Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feelin' Alright...

Feelin' alright,
Not feelin' so good myself,
Feelin' alright...

I wrote a post last night that I didn't like and deleted. If any of you saw it and now wonder what happened, well, I thought it was too self-centered and that's not what I meant it to be. I'll try to write closer to what I wanted now.
A friend of mine wrote me a fantastic letter the other day noting that I've been sounding like I got the blues lately. And truth is, there's been some of that in my immediate air space. I've had the operations and then got ripped off by a former friend who organized a trip to Cuzco in October, leaving me to pay thousands of dollars she owes, and that set off it's own ripples, landing my friends in Peru--who did the actual hotel bookings--in hot water, worse, jail, when they couldn't cover my former friend's debt for the rooms and such. So I have been blue about that and how I was going to fix it since I don't have extra cash right now. And shouldn't be stuck with someone's debt anyway.
Then my big trip in January to Peru got called off when the monies for that disappeared before they got to me. And those ripples have left 13 people who paid for the trip angry and frustrated. And it's left my team in Peru, who were promised January work--and a second trip following the big one--being disappointed that they now only have two weeks work and not six weeks.
And then two computers went down and then my clutch went and the new dog is still pooping all over the house. And then it's getting cold and I haven't a girlfriend.
So I guess I've been feeling sorry for myself a little, even though the other part of me knows that this crazy life is full of ups and downs and that things change fast and that all of this will be fixed and forgotten in the next month or when I get a first real kiss from my next gal.
And then yesterday happened. Woke up to discover that a future client for a trip in June had sent enough money to me via Western Union to pay off my former friend's debt in Peru and get my friends there out of jail and hopefully back in the good graces of the hotels who had not been paid. So that was a big angel and that was something fantastic. Just out of the blue. And while she says not to pay her back, I'm counting her trip in June as paid in full.
Then the guy fixing the two computers called to say that one of them was under warranty and that as he's authorized to fix that brand, the company will pay him to do it so it won't cost me a cent.
Then two people who said they wanted to come on the short January, early February trip to the jungle wrote to say they'd sent deposit checks.
Then a magazine I've never worked for called to ask if I could do a feature piece of a couple of thousand words at a buck a word.
So them blues bein' shoo'd right out the door.
And maybe today I'm gonna meet someone I'll get to kiss next week. How about them apples?
So I'm feelin' alright, not feeling too good myself, feelin' alright...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Must Be Rainin' Down in Texas....

Must Be Rainin' Down in Texas, All of the Telephone Lines are Down......been trying to call my baby, but she's nowhere to be found.....
Stevie Ray Vaughn

Been raining/snowing/sleeting here in Joshua for three days now. Glum doesn't begin to describe it. Cold, nasty, dogs smell bad, kids climbing the walls, no money coming in , Chepa about to give birth and her Boyfriend shows up Thursday, in time for Turkey and then leaves today to return home to work, leaving me and Italo to take her to the hospital if she gives birth tonight, tomorrow, this week.
My friends in Cuzco, totally screwed by my former friend who organized the October trip, are writing me from jail; the people of Johnson County, where I live, are writing me 5 times daily to tell me how they or their sons or daughters have been dragged through hell by the Johnson County DA or sheriff's department and I can't fix their lives no matter how many stories I write.
The new dog is pooping all over the house, I'm trying to get a story finished, the New York Giants gave up three interceptions-for-touchdowns today, my best truck is still not working and neither is my oldest son.
I ain't been kissed by a woman in four months.
Must be Raining Down in Texas, All of the Telephone Lines are Down.....
Just one of those weekends.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Not For Everyone: Condoms on the Floor

Well, my kids are growing up. About a week ago I heard one of the best screams I've heard in a long time. It came from Sarah, my son Italo's live-in girlfriend. She'd gone into my son Marco's room to get something and the next thing you knew there was an ear piercing scream. I mean a monster-movie scream. And it was followed by: "Get this thing off my foot! Please! Wash my foot! Get it off! Get it off!"
Italo and I jumped to the rescue, he getting there first. And then he began to laugh. And Sarah kept screaming.
Evidently, Sarah had caught her big toe on a used condom on Marco's floor. And it wouldn't shake off, hence the continued screaming. Italo solved the problem, Sarah washed her foot, and I pulled Marco aside when he came home.
"Marco. Com'ere. We have to talk for a second."
"What's up, daddy?"
"Marco, we got to talk about condom protocol. Gentlemen generally have an unspoken protocol that when they finish with a condom they wrap it in toilet paper and either flush it or put it in the trash. Even in our own rooms. We do it not only because a used condom is kind of a sticky mess, but because we don't want people to picture our women having been on the receiving end of that used condom. We like them naked and flailing about, but we don't want other people to think of them that way. Understand?"
He said okay but looked deflated and embarrassed and I felt compelled to tell him my own used condom story to cheer him up.
"Marco, when I first started college in New York City in 1969 I was a virgin. But there was this gorgeous blond named Darryl who liked me. We hung out a little but didn't get private time because we both still lived at home. So we got to neck sometimes when I borrowed my mother's car, but that was it.
"But I had a friend, Naomi P, who had her own place and one day when I was mentioning that I wanted to stop being a virgin, Naomi said I could use her apartment on Amsterdam Avenue.
"She said she and her roommate would be out on the next Friday night and she'd leave the door open so me and Darryl could get in, then gave me the key to the big street door so we could get to the apartment building.
"Well, Friday came and I was beside myself with excitement. I mean, I was about to get laid, whatever that meant. So me and Darryl bought Chinese food, then walked over to Naomi's and headed to her apartment door.
"Unfortunately, it was locked. And we had no key. Fortunately, it was an old building that had transoms--you know those little windows that let in air above the door?--and I decided that breaking and entering, if I got caught, would be worth it if I also got Darryl naked and figured out what sex was.
"So I boosted myself up with Darryl's help, managed to get the transom open, climbed through and then opened the door for Darryl. Nobody saw us, so we were good.
"Anyway, we ate dinner and did the thing. About helfway through I knew I was so lousy that I apologized to Darryl and explained that I was a virgin. Well, that sent her off into heaven and the next half of the session was absolutely fantastic. I knew why people liked doing that thing.
"And when we finished and went to the bathroom to wash up, I realized I wanted to do it again but didn't have another condom. So I did the only think a guy in my position could do: I decided to wash it out and use it again. So I did, then left it on the sink.
"Just then there was a loud knock on the door. 'Police! Open up!'
"Darryl and I were surprised but didn't think we were in any trouble, so we quickly dressed and answered the door. Two burly New York City cops and a stunning young lady came in. Turns out the young lady was Naomi's roommate and she hadn't been told the apartment was going to be used. So when she got home and heard people moaning she called the cops.
"Anyway, the cops asked how we got in and what we were doing there. I explained, but they weren't sure. I pointed to the Chinese food as proof that we weren't thieves. They were still somewhat skeptical and asked the roommate to look around to see if there was any jewelry or anything else missing.
"And just then Naomi's cat came running out of the bathroom and into the living room dragging that used condom. It took everyone in the room a minute to realize what it was, and then the cops started laughing.
"'Is that your fucking condom?'"
"Yes," I'm sure I stammered.
"'Okay, then, I buy it that you weren't here robbing the place. Get your stuff and let's get you out of here.'"
"He paused, then looked at me. 'Kid. I see that thing and I suddenly see your girl having sex. So does my partner. How do you think that makes her feel?'"
"But I only had one and I was gonna use it again..."
"'Kid, you got a girl that hot, never bring just one. And for goodness sake, when you finish, get rid it. Don't leave it hanging around for the cat to find.'"
Marco looked at me. Then he smiled. "At least I'm not as stupid as you were, old man."
"Don't be a wiseguy, Marco. Every man on the planet has at least one condom story to tell. Just make sure you get rid of them from now on, okay?"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave...

