Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Open Letter to the People in My Life

Hola mi Gente
I plan to write a few posts based on my participation in the #OccupyWallStreet movement, but I have to get this off my chest first. Some who know me will find this offensive, fuck it…

* * *

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m harder to find these days, more distant, less talkative. There’s a reason for that (aside from my natural tendency toward solitude). Recent revelations have forced me to reevaluate my relationship with you. As I listen to you complain about all the little things in your life, please understand that I’m part of a social movement that forces me to witness the ruthless dispossession of human beings.

While you were bitching about your relationship with your daughter the other day, for example, I was spending time with an elderly woman who has lost everything she owns. She’s in her 80s. The last time I saw her she was sleeping at Zuccotti Park. Yeah, she’s one of the people you’ve been mocking.

As you griped about your baby momma drama, I couldn’t help but reflect that the other day I was sitting with a young lady, a recently graduated Latina, almost $100,000 in debt and unable to find a job.

As you were snidely pointing out to me that the people shopping on Black Friday are part of the 99%, I thought back to the brutal take down of a sixteen-year-old honors student at the hands of the police. Her crime? Challenging the assumptions of a society that makes Black Friday possible -- even a necessity.

I listen to you, my friends, lovers, my family, my network of loved ones, and I am thrown by the banality of your frame of reference. I am repulsed by your self-centeredness; you’re utter incapacity for empathy. But most of all, I am saddened.

And it’s not about whether you agree with my politics or not. Believe me, most people don’t agree with me. My frame of reference is Marxist and I advocate for a democratic socialism totally foreign or repugnant to you. People disagreeing with me for my political stance isn’t anything new or traumatic. What appalls me is your cynicism, your cruelty, your apathy, and your fucked up judgmental bullshit.

It’s not that you ridicule, or make fun of my participation in a social movement. That’s been a constant for as long as I can remember. I have always taken unpopular stances, fought for unpopular causes, and people have laughed at me for even longer than my tired eyes could ever tell you. What horrifies me is that you have no real stance. You have no solutions. You have no passion and it seems that when you see passion in others, it brings out something ugly and ignorant living inside of you. It seems to me that sometimes your soul has been starved or that you’ve become so hardened and calloused there’s no real heart at your core, only contempt.

And what’s ironic is that a lot of you don’t have to go too far back in order to acknowledge your own wreckage. Your children have been shaped and warped by it, your relationships have been destroyed by it, and there was a time when you felt as if the world were laughing at you and you felt like nothing. Most of all, I remember when you felt like shit, when your self-worth was almost zero. I remember that. So, today, you’ve managed some measure of social acceptability and now you have the arrogance to look down at others. How arrogant of you, how thoughtless, and how ugly you seem to me.

And let’s not get it twisted: I remember when your mother used food stamps, when the guys thought you were a hallway ho’, and when even your own mother wouldn’t open the door for you. I remember you crying because you couldn’t pay the rent and then rejoicing with you when you cried because you could pay the rent. I knew you when someone sacrificed their mental and physical health so that you could go to college and “be somebody,” and now that you think you are somebody, you’ve bought into the propaganda and laugh at those struggling to make a better or fairer society.

The sad thing, for me anyway, is that I’ve been struggling. I’ve been facing my own really tough challenges. Now I have to face the fact that, at that time when I need you most, I have to choose to love you from afar because I can’t stand to see what you have become. I can’t abide the realization that when you marginalize others, you’re also marginalizing me.

As I struggle, along with many other good people, people you can’t hold a candle to in terms of courage and will, I have to come to terms with the reality that perhaps I haven’t chosen well or wisely in creating my support network, and I have to say that I’m moving on, without you. I am, however, grateful that you have forced me to take an inventory and question: how does my friendship with you reflect on me as a person and, most importantly, am I truly living my values? I realize that many who even bother to read this will attempt to analyze me and label me “angry” or “hostile” or whatever the fuck the flavor of the month is. But I’m not angry. If anything, I stopped being angry a long time ago. I’m even moving past the sadness, and moving on.

I hope you do as well…



Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sermon [A Message from the Messengers]

¡Hola mi Gente!
I stole the following from Jonathan Lethem, who actually stole it himself and then dared me to steal it as well.

Same goes for you...

* * *
The Message

(On the chance that you really are that dense)

Dahlia Lithwick says, “Occupy Wall Street is not a movement without a message. It’s a movement that has wisely shunned the one-note, pre-chewed, simple-minded messaging required for cable television as it now exists. It’s a movement that feels no need to explain anything to the powers that be, although it is deftly changing the way we explain ourselves to one another…

“We are the most media-saturated 24-hour-cable-soaked culture in the world, and yet around the country, on Facebook and at protests, people are holding up cardboard signs, the way protesters in ancient Sumeria might have done when demonstrating against a rise in the price of figs.

“And why is that?

“Because they very wisely don’t trust television cameras and microphones to get it right anymore. Because a media constructed around the illusion of false equivalencies, screaming pundits, and manufactured crises fails to capture who we are and what we value.”

* * *

More soon to come.

My name is Eddie and I'm in recovery from civilization...

