Of Old Barns And Empty Streets

Of Old Barns And Empty Streets

Like the one they found Claudia in the night she ran away. We knew where to look. The children. This was our tongue and groove, hand hewn, dusty dirt floor playground. The “web” we knew, was a design delicately strung across the corner, home to the big green wolf, or the black and yellow striped guy. Claudia was more scared to go home to that drunken abusive witch who adopted her, than she was of any spider, bat, or little gray field mouse. The rain fell.
We told her to run. Some nights you could hear the screams of the wretched witch half way home, and down a hill. Her parents adopted two, Claudia and Thaddeus, before finally rearing one of their own. The adopted ones were tortured, the other treated princely, that’s why we told her to run. But she had no place to run to…except one of those old neighborhood barns.
Those barns were our wonderland. We were Admiral Perry, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Lewis and Clark, all wrapped in one. This was Timbuctoo, this was the North Pole, this was the haunted castle, or the lost dutchman’s mine, it didn’t matter to us. The only “post” we “liked” was attached to a beam, that held up a piece of American history. They smelled of lime, of hay, or the scent of weathered wood from days long past. At the ground beneath our feet, the soil darkened from the blood of big red machines; once they tilled natures pennies from the earth; now an empty space for a neglected girl, and the echo of America’s farmers forever lost to progress.
It didn’t take long to find Claudia. The children knew where to look. In those days nobody ever asked why she ran. We knew. Eventually she grew up and moved away from the monster. Eventually the neighborhood grew up, and one by one the old barns were torn down, replaced by houses or commercial development. Tiny pieces of American history ripped from their moorings, to make way for shawdy soulless testaments to greed and excess.
Progress is a lie. It’s a lie that parents tell children, that governments tell citizens, it’s a lie that people tell each other because they can’t tell them the truth. The truth is too ugly. The truth is, most Americans want more stuff, not because they need it, they don’t need it, they want it so other people will want what they have–so they can feed their sensitive ego’s and feel special.
Claudia never felt special. The children don’t need to play outside anymore.

Reviews

Money Monster

Let’s get right to it, this is a damn good movie. I give it a whole bucket load of stars, spoons, gummie waffles,  smiling imoji faces, or for that matter, any symbol you prefer for your movie rating system. It’s a pretty decent flick, the entire staff (me) here at the loop-hole.com actually agreed on this one– you  should check it out. George Clooney does a very convincing job as Lee Gates, the narcissistic stock adviser with a television show. While Jack O’Connell performs brilliantly as Kyle Budwell, the man who takes over the show with a handgun and jihadist style bomb vest  he forces Clooneys character to wear. I have to admit the whole shit-show takes a very unrealistic turn, when they all go marching down Main st. in search of the C.E.O. douchebag who ripped off stockholders for 800 million bucks. But hey it’s not a documentary, because in real life the police would probably fuck things up a lot worse and a whole bunch of innocent black people would get killed….or maybe not. Anywhoo, the movie is good, you should check it out, especially if you are like me and just plain ole’ tired of watching grown ass men in tights doing a lousy job of pretending to be really pissed off at one another–sorry, that’s a different movie for a different review. Let’s get back to this one. I did enjoy the plot twist, and the incorporated social commentary about greedy Wall St. assholes, about trigger happy police, about mass media, and about the public’s ability to forget things very quickly, those are all worthy topics which is exactly why I really liked this movie. I give it three bloody band-aids and a tampon.

 

Random Rant

                                             Leggings -T.M.I.

         Fashion is a funny business. I mean, who knew that ripping jeans so the white thread is exposed becomes a reason to charge more money for them. Now they are actually blasting them with lasers to create intricate designs–pretty neat. These are fashion statements I can live with, but their is another fashion that is not so benign, a fashion statement that sometimes makes me cringe, creates feelings of abject fear, feelings of anxiety, of discomfort, and sometimes makes me literally want to run for cover. I become traumatized. I feel violated. I suffer from a spontaneous form of compulsory fashion PTSD. CF-PTSD.

    I am talking about leggings.The T.M.I. of the modern fashion world. Let me clarify. There is a certain segment of the female population that can absolutely rock this clingy, stretchy, fabric anomaly with impunity. Some, the ones with the tight athletic derrieres even look sexy. But then there are the others. Maybe they know who they are and maybe they don’t. Either way–PLEASE–I don’t even know your name, what makes you think I want all that information about every nook and cranny of your robust cellulite ass. If I wanted cottage cheese, I would run down to the dairy section of my nearest Aldi, and buy some! Look, if you have even the slightest fashion sense, you can wear a long sweater or top, and we don’t have this conversation. If you’re suffering from a chronic form of conjunctive trunk-de-litis, I understand, I sympathize, but please… consider the children. Nobody can tell me the sight of protruding ass camel toe is not disturbing…it is! Very.

