I normally don’t blog or chat about personal occurrences, or my daily life, this isn’t one of those blogs at all. For my usual visitors this may seem completely out of the norm, but every once and a while I stray off the normality of digital talk, underground hacking, business developments and this is one of those moments. It is a story, a very true one, it’s not short and it may seem as if I don’t have a point, but I give you my word that plays a great part to the big picture of why I wrote this. If your still interested, then please read on, if your just here to find out how to hack the AMS sensors on a MBP, or for a guide on investing in Web 2.0 with sweat equity, then see my archives.

It wasn’t until today, 7 days after it happened, that as I was told about Mr. Zarate’s (Joe Zarate) death. I was shocked, caught off guard a little. I didn’t break down and cry, nothing like that, it just wasn’t something that you hear… “Mr. Zarate committed suicide, did you hear?” When I was told, it was nonchalant, a topic being brought up in random blurbs, almost like a verbal tweet, gee the irony of that. The unique aspect of it, was that Mr. Zarate played a important role in my life. Not some cliche “he was a great teacher” rhetoric of bullshit that some empathetic teenager spews because it seems like the cinematic thing to do, but because there was a much grander story behind it all.

I wasn’t always a rich successful man, I wasn’t born into money, hell I didn’t even have parents. 14-15 years ago, I was homeless. Eating leftover pizza crusts out of trash cans after “Market Night” in old town Redlands. Sleeping under park benches, and riding around on public transportation to stay out of the rain. I had been in and out of juvenile detention centers, I was dirty, poor, had a couple shirts, you know the 3 for $5 kind, that say crap like “I heart California”, but I promise you, it was a known fact that California definitely did NOT love me back. I also had 3 pairs of pants. Out of those three pairs, one was white, but had become so dirty, it was the color of grime with a slight tint of yellow, if that’s possible, and the other was purple…yes purple fucking jeans. I would attempt to go to school because back then we had free meal assistance if you “qualified” which meant, that you didn’t qualify for anything else in school, like having a girlfriend, having notes passed to you in class, hell most people didn’t even remember me, I didn’t exist.

Eventually, I reunited with my mother, who had a new 5th or 6th “serious boyfriend” and moved to Rancho Cucamonga, and I went from homeless to having a home, with an actual bed. I went to Alta Loma High school, or at least, I was a registered student there.  I had a piss poor attendance record, I was almost two years behind in high school as a sophmore, and I had the worst “just leave me the fuck alone” attitude. I wasn’t “mad at the world“, and it wasn’t a show, it was who I had become, a young teen that learned that I could only count on myself.

Every morning I would go to the grocery store right next to the high school, and steal a bottle of Bacardi 151, and a small bottle of Sunny Delight, and behind the school I would mix my concoction and by third period I would be drunk as Kanye West when he doesn’t win an award. This was a daily routine. I wore baggy pants, and looked dirty and unkept, and though I could go back to a home at the end of the day, I chose to run around in the streets and sleep at friends or crawl in through my bedroom window on some nights.

I remember Mr. Zarate’s very first day teaching. I remember he still had this cop swagger about him, and with all my run ins with the law and time in juvenile halls, I instantly had something against him. On his very first day, him and I had a confrontation. He was talking to the class about how he loved being a cop, how it was about brotherhood and honor. Someone in class asked if he knew any police officers that had gotten shot at or killed, and Mr. Zarate’s eyes welled up and he said he did in fact “lose someone close to him on the force“. I made a comment along the lines of, “well that’s good, all pigs deserve to die“. This caused a huge change in his demeanor and his eyebrows came together and his eyes became angry and he walked over to me and grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the hall.

He made some comments in a strict tone about how he didn’t want to ever hear something like that again, and how he thought teens like me were just punks and went off barking and I tuned out. He told me to head to the principals office, but I detoured and went to safety of a bathroom stall and did a bump of speed and drank my “Sunny D” concoction. That was my first encounter with Mr. Zarate.

School obviously continued, so did my attitude and my spotty attendance. After that first encounter, I decided I would just sleep or daydream away in his class, after all, all the other teachers just left me alone. I was the teen they looked at and thought “that kid’s going straight to the trailer park or jail”, my peers looked at me and thought, “yearbooks winner for Most Likely to Fail in Life”.

One day sitting in class, I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker, that if you took this ASVAB test for the military, you not only got to miss periods 1-3, but you got free lunch as well. For a scroungy kid like me, this was a lucrative opportunity. I took the test, and actually tried my best to see if I “had what it took“. I didn’t think anything of the test until a couple weeks later this Army recruiter came to pull me out of class to talk to me. As soon as he pulled me out into the hallway, I exchanged my thoughts about the military and my dis-interest, and took the out of class opportunity to leave campus and go to the grocery store and steal some more Bacardi 151.

As it neared time for my class to graduate from High school, I found myself behind by almost a year, I had tried to catch up as much as possible, but it really wasnt enough, I had missed way to much of my senior year, and graduating didn’t look like a possibility, in reality, it wasn’t at all. I decided to celebrate my failure by doing the norm, and as I was about to steal a bottle of Bacardi 151, up strolls the Army recruiter. He said, “What the hell are you doing boy?”, and I replied, “I know you have glasses, but are you fucking blind? I’m stealing breakfast and your messing it up“. Just like Mr. Zarate he grabbed my arm and took me outside. He asked me if I ever had a steak and lobster dinner before, and I asked him if he was gay, and that I wasn’t into men. With his shocked look, I recanted my sarcasm, I said “no”, and it was the truth.