Saturday, November 26, 2011


¡Hola mi Gente!
I usually post this around this time of's a Thanksgiving tradition of sorts. Sometimes, when I think the following too self-indulgent, or clichéd (I am a walking cliché, it seems), someone will send me a message usually beginning like so: “I read your blog, but I never comment… ” LOL! And it never fails, someone will tell me that reading the following helped them, or they shared it with someone they thought it could help. So… here goes.
* * *
Redemption Song
My life is my message
The cliché that life is stranger than fiction is true enough. I guess that’s why they are clichés -- they are true, if nothing else. And believe me: my life has been pretty much “strange.”

Thanksgiving Day has its own personal meaning, as I’m sure it does for everyone. Actually, Thanksgiving Day has layers of meaning. First, there is the “we’re thankful that no one forced us to completely assimilate to their culture and then celebrating by stealing our land and killing our people,” meaning, and we should never forget that... 

On another level, people of Puerto Rican descent have traditionally taken US holidays and used them as opportunities to express their own cultural identity. For example, Puerto Ricans will eschew the traditional holiday fare of turkey and potatoes and substitute lechon and pasteles, Puerto Rican culinary staples. If we do cook turkey, we cook it pavo-chon-style -- a turkey prepared in a manner that makes it taste like lechon (pork suckling). Also, the holidays are always a chance to celebrate our music, our unique forms of dancing, and kinship ties. Therefore, Puerto Ricans subvert Thanksgiving and give it their own meaning. And as humans that’s what we do best, we create meaning.

Thanksgiving Day is also now primarily identified as a secular all inclusive day of expressing ones appreciation for life and having gratitude for the things we need to live a happy and healthy life. As a Latino the cultural values of extended family ties and Thanksgiving evoke childhood memories of large (and totally insane) family get-togethers.

However, for me Thanksgiving holds its most significant meaning on a very personal level. You see, it was around this time twenty-one years ago that I experienced the first of a series of “spiritual awakenings” that would change my life. The exact date is November 26, 1990 and this significant date often happens to fall on Thanksgiving Day. Shortly before then, on a cold, drizzly November day, I was so overcome with despair that I attempted suicide. It’s actually a little funny: I tried climbing over the rail on the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walk, but I was so skinny from malnutrition and years of substance abuse that a strong wind knocked me on my butt. I saw this as the ultimate insult, not even being able to kill myself, which gives you an idea of my state of mind at the time.

I walked away from that incident to chase another bag of heroin. Ensnared by my warped thinking, I had this fear that I would botch up my own suicide and merely succeed in paralyzing myself, damning myself to chase drugs from the disadvantage of a wheelchair. I remember another addict who was in a wheelchair. I decided I would make someone else put myself out of my misery.

And though I speak lightly today of that time, I was extremely miserable. I don’t believe in a God in the traditional Christian/ Judeo sense, but back then I would pray each night that some Higher Power would find it in its mercy to take my life me my sleep. Yet, every day I awoke to my despair. I would always wake up sick and broke, but somehow manage to spend $300 by the end of the day, feeding a merciless heroin habit.

If you’re wondering I facilitated feeding my drug habit by ripping off drug-dealers, never a safe proposition. One day a victim of one of my swindles threatened me with a gun. I grabbed the gun by the barrel, put it to my forehead, and begged him to shoot. All I asked was that he made sure to kill me because, “You would be doing me a favor.”

This was in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded New York City street. I remember a crowd forming and people screaming; but what I remember most was thinking that this was my way out. “Do it,” I yelled. He pulled the trigger and… 

Nothing happened.

I don’t know if the gun jammed or if it wasn’t loaded, but for whatever reason, the gun failed to discharge. My would-be assistant “suicider” freaked out, yanked the gun from my hands, and walked away, calling me crazy. I called at him, let him know he could get another chance. That’s how much I wanted to die...

I thought I could do nothing right.

That wasn’t the worst of it, my life continued to bottom out until November 26th, 1990 when I experienced an incident so traumatic it would change me and my world in an inexplicable way. Actually, most people would consider the events that transpired on that drizzly, dreary November day as a defeat.

Very simply, after being released from prison for only fourteen days, I was re-arrested. It was also that last day of my active addiction -- the last day I took a drug.

I didn’t know it then but it was the beginning of a new life: a life that today is far from perfect, that has suffering, illness, death, and many challenges, but also an invincible of joy at its core. This is part of the reason I do the work that I do. I know even the worst of us have the potential to liberate ourselves from our own self-made prisons. And let me be clear: we’re all “doing time” in some way, we all wear shackles. We all have patterns of behavior or baggage.

No, I am not a religious person. My personal view is that religion is for people who are afraid of hell and spirituality is for those who have already been there. I simply try to be the best person I can be on a daily basis and oftentimes I fall short of the mark. However, my intentions are usually good and my direction orderly -- I try to live a life centered on spirituality, personal growth, self-actualization.

On that day, twenty-one years ago, I had no way of knowing of the possibility of life as it has manifested itself today. There is joy in my life today. It’s a joy independent of any person, place, or thing. I can be sad, happy, angry, disappointed, disgusted -- I can be experiencing any number of attachments -- but at the center, at the very core of me, there is an invincible joy greater than any drug-induced high I have ever experienced. And believe me, coming from me, that’s saying a lot.

