Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tourism/Terrorism/Burma and Chepa's Baby

Until I moved to Peru I never took a guest out to the jungle whom I didn't pay for. If they came with me it was because they were my friends and I took care of them. But when we were moving down there in 1998 I knew I would need some extra money so I agreed to take people into the jungle and up to Cuzco occasionally. I prayed that I was not compromising Julio, my teacher and the great curandero, and I worked hard not to compromise him and I think I did a good job. I had a few people every couple of months and they were always wonderful people and Julio loved having them and so did I.
But when we moved back to the US it was different. When I lived there I could have things ready for a trip in a day. From the US I have to spend a week just getting my team together, and then another week or two getting hotels. For a trip I've got in October--just a few days in Cuzco/Machu Picchu--prior to my stomach operation there, and which will pay for the stomach operation, I've already spent parts of two weeks getting them all internal-Peru plane tickets and booking hotels in Lima/Cuzco/Ollantaytambo/Aguas Calientes/Puno/Copacabana and then back in Cuzco. And four of the hotels are already booked. That's a far cry from 10 years ago just saying "Chep, can you call the Nilar and tell them we need hotels for xyz days? I'll pay when I get there." From here each deal is a Western Union, which is a trip to the store and several phone calls. Ick.
And from here I've got about $4000 to spend before I can do the trip. Which means I've got to charge enough to add in that $4000 before I can make a penny (my plane fares, living expenses, a month's worth of bills here and money left to feed everyone while I'm gone). But guests don't understand that, and the woman who's organizing the October trip doesn't understand that.
Worse, her people, for the price they're paying, won't understand that to get that woman and me to Peru for their trip, nearly $8,000 of what they've paid is coming off the top, rather than going into fancy hotels.
So from where I am sitting, lots of money passes hands but there is nothing to be made other than a month's worth of bills and I would have made that here in Joshua, Texas if I stayed home.
On the other hand, getting to share good things with people looking for adventure is a great great reward in itself. So I do come away richer for the experience, if not in cash.
Now cast that against what our boys are dealing with in Iraq and Afghanistan and I'm embarrassed to even mention it. One of my son Italo's friends who did two tours with the marines in Iraq was over last night and all I can think of is what the crazy guy on Taxi told the young guy (famous actor, I forget his name but a regular on the show) when the subject of Vietnam came up and the young fellow had served there and the crazy guy hadn't. "I salute you, sir. I was against the war but all for you brave young men." Or something like that. So here I sit and bitch that I am not going to make enough money on a trip to the Andes Mountains but there are tens of thousands of our boys and girls, our young men and women, fighting in a place where people are trying to kill them and way way too often succeeding. The war stinks. It always did. But you soldiers I still admire.
And in Burma, well, I don't know what to add to the chorus. Monks with slingshots fighting against automatic weapons. I only wish the weapons misfire millions of times and that the soldiers finally realize that both they and the monks are wearing flip-flops on their feet and so they are finally the same and on the same side. I could go on on this one but I'll bet you good readers could also. Same as in Darfur. We must stop being these people and become new people. We must stop hurting ourselves in others.
And then the last note for today is that Chepa had a 3=D sonogram today and the baby, at near seven months, is looking great. I was at Madeleina's soccer game when the sonogram was happening (Madeleina's team got creamed like canned corn by a team of 12 year old's to their age limit of 10) but Chepa passed on the info.
So things are good here and I'm praying for the rest of the world.
And if the football Giants are playing tomorrow, I want Michael Strahan to stand up and be counted. If you skip all of training camp and the pre-season, you better damned well be able to come in an play.
Have a great Saturday night, everybody.

Friday, September 28, 2007

My Gut and That's the End of It

Coupla people asked so I'll answer and I'm sorry if I'm boring the rest of you two dozen. Initially burst an intestine--sort of like a balloon growing on the intesting, probably caused by 25-years of bacteria in the Amazon--and got peritonitis. Nearly died but didn't. Saved by a great surgeon in Cuzco, Peru.
Twelve days later I took a small group of fantastic people out to the jungle. I shouldn't have, but did and wound up opening up everything so that it had to be redone. It was, but the problem is that the interior is herniated: If you look at my stomach it looks like a huge alien is trying to get out. I mean this thing sticks out by a foot from what it should.
So I'm headed to Peru in a couple of weeks to have a piece of kevlar put in there to hold things together long enough for the muscles to heal. I like these muscles. I like doing 1,000 crunches a day--about half an hour--and then a couple of sets of 50 pushups. So I'm in love with these muscles despite the fat they carry over them because of my whiskey. And I want them well. And the doc says, and I'm not sure if he's kidding or not, that with the kevlar he's putting between skin layers, I ought to be able to withstand a .22--a shot from a Saturday Night Special. Which would be great. Of course, I'll have to ask people what caliber gun they are going to shoot me with, but that's a small price to pay, I figure.
And right now baby Sierra is screaming because Madeleina took one of her dolls away from her and substituted another, so I'll have to go and try to get the crying stopped.
I'll be here till the 10 of October and will try to get done two more parts of 25 Years of Shamanism for you by then. Whew. That's a lot of work but I want to get all 10 or so parts finished before the end of the year.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Really Busy, Sorry for No Posts

Okay, so I'm sorry for the group of you who come here every couple of days and havn't seen as many new posts as you're used to. I'm just real busy writing new stories and under the deadline gun. The gun is there because I've got to leave Texas in 12 days to go to Peru to get my new operation: One which promises that my huge ruptured stomach will be pushed back into place with a thin sheet of polyethelyne or kevlar because I botched the first two operations. So I'm preoccupied with getting contract work done. And then last night I wrote a lame piece that I had to delete. Long, but too self centered and about my next to last trip to the Amazon. Man, that was a hard trip for me and I wish I could blame it on the tourists but in reality I'm supposed to vet the tourists, so if I end up with people who hate me smoking 400 cigarettes a day, it's not their fault, it's mine. So I eliminated that entry.
Which leads me to this: I'm mowing lawns. I'm washing clothes. I'm investigating stories and trying to put bad guys in precarious positions. And I'm trying to be a dad and go to Madeleina's school events. And trying to take care of Chepa, who two nights ago wound up in the hospital after falling off a ladder at 6 months pregnant. I slept on the floor of the hospital room when the pain killer they gave her caused a bit of paranoia that had her thinking the hospital staff was going to kill her baby because she has no insurance. "Peter. Get over her now. It's an emergency!"
I have to admit that as a male being brought in to stave off the emergency is nearly orgasmic: "Yes! I'm a man and I'm needed for my manliness!" is what every pore screams. Blah blah blah, but it's true. Us men really do love to be called in when other humans fail. Man, that makes us feel like a million bucks, even if it comes from an ex-wife.
Anyway, for those and a million other reasons I haven't blogged much last week. Trust that Madeleina is playing her third soccer game Saturday, that Marco and Italo are working and healthy, that Italo's Sarah, who lives with us, is getting ready to make a break from waitressing at Wild Buffalo Wings and move on to a private company. Trust that Chepa is still the most beautiful woman on the planet and that she and her baby Sierra as well as her unborn baby whatever are doing fine. And trust that I'm okay but just extra busy. So while I don't mean to let you readers slide, I'm in a bind and have to let something go. Even if just for a few days. My apology to each of you.
Hey! On the bright side, in two to three weeks the doc in Cuzco, Peru is going to give me a full cross scar. Peel away the flesh on my stomach and chest and put in his plastic or Kevlar and then I'm gonna be flat-stomached and handsome again. Which will be good. Because for the last three months, with this operations' partial failure and my guts hanging out and only kept in check by a girdle, I've felt like less of a person than normal. Yesterday, for instance, I saw two 18-year-old girls pushing an SUV off Interstate -35 and there was nothing I could do to help them but give them a thumbs up. My stomach stitching simply isn't strong enough to push an Escalade. But my heart is strong enough to lift one. Physical limitations.
Damn you, Jonny Wadd.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Old Truck Looking Good

