Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2.5 near-death experiences in vehicles I’d been driving (hopefully that’s over)

Those of you who know me well, or who’ve read my chapter in Truly Alive: 5 Near-Death Experiences - Before, During, and After, know I’ve had several close calls – three of them near-drowning experiences as a child and teenager. Since that book came out in 2010, I’ve added one and a half more near-death experiences. All three took place with me driving. The first incident, described in the book, involved drunk driving in 1991; the second was a car crash on a freeway in 2012; and the third, in 2015, involved a parking lot crunch with a rented moving truck and some very angry young men who looked ready to kill me.

What’s behind all that? A drinking problem in the first one, distracted and risky driving in the second crash, and deficiencies in my ability to drive a large moving truck in the third.

But the same person was driving all three times.

No. 1: It’s early April 1991. I’m living with my parents after moving back to SoCal from the Bay Area. My family had gone to Palm Springs and I stayed for work.

I’d been doing a good deal of drinking that night, all alone in the house. I ended up blacking out late that night, deciding to go for a drive during early morning hours. I ended up jumping my car over a curb on Redondo Ave. near the PCH intersection in Long Beach – and plowed into two palm trees in a V-shaped divider on the curving road. I’d bashed my head into the windshield and folded the steering wheel into the dashboard with my chest. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

I came to sometime later that morning in the emergency room of a hospital. It took me hours to fully wake up. Once I did, the intensity of the ER woke me up. Somebody nearby had been badly injured and was being treated by doctors and nurses, while yelling out. All the while, a police officer stood at the entryway with his arms folded, looking blank.

I wondered if the cop was there for me. Maybe I’d killed somebody during my drunk driving and I was going to prison; and I wasn’t going to be able to live with it. I kept asking the nurses if they knew why the cop was standing there. They kept telling me that they weren’t allowed to talk to him, and they had no idea why he stood there with his gun belt.

It turned out he was there to arrest a gang member who killed somebody during a Latino vs. Cambodian gang fight. That was the person near me being treated in the ER who was stirring everything up. I was the drunk who could have killed somebody and now had to deal with a DUI.

How did I get here? I wasn’t a daily drinker, or somebody waiting for the dive bar to open at 6:00 a.m. Wherever it all started, it hadn’t been my first blackout or dangerous and bizarre experience.

It was the emergency that had opened my eyes about what I’d been up to heavily for the previous three years. Within a few weeks after that crash, a friend took me to a meeting to hear a speaker talk about the drinking problem. Years ago, the speaker had been drinking heavily with his girlfriend at a joint on Long Beach Blvd. He’d been driving back to their apartment, when all of a sudden, they were in a car crash and she was killed.

The speaker said he had to learn the hard way that once you cross a certain line in your life, you can never go back.

It was almost like he’d shot a bullet out from his mouth right between my eyes. Time had stopped in that meeting room, and I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time. He was telling my story that could have been, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with it.

No. 2:  It’s December 28, 2012, three days after Christmas. I’d picked up a friend that evening, named Greg, to go to a support group meeting. As we accessed the freeway, I was telling him how stressful the holidays had been for me. I took the curve over the onramp on PCH, heading northbound on the I-710, a bit distracted and annoyed while telling my story.

It was one of those times when big-rig trucks, loaded with cargo containers from the ports, owned the Long Beach freeway. It was so jammed that night, I couldn’t find a place to enter the right lane. I crept along gradually on the right-side shoulder as truck drivers refused to let me find open space to access the slow lane.

One of the truck drivers kept honking at me as I moved forward, struggling to find a gap of space to enter the freeway lane. Later on after the crash, he didn’t explain to me why he’d been honking and I didn’t ask. Maybe he was telling me to stop on the right shoulder and let the trucks go by. He would have been right about it, looking back.

Boy, was I pissed off. “Come on, guys, let me get on the freeway!”

Greg would later tell me how much he’d cringed inside, knowing I was taking a huge risk.

And then it happened. I surged into the slow lane, and got hit in the left rear bumper by a truck following behind. My Honda Element was snapped into a hard curve as if I was making a U-turn into next lane on the left – just in time for another big-rig truck to ram head-on into my car. That truck was big, fast, and heavy enough to send me, Greg, and the Element gliding sideways about 25 feet to the right.

Have you ever talked to somebody who’s been right near an explosion and lived to tell about it, or made it through a firefight during a war? I’ve been told by a combat survivor that, momentarily, times seems to stop.

As we went soaring sideways to the right, I had one of those stopped moments. At first, we sailed in an arc, and right before the car caromed off the freeway and glided across the asphalt, everything went into very slow motion as if time were stopping.

