Sunday, April 26, 2015

BEGINNING IS ONLY A TINY DIFFERENCE FROM ENDING

I wish I had an enthralling, timeless, seductive beginning.  Had I a “Call Me Ishmael,” or “In the beginning was the Word,” or “In Xanadu, did Kubla Kahn  A stately pleasure dome decree,” I might have a start more effective than  this, but the best I have is the thought that beginning is only a tiny bit different than ending.


I am not dead yet.  This is not so much a reassurance for those who have not heard from me for a while, or a curse to those who might wish I was, as it is a simple declaration of my status…...and somewhat of a surprise to me.  Certainly my life the last five years has been about little but endings and beginnings, so perhaps this title is a summary of what has been since I have been absent from corresponding, writing, and socializing much.


For some unknown reason I have been struck with a drive to write about my life and my experience.  It is not that I feel I have something so much to offer that I fear people will miss a great deal without the addition of my prattling, as it is a sudden selfish desire to have a conversation with many others.  I have in my head a list of “others”, people I have known in my life.  There are friends and acquaintances recent and past.  There are people with whom I worked and lived,  There are people who dramatically affected my life...some wonderfully and some to my detriment.  There are those closest and most intimate with me.  Of course that includes the two women who are my life partners, known here as swan and t, who share my life and love, and whose identities I must protect from those who would fire one of them from her career if they knew of her true life, and the other just from prying and judgmental eyes.  It of course includes my son and those who love him and with whom he would choose to share this.  It includes fellow students whom I have encountered recently, and old friends and some enemies from several eras in my life.  I intend to invite this group whose consciousness has somehow intersected mine impactfully to read, listen, and perhaps to participate.  I am determined to write this as it will be whether many of those others, or no one at all chooses to read it.  I hope that in this I can come to believe my ending a few years ago was in reality a beginning: that “I am not dead yet” in an immediate sense, and moreover that the ending that must come sometime in the next three decades for me is, in fact, perhaps a beginning.  And that if I come to see that, then, too, for those closest to me as well that theirs, too, can be a beginning for them.


There is so much I think of to say.   Social commentary and activism, and its unrelenting brother and sister: politics, advocacy, nonprofit organizational management, psychology, sexuality and love, plain sexuality, hedonism and kink, striving, elation and its demise in my current life, spirituality and numinosity (and its opponents: religion and theology), history, and music, drugs and the role their presence and their absence can play in life, are all areas I aspire to discuss.  I am sure there are more, and I am sure I will miss some of even these.


If you are inclined to suffer this, then please, you are invited and included.  If not, then I apologize for not being deterred from having you in mind as I write this, and while I will regret your absence of attention,  I am not tailoring any of this for anyone other than whatever sort of “muse” it is that seems to be driving me to this self-indulgence


.A series of events left me shaken and terror stricken four and a half years ago and I withdrew from contact with just about everyone but my loves and my son.  Perhaps this is a step to re-establish contact with others without the risk of true interpersonal intimacy which prospect still feels just soul-shakingly scarey to me.  Or maybe I turned sixty-six two days ago and feel a need to do some sorting out and processing and seeing if there is any possibility of the rest of my life’s focus being  more than television viewing of baseball, football, current events watching, and remembering when my life felt as though living was striving for joy and not merely the passage of my time in existence as it has seemed to need to be the last several years.


Recently I’ve written some diverse autobiographical pieces each about 350 words length give or take.  They are a hodge podge of thoughts, topics and experiences.  There is also one letter to the President……(and you think you are struck by my presumptiousness in sending this out:)  And even a paper on a study I did of Carl Jung and religion.  I thought that would give me a diverse buffet of items to begin with, and might sort of permit anyone so unfortunate as to undertake following this, an opportunity to sample some of what it is that has occupied my reality in recent years.  If you think this is worth your time and or not unpleasant please read.  If you feel called to comment or email me, please do.  I can certainly imagine some will choose one, or the other, or neither.  


Thank you for entertaining this self-indulgence of mine, and for whatever compassion or interest you might have for me.

Tom

Davy Crockett

I had one of my earliest and most memorable experiences one beautiful Monday, October 1955.  I was about a month into Mrs. Maxwell’s first grade class at Percy Hughes Elementary School, Syracuse, New York.


I’d managed to bridge the hurdle of my daily school schedule expanding from a half day to a full day schedule: originally having complained to  my parents that one daily school “service” was enough.  But lacking the power to change things, I was tolerating my incarceration for a full day of reading (a huge mystery for me), and writing, and learning to sit in my desk with my hands folded or else.  My lack of control over the situation weighed heavily on me, and led to numerous screaming book slamming and ruler cracking fits from Mrs. Maxwell who was determined I would learn the proper demeanor of a docile scholar despite my difficulty “getting it.”


My life was transformed by electronic technology even then.  For a few months my weekly sojourn into the miracle communications device, television, enthralled me in the magic kingdom of Disney Land.  Thus, I was transformed by my first hero.  Davy Crockett, born on a Mountain Top in Tennessee, greenest place in the land of the free, raised in the woods so he knew every tree, kilt him a bar when he was only three…..was my alter ego.  I had encountered my first soul mate…..Davy Crockett was in fact the true personification of me.


My parents recognized and even appreciated my identification with my hero.  I had accoutrements which would facilitate my full transformation to my new self.  I had fringed pants, a fringed shirt, moccasins, and most importantly my coon skin hat.  My armamentarium included a rubber hunting knife and tomahawk, as well as a toy flintlock rifle.  When I
assumed my Crockett-wear I was not just in costume;  I was me for the first time, having shed my daily masquerade as little Tommy the distracted and sad first grader.


