I need to get some things out of my head, maybe this is the way to do it.  Since the San Bernardino shooting attacks I’m not sleeping much, am watching way too much news on television, and my thoughts are never far from trying to figure it all out.  Of course it can’t be figured out because I’ll never know all the details and really, I don’t want to know them.  It can’t be figured out because it’s beyond my comprehension to think of people, parents even, standing in front of other people and shooting them dead.  Can’t imagine, don’t want to.  It will never make sense.

All I can do is decide how to live on from this point.  The world as I have known it is now different.  More violent, more divided, more frightening.  And on the other hand, because I follow Humans of New York, Upworthy, and other groups, the world is more loving, more connected, more beautiful.

So what can I do?  Me in my little life.  What can I do?  That has been uppermost in my mind.  And what I keep coming back to is that all I really can do is keep myself as clear and healthy as possible, work through my own shit, take responsibility for my own shortcomings, and show up all the time that I possibly can.  Make eye contact with people, smile, say a kind word, help when the opportunity arises.  I can go out to dinner, shopping, not avoid being in public for fear of attack.  Open my heart, work on my own prejudices, that is what I’m trying to do.

On a lighter note, leaving the corner grocery store I gave a banana to a homeless man that I see often in the neighborhood.  As I was driving away I saw him hold it up to his ear and talk as if he was on the phone.  Ha!

Someone very close to me has a different reaction.  He talks about how everyone should be armed so that when something like this happens anyone can take action to stop the shooters.  He doesn’t want refugees coming into this country.  He thinks a place in the Middle East should be found where refugee camps could be built.  I always start an argument when he expresses these views which are totally opposite to mine.  Today I realized this is his way of coping with the stress of what is going on and I have to back off and allow him to deal with it in his way without my intervention.  If he wants to talk about it going forward I’ll try my best to explain my views calmly and not make fun of his views.  It’s going to be hard but I’m going to try.

This is a hard world to live in right now.  I just keep coming back to love, that it’s the only power larger and stronger than all this violent chaos.  My prayer is for God to use me and to help me be aware when an opportunity arises for me to help, to shine my dim little light.





It isn’t going to write itself, now is it?

So, what did I do?  Did I try to work through the panic, let it just roll over me and know that it wouldn’t last forever?  No I did not.  Did I tell my friends and loved ones and ask for help?  No I did not.  I had dug myself into a deep dark pit.  When I moved in with Dan in the back of his Venice Beach head shop I was running from having to live my own life, make my own decisions.  Of course I didn’t really know that at the time, that realization took years to slowly dawn on me.  I just moved in with him, I helped watch the store while he was out making deliveries of merchandise to dozens of other head shops.  He paid for everything, I never went anywhere without him so I didn’t need money.  People came to me all day, every day, came to the shop and bought things or just hung out.  I didn’t so much have my own friends as I had people who were attracted to me because of my association with Dan, and how weird he was.  A real oddity.  Me, not so much.  My car had been vandalized soon after moving in with him and he’d had it towed away for scrap.  My parents and brother and sister had moved 500 miles away and once when I called my mother to tell her my woes, she told me my sister was going through a hard time and talking to her about it and she didn’t have the energy to listen to me if I had any troubles.  So, no car, no money, and nobody who could help, nobody.  Dan couldn’t help me because while he was upset I didn’t go places with him, he also knew I wouldn’t leave him for someone younger.

My world shrank. Everything closed in around me to make a hermetic seal.  It was an interesting world in some ways.  Right outside my front door was the boardwalk and right past that the sand and beach volleyball courts.  Several times we were approached by production companies and were paid to let them film at our store.  The Rookies, The Rockford Files, Police Woman, I can’t remember them all.  Also some of our customers were actors, producers, musicians.  People whose names I won’t mention.  There was always something going on, life was a carnival that I watched from inside my front door.  I saw the roller skaters, the man who walked around with a huge snake wrapped around his shoulders, Jay the bubble man who wore paint spattered clothes and made giant bubbles with a wand.  They were my entertainment.

Once I sat on a bench ten feet from the door and had a severe panic attack and had to run inside to safety.  It became a fact that I was trapped.

