With this cleansing rain

img_4854With this cleansing rain, let a new phase begin.  The rain is washing away the grit and piss and wrappers, pulling all the poisons from our air.  Let us all breathe deep and let go all the shit that kept us suffering.

Let our hearts be light in this new sunlight breaking through the clouds, and let that rainbow remind us of the beauty in every heart in every nation.

The sunlight can lift from our hearts that terrible sadness.

We can forgive ourselves for everything.

We can feel and heal the terrible depths of despair and walk anew on the green hills of our new beginnings – blessed by this rain, that falls from the heavens for free.


Beyond all the shrewd calculations, the plots for retribution and the stratagems for obscene gain from exploiting our fellows, a child’s heart beats in us still with endless hope that our earth can be a paradise, and human beings can be humane – or at least reasonable – and reason might approve this new beginning.

So rest, humanity!  Sleep in the peace of this rain, and soon awaken in the dawn of our new beginning: leaf tips sparkling, flowers bowed, hearts refreshed and arms reaching up in joy as the new, clean air brings cool refreshment to our lungs.


Let us walk out, you and I, in this sparkling morning.  The earth has been reborn, and now we begin again.




Posted in Photos, mostly, Poems, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The night when everything changed


My .357 magnum Smith and Wesson revolver with a Pachmyr combat grip


One warm summer evening in 1984, I was working on my computer when I heard what sounded like a series of shotgun blasts – BOOM! BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM! – that kept coming from the alley behind our apartment building in Santa Monica, California, where my wife and I were renting our first apartment:  a rent-controlled two-bedroom on 17th Street, across from a cemetery, and down the street from Santa Monica College.  The neighborhood was populated mainly by working-class or unemployed Latinos and blacks, along with some unemployed or low-income whites (including myself, at the time making $8 an hour teaching in a small private ESL school).  It also had a lot of gang graffiti, and gang activity.  More on that later.


My computer was a portable Kaypro with a CP/M operating system and two 540-K floppy drives. On it, I was working on the first chapters of a spy novel that I was co-writing with Gerry Keston, an elderly British gentleman who told me he had been an assassin for Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force Intelligence (RAF Intelligence, or “A.I.”).  The novel was set after World War II, and it was a white-knuckle thriller about hunting down and killing German scientists who had been dispersed throughout the Middle East under the auspices of ODESSA.

I was on Chapter 3, where our fictionalized protagonist, Jason Reece, is being trained for his first mission, when I heard the “BOOM! BOOM!  BOOM!” coming from the alley.  It sounded like somebody was firing off a shotgun; but the blasts kept coming, and I thought, That couldn’t be a shotgun, because shotguns only hold a maximum of maybe eight or ten rounds (I knew this because I owned a Mossberg shotgun and was very into guns), and so far I’d heard at least a dozen blasts.  I figured it must be a car with no muffler and only one or two cylinders working.  It was around 11:30 PM, and whoever was making all that noise was being very inconsiderate.  My wife (who worked at a bank and had to be up at 7:00 am) was in bed.  Being kind of a George Zimmerman type at the time, I grabbed a .22-calibre automatic pistol, shoved it in my pocket, and went outside to investigate.

As you’re probably thinking, and as I now realize, this was this kind of stupid, in a neighborhood with at least two street gangs vying for dominance: the Santa Monica 20th Street boys, and the V-13 (“V” for Venice).  Since we moved into our apartment, the following events had transpired:

  1. Gang members had harassed my wife and me as we stopped at a local convenience store. One of the guys sitting on the wall nearby said, “I like your girlfriend.”
  2. Gang members had carved “SM” on the roof of my car with a knife.
  3. A small-calibre bullet or pellet had made a hole in our living room’s picture window.
  4. A young man on a bicycle had been shot numerous times in front of our apartment.
  5. Up the street, a gang member had been gunned to death in the parking lot of a strip mall.

In light of all the above, I had started buying guns: the small .22 automatic pistol; the above-mentioned Mossberg shotgun; a Ruger 10/22 rifle; and a Smith and Wesson Model.357 magnum revolver with Pachmyr combat grips (see photo above).  When I showed my guns to a visiting friend, who was a devotee of meditation and Indian philosophy, he said, “You know, John, the tragedy here is that you will probably never get to use any of these guns, except for target practice.”

Well, I’d had some target practice, driving with friends up to Soledad Canyon to shoot bottles and cans from our trash (this was before L.A. started its citywide recycling program). One time, when a couple of buddies and I were taking our guns to my car, our neighbor Francisco Lewis – a friendly black dude who lived on a first-floor apartment under us – saw us with the guns and said, “What’s up?”

I said, “We’re gonna shoot up some cans.”

