Saturday, March 29, 2008

A World Full of Pain

While wars wage in probably three dozen countries around the world and starvation affects hundreds of millions, and while three cops are on trial in New York for shooting 51-bullets at three men in a car and while dozens of men and women wait on death rows, counting days, it sometimes seems hopeless around this planet and us humans.
And then I look at my family and the--most of the time--joy that hangs around us and our crazy broken-up selves, and I look at the trees starting to bloom and the wonder I've always found in that, and the flowers Madeleina and I planted the other day that are already about to burst into this world and make it just a little prettier today than it was yesterday, and I wonder how we can let the dark side out so often. Not just other people, myself in my angry tirade to Marco the other night, but most all of us. How did we let it get to this?
An email came yesterday from a mom who's son died two years ago in southern Texas. He was found hanging with a public park swing chain around his neck. Coroner called the reason for death undecided until the police claimed the kid was a known drug user, and then changed that to 'suicide'. The kid was kneeling on the ground. I've got the pics. For that kid to have died from suicide he must have worked at it long and hard because all he had to do to not die was stand, or raise himself up half an inch. The cops in the case have all been fired--at the same time, some months after the kid was found. And the coroner says the kid didn't start off high up on the chain and then slide down. He just apparently knelt, wrapped the swing chain around his neck and leaned forward.
Could be. Not likely.
And the mom wrote me asking for help. Help to close her wounds. Help to find out if her kid really did that to himself, impossible as it seems, or to find out who did it to him.
I know he's just one kid and millions are suffering, dying, living in fear right now. But he's that woman's kid. And so I've got to think: What if it was my kid? What if nobody would take my kid's death seriously? I'd reach out to strangers too.
So I'm going to make some calls and see if anything comes up. Not a real big chance, me not knowing the area and the officers off the force and the death being two years old. But you never know. Somebody might just be ready to spill the beans and maybe that mom can get her closure--whatever it might be--and then be ready to look out onto the Spring things blooming and the wonder of it all again.
It really is such an amazing and beautiful world. How the heck we get so wrapped up in the negative is a mystery.
All I would have had to do the other night with Marco was stop and look at that beautiful kid for a minute before I exploded and I wouldn't have. I'd have seen the beauty there, despite his button-pushing.
Just getting maudlin, I guess. Cause I'm an old hippie who thinks we ought to make love, not war. And we ought to feed everyone, which we could, just with our leftovers. And we all ought to take a look every now and then at the wonder around us.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

And if You Want to Know the Truth....

The truth is that yesterday was one of my best days of the year for getting jobs done. Got my trip sneakers and sox, got a rose bush, got daisies to plant, got food to cook, had the first bar-be-que of the spring, got the lawn cut, got banking done for the May trip, got tickets for Chepa and her babies for June, did three interviews for next week and the week after's stories, wrote a food review....
And a thousand other things and then it was time to serve and I asked Marco for something and he refused and I asked him again and then he refused--it was just setting the table for himself, Madeleina and me, couple of forks, couple of glasses, napkins, something to drink, real easy--and I suddenly blew my stack. And Marco said: I don't have to take this shit and I said, "Of course not, You can get the heck out of here." And he said I will and I said, FINE but don't take my truck. Don't even think about taking my truck. And so he packed a bag and went to his girl's house--a few mile walk--and I guess spent the night there and I slept fitfully on the couch, thinking how stupid I was and why, after all the medicine, all the ayahuasca I hadn't been able to come up with something that would coax him to join us, rather than flee. And all night I thought of that. Sitting up in the couch, wondering why I don't know anymore my now.
This morning I called him at work to say I was sorry and now he's home and he has mowed the entire lawn without me asking, so maybe he thought he overreacted as well, but I'm the dad and so the fault lies with me. You'd think I would have more tricks at my fingertips by 57, wouldn't you? But I don't. I feel so darned inadequate some times. And this was one of them.
Then I think about women, because I always think of women, and I wonder: Who the heck would want an useless son of a gun like me? I can't even figure out how to avoid yelling at my kid. No wonder I ain't getting any.
Sorry for the crude talk, Ms. M. I know better. I was just making a New York point.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Son, The Goat Herder....

