Category: Nonfiction

dog talking on phone

The Future is Now

dog talking on phone What does a cute dog on the phone have to do with service stations of the future? Bear with me: I hope you’ll like the journey and its destination.     

I barely remember the service stations of old. I can pull up small, distant memories of 33 cent gasoline, the Sinclair dinosaur, Phillips 66 signs, and service station attendants who washed the windows, filled the tank, and helped in emergencies. I remember driving to Palm Springs with my grandmother and a sandstorm that pitted our windshield and forced us to stop at one such station in Whitewater. I recall a trim, neat guy in a white short-sleeved shirt and sharply-creased navy blue trousers helping us. His name was embroidered on the chest as I recall. Maybe it was “Joe” or “Frank.”

The gas station attendant in my memory was probably a TV guy and the real guy was grizzled and sweaty, with a pre-pop-top beer can in his hand. As a child, I was instinctively fearful of big sweaty men who reeked of beer. My grandfather Bampy was always neat and clean-shaven and kindly-eyed.

Was I wrong to think that way? Don’t judge me.

And that’s the first thing I see for the future. The judgy among us will themselves be judged. It will be for many, a sweet reckoning, like a cold, refreshing dish of berry sorbet after a long, forced, tasteless meal of their least-favorite foods.

I was half-inclined to judge the uninspiring and sad list of female futurists I just reviewed, but their slavish adherence to 20th century norms like branding and marketing is their problem: not mine or yours.

So, about this futurism game. What is it? Is it predicting the future? Is it forecasting? Or is it driving today’s trends? Is it just all about money — or is control and power the game?

I think all of us with common sense know that to achieve an ultimate or long-term goal, vision, planning and strategy are essential. And there’s no accident the image on this post is a dog talking on an old-fashioned phone. Again — don’t judge me! It’s not like there are thousands of license-able images of dogs talking. There aren’t.

But there will be. Someday. That’s the vision. Dogs can talk and humans will have acquired the amazing superpower of listening.

So, about this future thing. Many of us have been in abusive relationships, and we’ve also endured trauma. Often, these trends occur on the job, every day. May I have a show of hands for how many of us have spent years working in jobs we hate to support our families?

OMG thank you so much! I know how you feel.

Are we the work we do, or are we who we are? What I’m talking about is the intersection between aspiration and life, and someone else’s aspirations, needs, and life. I estimate it took me about a decade to understand the true meaning of Mike Rowe’s message about the value of “dirty jobs.”

Mike says, “People who do ‘dirty jobs’ are the happiest people I’ve ever met.” Road-kill picker-uppers whistle while they work, he adds.

Many people don’t mind doing hard, dangerous, difficult jobs as long as they can have the life they want for themselves and their families. It can be rewarding to do a job where you’re not actively abused, as long as your paycheck covers what it needs to cover and you have your off-the-job time for yourself and your family and friends.

So, what’s the problem?

Paycheck doesn’t cover what it needs to cover. You don’t just have to clean other people’s feces off toilet seats, you have to run away from a sex pest boss. You don’t just have to pick up road kill, you have to avoid a psycho supervisor whose life is dedicated to creating the most miserable workplace in history.

And some jobs exist and some people do them, and do them very well, but we’d all rather that someday, they didn’t have to exist: like counselors for abused children and homicide detectives.

I woke this morning and thought about an article I recently read by this futurist guy who I don’t think has to scrub other people’s feces — and who I think gets featured by the genius mid-century smarties at Medium because he is so, so smart —

Rich People are Leaving the Cities and Isolating

So the gist of this article was that the richies are escaping crowded cities full of COVID by moving to safe places like isolated forest retreats in Switzerland or France. Or, I thought, they are constructing self-contained, gate-guarded enclaves in beautiful and unspoiled farmland like Maha in Guenoc Valley. Among this development’s many charms, it promises, “With its development, Lotusland is honoring the area’s lushness and history while infusing it with luxury.” Maha is a 22,000 acre property, located on a massive ranch formerly owned by the 19th century actress Lillie Langtry — which I suspect is a story in and of itself — approximately the same size as Disney World in Florida. Maha: Disney World for the cultured! And don’t miss its multi-million-dollar mansions, with their own power, own water and — if the plan comes to fruition — own organic, sustainably-grown food.

