By: Buddy Tymczyszyn / May 17, 2009
Taking an early morning walk along the beach, it is hard to miss the luring scent of toasted bagels and fresh brewed coffee calling like sirens from Newbreak Coffee & Café. Walk on in, look to your left, and you will see one of our living icons here in OB; a man named Randy Mason. He’s in there everyday, bright and early at six o’clock to study his books, write his papers, and enjoy his coffee with some friendly conversation.
I have been coming to Newbreak on a somewhat regular basis for almost a year now, and I thought for the longest time that he was one of the owners. Well, he’s not, but he’s there everyday, sitting at the same table with his laptop open in front of him. He sits with the perfect view of the front door, and has become somewhat of an unofficial greeter; the familiar smile that welcomes customers and gets up to close the door behind them.
When you look at Randy, the first thing you notice are the eyes. They’re deep, sunken, as if they’ve seen a lot of hardship land upon his back. Lines and deep wrinkles outline the contours of his face, but his skin is not pale. His eyebrows hang above his eyes with a profound intensity that is as caring as it is strong; they are easy to move, and usually seem to speak for themselves. His light black hair is riddled with white, and falls in a worry-free way that only fifty-six years of windblown hair can obtain. Randy just got a haircut, but I’ve always recognized him with long hair and a beard, a look he laughingly compares to Charles Manson. He is sitting across the café with his headphones on and a movie playing on his laptop. It is early fall and only the screen door is closed, to keep the flies out.
“You gotta pull!” Randy shouts only seconds before an unsuspecting customer walks straight into the screen door, thinking it would push open. I’ve seen it more than once, and each time is just the same. He shouts, they take a second to process it, forget it, and walk straight into the door. Blushing, they usually turn to him with a red-faced smile and make their way out to the world outside. It’s a somewhat embarrassing way to make an exit—a humbling reminder to wake up—but I think it’s a much needed part of their day. He has a familiar face and a friendly presence, but his eyes still speak of a darker time.
On January 28th, 2006, Randy Mason went to a park in North Park, San Diego, hoping to find some help. He had been struggling with meth off and on for the past twenty years, and he decided it was time to look for a way out. He walked into the park with his dog Bear, and sat down on a bench about twenty yards away from an ongoing Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Randy suffers from manic seizures, a trait he inherited from his mother. Because of his condition, he was prescribed a service dog that could help him foresee or prevent his seizures. By smelling a certain change in Randy’s odor, his dog Bear could sense the changes in his body chemistry, predict the coming onslaughts of a manic seizure, and calmly alert him by sitting on his feet—twenty minutes in advance. Randy sat on his bench with Bear at his right, and looked on to the NA meeting twenty yards away.
The next part of the story Randy retells with stern conviction. While sitting with Bear, a woman from the nearby NA meeting stood up and approached him. “She approached me, without my permission; sat next to me, without my permission; and without my permission, she reached over my lap and hit my dog.” It was “a direct violation of California Penal Code 54.3(a);” he reports from memory, “interfering with a disabled person or service animal.” After being struck, Bear bit the woman’s hand in defense, consequently beginning a legal battle that would forever alter the course Randy Mason’s life.
“Hey, check this out,” Randy points to his screen, “these are my Gods.” I look over at his laptop screen to see a webpage open with the words, “My Two Gods” in giant bold letters at the top. At the bottom right side of the screen are two photos of a black and white Shetland named Scooby. Scooby came to Randy as a stray three years ago, and the two became best buds. On the bottom left side of the screen are two photos of a happy looking chocolate lab, Jaden. Randy met Jaden while being abandoned by a previous owner in an Ocean Beach park, and Randy’s little family grew. They’re his life, they’re his religion.
“I love animals, they’re a form of god,” he tells me, “they teach me the truth about love and compassion.” Looking into his eyes, I can feel the depth of his sincerity. He even told me that the last time he slept with a woman, he made her sleep in the other bed so he could lie next to his dogs.