Mostly small stuff today because I feel sort of small. I had a fight with a best friend last night--and I was in the wrong. Feel awful. Drank too much then called him and after a good talk, first in months, an old issue came up that's been nagging at us both and it began as my fault. I should know better than to get on the phone when I'm drinking. I do know better. I did it anyway and messed up. I guess the issue needed to surface and I didn't have the guts when sober. I still feel lousy and small. I guess I am today. I'll try to be stronger next time, Chuck. Sorry.
Other than dad, the rest of the crew is doing great. Madeleina played her second soccer game yesterday, and while they lost--they tied the first one--she made a couple of good plays on defense, enough to get her into the game and make her feel part of things. She'll get better over time, but I'm still proud to watch her. Makes me feel like a regular soccer mom.
And Italo and Marco finally had their names officially changed to Gorman on Thursday. Been a long time waiting for that but it's done and all that remains is sending in the paperwork to Social Security, driver's licensing bureau and half a dozen other places and we'll be set. I was so proud.
And then for a present to me--one I didn't know was coming--they had the car taken to a professional cleaning place and had that 14-year-old interior worked on until it is nearly spotless. I mean old coffee stains and the general filth of seats being sat in hundreds of thousand of times and they're all gone. Smells like a new car. To beat that they put in a new sound system. Unfreaking believeable. And the polish on the exterior just shines, shines, shines. They're growing up.
Little Sierra's on the couch behind me. She's eating Altoids. She's gorgeous. I got so much good in my life but I sure messed up last night. What a jerk.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What Compromises a Curandero

The question recently came up of whether curanderos/ayahuasqueros who work with gringos would be among those chosen if curanderos were needed to save the universe. The implication was: Do curanderos who work with gringos, rather than just locals on a river or on a city block, lose their authentic power, whatever that might be? I don't think so. So this was my answer. For whatever it's worth, of course....

Would the curanderos who treat westerners and locals (I know of none who exclusively treat westerners, though there might be some I don't know of) be among those chosen to save the universe in a moment of necessity? Sure. They're not lame because they treat westerners. They just happen to live near where westerners visit.
If you go on the 5th block of Pablo Rossel in Iquitos and find the curandero who lives there and holds ceremony every Tuesday and Friday for 30-50 people (of whom perhaps 2 or 3 drink with him) you'd find he would welcome gringos. He just doesn't know any. He's already serving the community and if a gringo asked to be part of the community he'd be welcome. If you go to the 12th block of Jivari in Iquitos and find the curandera who lives there, she'd welcome you as well. And if she did she'd be one of the people who serve gringos ayahuasca. Would that diminish her work? Doubt it.
What would diminish the work--if that's what the real question is--would be something that threw the curandero out of balance: a desire for women or men that they didn't or couldn't control; jealousy that affected their intent; greed, or anger or alcohol abuse. Any of those can come with the power that the money from gringos brings. But those things can grow anywhere where things are out of balance, even in the rainforest.
The only official apprentice I ever knew Julio, my friend and teacher, to have was Salis Navarro. He got hired to serve ayahuasca once a week to one of the big tour company's guests in the late 1980s, early 1990s. He was a forest man all the way. But within months--after dozens of men and women had thrown themselves at his feet--he foolishly believed he was important (more important than the medicine) and seduced a Matses man's wife; one of three wives of my friend Antonio, a young Matses warrior. Antonio blew his stomach out with a shotgun when his wife told him Salis had seduced her against her will.
The corruption can come from anywhere. Julio used to say to remember always that the medicine was the doctor, and the curandero was only given permission to use it. Once the curandero believed he was the medicine, or that it was his right to use the medicine, he'd lost his balance and would soon fall.
I always thought that was a good way to look at it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Son Marco's Birthday

Today is my son Marco's 19th birthday. All right, everybody: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARCO!
It's been a fairly amazing life with him so far. No one, with the exception of his mother, ever tested me, pushed me, prodded me, like Marco has. Difficult would not begin to touch it. Yet I love him thoroughly and wonderfully.
I met Marco when he was just 4. I'd fallen in love with his mom and asked her to marry me. She didn't take me seriously: Gringos in Iquitos fall in love easily--as do the girls--but there's a long way between falling in love and marrying a woman with two young boys, like Chepa had. Didn't matter to me: though I'd never wanted kids I knew that with her it would be no problem.
I shoulda run when I had the chance...or at the very least when I saw Marco, always thin, out in front of a joint called Ari's Burger--at the time the only place where a gringo could go to get a cup of coffee--his arms cleverly hidden in his shirt, posing as an armless urchin and begging money from tourists. I might have run when we got to New York and he was about 6 and I took the family grocery shopping for the first time. It was a nice supermarket, a Gristedes, and when we paid and got out I realized Marco was eating a candy bar. The problem was I hadn't bought any. So I sort of went crazy and dragged him back into the store and called for the manager and made Marco pay for the candy he'd stolen--my money, of course--and apologize. Marco wasn't happy, and asked if he could keep the other candy. "What other candy?" I asked in front of the manager. Marco smiled and took out more than a dozen candy bars and packages of gum and then glumly turned them over when told he couldn't keep them.
We got outside and I was still lecturing on the evils of stealing when Marco, unphased, reached into one of his coat pockets and pulled out a candy bar and offered it to me. Nothing I could do but laugh at that point. Kid must have had 10 more than he'd turned in. But the lesson wasn't lost on him. Steal. Apologize and return some. Keep the rest. Dad will laugh.
And I should have known it would be difficult between me and Marco when once, in Iquitos we had to walk from Belen--the market--back to the Hotel Isabel where we were staying, a good 8 block walk. Well Marco, then probably 7, didn't want to do it. So I carried him, then I dragged him, kicking and screaming, and finally just left him to follow Chepa and I to a joint around the corner from the hotel where we were going to get a beer. Marco came in and sat at a table nearby but wouldn't look at us. We had a soda brought for him but while he drank the soda he still wouldn't look at us.
A few minutes later several police, all armed with automatics, came in and looked around the joint. They asked who we were. I told them and asked what was up. They said they'd received a report that a gringo and a local girl had been seen dragging a child down the street and they thought it was an abduction. They asked if we knew the boy at the table near us. I told them he was our son, Vinny (he changed his name to Marco when he was 10 or so). They walked over to him and asked if we were his parents. Very deliberately he shook his head no. They asked if he'd ever seen us before and he shook his head no. They asked if we'd dragged him down the street and he nodded his head, yes. Took me and Chepa about two hours and half-a-dozen beers for the cops until they believed our story.
But then he got sick and nearly died and when the nurses couldn't find veins--he was on medication that swelled him up--I had to hold him down for the nurses to take blood and man, you should never have to hold down your son for his own good like that. He screamed wildly, three times a day while the nurses searched for blood under his fingernails, from his thighs, under his tongue, anywhere they could find even the littlest vein.
In New York once at grammer school I got a call from the school principle saying Marco had been in a fight. I asked if he was alright. She said yes, but that the other kid had a broken nose and the police would be calling. Then she added that the kid had been picking on Marco for days and Marco had put up with it until that morning when the kid jumped on his back and he turned around and lashed out and broke his nose. "You should have seen it, Mr. Gorman. It was wonderful to see that bully just lay down and cry. You've got a great kid there."
I got another call from his middle school a couple of years later. "This is Sgt. Broklen, NYPD. We've got your son down here at the school and we need you to come down and talk with us."
I got on my bicycle and was there in three minutes flat. They told me Marco had a butterfly knife at school. They showed me a zerox copy of it and asked if I knew it. I said it was mine, part of my collection of interesting things like butterfly knives.
The story was that Marco had brought it to school and traded it with a kid for two dollars. The other kid took it out to show it off, was caught and asked where he got it. He ratted on Marco, hence the call to me. The cop was fine, just wanted to let me know that while Marco hadn't shown it to people or scared people or anything, he still shouldn't/couldn't bring things like butterfly knives to school anymore.
One of the assistant principles got upset. "That's all? Just a reprimand?" she demanded, and when the officer said he didn't see the need for anything further she added: "DO you know what he did with the two dollars? He bought pornography!" She flashed a rolled up magazine in front of me and the others in the room.
"Now just hold on a sec," I interrupted. "I'm very angry that Marco stole my knife. I'm angry that he doesn't realize that when he sold it he might be selling it to someone who could hurt other people with it. But the fact that a 12-year-old was later caught having used the money from the sale of the knife for pornography is not a bad thing. That's a good and normal thing. He's supposed to have porno at that age. May I see the magazine?"
"No you may not!"
"Well, then, can you at least tell me if it's straight or gay pornography so I'll know how to deal with him on sexual issues?"
The woman almost feinted; the cop nearly busted a gut laughing.
When we moved to Texas Marco didn't change. First party we had one of his friends--who has since gone on to be a professional bull rider--broke off the nipple from our house air conditioning unit and all the kids huffed the freon. I didn't find out about it till the next Spring when we went to use the air conditioner and there was no gas. I went through the roof and thanked the creator that none of them died.
Couple of years ago he called me from a party and asked me to pick him up. He was dead drunk. Police had come to the party after the kids started a bonfire behind the house. Marco had to walk a line and failed miserably but for some reason didn't arrest him. That was nice of him. I wasn't nearly as nice. Bonfires in Texas have a way of getting out of hand. Marco got the point. Not that night, of course, but the next day, while he was ill. The hangover turned him off alcohol.
On the other hand, after having broken every electronic device we ever owned up until he was 15, he can now fix any electronic device on the planet. And after not doing homework--except under threat of murder by me--he managed to graduate from high school last year with pretty good grades and a very legit diploma. And now he's working and getting to be more of a man every day. And he still hugs me and has learned how to say please and thank you over the years and I think he's going to turn out to be one hell of a man.
Thanks for being my son, Marco. Happy Birthday, boy.