He said, “Like, Mexi-cans? Afri-cans?  Puerto Ri-cans?  Jamai-cans?”

I laughed. Francisco was a laid-back fellow who was at the time on welfare.  His daily routine consisted mainly of smoking weed, drinking wine, and scoring some coke when he had a little extra cash.  One time when we were kicking back in his apartment, he told me about trouble with gang members who hung out in the alley behind his apartment; his rear windows faced the alley.  He was a sweet, mellow guy who rolled the best joints.  His best friend Marvin, who was disabled with kidney problems, lived next door.  The night before, Francisco had told me that Marvin wanted to talk to me about something.

I went to Marvin’s apartment, where Marvin showed me an old 9-shot .22 revolver. It was tarnished, but clean, with a wooden handle.  I said, “Nice.”

Marvin said, “You want it?”

“How much?”

“Fifty dollars.”

“I don’t have the cash right now, maybe next week.”

“OK, but it might be gone by then.”

Francisco and Marvin’s .22 revolver played a key role that fateful night, when I slipped my .22 automatic pistol into my jacket pocket and went down the concrete stairs from our second-floor balcony to the small courtyard and headed back towards the alley so I could have a word with Mr. Boom-Boom-Boom. At the courtyard gate, who should be coming out of the alley, through but Francisco, who looked very pissed.

I said, “What’s up?”

He muttered something about an asshole in the alley; he was obviously in a bad mood and didn’t want to talk about it.

With some trepidation, I went out through the gate into the alley, where the “BOOM! BOOM!  BOOM!” was still boom-boom-booming.

In the middle of the alley sat an old gray Toyota that needed paint. The engine was running.  Obviously the car was having problems, both with the muffler and with the engine.

In the driver’s seat sat a Latino guy I vaguely recognized from a house two doors up 17th Street, a ramshackle bungalow from which much trouble had originated.  They had a pit bull that sometimes got out and almost bit passers-by.  The couple who lived there –a Chicano Vietnam veteran and his Mexican immigrant wife – had several sons in their twenties who had reputedly been in and out of prison.  From our second-floor window, I could sometimes see one of the sons in the backyard lifting weights, without a shirt and showing lots of tattoos, like he was in a prison yard.  The man in the Toyota kind of looked like that guy.  Another son, who had a big scar across the bridge of his nose, had once threatened me when I called police and Animal Control after the pit bull got loose and chased a little girl on roller skates.  After the police left, he came up to me and said, “You’re real brave when the cops are here, but sometime when they’re not, we’ll get you.”

Anyway, the driver of the Toyota was sitting behind the wheel, window open, giving me a mad-dog stare. If I had been in prison, I would have known better than to talk to this guy, but I had never been in prison, so I said, “Excuse me, it’s after 11:30 and my wife is trying to sleep.”

He stepped out of the car and got right up into my face. He said, “What’d you say?”

“I said, it’s after 11:30 and my wife is trying to sleep.”


“Your car is very loud.”

“What’re you gonna do about it?”

“I guess I’ll just have to call the police.”

What happened next, I’ve only been able to figure out by doing some research after the fact, because after everything went black, I kind of regained consciousness, covered with blood, standing next to Francisco at the door to our apartment. My Chinese wife opened the door in her bathrobe, looking at me in shock.  “Oh my God.  What happened?”

“I’m not sure.” Trying to remember, I got only blurred images of me on my hands and knees on dirty pavement, looking for my glasses, my .22 pistol there also, me grabbing the pistol, facing a small circle of young gang members with the pistol in my hand, one of them with a sharp nose saying, “We don’t like having a gun in our face,” and me saying, “Then stay back, because I can’t see too well and if you get too close, I’m gonna shoot you.”  Then my memory faded out again.

My wife took me into the bathroom and I saw my face covered with blood, my white polo shirt covered with blood. I smiled and said, “I guess I’m not going to work tomorrow.”

She made a face and told me to take off the shirt. She wiped the blood off my face, neck and chest.  Apparently all the blood was coming from a huge gash on the left side of my mouth, where I’d obviously been hit.

There was a knock on the door. A cop in black.  An Officer Steiner, of Santa Monica P.D., asked:  “Are you the person who was assaulted?”


“Could you come with me please?”


My wife gave me a clean shirt and followed us down to the alley. There two police cars, facing each other, had their flashers and spotlights on, illuminating the trash-strewn, graffiti-scarred alley with its abandoned cars, makeshift fences and battered gates.  In the spotlights, between the cop cars, the guy who hit me was handcuffed and squatting between two officers.

Officer Steiner indicated the squatting guys and said, “Is this who assaulted you?”


“Do you want to arrest him?”

“Sure, arrest him.”

“No, do you want to arrest him?  We can’t arrest him.  We can only hold him. You would have to place him under citizen’s arrest.”