“Jaden gave me the ability to laugh again,” he says with a smile. “They taught me that there’s something outside of self to love. Every time I look into their eyes I see a soul—an entity that loves me back.”
After Bear’s incident in the park, the legal proceedings only got worse. Randy spent the next four months researching his case in a law library, but the system finally prevailed. Bear was taken from Randy and held by animal control. He was denied a change of venue from animal control to normal court, and was denied the right to press charges against the woman that hit his dog—both violations of the “equal protection” and “due process” clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as Randy points out. Making his situation even harder, his Jeep was then towed—along with it his ability to get to court, to animal control, to the law offices to study. The worst blow of all, however, came from the court’s final verdict. Concluding that his actions were premeditated, Bear was taken, and killed.
Randy spent the next two years on the street. He passed his time observing people, watching how they lived and learning from them; but his prospect wasn’t good. He had been cheated by the government; he had been cheated by mankind. The more he looked around, the more he realized; not only do people not know or care about their rights, they’ll never stand up for the rights of others. The world had abandoned Randy Mason, and he felt there was nothing left he could do about it.
About one year ago, Randy walked out to the end of the Ocean Beach Municipal Pier with only one intention; he was going to end his life. He walked 1,971 feet of concrete where the local fishermen pull their livings up from the waters below. He gripped his fingers to the salty wood railing, took one last look at his hands, and felt the pier tremble beneath him; he couldn’t do it, something wasn’t right. Two days later he returned to finish the job, but once more he felt that peculiar sensation. He says he felt the pier literally tremble beneath his feet, that the earth was shaking, that it was a sign. He was lost in a passive life, his days empty and meaningless. But as he stood there, ready to release his 55 years of weight to the waters below, something happened in his head—and in his heart. Something clicked.
He tells me he got a message, that something came to him to change his mind. He thought of his dogs, of Scooby and Jaden, of how much joy their simple acts could bring to his days. He may have been robbed of Bears life, forgotten and pushed aside—but he had his right to life, and he had his right to pursue happiness.
Randy’s recovery started the day before Bear’s hearing, the day he met Scooby. It was a hard two years on the streets, but together, they made it through. “I can’t wine about the past,” he says, “but I can use it as a strength.” He had gone through a lot with Scooby, and it only seemed right for them to keep moving on. And things started looking up, life got better. After spending two years on the street, Randy moved into an old RV that a friend had given him. With a place for his head and some room for his dogs, it was time to start getting his life back on track.
One day, while walking from his RV to the public bathrooms, Randy made an incredible discovery. He had decided to walk a different path than normal, and while making his way down an unfamiliar alleyway, came across a stack of first year law school books sitting on top of a dumpster. After years of feeling cheated by the law, of washed through loopholes and disregarded rights, of losing his best friend and guardian to the almighty power of an untouchable legal system; it was decided. Randy Mason would become a lawyer.
“I don’t believe god gave me the power to destroy life,” he said looking me straight in the eye, “but he did give me the power to protect it.” It’s a simple philosophy, but one Randy has now adopted as his life goal. He is going to be an attorney—to defend mankind and their animals—and hopes to attend law school at Cal Western to get himself there. He wants to protect animal rights and fight on behalf of those that need him. The constitution is his bible, and he’s ready to devote his life to making sure its promises are kept. “That’s the only thing I live for,” he says, “it’s my purpose.” And it’s definitely a purpose he works hard for.
Anyone who has sat in Newbreak Café for more than half an hour knows this guy is using his head for something. Whether he’s giving friends or strangers advice on legal matters, discussing the Constitution, or writing papers on his computer, it’s hard not to notice that he’s into his education. The first time I ever talked to Randy, he gave me a full online presentation of life history of Alexander Hamilton; a historical background I had never before learned in such detail. The last time we talked, I walked away knowing what a gerund was. He regularly quotes the Constitution in his everyday speech, and can even recite a good deal of the Declaration of Independence—in American Sign Language. The most interesting part of Randy’s educational endeavors, though, is how he applies the things he learns.