Each day my neighbors and I would make the chilly, often damp 6 block trek to Percy Hughes.  We all came home for lunch.  It was 1955.  All mothers, any of us had seen, were housewives, and every child had lunch at home and then returned to school in the afternoon as any good Christian urchin should


This Monday morning I could not rid my mind of my identification with Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.  Mrs. Maxwell had a number of times noticed, I was not attending to her school drivel in my front row seat.  I had not yet mastered the ability to appear attentive on auto-pilot, while thinking “real” thoughts in my mind.  I would soon be empowered to develop that vital coping skill.


I could not hide my disinterest for the alphabet, my numbers, and seeing Spot run, run, run run.  Finally the morning was over and I joined my friends to head home to my Mother and lunch.  I told her that I’d had a fine morning, and was paying attention like a good boy no matter what Mrs. Maxwell wrote her in those scurrilous notes she kept sending home to her.  I posited a new strategy to enhance the academic environment of Mrs. Maxwell’s first grade class that afternoon.  I announced my intention to return to school  in my full Davy Crockett regalia.  My mother declared this was not in any way appropriate, sent me back on my way to school full of vegetable soup and dressed in my usual school attire.


My greatest adventure to date was in the offing.  I knew Monday was wash day.  Following lunch my mother would descend to our cellar and play with the washing machine.  I hung out for a while up the street allowing her time to go downstairs and quietly re-entered our house via the front door and then up the hallway to my bedroom.  Breathlessly, I cast off my clothes and accomplished the crockettization of my attire and my persona.  I left my morning clothes strewn about the bedroom and stealthily began my second departure to school of the afternoon.


I ran back to school.  I arrived just before the school room door was to have closed for the afternoon.  I approached Mrs. Maxwell in my Crockett-wear.  I was proud, strong, and very in charge.   Davy Crockett was going to school.  Mrs. Maxwell succumbed to my trans-substantiation and even gave me a smile and a pat on my coonskin cap as I walked past her to my desk.  Now this was school.  My teacher was in fact not the shrew I’d imagined, and I was going to become exactly the man I determined I should be.  In my mind trumpets heralded my grand entrance to this new reality: my identity.


The afternoon began swimmingly, but soon Mrs. Maxwell reminded me of one of the very sacrosanct rules of “good” demeanor for children attending Percy Hughes Elementary school.  One must never wear a hat in school.  She was confused poor thing, misidentifying me as one of my classmates, as the little Tommy who had occupied this same desk that morning. She couldn’t help it.  Adults were generally dumb.  I took the affront of her suggestion I remove my most important identifier of who I was, my coon skin hat, with sufferance, and politely ignored her.  She was ever more insistent I should remove my hat.  Davy Crockett was of course not subject to such ridiculous demands from a mere school teacher.  Eventually our impasse reached a point of abject conflict.  She unceremoniously, and quite rudely, snatched my Davy Crockett coonskin cap from my head.  I had no choice.  The only reasonable response was immediate action.  I leapt from my seat, rapidly drew my rubber tomahawk, and hatcheted the misguided wench…..enthusiastically and with all my might.  


This did not go as well as it would have in Disney Land.  She was not daunted by my assault, and began her characteristic banshee screaming routine.  She was suddenly amazingly physically adept.  In fact she grabbed me and rather violently shook me to the door of the class and propelled me across the outer hallway.  I recall hitting the wall on the other side and her screaming at me to get home to my mother.  Crushing terror collapsed my contentment and pride.  I felt shattered.


I ran home.  My mother had found my clothes on the bedroom floor not long before Mrs. Maxwell’s phone call reported my terrible infraction.  She waited for me on the front porch and if I thought Mrs. Maxwell had lacked the respect Davy Crockett deserved, my mother was far more ruthless and and  brutal in her welcoming me home.


I was soon completely without my offending vestments and appreciating just how much a rubber knife could sting a little boy’s bottom.  I spent the afternoon crying and in terror of what might ensue when my father got home…..a far worse cataclysm.


The next day we all returned to school and my first close up meeting with Mr. Northrup, Percy Hughes’ Principal, and much discussion of the  even more horrible woes that would befall me beyond my loss of television, and my loss of all my Davy Crockett toys and garments. and my staying in from after school play to practice reading, to which I was sentenced if I did not mend my ways.

I realized that the larger world did not see my reality, and I needed to become clandestine to never let “them” catch me in my world again.  My educational career began.

Almost Dead Unable to Let Go

April 23, 1949, Walter and Rebecca gave birth to a son in Syracuse General Hospital. Thomas Eamoe’s birth weight was 3 pounds 8 ounces.  Both mother and son’s condition was critical.


My father told the story that the first time he saw me a nurse held me up in the palm of one hand.  Coupled with the reality that that he was told to prepare to lose his son, or his wife, or both, his first week of fatherhood was anxious and bitter sweet.  The first two months of my life were due to a medical innovation, an incubator. 1949 medical science had not learned the optimal oxygen level for infants in neonatal incubators.  Half of infants in incubators in 1949 went blind from too oxygen rich an atmosphere. I can see.


Thus began my relationship to my body. My life  here is, has been, and will always be in this body.  Analyzing the effects of my physicality on my life is like analyzing the effects of water on the sea.  There is no other existence, soul, essence, or non-physical aspect of me that I know.  I am persuaded by recent science that the parts of ourselves we think of as mental, whether cognitive or affective, are, in fact, physiologically based.  Will I end when my body does?  I am arrogant enough to hope not; to want to feel I pre-existed this life and will continue after death,  but I have no scientific way to know that.  There may be ways of directly knowing reality that science has yet to penetrate or understand.  If that is so, religion seems to me an inept reflection of that  knowing.


I was ill much of my childhood.  Thankfully I had no serious chronic illnesses.  I was in the third grade before my parents ever went more than 2 weeks without taking me to a doctor.  I likely owe my life to the efforts of an old time family Doc, Dr. Vernon T, Rear, who cared for me endlessly.  He once found me in serious enough medical crisis when my parents brought me to him, that he left his office with a waiting room full of patients to carry me, in my footy pajamas, to his Cadillac and drove me to the hospital himself with my parents close behind.  He sat up at my bedside all night that night.  His care was effective. I just turned 66 last Thursday.  

