The pavement was stained and broken but the spirit had never been more intact.
Every year the halloween-themed bicycle event "Choppercapras Horrorcycles" takes place in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. This year it was to start 12 sharp, "not 12 hipster time," according to their facebook event page. I'd hate to imagine how late hipsters tend to be as this event didn't get going until 1:15 P.M. However, I forgave the tardiness after witnessing the games.
A host dressed like a Spartan stood at the back of a coliseum improvised from a parking lot with a circle of orange traffic cones. The steeds were tall bikes, welded together from the frames of two smaller bikes. The swords and maces were made from Styrofoam and duct tape; the audience roared and threw these weapons and nets at the participants.
During the chariot races the athletes rode dirty pick child's bicycles, their teammates on carts in tow. Between the intensity of the race and the shoddiness of the mount, several fell and wheels broke off mid-race, follies which only served to further enliven the audience.
The entropy, amiable bicyclists so mired in their own subculture, the silly costumes and rough-housing illustrated a notion that has been denied historically by Los Angeles residents--that the San Fernando Valley does have culture. The culture of the bicyclists embraces gritty, hap-hazard spontaneity was unlike any other I had witnessed, in LA or elsewhere.
No one took it seriously when the man who calls himself Starblade posted online that someone wanted to kill him. But on May 14, 2012, his friend and former lover is expected to go to trial on the accusation of having murdered Starblade.
Starblade's real name is Matthew Paul Finnigan and ever since he was a child, he had been put in programs where he didn’t belong. Matthew was autistic, and was put in special education programs with students with nonverbal learning disorders and juvenile delinquents. Matthew was often bullied by these other students, and learned their destructive habits. The issue tragically climaxed when Matthew died of a stab wound allegedly inflicted by a supposedly mentally disturbed student in one of his programs. The Victim
Matthew’s mother, Patricia Finnigan, is not fond of the educational system that her son was put into. She told me about Matthew’s history.
As kids on the autism spectrum sometimes tend to be, Matthew had problems being social and seemed to lack sufficient awareness of those around him. But he was also remarkable. In kindergarden, his mother recounted, he got frustrated in math class because it was too easy for him. While the class was still learning addition, Matthew had incredibly mastered multiplication.
On-line, Matthew was known as “Starblade,” along with a host of other aliases accumulated as each one built up a bad reputation. He frequented the websites of a subculture called “furries,” or fans of anthropomorphic animals. The community consists of partiers, social outcasts, animal artists, roleplayers, costumers and others, but it is centered on animal characters. “Starblade” is Matthew’s character, a coconut-flavored dragoness. Unlike most furries, he was also an otherkin, or someone who believes he has a non-human soul. Matthew believed that he was literally a dragon on the inside.
Matthew met with furries in real life as well, and had no more respected of a presence. A furry named Synn, whose character is a peacock-wolf, recounts a story illustrating his general mannerisms, taking place at a friend’s birthday party. Although Starblade was not invited, the event was temporarily posted in public on a bay area furry meetup group website. He came and, right in front of the birthday boy’s mother, drank some soda, spilled half on his beard and shirt, and then dropped the half-empty cup on the floor, stepped over it and walked away.
His journal and forum posts were considered dramatic and sometimes threatening. He is even accused of stalking people. He is most infamous for the meme “Fuck you, I’m a dragon!”
based on some debate forum responses which have since been deleted. He was so consistently over-reactive that when he insisted that people were stalking him, or when he threatened to kill himself, few of the readers took it seriously. He posted multiple times a former boyfriend had threatened to kill him. On August 24, 2010 he posted this to an on-line journal site at starblade-enkai.livejournal.com: Furry 3 [Referring to himself] receives death threats.Nobody listens. They offer no means to escape this furry's impending doom and likely no pity when the furry is eventually killed.Tell me again why furry is considered full of good, caring people?