When the store closed for the evening there was television, books.  We had no kitchen so Dan would bring home food every night.  I went nowhere, nowhere.  My range was about 50 feet from my house at the worst of it.  Some times I could visit the little businesses close by; the pizza-by-the-slice stand, the bathing suit shop, the soft ice cream stand, the tiny grocery store, the volleyball courts.  I got to know the owners and workers at these.  I couldn’t be in public for fear I would have an attack and not be able to get to safety.  Once the fog was so thick that nobody could see me and I walked a long ways along the ocean.  I was okay if nobody knew I was there, if nobody could see me.  That was about it.  I was terrified of getting sick, of Dan not coming home, of anything that would make me have to leave my safe area, of anyone knowing. And this went on for a long time, years. 


After that…..

After that, I don’t remember what the third time was.  It blended in with the fourth and the fifth, sixth, seventh, thousandth.  It might have been one night in Olivia’s Soul Food restaurant when it was a packed house with a line out the door and I was in a booth at the back, sitting across from Dan.  And suddenly, over cornbread and collard greens, I was sweating, gasping for breath, terror rising from the pit of my stomach up through my lungs which couldn’t work right.  I couldn’t get a deep breath.  My arms and legs went weak and were trembling, and I had no ability to swallow, nausea, and over what?  What?

I never knew when IT would happen.  I could be walking on the beach across the boardwalk from my front door.  Maybe watching a volleyball game at the sand courts nearby, or  could be in a grocery store picking out oranges, and suddenly rising panic would be my reality.  From out of fucking nowhere.  I would leave as fast as possible, desperate for the feelings to go away.  I began being hyper vigilant, did my heart just beat weird?  Am I breathing correctly?  Can I depend on my legs to hold me up?  Do I need to run?

I thought I was losing my mind.  I was ashamed to tell anyone, afraid I would be institutionalized.  Afraid I would be judged. Afraid that there was something really seriously wrong with me.  I had never heard of anyone else having anything similar happen to them, not in real life, not in the hundreds or thousands of books I had read.  I had to keep this secret so that I wouldn’t be found out.

What really sent me around the bend was one day I could hear a strange noise, slowly getting louder.  It sounded like the cry of a large bird, it was piercing.  It went on long enough that I went outside to see what it was.   A block or so away I saw a small crowd gathered around a young man who was screaming, he was terrified.  His eyes were huge and he was screaming, screaming, turning in circles, nowhere to go, no safety.  A police car pulled up and the officers got out and tried to talk to him but he was screaming, screaming.  One cop touched the young man’s arm and he tried to run.  They caught up to him and forced him into the back seat of their patrol car and drove him away.  His screams getting harder to hear as they got farther away.

Would that happen to me?  What if I had an episode and couldn’t run and couldn’t hide and I was found out?  Would I be put in the back seat of a cop car and be taken away to someplace horrible?  Would I spend the rest of my life screaming, screaming, with nobody to help me and a crowd of people watching?


The second time it happened….

The second time it happened was a few weeks later at a drive-in movie.  Dan and I were in the Paint Your Wagon wagon.  It was inland, in a place I hadn’t been before.  It was on a weekend night and it was packed.  We watched the first movie and, because I have TB (which is Tiny Bladder), I went to the snack bar at intermission to use the restroom.  It was brightly lit, and like moths to a lightbulb, there were what seemd like hundreds of people there.  People were lined up for popcorn, french fries, candy, drinks, etc.  The mood was loud and boisterous.  The smell of grease was intense.  There were people there, the likes of which I hadn’t ever seen; men in hair curlers and bedroom slippers, enormously fat people pushing their kids ahead of them to get into line for food, young dudes with hair nets, wife beater t-shirts and menacing eyes, and grown ups in pajamas.

The line to the ladies’ room was long, people were cutting in line, I REALLY had to pee, and the next movie was about to start.  I tried to not look anyone in the eyes and blend into the background.  My hippie self did not look like anyone else in sight.  I finally got into the bathroom and saw a woman changing her baby’s nasty diaper on the sink.  I went into a stall, the toilet was broken and shit was in the bowl.  I crouched over the seat and peed onto it, having no other option.  No toilet paper of course.  I gagged and pulled my panties up and slunk out. I kept my head down and tried not to look at or touch anyone as I escaped the bathroom and tried to find the car.  It wasn’t where I thought it would be and I just kept walking the rows in the dark to find it, getting more and more upset thinking Dan had left me.  I hadn’t taken my purse when I went to the snack bar and had no money on me and it was decades before the cell phone would be invented.  Finally, as the movie started I saw it a couple of rows ahead and I was so relieved I ran and got in, shaking.

