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Journal 2001: The 9/11 Attacks (complete book)

Description – Journal 2001: The 9/11 Attacks is the tenth in a series of yearly journals by San Francisco author Joseph Sutton.  Sutton writes of that fatal day in 2001 and asks himself why terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives for “the cause.”  He writes about his past and present life, his family, the environment, baseball, and, of course, the writing life.

Tuesday, February 20, 2001 – Two Anniversaries

Today is the anniversary of my meeting my wife Joan at Stan Lipkin’s and Gay Smith’s duplex in San Francisco’s Richmond District in 1977.  Stan and Gay were having a moving party that day, moving from the upstairs flat to the downstairs flat.  It’s probably one of the shortest moves in modern human history.  Joan came late to the party and we talked.  What really grabbed my attention were her eyes:  they were a sparkling blue full of electricity.  I called her a few days later.  It wasn’t until April Fool’s Day that I could get a date with her.  That’s almost a month-and-a-half between the time we met to the time we went out.  She had a very busy schedule back then and it’s carried over to this day.

I’m going to have a book reading late this afternoon at Books Inc. in Laurel Village, not far from where Joan was living when I met her.  I hope there will be a good crowd there.

I recently finished a second set of “morning pages.”  My first set was the spark that became my first book of fiction published, Morning Pages:  The Almost True Story of My Life.  Now I have to go back and read the second set that I wrote at a breakneck speed for 84 days without looking back.  I’m sure there are a lot of story ideas in it, just like in the first set.  My friend Alan Blum suggested a title for my second set:  Morning Pages Revisited.

Tomorrow the Royal Flush poker group will meet at Jerry Lipkin’s apartment in Walnut Creek.  The Royal Flush has been meeting once a month for exactly 20 years.  How do I know how long?  My son Ray was born on February 7, 1981, and a month or two after his birth the Royal Flush was born.  The group consisted of Alan Blum, Jerry Lipkin, George Krevsky, Ralph Yanello, Harry Fish, and me.

I’m hesitating as I write today’s entry.  I’ve just got to keep going and write the first thing that comes to mind, which is a central key to writing “morning pages.”  I, Joe Sutton, am a brilliant and prolific writer.  I, Joe Sutton, am a brilliant and prolific writer.  I, Joe Sutton, am a brilliant and…

“You’re not brilliant or prolific.  You ain’t shit, Mr. Sutton.”

Whoa, who’s talking to me like that?  It must be Howard Junker, editor of ZYZZYVA magazine.  Just today he rejected the 27th story I’ve sent him over the years.  That guy doesn’t know his ass.  He writes the same old rejection letter every time:  “It depends on what strikes me.  And your writing, Joe Sutton, doesn’t strike me.”  You know what I have to say to Howard “Junkman” Junker.  “Screw you, motherfucker.”

Sunday, March 4, 2001 – Book Readings

I had a successful reading at Books Inc. in Laurel Village a couple of weeks ago.  There were about 40 people present.  My reading a few days later, at Borders Books in San Rafael, was a dud.  Only ten people showed up.  It didn’t help that it was pouring rain that night.  My reading at my friend George Krevsky’s art gallery in San Francisco was also a dud with fifteen people showing up.  Are readings of ten or fifteen people duds?  I don’t know?  I have two readings coming up this weekend, one in Davis, CA, at the Avid Reader and one in Chico, CA, at Barnes and Noble.  The week after that I’ll be reading at Printer’s Ink in Palo Alto and at the University of San Francisco, which I had to pay $35 to reserve a room.

I keep hustling.  I hope to keep writing and hustling till the end of my days.

Thursday, March 22, 2001 – Greed

We’re having an energy crisis in California, and the word is getting out that the energy suppliers, mainly Enron in Texas, have been so greedy that they’ve overcharged California’s utilities five billion dollars in the past six months.  And the Federal government, under our air-head president, George Bush2, isn’t doing a thing about it because those energy suppliers are part of his “oil family.”  They are what Bush2 was before he became owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and governor of Texas.  And what was he?  He was an oil man, and oil men stick together through thick oil and thin oil.  That makes me mad.  I’m mad because I see Californians are being taken advantage of by greedy oil companies with the OK of the Bush2 administration.  Bush2 doesn’t hold the country’s best interests at heart, it’s the special interests he takes care of because they’re the ones who paid for his run to the presidency.  Big money has bought his soul and he tries to show the American people that he’s thinking of our best interests.  Bullshit!!!

For the past two days I’ve had a bad case of hay fever.  I have to watch what I eat.  Joan told me last night that cheese might be causing the hay fever because it’s fermented.  So I’ll cut out cheese from my diet, just like I’ve cut out vinegar, mushrooms, raisins, and liquor from the beginning of February to the end of May when my resistance to hay fever is low.

The McCain-Feingold bill is being argued in the Senate as I write.  It’s about campaign reform.  I’m all for it.  The American people are losing faith in their politicians, if they haven’t already, because we all know they’re influenced by special interests instead of voting for what is in the best interest of the country.  I hope the bill passes.  Maybe someday we’ll see a little less influence of big money in our nation’s capital.

I saw Roy Bonney yesterday.  He’s an osteopath who calls himself a body mechanic.  I’ve seen him several times over the years, first about my knee (he recommended arthroscopic surgery), and secondly about my arthritic hips.  He says I need to take yoga to be more flexible in my hip area.  He wants me to pay a yoga teacher for a couple of individual workouts to help set up a routine so I can do it every day.  My hips are real tight now.  He also mentioned that I need physical therapy in my hip area, to help loosen the muscles.  He also wants me to ride a stationary bike, something I can do at the YMCA.  I have to change my whole routine of living if I’m to walk like a regular human being again.  Otherwise, right now, because of my arthritic hips, I’m walking like an 80-year-old man.

Saturday, July 21, 2001 – Being Unique and Sage Advice

Joan and I are in Nevada City, otherwise known as Gold Country in California.  It’s a beautiful day—clean air, clear sky, sunny, warm, a cool breeze wafting by.

