Fish School

Sometimes sabotage merely is going in the same direction as the rest of the group.
​In the USA, like in much of the rest of the world, we think of ourselves as individuals, independent thinkers, charting our individual paths through life, not having too much in common with the schools of fish that swim so in sync that they change direction at the same time without thinking about it.

Especially the children of the sixties. Back in the 1960s it was not uncommon to have among your friends someone who had been to Woodstock, or one of the lesser known similar concerts. Traffic going to Woodstock blocked the highways used by people in Manhattan to flee the city on weekends so it was noticed by people in the media capital of the world. They sent helicopters to cover it. 

But there were similar concerts where it did not rain and the traffic jams were not of interest to anyone in New York so you didn’t hear much about them. Like The Goose Lake Music Festival, the one I went to. Jethro Tull, Joe Cocker, Chicago, James Gang with Joe Walsh, Rod Stewart (who was among those not mentioned on the poster), Alice Cooper and more. John Sebastian covered a new song by Paul McCarthy that still rings in my head as one of the most engaging performances I ever heard. Brownsville Station showed us that the music you want to hear in concert isn’t necessarily the music you want to listen to on the radio or in a recording. It was the year after Woodstock and the organizers had learned from Woodstock. As has been said elsewhere, they captured the magic and avoided the disasters.

​200,000 of us showed up. I and my friends arrived the day before most others so the traffic jam, that we expected, lasted only half a day for us (as I recall we were waiting for the gates to open). Not a bad half day when loitering around our cars with dozens of other kids also on the road waiting for traffic to move again. When it did we arrived early enough to lay our blankets on the ground as close to the stage as we could get without the stage blocking our view as we sat on the ground. 

Back in that era there was a sense of community and brotherhood in the air in general, but it was supremely evident during our time there. When the music started the crowd moved forward. Our blankets disappeared under crowds of people. None of us knew each other, but everyone passed their beverage jugs to everyone on our blankets. They passed their food. They smiled when they looked at us and we smiled back at the music and the camaraderie. It was the way you wanted the world to be.

Late at night on the first night when the music stopped and all those people departed to their own blankets, we realized we had not secured any of our belongings. People had migrated into our space so naturally that it hadn’t occurred to us to secure our possessions. Our extra shirts and sweaters, our food, even my wrist watch and wallet were lying there in the open on the blanket by my other gear and no one had bothered them. It was a foolish oversight not to have paid more attention, but it was a joy to discover that there had been no need to. 

​That was not the only discovery. There was a swimming hole on the grounds. It was not within site of the general audience. You had to roam to discover it. When you did, you also discovered that many of the people there had not brought bathing suits or extra clothes, so they dove in without any. In almost no time whether or not people were wearing clothes became unimportant. It just was what was happening.

John McDonough, a 28-year-old reporter and independent producer with National Public Radio said, “It was hip to unzip. The atmosphere was totally permissive and utterly without judgment.”

​Here is how normal and unremarkable it became. This was in the era long before cellphones. But every kid there had parents who had required that they call home at some point to tell them that they were all right. There was a bank of pay phones, but there were 200,000 people who needed to use them. The lines were hours-long. We had no choice. I stood in one of those lines for about four hours waiting my turn. While I was standing there, after perhaps an hour and a half, I noticed that in the next line about 30 or 40 people ahead of me was a woman who was not wearing anything. I hadn’t noticed.

When I got back to school and told that to some friends, one of them jumped out of his seat leaving the room saying, “I know you’re lying now.” He could not believe that something that far removed from his experience could become normal and unnoteworthy. When I noticed that woman, it was a moment when I realized how different I was now than than I had been two days ago because at some level I was no more than a fish unthinkingly swimming in concert with all the other fish in this particular school. Later, back in my normal school, when telling the story, at least one member of this different school of fish could not believe it. Which made that moment as memorable as the one I had been describing.

