May 31, 2010

People That Inspire - Part III

I had the good fortune of attending a memorial on May 30th, 2010 in honor of the life of a special man. Willie Ramirez was a graduate of Torrey Pines High School, Del Mar, CA. in 1976. He died in April 2009 at the age of 51, succumbing to cancer in a short period of time.

Inspiring. Moving. Touching. And so preciously beautiful the memorial was yesterday in honor of his life. I didn't know Willie all that well, only my junior year at TPHS from the fall of 1975 until the spring of 1976. But in that short time, I do remember these things; his kindness, his smile, his vigor, his vitality, his uncommon gift of speed and agility on the football field, and his hat. Oh, his omnipresent hat. It WAS Willie. Where Willie went, the hat went.

What his wife Natalie, and the entire Ramirez family, did yesterday was something so incredible it's hard to put it in the proper words. What immediately came to mind when she first got up to speak was that Willie's heart, his zest for life, his soul was working through her and touching us all. At first I wasn't certain if I was aware of his presence within her but as she continued on, and particularly as she closed her remarks, I was convinced of it. And for that, I can say only this. She is a very blessed and lucky lady. Not many people in this world ever have anything like that happen to them in their lifetime. To have a loved one who has passed on and to live on in another in such a way, as what I and all of us observed in Natalie yesterday, is very rare, very special, and very inspiring for those souls who come in contact with someone such as Natalie Ramirez. She, and others like her, are the sort of people that I want in my life; people who journey and exist among us living their lives with sincerity, their heart, their soul, their passion for LIFE itself.

I'm honored and grateful to have been one of those lucky souls to have been with Willie and his family yesterday. Honestly, I can think of only a handful of times in my life when I was moved in such a way. So, perhaps this is my first step in "paying it forward", passing Willie's kindness on to others, not asking for anything in return, only that those that are on the receiving end of kindness do the same. Pay it forward.


May 27, 2010

People That Inspire - Part II

I have a facebook friend who has someone in her life very very special. In the interests of privacy though, I will be using fictitious names with this story. It's a story that gives me inspiration and it is my hope it does the same for you. First though, allow me to give you a little background on "Jane."

I became "friends" with Jane on facebook about a year ago. She was involved in threads with a mutual friend of ours, a man I went to high school with here in SoCal over 30 years ago. She and him had been friends outside of the facebook world for some time, I believe it was when he was once working and living in the L.A. area where she lives.

The best way I can describe Jane is she's an enigma within an enigma. When I first noticed her popping up on threads with my old h.s. classmate, I could tell she was bright, sassy, intelligent, witty, and very blunt. She's also married with two children, is a personal fitness trainer, loves motorcycles and horses, about 10 years younger than I, very spiritual and religious, though not in an overbearing way, and an attractive lady. The reason why I say she's an enigma is my first blush of her was contrary to what I later learned about her. At first I thought, wow, she pushes the edge of risque content on facebook, yet what I discovered much later is she's one of those people whom you just can't ignore. She has strong faith in God, is fiercely loyal to her friends, and you best not cross her, because if you do she's not one to "take prisoners." In other words, "good people" as I told her recently. My kind of friend.

Jane has a facebook friend whom I will call "Jack." Jack's a cop in the L.A. area. And like Jane, he has a keen interest in motorcycles. I think they have been friends for many years, going back to when they were teenagers, schoolmates, and soulmates as friends in the truest sense for a quarter of a century. She calls him her "bestie." I'm sure she has other descriptions for him, perhaps even a guardian angel. All I know is they have a very special and unique bond.

A little less than a year ago, Jack nearly died as the result of a horrific motorcycle accident. I can't recall all the details now, but I remember Jane sharing some of the story on her Facebook wall. He underwent numerous surgeries for injuries to his extremities, 14 in the just the first 32 days, was really not expected to live at first, and the doctors thought he might even lose a leg as a result of the motorcycle accident. But he didn't. Not only did he live, he also kept his leg, and against all odds over the course of months and months of surgeries and therapy, he walked again. I'm sure I'm leaving a lot out here and I know Jane can tell this story much better than I. Suffice it to say that he defied the odds of all medical science and opinions. There were doubts he would live at first, no one expected him to keep his leg, and certainly no one thought he would ever walk again. He met all those challenges and more. Here's where it gets inspiring.

Recently, in just the past few days in fact, Jane posted something on her facebook wall and I'll paraphrase it as best I can without copying and pasting what she wrote: "watched Jack, whom I thought I had lost nine months ago, and whom we doubted if he would ever walk again, let alone as a cop, walk into a hospital room, IN UNIFORM, to visit another cop friend of mine who had suffered severe injuries as the result of a motorcycle accident. He WALKED IN to encourage him in the struggle ahead and to show him what is possible with determination."

I'll add these thoughts then. God works in mysterious ways. Think about it. Two cops, both friends of Jane, both who suffered horrific injuries from motorcycle accidents, one nearly a year ago and who not only lives, but also WALKS again, defying all odds, and coming in to another person's life to provide him with inspiration on what is possible with faith, will, determination, and the unwavering support and love of many people and friends, including these two special people.

These are the kinds of people I WANT in my life. People like Jane and her inspiring and incredible friend in Jack. People who value life at its most basic level; with faith, love, sincerity, and a willingness to reach out to their fellow man in their time of need.