Investigation 101

Don't mean to bore you all with another story about writing, but someone wrote recently--after a new cover story investigative piece of mine came out in the local alternative weekly I work for--and asked how long it took me to dig up the dirt I was dishing. He wrote because he's about to enter journalism school and was thinking about being an investigative reporter.
I told him about the weeks/months/dozens of interviews involved but the real key, aside from always making another phone call, doing one more interview, cross-checking one more time, is being creative when you have to.
I just wrote about the circumstances of how I became a writer, but I didn't say how I became an investigative journalist. This is it.
I'd done some stories for High Times on ayahuasca, nu-nu, the phychedelic plant doctor and maybe one other, when I got a call to come to the offices. There, my editor in chief talked to me about Earth First! There had just been a big story about them in, I think, Rolling Stone or Esquire, and my boss wanted the High Times version. The big story was wonderfully written, but as Earth First! leaders were all wanted by the FBI at the time there was no new talk from any of them in the piece. So my boss, Steve Hager, told me he wanted an interview with Judi Bari or Darryl Cherney of Dave Foreman or any of them. "Something fresh. Something nobody else has," he said.
Which was great. I had no idea where to even start. Hell, if the FBI couldn't find them, how the heck could I?
I'd never done an investigation before, at least not like this. So I went back over the piece in the other magazine. Over and over. I looked at the pictures of the people in Earth First! to see if there was a clue. Nothing.
Essentially, I was perfectly willing to give up because it was an impossible task. I had nothing to go on at all.
And then maybe two or three weeks after Hager had asked for the story, I was watching a football game in my apartment in NYC when a lightbulb went off over my head. I jumped up and went back to look at the pictures of the Earth First! crew again. And there it was: Dave Foreman looked like a bear of a man. A big guy. The kind of guy who probably played high school football. And probably still liked to watch football. And maybe liked to drink beer while he did.
The article said that Foreman had grown up--if I'm remembering correctly--in Wyoming, or had some Wyoming connection so I decided to start there. There was no Internet at the time, and I wouldn't use a computer for another 3-4 years (I think this was 1988), so I got on the horn and called Information and got the first five alphabetical names and phone numbers of bars/restaurants in Wyoming. Five was all the phone lady would give me. So I called back and got five more. And again and again until I had I think--again, if I remember correctly--283 bar names, addresses and phone numbers for the state. Thank god it was Wyoming and not California.
Then I began making calls. It took days. At each I'd say something like "I'm Peter Gorman from High Times magazine. I'm trying to reach Dave Foreman. If anyone knows him can you pass this number along? I want to talk with him."
I think I was through about 130 or so, about half the list, a week later, when I was watching football on the next Sunday again and the phone rang. "Is this Peter Gorman?" "Yes." Click.
The next day it happened again. "Is this Peter Gorman?" "Yes." Click.
There were no phones with caller ID back then, or redial, so I had no idea who or what it was about and didn't think about it much.
The next day the same phone call.
And then the fourth day it started the same. "Is this Peter Gorman?" "Yes." Pause. "This is Dave Foreman. You wanted to talk with me?"
Man, you should have seen my heart beat just then. I was on the phone with a guy the FBI was actively looking for and couldn't find. What a thrilling moment that was.
I don't know that my interview was all that great, to be honest, but it still made the cover of High Times and from that point on I thought of myself as an investigative reporter.
Years later, while I was interviewing everyone I could think of that was connected with early years of LSD, from Leary to Beresford, to Ram Dass to Ginsberg to Hofmann, I was trying to reach Ken Kesey. Wavy Gravy had given me Kesey's private line--I think it was Fish Lips or some such--but warned me that Kesey didn't generally take phone calls. I called his home and spoke with his wife--she said he wouldn't speak with me. I called the Fish number several times and got no answer. But I really wanted Kesey to be part of the 50 Years of LSD special issue of High Times that Bill Weinberg and I were putting together.
And then it was a Saturday and I was in the apartment and the Oregon college game was on in the background. And then it hit me, just like it hit me with Foreman: Kesey was a wildman but must love football. Still, if he did, he wasn't going to answer the phone during the game. So I waited till halftime and the moment the half ended I was on the phone and sure enough he answered. I blurted out: "It's halftime so I know you got 10 minutes. I want to talk about LSD. This is Peter Gorman and I already got Ginsberg and Ken Babbs and I need you...."
It all came out as one long word, I'll bet. Nonetheless, he laughed. "How the fuck did you know I'd be watching the game? And don't waste time, the clock's ticking."
And then he told me about LSD.
So I guess football has been very very good to me.
And investigations, when they pan out, are freaking fantastic.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

How I Wound Up Being a Writer

Okay, this may not be something people care about much, but lately for some reason I've been reliving some of my past, both in waking and dreaming time. It's been on me and I've not been able to shake it. Perhaps I'm trying to get rid of some stuff that my intestinal explosion couldn't eliminate. Anyway, I don't know that this is of interest, but I hope it is. That said,......

