Thursday, July 5, 2018

At the Gates

Grey waves lap against a dark sky.

I could die at any moment.
Heart attack, infected toenail, bladder explosion.

What if that whole St. Peter thing is real?

"So St. Pete, how's it hanging?"
He regards me with heavenly murder.
"Hey--my lips didn't move--no fair reading my mind!"

I suspect this interview has taken a bad turn.

"So we're cool, right?"

I saunter to the pearly gates a little nervous but confidently reach for the latch.

"THUNK" and all the planets in every known universe bang against each other.

And I'm back in front of his ledger.

"Shit, I think my ears are bleeding!"

"JOHN ROBERT RICHARDSON" (You know you're fucked when your hear a middle name through bloody ears)

"Yes, your honorable Pete?"
(Down on my knees now and everything hurts)

"There are some problems here," he says.
An eternal silence follows.

Think fast, Johnny.
"Yeah, well if it's about that internet thing, I'm way over that and very much "ME TOO".  Power to the blessed double X!

He shakes ancient dandruff filled locks.

 That's not it."

(Any time now Rod Serling will tell me that I've "entered a dimension not of time and space...." and realize I've dozed during "Twilight Zone."

But no, oh no.

 My injured ears are assaulted by a resounding question:
"Do you know how many times you said "Goddammit"?

"Uhmm... I don't know, maybe a couple of thousand?
He shakes his head, unleashing celestial dandruff.

"And how many times did you say 'Jesus Christ'?"

"Hey, give a little credit here. I did a little door-to-door with Pastor Phil. Not every time was in vain, you know?"

"That accounts for 23 our of 11, 051."

(Jesus, this guy's a bean counter!)

"And how often did you proclaim 'God is Dead'?"

"Holy Fuck, shit, uh, I mean darn, only a few times..."
I pause for a Yoga breath and explain.
"Look, I took a class on existentialism. I needed the units to graduate and just wanted to fit in."

Eons pass. No response.
Looking up at nasal hairs unhindered by the passage of eternity, I realize something.
This was bullshit, pure and simple.

"Hey you know what St. Peter breath?
Fuck you and the cross you rode in on!
I'm out of here."


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Another Name Drop: Call Me Mr.

January 11th, 2018

I should stop watching news out of Santa Barbara, CA.

It's tragic what happened to those folks and stirs up my memories.

Tonight a woman named Theresa T.  was interviewed.
Three million dollar plus homes destroyed by canyon flooding... she was predictably distraught, lost everything, looked to be 55, and I recognized her.

Back to 1976

I was an incredibly cool student teacher at San Marcos High School. My master teacher was Mrs. Measley. This was my alma mater. Five years before she had been my most inspirational teacher, never measly with praise nor hesitant to point out mistakes in standard English usage.

I was, I thought in '76, at the top of my game. Teaching the siblings of movie stars. The M's the T's, the Bottoms, the tops--and related to an upcoming action star, Michael R.

We had just read Ambrose Bierce's "Occurrence at Owl Creek Ridge" and watched the French subtitled video I had borrowed from the County Educational Center (just to make sure we were on the same page).

There had been a great discussion the day before...
"John, don't you think Truffaut's film, messed with, uh, I mean changed Bierce's ending?"

(Everybody called me "John"  back then.  I was not their superior--just older by ten years and had already advised Mrs. Measley of my fervent beliefs at the time).

"Well, I don't know, Terry. What do you think?"

Today the discussions were over, essays now due.

"Would everyone please pass their essays forward?"

Mrs. Measley smiled from the back of the room and gently cleared her throat.

"Excuse me, I would like everyone to pass up his essay."
(Whoah, that's right, "everyone" is a singular collective pronoun noun and can not be paired with a plural pronoun like "their")

Mrs. Measly nodded and returned to her paper work.

I was collecting essays these essays when Terry came up behind me.
Mrs. Measly was heading out to the break room.

