Monday, May 30, 2016

Oy Vey! Gone again!

Oy vey, I'm gone again! Off to Peru, but this time with a twist: I've got a June trip and a July trip, neither full, unfortunately, but instead of staying down there between trips, I'm gonna sneak home for a couple of weeks. Why? A few reasons: First, my Madeleina goes back to college in early August and if I don't come back till the end of the second trip I'll hardly have any time with her. Then there is the matter of my legs: Since I tend to have severe apnea down there, I generally sleep sitting up in a chair, leaning my head on my arms on my desk. I love sleeping that way but if I do it for days--or weeks--my legs blow up enormously from basic force of gravity. And when they blow up the skin cracks, leaving me open to infection. And since I don't want any more leg infections, coming home and sleeping while laying down is a good option to beat that. I'm also gonna buy a couple of extra pillows so that I'll have a better chance at sleeping while semi-laying down than no chance at all. Pretty boring stuff. Sorry. When it's time to go my life is just a bunch of details.
    On the other hand, I'm gonna make these two trips fantastic things for the guests. I think my team is geared up and ready; I've sent lots of stuff up the river to camp already and I am stoked. Leave DFW tonight at 10:20 PM, arrive in Lima at 5:40 AM, then hit Iquitos tomorrow morning by about 10:45 AM. My room at the oldest hotel in Iquitos--no running water, unfortunately--is ready, my stuff is packed and just waiting for a last going-over before I seal it all up. If I have time I'll mow some lawn this afternoon to burn off nervous energy.
   But just to leave you with something, here's my newest column of Drug War Follies for Skunk Magazine. It's my 94th column for them, which is cool. I hope they keep me on till I hit 100, and then keep me on after that just for fun. Here it is. Have a great couple of weeks. I'll write from Iquitos if I can get my Ipad back from Chepa...

DRUG WAR FOLLIES

On any given day, reading the headlines is enough to make you question the humanity of humanity