We went to the Storytelling Festival not far from here last night.  Each of the six storytellers was unique in his or her own way, and that was good, because to be unique is the only way a storyteller, writer, artist, or musician should be.

Right now I’m thinking of a gym teacher at Potrero Middle School in San Francisco in the mid-1980s when I was filling in for a counselor there.  Gene Bagnasco was his name.  He gave me sage advice one day.  “Always give the student a choice,” he said.  “For instance, if Johnny’s behavior is presenting a problem, it would be best to say, ‘Johnny, do you want to stay after school if you keep acting this way or do you want to change your behavior?’  A choice.  The same could be said for raising a child—give your child a choice.”

Sunday, August 26, 2001 – My Son Flew the Coop Today

I spent a whole month editing my cousin Joe’s manuscript, The Heart of Hollywood.  I did everything possible to improve his writing.  Now I’m tired of editing and want to get back to my own writing by making it important, relevant, meaningful.  I want to get down to the nitty-gritty.  No more screwing around.  No more beating around the bush.  No more bullshit.  No more wasted words.  I need to show what humankind is and what it can be.  The only way I can do that is to write from my own experience.

My son left town today.  I was both saddened and elated at the same time.  I thought of all we’d gone through in his 20 years on Earth.  I remember the first second I saw him.  He was black and blue.  He had something stuck in his air passage when Joan was giving birth to him.  The doctor had to tell Joan to hold off from pushing so he could clear Ray’s air passage with a sort of vacuum.  Joan and I slept in the same room with him at Children’s Hospital on California Street the first night he came into this world.  He cried all night.  Now that I think about it, he must have been thirsty, something we didn’t even think of.  He turned into a very compassionate and kind soul over the next twenty years.

Joan and I named Ray after my father, who passed away in 1974.  Ray was born in 1981.  I just realized that my father died in early February and my son was born seven years later in early February.  Quite a coincidence.

Yes, my son is now on his way to the city that molded me, Los Angeles.  He’ll be going to Santa Monica City College.  It’s his aim to get into UCLA, a school I always wanted to go to when I was growing up.  UCLA, magic letters in my mind.  UCLA meant Jackie Robinson, Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears and their football coach, Red Sanders, and those who played for his championship teams in the 1950s:  Paul Cameron, Bob Davenport, Don Moomaw, Hardiman Cureton, and Myron Berliner.  Then there was their legendary coach, John Wooden, a symbol of UCLA basketball.  Willie Naulls played for him, as did Don Bragg, Johnny Moore, and Ralph Joeckel.  Joeckel made a famous half-court shot in the last second of a game in 1948 that put UCLA basketball and first year head coach John Wooden on the map.  All the above are names I grew up with.  They were my heroes, especially Jackie Robinson, Bob Waterfield, Paul Cameron, and Don Bragg.  All I could think of in those days of my youth was sports.  My brother Charles went to UCLA and became a journalist.  My brother Bob went there after he got out of the Army and became an actor.  I wanted to be a UCLA Bruin more than anything in the whole world so I could play tailback in their famous single-wing offense.  But I never got any feelers from Red Sanders, who happened to die in a prostitute’s hotel room in 1958, the year I graduated Fairfax High.  I went to L.A. Valley Junior College in Van Nuys and played two years for head coach Al Hunt and backfield coach Bus Sutherland.  It was Bus Sutherland who converted me from a quarterback into a running back.  Len Casanova, head coach of the University of Oregon, offered me a football scholarship.  At Oregon I was a running back who sat on the bench most of the time for the remaining two years of my college eligibility.

Now my son Ray wants to go to UCLA.  His best friend and roommate, Eric Strand, is a student there.  They will live in Westwood together with three other roommates.

My son flew the coop today.  He drove off in a car that Joan gave him, a 1998 Toyota Corolla.  He originally had a 1985 Toyota Tercel that I gave him, and that was sold this week for $900.

I love my son very much.  I want him to be successful in any endeavor he chooses.  Most of all, I want him to be happy, healthy, humble, and ambitious.  I also want him to use his brain at all times.

Ray is very much into being a turntablist (a DJ, a record spinner).  He didn’t fill his car with books today when he left, he filled it with record albums and equipment to spin those records.  His future goal is to be a sound engineer.  With all my heart I hope he gets what he desires.

I choked up when he was leaving.  We held, we hugged, I kissed him on his cheek.  He thanked me for all we’ve done for him.  Right now, when I remember my son from the day he entered the world to now, I am saddened.  All those memories of him keep popping into my brain and reminding me of those times that will never happen again.  His birth, his first sports team (soccer), his first Little League hit, his first touchdown in high school, the day he told me he could read at the age of six, his bar mitzvah, his standing up as a high school senior at St. Ignatius and telling an overflow room of Christian parents and students that he was Jewish, his first date in high school with a girl he went to grammar school with, going out a multitude of times to pitch baseballs to him, hitting grounders to him at second base, coaching the baseball teams he was on for five years, seeing him play on two All-Star baseball teams at ages 10 and 11, reading his creative stories and essays, worrying for him, seeing him get down on himself in baseball, getting mad at him a few times in baseball because of his negative attitude.  All these and so many more memories have entered my mind.  And now he’s driving down Interstate-5 this very minute, the City of Angels his destination.  He’s on his own now.  I hope and pray that Joan and I have prepared him well for a life that will surely have its peaks and valleys.  I wish him the very best on his new adventure.

I’m also elated that Joan and I won’t have a 20-year-old around the house anymore.  No more of his friends coming at all hours of the night, no more music blaring through the floor of our living room from his bedroom in the basement.  No more seeing him go to bed at three or four in the morning and waking up in the middle of the afternoon.  I guess it was all a part of his growing up.

Tears are streaming down my cheeks.  I’ll no longer have a buddy to discuss the Giants, 49ers, or Warriors.  I’ll no longer have a soulmate to watch the games with on TV.

