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Listening At The Breathing Place: Tomo-Kahni State Park

What does an ancient Native American community say about public and private places, the environment, and our culture?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a rare day off for a rare opportunity: a hiking trip to California’s Tomo-Kahni State Park sponsored by the California Rock Art Foundation.

Despite being a 5th-generation Californian who’s hiked many of the state’s trails, I’d not only never heard of the park before, I hadn’t heard of the Kawaiisu people, some of whom lived at Tomo-Kahni until the 1930s. All I knew was I was traveling west from the 14 out of Mojave on what was to me, “that back road from Barstow to Bakersfield.”

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil — State park commemorative plaque — hidden from the road due to risk of defacement and vandalism of Native American artifacts

A couple of Google reviews for Tomo-Kahni say “there’s nothing there.” This is a good thing because there’s no real security at the park. Anyone could drive out there, circumvent the gate, and wander around doing anything they liked.

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil — the only petroglyph at Tomo-Kahni SHP

Tomo-Kahni means “winter home” in the language of the Kawaiisu people who lived there for thousands of years. The only petroglyph on site lasted one week after the park was dedicated in 1993. Perhaps by way of celebration, someone busted in and put their own version of a “Thunderbird” on the right side of the rock face. The damage had to be removed, obscuring some of the real rock art. The petroglyphs now visible show a bighorn sheep and a dog. Meredith saw three men with bows and arrows.

Walking quietly, I began to feel the way the Kawaiisu people lived before Europeans came and set up businesses as diverse as cattle and cement and pastimes like lynchings and massacres. I listened in wonder as our guides explained that the hills, now sparsely dotted with juniper and sagebrush, had once been covered in native oaks. The oaks had been felled for wood use by European settlers; somehow they’d survived thousands of years of occupation by the Kawaiisu and even more ancient Native American people.

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil — chameleon rock that I’m not going to place very specifically — you can see the junipers and scrub — the Kawaiisu said spirits emerged from the earth and were captured in these rocks — there are many more.

Listening to our guides from the Tehachapi Museum and the California Rock Art Foundation, pictures formed in my mind. I felt hearts beating and the breath of lives that had gone on before. An entirely different way of life from the one I knew had gone on at Tomo-Kahni for hundreds — even thousands — of years.

© 2019 Rock shelf along an entire hillside used by Kawaiisu families for grinding and preparing acorns (each area used by a specific family)

Nearly at the top of one overlooking hill was one of the few remaining oaks and a cave which was a healing place. Another cave slightly to the north was a refuge for women during their monthly menstrual cycles. In the canyon leading up, a place of grieving, where Kawaiisu mothers fled a massacre with their babies. The mothers hid in rock crevices. Our guides said the mothers grieved because the babies suffocated while their mothers were hiding. I think, but am not sure, that the mothers were fleeing the Keysville Massacre in 1863, in which Native American men were killed by U.S. Federal troops from Fort Tejon.

We came to the rock shelter and cave paintings after a steep and winding climb. As we rounded the last trail switchback, a shadow flashed over us. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I looked up to see the round cream-colored face and broad wings of a barn owl.

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil — Owl nest above Tomo-Kahni rock shelter with cave paintings

The shelter is not large, but it overlooks a broad valley dotted with dramatic rock formations and junipers. There is no way to know how old the paintings are, or how many people made them.

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil Tomo-Kahni cave paintings — ancient and spiritual

I saw many animals while on this hike. As we hiked out beside Tomo-Kahni’s now-nearly-dry stream, at least 20 quail took flight. Some of the pictures in the rock shelter may be of the rock baby and perhaps not drawn directly by people. I felt they might be so; stories of the Kawaiisu speak of it.

© 2019 Amy Sterling Casil — this portion of the shelter had many pictures and a nearly-invisible line traveling from the white area outlined in black on the upper left all around the lower rock.

According to some official records, the Kawaiisu people don’t even exist. They’re not a federally-recognized tribe. I hadn’t known until this hike that in the 1920s and 30s, the U.S. government worked hard to convince indigenous people they didn’t need to be federally-recognized. Apparently word went out that it was bad to be federally-recognized. So, among many others, the Kawaiisu people declined the recognition, which includes both good and bad: yes to aid, yes to reservations, no to many other opportunities.

I know our guides said that the Kawaiisu descendants in Tehachapi helped to raise money so the state could purchase the land where Tomo-Kahni sits. I can’t find documentation of this but have no doubt it’s true. The land is not that far as the crow flies from Tejon Ranch, one of the largest privately-owned ranches not only in California, but the entire nation. The massacre of Kawaiisu men and the mothers hiding with their babies is intertwined with the story of Tejon Ranch — which ought to make any of us Californians blanch — but nobody seems to care and they still make PBS documentaries and Huell Howser videos about how awesome the ranch is. The Tejon people are federally recognized but my understanding is that some native people who live on or near the Tejon Ranch aren’t. If you want to know what type of people the white Tejon ranchers are you can watch the movie Chinatown and compare to the bad guy Noah Cross portrayed by John Huston.

“She’s my sister! She’s my daughter! My sister! My daughter!”

“You see, Mister Gittes,” Cross says to Jack Nicholson’s detective Jake Gittes, “most men never have to face the fact that, at the right time, they’re capable of . . . anything.”

If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a Hollywood classic. While watching it again the other day, I realized that director Roman Polanski may well have been driven out of the U.S. for pedophilia with teens he was not related to by people whose illegal sins were far worse (incest is only one of the many sins of Cross in Chinatown).

We go from the red, evil city (Los Angeles) to the fresh air and now-oakless landscape where the Kawaiisu once raised their children, hunted and fished, and kept their lives from one generation to the next.

The ground where people once have lived darkens, said Christine Clarkson, a college instructor and CRAF Executive Director who came with her family and led the California Rock Art Foundation portion of the tour. All around where the Kawaiisu people had lived were stones which had once been in a circle and which had been moved into mysterious irregular shapes by the earth itself over the years. Dust, fire, soot, grease, footsteps of ages, ground into the earth itself.

They say that Picasso visited the caves of Lascaux in France and exited white-faced, muttering “We have invented nothing new.”

I realized how many times I had seen darkened soil while hiking. How many times I have seen the stones where mothers and daughters ground the acorns. Yet I hadn’t seen the quail flying so since I was a young girl, hunting with my grandfather. My heart lifted to hear and feel them.

My heart sinks to feel how much we have lost. Why couldn’t the Kawaiisu people keep living there? By the 1920s and 30s, their way of life had been swallowed up. Swallowed in part for the wicked red city, as the cement plant in the nearby “company town” of Monolith made materials for Mulholland’s Los Angeles Aqueduct.

People with the desire to hike into the wild and empty spaces may not have the desire to link threads or tell stories. They may see what remains today, but not be able to feel what once was there; I couldn’t feel the oaks that had been cut down, never to regrow, until I was told about them. After that, their spirits were at every turn.

What kind of soul-dead fool would scratch a false Thunderbird on hundreds- or thousands- of year old sacred art?

I want to say such fools are no longer with us, but that’s hardly the case. The marker for Tomo-Kahni Park faces inward, not outward, and is hidden from the eyes of eager vandals by junipers and rocks.

There are so many places where the people who came before lived. Today we live in pollution, in houses that will crumble to less than nothing if we are gone even 25 years, much less hundreds or thousands of years.

But perhaps the dark earth will remain, because as always, we track in our dirt, cook our food, and go about our lives. What will they say of us when they make their mark on our once-proud monuments?

Natural History (2014)

We drive over the mountains through manzanita and scrub brush. Soon the land turns to hard Mojave, with scattered cholla and endless sand and the painted badlands wrinkled like an old seaman’s weathered face. A few miles on a narrow, state-maintained road winding through red and brown shattered volcanic cliffs, and we enter the hamlet of Borrego Springs. In this desert town, everyone has an ample yard filled with small white stones, sand, cactuses, and for the extravagant, palm trees and a chain-link fence.

After more driving, we are finally at the state park at the foot of the mountains. These appear tall because they are so rugged, but in reality, they are not very tall. Indian Head peak is less than 4,000 feet in height though it towers above the low, sloping valley with the visitor center and the campground.

We park and are grateful for the water and shade of the buildings, though it is only March and nothing like the heat that comes to this place in high summer. The visitor center grounds have been manicured into a Disney desert with examples of desert plants carefully arranged. Smoke trees, tall ocotillo, and cactus. The small cactus that grows like crooked thumbs and fingers I had always thought were all the same, called cholla. There are many types of cholla marked by the gravel trail, including one with fatter fingers than usual called Teddy Bear cholla. A massive barrel cactus taller than a man stands near the entrance to the low-slung visitor center. It is proudly phallic, bending slightly to the left, the top ringed with reddish thorns.