By Peter Gorman


Today started out like most days: The cats started scratching at the couch I sleep on at about 5:30 AM to let me know I damned well ought to quit sleeping and get them fed. I ignored them as long as possible; when I finally got up I put them outside without food—nobody gets fed before I have coffee—and made myself some coffee. While it was brewing I brushed my teeth, took a shower and put on clean clothes.
     I said a big HELLO to the universe, thanked the powers that be that I didn’t die or kill anyone in my sleep, then sat down to my computer. I checked my email accounts—nothing too dramatic—checked to see if I’d sold a few books during the night—I love finding out I’ve sold several of my Ayahuasca or Sapo books while I slept—and then I opened the New York Daily News, the paper I used to read regularly for most of the 50 or so years I lived in New York city. It’s a working class paper, a blue collar paper that’s long on sports and local news, short on the heavier New York Times’ stories that I have never been able to dive into before a couple of cups of Joe.
    And you know, like a lot of other days, the headlines screamed wretched stuff from both New York and the Southwest: I guess their computer can read that my computer is now just south of Fort Worth, in Texas, so it includes a few stories from around here in tailoring the page to my locale. Anyway, these were in the headlines: Police looking for a guy who shot and killed another guy in the Bronx; a Mexican soccer star, Alan Pulido, was kidnapped in Tamaulipas, Mexico; a Georgia sheriff’s deputy was shot in the face while making a routine traffic stop; a biker got pissed off in a Queens, New York road-rage incident and shot the driver of a car through his window three times (driver stable, biker on the loose); vandals defaced military memorials in both California and Virginia; two men killed after being hit by trains in New York in separate incidents; three people shot at a fraternity barbeque in the Bronx; two dogs tied up and burned to death in Pennsylvania; a woman went crazy and stabbed another woman 48 times—killing her really, really dead—at a YWCA in Brooklyn, New York; ISIS and Syrian opposition fighters clashed in Northern Syria; 30 men in Brazil being sought for the gang rape of a 15-year-old. Oh, and a council in Pakistan clarified that men are perfectly allowed to beat their wives “lightly” if they didn’t do as they were told.
    Okay, there were a couple of stories about rescued puppies; a fireman who just got ordained as a priest; a good story about a couple of teachers really reaching out to tough-luck kids and having an impact on their lives. And there was sports, of course, and some opinion pieces about the upcoming U.S. presidential election and so forth.
    But most of the headlines were about how badly people treat each other and I’m probably starting to sound like a harpy on the issue, but what the fuck is wrong with people? Someone cuts you off in traffic you have to try to kill them? Have an argument over music and you have to stab somebody 48 times? 30 freaking grown men rape a 15 year old girl? WTF is going on in this world? And these stories are just the tip of the iceberg: What’s going on in Los Angeles? What horrible things happened in Toronto or Vancouver or Miami? How many people felt the urge yesterday, to hurt or kill other people or to kill themselves by stepping in front of trains? How many freaking refugees drowned trying to make it across the Mediterranean yesterday trying to get away from a war they want no part of?
   Were we always like this? I don’t think so. Maybe we were but without the internet we didn’t immediately access dozens of news stories from around the country and around the world. But it sure feels like I got to ask the question: Is there any humanity left in humanity?
    Couldn’t we all just smoke a nice organic outdoor bud—Cali Orange if you’re rolling for me, please—and talk our problems out? I know that sounds silly, but almost nobody goes ape-shit after they take a couple of tokes. It’s just the nature of the plant. It’s why the freaking beautiful cannabis plant was put here by the aliens to begin with! They knew we were crazy and wanted to give us something that would grow all over the world that would chill us out.
    The great folk musician and writer Tom Paxton wrote Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues in 1971. In it he talks about being a soldier in Vietnam. I don’t know if Paxton was ever actually in Vietnam but he was in the military at the right (wrong) time for it. Anyway, in it, the soldier is on a long patrol with several other soldiers and as they bed down for the night he smells pot.
    “I might be crazy but I think not.
    I’d swear to God that I smell pot.
    But who’d have pot in Vietnam?
    [The captain] said ‘What do you think you’re sitting on?’
    These funny little plants, thousands of them.
    Good God Almighty…Pastures of Plenty.”
So the patrol lights up, the captain gets a smile on his face and begins cleaning his rifle while chanting Hare Krishna. Well, our hero finally has to go pee and when he moseys off from the makeshift camp he runs into a Viet Cong soldier dressed in black. The soldier tells our hero that the Cong smelled the dope and thought it was trash, so he brought the Americans some top-flight Hanoi Gold.
   The two squads then get together and smoke, get high, and do not kill each other. And the captain finally gets on the radio and calls in to headquarters with this message: “Hello, headquarters. We have met the enemy and they have been smashed!”
   It was a beautiful little song—go look it up and give it a listen—that was just made up, but the message rings true. If you smoke with your enemy, you won’t be enemies. If you smoke alone, you won’t want to see others as enemies. If you just freaking take a couple of tokes you might even wind up loving your neighbor’s music, rather than having to stab her 48 times because you hate it so much.
   Silly, right? But right on: This plant can save the world if only we’d let it.
It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Chicken Catastrophe

Well, that chicken cacciatore I was making turned into a chicken catastrophe. I just didn't pay enough attention, had too much liquid in there and by the time it cooked down enough to be a sort of soupy-sauce the chicken had fallen off the bones and so every bite had little bones  you had to watch out for, and the chicken itself had lost it's juiciness and flavor. Have not blown a meal like that in ages, but I did last night. Oy, vey! Pay more attention, Gorman!!!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What are we eating around here? Great food, of course!

