Saturday, August 29, 2015

Be Like Florence Nightingale

Never let other peoples’ voices or opinions take priority over the voice of your own intuition.  And always be leery of advice from family. 

If Florence Nightingale would have listened to her family, hospital reform would have happened a hundred years later than it did.  I am convinced that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would have died in hospitals over the course of a century, if Florence Nightingale hadn’t taken up her activism, from her bedroom, where she spent most of her life.  She was permanently grounded, because her parents thought it was unfitting for a Lady to be working.  She worked anyway and she even worked for the US government, who sought her counsel when establishing civil war hospitals.  All from her bedroom.  Because her folks wouldn’t let her go out to work.  Long before internet.  Long before telephones.

As a young woman, she convinced her family to let her volunteer at a hospital in the Crimea.  She only served six months -- but she was a numbers girl (like me) and she figured out quickly that more men died in the hospital, than in battle.  The hospital was built over open sewers.  The hospital staff didn’t have procedures for cleaning tools; infections spread.  The food fed the patients didn’t take into account their illness.  Some died from malnutrition or complications from aggravating the stomach lining.  

She went home to England after her assignment was over, and pleaded with her parents to allow her to go to nursing school.  They refused.  So she retired to her bedroom and for the next fifty years, she reformed hospitals.

She started a letter writing campaign, activist that she was.  She requested statistics and stories from nurses and patients from hospitals all over the world.  And the hospital workers and soldiers responded.   She was particularly focused on soldiers and became an icon of support for those boots on the ground.  She is my heroin.  She is the patron saint of the Sisters of the Valley.  

Long before I was an activist/anarchist nun, I ran a pretty successful little consulting company.  I specialized in launching ka-ching machines in telecom, cable, internet, and energy sectors.

Ten years ago, over a million dollars disappeared from my consulting business.  All of the money the company had.  All of the money I had.  All the money earned and saved by me since starting the business. 

Nine years ago, I came across a locked and hidden business filing cabinet that contained the evidence. 

Eight years ago, seven years ago, and six years ago, I spent three months per year dedicated to the task of piecing together the clues from that filing cabinet, to paint a picture of how and when the funds went missing. 

Five years ago, I took my mounds of evidence to one of the best forensic accounting firms in the world, and begged and pleaded with them to take my case, even though it was a forty-thousand dollar plus project, and I could only pay them one hundred dollars per month for their help.

What’s family got to do with it?  If I had listened to my family, I would have never gone down that path.  If I listened to my family, I would have believed that my search for justice would end in grave disappointment.  “The money’s gone!” they would say.  “Just forget it.”  They would say.  “Possession is nine tenths of the law,” they would say.  “You will never see it.” They would say. “You’re just aggravating your soul . . . let it go, move on.” (They would say.)  It made me sad.  It made me feel misunderstood.  And most especially, it made me determined to prove them wrong. 

Three years ago, the IRS investigated the thief and charged him with a felony for ‘structuring transactions’.  He was really moving money all around the world, to keep me from finding it.  I had both my attorney (bless her soul) and the forensic accounting firm demanding statements and more statements from him.  Every time he had to disclose, he would move the funds again.  He moved over two hundred thousand dollars into North America, from South America, in amounts of $9,999 every month until it was all over.  He knew the ten thousand dollar limit would trigger a report to the IRS; he wasn’t very bright about how he did his thievery.  He negotiated his way out of going to prison by paying the IRS that whole bucket of my money.

One year ago, with him sitting at his attorney’s office in Kentucky, and me in mine, he agreed to give me a check for one hundred seventy thousand dollars, and the required wording to notify the IRS “Hey, you know that money I paid to get out of jail free?  It wasn’t my money to pay.  It’s Kate’s.”

It’s important to note that I took on a lot of debt to fund this battle.  I had three kids in middle school and in order to help my brother save his house, I moved to one of the most economically destitute corners of the world.  From that first round, last summer, I got my attorney and the forensic accounting firm paid in full, my mother paid back, and eighty percent of my other debt cleared.  I also got to buy a new car for the Abbey and it afforded me the luxury of launching the tea and tincture business – in style.

One half year ago, my attorney filed a request to get the money back from the IRS.  And one week ago, I received those funds.  (Hell, yes, I did a jig!  My victory jig lasted days!)

When I notified our attorney in town, he said, “Good God, Kate, I’ve never heard of anyone wrestling that big of a chunk of money out of the hands of the IRS, so quickly!  I think I am in love!”

“You should be!” I told him.  “I rock!”

