Home > Uncategorized > The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter V: The Second Change

The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter V: The Second Change

When I graduated from high school I was not socially ready for college.

Mike Pull yourself together man

I had fantasies about going to Olivette Nazarene College, which was where a lot of my friends from church went. If I would was going into the ministry, go to a Nazarene College would’ve been a good thing to do, but that just didn’t seem possible. And so I went to Monroe County Community College, which we used to call 13th grade. I knew some people from high school who went there. My friend Matt, with whom I had gone to Jackman Road Elementary. Then he moved Ida and we were together for sixth through ninth grade. And then we were friends at community college. So it was nice to reunite with a kid friend.

I got more socially active. I got involved with theater. I had been doing that in my church and I took a theater class. The former head of the Theater Department from Texas A&M, his mom lived in Monroe and so he moved there to take care of her in the end. So I had this world-class theater education at our tiny little country community college. I also had a great creative writing class that drew out my interest in writing. I had a trio of great sociology classes with Stan Davis. He had been a Beat and from Monroe. It was great to have this really counter-cultural guy who had these great stories about the jazz scene in 1950s New York.

Sociology is radical. I was prime for that because of my political orientation. In Sociology 101 he threw this idea out – ethnocentrism- that everybody in their own culture thinks that their language and culture and religion is the correct and true one and everybody else’s is alien and suspect. That blew my mind because I did a thought experiment and wondered about that I had found this state of forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation in a very Christian country. Even though my family wasn’t in the church, I had early and frequent exposure to it. What if I’d been born in Bangalore and I had been raised a Hindu? What were the odds of me hearing even the slightest aspect of the Christian message? There’s just been a lot less of that and there was a fundamental lack of justice that seemed incompatible with any kind of loving God.

That was the second time that I really re-thought my orientation in life. I really had to give up the religious fundamentalist idea and this idea of the Great Commission that our mission is to share the Christian message with everybody on the globe and bring everybody into Christianity. Then, what does that mean? There were big implications of that. I knew that I had had these powerful religious experiences that were realer than real and that had changed my life because I was a very different than who I would have bet at had I not had those experiences and been exposed to those ideas. I knew it was real. I came to the idea that maybe it’s the Trinity at least, and that the whole Christian doctrine was misguided.

I started to question whether the Bible even existed. It seemed to be a series of books by authors with particular points of view. And then they weren’t consistent and they certainly weren’t through time. All of those things had value. And what had the most value to me with those red words of Jesus. I read them all and they were not incompatible. He had nothing to say about Christianity. It had come um, later. And he had a lot of things to say about loving people and doing good and little about judging people in other countries and having some weird grand plan. There was this Great Commission. But what he actually said is go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit.

So it was this really select thing. He didn’t say “Go and share a message.” I got into this Jesus Institute where instead of taking the red letters of Jesus, they put the red letters of Jesus, of the things that had the most historical veracity. And you looked at the origins of the gospels and Mark was the oldest book and stuff that came later and John came much later. And that’s all the kind of cosmic and weird stuff. And the Great Commission stuff is all in the there. So there’s the, the red, which is like, Jesus probably said it and it matches his core message. There’s the pink, which is, Jesus might’ve said it, but somebody else said it before him. And it’s a common thing to attribute cool things to the coolest person.

It also matched this core message gray was there some historical veracity, but not enough proof to say that he really set it. It might fit the later church. Black goes against his core message. It has an obvious a later source. All of that great commission stuff was in the black. And, but then I thought, well, even if it is, the whole idea of discipleship is about small group accountability and doing a method of change. That is not incompatible with any spiritual system. Most of the religions have a Godhead. And that means something. And the ones that don’t, like Buddhism and Taoism are more about sciences of life. And so I started to think, well, maybe God is not just the Trinity, but maybe God is also an impersonal force that some people call Brahman. And maybe God is Allah and maybe God is the universe if you don’t believe in anything.

