The legendary TV cop drama, “The Naked City” (1958) was set in Manhattan. Each episode ended with the famous voice-over, “There are eight million stories, in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” With bikini season approaching, I’m tempted to write, “There are 86,664 stories in the Semi-Naked City.” (Whoops, I think I just heard a collective groan.)
Over the years, I have written about dozens of interesting locals, including Alison, a beautiful massage therapist who’s training to be a circus trapeze artist; Damon, a divorced dad who protests daily at the courthouse to get the right to see his kids; and Joe, 75, a retired mailman turned surfer and movie and commercial actor.
Then there’s Ebba, also in her 70s, and who’s won 18 Senior Olympics gold medals in gymnastics (Go to YouTube and type “Ebba winner”); Jerry who’s approaching 90 but travels the world and sings on cruise ships; and Shauna, a stunning psychology grad student and a singer/songwriter whose first CD is entitled, “The Lonely.”
But the most inspirational stories for me belong to members of a support group that meets at Carrows on Ocean Park Boulevard every third Monday of the month. Some are in wheelchairs, some have four-point canes and some are able-bodied. What bonds them is that each has suffered a traumatic brain injury, which explains the group’s name, TBI Social Network. TBI stands for “traumatic brain injury.” Social Network stands for “they have fun.”
Like an extended family, TBI goes to movies, plays, and sporting events, visiting venues like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the Santa Monica Pier to see Cirque du Soleil. (Tomorrow is the ponies at Hollywood Park!) Their concern for each other is unconditional and selfless, which, in this narcissistic world, is uplifting to witness. I fear I won’t do them justice in describing their courage.
As a teenager, Cynthia (aka “C”) was a Colorado rodeo champion. After college, she ventured to Santa Monica for a job in public relations. Twenty years later, this hard-working single mom headed her own PR firm, earning a six-figure income. Then disaster struck.
One night, in December 2007, C suffered a stroke, which required emergency brain surgery. Devastated, she returned home facing a long recovery, $50,000 of medical bills and a harassing landlord. (Other than that, things were just rosy.)
C currently struggles just to make ends meet. “It beats starving,” she jokes bravely. C is writing a book about her experiences appropriately entitled “Scatterbrain.”
Steve was a mountain climber who, at 29, journeyed to the Andes to scale the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere. During the arduous climb, one morning he woke to the nightmarish, Kafka-like discovery that he couldn’t move. During his sleep, he apparently suffered a “closed skull head trauma,” possibly due to the extreme altitude.
Precariously, Steve was carried to a point on the mountain from where he could be rescued by an Argentine military helicopter. He was taken to a hospital where he drifted in and out of consciousness for weeks.
Eventually Steve returned to the U.S. where he’s been disabled for the past 30 years. But he hasn’t lost his sense of adventure. With a little help from his friends (and special equipment) he goes whitewater rafting and skiing. When he told me he just got back from the slopes at Mammoth, I was in awe.
Ken Nakashima is an award-winning ceramacist whose work has been exhibited in the finest galleries around the world. Then, at 51, he had a stroke. While he’s not physically able to “throw” larger pots, as with all the TBI members, he doesn’t let adversity stop him. Come see his magnificent work at the prestigious “Beverly Hills Affaire in the Garden Art Show” on May 15 and 16.
Following an aneurysm, Rosemary was in a coma for 10 weeks. For the past 11 years she’s lived in a Santa Monica convalescent home. She never complained about her fate but rarely ventured out. Then Linda, a wheelchair-bound TBI member, persuaded her to attend a TBI meeting. Now Rosemary’s a much-loved regular.
While on his motorcycle, almost 10 years ago, Erik, a former stuntman and Special Olympics coach, was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. He suffered a brain injury and underwent 11 surgeries but remarkably has totally recovered. Fifty years ago, Carl, at age 4, had a home accident that resulted in lifelong brain trauma. But it didn’t stop him from a career in law and investment banking.
The elder statesman of TBI is John, a Korean War vet. Despite two strokes, John tirelessly stays in daily touch with the members.
There are many other emotional stories, people with brain injuries and their caregivers, including Hugh, Kathleen, Gary, Bill, Darren and Dorothy. All the members of TBI are truly teachers about braving life’s challenges.
Anyone can suffer a brain injury via stroke, car crash, skateboarding, football concussion or as a GI in the Middle East. But TBI helps people get out of isolation and back into life. They’re no stay-at-home group. God bless them, they’re too busy living.
OK, so why “The Naked City” in my headline? Many years ago an editor told me that anytime you could get the word “naked” in your title, do it. I suppose that’s what I get for listening to an editor.
If you’ve suffered a brain injury, or are a caregiver to someone who has, or you just want to experience the positive energy of a TBI meeting, e-mail John Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (310) 372 3459. Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.