in
(on the donkey)

The autobiography of Rand Barnett

© 2018-2019 Charles Rand Barnett
All Rights Reserved


Parents

My parents were both 30 years old when they met. Mom was from the Seattle area. She was an excellent cellist in college. She used really wide vibrato on a small cello. She was very short. The competition in music drove her out and she became an early education teacher after college. Her father and brother Rand were killed in a sailboat accident when she was in her teens. Her mother received a lot of money from insurance and managed not to work much her whole life. She painted watercolors. Mom has one sister named Pat.

Dad was born in Minnesota, but was raised in Portland. His father Charlie Barnett was a chef and his mother Ruth was a waitress. He had one brother named Brian. His parents owned a house in North Portland. Charlie was an alcoholic and was frequently violent according to my dad’s stories. Dad joined the Navy after high school to get a fresh start on life. He became a microwave communications tech. His ship landed some of the first troops into Vietnam. He got out after 4 years. After the Navy, he became an alcoholic and couldn’t hold a job. About a year before he met my mom, he stopped drinking by going to AA. At that time he was working as a car lot attendant.

My mom’s mom was dating my dad’s boss and introduced them. Soon afterward, my dad started working as a janitor. My parent’s married and I was born soon afterward.


First Memories

My first memories were of watching an Apollo mission on the TV (I think I was watching a moon mission, but it could have just been an Apollo craft to Skylab) and being stung by a whole hive of bees!! Ouch!!

My parents started out in an apartment which I don’t remember, but they quickly bought a house in SW Portland. I have great memories of this house. It had a small second story. I remember sleeping under the stairs. It had a central forced air heater that mom said worked great. Dad wasn’t a janitor for long. He was cleaning the upper floors of a building downtown and there were some people doing tv transmission type work. Dad told them that he knew how to do all that microwave stuff they were doing so he was hired.



The bees really got me good. I had rolled around in a bee hive. I remember my parents putting baking soda patches all over my body. Years later I had a string of nightmares about it. I would wake up screaming and dad would shake me violently saying “What is it!!” I finally said “bees” and then it all made sense.

I built my first LEGO set at this house. It was a lunar lander. It was the older style LEGOs, before the minifigures came out. It had two larger figures with articulated arms. All the blocks were blue and were 2xs.

My brother Geoff was born 2 years after me.

There was a neighbor girl that I remember. She was a little older and took a liking to me. We would play in the back yard.

And then there was the story of how I drove grandma’s car into the neighbor’s house. Our house was on a hill and I was left alone in the car. I managed to get it out of park and it started rolling down the hill. It was quite steep and crashed into the neighbor’s house. It must have done quite a lot of damage. They found me rolling around on the lawn. Who knows how I managed to get out of the car. I don’t really remember this too well.


The New House

When I was about 4 years old, my parents bought a brand new house a few blocks away. The old house was rather small. The new house wasn’t huge, but it did have a bigger property. Dad converted the large single car garage into a family room with 5 large windows in the front. Construction was fun. I remember our black cat jumping through the holes of the windows until one day there was a window there and the cat tried to jump through it!! The family room was really nice when completed and as was typical in those days, we had a living room that was just for show.

Here I am with my Schwinn before the family room was converted.


In the first few years in the new house, we were all getting the flu quite frequently. The house had a gas forced air furnace and it wasn’t doing a very good job. We eventually got a wood stove right by the front door, central to the house in the dining room. That wood stove really heated the house well and everyone enjoyed playing with the wood.

I was going to preschool at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry). I remember the fancy display of pinballs rolling on wire tracks with all kinds of gizmos. I got to know all of the educational displays there quite well. It was at the old OMSI location up by the zoo. I also remember going to the forestry center there and the Ladybug Theater; definitely good memories there. Mom wanted us to have a good education.

Mom bought us a console type piano, a Wurlitzer, and taught me to play. I remember doing a lot of improvising on it in addition to reading music. Mom also tried to get me into violin, but I didn’t take to that.


The grade school, Capitol Hill, was just up the street and I went to morning Kindergarten there. I met Darren on the first day of school. Our mothers took us to McDonald’s together. I also met Kris and Kelly. Darren, Kris, Kelly and I all went to the same schools and graduated high school together. Kris played trumpet and Kelly played saxophone and bass. Both were excellent on the piano as well. I remember playing Star Wars on the piano in 4th grade or so at a school event. Then either Kris or Kelly (I think it was Kelly) played it with full harmony. I was super embarrassed about that!! Kelly is now my dentist and still plays music.

I remember going to Darren's place quite a lot. Walkmans had just come out and he always had the newest Sony headphones; the small ones that fit in your ear. I remember listening to Ghost in the Machine with those nice Sony headphones.

A block away from home was our neighbors Steve and Grove. They were roughly the same age as me and my brother respectively. Steve and Grove went to the Catholic school, so we only saw them afterschool. Their dad was really into sports so we were always playing football, basketball and a little bit of baseball. I can’t say this enough: Steve and Grove made my childhood great. It was perfect playing with them in our forest setting of a neighborhood. We played in the creek and the park.

We built tree houses. We would walk up to the corner store to eat candy and play pinball and arcade games. We even played a little bit of music together. I had this cheap bass guitar and somewhat large tube amp that I would completely overdrive. Grove had the crappiest drum set I’ve ever seen. The cymbals were like tin foil. Steve played guitar. I’m sure the neighbors hated us!!

In school, mom and dad had a plan: mom took the English duties and dad took the Math duties. I remember my dad forcing me to learn multiplication in the 3rd grade. I was so pissed at him for being so forceful. But after that I started using variables in the 4th grade and it got to be more fun. On the English side in the 3rd grade I was writing the Marshmallow People series with Dustin Shankey.

In 1979 and 1980 (two different winters), Portland got massive ice storms. Both times I was in school watching the cold rain outside. Then in the early afternoon we saw the shrubs outside the window start to droop and they let us all go home. Power was knocked out for about a week both times. It was a clear coat of ice outside that was about an inch thick. Amazing weather.


May 18th 1980 was when Mt St Helen’s erupted. I was in a friend’s tree fort at the time. I could see the cloud of ash coming up from it. Then I went back to playing and an hour or so later wondered why it was snowing!! There was pretty thick ash over everything. I don’t remember it sticking around for more than a few days though.


Star Wars came out when I was 6 years old. I was a perfect age to market all that stuff to. I got the first action figures, the empty box deal as I remember. I saw Star Wars in Seattle with my mom. We got the last seat in the theater. I sat on the floor in the very front. We got in late when the Jawas were selling R2. I saw it three times in the theater that year. Years later Steve and Grove got it on VHS and we watched it over and over for a whole summer. I still watch it quite often.



In the 4th grade, the Rubik’s Cube came out. My dad got a book on how to solve it and we studied it together. I sprained my thumb playing football with Steve and Grove and learned to solve it in that condition. Everyone at school would bring me their cube and I would solve it in about 30 seconds. One girl gave me one of those mini-cubes and its stickers had been moved. There was a same colored sticker on two sides of one of the corner pieces. I tried to explain this to her, but she kept insisting that I couldn’t solve it. It was a powerful lesson. Sometimes you just can’t reach someone.


School

Dad used to set up the television feeds for special events like basketball games. He was often traveling to other cities to do this. Several times he did the feed for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. I remember that dad used to listen to Blazer basketball games on 1090 KEX on the radio. It’s an interesting sound to hear basketball on the radio.

It was then in the late 70’s I believe when cable TV came out. I remember the first cable box had a slider with 33 clicks on it. Dad didn’t like the commercials on TV, so he wired a switch to the speaker and had a cord going across the living room to the couch. Obviously before remote controls. You had to get up to switch the cable box too. Saturday mornings were cartoon time with the good old Loony Tunes. We watched The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island after school. We were the stereotypical latchkey kids. My brother and I and all the kids in the neighborhood walked to grade school. After school we came home and let ourselves in the house and watched TV normally. Or we would go out and play with Steve and Grove in the neighborhood. We watched a lot of TV, but we were pretty active too.

The corner store was about 6 blocks away. They had an Asteroids game and then all the other games came out. They usually had two games there. They often had pinball too. We bought candy and sodas and played games. Looking in the couch cushions for quarters to play. Returning cans for game money. Mom drank TAB soda I think. We didn’t get many sodas at home, but we got plenty on our own. I remember the grocery stores not having automatic doors.

Then came the 5th grade and you could sign up for band. Everyone wanted to play the saxophone. There simply weren’t enough saxophones to go around. I think I considered drums, trumpet and trombone. I liked the trombone’s simplistic design. I don’t think it was my first choice, but I was drawn to it. I loved working at it. At about the same time I got an electric bass guitar and tube amp, but I did not play that at school.

Middle school started in 6th grade and was at a different school. I went to the old Markham middle school. It’s now a grade school. It wasn’t walking distance, so I took the school bus. I practiced my trombone every day at home and played in the school band every day. I had a lot of big text books too. I was really hauling a lot of stuff to school and back. I could either be the first kid on the school bus or the last kid. If I was last, the kids wouldn’t let me have a seat because I had so much stuff with me. I actually remember standing on the bus. Kids can sure be mean. If I was first, it was just a big waste of time, but I did choose that some.

When I got to school, I would go to the band room to store my instrument. I often stood in front of the school with the trumpet player Jeff. Jeff and I were pretty good friends at school, but never did anything together after school. Jack Sackman was the band director. I don’t know much about him, but he played in the big bands during the 40’s and 50’s I believe. He was definitely older and very passionate about music. There was a concert band and a jazz big band. Jim was a trombonist that I started playing with from the day we got our instruments. We were the same age and Jim and I always sat next to each other in band through middle school. Band was great.

I was having some problems in school though. Dad was giving me extra math practice at home. Doing a lot of work with variables. But for some reason, I performed poorly on placement exams for math. Throughout middle school, I was placed in math classes well below my skill level. I was bored to death in those classes.

Of course I was getting interested in girls. Gayle played saxophone in the band. She was high energy and really goofy. I pretty much was too. We went to summer school band together. Marc was a saxophonist that went to summer school band with us too, but he went to a different middle school. In the 7th grade, I was seated at a table in a science class with Dustin, Gayle and Serena. I remember Serena being stunningly beautiful. She was between me and the teacher so I was looking at her all year. I spent all year wanting to ask her out on a date and I finally did at the end of the year. I simply asked he over to my place instead of the dance and she rejected me. I just wanted her to see my neighborhood because I had such a great time there. You know, that first crush is hard. And then I wound up taking Gayle to a movie. It was awkward and Gayle and I didn’t go on any other dates.

I was depressed after getting rejected and wanted to kill myself. It was the early 80’s and the images from the drug induced 70’s were still fresh. I consciously decided I wanted to stay alive to try drugs. I also consciously decided that I wasn’t going to go out and look for drugs; I would let them come to me. OK, I had a plan, so what do I do in the mean time? I decided to put all my energy into music. I’d probably find some drugs if I got into music and I really like music. I liked the trombone. I figured that if I got into music, I’d never be bored. I could always improve with music. Math wasn’t working out in school. Music seemed like a good choice. So I started practicing a lot.

We played a lot of basketball in the neighborhood with Steve and Grove and their dad Bill. Bill would get off work and play with us and power through us and all that. I had a lot of fun playing basketball with them so I joined the basketball team at school. The teacher was Mr. Sloan and his son Steve was a trombonist who sat next to me in band. I was not too good at playing basketball honestly. I don’t like pushing people around and didn’t understand that part of the game. I wasn’t all that great at shooting either. So I sat on the bench a lot. Steve Sloan and his dad were typical loud, pushy sports people. I quit the team pretty quickly.


I think it was my 8th grade year. I was sitting in the first trombone chair and Steve and Jim were in the trombone section. Steve was loud and harassing me daily while band was going on. I eventually got in a fight with him during band one day. I just got up and started hitting him or messing with him. I was like Sackman’s star student, so he put an end to that finally. I don’t remember what happened to Steve, but it wasn’t a problem after that. I got a lot of respect from my peers in the band for standing up to him.

We had a computer lab at school. The school had a lab with 30 Apple IIc computers. My dad worked with computers so he got us an IBM pcjr computer for home. Our computer had Cartridge Basic on it. It was like a gaming cartridge that had the Basic programming language on it. The computer had no hard drive and had two 5 ¼” floppy drives. It had a color monitor and a wireless keyboard. We added on a mouse later, but there wasn’t much software that used the mouse. Other kids in the neighborhood had Commodore 64 computers and Tandy computers and of course Apple II’s. I took the programming class in middle school. They taught us basic coding. Dad taught me how to type on the computer at home. I never took a typing class. I remember coding an Iron Maiden logo by mapping it out with lineTo or whatever the syntax was back then. Page flipping was an important concept then, but I never got the hang of that. The drawing was slow on the computer. You would watch the lines being drawn. When the logo was up on the screen, I flipped the colors so it would flash pretty quickly. In school we were mainly doing console type question and answer type apps.

The code then had line numbers and what is a function all these days was a GOTO statement. GOTO 120 would be to go to line 120. You would insert blank lines to leave room to code other things if you left something out. Mom used the computer for work. She would use the word processor extensively. It could make about a 12 page document and then it would be out of memory. We had an Epson dot matrix line feed printer. Line feed paper had the strips with holes in them on the sides and then the strips could be torn off the page after it was printed. DOT MATRIX!! Haha.

We of course would play games on these computers. I had Pengo and the first Microsoft Flight Simulator. We’d play the war game on the flight simulator. You were a bi-plane. There was an enemy base on the other side of the river and you were supposed to bomb it. After you bomb it, enemy planes appear and chase you and you were supposed to go back to your base and avoid them. We figured out that you actually didn’t even need to fly over the river, you could just go fast and keep your elevators up to stay on the ground. The bases were just a drawing on the ground, they weren’t 3d. You’d go on the ground and then bomb the other base and then take off and run from the enemy planes. It was pretty dorky, but I had fun with that one. Pengo was great. It was just like the arcade game. I don’t remember playing it in the arcades much.

We had the Atari 2600 gaming console. This is actually the only gaming console I’ve ever owned. The main game on it was Space Invaders. There was a Vietnamese family with a lot of kids in the neighborhood. They were only there for a year or so renting a house, but I remember being at a friend’s place playing two player Space Invaders with a huge crowd of kids on a rainy day in a basement. We would all watch and wait for our turn to play. There were tons of other games of course, but the games up at the store were so much better than the 2600. But Space Invaders was of acceptable quality. Almost better than the arcade one.

Bill owned a painting business, so they were working on houses. He built us a triangular platform on the hillside down by the creek in their backyard. It was attached to two tall fir trees and then the point of the triangle was on the upper side of the hill. Man that was a cool thing to do. And then we would go around the neighborhood looking for scrap wood to build our tree fort on top of it. We loved our tree fort. I remember listening to Van Halen’s 1984 album in the tree fort. I was proactive in getting us a radio system in there.

We would play little war games up and down the creek. There was clay there and we would throw clay balls at each other. The neighbors had an electric fence with goats to eat the blackberry vines that grow like weeds in the NW. We often got shocked by those fences. The park was upstream and quite a walk around to get to on the roads, but we went there often. We’d catch crawdads in the creek. The park was very hilly with a creek in the middle and had trails. There was also a swing there. Childhood was great. Picture perfect.

Middle school was rolling along and high school was approaching. Jackson high school was just next to Markham, but they were rearranging the schools by turning Jackson into a middle school and then the Jackson high school people were shifted to other schools. That meant that I’d go to Wilson high school. Greg McKelvey was the band director at Wilson. He was black and built like a basketball player. Tall, very tall. He had a big afro back then. Greg played alto saxophone. His counterpart was Thara Memory, a trumpeter. Greg and Thara. They were very serious about having the best jazz band around and they knew who the up and coming kids were and would recruit kids from outside the school’s area. They ran a big band called Youthsound. It was mainly high school and college kids. They mainly rehearsed and performed during the summer. They recruited me to play in the band when I was in middle school because they were low on trombonists.

Dad got me trombone lessons with Jack Quinby during middle school. Jack was about 30 years old at the time. He did a lot of gigging with the Circus when they came through town. Circus music really took advantage of the trombone. Jack had me doing a Maggio warmup which was just playing up and down major triads. Extending your range is important on the trombone. Getting a good sound. Jack laid a good foundation for me on the trombone.

Youthsound was trial by fire for me. We played Thad Jones/Mel Lewis charts. We played Count Basie charts. It was a lot of reading. It really pushed me forward. One of my first concerts with them was at the Zoo with a crowd of several thousand. Everyone in the band played a solo on a 12 bar blues. I was soloing with the middle school band, but that was certainly a challenge. We played quite a few gigs. Dad was driving me all over town for that and he was having a good time doing that.

About at the same time, my dad got my brother and I involved in a bowling league on Saturday mornings. We loved bowling, Geoff especially. The league aspect of the bowling was especially fun. I had a blast with it actually. I usually bowled about a 150 game. My brother took to bowling like I took to music. He was getting 200’s and had a totally natural, professional style. He was able to curve the ball behind his back and throw these pin shattering, hooking strikes. We were both good at picking up spares, they really put effort into showing us how to do that.

Middle school ended without a bang and I was looking forward to doing jazz every day with the high school.


High School

Greg and Thara put the bands together a few weeks before high school started. The big bands rehearsed before school and the concert band rehearsed during the day sometime. Big band went from 7:30am 8:30am. Wilson was on the mod system instead of the period system. There were 18 mods a day. Mods were about 20 minutes in length. Classes were 2 or 3 mods. You could have an extra mod off at any time throughout the day. Because of this, people were always roaming the halls. The cafeteria was always open. The idea was to create more of a college atmosphere.

They had 3 big bands: the advanced band, the intermediate band and a beginning band. The beginning band wasn’t complete because they didn’t have enough players. There were not enough trombone players especially, so I was pulling double duty when needed. They also had jazz combos. I auditioned with Thara for the combo. Thara was at the piano and pulled up the Cole Porter tune I Love You out of the real book. He played the chords and I did some improvising. Thara made me the leader of the advanced combo which was ridiculous because they were all seniors and fine musicians. But whatever, I was in the combo with those guys and it made a lasting memory of a melody.

I have to be honest, there was a lot of music and it was a long time ago. I don’t remember everything about it. I must have been playing in the advanced band, I have a picture of me in it! But I was also playing in the intermediate band. I was definitely playing double duty and Youthsound was going on as well. I was consumed by music.

I was taking algebra with Thomas Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey also coached the football team. Even though I was held back in math in middle school, dad was still helping me out with it. By the time high school algebra came along, I already knew the material inside and out. Mr. Dorsey would hand out the homework for two weeks on a Friday and I would complete it over the weekend and turn it in on Monday. He’d grade it and it was basically perfect and then he would tell me that I didn’t need to come to class until the test in 2 weeks. Great, more time for music! I would go to the band room and practice instead of going to math class.

English was mostly with Mr. Ladd. Mr. Ladd was big into book reports. We were doing a lot of book reports. My biggest accomplishment was reading Stephen King’s The Stand. It was a 1,000 page book and it was challenging to read all of it. But I loved that book and I still enjoy watching the made for TV version of The Stand with Molly Ringwald and Gary Sinise.

I was getting straight A’s in math and I got 3-4 A’s in music, so my GPA was excellent. I took biology and history. I managed not to take chemistry and physics. The physics instructor was Mr. Zaraza I believe. He was a colorful individual and people liked taking physics from him. I never saw anything like a computer lab at the school. People were taking typing, but I learned to type years before that.

I met Sam Burton before high school in the Youth Sound band. I also met Marc in that band and went to high school with both of them. Sam was one year ahead of me and Marc was one year behind. Jay was senior and a saxophonist. He was playing baritone sax in the advanced band. He was really getting good fast and was in Youthsound as well. The bass player was Kevin. He played slap bass and he had this Fender bass with the lowest action I’ve ever seen. It was quite an instrument. Eric and Shaun were best friends and both seniors and drummers. Both were excellent and turned me onto the rock band Rush.

Sam lived on the SE side of town. Alan was a trumpet player in Sam’s year who lived next to Sam. They both drove in from SE together. Alan had his own car, a Datsun. Sam’s mom had a little classic Honda Civic. It was really beat up and he didn’t have access to it all the time, but Alan always had the Datsun. I was hanging out with them right from the start. I smoked marijuana for the first time at a poker party at Alan’s with Sam and Alan. I remember it affecting my vision, some distortion I guess. I had a good time with it. We were definitely getting together on the weekends and such and smoking.

