Friday, February 26, 2010

Healthy Tales: Richard!

My health club is a living organic entity. Sure, the equipment and the building itself are inanimate, but the assemblage of characters within—so many people coming and going, day after day, working out, procrastinating and/or posing-- that’s the fascinating part.

I love to study human beings, because they’re slightly more interesting than the primates at the San Francisco Zoo. The gorillas are pretty predictable. They sleep half the time, and spend their limited waking hours eating, staring at you, scratching themselves and then staring some more. But on the other hand, they won’t cut you off on the road and then flip you off or steal your identity or marry your stepdaughter. So, it’s a trade-off.

This story starts about a year ago. There’s a guy who comes into the club who looks like he’s developmentally disabled and possibly legally blind. He wanders around mumbling and singing and stays to himself. He looks like he’s around 50 and he’s chubby, mostly unshaven with sideburns that are uneven and hair that’s out of control. His eyebrows are huge and I swear they move, like a pair of furry caterpillars. I started seeing him at the club every once in awhile, and eventually I noticed that everyone ignored the guy. Like he didn’t exist, like a ghost.

People wouldn’t be rude, but they wouldn’t acknowledge him either. And in some instances, that’s even worse. For almost a full year, I’d see this guy in the club, primarily in the pool and in the hot tub, but no one ever spoke to him during that entire time.

Sure, he’s not normal. But what’s normal anyway? There’s a female Russian weightlifter at my club with a deep voice and a mustache. Is she (or he) normal? I mean, I met her and she’s very sweet. She drives for Muni and I doubt her passengers ever act up. But people ignore her too. Why, because she’s different and humans fear what they don’t know.

So, one day I was sitting next to this singing guy in the hot tub, and I was in a strange mood, so I leaned over and whispered in his ear. “The hot tub is nice today. It reminds me of my college years. One time I partied with three naked cheerleaders in a hot tub. It was a blast!”

He didn’t say anything, so I started exiting the hot tub.

“Yeah, it’s hot,” he said suddenly.

He spoke. So, I kept talking.

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Fine, who are you?”

“My name’s Ed.”

He turned his head sideways like a confused dog.


“If you can’t remember my name,” I was talking slowly now. “Think of Ed with the big head. I have a large head.”

He laughed.

“What’s your name, buddy?”



From his expression, I got the feeling Richard and I had completed our conversation. But he actually spoke, so I walked away pleased.

A few days later, I ran into Richard again. This time we talked a little longer. He was probably asking, “Why is this strange guy speaking to me again?”

Well, over the next few months I got to know Richard more and more. The conversations eventually became in-depth and I learned a lot about my newest friend.

Richard is 54 and he describes himself as “slow”. I didn’t inquire any further and I don’t care. He’s 70% blind, which means he can see movies but only on the big screen. His entire family is gone. His parents passed away while he was a child and his grandmother raised him. She passed away in 2004 and both of his brothers died last year. He survives on SSI and lives in a financially-assisted apartment in the Fillmore District of San Francisco.

Richard is hilarious. The other day he said, “I can’t figure it out. I work out every day and last year I gained two pounds.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his “workout” consists of sitting in the hot tub and then sitting in the pool. His exercise involves traveling the 15 feet between the two bodies of water.

Our conversations have gradually grown in scope. First we just discussed the weather and the temperature of the hot tub. Now we wrestle with bigger issues, like global warming, the price of gas, macaroni and cheese vs. creamed spinach as a preferred side dish at Boston Market, life after death and guardian angels.

The latter subject came to light when Richard asked me if guardian angels actually exist.

“Well, I’ve never seen one, but I believe I have one,” I responded.

“How do you know?”

“Someone must be watching over me,” I said. “Because I should be dead long ago. I did my share of drugs in my younger days and I did a lot of stupid things, but I’m still here.”

“While you were in college with those cheerleaders?”

He’s got a great memory, I thought.

“But why can’t I see my guardian angel?” Richard asked.

“Because life is stressful enough without having someone or something watching you all the time,” I explained. “So they stay invisible.”

“Oh, okay.”

While I was talking to Richard on a daily basis, something changed. Other club members started overhearing our discussions and joined in. Pretty soon people stopped ignoring Richard. Within a few weeks, he was having similar conversations with other people in the club. His attitude changed almost overnight and suddenly he became very social and outgoing. I opened the floodgates and now he's the club's flavor of the month.