The drive-in was under the flight path of planes, probably from LAX, and oocasionally one flew over low probably coming in for a landing.  The sound was overwhelming and the smell of fuel gagging.  Between the sound and the smell and the thought of having to go back to that bathroom, I just knew I had to get out of there.  I told Dan I was sick and had to leave.  He didn’t want to go, it was a movie he really wanted to see.  I pleaded with him, said I was going to throw up in the car, and he finally gave in and hung the speaker on the pole and we left, inching out of the drive-in with our lights off to not disturb the other people there.

We drove the few miles home and I just held onto the door handle for dear life.  Something awful was going to happen if I didn’t get home.  I didn’t really know what that was, but It would be really really bad.  We finally pulled up in front of the store (we lived in the back) and I ran inside and turned all the lights on and collapsed on the bed.  Two minutes later I was up and fine, normal, having a snack, and reading a book.  Dan got really pissed at me for making him leave the movie for nothing.  He accused me of faking sick to get out of seeing it.  He couldn’t understand how I could be so sick and desperate one minute and then relaxed and content and acting like nothing was wrong the next.  I had no answer for him.

And that was the second time.

The first time it happened…..

The first time it happened I was about 20 years old.  We had gone into Hollywood to make some deliveries and had lunch at a little Italian restaurant on La Cienega.  We were back in the Paint Your Wagon wagon, me in the front seat between Dan and Lyman while Pepi lay on his pillow behind Lyman’s head, on top of all the merchandise that filled what would have been the back seat, window cracked so that he could smell the scenery.  It was late afternoon and rush hour traffic was beginning.  We were on surface streets, it was very warm, and my pasta fazzoul, whatever that was, wasn’t sitting well on my stomach.

Even in early 1970’s Hollywood we stood out.  Right before I had met him, Dan was in the movie Paint Your Wagon.  He played a mountain man and had only needed buckskins rather than his normal overalls to make him fit the era.  He was so proud to have had a role in a movie he had painted his red and white station wagon (it had doubled as his Santa’s sleigh before then) with the words PAINT YOUR WAGON in large letters on the top.  To be seen by helicopters?  I never knew.  The car was absolutely jam packed with merchandise; bongs, roach clips, rolling papers, sew-on patches, and thousands of posters.  He had cleared out the front seat of merchandise, tools, trash, and God know what-all so that we could ride with him.  Pepi went with him everywhere Dan went, on his paisley pillow that was window level so he had only to open his eyes to see the world go by.  Pepi’s short clipped fur matched perfectly Dan’s grey beard.

Dan was a big man, maybe 6’2″ and 250 pounds.  He was around 50 with a full face, pale skin, ice blue eyes, wire rimmed glasses, and always wore a wide brimmed suede leather hat with conch shell adornments and a perpetual sweat stain.  He wore denim overalls and sandals, never socks, never ever shoes.  His toes were fat, thorny nailed, and dirty.  But that was all a backdrop for the beard which could have had its own name, its own social security number, its own zip code.

It’s about right here where you’ll wonder if I’m making this all up and I’ll assure you that no, every word is the truth according to Susan, what I remember 40 years later and with more memories rising as I write this.  Dan’s beard had to have been to his knees, God only knows how long it had been growing.  Maybe he had never shaved his face but wait, a rising memory of an old black and white photo of him with his weak chin shaved for all the world to see.  You might have a vision of him sitting on a rock at the beach like a mermaid, combing his knee length beard.  It would blow wispily on the ocean breeze as he combed and fluffed it.  Maybe butterflies landed there and snuggled in for a brief rest on their way to Mexico.  Maybe birds followed him around to pick up any stray wisps  for their nests.  He might wrap it around his shoulders, a living scarf to keep him warm.  Like our friend Jack who wore a black top hat and cape and slunk around corners after dark with a fluorish, maybe Dan’s beard was his cloak.

But you’d be wrong. Dan never combed his beard and I don’t know if he ever washed it with shampoo.  I think it only got wet from any rain drops his hat didn’t divert.  In short, Dan’s beard was one giant dreadlock.  No you can’t call bullshit, it is absolutely true.  He kept it tucked into his shirt.  It ran down over his belly past the smallest penis in the world, past his old man balls, and down one leg of his overalls.  It ended mid-thigh and when I say it was knee length, who knows how long it would have been if it had been magically detangled, shampooed, and allowed to see the light of day.  It might have been something his sandaled feet would have tripped on in its undone state.  The part of his beard attached to his face was very full, grey, with a few black strands, and lots of white.  It was a lovely cloud on his cheeks, under his nose, and all around his chin and neck before it disappeared into the collar of his T shirt.  A casual observer noticed only his uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus and Dan had been hired many times at Christmas to play the jolly gentleman.  Once his picture was on the cover of a magazine in December.  He also looked an awful lot like Karl Marx.