The nickel arcades started opening up. There was a chain of them called Wonderland. It was really something. Like a circus in there. All those games in one place. It was the short lived arcade era. I was smack dab in the middle of it. We would smoke weed and go to the nickel arcade.

And I would drive with Sam and Alan to our jazz and concert band gigs. We played jazz festivals in the NW at other high schools and colleges. We probably did 6-7 jazz festivals a year. You know, it was really something starting the day with a hot jazz band rehearsal.

Thara was especially dynamic in his teaching style. He was very passionate about it. If things didn’t sound good, he would even throw a music stand. Both Greg and Thara wrote on the chalkboard a lot. They would write syncopated rhythms. And clap and scat them. There was definitely more focus on rhythm than notes. But notes weren’t ignored. We were playing Thad Jones songs and the harmonies were tense. We needed to be playing the right notes.

When my sophomore year began, all those great senior year musicians were gone and there was no superstar type musician as a senior. It became the Sam and Rand show. Sam was featured a lot. Marc was a freshman and Greg was calling him shorty, or shortay. Greg was really tall and Marc was pretty short. Sam and I were getting a lot of soloist awards at the jazz festivals. Concert band was pretty good too and Thara liked conducting the Shostakovich pieces.

My first serious girlfriend was Jenn. She played piano. My parents had a hot tub and Jenn liked coming over ;) Jenn was in Sam’s year. Smoking pot got a little out of control my sophomore year. We were having a lot of poker parties. The poker parties were a blast. We had a lot of fun playing poker in high school. Dad was a gambler and enjoyed that aspect of it. We were sneaking around and smoking pot. Going to parks and the nickel arcade. Around Christmas time my junior year, I got caught smoking pot on a band trip. Collin was a trumpet/euphonium/guitar player that was my age and he bought some incredibly strong weed for the trip. There were chaperones on the trip and we got caught.

Dad was a recovering alcoholic and was not too happy about this. He gave me an ultimatum: go to inpatient drug treatment or go live on the streets. Well, that wasn’t much of a choice. Living on the streets? What does that even mean? How do you do that? I just didn’t understand. I just wanted to play music and have fun with my friends. So I went to drug treatment.

It was a month long and then 6 months of outpatient treatment afterward. It was all based on AA and NA. The only drug I had done was marijuana. I was smoking quite a bit. I wasn’t doing any alcohol. I was smoking cigarettes quite a bit. Drug treatment went well. Most people there were doing harder drugs. The month off of school messed up my academic performance. I was already struggling in my non music/math classes and then I lost a lot of days. But I was off drugs. Sam kind of joined me on that journey. Dad was encouraging us to stay clean. He actually bought us cartons of cigarettes. Sam and I formed a code word of Turkey Sandwich. We were making all these turkey sandwiches and putting them in bags. Turkey Sandwich became our code word for smoking pot. We actually didn’t use the code word very much because we weren’t smoking pot. Turkey Sandwich!

Sam was a senior and auditioned for Berklee and got a full scholarship. Marc’s dad is a jazz DJ on the radio and had about 4,000 jazz records in his basement. The three of us were going to used record stores to buy jazz albums. I was listening mainly to JJ Johnson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard. Freddie was the best. Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson recorded a lot of records together. In the evenings, I had a meditation scene in my bedroom with a clip on light, clip on fan, a plant and my record player. I listened to very little rock and roll. I think the only rock I was listening to was Rush.

I briefly dated Sarah around that time. She played flute in the band and did work on the yearbook and other writing type stuff. I remember she was selling ads for the yearbook. I went over to her place one night and we were sitting on a bean bag watching Jeopardy. She answered every question correctly. It was incredible. And then her dad suggested we should go see A Clockwork Orange. It was in a non-mainstream theater downtown. Man, I was way too young and naïve to be watching that movie on a date. It scared the crap out of me and ended my dating with Sarah. What an experience. Looking back on it is was kind of groovy and I’ve had some interactions with Sarah over the years.

The summer before my senior year was a little different. Childhood was getting left behind. The Sam and Rand show was over. Sam was going to Berklee. I started getting more analytical about my music practice. Thara was big into practicing licks in all 12 keys. I had been doing that for years, but I hadn’t been using them in my solos. The Jamey Aebersold play along recordings were big back then. All us horn players used them to practice our improvising. So I started saying before I started the Aebersold record that I was going to play such and such lick on bar whatever of the tune. I’d turn the record on and wait until the time came for me to play my lick. That definitely was helping out. And then after doing that for a month or so, I started just writing out my entire solo. It was rumored that that was something trombonist JJ Johnson did a lot. By the end of the summer, I was writing out all my solos.

Then band started in August about 3 weeks before school began. That’s when I met Marge.

Marge was going to be a freshman and was a trombonist. I sat next to her in the jazz band rehearsals. I was playing the nice solos I had been writing and my chops couldn’t have been better. I was practicing all day long. Marge and I were magnetically attracted and she asked for a ride home. As I recall we were a couple almost from the first day. Her mom would sing in the kitchen and she had large posters of John Lennon and Sting in her bedroom. She was really into Sting and The Dream of the Blue Turtles was just coming out. That album had Kenny Kirkland on it and I knew of Kenny from Wynton Marsalis’ Black Codes from the Underground. Both Black Coded from the Underground and The Dream of the Blue Turtles were the flagship albums for music in the 80’s and Kenny was on both of them. The live Bring on the Night had all those Kenny Kirkland solos on it. Marge loved all that and so did I.

When I was a sophomore, my parents gave me the VW Rabbit so I could go to high school and all my performances on my own. With the jazz band playing so hot in the mornings, I was really looking forward to playing every morning. I was waking up at about 4am, all excited to play. I’d shower and get ready and then take off in the car really early. I’d go to 7Eleven and get a Squirt and some powdered donuts and sit up in the car looking down on Portland listening to jazz on the car radio. Then I’d get to school at about 5:45am when they opened the doors and I would play my warm up until the jazz band started at 7:30am. I still remember Thara coming in early to find me there practicing. He knew I was driven and determined. He was usually half asleep. He was probably up playing gigs the night before and only got a couple hours of sleep. I was going to bed early and getting up early. My chops were red hot by the time band started every day.

For a while there, the Mel Brown quintet was rehearsing at our school once a week. Thara and Gordon Lee were composing music weekly for the group. It was really something to see them rehearsing. These guys weren’t too fond of recording. They were into live performance. I get that that is a good thing, but I felt that there was a little bit of a loss on the recording side. After all, we were all listening to great music on records that we would have never heard live. Recordings have their place.

By the time my senior year came around, Thara was at the school less. I probably took about 6 private lessons from Thara outside of school. I remember having a lesson with him in a park and then paying him and driving him to the grocery store. Thara was taking the bus in those days and he lived in an inexpensive apartment with all of his kids. I think he had 5 kids. He called himself a “family man.” He often said in class “man or machine!” Like when a rock recording was on or something. I remember him enjoying Huey Lewis and the News. I was at his apartment one day. He had a baking sheet with some old French fries on it and he was watching Battlestar Galactica. It was the final standoff between Starbuck and good old Red Eye. He was like, “watch this!” Man or machine, right? What memories of Thara Memory.

Thara said that he would “find himself some money” and then “lock himself in his apartment and transcribe.” He was big into Freddie Hubbard. He always wished I would get into trumpet or valve trombone. Rob McConnell was big back then. We played his charts in high school. Thara liked that valve trombone thing. I stuck it out with the slide though. I love the slide. I do know how to play valves too, but I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with it.

Kevin was a saxophonist and French horn player who was Marge’s age. Kevin and Marge hung out a bit. The three of us got to be pretty close friends. So, senior year, Thara was there less and Greg brought on Marc Wolters. Marc was a classical trombonist. He played principle trombone in the Oregon Symphony. The story goes that the whole trombone section in the symphony got frustrated with the conductor not letting them cut loose on the loud sections. He was always telling them to hold back. So the whole section quite the orchestra at the same time and started working for the Portland Opera. So we had Marc at high school during the day and he was coaching me and the trombone section. I was always in the band room practicing (or playing poker) and I’d get together with Marge and David before rehearsals and work on our intonation. I would tell them what notes to play and then we would work on getting them to resonate the best. We were really getting a good blend. There was no question I was the leader and we were just doing our thing and Marc would come in and make suggestions. We won some trombone section award at a classic competition that year.

PYP, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, had a vacancy for bass trombone. Marc Wolters had me audition for that. I didn’t even have a bass trombone. Marc sold me a Bach 42 convertible horn with interchangeable lead pipes. I won the audition for PYP and played the part on the 42 with the F attachment and a bass trombone mouthpiece. In the spring, we toured Europe. We went to West Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Switzerland. I think it was a 2 week trip and we were playing concert halls. We were a full symphony. PYP is the oldest youth orchestra in the nation. Jacob Avshalomov was the long time conductor. Mr. A was great. I really had a good experience. During the trip I went to see Dizzy Gillespie perform in Budapest. I was writing music on the plan and Mr. A was interested in what I was doing so he invited me to sit next to him. I wound up being nervous and spilling a Coke on him. Life.

In the winter, there was a big snow storm and then it got really cold afterward. It was a blowing snow situation with tall snow drifts that stuck around for a week. The power went out and Marge walked through the storm, through the park to be with me. We all thought that was pretty cool. Marge is very fun. All my friends liked my dad. Dad was really fun. Dad liked numbers, cards and gambling. Probably the most fun I had in my life was playing double deck pinochle with my parents and Marge. Just a silly card game, but it really was a lot of fun. We played with a pass. Dad liked altering the rules a little bit.

That winter, I transcribed Curtis Fuller’s solo on Blue Trane. This was probably the first transcription I had done. I spent a lot of time on it and got it correct. I used it to audition for Berklee College of Music. I was accepted into Berklee with a ¾ scholarship. I got a grant to cover the rest. I’d be following Sam there. The trumpeter Clark Terry was the guest artist at a jazz festival that year. Our band wound up winning the festival and Marc and I got to trade 4’s with Clark in a performance at the end of the night. Clark gave Marc and I a full scholarship to go to his jazz camp in the summer.

We played a national jazz band competition called MusicFest USA my junior and senior years. Junior year was in Florida and Ernie Watts was a featured artist. Then my senior year we went to Philadelphia and the trombonist Bill Watrous was a featured artist. The trombonist and educator David Baker was one of our judges and I had been studying David’s trombone solos that he did on George Russell’s Ezzthetics record. I used one of his licks in my solo like I usually did and was awarded with the best overall trombonist at the festival. I was given a $1,500 prize for that.

Back at school, I had a few girls that were taking a liking to me. Our practice rooms had couches in them and these two girls spent a lot of time cuddling with me. It was like having a little fan club. And then there was another girl I got a little frisky with too. Marge was my steady though. Marge and I were pretty tight, but she was busy going to school and my school schedule was a mess. I was missing a lot of class for performances and such. I used to have some bad dreams that I didn’t actually graduate high school. I didn’t do so well in the second half of Algebra 2. I had to retake it my senior year and then I was out of town when they learned how to multiply out a matrix. Haha, the Matrix!

I ended up graduating though and it all ended. It was summer and Marge spends the summers with her dad in South Carolina I believe. Her dad was a violinist or violist and played in the Army Strolling Strings. I started smoking pot again that summer, although I had smoked a little pot during the year too. Marc and I did go to the Clark Terry jazz camp in Edmonds Oklahoma. That was a culture shock. It was the middle of summer and deathly hot and humid. We stayed in the dorms. There was a storm that literally blew the roof off our building. Marc and I saw a full sheet of plywood coming at us when looking out the window. I wound up getting food poisoning and couldn’t attend class for 2 days. I didn’t get much music in on that trip, but Rich Matteson was pressing me to go to his school in Florida. Rich and Clark were doing a lot of jazz education stuff together. Both of them have incredible chops. They were using some kind of stretch technique I believe. Rich said that if I went to Berklee, I’d just be a number.


Reflection

Somewhere in there I won a Subway Sandwich!





College

So in the fall of 1989, I few off to Boston to go to Berklee College of Music. I remember taking probably a half ounce of weed with me on the plane. I just had it in my pockets. Security was a bit easier back then. One of the first things I did when I got to Boston was buy a red and blue paisley bath towel. Those were nice towels that I managed to keep until the early 2000’s.

I stayed in the dorms with my high school friend Sam and his roommate Dave from the previous year. Dave was a tenor saxophonist from San Francisco. On the other side of the hall was Ryan, a fine pianist from Ann Arbor, and Adam, a percussionist from Montana. We were on the lowest level of the dorms I believe. I think it was the 4th floor of the building. Berklee was mainly in one building, but there were a few classes that were held in an annex a few blocks away.

The food in the galley there was awful, absolutely awful. Sam used to joke that he saw a box of food going into the galley that said “Fit for human consumption” on it! I had the $1,500 that I won from the MusicFest USA competition, so I was going out to eat most of the time. We didn’t have a refrigerator in the dorm room. Dave and I slept on a bunk bed and Sam slept in a small room that was like a closet. Dave worked as a film projectionist and I think Sam had some kind of restaurant job. Supremes Pizza was across the street and I was going there daily for sicilian slices, calzone and ziti and meatballs. I simply didn’t know what else to do.

I remember Dave typing rhythmically on his typewriter. At Halloween, I bought a plastic ghost that stood about three feet tall that was filled with water in the base. We would use it as a punching bag. Dave didn’t smoke much weed, but Sam and I were smoking all the time. I went through my weed pretty quickly and the weed that we would buy there was awful and full of seeds.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t too interested in school. I remember taking theory and ear training. I remember my trombone lessons with Tom Plesk. I also auditioned with Phil Wilson. Tom Plesk had me get “The Science of Breath”. It was an Indian themed book and I studied it thoroughly. I remember reading a Carlos Castaneda book. That was life changing. He talked about meditation. Sitting and imagining a river in front of you. And then every time a thought comes to your mind, you put it in the river and it drifts away. I used this technique years later when I was doing a lot of meditation.

Because I was a scholarship student, I played in the “Pars Band”. We would play charts that students had written. I don’t remember much from those sessions. I don’t really remember many rehearsal type situations. My first experience with LSD was at Berklee. I took it with Sam. It wasn’t on normal blotter paper, it looked more like a hot tub water test strip. It was paper of course with a slightly yellow tint to it. We would cut off sections of it. I took a hit or two. We went to Supremes Pizza and got a couple slices. It was in the evening and I had my trombone with me in a hard case. There was so much grease on my hands that I couldn’t carry it by the handle! Man that was weird. Then we got a rehearsal room and jammed. Man, I don’t know what I was playing. We were playing Pinocchio from Miles Davis’ Nefertiti album. I was all over the place. No control at all. It was awful.

I got turned onto Dark Side of the Moon while I was there. I’m listening to it as I’m writing this. There were practice rooms on every floor and our room was right next to them. I used to do a glissando up a whole step, kind of like the steel guitar on Dark Side. I would just sit in the practice room doing that over and over. Unfortunately, it would take another year for my ear to really understand what a whole step is. Some of the guys there were really into the V.S.O.P recordings (Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). I love all those musicians, but I wasn’t too impressed with those recordings back then. Maybe I should listen to them again.

There was a guitarist there, I believe his name was Alex. He was really into 2112 and turned me onto it; the guitar playing with the water. I have to admit that the acid, Dark Side and 2112 was my primary musical experience at Berklee. Us jazz guys listened to Wynton’s Black Codes a lot too. That first acid trip… Well, back to that. After our little jam session, the other guys wanted to go out on the streets to some other college. So off we went. I don’t think we could get into their building, so they followed us back to our building where they couldn’t get in. I remember Sam and I were slightly ahead of this large group of people (probably all on acid). I was kind of freaked out about it. And then I started to see weird things happing in alleys. I’m kind of a suburban kid, this urban stuff wasn’t really my bag. But after all that, we wound up coming down in Ryan’s room; just me, Ryan and Sam listening to Black Codes. We all knew it really well and it sounded so good. The second solo in my transcription book is of Wynton on Black Codes. Wynton’s group was something special back then and that album is on the top of the heap.

Of course there was Sting’s Bring on the Night album too. I remember Marge was really into that. I was too. We all were. Kenny Kirkland was amazing! We were all huge Kenny Kirkland fans (Kenny plays on Black Codes too). Oh, and I do remember walking around the neighborhood with Bring on the Night on a Walkman. I would walk through the park. I’d walk to Fenway Park and play some pinball in their game room.

A couple of times a few of us took the subway out of town to hear some jazz. I heard Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone this way. I loved Bergonzi’s bass player Bruce Gertz. I know that Garzone was famous for completely improvised gigs. They would simply get out their instruments and start playing. In one gig, they were doing some spoken word with “WONS” which is SNOW backwards. Sam’s main teacher was George Garzone.

Then the winter came and the snow was brutal; lots of snow drifting up on the buildings. We would go on the roof and make snowman sized balls and roll them off the building. Very bad, I do not recommend this. You could seriously hurt someone like that and was it even fun? They kept the dorms blistering hot and it was totally frigid outside. I got very sick from the temperature changes around Thanksgiving.

I remember my second acid trip. Sam and I went to see the Thelonious Monk movie Straight No Chaser. That was incredible. Sam and I smoked a couple packs of cigarettes after that movie. Awesome movie, we had a great time. I still watch it often.

I wasn’t getting anywhere in school though. I was failing out. And at the end of the semester, I was really sick physically. I didn’t like this urban living. I wanted to be back home in the forest with Marge. The last experience I remember there was going to my last PARS session on acid. I remember the alto saxophonist Saul was there doing a spider skit with his horn; very weird.


Back Home

So then I came back home around Christmas and was living with mom and dad again. Dad was not very happy that I dropped out of school and was doing drugs again. I was wanting to do acid again, but didn’t know where to get any. I got some morning glory seeds and took them. That was pretty awful. It is kind of a sick feeling. Some people say they spray them with something that makes them that way, but I think the reality is that is just the way they are. I remember looking up at vapor trails in the sky during twilight; beautiful. Then I had a talk with my dad by the wood stove looking into the embers.

Dad suggested I get a job as a janitor and that is just what I did. Elliot hired me to work on a two man team. We drove to three or five places a night: offices, banks, some salesrooms, a rock quarry even. I was working with Larry. Larry looked like the trainman in The Matrix. He was a little slow thinking, but was a great guy and liked rock and roll. I enjoyed working with him. This was my first real job and I really enjoyed doing it. Elliot was a great teacher.

I moved into a duplex with my brother and Ian. Ian was a year younger than me and he worked as a bike mechanic. Ian was a great guy and my god son is named after him. We would drink lots of espresso at home with various machines we picked up. We had my parent’s old Sony TV and would toggle the power button on it for a half hour trying to get it to turn on so we could watch David Letterman. We had two cats. Marge would come over once in a while. I think I was driving the rabbit, but my brother had really trashed it while I was at Berklee. I had another cheap car for a little bit that had the wrong sized tire on it. It was an awful ride like that. We lived in that place for six months and then the landlord kicked us out because he was going to remodel the place. We all loved that place and didn’t want to leave.

I think I wound up living with mom and dad again. They gave me their almost new VW Golf. I was a little uncomfortable using that car. I remember driving Marge home one day and got a ticket in it. It was kind of a speed trap. But I needed it for work, so I used it. Then one day I was just really upset coming home from work. I just felt like things in my life were not working out. I went home, but couldn’t rest, so I went out for a night drive. My brother was home and was worried about me. I went up to Skyline, the highest elevation road in town. It was probably 2am. The road is one lane in each direction and winds through the hills. My brother was notorious for cruising it all the time. I’m not speeding through it; I’m just on an evening stroll trying to relax. But I hit the only icy corner in town and then with a knee jerk reaction, I put on the brakes and flip the car. I was wearing my seatbelt thankfully. I’m upside down. I manage to get out of my seatbelt, but the doors don’t work. So I am able to get out the hatchback. I go running down the street to the nearest phone which is several miles away. I call dad and he comes out. The police are there trying to figure out what happened. Dad gets the car towed back to the house.

So, then how do I get to work? The accident freaked me out and I was scared of driving. And my job required me to drive the company vehicle. I couldn’t deal with it, so I quit the job. Then Ian gives me my first adult bike; a Specialized Stumpjumper with a chromoly frame. I start riding around. This will work!! I like it.

I was able to get another janitor job where they would allow me to ride my bike to the various accounts. I was working alone for the first time. I would go to my accounts and there would be a stocked room of cleaning supplies. I’d clean one place and then bike a few miles to the next place. What a great job. I worked about 25-30 hours a week.