Good luck, son, on your life’s journey.  Always try your best and hardest.  Keep your head up high.  I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – The 9/11 Attacks

How does one begin a journal entry on a sad day like this?  Two airliners rammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City this morning, on purpose.  The Trade Center is no more.  Both 110-story towers imploded.  New York City is a ghost city now.  The terrorist acts took place at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time.  Joan woke me up this morning to tell me about the first tower.  I was watching on TV when an airliner crashed into the second tower.  Two airliners, each with 150 aboard was hijacked by terrorists with knives.  The crew was removed from the cockpit and a terrorist on each plane aimed it at each tower.  Both towers no longer exist.  Both buildings held around 35,000-50,000 workers during the day, along with thousands of visitors.  After the planes hit, there was fire, then people started jumping out of windows as high up as 85 stories.  Incredible.  Sad.  Tragic.  It makes my blood boil.

Not only that, but a hijacked plane that took off from Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. crashed into the Pentagon.  The whole armed forces of this country are now on high alert.  The president has been moving around the country in a plane so he won’t be a target.

I’ve been watching TV and listening to the radio since 6:00 a.m.  I have so much pent up energy.  I’m sure everyone does.  All schools are closed in San Francisco.  All tall buildings are closed, not only here but around the country.  All airports are closed.  No commercial planes are in the air as I write.  The whole country has shut down.  A new world of security measures has begun.  A new world of terrorism has begun.

That’s terrorism for you.  And for what?  For religion?  For jihad?  For retaliation?  What are we human beings doing to each other?  There must be some deep, deep resentment for a terrorist to give up his or her life for “the cause.”  They think they’ll live in a heavenly state after death.  Is this what religion does to some people?

I’ve been on edge all day, as has Joan.  She’s in the back garden now, using some of her pent-up energy.  Me, all I can do is clean up and do menial things around the house.

Three planes were headed for Los Angeles or San Francisco.  Cross country.  More fuel in each plane.  That’s the only reason those planes were chosen as missiles.  A fourth plane crashed in a field east of Pittsburgh.  It was probably meant for some important building but was thwarted by a group of heroic passengers, all of them knowing they were going to die.

As far as I know, the two planes that crashed into the Twin Towers took off from Boston’s Logan Airport.  The Pentagon plane took off from Dulles Airport.  The east of Pittsburgh plane took off from the Newark Airport in New Jersey.

The whole country is stunned, in shock.  All sporting events have been cancelled tonight and maybe for the rest of the week.

My brother Bob called yesterday to tell me he was flying in from L.A. this coming Thursday.  I don’t even know if his plane will take off.  No one can plan anything in a crisis like this.  In one day the world has changed right before our eyes.  I don’t like it.  It makes me sick.  I feel rage, sadness, weakness, but also strength.  It’s retaliation time.  But who do we retaliate against?

I believe our country will do everything it can to find the perpetrators behind these attacks, because this CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – Questions, Questions, Questions

It’s the day after the terrorist acts.  We still don’t know how many people died after two planes deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon.  A fourth plane came down in a field in western Pennsylvania.  Many think it was meant to crash into the White House or the Capitol building.  All four planes were taken over by hijackers who somehow forced their way into the cockpits and piloted the planes, three hitting their targets.  The whole operation was done with great precision except for the plane that landed in western Pennsylvania, where the passengers overpowered the hijackers.  Pictures of the ruins of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are now branded in Americans’ minds.  September 11, 2001, will live in everyone’s minds from this day forward.  The Twin Towers collapsed on themselves, just like when wreckers dynamite a building and it collapses on itself.  Also, a fifth of the Pentagon was destroyed.

But what I wanted to write about was how could human beings hate so much that they would train for months to pilot a plane, using it as a missile, to crash it into a building, knowing that they and everyone else on board were going to die?

What are those zealots trying to say?  That we in the West are ruining their way of life in the Middle East?  That the U.S. has it all and is unwilling to share with the rest of the world?  That the U.S. supports Israel, a longtime enemy of the Muslims?

Really, what causes a person to train for a suicide mission?  The only thing I know is that they believe their martyrdom will send them to Islamic heaven, where they will be treated as heroes and worshipped in the next life.  That’s all I know.  And maybe one more thing.  Hatred.  The hate is so real that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for “the cause.”  What cause?  Is it to rid of the state of Israel?  Is it that they think the most powerful country in the world is trying to butt into their centuries old religion and traditions?  Do they resent America’s influence over their lives, politics, and children?  Do they blame America for the failure of their societies to master modernity?  I wish I knew the answer so we could understand each other and do something about it other than retaliate against each other.

Monday, September 17, 2001 – In the Blink of An Eye

I don’t know what to think about what we should do with the backers of the terrorists who crashed four planes last week.  What should I think?  One minute I tell myself we should go after those who seek to make me insecure and who want to take away my freedoms.  We are a democracy.  Those who seek to destroy it are not from democratic countries.

But then I change my mind when I see the United States wield its power around the world.  Those fanatics don’t like us having this power.  They see us Americans as the bullies of the world.  They want to live their own lives in their own way, which is to live in dictatorships where women have no freedoms at all and where people still live in the Middle Ages.  Yes, they have a right to live whatever life they want without the U.S. interfering in their lives, but then the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were crashed into by suicide pilots.  I want to stop these fanatics from ruining my life and everyone else’s life in this country.

What should I do?  I can understand the extremists, but I can’t stand up for them.  I want to live a secure life, but does that mean I have to support America’s arrogance and bullying?  Does that mean I have to live in a country that has a voracious appetite for the material things in life?  We waste so much in this country.  Why can’t we be like the Europeans who drive small cars instead of the gas-guzzlers we drive?

