I Remember: The Understory

Raise a glass

In remembrance of

Fire and strip poker and getting away with it,

The parents that raised you and the parents that gave you life.

Here’s to forest floors and downtown bars

To women and their stories,

The defiantly political and the depth of the personal.

Those who came by dust and water, nourished by figs and bees

Remember grandfathers

And wars, cold wars,

In memory of the chaos after wars

And personal wars,

And burning the past:

Here’s to rehab, recovery and strength.

In remembrance of trains and schnapps and naps

Here’s to the sound of choirs and standing in the rain.

In memory of worn lace and the soft security of comfort,

Of mothers. And of magic.

For lost words, last words,

Last chapters, final scenes:

For stories and understories

The told and the untold,

In reverence,

We remember.

Amanda Haggard – “Pacific Coast Honeymoon”

Tenx9 veteran storyteller Amanda Haggard told of her honeymoon on the Pacific Coastal Highway that did not go as she planned. 

Just a tidbit of advice about traveling: The fancier the name of the hotel or motel while on your travels, the shadier it will probably be when you arrive.

For example, anything with “Royal” or “Queen” in the name probably won’t exactly live up to that verbiage. And don’t you ever trust a place that claims to have the “World’s Best” of anything, especially when when it comes to honeymoon suites.

A second bit of advice: Never trust a guy who tells you that your night out won’t require a place to sleep when you’re done. You will always need a place to sleep.

A third bit for your travels: Never try out a new fast food joint before going on a wooden rollercoaster at a theme park. I feel like you don’t really need a “for example” on that one yet.

So my husband and I got married six years ago, amid a budget crisis in California—and in the rest of the country—and we had planned to camp along Pacific Coast Highway for our honeymoon.

We learned quickly after three parks on our plan were closed because of budget cuts that our camping journey up the coast was slowly turning into few nights in shady hotels along the coast. When you budget for camping, and work in retail, any change in plans is likely to bust the bank.

I can assure you of that.

But we rolled with our misfortune, and decided at least for that night, to head back toward Los Angeles.

My husband called a friend he had traveled on the road with for work, who promised to show us a good time that wouldn’t require us having a room to stay in that night.

So Jeremy, a short, smiley Dominican man, packed us into his small BMW and took off through downtown at speeds that might make Doc Brown jealous.

Dipping and diving down the back streets of Los Angeles at about 70 miles per hour, Jeremy sparked up what he called a “suicide KUSH” joint that he scooped up at a pot dispensary before picking us up.

“Happy marriage!” he said, passing the joint around the car while narrowly avoiding parked cars in then back streets of LA. We were nearly dead, but together.

The next day, tired and still somewhat reeling from the terror of the car ride the night before, my husband and I packed up and headed North again on the PCH.

And after maybe the strangest encounter with a Denny’s waitress who was dead set on the fact that we were regulars at her restaurant, we were determined to at least see the view of the coast from the car and side of the road, even if we couldn’t camp where we had intended.

After a day of roadside stops and dipping our toes in the ocean, we set out in search of a hotel we could afford.

Only we hadn’t planned well, and we were in Malibu. So we pulled into “The Malibu Riviera.” Sounds fancy, right?

There were plenty of other shady and interesting hotels on our trip I could tell you about, but “The Malibu Riviera,” my friends, is the one you’d want to get to know.

This was the first, and mind you last, time I make the decision to stay at a place where there’s a sticky note on the lobby door that reads, “Call (310) 457-9503 for a room.”

Nearly an hour after placing the call, an angry face leathered by the California sunshine and surrounded by bleached blonde hair popped out of a ’76 Ford LTD.

Behind her: a throng of panting Pomeranians. Seven in total, all with names like Sky, Rain, Ocean, and Karma, the dogs swam around our feet as leather face unlocked the office door and sat down behind maybe the biggest check-in desk I’ve ever seen.

The dogs settled at her feet, and $130 later, we were unpacking into what was once a glorious 1950s resort hotel. Everything was gold rimmed and filled in with wood paneling, and we imagined that in years before, this place was seriously the place to be. Only now, it really and seriously was not. If the trip to the hot tub full of seaweed did not convince us of hotel’s “Riviera” status, neither did the 1 a.m. near-fist fight between the hotel owner and a resident at the hotel. But we slept in our sleeping bags on top of the dirty mattress, together.

