9.23-25.15: SCOTT YOUNG
I met Scott at the restaurant I work at, which is largely older folk in the wealthier part of Long Beach. He's a regular who comes in once or twice a month and was one of the few people who I could tell wasn't quite like the others, meaning, he didn't quite wear all red, if you catch my drift. He was interested in art and asked me about my art degree and he talked about his organization he ran called Culture Connection and wondered if maybe we'd be able to brainstorm something together. I was instantly intrigued and told him about this project and asked him if he'd like to participate. He was willing, but kept procrastinating, so I finally just made him do it. I grabbed coffee with him at one of my favorite shops in Long Beach, Lord Windsor Roasters to get to know him a little better. Scott has a story that he's good at telling and is worth hearing so I'll let him do it for me:
I came to LA in 1969 to go to Biola college and I was just completely overtaken by everything in LA. It wasn’t overwhelming, it was just like a sandbox of all these toys. Biola’s tradition creates a very conservative place, so you know, at that time you couldn’t drink, smoke, any of that sort of thing. I decided early on sort of, not to be a rule breaker, but to not let that get in the way of my learning. So in that orientation week I went to the Whiskey A-Go-Go and saw The Doors, which was the house band at the time. Shortly after that then they started touring because they were getting pretty popular. Then Jim Morrison, you know, took a descent into hell and that was it. But they were an amazing band for five years. Then I went to Whittier College which was only a few miles away from Biola to protest the Vietnam war and I saw at the movie theater - now, at this time Biola students couldn’t go to the movies, but they can now, - Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider. So those are emblematic of what I was to become.
I sort of kicked and screamed my way through Biola. I played basketball my first two years there and then I didn’t like the coach, and I was ready to move on to other stuff. I woke up one day on my 19th birthday, which is November 19, and I had this complete shock and disequilibrium about who I was, what the world was. I guess you could say this was a giant doubt experience. And this coming from a family and community full of what I call “overbelief”. You know, I had never totally bought into it, but I had seriously questioned it. I was mostly an athlete, partyer, well what little partying you could do in that community. So, anyway, I just woke up and it was like a shock to my entire system. So I ditched class and I wandered through the library, just looking for stuff, and in a very intuitive and haphazard way I just discovered stuff and started reading. So I’ve always had a kind of informal education and I’ve only done the formal part so I can get sort-of employed.
To un-connect from that, about a year later I fell in love. And back then, some people were having sex before marriage, but not a lot. So, if you wanted to have sex, you got married. So, I got married to someone I really loved and am still married to. But fast forward, it’s been a rough ride because she wasn’t following my script and she sort of kept to the old script and that made for an interesting time.
Anyway, I got married and kind of took a little time out on the questions and the search for meaning and kind of did the “get married” thing which was a really rough adjustment. Really tough from the get-go. I was way too young. After about a year of getting married, then all of those questions, all of the fury of curiousity, sort of the investigative journalist I am without being formally employed that way - and all of that just kind of came roaring back. I ended up going to grad school basically because I had all these questions I didn’t satisfactorily investigate while in undergrad. So I went to grad school in Denver. And at this point I wasn’t quite ready, I was still tethered to my community, even though I was way on the outskirts. So the school I went to in Denver was a lot like Biola in the sense that it was small, it was on nobody’s list of anything, you know if I was looking to inflate my pedigree that was not the place to go. But it was a great place to learn. And Denver at that time, in the mid 70s, was just getting over being a cowboy town and was becoming a big city. So the pop culture part was there, and then Boulder was the bohemian college town. So, again, the informal part of my learning continued - for example with the beat poets. They were regularly invited to Colorado. In Boulder they had an English department that was almost entirely an ode to the beats. So I used to invite some of my seminary friends to go with me but for most of them it wasn’t on their radar. You know, the informal learning wasn’t really their primary concern. But I went and I heard Allen Ginsberg and Mike McClure and Dennis Schneider and Lawrence Ferlinghetti on numerous occasions. So that’s just one example. They had an outdoor Shakespeare Theater in the summer that was really fun to go to. The Red Rock amphitheater hosted a lot of popular acts, so I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and that was great.
So the whole time I’m following the program of being married, and I have to figure out a way to live and have a family. But then I have this informal curiousity that’s way different than the community I’m a part of. So then I started making connections with other communities. Then that explains kind of my life story, which is really a person with multiple attachments. Not any single one of them is home. So I’m kind of really a refugee, immigrant, gypsy, if you will - those are all metaphors that speak to me. So the program I was doing, the degree, was a Masters of Divinity, a minister’s degree. It’s really two degrees of an MA in religion or theology and a year’s worth of how to be a professional minister. I had to decide - am I gonna go into academics or the church life? You know, I had this sort of underground and interior struggle with this stuff. I tried to keep it professional so I came back here [to LA] and was a minister for two years in Long Beach. So I was the associate minister of the American Baptist Church, which was sort of the more liberal of the Baptist traditions.
I did that for two years, but was bored out of my mind. It was called University Baptist Church because it had started the same year as Cal State Long Beach, 1949. Since there was no University avenue they started it, but then lost interest. But I started to generate more interest in it and got a lot of students coming and I spent most of my time at the campus. I got criticized for not being at the church office. I had so many of those messages so early I just stopped obeying. But I really didn’t want to become an academic, and iit was kind of the tail end of being a “bohemian”. The beats all figured out how to live simply in Greenwich Village, but that was no longer really available because of gentrification, all those sorts of things were happening. And I wasn’t probably connected quite enough yet to the whole bohemian thing to know how to make that work. That really doesn’t work when you’re married. But I did spend a lot of time in West Hollywood and Venice, so.
