Thursday, October 30, 2014

Investigative Reporting: My boy Marco Asked me Something...

Marco came over today and realized I'd written another cover story on truancy in Texas for the Fort Worth Weekly. He shook his head and asked if I remembered when he'd gone to truancy court--I let him sleep in during a free period for 10 days running while the school team he was on was playing for a slot in the county finals--and we both were slapped with Class C misdemeanors. I laughed and said I did. I did mostly because I'd written about the Judge, when he was a narc, was part of a team that was criminal. And he knew who I was and reminded me of the story when I approached the bench. The kid in front of us, who was there for the fifth time that school year, was given a warning.
    Anyway, that talk led to Marco asking me why I fought so hard for so many years with High Times to end the war on drugs. I told him there were the obvious reasons--that kids/adults shouldn't go to jail for non-violent offences; that junkies should go to jail for years when most junkies voluntarily quit their heroin addiction in about two years; that crack cocaine should not get people sentenced differently than regular cocaine: At the time 5 grams of crack got you sentenced the same as 500 grams of cocaine. Yes, you read that right. 5 grams of crack--cocaine with baking soda--got the same five-year mandatory minimum as half-a-kilo of cocaine. Turned out, of course, that black kids did crack while white kids did cocaine.
    But beyond those obvious abuses of the war on drugs were subtle ones that most people didn't know about and they were things we kept trying to get out there so that other reporters would get schooled and get the story out nationally. Most people thought of property forfeiture as happening when a drug kingpin got caught with a million bucks worth of drugs in a house he bought with drug dealing proceeds. That wasn't exactly true: Most property forfeiture occurred when people had a joint or two in their fully-paid-off homes, or two plants at the back end of their paid-off-farm, or were busted in a police prostitution sting when they were lured by a cop posing as a prostitute and stopped to negotiate and after a quick check that the car was paid off, lost their vehicle. The key was that the goods/property were paid off. No one wanted to seize a house worth $300,000 if the owner, even if he had tens of thousands of dollars of heroin in it, owed nearly the whole $300,000. Why? Because the local police force shared in the profits from that seizure, and you couldn't give yourselves guaranteed overtime pay with a house that couldn't be sold for a profit.
    I told Marco that most people also didn't know about the "LSD carrier-weight" issue. That was one where a person caught with LSD was charged with the entire weight of the LSD including the packaging. So, for instance, someone caught with 500 drops--hits-- of LSD in liquid form would be sentenced to that 1/4 gram or so. Someone else put one hit in a watermelon and they would be charged with the weight of the watermelon--which would have been a lifetime sentence.
   A team I used to play softball with used to have a jug of magic juice show up before games. It was good fruit juice with maybe three or four hits of LSD in it. Shared among 20 people it was just a nice, tiny buzz to help make the game more interesting when you didn't know which of the three or five balls coming at you was the real one. But if the cops had ever arrested us, whomever was holding the jug would have been charged with the weight of the juice and the jug, not the three or four hits of LSD.
   Most people didn't know that half the police in the country--give or take, my number, not an official one--never bothered to check an informant's story before getting a search warrant if their snitch said drug dealing was going on at a particular place. They just busted in and that led to lots of people being killed, thousands injured.
   Those were the sorts of things that were the underpining of the drug war and they were some of what we were trying to get the public and other reporters to see and understand so that they could write about them and put them into the spotlight of awareness, which we knew would kill them.
   This all relates to truancy in Texas in this way: Truancy typically ends with a Class C misdemeanor and a fine and court costs. What people don't realize, even the principals in the schools and the guidance counselors at the schools sending the kids to truancy court is that the Class C misdemeanor, in nearly all the cases, will stay on that student's record for his/her entire life. It will keep you out of the US Military, kill your chances for a scholarship at most universities, come up as you having a criminal record at every traffic stop. It is not a small thing. It is a criminal record.
   Worse, most people, even those working to change truancy law here in Texas, don't know that a lot of judges here are ordering the kids found guilty of truancy to turn over all their user names and passwords for their email, their facebook page, their twitter and whatever else they are on, to the court. That is a huge invasion and has nothing to do with stopping truancy. An immediate downside is stifling free speech, but another downside angle is that anyone of the several people who has access to that information can post things that might affect that kid. And by kid, in Texas, we're talking 12-17 years old, inclusive.
   Those are the things investigative reporters try to find. The things hidden in the dark that most people don't know, don't care to know, refuse to believe. It's like poor people saying they've been beaten and routinely abused by policing agencies around the county. Us white folk with an education have never seen that, so it sounds like poor whites, blacks, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans crying bull spit. And then comes the age of digital cameras in phones and we are routinely getting 5-10 instances of unbelievable police brutality on our facebook pages weekly. We're watching people who have not been convicted of any crime, not been charged with a crime, get shot 3-5-45 times. We're watching policemen kicking the heads of suspects who are on the ground on their stomachs in handcuffs. We're watching a system that is out of control and now we cannot deny what those poor whites, African-Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans--hell, all Latinos--have been saying for decades.
   It only stops when it's brought into the light.
   Bring it all, all the injustice, into the light. Let us look at it and see if it really is the reflection of ourselves that we want to see when we look into the mirror.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A nice early fall pumpkin soup