Another thing happened kind of at this kind of questioning point in politics is I’m still into comic books. I’m reading a lot of them. I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m buying a lot of used comics and, but I happened to buy a new one cause it caught my eye, was on a trip with my dad and I was at some store and I grabbed this Illuminatus #3 that was based on the book, the Illuminata and I just loved that it was on conspiracy theories and high weirdness and it had some real cosmic things. And so I had dug in and found the Illuminatus trilogy. And then I read everything that Robert Anton Wilson wrote.

And he had this, this book called the cosmic trigger that talked about his kind of spiritual awakening as coming out of a typical Christian regular life and into this experience of psychedelia and the Green Man. One of the things he points out and through his books is that this idea that everything is true, everything is false and everything is meaningless. Spirituality and religion and mythology and politics and medicine and literature, these are all constructs or reality tunnels or ways of viewing the world that created things that we mistake and that the realness, no, we don’t directly experience that. That’s this other thing. And that all constructs are like maps of the universe. And because the universe is so big, you lose information through scale and every religion, every belief system from atheist to Agnostics to Buddhist Christians, to doctors and lawyers and mechanics and sailors, from men and women and Americans and Somalis. People have no tribe and stone age people who don’t know that anybody exists outside of their valley. Those are all constructs. And in some sense they’re true. They reveal things that are useful and are accurate about the nature of the universe, but they’re also things that are lies.

He it also turned me onto Aleister Crowley, who wrote a lot of weird stuff that’s not worth reading, but he also wrote some interesting things, too. And one of his books, he called The Book of Lies. Every way of describing a thing necessarily simplifies and warps that it is inherently untrue. So, you can’t see anything that’s true. So this idea that everything is true and everything is false and everything is meaningless, because if you use it the wrong words or you have this miscommunication, and I’m a people watcher and I started to see it happen when people have two different conversations and being fundamentally confused and I enjoyed it.

I would often be sardonic and weird and say non-sequitors or things that meant something to me. And I hear them and what other people are saying. And I have parallel conversations and choose to interpret thing how I wanted to. And so I was intrigued by all of these ideas, but I also have still this idea of trying to be like Jesus and trying to be a good person. I kept that and I realized that it’s true for me. I ended up reading William James and his argument for religious experience. When I took this philosophy and religion class and they looked at all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God they seem to just kind of circular and phony and based on a-priori assumptions that could be challenged. William James, his argument that I know that God is real because I met him. It doesn’t mean anything to you, but it means something to me.

That’s enough that I can organize my life around, but not that I can go out and get all evangelical about. So that I became that. I was still looking to be a disciple and offer discipleship depending on who I’m at. I got into this idea of high weirdness and being a random force for good.

How did I have money to buy books and do these things? I had never worked, because I was socially awkward. I had a job as a bag boy when I was a little kid. We used to go shopping at Francis Foods and my mom would buy me a comic book for just going to the grocery store with her and I’d get to pick out the cereal. That was a big deal for me.

I would see the bag boys and they were kids who had jobs and had cars and they looked really cool. I remember telling my mom that I wanted to be a bag boy when I grew up. And she said, “Well, you can’t be a bag boy because they only hire Lutherans. And we’re not”. The guy who owned Francis Foods only hires people from their church. All these, good looking Lutheran kids.

I had a chance to be a bag boy at Food Town in Monroe, Michigan. And I found it was not all the glamour that I had thought it was. I was an anxious young man and socially awkward. I had trouble like looking busy. I liked serving customers and packing groceries, but when no one was around, well, as they say, “If you’ve got time to lean, you got time to clean.” Also, nobody ever really taught me what the jobs were. I was too weird and shy to ask “Hey, what should I be doing?” I kind of failed at it and got fired.

I graduated high school in 1986 and Michigan’s economy was really down and there just weren’t a lot of jobs. My sister Brenda had been working in group homes and she got me a job at this place called Independence House. One of the things that Ronald Reagan did that he takes a lot of flack for because it’s contributed to our homeless problem and part of our mass incarceration problem is he did de-institutionalization. That was where they closed the state hospitals suddenly. In Michigan, which was fairly resourced for social services, they did group homes to step down people who had been in mental institutions but could probably live in the community.

