Saturday, November 22, 2014

A YEAR WITH A COMMUNIST WHO TOOK ME TO DEATH ROW

3rd in this series of 19 things I've done that you will find hard to believe----events in a life that one relative has declared a life "thrown away".

Our knees touched at a personal growth seminar---electricity! Some months later I moved in with her.
A high-powered Attorney with an incredible story:  She and her impoverished family lived during her youngest years in a reclaimed chicken coop.  During her last year of high school she mustered the courage to write a letter to a famous girls college---telling her story and of her ambition to become an attorney fighting for social justice.  They admitted her---full scholarship---telling her on arrival: The hard part was getting here---consider that you have it made---your challenge now is to make your life interesting.

 AND SHE DID----emerging some years later a fully qualified lawyer---joining the premier social justice law firm in the U.S.---the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Her specialty: defending death row cases in Alabama. She monitored dozens of them---filing motions to delay executions etc.
(I overheard a phone conversation where she asked the prisoner if he knew that his execution date was only 2 weeks away. I laugh now remembering his loud and emphatic response: OF COURSE I KNOW IT.  She comforted him---assuring him that delay was routine and that the motion was already filed.)
She was a Communist in her political beliefs---hated injustice and grievous inequality.  Hated Russian style Communism---"nothing but tyranny".  Needless to say we debated almost daily.  The sorest point of contention was the death penalty----I supported it---she opposed.

One day she made me an offer I couldn't refuse:  "Come with me to death row---meet some people condemned to die and see if your opinion holds".  I went with her---to Atmore, Alabama and sat beside her as they brought one after another of the condemned men to a secure room.  I was glad to see a burly guard peering through a window.

They were all black.  The first was stone crazy---moving jerkily around the room---yelling undecipherable phrases---unresponsive to his lawyer's questions.  She tried without success to get him to talk to me. I was afraid he would attack---the burly guard seemed ready to rush to our defense.  ---and in a few minutes she signaled and two guards ushered him away.  She whispered to me:  He's pretending to be crazy---hoping they won't execute an insane man.  I've forgotten what his crime was---no doubt it was murder.

The next guy ushered in was calm, penitent and demoralized.  She asked him to tell me about the night of his crime.  And he did--in gruesome detail.  A planned rural robbery of an old couple rumored to keep a lot of money.  Knock on the door---car trouble--could they use phone to call for help.
But the old man said no!  I will always  remember the next two sentences: "I decided to shoot through the door into his legs---but I shot too high and it killed him".  They conferred a bit more--lawyer client stuff and he too was taken back to his cell.

I have forgotten everything about the third one.

But the fourth was unforgettable.  (I think the prime reason for coming)  He was a beautiful, powerful, well spoken, courteous, dignified personality.  The escorting guards seemed to know he was special---did not touch him---simply walked beside him---chatting in a friendly manner.  I supposed that Martin Luther King Jr was likely treated thus during his incarcerations.  As he entered the room, the lawyer rose and shook hands with him.  She introduced me and we briefly shook hands---and that was all that was said to me.  But he got right down to business---INSTRUCTING HER--what he wanted her to do.
He took some part of the case away from her and told her to assign it to someone else--so that she could focus on another aspect.  Apparently he had a team of lawyers. I can still see him standing like a great general, arms folded, head tilted downward, gathering his thoughts, then looking her in the eyes and gesturing gently, like the godfather giving his instructions.  My mind was blown:  WHO IS THIS GUY?  WHY IS HE ON DEATH ROW? HOW DID HE DEVELOP SUCH PERSONAL POWER? (only in the presence of Werner Erhard have I ever felt so LESS THAN)

They talked awhile and then it was He who signaled that the conversation was over and motioned for the guards.
On our way home she explained that he was in prison for a relatively minor crime when a riot occurred and a guard was killed.  Alabama judged that everyone in the mob was guilty but selected only one to be tried for murder. (like the army when a whole regiment was cowardly in the face of the enemy---selected private slovak and executed him) Likewise, Alabama selected this guy and convicted him.
His case had become an international 'cause celebre' as you will see.