A similar set of memorable moments happened another time too, concerning a different instance of the same issue, about ten years later. I was a struggling playwright with a play running in a professional theater in a mid western city, all of which will have to remain nameless to protect a judge. One of the actors in the play was a lawyer who had become a judge. He was about 30 years old and dating a tall, slender, gorgeous woman from a prominent family. When people came backstage after shows to speak to the cast, when he introduced her people recognized her family’s name and were impressed to meet her. 

She was backstage every night because when he had gotten this role, she had signed on to help out and was a stage hand for the run of the show. So they always could be together. Isn’t that lovely? They were a great couple.

During the run an opportunity arose to move the show to a smaller city when this first run finished. The judge had vacation coming, so he could take off the time to travel with the show. So did his girlfriend. The whole show moved to the next city with no replacements.

The small city to which it moved was one in which I had lived for a year. I knew the area. Besides where to eat I knew where to swim. Performers have nothing to do during the day. They look for things to do. Swimming was an attractive idea. But the best place I knew to do it had one obstacle. The culture of the sixties still was present in some areas. And the placid lake about which I knew was a ten-minute walk through woods from a road to a secluded area where people tended not to wear bathing suits. 

When I first was taken there, a few years earlier, it was by a friend when I had been looking for a place to swim for exercise. I had been thinking of joining a pool. He had a better idea. He didn’t tell me that people didn’t wear suits where he was taking me. He had described the pristine water and wooded shoreline. When we arrived, I was wearing cutoff blues jeans that I kept on as I swam to the other end of the lake and back. It was a truly beautiful experience – about a 40-minute swim in perfect, unchlorinated, placid water. When I got back to the starting point, the fact that most people on the bank were not wearing anything became unimportant, once again, in a very short time. I was thinking that it was because I had been to Goose Lake and to Martha’s Vineyard where it had been the same. So it wasn’t new to me.

I was hoping to repeat those 40-minute swims while back in that city with the show. I mentioned the place and the water and the normal attire to the cast. They were enthusiastic about going. As we were getting out of our cars to walk through the woods, in order to find out how much of what to carry with me, I asked, “Are we wearing suits?” The judge blurted out, as sternly as an admonition from the bench, “Well, I am!” That set the tone for the group. 

Of course we would. He was a judge. This was a public place. What was I thinking? He has a career and a reputation to protect. So everyone had on bathing suits when we reached the water. I told them I’d be back in a while and did my 40-minute swim to the other end of the lake. When I returned not a single person in our company still was wearing anything, including the judge.

Just like Goose Lake, when all the other fish were swimming in a certain direction the natural thing to do was to swim with them. We were there 4 or 5 hours, sitting on rocks, lying in the sun, standing in waist deep water playing keepaway with a frisbee that had been brought by someone we didn’t know before we got there but now was one of the people with whom we had become friends, eating, chatting, etc.

The three things most memorable to me about that event are the moment that the judge blurted out his admonition, the moment that I returned from the 40-minute swim to discover how quickly the judge had changed direction, and the moment a year later when he remembered it.

When the show had been over for a year, and none of us had seen each other in the meantime, our paths crossed and we decided we should get together. We scheduled a weekend when we could meet at a river where kayaks are rented. We would spend a day together paddling downstream. 

When got there the shed where they rented kayaks was quite small. The judge wondered where we could change into swimming clothes. His gorgeous girlfriend suggested that we just go into the woods. He asked if she didn’t need more privacy than that. She said, “Why? I’ve seen Joel naked before.” With shock and alarm, loudly, even sternly, he said, “You have? Where?” She mentioned that lake in that other city the year before. The moment that is memorable to me is the moment of the look on his face as he recalled it. He appeared to be thinking, “We did that? Oh, my god. We did, didn’t we? What were we thinking?” After a long pause, with fading alarm he said, “Right.” His girlfriend smiled and took his arm. She was so charming.

