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Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:32 PM PST

The Sparrow

by dear occupant

It was lonely being a fan of the hapless New York Mets in the early 60's. It didn't make sense to root for a team that would lose game after game in the emabarrassingly, improbale ways they did but I've always rooted for the underdog. Day after day, my little green transistor radio was plastered to my ear straining to hear Ralph Kiner through the static, trying to remain upbeat.

'You gotta' believe', was our motto and believe I always did.

I was 7 in 1962, that summer of the Mets first official year; they would go on to pile up 120 losses and my Little League team would win our world series. We were an odd pairing. I was the star pitcher and slugger rooting for the worst team in baseball. I had no allies among my friends or teamates, no one to talk to about the Mets but my Uncle Jack. He was the only other person I knew who was a Mets fan, so when we would take the long drive from Long Island to Ridgewood, Queens where he lived, I was always excited until I actually arrived.

Uncle Jack was a WWII vet, a cranky, chain smoking alchoholic who didn't like people chattering while the game was on, especially exciteable kids. I was allowed to sit near him on a foldup chair in what was the livingroom of a railroad apartment, as he sat sunken in the only other chair in the room. He was a small man with a worn face and a protruding, Roman nose that matched perfectly with the peak of his silver, flatop haircut. With one hand holding an unfiltered Camel and the other clutching a can of Piels on the armrests, he was planted in his fuzzy, upholstered chair for the duration of the game.

I don't remember him ever getting up out of that chair, except on that hot, Saturday afternoon.

Uncle Jack and I traded stats and stories of Mets games gone horribly wrong that year before the game began and he was talkative, even complimentary on my knowledge of the team. But as the innings wore on and the alchohol took its toll, he became sullen. He responded less and less to me than to what was happening on the TV, to another inevitable Mets' loss.

I didn't take the cue that it was time to stop talking. I didn't realize he had heard enough.

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We all knew this was not going to be a typical day before we even reached the trading floor. Absent were the usual back slapping 'hey's' or 'how's the family' questions, the normal tired, post commute, 'I just need a coffee and a crueller' conversations, shuffling through the line at the American Stock Exchange commissary that Monday morning. No, the noisy, collegial and sometimes locker room style banter was eerily missing and anyone who had come back from their posts, to grab some quick breakfast, those who knew, had creased brows and tight lips.

I remember one clerk rushing past me up the stairs saying, 'Hold on to your fuckin' hat, dude!', as the coffee from the two cups he was clutching, splashed his blue trading jacket. But us clerks were always in a hurry, hell, it was written in black and white, right there in the job description.

Today, his was definitely a different kind of hurry.

He'd been a clerk for years, a one man show, deftly manning a phalanx of phones at his trading desk in the shadowed, second mezzanine level, where the scores of other phone clerks had a perfect, panoramic view of the entire trading floor. He was well regarded by his firm, all his floor brokers trusted him with their lives, a misunderstood or mistaken hand signal could cost them bigtime. My post was just below his, right in the middle of this sprawling, cavernous cave of a room and with two years under my belt, I was still a rookie in this fraternity of longtimers. He was always cool under pressure, always freon in his veins unflappable, normally.

Not this morning though, his eyes were buggin' out of his head, doublestepping out of sight.

When I finally hit the floor, normally polite, dough bellied brokers whizzed by at speeds no one thought were possible, careening like pinballs off one another, unapologetically, fat hands and oversize pockets stuffed with trading slips, leaving criscrossing, hazy blue contrails in their wake, their bifocals exaggerating their own bugeyes. Yeah, we all had that 'busy' gear, the lightspeed adrenaline shot, that whooshed through our veins and hustled our pace when volume picked up, whenever the market decided to move. You didn't survive very long if you didn't and honestly, you didn't survive very long if you didn't love it, or learn to.

But whatever this was, I hadn't seen before today. None of us had.

It was ninety minutes before the opening bell, I quickly found my trading jacket from a drawer, inside our round, fortlette of a trading post to head off to the DK room, where all the previous days' trades were reconciled, or not. If there was a price, quantity or time disagreement we couldn't resolve, us clerks would say,

'Sorry, Don't Know ya', and off to arbitration usually went the trade.

That routine wasn't happening this October morning, my boss Andy made that crystal clear,

'No one leaves, fuck the DK room!',

in a tone so deadly serious, so unlike him, it stopped us all dead in our tracks. Andy was the specialist, was awarded the rights to trade the options of Apple, Ford and a dozen or so other stocks. Tall and lanky, he was well liked, had a sterling reputation on the floor and was as good  a boss as he was a market maker. He never ridiculed us when we made mistakes, he was more than generous with bonuses and we were the only post that had two women clerks. Dianne and Susan were given every opportunity to advance, and they did. They were the best clerks among us, by a long shot.

'Hand me the buys.',

The traders and the clerks, all hands on deck were standing with their backs turned away from the floor, heads down, hovering over the small work areas and all I kept hearing was,

'Where are the buy orders?',

'Jesus Christ, where are the fucking buy orders!?'

It was normally the clerks' pre market responsibility, the six of us Kevin, Diane, Susan, Jack, Mike and me to timestamp and match up the 4"x 5", Buy or Sell paper trading slips, to what we had on the 'Book', the inventory of option orders our post specialized in. This morning, we were shoulder to crowded shoulder with all the traders, the market makers who we worked beside but the too few desktops were not designed for this many people, the design did not anticipate this many hands, reaching frantically for so much paper. It was if a small Bobcat had come along and plop...... emptied it's load. There was paper everywhere. We were buried.