She then asked if my views had changed.  I said that I would personally pull the switch to execute the first three.  But not the 4th.

Back home---one morning she rose early to have breakfast with no less than Ramsey Clarke--one time Attorney General of the United States---who had flown down to consult with her about this case.
(It seems that the Chinese government---always defensive about its human rights situation was charging the US with abuses of its own and on that list was this guy on death row in Alabama.)

RANDY RUMINATES:  I don't know what happened to this case---don't know how to find out.  I moved away to Florida.  The most intriguing aspect to me is how a prisoner can find himself and develop himself into a powerful, attractive, wise personality.  Many just turn sour and rot. This guy made me think of Malcom X.

Next up:  I think I will share how I participated in an underground railroad for safe abortions.

Friday, November 21, 2014

TWO AND A HALF YEARS IN A SOUTHERN BAPTIST SEMINARY

CONTINUING MY 'thrown away" life and 19 things I've done you may find hard to believe.
I barely graduated from college---with a liberal arts degree---prepared for nothing in the real world.
I hitchiked home with no clue what to do with my life.  I "drifted" into conversation with a minister who suggested I go to the seminary and become a preacher.  Adrift, clueless, vulnerable and  suggestible---I said OK---took a train to Kansas City and entered the Seminary--got a job at Hallmark Cards to sustain myself and studied Old Testament, New Testament, Preaching, Ethics, theology and Archaeology.  Lived with a group of seminarians.  My instructors were generally of the liberal wing of the church and persuaded me the Bible was not infallible or "inerrant"; but contained flawed history, anachronism and even contradictions. (by the hundreds----eg I Chronicles 21:1 vs 2 Samuel 24:1) ( Most of my professors were eventually fired for heresy and it set off a huge schism in the Southern Baptist Convention that made national news--Ralph Elliot author of "The Message of Genesis--taught me Old Testament)
The good news for me:  I began to feel my worth and wake up my self esteem--even as my doubts about religion increased.  My first sermon was a smash hit (an argument with God) and I was invited to churches all around to preach it.  A paper I wrote on ethics (in the form of a play) was printed up for the entire student body.
Nevertheless I was becoming convinced that the entire world of religion was a grand delusion.  So I quit the Seminary and enrolled as a graduate student in Kansas University studying philosophy and comparative religion.  After my first year I was drafted into the Army. (served 2 yrs as a Military Policeman at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md)
I eventually became a Unitarian (Who have left religion and adopted Values) and enjoyed 15 minutes of fame for a faux revival sermon I wrote and delivered around the country. Here is the flyer I sent to arrange speaking engagements.
I still deliver this speech on occasion---last year in Yuma.   

Was the first to deliver a Unitarian Revival
After this article--I was invited to Unitarian Churches across the US.

Here's a line from the speech to give you an idea. (Delivered in Southern Baptist style--it always creates a sensation)

"No matter how loud I preach---some people fall asleep.  For the benefit of those just waking up--I will tell you what I have told you.
My brothers and sisters----beliefs are like rats---but these rats carry a plague.  And the plague that they carry is persecution--and war--and arrogance---and guilt---and wasted lives.
If I had my way---we would make one heap of all the world's old ratty beliefs---open the lid to that festering pit and SWEEP THIS ODIOUS VERMIN INTO HELL!

UNBELIEVE----UNBELIEVE---UNDO IT--DUMP IT---SHUCK IT
And be born again as an honest human being who does not claim to know more than he really knows"

Next up: I will tell you about my time on a real death row.
Eventually I'll get to my sex life---embarrassing but hopefully cathartic for me.





 

Monday, November 17, 2014

STORIES FROM A 'thrown away' LIFE

I LIVED 17 YEARS IN THREE COMMUNES---All of which I started.  Two were in New Orleans one in Tampa, Florida.

