The Projects

As a kid I was quiet, withdrawn, and mostly an observer not particularly liking what I saw taking place in my immediate family. Actually, life with mom, pop and my nasty sister was a totally dysfunctional mess. For all intent and purposes I feel I could have been raised by wolves.

I like to say that when I was grown high enough to reach the door knob of our small apartment I was out and gone, escaping into the magical kingdom of the projects, and that is pretty much what happened. 

The Mellet Homes housing project was built smack dab in the middle of Ozzie and Harriet’s middle class America by the U.S. government to house the influx of workers needed to man the local factories and steel mills gone full bore into the war effort. Each barracks type building, containing six small apartments, was packed closely together onto a thirty five or so acre tract of land.

It was a noisy place full of clothes lines, screaming kids, crying babies, and cars. A distinct perimeter existed between ‘us’ poor folks and ‘them’ rich folks. We even had our own school for awhile cause they wanted to keep us riff-raff segregated from Harriet’s little darlings.

I can only imagine how happy she was to see a slum arising in the midst of her beloved neighborhood, but what the hell, the war was on and everybody had to sacrifice a bit for the cause. Ozzie went off to kill Germans while Harriet stayed home and tended her victory garden. And when the vegetables were ripe, project kids stole and ate them.

The project was a great place to grow up. We played Cowboys and Indians with enough kids to field two armies. We played War and Kick the Can well into the night without the thought of perverts or gun slingers. We played football, baseball, basketball. We fought bare knuckled when we were mad, boxed with the gloves on when we weren’t. We wrestled in the mud in the rain. We played doctor with the girls in the woods by day and used their cover by night as a staging area for vandal raids onto Ozzie and Harriet’s turf.

We lived under a pecking order where everybody knew their place. If we messed with the older kids we got beat up. All the adults looked out for us and didn’t mind giving us a slap when we deserved it either.

There were no knives, guns, drugs or any of that stuff. The men would occasionally get drunk and get into fist fights, but no one ever got killed. The women would get into shouting matches sometimes, but all that noise just added a minor chord that made the melody all the more interesting.

Nobody got much for Christmas in the projects, so we would get up Christmas morning, see what we got and go around to all our friends places to barter and exchange until we ended up with something we wanted. ( I’m sure Tommy always kept his pair of socks) Man, we had it all and were living the dream. We were happy cause nobody ever told us how poor we were.

The projects was always a bee hive of activity. I remember when the ice man would deliver large blocks of ice by hand to feed our refrigerator.

I remember the rag man with his cart walking down the street yelling, “Rag man!…….Rag man!” and people would come to buy a clean one or drop their dirty rags in his cart.

I remember when the milk man would come and deliver milk. Us kids would steal orange drink out of the ice bin in the back of his truck while he did it. We’d also ride our bikes alongside a pop truck and help ourselves to a Coke when ever we saw it coming. He’d stop and yell, but he could never catch us.

Nobody had a TV in those days so we used to listen to movies on the radio. Amos and Andy was my favorite, and who could forget The Shadow. When TV came out there was only one family in the whole projects who could afford one. Us kids would gather quietly around their living room window after dark while old man Bear and his wife sat on the couch on the inside, and watch our favorite show Lights Out with them. Wonder if they knew we were even there? Can you imagine that happening today? We would have set off an alarm the minute we bent a blade of his fake grass in today’s world.

I think I was about nine when mom finally bought me a TV. I still remember coming home one evening from the YMCA (where I practically lived) and seeing Sgt. Preston of the Royal Canadian Police playing in my living room . . . WOW one of the happiest days in my life to that point.

In the projects the walls were so thin that if the guy next door sneezed you could hear it. We had these medicine cabinets in the bath room with a slot in them where you dropped razor blades after they were used up. Well, if you looked into the slot and the person in the other apartment had their cabinet door open you could see into their bathroom. Robyn, my girl friend, would accidentally on purpose leave her door open when she took a bath. I would turn out the light on my side and open the door to watch her. Really exciting voyeurism for a guy my age. Ha! I still remember that stuff . . .Robyn I still love you, wherever you are!