      Some of these leggin things are actually see through. Now I’m a dude, and at the risk of sounding misogynistic (which I am not), I can admit, not a day goes by, that I am not wondering to myself what some sexy little biscuit, that I pass in my travels, is wearing for panties underneath those tight blue jeans. I can’t help it. Does that make me a pervert…or does that make me normal? We can debate that another time, for now we need to get this urgent message to the masses of asses that are running around with a delusional concept that this style looks good on them, when actually if they bend over (sometimes not even) the whole entire population of a given area becomes unwilling witnesses to a lunker set of granny panties, tighty whitey’s, or even more incendiary–a thong gone wrong.

     Ugh…the horror of it all. I may have nightmares tonight. Look, I don’t like to be the harbinger of ill will…like it or not, this needed to be said. I consider it a public service announcement… Your welcome.

 

For comments email me at RJWordsmyth@gmail.com

Barb’d Wire: Housing First.

Barb’d Wire : Housing First                 by Ralph Gagliardo.

 

    Social experiments across the nation are supporting the idea that housing first, as a model for reducing the numbers of chronically homeless, while sharply cutting the long term cost associated with them, really seems to work. Money dictates policy, and if cities large and small can save a few bucks, then the funding should a no-brainer. Of course we all know that nothing in gov’t is ever that simple, and whether it works or not, may be irrelevant. In my view, however, there is nothing to left to debate. The proof is in the results I have seen firsthand, in the dramatic turnaround of some of Hartford chronically homeless after they have been housed. I won’t name names…they know who they are.

    Allow me to quote on man who was homeless for approximately four years, before getting housing through this type of program, he said “ I never realized the kind of mental stress I was carrying around at all times, until after I got housed”. He went on to say that for the first three weeks he still had nightmares from the mental defenses he built up while struggling to survive on the mean streets for so long. Just take a moment and imagine how frightening it can actually be to be living day to day with constant uncertainty, and no stability from one day to the next.

    This is only one person’s testimony, but it still opens the window to the realities, and mental stresses, homeless people face all the time. I know of others, whose demeanor, hygiene, and even their personalities almost seemed to change overnight…after being housed. It is a beautiful sight to behold, when a person who has struggled for so long, get’s their own key, that goes to the lock on their very own apartment door.

    I will let the sociologist and policy makers debate the who, what, where, and why, of the financial and societal benefits if they choose to do so, as for my part, I will share my first observation. You see, I also know happen to know that studies do show two common factors that cut through, homelessness, recidivism, and addiction/recovery, and as it turns out the two factors are very closely connected.   

The first one has to do with feelings of connectedness. The more connected a person feels to others, statistics show, the more likely they are to succeed in overcoming one or all of these conditions. Pretty self-explanatory-I would say.

     The second factor is the one I am focusing on, and only because of my desire to play better poker. You see, it is one of those simple rules of behavior that every card shark, worth half his chip stack, is very well aware of. The rule is simple: The majority of the time, a person is more afraid to lose what he/she already has, and will not risk it, even for potential gain. In the retail industry it has a name “the endowment effect”. In simple terms, people view the world a little different when they feel like they have something to lose. It is like all of a sudden they have a reason to pay a little closer attention.

    Even in the solitary confinement blocks of some of the country’s toughest prisons, they understand this basic principle. Since some of their guest really did have nothing to lose, other than their prison life, they had to seek newer ideas on ways to reduce the number of inmates in segregation, they often found that by letting them get a taste of a certain luxury and exposing them to a sample of the benefits of staying out of seg. than they might be inclined to act accordingly. This was part of a successful program aimed at reducing the number of inmates in segregation, or solitary, and serves to emphasize the point. Recidivism studies show this as well. The more the parolees had to lose, the less likely they were to violate. Same also held true for terrorism suspects: When they were tortured the information was often unreliable, but when they gave prisoners some simple things, simple benefits, the net effect was one of gaining trust and the prisoners were often more cooperative, leading to more dependable intel.

     All these examples point to the same basic principle, and it does have a whole lot to do with trust. The chronically homeless, are folks who have not generally had the best experiences navigating the process or getting on the long section 8 list. They often will need help with things like getting proper I.D., filling out paperwork for E.B.T. or S.S.I., and many of them will have stories of promises they felt were not kept by these or other institutions. They will be skeptical, and for good reason.

    By taking the initiative and offering the chronically homeless housing first and foremost, it does a lot more for that individual than just putting a roof over their head, it changes the way they feel about life, restores their faith in the goodness of people, gives them a chance to restore their mental health, makes the feel invested in the community, and gives them something to care about…something to lose, and since nobody likes to lose what they already feel they own, they will generally take the actions necessary to protect and maintain that stake.