It was a pivotal experience that awakened me on many fronts.  I love living communally---entangling my life with a dozen or so people.  After 5 years of near-bliss I fell out of agreement with the group---suffered hugely---raged internally.  Finally I went off to San Francisco and took the EST training and began to take responsibility for whatever came into my life.  I eventually got a new vision---bought a fire damaged mansion--and started another commune---this one structured with a new system based partly on an insight from Buckminster Fuller: ---the critical distinction between MORAL and TECHNICAL solutions to human problems. (e.g. the problem of speeding cars where children play.  The moral approach is a warning sign---the technical approach is speed bumps---engineering situations rather than engineering people)

The next 5 years were truly blissful.  I found the right people--and together we created what I think is the "perfect" communal system.  (beginning with Andy--who sometimes comments on this blog)
I renovated the house as we occupied it and soon it was valuable enough to "cash in" and not have to work for many years.-----And so I did--selling to a member who kept the system going.  I went traveling for several years---then got the urge to create another one.  I did so--in Tampa, Fla for 7 more years.  Then I got another vision---living on the road---sold the house hit the road and have done this ever since.

I think I can summarize in a few paragraphs what I learned about communal living those 17 years.

1.  Self fulfillment is the basic purpose.  (Teilard De Chardin:  "Isolation is a dead end.  The self is fulfilled in community") Close living makes it easy to absorb qualities you admire in others.

2. There are 6 major challenges to group functioning.
   A. Power:---who will run things?
   B. Property:  Who owns what?
   C. Privacy: Protection of personal space.
   D. Performance: How will things get done?
   E. Peacemaking:  How are conflicts resolved?
   F. Personnel: How do you select and evict members?

The great breakthrough came when I saw that each of these challenges could be met with TECHNICAL SOLUTIONS:
*Power: Everyone was required to lead the group for one month----two months if you enjoyed it,
*Property: Your stuff was your stuff.
*Privacy: Color wheel on each door--6 colors--dial a mood---violators subject to eviction.
*Performance: All house chores were up for bid.  Lowest bid got the job and the money it paid from                            the common fund. (money is condensed energy--and it is the cleanest way to                                        exchange energy.)
*Peacemaking: Done by the leader--WITHOUT JUDGMENTS--by shuttle diplomacy. (facilitating                               peace, Kissinger style, by transmitting perspectives back and forth till each party was
                          satisfied. (this was our finest social invention--It never failed to resolve matters)
Personnel:  To join us you had to be INTERESTING.  You were evicted if you became                                          UNPOPULAR. (This also worked beautifully---avoided the tedious right/wrong game).

What I learned in one sentence: "LOVE WILL GROW ON A FOUNDATION OF JUSTICE---BUT NOT VICE VERSA."

Friday, November 14, 2014

DRAMAS OF A DESERT DRIFTER

CATCHING UP WITH MYSELF.
Slept a peaceful night here---wide open free to all desert-- outside Ridgecrest, Ca.

In town I was approached by this beautiful woman--who invited me to hurry over and see something wonderful.

Showed me the inside mechanism of a tiny observatory.

and the wonderful event that was happening right then---a partial solar eclipse.

Lent me a pair of special glasses so I could see it direct. People love to share special sights--I make it a practice to quickly say yes to most invitations.

I left and went about 20 miles out and took this zoom shot of a household that really lives remotely. Wherever there is a crack in a mountain wall---water is usually present---often enough to support a ranch.

About 9 miles out a dirt road I was surrounded by an odd band of motorcyclist.

Friendly bikers on an adventure--cooling off in this mine shaft. What makes this group unusual is that one guy owns all the motorcycles.  He shares with friends--who chip in for expenses.

Later that same day, this friendly tattooed lady drove up in her truck--chatted awhile and let me photograph her.
One day I ran into a fierce windstorm that threatened to topple my rig.  I quickly found an abandoned building and hunkered beside it.  You get some hint of the wind's ferocity to the left and right of the picture.
I lost the back window from my truck shell and stopped for two days in this small town to fix it.
When I saw that cow I decided the town (Inyokern) was quirky enough for my taste.
Had an hour long conversation with the "hippest" mayor I've ever engaged.  Told me what it's like to run a town. Mostly, it's about collecting and spending fees wisely enough to keep the town financially afloat.  He educated me on the challenges of a town surviving on "fossil" water. (Water accumulated over thousands of years in underground aquifers)  It must be used sparingly or the town will die.  Citizens can be "educated" in conservation by setting the rates high enough to make them consciously frugal.