Italo told me he'd kill me if I wrote this title to the blog, but what the heck, how could a dad resist. Italo's the only one of us fast enough to enter the acre-large front yard and out-run the goats to the chicken coop, with promises of goat food on the way. He carries a handful of food that he drops by micro weight en route. They follow. There he tosses in four or five pounds and they enter, only to be trapped by their own greed. I'm not as fast as him and so get gored, butted, bitten, kicked along the way. Madeleina gets positively man....goat...handled along the way, and Sierra, age 2, doesn't make it 5 feet before the big goat with balls and dick is trying to have some sort of intimacy with her.
Big goat is gonna be bar-be-que next week. We made a mistake taking a goat that hadn't had his nuts wrapped in an elastic band. The other goats are fine. They're loving, they're playful and they're intimidated by humans....not that they should be in real life, but they let us actually go into the yard without trying to kill us, which I THINK is a plus....
Today, Italo did a bar-b-que (sans goat) with some chicken I'd marinated in olive oil, garlic, onions, soy, achote, vino, vinegar, salt, pepper and a couple of Peruvian spices and I'm about to serve it. The dogs are crazy already for the bones.
I'm gonna watch No Country for Old Men, and Madeleina is gonna watch a Nancy Drew movie. I wish it was the old days and she had to watch with me...she wishes it was the old days and I had to watch with her...
We're both wrong and right.
And we've got beans asparagus, broccoli, sweet grilled peppers, yellow rice, salad....hopefully we still fit into our shorts in the morning....
And hopefully we're both in Peru in a month. I can't wait to take Madeleina back out to the jungle she hasn't seen in five years. She's going to discover that she's a monkey. She can climb trees. If you look at her toes, her big toe and next toe are nearly 3 inches apart. That's from grandma: That's tree climbing toes. I'm so jealous I could die.
And now I better see to the ribs because Italo left and said: "Hey, dad, I happened to leave the ribs on the grill. Check them in one minute or you will lose them..."
Italo never lies...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

And Then It Was Easter

And it was a beautiful morning. Religion aside--and I grew up Catholic so said some private prayers for everybody--it was a task to get Italo and Marco to want to do an egg hunt. "Dad, that's for kids. Can't we just sleep?" HA! I put bacon on the stove and that got them up. And then, inexplicably, both of them went to work to unclog the bathroom sink. That sink has had more drano in it in the last month than a commercial about clogged toilets. And we've broken the pipes apart and taken out a knife and a fork, toothpaste tops, bobby pins and enough hair to make a wig and it still was clogged. But somehow those guys woke up determined and kicked bathroom sink ass to the point where they were able to push the yard hose down there and leave it running for 10 minutes without backing up. Fantastic. I hate brushing my teeth at the kitchen sink because it means I've got to clean up anything left from the night before before I can do it, and I'm not generally in the mood to do dishes before I've brushed my teeth.
And then I announced the egg hunt and they still were lackluster.
But I'm not stupid, I'm a dad. And I put five dollar bills in half a dozen of the 18 eggs and a tenner in another and when the boys heard that, the hunt was on. Even Italo's girlfriend, Sarah, jumped into the fray: "I'm getting free gas money for a couple of days. Out of my way!"
So that was beautiful.
And you know what? We did what the hunt was supposed to do: Find places the kids haven't cleaned in months (behind the television, under the big couch) and so now
they're on cleaning detail. HOORAY FOR DAD!
The greatest thing is that after having lived in this house for seven Easters now, and hiding the eggs in only one living room, they were still stumped on the last two. They actualy gave up while there was still $10 out there. Claimed there couldn't be another egg in the room, much less two. And then I cooly stepped forward and collected them both. They couldn't believe it.
And after clean up they'll all be off: Italo to a soccer game, Marco to Brook's house, Sarah to her second job, waiting tables. Only me and Madeleina will be here but she's got the new Bee Movie so she's set. And Chepa and Sierra and Alexa are off in Indiana with her boyfriend. So me and Madeleina are gonna hang out, play some pool and then I'll get dinner ready in time for everybody and a couple of friends to come over.
So Happy Easter everybody. Hope you all have a swell day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Gift of Taking People to the Jungle

