May 31, 2007

Between The Lines

"American officials said an Iraqi husband and wife who work for the United States Embassy in Baghdad appear to have been kidnapped.... American officials said the husband disappeared late last week and that his wife disappeared after she tried to look for him."

This is a paragraph hidden late in a New York Times story about the search for five kidnapped Britons, who include a contractor and four body guards. But underneath that, between the lines, is this story, perhaps a love story about a woman who fears the worst,then knows the worst, how can she not, what else can it be, and would rather find her husband and end it all together than apart.

You can imagine how this is going to end, their bodies discovered tomorrow or the next day, two among the 30 or so found every day. They may be recogizable or they may not. Their deaths will be a 'message' to anyone who works for the Americans. A warning, in the ruins.

But who takes the warnings seriously now? People you see in the street may be alive or they may not. The assumption is that you're alive. But you have only yourself as a witness....

You think of that young couple that died trying to reach each other across a bridge in Sarajevo, one was Christian, the other Muslim, if I'm not mistaken.

May 27, 2007

Last goal

After so many years the San Francisco Panthers have played in their last tournament together. The team lost two of three games in the San Francisco cup (under 14) and will not be in the finals tomorrow. In the one win Dash was sent in as a striker and scored a second half goal, his first in a tournament in years.

Some of these kids have been playing on this team since they were four; Dash, since he was 6. Now 7 years later, three state cup appearances, endless leagues and tournaments later, Super Ys, and Norcals later, it's all coming to an end. The coach has decided to withdraw, a stunning loss because he has not only kept the team focused, but he has also paid thousands of dollars in tournament fees and for uniforms.

Most of the players come from families with little or no money. It's not uncommon for one of the parents to be an illegal alien.

Now that he is quitting, the coach is dealing three of the top players to Juventes in Burlingame, one of the premier teams in Northern California. A fourth player is returning to Mexico for a year. The four youngest players, including Dash, will go to a 13-and-under team, run by an ambitious coach whose 18-and-under team won the San Francisco Cup this weekend.

Other players will be allotted to different teams around the city. Some will probably quit. This is the year, at 13 and 14, when a lot of kids peak. They burn out or become caught up in girls or gangs. They stop coming to practice, they don't perform in games, it becomes harder to keep teams together, and so the teams are endlessly falling apart and regrouping. In the cup this weekend, two players were picked up at the last moment, just for this tournament.

But here is why this story is more than a family heirloom in the bottom of the top drawer.

Two Mexicans friends started the team. Pepe and Jose. One worked as a waiter, the other worked for a landscaping company. Together, they wanted something better for their kids. The old immigrant refrain. So they created a team that kept its cohesion because the parents were all friends and because as the team began to win the parents were paid back in pride. The team's success was proof you could live in the Mission district and make something of yourself, that you could go off and play on artificial turf in the wealthy suburbs of San Ramon and Marin. You could humble the sons of the Silicon Valley elite, and the white bread boys in Santa Clara, even as your wife cleaned their homes and you built their gardens.

Eventually, the team fell into the hands of this coach, a former ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and then the San Francisco Ballet. He's now a well-to-do contractor. His sons are, nearing the end of high school, probably going to college on soccer scholarships.

For years he has let the team's best players be guests on other teams around the Bay Area, particularly Juventes. That coach never loaned his players, although we needed them, but we lent them ours. Such is the cutthroat nature of kid soccer these days. Why does he do it? To get his best players better competition and better exposure.

He has argued that while the team has occasionally suffered losses because the best players were off playing somewhere else, the individual interest was greater than the community interest. And he would explain that some of these kids have soccer talents, which combined with good grades, could help them get into a good college, or any college. This is an opportunity not well understood in the immigrant community, where people assume that college, city college, is out of reach unless you know someone. Meanwhile, a good college is impossible unless you are Caucasian.

But now that the coach is leaving, everyone is afraid. The whole notion of using soccer to get to college seems distant. Suddenly, people feel betrayed. This possibility was held out, now it's taken away. The same old story.

And so what is the alternative? The alternative is to stay together, to fight off change. 'Remember, we are family.' Past glories are the proof that things should stay the same.

But no one has stepped forward to lead the team, the one person who could do it must return to Mexico. No one has any money. No one has the time. What will happen? Perhaps they can last a little longer. They can still get into some of the better known tournaments, but without an infusion of state team quality players they won't win and you can't keep going to the better tournaments unless you win. That's the bottom line, you can only win or else no one will invite you. Just like life in America.

So now the departing coach is being slathered with insults. After four years he's being painted as a devil. He didn't sign up for this tournament or he brought in that player who was no good or he doesn't understand us....