This quiet structure intrigued me.  I noticed that no one went near it.  So I did! Note that tiny sign on the front---will show you what it says----explains a lot.
Turns out it's headquarters for a motorcycle club. On certain occasions they ride in and party here.
---- explains the wariness of the town.  One guy told me: "they don't bother us and we don't bother them."

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  At the moment I can't think of anything I'd rather do than drift around experiencing.  Will continue this vein till I've caught up with myself--then I will shock you (and embarrass myself) with 19 things I've done that you may find hard to believe.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

SHORT STORIES FROM THE ROAD

CATCHING UP WITH MYSELF.  I write from the infamous Slabs near Niland California.  I last reported from the remotes of California.  I've made my way to Quartzsite, Az and traded in two defective solar panels for 2 good ones. (Sure enough Koyocera honored its 25 year warranty---I've had them about 15 years.  The lightening strike only 10 feet away at the Grand Canyon might have got those two and I never noticed) I discovered that I can function quite well with only one of my 3 operational.  Then I went to Yuma for dental work---had a minor operation to prepare for a third implanted tooth.  Now I will go back to cover happenings I think are worth sharing.

  
I begin with this lovely US Army ring found on a side road near Mono Lake, Ca. It looks like some lady was wearing it around her neck on a beaded necklace.  I would like to return it to its owner. Call me at 602-402-9511--and tell me what's written inside and I'll send it to you.
My summer companion through Nevada, Idaho and Montana rendezvoused with me briefly at Mono Lake.  We found this great free campsite high on a mountain road.

The road seemed pointless till we stopped this truck and got the explanation.  Turns out that buried under that mountain road is a large water pipeline---the upper part of the California aqueduct taking water from Lee Vining creek to Los Angeles.  He showed us where the pipe was inserted through a mountain to get at the precious water. 

This was the most expensive gas during my entire summer trip:  Bridgeport, Ca.

The story of this unusual lake and its critical role as nursery for gulls and "filling station" for migrating ducks and geese is worth knowing.  A protracted legal battle saved it from extinction.
Its waters once topped the tufa formations behind me.  

That's me at Lone Pine Visitor center showing the 10 ft size of the pipe that transports the natural water of the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.  Now Las Vegas has decided to do a similar thing---transport via pipeline the water from Northern Nevada to their thirsty city.

My next adventure was to go explore a mysterious dark forest out in the middle of a vast dry lake.
This is the road to it.


And there it is.  I spotted it some days ago from the exit of Burro Schmidt tunnel.



On the way out I stopped to investigate this abandoned cabin with its assorted structures like this fine table.  It's obvious that the builder had a get-away-from it all dream.  But they never used it.  The cabin was never completed.  Very often I see this sort of thing---most often incomplete and unused. I guess energy flags and the dream dies.

This railroad prevents driving out there.  So I go find another way in.
It's a long way around but I eventually found a crossing and drove back. This was as close as I could drive to it. 
Walked the rest of the way.  A dead cat--the mystery thickens.
Finally I penetrate the forest down this spooky road.
To this odd thing at its center.  I have no clue.

And here's another mystery.  What is this thing?  It's  a ball of something alive---some kind of an anomaly.  I let it be.
This house foundation is about all that remains of a once thriving town named Saltdale.  By the weirdest of coincidences I happen to know the person born in that house about 40 years ago. Hi Mary--does it stir memories to see it?

On the far western edge of this dry lake is the unlikeliest of communities named Cantil.  It's like living in the Sahara desert---houses are nearly covered by the sand.  I stopped and asked a resident why (in heavens name) people would live here?  He gave me a beer and took a long time to tell me he didn't know-----said his uncle left him the house and he needed to live some place. He begged me to stay the night.  I declined.
His house.

About 20 miles South is California City--a place listed in the encyclopedia of forlorn places.
So I went there and spent the night in a vacant lot.

Turns out, it's not so forlorn any more----this is part of a huge golf course surrounded by fine homes.