Dr. Rear was removed from medical practice in 1965.  He’d undertaken to treat heroin addicts by titrateing them off heroin rather than the “cold turkey”   mandated total abstinence approach that was the “correct” way to treat addicts of that time (after all, if they died, they died, they were immoral criminals anyway).  Thank goodness his medical heresy was still in sway when I came into his care.  I am confident my life might have ended in the 1950’s without it..


Early, I failed to thrive.  Despite the best efforts of my parents, I did not gain weight.  I had continuous respiratory, ENT, and gastrointestinal issues.  Some years of elementary school I was absent from school more days than I attended.  To make matters worse I was just not a normal sick kid.  I was headstrong and oppositional.  I was very bright yet failed to keep up well in school.  It turns out I was dyslexic and ADHD but in the 1950’s those explanations for bad behavior and laziness did not exist.  Some kids were just bad, and this one was ill all the time besides.


Eventually I gained weight, and gained weight, and gained weight.  I still have a note from Dr. Rear when I was in 7th grade that includes a diet for me and a message scrawled to my parents.  It says, “Don’t force Tom to eat.”  I had become obese.  Dr. Rear was convinced that my parents had been so afraid I would not survive due to low weight, that they were over feeding me, mistaking obesity for health.  We didn’t know as we do today that this physiological swing is  common in “preemies,” and often part of the etiology of chronic obesity.


The list of health issues and medical experiences of my life would fill two pages.  Let me see, there was a failed tonsillectomy, early onset degenerative osteo arthritis, chronic obesity, Type 2 diabetes, meralgia paresthetica, depression, PTSD, a few really good fights, industrial injuries, 2 total knee replacements, 1 total shoulder replacement (the other shoulder is  planned for summer 2015), bilateral carpal tunnel surgeries, lasik eye surgeries, an emergency bowel resection due to bowel obstruction, severe sleep apnea, a special one: methyl tetra hydro folate reductase, and oh  yeah, my latest: congestive heart failure. It really is sort of an impressive list and this is hardly exhaustive.


The most profound impact though was obesity and my Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery.  My weight continued to roller coaster up and down throughout my life.  I came to believe I was weak, undisciplined, and food addicted, because I could not manage my weight.  I know now from recent work in bariatrics, that obesity is typical in the lives of premature children and is physiological.  Most of my life though doctors provided me endless diets and exercise programs that didn’t work.  In my 50’s, I was seriously obese.  I kept finding doctors who “knew” I was lying and deluded.  I would take them logs of what I had eaten and my physical activity and exercise and they would tell me that it was simply not possible for me to weigh what I did, and for those logs to be accurate.  I faced increasingly serious health issues.   Finally one Dr., in exasperation, and with an inference of disgust, suggested there was nothing left for me but to explore weight loss surgery.  He seemed to throw that off as a final condemnation of incompetence to manage my own body.  Thankfully I took his suggestion literally.


March 23, 2009, I underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery.  I weighed 330 pounds, had a 54 inch waist and was gaining weight.  I had hypertension, type 2 diabetes, meralgia paresthetica. severe arthritis (knees, hips, spine, and shoulders), severe sleep apnea, hyperlipidemia: the whole panoply of related conditions. I was on 28 different prescription medications. Today I weighed 158 pounds. I am wearing 32 inch waist Levis. I no longer have those diagnoses (other than my shoulder that still needs to be replaced). My type 2 diabetes is in remission, now evolved into nesidioblastosis. My life change is profound and wonderful.


I had a difficult weight loss surgery.  I developed a postoperative infection and was hospitalized a month. I was home recovering for most of two months after that.  I was told I could return to drinking alcohol 8 months after the surgery so long as I was “careful.”  I was. I never spilled a drop. I was not told Gastric bypass surgery eliminates hormones in one’s stomach that begin the process of metabolizing alcohol.  Without these hormones, alcohol enters one’s blood and goes directly to the brain in raw form.  Estimates vary about the effects of alcohol as an intoxicant after gastric bypass surgery but, in general, they are estimated to be 6 to 8 times greater than normal.  Drinking made me violent and psychotic.  I went to jail.  I went to treatment.  I am sober four years and three months. My family is intact, and I am much healthier.   Fortunately economic forces led me into retirement six months earlier.  Because of legal consequences, I can never work again.


I am officially an elder.  I am much more healthy and athletically active than many peers and I hope that will continue.  I’m going to ride this body as long as I’m able..

Life Work Passion

Experience “set me up” to have a stressful, complex, gratifying career.  Much of my life I was an outsider, compelled to joust with authority, and determined to have society accept those of us who are different-----all of us, and thus, me.


So many forces channeled me to my life. I was different from what was expected by my parents, my teachers, my friends, my doctors: everyone.  I was bright yet challenged to perform normally academically.  I saw no reason that I should not control my world and my life.  I had very controlling parents.  I was nonconformist.  My parents were  the consummate 1950’s, middle class, Bing Crosby family….conservative, religious, anti-intellectual, hard working, repressing emotion other than love of country and church.  Life was conflict.  It has been since.  It is life.


Leon was a man in his early 60’s. His mother gave birth to him in 1945.  In 1949 he went to live in Columbus State Institute.  He never left there until 2004. The most useless of all indications of human giftedness is the IQ, and Leon’s was exceptional.  It measured 8.  In 1949 that identified him as an imbecile,  a cretin, and incapable of existing outside the walls of a state institute. Leon lived his life on a ward with at best very limited interaction with others.  His care was somewhat less than would have been afforded a dog boarded at a kennel while his family was on vacation.  