So, who do you want in your life? When someone comes into your life, don't forget, they did for a reason. Usually you'll find those reasons are good ones, positive ones, INSPIRING ones.

May 25, 2010

People That Inspire - Part I

Things continue to "happen". The other night at the Eagles concert, Glenn Frey introduced a song called "No More Cloudy Days", a love song I hadn't heard in awhile. Odd moment, too. It was shortly after dark, not a cloud in the sky, moon about half-full just above the stage. Just as they began to play the song, there suddenly streaked across the sky center right just above the top of the stage, a shooting star. I looked over at the person standing to my left and we both just sort of went, "did that just REALLY happen?" Everyone gasped in the stadium in disbelief.

Here's the weirdest part if you can believe it. BEFORE this shooting star scene, I had come out to go to the bathroom. As I left I noticed a lady sitting on a bench by herself in front of me. She was looking down at her cell phone, crying. She dialed a number, held the phone to her head, put her other hand on her cheek, and waited. I could tell no one answered. That's when I did something I NEVER used to do, at least not until the past two years. I walked up to her, kneeled in front of her, and asked: "are you okay?" All she could do was hold her head down and sob. So I did something else. I put one of my hands on hers, the other on the side of her head, as if I was holding her and said, "hey, its okay. I'm here. I'm real. Don't be afraid, I'm here to help you." She looked up and that's when I saw this woman had a deep soul, a good heart, and she was hurting. Bad. That's when I told her my name and asked what hers was. Before long, we were talking about what happened. One of her girlfriends and her had gotten in a fight over something trivial and her friend had her kicked out of the concert. The sad part was her friend had this woman's house keys and she was trying to get her to come out of the concert, give them to her, so she could go home since she had a ride coming from another girlfriend who was already on her way.

And then I realized something. I had an extra ticket in my pocket!! So I said, "hey Cari, come on in and sit with me for a few songs until your friend arrives. For pete's sake, you were sitting in the lawn section waaaay in the back where your so-called friend is with your house keys and I'm in Section 101, not 50 or so yards from the stage, PRIVATE seating!" She hesitated for just one second then said, "let's go then!"

Long story short, by the time her friend had arrived, she was smiling and had stopped crying. She gave me a huge hug and she was gone. Then came the shooting star. Why?

Because things happen for a reason. People come into your life for a reason and you into theirs for a reason. Good reasons. Positive reasons. INSPIRING reasons. The connection of Cari's soul and Gus' soul will exist now for eternity, though we will never see each other again. But someday, maybe soon, something good and positive will happen in her life and in mine. All because we made a connection, one based ENTIRELY on trust, faith, love, and a sincere care for another human being's welfare.


May 22, 2010

Psychological Phenomenon

I've been thinking a lot about the psychology of relationships lately, especially family dynamics. When I went to SDSU in the early 80's, I took psychology courses as electives and discovered I liked the subject so much I almost changed my major. Course, I didn't, but did it up only a few credits short of a minor in the subject to go with my major in Business. Got all A's too.

One aspect of psychology that I find especially intriguing is one I'm sure we're all aware of. However, for those of you that read this that don't, I'll do my best to explain the way I view this topic. The only way I know how to do it is to apply it to some real-life example.

For instance, one of my family members (though not the only one, she's just the one who seems particularly pre-occupied with it), started pointing out what she viewed as character defects in my inter-personal relationships with her and other people, not long after my release from the Holliday Inn. She said "Gus, all you ever seem to talk about is yourself. You don't care about other people have to say. You don't listen." Notice what I just wrote there. She mentioned the word "you" or a form thereof three times in three short sentences. Have you ever noticed when someone says the word "you" when they begin speaking that it puts a person on the defensive? YOU don't listen. YOU talk all the time. We all know we should talk in the first person, something like "I feel sometimes that what I have to say isn't important." See what I mean?

The other thing and this one is even more important than the first is this. Have you ever noticed that when someone is emphatically pointing out aspects of another person's character or personality that they find annoying, distasteful, or just plain wrong, that REALLY what they are pointing out are aspects they see in THEMSELVES that they subconsciously wish would be different?

Stop and think about that paragraph. Re-read it if you have to in order to see what I'm driving at. I know of many people, and not just within my family, who are the same way. Always pointing out defects in others, blaming, or pointing fingers, when in reality they are the very same things they absolutely despise about themselves, without even realizing it. It's a very interesting phenomenon.

I know for a fact I talk about myself. A LOT. And I'm smart enough, and introspective enough, to realize when I come off this way. I'm not sure I need reminded of that from others. Truthfully though, here's the way I see it.

I'm not actually talking about ME per se, as in "look at me! See? I'm important!" It's more a function of the sum of all the experiences I've had over a lifetime but ESPECIALLY the past two years, how those experiences have ended up being applied in a positive way in my own life, and how I want desperately to share with others what I've learned so that they might be able to make some positive use of those lessons in their own lives. And I've had MANY people outside my immediate family who have practically begged me to speak or write about these experiences; while in incarceration, when I was at the house arrest program for six months in Liberal attending daily meetings with others, writing letters to every chief district judge in the State of Kansas, all the representatives, included the Governor, over 60 letters in all, about the "dysfunction" of the legal system, and then numerous Facebook friends beginning about a year ago when they started talking about the inspiration they received from some of my "notes" and ramblings.