To his friends and family in real life, he also faced the many challenges. But friends and family write on memorial pages that he had a genuinely kind soul, felt remorse for those he wronged, and was just trying to do his best being dealt a challenging hand. “He just needed so much help in his life,” Patricia said.Autism
Children on the autism spectrum, depending on how high-functioning they are, can need special education. Some subjects they may excel at, but they might have problems understanding the subtleties of human emotions and interaction. There are programs designed to help these students learn in a group environment. Matthew was placed in several of these as a child.
He attended a school called Marchus in Concord, California, for students with special needs. He was bored with the teachings as they only taught to the lowest California high school graduation standards. Since other students had disabilities ranging from physical disabilities to mental retardation and criminal violence, the situation, as described by his mother, was far from a warm, nurturing one. Instead he was preyed upon by bullies, exacerbating his social problems.
Patricia knows this topic well. Her own mother was a special education teacher who taught autistic kids. When the school system started lumping the emotionally disturbed and children with nonverbal learning disorders with the autistic ones, the class was so disruptive that she couldn’t teach anymore. College
When he graduated high school, Matthew and his family found what they thought would be a great arrangement for college. They visited Monterey, California, and Matthew fell in love. He enjoyed the beach, and there was a community college, a California State University campus, and a private university, the first of which he ultimately enrolled in. Matthew’s parents were concerned, though, that he wouldn’t be able to adjust on his own to college. They were initially relieved to find a program called College Living Experience, which is designed to help students with learning disabilities and other challenges transition to life on their own.
One semester, Matthew overloaded on classes,(Patricia couldn’t recall if it was 17 or 19 units) and the stress drove him to a bout with what was diagnosed as temporary schizophrenia. He was given treatment and meds supported by the state. However, Patricia recounted, once someone accepts clinical help from the state, they and their family lose certain rights to decide treatment. On February 25, 2010, he posted his feelings on Livejournal.I need some place to go, where people aren't deciding what's best for me. What's best for me is strangely enough what's worst for me. Prison is more desirable than when they can throw me into the retard pit. I just want out.
It was difficult to tell which of his actions were a result of the bout of schizophrenia, which were his autism, and which were just a result of being a bullied and sensitive teenager. It seemed that Matthew’s life was prone to throwing him curveballs. Still, he eventually got off of the schizophrenia meds and was considered cured. He even started expressing remorse for the drama he took part in online and posted that he wanted to make amends. College Living Experience
College Living Experience seemed like a program that could lead Matthew in the direction he wanted to go while at Monterey Peninsula College. According to the website, the program “provides intensive assistance to students of with varying abilities. Some students have autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome. Others have conditions such as dyslexia and ADD/ADHD or social and emotional maturation issues.”
“CLE offered everything that they really needed for him to succeed, everything that kids on the autism spectrum don't really get naturally,” said Patricia. They do not list their costs on their website, but a fact-sheet of resources for students with learning disabilities lists the program costs as around $30,000 per 12-month period. The program is private and operates off-campus, and provides a variety of services, including a variety of academic and social mentors. This program is where Matthew met James Torrey Hill, who is said to be emotionally disturbed.
Matthew may have seen himself as a dragon, but his mother saw him as a lamb: gentle and somewhat vulnerable. Patricia felt that putting Hill in the program was “like putting a wolf in with sheep.”The Accused
The mugshot that appeared in newspapers in 2010 looked little like the suspect being detained in Monterey County Jail. James Torrey Hill's photo was in a newsbrief, and the same picture was on an identification bracelet he wore. In the picture he was heavy and pale, with short hair and a large hole in one of his earlobes, made by a thick-guage earring. Now he sat behind thick glass with a phone to his non-modified ear, with glasses, long hair, and minus 60 or so pounds.
He’s called “Torrey” by most, “Magician” and “Big Bird” he claims by others, but when he first came into jail he wanted to be called “Phoenix.”
“I’m like a Phoenix rising from the ashes,” he explained, smiling and gesticulating. “I’m on a path to becoming a better person.”
Hill and Finnigan attended Monterey Peninsula College together, and although they had no classes together, they met at an CLE. According to news sources, the two had dated for a period of time, but were friends at the time of Finnigan’s death.
