How do I Look?

When you look at people through out your days what goes through your mind? Do you look at people and make assumptions about their lives? Do you wonder where they are going, and or where they are coming from? Does their past cross your mind? Where they grew up and how they happen to be crossing your path at that exact time? What led them to be right there with you right now?

I try not to look at people with eyes of judgement, but I do wonder with curiosity. Watching a young man with a backpack, tattered jeans, unkempt appearance passing may have me wondering what has brought him to this place in his life. Is he searching for assistance, or is he content with his being and drifting through life with a joy in his heart I can not see? I feel I have been on the side of those looks in my life and now it has allowed me to change my mindset. I do not use judgement because I know there is a story to every situation.

In the mid 80’s I was to begin my middle school journey. Yes it was called middle school at the time and not junior high, and I do not know when that title was changed. The elementary school I had gone to at that time happen to go up to sixth grade. This was the first time I went to a school for more then one year before moving. Fifth and sixth grade allowed me to make a few friends and have the teachers and staff see something in me without me having to pack up and leave just as they were starting to get somewhere with me academically. Here I go packed up and moving on to a new place which also meant a new school. The good thing about moving back downtown was that we had made that move several times to different parts of the area and it was always like coming back home. I knew the streets and area. I knew some of the other kids around, but only as acquaintances. None of them were really friends, because I had never stayed long enough to make that happen. Either way it was the beginning of the summer and my next step was middle school.

I was a big kid, but I was coming into the middle of these established adolescents . The 8th graders were the big fish of the school, and the majority of the 6th graders came up together from their elementary schools and neighborhoods. I would have to swim against the stream and find my place in this new world. I tried to make at least one friend that would be going to school with me. It was actually pretty easy because there were only two choices of school in our area so I was bound to have one of the kids in the group around me also be going to this new place I called school. I had so much time to get to know people because even at the ripe old age of 11 I was pretty much on my own to get reacquainted with the streets. Parental guidance was a part time job for my dad most of my life even though he was my only parent. We are not going to get into much details of my pops, and even about the people I met that summer because this story is actually about something more then that. It is about a letter my dad received before starting at my new school. It came from the school district and stated that the district would be starting a new desegregation program and that I would now be bused to a school on the south side of the city in an affluent and predominantly white neighborhood. How I was chosen for this program til this day I do not know, but my whole idea of finding friends this summer just backfired on me.

I had no idea what any of this meant. Was this a punishment? Why did I have to go to school with a bunch of people I didn’t know in a place that might as well have been in China because it was just as foreign to me. I did not know the differences in the sense of they had privilege, or I was poverty level all I knew was that it all seemed unfair. I was used to going to a new school every year, but at least I knew where I was going. Now I am being sent somewhere. The idea of being sent without choice really seemed strange to me, but I embraced the idea because I had no choice at the end of the day.

I learned that it was not only me, a few of the kids around the area were also going to be bused around to other schools. Some would be going to the same school I would, but there was also another school that was on the list. Over time I would forget about the busing situation and just be a kid enjoying his summer break. Having fun with the neighborhood kids, and probably finding some not so good things to get into. We wandered the streets so freely like there was no danger or fear of something happening to us. We spent hours at the local 7-11 playing Donkey Kong Jr, eating frozen burritos and downing Slurpee. This was also around the time when I picked up a little bad habit called smoking. I remember the first time I accepted a cigarette from one of the other kids and to be cool I smoked with them. I felt sick, but over time I would grow fond of the slight buzz a cigarette would give me. My first experience with a funny feeling brought on by a foreign substance but not my last. I also learned to borrow items from the store without the intent of paying for them and getting full use of the product. I guess some would call this stealing, and they would be right. I look back on those times and yes they were care free, but the lack of guidance and following those around me that were at times much older led me to learn things I should have never been a part of. Back to the story.