    The state’s idea is that it saves money just on trips to the E.R. alone, which is a costly and often unnecessary burden for taxpayers. Whatever the logic they choose to use to justify the upfront cost associated with these type of models– they need to keep using it. Housing first works. I don’t need any fancy statistics…I can see it in the faces…and the smiles…of the recipients of these initiatives. They are grateful; they have reason to hope.

 

                                                                      

The Idle American Part III, Barb’d Wire column, Beat of the Street newspaper.

   The Idle American Part 4     (see previous issues for part 1&2)

….so as he continued to trade his written words for supplies, he was also discovering much about himself and those around him. In the confined environment of prison pent up emotions can sometimes lead to turmoil, and even violence. Violence for him was not so much a foreign language, but more like an old standby that had served him well as a quick and ready solution in his youth. But this was prison…

    In prison, just like “out in the world” a lot (I mean an awful lot) can depend on who you know. Since he had done work, using his writing hustle, for many of the top dogs on the block, he no longer need worry for his safety; it was a non-issue. Again he could see the power of words–the power of understanding how to communicate was palpable and real, and this was his epiphany.

    If only I could use this skill out in the world, he thought, how much better and meaningful my life could be. But how?

    Finally the day had arrived, not his “end of sentence” date, mind you, but the next best thing–early release on parole. Yes, soon he would be free. This time things will be different, he told himself. His experiences with heroin addiction had taught him some important lessons about the nature of freedom, and the nature of prison. You see, he now understood that in the same way he had freed himself in prison by freeing his mind, many so called free men were languishing in jails of their own design. Prisons, not of concrete block and iron bars, but of addiction, of relationships, of employment, of health and disability, and of all other manner and way of confining oneself to a singular path. These are the prisons we create for ourselves and are often much worse and destructive than the brick and mortar type. Freedom, he realized, comes with responsibility. Responsibility to himself, to his family, and to society as a whole. He had to stay clean this time, and he vowed to do anything to make that happen.

     So one day when he was walking back from the parole office in Hartford CT. he decided to stop at the Hartford Library’s Main street branch. As he walked in that direction, he wondered to himself about his future. He had no job prospects, no place of his own to call home, no money, no special prison training that would give him a direction to pursue. All he owned were just the clothes on his back, and now he carried the label of “convicted felon” as well. Still, what he lacked in opportunity he made up for in desire. A desire to stay clean, and a desire to be a good and responsible father to his daughter (also a victim of his addiction) and who had been silently growing up without him. He had to do the right thing. He just had to.

     When he stepped inside the library, unbeknownst to him at the time, was an event going on that would change his life forever. The title of the event was “The Day of Caring and Sharing” and it was sponsored by a group of people from an organization known as “Hands on Hartford.” When he followed the arrows to the back meeting room of the library, he had no expectations other than the information posted on the sign out front, which said something about raffles, food and music. But there was more. A lot more.

     As he sat there in that room, amongst so many of the tired faces he had encountered from his days of living on the street as a homeless drug addict, and listened to the speakers, something else occurred to him, and it was this–these people from “Hands on Hartford” they really go out of their way to show how much they care, and they do it with action, not just words. These are the type of people I need to be around, he thought. Not only that, but part of the program included time for an open mike, where anyone could perform a poem or song, or even a prayer. In his pocket was a poem he had written for his daughter during his time incarcerated. So he got up and read it to the audience, and in doing so got the attention of one of the members of Hands on Hartford (thanks Anne), who upon hearing his poetry invited him to come to a meeting. It was a meeting for a local newspaper he had never heard of called “Beat of the Street.”

     A few days later when he attended the meeting, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were going to let him write an article on how he felt about addiction, incarceration, and homelessness, and publish it for the world to read, and on top of that he would receive compensation (not Ramen noodles) which he needed just to survive. And the people…the people, the members of this group, they were all working together to make the world a better place, and all the other writers who contributed were previously homeless or addicted, just like him. It was a perfect place for a recently released, previously addicted writer, who was still on parole. Once he joined the organization, he started his own column called “Barb’d Wire” and met the folks from another dedicated group at “Charter Oak Community Center.” They, he found out, had a learning center which they called B.O.T.S School. He started attending classes at the school, everyone liked his writing, but more than that, they just wanted to help him embrace the change in life style that was necessary for him to progress. Once he graduated from the B.O.T.S school, he was told he could attend Goodwin College for free. This opportunity, for him, was just unreal. Totally unreal.

     Yes, he was given a second chance, and after being inspired by all the amazing selfless acts of these two organizations, he vowed never to return to his old ways, and to join in the fight against poverty, against addiction, mass incarceration, and all the other maladies of society, by helping any way he could. Shortly after he was invited to join the “Faces of Homelessness” speakers bureau, where he could tell his story to help educate groups about homelessness and break down negative stereotypes.