You know, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what it is I am doing when I take people to the jungle. I wonder why I do it and I wonder whether the people who come on the trips with me get what they paid for. More than that, I wonder if they get the point of what I was trying to give them out there during our short time together. I wonder if I even know what I'm trying to give them.
I worry that I am doing the trips for selfish reasons. Money? That would be a good selfish reason. But I never end up making money. I look at a trip and break it down and no matter how many people I've got, by the time I get home there isn't much. I think the most I actually ever made from a trip was $4,200, with which I bought my second Ford Ranger two years ago. And that was for a month of planning--at least 2-3 hours a day, every day--then flying to Peru, spending three or 4 days getting things ready, then 22 days with people, then three days cleaning things up, then flying home. And I'm generally useless for the first few days when I'm home. So for a month of prep and a month of work, during which I'm on call 24/7 (even if I get drunk someone is sure to find me at my hotel at 4 AM to tell me they can't sleep and can't I wake up and talk with them about a bad dream?). So $4,200 isn't a lot. And that's the most I ever made.
So I guess I'm not doing them for money, even though I wish I could make money.
I do need the breaks from writing and the trips definitely afford me that. And I have had girlfriends in Peru sometimes, and since I haven't had any here in Texas, that's a plus when it happens. And I do get to spend time with my friends there, many of whom are on my work teams, so that's a plus.
So I'm definitely getting something out of it on a selfish level.
And I worry sometimes if that's what I'm really about: Do I really do the trips just to get my own vacation, and if I do will my guests see through me and realize how selfish I am?
And then other times it seems to me that I do the trips because people want me to. They want to see what the jungle is like, and they want to try ayahuasca, the wonderful healing and visionary vine of the Amazon. , and they want to spend a night on an Amazon riverboat packed to the gills with people and goods and hammocks hung like spiderwebs--even if they don't know it when they sign up. They may think they want to climb around Machu Picchu--and I'm not going to diminish that--but they really want to clamber around Sacsayhuaman, the huge stone structure above Cuzco, at dusk and into the night when it's freezing cold, having eaten some magic mushrooms. Again, that's what I think people want sometimes, and so that's what I give them. I also tell them stories, some bawdy, some warm, about the river and its people. I teach them how to shop in a Third World market, teach them how to eat grub worms, how to make trying on boots a fun experience rather than a drag. I teach them how to puke and shit themselves and let me or my team wipe them off and clean them up, how to trust other people in a way they have never needed to trust people. I teach them to try new things and face little inconveniences with a certain amount of anger that can quickly be turned into joy.
But you know, I still don't have confidence that people really want that. Who the heck am I to think they needed any of it? Why do I have to do the trips when there are dozens of good outfits who have better equipment, heck, they've got screened in lodges while I take people out into the middle of nowhere and eschew screening altogether except for mosquito nets at night.
So why the hell do these people wind up with me and do they all feel ripped off? Do they all want better hotels? Do they walk away thinking I cheated them? I guess some do. Some ask for financial breakdowns to see how their money was spent. Some hate me and still write me notes, months, even years after their trips, telling me what a sorry son of a thieving bitch I am.
And then, like this week, I get a couple of notes from people who have been on the trip. One former client said she'd had a breakthrough of such immense proportions she still can't describe it--and that's more than a year after her trip. Another wrote this week that every day is more joyful now than it was before. Another wrote last week to say he was thinking of coming to Texas just to give me a hug.
And when I look at it objectively, I think there are a lot more of those people than there are the ones who walk away cheated.
And when I get those notes, when people realize that their lives have been changed, not by me but by the trip or some element in the trip--and not always something they can even put their finger on--then I realize that though I still don't know why I do these trips, it' still important that I do them. And so I do, even though I often tell myself I'm through with them, that they're too much work, not enough return.
I guess I'm saying that I'm very very glad that the spirits are generous with my guests in ways that move them. And I'm glad to be able to put those people in a place where they get out of themselves enough to hear those spirits. And if I have my druthers, it's gonna happen for the people on my upcoming trips too. I sure hope it does.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Just a Gorgeous Day