In early spring of 1991, I got my own one bedroom apartment. I couldn’t afford it though, so Ian moved in with me soon after. Then he wanted to get Collin from Seattle and have the three of us get a house. Sounded like a great idea to me. So I rent a U-Haul van and pick up Collin. It was a large van and all he had was a couple musical instruments, a bike and a bed. We were smoking pot on the way down the highway out of a pipe from a tuba. The van broke down. I don’t remember how we got it going again.

Ian liked taking psychedelic mushrooms, so I did those a couple times with him. And there was a connection for acid. I did a little bit of that too. I didn’t have money to be smoking weed much, but we did that when we could. I wasn’t playing much music during this period. Right after we moved into the house in Sellwood, I had the main turning point of my life. Kevin, Collin and I did an acid trip. Ian was with us, but he didn't take any because he had to work. We were in the kitchen and Ian was encouraging us to do a good job with the dishes. Then Collin starts spouting off some music theory jargon and said “Do you understand?” Kevin and I looked at each other and said that what he said made no sense. And then I thought “Am I any better than that? Do I make sense?”

Well, I came up with a plan right then and there. I was going to get back into music. I quit doing all drugs and started transcribing music off of records for 6 hours a day. So I would get up around 9am, transcribe until about 4pm, play a game of cribbage with Collin and then go off to Beaverton from Sellwood, on my bicycle to do my janitor job for 6 hours. It was a great schedule.

I had transcribed before, but when I started this time, I was really bad at it. I started off with the coolest Marcus Miller (bass guitar) recording I could find. Well, there was no way I was going to transcribe that, so I picked something else. And I was having no luck at all. I eventually wound up transcribing the easiest bass lines I could find off of Aebersold records. Aebersold records are jazz education records that don’t have any melody on them so you can play along with them. The piano is on the left speaker and the bass is on the right speaker. Drums are in both speakers. So you can turn the piano off and just get bass and drums. Even that was hard though. I would record the record onto a tape and then rewind it and get one note at a time. It was a slow and painful process, but I stuck with it. I started hearing groups of four notes, or rather intervals, at a time.

I also picked up on what a whole step sounds like from listening to the Beauty and the Beast movie. The very end of the soundtrack has a typical progression that goes from the flat six major, to the flat seven major to the major one chord. Rush uses that a lot. So that is how I learned what a whole step sounds like; by internalizing that. Running it over and over in my mind. Then I picked up a couple other songs like that for other intervals. All that helped a lot, but the raw transcribing was probably more important.

After a couple months, I was able to transcribe easy Miles Davis solos with ease. Then I took on harder and harder stuff. I enjoyed transcribing Kenny Garrett on Miles Davis’ Amandla record. Dark Side of the Moon and Amandla were the first two CD’s I bought for my Sony Discman. I transcribed most of Amandla and had a lot of fun playing it every day. I transcribed a lot of JJ Johnson and Nat Adderley.

Somehow I managed to wind up at Lewis and Clark college. I don’t believe I was signed up to take a class there, but I did play in there band and take some lessons from Jeff Putterman. Jeff is a guitarist who used to teach music theory at Berklee of all places. He taught me minor harmony (the chords that you make from harmonic and melodic minor scales). That really helped out my education. It really gave insight into the things I had been transcribing. I would bike with my trombone in a gig bag on my back up to Lewis and Clark. I enjoyed playing with the band there and seeing my old trombonist friend from PYP Chuck.

I moved out of the house in Sellwood in the spring of 1992. I got another one bedroom apartment on my own. My janitor’s salary can’t really support that. Not sure why I did this actually. I lived alone for a few months. My neighbor was a carpet cleaner. It was a two story one bedroom apartment. The bedroom was in the basement and had no windows. It was kind of fun. I started getting into drugs again. I bought a sheet of acid at a music festival I went to with someone I barely knew. He had a VW Van he was restoring. We almost lost each other in the crowds. In the parking lot, I was seeing the coolest visuals in the trees. I was playing an avant-garde music recording that sounded like animals in the jungle. We were playing it loudly so all the people coming out of the event would trip out.

I was taking sociology at PCC. I was doing acid a lot. After the first week or two of class, I found myself on acid on a Saturday night in my apartment with the sociology book. I would open it up and study a picture. Then I would read the caption and I’d be intrigued and read the whole chapter. Then I would go upstairs and make some tea and do it again. I covered that whole book over the weekend. The next time I showed up for class it was a shock. They are still at the very beginning of the book. Then I learned that the book covers two terms. My retention probably wasn’t great, but I had a good overall knowledge of the subject.

I would walk around the campus on acid with my discman on listening to Amandla and looking at the architecture and art; beautiful. But I quickly got burned out. I was struggling with my janitor job. One night I was mopping the floor of a bank on acid. The mop was leaving a colored trail of hallucinations. I simply could not tell if the floor was getting clean. This couldn’t go on much longer.

I don’t know if I got fired or if I left, but the move was mutual I’m sure. What to do next. I remembered my old boss saying something to me right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk “Don’t be a putz. Me you’ve seen. Go out and see the world. When you’re rich and famous, you’ll send me a postcard.” My music skills had gotten pretty good and I wanted to use them. Dad suggested the Navy band. Sounded like a good idea. I moved back home, quit doing drugs again and auditioned for the Navy band. Marc Wolters helped me prepare for the audition with an Arthur Prior piece. I guess I would call Arthur Prior a vaudevillian era trombonist. Not sure if that is correct, but that’s what I remember. I went to Seattle and easily passed the audition. I kicked back at my parent’s house waiting to go to boot camp.


Navy Band

I left for boot camp on November 17th 1992, just after Bill Clinton was elected. I did not take getting in the Navy lightly. I hate the idea that we need a military, but the fact is that we do. Everyone in the military does a job. Luckily my job was being a musician, but I worked hard for that role. It is just what I do.

I was happy to leave my drug colored life behind me; to use it as a tool, not a crutch. Boot camp was in San Diego. They put us up in a hotel room before getting on the plane. I think I roomed with a National Guard Reserve Tuba player of all people. MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) as they call it. People from all services dispatch together and then wind up at their service’s base.

From what I could tell, Navy boot camp is about sleep deprivation. For all intents and purposes, I was an acid jazz trombonist in the Navy. I took it seriously and tried to be perfect at everything, every move I made. I believe they put you in a room where you sign your life away for good (for 4 years), and then they cut your hair. I had long hippie hair of course. No big deal, it’ll grow back some day. Then they issue you clothes, or rather, you purchase your clothes with your entire first paycheck that you’ll get after you have earned it. Then there is a physical examination and shots; lots of shots. In fact it seemed like all we did during boot camp was march to chow and get shots.

We were in an open bay barracks of course. We had a locker by our bed with all our stuff and locker inspections all the time to make sure you were folding everything properly. I really liked all that. I love being neat and tidy and my acid mindset made me want to perfect everything. Our drill instructors were both E-5’s (Petty Officer 2nd class). Most of the other troops had Chief Petty Officers for their instructors. Our instructors would not let us use irons or brooms. We would get on the floor in our shorts and white tee-shirts and swim to pick up all the dust bunnies. Then our clothes would go into the wash. For ironing our clothes, we would use our “recruit iron” which is just your hand. Just press out all the wrinkles. I loved the recruit iron and swimming! Good idea, although it might have been hard on the washing machine.

Boot camp was a culture shock. There is a disproportional amount of people coming from the south and mid-west. From farming communities as far as I could tell. They seemed to be very religious and they would all sing religious/patriotic songs that I had never heard before. I mean they were all singing them together. Where did they hear this stuff? It certainly wasn’t Freddie Hubbard.

I was 21, almost 22 when I joined. Most of these people were straight out of high school. After a month or so I realized that some of them were not keeping up and that I was unintentionally over achieving. So during the second half I spent time helping others and I enjoyed doing that.

Half way through the troop gets assigned to mess hall duty. If you played a musical instrument, you could do the band instead. And since I was signed up as a musician, I automatically did that. I don’t think many people want to do the mess hall duty, but I somewhat regret not having had that experience. So I marched off every day on my own for a week to the band hall. The band is led by a Navy musician of course and he let me spend some time working on my chops (strength/flexibility). I played a marching baritone and played some piano. I had a wisdom tooth removed too and it was hard to play for a day or two. We played for a graduation and then went back to our troops.

More shots and long days. We got up around 4am and went to bed around 10pm I believe. Most days I stood a watch at night for two hours. That means I was typically getting 4 hours of sleep a night and that was starting to wear on me. But I got through it just fine. We fired a gun and went in a tear gas room. We swam in the pool one day.

At the end of it, I was awarded the Honor Recruit of the company; basically the number 2 guy in the company. You get a promotion out of that; one pay grade. Because I was a musician, they automatically make you an E-2 out of boot camp. And then my promotion brought me up to E-3, right out of boot camp. Not a bad way to start. My parents came down for graduation. The number 1 and 2 recruits of the company gathered with ones from the other companies and had appetizers with our family and a bunch of officers (commanders and lieutenants). Dad absolutely loved this! Probably the proudest I ever made him feel. Graduation was in January and in San Diego, there was torrential rain. We marched to graduation through several feet of water. Because of all the rain, we mainly stayed in the barracks the last couple weeks.

So then I went home for two weeks as all recruits do. Family gets to see you in your uniform. Grandparents were happy. Then I get shipped off to Norfolk Virgina to the Navy School of Music which is a combined service military music school led by the Navy. The Air Force didn’t participate in this, but the Army and Marines did.

Everyone there was just glad to be out of boot camp and back to music. It was a college atmosphere and people wanted to party and the service tried to control the hormones. A female Army flutist Mary took a liking to me and we fooled around a little bit. I drew quite a lot of attention to myself by playing my transcriptions in the practice rooms. There were music theory classes and rehearsals, but I was more interested in relaxing and eating pizza from Checkers. Checkers delivered us excellent pizza and wings; just a little one off Italian restaurant. What a great place.

If I had just cracked the music book for a day, I would have been able to pass out of there early. Music school is 6 months, but if you test well enough, you can get out early. I didn’t know this. I tested well, but not good enough to get out in just 6 weeks. I did test out early after 4 months, but it would have been nice to get out of there early. It was rather constricting living in the barracks and all. Right before leaving I believe, the trombonist leader of Berklee Phil Wilson performed for us. It was an excellent concert. Phil used multiphonics (singing into the trombone while playing) to simulate guitar distortion. Everyone loved that. Phil is great and this was the only time I really got to see him other than my audition with him at Berklee.

Another two weeks of vacation back in Portland and then I was off to my first duty station, Memphis, in time for the 4th of July. Now everyone says “Navy, in Memphis?” Yes, the Navy had an air base and school in Memphis and is now home of BUPERS (Bureau of Personnel). But the big attraction to Memphis for music is Beale Street. Beale Street is about 3 blocks of music venues in the heart of downtown Memphis. The Navy base is in Millington, which is about a 30 minute car ride from downtown Memphis. Every Monday night the Memphis Jazz Orchestra, led by trombonist Howard, plays on Beale Street. I was invited to go the first day I was there. The band was awesome! Maybe Memphis was going to be great!

I stayed in the barracks with Keith. He was a guitarist who was slightly older than me and interested in jazz. The barracks sucked. I always hated places like that and couldn’t wait to get out. The band room was the old galley. The walls were literally filled with dead cockroaches. There were holes in the wall with dead cockroaches coming out of them, everywhere! One of the first nights I was there, I was rolling my bicycle down the half lit hall and hearing crunching of live cockroaches. It was really bad, but somehow we put up with it.

Navy band, or rather the Navy Music Program… You see, The Navy Band is a separate entity that employs about 160 musicians in DC. They play for the president and all that. Then there are a dozen or so “fleet bands”. I always say that I was in the Navy band, but it was actually a fleet band. There is also a special band in Annapolis. These DC guys audition for that gig and get bumped up to E-6 right away. A lot of people audition for that after college when they are also auditioning for symphony gigs. Not all musicians in the fleet band are excellent musicians. There are a lot of fine musicians in the fleet band just doing it as a music career. Many of them have bachelors and masters degrees. The Navy music program hires its officers from within. You have to be an enlisted musician for 8 years before you qualify. They move up the ranks. In other services, you audition for the officer positions. This creates this weird environment of having to put up with a lot of military crap to become a music conductor. A good career path for me would have been to practice a lot and audition for the top Navy jazz band, The Commodores. That was the main plan if I could stick it out.

Howard had the first trombone chair in the Commodores band for 12 years. He was at a fleet band for 8 years, and then he won the audition. After 20 years or so, he retired and came to Memphis with a few of his buddies from The Commodores to start The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. These guys are excellent big band players and composers.

Pretty quickly I was playing third trombone with The Memphis Jazz Orchestra on Monday nights sitting next to Howard. There was another trombonist, Mike, who split duties with me on that chair. Mike was older and an excellent improviser as well. The whole band was excellent. A few people from the Navy band were playing with them, but mostly it was local musicians.

Things settled into a groove of playing the Navy retirement ceremonies and changes of command; and rehearsals of course. We had a jazz band that rehearsed often and had a few sporadic gigs. We flew to Florida quite often when their band was double booked. We had an air field that made getting on a plane simple.

There were two women in the band that I was interested in, both played trombone. A lot of women seem to play trombone. Ann was a bass trombonist from Tulsa and Sarita played euphonium and trombone and was from North Carolina. Ann was a bit older and had a master’s degree in trombone performance from North Western in Chicago. Sarita had a bachelor’s degree in performance as well. Sarita and I went on a date to the greyhound track in West Memphis once. I started hanging out more with Ann though. Ann was working a lot on jazz composition and arranging and played bass trombone in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra.

Ann, Sarita, Keith and I got together several times for dinner and a card game. Ann rented a house a few miles north of the base and it wasn’t very long before I moved in with her. Ann had a well-trained ear and we enjoyed listening to music together, tearing it apart and talking about it.

Ann and I got married pretty quickly. We first had sex on a band trip to San Francisco where we stayed on Treasure Island I believe. Sparks were flying. I bought a car, a GEO Metro. I wanted a VW Golf, but they were expensive and Ann was pushing for the GEO. I thought the GEO was a zippy car and it got 52MPG. It had a 3 cylinder engine. It was made cheaply to save money and weight. People joke about the GEO being a death trap, but you know, I once had a car in front of me spinning around like you would see in a video game and I managed to zip the GEO right around it. I did like the GEO and I loved having a stick shift.

I was biking 7 miles each way to work several days a week. I would iron my uniforms on Sunday, take them to work in the car on Monday, and then bike in most of the rest of the week. I would bike past cotton fields and I often saw glow worms if it was dark. Fireflies are everywhere in the summer.

I played my hour and a half trombone warm-up almost every day while I was in the Navy. I continued to do a lot of transcribing. Piano players, trumpet players, trombonists, whatever I wanted to play, that’s what I transcribed. Ann was doing a lot of arranging music using the Finale software. She had a 33Mghz 386 computer with MIDI keyboard, Roland Sound Canvas and a black and white laser printer. Music was constantly being printed and brought to work. I bought a 486 dx2 50Mghz computer. The computer cost about $2,000 and I paid $200 for 4 extra 1MB sticks of RAM! I wanted to record with it and bought a 4 track recording program and sound card, but the hard drive was so slow that it skipped. I didn’t know enough about hardware to figure out how to hook up a SCSI drive.

I then got into the internet and gaming. I bought the original SimCity on 3.5” disc. It was two dimensional and very grid like; all those pixels moving up and down the streets. I had a dream one night where all of that action was imprinted on my brain like my brain was a circuit board. Awesome dream!! I wish I could have it again. I also got the Star Wars X-Wing game. I played the whole game with a very basic joystick. I had a lot of fun with that one. Thank you LucasArts!!

Scott was a trumpeter just a couple years old than me in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. He was on fire back then. He played really hot, using a lot of minor harmony. I remember him taking wonderful solos on the tune Secret Love. Half of his neck would bulge out like Dizzy Gillespie. There is a lot more air pressure in your head on trumpet than on trombone. If you get too good too fast, this kind of thing can happen to you. It’s unfortunate. Scott had the vibe of someone who was doing cocaine, but I didn’t hang out with him at all. That's just speculation.

Tom played baritone sax in The Memphis Jazz Orchestra. He was a great musician and improviser. About Scott’s age. I’m sure they hung out quite a bit. Ann really took a liking to Tom. He was a Memphis native as well. Ann and I went to Tom’s for Thanksgiving one year. He and his girlfriend were vegetarian or vegan and they put on the most wonderful meal I’ve ever had.

The bread and butter of Navy musicians are retirement and change of command ceremonies. The Chief’s Club was directly across the street from the band room. There were a lot of Chief Petty Officers retiring in Memphis. I think a lot of them were teaching at the air school for their last tour of duty. There was this young group of Navy Airmen called the Flying Rifles. They had this little rifle drill thing that they did at a lot of the ceremonies. Ceremonies at the Chief’s Club were pretty easy because we usually had chairs. At changes of command, we were usually standing.

The band started off having an officer drummer as our commanding officer. I forget his name at the moment. He played in the Memphis Jazz Orchestra with us. I thought he was a pretty solid drummer. Tim was a fine bass player in the band who also played in MJO (Memphis Jazz Orchestra). In the Navy, the band is a self-contained unit. We do not have other military duties, but we do have non-musical jobs that are part of keeping the band running. We have a supply department that has a stock of instruments and accessories. We have a music library and librarian. We usually have a Chief Petty Officer running the office and making our schedule. We have someone taking care of scheduling vehicle maintenance.

The bands that go out on gigs are usually led by a Petty Officer First Class or a Chief Petty Officer. They’d take roll, we’d get in the vans, the leader would make contact with the people at the gig and then the leader would conduct the band. For ceremonies, we were a small marching band. Usually 3 trombones, 3 trumpets, a tuba, some saxes, clarinets and flutes and percussion. We usually didn’t march for these ceremonies. Bass players in the Navy were required to double on tuba (or sousaphone). Bass players didn’t like that too much. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that. I’m not very good on the tuba! I am good with valves though and play decent trumpet.

The old band room was a mess. It’s typical for the younger guys in the band to take on the cleaning jobs and since I was a janitor for years, I requested cleaning the bathroom. The cockroaches were awful in that place. So after a while, the commanders found us a new band room. They got this idea of doing some construction on it and knew that Ann used to be a carpenter. Ann wanted to move up the ranks to the officer position so she could be a conductor, and leading the construction project would help out that cause.

Ann had us installing metal studs with a gun into the concrete and tile building. I liked doing construction with Ann, but this project meant that we were doing extra work and it was cutting into my practice time. A lot of us in the band felt like that. Just before construction started, we got a new Master Chief. His name was Rick Holdsworth and he was pretty geeky. He had a kind of “by the book” way of doing things. We got into this situation where I was representing a rebel musician archetype and he was the authoritarian. Master Chief Holdsworth had acquired some metal grate shelving for our instruments in the new band room, but they were all rusted. So the lower rank people in the band scraping them with wire brushes in shifts. It was really aggravating from my perspective. These things should have been sand blasted. The reason we were not sand blasting them was to save money. I just didn’t think this was an acceptable alternative. It was bad for morale and it just wasn’t working very well.

We were getting pretty whinny about it and we all started drinking a little more, me especially. I’m a terrible drunk. I pretty much vomit every time. There was some drinking going on after MJO gigs too.

Anyway, we managed to get through that phase and into the new band room. I made Petty Officer Third Class (E-4) pretty quickly when I got to the band. They test us twice a year to make promotion. The test is mainly music with a little military stuff thrown in. I was good at that music test. Ann had a master’s degree in trombone performance from Northwestern, so she got promoted a little quickly too. Normally in the military, someone with a degree like that would become an officer from the beginning, but that isn’t how it works in the band. A lot of people there had music degrees. Right before I was eligible to take the E-5 test, the band made a clerical error and promoted 25 people from E-4 to E-5 instead of 2.5 people! I think Ann was in that group, but she might have made it on the test before. They couldn’t take it away from those people for some reason, so for several tests after that, they only promoted 1 person per test. That’s how the story goes. It sure does seem odd though, only promoting 2.5 people out of the whole Navy music program? I think there were about 700 musicians at the time.