A few of these friends, especially one, has said my "calling" is in writing. Perhaps a book of sorts, or a collection of short stories. Maybe that's where this blog is leading, I'm not sure. But it's becoming clearer every day. And I've felt this way a long time, going back almost a year now. Let me explain what I mean. One night last July or so, I woke at about 2:30 a.m. from a dream. I had been speaking in front of a group somewhere in the future. There were many people there, in some type of auditorium or something similar. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the light, looked into the mirror, and started talking. I don't recall how long it was before I got done but when I did, I looked down and I was shaking, yet this absolutely and incredibly huge source of energy was surging throughout my entire body.

That was the third time I had what is known as an "out-of-body" experience in my lifetime, the first two was in a small church in Norton, KS. in the fall of 2006 during my first stint at Norton Valley Hope, a rehab facility. I'll never forget it. The minister had asked a few of us to come forward if we wanted to feel Christ. I was the only one who, when he placed his hand on my shoulder and began speaking in "tongue" while my eyes were closed, had an experience unlike anything I had ever felt before, at least up until that moment in my own bathroom alone at 2:30 a.m. nearly 3 years later.

Those of you that have come this far in this latest post might be thinking some crazy thoughts about now. All I can say is this. What I felt in the fall of 2006 was REAL, it wasn't contrived, manipulated, or acted out. It HAPPENED. Just like it did later. And this feeling gets stronger by the day. Something big is about to happen again in my life. I FEEL it.

Bottom line is this. This path that is being laid before me; moving here, attending school, the blog and website I created three weeks after arrived, it's all part of something bigger. What, I have no idea. But I KNOW it's coming and I KNOW it's about knowledge and helping others.

But like pastor Bob Speer, my personal pastor at Norton, who once told me and this is my rendition of what he said: "I'm not driving this bus. I'm just a passenger along for the ride. I'll do what I can during the trip to make it worthwhile for myself and others."


May 19, 2010

The Circle of Life

This one's weird. A few short months ago, I was talking with a few of my facebook friends, family, and others about how life is a circle. Do you believe it's a circle in your life? Do you have any examples?

Here's something to ponder but, before I go into this latest "rambling", this post reminds me of the other ones I've mentioned before; things happen for a reason, destiny, fate, etc.

Earlier this year, I made the remark that I've come back to SoCal and its been a 27 year circle to get here. A lot has obviously happened in those 27 years; my first job with ITT Financial as a collection and loan officer in Great Falls, MT., Craig, CO., and Grand Junction, CO.; moving back to Tribune in 1985 where I began working in the bank October 10th, 1985, first in the insurance agency and then in 1988, as a full-time loan officer; started farming with my Dad in 1985 and eventually taking over the entire 4000 acre operation in 1994 after he retired; got married in 1992, the result of which is two wonderful children, Christy and Jess, and sadly divorced in 2000; and finally, hitting my own bottom with an insidious disease called alcoholism in 2008. Two years later, here I am in San Diego, one month away from getting my paralegal certificate and about to take a leap of faith into the job pool and a tough job market.

But here's what's been on my mind lately. Since I arrived in SoCal, I've gained not one, not two, but TEN friends on my Facebook page, all of them from Kansas. Seems peculiar to me that I moved 1200 miles from "home" and now the circle is moving around again. So I ask myself this question. Why? That's the sort of thing I do, I always have, I dissect things, analyze them, ponder the meaning of it all. Am I destined to return to Kansas? Or is God putting these people back into my life to remind me of my roots? My values? That pioneer spirit of my Kansas brethren? Is He putting them back into my life so that I won't lose that spirit, so that I can channel that energy of these unique people in and through me to reach out to all the lost souls I see here?

That's the answer I think. Something in my gut tells me so. Something has happened AGAIN for a reason. Time will tell and I'll have my antenna up for further signs of where this new path will lead in the land here in SoCal they call "Paradise."

In the meantime, tell me, what is YOUR circle of life story?


May 17, 2010


What is your passion? What drives you to do what you do in life? What is it that stirs your blood, the fire in your soul, that which motivates you most about LIFE?

Mine can be traced in to shortly after I got out of the "Holliday Inn" in Elkhart. After being imprisoned for 158 days of acts of my own doing and will, it was time to re-evaluate what is important about life. Today, nearly 2 years later, I'm driven by a number of things, not the least of which is getting everything I can out of life; sharing of my experiences with others, and not just of the last 2 years, but of a lifetime of hard work, education, and professional experiences when I was in banking and farming for over 25 years.

I was talking with my Dad yesterday on the way back from visiting his good friend in Lake Elsinore, the first time we had an opportunity to visit alone together for over 2 years. He said a few things about me that weren't surprising though I have to say this; he doesn't know, understand, or appreciate who and what I've become. Don't get me wrong, it's not that he isn't "appreciative" mind you, it's more of not "knowing." He's not the only one. Many people, especially my own family, get overwhelmed by my passions about life, how I get so "up" about things, how I "go off" and "ramble" on and on about so many things that have happened.