His family was not on vacation.  His father was dying of colon cancer.  His mother was adjusting to being a single mom in the 1950’s with 2 sons, one institutionalized and the other identified as what was in those days termed “a slow learner.”  She met  with parents in her community with kids like hers. In turn they reached out to small clusters of parents in other communities around the country.  This network of coffee table, kitchen table gatherings, mostly of moms was the only chance most of these parents had ever had to know others whose children were the ultimate social outcasts of their day.  Leon’s mom placed ads in newspapers around the country.  They became the catalyst around which these gatherings of moms crystallized.  On vacation, no she was not on vacation.  Her network of parents writing letters to each other culminated in the formation of the first, and today the largest, advocacy organization in the US and worldwide, that promotes the well-being of people with developmental disabilities.  Today it is The Arc. They revolutionized the lives of their children, their families, their communities, our culture, and themselves.  Leon’s mom in Cincinnati, Ohio was not on vacation while her son was subjected to neglect in the state institute. All good people knew that the institutes were how those “like him” had to live out their useless existences.


In 1998 I became the Executive Director of The Arc in Cincinnati.  My 22 year career to that point had been carved by the  force and erosion of my life to the intersection of my consciousness and this organization.  I had a board member in his 50’s who had a developmental disability.  He was Leon’s brother.  He had some personal issues that led me engage with him as an advocacy case, and then as a friend.  Eventually he introduced me to his brother, to Leon.  Leon’s mother was long since dead.   Leon was now in his 60’s and, lived in a dismal nursing home in Springfield, having been “dumped out” of the State Institute when Arc Advocacy had forced its closure and demolition in 1979.  His life there was less one of neglect and malignant indifference.  No one ever knew him or touched him unless they received a paycheck to do so.  No one spoke to him.  You see he was profoundly retarded   That label was his complete identity.  There was nothing for him to say, nothing to say to him.  


I took his brother to visit him once every 3 months.  He’d made a deathbed promise to his mom to take care of his brother Leon, always.  He did all he could within the limits of his own gifts and his own impoverished lifestyle.  He had a dream that one day his brother would live with him in Cincinnati: that they could be together.  He did the ridiculous!  He asked Leon, “Would you like to come back to Cincinnati and live with me?”  Leon’s face lit up.  Very loudly he uttered a very clear “YESSSSSS”! We were in the forefront of an advocacy process that had come to be called self-determination.  Everything in the lives of people with developmental disabilities was determined by their funding, their Medicaid funding.  I had been one of many advocates who had been successful in creating a new mechanism for Medicaid resources to be used to permit people to live lives they chose for themselves rather than where “the system” placed them.  Sixty years after 4 year old Leon was taken from his mother’s arms and placed in the state institute, he was coming back to his community to be with his now late middle-aged younger brother.  


Leon relocated to a nursing home in Roselawn.  His brother visited him often as did an increasing cluster of friends who formed around him.  His caretakers treated him so differently than had ever been before.  You see now when those who cared for Leon had a quarterly meeting regarding his care, half or even a full, dozen friends would attend to join the conversation.  He made numerous outings into the community, a new enrichment of Leon’s life.


I was very involved in public policy advocacy.  A central aspect of that was a revolving political cycle called the Ohio Biennial Budget deliberation.  That season the dynamics of the budget were particularly difficult and we were fighting desperately to maintain vitally needed funds.  One of Leon’s new friends was a school teacher who was my closest friend.  She was teaching middle school social studies in a parochial school.  She had become involved through Leon and I in the broader advocacy process and was following the process of the state’s developmental disabilities budget through the legislature.  She supplanted the boring civics text relied on previously, with the observation of how a bill becomes a law….the Ohio Biennium budget bill.  I was planning testimony for advocates before the Senate Finance Committee.  Inspiration struck.
We introduced Leon to this class.  They heard his life story and responded to him as though he was the greatest rock star the fifth grade and sixth grade had ever seen.  They included him in class outings and invited him to their Valentine’s Day party.  That party featured a high point of my career.  I asked Leon as he basked in the attention of these children in a school reception for him, (Leon had never been to a school before),”Leon, look at all the friends you have.”  Leon responded as loudly as he had that day when asked if he wanted to move to Cincinnati with his brother.  He bellowed, “One, two, a whole bunch!”  I was floored...not bad for a “nonverbal” guy.  Leon had found his voice, and he even counted: literally, and figuratively.  He had been waiting for people to talk to him.


The class was as intrepid as it was precocious.  It went on to provide testimony the Ohio Senate has never heard the like of again.  Forty-five fifth and sixth grade students, their, teacher and an Arc Director, piled off school buses outside the state house along with their friend Leon and his brother.  They filed in and sat down.  I had been able to arranged for them to present to the committee.  While Leon and his brother sat before the Senate Finance Committee, four students came forth with some of the most compelling witness testimony presented the Senators that biennium.  They spoke of their relationship with their friend Leon, and what they needed the committee to do with that budget bill for Leon, his brother, and all Ohioans with developmental disabilities, their friends, and families.  That budget campaign was successful.  We had impact.


My career and my passion was the topic of this piece.  I had the privilege of meeting Leon, his brother, and working to help us all recognize we have gifts that enrich each life, no matter how uncharacteristic we may be from the way most of us are.  My passion is self-determined inclusion.

The Role of Money in My Life

Throughout my life money has had varied pronounced effects on me.


I grew up in a home dominated by my parents' history as destitute orphans during the depression.  My father worked hard, became a successful insurance professional, and provided us a decent and secure, if not opulent, lifestyle.  In our home, my parents were always certain that the spectre of financial disaster was at our door, and that at any moment we would be on the street.  Money seemed to me this great evil that was always there, lurking, and about to plunge us into devastation and misery.  That never happened thanks to my parents, but it was always a nightmarish source of anxiety, even strife in our home.