I don’t want to get caught up in this wave of patriotism that’s sweeping our country.  Ever since September 11, there’s been talk of war, a crusade, good vs. evil, civilized vs. barbarians.  Are our thought processes being subverted/propagandized by our government to think only of war?  The thing is, I don’t want live in fear of walking down the street or sitting at a baseball game or walking into a building and having my life scrubbed out in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, September 18, 2001 – My Novel Highway Sailor

The whole country is still grieving over the terrorist attacks.  Three thousand lives were lost in one day.  In addition, 19 hijackers committed murder-suicide in the four attacks.  What they did makes me and everyone else in this country insecure.  It is truly “the age of uncertainty.”  No one is safe anymore.  It’s not a good feeling.

I have to get my mind off those attacks so I can write a summary of a novel I just finished, a novel I started way back in 1974 and thought I finished in 1997.  It wasn’t until this year, when I transcribed it onto my computer and revised it into a more plot-driven book.  It’s called Highway Sailor.  It takes place in 1974, the year President Nixon was entangled in the Watergate fiasco and had to resign.  Jake Massry, 33, has an unhappy break up with the woman he’s lived with for four years, he drives from Berkeley to his parents’ house in Los Angeles, sees his old world Syrian Jewish father die, and while mourning both losses in his life, he decides to travel around the country in his old VW bus to rid of the sad past and start living in the present.

The major plot of Highway Sailor is Jake Massry seeing and experiencing America.  The subplot is Jake picking up a hitchhiker as he’s leaving L.A.  The hitchhiker is Gary Morse, 19, from Brooklyn, who possesses a large red ruby given to him by a young heiress to show her love for him.  Gary shows Jake the ruby and they decide to have it appraised in Phoenix.  They walk into several jewelry stores in Phoenix and hear appraisals that range from worthless to $10,000 to $250,000.  What is that ruby really worth?  Jake and Gary decide to become partners (Jake getting 10% of the ruby’s worth) if they stick together and drive to Brooklyn to show the ruby to Gary’s father, who knows people in the jewelry business.  Jake and Gary meet a woman in Tucson and have sex with her.  Jake is enamored with the woman and decides to stay with her, thus ending his partnership with Gary.  But Jake’s relationship with the woman comes to an abrupt end when he realizes she’s a nymphomaniac.  Jake then hits the highways of America and has many experiences that give a picture of America in 1974.  The reader doesn’t find out the ruby’s true worth until the novel nears its surprise ending.

It’s been foggy most days in our West Portal neighborhood.  It’s been going on for four months.  September is usually sunny where we live, but not this year.  Oh, there have been sunny days in West Portal, but the sun has come out maybe three weeks in those four months.

Thursday, October 4, 2001 – Barry Bonds’ 70th Home Run

I was coming out of the George Krevsky Art Gallery tonight around 7 p.m.  I was going to take the L Taraval streetcar home.  I was a block away from the station when I decided to walk another block to Lefty O’Doul’s Sports Bar and Restaurant on Geary and Powell to catch the ending of the Giants-Astros game on TV.

I had my small portable radio with me to find out what the Giants were doing in Houston.  Before I left my friend George’s art gallery, they were winning 6-0.  Great.  On the street, I turned on my radio and heard the last out of the eighth inning.  The Giants were now ahead 9-2.  Giants’ announcer Ted Robinson said that Barry Bonds was due up first in the top of the ninth.  Here’s what I was thinking:  If the Giants are winning 9-2 and Bonds is coming to bat, they’re going to pitch to him.  If they pitch to him, I know he’s going to hit his 70th home run.  It’s my fate to see him hit it instead of hearing him do it on the radio.

I walked into Lefty’s to come upon a packed house watching the game.  A TV cameraman was even there to catch the crowd’s reaction if Bonds hit number 70 to tie Mark McGwire for the most home runs by a major-leaguer in one season.  Thank goodness I got there just in time.  I got the attention of the guy standing next to me and told him, “If they pitch to Barry, he’s going to do it.”  The guy replied, “They’re not going to pitch to him.  They haven’t done it the whole series.”  (Houston, because they’re in a pennant race, refused to pitch to Bonds in their three-game series with the Giants.)  I figured if the score was 9-2, Houston was going to pitch to him.

Bonds swung and missed the first pitch thrown by rookie lefthander Wilfredo Rodriguez.  “Hey,” I told the guy, “they’re pitching to him.”  The next pitch was a high fastball that came close to beaning Bonds.  The third pitch was over the plate and Bonds turned on it with that beautiful stroke of his.  As soon as it left his bat everyone knew it was a home run.  It went into Enron Field’s upper deck in right-center.  Bonds had hit his 70th to tie Mark McGwire’s three-year-old record.  To top the night off, I was the first person the TV cameraman interviewed.

Monday, October 29, 2001 – George Block and Alice Garrett

Within the past week, two people very dear to Joan and me have died.  The first person was Joan’s uncle, George Block.  We had dinner with him only a couple of weeks ago at Fresca, a Peruvian restaurant in West Portal.  George, 85-years-old, drove to our house.  We remember him saying that he was a little tired that night.  We didn’t think much of it because George’s father lived into his 90s.

George wasn’t a macho type of man.  In fact, he was just the opposite:  very gentle and sensitive.  His mind was very open for his age.  He had only one obsession, and that was his stepson Peter Block.  Peter is vindictive, and he drove George crazy with his malicious acts.  George could never figure out why Peter wouldn’t talk to him after his mother Alice (George’s wife) died a few years ago.  George took very good care of Alice in the years before she passed away.  Peter didn’t recognize this, he only recognized that George left the hospital early the night she went to the hospital a few days before she died.  Peter can be very spiteful.  But this entry is not about Peter, it’s about George.

George was the one man in Joan’s immediate family of uncles, aunts, and cousins that I got along very well with.  We could talk about books, TV, death, or God.  He had an opinion about things and I wanted to hear his opinions.  A good man is not with us anymore.  George Block was his name.  An honest, caring, sharing man.  The three of us used to eat dinner at restaurants several times a year.