The victory was all that much the sweeter, for the nay-sayers, actually.  It was all the sweeter because no one believed I could make this happen.  But I was determined.  “Pitbull with lipstick” determined.  There were many times during the ten years that I was frustrated to tears . . .  especially when he would make counter-offensive attacks.  He attacked me for full custody, demanding from the Kentucky courts that I return the children to him, from California, within five days.  I remember I didn’t sleep and lost ten pounds over the two weeks following that.  I remember that he had the court order land on me ten days before Christmas.  It was its own horror show.

In the past year, he launched another counter-offensive, trying to ‘take me to court’ for my frivolous demands for copies of his bank statements.  (My attorney batted that away with no effort whatsoever.)  During the ten years, I lost count of how many different attorniess he has had representing him.  I lost count at six.  I still have my original.

A little sage advice to anyone who knows they are going to be divorced (marriage or business) and knows their partner is hiding money:  demand a ‘finder’s keepers clause’ in the final agreement.  Make sure it says that any money that you find (that the other party didn’t disclose at the time of the split), you get one hundred percent.  That was the basis of my whole battle.  That was the wording in the Agreement that kept the court doors open and ensured he had to respond when my attorney requested banking information.

Last summer, my attorney convinced me to ‘bifurcate’ the issues, or more accurately, ‘tri-furcate’, because there were three doors to walk through, at this final stage of the decade-long chase to find my business funds.  Door number one was last summer and those funds got me out of debt, got the new business launched, and got me a car that doesn’t break down monthly.  It made my life immensely better.  I love the Sisters of the Valley business, the plant growing and medicine making, the holistic, organic and earth-loving life, the reach of the internet to sell internationally. 

Door number two is the money just received from the IRS.  It will give the Sisters of the Valley a home.  All the work for Sisters of the Valley has thus far been done in an overcrowded, rented, little house by the railroad tracks in a city best known for being a permanent occupant at the top of Forbes “most miserable cities in America” list.    The Sisters experience hardship in the cloister department, with growers, recovering addicts, and short-time college students co-habituating in our living space.  It’s really hard to keep sacred focus with rap music blaring from somewhere in the house, and mariachi  music blaring from a nearby neighbor.

This is all to say that the money from the IRS was turned over last Friday, and by Sunday, we had put an offer on a farm.  It has two homes and four barns.  It has a brother-house and a sister-house.  It has a guy place and a girl place!  It has canal water on two borders, and it has its own well. 

Yes, instead of calling each and every one of the nay-sayers to say ‘nah nah nah-nah-nah, I was right and you were wrong’, I just went to work getting that farm we need.  I was a good girl (this time).

My personal credit is in the toilet after this decade long of being poverty level, food-stamp level, dirt-poor.  However, I survived and my kids are fine.  My oldest son is about to graduate from UC Davis, in December, as a mechanical engineer.  My youngest daughter is about to start her sophomore year at UCLA, and my middle son, with about two years of college behind him, and with his meth addiction behind him (knock on wood), is seriously considering just devoting his time to the farm and the business of farming for the Sisters.  I think it fits awesomely in with the Sisterhood plans, because if we can create a healing place for him to work, then maybe we are on our way to making such a place for other recovering addicts and PTSD vets and their families.

The sellers accepted our offer, but it’s a short sale.  So two banks are going to have to approve the sale price and we offered a price substantially below asking price.   And my own bank is questioning my ability to qualify, since the Sisters of the Valley has only been providing wages since January.  Maybe the whole amount will go to the farm and we will be back to being poor farmers, but we’ll be on our own farm!!! 

I am anxious to have a place to spread out in.  I am anxious to have some separation between female energies and male energies.  Somehow, I feel that’s necessary for our medicines. (If the residents or visitors need to comingle, there are barns.)

I am anxious to have a vegetable garden and flowerbeds of dandelions.  Dandelions are the antidote to Monsanto, I do believe.  And we have to bring them back from the brink of extinction, because they are powerfully curative.

Everything is falling into place.  When you feel you have a calling, when you know in your heart that you have to do what you are doing, no matter how many people point you in the other direction, continue your march.  Listen to your heart.  Determination is everything.  None of this happened when I wanted it to happen – it all took too bloody long.  But I am winning.  And I still have Door number three to walk through.  Sometimes justice needs a little earth-place assistance.  Sometimes people just open their mouths and talk, without giving thought to your needs.  There were many times I needed encouragement, and I remember fondly those of my friends who did believe in me.  I remember.  I cherish.  Take whatever encouragement you can get, dismiss the nay-sayers, and whatever you do, don’t give up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Come

Chico and Italia.  For purposes of this article series, those are the names of the men who grow for the Sisters of the Valley.  I have to protect their anonymity because they don’t know, yet, that I’m blogging about the business, and when they learn, they are going to have a collective cow.   