Later I found out that it wasn’t necessary for me to give him the “Ed with the Big Head” description in order for him to recognize me and remember me. Because even though he can barely see, Richard has learned how to voice print people. He can recite anyone’s name based solely on the sound of their voice.

“Hey Bill. Hi Judy. How are you Phil? Hot tub’s nice today, huh?” Richard was on a roll.

I never expected everyone’s reaction but I like it. He’s the club mascot now. Members are going out of their way to talk to him, because he’s got an infectious attitude and a smile that could warm the cockles of anyone with half a heart. And Richard has enough heart for everyone.

I feel happy for breaking the silence that existed around him. But, I also feel guilty for ignoring Richard for almost a year. Why do we do this? I see it all the time. Because we’re scared and confused by the unknown. I saw it happen to me when I had my mini-stroke. I’ve lost friends since then, because they’re frightened for me and I believe it makes people think about their mortality and it scares the guano out of them.

When we see someone in the herd and they’re not 100% for whatever reason, the average person will gravitate in the wrong direction, instead of embracing this individual and trying to find out whom they really are and if you can help them. Sometimes that means just talking to someone, so that they can at least feel somehow connected to the rest of the group.

The other day I saw Richard on Fillmore Street with another member of our club. I got up right on his left ear and said, “It’s meeee.”

“Ed, with the big head!”

There’s that smile again.

“Uh, Ed, I’d like to introduce you to Susan,” Richard is networking now. “She’s a friend of mine from the club.”

Our social butterfly is flying free!

“Hi Susan, my name is Ed.” And she smiled.

Wow I thought. So much great energy-- and generated by one guy who was formerly invisible to everyone. A human being who people avoided and treated like a pariah. But, now others have seen it and are tapping into Richard’s love. And it’s great!

So next time you walk by that same handicapped or homeless person you see every few days, maybe you should whisper in their ear and see how they respond. You might just find another gem like Richard—a formerly ignored individual with so much to offer to the rest of us in this so-called real world.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Get in the Scene with Yoostar!

Yoo-Hoo, it’s a great time every time when you let it rhyme and this new gadget, you can covet it and don’t ever forget it. What am I talking about? It’s called Yoostar and chances are it will go so far. Yoostar can allow you to star in your favorite shows, right alongside the best in the business to share your performance to the entire planet. Get on and stay on it, because Yoostar is the next wave in entertainment. Get 100% into the picture and act your ass off. When you purchase a Yoostar system, all you have to do to get there is take advantage of the tools Yoostar will give you as part of the deal. You get a specially-designed web cam, green screen and stand, remote control and Yoostar software that makes it totally easy to step into the scene with your favorite actors. I’d love to do a scene with Julia Roberts of Megan Fox; I mean any guy would, wouldn’t he? Once you’ve injected yourself in the scene, you can upload the video to, a 24/7 online multiplex with a HUGE audience of people who want to see your scenes. Check it out. You can’t go wrong with Yoostar!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Greyhound Matter

A trip on a Greyhound bus is a traveling circus. A social experiment gone wrong. A petri dish on 18 wheels. Rows and rows of depressed and defeated. Retreating from what could have been to what actually transpired.

The old woman sitting right next to me is doing her best to avoid making eye contact, which is an art form in itself, because we’re a foot apart from each other. She’s once again being shuttled from her son in Waco back to her sister in Nashville. No one had to tell me, I can read her ticket sticking out of her purse and overheard her whining on her cell phone.

The fidgeter across the aisle looks like a ferret high on crank but it doesn’t stop him from chatting up a trailer park princess two rows back. And an old fat cowboy right behind me ate too many nachos at the Houston station and now he’s got a slow leak.

Each passenger brings three pieces of luggage--a story, an excuse and a dream. The story is 90% fiction. The excuse is even less believable and the dreams are equally illogical and unattainable. But that’s why they’re called dreams, now aren’t they? If your dreams make sense and appear plausible, get better dreams. Don’t make yourself the best lead singer of a rock band that plays in small clubs. I mean, if it’s your dream—go for it. Make it bigger and perform in front of huge crowds in big stadiums with lots of drugs and groupies. Be the greatest rock crooner whoever lived—a hybrid of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury-- but with the ability to levitate. I mean, why edit your dreams?