I was the fourth of six kids born to Madeleine and Thomas Gorman in Whitestone, Queens, in a time when Whitestone still had a couple of farms left and a huge swamp, Dupey's, where there were snakes, possum, quail, turtles and so forth, all of which wound up in our back yards sometimes. It was country living in New York City in the 1950s and it was great. As an Irish family, or at least as our Irish family, we were all expected to supplement our 10-15-25 cent allowances with jobs, and at age 6 my job was taking in the neighbors trash cans on pickup days. I probably had 5 clients and I wasn't very good, but then I was only 6 years old. By 8 I was the night delivery boy for Frankel's Pharmacy, bringing drugs and diapers to 10-15 people daily for three hours, while Mr. Frankel, the pharmacist, ground his potions and put them in capsules for his clients. By 10 I worked as a soda jerk at Joe's, a soda/ice cream/newspaper joint on 24th avenue. I could make the heck out of an egg cream, a float, a banana split and so forth. And if you asked for a half-pint of ice cream, I filled that thing till the flaps couldn't possibly close.
My brother and sisters did the same. Mike was the oldest. He's now a judge in the Bronx and a lawyer/investigator for another lawyer part time. He retired from the NYC Police Dept a lieutenant about 10 years ago with 30 years on the job. During that time he became a lawyer and prosecuted dirty cops. But he was/is a fair guy. If he caught guys sleeping on the job he'd find out how many days they were on patrol, and if it seemed like a lot to him--having done patrol for years--he'd find a way to botch the case and the guy would be off the hook. Mike always did have a good sense of fairness.
Growing up, Mike was a great athlete. He played baseball for Archbishop Molloy high school--one of the best in the country at the time--and later for St. John's University, a perennial top-20 baseball school in the early to mid-sixties. He later played ball for a sort of Mets Class D farm team: he and others weren't going to make the pros, but a lot of pros on the mend from physical ailments or alcohol or drugs played on those teams with him, so it had some class. And until he turned 63 he still batted 4th and played first base for a baseball league. He never made the pros, was never signed. He was fast but not blinding; hit well but not exceptionally; played good defence but not brilliant defence; threw well but not fantastically. And the pros only go by those four things. So while he might have been able to hit .290 in the pros, without the power, or speed, or fantastic arm, he didn't catch their eyes. I know because I spoke with lots of scouts who came to see him and I was the team batboy. They always said: He's great, but doesn't do one of the four keys so well that we can't skip him. Man, that stuff made me want to die, because I watched Mike work out all year long, put weights on the end of a bat and swing it 100 times a day in the basement of our house, helped him play infield by hitting sometimes 50 balls daily to him on rocky fields and knew how good he really was.
Pat was second. She was a great artist from the git go. I've written about her before on this blog so I won't go into it here, except to remind you that she's brilliant, recognized by Time Magazine as having designed one of the top 100 designs of the Century--the MTV logo, which changed the face of design--and had Sting as a personal client for 10 years. She also won an Emmy or two, was full scholarship to Pratt and so forth.
Peg was a baton twirling thing of beauty. She teamed with Pat on some awesome doubles but as a solo she was North American East Coast singles champ one year, just to give you an idea.
Now my dad, Thomas B. Gorman, was an actor. He did 2,000 television shows and 7 Broadway shows and once had his name aboe the title of Gore Vidal's Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize Winning play The Best Man, after he replaced Lee Tracy as Art Hocksteader in that. "TOM GORMAN in GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN" at the Morosco theater. So he was good.
And my mom was a radio actress credited with coining the "des, dem, dos" version of Brooklynese on a radion show created for her. She later raised us all, then went back to school, became a teacher, and finally returned to the stage before she died.
So then here I am. I'm the fourth. It seemed like every possible thing was taken. What the heck was I supposed to shine at?
Well, one of the things my brother Mike made me do for a winter one time was write jokes. I had to write jokes for 3 hours every Saturday morning as a discipline. My father, before he made it as a character actor, had been Arthur Godfrey's main joke writer, and had written for Robert Q. Lewis and Henry Morgan and others, so Mike thought we ought to do that. So I got used to writing.
And then in high school, at Bishop Reilly HS, in Queens, NY, everyone in the school had to write something creative for the Robert Frost Competition, something John F. Kennedy had mandated while still president and alive. All high school kids in the whole USA had to submit something.
I submitted a poem and won a second place among sopohmores at my school. Which meant I won. And nobody in my house had ever won a prize for writing before. So I thought I might become the writer of the Gormans and let the others do what they did. I was so darned proud.
By the next year I won a first prize and a third prize, and in my senior year I won national honorable mention for a play I wrote that was later staged at my school. Now that was something.
So I thought of myself as a writer and wrote throughout college. I managed to get four plays produced off-off Broadway, even got covered by local tv news a couple of times. I was supposed to be an up-and-comer. But then my last play got produced at the Lincoln Center Library Theater--which sat 400 and was free to the public--and the public didn't like it. They threw fruit at the actors, stood and ranted, and so forth. I didn't realize at the time--I mean I saw it but didn't really realize it--that the library theater was afternoon home to a lot of homeless people who had strong views and liked to share them. Nonetheless, I was humiliated and stopped writing plays.
Instead I wrote novels: Nobody published them. I wrote a children's book called "I've Never Seen A Cat Do That" ((Uncle to nephew):"Or a cat who goes walking with a pack on his back, moving through woods that are darker than black?(Nephew to uncle): I've never seen a cat do that. (Uncle to nephew): Have you heard of the cat who tames tigers by banks of the river? He keeps them all happy by feeding them liver. (Nephew to uncle): I've never seen a cat do that...") which was so brilliantly illustrated by a pal that one of the big kids' book publishers wanted it until she tore all the original drawings up.
So I turned to short stories after college and won some prizes, had maybe 20 published in small mags and journals and earned about $30 each--not a lot for a month of work. But I was earning a living driving a taxi, and then later cooking, and then later being a chef in good NYC joints and writing when I could.
Then I got a call from an editor, my first editor-call ever, asking me if I'd write a piece about Sex in New York. I'd never done a non-fiction piece before. The paper was The Aquarian, a weekly music mag out of New York city with an editor/owner, Jim Rensinbrink, who liked to publish poetry and fiction and who had published maybe five of my stories by then. So I did it. And then another. And then I headed down to Peru with pals and sent him one piece a week on our travels. And when I got home I discovered he'd gone out of business and all my pieces had been returned to me.
So I looked them over. They were good. I investigated a bit and found a book on marketing magazine stories and sent them out to the places that seemed appropriate. Walking Magazine sent me a contract for $700 for a piece on the Inca Trail; International Living sent me a $200 dollar contract for a piece on a little Amazon town called Requena. Two or three others were also sold and then finally High Times mag sent me a contract for $300 for a story on my having taken ayahuasca, the wonderful jungle medicine.
Man, I was hooked on non-fiction. All my years of writing fiction had brought in maybe a grand. One seven-week trip produced more than two grand, just for having fun and paying attention to where I was.
The following year I returned to the Amazon and sold High Times three stories for nearly a grand each, more than paying for the trip, and a year after that Penthouse bought a story. Then Omni, then Playboy, then Geo, and Die Zeit and Wildlife Conservation and dozens of others. Suddenly I made 25 grand in a year as a writer and was able to go part time as a chef. I loved being a chef, loved inventing one new dish daily--my credo/my discipline--but after 18 years I was getting tired of it. And then here this was. And then High Times hired me to be their drug war reporter and the next thing you knew, 10 years later, I was the editor in chief there. Wow. Time flies and so does life but I hope I made a difference in the lives of some people by getting them freed of prison, or getting them to realize the realities of what they were doing, and even finally helping get major laws changed, like when Henry Hyde had an aide call me for my forfeiture series and then began working for a change in the forfeiture laws.
And somehow, somehow, I've been able to raise this crazy family of mine on investigative reporting for nearly 20 years now, just like my father raised us on being a character actor. I'll bet he's happy if he looks at me. He knows I try really hard.
Anyway, more than anyone needed to know. I was just a kid trying to do something special that my brother and sisters didn't do and that little Robert Frost contest third-place win was the thing.
Who'd have guessed a little thing like that would sort of direct a life's work, eh?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ganja on the Ganges

Okay. Some of you might have seen this in Cannabis Culture about a year ago. Some of you might have seen it on my archives. But I just re-read it and laughed so I think it's still got some punch. I know it's got mention of ganja, like the last piece did, but what the heck...I feel like adding this to the blog and so I'm gonna do just that. Enjoy.