I had never lived anywhere before where more than fifty percent of the population has a ‘handle’ in real life, a name called them by everyone, a name that isn’t their birth name.  I have never lived anywhere before where I’ve met people who have long histories together, shared decades of their lives together and still never know the birth name of the mate.  (Or so they claim.)  And that’s why, as soon as I entered the cannabis business, I took a ‘handle’ as well.  I used Kate because I had used that name to publish a sex tip book for men, once, co-authored with a world famous Madame.  My name was actually Dutch, Katje van Dijk.  (I was poor, three kids, dead-beat dad, it paid an advance . . .)

Kate became Sister Kate in the Autumn of 2011, when congress declared pizza a vegetable and, in response, I declared myself a nun.  I was furious with Congress for filibustering so that they wouldn’t have to listen to Michelle Obama talk about how unhealthy our children’s school meals are . . . and a week later, as if to flip her off completely, they convened to declare pizza a vegetable.  I was outraged -- enough to try to match their crazy.  Conveniently for me, that same period was the dawn of the Occupy movement – which spoke to my heart – and gave me a place to go with my rage.

“You aren’t a real nun, are you?” asked Italia, over a year and a half ago, when he and his partner, Chico, were interviewing for the job as the Sisters’ growers.  “I’m real enough,” I replied, pushing my glasses down onto my nose and looking up at him over the rim (as a real nun would do).  “I am just not a traditional nun.” I explained.

“Look,” I said, pushing my glasses back into position.  “I don’t really have any interest in explaining this to both of you, but if we can’t get to grow-talk without it, I will spell it out.  Are you both Catholic?”  I asked and they both nodded (not a hard guess, since Italia’s ancestry is Italian and Chico’s Hispanic, hence, their handles).  “So you must know that the Catholic nun is going extinct?”  This time they shook their heads, ‘no, they didn’t know’. 

So I explained to them that there are sixty thousand nuns left in America, the average age is eighty years old and they die at the rate of ten thousand a year.  They do have new recruits, but the average age of the new recruit is seventy-eight, so it is a zero population growth situation.  Essentially, in less than six years, they will be statistically extinct here in America.

You probably also know that Saint Scholastica, the very first nun ever, was self declared.  She declared herself a nun because her brother, Saint Benedict, founded the first monastery and there was no room at the inn for the divine feminine.  She did her own thing.  And that’s all I’m doing. 

“You’re bat-shit crazy.” Said Italia.  

“You . . . you . . . go out like this?” asked Chico, pointing to a picture of me in my office in full black and white habit, holding the sign that says “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance”.   Without waiting for me to answer, he said, “You shouldn’t be putting yourself out there like that if you are going to be a cannabis growing nun.”  Early warnings that he was the worrier of the two.

“Are you celibate?” asked Italia.

Instead of answering his question directly, I continued my story. "Technically, nuns live a cloistered and prayerful life, so we are really Sisters.  Sisters are in service to the people and through our medicine – and our activism for exoneration of the medicine – we are too." 

I continued, "We dedicate our lives to service, that’s one," I said, ticking off my fingers.  "The Sisters generally live together and pray together and in this case, the other sisters live in this town and we put prayer into our medicine making, so that’s close enough until we get a farm.  Nuns, or Sisters, are generally celibate and we are celibate during medicine-making moon cycles, so that’s three.  Vow of poverty.  That’s number four.  Look around, we’ve all been put there anyway by free trade and five million manufacturing jobs going out of the country the last twenty years . . . so, check.  I summarized:  (1) In service to the poor, (2) living a humble existence, (3) cloistered (sometimes) (4) celibate (sometimes) and dressing the same.  Yep, we meet all the requirements and that’s my sisterhood.  Now, can we talk about growing?  Because without cannabis, we can’t launch our business and without the business, we can’t grow the Sisterhood."

“Other women are not going to be crazy enough to put on the habit . . . “ Italia started to say, but I interrupted him.  

“Hah!  You’re wrong!” I said, pointing back, once again, to the economy. “People today wear full parrot costumes in one hundred and five degree temperatures, waving a sign, for take home pay of about eight dollars an hour.  The young girls will gladly wear the uniform for honorable work that pays fifteen dollars an hour.  Because I want young nuns to join us, I have surveyed girls from eighteen to twenty-four at a number of college campuses, and I’ve done my research, and I’m telling you . . . if I build it, they will come.”

“You’re going to have a band of paid nuns?” asked Chico, skeptically.