Yes, the wealthiest will retreat and already are retreating from the diseased, violent, rioting cities to their own special paradise, living out the lives of their dreams. They already brag of this! There are countless well-off people shaming others for leaving their homes during COVID … to bring them their specially-prepared meals of grass-fed organic beef and organic baby veggies and fruit.

And as I lay there thinking about Douglas Rushkoff’s articles and about the images and thoughts I’ve had in my head over the past year or so — images I barely have words to describe —

Bam!

Science fiction and futurism is about “What if?”

And it’s happening: right now!

It’s literally a dream come true, but we’ve all been living in a nightmare so powerful that …

OK, so picture yourself — you are in an awful job working for a boss you hate or you’re in a relationship with an abusive partner who makes you feel like crap every day — just picture this for yourself, and I’m going to tell a story because I love this idea so much and I want so much for it to come true, and once you hear, I think you will, too …

When Your Prayers are Answered

Years ago I had this friend named Pat Furfari. Pat was a retired USAF master sergeant and he was my counterpart at the United Way in San Bernardino. I was the campaign and communications person at the United Way in Redlands. I was just a girl in my early 20s. Pat was old enough, obviously, to be my dad. And at first we hated each other because our United Ways were supposed to be “enemies.” And, it was mostly about money because most of the money came from Norton AFB. At the time, it was still an active base, so the CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) was big stuff. Millions of dollars.

Pat was one of the hardest-working guys I ever knew. And over time, as I got to know him, I came to respect him and started to like him, and I think he probably also liked me. Pat  was honest, moral, and loyal, but his boss wasn’t. His boss, I’ll call him “Don,” was constantly stabbing Pat in the back at every opportunity. He also didn’t pay him well, and didn’t ever thank, recognize, or reward him. He actively took credit in public for work that Pat had done. Over and over again.

Oh! Did I tell you Pat was a Sicilian and a devout Catholic?

So one of the most shocking moments of my life occurred one day when Pat confided that he had prayed every day that about his bad boss “Don.”

“Every morning I light a candle,” Pat said, “and I pray that he’ll suffer a heart attack.”

His black eyes were absolutely opaque, and his voice had dropped to a low, raspy whisper. It was a moment straight out of The Godfather or Goodfellas.

Pat and I had this chat on a Thursday or Friday. When I got into my office the following Monday, my very good, wonderful boss (who had also been oppressed by “Don”) called me into his office and told me we had some campaign events to do we hadn’t planned on, because … wait for it …

“Don” was in intensive care — he had suffered a massive heart attack. His condition was “grave.”

My next conversation with Pat was something, that’s all I’ll say. And we remained friends for many years. I never wanted to do anything to offend Pat.

Can you guess the implications of this small human drama to our present circumstances and future? Whether old “Don” had a heart attack because Pat had had enough and was praying for it, or he had it because he was so old, mean, nasty, narcissistic and so much of an asshole that his coronary arteries finally clogged up with pure meanness, bile and cholesterol, will never be known, and doesn’t matter.

“Don” was out of the picture, allowing normal, decent people to go on with their lives.

Let’s Party Hearty!

To my leftist friends: why go to all the trouble and bother of guillotines if the problem people are going to self-isolate and remove themselves from society?

What if — you were in an abusive relationship or horrible job — and your abuser had a heart attack, like old “Don”? Wouldn’t that be a dream come true?

It is coming true. The rich and privileged are self-isolating and want to establish their own communities, or they want to live in isolation.

Good for them: let them go to it.

Robots Will Take Our Jobs: Awesome!

How many times have you heard, “Robots will take our jobs.” It’s like a prayer. So if this prayer comes true, so what? You mean that people actually WANT to physically clean feces off toilet seats just so they can eat and pay their bills?

Hardly. Although I do think the “Dons” of the world should do some of that for a while, like maybe six months, so they understand what it is to do a dirty job and have the opportunity to improve themselves and maybe, realize what happiness is — and that it’s not bullying or oppressing others 24-7.

Make Your Own Future

Here’s the great part about our “bad boss” problem solving itself as rich, white elites self-separate from the rest of society.