Well, just because I have not been writing does not mean I have not been eating. I have already admitted to being in a funk. Medical testing and anticipation of bad shit can do that. But since everything seems okay, that means the problem is me. That means fat and smoking. The fat is brought on by drinking wine (I stopped hard liquor, my 3 minis of bourbon a day back in early Feb). My cigarettes I've cut from 3 packs to under 1 1/2 packs. Still too much, but better, way better, than it was. A friend was over recently and when I didn't smoke for a while i said that except for a couple of hours a day I was keeping it to one cigarette per hour. He laughed and said he'd seen me smoke a pack in an hour on many occasions. He was right. So that's out.
   And except for the occasional hot sandwich on fresh sesame seed French bread--with the insides of the bread pulled and tossed--neither Madeleina nor I have had pasta, bread, or rice more than once a week since February and not more than twice a week since last October or so. We just quit it and put a salad and/or extra veggie in its place.
   Which doesn't mean we're not eating well: This week we had shrimp and a small piece of salmon on a bed of spinach--sauce made of garlic, a bit of sesame oil, diced tomatoes, onions, daikon radish, and scallions.
   Another night we had lime chicken: Chicken lightly breaded (oops!) in a mix of bread and parmesan, sauteed till golden, then doused with fresh lime juice and baked till done. Had that with steamed broccoli and cauliflower.
    Another night we split a prime rib seared in garlic and a bit of olive oil and served with a melange of steamed zucchini, yellow squash, onion, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower.
    Last night it was hot sausage (10 ounces for 3 people) boiled (with holes in it to eliminate most fat) then sauteed with onion, sliced red and green peppers, and tomatoes, served on--you guessed it--a bed of sauteed spinach with garlic.
    The peppers got to me, so tonight, a cool, damp, day here in bucolic Joshua, Texas, I'm making Chicken Cacciatore. It's an old Italian favorite that my Irish father Tom used to love making. I'll cut a whole chicken in pieces, with bone, then saute the pieces in good olive oil. I'll set them aside and in the left over olive oil I'll saute lots of fresh garlic, two onions, scallions,  three red and green peppers--rough cut, large pieces--and 12 Roma tomatoes. To that I'll add fresh rosemary (thanks to my friend Mike, who brought it yesterday), fresh basil I just bought, Peruvian oregano, and a bit of thyme. When those are all going good I'll add the left-over of yesterday's wine--about a cup. When it's all working I'll put the chicken pieces back in the deep roasting pan, add two cups of low sodium organic chicken broth and cook for an hour or so, until the tomatoes have made a sauce of themselves.
    That should normally be served over pasta or boiled potatoes (my father's Irish prefence). I'm not sure what I'll serve it on. I do have half-a-head of cauliflower that I could put in the oven for 45 minutes to bake and then cut it into pieces and serve the cacciatore over that. We'll see.
    Just letting you know that though I've been in a funk, we ain't dead yet.
    And yes, I've been kicking ass with the lawn. I figure I'm using the electric push mower to cut about 6,000 square feet a day. Maybe a little more. Every day except if it's raining. And then I'm walking a lot daily too, and eliminating weeds from all over this yard. So yeah, I think I'm losing a few pounds. Still fat, but not bordering on freaking obese! Ye gods! How did that happen???????
     And I hope that all of you are eating something fantastic today as well. Cooking is a great meditation on being part of the whole shebang--don't mean to sound new-agey here, but I really do think it's an important part of my day, the time when I consider each veggie, each condiment, each meat or fish or bean or eggs. And when I do that, I forget me, and that's good meditation.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

I am going to own up...

