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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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter I: Origin Story

April 14, 2020 1 comment

I don’t know where to start this story, but I thought it would be good to kind of start with my parents and their stories.

 

 

My mom had an interesting life. Her father was a hammer man and worked at a plant in Toledo, Ohio. He married a very religious woman. She was hit by a car. She lost a child to appendicitis. She eventually developed schizophrenia. This was in the 1930s before there were psychiatric medications or any realistic treatment besides state hospitalization. In my family, we take care of our own. Her doctor at the time thought that a pregnancy might snap her out of it. That’s how my mom came to be born. The doctor’s theory did not work.

Mike Trapp in the sun2

 

She had this disconnect with reality and lived in her own kind of delusional world. “I’m afraid of the devil” was one of her catch phrases. She had a lot of kind of religious delusions and a real disconnect. For instance, she never learned my mom’s name. And so my mom was really raised by her older sister, Eleanora, who was 14 years older, and her abusive, much older husband. I think Auntie was 14 when she got married to a 35 year old junk picker, that we called uncle. My mom’s dad died in a car accident when my mom was 10, so she was virtually an orphan and had a hard life.  Uncle was abusive. I knew him as a kid. He would punch me in the stomach and say “Suck it in” when I was a little chubby kid.

My mom lived with her sister, Eleanora and my uncle Lot, which was not a good situation. She moved out of the house at 16, with her own abusive man, a guy named Bob Kelly. They had a child together – my brother Bob – and then three years later they had a daughter, my sister Betty. By then my mom really had had enough. She never really talked about what went down, but did acknowledge that her first husband had been abusive. This was in the early 1960s when it was a hard time to be a single mom with a couple of kids. There was minimal welfare support. She worked as a waitress. Right after she left her husband, she found out she was pregnant. This was before Roe versus Wade.

With little to no access to abortion.  She tried to a technique of taking some the counter pills that were supposed to cause an abortion: That didn’t work. My sister Brenda was born. Then, she had three kids living on her own when she met my dad.

To talk about the kind of man my dad was we really have to talk about his parents. They lived on a farm. His father got his arm cut off when my dad was five. With the settlement money he got from his railroad employer, he bought another farm that they then operated. They called my dad ‘Paws’. He was a ‘little shit’, as my dad would have said.

As a young man my Dad did the fetch and carry and ran around and helped with all the things that it takes two arms to do. My dad was real close to his dad who was a big drinker. My grandma got religion in her thirties, which caused a lot of friction. She went to LaSalle Gospel Tabernacle Church. They were a strict fundamentalist sect. She was very devoted to that and her devotion kind of pushed everybody in the family away from religion. My dad was the sixth of six kids. He was full of religious himself having regularly attended church with my grandma. By about 18, he left the church because he wanted to smoke cigarettes and drink beer. And chase pretty girls.

He did that. He worked hard. He had been a farmer, but later – along with my aunt and uncle – operated a meat packing place where he became an animal slaughterer and then a meat-cutter. Mostly, however, he drank. He got a drunk driving ticket when he was 23 years old. He had had been in some other trouble and so had a choice between a long jail sentence or – the other offer – join the army. The police thought that might straighten him out. So he joined the US Army and had a brief military career. During his few years in the Army he found the regimentation not to his liking, but did develop a lifelong love affair with trucks. He was a diesel mechanic and really enjoyed working on and driving trucks.

When he got out of the Army, he bought a 1963 Ford Falcon convertible and a got his job back as a meat cutter. The union had come in and he wasn’t making that dollar an hour anymore. He was actually making good money. At this point he met my in a bar. She pursued him heavily. I think either through a pregnancy scare or through outright manipulation, he ended up marrying her suddenly. This went against his family’s wishes. His family thought my mom a whore. I think that was just kind of the early sixties and that’s how some folks viewed a single mom. They’d always called Bob Kelly her first husband, but I learned much later that they’d never actually been married.

And so, my Mom and Dad became an instant family. They lived in a clapboard shack. My dad was definitely into having more kids. He was the decision maker in those kinds of things. My brother John was born, really the only planned birth in the whole family. Three years later I was born.

I remember when I was a little kid asking my dad if I was a planned baby or if I was an accident. And he said I was a que sera sera baby. Two years after that they had my brother Dennis and so that was the six kids. We were a family even though three of my brothers and sisters were only my half brothers and sisters.

Being born into the family, I never really felt any different. My dad treated us the same and made it a point that we were one family regardless of who our dad was. (Bob Kelly was never big in the picture.) I only remember him seeing my brothers and sisters a couple of times and there was some awkwardness. He certainly never paid any child support. There was also some bitterness in regards to that whole situation.

My dad was a meat cutter and he had a good union job and made a good wage, but he was a heavy drinker and he was a gambler. Sometimes he would come home without his paycheck cause he had lost it in a pool game. Certainly, drinking was problematic. John and I and my brother shared a bed in the hallway at our little house. When I was little, we would all sleep with the parents. “All my three sons”, my dad would say to the three of us little ones that, that were his own.

We were kind of off by herself in the country there. We had a backyard with a swimming pool. When I was three and Dennis was 18 months old, someone noticed that Dennis wasn’t around. My sister Brenda found him in the swimming pool. My dad jumped over the side of the pool and pulled him out. They tried CPR. Dennis’ death became a real seminal event for me. I was too small to really know what was going on.  I don’t know even if I really remember him. I have memories of that pool.

After Dennis died, my older brothers and sisters went to my Grandma Trapp. They took us to the zoo. After they lost Dennis, my Dad realized that they had no picture of all of us together, so they lined us all up in front of the car. We’re all snot-faced and crying and in front of the new car. That picture is about the saddest thing that you’ll ever see.

So my dad didn’t react well, nor nor did my mom. It led to – for my Mom, a lifelong issue with depression. It kind of broke her spirit in a lot of ways. My dad went on a six-month drunk. He lost his job and couldn’t put it together. He didn’t want to be at home seeing as he had so much hurt, rage and no skills at all to be able to talk about stuff. That wasn’t how things were done in the 1960s.

We had to do something. And so Dad became a truck driver with Beacon Van Lines. He kind of used that as an opportunity to follow his dream. It was something that he had always been interested in doing. And he drove a straight truck out of Indianapolis, Indiana. When we would drive by Circle City (as he called it) he would point out the parking lot where he learned to drive a truck. He took one trip by himself and had this phenomenal kind of loneliness. He scooped me up in the truck and took me on the road. That was a huge deal for me, because he had unwittingly created this incredibly enriching environment for me. I was three years old and getting to spend 24/7 with my dad, just he and I.

He would drive a lot at night and then we would load furniture in the day. He worked hard and he played hard. A lot of times he would stay up all night driving and I would sit on what we call the ‘dog house’. Our truck was what’s called a cab-over, which means the engine kind of sat right in the cab of the truck. There was this kind of plastic engine cover that sat between the two seats. And I would sit Indian style, as we called it then. We would talk all night and I would ask him questions and he would explain to me how the world was. He listened to my stories and my thoughts. I remember going to New York City for the first time. He talked about skyscrapers. I could only imagine those window scrapers that scrape ice, so I thought they were like things that. When I got to see New York City it was different than I had imagined, but every bit as amazing.

So, I got to see the country and be around all kinds of different people. I had been to 45 States before kindergarten. We would come home for about four days every six weeks. Looking back on it, I know that must’ve been hard on my Mom, because she lost her baby and then her next baby was gone. Sometimes mom would come on trips with us and the other brothers and sisters would go stay with my Grandma who was really severe and religious. That led to some resentment. I was resentful when I had to start kindergarten because that kind of wrapped up my living the adventurous life of the road. As it turned out, I didn’t have a lot of social skills considering I had not been around a lot of other kids. It was an anxiety provoking and kind of terrifying experience going into school.