Because my grandma had schizophrenia, I had spent a lot of time with her. We were there in the house and I would have to look after her when my mom worked. That’s another reason that I didn’t do a lot of work before Independence House. (I did have an ice cream route where I rode a bike around and sold ice cream for a summer. That’s met my best friend Chad Osborne with whom I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons over the years and have had a lot of adventures.)

I got this job at Independence House and there were six people with severe mental illness there. There was Mary Allen who thought she was Mary, the mother of God. There was this younger guy, Andy, who just seemed awkward and weird. There was a blind guy who had hallucinations. This was before the typical anti-psychotics had really come online. And so there were just a lot more people who were a lot more symptomatic.

I had amazing life experiences working with people who had mental illnesses. And I got really intrigued with it and I learned everything I could and I would read about their diagnoses and I would look up all of the medicines that they were on, on the physician’s desk reference that we had in the office. I would pore over their charts looking at what their behavior goals were. And even though I was just a line staff – part-time – I really brought this initiative to learn what their deal was and try to understand them.

In the second semester in Monroe County Community College, I had a Personality and Adjustment class with Dr. Miller where I learned this thing called active listening and active and reflective listening as a specific thing. If you don’t know it, do a quick Google search and you’ll see five or six bullet points. If you just do that consistently, that was all that Dr. Miller explained, look people in the eye, reflect back their content and their feelings and listen with total attention.

The only tool that I had when I would work with these people who would come and be an active hallucination or were suicidal or would these, and I’m a 19 year old, socially awkward, weird kid with one tool in my toolbox, active listening, which turns out to be like, if you’re only gonna know one thing, that’s the thing. And so I got better at it. And the thing that you do when you when you active listen, it grows your empathy and when you read stories it grows your empathy.

I had this process where I didn’t have any people and where everyone was an alien to me and I lived in my own world and every kid has that narcissist dilemma where you think you are the universe. I also had that challenge very early on with the death of my brother and, and being kind of obsessive about about spiritual things. Then adding this growing empathy and starting to understand. I got jobs at other group homes. There was one called McComb House where people who had both developmental disabilities and mental illness. That was a more challenging population because they weren’t as verbal. Then, I got this job at Lewis House, which was just for people who had developmental disabilities, a lot of people with Downs Syndrome and folks in kind of that, that 50 to 70 IQ range, maybe as low as 35.

They were interesting. I’m country truck driver’s son, and, and he read the newspaper and had a lot of written vocabulary, but I’d used a lot of big words and tried to, to cover up that, that shame about just being pouring out of place with being overcompensating, with being smart. That didn’t fly with people with a IQ 50, you know, they’re in that simple like two or 300 words, but you can convey all kinds of things. And so very quickly I learned a stripped down my language and, and get down to that core. I add a communications class and I learned it’s not just what you want to communicate, it’s what the person is able to receive. And I had these great folks to practice that skill with and I got really good at even the, the nonverbal guy Mark, I could understand. He called me Bob. He called everybody Bob. I learned how to choose my words carefully and that was really helpful.

I remember being a kid and we’d get down in the deep South and I would be baffled by accents or the Northeast and a waitress would come up and say stuff and it was like she was speaking Chinese. I couldn’t even pick out one word to know how to answer. My dad would tell me what she’d said. I got better at picking up accents and I got this great kind of skillset where I learned to simplify my language and choose my words based upon who I was talking to. Philosophically, I’d learned that I’m not a singular thing, but I’m this emergent organization of smaller sub-constructs based in my culture. So are you. If I want to talk to you, then I can choose our shared common language and cultural themes and motifs. Then, I might try to interject one new thing if to make it interesting.