So I took a nice pumpkin, cut the top, cleaned out the seeds. I diced a medium red onion, three stalks of celery, half-a-dozen scallions, and put them in the empty pumpkin. I tossed in a couple of spoonfuls of chopped fresh garlic in oil, a bit of sea salt and good cracked black pepper. Added three quarts of organic veggie stock, closed the pumpkin with it's top, set it in a baking dish and put it in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and a half. 
When it cooled, I poured out the liquid and veggies into a soup pot, then cut the pumpkin in pieces and scraped off the good inside meat and added that to the soup pot. Simmered it all for about 30 minutes and forgot about it till this morning.
This morning I put it all in a blender--it took a couple of blends to get it all.
Smooth now, it's on the stove over a very low heat. I've just added more black pepper and some really good Madras curry powder and a bit of nutmeg. So far it's tasting great. The spices will take a little while to marry with each other and the rest of the soup. In another hour or two, that's gonna be one fantastic soup. Bring your bowls if you're nearby and hungry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What a Party We Had

It was Sunday morning around 10 when Chepa, the wife/ex-wife, called to say that she'd be coming around to pick up Madeleina and a few bucks to go pumpkin shopping. I should have something ready for lunch because the pumpkins were going to be carved at my house.
   Sounded good. I started cleaning up a bit. I still hadn't gotten all the watercolor paint off the bathroom walls and floor from the painting party just a couple of days earlier.
   Italo showed up unexpectedly with Taylor Rain. We talked about work while I finished cleaning up kitchen, bathroom, my office/the small living room.
   Chepa showed with Alexa and Sierra and Madeleina, who would have preferred to sleep, reluctantly agreed to go get pumpkins. I gave Chepa $30--figuring that pumpkins were running about $4 at the supermarkets and she might want four or five. In short order they all left, including Italo and Taylor Rain and I raced to the store to get something for lunch/dinner.
   I picked up a couple of packs of Nathan's all beef franks, some Ballpark buns--best around that I know of--some sour kraut, three packs of chicken wings and celery and organic ranch dressing and BBQ sauce.
   By the time I got back, everyone was there, including Marco. Chepa made some juice while I made the kids eggs, then Italo decided to work on the riding lawn mower. Marco asked me for some knives as he planned on doing the pumpkin carving with the girls. Chepa told me to sit down and watch football while she went out to mow the lawn behind the house--the one that's full of stickers--and Madeleina walked behind her pushing the lawn sweeper to collect the stickers.
   The girls got hungry half an hour after eggs and so I started the franks. The girls wanted them simple, just a bit of ketchup. Chepa and Marco and Italo wanted whole hog: mustard, sauerkraut, relish, onions and ketchup. They all had a couple each. I put the wings in the oven to bake--just a little salt and pepper and olive oil with garlic on a bed of celery to keep them from sticking to the baking dishes.
   And then, I don't know what happened. Everything started going fast. Chepa started a fire in one of the fire pits to burn the stickers. The girls decided they needed to paint and dress up the pumpkins. Italo got the mower fixed and began running around the big yards, cutting everything. Madeleina decided she ought to do a few loads of laundry, but thought it ought to be separated on the kitchen floor. The girls came in with handfuls of pumpkin seeds and mash, Chepa called for more firewood, Italo demanded seltzer water, Marco wanted more knives and some candles. The wings got done, I missed the game but who cared? Things sound pretty normal but they were really wild. Energy was running everywhere.
   And then, like a swarm, they picked up their pumpkins, announced that everything was done, gave me a bunch of hugs and they left. Somehow it had gone from 10 AM to  7 PM and not one brittle word was spoken--I even managed to hold my tongue when I found out the pumpkins cost $147. and that I'd have to come up with at least $100 more for my share. That was crazy but A-OK.
   Everybody was happy all day long. It was thrilling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Summer time, and the living is easy....