Dan had lots of tricks that he liked to pull on people.  One was to, when someone moved away from him in disgust or muttered something like “dirty hippie”, reach into his pocket and pull out his giant roll of cash, thick as a stuffed billfold, wrapped in rubber bands as no money clip could hold it, pull back the $1 bill on the outside to reveal the $100s below and say “Did you make 2 grand today?”

His other favorite trick to play was when someone would compliment him on his beard, he would beam at them and say it was to his knees.  They would look him up and down and say nuh uh and he’d grab at the end of it through his overalls at mid thigh and give it a tug.  The peoples’ mouths would fall open as the hair cloud around his face would move with each tug.  The onlookers had the same look on their faces as when David Blaine does his street magic or levitates.  They would stare stupidly for a few seconds and then a dawning horror would fill their faces, no it wasn’t Santa after all.  It was something darker, outside the realm of ordinary existance, a character out of Stephen King’s imagination.

That day Dan, of course, was driving.  I was in the middle with Lyman to my right.  Lyman must have been about 60.  He was Dan’s cousin and the family resemblance was strong.  Lyman was a smaller version, Republican and what we would back then have called straight, short haired and clean shaven.  Looking into the car an onlooker may not see that Lyman’s body was somewhat twisted.  They wouldn’t know that he had an odd gait with maybe one leg shorter than the other, and a way of walking that was probably an elabortate systerm of pain avoidance.  He would swing one let around without bending his knee and then catch up to it with his other leg, a sort of drunken looking waltz.

Dan and Lyman had the car radio on to some kind of Sinatra station and were talking across me.  Traffic was now at an absolute stop, nobody moving.  I just wanted to be home!  But home was so far away.  I was going to throw up all of that pasta fazzoul (what the fuck is that?)  Dan couldn’t pull over, we were absolutely blocked in traffic.  Lyman opened the car door and painfully lifted himself out of the car to let me out.  Dan and I had been to a sale at Warner Brothers costume department and I was wearing one of my beloved robes from the movie Ben Hur and a pair of sandals.  My hair was in two braids.  I had on white lipstick and white eyeshadow from my lashes to my eyebrows with little blue dots cleverly painted on. I crouched in the dry curb area between 2 parked cars and dry heaved doubled over in my Ben Hur robe.  Lyman with his back in the open door of the Paint Your Wagon wagon and Pepi still curled up lying in the window watched me along with all the other bored people trapped in their cars in the traffic snarl going nowhere, horns honking, music playing, sun shining, heat shimmering in waves.  Dan would inch the car forward, Lyman would swing his leg and then catch up, I’d stand in my Ben Hur robe and walk alongside the car ahead and then dry heave at the curb.  Fun times!  We must have somehow gotten home, maybe hours later, maybe weeks.  I know we did because I’m here now to write about it.  Of course by now they are all probably dead.  Dan would be 90 something and Lyman over 100, Pepi probably dead 35 years now.  The Paint Your Wagon wagon maybe a block of compressed metal, who knows.

As I say, that was the first time it happened.

Mr. Magoo or Cub Reporter?

SInce starting to write here, it’s in the back of my mind all the time.  A week ago I had a song stuck in my mind, it had been there for a couple of weeks and it played continuously.  I’d be doing something and realize that freaking song was looping again.  I had another song that I’d deliberately sing in my head to bump the awful one out, it usually worked for a few minutes. Now I’m thinking instead about what I’m thinking and is it something to explore?  This has made me a little nutso. Some of me has taken a seat in the back part of my brain and is watching the thoughts go by.  It is eating popcorn, sometimes throwing it at the screen, and sticking gum under the seat.  Which is fun, creepy, weird, interesting, and sort of entertaining.

However it doesn’t do great things for being in this moment doing what I’m doing.  I’m sort of on auto pilot. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood since 1982 and the other day I almost turned the wrong way onto a one-way street four blocks from my house.  I pressed buttons on the microwave yesterday to keep the conventional oven’s timer from beeping. I’m having to say “Earth to Susan” more often than usual.  I have to consciously watch myself around knives and stairs and driving a little more since this realization.

