Sunday, May 6, 2012

A little taste of Freedom

She gave me a lapdance and I nearly fell in love,

            Then she came on back to my place and she fit me like a glove.

I want to do it up proper, take her out on the town,

Put her on my Harley and ride her around.

I want her on my arm in a little red dress.

            My friends would be green with envy

To see her with me.

Kisses on the lips. 

Bedding destroyed.

Caution cast aside with the clothing.

And no regrets. 

And no difficult conversations. 

Beautiful people who know what they like,

Passing the night.

Without the pressure of forever,

and houses and puppies and babies. 


But not tonight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Homelessness in LA County: a Look at Skid Row

On Wednesday night the eighth of January, a group of students from UCLA Anderson, and the UCLA School of Urban Planning toured the Skid Row district of downtown Los Angeles with LA City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district encompasses Skid Row.  Also with us on the tour were Estella Lopez, Executive director of the Central City East Association, and Captain Rick Wall of the LAPD, who commands patrol officers in the area.  About ten of Captain Wall’s officers accompanied the 30 person walking tour, in cars and on foot.

The first thing one notices about Skid Row is that there are A LOT of people sleeping on the street (which is legal, both in and out of tents, after 9pm).  Many more people crowd the shelters and congregate around their entrances, jostling for access to some of the overstretched social services that are available.  Walking around the corner from the Midnight Mission, one becomes viscerally grateful for the company of armed police officers and the few private security guards that the CCEA brings along.  One is then struck by the fact that all of these veterans - the councilwoman, the cops, the aid workers that are with us – keep remarking on how much improved the situation is compared to the way it used to be.  This is a little overwhelming while one walks through a situation that is an urgent humanitarian crisis unfolding on San Pedro street every night as the sun goes down and the flower shops and fabric outlets close up shop for the night.

The second thing one notices, walking these darkening streets in the company of the officials and volunteers who are trying to help, is their ability to treat the homeless as people.  Councilwoman Perry speaks to a few of them as we queue up to begin the tour.  They pepper her with questions and she responds (she is quite knowledgeable about the services available) to them as constituents.  The social services workers and even some of the police officers spend time talking to the people who are settling in for another night on the sidewalks of Crocker Street, checking on them, taking the pulse of this community.  That’s what Skid Row is, a community, with people and a social order like any other.  The police try to make sure that those unfortunate enough to be living on Skid Row are not murdered or raped in their sleep, but they do seem a little cynical that such a situation persists in a place as wealthy as Los Angeles.

The shelters make a big difference, and there are many of them, but temporary shelter is not a long-term solution for homelessness.  We visited the Skid Row Housing Trust’s Rainbow Apartments, where we met with Cristian Ahumada, housing director and Molly Rysman, PR Director.  SRHT builds supportive housing – subsidized housing with mental, physical, and occupational health services bundled in, that aims to not only house but resocialize the chronically homeless.  After prepping one of Professor Sussman’s real estate cases that afternoon it was a real eye-opener to listen to Cristian talk about how one finances a project that is designed to house people who have no money.  It’s disheartening to realize the extent to which our political society has failed its poorest citizens, but quite inspiring to spend time with people who are expending their personal and professional energies to try to do something about it. 

If you’d like to get involved, there will be ample opportunity this spring as The Ziman Center for Real Estate at UCLA, UCLA Anderson, the Urban Land Institute’s Los Angeles District Council, and the Westside Urban Forum embark on a three-phase program, called 1000 Homes, aimed at increasing the stock of supportive housing in Los Angeles County by 1000 units in five years. The first phase of 1000 Homes is a planning, design, and development competition among young professionals and graduate students from local universities to generate innovative ideas towards impacting this difficult issue.  

In the meantime, check out the Skid Row Housing Trust at, or tour Skid Row yourself the first Wednesday of every month, through


About 80,000 people sleep in the streets of LA each night.  80,000 people.

