What October 25th Means to Me (2013)

October 25, 2002 was probably the worst day of my life. In the blink of an eye, I lost my job, my hero, my career path, and my cherished coworkers. Like so many times in my life, what I worked so long and hard for, reaching a good place with a bright future, was taken from me in an instant.

Wellstoneia, as we called 136 Hart, was a special place. We were all different, with plenty of eclectic and eccentric qualities, but we were united on a common mission. We were allowed, even encouraged, to be ourselves. I have always hated wearing ties, but I donned one on a day when my Legislative Correspondent colleagues and I were scheduled to meet with Paul. (I don’t mean to show off a sense of familiarity—he insisted on being called by his first name. By everyone. He was humble and populist.) When my boss saw me in a tie, she immediately exclaimed, “What are you doing? Take that thing off!” I explained that since we were meeting with Paul, I thought maybe I should wear a tie. She scoffed and made me take it off. One: it’s not me; I don’t wear ties. Two: Paul couldn’t care less. He preferred honesty and authenticity and didn’t care about the unimportant things—your clothes, your wealth, your title, your physical or mental disabilities—he was interested in your work, your ideas, your family, YOU.

I was painfully shy when I worked for Paul, but he knew who I was. Not just “bigshot politician remembers the name that goes with that face in his office”. He knew what I believed. He knew my work. He knew my passion, intelligence, and commitment. He didn’t care that, when Congress was out of session, I might come to work in a T-shirt, jeans shorts, Birkenstocks, and a pony tail. After all, Paul had repeatedly been voted the worst dressed senator—an honor that only made me surer that he was the politician for me. In my 3 ½ years in the Senate, I only ever saw one other man with a pony tail. Paul cared that you did good work and treated people well. And I think he knew that the more freedom and support you give people to express their individuality, the more comfortable and loyal they are, and the higher their morale. Staff in other offices poked fun at us for having it easy, but the truth is that we were more effective and productive than most other Senate offices.

The evidence of how well Paul knew me despite my shyness came in May 2002. That month, my parents came to DC to visit me (the last time my mom has visited me). I asked our executive assistant if we could have a little time to meet with Paul and get a photo taken. She said, slightly ribbing me, what a good son I was. I think we got 15 minutes on the schedule. But being Paul, that turned into more like 30. My parents and I met with Paul AND Sheila. Her desk was across the cubical divider from mine, so she heard me talking to constituents a lot. Mom asked what we could do about Bush and these crazy Republicans. Knowing Paul was a political science professor by background, Dad discussed his former Washington U. professor Walter Dean Burnham, a heavyweight in the field, with Paul. I was surprised and embarrassed that Dad interrupted Paul, maybe out of nervousness.

What Paul wanted to discuss was different. He asked what my parents did for a living, how they were doing, how my grandparents were, what my sisters were doing, and what was coming up for them. Finally, Paul THANKED them for giving him me. He told my parents what a hard and committed worker I was and said I really believed in what we were doing. I couldn’t help beaming. I was speechless. How often does a US senator, much less your hero and role model, tell your parents face to face—parents to whom you’re never good enough, what a great employee you are and that he’s thankful to have you? That was a great moment. We got a group picture of everyone, and I got another with just Paul. He signed copies for my parents and for me, and theirs hangs in their living room. It wasn’t meant to be a final or memorial picture, but it’s become that. My picture with Paul wasn’t meant to be testament to how high I’d risen or happy I’d once been, but that’s how I see it now.

Paul Wellstone was the best senator in a generation. There wasn’t anyone else like him, and there won’t be again. Working for another senator next was a rude awakening. It was so different from Wellstoneia, even though she is also regarded as a liberal. I got more appreciation for how special Wellstone and his office and staff were, and how Capitol Hill really worked. Though my goal since interning for Paul in 1997 had been to be a Legislative Assistant (policy advisor) in the Senate, I realized that without Paul there, Capitol Hill had no place for me. I decamped to a non-profit, where I further contemplated my future without Paul and banged my head against the wall lobbying against a Republican president, Senate, and House, and decided I needed some time outside DC, outside the US, to consider whether I still wanted to work in politics. The answer gradually emerged: no.