After that frozen moment, we bounced and slid several yards toward the right bank.

Once the car slid to a stop, my mind started coming to. I was hanging from my seat belt strap, looking down at Greg pinned in at the bottom against the passenger-side door. He was still alive, and so was I.

I had a puffed-out airbag in my lap, and we both had shards of broken windshield glass pelted to our clothes. We didn’t have any severed limbs or broken bones, but I would be feeling the impact on my head and neck in the days ahead. Greg was firmly stuck in the car.

We could hear voices outside the car. I shimmied my way out of the driver’s seat and belt, and climbed out of the side window frame. There were four people standing outside waiting, and they helped me down.

Two of them had been the men driving the trucks that hit me in both lanes. One woman seemed to be the spouse of the driver who’d honked at me and nudged me out of the right lane. Another woman seemed to have been following close behind in her vehicle, and had been quite concerned over whether we were still alive.

We watched highway patrol officers sealing off the freeway lanes to the right with flares, only keeping the fast lane open on the left side for vehicles to pass by. We also waited for the paramedics to make contact with Greg and assess the situation.

The paramedics had to use “jaws of life” to bend the metal back and pull him out. One of my friends later told me he’d been listening to a local news radio station, when our crash and Greg’s rescue had been reported.

Greg seemed to be alright. Years earlier, he’d suffered a stroke and was limited in his posture and mobility. The crash didn’t seem to make it any worse, but like me, he was pretty shaken up. He stood leaning with his left hand on my shoulder. We watched the emergency crew sweep away broken glass and chunks of metal so that the lanes could be opened up.

The second driver, who’d hit us head on in the second lane over, never said a word to me. As the paramedics and highway patrol did their jobs, I saw him walking away with several of the CDs that had been thrown out of my car.

Later on, I found out that the highway patrol crash report never mentioned the second driver and his truck. There was only one truck included in the report, and the driver and his spouse stayed to answer questions and reported the crash to their insurance carrier. I brought this up while being interviewed by his claims adjuster, and told that story to my insurance company. One claims adjuster eventually acknowledged that it had happened with the second driver, but the insurers weren’t going to pursue that part of the incident any farther.

Ever since that day, I’ve been a more careful and boring driver.

No. 2.5: Careful and boring didn’t completely transfer over to driving a large and rented moving truck.

During the summer of 2015, my girlfriend Susan moved into my house with one of her sons, Tim; her other son, Jonathan, would occasionally stay with us during school breaks. Read more about it in “How the Man Cave was invaded and desecrated.”

We’d rented a moving truck to get their furniture and boxes moved from her townhouse apartment in Orange County over to Long Beach. That morning, I picked up the cutaway van with a long storage bed.

My first episode was minor – pulling out of the home driveway with Susan and Tim in the moving van. I scraped the rear left corner of a small car while making a wide turn, not having been realistic about the radius needed for that turn.

I got out of the car and checked the damage; there were plastic brake cover chunks in the street from the scrape. I cleaned that up and put a note on the car’s windshield with my contact number. I did get a call later that day from the car owner, where we traded auto insurance information.

I was more careful after that incident, and we went through the day making moving trips between homes.

By about 7:00 that night, we needed a break and were hungry for dinner. Susan and I decided to stop at a fast food joint down the street from my house prior to making another trip to her previous home.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I curved right to pull into an open parking space. Right as we pulled in, we could hear metal scraping from the rear right end of the truck. I’d collided with a white pickup truck.

Susan and I looked at each other, unable to speak for a few seconds. I suggested we get the hell out of there, and she agreed. We didn’t dwell on it, but I suppose we were overcome by fear – and fantasy that it would just magically go away. Temporary insanity, I suppose.

I backed out and headed for the other end of the parking lot. As I turned out onto the street, I could see a group of young men running for us, as mad as hell.  There were probably five of them in the group, but my memory is a bit blurred.

That’s where the 0.5 near-death experience came in. Were these dudes going to pull me out of the truck and beat me to death?

I decided to deal with it, and asked Susan to roll down her window. The pickup truck driver did the talking. I played dumb for a little while about the crash, and agreed to pull around the corner and into the parking lot.

He showed me the damage done to his truck, and we took a few pictures and exchanged insurance information. He’d calmed down quite a bit at this point, and his friends never said a word.

My moving truck had met up with his pickup’s rear left end, and the damage was more than just surface level. That pickup’s panel was crunched in. The moving truck looked a bit scraped up, but it was hard to determine what was new and what had already been there.