Just to see how the place had faired since our fated stay, I looked up some Trip Advisor reviews a couple years later, and I couldn’t help but share this little gem left in the reviews:

“Expensive, dirty, and full of ants. The owner looked like a worn-out Janis Joplin. Cocaine, or other such substance, was on the side board. Cobwebs adorned the room like flowers at a wedding. Bugs were everywhere, but mainly in the shower. The lights in room didn’t all work and the other guests bad parking meant we couldn’t get into our car all night. On the plus side, we survived.”

Another review was only four words: “too scared to sleep.”

Sigh, dreamy.

The next morning we packed up and drove down to Anaheim, mostly because a nicer room on a last-minute-rooms deal website lured us away.

Here, we found a fast-food joint with the same name of my husband. Paul’s. After downing a namesake burger and fries in lightning speed, we headed on in to Knott’s Berry Farms.

For those of you who are unfamiliar—this is the cheaper, white-trash Charlie Brown version of Disney. We rounded the corner and got into the first line we saw for a ride.

Nearing the top of the ride’s line, we realized we had gotten in line for the biggest wooden roller coaster in the theme park. Twenty minutes and some rickety shakes up and down the coaster later, our lunch was no longer sitting neatly at the bottom of our stomachs.

With barely any money for our two days left in California, we sat on a bench on the outside of a wild-west shoot-em up show, getting glimpses of the show we were missing. But we were together.

Six years later, we can laugh at what felt pretty dire at the time.

And although to some of you in this room, six years might not sound like much, I have learned at least a few things in my short marriage.

Most notably that our marriage itself is much more like our seemingly ill-fated honeymoon:

Sometimes it’s wooden rollercoaster after a gut-bomb burger followed by a wild-west gun show through wooden slats.

Sometimes it’s driving down the back streets at 70 miles an hour, while the driver smokes a spliff and narrowly avoids certain death.

It’s curling up in a sleeping bag on top of a dirty mattress. And we just might have ants in the shower.

But throughout our travels, wherever and whatever they may be, we’re still together.

Jane Luna (read by Amanda Haggard) – I Was in Prison

Amanda Haggard worked with and presented the story of Jane Luna, the mother of Jason Toll, an inmate at Riverbend prison who was killed by officers during a cell extraction in August 2010. 

I’ve never actually been to prison.

The closest I’ve ever been was while watching a video of my son while he was in prison.

He was actually in prison here in Nashville for just nine months on a parole violation, and the video I’m talking about is one that lasted less than hour. And sure, if you’re wondering, I’d been there to visit my son.

I just had never felt like I was in prison myself until I watched him die on that video.

Minute by minute, second by second, this is what MY prison feels like:

At 9:23 p.m., and five seconds: Guards show up to my son’s cell for a “cell extraction.” This means he was in trouble, and they wanted him and his things out of his cell at that very moment.

9:24 and five seconds: The camera shows my son blocking the door with his face covered.

9:25 and fifteen seconds: He screams “Let’s get it on, goddammit!”

9:25 and fifty seconds: A team of five guards enters.

9:26: Guards scream, “Stop resisting!” I hear a struggle, but I can’t see my son. Guards surround him.

9:26 and twenty seconds: For the first time on the video, my son says he can’t breathe.

9:26 and thirty-six seconds: A guard says, “Put your arm out or I’ll tase you,” and my son says, “I can’t, goddammit.”

9:27 and eleven seconds: For the second time, my son says he can’t breathe. Guards tell him not to resist. For the third time, he says he can’t breathe.

9:28: My son screams for the fourth time that he can’t breathe.

9:28 and thirty seconds: A guard says to take everything out of my son’s cell, and gives directions to drag my son to the rec yard face down.

The other guards comply.

9:29: My son is turned over on his back, and a guard tasers his stomach.

9:28 and four seconds: For the fifth time, my son says he can’t breathe. A guard says, “Yeah, you’re not gonna be able to breathe.” My son is asked to flip onto his stomach, and in the process I see his face for the first time.

9:29 and twelve seconds: On his stomach again, he’s drug out on his face.

9:29 and thirty seconds: He says for the sixth time he cannot breathe.

9:30 p.m. The video goes dark.

9:30 and twenty-four seconds: My son screams in pain.