On that day, sitting there in the midst of failure and utter humiliation, I came undone. And that was a good thing, because in being obliterated I became open and willing. In emptying myself, I came to see that what I perceived as emptiness was in reality my innate potential as a human being.
I am genuinely grateful. This past year, as with all years, has been a challenging. I have experienced sadness, frustration, happiness, rejection -- the full catastrophe! I could easily surmise, if I were so disposed, that my life, that life itself, sucks. But that’s a coward’s lie. Life is a gift -- probably the most precious of gifts. My life today is like a redemption song -- a song of freedom. 

And at the very least there is nothing worse (or better) than that fateful day twenty-one years ago. Today I woke up and I am here... and for that I am most grateful.

May you all have as much to be thankful. 

My name is Eddie and I'm in recovery from civilization...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sex Education, pt. I

¡Hola mi Gente!
If you want to get a good idea of how the rich and powerful exert their influence, you need go no further than a local mall. What free-thinking, intelligent person would camp overnight to buy something they don’t need with money they don’t really have? BTW: Isn't it ironic that it’s okay to camp out on public or private property as long as you spend a shitload of money in the morning, but may the Consumer GOD have mercy on your soul if you're camping out to express a political idea?

Never mind… go back to sleep.

* * *

The War on Children: Sex Education in America, pt. I

I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.

–Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), on the HPV vaccine, Fox News interview, Sept. 12, 2011

I know that you wouldn’t want your child to cross the street until they understood the rules and the dangers of such an activity. Yet, sex education in America today is a lot like telling your kid to never cross the street without letting them the know the dangers and arming them with the information necessary should they ever find themselves having to cross a street. Check that: adults in America are waging an anti-sex campaign in which we’re pushing our children into a no-man’s land full of hidden mines.

It’s obscene.

And the adults in this country repeatedly claim they’re doing this in the name of children’s safety. For the children, for the children… they repeat over and over.

The battle over sex education, however, isn’t about what’s safe or healthy for children. It’s about what’s comfortable for seriously sexually repressed adults. In the War on Sex, it’s the children who are the victims. The welfare of our children is being sacrificed so that religious fanatics to inject their beliefs into the structure of our government. The safety of our children is being sacrificed so that adults can feel better about themselves. It should be, of course, the other way around.

The battle over sex education is the battle over childhood and adolescent sexuality. Our government, controlled by corporations and their right-wing authoritarian pawns, has set a clear, tragic, and dangerous challenge: Preventing young people from having sexual experiences and ignoring their health needs as they do.

They’re forcing kids to join them in an unholy crusade to deny sexuality -- in the process creating a toxic synergy of teaching kids to fear sexual feelings, while adults fear sexual information. They’ve put kids on the frontlines of the War on Sex as shields and demanding they patrol a toxic landscape of a cultural conflict.

And they’re doing this with your money. Anti-sex educators were awarded more than $200 million in funding in 2006 alone, in every state in the nation. Abstinence-only-until-marriage has been taught in more than half of American public schools and most private schools. Probably in your kid’s school.

Meanwhile, regardless of what parents do or say, the overwhelming majority of today’s kids pledging abstinence are going to have sex before they marry (duh) -- unless, of course, their parents can do away with TV, the internet, eliminate cell phones, bomb the fashion industry, and manage to shackle their kids to underground bunkers.

And so what we’re left with is millions of children being systematically prepared for what they won’t experience: adolescence and young adulthood without sex. Of course, that also means that they’re being systematically being unprepared for what they will have: sex, sexual feelings, sexual relationships, sexual decision-making.

In the following weeks, I will be addressing the various issues embedded in this War on Sex and the harm it’s doing to our children.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving With The Rosarios

¡Hola mi Gente!
Thanksgiving, for very personal reasons, is one of my favorite times of the year. I love ritual of breaking bread together and honoring gratitude -- giving thanks. I’ve heard it said that gratitude negates sadness and that’s been my experience.

But I love Thanksgiving most of all because all the great childhood memories. The following is based on true events…

* * *

The Turkey

[Note: an animal was harmed in the making of this post]

It really was too much -- embarrassing to the nth degree. Everybody on the 60 Wilson Bus was staring at us and the best my uncle could do was laugh that fuckin infectious, jolly laugh of his. He thought it was hilarious and, sensing my embarrassment, it made him laugh harder, causing the other passengers to stare more intently.

There it was again, a movement from the cause of my embarrassment. You see, in Puerto Rican neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon to purchase live chickens from el vivero -- a marketplace selling live poultry. Usually that entailed picking or asking for a particular chicken and the proprietor would take it out of its cage, go to the back and prepare it for you.

But this was the day before Thanksgiving and my mother had insisted I accompany my uncle to the nearest vivero to buy a live turkey. At the time we were living in a then mostly African American Brooklyn neighborhood on East New York Avenue (right across the street from the back entrance of the Pitkin Theater) and the nearest vivero was a bus ride away. My uncle Onofre, Tío Nofrín, was already in his cups though it was still early in the day, and he insisted that they give him a live turkey to take home. This was unusual, I thought at the time, because we would usually tell el vivero to prepare the fowl for us. But my uncle insisted we take the fucker live, so el vivero put the turkey in a large paper grocery bag and off we went. No sooner than we sat down on the crowded bus, the turkey, perhaps sensing this wasn’t going to be his day, began making a fuss and engaged in repeated and often violent attempts to escape the paper bag. This caused all the passengers to stare, which made my already slightly inebriated uncle to laugh out loud.