According the the Monterey County Herald, Hill had a preoccupation with killing someone and made it his life’s goal. The Herald reported that Hill said he was “sick of school,” “sick of life” and “might as well go to jail.”
I asked Hill if any of these claims were true. “One thing I have learned in here,” he said, “is that newspapers lie all the time. They’ll just make up whatever they want to sell newspapers.”The Incident
People involved in the case have been advised not to discuss matters with the media, so it was challenging to get information for this article. According to the Monterey County Herald, Hill has pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but what happened on the night of Matthew Paul Finnigan’s death will not be legally decided until the jury trial, which is scheduled to take place by the time this is published, on May 14, 2012.[UPDATE 8/1/12: The case has not gone to jury trial. A doctor report is scheduled for 9/19/12.]
Virginia Hennessey of The Monterey County Herald, as well as other news sources, reported updates from a hearing:
Matthew went over to Hill’s apartment and played some video games. Hill testified that he had gone into the kitchen and got a knife, which Hill hid up his sleeve.
Officer Jeff Gibson responded to a 911 call in which the voices of both Hill and Matthew were heard, reporting a stabbing. Matthew had asked Hill to call the police, but Hill testified that he refused because he wanted to see Matthew suffer. Gibson testified that Hill came to the door with blood on his shorts, and that a bloody knife was found in a kitchen trash can. Matthew was found bleeding from a stab wound and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in San Jose. He bled for two hours before dying.
During a recess in the hearing, the mothers of both Hill and Matthew went into the bathroom and sobbed.Response
Synn remembers that she was at a weekly furry get-together when she first heard about Stablade’s death. She recounted this story on Facebook chat. here's something funny (maybe) but sad. Most of us were at chicken when we heard starblade was dead. We had seriously been telling funny awkward starblade stories the week before. Some fur, I can't remember who, comes up to a group I'm with and says "starblade is dead!" We all laugh and someone said "if only!" Then the first person assured us it was true and he had seen it on the news. We were silent for a few seconds then all burst into laughter. He became the butt of a ton of jokes, there was no "too soon" period for him.
When Matthew's prediction of homicide came true, the responses were mixed. Many posts on his pages are private, have been deleted or the writers banned from the websites on which they wrote. On October 6, 2010, an anonymous user wrote on Starblade’s livejournal: Even I, who hated you with the best of them, fucking cried.
You were always genuine and unfiltered. You always said what you felt. But for once, Starblade, you were disturbingly prescient.
Nobody should have to die this way. Nobody should ever have to be jealous of Furry #2, and nobody should feel fated to be number #3. Starblade was going to die, he knew he was utterly doomed, and here he was writing an obituary for himself.
Nobody gave a shit.
I'm really sorry.
After that, another anonymous comment: I'm also sorry that the only place that you found solace and a sense of belonging, a place where people understood and shared your interests, in [sic] couldn't wait to be rid of you.
Some posted that they were genuinely glad about Matthew’s death. Others didn’t post anything publicly, but still hated him very much. Others were upset at the death of any member of the fandom, and still others said they won’t miss him, but he didn’t deserve this.
His family and friends held a funeral service in Danville, California, near his family’s home. In lieu of flowers, they asked for a donation to the Matthew Paul Finnigan Scholarship Fund. I tried to send a letter to the donation address, but it didn’t go through. I asked Patricia where that fund was going.
“Well, we were going to use the money to help another student get into CLE,” she said. “But now there’s no way in hell we’re going to do that!”The End
Matthew’s family hopes for some small justice, in that more care will be taken to improve the standards for how people on the autism spectrum will be treated in education. The furries have gone on their way; they continue to attend conventions and draw characters. The dragon is dead, but there’s no hero to this story. And there’s no more time for Starblade to make amends or find peace or acceptance.
I wonder what it's like to be a street Vendor? Venice Beach would be a great place to interview. For now, I have a representative of the Two Trees design company at Matador Mall at California State University, Northridge.
Los Angeles might not have the bike-friendliest of streets, but it has a thriving rider culture.