I moved from the projects one cold, windy day in the winter of 1957 with tears streaming down my cheeks. I was forced to leave Berry Davis, the love of my life, and my many friends. I was a very unhappy camper when my mom got remarried and forced me to move. The one place where I could feel at home in those days was in the projects among my friends.

The projects were in existence until 1965 or so when they were torn down to make room for a shopping center and a parking lot. The new Walmart now sits directly on top of the spot where I once lived, kinda poetic justice I suppose since I had practically made a career out of stealing from those kind of stores. In the end we all lose. I lost big time the day my mom made me leave the projects and move onto Ozzie and Harriet’s turf.

The Story

This guy is fascinating to me . . . like one day I took a walk in Central Park and discovered a long lost brother from the sixties before everybody was pigeon holed into this huge social trap of sameness. A time when free thought and weirdness was the order of the day. . . . We need more bonobo’s like him to come out of hiding and not be afraid to do it.

Whats YOUR story? . . . . . . . . .

My Old Friends

myoldfriends

It seems I do more of it in the winter, but regardless, as I get older I spend a lot of time day dreaming. I usually wake up about 5 am, make coffee and, being retired and having no place to go, sit in my chair in the dark drinking my coffee and dreaming about the past. A rather pleasant time, I might add.

Now I have been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but the things and places have become mere backdrops, places to hold the faces and memories of the many people I have known and the friends I have made over the last 72 years that I have lived on this planet.

As I begin to think on a place and time the faces are soon to follow. These faces pop into my mind like a worn out jack-in-the-box. Crank the handle and up pops Joey Sirgo or Gunner Thompson, or Tommy One Nut, Pissball Pete or just plain Joe . . . . . (It’s amazing how many of these guys have slang names and how often that’s the only one I can remember.)

Then the fun begins as I sit and reminisce with these guys over all the exciting times we had together . . . and a few of the sad ones. Seems the good and the funny always float to the top first though. I have to dig a bit to get to the bad, so as I hate shoveling I mostly leave that part alone.

To all the girls I’ve loved before. I remember your eyes, the lift of your breasts and the swing of your hips, but my Band of Brothers meant far more to me than trying to figure you out ever did. You ladies have a special room in my heart, but not this one. This room is filled with bar girls, one night stands, and short time hookers.

The “old boys club” door is locked to the finer female. You wouldn’t like it in here anyways cause the room stinks of old cigar smoke, cordite and bull shit, and the floor is littered with trampled peanut shells, dried blood and dog hair. A place only one of my old friends could love.

I always figured when I got old I would be sitting in the park with the rest of the old goats like they did when I was a kid. Maybe the old project crowd still do that, I don’t know because I lost contact with them at 15 when I had to move.

Today I live a life of seclusion. I spend my days reading, or goofing on my computer or driving my wife crazy, but rarely if ever do I spend time with friends, cause although spread out over half the world, they are not here.

Once I was in a Portland City jail cell with the walls covered in graffiti. I found an empty spot and wrote my own little tale of woe, “I’ve been alone since birth, I’ll remain alone till death, then I’ll have a friend”. Kind of a downer, but how else would you feel being stuck in a two man cell with a guy coming down off heroin?

I do hope that quickly thought verse will prove itself to be true though cause I’m getting closer to D day each time I go to sleep at night and it would be really cool to wake up on the other side and see a large table of my friends gathered around it to greet me. (and my many favorite dogs lying under it)

Jesus and God would have to wait for a while then because first thing I want to do is drink some good Old Crow and hang out with the guys again for a season . . . or two.