Oceans Healing Group

            Over winter break I took a surf vacation with some friends.  Three of them are in wheelchairs, two are quadriplegic.  The trip was the inaugural event of The Oceans Healing Group, a new 501C3 organization of which I am a board member.  The groups mission is to facilitate action-sports vacations for paraplegics and their families.  This entails covering the costs of the vacations (these families are almost always crushed by medical expenses), and providing an expert volunteer force for each trip to facilitate travel and the adaptive sports.

            This first trip, we took Patrick, who is 14 and has been quadriplegic since a car ran him over at age 2, and Jake, 21, who has a rare form of ataxia (a nervous system dysfunction) that renders him quadriplegic.  Christiaan Bailey, a professional parasurfer came along to oversee things and be a role model.  We took the boys to Shaka Surf Camp on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula for a week.  Shaka is a for-profit surf camp that regularly donates time and effort to nonprofit adaptive healing programs. (It’s also a great place to stay on vacation).

 Patrick’s mother and sister came along, as did both of Jake’s parents.  We had the opportunity to work on the boys’ surfboard control using custom-modified boards on a deserted beach.  The length of the trip allowed us to work on their actual surfing skills rather than just push them into foamball-waves like a carnival ride (which is how they started).  We were also able to supervise the boys and keep them busy enough that their parents got a little time off, which is a rarity with a quadriplegic child.  We sent Jake’s folks out for a second honeymoon one night, and Patrick’s mom got a beach-day-and-shopping-with-the-girls break, plus ample opportunity to play with her son in the water.

            It takes at least 8 volunteers to surf these guys.  Functioning quadriplegics like these lie face down on a surfboard, propped up on their upper arms, with their elbows in custom foam cups or friction pads on the board.  Typically two of us swim them out through the break and wait for a good wave (not too big, “peeling” from one direction).  When one comes along, we push the surfer into the wave, trailing on the board’s tail for a moment to be sure the “take-off” is successful.  From this point, the parasurfer is on his or her own, steering with whatever mobility they have in their shoulders and head.  Three people work “mid,” in the impact zone.  Their job is to be present in case of a wipeout as the wave breaks (quadriplegics do not swim well and can have difficulty turning over when facedown in the water).  The remaining volunteers work the shallows and the beach to catch surfer and board in the case of a long ride (or a separate arrival).  In the warm waters of Costa Rica, we were able to surf the boys at least once per day, for sessions lasting over an hour each.  This is taxing work for the volunteers, particularly in large surf, but we got to watch Jake and Patrick learn to surf and to control the board on their own, carving, riding down the line, and getting a little face time.  Added to the days in camp with them - napping, eating, playing monopoly, afternoon snorkeling, etc, - the trip was an uplifting experience.  Spending a lot of time with quadriplegics makes one acutely grateful for the basics of life, and puts the rigors and stress of business school into a sane perspective.

            There are opportunities to help with adaptive surfing events here in the US through an organization called Life Rolls On.  My friends at school and I are organizing a West Coast MBA surf Competition through the UCLA Anderson Surf Club and Anderson NetImpact that will benefit adaptive surfing charities.  

Oceans Healing Group is in its nascence, and could use your support through financial or in-kind contributions.

            Check out: , , and for more information and ways to get involved.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Election History

How Does Obama’s Election Color the Future

Tuesday, November 4 - I just went out for dinner after a long day working on a development proposal, and was treated to the finest acceptance speech I have ever heard.  The speech had not-so-subtle echoes of President Reagan and Dr. King, among others.  To be perfectly honest, I required the use of my handkerchief.  I took in the happy, hopeful smiles on the faces of the onlookers - both in Chicago and at the restaurant – and I listened to the words of this confident and poised young man, our president elect.  He delivered a message both grateful and admonitory, a message of triumph but also of need.   His command of our language, his sense of his relation to history, and his devotion to the nation were moving.  He moved me to tears, and I have been no great supporter of Barack Obama. 

            I am socially liberal to the point of libertarianism, and fiscally conservative nearly to the point of libertarianism as well, so I have always been a member of the unserved middle in American Politics.  I have always had to choose between a party that believes that Government should intervene in citizens’ economic life, and a party that believes government should involve itself in their personal life. It’s never been a fulfilling choice.  I’ve always felt screwed before the votes were even counted.