“Why not?” I asked.  “Saint Scholastica grew her order by giving food and shelter and medicine to all the women who came to her, the Catholic church only gets priests and nuns from abject poverty countries any more, so my version of ‘feeding and clothing’ is a fifteen dollar minimum wage job that provides at least thirty hours a week of solid, dependable employment.”

“Someone’s gonna shoot you.” Said Chico.  And it made me smile.  I’ve heard it before.

“Religions have been messing with women for thousands of years.  All of the women-empowered spiritual movements were stamped on by men.  All of the male-dominant, male-run religions won and the divine feminine lost (in the race of air space) and I think it’s because men are meaner than women.  So tell me, why should we trust you to grow us proper medicine?”

There was a pause in the air, as the thoughts of the men before me caught up with my words.  Then, Italia said “You don’t know it, but you are looking at the very best grower in the valley.”  As he said this, he unwrapped some Strawberry Diesel Coffin Cut and set the bud before me.  I picked it up, inspected it, smelled it, and put it down.  It didn’t mean anything.  That bud could have come from anywhere.

“Outdoor or indoor?” I asked.  “That’s from last year’s fall outdoor harvest.” Italia explained, while Chico just watched me. 

“Seriously, Kate,” said Italia, the man I had known for years.  “Chico, here, has been growing for thirty years.  He gets the highest grade product and the most output per plant.  And his kolas are huge!”

“Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard this all before.  All the growers in the central valley think they are the best.  All think they have the biggest kahonas, I mean, kolas.  Words are cheap guys, and pardon me for not believing you.”  I let that hang in the air a second and then continued talking, peppering them with questions.  Have you had this tested before?  Do you know the average THC percentage for your crops?  Do you do indoor, as well?  Do you grow organic?  Do you specialize in strains?  Do you grow from seed or from clone?

A half hour later, we were back to talking about big kolas.  Huge kolas.  They made me look at pictures on their smart phones.  They were expecting me to ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaah’, but I didn’t.  It’s a sad fact of reality that since coming to the Central Valley of California, I no longer believe anything anyone tells me. 

“Let’s do this, anyway,” I proclaimed, after hearing all I needed to hear.  “Because I know of no other way to see if you are full of shit or not . . . You grow one season for me and prove to me that you’re as capable as you say, and then we will talk about a longer term deal.”

The conversation took place in March of last year.  By October, the Sisters harvested their best crop ever.  The buds were beautiful, the Sister’s portion of the harvest was enough to seed the launch of the product line, the bud and leaf tested out all organic, and the potency of the bud ranked over 22% THC -- near the top of any bud potency scale.  And you know what all that meant?  It meant I had to start being nice to my growers.  It turns out, they weren’t exaggerating about the quality -- nor the size -- of their kolas.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Holy Trinity of the Clitorii

Once I wrote a sex tip book for men.  Yes, it was the height of the custody battle and divorce, Xaviera Hollander (most famous as ‘the Happy Hooker’) called me from the Netherlands, and I needed money. 

I remember, vividly, the first conversation where she learned about what was happening state-side . . .‘he’s fighting me for custody, he wants full custody!’ I lamented to her from a bar-stool near the Milwaukee airport.  

I had just arrived and my mother and I were sipping Bloody Mary’s when the cell call came in from Xie.  I will never forget her reply to my lament . . . so authentically spoken like someone who never had children . . . so quick her retort.  In her crisp British accent, without a split second of hesitation, she said, “Well, give him one dah-ah-ahling, afterall, you have three.”   After I recovered from laughing, I explained how he had seized all funds, all assets, and was trying to starve me into his victory corner.

A few months later, she called with two representatives of two publishing houses that worked together, something like one having recently acquired the other.  Truthfully, I wasn’t paying that much attention when she made the introductions.  By this time, I had escaped Kentucky and was sinking financially in Atlanta. 

“You know, dahhhhling, how you helped me organize the best of the best from my thirty-two years of writing the Call Me Madame column for Penthouse?” 

“Yes.” I said, reluctantly.

“Well these good folks are prepared to pay us an advance for putting them into a sex tip book for men, and I want you to write it.”

I needed money.  There was no offer from the universe I wouldn’t entertain.

“What do you want to call it?” I asked.

“One thousand nine hundred ninety-nine mind-blowing sex tips for women!” she exclaimed.

I choked or made some similar disgruntled noise.  “Xaviera, I’m sorry, there just aren’t one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine mind-blowing sex tips for men in all of history, in this universe, and in any nearby universes.  There just aren’t.”  I informed her and those listening.