I've come to this conclusion. I won't hold back. This is who I am. I'm driven and passionate about everything I see, hear, touch, smell, or taste. I was left for dead and now I'm alive and have NO intention of slowing down. Yet I'm not unaware. I'm introspective enough to know I need to "dial it down" at times so that people aren't put off or intimidated with some of the things I say or do and HOW I do or say them. Balance is key now. And patience. I've learned a lot about the latter.

What are my passions then? By now, you know. It can be as minute as watching birds frolic in the morning, a snail making its way slowly across a leaf, or watching children play in the ocean. Others are much bigger; social issues, the plight and pain I see and feel in my fellow man, this inner drive to reach out and help those in need. The thirst for knowledge in every sense and how I can apply it to my own life and, in turn, give it back to others. This is who I am. A man humbled by his past, a man who gave up nearly everything, including most of his pride. But what pride I have left I'm damn proud of. I'll hold on to that from this day forward as long as I live.

So, who are you? What is your passion? What drives you, motivates your soul, gives you the energy to do what you love best?


May 14, 2010

Destiny and Coincidence

This topic comes to mind for several reasons. As you recall, on April 27th, 2010 I wrote that I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. I'm not sure if I believed this prior to two years ago but I sure as hell do now. Reason being, is there is NO WAY anyone can tell me that everything that has occurred in my life, both good and bad, but especially the good ones the past two years, came about by chance. There's just been too many instances of this phenomenon repeating itself, that it would give anyone with a raisin for a brain reason to think twice before dispelling that belief themselves.

Early last year a film came out called "Knowing." For those who haven't seen it, google it so it will give you some background. Briefly, Nicolas Cage was the star in it as an astrophysicist professor who struggled internally with whether the world in which he lived, his surroundings, and the events that occurred happened simply by chance or by something else. Something that was pre-destined. Call it the will of God if you wish, though you know by now I'm not one of serious religious bent. Obviously however, I do have a strong spiritual connection with my world these days.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday morning, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to a photograph of my son and I taken in the front yard of my home in Elkhart, KS. the middle of last summer. I liked it so much I added it to my profile album but yesterday was the first time I had shown it as my profile picture for oh, 2 or 3 months, maybe longer. Later that day, after school, I was on my way to the beach, called my aunt who lives nearby (she's 85 now), and asked if she wanted to go out to dinner after my beach walkabout and she said sure.

Here's where it gets weird. Prior to yesterday, the last time I saw my Dad in person was two years ago in April 2008 and we've spoken by phone only a handful of times since, though there have been several instances when we have recently, especially since I arrived here in SoCal. However, I've known for awhile that he is moving to Virginia from La Paz, Mexico and would be coming to stay with his sister (my aunt) for a couple of months. Thing is, I didn't know exactly WHAT DAY or even the freaking TIME of day he would be coming.

So after my walk I checked my blackberry for messages and this is what I read from one of my sisters: "Dad just pulled in to Aunt Rogies. Had some trouble along the way, three flat tires on the trailer!!" (Keep in mind that he left La Paz four days prior and it's nearly a 900 mile trip.) My reply? "Ironic, I had called Rogie earlier to ask her to go to din with me. On my way!!"

Later, one of my former co-workers at the bank in Tribune, a lady I was once very good friends with and who recently came back into my life on Facebook, sent me this wall-to-wall message on Facebook about the picture of my son and I; "I like your profile picture. Father & Son.....Awesome....."

See what I mean?


May 12, 2010


If anyone has any ideas, comments, or suggestions on how to improve the usefulness of this "blog", please let me know. I've had some feedback from others about ways I might be improved such as integrating the website into a search toolbar. I know if you google "", it will take you to the URL but I'm not sure if or even how to make it available within other search engines. Another suggestion would be ways so that others can join in anonymously to offer topics or points of interest of their own. The settings here already allow that however, or at least as far as I know.

I'm sure there are other bells, whistles, and ways to format the site to make it perhaps more eye-appealing and since I've always focused on substance over style, I've not been that experienced with the frills that might be available. Don't get me wrong, I want them here but just don't have the expertise. So please, if anyone has experience with blogging themselves and are willing to offer some tips, shoot them my way!

Been a long day. And a pretty good one at that. Dynamic you might say.....


May 11, 2010

A Dynamic Life

How do you live your life? Are you one of those who is just going through the motions? Do you feel like your life is in a rut? Same 'ol routine every day? Why? Is it because of financial limitations? Family or work obligations? Personal issues?

Or are you one of those that is always looking for another way? Looking for an adventure? Thinking outside the box, taking risks? Spicing up your life? Spontaneity?

From the VERY moment I left the "Holliday Inn" in Elkhart, KS., November 10th, 2008, I can honestly say there hasn't been ONE day where I haven't had something dynamic and special happening in my life. Sure, some were little silly things, as simple as meeting someone new and getting to know everything about their life. Watching birds early in the morning frolic in the trees. Talking with the self-checkout lady at grocery stores. Being very out-going, upbeat, and positive with those that I encountered. The list goes on and on.