Things were better at the new band room. We didn’t have the extra work. No more cockroaches! We had a nice room for our pool table. We got a new officer in charge. His name was Kessler I believe. He was a classical trumpet player who played in the DC band I believe. We got First Class Petty Officer John Warren. John was an excellent drummer who was into Buddy Rich. John played in MJO with us and he led the big band at work. John was great. I can’t say enough good things about him. We took a trip with the Navy big band to North and South Dakota. We saw Forrest Gump when it came out in the theaters on that trip. John loved Forrest Gump and so did I. That trip was fun. I saw prairie dogs for the first time. They are like squirrels that make holes and poke their heads out. We went to Devil’s Tower. I was really in shape from riding my bike and I ran up as far as I could go without using ropes.

I remember another trip led by Troyr where we went to Mt. Rushmore. We played a gig there and when we were setting up, I saw the clouds circling around above George Washington’s head, kind of like a tornado. Troy asked the audience “We’re not from around here, is this normal?” The audience convinced us that we were OK to play the gig. I do remember a gust of wind knocking over our music stands though. That was a fun trip.

Ann’s brother and cousin ran a hotel in Hot Springs Arkansas, so we would visit them once a year or so. I learned some good computer skills from them. They had good file management going on and partitioned hard drives. Partitioning seems a little silly now, but I liked looking over their shoulders and seeing that. One of the lessons from Hot Springs is that they tried capping off the hot springs to save them for later. Then when they opened the caps, there was no water there. The water simply found a different way to go.

Back at the band, we got a young saxophonist in. His name was Natel and he was from Rhode Island and liked to bike. Nate was great. His father was a park ranger and Nate really had some good tricks up his sleeve. We ended up doing a lot of biking together. We often biked on the Wolf River Trail. It was a single track trail along the river right through the center of the city. Man was that cool. Nate would usually lead and I’d follow. We were reading biking magazines. Nate taught me to use my brakes sparingly. Anticipate curves, slow down, tap the brake if you have to, and then pedal out of it fast. We were also going down extremely steep down hills by putting our butts over the back tire and putting our chest on the seat. You would just be tumbling over the bike on these steep hills if you didn’t do that. We got to the point where we we’re just biking down any rut in an embankment really slow. I loved that slow down hill riding.

I bought a nice new aluminum Stumpjumper and put an upgraded RockShox Judy SL fork on it. The shock was elastomer (a spongy plastic) with an oil cartridge. Man it was a sweet ride.

One thing that I noticed years later about my experience in Memphis had to do with my getting bronchitis every spring and fall. It probably had to do with my biking past the cotton fields. They call that brown lung. Once I left Memphis, it stopped happening.

Around that time too, we got Marshal on trumpet. Marshal was a little bit older than I was and was a solid trumpet player. I think he was from Georgia. Marshal took me to the Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert. It was right as Victor Wooten was coming out with his Show of Hands album. Victor was on fire. People were dancing to his bass solo in the isles. Just incredible! Marshal and I did acid one night. It was the only time I did drugs (besides alcohol) in Memphis. I turned Marshal onto biking that night. I had an extra bike and we rode through Memphis on a summer night. Just gliding through the wind. So fun, it was complete ecstasy. And then we went back to Marshall’s apartment and he showed me how to play slap bass and gave me the Tony Oppenheim’s Slap It! book. Then early in the morning I went back to the band room and played Marcus Miller’s Sun Don’t Lie on piano. There was a transcription of it in bass player magazine. Man, that night did change my life. There is a good side to drugs or we wouldn’t do them at all.

MJO struggled with not having a bass player for a little bit. I play bass, but I never worked on my walking, so that just wasn’t going to work out. Ann was looking into getting transferred to Norfolk. Norfolk is the biggest Navy base in the world. They have a large band there and the Navy School of Music. There were several people that we knew that would alternate tours of duty at the band and the school in Norfolk. Ann still wanted to go up the ranks and Norfolk was a good way to do it. I was getting kind of sick of it all. Honesty, the drinking was a substitute for smoking weed and I wanted to go back to smoking weed. So Ann went to Norfolk and did some conductor’s class at the school while I finished up in Memphis. I got Marshall and Nate to move in with me. My brother came to visit around that time and he really enjoyed meeting Nate.

Ann found us a house to buy next to the school of music in Norfolk. So we closed on the house, I got out of the military and my brother helped us move to Norfolk through a hurricane. This was at the end of summer in 1996. The house was a two bedroom brick house with a quarter acre yard. It had a nice screened in porch. There was a bike store across the street, so I got a job working there. I couldn’t find any weed and it’s not my style to go looking for any, but I was able to find some mushrooms. I remember taking them and watching NBC with Ann. Friends and Seinfeld. It was definitely a colorful experience!

Ann was encouraging me to get into a better line of work than the bike store. She thought pipefitting might be good. So I found a job doing that. I learned from a master mechanic named Alan Poe. The job was on Langley Airforce base which was not too far away. I had a good time on this job. Alan was great. I asked him all kinds of questions and he loved talking about it all. He had me using an acetylene torch to sweat copper pipe and brass valves for a heating and cooling system. He encouraged me to be perfect with my measurements and making things straight.

I learned a lot on that job. I also ended up getting a tiny piece of metal in my eye drilling in the ceiling. I didn’t go to the doctor right away, but it got bad and I had to go. The doctor scolded me for not coming right away. I simply didn’t realize what was happening. Anyway. She got the metal out and I was fine.

Alan was saying that I was going to be working 60 hours a week and that there was a lot of driving involved. It scared me away. I was just not going to get any music in doing that, so I quit and went back to the bike store. It was winter and things were really slow at the bike store. I wasn’t making much money. Ann was giving me pressure to make more. I ended up getting a minimum wage job doing some data entry. I was fine at the job, but there just didn’t seem like there was any room for advancement there. I did that for a month or two.

After I left that job, one of the guys asked me if I would like to buy some acid. He was working in the mail room and definitely had a druggie profile. I said sure of course. So I met him at his apartment and he was online in a chat room. It was the first time I had seen a chat room. I got a strip of acid from him and waited quite a while to get an ounce of pot. The pot that I got was really low quality and full of seeds. You see, we were spoiled with the pot we got in Portland growing up.

Ann had this idea of enclosing the big ditch in front of our house. So she got a permit and we had 5 long pieces of reinforced concrete pipe delivered. I was on acid the morning that it came. It was an odd experience. I was in the house transcribing Bob Mintzer’s ewi solo on The Yellowjacket’s New Rochelle song. It sure was fun learning to play that on acid. I had this meditation area above the garage that I would smoke the pot in. I had a futon up there. I’d meditate for hours at a time. Clearing my mind of all words. I was into reading Alan Watt’s The Way of Zen.

I was slowly smoking the pot up there. One morning I go up there and my pot was gone! I was freaking out. What happened to it? After searching for a while I found it, but it was all torn apart. It turns out that a rat had eaten the seeds out of it!

I was working at the bike store again. The mechanic there was a great guy and about my age. He was into early LAN gaming. Ann was giving me pressure to join the Navy. Around that time, I was starting to practice drumming on a hi-hat. I realized from recording that my time wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Trombone is kind of a retarded instrument for time. It’s all in the tongue. I wanted to infuse my body with good time so I started playing drums. I got some lessons from Steve Crady at the band. He got me going on the set doing syncopation studies. About that time I ended up joining the Navy Band again. I had to sign up for 4 years because they wouldn’t let me do two years. I was going to go to the Norfolk band. So, you know, I was into music and the Navy is a music job. I didn’t want to be in the Navy, but I did want to play music and I actually do enjoy the Navy. It’s just not doing drugs and replacing it with alcohol that is the problem. But, I was going to give it another shot.


Navy Band part 2


At the same time I joined the band, Master Chief Holdsworth got transferred to Norfolk. You know, we were labeled as nemeses in Memphis. One day there right after I joined, Master Chief walked into one of the rehearsal rooms and I was there all alone practicing the drum set. He looked at me and kind of nodded his head and I didn’t have any problems with him after that. The fact of the matter is, that in the Navy, I like working on my music, having a nice ironed uniform, cleaning the bathroom and driving the vans. I was not super ambitious to move up the ranks, but I did score well on those tests.

The Norfolk band has a rock band that does a 2 week tour in Africa and then a 4 month tour around South America on a ship. They wanted Ann to do the gig and it is a good gig to do if you want to be promoted, but the band is notorious for drinking and there are some hazing rituals that go along with it. Ann didn’t want to do that kind of thing and honestly neither did I. Part of the deal of me getting in the Navy was that I would replace Ann on the gig (we were both trombonists). So, there I am. Drinking with the guys. Chief Daly was the leader and an excellent guitarist/singer. Frank Dominguez was a saxophonist and excellent singer. They do put good musicians in this band. Jeremy was a great bass player.

We got a new recruit as a drummer. His name was Shaun. Shaun and I ended up hanging out after work together. We would do meditation up in my attic space and some biking. I was playing hand drums on 5 gallon plastic water bottles and we did some of that together. Outside of the Navy, Shaun and I would have probably been doing drugs together, but in the Navy we were drinking. Again, I’m a terrible drunk. I’m throwing up all the time. I’m holding it together at work though. Music is no problem. Working on drums was helping out my musicianship and I was starting to play a lot of piano. Ann had a nice new Kawai upright.

The Africa trip was in the spring. We take a plane and stop over on the way at Ascension Island. It’s an airstrip on a volcano with a bar and sleeping quarters. The on to Guinea. We were flying from country to country every day on the same plane. We all kind of took over a row of seats on the plane. We typically flew in the early hours of the morning and tried to get some sleep. Then we load our gear on a truck and go into town for the gig. The guys in the band were going out and drinking a lot, but I simply couldn’t keep up with that. I did get out one night when we were in the Ivory Coast. I saw a jazz band in a club. They were all mic’ed and a perfect mix of the band was softly coming out of speakers in the back of the club. It was really a nice effect. And they had a drummer on a large djembe. It was a classy band and they were playing their own music.

We went to Cameroon and Mozambique. We went to Namibia. We had a day off in Pretoria South Africa. Everyone in the band was hung over except for me and the guitarist. I wanted to rent a bicycle and explore the city. Kenny wasn’t into it, so I just did it alone. Man did I have a blast that day! It was good to get out on a bike. I biked the whole day and was all over that city and went to a nice café. We also went to Capetown and I was right next to that Hard Rock Café that got bombed a couple weeks later. I remember the shanty towns in Capetown. Shanty towns are villages made with corrugated metal sheets.

When we got back home, Jeremy, our bass player, got malaria. He got a blood transfusion and almost died. They gave us quinine pills when we were in Africa to keep from getting it. We needed a new bass player before going to South America. We got Gary. Gary is an amazing bass player. He plays Marcus Miller songs for a warm up. I remember things being really solid with Gary and Shaun as the rhythm section. But Gary wound up not being able to go, so then we were really stuck. I could have played bass with the band. I did end up playing two songs on bass in the band. And Eric was a trumpet player that played bass on another song. But Chief Daly wound up playing bass most of the time. I think Chief Daley had a hard time playing with Shaun. It was just a fight between them and Shaun was blamed for it.

So we fly down to Puerto Rico and chill out for a few days waiting for the ship to show up. I liked Puerto Rico. I made it to San Juan one day for some coffee. Mostly we were on the Navy base though. We got on the ship and went to Venezuela. I remember the underwater bar there. It’s like a glass building on the beach with water rolling over it. We spent a lot of time on the ship though. There is this whole Navy pollywog tradition. I refused to participate in this. I just see this as a hazing ritual. I mean, if you want to have fun, I say take a hit of acid, not this silly stuff. Honesty though, I don’t know what it was all about. I heard stories, but I didn’t do it.

Practicing on the ship was not practical. There just isn’t much to do on the ship. We were on a destroyer. The ship was impressive. It was an older destroyer. I did enjoy it rocking in the waves. I think the ship would have been fine if I had a normal Navy job on it. They stuck us in this makeshift barracks. I think there were like 45 of us in just about the smallest space you could stack bunks in. There was a little table by the door that people we play video golf on. I never did the game though. I wound up having this non-band guy grabbing my ass trying to make fun of me or something. It really pissed me off, so I started just living in our gear locker room.

We did two gigs in Rio. Jane and I had a wonderful lunch together in Rio. I did some biking with Jane and her husband Bob back home. Jane likes to drink and was an instigator of some of the hazing. Shaun really disliked Jane. Jane seemed to respect me. She is a trumpet player. We went to Uruguay and Paraguay. I remember driving through the countryside there. We played some jazz quartet gigs too. So I played one of my best gigs one of those nights. We went around the Cape Horn to Valparaiso. Was it the gig in Valparaiso that a couple of nice ladies to a liking to me after the gig? Yes, it was actually in Santiago. They got a picture with me. I did blow a nice solo or two in the show.

Peru and then Ecuador. We had a week off in Salinas Ecuador. We stayed in a hotel while the ship went out. What did we do? Drink of course. At the end of the week we played a show in this concrete shell. We were playing way too loud and I always hated that about the band. The band does some good things, but the volume was always way out of control. I couldn’t hear a thing and I had a splitting headache. We got back on the ship and you know, I had a moment to think about it all. This drinking was killing me. I didn’t like anything about this. I want to be back on my bike, in the forest smoking weed. So I decided that was what I was going to do when I got back home.

We went to Columbia and Panama. We went through the canal which was kind of fascinating. In Panama I went to an ATM and was given $20 bills with an entirely new design. I’m out of the country getting odd looking American currency. It was weird. Then we were on the airstrip waiting for a plane home. I was looking down the runway and I saw 5 or 6 C-141’s lined up. C-141’s are the big jet planes that ship tanks and heavy machinery. It was quite a sight.

It wasn’t just the pollywog ritual, there was also Navy band hazing going on. I hate this kind of thing and it had a really negative effect on Shaun.


Back Home


OK, I’m back home. I buy new components for my bike. A fancy set of wheels and a new drive train. I put it on my bike at the bike store and Wes says “I’m sorry to break this to you, but your steerer tube is cracked.” Well, Specialized is supposed to have lifetime warrantee on the frame, so I send it back to Specialized. They wanted to give me a chromoly frame because they don’t make the aluminum frame anymore. I insisted on a more suitable replacement and they did end up giving me an M2 frame. My bike was hanging up from the front wheel in my garage when I was on the trip. Wes didn’t think that would do it, but I think that is what caused the crack.

I started growing marijuana in the attic in an attempt to get off alcohol. I had no idea where to get marijuana there and I just don’t make it a policy of finding drug dealers. Ann was supportive of this. At this point, Ann got out of the Navy to work as the librarian at the Virginia Symphony. I was back to doing a more normal role at the band now that the tour was over. Back to practicing. Back to biking. Off alcohol and waiting for some good marijuana and having fun growing it. I was playing a lot of piano. I was playing jazz combo gigs on Admiral’s Row. I ended up playing quite a few gigs with Gary Rice. Gary is just so awesome. Dwayne Peters was an excellent drummer and I was playing a couple gigs with him. One day at the band room I got into a jam with Gary, Dwayne and Danny Taylor (piano). Man, playing with those guys was the best. We were playing in ¾ and it was effortless.

Ron was a trombonist who took over the big band. Ron was kind of a Rodney Dangerfield type of character. He did bring a spark to the band, but it was pretty sloppy when compared to the John Warren big band. He featured me a fair amount and I enjoyed playing some solos with that band.

I was playing JJ Johnson’s Concepts in Blue album with Clark Terry at the end of my warm up. At this point I was still transcribing, but I wasn’t taking the time to write them down. I was working on committing them to memory. I was also playing JJ’s Laura solo and JJ and Nat Adderley on Misterioso.

The band got a young bass player in named Spencer. Spencer, Shaun and I hung out a bit. We would go up to my meditation space and play hand drums together and do some meditating. Ann always thought I was at me best when I was meditating. My marijuana came in and I had a great time slowly smoking it. Spencer and Shaun did not smoke with me.

About this time I got a Minidisc recorder. Dwayne instigated doing a recording with me and Spencer. Dwayne had the mixing board at work hooked up to his drums and I plugged the Minidisc recorder into the board. We ended up recording 5 songs and they were all keepers. All jazz standards. Just trombone, bass and drums. It was really sweet and this is the best recording of my trombone that I have. I always key in on the drums and Dwayne was the best to play with. Spencer was young, but he was a good friend and did a great job. I burned the recording to CD and wrote “Rand’s Band” on it. Spencer made fun of me for that. I had to put something on the disc. I had come up with the name Vibration Theory around that time, so that is what I call our band now.

We ended up recording a second disc at Randy’s new studio in his garage. It was really loud in there. The drums were so loud and I had a splitting headache. I was smoking some weed. We were trying to play polyrhythmic stuff. It was a disaster.

After that, Spencer and I put a studio together at his duplex. We cleaned up the room with hardwood floors really nice. I got the Yamaha PF80 electric keyboard from work with an Ultimate keyboard stand. We put a computer together and I got a Mackie Mixing board and a MOTU interface. We got Cakewalk 9 for it. We practiced playing together a lot.

That Christmas of 1999, the band played a gig with Chuck Mangione. Our Commander Keller was a fine jazz trumpet player and arranged this gig. Chuck had this Consuelo’s Love Theme song. We were rehearsing for it with the concert band and I had a solo in it. I was having a lot of fun soloing on it and then Keller pulled me off of it saying that my sound was too “garage sounding.” OK, whatever, it really didn’t matter to me that much. He gave the solo to a younger saxophonist and it was probably a good experience for him. The concert was cool though.

Then we had Christmas break and Spencer and I had a song started. But then Spencer had to go back to Seattle to be with family. So there I was in our studio and I had a good piece going. I was walking up and down the hall and thinking that the hall was a skating half pipe. So I called it Half Pipe and put a slap bass line into it. I think Spencer plays the beginning bass line on it and does the conga drum.

Backtracking a little bit... After we got back from South America, Master Chief got me involved in the music library. We did a complete inventory and then made an MS Access database for it. It did take some effort and cut into my practice time a little bit, but I went along with it and it was a good thing. I ended up doing a little programming in Access to make some search forms. Master Chief’s office was across the hall and I heard him in there practicing his euphonium a little bit. I really do appreciate that I got to have a better relationship with Rick Holdsworth.

So things came to a head at Y2K. I was doing multi-track recording playing hand drums, piano, bass and trombone. I had made my Half Pipe recording. Ann was working as a librarian at the Virginia Symphony and had JoAnn Falletta as a mentor. Ann wanted to spend New Year’s Eve at a hotel downtown where the Symphony was playing. So I go along with this.

Ann and I had a non-existent sexual relationship. We had decent sex in the first 6 months or so, but after that we wound up just attempting once a year. We had an excellent relationship otherwise. Ann didn’t want a relationship based on sex and I agreed with that. But to barely have any sex in my 20’s and to be a competent multi-instrumentalist musician. It was getting to be too much and then on the Y2K night we were in our hotel room and the people next door were having loud sex and I couldn’t even touch Ann. I just stormed out of the room and went back home. It was like when I was on the ship and decided to go back to smoking weed. I had to make a change.

A few weeks later I decided to tell the Navy that I smoked pot every day. Smoking weed had allowed me to mostly stop drinking. I was still drinking a little bit, but I wasn’t getting drunk anymore. I wanted to make a political statement and get out of the Navy. I told the Navy that I would gladly stay in if they accepted me openly as being a marijuana smoker. The interesting thing was that the Navy didn’t kick me out right away. I was actually openly smoking marijuana in the Navy for several months. I would typically get up around 4am like I always did and drink coffee, smoke a few hits of marijuana and meditate in my meditation area. Then I would go to work early and play my long trombone warm-up. Then once in a while they would drug test the band. They never said that I tested positive. It could have been that getting up so early and drinking so much liquid before the test that I actually didn’t test positive.

Many people in the Navy asked why I just didn’t tell the Navy that I was gay. That always seemed like an odd question. I did want to get out of the Navy, but I was a marijuana smoker, I wasn’t gay. I may have had a strained sexual relationship with my wife, but it wasn’t because I was gay. I did hang out with younger people in the Navy, but that was mostly because they had the time to hang out with me because they weren’t raising kids.

It did bring some excitement to the band. Devona was a flautist that was hanging out with Spencer and I in our studio. I think I still have a recording of her. One day we were in the vans coming back from a gig. It was a beautiful spring day and as we were pulling up to the band room Devona was walking out and was stunningly beautiful. Everyone in the band was just like “WOW!”

A little before this we got a new trumpet player in. He was transferring from the Army. He had about 8 years in. He had taken some lessons from Wynton Marsalis and was a fine improviser. He practiced his alternate chord changes to Band-in-a-Box. I played with him like that once or twice after work. Man he was good.