“Of course there are, dahhhling.” She said.  “I wrote that darn column for thirty two years, there must be . . . “

“Look,” I interrupted her.  “I tell you what.  How many folks on this call with me?  Three?  Ok, if each of you can name one mind-blowing sex tip for men, right now, right here, then I will concede that there may be one thousand nine-hundred ninety nine in the universe.  Go.” 

My gauntlet was met with silence, followed by a heavy sigh from Xaviera.  “Ok dahling,” she said.  “What do you suggest?”

“What I suggest is that you definitely don’t put one thousand anything on the title, because most men don’t buy books that are big . . . most men would look at the title and walk away.  It has to be short . . . they like the number sixty-nine so maybe that one, each chapter just a few pages, and some pictures, maybe retro sketching of couples . . . the women are going to buy it for the men, is my guess, since they buy most of the books on this planet and only if you do this right.”

“Ok then!” she agreed and the rest of the call was hammering out terms.  I put that book together in six weeks.  It’s based on the holy trinity of the clitorii.  That women have three of them.  A brain clit, a heart clit, and a body clit.  And that for the man to get to the body clit, he has to make the heart clit feel safe (loved) and the brain clit feel unsafe (challenged, prodded, teased sometimes, the right times).

The only reason I am sharing is because the extra books are now in my living-room . . . yesterday, I filled a large order of white sage bundles for the east coast, and the only box that fit was the box that formerly held my books.  That led to questions . . . questions led to the story. 

“Did you ever make any money from the books?” the buyer asked. 

“Not really.  I got paid an advance for writing it, I then spent fully half of that on copies for three dollars each, which I could re-sell for ten dollars each, as Xaviera does, if I wanted to be in the business of selling sex tip books, which I don’t . . . I’d rather forget about them . . .  but it was a learning lesson.  I learned how corrupt the American publishing industry is . . . how exploitative.  And it made me research self-publishing -- for when I get around to publishing something substantial.”

I gave the buyer a copy, just for listening to my story.

One of the saddest things about the Catholic religion, Rome, the Papacy, is how they systematically equated female sexuality with a sort of demonized behavior.  Therefore, even today, sixteen hundred years after the invention of the Bible, people can’t get their heads around women being sacred, being spiritual, and being sexual.  In ancient times, it wasn’t like that . . . women exercising their thigh freedom, especially medicine women, healers, spiritual leaders, didn’t cancel out or contradict their ability to walk the sacred path.  In fact, exercising thigh freedom itself was probably part and parcel of their spirituality, an honorable event, with a climax that re-affirms the woman’s connection to Mother Earth and the heavens above. 

“Meet me under the passionate skies, with hope in your pockets and love in your eyes.”  Romance is the frosting on the cake of life.  Denying sexuality for men or women, in my opinion, is nuts.

Even though I prefer to forget that chapter in my life, I do think the book can be medicine for American men, who rank poorly as lovers on the international comparison scale.  (I didn’t make that up . . . surveys say . . . ) My advice in a nutshell: Three clits, guys, and you can’t ignore any of them.  And if I were to write a book for women, it would be to tell them ‘you can be holy and you can be sexual.  They aren’t mutually exclusive’.

Friday, August 7, 2015

We have a win!

As it turns out, my pen did prove to be mightier than the system!  Last week I wrote a blog titled “It’s Really Bad Karma to Make Throw Away People” about a local disabled veteran who was ordered out of his four bedroom paid-for home, with his paid-up property taxes, for not having energy services.

And PG&E, the monopoly energy provider, refused to give him energy.  The county’s plan, I suppose, was that he would be put on the streets, his house would be boarded up and posted ‘unsafe to occupy’ and then he would walk right to the river and drown himself, or right to a gun-shop to get hardware to do the job, or right to a tree to hang himself.  One of those.  He wouldn’t meth or heroine himself out, peaceably; he would do it angrily, like a statement.  I know him.

When the universe tosses us a grenade and asks us to step up and ‘do something’, it’s not always the best timing.  For the Sisters of the Valley, the distraction of this homeless threat crisis took just enough of my attention away from business to cause a financial crisis at the Abbey -- by the time it was all said and done.
On Thursday, July 23rd, I was called by this disabled veteran because he was having a panic attack (due to his vacate notice) and needed some of the Sisters’ tinctures and teas and word medicine.  He wasn’t asking me to come to help him fight the establishment.  He was asking me to help him cope.  In my opinion, people under this much attack shouldn’t have to ask for help.  I hate asking for help, myself, because when I see people in pain, I help them.  When people can see my pain, why should I have to ask for help?  See my pain and offer – don’t make me ask!

I took him medicine and as soon as I realized that there were no criminal elements or facets to this situation, I volunteered to get involved and help him.  He didn’t believe I could do anything.  He has been trying for six years. 

