Saturday, September 19, 2015

Newspaper know-how working for you

Last week, I went to a “Nuts & Bolts” session at the San Diego Press Club’s offices above the Spreckels Theater, downtown. The panel was discussing how to reinvent yourself after journalism. The chair quoted some eminent journalist who had said, “If a journalist hasn’t been fired three times, don’t trust them.”

Actually, most of the distinguished panelists hadn’t even been fired once. They were councilmember Marti Emerald, Ron James (owner and publisher of the Wind, Dine & Travel magazine,  the novelist Roger Conlee and Luis Monteagudo, who is County Supervisor Greg Cox’s public relations writer.

I didn’t go nuts and I didn’t bolt, because I’m especially focused on reinventing myself, right now. I’ve moved all my books and papers into an actual office space and hung up my shingle for BYRONIK.COM “Newspaper know-how working for you.” “Newspaper know-how working for you?” What does that mean? I was asked this, at least once, when I handed out my homemade business cards at the Press Club seminar. Well, it means just about anything you want it to mean.

The phrase came to me when I was attending a free marketing course on behalf of a rich client with whom I was supposed to be writing a book about in vitro fertilization. My new office has one window, which looks out into a stuffy indoor corridor, to which every other office’s air conditioning pumps constant hot air. For privacy, the previous tenant had blocked the window with an old paper blind and, for security, had screwed boards across the window frame. I took all that down and cleaned the glass. Then I created a large poster that says, “BYRONIK.COM Newspaper know-how working for you Proprietor: Michael C. Burgess (619) 606-5697.”

The only way I could print this vast red, white and blue poster for less than $100 was to build it in Photoshop and print it in tiles on letter-sized paper. It took me the best part of the night to cut off all the white edges and paste the damned thing together.

But what does it mean? What would you like it to mean? It might mean I have the ability do design and print such an outlandish piece of promotional material for any business you might be involved in. It might mean I’m inviting passers by to pop their head in my open door, sit down and tell me their story, for a possible freelance item. It might even mean I’ll start blogging about downtown activities until I find a way to make a living here.

I don’t know. What did I expect? Maybe my film noir fantasy led me to believe a femme fatale would saunter into my office to give me that up-from-under look and then ask me to go with her to some foggy bluff and exchange her bag of cash for some stolen emeralds. Today, that didn’t happen.

I was smoking a cheap cigar, this morning outside the street entrance when I saw what looked like a formula-one racing car slowly drive along C Street, on the side of the road reserved for the San Diego trolley. I was drinking coffee in my office when a man poked his head round my door and asked me where he could find Quick Fix, the phone and laptop repair shop, “Back out the way you came and turn right after the glass door.”

I don’t know. I’m reinventing myself.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Only a dream

I dreamed a whole bunch of us (Who? I don’t know. I knew these people in the dream.) were going to an “event.” What was the event? I don’t know. In the dream, we all knew. And we all knew we needed to go to the event.

We were travelling on foot. It was daytime. We were walking through green fields. The journey took us to some steep place, like a quarry. One woman was just sliding down into the quarry in her ass and going “Weeeeeeeeeeee!” I looked down and it seemed like an awful long way. But I slid on my ass down the slope and I got a bit scared at times. But I survived and we walked on.

The woman was in a wheelchair. We ended up in a room were about seven of us got into a knife fight.

Later on, the corridor got very narrow. It was just me and the woman in the wheelchair. But we came to a door that had a sign over it. There was a young woman standing in front of the door and she said to us, we absolutely weren’t allowed to come in here.

I asked the wheelchair lady if she could stand or walk and she said she couldn’t. And I knew I couldn’t get her out the way we came. I asked the door lady, if there was a way out past that door? She said there was, but I wasn’t going to be allowed through. So I said, “OK this is not my problem.”

And I turned around and walked back through the tunnel by myself. In the knife-fight room, there was nothing but bloody body parts on the floor, so I had to walk on them, fairly carefully. Climbing out of the quarry wasn’t as impossible as I first imagined.

Then I woke up at about 1 p.m. and I thought, maybe it’s good that I usually don’t remember my dreams.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

License mislaid

It is 6 a.m. and the rats are twittering in the ducts of this basement, where I have taken refuge. Yesterday afternoon, I phoned the San Diego Police Department's outpost on Skyline Drive to speak to officer B. Downing, who arrested me July 31.

