, cocaine etc... have rarely been the main issue with those I have spoken with.

Yet...it's still the drugs.

What do I mean? It really hit home when I met with Keith.

Keith and Tom in Denver

Keith came to Denver 8 years ago from Pennsylvania. (He has the red shirt). I met Keith and Tom sitting outside a Walmart in Lakewood, Colorado. (Tom's story here) We talked for a while and then Keith and I walked over to a local sub shop and got some food. His story was nothing out of the ordinary. He had worked some in construction in Pennsylvania but was between jobs when he met a girl online and rushed out to Denver to live with her. It lasted two weeks, and after that, he found himself on the streets. Eight years later, he is still there.

But what struck me most about Keith was the topic of conversation. When I approached, he asked, "got any cigs?" I, not surprisingly, did not.

As we walked towards the sandwich shop, he asked, "see any cigs?" hoping that I would notice any half smoked cigarette butts on the ground. Once we were walking out of the sandwich shop he said, "you know cigarettes are so much more expensive here then they are in Pennsylvania." We walked by someone else and he asked them, "you have a cig?" they did not. Then as we walked, he said, "do you have any money for me to get a cig?" A minute or two later, "I sure could use a cig." And then shortly after looking around he said, "It sure is hard to get a cig."

I would love to tell you this conversation was unique to Keith but it is very common among the homeless I speak with. Keith is not a druggy by most definitions. He is not hooked on meth or some other illegal drug. Yet almost 100% of his mental energy goes to an unfulfilled addiction.

I learned how he gets by, by living on the streets and food stamps. Meaning he gets very little actual income. The only cash he sees is from the very occasional odd job and from pan handling. This means that it is entirely possible that 100% of any money he sees, goes to cigarettes. I asked him if he ever looks for work. He looked at me as if the idea hadn't crossed his mind. I firmly believe that he is so in the thralls of this addiction that he rarely thinks about much else.

I felt awful for Keith. I feel awful for anyone trapped in addiction. I don't mean to diminish the negative impact from heroine, meth, cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs, but I think if we were going to really peel back the true cost to society we would find that these hard drugs negative impacts pail in comparison to that of alcohol and tobacco. I think that you would find that while very few would say they became homeless because of alcohol or tobacco, it is almost universally part of the story.

If you follow this blog at all you will not be surprised to find that I hate homelessness but love the homeless. I do not have very many answers, but no answer that fails to recognize the debilitating nature of even what we see as "socially acceptable" and legal addictions will have the deep impacts that are needed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"people like to see blood"

Last night at City Council I saw everything I love and hate about local politics. (In regards to my hopes for the debate on the Hoover Dam Gateway see my article here. I admit I wrote this article before the council meeting, but after the meeting was glad I wrote what I did.)

I saw a large number of concerned citizens show their public officials they cared about and were willing to speak about an issue.

I saw good city politicians, who listened to both the presented information and the people.

While each elected city official spoke differently they all made excellent points.

Councilman McManus spoke about some significant issues regarding finances and the cost of the utilities. What had been presented was rosy and he was playing the skeptic. He did not attack the report or those who put it together but took a skeptic view of what it presented and where we were going. Professional skepticism is healthy and I thought he brought up some excellent points. I didn't agree in his final statement but thought overall he brought a lot of value to the meeting.

Councilman Harhay spoke of the fact that no mater how good or bad an idea this may be, now is not the time. The city is too understaffed to tackle such a huge project and we should wait for a different time. He is right on. Even under the most favorable circumstances this city is simply not ready to be moving forward with this project. High turn over is something the city will have to tackle and they will be hard pressed to get all the day to day done, let alone large, new, ambitious projects. He also pointed out he was glad the study had been done and that it brought a lot of value.

Councilwomen Leavitt agreed that now was not the time but added her gratitude for the information brought out in the study and reiterated that the goals were to not cannibalize existing business but to draw in new business. She pointed out that such a study would be important for long term planning and that such planning is valuable and necessary. She was spot on.

Councilman Shuman noted the scope was huge and likely beyond what we needed at this time but called for not giving up on perhaps finding something that does make sense at that intersection. Particularly he noted signage and visitors center. He also said that proper zoning should be considered for the future. All his points were excellent.

