Friday, May 18

Dear Jim,

Hace buen tiempo as they say in Spanish.

I’m sitting outside at my favorite coffee shop. There’s no wind. It’s not hot. There aren’t too many people.

I just read the New York Times. I enjoyed it. There was a good report about the City of New York’s efforts to find apartments for its’ 60,000 homeless, and the opposition that the city receives. The opposition especially does not want shelters for men in its’ neighborhoods.

I can’t blame them, but most of the homeless are men, at least here in Sacto. What is America going to do? Our city council just approved a 16-20 bed facility for terminally ill homeless people. That is a great idea.

Also in the NYT were letters in response to an article about a college student who committed suicide. Of course the university gets blamed for the death.

People say that professors should say something to a student who has started to behave strangely. But what is a professor supposed to do?

He would say that he isn’t a mental health professional, that he would be stepping out of his domain. He might also say his students’ problems are none of his business. If a courageous and empathetic professor approached a student who seemed to be on the edge, the student might curse him, or sue him for being nosy.

We complain about the invasion of privacy by the government and business, but we want universities to keep tabs on their students’ mental health.

It would scare me as a college student if I knew that the software that reads my papers for class sends a report to the dean when I write: I am lonely.; They should throw the scum in jail.; I get plastered every weekend. It’s a gas.; If somebody breaks into your apartment you should be allowed to kill him.; There’s nothing wrong with spanking your child.

The more we try to monitor people’s mental health, the more mentally unhealthy we become. Who can I trust if any negative, angry, lust-filled, profane statement might be interpreted by the authorities to mean that I need help – forced prescribed drugs or required counselling?

It’s a double whammy for people who are on the edge. You don’t want to tell your family and friends you are suicidal because you don’t want to burden them.

Yet you can’t trust the mental health profession. It keeps an electronic record of all your appointments and what you revealed about yourself. That’s scary because all your information can be sent to insurance companies, hospitals, and police departments with the click of a button.

So We’re here to help, but Our neighbors are watching you. And We report all suspicious persons to the police. And Smile. You’re on camera.

I think I said this before – no wonder people don’t seek help. We are trained to be afraid. If we were not a police state there would be good mental health. There would be more trust – of yourself and of others.

Remember last year when I wrote to you about the new building for the natural foods co-op? I told you it made me feel good because of the natural light, healthy electric light, and a great view of the sky from the outdoor eating area upstairs. What I was saying was that it was good for my mental health. I really needed the shot-in-the-arm.

But now I hate it. Like one of my friends said, “It’s so yuppie.” Now they want to sell hard liquor, just like all the stores they think they are different from.

We keep talking organic in America, but we are so full of fear and alienation and anality that we are light years away from an organic state of mind. However we might get an organic police state.

You will have a view of the mountains and eat organic beans and rice when you are in jail for something you didn’t do. The mountains and organic food will help your healing process.

I feel like I am in jail. Crazy people feel trapped. We are exiled in our own country.

Sorry to bitch Jim.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, January 26

Dear Jim,

What a peaceful day. Everything has gone right.

I had an invigorating walk up the alley this morning. I wanted to go to the store before it got crowded and I wanted to erase something off of my to do list.

When I got back I called dad. We talked for twenty minutes. That’s the second time in a row we talked for that long. He didn’t disconnect the phone by accident like he did last week. Maybe the ladies who take care of him explained how to use it, or got an easier one to use.

The other day Sis I and II visited him for an early birthday celebration. Dad said it was great.

He’s going to be 96. That’s incredible. I wonder if you were here, if you would have let dad be put in a rest home, or if you would have taken care of him.

You should see the people on the street who need to be taken care of. Last night when I got home there was a crazy bastard screaming under the carport. He was still screaming when I went to bed.

Usually when I hear or see somebody under the carport, I look at them to scare them. I was afraid to look at that bastard. It’s incredible how much time and energy I put into thinking and complaining about these guys.

Dad sounded really good. He’s been sounding strong. I could tell he was low today, but he still sounded strong. He said he’s been feeling good.

He said the days drag by and that they must drag by for me too. I said my days go by fast, it’s just that I have a lot of bad days. He said yeah or something to acknowledge that he knew what I was talking about.

The other day I walked to the river. I knew it wouldn’t be high because there has not been a lot of rain. But I needed to see water, the movement of the river. I needed a destination. I needed to walk without carrying my crap.

