Essay eBook Excerpt: The 1970’s Hells Angels

This is an excerpt from my new 3,635-word essay ebook, “Death At A Hell’s Angels’ Funeral: Driving Past The Memories,” now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One evening, not long after my brother moved out to get married and start his family, my parents and I noticed the sheriff cruisers zipping past the huge picture window of our living room, dome lights flashing and sirens blaring. We wandered outside with the rest of the neighborhood to see what the commotion was about.

The cruisers formed a half-circle in front of the two-story house that the Hell’s Angels were renting down the street, where the front lawn had gone to seed and motorcycles filled the driveway. The deputies took up position behind their cruisers with pistols and shotguns drawn. The deputy-in-charge held a bullhorn in one hand while the other hand rested on his holstered pistol, shouting for the Hell’s Angels to come out or else. The expectation for violence was high, but not from the Hell’s Angels. The deputies were eager to crack some skulls while making lawful arrests under a court warrant.

Five men came out to form a line on the dead grass in front of the house. They were big guys with motorcycle tattoos on their arms, sweat-stained T-shirts covering their big beer bellies, and torn blue jeans tucked into knee-high motorcycle boots. Some looked like Vikings with their long, braided beards. One guy looked like Glen Hughes, the original biker from the Village People disco band, sporting a horseshoe mustache and long sideburns, and ready to break out in the YMCA song. But they didn’t put up their hands as the deputy demanded. With the deliberate cockiness of being outlaws, they unzipped their pants, hauled out their man handles and urinated on the parched dead grass.

The deputies, pissed off by the long-haired motorcycle freaks, holstered their weapons to tackle the Hell’s Angels to the ground and brutally beat them with their night sticks. At that point, my mother brought me back into the house before I could witness the bloody result of law enforcement in action.

I recalled the bright lights of a TV news crew on the opposite end of the street, which may explain why I remembered the incident so vividly even though I was too far away to see it. The violent arrest of Hell’s Angels made the evening newscast. If the Internet and YouTube were available back then, what happened next would have gone “viral” for everyone to see. I don’t recall if anyone screamed police brutality or the news anchor regarded it as business as usual as someone getting a jaywalking citation. The justification for this raid was that the Hell’s Angels were involved with fencing stolen merchandise, which was probably true among the many other things that they were commonly accused of.

Other than that, they were good neighbors and didn’t really bother anyone during their brief stay. Although their drunken fist fights occasionally spilled out on to the front yard, where the dead grass soaked up the blood and the neighborhood got free entertainment. My mother—probably all the mothers in the neighborhood—made sure we walked on the opposite side of the street when heading out to the stores. Just to be on the safe side.

Being At Work On The Day Steve Jobs Dies

I read about the news of Steve Jobs passing away five minutes before everyone else did at work.

As a PC technician doing a Windows 7 refresh at a Fortune 500 technology company in Silicon Valley, I was waiting for the data transfer from the old system to the new system to complete before I moved on to my next task. Sitting in the chair of the user whom I ejected out of his cube, I turned to the laptop on my cart and, seeing no work-related emails that required my immediate attention, started browsing the Internet to kill time.

Mac Rumors reported the death of Steve Jobs via the Associated Press announcement that more details were forthcoming. Unlike the false report a month before that appeared on the CBS Twitter feed, this one looked like the real deal. With every refresh of the web page, Mac Rumors kept adding more and more details to their article.

An immense feeling of sadness overcame me as the news sank in.

I immediately recognized that this was a “where were you when this happened” event. Like the Space Shuttle Columbia burning on re-entry (2003), the 9/11 Twin Towers bombing (2001), the Loma Pieta earthquake (1989), the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (1987), the Iran-Contra scandal in Washington, D.C. (1986), the Iranian hostage crisis (1979), President Richard Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate Scandal (1974), and the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), I can remember all those events with sparking clarity. Except for the moon landing since I wouldn’t be born for another three weeks, but even in utero I was with my family watching history being made on our ancient black-and-white console TV.

“Holy, shit!” an engineer cried out unprofessionally from a nearby cube. This was the payroll department, not the men locker room in the gym next door. ”Steve Jobs is dead!”

“Who died?” an engineer asked from a cube further away, sounding bewildered as if someone had assassinated the Pope in Rome or the Republican Party found an electable Tea Party candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Unthinkable.

“Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and inventor of the iPad!”