The Navy interviewed me several times. I gave them the same story every time. I liked the Navy and would gladly stay if I could be open about my pot smoking. They offered me drug treatment, but I always turned that down. One time they took me to an ultra-secure building on base. I must have waited an hour or two in the air lock of this building. I finally got in and was interviewed same as always. Then they walked me through a room that looked like NASA’s Houston Control. You know, this was like the war room of the biggest Navy base in the world. It was really impressive.

Spencer and I were continuing on with the recording studio. He would play bass and I would play piano and we would jam a lot together. I had the Consuelo’s Love Theme melody stuck in my head, so I wrote a quick harmonization of that for 4 trombones and recorded it with bass, piano and hand drums. Spencer was on that recording with me playing bass and probably some hand drums. It was a stellar recording.

I was getting into making websites and bought Microsoft Front Page and CuteFTP. I immediate thought that the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get “wizzy wig”) was not a good way of making a web page, so I learned how to hand code HTML and Javascript. I made a website, The Rand Zone, for my music and stuff.

I should also say that Ann and I were building a 2 story detached, barn style, garage in the back yard. We poured the slab and had all the framing done by the time I got kicked out of the Navy. The bottome of it was going to be a wood workshop and the top was going to be a music studio. Also, our yard had all this mangled hedge stuff in it that I had spent years clearing out. I think I got 7 yard debris dumpsters to get it all out of there. It took a year or two of work to take care of that. We were putting a lot of effort into the house.



They finally got around to kicking me out in about May. The band got a replacement trombonist for me. This guy was transferring from the Marines. He did 12 years in the Marines as a trombonist. He was an excellent player from what little I heard of him. Definitely better than I was and he had a beautiful wife.

They took me off the gig roster and had me just taking incoming phone calls. I spent my time there working with a drum pad. There was an oboe player named Kate who was getting out too I believe. The management gave Kate a bad time about not being a good enough player and had her on some kind of restrictive duty and practice. I remember her as being pretty cute with freckles like Melissa Gilbert. There was a piano player there who was also getting out on a medical discharge. I think he dated Kate a bit. He liked singing and playing Billy Joel songs and was pretty good at it.

After a couple weeks, they gave me a Captain’s Mast. The captain tried to scold me at the hearing by saying that I looked bad in uniform. I had been growing my hair out a little bit and I went to wearing leather shoes instead of the shiny plastic shoes that the band normally wears. But I was thin and fit and always got good marks for looking good in uniform and doing my job. It was just a formality.

I guess it was the day before the captain’s mast that I recorded One for Vic. I did it at home, not in the studio with Spencer. I used two minidisc recorders and bounced tracks between them. I used my Mackie board and a Yamaha PSR keyboard that I had bought when I first got in the Navy. The keyboard was pretty cheesy, but I played a good slap bass line on the recording. I recorded 4 trombones and 4 hand claps. It’s a pretty decent recording.

Then, after the captain’s mast, I went to Navy restriction. He sentenced me to 45 days of restriction before I got kicked out. I was also reduced in rank one pay grade, to E-4. Most of the people in restriction were younger people getting kicked out for getting caught doing ecstasy. We would go around the base doing work details picking up trash. We would march to the chow hall. We had some down time in front of the TV at our barracks watching MTV’s cribs. I spent time cleaning the bathroom with a toothbrush instead of watching TV. It was a meditation for me.

Restriction did have some tough times. It’s kind of a mental thing of having some guy telling you to clean a spot over and over again even though it isn’t dirty. Just trying to break you. If you break too hard they’ll send you to the penitentiary. Honestly, there were a couple tough moments. Most people in there were reduced in rank to E-nothings while I was still a Petty Officer. They make you rip off your old rank and sew a new one on with needle and thread and no scissors. They did have enough respect for me to let me sneak out with a set of dress blues and a set of dress whites with my E-5 Musician patch on them. I am proud of my E-5 musician patch. I was proud of my time in the Navy and was proud to do my stand for marijuana. I was in much better shape smoking marijuana than drinking alcohol.


Out of the Navy for Good


Definitely not going back to the Navy now. I was going to get divorced from Ann and go back to Portland. I wound up doing just under 7 years in the military. The military was all about playing cover tunes and standing at attention. The sexual problems with Ann were not going to get better. So I just packed up as much as I could in the GEO Metro and started driving. Ann was crying pretty hard when I left. I left her in a tough position; a really tough position. Ann was a good friend. I didn’t know what else to do.

I was leaving to make my own music. I had no idea how it would happen. I drove across the country. I remember seeing a cute girl on a rock in Missouri. I stayed at a campground in the hills of Idaho and saw a couple of cute girls there. I took my Minidisc recorder down to the river and extended the microphone down to the water and got some interesting sounds that way.

I wound up staying at my aunt Pat and my brother’s place for a few weeks. My brother got me roped into buying a Toyota van. It was kind of cool, but in pretty bad shape. I tried taking the van across the Rockies back to Virginia to get more of my stuff, but I blew the head gasket. My brother helped me tow it back to his place and then I made the journey in the car. So I got more stuff. I don’t remember much else from that trip.

I made a recording I called Glider at my aunt Pat’s place. I had bought an acoustic/electric guitar before I left the Navy. I was learning Beatles songs on it. I played some nice guitar on Glider, but I ended up losing that track. I had a fancy Roland XV88 keyboard. Pat’s story is that when she was in her 20’s or so, she had a brain tumor and was able to get rid of it holistically by changing her lifestyle. My brother and Pat were pretty anti-technology and I was surrounded by recording equipment. They didn’t want that around, so I had to find somewhere else to go.

So I wound up at my Dad’s place for a while. Dad had divorced my mom in the late 90’s. Dad couldn’t cope with the empty nest thing. I don’t think he had much vision of retirement. He was sick too. He had colon cancer and was on Chemo and all that. He was living with his girlfriend and her 3 children. Dad was taking them on some fun vacations. Dad was always fun to be with the kids, but he was really sick.

His girlfriend’s name was Gayle and she had a 16 year old daughter named Gillian and then there were the two, slightly younger boys. Gillian and two of her friends took me to my first rave party that December. I wound up doing ecstasy for the first time that night. It was in a non-descript warehouse with two stages. Lots of younger people there. I had been extending my drumming to the rest of my body in an attempt to loosen up. I didn’t spend much time with the girls at the party. I was just enjoying the music and new scene.

We ended up going to a couple more parties in the following weeks. I did ecstasy each time. I enjoyed the music. I had my music gear setup at my dad’s place, but I wasn’t doing much with it. I wasn’t playing my trombone warm-up, but I had rock solid trombone chops from playing every day for 20 years.

I stayed with them until about March. My dad is a recovering alcoholic and just saw me as a down and out druggie at this point. Not happy with me at all. I was just trying to come up with some kind of musical direction. I couldn’t stay there forever though and I had no idea what I would do for money. I did have fun giving the girls some driving lessons during this time. They did have fun learning to drive the stick shift GEO. We had a good time doing that.

This whole rave scene had a gangster edge to it though. Some of the guys the girls were hanging out with got me to smoke something odd. I don’t know what it was, but my guess is that it was PCP. I didn’t sleep for a couple days and I had this incredible empty feeling. I was very susceptible to suggestion and was conned out of my expensive mountain bike. I moved my music gear up to my mom’s in Olympia and started living in my car after that.

It was a real empty feeling in the car. I was almost out of money and had no idea what I was going to do. I wanted to record music. After a couple weeks, my friend Ian said that he was buying a house and wanted me to help clean up his rental house before he turned it in. So I would have a place to record for a month.

Ian told me that Collin had died in a drug overdose. He was sniffing ether and passed out and the bottle broke. He also told me that Gayle had died in a motorcycle accident. Eric was doing construction work with my brother and I hung out with him a little bit. I played some of my best polyrhythmic drums on his set.

Just before I got in the house, I acquired a Roland MC-307 drum machine from one of the raver kids. In the house, I started recording my Next Dot album. It was 20 minutes long. I played drum machine by tapping the pads. I played my Roland XV88 keyboard, my conga drums, my bass and my trombone. I called the first song Slow Start. It was a slow start, but I recorded in a linear fashion, just moving on to the next part. Space Hippies came next and was very electronic. Then came The Next Dot and What’s Wrong where I broke out all my instruments. I basically ruined these tracks with silliness that should have been edited out. But I was kind of new at this thing and electronic music with trombone was out of the ordinary to say the least.

I took the tracks to my dad’s place and uploaded them to my website using his internet connection. Then the house thing was over and I was back to being homeless in my car. I was actually being driven by fear all these months. Living in my car wasn’t anything I had ever even imagined. It’s very uncomfortable sleeping in a GEO Metro. I would sleep in the back seat with my legs up to my chest. Man are you sore after sleeping like that, but I did get used to it. One good thing is that the car is so small that your breathing can keep it warm.

It was the end of spring, early summer and I was out of gas and out of money. I think I sold my conga drums and guitar for food and gas. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I was just sitting in my car by the park with an empty feeling. My phone was about to die because I didn’t have money to pay the bill. But I needed a phone if I was going to get a job. After two months of feeling hopeless like this, I got a job driving as a courier.

They gave me a pager and would text me addresses to show up at. The problem was that the pager was not very accurate. It would say SW, so that is where I would go. I’d show up and couldn’t find the exact address and call in and they would be like, no, it is in SE. After a while of that, they asked me to use the two way radio to call in all the jobs. I’m terrible on those radios. Everyone all on the same line. I did the job for about a month. It would have worked great if the pager worked. In hindsight, I doubt it was a technological problem.

So then my dad says that he was taking his girlfriend Gayle and the two boys on a trip and wanted me to stay at the house with Gillian. I said OK, I’d just be living in my car otherwise. Gillian and her friend Jessica said that I guess that means we are having a house party. Well, OK, that’s what we are doing I guess. So the girls get some LSD. We take it in the afternoon. Gillian and Jessica usually had a third girl with them who kept on changing. I don’t remember who that was this time. We didn’t have a good plan on what to do. I had my music stuff setup, but I had been concentrating on that courier job and didn’t have the music thing going very much.

We’re just wandering around the house and I had a mental break. I wound up grabbing Jessica. It was an odd, sudden movement. She was coming towards me and passing me on my left. I put my left arm out and grabbed her right shoulder and she kind of spun around. It was kind of like a dance move, but it was rather sudden and totally inappropriate. The girls ran upstairs to their room and locked the door. I followed them up there and apologized and said “I didn’t even want to have sex with you.” That was totally true. They were young and I was more than 10 years older than them. There was sexual tension though with not being able to touch them at all. My marriage had gotten to the point where I was totally starved to be touched. I just lost my cool for one second.

So then they call their boyfriends and have them come over. They were playing their hard techno music and I was playing on my keyboard and drum machine and mixing in some Miles Davis. It was an odd, hard mix of music. The morning came and we smoked a little pot and had The Dark Crystal on the TV. And then they wound up kicking me out. We had this caravan going to my car to load up all my stuff. I didn’t get all of my stuff though and seemed to be missing all of the proprietary batteries to my Minidisc players and my wireless mouse.

So then my friend Kevin said that he was renting an art studio in an old schoolhouse up by the Canada border in Washington. He was living in Seattle. He said I could go up there and record and stay for a few months. So that is what I did. This was in the end of August in 2001.

I recorded a bunch of scrap. I wasn’t happy with anything I was doing. One day someone comes in and says “We’re at war!” And then he grabs a shotgun from under the couch cushions. That was how I heard about 9/11. I never saw it on TV. I had no idea what day it was. I was totally isolated up there.

So I just continued recording. I eventually settled down into a groove with the drum machine and using the Cakewalk recording software to make a bunch of splicing effects. I was putting a lot of time into editing. I’d want the snare drum to cut off early, but I wanted the bass drum to sustain longer and things like that. About this time an older lady named Adrianna wandered in. She grew up in The Netherlands and had a European English accent. She was a Scientologist counselor and went to school for that in England. She then came to Seattle and had a family. She was about 60 years old.

She smoked those cigar cigarettes. She talked about seeing Pink Floyd in the early days. We wound up have sex quite a bit which was a total relief for me. She called herself a Scientologist squirrel which meant that she wasn’t a strict Scientologist. She talked a lot about mental triggers. I thought she was pretty cool.

Adrianna was basically homeless too. I don’t think she made much money doing the Scientologist thing and she was on the lower tiers of social security. She might have been 62. So she was staying with me at the school house. I continued recording.

Then I get a letter that says there is a warrant out for my arrest from Oregon City. It was the incident with the girls and I was being charged with harassment. So I promptly drove down to Oregon City to resolve that. I had a court appointed lawyer and he said the options were 2 years of probation and drug treatment, or I could face up to 6 months in jail. Well, that wasn’t much of a decision for me. My time at the school house was going to end soon and I had nowhere to go. Jail at least would have been room and board and then I could put it all behind me.

My dad, Gayle and Jessica’s mom (who I never met), were furious with that. I told my story in front of the judge and insisted that the girls got the acid. The judge wasn’t too happy about the whole thing, but he ended up giving me just 10 days in jail. I didn’t know that they haul you off to jail right then and there and all my music gear was in an unsecure location. I told this to my lawyer and they got the judge to agree to show up to jail in a couple days so I could put my things in order which made everyone even more furious. But it was necessary. I took my music gear to my mom’s place and this meth head and his family that were hanging around ended up stealing everything I left behind which included some old computers, my entire CD collection and some tools.

I wound up doing 7 days in jail in mid-December 2001. When I got out, I finalized my album and called it Strobe Kidz by DJ4. The album was kind of silly, but I was pouring my heart into it. It was about 42 minutes long. I ended up selling a few copies. I think I made $100 on it. I spent New Year’s at my mom’s place in Olympia and recorded 4 more tracks for it which I called The Cookie Mix. Track 14 is the last track on it and was probably the best thing on the album. There was one good chord progression towards the beginning that wound up being called “Self”.

Then I was back to being homeless in the GEO Metro in the winter in Portland. I ended up locking my keys in the car. I went to a gas station a block away and they said they had a slim jim that you use to unlock cars. They wanted $50 for me to rent it. You know, I barely had any money. So I wound up breaking the window with a brick. The problem with that was that now it was impossible to keep the car warm while I slept. I wound up getting a window from a junk yard for $15 about 2 weeks later.

I met up with Adrianna later in the winter and her son was helping her get a subsidized apartment in Snohomish. So she let me stay with her there a little bit. When we first got there, I put my recording gear on the floor and recorded Dirty Pot and Igotatock. It was a quick thing. I had been making the drum parts with the drum machine in the car.

Around this time I sold my fancy Roland keyboard. I think I got $1,500 for it. I wound up buying a 2 10” speaker box and amplifier. I ran a thick wire off my battery in the car to the back of the front seat to hook up the amp. The drum machine worked on 12 volts, so I just plugged it in without an adapter. This was an excellent setup. One of the best things I’ve ever done. I often would drive to a park, park on a hill, take the battery out of the car and the amp and speakers and play my drum machine in the grass until my battery died. Then I’d put it all back in the car and roll start the car. Stick shifts are cool like that. I wasn’t afraid of doing things like that. I knew it could be done and just did it. I’d often be at a stop light with the drum machine in my lap mixing my own beats at the red light.

I spent a lot of time in the car making beats on the MC-307. I studied the manual. I knew every switch on that machine. It had turntable emulation on it and I would beat match to the radio. I was really quick at beat matching with it. I could have played that with a live band.

Adrianna wasn’t supposed to have guests for more than 2 weeks at a time. We weren’t having sex any more, but she was interested in helping and we both liked each other’s company. I had a computer set up at her place and would sleep on the floor when I was there. We would go together to the food bank. By the summer of 2002, I was interested in learning Macromedia Flash. Marc got me a copy of Flash 5 and I got a book on it. I had made some creative websites using HTML, but I wanted them to be more game like now. I spent the summer at Adrianna’s studying Flash all day and night. There were a couple people in the neighborhood that I would smoke a little pot with and hang out, but mostly I was studying.

But Adrianna would kick me out for a while and then I’d be without a computer. So then I would go back to making music. My brother wound up getting me a gray Dodge Caravan. I had my electronic music stuff in there. One day I was doing my electronic music thing in a park in Seattle in the van and this tripper wanders up. He says that he just got back from playing a church organ. He was dressed in raver type clothes and was about my age. He offered me some crystal meth. So OK, I’m not good at saying no to these things so I try it out. It was fine. It was a nice day and we were enjoying playing with the music stuff and dancing in the park. We wind up kissing each other. He has stubble on his face and so do I and that was a different experience. You just don’t get that kissing a lady.

So OK, this guy is gay or bi and he does meth. So what do we do? We wind up taking the ferry over to Bremerton. And then we are at this empty house, naked and he is shooting me up with meth, but I’m not getting high. He says he has aids and we aren’t really doing anything sexually. We were touching each other though and he has really big hands which was again an interesting experience. We make it through the night driving around. He takes me to a porn store but I’m not really interested. The next day we go to his storage unit and he shoots me up again. This time it does something and I get weak in the knees. He was playing his accordion a little bit. He wanted to play my trombone and winds up denting my slide. I guess I should know better than to let a gay accordion player with aids doing meth to touch my trombone! I think he wanted to go to Burning Man, but ends up deciding that I’m not very interested and sends me on my way.

I end up driving south instead of taking the ferry. And then on the radio the show House Arrest comes on (a house music hour) and I see probably 30 cop cars with their lights on the side of the road. I’m nervous, high and driving. What have I gotten myself into? I make it to Tacoma and I’ve got that totally empty feeling going. I didn’t know what to do. I wound up going to a fire station and showing them the tracks on my arms. They get me a cab to a mental hospital. I think what happened is that he did inject me the first time, but he missed and it was seeping into my blood slowly. I spent a week in the hospital coming down. At one point it looked like there were large bugs coming out from under the sheets of the other beds in the room. I heard my electronic music clear as a bell when looking out the window.

Do people do that for fun? I just don’t get it. Maybe he was trying to scare me. Well, it did work. I had an easier time saying no to things after that.

OK, I’m missing a part of the story here. Before that fall, it must have been in the summer of 2002, I got a job installing cable tv and internet. It was with a contracted overflow company working for Comcast in Seattle. The guy who trained me was fabulous. I enjoyed learning it. I enjoyed putting the ladder on the line and climbing up to run the wires. It was always a judgment call on whether to run a new line to the house, but they liked it when you would run a new line. Pretty soon I was doing it on my own and I had a good time doing it. But there were some problems.

I was borrowing money from my mom to pay for gas to put into their work vehicle. Pay was NET45 after each 2 week invoice, so I wouldn’t get paid for at least 2 months. They were working me 7 days a week, often 10-12 hours a day. On Sundays I would typically only work 4 hours. I didn’t have a cell phone because I was so broke, so I was driving around town trying to find pay phones to call in jobs. After a month and a half of this, I was getting really worn out. I knew I wasn’t going to make it. In a fit of frustration, I wound up destroying my bass guitar. After about 2 months, they had this new guy working with me and he was doing things that they told us not to do. I had no authority over this guy. I ended up walking off the job one day. I just grabbed my trombone out of the back and walked to Seattle. There had to be some better life than that. I wound up climbing a scaffold that night and sleeping with a nice view downtown.

I spent a few days walking around downtown. It was my first experience being homeless without a car. I eventually went back to the cable office and got my van. They wound up paying me a couple thousand a week or two later.

I spent November and December at Adrianna’s making an album without any instruments. I called it Source Code. I made it with Propellerhead’s Reason 1 and Cakewalk 9. My nickname for the recording is Mousing Around. I was also continuing my study of programming in Flash 5.

At the end of 2002, it was apparent that my dad wasn’t going to survive much longer. I went down to Portland one last time to be with him. We played a game of cribbage. Then I went back to Adrianna’s in Snohomish.

I got a call from my brother that dad died. I didn’t have money to make it down to Portland again. It was January 2003. I was in a dark space and my friend Drew took over. He got some DXM and some firewood and we went to this secluded camp spot that he knew of. We had a fire there and he was playing some modern metal music. I had never heard anything like that before. It was actually kind of cool to hear progressive metal music. It was the funeral trip. At a point I saw a spark come out of the fire and thought that was dad going up to heaven. Morning came and it got light out and I could see where we were by the water. Everything was calm and I felt better. Drew took care of me in a drug kind of way.

At this time I was at the end of making my Source Code recording. I had this quiet sort of microwave tech sound going on that was like a funeral song for my father. I also learned how to make a full screen website that took over the whole screen. I put 4 boxes on it like the Windows logo. One had me in it in a blue, beamed in Jedi presentation. Another had the Earth and Skylab orbiting around it. A few days later the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster happened and my computer got a virus.