George, from what we heard from his son David in New York, got dressed the morning of his death.  He was ready to go for a walk with David, when all of a sudden he said to his son, “I think I’m going to die.  I love you very much.”  That was the end of George Block’s life.  A great ending.  An ending that anyone would die for.  “Son, I think I’m going to die.  I love you very much.”

And then the death of another person who was near and dear to Joan’s and my heart:  Alice Garrett.  Alice worked as a cleaning lady for Joan’s mother, Sue Bransten, for 45 years.  But her real occupation was being a loving mother to her family and a loving wife to her husband.  Alice Garrett was one of the most giving people on Earth.  She gave so much of herself that she had very little time for herself.  She took care of her husband who had Alzheimer’s Disease.  One of the hardest things in the world is to take care of a person with that disease.  And she did it, without a single complaint.

Alice, in my opinion, never had a day of rest in her life.  She was constantly working, holding in her feelings about her employer, Sue Bransten.  She never boasted about her two children who graduated college and became professionals.  Alice would come to our duplex on 15th Avenue and California Street in the Richmond District once a week.  She always used to tell me, when I felt like getting mad at Sol and Ray for not thinking of her by leaving their rooms messy, “Have patience, Joe, they’ll change.”

Last night, at Alice’s beautiful memorial service at the Cosmopolitan Baptist Church in the Bay View District, a small church that was packed with her friends and family, the choir sang, the piano player played, the drummer beat his drums rhythmically, and the place rocked.  Alice, lying peacefully in an expensive coffin, beautiful, serene, eyes closed, was highly praised for being such a giving woman.  The pastor called her one of the greatest servants of God he ever knew, and she really was a servant of God, never complaining, always giving, giving, never asking for anything in return.  Alice Garrett was truly a servant of God.  She taught me (although I didn’t necessarily learn) to have patience with my stepson Sol and my son Ray, she taught me to never talk behind someone’s back (and believe me, it’s hard not to talk behind Sue Bransten’s back, that witch-bitch).

Alice was a great woman.  Joan and I were very glad to have gone to her memorial service.  After the service, the two of us went to Marcello Restaurant in the outer Sunset District to celebrate our twenty-second wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001 – Surviving Three Days in the Atlantic

I have to write fast today, because I’m already stuck on the first short story of many that I intend to write.  It’s about Ralph Yanello’s cousin Jerry Ettari, a commercial fisherman living on Long Island, and his deckhand Bill.  Ralph, at a poker game of the Royal Flush one night, told us about his cousin’s fishing boat that caught fire and blew up.  I thought it would be a great story to write about.  I got Jerry’s phone number from Ralph and called him in Long Island to get the full story.  He told me about him and his deckhand holding onto a small part of the boat after it blew up, and how they survived floating in the Atlantic for three days.  Three days!  How did they survive?  By helping each other keep the faith.  They prayed, they lifted each other’s spirits, they were always cold, there were even sharks circling them.  And then on the third day a bird landed on Jerry’s head—a sign of land nearby.  It’s a funny, poignant, harrowing, spiritual story.  I have to write it, although I haven’t written in months because I was transcribing and revising Highway Sailor.  I have to start getting into the rhythm of writing again.

Yesterday I got the idea to send Morning Pages to one of my favorite film directors, Barry Levinson, who I feel close to in a spiritual way.  Why not?  My book is about what his best films are about—growing up, family, sports.  Tell him he’s the only director I’m sending my book to because I admire his work and his life’s history.  Well, Morning Pages is about a man’s life, a full sweep of his life.

It’s a daring move to send it to Levinson.  “No daring is fatal,” wrote Rene Crevel.  Who the hell is Rene Crevel?  He was a French writer who committed suicide at the very early age of 35.  Every time I read Henry Miller he always mentions Crevel and that short statement of his.  Well, if no daring is fatal, why not send my book and query letter to Levinson’s company on the Warner Brothers Studio lot in Burbank?

After I finish Jerry Ettari’s story and the Levinson letter, I have a whole bunch of short stories to get to.  It’s time that I start writing and quit being picky around the house.  I’ve got to get my mind back on what is truly important in my life:  WRITING.  My writing should take precedence over dirty dishes, laundry, vacuuming, shopping, touch-up painting, and gardening.  I’ve been too wound up with all these things when I should concentrate solely on writing.

What I care about is that I’m writing now.  I’m happy because it’s been a long time since I’ve started a new writing project.  I’m writing in this journal now to get the feel of writing again.  I feel like a baseball player walking into spring training camp.  I’ve laid off baseball/writing for a few months, now it’s time to start getting back into shape and start producing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2001 – Energy

I’ve had it up to here with what’s going on in this world.  The basic reason we were attacked on 9/11 was because of oil.  That’s why we’re treating Saudi Arabia with kid gloves, because we get 40% of our oil from them.  Where did Osama bin Laden and most of the terrorists who hijacked the four planes on 9/11 come from?  Saudi Arabia.  Because they didn’t like our armed forces in their country or the West influencing their Islamic state, they committed one of the most abominable terrorist acts in all of human history.

So what do we do?  We go into Afghanistan and try to overthrow the Taliban, a fundamentalist religious government that shelters terrorists, and in my opinion, I’m all for doing it.  We have to stop terrorism.  But very few people realize the cause of terrorism.  Why do terrorists react in such a violent manner?  Because we are the big bully on the block of the world.  Might makes right.  The terrorists consider themselves David fighting Goliath, and at times they succeed against Goliath.  If only the U.S. would use its brains and think of the future.  Oil, as an energy source, will not last indefinitely.  We need to think of other methods of energy, such as solar, wind, fusion, and hydrogen.  If we pulled all the nuclear scientists together in the 1940s to build the atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Manhattan Project, why can’t we do the same now by gathering scientists in one place to figure out the most efficient, non-polluting energy source to replace fossil fuels.