Being 'buried' was slang for getting swamped. We would need a new slang word after today.

The clock was glanced at out of habit, we prided ourselves on always being ready for the open, even on a normal day the adrenaline did a little number on your heartrate as you waited for the opening bell to ring. The brokers were still flying by, throwing the slips at us now, there were no 'sorry's', there was no time. Trades were scattered in small piles at our feet, we all realized the bell was going to ring and there was just no way, no freakin' way, we were going to be ready. The communal panic was palplable.

'We're so fucked!'

'What are we gonna' do!?'

'Holy shit, these are all market orders for the open, what the hell!?'

Every so often we'd get a Buy or Sell market order at the open, they were mostly from small investors and they were usually the last to be filled, at the worst price of day. But the market orders that were piling up, that kept coming in and piling up, wave after wave, were not from any small investors, these were the Goldmans', the Lehmans' and the Morgan Stanleys', the big money boys and they were all selling at the open, all begging to get out at any price.

'Any Buys!?'

I looked at Andy for a second, his head was bent slightly zeroing in, lazerlike at his screens. His perpetual tan had given way to a sickly grey, veins stretched across his thin skinned temple and his fingers were tapping away at a furious speed....clickety, clickety, clickety, clickety. Diane, a tough, wise ass, Brooklynite, the only clerk he trusted to trade when he was away from the post, was next to him trying in vain, to make sense of the piles of paper. Her mouth hung open as he said through lips so tight they didn't move,

'There are no fucking Buy orders.'

His voice was that of someone who suddenly divined his future, his fate was screaming at him in phosphorescent green digits.

"What?', Dianne asked, her mouth still agape.

'I said there are no buy orders.'

No one said a word, none of us clerks could quite wrap our panicked, adrenaline soaked brains around what that really meant to us, what our responsibility was when there were no buyers. The market makers knew exactly what he meant.

''Jesus, are you shittin' me!?'

finally coming up for air, Palsie, the market maker I clerked for looked at Andy and all the blood drained from his face. They held their stare for what seemed like forever and then the bell rang, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

'Feed me the orders, Palsie.'

and I did. Everyone was his pal, everyone was Palsie but I'd never seen him look any way but bloated and happy until this moment. I thought he was going to throw up all over me as he bought every sell order I handed him. So did Andy and all the other market makers at our post because that was their responsiblity, among others, to be the buyers of last resort. They made markets and were responsible for keeping an orderly market when things got busy and they all profited handsomely, most days.

Not on this day though, Monday, October 19 1987, the Dow would plunge 508 sickening points.

There was a huge outcry, an enormous expulsion of bottled up anxiety when the bell rang but shockingly, it didn't last very long. It got quiet in a hurry and on a day like today, on a day we thought we were going to be in the shit until the closing bell, we weren't. The sells were bought, the option prices adjusted accordingly and after a few hours we were finished with our work, the carnage was almost complete just after lunchtime. We all finally turned around and started to shake out our tensed muscles, began breathing again.

The trading floor was a ghost town, absolute dead quiet except for the occasional, quiet sobbing.

It stayed that way for the rest of the day as the Dow just continued to fall, eventually shedding over 22% of it's value. No one said very much, a few expletives were heard, no one moved very much either except to glance up at the huge monitors scattered around the ceiling. It was the ugliest day anyone had ever experienced, even the longtimers were in shock and the alchohol started flowing well before the close, at the clubby restaurant downstairs.

There were a lot of traditions in this tribe and they were expected to be honored, you followed them if you wanted to fit in. It was acceptable to talk honestly about your losses but it was always considered bad form, to speak about your profits.

Palsie lost a third of his net worth that day, Andy closer to 40%.

Mike, the clerk who worked next to me was pretty animated that Black Monday, much more than usual. He was an odd bird, he was quick with the quotes and rarely made mistakes but he was a little off, never quite meshing with the tribe. Though we had that 'otherness' in common because I never really fit in either, he was hard to like. Mike didn't say much, kept to himself and didn't have much of a sense of humor either. I didn't talk very much but I could always crack people up with my one liners. Humor was a valuable commodity on the floor and if you could make people laugh, you were golden.

Mike had a thick body and a very small head, slim, dry lips and beady eyes, and eyelids that seemed to be compressed by the gravitational pull of his heavy forehead, covered with a very small, toupee like mat of dirty, blond hair. He came in the next day and had a grin plastered on his face and as hard as he tried to contain it, he just couldn't. Finally he fessed up, he had made a ton of money on options that Black Monday, a quarter of a million dollars to be exact, buying cheap, out of the money Puts, the further the market tanked, the more money he made. While Andy and Palsie were licking their wounds and tallying their losses, he announced a plan to buy a big, new house with his windfall.

Andy, seething a little asked him,

'So... Mike, are you going to tell us how you knew the market would tank?'

'Well, you know my brother works for Morgan Stanley, he called me Friday afternoon and told me Morgan would hit the market huge, with programmed sell orders on Monday morning. So I bought all the cheap Puts I could find, last Friday. Hey, they just wanted out.'

We stood there stunned, Mike had committed some cardinal sins and he either didn't know it, or didn't care because that grin never left his mug. Andy pounded his screen so hard, it's hard to believe it didn't blow up, told Dianne to watch the post and walked away.

After spending weeks trying to make sense of trades that didn't, the piles of paper that landed in the DK room, Mike and I and hundreds of others were laid off. The DK room was ugly those few weeks, the last 2 words a trader, whose livelihood was on the line, wanted to hear was.