When first we practice to deceive.....Sir Walter Scott.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Hope your food is just right, fills your bellies and the rest goes to feed those less fortunate.
Things in a state of slight unrest here. Italo, having gone through six cuts in tryouts for the Semi pro soccer team in town was put on the practice squad last night. He's devastated. He knows he's one of the top 10 players on the team--which, including practice squad has 21 members, but isn't starting and today I had to spend a couple of hours explaining to him that he beat out 18 guys who had college or pro experience to make that squad. The coach is dealing with egos, people who played pro soccer in the US or Peru or Mexico or Spain and you don't put those people on the practice squad. But he's the young buck and can use some seasoning practicing with the team and then watching the games and seeing how, at this level, it's a different game than what he's played. He did do a stint two years ago with another semi-pro team but he says this is a cut above. So I urged him to sit on his ego and practice as hard as he can. I reminded him that when I arrived her in Texas from New York, despite credits with some of the best magazines in the world--along with having been an Editor-in-Chief at High Times--I couldn't sell anything for months here. I was back on the practice squad, so to speak. But I took the work I could get--including the 34-days at the Day Labor center where I was called twice and earned a total of $126 bucks--and kept at it and eventually got work with the Fort Worth Weekly (, and then my column for Skunk and sold stories to Alternet and elsewhere and now I'm a starting player again.
It's gonna be tough for him because he's a fierce competitor and has more natural talent than most people but if he can do it, just wait his turn and keep working hard, even harder than ever, he'll be starting soon and in a year might get a shot at the pros.
I hope he listens to his old man on this one.
In other news, the financial unraveling of both the recent October trip to Peru and the upcoming trip in January is beginning to take a toll around here. As I've written, the former friend who organized the October Peru trip has decided that I'm to pay her promisory note to the hotels, which has put my two assistants in Cuzco, Peru, in jail and in jeopardy of losing their hard-earned and coveted Tour Guide licenses. And because of the woman's intransigence I will have to cover--she wouldn't have been given the credit she was if not for my word. So that sort of stinks because the woman is short $4,000. Why would people be like that? Escapes me.
And the January trip is tossing more fuel in the fire. After the organizer spent all the trip money--a lot of it had to do with a medical emergency and I would have done the same to save my kids' lives--the fallout is now here. I've got a crew of 12 who work with me in Iquitos and the jungle who are expecting their Christmas presents and then two trips with me in January and early February. I've got a crew of three, including Andy and Maria, who were promised work in January and now have none. I've got my friend, the Curandero Victor E and his staff, who were booked for January 22 six months ago and will expect full payment whether I appear or not. I've got some former guests who have made a plan to meet up with me in Iquitos and then travel with me to Cuzco and do the San Pedro ceremony with me. Now I won't be there, so I'll have to stand them up.
And then selfishly, I was hoping to earn a buck as well.
And we're all out of work now.
And I will still have to do the short end-of-January trip to the jungle for just two or three guests, because I promised them and took their money, even though that will now cost several thousand dollars out of my pocket because it costs me a lot to leave my house and fly down there and my whole crew gets full pay regardless of whether there is a big group or a small one. That's how it's always been done and so I can't suddenly change the rules on them now.
I've also got the 13 January guests who have been offered a trip in May, by which time the organizer thinks she can have her finances reorganized and be able to repay the $44,200 that was used from the January trip. She's a good person, I believe, and will try. But when the guests call me and ask if I can guarantee that she will have the money for the May trip, I can't tell them I'm sure she will. I mean, if she used our money, what other money might she have needed to use? And even if she gets the cash infusion that she thinks she will, will my groups' money be first on the list? So no, I can't guarantee anything. And I'm really never going to vouch for anyone again as the October trip has taught me.
Hey, it's not like I had much of a reputation, but this nonsense ain't polishing up what little there was.
On the other hand, this is Thanksgiving. I've had some really good friendships over the years. I've had more love than I could have imagined, love that far outweighs the bad times. I've been to death's door recently and been allowed to step back. I've got three wonderful--if sometimes exasperating--kids and I never thought I'd have any. And they're all healthy and they're all as glad that I'm their dad as I am that they're my kids. I've got few debts and am owed more than I owe. I've got stories due and as a writer you can't be anything but pleased with that. I've got a roof that doesn't leak, a small turkey ready for the oven and all the fixings ready to go--from biscuits to cranberry jelly to mashed potatoes to veggies and sweet potatoes and a big apple pie. I've got a brother and four sisters in other states but will call them and wish them all well. Then there are the dogs, the goats, the rooster, Marco's rat...
So on balance, I've got a lot to be thankful for.
I hope you do too. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cars, Trucks and a New Dog

Okay, I've gotten into the habit of sleeping till at least 5:30 AM, but today I was up early. 3:30. The reason is that my beautiful bright blue-green 1994 Ford Ranger XLT with the extended cab (274,000 miles) which was running so perfectly two days ago slipped a clutch plate. Which means I can't shift gears. If I reverse I have to turn off the engine to get out of reverse and put it into gear. And once in gear I can't change gears. So I'm stuck in 2nd going between 0 and 30. Taking it into the shop today. Hope it's not a big job. That translates to Hope it don't cost too much.
But Marco, who's been using my 1998 dark green Ford Ranger, had to give that back to me to use. Still, he had to get to work. And he's working at 4 AM. So I was the chauffeur.
Now I wanted him to use Italo's car since Italo quit his job last week and doesn't need to get anywhere daily at the moment but then Italo is pissed off that Marco has used his car for a couple of days but didn't change the oil. So Italo took the keys when he went to stay at Chepa's last night with Sarah, his live-in girlfriend. And he didn't answer my call asking him to come back in Sarah's car to bring the key back.
Italo and Sarah were staying with Chepa's because she's about ready to have her new baby. It was thought to be due at Christmas but the doc recently revised that to Late-November, first week of December. So Sarah is sleeping over there with Italo till the baby comes.
And Italo doesn't mind because he's still in the running for a spot on the semi-pro soccer team (five cuts so far and he's still with them. Good Luck, Italo!) and my cigarette smoke bothers him just enough that he doesn't want to take a chance on getting short-winded. I understand: Despite leaving the window next to my desk open and a fan blowing the smoke out--as well as restricting my smoking to just this front office-living room--I do smoke a lot and some must get elsewhere in the house. If I had any guts I'd quit but I don't.
So there I was waking up at 3:30 to drive Marco to work. And man, it was fog soup out there. Luckily I didn't hit anything, didn't miss any turns on these winding roads that ran me into a tree.
And I got back and there was Boots, the wonderdog, looking for affection. He's been jealous for a couple of days because Sarah, who is as addicted to shopping as I am to cigarettes, bought a new dog. He's a pup and his name is Charlie for some reason. He's a Basset hound (with papers dontchaknow!) and he's going to grow up to be fantastic. I love Basset hounds. Short, tough, friendly. Gonna be a great pal to Boots. That's if I don't kill him for shitting everywhere. Sarah, conveniently, has been at Chepa's nearly every moment since she bought him and so it's been up to me to clean up after him. We'll get that fixed in a couple of weeks. Once he's comfortable outside Boots will show him where to go take care of his business.
So that's it. Did go to the Shriner Circus with Madeleina, Marco and Marco's girl the other night--all was well until Madeleina got it in spades that elephants are trapped and shouldn't be in circuses. She got it while having an elephant ride, one of her favorite things at that annual circus. She came back after the ride and her eyes were streaming. I asked What's wrong? She said she could feel the elephant's backbone under her butt and it made her realize that elephants should be in Africa eating from trees and not in a circus having people sit on their backs. She sobbed quietly for the whole second act of the circus and then not so quietly on the way home. I'm crying now just remembering how badly she felt. I did what I was supposed to do: I told her that if those elephants were not in the circus they'd be dead. Zoos, even decent ones, can't just take extra elephants. And if we shipped them to Africa somehow they'd be dead in a week, not knowing how to survive in the wild.
She wasn't buying it. She wants me to get rich so we can buy a lot of land and make a home for circus elephants and old lions and tigers. I told her it was a great idea--and it is, cause I'd love to do it--and that maybe one day we'll get lucky and be able to. Wouldn't that be great? Have a couple of thousand acres in maybe Montana or Idaho with enough scrub on on it and enough savannah to take in elephants that nobody wants? Just trying to live that fantastic dream ought to be enough to get me to quit smoking before it kills me.
Coming up on 6 AM and dawn's gonna break soon. If I'm going to get an hour's sleep before it's time to make Madeleina's lunch I'd better do it now. Of course, now that Madeleina's figured out the elephant thing it won't be long before she gets the idea that the tuna in her sandwich didn't actually volunteer. And then we'll get to the Why did God make a world where everything has to eat each other thing. And there will be more tears and I'll have to explain that I've been asking that question ever since I found out that wild horses were caught for dog food when I was a kid. I don't think there have been enough wild horses to do that with for 45 years but there were when I was Madeleina's age.
And then we'll both cry and try to come to terms with the fact that the world just isn't fair.
Nuts. Now that I'm thinking those thoughts no way I'm gonna get any more sleep.
So I guess it's good morning everybody. Have yourselves a fine one.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Life's Got A Way of Interfering With Living, eh?

