Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012

Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas San Diego, Ca. March 2012
Eddie Arana, Rick Thibodeau, & Chris Bakunas at Luche Libre Taco Shop in San Diego, March 2012

Friday, September 22, 2017

Another Push That Was Once A Pull

Last night a friend of mine informed me that his wife had told him she was filing for divorce.

No marriage counseling, no couples therapy, just divorce.

I know this friend fairly well - he's a nice guy, quite nicer than most, actually. He's a hard-worker, belongs to a church that he actually attends (not that that makes anyone better than people I know who don't), and he is, as far as I know, loyal to his wife. 

I cannot recall him ever saying anything disparaging about his wife, either.

So the news was surprising. 

It sucks to have to go through a divorce, no matter how bad the marriage was - I'm speaking from experience here. My heart goes out to my friend, for he is about to endure a level of emotional pain that can be felt physically, and what makes it worse is, of course, the two children they have.

Divorce is incredibly difficult for young children, and here I'm speaking from the experience of being a young child whose parent's got divorced.

It's difficult for me to judge anyone who gets a divorce though, because I know there are cases where divorce is absolutely necessary, especially in situations when young children may be either subject to abuse or have to witness abuse.

But I still hate divorce, I still hate what divorce does to people.

There is no way I can even pretend to know what it takes to keep a relationship healthy & happy, or hell, even civil when the seas get rough, but I have to believe there must be something, some special, magical thing, that couples who do endure together for decades upon decades, possess.

Maybe it's due to innate abilities that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been born with, or maybe it's a learned skill, a practiced and finely honed skill that anyone could learn if only they had the presence of mind to know it was a skill they knew they lacked, and had the good sense to aggressively pursue the development of such.

Over the course of my lifetime I have known several couples that have faced adversity and hardships beyond the pale, and not only did their relationships survive, they appeared to thrive.

The only thing I have ever been able to attribute the ability of those couples to survive their various ordeals to is the mutual belief that they were a team, and nothing but nothing was going to beat their team.

It's something I have never experienced myself, due to either my inability to commit fully to the team ideal, or to the inability of my partner at the time to commit fully to the team ideal.

That dynamic, that level of commitment, that's the stuff of dreams as far I'm concerned.

To be able to put the team first, to be able to quash whatever selfish desire is pushing or pulling one in a direction that would not be beneficial for the team, that would be a fantastic ability to have.

I know, I know, you're probably reading that and thinking to yourself, "well then do that, you idiot".

If only it was that simple. 

Seriously, if only it were that simple.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Joel, Me, & The Fish

Once, a long, long time ago, my buddy Joel and I went combat fishing...'cept we didn't want to have to be elbow-to-elbow with a ton of other people, so we crossed the river...and scored.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The E.S.D. Team

For the majority of his adult life, Stephen Thomas Wells had lived from paycheck-to-paycheck, though it wasn't because he had not earned a decent income.

Mr. Wells had what most would consider a great job as a supervisor for a local utility company, and had made what most would consider good money. 

Unfortunately, for the majority of his adult life, Mr Wells had been a notorious spendthrift. He seemed to have always spent far beyond his means and at one time had seven fully maxed out credit cards sitting in a small box on a shelf in his bedroom closet - there was no point in having any one of them in his wallet as they had all been closed by the financial institutions that had issued them.

The fact that he was in debt up to his ears had done nothing to curb his free-spending ways however. The only bill he had ever paid with any regularity was his mortgage. After that check and the few others written to cover ultilities and his car loan had cleared his account he would make cash withdrawals until the bank shut him off. 

Then he would either borrow from what few friends he had that would still lend him money or pawn whatever possession he wouldn't miss that would get him enough money to last until his next paycheck arrived.

Oddly enough, Mr Wells had no other bad habits that contributed to his indebtedness - no debilitating drug or alcohol addiction, no wanton indulgences or foolish extravagances - he had never even once set foot into a casino or other such gambling establishment, though for over twenty years he had purchased exactly one lotto ticket every Wednesday using the birth dates of his siblings as his numbers.

No, it wasn't any of the usual vices that drained Stephen Thomas Wells' wallet. He had just liked to spend his money until he had no more money to spend, which to some would qualify as the most debilitating habit a person could be afflicted with.

The thing was, Stevie (as he had been called by his family since he was born), had been keenly aware of this short coming. He was rather painfully cognizant of it in fact, and had told himself for years on an almost daily basis that it was a problem he really, really needed to do something about (emphasis his, for the all the good it did).

