The things we do for friends

14 May

When you’re retired and you have a brain injury there are only 2 reasons to wake up before 7:00am: (1) you have a bike race or (2) you have a plane to catch. And, actually, being retired means you don’t encounter #2 very often. So why in the name of Yoda did I set my alarm for 6:45am on Tuesday?

Because my friend, a person whom I genuinely respect and admire, needed me.

Specifically, she needed me to be Downtown (what?!) at the Law Library (double what?!?) by 9:00am (ugh). I don’t “do” Downtown unless it involves an event at the Music Center. And I definitely don’t do the Law Library. Ever. Not under any circumstances. In fact, I’d never set foot in the place back when I actually WAS a lawyer — I had assistants, associates, in-house librarians, and Lexis to handle that nonsense for me. Downtown L.A. Law Library at 9-freakin-A.M.?! You gotta be kidding me. This had better be good…

When I told the receptionist why I was there, he called security. After a long wait, they finally escorted me into the garage, which was approximately 102°, and pointed me to a section that had been cordoned off with yellow police tape.


I found my friend. She handed me a plastic envelope that contained a gun and copious amounts of cash and then promptly excused herself to deal with the arriving throngs.

Uh. Hello??? What, exactly, am I supposed to do with this stuff?!

“Just read the instructions, you’ll understand in a minute.”

Uh. Ok.

I read.

I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was reading things right.

I read again.


Was she serious?

I spent the next 1.5 hours selling drugs to minors, harassing homeless people, stealing and forging car titles, and breaking and entering low-income homes to make off with as many “high value” possessions as I could find/carry.

I did not take naturally to these tasks at first, but my first successful sale to a 14-year-old emboldened me. Soon, I had a pretty solid crew of addicts and runners. Within the first hour I took in more than $2,000.

Damn! Selling drugs is friggin’ lucrative and surprisingly easy … especially once you get the local police on your side.

In an exceptionally bold move, I decided to proactively inform a particular officer about my “business operations” and suggested that if she would turn a blind eye to my activity, I would feed her a steady supply of “tips” that she could use to boost her arrest quotas. It worked like a charm.

If a customer, like the 80-year-old lady who frequented the homeless shelter, asked me to cut a deal, I’d offer a slight price concession and then scurry over to the officer to provide identifying information that she could use to make an arrest. I mean, everybody wins in that situation, right? The cop gets a legit arrest, the homeless lady gets a roof over her head and 3-squares a day for a week or so, and I get to keep running my business and focus on customers who are willing to pay full price.

Sweet! Being a drug lord / crime czar is kinda awesome!

Yeah, I felt a little bad about boosting social security cards from the Abers family (they seemed like nice, hard-working folks and I heard that they got evicted shortly after my theft because they couldn’t cash their SSI checks), but the Hernandez’s gave me $200 + title to their car and basically indentured their 17-year-old to me to serve as my main runner so that the mom and grandma could get jobs and not be evicted. I mean, that’s pretty close to being a virtuous circle, right?

I did NOT AT ALL feel bad about shooting Tina Thompson. B*tch was all high-and-mighty every time I tried to recruit her as a runner: “Oh, no, my parents wouldn’t approve of *that* kind of work, Ms. Z.” Oh, but they *would* approve of you trying to help your brother in his attempt to pickpocket me and steal my wad?!? Oh, HELL NO! Bang, bang, bang, sista — there’s 2 bullets in your leg and one grazing your shoulder.

Now how’re ya gonna explain THAT to your oh-so-saintly parents, stupid biyotch?!?

Just then, my friend blew the whistle, ending the 4th period of her Poverty Simulation.

My friend, Tiela Chalmers, is a highly regarded consultant in the fields of legal services and pro bono. Among the many impactful projects she’s brought to life is the Poverty Simulation, tailored specifically for legal audiences.

On Tuesday, the audience was ~50 law librarians. It was her first time running the Simulation for librarians.

Poverty isn’t a game, of course. It’s a reality for people in our own backyard. Participating in the Simulation allows one to experientially learn what it’s like to live in poverty by assuming the role of a low-income family member. Families range from 1 to 5 people. Some are “fully intact, standard working families” with two parents who work full time and kids in school, sometimes with undiagnosed learning challenges, sometimes with diagnosed disorders, or sometimes with “no issues” at all — at least on the face of things … life has a funny way of handing out unexpected surprises though.

Other “families” may have newly unemployed members, or may have been recently deserted (or be currently abused) by a “breadwinner.” Others may receive public benefits (with or without supplemental income), or be immigrants without legal status. Still others are senior citizens receiving Social Security or grandparents raising their grandchildren. You get the gist — the full mishmash of life is simulated.

Participants (here, all law librarians) experience a “month” of poverty with a 15-20-minute time period standing in for each week. Participants interact with volunteers who play the roles of employers, bill collectors, school administrators, police officers, immigration officials, social and legal service providers, pawn shop/check-cashing/grocery/fast food clerks, bank tellers, medical providers, drug dealers and more — all types of people they’d interact with on a regular basis in daily life.

This was my third time experiencing a Poverty Simulation with Tiela. Each one has played out differently, but the main take-aways remain constant:

You walk away with a crushing feeling in your chest and an aching in your soul.

You experience profound empathy for the dynamics of poverty and the work it takes to achieve self-sufficiency. You feel awe for those who surmount life’s daily barriers. With 16.3% of Los Angeles County residents living below the federal poverty line (i.e., making <$11,490 as a single person or <$22,550 for a family of 4), there are a LOT of people in my backyard struggling with those barriers.

You remind yourself to not be an asshole.

You reawaken your commitment to trying to build a more just and joyful world for others.

And you know that you’ll gladly awake before 7:00am to do this again — anytime, anywhere.

Thanks for asking me to join you, Tiela.

Parting Thought: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. ~spoken by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3 Responses to “The things we do for friends”

  1. Sarah Fergusson Chambless May 16, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    I just have two thoughts: (1) You are NOT “retired” — I mean, c’mon, you’re in a Ph.D program full time!! That does not count as “retired!” and (2) Why do retired people get up so damn early, anyway???

    As for the rest… well, I need to let it sink in. There is clearly a whole economy of poverty that decisionmakers at the top do not understand, and it is quite functional in its own way… whew. Good stuff.

    • justadventures May 16, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      I’m not in to PhD program yet — I’m just screwing around with pre-reqs. 😉


  1. Best Year Ever! | JustAdventures - December 30, 2013

    […] I dabble in dealing drugs to children. This actually was not fun at all, but I’m profoundly grateful for having had the […]

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