Friday, January 25, 2008

George Tabb Q&A

George Headshot
In the January issue of Harp, you'll find a medium-sized news story about George Tabb and his struggles with 9-11 ills (full article below--Harp went under and their website is gone). I truly believe this is one of the biggest fuckups of our time and I'm a huge fan of Tabb's so I'm proud to do my teensy part to help him and the cause out. (As soon as I get my check for this story--which won't be much--it's going straight to the help George Tabb fund, as will any money I earn writing about this topic.)

Also, a big thanks to Monica Nelson for busting her ass to help me get all the stats I needed on a crazy short deadline and to Scott and Randy at Harp for being so enthusiastic about this story. They actually wanted a longer piece, but I'm holding out for a bigger publication and hoping this shorter story will help one of the majors see what a good story this could be if I went to New York and hung out with Tabb a little.

Here's the full email interview from December 1, 2007 that's referenced in the article. Notice how the answers get shorter with each question. His energy must have been disappearing as he typed...

Simmantics: Can you give a description of a day in the life of George Tabb? What do you do? How do you pass your days? Who is around you? What do you talk about? Do you sleep well? Are you in pain? How much pain? Where is the pain and how does it feel? What's your state of mind?

Tabb: Kinda a tough question, Jason. And depressing. I used to be able to take my dog for long walks...even like 6 months ago. And that would wear me out and stuff..but I just loved walking with him...his name is Scooter and he's a little tough Yorkie. Anyway, as time has been passing, I've been getting worse. More pain in the abdominal area and head. More meds. Harder to breather. More meds. Actually, all I do is get plenty of sleep. For every hour I am awake, I must sleep an hour. So itls about 12 hours of each every day. I'm home except when I got to see doctors or to get food. It's kinda depressing, but I'm hoping things will reverse themselves and I'll get out more. But right now..the pain is too much. And being around of a lot of people makes me VERY nervous. If they bump into me, it will really hurt. Even with the body brace I wear. And since my immune system is shuttiing down, I get sick easier. Sorry it's such a depressing answer. But, well, I just stay home and try and stay alive. And hope and pray for good things. For everyone.

Simmantics: Right after 9/11 you were getting press. No one's written about you in the national media for a few years. Why?

Tabb: Everyone is slowly coming to the conclusion that I was right. At first, I was an oddball, a kook, a freak, a conspiracy theorist. At least to the media. Now I am making them look bad and they don't like that. But more than that, no one wants to tell the truth about the poisons downtown. They all own real estate down there and are afraid to lose money. Meanwhile, Wall Street is slowly moving away as are most businesses. Notice how they haven't built anything on Ground Zero yet. Sad.

Simmantics: How have you changed as a result of this experience? In your writing you seem generally positive, hopeful, innocent and kind. Have these qualities been eroded or strengthened by your ordeal?

Tabb: I'm still kind and love life. And this does sterngthen that. Weirld, but true. Life is supposed to be good. I know, cause I've seen and am seeing bad. But I'm still very hopeful.

Simmantics: What's the likelihood you'll make it to 70 years old? How likely are you to see 2009? Are you confident you'll make it to 2008?

Tabb: That's a bad question to ask. I take things one day at a time. If I'm up and around tomorrow, it's a good day.

Simmantics: What was the worst, saddest, or most disappointing day for you since you got sick? What was the best, most hopeful, most joyous?

Tabb: Don't want to talk about it. But thanks, Jason.

Simmantics: Could you talk about Monica for a minute? What's the most surprising or most touching thing you've been through together or that she's done for you? Who else has been a great help to you?

Tabb: Monica has done so much for me I can't begin to describe it. She's is the epitomy of that's good and human. To have a friend like her is the best feeling in the world. And she HAS saved my life. She finds new ways to touch my soul on a weekly basis. There are others who help, too. Check to see who.