So it was quite a shock to himself and to everyone around him that he suddenly stopped showing up at his favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurants for his meals every single day, stopped buying two Vendi latte Victorinos with two extra shots of espresso everyday, stopped taking his clothes to the laundry for the wash, fluff & fold service, stopped inviting friends out to shows, concerts, and sporting events every other night of the week, stopped going to every advertised sale at the local department stores, and stopped buying the house a round or two (or three) of drinks every Friday & Saturday night (on those Fridays and Saturdays when he was not on a date - dates that usually involved Stevie spending quite a bit of money in his misguided belief that spending lots of money on a date was sure to impress...)

The shock of this sudden change in behavior to Mr. Wells himself came because he and he alone knew that, for the first time in his life, he had more money than he thought he could possibly ever spend. 

For on one of those Wednesdays when he stopped at the convenient mart on the way home from his favorite Italian restaurant (Giordano's on 8th & Kelvin), gassed up (premium, of course, nothing but premium went into the tank of the Cayenne) and made his weekly lotto ticket purchase, he got lucky.

His choice of numbers, the birth dates of himself and his siblings (and the age his childhood pet, a mutt he named Duke, was when he was hit by a car, for the multiplier) was drawn as the sole winner of the 6/76 multi state "Set-For-Life" lottery and he suddenly found himself with $280 million dollars - and that was after he had opted for the cash out and the IRS had taken it's cut.

The shock of which, while briefly overwhelming, had a most unusual affect on Stephen Thomas Wells, one he did not anticipate in any of the 100 or so fantasy scenarios he had imagined when he thought about what he would do if he ever indeed did win the lottery.

Stevie had, in the two hours from when he learned he had won the lottery until he made the phone call to the lottery offices, made several decisions that were decidedly un-Stevie like.

His first and foremost decision was to chose the anonymity option offered in his state of residence by the lottery offices. The second was to hire a financial adviser and a lawyer, and the third was to keep his job.

"This opportunity," Stevie had thought to himself, "was not one to be wasted. I am going to pay off every debt I have and learn how to manage money. I am not going to blow this."

And unlike nearly every other winner of the lottery, Stephen Thomas Wells had, again, much to his own surprise, stuck to his self-made promise, which his friends, family, and co workers all chalked up to him either being forced into bankruptcy (the most commonly held belief) or finally growing up (a thought that had only occurred to two friends and one sibling, though all three of them still had doubts that it hadn't been the former).

It was a mild Sunday afternoon in November, eight months to the day of his collecting the 280 million that the non-descript Ford Fusion parked in front of his home and the two well-dressed individuals walked up to his front door 

Responding to the light knock, Stevie opened the door non-nonchalantly and greeted the two warmly, expecting to be given copies of Awake! or The Watchtower and preparing to listen uncomfortably to a spiel about the coming end of the world and what he could do to be prepared for it.

But neither of the two proffered the magazines, and the friendly dark-haired man who looked to be of both Asian and Caucasian descent that stood to his left returned his warm greeting with a bright smile and said, "Mr. Wells, we're from the government and we need your assistance. May we come in?"

Stevie hesitated for a moment before opening the screen door and motioning for them to come inside. The dark haired man waited for his partner to enter first, then followed close behind. His partner looked around the front room of the modest house, took in the modest furnishings and fairly pedestrian artwork decorating the walls and said, "Nice home, I really like that painting - Kincaid was a grossly underrated talent."

The dark-haired man visibly rolled his eyes.

"What government department are you with?" Asked Stevie. "Are you with the IRS? Pretty sure my taxes are paid up, at least according to my accountant."

"Oh no, it's nothing like that Mr. Wells," the dark haired man stated. "We are agents of a fairly unknown bureau of the Treasury department. A long time ago, when the dress code for us was a bit more conservative, one of our own jokingly referred to us as "The Men In Black," which somehow was absorbed into the popular lexicon. However, as you can see, we are not only not Men In Black, we are not even just men."

With that said the dark haired man offered up his identification, as did his partner, a slim, long haired woman who also appeared to be of mixed Asian-Caucasian heritage.

The woman also offered up her hand for a handshake and introduced herself and her partner. "I am agent Stephanie Murphy and my partner here is agent Walter Morita and we represent the E.S.D."

Stephen Thomas Wells stood momentarily transfixed. He read and reread both of their identification cards before breaking the long minute of silence, saying, "Huh."

Agent Murphy smiled and said, "We hope we are not intruding on anything Mr. Wells, and if we are would it be possible for us to come back later, at a time more convenient for you?"