Riding a Greyhound bus is a fairly painless process for getting far away from anything you’re fleeing from, inexpensively and hassle-free. No one knows who you are when you get on the bus, so you can be anyone you want to be. Sometimes I’m a jet pilot. Other times, a successful business magnate who’s Ferrari broke down just outside of any convenient city name I could find along the route. But, on this trip I’m myself—a lost, grossly overweight and unhealthy unemployed writer who’s just got himself involved in an out-of-control drug muling operation that will undoubtedly lead me to a long, uncomfortable prison term.

On this particular trip—a nearly 20-hour journey from El Paso to Memphis, the ring leader of this circus was no less than the driver himself. A sage observer of life along the highways and in the rest stops of America’s southwest. His name was Bill. He wore the Greyhound uniform with pride, but his large gut peeked out from behind his tight gray and blue shirt and provided maybe three inches of clearance between his large stomach and the steering wheel.

We discussed his life and agreed he had wasted his. He wasn’t shy about divulging everything. We talked about death and wrestled with the number one question for mankind—what happens when we die? He said it’s just a long dirt nap; a sea of nothingness for eternity. I told him my experiences seeing ghosts made me feel like there was at least something in the afterlife.
We basically agreed that love is fragile and meaningless and frivolous in the big picture. We talked music—he said he preferred the old ‘80s bands like Abba, Pat Benatar and Heart. I talked about the bands I grew up with and still love, like Bad Company, Dave Mason and Traffic. We hit every subject imaginable without segues and in no particular sequence--from history, philosophy, weather—we even discussed the theories behind Chia Pets and Sea Monkeys. (You know, they’re basically just brine shrimp.)

Most of what we covered during this rambling marathon conversation is what I call “bar knowledge”—information we enjoy imparting and sharing but in the end it won’t improve your life or make you a better person.

His truisms were valuable, but somewhere I had heard them before.
“Life sucks initially and gradually gets worse.”
“Potential is overrated. So many people say he or she has all this potential in the world, but most of the time, there’s nothing there.”
“I could have been the Segovia of Scrabble. But I couldn’t handle Q’s.”

He had gone through three marriages, all failed. His two daughters from his first marriage hated him, his ex-wife baited him and he smacked her, so he had to go to jail for three months and then onto anger management classes for two years. He ended up marrying his anger management instructor and smacked her a few years later.

His third ex-wife compared him to Ted Bundy in divorce court and the judge agreed, so she got half of everything and custody of their son. After earning close to a million bucks in the stock market in the mid-‘80s, Bill hit the skids and was taken down by alcoholism, cocaine and later meth amphetamine. Then, to make money for his assorted habits, he began working for a sports bookie, which was profitable for a decade, until his boss ratted him out and he spent two more years in prison.

“In one millisecond, my life changed”, he explained in the dark with the bus instrument panel illuminating his pudgy, pockmarked face, like he probably had bad acne when he was a teenager. “Seven FBI agents broke down the door and that was it. Those two years in Lewisburg helped me get clean, but when I got out nobody wanted to hire me at even minimum wage.
“It took me four years to get this job driving for Greyhound and I’ve been here nine years now. After three raises, I make $15.50 per hour. And that’s pretty much the ceiling. If I’m not a cautionary tale for you, buddy, you can’t find one.

“There are two ways in life to do things-the right way and the easy way. I took the easy way and now I sit here with major regrets. I haven’t had good wood since Reagan was president.

I thanked him for sharing his life story, right as the bus pulled into a foggy wet Memphis. He smiled for what seemed like the first time and I could still see his face in the rearview mirror as he pulled away. Our eyes met for a moment and then suddenly I saw my face in that mirror instead of his. Except in my reflection my hair was gray and my cheeks sagged. I was 51 in an instant. I knew right there and then things would get worse fast. I’m getting out of this nasty business the first chance I get, I told myself once again, but I really didn’t mean it. The money is just too damn good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What Tiger Didn't Say Yesterday

As we all know, the real important things that should have been said were never even approached. So, here I am writing between the lines.

Good morning, and thank you for joining me. Many of you in this room are my friends. Many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me or you've worked with me or you've supported me.

I stacked the room.

Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me. I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

I’m so sorry I got caught.

Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior.
Buying her an expensive yacht is the first part of that healing process.
As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words;

It will come written on a check .