This isn't the last you'll hear from me about this issue. But for now I'll leave you with Tabb's video on the subject. Part 1:

...and Part 2:

George Tabb vs. 9/11 Syndrome:
Who’s Picking Up the Tabb?
By Jason Simms

George Tabb is being murdered. The central, most maddening and often funniest character in his memoir Surfing Armageddon and Playing Right Field, his brutally abusive and demented father, didn’t do him in. In fact, young George was well-adjusted enough to achieve his dream of actually becoming a member of the Ramones (if briefly). And none of the Greenwich Gestapo—who all but gassed him for growing up Jewish in the wrong place—tracked him down at a Furious George, Iron Prostate or Roach Motel show. No. After all he’s been through, George Tabb is being murdered by greed.

On September 18, 2001, Tabb and about 70,000 others were told it was safe to return to their apartments in lower Manhattan. It wasn’t safe, and Tabb suspected as much. Perhaps you saw him shortly after the attack in People or on television saying there would be a cancer cluster in New York? At the time, the media had nothing to lose putting Tabb on the air. “I was an oddball, a kook, a freak, a conspiracy theorist,” he writes from his apartment on a rare day when he’s well enough to email.

George Tabb suffers from polycystic kidney disease, which causes his kidneys to resemble moldy grapefruits and feel like a pair of appendixes that are about to burst. It’s incurable, though treatment can prolong life, and the only way to get it other than inheritance—and there is no trace of PKD in Tabb’s family—is from extreme exposure to harsh chemicals. He also, in his video blog, lists blown-out sinuses, severe asthma and other pulmonary and gastro-esophageal problems. If it seems like the EPA’s claim that it was safe for lower Manhattan residents to return home was bogus, it’s because according to one of the agency’s own scientists, it is. Senior EPA chemist Cate Jenkins, in an email to Senator Hillary Clinton, stated that the EPA flat-out committed “scientific fraud.”

The number of deaths from 9/11-associated illnesses is placed between 130 and 200. Tabb is one of an undocumented number of residents who are severely ill. He experiences periodic blindness and deafness, extreme pain aggravated by motion, and dangerously high blood pressure. Unless he wants to risk death, he’s been advised to do nothing but watch TV.

Though there’s no other explanation for it, Tabb’s illness is not formally recognized by New York’s two federally funded clinics as something that could result from exposure to the fallout dust in Manhattan. But those clinics’ primary function has been merely to diagnose, not treat. When Tabb visited the program at Bellevue Hospital, it took several minutes to find anyone who had even heard of the program they were supposed to be administering.

Out of a $1 billion insurance fund set aside by the government to cover injuries from 9/11, the only person to receive a dime is a man who fell off a ladder doing cleanup. Meanwhile, $47 million has been spent to fight claims like Tabb’s. In the meantime, Tabb’s insurance benefits have been exhausted, leaving him to pay for operations and medications out of pocket and with donated funds.

So why has no mainstream news outlet picked up on Tabb’s plight as of late?

“No one wants to tell the truth about the poisons downtown,” he says. “They all own real estate down there and are afraid to lose money.” This, while ex-EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman, whose handling of 9/11 is still under investigation, invokes meaningless jingoistic clich├ęs to justify her own personal “mission accomplished” embarrassment. She told Congress in 2004, “We weren’t going to let the terrorists win.”

The government appears acutely aware that the costs to treat the 70,000 people who are potentially sick would be astronomical, especially since some doctors estimate that 70% of them will be come ill in the next 20 years. Add interest in the form of political embarrassment and it’s only going to get worse—it’s a harsh reality for everyone, especially George Tabb and his fellow victims.

Tabb’s friend and primary advocate, Obituaries vocalist Monica Nelson, who gives speeches on Tabb’s behalf and helps raise funds (,, notes the contrast between the patriotic party line on 9/11 and the passive murder of the tragedy’s newest victims: “The people exposed to that toxicity had no choice in it. Nobody deserved that. It’s un-American to ignore that.”

She believes we ought to turn to Tabb’s memoirs—which, despite his own struggle, show him championing underdogs from a mentally handicapped kid to a wimpy wrestler—for inspiration. “His writings have never been about feel-sorry-for-me kind of stuff. It’s surviving and helping somebody who’s worse off than you, picking somebody up.”

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ebaby! Videos

The trailer for the movie I made in Turkey went up on YouTube today. Check it out:

I also forgot to post when the rest of the Culture Cruise videos came out over the last month. As I mentioned before, I was behind the camera in these videos. This was a really fun way for some local ESL students to learn English and make American friends. First they had to learn how to dance:

Then they did some celebrity impersonations:

They went on a little scavenger hunt:

And, finally, they had to get some phone numbers!

I should have the full Turkey video, "Ebaby!'s Turkrainian Wedding" next week!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Am NOT "The Media"


My favorite college professor, James Soderholm, wrote a story about a crazy man in a Texas laundromat who starts talking to the narrator out of the blue. He tells him about how he shot someone in half but it wasn’t illegal because the top half landed on his property. At the end of the story, the narrator thinks to himself about the crazy Texan, “He tells stories to strangers.”

And at the moment I’m pretty preoccupied with making a career (and an art) out of doing just that. I’m a story teller, and my primary audience is strangers who pick up the publications I write for.

But in the last few days I’ve mistaken twice for something else: “the media.”

I have to turn in two or three short news briefs about outer east Portland for the O every week. Sometimes, when I don’t have any leads, I comb local media outlets for stories that didn’t quite get told all the way. On Sunday I found two deaths on New Year’s Eve that were mentioned in a lot of outlets but not fully explored.

Actually, by David Ashton covered both stories in detail but left an interesting angle out of each. The first was a party near NE 82nd and Tillamook. A 25-year-old guy got shot a few minutes before midnight, but people kept partying.

As shocking as that detail is, no where could I find anyone who had interviewed the people who were hosting the party. As I walked up, a full week after the murder, there were three people smoking on the porch of the house, which was guarded by a big, white, wolf-like dog.

“Just keep on walking,” a tense, blond woman dressed in white said even before I had slowed down. She just saw me looking up the incline of the yard at her and her roommates.

“I actually came to talk to you. I’m a writer for the Oregonian and I noticed that in all the coverage of the murder, no one had a quote from you."

“We don’t have nothing to say,” she said.

“Oh, OK. I just thought that maybe you’d like to say something.”

“We’ve had enough misery,” said a seated man who was also blond and dressed in white.

“I didn’t come to offer you misery. I came to offer you a voice. There’s been a lot of…”

“Just keep on walking.” She was serious this time. None of the neighbors would talk to me either. They either literally closed the door in my face or simply didn’t answer the door when it was obvious they were home.

This afternoon I stopped by the home of a man who accidentally ran over an 80-year-old woman on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t his fault at all—she walked right out in front of him, from what I gather. But no one had a quote from him either.

All I could find was his physical address, so I showed up at his house and he too was on the porch smoking and wearing white. But he didn’t seem tense or mean. Just a little freaked out when I called him by name.

“I’m a writer for the Oregonian and I read about the accident and I wondered if you’d be willing to share some of your experience…”

“I have no comment.”

“Is it a legal thing, that you can’t talk about it, or do you just not want to go there?”

“No comment.”

“Because what you’ve been through must have been really awful. I just thought it would be an interesting thing for people to read.”

“I don’t want to sensationalize it at all,” he said, remaining very cordial throughout the conversation.

“No, I don’t want to sensationalize it either. I just thought it was an usual thing to happen to a person and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Well I have no comment.”

“Let me give you my card in case you change your mind.”

“Don’t. I won’t change my mind.”

Now, maybe I wouldn’t assume that this has to do with me being “the media” if it weren’t for a guy I talked to a couple of weeks ago while working on a story about the Tik Tok. I overheard that he worked at another nearby bar, and I asked him if I could talk to him as he was leaving. He said, “I don’t trust the media. Can I go now?”

“But I’m not the media. I’m just a kid who…”

“That’s the problem. That’s the problem with media.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I go now?”

Man, I have got to get this figured out. Why don’t people trust me lately? Usually people trust me because a 23-year-old kid in Converse is not what they expect a reporter to look like. I feel like I’ve been mistaken for the Action 7 News Team or something, but I swear I haven't taken any fashion tips from Anchorman.

Maybe once all was lost I should have shouted, “I’m a goddamn writer. I’m not here to ruin your life. I’m here to tell your story. Can’t you see that that’s valuable to you and the other people who will glean wisdom from your experience? I’m not a sensationalist. I don’t get paid a lot for this. I don’t care if people like what I write. And I’ve got all day. Talk to me for as long as you want. Tell me everything you want to tell everyone. Can’t you see this is an opportunity to tell a story to a stranger?”

Photo: From a British website that rents fake paparazzi.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Sound of 50 Ticking Clocks


Originally published on January 3, 2008 in the Oregonian. Text and photo of Jim Caldwell by Jason Simms.

Joe Estes spends his Christmas Eve on a bar stool, reminiscing about bulldozed bars in outer east Portland.

The Gamecock was torn down to make way for Interstate 205, he says, and the Flower Drum was replaced by a Fred Meyer. But he still has the Tik Tok Restaurant & Bar, a dark, smoky 24-hour joint at 11215 S.E. Division St., where booze flows during legal hours and at least 50 clocks tick away on the walls.

It reminds Estes, who’s lived in outer Southeast since 1972, of the way things were back when Powell Boulevard was lined with dairy farms.

“It’s still a family restaurant, a family bar,” he says as the crowd of about 30 starts to thin after the 2:30 a.m. last call. “There’s no gangbangers that come in here. None of that nonsense.”

Just before 3 a.m., Tabasco and ketchup bottles start flying at a nearby booth. A woman stands and yells at another woman, momentarily drowning out the restaurant’s lazy, jazzy Christmas music.

Two tables of people in their 20s and 30s rise. The women come to blows and are pulled apart by friends and the two waitresses on duty. The fight moves to the parking lot, then breaks up. A police officer comes to collect statements and finds that chatter between tables ignited some jealousy.

Estes is disappointed. “Why do I want to live in that?” he asks. “My neighborhood has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

But soon, Estes’ description of the Tik Tok as a quiet neighborhood place is accurate again. It has so many regulars, a waitress thinks she recognizes a first-time visitor.

“Most of the people I see in here at night are here every day or every other day,” says Victoria Berry, 28, who has worked the graveyard shift since March.

The Tik Tok’s other location at Southeast 82nd and Powell is bigger and offers dancing but has fewer regulars, she says. Berry says she sees a fair number of drunks and meth heads. A customer once ran out with her purse. But she likes the job because of the regulars.

As she walks past Jim Caldwell, who leaves at about 1:30 a.m. but is back on the same barstool by 4, she wishes him good luck with upcoming knee surgery.

Caldwell, a 58-year-old retired car salesman who lives close by, says he usually comes in at about 11 p.m., goes home and sleeps, and comes back for breakfast about 4 or 5. He checks in with whatever sports are on the TV but generally sits with a cowboylike stoicism.

“I just like to be left alone,” he says, eating pancakes that look at least a foot in diameter. Is this is a good place to be left alone? “Most of the time¤.¤.¤.”

Also at the Tik Tok are Sean, a young construction worker who, until recently, was a cocaine dealer, and Bill, a professional pool shark with cue in tow who’s so drunk he keeps saying it’s New Year’s Eve.

The Young brothers — Matt and Wade — are here, too. Matt, 25, has just finished his shift at DV8, a strip club at Southeast Powell and 50th. His night was busy, too.

“It does get packed on Christmas,” he says. “It’s usually the regulars. People who don’t have anything to do.”

Wade, 28, insists that a visitor try Big Ron’s Breakfast Sandwich (two eggs, ham and cheddar on sourdough, $4.25). He says his Christmas agenda includes beer, pool and a movie.

To the Youngs and the scattered booths of newspaper readers and chain-smokers in the wee hours of Christmas at the Tik Tok, the holiday was just another Tuesday with less traffic .¤.¤. and a brief production of "The Jerry Springer Show."