Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Baldwin Park Grand Showdown: The Boxing Club v. The City of Baldwin Park


The boxers of my City became small town heroes and local celebrities by taking on the City.  We were able to get the Mayor on the record to promise a meeting with me, their representative.  Now, I feel so run down with all the councillors, mayors, and local political leaders who want a meeting with me.  But just yesterday, we were nobodies.  Here's how we made our presence known.

The City has run down its own boxing program to shambles.  At one point, our boxing program has produced national champions and hosted tournaments, in which Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas, and Oscar de la Hoya fought in.  Now we're open three days a week.  Now we can't produce fighters.  And the City still keeps cutting.

Why would it do it?  I mean the answer wasn't so obvious but after doing enough research and understanding the politics of the City, you find out that all roads lead back to one Council Member.  It takes three out of five votes to make anything in this City happen.  The Matron Council Member, controls the majority faction.  But why would she keep cutting from our program and where does it go?  

She likes to run the City like it's her home.  Not our City.  So, a little research reveals that she places her friends in power: such as the Chief of Police, the Director of Finances (come and gone), and others.  Matron Councillor's children are in the aquatics program.  Therefore, the boxing funds got cut and put into her children's program - aquatics.  

After coming back from Cabo San Lucas, many of the promises made by the director were not kept.  We were not getting funding from the city.  The City didn’t care about us.  So, it was time for mobilization, organization, and the exercise of the Freedom of Assembly and Speech.

We planned it out at my house - the whole thing.  It was in the living room, usually at evenings.  And as the leaders of the program and I met at my home, I felt the spirit of my father haunt me.  He used to sit in the living room with his business friends in the same chair I was sitting in.  

When I was a kid, I would run around the living room as a six year old.  His friends would give me money.  I would thank them.  They would pat my head.  My father would tell me that the adults were talking and to quiet down.  

When we planned our campaign against Baldwin Park in his chair, I felt a phantasmic, eerie feeling overcome me.  I was him and those at my roundtable were like his friends.  They were my small council.  But we were really nobodies.  We had no money, no real power.  I had no job.  But we had a cause: Bring Back Our Boxing Club!

At my small council, we were devising a strategy, and my boxing masters chimed in on what to do.  We would debate and listen and re-discuss.  It's been a long time since I've been a meeting in which I wasn't bored.  We were having way too much fun.

I printed out the boxing posters that have been attached above in the post.  I had all the kids sign it.  They would be gifts for the Mayor , the Councillors, and the Director of Parks and Recreation 

The director walked into the boxing gym before our presentation (or should I say demonstration).  He looked nervous.  He wasn't puffed up as usual.  He asked how everything was.

I saw him trying to assert himself against my boxing coaches.  But it wasn't working.  He knew we were up to something but didn't know what.

I walked over with a big smile on my face and said, "Hey you like our posters?  They're really nice.  Aren't they?"

"Yeah - they look really good."  He looked like he was sweating.

I told Luis, my boxing coach and organizer, get everyone to City Hall with the posters.  I changed out into my gym shorts.  I wore a sleeveless red shirt.  I put on my dog tags.  I asked Julian to wrap my hands in that mummy wrap.  Now, I looked like a boxer.

I met the boxers in front of the Council Chambers.  One girl said, "Paul, you didn't say we had to do public speaking?"

Another girl said, "Why did you tell us to come in our gym clothes?  It's embarrassing.  They're wearing suits."

A white guy, in a suit walked out of the Council Chamber.  He looked at me.  He looked disgusted at me and us.  He was the director of public works.

I said, "Don't worry.  It's alright.  We want to be in our gym clothes."

I could feel the tension in my group.  Many of them never did public speaking before.  Although most were kids and teenagers, even the men had very little experience speaking too.  I had to ease their tension.

I spoke to the group.  "Don't worry.  Have courage.  They can't do anything to us."  

Everyone listened.  

"I'll be there.  But I want you to remember why we're here.  We're here because we love our boxing program.  We're here because they've cut our boxing program and taken away one day after another.  And we're just going to let them know that it's not right."  

They nodded in silence.  

"I'll be up there for you.  So have courage.  Do not be afraid.  Speak from the heart."

When the public comments period opened up, I took the hand of a six year old boy and two little girls followed me down the isle to the podium.  I could see the eyes scanning my body, which was the point, by the way.  They had let themselves get fat.  I had stayed fit.  It was a message about the boxing program.  In their hands, the kids carried red boxing gloves.

The little boy went up first.  But he was paralyzed and couldn't speak.  One of the Council Woman in the minority power said, "It's ok.  Take your time."

But he got so shy, the girl went ahead of him.  She said her name and then said, "I love boxing."  We all clapped.

Then the little boy did speak.  And he said, "I love boxing."

Then the little girl spoke and said she loved boxing too.  I had the three of them sit in front row, where the Mayor and Councillors could see them.  I took the red boxing gloves from the kid's hands and hung them around my neck.  I would stand at the side of the podium, comforting the nervous speakers, while being in my boxing outfit and having gloves hang from my neck.  It made a statement.

Then from the back, one teenage boxer came after another.  It took time between each boxer, and that created an effect of silence, in which everyone in the room had to reflect on the words just spoken.  Although they were nervous, each teenager said their peace.

The statements ranged from, "Why are you cutting our program?" to "Boxing has changed my life."  

One fighter, someone in their thirties said, "I joined boxing for all the wrong reasons.  I wanted to learn to crush people.  But you know, because I had a program to come to, and it really did keep me off the streets and drugs."  

The last four speakers were special.  Luis, the boxing coach, came up and said, "I've been in the boxing program now for four years.  You don't know how much it's done for my life.  But now that I'm a coach, I wanted to let you know it's impossible to make a fighter while only having three days."

Then a retired coach, called the Chief came up to speak.  He addressed the Mayor and Councillors and said, "I've been coaching for 10 years at the program.  And it's a really good program."  He started shaking with emotion, so I put my hand on his shoulder.  Then he continued, "You know - we never said anything before.  I would continue coaching, but I have health problems now."  The guy invested so much of his own money into the program and took care of the kids because the City wouldn't.  "And I know that Carrillo does the best he can."  