Ganja on the Ganges

By Peter Gorman

It was 1988 and I was already well into my 30s before I got to India. Everyone in the whole world arrived before me but I didn’t mind: India is just too damned India-ish for all the hippies, hypsters, gawkers or squalkers to change it much. Pale-skinned Hare Krishnas at the Bombay airport paled in comparison with real Sadhus—holy men—and their followers; St. Patrick’s Cathedral was a simple stone building when compared with the Taj Mahal; traffic jams on the LA Freeway were a walk in the park next to the camels, sacred cows, rickshaws, cars, trucks and sea of humanity that pushed through Pushcar during the annual Mela.
I’d been there about a month before I got to Varanasi, the most sacred city in India. During that time I was in a constant state of open-mouthed wonder at everything I saw and heard: 30 days wasn’t nearly enough time to completely eliminate the culture shock of being in a place where rats are sometimes worshipped while an entire class of people are considered untouchable. To ease my transition I’d indulged in several recently-outlawed-but-readily-available treats: I’d smoked pot in Bombay, eaten magic mushrooms in Kodaikanal, smoked bowls of opium in Madras, had chillum’s full of charras in Agra and drank quantities of bhang lassis in Rajasthan. Still, nothing quite prepared me for Varanasi.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it’s as holy for Muslims and Buddists as it is for Hindus. Shiva, according to one legend, is supposed to have laid down and where his body was the river Ganges flowed. It is a city of narrow streets and ancient buildings, the birthplace of Indian art and culture. In Varanasi there are 365 holy days a year and a temple exists to commemorate each. For Hindus, a Pilgrimage to Varanasi and a bath in its waters liberates the soul forever from returning to human form. To have one’s ashes thrown into the Ganges, along which Varanasi was built, assures one of reaching eternal bliss.
The city teems with life. Its markets overflow with the most beautiful saris and silk weavings in all of India. Bowls of fine powdered chalk the women mark their foreheads with come in colors that could make a rainbow blush. Wood carvers and fine painters abound. Sacred cows share space with roaming monkeys. Music from sitars and flutes echoes from every corner and down each alley; car horns blare in contest with the wailing of mourners carrying their dead to the ghats by the river to be burned.
I’d arrived with no place to stay but quickly found a cheap room in a ramshackle hotel, then headed out into the thick of it. In the street the hustlers asked if I wanted their charras and the beggars held out their hands for rupees. I ignored the hustlers and gave the beggars what I could. I was on a mission. I wanted to find the last legal government bhang shops in India. I was told they were not far from the Ganges, near the burning ghats, and that the government allowed them to stay open so the dead could be burned with a little treat to make their trip to the afterlife more pleasant.
I wound through streets and alleys in a slightly downhill fashion, and in perhaps an hour or two I’d reached the water. The sun was setting and the river was golden. It was also low, and I could see rows of people standing on a sandbar in the middle of it. Small boats lined the bar in front of the people.
I asked someone nearby if one could rent a boat for a trip on the river. The fellow, who spoke English, shook his head side to side and said "Yes. You can be having a boat. But not here. For getting a boat you must walk back up the hill to the first street, then down to the next street where they are having boats."
I asked him if he knew where there were any government bhang shops. Again he shook his head ‘no’ while while saying yes.
"In the streets before the boats where there are the burning ghats there are several. But if you would like some charras I have a cousin who…"
I cut him off, thanked him and left before he had the chance to lure me to a carpet or jewelry shop where I would be stuck looking for hours at beautiful carpets or ornate jewelry that I didn’t want and couldn’t afford.
In no time I arrived at a row of little wooden shacks that were locked up for the day. I couldn’t read the writing on their signs but could smell the cannabis and knew I was in the right place. Down the street I could see a dozen or more boats moored to poles at water’s edge. I decided to come back at dawn then headed back to my room through the bustling streets.
In the morning I awoke early and headed back to the little wooden shacks. As I drew near the streets grew thick with people, mostly mourners, carrying their dead. Some were carried on liters, their bodies wrapped in simple white cotton cloth; others were drawn in carriages with colorful silk burial shrouds adorned in flowers and beads. All of the groups were making their way down narrow lanes to the burning ghats. I let them pass and made my way to one of the now-open shacks.
Inside, a gaunt, shirtless man sat on his haunches on a raised platform with a rolling pin in his hand. On the floor next to him was a large, open newspaper-bound bundle of pale yellow-green cannabis stalks. A young boy placed a handful of the stalks on a sort of cutting board in front of the man, who began rolling them with his pin as if he were rolling flour. From a shelf behind him he took a container and poured a little of what looked like oil onto the stalks as he worked them: the oil mixed with the plant material and in no time he had turned the cannabis into a green, gooey paste. He scooped it up and quickly made about 30 little balls from it that he put on a tray and handed to another young man who was selling them to the passersby. I bought one and bit into it: it wasn’t very good and I swallowed as quickly as I could. The boys laughed and told me it was better in lassi, the yogurt drink.
I watched their father work for maybe half-an-hour before my body began to rush and the world around me begin to throb. The boys saw that I was getting high and laughed between themselves. I bought another ball, ate it, thanked them and began to make my way toward the dock.
The walk took more effort than I anticipated: my legs were wobbly and the narrow passage’s walls seemed to close in on me. Worse, a family carrying a dead loved one was hurrying to the ghats just behind me and I couldn’t walk any faster—the rush was coming on strong—but I had no way to get out of their way. One of the men in front, a large man with a bushy moustache asked me something in a foreign language. I tried to answer but my mouth wouldn’t work. He began to glower at me and I leaned back against the wall, trying to become one with it so that he and his family could pass. It didn’t work. I was still in the way and there was no room for the men carrying the liter to pass me. Unfortunately, I was hardly able to move just then and stood where I was, an impediment to their beloved getting to his deserved bliss.
The man began to shout at me and the entire family picked up on the cue. I didn’t know what they were saying but the words were coming out like cartoon letters from their mouths, colorful and large and not at all pleasant. I was at a loss and feeling completely wretched that I’d interrupted someone’s shining moment with the thoughtless act of eating a bhang ball. Worse, it occurred to me that I’d eaten a second and that everything was going to get even more complicated when that kicked in.
The family’s now angry voices brought me back to the alley. I had to think of something or we’d be stuck there forever. Just then the god of cannabis came forward and gave me an inspiration. I pushed out from the wall and stood in front of the liter. I indicated to the lead man that he should lift the liter and that I would help pass it over my head as they walked by. He understood and did as I suggested. I helped raise the dead and then began to help pass it, hand-over-hand. I had a brief vision in which I saw myself dropping the corpse and nearly collapsed, but managed to hold it together until it was in front of me. To my surprise the family didn’t stop to thank me for the ingenious solution to the apparent impasse but simply kept walking to the river.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Behind me I could hear sounds and turned to see another family bearing another loved bearing down on me. I fairly forced my body to move. I couldn’t go through that again. I put one hand on the wall to my right to steady myself, and made my way down the alley. It couldn’t have been more than 100 feet but it took an eternity, what with the walls and floor breathing unevenly and the family behind me gaining with every step. When I finally reached the sunlight I lurched around the corner of the building and held on for dear life while the family flew by like a merciless locomotive.
In a few minutes the sunlight invigorated me and I could look around without feeling helpless. In front of me, to my left and right and not too far, groups of people surrounded the cremating corpses of their loved ones. White smoke rose from the fires to the heavens. Other families waited. Other groups carried bundles of what I supposed were ashes from other ghats to the boats, then piled in and the oarsmen took them into the river. Further off to the left and right I could see huge groups of people bathing along the banks of the Ganges, fulfilling their sacred obligations to make the once in a lifetime Pilgrimage to this holy place.
I don’t know how long I stood leaning against the corner of that building but I know I didn’t move until I felt I could make the short trip to where the boats were without falling. When I finally left my legs still wobbled beneath me, but did as I asked.
Before I even reached the boats several men approached me with the glint of tourist money in their eyes. "Boat tour?" they all seemed to ask, their faces slightly misshapen in my altered vision. They all looked like people I did not want to be with just then and I waved them off, pushing through them to an old man who was still sitting in his boat, eating.
"Can I rent your boat?" I asked. He kept eating and didn’t answer. I thought that maybe the words hadn’t actually come out of my mouth so I repeated my question. He still didn’t answer. I leaned down and touched him on the shoulder and he turned his head just enough to indicate with his eyes that if I was coming I should get in. I did, crouching low so as not to fall off the other side as the boat lurched with my weight. I managed to stablize and sit.
The man still hadn’t said a word and he didn’t stop eating. He had chapati—flat bread—and a sort of stew in an aluminum pot and he was scooping the stew with the bread. It looked wonderful and I wanted some. I was ravenous. I stared at him, hoping he’d get the message that he should share that wonderful pot of food. He ignored me. I began to wonder if I’d misread his eye signal. Maybe he hadn’t invited me into the boat at all. I began to get a little edgy that perhaps I should leave, but was much too comfortable to move, so determined to sit until he either asked me to leave or began to row.
Fortunately, he eventually put the pot down, stood, untied the boat from its piling and pushed off into the river.
"Do you want to go close to the burning?" he asked suddenly, unexpectedly, in good English.
"Um, what? No. No. I don’t. That’s private. Just the river. The river’s good."
The words tumbled out and clattered together. The man laughed.
"Bhang. Not talking good."
He turned so that his back was facing me and began to row us out toward the sand bar. We nearly reached it when he turned the boat and began to row parallel to the city on the river’s bank. I stared in near awe: There, rising up on a hill was what looked like a wall of ancient building close on each other. Dozens of temples painted white and blue or left the color of clay rose next to homes and old military buildings. In front of them at the river bank were funeral pyres and boats moving goods and hundreds of people bathing in the river. It was as if I was looking into a sort of heart, throbbing with life, and motion and bustle. It was at once magnificent and wretched, beautiful and awful. It was inspiring. I felt a rush of joy. I might have been looking at the center of the universe. This was truly the most holy of places. Many of the people I could see bathing had probably waited years to be able to step into that water. The plumes of smoke rising from the burnings meant everything to those families. Good for them, I thought. Good that they'd made it. I hoped they got everything they wanted.
"Beautiful, my city," the oarsman said, waving his hand at the sight.
"Very," I answered.
"Shiva lives here."
I couldn’t do anything but grin. Shiva lives here. Of course.
"Budda came here."
I remembered a story I’d been told about Budda. When he first came to the Ganges, the nine Nagas—the snake dieties that hold the world together—who lived by the river each made themselves into a bridge so that Budda could cross. Budda looked at the nine Naga bridges and, not wanting to offend any of them, made himself into nine Buddas and crossed them all.
"You are here," the man said. "Too bad you are not Hindu or you would be promised everlasting life."
I laughed.
We rowed in silence for a little while. The bhang’s effect was beginning to abate and I was thirsty. I reached over the side of the river and scooped a handful of the water and drank it. It tasted wonderful. I scooped another handful. Even better. On the third handful though I came up with what looked like a piece of finger and tossed the water back.
The boatman must have seen me because he burst out laughing. "Don’t drink that. It’s full of body pieces. Not everyone can afford the wood to completely reduce the bodies to ash. They still throw them in the river. Watch."
He quickly brought the boat near the sandbar and began to stir up the sand with his oar: bits of bone, whole bones, body parts began to float around in the water. I began to feel sick.
"You are looking like you are going to vomit. Please vomit over the side and not in my boat."
I didn’t. In a little while we began to head back.
By the time we reached the dock I felt strong enough to walk easily. I paid him, disembarked and began to head back to the alley.
"Don’t forget," the boatman called after me. "Shiva lives here. Welcome to my city."

