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This, as far as I can tell, is a true story. I did not have a tape recorder for Jack Burnham’s story, and my own memory is increasingly unreliable. This took place two weeks before Thanksgiving and strikes me as credible enough. It should also provide critics of this column with gleeful ammunition for disdain and contempt.

Burnham is 48 years old. He has a son living in Vista, though Burnham himself lives in North Park. It had been more than two months since he had seen his son. It was time. He enlisted a willing friend to drive him north. A GPS on the dash pinpointed the address, and within 45 minutes they had arrived at the Addis Inn, apartment #42. David Burnham hugged his father, invited him in. The friend/driver had to leave for work. Father and son shared a meatloaf sandwich and played a game of Android while the television nattered news in the corner. Soon the senior Burnham’s heart condition began announcing itself in the form of shortness of breath and chest pains, and 911 had to be called. “Why now?” Burnham asked no one.

He spent the next four days at Tri-City Medical Center. He was told he had now developed congestive heart failure. EKGs, IV drips, Lasix to eliminate the water in his lungs, morphine, Ativan — four days of it. No insurance, however, and he was discharged at 10 p.m. that Friday night. Outside of the facility, Burnham had no idea where he was in relation to his son’s home, though he was within a mile. Still drugged and disoriented, he wandered in a random direction, a vague prayer fomenting through a fog of consciousness and a gathering fog over the land.

Unable to keep moving, half conscious, he chose a nearly random spot in a darkened bushy area of an industrial park, where he stretched himself onto the dirt, shivering with cold. He spent the night in and out of consciousness, shaking, until the lawn sprinklers came on. Now wet, clothes clinging, his shaking renewed, he wandered again.

Dawn announced itself, the color of ash and lard. Asking directions to the Vista Transit Center, a landmark toward his son’s place, he was told by the few passersby that “I’m not from here. I don’t know.”

At 7 or maybe 7:30, an open liquor store appeared out of the thinning fog. Burnham spent what little money remained in his pocket for a pint of cheap vodka he hoped would warm him. He walked on. His compromised liver provided drunkenness quickly. He sat down on a random lawn, swaying. A police car rolled up, and he was arrested for public intoxication. Ten hours in the Vista jail on a thin bench. At least it was warm.

Released, ironically, at 10 p.m., he now knew even less regarding his whereabouts in relation to his son. He wandered again. Miles in the wrong directions.

At a Starbucks, near dawn, he used a bathroom and sat at a table shivering again. A stranger brought him a cup of coffee, said his name was Michael. Burnham accepted this gratefully. Michael had a Bible and began speaking of it. Burnham did not know precisely how to respond. Like the apostle Thomas, doubt was a large component of Burnham’s faith.

Michael knew of the Addis Inn and offered to drive him there. Burnham’s gratitude was expressed as adequately as he could manage. On the brief drive, Michael continued to inform his passenger of Jesus as the only path to salvation and the Father. Burnham was willing to accept this but was not sure how. Not adequately. He needed help in this area he was not sure existed. Yet he longed for it, at times — like this one — deeply.

An imitation of Christ could bring only ridicule, suffering, and, yes, persecution at many levels. Besides, Jack Burnham lacked the required love of his fellow man. His 48 years had taught him to consider most people cruel screwballs of one type or another. Hardly Christlike, which made it difficult for him to believe the man who was also God could really have been as described. Michael gave Burnham $20.

Back in North Park, online, the few fans of Burnham’s paintings (hanging in a minor gallery/coffee shop) emailed the artist and, having heard of his threatened eviction, offered him lodging in various quarters. An old friend sent him money. He sold two paintings, a total of $1500. Michael emailed him as well, reminding him of Jesus and asked for no return of the $20.

All of this followed Burnham’s dubious attempt to pray as thoroughly as his obstructing intellect would allow. While no genius, he realized that what brains he did have proved of no use to him whatever.

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Comments

NotQuiteADiva Dec. 9, 2009 @ 4:30 p.m.

Where do the great wooden ships go?