'Sorry, Don't Know ya.'


Thu Jul 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM PDT

What Is Isn't Always

by dear occupant

The first half of this story was originally published in a diary titled, 'Tony Raced His Black '67 Chevy Nova While Susan Walked a Monkey.' This was not an easy memory to recall, the story required no embellishment, just a steadier hand than I had at the time, to complete it.

Please Note* There are descriptions of violence in this diary, there was no way to tell the story otherwise. Thank you as always.

I was a poor, pimpled, uncool sulker at 13, an emotionally, mixed up mess of a kid, spending the first weeks after school ended that year in '68 sitting alone, on the top step of the 10 foot high stoop to my building, scrunched in the shadowed corner of the doorway, day after airless day. There I sat, in the same spot, same position, long arms looped around my legs and acned face resting between my knees, just hoping that no one would notice and praying hard, to be ignored.

Like a gargoyle I watched, stone faced and silent, hoping to be invisible to all the comings and goings, the backwards and forwards of incessant car and human traffic, scared of everything that moved. Unfortunately for me, absolutely nothing stood still on this unfamiliar Brooklyn street, a continuous canyon wall of 4 story buildings that swallowed whatever thankful breeze there might have been, choking everything but the noise, the noise that never stopped.

Delivery trucks roared down the narrow, one way, steamy asphalt street blaring their big horns, rustling the litter along the curbs, barely missing kids darting between parked cars chasing balls and playing tag, young mothers pushed baby carriages and old ladies pullled shopping carts, choking the already narrow sidewalks. Heavy doors slammed behind people slithering past other people bunched on stairways, listening to transistor radios, each tuned to different channel.

My whole world was inside out and upside down, divorce does that to a kid.

The best perch to understand it all, was my third floor window. It was safe there, hidden behind the flimsy white curtains, I had distance and the view from that vantage point allowed for the eventual recognition of daily patterns, things people did each day. I was thankful perched there, thankful that at least something began to make some sense, because so much had changed so quickly for this kid. Divorce is a tragically shared trauma and my mom, who needed some space of her own to begin repairs, decided that I wanted to be outside, to soak up some sun and meet some other kids my age.

So, of course I sat there on the stoop alone, for weeks.

This neighborhood bore no resemblance to the manicured, fenceless grassed yards, single family house, 2 cars in the driveway, ethnicity free Long Island, that I spent the first 12 years of my kid life. There were languages here and English spoken thick with Italian and German accents by old, creased and grey haired woman in black mourning dresses and rolled down black stockings, who promptly at 7am, bent at the hip, were out scrubbing their stoops and sidewalk slabs in front of their buildings. The curbs were concrete but the 8' wide section between the curb and the stoop were huge, uneven, trip if you weren't careful, thick slabs of weathered slate, that were never quite clean enough, I guess?

Physically, this was not a human friendly environment, there were no trees along the straight line of streets, that you could view for miles. Not a single one. The small concrete 'yards' that fronted the four story, continously connected buildings on either side of the stoop, were just wide enough for four steel garbage cans, the other side was empty. That empty space was handy when it snowed, not much else, it was walled off from the sidewalk by thick, foreboding wrought iron, black painted fencing. Each building had their own looping designs, all topped by tri corner spears that if you accidently rubbed the palm of your hand against the tip, you'd get a nasty scrape for your stupidity, as intended. The stoops were also lined on either side by a wide, wrought iron railing, too wide for a kids hand.

My tomboy sister found this out the hard way, she slipped off one the railings monkey climbing, as kids so often did, slipped and was impaled on one of the spears. She lay there motionless, folded and in shocked silence as adults came to help but the aid proved difficult, the fences were over four feet high and it was impossible to remove her, without causing further damage. Some wooden milk crates were found, placed front and back to gain leverage and she was eventually lifted off.

She was lucky, she only needed a few stitches to repair the three inch tear in her belly.

Just as the old women were scrubbing away at 7:30, a hefty man always wearing a black tee shirt, with black wavy hair and a blacker moustache, would decend slowly down his staircase from the buiding to my left and walk to his car, which just happened to be in right front of my building and in my direct line of vision.

This car was not your typical, mother go to marketmobile or dad's everyday, train station driver. No, not even close. This car was infinite black and the mirror finish in the triple lacquered paint was so perfect, I could see my pimpled reflection from the top of the stoop where I sat. On the hood were two round steel circles, equally spaced, with small horseshoe clasps for little padlocks that were meticulously unlocked, without leaving even a partial fingerprint on the dustless, black paint finish. The hood would then be raised, the man's head would disappear for a minute into the engine compartment, he'd fiddle around, straighten up and walk slowly to the driver's side door, unlock it and slip seamlessly into the black vinyl bucket seat, leaving the hood up the entire time.

Tony was never in a hurry, he moved deliberately, rehearsed but purposeful.

I could hear the click, the turn of the key and what resulted next, the sound that crashed and echoed for miles off the close, canyon walls of this neighborhood every morning, was the unique roar of American auto manufacturing in it's heyday, the 425 cubic inch muscle car, horsepower rumble, that put me right square in the mouth of a mechanical lion, as it roared from deep within it's empty belly.

Rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, rhuuurrmm, rhuuuuurrrrmmm! as he stepped on the accelerator gently, to get the oil flowing slowly through the cylinders. He always sat in the car for the ten or so minutes it took for the engine to calm down a little, to start purring with his beefy hand firmly clenched around the chromed ball, that topped the shifter.