The thing that really hit me – and this was informed by losing Dennis at three years old – is learning that you’re going to die. That came way earlier in my development history than it had any right to. On our truck trips, my Dad and I talked about Dennis a lot. My dad would share his thoughts and feelings and I would listen. We had a lot of conversations. As long as I’ve remembered, I knew that I was going to die and I think that is one of the things that made me different. It made me interested in spiritual things very early. When I asked where Dennis was, they would say that Dennis was with Jesus or Dennis is in heaven now.

All this made me think about the afterlife. Where do we go? I came to believe that Dennis was always present in his absence. And it was something that we talked about a lot when we were on the road and it was just Dad and I. That knowledge made me sometimes want to be with Jesus. And what did that mean? Dennis became this kind of magical figure that I had shadow memories of at best. Dennis was someone who was kind of always present. He was beautiful. He was special enough to be with Jesus right now. That had a big impact on me.

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp Chapter 0: Snapshot

It was a real act of providence that my friend Trevor Harris was opening a recording business called Recollection Agency. I booked him quickly to be customer #1. Stymied on which of my many tales to tell my brother asked a salient question about what my thesis was. I think I said that we could take the broken pieces cast aside by society and use those pieces as tools to build the New Better World. John suggested I model it after Augustine’s Confessions which I had read as a young man. Here is my spiritual journey. The first chapter called Chapter 0 is a nice snapshot of pre-COVID world Mike. Glad I documented who I was before I reinvented myself (again).

 

I’m Michael Trapp and I am the Second Ward City Council representative for the City of Columbia. I am the principal of 4-A-Change, which is a social services and consulting firm here in Columbia. Missouri.

Mike standing 03312020

 

I decided to do this project because I have been asked about doing memoirs or writing a

biography and autobiography because I’m been blessed with an interesting life and been thoughtful in my approach. I’ve decided early on that I had an interest in becoming a writer and I thought about what would be the two paths to learning to be a great writer. And one I was becoming a wordsmith and crafting language and that seemed like a lot of hard work. I thought the other writers I liked had interesting things to say, had interesting stories to tell and had an interesting perspective on life.

I thought if you could live an interesting life and become an adequate writer that that could be another way. I consciously decided at a pretty young age that I was going to choose the more interesting story. I started to think about my life as a novel. As I did that more I came to realize that I didn’t need to write a book, but I do have this desire to share my story. I thought a good place to start would be at the end because every story is kind of a snapshot in time. Where I’m at today is kind of interesting and might inform kind of how I got to where I’m at today.

I live in what I call the Leslie Lane Family Living Center. It’s a home that I own and that I purchased as a place to have for myself and my father when I saw that he was going to retire. He was a truck driver. And after my mom died, he just lived in his truck. I just didn’t think that he would be able to make it on his own. He was a proud guy.

I moved to Columbia for no good reason in 2006. I bought a house and Dad came to Columbia. I asked him to come and help me because I’m not very handy. We lived together in my new three-bedroom house.

One of the things I’m passionate about is sustainability. And so we use resources by household size and not by individuals. Since I had this three-bedroom house I looked for a roommate situation. I brought in my friend Harry Train who I had recruited from Toledo, Ohio, where he was a janitor in a church. At the time I was a substance abuse counselor at a treatment agency. I thought that Harry as a person in recovery had some unique beliefs.

As we lived together, we lived family-style. When I think of a family living center, I think of filling up the house with as many people as is comfortable. And I had three bedroom house: three, four people. If you have a couple, there’s a nice, you know, way to efficiently use resources, live and cook dinner together. And so family dinner is a big part of what we do. And then we try to live sustainably.

We recycle and we compost and we garden. I’ve got solar panels on the house. I’ve tricked it all out with energy efficiency. It allows us to have a real low cost of living and a low, low energy impact per person. And to have this family-style impact.

Currently I live with my brother. My father had passed away and his partner Flo, who was someone that I knew from the community who needed a room and had moved in and lived with me like I was family. And then when my brother moved in they got into a romantic relationship, which is funny cause they’re both hermits. Of course, they would only be able to be a romantic partner in their own home. And that’s the beauty of the family living center. It cultivates relationships. And is that core sense of community, you know?

I have a Master’s degree in Sociology and one of the big things I got out of that was kind of where does self-identity come from? What is in it?

In Sociology, we talk about status and master status. Status is that kind of role that you define yourself in and master status is that big singular thing that people define themselves. For men, it’s frequently defined by their work and for women it’s frequently defined by their relationships. I’m a mom, I’m a mechanic.

For me, I decided when I learned about master status in my twenties that I want to be a good person. I don’t want to be defined by my work.  I’ve tried to learn from the best of women’s way of communicating and being and men’s way of communicating. And being, and to be a whole person who is in touch with my feelings, but also I’m driven to accomplish things in the world and very direct as well. That drives me to live sustainably, to try to help people. I’ve been blessed to be able to do that in a real powerful way.

Seven years ago I decided to run for the Columbia City Council because nobody was running 10 days before the filing deadline. I had only lived in Columbia for about six years. And as you hear the story, I’ve had an interesting path for even local politics.

I threw my hat in the ring and as unlikely as it was, I got elected and I have been proud to serve the community. That’s been a transformative experience. It’s been a great learning experience. Being on City Council made me an even better ecologist because I know where my trash goes. I know where my water comes from. I know where my waste goes. It helps me understand how the whole loop and how I’m involved and how I impact the world around me. It also allows me to help make change and to see that our community is more sustainable and more equitable and has more opportunity for the people who need it the most.

I’ve spent a career in social services working with a bunch of different populations. There’s been this desire to want to help people in a real direct way. So I’ve done about 30 years experience of that. The last 10 I was a I was recruited at Phoenix Programs where I was a case manager, substance abuse counselor, manager, clinical trainer, and, ultimately, executive director. I found a career type job and City Council to be maddening and it was really more than I could handle.

I gave up the career and realized that I could really only work part-time and do justice to my self-care regimen, which really suffered when I ran for City Council. I really kind of moved it into the red line of life and was going real hard and fast and 16 hour days, seven days a week for years or are nearly that. A day off was four hours of emails and reading and that was the best I ever got and I didn’t get a lot of those.

Right after I left Phoenix Programs someone from Welcome Home, a homeless veteran’s shelter, asked if I would be interested in doing some consulting. I had mentored their executive director when she was new and we were both executive directors in the community. I started a social entrepreneurship business with my brother John. John is really amazing. He can do all kinds of stuff. He helped with the back-end of the business and helping me get organized and did the paperwork. I still do consulting for Welcome Home. I help with their training and their continuous quality improvement projects and provide expert advice. It’s kind of nice to be heavily involved in a non-profit but not responsible for it.

One of the programs I created when I was at Phoenix Programs was a downtown outreach program for people who are homeless or panhandling downtown. After I left Phoenix they struggled to perform with that contract because it was kind of outside of their core mission of moving people into long-term recovery. So John and I put in for that contract and we received the bid and for the last two years we’ve been operating a homeless outreach program. We’ve gotten 10 people housed and three people into longterm recovery and two people into employment reunited a handful of people with their families and in other communities and have done a lot of things about just kind of basic support and been kind of ombudspeople between the business community and people who are struggling for their lives publicly in the streets of downtown. I also do individual consultations and coaching sessions on drinking reduction. We helped somebody move.