As I reminisce about the past two years, I can think of dozens of things, dynamic things, that have occurred in my life. At first, it wasn't all that much and not very special. But, once I got a taste of this new way of living, I grabbed hold of it and haven't let go since. Each day just gets better and better. Sure, there have been some damn dark days, terrible days in fact. And some only recently after arriving in SoCal. What's different NOW than before November 10th, 2008 is I'm actually LIVING again for the first time in I don't know how long, perhaps 25 years or more. What I mean is I've discovered through trial that some how the next day was better. And then it happened again. Before long, I realized that no matter how crappy my day might have been, I just KNEW the next day would be better! It's an incredible feeling having that comfort that tomorrow truly will be a better day.

I can't tell you when this happened, how it happened, or even why. Frankly, I don't WISH to know. All I know is I awake each day and take comfort in knowing that THIS day will bring something new to my life. Something "dynamic" and something very special.

So, if you find yourself in the first group, please don't think there has to be something life-altering like what happened to me in order to get yourself living dynamically again. Just think about what COULD happen if you don't. Don't wake up one day and go, "Is this it?" "Is this what my life is about?" "The same thing day after day?"

Maybe what I'm trying to say is this. Look at what happened to me. How it changed me. How it made me become a better person and a better man. Then close your eyes. Imagine what it would be like to lose nearly everything; your freedom, your job, your family, even your very existence.

Now open your eyes and look around you. You're free, you're alive, you have your job, your family, your home. Don't EVER take those things for granted again. Start living "dynamically" from this very moment. Grab on to life and shake it with everything you have, get ALL you can out of it, every MOMENT of it, of every day ... for the rest of your life.

May 9, 2010


I'm an emotional guy. And that's a broad area. Most that know me well know I don't hide how I feel and frankly, I don't care to. I've learned that expressing one's feelings, good or bad, in an open and honest way has several impacts with those I interact with.

First, people can tell pretty damned easily if I'm happy, sad, upbeat, mad, melonchaly, or whatever. I say this often; what you see is what you get, I mean what I say and say what I mean, style takes a backseat to substance with me and with anyone else I choose to interact with or call a friend. But maybe more importantly, it opens me up to the judgments of others, either positively or negatively. Being open and expressive about ourselves, exhibiting that sense of vulnerability in a way, can be dangerous. You have to have a pretty thick skin and a strong self-esteem to withstand what may come your way from others.

Personally, I think that's something missing these days, being totally honest, first with ourselves, and then with others. And not just here in SoCal, though it seems especially embedded in people's way of living. It's like many are "in hiding", hiding from others, hiding from their own feelings, hiding from expressing how they truly wish to deep down inside but are scared of what others, especially those they call "friends" might think of them. That's where the superficiality comes into play. And FEAR. Afraid of appearing "weak", afraid of ourselves.

That old saying "truth will set you free" may sound corny or cheesy but seriously, it really is liberating! Once you let the walls of pride, ego, and fear crumble and subside, then and ONLY then, will you know true happiness, peace, and serenity. Then you will know who your friends REALLY are; people who are real, giving, thoughtful, and kind, with no agendas, no pretense, and just pure, honest love. Love for ourselves and one another.


May 5, 2010

"The Bullpen"

Welcome. I wish to make clear a couple of things about this one. First, it is NOT intended to be self-serving, to ask for anyone's sympathy or approval, or to influence you in any way, with respect to how you might react or wish to share with others. It's your choice and I have no qualms or reservations with anyone wishing to make comments, either directly to me or with others. In fact, I encourage it! This blog is an "open forum", if you want to comment anonymously, you may. I have no fear of the truth. Secondly, I know it's contrary to the purpose of this blog, given the fact I've said it's about "us" and all but I have my reasons. Maybe some of it's therapeutic and maybe it's the start of something else, perhaps a book one day. But maybe more importantly than anything else is it might give you a better sense of the why, who, and what I am; a man that treasures the words FREEDOM and LIFE, why I'm so philosophical, why I have such passion about life in general, and perhaps how you can take something of your own life that might appear tragic, sad, or negative and turn it into perhaps one of the greatest assets you've ever had as a human being. When one loses their freedom, and I mean nearly complete in every way a person could lose it, it changes your entire outlook on life and what is important. This is a glimpse of my life that will be forever embedded in my memory and what I'm about to write is "right off the top of my head", no notes, no plan, just the way I like to "ramble." I do have a journal that I've kept since "that date" and if you recall from the April 24th blog, that was the date of the start of my new life; 158 days inside what is not so affectionately known as "The Bullpen."