I asked him to cast his mind back to the events of that evening to see if he could shed any light on the whereabouts of my driver's license.

In the process of being ejaculated out of the county jail system in the wee small hours of Thursday, Aug. 6, the very last thing that happened, after handing back prison clothing and putting on the traditional shorts and wifebeater I had been arrested in, was the formal handing back of my personal property, which must be signed for without opening the sealed plastic bag in which it has been stored.

But, here's the thing, there are signs all over the room (at this final point of the labyrinthine path out of the belly of the beast) and those signs clearly state that it is forbidden to open the sealed bag before you are out of the building.

Looking back, I suppose there might have been a way for me to carefully verify (through the clear plastic) that all my cards were present in the little metal wallet thing I had bought, many years ago, from the shopping channel.

So I signed for my bag of wallets (I also carry a small leather wallet that holds such things as medical insurance IDs and the sort of cards that might qualify me for a free cup of coffee if sufficient holes are punched in it for all my cups of coffee that yearn to be free).

You know where this is going. It was only when I was standing under the street lights on the sidewalk of Front Street, enjoying the fresh night air, that I discovered my driver's license was not in the bag.

I had my bank debit card. And the first thing I did was stroll into a 7-Eleven for the biggest cup of black coffee and the most exotic pack of cigarettes. It turns out the 7 Eleven sells non-filtered Turkish cigarettes, which were fairly satisfying. And then I started walking to the downtown Police Station to lodge an official complaint.

I felt a little like Terence Stamp in The Limey (1999) as I strode past the huddled masses of homeless Americans. San Diego's main polices station was, at that time of night, still closed to the public. But I found my way into the employee parking lot and accosted a sergeant who was working in his car.

Why would I wish to lodge a formal complaint against my arresting officer? Well, a funny thing happened, back on July 31, on our way to the downtown police station. This was after I had been placed, handcuffed, in the back of his car. We left the rented townhouse that had been my home and we turned right into Imperial Avenue. I wondered, at the time, why he stopped opposite the main entrance to Greenwood Cemetery and then doubled back. He parked in the middle of the road, next to the median, opposite the 24-Hour Fitness. We were safe enough from passing traffic, because all those pretty lights on the roof were flashing, but without the siren. Officer Downing was rushing up and down the street with a flashlight, looking for something.

When, at last, he got into back into the car, I asked him what was up. He was quite embarrassed to tell me he had made a mistake. Most police officers are accustomed to using the hood of a police car as a convenient desk. And Downing had spread my belongings on the hood, before we set off, and then forgotten about them when we drove away. He told me he had seen my cards falling off as we accelerated along Imperial.

In the back seat, my hands locked behind my back, I had been unable to see much. He checked off that he had all the items that were loose in that metal wallet thing I had bought from QVC. He had my EBT card, my worthless Unemployment Insurance Card, my Fresh & Easy customer loyalty card, my bank debit card and MY DRIVER'S LICENSE. It was only when we were certain all those items were in his possession, that we drove to the downtown police station, in the basement garage of which, he finished off all his official report writing, prior to driving me to the UCSD Hospital, where my right hand was x-rayed for a suspected fracture of the pinky finger.

And, at that time, Downing who, in many ways, is a decent man and a considerate man, possibly also a brave man (ex USMC, two tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq) confirmed to me that his report would have to include the whole embarrassing story of how he scattered my belongings along the highway after having left them on the hood of his police car.

Well, standing outside that basement garage of the downtown police station nearly a week after the fact, I told the story to several sergeants. And they all agreed there was no need to make a formal complaint, considering how simple it is to go to the DMV and be issued with a duplicate driver's license. Also, this was the wrong place to lodge such a complaint, because Officer Downing doesn't work out of that police station. He's based out on Skyline and we only dropped by the downtown location because that's what every cop does when he's taking a prisoner to the downtown county jail.

But I do recall there was a moment when Downing mentioned to me that he had my driver's license separate from my other property. I'm just not entirely sure whether that was in the car, at the police station, in the hospital waiting room or at the jail. At all of those junctures, he would have needed to look at it so he could enter my personal details into whatever part of the system he was committing me to at that point.

As it turns out, the DMV is not about to issue me with a duplicate license very easily. So I'll just hope the license turns up in a drawer at the jail or in the laundry of Officer Downing. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, August 07, 2015

When your own family sends you to jail...

Wow! What a week I've had. I don't suppose it occurred to anybody to check the San Diego County Jail.