Get smart, U.S., war isn’t going to solve any problems.  If at all, it will make for more problems, as all wars do.  We have to use our brains by getting together and figuring out how to energize this planet without having to go to war because of a fossil fuel.  How stupid we human beings are.  We need someone like a Franklin Roosevelt to direct us toward renewable energy.  Bush2, a former oil man, isn’t anywhere near to doing that.  Bombs, planes, and armies is all he can think of.  What a waste.  So many people live incredibly miserable lives on this planet and here we spend our energy manufacturing weapons, relying on fossil fuels that will someday be depleted, and producing gas-guzzling cars.  This is no way to better the world.  When are we going to start using our brains and think of the future of this planet?  Think future, when there won’t be any more oil.  Think future, so there won’t be fanatics crashing airliners into tall buildings.  Here it is, two months after the planes smacked into the Twin Towers and both are still smoldering.  That was such an inhuman act.  But we have to understand what makes us humans commit such acts.  It’s partly our fault for trying to be the big bully, partly the fault of undemocratic and repressive regimes in the Middle East, and partly the fault of fundamentalist religions that stuff falsehoods into their followers’ brains with “There is a better life for you in the afterlife.”  Why do they teach such nonsense?  So that their people who are living lives of destitution, hunger, and repression won’t think of their miserable present?  What is Big Bully doing about this?  We’re sidling up to these repressive, fundamentalist regimes just to get oil.  We let a small minority repress their people so they can gather untold riches to live lavishly, while most of their people live in squalor.

It makes me sick how we’re not using our intelligence to take that giant leap into a world where we don’t have to worry about terrorists, bombings, war, or repression.  The U.S. can change the world if it really wanted to.  If we figure out a way to supply our country and the world with cheap renewable sources of energy there won’t be worries of terror, biological warfare, or repression in the world.  There will be more harmony and democracy in the world.  There will be less religion in government because people will be better off.  God has nothing to do what we do here on Earth.  We, the people of the world, have to figure out what we have to do to survive on this planet, and the very first thing we have to do is find a clean, efficient, inexpensive way of supplying energy to the world.  This would reduce the problems of the world considerably so we can all get on with our lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001 – A Dramatic World Series

Two weeks ago the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees in a very exciting World Series.  It was exciting because two games were tied in the bottom of the ninth by New York when there were two outs and they went on to win both games.  And Arizona, in the seventh and final game, not only tied it up but scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to win the whole enchilada against the Yankees’ invincible closer Mariano Rivera.

It was a Series of heroes:  Derek Jeter of the Yankees hitting a game-winning home run in extra innings on November 1; Luis Gonzalez of Arizona batting in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh and final game with a bloop single over the shortstop’s head; Randy Johnson of the D-backs getting two complete-game wins and then pitching an inning and a third on zero day’s rest in the final game to win his third game of the Series; Curt Schilling of Arizona winning the first game and then three days later pitching a hell of a game in New York that his relief pitcher Byung-Huyn Kim lost in extra innings; and Schilling pitching the seventh game on three day’s rest to keep his team within striking distance till Luis Gonzalez hit that bloop single to left-center to win the Series for Arizona.  There was Tino Martinez with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie it up for the Yankees, and Scott Brosius of the Yankees with a deja vu all over again the following night in New York; and then Derek Jeter, in the first comeback, hitting the game-winning home run in the twelfth inning, and Alfonso Soriano, the next night in the tenth inning, batting in the winning run with a single.  New York, New York.  Yankee Stadium and the nation had never seen such miracles performed.  The Yankee fans thought they had God on their side and would win on emotion alone after the tragic events of 9/11.  They thought they were going to beat the odds, and they almost did, but it was Arizona that ended up the winner.  The Diamondbacks had heroes other than Johnson and Schilling:  Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Tony Womack, and Greg Counsell—actually, if you think about it, the whole damn team won the Series for them.  Both teams deserved to win it, but only one team can take it in the end.  It’s the state of Arizona’s first championship in any sport, college or professional.  They truly deserved it.  They were remarkable.  They had the talent and showed it.  New York had emotion going for them.  The Yankee fans were like the tenth man on the field, yelling their hearts and lungs out.  They almost pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

But who am I to feel sorry for the Yankees?  They’re the richest team in all of baseball.  They have the highest payroll of any team in baseball.  They have the best attendance in all of baseball.  They just didn’t have the talent that Arizona had.  It was a great series, probably one of the top five since I’ve been alive on this Earth.

Thursday, November 15, 2001 – On the Verge

A writer has to write.  He has to express his emotions and thoughts.  He has to have a picture in his mind of what he wants to write.  He has to be himself.  He has to go forward and not look back.

I have many stories on my computer that need revising.  I’m beginning to work on those stories.  If a person takes small steps toward a goal, then that person is bound to make progress.

A writer is the heart and soul of his country.  He points things out to people, and if he’s a good or great writer, he’ll strike a chord with those who read his words.  “Aha, yes, that’s it,” readers will say to themselves.

A writer writes because he has to.  If he doesn’t write, he starts feeling guilty.  A writer has to forget the dishes, he has to forget the mess in the house and kitchen, he has to forget the garden.  A writer writes because that should be the most important thing for him to do.

Lately, I haven’t been a model of following my own advice, but goddammit, I’m on the verge of making writing the most important thing in my life again.

Friday, November 23, 2001 – Family

Joan and I drove down to L.A. on Tuesday to celebrate Thanksgiving with my side of the family.  We stopped in San Luis Obispo and stayed the night at a motel.  In L.A. we stayed at my brother Maurice’s house.  Our son Ray is living in L.A. with his friend Eric and three other roommates.  He’s going to Santa Monica Community College.

Joan is at the Burbank Airport going through inspection upon inspection to get on a plane going back to San Francisco.  I’ll be driving back Monday morning.

Last night we went to my brother Dave’s and his wife Bertha’s for a great Thanksgiving feast.  There was food and drink galore.