From there, my occupational situation and hopes, my physical health, my mental health, my finances, my idealism, my personality, and more have steadily declined. At 25 years old, the best boss, coworkers, job, and work environment of my life were behind me. I’ll never have them again. I wish I could be with my old Wellstone family today, but I alone am in Seattle. I haven’t been to Paul’s grave in Minneapolis or the crash site memorial in St. Louis County. I hope to visit them someday. I sometimes wish I could’ve died instead of Paul. I was going to go to Minnesota the next week to campaign. One of my MN coworkers who died had just been emailing me about the transit benefit I was trying to start. It’s not a huge leap to a scenario in which I could’ve been on the plane. I’ve had a little survivor’s guilt. I wish I could tell Paul not to take that flight, or to change the plane or pilots. Of course I wonder what would’ve happened if he had lived. The more time that elapses since that horrific day, the harder it is to project. I wonder, if I could talk to Paul now, what he’d say to me. He sometimes feels like the only person I’ve ever really loved, and my one regret is simply that I never hugged him.

Recently, my therapist and my psychologist aunt suggested that I likely have post-traumatic stress from the Wellstone crash. Seems pretty clear to me. I knew immediately that that plane crash would change my life forever. I’ve grown, learned, and matured plenty in the past 11 years. But the truth is that nightmarish day took much of my life, my hopes, my plans, and my aspirations too. And like Paul, Sheila, Marcia, Tom, Mary, and Will; they’re not coming back.

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Draft Email to Parents

I don’t have enough peak minutes to talk on the phone much. But you need to put me above spending money on your dogs. I’m the one you created, and you have more money than at least 80% of Americans. You have no idea what it is to be busy. Petty bourgeois crap doesn’t count. I’m talking basic human survival. You don’t want me dead before the dogs? You need to make it happen. It takes money to survive in this country, and I can’t get any. You have loads. I’ve managed to avoid drugs and alcohol, unlike most people in my position. But if you can’t lift a finger to even help me with the IRS when one of you is an ACCOUNTANT, there is no logical choice for me other than suicide. Why didn’t you hear from me for 3 years? Because you judge me, criticize me, exclude me, and ignore me. I tried to kill myself and came pretty close, and you still refuse to discuss it. So if you care that little whether I live or die, why should I bother telling you anything else going on in my life? You only treat me as a failure and disappointment. Everything bad that happens to me is my fault. Everything I do is wrong. Keep sending me more clothes I don’t need, just because you like shopping for them. I can at least sell them on the street for something I really need. You claim not to care about material possessions, but that’s all you offer me. Like the Christians who go to Africa to give starving people bibles.

To be Old, Rich, Self-Absorbed, and Jewish

My dad is a CPA. He dealt with the IRS in his job for 22 years. He knows that I can allow him to manage my tax affairs with the IRS. He knows how to get them to pay me the $600+ they owe me. But the parents who selfishly created me and abused me for 18 years refuse to help me. As my aunt says, they have always been selfish and difficult, and my mom in particular is “not a warm person”. They just sold a house for $525,000 and bought 10 acres in Oregon. They’re renting sheep to train one of their dogs in agility. They care more about their obedient, unquestioning dogs than their only son.

“On Oct 22, 2014, at 19:48, Parents wrote:

We can’t deal with the IRS and the health insurance people for you. How certain are you that you will get what they owe you? If you think you can do it, we could loan you the money temporarily until you settle with them.

————————————–

From: Jon
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 8:44 PM
To: Mom & Dad
Subject: help

I know you said you’re busy, but no one is busy like the poor. I need help resolving my IRS problems and getting my old health insurance to reimburse me for 2012 visits with Cary. I can’t manage these things anymore. I desperately need a new laptop as my current one is more than 8 years old, extremely slow, doesn’t support lots of programs I need to run such as an online battery of tests I was supposed to do for a temp agency a while back, and the calendar doesn’t sync with my phone’s calendar, so I can’t be productive to schedule medical appointments or dog visits when I’m not home. Smartphones to my generation are what cars were to yours. If I can get the money the IRS and Regence owe me, I think I can get a new laptop with a warranty. Can I delegate these tasks to you?

Life Update/Thoughts on Our Rising Dollar

10628842_10152415917312507_8216021641307924469_o (1)Life has been very busy the last 7-10 days. Which creates a paradox where life in poverty is so hectic you don’t have time to document it, contributing to overall lack of understanding of what life in poverty is like. I’ve had a few dogsitting gigs that made me a little money. One generated another 5-star review online. I spent so much in September bus fare that a pass would’ve been cheaper, but dogsitting isn’t predictable enough to buy one early in the month. I volunteered to be in a TV ad for Pramila Jayapal‘s state Senate race. It should air on cable in Renton, where I don’t think I know anyone. But it was fun, and I met a very attractive woman who lives near my new home (I love Columbia City) and has been looking for a dogsitter. I’ve shifted my scant savings to financial institutions that pay higher interest. I got an iPhone 6, paid for by the trade-in value of my iPhone 4S. I decided to delay, again, buying a new laptop (this one is more than 8 years old and doesn’t support Chrome or Skype, for example, nor can it sync the calendar with my phone). So between that and the trade-in value they made available only if you ordered by 9/30, I figured I deserve a new toy. Which I like a lot so far. 🙂