Well, after a couple of days during which rain fell so hard and wind gusted so heavily it felt like not just the house but the whole of Joshua was going to float away, this morning broke clear and crisp and clean. If today's not the first day of Spring it sure could be. It is so flat out gorgeous out there that after another cup of coffee I'm headed out to the yard to mow some lawn, and I'm looking forward to it.
And it's gorgeous too because Madeleina has this week off--she had a bowling birthday party to attend last night and had a blast--and Italo is watching soccer on the tv in this office I'm working in.
I'm getting everyone's passports renewed: not sure if they'll actually do it but they're all asking to come with me to Peru in June. I'll be there for work but Chepa will be there to get some dental work done. I'd love to take Madeleina out to the jungle with me and my guests: It's been six years since she's been out there and she would be a wonderful addition to my hearty band of trusting guests. If they saw her in a canoe at night it would reassure them that there are no cayman in the water. HA!
Anyway, if I was there while Chepa was there it would be difficult--lots of old ghosts might decide to clutter my dreams. But I'm strong enough now to not let it get out of hand or tie me in knots. I think. (Suck it up, Gorman).
Anyway, just wanted to say hello and I hope that wherever you are it's just as beautiful.
And DaisyDukes, just a quick hello. I don't comment but I do read your great blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Soul Loss and Retrieval

Someone on a board I occasionally post on recently posed the question of whether Amazonian curanderos, particularly ayahuasqueros--healers who work with ayahuasca, the visionary and healing vine of the Amazon--can help someone who thinks they've lost their soul to retrieve it.
This was my response:
Soul retrieval is pretty standard stuff in Amazonia because there is a belief that when someone gets terribly frightened or surprised their soul leaves them. But in my experience, the person having their soul reunited with them never drinks ayahuasca, and the curanderos rarely drink ayahasca during a soul retrieval. It's something done with intent, and the ayahuasquero or curandero doing it goes into an altered state without the use of medicine.
On the other hand, someone who has lost their soul in Amazonia, again, just in my experience, is essentially in a lifeless condition: their breathing is shallow and they cannot physically move. If they don't get help--and the retrieval generally takes three sessions of a couple of hours each over the course of three days--pretty quickly, they simply die.
The most recent soul retrieval I saw was perhaps three years ago: a Matses woman washing clothes saw at the bottom of the river her husband's grave. He stood next to it, waving to her. And next to him was her own grave. She shrieked, fell out of the canoe she was in, lunged to shore, ran and fell over a tree stump, hitting her head.
She was brought to Julio--my great friend and teacher who passed in January, 2007-- in an essentially lifeless state. He sang for hours, then sent her home with the men who brought her. They returned the next day and he did the same: Smoking her, singing, utilizing his shacapa. (Smoking her means blowing smoke on her; a shacapa is a leaf rattle.)
On the third day, after about two hours, the woman opened her eyes and angrily demanded to know what was going on and what the heck Julio thought he was doing. The men all laughed.
It was only a few minutes later that the woman remembered and recounted seeing her husband and the graves in the bottom of the river.
Now, did the woman really lose her soul? I have no idea. She might just have been in deep shock or maybe even a coma from hitting her head when she fell. But in Amazonia it was called soul loss and Julio retrieved it for her. Whatever it was, she got better on that third day. And she's still fine and has laughed many times about waking up to see old Julio standing over her, blowing copious amounts of hot cigarette smoke into her face.

Monday, March 17, 2008

That Corned Beef....

Well, the corned beef is as good as if God made it. Not saying he/she didn't, but boy, this is some sweet shit. And the cabbage...ah, well, you don't even have to like cabbage to like it when it's sitting in corned beef fat for three hours...Potatoes? Thank you Peru for bringing potatoes to the Irish. And thank you Peru for corn, tomatoes, chocolate, manioc, sweet potato, cucumbers, vanilla, most hot peppers, most beans in the market today...and thank you Irish for being tough enough to withstand assaults from a dozen peoples over a thousand years. And thank you for producing my grandparents etc., else I wouldn't be here to celebrate anything.
Madeleina has been a wonder in green all day, from her two-foot leprauchaun hat to her Pulcallpa Indian woman green shirt. "I'm celebrating being Irish and Amazon Indian in the same day! Whew! Thanks dad for making me so different from most people!"
And I have not had any green beer and only a sip of a bud someone left in the fridge. But I did finish a story and make this month's mortgage and will finish another and make next month's mortgage tomorrow.
So here's to all of you. Here's to your health! Raise a glass like there's a war tomorrow so you'd better kiss your loved ones twice tonight!
And to your, Mike Gleason, a very very special hello. And to all you Gormans, a lot of love and hope and foregiveness. And to you, my Gorman children, sweet, sweet dreams.
Up the Irish!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

