Thursday, November 26, 2009

Investigative Journalism Story

A friend of mine recently sent me the URL of a story in Wired Magazine. I think it's the current issue. The story deals with writer Evan Ratliff, who decided to see how difficult it would be to start a new life with people looking for you. His premise was to have Wired's publisher set up a website giving hints of where Ratliff had been as he moved around the country. It was a great read, but Ratliff didn't really try to disappear. He tried to play hide and seed with electronics and the web and that is difficult, particularly if people are posting your info on the web.
Disappearing is another thing altogether. Years ago it involved going to the place where they have death certificates. You would find one or 10 babies who were your age, and who had social security numbers and who had died shortly after birth. New York is best for this because of the number of people/babies/infant deaths.
You would then take those names and go to the hall of birth records. Find the birth records for all those dead babies. Then you would apply as a grown up for copies of the various birth certificates in those names. You'ld be given originals without question, then use those to acquire 3,5,10,20 driver's licenses in different states and with those, acquire 3,5, 10,20 passports in different, legitimate names.
It used to work because birth and death records were not coordinated, so no one would be the wiser and you would avoid the possible problem of simply picking a name and asking for a birth certificate--only to later find that the person whose birth certificate you have is wanted on murder charges in five countries.
The plan used to work; these days I don't know since I haven't tried it in decades. But that's disappearing. Of course you could never contact anyone you knew when you had your old name; you had to really do it.
So while I loved the Wired story, I didn't think Ratliff was really trying to disappear. No question he's a good and fun writer, but finally, he was only playing cat and mouse and not really trying to disappear.
But it did remind me of the moment when I realized I was, or could be, an investigative reporter. If I've told you this story before, forgive me.
In the 1980's, the US govt was waging a small war with the Earth First! a loosely knit group of monkey wrenchers, as Edward Abbey named them. They were defenders of the great forests of the northwest, people who threw a monkey wrench into the loggers' plans by putting nails in old growth trees that would wreck the loggers' chainsaw blades; put sugar in the gas tanks of great bulldozers, etc. Non-violent but very active in protesting the loss of the great West to logging and mineral interests.
Well, when Earth First! kept getting the upper hand, the US federal government finally put Dave Foreman, the group's co-founder, and some others, on their Most Wanted List. Foreman went underground. Simply disappeared.
At that time, 1987 or so I'd published maybe 10 non-fiction pieces in my life, including two for High Times magazine: Ayahuasca and a Matses Indian story.
Nonetheless, Steve Hager, the editor, and John Howell, the publisher, called me into their offices days after a big story on Earth First! broke in one of the major mags: I think it was Esquire.
They asked me to read it.
I did.
They asked me if I was impressed.
I was: Great story, great writer.
They said my new assignment was to track down Dave Foreman and get an interview.
I said, "Impossible. If the FBI can't find him or anyone connected to him"--which the story made clear--"how am I supposed to be able to do that?"
Editor Hager said: "You're a good writer. But if you want to be a journalist or an investigative reporter you have to be a whole lot smarter than the FBI. You want the gig or not? We'll pay you $400 plus expenses. But clear the expenses first, we're not paying for a wild goose chase."
I was stunned. I said "Okay" of course but had no hope.
I probably spent three weeks avoiding the story till Hager called and asked how I was progressing. I said I was working on it but hopes were dim.
And then, sometime after I got off the phone, I began, for the first time, to actually think about the story. To think about Earth First! and Dave Foreman and where he might be. He might be anywhere. How the heck was I supposed to find him?
I went to the original story and reread it. Maybe three times. Maybe five times. A whole football game worth of time I kept reading it.
Then I got an idea. There were references to Foreman's either having been born or gone to school in both Wyoming and Montana. His Earth First! work was mostly in Cali, Oregon and Washington, but none of those were his home. I hoped.
And the only photos I had of him made him out to be a big guy. He looked like a bear of a man, with a heavy beard, long hair.
What occurred to me was that a guy that size growing up in either Wyoming or Montana must have been a high school football player. And if he was, he was probably a guy who liked watching college or pro-football. Which meant he drank beer and watched football games in bars.
I hoped he was either in Montana or Wyoming, both tiny populated states. I decided to start with Wyoming, on a hunch. I called telephone information and got the number of every bar in the state. Not counting chain restaurants that had bars--I didn't think an Earth First! founder would drink at those--there were only about 143 bars in the whole state, if I remember correctly. Each call would only get me three numbers, so there were nearly 50 calls asking for the next three bar numbers. Being lazy and pretty sure my idea was flat-out dumb, it took me probably a week to get all the numbers.
Once I had those numbers I started calling. At each I said who I was, and that I was trying to reach Dave Foreman of Earth First!, and that if anyone at the bar knew him could they call me at xxx.
Every bartended who answered my call professed ignorance and many were pissed off at the strange request: "Is there a guy named Dave Foreman, who is with the environmental group, Earth First! there? If not, does he ever have a beer there? Don't answer. Just know that this is Peter Gorman from High Times and we salute him for his work and want to talk with him. It might benefit him with the FBI if he gets his story out. If you know him, here's my number. Have him call me."
That sounds crazily professional, but in reality I probably stammered through it.
And then, maybe a week after I began making the calls, maybe longer--it's been a long time--I was watching a Sunday afternoon NFL game and got a call:
"Is this Peter Gorman?"
"Yes. Who's this?"
There was no caller ID in those days, so I had no idea who it was.
Next day, same thing happened.
Next day, same thing.
It went on for a week or so.
I had no idea what it was about, but it was annoying.
And then, maybe on the seventh, eighth, or ninth day, the same call came.
"Is this Peter Gorman?"
"Yes. Who's this?"
"This is Dave Foreman from Earth First! I heard you wanted to talk with me. About what?"
And I nailed that interview.
And as I did, I realized that I had what it took to be an investigative reporter: Heart, guts, patience. I was thrilled.
The FBI had this guy on their most wanted list, were actively looking for him and hadn't come up with the plan I'd come up with.
So yes, I was an investigator.
I have not looked back.