He had a defeatist attitude that -- I must admit, made me more determined than ever to get his lights back on.  However, sometimes I can’t carry two swords very well and the picking up of the sword to take on this vet’s cause, required I put down the sword I was using to complete a litigation process that would bring a little financial security to the Abbey.  Ironically, reaching out to help save this vet from homelessness, caused the Abbey to bounce their first rent check ever . . . and it freaked out our landlord.  It’s all good, now.  The Sisters have people who help them in times of crazy . . .

On the morning of Day One, I met with a local attorney to get advice on local agencies that could help.  He gave me personal contacts at the Central California Legal Services, an agency that we could never penetrate, although we made many phone call attempts and even showed up there in person, at three p.m., to find a sign on the door that said ‘back at 3:30’.  Peeking through the glass, we could see that the suite of offices was a ghost town. 

During the afternoon of Day One, I spent hours on the phone with PG&E.  The next two days were weekend days, so I used that time to write a blog and put together a package for the President of PG&E . . .

77 Beale Street, 24th Floor
Mail Code B24W
San Francisco, CA 94105

Attention:  Anthony F. Earley, Jr., Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President and Linda Y. H. Cheng, Vice President, Corporate Governance and Corporate Secretary

Dear Sir and Madame,
This letter is of a most urgent matter.  On July 24th (yesterday) I spent several hours on the phone trying to get assistance from PG&E in regard to a disabled veteran in my home town, who has been ordered out of his home for not having electricity.
I contacted your emergency number, because this disabled vet, who was ordered out of his home by midnight on Monday, July 27th, is at high risk of suicide.  Apparently, your people called the Sheriff’s department, and sent me to collections.  After explaining the situation at length to two people at PG&E, I was then referred to Collections.  I was trying to speak with the District Manager; they would only give me collections.
Rebecca, in collections, insisted I get the disabled (distressed) vet on the phone, and then she proceeded to lecture us about the energy being a commodity and how the only way we will get the energy turned back on is to give PG&E four thousand dollars. 
According to Mr. Gary Gunn, the disabled veteran on whose behalf I write, PG&E has made unreasonable and difficult demands from the beginning.  Mr. Gunn has had electricity at his home for six months of the past six years, and sometime around 2012, a friend tried to help him get the electric turned back on, but bounced a big check with PG&E and so the lights went off again. 
On the phone call with Rebecca, I was requesting a complete investigation to the charges of that property, the usage, going back six years.  I was denied.  I also requested some kind of assistance from PG&E for this veteran, and she said ‘we are a commodities business, not a charity’.  It was a dead end with her and she made that clear.  Four thousand dollars or no electric.
So we were denied an investigation – outright – and we were denied any consideration of turning the lights on so this disabled veteran doesn’t get evicted.
He owns his home outright, there is no other debt, and he is a home-bound disabled sixty-year old man with a dying mate occupying a back bedroom.  Merced County is about to evict him because he has no energy and he can’t get energy because you have a MONOPOLY and your people won’t work with him.  (They claim they’ve tried, but ‘working with him’ means extorting large sums of money to get the lights on for very short periods of time.  Case in point, he turned over a large part of his first disability check to PG&E, they turned the lights on for six months and then they were turned off again.)
He is spending $400 to $600 a month on fuel for a diesel generator and that provides minimal energy.  His health gets worse, and he is in no mental condition to take up this battle.  He legitimately threatened to blow his brains out, as he is about to be thrown out of his home and onto the streets, because of PG&E’s refusal to work with him.
You might not know this, but it is estimated that twenty-six (26) vets a day commit suicide and the vast majority because they are denied services, denied access to basic human services.
Let’s be clear.  The City of Merced is about to make this man homeless.  His suicide would be on their hands, technically.  But why is the City making him homeless?  Because he doesn’t have electricity and the only player in town won’t give it to him sans four thousand dollars.  If the man had any money, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
The City of Merced, at my request, has extended the vacate order to August 3rd
Gary Gunn was once a proud Marine and is still a proud man.  He will not watch the city put him and his dying mate on the streets, and board up his house.  He will not live through that.
Let me say as well that Gary’s mental health would be fine – if he wasn’t facing homelessness.  It is this situation that has aged him before my eyes.  It is his living without electricity (and no hope) that has aged him, and affected his health adversely.  He is homebound, cannot drive, so he can’t even buy a lottery ticket and hope the universe craps enough money on him to get PG&E to turn the lights on.  He had no hope, but I have convinced him that there is hope and that is you (two).  I write you to beseech you to ‘do something’.  Make the electric at his home your problem for which a resolution must be found - quickly.  You deal with Rebecca the Hun in Collections.  You have the power to fix this – literally.
I met Gary Gunn seven years ago, when his doctor asked the Sisters to visit him and provide him with some choices in alternative pain medicine.   In all the time I knew him, he never asked for our help with PG&E.  He is hurt and angry about the situation, and didn’t bring it to my attention until he was at the edge of the cliff.
He received the vacate notice Tuesday of last week and contacted me Thursday.  The next day, Friday, I got the County to agree to extend the date to give us time to work this out.  I have enclosed two of the most recent notices from the County (that include his address) and the e-mail correspondence from me to the County, as well as a blog about ‘throw away’ people that I began.  The Sisters take a particular interest in helping ‘throw away’ people – which is what PG&E and the County are colluding to make Mr. Gunn.  I do trust you can help us make this story have a happy ending.  We are certainly willing to do our part.
Most hopefully,
Sister Kate
Sisters of the Valley