I learned about the Quaker belief that we all have a light of the truth and our job in the universe is to share our light and pick up other people’s pieces of light. We both shine brighter. I had these powerful relationships with very simple people in whom saw a joy in a Christ’s likeness that I didn’t see in regular people who seemed obsessed about jobs and family and going place-to-place and buying crap and taking out the trash and being mad at each other and not communicating very well. I also didn’t see them as alien, but I saw that we shared this common humanity, but that they didn’t understand some piece of the truth or they had a malicious construct is what I started to think of as demons, these bad ideas that self-replicate and worm into our minds and lead us into doing things like destroying the planet and not having any friends and being a jerk.

I started to embrace all of the stuff. And I also learned the scientific method. It was funny, in my first semester of my freshman year, I had it in an anatomy and physiology (it was so damn hard), but I also had sociology and psychology. We learned the scientific method, too. I had already known it but it just drilled it in and got me thinking. I learned the idea of being a personal scientist. And I started to apply it and I started to do that at work. I started to implement my own behavior goals and I started to try to do more stuff because I was with the clients all day and I could sit around and watch TV or, or yak at my coworker. I did some of that.

Other times I engaged with the clients and did stuff and understood them. I brought this guy Eddie who had cerebral palsy and was hard to understand, home for Thanksgiving. And he got to know my family. And became part of the family. I didn’t have a car, you know, I rode my bike everywhere and got into biking.

I had always biked because we were country kids. We lived on a busy road and my brother Bob had gotten hit once so that informed my mom’s view of whether we could ride and where. We lived on Highway 151, a state highway, and then Lewis Avenue, which is a former state highway, but another busy country road with no shoulders.

When we lived in town, I could bike around more. I took a bicycle to class and started to ride a lot and bought a new bike. Since I got that job at Independence House, I started to get paychecks. I had never had money. I was used to not living with anything. I’d also learned about environmentalism and how that related to consumerism. I just didn’t want to buy stuff, didn’t want to have a car, rode my bike. I also rode the bus and on the bus were people with developmental disabilities and many of them I knew.  I subbed and worked multiple jobs and I kind of knew everybody in that community and we’d be riding around on the bus and I’d be riding my bike and I had my handful of friends and we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons and doing theater and it was a really good life.

At Monroe County Community College, I picked Psychology as my first major, changed to Theater in the second semester when I fell in love with the theater. Then, I changed it back to Psychology because I’m working in group homes. I’m thinking about a career and then I fall in love with Sociology. I still ended up getting my Associates in Psychology. I was maybe 19 or 20 when I started at Lewis House and there was just really cute 25 year old Kelly Perkins and she was a vegetarian too. Oh my God! I just fell in love with her, thought she was wonderful. She thought I was a funny and a dork and teased me a lot.

We ended up getting an apartment together and I decided to go to the University of Toledo because that’s where she went. We got an apartment in Rossford, Ohio. I ended up getting a car cause um, when I had a full time job in Temperance it was like 15 miles away on country roads and I would ride that. But I knew that I’d need a car to be able to do it. That summer when I wrote bicycles, I lost 40 pounds. I was like 280 pounds when I graduated high school. I always had kind an eating problem. You know, my dad and my brother and I, we eat a lot of restaurant food and traveling and I think they both have celiac disease cause we’d all eat the same. And I was the only one who was fat and they were both skinny as a rail. I hadn’t talked about this in my story, but that was part of my shame of just being. It feeds on itself because you don’t feel good about yourself so you eat more.

I lost this 40 pounds on like a 6,000 calorie a day diet cause I rode my bike like 150 miles a week and just rode all over. I got a car and I didn’t bike as much, but I had a beater: my 1976 Ford Torino. And I bought for like $350 and it would break down and then I would like have to save up a couple paychecks to get it fixed. And so I’d ride my bike either from Monroe and I lived in Monroe or Rossford, which would be a 15 or a 20 mile ride. I managed to graduate at the University of Toledo and get a bachelor’s in sociology because I didn’t like the experimental psychology professor who I thought was a jerk to me once.