"John, I don't understand."
I turned to face my student and equal.
"Understand what, Terry?"
"Well, John, you and I are friends, right?"
"Absolutely, Terry. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I'm working really hard in your class. And my midterm report says I'm getting a "B".
But I really need an "A" in this class, John."

When that semester was over I forever became MR. Richardson.

And many years later, retired and doing a long term substitute assignment I was asked a not uncommon question,
"Mr. Richardson, dude, what's your first name?"
I looked dead level into that student's eyes and gave my usual response, "MISTER...
want me to spell that for you?"

"So everyone pass up his--or her--essays."
Time and language change, as does usage and appropriateness.

But back in '76 I would never dreamt of calling that warm and inspiring Master Teacher--unfortunately surnamed MEASLEY--by her actual first name.

I looked it up in an old a yearbook recently. It was "Francine".

God Bless you, Mrs. Measley

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Oprah Name Dropping Compromised Confession

Summer of 1969
My father wasn't just a bricklayer.

He was a MASON.

Sure, he could lay bricks.
He could also do classic stonework and other fancy stuff which explains why we were in Montecito, and I got to be his summer "tender" while building a wall for what would eventually become Oprah's place.

And he later sneaked me in to what would eventually become Michael Jackson's Neverland.

But that's a different story.

This is a story about guilt.
Unconfessed guilt.

"Need more C'ment, Johnny."'
It's a mile to the 101 freeway, five more to our Goleta landscape yard.
But who's counting? Just happy to get away from his incessant demands for block and mud.

Dad was not in a good mood anyway, muttering how his work would be smeared over with "Castillian" white wash.

I immediately smashed the door of my father's one year old truck into a landscape boulder.
It was loud.
But he didn't come out to investigate.

And I had the 45 minutes round trip to figure out how I would handle the situation.
Upon returning, I carried both bags (each 93 lbs of Riverside Cement--remember I was 17) and added sand and water in proper proportions.

My father thanked me and the job was done two hours later, joints cleaned, and the mixer attached to a damaged truck.
But I said nothing about the accident.

We walked out to the exclusive Montecito drive and my father saw the huge dent.

"Look at that, Johnny!"
"Somebody must've backed into my truck and just driven away."

And I lied, I lied to my father and lied with silence.

Then he shrugged.
"Damned insurance company will have a field day."

My father wasn't a stupid man nor did he ignore the obvious.
He always let me punish myself.
Why couldn't he just beat me like other fathers did?

Then there was the time I totaled the family car returning from my girlfriend's house...

Monday, January 8, 2018

Me and the Gub'ment

She dropped an envelope on the table.
"You need to respond to this."
A letter from the government, Social Security and Medicare to be exact.

Now what?

Apparently the drop-off billing site designated by my wife and I six or seven years ago (daughter's Vail, Arizona address) was a mismatch with recent medical bills from our coastal address.
Imagine that.

Dire instructions on the envelope: Call 1-800-772-1213
Am I the only one who hasn't figured out that the initial (1) is unnecessary...
Or had I flunked some kind of adherence-to-authority terrorist test?

So I called right away.
The first 15 seconds thanked me for calling Social Security and ensured me that my call was valued.
The next 10 minutes explained in painful depths the inner workings of this agency, followed by another half hour detailing how recent percentage changes would affect a monthly income that I am not qualified to receive.

Then things got scary, "Those who give incorrect statements, attempt to defraud or sexually abuse the Social Security Administration will be subject to punishments such as, but not limited to, death, dismemberment and disbarment from all film societies."

Well, that last part got my attention.

Scarier still: "Because of high volume calling, your wait time is approximately 57 minutes."
This statement was followed by 139 minutes of very sad Asian Musac, repeating at 25 second intervals.

   *                                       *                                      *

My HotPocket was in the microwave when a random human voice interrupted the second snack of a long afternoon.

"Is this John Richardson?"

"Yes, it is," I said and deftly burned my fingers on a nuked pastry.

"Well first of all we apologize for the wait time--"

"No worries," I said, "got a a bad cold, nothing else to do, been reading a book."