We think of ourselves as independent minds with objective outlooks and thoughts and behaviors that are of our own creation. Like in the sixties when teenage America was breaking free from the constraints of the past, forging new ways of living, new ways of being, new art, new music, new styles. The first day that I was at Goose Lake I overheard two guys talking. To make some decision they had to find Carl. They shouted his name. No answer. They decided to split up to look for him. The second guy said, “What does he look like?” The first guy said, “He’s the one with long hair, sandals, cutoffs and a tee shirt. You can’t miss him.” Of course it was a quip. I might have laughed out loud. I don’t remember. About 100,000 of the people there, males and females, had long hair, sandals, cutoffs and tee shirts – including me. That’s how independently minded were we who were the fish in that school.

It was true for the judge too. A year later he had no remembrance of having swum in a unified direction with the other fish in that different school until his girlfriend reminded him of it. And then, now that he was back in his normal school of fish, he could not remember what he had been thinking for that to have happened. If no one had reminded him of it, I doubt he ever would have thought of it again.

I doubt that because that is what I have witnessed happening in others. Like when I became the victim of sex abuse in a hospital that has a religious connection (and that filed a suit against me to shut me up). All the members of that religion either became silent or turned against me – neighbors, friends, in-laws, even my own attorneys. And one of the things most wondrous to behold is the ways in which they manage to erase from their minds any memory of having done the things they did. They swim in whatever direction the rest of the fish in their school swim and a year later have no memory of having swum in a direction that, from a different perspective, could be judged to be evil.

Links to another site
Like when my brother-in-laws participation in this forced me to distance myself from him. What he did is one of the things that, to have recount, would be almost as distressing as being forced to retell what happened in the hospital – the viciousness of it is not easily forgotten. I finally said to my wife that I was sorry but even though he is her brother I was going to distance myself from him, if for no other reason than to reduce his ability to continue doing this to me. She was nodding before I finished my sentence saying she understood and didn’t know why I hadn’t done this before. 

Prior to my deciding to distance myself from him, he had asked to borrow my boat. I had told him I would lend it to him. I was going to keep that promise even though it meant meeting him and the people with him several times to train them to operate it. It was a cabin cruiser. Getting it in and out of the dock required several people with a certain amount of skill. I had grown up on boats and was agile and so was able to do it by myself, which surprised the people who ran our marina. It was unusual for one person to do it. It would have been impossible for my inexperienced brother-in-law and the people with him to do it, even with as large of a group as they had, without some training. So I trained them in several sessions over a period of weeks. 

There were ten of them on it when they took it out. It easily can hold more than ten, but only at cruising speed, which isn’t fast. That is too much weight to try to get it onto a plane pulling people in tubes. But they tried and tried and eventually blew up the engine, a full-size V-8 inside the hull. In their defense, a mechanic had told us that the engine could take that kind of use since it only was churning water. 

I was at home when the call came. My wife answered it but I was standing right there. I could tell from her end of the conversation what had happened. They had been towed back to some dock downstream and needed a ride to cars they had left at the marina upstream where they had started. After her brother had explained things to her she reached to hand the phone to me. Before I took it I said that this was such bad timing and that for the rest of his life he would blame my distancing myself from him on this.

A mechanical failure, even a blown engine needing to be replaced, never would be enough to come between a friend and me, certainly not between a relative and me. I had been in similar situations with others, probably most people have, where property has been damaged but you put it behind yourself and move on. In one instance it was when a friend damaged my car while driving it and never offered to contribute to the cost of repairing the damage. But property is not as important as friends and friendly relations with relatives. I never mentioned that car repair to my friend. It certainly didn’t cause me to distance myself from him.

Year after year, at family gatherings, my brother-in-law has made quite a show of my distancing myself from him. He sometimes moves close to me to make it clear to anyone watching how I pay no attention to him, making me to seem to be an unreasonable if not a bad person. 

So his belief becomes the story that becomes the history. I had done nothing to spread the true story. This page is my only account of it in any forum. To his children and everyone else to whom he is related, I am the crazy uncle who, on the basis of a mechanical failure that was no one’s fault, unreasonably distanced myself from him. Well, that’s not as bad as being the uncle who was the victim of sex abuse in one of the hospitals associated with their church.