So I was finishing up a 1400 word piece for the Fort Worth Weekly that comes out tomorrow, working on a 5000 word cover story for next week, due Thursday, two days from now for the same paper, and writing a 500 word short piece for tomorrow's paper. Then there is the freelance article due next Friday that will either make or break Christmas for my kids.
    In other words, I was busy. And Madeleina wasn't getting out of school till 6 PM, so I didn't go to the store till 4 PM, late for me. So I decided to make a simple roast chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, good beans from scratch.
   While I was doing that, Chepa, the wife/ex-wife, came with Sierra, Alexa and my grand daughter Taylor Rain. Plus my son Italo who just turned 29 the other day. Plus Madeleina.
    And instead of dropping Madeleina off, the kids decided to paint, so I got out the new watercolors and gave them paper and then Chepa, Italo and I went to the front porch to talk. Two minutes later, the girls said they were bored with paper and began using the three of us as their canvasses. I'm now covered head to toe in paint, as was Chepa when she left, and Italo, who made a mistake of sleeping on the front porch swing while the girls had paint.
   So we're covered and the porch is a mess and the bathroom where the girls showered is a rainbow and this was one fantastic night. You can clean paint, I can clean paint. But neither you nor I can make the paint happen like it happened tonight. That was art. Crazy art, yes, but real art.

Monday, October 20, 2014

This is Life with Lisa Ling

Just a quick note to let you know that Lisa Ling is doing a show on the ayahuasca boom in Peru. It is part of her show This is Life with Lisa Ling--which is now on CNN on Sunday Nights at either 9 or 10 PM Eastern Standard Time. I'm going to be in it for at least a few seconds--a question or two culled from the couple of hours of filming we did in the Belen market in Iquitos, Peru in July. She's a damned good journalist and though I have not seen the show, I'll bet she gets down to the quick of it. I do know she extensively interviewed my friend, the curandero Ron Wheelock. I can't say more because I don't know any more. But I'll be it will be worth taping/seeing. Her questions to me were sharp and on the money. That's it. That's this Sunday, October 26.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

House Mortgage

House Mortgage
Well, as of today my remaining mortgage is under 10 grand. It's $9,937.78 to be exact, which means, if I can keep putting an extra $500 a month into it, I'm done next August 1. 
That will be a fast payoff for a guy who was losing his house three months after moving from New York to Texas. Nothing I planned came through, editors who hired me got fired before my stories went to print, magazines lost their freelance budget after I signed contracts but before my stories came out. Gosh, it was tough. I borrowed from friends, family, put my little green truck in hock to a money lending outfit. Did not think I'd make it and was terrified of the idea of having put my kids in a position where they might have to live at cousins' houses while I lived in a flophouse.
The ship got righted a bit, then better. The first three years, my $73,800 mortgage dropped about $5-$50 a month and I don't think I dipped below $70,000 for at least those three years, maybe more. But I got lucky, got some pretty good gigs like working for the Fort Worth Weekly and having a regular column in Skunk Magazine out of Canada. Then someone who's become a friend called and asked if I'd write occasional articles for a magazine he was editing. The stories were fine, the pay was a good bump twice or three times a year. The trips to Peru, while not making much money, did pay the mortgage while I was gone, so that was good. Then I published my book and that was another little got to where if I didn't buy myself anything I didn't need I was able to put an extra couple of hundred into the mortgage monthly. That grew to nearly $600 extra a month--that meant no dining in restaurants, no new sneaks until it was time for a Peru trip, no Sunday afternoon at the bar with my friend Dave. Those little things, and a million others added up.
And now, after 12 years and 9 months, I'm under $10 grand. Wow. THANKS UNIVERSE!!!! I APPRECIATE IT A LOT!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Meal You Should Never Have Before Drinking Ayahuasca