I am also aware of the pain my behavior has caused to those of you in this room. I have let you down, and I have let down my fans. For many of you, especially my friends, my behavior has been a personal disappointment. To those of you who work for me, I have let you down personally and professionally. My behavior has caused considerable worry to my business partners.

If I could have done it differently, yes, I would have frequented massage parlors and avoided skanky nightclub hostesses.

To everyone involved in my foundation, including my staff, board of directors, sponsors, and most importantly, the young students we reach, our work is more important than ever. Thirteen years ago, my dad and I envisioned helping young people achieve their dreams through education. This work remains unchanged and will continue to grow. From the Learning Center students in Southern California to the Earl Woods scholars in Washington, D.C., millions of kids have changed their lives, and I am dedicated to making sure that continues.

I’m starting a class for kids teaching them how to pick up on strippers and another one called “Erotic Texting”.

For all that I have done, I am so sorry.

But, the fact that I’m amazingly rich makes it a little easier to deal with all this sorrow and regret.

I have a lot to atone for, but there is one issue I really want to discuss. Some people have speculated that Elin somehow hurt or attacked me on Thanksgiving night. It angers me that people would fabricate a story like that. Elin never hit me that night or any other night. There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage, ever. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise throughout this ordeal. Elin deserves praise, not blame.

Elin deserves half and I’m scared.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Presidio Golf Course is Fore the Environment

The Presidio golf course is one of the Presidio’s greatest attractions, with amazing panoramic views and a rich history. But, now the world is honoring the course for being a leader in environmentally sensitive golf course management. By capturing the highly-regarded Turfgrass Excellence Award in the public category of the Golf Superintendents Association of Northern California, course superintendent Brian Nettz can say with confidence that the greens at the Presidio course are truly greener.
The Presidio was built in 1895, making it the second oldest in Northern California. But by using technologies perfected in 2010, the course is running a sustainable, green and clean operation. More than 60,000 rounds are played there every year, so maintaining the course is a huge undertaking. Keeping the course green, neatly trimmed and ideal for top-flight golfers is a 24/7 job, but Nettz and his 17-member crew are up for the task.
“This award shines brightly not only on the work of Brain Nettz and his crew,” said Jeff Deis, the Presidio Trust’s Chief Operating Officer, the organization that oversees the entire Presidio. “But it also showcases the Trust’s commitment to sustainability and reflects on the golf course as a whole, given its unique position in a National Park setting.”
By taking a preventative approach to pest control and focusing on natural alternatives to pesticides, the Presidio golf course has been able to cut its pesticide use in half within the last decade and now uses 70-85 percent less pesticide than the majority of private courses in San Francisco. With fewer insects, the only thing bugging your game at the Presidio golf course might be your handicap.
Instead of teeing up, the groundskeepers at the Presidio golf course “tea up” by spraying a “compost tea” instead of chemical pesticides on their greens. This solution is made by soaking compost in water to extract the nutrients from the compost. It’s just one of the methods the course is using to control disease while promoting overall turf health.
“We use seaweed and the compost tea in conjunction to fight insects that would otherwise destroy these greens, for example,” Nettz said. “Once we get the tea, we have to apply it to the grass within 24 hours or it will lose its effectiveness. It contains beneficial microbes and they eat the bad microbes existing on the course. We’ve been on the compost tea bandwagon for a while now, so we’ve really begun to see better and better results. It’s an accumulative process and the fact that we’ve stuck with it has really paid off.”
Nettz and his crew have also adopted “cultural control” techniques such as aerating and over –seeding fairways and increasing drainage to create conditions more favorable to turf and less favorable to weeds. Groundskeepers have changed the type of turf throughout sections of the course and trim tree branches to reduce shade on certain holes to control the invasive, worm-like nematode, which sounds more like a Star Wars-like alien created just down the road at George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.
Nettz was surprised and pleased about the award. “We’ve been stressing sustainability and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals in every case,” he said. “We’re always balancing between providing our golfers with conditions they prefer, while being committed to developing non-invasive methods for maintaining the course and providing a safer working environment for our employees. ”
Do golfers who play the Presidio yell “Fore” in response to a greener approach to the game? “Several of our regular golfers and club members have congratulated us for the award,” Nettz said. “In the end, they want to be able to play a quality 18 holes and go home to their families, but I believe they respect the fact that we focus on doing the right thing for the environment and making it a priority.