Mayor Woodbury was the quietest about the project itself. He was happy for the most part to listen to the presentation and others opinions. Mostly I was exceptionally impressed with his ability to keep calm and listen to others views even when the attacks became personal against him.

And that leads me to the one thing about Tuesday's council meeting that disappointed me. The unprofessional and personal attacks leveraged by some. True, these people made up a very small minority. Most of those who spoke did so with professionalism and spoke their views. Others however, made the attack personal against those who drafted the report and those who voted for it to be created in the first place. Such attacks are never appropriate but are unfortunately, to be expected from a few. But the most disappointing part to me was not even that such attacks occurred but how much they seemed to be encouraged by the general assembly. Good people who I respect seem to cheer at the attacks.

In regards to an upcoming fight Floyd Mayweather has decided to go with 8 ounce gloves. When asked why, he said, "because the people like to see blood."

I hope our political choices, even the words we choose, encourage by our comments, or cheers are never because we "like to see blood."



Thursday, August 10, 2017

StoryBook

This week I wrote a few thoughts I had on the StoryBook contract vote. You can read the article Here.

However a few other thoughts to add.

1. After the vote I heard some people say and write that Councilman Harhay had gone against his campaign promises by voting for this. That seemed crazy to me as nothing about this contract went against any thing he had promised, as far as I could tell. After all this contract conforms 100% to the growth ordinance.

2. If you read my article you will see that if I had to vote I would have voted with Councilman Schuman and Councilman McManus for a few reasons I outline. But while I disagree with the vote I was super pleased with the process. We had very professional behavior and the council showed it can be divided, express clear opposing positions, vote the way they feel is best and move forward. I am proud to call each of them my leaders and think they are a great council.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Boulder Cities New Rates

Boulder City has new utility rates. I write about some of my thoughts on the new rates in my article for the Boulder City Review and you can read it here. I am very grateful for a chance to write for the paper and appreciate my editor, but once and a while struggle with the titles they give me. I don't think water rates are the answer to attract families. I think our current rates might not encourage families but I digress.

But, in addition to what I wrote, I have had a few additional thoughts. One, while I do believe our rates need to be sustainable, I think the new rates are too aggressive. I think the city needs to run on a little bigger picture and see if we can't both be sustainable and maintain our status of lowest rates in the valley. The current rates seem very hasty and aggressive. I hope the new council will reconsider and look into new possibly lower rates.

The second thought is any family budget has two variables, income and expenditures. Most of us like to solve our financial woes by focusing on income. Meaning we'd rather get a raise then spend less money. I hope City Council is looking at both ends of the equation not just looking for a raise, so to speak, by increasing rates. I say this realizing that we do have real needs for infrastucture improvement. But I wonder if there couldn't be other cost savings as well. Something I have not had time to investigate just hope and trust those we elected are.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chapter 2- The Ad

Reminder if you haven't read Chapter 1 here it is. You may want to read it first.



 Julie rushed in to her favorite café.

 “Sorry I’m…”


 “Late again?” Her best friend Becky interjected as she sat at the table across from her. “I planned on it.  You’re having Tuna on Rye with the Minestrone soup.”


 "Minestrone soup?  It can’t be Wednesday already!”


 “No Jules, it’s Tuesday,” Becky replied dryly.  This was clearly another subtle attack on her ‘too rigid routine,’ one of their many over-discussed topics. After years of trying to fix her with persuasion she now resorted to flat out defiance.  At least Julie felt it was unlikely she could forget which meal she took on Tuesdays after 3 years of eating lunch together.

"Well, I suppose I’ll  have to take Tuesday’s lunch tomorrow.  Maybe this way the waiter will actually get me my food before I have to request a "to go" box.

She probably shouldn’t have complained about the speed of staff because she wasn’t all the way through her complaint when a waiter showed up with food.

“You know," Becky began, "if your boss keeps you at the office till 12:10, he shouldn’t expect you back until 1:10.  Maybe you should talk to him about that.  I really miss the days when we could relax and enjoy our lunch break. Hey!  Speaking of Minestrone day, tonight is your big date!” she quickly brought up, knowing it was a topic she didn’t want to leave undiscussed.

No, I'm pretty sure my last date was my biggest date: 300 pounds big.  Photoshop is definitely the cupid of internet romance,” she replied.