And I also had some anxiety about using computers. Of course, I walked in this class where they were teaching computers. I just walked out and went down and dropped it. I had some anxiety about just machines in general. I graduated and I got a job at a psychiatric unit. I wanted to make more money than I did at the group homes. I had one class that was really helpful. Through the education department I learned about behavioralism. Our psychology department didn’t like behavioralists and that was really helpful for people with developmental disabilities. That’s when I really started to write my own programmatic goals and implement my own behavior modification programs.

I taught a guy not to stand too close while you talk, just through redirection and praise him when he was at the right limit. It was significant for him because he had been really annoying. He had bad breath and people hated him because he would stand right on you and talk at you obsessively. Learning to stop 18 inches away obsessively talk at people. It changed his life and it was something that I didn’t even talk to anybody about. I just worked with them every day and I had had a class on it and I thought I wrote it as a sample goal for a project and then I implemented and it worked. It was neat because it was informed by my deep knowledge of who he was. That was from just spending time with him in a nonjudgmental way and liking him. You know, I’m part of the Christian thing is to love everybody.

When that’s practical comes down to who you spend time with. It’s really kind of a magical thing. You have this opportunity to engage with people at a very high level and who are very different from you and you learn from them. I gained this childlike simplicity. Relative to the born again experience, one interpretation of that is being childlike and being new, which is kind of like that Zen idea of having a new mind where you look at everything with that child, like wonder. I got turned onto that idea as an immature 13 year old. I had all kinds of childish and childlike behaviors that I never got rid of that I knew were valuable. I played and still play. I recognize that the universe is either school or vacation, but perhaps it’s work and we are building the perfect world here on earth. It’s to be enjoyed. If we didn’t have the capacity for enjoyment, then that would be a cruel God that would give us that capacity. It feels good to feel good. And the best way to feel good is to try to help things and make things better.

At work, I would get frustrated with people who would be saying crazy stuff. And then I kinda taught myself like, well, this person has a mental illness and that’s how they express yourself and you can’t think badly or judge them about that. I started to apply this kind of grace for the most egregious and wildly antisocial and annoying behaviors and not having anything to do with me or feeling about that. Then, somebody cut me off in traffic and I thought, Oh, what if they have a mental illness? And I started to think, what if I gave that grace to everybody?

Later, I would learn that Plato invented that: be kind to everyone you meet because they’re going through a hard struggle. That was another kind of level of working on myself. This kind of leveled up on a wave of just not being frustrated or mad with people no matter what they did. So I got a job at PineView, this psychiatric unit with an adolescent unit and it was in a small town, so it was the only hospital in town. We got a smorgasbord and it was this weird mashup, you know, it was like a 28 bed facility. It would be like a bunch of suicidally depressed people and then a bunch of people who were having psychiatric psychotic breakdowns. What a painful mix. We’d have adolescents who were going through some of those same things or just adjustment issues or sometimes just having weirdly abusive parents who had found this unique way to torture their children for whatever reason. It still baffles me.

I was plopped in there with more skills, but also had the mix it up because you’d have to do take downs cause there would be people who would be, you know, stealing lightbulbs or trying to kill other people. We had a thing called ‘Paging Dr. Block” and it was like all the big guys in the hospital, it convene on that point in the hospital and take somebody down.

Sometimes we’d go to other floors and, and get like senile old people who are swinging and we’d put them in the four point leather restraints and the quiet room. Mostly that’s when I learned like the head off problems. Engage with people. In the group homes, I was the best one, you know, right from the beginning because I worked by myself and so I didn’t have a model of what other people did and nobody else did what I did, which is like get to know everybody deeply and read all this stuff and learn all the deep background and then try to be as helpful as you possibly could because they’re paying you. My dad taught me to work hard and when there was at the group home when nobody was around then I felt like I should research and learn and be better at my job.