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Friend, Phil Blumenau

I guess everybody has someone who taught them how to live. For some it was teachers, for some their parents. For me it was Phil Blumenau.
I was 18. I was probably already problematic, having helped start an undergroung paper at my high school, Bishop Reilly in Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York, being a baseball player and an actor at school and someone who would sell poems to other students to enter into the annual Robert Frost Competition that John F. Kennedy demanded every high school student be part of. But then I went to Hunter College of the City University of New York, a great university. I entered Hunter, perhaps the most famous nursing and education facility in the US in 1969, just the second year it was integrated--it had always been a girls' school--and the ratio was something like 9-to-1 females to males. And there I was, a functioning male. For a kid who had never masturbated--sad but true--being in that environment where I was around that many girls gave me essentially a permanent erection: to the point where my extremely Catholic mom asked if I was trying to show off. Hah! I wish.
In my anthropology class in my freshman year--an auditorium class of perhaps 200, there was one guy who caught my eye. He was a longhair like me, but he had an air about him that showed a sophistication I'd never seen before in someone so young. He seemed to know that he was doing. He wore an afghan coat that was in style that year, but he wore it with an ease I'd never seen. His blond hair was straight, his blue eyes piercing....I guess if I was gay I'd have fallen in love. As it was, I wasn't but I still fell in love with him.
I met him when I missed a couple of anthro 101 classes and needed notes. I asked if I could borrow his. He said okay but he wanted them back. I said Okay and returned them a couple of days later. We became fast friends. There was a girl who like me named Darryl and Darryl (hello, Darryl, wherever you are) and she and I would borrow my mom's car and drive to Philip's mom's house in Queens Village and neck in the area's private streets. We got caught by the cops once and were pretty naked. They let us go after taking about 30 minutes while looking at the 6-foot Darryl and we didn't consummate until after I broke into Phil's friend, Naomi Pelzig's Amstermdam Ave and 91st street apartment to have sex with Darryl. Great break-in. The cops were called then too--probably why I am shy around women as the cops always seem to be talking about my private parts when I'm naked and they catch me.
It was worth it for Darryl, who became a fantastic educator for New York State.
Phil and I wound up getting a rent-controlled apartment on 76th street and Second avenue in NYC in 1970--the week I turned 19. Four little rooms, tub in the kitchen, for $45 a month. Ground floor, fireplace, small back yard. (Yeah, different time, different world.) We grew up there. I don't know what he might say about me but I will say that Phil, who later had his own lab as a physicist working with optics, was the single coolest person I ever met. He could make ice melt and was as humble as a daffodil. But he knew how the world worked.He understood things that a smart guy like me didn't know at all. His brother Dan had done the collage in the Stevie Wonder Taurus album and hired me and Phil to work on his famous collage in Jimmy Hendrix's Electric Ladyland Studio bathroom on St. Mark's Place. Dan later hired me and Phil to help revamp Chris Blackwell's Island Records' Grove street townhouse and their Carnegie Hall studio, where we met and toked with Bob Marley and others. We later worked on the homes of Oscar de Laurenta, Arthur Schelinger and the Kennedy townhouse on 63st. None of those toked with us.
But Phil was cooler than even that: One night we left our NYC apartment, took a walk to participate in a protest about Vietnam, and wound up as a couple of 19 -year-old kids in a coffee shop around the block from where we lived. Next to us on a stool in the place was a 45-year-old man. This guy, whom we'd seen around the neighborhood but never spoken with, was sitting next to Phil. And he said something like: "Did you see the undercovers? They were everywhere. What a freakin' city. You never know who your friends and who your enemies are."
And Phil, sitting next to him, pulled a joint from his shirt pocket then put it into the guy's shirt pocket. "You have to go with your gut feelings about who you think are narcs. Enjoy this."
The guy's tongue is still probably hanging down to the ground.
That was the single coolest thing I've ever seen on this planet.
And Phil may reappear on this blog from time to time. He's still that cool.

They Stone You When You're Tryin to Be So Good...

But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Last person to complain, okay, and I know I've use Mr. Dylan's song in a post before so let me start my complaining--which you know is coming--with complaining about me. What the heck is so hard about coming up with a new song? Why use the same song? Is this guy Gorman lazy or what? Is Dylan's Rainy Day Women the only song that will work? Or is Gorman someone who has that song running around in his head every stinking time the junk hits the fan? Put it this way: Has Gorman ever used Mitch Ryder's Devil in a Blue Dress yet? Why the heck not? He's complained about women, about his ex--my ex, actually if I could stop looking in a mirror for a moment and realize I'm talking about me, not my mirror image--but did he ever use that song? No. And it's a great song. So why not? Is he freaking retarded or what? "Fe-fe-fi-fi, fo-fo-fum, Look at miss Molly, lord here she comes....Devil in a blue dress, blue dress, blue dress, Devil with a blue dress on!"
And what about The Boys are Back in Town? He's never even thought for a minute about using that great song, yet he's wasted 2,000 words talking down Ted Nugent, which probably sold Nugent an extra grand worth of CDs. And then there's the Blues Magoos' Ain't Seen Nothin Yet--the only guitar solo Gorman ever mastered--and you havn't seen that on this blog. Or the Stones' Ruby Tuesday, or the Blues Project's Wake Me, Shake Me--with Al Kooper on his astounding B-3 organ and vocals, of course. Gorman even smoked a joint with Kooper once at the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleeker Street after a show in '68 or so and still you never saw that song mentioned in a blog, did you? And what about one of the absolute essential rock songs of all time, Gimme Some Lovin, by the Spencer Davis Group, or Manfred Mann's version of Springstein's Blinded by the Light? Or anything else Manfred Mann's Earth Bands ever did? Or Procol Harem's Whiter Shade of Pale? Ever been mentioned here? I don't think so.
All Gorman can do is repeat Dylan's Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 when he wants to bitch. What a one track loser.
That said, I got a bill for my electric this month, today, for $529. I've never hit $300 before and three months ago switched to those swirly flourescent energy saving bulbs. So what happened? I don't know. I'll call the electric company tomorrow to ask. It's like someone is shunting electricity to grow pot or something because there are no new appliances in this house, but there sure is a new electric bill.
And the phone bill, which has unlimited everyting came in today with $94 bucks worth of long distance charges. What the heck? We'll talk tomorrow. And my radio in my car shorted out during a white-out rainstorm that I insisted on driving through with my fantastic old 1994 Ranger (4-cylinder, 2.8, with 275,000 miles) and now it smells like people have been sitting in the seats for 13 years because I left the windows open during the storm. And my son's girlfriend Sara's car is broke, the new self cleaning oven won't clean, and the sink and toilet backed up when my son Marco decided to fix the water leak under the house then clean the muck from his clothes in the sink and rinse his legs and arms of mud with a bucket of water in the toilet.
Ah, life...and Chepa comes back from her boyfriend's tonight; we all love her but life sure has been peaceful without her for the past couple of weeks.
Blinded by the Light, Cut loose like a goose, another runner in the night....
Shit. That don't work.
They stone you when you are young and able,
They stone you when your're sitting at the table...
Ah, now that's a song you can bitch to...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Good Morning Everybody!!

