Friday, May 11

Dear Jim,

It’s very windy. No sitting outside today.

This weather reminds me of the Spring you were training for your bike trip to Seattle. Remember that? You’d go on long bike rides to get in shape. One Monday when you got back after a hot real windy weekend you said, ”When I got back across the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew I was ready.”

Your bike trip to Seattle and your first trip to Europe were your great adventures. Mine were living in Kansas then riding freight trains across the West. Sis II had her six month trip to Mexico and her year’s trip to Spain.

I need another adventure. Actually, I need two. They would get me out of my rut. One is to publish my writing, either by self-publishing a book or putting my work online. The other is to get great in Spanish.

Spanish is beautiful. It is sensuous. It would be great to get my mouth in shape so beautiful sounds roll off the front of my lips.

I would love to be part of something beautiful. Our times are ugly. Our nation is ugly. We have abused English and made it ugly. I want Spanish to free me, to make me laugh. And to feel proud that I have accomplished something great.

Publishing my writing would free me in a different way. I would be letting go of everything I’ve saved for twenty years trying to figure out what to do with it. I would be releasing a burden and be able to move on to who knows what in my writing and who knows what in my life, especially if I approach publishing in as businesslike a way as is possible for someone who hates money and commerce.

If I become as good in Spanish as Sis II, and make money from it, or if I make a lot of money from my writing, I would be free socially. I would strut. Be gregarious. I would no longer be one of the countless defeated American men. It’s scary how many of us there are.

The other night a female campaign worker for the woman who is running for city council called me. I told her I wasn’t voting for the incumbent. I said it would be nice if she knocked on my door like the incumbent did. Then I asked – what does the candidate think about rent control? The caller didn’t know.

I said that there are a lot of apartments on my street. She could get the vote of all these renters if she came by and said she was for rent control. The caller said that the candidate is running out of her home and has no paid staff. So she won’t be stopping by.

Today in the mail I received her glossy 8 x 11 inch flyer on thick paper. What a disappointment. She’s got the money for fancy campaign stuff, but she doesn’t have the time to knock on people’s doors.

I don’t think she realizes how badly a lot of people want to get rid of the incumbent. She could make the race exciting if she knocked on people’s doors. I might even campaign for her.

God I would laugh if she won. I would feel the victory is mine because I hate the incumbent so much.

I think the reason I just told you about my goals and how they would free me is because I’ve been reading about my personal problems. On Monday I stopped by the new thrift store where the old co-op was. I wanted to get shirts. So I bought two nice ones for $11.00.

After I tried them on I went to the very orderly book section. I wanted to browse the self-help section because there was something stirring inside.

I took five books off the shelf. The two I kept were a book on insomnia from I think the seventies. It really stank. And a book from 1998 about recovering from grief by completing the grieving process rather than trying to get over your grief or trying to put closure on the death or loss.

There were only 30 pages of the insomnia book that I wanted to read. When I was at the cashier I said to the woman about 50 that ”I love to be in this store. It makes me feel good.” She smiled and said ”That’s nice.” I think I amused her, especially wearing my Jungle Jim hat. Then I asked, ”Is there a garbage can outside?” She said yes.

So I went outside. Put my crap down. Took out the stinky old book. Tore out the 30 pages I wanted, then dropped the book in the can.

For two days I read as much of the books as I could. It was scary. The insomnia book told me I’m not sleeping well because I ‘m not living the life I want to live. I am not in control of my life. That is true.

I haven’t felt in control of my life for almost thirty years. That’s a long time to not sleep well. It was good for me to think about what went wrong and why I have not been able to correct it.

The grief book said that one doesn’t only grieve over a death or a divorce. One can grieve for anything – a loss of a job, a loss of health, a loss of happiness.

I had not been thinking in terms of grief, but I have been grieving a lot about you, how the family isn’t close, how much I hate my job and don’t know what to do, how much I hate the times we live in because everybody is afraid. I am so pissed off because I do not know what to do to resolve my pain, my grief.

