Friday, July 24, 2015

Flashback Friday. The summer of 1981, and I’m Coming Out on the Edge of Seventeen

The summer of 1981. I grew up on a farm in Northern Alberta, Canada and I went to high school in Edmonton, the provincial capital.  At 17, I graduated high school in May. I turned 18 in June.  

I had known I was attracted to men for many years; my first crushes were Donny Osmond and then David Cassidy.  The first time I fell in love with someone (as much as you could call it that) was with a boy named Dale, and we were in the 9th grade. He had sort of a page boy haircut and I fantasized about him, but I never said anything to him. And in junior high school, my band teacher had a short dark brown beard and blonde hair; he looked like Kenny Loggins. The kids would gossip that he was gay, which fueled my fantasies.  I had such a crush on him I could barely talk to him. I’m sure he thought I was an idiot because I could never speak intelligibly in his presence.

But for 10th grade, my Mom took me out of that rural school and put me into an academic school in the city.  For the first few months she drove me, but once I turned 16 I got my drivers license; my dad spent $200 and bought me a used powder blue 1966 Ford Fairlane from one of his friends for my birthday. I was mortified, but I put in an awesome (cassette) sound system, and, more importantly, I was no longer stuck on the farm.

My high school friends were Sarah and Caroline. We had been in school together for three years, we were the same age (within a few months), we had the same taste in music (they were the ones who introduced me to The Police, The Boomtown Rats and David Bowie), and we loved going out dancing.  I was the only one who had a car, so I was more or less the leader.

I had been working in a record store for a year (my last year of high school I went half days, and worked in the store from noon til 9.)  Two of my all-time favorite records were released that month; Stevie Nicks “Bella Donna” had the opening song, ‘Edge of Seventeen” and even though I had just turned 18, I was technically still on (albeit, the other) edge of seventeen.  Rickie Lee Jones’ second album, Pirates, was released on July 15th, and I played that record so much I literally wore it out and had to buy another copy.

The manager of the record store was Roger, and his boyfriend was the DJ at a gay bar downtown, The Roost.  Even though me and my friends had been going to clubs for a year (we were under age, but we could usually get in).  We never drank at the clubs, because it would have been pushing it to get drinks at the bar. But once I turned 18, Roger took me down to the club, to “see the sound system.” which was amazing.  we would take certain records to see how they sounded.  He also gave me my first real drink, a screwdriver, which was orange juice and vodka.

I drank a LOT of screwdrivers.

The club decided to try me out as a DJ, and I did “alternative” nights; I think it was Thursdays. As a rule, the club played pure gay disco all the time. I had my one night where I played, at the time what was called “new wave” music . . .  Duran Duran, The Pretenders, Human League, the Police, Gary Numan, Joe Jackson, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, etc.   I would also “stand in” for the other DJ’s when they needed a break (which was actually very stressful). So I was there a lot, but I was still “in the closet”. 

this was me in the summer of 1981. note the Bella Donna poster and the 45 sleeve for "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" on the wall.  I was wearing very tight Calvin Klein jeans and that olive leather bomber jacket was with me for at least a decade.  You can also see, in the window, my second cat.  And a ceramic elephant I painted. 

One day, and I don’t honestly remember the day very much, but they had a gay pride celebration; it would have been Saturday, July 25, 1981. I know there wasn’t a parade (that would have been too much for the area, and the time) but there were actually three gay bars downtown, within a few blocks of each other, and I recall they had some string of events that afternoon, which my friends and I went to see.

That evening, we were dancing (and drinking) at the Roost.  There was this young man who had the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. Dark hair, and dark 5 o’clock shadow. He would not stop staring at me, and finally, fueled by several screwdrivers, I actually talked to him.  His name was Robbie. And as the night began to taper out, he asked me to go home with him.

this was my friend Sarah with one of my two cats 

Well, my friends Sarah and Caroline were there, as was my boss and his boyfriend the DJ. I just told them, this guy here doesn’t have a car and I’m going to drive him home.  I was more nervous about telling them, than anything.

So I drove Robbie home, and he asked me in, and we were both pretty drunk, so not much happened. I remember him asking me if this was my first time, and, of course it was.  But that put a damper on things for him.  So we more or less just kissed and cuddled, and, yeah I did taste my first wiener. Dark and musky, as I recall.  and it seemed massive. But we fell asleep, and at some point I got up and drove myself home.

The next morning, my friends called me to see what happened, and I told them. Sarah said, “so I guess that makes you a cock sucker then, huh.”  I was mortified. She obviously realized what she’d said (and Caroline was in the room with her) and she said, “well, we’ve all sucked a little cock, so don’t worry about it.”

Growing up on a farm, my Dad was pretty much always drunk. I seriously don’t recall a single day when he wasn’t.  He was also fairly mean, and never held back on what he thought.  One of his favorite words to call people he didn’t like was “cock sucker,” which never made sense to me because I thought straight guys LIKED having their cocks sucked. Which would mean a “cock sucker” would be a desirable thing to have around.  But by his tone, when he called people that, it never seemed complimentary.