Now, this allows the rest of us to do things better. My distant memory of working with Pat Furfari was that our two fundraising organizations, instead of competing for donor dollars, started to be able to work together, since old “Don” wasn’t backstabbing and encouraging enmity. The results were not only smoother, better workdays for all of us, they included a lot more money for both of our communities.

This will happen in every field, but let’s hope that charitable fundraising will not be needed in the future, because people will have their basic needs met and lack of basics will no longer be leverage to force people to do as abusers demand.

Heretofore, we have had science done largely by people who’ve never confronted a genuinely serious personal problem in their lives. We’ve had managers directing huge staffs who were raised to bully their less-favored or female siblings and who had every conceivable thing provided to them by indulgent parents and who received top grades in school for “C” level work. We’ve had business concepts created by people whose motives are solely to acquire money and power for themselves, personally.

The learning of the future, the evolution of the future, is going to be about what people will do and how they will do it once the bad boss leaves the building.

They’re leaving right now, so what is your future dream?

Service Stations, Again, Really?

I am now about 25 businesses into my second edition of business planning and consulting. That’s not very many. But — I have not talked to a single person whose business model is “I want to make as much money for myself as possible! To h**l with everyone else!”

Everyone is concerned about sustainability for themselves, their business, their relationships with others, and about the environment and human rights. Everyone, and unlike a lot of “futurists” and “experts,” I worked before with businesses all over the world and continue to do so. I work and worked with male and female founders, and with people from many parts of the world.

Not one of them is going, “My CEO model is Jeff Bezos!” or “I want to model after Elon Musk”. I decline to work with people who want to “brand” themselves. I can’t stand marketers who think they can create a message first, then shove it down everyone’s throat.

So, why was I writing about service stations?

Well, that may be a story for another day. In rural areas, the service station is not dead.

Look – there’s even a Garden Shop!

Now I think we all know that gasoline-powered cars won’t be on the roads forever, nor will diesel-powered trucks. I’m thinking that in the future where dogs may be answering something like a phone and uttering the thoughts out loud that those of us with eyes, ears and hearts can so clearly perceive in their eyes and bodies, there will be “service stations” and there will be people who do help travelers, just like that friendly guy did many years ago, when my grandmother and I were on the way to Palm Springs. But not fill up the tank with petrol (love you, UK). Maybe a power-up, a rest, and then on your way again.

Maybe the helper at the station won’t even be a person. Maybe this will be a service station in the stars. And what sort of Garden Shop would it have?

It’s up to a future entrepreneur to decide. And let’s hope he or she is more like Pat, me, or you, than he is like old “Don” or Jeff Bezos.

There are many thousands of entrepreneurs like that right now and the bad guys’ and abuser’s time is coming to an end. They are self-separating from society and may Grace be with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marine Life Thrives at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, FL

Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about wildlife and nature. I don’t support old-fashioned zoos that keep animals in cages, but I do support wildlife conservation efforts and study. I completely support organizations like the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota. The Mote says,

We are guardians of the sea and all living things that depend upon it

It’s a wonderful place, and they’ve put good procedures in place to ensure that visitors, staff, and resident sealife can continue safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors are allowed as long as they wear masks and follow safety procedures. Many “hands on” experiences are not possible at this time, but as Dr. Oliver Sacks pointed out to his friend Shane Fistell in one of the videos we used to watch in class, “We see with the eyes, but sometimes we see with the hands.” Right now for everyone’s safety, it’s important to keep “seeing with the eyes,” especially when we’re near living creatures who might get sick if we touch them.

Just like people, animals have personalities, and the personalities at Mote Aquarium are remarkable. One of the first animals I met while visiting there was a sprightly small turtle.

Very calm and interested, he swam for a bit, then settled back on a rock to watch the interesting, strange creatures peering into his home.

Here’s a link to the Manatee Cam so you can see what a great environment the Mote provides.

I’ve seen several manatee since we moved to Florida, but the Mote manatee, Hugh and Buffett, are “movie stars” compared to wild manatee. Their skin and tails are spotless and perfect. In the wild, manatee are covered by all manner of sea creatures and usually as well as sadly, many scars. Despite laws to protect them and lots of education, they are still injured by boating mishaps. They still suffer because of boating destruction of the sea grass they eat.