Anyway, campus ministry was kind of the professional merger between the minister and the academic, so basically I found my way to do all that stuff I wanted to do being a campus minister. I got really lucky and was fortunate enough and I am immensely grateful because the organization I worked for that placed chaplains on college campuses tended to be conservative, although not really rigid in the Biola way. They also have pretty rigid job descriptions, but some way, for 29 years I was able to escape any incarceration in the obligatory sense that campus ministers do. So I did all sorts of crazy things. I used it as a platform, just like I used the platform of my previous education to watch and sort of be in a globe-trotter, thinker whatever. Most people can’t do that. I have the reputation in that organization of having maximized the ideal - which was you do what you want, when you want, and you make your own schedule. And that included a lot of travel. I found way to get national responsibilities, but again without being too strangled by it. I probably averaged 15 flights per year for 20 years. Chicago being one of my frequent destinations, I have a lot of Chicago stories.
So I lived a kind of parallel-tracked life, you know. Family and married, professional minister, but then I have this whole other thing. In that platform in campus ministry I really kind of discovered my creativity. People started to accuse me of being creative. You know, I was a kind of a wacko professor who did a lot of creative things in the classroom, and then I founded and created a film festival for 20 years. It’s been, you know, The Eagles’ song “We’re on the Road and Out of Eden”? Well, Eden was Escondido [where I grew up] and it’s been a hell of a road. To many destinations.
So that’s kind of the “quick” story. 1969 became the iconic year where so much stuff is happening in culture that creates so many questions for me and the sort of gradual intellectual eddifice I’ve been provided as a kid is shattered. Like a 3 point earthquake, it wasn’t even a 7 point earthquake, it was just the seismic activity. So you know, I’ve been in this process of discovery and investigation and multiple curiosities since then.
Then, I ran out of a little bit of luck on the employment side. In 2009, after 29 ½ years, the organization where I had escaped, I ran out of luck. Meaning that there was three primary people who knew I was creative and carved out a space for me to do that and they either died or left or lost power or whatever. So I was kind of left to an organization that was trying to get rid of people like me. But I was clearly the guy who had maximized all these things. They would ask, “Who are you? What are you doing here? What’s your job description?” And I’d be like, “What job description?”
So 2009 got kind of ugly. One of the things about my organization that made it bearable to work for even though it was generally conservative, culturally and theologically, was that they were really into urban stuff and interracial reconciliation. So the diversity factor internationally and racially was really quite good even though the religious diversity was not so much. They were really interested in the city. So I tried to find a way to hitch a ride in those areas, to see if I could keep this going until retirement, but I ran out of luck. One of the other things they did really well, even as a conservative group, was that they gave women like you [Heather], the job opportunities you deserve. They had about as many women ministers as male. Having said that then, one of my colleagues who was enough younger than me to be my daughter who I’d worked with for a couple years, she decided she wanted to be in management and be a supervisor. So I endorsed her and wrote her a reference and when they asked me I said, yeah. I thought she understood the rules of the game, which were “I’m championing you as a supervisor, don’t you dare fuck with me when you get in that role”. I don’t think she understood the language or the idea. So she became my supervisor. Like I said, she was 35 or 36 with a PhD in Chemistry from Purdue. Nice person, and very competent, so I wouldn’t ever want to trash her. But she didn’t get who I was. And it wasn’t in her radar or her experience to know what to do with someone like me. And of course, if she wants to be good at what she does, she has to impress her supervisor so she decides to try to reign “the wild man” and get him to conform to the “job description” and “write reports” and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know how to do that. Really? You expect me at 59 years of age to? I can’t . I don’t know how to do that. I don’t want to do that.
So I tried to negotiate with her and she ended up feeling threatened and she went to one of her supervisors who was a new sheriff in town who was brought in to clean house and I was probably at the top of the list. So when I kind of kept refusing to do these, you know, in a normal organization are simple things to do, I wouldn’t do them, or do them on time, or do them very well. So I got this harsh email that said “Do this by such and such a date or, you know”. Really? 29 years and you’re gonna fuck with me? So I got pissed. And I needed some crow. So I said, ok, if you’re going to treat me that way then my exit’s going to be kind of messy and ugly. They have a history of not doing well with senior employees. Once they don’t know what to do with you. Because the average age of the employee is in the mid-20s. So they hire people who have gone through our ministry on campus and right of college and can live on $20-30,000. But if you’re a $60-80,000 employee it’s different. So I left in 2009 and I decided that I didn’t really deserve to be treated that way.
So that was my first bout with unemployment. I was unemployed for 15 months. And then I got hired at UCLA, not actually by the university, but there’s a nonprofit called the University Of Religions Conference which was an interfaith organization that was building a presence and student residence so I was executive director of that organization starting in 2011. And then a year ago I came back from a summer of medical leave where I had to have my left hip replaced and they ran out of money, so I got laid off. Second time in five years I got laid off. On the employment, making money side, I don’t have enough money to retire. But not enough money to retire to live the way I want to live. Travel, expenses on the house, keep wife happy.
And I’m not ready to retire. I have to manufacture things to do. So when you invite me to coffee, it’s like, I need stuff like this. And the pages project, you know I have a blog and I’m episodic in my postings, if you’ve looked at it you can probably tell. I know I really need to write more, but I’m not motivated and it’s kind of hard. So this was maybe a catalyst to get me more active. It’s really boosted my energy level. I’d be stupid not to think I don’t have still some depressed symptoms from all this. But I’m grateful that I feel re-energized because of that, for now at least.
Scott's blog he mentioned is called the Culture Vulture Report and can be found here.