The same thing happens in medicine when they injure you. A community of fish swimming in the same direction, positive they are objective, independent thinkers, a year later they have no memory of having done something terrible, or of having covered up something terrible, or even of having behaved like fish in a school. It’s all frivolous suits and grievances to them. They don’t see what they do to patients. Instead they write self interested histories for themselves to believe, even in the patient’s charts.

Both medicine and that religion are experts in silencing victims. Mix the two and you get a perfect storm, one to which even lawyers with that affiliation contribute. Mine were members of the same religious community as the hospital, my in laws, my neighbors, and some of my friends. 

My next door neighbor was a police officer. We worked together on home repair projects. He took me for a ride in his new Corvette when he bought it. He and his family had spent time on my boat. He pitched in to help, along with numerous other neighbors, when I was building a particularly large sculpture in my driveway. We were friends in a community of friendly people.

When time after time I could not get the police to let me file criminal charges against the surgeon and the nurse, with every time their making up nonsensical reasons that they they said made my filing charges impossible, but that each time I eventually figured out were nonsense, I finally went to my neighbor and asked him what I should do. He said he would take it to his precinct and talk to them about it. He said to give him a copy of the time line of what had happened, every doctor I’d been to, every trip to the police, etc. I thought that a time line would be unnecessarily long and confusing. Shouldn’t I reduce it to the essential points so that it would not be such a thick tome? No. He wanted the time line. 

Now I know better than to give people what they ask for. Often they are asking for something that can do no good for me, but can do good for them. I had more faith in people back then and I gave it to him. It was the last time he ever spoke to me. 

Neighbors began to ask me why I suddenly had gone silent. I didn’t know what they were talking about at first. It turned out to be a rumor he was spreading. He was poisoning the water around me. In their religious community this is one of the functions of certain members of the community – turning the community against the victim. 

There are political theorists who say that there never has been a mass movement that did not have a common enemy, that the surest way to unite people is to pit them against a common enemy. In their community in our neighborhood I was branded as the enemy.

My brother-in-law performed that function for my in-laws – eventually with the help of my wife. He combed through things I had written searching for phrases to use to vilify me and pointed them out to her. They bonded with a viciousness and tone of voice one would be unlikely ever to erase from memory. I don’t know if he is aware of how much he helped her rationalize making friends outside of our marriage.

Meanwhile, my next door neighbor, when we were at neighborhood functions, would interrupt me if I spoke. He would speak loudly to someone a distance away so that no one could hear me. No one stepped up afterwards to give me a chance to finish what I was saying. I was on the outside.

Once when he had put a new floor in his garage in order to turn it into a shop, when a neighbor further down the street was going over to see it, I walked with him. When we arrived my next door neighbor did not look at me, would not acknowledge having heard anything I said, and stood between our other neighbor and me with his back to me to exclude me from the conversation until I left. 

The neighbor I walked there with did not move to get into my line of site. He went along with what my next door neighbor was doing. My next door neighbor had gotten the school of fish in our community to swim in his direction. It never was a very friendly place for me again. 

I’m not a member of their religion. I am a member of the community of people who have become victims of sex abuse in institutions associated with their religion. That makes me their enemy. I can explain how members of their community get away with sex abuse decade after decade without being stopped. They cannot. They believe it is because of two or three people in a bureaucracy keeping a lid on it. It is in their interest to imagine that. But two or three bureaucrats cannot silence hundreds of people who are screaming mad. That takes the entire community: school nurses, teachers, principals, janitors, mechanics, doctors, librarians, engineers, police officers and even lawyers. I wasn’t a child when it happened to me. I was an adult taking notes. I know how I have been silenced.

Imagine how much that school of fish wants to swim in a direction that silences someone like me? My personal lawyer got his degrees from schools affiliated with that religion. His favorite sports team is a college basketball team with that affiliation. He never misses one of their games. He is a devoted fan. He is deep in that school of fish.

When my insurance company assigned to me a lawyer of that religion, after my first meeting with him I complained to my personal lawyer that the insurance company’s lawyer never could defend this case. I pointed out that he knew nothing about defamation, knew nothing about medicine, knew nothing about the facts of my case, and had demonstrated an unwillingness to learn them. 