9:30 and forty-three seconds: My son says “stop.” And for the seventh time says he can’t breathe.

9:30 and forty-nine seconds: Some light shines into the frame and shows a taser shield pressed on the top of my son’s head and back.

9:30 and fifty-six seconds: A guard says: stop resisting. My son’s body shakes, and he screams out in pain.

9:31 and ten seconds: Taser shield is still pressed on the top of his head. A guard tells him: “There’s nothing wrong, Mr. Toll…Calm down, Mr. Toll. We’re here to help.” Guards are given direction to strip search my son, and you hear him cry out in pain.

9:31 and twenty-five seconds: The taser shield comes off my son’s head.

9:31 and thirty seconds: A guard says they’re going to take his restraints off, but that if my son resists, they’ll tase him. My son says he understands.

Now might be a good time to tell you that my son had a history of issues with mental health. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, and finally a schizoaffective disorder. He was one of the more than 40 percent of inmates in prisons that suffer from mental illness. He was just 33 years old when he was killed.

At 9:32 and nine seconds: Guards are told to remove all my son’s clothes, but his boxers. He remains facedown and completely still as they remove his clothes.

9:32 and thirty-five seconds: My son cries out in pain, and guards tell him to stop resisting.

9:32 and forty-five seconds: A guard says: “Did you forget what I told you? Would you like me to reiterate what I told you?”

9:33 and fifteen seconds: My son sounds like he’s snoring. This is the last noise you hear him make on the video.

The snoring noise heard on the video is likely my son slipping into a coma, experts tell my lawyers and the media.

9:34 and twenty-five seconds: A guard says to remove his leg irons, and another says to remove his handcuffs and roll him over.

Two minutes later: My son convulses on the floor.

9:37 and forty seconds: The guards remove my son’s silver necklace from around his neck. He’s rolled onto his back.

9:38 and fifty seconds: Someone says: “Have medical come here and check him.”

9:39 and three seconds: A nurse says: “Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll? Mr. Toll?” You see his face from the side as the nurse checks for his pulse.

9:40 and ten seconds: The nurse begins mouth-to-mouth.

9:41 and twenty seconds: One guard says my son might be dead, and another says “Please don’t say that word.”

9:41 and thirty seconds: My son’s upper body is moving.

9:42 and thirty-five seconds: A guard says, “You gotta be kiddin’ me?!”

9:42 and forty-eight seconds: The nurse is still giving him CPR and asks if they should call an ambulance.

9:43 and ten seconds: A captain comes in and asks: “What happened to him? Did you taser him or what?” Another guard tells the captain my son was never tased.

9:43 and fourteen seconds: The nurse tells the group that my son doesn’t have a pulse and is not breathing.

9:43 and twenty-six seconds: The captain asks again what happened, and guards say my son was conscious when they got him into the rec yard.

9:43 and forty-nine seconds: The captain tells his guards to take off their helmets to “breathe.”

9:44 and twenty seconds: They attempt to use a defibrillator machine, but it doesn’t work. They continue CPR on my son.

9:46 and thirty seconds: My son is attached to a breathing machine. You now see a cut on his right temple.

9:47 and twenty-three seconds: They try to use a defibrillator machine again and it doesn’t work.

9:49 and thirty seconds: A guard says: “The inmate was combative when we got through the door.”

9:51 and thirty seconds: They try to use a defibrillator again and it doesn’t work.

9:52 and twenty seconds: A nurse says: It’s “a neck injury or something. I don’t know.”

9:54 and twenty-nine seconds: You hear the guards say my son was “awake and coherent” when they got there, and that he was a diabetic who took a lot of Tylenol.

9:55 and twenty-one seconds: A guard says: “It’s very unfortunate, I think.”

Three more times in the next seven and a half minutes they try the defibrillator machine, and it doesn’t work.

10:08 and thirty-three seconds: Paramedics show up. Guards give this summary: We were “in a cell extraction and he was raising hell in his cell and he walked out there 30 minutes ago and he fell out and he’s been out every since.”

10:09 and thirty-five seconds: My son is lifted onto a gurney.

10:11 and twenty seconds: My son is rolled through the prison. Inmates are yelling. The nurse is no longer doing CPR.

10:12: My son is rolled into the ambulance. The doors close.

10:12 and thirty-seven seconds: The tape clicks off.

My son is dead.

I was in prison once.