St. Paddy's Day

Well well well. Here's to the Irish in ya! Hoist yer glass and kiss yer ass but never kiss an Englishman!
It's Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting at my desk wearing a 3' green and silver hat that Madeleina put on me. She wanted some Irish green stuff today and that included this hat, some bling with a "pot of gold" hanging from it, chocolate covered cupcakes with green frosting and a few other things. We also bought Yellow Roses Friday to celebrate Chepa's 40th and tulips because the goats ate the tulips we have growing annually.
I'm hating the big goat. No secret. I try to be a nice guy but in my world there can be as many capo de tuti capos as you want (heck, I'm from Whitestone, Queens, New York where all five mob families had not only capos but consiglieres and tons of soldiers). BUTTTTTTTT, I can't have a goat that weighs 120 pounds with balls bigger than my head who thinks he's the only capo de tuti capo. Head of the heads. Big shot. I hate that freaking goat. He makes it impossible to go to the garage and play pool. Or ping pong, or foosball, or work out on the speed bag or heavy bag...or just lay back, turn on the 500 watts of receiver and blast your ask off to Bruce Springstein or the new Bob Dylan, which actually rocks pretty good.
Anyway, I've got a new cover story out, and a new food review. I've done a new news feature and new columns for two different mags. I've got my tickets for Peru for three weeks at the end of April. And I've got this crazy hat on.
Just today me and Madeleina bought a new carpet--machine, not hand stitched, as I've spent weeks in the stitching mills in India and Morocco and can't really condone that crippling work. And we've got three new pieces of artwork that would blow your minds--thank you former guests in the Amazon--and one or two repaired pieces.
And Chepa left yesterday with her boyfriend for Indiana for a month with his and her new babies and she's called 5 times since then asking forgiveness of Madeleina, Marco and Italo. And her friend Monica just remarried her first husband after she ran out of the million dollars he gave her--married like this week in Peru--and my son Marco just got promoted to Manager of produce or groceries at the local Brookshires and now earns $13 an hour, a respectable wage for a 19-year-old (and much more than I, a famous journalist ever makes these days) and I only wish he can learn to stock the laundry here the way he can evidently stock groceries.
And the dogs are going crazy and the goats ate the rooster's tail feathers till he jumped the fence and became the property of the neighbors. But the gods are okay and the birds are okay and the kids are okay so I'm just reportin' not bitching.
And I've got a good trip coming up into the jungle in about 6 weeks and a cover story at this week and a news feature at the same place next week, and a food review the week after that and then another cover story on the Last Cowboys in Cowtown, now that Fort Worth is losing all its real ranches and then a couple of columns to my mags and I'm out of here.
And in case any of you wonder how other people view me, you might look at the May issue of Men's Journal, which has a feature on a recent trip of mine. I have no idea what the wrtiter will say but take a look at least.
And remember that I'm thinking of you. Your lives were full before I entered them and you've made some time for me. So Thanks. That's important to me.
So we're all okay here, even if not on solid ground. And I hope you're all okay too. Let me know.
I'm serious,
Peter G
PS: I'll be putting on a corned beef around 10 AM tomorrow. I'll put in the cabbage at noon and the potatoes at 2 PM. I'll be serving at 6 PM, with good mustard if any of you are hungry. It's the best stinking meal of the year. Thank you, god, white light, angels, dead cows and cabbages.....
Peter G

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Regards Monday's List

Well, regards Monday's list, I kept going in the role of Dad and the list, with the exception of photos to the new magazine, is done. We also tossed in a couple of oil changes, a car registration, a painted bathroom, paying bills for the month and some other things. If you want to check out the new story in the Fort Worth Weekly, go to
and see the cover story: Blue Collar Paradise.
So while this isn't a blog of much import, I thought it important to let you readers know that I try to follow up on my lists. And since you paid attention, I thought it only fair to let you know where I stood.
PS: I didn't quit smoking. I was only fooling myself with that one. But the reasonable part of the list, though it took maybe 48 hours of work, did get done. Hooray!
And Bamboo: A private note: How was the coffee? Great, I hope.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday AM List