It was the end of the summer and school was around the corner. We picked up a couple things to start the school year off with like clothes and school supplies I guess. I do not remember having a back pack so maybe that part didn’t happen. I know I would always get some kind of new clothes. Mervys was the spot, but I knew I was limited. We didn’t have much money so I knew not to ask for much. Usually 2 pairs of pants, a couple shirts and socks and underwear. Basic needs fulfilled and if I was lucky I would get a new pair of shoes. Nothing fancy, but something new meant the world when it came to shoes. I was ready for my new adventure. I could be anyone I wanted to be in this new place. They didn’t know me so the opportunity to reinvent myself was like gold. I was actually becoming excited for this new opportunity. I was able to go to a “better” school as my dad said. He did not have to try to figure out how to get me there or pick me up because I was going to be taking a school bus. This was also a new concept for myself. We had always lived close enough to schools that I walked, but now I had a chauffeur.

The first day I was woke up and it was still dark outside. It was like 5:00 am, and I felt like I should still be in bed. The bus ride was a little over an hour with picking up other students along the route and my stop was first on the list, so this made it the earliest pick up. 6:15 and if I was late my dad would have to get me to school and then it was a war. Screaming and yelling as I sit in silence for the ride to get my education was not how I wanted my days to start, so getting up early became normal to me. I was outside waiting for the bus by 6 am and could see there was others from the neighborhood enjoying the benefits of the school bus system. When the bus pulled up the sun was also starting his appearance for the day. The bus was cold and the seats were hard, but I got first choice on where I wanted to sit. That was the greatest perk of being picked up first. Not having that awkward moment of walking down the aisle and looking to to see who would let you sit by them, and if no one would be okay with scooting over the bus driver would chose and then you got the look from the kid already in that seat.  We picked up at several other stops on our journey to this new found land called middle school. Here I come.

I could see the new school ahead. It was so much bigger then any other school I had gone too. It was so clean and had tennis courts and was in a really nice area. I could see a couple other school buses ahead of us parked already. Students were sitting on the buses still, and I just assumed it was not time to let us off yet. Maybe we were early, and there was no one to watch us. We pulled up and the bus set his break. We sat there for a moment and waited for the door to open and let us venture off into the newness of middle school. I was excited for the new chapter finally, and we just sat there. I began to see kids getting dropped off by their parents I assume, and walking up from their homes near by and we just sat there like animals in a cage for them to observe. We all sat there and talked and waited for the doors to open so we can go in, and it never happened. Other buses pulled up behind us and it got later in the morning which turned to afternoon. I could see a few people pushing carts towards the buses and the doors finally opened. We began to get up and the young lady asked us to sit back down and came through and handed bag lunches to each of us on the bus. Wow, our new fancy school that I still have not stepped into brought lunch out to us as we waited for something. Anything. A few of the students that had to use the restroom were escorted to the bathrooms where ever they were and brought back to the bus. I was not sure what was going on because we had seen other students walk in and go to school. We had seen teachers and staff walk by and try not to look or make eye contact with us on the bus. We talked and laughed and got loud at times, but no one really said anything. I heard the bell sound several times through out the day and I could see kids walking to their next classes, but I never got to walk in there that first day.

I remember before that last bell rang there was a group of adults that came out of the front of the school and walked to their cars and pulled away. It was not a huge group, but they did not look like teachers or staff, and I would learn later on that it was a group of parents upset that we were going to this school. That final bell rang, the driver came back into the bus and turned his key, and closed the door on the first day and pulled away. We were taken back to the same spot that hours earlier we were picked up from. Doors opened we walked off and there was nothing said about what had just happened. The bus closed his door and pulled away as if everything was normal. Was this going to happen again tomorrow? What exactly happened to us? Why did we sit on a bus all day without anyone coming out and welcoming us to this new place? I guess at that age I did not understand what was going on, or know to question what was happening. I never told my dad what had happened, but he never asked how my first day was either. I found out much later that parents were upset that we had been allowed to come to their school, while their children were being bused down to take our places at our home schools. I could totally understand being upset that you bought a house in a good neighborhood with the best schools for your children and now you are being told that your son or daughter will  be going to a school downtown that probably is not that great, but we were children? Why were we being put in this position because of things totally out of our control? It brings up things in me today I can not seem to grasp, but I can tell you I had a great experience at the school in the end. We as children did not look at each other with judgement. We just went to class and did our thing. Do not get me wrong, there was an adjustment for most of us that were at that school and that included students, teachers and staff. I may not have looked like the kids at that school, but the curiosity and hunger to learn was the same.