“I don’t understand.”

Officer Steiner took me aside, with my wife listening closely: “This is a misdemeanor assault, which means the injuries are minor, and it was not witnessed by a police officer, so you would have to make a citizen’s arrest.  You have to go over there and say to that guy, ‘I hereby place you under arrest for assaulting me.’  But if you do that, understand that he’ll be out of jail tomorrow morning with like fifty dollars bail.  Is that what you want to do?”

My wife said, “No. Forget it.”

I stood there with my brains all mushed up and not knowing what to do.

Officer Steiner said, “So you want to forget it?”

I said, “I’m having trouble thinking. I think I have a concussion.”

He clenched his jaw muscles, as if it had been a long night for him already: “I’ve seen about ten people this week who were much worse off than you.”

My wife said, “Forget it. Let’s go.”  She was pulling my hand.

I went with her. She took me to Emergency at St. John’s Hospital, where I got thirty-three stitches in the left side of my mouth.  An X-ray showed a fracture to my temporomandibular joint (TMJ).  A plastic surgeon wired my jaw shut.  For six weeks, I would have to get all my food through a straw.

Back in our apartment, the next day, I did some research with our neighbors. (My jaw was wired shut, so I could only ask questions with my teeth clenched.)  Our neighbor on the second floor, a UCLA doctoral student named Ed Schumacher, told me that he witnessed the assault from his second-floor window.  He’d heard the “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM” and looked out to see me talking to the Toyota driver, who suddenly swung at me with something in his hand and I went down like a rock.  Ed said the guy was bending over, and it looked like he was going to hurt me some more when Ed yelled from his window, “Don’t do that!  I’m calling the police.”  Ed told me the guy looked around like he didn’t know where the voice was coming from, so he got into his car and drove a short distance, then the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM stopped.  Ed called “911.”  I was still on the ground when Ed left the window to make the 911 call.

Francisco told me he looked out his window – apparently a few minutes later – and he saw me getting to my feet, surrounded by five or six teenage gang members, like a wounded bear encircled by a pack of wolves. He saw the gun in my hand, and the gang members staying back, but one of them was coming around behind me.  Francisco said he grabbed an axe handle and ran out into the alley, where the gang member behind me was climbing onto the hood of an abandoned car to jump onto my back.  Francisco knocked that guy off the car with his axe handle, right around the time the police cars came screaming down the alley with sirens blaring and flashers flashing.  The gang members scattered.

From all I can gather, Francisco Davis and Ed Schumacher very possibly saved my life. They were like my guardian angels.  This is one of numerous instances during my life in which people I scarcely knew stepped in and made all the difference.  I kind of owe my life to them – the human angels of this world.  In reading the news, even the most jaded cynic must confess that there are many of these human beings who act bravely and selflessly to help their fellow human beings, or animals, or society, or the planet as a whole.  The cynics might call them fools.  I call them heroes.

In my sixty-four years, I have personally met too many heroes to count. But in this, an account of my life so far, I’ll tell you about as many of these unsung heroes as I can remember and as many as I have time to tell about.  These people are my role models, and – I truly believe – our hope for the future of the human race.  In my own flawed, and sometimes stupid and arrogant way, I’ve tried to follow in their footsteps and even be a role model for others.  As you will see, this effort has been met with mixed results.

A day or two after the assault, I was taking our trash into the alley when I saw a guy who looked just like my attacker. Blood rushed to my head, and I hurried back to our apartment, where I got out my Smith and Wesson .357 magnum revolver with Pachmyr grips and loaded it up with hollow-point bullets.  One of those bullets could splatter my attacker’s brains all over the graffiti-scarred wall behind his head.  I figured I’d use all six bullets and wait for the police to arrive.

Then I closed my eyes and started thinking. During the previous thirteen years of my life, I had done a lot of meditation and yoga, and a lot of praying.  I decided to pray.  In my mind’s eye, I imagined what would happen if I went out and shot the guy.  I would go to prison.  My wife would be alone in the world, possibly subject to retribution from the guy’s friends, who were probably gang members.  My entire family would be shocked and traumatized.  My friends who meditated and followed peaceful ways would be terribly disappointed.  Perhaps worst of all, I would have a very bad time in prison, especially since this guy probably had friends and possibly family members there, as well.

I put down the gun. I packed it away.  Within two months, my wife and I had moved out of the neighborhood and started a new chapter in our lives.

In retrospect, this was a wise decision.

Posted in Autobiographical | 1 Comment


A short story by John Mears


The day Alma Zuleima first went to clean Mr. Parker’s condominium, the sun was burning over Palm Springs as it had when her group crossed the Arizona desert with the coyote. Waves of heat poured down from the mountains over the rooftops and shimmered up from the street like some mysterious water.