Tuesday nights there is a group of people who get together in a Vons parking lot and ride for miles. It's a highly social activity, with plenty of stops at liquor stores and bars, and it's called Tuesday Night Special.
I decided one night to go just to meet new people and kill time, but I didn't realize that this night could turn me to view bicycling as a passion. The most exciting part of the night was, of course, the ride. The group took up a whole car lane, dressed in bright colors and waving at cars. Going downhill was like riding a leg-powered roller coaster; it was so fast and just a little dangerous. To go so fast though the partially-lit streets powered only by your adrenaline is more than exhilarating.
Now I bike everywhere I go. I don't even need a car when I have the uninhibited speed and swiftness of a two-wheeler. I don't need to pay for parking, gas or insurance, and I get karma points from the environment. Now I consider myself a passionate bicyclist, and I bring other people to these night rides to try to awaken their passions.
In her late thirties, Spencer Bane’s wife became sick with breast cancer. As her condition worsened, the couple was faced with the unthinkable, and they sat down to discuss what they would do differently with their lives. If they could do it again, knowing that life is so fleeting, what would they change?
Spencer Bane (not his real name) has lived an incredible life thus far. He's graduated from Harvard and MIT, been a doctor, invented medical equipment, became a millionaire, started several businesses and a nonprofit, married, and now he teaches at Stanford, works in a nonprofit he helped found, and has wildcats in his Northern California home. He's also full of poignant wisdom, dispelled eloquently and garnered from his impressive travels.
By my standards at least, and more importantly by his own measure, Spencer's fifty years have been exciting to say the least, and successful in more ways than one. This is why it's surprising to hear how he's been spending his time and money lately.
"I'm really pushing furriness this year," said Spencer. "I must be hitting eight conferences this year, and I'm really enjoying that."
"Furriness" means different things for different people. Spencer goes to "furry conventions," which, for the unfamiliar, are meet-ups for those who celebrate, draw, and sometimes dress up as an animal persona. Spencer has been to many conventions, and he wears full-body spandex, called Zentai, in the pattern of various wild cats. He also has a custom-made serval costume, complete with fur, tail, and claws. It looks somewhat menacing, but it was clear that many felt comfortable approaching him, talking about the costume, and hugging. Many were comfortable enough even to follow him to his room or other room party for casual encounters.
Sometimes Spencer will even wear these costumes in public, non-furry-related places. He wore a tiger-striped full-body suit with a tail and a jacket to a university class reunion, claiming that his outfit adhered to the "coat and tails" dress code. His classmates were surprised, but amused.
Spencer says that going to furry conventions "didn't even rate on the scale" of weird things he's done when he told his family about (the more innocent parts of) furriness. More surprising, he said, was when he announced to his family that he was going to get wildcats in his house. His residence is now a registered rescue, and he allows people to come in and visit his cats. This includes a bengal (or Asian leopard cat), a Savannah cat (hybrid of domestic and wild cats) and a full serval. The serval, who stands about three feet high, was a runt of a litter and so a zoo reject.
One of the more surprising things he did was when he (temporarily) dropped out of medical school to start a company called Boston Medical Research.
After Venture Capital invested in his idea, Spencer got to work creating a chip. "What we were finding was that a large number of cases of medications not working, and hospitalizations, were due to the fact that people didn't remember to take their pills," explained Spencer. "So our company created a chip to put in pill bottles that would remind users when to take their pills."
The product proved effective in clinical trials. However, insurance companies didn't want to pay for the technology and care providers were concerned about jealousy should only some patients get this advantage. In the end the product failed.
"It was probably the saddest day of my life, up until that time. I would say it was the saddest thing that ever happened to me, other than the loss of people. I thought it was like losing a small child, except now that I have children, I know how different it is."
However disheartened Spencer might have been, he was not thrown off course. He continued inventing, made a few businesses, and became a millionaire. One of his inventions that did take off was the T-stat, a sort of X-ray that measures the growth of tumors non-invasively. Now he's working on a non-profit for reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
"Even if someone came and bought this company, you know, for $100 million, and this time as opposed to the Venture Capitalists getting most of it, we got most of it," Spencer said, "I would still spend some of my time on invention. Because it's intellectually interesting, it's exciting."