Also I’m carrying a notebook and pen wherever I go to record memories and insights and topics to write about.  I met a friend at a restaurant the other day and he said I might want to get a fedora and put a Press card in the brim.  Little snips of conversations I overhear are more interesting than usual.  And I’m saying yes to ideas that pop into my head.  Yesterday I took Beaumont the Bulldog for a ride in the car and spontaneously pulled over to take him for a little walk through an alley. Saw a friend there and wound up having a great conversation.  I like this, it’s added a whole other dimension to my life.  Now if I can just avoid a car accident, and stay present enough to not be a danger to society, this will all be just fine.

A Walter State of Mind

In my family we all went to church and Sunday school on Sunday and prayer meeting on Wednesday night.  Whether we (read I) wanted to or not (not).  It was a Pentecostal church, very conservative, very quiet and proper except for altar calls, which were loud and emotional and required by my parents, and for the times people were visited by the Holy Ghost and would speak in tongues.  People dressed up and put on their best manners. Fun was allowed only in the 20 minute break between services when most of the congregation walked to Winchell’s Donuts a block away for coffee, powdered sugar or jelly donuts, and conversation.

There was another church a block past the donut shop and sometimes I’d ditch our service and go to theirs because it was more fun and not so serious. My parents had spies in our church who would rat me out if I ditched, so it was never a good idea because three sanctioned church services a week were the price I paid to go to a G rated movie with friends on Saturday (or make out in the drive in to a PG).  When I got older I would drive into Watts on a Sunday morning because I could get a black church station on my a.m. car radio and hear the glorious music that was calling to me and still does.  I’d also drive to Monrovia and go to black tent meetings once in awhile for the same reason, the music.  That early music love bloomed into the love of R and B and funk and later rap but it all began in somebody else’s church.

So, very boring church services every Sunday morning into afternoon with the taste of donut still on my tongue.  The minister was very old, small, frail, and hunched over from some affliction. He had the title of doctor and was erudite and very long winded.  There were a couple of opening songs by the choir or songs the congregation stood and sang.  I can remember my father’s beautiful tenor booming above me and my mother’s thin soprano joining in.  And then we all sat down, got as comfortable as possible on the polished hard wooden benches, and shut the hell up. The service would last only an hour or so but, time being relative to how much you are enjoying yourself, it felt like twenty.

As I got older I would sit in the balcony with my friends Margaret and Maxine, twins, who were wild enough to be very interesting.  We would pass notes during the sermon and generally help each other live through it.   We’d sit far enough back in the rows that my parents’ spies on the main floor couldn’t crane their necks far enough to see us.

Into this temple of decorum and absolute quiet occasionally would come Walter.  Walter was an older man, small of build, wearing a rumpled suit, and he was developementally disabled.  He would sit in the balcony during Sunday services, we tried to sit opposite him in the curving balcony to get the best view.  Walter would sometimes bring a transistor radio and listen to the baseball game with the radio pressed against his ear.  The ushers would ignore him until he cheered at a score and then they’d ask him to turn it off.  Sometimes he would enthusiastically pick his nose with a flourish.  Margaret and Maxine and I would almost pee ourselves laughing at him without making a noise.  Once I snorted and covered it with a cough.  Another time someone in the balcony had a gift of the spirit and loudly spoke in a foreign language and another person stood up on the main floor and translated it into English.  Walter apparently was moved by the same spirit let out a loud Whoop! that caused the ushers again to rush to quiet him.

I’ve recently realized that Walter lives on in my brain.  Every time I decide that this is finally the time that I will write every day, or eat healthy for 30 days straight, or meditate half an hour with the oven timer on, Walter makes an appearance.  The sight of a blank piece of paper will make me leave the room trembling,  pan dulces from the Mexican market mysteriously show up in my grocery bag along with the cilantro and avocados I went in to buy, or a song will get stuck in my head for the whole time I’m trying to think of nothing.  I’ll resolve to say only nice things about people or decide that this is the time to set up a daily schedule that I’ll stick to religiously, and here he is again, making a snarky comment in my voice or saying fuck it to all shoulds I just came up with.

Rap blasting in the background, eating an apple fritter, sitting on my spreading ass working a jigsaw puzzle online, these are all Walter influences.  I wonder whatever happened to Margaret and Maxine?