Okay, well it's 6:23 AM on Monday morning. I've had my first sip of cofee and am sitting at the computer. I was going to read the New York Daily News to get the day going but then I noticed one of my yellow pads to my left has a list. I take a moment then remember that just before bed last night I made a list of things to do so I'd be organized todays.
1) Go eat at the Chinese place and write a food review
2) Rewrite cover story for the Weekly.
3) Finish and send in the papers for Italo and Marco's Green Card Renewals. Don't forget the check.
4) Make phone calls for the small feature due Friday.
5) Drive to city, pick up check and the Freedom of Information Act info the city sent regarding Friday story.
6) Take out two truckloads of garbage with Marco or ITalo.
7) On way back from garbage dump have both trucks' oil changed
8) Have little green truck inspected.
9) Have Italo's car registered
10) Stop at Western Union and send $515 to Ruber to pay for the cabins on the boat for the May Amazon trip
11) Don's forget to get picture taken for new column in business magazine. IMPT.
12) Quit smoking
13) Begin diet
14) Exercise
15) Make up with Chepa so that I can visit with Sierra. Haven't seen her in four days

Looks like a full day. Better get to it, eh?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What I Love About My Job

What I love about my job: About a month ago I was doing a story about high steel iron workers and at some point in the story I was at the new Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, and the boss pointed to a small metal box. "That's what you want, right?" he said, after we'd done interviews with some of his men. "What's that?" I asked. "The basket."
The basket was a 4' X 4' wire mesh basket, with sides that went to the waist and was open above that. And the basket got hooked to a crane that took me and the photographer over 300' above the ground, so that we were looking down on the iron workers walking around on 8" steel beams, their guy wires looking so flimsy I know they wouldn't hold anyone. I held on for dear life but still had the time or my life as that huge crane swung us left and right, out over space, dangling in air, blown this and that way by the wind for an hour. What a kick, even though I was scared to death the whole time.
And this week I was out on a gas drilling rig covered in mud on the wettest coldest sleetiest day of the year and a the whole thing was throbbing like some alien robot and I was thinking Thanks, God, I love my job. Now I can write a story about these guys. I don't live it but I got a good glimpse.
About 20 years ago I was doing a story for Penthouse about the crack epidemic. It would have been the first major national story about it. I spent two weeks traveling with the New York City SNU (Street Narcotics Units) in their vans, and then another two weeks sitting in their perches while they surveilled sales points, old hotels on the Bowery on lower 3rd Ave, where dealers tossed bags full of crack out the windows to dealers on the street. And then came the day. Me and Dave Cantor, the brilliant photographer of life in New York were sitting in his car, a formerly undercover narcotics car--blue Ford Fairlane with a 400 HP engine and a radio that caught all the police frequencies, and we were on 43 and 7th. It was probably midnight or a little later and we were waiting for a deal to go down, after which the female participant in the deal would let us photograph her smoking crack, at that time a new drug and largely unknown, on the street.
Well, this gang of teens, mostly 15 or so, but maybe 20-30-40 of them, come past the car and nail us for undercovers. And they razz us and we ignore them. And then, on cue, a gunfight breaks out on 42 and 7th/Broadway (where 7th and Broadway come together, the crossroads of the world) at the cigar shop, and suddenly these kids are back a and they're razzing us. "Hey, under covers. You going to fix that or just be chickenshit in that car of yours? What's up with that, you chickenshit motherfuckers?"
I was more than willing to ignore them but they decided to turn our car over, which I thought would have killed us. So me and Dave Cantor did the only thing reasonable: We leapt out of the car, pushed the kids aside and ran toward the shooting--it was a battle, not a shooting--with fingers in gun position held high screaming "Police! Drop your guns or we'll shoot!!!" and running straight into a gun battle with only our fingers. Thank god a couple of patrol cars showed up so we were saved. But what a rush that was.
And then one time in India, in Tamil Nadu, at Rom Whitaker, the great herpetologist's place, we wanted pictures of "Giant", his 16-foot long one ton saltwater croc. And Rom says go ahead. And Jeff Rotman, the fantastic photographer says "Peter, we have to get into the cage to get a good shot" and I'm so stupid I agree. So Whitaker grabs a very sick dog and tosses it into the far end of the 50-foot cage and the croc jumps at it and grabs it just as Jeff and I climb into the cage. Unfortunately, "GIANT" noticed us and came at us with a dog leg hanging out of his mouth and blood everywhere. Jeff and I climbed the 4' rock enclosure and 6' double- mesh, heavy-gauge fence faster than you can say "please, God!" and got over it just as Giant hit the wall full speed, sending shock waves for a quarter of a mile.
And then there were times when I was hired by the NY Police Department to guard the back doors of apartment houses against very bad men trying to escape, and times I had to drive half-a-ton of pot a couple of hundred miles for a High Times Photo Shoot, and once when I had to pretend I was an illegal and get smuggled into the US, and the times I had to jump freights to do hobo stories. And I'm not even talking about being in the Amazon with my own boat several hundred miles from the nearest place where there is a phone.
Sometimes you just investigate. Sometimes you get a glimpse of how it really is. And if I had my druthers, I'd love to do more of the "glimpse" stories because those are the ones where you can write first person about the sensation. Those are the ones where you do a "Am I really doing this?" reality check. And the answer almost always is "Yes I am, and this is FANTASTIC! Thank you baby Jesus/white light/ angels/ whomever. I'm alive!" even while pissing my pants.
And that's why I love my job.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Yes, and I'll Tell You Why