And that's true.

But it's not only the coach who is being defamed. The best player in the team, who has a real chance of getting to a regional team in the next year, and was drafted second in the regional tryouts a few months ago, is suddenly over-rated. Other players who rumor has it are going to Jueventes are also discredited or they are not going after all.

Now there is a furor and fear. The team that gave so much hope turns out to be more important than anyone realized. For a moment it seems as if without that team there will be no source of pride, no source of hope. If you have to work these tough jobs for little money what other reason is there to be happy at night? What else is there to look forward to every weekend? What promise is there in anything?

May 25, 2007

Bad Behavior

And if you wonder why the growing fear and hostility in Europe toward immigrants from North Africa, and the notion that Southern Europe is slowly being overrun, and that one day the highest point in Paris will be a mosque, then you need only read articles like this one, about the May 24, 2007 decision to ban junior level Moroccan soccer teams from playing dutch teams, following an incident at a recent match between a Moroccan team and a Dutch team.... The ban is for FIVE years. Here's an excerpt.

"Several hundred Moroccan fans invaded the pitch twice forcing the referee to halt the match. The aggressive fans destroyed chairs and advertising hoardings. The ballboys were evacuated from the pitch as a precautionary measure. They also whistled while the Dutch national anthem was played... The storming of the field is usually done in a friendly, good-natured manner, but this was not the case at the Willem II stadium in Tilburg on Tuesday... Kesler said that Moroccan supporters must adapt their behavior. "It is customary everywhere that spectators keep off the field after a match. So Moroccans will also have to learn this." Association chairman Jeu Sprengers said he is satisfied with the measure imposed by the KNVB. "A wise decision. We must not tempt fate. The Moroccan community has given the Netherlands a lot of good players, but we must admit that it is difficult to channel the behavior of the supporters."

Notice the condescending way Moroccans are described. Still, this is the image they are acquiring, not to mention their presence in the dock in case after case charging terrorism. Strangely enough Morocco is emerging as a source of terrorists and trouble makers. But of course it's no wonder. The keg is blown. Al Quaeda could never find imitators if there was not so much ready made despair.

May 24, 2007


Twenty years ago I wrote about a convicted serial killer named Douglas Clark. He hated to be called Douglas, because classmates nicknamed him Dougl-ass in school. He would only be called Doug. I met him after writing a piece about a woman who killed her boarders in a Sacramento boarding house. All old pensioners. Her name was Dorothea Puente. This was in 1988. She has since become known as the Boarding House Murderer.

Doug sent me a note saying he was on death row and was interested to read my story about Dorothea because I seemed open to the idea that a woman could be a serial killer. I had simply written the facts of the case to that point; he was shooting blind. But he asked that I visit him. I did, and over the next year became caught up in his convoluted story.

In the end, I came to believe he might be innocent of his crimes, he was a villain in all other respects, but his trial had not established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, since virtually all the evidence came from his former lover and roommate, Carol Bundy.

I came to believe she had done the crimes, either with Doug or her lover, an Australian lady's man named Jack, whom she later murdered. This is how she did it. She had sex with him in his van, then got him to turn around and shot him in the head, cut that off, and then stabbed him in the back and buttocks. She would tell police she killed him because he knew too much and Doug had threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone what he had done. She had told Jack some things and then realizing her mistake had to kill him. She would tell police she wanted to disguise crime by making it look like a "Manson" murder.

A week after he was last seen at a neighborhood bar with carol the smell of his body rotting in his van, standing in a quiet van, disturbed neighbors who called police, who eventually came looking for Carol. She was questioned but there was no evidence to hold her.

She finally called police before they could arrest her to say she knew the man who had shot those prostitutes and left their bodies along Los Angeles freeways. He'd been tormenting her for months, she said, telling her these stories until finally she couldn't stand it and had to go to the police. Y

You may wonder why this serial killer with absolutely no regard for human life and women's lives in particular, never killed Carol who had become his arch enemy. Such are the many questions in this ridiculously convoluted story.

So, on the verge of arrest, Carol goes to police, confesses to killing Jack, says she had been suffering from Post traumatic Living-With-a-Serial Killer Syndrome and would be glad to testify against Clark.

At court she presented herself as a poor widow living on nurse's wages in the San Fernando Valley, with her two sons. Whom she had sent to live with relatives some months earlier. Doug's attorney floundered, he was an alcoholic who often fell asleep in trial and never presented much evidence. So finally Clark represented himself, and was quickly dispatched to death row where he's been since 1982. Or so. Longer than some others whose crimes were more recent. Bonin, one of his bridge partners on the row, is one example. He was executed a few years ago.