Okay, so while I'm the heretic of the newish ayahuasca diet--no oil, hot peppers, pork, salt--I'm not crazy. Some things just don't go well together, as in can cause a hypertensive issue--which means potential heart attack.
    The meal I intended to make tonight, because it's chilly, was Uncle Clem's Chicken. He won a national award for it and he was my godfather. For that you lightly steam three bunches of broccoli flowers (tops). While you're doing that you cut two whole or four half chicken breasts into 3/4 inch squares, flower them, season with good sea salt and cracked black pepper, then saute them in a hot pan with garlic and olive oil till browned on the outside but still basically raw on the inside. When they're done you put them aside for a moment. You drain the broccoli, slightly undercooked even from al dente, and put that in a baking dish. Add the chicken with garlic, reserve pan juices.
    Make a sauce of a large can of organic mushroom soup put into a pan with a big spoon of whatever mayo you like, heat, add the bit of olive oil and garlic left from the sauteed chicken. When it's a good sauce, pour it over the broccoli and chicken. Top with sliced mozzarella cheese, then bake till the cheese is browning and the sauce is bubbling. Serve over rice. Man, that's one hell of a freaking meal. Fattening, of course, despite the broccoli, because of the mayo and cheese. Worth the pain twice a year.
    But while I was at the store getting the ingredients for Uncle Clem's, I suddenly imagined making good macaroni and cheese. So I picked up the ingredients for that as well, imagining it later in the week. But plans changed and I'm making the mac and cheese tonight.
    First I'm cooking a pound of elbow macaroni in salted water till it's al dente or slightly less than that. When ready I'm draining that and getting it under cold water quickly to keep it from continuing to cool.
    Then I'm gonna cut a nice ham steak into tiny cubes and saute them with garlic in olive oil and diced red onion. I'm gonna pepper it, but no salt. Ham's got enough salt to kill you. At the last second I'm going to toss in some minced red pepper and half-a-dozen organic scallions, sliced so we have a bit of color and extra veg.
    While I do that I'm gonna take a good heavy stainless steel pot--I'd use copper if I could afford it--and make the sauce: 12 ounces of aged Swiss cheese. One and one-half pounds of aged cheddar. One cup of organic whole milk to keep it from simply scalding to death. When the cheeses start to melt into the milk I'm going to add 6 ounces of aged parmesan, freshly grated, and 8 ounces of fresh, smoked mozzarella. If I need more swiss or cheddar, I'll add it, but in the end it ought to be perfect. Only spice will be that gorgeous cracked black pepper I love so much.
   Then I'll pull the ham bits and toss a couple of bundles of organic spinach into the pan till it's seared and savory and sassy.
   I'm going to put the elbow macaroni into a slightly greased baking dish. I'm going to put some really good breadcrumbs on the macaroni. Not too much, just for a crunchy touch. Then I'm going to put the spinach and the ham bits with the garlic, red pepper, and scallions, and any left over pan juices into the sauce and then pour that sauce all over that macaroni and make sure it gets everywhere. I'm gonna top that with a bit of breadcrumbs sauteed in just a touch of butter--I mean one tablespoon, okay?--and then add a nice finishing touch of more parmesan. I'll bake it at 330 till the cheese on top and the bread crumbs are brown and the sauce is bubbling in the baking dish, about 20 minutes. Let it sit 15 minutes, then serve in a bowl surrounded by broccoli florets with a side salad.
    Okay, so that's two zillion calories. Forget that. The reason you can't have it before ayahuasca is that all of the cheeses except the mozzarella are fermented. And the mozzarella is smoked. Fermented cheeses, while not on the official ayahuasca diet, are verboten when drinking ayahuasca because of potential hypertensive problems. Smoked things are not recommended either for a similar reason. You do not want to be serving ayahuasca, or allow anyone you know to serve ayahuasca if the people drinking have had aged/fermented things. Or nuts. Keep the nuts till later. Keep the wine on the shelf. Keep the cheeses, other than farmer's cheese and the like, out of your system. I may be a dieta heretic, but I'm not going to allow any of my guests to freak out or have a heart attack that was very preventable.
    So yeah, this meal will probably kill you with calories even if you're not drinking ayahuasca. But it will definitely increase the chances if you are. Be careful out there, okay?