We focused our business on what we call change transition processes. The name of the company 4-A-Change comes from what I consider the four A’s of the change process, which are awareness, assessment, action and accountability.

I’m everyday bicycle commuter and was car sharing with John, my brother, but that didn’t really work out for him. Since last summer I’ve just been riding my bike everywhere and it’s been really a put me more in touch with the outdoors and got me in better shape and I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m going to continue to try to push that.

I consider myself a spiritual person and have an active spiritual life. That’s kind of the thesis and the things that I’m going to talk about. When I looked at how much time I wanted to devote to this project and how much story I have to tell I realized I wasn’t going to get to tell my whole story. It takes me about two and a half days to tell my story the last time I told it in full. It might be longer now, because I’ve had a lot more interesting experiences since then.

The thesis is I want to talk about is my development as a spiritual person. It animates what I do and though I often, I rarely talk about it directly except in kind of intimate experiences. It’s really kind of the dominant force in my life and has really shaped who I became and who I am now and hopefully who I’m going to grow into in the future.

I try to be a personal scientist. I try to be aware and learn and apply and take knowledge and be on a self-improvement process and learn more about the cosmos and the human condition and what’s my place on it and how can I be most effective in building the world that I would like to live in.

That’s kind of who I am. The rest of this project is going to be kind of how I got to be here. Here is the next chapter. I’m still working on editing and correcting the chapter numbers to match my idiosyncratic approach to numbers.

https://multiconstruct.wordpress.com/2020/04/14/the-confessions-of-mike-trapp-chapter-ii-origin-story

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The Confessions of Mike Trapp. Chapter IV: The First Change

Part of my Christian discipleship was to read the Bible every day and pray every day and to try to have some kind of self improvement every day.

 

Hello my name is Mike

 

 

The Nazarenes came out of the Methodists and the Methodists get their name because they have a method. It’s kind of an important thing. It’s the same principle they use in recovery. It’s having an organized, systematic, accountable way of having spiritual improvement. When you start doing that, your life starts looking different because instead of having the negative things and the things that are what I would have called then sinful and I would call now not helpful, you instead focus on being a better person and looking out for other people, and trying to make things better. That’s a really neat perspective to bring into life.

Some of the things we did was Bible quizzing where you start to learn to memorize scripture. I’d be reading it every day and there’s big stories that you learn, but you’re also doing the language and digging into what sentences mean and how do they apply to life. When I did Bible quizzing, it was great because it gave me a chance to shine even though I was socially awkward because I was really good at it and I got to know my Bible stuff.

After I read the Bible, I went back and read interesting parts and I probably read the New Testament a few times. By this time I’m maybe 16 and a junior in high school. I had really come to see that my favorite part of the whole Bible was the stuff that Jesus said and the Red Letter Edition of the Bible.

I had this Bible as literature class that was really great in public school and where I learned to look at the Bible as a literary device and see it from a different perspective. Then I had this idea that you work out your own salvation. What it meant was important to me. One of my favorite parts is the Beatitudes where Jesus is preaching and it gets kind of the core of his message. And he said you should love of your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

I read that and I knew it and I knew it by heart from Bible quizzed Matthew. It just hit me like a thunderclap: War was wrong. I thought about what it meant. I just went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and my parents were proud to be the only people in Sumeria township who voted for George Wallace. They had this kind of apolitical kind of independence, mostly not liking anybody, not being that into politics. They read the paper.

My church was like a center of right-wing activism, both like the Jack Kemp campaign was organized out of my church because the evangelicals had gotten really political with Reagan and pro-life. I had adopted these kind of politics without really thinking anything and I was a little Reaganite and and then I’m reading the Bible and I believe in an active spiritual process and it strikes me that war is wrong. And then what do you do with that?

You start thinking about everything.

If you’ve read a lot of history, and I had, I loved history after, you know, from the child that mythology is history and hearing stories. So I had read good history, most of the history of the world and so imperialism was right there. It was something that under American empire and the Great Commission and the Christianization of the planet, it seemed all very right and proper and good.

I brought this whole critique and in like three days I abandoned all of my political beliefs and I started to question, and then I looked at the Book of Acts where it talked about the early church where they they shared everything amongst themselves and lived as a community and and didn’t go to these churches but lived in each other’s houses and they pooled their money to take care of the widows and the orphans.

I looked at Jesus who said that the love of money is the root of all evil. When the rich young man came to him and asked what they do, h said sell all you have and give to the poor. And suddenly this Reagan politics of getting rid of welfare and government is the problem, it all became just terrible. I thought it looked like anarchy when I read about the early church and I thought that we ought to live like we were in the early church and that that was the goal of this whole thing that we were doing on Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night. I saw what they were doing. They were doing this weird thing that I couldn’t believe in anymore. But anarchy struck me as overly idealistic when I thought about politics, what does it mean about politics?

I really got into politics and found as I read that I found the social gospel movement where I found these wild left wing reformists socialist Christians who were trying to use government as the arm of religious zeal. In a way that helps struggling people and reorganizes the economy in a way that was more fair for more people. And that looked like what I had seen in the early church and Jubilee and in the message that I had got out of church and the in the Bible. So, I got into the social gospel movement. I got into utopian communities and reading about people who are really trying to do it and started to think about why it worked and what didn’t work and then I really became a democratic socialist. I believed in democracy.

But I also believe that the workers needed to organize the economy rather than capital dictating the decisions. I got into socialism and I also got into social movements of how did these things happen, what actions did a small group or an individual do that precipitated that?

I still did it through this kind of spiritual lens even though I had had this amazing political transformation where I went from a right-wing Republican to a democratic socialist and about two weeks. I know it was rapid. I think it was over Christmas break because I remember being pretty conservative in the first semester or if US history in the second semester being the most liberal kid by far in the class. And really being able to talk to the instructor in a new way where the instructor in the first semester, Mr. Rossi had called me a racist.

I believed in capitalism and freedom and felt that if I had built a company with no help from the government. He was Italian. I have no ill feelings towards Italians. I’m of German immigrant stock. Both have interesting histories and cultures. I said to Mr. Rossi “Just for sake of argument, if I didn’t want to hire Italians for whatever reason the government didn’t have any right to be able to tell me that I had to any.” Rather than attack that kind of philosophical point, he was like “You’re a racist.”

It was like this Zen koan. I was shamed. I was baffled that he didn’t engage in the discussion. And I had read a lot of arguments on the topic, so was confident in my ability to defend my position. Was I?

I didn’t really do anything with it at the time, but later I started to really question all kinds of things about myself and apply myself to this kind of lens of privilege as I was able to identify it. As a younger man, I had all of this shame from trying to fit in in middle-class environments without the social skills and the background and the training to be able to do it.

I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I made one that turned out to be really important after we lost our house. We lived in that town called Ida. And I had been in this farm school. I had been at this more kind of suburban elementary school because that country had become in the excerpts. Even though we were pretty originally or rural stock most of the kids at that school were like bedroom community of Toledo, Ohio, white flight middle-class kids. When we built the dream house and moved to the country, I moved to a smaller farm school where I was kind of the new kid at fourth grade, and I was a new kid at ninth grade when we lost her house. And because I was oriented towards church and I went to church in Monroe, I really pushed my mom to move into town.

Monroe’s about a city of 30,000. Ida didn’t have a flashing light until 10 or 15 years ago. It’s a pretty small town. My mom liked the country. We were pretty close and spent a lot of time together and, and we picked the house together and she got a place in Monroe.