This was a case in which the sole issue was something I had said on the internet. This lawyer did not know how to get on the internet. He did not know how to use email. And he was not willing to learn how. He hadn’t even looked at the website that was the subject of the suit. Beyond that he was the least articulate lawyer I ever had met. What is the least one should be able to expect from a lawyer if it is not the ability to articulate your position?

My lawyer told me to give him a chance. I argued. He insisted. Finally, I relented. But not for long. The more I learned the worse it got. I was not able to get the insurance company’s lawyer even to read a printout I gave him of the website that was the subject of the suit (my lawyer hadn’t read it either, but I didn’t figure that out until after the trial). Eventually my lawyer and I were in a shouting match. I told him that if he didn’t call the insurance company to explain the problem and demand different counsel, then I would. My lawyer told me that if I did that it would damage his ability to represent me against the insurance company if they failed to protect me.

It all was a ruse. When I wasn’t around he was telling the insurance company’s lawyer that I was guilty and there was no need to read my site or do the prep work that I was demanding that they do. (The insurance company’s lawyer was not smart enough to hide such information from me. For instance, one morning during the week-long trial the nurses’s attorney stormed into court saying that the night before I had posted on the internet some specific page on my web site in order to damage his client. It was important to know when it had been posted. In fact, it had been posted at least a year and a half earlier. The insurance company’s lawyer told me he had asked my lawyer if he knew when it had been posted. Laughing he said that my lawyer had laughed saying that he didn’t even want to know. In other words, in at least a year and a half neither of them had looked at the site I had implored both of them to comb through to find anything that might be unwise for me to have posted.) I had tried to get both of them to send to the nurse everything I was going to post before I posted it, so there could be no question that I was not identifying her, but they never had done it. However, they had told me to go ahead and work on my site.

My lawyers had a religious conflict of interest and literally got me sued and got me defeated. I’ve never seen anyone gloat more than my lawyer did when the jury announced a 1.3 million dollar judgement against me. I was ruined. I was going to lose everything. And the nurse who ruined my life was going to be rich.

The morning after that verdict my lawyer called me. Now they were attempting to put me in jail. It’s another story I shudder to repeat. For the next weeks I sat in my house with the walls practically reverberating with the trauma of what was happening as I waited for the sheriff to knock on the door, search my house, seize my computer and put me in handcuffs to take me to jail. A few days earlier, on the way to court for the trial, as we walked by the jail, my wife had said that if it ever came to the point where I ended up in there, that was the end for her. I would never see her again. What a great thing to learn on your way to court. I wonder if she still remembers that. It’s the kind of thing people erase from their memories.

How alone can you get?

So I was sitting waiting for them to come to take everything I own in order to satisfy the debt, and to put me in jail, and never to see my wife again. I sat there for weeks. During that time I had phone calls with my lawyer, but he did not tell me that the very first morning of this ordeal CSI had dug into my site and found that the nurse’s lawyer was lying and that I was telling the truth and so I would not be going to jail. They found that her lawyer was trying to get me incarcerated on a trumped up charge about something on my site having been posted the night before as a threat to her. But it had been posted several years earlier, as I said it was. Only my lawyer did not tell me that the issue was settled. He just kept advising me to wait and not do anything rash.

Sitting there for those weeks is what gave me the PTSD that so cripples me now, weeks helplessly waiting for everything to be taken and my wife to leave and myself to be put in jail. I cannot close my eyes without flashbacks of my own lawyer lying to me and manipulating me into this.

That first morning after the trial, I tried to give my lawyer everything necessary to protect me from going to jail (as I had with the issues that had gotten me sued in the first place), but he would not accept it. For proof that I was telling the truth there was a link to something on my site that anyone could go to. He had gotten some tech guy to look into the matter. I said that the tech guy was viewing HTML files when what he needed to look at was a flash file. I wanted to send the link to it to the tech guy. My lawyer said to tell it to him on the phone and he’d pass it on. I pointed out that links need to be letter perfect and reciting one over the phone was problematic. He insisted. I asked if I couldn’t at least email it to his paralegal. He refused to let me. So I told it to him and he telephoned it to his paralegal in a way that made it indecipherable. I know because later when I got my case file from him I was able to read what she wrote about it. She wrote that what was relayed to her by my lawyer didn’t make sense. And it didn’t. Since the tech guy had no idea what I was talking about he could not find anything to prove my case.

