When I Was Just A Kid...
I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and was adopted within 3 days. My "new" parents noticed there was something wrong with my vision almost immediately, but the eye doctors said they could not do anything until I was old enough to recognize the alphabet. So, after an intense period of learning with flash cards, I had my first eye exam -- and first pair of glasses -- when I was just 18 months old. I have been told that I never wanted to take them off because I could see so much better!
When I was 3, my dad decided that we needed to buy a brand new home. We packed up everything and moved to the Seal Beach/Long Beach area in Southern California where we rented a home until we could find that "special" place. But, as the only child of two only children living in a new town with no friends or other children, my parents thought I needed a companion which came in the form of a white German Shepherd puppy! This turned out to be the constant in my childhood and We had 13 wonderful years growing up together.
It took a little more than a year, but our dream home was found and built in the nearby city of Los Alamitos / Rossmoor. We joined St. Hedwig's Catholic Church and School.
My Wonder Years
My father left when I was in second grade, which made me the man of the family at a very young age. But, I had a great extended family consisting of all my friends (kids and adults) at Brunswick Rossmoor Bowl: Patti, Margie, Chris, Lehla, Carol, Mary Ann, Tom, Don(Division Manager), Chuck, Andy, Ed, Don (Head Mechanic), Supat, Mike, Robin and Robbie (twins), Rob, Carla, to name just a few.
My love for math and problem solving can be directly tied to a challenge Ed, my bowling coach and a mechanic at the bowl, gave me when I was just 12 years old:
How can you get 8 strikes in a single game of bowling, knocking down at least 1 pin in every frame, and still get a score less than 100?
(Click here for the Answer.)
Bowling Quiz Answer:
- Frame 1: Strike
- Frame 2: 1 on the first ball and 0 on the second ball
- Frame 3: Strike
- Frame 4: Strike
- Frame 5: 1 on the first ball and 0 on the second ball
- Frame 6: Strike
- Frame 7: 1 on the first ball and 0 on the second ball
- Frame 8: Strike
- Frame 9: 1 on the first ball and 0 on the second ball
- Frame 10: Strike on the first ball, Strike on the second ball and Strike on the third ball
(Click here to close.)
I became a mechanic, working on the Brunswick A2 pinsetters and Gold Crown Automatic Scorers. Actually, this isn't exactly true... I could not see well enough to be a mechanic... I was a "pin chaser." Give me enough duct tape, close hangers and rubber bands and I could fix anything! Put a tool in my hand and it became a lethal weapon as it eventually became airborne out of frustration.
I really did not date as a teenager. I spent most of my time working at the Bowling center in many positions, eventually as an Assistant Manager. I admired many "adults" but I especially remember John Church. He was just a few years older than me, but he was already in management... And, he was "good with the ladies." I remember going to breakfast with him and some buddies late one night after work talking about there not being a lightning bolt when I turned 18 and wondered if I would feel it when I turned 21. "It will hit one day... Or, maybe it already did!" It is funny... You don't know when it hits. It is something that you notice when looking back on your life... Aha! That was it!" But, you will not notice it when it actually hits..."
Waiting for Lightning...
In 1977, I got a job as Assistant Manager at Pomona Bowl. Here, I met a nice girl and we decided to get married. It felt like it was going to be the right thing for me to do. She had a 3 year old son who was very afraid of lightning. I remember we had a rare electrical storm and I was down on the floor playing with him trying to distract him from the loud claps of thunder. All the while I was thinking, "Is this the lightning that is going to strike and make all this right?" Shortly thereafter, she asked for a divorce... one day before our first anniversary.
I took the opportunity to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area. Well, that is not exactly true... I ran back to the Bay Area. I left everything and was there in 3 days after the "big announcement."
I did take the opportunity to examine my life in an attempt to figure out why I was so unhappy. I realized that the signs had been there all my life... I was attracted to men. But, what about the church, God... Hell! What about hell? I came to the following conclusion:
Twelve years of Catholic school taught me there is a Supreme Power of some kind, but I have come to believe that It certainly is not the vengeful God as portrayed in the bible and hammered into me by the nuns. In my belief system, the Power (i.e., goddess, god, spirit, cosmic-energy, ???)that started it All (i.e., the universe with a Big Bang) the all-powerful creator of everything, would not give a hoot if I, a mere "amoeba" on a tiny gnat of a world of a puny solar system of a mediocre galaxy, masturbated or had sex with another "amoeba" of the same sex. I do believe the Power of the Universe does care how we take care of the gifts that are given to us. I believe we should protect what the universe has given us, to use it wisely... After all, it has taken the Universe a long time to show us these wonders. And, the best way to take care of what the Universe has provided is to treat it as we like to be treated... With love and care, and maybe a little slapping around from time to time.
Bang! Boom! Crack! There it was... The lightning bolt finally struck!
Men, Meds and Macs
About 18 months after moving back to the Bay Area, I settled down with Leon... We spent 10 wonderful years together traveling around the world. I went back to school (Foothill College and San Jose State University) and learned a lot about computers and programming, mostly on IBM PCs.