There was this older kid at church when I first started going, but then he kind of quit going. I met him before he stopped coming to church. His name was Scott Woodward. He had a big, powerful impact on me in this phase. We would talk politics. He was Christian. He was weird. Before we were hanging out, he was known for like skulking around town in a cape. This is 1983 and people didn’t skulk around in capes then. He got over that, but he was into high weirdness.

He had a car and we’d go around and we’d go to bookstores and we would make fun of the New Age movement. I had read some Christian books about conspiracies and cults. To me the New age movement seemed like a threat to Christianity. He got me to become a vegetarian. I felt like you couldn’t really follow the Hebrew diet without getting all the blood out and a lot of Jews were becoming vegetarians and Jesus never really ate meat. 

I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons and not having to to kill. It was funny because he was a vegetarian for about three months and then ended up staying a vegetarian for about seven years. He came and went with the church and got in to other ideas. He had a more open spirituality. I would frequently argue with him. I ended up reading a lot of background stuff to be able to talk to him. And so I read a lot about God and magic. we would go UFO hunting. We’d get a pizza and we’d drive around in the back rows and look for UFOs. We’d go to all the occult bookstores in Ann Arbor and Detroit, just kind of roam around. I was intrigued by that stuff. I’d been playing Dungeons and Dragons but I was still a hard left-winger at this point. I was a left-wing fundamentalist Christian. I still didn’t really question that whole kind of system.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Confessions of Mike Trapp Chapter III. The Early Church

So there were some other early childhood experiences that were really impactful. None of us really had a lot of social skills. As for my parents, my mom was kind of broken from losing Dennis. I can’t ever remember getting a hug as a kid.

 

 

John Trapp and family

Back row right to left, Grandma Trapp, Frances Trapp holding Julie Trapp, and John Trapp, Sr. Front row, John Trapp and Mike Trapp. Credit: Betty Kneal

She watched a lot of TV and was pretty isolated and one always wanted to work. My dad never wanted her to work because he took that as kind of an insult and his ability to be a provider. He was very much into that traditional gender role stuff that I was just never very good at. I never really mastered the manly arts.

When John was in first grade, he also had a lot of anxiety about school and because we were dirty and poor and weird kids who were pretty isolated.

We both had Mrs. Thompson for first grade. And we’d sit in with her at church. We’d sit in a circle and you’d have to read aloud, but once you learned that you could read, you didn’t have to sit in the reading circle and you could describe a book and go off and read by herself. The kids who were still learning to read would have to read-aloud in the reading circle until they all learned. When John learned to read he became my person who could read me comic books. I had been obsessed with comic books for as long as I could remember. Before John’s reading to me, I just looked at the pictures. My parents were never going to read me comic books.

My dad would read me the Sunday funnies sometimes. My older brothers and sisters were not that great about doing stuff they didn’t want to do. So I would badger John to read me comics when he got the keys to the kingdom of being able to tell these amazing stories. He taught me to read, so that I would stop badgering him.

I remember when I would try to get him to make me breakfast and then he taught me how to fry an egg. So, he would make me breakfast once, but then I had to learn and then I was kinda on my own. He taught me to read and I was probably three or four years old. I learned to read. I become a voracious reader as I grew up in this kind of truck stop culture with randomness and garage sale books and a couple-times-a-year trip to the library. I read a lot of random stuff.

In addition to comic books a thing that captivated me was mythology. John brought home this book on the Norse gods: They were just like the superheroes and there were these stories. I got big time into mythology and read a lot of difficult books like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which I think is a college textbook. I read all of that stuff in first and second grade plus read a lot of adult books, westerns, and romance magazines. I’ve read anything that I could get my hands on because I had a lot of time on my hands when I was home with Mom. She was really focused on waiting because her life revolved around these episodic entrances when Dad would come home.

What I got out of being on the road with him is that you could go places and do stuff. I don’t think a lot of people realize that the world is your oyster and you don’t need a lot of money to be able to travel and see things and meet amazing people and see the wonders that are in this country. It’s so big and there’s so many places to go. I got to see a lot of it when I was a kid and I’ve kept traveling and have seen even more as an adult. That travel had a powerful impact on me.

Both my grandmas also had a big impact on me in very different ways. My Grandma Trapp was super-religious and my dad felt like that was important even though it was something that he didn’t want to have anything to do with or ever hear about. But he made us, I’m available and I would have been interested in those things. I think because of my fascination with Dennis, my brother who passed away.

I would go to camp meetings and revivals. I didn’t like go to church with my Grandma on Sundays, but there these events where there would be altar calls and there would be people jumping up and down. It was this phenomenal experience that was also terrifying. Grandma Trapp was not anybody you would want to go to these events with.

She had a strong condemnation. I remember she’d say, “Mickey (my childhood name), if you’re a friend of the world, you’re an enemy of God.”

That was a fearsome thing thought to put into a kid’s head. There were these apocalyptic stories and talking about death and hell and fire and brimstone and all that stuff put into my mind, which was active and imagination-filled what with mythology and superheroes. So I had this very kind of cosmic view of the world and a lot of fear and a strong interest in spiritual things. In my nuclear family nobody else was really into it. We didn’t go to church and had had minimal contact with that kind of thing.

My Grandma Allen had schizophrenia and she lived with auntie and uncle. That was, until auntie had heart attack in her fifties. She died pretty young. That’s when Grandma Allen came to live with us. What allowed us to be able to bring Graham Allen in is that my dad had built his dream house. My Grandma gave him nine acres of the family farm and he used that as a down payment to build a great ranch style house. And we really upgraded from a clapboard shack that we rented for many years and to this kinda suburban style ranch house back in 1978. I was about nine years old and it was not long after that that Graham Allen came to live with us. She was kind of scary. She scared me when I was a kid because periodically we would get walked back to her bedroom. She’d spent a lot of time in bed and or at least when company was over. She’d say crazy stuff.

“I’m afraid of the devil” was her thing. When she came to live with us I would have to take care of her. Around this time my mom and my dad started to struggle. He had owned his own truck and fuel prices with OPEC started to go up and his truck was getting old and he wasn’t able to replace it. He struggled with the ability to make enough money to pay the bills. Jimmy Carter deregulated the trucking industry and so freight rates dropped and expenses went up and we really got squeezed. He built his house during stagflation back in the 70s when American had a stagnant economy and high interest rates.

We had an 89% interest rate on the house and missed a couple of house payments and ended up losing the house.

When you’re a kind of poor, unsocialized kid, you’ll happen across church people who will want to get you involved in their youth activities. My sister had fallen in with some folks at the Bedford Nazarene Church. I went to church with her and attended Sunday school class. I’m still socially awkward and still a weird kid at this point. They asked “Does God speak to you now?” and about half of us raised our hands. And I raised my hand because I’d thought a lot about God.

We were going to revival and I was reading mythology and all other kinds of adult things. I had felt what I felt was the well-springs of conscience or some kind of connection. I felt that God had spoken to me. When they went around and said “Tell me how God speaks to you”. None of the kids could really answer that question. They called on me and I kind of stammered that while he just kinda does, it’s in your mind. That was not the correct answer. The correct answer is God speaks to you through the Bible. And I wondered about what kind of spiritual life this fellow had if he had not ever felt the presence of God or heard the voice of God. It wasn’t in words.

I realized that I had a different spiritual life than a lot of other people. I also learned that it’s better not to tell people about it because they’re going to look at you like you’re weird and they’re not going to understand. The next group of random church people that I ran into were this group of Baptists who were really nice. They would take us on activities like a trip to Chicago to go Christmas shopping.  Of course, we would have church and Sunday school and those kinds of things. I remember one night at church, they broke out this loaf of bread and some grape juice and we had this thing called communion. I thought that was a little audacious for this group of near-strangers to put that onto a kid.

I had certainly read about it, but it felt powerful and meaningful. I wondered what it all meant. My organized spiritual path really began when I fell in with the Monroe First Church of the Nazarene. Again, this was courtesy of my sister Brenda. She was into spiritual things and was always pushing: “Oh, you shouldn’t be reading that pagan mythology. You should be just as interested in Bible stories”.

I was a little bit hungry for socialization because of traveling. I would spend summers with my dad on the road and met random people, but I didn’t have those ongoing relationships with kids in the neighborhoods like a lot of other people seem to. Church was a great opportunity to socialize. It was also this incredible experience where I kind of learned middle-class values.

A number of interesting things happened to me at that time. I started going to that church when I was thirteen and made it my church home for about seven years. One day I was in Sunday school and they prefaced a story by asking who knew the story of Gideon getting into the walls of Jericho and blowing the trumpet and the walls come falling down. I had never heard of the guy and all of the other kids had because they were raised in the church. Their hands went up because they had been singing about Gideon in the church songs and hearing about Gideon in the church stories. They were also all in intact families where their parents were together. They spent time together and weren’t drunk all the time or depressed from watching TV, but had these kind of more typical middle-class lives. I felt a deep sense of shame.

I started to do better in school around this time. I still didn’t always do my homework and missed a lot of classes. I was, however, the best reader and could do the work and do the material. Often, I would come home and ask my brother John how to do stuff. He taught me things like fractions. That helped since I had trouble in school due to my social awkwardness. I was much more comfortable learning on my own and learning by reading or having John explain it to me how things were done. John could speak my language.

So I had this deep sense of shame that I had never heard of this guy Gideon that everybody else knew about. I grabbed a King James Bible that night and started at Genesis 1:1. I started reading and I started in the beginning. And it was a long, hard slog, especially through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There were parts that I really liked especially when I got to the New Testament. I crushed the Bible in about four months. I went from being the kid who didn’t know who Gideon was to the kid who knew all this stuff. After I read the Bible, I started to read all kinds of books about theology. I read every book the library had that they had and it was more than just kind of learning what the Nazarenes had to teach, although I was into that, but it was learning on my own.

The other significant thing is that I had this born-again experience. I was 13 and there was at our church this thing called an altar call known as “winning souls for Christ.” The church was evangelical in that it tried to reach out. That’s why they would have the church bus come and get me. And then when they didn’t have a church bus devoted church people would drive out to my house in the country and pick me up and take me to church. My sister went, but we lived pretty separate lives. Ron Richmond was the minister and they would sing heartfelt songs and there were messages from God. I went up to the alter and asked for forgiveness for my sins and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

There was this powerful kind of emotional release and connection and it really was transformative. I’d struggled with shame and then suddenly I found this answer of how I could get over it and feel whole. I got baptized. After that I really started delve into: What does it mean to be born again? What does that mean as a young teenager I started to try to live a life like Jesus ? There was this idea of being almost like where people in recovery start celebrating their recovery date as their birthday. My new spiritual being, I grew quickly in that.

There was a lot of things about being a new creation.

I wanted to be like Jesus. That meant something to me. I really started to work on it. I had a typical kind of adolescent anger. I noticed that as a character flaw and started addressing it. I would go out and chop wood or I’d go for a walk and I wouldn’t allow myself to express the anger. I was very emotionally sophisticated. I might’ve turned some of that anger and depression into depression by directing it at myself, but I also began looking at myself and kind of having an organized spiritual process of trying to be a better person. The other part of the church life was not just going to church on Sundays morning and Wednesday night, but this idea of discipleship where you would go into small groups and you would be accountable.

You’d talk and set goals, like: Did you read the Bible every day? Did you pray every day? Did you have goodness in your heart? or whatever you were kind of working on and you would make yourself accountable. There would be accountability partners. We also studied the doctrines of the church. And I was a sponge. I was open to all of that stuff and took it all very seriously and it was a chance for me to kind of shine and show leadership as I learned to be able to pray and pray like the adults did. I would get asked to lead prayer and talk to the other kids. And it was something that for a kid who didn’t really feel that he fit in, it allowed me to kind of fit in.

Evangelicals are an interesting group. I had a friend who said, “Oh, you’re a fundamentalist.” I said, “I’m not a fundamentalist or an evangelical.” He said, “That’s right, because fundamentalists say you’re going to hell and evangelicals say, ‘Hey brother, you’re going to hell’.” There’s some truth to that, but really the difference is in that they believed in this second work of grace called sanctification, the idea that not only are you not sinning, but have lost even the desire to sin and you live in this state of holiness. That became kind of the magic grail, because I was an adolescent having lust in my heart as Jimmy Carter would say. I had all those normal and powerful sexual feelings with no way to channel or control them.

It led me to a lot of guilt and going back to the altar, asking to be forgiven, seeking forgiveness for my sins. Sanctification was this kind of quest. There was always this murkiness of whether it was a gradual act or whether it was a sudden act and what happened, and what did it really mean. There was a lot of this kind of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I continued to read the Bible. There were some verses that really had emphasis with me. One of them was work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. One thing that makes Protestants different, if you’re not familiar with that, is that they believe that you can read and interpret the Bible on your own and that it doesn’t have to go through a priest. I took that as not even kind of having a pastor. I never joined the church because I didn’t know if I agreed with their theology.

The other thing that I got out of church were these youth retreats. It was great because it was a chance to be around girls and it was a ready made group of friends, which I sorely lacked and needed. We were, for the most part, a tight group, although I always felt like I was a little bit of an outsider.

Once in awhile there’d be some kid from a family of sinners that would get pulled into it, but it was mostly the church kids who had church parents and had been raised in the church and culturally much more middle class than the kind of barely functioning working class kid I was. We’d go on these youth retreats and there would be powerful spiritual things happening like revivals. We’d look at trying to be like the early church in the Book of Acts and be filled with the Holy Spirit. There was kind of a quest for that. What I got out of that was a real sense of community (even though I didn’t always feel a part of it and I felt a little bit separate, but I maybe because I was an outsider, it allowed me to see it more clearly in what it could be.)

I became entranced with the idea of this kind of sense of community and community-building activities. It also gave me a taste for eschatology, or the study of the end times. We were big on that. We had a youth leader pastor ,Dale, who was big on that. We showed these movies that were about these left-behind books, these powerful movies about the end times. When the anti-christ rolls over the world and Christians are persecuted and there’s the rapture and so there was a lie. I began to read a lot about that and thinking about the end times. I remember being in junior high and someone pulled the fire alarm, we went outside and there was a storm blowing in and the skies were dark and, and it was like nighttime during the day.

And I had this feeling like: Is this the end of the world? It was something that I expected. I read a lot of books. There was a lot of books in the 1970s written about the end of the world and you would find those in the used bookstores and Salvation Armies, which were my big supply of books. I never really had access to a great library or the ability to puruse. I read whatever came to hand. So I read The Late, Great Planet Earth and a lot of those kind of books. Then, I started to read books from the 1950s that I would find and realized they were saying that the world was going to be over. I got curious. I went on a search and found that in the 1930s people thought that was the end of the world.

With the rise of WWI there were people who thought that was the end of the world and the Great Revivals of the late 19th century. They thought that that was going to be the end of the world. And then I found that in the middle ages that they thought that was going to be the end of the world. And I read more history and I found out that the early Christians that thought they were at the end of the world. I realized that every generation thought they were the last generation. I started to have a little bit of doubt about this thing, but there was this interpretation of a verse that implied that that after the refounding of the country of Israel in 1940s, that a generation after that that, and so I thought there might be something special about our time.