Yes, because of all the things that have broken here in the last couple of days--three cars, a ceiling fixture, the sink and the hot water heater, among others--today I got up with the itch in my stomach that it was time for Dad to take over things. That means me. So I told Italo, who works from 4 AM-8 AM daily and then generally goes to Chepa's, to come right back here after work to work. And work we did: We went to Home Depot, bought some parts after I spoke to a plumbing guy, for both the water and water heater, then headed home. On the way we dropped off my truck, the one with no brake lights, at Rick's Auto. I told him to fix it quick as I need my next truck done as well and can't do that till this one was fixed. Then me and Italo came home and worked on the sink and water heater till we got them done. Then Rick's called to say my car was ready. Then I called a wrecker and had my old green truck with the busted clutch brought to Rick's and he should have that ready in a few days. And then I fixed the light fixture that nearly conked Madeleina last night and I fixed the washing machine and fed the dogs and scrubbed the kitchen and tried--failing miserably--to unclog the bathroom sink, sent Marco over to Chepa's with a printer that will work on her computer wonderfully but doesn't really work on the Mac I use very well. She's about to lose her house and the printer will prove she's paid two extra payments they're not crediting her for. If not, I'll pay. Today I'm freaking dad and nobody got in my way. Today I had to intervene and though I rather my kids to do that stuff these days, it had gotten so overwhelming that we needed me to step up to the plate. And bang! bang! bang! I was hitting ropes between the left and center fielders and it felt like I had all the power in the world.
And then two minutes ago Marco made an ultra mistake: He walks up to the kitchen table and says "Hey, old man, you and me. You got balls?" and sets himself into an arm wrestling position. Italo said: "Marco, you're crazy. Not today. Dad's insane. He'll kill you."
Marco didn't want to hear it. I took him down with the left hand in less than a second.
"I'm not a lefty. That's not fair," he says.
I turned to righty. My right shoulder is bad. It has always been great but about six months ago I tore into the rotator cuff and there are a lot of positions it simply won't go into anymore. I mean, I have to lift my elbow into a lot of positions, and that's painful. I still took him down in about three seconds.
Italo laughed. "Told you, stupid. Not today. He's like 30 years old today. You got to get him on an old guy day to even have a chance."
Marco walked away dejected. "I think you cheated. Your arm was off the table...."
Oh really. Yeah? And I'll tell you why. Because sometimes even us old guys have to step up and make the play. We'd just as soon that you make it for us. but if you're not gonna get anything working, then it's gonna be my turn. And I will get it done. Hooray for us old guys! That's what I'm talking about.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