This handsome building does not change. It is exactly as I remember it. The bronze doors have handles worked in the shape of bighorn sheep antlers, which are the namesakes of this place. In Spanish, borrego means bighorn sheep. They are beautiful animals but we will not see living ones today. They are wise to live in the mountains and do not come down on the flats.

I am excited to see the pupfish, which I remember as swimming happily in a small, reedy pool.

The pool is still there, but it has changed. Now it is brackish and filled with thick mats of ghostly gray algae and foamy yellow scum. Hordes of fat bees buzz about the fetid pool; where there are no bees, there are tadpoles and flies. The pupfish are invisible. They are either dead or hiding from the bees.

“Poor pupfish,” Bruce says. “I feel sorry for them. They have to hide or the bees will sting them.”

We sit for a time on a bench overlooking the valley. In the distance, some 30 miles, are the Laguna Mountains. It is so clear they appear much closer. Farther still are the much higher peaks of the Santa Rosa mountains near Palm Springs. This bench is sturdy and well-made. It has been donated to the center in memory of a handsome couple dressed in 40’s clothing, smiling out at the watchful camera.

Behind us, people from the Nature Center are laying out a desert feast. We are sheltered beneath a paloverde. Somewhere in the tree or ground below is a dove which cries and moans like a grieving woman – a mourning dove. I look for it, but cannot see it.

We kiss as the dove cries.

After a while, we go into the Nature Center and squeeze between narrow, lumpy concrete walls made to duplicate a box canyon in the badlands. After displays of fossils and geology and a massive plaster tortoise shell which strikes me as ideal to ride, though it’s clearly indicated as a “fossil,” we come to a display of stuffed desert animals. There’s a handsome, long-legged jackrabbit and a delicate little kit fox with a fluffy, ringed tail. A mother, father and baby bighorn sheep are the centers of the display.

A small, loud boy with a black walking stick taller than himself approaches, leaning on the rail that protects the display. His father stumbles behind him, arriving just in time for the boy to announce, “Are these extinct animals?”

The father mumbles something about them being real animals. Bruce’s eyes flash with humor.

The boy says, “Are these animals dead?” He is braying with stone-cold certainty that he knows all there is to know or ever will be.

The boy’s younger brother arrives with a similar large walking stick. He mimics his brother’s manner but clearly cannot compete in this sweepstakes for the depths of vacuity and ill manners. The father, dressed in vintage Sears Nerd, seems helpless as the two jostle madly back and forth for the best position overlooking the small display.

“See those sticks?” I say quietly to Bruce, looking toward the boys. “I’ll use them on them.” His eyes twinkle.

The center is closing and the elderly volunteer must release us with the handicapped button which opens the beautifully-cast bighorn sheep doors. We are outside only moments when the idiot boys and their father exit.

“Give me that fuckin’ stick,” Bruce says in his low Philly accent. “I’ll show you your animals.”

The boys do not hear; despite being about ten and seven years of age, it’s doubtful either has heard much besides television or video games for their entire lives.

But the father does hear. His eyes widen behind his thick-framed glasses.

“Haven’t you ever seen a fuckin’ stuffed animal?” Bruce continues. “It’s a fuckin’ stuffed animal.” His voice lowers still. “Are they alive or dead,” he adds in lazy contempt.

We know the father can hear, but he needs to hear. His children are monsters in training, soon to be extinct.

This is a stark, beautiful, hard country. We drive away to the village of the mad at the shores of the brackish Salton Sea, where nothing can live. It is not hot but the air presses down on us. We are traveling along the small of the world’s back, which feels as though it bears all of its weight, tired, ancient and brutal.

Yet even in this place, there is life, burrowing under the desert sand, nestled in a paloverde, driving in a Jeep. Like the blind, buzzing bees besetting the poor pupfish, these monstrous boys will rampage on.

If things were otherwise, I think, as we drive along the gray ribbon of desert road. If things were otherwise, I would have put a bit of the stick about and made them jump like kangaroo rats on hot rocks in August.

My Rescue Dog Rescued Me

One time I heard someone say that g-o-d was d-o-g spelled backward.

He was strong and silent. I loved him so. Maybe he wasn’t as tall as I would have liked, but he was fit and well-built. He had a big heart on his back and a much greater one inside of his body.

Mom. You gave Badger a Payday and he threw up. You let him eat gummy worms.

I thought I rescued a Jack Russell Terrier from a kill shelter as a pet for my daughter.

Mom. You fed Badger scrambled eggs and McDonalds hamburgers.

Badger rescued me.

Badger was his shelter name. He had many nicknames, including “pony” because he looked like a pinto pony when he ran, and “onie” (short for “pony”) and “stank” (I regret that one).

Badger was smarter than most people.

I hadn’t had a dog since I was in high school, so I was little-prepared for the challenge of raising any rescue dog, much less a high-energy, whipsmart Jack Russell Terrier.

Badger had already bombed in his first rescue house. An older lady who lived in a mobile home returned him saying he’d torn up everything in her place in only a couple of days. All the animal rescue lady wanted to know was “Do you have a big yard?”

Sure! We were living in this big house on San Pablo. Just me and Meredith.

“He may hide for several days once you bring him home,” she said. “He may take a while to warm up to you. Don’t be alarmed if he acts standoffish.”

As she spoke, Badger was reclining on the back seat of my car.

Meredith and I picked out his dishes, his first food, some treats, and several dog toys.

When we got home, Badger took a three-minute tour of the house sniffing each room while I put out his food and water. I opened the toys and put them in the back yard.

He ran outside, trotting around with his pony-like gait, grabbed every toy, played with it for a minute or two, then came back in, gobbled half his bowl of food and gulped his cool water. Then he leapt nimbly onto the onto the couch, put the pillows the way he liked, and closed his eyes.

Onie, dozing (by me)

I guess we passed muster.

The rescue lady said that Badger had been dumped in the animal shelter because he’d grown too tall to be a desirable Jack Russell. The breeder had docked his tail. He had been aggressive, so they neutered him. He was on his last day at the kill shelter when the rescue team picked him up.

Badger went through every single negative behavior of a rescue dog, one right after the other.

He hadn’t shown aggression toward little kids the way I’d been warned until a very small girl about 7 years old joined Meredith’s neighborhood friend group. Badger spotted this kid playing in our front yard and shot out of the front door, barking loudly and terrifying her.

Can’t be around children under age 5.

He took to barking and jumping on anyone who came in our house.

He started peeing in the house when we were gone.

One day before I went to school, I tied him to a 100-pound dog stake (Badger weighed 20 pounds) in our back yard. When I got home a few hours later, our neighbor Matt brought a shame-eyed Badger over along with the dirt-covered stake and broken collar.

He pulled up the stake and jumped the fence with it trailing behind him, nearly strangling himself before his collar broke.

One afternoon I was sitting on the sofa grading. Badger was at my feet. I could see the kitchen from this vantage point.

A small dark shape zipped across the kitchen floor, disappearing under the dishwasher.

Aw man. In the house? Really?

Badger jumped up, twice as fast as the scuttling shape. His head dipped and shook back and forth once. Bam! Bam!

He trotted calmly back from the kitchen and laid the still-warm rat at my feet.

Badger and I had a lot of silent conversations during which much was communicated and nothing said.

Every time we’d conquer one problem behavior, another would crop up. One Saturday, Meredith was playing with her friends in the front yard when a man pedaled by on a red beach cruiser. As he rode across the street, Badger spotted him and shot across the street at top speed.

I watched in horror as my dog harried this man like a hound with a fox, circling the bike and barking. The bike wobbled this way and that.

Losing control, the man toppled into our neighbor’s ivy bed just as I caught up and grabbed Badger’s collar.

“I’m so sorry!” I said. “I don’t know what — “

“It’s fine,” said a grumpy voice. The guy turned and —

It was Meredith’s vice principal.

We were already in hot water at that school because Mike and I had gotten divorced, I wore “racy” clothes, and Mike occasionally dropped her off on his Harley.

One day I got Meredith some fried chicken and she was allowed to eat it in her upstairs bedroom.

Badger liked to sit in the bay window halfway up our stairs overlooking our front door and the front yard. I had put a seat cushion in it, and Meredith had put out a sign to deter him from sitting on it that read:

No Bager No

The written warning didn’t have too much effect because just as Meredith started eating the fried chicken, Badger was in his window spot and suddenly ran downstairs, barking at the door like someone was there.

Meredith ran downstairs to answer, thinking her friends had come over.

She opened the door looking right and left — but no one was there.

When she went back to her room, the chicken was gone.

A few days later I was preparing to enjoy a delicious “special burrito” from El Burrito. Badger started barking at the front door. I left my plate on the coffee table. When I got back from answering the door only to find no one there, the burrito looked normal enough.