Life's got a way of interfering with a good dream, eh? Just a couple of days ago I wrote, with suspicions that it wouldn't happen, that I was owed $95 grand. Some of that, a bunch, was to go to paying for the guests I was to have in January in Peru. Some of that is going to be disputed by my mortgage company when the local Dept of Transportation--TxDot--finishes the second taking on my land for the new road. Some of that was owed by magazines. Some of that was owed by a private party. But it was still 95 K that was supposed to go through me. And there was some of that that was going to stick to me and pay some bills. But I just got word today that life intervened in the way of a medical emergency to the people who frequently get me guests to the Amazon and Machu Piccue and so the $44 or go grand from them was spent keeping someone alive.
I can live with that. I understand. Heck, I just had three of those myself. I hope the people who were planning on joining me will understand. I think most of them will if the person involved will be very very honest and genuinely apologetic.
So there went half the money.
And I'm willing to give them the trip later in the year when the person in question will have the monies for the trip available.
But I sure could have used my cut of that money, and I sure could have used a trip to Peru. But that's life getting in the way. Just happens that way sometimes.
Of course the magazines don't have the money to pay me. And TxDot is being slowed up on paying me.
So I guess I'm not having a great day today. Ah...that's just the way it is sometimes.

It's now the following morning. Nothing has changed but my point of view. Who cares about the money? Woulda been nice and it'll come, and I'm of course hoping it comes in time to pay my mortgage and electricity....but other than that, so what? Don't be a wimp, gorman. Just, as Julio once said, grab your balls and face your fear with a fierce smile.
Ahhh. That's better.
Good morning everyone. Hope you all have a fantastic day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Money, Money...Again

Readers: I wrote a post called Money Money last night after a couple of whiskeys. I read it this morning and it read like something I'd written after a couple of whiskeys. So I dumped it. But a couple of you had already responded to it so I feel I should get it back up, but this time while I'm not high.

For much of my New York time money wasn't a great issue with me. I didn't have much at first, and then later, when I was a chef it got to where I had so much I had to do drugs to get rid of the excess. I was good at that and so despite making a real good living, and having a rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan that never cost $300 a month, I managed not to have much money. When I began to be able to earn money as a journalist in the mid-1980s, I had a couple of poor years that were saved by that apartment, then began to earn a good living as an editor for High Times. Good enough that I could support my family and have them fly to Peru a couple of times a year and still have a good Christmas, anyway.
Texas has been different. You already know that I had maybe three years trying to reinvent myself as a freelance writer that were financially miserable, but with help of friends and family the house was saved regularly and I finally got work and the work has been steady and so while we haven't had any splurges of flying the family to Peru, we have been eating well and getting that list of borrowed monies worked on.
And right now I'm owed more money than I've probably ever been owed, all due in the next week. The Texas Dept of Transportation owes me nearly $44,000 for a second helping of eminent domain that is going to cut my already cut property down a little more. A company that gets me tourists owes me $44,200 for an upcoming trip. Someone else owes me $3,750, a couple of magazines owe me $3,500 together. Altogether, on paper, that comes to just over $95,000. And wouldn't that be sweet to get? Man, that would be fantastic.
The reality is more likely this: TxDot will have to give the check to the bank that holds the mortgage and we'll fight it out over how much they keep and how much I get.What they keep will come off the mortgage but not be in my hands. The tour company money will mostly be spent on doing the tour. The person who owes me isn't going to pay and at least one magazine isn't going to have funds available.
So it won't be anywhere near $95gs. Might be $25,000, and with that I'll pay back the last few people I owe and still have maybe $20,000. Make some little changes to the house that need doing and then have $15,000. Buy a good present for each of the kids, a new pair of sneakers for me--and maybe get teeth work done in Peru (badly needed) and then have $10,000. Pay a month's bills and I might still have $6,000 on the bank.
So there it is. More money owed me than practically ever in my life and within a week of getting it I'm going to have a couple of grand in the bank.
I ain't bitching, you understand. Right this minute I've got $25 bucks in my pocket, two bucks-eighty-three-cents in the bank and nothing in the cookie jar. So when what's due comes in it will be great and the universe will be thanked.
Still, I'm amazed at how fast I'm gonna spend that $95K.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sub-Teaching Hell

A friend of mine has been substitute teaching in Blythe, California, a minor oasis in a huge desert. He's been having a tough time controlling the middle school Phys Ed class despite being a former world champion racket ball and handball champion. Today he received a letter from another sub teacher that he passed along to me. It reminded me of when my mom began teaching in the NYC public school system in the early 1970s or late 1960s. So here is the original fellow's letter, followed by my friend's response, and then my response to both of them.
I think my mom got it. I hope these guys get it one day.

The initial letter from a sub teacher that I don't know:

Substitute Teaching is Hell

Date: 2007-11-09, 7:55PM

I had a class today that was insanely horrible. Junior high assholes; mean, stupid, defiant, rowdy. Not just one or two, but a good 8 or 10. Would not work, would not respond to anything, would not heed any warnings, backtalk backtalk backtalk. I sent one out, didn't help. Sent another out, still didn't help. They got me yelling, at which point I called security and just pointed out a few I needed to have removed. That did it. I think the total was 6 or 7, leaving only 2 assholes in the room, and those two assholes knew enough to shut up at that point. I thought that I might have a heart attack, it was that bad. It was hours ago, and I'm still upset. They were so utterly disrespectful, so mean and so stupid it was unbelievable. In fact, they taunted me, smirking, asking if they could be sent out. Talk about having no ammunition.
I asked the remaining teens if the class is usually so bad, and they said, "It's usually worse."
I'd quit, but I'm older, I have medical problems, a surgery coming up, and I'm stuck.
I never imagined that my life would be so shitty.
Imagine someone cutting you off on the freeway, amplify that anger by a multiple of ten, and you might approach what it's like to have a middle school mutiny on your hands.
Oh, and I've had this crappy job for years. I'm not some green do gooder who naively wandered in thinking I could change the world.
I grew up on a military base. If I had ever disrespected a teacher the way the kids do today, well, they probably would have beat me to death and courtmartialed my father.
I'll be in bed soon, and it's only 8 P.M. I'm that fucking SPENT.