It’s usually windier at the river. I wanted to stay a while to watch the current and patterns on the water, but I was sweating. The wind chilled me. I said, ”You better get outta here.” But at least I saw it.

On the way back my knees started to hurt. I was smart. I didn’t push it.

I waited for a bus and took it the rest of the long way home. Remember when your feet started to hurt from walking all those hills in The City?

Dad’s lucky. His legs held up until he was 89. I compliment him on his great body all the time.

On Wednesday he went for a haircut. I asked how it went. He said, “It’s a real good one.” I said, ”Do you look like you’re 70?” He laughed.

I feel 70.

I told the MD that I feel punchy a lot, that sometimes it’s hard for me to speak. I asked for a brain scan, then he sent me for a CT. There was nothing wrong. No tumors. No bleeding. No Alzheimer’s.

One time he said I know the lights at work drive you crazy and that the stress makes you think there is something wrong with your brain, but we have no studies or tests that we can point to and give you for your particular problem.

What would solve most of my problem would be to have the money to retire. I would go outside more. I would not be overstimulated by the shitty lights and stressful job.

It’s amazing dad and mom looked so good for so long, especially dad.

That’s it for now.

I hope we get a lot of rain so the rivers get high.



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


Dear Jim,

I´m sitting at the Sacramento River listening to the freeway and watching the water. It´s overcast but not cold, so I will be able to stay out for at least three hours.

Every time I come down to watch the water there are slobs. It´s creepy. Between the homeless, the freeway, the ugly skyline behind me and just plain rude people, it usually is not enjoyable.

But once in a while I need to see the river, especially on cloudy days like today and when the river is high in winter. I like to watch logs float down after the rain. One time there were birds standing on a log pecking at it as it floated.

When I got here today there were two slobs with their pit bull sitting where I wanted to sit. I walked until I saw a nice spot to lean on the rail to watch the water.

Just as I got comfortable putting on my ski cap and head phones, three 20 year olds passed on their bicycles. As they rode by, one of the guys patted me on my (a woman just rode by with her husband and yelled, ¨Happy Thanksgiving!¨ I turned. We waved as we looked at each other. I said, ¨Happy Thanksgiving!¨ She made me feel good) butt where my wallet was. He said something that ended in ´ay´. I don´t know if he was saying have a nice day or perceived me to be gay.

My first thought was ¨That asshole.¨ My second thought was ¨My wallet!¨, but it was there. Then I took it out to put in my front pocket. The nerve of the bastard.

I don´t know what I would have done if they wanted to beat me up or hassle me for money. I tell myself to be careful. I say stay calm and breath deep. But something like that! If they had stopped I would not have known what to do, even if I had been breathing deep.

Something like this happened on light rail four years ago. I was sitting in an aisle seat wearing my sun hat when a black kid tapped my brim – he flicked his fingers up from underneath it. I almost got up to punch him, but the light rail company probably would have blamed me.

I´ve been gone from home an hour forty-five minutes and I still do not have to pee. I was peeing all day Tuesday and yesterday.

You know the song Yesterday by The Beatles? 3,000 singers recorded it. That´s amazing.

I´ve been reading a lot. I´m still reading biographies for children in Spanish. Tuesday I read about The Beatles. Yesterday I read about Neil Armstrong – the guy who walked on the moon.

It´s good for me to read about people whose field does not interest me – Walt Disney, Einstein, Steve Jobs, Neil Armstrong. It makes me face the fact that I hate these times while they thrived on them.

Jobs, Armstrong, Disney help me put my youth in perspective. I will never like movies, but I wish something could have happened in the eighties to get me interested in computers. How much more confident and happy I would be. How much more money I would have.

When I read about Armstrong, I was fascinated by the simple diagrams of the trip to the moon. They showed the orbits and the separation of the different parts of the rocket and the rejoining of them for the return to earth. When they got to the moon Armstrong had to use his training to search for a place to land because where they expected to land was not flat.

What do you think of this? Armstrong had a speech prepared to deliver to us when he landed on the moon. He was going to say, ¨A small step for a man, but a giant leap for all mankind.¨ However, his words got garbled and what was recorded was, ¨A small step for man, a giant leap for all mankind.¨

Reading about Armstrong got me interested in flying, so I ordered a short adult book about the Wright Brothers.

My butt´s getting sore. I´ll write you when I get to another spot.