If that had been the first time that my lawyer handled an issue in that way, it might have been dismissed as a mistake. But it was the routine way he handled these things. He would not handle it in a way that could succeed. He sabotaged me again.

Now that he had provided nothing for my defense, it was up to the police to be smart enough and motivated enough to find it without my help. So far the police had done nothing but obstruct my efforts to do anything about this case. If CSI did not find what they needed, I was going to jail. Since the problem had been presented as one that was urgent for the safety of the nurse, they applied themselves immediately to the task and discovered that I was telling the truth. I was not going to jail. But my lawyer didn’t tell me. 

That’s one of the moments that flashes beneath my eyelids when I close my eyes when trying to sleep at night. I don’t sleep much anymore. Visions of all the times he did things like this to me keep me awake. The only way I can get any sleep is if I can find something interesting enough to keep my mind from replaying flashbacks. If whatever is in my current surroundings, people, media, work, whatever, isn’t interesting enough, I see flashbacks. So I have a television hung from the ceiling above my bed and a DVR that I set to record things that might be interesting enough to enable me to fall asleep over and over again during the night when the flashbacks repeatedly wake me up.

Do you know what kinds of health consequences result from not getting enough sleep year after year? It can become crippling. It has for me. One of the results can be your body losing its ability to control its glucose, which leads to diabetes. To control it myself I now have to eat every 90 minutes during the day and every two hours at night (on good nights, more often on the bad ones). If in the night I awaken hot and sweaty, it means I am crashing from too little glucose. If that happens only 30 minutes after one of my frequent meals, then I have to eat every 30 minutes for a while to get it under control. On the other hand, when I have eaten too much at one sitting I have ended up nearly comatose for a couple of days. It is a balancing act. When I get it right I am cold even on hot summer days. When I get it wrong, excess insulin is coursing through my body doing damage.

Not sleeping at night also results in my not being able to stay awake during the day, but if I give up and try to take a nap I get flashbacks keeping me awake. But I get those even when I’m not trying to sleep if I have a moment without a thought or stimulus compelling enough to crowd them out.

If I weren’t self-employed I’d be fired or on disability. When friends of my parents occasionally said that I should get a real job, all I could think to do was shrug. I am humiliated, defeated and disabled in more ways than one. It is what medicine and certain religious communities do to their victims to silence them. It works really well.

Last night was different though. It was a rare night. Yes, I woke up at least a dozen times, but last night I managed to get back to sleep each time. I might have gotten six hours of sleep – a rarely achieved goal for me. I woke up this morning with the thoughts on this page in my head and wrote this. It is mid afternoon now. I took breaks for the many meals, of course, and to move running hoses in the yard and such like, but other than that all I did was write. Without falling asleep I wrote 5,000 words today, plus did a bit of research and some artwork. This is how all my days were before I checked into that hospital, and even after that it is how they were until my lawyer, on top of causing me to have PTSD, negotiated settlement agreements so onerous that it isn’t safe for me to write much anymore. I was born to write. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since I was 5 years old. Instead I make sculpture now, at least when what’s left of my health lets me. It is more difficult, although not impossible, for them to sue me for sculpture. So I do that instead of write.

If you are one of the nurse’s lawyer’s shills, why not talk to me about that? We could make a difference. When no one does communities like this cause inquisitions or crusades or Third Reichs (the First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire until about 1800). They think they are serving god and/or political correctness. True evil is not a snarling, hissing, ugly thing. It is sweet, beguiling and apparently righteous. It is politically correct. It appears to be what god wants. People who believe in it are the most dangerous people on earth. Part of protecting the rest of the world from them is speaking up. Why else would they go to such lengths to prevent that? We should talk.