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Sunset Diaries

Episode Five: Bees
Posted by Michael Swartz on Sep 1, 2002 - 4:27:00 PM

NOTE: Sunset Diaries contains language not suitable for younger readers.

Welcome back to episode five of "Sunset Diaries" the fictional story of 35 year old ex-con Joe Ralph's struggle to live down his past and balance his karmic books.

In 1997 Joe's recklessness accidentally killed two people. He was convicted of manslaughter and served two years at Folsom State Prison. Released in 2000 Joe pledged to dedicate his life to helping people, in part as a quest for redemption and in part to try and make something good come out of the tragedy.

Joe created a web site devoted to helping people. His work provided him immense satisfaction and just enough money to survive.

The stories unfold via emails to and from Joe and entries from the bike riding journal he calls "Sunset Diaries."

Episode three ended on Friday September 21, 2001, just ten days after the horror of 9/11, with Joe disheartened and facing another day of reckoning. Congressman Steve Gibson, husband of Maria Gibson, the woman killed in Joe's accident, warned there would be severe consequences if Joe was unable to convince the young woman Steve had an affair with not to go public. Joe ignored the threat and quickly felt Steve's wrath -- his internet company, landlord and parole officer all sent Joe menacing emails, threatening his life's work and his own survival. And worst of all to Joe, was a scathing email from Letticia White, Maria's sister, accusing Joe of going back on his pledge.

Episode five takes place on Monday September 24, 2001. Here are some of the emails Joe received and sent on 9.22, 9.23 and 9.24 and his "Sunset Diaries" journal entry for 9.24.01:

From: Joe Ralph
To: Steve Snyder
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2001 10:38 AM
Subject: Great Timing

Steve - Your out-of-the-blue bullshit email was the last damn thing I needed to hear on a really fucked up day. You know damn well I've been a nearly perfect parolee and you promised surprise visits were over. Who got to you and what suddenly changed? Whatever man, you're the boss and I'll be here waiting for you at 2:00 pm. Joe

From: Joe Ralph
To: Barbara Schutt, Bullock Management
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2001 9:08 PM
Subject: Bye Bye

Dear Barbara, No need to pursue any legal action, I agree to vacate my apartment by November 1, 2001. I'll send you the November rent payment, less the security deposit, next week.

Barbara I'd love to know why you chose this particular moment to crack down on my little business -- when you know that half the people in this building are working out of their units. Odd isn't it? Joe

From: Joe Ralph
To: John D. Addams, NewCyber, Inc
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2001 9:15 PM
Subject: Terminated

Dear Mr. Addams, Per your email and effective immediately, you can consider our agreement and relationship terminated.

Mr. Addams it's interesting timing for you to suddenly discover this so-called "pornography" on my web site, material that's been online for months. Intriguing too that you would consider material regarding assistance for people living alternative lifestyles to be pornographic...I guess you just know it when you see it. Joe Ralph

From: Joe Ralph
To: Letticia White
Sent: Saturday, September 22, 2001 9:31 PM
Subject: So Sorry

Dear Letty,

It was devastating reading your email and it's with a heavy heart that I write this to try and clear things up.

Letty if nothing else, please believe at least one thing: besides my own family, you and your family are the last people on earth that I would ever again knowingly harm or cause any pain. I have already caused you all enough needless suffering due to my stupidity.

I swear I am still committed to the pledge I made to you last year that I would not only turn my life around, but try and make something good out of the tragedy. I now find myself trapped in a nether world between the darkness and the light, between being punished for doing the right thing or going against my pledge to simply survive. I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but that's part of my dilemma.

I won't ask you to take my side or beg you to believe me over someone else who is telling stories about me, I doubt I have much credibility with you. But please hold on to the faith you had when you spoke up for me at the parole board when few others would. I swear Letty I have not broken my pledge and the things you heard about me are not true. If anything I've become even more committed to serving the better angels of my nature and to the cause of justice, a conviction that may lead to my ruin.

I'm crushed that I've lost your trust and I vow to show you with my actions that the promises I made to you and your family will be fulfilled.