He thought it was hilarious, the passengers were alarmed at the tipsy Puerto Rican with a live turkey in a large brown grocery bag, and I wanted to die. You see, part of growing up in a society that sees your culture as different or alien, is that there’s an internal tension between the very strong pull to assimilate (and not feel alienated) and the tug of cultural pride. I was raised to be a prideful Puerto Rican, but I drew the line at live turkeys on the 60 Wilson bus.

My uncle Nofrín was what one would call a happy drunk. Already a happy-type person sober, he became even happier the more he drank. And the happier he got, the more he laughed. He had this patented outburst, “Ayyyy CooCoo,” he would always exclaim. It was an expression that didn’t mean anything except that it usually followed a punch line to a joke/ prank or when something outlandish happened. If grandma fell on her butt in front of everyone, for example, you can be sure Tio Nofrín would follow-up that catastrophe with a hearty, “¡Ayyyy CooCoo!” and start cracking up. So here was Tio Nofrín, wrestling with a live turkey on a crowded New York city bus laughing his ass off and yelling out, “Ayyyy CooCoo!” every time the turkey attempted to break free of the paper grocery bag. Embarrassing.

But I need to back track just a little here because I’ve started this story at the wrong juncture. This particular Thanksgiving actually began with my sister, Darlene, winning a raffle at the local Catholic Church where we took our weekly catechism classes. The prize? She won a large truckload of groceries! We were so happy. You see, while I can’t say we starved, there were times that food was scarce. “Wish” sandwiches weren’t uncommon in the Rosario household and it was rare that we had enough to do food shopping for a whole week. My mother often had to scrape up dinner on a day-to-day basis. So the prospect of having a whole truckload of groceries was something we children saw as a good thing.

My mother is a proud woman. Even as a child, I often marveled at how my mother could walk down the worst ghetto and appear regal. To borrow the South African phrase (used in the Paul Simon song), my mother walked as if she had diamonds on the soles of her shoes. She had a way of holding herself, an attitude, so natural it didn’t offend people. People just assumed she was entitled to that regal bearing.

She walked straight, with perfect posture, and her manner, though imposing, was unaffected, head held high, her perfectly sculpted nose, and those cheekbones to die for, adding a sublime beauty to that imperial pose. When she barked out an order, people listened and though she was in actuality a petite and small woman, she always seemed taller than she was. And while it was true we were poor, my mother would dress us in the best clothes -- clothes bought at a fraction of their price at used clothing stores and Salvation Army centers in upscale neighborhoods. And she taught us to walk in that same way: to slouch in front of my mother was sacrilegious.

that's why, perhaps, when my mother saw all these groceries being carted into our third-floor tenement walk-up, she became enraged thinking it was charity. She managed to insult the priest and throw the delivery boys out before we could convince her that Darlene had won all that food in a raffle.

So what did my mother do? Did she squirrel away the food, making sure we would have groceries for, like, ever? No! First, she gave away two of the (three) Butterball Turkeys to neighbors in bad straits and then proceeded to call all of the tribe for a big, family Thanksgiving dinner.

And that’s when she charged my uncle and me to “go get a turkey from el vivero.” When we finally arrived with the live turkey, a great hue and cry ensued. First, my mother wanted to know what had gotten into my uncle that he would be crazy enough to bring a live turkey. Her instructions were clear, she enunciated in tones usually reserved for intellects hovering at the idiot level. I feared she would task us with returning the damned thing, but then my grandmother insisted that she could “prepare” the turkey. After all, my grandmother reasoned, she had been raised in small Puerto Rican villages, and slaughtering and preparing food wasn’t something foreign to her.

A quick, impromptu family meeting was held in order to decide how to go about preparing the turkey and soon a full-scale heated debate erupted which culminated in my grandmother rushing out, grabbing the turkey by the neck, and spinning it violently above her shoulder. According to my grandmother, this was a sure-fire way of killing the turkey, a technique apparently used for generations in Salinas, the town she was born and raised in.

Unfortunately for the turkey, this twisting only resulted in a wicked crook in its neck, which became immediately noticeable as soon as my grandmother let go and it started running wildly around the apartment seeking a way out of his predicament. I felt so bad I almost opened the door for him, but the turkey was doomed, and with his neck now at a right angle to its body, I doubt it would’ve been able to exploit an escape opportunity even if it recognized it. By now, half the family was in hot pursuit of our meal and the other, younger half was screaming traumatized. I'm sure some of my cousins still have nightmares of screaming turkeys with crooked necks. the only one who was clearly enjoying himself was Tío Nofrín who yelling out “¡Ayyyy CooCoo!” as he chased the wayward turkey.

Eventually, someone caught up to the turkey and it was then decided that the best, most merciful course of action would be to slit its throat, which my stepfather, Vincent did, but all this action accomplished was that the turkey again resumed its quest for life, spraying great splotches of turkey blood everywhere. Eventually, the turkey was subdued and a large pot of water was set to boiling in order to plunge the turkey in for the removal of the feathers. No sooner than the turkey was plunged into the boiling water that he quickly jumped out and again made one last valiant attempt at life. This time, everyone was traumatized, screaming in horror. Finally, my grandmother, upset that her fool-proof turkey killing technique was shown to be ineffective, grabbed the poor fellow, and with one last pull on its deformed neck, finished him off.