There's a reason I'm using a black color with this one. The photographs you see here were hand-sketched drawings I did sometime around July 2008 about a month into my stay inside the Elkhart Law Enforcement jail facility and its main "living" area known as "The Bullpen." These were the dark days, hence, the black ink, though not entirely dark since the lights, like the TV suspended below the ceiling just outside the bars, were on 24 hours a day. But once my head started clearing after 30 days or so, I decided to make the best of it and "mapped out" my surroundings. As I said earlier, incarceration does strange and funny things to a human, you'll discover simple ways to survive because of the meager existence; a very small bowl of cold cereal for breakfast at 6 a.m., two measly PBJ's for lunch at 12 p.m., and the "piece de resistance", a "hungry man" microwave dinner at 6 p.m. The rest of the time? A fresh set of "oranges" once a week (not fruit mind you, which I did not have ONE sight or taste of for 5 1/2 months, the meals I just described was the EXACT routine EVERY day, one steel shower to share amongst anywhere from 4-7 other guys, jail-issued toothbrush, paste, no razors or sharp objects of ANY kind, jail-issued lye soap, one bath and hand towel per week, one jail-issued mat, pillow, sheet, and what was called a wool blanket but better described as a flea-infested large beach towel full of holes. The mat was about 3/4" thick by 24" wide and 5 1/2' or so in length, set on a steel "bunk". The bullpen consisted of 2 separate living quarters each with 4 bunks, two on each side, and there were always fights over who got the "bottom bunk", the softest pillow, blankets with the fewest holes, and so on. This occurred every time someone came in for an overnight or a day or two stay for whatever charge they were hit with; assault, battery, probation violations, meth, or whatever else "Doc Holliday" and his minions could find roaming around the fair city of Elkhart, Kansas. By the way, "Doc Holliday" was the nickname I gave to the sheriff (His REAL name is Justin D. Holliday, I kid you not!) of this fine 270' steel and concrete cage they had us holed up in, usually for 18-20 hours a day, and sometimes ALL day, depending on the on-duty deputy's mood, or if we got "locked down" for fights, contraband, or whatever else might come up. One time, I went 14 straight days without seeing the light of day and they had us "inside" our own cells within the "bullpen", consisting of four bunks, one steel toilet, one steel sink, and maybe a deck of cards if we were lucky. I'm guessing that was one of the toughest times I had, though there were many others.
One night, some young punk decided he didn't like the "smart-ass" banker and starting beating me with a bar of soap stuck inside a large sock, swinging it around like a mini-sledge, and what I later learned was called "soap in a rope." Another time I asked "Geno", the alpha male of the group, who was waiting in "county" to go to a formal correction facility for 10 years after being convicted of child molestation on his two young kids, to turn the damn T.V. down at 5 in the morning since it had kept me up all night long. (the T.V. alone is an entirely other story, which I'll go into later) He came into my cell, pulled me up, head-butting me square in my teeth. If the front four I have weren't fake already, he'd of knocked 'em out, but it left a huge gash on his forehead, and he bled like a stuck pig. When "Doc" happened to stop by later he said, "what the hell happened to your head Geno?" To save face in front of everyone else since he was the "tough guy" among us, he told Doc he slipped in the shower. Everyone laughed at Geno after Doc left except me. I just went about the day as if nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Because I knew Geno would respect that gesture. Another time, a punk Mexican yanked me clean off the top bunk because I wouldn't give my pillow up to some new dude that was a bud of his and started wailing away at my head with his fist. By the way, in case you're wondering, there were remote cameras everywhere that allowed the dispatchers to monitor our every movement 24 hours a day so when someone wanted to start a fight they had to strategically maneuver themselves to get to one of the few spots inside that couldn't be viewed and recorded. There were SIX alone covering just the 270' foot "bullpen." I never backed down to anyone there and it wasn't long before I had gained a measure of respect from the other "long-timers" like me, even though I was twice their age in most cases and not nearly in shape as they were. Funny thing was, I eventually became very good friends with Geno after the "head butting" incident and he stood up to several dudes later on my behalf many times when they came in all hot to take me on just because I was older and different I guess.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn't nearly as in shape as the others. That started to change not long after my head cleared. Outside of the bullpen was a steel door that led to the "outside", as we called it, since it was the only time I saw the light of day; a 24' x 27' slab surrounded on three sides with steel rods embedded in concrete extending 12 or so feet in the air where it was covered with a double set of steel mesh to "hold" us convicts in. And a basketball goal, no net, nothing. Just the rim. They gave us a basketball, devoid of any grip, and I must have shot hundreds and hundreds of baskets over the next 5 1/2 months, sometimes in the rain and, if they'd let me, even when it was very cold at night by the light of the moon.