    He is still a member of both organizations today, has over five years of clean time, and by the time you read this article, he will have graduated with an associates degree from Goodwin College, and will be starting on his bachelors degree in human services. He continues to write and speak to audiences about his journey, and hopes to continue his schooling, and if possible, attend law school some day.

     All of this would never have been possible were it not for all the dedicated people, working hard every single day, by showing a virtual endless amount of empathy and kindness towards those trying find a their own way through this complicated maze called life. He, that is I, will be forever grateful to all of the dedicated people who have helped throughout this journey. Change is always possible, but sometimes folks just need a little help and a little opportunity. The end.

           Ralph Gagliardo.

 

 

  

        

Beat of the Street: The Idle American Part Two

Barb’d Wire

                                The Idle American–Part Two     by RJ Wordsmyth

…He relapsed the way addicts often due, and found himself back in prison. This had become part of a pattern that would continue on for many years. And so it did. Clean time in prison sometimes extended into clean time “out in the world” as the other inmates liked to call it. Sometimes he would stay clean for months at a time, but inevitably he would fall backwards, hit his head on something, and wake up in a cage.

    His family “out in the world” had all but given up on him. He received very few letters and almost no commissary, with the exception of twenty dollars from his mom every year on Christmas. Commissary is the store for inmates to get extra things that the state doesn’t provide, or doesn’t provide well. Commissary also cost money, the state allows it because they get a nice little piece of the action. On Christmas they come out with special items that are only available for a limited time, giving the state even more money around the holidays. Stuff like pre-cooked bacon, and Christmas tree shaped Little Debbies are only a sampling of the delicacies available for the man unlucky or deserving enough to be spending his holidays in one of the Dept. of Corrections specially designed cement suites.

    Our hero really could not afford such luxuries since he had no money coming in. Yet, still he was able to purchase them because he had discovered “a hustle.” Almost everyone in jail has a hustle. It is a way to survive, a way to get things you need; It is a job and a business. He had watched the others and so he knew what to do. He saw the artist, who would draw something truly amazing on an outgoing envelope, He saw the laundry worker who would charge you a small fee to fold your clothes, he saw the kitchen worker selling salt and pepper, and the tier man selling cleaning supplies or plastic bags, all with their own unique hustle. He knew what his hustle would be–he would write. Write poems, and letters to girlfriends and wives, and sometimes even the judge himself. By writing he thought “I will keep my mind sharp.”

    Soon his reputation as a man who could literally “put your thoughts into words” had spread throughout the entire dorm, and even into other dorms. On holidays like St. Valentine’s day he would be very busy writing custom poetry for the other inmates. Sometimes he would receive kites for work from the other side of the jail. Kites were messages that could go all the way from one end of the prison to the other end via the laundry or the kitchen workers. He would get some details about the little things everybody’s girls liked and incorporate them into his poems, giving them the idea that their boyfriend/husband wrote it specially just for them. He wrote convincing letters to the judges requesting leniency for any number of specific reasons. As time went on, he saved marriages, got men bonded out, saved people time on their sentences, convinced family or friends to send commissary money, and did custom request which included a whole myriad of other unique types of assorted random documentation.

    In doing so, had access to coffee (top priority), snacks, candy, cosmetics, and was able to contribute to group meals that would sometimes be prepared using food smuggled from the kitchen combined with food purchased on commissary.

…to be continued  

                           Read part three in next weeks edition of “Beat of the Street”                      

  

“Beat of the Street” article–The Idle American Part I

Barb’d Wire.                             

                     The Idle American–Part One      By RJ Wordsmyth.

I want to tell you a story. This is the story of a guy who lost his way, as sometimes people do. He grew up in the suburbs–this guy–and knew very little about the city life. He was an ambitious fellow with big dreams. He started his own business because he always wanted to be his own boss. He worked hard. He paid his taxes. He was, for all extensive purposes, your typical entrepreneurial American.

    At some point the economy took a downturn and his business went bust. This made him very depressed because he was losing all the stuff he worked so hard to build up. He had to sell all his equipment and the lenders foreclosed on his building. Twelve-plus years of hard work and it was all broken into pieces and sold off to the highest bidder. This made him very sad, but not angry, because he did not blame others, but took responsibility for making some poor choices. Still, there was things that were completely out of his control, like the recession, and this too he understood but could not change.

    Then all of a sudden–BOOM!! He got hurt in a car accident. He recovered fairly quickly from the accident, although his lower back would never be the same. In addition to the disability, he also had a new set of problems. Problems he neither understood, nor had any experience with. He became addicted to pain medication. When the physical therapy ended, and the doctors stopped writing scripts, he did something that he swore he would never do. He turned to street drugs. Opiates. Heroin. Dope.