My friend's response:
your story is pretty bad. the sub did what i do- call security who picks off half the class and the few remaining wise up. today was the worst of my life, but i've become philosophical and it was interesting too... middle school phys. ed. I tried, but failed, to bring order out of chaos, and told the vice-principal in an after-school suggestions interview that over the course of the day there were hundreds of rocks, fists and curses leveled by the students at each other and at the two boys' p.e. teachers. i was stuck out in alfalfa field with no way to identify anyone and no radio to contact the office. got slammed in the head pretty good by a soccer ball. goal posts falling, security, and then the principal summoned... they couldn't stop it. so that was that, and tomorrow's a new day. i just called the district and told them i'd sub any class but middle school phys ed.

My response, relating the story of my mom as a teacher who became a teacher at 45 years old:

Thirty-five years ago, when I was writing plays that were being offered off-off Broadway, I wrote one called Anele (a forgiving anointment at death, more or less) about the birth of Christ. It was a wonderful show, presented at a catholic church on 59th street and 9th avenue in front of hundreds for each of its 12 performances. We got television reviews and such. Good ones.
Here's the deal: My mom went to college after she'd had 9 of us. Three died in childbirth or shortly thereafter, so six were the family. When Reg, the youngest, was about 5, mom went to college, got a degree, started teaching, got a masters, and shortly became the national secretary for the US teacher's union.
She was good. But she was also new. So they gave her the "m" classes which was short for "retarded," Those kids were well known in NYC at the time: Most had an IQ of less than 90. Couldn't talk, couldn't sit, couldn't read or write but were still in high school. The rest were Juvenile Delinquents: Each class had a a couple of kids who'd committed murder, setting their parents on fire, or shooting a bum on the trains 20 times.
They were all shuffled into "m" classes. Retards.
Mom hated getting the assignments but did the best she could. Her tires were slashed countless times. Her windshield shot. I replaced parts of two engines in her old Dodge Dart after it was set afire with solvents. Tough classes.
That's teaching "m" classes in New York, circa 1970.
But in 1971 my play "Anele" was produced. And Richard Minsky, perhaps the most famous bookbinder of the 20th century (the first bookbinder to rebind one of the 17 or so extant Guttenberg bibles), wrote the score. And Minsky brought in half-a-dozen musicians to play it.
And while my dad had died a couple of months before the production--I was disappointed because he was a Broadway actor with 7 Broadway credits and 2000 live television shows under his belt (not famous, but the NY Times gave his picture and two columns on his death) and wanted him to see this, my fourth off-off Broadway play and the one that would make me as a playwrite--my mom came to the second show.
And the full house roared appreciation at the end, and then we filed out and I saw my mom and gave her a hug and then one of our musicians, a freaking crazy guy who was making violin bows from horse hair as an apprentice to a real bow master saw my mom and ran over to her and jumped into her arms and she nearly dropped him--she weighed 135; he 200--and he screamed "MRS GORMAN! MRS GORMAN! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I'M SO AND SO AND I WAS IN YOUR M CLASS FOUR YEARS AGO! YOU HATED ME BUT YOU CHANGED MY LIFE AND NOW I'M THE BEST VIOLIN BOW MAKER IN THE WORLD! THANK YOU. AND DO YOU KNOW THAT THE WRITER WHO WROTE THIS PLAY IS ALSO NAMED GORMAN??? WHAT A FUCKING COINCIDENCE!!!! UNBELIEVEABLE!
And then he kissed her 100 times on her cheeks, nose, head, anywhere she couldn't turn away from.
And in that moment I realized that my mom was changing people. She didn't always know it, but she was doing it. This was just a rare occasion to get some proof positive. And not one where she was looking for it.
So this note is sent out to all you teachers who don't know if you are making a difference. All of you who wish you had Tasers to control things. Don't sweat it. No matter what you think, you are affecting kids. You're doing just what you should be. Hard at it is. Keep the faith. Someday one of those lost kids is going to jump into your arms and tell you that what you did was the difference. So don't give up.
I think my mom's smile from that real life scene lasted 5 years. It was the payback in spades for all the tough times.
Each one, teach one.
You are all special.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Magic Mushrooms in India

This is a story I wrote years ago, but reread this morning and found it funny. I hope you don't mind that it's not a new one. We've all got the flu around here and I'm not really up to much creativity.