Now I will end with the titilating story I promised.  This picture adorns the wall of a small town museum which shall remain unnamed.  Long years ago I visited and was totally smitten with a docent there.  As we chatted my heart raced--dear God how I lusted for that woman.  Nevertheless, I controlled myself and left. But I called back later and confessed my feelings.  Amazingly she felt the same. So eventually we met in a distant town for a night of pleasure---then went our separate ways--for she was engaged to another.
So recently I was in that town again and stopped at the museum out of sentimentality.  Damned if she wasn't still there---this time wearing her wedding ring.  I said nothing--just walked about--debating whether to reveal myself.  There was a guy there---might have been her husband.  I kept silent and eventually started to leave.  At the door a friendly voice said: "Thanks for stopping by Mr. Vining."
I glanced back at the impishly smiling lady who held one finger on the register where I signed in.  I guess I will never know if she recognized me or routinely acknowledges the guest.  I smiled back and said: "my pleasure"  

PREVIEW OF COMING CONFESSIONS:  My family says of me that I have wasted my life---and It may be true.  So what the hell---I might as well tell some shocking truths about how I have wasted it.
At a minimum you may find it interesting.  I will begin soon to report 19 things I have done that you will find hard to believe. Each, however, could be proved if absolutely necessary.  For a teaser, I will tell you that I once wrestled a bear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A RESTING SPACE---A CODGER PLACE---A BASKET CASE

JOHANNESBURG, RANDSBURG, RED MOUNTAIN---- A trinity of ghost towns---within a mile of each other---triangulated around a single mountain.

I plan to visit all three tomorrow.  Tonight I settle into the cool mountain pass and climb the adjacent mountain.  (pleased that I can still climb a mountain)  I look down and see that I have a visitor---a cop.
So I take a quick shot of Red Mountain

and 180 degrees to the left is Johannesburg.
I go down the mountain.  The Cop turns out to be a very nice guy who knows how to deal with a citizen.  Tells me he's investigating a report of gunshots. (I didn't believe him--but he needs a cover story to investigate) I use the opportunity learn about his work.  When the backup arrived, he was no doubt surprised to see us shaking hands) 

I've come to find the grave of "Burro" Schmidt.
Johannesburg cemetery  apparently serves all three of the towns.
I prepare myself for a long search---but this grave immediately catches my eye.

It turns out to be that of Toni Seger, the lady who bought Burro Schmidt's tunnel and house.  And guess what?  Burro is buried in the next grave over.
Toni's grave is a masterwork of memorialization.  But I seriously doubt if those dates are correct.  Did she really live to be 106 years old?
A brief history of her life is etched in stone. One interesting incident is recorded---her wishes to be removed from her cabin FEET FIRST.
And this group of people apparently paid for this interesting artistry.  I think all graves should show a little imagination and some detail like this one.
I wonder if living alone in the desert makes it more likely you will become eccentric.

I moved on to Red Mountain---one mile away.  Met this interesting guy en route
A cross country biker who has just pedaled a very long way across the desert-- against the wind.
Behind him you can see the red mountain the town is named for. 
I show you just one shot of Red Mountain---a vast junkyard with not a drop of civic price.  I count it as a minimal place to BE.
So, I moved on to Randsburg --a thriving ghost town that gets a lot of attention from tourist and off road riders.
It makes a effort to preserve its character.
I stayed the night right where I was.  (Watched my Alma Mater, LSU defeat Old Miss---the nation's number 2 ranked team)
Took an early morning walk all around town.
Something was happening a block away.
They were making a movie.  Look for it at your local theater.  Title:  "TICKETED"
Don't know his name---but he was putting his heart into the role.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  Dear God (or whomever) I love this freedom to drift around--with a full "set of stuff" (comforts and connections) ---doing whatever appeals to me. You probably could do it too---if you wanted.  
Next, I think I will share with you a bizarre encounter I had yesterday with an old lover.
And I'm very curious about this mysterious clump of thriving trees I spotted from the exit of Burro's tunnel-- out in the middle of a vast desert.  I'm going to find a way out there to see what's in them