I am going to own up to you guys/gals who actually read this blog. It's been nearly two months. I was undergoing a lot of tests that were supposed to prove that I was dying. I didn't like it. I passed the tests. It turns out, against my doctors ideas, that I't have diabetes, heart disease, COPD, plaque or anything else. In other words, despite smoking 3 packs a day for 40 years, my lungs are pretty clear. Despite drinking two bottles of wine a night for 15 years, my kidneys and liver are fine. Look like 35 year old stuff according to my doc, who thinks I might have paid to have the tests done in my favor.
   So I've been a little worried about the results. And that's put me in a funk. Who wants to write when the docs are saying you're dying in 3 weeks? Not me. All I'm trying is to get my affairs in order before I go.
   But then I don't think I'm going anywhere. I think these docs don't know anything. I'm sitting in a very unusual place: I'm not here nor there. I'm not strong or weak. I'm not honest or a liar.
    I hope I can be better for you all tomorrow.--PG

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

'Scaredy Cat Gorman

I think I mentioned that when I hit 65 recently I got Medicare health insurance. It's the insurance pool every worker in the US has paid into every week since its initiation. You know the one: The one the politicians call an entitlement. Sure: Pay in since 1971 or so, whenever it started, and then collect in 2016, and after 45  years worth of paying into the system, it's an entitlement, rather than an earned benefit.
    Okay, I'll stop the politics before I get started, cause if I get started, I ain't gonna stop.
    As soon as I got the insurance, my surgeon, the fantastic Dr. Ford from Huguley Hospital recommended a full check up. All was good, despite years of abusing myself with cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, jungle trips, being a dad and all the rest. Except for this little nodule--swear to god that's what they call it--in my lower left lung. Naturally, I panicked and looked it up on the Internet: Turns out it could be anything from a coffee stain on the hospital gown I was wearing during the X-ray, to a little nothing, to cancer. But Gritter, my Alabama doc, said not to sweat it. Given the size and location and the fact that I've had several illnesses and conditions that facilitate the formation of nodules in the lungs, it was surprising that I didn't have more.
    But the doc in Texas, Doc Thomas, he needed a CT scan to be certain.
    Today was the day for it.
     Not saying I'm not nervous and that I wasn't a little nervous going up to the place where they do the CT scan. What if it's something bad? Yes, I'm a little nervous.
    But things fell apart in the CT room.
    A CT (pronounced cat) scan machine is like a huge donut into which a bed is fitted that slides in and out of the donut hole. The patient lies on the bed and the part of the body that needs to be scanned gets slid in electronically so that the scan can be done. When they did it on my leg just prior to operating on it for the debridement of the dead material from the flesh eating bacteria, it was no big deal: Slide me in up to my thigh, take the pics/scans, pull me out.
    Today was different. Today I was having my lungs looked at, which meant that when I was slid into the donut I was going pretty far into it: Like, far.
    The machine operator was a peach. She needed to take a blood sample to check that I'd be good for an intravenous injection of iodine so that after the initial CT scans they could take an additional scan with the iodine creating bright contrast. No problem. I've had so many injections, intravenous drips and so forth in the last 5 years I don't even notice them.
    But then she had me lie down--I insisted on pillows under my head so I wouldn't totally freak out from needing to cough--and ran me into the machine to check position and so forth. Then she had me raise my arms and put them over my head so that I wouldn't bump the machine with my elbows or block the scans. Well, I had no idea just how deeply I was going into that hole and how close the operator was going to raise that table, and my face, to the inside of the donut hole. I made the mistake of opening my eyes and realized I wasn't one inch from the machine. I swear I felt like I was in an Iron Lung. You know, the tube you saw pics of that allows a person to breathe but only their head sticks out for the rest of their lives. One of my childhood fears--one of my big ones, and I still have a deal with Chuck in NYC that if I ever get put into one, he has to pull the freaking plug instantly, even if that means going to jail forever. I'll do the same for him.
    So here I was, eyes open, arms unable to help, just like in an iron lung. I did my best. I swear I did my best but could not, NOT, stop from calling out to her and telling the operator to pull me out.
    She did. In a few moments I went in again.
    Again, utter panic and I asked to be pulled out.
   She did. I apologized and asked for a few minutes. What a chicken! I called myself every name in the book. I tell people all the time that frog sweat medicine will only terrify for the first 10 minutes and that they can do 10 minutes standing on their head. I tell people in the jungle that Ayahuasca will only last two or three hours and they can do that standing on their heads. And here I couldn't do 5 minutes in that damned machine.
    I breathed in and breathed out. After I stopped calling myself names, I thought about what was at stake: I've got a small nodule in my left lung. Probably nothing. But the docs and I need to know for sure. If I walked away from the CT scan, we wouldn't know for sure. And if it's something bad, it's vital to identify it as early as possible. So was I going to allow my terror, and it was abject terror to force me to have the operator pull me from the thing twice, keep me from knowing something my doctors and I needed to know?
    I finally said, "let's get it done," and lay back down.
    She slid me into the machine. I kept my eyes closed but could feel my breath hitting it nearly the moment it left my mouth. I just kept breathing. Then the machine told me to hold my breath and the first scan was done and I was slid out for just a moment before being slid back in for the second scan. And then the third. And then the iodine was pumped in and I had to sit there in the machine for 40 seconds for it to get to where it needed to go, and then the next scan and then I was done and she pulled me out and I sat. I nearly puked. I was so sick of my terrified behavior. Big tough guy? Not on your life. Little 'fraidy cat.
   The operator handed me a cold water and said she was glad that I got through it. She said that a lot of people don't. I'm not surprised.
   But I am glad that it got done. Now, good or bad, we'll know. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Nü-nü--Amazon Snuff

