Saturday, April 23, 2011

Adventures of Obama – 7

Obama’s having a difficult year,

Barack Obama showed no fear;

Two-and-a-half or three wars to worry about,

A national debt a gazillion years out,

Republicans shouting “Now here’s our chance;

We’ll roll back Obamacare, we’ll make you dance.”

Barack Obama, he didn’t shiver;

He still had arrows left in his quiver;

He went to the people and held a Town Meeting;

Then got re-elected in spite of their bleating.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For Pat Tillman et al

“Friendly Fire” strikes me as a strange way

To describe the killing of a brother or sister.

I remember cold nights by pot-bellied stoves,

Bonfires crackling while singing camp songs,

A lamp in the window welcoming me home,

Shivering my way to the basement to shovel coal

And running back up the stairs to my bed

To wait for the pounding of the radiator.


“Friendly Fire” doesn’t ease a mother’s pain

Or lessen the agony of a grieving spouse.

It won’t fill the hole in the heart

Of a loved one’s absence from the home.

No matter what you choose to name it,

There’s no rational way to frame it.

But calling accidental murder “friendly fire”

Destroys all the warm memories of past encounters.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Lady and the Towers



Once I saw them, standing tall

Above me, twins of cement and steel;

I at their feet, an ant doing homage

To what they were, not knowing

What they would become.


Then, mounting a vessel like one

Of my ancestors from distant lands

Who came for the promise

Of freedom to chase dreams,

I saw her raised arm


And turned round—there they were

Towering over the land of the free

And the home of the brave,

Or at least the Wall Street part;

But now resembling towers of biblical proportion.


I have this picture to remind me

Of the folly of wrong-headed dreams.

I have this image, even stronger,

Of two towers crumbling to dust.


The lady never blessed them;

Her gaze was always on the land,

Not on ego’s constructions.

Her lamp ever toward the sea,

Welcoming strangers whose sole desire is liberty.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 29: New Man School


It didn’t take me as long or as many trips on BART to find employment this time. I made the rounds of the Montgomery Street financial district and found that there were a number of insurance companies with openings for sales people. It was easy to get interviews.


Monarch Life had a small agency at One Montgomery and the General Agent, Gary Brenzel and I hit it off right away. I was given a battery of tests which came back positive for insurance sales, except for one thing: “You’re not motivated by money.”

Gary decided to take a chance on me, put me on a training salary of $800 a month, and sent me, expenses paid, to Monarch’s home office in Springfield, Massachusetts for two weeks of training at “New Man School.” There were 30 of us from across the U.S. and we were thoroughly indoctrinated in the ‘Monarch Way’ of selling and servicing our clients who purchased long-term disability policies, which was Monarch’s primary niche. I learned many helpful sales techniques and came back to San Francisco with new enthusiasm and confidence. The ‘New Man School’, I discovered over the next few months, was really just beginning.


I worked hard at the dreaded cold-calling to get interviews. I presented our story of why every professional needed disability insurance and why Monarch was the best company to buy this from. And I continued participating in House life most evenings and on weekends. Except that insurance sales often require evening house calls. At one point Gary even decided to help a couple of us boost our productivity by financing a week-long trip to the Sacramento area to call on Monarch clients, in hopes of snagging a few upgrades to their policies or sell them life insurance. But Gary had hit the mark when he said I wasn’t motivated by money. The thing about insurance sales is, the income is directly tied to sales. You get a commission, a percentage of the premium paid, for each policy sold. So the $800 a month I was getting gradually decreased after the first two month, until it disappeared, and I was on my own.

I remember one time when Gary approached me after an agency meeting. “I’m just curious. I notice that your pay checks are endorsed over to this Order: Ecumenical. Is this some kind of religious group?” The cat was out of the bag, so I told him the story of the Institute. Gary was a pretty open guy. And this was, after all, San Francisco. He continued to be intrigued. The Institute had this network of volunteer professionals and business people, the Guardians which often held informal gatherings and hosted our celebrations at their homes. I invited Gary to one of these at a doctor’s home in Hillsborough so he could meet some of my colleagues and see that we were not an organization of religious weirdoes. He was impressed and came to me during the evening with “Now I understand.”

clip_image010 Just to give you the idea of what Hillsborough homes were like!