            This historic moment, though, got me thinking about the significance of this election, about what it says about us as a county.  We are a nation willing to give a man a chance – to elect a young man, a junior Senator, Commander-in-Chief.  We elected our first black President, a man whose features and name are but a generation removed from Kenya, exactly forty years and seven months after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He is the fifth youngest president ever to serve, and the fourth youngest ever elected (Teddy Roosevelt got the job after McKinley’s assassination).  He is the first to have used mass text messaging and Facebook as campaign tools. 

Barack Obama is articulate in a way that, though it is polished, transcends polish and comes across as a gift, probably a calling.  In a political system as unproductive and partisan-obfuscatory as ours, leadership through inspiring oratory and clear communication is probably the most important job our President has.  If he succeeded only in being a superb opinion-leader and figurehead, he would probably rival the effectiveness of every President in the last 20 years.  FDR’s New Deal and massive war effort could hardly have succeeded without his fireside chats.

The big payoff is that Barack Obama’s election, given his youth, his race, and his passion, provides a genuine, empirical renewal of the American Ideal.  The measure of the health of that ideal will lie in Barack’s degree of success in steering our nation through its most turbulent test since WWII.  His performance will be a measure of our collective commitment to being productive members of a representative democracy.  He won’t do well if half of us fight him, nor if we accept the same right-and-left unreasonability and pork from Congress that they are used to providing.  That means that this is a personal test for each of us. 

Am I willing to set aside my personal opinions and support this President in his efforts to fix things his way?  I’m a guy who has voted Republican more often than not, who owns guns and rides a Harley, says his prayers twice a day, and believes that freedom is worth fighting over.  What do I do?  I think the humble thing to do, the right thing to do, is to listen carefully to this new President, to lay aside my doubt about some of his political and economic convictions, and to lend him my support in his efforts to lead the country the way he sees fit.  

Lisa's Pull

Pulled the Hill out of Cheyenne over Wind River’s rise,

            And Wyoming was sky, like a pretty girl’s eyes.

And I wondered aloud, by the Vedauvoo road

            How the blood ran so hot ‘neath a shoulder so cold.

But I drove on in solitude, save for my truck,

            Alone with my feelings and down on my luck.


Later on, at the truckstop, with my rig broken down,

            I was glad that the Wyoming stars were around;

For they are the best companions I know

            To a heartbroken trucker, so far from his home.



2001, Laramie, WY,  by M.J. Brown.



She came slashing down Hollywood with those green eyes through the grey grit dust that the tourists kick up and I was a mess immediately.  Thinking about that girl on the Triumph that I met at the Arclight and the chances I’ve missed and the chances I’ve taken and the pain that I’ve caused and the hearts I’ve watched breaking as I stood there in silence on the shoulder or rode on through the night regardless of the rain.  And I think now as the years add up of the women I’ve left waiting and the keepers in there and the way that that’s shaped me and the man that that’s made me and I’ve gotten older and I’ve had to make some changes and I’m spending more time living in the present and trying to get to heaven but it’s still all that I can do just to try to keep tomorrow from bleeding all over today.


                                                                                                -MJ Brown


The Felony Blues

I just spent six days in the county slam

Because a cop had to ask me who the hell I am.

I gave him the “why” and “what for,”

And I woke up bleedin’ on the drunk tank floor.


I got the felony blues, and the bondsman’s on his way (2X).


I got out, after I posted bail,

And I sure don’t want to go back to that fuckin’ jail

Find me a girl that wants to squeeze me tight.

Six long, hard days – I’m gonna treat her right.


I got the felony blues, and the bondsman wants his pay (2X).


I went down to the courthouse high.

I took one last look up at the clear, blue sky.

I said “Your Honor, I swear, I thought this country was free,”

Man, and that judge really threw the book at me.


I got the felony blues, and the pen’s where I’m gonna stay (2X).



Lyrics by M.J. Brown.  Winter 2003/4.