Absolutely nobody bothered to check the San Diego County Jail. I'm out now, but it was a damned close run thing. It was a lost weekend that lasted from 8:30 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Thursday.

Fortunately, I have my Get Out Of Jail Free card. White privilege? I never leave home without it. What does not kill me seems to make me stronger. They let me out at 4 a.m. and liberty smells sweet in every way.

I owe some serious apologies to Sanns Dixon, because my incarceration prevented me from acting in the movie he had planned to shoot yesterday (Wednesday).

All last week, my stepdaughter told me she would buy groceries on Friday. Look at what she bought. Five boxes of Cheezits? Seriously? And my son-in-law's riposte was, "You don't have to eat it." Can you imagine a stupider remark? I was annoyed. But is that any reason to spend a week in jail? Who needs family like that? I've got to get out of here.

I never actually slapped anybody. Her husband (who has won cups for karate) twisted my pinky, causing a serious sprain. And, when I pulled it away, my fingers made the gentlest contact with her cheek. This was the "battery" that sent me to jail.

Those who expected me to remain in custody should be aware of the nickname bestowed upon me in 1992 by the national organizer of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Committee): The Teflon Bolshevik. Seriously, if I didn't have this white skin and a middle-class education, I'd be dead meat, by now.

Memorize the phone number of a reliable friend, just in case you ever find yourself in the lock up with no money and no chance of bail. They allow free phone calls, during the intake phase. But each call costs $5 once you're "housed." If you have no money on you, when you're arrested, your only hope is for an outsider to go to the jail website at and put some money on your "book."

During Friday night or the early hours of Saturday morning, I met a gentleman who had been arrested and taken to jail barefoot and wearing a hospital gown. His only crime was getting into an argument with his brother about an overdue debt. "So, he went for his shit and I went for my shit," was the way he put it. In other words, they attempted to settle the dispute with AR-15s. The brother didn't get off any rounds at all. About four shots were fired into a corner of their mother's home, which the prisoner assures me was completely harmless.

I also made the acquaintance of a young man who was arrested on Friday night after a high-speed police chase across the Coronado Bridge, while drunk and naked with a young woman sucking his wing-wang. That's a trick I mean to put on my bucket list.

One of the most interesting men I met in the jail was ***** ****, who is 11 years older than me. He was a student at NYU, back in the 1960s, when his study partner showed him a mayonnaise jar full of smart pills that he'd got from his professor Timothy Leary. With the exam two days away, they decided to try the pills. Fink says he thought taking two pills would make him twice as smart. So they dropped the acid and very soon they were wrestling with paisley-patterned hallucinations. Neither of them made it to the exam hall. As soon as I was released, I made a couple of calls so that ***** got out on bail by 6 p.m. How he's going to get into his apartment is entirely his problem. The police who arrested him locked his keys in there when they slammed the front door shut.

So many times I have overheard one side of a telephone conversation that suddenly goes into:

"You're my boo and the reason I love you so much is because you're having my baby…"

I think I heard the same prisoner say those words in three different phone calls, probably to three different women.

Sometimes it goes like:

"I know we broke up and I know things were never right between us, but please be there for me while I'm in here. I really need someone."

Probably the most impressive character I met during the first 24 hours of incarceration was a drug dealer who bore an uncanny resemblance to Antonio Banderas. They pulled him over in North Park with a pound of meth in his car. Everybody in the tank looked to him for advice and guidance, because... Charisma? Intellect? At least we got each other's jokes. Heavy hitters like that get housed on the 5th floor of the jail. I was on the 4th with the punks and junkies.

Fifth-floor prisoners get access to the commissary, where you can buy food that is not sub-standard bologna and such luxuries as instant coffee. Down on the 4th floor, there are no luxuries. And they don't offer any hot drinks at all. It's the tap water in the cell, six ounces of apple juice per day, 12 ounces of milk. The nurse gave me Ibuprofen to help with the caffeine withdrawal. After a couple of days, I started passing my Ibuprofens to my celly, who was suffering severe pain from scoliosis.

Jail routine is bizarre.

4 a.m. Breakfast (oatmeal or grits with waffles in a plastic-wrapped tv-dinner tray.