I think everybody’s life is about grief. You and I have had a lot. Mine is mainly from not fitting in and not having a place in the world.

You’ve had more events that brought you grief: leaving the seminary because you felt you were not cut out to be a priest; attending a high school you hated because of its’ focus on sports and drinking, and because the literature you read there was not as challenging or inspiring as what you read at the seminary; succeeding academically at college but hating the drugs and the hippies; leaving Seattle because of strife at work; working at a well-paid soul killing career in San Francisco; never getting over the woman in your building who broke your heart; aching because there was no mystical Church to return to; buying the house in that shitty neighborhood when you could have bought a house in Mill Valley in the seventies.

You had a more difficult life than I have. You should have told people to fuck off more.

Remember the time we were sitting near the Rhododendron Dell? We were whining. You more than I. You said, ”You’ve handled your hard times socially better than I have. You’ve gotten involved in things.”

That was true, but I think my profanity helps me be less unhappy than you. There’s something gratifying about saying ”They’re a dumb bunch of bastards,” or ”Go fuck yourself asshole. I’ll kick your ass.”

Except for my profanity, I’m not a man of the times. I was saying fuck in every sentence before the rappers said it, the college girls said it, and the shock jocks said it.

I was a pioneer. But like a true pioneer, the people after me made all the money. I wonder if mom and dad would have been proud of me if I had made money from my foul mouth?

It’s good to face my problems. My biggest regret is having broke mom’s and dad’s heart. That means more to me than the times I’ve been fucked.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, February 16

Dear Jim,

I’ve got two Fuji’s in the window to finish ripening. Somehow I remember you used to have bowls of fruit on your table. I think you meditated on them. You loved the still life’s of fruit of the old European guys that we saw in museums.

I don’t meditate on the Fuji’s, but I love to glance at them. There is nothing rich or subtle in the appearance of most apples. I remember you telling me that an orchard man in Wenatchee said that when he was a kid, his dad grew apples to taste good; but nowadays he doesn’t carry on his dad’s tradition. He grows apples to look good so they will sell. But that’s just it, they don’t look good. They look flashy. They look phony.

Even though I don’t meditate, I am becoming more centered. When I am doing something, I look at my hand or I look at the door knob as I turn it. I want to get to where I naturally meditate. Just have Fuji’s sitting around so I can contemplate them.

In the seventies or early eighties there was an article in Harper’s. It was about a guy in Vermont who lived in the mountains with his wife and kids. The guy would contemplate for two hours at a time.

Dad used to do that every morning before Mass for an hour. What a great combination – meditating then going to Mass. And of course he prayed before meditating.

I’ve thought of taking a yoga class or doing Tai Chi, but it doesn’t feel right. I would like to go to a meditation group where the leader doesn’t talk about peace and tranquility and all that Eastern shit, but says ”Contemplate Justice, Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love, Lust, Hate, Fear, Confidence, Youth, the peak of your powers, falling apart.”

You are going to find peace and tranquility whatever you meditate on. It always amazes me that the chic seekers of Eastern wisdom don’t give the slightest shit about Western values. Except Prosperity.

Wednesday was Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. What an interesting combination.

I didn’t get ashes. I hardly ever have. Dad can’t remember if he got them this year or not. I think getting ashes is an admittance that you are a sinner.

I’m usually self-conscious so I do not get them. Maybe next year I’ll swallow my self-consciousness and do it. It’s a way to acknowledge we are a bunch of sinners without getting hysterical or saying ”I was a…” But we are still sinners even if we don’t have our old bad habits.

Then there is St. Blaise Day. I used to like getting my throat blessed. In these disgusting times, it would be good to get my throat blessed as I ask God to help me not to speak profanely or with hate.

The other day I got together with my friend I lived with for eleven years. She is going through a very difficult time.

She’s a year older than I am but is always sick. Her sister is 73, an invalid. But as pale and stressed as she looked, there was something good I noticed: ”Your eyes look great. The colored parts are real luminous and your whites are really clear.”

She prays and meditates. She prays to St. Anne. She did yoga every day for at least fifteen years, but hasn’t done it lately. She listened to the same yoga tape every day. It broke after I moved out.