I wish only peace and love for you and your wonderful family and I'm truly sorry for causing any of you any further pain or sorrow.


Joe Ralph

To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 9:40 AM
Subject: C'mon Down!

Hey Joey-Buddy from NewCyber emailed me about you getting kicked out! Considering all the porno and wackos and terrorists how is it possible that you get thrown out of NC? That's nuts!

You know if it weren't for you and Ice last year I might be in jail today and for the rest of my life. I can never completely repay my debt of gratitude to you guys, but I can sure as shit do you a solid.

Dude, I've got my own server now and I run my entire site out of my office. Why not hook up with me until the heat dies down? I'll host your site and deliver your emails! Dude, it'll be great! Send me your files and data base and I promise you won't skip a beat! Harry

From: Josie Earnhardt
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 11:43 AM
Subject: Mulholland House in your future!

Dear Joey - Honey, what's wrong? You can tell me! I heard a rumor that you're being kicked out of your apartment....I've got spies! :) What on earth did you do?

You've been such a pal during the whole Creep-thing that I want to help, and I know your money's a little tight. My friend the sit-com queen who lives in the mansion up on Mulholland has a cute guest house that's empty and sitting there waiting for the right person. It's kinda small, but it's something, it has a bathroom, kitchen, room for a bed and it's in a beautiful neighborhood right where you love to bike! I've already told her all about you, your situation and what a great friend you've been and she'd like to meet you. Call me as soon as you get this! It'll be ok honey, I promise. I'm already feeling better about things -- thanks to you! Love, Josie

From: Joe Ralph
To: Trudy Ralph
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 1:40 PM
Subject: Hi Mom

Dear Mom,

Hi, how are you and sis? Did dad's headstone turn out ok? Sorry I couldn't be there for the unveiling, but you know my money situation isn't so great and travel isn't easy being on parole an all. I'm so sorry I couldn't have been there.

I haven't heard from either you or Kris, so I guess you guys have been busy. I wanted you to know I paid another installment on the fine imposed on me at trial. I've got a long way to go to pay it off, but I'm making headway and when I'm done I'll start paying you back for the legal fees you and dad had to pay.

I know you don't like talking about the trial and you blame me for dad losing the will to live and dying because of me. I know you're still mad at me and everything and I sure understand your feelings mom. Hopefully someday we can talk things out and maybe things can be better between us. Say hi to Kris, Traci and Kent if you see them. Love, Joseph

From: Joe Ralph
To: Kirk
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 3:33 PM
Subject: Can I Help You?

Dear Kirk,

Thanks for your email. I promise not to reveal anything about our correspondence to the authorities, and if you'd prefer I won't include any of this on my web site.

You know from reading my site that I make a distinction between things I can actually do to help people, and advice. I'm not so good with advice, and I don't know how much help I can give you but I'll be happy to try.

You said you were on the run and asked if I thought 35 years of years of doing good work makes up for one mistake. According to the law? No. According to the victims families and friends and most of society? Probably no. According to me? My opinion doesn't much matter. What do you think Kirk?

Was I redeemed by serving time in prison? Hell no, but it did force me to come to terms with what I'd done, and how I was going to get through the rest of my life. The lonely days and nights in jail hardened my resolve to never fuck up again and to try and give back something to those I hurt and the community at large.

Is there such a thing as redemption? I think it's an ultimately unattainable but worthy goal. Can there be redemption without believing in God? That's outside my area of expertise, you should consult someone else for that. I do feel that if redemption is possible, it should be available to anyone regardless of whether or not that person believes in a higher being.

I don't know what's right for you to do Kirk, only you can make such a momentous decision. Yes, if you turn yourself in you're likely going to jail and I promise it won't be easy or pleasant. But on the good side, you can stop running and stop worrying about being caught. And you can get some much needed rest.

You can continue doing good work from inside jail and make plans for when you get out. I promise to stick by you during the trial and whatever else happens after that. You said you were tired and missed your family, maybe by telling your story and facing up to the consequences you could get on with the rest of your life, only you can decide that.

Anyway, these are some things to think about. I hope it helped. Please write back let me know what you think. Best, Joe

From: Dr. Merle Simmons
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2001 5:03 PM
Subject: Life Saver!!