    He never wanted to be an addict. He, like most young people, felt like he was invincible, like the world was there for the taking. He was an American, and everyone knows in America if you “work hard and play by the rules” you can slice off your own big fat piece of that oh-so-sweet American apple pie.

    Yet, there he was, out of money, out of work, no place to call home, and the worse part of it all–he was strung out on dope. He stayed in shelters, sometimes he slept in the park, in an abandoned building, or a burned out car. He didn’t want to stray to far from the city, because he was always within walking distance of a hot meal at one of the soup kitchens, and where he could always try to hustle up enough money to “get right.” Some mornings he woke up cold and dope sick, so he would get up just as the sun rose and try to panhandle a few dollars just so he could function. It was a hard life. Everything he knew about the American dream now–he put in a needle and shot into his arm.

     Then he got arrested. Arrested and sent to jail. This was long before they gave prisoners any type of medication to ease the suffering of a cold turkey heroin detox. They call it “cold turkey” because of the way your skin looks, and they call it “kicking” because you cannot control the way your legs jump around all night. As miserable as he was, and he was truly miserable, he saw others who were coming off large doses of methadone–and they were even worse. Some would not eat a scrap of food for thirty days. Some even attempting to take their own lives, due to the unbearable nature of a methadone detox. It was his first offense so he didn’t get too much time. And he swore on everything he loved–he would never go back.

     But he did. Addiction, you see, is an insidious monster. He knew how bad it could get, he knew what the experts said was all true–it always ends the same–jails, institutions, or death. Even with the clean time, the miserable detox, the lesson of prison, and the promise to himself–even with all those things, and a loving family who wanted him to get better–even with all of that–he still relapsed. He. Still. Relapsed.

This is part one. Read the next edition of “Beat of the Street” to find out more about the adventures and tribulations of “The Idle American.”

 

                                                                               

The Magic Bus–a memoir

I purchased the bus off an old farmer who lived behind the Stop n’ Shop in Vernon. His name was Randall–Randall Farmer: truck mechanic. He customized it for his family to travel around and see the country in. When I discovered her she sat covered in trees, wedged way in the back of his yard, with a for sale sign inconspicuously placed on the windshield where it could barely be seen. A 1957 Ford school bus camper conversion, with a 4ft. by 4ft. porch welded to the back bumper. The perfect cruising party vessel. I had to have it.

    The year was 1984, we were two years out of high school…and I had dreams. We had dreams. Dreams of getting rich, of being someone important, of starting our own businesses–but all of those dreams would wait. The dream I chose to pursue immediately at the time, was my dream of seeing the country, of travelling ‘cross the old U.S. of A. in a rolling house on wheels.

    But the bus needed some work before that could happen. I borrowed the money to purchase it from Rick’s dad. Rick was my best friend, and his father was really wealthy. He took a liking to me…his father, not just because I was his only sons best friend, but because he knew my own dad had died when I was only two years alive. So after I put down the deposit to hold it, I went to him for a loan. I fell in love with this bus the first time ole’ Randall gave me a tour of the inside. I just had to have it. Jack gave me the money…and I paid back every dime.

      Randall Farmer was a very talented truck mechanic, with his very own hands he converted her from an antique school bus into a comfortable motorhome. All the amenities, a stove and sink, bathroom, dinette area that converted into a double bed, and a cozy back room with storage and a large sleeping area. And that porch– the porch Randall welded on the back, had a fence all around with a gate that swung open, and was so sturdy six people could stand on it while cruising down the highway. He had also explained to me about the two-speed electric rear end that was permanently jammed in high for better cruising speed on the highway. The man was a genius. There was one last feature that made this about the coolest custom cruiser I had ever seen, and it was in the drivers area. One bucket seat–a high back from a 1972 Charger, custom shag dashboard, and extended stick shift with a Hurst aluminum handle grip. The whole decor reeked of retro hippie mixed with bad-ass biker. It was just too perfect for a 19 yr.old free spirit dreamer, like myself.  

      Even though parking at my mothers house didn’t make mom all that happy, I still managed to sandblast the entire bus there, and paint it in three sections, giant stripes–one red, one white, and one blue.Very patriotic.Very Grateful Dead.

    After several local test flights, the “Magic” bus was made ready for her maiden voyage. Back in those days I did a lot of ticket scalping as a way to earn extra money, even though the majority of the time the profits were taken in the form of choice tickets for myself and a friend–instead of in cash. When I heard on the radio that “today at 2:00” they would be making “a big announcement” I knew what it had to be, and headed straight to the ticket outlet/ head shop, in downtown Manchester, and waited. LIVE AID tickets went on sale, and I was not only the first person in line, but I was the only person in line. Limit four per customer. With over a thousand dollars in my pocket, a little sign wasn’t going to stop me. I went to work. First person I saw was a man walking his dog.