Wake up, wake up, you sleepyheads, Wake up, wake up you sleepyheads....
It's Saturday morning at 8:15 in Gormantown Texas and this is just a reminder to have a great day out there. Here the sun is already shining but it's not going to be a scorcher. Madeleina has her first official soccer game today and the coach told me she's making enough progress that he's going to start her. Marco was off to work at 4 AM, finishing up his first week with a a real --though boring--job. Italo is picking up some overtime today and was out by 7; his live-in girlfriend Sarah made a deal for a used car--a 1995 Toyota for $1700--on her own yesterday. And I'm finishing up a big story and will turn it in in about two hours. So things are looking good here.
Heck, I might even try to get part 5 of 25 Years of Shamanism started later today.
Just for the record, we had marinated skirt steak with garlic, sliced onions, tomatoes and green pepper last night--sort of fajita style--over Basmati rice with a wonderful salad and there's plenty left over. And I'm thinking about sauteed sea scallops in a garlic, red pepper and scallion butter sauce tonight. We don't usually do butter here cause I'm too darned fat, but with scallops I'm tempted.
That's the short skinny here. I hope your day is just as full and fantastic.
Gorman out.
NOTE FROM ADVERTISERS: This joyful moment has been brought to you by the expresso coffee bean growers of the world. We fully expect Gorman to crash and be in a foul mood within an hour.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Matses Bow and Arrows

I've just been asked to describe the Matses Indian Bows and Arrows: How they're made and from what they're made. For most of you this might be something to skip. For a few others this might be great. Here goes, from my experience:

The bow is made from interior wood of the aguaje tree--a black, spined-palm whose fruit, is enjoyed by humans and the favorite food of both sahino and wangana--the two edible peccary's in the Peruvian Amazon. The wood is strong, and pliable, though it keeps its strength for years: While arrows are generally used once or twice, the bow, which takes several days to make, is used for as long as a year. And that's with daily use.
The bow, generally about 2 meters long, is strung with chambira, a palm fiber utilized by indigenous and mestizos alike for weaving hammocks. If the chambira breaks, restring with regular bow string. (In traditional use, chambira is replaced almost daily).
The Matses arrows are a work of art. Reeds are plucked from swamp, then held over a fire and slowly turned: Those that bend, pop, or crack are discarded. Of 100 reeds selected, perhaps 5 or 6 will finally be made into arrows.
Arrow making is generally done on rainy days, and the process of selection of the reeds can take hours. At the same time, it's generally done by more than one hunter at the same time so that it becomes a social activity--around which food is served and hunting stories told.
The arrows are actually made in four parts: The shaft is a reed: at one end of the shaft a split feather is affixed: a feather cut in two is set on opposite sides of the shaft and tied into place with a single strand of chambira, interlaced in the individual hairs of the feather. That is covered with copal, a tarrish tree-sap that's heated to boiling--turning it black. Once boiling, the copal is applied to the chambira, sealing it to the shaft. At the end of the feathered end of the shaft a coil of chambira--or more frequently these days, colorful sewing thread, is wound around the shaft's end, keeping it from splitting and lending a touch of balancing heft to the arrow.
At the business end of the arrow, a short, 4-6 inches, section of blond wood--generally from a hardwood branch is inserted into the hollowed end of the reed. To this is affixed the arrow's point: a sharpened piece of wood cut from either bamboo or ugurahi--a blond palm. The point is affixed to the hardwood connector section using chambira, though sewing thread will also work.
Arrow heads range between 6 and 12 inches long, depending on the type of game being hunted. For birds the arrow head is generally short and flat. For jaguar the head must be hollowed out to a half circle to allow for blood letting while piercing dense muscle.
Arrow heads, once in place, are sharpened by using the long, curved tooth of an agouti, a jungle rodent, attached to a two-meter long thin, round shaft of aguaje wood. The agouti tooth is notched with a machete to allow it to run up and down the length of the arrow head to make an exacting blade on either side.
Interestingly, the Matses also utilize different bird feathers for different arrows. For general monkey and bird hunting the black feathers fo the Puca Cunga, a type of jungle turkey, are utilized. For hunting ground animals with some body mass, the feathers of the Trompetero, another jungle turkey, are utilized. And for hunting jaguar, the feathers of the aguilar, the eagle, are used. The colorful feathers from the guacamayo--the maca--are also occasionally used. Those can be utilized for anything but a jaguar as they don't allow the arrow to gain full velocity at short distance, the only distance at which a hunter would have a chance of wounding a jaguar.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My Quick Take on Drugs

Someone recently remarked that ayahuasca, a primary physical, emotional, and spiritual medicine that's utilized throughout the Amazon, was "a fucking drug, first and foremost." The person is way off base in my opinion.
So for what it's worth, here's my opinion.

Ayahuasca, like all Master Plant Teachers and even the Lesser Plant Teachers, is so physically revolting, that you've really got to want to learn what she's got to teach to get it down and keep it down. If that's your idea of a drug, then let's look at drugs.
There are four primary kinds of drugs:
Those that intend to cure or control physical ailments: antibiotics, natural remedies, chemotherapy, etc.
Those that eliminate pain: heroin, aspirin, opiods, meth, ibuprofin, cannabis, etc.
Those that provoke sex: cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, meth, and a couple of others.
Those that teach: Mushrooms, cannabis, Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Peyote, Iboga, Amanita Muscaria, Datura, Syrian Rue and some others.
A few overlap.
To be honest, there are only three general reasons people take "drugs" voluntarily: To eliminate pain, to get laid, to learn.
The "learning" drugs are very articulate. If you put them in the same category as pain killers you've missed their point. The learning drugs are plants that willfully want to teach us silly humans something about the universe. And they all make it quite difficult to ingest them: Vomiting on your date won't get you laid, after all. And going through ego-dissolution won't make you the life of the party or ease your pain either.
And if you havn't got that down yet, you're missing a lot.
So yes, ayahuasca is a drug. But you damned well couldn't do it like you can drink a beer or have a shot of whiskey with with a chaser.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dog Ate My Homework...Uh-Oh

Wow! Two blog entries in one day! Must mean I have something to say, eh?
Wish that were so. In fact, I am writing this because I'm a bit frustrated by things at the moment and it's probably better to do this than throw a baseball through a window to get my frustrations out. Though the baseball is gonna remain an option, okay?
So like late last week Marco noticed that a couple of the hardwood floorboards in the living room were buckling. We ignored it as it looked like work. But then the kitchen floor began to shift. Me Marco and Italo all knew there was a leak somewhere but as my busted belly wouldn't allow me to crawl around under the house I certainly couldn't look into it. And Italo's been working on his mom Chepa's plumbing, crawling around under her house, so he didn't want to do it. And Marco had already fixed a leak in the sink last week, so he didn't think he should have to do it. So we kept ignoring it and the persistent hsssssss that seemed to be coming from under the house. Heck, could have been a snake, right?
Well, anyway, last night when the water leaking from under the house began seeping onto the kitchen floor, we couldn't ignore it any longer so we turned off the water to the house.
Marco's been under there as Italo's at work today. Pipes are old. He's gonna try to seal it just with duct tape for now until Italo can take a look. But meanwhile we can't take showers this morning, so we all sort of stink.
But that's like a normal problem.
The real problem is that my computer just ate my entire interview and notes file for a cover story I'm supposed to turn in today. Just says: Due to a faulty connection (or somesuch) Word cannot read this file.
Now I've got what I've got written on another file, which is fine at the moment. And I've got such a good memory that I could probably reconstruct much of what was lost, or at least the salient parts. But as this is a local political story there are libel to be repercussions: I've been asked to provide copies of my notes to the paper's legal team on more than one occasion, to give them ammunition when libel suits are discussed.
But I no longer have those notes. I no longer have those interviews, or even those phone numbers at my fingertips.
I'm praying the file in question is just tired and will open later today. Or the computer tunchis--ghosts--are playing tricks with me. Like the coffee pot that refused to work when I returned from Peru in July. I just waited a month, cooking coffee on the stove in a saucepan, then tried the coffee pot again and it worked first try and every try since then.
But if this is something worse than that--and this is certainly something I've never seen from a computer before--well, then I'm dreading what I'll tell my boss.
Cause she needs that story and the people of this town need that story printed and she ain never in a million years going to believe my computer ate my homework.