We parted ways on good terms. It worked out much better to be honest and deal with it.

I took the moving truck back to the rental company the next day, and called my insurance carrier. I had to clarify, more than once, that there were two minor collisions that I’d caused. Nobody lectured me about it, and they didn’t really need to do that.

Lessons learned: don’t drink and drive; pull over to the side of the road if you're pissed off at other drivers, especially truckers; and hire starving artists to do the moving. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mystery guest sits next to my hospital bed, nudging me to stay alive

Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.

by Jon LeSage

I've never come close to being a doctor. I’ve done a lot of research on the Mayo Clinic website, and have pretended to understand what doctors have told me.

While never becoming a doctor, I had to find out all I could about a disease that just about killed me. Neurologists understood it, but I don’t remember them telling me about it. It was my family explaining it to me in a basic, child-like way that made it stick later on.

They aren’t doctors either, but they had to learn much about my condition and make sure I was treated correctly.

There were doctors that treated me who at first believed I had a stroke, not encephalitis. Doctors had to learn more about my condition, too.

Have you ever heard of encephalitis? A condition where, most of the time, a virus triggers intense inflammation – swelling – in the brain. I’d never heard of it, and for a long time, could barely remember the word nor answer visitors’ questions about what happened to me.

Doctors who understood that I had encephalitis and not a stroke have told me that the front left lobe of my brain was where my inflammation was happening, along with a small central strip on the right side. This is where memory is housed in the brain.

They believed that having herpes simplex as a seven-year-old kid (causing chicken pox) planted the virus in my body, and it never went away. Having shingles in my 30s was further evidence of herpes simplex continuing to float through my blood. Years later, I was told my stress level was high enough to push me over the edge into another virus bout, and this time it got stuck in my brain.

Encephalitis kills up to half the people who get struck by it. For the other half, many are severely damaged and finish the rest of their lives in child-like mental states; the capacity of a four year old, nothing more.

Few people have ever heard of it. Many doctors and nurses, including most of those who treated me, knew little about it, nor had they treated people struck by it. They thought I had a stroke, not encephalitis.

I lost my entire memory for nearly a month, starting Aug. 12, 2007. I collapsed that day, twice, and my heart stopped beating. I was resuscitated and my life was saved – once by my wife and once by a nurse.

As I came to in the hospital in September, my memory and mental presence faded in and out. For a few people who visited me in the hospital, I remember greeting them and engaging in warm conversation… then my memory fades and I don’t remember what we talked about.

When I dig deep and reflect on my very first memory after collapsing and being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on Aug. 12, something always comes back to my memory movie screen.

                     *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

I see brief foggy glimpses while opening my eyes inside a hospital bedroom. Everything was white or light blue, and people’s faces were blurred except for constantly blinking eyes. 

There I was: On my back… could not get up. Covered in sheets and blankets, wearing a gown, soft lights above my head glowing. Separated by a divider from the world.

In and out I’d go. I’d wake up again right after someone tugged my wrist, stretching out my arm. Or shook my shoulder and murmured instructions until I opened my eyes.

Who was it? What did they say? I can’t remember.

Voices murmured, hands touched me, needles poked me. Serum flowed into puncture points and through my veins, warm and then evaporating into nothing.

I was invaded by aliens and had no idea what was happening. Thank God I had someone else in the room looking after me. I might not have made it without him.

There was an old man sitting next to me on the right side of the bed, and he was always touching my shoulder and gently, quietly talking into my ear.

I remember hardly anything that he said – more that he was just there. If memory serves, he was trying to help me – trying to explain what was happening to me. Why I was in the hospital bed and filled with chemicals.

I have this vague memory of him waiting for the medical staff to leave the room and then commenting on what they were doing. I don’t know what it was all about, but went something like this:

“Jon, did you hear the nurse’s questions?”

“Jon, they took your blood test again to see how you’re doing.”

It was almost like he didn’t really say those words, but I somehow got his message. He was talking to me, but I don’t think his lips even moved.

I couldn’t say anything back to him beyond murmuring. And I couldn’t look at him squarely and see his face.

But I knew who he was. I knew him well.

My father: Armand C. LeSage. Armand sat right next to his little boy, who was 44 years old and couldn’t get out of bed. Dad was always concerned about my safety.

I would know him anywhere – that voice and its distinct tone, the words he used, his life experience as a fireman bailing people out, and as a husband and father stepping in to manage catastrophe.

I don’t remember feeling anything. I had no idea where I was, or why I was there.  I couldn’t think clearly about anything.