In her early forties, Spencer's wife succumbed to cancer. She was survived by her husband, children and mother, who all live together south of San Francisco, California. Spencer hasn't remarried since then, but he's able to find love in all sorts of places.
So what did they decide in their final days together, about how they should have lived their lives?
“It was really kind of amazing,” said Spencer, “because we thought we wouldn’t change anything. There was nothing that we wanted to be doing better then we were doing right then. And I want to keep on doing the same thing...finding new, exciting things, finding new places to go, maybe getting some more cats, maybe bigger ones. That would be fun."
That is kind of amazing.
Two people from California Delta Paranormal came to my house today to see if they could get any readings from the ghost that I had jokingly said inhabited a rocking chair.
One of them was a rotund man carrying a Jack Skellington courier bag, and he was accompanied by an older red-headed woman. They explained to me their various techniques for finding ghosts.
First they brought out a milligaus meter, which measures electricity frequencies. The woman placed it on the rocking chair and kept an eye on it while we were talking. Randomly the meter would get a small reading and the woman would proclaim, "We got a hit!" They tried to talk to the ghost, but Spooks didn't feel much like talking.
The man then pulled out some water-dowsers and asked me "May I use water dowsers in this house?" I think other people consider bent pieces of aluminum to be accursed or something.
Water-dowsers are insane. They are metal bent at 90 degrees and round with metal spheres on the end of them. They are a little difficult to hold still, as a slight tilt to the left or right will make them move. The man held them and asked the ghost questions.
"Please cross the dowsers for 'yes' and push them apart for 'no,' " he asked.
Curious, my sister came in. I suppose she wanted to get involved, so she started to tell them a story about our uncle, Dan, who had died twenty years ago, thinking this would make the haunting story more interesting. I had to pull her aside and tell her that that's not the story with which I was going, and since it took place twenty years ago I can't tell them to these individuals who believe I bought it this year.
When I came back, our paunchy paraphile asked Ecto-woman if the haunting had anything to do with Dan. He tilted his hands inward (unwittingly, I'm sure) making the dowsers cross for "yes." Sighing inwardly, I told them an altered version of the Dan story that would align with the rocking chair story. Now we are supposedly dealing with the interaction of Dan and the rocking chair ghost.
They followed the dowsers around a while, going in circles and claiming that "this ghost is such a jokester!" After they were done, they told me a little more about the organization. According to the red-head, spook-hunting is "very scientific; this is science, not some hocus-pocus like Ouiji Boards or anything." I guess she thinks this because there is rather deep theory involved in ghost hoaxes, like the idea that ghosts exist on a different wavelength and expensive equipment is needed to listen to and see this different wavelength while at the same time communicating with it. I guess that means that since there are so many books written on Scientology, that must be real, too.
They also mentioned that they had gotten hoaxes before, but they were able to determine them by the picture beforehand. I'm not sure what she meant by this, but the woman said "Apple works for us to determine if ghost photos are real." Perhaps she means that there's a program that can verify photos.
So, should I get this organized before I move, it looks like these people will be coming back for a full-scale investigation. After they process the evidence they plan to do a review, to which anyone can come. Apparently once there was a major party during one of these review sessions. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.
Some are concerned that they can sue me. Keep in mind that if they're not paying me, there's really no way that they can even claim, let alone prove, false advertising. I am, however, rather hoping that they don't find this blog, as it would make them very sadface.
I'll update this with part 3 if I can organize it before moving.
It's kind of embarrassing to admit that I used to be really into ghosts and the paranormal, but it's true. I would frequent http://www.ghoststudy.com
because I enjoyed the rush of seeing photos of "ecto orbs"
and reading stories about people hearing ghostly moans and seeing things thrown across the room by an unseen entity.
Of course now I've learned what a lens flare is, and the simple way to explain those stories is acknowledging the fact that the storyteller was lying.