February is her favorite month. She loves camellias. They are looking good this year.

February has always been my least favorite month. This year, even with all the sun and wind, I have not gotten as many headaches or been as down as I usually am.

I remember a lot of times coming home in the daytime in February to go to bed because I felt so bad. Do you remember, I guess it was the late eighties, when a friend of mine moved from Sacto to the Marina? You and I and her spent a sunny drought year Sunday afternoon in February on the Marina Green.

I felt like shit. I had a sinus headache all day. I couldn’t eat. When the outing was over, you and I went to mom’s and dad’s. I was in bed the rest of that day and at least all of the next. I wondered what dad thought of me.

Tonight is the crescent moon. I’ll have to step outside to watch it.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few years about our cousin who committed suicide. It’s something I struggle with. I was too self-important to attend his funeral. After mom died and I was grieving for her by writing her letters, I decided to write to each of our dead family members. I wrote to him. I assume I apologized to him for missing his funeral.

He was a gem like you. Everybody loved him. I’ve told some of the family that the two best of our generation died young.

Mom thought he was gay. She thought he might have killed himself because of it. When I think of him, I remember thinking that something wasn’t right, even though he was a great guy and full of goodness. I wonder if he was pissed off at our aunt and uncle and our cousins.

That was a tragedy. If I ever see our cousins, I will apologize for not being there for them.

That’s it for now Jim.

Thanks for letting me get this off of my chest.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, January 12

Dear Jim,

It hasn´t been a rainy winter but it´s been a cloudy one. Last Sunday I went to Starbucks expecting the sun to come out like it did the week before. It never did. After an hour and a ten minutes I was too cold to keep sitting so I walked home in the gloom.

I felt like winter. Cold and lonely. When I got to the corner of the street I would normally turn home on, I decided not to turn. For the second Sunday in a row there were a lot of homeless guys with all their crap camped under the freeway.

It pisses me off and scares me at the same time. I don´t like seeing all the slobs in my neighborhood and I´m mad that the city doesn´t provide abandoned buildings for these guys to live in or abandoned parking lots with tents and porta potties for them to at least be put out of the way.

It scares me that so many of the homeless are young – in their twenties. I look at them sitting around and I shake, ¨Oh my God. They´re so young.¨

I worry a little about getting mugged. I worry a lot that I might become homeless if the rent goes up $100 each year. I don´t have the strength to work full time.

It must be horrible living on the street. There is nowhere to pee or poop. I wonder what kind of problems they will have with their bladder if they eventually get off the street and make it into their forties.

But still. They are slobs. The other day when I left for work I wanted to leave through the back gate and walk through the alley like I usually do. There was a homeless guy milling around under the carport. I thought, ¨This doesn´t look too good. You better go out the front.¨

So I did. When I left the building and turned up the street, the sidewalk underneath the freeway was blocked. I never saw it blocked before. The sidewalk is pretty wide – at least 12 feet. Normally 1/3 to half the sidewalk is filled with a few guys and all their crap. This time a tent blocked the rest of the sidewalk. You couldn´t see past to the street a block away. I was pissed.

I could not believe it. These are the new hobo jungles, only there is no train to catch to see the great American West and take the edge off your pain and give you hope.

At least in the old days tramps could feel solace that they got free rides through beautiful country on equipment of a system that symbolized the Industrial Revolution and the poverty or displacement it created. Theirs.

One time in Klamath Falls, when I was 21, I was walking through the rail yard. Under the overpass were three guys hanging around drinking. Two of them were in their forties. The third guy looked old, but the more I studied him the more I realized he was my age. Several of his teeth were missing.

That was the trip I took Southern Pacific up to Klamath Falls, then Western Pacific back along the Feather River. The way up was cool and cloudy. It was June. The way back was sunny and partly cloudy. Not warm.

The train I took out of Klamath Falls broke up in a little valley. I was walking around the outpost, inspired by the crisp cool air and the mountains, when right in the middle of the maintenance road was the hugest pile of human shit I had ever seen. It was fresh.