The wonderful story in Wired reminded me of this story. The difference was that Ratliff was playing cat and mouse; Foreman was avoiding life in prison. Foreman didn't use any credit cards, didn't use any atms or cell phones, didn't boast on facebook--there were few of those things then but I don't think he'd do it now, either.
And if you don't do those things, I don't believe it's hard to disappear.

Water Back On

This post is a couple of days late, but last Sunday, Italo and I laid new pipe in the ditch we'd dug, hooked up the new pipe to the old pipe just short of where the pipes connected to both the water meter and to enter the house, and voila! Water again. And what a good feeling! I never worked with PVC pipe before, so Italo had to tell me what to buy--there's a purple juice that goes on the end of the pipe first; when that dries the glue goes on, and then you've got about 2 seconds to put the pipe connector on that before the glue dries. Once he told me, it was a dream job. We put together about 125 feet of pipe in about 4 hours, digging out the ditch here and there to make it even or to allow the pipe to make the bends around the back porch without strain.
Felt good. And the cost wasn't bad. Someone quoted me "about $1,500, if there are no problems" to do it, and as I don't have that money right now, doing it myself--and then with the fantastic help of Italo--was the only option. Either that or spend my life turning on the water at the water meter for a half an hour twice a day. But not only did it feel good, the cost was about $100 for parts. That's it.
I just began burying it last night; I wanted to give it a few days to see if there were any leaks. I'll finish that today while the turkey is in the oven.
Speaking of which: I hope every one of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving day, whether you celebrate it or not. I hope your bellies are full when you go to bed and hope that there's a little extra to give to someone who has less than you. I hope you share laughter and get to see family and friends, or if alone, that that's what you chose.
In any event, here there will be turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, peas, yams, cranberry sauce and maybe I'll get a chance to whip up a couple of pumpkin pies.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Got to Say I Do Love Working