But the part that "got me going", as it were, was walking. I quickly discovered a way to pass time, get exercise, and apply some of my banking analytical skills. I measured off the rectangular area and came up with exactly 102 feet in 1 "lap" around the "track"; 24'x27'x24'x27'. Taking off three feet on all four sides to allow for the walls and turning, I came up with roughly 90 feet. So that's where and how I began to get back "into shape". Walking. 60 laps to start with, roughly 5400 feet, or slightly more than a mile. Within a very short time I was up to 240 to 300 laps daily or 4 to 5 miles, and soon thereafter, I added sit-ups. I remember a funny moment one day when "Doc" stopped by to tell us to "come in" for the day and I still hadn't gotten the laps in I wanted so I kept walking for another minute. He said with a smirk, "Whaddya doin' Gus? Training for Olympic walking?" I replied "yea, I might just DO that!" Anyways, back to the situps. I'd take my feet with my jail-issued orange pull-on slippers, slip them under the bottom steel rail for support, and started my ab workouts. First day? Maybe 25. Added pushups later. By mid-July, I was doing 240 laps minium walking, 100-200 sit-ups, and 100+ pushups daily. Every day I could. I literally LIVED for those times when they would let me "outside" into my own world and sanctuary and became very depressed when I couldn't. At first, the young guys made fun of me. Guess they thought that wasn't "cool", this walking business. Before long though, several of them began walking with me, even though I never asked them to, and a few eventually developed their own exercise routine. And I distinctly remember what one guy said one day. He was about my age and was watching as I traipsed around and around, head up, shoulders back, striding firmly. He had been arrested for methamphetamine manufacturing. He said "Gus, you're walking like you have a mission in life, like you know what you want, and nothing will stop you." I think of that moment right now at this second nearly 2 years later and it nearly gives me goosebumps. Soon though, I was wearing holes into my jail-issued pull-on "shoes" and the deputies were getting pissed when I asked for different ones. Only because they didn't have any better ones to give. So I "made do." I "made do" with the entire existence during my time at the "Holliday Inn"; walking, sit-ups, push-ups, playing spades until 2 or 3 in the morning to pass time when I couldn't get "outside" earlier to let off steam; constant games of cribbage with "Geno", my new pal who always beat me even though I knew he was cheating (here again something I did if only to give him the self-satisfaction of out-smarting the smart-ass banker. After all, he WAS facing TEN years for child molestation and despite my abhorrence for the crime he had committed, he was still a human being for christ's sake and also in spite of the 2 dozen pills he was taking daily for schizophrenia and psychosis),"football" tournaments on the steel table where we ate, using paper I scrounged up for everyone we made into those little triangle things we held together with lye soap after it was shaved off, soaked in water, and made into a sort of pasty glue, reading (I must have read every old western novel they had in that place plus whatever else I could get my hands that my family sent me), letter writing, "journaling" the entire day, and watching television when there was nothing else to do. Ahhhhh, the television. Now, THERE'S an item that might be a topic at another time since it was such a HUGE source of disagreement, fights, and discussion during my time there.

So, I guess that's it. For now anyway. Perhaps after reading this, you'll have a better idea of who "Gusto" is; why FREEDOM is so big for him, why LIFE is so treasured for him, why he "goes deep" all the time on his Facebook page, why he loves nearly EVERYTHING about life now. The craving for human contact. The craving to LIVE.


May 4, 2010

Sense of Community

I was talking with one of my sisters the other day about the Southern California lifestyle. I remarked how some things have changed from when I last lived here over 27 years ago but there are other things that haven't. There's one in particular that is especially troubling that hasn't changed....the lack of a "sense of community."

I don't mean that to mean derogatory, it's just that many people seem to be caught up in their own worlds to some extent. In spite of the vast number of people and our proximity to one another in terms of where we live, work, and play, there remains a "disconnect" that I find worrisome. People don't interact with one another like they do in other places I've lived, especially the midwest. There isn't nearly as much emphasis on midwest core values like family, church, "neighborliness", active school involvement, volunteer programs, and even something simple as helping each other day-to-day, both emotionally and intellectually. I realize there's key differences from what I've been used to "back home" in Kansas and maybe I'm comparing apples and oranges. Still, there's something lacking with that "sense" and the sad part is, people aren't even aware of what they're missing out on since that lifestyle has been ingrained for so long. That aspect is nearly identical to what it was in the late 70's and early 80's when I lived here. The lifestyle seems all about "me". My car, my looks, my fancy house, my beach, and on and on.

Of course, in a smaller town environment, many of the lifestyle habits I've mentioned are borne out of absolute necessity, if for no other reason than to avoid being so isolated. Here, there's SO much more to do; beaches, shopping, concerts, pro sports, theme parks, etc. What happens then is when people have their own "down time", they go off and "do their thing" with no real regard for anyone else. It's almost "snooty" to an extent. I've found many people think that since they live in "paradise" and have all these extra stimuli to draw on, it somehow makes them smarter or better than anyone else. I know on the surface that sounds extremely judgmental and I'm sure to catch hell for it but the fact is, it's the truth!

In fact, I'm amazed at the number of my facebook friends who either live here, or did at one time, how they miss some of the "community spirit" they see from some of the things I've shared with them; harvest time in the heartland, waving at each other as we pass one another on roads or streets, and giving a helping hand to any one, any time, any where. They say this to me privately but God forbid if they want everyone else to know it. I call it "style over substance." I despise that concept. There's a lot of shallowness, superficial values, and hidden agendas everywhere. But, don't get me wrong, there are certainly exceptions, as there are everywhere else in America. Still, those souls that I've encountered who have or believe in some of the same community core values as I, have in nearly every instance solid midwest roots. Or, they've even come from other countries outside the U.S. I can think of at least 3 or 4 whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know that have this "substance" about them that I find attractive. I relish that and hold on to it as much as possible.

When I came here in March, I was aware of this lack of "sense of community" since it was something I myself lost in my values as a young man living here long ago. Now that I've been on "walkabout" for 27 years and have come back with a mountain full of knowledge, experience, and wisdom, it makes it far easier for me to be able to see things clearly.

I'm just one man though. And a humble one at that. Simple, transparent, and with no pretense. I'm sure there are others and it is my fervent desire to make contact with them in hopes of becoming good friends and "neighbors." That's what hasn't changed here in Southern California, the utter lack of "sense of community." It's sort of disheartening in a way and there's really nothing I can do about it other than planting the seed here and there as I journey among those living in "paradise."