I didn’t have enough consciousness to question or realize anything. No thoughts crossed my mind, until later on.

Looking back, I’ve thought: What was this all about? Was I dreaming or awake? Why did I only recognize my father?

Where was my wife Amy? Was she near me, too? I didn’t hear her voice, nor see her bright yellow eyes.

It was just the medical monsters there to probe and poke me. And my father watching over me, barely in the room. He was there to take care of his son.

His words and presence weren’t enough to get me out of there. It was like a bad dream, a low grade nightmare. It was no horror film – nobody jumped up from under the bed and tore me apart, or screamed into my face. I wanted out of there, and to be left alone.

This memory happened several times; it felt like more than one day or just one memory.

It all came to one final moment. It all faded out one day. As I drifted away from the room and into a dark sleep, my mind became very clear for just one moment.

My mind opened up quite briefly, and I got it for the first time. I looked at my father for the last time.

I said to myself, “My father died 11 years ago!”

And then my eyes and mind closed. I drifted out of the room.

To read more of the book and other blog articles, sign up for the free e-newsletter in the right column. And stay tuned for another chapter from the book coming up, posted in my blog:  “2.5 near-death experiences in vehicles I’d been driving (hopefully that’s over)” You can also read about another book I’ve edited and contributed to on NDEs – Truly Alive – and Tales of UberMan, about driving for Uber and Lyft.

Friday, November 18, 2016

How the Man Cave was invaded and desecrated

Rules of the Man Cave
  1.  Only wash your bedding once every six months.
  2.  Talk to animals and yourself more than fellow humans.
  3.  Don’t buy new towels for the bathroom and kitchen. Wear them down to shreds.
  4.  Don’t invite a group over for a party or game night. Suggest they hold it at their   place.
  5.  Ignore repairs and maintenance needing to be done.
  6.  Don’t bother decorating the place; that’s way too feminine.
  7.  Never, never answer the doorbell ring, unless someone’s scheduled to enter   the Man Cave.
  8.  Honor the Temple of Isolation. Guard it with your life.

On August 1, 2015, my girlfriend Susan moved in along with her college student son Tim; with occasional stays by another college student son, Jonathan. And her two cats, brothers Nico and Sparty.

There are two ways for me to look at it:
  • My house is a much better place to live – warmer, fun, cleaner, decorated, repaired, and worth working extra hours to pay for.
  • My house was taken over by unicorns and pillows with tied bows, framed mirrors, antique decorations, new roommates, and three cats 
Let’s say it’s mostly #1 with a little bit of #2. There is one banner with unicorns on it, made to look like royal tapestry from England in the Middle Ages. The good news is there’s only one hanging up, and there had been two. Susan is open to negotiations.

Overall, I have to admit I’ve adapted to the new environment. I like it much better than during the darkest Man Cave days. But let’s be clear about something – the unspoken rules of the Man Cave were violated.

Before the move in, I’d had a series of renters staying in the front bedroom and bath, with all of them bringing in pets. One of them had asked me to adopt her cat Bonsai, who had taken to me before I took to her. I said yes, and Bonsai became the watch cat. I never saw much of the renter in the front of the house or his cat. It was officially a Man Cave. (I used to think that saying was stupid, until a little over a year ago when my house was invaded and desecrated. Then, the origin of the term made sense to me.)

As for the big story behind Susan and her sons moving in, she and I had been in a relationship for about two years and her lease was coming up in the summer of 2015. It made a lot of sense for her to move in, and one of her sons was in a good place to have a room and go to college not too many miles away. Her other son got to have a room when he visited, and sometimes invited friends over to play video games in the den and eat junk food. The cat brothers got their own space, eventually with a swing door placed in the bottom of the kitchen door for them to have full access to indoors and outdoors. It’s a win-win for all.

A big challenge was getting them moved in, with her stuff and my stuff needing more storage space than was available. We did a number of runs over to Goodwill and left several items in front of the house with “Free” signs taped on. That did get rid of most of it.

Now, if you replace a toilet with a new one, be careful about leaving the old one out in your driveway with a “Free” sign on it. Especially if there’s a middle school down the street from your house. Don’t be surprised to see that the toilet has been dragged out into the street; or that kids are laughing hysterically in front of your house, and some of them are standing around the toilet for group photos.

Then there was the move-in day, with two minor collisions I caused in a rented 30-foot moving truck; of which I will never rent again. Much better to hire the Starving Students or some other low-cost service. The second crash happened as we tried to squeeze into a fast food parking lot to have a meal we’d needed for hours. That Ford pickup was parked just a little too far out; or maybe I’m not so good at parking a 30-foot truck. Insurance companies were informed, with my claims adjustor taking several minutes to understand what I was trying to say – that I was involved in two separate incidents that day. He was good about it. I think they’re trained by the insurer on how to take the report and be supportive, without lecturing you on dumb driving.