A Magical Mushroom Walk in the Hills of Palni—In Search of the Last Rainforest

"There are forty different kinds of paranoia," my dreadlocked Hindu guide Vijay began solemnly, while pouring thick coffee and lighting a spleef. "Different types affect different people, but since I am a multiple personality, I have suffered from them all."
I was in Southern India, in the town of Kodaikanal, 7,000 feet up in the Palni Hills, and I was negotiating with Vijay to get him to take me out on a magic mushroom walk through what remained of the old broad-leafed shoala, rainforest, that had once covered the Hills.
I was in India to do a story on Zafar Futahelli, the father of India’s environmental movement. Futahelli, an elegant and hardworking man in his eighties, had recently formed the Palni Hills Conservation Society, a group whose goal is to reforest the Hills, which are rapidly being deforested to make way for time-share resorts, new monoculture eucalyptus, pine and Australian wattle groves, and for the building materials and cooking fires of the people native to the region.
The Society was working to save the Hills because they are the watershed for the huge Plains of Madouri, the breadbasket of Southern India. Roughly 20 miles wide and 40 miles long, they rise up from the center of the flat Madouri Plains to a height of more than 9,000 feet. Hit twice by monsoons annually, the roots of the old growth rainforest which used to cover them caught and held the rains like a sponge, letting gravity pull the water to the Plains’ streams as needed over the course of the dry seasons.
It was a good system until the resort builders began to clear land recklessly and lumbermen began to convert the ancient forest to monocultures, starting a chain of events that has led to the plains now flooding after monsoons, then drying up shortly afterward. To make up for the recent water shortages farmers on the Plains have begun drilling wells for irrigation, which have lowered the water table on the Plains, in turn killing the Plains’ natural covering. Summer sun bakes the now dry topsoil and seasonal winds blow much of it away. In short, the Plains don't produce like they used to, so a lot of people are eating less throughout Southern India, and many of them are starving. Just another man-made catastrophe which the World Bank will try to solve with billions of dollars tossed in the wrong direction at interest rates India won't have a prayer of repaying.
Futahelli’s plan is simpler: Replant the Hills. Hire the locals displaced by the newcomers to plant millions of trees of the varieties that used to be there, and in 10 years time the Hills can again generate water year round for the Plains. The little funding the project calls for would come from those people buying time-shares at the resorts.
So I was in India to talk to Futahelli and some of the builders, knowing that his solution is too clever to ever be adopted on the scale that’s needed, and after several days of listening to resort builders explain why their untreated human waste simply had to be disposed of in the Hills’ natural marshes—"How bad can the waste from my 145 units be?" one builder asked in the sing-song English of the country. "People must be using the toilet, after all..."—I needed a break.
Which is where Vijay and his paranoias came into the picture. Vijay had been recommended by several people, all of whom said he was a bit peculiar but knew the Hills better than anyone. "We can take some very good walks," he assured me, when I approached him about being my guide for a magic mushroom walk.
The mushrooms were an unexpected bit of luck. A day earlier, while returning to my tiny hotel room after several hours with some of the opponents of Futahelli’s plan, I had bumped into a shriveled old woman dressed from head to toe in black. She asked me something in a language I didn't understand, and when I started to explain that I didn't get what she said she smiled, reached into the bosom of her dress and withdrew a small package of newspaper. In it were dozens of tiny psilocybin mushrooms.
"Take three and enjoy the countryside," she said in very understandable English. "Take six and talk with Shiva."
They were small headed with bluing stalks and had probably been beautiful when fresh, but looked like they’d been picked a couple of days earlier and secreted in her bosom ever since.
"Very good, be assured."
I asked for six.
"I only sell them in lots of two dozen."
"Give me two dozen then."
She smiled, tore off a bit of the newspaper, counted them out and handed them to me. "Watch out for the police. If they catch you with these they will beat you senseless."
Vijay had no problem with the thought that I would be doing mushrooms on a hike with him. "We can leave this afternoon," he said. "Go to Berijam and camp there. Of course we will not be getting there until early morning as it is nearly 30 kilometers away and walking at night is very slow and dangerous. Then tomorrow you take your mushrooms, away from the watchful eye of the police."
"Why not just leave in the morning, go see some of what’s left of the old shoala, and I’ll eat the mushrooms along the way. We can return at dusk."
"Oh no. Not here! The police will get you for sure."
"Suppose they asked me what you were doing and I told them?"
"You could say we’re hiking," I suggested.
"Yes, but that would be a sin of omission, and I have just recently become a Christian. No, I would have to tell them that we were having an hallucinogenic walk, which is very illegal here in India."
"Would you also have to tell them what we’re having for lunch? If you didn’t omit anything we’d have to spend the rest of our lives with the officer."
"They would not need to know about our lunch. But if we were walking to get lunch, then I would have a spiritual priority to tell them. In this case they are asking why we are walking and we will be walking for the mushrooms. There is the obligation."
"Hypothetically speaking, what if I tell you that if you snitch I’ll toss you off a cliff?"
"Then my priorities would change. With no physical life I have no more spiritual obligations."
"Good. So what time is good for you tomorrow?"
"Shall we say 4 AM?" He shook his dreadlocks side to side; for a moment I thought he might topple beneath their weight. "On further thinking, let me suggest 7AM. It is very cold in these hills before then, and I never rise at four."
And then he was off, an elfinish vision with crazy hair, disappearing into a patch of eucalyptus trees.
The next morning I was up at five. By six I was having coffee at Trichy’s, the only tea stall for miles which also sold a good cup of coffee. Though mist hung from the trees, the morning promised to be clear and beautiful. I breathed the thin, high altitude South Indian air.
Vijay appeared at eight. "A cha," he said. "I had so much praying to do, which is why I am late. I have been sinning so much."
I ordered us coffee and asked where he had decided to take me.
"To Pilar Rocks," he answered. "The most beautiful free standing stones. There are two and each stands unsupported for more than 1,500 meters."
"Will we pass through the shoala?"
He shook his head side to side. "The shoala is all around them."
We drank our coffee in silence, then set off along the town’s main road. Despite the damage that had been done, the Palni Hills and the little town of Kodaikanal remained lovely. Prior to its blossoming as a resort area it was known primarily for its exclusive private school for wealthy English and Indian children, and for the summer homes their parents kept there. The homes were nearly all built in British country cottage style, fitted stone with clay tile rooves. If not for the tea stalls and the monkeys that roamed freely about, Kodaikanal might have been a town in the English countryside.
We passed Kodai Lake—surrounded by wretched, two-story brick garden apartments—turned off the road at the famous guru Sai Baba’s summer home, then started up a steep stone stairway leading into the hills surrounding the town. At the top of the stairs we entered an area where locals lived and Indian temples seemed to blossom like flowers, everywhere.
Around us children in school uniforms and factory workers in overalls made their way toward their destinations. By nine the morning mist had burned off and I was in the mood for my mushrooms. I suggested to Vijay that we stop for a moment.
"Not here! Not here!" he said. "Wait until we are in the church."
I had no idea why we were going to a church but waited as he asked and a short while later we reached an old, unused Presbyterian building high on a promontory bluff overlooking a beautiful valley. We stopped and I took out my mushrooms while he rolled a joint.
"How do you reconcile the dope with your new faith?" I asked.
"I am also Rasta," he said, shaking his dreadlocks.
"Good answer," I said, eating three of the little psilocybes.
"The will of God," he laughed, starting down a path to a little village not far away.
It took less than 20 minutes for the first wave to hit me, and when it did we were in a tiny hut of a restaurant Vijay had insisted we stop at so that he could satisfy the craving for food his joint had brought on. I could not even consider eating: large rats climbed over everything and while the locals and the owner simply shooed them away I was beginning to trip and they seemed to be getting larger by the minute.
"I’ll wait for you outside, Vijay," I said, standing. Though the hut door was only a few steps away I was suddenly uncoordinated and the trip took an inordinate amount of time.
Outside, I opened my little package of newspaper, ate three more of the tiny-capped mushrooms, and caught my equilibrium. Vijay joined me a few minutes later, stuffing his rucksack with chapati, Indian bread, for the walk.
"We will be going now," he smiled through a full mouth, pointing me down a road that led past colorful shrines to Vishnu and Shiva, and small houses fronted with tall brick fences. At the street’s end was a stand of beautiful old growth forest and my heart leapt at the thought that there was rainforest this close to Kodaikanal. We stepped beneath it and I breathed deeply to fill my lungs with the sweet smell of ancient vegetation. Instead I began coughing and choking: just behind the stand of old growth was a monoculture tree farm of Vicks-Vap-O-Rubby eucalyptus and the scent nearly took the top of my head off.
Vijay seemed non-plussed with both my reaction and the fumes. He continued walking, eating his chapati, and I followed him into a breech in the tree farm at the base of a steep hill. To one side of the breech was the tiny remnant of old growth; on the other a eucalyptus tree farm a mile long and half that wide which had also been shoala just 15 years ago.
But standing in the breech between the two forests was a sacred cow. Of course it wasn’t just a cow, it was 900 pounds of pulsating energy wearing a brown and white leather coat, and it was straddling the very pass we had to pass and taking every inch of it. Vijay caught my arm and explained that hill cows were known for their cunning, and that they could be surly and dangerous, though he refused to be pinned down on exactly how many tourists he’d lost to them. Yes, I thought, I knew there was something about that cow, something about the way it was looking at me, so fiercely. Perhaps this bovine gatekeeper was a sort of test, I imagined, put in place to stump mushroomed gringos. I gathered myself up for it. Vijay looked for another way up the hill. There was none. "Perhaps we are not meant to go this way," he whispered.
"Perhaps it’s just a test," I answered.
"If I am getting hurt will you be paying the bills?"
"Of course."
"Then let us make our way. Follow me. Be careful." He took a tentative step. The cow didn’t move. He waited a moment and took another. Nothing. He waved me to follow and we approached with caution. Stealthily we moved in, angled, feinted, then slid behind its hindquarters. Not so hard after all, I thought, but just as I did it let out a bellow. It was no earthly sound, I was sure, no cow sound I’d ever heard. It was more like deep-tone-vibration that emitted from the mouth of the pulsing flesh in glorious and frightening color and began to shake the air violently. The trees responded and began to shake as well, and then the ground and Vijay and I began a racing assault up the steep hill to get away from it, clambering over the vine-covered, root-tangled earth. We didn’t look back until we reached the top; the cow hadn’t moved. The scene was back to normal.
I congratulated myself by exacerbating my condition with three more mushrooms. Filled with our bovine success we confidently moved on into the thick of the Palnis, past pilgrims and peasants, steppe-farmers and their daughters, shimmying past goats and dogs and monkeys, all unusually alive, all beginning to glow, and all suspiciously curious. Two hours and five mushrooms later we’d climbed dozens of hills and reached 9,000 feet. I was out of breath and watching my skin turn colors from the inside. The smell of eucalyptus clung to me like a body suit.
Then, suddenly we could see a clearing through the trees at the top of the next hill and I headed for it. Vijay tried to stop me, but I was sure I was on to something. I bounded over the underbrush of tiny wattle leaves and broke out onto a patch of bright green grass that turned out to be the 13th green of the Kodai Golf Club, which Vijay explained was one of the world’s most difficult courses.
"Some of the holes are very difficult because cows graze here, and the balls bounce off them sometimes and get lost. And if a monkey gets your ball he will chew it. Very hard to play."
I nodded. Though not a golfer I could see where those would be difficult challenges.
"Of course," he added, "there is a course in Kashmir, I forget the name, where there are tigers. I have heard that is also very difficult to play."