I wrote one piece for Vanity Fair, which centered on the bridge game on death row, four serial killers playing each other every day, and another piece for Los Angeles Magazine, which focused on Carol Bundy and how it was most certainly her who had done the murders.

Time passed. I've not seen Doug for years. However once in Morocco, a missionary in West Africa wrote me to say she had met Doug, was convinced of his innocence and perhaps we could talk. I replied that I wasn't interested in talking about it anymore and the correspondence died.

Then a couple of days ago I got an email from someone who would identify themselves only as 'family'. This person said their two sisters had been victims of Doug Clark and wanted to know whatever I could tell her about the crimes. Here's part of the first email...

I am doing research for the last two years and am mustering up the courage to find out before it's too late. Do you think he did it? Did my sisters suffer a long time? Which one died first? What makes you think he's guilty? They were Gina and Cindy

I replied,

Dear Family,

Did your sisters suffer?

I seem to remember that all the victims were shot and perhaps there is something to be taken from that. But of course there is no way I could answer such a question.

Which one died first?

I don't remember, and I'm not sure that was ever established although it has been 20 years since I first wrote about this case. It might be transcripts, which I no longer have.

Do you think (Clark) did it? What makes you think he's guilty?

This is the heart of the matter and still again I cannot answer definitively. After spending a good deal of time with this case I came to believe that Clark probably had not committed the murders, but that the woman he lived with, Carol Bundy, and her lover, Jack Murray, had done them together....


1. Clark had a long relationship with prostitutes; the victims in this case were, to my knowledge, all prostitutes. He had no history of harming them. He was also a sensualist, even a satyr. He went to swinger's clubs, he had endless relationships with women, he imagined himself a Casanova. He told me once he preferred prostitutes because he found them open about sexuality. Remember he was also sleeping with a 13-year-old girl during this period. He had absolutely no boundaries in that sense. Moreover, he was a coward, a liar, a braggart, who would have you believe he was brilliant and a sexual prince, but in fact, he was a devout coward, vain beyond belief and suffered endless delusions of grandiosity about himself. Which, incidentally, is one of the traits sometimes associated with psychopaths, which in turn are often the personality types of serial killers. But this raises that question of basic inference, most serial killers may be one form or another of psychopath, but are all psychopaths serial killers? No, they're not.

2. Carol Bundy implicated herself in several of the murders. I spoke to her on two occasions, for 7 hours at a stretch at one point, and she as much as admitted to committing one of the murders, herself. Not one of your sisters. In another of the murders the victim's head was severed. Who did that? Bundy said Clark did it. He says he didn't. He claimed, if memory serves me, that Bundy brought it to him. We know Bundy did cut off the head of Jack Murray. That's clear; she admits it. But the two bodies were never examined to see if there was some forensic comparison. And you might well wonder, 'why not?' In a word, because this was a horrendous case and Bundy passed herself off as a poor desperate housewife, a nurse, with two kids living in the Valley, who was overcome by Doug Clark. The case seemed clear, Clark represented himself at trial, and was his own worst witness. Bundy was the real evidence against him, there was no reliable forensic evidence, it was all the crimes according to her. But you read the transcripts of her initial interrogation with police and it's filled with inconsistancies and contradictions. In one of the most famous of these she is asked about one of the murder scenes and replies that she doesn't know anything about it, 'only what Doug told me', but then she goes into this description of what happened which is so detailed that it suggested she must have been at the scene.

In the end, I think Bundy clearly killed some if not all the victims, but she did it with someone. And that's also clear. But was the other person Clark, her roommate, or Murray, her lover? I can't be absolutely sure but after looking at all the evidence and thinking about it off and on for years, I think she did it with Murray. It may have been Clark, it could have been a folie a deux, that's the only possibility with him, but the stronger probability is Murray. One piece of evidence that might have proved the point was a piece of bloody scalp found in the ventilator of Murray's van, when his body was found. The scalp was never tied to any of the victims, but how well it was examined, I don't know. it was never offered up in court as evidence.

And there are other incidental reasons that tie Murray and Bundy to the crime. You can find out about some of these in a piece I once wrote for Los Angeles Magazine. I'd have to find it in a mountain of things but If you want it I could get it.... Also, if you haven't already, read this article that appeared on line....

The problem, the very damning problem about this case, is that it is so muddied, the trial handled so badly, that much of it still remains a mystery.... I have a similar mystery in my own family, an unsolved murder, and it is the cruelest legacy.

The correspondence was on. A second note then arrived from "Family"...