My cat Bonsai had a very rough time with the transition, and she still seems to be getting over it nearly a year and-a-half later. Bonsai was living here about three years before they moved in. She’s older than the two cat brothers by about seven years, and has hissed at them quite a few times.

Bonsai’s main issue was having the Man Cave violated. It had been her palace as Queen Bonsai, occasionally sitting in the bay window and looking out at the masses who should have adored her. But the cat brothers who had moved in, Nico and Sparty, didn’t buy that one for a minute. One of them, Nico, occasionally enjoys crossing the boundary to her space and getting hissed and yelped out. That’s led to chases a couple of times, and knocking things over. No injuries so far.

Bonsai has lived out something of an allegory for us all to learn from. She has been her own worst enemy. The cat brothers, and human brothers, are fine with Bonsai and usually just leave her alone. She’s made all of this as bad as she’s determined it to be – never getting over her sacred space being invaded. She reminds me it’s better to accept change and make the most of it.

It does stay interesting in what was once the Man Cave.

Kitchen cleanup has become a new challenge in my life. What happens when a young man, who shall remain anonymous, cooks a meal but leaves some of the leftovers on the counter and doesn’t wash his dishes? Do you ask him to finish it up, and come out later to see none of it has been done? Do you eat the leftovers without telling him, as retribution?

Have you ever napped in a Coma Cave? There’s something about our house where people, except for me, sleep in really late; and maybe take long naps later. We live in a nice and quiet neighborhood, and in a comfortable house with air conditioning and heating. I might have left early in the morning driving for Uber as they’re deep in sleep; or I might be writing an article in the den, with the others usually deep asleep (including cats). That’s how the name Coma Cave came to me. A while back, I came home about 9:00 in the morning from Uber driving to find two furious housemates. The neighbor had hired a crew to chop down and grind up tree branches. They started at 7:30 in the morning! Could you believe that outrage! Peace and quiet in the Coma Cave must be respected!

I have to admit that life has gotten better since the Man Cave was invaded and turned into a home shared with loved ones. It’s great coming home – seeing what Susan has been doing and having a few laughs. Sometime I walk in the front door and toward the den, only to see her bare feet up on a padded stool with one or two cats lying next to her with the TV playing. Tim cooking his meals and visiting the kitchen in the middle of the night for snacks. Jon coming in very late, which we don’t discover until well into the next day. The cats being cute, like the brothers sleeping next to each other; and Bonsai, and me, slowly adapting to change.

Farewell, Man Cave.

How did we get so hooked on zombies?

Two statistics:
Literary rate of the U.S. adult population:  86%
Percentage of U.S. residents who’ve watched zombie movies and TV shows:  95%

Even though I’d stopped watching The Walking Dead a while back, I did get hooked on zombie stories long ago. When video machines came out in the ‘80s, I rented, and later bought, copies of the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. In the first half of the 2000s, I watched whatever came out – 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and Shaun of the Dead come to mind.

Years later, I bought and read the World War Z novel and I couldn’t wait for the early days of The Walking Dead – before several of the cast members I liked were killed off. Since those days, Fear the Walking Dead has come out, World War Z with Brad Pitt, Zombieland (which I would highly recommend), the zombie-loves-human movie Warm Bodies, and the iZombie TV series.

I’d say we officially have a cultural phenomenon with zombies.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what it means and asking others for their opinion.

One quote that I liked came from Robert Kirkman, an American comic book writer best known for creating The Walking Dead. Kirkman said The Walking Dead really is “about us. It’s about how we respond to crisis.”

I saw an interview years ago with George Romero, who made the 1968 film credited with starting all of it, Night of Living Dead. Romero said that he’d tried to make the black and white movie as realistic as possible, like you were watching a documentary on something that really happened; with local TV news coverage that appeared to be reporting something that was taking place.

It made me think of stories about Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater staging alien ships landing in America during a 1938 radio broadcast. It was called “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells novel. People went nuts over it, thinking it was for real.

Romero said that Night of the Living Dead, and later Dawn of the Dead, depicted what Americans were going through viewing TV news with violent footage from the war in Vietnam, riots and burnings in big cities, protests, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. Paranoia was palpitating through the air.

We’ve had a revival in zombie stories lately. I would say that Kirkman and Romero have made a few good points.