“And you probably didn’t list ‘bitterly pessimistic’ under your profile, so he wasn’t the only one stretching the truth.” 

"Shrinking the truth," Julie interjected.

“Come on!"  Becky censured, "That date was over a year ago. And you're going to love Ricky.

“I am not going tonight, Becky. I don’t feel up to another blind date. You know I never said I would go.” 


“But you never stopped me from talking about it, and I would call that a passive agreement. Bryan and I have been working on setting you up for months now, and tonight’s all set. Ricky is showing up at your door at 6 whether you like it or not, so you really ought to be ready. Plus, if it doesn’t work out with Ricky, I found you another guy.”


“You haven’t even got me on the date and you already have another guy?”

Rather than respond Becky slid a portion of the newspaper across the table.




Local Professional Seeks Wife!!!

No contact required. Prefer 
to live separately. Offering $500 per
month. No previous marriages or
children please. Lifetime commitment
 required. Email response to 
yourhusband@hotmail.com

Julie was shocked, who could possibly be willing to pay $500 a month for a wife you have no contact with. The ad was so strange that she took a second look to ensure this was the real paper and not a hoax Becky had put together. After her short inspection, she surmised that it was indeed authentic. “He’s probably an immigrant who needs citizenship to keep his job,”

“And why would an immigrant leave no room for divorce?” Becky asked.  “I think he’s an OBGYN who doesn’t want to come across as a pervert.”

“No way, you don’t have to be married to be a respectable OB,” Julie retorted.  

“Well whatever the case, if Ricky doesn’t work out, then this could be your answer,” Becky said jokingly. “No more invasive mother issues, no more dates with weirdos, and hey--supplement your salary!”

“Yeah, just marriage to a weirdo--and not even real marriage.  Thank you, but no.  I’m not desperate enough to sign up for matrimonial prostitution.”

"Well, I'm disappointed, Jules. I was going to start a new job as a wife hunting agent with you as my first client. If it had worked out I could charge a 15% fee. That comes to ...", Becky paused as she thought. "$55 dollars a month." Math was never her strong point. "Just think, you could pay my internet bill every month."

"Your internet bill for my self respect." Julie interjected.

"Oh, well, Since you aren't interested in an extra $500 a month I had better go back to my day job. I will let you know if any higher offers come in. And in all seriousness be ready on time, Ricky likes punctuality." She finished her last comment in a hurried fashion, grabbed her bag, placed some money on the table and headed out of the café.

Julie knew her friend's rush was to avoid letting her make any derogatory statements, but Julie was determined, and as Becky got up she said, “Why should I care what Ricky likes?” Of course, Becky pretended not to hear as she walked out of the cafe.

Julie began to pick up her things, also placing her money on the table in a much less rushed fashion, as she did, a large man in his early fifties approached her from a nearby table. He was short and mostly bald and his teeth told her he had smoked for most of his life.

"Excuse me miss."

Julie hoped he was telling her she had dropped something, but from the past experience  she knew what was about to happen.  

"Yes?" she replied sounding as indifferent as possible.  

"Miss, as I was eating my lunch, I happened to notice you and was quite taken with your elegance."

Elegant huh? She hadn't heard that one before. When she thought of elegance she thought of women from the 1800's with big dresses and ....but a compliment is a compliment.

"Thanks," she said as she began to walk out. She knew men didn't approach you to simply tell you that you’re elegant. Compliments from men were sure signs of them wanting something, and Julie was not in the giving spirit. But before her goal of ending the conversation with a quick exit was realized, he continued.

 "Let me introduce myself," he said, hindering her forward progress. "My name is Harold." He put his hand out.  


Quickly her mind raced trying to figure how to get out of this interchange. She went ahead and shook his hand while she thought.

He gave an empty look as they shook, obviously expecting her name in return. The moment grew more awkward as silence continued: he, waiting for a name, and she, too busy trying to think of how to get out of there to realize it was her turn to talk.  

Finally Harold continued, and she was relieved as he let go of the hand, "Well I will be in town over the next week, we should meet sometime, maybe here…tomorrow… for lunch?"  