On Monday morning, I was again back in front of the attorney, with him reading this letter.  (This is a local attorney who doesn’t charge the Sisters for advice . . . a good guy.) 

“Do you think it’s too strong?” I asked him. 

“Rebecca the Hun in Collections.  You are funny, Sister.” He said and setting the letter down added, “You send it just as it is, Sister, please.” 

I rushed from his office to UPS to overnight two copies of the letter, in two different envelopes, for both recipients independently, for signature delivery, and it cost around fifty dollars.  Later that night, I realized that I sent the letters, without the attachments!  I had to remind myself to slow down and the next day, I sent another round, with attachments. 

That was Tuesday, and that day we spent at the Veterans Administration.  Two women, one his representative at the VA and one a liaison in Fresno, reached out and got a third woman involved from Veteran’s Affairs, and those women worked to get someone to help.  I began to collect contacts and numbers and email addresses of people within the VA that cared about what was happening here.  And all of them got all the information that I sent to PG&E . . . the blog story about ‘throw away people’ that expressed my sheer repulsion at the idea of this man being escorted out of his own home for being poor, the vacate notices, the energy bills, the e-mail correspondence and statuses I gave to the County. 

By Wednesday, I was sick and in bed with a cold, and just kind of praying that all the ripples I sent out would net me a fish.  Not any fish . . . I really needed PG&E.  And when a nice man finally called me back from Veteran’s Affairs to find out what he could do to help, my first statement to him (and to any one offering help for that matter) was ‘get PG&E to come to the table’.  I would remind everyone that PG&E is given the right by the citizenry to operate our public utilities (our natural resources) and without them at the table to fix this, no solution is a permanent one.  So every ripple I sent out was with the specific directive of getting PG&E to the table.

I lost Wednesday in bed to a bad cold, but emails and calls kept happening and I was able to catch and maintain.  Thursday morning I was supposed to drive to the UCSF dental school three hours away and tried to reschedule, but my procedure was specialized and it would have delayed it all another month, so I drug myself there.  It took three hours to get there, three hours in the dentists’ chair, and five hours to get back home.  The cold was brought on two days prior by me spending all afternoon and into early evening with my disabled veteran, going in and out of buildings with the air conditioning set at frickin’ freezing, while temperatures outside are one hundred and five degrees.  I sat and baked in the Walmart parking lot while my vet got some dog food and cigarettes.  And then I took the drive from hell, also baking in the hot sun with the A/C blowing on me in the car . . . by Friday, I had a cold and a bad back. 

While I was focused on doing the bare minimum, my vet arranged to purchase and build a solar kit.  It was an inexpensive kit, and gave him only about an hour’s worth of energy after dark, but it was a start.  It made him feel better to make the motions.  He called me sadly, though, to report that the county will charge him four hundred dollars for a permit to operate it. 

On Day Ten (this past Monday), I finally could move enough to do some housework, and as I cleaned, I wondered about next steps with my Veteran.  It was beyond my belief that the heads of PG&E had my package for five days and still, no word.  It was beyond my belief that the Veterans Administration didn’t have it within their where-with-all to get to a district manager at PG&E and coerce him to call me.  I dusted and vacuumed away some of my frustrations.  I pondered.  That afternoon, I posted my story on Sara Silbrik’s facebook page (ABC News in Fresno) and wondered if it was too late.  I called our Congressman’s office and reported the situation. 

On Day Eleven, I lit a candle, prayed something would happen, and turned my attention to the dragons at the door of the Abbey.  It was August fourth and the delay of funds coming to us from the IRS was causing all the bills to blow up around here, all the accounts to overdraw, and I had to call and beg time with all sorts of institutions. 