Suffice it to say the turkey no longer gave anyone trouble and before you knew it, it was de-feathered and prepared in the pavo-chon Puerto Rican style (a turkey that tastes like a lechon). Soon all the aunts were busy fighting each other and preparing the dishes they were best known for and the rest of the family settled in for fun and games.

Now, I come from a family of cheaters. For example, my grandmother, bless her soul, was a notorious card cheat. Mind you, she wasn’t a good or adept card cheat, in fact, she was quite bad at it. But a card cheat she was, and in our family cheating at games is actually allowed. People who marry into our family have a hard time understanding our ethics, but there is a standard, it’s just hard to describe.

We’re also a family comediennes and pranksters and if you happen to commit a gaffe, or do something particularly embarrassing, you will forever be associated with that action/ event. For example, one young lady had the tenacity to stick her finger into some food an aunt was preparing and she was quickly chastised with a whack to the head with a large metal ladle. From then on she was known as La Lambia -- the greedy or starved one. I have an aunt who’s predisposed to exaggeration -- actually she’s compulsive liar -- and part of “family fun” was asking her questions about events we all would know she would exaggerate and then make fun of her for her exaggerations. One part of the family, my mother’s sister’s brood, were known for the bad tempers and were called the “Pissed Offs.” Another part of the clan was called the “Mini Munchkins” because they were all short.

Individuals were similarly named. For example, I was affectionately called mal tiempo, literally meaning bad time, but was a label normally used to describe natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. My sister, Darlene, was called La Princesa because of her pretentious airs. Also, if you were an unfortunate victim of an accident, that too was fodder for humor. One cousin, who shot himself in the foot, was ragged on for years. Even something as mundane as taking a shower or shit during family get-togethers was fraught with danger, as a cousin would invariably rush in with a Polaroid camera to snap a picture or a brother or mother would dump a pail of iced water on an unsuspecting bather.

So, fun and games in my family was in actuality an excuse to engage in all manner boundary trespassing, psychological torment, cheating, hysterical and inappropriate demonstrations of affection and anger, and ridiculing. And you know what? It was hilarious! As long as you weren’t the butt of the joke, of course. and every year, there would be a different theme and a different butt of the "holiday joke."

It was Thanksgiving Eve and the music was blaring, the home was warm with all the cooking, fogging the windows, and you could smell all the great food being prepared. Family members were all engaged in the joyful activities of family holidays when the men decided they would all go out on a “Boy’s Night Out” outing, much to the expressed dissatisfaction of the women. One of my earliest lessons as a little boy was that one should never anger the women on my mother’s side of the family, for they are a ferocious group of females. In any case, the men went out and they took me along with them because they wanted to school me in the ways of men. Going out for the men meant going somewhere where there was liquor, loose women, and illegal gambling. Apparently, being man meant being able to hold your liquor, no matter how much of it you imbibed, and demonstrating your virility by flirting with/ picking up women my mother would kill for even thinking of looking at me.

And this particular night, the night before Thanksgiving, there was a lot of gambling going on. At first, my stepfather, Vincent, was making a killing, and while sober Vincent was a model of stability, inebriated, he lost all self-control. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, he instead lost all his winnings and his paycheck to boot. This I knew was bad news, but Vincent was beyond listening to my appeals for sobriety. Eventually, he convinced my uncles to lend him money and in that way help him win his money back, and he went on another winning streak, only to commit the same error and he managed to lose the money loaned by my uncles.

It was 5 AM in the morning before the men began to sober up and come to the realization that they would eventually have to go back home to a covey of assuredly angry women waiting for them, so this is what they did: they decided it was best for me to go upstairs first in order to scope out the situation. No sooner that I walked into the apartment that I realized things were worse than even I expected. Most of the women were sitting at the kitchen table silently seething, waiting for the men to return. You could actually see the waves of anger coming off of their bodies, distorting the landscape like heat waves.

I went back downstairs and dutifully gave my status report and most of the men were balking at going upstairs, thinking, quite wisely, that discretion is the better part of valor. But Vincent, who seemed to not have sobered, guffawed, got out of the car, and with a swagger told everyone else he would show everyone who wore the pants in his home and proceeded upstairs. I followed, honestly fearing the worst.

Now, there was this long flight of stairs that reached up to a small foyer-like area to our apartment, and it was here where my mother confronted a clearly incoherent, drunk Vincent. Somehow she surmised he was gambling, had lost his money, and was drunk, and she became so incensed, she pushed him out of anger. Vincent, still drunk from the huge amount of Rum he had imbibed, didn’t stand a chance and he down that long flight of stairs landing in a way that no human body should land, his neck now at an angle eerily similar to the turkey’s neck the day before.

I turned to my mother, said, “You killed him.”

My mother, “I did not!”

Me, “Ma, I saw you push him. Look at him I think his neck is broken.”

My mother, “Don’t you say that! I didn’t push him, he was so drunk, he fell on his own!”

Me, “No he didn’t mom, you pushed him!”

At this point an aunt, the compulsive liar, who up until now had been asleep, appeared out of nowhere and said, “I saw everything and Lydia didn’t push him, he fell!”