Other people didn’t do that. But at the psych hospital there’s psychiatrists and nurses and people with a lot of experience and I don’t have that many skills. I learned how to take people down and the group home training. I’m a big guy. I learned how to listen a little bit and then we would get one on ones where we’d have to engage a client for at least 10 minutes and write up their progress note. Every client had one. And so I would do that and I wouldn’t be that good. But I started to watch and sometimes I would get rapport with a client because there were some people who were looking for something and could look past my lack of clinical skill or proper socialization. And they’d talk to me and I would ask them who was the most helpful person.

And I would watch and it was Norm the janitor. Norm was a terrible janitor. I was a mental health assistant and the mental health assistant was hired to break the union. There used to be these things called male attendants, which were basically the brute squad of the psychiatric unit and the nurse’s helper. You didn’t have to have a college degree and you put people in restraints and do checks and whatever else the nurses needed you to do. They created this other professional position that wasn’t in the union that made less money and required a college degree. It was a lot of people that went through college and football college scholarships because it still had this idea of the male attendant thing. So, Norm had been a male attendant and would occasionally switch roles, but he had moved into housekeeping because it was easier and he was the onsite janitor. He just would be, I could still picture him today having a broom leaning on the broom, listening with his total attention when he was supposed to be sweeping up people’s rooms and stuff.

Clients noticed it.

When I asked him who helped you the most? Uh, he got the most answers flying away than any clinician. Oh, it was Norm. So I started to try to be like norm and to make myself available and to listen. And I wasn’t very good at it because I wanted to talk and I thought I had something to say and I didn’t know the dangers of advice. I got better, but I wasn’t great. I was better than most. I was thinking about what I could do? I had a nice job that had a pension plan and I’d been good to stay there for five years, but I knew I was growing in my career.

The other thing I noticed was that the psychiatric unit was, I was very comfortable and knowledgeable about mental illness and I’d seen a lot of that. But at the psych unit, almost everybody had a problem with drugs and alcohol. And I didn’t know much about that at all because I had worked with people coming out of state institutions and people with developmental disabilities or both. Neither of those populations at that point in history had a chance to abuse drugs and alcohol. Some of them smoked because most of them smoke because they would addict the patients to cigarettes so they could threaten to take them away as a means of control. And so a lot of unlikely people smoke cigarettes back in the 80s and before.

I started to learn about drugs and alcohol. I read a bunch of journal articles and started to learn about abuse and addiction. Mostly I didn’t know much about the effects of the drugs and, uh, I mean I’d seen the effects of alcohol and I had been wary of it. I didn’t really start drinking until I was 19. And then I was very cautious because you know, my dad was a drunk and my brother John started partying at 11 and smoked a lot of weed and got into harder drugs and drank a lot. And had problems with the law and had been in and out of jail after he got out of high school. He’s three years older than me. Setting that tone that he was definitely like a burnout and I was like a geek kid who wasn’t a Bogarts. (There were jocks and burnouts and Bogarts. Everybody who wasn’t a jock or a burnout had to be a Bogart.)

When I read about drugs and alcohol, one of the things that really struck me was marijuana, which looked really innocuous and possibly mind expanding. I’ve been reading Robert Anton Wilson and was intrigued, by what he talked a lot about: psychedelics and cannabis and mind expansion. I didn’t even read Timothy Leary. That was all in the back of my head. When John got out of prison we started hanging out. We went to the Who concert with one of his friends, John Thompson. And we climbed out on this deck that stood over the entrance. We just watched the concert and danced around and they broke out a joint and I decided I was going to try it. It was amazing. I had this great concert experience. The Who were really great in 1991. I had this powerful, just great experience. So I started to use marijuana and then later LSD and read a lot of Timothy Leary and other ideas of kind of States of Consciousness and that’s relationship to spirituality and religious experience.