POSTSCRIPT: Marco worked his butt off in the tight, wet, muddy confines beneath the house. He didn't manage to get the broken pipe changed but did locate the small hole, used duct tape to close it, then sealed it with a pressure patch he made from a screw-tightening clamp. And so far it's holding. So we all took showers and smell better around here.
For the story notes, I went into the hard drive and discovered that the drive had very nicely made several copies of them for me. I love this old souped-up Mac G3 I've got.
So I'm back on the story, all clean and fresh, happy with the world again. Turns out to be a great day after all. HOORAY!!!!! Hope all of you get a couple of nice surprises as well.

A Michael Jackson Moment

Couple of nights ago Madeleina got the urge to see Michael Jackson's Thriller video and as she's 10 now and can work the internet she found it and was just starting it when I went to bed.
Yesterday morning when she got up she came into this livingroom that I use as my office and sat on the couch for our morning chat, the one where the tells me her dreams, asks me for answers to things she's been thinking about and so forth. But yesterday the talk was about Thriller. Turns out she was too afraid to watch it through because nobody else was home and I'd gone to bed. She felt badly that she hadn't had the courage to simply watch it. "I knew it was only a video, dad, and that they were just dancers, but I was still afraid. Why don't I have the guts you have?"
I told her that everyone gets afraid in the dark when they're alone or something like that, but inside I was shouting to myself: What guts? I don't have any anymore! I'm afraid of everything!
And while I don't think anyone would notice, that's really true. Lately I've been waking in the middle of the night wondering if I offended anyone the previous day, or written anything completely idiotic, anything that will let all of you know how gutless, worthless and useless I am.
I'm not sure where these feelings come from, but they're here and they've been very close to surface for weeks now, not just occasionally as a reality check, but daily, as reality.
And I don't like them. I don't want to have to second guess myself every five minutes. I don't want to be frozen in fear.
I know about the deer-like moments of frozen in fear. After my marriage broke up and we left Peru where we'd been living and ran our Cold Beer Blues Bar, I was a pretty busted fella. Real busted up. But I got on with things.
But when I had guests to take out to the jungle and would return to Iquitos, I would feel--at least until the guests arrived--as if every breath was an effort to suck in thick air and every step felt as though my feet were trapped in molasses. Whereever I went I was reminded of my marriage failing. There were days when I had to force myself to move, to breathe.
It took me a while to exorcise those ghosts and make Iquitos my city again. And I'm still not quite there but nearly.
And now that dread is on me again, here in my head, here in my house. There's a woman I want to ask out and I will but I havn't yet--what if she laughs at me in the store where she works? How will I be able to go in there again?
The other part then rears back and shouts: Who gives a damn? You're just asking a girl to go dancing. If she says no she says no. If she says yes, cool. Either way you'll still go to that store.
And I will because I generally wind up with enough gumption to do what needs doing, whether it's asking the girl out or writing the story and making the deadline.
But I sure wish I should shake these cobwebs of scaredness from my head.
Back to Madeleina: after our chat she went and watched the video for probably an hour before I heard the music change to another Michael Jackson song.
And moments later, I heard my Madeleina shouting: "Why? Why did you do it? I Hate you! I hate you!"
She was shouting and sobbing at the same time and in a moment came back to my office and floomped onto the couch. Her face was streaked with tears. "I hate him! I hate him! How could he do it? Why?"
When she calmed down enough to breathe she wanted me to explain why Michael Jackson had become a pasty-faced white person. She was less delicate than that. I mean, she'd seen photos of him before of course, but for some reason yesterday morning it hit her really really hard that he had done the changing to himself, rather than it being a medical issue.
So she sat there and sobbed and I told her he'd probably begun the changing because he didn't like himself. Because he was a deer in the headlights and couldn't figure out how to move any longer.
I told her that's how I felt too these days.
She told me if I dared to change like Michael Jackson to try to not be afraid anymore that she'd hate me too.
"Just be you dad. It's only temporary. You'll get your guts back. And if you ask me, even when you're afraid like you say you are you still have more guts than most people. So don't worry about it."
That's my baby. Thanks Macaroni.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Reality of What Things Cost in the Amazon

On a discussion board I occasionally post on, the question of the cost of going to a jungle compound to drink ayahuasca with a curandero has been getting a lot of play lately. And some of the posters think that curanderos who charge $50 a night for a gringo to visit their compound is way too high. They argue that deep in the jungle or even in Iquitos, locals don't pay nearly that for a traditional Tuesday or Friday night ayahuasca ceremony. Which is true: Locals on the river often pay with work, or a chicken or some bananas. Locals in the city often pay with prepared food or with what money they can afford.
But in the last several years, with ayahuasca interest having spiked among tourists, several curanderos have built jungle compounds, places where people can come to drink the medicine and then sleep surrounded by rainforest without having to take riverboats a half-a-day up or down the river, deal with mosquitos and possibly snakes and so forth. The new compounds have simply made the medicine more accessable to a larger number of foreigners who would otherwise not be able to get it.
And, of course, that brought up the question of paying for medicine and that brought out some tempers. To help clarify matters, I posted this note to give those who don't know an idea of what's involved in building and maintaining one of those jungle compounds.
Here's that post:
I don't have any horses in this dance, as nearly all of my work with ayahuasca has been done way up the river with Julio and now with his son Hairo.
But I think what's often missed about the costs in Peru is the reality that the more you make, the more people you'll wind up supporting. I don't know, for instance, Percy's personal circumstances [Percy is a young curandero who charges $50 a night, evidently], but I'll bet he paid good money for the land he's using on the Nauta road. I'll bet he had to pay several men for several day's work to demark it, and, if it's fenced, to fence it. He had to pay to get his buildings built and for any equipment he has, from a stove to buckets to carry water. And all of that stuff had to be bought in Iquitos and hauled in, piece by peace, leaf-roof section by leaf-roof section.
Those things are not inexpensive: On a small piece of land I bought recently three kilometers off the Nauta road and a kilometer into the jungle, the initial cost of the land was just $3,000. Getting title changed, having a path semi-cleared to get into the land, having red paint markings put on trees to demark the land--under the watchful eye of two officials from the Dept. of Agriculture, eliminating a squatter who was buring primary rainforest to make charcoal, having a jungle hut and kitchen built, having a swimming hole dug and paying for a part time guardian---those simple things cost more than double the cost of the land. And my joint is anything but a compound that anyone but the heartiest soul would want to visit.
But in the case of people who actually accomodate guests at their compounds, there may be four or five people who work full time at maintaining the place, building new accomodations, cutting wood for fires, hauling water, checking for snakes, guarding the property, going to town to buy food, cooking and so forth. And each of those people might be the head of their household, with several people depending on them.
So the guy asking $50 a night from visitors could easily have a payroll of $500 a week, not including his own families' needs, whether or not he has visitors on a given week.
And he or she is probably happy to be able to provide so much work to so many. But someone has to pay the freight for it to happen because the curandero can't do that all by him/herself.
I think any evaluation of costs-to-the-gringo has to include this reality. To ignore it is to not understand how things work in the Peruvian Amazon.