I picked it up and it was strangely lightweight — almost like —

Badger had sucked out all the filling without disturbing the tortilla.

No Bager No!

We started hiking together. We did the Pacific Crest Trail. We did Bertha Peak. We did the Devil’s Chair. Badger came with us to Mammoth. He drank out of the Hot Creek.

He was so adventurous.

I started going on writing retreats to Ojai when Meredith was with her dad. I took Badger to Lake Casitas. He spotted these weird white birds (Chinese geese) on the shoreline and chased after them. They flapped their wings, took brief flight, and landed a few yards out in the water. Badger kept going. As soon as the water got deep, he just kept running which became swimming. I finally had to jump in after him. Now they say no one is allowed to even touch the water in that nearly-dry lake.

Times change.

I didn’t know much about the Ventura County backcountry (or the Santa Monica Mountains) before we moved to Woodland Hills, but Badger and I got to know them well.

On a cool, misty spring day we visited the Middle Lion Canyon campground and set out on the Lion Canyon trail in the Los Padres National Forest. The previous fall we had been to the same location when I realized … it was deer hunting season. That was when we saw the bear claw marks 9 feet up on the trees.

This trail runs along the Sespe River. About five miles out, I got the strangest feeling. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I stopped and looked to my right across the river bed. Lines of aspens waved in the light breeze and mist.

I suddenly understood (and I seriously hadn’t before) why they called it “Lion Canyon.”

A mountain lion ambled along the other side of the stream, no more than 50 yards away. She looked coolly across the rocky streambed at me. The hackles on Badger’s neck stood up.

“No boy,” I said, kneeling close. “She’ll kill you.”

Yeah she could have killed me too, but instead, she went on her way.

Oh Badger. He ran away countless times. When we moved to Woodland Hills, Alan wanted to take his kids to the zoo. He didn’t want Badger in the house alone so I left him outside on the huge upstairs deck in his crate.

There was no way to know when he busted out but when we returned, Badger was gone.

Devastated, I drove endlessly up and down the byzantine winding streets in our neighborhood calling for him. Then it started to rain.

I lay on the couch in the living room — wasn’t exactly sure why — but at 3:00 a.m. I heard a scratch at the front door. I leapt up and threw the door wide open.

This time there was someone there.

Badger jumped into my arms. He was soaking wet and his legs, belly and chest were muddy and oily like he was a truck driving offroad in the rain.

Oftentimes he’d wake me to go outside in the middle of the night. He had a typical patrol route along the little alley-like street where we lived. He’d investigate the thick hillside covered with ivy, the tall pines, the plantings around our circular driveway.

One night we went out and I felt a strange feeling, very much like the pre-lion thrill of warning. It was a full moon and a shadow darkened the drive. I looked up just in time to see an enormous owl swooping overhead on its way to the tall pines. His wingspan made him seem larger than Badger. And he was absolutely silent.

Another night, I was surprised to see the hugest coyote I’d ever seen ambling down the drive. Still groggy, I couldn’t stop Badger. He rushed the coyote, twice his size or more, and began barking and harrying just the way he had with Meredith’s vice principal.

“Badger!” I cried. “He’ll kill you!”

The coyote just looked disdainfully ahead and continued ambling on his way. Badger finally answered my call. The last I saw of the coyote, his expression seemed to say, “Dumb Jack Russell …”

On the trail if there was any type of scat, especially coyote or lion, Badger would be sure to roll in it.

So Badger knew what he was doing when he’d escape. And — he knew his way home.

After Anthony died and Alan returned home from the hospital, I left Badger at the house in Woodland Hills because I couldn’t afford to board him much longer.

I was lying in bed in my lousy apartment in Redlands staring at the dingy popcorn ceiling when my cell phone rang.

“She came,” Alan said breathlessly. “Everything’s ruined. Badger’s gone.”

This was about midnight.

I drove 90 miles to Woodland Hills. When I walked into the kitchen from the garage, my feet immediately crunched glass. Someone (Alan’s ex) had trashed the kitchen. Every hanging pot was on the floor. I saw huge divots in the wall. The glass was from my kitchen pictures. I went out the front door where we had seen the owl and the coyote and called for Badger. Nothing.

Alan said that his ex had shown up screaming at him and rampaged through the house, throwing things. Mr. Moron, he said, never came inside, but instead stood at the front door yelling instructions.

He said when they showed up, Badger had run upstairs barking, then he heard him yelp loudly, and nothing else.

“He killed him,” I said. I drove down to the Van Nuys Sheriff’s station.

It was one of those moments where you think, “I could just go over to their shit apartment and kill him with a knife and cut off her hands” or “Maybe the Sheriffs will help. They know you and your dog. They know what happened with Lali.”

I went down and it turned out that Alan had called the cops during the attack.

“What will you do to him if he killed my dog?” I asked. One of the cops explained to me that Alan’s ex was the one who’d be charged since she had actually entered the house.

“That guy’s a creep,” one of the officers said. “He knows what’s what — he thinks he couldn’t be charged if he stood outside. It’s like Manson.”

They put out one of their bulletins. I drove home, showered, and went to work the next day. I was nearly dead from lack of sleep and part of me just wanted to lie down and die. My baby was dead, the law was telling me I couldn’t even speak to my daughter, and 95% of me thought Mr. Moron had killed my best friend Badger.

I asked if I could leave work early to go to the animal shelter and put out flyers for Badger. Receiving permission, I drove from downtown to Woodland Hills. Once I got in the house in the daytime, I saw the damage from the night before was even worse than I’d thought. I went around the corner from the kitchen to the living room and saw something unspeakable.

My hammer lay on the floor. On my grandmother’s dining table lay sheets of newsprint and what remained of Anthony’s Christmas houses. Completely shattered. Just shards of pottery and broken colored glass.

Alan’s ex had taken my own hammer and smashed the few things I had that were a memory of my baby who had died three weeks before.

I sat cross-legged on the floor in that huge living room and wept. Next to Lali dying, it was the worst moment of my life.

So then my cell phone rang.

“Hello, I’m calling about Badger Cass-eeel,” said a polite woman’s voice.

She lived by the golf course, she had rescued Jack Russells herself, and she had Badger.

I want to tell you that — and I understand there are a lot of people who don’t believe in God — that He is real. At least that’s how I call Him. Maybe Her. We don’t know. But just as there was unspeakable evil at play in this situation, so too, was there good.

I went over there and got Badger and wept like a baby in her living room. I didn’t burden her with too much of the horrible story. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

One of the reasons I stayed alive after that was so I could buy our house in Redlands with Cathy and bring Badger home.

He ran away there, too.

Badger loved to run down to the Sankey.

He busted out the back of the house one day and jumped the fence. Getting home and seeing the screen flapping in Cath’s room, I got in my Landrover (aka “The Banana Car” — it was a repo) and drove slowly by the Sankey. Along the stream were fields of tall, dry, uncut grass.

I had the window rolled halfway down and I called for him.

Something told me he was near.

A pair of rabbit-like ears rose from the waving grass.

“Onie!” I called.

He bounded through the grass and jumped into his seat. We drove home in the soft, fading light.

He was dirty and covered in weeds and burrs. That was my best friend. That was Badger.

I thought I was rescuing him but it was Badger who saved me.

Mom. You gave him a Payday and he threw it up.

I know Bal. I know. He loved me anyway.

My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My Baby Died in My Arms And I Was Accused of Killing Him

My son Anthony Sterling Rodgers, who I called “Lali,” died in my arms on the night of January 11, 2005. He was exactly six months old.

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I have never felt such fierce love as I did for Lali. He was a pure spirit of love.

It was my second day of work at Beyond Shelter and I had stayed late to meet the board of directors. It was also one of the rainiest periods in Los Angeles history and I struggled to drive home in near-hurricane conditions.

Twenty minutes before I got home, I spoke to Lali’s father Alan on the phone. He had just fed Anthony, he said, and was putting him down to sleep. Earlier that day my daughter Meredith had gotten sick with the flu at school and Alan had packed Lali in the car, driven down the hill, and brought her home.

When I came in from the garage, Meredith was on the couch in the living room. She got up and was quicker than me to get to the bedroom.

Alan was downstairs in his office.

Why had Alan put the baby in —

I can see this in my mind but it’s very difficult to say.

Meredith found Lali. He was in her arms and she said, “Mom — “

Mom. I just had dinner with her. I love her so much.

He was unconscious and there was putty-colored milk all over his little face.

I can’t describe what it was, but I put him on the floor and started to breathe in his mouth.

CALL 9–11!

I tried so hard to clear his airway but I couldn’t. I pressed his little chest. I breathed in his mouth. Our neighbor ran in. She took over.

I heard the ambulance. The sirens stopped. Our front door was wide open and I could see the lights flashing in the hallway. Red white red white red white —

I screamed for them.