Two days ago, Ray, Joan, and I went to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, a little over a mile from our house on Hollywood Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, where I spent my years from the ages of 8-19 before going off to the University of Oregon on a football scholarship.  The theater had a wide screen and a booming sound system.  A young girl of 6 or 7 sitting next to me couldn’t sit still for a second because she was so amped up watching the movie.  As for me, I wasn’t thrilled at all; it was a crappy movie in my opinion.  After the movie, it was off to Ray’s apartment next to the UCLA campus.  My son pays $450 a month for rent.  $450 x 5 = $2,250 per month for a small three-bedroom apartment.  Ray has gained weight.  At the age of 20 he weighs 170 pounds.  He’s 5-foot-9.  He goes to Santa Monica City College and knows what he wants to be in life—an audio engineer.  He’s growing, learning.  He enjoys working at Amoeba Records on Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood, which is located a few blocks from my early childhood home.  Actually a small section of the building Amoeba is in is where I had a haircut at the age of 5 in 1945.  My brothers Bob and Maurice took me to the barber shop.  They too had haircuts that day.  The barber cut off all my dirty blond hair and made me look like I had just been liberated from a Nazi concentration camp.  My mom fumed at my brothers for letting the barber cut off so much of my hair.  She even took me back to the barber shop and bawled out the barber.  You see, my mother, brothers, and I were going to take a train to visit our relatives in Brooklyn that summer.

Joan and I talked about her mother Sue Bransten as I was driving her to the airport a little over an hour ago.  Her mother, worth many millions, is probably not going to leave her much when she dies.  The reason being, her mother doesn’t like me and doesn’t believe in sharing with her family.  She’s going to leave her millions to different charities.  This is what her lawyer told us.  Her mother has been on her deathbed for the past five or six years.  She took control of her husband’s fortune when he had Parkinson’s, which meant that when Joan’s father William died 16 years ago, she didn’t receive a penny.  Her mother kept it all.  Sue Bransten is just plain stingy.  She’s always used her fortune to control people.  Joan, in the car going to the airport, said she wished she could do what I was doing with her mother.  What am I doing?  Sue Bransten and I do not see each other or communicate with each other.  She’s persona non grata with me, and vice-versa.  Joan wishes she could stay away from her mother, but because she’s her daughter she feels obligated to see her.  And every time Joan sees her, she comes home crying from being treated so cruelly by her mother.

And so here I sit and write on the day after Thanksgiving in my brother Maurice’s dining room.  It’s a very warm day.  I’m looking at pictures of Mom and Dad, Maurice’s family, and at a set of Turkish coffee cups Mom had in our house on Fairfax Avenue.  I’m back in L.A., my old hometown.

Sunday, November 25, 2001 – My Cousin Vic

Why do I let my brothers and cousins consume my life when I come to Los Angeles?  I want to be with them is why, to talk about the past and the present with them.  I can see, though, if I lived in L.A. it would cramp my style if I were around my family too much.  Oh, everyone has their own lives—my brothers Dave, Bob and Maurice, and our cousins Joe and Vic.  I think it’s ruined Vic, the youngest of us all, to have stayed in L.A.  Of course Vic has his own life, but when he’s around family, and he is quite often, he’s quiet and subdued.  When he visits us in San Francisco, he’s completely different.  He can’t stop talking, he goes into every store he passes and strikes up conversations with sales people and customers, and he stops strangers on the street to joke with them.  It’s things like that which drive me crazy.  But I could see myself being quiet and subdued like Vic if I lived in my old hometown.

My son Ray and I went out to dinner last night.  It was good to be with him.  We talked about his school, his roommates and how noisy they are late at night, and about his work at Amoeba Records.  It’s always good to be with my son.

It’s sunny today.  Cool.  Very clear.  Clean air.  I should be leaving today, but Interstate-5 would be bumper to bumper for 400 miles on a Sunday.  That’s why I’m leaving tomorrow.

Monday, December 3, 2001 – Bay Area Sports Fans

I went for a walk with George Krevsky and treated him to lunch for his 62nd birthday.  What did George and I talk and squawk about on our walk from his house to College Avenue in Oakland?  Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestine tit-for-tat skirmishes, which are getting out of hand as each day passes.  What a sorrowful state of affairs it is when a suicide bomber, at a discotheque or on a bus, blows up himself and strangers around him to smithereens.  And then there’s Afghanistan, Islam, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, U.S. Forces, and women having to wear burkas that cover their faces and bodies.  What is this world coming to where extremists of Islam are running things.  It’s a hell.  These terrorists think they’re going to go to heaven when they blow themselves up.  If they think heaven is all splendor, then why not commit suicide at the ages of 5, 6, or 7 when they can get to heaven more quickly?

Fundamentalists.  Religion.  When a country’s leaders are fundamentalists, then that country is in trouble.  Religion and the running of government are like oil and water, they don’t mix.  There has to be a separation of church and state, and that isn’t happening in these autocratic, Islamic nations.  Church and state are intertwined and this has held most of the people in those Islamic countries from rising above poverty.  We’re finding out that Afghan women have been suppressed since the Taliban took control in the mid-1990s.  A woman can’t go out of her house if she isn’t escorted by a man, plus women have to cover every part of their body from head to toe.  Is that any way for a human being to live?  But I’m getting away from what George Krevsky and I talk about when we see each other a handful of times during a calendar year.

Today we walked in an urban setting and not around the Lafayette Reservoir in the East Bay or Crissy Field in San Francisco.  Afghanistan, for sure, was brought up.  But mostly we talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Recently there were three Palestinian suicide bombing attacks, two in Jerusalem and one in Haifa.  “The difference” said George, “is that Islam teaches their young to hate and kill the Jews, and the Jews teach their young to think of others, to be moral.”