      “Excuse me sir, would you like to make ten dollars quick?”

      This was the line I would use over and over; even the mailman got me tickets. When it was all said and done, I had scored over a dozen tickets to the biggest live show since Woodstock. For the price of one hundred dollars, a person would get a ticket to the show, and a ride to Philadelphia on the “Magic” red, white, and blue, school bus camper. This trip would be epic. The concert adventure…“of our lifetime.”

    Michael, Patrick (Seaweed), Gerry, Rick, and myself, all heading down the highway, in a bus full of beer, and a healthy stash of assorted mind altering substances specifically designed to enhance the experience. We got there a full day before the concert was scheduled to begin, giving us ample time to explore the area. For this purpose, we had Rick’s brand new “enduro” on/off road dirt bike strapped to the back porch. We all took turns riding the bike, doing wheelies through the crowd as they began to gather, and making cheesesteak and beer runs whenever necessary. We were having a blast and the concert hadn’t even started yet.

      They sang “We are the world…We are the children…” When it was all said and done, many bands reunited, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, and many others just jammed together for the first and last time. Music history was made and we were there. Our history was also made. Never again would this unlikely group of friends be together like this. Never again would we be part of something that would be considered the music event of a generation…of our generation.

    The year was 1985, on a hot summer night in J.F.K. stadium the world was watching. People came together–in peace, and in music–for a single cause, to raise money for the starving children in Africa. When Phil Collins took the stage and played “Something In the Air Tonight” 90,000 lighters lit up the night sky. At that moment I knew life would never again be that carefree, that reckless, and that serendipitous. I also knew this would go down in our history…as one of our finest hours..so I couldn’t help but find myself lost in a melancholy dreamland…“We are the world….We are the children.”

      

                         

The Present of Your Presence.

           This Christmas You Are Getting What You Already Have…      

     

      I have news for everybody—YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. Yes, it is true, at some point your wonderful perfect life will come to an end. What’s that…this is not news you say? Then why do so many people run around pretending it will never happen to them.

    No, don’t worry I am not trying to sell you life insurance, or an overpriced casket that nobody ever sees again after the funeral service is over. I am simply trying to remind you all, that your time (as you) does not run on some eternal clock that ticks into infinity. Time is a man made construct that we humans use as a form of measurement to gauge progress, at the same time, following it too closely is also a great way to induce large amounts of stress into an otherwise peaceful central nervous system. And your time, is really the single most valuable thing, real or imagined, that you actually own. Sure you can give it away, but it is yours before you make the conscious decision to do that–unless of course you are in a coma–or having magic coffee with Bill Cosby.

     Scientific studies, no matter who sponsors them, have all come to the same conclusion…you are in fact just passing through. You are a tourist. So the real question you should be asking yourself is: How do you want to spend your vacation? Do you want to spend it in fear, or do you want to spend it in comfort. Keep in my mind, whatever choice you make the outcome is exactly the same. Some of you might be saying to yourself, wait a minute, if a poor kid is born into a horrible situation of war, and famine, and disease, how does he get to choose? The truth is…he or she doesn’t.

     This reminds me of something I saw on a program about humans of the planet earth. The program was an in depth look at how all sorts of different cultures used their resources to survive. Some, naturally had very difficult obstacles to overcome. One such instance, was a woman someplace in the African region with her eight children. They were all sitting on the side of a large escarpment just starving to death. It was very sad to see, but it was what the woman said has stuck with me, she said, while literally watching her children starve to death before her eyes– “There is no comfort in this world” You see, she had accepted the gravity of her fate, made a profound observation, and at the same time expressed a form of hope. In other words, if we continue on her line of reasoning, then we might say… “Hopefully there is more comfort in another world, because this one is just not doing me or my kids any favors.”

     Sometimes we run out of choices and just have to accept the shit show we are presented with. Some people want to know “How can a loving god allow this type of suffering?” To which a religious person might answer “God has his/her reasons and they are not for us to understand” Not so comforting for the poor starving woman and her eight kids (the birth control issue is another subject). The real point is this woman had accepted her fate. Buddhist have been trying to teach us acceptance for centuries. “Attachment” they say is the root of all suffering. Think about this for a moment in real life terms. All the crap you value so much, all the people you love, all the power you pretend to have, all the pets you cater to, are not coming with you. They are temporary. You are temporary. This doesn’t mean you should be emotionally unattached to everything and everyone, that is not what living is about. Living is all about loving people…and stuff too. You can love and still have the awareness of the temporary nature of all things. This is acceptance in a nutshell.