 

Comfort 

After a certain age we look back on the life we have lived and ask ourselves what the hell was I thinking. As teenagers we feel indestructible. Nothing can touch me and I will live forever. We do not see how actions have consequences and sometimes the memories will haunt us forever. Haunt may be a strong word for some and I guess I look at it as something I just can never forget and I see it still like it happened yesterday.

The cold outside because it is 2 in the morning mid November comes through my sweater down to my bones. My feet are wet because my shoes are old and walking on the train tracks I encountered several unforgiving puddles. It feels like I’m in another world and I have no idea how to get out of there. At 13 I was out on the streets basically raising myself, because the homefront wasn’t very stable.

Gilroy wasn’t across the country, but I can not remember ever being outside of San Jose so it might as well have been China. Hanging around with people that were much older and having experience’s that someone my age or anyone for the that matter should never have was an everyday occurance. This all went down before cellphone’s, so when I was out there was no finding me unless you really made an effort. I should have never had the opportunity to disappear like I did, but no one was paying attention so I was a free bird. Jumping on the bus with some friends and paying one dollar for a pass that let me ride all day was how it all started. Friends of friends lived in the garlic capitol of the world, so let’s go hang out.

I was used to taking public transit everywhere because asking my dad for a ride was not in the cards ever. I can remember one time having to call him and ask him to pick me and my then pregnant girlfriend up from shopping for the baby because we had to much stuff to be carrying on the bus and the attitude I got for the next few days was unreal. I now owed him for the ride which he made seem like I inconvenienced him so much, but all he was doing was sitting at home watching TV like always, but that is a whole other story. Taking a bus was like second nature and it was almost a safe place for me. It was familiar, and comforting. The hard plastic seats and tinted windows were an invitation to throw my feet up and watch the world go by. I had my own private shuttle that I shared with everyone else with a dollar, but I could block them out and just be alone in my own world. Watching the power poles and street lights wiz by and imagining a skateboard zooming across the sidewalks next to the bus doing tricks and keeping pace with us. I don’t know when I started seeing this figure preforming for me while I toured the city, but I feel he was always there. Was he following me, or was he leading us and making sure I got where I needed to go?

I’ll be honest, I was not a bad kid. I always had good grades and did well in school, but my family situation put me in places where my friends were never the best people. I was the youngest of the group and of course naive. Being that the group was all older then me, I also tried to impress them when I was asked to do things. Never said no and always put myself out there. Yes it was a lack of self-esteem and a cry for attention because I had none at home or from family anywhere. I didn’t know these things at the time. Many of time I was taken advantage of by this group, but they let me be a part and I was willing to take the abuse for my place with them. No matter how small it may have been.

You never know where a day is going to go, but I never imagined this one going where it did. I was only 13 hanging out with a group that ranged in age from 17 to 20. When I think back, just the idea that they were cool with me hanging out with them should have raised a few flags. Going to someone’s house I didn’t know and stay a night or a few days was normal during this time, so hanging out in a different city just meant a new place to crash. People coming home from work, having kids and being adults was just so weird to me. They were passing me beers and flammable plants without batting an eye. Never questioning me about how old I was. It was just an average apartment I guess, but thinking back it was a kick back for druggies and run aways. Everyone was cool and just did their thing. Traffic came in and out of that place like 7-11. It was non stop day and night. At this time I was drinking, smoking and doing other recreational substances that made day and night overlap and sometimes days. I had been there for what I felt was the weekend, but I learned later it was more like 4 or 5 days. This was the first place I had gone with them that had kids my age coming thru as well. It wasn’t just adults getting drunk and high and teasing me and making fun of me for whatever reason. So much of my anger and pain comes from those years and being mistreated by people for doing nothing more then being a kid.