This is my best manatee picture from the aquarium – is it Hugh or Buffett – I don’t know!

I also had an interesting visit with one of the sea turtles that lives at the aquarium. They care for several sea turtles, all of which are rescues and which have different injuries or other circumstances that mean they won’t be able to safely return to the wild. Again, as everyone who knows me knows, sea turtles are among my favorite living creatures. One of the high points of my life was swimming alongside of one while snorkeling in Kauai.

So, here are two of the sea turtles at the Mote Aquarium, and the one on the right took an interest in me. Shortly after I took this picture, she took a swim around the tank, fixed me in her gaze, and swam swiftly back in my direction, at the last moment slapping the water with her right fin. Not only did she achieve a mighty splash, getting me and my phone wet, I’m certain she was laughing heartily in her turtle way at her excellent trick.

I understand that some people won’t like this picture, but I also have some friends who will love it. These are three Southern toads, who should be distinguished from the cane toad, which is an invasive species in South Florida. These three pals were just hanging out taking it easy when we walked by.

Have you ever seen such a large hermit crab? I haven’t, either, but a note – I’ve seen “adopt a hermit crab” displays in tourist areas recently and a word – just don’t. Leave them on the beach or in a facility like Mote Aquarium. Don’t try to take animals like this home and force them to live in painted shells.

This is a really nice, curious, and friendly cuttlefish. Not only does he share his ability to change his skin color and patterns instantly, he seems as curious about human onlookers as we are about him.

The Mote has a number of active, friendly pufferfish, so here’s a tip. YES, they can be poisonous. Do not touch them if you see them washed up on the beach. I’ve seen several and fortunately, what little common sense I have told me “Don’t touch it,” because they do contain toxins. Pufferfish can be blown ashore during storms and this just a sad fact of life.

So, of course they also have axolotls at the Mote Aquarium. And this delightful snapping turtle, ready to catch me with the lure inside his mouth.

As I was warned as a child, don’t play around with these snapping turtles: they can take your finger off.

I was talking to a native Floridian the other day and told her how sad it was the environment in California had deteriorated so much, even with so many environmental efforts and so much education. She said that Florida had also experienced severe environmental degradation, and that in recent years, things had been improving because people recognized the problems and made changes on their own. So, the beautiful environment that we enjoy so much today is the product of immense efforts on the part of many people. I think institutions like the Mote Aquarium are vital. The Aquarium educates everyone who goes, and they haven’t stopped with the COVID pandemic. They’ve added many virtual programs for all ages. They also have eco tours on the “Mote Boat.”

I’m poor at describing the deep emotion that washes over me when I’m in nature or around a large number of animals that are – for lack of a better word – happy. I know it’s not particularly sophisticated, but I have a measure to judge if a place like Mote Aquarium is “good” or “not so good.”

A couple of years ago when I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, they have an exhibit which includes hundreds of sardines swimming in a tank that encircles the viewer at eye level. The environment isn’t constructed to force the fish to confront human visitors, it’s shaped in a way that allows you to stand amid the fish in their normal behavior without disturbing them. Anyway, these hundreds of fish were doing their thing and as I stood there, I felt this overwhelming joy emanating from the hundreds and hundreds of silver, flashing, slender sardines.

I felt similar feelings from nearly all the animals at the Mote Aquarium. The Mote, and a place I’ll write about soon, Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, primarily have animals that cannot survive in the wild. They are teaching, conservation, and education institutions. They do not engage in capturing animals in the wild to force them to perform for paying customers like a sea park I won’t name. They take injured animals, rescued animals, abandoned animals, or orphaned animals and care for them. So, the animals are happy because they are cared for by people who care about them, and because they are living their lives — if not for the Mote, they would probably not survive. They also live in environments that are made as healthy as possible for them, and human visitors are constantly cautioned not to harass, bother, and certainly not harm them.

I was feeling “the feeling” of well-being at the Mote long before I met the saucy, mischievous sea turtle. When she splashed me, I knew she was living in a safe place where she could, as much as possible, be herself. There are many more special turtles that I met at Theater of the Sea — I’ll write more about them soon.

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.

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.

JEEVES!

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”.

1967.

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.

Wholesome.

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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