This was usually where Julie would simply say, “I’m sorry, I’m dating someone.” She used it so frequently that it no longer bothered her that there was no truth to it, but she worried that he may have overheard some of her earlier conversation, taking the boyfriend excuse off the table. But thinking of tables made Julie notice that the tables in this establishment were very top heavy. While she had eaten here many times, she had never noticed just how unbalanced they appeared, rather like a hippo on a unicycle. With this thought came the almost involuntary sway of the hip that allowed her to test just how stable these tables were. True to its appearance, the table a chair, and all it contained, quickly found the floor. The crash had caused all heads in the diner to turn her way.

“Allow me!” Harold’s chivalry kicked in like clockwork and as he bent down, she got out. As she dashed down the street the first thought was one of sheer victory. However, as her distance from the café became comfortable and the relief of being away from Harold diminished she began to feel rather bad. This feeling came from several sources. She felt bad for Harold, the café’s broken dishes, and the fact that she wouldn’t be able to eat at her favorite café with Becky for a couple weeks because Harold might be there. Her mother always said that if she spent half the time trying to find men as she did avoiding them, she would have been married long ago. What her mother didn’t seem to realize was just how many men out there were worth avoiding, and Julie was beginning to wonder if there were any worth finding. It was her experience the more men she found, the more men she had to find ways to avoid.

The debate between the side of her that wanted companionship and the side that disliked almost every man she dealt with continued to battle within her flustered brain, with interruptions now and then by the echoes of her mothers advice, all the way to the office. Finally, as she sat down at her desk, her practical side told the other two sides that they were being stupid and to stop their endless bickering so it could have some brain power to get some work done.

"Hey Juju bug," Larry said, inviting himself into her office.

Larry was someone who qualified as a man she worked to avoid. The fact that he worked in her office though, made it rather difficult. "The name is Julie, or rather Ms. Reid, if you don't mind," she said critically.  

"Well anyways, JuJu, I have got two tickets to see Garth Brooks this weekend, and I know you love country."

"I'm seeing someone Larry, you know that." She lied.

"Oh, he won't mind friends getting together to enjoy the concert. It's what we do after the concert that he might get upset about." Larry said, as manly as a 120 pound man can.

Her response was simply an irritated glare that would have clearly conveyed the meaning of "Get out!" to anyone with any sense. But in doing so, she forgot who she was dealing with.

"So, what do you say?" he quipped, anxious for a positive response.  

"No, my boyfriend would kill you. So while there is an upside, I still don't want to."

"Come on, Julie, these are great seats, give me a chance." He only called her Julie when he got desperate, or when the boss was around.  

"Larry you have to accept that I'm dating someone else. If that changes I will let you know." She said as definitively as she could. 

Larry showed a smile and simply said, "Everyone knows you really don’t have a boyfriend.”

His cool confidence worried Julie. Could it be true? Did everyone know? Yes, the lie was her tool to push off Larry’s endless pursuits, but it was so convenient that she started to use it for more then just avoiding Larry.  Co-workers trying to set her up...out came the boyfriend. Dinner party at the bosses place...boyfriend planned a nice night. Did they all know it was a sham?

“What do you mean? Of course, I have a boyfriend. You think I just made him up?”

“Oh, I don’t know, What's his name?"

She paused, in all this time she had never been asked his name and never thought to make one up either. It may be one of the miracles of the human brain that it literally had thousands of male names in its database, yet at this crucial moment of need, her’s was able to keep access to such data just beyond the reach of her tongue. With no name coming to mind, she finally shot back, "It's none of your business what his name is."

Clearly the pause made it very unconvincing. "Forget his name, huh? Quite a boyfriend," Larry said, half laughing. He was practically giddy about exposing her lie. Somehow he had convinced himself that if he exposed her imaginary boyfriend then she would suddenly be willing to date him. The thought brought warmth to his cheeks and made his whole face glow. “I have also noticed that you’ve been dating, he who must be left nameless for years, and yet no pictures. Look at all these lovely pictures,” he began as he started walking around the office, “Oh, here is one of you and your good friend Becky, updated just a few weeks ago. Oh, and here you are with your parents, and one with your niece. But where is the boyfriend?" 

As he went on, he felt like a detective on CSI about to lay out a 'who dun it'. “Oh, I see your screen saver is up. Look, there you are on the beach at a reunion. Hundreds of pictures you have loaded. Shall we wait to see if a boyfriend pops up?” 