Sorry you were haunted. Some friends of mine say the same thing after they hear about it. I don't talk much about it and most people I know don't know what happened. I guess I'm haunted too. It's strange because I can see where we used to live on google map. What was so strange to me was reading from people that my sisters were prostitutes. That seems impossible because they were in high school, at least my sister Gina was. She finished the 9th grade and school was only out for a few days. I saw them around the block two days before when they were at a high school friend's party, and my dad tried to get her but she hopped the fence before he could catch her. They wanted to stay out late. I know she was trying to do modeling and acting. She did an ad for some footwear. It is just awful luck. Do you think people hate the family members and victims murdered by capital crimes, as if its our fault the death penalty exists? What did Clark's brother say to you? Your euphemism of placing people in the desert sounds very civil. But, if we put him in a desert somewhere, people would be outraged at that, as that is surely a cruel and unusual death. I guess it sounds nice, but really I think being stranded in a desert would be harder than what his fate is now. But then again I've never been to San Quentin. I guess I shouldn't go.

I tried to explain once again why I thought there are questions about his guilt and the way it was determined, and that certainly no question that Carol Bundy took part in the murders. She died a few years ago in prison....

That brought another note.

I just wanted to know what is it that makes you believe he is not guilty, when you visited, was it in the conviction of his voice? Do you think it would be wise for me to visit him? Did he frighten you?

I replied that I didn't think she should go, that he's not frightening, or he wasn't when I knew him, but that visiting people in this situation ultimately comes to nothing, and that she would still be left with ambiguities. I didn't press the matter, I didn't say what I really thought which was that you should under no circumstances visit him. It will bring you nothing good. I did not say, 'you know we take evil for granted in this society, but we shouldn't, and while this man is not 'evil' in an Biblical sense, the events and people around him are as close to evil as you can get and beyond the novelty of it, and beyond trying to save him from the executioner's song, there's nothing to do with him. Nothing to say, nothing to clarify.

She, I assume it's a she, sent another email, in which there were no questions I could answer or felt like answering and so didn't respond. But when I didn't reply after two days she sent this,

Why haven't you written back? Did I say something to upset you? What did his brother Clark's brother say? Did you ever interview his parents? Why did they not defend him? Where is the logic in that? This is ancient history to you, but I assure you this is all new to me. I appreciate your candidness.
Family member.

I sent this reply.

You might identify yourself, a first name might be nice.... As for not writing back, please take no offense, I've been very busy.... I shall answer all your questions, if I can....

What did Clark's brother say? I spoke to him on the phone, if I remember, and I couldn't use much of it, except that I asked him about Doug's childhood, because often you find the roots of psychopathology, in other words the elements that might make a serial killer in one's childhood. According to the brother, if I remember, the sense was that Doug was not abused, as opposed to Carol who was absolutely abuse: her entire history explained everything she did, which is why, to suggest that she was this innocent widow was nonsense. But the point is that Clark's brother didn't tell that kind of story. Those years were largely inconsequential, although either from the brother or Clark himself I remember that he did have an early sexual awakening and sex was always an enormous part of his life. He also got in small trouble, in schools and so forth, not so much physical, but mouthing off and lying. He also tended to brag, if I remember. Altogether not anything to build on, from my point of view. That was part of the problem, I couldn't find much in his biography that lent itself to his behavior.

Although there are those who would 'wait, there is a portrait that lends itself to murder' and they might point out that he was misogynistic, which I think is true, part of a love-hate relationship perhaps. He used his wife mercilously, I know that, and in prison has made endless attempts to strike up relationships with women. And he worked in upholstery, which is the handiwork, for reasons I've never understood, of many serial killers.... But you see how thin that is.....

I didn't interview his parents, although I read a couple of letters from his mother. I may have spoken to her once. I just don't remember. They were 'normal' as much as I know, although I think his father was in t he military, the Navy?

His parents DID defend him, although they didn't have much money, I seem to remember. But I think to the extent they didn't support him was out of extreme embarassment. Did they believe his claim to innocence? I don't know. I know he got letters from his mother from to time, which were sympathetic.

And you know he was married, Clark was married, while on death row They have since divorced. I think that's right. At least separated. She lives in the Mid West. They saw each other only in the visiting room at San Quentin.... For a while she was interested in his case and then after time she felt used and became bored with his endless derision, his endless errands on his behalf...

But what about Murray? What was his background? He was Australian, every bit the womanizer and had a long sexual relationship with Carol, who, interestingly, when she first called police to say she wanted to turn in a serial killer, described Murray..... And even used a derivative of his name. But then when she sat down with poilce everything changed....

I must go now...

She replied the next day and identified herself.

HI Mark,

I get so incensed about the girl because I am her friend. She was only 11 when it happened! She was 13 at the trial, she's the same age as me. No 11 year old is sexually active without the coercion they gave her. That's the B.S. Clark likes to portray her as, that poor girl. I'm really glad she made it through. It sounds so much more innocent on Clark's behalf, but you have to realize he would say anything to prove his innocence.