That spring I got a job at a Pizza Time franchise delivering pizzas. Business there wasn’t doing too good. The owner was a laid off aviation mechanic. I delivered pizzas and passed out some door hangers. I was living in my van when I wasn’t working and I had my desktop computer strapped down to the floor with an inverter. I also had a 49 note MIDI keyboard hooked up to it. I was never paid a wage while I was there. I was just working for tips. I basically was just making enough money to buy gas for the vehicle, but he was feeding me pizzas. Greasy pizzas every day. Eventually he couldn’t make the franchise payments, so Pizza Time cut him off and took away his dough delivery and the walk in refrigerator. He still had the oven though. His dough substitute wasn’t working. If I knew what I know now, I would have just suggested he get some mixers and we start making our own dough. It’s not that hard! But I didn’t know anything about the restaurant business.

About this time I went to a techno night at a dance club. This bald headed, older black guy picks me up. “Would you like to go to my place?” Well, my other option was going back to the van and be cold in a parking lot, so I said yes. Well, he was a gay musician and we end up fooling around a bit. He fingers me pretty good, but that was the extent of it. Afterward we both play some music on the grand piano in his apartment. He says that he didn’t want me living on the streets and gives me a big ring of keys and says that I’m welcome at his place. I left and threw the key in the trash. I don’t know if that was better than spending the night in a parking lot.

Then the pizza job was over and I was out of money again living in my car. Marc says that the house across the street from him is vacant and I should stay there for a while. It looked like the city was just going to demolish the house. So, ok, why not? I go in there and there was electricity and the house was empty. So I moved my computer in and Marc bought me some food and coffee. I did a bunch of meditation in there and then I started making more music and working on my programming. I stayed there for about a week or two and then then cops come in with their guns drawn and say stick ‘em up! Well, I stand up and put my arms in the air with my cup of coffee. They had caught me making music and a website with a draggable tool bar like you would find in Photoshop.

So I spend a couple days in jail and get charged with trespassing and get told to not go back there. When I get out of jail, I go down the front steps and I have no idea where I am. It’s the classic move of Valentine getting out of jail in Trading Places! I find my way back to Marc’s and I’m begging him and Greg to go in that house and get my computer back. They were very reluctant to do that, but man, they got me into that stupid idea. They finally did it and then I was back to living in my van. But I had a new website with new music!


On the Streets


Just before the 4th of July in 2003 I was running out of gas. I hadn’t had a place to live since I got out of the Navy in the summer of 2000. I failed to become a music teacher. My recordings and websites weren't getting me anywhere. I had 3 jobs over the years. I had worked as a courier, in cable installation and at a pizza place. All jobs failed because of unreasonable circumstances. I had made several albums of music and corresponding websites with varying success. I had been couch surfing and living in my van. I had sold off most of my musical equipment for food and gas.

I had driven from Portland to Seattle, but my Dodge Caravan had a problem. It was some kind of transmission problem. I had to keep the engine running at 2,500RPM or it would die. It’s an automatic vehicle so the only way to stop, was to put it in neutral. I was fine when I was on the freeway and I made it to North Seattle. Then I got off the freeway.

It was really challenging. I was coasting to a stop in neutral, revving the engine at the stoplight and then pealing out when I put it back in gear. And to top it all, there was some kind of abnormal holiday traffic going on and it was bumper to bumper. Very stressful.

It was so frustrating, it was the last straw. I turned out of the pack of cars right in front of a Dodge dealership right on the highway and turned her off. The engine was red hot and overheating. It caught on fire. I was like “perfect, you’re home!” I got out and opened the sliding door. There was the large comforter my aunt Pat gave me and there was my well used HTML4 book with all the pages coming out. Well, I decided I didn’t need that book anymore, I had most of it memorized. I grabbed my backpack and some clothes to go live on the streets. I was really homeless now.

I had lived on the streets for a couple short stretches before, but this was different. No going back now. But wow, I was so scared of this moment, but when it happened, I just felt relief. No more trying to find gas money. No more sleeping in the van in neighborhoods trying not to be noticed. On my two feet with a backpack and the weather was nice. It did feel good.

I had been getting into computer programming since I was out of the Navy. I was pretty good at programming in Flash and Flash was becoming a big thing. Flash 5. I had made the Laser Grid program. I had made a music loop mixer with 12 buttons that was in effect a moveable toolbar. But now I don’t have a computer.

I spent the summer relaxing and getting used to being on the streets. The weather was nice and I had clear sky above me. I think I ditched the backpack pretty quickly. I just had my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and nail clippers with me. The first few days I was picking up half smoked cigarettes out of ash trays. I realized pretty quickly that they tasted nasty. I told myself “You’re homeless, you have no business trying to smoke. Don’t be one of those homeless people begging for money to buy a smoke.” A lot of my addictions simply died that day. That was a good conscious decision to make.

I spent most of my time around Westlake Center Mall, Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. I had a food stamp card that allowed me to buy $150/month of uncooked food. $5/day. It was tough, but I learned from a thief years ago that you can live on candy bars. You need calories when you are walking around all day and it is hard to get enough calories on $5/day. I liked eating dry Top Ramen noodles too and they are packed with oil and calories.

I had my pennywhistle with me with a hemp cord around my neck. It was pretty slick just hanging from my neck like that. It was a blue Acorn pennywhistle. I called it my lightsaber. I played 12 tone pennywhistle by half-holing to get the notes in between the 7 notes that it can play. It’s tough to play that way. I’d play all the jazz standards I knew and whatever I wanted basically. Just couldn’t play very fast. I noticed that the grates in the streets in Belltown by the Space Needle make a C# sound (just like the programming language) and I would use that as a drone to play over.

The Seattle Hempfest happened down in the park and I went there for that. I played nice pennywhistle with some hand drummers. I took my shoes off because I had been wearing them constantly. Then I turned around and my shoes were gone. Great, homeless without shoes.

I walked around for a week without shoes. My feet were a mess. One day I was walking up in the park by the museum on Capitol Hill. I got a sliver in my foot and I was walking funny on a path. There was this guy that looked exactly like the Dalai Lama and he offered me some tweezers. Nice, that did help and it was a cool experience to have. Tweezers are nice if you have them, but I’ve never felt like they are an essential and still don’t. Toe nail clippers with a pointy file are an essential though. Yes, you can just bite your nails, but I fixed that habit in my 20’s sometime. Ann taught me how to manicure my cuticles. I did keep my fingernails nice on the streets and brushed and flossed every day.

I eventually got some shoes somehow. I think in the summer of 2003, I managed to make the IN||ON website. I knew when I was on the streets that I would become a solid programmer and I was already a solid musician. IN was about running for President or the House of Representatives. ON was on Mars. I believe Bush was talking about NASA funding then and Mars was in the news. The IN||ON site was just a portfolio type website. Not really any new music. It was around the time that I made the Laser Grid program. I was still on good terms with Adriana and she would let me stay at her apartment and use the computer for a day or two. She lived in Snohomish which is about 40 miles from downtown Seattle. It took 2 days to walk there. If I didn’t have money, I’d walk it and sleep in a ditch by a bike store half way there.

I was terrible at panhandling. I never made more than a couple bucks in a year doing that. It started getting cold in October. I was playing my pennywhistle on the streets with a hat out. I did manage to make $60 in two weeks doing that. I told people I was saving up to buy a trombone. Just mainly playing the melodies to jazz standards. Twelve tone pennywhistle. It eventually got too cold to play like that. The cold wind was really whipping through downtown. I was freezing and not prepared for that cold.

I wound up at Adriana’s for November and December. I slept on the living room floor and worked full days on my programming. I became obsessed with the idea of making a game like Atari’s Centipede where you could move all over the screen instead of being stuck in the bottom part of the screen. And shoot in all directions. Flash had the hitTest() function and people were making games with that. But hitTest() is very limited. It just tells you if one object is on top of the other. It gives you no information about where the collision happened. And if you are going fast enough, you may just skip over the object entirely. No, hitTest was not good enough to make a proper game. What I wanted was real collision detection.

Around Christmas time of 2003, I was obsessed with making collision detection. If I was going to get a job programming, I would have to do some big project like this. I had been answering ads on Craigslist. I almost got a job that month coding a lens flare, but I didn’t get the gig. I was using math, ratios specifically. I had made a demo of this that kind of worked. About this time, I think it was New Year’s Eve, Adriana kicked me out. So I grabbed my sleeping bag and a briefcase for my paper work and went to Dan’s on the other side of the fence. I used Dan’s phone to call my lifelong friend Sam. Sam said that I could stay with him, but I’d have to wait a few days to get a bus ticket; they were all full because of the holiday. Dan said that I could stay with him until I could get a ticket. OK, I had a plan.

So I sat down at his kitchen table with my paperwork. I was really close to proving whether this collision detection with ratios could be done. And then Dan just keeps talking to me. I told him repetitively to leave me alone, I had work to do, but he wouldn’t shut up. I just couldn’t take it, so I left. I went up to the store, it was dark by this time and I worked out my math on paper on the picnic table until I had proven it. And I did, my math said that I can make this collision detection using only ratios. Pretty groovy. So then I started out the long walk to Seattle in the slushy snow with my sleeping bag and briefcase.

A cop stopped me on the way out of Snohomish and asked me what I was doing. I was excited because of the math and I said “I’m going down to Seattle to live on the streets and make a video game.” He said “Sounds great, just make sure you keep going because you can’t stay here!” Nice.


2004

It was cold and snowy, but I had lots of clothes on, a thick jacket, a scarf and a sleeping bag. I had my briefcase with my essentials including two lightsabers (green and blue) and a slinky. The briefcase was one of the thicker ones so I could hold a lot of stuff. I used the briefcase as a pillow and kept my hand on the handle when I slept because I didn’t want anyone to take it from me. I usually slept petty good on the streets unless it was really cold out. On those days you just shiver until 3am and then walk to keep warm. I went to the library when it was open. It was quite a hike from the library to the store and I couldn’t carry much food with me, so it was pretty much a daily trip. The store was by the Space Needle and the library was downtown. It was the old library, they were almost done building the new one.

I spent a few weeks working out the collision detection on paper. I was getting frustrated because it was a lot of math. I was feeling like there had to be an easier way. I had taken trigonometry in college, so I decided that it was time to brush up on my trig. So I go to the math section. This is kind of the best kept secret of Seattle, but here it is. In the math section there was a small green trigonometry book with a canvas cover called Plane Trigonometry and right next to it there was a slightly larger blue book with a canvas cover on Calculus. I read the first page of the Calculus book. It said that the main point of Calculus was to determine the area of an odd shape by methods of exhaustion. Well, I have no need for that in my video game of course. I knew I was after the trig book, but that did look like a good calculus book.

So there I was up in the middle of the night on the sidewalk studying trigonometry. Trig is a little tricky in the beginning. I think I got a C in it in college. I certainly didn’t retain it. The green book was good. I didn’t have a calculator, so I used the tables in the back of the book. I realized that the numbers .5, .522 and .707 were important. I was trying so hard to “get my bearings straight” about those numbers. I was dreaming about them. I was playing the mad scientist roll on the streets. Then I finally got it! I woke up in the middle of the night and said “.522 is the circumference measure around the circle to 30 degrees and .5 is the sine of 30 degrees!” I get it! .707 is th length of the line if you go straight up to 45 degrees, the sine OR cosine of 45 degrees. .866 is the sine of 60 degrees, which is the lenth of the line straight up to 60 degrees. So there it is. That’s called getting your bearings straight.

PI is the circumference measure half way around the circle. All these numbers, .5, .522, .707, .866 and PI are of a radius. 3.1418 radius, .5 or half of the radius of the circle. That call it radians. .5 radians. 3.1418 radians.

Standard position is an important term and part of getting your bearings straight too. Zero degrees is out to the right, at 3 o’clock. 90 degrees is straight up or 12 o’clock. 180 degrees is to the left and 270 degrees is straight down. Negative 90 degrees is straight down as well and so on and so forth. And then there are quadrants. If you draw a circle in a square, the upper right is quadrant one, the upper left is quadrant 2, the lower left is quadrant 3 and the lower right is quadrant 4. Quadrants really don’t matter, but it can be a helpful concept.

It took about 2 weeks, but then I knew trig. Instead of going back to the collision detection, I got interested in mapping 3d space. I wanted to make a webpage slinky with Flash.

I had a slinky with me. I spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about how to turn it into a mathematical equation with trig. It’s a circle. Trig is about circles. But trig is also about triangles. 3 points always make a perfect plane. Plane Trigonometry. I thought, OK, you need to map the slinky coordinates and then you need to view it from a camera or point of view. The camera has coordinates and viewing angles. OK, so mapping out the coordinates of the slinky.

If you are looking at it from above, it looks completely round. I always call height or elevation the z variable and x/y as the “map coordinates”. On a planet, with a sky and ground, you have North and South, East and West. X is East and West, Y is North and South. Zero on Y is the equator or wherever we want center to be. And you know, zero on X is just where we want center to be, a longitude line. OK, that might not be textbook correct, but it makes sense to me.

Looking at the slinky from above, going around the circle we have points along the circle. Dots. Perfect, I’d been using dots in my musical weirdness for years. I’ll make it with dots! So you use trig to plot the x/y position around the slinky. It is more than one rotation, it keeps on going round and round, but the x/y for each dot is the same for different heights going around the slinky. For every dot around the slinky, the z becomes a little bit less.

OK, well, you get the idea. I went to Adriana’s and coded the slinky easily. I put it on my Tubespace website and went back to the streets. I was feeling pretty good. It was starting to get warmer out and I was making good progress with math. I made some other dot objects and then got back to the business of collision detection.



Collision Detection

I was going through a lot of notebook paper. I would buy the loose leaf paper packs of 150 sheets for about $1.50. I just had one pen. It wasn’t hard to not lose my pen, I Just had it in my briefcase. I would go to Adriana’s every month or so to enter my work into the computer to see if it actually worked. I would spend about 2 days there. I’d do my laundry and take a shower. I’d do some cleaning in the apartment and she would give me $5 that I would use to buy paper and a bus ride back to Seattle. It was the only shower and cleaning that I got.

Sometimes I would wake up on the streets to find a couple twenty dollar bills next to me. Those were great days. I’d go to the little deli a couple blocks from where I was sleeping and get an egg salad sandwich and Henry Weinhard’s root beer. Man was that good. It cost about $5 to get that. Most of the time I’d buy two of each. The first day the food stamp money came in I usually did that too, but I had to be really carful to limit that to just once a month. But that is about the best thing you can do for a homeless person. Just lay some money next to them while they are sleeping.

I also had a Good Samaritan gay guy offer me a shower. He was nice enough and I always needed a shower. I did lay in his bed with him and we touched each other a little bit. I did it twice and then decided that the shower wasn’t worth it. One day I saw him coming and I grabbed my stuff and started walking the other way because I didn’t want to deal with him. He started running after me and eventually caught me because I was slow carrying all my stuff. He said “why are you running?” I said that “this is my home!” When you are home, you don’t want strangers coming up to you. I was trying to do my work and keep to myself and I didn’t want some gay guy pestering me. You know. I had been with gay guys a few times. They seem to like to prey on homeless people. That was the last time though. I just didn’t want that.

So, back to the math. I could now use the trig in my collision detection. Nice! The idea is that we have two rectangles: Us and Them let’s call them (I’m a big Dark Side of the Moon fan). If we are to the left of them, then we can only hit their left side.


If we are to the left and below them, we can hit their left side OR their bottom side.


I spent quite a lot of time drawing pictures like these to figure all this out. You see, when you code this, you have to figure it out from any direction. I was using a lot of conditional logic (if/else) in my code. Really, the code was very simple; it was mostly math. Let’s use this last image as our base to explain this. We take the top side of US and the bottom side of THEM and call that side “a”. Little a. Big A is angle A and little a is the side opposite of it. All we know is the current position of US and THEM along with their dimensions and the direction we are going (the angle) and our velocity (our speed). From this information we know side “a” if we are below them. From this information, we can calculate side “c” by using the inverse sine of angle A times side a. That looks like this:


So great, that was easy and now we know side c. If side c is greater than our velocity, then we have not hit it. If side c is less than our velocity, then we have hit it. I call this “hit or shit!” In fact I use this terminology all over my programming for Boolean (true or false) variables (conditional logic). Hit is true, shit is false. If(hit){} else{}

So, if we didn’t hit, then we loop over all the other objects and if none of them are a hit, then we just move and call it good. If it is a hit, then we need more information to see if it is really a hit. We need to know exactly where it hit and to get that information; we need side “b”. We use the side “c” to get side “b”. It is simply b = cos(A) * c.


Using sides a and b, we can now determine where we hit. We’ll have to take into account the width of our rectangle which requires more math, but it is all known now. And then we have to work all that out for all the ways we can hit it from different quadrants. It takes some effort to make a computer program with all of that. Trig did make it a lot easier than using ratios though. I’m still convinced that I could have just used ratios.

Then comes “the slide.” Leave it to a trombone player to code a collision detection on the streets that slides! What you do after a collision is important. If we hit it like in this last diagram, then we are sliding to the right, straight to the right. If we hit something, it has to be their left side which simplifies the math. If we make it to the end when sliding and did not hit something, then we are back to moving in our original direction with whatever is left of our velocity. At that point we just start the whole thing over with our reduced velocity. And we keep on looping until we are either totally blocked, by sliding to the right and hitting something, or all our velocity is used up.

One day I got pulled into a long, long line of other homeless people. They were all standing in line at about 3:30 in the afternoon. I assume it was for some soup kitchen or something. I stood there for about 20 minutes. Then it was just like, look, wherever this line leads it is going to be hard to do my work, I’m going back to the library or park bench or at least the sidewalk where I can concentrate. I know I was the exception to the rule. You’re probably correct in thinking that homeless people are doing drugs and I had certainly done some drugs in my life. I was completely clean and sober on the streets though. I define sobriety as “giving up the party” and being clean as simply not using. With those definitions I became sober in about 2002. Maybe I was lucky; I had always put working over drugs and made it a point to not hunt down drug dealers. If drugs found their way to me, I was down for trying them, but I’m not going to spend my time trying to find them. That definitely worked well for me over the years. I was primarily homeless because I was an anti-social musician. Musicians need a lot of connections to get gigs. I’m just not good at that. I had hoped to get out of the Navy and be a music teacher, but without a degree and a place to live, that was impossible. Jobs that I got didn’t work out. You know, I could have found work, but it takes time to study and that is work too. I wasn’t standing still, not in despair. Not blaming anyone for my situation, just on with the business of educating myself in hopes that I’ll get into a profession that can support the way I want to live.

I also did the circle/circle collision detection needed to make a pool game. The math is a little more complicated there using arc tangent 2 and the law of sines and cosines. I think I used the law of cosines to do it. It involves solving the ambiguous case. I haven’t done it in while and want to get back into it. I also coded a circle/rectangle and rectangle/circle collision detection. That was complicated and basically a waste of time, but it was a challenge and if you need it, you need it. I didn’t need it, but I did eventually finish it. I’ve never used it or really tested it though.

Rebounding is something you can do instead of sliding. The math for that is fun. I do that with circle/circle. I have it coded into the rectangle/rectangle too.

I was thinking a lot about robotics, specifically making a robot barista. Feeding in a cad drawing of the building. The robot is behind the counter so there is no potential of things being around that it doesn’t know about. The angles of the arms. The image detection algorithms. Using a special color code on the cups that tells it what size they are. Something easy to pick out in the images. You know, math!

One day, I found a ticket for a free day at a gym. I needed a shower really bad, so I thought I'd give that a try. So they do let me in, but once I was in there, it was a total culture shock for me. These people were oblivious to the hadships I had been experiencing. I sat on the floor and just didn't know what to do. I felt that all the work I was doing was getting me nowhere. Why couldn't I find a job doing entry level programming or computer work? I was still answering ads on the internet. I got the stupid idea that I should just ask for the things I wanted rather than working like I was. So I asked a woman there if she would have sex with me. Well, that of course didn't go over too well. She stormed off and I got scared and left. The police stopped me right outside the building. Man, all I wanted to do was to get back to the park bench and get to work. She ended up deciding not to press charges and the police let me go. It was a stupid idea. Of course working for a better life is what it is all about, but I was understandably frustated at how hard I was working and not even being able to have a shower. Gay guys had picked me up with similar one liners. I wasn't trying to harass her. You know, she could have said yes and took me home to have a shower. I could have played her my music on my website and shown her all the math I was doing. Life sure can be frustrating some times.