May 3, 2010

"Less is More"

This one baffles me. I've heard this mentioned a lot among many people. I've tried to "cotton" to this concept but I just can't seem to grasp it. Sure, I can come up with a few words here and there that sound catchy but I have to really try hard at it. Like most things I suppose, its probably better that we stick to what we know best. I feel more comfortable with the longer version, so I figure if you like something then, by definition, you're good at it? And that's a KEY part of this particular blog. Do what you do best is my thought. Say you have a job and you're assigned something you really don't like to do anyway. Chances are you're gonna do a piss poor job at it which makes you like it even less. Vicious cycle.

That's one of the reasons I started "Ramblings." Because the longer version fits my style. In addition to crunching numbers, (another thing I really liked about my old banker role) I wrote narratives for loan presentations during my 25 years as a loan officer. I probably wrote HUNDREDS of them to be honest. I had a routine, a rhythm to it, and refined it to an art. I'd do all the financial analysis one day, balancing financial statements, compiling equipment and vehicle lists for farm and commercial loan customers, loan trend sheets, spreadsheets for cash flows, both budgeted and actuals based on spreads from tax return information, credit grading forms, and on and on. I'd get all done with that and stop for the day. By then, I had a pretty clear picture in my head of what was next; a description of the loan purpose in a simple paragraph, loan performance during the prior year of operations, which could include way more than mere numbers, including weather factors, marketing risks and strategies, you name it, I did it. Next up came projections for the coming year; cropping plans for farmers, strategies for commercial businesses, marketing assessments and applications, etc. And finally, a recommendation and summary paragraph. The entire written presentation usually consisted of 500 to 700 words and sometimes took up an entire page. Funny thing is, I did it right off the top of my head first thing the next morning and rarely did it involve more than "one take." I was that good and I'm NOT being boastful, trust me. Everyone knew it. I was the cream of the cream at what I did and though I sometimes took flak from some of my peers for some of the presentations I'd bring to committee, it was a rare moment when there were any questions when I was done reading it aloud via speakerphone with a dozen or more loan officers scattered all over Eastern Colorado and the front range of Colorado at the bank I worked for. "Uh oh, here comes Gus with one of his infamous War and Peace loan requests" they'd say. They joked about it but truth is, they were envious and I knew it. They did, too.

My point to all this is I've tried to be clever within the Facebook forum format in the past but I can't seem to get away from "telling a story". Because frankly, that's what I did in that quarter century of loan narratives. I told a story about a loan customer that flowed smoothly, leaving no detail out, and nothing to chance. I remember vividly many times when bank regulators would come in to do an outside audit and I'd find out later from my superiors in upper management that they were highly complimentary of my skills, both in analytical and written form. I even helped to develop a credit grading system that included a very brief summary of key areas that was integrated into the loan narrative. One time, the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of Currency) kept coming out of our board room with reams of credit grading sheets they'd pulled from individual loan customer files of mine to make copies. I found out later why. They were distributing them in MASS among all the banks they audited throughout the Midwest U.S. as an example of quality work in order to see if they could get those banks to utilize forms and styles I applied in my role as a loan officer. I was duly impressed with that!

So, in an obvious way, that quarter century of experience is invaluable to me now and I'm grateful for the god-given gift. God knows I don't have many but the few I do have, I'm pretty damned proud of! Tell me your phone number and I'll remember it instantly for years, tell me your name is Joe Six Pack and I'll forget who you are five minutes later!

So, less is more? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes it takes more than just a clever burst of words to truly get your point across. You reading this might disagree and you may be right. All I know is it worked for me for a very long time so "don't fix what ain't broke."

I'll just "ramble" on then and see what the tide brings in tomorrow!

May 1, 2010

The Game of love - Santana feat. Michelle Branch


Rick Warren

Today was one of those days where you just sense its not gonna be good. I hear from both family and "friends" many times that I come off "too heavy", need to lighten up, etc. Emotions are something I don't bottle up like some people do. When I see wrong, either someone being hurt or being on the receiving end, I call it like I see it. The world these days is a complicated place. Economic woes, personal issues, you name it. There's a lot of "gray" that we tend to get sucked into and many times I notice this brings out the selfish side in us as human beings. This is dangerous in my opinion. What I'm TRYING to say is we will sometimes come across situations that are simply black and white and when we do, it would behoove us all to recognize it, speak up for TRUTH, and not "sweep it under the rug", just because we don't want any more "drama" in our lives. Forgive me for saying so, but that's horseshit. Life ain't all sunshine and rainbows all the time.

An example of a family dispute today puts it in perspective about what I mean when it comes to selfishness. Reminds me of the value of humility, balance, letting go of our pride and don't let anger and resentments block our minds from unselfish thinking and actions.....Because being unselfish doesn't mean you "think less of yourself", it just means "thinking of yourself less."

A thought from Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church somewhat along those lines........

"I used to think that life was hills and valleys --- you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don't believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can be thankful for. You can focus on your answers, or you can focus on your problems. If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, "which is my problem, my issues, my pain."

But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto others. We need to ask ourselves; Am I going to live for possessions? Popularity? Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by what my life's purpose is? What I can BE for others and not just DO?"

My thoughts on what Rick says:

When things are going really well in your life and you think you have the world at your fingertips,it's best to remember that there's something more than likely coming up the other side of the track that will upset you. So, if you stay humble when things are going well, it makes it easier to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise when they aren't.