Letters for the week of March 31-April 6, 2004 

Contemplating the reasons that the mentally ill get exploited. Considering the ways to ignore the scene and hear the music.

"The Hell That Grace Built," Feature, 3/10

Stop the exploitation
Nice work. Kara Platoni's coverage of the problems with Grace Joy Lodge brought up many questions that Oakland neighbors face on a regular basis. We have businesses and housing where the poor, the mentally ill, and the disabled get exploited and abused. Clients of these businesses get arrested, or sick; one died at Grace Joy and the Hillcrest Motel had a murder. When neighbors ask the County of Alameda to step in and advocate for the clients of these establishment, the county comes forward and defends property owners. They talk about the critical need for these types of establishments. Neither the Hillcrest Motel nor Grace Joy Lodge were charities; both were very lucrative businesses.

If Dave Kears, the director of public health for Alameda County, wants to keep these kinds of options available then he should make sure that Adult Protective Services, mental health case managers, and the county conservator do their jobs and prevent the exploitation and abuse of their clients by greedy and unscrupulous rooming house and motel owners.
Ann Nomura, Oakland

It's Reagan's fault
You can lay the blame for this sort of situation squarely on the shoulders of Ronald Reagan, who gutted the state mental health system. If it were brought back, 70 percent of current homeless persons would be living in state mental hospitals, adequately fed, clothed, and cared for, and would be off the streets and out of places like Mrs. Mangrobang's. The homeless explosion came after Mr. Reagan destroyed the state mental hospitals. They were supposed to be replaced by "community care," but that never materialized. Plainly, people who will crap in their rooms rather than go to the bathroom down the hall are not "capable of living without 24-hour care."
Clayton O'Claerach, Oakland

Second thoughts
About twenty years ago I was in my late teens and had emotional problems. I got put on SSI and was sent to live at the Grace Joy Lodge. I remember it as being a beautiful, well-kept place. Few, if any, people were "crazy"; most were elderly. After six months, I decided to try to strike out on my own. I was raped and nearly killed. I am forty and just beginning to get my life together. I've always told myself, "If only I'd stayed there another year or so my whole life would've turned out differently." So when I saw the latest issue, you should have seen my jaw drop!
Jerri Willmore, Walnut Creek

No one is a nuisance
In response to the two recent articles that appear to be forming a series, "Mad House" and "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," the more recent one is closer to being a nonbigoted piece and I appreciate that. I am bothered because you are focusing on the "nuisance aspect" of what we are led to believe are "undesirable" people.

I would like to see, for purposes not only of fairness but also a more uplifting magazine, stories of how some "down and out" people have picked themselves up, made lives for themselves, and have become contributing members of our community.

I, the author of this letter, have been in a mental hospital, in jail, have been held hostage by gunmen while at work, assaulted, and have been considered just another "psychotic person," after enough of this. Yet, I am now happily married, am recovered from most of my illness, have had a small business for the past three years, and am struggling to establish a career in writing.

Your magazine should not persecute those who are different.
Jack Bragen, Martinez

"Signal to Noise," Music, 2/25

Listen up
Rob Harvilla writes: "But the hipster/poseur levels'll be downright toxic, the overloaded clubs' guest lists larded with faux-cosmopolitan types checking off the shows they can now say they've seen like grocery-store stockers taking inventory. The Wrens: Check. Sage Francis: Check. The Unicorns: Check."

There's a fun game you can play at hip shows that, nevertheless, have good bands. Are you ready? The game is called, get this: Actually Listen to the Band.

Now, you may think that the game is just about musical appreciation. And it is about that, but not just about that. For best effect, you have to play ALTTB in a small club -- something where you're not too far from the stage. The amazing thing about the game, at least in my experience, is that from the band's perspective you tend to stand out. You and your very small set of fellow players tend to become the Audience that Counts for the band. All the time I wind up with band members shooting me "How'm I doing?" looks and "Hey, check out this next bit!" And not too infrequently a chance to meet them packing up and chat about the great performance.

There are usually other players, too, and we tend to recognize one another across rooms. William S. Burroughs wrote about "the invisible frequency of junk" -- the undeniable but for most people unnoticeable "vibe" by which two junkies can sync up in an act of instant and unambiguous mutual recognition across a sea of people in a crowded club or a block away on a busy city street. For the music junkies it's a wordless "Hey, that was a tasty guitar lick." "Yeah, but watch that shy bass player in the back for a minute." "Yup. What's with the spastic chick in the front -- is that supposed to be 'dancing'? Must be some good X."

And all too often -- what the heck is up with the rest of the crowd? Yee-hawing at all the wrong times. Doing the dancefloor equivalent of the wave when the band starts a tune they recognize from the radio. Fussing with their finery and greeting people they'd normally make fun of or stab in the back with a really loud "HEEEEYY!" and a "warm" hug.

But whatcha gonna do, right? Party till you drop, folks.
Tom Lord, Fremont

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