During the whole demonstration, I watched a very stressed out director, who was constantly fidgeting his pen.  

"But we really can't go on like this with all these cuts."  His words were sparse but his life spoke volumes.  

When he left, a sports journalist, boxer, and producer took the podium.  He was different from the rest of us because he was white with blonde hair and blue eyes and he wore a suit.  He stated how he joined because of the tournaments.  How the surrounding cities have longer hours than us.  And how he remembered Shane Mosely, Oscar de la Hoya, and Bradley and Vargas coming through our gym.  Him mentioning the facts and his journalist-producer role threw them all back too.  

When he left, I moved a few inches to the right.  The one who was standing on the side now took the podium.  I stayed quiet for a few seconds to let the pain and presence settle with them.  Now it was time to speak in front of the King and his Court.  The few seconds of silence announced my presence in a way that only silence could do.

I said, "Good evening, Mayor and Councillors."  I paused again.  I had written three of them, who all refused to meet with me.  They all received my letter and now they could see the face that accompanied my name.  "I'm Paul Cook."  I smiled.  I knew four of five of them didn't have a college degree.  "I graduated from this town, Valedictorian of Sierra Vista High School.  I was a full scholar at UCLA with a degree in a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science.  I have a Masters from New Zealand and juris doctorate from UCLA.  I am an attorney at law.  I'm disappointed Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem that you would  not meet with me.  So because you did not, I brought the boxing gym to you."  I paused again.  

"Let me tell you why the boxing gym is important to me.  When I came back to Baldwin Park, I had failed the bar because of a loved one of mine, who had cancer.  I asked myself what Baldwin Park had to offer.  I figured it was boxing.  I took it up for the psychological rebuilding and also the discipline.  But I found much, much more.  

"When I went to re-sit the bar in Culver City, Julian the head coach and a boxer accompanied me to see me off.  I felt like I was like a Native American going out for the hunt to prove myself before I could return back to my tribe.  They drove me all the way out to the West Side to wish me luck.  My own family would not do that for me."  

I paused again.  

"But they did.  My boxers were there for my celebration dinner as well.  I just wanted to let you know, not only did I pass one of the most difficult bar in California's history, in which it failed 60% of test takers, but my multiple choice score was at least in the top 20%.  Guess what?  There's only one person who passed the February bar that came from Baldwin Park.  That's me."  I paused again and my boxers clapped.  Then the Councillors clapped.

"Our boxing program has been run down to shambles.  We only need $1,500 a month to extend the hours.  Nonetheless, we are grateful for what we have.  I've brought gifts for you to thank you for the little you've given us."  

Six of my boxers, against protocol, crossed the Council area and gave a poster to each of the Councillors and Mayor.  I left it at that.  The management team, those who represent the King's court, didn't look too pleased with the boy in boxing shorts. 

The mayor then chimed in and said, "I love the boxing program.  I met Oscar de la Hoya in it long time ago."  He went on and defended himself and how he was going to support the program.  Then he said the golden promise, "This isn't the time to discuss the boxing program.  It's the public comments period.  But I will meet with you.  I promise."

"Are you telling me, Mayor," I said, "That you promise me on record for a meeting."

"Yes, Paul.  I will meet with you.  You will get back your Thursday."

But then the Matron Councillor retorted, "I disagree with the mayor.  We cannot give you back your Thursday, Mr. - Mr. - Mr. -"

"- Mr. Cook," I replied back.

"If we give you back your Thursday," she said, "then the swimmers and the basketball team could also ask for money.  We're just not going to do it.  You're lucky to have a boxing program in place."

I tried to utter some words but she said, "HEY YOU'RE BEING DISRESPECTFUL.  I listened to you when you -"

"I defer to you," I said.

"-spoke.  So listen to-"

"I defer."

The mayor came back in and said, "You know this is public comment's period.  We'll have to discuss this later.  You're only supposed to get three minutes anyways.  We've gone way over.  We will meet, Paul."  

"If I may just say one thing.  $1,500 is the cheapest amount you'll ever spend to keep kids off the street and to keep kids off of drugs.  The City lingo is always to be preventive and not reactive."  This awakened the management team. I knew the lingo consultants always pitched to them.  Word such as: preventative, proactive, and reactionary.  

I started again: "This is as preventive of a program that you can get.  It's better than having them already going through the system and having a record, and now I have to deal with it to clean it up so people can get jobs."

The Matron came back and said, "Every program can make the claims you're talking about.  Aquatics.  Basketball.  So we're just not going to increase the boxing budget.  You're lucky to have your boxing program."

At that point, I thought to myself, You don't get boxing.  Boxing gets the bad kids and the street kids.  The coaches give their lives to discipline and train them in a way that her pet program swimming can't.  

The Mayor asked the director what was going to be done.

The director said, "Well I have a plan to cut one hour out of Monday through Wednesday and put three hours back on Thursday."

I responded, "That's pretty clever.  That's like the left taking from the right hand but the right hand not knowing.  Guess what?  We know."

The director refused to respond.  The Mayor said, "That's enough.  We've went way over your speaking time, Paul.  We'll meet, as I said."

I said what I needed.  I grabbed the hand of the little boy and was ready to walk back with the two other kids, when Councillor of the minority faction said, "I wanted to thank you all for coming to us today."  She reminded me of Paula Abdul from American Idol.  "I know public speaking is so hard.  And even that little boy did it.  It's a really difficult skill.  So, I'm proud of all of you for bringing this to our attention.  And we would welcome you all back sometime."  While she was speaking, I turned around with the kids and stood at the podium.  I nodded, and said, "Thank you."

Another Councillor said, "I met with Paul.  I wanted to thank him for his efforts today.  We're working on ways to raise money for the boxing program."

I thanked him.

This forced the last Councillor, who was also the Mayor Pro Tem to speak.  She thanked me for coming back to Baldwin Park and my accomplishments, although she had to mention that Baldwin Park had a terrible reputation for creating successful people.