Here’s my take on what could be stirring up something close to paranoia, and how we’re responding to crisis and stressful periods of change……
  • ·       The Great Recession that started in 2008
  • ·       Mobile devices becoming tethered to our wrists starting with the iPhone in 2007
  • ·       Full-time jobs with benefit packages versus independent contractors
  • ·       Transforming from print, cable TV, and a laptop – into Netflix, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit, and a revival of Facebook. All of it on a smartphone, tablet, or flat screen wall mounts; and the occasional e-book on Kindle and Nook.
  • ·       Owning a car versus sharing a car ride
  • ·       Fear of infectious disease pandemics taking millions of lives, enough for people to wear surgical masks
  • ·       Donald Trump running for, and getting elected, president. And for everyone else, Hillary Clinton running for, and nearly becoming, president.

Yes, you can survive anything – even during a zombie attack.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Aside from Donald and Hillary, legalizing marijuana was the big news on election day

I smoke two joints in the morning
I smoke two joint at night
I smoke two joint in the afternoon
It makes me feel alright

I smoke two joints in time of peace
And two in time of war
I smoke two joints before I smoke two joints
And then I smoke two more

“Smoke Two Joints”

A very big deal took place on Tuesday, November 8 – voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana ballot initiatives – joining up with Colorado and Washington, which legalized marijuana in 2012. A few other states passed medical marijuana provisions this year. Maine is expected to approve legalization, too, while Arizona didn’t gain enough votes to pass its legalization measure.

Years ago, I was very much opposed to legalizing marijuana. I’d had my own problems with it and didn’t see the point of making it a legitimate business. In the past couple of years, I’ve opened up to it, especially after talking to Colorado residents about the positive outcomes of legalizing it in that state.

So far, so good. Better than keeping it an illegal trade, where people might get murdered over it. Now, if you're a pot smoker living anything like the lyrics to the Sublime song, that's another story altogether. You might want to get some help for it.

I do have a few questions about legalizing marijuana:

• Will there be Stoned Driving tests like BAC drunk driving tests?
• Will pot smokers band together and form a volume purchase club for discounts on Cheetohs, gummy bears, candy bars, sunflower seeds, and other treats to satisfy the munchies?
• Is there a good way to handle a socially awkward scenario when a group of people sitting behind you at a movie or sporting event, who wreak of pot, start laughing hysterically at stupid jokes?
• Will Visine go out of business when pot smokers no longer need to get rid of red eye?
• Who will be threatened to go out of business once it’s legalized? Hydroponics stores? Your neighbor’s son and his buddies?
• What corporations will get into the new industry? Starbucks, Google, and Amazon? Will they form an association? Join the Hemp Industries Association and sponsor its annual convention?
• Will it take away a good talk show topic for rebels like Woody Harrelson, Seth Rogen, and Woody Nelson?

If you've got any good answers, please leave your comment below.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How to make a buck or two, or three, as a writer

I have some good news and bad news for writers out there.

Which shall I share first? How about the good news.

There are tons of opportunities to write and be published out there today, well beyond your blog, Kindle book, email accounts, text messages, and Facebook posts.

There’s a real need for writers out there with:
  • ·       solid writing skills and evidence thereof;  
  • ·       some knowledge/expertise on the subject matter, and some evidence thereof;
  • ·       keeping your word on the deadline and delivering what you said you would;
  • ·       competence in grabbing useable photos/images and getting them sized correctly;
  • ·       following guidelines in the headline, deck, captions, sidebars, AP style, etc.
  • ·       how to use WordPress.

There are so many ways to find these writing opportunities, starting with Craigslist. If you write catchy pitch emails that you send with strong writing samples to editors, you’ll eventually find a response you were looking for. And they will pay you someday.

Now, are you ready for the downside?

1.    Write a lot, make a little.
As mentioned, start by scanning over postings on Craigslist under the Jobs – Writing/Editing link. Start in your city and then expand outward. Then go look for some specialized newsletters, blogs, and websites with freelance writing opportunity sections. The go check out Guru, Elance, WriterAccess, and anything else that pops up. You’ll get a hit eventually, and in the meantime you’ll see that there is a vast demand for writers out there and very little in payments – many times it’s a $10 offer, or less. Not that many years ago, that same article might have earned the writer $100. Yes, I have seen offers to write for a buck or two, or three. You’ll also find that you’ll pitch quite a few potential clients, and you’ll hear back from hardly any of them. The trick is building a solid relationship with someone who will pay you decently and keep giving you the green light on your work.