He claims he’s different—and it’s true. He lives in an RV, worships his dogs, is studying to become a lawyer, and refuses to eat anything that damages animal life. Randy refuses to drive in cars, and believes their poisonous exhaust directly violates the rights of others. “I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” he says, “I’m not just taking up resources; I’m not just a leech in the water.” You can often hear him discussing what he calls our “Nazi government,” and the importance of our rights; he even maintains a website dedicated to his political opinions (ob1canob.com). He uses the less-derogatory term “happy people” instead of “gay”, thinks pot is only okay if it’s natural and unaltered by man, and believes that car alarms and cell phones are violations of the 4th amendment. Last week he was seen yelling at the police for unconstitutionally breaking a woman’s car window when she refused to get out. She had just backed into a motorcycle (or a “motorsickle,” as Randy calls it), and she refused to get out of her car when the police came—even dangled the keys in her hands and danced around in her car to taunt them. Furious, the police shattered her window, dragged her out of the car, and threw her onto the ground. Of course, Randy was one on the scene immediately.
“They could have used a slim-jim to unlock her door,” he says, “it’s easy.” Randy ran out to tell them that their force was unnecessary, and that as a citizen, their actions did not have his approval. Violence and force are unnecessary means of law for Randy, and he made sure to tell them that.
“We don’t need to harm life,” he says, “there’s too much to be good for.”
Soft jazz pours from the cafe speakers as Randy takes his seat on the yellow one-piece bench that looks like it was ripped straight out of a Taco Bell. His laptop is open towards him and a book lies on the table next to it, just beside his empty white coffee cup. Acting Out Culture, a book on how to use writing to explore the power of social norms—right up Randy’s alley. He picks up the book with his left hand and thumbs through some pages. I can see his annotations in the margins. There are no underlines, no highlights, just a sentence or two next to each paragraph. He is flipping through the pages, reading me snippets of his favorite parts so far. I listen and inquire, and he thumbs through more pages, but the words from his story are still ringing in my ears.
“I’m still learning what my truth is,” he told me, “but it’s before me.”
Randy slides into the back of his chair and folds his arms. He looks at me with a slightly crooked smile, softens his eyebrows and tilts his head. His smile grows a bit, and he leans forward. “I wouldn’t mind having a Corvette, but I don’t want a Corvette,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind having a big house, big I don’t really want a big house.”
“What do you want?” I ask him. He pauses, looks out to his RV where Scooby and Jaden lie sleeping, and turns back to me.
“I would like to see the states again,” he replies, “to see where I was born—how the people have changed.” As he looks at me with a growing smile, his chin slowly lifts and his gaze rises to the grey-paneled ceiling above. There is a light behind his eyes, a contented joy and bustling wonder.
It’s cold outside, and the doors and windows of Newbreak Café are sealed shut. An onshore wind spits ocean mist and bits of sand across the OB storefronts, and rainwater flows through the gutters like wild urban rivers. A hurried customer exits the café in a rush, leaving the front door open to swing and slam in the weather. Everyone looks, but no one gets up. It’s Randy who ends up closing the door, but he’s never bitter. “Some people don’t close the door behind them,” he says earnestly, “they never learned.” It’s cold today in Ocean Beach, and the people are bundled up to stay warm. Ocean fog and city smoke drift the lonesome streets of brightly painted bungalows, and the wild green parrots are huddled in their palm trees. The day may be grey and the wind may be cold, but there’s hope behind the sunken eyes of this Ocean Beach hopeful. I look at him from across the café—and I know. The skies will stay grey today, but when the sun finally sets over the cold concrete pillars of the Ocean Beach Municipal Pier, for Randy Mason, it’ll set especially bright.