When the Ghosts Follow the Ceremony

Okay, I wrote yesterday about all the craziness that had happened here: Three broken cars and a broken water heater and a bicycle on the same day. That's the sort of thing that happens when I bring back a spirit or two from Peru. I thought I'd come back clean this time. But then today it got worse--and I know my house is old and cheap and falling apart and everything in the world can be chalked up to that....but....after Italo fixed the waterheater, brand new, yesterday, and after he fixed Chepa's car with a new coolant hose, this morning the kitchen sink went out. All brand new pipes. All brand new connections. All top of the line and done while I was in Peru andyet here we had a hose with a lifetime guarantee that had a full inch-long rust hole in its stainless steel body. So Italo want to Home Depot and bought a new hose and fided that. An hour later the water heater, which has one old pipe that we replaced yesterday, sprung a new leak, right from the belly of the heater.Impossible. But true.
And then Madeleina came home from her sleepover and sat at the kitchen table to do home work and the lamp above her head fell straight down onto the table. Could be an accident. And then I find a two-inch piece of heavy glass on the living room floor--and we haven't broken a glass here in weeks--by stepping on it.
So I'm not saying I brought back a curious spirit with me, but I am saying that I told Italo that we are taking all the cars, and I mean all the cars, to the shop tomorrow and I am going to have working vehicles around here. And I am having the water heater looked at. And I am going to replace the fixture that nearly fell on Madeleina's head, and then I am going to a curandera I know here in Texas and I am going to get washed in Agua Florida and Camphor and then in a flower bath and whatever crazy spirit is hanging on and touching things here and accidently changing the electrical charge is going to be pulled from me. And then things will stop shorting out, breaking, falling and leaking.
It doesn't matter whether anyone believes in this stuff or not. That's not the point. And I'm not a conspiracy man by a long shot. But I have worked and played too long in other realms not to know that there is always an energy trail. I thought I escaped this time, but even in this old house the odds of all of this happening in two days defies mathematics.
Boy, oh boy. This is the life, eh?
Crazy, right? I'll probably never be allowed to run for office after a post like this.
Oh, well. Nobody's been hurt so it's not a malevolent spirit anyway. Just one who has no idea that he/she is costing me a lot of angst.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Oy Vey!

You know, I may be Irish, but everyone from New York is a little bit Yiddish. We say things like 'shmatas' for clothes and rags; 'shmaltz' for good chicken fat we save in the freezer to put on rye bread now and then; 'tsuris' for the agony we feel for you when you've wronged us; 'vaklempt' for going crazy in a way that leaves us speechless. And a dozen others. We also toss in some Spanish, some low class colloquial Italian and a little French, making New York English a beautiful fuggin thing.
Anyway, today I'm definitely vaklempt. If I could blame someone else you'd understand the tsuris I'm suffering. I want a big fuggin shmata to hide under while I freaking eat some shmaltz.
Marco woke me this morning, after explicitly saying he didn't have to work today, to say they'd called him at 5 AM to come in and do an extra day. Which meant I had to drive him if I wanted my car. No big deal except I'm getting tired of interrupting my deep sleep hours, and particularly lately. IN the last three nights I had (Close your eyes kids) a dream of having sex with my sister Peg--she was so beautiful as a 14-year old that I'd peek in at her in the bathroom when she got out of the shower (I was 12), but I never thought about having sex with her so the dream was a total surprise and wonderful in a weird way: Glad I got that out of my system and glad she was the aggressor in it. Two nights ago I dreamed I was at a rally that wound up lasting all night and my mom was there. We didn't say much, nothing significant, but when she was thirsty I got her something to drink and when she was hungry I found her an all night restaurant and it was just wonderful to be in her warmth. And then last night Marco woke me when I was having a dream that my sister Barbara (two years younger than me) showed up in Texas and I was so surprised that I couldn't think of her name for a minute ("I'm your sister Barbara if you don't remember") she said in the nicest way. And I guess, and hope, that I'll have dreams about my older brother Mike, my dad Tom, and my sisters Pat and Regina in the next few nights. But you get the gist of why I've been annoyed to wake up and lose those connections with my wonderful family, none of whom I've seen since I moved to Texas six years ago. (And my parents not since 72 and 79 when my dad and mom died, respectively.)
But this morning when Marco woke me I went to wash my face and take a leak and there was no water. Turned out Italo had shut it of at the strey late last night--while I was sleeping--because the water heater, which we replaced two or three months ago, had sprung a leak and water was hitting the wires and causing quite a storm of electrical shock all over the kitchen.
And then Italo's car broke down this morning and he spent all day trying to fix it. And when he used my truck to buy some parts he needed, the cops followed him back to the house to say the truck break lights weren't working. And then Chepa called to say her "Check Engine" light had just come on in the new Plymouth van (1998) she just bought.
So three cars down in one day and a water heater to boot. We've fixed the water heater and Italo's car, but Chepa's car and mine are still out, at least till Monday when we can get them looked into.
So that's why I'm vaklempt.
It was still a beautiful day, working with Italo trying to fix cars, with Italo's girl playing with the goats and Madeleina playing with the puppy Sneakers and looking at us like we were "The Man" because we were covered in grease.
And I know we New Yorkers have a Yiddish word for that kind of day when everything goes wrong but you still have a good time--it's not Mitzfa but something like that. I just can't think of it this second.
In any event, I hope your next vaklempt moment turns into a Mitzfa too.