I think Robert Service said it all about guys like us. Guys our women just can’t quite understand:

The Men Who Don’t Fit In

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

But . . . those of us who have walked this path would have it no other way. (end)

I wrote the above about 4 years ago and nothing has changed. Alone but never lonely I become more irrelevant daily, but, still, I miss my old friends and wonder what happened to all of them . . .  and am far too lazy to find out.

Salvation

You: What does it mean to be saved?

Me: That depends upon your religious affiliation, but as a rule the Christian church teaches that Jesus Christ willingly gave up his life as a sacrifice for your sins, and by your acknowledgement of that sacrifice you have been freed from the curse of sin and death. It teaches that Heaven is reserved for those who die in the faith . . . Hell is reserved for those who don’t.

Christian doctrine accepts a convert as they are and promises them a new life where they will be forgiven of past sins and become a new person as they live under the living word of God and His bible. In time the simplicity of that message created the largest and most powerful religion known to man. People flocked to the Mother church and her teachings by the millions.

When I was a younger man I know I did. I was at the end of my rope. I needed help from somewhere. Jesus was there, free and open armed, for me. I was born again in a local church and as long as I remained in good standing with the church and it’s doctrine I was guaranteed a place at the table when I got to Heaven. Heady stuff for a guy who had absolutely no religious affiliation whatsoever, and it worked great for a couple of years . . . BUT . . .

In time I began to notice that my life had become an ‘us vs them’ affair, something I was not comfortable with for many reasons. I began to question . . . especially when I realized I, as well as almost every church person I knew, had pretty much traded our past sins in for an open, ongoing, and obnoxious version of self righteousness. I was not pleased with myself.

I studied the bible, prayed for this and that, even lived on a Christian commune for a couple years . . . but after all was said and done I was the same guy I’d always been, but now I had to hide behind this magical connection to God. Anyway the questions became too many, the doubts too large, and I became what we church people feared more than anything else . . . a reprobate backsliding his way to Hell!

Back to the question of salvation: What was I being saved for? Why me? What if I couldn’t read the bible? What if I was born a Muslim? A Jew? An Indian? Chinese? What about the rest of creation? The questions came on like an endless series of waves in a heavy storm and I felt myself sinking under them . . . so I did what I do best. I hopped a plane and headed off into the sunset and a new adventure in Seattle.

Today I am not down on any church, but in general I believe we have gotten it all wrong when it comes to Christianity. I believe we have been duped by a ministry clearly bent on self aggrandizement. Guys who have created magical doctrines in order to rule over their flock of believers instead of taking the time and patience to teach them to practice what the simple teachings of Christ actually meant. We Americans are an overly spoiled, ‘all show and no go’ people. Even our version of Christianity, (especially the TV ministry bullshit), proves it to us.

Bottom line . . . It is easier to WORSHIP Jesus than it is to LEARN from him . . . and the ministers are using our spiritual laziness against us by promoting their version of American exceptionalism in order to control our minds, and give themselves a great life in their shiny new church. These Pharisees and false prophets are alive and well and living among us.

So here’s my answer to your question on salvation:  Jesus didn’t appear on the scene to SAVE you. He came to TEACH you how to SAVE yourself. . . and if you choose to follow and practice his teachings, he will be your teacher and you his student. And what can be more satisfying to a teacher than to have a student who learns his lesson?

Jesus was a special being, no one can argue that. I believe he existed and was a thorn in the sides of the priests of that day, just as you will become if you follow his lead. I don’t believe he was a special creation though. I believe he was an old soul who obtained awareness at a very early age and dedicated his life to the cause of teaching humanity a better way.

I believe there have been many teachers who have come and gone throughout the ages who were born for the very same reason, and I believe they all have based their teachings on one four cornered foundation.

house of god
You are being saved for no other reason than to build THIS house . . . you may never know it, you may never be awarded anything other than the satisfaction of knowing you helped build it . . . but that will be enough.