Robbie and I never really connected. Over that summer, the lid to the box had been blown off and was never going back on.  I “dated” several guys, and had several “first times” in various forms.  My first boyfriend was Danny; he hung around a lot and he was amazing, but he was a drug addict (and I wasn’t) so it was never meant to last.  But there were, as they say, plenty of fish in the sea, and I was in fresh meat.

The single that stands out for me, is “Feels Like I’m in Love” by Kelly Marie.  Technically it was released in 1980, but it was still being played every night in the clubs that summer, and it was my “coming out” song.  I still get a bolt of excitement every time I play (DJ) that song, and it means a lot to me, as do my two favorite albums from that summer.

Oh, and, a couple years later, my band teacher was at the Roost, recognized me, and ASKED ME TO DANCE.  But, i was so nervous, I said no.

©2015 RocketManLA Rod Reynolds 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

33 years ago: I saw the first night of the ABBA Voulez Vous tour

It was the summer of 1979, for my 16th birthday my Dad bought me my first car, a powder blue 1966 Ford Fairlane.  The stereo I installed in it cost more than the car.  The stereo ROCKED. 

The ABBA single, 'Does Your Mother Know,' came out a few weeks before the Voulez-Vous album, and was my favorite song in a year of favorite songs.  I played the 45 over and over, dreaming that Benny (who I had a crush on) was singing it to me (I know, Bjorn sings it, but I didn't know that then).  I loved the album.  I played it endlessly.  Every song was great (and still is).  For many many years I named "Voulez Vous" as my favorite ABBA album.  The radio station started playing 'Summer Night City" and it went Number One, and it hadn't even been officially released.

Then they announced the tour was opening in my city (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) and the hysteria was unbelievable.  It was all over the radio and newspapers.  People literally came from all over the world.  It was so exciting.  ABBA was front page news (these newspaper scans are the original newspaper articles I have saved all these years).  The tickets were $12.50.   Today those tickets would easily be $250 face value.

Note: Click on the photos to make them larger)

This photo was on the front page of the Edmonton Sun the day after the show. It was printed in red as shown.

This was on the front page of the entertainment section of the Edmonton Journal when ABBA arrived in town for rehearsals.  Sept 11, 1979

Interestingly enough, when I was scanning the page, I noticed on the back an ad for ABBA the Movie; this was at a repertory theatre that played "art films."

And this is the review from the Edmonton Sun, Friday Sept 14, 1979.  sorry the bottom is torn off.

The only thing I remember about it was the opening ROAR, when the lights went down in the Coliseum, was unbelievable; I've never heard anything like it before or since.  The whole place literally shook.   My friend and I didn't have very good seats so I couldn't really see anything, but I do remember the stage show, the backdrops of the Polar mountains, and the light up ABBA logo.  I bought the program at the time, but have long since lost it.

31 years is more than a lifetime for some people.  Think about all that has happened, all the people who were born, married, divorced, died. All the places I lived, all the people I loved.  It's mind-boggling. It
makes me really sad, and really happy at the same time.

Rod Reynolds
Los Angeles  CA USA ©2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

I Took Jesus to Jail - Is A Course in Miracles REALLY practical?

Twenty years ago, when Marianne Williamson was so successful in Los Angeles, I went to all her lectures and did A Course in Miracles a couple of times through.  Then she went away for many years.  When she returned to L.A. just over two years ago, I started the Course Workbook again, and have attended every one of Marianne’s lectures and workshops. 

Marianne often says ACIM prides itself on being practical; so this idea of taking the spiritual principles and applying them - can A Course in Miracles work when you are arrested in a sting for prostitution?

I worked for many years in music doing graphic design, marketing and promotion.  When the music industry collapsed a few years ago, and after a couple of years of getting no work, I had to let go of my career, and did a practical inventory to determine what do next.  I now do several things: DJ-ing, graphic design, photography, handyman work, cleaning and organizing, refinishing furniture, reading exams for the disabled, massage and body grooming.  It might sound pretentious, but I realized (through ACIM) that my goal on earth is to help people (extend love), and each of these activities meets this criteria.

The other day, though, one of these part-time jobs landed me behind bars.

The moment the undercover cops threw me to the ground and handcuffed me, I began praying.  I was praying to be safe.  And, to be honest, I was praying (more like begging) to go back in time five minutes and make a different decision.  The girl who met me on the sidewalk— in front of the building where I would soon be arrested— seemed nice and I was just being polite, a common Canadian trait.  I thought she wanted a massage, she said she wanted a massage; I had absolutely no intention of having sex with her.

“Tell it to the judge.”

The quick realization that she was not who she was pretending to be, ACIM reminds me, does not mean that she is not a good, or innocent person, and I am trying hard not to judge her.  She and her team are just doing a job; luring people in under (it seems to me) flimsy and/or false pretenses, and arresting them. 

Thirty minutes later, they’re on to the next one.  They don’t know my name, I’m merely a statistic for their monthly quota.  One of the herd.  They don’t know or care what happens to me, or what effect this will have on my life. 