I do know Clark rented the storage space and called my sisters' friend, a number he got from Gina's wallet. Mindy. She identified him. They found her blood in his storage and also in his car, the one he sold to someone that went all the way to Ohio. The best thing about my sister dying is that her blood is what linked him to the murder. That much I have learned.

I don't care about his family's financial status, just their feelings. Like I always say: I really want to know what happened. My guess is some guy saw them at the beach and told them they could be in the movies, or in some ad and they head for LA, or that they were going to a 'casting call'...I know cause that happened to me many times when I got older. California is full of creeps. I was picked up by grown men since I was 13. But I knew better, through their mistakes. Nonetheless, I'm tired of speculating. You don't think that if I was to visit Clark I could get a semblance of the truth?

I hope you keep me confidential! Please don't reveal my identity...I'm rather terrified!

Did you read the case? Here is the link:

I have not replied.

May 22, 2007

Speaking of a lost crucifix....

This story appeared over the weekend and you probably didn't see it. It's religious devotion the old fashioned way. And my kind of absolution...

LONDON (AFP) — The Archbishop of Canterbury absolved one of his top bishops Monday after he went on a much-talked-about mystery walkabout after a few drinks at an embassy reception last December.

Rowan Williams said "no further action" would be taken after an investigation into the incident involving the Right Reverend Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark.

Butler, who has repeatedly denied he was drunk, got a black eye, a bump on the head and lost his briefcase, crucifix and mobile phone after drinking at a pre-Christmas party at the Irish Embassy in London.

A witness claimed to have spotted him near his cathedral, clambering into a stranger's car and hurling toys into the street before a brief tete-a-tete with the disgruntled owner.

According to the car's owner, Paul Sumpter, after he found the robe-wearing trespasser in his vehicle the following conversation occurred:

Sumpter: "What are you doing in my car?"

The bishop: "I'm the Bishop of Southwark, it's what I do."

A brief fracas then occurred, and an ambulance was called, but the mystery man apparently staggered off into the night.

The bishop, who said his travel pass records show that he used public transport that night from the city centre to his home in south London, admitted he couldn't remember anything about the evening, but denies he was drunk.

Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans, said in a brief statement that the incident had been investigated under the Church's clergy discipline procedure.

"In the light of all the evidence submitted to him Dr Williams has determined, under section 12(1)(a) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, that no further action should be taken," said a statement from his Lambeth Palace office.

May 21, 2007

When Maddy Went Missing

The story of Madeleine McCann's abduction has been big news in America as well as Europe. Among the recent stories, this chilling anecdote that appeared in the London Telegraph last Friday, May 18. The story recounted an inconsistancy with the stories of a suspect's friend. Then, on another tack, there was this....

Meanwhile, a Norwegian woman said today she saw a young blonde girl who she was “very sure” was Madeleine in Morocco last week.

Marie Olli, who lives in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol and once lived in Leicestershire, contacted police after returning home to Spain and hearing about the young girl’s disappearance.

She was on holiday with her husband in Marrakech on May 9 when she saw the blonde girl, who initially appeared to be standing on her own in a petrol station.

Then a man came over and the girl asked him: “Can I see mummy soon?”

Mrs Olli said: “I am very sure it was Madeleine."

The girl was wearing pale blue pyjamas with a small pattern on the top.

The man was in his late 30s and “anonymous looking”, wearing baggy clothes and carried an empty-looking rucksack with a camouflage pattern.

Mrs Olli said: “She looked sad. When the man saw me looking at them he turned away, so I couldn’t see his face.

“It’s very strange to see a small girl in a petrol station in Marrakech.

“If it was me with a child there I would hold their hand, but this man was a metre away from her.”

May 18, 2007

They Do

Rarely but vividly when they do, half-sketched figures from dreams appear, or else ghosts, even of people I've never met. Once, I was driving across the upper level of the Golden Gate Bridge, into San Francisco, one afternoon, and the ghost of Margaret Lesher appeared in the seat next to me. I was writing a story about her murder, which my friend Mary and I solved but there wasn't enough information to convict the man who did it, that buffalo riding-husband of hers who let her drown in an Arizona lake. She wanted me to go on with the story, I was an at early point, and deeply frustrated. Go on, she kept saying and I could see just her outline, not even that, but let's just say a presence, an assurance that she was there. I totally believed it. She was there and she asked that I not give up with her case.