It affected everything in our lives even as I recall, my toilet training.  I have always remembered my father’s careful instruction to little Tommy as I sat on the toilet learning to wipe up after a bowel movement.  There was a right way to do everything…...and only one right way.  One must use three sheets of toilet paper.  Two was ineffective.  More than three was extravagant and worse yet wasteful.  One did not want to incur the consequences of being wasteful on the toilet….after all your pants were already down and your bottom quite exposed.  Once one had carefully overlapped the three sheets into a pad the size of one sheet they might then take an initial swipe at sanitization.  That having occurred, then the pad was to be folded in on itself creating a new unsullied pad the size of half a sheet and twice as thick.  Once the cleansing properties of that configuration of toilet paper had been applied, it was to be folded in half again creating a final pad the size of one quarter sheet.  That, in light of its smaller size, had to very carefully be employed, and then, and only then, might the used toilet paper be discarded in the toilet.  If necessary one could use more...but only three sheets of course, and adhering to this precise protocol……..OR ELSE.


Money was the topic of frequent maternal lectures.  She feared I wouldn’t measure up to life.  I was troublesome, ill a great deal,  struggled learning reading, and thus other academics in elementary school.  She would rale I was likely to never be able to support myself as a man, let alone a family, and would spend my life in a poor house.  I was never quite sure what life in a poor house would entail, but I was certain it had to be a chamber of agonizing horrors, judging from my mother’s affect during these predictions.  I felt very weak and sad that I would never be able to become a great man like my father.


Life progressed.  I grew, wiping  correctly at every stage of course, and eventually I caught up in school, became healthier, and money became a source of power and independence.


At age 16 I got my first job.  I worked in a kitchen at a summer training and development center for the National Cash Register corporate headquarters.  I was paid all of $1.25/ Hr. sometimes clearing nearly $40.00 all in the same week.  I was a man.  I could make a living.


And I was suddenly a working guy among a crew of other working guys.  Getting money meant a new peer group.  My co-workers noted, with great concern, that I did not smoke as they all did.  They undertook convening after lunch smoking classes for me to remediate my neglected development.  They also gave me an entirely new understanding of the mysteries of sexual intercourse.  I’d already attended a YMCA sex ed class my father had taken me to: (six weeks of the glorious moral virtuousness of a sexually upstanding and moral life...without ever explaining HOW ONE DID IT!).  They also managed most weeks to get a few 6 packs of beer, despite our underage status, so that we could head to a park pavillion after a hot summer afternoon’s work for a few beers and cigarettes.  Yes it was the lure of money, the vanquished fear that I would be unable to ever sustain myself, and my huge sense of power when I in fact earned a real paycheck, that let me feel empowered for the first time to enjoy “adult pleasures.”


Each week most of my check went into savings for college someday, but I was able to keep enough to buy a record album and a few 45 RPM’s….the beginnings of my rock collection.  I remember acquiring the Rolling Stones albums: Painted Black and High Tide and Green Grass, and singles Bus Stop, Summer in the City, and Hey There Little Red riding Hood that summer.  There was enough to buy cigarettes (they were $0.18/pack in a carton), gas for going to and from work and some personal travel, and beer contributions to pool with my co-workers for our after work celebrations.  Money could be said to have expanded my horizons in ways my parents had never anticipated, nor were they aware of my new lifestyle features.


I went to college: at first paid for by my parents.  I was finally free of the strictures of our family.  I went wild.  I took advantage of the money my parents provided and the freedom of campus life.  I fell in love with the girl who became my first wife.  I recall I lived pretty well in my dorm with meals provided and my $12.50/week allowance which provided snacks out, dates, trips to the bars with my girl Saturday nights, cigarettes and most of the “good things” of life.  I worked hard at living up to the motto I coined: never allow college to interfere with your education.  My academic performance was terrible.  I was continually in dropped or probationary status with the university.  My parents tired of paying for my revelries (having done so far longer than I would have in their shoes.)


I struck off on my own the next fall.  I returned to the town where I’d been in school and where my girl friend was enrolled.  I found work in a mobile home factory and we moved in together.


Broadmore Homes of Ohio paid $2.45/hr. to start and I could bring home $79.86 for a 40 hour week.  Life was good.  My partner and I played political radical, she studied and I worked, and we partied; relying on a wide variety of intoxicants.  We were free.  My work was brutal, and the hours long under harsh conditions, and workers were frequently injured sometimes seriously. I enjoyed the company of a whole cadre of co-workers who were a derelict bunch of roustabout roughneck hippies. I named us “the Broadmorons”. This was a much harder life than I wanted for long, and I missed classrooms and intellectual pursuits.  I returned to college two years later having accumulated some savings.  My girl friend was by then my wife and a public school teacher, and I, paying for my own education, with earnings of my own intensely hard work, became WONDER OF WONDERS a straight A student!  It took me 8 years to complete my undergraduate education: 5 actually in school the rest out working.  But once I was committed, sacrificing my own money, I became a diligent Dean’s list student: an influence of money in my life.


Freud, wrote (paraphrase) that money and the work it requires of us, connects and moderates our Id and Superego empowering our ego, creating our relationship to external reality.  My life, in all its various stages, bears that theory out.

As my life progressed, my struggle was to prove my mother wrong: that I could succeed Though I would not become a traditional middle class professional, I became economically independent by engaging in social activism.  My need to be nonconformist while economically viable became a central theme of my life.

Family History

The question, “Is there anything about your family that seems unusual to you?" stimulated this particular piece.


A number of difficult life events over the last five years have led me into psychotherapy and a profound reconfiguration of who I am, or perhaps awareness of who I have been.


One of the stunning bits of feedback I have received in this process is the statement by my therapist that, “I experienced the worst child abuse she has encountered in her twenty-five years of clinical practice.”  That shocked me.  I knew I was not happy...but not that I was the victim of traumatic parenting.  I was an only child.  I had the only childhood I knew.  There were no real standards of comparison for my experience to others.  I lived my life in my family and it was “as it was.”


My parents were the best people they knew to be…...and “goodness” was always their aspiration.