All at once the engineers in the surrounding cubes stopped working to browse the Internet. The major news websites started reporting the death of Steve Jobs from pancreatic cancer, throwing up their prepared obituaries about America’s most beloved inventor since Thomas Edison. My favorite obituary was from the satirical website, The Onion, with the headline: “The Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies”. A hushed silence fell over the cubes as mouse clicks followed the links.

An engineer wept quietly.

An email popped in to announce that the data transfer was completed. I pulled the old system and went on to my next task. As I walked through the other buildings, the death of Steve Jobs spread like wildfire and the hushed silence took hold everywhere. This particular technology company already had a quiet intensity to daily work was now so quiet that you could now hear Death chortling over the grief of a creative visionary being dead. As I browsed the Internet during those brief moments of downtime while waiting for my tasks to complete, there was no escaping the obvious fact of that day.

Steve Jobs was dead.

Then a horrible feeling overwhelmed me. This felt like the death of Elvis all over again, where he died of a drug overdose two weeks after my birthday and my mother cried for three days straight in August 1978. I can imagine some poor kid coming home to find his engineer mother weeping uncontrollably over her iPad, wondering why she was more in loved with an international celebrity than her husband, and later find a black velvet painting on the living room wall. Rather than seeing the bloated Elvis in his white suit and red scarf making love to his microphone, the mercurial Steve Jobs would look out through the lenses of his glasses with a fist to his bearded chin underneath a knowing Mona Lisa smile. I shuddered at the thought of another childhood tragedy was in the making.

Note: This post will be the unrevised introduction to my forthcoming essay ebook, “Experiencing The Death of Elvis: Another Childhood Tragedy,” about how the death of Elvis impacted my family in the late 1970s, now available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Surviving A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy In The New Great Depression

If I had known that I would be out of work for two years and underemployed (working 20 hours a month) for six months, I would have filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy sooner and save myself some money.

Eight months after I was laid off from my tech job on Friday the 13th in February 2009, the credit card companies jacked up the interest rates on my three credit cards from 15% to 30% before the new credit card rules went into effect to limit such arbitrary increases. I could either pay the new interest rates or lock in the old interest rates of 16% by closing the accounts. Due to a quirk in the new credit card rules to help consumers pay down their debt balance, closing the accounts meant my minimum payments tripled from what they were before. I couldn’t afford to pay either the new interest rates before or the tripled minimum payments after. I went from paying $500 a month to $50 a month to cover my credit card bills. Eight months later I received my first notice from an attorney that one of my credit cards was deliquent.

A few days after my birthday in August 2010, I went to a bankruptcy attorney in downtown San Jose. I had at that time about $30,000 USD in credit card debt, which $10,000 USD came from the accumulated fees of paying less than what I owe. If I hadn’t been laid off and continued to work, all my credit card debt would have been paid off. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to exercise my constitutional right to file for bankruptcy to escape this overwhelming debt I was unable to pay. The attorney told me that I had a straight forward Chapter 7 bankruptcy, where I had no significant assets to pay off my debts and all my debts would be fully discharged so I can be debt free. The next four months I made payments on the attorney and filing fees ($1,299 USD). That was the easy part.

The next four months after that was pure hell as I gathered all the documents required for the bankruptcy petition. The major sticking point with the paperwork was that I had a small business as being a short story writer. If I had simply reported what little writing income I had on the Schedule C under my own name when filing taxes, the paperwork burden would have been significantly less. Since I had a business checking account opened under a fictitious business name, I had to determine the value of my copyrights and provide a profit and loss statement for 2011. These issues I have never considered before. I ended up valuing my copyrights for $375 USD (150,000 words written over five years) at 1/4-cent per word based on a recent short story contract that I signed, and providing a break-even profit and loss statement where I hope to make enough money from writing to cover my fixed expenses. Since everything I owned fell way below the minimum monetary thresholds, it really didn’t matter anyway.