Now, of course, this is all a projection, a romanticism, a wishfull visualization. I suppose. And perhaps that's what's happening lately when my father keeps appearing in dreams. "Put me back in my bed," he keeps saying. "Let me die in my bed."

When he was dying we put him in his den, a small room with a fireplace, a sofa, a leather lounge chair and footstool — the closest he ever got to a leather pig, which was very popular in those days, particularly among people of a different social class and people he detested — a book case, a TV, two closets, one filled with old Montovani and Herb Albert records, a desk, and next to it on the wall, the letter he got from JFK thanking him for campaign work. There was also a bathroom just off this room, with a nude Modigliani above the toilet, one of the many copies my father made of impressionist paintings.

At the very end, at 84, but I can't remember which year, 92 or 93, having had his toe amputated, no longer able to conduct those long dinners when he would raise a toast and say, "Isn't it wonderful out here on the fan deck. I love being on the Titanic, don't you?" Or sometimes he would say the Lusitania.

A short bad death. With Dylan's merlin on the bedside table and the very end he whispered to me, 'put me back in my bed'. He had a traditional wooden framed bed in his old office. He hadn't slept with my step mother in years. Neither of them could stand sleeping with the other. So there he was in his room, with a gun in his underwear drawer, and on most nights in that last year, listening to religious broadcasts of one sort or another.

"I want to die in my bed," he said.

But I didn't. It was more convenient where he was, to take care of him, next to the bathroom, a high hospital bed... and then the next morning he died.

How his words keep howling. And lately he's there, in that room, in the late afternoon, in the fall, that was his best season, with the light coming in through the trees and the wooden blinds, he's there, on the edge of the sofa, with his dark glasses, watching the telly, alone, waiting.

May 14, 2007

Running down the beach

A man came running down the beach this morning. Middle Aged, and as he passed I noticed a silver cap on one of his left front teeth. He was not jogging, he was running and not like he enjoyed it. He wore shorts and sneakers and a t-shirt with the words, "Devil's Little Helper". His hair was unusually long. He didn't seem to be with anyone.

You wouldn't have noticed him at all but then he kept looking over his shoulder as though he were being followed. And sure enough he was! I looked up and there was a huge monster bearing down on him, a Loch Ness monster, with the head of a dragaon and the jaws of the 'alien'. Long blasts of fire came furling out the mouth. Like something from the mind of St. George. But not just a monster following him, there were women running after him too, all naked, all very angry, throwing spears and yelling obscenities. Finally, he turned and told one of them he would see her in court and not one second sooner. At one point they nearly surrounded him, poking at him, but he darted off into the dunes.

One of these women in pursuit stopped close by. I asked her what was going on. "Can't you see? He's impossible. And now enough is enough. Do you know what he dreams at night? He keeps dreaming that he's trying to get to the Today Show. You know, NBC. And you know what?


"That says it all." She looked up. I followed her eye and it turned out there were all these other things following him, clouds, moons, winged defeats, old fashioned wooden gliders, bird cages drifting like balloons, and a Baron Davis look-alike who took off his shirt and made a triumphant grimmace.

Later, this running man appeared one more time. He was still sprinting, I couldn't believe what good shape he was in. Real encouragement for men who are about to give up trying to stay in shape. I heard one of the people chasing him say they worked in the collections dept. of the W & J Sloan Company, which went out of business 40 years ago. I don't know what that was all about, I can only tell you that finally this running man ran out of sight and I didn't see him again.

May 12, 2007

Lives That Cannot Be Recalled

The story I had was not entirely correct. The suicide was not AFTER everyone had arisen. It occurred earlier, in the hour of the wolf, before anyone was up. Then the discovery. But no word about the shot and whether anyone heard it and where he was found. And nothing about how those last minutes might have gone. Here was a man who loved mathematical patterns, who deeply enjoyed complexity and the order to be found what others assume is chaos. But suddenly he must have seen through the patterns or not been comforted by them. Order must have seemed like chaos and not an interesting chaos, like storm clouds or the sight of white caps from an airplane.

As I told you he was the life of parties, bigger than life, and taller than life. He said things like, "Turn up the music so we won't hear them scratching at the door," "A headache is a sure sign of aspirin deficiency," "It's going to be big," "It is the misfortune of pigs that they are so tasty," "You all are dangerously close to having too much fun," " Don't make me use the pepper spray," "So, you're the designated drinker," "When I was your age I went to bed before midnight."

Does that sound like a man who would turn?