My Coffee Shop

I walked most of the way from the river to here. Boy is Sacramento eerie. It´s one thing to have weird people at the river or in parks, but it´s another to have so many one and two story ugly piece of shit concrete office buildings across from a row of beautiful old houses, and then another thing to have a ton of sterile new condos and apartments that nobody who is already here can afford.

Downtown, Midtown – it is stifling, soul-killing, phony. Remember the saying Are we having fun yet? Well, Sacramento is trying desperately to be a big city and a cultural center. Are we world class yet? Do we have soul now?

Even with all our trees we are nothing. A movie came out about the time you died – Edward Scissorhands. At the beginning was a panorama of an unbelievably sterile suburb with unreal trees. It terrified me. That´s how I feel about Sacramento. It´s unbelievably sterile.

I´m terrified of being old here. The beautiful trees in this ugly town make my bitterness worse. What happened to America?

I was reading a travel book about Russia. There was a lot of history in it. One of the things the book said was that Russia looks upon itself as female – Mother Russia.

That got me thinking about America. I can´t imagine referring to America as the motherland or the fatherland. There is no deep unfathomable American soul that I want to go down to the river on a sultry night to revel in as the water of my ancestors passes.

Wouldn´t it be nice if America had a connection to the earth and a connection to the great beyond?

We´re nothin´.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, July 7

Dear Jim,

God was is it hot today! I slept for almost two hours when I got home.

This afternoon I went to a class downtown about retirement. The teacher said that a lot of times people get fed up with their job then one day hand in their retirement papers during lunch never to return.

I like hearing stories like that. I’ve always hated work. I get tired of hearing people call me negative when I complain.

Even though people need to work for their pride and to not have the disrespect of others, there is no doubt that work is a soul killer. Just think how lousy we all look and how lifeless we are.

I walked home through midtown. Do you remember that Sunday we were walking in the heart of midtown and you said that Sacramento is the city of the walking dead?

It still is. There are blank expressions on most peoples faces. Hardly anybody smiles, nods, says hello, or looks you in the eye.

Even people with pets aren’t friendly. It used to be that pets broke down barriers between people. Now people have pets because they want them for protection.

Fear. Fear. Fear. It absolutely amazes me. A few Indian Summers ago I was walking home in the dark about 8. A woman standing in front of her house calmly said hello to me. She wasn’t afraid. I didn’t know what to say, but I managed to say hello. I was stunned. I remember telling dad about it.

There is something about this part of town – the pretentious artists, the gays, the New Agers and their progressive conspicuous consumption – “Aren’t we enlightened?” Not really asshole.

One thing has really gotten bad – the slobs. You can’t cal them bums. They are the homeless.

Under the freeway on 26th, 24th, 23rd, 18th, especially 26th and 18th, is scary. Not that anybody is going to hurt me.

It is filthy. It is incredible. It smells all the time and there is always old furniture and clothes and bicycles left. Food people give the slobs is left there.

Six or seven years ago I noticed that a dude camped on the sidewalk every night was awfully friendly to people. I said to myself, “This guy is asking for trouble.” Sure enough. Somebody killed him.

There are more slobs and more crap every day. I don’t exit through the alley near as much. There are too many guys going through the dumpsters and hanging out in the shade. I used to love alleys.

When people ask if Sacramento’s changed a lot, I say downtown was ugly and cheap when I arrived, now its ugly and expensive. I say midtown still has neat trees and houses, but it’s more Yuppie than when I got here.

I’ve always loved the light play in midtown: the old houses, the stately tree, the spaces between houses. But I’m losing my eye because I’m on the computer so much.

Our fear-filled society effects me too. Nobody is going to beat me up. But somebody might call the cops on me because I move slow and try to smell the roses, or because my eyes light up over a woman’s magnificent torso.

These are bad times Jim.



Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Upper X

I wonder if slobs ever leave the dankness of their concrete jungle,
Walk down the street.
Stand in the sun watching cars on the freeway,
Palms in the landscape.
Wishing they had somewhere to go,
Could sleep under a tree,
Lie in weeds.
If they do, I never see them.
I’m lucky to be a dreamer,
A block and a half from Paradise,
A few steps from my darkness.


Parking lots under freeway great places for boxing match,
Tapping the violence waiting to erupt,
Bringing it into the open –
The homeless seeing fighters do to each other
what they would love to do to an ex-boss,
ex-wife, the cops,
Shouting, drinking, smoking, having somewhere to pee.
Finally feeling freed.