Yes, I wasn’t really sure.

There was other one other moment where religion was really powerful to me. There had been this evangelist who had done a number of revivals. A lot of times pastors would age out of being a pastor of a church and then they would become evangelists where they would work the revival circuit and they would go from church to church and do these messages of salvation. Sometimes it would focus on sanctification. But usually it was to try to get new people in to the church or recruit people who hadn’t been involved or create this spiritual revival. The evangelist had passed away and we were talking about this guy who had done this revival. I was tone deaf and unable to sing yet I had gotten into doing some theater. I did a series of one act plays or skits that kind of helped illustrate the pastor’s message. I had gotten to know this evangelist well. When they were talking about how Eddie had died, I really felt like I heard the voice of Jesus telling me that I was to take his place. There had been this idea of kind of a call to ministry that I kind of took like that.

I felt like I had been called to to the ministry.

Categories: Uncategorized

Triage form

April 2, 2020 1 comment

You can’t open a Crisis Shelter without getting tons of calls for help. He’s our first stab at a call log form.

Categories: Uncategorized

From Idea to Homeless Shelter in 4 Days

March 24, 2020 2 comments

So obviously this Corona Virus thing is crazy. As it developed my life changed. As a City Councilperson I go to a lot of events. As a consultant/trainer I meet with people, mostly groups. Suddenly work mostly dried up and everything started cancelling. I had a lot of free floating anxiety and surfed Facebook and Apple-news and read up on the virus and it’s implications.

Since I’ve lived in Columbia I’ve worked with individuals and families who were homeless and have had some success on the clinical and local public policy level. I follow the issue and do what I can. When I left my agency job my brother John and I started 4-A-Change, a social entrepreneur firm. Our largest contract is with our downtown Community Improvement District where we do outreach, coaching and referral for folks who are homeless or panhandling downtown.

So we follow the issues and know the folks. John joined the board of Room At The Inn our inclement weather shelter that moves from church to church. It wrapped up for the season just as Corona hit. John organized a big tent and sleeping bag initiative for the transition.

We started thinking about how Corona was going to effect our peeps. We don’t have clients, we partner with people and affectionately shorten it to peeps amongst ourselves. We know them, love them, and try to make life better for them whatever we’re doing.

There was chatter about a shelter opening but the requests to the emergency management system weren’t being addressed. So John looked up foreclosed houses after seeing some houseless folks had occupied some in California, so far successfully. John and I are more then brothers but organizing partners with a deep analysis and a long history of radical action.

I’ve also been on City Council for 8 years, I said before we do that let me ask the City Manager to make something happen. But we committed to do ensure folks had a place when their was community spread. We agreed no one was dying in the streets in Columbia if we were free and well. If that went no where I would ask the banks for a couple of foreclosed houses. If that went nowhere we would do what we needed to do that was just and right and necessary.

On Saturday morning I called the City Manager. Validated the struggle and asked funds I had championed for a homeless work program be allocated for this and a staff without current duties project manage. I offered to help. He agreed to email the Health Director. I clarified my request and offered technical assistance as I am a topic expert.

She said there was no one to project manage and thought I had the knowledge and skill to do so. I agreed to serve under the Social Services Director Steve, my long-standing collaborative partner, who I’d lost touch with because of our different roles of late as a citizen volunteer project manager. Not a bad start for a Saturday morning,

I got up to speed and we started working on a lead on a great space that needed rehab identified by the past Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, Susan. I pushed my contacts but that turned out to be a bust. Steve had been asking for university dorms every day for a week. I asked if I could ask the Vice Chancellor and was told wait until Monday. He’s still clearing the dorms of students.

More brain storming we got a lease offer on a shuttered motel and started trying to talk the price down to our budget. Susan suggested a call to our Conventions and Visitors Bureau. It’s funded by a guest tax and a board of hotel/motel operators help run it. It seemed like a long shot but we were hesitant to ask churches. They sheltered folks all winter and we were afraid of everyone in a big room on cots.

I also had a coffee date on Saturday. She was cool with me on my phone half the time trying to keep it moving forward. Sunday hotels started calling. I started making my case and trying to touch hearts. There were offers which surprised me but the history is in free fall and it’s an emergency. They were also well out of our modest budget.

Truth be told I’m a terrible negotiator. I’m a social services/counselor type and low income radical. I just laid my cards on the table and asked them to do right. Then a hotel manager called at a place I would have called a little troubled. I’ve gotten to know the low budget hotel scene well placing folks, staying out on a budget and looking at a couple with a community minded land investor who was shopping for one and interested in programming for homeless Veterans.

We immediately made a connection talking from the heart and I showed I knew and respected that part of the no real housing safety net who spent most of their money on electric bills for those crappy little room heaters. She said I need to talk to the owner but between us he was already doing the same thing on a small scale with a church group.

The guy called me as I was trying to find the house of my second date (coffee went well in spite of my distraction) that I was an hour late for taking a call on the way over and pulling in to a closed daycare. Ironically a dude with a wild beard talking to himself had been sheltering out of the rain when I pulled up. He started pacing in front of the car and yelling about following him. I was so focused I just rolled down the window and said “hey man it’s nothing about you but I’m on the phone”. He escalated and I started the car just in case but kept on task and I apparently out weirded him and he moved on.

It was productive conversation but I said I’m an hour late for my date can I find her house and tell her what’s going on. I did and found her house and said hi and got on the phone and finished my business. I texted my “boss” and we were doing a lot of math and thinking and texting and we decided to go for it. We had a site, if we can navigate legal for the contract and actually get to spend the money we’d identified. It was a great deal.

John and I and Steve some (Steve has a big portfolio of emergency response, this is like his third priority) had been thinking about logistics some but it really depended on space and resources. So with nary a “woo hoo” we got a site (probably) we were on to logistics planning. My date and her daughter were cool with my distraction. They got to watch it happen in real time.

So yadayada details, negotiations. Logistics. We have this grand scheme of City money, Room At The Inn (RATI) cots sand supplies, volunteer infrastructure and a small staff, chamber of commerce/United Way gap funding and inkind donations of construction if needed, the anarchist collective who work on homelessness and us and others who want to plug in.

We had queried RATI staff to see who was willing and able to come back to work. RATI had money left and they’d pay that. And we had some tentative plans in our tentative place by Sunday night. A nice weekend of effort.

Monday morning we had a conference call with homeless service providers. I pushed the urgency, the need to move quickly and what our plan was. Outreach workers will staff the shelter in the day. RATI on overnights and John and I and trusted volunteers would do evenings.

I’d been lead on site obtainment and bureaucrat wrangling. John is lead on logistics and planning. We can switch up like that effortlessly. We’re also housemates and we were home office before it was de rigeuer. I got off that call and called in to the right wing radio show to update conservative radio listeners on the current state of affairs. I also pitched the shelter and got rescheduled for the show tomorrow to tell people how they can help.

I’ll be on at 11:06 am CST with Gary Nolan, card carrying member of the Libertarian Party, your equal opportunity offender on 93.9 The Eagle: 939theeagle.com. Give a listen if you want to hear me live.

So we’d still like dorms for when/if our folks need to quarantine . We’ve just documented community spread. When one person who is homeless is positive likely they’ll all need to quarantine as they congregate at the Day Center. So kept on that. Kept on making the money flow (win) we have enough to operate until April 6th and the next Council Meeting so my peers can weigh in.