Thirty minutes later, I am in a holding cell downtown, handcuffed, with no money, no phone, no shoelaces and no idea what just happened.  This incident will be with me, haunt me, upset me for the rest of my life.  It will be pondered, re-told, hushed away, hidden in a box, an embarrassment.  And being from another country, I could actually be deported.  After living in L.A. for nearly 23 years, I have no place to go back to in Canada.  They may as well ship me to Mexico or Germany.  At least, in Canada I can speak the language (plus there’s socialized health care).  

Plus I am now facing a minimum of $4000 in lawyer fees, or more if it goes to trial. 

AND I’m out of one of my more lucrative jobs.

So this girl - I must see her as a beautiful innocent child of God.  I have to assume she is doing something she feels is important.  Snagging people off the streets who illegally massage other people and putting them behind bars (or deportation) “where they belong”.  I have to assume that she thinks she is doing the best for all concerned.  This is her career; no one is forcing her to do this, it must be her choice.

Marianne would say, when you can’t see it, pray:  Lord, I cannot see the innocence in this person.  I know it must be there, so I surrender my thoughts about her to You.

Lord, I can’t see the purpose in this situation, so I surrender my thoughts about this to You.  I am willing to see this differently.

I am not a victim of the world I see.  Lord, I can’t see that now, because I sure feel like a victim right now. But yes, I am willing to see this differently.  I am more than willing.  I am begging to see this differently.

In jail, I am stripped of everything but my clothes.  I have no idea what to expect.  I have never been arrested before.  I am terrified that I will be deported.  I am allowed access to a phone, but in the age of cell phones that are smarter than you, I previously had no need to and therefore can’t remember anyone’s phone number.  I have no idea how long I might be in jail.  It’s Friday night.  There is no court until Monday morning.  I will probably be here at least that long. OMFG.   

I have things planned for that evening: a quick and easy massage client, $120 in my pocket, hit the gym, and then a movie.  A good kick off to the weekend.   The next day, I have several appointments, errands and obligations.  Sunday, I am to pick my cousin Barbara at LAX.  I have no way to call her.  I have no way to even check what time she is coming.  Even if I could remember a phone number to have someone pick her up, I still would have no idea what her phone number is in Canada.  I picture her standing on the sidewalk at LAX with her luggage, calling my cell phone, no answer, no idea what is going on.  Maybe eventually taking a cab to my house, MAYBE finding a key, VERY confused and frightened in a city where she knows only one person, and no way to find me.

I am terrified that I will be deported.  What happens if they keep me until Monday morning and then put me on a bus to Winnipeg Monday afternoon?  Would I be allowed to go home and get my stuff?  What would I do about my cat?  What would happen to my possessions?  Could I somehow get everything shipped to Canada?  How much would that cost?  And my truck.  I’d left it parked on Wilshire in Koreatown, my camera, wallet, iPad, laptop, and jacket, all inside, on the seat.  If it sits there all night, would someone break into it and steal my electronics and wallet?  In the morning, when there is no parking allowed, my truck would get ticketed and towed.  Where would they tow it to?  How would I get my truck back?  My wallet is in my truck; how would I get my wallet back?

Tremendous anxiety begins to completely overwhelm me.  I wonder what would happen if I started to cry.  I haven’t cried in fifteen years.

So I think, as I often do: What would Marianne say?

The only thing I need to be saved from is my insane thinking about this, which would keep me in pain.  None of this is real.

This feels very real.  The handcuffs on my wrists feel very real.  This feels real on the mortal plane, but I know that my true Self (with a capital S) cannot be harmed here.  OK.  Breathe.  I’m not sure how reassuring that is right now.

All of this is happening in my head.  All my fears and worries are about what could possibly happen in the future.  I can’t do anything about the past.  I can’t do anything about the future. 

Right now, I am alone, locked in a small concrete room, sitting on a metal bed, with a very thin army blanket; if there were even a slight breeze in here, it would blow right through me.  There is no breeze, however.  There is a metal toilet/sink combo attached to the wall.  Nothing in here can hurt me.  And nothing outside myself can save me.  I am locked in here and cannot leave.  I have literally NO OPTIONS.  So I may as well be here in this moment, rather than worrying about what possibly could happen in the future, rather than wishing I could go back in time those five minutes and tell the girl on the sidewalk, “No, thanks, I have to get to the gym.” 

Marianne quotes Blaise Pascal, “All the problems in the world stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Okay, so here I am in a room with nothing but my thoughts.  Let’s do this.

I try to shut my mind down.  I take a deep breath.  I listen for Marianne’s voice:  I see a little ball of golden light.  I see it grow larger and larger until it covers the entire inner vision of the room.  I see the light spill out into the hallway and into the street, surrounding the building. 

There is a rectangular slot in the door and I can see men outside in the hallway, in the booking department, the policemen and other prisoners, many of whom appear to be in much worse condition than I am.  I see each of these people as innocent children of God.  I blast them with love and light.  I pray for the other prisoners, who are probably not having their best day either.  Although, who am I to know?  It is clear that in the scheme of things, within 100 feet of where I am sitting, there are others who are in much worse predicaments. 

And, they don’t have the luxury of Marianne talking to them in their heads, attempting to calm them down.