Even with things going south, she wasn't about to give up her favorite excuse. "Even though he dislikes cameras, my boyfriend would not want me seeing Garth with someone else." She stated this with as much of a 'case closed' attitude as she could.

"Well, let me know if you change your mind," he said as he left the office, still gleeful from his partial victory.

Julie was left alone with the sad realization that, what only someone as socially inept as Larry would vocalize, was most likely going on in everyone’s mind.

Her mind became fixed on this idea of proving a boyfriend. Didn't she have a friend or relative who could pose as a boyfriend? A few pictures would go along way. The sad part was she couldn't think of any guys she knew well enough to pose in the photos. The only men she knew well were all at work, and pretending to date them was out of the question. Perhaps she could just meet a guy one night at a bar and pretend to be interested long enough to get a few good pictures.

As her mind raced over ways to show proof of her imaginary boyfriend she suddenly brought herself back to reality.  Why was she so desperate to perpetuate this lie? Being single was no crime. She didn't need to come up with some elaborate hoax.
She didn’t even want a boyfriend. Even with as big an annoyance as Larry, the real issue was her Mom. Her Mother was relentless.  She came from the old school of thought that any girl who isn’t married by 30 was destined for a life of loneliness and misery—not to mention financial destitution. Julie hadn’t been reminded of her age so much in one year since she was four and was prompted to show her 4 fingers every time a guest came by.  “You are 29, you know… Men don’t want to date a girl over 30 cause her birthing window is closing quick… Men want to have an heir you know…”  she wasn’t sure where her mother got that--|probably the History channel special on Henry VIII. Did she have to alter her life to appease her mother, push off Larry, and avoid Harold?

Tonight would be her first date in over a year. The last being a blind date
she met online that made her sick, both metaphorically and physically. Not only did he look nothing like his online profile picture, but his cousin had owned a restaurant that served Mexican-Chinese Fusion food. She had a re-fried bean stir-fry. It was shut down by the health department a week later. It was in her bathroom later that night, as the water chestnuts in Spanish rice made their way from her stomach back to her mouth, that she made a vow against blind dates.  That promise quickly put an end to her dating life and increased the need for the imaginary boyfriend excuses. Only Becky, her best friend, who even had the power to convince her to bungee jump, eventually wore her down. Becky's husband had been friends with her date, Ricky, since high school, Ricky's wife had passed away in a car accident a few years back. Becky had brought pictures and stories to convince her it was okay. It was true, he sounded normal and actually looked very handsome. He was about 6' tall with dark hair and brown eyes. Not fat, not bald, and not twice her age. He didn't even live with his parents and he maintained a steady job.  

While she didn't expect it, she was somewhat hopeful her blind date tonight might go well. She didn't expect to get that boyfriend she had been telling everyone about but she wouldn't mind a guy friend. Maybe one she could get a few pictures with.

Friday, July 21, 2017

This is great...reminds me of jail.


I approach the front desk at the hotel and ask, "So where do the homeless hang out in town?"

After an odd stare, he said, "Try the 99 cent store." This was the first time I had gotten this advice and it would prove valuable on several occasions, (Here is a story of someone else I met at a 99 cent store) not just in Redding California.

Upon arriving at the 99 Cent store, I did not see any homeless but did see two security guards. I approached them and asked, "Don't homeless people tend to hang out here?"

"Not any more." They laughed, clearly proud of having done their job.

"Do you know where they do?"

"Try down by the safeway...and tell them the 99 cent story guards say hi." They laugh again but then add, "Just kidding, don't tell them that."

On my way to the safe way I see what appears to be a homeless man with a small dog. I walk fast to catch up. "Do you know where the safeway is?" I ask. I really wanted to ask, ,"Are you homeless?" but it's a bit of an odd question, so I stick to directions to the store.

"Yea, right there." He points across the street, and we both begin to cross. I introduce myself and learn his name is Carlos Perez.

"Where you from?"

"Florida."

"What are you doing in California?'

"Just trying to find work."

At this point I am very confident he is homeless and decide I'll take him to dinner and find out more then. "You hungry?"

"Yeah."

"You want to get something to eat?"

"Yeah," he says with a smile.