Acceptance will bring you peace, and peace will bring you happiness, happiness will allow you to love deeper–yourself and others–while appreciating every moment for what it actually is–a gift–a gift of time.

If you enjoyed this post…let us know, by sharing, liking, commenting, and subscribing…  Keep your eyes open for the upcoming book by this author, about his real life experiences as a homeless drug addict and how he turned his life around. Due out sometime in 2017–“Confessions of a Scrap Metal Junkie”  

Final Assignment–Writing for Social Media (Goodwin College)

This is my final assignment for “Writing for Social Media” class at Goodwin College. This semester is almost over. Two more classes and I will be graduating with my Associates degree, and then I will be continuing on to get my bachelors.

The Assignment is basically a self assessment of my work in the class, as well as a review of the class itself, and comments on the work of others. So let’s get pop’n…

First my thoughts on the class: I thought the class was challenging in a very positive way. It forced the students out of their comfort zones by pushing their skills in the social media environment. The feedback was always helpful, whether it came from the Professor or from the students. The course also gave each person a large degree of flexibility in their choice of topics or themes to pursue. Overall, a challenging and equally rewarding experience, and most importantly…I learned a lot. Thank you professor, your words during this class were always positive and inspiring.

Secondly, thoughts on other students work: If there is one thing I do not feel comfortable with, it is critiquing others and their work. I just don’t like it. The main reason is I know how easily words can be misconstrued when texting, let alone on a bigger platform. Of course the idea was to give positive but honest feedback on your peers. Maybe I just need to learn to get better at it?

It is true some of my peers knocked some of these assignments out of the park. So those critiques were no-brainers–just tell the truth. Others I know struggled mostly due to a lack of experience with the technology. I also have struggled, especially while setting up my blog. Fortunately my blog was up and running prior to taking the class, otherwise I would have had all the frustration during the class…and I don’t want to think about how that may have turned out. To be going through the learning curve while trying to get assignments in on time could be extremely frustrating. Some of my peers did exactly that. I commend you on your fortitude. It took a lot of determination to pull that off. I admit I dropped the ball on some of the review assignments, but the ones I did investigate were really impressive. Congratulations fellow students, it has been a pleasure taking this small journey with you…until we meet again, in cyberspace or on campus– happy trails and have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year.

And finally…self reflection: I was fortunate enough to have a foundation, like this blog and a you-tube channel (RJWordsmyth) which made the journey a whole lot easier to navigate. I do think had I settled on a theme sooner, it would have brought more consistency to my work.  Again, I know I dropped the ball on some of the student critique projects, so that has giving me a new awareness of something I need to work on. Also, there is a whole lot of technical elements that I would love to be more adept with. These things take time, but when dealing with deadlines, it can make for a lot of pressure. I do like the way the class sort of forces you to explore the many platforms, and even more importantly, shows you how they can be used together to create a powerful, meaningful campaign. These are skills that will come in very handy down the road…of that, there can be no doubt. It was great to show a new audience some of my work with the homeless, including the “Walk a Mile” video, which I am very proud to say is being used at the beginning of every “Faces of Homelessness” presentation this year. As a rule, I am generally much harder on myself than any one else would probably be. The professors comments were always tactful and uplifting; just from that alone I learned a lot. After all…finding out what you don’t know–is the first step in progress.

Until we meet again……RJWordsmyth.

A System Without a Clue: The true story of desperation while detoxing in local lock up.

  A System Without a Clue

    A man’s first mistake shouldn’t be waking up in the morning. Most people would say that’s a blessing. It wasn’t no blessing to me.

     I am not saying I wanted to die. What I am saying is–if I could have slept right through detox hell and come out the other side as a non-addicted somewhat normal functioning part of society–I surely would have…in a heartbeat. This, unfortunately was not to be my fate. My fate was the opiate addict’s worst nightmare. A purgatory of sorts, trial by fire, where every passing moment inched me closer to the blazing hot cauldron of the inevitable.

    Getting arrested probably saved my life–a fact that meant very little at the time. The first night I slept. That was Friday. Every addict knows getting locked up on a Friday is the worst of scenarios. Local police departments won’t do anything for you–except watch you suffer. You won’t see the judge until Monday, by then your hair will be dirty, you will be unshowered, and stinking of sweat and detox. You will probably be suffering from horrible stomach cramps and have either diarrhea or be vomiting…or both. If you were a heroin addict this would be your story. I was such an addict and my story was much worse.

    For the last year my habit had gotten completely out of control. Not only was I putting more dope in my veins, but the dope I was getting was of such high quality it’s hard to believe it came from Hartford. Hartford, for the most part, is not known for the high quality of its narcotics.