I mentioned that we would have to put people in the quiet room or in four-point restraints when I worked at Pine View. We had this adolescent patient who was sad and she said that her dad had abused her, but she lived with him and he was her parent. And he was the one who signed her in and she had to see him even though if she didn’t want to see him during regular visitations. One day, she threw a big fit enough to be dangerous. There was this charge nurse at the time, a real strict Nurse Ratched type. She had been in the military and dropped out to care for her aging mom. She later become our charge nurse and ran the psych unit like it was the military barracks. She said that the patient had to go in the quiet room and I’m like, “okay,” so I went to get her and then I negotiated that she would calm down and quit breaking stuff and not be dangerous and I wouldn’t have take her to the quiet room.

I went back and told the nurse, she said, “Wait, I told you to take her to the quiet room. She has to go to the quiet room. I told her no. She threatened to have me fired for insubordination. And then I went and dragged that poor girl to the quiet room and locked her in there. It was the wrongest thing that I’d ever done. It really bothered me and really soured me to the work.

At the same time this was going on, I had gotten kind of politically active. There was the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the military response for that from the Bush Administration. John was out of prison and we were hanging out. When he was in prison, he had gone through this parallel process of radicalization that I did. He voted for Reagan the first time that he could vote in a presidential election. When he was in prison, I was writing him letters and I had gotten radicalized and he got radicalized. He had this class analysis as kind of a hardcore Marxist. Neither of us believed in war. When the first Gulf War happened, I was working at the psychiatric unit. There was still more World War II veterans around then and a lot of them were triggered by the buildup to the war and were having traumatic experiences.

We had this flood of veterans come in and it was a weird, intense time. We were watching the bombing happen in the TV room. (I did this current events group to help people stay current with reality while they were isolated in the psych unit. It was just kind of normative conversation teaching, which I didn’t really understand the value of then. It was a good group.) Normally, we’d turn the TV off after group because we didn’t want people to watch TV. We wanted them to engage in a therapeutic process, but we just left it on and watched the bombs fall on TV and it just broke my heart. I got home and John had this sheet upon which he had written ‘Wage peace’ with spray paint. We went down and climbed up this power tower by our house and hung this banner that said ‘Wage peace’. Then, we went home and called the paper and told him that we saw this banner. We didn’t know how long it would be there. It was on the front page of the paper the next day.

With that, we became a two-person movement against the war. We had these red stickers printed up that said ‘End the War in the Gulf’ just like we had seen in Ann Arbor. Stop whatever, stop eating meat or whatever. So we started putting them up on stop signs. “Stop the war in the gulf”. Handing them out and distributing some and hanging banners. I came home from work one night and John says “If we leave right now” – this is being raised by a truck driver – “we could be at that protest tomorrow morning.

I decided I’d call in sick the next day and we just took off driving and drove all through the night. There were a million people there! It wasn’t just John and I who are against the war, but there were a million people. We all marched and Jesse Jackson spoke about how if there’s an eye for an eye, then it leaves you blind and broken. It was a powerful thing to be a part of this movement.

I had read about social movements, but I’ve really thought they were a historical phenomenon and this protest movement seemed like something that was happening now. The Gulf War was pretty short in its initial phase. I had this social movements class as an undergraduate with this great guy, Randy Stoker. He was a participant observer in this neighborhood uprising in Minneapolis. It sounded like some NIMBY stuff looking back on it, but some neighborhoods where the hippy neighborhood got activated and got their personal act as city council and fought this project and then they redistricted so they split the neighborhood up into four different districts and they took over all four of those districts and reshaped the politics of Minneapolis.

He was a talented storyteller and social movement theory and telling the stories and learn about the civil rights movement deeply. And I was into that stuff. I took the class again as a grad student and there was this guy, Michael Leonadri who was an activist.  About the same time, a fellow student named Rick Vanlandingham put together an environmental group. We had an undergrad social movements class together and I thought he was just kind of arrogant, but he was organizing stuff. He was organizing to save the Manhattan Marsh where they were doing this road extension. He’d identified what they had said was a borrow pit, but he had experts who confirmed that it was an original wetland and had protections. He was battling the city.