I was on the moss green velvet love seat, the kind with the material that you can make it darker or lighter by running your hand back and forth across it when a dirty blonde teenage girl sat on the floor right in front of me pushed herself back forcing me to open my legs and leaned her head back and fell asleep. I seen her the first day there with two other girls. One was a chubby brunette with braces and the other looked just like her without the freckles but also older. I didn’t know her name and why did she come right here. I ended up passing out while mind mind was wondering about this girl. Who was she and why did she pick me to sit by. Did she want to “hang out” or was she just looking for a safe spot and I looked harmless. This was all going on in my head as I drifted away on whatever cloud I had induced. Then blackness……

Have you ever been hit straight in the face? No guard up, or moment to stiffen up knowing what was to come, but a solid fist to your dome? Well, up until that point I had never experienced this pleasure either. This 15 year old girl was a runaway and her dad had heard where she was and came to look for her. Guess whose legs she was between sleeping when he came in? You probably added that equation up before I even asked. Up until this point in my life I had been in a couple fights, but nothing crazy. After this moment I had been jumped, beat up, hit with a bat, shot and shot at. Being woken from a drug laced slumber by a smashing fist to your face is something I can never explain, but the rest was just as bad. Her dad pushed her away and grabbed me by my sweater and threw me down to the geound b toward the door. Kicked me twice in the side and punched me two more times, but now I was covered up so my arms and hands took most of the impact. All I could hear was, “who the fuck are you and why are you with my daughter?” The girl was now up screaming at her dad that she had no idea who I was and was not with me. This statement seemed to upset her dad even more, as if me being a stranger with his daughter between my legs would clear everything up. I got up quickly ran out the door to his son who had a gun. I stopped looked at him and lost my hearing. I got so dizzy and fell against the stucco wall outside scrapping up my arm and face. I later learned that I had done to much of a certain drug that actually caused this to happen to people. I hit the ground and woke up with a foot on my chest. I guess while I was out the daughter explained things to the dad and he understood I had nothing to do with her and her not being home, so I see them walk out he waves to his son and they get in a truck and drive away. I still have no idea who the girl was or they were.

I crawl inside after falling a few times and learning it may not be a good idea to try and stand. I see there is the lady that lives in the apartment, and a couple guys I have never seen before. No one cared about what had just happened to me and my group of “friends” is no where to be seen. This is day four of me being at the house and I heard my people left two days ago. I was alone with no money, no way of getting home and my dad has no idea where I am at. And now we go back to the beginning. Walking on the tracks cold, wet, bleeding and bruised. I have no idea how long I was walking, but after a while I recognized the street the bus came down so I started following the street. After an hour of walking I could see lights coming toward me and I just stood there like a deer trapped hoping to be rescued from this nightmare. It was the first 68 bus heading toward Gilroy from San Jose. An older black woman asked if I was okay and if I needed a ride. I let her know I had no money and was actually going back to San Jose, the lady replied gently, ” I and going to Gilroy taking a break then heading back and she would let me ride without paying. She can see I just needed a break. I teared up and thanked her. I walked to the back of the bus as she turned off the lights and just continued driving down the road. I sat in the back row leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes. A few moments in I opened my eyes and saw my skateboarding friend outside the window keeping pace with us. I felt that comfort come over me, and realized I was finally in my safe place being taken home.