Noon Lunch is four slices of wheat bread, two slabs of the worst bologna imaginable, a slice of pretend cheese, a small sachet of coleslaw dressing. This comes in a plastic sack and they throw it at you three times a day, during the 24 hours it takes to be processed into the modules. Once housed, you get two sugar cookies, 6 ounces of orange juice and 6 ounces of fat-free milk with lunch. There's also soup that they ladel into your cardboard tray once you've scooped the sandwich makings out of it. Those cardboard trays come in handy, in the cell, for stashing the odd cookie for the long periods of lockdown.


4 p.m. Dinner, which is something hot in a tv-dinner-style box. Last night was maceroni with hamburger helper and quite tasty. I got a double helping, because, on that day, I was one of those entrusted to hand them out. There was also a small bag of chopped lettuce and a sachet of Italian dressing with that.

Lockdown. Sometimes, when this lockdown ends, I wake up from a deep sleep and think it's tomorrow. But it's only 8:30 p.m. the same day.

8:30 p.m. Potential free association with the television on. But you don't get to choose the channel and you might get locked down in the middle of an episode of... Friends? I laughed at a line in Friends, three days ago. I call that my Papillon moment.

10 p.m. Final lockdown.

2 a.m. Medication. They finally got around to finding me some HIV drugs, which are supposed to be taken with food. I took the option to hold onto them until breakfast rather than accept another gratuitous bag of bread and bologna. All that sodium is going to kill me.

The deputies brighten up an otherwise dull lockdown by dropping by and demanding to check identity wristbands. I hadn't planned a tunnel, because it would only lead me to the 3rd floor.

Nothing like incarceration to bring me back to reading The San Diego Union-Tribune, every section. The whole module agreed that George Varga's pre-gig interview with Bill Maher was lame as fuck. Everybody agrees with me Nick Canepa is the finest writer in the county. Last night, I completed both crosswords!

Deputy: So what brings you here?

Burgess: At 58 years old, I embarked upon a life of crime.

Kingsman was what they used to call me in jail. That's not all they called me. Sometimes it was "OG," sometimes "English." When they call me "English," I think of Col. Stok talking to Michael Caine in Funeral in Berlin (1966).

At 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, they put two young junkies in my cell. Immediately, one of them asked me to give him my top bunk. Fuck no! They both banged around in the lower bunks for a while, but neither of them seemed able to cope with the confinement. The one who wanted my bunk ended up laying his bedding on the floor and sleeping next to the toilet. They both remained in the cell during breakfast (served every morning at 4 a.m.) and I happened to notice the cheeky bastard had climbed up into my bunk and was resting his head on my "pillow" (my sheet and blanket rolled up to serve as a bolster). My cartel-member buddy and I stormed into the cell to explain the facts of life to him, but he wouldn't move. So, on the advice of "Mafia For Life," I pulled my mattress out from under him and he fell like a rock onto the hard floor. He was like a zombie. Blank eyes. Didn't utter a sound. Just climbed back onto my bunk. So I appealed to the screws. Next thing I know, we're all on lockdown again. I moved my bedding into a nearby cell. The zombie must have made a wrong move. Something like 30 deputies turned up from nowhere and pinned him to the floor. Some were laughing. One was writing notes in a little book. One was punching the poor sod in the face. They took him out on a stretcher and I never saw him again. It was quite shocking. A man could easily die like that.

I was supposed to read the newspaper article about her to Mafia For Life, because he likes Amy Schumer. Well, that newspaper got tossed and, after the next lockdown, other things were going on in the module, so that never happened.

And there was a homeless man who told me he never pan handles or dumpster dives, because he's got eight hustles he can hook you up to. His favorite is to hang out in Starbucks and wait for you to go to the bathroom. Then he scoops up your phone, your iPad and your laptop and runs out the door before anybody gets out the second "Hey!" in "Hey! Hey! Hey!"

But the one who had two broken ribs from being wrestled to the floor by "loss prevention," was the Scotsman (Permanent Resident Alien Permit, lovely cross of St. Andrew deconstructed as a tattoo on his forearm. All he stole was a large bar of Hershey chocolate with almonds. So we, in the module, referred to him as the Hershey Bandit. Nobody in this country has heard of the Milky Bar Kid.

When my cell door opened and they called for me to roll up my bedding and walk to the gate, I could have screamed for joy.

Can you believe they still didn't wash the pan and throw away the teriyaki sauce from the chicken legs I barbecued for the kids last Friday night? So it's been sitting here a week with stuff dropping in off the trees. I would have washed it up, myself, but I was unavoidably detained.