I never covered my ears although I probably should have, the decibel level was that toxic and neither did the old women, who were totally oblivious to anything but their chores. I can't say that for the rest of the neighborhood who were woken up this way, whether they liked it or not.

Work days, Saturdays and Sundays were no different and that's just how it was.

People might have and very quietly, mumbled curses under their breath as Tony carefully let the hood down and drove away, but they didn't let anyone but trusted family members hear the complaint because word on the street whispered, that Tony was connected. He knew a guy who knew a guy, who's brother was a made man and the quiet rumours morphed into legend, an unverifiable truth that Tony himself was a made man, attached somehow and no one knew exactly how, to the Mob.

And in this tight knit, everyone could see what you were doing when you did it neighborhood, that's all you needed to know to stay healthy and vertical.

Everyday and all day, that coveted and spotless parking space was empty until Tony arrived back home, from whetever it was that he did. No one parked there, even as you could see every parking spot taken for as far as your eyes could focus, along the up and down streets that were choked with parked cars, that spot remained reserved and it was right in front of my house.

One hapless visitor unfamiliar with the rules, made the mistake of ignoring all the warnings, arrogantly parking his Pontiac sedan where it should never have been. The informed knew what would happen and word got around. We were all silent witnesses by late afternoon, as crowds gathered throughout the day, bunched on stoops and heads poking out of every window, waiting for the roar to be heard from blocks away, that signaled Tonys' return.

He drove up slowly, barely stopped and returned a few minutes later.

He parked his car right in the middle of the street, doors swung open and men piled out, in wool knit shirts and shiny shoes, the trunk opened and out came bats, crowbars and sledge hammers and they proceeded to pummel that Pontiac, into a shattered steel and glass corpse, as Tony sat in his black bucket seat waiting. The Pontiac was unrecognizeable, rendered undriveable when they were finally finished, they all silently slithered back into Tony's 1967, black Chevy Nova, rhhhhuuuurrrmmmm, and just simply, very slowly, drove away, leaving the message there for the neighborhood to consider.

That violent display, verified all the whispered rumours about Tony and no one ever dared park there again, during the ten years that I lived there.

Precisely at three o'clock each afternoonn another daily ritual occured and everything stood still, stopped all motion on the streets and sidewalks. Stickball games halted in mid swing, kids forgot who was 'it' in tag, mothers didn't hear babies crying because that girl, was slowly gliding over the bluestone slabs of the sidewalk again, holding as she did every day, a thin leather leash and teathered to that leash, was a little, bitty brown monkey.

Nobody moved and everyone went hush.

This mouth agape, daily diversion from our noisy, litter strewn existence happened seven days a week, you could set your watch to it. For us, it was way better than any Mutual of Omaha special on t.v., heck, we had our own, personal National Geographic reality, right on our street, in real time, every single day. This was Technicolor, before any of us could afford Technicolor, this was appointment t.v. before the term even existed.

It was the highlight of the day for so many people and so many people had so many opinions, that 'the girl with the monkey' had become a flashpoint, a neighborhood controversy. People divided into 'for' and 'against' camps and argued daily for hours, about Susan and her monkey.

I know it certainly marked my day complete when I saw Susan and her little, bitty monkey walk by, I certainly had no objections whatsoever. Most of the menboys slobbered sexual innuendo and crude one liners, I heard their whispers but I had other designs. Susan was the most beautiful human that two other humans could possibly conceive but despite that indisputable truth, at thirteen, her beauty had far less appeal to me, than petting that monkey. I wasn't in the position to make many promises in those emotionally unstable days, but I swore to myself, I would somehow, someday pet that little monkeys head.

I eventually got my wish a few years later.

Change came stubbornly to my neighborhood. Strangers were noticed and kept at arms length, not easily accepted and so it went with me as I spent those weeks on my stoop, alone. The first tentative introduction to join in a game of stickball, came very soon after my mom had taped our name in blue BIC ink, above our mail slot. Our last name ended in a vowel and that vowel was my ticket of acceptance, the stamp of approval with the 20 or so kids my age who hung out on my block.

Stickball was played in the street, on the sticky asphalt that got so hot, your sneakers would suddenly stop short in melting gum wads as you ran the bases, your fingers would stick together as you frantically crawled under cars to chase ground balls. Home base was a sewer cap, second base the next one 30 feet away, first and second base were mirrors of parked cars, which was never appreciated by the owners of said cars. It took me a few games to get the hang of things but eventually my athletic experience and instincts kicked in, I happened to be the star pitcher and hitter on my Little League team, back in Long Island.

A perfectly placed vowel and a knack for stickball and I was in. And that's just how it was.

It's just how it was and that's how people in this poor, working class neighborhood wanted things to stay but this was 1968, upheaval was sweeping the entire country, change was coming whether people wanted it or not.

Susan and her monkey was the personification of that change, you see, Susan was a hippy.

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This is the view from my favorite corner of our third floor porch, perfectly positioned, comfy wide wicker chair, caddy corner facing northwest allowing a little peek through our jumble of plants, an unobstructed view of whatever color the sky is that night, this dreamer's sliver of why not. Purposely absent the always intrusive, rarely welcome, visual reminders of congested city living, the row after row of asphalt rooftops, air conditioners and chimney stacks that spoil sunsets.