Part of my daily morning meditation— and every time I leave the house, meet a client, enter a room, or get on the freeway— is, “May I be an instrument of light to every person I see, talk to or think about.”  I surround myself in white light and protection, and a small regulation grey blanket.  In the cell I lie down and try to sleep (which proves to be impossible) and pray for God to keep me safe and to please allow me to be released soon.   

This all feels so wrong though.  Am I a criminal?  Am I a prostitute?  I had no intention of having sex with that woman.  She replied to my online ad via text; I thought she was a guy who wanted a massage.  I agreed to a massage.  Standing on Wilshire, she never mentioned the word, “massage.”  Or sex.  Confounding, vexing, unfathomable…

There are no clocks, no TV, no radio, no newspaper, no magazines, no iPad, no cell  phone - nothing to do, nothing to read, nothing to look at except either the blank industrial yellow concrete wall or the inside of my eyelids.  I have no idea what time it is.  No one says anything to me.  There is a constant murmur of voices outside, but I can’t understand a word.  I decide there is nothing I can do, so there is no point in planning.  In that, there is a relative wave of freedom. For some reason unbeknownst to me, the universe wants me to be here.  That seems pretty clear, because at this point there are no options.  I must sit quietly in a room alone with my thoughts.

And I must control my thoughts, because when I let them get away, they go into fear, and I start to hyperventilate.

Hours later, there is a knock on the door and the guard says, “Get up, they are releasing you.” I sign a small blue form, which looks like nothing more than a speeding ticket, and they give me back my phone and shoelaces and car keys.  “There’s the door.”  I have no idea where I am.  I tell the lady at the door that I need to get to Wilshire and Vermont.  She says it’s too far to walk, but she waves, “it’s that way.”  I step out into the night.

It’s 4am and I’m traversing downtown.  I don’t stop to put my shoelaces back in my sneakers.  I just walk as fast as I can.  I want to get away.  If I walk fast enough maybe I can make it never happen.  I just want to get to my truck and back home.  I don’t know where I am going.  I’m a little scared, but the relief of having being released is overwhelming.  If I can just find a hotel, they will have cabs in front, and I can get back to my truck, which hopefully hasn’t been broken into.  WHY did I just get it detailed?  Because Barbara was coming, and I wanted it to look nice and it looks so brand new.  WHY did I leave my laptop on the seat? Because I thought I’d be back in an hour.  And the largest question: WHY did my angels, my spirits, my instincts not warn me that something was amiss with this woman who had started chatting me up on the sidewalk several hours earlier.

This one I can’t get past.

I had done my Workbook lesson that morning (and every morning).  My prayer, every morning is, “Where would You have me go?  What would You have me do?  What would You have me say, and to whom?”  I’ve been clean and sober for decades, and try at all times to be quiet enough to hear the small still voice for God.  I have a great therapist and a wonderful spiritual advisor/astrologer.  I’ve spent years studying A Course in Miracles, Science of Mind, Seth, Ramtha, Louise Hay, Shirley MacLaine, Esther and Jerry Hicks, Richard Bach, John Gray, Wayne Dyer, et al.  I’m supposedly all spiritual and in touch with my feelings and senses and open to the whispers of the angels: “Don’t turn down that street,” and I avoid hitting a little old lady.  Don’t go out to a movie tonight,” and I end up being home and getting an important phone call.  Those messages I get.  Those messages I pay attention to.

But when I’m just being polite to this young Latina girl on the sidewalk, saying, “Okay, I’ll give you a massage,” - not because I’m interested, but because I’m being a nice person.  And yes, I can use the money.  Yes, it was confusing. But there were no alarm bells going off in the back of my head: “Just say no.  This is a trap.  Don’t do this.  Just walk away.”  Nothing.

A Course in Miracles would say, “Blessed are those who believe when they cannot see.”  There is a reason for all this.  Lord, I cannot see the reason for all this, but I am willing to see this differently.  Lord, do not allow me to close my heart to this woman, these cops who arrested me, the lawyers who want thousands of dollars to “fix it,” the people who will judge me or discriminate against me because I now have a criminal record, and am “in the system.”  When I get pulled over for making an illegal U-turn, the arrest record will come up.

“I am heir to the laws of the world that I identify with.”  In that world, I am a criminal and a prostitute. I know my true Self is neither of these things.  Can I choose not to identify with that world, when every computer associated with this incident will want to prove me wrong?

“The only righteous way to respond is to realize this is a call for love on their part.” Lord, please allow me to see these people through the eyes of Jesus, who would stand back and say, “I like ‘em!”

I am not a victim of the world.
I must take 100% responsibility for this.
All things are echoes of the voice for God.
These people were sent from central casting.

“All who are destined to meet shall meet and all who meet are destined to meet.”  It is up to me whether they are my crucifier or savior, depending on what I choose to be to them.  Can I choose to be a savior to this undercover cop who lured me in with a lie and had me arrested?  How could I possibly be a savior to her?  Can she be a savior to me?  It feels right now that I am being crucified.

I guess I am a savior to her because I am a collar for her, one of several that evening.  She can send in her monthly report: “I arrested 37 deviants that evening.  I cleaned up the city of illicit back rubs.”

Who do I have to be to be a person who can be bigger than this, who can laugh it off?  Who can say, “I can absorb the loss,” of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees and even more in lost income?