There was also a letter; by one account, a very "angry" letter. And now, for his wife, the double pain of loss and the trumping of the letter. 'You see it's come to this, and you are the cause.' Something like that perhaps and if that was the gist of it, and I don't know if it was, then he committed a double murder. And no way for him to say, as he surely would have, on a more temperate day, or given the rarely used, little known opportunity, to kill yourself and then use the get-out-of-death card: "I'm so sorry I wrote that letter. It was a terrible mistake. I didn't mean it. I couldn't sleep, I've been depressed. I'm worried about our finances. Please forgive me. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't understand what it meant. I got carried away with what I thought was reality...."

At the neighborhood soccer game the boy was absent. He and his mother have sought refuge with family. But at the game everyone was talking about it, trying to get more information. For some it was a warning label; for others it was simply sad and not much to be done but think well of the family, send a card perhaps, drop off some fruit, and go to a mass. For still others it was an exciting drama to sustain lives in which not much happens, not much is ever seen.


After the game I returned to the garage where I take my car on Saturdays for one fix or another. The place is run by Dale, who is from Fiji. He asked how I was, for some reason I told him I was consumed by the suicide of a man I didn't know. Oh yea, he said, yea that happens a lot. He told me about a man who hung himself last year in Daly City. And his brother hung himself 10 years before that. All from Fiji. "Women," said Dale. "They always do it over women."

I'd struck a nerve. Dale, I realized, was now a carrier. I'd infected him just as I'd been infected.

"Yea, and my wife's sister's daugther killed herself..." He described a 24 year old girl who left Fiji and went to New Zealand. It was a culture shock. And then she fell in with the Hare Krishna. And then she fell in love with a man and that didn't go well, for some reason. She was told the man was off limits. She also suffered from depression. She was very beautiful, very confident. Everyone thought so. Then one day, less than a year ago, her mother came into her daughter's room and found clothes over a chair. Dale's story was confusing, he passed over that, but the girl's sari was missing. And that got the mother frantic. It was too late. Her daughter had gone into a public park and using the sari hung herself from the thick branch of a tree. Someone saw her and tried to get her down but it was too late.

"Yea," said Dale. "My wife's sister still isn't over it. And what has it been, almost a year." He shook his head and walked back into garage.

May 8, 2007

The Inventor

These things happen. It's 8 a.m. In just a few minutes your son will be picked up to go to school. He goes with his best friend every morning. You are with your wife, your son and your parents, if I have this story correctly and I may not. But these details are not important. You are a 50-year-old inventor. You are a happy man, according to friends. You are a go- lucky. At parties you are the life and later when it's all over people will say, 'yes, that was a little strange, the way he always had to be bigger than life.' You are unusually tall, taller than a tall man, you can see over people.

Meanwhile, you give your inventions away, to your friends and their children. A strange looking clock that lights up. You are brilliant, everyone agree, and your son is dreamy. What better quality in which to grow genius, to pass it on — than in the blonde, curly-haired head of your son.

And so here you are with these other people, including your father, which is particularly significant, and your wife who has a reputation for being 'different'. "Strange" and "odd" are the words that come to mind. You're having breakfast. Someone remarks about what a beautiful day it is. Then, for some reason that you cannot explain, you bypass that thought and all of them, you put down your coffee cup, smudging a blueprint perhaps, go into the other room, stop for a moment to get something from your drawer and then walk into the garden and shoot yourself. To death. This is not an attempt, this is through to completion. This is, as my good friend put it, irrevocable.

It's hot these days by the way and there's a strange wind, an 'earthquake wind' I call it. People can't sleep and yet the heat is popular. It's reassuring. If the world is being baked to a crisp it's still nice to have one of those langorous days, and nights, when the sounds of the city seem more vivid, and just now around cinco de mayo, when spring is in earnest, when the white rhodenderons in the park smell as beautiful as they look. What a charm it is, how they take away all other sensation for that moment that you hold them close. What could be more satisfying than the free scent of those rhododenerons.

You, another you, walk through the park with your wife. You tell her this story and smell the rhododenderums. In fact, she knows this man, these people. You don't. To you, they're names only. You vaguely remember the tall, curly blonde boy. Your wife is deeply affected by the news and as you talk about it you realize the radiation caused by suicide. How it upsets the hope mechanism for miles around.

"Can you imagine that," you say, "right now they're having to face that, having started the day as 3 and now 2. And then tomorrow morning, what will that be like? And every morning they will be reminded...."

Your wife is deeply affected by these words. It's as though you showed her a photo of the body. She cannot bear to hear it. You were stupid to say such a thing. Which is perhaps proof of how little you can feel it. The thought of it is clear and striking but can you feel it?

"Don't ever do that," she is saying, "no matter how bad things get."