He took me to Sizzlers, I know…. laugh it up. Nowadays, Mastros in Beverly hills, and Mortons, put it to shame, but back then, to a teen who had never had it before, it was absolute slice of heaven. He didn’t push the whole Army thing, he simply asked me questions and talked to me,  and listened. He told me how all my teachers knew I wasn’t going to graduate, about how they just wanted me out of Alta Loma High school, that they all knew I did drugs and slept off my drunk stupor in their classes. When we parted that day the only thing that stuck in my mind was the overwhelming thought that I in fact did not have any discipline.

I decided to join the Army, and with my recruiters help, he talked to each teacher, and somehow he convinced them to all pass me with the lowest grade that they could give me out of charity. I would have never graduated high school without the gratuity. On my last day in class with Mr. Zarate, he pulled me to the side again and told me that I “really surprised him with my decision to join the military” , and that “he wished the best for me”. He also told me that since I had “never did any of his homework, or filled out not one single in class assignment”, that he passed me because “he knew I needed this opportunity and he believed in me“.

I went to the Army and had a very intense, educational, and unique military training.

I ended up getting a Bachelors Degree in Business Management, and a few years back a Masters in Computer Science from USC. In 2003 I successfully sold my computer consulting firm.

About a year ago, as I went to pick up tile to redo my kitchen floor and I ran into Mr. Zarate at Home Depot. I had completely changed. I was a completely different man. Clean cut, well dressed and groomed, and now…with my own government swagger. He didn’t even recognize me when I said his name and he looked up. Then the serious face turned into a huge smile and as I shook his hand his grip grew firm and we both smiled. We talked in that Home Depot for over an hour about what I had done in the last years of my military and now civilian life, and he asked me question after question. He told me that he remembered that day I made that horrible comment, and how he “ was so proud that I decided to join the military“, and that looking at me standing in front of him a changed man, years later, that he felt he made “one of the best decisions that had a huge effect, by passing me“. He repeated “wow man, it’s amazing to see the change, I can’t believe this is that same kid, that barely showed up to class“. We talked for a while longer and we exchanged contact information, although, neither of us ever used it.

So when I heard those words, “Mr. Zarate committed suicide, did you hear?, this whole story flashed into my mind. I wrote a book that I completed about a little over a year ago titled, “A Breath from a Closet” (which I still have yet to publish), and everything minus the Home Depot encounter, is in that book. It’s in the book because it played a integral part of my life into shaping me into who I became, who I am today. At a time when my peers and even the teachers snickered and talk down on me, when I didn’t even believe in myself, Joe Zarate believed in me. Even if I glorify the emphasis on when he told me he believed in me, I interpreted it as being sincere.

So I did what anyone else did these days, I googled his name to get more information, the first thing I came across was not the Daily Bulletin, which is listed HERE, but a forum called “Topix”, where at the time, all 15 comments were nothing but trash talking about Mr. Zarate’s personal conduct in his “out of school” life.  As Tiger Woods could tell you, it takes 20 years to build a reputation, and 5 minutes to destroy it. Bad press, and shit talking are the main contributors here, and it’s sad, it’s low and pathetic. I hope that anyone that writes those comments at a time when others are mourning, never make a mistake in their lives, so that they might not be ostracized when they die. I could care less about any mistakes he may or may not have made in his personal life. Something I learned in the Army is that a lot of people with no life experience, generate the most driven opinions.

I remembered Mr. Zarate as man with principles, who went out of his way to help someone who nobody believed in, and for me…it paid off…bigtime.

-David

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Comments
  1. patty says:

    wow your story was great my daughter had a class with mr z and she could not belive what happened sh always talked high about him and she really liked his teachings really glad your life turned around there are people out there that do care and he was on take care

  2. David says:

    Thanks for posting 🙂 , and I agree he was a great teacher

  3. diane says:

    Thank you David for this inspiring story God bless you.

  4. frank says:

    You have an amazing story. I too knew Joe while we were in college. Can’t say I know him as well as I should have as our lives took different paths. Thanks to your story, I feel like I know him a little bit better. I wish you continued succcess and thank you for sharing.

  5. Staci says:

    I had Mr. Zarate for criminal justice when I was a junior at Alta Loma. He inspired me to get into law enforcement. When everyone was telling me I couldn’t do it, he was my encouragement. What a positive, fantastic story you have– he would be so honored to know how positively he affected us.

  6. Yvette says:

    i also had mr zarate my junior year for criminal justice and he helped me figure out what i wanted to do in life which is become a probation officer. i also became his aid senior year and he said i was one of his best aids, i would always help him and i would talk to him about my problems and he would also tell me his…i also was in his criminal justice club senior year and even after i graduated i would come and visit him. mr zarate meant alot to me, he has inspired me to become a probation officer and always told me to come visit when i did become one, even tho i cant visit him now i kno he is watching from above &will be happy when i become one:]

  7. rayik says:

    yeah i had zarate last year he was such a cool teacher he allways use to give us nicknames and he would allways use me as an example in his crazy story’s… and on each one of our quizzes he would give us zarateisms which no one would understand until he explained it to us. Ill never forget him R.I.P Mr. Zarate

  8. AshleyALHS says:

    Hey David, i went to ALHS too.

    I just came across your blog when i googled Mr. Zarate… i actually have a few questions that i’d like to ask you, in private, if you dont mind.

    i would greatly appreciate it if yiou could email me at rugged909@yahoo.com

    Thanks

  9. michelle says:

    i had zarate for two years history and criminal justice. favorite teacher. he is really inspiring. loved how he would give hints on his test. think of a holy place on top of a hill we would stare blankly at him and then it would click church hill! all his test were like that lol and some of his hints were really wack but i still got an a in history for me that was a miracle. he would always talk about his son and he would just light up. i wish his son all the best.

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