Ha! And if they'd only pay me for it! Got my water bill last week, about 10 days late, and bang, it was nearly $500. Much more than normal. So I spent this week turning the water on for half an hour in the morning, showering, washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen and filling gallon jugs of water, then going to the front of the property, at the water meter, and turning it off. Same routine at night when it's time to water the animals and time for Madeleina's shower.
Not bad, being I was either alone or with Madeleina. She rolls with the punches pretty well for a 12-year-old.
I was trying to figure out where the leak in the pipe was. I wasn't actually working, just thinking.
And dealing with the water company, who acknowledged that they sent out the bills late this month--the billing person was out for nine days, and so they'll adjust the bill for me. Better than that, they said they have a special water leak program. So I think they'll come through. (I love semi-rural Joshua for that neighborlyness.)
Last night I had a brainstorm: Why dig up the old pipe to find a leak? Why not just dig a new ditch from the water meter around the back of the house and lay a new line?
It did sound like a lot of shoveling given that I can't afford a ditch witch, but what the heck.
This morning I broke ground. Started at the water meter, under the red-tips that stand about 12 bushy feel tall, then switched to the back of the house. I dug a ditch about 40 feet long around the back porch and along a few feet of house side, then returned to the red-tips, set my sites 75 feet to the corner of the house, and started digging. Very heavy and muddy dirt, thoroughly soaked from all the recent rains, and thick with vegetative cover--weeds--that made it a pain in the neck. I decided to get half of it done before I quit for the day, and was nearly there when Italo, who didn't come home from school last week, came over and insisted on taking over after I finished my planned ending for the day.
What a treat to have a sidekick who's working while I'm now typing! The ditch will be done today, and then I'll go buy the pipe and couplings and set it up later this evening or tomorrow morning. The other work has been lonesome here: The painting of the house and porch, maintaining the animals when Madeleina's not here, and no one except Madeleina to even get excited about the work itself.
So while I love it, and while I told my back to back off from hurting till I finished, it is still glorious that my kid is gonna get the second half of the damned ditch dug today. Maybe not as deeply as I, so I might have to go out and dig it up another few inches, but so what? It's manly work again and that's just a good good feeling.
Now, if I just had a girl to admire the manliness of it all, eh?
Maybe next week I'll meet one.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Four Magics of Julio