    When I woke up Saturday morning the gravity of my circumstances began to set in. I was alone. In two rows of old style barred cells separated by a thin hallway, others were also held. Their incessant clamor didn’t change the fact…that I was all alone.

    The good stuff I was getting made it so I wouldn’t start to get seriously ill until Saturday night. When I woke up that morning on my flimsy, lumpy cushion, separating me from the hard steel, and glanced over at the grinning stainless steel commode, I began to panic. I spoke out loud to myself “I am so screwed…so, so totally screwed.”

    The cops on duty would occasionally come through and throw us Mcdonald’s hamburgers, which I could not stomach. I slept again for several more hours. That is when I woke up violently ill. My body was screaming “where’s my shit man?” and began the process of purging itself of toxins. I would become a hostage of the stainless throne while in my mind I could hear the echoes of it’s laughter. It was when I went to flush the monster that it pushed me over the edge, overflowing and disgorging its contents all over the floor of my tiny cell. I stood up on my rack and surveyed the landscape of filthy water and fecal matter strewn across the cement floor. I began to vomit. I yelled. No one came. I kicked at the bars and made loud noise. No one came.

    It was obvious I needed a hospital. Why do we treat people this way? Why do we pretend this is okay? An addict is a person who needs help, not mockery and torture.

    I knew if I had a seizure or started choking, I would be dead as a rat that drowned in a cesspool before anybody came to fish me out. In my desperation I decided to do something completely out of character. I thought if I could cut my wrists, not too deep, then the camera might catch it and they would have to send me to the E.R. I stood atop my steel bunk groping at the sprinkler head. The shiny piece of metal looked like it would make an ideal razor. I started to bend it back and forth. Before I could get it in my hand the entire sprinkler blew open with such force it knocked me over and filled my entire cell with high pressure, alkaline-infused water. The vent was designed to pull out the oxygen in the event of a fire. I had no air. My screams were a faint whimper. I was suffocating.

   The fire department eventually came and rescued me while berating me the entire time. I did not get to the E.R., only into another cell with a much lumpier bedding mat. At least the toilet worked. All my clothes were soaked, so they draped me in a stylish white paper jumpsuit which I would wear for the rest of the weekend.

     Monday on the trip to court my dry heaving did not go over well with the others I was shackled to in the boxy little prison transport known as “the ice cream truck.” As I stood before the judge, gaunt, chalky white, draped in paper, it was none too obvious I needed medical care. I would receive none, not even a blood pressure check. I now understand why some addicts prefer intentional overdose to a forcible cold turkey detox.

This is part of my story,  read more in the upcoming memoir “Confessions of a Scrap Metal Junkie” do out in 2017.

Response to “How Words Saved My Life” from a student at R.H.A.M. school

I have to share a poem I received from one of the beautiful kids at R.H.A.M. school. This was in response to my story of writing poetry in prison in exchange for Ramen noodles, and how far writing has taken me today…

Writing saved your life
And I’m grateful for that,
So few appreciate words
As simple as “Cat in the Hat”
To as advanced as “War and Peace”
Writing gave you, upon life, a new lease.
Words became food for you,
Letters filled your stomach
Poems became Ramen

I hope you still enjoy writing,
I hope you still make words into something beautiful,
Like food to fill your belly.
May words forever be your Ramen.
May a million learn that words have strength,
May we forever hold words dear,
For as simple as a poem,
Can keep food near.

He or she then went on to say: So many people forget that words are powerful, you can tell just by how we talk to each other. The way insults are tossed around. But it would be nice if, even if it was just for a day, everyone appreciated words as much as you and I do.

I am speechless. I hope this can just be a friendly reminder to all of us–please be mindful of your speech…our children are listening.

Faces of Homelessness Speaking at R.H.A.M. school.

As a member of “Faces of Homelessness” speakers bureau, I get the privilege of talking at schools, church groups, and universities, about the real life experiences of a homeless person. I spent many years of my life homeless and addicted, and am glad to share my experiences with young minds. The title of my speech was “How Writing Saved My Life”

I told the true story of how I survived in prison by writing for the other inmates, usually for a 32 cent Ramen noodle. How I literally saved marriages, got people bonded out, and saved one guy six months on a sentence. I taught myself how to do sentence modifications and more.

After being released, I began writing for “The Beat of the Street” newspaper (Hartford CT.) and then got a scholarship to attend Goodwin College. After winning the college poetry contest and a few bucks, I entered a national humor poetry contest with over 5,000 entries and received honorable mention and a few more. I am now working on a memoir titled “Confessions of a Scrap Metal Junkie”

Here is a link to my Facebook post which is a photo of some of the awesome kids we spoke to at R.H.A.M.

https://www.facebook.com/ralph.gagliardo