Dear Joey,

Once again, thank you for literally saving my life. Because I am highly allergic to bee stings I really was in serious danger yesterday. Your quick thinking and bravery are truly responsible for me being alive and breathing today! Luckily for me God put you there yesterday and you responded like a true hero.

I feel terrible that your beautiful bike got lost in the confusion and to show my gratitude, I want you to go out and get yourself a brand new bike and send me the bill. And please don't worry about the money - get the bike you really want, you deserve it! I'm sincere about this.

Also I've been reading your wonderful web site since returning home and I am very impressed with it and the good work you and your colleagues are doing. Maybe it was destiny that we met.

Joey, I'll be back in LA on October 2nd for the day and I'd love to talk with you about how I can get involved and possibly help support you and your activities. Free for lunch on the 2nd?

Let me know about the bike and lunch as soon as you can. Thanks again for your help - you truly are a life saver!! Merle

From: Fred Duvall
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 10:03 AM
Subject: Confidential

Dear Mr. Ralph,

You don't know me but I may have some information that could be very useful to you.

I am a care giver for the elderly and one of my clients is Steve Gibson's mother. I've overheard what he's doing to you and I'd be happy to share some secrets about the Congressman that I'm sure he'd rather not have revealed.

If you wonder why I would do this, believe me it's not for money. There's no love lost for Steve - he treats both me and his mother like crap and I don't like what he's doing to you.

Please don't email me back or try and call me. If you're interested in hearing what I have to say, meet me at Starbuck's in Studio City, tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. If you're there, I'll give you the information. If you're not there I'll assume you're not interested.

Mr. Ralph, even if you don't show, be prepared for a lot more from Steve - I overheard him talking about getting the cops to raid your computer on some phony charges to try and put you out of business for good. Duvall

From: Ice Man
To: Skinny
Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 12:13 PM
Subject: Lucky Break!

Hey Skinny-your not gonna believe what I'm about to tell you. We may have caught a break in the Guttierez thing. After we spoke I called your FBI buddy and he thought he had heard about a guy pulling similar scams in Oklahoma. He ended up pulling the file and thinks it's our guy! The FBI is trying to find him now so I'll keep you posted. Of course even if we get him the money may be all gone but at least it's a start. Laura was thrilled.

Skinny you ok? You sounded like shit on Saturday. You better tell me if there's something wrong. Your not alone so don't act like when you first got to the joint like some tough guy lone cowboy. We're in this fight together you scrawny piece of shit. Ice

From: Donny
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 2:46 PM
Subject: Help Me?

Dear Joe,

My name is Donny and I'm a college student. I have a problem and I don't know what to do or who to turn to. I think some of my frat brothers drugged and raped some women a few weeks ago. I swear I wasn't involved, but I knew what was going on and I didn't do anything to help. I feel terrible about what happened to the women, but I don't want to rat out my frat brothers and get them trouble. I don't know what to do or who to turn to. Can you help me? Donny

From: Betty Clausen
To: Joe Ralph
Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 4:49 PM
Subject: Thanks dear...

Dear Joe,

Hello dear. I just wanted to drop you a little note of thanks. I spoke to your friend and he can get me the stuff I need for my glaucoma. It's getting so bad I can't drive at all anymore so I'm just another old lady stuck at home. Come by to visit if you can, I'd love to see you. Sincerely, Betty

Sunset Diaries for Monday, September 24, 2001:

Well I feel a hell of a lot better about things today than I did on Friday. The time I spent moping around feeling sorry for myself Friday and Saturday was a complete waste of time. The fever finally broke on Saturday when once again a bike ride helped get things back into focus and remind me what was important and what was irrelevant. I went for a ride around 3:00 pm, after Steve Snyder came by to check up on me.

Saturday was a steamy September afternoon, so hot that the heat radiating from the blacktop of Ventura Boulevard combined with the blazing sun to put me in a slightly delirious state.