Before I could continue several of her sisters and my grandmother came out and all stated, though not one of them had witnessed anything, that Vincent had fallen of his own accord and they all gave me this look that clearly indicated I would be next if I persisted this line of reasoning.

By this time I realized the whole conversation was a moot point and went downstairs to check on Vincent. I was certain he broke his neck, but no sooner that I called his name that he opened his eyes, smiled at me, and managed to get up. I guess it’s true that God loves children and drunks because to this day, I don’t know how he survived that fall.

Then I felt rather than saw something fly over my shoulder and land with a loud crash. My mother, in her anger, had thrown the turkey, which had been slowly roasting in a low-heated oven for several hours, down the stairs and it crashed, pan and all, and broke into several large chunks of greasy turkey parts.

Thanksgiving, which had begun on such a high note, had now been ruined and we didn’t even have a turkey. My mother and her sisters quickly dressed and left the house, the rest of the men probably getting similar treatment outside.

My sisters, and some of my younger cousins, now started crying because Thanksgiving had devolved into a dysfunctional madness and the turkey had now died yet again. And I was so upset with Vincent that I told him he was responsible for my sister’s crying and for the ruination of Thanksgiving dinner. Upon hearing this, Vincent seemed to sober up a little, pulled himself up, said, “I’ll fix this,” and began picking up the pieces of the turkey.

I was beyond shocked, “How the hell are you going to fix this, Vincent, the turkey is gone!”

“You’ll see,” he mumbled as I left, unable to take it anymore.

When I came back, Vincent and my sisters were busy trying to sew the turkey back together again and it was so funny, I had to laugh and we all started laughing. I mean, this turkey was all discombobulated, legs akimbo, stitched all together like some monstrosity made up in a horror story. And true to form, we christened the turkey, “Frankenstein’s Turkey,” and one of my sisters would chuckle and say, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” and we would all laugh.

And when my mother finally came back, she saw us all laughing, took one look at the turkey and she started cracking up. I mean, it was impossible to look at this thing and not laugh. And that’s how we spent that Thanksgiving, eating a horribly tortured reconstructed turkey.

Happy Holidays…


Wednesday, November 23, 2011


¡Hola mi Gente!
It’s the holidays and those that know me know I get mushy. I also realize that sometimes the holidays have the unintended effect of stressing us out, of evoking sad memories, of burdening us with unrealistic expectations. I understand, really I do. My experience is that it’s hard to feel sad when you’re giving. If you’re feeling down, then consider doing some form of service. Maybe lending the OWS kitchen folk (some of the nicest people I’ve met in ages) a hand to cook for the 99% for Thanksgiving in NYC? Give a call at (917)791-0697. Whatever you decide to do... be safe.

Photograph: One of the last few free things in New York -- the Staten Island Ferry.

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Love is a Remembrance


Yup. You read that right: the Big “L.”

The word many of us are scared to admit to it even when we’re feeling it in the very fiber of our being. Some will go for most of their lives and hardly ever utter the word to those they most love. It’s even scarier in romantic relationships. We worry, panic, and go strategic:

What if I tell her I love her? Will he reject me? Will she use it against me? Will he think me to clingy? Will she say he loves me too? And what if he doesn’t say it?!!

Yup. The Big Hairy Nasty Obscene “L” Word.

We’re often afraid to say it. Or if we do say it, we’ll play semantics with it. We’ll draw distinctions, for example, between loving someone and being in love. Apparently, there is a difference. No, I’m not that dense. I realize that when people make that distinction, they’re pointing out the difference between the attraction of the feeling of love and actually committing to it and letting it flower.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. Fuck it.

Personally, I’m a complicated man so I have to keep things simple in order to retain what little sanity I can claim. For me love is an action word, a verb, it’s something you do. When I tell you I love you it means I’m going to work at loving you. It means I am committed to loving you by acting – by my behavior. That means that I will attempt to accommodate your feelings, be considerate, protect you, make love to you, compromise with you, do the things I know makes you feel wanted and valued (and yes, probably drive you to distraction *grin*). That’s partly what the Big “L” word means to me. When I tell you I love you, it means I’m walking alongside you on this journey called life and all that claim implies.

So, I don’t know if there’s a huge difference there for me between love and being in love. For me it’s like being pregnant: you’re never half pregnant. You’ll never hear a woman say, “I’m pregnant, but not in pregnant.” That’s why I stopped making that distinction. When I love, it’s with my soul, nothing held back, caution thrown to the wind. Believe me, in this life it’s the only risk worth taking. Of course, it doesn’t mean I ain’t shitting in my pants the whole time because, yeah (duh!) it’s fuckin’ scary opening up like that.

To make matters worse, I become unbearable because sometimes I really want to sabotage the whole thing and in that way not have to do it. I jump, then in mid air, I’m screaming like a bitch because I’m thinking: GODDAMIT why do I do this love shit! And yet I still take the risk because when I outlast my usefulness and they finally come for me to put me in some decrepit nursing home where the nurses won’t wipe my ass for hours, I don’t want to be laying there in my shit regretting that I didn’t love in that way -- that I didn’t take the risks.