We talked about the Giants and the A’s, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, 49er quarterback Jeff Garcia and Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, and wide receivers for both teams:  Terrell Owens, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown.  We both root for the other side, which is getting to be common in the Bay Area.  Ray Ratto, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t like it.  “Do the Mets fans root for the Yankees?” Ratto asks.  “The answer is no.  Do the White Sox fans root for the Cubs?  No.  So why should Giants fans root for the A’s, and Raider fans root for the 49ers?”  Because George used to live in San Francisco and now in Oakland, but his art gallery is in San Francisco.  And why do I root for the A’s at times?  Because some of my friends—George, Harry Fish, and Jerry Lipkin—live in the East Bay and go to the A’s games and they invite me to go with them.  But why was I for the Raiders this year in the playoffs?  Because they have former 49ers Jerry Rice and Charlie Garner on their team.

George asked me how Joan was doing.  I told him that she is obsessed with learning Greek and Latin at San Francisco State.  She wakes up at 5 a.m., studies, goes to class a couple of hours a day, and for the rest of her time during the day she’ll study ancient Greek until 9 p.m.  She doesn’t take a break.  She won’t answer the phone because it will disturb her concentration.  That’s my wife—an A student.  She’s so serious about her studies.

Tuesday, December 4, 2001 – My Stepson Sol

Even though my stepson Sol and his wife Jang are already married and living in Chicago, they’re going to have a wedding celebration here in San Francisco on December 23.  The reason why I bring up Sol and Jang is that Sol, who told us several years ago that he was homosexual, is now married to Jang.  So I guess you can say that Sol is bisexual.  Jang was born in China and raised in Taiwan and Vancouver, Canada.  Her mother and father divorced a long time ago.  Her father still lives in China.  Her mother, a well-known artist in Taiwan, divides her time between Taiwan and Vancouver.

I’ve known Sol since he was six-years-old.  He is now 31.  It wasn’t an easy relationship for either of us.  Since I took him away from his mother, he resented me and rarely listened to me.  Those weren’t easy years for either of us.  When he was in high school his resentment grew stronger.  Then he went back east to Bowdoin College in Maine, getting as far away from us as possible.  One summer, in 1989, he came home and played the same classical song on the piano every day, for hours.  It drove me crazy.  There was no deviation from his playing that one song.  Sol was trying to say something, but I never probed.  I had had my fill of my stepson being deaf to anything I said, so I gave up and shied away from saying, “Sol, why are you playing the same song over and over again?”  A few years later, he came out and said he was homosexual and didn’t want to communicate with anyone in the family ever again.  It was a complete break for him.  Joan was extremely hurt and couldn’t do anything about it because Sol was in Maine and we were in California.

I get along with Sol now, mainly surface stuff, not, “What caused those changes in you, Sol?”  I already know the answer.  He resented his mother, my wife, and his father, Ramon Sender, for splitting up when he was just an infant.  That resentment of his parents carried over to me.  A child of separated parents since infancy is probably going to have problems.

I wish Sol and Jang a long-lasting life together.

Friday, December 14, 2001 – Ménage à Trois

Last night the Royal Flush had a poker game.  One of us had a question he wanted to ask the other six.

He said, “If you knew a young woman, twenty-seven, who was going with a friend of yours—and you and your friend, together, have experienced having sex with a woman in the past—would you now, since you’re married, together with your friend, have sex with this woman, since she was the one who initiated the idea?”

There are many questions that arise if a married man is going to have sex with another woman.  What about guilt feelings?  What about AIDS?  What if your wife finds out?  Will having sex with another woman help or hinder a marriage?

Three in the group, of which I was a part of, said they wouldn’t have sex with another woman.  They said that a man would have no integrity if he were to have extramarital sex.  Then there were three in the group who said they would surely have sex with another woman if the opportunity arose.

After all six of us aired our opinion, the one who asked the question said, “My friend and I already had sex with his girlfriend.  We had a fabulous time and we’re thinking of doing it again.”

Thursday, December 27, 2001 – Arthritis and Marriage Celebration

I haven’t sat down to write in my journal in a long time.  What’s the reason?  The Internet is one; going to my water aerobics class three days a week is another; something always needing my attention around the house; not having confidence in my writing ability; the holiday season of parties and eating too much; my not being able to walk like a normal human being because of two arthritic hips; thinking of my upcoming operation on my right hip that will take place on January 15, 2002.  Those are all the reasons I can think of why I haven’t written lately.

My hips are a major concern.  I limp a lot.  Dr. Curtis Kiest at Kaiser says arthritis is hereditary.  My whole family has arthritis.  Mom had a hip replaced.  Bob had a hip replaced.  Dave can’t turn his neck without turning the upper trunk of his body.  Maurice has a very bad arthritic knee that he says is going to be replaced.  Albert has an arthritic ankle.  Charles, who is no longer with us, had arthritis.  Everyone has or had arthritis except our father.  So we must have inherited it from our mother’s side.

Sol and Jang celebrated their marriage this past Sunday at the Noe Valley Ministry.  Sol’s father, Ramon Sender, works at the Ministry.  My friend Jerry Lipkin called this morning.  He said it was a “warm, close celebration.”  There were about 40 people present.  Sol and Jang read their vows to each other.  There were toasts and dancing and food and drink.  Achi Ben Shalom sang Hebrew songs until the celebration was over a few hours later.


Barry Bonds ended up hitting 73 home runs in 2001 to become the all-time major league leader of home runs in one season.  Bonds, in his final season of 2007, became the all-time home run leader in home runs with 762.  Hank Aaron previously held the record at 755.  Babe Ruth had 714.

My son Ray, after leaving Santa Monica City College, went on to attend San Diego State University.  He majored in psychology, got his degree, attended San Francisco State University, got his master’s degree, and is now a therapist.  He married Ashley, presently Senior Director of Human Resources at One Medical.  They have a 3-year-old son named Joseph and another boy on the way in December 2023.  Ray and his family live in Oakland.

My stepson Sol Sender and his wife Jang live in Chicago.  Sol is a partner and Head of Branding Strategy at Morningstar.  His wife Chi-Jang Yin is an award-winning, experimental documentary filmmaker and a professor of film at DePaul University.  They have an 11-year-old son named Olby Sender.