"You have time to sit down?"

"I got nothing but time."

He is drinking what appears to be beer from a Nalgene bottle as we walk.

"So you're looking for work?"

"Yea, I had a job, but I blew that because I didn't have a phone to call in when I didn't show up. I did work on a farm up the highway a ways, but they pay me in weed."

He says it so casually that I assume I misheard him. "Did you say weed?"

"Yeah, weed and wax."

"What's wax?"

"Its made from the oil of the stock. See weed is like 24% TCH and wax is like 84%. It gets you high way faster. But it's too common in California, so it is not worth anything, but if I could send it to Florida it would be worth tons of money. Then I could go home with some real money."

It amazed me how casually he would discuss multi state drug trafficking with a total stranger. But not having much use for the ins and outs of weed dealing I moved on to another topic.

"Why'd you leave Florida?"

"Me and my girl wanted to travel. I'm a traveler, not a hobo who stays in one place. But my girl and I got in a fight and she left last night."

"Where do you stay?"

"We are lucky, we have a car. I'm not licensed or registered or anything but we get around. It is an old truck with no windows and shakes violently when you go over 25, but that is usually where we sleep. But I can sleep anywhere, after all it's just sleep. You do need to know where it's okay to go. Wal-Mart is the best. I've never been kicked out of a Wal-Mart. They let you sleep around the fence or in the lot."

"What about when it gets cold? Do you go to a shelter?"

"No way, I hate shelters. I just bundle up with lots of clothes or put my dog on my chest. If I need gas to run the heat I just sit on the corner with a gas can and people will get me some."

"So how long have you been in Redding?"

"Too long. I hate it here. Everyone is on drugs. This is the meth capitol of the world. That's part of why me and my girl fought, she has been clean for a year but has slipped back 3 times and it's hard here. I've never done that stuff. I don't want any part of it. It's just too addictive. Alcohol is bad enough. " He says, gesturing to his Nalgene.

We enter the Black Bear Diner and stand by the, "Wait to be Seated" sign. We are standing there for several minutes while we continue to talk. Several waitresses walk by. Finally after uncomfortably long I stop one and say, "Table for two." Carlos has his small dog with him. The dog has a vest that has a patch sewn into it that says, "Service animal." The waitress does not ask about the dog, but does lead us to a side room that has a few guests finishing their meal and puts us in the far corner.  It appears that this is the portion of the restaurant that they close earlier than the rest but decided it would be a good place to put us.

"So did you grow up in Florida?"

"I grew up all over. My Dad left when I was 5 and my Mom kept going back and forth between Puerto Rico, Massachusetts and Florida."

"How long have you been on the road?"

"For 4 to 5 years now. I love being a traveler, it is so eye opening not being a slave to work. I'm not lazy, and I like to work, but the rules don't apply to me." He stops, gets very serious and point to himself says, "For me, this is a choice. Some people are out here because they lost their parents or were abused and run away, but not me. For me, it's a choice. My family are still back in Florida, my Mom and my boy."

"You have a son?"

"Yeah, he is 16 years old, lives with my ex. I love my ex, we had our differences but we get along and she lives by my Mom and brother, all in Daytona. I also have a 22 year old daughter but I don't know where she is. She is a rebel like her Mom. I hate that woman. I was 15, had sex for the first time and found out she was pregnant. I stayed with her for 5 years, but she went crazy and disappeared."

I couldn't help but see my own 5 year old little girl and couldn't stomach the thought of never seeing her again.

"So do you see your boy?"

"Oh yea, he lives down the street from me." He speaks of his Mother's home as if it is his own, and even though he hasn't been there in 5 years, considers it so. (I wrote about his idea in How Many Ways is He Homeless?)

"Yeah, I was a Mason in Massachusetts making like $1,200 a week but I needed to be close to my boy so I moved to Florida and was only making $290 a week as a cook. But it was worth it to be by my boy."

It get's silent and I don't want to ask follow up questions because they will all lead to the obvious question of, "why did you leave then?" So I change the subject.

"What's your dogs name?"

"Her name is Black Dog."

Black Dog has been quietly, obediently sitting this entire time.  I realize I have been now waiting longer then I have ever waited at a restaurant. We are now the only ones in this room and I finally get up, find the lady who sat us and tell her we are ready to order.  She apologizes profusely and says she will  quickly send someone.