"Yes, but we want you to know there are several ways to improve your access to Social Security."

"Okay," I said amiably.

"First, you chose a terrible time to call from your California time zone.  If you had just waited until our eastern and midwestern call centers had closed due to local service times..."

(I'm listening to him in Tucson Arizona, CMT, and he's pee-pee spanking me because of a 559 cell area code--but for all he knew I could be in Waco Texas hanging out with my friends Chip and Joanna)

"Furthermore you could also have contacted us on the internet (he pronounced this last word carefully in case I was more familiar with smoke signals and telegraphs).

"Excuse me," I interrupted, "but it says right here on the envelope I was to contact you by phone, no mention of that fancy-shmancy thing you call the in-ter-net.  And when the government comes knocking on your door, don't you reckon it's best to follow the letter of their desires?'

"Well, yes, sir in most cases. But if you had just gone online with Social Security and answered a few extra security questions you could have created an account--"

"Extra security questions?  You mean something beyond those I answered to reach you--my name, first last and middle, complete social security number, address I was born and begat in, name of my favorite long dead pet, mother's maiden name and the exact year she ceased to believe in Santy Clause--"

"These account questions, sir, would go beyond that level and contact credit organizations with whom you affiliate--"

"Just a minute here, darlin',
I've heard it's never a good idea to stir up those credit folks. They might just DOWN-adjust your ratings."

"That's true in the case of credit inquiries but would not be applicable in your case--"

"Hold on now you little side-winder!
I ponied up nearly two hours trying to fix this difference between you and me and kindly gave you kit and caboodle at the very start of my call--complete with that zip-thingy extension.
Maybe we should just stop jawin' so you can move on to other folks who need help?"

"Actually, sir, we're done here."

"Got that right, Sonny."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How Many Senior Moments Does it take to Hang a Picture?

"While I'm shopping (and you're not), why don't you hang that nice picture in the spare bedroom?"
"Yes, I can do that."
She's gone and you vaguely remember the photo she's particularly fond of and her instructions where to hang it.
No Problem.

You find a hammer and the picture and cause them to rendezvous in the bedroom.
All good so far.

But you need picture hanging hardware. So begins an exhaustive search for hardware. Twenty minutes later you happily return to the bedroom, ready to install.
But where's the hammer?
Retrace your steps, search every drawer and cranny.
The hammer is gone!

So you sit down to think about it for a least twenty minutes--until you see a hammer out of the corner of your eye. It's on the counter by the refrigerator where you obtained the cold beer that is now in your hand, unopened.
Rummaging around a while, you find an opener, sit down and relax.

Another 20 minutes and you return to the designated room, hammer in hand, but where's the picture hanging hardware?
Wandering around aimlessly, you experience a chaffing on your right thigh.
Down in your pocket is the very same nail and hook thing you've been looking for.

So now you're ready. But what is the exact center of that wall and how high up?
Measuring tape is needed. Eventually you find it, read it carefully, but realize you can't mark a wall with your thumbnail.
You leave the room searching for a pencil.

Then you return--only to find picture, hammer, and hardware have all disappeared!

Okay, wrong bedroom.

Once oriented to proper room and wall, you hold the picture steady and make a bold mark on the wall, certain to make your wife proud.

Hardware in one hand, hammer in the other, you start the back swing.
But wait, where's the mark?
Put everything down, clean your glasses, and search for the mark.
Project time, two hours and counting.

Wifey could return any moment.
Panic ensues, focus on any random drywall nipple.
After the first painful miss, it's done.
No problem.

It takes another 10 minutes to dock the picture's mysterious back wire with the equally elusive wall hook.

But done at last.

Time to relax.

You sit down in chair... but wonder where that beer is.

And so you emerge from the bathroom just as your wife opens the front door. Deer in headlights, wishing you were holding a hammer, not a beer.

"Hi, Honey!"

Your wife passes down the hallway, sees your diligent wall mounting and begins to mutter something about Jesus and not being able to tell a sewing place from a spare bedroom.