Their childhoods too were “as they were.”  My mother was born in 1920 into a troubled family of poor young Irish immigrants in Syracuse, New York.  Her Father, Joseph Kelly, abandoned her mother while my grandmother was carrying her.  When she was an infant her mother died in a fire.  My mother somehow survived, and was thus, orphaned.  She was taken in by various relatively distant family members 75 miles north in Watertown.  Apparently, from what I can glean, she was passed from relative to relative throughout the north country spending portions of her childhood on the other side of the St. Lawrence in Canada, and more in Watertown, New York finally settling out with her Aunt Liza.  Liza was not really her Aunt. She was a widow and a single mother with two children of her own: not at all a happy set of circumstances in the 1920’s and 30’s.  She was a nurse and opened a nursing home in a sprawling house built during the Civil War.  She also managed to own a grocery store no small entrepreneurial feat for a widow lady of her time.  Had Liza not  undertaken to parent my mom, she literally would have been on the street.  Liza died when my mom was 17.  I know her via my mother’s jumbled narrations…..little bits and pieces of her childhood.  It is very much a Dickensian tale which is a hybrid of Cinderella and Great Expectations.  Her childhood was one of hard work and ferocious Presbyterian Calvinism, punctuated by no-nonsense strict physical discipline.  She was fed, clothed, and schooled.  She lived in the attic, and always felt she never had anything that hadn’t first belonged to one of Liza’s “real kids”: that she never had a real mother or family.  As she aged into dementia, as she eventually did, whenever we celebrated her birthday she would always weep joyously, proclaiming “Finally! This is the first birthday cake I ever had.”  We’d had cakes  for her every year for at least two decades and my father always had them for her before that.  But her lyric of a second class childhood never relented throughout her life….even as her awareness diminished to only a faint glimmer as she moved into her 70’s and 80’s.  


Liza was not an easy woman.  She was alone, with her own children and with no other motivation than to do good, raised my mother.  Thank god for her.


It may have been long cold north country winters sleeping in her drafty attic, or her diet,or genetics, but by the age of 19 my mother had tuberculosis.  She moved into a  public institution of that time, a
TB sanitarium.  Quarantined there, she and her peers awaited death.  About 10% of those interred there survived…..she was one of those who came out the other side. She lived there two years.  Before “the san,” as she called it, she had gone out a few times with a young man two years older than her.  He was a classic “bad boy” of that era, and was himself an orphan, who had largely grown up on the street, self-parented, during the depression.  Paradoxically, he’d somehow managed to graduate high school with top honors in his class at the age of 16, despite his lack of adult guidance.


His childhood too was split between far northern, small town, and rural, New York and south eastern Ontario.  He had lived with his parents until the age of 12.  His mother was a stereotypical 1920’s flapper…..Peck’s bad girl… and his father a handsome man’s man.  Their family perpetrated the greatest heresy of their day.  They divorced in 1930 .  Neither of his parents had a place in their life for a 12 year old boy. He was on his own.  Child custody laws were not sophisticated.  Imagining the adventures and traumas of a 12 year old, very intelligent, guy bouncing from whatever home would take him in for a time, or living as best he could, on his own, in that day brings up images ranging from tales of David Copperfield to Huckleberry Finn.


My parents were married in the second year of World War II.  They had waited, my mother recovering from her TB experiences, and World War II raging.   My dad however worked in a war defense factory, which work earned him the rarest of all circumstances for a young able-bodied man: a draft deferment.  They married June 26 1943.  Certainly were he to be drafted it would have happened by then.  My Dad’s draft notice caught up to him July 2, 1943 in Kentucky as they were on their honeymoon.  July 10 he reported to Army Basic training at Fort Bragg.  In a short time he was in Italy.  He loved to quip that, reversing today’s trend, he and my mom were married two years, before they lived together.


That was my parent’s family values imprinting….their structural blueprint.  They both were determined that their children (there came to be only one) would never know the lack of structure, the lack of ownership, of an in-tact family.  They both imagined an idealized family life opposite what theirs had been.  They did everything they could to create that reality, despite the scars, nightmares, and rage they harbored from their own childhoods.


Reality fell far short of the bliss they had known would be theirs, if only they could create their family as they knew it could be.  They were married 61 years and in love for at least 25 or them.  They may not have been saints but they were never the monsters that their early lives might have caused them to be.


I have issues to live with from my past.  When I took my Masters Degree counseling psychology comprehensive exam, I was asked to write an essay in response to the statement, “Everyone is doing the best they can.”  I thought of my parents as I filled out my blue book.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Letter to the President


December 9, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Washington,  D. C. 20500


Dear Mr. President,


I have never undertaken writing to my President before.  Thank you for your recent comment that police victimization of Americans is not an entirely race-based issue.  I have had a devastating personal experience as such a victim.  I am, not that it should matter in any way, a 65 year old, white, Masters Degree educated, "middle class" professional who is now adjudicated as a violent offender.  This violation is false, but that has no importance. The court has ruled.


In October 2010 I experienced a severe life crisis.  As was the case with all too many of us, I lost my job in July 2010 in the economic upheaval.  I had been Executive Director of a charity serving people with developmental disabilities and their families.  In mid July 2010, I awakened to the first day I'd had in thirty-five years as an unemployed American.  Additionally, earlier that year, I'd suffered two major hospitalizations/surgeries, one of which was a nearly life ending emergency, and both my parents died: my mother from Alzheimers, and my father from old age and grief.  I was their only child.  I was emotionally devastated.


I began drinking too much.  One morning while instant messaging with a close intimate friend, who knew how upset I'd been, I made what I thought was an off-handed comment that I might as well just kill myself.  I was not serious or actually contemplating any such action, but my friend did not understand that.  She phoned 9-1-1 and told them she feared I was going to kill myself.


By the time the police arrived at my condominium I had left home to shop in a nearby Walmart.  I was shocked to receive a voicemail from a police detective on my cell phone telling me he needed to speak with me.  I phoned him back to tell him I was at Walmart and to arrange to connect with him.  He told me that "oddly enough" he happened to be in the very same Walmart parking lot at that very moment.  I arranged to meet him at my car in the parking lot and left the store.