Although I was under the protection of a bankruptcy attorney, the credit card companies sold the debts that I owe them to collection agencies that could care less. The one thing I learned about this side of the financial industry, debt collectors don’t like being treated the same way they treat people and backed off when people fought back. I once called a debt collector five times in a row for 15 minutes until they acknowledged that I had a bankruptcy attorney and to take my phone number off the autodialer. Filed consumer complaints against several collection agencies that were already under investigation to take a hint and leave me alone. One debt was sold to three different collection agencies before the last one found a note in the file that I had a bankruptcy attorney, which meant that the debt was worthless. I was mailing a dozen letters a month to assert my rights under the state and federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Finally, the bankruptcy petitioned was filed with the federal court in downtown San Jose. A month later I got a court date for the trustee hearing. The hardest part of attending the trustee hearing two months later was getting through post-9/11 security screening. The x-ray machines being down didn’t surprise me. I had to unload everything from my pockets into a wooden box, drink from the water bottle that I brought with me to prove that the water was drinkable, and walk through the metal detector. Fortunately my shoes didn’t have any metal in them and I didn’t have to take them off to walk through the metal detector again. The hearing was held in a large conference room with three dozen red chairs in back and a long table in front. I was fascinated by the slice of humanity that I witnessed in the hearing room.

The majority of the cases were split between two law firms with a representative from each one. Only one couple was there who were representing themselves without an attorney. Although you only pay a $299 filing fee with the court if you do it yourself, it’s not recommended. The bankruptcy process is a grueling process. Paying for an attorney to guide you through the process is worth the expense. Most of the Chapter 13 cases were homeowners trying to prevent the bank from foreclosing on their underwater homes (i.e., a million-dollar home was appraised at $800,000 USD) due to being unemployed and/or medical expenses. The only creditor who showed up for the hearing were a retired couple trying to get $10,000 USD in back rent from the DIY couple, where the trustee ordered a hearing before a judge. One older couple who had previously filed for bankruptcy three times before spoke only Spanish and the trustee put a translator on the speakerphone. Chapter 7 cases like mine were done in five minutes flat as the trustee swore the oath, asked a half-dozen questions and asked if any creditors were in attendance.

Two months later and 11 months after I first saw the bankruptcy attorney, I got my bankruptcy discharge notice in the mail a few weeks ago. Except for a $1,600 tax bill to the IRS that I’m making payments on, I’m now out of bad debt. I’ve been working two tech jobs for the last two months to pay my bills and rebuild my savings reserve (half in cash and half in silver). The bankruptcy won’t disappear from my credit record for ten years. However, when cash is king, your credit score doesn’t matter. Like the Great Depression taught my father the value of cash being king, the new Great Depression taught me the same thing.

Surviving The Y2K Rapture & Other Nonsense

A radio evangelist predicted the Rapture would come this past Saturday and nothing happened. Not surprising. Several major conditions weren’t meant: the Bible haven’t been preached to every living person in the world (about seven billion or so) and Christians had to be feared, hated and put to death for who they are (except for China and the Middle East, this isn’t happening at all). Then the rapture will happen—or maybe not. Having survived the Y2K Rapture in 2000 and 2001, I’m skeptical whenever a religious authority or some other nut job proclaims the end of the world.

I was part of a church that spent nearly 30 years putting a church in every major city in every country of the world by the year 2000, which it did by planting over a hundred international churches during that time. Now everyone in the fellowship assumed that the Rapture would happen. The founder of the church made no Monty Python-esque ass trumpeting announcements of what would happen on January 1, 2000. What did happen? Nothing. Everything came and went as it usually does after the disco ball drops on Time Square in New York City. Not even the Y2K bug turned out to be that much of a big deal. Perhaps it was the wrong date since the new millennium didn’t start until January 1, 2001. A year later, nothing happened.

I noticed that the church message went from “being faithful to the end” to “being faithful to the end of your lifetime” a few months later. After 30 years of sacrificing to put a church in every major city of the world, the new message meant that the fellowship would have to continue sacrificing for another 30 or 40 years until they die. Some members didn’t like that. If the Rapture didn’t happen at the Millennium, it would never happen in their lifetime.

Wasn’t long before the church founder was tossed out by the narcissistic baby boomers who made up the church leadership. If he couldn’t deliver the Rapture (never mind that he never promised anyone the Rapture), he had no business leading the church. These 100 church plantings were soon torn apart by the infighting as the leadership couldn’t decide who among themselves was worthy enough to be the anointed one to lead God’s people, forming regional churches that no longer wanted to associate with each other and take up the cause to preach the Gospel to the world.