But alas, Gary’s insight about my money motivation was proving itself in my productivity as a Monarch agent. I believe if I had become a success he would probably have joined the Guardians. I don’t remember the exact time, sometime in late fall or early 1976, Bob Vance said “Let’s take a walk over to Uncle Gaylord’s and get an ice cream cone.” He discussed what was coming up in the next few months. The ICA was embarking on an ambitious campaign of citizen and community involvement, Community Forums. We had been engaged in establishing human development projects in villages around the world for a few years. Twelve of these were to be in small rural communities and urban neighborhoods in the U.S. 1976 was the bicentennial of our nation and the ICA had applied for and received approval of a massive citizen participation initiative called Town Meeting ’76, one-day forums in communities across the country. Bob wanted to know if I was interested in being a part of the project. As we approached the front steps of our house, having finished our ice cream cones, he said “Milan, I don’t think we can afford to have you working out any longer. It’s costing us more than you are bringing in. I think I’d like to have you work full-time on this Town Meeting campaign.”

I couldn’t wait to hand in my resignation to Gary the next day. We parted friends even though I sensed his disappointment. To add to his frustration, I had introduced Heather Brun, his office manager to the San Francisco House and she spent the next year as an intern. I lost touch with Gary but remember his generous spirit to this day.

Now to get back to what I came here for—awakening people and transforming communities!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 28: Getting Grounded in San Francisco

Winter 1974-5. My self-story of being an ex-pastor, failed husband and father, floundering revolutionary, unable to find a job, had to end sometime, I suppose. Here’s how it happened for me.

Bob Vance, our Area and House Prior, loved ice cream cones. And whenever he had some serious issue he wanted to discuss with someone, he would say “Let’s take a walk over to Uncle Gaylord’s” (Old Uncle Gaylord’s was a famous ice cream parlor on Mission Street, 4 blocks from our house). One evening after dinner Bob approached me with the offer I couldn’t refuse. On the way he talked of how things were going with the Houses and the Order. He asked me how I was doing. How were my kids? Did I have an idea of a direction for my life? Bob always had a way of making you think he was asking for advice on important decisions he was struggling with, even when he wasn’t.

“So how is it going with your job search?” I was waiting for it and launched into my problems and difficulties with my being under-qualified or over-qualified for this or that type of work. He listened patiently until we arrived back at the front steps of the House. His parting shot was “Well, if you really wanted to find a job, you’d have one when you get home for dinner tomorrow!” Strange how a simple comment can puncture illusions like a pin stuck in a balloon.

The interesting thing is, I actually had a job offer the next day and was to start work the following day. One of the ads I found on my next day BART run was for a chief dispatcher at a company called Private Protection Patrol. It happened that the summer before leaving St. Louis I had a part-time job as a dispatcher for Whelan Security. This job experience apparently qualified me to run an office of 3 other dispatchers, a bank of electronic monitoring devices, and several hundred security guards, because I got the interview and was hired the same day. I was able to report to the House at dinner on my new employment.

What I didn’t know was how desperate the company owners were for someone to take charge of one of the most dis-organized and dysfunctional organizations imaginable. They didn’t need a chief dispatcher—they needed a super-hero. The PPP offices were in the industrial warehouse district in the Back Bay, so I had to use one of the House cars to get to and from work. Things were going smoothly during my training period. Then I was turned loose and instructed to schedule the dispatchers and guards for their various shifts. Security guards are either part-timers while looking for full-time work or second-jobbers. Most are living on the edge and are often difficult to reach. The turnover rate is high, so you are constantly interviewing new applicants, running background checks, etc.

The most eye-opening part of the job was that PPP specialized in supplying security for big parties and rock concerts in the Bay Area. We would often be asked to line up 100-300 guards for an event. One example was the night of the Grateful Dead concert at the Cow Palace.


We were getting calls all evening that they didn’t have enough security and our guards were walking off the job site in frustration, trying to do crowd control for the tens of thousands of ‘Deadheads’

. clip_image002

Another night we received a call from a private party that our two guards were being backed against a wall and had their guns taken away. I called the SF police who were not at all happy to have to “clean up our mess.”

It didn’t take many months for my bosses and me to agree that something needed to change. Another re-organization of the dispatch office resulted in my being put on the graveyard shift. Things were usually quieter then, except when we had a concert or party that went on into the wee hours, or the several nights that I was taking threatening phone calls from one of our disgruntled guards who had been let go. Probably the most challenging aspect of the midnight to eight shift was that bank of 50 blinking monsters, I mean monitoring devices staring at me from the wall in front of me. The sites under surveillance varied from huge trucking yards to 7-Elevens and everything in between. The interesting thing is, there were no cameras. Everything was done by listening in. Imagine trying to discern who was entering a fenced-in yard while a semi-truck engine was rumbling in the background. Then there would be the irate convenience store owner who had tripped an alarm button while being robbed, which meant a phone call to the store to determine whether a call to the police was warranted. If you made the wrong call it was too late. This system was not the most effective ever designed.

I finally got so stressed out that I asked Bob Vance to let me quit that job and go look for another. That was a few months before Private Protection Patrol went out of business.

So, back on the BART and on to the next job-hunting adventure.