2.    A handful of editors with a whole bunch of freelancers.
As I’ve experienced firsthand in recent years, media outlets are paring back on editorial staff and workers in other departments. Getting a job as an editor, or staff writer, is getting tough these days with much of the labor outsourced to freelance writers and contractors. Editors have a tough job to do, usually duties that one or two other people might have done in the past. They’re also told to tighten their budgets, and might have some real limitations on what they can pay freelancers; all this while learning how to use new content management systems and programs. They can get burned out, to say the least.  Sometimes they ask the freelance writer to do a lot for what they’re getting paid, but somebody’s got to get it done.

3.    Morphing of job titles and duties.
Writers and editors are taking on new roles these days. It’s typical that somebody becomes a copywriter who writes content used in websites, e-mail marketing materials, buyer’s guides, and advertorials. A content writer or content editor will do what they would have done in the past, and then some, as an editor. You might need to know how to work with YouTube and Vimeo video images and links, photo galleries, podcasts, forum discussion groups, and social media placements. As a writer, you might be called a blogger, author, staff writer, reporter, or content creator. You might even be called a writer; anything is possible, but you still have to write content that people want to read.

4.    A short list of writers making big bucks from whatever they write. I remember being advised years ago, by writers and instructors I admired, to let go of comparing myself to famous writers – or hinting that I would be one someday. I would need to love what I do, and not give up. It was suggested that I avoid using as role models Stephen King, or Tom Wolfe, or Lester Bangs (who tragically died at 34 without making much money, and boy, could he write), or Hunter S. Thompson (another sad, but wild, tale), or Lawrence Block, or Donald Westlake, or…….. As for lately, it’s probably a good idea to stop using J.K. Rowling as a role model. Whatever she writes now, way beyond the Harry Potter series, will be a huge success. While Rowling became the first billionaire novelist, I can come up with names of successful writers in every sub-category under the umbrellas of non-fiction books, genre novelists, and screenwriters, who have done pretty well in earnings and reaching avid readers.

In the end, a very small number of writers will make a lot of money and find avid readers. All the rest of us need to have day jobs and do other, hopefully legal, work to make a buck or two, or three.

For all the writers I’ve known and read over the years, rich and poor, and somewhere in between, we do have something in common. We stay on it like a dog on a bone. We don’t quit, even if the work is criticized, rejected, doesn’t sell very much, could be better, or whatever might apply.

So, are you willing to be like a dog on a bone?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Conspiracy: How we became addicted to the blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and a little bit of pumpkin

My name is Jon, and I’m a pumpkin spice addict.

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve likely had your share of pumpkin spice-flavored treats – latte, coffee, ice cream, Doritos chips, yogurt, pudding, Skittles, Oreos, cereal, and the list could go on.

I have yet to check into rehab and attend support meetings over it, but I have become concerned over the seductive draw pumpkin spice has over me and many other people.

You may be asking yourself right now, what are the signs of having an addiction to pumpkin spice? Here’s my take on it:

  • ·       You can’t go longer than a day without getting another fix. You may have become concerned that it was ruining your taste buds, costing too much money, and drawing you away when it was time to get more work done. It keeps popping into your mind until you can nearly taste it again. You realize it is getting ridiculous, but you just can’t stop!
  • ·       You go shopping at Trader Joe’s, and you leave the store with at least 25 pumpkin spice-flavored items. That might include pumpkin bagels with a jar of pumpkin butter to slather over the bagels.
  • ·       You know there’s limited availability of these yummy treats, and the clock is ticking. You might be able to order another holiday treat, like peppermint mocha latte, during the year, but not pumpkin spice. They’ve got you hooked.
  • ·       You start getting extremely self-conscious and embarrassed while standing in line, or driving through, at Starbucks. Does that college student in the Starbucks uniform recognize me from yesterday? Does it look weird that I’m here again waiting in line just for another pumpkin spice drink? Are they concerned that if they run out of the ingredients to make another one, I might go postal?
  • ·       It’s getting so bad that you buy your pumpkin spice latte at 7-Eleven just to save money and avoid the long line at Starbucks.
  • ·       You grieve the end of the pumpkin spice season, which depending on the store, will go to December 31. The year ticks by and you can’t hardly wait for early September to arrive and the pumpkin spice season to be here again.

Pumpkin spice has become so pervasive and in-your-face that I figure there’s got to be a conspiracy behind it. There’s a few companies making bookoo bucks off of it.

So who’s behind the conspiracy?