Stevie stood quiet for a few minutes as the two of them waited on his response. He thought "Are these two for real? Do they know how much money I have? I chose the anonymity option and I've been over-the-top careful, not even my family knows I won the lottery. Only my financial adviser and lawyer know. Oh, and the government. Are they really from the government?"

He also had the thought that agent Morita was right, whenever he thought about government agents he reflexively pictured then as men in black, and when, if ever, they were to show up at his house they would actually be dressed in black suits. These two were obviously not any of that. They were not two unfriendly looking men, and they were dressed in, well, normal clothes - agent Morita in Khakis and a long-sleeve button-down dress shirt, one with a light vertical pin stripe pattern, and agent Murphy in a smart but fairly causal dark pantsuit, like most of the women in upper management at the Utility.

Also, instead of guns and devices of a nefarious nature one of them carried what looked like a Samsung tablet and the other a small briefcase.

"So, let me get this right. You two are from a government agency called the E.S.D.? What, exactly, is that? And how can I possibly be of help to the government?"

With both of their identification cards on the small cocktail table, agents Morita and Murphy sat down beside each other on the sofa that Stevie had indicated they should, and agent Morita answered, "The E.S.D. is the Economic Stimulus Department, a bureau of the Treasury Department that is tasked with aiding people in impoverished communities throughout the country, but in a manner that does not raise the ire of those who believe government assistance for citizens of the United States is an abuse of tax dollars and will lead to the creation of a welfare state."

"Hmmm..." Stevie thought to himself. "I always hated that the government gave billions in foreign aid to countries that hated us. What the hell is this?"

Agent Murphy continued after a quick read of Stevie's face. "This past April we arranged for you to win the lottery Mr. Wells, a win that resulted in you becoming instantly wealthy. Extremely wealthy. This is something we have been routinely doing for a few decades now, and up until you won, each and every winner of such large sums that we have selected has done exactly as we predicted and wanted them to do - they spent nearly all of their money in a fairly short amount of time, primarily in the community where they resided"

"Which," agent Morita added, "generally resulted in an economic boon for those communities - everyone from waitresses at local diners to sales people at small car lots to local home remodeling contractors all benefited from the largese of the people we had selected to win the lottery. Quite frankly, literally hundreds of people employed in peripheral businesses all benefited from what economist have termed the trickle down effect."

"You matched the other's habits and characteristics to a tee Mr. Wells, that rare combination of none of the selfish, let's say "sinful vices" for lack of a better term, and a complete lack of money management skills. You worked hard at your job, you earned a nice paycheck, and you believed you deserved to spend every penny of it anyway you wanted to - but you did it in ways that benefited your community and the other hard-working people that lived in and around your neighborhood, not the drug dealers or scam artists and other criminals that prey upon the weak and do nothing but cheat a community out of a chance for prosperity."

Agent Morita looked over to agent Murphy when he finished, and she took up the reigns. "Mr Wells, we do not know why you paid off all your debts and decided to simply park all of your winnings in various accounts in banks throughout the country as it is not a behavior we have ever encountered in any of the people we had selected to win before. There will be people who will study this anomaly, but that is not our concern. Our concern is with getting you to revert back to your old habits, but with an increased level of foolhardiness, and much greater extravagance."

Stevie was having a bit of difficulty comprehending everything that had just been said to him. His eyes darted from agent Morita to agent Murphy, trying to see if either of them was going to suddenly start laughing and shout out "Smile, you're on Candid Camera!" or "You've just been punk'd" or something like that.

But neither of them did. They both just sat on the sofa with not unpleasant but still fairly serious expressions on their faces.

"Let me get this straight," Stevie spoke in a slow, methodical manner. "You're saying I was set up to win the lottery, and that I was supposed to then blow all the money by spending it extra-extravagantly in order to stimulate the economy? How could you know I even played the lottery? How could you possibly know my spending habits or my personal characteristics? I mean, there are over 300 million people in this country, how could you possibly narrow down the one person that would win a huge lottery and use it to stimulate the economy where they lived."

"Fairly simple, actually," agent Morita replied. "Numbers do not lie. Software was created that scans tax returns for incomes above a specific level and then compares those incomes to those specific taxpayer's bank accounts and credit histories. Once a person who makes a good living but has no savings and a high level of debt is found we use software to analyze every purchase made on their credit cards. If that revels "indulgent" purchases, such as going to restaurants for most meals and charging not only the meal but the tip as well, we then simply take a closer look at the subjects checking account and see who they write checks to. You are very similar to a large number of people in this country Mr. Wells in that most of your checks are written to pay your household expenses such as mortgage, utilities, insurance & car payment, and also credit card bills." 