The Detective approached me and told me that he had received a call concerning my attempting suicide. I explained it was all a great misunderstanding.  As we met in the parking lot a couple more police cars joined us with lights flashing.  Then others arrived.  In a very short while I was surrounded by about 8 officers some with bullet-proof vests, and military-like helmets, and dogs, and assault rifles.  Some of them were joking with each other about how many of those old folks in my condominium community they had scared while out for morning walks, searching for me with vests, helmets, rifles, and dogs.


They all gathered around me engaged in what became sort of a group interrogation.  I  felt very much like a second grade child surrounded by a group of high school bullies.  They handcuffed me.  They asked me questions about my relationship with the woman who had called them.  They told me I should end my relationship with her.  They at one point ran into my shoulder (I'd told them that I had serious arthritis in that shoulder and needed a shoulder replacement).  They questioned if I wanted to fight them.  They tried to provoke me to make some sort of aggressive action.  They searched me and found nothing incriminating.  They checked me out and found I had no previous police record.  They wanted to search my car, but I declined, which clearly did not please them, but they respected my right to refuse that search.  Eventually I was able to play into these cops’ biases by lapsing into talking about how this was a result of the craziness of a woman: that women were the source of all men's problems.  I feigned agreement with them on this to try to manipulate the situation, playing on their misogeny.  Before long, we were all standing there, grunting and scratching, and griping about how "evil bitches were the cause of all men’s problems"...except that I was in handcuffs surrounded by armed menacing police and dogs.  Then the largest of the officers "got in my face" to tell me that I had wanted attention, and I sure had gotten it, and if this ever happened again they would come and lock me up and confiscate my car and wreck my life, etc.  They finally let me go.  I was shaken so badly it was difficult to drive home.


The next few days I went into a paranoid crisis.  The following Sunday night....Halloween...I drank until I was very intoxicated.  I was sure the police were going to come find me and kill me.  I was home alone, but phoned my wife who was with our friend who had called 9-1-1 that preceding Thursday.  They called 9-1-1 again.


At 2:30 AM that morning I was at home, alone,  asleep (passed out) on my living room couch.  I awakened to find myself surrounded by five police officers who pounced on me, cuffed me, and carried me kicking and screaming from my home.  When they got me outside I was confronted by dozens of police and emergency vehicles with flashing lights, and my wife and my friend.  My wife came over to try to calm me and tell me not to fight the police.  I didn't understand at all what was happening to me, but that armed thugs had entered my home and were forcibly carrying me from my home.  In my struggling, one of my flailing feet connected with my wife.  The police screamed I had committed domestic violence and threw me in the back of a car and drove me to jail. I was charged with domestic violence and inducing panic.  


I really did not understand what had happened or where I was.  They kept me nude in a solitary cell, with no bedding, or toilet paper, or even a cup (suicide watch) for three days.  Once I was taken out, dressed, and hauled to court for an arraignment.  I told the judge I didn't understand where I was and why.  He said that likely I was psychotic and needed to be in forensic care.  Eventually, I was convicted, served time, and completed probation.  I no longer drink and never will again.  I have been treated continuously since that time for PTSD including psychiatric hospitalization.  I can never work again.  No one wants to hire a 65 year old man who has been unemployed for four years, and has these two convictions.


I am by no means arguing that my experience demonstrates police abuse is not a racial problem, but that I, an educated white middle-class professional, was subjected to this devastatingly horrid victimization by the uniformed thugs who used their police powers to "protect and serve" me.  I was at that time a 5 foot seven inch tall, 150 pound, elderly man, with two replaced knees and, diabetes, and severely arthritic shoulders, hardly a menacing physical specimen who represented any threat to our community or its police.


During my time in the Warren County, Ohio jail, stories like mine were not atypical among inmates, and I would attest that likely about 20% of inmates were black.  That may not seem, at first blush, to be a very telling statistic, until one considers that my community is likely 97% white in its racial composition.


Thank you for stating that the problem of abuse of police powers is not only an issue of racial discrimination but a human rights issue.  The assault on Americans’ rights by police, whether we are white, or black, or Hispanic, or whatever background is endemic and devastating to our society.


My life is ruined.  Once, The Ohio General Assembly  passed a resolution honoring me as “one of Ohio's finest citizens”  for my work in community organizing with people with disabilities and their families.  When I look in the mirror today, I  see  only a pathetic broken old criminal standing before the court in chains and sandals, in tears, pleading to go home.


I know this is long.  If someone has waded through it, please take my experience into consideration as you address the endemic problems of police abusing Americans like me.  If this should reach your eyes Mr. President, thank you for reading and listening.  It is an honor to even think something I might write about my life could ever come to your attention.


By the way, I was once an honorary member of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association while I directed a nonprofit in Toledo.  I am not a chronic "cop hater," but the police I met in these incidents were, in my opinion, armed, hired, assaultive thugs and the rest of my life is wrecked by their abuse.


Yours truly,



Tom

Friday, April 24, 2015

Crucible: Political Genesis

Breaking Crosses, breaking skulls, breaking ribs, offset by prayers, desperately intoned hymns, cat calls, and insults.  I can visualize the May 21,1968 ROTC President’s review at Bowling Green State University as though I am watching a black and white news documentary on PBS.  I can relive, in my gut,  my horror as I realized that what I believed about my country’s values, my society’s response to dissent, my belief that the government of my high school social studies text’s orthodoxy, were all sham.  Like when I learned Santa Claus was a mythical conspiracy of not only my parents, but the world, I was afraid.  I was nauseated.  I was shaking.  I was radicalized and my life long social activist path was set.