Right now, it doesn’t seem fair.  It’s hitting where it hurts - in the pocket book, and in the threat of being deported and losing my life here.

But I am willing to let go of my perception of this situation.
I am willing to see this differently.

I found a cab, on some dark street downtown.  I wondered, if he knew I had no money, would he stop and pick me up?  But he did.  He took me to Wilshire and after a few false stops (I had been through a lot and was a little disoriented) we found my truck, safe and sound, everything intact. I drove home and was never so happy to turn into my driveway, turn the key into my front door, feed my cat, climb into my bed, and say good night to this day…

©2012 Rod Reynolds

Monday, March 5, 2012

You Want the Tooth? You Can't Handle the Tooth!

Shortly after new years, the right side of my head started to hurt. I often have sinus congestion, so the sinus pain was not unusual. I take a claritin every morning so I can breathe (and sometimes another at night so I can sleep). My teeth always hurt; my dentist says I have a genetic pre-disposition towards bad teeth, but I have great hair, so god gives a little here, takes a little there. The unusual thing was that my ear was hurting.

I went to my dentist, the same one I’ve been seeing for nearly 20 years now. He checked my teeth and said, no, everything looks fine. If your teeth were infected, your jaw would be swollen. Which is true, I have had that experience.

So I went to my regular doctor. I can never get in to my regular doctor by simply calling and making an appointment (unless I want an appointment 3 to 6 weeks from now). I have to call and leave a message for the nurse, who screens the calls and decides, I suppose based on her discretion, whether I ‘deserve’ an appointment or not. My head was throbbing, so much so that I could not get to sleep, would constantly wake up throughout the night and have to take pain killers all day long just to get through.

My message obviously conveyed my discomfort enough that I got in to see the nurse later that day. She checked out my mouth, nothing there to report. She checked my ears. Hmmm, nothing there. She suggested I probably had a sinus infection, but she couldn’t diagnose me or prescribe medication. She suggested I take cold medicine to clear my sinuses and to sleep. And she set me up an appointment with my doctor for the next day.

That night I took some NyQuil and actually slept through the night, which was a glorious treat. I went to see my doctor, when she took her instrument and looked deep in my ear she said, you have something stuck in the back there. She had to get the attendant (nurse? But a different one from the day before) and they spent the better part of an hour removing the foreign object from my ear. Which turned out to be the end of a Q-Tip.

THIS is causing all this pain, through my jaw, ear and sinuses?

“Yes, that will do it. They are all closely connected”.

She gave me antibiotics and sent me on my way.

It did get better, and provided an anecdote that my friends found highly amusing.

But after a week, the pain began creeping back up the scale.

I went to a different doctor because it was a Friday and there was no way I would get into my real doctor before Tuesday. My head hurt so much I couldn’t sleep, my teeth hurt so much I couldn’t eat anything harder than eggs and potatoes. And I was downing all the pain killers I could find, none of them were working.

There’s a clinic I go to on Fountain; when I started going there twenty years ago you could get in and our for $40. Now, it’s $85. It’s an expensive gamble, but there’s no way I could wait four more days to see my doctor. So the doctor at the clinic, assessing my sinus infection and resultant ear ache and jaw pain, gave me a higher dose of antibiotics and sent me on my way.

Again, the pain went from a ten down to a two, but after another week, it began creeping back up.

I decided to go to my secondary dentist. I had discovered him a few years ago by doing a google search; I had gotten a new crown but it was hitting a bit high and giving me a massive headache when I ate. My dentist only works Monday through Thursday and this was a Friday. There was no way I could go without chewing for four days. Even though eating nothing but eggs and rice would be good for my figure, it’s not very satisfying.

So I went to my secondary dentist, who works on Saturdays. I said, my teeth hurt so much I can’t even chew and I haven’t slept for four days.

He dug around in there with his little metal pointy tool, and said, well, you have a cavity in your wisdom tooth (the last one at the back) and that might be causing the pain. He wanted to pull the tooth (he is “not a fan” of wisdom teeth) which seemed extreme. We talked about options, and he said, well let’s do an x-ray first.

The x-ray revealed that the tooth in front of the wisdom tooth, which has a crown on it, was infected all the way down into my jaw. But no one could see that because it was under the crown.

“Well, that’s where all this is coming from. You need a root canal, and you need one immediately.” OK, $750 for the root canal and $750 to replace the crown. At least this will be done with.

He took the crown off and showed me what was underneath. It was black and brown and gold and slimy. Delightful. This is INSIDE my mouth. No wonder I have a headache.

He removed all the decay, did the root canal and sent me off with more antibiotics. The pain was definitely lessened, but different; of course having a root canal is traumatic for your mouth. And it would take a while for the infection to clear.