The bus had dropped her off at the corner of South Palm Canyon Drive and Calle La Verne.  She walked in the smothering heat, past green lawns in front of stucco walls hiding condominiums, to the address on a little street called Puebla, the name of a city where two Mexican Federales had raped her cousin Estela.  She wondered if that was bad luck, the street being named Puebla.  She remembered a warning from a bruja in Los Angeles, to be careful in August.  Maybe Mr. Parker was a bad man who would rape her, too; but fresh in her mind also were the words of her favorite housekeeping customer, Mrs. Nelson, who owned the restaurant where this Mr. Parker had his fish dinner, alone, every Friday night.  Mrs. Nelson had said that Mr. Parker was a good man, a kind man, a generous man, who was patient with the servers and left big tips.  Mr. Parker always ate dinner alone, Mrs. Nelson had said.  He was probably single and lonely.  Mr. Parker had fish every Friday night.  He was probably Catholic.  Alma Zuleima was a born-again Christian; her brother, a storefront minister at a storefront Pentecostal church in Los Angeles, said Catholics could not be saved until they renounced their religion, but Alma Zuleima didn’t think they were necessarily bad people.

The iron gate to Mr. Parker’s condominium walkway screeched as Eva Zuleima opened the latch and let herself in.  Old rust bubbled up from underneath the flaking black paint on the gate.  On the phone, Mr. Parker had said something about a gate, but with her poor English she wasn’t sure.  Not wanting to embarrass herself, she had said, “Yes, okay” to everything he had said.

She walked the final steps to the door and checked her watch.  She was one minute early.  She said a few Hail Mary’s in Spanish, even though she had herself renounced Catholicism when her brother made her a born-again Christian.  She reminded herself that her father was dying of bone cancer in San Salvador and her mother would need every dollar she could get for the funeral and coyote fees to bring the rest of the family to California.

She pushed the plastic button of the doorbell, which was surrounded by corroded brass.  She heard no sound, but immediately the door opened and a white-haired man with a thin, gentle face opened the door.  Seeing Alma Zuleima, he smiled and said, “You must be Alma Zuleima.”

She noticed that half his chin was missing.

She pushed her cheeks up in her best smile and said, “Yes,” trying to ignore the right side of his jaw, which looked like melted plastic.

Mr. Parker extended his hand.  “I’m Bob Parker.  Please come in.” He spoke with twisted lips, but his smile seemed real.

She shook his hand and walked in.  Cold air blasted her neck from an air-conditioning vent over her head.  She continued past a dining room table into a living room with bright flower paintings on the wall and big silk flowers on the white sofa and love seat.  It smelled of dried eucalyptus and cigarette smoke.  Thankfully, there was no smell of alcohol.  Growing up with a father who loved his bottle more than his family, she had learned to smell whisky a mile away.

Mr. Parker was saying something about the weather being hot. Alma Zuleima nodded and said, “Very hot.”  He asked something she didn’t understand.  When she hesitated, he signaled with his hand, lifting an imaginary drink, and said, “Water?”

She said, “Si… yes, please.”

He opened a plastic gallon bottle of water and got some ice from the freezer and handed her a pink plastic glass filled to the top.  She sipped it while he showed her around.  There was a common pool in the back where two white families were sunbathing.  The parents and children were all sunburned bright pink.  Roses and other flowers bloomed all around the pool and the grass was green and thick.

Alma Zuleima remembered the big old brick apartment building where she had lived in Los Angeles, with its dirt lawn; the only flowers had been tired, thirsty geraniums crammed against the wall like a cholo being arrested by the police.

She looked at the kids playing and wondered if she would ever have children herself. In one job two years before, when she was living in Los Angeles, she had been a nanny for a divorced lady in Beverly Hills, and she’d taken care of two kids, one boy who was three and one girl who was six.  The girl was a monster but the boy stole her heart and when the mother was drinking and talking bad, Alma Zuleima had thought of running back to El Salvador with the boy.

Mr. Parker’s laundry area was in the garage, just off the kitchen.  He was telling her that he wanted her to wash his clothes.  It was very hot in the garage, and there was an old silver Mercedes.

The condo had two bedrooms.  The guest bedroom had two small beds and a computer on a desk where Mr. Parker seemed to be writing something; handwritten papers lay about and there were some paragraphs on the computer screen.

The master bedroom had a giant bed and a half-cathedral ceiling and mirrors on one side.  She wondered if Mr. Parker slept alone.

Now she started thinking about this man. Probably his chin had been half-eaten by cancer.  He was very thin, not handsome, with a long beak nose and a sharp Adam’s apple, but his mouth and what was left of his chin were soft and kind.  As he told her about the condo, she couldn’t understand most of the words, but she could tell he was being nice with her.  Sometimes he would make some joke in English that she didn’t understand; he would half-chuckle at his own joke, and she would manage a smile.