I finally took the kids and the boxers to the back of the room.  Before exiting, the bailiff grabbed me and said, "Paul, before you leave you need to see me."

I told him, "Ok, but let me talk to my boxers first."

Outside, there was this great sense of victory and empowerment.  I told my boxers, "You all did very well.  But I want to let you know this is the start, not the end.  We have to keep on going."  They left proud with their heads held up high.

I went to see the bailiff, who had information for me.  He even gave me a hug, and I was shocked.

Now to my faithful readers:Join our cause!  Spread the word of the BP Boxing Club's Fight against the City of Baldwin Park. 

More to come.

Updated on 8/11/2013:

This is the blog post that started off the viral journey.  Since then, the Director has done nothing for our program.  The Mayor lied and didn't meet with me  The boxers went back to City HallRead about it here.  The Boxing Rematch Against the City 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My first short story published - AND ON MY BIRTHDAY TOO!

Without Remedy
An Original Short Story by Paul Cook announces its publication of Paul Cook’s first short story, Without Remedy, as a fitting work to commemorate the twenty-first anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots. Set in present day Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Valley, Without Remedy chronicles the escalating tension between two families: one ex-gang Chicano and the other Korean. Fueled by misunderstandings and resentments, the two families battle to exert their will and dominance over their tiny plots of the American Dream. 
Telling the story through multiple perspectives, voices, and even languages, Cook’s haunting story delves into the fault lines between the two settled immigrant American families. In doing so, he exposes the very same complex dynamics of resentment and mistrust that existed between the Black and Korean communities and erupted into the violent mayhem of the L.A. Riots. 
Cook’s modern recasting of the classic American family feud also contains a damning portrayal of a contemporary America, whose broken educational, social, and judicial systems conspire to create the perfect conditions for the fostering of violent and even homicidal youth. Paul Cook’s impressive debut heralds the emergence of a new, important voice in the evolving narrative of Korean Americans.

Without Remedy
     A Chicano family with a gang history of slanging drugs and robbing houses moved in next to the Korean house. They wanted their smallest house on the block to mean something. The Korean mother said that their house was inhabited, though, by evil demons. The previous owner, a middle-aged-lady of the house, had a heart attack and asked her sons to call nine-one-one. Instead, they allegedly left and played basketball. When the teenagers came back, their mother was already dead and cold.
     In their front yard, the new Chicano family planted palm trees, which had grown thick and tall. They felt like they were becoming Egyptian royalty now. Finally, they could start their lives afresh in the sleepy San Gabriel Valley, where they believed the mountains would hide and protect them from their past.
     The Korean family’s relatives too found haven there as well, when Los Angeles burned. They lived at the dead end of the cul-de-sac in the valley of the greater Los Angeles region. 
     The depth of the valley resembled its guardian-Archangel-Saint Gabriel’s horn, which apparently has an infinite surface area but finite volume. Thus, the angelic mountain ranges stood as a row of blue, stone guardians for the grand valley. But because of the smog screen, one almost never perceives how far away they are.
      The block used to be Filipino dominated, but they flew when the Mexicans and Chicanos moved in. Now, only one remained. The Korean family should’ve flown too, but the old lady of the house hated change.
     One Saturday, at the dead-end house, John woke up from his tall, custom-made, princely bed. He jumped off it. The balls of his feet landed against the cool, golden, hardwood floor, like a cat springing off the top of a wall and landing on stone. He always loved the hard and smooth texture against his bare feet; it felt better to his naked feet than stepping on cheap plastic laminate or worn carpet. 
     He went to urinate in the toilet, the same one he had urinated in since he was two. His urine was a bright yellow and created a bubbly froth on the surface of the toilet water. Smells earthy, he thought.
     His mother heard him flush the toilet and she screamed, “John! John! Breakfast is ready.”    She screamed because that’s how she always called for her kids, even when they were close and already fully grown. She was missing a front tooth and had black wiry hair that showed her scalp. The latter was probably in her DNA.  
     She had a worn face, evidence of the bitter sufferings she went through from her first life in North Korea, her second one as a refugee in South Korea, and her third one in America. She survived by telling herself every morning that life goes on. She even learned to reincarnate her suffering to her advantage. For instance, her marriage battles with her then-husband seasoned her in how to raze a man away to nothing with words...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Diaster Before Becoming An Attorney

I think the forces of this universe tried to prevent me from becoming a lawyer.  I don't think it's too over dramatic of a statement because it happened, even until the end.  But you know, I'm stubborn and I was going to be an attorney even if the universe was trying to stop me.

First - there was getting into law school.  That was really tough because I sucked at standardized tests.  (I think I'm a lot better now though and am thinking of retaking it.)

Then there was my moral character.  One of my employers made a false accusation against me.  When she realized what she had done, she was way too arrogant to admit she was wrong.  She didn't check the facts and I didn't do what she thought I did.  It was so bad she still didn't want to exonerate me for the bar moral character.  I, against the advice of those who said that the system would support her, wrote a letter to her boss.  He reversed her immediately - as she actually lied to him about the whole fiasco.  She eventually ended up upsetting enough people that she got booted from her office.  Hallelujah and amen. I think the incident cost me a few shots of whiskey.

Then there was the professor at law school who wanted to steal my research.  As a result of trying to get published, she tried to accuse me of unethical behavior.  Can you believe it?  I tried to apologize to her, but the sad part of the whole thing was that she couldn't replicate my work.  She couldn't do the hard wired statistical work.  I thought once again my moral character was going to be dinged.  But to my surprise, again it worked out.

I had thoughts about dropping out of law school.  Bluebooking, which is the painful process of checking pagination and citations gave me a headache.  I remember thinking I never thought being a lawyer meant doing this kind of work.

Then there was the bar - at which time my cat had to have cancer.  And I devoted a lot of my time.  The cat still died.  I failed the bar.  All of it was just one awful procedure.

Then I passed the bar, with a MBE score in the top 20%.

So, all that was left was that I had to get sworn in by a judge I knew at Pasadena.  Usually, most people get sworn in at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  It's large and impersonal.  But I chose a judge who knew me and shared similar values.

Getting there should be no problem, right?

