Jeff Jardine

Bad luck can't keep optimist down

So you had a lousy day. You didn't gas up on the way into work, and the robber barons raised the price 15 cents a gallon by the time you headed for home.

You dropped $5 on lottery quick picks and not one of your numbers came up on any row — not even one stinking mega digit.

Or last week, you had a flat tire and the tow-truck driver made you wait 40 whole minutes.

Or you found that you'll have to pay the state of California $180 on your income taxes, which is just like buying a lottery ticket when it comes to throwing your money into a bottomless pit.

Believe me, you've had it easy. Al Pound can tell you about bad luck.

Over the past 2½ years, the 60-year-old Modesto resident has been bitten and bugged. He's been beaten, turned out, burned out and bank-robbed.

Is he bitter, or does he wallow in self-pity? Absolutely not.

"I always look for the silver lining," said Pound, a retired city parks worker. "There are always people who are worse off than I am. I did a tour in Vietnam. I've seen lots of people whose lives are worse than ours.

His run of misfortune began in the summer of 2005. He frequently worked in city parks along the Tuolumne River, and likely became a target for a dive-bombing toxic mosquito.

"That August, I went and donated blood on a Wednesday," Pound said.

"On Thursday, I didn't feel that great. Friday, I felt worse but I still went to work. Saturday, I just stayed in bed. I thought it was a real bad case of the flu."

The phone rang. It was Delta Blood Bank. When Pound's wife, Kerry, said he was in bed and not feeling well, the blood bank representative asked to speak to him immediately.

"They told me to get to the hospital right away," Pound said. "They said I had West Nile. I couldn't walk 100 feet, I was so weak."

Kerry drove him to the hospital.

"When I got to Memorial and told them the blood bank said I had West Nile, they quarantined me," Pound said.

Tests revealed he wasn't contagious, and they sent him home.

"But it took me out of work for three months," he said.

When he returned to his job, his shoulder began hurting. He went to a doctor who told him it was a repetitive-use type of injury.

"It began hurting really badly in February (2006), and (the city) sent me to therapy," Pound said.

It didn't help, and in June a surgeon removed some debris from the shoulder. He missed about eight more weeks of work before returning in September of that year.

One day shortly thereafter, Pound and crew mate Charlie Bush painted some benches in Downey Park in the morning and then broke for lunch. They watched as two young men — not teenagers — ran their skateboard and bicycle over the benches, ruining the paint job. Pound and Bush confronted them.

"We'd already talked to one guy three times about running his bike (on them)," Pound said. "The skateboarder stopped, but the 22-year-old turned around and rode his bike up to us and told us we were nothing but a bunch of blanking park workers."

Then the man swung his bike, knocking Bush to the ground and Pound against some bleachers. Initially, it seemed as if Pound injured only his jaw. But the real damage involved his spine.

The bike-wielding attacker ultimately got 45 days in jail.

Pound, however, got the worst of it. He spent a year on disability, and when he tried to return, the city retired him out because his doctor determined he couldn't lift more than 10 pounds, Pound said.

He formally retired Jan. 31 of this year.

For all of his bad luck, Pound, his wife and two grandchildren might be dead today if not for a bit of good luck.

The Pounds' daughter and son-in-law, April and Eric Martin, and two grandchildren, 3½-year-old Damien and 3½-month-old Allison, all live with them in their northwest Modesto home.

The evening of Feb. 29, April and Eric went to a show and planned to have an early breakfast with friends before heading home. For whatever reason, they decided to skip the breakfast, arriving home about 1:20 a.m. on March 1.

"They saw smoke coming from the rafters," Al Pound said. "They yelled, 'The house is on fire!' We grabbed the (grand)kids and whatever we could and got out. Fifteen minutes later, the ceiling collapsed."

Attributed to an electrical fire, flames gutted the home, though fire crews were able to stop the blaze and protect some of the belongings from water and smoke damage. The Pounds took their important papers when they fled the home.

"I can't say enough about the Fire Department," Pound said. "They were terrific. They salvaged our belongings and covered them with plastic (sheeting)."

Still, everything stored in the rafters of the home, built in the mid-1970s, was destroyed, including Kerry Pound's wedding dress.

"We also had about $3,000 worth of Christmas things up there," Pound said. "Me and the neighbors used to have a competition for lighting. Not this year. I'm going to lose."

Their insurer put them in a hotel until they could find a place to rent.

That took a week.

Again, Pound lauded those who helped him.

"I can't say enough about the insurance company, either," he said. "They got us a rental. They even gave us toothbrushes, shampoo and soap."

When Pound immediately began the process of getting the home repaired, he endured another unfortunate glitch.

The builder had used asbestos- bearing materials, all of which needed to be removed, adding to the cost and timeliness of the repairs. Now, they're looking at perhaps eight months before they can move back in.

But that's not all. The same Friday the Pounds moved from their motel into their rental, they got a call from their bank. They'd been hit by identity theft. The thieves somehow got the Pounds' ATM card number and personal identification number. Beginning on the same day as the fire, March 1, the thieves used the card to withdraw $1,500 over several transactions made in the Los Angeles area. The bank changed their account numbers and restored the money to their balance within a couple of weeks, Al Pound said.

Pound simply shrugs off his run of misfortunes.

"That's history," he said. "We're just doing it (life) day to day. You have to. You have to look at it as being half full instead of half empty."

Which means for Pound, this might be the perfect time to buy a lottery ticket. He's about due for some good luck.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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