I was asked to write a very short description of the Matses snuff, nu-nu. So I did. Here it is. In this length it's difficult to go into detail, but I hope I got some of it, anyway.

Nü-nü

Nü-nü is the indigenous Matsés, Mayoruna, and Matis version of what other indigenous cultures call Rapé. It is a very powerful snuff made by combining the inner bark of the Theobroma cacao tree with Nicotiana rustica, the powerful tobacco ubiquitous to Northwestern Amazonia. It is generally made by two hunters, insuring that the spirit of both will be infused in the snuff.
    The inner bark of the cacao is taken from the tree and put into a ceramic bowl filled with hot charcoal. Over a period of a couple of hours it is reduced to ash and removed from the bowl.
    The tobacco leaves are stripped of their central spine then placed on a bamboo palate over a low fire until they crumble easily. The leaves are generally kept on a very low flame so that they retain their green color.
    The tobacco leaves and cacao ash are then placed in a length of hollowed out bamboo and finely ground with a stout stick into the sealed base of the bamboo.
    When the material is fully ground it is run through a fine mesh—that might be a doubled up piece of mosquito netting, an old tee-shirt, or even a piece of a woman’s stocking—to eliminate any material that is not very finely ground.
    And that’s all there is to it.
    The Matses and other groups use the nü-nü as a hunting aid—it temporarily improves eyesight, delineates color value, adding a bit of depth to vision, and steadies the hunter’s hand. Used in large amounts, as much as 20 or more half-gram blasts through a two-foot long tube made of a hollowed out reed, hunters claim it allows them to see game in the forest a day in advance, allowing them to go to where they saw the game the following day and wait for it to arrive.
    Nü-nü instills a sense of well-being in the user along with a feeling of exhileration. It is often used in conjunction with sapo, the frog-sweat medicine.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