Nobody came.

They were on the wrong side of a jerry-rigged fence that divided the two halves of our short street in Woodland Hills. They had to drive all the way down winding streets and come back the other way.

I estimate it took about ten minutes.

At the hospital, they worked on Lali for over an hour.

One thing that took me many years to verbalize was that I felt Lali’s soul leave right after I saw the flashing lights.

I couldn’t accept that. It was why I cried out so.

— Where was Lali’s father, the horror writer and editor Alan Rodgers? —

When he realized what had happened, he had a cardiac “event” and was also taken to the hospital.

Lali was a late baby, an unexpected baby — I was 41 when I had him. I was independent. I was making good money teaching at 3 different colleges and earning several thousand dollars a month writing.

I was a late baby, an unexpected baby — my mother Sterling was 40 when she had me. She had been fighting pancreatic cancer for at least two years before becoming unexpectedly pregnant. She stopped chemotherapy and radiation upon learning she was pregnant with me. I was born three months prematurely and she died three months after I was born.

In 2003, I had put money down on a small house in Calabasas and was going to move there — leaving Alan —to start a new, happy life with my daughter.

I had withdrawn from a sexual or romantic relationship with Alan, whose life was in constant, unremitting, unspeakable turmoil due to his horrific, decade-plus divorce and custody battle over his three children. Alan was depressed (he regularly threatened to kill himself — and a lot of people would have, or murdered their ex) and he had already begun to suffer personality changes due to small strokes resulting from inherited small vessel disease, made much worse by his misuse of alcohol and tobacco. I didn’t know that then. I just knew things were bad, and I had a Down Syndrome baby and a 12 year-old daughter and that’s why I’d started working at Beyond Shelter.

I had already been looking for a house and had saved enough money to buy when Southern California was engulfed by fires very similar to those devastating Northern California today, fifteen years later.

Lali would be a big boy now, in high school.

Alan was terrified by the fires. The smoke poured across the valley and hellish red glare lit the hillsides day and night.

Alan said it was like one of his stories, for he had written a number of apocalyptic visions after moving to Los Angeles to follow his children who had been parentally kidnapped by their mother (his ex) and her new spouse — an individual who had previously indicated to Alan that he was his “best friend.”

The kids weren’t around and Alan seemed softer, almost like his old self.

As a 5th generation Southern Californian I wasn’t afraid the fires would make it all the way through miles of suburbia to our house.

We made love.

Two and a half months later, I was driving to class at Moorpark College and I felt nauseous.

I didn’t even really need to buy the home pregnancy test but I did need to go to the doctor.

I had a choice.

I chose to give Alan an opportunity to be a good father to this child and — even if I did end up moving out — I knew I would never do what his ex-wife had done to his children.

I knew that Alan had sacrificed everything, including a potential happy marriage with me and mini-celebrity-dom in the sick and twisted world of “publishing” and “horror writing” to be there for his children no matter what happened.

At my age I knew there was also a big risk of the baby having problems. I didn’t go for early amniocentesis to “prove” Anthony had Down Syndrome or didn’t. I didn’t opt for anything except Level III ultrasounds. Anthony’s body was growing normally. There was nothing physical on the ultrasounds indicating a problem.

Before he was born, Lali was completely different to my daughter Meredith. He was calm. She pummeled my ribs 24–7 with her little heels.

Before she was born, I was sure Meredith was a boy. If I hadn’t had the ultrasounds and known Lali was a boy, before he was born, I would have sworn he was a girl.

When I was about six months pregnant I talked to a lady who was in charge of the Down Syndrome Association in Los Angeles. Her son was a gifted actor and a handsome young man. He had been in CSI and other popular shows.

I went to see him and his friends performing in a theater company. Down Syndrome young people were attending UCLA. My dad and brother were Bruins.

Even if Lali didn’t have Down Syndrome, I wanted to learn about it. It was nothing like what I thought. These kids were wonderful. I felt wonderful just watching them and talking to them.

They were gifted —

Their emotional IQ was off the charts.

One of the happiest memories I have of Lali is shopping at Christmas-time at the Target on Ventura Blvd. I had half a day off. I put him in his seat in the cart. The store had the cutest display of a toy train, cotton snow, and little lit Christmas houses.

He was only 5 months old but eagerly looking at the choo-choo, the little houses, and the little people, laughing every time the train tooted its horn.

He loved them so and I bought three and put them in the huge living room in this massive, insane house we lived in because Alan wanted to prove to his children he could “provide” for them.

I’m not writing about what Alan’s ex-wife and her spouse did and forced the children to do after Lali died.

But next to Lali’s death and being charged with responsibility for it — the baby who I would die for right now this minute if it would give him back his life — what that woman did to Lali’s Christmas houses was the lowest point of my life. Alan suffered gross domestic violence and so did I — and so did my completely innocent daughter who today, like me, has a diagnosis of PTSD.

She found Lali first.

The night Lali died, the ER nurse put him in my arms.

They let me sit with him and hold him as long as I wanted.

I held him for an hour.

I called Mike and told him what happened. He said he would come first thing in the morning to get Meredith.

When we got back to the house, Meredith and I stayed in the living room, where she had been on the couch. This would be the last night either of us spent in that house and the last time she was ever there.

First, my cell phone rang. It was the organ donation people. Would I give permission for my son’s organs to be used?

Of course, I said. Then she started asking questions.

Was he an IV drug user?
Did he smoke tobacco?
Did he use alcohol?

He was a six month-old baby with Down Syndrome.

I lay on the couch staring at the ceiling. There was very little “me” left. I wanted Meredith to go with Mike. That was it.

My breasts ached. I was in physical agony and my soul had shrunk to a tiny flicker.

Then I saw lights flashing outside the front door and a series of loud bangs.

It was a man and a woman backed by Sheriffs. I saw two of the same ones who had responded before when the ambulance finally made it the right way up the hill.


This was approximately 2:00 a.m. My daughter and I were questioned separately for five hours. The man and woman tag-teamed us, switched up, went backwards and forwards.

At 7:00 I watched the woman put my daughter in the back of a patrol car in our driveway.

They were taking her to Mike, so I guess it saved him a drive out to Woodland Hills.

The next time I saw my daughter it was at Ed Edelman’s Children’s Court in Monterey Park.

I was not allowed to spend time alone with Meredith for the next three months.

Public service message to women: if you are involved with a man who has an extreme custody battle and you have children of your own, you can’t be involved with him. You are putting your innocent child at intolerable risk. I didn’t “get” this then but I absolutely “get” it now. You would too if you’d walked in my shoes. And if you were white like me, you wouldn’t be lecturing people about how to live their lives because during my unhappy months sitting in that place of horror I saw countless children ripped out of the arms of their mothers. Forever.

For nothing.

The only differences between me and those moms was the color of my skin, the number of my friends in influential positions, and the balance in my bank account.

By the end of it, the balance in my bank account was pretty low, too.

Both Alan and I were charged with responsibility for Anthony’s death. Alan’s children too were called in to the court even though they had barely seen their little half-brother and knew nothing about anything and should have been shielded —

as my daughter was.

The first thing I said to the judge was “Please, let my daughter stay with her dad and grammy. She shouldn’t miss school because of this.”

The judge agreed.

I’m not going to over-dramatize what happened to me at the Ed Edelman Children’s Courthouse.

After the first three days, the judge herself realized why the officers had shown up the way they had, and why my daughter and I had been questioned the way we were.

Alan’s ex-wife had the same first name as me.

On my first courthouse appearance I was presented with a stack of paper about 10 inches high that consisted of over 200 reports made to DCFS about Alan Paul Rodgers abusing his children.

The DA was screaming at the judge and pointing her finger at me, her eyes as big as saucers —

– SHE left her baby with a father who left her children alone to play with electrical outlets!
– SHE left the baby with a man who let her children eat popcorn off the dirty floor!
– SHE left her baby alone with an alcoholic who beat the children!

I was still in shock, like the people in war who lose their loved ones, then are dragged to some insane mock trial.

Alan’s children were 16, 14, and 8.

SHE was his ex-wife and the first time I’d heard these allegations was right there being screamed at me.

I didn’t really have an attorney. There was some court-appointed woman who assumed I’d murdered Lali with a phone cord.

The judge herself looked at the paper and looked at what the DA had written.

“This defendant is not the mother of the children or the woman who made these allegations,” she said.

I stayed at my job — which I did eventually 6 years later quit — and I know I did a horrible job. But my boss did keep me on.

My friends at Saddleback stood by me.

My friends in Redlands stood by me.

Mike stood by me. Grammy stood by me.

I used the money I had saved to put down on the house in Calabasas (it was a mobile home) to pay the best attorney I had encountered that Alan had contacted during his custody case. He knew me and he knew how monstrous Alan’s ex and her husband were and how much abuse had gone on. He was able to quickly communicate that the child abuse reports were custody-battle motivated.