In fact, it's so easy to fake a ghost story and photo that I thought I'd do it myself, just for the giggles. I had to sell some stuff on craigslist anyway, so why not say the old rocking chair was haunted?
I made up a crap story with the names of some of my friends in it, and shopped a little picture. Here's what I posted:
HELP!!!! I got this rocking chair at an estate sale but now I'm regretting it!! Here's what happened. I was checking out an estate sale when I was in driving in Martinez beside the train tracks. The house looked kind of unkempt and creaked wherever I stepped. There were lots of creepy dolls around, and they were selling a lot of baby clothes that looked like they had never been warn. I saw this chair and loved it--it's vintage and adorable, and it goes with any earth tones in my house. I decided to take it, and I asked the lady at the counter how much it is. She looked kind of old and sad, and she said it was $200. I gave her the cash and she helped me load it into her car. Then another woman came out of the house and said to the first woman that she shouldn't sell it, that "Wendy is always in that chair." They argued a little, but the first woman who had sold it to me said that they needed to get rid of it before it brings them any more bad luck. I asked this woman if she wanted to keep the chair. She said that she didn't want to keep it, but I shouldn't take it either. She said that they were having an estate sale because this was her sister's house, and her sister had died a month ago. Her sister, Wendy, had always wanted a child, but her husband Kyle left her. Shortly after he left, she discovered that she was pregnant. Wendy was distraught because her husband couldn't help take care of the baby, but she was overjoyed to have one anyway, and she sat in that chair every night making baby clothes for it. When the time finally came, there was a complication with the birth and both Wendy and the baby died. This woman, Ashlee, said that she still hears Wendy and sees her in the chair, but the spirit is an angry one. Ashlee said that she sees the chair rocking on her own and hears what sounds like her sister crying. In addition to that, baby clothes are often flung across the room, and the TV will turn on at random times! I didn't believe her because I don't believe in ghosts or anything, so I took it home. Boy was I wrong! First I heard what sounded like heavy winds, but when I looked outside I could see that the trees were not swaying, so it couldn't have been wind. Then baby name books started showing up, which I definitely do not remember buying, and they are always turned to the name "Kyle"! Random things are happening at this house...TVs are turning on, the cat won't even come into the house anymore, and I found my shoes on the roof!! One afternoon I heard very distinct sobbing coming from the dining room. I took my camera phone and went to take a picture. I couldn't see anything, but I took a picture just in case. THIS IS WHAT SHOWED UP ON MY PHONE!! [see above]Now I need the money to exorcise my house. Please only take this if you're willing to assume the risks!!! I'm not responsible for any injury or even death that comes with taking this item!!
- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Pretty ridiculous, right? All I had to do with this photo was take a pic of the chair, then sit in it and take another pic. I changed the second pic to grayscale in photoshop then used dodge on the figure (myself) and placed it over the first pic. I erased the parts of the grayscale pic that didn't have me in it and changed the opacity of the layer, and bada bing bada boom, I have a ghost photo. Not that there are a lot of real ghost photos floating around against which to compare it, so I understand the mistake.
Got a few people asking me if the posting was real, and I told them that it was not. One person just e-mailed me the initiallism "LOL :)" One person responded with this:
My name is Devin S----. I am Co-founder of California Delta Paranormal. Needless to say your case caught our eye and we would like to help. We also may have a buyer for the chair. He is an avid collector of haunted items. We would like offer to do a full scale investigation at your place of residence. Now we are a non profit business, so that means the only thing it will cost you is your time. We completed 47 investigation last year and this year we are just as busy. You can check out our web-site at CaliforniaDeltaParanormal.com. If you are interested, please give me a call at (925)-------. Again our services are free.
I debated indulging them. I don't want to be mean of course, but hey, if it weren't for joke or otherwise hallucinatory ghost sightings there would be no ghost sightings at all, and these would be out of a job--or, hobby. I don't want to encourage chasing false rainbows, but I was really curious to see what they would do. Plus, when I asked my friends via my facebook status, most people said I should do it. So, I let them come over to scope out the place.