 

The Book

Summer 1980 . . . It’s summertime and I have just  recently flown back to Ohio after leaving the body farm in Palmer Alaska. I am beginning to write a book about my times living on one of Sam Fife’s end time farms. Following is the introduction to that book . . .

Introduction

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago I was standing on a cliff overlooking the Little Susitna river staring beyond into the foothills of the distant mountains whose streams and hills were once laced with gold and promises of grandeur. The mines are still there to tell the story of the old days when gold was God and men deprived themselves, struggling against the harsh climate to seek its favor and to possess all the earthly goods that it offered them.  

I too was there in Alaska seeking gold, but my gold was the promise of a changed nature. A nature of good fruit and righteousness that God has promised to them that loved Him and sought to walk in His way. Proverbs 8-19 says – My fruit is better than gold even pure gold and my yield than choicest silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.

Years ago the Lord had given me a vision of God’s people living together in peace and harmony, of working the land and experiencing His life together in Christian community. Corporate life and total commitment to Jesus Christ and His body was at the time, in my opinion, the highest of callings.  

I’d spent the last five years there in the Matanuska valley, experiencing the joys and sorrows that come from living so close with so many. Knowing first hand how easy it is to expound upon the principles and doctrines of God and to declare our total commitment to Him in church, but how difficult it is to walk daily on His path and continually heed His call to lay down our lives and our wants that our brother may live and have his needs met. I loved Alaska and my family there, I was certain I would never leave, but it seemed the Lord had other plans for me.

How did I come to be involved in such a lifestyle? This is my story. A story of one man’s search for meaning in this life. A search for reality.

END

 

Summer 2018 . . . That was then . . . this is now. Then I was a young man full of visions, on a hero’s journey . . . today I am an old man full of dreams who is reaching as far back on memory lane as he can get, trying to figure out what the hell it was I was thinking those many years ago.

In the beginning of this story it is easy to recognize the effects of imagination on the romantic mind. It only takes a worthy cause to arouse the warriors spirit and send him on the hero’s journey.

Forever, it seems, I have been on that journey. Like Sir Launfal in Lowell’s poem “ The Vision Of Sir Launfal” I was, it seems, on a quest to find the holy grail and like the original seeker I failed miserably.

What kind of person gets caught up in these cults anyway?  I can only speak for myself.

My early life was not normal by any definition. I was a smart kid from a dysfunctional family with no self esteem and very little training. I grew up in a housing project that required me daily to defend myself against multi membered bullies that were older than me and higher up the pecking order. I was a competitive, street smart loner before the age of ten. I was most likely the ideal candidate for a cult.

When I had my Jesus moment around the age of thirty I didn’t hear the call to salvation and Heaven like everyone else I knew. I heard the clarion call to save the world for Jesus and his church . . . I, still on the hero’s journey,  jumped in with both feet and enlisted into the army of God . . . Glory! Fighting for God . . . It doesn’t get any better than that! The tests and trials before that day became moot as I put on His armor, took up His sword and began to fight His battle against Lucifer and his army of demonic angels.

Then one day my truths changed and I tossed that heavy sword into the river of life and settled down for a long, long nap . . .

Today I am out of causes and . . . today, like Sir Launfal, I realize that the holy grail had been with me the whole time, it lived within the eyes and lives of the family I had left behind in my mad dash to win the war against Satan and make a way for God’s people.  

I’m now 76 years old. I figure if I’m going to write this book I better get started before father time punches my clock. So as memory holds, here we go . . . down the pathway of remembrance.

This will not be a negative story, nor much of a positive one either. I am going to try to write this as an impartial observer. I still have friends on the various farms that I love and respect and mean them no harm. Regardless of how I feel about religion and the Brother Sam ministry I will take none of my angst out on them . . . it was a time when the world was so different and so much simpler that I thought the hero actually had a chance to make a change . . . before JFK got killed, before the war in Vietnam turned my generation upside down, before drugs and before Brother Sam . . . that is.