I did exactly what he said. Meredith never had to go to that place and she was able to get started in school in Redlands.

Three months later, the attorney told me they were going to close the case.

It was the same judge. She was a blonde, blue-eyed Jewish woman.

I went in my suit, I went before work.

Once again, waiting in that long line to enter the facility. I think they tried very hard to make it “decent.” I know all of them there thought they were doing the right thing.

Even on that day, even though I knew for me — the ordeal was almost over — and yes I had an Armenian case manager visit my crappy little apartment in Redlands with its minimal furniture and she did go through my drawers and closets to prove there was “no man” living there (Alan was forbidden contact with any children involved and he had much more to answer for than I did because he did leave Lali by himself with his bottle).

I looked around in that line, and this was indeed one of the moments that defined a new realization for me. Much as I wrote about my encounter with criminal CHP officer Craig Peyer, who eventually escalated from pulling young blonde women over to murder, I realized that for me, an ending was possible. And an opportunity for some type of recovery for my daughter.

No justice: just escape.

By the skin of my teeth.

As to the other grief-stricken women whose children had been taken away in patrol cars — brown-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed — I knew it wasn’t going to go so well for them.

I was already working at Beyond Shelter and I had worked at Family Service for ten years. I had been in those courtrooms and I had been a mandated child abuse reporter.

I had been caught in this maelstrom because my baby had been born with Down Syndrome and he died because his father put him on the end of the bed with his bottle. He drank the formula while lying down and choked. He aspirated the formula and struggled in his blanket. He was unconscious when Meredith found him and could not be revived.

And because Alan’s ex-wife and her husband had been calling in false reports against Alan for years and DCFS responded to her house — likely while I was sitting in the emergency room holding my dead baby in my arms.

She — a screamer herself — apparently screamed to them all the bad things Alan had done to “her babies” while they were young.

At 2:30 a.m. after I’d been asked if my baby was an IV drug user and smoker by someone who insisted “I have to ask the questions and you have to answer if you want his organs to be donated — “

Then the investigators showed up and questioned me and my daughter for 5 hours.

It’s a good thing our stories agreed.

When they put Meredith in the patrol car that morning, the woman — slightly better than the man whom I now know was certainly dirty and bad — said:

“Sometimes we have to take children from good mothers.”

I lost my son and my daughter on the same night.

I just had dinner with Meredith. I love her so much.

There was a man behind me in line at the courthouse that morning.

A middle-aged white man and I liked nothing about him.

He was garrulous, eager to show everyone around a thick white binder he had which consisted of court paperwork and a photo album.

In the album — and I can see the pictures to this day — were photos of three little girls. They were dark-skinned and dark-haired.

The youngest looked to be about five, and the oldest, about ten. They were standing stiffly, each dressed in elaborate dirndls and old-fashioned white cotton and lace shirts, buttoned tightly at their necks, with frilly, puffy sleeves. White frilly socks. Black patent Mary Janes.

These are my daughters! he said. Today they’re going to terminate the mother’s parental rights [he actually said “the mother”] and my wife and I will finalize our adoption.

My wife works for DCFS.

There’s nothing you can do, I told myself. You are here for you and Meredith.

For you, today, it’s going to be over.

At the end of the very brief proceedings, the blonde, blue-eyed Jewish judge rapped her gavel, stood, and walked around the bench.

I cannot say I had friendly feelings toward her or anyone anywhere in that place, but she held out her arms.

I let her embrace me.

“That’s it,” she said. “It’s over. You can go home and take care of your daughter.”

Then she said, “I’ve closed the case and ordered the records expunged.”

My attorney said he knew of only five cases expunged in the entire history of the children’s courthouse.

So, you might find a web page that accuses Alan Rodgers, me, and even my daughter, of murdering Lali. It’s probably still there. You might even see it referring to “court records.” You’ll see the man promises videos of Alan’s children talking about how he abused them and killed their little brother.

That’s the same guy that told Alan he was his “best friend,” that then broke up his marriage and kidnapped Alan’s kids, married Alan’s ex- (after she had 2 kids with him) and was responsible for the overwhelming majority of over 100 false child abuse reports made against Alan over the entirety of the custody battle.

So here is a postscript. Alan’s custody battle pre-dated me, and it post-dated me.

Alan is himself, now dead. He died in 2013 after suffering a series of devastating strokes.

That web page I mentioned appeared three years after the judge told me I could go free and be a mother to my daughter without fear.

Seeing that s**t is what pushed me over the edge into full-on PTSD.

The motive? Unbeknownst to me, Alan had hired a private investigator to find his children, who had been parentally kidnapped — yet again — after he too, was exonerated for responsibility in Anthony’s death.

We used to call the guy who did all this “Mr. Moron” and it’s much too kind a term. His behavior should be very familiar to everyone whose lives have ever been ruined by having contact with a narcissistic psychopath.

There is a lot more to the story. But the important part is: the truth did come out in my situation.

I remember shards and pieces. I remember sitting on the front steps in Woodland Hills about a week after Lali died, talking to a CSI.

She told me flat out “We didn’t find a mark on him. We know how he died.”

And she explained to me how it had happened.

The responsibility Alan truly had — and he had been accused of drinking at the time and had not been — was not accepting that Lali had Down Syndrome.

There were some miracles with Lali. About four days before he died, he was sitting in his high chair eating dinner with us and he looked up at me with his shining blue eyes, held up his arms, and said, “Mama.”

As clear as day. “Ma-ma.”

A Down Syndrome baby speaking his first words at six months old.

So yes, that was kind of a miracle and yes, I did get to see and hear that and I am so very grateful.

So here’s the thing. Down Syndrome babies can’t swallow very well and shouldn’t ever be put down with any kind of food or bottle. They must always be allowed to finish drinking or eating completely before lying down.

I didn’t know that — although I wouldn’t have put Lali in that location and when I was with him, I was breast-feeding him not using a bottle.

But that’s what the CSI woman told me that day sitting on the step. She let me hold the little doll they used to represent a child, to show where Lali had been found.

That was what had happened.

“My daughter found him first,” I said. “She gave him to me.”

In terms of his eyes, they were blue.

I could never understand why the Lord took him. But I know I prayed and still pray, “Lord, please let Lali’s life have meaning.

It did for the little boy who got his heart and for the little girl who got his corneas. And for the other organs and skin they were able to use.

He was Lali. A pure spirit of love.

Are We Living Through the Death of Money, Future Human?

What would you do if you woke up one morning and went to the shower but the water didn’t turn on? If you checked your phone and it was dead and black? If the lights were off, refrigerator dark and warm, and your car wouldn’t start?

Where would you turn and what would you do?

That is what would happen — and much more — in case of an EMP attack. Thinking of disaster can focus the mind on what’s genuinely important and valuable.

I’ve been somewhat depressed lately because I’ve been writing about the enclaves of the wealthy.

This isn’t a shot from a videogame, it’s “Billionaire,” the reduced-price $188-million spec house built by “developer” Bruce Makowsky in Bel Air. It had been listed with no takers for $250 million in January 2017, with a $69 million price cut in April 2018. Still no takers.

“Billionaire” comes with everything you see pictured, inside and out, including its own theater, “candy wall,” a garage with cars and motorcycles and — the helicopter featured in “Airwolf.” That is what a “spec house” is. Fully-furnished and ready-made.

Here’s the “candy wall.”

This house has been on the market since Jan 2017 which means that candy is pretty stale. You always wanted unlimited glass Foosball tables, didn’t you?

“Developer” Makowsky may be somewhat excused for his effort in creating the “experience” that is “Billionaire.” His previous spec mansion launched a bidding war between Jay-Z, Beyonce, and other luminaries, eventually selling to Minecraft creator Markus Persson for $70 million. “Billionaire” is just bigger than its predecessor — it basically has the same crap inside and out except “more of the above.” Apparently the original spec mansion came with cases of Dom Perignon.

So if you owned “Billionaire” and the Russians launched an EMP attack, you could eat all that candy and drink the champagne until it ran out.

No worries! Perfect!

I think Makowsky missed the mark with those wood-based foosball tables. This one looks much more suitable, although it is a limited edition of 50. 46 others *might* also have the ability to purchase this $24,500 table which likely rules out its use in an elite spec house for only the world’s most discerning mega-billionaires.

The instinct of some, well-trained and addicted from 40+ years of nonstop promotion of gross consumption, vice, and plutocracy, is to think

If I had that mansion I’d be set in case of an apocalyptic disaster!