No matter how bad things get? And you think of that, how bad things could get, and of course you would never do such a thing, how could anyone, and here you are with your wife and there are your children off in the wing. "Irrevocable". Just the right word. The bad check you can't recall. The deed you can't undo. But the point is, the idea lives. That's part of the radiation. It's the illness of doubt. All of a sudden, you think, that option is still on the table. And while you are thinking about it, she is saying how she told someone where she works that no matter what, she would never do that. It stunning to think that the thought would get that far with her.

So you see it is live, these ideas breathe, the denial itself is proof. Everyone has thought of it, of course, but when this happens you realize how close the thought is to the surface. And then you think about others you've known who have tried suicide. How sympathetic and angry it makes you feel at the same time. And all of a sudden the whole world seems to come flaming down like the Hindenberg.

The upsetting passes. You are back to the car. Dusk has faded to black. The fog is back in place. Out the window, the familiar vistas reappear. But you think how careful you have to be now, how absolutely careful you have to be for a while, until this little incident is forgotten.

Appropo of nothing... There are times when I'll be driving along, on the freeway, down some suburban street with houses on one side and design stores on the other, and I'll see someone in another car and I imagine that I will never forget them, no matter what, I will remember them.... Or if I commit some mistake, dart in front, drive too slowly, I minagine that they will forget this ever happened, that I will be invisible.

Lately, life seems like that. So thin, so dreamy, so... if you hesitate just for an instant, you'll see something, hear something, something so subtle you could never describe it, and it's as though you've seen over the horizon.

May 6, 2007

Monet girls

Late afternoon at the beach. Sun off the water, the light hits you like skipping, shimmering stones, it's blinding. And yet, at the same time, the scene is gauzed, blued, impressionist. Framed are five women on a blanket. Middle age, all beautiful in their way. Facing the ocean in dark glasses and hats, like Captains Courageous, faces like prows, you think of those Marines putting up the flag on Iwo Jima. Five women, some of whom barely know each other, drawn together for a birthday party, all writers but one, the German, she is the most beautiful of all, a woman in her late 40s, a little uneasy in the company of writers (her father was also a Nazi which makes her uneasy around these people) Two of the women are Jewesses. Their families destroyed in the Holocaust. They from Berkeley, intellectuals, writers, high achievers, former hippies, one lives with a partner, the other is married outright, all have lived outrageous lives and share it like matza.

The father of one committed suicide, at 49, when the girl was 19. She was there when he did it. With a gun. And then her brother died. She didn't say, but between the lines you got the sense died from HIV. Another woman's brother died of HIV as well. These five women are all linked in strange ways. Through dead fathers or mothers, or bad men, or the writing life, or depression, or middle-aged women-dreams and wants, and desires. They're talking. You see them only from the knees down. Calves reminiscent of bullfighters. Later, they all dance in the little kitchen, oblivious to the Chinese families sleeping on either side. To soul music because one of them had a long affair with an African American playwright and this was 'their' music.

The most fun they've all had in years, they will say later. But just now, for this moment, before dinner and dancing, with the sun running like new yellow lead onto the horizon, these women, in a scene out of Checkov or DH Lawrence, or I'm thinking of Visconti's Death in Venice, like women in some other slower more cultured century, all facing the sunset, with hats and glasses, perfectly placed to suggest a heroic pose, Washingtonetttes crossing the Delaware. And it's a wonderful representation. A stirring rendition of old times.

May 1, 2007

Fear Is The Important Thing

I received this email from another parent at Dash's school. She believes this warning might be beneficial. I don't know who wrote the original email, I assume a woman is the author based on a comment toward the end. I only know that this message is "Crucial" for me, and probably for you to read.....

Because of recent abductions in daylight hours, refresh yourself of these things to do in an emergency situation... This is for you, and for you to share with your wife, your children, everyone you know. After reading these 9 crucial tips, forward them to someone you care about. It never hurts to be careful in this crazy world we live in.

1. Tip from Tae Kwon Do: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2. Learned this from a tourist guide. In New Orleans If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM Toss it away from you.... chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lightsand stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will.This has saved lives.

4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. (DON'T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE. And If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it . As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

5 A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage: A.) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat. B.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars. C..) Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than sorry .)

6. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot.
This is especially true at NIGHT!)

7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control,ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, Preferably ! in a zig -zag pattern!

8. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP It may get you d, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked "for help" into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

9. Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last,and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her "Whatever you do, open the door." The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said,"We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door." He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night. Please pass this on and DO NOT open the door for a crying baby ----

This should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted this past Saturday when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana. I'd like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle.I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers,wives,sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it onto them, as well. Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it and it's better to be safe than sorry. Everyone should take 5 minute to read this. It may save your life or loved one's life.

(The part about being put in the trunk is especially helpful advice if you're ever trapped in a Martin Scorcese movie called Goodfellas)