Once navigating the wide world, their sails bright on the horizon, putting in at every port, exchanging cargo and culture and life and souls. The great ships: their timbers once strong and robust, their decks flocking with eager crew vibrant with intelligence and lust. Ever seeking, ever wanting, ever puissant and competent, the great ships left their mark upon the world, yet where do the great ships go when all is done?

I saw such a great ship once, at the end, lost and tossed upon the waves. Its rudder was broken and it sails tattered, its compass whirled in crazy directions, yet its captain, a master of the seven sees, stood erect upon the bridge, his legs wavering in his utter exhaustion. In my youthful ignorance, I came aside and asked the captain of his journeys, and never before or hence have I been privileged to hear such a heart-rending tale…

Strange lands, and stranger people, filled my vision and yet I got the sense that it was the ocean that the captain truly sought. The wind, the waves, the storm that was even now carrying my brave captain unto his death!

Where do the great wooden ships go…

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CuddleFish Dec. 11, 2009 @ 2:34 p.m.

Brizz, every time you write, it's reminds me of why I read.

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Fred Williams Dec. 11, 2009 @ 9:10 p.m.

John, I don't get it...

Are you saying that because this man prayed "as thoroughly as his obstructing intellect would allow" his son sold two paintings and the man was given a ride and twenty bucks?

I don't mean to be disdainful or contemptuous, but what is your point? That prayer works?

Come on...

The invisible angry sky daddy must have also caused Burnham's heart problems and abandonment, made the police arrest him and then dump him on the streets again. This "god" is great, huh?

Even to get a ride and twenty lousy bucks the poor man had to endure the rantings of an insane Jesus freak...

No, John, this story does NOT illustrate the loving kindness of a deity who intervenes in our lives. What it shows is that carrying around a bible and thinking that's going to help you out of your problems is just plain foolish.

If there were any "god" or if "Christianity" were real, then San Diego with it's religious right Board of Supervisors would have fully funded programs in place to help people like Mr. Burnham.

Instead, our local government only helps a Burnham when his first name is "Malin".

So, again John, what is your point? You've illustrated that life is unfair, bad things happen to good people, and some people feel the need to rant about their imaginary friends instead of just providing help where they can.

Certainly there is no cause and effect relationship between prayerful begging and real-world outcomes...you've shown that clearly.

So what is your point?

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David Dodd Dec. 11, 2009 @ 9:36 p.m.

Fred,

My friend, I think that you have to look into this story beyond prayer and see what the author is attempting to reveal about his own life. In nature, a caterpillar hatches and eats and then builds a cocoon and emerges as a butterfly and then mates and has eggs from where a caterpillar hatches. And so on.

Human beings are much more complex; this cycle often repeats itself until it's finally successful.

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SDaniels Dec. 12, 2009 @ 1:22 a.m.

Could not have explained it better myself, refried--Fred, I think John's point--in part, and as an ongoing theme--is that s*** happens, prayer or no prayer. This piece feels as existential to me as anything. --And who knows, maybe the cycle will finally be successful, sans sky daddy.

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NotQuiteADiva Dec. 13, 2009 @ 8:43 p.m.

Point?

Clearly you do not get the point, as there is no point!

SD almost got it…

However, let me enlighten you… It’s not a about a single article or even a series of posts, it about a life, an experience, a body of work…

Check out The Zen of Flop in Back When this week…

If you don’t get the point after that, kindly piss off!

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SDaniels Dec. 13, 2009 @ 11:55 p.m.

That is most definitely the best piece I've ever seen of his--thanks for posting, NQAD. And to think he'd never read Beckett! The mind boggles...;)

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lizard Dec. 29, 2009 @ 8:47 p.m.

Sounds like Brizzolara has moved to autobiographical writing, except it is not "Michael" helping him out, it is your government funded, County paramedics.

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David Dodd Dec. 30, 2009 @ 3:28 a.m.

"Sounds like Brizzolara has moved to autobiographical writing, except it is not "Michael" helping him out, it is your government funded, County paramedics."

No, it's all of the cold hard cash you've paid to read his stuff. Moron. You get his stuff for free, what are you complaining about?

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