In the mid-1980's, I learned that I had HIV/AIDS and I was told that I probably had no more than 3 years to live. Three years later, with time obviously running out very quickly, I decided I should be on my own and be as independent as possible for as long as I could. I moved to San Francisco and found a job as an Office Manager at a Law Book Store. Larry, the owner, introduced me to a Macintosh computer... I became very proficient on it almost instantly and helped set up a network of Macs in the office. I have not used a PC since...
Although I did not get sick, the man I had rented a room from in San Francisco, Dan, did become sick from his HIV. We became very close and had 5 very happy years together. It was during this time that I was introduced to San Francisco General Hospital's AIDS Outpatient Clinic/Ward 86 (now known as the Positive Health Program) where I still get my medical care today. (Click on the PHP link in the above Navigation Menu for more details.)
When Dan died, thanks to my good friend
, I had Dan's ashes sent into space on Celestis 1, the Founders Flight. (Other passengers included Timothy Leary and Gene Roddenberry.) Click here for the complete passenger manifest, including Dan's bio.
Around the time that Dan started getting really sick, I had a major progression in my sight loss. It really wasn't unexpected -- after all, I had been wearing glasses since I was 18 months old and had been told as a teenager that I would probably be blind by the time I was 30. So, by making it to my 40s, I thought I had beaten it and was home free!! It really was not a surprise *THAT* it happened, it was just a surprise *WHEN* it happened.
Why did I lose my sight? "Blame" (not really) the biological grandparents that I never knew (because I was adopted)... I had been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa which apparently skips every other generation.
I learned how to deal with my blindness after Dan's death. The Lighthouse for the Blind became my new extended family as I learned how to regain my independence, self confidence and computer skills. (Although I did have to teach them that not all blind people used PCs!)
Ultimately, I got a call from Berkeley Access, a local company who made PC and Mac software for the blind and visually impaired. They asked me to come work with them to do technical support and training. Berkeley Access was purchased by ALVA B.V. of Holland a few months after I started, and they eventually promoted me to Macintosh Product Manager. For 7 years, I enjoyed working closely with the programers and marketing people at several companies including Apple, Adobe and WGBH in Boston. (I even got the opportunity to sit down and work side by side with Ray Charles!) But I especially loved talking to people about coping with sight loss and maintaining independence.
I met Victor in 2003. We became very good friends almost immediately. In fact, for me it felt like we have known each other for multiple lifetimes. Eventually, Victor became my In Home Support person, helping me with everything from reading mail and other materials, paying bills, traveling places, etc. We were "married" in 2006 by our good friend, Beth Grimshaw in a huge "wedding" in front of 175 bpeople from all over the country. But, most importantly, we are best of friends.
Victor has a strong religious background and has earned a Masters of Divinity degree at a local seminary. Surprisingly, our beliefs are very similar, although he is more "brick and mortar" based while I am more "cosmic."
A very small portion of Dan's ashes were sent into space... The rest of him remained with me and his good friend (sister) Carol. Dan told me he wanted his ashes mixed with his best friend, his/our dog Diddley, when the time came. In 2006, I felt the time was right. So, Victor and I, Carol and her husband, Pete, brought the ashes of both Dan and Diddley to Lands End in San Francisco. We just walked and talked and wound up in the most beautiful spot with the Pacific Ocean to the left, the Golden Gate Bridge on the right and all the bushes and beaches behind. ( Click here to see the video I took of their new home.) Thanks, Dan and Diddley, for all the memories!
I have been a member of the Golden Gate Guards, a leather-Levi social club in San Francisco, since 1989. We do so much work for the community, and we have fun, too. I am currently an Emeritus member, meaning I am "retired." But I still remain associated with the GGG as their webmaster and postmaster. (Click the GGG link in the above Navigation Menu for more details.)
My new "rush" comes from white water rafting. I have been several times on the South Fork of the American River and, in 2006, Victor and I went on a 5 day expedition on the Yampa River. I have even tried my hand at both sea and river kayaking. (I think I prefer the river because it is more of a rush.)
"But you are blind!" you say... "So what?" I say. In the raft, I become the lead paddler and the others have to follow me. I love to paddle and can really get into it.
I completely trust the guides at Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) who believe in taking people who think they cannot do "extreme" sports on "extreme" adventures. This is an extraordinary organization that deserves your support. (Click on the ETC link in the above Navigation Menu for more info on ETC and our trips.)
I still love computers and technology... Especially when it helps me "see!" ALthough I am still very pro-Apple, my feelings towards them are tarnished for reasons I will not go into here... I must admit, however, that their products are superior to anything produced by the competition. Plus, everything made by Apple is accessible to the blind!
Victor and I love going to the movies... The descriptive narration equipment has now been installed in most auditoriums in the SF Bay Area. And it seems to work most of the time. I just tried a new system created by Disney/Pixar which allows me to use my phone to get the narration... It worked great -- even increasing and lowering the volume based on the noise level detected in the theater!
But there is more! Netflix now has descriptive narration... So we can sit at home and watch movies and TV shows and Victor does not have to describe things to me... Network TV has it, although it is spotty at best. The Olympics even had audio description for Figure Skating! It is a great time to be blind, thanks to the technology.