Shortly after I get back, someone comes to take our order. Carlos gets a Reuben.

"So why California, I ask?"

"I started traveling a little bit at a time. Each time I would get a little further from Florida. Then one day I met My Girl at a rainbow gathering and we decided to try California.  See, at the time, I had this really cool RV. It was the total party bus. I liked to paint and do like body art and tag. So my bus was tagged inside and out. We finally made it to California and a guy come up to us with a garbage bag and I say, 'What's in the bag?' He throws it down and it's full of weed--10 lbs. of it. And he gives me a little handful. I was like, 'I don't have the money to pay for this.' He said, 'No need, welcome to California!' So we decided to stay in California."

"What's a Rainbow Gathering?" I ask, again trying to get off the weed topic.

"They are where woods people gather and have festival. It comes from the ancient nature prophecy that said when the world is falling apart that it will be saved by the rainbow children who will bring back unity. There is some really good rainbow groups on Facebook and stuff. I can show you how to get involved. They are really good people."

Again I realize it has been really long, and I have to get up again and find the waiter. He again apologizes, and shortly after, our food shows up.

Carlos looks down at his Reuben and with a huge smile says, "This is great! It reminds me of jail."

"The sandwich?"

"Yeah, there was this jail in Keystone Colorado. It had the best food! I loved it there. I wanted to stay but got out. Actually I was surprised they caught me. I had just tagged this police car with a Sharpie, and some officers came up and said they knew it was me. I totally denied it, but then they asked to see my pockets and found my Sharpie markers. I should have thrown them in the dumpster. The jail was awesome, but the officer was such a jerk that I told him I would never come back to his town."

The irony of this statement was thick.

"Are most jails okay?"

"No, just that one. The one I spent a few weeks in Florida for having some weed was the worst. They gave you like one hard boiled egg, and that was your lunch. The conditions there were awful."

We get back to talking about the Rainbow People and he notes, "If you go on Facebook and type 'Rainbow Family' and request friends they will let you know when the next gathering is. I always tell people a gathering is like the Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner when they go into the woods. I told you  about the prophecy and it totally makes sense, who knows how to get by without electricity? The rainbow people.

"Do you have Facebook?" He asks.

"Yeah, I just got it. I had avoided it for a long time." I admit.

"That's good. Most divorces today are because of Facebook. That is part of why my girl and I fought. I saw her phone and read some of her Facebook messages to other guys. She got all mad saying she is allowed to have friends. I was like, 'friends don't say that to each other.'"

By this time I had long since finished. Carlos had only finished half his sandwich but it was clear that was all he was going to eat. I again went into the restaurant to find someone to get us a check. Again, a profuse apology.

After we had paid, we walked out and Carlos asked if I wanted to hang out. I told him I had better get to bed, but at the stop light before I crossed he told me one more story. I wrote about it earlier and you can read it here. Anyone can see Carlos's life was full of contradictions. His decisions to travel versus his desire to be by his son. His disdain for drugs, and his love of Marijuana. His divorce vs. his love of his ex wife. His love of Keystone jail and his determination to never return. We all have contradictions in our lives and Carlos's contradictions made the Serpentine Stone story all that much more poignant. If you have not, I hope you read it.

But I cannot leave the story of Carlos and not address the mistreatment at the restaurant.  I do not think the restaurant purposely mistreated us. My guess is the lady put us in the corner of our own room because of our smell. Carlos's smelled about how one would expect a guy who had been sleeping in an old truck for weeks without a bath to smell. And Black Dog probably wasn't helping the smell much either. Given this, maybe the back room wasn't a bad place. After that, the total neglect, I think, was because they were busy and forgot about us. It was a room they didn't usually use that late, so to get to us was out of the routine. But purposeful or not, it was neglect.

I think most of our neglect of the homeless falls into this category. We don't mean to hurt, ignore or put them down, but to help them is out of our routine. Especially to really help them. So they get put in the back room, the homeless shelter, the bad part of town, and we get busy and forget about them. If we want to really help the homeless we have to get out of our routine, we have to step out of the day to day busyness of our lives, call a personal timeout and remember the back room.

If you like this please read my last homeless post: We don't want your kind