She looked at her own reflection in the large bedroom mirror.  She stood short and fat next to Mr. Parker, but she thought she wasn’t bad-looking for a woman of thirty-nine.  Not having children had helped, no doubt.  Her skin was dark next to his, like café con leche in a white china cup.

Mr. Parker was looking at her in the mirror, and she thought from his face that he liked her, but she kept a straight face and said, “Ok, I think seventy dollars a day.”

He said, “That’s fine.  Can you come on Mondays?”

* * *

For the next three Mondays, Alma Zuleima came to Mr. Parker’s condo at nine o’clock sharp and left at three. She always arrived early, because of the bus schedule, and waited outside in the heat until her little Samsung cell phone said it was nine on the dot.  She dusted, vacuumed, washed his clothes and sheets and towels, mopped his kitchen floor, took out the trash, scrubbed the black-green fungus off the shower tiles, and cleaned inside his refrigerator.  She wiped the kitchen counters, which had light brown tile with white grout, and she scrubbed the grout with an old toothbrush.  She got up on a chair and scrubbed the top of the refrigerator.  From the dust and grit, she guessed that it hadn’t been cleaned in years, but at least it wasn’t covered with congealed grease and oil, like in some kitchens where the ladies did a lot of frying.

Mr. Parker fixed her lunch every Monday:  first a turkey sandwich with bacon, lettuce and tomato; then a ham sandwich with mustard and pickle; and finally a roast beef sandwich with avocado.

While she worked, Mr. Parker sat at his computer and typed, shuffling papers.  She never asked what he was doing.  Sometimes he would go out for a jog or a swim.

The fourth Monday he made grilled cheese sandwiches, then sat and ate lunch with her, smiling fiercely, which made her nervous.  He asked if she wanted jalapenos with her sandwich, and showed her a jar of jalapenos.  She shook her head and smiled.  He said, “You don’t like jalapenos?”

She said, “No, thank you.”

He said, “I bought them just for you.”

“Thank you.  Muy picante.”

He made a face of surprise.  “Too spicy?  I thought people from Mexico liked muy picante.”

She felt her face turning red.  “My from no is Mexico.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Guatemala?” 

“No,” she smiled.  “My from is El Salvador.”

He said, “You’re from El Salvador.”


His face changed.  “I used to be an English teacher.  Can you do something for me?”


“Yes, can you say this:  ‘I’m from El Salvador.'”

“You from is El Salvador?”

“No.”  He slowed down his words and gestured with his hands. “I…” (pointing to himself) “…want  you…” (pointing to her) “…to say…” (pointing to his mouth) “…I’m from El Salvador.”

She repeated it.  He made a little diagram showing subject and verb.  It was an English lesson. It was time for her to clean his bedroom, but he was teaching her “I am a woman” and “You are a man” and “I am hungry” and “It is two o’clock.”

She felt nervous that it really was two already and she hadn’t even started cleaning his bedroom.  Then the doorbell rang.  He checked through the curtains and said, “It’s my son.”  For a moment she had a funny feeling as if they’d been doing something bad.  She got up and took her plastic bucket with rags and spray bottles towards the bedroom.  He was opening the door.  She didn’t want to see the son.

From the bedroom, she heard the two men talking at the doorway. The son’s voice was loud and sharp, as if he was trying to dominate the conversation.  The son used the word “Mom” several times.  Maybe there was a fight between the parents and the son was in the middle.

The son left a few minutes later, slamming the door without saying goodbye.  Alma came out of the bedroom and saw Mr. Parker standing there at the closed door.  His head looked heavy on his thin neck.

She said, “Is okay, your son?”

He said, “He’s always like that.”

* *  *

For the next few weeks Mr. Parker was quieter than before, and he didn’t sit with her at lunch, but he seemed to be looking at her in a different way that made her more and more uncomfortable.  Then on the eighth Monday, at lunchtime Mr. Parker said, “Are you hungry?”

She wasn’t sure until he made a hand signal for “eat.” She felt confused because he hadn’t made her the customary sandwich.  He opened the door to the garage and motioned.  She followed him.

He was pushing the garage door, which opened for the first time that she had seen.  The old Mercedes looked newer in the sunlight.  He opened the car’s door for her.  It smelled like old leather and cigarettes.

He drove them to Mrs. Nelson’s restaurant, “The Ancient Mariner,” where she had never been.  The restaurant had a big painted wood carving of an old English sailor holding up the sign in front, with a sea bird over his head.