Or did she say something about a "spare husband"?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Well this is embarrassing. Several years ago I wrote a memorial for a girl named Gillian.

Her death was senseless and incomprehensible. I am perhaps still dealing with it. 

This is a photo of some poor soul crossing the Little Pico bridge.  Or is it?   

Maybe I captured some mad force that ranges up and down our northern coast, unanswerable, inexplicable, and unopposable.

And it's coming for us all eventually.

But it came too early for Gillian. And her memory haunts me, wont leave me alone.
What do you want girl?
 God rest your soul.


Gillian Goldman (1/4/2000--1/10/2008)

A Story Not Published, a Life Not Lived

Winter sunlight glows inside a red Mitsubishi Montero parked north of San Simeon’s Pico Bridge. Windows are up, doors locked, the air still.  Listen and you will hear a whispering… hushed tones like a young girl confiding secrets.

But there’s nobody inside the car.  Heat stirs a mylar balloon, rubbing it against the roof.  The image on the balloon is from a recent movie, Disney’s High School
Musical 2.  The cast smiles, holding hands as they plunge into a background of pool water.  Other than the rustle of the balloon, the car is silent.

Outside the car, chaos--an incomprehensible tragedy, nothing happy like the pool pranks of the Disney movie.

Marcia Harrigan, 43, and her 8-year-old daughter Gillian Goldman were dead, their bodies found awash in pounding surf. 

Five men in wetsuits and yellow crash helmets struggle with wire gurneys as they converge on a rocky alcove 40 feet below the red SUV.  “The conditions were extremely hazardous,” according to Captain Steve Brito of the Cambria Fire and Rescue Unit, “It was pummeling the rescuers into the rocky beach.”

Merle Bassett, photographer on assignment for The Cambrian, captured that terrible moment: one man motions upwards for someone to deploy a rope, another kneels before the basket, its diminutive contents precariously covered by a windblown yellow tarp, Gillian.

Other rescuers are pushing through the surf carrying a heavier basket, Marcia Harrigan—her mother.

I was new to this area and followed the story as it unfolded in The Cambrian and Los Angeles Times, bewildered that such a tragedy could occur on a familiar beach less than a mile from my home. Their deaths were initially determined to be “suspicious in nature” though other scenarios, rogue wave, fall due to high winds, or failed rescue attempt were considered as well.

January 9 2008--Los Angeles Family Court, 4 p.m.  Marcia Harrigan and her daughter, Gillian failed to appear in response to a court order remanding custody to Gillian’s father Glen F. Goldman. Both parents had filed restraining orders, Glen fearing violence, Marcia claiming that her daughter had been sexually abused by her father Glen. After extensive interviews and examinations, shared custody was reinstated.

Marcia picked up Gillian at her Hermosa Valley School earlier that day and was not answering calls from the court.

At 5:15 p.m. Marcia entered a local church, while Gillian waited in the car, requesting that the priest baptize her daughter. He told her it wasn’t possible that night and assumed her many disconnected  references to “the ocean” indicated a desire to perform the baptism herself.

At 7:45 p.m. Marcia met with Craig Donato, the father of her two older daughters, Doniele and Ariana.  She explained she would be too busy “running all around” trying to prevent Glen from taking Gillian and asked Craig to sign a letter giving him complete custody of the younger of his two daughters, Ariana.  Craig asked her what she was planning to do and Marcia replied, “It’s best you don’t know.”

Despite the advice of lawyer Jeff Doeringer and her family, Marcia and Gillian left Hermosa Beach at 8:45 p.m.

Around 11:30 p.m. Marcia purchased alcohol, a balloon and other items at Von’s in Goleta, 150 miles north.

Soon after midnight on January 10, Marcia called Gillian’s half-sister Doniele, a student at San Diego State, stating that she was “too tired to go any further.”  Then she put Gillian on the phone. Gillian said she was watching TV and eating a banana. They talked several minutes and Gillian said goodbye. Marcia came back on afterward, crying, and said, “I can’t let her go with him again. What happens if he kills her? I don’t know what to do.”  Doniele attempted to calm her down and said she would call in the morning.