My mother's family decided to run late.  I wanted to go without them.  But she said, "NO!  I CAN'T GET TO THE COURTHOUSE WITHOUT YOU."  And this was a family event.  So, how could I go without my mom.  And how could they show up late.

In fact, everyone was late because my swearing in was at 4pm.  The Los Angeles traffic was clogged and prevented people from coming.

I took the 1967 mustang.  My mother told me not to take it.  But I had a number of friends to take and my two seater BMW couldn't fit them.  Later, she would tell me she had that woman's intuition not to take it.

So, I drive my car in the Friday traffic.  I'm running late to the courthouse.  My father calls and says, "HEY!  Where the hell are you?"

"I'm trying, Father.  I'm trying to get there.  But I'm late."

"You're such an idiot!  You know that.  They're going to close the courthouse."

My other friends call and ask me why I'm not there.  My mother calls and asks for directions.  My dad calls again.  My friends call to tell me they're running late.  I'm driving.  I'm late too.  I feel stressed.  I can't even talk to my passengers because I'm under so much stress.

Then I knew something went wrong.  I could smell the freon.  Why does it smell like my radiator busted?  It should be ok, no?  The heat gauge doesn't say my car is overheating, though it is getting a bit hotter.

And then it red lines in the temperature.  I pull over immediately to the right shoulder.  The white smoke rises from the engine.  The engine is frozen.  I busted it.  The car overheated.  My high school friend and my boxing coach are worried.  What do we do?  I'm stuck.  I'm not going to make it to my own swearing in.

I do think (&^(*##.  What do I do now?

I call my friend and tell them what happens.  The judge wants to talk to me.  He says if I can make it work within the hour, he'll wait for me.

I call my head boxing coach.  He agrees to rush over and take us from our stuck location to the courthouse.  My other friends also agree.

I see a car pull behind me.  I see a tow truck come too.  Oh, this tow truck is going to charge me.  I wonder how much.

But he doesn't.  He says, "It's a free freeway service.  We'll take you to the nearest side street."  Oh that's good.  I can get the car tomorrow.

I walk on the shoulder to the car that's behind me.  It's a silver car.  The cars are zooming by me and honking.  If I got hit, I would've died.  It wasn't that close, but close enough for you to feel the pressed air zoom across your face.

A guy gets out of the car.  An Asian guy.

"Scott?!"  It's my younger brother.

"Hey stupid, get on the other side.  You could get hit."

It is Scott.  How did this happen?  What are the odds he saw me?

Scott said, "Grace saw your car overheat.  She said look at that poor mustang.  But I knew it was you, right away."

What luck?!  I mean what are the chances that your family member randomly sees you on the freeway too.

I arrange with the tow truck to take us to the nearest side street.  Scott and his wife take my friends and I to the court house.  Everyone's waiting.  I made it.

I get sworn in.  Everyone cheers.  It's finished.  I'm an attorney now.

We celebrate at the Korean restaurant. The food is cooked over charcoal.  We drank the night away on champagne and toasts and ate the smoky meats.

My car got towed back home.  Yes, the engine is busted.  I don't have the money to fix it now.  Am I worried about it?  Not really.

I was just grateful my friends were safe in that car.  I was grateful my judge was gracious enough to wait for me.  I was thankful I got sworn in by him.  I'm appreciative and relieved I'm finally an attorney, although my mother had to remind me that it was the beginning of a new life not the end of this journey. 

If there was any time in my life that I knew for certain that God existed, it was then.  Maybe it was his angels who protected us from harm that day on the 210 West on the shoulder of that freeway.

PS: My mom told me later she had a bad premonition about the car.  Why don't women tell you those things up front?  Yes, I could have listened to her.  But she's always being a naysayer.  So how am I supposed to know when her nays are actually real nays?

PSS: Why are Korean families so demanding?  At dinner, my father made the request I now become famous.  My mother said I had to become wealthy.  And me being a good son, want to make them both happy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My last days in Cabo - Missing my flight again

In the morning, I said good bye to Ron and Don.  Heather was sleeping, and I was happy I didn't have to say goodbye to her.  I'm sure I hurt her feelings.  I could live with myself.

The Italian drove me back into the city.  I offered to buy the Italian a drink or lunch.  He didn't want it.  I'm sure he was happy to get rid of me.  I made him feel guilty about him exploding on me by continuing to be nice and not arguing back.

The last few days of Cabo wasn't very exciting.  I read and did more internet research.

 But on the day that I was supposed to leave to the airport - uh oh . . .

The day I was supposed to leave, I left early.  I gave myself enough time.  I even gave myself enough time in case something went wrong, but it went royally wrong.

I went on the bus and asked the driver, "To the airport?"  He nodded.  He saw I had luggage.  I should've realized, but he wasn't REALLY paying attention.  He was just nodding.

When we ended up further from the airport, I said in Spanish, "Hey, I was supposed to be at the airport."  And I could see he thought in his head, "Oh damn" or whatever the stronger Spanish equivalent of the word was.

Then he understood.  He gave me back my bus fee!  I had to hitchhike back to the main road.  For some reason, I got the worse bus driver - who was slow and didn't care.

Anyways, I rushed to the check in gate but because I was in a hurry - the security made my life worse.  I missed my flight by five minutes.  =(

But remember how I said I was doing a lot of research in Mexico.  Part of my research was understanding mileage systems better.  I did so, and although it took about two hours, I sorted everything out. 

In the end, I reduced a $200 surcharge to a $75 one.  It might even be less, if I play some tricks in the morning.  I think I could get it down to $50.

Was I stressed?  Not really.  I was disappointed I didn't get to see my dad for dinner in LA.  But there's tomorrow.  Come on: The Russians trapped me in house arrest once.  Now, that was super stressful.  This - this was more of a big annoyance that has become more interesting as I learn the game of travel hacking better.  Even in this - I'm becoming quite skilled.

So - did I learn something?  Yes!  I managed to get back home, without extra fee.  I may have lost a few miles.  Here is my flying tips, written in a dummies-blogging style.