The restaurant was cool and dark inside.  It smelled like whisky and beef and French fries.  Mrs. Nelson wasn’t there.  Alma Zuleima was glad.  A blonde girl showed them to a corner table.  A Mexican boy brought them ice water.  Nobody seemed to be noticing this old man with a weird jaw who was taking his housekeeper out to a nice restaurant for lunch.

When the waiter came, Mr. Parker said something to him quietly.  The waiter, a dark Latino, brought a big bouquet of flowers and set them on the table in front of Alma Zuleima.

Alma looked at the flowers and all the air went out of her body. They were beautiful:  red roses, yellow chrysanthemums, white calla lilies, blue irises.  Mr. Parker said, “They’re for you.”

She said, “Thank you.”

He smiled.  “You’re welcome.”

He moved his hand towards hers, but stopped himself and pulled his hand back.

The waiter gave them both menus. Everything on the menu was in English.  She looked at the menu with a blank stare.  The waiter said, in Spanish, “You like steak?”

Bistek?  Yes.”


“Yes, okay.”

The waiter took Mr. Parker’s order – sole fillet – and left.

He looked at her again.  “Alma, you know I live alone.”

She wasn’t sure what that meant, so she nodded.

He said, “I’ve been alone for… almost five years.”

She said, “You alone five years.”

“Yes.”  He smiled.  “You’re a good student.”

“Thank you.”

He thought for a moment and said, “I’m tired of being alone.  I want you to marry me.”

She thought she understood the word, so she said it.  “Marry.”

“Yes.”  He pulled from his pocket a little box of black felt.  He gave it to her.  “Open it.”

She opened it.  Inside was a small diamond ring.  Her throat hurt and she couldn’t say anything.  Instead she started crying.  She remembered her sister’s wedding in the Pentecostal church in Los Angeles.  She remembered her own wedding in a small Catholic church in Chalatenango, El Salvador.  She remembered the way her husband had changed, the drunken beatings and the shame of the divorce and why she’d had to come to California.  It all poured out and she couldn’t think or even feel anything except sorry that her life had turned out so badly.  Accepting Jesus had felt like this, too, but she wasn’t accepting Mr. Parker.  He was an old man who smoked cigarettes and probably had cancer and his son was horrible and she wasn’t going through another divorce.

She felt his hand on hers and opened her eyes.  His touch wasn’t cold or warm… it was just a touch.  He looked worried.  “You okay?”

She said, “Si, yes, okay.”

“Good.  You don’t have to answer now.  You can think about it.”

“Think about it.”

“Good.  You think about it.”

She gave him back the ring.

He smiled.  She was surprised that he wasn’t angry.  He seemed happy, which she didn’t understand.

He drove her back to the condo, and she finished cleaning his bedroom and the master bath, and she rode the bus back home, holding the flowers close to her chest.  A few bus passengers saw the flowers and smiled.  Embarrassed, she watched the bare-rock mountains slide past with the sun baking their sides, thinking that if he had really wanted to marry her, and if he really loved her, he would have given her a ride.  But maybe he was busy, or maybe he thought she needed time alone to think.  Anyway, she was glad she had time to think about it.

The more she thought about it, the gladder she was that he hadn’t offered her a ride. A weird joy rose inside her stomach.  Mr. Parker had given her something better than a ride home, better than the flowers, better than the diamond ring.  He had given her freedom. 

The End

Posted in Short stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Freedom and Independence

IMG_6844 - CopyOn Independence Day, we in the USA celebrate our country’s independence from England, and the freedoms we enjoy as U.S. citizens & residents. We like to say we’re the “greatest country in the world,” and that we have more freedom than the people of any other country.  However, there are many kinds of freedom and independence; freedom from want; freedom from debt; freedom from addiction, bad habits and/or compulsive behaviors; freedom from mental illness and toxic relationships; freedom from ignorance, from superstition, and from religions that teach false, limiting or pathogenic ideas. I think it’s fair to say that many “Americans,” in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” are – in one way or another – slaves or indentured servants to someone or something.

I am addicted to computer games – one of my favorite and least embarrassing in a list of what could be reasonably be called “bad habits and/or compulsive behaviors.” Many people I know have at least one of the following monkeys on their backs: debt; addiction to Facebook, junk food, cigarettes, or gambling; schizophrenia; and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

One of the most newsworthy and talked-about problems facing the USA now is opiate addiction. It’s hard to get hard statistics on addiction, but according to the National Center for Health Statistics, deaths from overdoses on prescription opioid pain relievers in the USA tripled between 2001 and 2014, from around 6,000 in 2001 to around 18,000 in 2014.  Heroin overdoses during almost the same time span – 2001 to 2013 – quadrupled from around 2,000 in 2001 to around 8,000 in 2013.   (See graphic, below.)