These days, there's a somewhat more reluctant citizen of Chicago sitting in this chair, an alley find, on a porch my wife, Ms.O and I have enjoyed for ten years, in a town I've called home for the last 23. In fact everything on this porch is alley gold continuing a New York dumpster diving tradition, a matching chair and the wicker table between them, a cherry wood coffee table, the small IKEA stepstool, some wooden trellis and more than a few healthy houseplants we bring out for the summer. Chicago, like New York is a treasure trove of free stuff if you keep your eyes peeled, if you're open to the possibility and prepared for the unexpected.

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Sat Jun 23, 2012 at 06:14 PM PDT

LIGHTS: That Day... A Poem

by dear occupant

House of LIGHTS (Loving Inspiration, Giving Hope To Survivors).

A place for survivors of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, assaults, and bullying. A place for the people who support them. A quiet place for all voices to be heard. A safe place where we can learn to educate, support, and protect our children and each other.

In House of LIGHTS diaries we tell our stories, heal, support each other, and learn how to protect and empower our children.

The inspiration for this diary was the perfect Sunday I spent with my 12 year old daughter. ( who will officially be named Little 'O', big h/t to Glorificus ) We talked about the new school she tested into and will begin 7th grade next semester, about her friends and the school she will be leaving, her piano recital and the math placement test she took the day before and thought she did well on both, about all the sports teams she's on now, we swapped YouTube videos, she helped me choose a new 4g phone and we played catch in the local schoolyard. Later that night, she did drawings of Japanese anime while I wrote this poem, combining the two videos we shared earlier that day.

Little ‘O’ and I have a long tradition of sharing YouTube videos and we normally trade one or two with each other on our visits, usually music, sometimes science related or funny animal videos. When she was younger she loved FailBlog and we used to laugh for hours as she played them over and over, but that day she sat me down to listen to a few songs by Birdy, a young singer/songwriter whose big break came just recently, when one of her recordings was chosen to be in the movie soundtrack for ‘The Hunger Games.'

Play the Birdy music video and just let it play while you
read the poem, then play the time lapse video with sound off.
If you give the poem a nice slow read, the music should end
just as the last frame appears in the time lapse video.

Thank you for reading and your patience.

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House of LIGHTS (Loving Inspiration, Giving Hope To Survivors).

A place for survivors of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, assaults, and bullying. A place for the people who support them. A quiet place for all voices to be heard. A safe place where we can learn to educate, support, and protect our children and each other.

In House of LIGHTS diaries we tell our stories, heal, support each other, and learn how to protect and empower our children.

In my world perfect days just happen, there is no particular plan, no timelines, appointments, tickets to an event or a rush to be anywhere at a specific time. These perfect days just seem to develop their own rhythm, have a spontaneous ebb and flow and seamless synchronicity with other people and things that happen to be in the right place at the right time.

My daughter and I had such a day recently and this story is a part of that day.

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This will be an occasional diary series written from the perspective of someone who has lived more than half his life without parents and no extended family either, I'm now 58.

This diary series is about finding my way in the world, about an eventual path to my personal recovery, how events, my environment and the people I met in my early years as a teenager and young adult, altered my life and helped pave that path and smooth that journey, how my circumstances affected and informed my outlook, my early politics and approach to people in general throughout my life.

This is also being written for those who are still struggling, perhaps younger than I am.
 There is a way through, we all have to find our personal path, this was mine.

My father left when I was 16 and with him left any connection to his side of the family. He was a clinically diagnosed, violent schitzophrenic who was hospitalized for a time and when his parents and siblings decided to end their relationship with him because of the embarrasement and danger he posed, they ended their relationship with me also. I have no idea if he is still alive and have had no contact with his side of the family since.

My mom passed away almost 10 years later within six months of being diagnosed with cancer at 53. Whatever tenuous relationships existed between my increasingly dysfunctional, mostly alchoholic aunts and uncles from her side and me, disappeared when she passed away. She was the sibling that made sure there were family get togethers and important holidays celebrated and when she died, those invitations stopped too.

My father was a bully in every sense of the word, both physically and emotionaly. I was knocked around quite often, sometimes severely and though the external marks would heal in time, the emotional scars, the wounds that weren't visible on the surface cut much deeper and some of those issues I still deal with today. Although I experience periodic bouts of depression, I did not inherit his illness and I was never an alchoholic.

Please note that there are no triggers in this diary and as always, thank you for reading.


I listened to Mazzy Star performing 'Fade Into You'  through my headphones
as I wrote this. It's a mood piece and can be background music as you read.

Continue Reading

This will be an occasional diary series written from the perspective of someone who has lived more than half his life without parents and no extended family either, I'm now 58.

This diary series is about finding my way in the world, about an eventual path to my personal recovery, how events, my environment and the people I met in my early years as a teenager and young adult, altered my life and helped pave that path and smooth that journey, how my circumstances affected and informed my outlook, my early politics and approach to people in general throughout my life.

This is also being written for those who are still struggling, perhaps younger than I am.
There is a way through, we all have to find our personal path, this was mine.

My father left when I was 16 and with him left any connection to his side of the family. He was a clinically diagnosed, violent schitzophrenic who was hospitalized for a time and when his parents and siblings decided to end their relationship with him because of the embarrasement and danger he posed, they ended their relationship with me also. I have no idea if he is still alive and have had no contact with his side of the family since.

My mom passed away almost 10 years later within six months of being diagnosed with cancer at 53. Whatever tenuous relationships existed between my increasingly dysfunctional, mostly alchoholic aunts and uncles from her side and me, disappeared when she passed away. She was the sibling that made sure there were family get togethers and important holidays celebrated and when she died, those invitations stopped too.