Still need contract and law is swamped like most everyone who responds to crisis. We have a Counselor/Manager form of government so our Health Director who reports to him writes the laws right now. We’ll get to weigh in as elected representatives in a couple of weeks. The law changes as the disease progresses and we step up our social distancing and close inessential risk points. I’ve stayed out of that in spite of of a public campaign to get our local elected leaders to order our professional staff to make stricter orders. It’s tough in Missouri. It’s tough to act in isolation when 28 other counties use as a jobs and retail center and we have no control over them. The conservatives say we’re too strict telling people what to do nanny state run amuck. The liberals say I’m killing our medical professionals by not ordering our paid professionals who are looped in and have been planning for this for their entire career and we should interfere because some people sent us an email.

I don’t know the answer. No one does really. I back my professional staff who we hired to manage these situations. On homelessness I’m an expert. Steve who is super knowledgeable and looped in yields to my superior knowledge, expertise, and experience. Always has. I’ve been doing this a longtime and lot of it defies reason if your not s topic expert. Public Health is the same but more so. So is City Management.

I wrote an angry reply to the last chain email I replied to. She rightly checked me. I apologized and we dialogued. I’m on my third day of 16 hour days and I’m writing this because I woke up at 12:30 and my mind is humming. It’s like campaigning, you’re in your own fast paced world, jamming most of the time. Everyone else is bored and watching Netflix.

We also wrote guest guidelines, infection control procedures, room grid assignments sheets, a call for volunteers and more logistical stuff. We got outreach workers out and invited our first 14 guests. Our first cohort are our easy ones. We want a positive start and a good foundation. We are going to ramp up the mutual aid approach in case everything goes to shit and everyone is sick and there’s no internet and we have to get through this.

Even in the best of times the homeless life is mostly brutal and short, they’re all trauma survivors and almost all are high risk with challenging behaviors. I am bringing them together and allying myself and pledging my time, treasure and health so that together we can survive as community of support. Right now only John and I know this. Now you do too.

Everyone can’t do what I am doing. I have a Masters degree in sociology with a deep analysis of society and inequality and social movements. I was an activist radical direct action and large statewide campaigns with significant victories around the country. I have a 30 year career in social service in a variety of jobs at all levels from line staff to Executive Director. I am a 3 term city Councilperson who is kind of establishment and I do it well. I’m looped in from the crack addicted bus boy to the bank president. I have spent my entire life planning for this and did not know it. The day before yesterday I made a phone call and tomorrow we open. You might not be able to do this but you can do something.

Mostly it’s empowerment. I do, because I believe I can, and having done so, I believe I can do more. When I was a case manager at a domestic violence shelter people would ask how I could work with all that horror. When I did batterer intervention and substance use disorder counseling people said “how can you do that kind of work?”

People in crisis are open to change. That is powerful and demands our best effort. Guess what Peeps, the whole world is in crisis. Why not join me in building that new world that is more just, fair and loving from the bottom up. If it works for those with the most barriers and the least resources it’s going to work for all of us. God bless you and keep you through these dark days. When it’s the darkest we all shine the brightest.

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COVID in Columbia

Greetings faithful reader. I hope you are well keeping safe and practicing social distance. It is strange times and everything is changing. My thoughts go to history and the apocalypse easily anyway. I’ve been indulging in some free floating anxiety and too much time on Facebook. I’ve been distracted but the times allow for it and I have the space for it and I feel like I am due.

My friend Harry posted Rainbow Signs by mewithoutyou. I’ve listened to the album Pale Horses but had never made out the words. Great song and I’m listening to Pale Horses (appendix) and it’s nice to have some dreamy distance to all the weirdness.

I was asked to speak at a press conference put on by the United States Tiger Foundation (USTF). They have carved out a niche of raising money and donations for Veteran’s dogs, advocating for increasing ventilator capacity, honoring bravery in the struggle and offering their office for satellite services and the like. It was really sweet.

The USTF formed to remember a forgotten moment in history Operation Tiger. In preparation for D-Day a giant practice exercise was surprised by German subs with huge loss of life. The Navy used to ship out people by area and Missouri had a huge loss of life. So the USTF formed to build a memorial and stuck around to honor folks in Military Service, Veterans and First Responders. There big annual event is a snazzy awards banquets for the best from all of the Missouri military bases.

I have always tried to do a good turn for Vets, like most people but I am an unlikely champion for USTF. I am motivated and attached to communities, regions, and the planet as a whole. Nation states not so much. But when the last conservative got voted off of City Council I realized I was going to need to go to the banquet to read the Proclamation. The Mayor was unavailable (you could do nothing but go to events in your ceremonial capacity and still have to say “no” to some things) and I didn’t want the Assistant Manager of the Conventions and Visitors Bureau or something representing our community.

I might feel a little bad about my fundamental lack of patriotism if I hadn’t spent a good chunk of my professional life helping homeless Veterans. It’s easy to put a yellow ribbon on your car or post some bullshit on your Facebook page but it’s a bit different to roll up your sleeves and get side by side with someone to get them on a path up.

So I gave a good speech from the heart and it became a pretty much annual thing. Reading excerpts from the proclamation, welcoming the generals and honorees and dates to Columbia, slipping coins in a handshake ritual, all the stuff. I am oriented towards peace but I appreciate sacrifice, professionalism, service and bravery. I’m not to much of a critic to show gratitude. As a peace activist I honor Vietnam Veterans especially.

Today wasn’t about that, that’s just what got me in the room. I thanked the USTF and all of the spontaneous activity to render mutual aid. I talked about the ventilator bottleneck and the need to flatten the curve. I talked about the unmet needs of the unsheltered community. Support for boxed lunches for Harbor House and the need for hand sanitizer for Loaves and Fishes.

I also talked about the difference between County Government and City Government. The County has Commissioners who actually manage their government. They make the decisions and do the work.

In Columbia City Council hires the City Manager (and the Judge and the Clerk) and they run the government. We passed an emergency resolution listing sweeping powers like ignoring the law and using private property as needed. It was really symbolism though we don’t really have that power. He and the Health Department Director have all that power and more with a signature on a letter. We just provided political support because the bare reality is to incredible to comprehend.

A constituent wrote to ask me to close all the restaurants and bars, another asked me to ban door to door sales. We have scaled back to one meeting per month. I meet with the Manager a month. Normally that’s great for governance. This crisis is on a whole nother timeline. Our decisions are made by science by professionals according to best practices and local conditions I can’t pretend to understand. I’m not going to call him and tell him what one of my voters wants. I will share my wisdom, if I have any. I told him don’t just listen to the state and the feds, they’re timid and too focused on the economy over health and safety, be bold.

And that’s it. Boards have to let their executives execute. Otherwise every department director has 8 bosses which really means no boss. I trust our staff. I trust our community. We are all trusting each other to do the right thing. Wash your hands. Flatten the curve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Day in the Life

February 28, 2020 Leave a comment

Someone asked me what I do all day? I had coffee with someone wanting to run for City Council and wanted to what it was like lifestyle wise. How do still run a business. A friend who is in City Management suggested I do a post on all the little things local elected officials. So everyday is different but here’s what I did yesterday.

I woke up and started water for coffee. I checked my emails, Facebook and Messenger. I messaged with a constituent in another Ward who is sideways with her Councilperson and did a little troubleshooting to figure out why her boxes weren’t getting picked up. Apologized raised the difficulty of collection being short staffed and emailed my contact in the City Managers Office.