When I caught the next train it climbed into the mountains and it got cloudy and cooler. I tried moving to wherever the sun was, but that didn´t work out. Finally, the train started going downhill and along the Feather River.

It got warmer. I took off my coat and relaxed and was enjoying the scenery. Then a train passed coming from Oroville. All of a sudden I saw an empty flat car with two circles of four or five guys playing cards as the train wound up the mountain.

I was astounded. You´ve heard me tell this story. I love to tell it. I haven´t mentioned it to anybody in years. I probably never will. Who gives a shit about freight trains?

Who gives a shit about displaced people? There´s a controversy here in Sacto about homeless people sleeping along the river. The city and the county think the homeless create a health hazard with all their urine, poop, trash, and needles. So periodically the slobs are run out by the police or deputies.

The homeless advocates get mad and say the homeless need a place to stay. The river is the logical place. It is away from everything.

But people who live in the neighborhoods along the river, especially the people close to entrances to parking lots, don´t want a bunch of slobs with their shopping carts, bicycles, baby carriages, and dogs hanging around.

People who want to bicycle along the river do not feel safe. Parents don´t want to take their kids to the river to be around the druggies, boozers, and derelicts.

The progressives blame the government for everything. If we had a real wet winter and the homeless and all their junk were washed away, the progressives would blame the government for not rescuing them.

It bothers me. All the people who have empathy for the homeless look at me like I am a criminal or an evil privileged white man. The people who are wrapped up in appearing to be empathetic and socially conscious toward the disadvantaged or displaced cannot do a random act of kindness like smiling at me when I smile at them.

Remember a few letters ago when I wrote about the guy who was convicted in NYC for killing a cop? I mentioned the reaction of the cop´s mother, then compared it to the response mom and dad had to the guy who killed you.

I said mom and dad forgave him, but I was glad he hung himself in jail. I said I didn´t have empathy for his daughters.

I was thinking today that since mom and dad forgave him, I should too. I was thinking that it is too bad he hung himself in jail. He might have apologized to mom and dad.

If he hadn´t killed himself, his daughters could have visited him in prison trying to make their dad less miserable. They would have had a living father.

I hope they are okay. I hope they hope that dad, the girls, and I are okay.

Life´s a bitch Jim.

I have a helluva long way to go.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, December 22

Dear Jim,

The days are getting longer.

I am trying to get in the Christmas spirit. On Wednesday I finally took out the battery-operated Christmas tree that mom gave me. I love it. She received it from two swingers at church who bought it at Gumps.

I remember you bought somebody a present at Gumps, but I can´t remember what it was. The old lady across the street from us when I graduated from high school had a friend twenty years younger than her who had a great position there. I still know his name but never met him.

It´s a struggle this year. I took out the tree, but left the Silent Night chimes in the closet. I definitely do not feel the peace of Christmas.

On Sunday I´m going to Sis II´s. I don´t think there will be a lot of people. I want to relax, so I hope not. I really want and need to talk with Sis II. Dad´s mind is shot, so she is all I have in the family.

Speaking of family, I was reading the New York Times the other day and thought of you. Two years ago a 25 year old New York City cop was murdered on duty. The other day after the trial but before the verdict:

¨the officer´s mother addressed the courtroom in an emotional plea for the maximum
sentence for her son´s killer, whom she refused to look at. She spoke of Mr. ____´s
lovable personality and living with the knowledge that she would never dance with
him at his wedding or see him become a father. ´This is my life sentence, without
parole,´ she said.¨

A totally different perspective than what mom and dad had toward your murderer. Mom and dad forgave him and prayed for him. If you had read the article you would have said the family of the murderer suffered too.

When the guy who killed you hung himself in jail, I wonder if his kids were happy for us because either he evened the score, or because we were spared the trial and all the questions people would have asked us, ¨Do you hope he gets the death penalty man?¨ I wonder if they were relieved for themselves for not having to go through the stress of the trial or having to visit their father in San Quentin.