I was just turned 19.  I was a clean cut, bright, rebellious late teen, much impressed with my new “adulthood.”  I had escaped my parent’s home to the relative freedom of a midwestern backwater college in Ohio’s publicly supported university system.  I’d dreamt of college-- a place where I would think great thoughts, study classics, and grow.  I found myself with 250 Freshman in  giant lecture halls, and subsequent smaller closed circuit television “discussion sections”  lead by graduate students who, after they had performed their one critical act of pedagogy, that of turning on the classroom TV monitor, put their heads down on their desks and napped.  


I had already come to blows with my resident advisor that past fall for sounding a long, orange stadium horn out my dorm window during quiet hours.  I liked having a fairly neat dorm room but was amazed that our rooms were inspected once a week to assure our beds were made--that in loco parentis still existed on a 1968 college campus, while on the west coast student rights activists were publishing “Student As Nigger” treatises.  I pledged a fraternity that fall.  I was honored to be invited to join, without going through the competitive screening of social worthiness called “rush.”  I had been graced with a much sought after open bid.  I was a Pi Kappa Alpha for 10 days.  I made it through a fabulous drunken orgy or two (much more drunken that orgasmic), and my first pledge “line up.”  We were all lined up lying on the floor pretending to be insects.  At the direction of our pledge leaders we screamed on command that we were dog shit, so that we might come to understand our worthless untouchableness as new pledges.  I left “the house” that night only to return briefly the next day to inform the pledge leader I was not Pike material, and to see if I could get them to refund my $.95 that I had been required to pay for my official pledge notebook in which I had dutifully written the Greek alphabet, and had begun collecting signatures of actives and their officially “pinned” girl friends.  He erupted into disgust that I was “shitting on the house!”  I was the embodiment of affrontery and the epitome of an ungrateful heretic.  I escaped the house that afternoon in tact, but just barely.


As I watched events unfold at the ROTC review that beautiful spring day, I was with my new girl friend.  We were as totally wrapped in co-dependence as two post adolescents trying to emerge from dysfunctional families could be.  I was not afraid of her...well not terribly.  Any other female turned my soul and my ego to mush. She did not.  I knew that meant we were in love.  It took 31 years of pathetic marriage to learn that the absence of terror was not love.  I’d yet to learn as well that all love involves a measure of absolute terror commensurate with its joyousness.


So this was the day ROTC cadets in full dress uniform regalia marched on the picturesque inner campus before the university President, dignitaires, cadet parents and the appreciative and grateful student body.  Students chests would beat with patriotic pride as their peers, about to march into careers as second lieutenants upon graduation, marched triumphantly before them.  It happened every year just this way.


This year though, it was different.  Opposition to the U S war in Viet Nam had filtered even to the sleepy backwater cornfields of Northwest Ohio.  There was a very tiny chapter of the SDS, Students For a Democratic Society, that was meeting on the campus--the classic sixties peacenik bunch.  They  were so few they had recruited “extras” from that hotbed of campus communism to the south, Yellow Springs.  Student demonstrators from Antioch University bused in for the ROTC review.   I had attended an SDS meeting that fall, after I’d depledged my fraternity.  I was impressed with their sincerity, if I was uncertain about their political views.  


I had grown up on a steady diet of World War II movies and my father’s recounting his service in Italy during that giant horror.  I knew that it was the responsibility of all good young Christian men to serve their stint in the military.  I was sure that would come to be my honor as well. I knew too that service was to defend our rights: redress of grievance, free thought and expression, dissent and all the great purposes for which our country stood as the champion of freedom throughout the world.  I could appreciate the SDS-ers exercising their American rights.  I knew they should be able to do so.


Days before the ROTC review that year, the University President, William T Jerome III, heard of the impending incursion into his fife-dom by the commie peacenik crowd of ne’er do well homegrown student radicals and imported degenerates from Antioch.  He sent out the word to the bastions of true American manhood, the fraternity men of his campus, to drive these evil interlopers from our pristine campus’ midst.  One fraternity, the very much revered “jock house” the Phi Delts, our football team, were tapped for this sacred  defense.


The young cadets and graduates paraded gloriously on the inner campus arbors and lawn.
The band playing marches as they passed before the dais of reviewing dignitaries.  Across that hallowed field were seated about four dozen young people and one faculty member, each seated quietly praying and singing hymns …….We Shall Overcome…..Kum ba yah.  Each held a white cross.  They were surrounded by a phalanx of fraternity men proudly sporting their Phi Delt jackets.  They spat on the demonstrators and called out to them, “faggot, commie, traitor, mickey mouse, what’re you doing Friday night Tiny Tim,” and the old favorite: “Sigma Chi once, Sigma Chi twice holy jumping Jesus Christ, fuck, shit, pussy.” The color guard passed in review, and the National Anthem played.  Everyone stood with their hands on their hearts--but the demonstrators.  They sat silently and stared.  That  provocation could never be withstood!  The fraternity men waded into the demonstrators and beat them.  Those unholy crosses, so bastardized as degenerate, perverted anti-war symbols, were smashed to redeem them to American holiness.  I remember shaking in horror as two giant football players kicked in the ribs of an about 98 pound girl while she hemhorhaged from her mouth.  I remember campus police looking on and jeering, doing nothing to interfere with this exercise of true American patriotism.  


All that I believed about my country was a sham--as meaningless as the words intoned in my Sunday church services had been to the lives of my parents and their friends.  I was redefined in that anguish, and ashamed that I was not one of those with a cross.  I have been since.


It took me years after that to learn there were more effective ways to change society than throwing rocks at cops in street battles, but I did learn. That moment set my path.


That afternoon a young campus news reporter who was photographing this debacle’s unfolding approached the University President pleading for him to tell the police to intervene.  He responded that the demonstrators, were getting off better than they deserved.


Two years later we ran President Jerome off our campus the spring of the Kent State murders.

Two Years after that 10,000 of us sat on the field when they tried to hold the ROTC review and they had to cancel it.  There was nowhere left for them to march.