On Day Twelve, I was getting desperate and wrote the following email to the County:

Dear Vicki,

Again, tomorrow, I have to be in San Francisco, so we are running out of time with Mr. Gunn.

a.  We did try to get help from the VA, but have not heard back from them.  I am copying his representative at the VA, with this update.

b.  ABC News, Sara Sandrik's help has been requested and she passed on my request that the media get involved, but neither of us have heard from them.

c.  No PHONE calls or responses to the letters sent to PG&E.

It appears that I am the only one who sees any urgency in this . . . PG&E has not been driven to the table, and the very least I expected from the V.A. was to get them to impel PG&E to make a phone call to our vet to work this out.  Maybe the veterans administration has absolutely no pull with PG&E.

In the meantime, Mr. Gunn has assembled an inexpensive solar kit.  He is being told that he needs a $400 permit from the city in order to operate that solar.  

I think, Vicki, it's time you and I get serious about resolving this.  One, there must be someone at the city or county level that can certify this vet for solar without him having to pay a fee. Secondly, we need a friendly inspector to 'ok' what he has done.  At least to 'ok' the situation for a period of time . . . 

PG&E, apparently, is like the Vatican.  No higher authority.  No one can get them to even call Mr. Gunn or I, and they have already declared that it would cost $4K to put the lights on, much more to keep them on.

The Sisters of the Valley could put an account in our name, rent Gary's place from him and get the lights turned on, but that will require a deposit and we have our next funding coming in to us around the middle of August, so we wouldn't be able to put up a deposit before that time.
Do you have any suggestions?  I'm running out of time and ideas.  I've escalated in every direction I know of and I'm appalled that PG&E didn't respond to anything.
Please advise.
Sister Kate

When I pushed the send button on that email, I put my head down on my desk and said, “Oh, Lord, give me the strength . . . I think I’m going to have to round up all the occupy folks in the valley to make an action so big that the County won’t dare step through the folks to make a disabled vet homeless . . .  I will make a human barricade a thousand-folk deep.”  With my head on the desk, I let myself imagine reporters and light-flashes and media vans and protest signs and the sheriff’s department and hordes of people . . . then poof, that imagery was replaced with the image of the phone calls I would have to make, the work I would have to do . . . so little time . . .  With my head still on the desk and my arms dangling in defeat, I said, out loud::

 “Lord, you know and I know that I am capable of pulling this off, but dude!  I’m tired as shit!  Is this really necessary?”

I think I still had my head on the desk when the phone rang.  It was a San Francisco number.  It was a veteran who works for PG&E and he asked me what he could do to help me help my veteran.  I think I was so shocked by the timing of it all, that my first statement was “Don’t hang up!  Don’t hang up and first, I want your name and direct number in case we get disconnected.”  I think I also said, “You called!  You called!  Oh my God, PG&E called!  Sir, you have to work this out with me, I’m so not up to organizing an action.”

This man sounded like a kind old country doctor.  “Of course I’m going to help you.” Were the first words out of his mouth.  On that call, he agreed the energy could be turned up immediately and put on the Sisters of the Valley’s account.  He said he would do an investigation into the back charges.  He said there would be no requirement for a deposit.  I wanted to kiss that man!

I had to get busy notifying everyone that it appeared there was a happy conclusion.  And the next morning (yesterday), the news got even better.  The man from PG&E with the country doctor voice and manners called to say that he investigated the past charges and found that they are outside the statute of limitations on collections and he is having all but seven hundred dollars removed from the bill.  (He made nine thousand three hundred dollars of charges disappear.)  He further said that money wouldn’t be due until we could pay it, that he also enrolled the veteran in a discount program and there is another program that the vet is eligible for, in regard to a little more subsidies, but there are medical forms that have to be completed by the doctor and they are in the mail.  It isn’t necessary for the Sisters of the Valley to carry the energy bill, as they are having it turned up in the vet’s name.  The first day I spoke with this man, I could have kissed him.  Receiving that news, I wanted to marry him.

The lights went on yesterday.  Also, yesterday, a friend of the Sisters took a thousand dollars to our landlord to cover the rent check that bounced (good grief!).  It’s over.  The county has been notified and an inspector will arrive sometime today to flick the lights on and off, initial a piece of paper, and then (hopefully) ride off into the sunset.  The vacate notice will be nullified.  Our veteran is safe.  The Sisters are safe. I can go back to work . . . 

Sister Kate

PS.  Thank you all for your prayers and words of inspiration.

PPS.  If you want to help us, visit our ETSY store and check out our pain relief products.  They are, afterall, what led me into this adventure.