You’d have all the entertainment you wanted! Surely dozens of ‘babes’ would be hanging out ready to cavort nude with you all over the glass-fronted structure. You’d have weeks worth of massage oil, plenty of water stored in your 800 gold plated toilet bowls, and of course — candy to eat and champagne to drink after you barbecued the last of the filet mignon, pheasant, and bioengineered woolly mammoth steaks.

Gas grill no fire with no power. Got a match? It’s a mighty hump down the hill to Bel Air Foods for charcoal briquets and even worse going back up.


Where did Jeeves go? Look at all those little people running around down below. Where’s my GUNS?

I’m sure it will be very effective to hide behind your “babes” when the looters arrive, proud owner of “Billionaire.” They’ll be super impressed when you tell them how rich and important you are.

Maybe you could fly away in your “Airwolf” helicopter.

[it’s non-operable, for ‘show’ only — not to mention — EMP]

I’m sure your neighbor Petra Stunt (Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter) will help! Or maybe Jay-Z and Beyonce! They all have mad outdoor skills like knowing how to skin and dress game [the great human Anthony Bourdain knew] and purify water.

So you don’t die from dysentery ya know —

So once again as is the case in our diseased age, I have spent my time talking about the thin, lifeless, laughable obsessions of soulless brutes.

So photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has made a multimedia project called Generation Wealth.

“I notice no matter how much people have, they still want more.”

Not all people, Lauren. Only the ones you’ve been photographing, filming, and hanging out with. Mega-rich people are soul-diseased addicts. They’re not going to help anybody else any more than a diehard opioid addict in the final stages of their disease is going to make life better for their family or themselves.

They talk about the 1% but the reality is that 85 people own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population: 3.5 billion people. The math on that is horrifying if all you care about is money.

I am a science fiction writer and a good one.

It doesn’t matter who owns or buys “Billionaire.” It doesn’t matter that the world’s so-called “wealthiest man,” Jeff Bezos, purports to want to spend his insanely huge amount of wealth to benefit others “any day now.”

The people that program the algorithms that run Medium are so conditioned by wealth addiction and the preoccupations of individuals like Bezos, Elon Musk, Larry Ellison, or older billionaires like Carlos Slim Helu that they cannot see what is evident in front of all of our faces.

Rich people don’t matter.

The rest of us do.

A hundred years from now, it is likely that no one living will know anything about Jeff Bezos other than his name if even that.

Today, no one knows much about Marcus Licinius Crassus — no relation to rich King Croesus. He was ancient Rome’s version of Jeff Bezos.

Crassus: the Roman mega-billionaire who took over a year to take down Spartacus and destroyed the Roman Republic along with Julius Caesar.
How many of these names do you know?

Do you see even massively-exploitive Thomas Edison on this list? Nikola Tesla? Any of the Roosevelts? The man who invented stainless steel is not on this list. Neither is Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin. Nor is Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Prize winning physicist. On this list are no novelists, no filmmakers, no fashion designers, no teachers. Maria Montessori isn’t on this list. Neither is Gandhi, nor Tolstoy.

I truly believe that the problem today, the cultural and moral rot, is that the wealthy have sold their excuses for addiction to too many for too long. They force their tastes and interests on others. Their shallow materialism has chipped away at the real things which give our brief lives meaning and value. The scales have tipped too far in the direction of tissue-thin amoral greed and vice.

I don’t care if that Minecraft guy spends every single day hiring prostitutes to dance the Macarena, gobbling Raisinets, and speeding around Bel Air on the tricked-out Harley that came with his spec mansion.

It’s no more my business than it is his business what I do.

I, like billions of others, choose a healthier way. Healthier for myself personally, healthier for our planet, and healthier for our children and future.

For weeks, I have been writing sometimes sickening, soul-killing profiles of wealthy enclaves, from developments near me along the coast where mini-mansions go for $10 million and up to gated Malibu estates on “Billionaire’s Beach.” There are many Billionaire beaches, rows, and streets in the world.

It all crystallized this morning when I wrote a profile of a very different place.

North Evergreen Street in of all places, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank.”

The homes on this street are slightly above Southern California’s insanely inflated home prices but they are really down-to-earth, “normal” single-family residences. It isn’t the homes that make this neighborhood extraordinary.

It’s the people.

No amount of money can buy the reason North Evergreen Street was chosen by Reader’s Digest as one of the ten “Nicest Places to Live” in America.

North Evergreen Street is so neighborly that neighbors made a list of 20 “safe” houses so a little girl with food allergies who had never trick-or-treated could enjoy the fun along with other kids for the very first time.

My classrooms are not filled with mean-spirited Game of Thrones fans whose dreams consist of throat-cutting weddings or rapes of 10-year-olds. They aren’t filled with young people who aspire to live like “The Queen of Versailles” or her husband, timeshare ‘billionaire’ David Siegel.

Over the past ten years, I have seen the number of students who say they want to be “rich” or “famous” decline to less than one out of ten.

When class ended this past semester, a gorgeous young woman and her boyfriend came up. She was shy, insisting I wouldn’t be interested. He held her phone up to me.

“She didn’t think she could write a poem but she was inspired by our class this semester.”

And the poem was magnificent.

No one knows the name of the richest person in France 14,000 years ago, nor do they know the name of the sculptor of these two bison found in Le Tuc d’Audoubert cave.

I don’t think it’s a yearning for past days, nor is the solution to be found in the past except in an understanding and reckoning of all that is good that has come before.

The solution is in our DNA, in our bodies themselves, which is why I feel somewhat at peace despite the unrest, misery, and unhappiness the great majority of us endure.

We do not have 7.6 billions so all can work to make places like “Billionaire” or fuel lifestyles like that pursued by Jeff Bezos.

We have 7.6 billion because there is so much more ahead of humanity.

I think we are living in and among not the death of humankind but the death of money. It is among, if not the greatest of destructive addictions.

Money can’t buy what they have in that wonderful neighborhood in Burbank. Money can’t buy love, it can only buy someone’s time. Money is just a lie.

Maybe this is the time travel we truly need. We need to take back our time from the billionaires. And even more, we can’t let them take our immortal souls.

I didn’t think of this first: Tolstoy did.

We are 7.6 billion. We are the many. They are the few.

We should all know the words of Spock by now. And for the record, Spock wasn’t referring to desires for non-essentials like money or power. He was referring to giving up his life for others because he cared more about them than he did himself.

The richness of our lives lies in human connection and the moments we live. Not money.

Please: enjoy your candy wall. Play some foosball. Watch TV with your boughten friends over the edge of your infinity pool. Have sex in your glass walled house. You have really made it billionaire. You’re on top of the world.

Harlan Ellison was My Friend and Guiding Light

When I was in kindergarten I was forbidden a special treat other kids took for granted: Dubble Bubble.

I wanted bubble gum so badly but there wasn’t any in my house and I wasn’t likely to get any by begging at the store the way I saw other kids do..

So shopping with my grandmother, I spotted a small basket filled with bright yellow wrapped balls of sugary pink chewy goodness.

Mmmm doesn’t that look good? Mmmmm ….

Part of me knew they weren’t “free” but I was five and I had hope. Out snuck my small hand. Into my pocket went the gum.

My grandmother with her all-seeing eyes spotted it immediately.

“What’s in your pocket?”

“Nuh-nuthing.” Great — just add lying to stealing — said my conscience.

“Show me.” She put her hand out and gestured. Gimme the contraband.

“I — I — uh… I…”

My conscience spoke. Just give her the gum you big dummy. So I handed it to her.

“You took that gum,” my grandmother said in her iciest voice.

“It was in the basket,” I peeped.

“Come with me,” she said, grasping my small chubby wrist firmly. Her watch band pressed uncomfortably against my palm as she strode purposefully toward the back of the store. I wasn’t sure where we were headed but I knew it was nowhere good. Her heels clacked on the cold and grimy linoleum floor.

We were headed for the manager’s office.

When we got there, the manager knew his part well.

“Young lady, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call the police,” he said. “Stealing is a crime.”

I think I repeated my pathetic excuse that the gum was in the basket and I thought it was free.

“They will take you to jail,” my grandmother hissed. She was at least a billion times scarier than the chubby manager with his pink nose and shiny bald pate.

My grandmother took the gum out of her purse and put it into my unwilling sweaty little hand.

“What do you say to him?” she commanded.

“I — I’m sorry,” I said timidly. I put the gum on his paper-filled desk. “I’m sorry I took the gum. It was wrong.”

I knew if I started to cry it would be a hundred times worse so I bit my lip and looked at the manager. His eyes were kindly. I think they were hazel or light brown.

“Young lady, that is the right thing to do,” he said.

My grandmother’s hand came down on my shoulder and squeezed like a vice.

“You can call the police now,” I said. “I confess.”

He burst out laughing.

I can’t even remember all the chores I had to do and the penance I had to make for that piece of penny bubble gum.