My father was a bully in every sense of the word, both physically and emotionaly. I was knocked around quite often, sometimes severely and though the external marks would heal in time, the emotional scars, the wounds that weren't visible on the surface cut much deeper and some of those issues I still deal with today. Although I experience periodic bouts of depression, I did not inherit his illness and I was never an alchoholic.

Please note that there are no triggers in this diary and as always, thank you for reading.

Continue Reading

Thu Jun 07, 2012 at 03:00 PM PDT

Who Could Know Then

by dear occupant

This story was written listening to Brian Ferry and Roxy Music
performing Slave to Love through my headphones.

It is meant to be read nice and s l o w, the second refrain,
the crescendo should then coincide with the last paragraph.

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Tue May 15, 2012 at 09:31 AM PDT

Mary of Thorns, of Roses

by dear occupant

This story is about small moments, quiet unheralded events and about details, little things that go unnoticed most times lost in the rush and drama that is so often our day to day. A fictional memory sketch, my first, of courageous women I've known, events and images I've absorbed, filed away and my humble attempt to honor the efforts made by people to trust, to accept and understand when it isn't always easy to do so.

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I'll admit now coming up rather quickly on the big Six O (and when did that happen?) that I'm kinda' old school. The American cars made during the '70's remain a passion, I have a '79 Ford pick up and a '70 Chevelle SS bought cheap 25 years ago that still sits waiting for the promised frame up restoration, my vinyl collection from that era still occassionally gets spun on the Sansui turntable although these days the Ipod gets more use. I love old houses and classic architecture with lots of detailing and I've always enjoyed old adages too, the folksy ones.

'Haste makes waste'

'Look before you leap.'

'Don't cut off your nose to spite your face.'

My grandmother always said, "A thief is always a liar' and it took me a long time before I really understood that one as I do now. The one old adage I've never quite understood was that, 'Misery loves company', these days I understand it less than I ever did.


Our building is on the far north side in a neighborhood that was all but forgotten and written off by most people in Chicago until the buying frenzy whipped through our city like so many others across our country. When we bought almost 10 years ago it was an odd mix of rentals in vintage prewar buildings, areas of section 8 housing, single family homes some in better condition than others and very few condominiums, ours was something of an outpost on our street and in the surrounding neighborhood. This was a popular and trendy hotspot back in the day but all that remained of it's former glory were the beautiful turn of the century houses and apartment buildings with handcarved limestone adornments, huge apartments with high baseboards, 100 year old oak floors and detailing that you just don't find anymore. Long gone were the famous restaurants, delis, and wonderful nightspots, no longer a destination it was known then as a questionable pass through to get to somewhere else.

This neighborhood became one of the last to become white hot during the buying and building boom when prices skyrocketed throughout the city, our sleepy enclave experienced its own greedy speculative spike and seemingly everyday another old house would be demolished only to be replaced by for the most part, poorly designed and cheaply built condo buildings. Classic Chicago style courtyard buildings and sixflats like ours were bought, emptied of the lower income rental tenants and renovated, some better than others. Prices were still relatively cheap per square foot compared to what you could purchase elsewhere in the city if you could somehow afford to, square footage does have its attraction especially when the much more expensive condos in hotter areas of the city were getting smaller.

The space is what sold us on our place, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and over 2500 square feet, as large as a house. We have a large back porch, a side porch and windows on three sides and having no plans to move anytime soon we settled in. I renovated our kitchen, a project that was needed since ours was poorly done when the developers converted our building and from the research we did, always seemed to be worth the investment. The project took 8 months as I removed everything and took the ceiling, walls and floors down to the studs. We were both good cooks and I was about to embark on my own cooking career so we built a space that resembled a restaurant kitchen. Lots of stainless steel, rows of fry and saute' pans hanging, steel utensils arranged all within easy distance of the stove and prep area, a perfect cooking triangle. We were the first in our building to attempt such a massive project and it was so successful it became the inspiration and model for all the other owners to emulate and we were very proud of our accomplishment. That was 7 years ago, it's still wearing well.

These are the types of projects that when completed change the relationship you have with the place you own, it becomes yours in a more personal and profound way as anyone who has attempted and successfully completed such a project will attest. There's a stability that exists in owning, in being able to make decisions for yourself that you don't experience as a renter or at least there used to be a stability.


A collective gasp reverberated through our six unit condo building a few weeks back when we all recieved notices on the same day that arrived from the Cook County Assessor here in Chicago. We were all expecting bad news, in fact the entire city was preparing themselves for bad news and we all got some in one form or another. Some neighborhoods got hit worse than others and honestly I havn't been up to the task of researching the statistics, I've simply heard too many anecdotal stories from friends and acqaintances; each one has their own depressing reality to come to terms with somehow. My wife and I, well, we got slaughtered, so did the rest of my neighbors in our building and I've been in a major funk since hence my not being very visible lately here at Dkos.

We have now joined the ranks of the Underwater.

And of course as Life often does, 'bad news usually comes in threes', we both had job scares the week after we opened the envelope and read the bad news, the incomprehensible news that our condo was worth substantially less than we paid for it almost 10 years ago. We expected to lose most if not all the speculative paper gains that the bubble provided, the fictitious profits we never trusted and never borrowed against. We have a traditional 30 year mortgage and we put down a large downpayment as was required then and we refinanced once to take advantage of lower rates. Nothing fancy, no gimmicks or irresponsible behavior and never once late, not that it matters really, it was always just a source of pride for my wife.