After 13 years of being in the church, and nearly six years of being out of the church, I have grown cynical about organized religion. Too often the leadership becomes committed to serving itself rather than meeting the needs of the fellowship. As one young minister told me on my last day with the church, the leadership had far more important priorities then helping me do well spiritually and left in a hurry to fetch a video projector for the lead evangelist. God knows that the salvation of that video projector was far more important. I had always considered the Rapture and/or Judgment Day to to be something of a crapshoot: you either roll a 7 or 11, or pull up snake-eyes. That never did sat well with the leadership. Then again, they never did like people who could make lemonade out of the lemons that God handed out in life with surprising regularity.

Being A Working Stiff Again

After two years of being unemployed, five months of on-and-off-but-mostly-off contract work, and a Chapter 7 bankruptcy still in progress, I’m a working stiff again with two PC technician jobs. The first job is at a local Fortune 500 company that I had previously worked at in the past, and the other job is for a moving company in San Mateo county that does business with other Fortune 500 companies on the weekends. Both of these jobs are $7/hr less than what I was making in my last full time job before Wall Street cratered the economy in the Great Recession. With bankruptcy eliminating my credit card debt, I’m making enough money from both jobs to cover my living expenses and rebuild my savings. I’m hoping to work six to seven days a week from now through the summer.

I’m not kidding about being a working stiff. These are not comfortable jobs where I’m sitting down to stare at a computer all day. These are jobs where I’m running around, crawling underneath desks and hauling new/old computer systems. I haven’t worked this hard since I did construction work with my father for two years after my 18th birthday. I’ve been soaking in epsom salt baths—sometimes before and after work—to relieve my stiff muscles.

Not surprisingly, writing blog posts and short stories have taken a hit from my new work schedule. During two years of unemployment and five months of underemployment, I had 25+ short stories published in eight anthologies and published 14 ebooks with 32 short stories (new and reprints), poems and essays. That pace will slow down as turn my attention from creating new short stories to revising my first novel during the summer. My goal is to write/edit/revise for 90 minutes per day and do admin tasks in whatever free time that I can find. I’m already missing being an unemployed writer and looking forward to the day where I can write full time without having to crawl under someone else’s desk.

Putting A Headshot Into That Old Monitor Cable

Whenever my friend comes over to my place to watch a DVD, we sometimes end up playing Unreal Tournament 3 multiplayer. This year we been playing team deathmatch with six bots and low gravity enabled to make the game crazy enough to actually enjoy. (Unlike the perfect gameplay of UT 2003/2004, the gameplay for UT3 was compromised for better eye candy and stopped being fun for enough players that the developer decided not to put another UT game in the near future.) The one thing I was always disappointed with when I played on my multiplayer machine because  the LCD monitor had a 15-year-old unshielded SVGA monitor cable that produced a fuzzy picture. A cable designed for 800 x 600 screen resolution doesn’t handle 1280 x 1024 that well. I finally switched the cable out. I told my friend to expect my headshot count with the sniper rifle to increase dramatically.

Headshot!

Headshot!

Headshot!

Headshot!

“Oh, come on!” my friend cried from the other computer as the game kept announcing my kills.

Headshot!

Headshot!

Headshot!

A sharp screen makes it possible for me to be extremely accurate with the sniper rifle. At one point, the announcer screamed “Head hunter!” (15 headshots). The bots were somewhat stupid when someone is shooting the sniper rifle at them. (The bot AI setting is one notch below the “hand your ass back on a silver platter” mode.) They stop and turn before firing their weapons. Within that brief moment I can score a headshot. I’m vulnerable if someone is charging me head on or at an angle with guns blazing while I’m zoomed in on the scope. Something my friend knows all too well.

I tend to be a defensive player who enjoys hanging back from the heat of battle to pick off my targets and striking forward only when I have a significant advantage. The game becomes longer as I take the time to rack up my headshots. If I can’t play with the sniper rifle or flushed out of my hiding spot, I switch back to the rocket launcher and go on the offensive. The game then becomes much shorter as my body count stacks up. Either way, I get my kills in deathmatch.

Pondering The Secret Gospel Of Mark On Easter Morning

When my radio alarm blared at 6:30AM on Easter morning, I listened to Brent Walters, who is the host for God Talk on Sunday mornings for KGO-Radio 810AM, talking about the spiritual significance of Easter. The second and third hours told the story about how he, as a young man in still seminary school, was trying to learn about the real Jesus beyond the traditional biblical references. He read all the available books he could find. After ordering a 12-volume set written by a leading biblical scholar through the bookstore, and reading all those books, he felt no closer to discovering the real Jesus. His father, who was a minister, then asked him if he read “The Secret Gospel of Mark” by Morton Smith, which he hadn’t, and his father refused to tell him anymore. He went to one bookstore to order the book, but the clerk refused to do so. Several more bookstores refused to order it for him. Eventually, he got the book. Today it’s very easy to get “The Secret Gospel of Mark” through Amazon. A very interesting topic for Easter.