(these are actual x-rays of my teeth, click on them to see larger)

But after a week, it was still very painful, so I went back. When the dentist took the temporary filling off of the tooth, he discovered that there was a fourth root that he had missed. Apparently most teeth have three roots, but sometimes the ones in the back have four. He closed me up and said, “I have to send you to the root canal specialist in Glendale.”

actual files used in my root canal (click on pic to make larger)

I was able to get into see the endodontist the next day. I had been to see him years ago, when I had another problem root canal that had got infected under a crown installed by my first dentist. That second root canal had cost $1600 (above the first root canal that was $1000 including the crown). That particular tooth had eventually cracked and had to be pulled, and I got an implant and another crown ($2700, for a total of $5200)

He did an x-ray and said, “this will be $1100”. I asked, even thought it’s already more than half done – 3 out of the 4 roots are already gone. “No, in fact it’s even harder that someone else has been working in there.” Not sure if that’s a line, but what can you do.

He also did an x-ray of the tooth above it, which revealed a problem up there too. “You have an abscess on the root of the upper tooth, which is in your sinus. This is why you have had a sinus infection for two months. You need a root canal up there, and you need that root canal immediately.

Well, finally we get to the ROOT of all this.

Another $1100.

But, he said, you’ve been on enough antibiotics. Let’s take out the problems and let your body get back to healing itself and see if it can take care of itself. So that was some good news.

So I got one root canal that day, and another one the very next day. I had to go back and do the first one twice because he discovered that one also had a fourth root. But once the second root canal was done… Imagine having a headache for TWO MONTHS and trying every pain killer possible, and none of them really work (especially at night). Extra Strength Tylenol is not available. Neither is extra strength excedrin. For whatever reason. I got some Tylenol from my dentist, and I found the CVS generic excedrin worked. One of the dentists had given me a prescription for vicodin but I’ve found that vicodin makes me feel nauseous and sleepy, so I didn’t take any.

Imagine having a headache for two months so bad you can’t get to sleep and then waking up at 4am because your head is pounding. Imagine designing building and then doing a workshop for Marianne Williamson with a headache so bad you can hardly hold your head up.

Then imagine, one afternoon in March, it suddenly is gone!

It’s like that annoying noise that’s coming from SOMEWHERE but you have no idea what it is and can’t control it anyway, like construction workers that get up far too early and start drilling and humming and sawing and hammering and beeping when they back up. And you sort of tune it out. But it’s still there.

Then all of a sudden it’s their lunch time and the sounds STOP and you’ve forgotten that they were even there in the first place but suddenly there’s this blissful peace.

Blissful peace, yes. Eight weeks, four root canals, six doctors, three bouts of antibiotics and more pain medicine than you can imagine (“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit”) and $4300 later… blissful peace….

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nails in the coffin of my virtual world.


For many years I made a living selling things on eBay; I sold approximately 20,000 items (mostly cds) in a 13 year period. I listed items 5 days a week and spent 3 days a week packaging and mailing (yes, that’s eight days a week, just like the Beatles song). My house looked like a warehouse (still does, some weeks). My positive feedback was over 12,000 and my negative a tiny fraction; in all that time I never ripped anyone off, but people will leave negative or neutral feedback at the drop of a hat. One guy left me negative feedback that read “nothing really wrong, I just felt like it.” I had one guy leave me negative feedback because the jewel case on his cd was cracked when it arrived.

I learned a lot through eBay. Dealing with “the public,” albeit virtual. Also dealing with the US Postal service, which is an entire mini series unto itself. I can’t tell you the number of times I have thought to myself, just because you hate your job doesn’t give you the right to take it out on me.” 13 years ago eBay was a novelty; a cultural phenomena, it was new and shiny, and we were all on a learning curve. I learned to rise above the nastiness people would hurl at me (via cyberspace). At one point I was selling hundreds of items a week; the people at the post office know me by name. I never ripped anyone off, but people ripped me off. I learned to take it as part of the territory. I had one lady steal a $100 antique quilt from me; she said she never got it, she got a full refund from paypal. I had another lady say that one of the three dresses she bought was stained; she got a full refund from paypal, and she didn’t return any of them.

When eBay bought Paypal was major stab in my business model. Now, the only form of payment you can use to sell something on eBay is paypal. And, a fact known to some, is that you can ALWAYS get your money back with PayPal. File a dispute, they will refund your money. They will conduct an “investigation” and they will ALWAYS side with the buyer. eBay will ding you once with listing fees, then seller fees, then paypal fees. They make more money than Oprah (seriously) and do a lot less running around. You are no longer allowed to accept cash checks or money orders on eBay. Only Paypal. There is something wrong with that (I believe it’s called a monopoly)(or extortion), but what can you do.

The decline for me came when they introduced, in addition to the feedback system, the 5 star seller rating system. Buyers could now leave ratings on a scale of 1 – 5 for their transactions, rating the seller on communication, shipping prices, shipping speed and item as described.