As I ground along Ventura on this surreal, sad, hazy day I was deep in thought about the awful turn my life had taken. Pouring sweat and feeling light-headed a series of bizarre, unconnected dream-like images appeared before me: a mirage, a pretty Latina lady dashing across Ventura holding a vase filled with sunflowers, a bum screaming nonsense at me, "put the top light in the rear!" and a car parked on the sidewalk after crashing into a store. I imagined the many angry, yelling motorists, screaming and honking their horns to be rabid dogs, barking wildly driving giant SUVs. I was amused, viewing these scenes as if I were watching a movie.

The mood was broken when I heard what sounded like rain drops hitting my helmet, on this boiling, cloudless day. I looked up and saw a few bees madly buzzing around me. Then I turned and saw the most bizarre image yet, an angry, pulsating, buzzing, scary, swarm of bees. An angry dark cloud was heading right towards me. Shit this was no dream!

I immediately looked around for shelter. I was in front of a blues club in Sherman Oaks called Cozy's. A woman was in the middle of the cross walk and a young Latina woman and her baby were waiting on the bus bench, all unaware of the bees.

There were no cars coming in either direction so I wheeled around and headed for the woman in the crosswalk. "Lady, there's a swarm of bees coming, follow me! Bees!" She looked at me blankly, turned and saw the swarm and tripped over herself. I got off my bike, threw it to the side and helped her to her feet. By now the bees were all over us. We dashed to Cozy's knocking bees off us as we ran. I got the woman inside and ran out again to get the Latina lady and her baby. She didn't speak english, but understood the danger and followed me.

By now the small group that had been rehearsing inside the club and the owner and bartender were helping the first lady and looking outside at the awesome sight of a swarm angry of bees. "I'm a doctor and highly allergic to bees" she said. "And I think I've been stung. My purse is still outside it's got my Epipen. I need that shot or I could die!"

I put on my jacket and went to find her purse. I still had my helmet and goggles on for added protection. Bees were everywhere and by now the street looked empty of pedestrians. Bees were coming at me from everywhere as I searched to find her purse. I heard screaming and found a guy who was panicked as bees gathered around him. Luckily he was right next to a purse. I grabbed the guy and the purse and we made a mad dash for Cozy's.

We got inside the dark club, letting in a bunch of pissed off bees. As the musicians and others dealt with the bees I took the woman into the ladies room, closed the door and handed her the purse. She was wheezing and looked pale. Fortunately it was her purse. She found the Epipen and administered the shot with expertise. In a few minutes she was feeling better.

Someone had called 911 and help was on the way. The bees were still outside and this group of strangers were stuck with each other until help arrived. The lady doctor, who turned out to be a big shot Dallas plastic surgeon, was tending to the guy who was an accountant from an office down the street and the Latina lady and her baby. Everyone seemed ok and it looked like we'd all made it.

The paramedics and bee removal guys finally came and the emergency was over. Everyone thanked me and we laughed and joked about what had just happened. I exchanged email addresses with everyone and went outside to find my bike. No good deed goes unpunished, my beloved road bike was gone, lost or stolen in the confusion. Where's the good karma when I need it?

A cop felt sorry for me and rode me all the way home. I had been stung a few times, but I was ok. I was actually more than ok, I felt refreshed and ready for anything.

Tonight the moon was low in the south east sky, a little over half way to being full. Two degrees below the beautiful moon and from 78 million miles away, Mars was beaming like a bright orange star.

I rode my old mountain bike on Mulholland and girded myself for the coming battles. I decided that the crisis was a reminder to me that as long as I stuck to my pledge I would be ok and things would take care of themselves. Between the accident, the trial, prison and 9/11 and Steve's threats I was beyond the point of no return. When you got nothing, you've got nothing to lose...

Anyway, this seems like a good time for changes and change is good. My cause is bigger than one person or one problem. I'm not going to fight the bad shit, I'll just stick to my principles and let things fall where they may. Like the time my bike broke down in the middle of nowhere and I wished to find a flat bed truck and a person willing to drive me home. And I did. Things will work out and somehow I'll continue my work and have a place to live and survive to fight again another day.

I'm a warrior and my cause is just and no one can stop me from my work. Like my old bike buddy Wilson always tells me, as in life and biking "if you keep grinding, you'll get to the top."

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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