A call back to her mother at 7:06 a.m. resulted in no answer.

A state park ranger, responded to a 911 call at 10:10 a.m. from a vista point north of San Simeon, mile post 56.  He met a German couple with binoculars who had observed two females beyond the breakers in distress, “not putting hands in air… not a bathing moment.”  He called dispatch requesting an ambulance and a SAR unit, specialists in rappelling and belaying, for a vertical rescue.

After a team of deputies, rangers and rescue specialists performed every intervention possible at the scene, paramedic Takaoka pronounced Marcia Harrigan and Gillian Goldman’s time of death, 10:31 a.m. 
Their bodies were sent by ambulance to Los Osos Valley Mortuary at 12:30 p.m. after a preliminary examination and collection of evidence.

The following day at 8 a.m. counselors waited in the library of Hermosa Valley School while principal Sylvia Gluck entered a third grade classroom to tell students their classmate and mother had passed away.  Some children spoke with the counselors or went outdoors with their parents (who had been advised by phone the night before).  Others decided to draw pictures for the family. “She had friends all over the school,” said School Superintendent Sharon McClain, “Everybody here is a little broken up.”

On January 26, 2008 autopsy results for Marcia Harrigan, an adult Caucasian female, approximately 5 feet 8 inches with blond hair revealed a blood alcohol content of .03, less than half of the legal limit. No evidence of drugs found.

Gillian’s body showed no obvious signs of drugs or sexual abuse. Physical injuries were consistent with striking blunt force objects common to the rocky area where her body was found.

A blond hair was found entangled in her left hand.
The pattern of injuries, consistent with Marcia’s fingernails, indicated her mother’s hand had been held over her mouth. Other injury patterns on the arms indicated that she had been held under water.

Cause of death was determined to be salt-water drowning--manner of death, homicide.

Also included in the autopsy I requested, was a list of property recovered at the scene. At the base of the cliff were child-sized Ugg boots and car keys buried in the sand. Inside the car a brown sweater covered a purse.  Also found was a pink book bag with homework, school supplies, and the balloon from High School Musical 2.

As I considered the list and other evidence, Gillian’s interest in this movie seemed quite understandable. Doniele her older sister, with whom she seems to have been especially close, was active in musicals throughout high school and college. She is a professional singer in a southern California band. 

Not so understandable is the way Marcia arranged several items at the scene, how she secured her purse and keys as if she fully intended to return.

Equally difficult to understand is my own involvement in a case that occurred years ago, and how I was connected to an eight-year-old victim I had never met or even seen in a photograph.

And I may never understand why I later felt compelled to spend the night on the beach below that vista point. Perhaps I was hoping that by sleeping at the crime scene I would gain some insight as to how a mother could love a child yet take away that life with her own hands. I left the beach around 2 a.m. after several inexplicable events.  I’m  not ready to discuss these events any more than the countless sensitive details I encountered during the course of my research--perhaps in a book if I ever decide to write one.

I did recently decide to watch the movie High School Musical 2, every minute of it.  It starred Arroyo Grande actor Zac Efron. Though typical of preteen entertainment, overly choreographed and under plotted, it did have some meaningful music.

Gillian would have been 16-years-old this month, old enough to star in her own high school’s musical.

Should you be driving north across the Pico Bridge passing a vista point on the way to the pier, Hearst’s Castle, or an afternoon of music at Ragged Point, you might want to think of Gillian and these lyrics from her favorite movie:

Let’s take it to the beach
Take it there together
Let's celebrate today
'Cause there'll never be another

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sung to the Tune of Beatles, A Day in the Life

I did a painting today, Oh Boy
Nothing since a pastel junior high
A crowd of women gave me praise
But I just had to turn away

My father, uncle, aunt and all
Sculpted, painted, did it all
Everyone encouraged me
But I just had to turn away.