He spoke with an air of authority and while he did he put on a large cap to cover his locks. "This is for disguise. On the matter of the course in Kashmir, I have never actually met anyone who played there, but that is what I have heard."
Suddenly he crouched, issued me a silent warning to keep quiet and broke into a run. I caught up with him on the fairway and asked why we were running. "To avoid the greens police."
"I’m a tourist," I said. "I’m supposed to be on a golf course."
"You don’t know them. Just keep running."
It was useless to argue so I followed. Moments later we caught the attention of several men with uniforms and sticks who began to chase us, frightening half-a-dozen cows and a herd of grazing goats into a frenzied stampede. When I realized they were gaining on me I turned and asked in a shouting voice for the clubhouse, thinking that might slow down my pursuers. It didn’t. I turned and followed Vijay, who was fleeing into the brush at the edge of the fairway. He ran like a man with the devil at his heels, kicking a poor golfer’s ball wildly as he did and ignoring several peccaries rooting at the base of a fruit tree. I had no choice but to continue fleeing, finally beginning to put some distance between myself and the men chasing us. We fled through the scrub brush, beneath some trees and finally ran down a small hill next to a busy roadway and into an open cement culvert that was wet with sludge. We ran along the ditch for perhaps 50 yards before I slipped and fell. Vijay stopped to help me up but stopped short of actually touching me.
"That is really too bad," he said when he caught his breath. "This is the waste ditch from some new condos," he explained matter-of-factly. "Very disgusting."
I got up and wiped myself off as best I could. "How is it possible that I'm on my knees in human waste sucking exhaust from every car on the road when this is supposed to be a nature hike?"
Vijay looked hurt. He didn’t answer. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. I meditated a moment to see if there wasn’t a bigger picture here that I was missing. Where was the Great Spirit in all this, the oneness, I wondered, eating three more mushrooms. Was it possible Vijay had a plan? Perhaps he wanted me to walk in the shit so that I would understand India better, or the pressing need for conservation. Perhaps it was something like that and I was just too simple or stoned to see it. Yes, I thought, that must be it.
I decided to keep a lookout on my sensibilities and continue to go along with this guru guide of mine, this man who had such a master plan concealed in his behavior. We hadn’t yet gone near shoala, but somehow this would pay off. Yes, a walk through human sludge was exactly what an arrogant Westerner like me needed.
Vijay started off again, walking now as the greens police had evidently given up the chase. I ate two more mushrooms and fell in behind him, through the shit and slime, alongside the roadway. We walked for miles, kicking discarded beer cans and food wrappers. But somehow it all seemed to be making sense now, now that I had given myself up to the secret plan of Universe, and I found myself laughing, grinning, running to keep pace with my madman companion.
The road curved off and we climbed out of the culvert and up the embankment to the two-lane asphalt; to our right sat the squat, thrown-together, wretched sludge-producing condos. I decided to melt them with my X-ray vision, but before I could a bus careened around the bend and nearly took me to my next incarnation. I jumped back and breathed a lungful of the black smoke issuing from its tailpipe. It was followed by a car, and then another, each one taking the turn too wide, all of them honking insistently, and we hugged the near shoulder of the road as we followed after them. An hour passed and still we trudged along the roadway, past stop signs and dangerous curve signs, past herds of goats and an overturned truck, my guide answering my question as to why we were taking such a dangerous path when we could just as easily walk in the woods with a cryptic, "Why must one assume that the path one is not on is a simpler one?"
The sky turned overcast, the busses and cars passing us became a nearly constant stream. I wondered where they were headed and why Zafar Futahelli’s group wasn’t also working to outlaw the diesel fuel that filled the air. Before I could answer those questions the road took a sharp left and there, suddenly, unexpectedly, reaching to the sky were the two pillars of Pilar Rocks. Strong, bold, magnificent and covered in a thick white mist. Nearly unidentifiable except for the parking lot signs on the road below me, in which dozens of busses and cars sat with their motors idling, blowing noxious black smoke and belching tourists by the hundreds. Near them, adjoining the parking lots, was a wall lined with chi stalls and tourist stands.
I was appalled. I was tagged and weaving. Worse, I soon found myself the curious object of attention to dozens of tourist families. They flocked to my side, lined up near me and posed as if in conversation with me while friends and family took photographs of them with their gringo friend. Whole families absorbed me into their Pilar Rock snapshots. Some even pushed me into positions they thought would look more conversational, sitting me on a rock wall overlooking both the Rocks and the parking lots, telling me to smile or talk or turn this way or that. I went along with the game, imagining some ancient ritual with foreigners I knew nothing about—perhaps there was a story of luck associated with taking photos of outsiders at Pillar Rock. Certainly there had to be something more than that my guide had simply walked me into a tourist trap.
So there I stood, and sat and posed, waiting for direction from Vijay, but I soon realized my guide was nowhere to be found. He’d wandered off and lost himself in the crowd. I’d been abandoned.
I slipped down from my perch on the wall and into the nearest chi shop, where comments were made about the smell and look of my clothing and shoes. And all the while the insidious Hindi-Christian-Rasta guide of mine stayed hidden from me—me, ripped out of my mind, being fed cupfuls of bacteria and sludge, up to my ankles in Indian refuse. But why? Wasn’t Pilar Rocks his idea? What happened to the shoala and why weren’t we in it?
Dozens of questions flooded my mind, but they were too complex for anyone with five uneaten mushrooms to consider, so I ate what was left and decided to remain calm. This was India, after all, so I knew I wasn’t lost.
Instantly the recognition of that calmed me down and I decided that as long as I was here I would try to get a closer look at Pilar Rocks. But the mist which had been gathering just a few minutes earlier had now fully enveloped not only the great stone monuments but the tourist busses as well. Everything was being enveloped in white mist and disappearing like a ghostly visage. Where are you, my intrepid guide? I wondered. Pour me another cup of that sludge tea, my good man, I’ve got enough bacteria in me to infect a small village. I’m a biological warhead. Point and shoot me, I’ll infect the lot!
Suddenly it hit me and I knew—knew—where Vijay had gone. I felt it and knew I was right. I left the chi shop and slowly worked through the mist to a stand of trees the tourists were using as a latrine, moved past a squatting family and called out his name.
"Over here," came the feint reply.
I headed toward the sound and nearly bumped into him. He was sitting on a stone, rolling another joint. "I knew you would be here," I said.
"Less tourists. I like nature," he commented.
"Me too. Let’s find some. I’m hoping you thrust me into the pit of snakes for a reason. Did you?"
"You are a tourist. I thought you wanted to be with other tourists."
"I wanted to go to the jungle. The shoala. You brought me here. Are you insane?"
He moved away, out of reach. "You are going to be yelling at me now, aren’t you?"
"No. I am going to forgive your lunacy. But you are going to get me away from here and take me to the jungle. I am going to walk with the shoala beneath my feet. No roads, no drainage ditches, no diesel fuel, no tourists. Only jungle."
Without a word he stood and started up a near sheer cliff of loose boulders. I followed up the incline, forcing my wobbly feet one in front of the other, nearly falling, nearly dying, and finally reaching the top of the hill.
"There," he said, pointing 30 yards to our left. "There is the shoala."
Indeed it was. Beautiful, gnarled ancient trees clustered with hanging vines and flowers, thick, dark, wet, ominous and beautiful. "Let’s go," I said, already forgiving him the first five hours of the day.
"In there?" he asked incredulously.
"Of course. That’s why we came."
"Oh, no. It is very dangerous. There are wild animals and snakes, and crevasses in the earth."
"Let’s go look at them."
"They are very deep. If you fall in you will never get out."
He hated me. I knew that now. We were walking on a scrub path littered with paper and beer cans, not 50 feet from a rainforest at nearly 9,000 feet, but he was not going in.
"Too, it is not allowed."
"No one will see us."
"Like the golf police?"
"That was nothing."
"Still, that is how it is." And then, diverting his attention to the path we were on, he fell to his knees. "Look! Some wild animal has passed here recently...yes...follow me quietly. No laughing."
And he was off and running, the banshee who hated me.
" animal. Large...possibly dangerous...."
The track he’d seen looked common enough to me but I took his word since I realized I was not thinking clearly any longer. Somewhere along the way I’d stuffed my pockets with sticks and stones which must have seemed important at the time, and I began unloading them. What were they doing in my pockets? I certainly didn’t remember doing it. Perhaps the tourists had made me little presents. Strange. I followed after him...
"Yes!" he suddenly said. "An animal. I am sure of it." And then, further on, another 20 paces, we came on it, a mangy dog sleeping in the dirt.
"Look! A jungle dog!" he announced.
Taking no more, I dashed into the shoala despite his protests. I filled my lungs and ran through the thick underbrush, catching my clothes and hair on vines and branches, then tumbled on a tangle of roots and came to rest at the foot of a small shrine to one of the people who had investigated the crevasses without benefit of a rope. A plaque on the shrine at the yawning mouth of the black hole read:
"Dedicated to my father
May 12, 1955
Body recovered, May 13, 1955
From a depth of 500 feet."
I peered into the hole and wished him well, then praised Shiva that while Shen had bought it I had only window shopped.
"You see I am not fooling now," I heard Vijay say from the top of the embankment I’d fallen down.
I looked around. It was finally beautiful. Even to be in a rainforest which had been chopped to bits, a piecemeal patchwork of old forest interspersed with eucalyptus, wattle and pine, it was still rainforest, thick with vines and new and old growth and moving underbrush alive with things. My little Rasta was off rolling another joint but I was practically dancing, making my way to one edge of the cliff the forest stood on, looking out onto the only uninhabited piece of India I’d ever seen. Utterly inaccessible cliffs, sheer mounts fronting strange vapor covered valleys, home of the few remaining spotted panthers and mountain goats in all of Southern India. A verdant landscape of living moving things and dancing trees, filled with white-faced macaques and Ghandi monkeys, rooting boars, snakes and a host of birds. What wonder! What splendor! I pictured the entire Palni Hills covered with this sort of vegetation, and imagined what the dry Plains of Madouri must have been like with forests like these draining out into year round streams. How golden and green those plains must have been a generation ago.
Reality began slipping and I found myself picturing giant sponges like these hills dotting all of those places where greed had gotten the upper hand and left desert where there once was forest. I imagined us piling up all the beer cans and papers we throw away and instead of tossing them into holes in the ground to make land fill, piling them into heaps in the middle of deserts until the heaps were 9,000 feet high and 20 miles long by 40 miles wide and then covering the piles of garbage with dirt and planting millions of trees on them and watching our trash turn into sponge, bringing verdant life back to those dry places. Sponging the Sahara! Sponging Death Valley! Sponging the Gobi!
I sat at cliff’s edge and felt the forest around me for as long as sunlight held. It was just a speck of ancient deep green surrounded by a more modern world. Still, it was thick and lush and full of life and mystery. A person could spend days, months even, in that little rainforest and not learn all of its secrets.
It was the same in every beautiful spot in the world, I thought. People find something extraordinary. They want to be near it. They build their homes and condos and resorts and hotels until very little of the original is left. It was just our nature to smother things.
When the crevasses became difficult to see, I headed out with my wild-eyed guide who was sure we were going to die in there, back to the scrub brush road and the homestretch.
The road back was as asphalt as the one enroute. We stopped at every chi shop we saw for tea as Vijay tried to tack on the hours to increase his pay. I went along with the madman until my bladder began to float, then paid him off and zeroed in on getting back to town, back to my room, back to my own worries about conservation in the Palnis, and back, of course, to the old woman who’d sold me the mushrooms.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