In the end, these risks -- these excursions into unreasonable happiness -- are the only things you can take with you

I think the core issue with love is that it will enter into any mind that actually wants it. Our task is not to seek love, but instead undo the barriers that we erect against it. I’ve heard it said that, “Love waits on welcome, not on time.” When you want only love, you will see nothing else. If you could agree with me that love is in part a form of sharing, then how can you find it except through itself? I say, offer it and it will come to you because Love is attracted to itself. Offer hostility or contraction and love cannot exist, for it can only live in an open space committed to peace.

I have learned that Love is already in me and that I need only to extend it outward. Going back to my perspective on Love as an action for a moment -- that is the action: extending what is there already inside of me. As M. Scott Peck defines it, love is an act of will for the benefit of another. What a fuckin’ awesome revelation.

Love is the most sacred mantra you can ever chant, for Love is the Divine and you could never know one without the other. Integrated, you could never again be unaware of love and Love would never fail to recognize you. And in this recognition, you will live in grace because grace is the acceptance of Love within a world full of too much hate and fear. In Love you will find gratitude because gratitude is the ring bearer of Love. Where there is one the other must be found.

Love laughs at the childish foolishness of my defenses for that’s what they are -- mechanisms conceived ages ago against an imaginary monster. Love demands we lay down all our weapons. Love without trust is impossible. People always ask me about my motivation for writing in this way. I guess my aim is to offer an example of remembrance -- a reminder for who and what we really are -- to emphasize that there is no difference between your essence and Love.

This is so powerful that if all you did today was catch a glimpse of that remembrance you will have advanced on your path in an immeasurable way. Seek the Love in you, and you will see it everywhere because it is everywhere.



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nonviolence as A Way of Life

¡Hola mi Gente!
I wrote the following several years ago. It’s a true story…My recent experiences with the OccupyWallStreet movement brings it full circle.

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Applied Nonviolence

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

What good is “book learning”? What good or practical purpose is there in philosophy? It’s all bullshit, right?

Of course not.

The irony is that even those who claim not to like philosophy, politics, or reading, make assumptions, form opinions and worldviews -- create philosophies -- that guide their actions. The difference being is that those who actually explore knowledge live life in a conscious manner. Those who pursue knowledge are aware of the past and its application to the present. Those who deny or abhor knowledge live as pawns.

And my response to those who question the practicality of philosophy is that it is useless if it isn’t being applied. Any tool is worthless in the hands of a fool…

So what good is philosophy?

Well, let’s take the philosophy of nonviolence. Many great men and women over the centuries have expounded on the importance of nonviolence. You wouldn’t believe it by the way many for advocate war, but even fundamentalist Christians have to admit that at the very foundation of Jesus’ teaching the principle of nonviolence is central.

How does this teaching look when applied? Can it be applied to us everyday, normal, not-so-godly folk? Is being nonviolent in a violent world even possible? Can ordinary people practice nonviolence as a way of life? I say, that if a teaching isn’t relevant, then it’s no longer worthy. If a philosophy has no practical value, then it’s bullshit and should be dismissed.

I once was incarcerated at the notorious maximum security prison, Ossining Correctional Facility -- better known as Sing Sing. My security clearance was deemed minimum, but because I scored high on intelligence tests, I was sent to Sing Sing (rather than a minimum security facility) because they needed someone smart with a minimum security clearance to work with the civilian personnel in administration. ::Winning::

I cannot conceive of a more humiliating, more violent experience than prison. The prison environment is structured in a way that dehumanizes people and promotes and foments violence. If you were fucked up, or not functioning too well to begin with, prison will make you worse. Violence was a reality and everyday possibility in Sing Sing. People often ask me, “How did you survive prison,” and I laugh because I know what they’re really asking is how I avoided being raped. After all, I'm not a physically imposing figure: I stand at 5'7" and at the time of my incarceration, I weighed maybe 130lbs.

The fact is I survived prison the way I survived anything else in my life: by using my intelligence. The martial arts begin and end in the within ones capacity to think clearly and act strategically.

I broke out of my inner mental prison at Sing Sing. That’s why I have hard time when people assume that I don’t understand, that I’m too idealistic, and that their lives and problems are unique, somehow.


If I could do it (be free) in prison, you can do it out here.

My cell was my sanctuary and it’s there where I first began a regular meditation practice. My first “meditation retreat” was in solitary confinement, where the oatmeal I was served had maggots in it. Sing Sing was also where I took the basic Buddhist precepts, one of which was non-harming. Yeah, leave it to me to take a vow of peace in one of the most violent places imaginable. I guess saying I like to do things the hard way is putting it mildly.

There was a story going around a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. An American Indian grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, the other understanding and kind. The young boy asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. The grandfather answered, “The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.” The following is true and it illustrates the point about “feeding the wolf” clearly…

One day, I got into an argument with a fellow inmate over a game of dominoes. It was a silly argument, but as I stated before, everything in prison is magnified, intensified. We were separated before it escalated, but his last words to me were that it wasn’t over and that we would resolve the issue “in the yard.”

This was really difficult because in prison appearances are extremely important. I didn’t want to fight not because I was afraid, but because I abhor violence, always have. I also wanted to live differently. I wanted to apply these new principles of non-harming and skillful living in my life. But I couldn’t back down because then I would become prey to everyone else. It seemed that my only choice I had was to “man-up” and fight this individual because if I didn’t then I would become everybody's bitch.