I was glad he hung himself. I didn´t give the slightest shit about his kids.

One time when dad was driving you, mom, and I somewhere, you were talking about something that happened in the Bay Area in the 1950´s. A guy was sent to prison for arson. He claimed that he did not do it. He told the prosecutor something like, ¨You´ll pay for this.¨ When the guy got out of prison, he looked up the prosecutor then killed him.

My reaction was ¨Good!¨ ¨What balls!¨ ¨Serves the career-building attorney right!¨ Your comment was that the guy in jail could have tried to make peace with himself in jail, to learn forgiveness, to not waste all those years cultivating vengeance.

I wonder what the two families thought. Did the prosecutor´s family say, ¨Yes. Well even though that was 15 years ago, our dad/brother did ruin someone´s life. We don´t like what happened, but we cannot complain.¨? Did the family of the murderer say, ¨If he had broken out of jail the first week and killed him, that would have been OK, but now we lose our father/brother a second time. We wanted him back.¨?

Well Jim, Merry Christmas.

Thanks for praying for me.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, December 8

Dear Jim,

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Remember the shortstop for the Big Red Machine, Davey Concepcion? He was called the Immaculate Concepcion because he never made an error.

Have I been sacrilegious?

You and mom and everybody in heaven probably had a big party. You, mom, mom´s favorite sister, and auntie and uncle loved Mary.

Since I was downtown for a meeting this morning, I thought of going to the noon Mass at the cathedral, but I decided not to. I did not want to be around all those people and I didn´t want to spend the money.

When I talked with dad this afternoon, he didn´t know today is the Immaculate Conception. He said he doesn´t know any of the holidays, birthdays, or anything anymore.

I told dad I had thought of going to Mass but did not want to. I told him I don´t like being on film at church. Dad thought I was making too big of a deal out of it. He said with all the bullshit that goes on today, the churches have to protect themselves with film.

He said look at all the guys who rob the poor boxes. Then I said that that shows you how screwed up the country has become. Churches were respected when I was a kid. Dad agreed.

But still. I would like churches to be the only places that didn´t have cameras. I wish the Mass was not filmed. Really make churches sacred places.

Like I said in my last letter, the weather has been incredible. We will have another week of 61° days and 35° nights with sun all day. You can´t beat that.

Sunny winter days are great to go to a 1 pm Mass at the cathedral. The sun is low and it is beautiful shining through the stained glass.

I wish you were alive. We would go to Mass together. I would be willing to go to a Mass in Latin.

Remember a couple of letters back I told you I was reading a travel book about Russia? One of the things the book mentioned was the way Russian Orthodox Catholics bless themselves – with the thumb, index finger, and middle finger pressed at their tips.

It got me wondering about the Byzantine Rite, so I asked dad. He said he grew up blessing himself like Russians do. I asked him, ¨The three fingers symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?¨ Dad said yes. There might even be sacred geometry involved. Do you know?

I love Russia. There was a long article about Russia in October´s Smithsonian. October was the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

The author was fascinated by Russia as a kid. Then in the nineties he got to travel there so he could write about it. He made another trip or two, then went back at the beginning of this year to write about the revolution.

He mentioned John Reed, the American writer who lusted for adventure. Reed went to Mexico for the Mexican Revolution, then to Europe during World War I, then to Russia for the Russian Revolution.

Reed did not speak much Russian. He had Russian officials he was friends with sign papers for him so he could pass through check points. But as the revolution got nastier, many checkpoints were not official. They were controlled by revolutionaries.

Twice Reed was stopped by them. Each time he said, ¨I have my papers.¨ But each time none of the revolutionaries could read. Each time he was lucky that someone he knew happened to be there to prevent him from being shot.

It is incredible that twice the revolutionaries did not know how to read. That helps me to understand what Russia was like. I guess what our Appalachia was like.

Here´s some good news but probably too little too late. The other day my boss told me that administration is putting in new types of light bulbs in our office. The fluorescent tubes will be removed.

I´m glad. I hope I am not as stressed.

The light in heaven must be beautiful.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko