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Sunset Diaries

Episode Three: Joe Ralph And The Burning Bush
Posted by Michael Swatrz on Jul 1, 2002 - 12:23:00 PM

Welcome back to episode three of "Sunset Diaries" the fictional story of Joe Ralph, a 35-year-old ex-con living in the San Fernando Valley. In 1997, Joe's reckless biking resulted in the death of two people. He was convicted of manslaughter and served two years at Folsom State Prison. Upon his release in 2000 and in his quest for redemption, Joe vowed to help people for the rest of his life.

"Sunset Diaries" unfolds via emails and the journal Joe calls "Sunset Diaries."

To catch up on storylines and learn more about the various characters that appear in "Sunset Diaries" please read the first two episodes.

New characters in episode three include: Letticia White, the sister of Maria Gibson the woman killed in the accident; John Adams and Bud Karsten from NewCyber, the company that hosts Joe's web site; Barbara Schutt who owns the apartment Joe rents; Steve Snyder, Joe's parole officer; Deke a college student; and Kirk, a 60's radical on the run from the law.

Joe receives and sends out 50 + emails every day, the following are highlights from September 20, 2001 and September 21, 2001:

From: CP
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Thursday, September 20, 2001 8:56 AM
Subject: Reality Check

You are such a disappointment to me Joe. I thought you wised up and learned something from the tragedy that is your life. Unfortunately for you, my idealistic friend, you still don't get it. It's exceedingly naive to think you have nothing to lose. Everyone has something to lose, Joe, and to think otherwise is not only stupid but dangerous.

You have one more day to end your absurd school-boy hero fantasy and execute the results I require. If I don't hear from you by the end of business today I'll assume you no longer care about what happens to you or the people you've hurt. CP

Note: Joe did not respond to the Congressmen's veiled threat.

From: Letticia White
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 9:08 AM
Subject: Shame On You


I'm literally shaking with anger as I write this e-mail. I have just learned that you are secretly trying to make money from Maria's death and that you are no longer willing to help Steve with the Foundation he set up in Maria's name. What's come over you? Have you forgotten the pledge you made to turn the bad into good? How can you live with yourself by profiting on other's misfortune?

My family and I are extremely angry and upset and the feelings of pain and sorrow come rushing back to us like it was yesterday. Why hurt us again? Do you hate us? We're so disappointed in you Joe. This is a time of national mourning and we shouldn't have to be dealing with your betrayal.

Don't forget it was our family who went to bat for you to be released early and we've tried to be good Christians and forgive you, but you are making it impossible. How dare you do this to us. Shame on you. Letty

From: NewCyber, Inc.
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 9:17 AM
Subject: Hosting and Email Delivery Agreement

Dear Mr. Ralph,

The purpose of this email is to inform you that we have received numerous complaints regarding your web site and email newsletters (see attached file). Upon examination of your site we found a number of very disturbing pornographic images on several of your web pages.

NewCyber, Inc. is a company dedicated to providing quality web hosting and email newsletter delivery and we allow our clients a wide latitude in terms of content. However, the images displayed on your site go well beyond the bounds of good taste and decency.

It is therefore our duty to inform you that, pursuant to the agreement you signed (dated January 7, 2000, see attached, Clause 3 (b)), unless the above mentioned images are removed by the end of business today, we will be forced to immediately close your site and cease delivering your email newsletters. And I can assure you following this breach of our agreement, no other web company will be willing to work with you.

Further, any other breach of our agreement will automatically result in the immediate termination of our agreement.


John D. Addams, VP Operations

From: Bullock Management
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 10:11 AM
Subject: Eviction Warning

Dear Mr. Ralph,

It has come to our attention that you may be in violation of your lease agreement (LA City Ordinance 21.203) in Unit 210 of our building on Rutherford Street in North Hollywood: Operating a business in an area not zoned for business.

Therefore you must immediately cease and desist any business activity in unit 210 or we will be forced to initiate eviction proceedings, including a 30-day notice to vacate the premises.

Please call by the end of business today to assure us that all your business activities have terminated, or the eviction process will begin forthwith.

Barbara Schutt, Bullock Management (818) 555-3424

From: Bud Karsten
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 12.44 PM
Subject: Whatz Up?

Hey Joe what's going on? I'm home for lunch because I didn't want to contact you at work cause you know how snoopy those dudes at NewCyber are. Jesus man who's leg did you piss on? I don't know what's going on but word came down from on high early today that you were on the shit list. I'm just a lowly cog in a big machine so I can't really help you, but I thought I'd at least let you know. I hope your gonna be ok. Buddy

To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 3:03 PM
Subject: WATCH YOUR BACK!!!!!!!


Note: Joe sent this email, along with the other threatening emails to the Police.

From: Josie Earnhardt
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 3:45 PM
Subject: You're The Best!

Dear Joey - Thanks so much again for calling yesterday, it was so great hearing your voice. It made me feel better because I was getting paranoid and thought that maybe you and the creep might be conspiring against me! Isn't that funny! He actually called and gave me some lame story about him helping me with school bills and stuff if I didn't go public, like I could ever trust that liar! I told him no and he got pissed! But I don't think he can hurt me anymore and all my friends and family already know about us so what the hell. I'm not hurting anyone and ten grand is ten grand! Right?
Thanks again sweetie, you're the best! Let's try and grab a coffee soon to talk and stuff ok? I'll keep you posted. Love, Josie

From: ICE
To: Skinny
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 4:08 PM

Hey Skinny-I met with Debbie and her mom Laura and we have zero to go on. Basically a scum bag who called himself Tim Bronson convinced Laura that he loved her and she ended up giving him her life savings of 80 grand for what he said was a "sure thing" investment and then he just split. Skinny its as hopeless a case as you will ever see. And even if we catch Bronson and kick the ever loving shit out of him, the money will still probably be all gone.

I'll email Brady from Folsom to see if he can help. Brady was and probably still is a pretty clever grifter and maybe he can help, but knowing Brady its gonna cost us. Why don't you call your FBI buddy Tony and see what he knows?

You were right Debbie is a sweet heart and so is Laura her mom, who is also cute as hell. Its to bad this shitty thing happened to such nice people. Laura is pretty upset but I don't think she's gonna off herself, just in case I gave her the Crisis hotline number and my home number too. And even tho there savings was wiped out, I think theyll be ok, because Laura works full time and has a pretty decent job. Debbie's probably going to have to go to a community college not university and that kinda thing, but I think they will be ok.

My sister heard yesterday that they found Lennys remains at Ground Zero. As bad as the news was she is one of the lucky ones because at least they have a body to bury. This is such a fucked up time. Hey Skinny how are you doing? In your last email you sounded kind of down. Later Dog. Ice

From: Melody Park
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 5:29 PM
Subject: Hi Honey

Joe honey so sorry again i havn't called you back, ive been so busy. The judge said I had to take Domino to a rehab hospital, or she would have to go to jail! Poor Domino is so sick honey. Joe we cant see each other now ok? Im so sorry honey, but you should forget seeing me. OK? Mel (:

From: Joe Ralph
To: Scott Morita
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 8:30 PM
Subject: Meeting

Dear Scott,

OK Scott, lunch on October 2nd at El Caribe is good for me. Please bring all the relevant material regarding your "situation" to help figure out what I can do.

Also please think about and be prepared to discuss what you need and how I am to be compensated for my efforts. If I don't hear from you I'll see you in a few weeks.



From: Steve Snyder
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 9:01 PM
Subject: Missed Meeting

Bad news Joe. I went by your house last night and you weren't there and so I have to report this to the court. One more time and it's back to jail.

I've been taking it too easy on you because I like you and felt you were on your way to cleaning up your life. But things have changed and the new reality is that you're going to have to toe the line or suffer the consequences. I'll be by tomorrow at 2:00 pm and you better make sure to be there. Steve.

From: Suzy Heartbroken
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 9:42 PM
Subject: Oh Save Me!

Dearest Joe, Why oh why do you have two first names? It's so confusing! Oh Joe can you save poor little me? I need to get laid and I could sure use someone to finish my Poli Sci term paper!!!!!

You big pussy! What's wrong with you dude? My girlfriend told me about this "chick" site and I can't believe it's written by a guy. This is such a bunch of crap that all the guys in my dorm scream with laughter reading this crap. Man up dude and stop giving aid and comfort to all the fuckin wimps on the net. Act like a man dude. You're a fuckin pussy!!! The Mighty Deke

From: Unknown
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2001 10.11 PM
Subject: Can you help me?

I am writing this email from an internet cafe somewhere in the world. My conscience has been battering me for the last 35 years and I need someone to talk to. I hope I can trust you Joe and I could certainly use your help. Can you help me Joe?

In 1967 when I was young and sure of myself and committed to my cause my friends and I were involved in an act that resulted in the death of some innocent people. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. It was only meant as a statement against the war. But things went wrong and I was forced underground because I never would have received a fair trial. I've been on the run ever since and I'm so damn tired of running. I'm so damn tired.

I've missed both my parents funerals and I haven't seen or spoken to my family or friends in 35 years. I live a rootless existence. Can you help me Joe?

I've tried to live a good life since 1967. Is 35 years of good works enough to make up for one lapse in judgment?

I've thought about turning myself in and the inevitable trial and jail term. I'd like to stop running but I don't want to live out my remaining years in jail. Were you redeemed by serving time Joe? Is there really such a thing as redemption? Can you have redemption without believing in God? Can you help me Joe?

Write me back and I'll pick up the email from the road. I hope I can trust you and I hope you can help me. Kirk

Sunset Diaries for 9.21.01:

Ah what a brutal day, it felt as if the walls were going to cave in. Death would have been a relief. I didn't respond to Steve's email from yesterday and today I felt the full force of his power. I just laid low the rest of the day, I didn't answer the phone or send any emails except to Scooter.

As bad as things have ever gotten in my life, and except for when I was in prison, as long as I could ride my bike at the end of the day and have a chance to think and reflect, I felt better, like everything was going to be ok. This evening I'm not so sure.

I'm writing this after my ride while drinking a tall coffee at a Starbuck's in Studio City. I'm sort of nervous to be out and visible with that maniac writing me those insane, fevered threats. But if I saw him now I'd say, "take your best shot." I did however jump about ten feet when the Starbucks guy dropped the coffee pot. Then I chose the perfect thing to calm me down: a big cup of strong coffee.

I'm boxed in and I'm going down but I can't rat out Josie and my new found principles. What will have been the point of all the pain and suffering I caused if I did that? Is my dream of redeeming a wasted life finished?

If I do go down I'll take that smug bastard Steve with me and won't he be surprised. But he's right, most people do have something to lose, including me. But Josie deserves the 10K and I'm going to let her enjoy it. If I have to go back to jail, live in a shelter or work as a box boy, so be it. I've had a great run and at least I'll die with my boots on. Oh man, all I can think of is hoary cliches. It's so funny I feel like crying.

I do have one last hope that old Scooter will come through with a big pay day and I'll pull out a last second triumph. But that's just a pipe dream. It's more likely that I'll get killed by the deranged emailer. Maybe I should enlist in the army and go kill some Taliban?

Tonight was hot and steamy on old Mulholland. The crescent moon looked so pretty hanging there low in the southwest sky, it's waxing and within a week or so of being full.

My heart was heavy as I ground up the great street, and the usual joy of seeing the moon and the twinkling lights of the valley and feeling the fresh breezes blow in from the south barely made a dent in my dark mood.

I was riding, trying to clear my head and figure out what to do after such a savage day. I was free associating, feeling the burn of the climb, aware of my surroundings but focused inward and meditative.

It was quiet on Mulholland, the only sounds were the wind, birds and insects and the occasional dog bark, jet engine, ambulance, train whistle and whoosh of a car driving by. Then I heard an odd, dissonant sound, a crackling noise that clearly didn't belong in this bucolic setting.

I looked up and saw flames behind the fence of a huge home. I stopped and ran to the fence and there was a huge burning bush! I ran to the door and pounded on it, but no one was home. I was about to place a 911 call on my cell when I realized where I was -- directly across the street from a fire station. I flew across the street and rang and rang and rang the bell. Finally the garage door began to slowly open and two skeptical looking firefighters emerged.

"There's a fire!" I practically screamed to them, pointing to the house across the street. Their eyes went from dubious to big saucers and they quickly went into action. In moments two big fire trucks were hooked into the fire hydrant and then the fire was out. I stayed and watched the firefighters do their job with skill and professionalism.

When it was all over I went over to one fireman and asked if he knew what had happened. He said he didn't, but he told me if I hadn't said something the whole canyon might have gone up, given the hot and dry conditions. "You're a hero" he said coolly. "Beautiful" I said to him, slightly taken aback, "beautiful." I rode on.

So now I sit here sipping my coffee, contemplating my downfall, basking in the glow of doing something heroic, searching for some meaning.

I tried to remember what the burning bush had meant in the bible, me a non-believer, to try and draw some meaning or inspiration from that event and this schizophrenic day.

Finally I asked a young, nice looking Latino couple sitting next to me if they knew the meaning of the burning bush. Carlos explained to me that it was essentially God calling Moses into service, to lead the Israelites out of slavery and away from Egypt. Moses tried to get out of it, but God wouldn't take no for an answer. I laughed when they asked if I was studying the bible. I said no and thanked them and continued writing.

Was this a call from God? Was I a hero? Was I evil? Who would I lead? Wasn't I already serving man and God, if there was one, with my work? A hero for a moment, an ex-con for life, leading the misfits, miscreants, homeless and hopeless out of the desert. I stared onto the traffic whizzing by on Ventura, buzzing from the caffeine, depressed and too tired and beat up to ride home. I wondered what would become of the good work that I needed to do to find a way out of my past. Was I, like Moses, trying to get out of service? Wasn't it presumptuous of me to even think to compare myself to Moses?

After a while I rode home to face the day of reckoning. One last cliche.

Stay connected to to read future installments of "Sunset Diaries," as more stories from the road unfold...

© 2002 S/B Prods. All Rights Reserved. "Sunset Diaries" may not be reprinted without permission.


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