That day everything seemed to get quiet and no one would talk to me. One of the worst things about prison life is the noise. It’s always noisy in prisons, so the quiet was amplified and foretold of bad things to come. There was a buzz in the air, everyone knew we were going to square off as soon as we were let out for recreation in the prison yard. The tension was palpable. One “friend” came by my cell and slipped me a shank (a homemade knife), advising me to watch out for the other guy because he had one too.


Here I was, in a maximum security prison, about to go hand-to-hand with an individual who was serving a 25-to-life sentence for a murder. Great Eddie, you sure know how to fuck shit up, I thought to myself. People, don’t ever tell me that I don’t understand, that my life isn’t/ wasn’t as hard/ difficult as yours.

What to do? What would a Buddhist or any evolved or even a marginally actualized person do? On the one hand, I had to fight, there was no way of backing out and still manage to survive prison. On the other hand, if I maimed or even murdered this man in a knife fight, not only would I be inflicting harm on another individual, I could be convicted of new crime and end up in prison for a long time. Or, he could cut my face and I would be scarred for life. To be honest, I was actually more fearful of losing my looks than anything else, truth be told. I mean, I may not be the prettiest man, but I had grown accustomed to my face and I liked it the way it was.

At a loss as to what to do, and jno one to turn to for counsel, I resolved to sit and meditate. Buddhist mediation isn’t about escape or about thought control. Meditation in this context is practicing what some scientists now call the opposable thumb of consciousness, the capacity of mindfulness. It’s being present and experiencing the process of the moment without adding to it. I had one teacher say that meditation is stopping the inner argument with life. I sat for a while and watched and experienced everything: the fear, the thoughts, many unbidden, the way my body responded to my internal dialogue, the stream of thoughts.

Soon enough, the time came to leave for the yard. I looked at the shank and I decided to leave it. At that moment I fully committed to live by the principle of nonviolence (whatever the cost to me). I didn’t know how I would do it, or if I would even survive, but I was going to do it.

You might want to get into a semantic hand-to-hand about the meaning of freedom, or whether freedom even exists. I have no desire to engage in mental masturbation. For my purposes, freedom isn’t a goal, or a fixed state of being. Freedom is a process of living, of understanding ones circumstances and constantly evolving, breaking past barriers and blind spots. In this way, freedom is a constant process. Freedom is facing death and still committing to live.

I walked out in the yard and my “enemy” was across the yard, playing handball against the far wall. One of his friends tapped him on the shoulder and pointed my way and he put on his shirt and started walking along the wall toward me. He had a hand in his pocket.

Everyone was watching.

I took a deep breath and walked along the wall toward him. My mind was racing now and I felt like a fool for leaving the shank because two things were obvious: 1) he definitely had a shank and, 2) I had no plan.

I just committed to walking and trying to apply the process of mindfulness to my walk -- to not get lost in the seduction of my internal dialogue or cave in to my emotions. He was maybe 100 yards away from me and I could see the determination in his eyes. But I also saw something else. I saw another human being who was probably just as scared and conflicted as I was. We had been friends. We had broke bread together and kept each other company, playing dominoes and the dozens with one another. And yet here we were, ready to kill each other. Well, I wasn’t going to do it.

When we finally came face-to-face, I refused to fight him.

Just like that…

I said, fuck it, I ain’t fighting you, this is stupid. Why are we doing this? And he’s looking around because by now everyone is looking, hoping for the promised violence that would break the monotony of prison life -- some recreation-- and we’re standing there like two fools. He tells me to fight or that he will stab me, and I tell him to fuck himself that I’ not going to fight. And I begin talking with him, asking him why we were doing this. I ask him if it’s cool to be entertainment for these other motherfuckers who don’t have anything better to do.

Truth be told, I really don’t remember everything I said that day, all I know is that we didn’t fight. I refused to fight. I know I told him if he really wanted to stab me to go ahead and for a moment, I thought he was. But he didn’t.

He just cursed me out, shook his head in disbelief and walked away.

Later, a group of mutual friends invited us both to the dominoes table and eventually we were able to resolve our problem and we even became good friends. I even taught him to meditate, though he didn’t like the idea of listening to his process. The day I left prison for the last time, that man had tears in his eyes. Many years later, I returned to Sing Sing, to tell my story of life on the outside to the men I left behind, many of who will never see the light of a free day.

When I stood up that day in Sing Sing to tell my story as a free man, many of the men I did time with, hardened men -- men who had harmed and been harmed -- cried openly. My friend came up to me after and told me these words, “Today we live freedom through you, Eddie. You have gone out there and shown us that freedom is something in here,” he said as he pointed to his heart. “You represent all of us here who may never be free and that’s your responsibility because you have been given another chance.”

In a way, this man was teaching me the wolf story in his own way. We must strive to feed the right wolf. To do otherwise, is to spit in the face of the human spirit -- that one sliver of light in the midst of all the ugliness where we can all came together as one. If we forget that, if we dishonor that, then it’s all for nothing -- it comes to pass that we have been feeding the wrong wolf. In my experience, nonviolence is probably the scariest, most courageous path.

Freedom is a process -- a way of living.

Today, those words are just as powerful and they serve to remind me that freedom begins here. That philosophy has practical value. It’s what separates us from animals ruled by mere instincts.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…


[un]Common Sense