Once we could grasp the new reality we were facing in addition to the sudden job instability we both had, there began weeks of very difficult and painful discussions, the 'what if's', the plans just in case the worst would happen. Once you breach the once unthinkable, the point that you might just walk away from your home because you may never get your investment back, that it's not worth fighting for any longer, that it feels less like an asset than a yoke around your neck, it loses all the sense of stability and security it once held.

Our neighbors suffered significantly higher losses since all of them bought after we did over the years, so does 'misery love company', knowing that we had all taken such a huge hit?

I can tell you it is no comfort whatsoever.

My downstairs neighbor was the last to buy in our building, she bought just 2 1/2 years ago and I can assure you she took no comfort at all in the fact that she became part of this sad statistic;

More than 1 million Americans who have taken out mortgages in the past two years now owe more on their loans than their homes are worth/

Many borrowers, particularly since late 2010, thought they were buying at the bottom of a housing market that had already suffered steep declines, but have been caught out by a continued fall in prices in wide swaths of America.

Even for loans taken out in December - less than four months ago and the last month for which data is available - nearly 44,000 borrowers, or about 7.5 percent of the total, now find themselves under water.

Our neighborhood has been overrun with foreclosures, short sales and people just walking away as folks have lost their jobs, some had risky loans and some took out 2nd mortgages our neighborhood was never in high demand until buyers became desperate for lower cost options. The comparables here have us all reeling and wondering if our neighborhood will ever recover. According to the Yale economics professor in the video below we all might have to wait a while, a very long while if he is correct.

It was heartbreaking to see the expression on my wifes' face when she realized that everything we had worked for the last 10 years had evaporated and then some, that we had lost so much ground and had done nothing wrong to deserve that loss but work and pay our bills on time. It's demoralizing to wake up every morning and wonder how much worse it might get and not have much more time as working folk to make up that loss if it does, I'm 58 she just turned 50. Both of us are working harder than we've ever worked yet we both feel less stable, less secure than ever before.

Even if the economic professor is wrong by half, who has that time to wait? We didn't plan on moving but now we can't unless we want to absorb a huge loss, we are stuck like so many other folks and there is no comfort in that at all, in fact it seems worse knowing that so many of us are in the same horrible place. At least we still have our jobs and can continue to pay the mortgage but millions of my brothers and sisters can't find work and with so much of our economic growth dependent upon the housing market and foreclosures continuing to take place, when and where does this vicious cycle get broken and how, when and where does a real recovery begin?

Where Will Future Demand Come From?

The last aspect of our housing market’s broken fundamentals is on the demand side. Specifically, who can buy a house now?

Not many young college graduates and their young families, normally the quintessential first time buyers. By 2008, over 200,000 young people had over $40,000 in student debt each, and given the explosive growth in debt, many more have that much now. In fact, the 1,781,000 students in the class of 2012 average over $25,000 each. Nope, young people won’t be buying homes for a decade or two. Millions of underwater homeowners can neither trade up nor down. Foreclosed former homeowners don’t have the credit or the cash to re-enter the housing market. In short, current and future demand for housing is likely to be substantially less than historically normal demand, even as prices keep falling and interest rates hover at historic lows. And that’s still true even if the job market comes back, not that there’s any sign of that.

So I took a walk around my neighborhood today, so many new for sale signs and so many addendums added to the old ones, 'new lower price', 'price reduced', 'short sale, inquire within'. One well known realtor had a promo sheet printed that listed all her services;

'Residential, Short Sales, Foreclosures, Investment, Development, Consulting', in that order.

She was a high flyer during the boom time and now she's trying to make a living in this bust of a market, trying in vain to sell what some owners stubbornly refuse to believe is the real value of their homes, hoping against hope that some buyer will come along and save them from this miserable reality so many of us are experiencing. The flipside of that flyer had a description of a condo for sale right up the street from us with very similar comps to ours that has been on the market for over a year, their third 'new reduced price is still about 45% too high, it's sad to see so much desperation on display everywhere you look.

Many of the buidings that were bought for condo conversions are now being redone as incredibly high priced rentals and at a time when more people than ever need affordable rental housing, prices in our neighborhood and throughout the city have skyrocketed beyond what most working folks can afford. We pay less per square foot on our mortgaged condo than folks are paying for comparable rental housing now, how upside down is that?

So as I started my walk back home to finish this diary, I remembered another old adage that my grandmother who lived through the depression was fond of repeating while she shook her head with a cynical look in her tired eyes and a snear in her voice, 'they get ya' comin' and goin'.

Yeah, how right she was.  



A big h/t to Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism for providing the link to this story.

As the crowd marched in seemingly endless waves from Place du Canada, dotted with the carrés rouges, or red squares, that have become the symbol of the Quebec student movement, it was plainly obvious that this demonstration was the largest in Quebec’s, and perhaps Canadian, history.

On an unseasonably warm day in late March, a quarter of a million postsecondary students and their supporters gathered in the streets of Montreal to protest against the Liberal government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75% over five years.

The strike has been supported by near-daily protest actions ranging from family-oriented rallies to building occupations and bridge blockades, and, more recently, by a campaign of political and economic disruption directed against government ministries, crown corporations, and private industry.  Although generally peaceful, these actions have met with increasingly brutal acts of police violence: Student protesters are routinely beaten, pepper-sprayed, and tear-gassed by riot police, and one, Francis Grenier, lost an eye after being hit by a flashbang grenade at close range.  Meanwhile, college and university administrators have deployed a spate of court injunctions and other legal measures in an unsuccessful attempt to break the strike, and Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, remains intransigent in spite of growing calls for his government to negotiate with student leaders.