We fought where they took our wooded wetland. I was on campus and put in some Greek housing and I went to one protest where Rick was kind of dismissive of me. He was just kind of like’ “Here. Hold this sign and stand right there.” I never really wanted to be involved in his group, but Mike Leonardi was also in the group and Mike L. talked about a chapter of this larger group called SEAC, the Student Environmental Action Coalition. They were part of a coalition that was having this protest at this thing called WTI, this toxic waste incinerator that had planned for this little town in Appalachian part of Ohio.

Rick announced there was going to be a protest down there, but it’s like five hours away. He was surprised as shit when John and I were there that weekend! After the Gulf War, we were looking for something to attach to. It was a great project but we lost. They ended up building the toxic waste incinerator. Al Gore had come to a protest he was running with Bill Clinton for a second term, and Gore said “Bill Clinton and I will see to it that the WTI will never happen if we’re elected.” When they got elected, what Bill Clinton did is he said, “We’ll study the effects. We’ll take lead samples from the elementary school 1,200 feet from this toxic waste incinerator and if we see elevated lead levels and we’ll do something.

We lost that campaign but Martin Sheen came and there was direct action and that was the first time that I was arrested. Mike Leonardi and some other of my friends from SEAC were there, too and planned to get arrested. I hadn’t planned to get arrested because I had a graduate student meeting that was a the next day. As they load up the police in the car. They had sat in front of the gates and they were maybe 30 or 40 of them that were going to get arrested and they put them in a car and drove them off. And then one of the local said, “Hey, this is too easy. Let’s block the police cars taking the people out.”

There are hundreds of people milling around. A group of us block the police car and then that changed the immediate vibe of this thing that we had seen several times in this largely symbolic thing. Suddenly, the police kind of pulled out their Billy clubs and came up in a line in the front of the car. “If you don’t move, we will use force.” And then all of a sudden everybody started Lincoln arms and I’m standing in the front row and uh, and they push, they drive a car through it breaks the line and the car gets through. And then I say, “They can’t arrest us all. here’s only like five or six cops, you know, I said, if we stick together, we can shut this down.”

They pushed another car through and we [inaudible] the line, yield it as they just kind of drove the car slowly through the group. And then the cops came in and scooped out a few ringleaders cause I had made a little speech, I was ended up getting grabbed and thought they were gonna threaten to charge me with a felony for obstructing a police officer in the line of duty. I ended up just getting charged with a trespassing or disorderly conduct. I can’t remember. I think trespassing for that one. I felt lucky. I ended up doing a day in jail. There were so many of us, they could only jail seven people, you know. So there were like 50 of us that got arrested. So they had to schedule us over a series of time. A carload of us carpooled down to do our day in jail. And it was like the jail in Mayberry, this big cage. There was one real prisoner and then the rest of us protesters. We didn’t hunger strike on that one. I think even got me grilled cheese because I was a vegetarian. They took orders and brought in diner food for us. It was fun.

SEAC was a big thing. I went to this regional conference in Lexington, Kentucky. There was a weird group in Toledo. Very radical kind of environmental kids and, and, and older people in Toledo including this guy, Spider, who went around and picked up junk, a kind of odd leftover hippie who was part of the group. And this guy, Fawad, who was an anarchist, illegal immigrant from Pakistan who had come on a student visa and gotten into an anarchy and become a punk rocker and dropped out of school and lived underground. It was people like that, which was a neat diverse group.

I went to this regional conference in Lexington and there were all these workshops and I had like graduate level stuff on social movements. I participated in some groups and I suddenly the first time I tried it, I was really good at it. For the first time ever, I was like one of the cool kids because I knew all this social movement history and we were doing stuff and I’d been arrested at protests. I started giving them workshops and being pursued by attractive hippy women. I never imagined that considering my high school self. I lost my virginity at 23 in an awkward and non-communicative way.

I had been waiting until I’d fallen in love. I’d given up the idea of like, we ought to get married before you have sex. That was just a construct and there’s some value to it, but there are other constructs too. I immediately felt met the woman who I thought was love of my life. If I would’ve only waited if he went months, I could have had an awkward and weird experience with her instead.

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