A New Book to Write

Everyone thinks they will put pen to pad, or fingers to keyboard and the great American novel will come pouring out like the mighty Mississippi, but in reality most of what is written is only important to ourselves and does not help others at all. Who cares if what I write does not turn on that dim light inside of you and illuminate your path. I write to let out the dribble within me. It is not my intention to make this world a better place with my rambling, but to show everyone we are not all perfect so do not be afraid to share your differences. I believe any good piece of writing though should have some type of tale to tell and hopefully inner twine some personal story that makes us all feel like the lesson learned is meaningful and worthwhile. Each time I post a piece I will share a personal story that is not really going to teach you anything but I feel is pretty entertaining . What am I writing this blog for? Well I guess I’m one of those that feel what I have to say is important or entertaining. I am probably delusional in that thought and if no one reads that I will be just fine. Well here is the first of many little stories to come. In high school, like many I had my issues and it took sometime to find my identity. I wasn’t part of the gangs per say, but I did hang around with guys that had ties to many places. One of my close friends parents at the time had a restaurant that we would do stuff for when needed. One morning they needed someone to go pick up the produce for the restaurant before the day started. This was something that was pretty uneventful and idiot proof to complete. If you know anything about the produce business, you have to get to these distributors early in the morning around 4:30 or 5 and the night before we decided we were going to drink and get high and just stay up. We were 16 at the time, no licenses, way beyond drunk and no one should have been driving. And for us to make it even more challenging we decide to take two cars. One is an 60’s truck that barely ran because we needed a place for the produce and the other was my friends moms car but that also meant we needed a second driver. I will admit when we partied I was my friends copilot all the time and driving was never an issue for him, but a second driver was going to be a gamble. I was not driving at the time and was going to start now, the oldest guy of the group was 19 and basically being carried along with us and the last one a 14 year old that was not as drunk as the rest but very nervous to drive. We decide he could drive the car with sleeping beauty and we can take the truck pick up the vegetation and get to the restaurant and have some breakfast because that was a huge advantage of knowing someone with access to food cooked for you. Free food at your call. Now we are drunk with a load of produce at 5 in the morning heading into the heart of the downtown area mind you my pilot is puffing on a joint to sober him up and a 14 year old behind us with a drunk adult riding shotgun. For me those times when reflected upon are very scary. Much of what we did was illegal and yet there was no parental supervision or figure telling us to stop. The restaurant was closed, but we had the keys to let ourselves in and unload and by doing this felt we deserved food so we cooked breakfast and of course had a few beers to go along with it and a case for the ride home. The quickest way to wake up sleeping drunk? Food…. And of course more alcohol. Everything seemed fine while we laughed and ate in this place that we had been to so many times before. Just the regular routine for us. We clean up and it’s time for the ride home. Our sleeping giant had arose and in doing so felt he should be driving, but even in our state of mind we knew he was not capable and in stating this he was irritated but got in the passenger side with his prepubescent chauffeur and began the short ride home. We drove behind them so in case a cop did pull up it was behind us and not them. We did look out for each other like family. It is probably around 7 am now and the sun is is rising and the streets had little activity. We are laughing listening to whatever tape was our theme for the time when we see the drunk passenger beginning to taunt the kid driving by pulling the wheel and making the swerve. In hindsight should we have pulled over probably but who knows if the would have stopped with us. We stay close but not to close and can still see the jerking and swerving until…. The car shoots quickly to the right and head-on into a very large unmoveable tree. We slow down to see the passengers face had went through the windshield but the driver was not moving. We were drunk, high and now freaking out so we drove a couple blocks up to the passengers house and started walking back when we find the playful copilot running our way like a bloodied face bull and his let eye had a chunk of glass stuck right above it and the lid had been torn through exposing his eyeball. He continued running home while we worked our way towards the wreck to see a cop was already there and our young friend was up walking with a blood dripping left hand. Later we found out his teeth had went through his hand when his face hit the steering wheel. Our young thug did some time for this and ratted out the shenanigans puller which ended a few friendships and also got him a free vacation. I can still clearly see the car running into the tree and my friend going through the windshield like it happened yesterday. As youth we do not see consequences and the long term of our actions. I had a crazy life and sharing it here is allowing me a release and a bit of fulfillment you can say. Not that I am glamorizing my childhood antics but just to show we may have started off one way, but we don’t have to stay that way.