Use BA Avios Instead of AA for Direct Flights
To get home, I had to waste a good amount of American Airlines (AA) miles.  I had booked a flight with AA, and it cost 17,500 miles.  I cancelled that booking today and rebooked the same flight on Alaska for 8,500 avios miles.
All fees are waivable - If you don't get what you want - Call Back
As I reached out for help yesterday, AA wanted to charge me a horrendous $75 fee for last minute booking 'cos I missed my flight.  I called back three times, and I got someone who sounded sympathetic.  They waived the $75 fee, even with a note from the nasty supervisor not to do this.  The new supervisor compromised and charged me a $25 booking fee.
Then, as BA offices opened up, I called AA gain to reinstate the miles.  They charged a $150 fee to do this.  I called back twice.  The first time a no go.  The second time, they waived the fee.  The reason I gave was that the flight was just booked.  Most airlines refund fees and miles within 24 hours.
I called BA three times.  The first time was to check the Alaska flight was available.  The second time was to rebook.  BA policy is that you cannot book avios flights for the same day.  I hung up.  The third time, the agent did it for me.  She didn't even charge me the $25 phone booking fee. I asked to speak to her supervisor to tell her what a wonderful job she did.  I explained I was stuck in Cabo.  She'll go home satisfied with work today.
Don't Challenge the Supervisor
I challenged the supervisor's dumb decision on AA and asked to speak to her manager.  She said her policy said that she didn't have to allow me to speak to her manager.  Because of that, she wrote in my record - refused once to waive fees.  That only made my life harder and I had to do more sweet talking to get what I wanted.  I should've just thanked her and hung up instead of challenging her.

Where I'm at
So, I paid no change fee.  Not even taxes, since they refunded the taxes on my no-show ticket.  This was a much better state I was in than yesterday.  Yesterday, I was looking at rebooking a ticket for $250 USD or paying $133 + 17,500 AA miles.
Lost out still on 8,500 Avios Miles.  I will contest this when I get home.  I've gotten no-show Avios miles before.

* * *

Anyways, this time, I made it back home.  Hooray!

When I walked out the airplane though, I have to say - I felt the strong sense of reality hit me.  I wasn't on holiday anymore.  =(

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 4 - Phantom Pains to be Remembered

The next morning, I woke up to the smell of roasted coffee.  You have to love the Italians because they have that love for their coffee.

After drinking the coffee, I went to the ocean and washed our pots and cups.  The Italian noticed and said nothing.  He seemed happy enough.

I went to inside the magic bus.  I finished reading The Sun Also Rises.  It was an intense read that was short but because of the complexity of the novel, I went through it rather slowly.  As I was thinking about the meaning behind the novel, I saw a roadrunner scurrying across the desert and snatching a lizard.  Cute, I thought. Beep.  Beep.

Afterwards, I went down to the beach.  Of course, Heather came out to meet me.  She wasn't wearing a bra.

She for whatever reason told me, "You know, I don't want you to judge me.  Please don't judge me.  But I'm here because I'm addicted to pain killers.  Please don't judge me."

"Why would I judge you?"

"Oh, please don't judge you."

I lied, but not completely.  I didn't judge her because she was addicted to substances.  I judged her because she was pathetic.

She said, "Oh, I have to confess.  I don't make any money.  Don pays for everything."

"And you like that?"

"Not really."

"But you don't want that to change."

"Oh, please don't judge me.  I'm a good girl.  I really am."

"What if he leaves you?"

"Oh, honey, let me tell you.  He's not the first one."


"You know, I have four kids.  You should meet my 18 year old daughter."

"Maybe."  Then I said, "Hey, I'm hungry.  I'm going to go hunting for some food in the water."

"Oh, poor baby.  You're protein starved.  I'll take care of that today.  Go get some uni (sea urchin) in the water.  I'll make you sushi rice."

I knew she was playing to my like of Asian food.

I went to Ron.  He suited me up with his dive gear.  I walked into the roaring ocean and sought out a reef.  I was looking for lobster.  But after hours of free diving, I was getting queasy.  The ocean was much too rough.  Whenever I dove down, the wave would drag me back.  Then it would spit me back out.  And after all the see-sawing back and forth in the water, I was feeling sick.  It wasn't all for a loss though.  I grabbed four purple prickly sea urchins.  Yet, when the ocean wave threw me against the shore, I lost one of them.

I walked back to camp.  I saw Heather wearing one of Georgio's necklace.  It was a pendant with an amber stone.  He was also making her matching earrings.  When he finished, she said, "Oh my God.  Oh my God.  They're so beautiful!  Oh my God!  They're perfect."

I saw her put them on.  They were a good match for her, surprisingly.

Don said, "I paid for them.  But I was already laid."

I said, "Well - there's always tomorrow."

He smiled and she said, "That there is."  The comment made him happy.

She said, "Paul!  Paul!  I gave Georgio a chicken breast with rosemary.  I also started cooking sushi rice for you."

"Oh, that's very kind of you.  You didn't have to."  And I really wish she didn't.

"Of course, Baby.  You're protein starved."

"What does that even mean?"

"Oh, you know.  You're a boy.  You need protein."

"I see."

"Hey, I gotta show you my daughter."

She went inside and brought out a picture.  When she descended down the stairs from her RV, she tripped and fell.

"Oh, I'm a bit drunk," Heather said.

Don said, "Only a bit?"

"Oh, shut the Hell up, Don." 

 She showed me a picture.  I saw a gorgeous girl who was sitting like a mermaid at a park behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

She said, "Her name is Destiny."

Don said, "She's a stripper in Reno."

"Shut up, Don!  She is not a stripper."

I was wondering, Is that her real name?  So, I asked, "Is she really called Destiny?"

"Yes, that's her name.  And she's a good girl.  She's only a model.  Not a stripper."

I thought, Oh, I do bet she does nudy shots.  Poor girl. 

"Don just says those things to make me mad," she said.  She went on, "I want to be an artist."

And Don said, "You want to be a lot of things.  And let me tell you - you can't do anything.  So - go get the scissors and cut my hair."