My friend, Crazy Richard Fowler, AKA Auckoo, has Passed

Iquitos can be a lonely place. People come from all over the world to Iquitos to soak in the jungle,  the ayahuasca, the beautiful women and handsome men. And a lot of them fall in love with the place and wind up staying there for months. Some wind up living there. But for most, living there becomes a sort of wretched endgame of their lives. If they have work, if they have a reason to get up and go do something there every day, then life is the same as it would be anywhere. But there aren't many jobs for gringos or Europeans or Aussies or Africans, so they end up bored. And if you wind up bored in Iquitos,  you wind up drinking or drugging or sexing yourself to death. I've lost a lot of people I called friends over the years, essentially from boredom.
     One friend who just died was Richard Fowler, known to all as Auckoo. He'd come slightly on the lam from a pot bust in Florida where he was a naturalist working in the Everglades. Prior to that he'd been a snake catcher for Bill Haast's Serpentarium. Settled in Iquitos, Auckoo took to the jungle, learned it, and began taking people out for pretty extraordinary trips sort of to the middle of nowhere. And then he brought them back. Safely.
     Then he married a beautiful woman and adopted her two young daughters and did his best to be a good dad. Oh, and he was also very crazy, and crazy smart. In any given conversation he'd come up with two, three things that you didn't know, which kept conversation interesting.
     Anyway, I heard that he took a bad fall--perhaps after a heart attack--and died a couple of days ago. I'll miss him when I'm in Iquitos in a couple of months. We generally met up a couple of times on each of my trips for a couple of hours. So i wrote something for him on a facebook page that other friends of his were writing on. Here's what i wrote:
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  I'll chime in as he was my friend as well. I was asked to write a couple of anecdotes about him. I could have written about the time the BBC asked me to do a TV show where I'd have to go into a pond of muddy water and come out with a caiman. I knew I might get lucky, but that Auckoo could do it blindfolded, so I passed it on to him and he looks great doing it. I could have written about him as a naturalist, because he was a very good naturalist, very quick and knowledgeable. I could have written about his struggles through the lean times and how he always kept his chin up. I could have written about the time he slammed a friend's shotgun against a tree, smashing it, and left me responsible for fixing it even though I wasn't in the country at the time of the tantrum. I could have written a lot of things because I knew him for a long time. Not intimately. I was a friend; I wasn't an intimate friend. So I didn't write those things. What I wrote was this:
    Auckoo was physically dangerous, from both training and experience. He also had something of a chip on his shoulder and so was always up to challenge someone, anyone. One evening on the Boulevard several years ago, he challenged me to go, right then, and jump into the Amazon River. Being Irish myself, I said sure. He took my hand and we ran toward the stairs leading down from the Boulevard to the Amazon River (really, the Itaya at that point, but close enough). We ran 50 feet and then he leaped into the air and into the reflecting pool that's one of the Boulevard's favorite places for both tourists and locals to get photographed. I mistimed the leap and wound up doing a bellyflop into the water, which was, after all, Amazon basin water.
    Another night, not long after I'd had a major operation that left 142 stitches in my belly from my sternum to below my navel, Auckoo approached and asked me to stand up. I did. He then came next to me, took a karate stance, and belted me in the stomach, saying: "Let's see how good this doc's work really is," as his punch landed. I was drunk but responded in kind. The next morning he approached me on the Boulevard with one hand covering his right eye: Underneath it was a huge mouse and a couple of stitches: I'd evidently gotten in a lucky shot at him. Secretly I was glad he hadn't killed me the previous night after I connected with that punch.
    And then one more time: Last year or so, Auckoo, a little bit high, as was I, approached my table and demanded that I fight him then, there. When I didn't move he said: "Okay, you know how serious I am? I want this to be a fair fight this time. No lucky punches. You don't believe me?" And with that he took his automatic out and slapped it on the table. "There. No gun." Then he reached into his vest and pulled out brass knuckles and slapped them on the table next to the gun. "No knuckles."
    He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a knife, putting it on the table with his other weapons. "No knife."
   "What else do you want?" he asked, going through his pockets, pulling out an assortment of coins, deadly weapons and cigarette lighters.
    When he was done he looked at the pile. "Pretty impressive, right? You ain't seen nothing yet!" and with that he pulled out his very tiny pomeranian or some sort of tiny dog like that and put her on the table as well. "Okay, now I'm clean. Let's go."
     I stood, as if ready to go.
     We didn't, of course. He just wanted to make certain you were ready when he challenged like that. As long as you were, you had his respect.
     Rip, Auckoo. Go catch yourself a frog or two up there.