People and Money

I will never understand people and money. I probably won't understand either people or money either, but I definitely don't understand them when they are together.
Me? I've never made a lot of money except when I was a chef. Those were the old days and if you were very good it wasn't impossible to get a $1,500 a week cash job running a kitchen in New York. There were only one or two cooking schools of merit and they were turning out very few chefs. Mostly they turned out hotel managers who knew something about the kitchen and costs and such. But the rest of us were self made. You could either do it or not and if you could you could make good money.
But before and after those years, I've always been a guy who makes enough to get by, have a little treat sometimes, and generally been lucky. Not frugal, I've always spent it as I earned it--something I've still got to learn to deal with.
But I've always thought my word was my bond when it came to money and that if you promised to pay someone for something, you did. And if you borrowed money, even if you couldn't pay it back for a long time, when you could, you did.
Right now I owe one pal $1,200, another $800 and one of my sisters about $2,300. That and the mortgage are the entire debt, financially, in my life. (Anyone I've forgotten, let me know.)
Which isn't bad, considering I borrowed about $16,000 to keep this house from begin repossessed the first few years here in Texas before I got the writing gigs I'm so happy to have right now.
So while those debts still linger after 4-5 years, they should be gone this year, finally. With interest.
The point is you eventually pay the damned things.
But on a recent trip to Peru--the one the doctor had me find a replacement for by having me do my surgery almost as soon as he saw me. --the person whose trip it was had the hotels fronted to her. And then she lost a bank card and then came home to find the government had frozen her assets and and says she has no money and now can't pay the remaining $4 grand on the hotels and so my friends Andy and Maria, part of my team in Cuzco, Peru, have been picked up by the police for non-payment of the hotels and are being threatened with having their tourist licenses taken away--a major thing in Peru, believe me. And the person whose trip it was won't even answer her phone.
If that's me, I'm borrowing money to get them paid. I'm selling a car or whatever rather than seeing good people harassed for doing me the favor.
And I've already been stuck telling Andy and Maria that starting in December, when a series of checks becomes due, I will cover the debt monthly till it's paid. I can't do better because these darned stomach operations have eaten all my savings and this last one had me borrowing $3 grand on my only credit card--my limit--as well.
And I'm upset that someone, a wealthy person who is my friend, is letting this happen. She's a great person. What the fuck is she thinking?
Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about today.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Human Condition