She went inside and almost tripped again.  She brought out scissors.  He sat on a lawn chair facing the ocean.  I saw his pot belly proturding out.  She started snipping his hair.

I started cleaning the sea urchin.  I cut it open with a knife.  I started taking out the orange roe and threshing it out from the grey and brown guts.  I dumped the orange roe, the ovaries of sea urchin, in a cup of ocean water.  Specks of algae and sand washed away.

She stopped cutting Don's hair.  She opened her mouth and said, "Ah.  Can you give me one?"  I put it in her mouth and she licked my fingers.  It was really wet.  The phantom memories would replay over and over again for me after this moment.

I took in a breath.  I released the air.  I dumped my fingers in the salt water too.

She then took some sushi rice in spoon and said, "Say ah."  I opened my mouth.  She fed me.  I felt annoyed.  Why I allowed her to do this would be an enigma to me too.  I think it was because I felt sorry for her.

I started cooking a simple pasta with rich olive oil, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, fish, carrots, sugar and herbs.  It tasted good.

Ron came over afterwards.  We all ate together.  She made some sushi and tried to feed me again.  I told her to put it down on my plate this time.

They asked about my writing.  Then Heather went on about how she was one day going to be a great artist.  Don talked about how he was trying to make it on the country music circuit, even though he's tone deaf.

Ron said he was really tired, even though it was 9pm.  He told me later, "I can't stand another minute with them."

I laughed and we talked about nothing together at his campsite.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 3 - Thousands of Stars

At the country club, I had two beers.  It was really the only drinks I had on this trip, and I thought, Why not?  But since I haven't drank for months, because of the boxing training, I was already feeling sleepy and tired and relaxed.  After going to the country club, Georgio drove the magic bus to a beach called Nine Palms.  At the sandy area of the beach, you could see many RVS, tents, and campers parked.

He drove through the middle of the beach and the magic bus got stuck in the sand again.  I was half-asleep in the van, happy and relaxed.  The Italian stepped on the accelerator and the bus just got more stuck in the sand.

He said, "Better you get out."

"Huh," I said with a smile.  "Oh, ok."

I got out and helped him push.  He said, "Push harder.  Harder."

"I'm trying."  But I was kind of tipsy.

He started taking more sand away from the wheels.  He said, "You help too."

So, I did.

Then three older Americans, two in their sixties and one in his fifties, came and helped us push the magic bus out.  We parked it on stable land.

One bald guy, who had a very fit body, said, "My name is Ron."

I shook his hand and said, "Pleased to meet you."

A fatter guy with curly grey hair said, "I'm Don."

Then there was the blonde guy with greying and drying hair.  In his twenties, he would've been a surfer boy.  Now, that he was in his fifties, he looked like a fifty year old hippie surfer.  "I'm Dave."

We introduced ourselves to them.  They all went back to their camp sites.

During the heat of the hot, hot day, I sat in the magic bus and read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.  I read through it quickly and badly as a junior in college ten years ago.  Since then, the book has been stuck on my shelf.  I didn't like it then because I didn't understand it well.  I knew I had to re-read it.  On my last trip, it was Steinbeck and Orwell.  Now, it was Hemingway and various piece of stunning journalism pieces.  As I was appreciating the read, Georgio asked me, "Do you want a coffee?"

I said, "Sure."

Then he raised his voice and asked, "How come you never make it?"

"Because you always do it."

"But you need make to."

I did, I thought.

"Well, sure.  Why didn't you tell me?"

"I no need to tell you, man.  You just know."

"Uh . . ."


"I asked you if you wanted me to do it.  You said, 'No.'  I asked you if you wanted me to clean the dishes.  You said, 'No.'"

"You not ask, man.  You just do."

Really, I thought.  Oh dear God.  This is like New Zealand all over again.  People say what they don't mean.  And they do what they don't say.

"Well, just tell me that you're hungry.  I can cook.  I cook well,"  I said.

"I'm not your mother.  You just need to know."

In my defense, one reason that I didn't cook was for a number of reasons.  One, I felt uncomfortable using his kitchenware.  He was very possessive of it.  Thus, I had no ownership over any of the process.  For you managers and supervisors (present or future), remember: people need ownership of the process.  Two, he had a fussy way of having things done.  I didn't know how to do it that way.  For instance, he wouldn't let me buy cheese for the risotto.

So with me thinking all this, I had this feeling.  (If we were French - we'd have some clever one word phrase that sounded beautiful to describe this feeling.  But we're not.  We're English, and don't have those words that weave beauty and passion and nuance in one trinity.)  It was this feeling: "You just don't understand."

Instead, instead of reacting, I just listened and tried to understand what was really happening.  Obviously, he wanted to do more work.  He also didn't want to tell me how to do it.  He also didn't want to communicate what he needed.

I just asked him, "If you don't tell me - how am I supposed to know?"

"You just know."  I got that feeling again: you just don't understand.

"Ok, I'll cook dinner tonight then."

"No, no.  You don't have to.  I'm not your mother.  You're not a robot."

"No.  I will.  What time do you want to eat?"

"I don't know, man.  You just know."

Oh how the hell am I supposed to know?  

I said, "In America, we usual just say what time we're going to eat together."

"We're not in America.  And I don't like this."

He told me once he had an American girlfriend and they just recently split.  I thought to myself, I know exactly why.

I just said, "Hey, I'll just cook dinner.  Don't worry about it."

To blow off some steam, I saw Ron - the sixty year old who was in shape.  He was an electrician he takes 3 months off of the year to set up camp on this beach.  He had lawn chairs facing the ocean.  He sleeps outside in the summer with a sleeping bag so he can fall asleep to the roaring ocean.  Whenever I saw him, he would say to pull up a chair.  And we chatted about diet, food, exercise and healthy living, which included a lot of vacation.  He was a father of two daughters.  He came to the same camp site for 30 years.  I really liked him.  He was really nice.

Don's girlfriend was not too far away.  She was in turning fifty.  She was a short and plump lady with dyed hair.  She spoke with a strong American accent.  She was from Reno.  She wore a blue summer dress, but sadly, it made her look fat because she wasn't sexy but she tried to be.  She was holding onto a time that left her but refused to believe it.

She beckoned me to come to her.

"What's your name?"  She asked.


"Where are you from?"

"Los Angeles."

"Oh, I never been there.  I'm from Reno."

"Oh.  I need to go and cook dinner.  My Italian friend's not too happy with me."

"Oh, I was married to an Italian.  Divorced now.  Let me tell you Italians are never happy."

I explained to her what happened and she made sense of it for me.

"Oh, you're just supposed to do what they expect.  They're crazy!  My mother in law was the same.  How do you know what they want if they never tell you?  Listen," she said, "you were supposed to watch everything he was doing and from that know what to do."

"Oh," I said.

"Yeah, just go and do what he does.  He's not going to tell you.  They just explode when things don't get done their way.  Then they calm down."

"Ok," I said.

"I'll come see you after dinner, ok Babe."

I thought, I'm not your Babe.  But I just said, "That's fine."

I cooked a beautiful risotto in a tomato sauce.  I asked how much rice was enough for two people.  He said with bad intent, "I don't know.  You figure it out."  Nonetheless, I know how to cook.  I added beetroots in there as well and the whole meal tasted wonderful.  He took second and third helpings.  It was an accomplishment, considering that I was cooking on the beach with a small gas grill.  

So much so, he asked me, "What'd you put in here?"

I told him.

Then he noticed the pan a little charred on the bottom and he said, "Man, this pan, I have four years.  Burn now."

"I'll clean it in the morning."

"Four years."

Then, the plump lady, at night came.  I didn't know her name.  I never learned it.  I'll call her Heather.  She looked like a Heather.  She asked, "Do you boys have any cigarettes?"

I gave her one.  Then she told us how she used to be a hair stylist.  How she hated living at the beach for 3 months already.

I asked her, "Why are all these people here?"

She said, "Because, they're the surfer community, old hippies.  They're looking for that perfect wave.  That's all they do."

"They're all Americans."

"Pretty much," she said.

She kept talking.  About how she was trying to do art.  She wanted to write.  She wanted to introduce me to her 18 year old daughter, who was a model in Reno. 

She asked for another cigarette.

I said, "I think you smoked the last one."  I lied.  There was more.  I just wanted her to stop mooching.  She picked up on my irritation.

I then walked to the shore and said, "Hey Ron.  You there?"

He said, "Sure buddy.  Pull up a chair."

We talked about what guys talk about.  And its usual really about nothing.  We looked up into the sky and saw thousands of stars shining in the infinite sky.

I came up with one line of Spanish poetry too.  Miles de estrellas brillaban en el cielo infinito.  

In English it translates: Thousands of stars shine in the infinite sky.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day Two in the Magic Bus

Now, let me tell you about this Italian hippie named Georgio.  Georgio left Italy and decided to be a nomad for five years in Mexico.  He became a true wanderer, parking his magic bus wherever, sleeping in it and eating in it, and then moving camp.  To survive, he sells jewelry made of stone and hemp rope. 

He was kind to make dinner.  But something was off.  I would often offer to cut the vegetables and dice the onions.  "No," he said to this.  I offered to wash the dishes.  Fresh water was precious where we were, in the space between the desert and ocean.  So - we couldn't wash our dishes with freshwater and soap.  Seawater would have to suffice for both.  But to my offers to wash the dishes, again he said, "No."

In between the first beach and the second beach, we stopped at a country club for ex-patriot Americans.  It was called the Crossroads and the artwork showed comical paintings of death.  The patio was stunning, as we sat underneath the veranda that overlooked stretches of the sandy Pacific Coast.  Giorgio ordered two beers.  I ordered a Michilada (beer and tomato juice with lime) and a beer.  I paid for it to thank him for the services.

During our conversation over beer, he asked me something.  "Hey man, why do you always use your computer in La Paz?"

"Because, I was doing research.  I was reading.  I was writing."

"But man, it's better use you paper and pen."

"Not really - anymore."  I knew he wouldn't understand the rest of my English - so I went on in Spanish.  "Since I was ten, my parents put me on a computer.  My life hasn't been the same since.  The screen is my canvas.  The keyboard my brushes."

"But I think you should change.  Pen and paper better for writing."
I would've loved to explain that I lost the skill to write on pen and paper.  This lost skill, he understood.  But I don't know if it's necessarily better.  My handwriting is ugly.  I hate editing on pen and paper.  It's easier scrolling up and down a page.  The advantage is I seem to catch mistakes better when I read my writing on paper.  Other than that, it's slower and less efficient.

I didn't bother explaining.  Georgio always thinks he's right.  Italians do think that.

I went out on the beach and found a fish bone.  It looked like a piece of the backbone, but it looked like a skeletal fossil.  I thought it would be good for Georgio to have.  He could us it in his jewelry.

I showed it to him and said, "It's for you."

He said, "Thank you, but I don't use animal parts in my jewelry."

"Why not?"

"Because if everybody did this, there would be no animals in the world.  People would kill them.  And take their bones."

I thought, are you kidding me?  That makes no sense.  Your stones, if they ever became precious too, would produce blood diamonds.  It doesn't matter the product, if it produces good money, something bad is bound to happen by some overlord. Of course, to be honest, I wish the logic so ingrained in me in law school would just shut off in my mind.  It cannot.

I just smiled and said, "I see."

"But thank you, man."

He must have sensed that there was more underneath that smile.

Soon we would be at the next beach. 

These differences in thought was just the beginning.  I could already feel more to come.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Magic Bus Around Mexico

I went in a random Volkswagen bus around the Baja tip of Mexico with an Italian hippie.  He looked like Jesus, except had brown and not blue eyes.

The first day, we arrived at a beach near a Marine Reserve.  Immediately after we exited the bus, a short and fat Mexican guy that wore a dirty white tee shirt approached us.  His blobby body looked like that of a toad: small head, amorphous throat, and a big belly.

He started to speak to the Italian in Spanish.  I could understand the conversation.  He wanted us to pay 30 pesos each for parking on his private lot.  The Italian told him that Mexican law allowed us to walk to the beach.  He agreed but he said that the parking lot was on his land, even though there were federal trash bins on it.  The Italian tried to negotiate with him, but when I saw all was failing, I stepped in.

"Hey," I said, "We should only have to pay 30 pesos for parking the car.  Not per person."

"No, per person," he said.

"No, because our only use of the land is parking the car.  The use of the beach, you can't stop us."

"Yes, but I have toilets for you."

"So, I won't use your toilets."

"Well, where you going to pee?"

"In the ocean."

"That's dirty.  It's a reserve."

"Why the animals do it?"

"You're not an animal."

"Close enough.  Hey, but you're not the federal marine reserve police are you?"


"Then it's none of your business."

My Italian friend got mad at me for being so vicious.  He said, "Let's just leave, man."

In the van, he said, "Your style, in Mexico, no good."

I tried to explain to him I already saw we weren't going to win with this guy, so of course the gloves came off.  But he was upset that I was vicious.  Toady was so illogical though.  I found out later, the parking area with the federal bins wasn't owned by him anyways.  It was all a lie.

At the next beach, the Italian drove the bus through the sand but the bus got stuck in it.  The more he drove it, the more it dug itself deeper and more entrenched in the sand.  We tried to push and push, but it would not move.  It was stuck

A fat Australian guy, who was huge, and a skinny French guy came and helped us push.

I put my hand out for him to shake.  The French guy said, "My name is Cyril."  The Australian guy said, "My name is Truan."  The beach stretched out forever and there were just two of us who owned it all.

At sunset, I saw little black rays shoot out high out of the water.  They looked like black kites flying in the air.  I ran for exercise during the sunset and also saw sea lions swimming in pairs, butterfly paddling through it.  I watched the Mexican fisherman fly fish, which is done with no bait.  He caught 10 fish.

Then I noticed the silver and posh jeep come by.  The driver ran it through the beach like a maniac.  Two French men, in their forties, came out.  Their jeep was stuck in the sand but it being a fancier car, they were able to utilize the four wheel drive to lodge it out.

They were already drunk and boorish and proud and rude.  Nonetheless, I continued my run.  At night, they asked that I drink with them.

One of the sleazier French guys brought with him a Mexican girl.  She sat behind him and placed her hands all over his chest.  He was so proud of himself that he had money and this sexy girl.  She paid no attention to me.  I paid no attention to her.

We sat around the fire.  The Italian hippie did not come.  He wanted to be alone but he cooked a rice dinner for us.

The other drunk French guy talked about how he was opening an exclusive night club.

The Australian guy asked if it would be a Sam's club.  And everyone started laughing.

They all smoked weed.  The sleazy French guy, who was called Jerome, kept neck kissing the little Mexican girl in front of us.  They weren't too interested in me, though they liked my politeness.  I drank nothing though.  I did not want to ruin my diet on holiday.

The next morning I came back and the sexy Mexican girl was by herself without Jerome.  She just sat there on the beach.  In the light, she studied me and evaluated me in a different light.  She liked what she saw.  I saw she looked cheapened.

I said good bye to everyone.  The Italian did not.  Cyril and his girlfriend were happy to meet me.  I told them they could visit me in Los Angeles.

The Italian hippie and I took the magic bus and drove to the next beach.  I pulled out a cigarette, though I usually do not smoke, and lit it in his van.  The soothing taste of mint tobacco filled my mouth.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Magic Bus to Cabo Pulmo

I've been in La Paz, Mexico for a week.  Remember; I hitchhiked up here.  I dove with the sea lions and for the most part, I read.  I remember my mentor making a comment about reading.  I have to ask him about it again, but it was basically that people no longer read difficult material.  When I heard that, I thought, two things.  One, it was, yeah - that's true isn't it?  Two, it was damn, that means I should continue reading difficult material even though I'm not in school anymore.

Reading difficult material is like fighting against the status quo.  It's already hard enough to find the time to read, but our markets are flooded with literature I'm sure is aimed to make us complacent.  We have entertaining reads like: Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter. And although they provide some nominal value, what more do you get out them?  You really have to take an extra step to create a reading list, find these books, get these books, and then work hard at understanding them.

On that note, I read Justice Loius Brandeis' biography - which inspired me.  He graduated at his time with the highest gpa at Harvard Law, became one of the most progressive lawyers and justices of his time, and strategized new ways to change the law.  I was inspired to read his biography because he wrote the second most influential law review articles of all time.  He wrote on the Right to Privacy - in which he develops new law that says - We have the right to be left alone.

I then read a famous economic piece on law.  And then, I read Oliver Holmes' famous Path of the Law.  I'll share with you the most inspiring thing that Justice Holmes said.  He said that the one with the most power is not one with money.  Get this: It is one who "commands ideas."  Notice he didn't say it was one who creates ideas or understands ideas or knows ideas.  No, it's the person who commands them.  Makes it his or her own.  And then launches an idea into action.  And uses it to persuade others.  One only need to look at the influence of Descarte and Kant's legacy to understand this. 

So, reading that is probably the most significant thought I've gained since January, making my trip to La Paz now doubly worth it as I also met a cool person from Italy. 

I met some Portuguese fellows the other day.  We had lunch the other day.  I had bisteca (steak) with beans and jamaica.  I saw them off to the bus stop.  They were going to ferry into the mainland of Mazatland from Baja California.  They added to my reading list by giving me the names of their best authors. 

I met two German medical students yesterday.  They were interested in me too because they saw I was "doing" nothing.  But I told them, I'm reading, thinking, and researching.  I told them the idea I learned about commanding ideas, and I saw their eyes light up as well - as they understood I hit on an important concept. 

I also met an Italian gypsy, who sells fancy stones and wears clothes like he's from Arabia.  He has a Volkswagon Magic Bus.  We're going to drive to the beach today.  I won't have anymore internet or a hot shower until the 4th or 5th of June.  I'm going to sleep in his magic bus.  Oh, so sad: no more wifi.  So we'll see how this goes.

I'll take pictures.  I'm supposed to learn some Italian cooking from him.

PS: I also am catching up on the HBO series: Game of Thrones.