By the end of the spring of 2004, I was a mad scientist on the streets doing a ton of math on paper, but my health was beginning to suffer. The lack of showers combined with the high sugar/oil diet was causing a crotch rot condition. I went to hospitals, but no one was too eager to help me. I did get some suppositories. Kind of a waxy substance. I remember going to an AA meeting (I was convinced I was a dry drunk because of AA crap) and putting one of these suppositories in. Temporary, minor relief. About a week before the 4th of July, it was unbearable. It was all I could do to walk to Marc’s place in West Seattle. Marc then drove me to my brother’s place in Olympia. Then my brother drove me to Portland. I was rolling around in agonizing pain in the back seat of his car. I think he was taking me to Sam’s place. By the time we got to Portland, the pain had subsided. I don’t remember him taking me to Sam’s but that was probably what happened. Sam was not there, so I was just on the streets of Portland then.

I was a mess. I had my paperwork with me, but work was the last thing on my mind. I wound up walking to Marge’s mother’s place through the park. She wasn’t there, but I waited for her. She showed up in about an hour and let me in. I talked with her a bit. She let me take a shower and gave me some clean clothes. I left my pants on her bathroom floor. I had been wearing black dress pants that had a tight corduroy weave. I always loved those pants. I got them when I was in the Navy. Then she gave me $20 and dropped me off in front of the Portland Rescue Mission. I took that $20 and went to a normal pub and got a 16oz beer and a nice big sandwich. I had been working so hard and just wanted a normal life again.

I waited a few days for Sam to show up. I was feeling a little bit better. I had never lived on the streets of Portland before. I didn’t like the idea of being homeless in Portland for some reason. I was sleeping in the bushes near Sam’s place just across the river in Vancouver. It turns out that Sam and his family was out of town for the 4th of July. He showed up a couple days later.

Sam said I could stay with him in his basement. That was the plan all along before I did the 6 months of math, but that math changed my life. Glad I did that. What a story!

Sam had some old computers and we were geeking out with computer stuff. We recorded some music using the Reason 1 software. And then I coded my two player, Asteroids type game, Bumper Bubbles in 4 hours.


I used the music I had made for it. The math was the circle/circle collision detection. Instead of copying it from my papers, I just coded it from scratch. I was a trig master by this point. Sam and I were playing Bumper Bubbles in no time.

I stayed with Sam for about a month and a half. Then he finally got me to seek help at the VA.


Off the Streets

I didn’t think I had any benefits from the Navy, but it turns out that because I had at least one honorable discharge, I do get some healthcare benefits. The VA tracked down this information and then admitted me to 5C, the mental health hospital in Portland up on Pill Hill. I didn’t want to go there. I felt that all I really need was a place to live and a job opportunity. But the other option was going back on the streets. It was a pretty tough decision for me. I chose the VA and they put me in there with the magnetically sealed door. You don’t get out until they let you out.

I had all this newly found math running around my head. I was basically creating a 3d gaming engine from scratch on the streets. I would close my eyes and see all the angles and the equations. I asked for paper and pen. They gave it to me so I was like, groovy, back to work. I had a roof over my head and they were bringing me meals. I went to work on my collision detection. I had it all worked out, just need to make a final copy of it.

I was writing with a pen all this time. I don’t like the wood feel of the pencils. That dry wood on my skin sends shivers up my spine. You can’t erase a pen though. So a page was only complete if it had no mistakes on it. Maybe one or two characters crossed out, but if it was more than that, I would continue on making sure it was all correct and then copy it to a fresh page error free. I was going through a lot of paper and they were pretty much comfortable giving me more paper. I had a desk by the window. There was a morning group where they talked about the plan of the day or whatever. There was an art therapy class. Whatever.

One day while I was writing at my desk, a doctor popped in to look at what I was doing. I explained the whole thing to him and showed him my equations. He asked why I was using if, ifelse, else instead of a switch statement. I had heard of switch statements before, but I had never used one. If/elseif/else does the job. At the end of all my equations was the computer code that moves the "brick" and there is the code that does the loops that you feed the "bricks" into. I'm always more concerned about the business logic of a program rather than the methods of a programming language. But the doctor knew what I was doing and that it made sense. I've heard of stories before about crazy people writing math that doesn't make sense. No, I definitely knew what I was doing and they figured that out.

Some people met with me to form a plan of discharge. Jenn and Amy were assigned to me. They said that because I was living on the streets for a year, I qualified for a HUD program through Central City Concern that would get me my own one bedroom apartment. The problem was that I had lived with Adriana for 2 months in the middle. It had to be a consecutive year. But I was living in a vehicle for 3 years before that. I certainly did qualify as chronically homeless, didn’t I?

I was willing to go back on the streets and do my math. They ultimately accepted me into that program. I spent 5 weeks up on 5C. I had my collision detection pretty much completed and they let me out.

I had to find the apartment on my own. They gave me a $500 voucher for an apartment, but I had to find a landlord that would accept this. $500 was on the bottom end of the market, but it was doable. I found a nice 4-plex near where I went to high school on the west side of town. It was right on the bus line. I lived with Sam while I was finding my place. It took about a week.

They had me on anti-psychotic medications while I was in the VA. I certainly was acting weird enough. I was very nervous about everything and doing hard math to “work my way off the streets.” When I got out, I stopped taking the medication. Being on the medication made it hard to do my math.

My brother brought my computer to me and other items I had stashed at my mom’s place in Olympia. He also gave me a corded drill. I got good use out of that drill over the years. Jenn was my main counselor after I got out of the hospital and I was required to see her once a week at various coffee shops. I had an Honored Citizen bus pass so I didn’t have to pay cash for the bus. I still had my food stamps card. Jenn helped me get a bed and a table and chair. I think it was Marc that gave me a 49 note MIDI keyboard. I ended up recording about 30 minutes of music I called Dot Dot Dot. It had a nice In a Silent Way section in it with an Indian sitar drone. My hard drive ended up crashing, but I was good with making backups, so I didn’t lose that recording.

I had met a girl on Craigslist right when I was staying with Sam. Her name is Michelle. She lived on the same side of town that I did. Jenn got me an old 10 speed bicycle and I would bike through the hills to Michelle’s place. I somehow managed to get the money to buy a waffle maker. I was obsessed with waffles. I had a red courier bag and would put the Belgian waffle maker in its original box in the courier bag and take it to Michelle’s. I loved making those Belgian waffles.

I think I used her computer to type in my collision detection. When I had it entered, this is what I had:


It wasn’t working very well, but I knew the math was correct. Computer programming can be pretty difficult. When you are dealing with variables, those variables wind up being a range of values. The equations have to account for whatever values those variables are. Something wasn’t right, but it worked some of the time. It was kind of disappointing.

I didn’t know what to do after my computer crashed. I needed a computer to make something with my collision detection. I ended up taking a break from work. I was off the streets. I had a warm apartment and my food stamp card. I ended up sleeping a lot. When I caught up on my sleep and got relaxed a little bit, I started reading some books. I ended up reading a book on Theodore Roosevelt. That’s how I ended up 2004.


Reflection

One time when I was on the streets... It was a Sunday morning at about 7am. I was downtown and needed to piss. So I did my usual thing of grabbing a 20oz empty plastic bottle out of a trash can and went to an alley to piss in it. Half way through, a cop car comes down the alley. I finish up as they were getting out of the car and they were getting all huffy. And then they saw that I had a bottle full of urine. Well, that shut them up pretty quickly. They had probably never seen a homeless guy pissing in a bottle before. They mumbled "you can't do that here", but they had no authority anymore.

One day in the spring of 2004, I come back to the place I normally sleep to find that someone had pissed there. I didn't know what to do. Good places to sleep on the streets were not easy to come by. I decided to stay there anyway. I literally rolled my sleeping bag out on the pissed on ground and slept in it. It was the wrong call, but I was just sick of the whole thing. Here I am pissing in bottles and cleaning up after myself and probably some drunk guy pisses on my sleeping area. I just did not have the energy to figure out a better solution.

Once in a while, some tripper kid would give me the end of a marijuana roach. This happened two or three times. I would take the roach and find an aluminum can in the trash. I always kept a sewing needle on me and I would poke holes in the can and have the two or three hits of weed. Then I would sit by the grates in the sidewalks in Belltown and play my pennywhistle to the C# drone. Those were my vacations.

One time on the streets, I just needed a distraction from all the work. I got the 3/2 rhythm of Rush's Big Money in my head. I think I made it back to Adriana's and managed to get an old cassette walkman and a tape of Power Windows. I was really rocking out to that for a week there. Ultimately keeping a walkman with me was just carrying too much junk, but it was fun for a little bit. I also had a tape of Miles Davis' Steamin' with me.

Another time I was having a diarrhea moment downtown at 3am. There was no way I was going to make it the 20 blocks to the porta potty and even if I did, it might be locked. So I did what had to be done, I grabbed a plastic grocery bag out of the trash and took a dump right there in the middle of the square. No one was around anyway.

It felt like there was some trend of college students harassing homeless people. I remember reaching into a trash can once and my hand landing in a pot of grease. Like grease from a fast food restaurant. That was really unpleasant since I had no where to wash up. Another time I woke up in my sleeping bag to find that someone had painted graffiti on my sleeping bag while I was sleeping. I think I had also woken up one morning to find that someone had pissed on me.

At one point I had aquired a ball of hemp twine. I needed some distractions from all the work, so I just started braiding long strings of it. I eventually had a bunch of these and tied them all together and tied my sleeping bag up with them. It had a loop coming off of it that I could put over my shoulder. And then I would loop it through the handle of my briefcase and then I could have my briefcase hanging on one side of me and the sleeping bag on the other without me holding them. It was pretty cool, but it was a little bit awkward.

People often ask me why my family, especially my mother didn't help me out more. I don't have good answers to this. People think you are a down and out druggy and that they would just be enabling you. You know, when I was looking for a job and people would ask about my employment history, I proudly said that I was a jazz trombonist in the US Navy for 7 years. Doesn't that say that I'm smart? I have a creative website with my music on it. I made a database program for the Navy Band music library. I'm smart! But that never seemed to help me very much. They probably couldn't see past my long hair. Maybe they were like "none of that applies here." I don't know. I really don't know.

One day I just had enough of it all. Where were all my friends from high school and the Navy? I thought that if I just sat there long enough in one place, someone would notice and help me out. I stood there for a couple hours. It was cold. No one was going to come. This is really happening to me. The only thing that makes sense is to get back to work. At least the work was good.

Sometimes when I could afford to take the bus to Adriana's and back, I would find myself on the bus with the rush hour crowds. All those people dressed up for work. What do they all do? Boy. And then I would get out my math and start writing. Why isn't this good enough to get a proper meal and a place to sleep? I know that a lot of people have ordinary jobs where they are playing a small roll in the bigger picture. And then I know there are some people crunching the numbers in the engineering behind the scenes. I really only learned one thing from my uncle Brian. He said "You don't have to go to college to get an education." He was totally on the mark with that one. You may need to go to college to get a job, but you don't need it to get an education. In fact, you can go to college and not get an education. The libraries are a very civil place for homeless people. I have no idea what percentage of homeless people educate themselves, but I imagine the percentage is in the single digits.


The Backend

First of all, I was totally sick of eating the crappy food I could afford with my food stamp card. It was much better than the streets, but I wanted something GOOD! So I got into cooking. I got a few dollars together and went to the bookstore to buy a cookbook. I bought the Everything Indian cookbook. I knew I wanted to cook Indian cuisine. I then bought a mortar and pestle. I spent a good chunk of money buying the ingredients to make a lamb vindaloo and some curried cauliflower, but the spices could be used over and over. I was fine for having just one good meal a month and then eating Top Ramon for the rest of the month. I needed a good meal. So that is how my adventures with cooking took flame.

In early 2005, Sam brought over a spare computer and I ended up ripping the hard drive out of it. It had this security feature where you needed like a foot long screw driver to take it out. I ended up trashing the computer and literally ripping the hard drive out of it. It worked and I put it into my old machine, the one I did all my recordings on.

I was back in business. For some reason, I didn’t get back into collision detection. I was interested in coding the backend so that I can make applications that save their state. Choosing a language was next. The LAMP stack had three P languages: PHP, Perl and Python. I didn’t know which one to choose and wound up picking PHP. I got a big book on PHP4 from the library.

I had a desk, coffee and a computer. Jenn helped me get an internet connection. It was a DSL connection. It really sucked and I later tracked it down to a shorted wire in the phone jack in the kitchen. After I found that, the connection was solid. I used my FTP program to post files to a server that was running PHP. I was studying around the clock. I added file saving controls to my Laser Grid program first:


That was awesome. I had some problems understanding one of the concepts in the PHP book so I called the author. He answered the phone right away and talked me through it. I was getting confused about a variable called records and one called record. That is typical in back end programming. You loop through records and then do work on each record. Notice the “s” in records. He got me straight with that. I also insisted that the PHP code mysql_fetch_row() was stupid. He argued that it made sense, but right from the beginning there, I made a wrapper for it that turned the whole mysql query result into an array and then looped over that. I’ve done it that way ever since and most programmers do that as well. I did have some smarts about computers and programming.

Jenn was putting pressure on me to get a job. I was working around the clock on programming and of course I was answering Craigslist ads for work, but I wasn’t getting any interviews. I wound up applying at a temporary agency. They got me a job binding books at a real estate office. I wore my suit jacket to the job and was just a machine doing that. It seemed like all the other people my age in the office were standing around doing nothing while I was working my butt off and going home to do another 8 hour shift programming.

I worked the job for 2 days and then asked if they needed me next week. He didn’t give me a clear answer. I literally didn’t know whether I was supposed to show up on Monday or not. I ended up crashing. I couldn’t sleep. I lost a night or two of sleep there. I was stressed out about the whole thing. I ended up hearing voices that told me to cut my wrist with a hand saw. I ended up cutting my wrist on the top side with the hand saw. Just sawing away, but slowly, cautiously. It was two weeks before the Star Wars Revenge of the Sith came out. I don’t think I was aware of that, but I was watching some late night talk show programs. I made a pretty good gash in my arm and the neighbor wound up calling the police.

The police took me to 5C again and I wound up staying there for a month again. I was back on medications and trying to do programming on paper again. I made the dot trombone while I was there. I also made a 3d environment like the Star Wars arcade game. You know, that kind of vector 3d game. It was really a nice little engine I wrote.

I was working on my Blinkies! program before the hospital stay. It was another animation application with server side saving like the Laser Grid program but this time with dots. I had it almost done before going to the hospital and it was easy to finish up when I got out.


Jenn was impressed with Blinkies! She knew I was trying. A few months later I tried working for the temp agency again. This time I got a job working in a large building doing data analysis for a class action law firm. They had a large print shop there where they could send off millions of personalized letters. I would do the typical data analysis job of hunting down the edge case claims. I primarily used Excel to do this which I was pretty good at.

I learned a lot of good skills at this job. They had me tracking my working hours (my timesheet) in Excel in 15 minute increments. So if I worked 3.5 hours on one task, I would write the task name in and then highlight 14 cells that were 15 minutes a cell. I still track my hours this way. It’s a great thing to track your time like that.

They had a custom backend program that we would query the master database with. And then it would send the results of the query back to us as an Excel sheet. What a great thing! I did enjoy this job.

I was taking the bus to work. It took about 20 minutes to get there. It was just one bus, but there was a 10 block walk from the bus stop. I was doing my programming work on paper on the bus ride. And then I got 30 minutes for a lunch break and would do my programming work on paper in the lunch room. And more work on the bus ride home. I was pretty exhausted when I got home and would typically just have dinner and go to sleep.

I was coding an online Scrabble game. I was trying to make a hand coded window with scroll bars and a list box to make the game work. I was successful at doing that entirely on the bus rides and lunch breaks. I was also working on making a Snood clone. Snood was a great casual game that Michelle was addicted to. It was a great game and it was an arcade game that required math and array work.

After 3 or 4 months of working that job, I was getting burned out. I was still hitting the programming pretty hard, and although I enjoyed the data analyst work, I was really an aspiring programmer. I was starting to crash again. I was not taking medication. Jenn and I both saw it coming and decided that I should quit the job. So then I put all my time into Scrabble and Snood. Just after Christmas 2005, I crashed. I was hearing voices again. I had left my little kitten in the park across the busy street because I thought she was a wild animal and wanted to be free. I started wandering around the city and went to an AA meeting.

I wound up walking back home in the rain and I had a message on my machine from the animal shelter saying they had my cat and she had gotten hit by a car. So I started walking to the animal shelter in the cold rain with barely any clothes on. I only knew that the animal shelter was in Troutdale, a good 40 or 50 miles away. The cops picked me up. “What is your name?” I was convinced that these cops were going to hand cuff me and throw me in the river. I froze and couldn’t answer, so they hand cuffed me and put me in their car. I was scared they were going to throw me in the river! They wound up taking me to a mental hospital, not 5C this time.

So there I am locked up again. They put me on medication. I didn’t do much work this time. I remember making a clown refrigerator magnet there. After about a month, they let me go.

Something had changed this time though. I said to myself “I keep on hearing voices and getting locked up, maybe there is something wrong with me.” I thought I was just putting myself under too much stress studying so hard. I couldn’t believe that I could not find entry level work as a programmer. How good do you have to be anyway? After I got out, I quickly finished up my Scrabble and Snood Clones.



Both games were really impressive. Maybe not completely polished, but totally functional. The Scrabble clone was basically Word with Friends 4 years before Words with Friends came out. A few weeks later I ended up getting an interview with Microsoft. They were looking for someone to prototype new Office for Mac features in Flash. It was a 6 month contract for $30,000. I interviewed with them twice over the phone. Both times I played Scrabble with my interviewer while on the phone. They were impressed and it came down to me and one other guy. I didn’t get the job. Still, I knew I was on the right track. I didn’t need Microsoft to tell me that.

Everyone, my family, my counselors, my friends, were urging me to get on Social Security Disability. I did not want to do that. I’m working my little heart out. I don’t want a handout, I just want an entry level job programming. But I kept on ending up in the hospital. I did not want that to happen again. Maybe there was something wrong with me. So I started taking the medication and applied for SSD.

It was hard to work while on the meds. Not impossible, just hard. I told myself that if I can’t stay out of the hospital without the meds and I can’t do my programming work on the meds, then I guess I am disabled. Anyway. I stayed on the meds and worked through the difficulties. I wound up getting SSD in 3 months and they gave me 14 months of retroactive benefits. They cut me a check for $14,000. Wow, from half a decade being homeless to having $14,000 in my bank account. And $950/month going forward. I remember taking a shower one day and cleaning my butt. And I found a dime up there. What? I’ve got so much money that it is coming out my ass!

OK, $14,000 a millionaire does not make as Yoda would say. I bought all my recording gear back. A MOTU interface, a Mackie mixing board, speakers, an 88 note MIDI keyboard, a laptop and a trombone. I also bought another Dodge Caravan for $1,200. I still got the HUD voucher for my apartment, but they wanted me to chip in about $250/month now. No problem. At this point, I could have gone back to pursuing a music career again. But I had come so far with programming; I really wanted to do it. So I stuck with it.


Programmming Career


My first programming job was with a website called In Music We Trust. It was a music review type website. Alex needed some custom CMS work done to handle his articles and front page. It was a 2-3 week gig. It was a PHP/HTML project. This was in the spring of 2006. The job went pretty well.

I was still with Michelle a little bit. Our relationship had been on and off for years. That summer, Michelle was pressing me to do medical billing school with her. So I signed up for these classes. They started with an MS Office class and well, I breezed through that. Then I start the normal class learning medical terminology. I do the class for a month or two and then Michelle breaks up with me again.

So then I go back to Craigslist looking for a girlfriend and met Ena. Ena liked to bike and was almost exactly my age. We definitely grew up in those arcade years. So Ena is like “What are you doing in that medical billing school?” Yeah, it was pretty ridiculous, so I quit. I was cooking good food for Ena so she thought I should go to cooking school so we looked into that. I decided not to go. I wanted to be a programmer of course. I had come so far. I decided that if I was going to get into it, I needed a new project. So I came up with the idea of making a backgammon game.

I moved in with Ena and her friend John around Halloween and started making my backgammon game that winter. The backgammon game went well. It had a computer opponent. It wasn’t the best AI logic, but it did work and was a complete game. It can beat you, but if you are a good player, you do have a considerable edge over it.