CDC WONDER Data for Website_02-04-15.pptx

Consider the most recent reports about student loan debt:

Credit card debt is also a huge problem.  A headline on thestreet.com (March 2016) reads:  “Credit Card Debt Is at Dangerous Levels.”  The sub-headline says:  “U.S. consumers are compiling credit card debt far faster than they can pay it down….”  According to the Federal Reserve, revolving debt was $935.6 billion in December 2015, up 5.1% from December 2014, even though interest rates went up on average from 11.9% to 12.1% during the same period.

This means that average households owe almost $7,900 on their credit cards.  The U.S. hasn’t seen this much credit card debt since the run-up to crash of 2008.  According to Odysseas Papadimitriou, chief executive of credit statistics and analysis site CardHub,  “There comes a point at which credit card debt becomes unsustainable, whether due to an increase in unemployment and the corresponding decline in income levels or because the cost of interest on rising balances grows to the point that even minimum payments are no longer feasible,” Papadimitriou says. (More here:  https://www.thestreet.com/story/13505178/1/credit-card-debt-is-at-dangerous-levels.html.)
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke out against financial slavery in his Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address) on January 6, 1941, when he proposed four freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to have:
  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

Current government programs and fiscal policy in the USA do not seem to be addressing #3.  Perhaps pressure from “Democratic Socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will change that.

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An open letter to the Koch brothers


Me with my daughter at her graduation












Dear Charles and David:

My name is John W. Mears, and I am an English teacher living in the Los Angeles area.  I write to you now as a father, and – hopefully, one day – as a grandfather. I write out of concern for the world in which my daughter and her children will grow up. I am sure that you also would like your children and grandchildren to grow up in a world with a viable future.  Further, I am guessing that, as forward-thinking men, you would like to be remembered by future historians as having done more good than harm to our world.

Many have demonized you, and made “the Koch brothers” synonymous with all that is evil with capitalism and conservative politics.  There has been much propagandizing and many accusations.  I wonder if anyone has approached the two of you as intelligent, reasonable human beings, capable of compassion, vision, fair-mindedness, open-mindedness, and a genuine concern for the future of our planet, and for our children and grandchildren.

As I’m sure you know, a United Nations report issued in November 2014 cited “clear and growing” evidence that human activity is causing changes in the climate system.  The report warned that — if left unchecked — climate change will be very bad for all of us.

I’m sure you also know that the overwhelming preponderance of scientific data and other evidence points to the conclusion that — because human activity is causing dramatic changes in the Earth’s climate — Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting.  This has already begun to cause a rise in sea levels, which threatens every coastal city in the world. Additionally, wrenching changes in earth’s ecosystems are already beginning to cause the extinction of many species, as well as convulsive scarcities in water and food that could ultimately lead to increasing international conflict, global thermonuclear war, and the extinction of life on our planet as we know it.

And yet there is hope. R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said in November 2014:  “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

However, as I’m sure you’re well aware, time is running out.


Hurricane Sandy in New York City


Through your vast wealth and influence, you are uniquely positioned to affect massive changes for good or ill. Until now, however, it seems you have used your considerable influence — through your think tanks and lobbyists — to deny that humans are causing climate change, thereby greatly hindering efforts to save the world from the coming catastrophes.

David, you have a residence in New York City. If the trends towards climate change and sea level rise are not changed or reversed, your beloved Manhattan will at the very least get a lot smaller, and your subway stations will start to look more and more like this.


Hurricane Sandy

Charles, you have a house in Wichita, Kansas. Perhaps you know NASA scientists have predicted that global warming could dry up the Midwest by 2050, in long-lasting “megadroughts” that will make the Dust Bowl look like a bad day for a picnic.

With great power comes great responsibility. How would you like to be remembered in history, if indeed we survive the coming centuries? Do you want to be remembered as saviors, or destroyers of humankind?

In any case, none of us wants to leave our grandchildren a world ravaged by megadroughts, rising sea levels, convulsive weather patterns, mass starvation and endless wars for vanishing resources.

Please join humanity’s struggle to survive imminent disaster. Instruct your lobbyists and think tanks to advocate for – not against – a sustainable future for our home planet.


Let’s save our planet for future generations. Photo: the hills above Tehachapi, California



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Lady Liberty

A beloved symbol of the USA is the Statue of Liberty, which was a gift from the French people in 1886.  Its name in French is “La Liberté éclairant le monde,” meaning “Liberty Enlightening the World.”  Chinese pro-Democracy demonstrators created their own version, a 33-foot-tall “Goddess of Democracy and Freedom,” in four days during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.  That was destroyed by Red Army soldiers clearing the square after massacring thousands of demonstrators; however the spirit of democracy and freedom continues to inspire people around the world.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, around thirty-four million people immigrated to this country; around 75% of them stayed and made the USA their new home.  For those who came on ships, entering by way of New York harbor, our Statue of Liberty was the first thing they saw in the United States of America.