I don’t think I needed lots of additional lessons in “Don’t steal” but if one was needed, I’m just like the guy who learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten. I loved my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Geiger. Of course my grandmother reminded me on the daily that Mrs. Geiger would be so disappointed to hear that I had stolen a piece of bubble gum.

I didn’t stop hearing about the Great Bubble Gum Caper for years. My grandmother even mentioned it way up in her 80s. She loved to tell the story to strangers.

I learned not only this basic lesson which appears in The Bible, the Qu’ran, the Torah, Buddhism, and traditional African religions, but also “always tell the truth,” and “always consider others first” and “Don’t get a big head — no matter how good you think you are, there’s always someone better.”

These silly little lessons I was raised with. So silly. Smart people don’t believe in them.

If you count “smart” “people” as neoliberals, neoconservatives, billionaires and those who aspire to be just like them …

This has not been a good week for the neoliberal centrist Democrats. Many progressive candidates, from Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to Emily Sirota to Ben Jealous, won their primary races.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement yesterday. One of our favorite elite neoliberal authors (a real quality commenter) tweeted:

Twenty years ago, I had had enough hearing people screech how Ronald Reagan wanted to take away my right to control my own body so therefore vote for whomever the person who was yelling at me ordered me to vote for.

Oh by the way, somebody we all love just got busted along with almost 700 others protesting the incarceration of immigrant families on Capitol Hill.

[Susan Sarandon]

As I was writing this, my phone told me that a man I have loved since I got to know him many years ago has died. A real progressive— Harlan Ellison. My heart is heavy and aching. Harlan did have a life well-lived. The world is by far a better place because Harlan was in it and I think — I think it will go the right way. If you do not know who I am talking about this is who it is. I just heard from friends that he had been writing a much-loved (and vilified of course — it was Harlan) column for Variety (which I don’t often read — wonder why not?).

But we were talking about character. And that was the basis for my relationship with Harlan. He only hurt me one time and I’m certain he didn’t mean to. He demanded I go get somebody for him like I was his servant. And that somebody he wanted me to bring to him is someone I don’t like or respect. I didn’t want to ‘get into it’ with him so I never said a thing. I think I have let it go because the things I didn’t like about that person were basically the neoliberal hypocritical package. Status-oriented, domineering, no faithfulness to work, loving of praise, big swelled head, only caring about externals, enjoyed being fawned-over …

None ways I consciously choose to live or things I value any longer. Back then I just knew I didn’t care for those things and didn’t like that person because of how I had observed them acting. I didn’t associate this with a huge problem that needed to be reduced in our world while other, better things came to the fore.

But there is no writer more emblematic and visionary of these issues and the progressive mind than Harlan Ellison. Some in the sci-fi community may recall a controversy that arose after Harlan was accused of sexually harassing other award-winning author Connie Willis while both were serving as emcees at a Hugo Awards ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention.

My memory said this was the 2006 Denver WorldCon and sure enough Dr. Google tells me I was right: it was. Neither of these folks involved in the incident were exactly “young” at the time and as to me? I was sleeping through the event having been up ‘partying’ the night before. So I didn’t witness the horror that was Harlan grabbing Connie’s breast and sexually harassing her.

Harlan said that he was telling a joke, acting like a baby, and miming being an infant for purposes of humor. It was probably a dumb joke — as I said — I was present at the overall event but slept through the award ceremony where the incident occurred.

I defended Harlan against the extreme outrage that ensued via online forums because I knew something 99.9% of those screaming about his vile harassment didn’t know.

Harlan was not only not a sexual harasser or rapist so far as I knew, to me he was head and shoulders above the majority of men I’d known. He did something very few other men had ever done: he treated me like an equal. He treated me like an equal as a writer. He didn’t talk to my boobs, nor did he grab them. He talked to me like I was a person.

Most who know me now know that I have publically disclosed how I was raped by Brian Stonehill, named chair of literature at Pomona “Harvard of the West” College when I was 21 years old. Mr. Stonehill is now deceased but I did file a police report at the time and I did go to my Dean and the Dean at Pomona College as well, before dropping charges because I earned about $700 a month and had no way of paying for a lawyer. I knew from the cops that the rapist was going to say I wanted “rough sex” such as being burned with cigarettes, choked, and bitten. At the time I didn’t have the guts to go through that in court.

After, when I declined admission to literary graduate programs (Iowa, Irvine) and lost my opportunities for a Rhodes Scholarship and Watson Fellowship because of the rape, I instead chose to go to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ workshop at MSU in 1984 on a scholarship. I saw sci fi writing, the stories I loved, as something pure and innocent. Not like “literature” and “the Academy” which I now saw as something evil. I remembered Ray Bradbury speaking at our local library. His goodness. Sweetness. I had never sought help or even processed what happened to me.

Harlan spent time with me. He talked with me. Desperate, in tears, I asked him a question no young writer should ever ask an older writer or mentor. “Do I have what it takes to make it?” I asked.

I was tied in a million knots. I hated him. I loved him. I reviled him. I worshipped him. Someday I wished, I wanted to write like him — so free — anything he liked. But most of me didn’t care. I didn’t feel quite here, quite human. I saw myself as worthless. Harlan was such an important man, such a great writer (and I felt that — such a fine writer).

His large dark eyes flickered when I asked that. He was a kind man. A kind, good man.

“Damnit,” he said. “Yes. Of course. Yes.”

I burst into tears.

But he knew there was something else wrong. He kept picking at me.

Finally I told him why I was so on edge, why I did all the things he had already lectured me were bad for me (drinking, smoking). He had yelled at me for being married to “Gorgo” (Mike Casil) at such a young age — he felt I didn’t know what I was doing.

So I trusted him. I told him what had happened to me. After that long ago time (14–15 months?) I had only told Mike.

“You have to go for help,” he said. He explained that he meant counseling and professional support. He said every single thing that is appropriate to say to a rape survivor after the trauma.

He said, “I am ordering you to go to a rape crisis center the minute you get home.”

I did. To this day, I credit him with saving my life.

He talked to me about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). About so many other things he so strongly believed in. He talked about marching in the Civil Rights era. He talked about getting beaten up, about the people who wanted to hurt a Jewish guy for standing up for another race.

Harlan Ellison no more sexually harassed Connie Willis than Bernard Sanders raped any of the online neolib trolls who wanted to accuse Bernie to sweep him into the #MeToo bin of creepy guys who are history. Harlan Ellison Sexual Harasser is like Bernie Sanders Has a $600 Coat!!!

Exactly like that.

He was fearless. He had the gift.

I used to think sitting quietly sometimes, “Well you have big guns, Amy. Big guns. Like Harlan. You can write like rolling thunder. No limits. Take no prisoners.”

I could even do a few things Harlan couldn’t. Write in meter and rhyme on command. Wrote dozens of nonfiction books. Wrote novels.

A sore topic, one not brought up. The last time I talked to him was about Borges.

He was a short fiction writer and one of the greatest ever. Maybe he was an American Chekov.

I can see him smile.

But above all, Harlan was a progressive. He was a poor boy, not a rich one. He always suspected rich people. A poor boy from Ohio with dreams the size of the universe.

And nightmares.

He dreamed this algorithm that is strangling us all. AM is real. AM is here. AM’s the one who silences progressive voices. AM busted Susan Sarandon in DC today. AM angered the Annapolis shooter.

AM makes people think blue checks are important.

AM ruins our dinners.

AM sends messages to our phones. AM told me Harlan had died.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, AM is the massive supercomputer that has destroyed the world and is holding a tiny group of postapocalyptic survivors captive in his hellish cyberbowels to torture them in “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream.” This is a link to a free copy of the story online and Harlan would kill me for doing that.

But I am in a different place to him. I understand that we must not connect our writing to money purposely in any way because of how money harms the work. There was no other, fiercer advocate for writers earning a living wage than Harlan Ellison.

He is gone now so it is more important that his words live than money.

I just read that Harlan sued James Cameron for intellectual theft (unsuccessfully). Harlan received a settlement from AOL for the service’s facilitation of online literary piracy. I cannot even begin to describe the fierceness with which Harlan fought in court and with his weapons (words) for money for writers. That’s what all these legal battles were: he saw online services and real people as thieves. He knew his ideas had value and that others wanted it. He did this because he knew Poe died face down in the gutter. He knew Oscar Wilde died branded as a gay man, humiliated, estranged from his family, and penniless. He knew that Faulkner’s novels were out of print for a decade before he was awarded the Nobel Prize. He knew that even though Dickens died a rich man, Emily Dickinson was paid a grand total of $10 during her lifetime for her work.

So like John Graziano said a while back: we all work for a murderous neoliberal billionaire capitalist.

No matter how much the megabillionaire capitalist thinks his all-powerful algorithms enrich him by $250 million each and every day, he in fact: works for AM.