History:  The origin of pumpkin spice might have gone back to the late 1700s, according to the Book of Wikipedia. That was a century and a half after the Pilgrims came to America and started Thanksgiving festivities with Wampanoag Indians. The delicious flavoring was said to have first become a commercial product in the 1930s when McCormick and Co. rolled out pumpkin pie ingredients flavored by a mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove. As for these days, food and beverage products do usually include these four spices, and sometimes there’s a little bit of real pumpkin thrown in.

PSL:  Starbucks is the leader with its pumpkin spice latte, code-named PSL. But it’s not just the hot or iced latte you get at the store. Starbucks has us pulled into PSL through a few other channels. You can get the full Frappuccino with the whipped cream topping, or you can buy the smaller bottled version at the grocery store. You can buy the company’s Via instant coffee in the pumpkin spice flavor. You can buy a pumpkin scone at the counter. Then there’s the classic PSL in traditional hot latte with whipped cream, or the iced PSL.

Starbucks launched PSL in 2003, and more than 200 million servings have been sold since the beginning. The coffeehouse chain is expected to make about $100 million in revenues from selling PSLs this fall. The success of the yummy, addictive PSL has spawned several copycats in the market, including Keurig cups from several coffee makers.

As for the conspiracy, Starbucks has been benefiting heavily from those of us who’ve been converted from casual drinkers to hardcore PSL addicts. Case in point: three quarters of people who buy a Starbucks PSL buy only one serving per season, according to market research firm NPD group. That means a quarter of us are returning to those stores several times a season.

Trader Joe’s:  At Trader Joe’s, the amount of pumpkin products has steadily increased since the grocery chain began offering them in the mid-1990s, according to the company. This year, Trader Joe’s shelves will be stocked with more than 70 pumpkin items, up from around 60 items in 2015.

Along with pumpkin bagels and pumpkin butter, on my last trip to the grocery store I pretty much went over the edge. I bought the pumpkin spice flavored Keurig coffee, snack bars, flaxseed cereal, yogurt, and the pumpkin spice cookies. I considered the pumpkin pie but decided to wait on that with Thanksgiving a month away; wouldn’t want to spoil that fine tradition with my family. How could I explain I was too full to eat another serving when I’d had four or five pieces of the pie before I joined them at the party? It does get ugly when you’re a pumpkin spice addict.

Competition:  My Google search found at least 30 sites with something close to my search term “pumpkin spice addict” before I stopped counting. It was a bit of a relief to find out I’m not the only one. One of the articles showed how extreme it’s become on the packaging side. In “20 Signs Your Pumpkin Addiction is Out of Control,” pumpkin chewing gum, pumpkin spice wine, and pumpkin spice Tampax, stood out on the list. I’ve included the Tampax product on the image I used in this article, along with pumpkin spice Trojan condoms, Doritos, Cheerios, Jell-O, and a Chipotle pumpkin spice burrito. What have we come to? Will some of us need an intervention?

Colorful:  I would say that the color of pumpkins used in artwork and cover design, which I think would be called burnt orange, has been highly influential. It may very well have caused me to choose the background color spectrum for my blog. Are we as hooked on the color as the flavor?

It turns out I’m not the only one hankering for another pumpkin spice-flavored treat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Of course, there is always that day they’ll stop selling pumpkin spice products, once the holiday season ends. So you’ve got to consume as much as possible, right? And then wait longingly for next year when the pumpkin spice season returns. It seems to be getting as institutional as Christmas, the Super Bowl, and tax day.

About a year ago, it started dawning on me that the pumpkin spice trend was becoming pervasive; and that I was getting sucked into it. We had attended The Rise Of The Jack O’ Lanterns, a sculpted pumpkin art display (with a massive number of pumpkins) at Descanso Gardens in La Canada. It became so popular they had to move it to the L.A. Convention Center this year. One of the most memorable moments last year was seeing pumpkin sculptures of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. How did they know?

I eventually found out that there were several pumpkin spice addicts close to me. I wasn’t alone, which I had mixed feelings about.

The best I could hope for was that pumpkin spice is digestible and doesn’t assault your body and health. I’ve yet to hear about pumpkin spice causing cancer, kidney failure, extreme indigestion, psychosis, or car crashes. I personally like the spicing of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove (and a little bit of pumpkin) in my diet. It seems to help my digestion and doesn’t make my breath stink. I get a little bit a perk, or pick-me-up, from it – especially if it’s the flavor of my coffee drink.

I still haven’t figured all this out, and if it’s a conspiracy that I need to expose to save the average consumer from getting duped. All I know for sure is that I’m a pumpkin spice addict, and I probably will be tomorrow.