Most of those immigrants could not read English, so of course they could not have read the poem carved on the pedestal that supports the statue.  The poem — “The New Colossus,” written by the Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus — is quoted in its entirety below.  Here I will quote the part of that poem that means the most to me:  “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless… to me.”  This quote is exceedingly dear to my heart — in part because my wife is an immigrant from China, where she suffered terribly under Mao Tse Tung’s Communist regime, and in part because my job for the past twenty-five years has been teaching immigrants how to understand, speak, read and write English.

There has been much in the news recently about immigrants and immigration.  Without wading into the fray, let me just say this:  President Obama was right in saying recently that we are a nation of immigrants.  All of us are ultimately of immigrant extraction.  My maternal grandparents were from England; my father’s ancestors came over with the early English settlers.  But scientists say that even the Apaches and the Arapaho and the Sioux and Chumash peoples — all native Americans, or indigenous people of this continent — originally came here from Asia.

I speak not only as the husband of an immigrant and the teacher of immigrants, but also as the neighbor of immigrants (Armenians, Koreans, and Latinos primarily on my street), in saying:  Let us remember what it says on the Statue of Liberty, and welcome immigrants to our shores, and not round them up like cattle and treat them as invaders.

They are human beings, and they come to share the “American dream.”  Let’s not turn that dream into a nightmare.

Long live the spirit and the dream of freedom and democracy for all!  And let us make that dream a reality.  Sooner, not later.

Here is the entire “Statue of Liberty” poem, as promised:

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!”” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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My father, the Army surgeon

FKM_Jr_Studio_CollegeAs I write this, it is Veterans’ Day 2013, and everywhere people are honoring and memorializing members of our armed services.  My father, Frank Kennedy Mears, Jr., was a major in the U.S. Army.  When I was three, in 1955, we lived at Carlisle Army Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Dad was an Army surgeon.

Raised a Quaker in Philadelphia — attending Germantown Friends School, and then Haverford College — Dad was taught that all violence and war are abominations, but having witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he came to see — rightly, I think — that sometimes we have to fight evil with more than prayers and words.  His military service, as an Army doctor, was a reasonable compromise, and throughout his life, my father strove to always be a reasonable man.

Many others in this world are not so reasonable, and a lot of them are prone to violence.  Some of them even occupy positions of great power in national governments, including our own.

In my personal view — and I think Dad would have agreed, had he still been alive — the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was a triumph of stupidity over reason, a clear case of ambition, greed, ignorance and war hysteria trumping common sense.  True, there were those (like Barack Obama and myself) who at the time raised their voices in opposition to the war, but our voices were drowned out by the drumbeats of rage and unreason.  As a result, we committed our nation to seemingly endless years of bad news, to tens of thousands of shattered lives among our servicemembers, to hundreds of thousands of shattered lives among the Iraqi people, and to hundreds of billions of dollars of tax dollars wasted on a harebrained adventure that strengthened the hands of those who hated us and soiled our nation’s reputation and moral authority.

None know the true cost of war better than its victims:  those whose homes and families are destroyed; those who fight in the war and come home scarred from skin to soul, often missing limbs and faces; and those who must clean up the messes left behind.  Iraqi children are still being born with birth defects due to depleted uranium ordinance used by our soldiers.  Afghan families are still trying to make sense of drone strikes that killed their grandparents, their children, their pregnant wives and mothers.  Vietnam War veterans are still dealing with the after-effects of Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Hundreds of thousands of veterans are unemployed, mentally and/or physically disabled, and/or homeless.  The Veterans Administration gets laughs on the Daily Show for its incompetence, but the truth is that we were eager to rush off to Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, but are too cheap and heartless to really take care of our men and women who returned from those wars.  Politicians talk about taking care of our veterans, but what do they actually do about it?

So this Veterans’ Day, I pray for three things:

  1. That we will truly start living up to the promises we’ve made to our veterans, to offer them everything they need to put their lives back together when they return from conflicts overseas: easily accessible health care, job training, jobs, and housing;
  2. That we will stop sending them into debacles like Bush’s Iraq War; and
  3. That we will hold accountable those who manipulated our nation into that pointless, no-win war.

I pray that we will truly become a nation that values peace over war, that finds peace within itself and promotes it around the world, and that prioritizes peacetime progress over unjust wars of choice.

And I pray that on Veterans’ Day we will also honor those who did not serve in the military, but who fought in a struggle that is even more important:  the struggle for racial, social, and economic justice in this country.  That struggle goes on every day, and a struggle in which I am proud to have played a part, with so many others I am proud to call my family and my friends.


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