Jon Alexander / Saturday, April 4 @ 7 a.m. / Angels and Desperados
ANGELS and DESPERADOS: Recovery ... Long Ago, Yesterday and Today
The bomb’s blast reverberated from the small TV, seeming to rattle the wall brackets that held it over my bed. As I turned sharply toward the crash, the pain flashed in shards of light from my neck, through the top of my skull. The images of the buildings being blown to dust were real-as real as the cold, starched sheets that encased me and the cervical collar bracing the steel plate and screws an ER surgeon had hours before inserted into my broken neck. Bad choices had taken me to an alley behind a shooting gallery motel in Santa Ana. The blasts and carnage emanating from a county hospital TV were real time, reporting the shock and awe of our entry into the Iraqi war. It was March 20, 2003, and from where I lay, not just my small corner of it, the whole world seemed to have entered a mad, red season.
Hours later, two brothers, Bill Bedsworth and Lloyd Freeberg, arrived and convinced me that I still had something to offer to this world, as well as my own life. Grudgingly, I gave them my word that I’d enter residential rehab and two weeks later, penniless, I arrived at the loading docks and recovery program of the Anaheim Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. For the first two months, I was convinced I was only there to honor my word to two brothers, clinging to the lie that keeps most addicts in their dependency, “I got no problem, man—I can shut it down tomorrow.” Funny, the truth from the wizened mouth of a red headed babe, named Annie, as she sang, “...tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow, you’re always a day away.”
Months later, as I lay awake in my bunk, I heard bombs going off again and looked out the bars on the windows to see the nightly fireworks going off over Disneyland. I thought of a childhood with both parents always there at breakfast and dinner, my old man there to throw the ball (and kick my butt) and my Mom to teach me a love of letters and the value of kindness. I thought of all the parents and children and fairy tales that come true beneath those fireworks -- all a mile and a lifetime away. It was then that fear, the kind like ice in your belly, began to sink in, bordering upon the terrified understanding, that I might not ever get back to that world. I had traded in a beach home, a nice ride, a boat, friends, a nice girlfriend and my soul- all for a bag of poisoned hell named methamphetamine. That was my bottom and the arrival of a conviction that I’d get back to that life beyond the bars...or die trying.
Leaving that land and life behind, after graduation and release, I headed north to be by my mother, dying of Alzheimers Disease. The next 18 months found me moving to a foreign land on the Oregon border, washing dishes, scrapping out construction sites and pulling chain on the B Dryer in a Brookings lumber mill-good hard, clean work that I was blessed to find. Then eventually getting hired as a Deputy D.A. in place tucked back in the Redwood Coast, called Del Norte County, that needed a lawyer who knew how to try death penalty cases arising out of Pelican Bay State Prison.
I still recall in 2005, a young girl from a then, local community newspaper called the Daily Triplicate, coming up to me outside the courthouse, asking if I’d be willing to “tell my story.” I said I’d sleep on it, but the next day conceded, thinking that one, there aren’t many secrets in this place and two, recalling Robert Frost’s words about leaving tracks in the sand, and how, just maybe, some poor soul like me might be wrestling with the same monster and take a shot of courage from it. I never expected the front page story the next day or the donuts it cost me with a bailiff, but I never second guessed it.
The last ten years here have been a roller coaster of a life and have seen the last 16 of them clean. Which is not to say it’s all been roses. Like the first line of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, “Life is difficult.” And, whether it’s the knowing of nights that lasted for eternity or the gut wrenching fear of hopelessness, that inevitably comes with addiction, “difficult” is inescapably in the cards of this game called Life. Odds are, somewhere along the line at some time, you’re going to get your heart broken, be penniless, see friends and loved ones hurt, sick and worse, know the cankered mix of the betrayal of false friends, the cowardice or branding by either the besotted or the be-robed, and the bitter realization of why the lady with the scales sometimes wears that blindfold.
And lo, this life, it also allowed me to meet a fellow traveler, back in the mid-'60s, who saved me and two other young, Jersey boardwalk rats, from a Sasquatch bouncer, who’d seen our home-room forged, fake proof coming 50 yards away up Ocean Ave.. For the next 50 years and change, that man, as much as any other preacher, poet or performer, gave me anchor and north stars, upon which to stay afloat, and on course.
And now, we find ourselves in the time of plague. A time unlike any other, that challenges the very heart and steel of our very nature and soul. Again, as I lean upon all of that which has come before me, I return to the words of that man, words that help me continue to believe in this promised land of ours, words that I once used to defend the least of us their sins of poverty and absence of shelter. And yes, this land of hope and dreams—the words and song which brought me to tears this morning as I drove along the beach road, forcing me to pull over, as a distant memory swept back from the blocks and boulevards of my Jersey youth, recalling 9/11 and a lost brother’s voice crying out from those streets to a passing car, “we need you now, more than ever… .” Then watching as America rose again. As that rising will come again. As she will. As she must.
And still sitting in my car this morning, listening to a conductor’s command to get on board once again, for this promised land of hope and dreams, bringing a memory, indelibly forged, of being pulled from a Broadway crowd in October of 2017, out onto another boardwalk, face-to-face again, over half a century later, then the fortuitous blessing of finding a piece of his and my life in my pocket, that small, round chip dedicated to his part in the exorcism of so many of the demons of my life...the stuff of hope and dreams.
All that said, Darrel Royal once told his UT players, “You dance with the gal that brung you.” For me, it’s been the things my Mom taught me about compassion, common decency, kindness and my old man’s belief in hard work and integrity. My family’s recovered love. The teachings and things that man continues to bestow. And the support, love and generosity, that people from Orange County and this community have shown me through some hard, mean times, are why I can hang another 17 years clean on the line tonite, smile at tomorrow and write this thank you note of love and gratitude to you all… and just maybe, lay a few tracks in the sand for another soul such as I.
Jon Alexander Crescent City, CA. Jon may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org