An editor I don't know very nicely contacted me yesterday and asked if I'd consider doing a column for his magazine. He wants something light that deals with the human condition. I said yes of course, as we writers, or this writer, can always use more work that pays.
So I've been thinking of the human condition since then. I have been thinking about a girlfriend of mine in Iquitos who wrote me yesterday to say that she's sorry but that she's been lonely and couldn't wait for me and has reunited with her former boyfriend. But, she added, I shouldn't worry. She'll be having a breakup with him right after Christmas for a month or so so that she can be with me when I go down there in January for my trip.
I've been thinking about my ex, Chepa, who showed up for dinner last night after saying she'd already eaten, then yelled at me because the food wasn't ready. It was just fajita fixings over rice and the meat wasn't done. Maybe a three minute job as the rice and veggies were done and the meat was going on the stove.
So I finish and serve and low and behold, Chepa is starving. But rather than say Thanks, she announces that the meat is raw and the food no good, then has a second helping and then took a large portion home. "It's better than nothing."
And this morning Italo's girlfriend Sarah, who lives with us, announces, as I'm getting up and long before coffee, that the ice box smells. "There's left overs and the milk is going bad and someone left the top off the juice. It's horrible."
I was tempted to ask why she hadn't cleaned it up and served the dog any food that was beginning to sour but decided it was too early for an argument. This the same woman who two days ago, after I took out bread and mayonaise and meat to make Madeleina a sandwich for school, makes herself a sandwich with the fixings and then asks what I'm going to do for Madeleina as there's no more bread.
These are little things, I know, but they contribute to a poor human condition. My poor human condition.
So Madeleina, this morning, tells me I've been mean. I say she's right and apologize. I explain that I'll try to do better. She accepts it and gives me a hug. So I'll try and I'll try to let the little stuff from the others run off my back a bit more easily.
Still, I got to admire their chutzpah. Planning a fight two months in advance, take home portions of a meal you weren't invited to eat and you still can't say it's delicious. Fridge smells but it's not my job to clean it, only to scold you for having let it happen.....I sometimes wonder why I chose this particular cast of characters to be in my life for this long.
And as I was slightly seething, Italo comes through the living room and asks what happened last night and I tell him and he laughs and says Hey dad, that's what being a dad is about. They're just saying they're mad you went away and had another operation and almost died and they can't live without you. Don't you see that, boy? Better stay healthy this time.
Now that's a perspective I hadn't seen at all. I don't believe him one second but it sure was a sweet lie.
Got to love this crazy life, eh?

Monday, November 05, 2007

From My Next Column for Skunk Magazine

Most of you probably know that I write a regular column for Skunk Magazine, a great and irreverent pot magazine out of Canada. My column is called Drug War Follies, and here's a piece of the one about to hit the stands.
From Drug War Follies #24:
On Sept 22, 2007, Karen Tandy, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s administrator, tendered her resignation to the Justice Department to go to work as a senior vice-president for Motorola, and for many of us it wasn’t a moment too soon. Tandy, a former prosecutor who once announced—at an international news conference—the name of a confidential informant, putting him on the run for the last several years, was the most recent architect of the federal onslaught against medical marijuana compassion clubs. She was also the person who declared that Marc Emery was the world’s number one pot-seller and who has been trying to get him extradited from Canada for selling a few seeds to her undercovers for years.
During her watch, which began on July 31, 2003, Afghanistan has again become the number one source for opium in the world, Mexico has been shredded by drug-money violence, and the price of hard drugs on the streets of the US and Canada has plummeted. To say she was ineffective would be giving her too much credit. She was pathetic. More than that, she was cruel and soulless, a by-the-book bitch who took enormous pleasure in having her g-men raid compassion clubs in California, pressure medical licensing bureaus to harass the late Dr. Tod Mikuriya, Dr Mollie Fry and other physicians who had the chutzpah to sign notes for sick people allowing them to possess marijuana. She salivated over the thought of putting Ed Rosenthal behind bars and shit a brick (we’re guessing here) when that didn’t happen.
If her position was to minimize the harm done by hard drugs, then her tenure was one of utter and complete failure. Good riddance.
The bad news is that there is a possibility that her replacement will be the DEA’s second in command, Michele Lionhart. Lionhart is from different stock but has the same M.O.: Do anything to make the arrest. If you can’t get the bad guys, go after someone smoking pot for muscular dystrophy.
Lionhart was one of the handlers for the infamous snitch Andrew Chambers in both St. Louis and later in Los Angeles. Chambers, considered the most prolific snitch in federal history, had a 16-year run from 1984-2000, during which he was credited with 291 investigations, 76 of which the DEA considered very important. But his testimony was often riddled with lies and numerous courts called him on it, including the 9th Circuit. That didn’t deter Lionhart, who once famously announced about Chambers to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that: "The only criticism (of Chambers) I've ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand."
Chambers actually got to bullshitting so badly that in 2000 then-US Attorney General Janet Reno had to step in and retire him, something Lionhart felt terribly about.
If Lionhart does indeed get the nod to become the second female administrator of the DEA, no doubt her willingness to use known liars as informants will continue and the DEA will continue to foist its brand of "you’re going to jail whether you’re guilty or not," on the US public and its international allies.
What we’d wish would happen instead would be that the DEA hires someone with decency and integrity: someone, anyone, who recognizes that medical-marijuana laws are real laws and should be abided by. That the case against Marc Emery is immediately dropped as it is based on his illegal entrapment by DEA agents. That informants should be rarely used—if ever. And that the whole DEA should concentrate its work on major international drugs-for-arms players who are causing major pain and anguish in this world.
Of course, as those players have their hands in the pockets of world leaders, senators and congressmen, it’s unlikely that that will happen. Ah, shit. I hate reality.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Chicken's in the Oven...

Okay. It's Friday night and the kids are gone. They'll be back but for the moment or the next couple of hours I'm home alone. Years ago, before I was a parent, I had thousands of things to do. When I broke up with Clare in 1985 and lived alone for 8 years--though I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there was a delicious and brilliant woman named Albie in there for a couple of years--my apartment was a sort of working art gallery. There were five small rooms in Manhattan at 90th street and 3rd Avenue. The first was a long kitchen, where I've always been able to make art out of a dead chicken. The second room was my art place: the room where the two desks were always littered with leather or stained glass or even an occasional painting. I wasn't any good at any of it but I always had a couple of projects going on and tried my best. The third room was where I generally wrote at my IBM electric typer/ the fourth where I slept and the living room was where I smoked my pot, drank my wine, wrote my poems, played guitar and harmonica and thought wonderful thoughts and dreamed fantastic Amazon dreams. I also kept my photo work in there and while I was only a second rate photographer--and still am--I was often the only guy in the right place so wound up selling maybe 200 photos to mags as diverse as Details and Natural History to Omni and High Times. (Note: That number was initially 1,000 but I've gone over it in my head and 200 is probably more accurate, though less dramatic.)
So I was used to being alone and loved it.
But I've had kids since 1994 or so and until recently they were always here. I reverted to my Irish background where dinner was a shared meal and I'm having a tough time weaning myself. Today, for instance, Madeleina is with Chepa at Chepa's house a couple of miles away. Italo is at his third-cut tryout for the semi-pro soccer league again. Marco went to take care of the kids at his girlfriend's as his girlfriend's mom had surgery on her vocal chords this morning. And Sarah is at the hospital taking care of her brother, who was hit by an SUV on Halloween. He's okay but needed wrist surgery today.
Still, I've got a seven-pound chicken in the oven, covered in garlic and cracked black pepper and lime. There are par-boiled sliced potatoes and baby carrots--along with onion and garlic and a bit af chicken stock--surrounding it in the pan. Then there is good Basmati rice with garlic on the stove top.
But if nobody comes home that will just be lunch for tomorrow or food for the dog the next day. Tonight, if I'm alone it's back to a sesame'd hero with mayonaise in the oven, topped with paper-thin roast beef, rare, pepperjack cheese and a freshly roasted red pepper that I've just put on the stove. That and lots and lots of broccoli, steamed plain, for my stomach.
What about you guys? Ever get attached to cooking for the kids and have a tough time stopping it when they weren't there to eat it? I mean, I imagine that I'll be making whole potfuls years from now like some crazy neighbor and the nearby kids will say: That's Mr. Gorman. He makes so much food and nobody comes to eat it so he feeds it to his dogs. Don't go to his house, he's nuts!"
Never thought of myself that way till this second but jeez Louise, I guess this is how it starts.....