This well coordinated student action began back in February.

The March 22nd Manifestation nationale was not the culmination but the midpoint of a 10-week-long student uprising that has seen, at its height, over 300,000 college and university students join an unlimited and superbly coordinated general strike.  As of today, almost 180,000 students remain on picket lines in departments and faculties that have been shuttered since February, not only in university-dense Montreal but also in smaller communities throughout Quebec.
This is the first I've seen any reporting on this massive and sustained student action and apparently it hasn't recieved much coverage outside the province of Quebec either.
While the Quebec student strike is comparable in scale to student movements in Europe and Latin America, it is entirely unique in the context of Canada and the continental United States, which makes the absence of media coverage outside the province puzzling at best and disturbing at worst.  As the veteran Canadian activist Judy Rebick observed in a recent column, “it is incredible that there has been almost no coverage of this extraordinary uprising of young people in Quebec in English Canada, and, save for a brief mention on Democracy Now!, the movement has been ignored by even the independent American press.  

A key factor, certainly, is language: Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province with a fully separate media infrastructure, and its famously militant student unions, which are responsible for organizing the strike, operate largely independently of the academic and activist networks that link the rest of the continent.  In this sense, English and French North America exist as two solitudes in much the same way that English- and French-speaking Quebecers once did—that is, they live in close quarters but don’t actually talk to each other very much.

Still, language differences are no excuse for overlooking this important student movement.  Montreal, the province’s cultural capital, is a bilingual city and student leaders have made efforts to ensure that strike information is available on English Web sites, Facebook groups, and Twitter feeds. Further, the English student media, based at Montreal’s Concordia and McGill universities, have provided consistent and often excellent coverage of the strike and related protests.

Here's an excerpt from the above mentioned activist Judy Rebicks' reporting March 22nd;

Maple Spring: Quebec Students Protest Tuition Hikes in Massive Numbers

I just got back from the biggest demonstration I've ever been on, maybe the biggest in Canadian history. Some of the signs said "Printemps Erable" (maple spring, a play on words in French), and it sure felt like it. In a massive show of solidarity, Quebec students not only said "no" to fare hikes but "no" to a neo-liberal agenda that says the poor, students and workers have to pay for the crisis of capitalism.  Estimates are between 200,000 and 300,000 marchers.

"I'm not sympathetic," someone posted on my Twitter feed. "They have the lowest tuition fees in Canada." Exactly, and the reason is two-fold. First, every time the Quebec government has tried to raise tuition fees, Quebec students have gone on strike to stop the hikes. Secondly, Quebec society still believes that taxes should pay for accessible education, health care and a social security net.

I have never seen anything like the energy of this march. It was inspiring. Students have been building to this day of action for a month or more with university after university, faculty after faculty, going out on strike. This week, there were demonstrations almost every day. A couple of days ago, they shut down two bridges into Montreal. On Sunday, there was a family march where parents could support their children.

It is hard to see how the Charest government can ignore this level of mobilization. It was clear from the streets that most people supported them too.

If there is an Arab Spring in Canada, this is it.

She was correct that the Charest government could not continue to ignore the students. From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 8:07PM EDT

Fury Mounts as Talks Over Quebec University Fee Hikes Collapse

Hopes of settling an unprecedented 10-week student strike in Quebec vanished quickly after talks between the government and the students over university tuition fee hikes broke down.

Fears that more clashes with the police and acts of violence will result from the impasse were unmistakable Wednesday, given the social unrest caused in recent weeks by the longest student strike ever in Quebec.

Violence and chaos in Montreal

No sooner had the talks failed than a few hundred students spontaneously descended on the National Assembly in Quebec City to express their resolve to continue the protest movement. Demonstrations were also held in Montreal.

The negotiations collapsed after the Minister of Education Line Beauchamp unilaterally excluded the most militant group from the table. She claimed that the Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante, or CLASSE, had promoted on its website an illegal demonstration marked by violence and vandalism. She said this broke a truce on further disruptions, which students had accepted in order to hold the talks.

“I consider that the CLASSE excluded itself from the discussion table,” Ms. Beauchamp said. “You have to choose sides: Either you want to find solutions in good faith or you seek disruptions.… I deplore that the CLASSE chose disruptions.”

The students were taken aback by the minister’s decision. They claimed that while talks were moving slowly since negotiations began two days ago, the mood at the bargaining table was courteous.

“The government is using the old strategy of divide and conquer,” said CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who condemned the recent acts of violence and denied his group had organized the illegal demonstration. “The minister is trying to weaken the student movement.…The decision to exclude us hides the real strategy of trying to avoid discussing tuition fee hikes and to sabotage the talks.”

The other student organizations warned the government that without all the groups at the table there would be no discussions. They reminded Ms. Beauchamp that more than 180,000 students were on strike, more than half of them represented by the CLASSE.

The president of the Quebec university student federation Martine Desjardins accused the government of deliberately inflaming the debate and questioned the government’s will to end the strike.

“We have had it,” Ms. Desjardins said, barely holding back her frustration. “We are not in a classroom here. The minister has to stop acting like a schoolteacher handing out punishments to everyone. She needs to sit down and bargain in good faith. She has shown no signs of being open-minded after spending only one hour with us during the 40 hours we have been here. It’s unacceptable.”

Is this the first report you've seen of this massive protest?

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