I had an initial intake appointment at the private DBT clinic, and I actually feel hopeful about it so far. It seems like a better fit for me than the Harborview program. I got assigned to a therapist who has experience in PTSD, which I think is my top mental health issue right now. Also, she’s about my age and pretty. 😛 I also FINALLY got a blood glucose meter and test strips, and the insulin pen we fought 2 1/2 months for (I had to prod the pharmacy and bug my insurance). But now my nutritionist thinks my blood sugar levels are coming down enough that I may not need the pen. At least this is a good problem. If I can get my average bg under 150, I can resume an autism drug study in Bellevue that pays decent money.

I’m to be arraigned next week and have a trial set in December for my Failure to Comply arrest. I may have persuaded my parents to pay for a private defense lawyer, but I haven’t had time to get one yet. Only this week did I get the actual writeup of my supposed crime, in which the officer says I “argued” with the Federal Protective Service officers (to them, anything other than immediate, complete, unquestioning obedience equals refusal) and refused to leave by falling down. When other people had already seen me shaking badly because I was so nervous/worried. It got worse after that, and I lost the ability to walk or even stand for a while. The officers had to almost carry me, and offered to get an ambulance. The head pig, though, said I was faking. I’d tried to explain multiple times that I’m autistic and how that was affecting me, but I don’t think they gave a shit. Anyway, the idea that I refused to comply by falling down reminds me of the guy in Ferguson, MO who was wrongly shot by the police, who then also charged him with destroying government property because he bled on their uniform. This is the country we live in now. My lawyer and public defense friends think I’d likely be better off taking a guilty plea with community service or a suspended sentence, but I find this so ridiculous I want to see if it can be dismissed or I can win a jury trial. I can’t abide the idea of pleading guilty to something I didn’t do. Aspies are very strong on principle(s).

Finally, I wrote a very long email to my parents basically to promote myself (which is very difficult and unnatural for me) and convince them I’m worth helping financially. I shared it with a few close friends and relatives and got incredibly positive feedback. My psychologist aunt said I struck exactly the right tone and apologized that I’m stuck with the parents I got. I was amazed at my parents’ reply, which was nice and clarified some of their goals or hopes more clearly and explicitly than I ever knew. I nearly cried tears of joy. They say they’re very busy, which seems odd as they’re retired, and today sent a photo of their “new girls”–three sheep. I have absolutely no idea what that’s about, had no idea that was coming, or what the heck else they plan to do with their 10 acres in West Bumfuck, Oregon. They’ve lived their entire lives in suburbia and have never farmed or even gardened a thing. All I can think of is going there so they’d spend money on me (even just nice restaurant meals) and assembling a gorgeous, huge ham radio antenna array. I can’t wait to buy a $100 apartment antenna I found from MFJ and hopefully get back on the air once my friend and I move into our new house. I’m told there will be a class this winter for upgrading your license to the highest class (I have the middle of three basically), and I hope to take that and get my Extra class license even though the class is up in Snohomish County. I think accomplishing that will make me feel proud and hopefully generate some momentum for other positive things.

With that, I should get the heck out from behind a screen and hit the grocery. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook about a NYTimes article I read on the US dollar rising against other currencies:

My lightly informed opinion is that the dollar was too high for too long because that’s what Volcker and Greenspan did with interest rates. And given that recent history, we need a period of lower interest rates and a weaker dollar to sort of balance things out–give exporters, tourism, and beneficiaries of cross-border shopping a chance to do better. Sure, you generally want GDP to grow rather than shrink, but in this country that indicator, like unemployment, has become detached from what the economy is doing for most people. If CEO to worker pay were 25:1 instead of 350:1, and if GDP growth and productivity gains were broadly shared like they were 1945-70, I’d be more concerned with GDP. We’ve already seen that middle class and poor foreigners are doing better than their US counterparts. We also see Germany loosening immigration laws because it has a worker shortage. Spain, Portugal, and Greece aren’t Germany–economies vary within the EU. But I’m leery of the notion that Europe’s economy is really–objectively, broadly–doing worse than ours. They certainly don’t have our poverty and suffering at the bottom, and my sense is that they’re mostly more democratic. Austerity doesn’t work in recessions, but that seems more limited to the UK. We didn’t exactly get the Second New Deal we needed either. (though the stimulus program bought Seattle’s new LED streetlights that Bruce Harrell takes credit for)