I learned that people online will say whatever they want. It’s far too easy to click on the cute little stars and rate someone you’ve never met and could care less about. And why give anything 5 out of 5 stars? That mplies they are perfect, and no one is perfect. Don’t be ridiculous. I think one thing we all learned is there is little to no accountability in the virtual world. You can be whoever you want, say whatever you want, and no part of it will (likely) ever intrude into your real life. So just go for it.

eBay realized that they were losing money on shipping (both amazon and take a percentage of ‘shipping fees). Because they could only take a percentage of your SELLING price (PayPal takes a percentage of your total payment including shipping). So they devised a system which encouraged sellers to offer “free shipping” thus negating buyer’s voting feedback on your shipping prices, which if the shipping is free, how can they vote anything but 5 out of 5. By the way, shipping prices on eBay are CLEARLY stated on the auction page, so as far as I’m concerned, you see upfront that shipping is $5 you have no right to complain that shipping was $5. During our phone conversations, they encouraged me, in order to improve my feedback ratings, to offer free shipping. As we know, there is no such thing as free shipping, you have to factor the shipping price into the selling price (thus increasing eBay’s profit margin). But that means if I am selling an item that is worth $10, and costs $4 to ship, when I am coerced into offering free shipping, I must increase the price to $14. If other people are selling the same item for $10 (it’s real value) then my price is not competitive. Win-win for eBay and Paypal, lose-lose for the seller. eBay has since changed their policy so now they take a percentage of the selling price and the shipping, so no matter what you do, as a seller, you lose.

It really ramped up when eBay decided that sellers could ONLY leave positive feedback for their buyers. But buyers could leave positive, neutral or negative feedback for their sellers, or none at all. With absolutely no accountability or repercussions. eBay said this was because buyers were afraid to leave negative feedbacks for their sellers, and this new system contributed to a “safer” trading community.

What kind of system works when only one side of the participants can vote. People totally ripped me off and I could not leave anything but positive feedback for them. This is America?

My feedback rating started to slip, and even though I had close to 13,000 positive feedbacks, most of them “didn’t count,” for whatever reason (the reason is they were more than 6 months old, in today’s eBay world, anything that happened more than 60 days ago is out of your control, let a lone 6 months ago). But the negatives sure counted. If you take my overall positive feedbacks and lay them side by side with my negatives and neutrals, they total less than 1%. But that is math in the real world, like using a calculator, or the law of gravity. eBay math significantly weights the negatives more than the positives. That is not fair on so many levels, but also because most people who are happy with things (see the missing 7200 feedback ratings) don’t bother leaving feedback at all.

According to eBay math (and I discussed this with several employees on the phone who attempted to explain their unique formula to figure out the percentage of positive vs negative) my negative feedback hit 2%. Then they put me on ‘restriction’ so I could only sell a few things per month. What that really mean is, I could only LIST a few things per month, whether they sold or not. They said this was to teach me a lesson. No, they said this was to teach me to be a better eBay seller. And to “give me the opportunity” to raise my feedback percentage. Which, I think statistically was impossible. Realistically it was simply impossible.

So the day came when my feedback slipped to -2.4% and they cut me off. Completely. One day I woke up and my entire inventory (I had nearly 2000 books listed on, a division of eBay) had disappeared. I called them and spoke to several young individuals who attempted to justify their rationale. One of them actually said to me, “you are a hindrance to the eBay community and we cannot allow you to list or sell items on eBay.” Even though I had been a member more than 13 years and sold nearly 20,000 items. Another one of them told me, “we invite you to sell your items on” I kid you not. How much money did eBay (and PayPal) make off of me? A hell of a lot I can assure you. Some months my eBay seller fees were in the hundreds of dollars, which because it’s all linked together (eBay PayPal and my bank account and credit card) they never hesitated to take their fees directly out of my bank account.

I opened a new account, under my pseudonym. But that only lasted a couple weeks because it all filters through and they realize I’m using the same ISP, and have the same bank account. So that account got pulled as well.

So, I hijacked one of my friend’s accounts (with his permission). Not as easy as it sounds. Even though he had been a member of eBay for 10 years and had 100% positive feedback, he had only used the account to buy things. once I started selling things, the virtual walls started popping up. And to my friend’s credit, and patience, he trusted me and he jumped through the hoops for me.

We did this all in the fall, and, again, I appreciate my friend’s tolerance. I listed and sold several items and his feedback remains 100% positive. But then I had a couple real big jobs and then with the holidays, and I didn’t list anything on eBay for a few months. Lat week I started listing some of my collectible and expensive items (artwork, antiques). I got a prompt, “you have reached your selling limit for the month of January. What? I had only listed 5 items. My selling limit was set at 10 items, or $1000 maximum opening prices. I have three Japanese prints from the 1850’s which are $300 each, so my $1000 limit went fast. These are LISTED items, not SOLD items. So I can’t list any more items for a full month. I have a lot more items to list. There is a button on the eBay page, “how to increase you seller limits”. I had my friend call and pretend to be (uh) himself. The eBay employee told him that because he hadn’t listed anything in the last 9 days, his seller account had been restricted. And there is nothing he can do about it for 90 more days. So at the moment, I am stuck with 4 items listed maxing out my $1000 listing limit. And I can’t do anything else.


Now, a similar situation is happening with craigslist. I have managed to open several accounts, which I need because they “they” consistently, no there is no consistency whatsoever, and no rhyme nor reason. They periodically flag my ads down, which means remove them. Some days all my ads are pulled and I can’t psot anything until the next day. The flagging system is Craig’s notion that, being a free society and a free site, the natives, as it were, self regulate themselves through the flagging system. If you find someone’s ad inappropriate, you can click a button on the corner and “flag” it. Once a certain number of people (this number apparently varies according to traffic) flag your ad, it is removed by Craig’s computer. Also, Craig’s staff can remove your ads.