The massive capitalist thinks he’s an important individual and AM works for him but he is really Nimdok.

“I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” is to this day one of the only works of fine short fiction I have ever read with a strong African-American female protagonist. Ellen. I can’t get that published today. Harlan got that published in 1967. Harlan didn’t speak ill of Ellen in that story. Ted, the narrator, did. It’s Ted’s twisted voice revealing the deep misogyny that persists today.

When I got in so much trouble for stealing that piece of Dubble Bubble, Harlan wrote and published “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream”.


I realize by seeing Harlan’s birth date that my friend misled me regarding his age all these years though I knew how he hated getting older, how badly it made him feel.

Harlan could not stand losing his mojo. And he had it. The first time I saw him he was wearing a black moto jacket with the Flying Tigers logo embroidered on the back. “Over the Hump to Burma!” it declared. The tiger head looked like the Tiger Balm Tiger. Mike Casil had the mellow tiger on his arm.

Like shards of a broken mirror piece by piece our lives are

a series of moments

which we may piece together and perhaps

make a coherent whole.

AM the giant sentient supercomputer AM created from a combination of Yank, Chinese, and Russian supercomputers fighting WW3, is consumed by hatred, torturing the tiny band of surviving humans living in his bowels for hundreds of years.

It’s like the Matrix but it was written 50 years ago. And it’s as fresh today as it was then.

Ted, the narrator, manages to kill Ellen and the other three hapless human victims. But AM keeps Ted alive. And what AM does to Ted is the source of the story’s title: Ted has no mouth but he must scream.

So we’re all like Ted right about now and this hellscape Harlan just escaped from is just like the Belly of AM.

There’s only one way out and it’s not Ted’s way (murder) or Ellen’s way (mercy killing).

We dream ourselves out just the way Harlan dreamt us in.

Harlan told me I was like Dickens’ Agnes Wickfield, “a bright star, ever pointing upward.”

I don’t know. Alls I know is I can dream other-wise. And so can you.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from another star-crossed dreamer.

We are all of us in the gutter. But some of us are looking at the stars.

We got to keep our selves out of AM’s belly. We got to keep believing and dreaming what is good and true and real. When we stop: that way lies madness and death.

Craig Peyer CHP Killer

I Was Pulled Over By CHP Killer Craig Peyer and Lived

Shortly before his death, I was helping my grandfather [Bampy] prune our fig tree when he asked me if I had noticed the little green house across the street from us and over the bridge that crossed the “Sankey”. The Sankey was a man-made irrigation creek built by Native Americans during the Spanish mission days. The correct spelling is “Zanja.”

I said, “Sure. It’s next to my friend’s house.”

“Well, keep an eye out whenever you play over there,” he said. “Something bad happened there.”

My grandfather Bampy had been the constable (Sheriff) in Redlands during and for a short time after World War II. He was a 4-letter athlete from high school and a 6-year college student at the University of Redlands: his kicking return record from the early 20th century still stands — or it did the last time I was in the gym at the U of R.

Bampy — Nort Sturtevant

Bampy told me he had gotten a call to that house and he and one of the deputies, probably Dale Pence, went out there. When they knocked on the door they surprised the people inside.

“There was a man in there in bed with his daughters, two young girls about your age,” Bampy said.

“We took him to jail and took the girls to Juvenile Hall.” I never saw Bampy angry. But his face was dark. There were clouds in his clear gray eyes.

I knew the man was bad. But I didn’t — and I was 12 at the time — know exactly why.

I knelt down to pick up fig branches and leaves. Bampy knelt close to me.

“That man used to be a police officer. Honey, I want you to understand something,” he said. “If you are ever stopped by a police officer and he asks you to do something that doesn’t sound right to you, he isn’t a real officer. Don’t do what he says.”

Sometimes I wonder if my own daughter has ever listened to a word I ever said. As to me, Bampy’s words and demeanor burned themselves into my mind. It has taken a long lifetime for me to understand their full impact and meaning.

After we worked a little bit more he added, “Once you can drive if you get pulled over and the officer asks you to get out of the car, don’t do it.”

By the time I was in college, Bampy had been gone for seven years.


I was on my own and probably not doing that great with managing what little money I had or my schooling. But I was going to work and class and sleeping at least 2–3 hours a night.

In 1981, we were on winter break and I was driving south on Interstate 15 to La Mesa to visit my boyfriend and his parents. I remember I had a pack of gum on the passenger seat in my VW Rabbit. I know I wasn’t speeding because the Rabbit topped out at a teeth-jarring 85 mph and even 70 MPH was too fast in that silver jalopy. I can’t remember what I was wearing — probably something Pete, who “dressed” me, wanted me to wear.

My heart just about jumped out of my chest when I saw the lights of a CHP cruiser flashing behind me.

I could barely breathe.

The CHP car directed me to pull off the freeway. We got off on an offramp that “led to nowhere” near a big tall bridge.

This is the offramp and bridge.

The officer got out of his car and came to the drivers’ side window.

Craig Peyer was a TV CHP traffic officer during the time he was also stalking young blonde women driving on I-15.

He rapped on my window and gestured for me to roll it down. I did: about 5 inches the way Bampy had shown me.

“I know I wasn’t speeding officer,” I said.

He asked me to roll the window down more and turn off my engine.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked.

The officer peppered me with questions. Where did I live? Where was I going to? Did I have a job?

I told him I lived with my grandmother and was a college student on my way to visit my boyfriend and his family for the holidays (the truth).

Then he asked me to get out of my car.

I didn’t say anything or move for a few seconds. My mind was blank and my heart was hammering in terror. My hands were icy cold claws on the steering wheel. My red lacquered nails: oh, I was so vain of my hands and so proud of my fingernails.

I heard Bampy’s voice, “If an officer asks you to get out of the car there’s something wrong.”

“Don’t do what he says.”

He put one hand on top of my rolled down window and his other hand on the latch. He rattled the outer door latch.

Remember the locks in old cars? The ones you could pop with a coat hanger in a second? The Rabbit’s were red. A narrow red post with a small red knob on top. I had red nauga-pholstery.

Then hard survivor Amy kicked in. This wasn’t the first time but it was a good one.

“My grandfather was Sheriff in Redlands,” I said. “He told me a real officer would never ask me to get out of the car if I got pulled over.”

And that guy’s face changed immediately and he rapidly began to counsel me on safe driving. He wanted to make sure I was safe on the road, he said. There are a lot of bad people out there, he informed me.

After a few minutes, he told me that my tail light had been flickering and I should get it checked — and he let me go.

I was still shaking when I got to Pete’s house and told him, Vati, and Mutti, about how a CHP officer had pulled me over and scared me pretty badly.

Every single one of them insisted I was exaggerating — a police officer could mean no harm. I was imagining things. The few other people I told were the same way. I was exaggerating. Making things up.

The incident occurred some time in late 1981 or early 1982.

I forgot about it for another 20 years. In 2001 or 2002 I was living in the big house on San Pablo in Redlands watching TV, bored, and flipped the channel to a “True Crime” show. Now I remember it had to have been City Confidential, one of the only shows of that type I would watch.

I watched nearly an entire show about the murder of Cara Knott in 1986 on that same road by that same bridge. Only when they showed video of Craig Peyer on the local San Diego news giving a traffic report did my ears perk up.

“I know that guy,” I thought.

Then they showed the offramp and the bridge.

“That’s the guy who pulled me over!” I said.

My first thought — so immature — was “Everybody poo-poohed me at the time and told me how wrong I was. But I was right!”

Cara Knott, who was brutally murdered by Craig Peyer at the bridge off I-15. Peyer had a “type” — blonde.

Then I realized how horrible a crime he had committed. What horrific trust he had broken. I thought about how Cara deserved a full, rich life.

Peyer was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for murdering Cara Knott. He is eligible for parole but it has so far been denied.

wrote about this on my legacy blog.

Cara’s family put a memorial for her by the bridge, which is now named the Cara Knott Memorial Bridge. I learned that her father Sam died of a heart attack while visiting the memorial.

This is the most tragic story. Whenever I think of it, my heart goes out to Cara’s family and friends. Watching the “City Confidential” show, I learned that over 100 women testified to having similar experiences to mine at Peyer’s trial. At the time I was unaware Cara had been murdered and such a trial had even happened.

So, I wonder, many days, whether people will realize what things like this have in common with police killings of African Americans or with 10,000 missing Native American women and girls.

I was 100% right not to get out of that car. Remembering Bampy’s advice may have saved my life.

Bampy was the best man I ever knew. Just about everything I know and think was taught to me by him.

Without getting explicit, he warned me about pedophiles and child molesters that day. And he warned me about dirty killer rapist cops.

So I wonder why what Bampy knew is so hard for so many people to understand and learn.

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