The canonical version of the Gospel of Mark was supposedly edited by a rival faction within the early church to suppress certain church doctrines that weren’t widely accepted elsewhere. This doesn’t surprise me at all. There are at least forty authors who had written the Bible. Each one had their own political viewpoint to shape and mold the text as they like, presumably under divine influence. The most recent controversy was the Old Testament (the Hebrew bible) being edited to remove references of God having a wife to present a single god rather than multiple gods that were common prior to the Jews being exiled to Babylon.

Thirteen years of church had left me a cynic. When I first came into the church in 1992, we were encouraged to study the sermon and verify the message against the Bible. When I left the church in 2005, neither the ministry nor the fellowship were doing that. The word of God should be trusted through faith and a grain of salt. But not the men who wrote and edited the Bible in the past, and those who claim to know the know the will of God today. Everyone has an agenda that they are trying to push on others. If someone claims not to have an agenda when preaching the word of God, they are lying to themselves and others. I think being a Christian today requires examining the controversies behind the Bible, the motivations of those who wrote the Bible, and questioning those who preach the Bible.

Why Is There A Coca-Cola Vending Machine In My Foyer?

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Last week I went downstairs to the foyer of my apartment building to check out the availability of the laundry room. I found a brand new Coca-Cola vending machine in the middle of the foyer. Like an alien artifact that had no business being there, I was somewhat mad to see this monstrosity here.

First, I’m a diehard Pepsi fan since the New Coke disaster in 1985 and would never go back to Coke. (I did try Kosher Coke when my friend brought a bottle over during Passover week, which was way too sweet of my taste.) I wouldn’t mind if it was a Pepsi vending machine. Not that I would buy from a vending machine. Pay $1.50 to $2.00 for an upscale drink in a 20-ounce bottle? No way. The local stores sell two-liter bottles for less than a dollar when on sale. A much better deal. Besides, most vending machines don’t stock caffeine-free Diet Pepsi in any sizes.

Second, it’s taking up floor space in an empty foyer that will make it difficult to move furniture out through that particular entrance. I’m sure the people with five parking spaces located out front will be happy not to find a U-Haul truck backed up in their spot on the weekends. On the other hand, this might discouraged those people who parked the U-Haul truck out back, move furniture through the foyer, and out to the smaller apartment buildings.

Third, the apartment complex must be hard up on cash since removing all the vending machines in 2007 after a series of caffeine-fueled graffiti incidents, leaving only the one at the swimming pool in a gated area. Bad enough that the rents went up by seven percent this year after staying flat for two years straight. Now they can earn an extra buck off of each beverage sold. I’m sure all the college students will enjoy having their favorite caffeine hit available within walking distance.

Then again, this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen here. After one windy day blew in leaves and small branches from the outside, I stepped into the elevator to find a lizard trying very hard to blend in with the brown floor tile and hissing at my feet. He/she/it didn’t look like a happy camper.

“Weird Al” Yankovich’s New (Not Approved By Lady Gaga) Song

“Weird Al” Yankovich has made a living of turning pop hits into parody songs that often became pop hits in themselves. He decided to do a new song based on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” called “Perform This Way,” which he planned to be the lead single for his new album. Unfortunately, Lady Gage choosen not to grant permission through her manager to release this song on the album. (Which is ironic since Lady Gaga is often accused of recycling Madonna’s entire career without permission.) Although his songs fall under the fair use provision of the copyright law, he had always requested permission before releasing a song based on another artist’s work. Since he didn’t want his work to go to waste, he released the video on YouTube with the full lyrics for everyone to enjoy yesterday.

Later in the afternoon, after a tremendous outpouring from the Internet, it turned out that Lady Gaga wasn’t aware of the song because her manager never told her about it and granted Weird Al approval to release the song on his album (coming out in June). It’s a catchy song. I’m looking forward to the actual music video to see how outrageous Weird Al can outdo Lady Gaga in the costume department.