Both of these situations, there is no accountability and no reasons given. So, you can sift through all the ads on Craigslist, and flag every one of them if you feel like it (and have the time, which clearly some people do.) CL also has a very secret system known as “ghost listing.” Once someone’s (let’s say, for example, mine) account has a significant number of flagged posts, some posts still go through, but they are actually never posted on the site. Now, I’ve been manipulating the CL system for years; I also spent many years working in the music business in the marketing and promotion department, so I do know how to write ads. I’m also a photographer, so I know how to take amazing pictures. So when I post an ad I know I will get responses. Many of them are spam (I have learned how to spot the spam responses very quickly, although occasionally I fall prey and within seconds of an errant mouse click, I am receiving spam phone calls and texts.

So when I post an ad and don’t get ANY response, I sometimes look on the site to see if my ad is there. Most of the time, it isn’t. The post went through the system but was never posted on the site. That’s just mean, and, honestly, doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s so underhanded and passive aggressive. Frankly, can’t you just say no, this post is not approved, let’s see what we can do to make it fit within our guidelines.

I do post “dummy” posts, in order to get them off the Top 100, then I can change them to say what I really want. The flaggers in general, stick to the Top 100 (first two pages), but not always. You can do a specific search (obviously), let’s choose, oh “handyman” for example, and flag every ad that has the word handyman in it (ie mine). Some days every single ad I post will be flagged, including the dummy posts (which are specifically so innocuous no one could find any fault or inappropriateness). One time I made the mistake of “complaining” about a flagged post. When your ad is flagged down, CL will (usually, not always) send you an email that is extremely condescending, and says 98% of posts are flagged down because they are inappropriate. If you are in the 2% we apologize and invite you to re-post.” Or you can send the flagged post into the “help” board and say, why was this flagged, there is nothing against the terms of service (TOS) in this ad.

I did that once, and within minutes, every single ad I had posted was flagged down. No reason, no jsutification, no response to my question, nothing. Just disappeared (not unlike my half,com inventory). Thus proving that one mustn’t complain. Once you get flagged too may times, you will start getting ‘error’ messages like “you have reached the posting limit for your account.” And nothing more will be entertained. After you have been flagged too many times, they will close your account. To this, there is no warning, no justification and no appeal process. Not dissimilar to eBay. All bow down to the almighty Craig. Do not make eye contact, do not speak unless spoken to (and even then).

The last week, the file share market has collapsed. File share server Megaupload was sued and shut down and billions (yes billions) of dollars confiscated. Very quickly, several more servers stopped working. This has thrown the world of file sharing into turmoil, scrambling to find servers who are still operating (mostly European and Asian based), reloading their movie and music files. At this point the long term implications are uncertain. It could be the end of file sharing as we know it. Or it could be a blip, and after a couple weeks things will be back to normal (albeit on new servers) and the incident will be forgotten.


After a decade of being able to download pretty much any music or movie or software we wanted, will we be forced back into brick and mortar stores, back into buying cds and DVDs again? Is this a little too late, considering there are only a handful record stores left to go buy cds. The only choice we have is or eBay (coincidence? Or just ironic?)

After a decade of selling things on eBay, they have made the selling process so expensive (in eBay and PayPal fees) and convoluted, not to mention risky (with regards to customer feedback) and, with PayPal’s extremely liberal refund process, expensive, since several items are being shipped out not only for free (when people get a refund) but at an expense (eBay fees are still in effect regardless.) Yes, eBay has a ‘dispute’ department, weighted almost entirely toward the buyer and only available to a seller for a few weeks (often not enough time to realize that a buyer has ripped you off).

After years of using Craigslist to basically market and promote my businesses (I have several irons in the fire at all times), with their newfound enthusiasm for removing my ads and posts, has effectively become more effort than return.

The most successful days (financially) I have had in the last year have been doing yard sales in front of my friend’s hair salon in North Hollywood. You get a fraction of what things are worth at yard sales (people seem to want everything for basically nothing, which is their perogative). As opposed to eBay where you get more or a market value (especially on collectibles such as art and antiques). Or craigslist where you can get at least a reasonable return (albeit at a much slower pace than a yard sale). Yard sales are a lot of work, a lot of effort, and try one’s patience. I have to do a lot of praying to get through yard sale days. But I do.

And you do get immediate result$. You are working with your feet on the ground. You do get a feel (real quick) of the value of the things you are peddling. What flies and what just sits there (online sales are a little less tangible). You also deal face to face with people, you have one to one interactions, you can get a little attitude from people but you can also have interesting conversations and make some real contacts (nothing like putting a business card into someone’s hand as opposed to doing an email blast). It reminds me of the fun I used to have working in the Rhino Records store in Westwood. Wow, human contact!

Is this the future? Analog interaction? Face to face transactions? Conversations that don’t involve electronic mail or digital pictures or iPads? People picking up an item, holding it in their hands, falling in love with it, and asking,“how much is this?”

What’s next, will people start going out to bars and roller rinks and dog parks again to meet people instead of opening Grindr on their smart phones?