Drank my coffee showered and rode my bike to the Columbia Independent School. I met with a student and his advisors. He is a fellow and his project is to advocate for a safe pedestrian crossing across the state highway the school is on. There’s a big city Park they use as a practice field and the kids have to Frogger across.

I’ve been pushing for the same thing for 8 years but the kid was getting some traction. There was a MODOT project coming in 2021 and they’re considering adding it on. The City was onboard and I had made some connections and requests via email.

I told him about Interested Parties Meetings the likely RFP process and who else to talk to. The Governor is a tough guy to get face time with but the state legislator is responsive and powerful. We looked at the traffic speeding by and walked the perimeter. Sight lines are the main criteria I’ve learned. I’ve picked up quite a bit of engineering lore over the last 8 years. Engineering and finance and truth be told local geography were my steepest learning curves.

I rode home and got a message from the City Clerk’s office that Marge Comley had called. I had just talked to Marge for a half hour or so a few days ago so I didn’t feel a need to call her back. She has my number, that’s for sure. She likely called the Clerk’s Office to speak to the Mayor who probably isn’t talking to her. The Clerk’s Office probably told her they would call me when she complained he never calls her back.

Marge is a pistol. She once called the police 156 times in a 90 day span. That will get you a home visit by a mental health professional if you didn’t know it. Marge has had a series of problems with her neighbors for at least the last eight years.

I was talk to her and I’ve gone out and investigated and mediated a number of times over the years. She lives in a cute little bungalow neighborhood where she and her husband bought their first home 45 years ago. He was a city lineman. The neighborhood since has become all rentals mostly owned by the family who owns the trailer park and apartment complex next to Marge’s subdivision. They don’t take her calls anymore. I’ve mediated with them and they have good reasons.

Mostly I think Marge is lonely. She’s estranged from her kids except one son who takes her shopping and to medical appointments but “he don’t listen”. After her complaint about noise and the police response. She knows 3 beat officers by name and likes them all. She spoke highly of “the girls” at the police nonemergency number.

After we talked about that she told me about falling and being in the hospital and rehabilitation center. The police were worried because she hadn’t called they did a welfare check and tracked her down in rehab.

Since I knew all that I knew I didn’t need to call her. I relaxed for a bit and hung my laundry on the line. I knew I had a day so I was proactive about it. I made and ate breakfast and then rode to the south side for a radio show.

I do a regular bit as a City Council update on The Eagle 93.9 but that’s on Monday’s. This was Inside Columbia an hour long local politics show that’s fairly new. The host is a Republican activist turned County Commissioner and we went over some interesting ground.

From where I’m from to poverty, segregation, my views on the growth of the city and homelessness it was much more in depth then I usually get to go. It was also exhausting. I had a swallow of coffee and was back on the bike. I had squeezed in an appointment across town and had to push hard in a headwind to be 8 minutes late and sweaty.

It was a bit of an interview. A smallish nonprofit was considering me for a strategic planning gig. I normally like to get paid an hourly rate but I had pitched a set price and a good one because I want to do more of this type of work. It’s also a way to get more work because you get to look under the hood and see how else you can be helpful.

The ED had called me for advice on a deaf individual needing substance use disorder treatment and someone had recommended me as someone who knows stuff. When she introduced herself I reminded her we’d met 12 years ago when she turned me down for a job I desperately needed when I first moved to town because I was over qualified. When she asked me what I did now, after I gave her some sage advice on getting someone into treatment, I ended up pitching strategic planning.

In spite of being late and sweaty it went well. I got the contract and collected info and we made a plan. I biked back downtown and was only a little late for my next deal. I met with a Civil Engineer who has an idea to change the code so we can allow duplex lots to be replatted and sold as individual lots. We allow that type of new construction but they have a fire wall and the sewer and water lines are run separate.

If we could subdivide duplexes with smoke walls and tangled utilities then we could create a home ownership product well below $100,000. You can hardly find a new home for less the $200,000 and even shitty fixeruppers are north of $100,000. It would also get some more owner occupied in big rental duplex neighborhoods which my ward is challenged by.

I had requested a staff report so we went over concerns. Safety doesn’t seem to be an issue we allow it for renters. It’s really just property. Banks and title insurance don’t care. You need covenants for shared roofs anyway you could do the same for your water and sewer.

Tutorials with engineers are critical if you want to be able to challenge your experts. I’ll discuss it at the next meeting and we’ll see. At least one peer who gets the issues is open to the idea.

After that I stayed on the affordable housing theme which I am trying to make a big final push on in my last term. I had a Zoom meeting with another Council Member and an activist from Minneapolis who worked on their 2040 plan which created a lot of zoning reform to address lack of affordable housing and segregated living patterns.

I ducked out early and walked over to the Presbyterian Church for the Spaygetti Dinner. It’s the big fundraiser for No Kill Columbia. I’ve done a lot for animal rights and go every year. I ate my plate of zucchini marinara and one with meat sauce. I grabbed a bottle of red from the wine pull. I haven’t looked it up to see if I got lucky. I might just experience it.

Then it was off to The Affordable Housing Summit. It was a presentation on Missing Middle Housing by Tony Perez. MMH is the idea that prior to WW II there was lots of varied housing that was walkable and affordable. Zoning had eliminated it and all you see being developed is single family and large apartments, mostly luxury.

It was fascinating, informative and inspiring. It was all code and design and how to reduce the concerns of NIMBYs. A lot of the questions were angry because they couldn’t see the connection between this and affordable housing. I made the connection at my table and got an invitation to do a talk show on community radio.

Then it was heading for home. It was a lot for what I’ve been doing lately but not to untypical. As I think about wrapping up I feel blessed for the wealth of experiences and the depths I’ve plumbed into this city I love. I got some serious biking on a sunny winter day, we moved the ball forward on affordable housing and I made a few dollars. On top of a load of laundry not to shabby.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Weekend

February 9, 2020 Leave a comment

What a great weekend it’s been. I got to be a resource and witness some truly excellent strategic planning at Welcome Home. That’s a homeless veteran’s shelter where I’ve been consulting for several years. It really made me reflect on how much growth and development I’ve seen with this great organization. Since I’ve been working with them they moved from a ramshackle house to a beautiful new facility with three times the capacity. I’ve worked behind the scenes on policy and continuous quality improvement. They’ve gone from a mom and pop type operation to a fully formed professional organization. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. The need is great but the solutions are getting better and better.

My mind has been on the future as I spent the rest of the weekend at Rockbridge High School judging at a debate tournament. I did an evening of Lincoln Douglas contests Friday night. The topic was nuclear disarmament and I loved the moral reasoning. Utilitarianism, pragmatism, Kant’s second categorical imperative were all used to prove states ought to eliminate their nuclear stockpile and then to prove just the opposite.

Yesterday I judged the radio speaking finals. They were all so great and I caught a half an hour of news. It was fun to chat with the kids and kick it in the teacher’s lounge. I read the school paper which was excellent and the kid who invited me to judge had an article on Venezuela. It was on a whole page on US Imperialism which is technically accurate but bold for a high school paper.

Biking on a brisk day but with some blessed sunshine. The last event was running late so I skipped another experience and rode home while it was still light. Full but good day.

Today it’s been nice and unstructured. We’ve had a mouse infestation. I’ve been going through my cupboards and cleaning everything and replacing the shelf paper in addition to freshening up the traps. It’s a gross and difficult job for a big fella. I’m through the worst of it.

My ex-wife would scrub the floor as a spiritual exercise. A metaphor for her life and worrying away at the parts that need to go or get scrubbed clean. I’ve tried to bring some of that energy. Cleaning, examining, tossing the detritus, remembering my underused and forgotten assets.

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