Agent Morita paused as if waiting for any questions Stevie might have, and when Stevie just stared blankly, continued.

"It's very rare that you ever write a check for anything else, Mr. Wells, as you prefer to use your credit cards in hopes of earning points..."

Agent Murphy interrupted agent Morita briefly to state, "Points for credit card purchases was the creation of one of our agents Mr. Wells. Pure genius. Very hard to track an individuals cash transactions, tedious looking up what every check a person writes is for, but tracking credit card purchases...easy  breezy lemon squeezy."

"Wow,: Stevie more mouthed than mumbled, "That is amazing. But how the hell could you know I was going to play the lottery?"

"That was even easier Mr. Wells." Agent Morita nodded his head in agreement and smiled a bit as agent Murphy spoke. "You have used the same combination of numbers and bought a lottery ticket on the same day from the same convenience mart at nearly the same exact time for well over two decades. We had you on our list to be a winner nearly seven years ago - it was only a matter of time before your name got to the top of that list."

Agent Morita smiled wider and added, "Another big factor that determined you were going to be a winner of a large sum is your health Mr. Wells. You are in great health for a man who doesn't watch his diet or exercise much, so we didn't have to worry that your winnings would be taken away from your community by the health care industry. Might want to thank your parents for the good genetics."

Mr Stephen Thomas Wells relaxed back into his chair and furrowed his brow. After a few seconds of looking down at his hands in his lap he said, "I see. So this help you want from me - you just basically want me to spend all the money I won and return to my old, debt ridden life? Is that it?"

"Not quite, Mr. Wells, only, yes, somewhat." Agent Murphy shot a glance over to agent Morita before continuing. "We want you to spend, just like you were but maybe with a bit more enthusiasm. You won't have to go back into debt though, our money managers will see to that - 280 million generates a lot of interest revenue, as your financial adviser has no doubt told you. You will live quite a comfortable life, but it must be done right here, in this community. You can buy a vacation home anywhere you like, but your primary residence must remain right here - your largese has to benefit this community."

"Spend. All of my money. These past eight months I thought I was doing the sensible thing holding onto as much of it as I could and now you two show up and say that I got it all wrong. That is just crazy. What happens to me if I don't revert to my old habits though, what happens if I don't go on wild spending sprees? What then?

The two agents looked at Stephen Thomas Wells with dead fish expressions. "Mr Wells," said agent Morita, "That would not be a wise move on your part. For one, you would no longer be our responsibility and I would hate that because I've grown to like you. You would become instead the responsibility of the UCRD."

'What is the UCRD?" Stevie asked with not a little hesitation.

"The UCRD is the Uncooperative Citizens Removal Department Mr. Wells," agent Murphy replied. "You will not like them at all."

Objects In The Past Will Be Blurrier...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Going Downtown

I liked going downtown when I was a kid
From about the age of 10 or 11
Mom would give me fifty cents
For bus fare 
A quarter to get there
A quarter to get back
Catch the eleven headed for Kensington 
Via Skyline, Olvera and Logan then skip down 16th
To Broadway 
Or the four that would meander through Lomita & Encanto
Then follow Imperial all the way to the Embarcadero
Whichever bus showed up first
Determined where I would start my adventure

I'd just wander around downtown
Being careful not to linger around Horton Plaza
Where the pimps and the whores 
The drug dealers and the junkies
Hawked their goods to the Sailors & Marines
Grindhouse theaters like the Balboa & the Cabrillo
Separated by porn shops, tattoo parlors & pawn brokers
Cheap hotels, diners, the pre-rehab U.S. Grant
This was well before the urban renewal that created 
The Gaslamp Quarter

Most days I went to the S.D. Public Library
Across from the Post Office on 9th and E
Or I'd visit the bookstores on both sides of Broadway
Between 6th and 9th 
Wahrenbrock's,  Krueger's, The House of Comics
Harcourt Brace Javanovich
The one run by the mean lady
That had long boxes
Of ten cent comics and magazines on huge tables
Just inside the front doors

There were days when I didn't want to be downtown
So I would get a transfer and catch the seven 
Maybe spend the day in Balboa Park
Go to the zoo, visit the museums
Or travel a bit further up Park, to University 
And walk down to The Comic Kingdom
When Richard Alf still owned it
And even later after Jack Dickens took over
Moving the store a couple of doors down the block

When Greg Pharis left The Comic Kingdom and opened up
 Golden State Comics near 30th and Adams
I occasionally caught the two
But that bus took an hour to get there
And an hour to get back
So I usually just stayed downtown