It was probably late February that I interviewed for a job with Fablevision. They had a contract with Learning.com to make games for their Aha! Math series using Flash. It was a perfect gig for me. Fablevision is in Boston, but Learning.com was in Portland, so they opened an office here. Doug hired me. He was especially impressed with my WavSequencer program. He also did some work for the Mavic CrossMax bicycle wheels of which I had a pair in the 90’s.

I was working in the office in downtown Portland and living across the Columbia River in Vancouver Washington with John and Ena. I often rode my bike into work across the Interstate bridge and then would take the Yellow Max line. Usually when I biked, Ena would pick me up from work and drive me home, but I did a fair amount of riding home too. It was quite a distance.

Ena and I would go on some nice bike rides together. She got a new Specialized entry level road bike. We ended up doing the Portland Half Century ride and the Bridge Pedal. I biked 67 miles on the half century ride and was pretty worn out from that. Ena wound up doing some full century rides. I think we also did a ride near Newberg.

I spent the whole year coding Aha! Math with Fablevision. We had a good team. I was finally making a living as a programmer! I told Social Security that I didn’t need their money any more, but they have this policy of continuing to pay you for a year after you start making money just to make sure that it is going to work out. My programming pay wasn’t huge, but it was decent, so my money situation was better. Ena and I got a 2 bedroom apartment of our own in Saint John’s in North Portland that fall.

When I was doing Aha! Math, I came up with a combination of Tetris and Snood. I coded it over a weekend and spent the next week tweaking it. I called it Shape Shooter. Ena loved this game and was playing it all the time. It uses a little bit of trigonometry and a lot of array work. The unique thing about it is that it uses two different collision detection algorithms; one for the middle and one for the sides. It was a pretty clever trick that made the game work.

Ena and I loved playing cribbage together and drinking coffee. Ena was really good at cribbage; we had a good time with that. 2008 started and we got married in April. Aha! Math ended and Fablevision had us doing the interactive website for Sid the Science Kid. We did that project in Flash Actionscript 3.

In 2006, Adobe bought out their main competitor Macromedia. Macromedia’s Freehand was the competitor to Adobe’s Illustrator. And they got Flash and Dreamweaver out of the deal. Then Adobe upgraded the Actionscript coding language to Actionscript 3. Actionscript 3 was rebuilt from the ground up. It got rid of all the inconsistencies in the language. They really did a great job with that, but the downside is that it wasn’t compatible with Actionscript 1 and 2. Flash gaming was really big back then.

I wasn’t doing formal object oriented programming until AS3 (Actionscript 3). It took some getting used to. I was pretty intuitive at it though. AS3 has it where it counts. It has class extensions, method overrides, default function parameters, and mutators and accessors (setters and getters). AS3 is object oriented heaven. In late 2008, I was making windows and scrollbars to practice my object oriented programming.

After Sid the Science Kid ended, the Portland office of Fablevision closed down. I was always working as a contractor for Fablevision, so I transitioned smoothly to picking up contracting gigs.

Around the beginning of 2009, Ena left me. She moved out and it was just my cat Yoda and I. It was really quiet. Work was slow that winter. The recession was in full swing. I ended up getting off of my psychiatric medication just to see if I could live without it. I made it about 2 months without the medication and then I had problems sleeping. I missed a night or two of sleep and then Ena took me to the hospital. I had to get some sleep. I spent all day there trying to convince them to give me some sleeping medication. They finally gave me some and Ena drove me home. I wound up forgetting to take the medication and then losing another night of sleep.

When I lose sleep like that, I become much like a zombie. I call this crashing my brain. I wound up walking around the neighborhood naked in the middle of the night a little bit. Then next morning I was walking by the Kentucky Fried Chicken and thinking about all the dead chickens. Well, I wound up going home and killing my cat Yoda. I had never killed anything before, but I sure had eaten plenty of meat in my life. I slit her throat and then wound up decapitating her to put her out of her misery. After that I ripped open her chest a little bit to see her heart. It looked like the heart was connected to the lungs with a whole bunch of blood vessels.

I then went running towards downtown Portland without any shoes on. I made it about 20 blocks and then my feet were all torn up and I was then limping along. I decided to head back home. The cops picked me up. I had blood all over my clothes. I wound up in a psych ward. I wasn’t doing drugs. This crashing my brain happens naturally, predictably every time I get off the medication.

I spend 2 months in the hospital. They let me use my laptop a little bit. I actually did a little bit of paid work in there. Then instead of letting me go, they put me in the Oregon State Hospital in Portland. I wound up spending 2 months there. They let me use my computer too and I wound up making my transcriber program there which used my windows and scrollbars.

Yoda was an incredible cat. She was black and white spotted. I got her when I got on Social Security Disability when she was one year old. When I first got her, she was hiding under the bed and wouldn’t come out. I finally forced her out of that. Then Sam came over and played his tenor sax. Well, Yoda loved that! She instantly became the hippest jazz cat ever. She was a climbing expert. Getting up on top of the house and killing birds.

I actually cried for a month in the hospital. Our life had just become a bad country song. Ena left, work slowed down, recession going. I don’t think PETA will like this story, but I guess the slogan goes “I killed Yoda”.

So many people and animals die in wars and in the production of dinner. I can see why people hunt deer. I killed Yoda and got it out of my system. I can appreciate that we don’t want this kind of thing going on in our neighborhoods. Just remember: they do lock you up for this kind of thing.

Ena closed up the old apartment and helped me get a new apartment when I was in the hospital. I was begging the doctors to let me out of there. I was running out of money and needed to get back to work. I didn’t want to be on public assistance again. They let me out just in the nick of time. Right after I got out, Ena brings me a black kitten that we named Rain. Rain is sitting by my side while I’m writing this. And then I land a good contract making some educational games.

The apartment sucked. We called it the crappy little apartment. It was right on the freeway. I was happy to have my own place though and not be paying so much in rent. The doctors had me on a new medication in addition to my old one. It was making me drowsy and I started gaining a lot of weight. I was seeing my weight start to go up a couple years before that though. I had adopted a bad habit of drinking soda pop when I started getting into cooking. All these factors added up to an increasing waistline.

I started working at DHX Advertising in 2010 just after Memorial Day. I had a lot of fun working with those guys. The medications I was on had me nodding off at my desk some mornings. It was really embarrassing. That anti-depressive med I was on got to be too much. It was just making things worse, so I finally stopped taking it.

I was actually more depressed on that medication than without it. One of the stupidest things I’ve done was this year. I had decided that I was not going to start drinking alcohol again which was of course good. Marijuana wasn’t doing it for me either. So I started doing nitrous oxide. I was doing 2 boxes of it, 2-3 times a week after work. It was a numbing high. They call it hippy crack. After nearly a year of doing this, I wound up losing some feeling in my toes. It came on all of the sudden. Man was that scary. It came on and was constant. I was freaking out. I researched online and it said it had to do with the nitrous depleting you of vitamin B-12. So I started taking B-12 pills. I didn’t tell a doctor. It took a few months for the B-12 to bring me back to a normal level. Man, I was doing so good with drugs and alcohol and then had to do that. Anyway, I learned my lesson for good this time.

In the beginning of 2012, Patty Bear moved in with me. Patty was a friend of Ena’s mom. She needed a place to stay. Her life had become a train wreck. She called herself a drowned rat. She was just about 60 years old and a life-long alcoholic. Her drug of choice was two 40oz beers. Honestly, she was knocking on deaths door when she moved in. People didn’t like her when she drank and I was no exception. She wasn’t violent, but she could be obnoxious.

I got to know her and fell in love with her. She began drinking less and less. She’s actually quite wonderful when she isn’t drunk. She encouraged me to do my music thing, so I started recording more. In the spring of 2012, work was slow at DHX and my freelance clients wanted me back. So I started working from home again.

We got into a happy little groove there. I met Warren online. He draws mazes which is a good counterpart to collision detection. I Googled “The intersection of two lines” to find the math to do a linear algebra collision detection that would work at any angle. I built that up into Maze-ing Earth. There was a bug in it initially where the ball would sometimes stick to a point. I eventually found that there was an incorrect pocket of code and then it became 100%. I started running my own servers so that I could ping them 12 times a second so that you could have multiple people in the maze at the same time so you could race each other. I wound up spending 300 hours on that project. It doesn’t look professional, but it is kind of cool. We’re still working on making it better.

Patty was encouraging me to get off my medication, so I tried it. Same thing happened. Losing sleep. Ended up in the hospital. I wound up only staying a week thankfully.

I had come up with the year 2014 a decade earlier. I thought that I would have solid programming skills by then. So in 2014 I decided to get politically active. I announced on my website that I was running for president. I believed 100% that I could do it. Of course it didn’t make any logical sense, but I knocked down a barrier by believing it. I started developing a platform based on climate change action.

The downside here is that everyone thinks you are totally crazy. And I was getting locked up for being crazy, so I’m… Crazy, right? Well, it’s an odd road to travel, but I just keep on pressing on trying to develop my platform. I ended up getting off my medication one more time and all those factors with the losing sleep and all had me wandering around again. I had a little RV that Patty and her brother gave me that I was restoring. I put a lot of love into that vehicle and enjoyed tinkering with it. It was just 18 feet long. A Dodge, Lazy Daze RV. I put my cat in it with all my music gear and start driving north. I wind up abandoning Rain in a small town and then wandering around Olympia on foot. I was in South Olympia and noticed that the vegetation there is gnarly. And they were building housing all surrounded by this awful vegetation. I was walking along the freeway and a cop stops me. I wasn’t really making any sense and he wasn’t making much sense either. He wanted me to walk to an exit and he was going to follow me? It was odd. I didn’t know where I was. I had been walking for 20 hours and hadn’t slept in days. I started running but I couldn’t go very fast. He stopped me again and said “Why did you run?” Well, I pulled the Forrest Gump and said “I just felt like running!” Which was the funny political joke in my mind. Then he searches me and finds some razor blades in a plastic container. I had bought a utility knife at Home Depot earlier because someone strange looking was following me and I wanted some kind of weapon. When the guy stopped following me, I had enough sense to know that I probably shouldn’t have a knife on me in that condition, so I threw it away, but I forgot about the two replacement blades that came with it.

The cops charged me with a drug charge saying the blades had drug residue on them. So they take me to jail. When I’m being booked, I get a voice in my head that says to challenge these cops. So I just made a sudden move and then all the cops tackled me and brought me to the ground. I eventually make it to a jail cell of my own. In a room of two person cells with a lobby kind of area in front of them. Everyone is all locked up in their cells though. The let us out into the lobby once a day, one at a time, for about 15 minutes. There is a phone in the lobby where you can make your phone call. They give you a piece of paper with an access code. Well, I had a lot of money in my bank account. I was trying to call a lawyer I believe. I didn’t have any numbers memorized. But every time I got on the phone, some jerk in another cell would start yelling and the phone would not recognize my voice to initiate a call. It was so frustrating. My time would end and then I would have to wait another day to make a call.

I wound up being locked up for about a week. Patty finally figured out where I was and came up to get me. They were charging me with drugs and custodial assault. The custodial assault was a felony. So they let me out on bail and I go get a lawyer. The drug charge was odd. Those blades were brand new. They must have been scratching the plastic from walking around so much. The drug charge didn’t stick, but they wouldn’t let the custodial assault go. It was kind of a false arrest. I guess I was running from the police, but almost anyone could have caught me. My feet were so sore from walking I could barely move.

The lawyer helped get the custodial assault reduced to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct. I told my story in front of the judge. I got off my medication again because I felt it was making me gain weight. My doctor prescribed rapid weight loss because he diagnosed me with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. I wound up losing 40 pounds, so I was trying to take care of my health. I did learn how to lose weight. The judge was nice. I was trying to do good and be a productive member of society.

In jail I made one of the best decisions of my life. I told myself “Make it beautiful when you get out of here. Buy a car or get a house, just do something beautiful.” I had arranged to buy the house even before the trial happened.

So then Patty and I are out of the crappy little apartment and in a nice craftsman house. Such a relief. Patty wasn’t drinking anymore. I had lost all that weight. We got out of the crappy little apartment. Right before we moved our stuff in, we took Rain the cat there. He was clawing all the way and pissed on me in the car, but once he went in the front door, he knew he was home. He was running all over having the time of his life and Patty and I were drinking coffee waiting for the movers to bring our stuff. Man, I had that house in the 90’s with Ann and then tore it all down and it took almost 15 years to get back into a house. But the work that I did on the streets made it all happen. It was a great feeling.


Death and Politics


Coming soon...


Takeaways


I felt that I had to tell the story of my sexless marriage. That was in the top couple events of my life. You know, it wasn’t Ann’s job to give me sex. At this point, I blame myself just as much as Ann. Sex was very natural with Marge. I wasn’t over Marge when I married Ann. I didn’t really get over Marge until about 5 years ago. I finally got to the point where I just said that it is over (Marge). She isn’t a part of my life. Getting out of the Navy didn’t do good things for my sex life, but I was trying to make a change.

I saw this guy online a few months ago who stayed in a platonic relationship (sexless marriage) for 30 years. He was a mess and I could totally relate to him. Leaving Ann was really hard. I have not had a great sex life, but I had sex a few days ago and it was great. I’m in a good relationship. I do miss a lot of things about being with Ann. I had a lot of fun with her. I don’t miss the sexual frustration though. I made the right call in getting divorced. It was definitely a hard path though. I'm sure it was tough for both of us.

I don’t regret having gotten involved with drugs. I do regret not having taken college seriously. Boston was a culture shock for me though. I don’t see how I could have survived there. I do love being out in nature. I like how I quit drugs and started transcribing music 6 hours a day. That was probably the most important event of my life. Doing that while working 6 hours a day as a janitor was a great thing. And all that biking! I could have wound up doing a similar thing with programming. Those jobs I had were pretty unreasonable though.

Studying collision detection while living on the streets is a great story and I had a blast doing that. There was a level of fear on the streets. It would have been nice if I had an easier way to take a shower and wash my clothes. I couldn’t have done all that without food stamps and the library. I feel they are the mark of a civil society. If worse comes to worse, you can re-educate yourself living on the streets.

It’s been great learning math and programming. I enjoy it just as much as music. Computers are amazing. The internet and the wireless network are amazing. I got my first smartphone in 2016. My millennial friends where saying that I was going to love it. The truth is that I don’t use it very much. I use it so little, my battery lasts 6 days. Last week I even turned the 4G and wifi off. I just don’t use it as an internet device. All my computers are wired to the internet. I read the news on my iPad and use my Dot Trombone app on the iPad to transcribe on the piano. I’ve removed the databases from my websites. I run my own server. I like playing casual games with computer opponents. I do like the 21MP camera on my phone. It does come in handy when I’m out in the world and need to find something or use it as a magnifying glass.

My adventures with cooking have been excellent. Getting into Indian cuisine was one of the best things I’ve done. Kurma Dasa and Raghavan Iyer’s cookbooks are the foundation of my cooking these days. That pressure cooking short grain brown rice book I had in the 90’s was great too. I made the mistake of getting into soda pop when I started cooking Indian food. That combined with the medication I was on led to gaining a lot of weight. The toughest thing I’ve done in my life was losing that weight. It took almost 2 years of regularly starving myself to lose 40 pounds. Yesterday I weighed in at 147, a full 40 pounds less than I was when I started dieting 7 years ago. It’s all about calorie reduction.

I reconcile my bank accounts every morning. I use Quicken as my checkbook register and Excel for my budgets. I keep receipts of my transactions in my wallet and enter those each morning into both programs. Banks are incredibly accurate, but I don’t like the idea of letting the bank tell me how much money I have. I like knowing exactly how much money I have before I log into my bank account. I guess I have an accountant mindset.

I’ve been an independent contractor working from home since 2012. Work is feast or famine. Budgeting is great and all, but when your income is unpredictable, life can be difficult. Most of the time, I’m not working at programming full time. But I’m on call 24/7. I like working like that. I like being super responsive for my clients and they love me for that. I’m terrible at taking vacations though. It’s hard to have fun taking time off when you are in the famine cycle.

It’s frustrating having my job opportunities limited because I’m working from home. Cynthia and I drove the car 4,666 miles last year. I know I can do even better. I do not miss driving across town to sit at a computer with headphones on. Yes, there can be some good interaction in the office, but I just don’t see that as being worth the carbon footprint of getting there. We’ve gotten to the point where broadband internet is everywhere and most documents are digitized.

People go home to get away from the world. A place to escape to. It makes sense that people would not want to get to know their neighbors. If you know your neighbors, then you lose a little bit of your privacy. I do believe in living locally though. Driving a car can be fun, but most of the time it is just a waste of time and resources. I’ve been stuck in traffic jams several times in the last few weeks. I can’t believe people do that regularly. Especially when they are just going to a place to use a computer and the phone. It’s such a waste.

I’m going to talk about drugs a little more here. I’m thankful that I managed to get out of the drug thing. Besides my little nitrous oxide lapse in 2010, I’ve done very little drugs since 2001. I like to say I’ve done everything once. I did crack cocaine once. I snorted cocaine once. I smoked opium once. I injected meth once. I stayed away from heroine. I did too much acid. When I got out of the Navy, I wanted to let my hair down. I did want to do some drugs. I did enjoy briefly going to the rave parties. I was trying to do something different musically. It was a little stupid, but I did manage to make some cool music. I have friends that went too far with drugs and alcohol. Some of them died. Some of them are disabled because of it. I always say that you need to make sure that your production to consumption ratio is in balance.

Anyone can work. You don’t need a job to work. You don’t need to get paid. I consider people going to school to be working. If you are being active, you are working. A good analogy here is watching TV. There is a fine line between learning something on TV and working. I think that even when you are watching something educational on TV, you are not working. Work involves a little more than that. But when you take it another step and start drawing some conclusions about what you are watching on paper, then you’ve become active.

I’ve been out of the Navy for 19 years now. I was homeless for 4 years and lived in crappy little apartments for 10 years. For seven years between the ages of 30 and 36, I earned $15,000 total. My social security earnings statement is a real sight. In the 90’s, I was in the $10,000-$20,000 range. Then seven years of zeros. Then 12 years of $40,000-$70,000. That work I did on the streets did pay off. I look around at the things in my life and know it all came from working things out with paper and pen. The briefcase. What’s in the briefcase?

Not having a college degree and insisting on working from home really limits my job opportunities. Steve Jobs blacklisting Flash had a huge impact on me. Flash is still the best thing I do. I’m surviving and I have a pretty good life, but it is always on the verge of falling apart. I feel that I’ve earned an honorary degree in an art and a science. That’s no small task, although I know other trombonists that have done it. I even went as far as applying for an honorary degree. It sure would be nice to teach a trigonometry class at a college or high school. Or having some music and programming students. Without a degree, I just can’t seem to do those things. How good do you have to be in this world anyway?

My mental health struggles are part of my story. What was it all about? Is it genetic? Was it the recreational drugs? Was it that one time injecting meth? Or that PCP experience? Was it that the medications slow my thinking down and then when I get off them, I have a knee jerk reaction and crash my brain? Is the medication going to kill me in the end? Did it cause my trombone accident? You know, these questions can never really be answered. I just know that I don’t have problems when I take the medication and every time I stop taking them, I crash my brain.

It would be nice to have enough time to brush up on trigonometry and linear algebra and then get into calculus. If my political aspirations take off, I may never have enough time to do that. There are so many things to learn in this world. I’d love to spend more time getting better at piano now that my trombone playing days are behind me. What’s more important? Neither really. Well, in my opinion, the political thing is more important. It sure would be fun to see America’s carbon emissions take a nose dive because of words I’ve written. Math would be fun no doubt, but I may never find a real world use for that. Getting better at piano and doing some composing would lead to more recordings and possibly some concerts. Of course I like the idea of making more music. I do miss the 8 hour music days I used to have. But the bills have to be paid and there is more to life than music.

I like the idea of opening a vegetarian restaurant. There simply are not enough vegetarian options in restaurants here. Being a personal chef is a nice idea too. Cynthia’s daughter is always saying “Mom, you’re spoiled” talking about my cooking.

I love programming, but I hate the idea of learning new programming languages that don’t do anything that I can’t already do. It would make me more marketable as a programmer, but it just seems like useless learning. With programming, I enjoy solving business problems, not learning syntax. Flash and PHP are still the easiest way to program for me. Making desktop applications is the most fun. If my programs were making me money, I’d have the time to do more of that. I do have a rather lengthy list of programming projects I’d love to get to.

Well, I’ll never be bored, will I? Making a living is always a challenge. I’ve managed to carve out a pretty good life for myself. I hope this book doesn’t destroy it! I believe in standing up for things I believe in. And that usually involves some element of risk.