I have never heard curanderos remark on or call out the four Magics, except for my late teacher Julio Llerena (Jerena), and his students, of course. Which doesn't mean they don't, only that I'm not aware of it.
At the start of every ayahuasca ceremony, Julio, while making his arcana, the protective shell around those participating in the ceremony, he always called out to Red Magic, Green Magic, White Magic and Black Magic to help protect and guide us. Over the years I came to understand that the Red Magic was the blood force that flows in all warm blooded creatures; that the Green Magic was the magic of the rivers and seas and all the firmament; that the White Magic was the magic of the sun and stars, the light of the universe, both the one we know and the other universes we can only occasionally glimpse. Black Magic is the profound magic of the molting core of our our planet earth and of all planets and stars and moons and even the whole universe, the grounding force at the center of everything.
I understood the concept rationally: if you could be aligned with Green Magic, then you could travel in an instant through the firmament to wherever you want to go. You could understand plants and seas, how they grow, how they feel, how they think. With White Magic as an ally, there is no universe you cannot traverse, nothing you cannot penetrate where light will go. With Black Magic, you can get to the very heart of things, the deepest, lightless places where people hide, and the centers of all things. With Red Magic you can travel through the life force of things, the life-delivering blood of things, and you can heal the ill.
Julio and I never talked a great deal. He didn't understand my Spanish and I didn't understand his. Except on occasion, when he thought something was important. Suddenly, in those moments, he spoke in a way that let me understand every word, every nuance. He also, suddenly and for a few minutes at a time, understood my Spanish wonderfully.
I spent a lot of time with him over the course of 25 years. There were a million things I could have asked him. And had I ever thought I was traveling a path that would lead me to become a curandero, I probably would have. But as I didn't see myself that way, regardless of how often I drank the medicine ayahuasca with him, I didn't. Of course now that he's gone I wish I had.
On the other hand, I also think Julio knew what he was doing when he didn't understand my Spanish. Learning from his words might have complicated things, while learning from experience, while leaving me frequently in the dark for long periods, allowed me to be receptive to what happened, rather than what I was expecting to happen.
I learned that lesson very early on: During my first ayahuasca experience, for a few moments I associated with a bird, flying high over the earth, and wound up diving down down, impossibly fast, into a stream to pluck a fish and in the same moment change direction to soar upwards. It might have been a dream until the bird bit the fish in two and swallowed it and I nearly choked trying to get it down my throat.
That experience was with a curandero named Alphonse. The following year I met Julio and drank with him and his late apprentice Salis Navarro. The whole evening I waited for that bird to come to take me soaring again; she never did. And at the end of the ceremony I felt--though some wonderful things happened during it--disappointed.
It was then that my jungle teacher, the naturalist Moises Torres Vienna, came up with the now-famous line: "Ayahuasca gives you what you need, not what you want."
I almost never again set out with something locked in my mind during ceremony. Because I knew I'd lost much of what Julio and Salis had done that night, waiting for something else that never happened.
I did, over the years, get the chance to glimpse the four Magics. And I spent a great deal of time, probably three years, working with Red Magic as it tried to heal me with regard to relationships, particularly my failed marriage and broken family. During that time I was also shown, by the medicine, how to do a little healing, and how negative energy can be transformed into something positive. They were all great lessons and I've written about them more extensively elsewhere, so I won't go into them here.
Now the other day, a fellow wrote me a letter, saying he wanted to do a 30-day dieta and could I put him in touch with a particular curandero who might do it for him. A dieta is a time when an apprentice goes off by themselves in the jungle to reflect on things. It is a time of strict limits on food intake, on interaction with other humans, on sex. It is also a time of intense drinking of ayahuasca; often three or four times a week. The solitude, the time spent in the jungle alone, the medicine, is meant to bring a person into personal awareness of the spirits of the plants whose extracts they are drinking. Not everyone comes out of a dieta a novice curandero, but nearly everyone who has done one comes out a better person for it.
The fellow who wrote me followed up with a question about the Magics. He asked if the curandero I might steer him toward would be able to teach him those Magics during his dieta.
I wrote back a long and probably confusing letter. I explained that Julio never said he was going to show me Red Magic, that that came about through the spirit of the medicine. I explained my limited conversation with Julio and that I may never have even told him about those years being healed and taught about Red Magic, though on more than one occasion during that time, Julio would mention Red Magic after the ceremony, just to let me know he had seen what I was going through, to let me know he saw what I saw.
The only thing Julio ever really said about the Magics that I can remember was that he warned against falling in love with one or the other. He saw the trap in that; where a student can get greedy for the power of one, which would throw him out of balance. It's the sort of trap that can lead one to become a sorcerer--in the Peruvian meaning of the word--rather than a healer. For Julio, healing people on the river where he lived was the calling of Ayahuasca; being someone who had the power to lure money, women and other selfish desires to themselves was the path of the sorcerer.
So, I wrote the fellow, "can the Magics be taught? I don't know. But then I was not a typical student. If I had been smarter, I might have asked Julio a lot more questions. But I didn't. It was only near the end that he began telling me things. He knew he was getting old and would soon die, so he asked two of his helpers to be my helpers, without telling me of course, and so when I met the first I was scared to death. He was upset with me for that. At the end he wanted me to learn. He asked me to take a virote--a negative energy dart sent by someone who wanted to hurt him--out of his leg once, and several out of him just days before he died. He wanted me to know I could do it and he let himself be the test patient.
"He could have taught me so much more, but that wasn't really his thing. He wanted me to let the medicine teach me, to have me become friends with the plants themselves, so that I could learn from them, rather than from what he said.
"I guess the point of this rambling response is that even if he had told me about the Magics, it would still have been up to me to drink or not drink when that flower leaned over me and said: 'Drink this', and let her nectar fall into my mouth.
"So he could of readied me for that and other things, but would I have been able to take that leap when the time came? Or would he just have cluttered me up in waiting for something to happen, in which case I might have missed what was really actually happening.
"So if you do your dieta asking someone to teach you the Magics, it might be possible that you'll miss what's being offered because you've got your eye somewhere else.
"If Julio had told me about the Red Magic and that a flower might one day come and offer me nectar that would change my life, would I have accepted the Red Magic if instead it came in the form of stinging red ants? Or in someone cutting themselves and asking me to drink the blood? Probably not. I would have been waiting for that flower--and maybe that would have never come."
I do wish I had not spoiled the chance to talk with Julio more about some of these things. But I also cherish the idea that he knew everything I was experiencing and only thought to comment or explain things when he thought I wasn't already capable of grasping them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Madeleina Didn't Make It; Journalist Comes Through

Well, someone from Madeleina's school called yesterday to tell me that Madeleina didn't make the all regional band. I was not surprised, given that she thought she played awfully, but I was still sorry. She was okay with it, and that's good. So long as she loves playing and practicing, she'll be able to work with music her whole life. And that is a gift. My dad played piano by ear and played wonderfully. And it allowed him to get through rotten days. One of his favorites:
"Better be ready when the taxi gets there,
Better be ready by a quarter past eight,
I want to be there when the band starts playing..."
And I'm no good on the guitar, but every now and then, just making up a new blues song keeps me going. Or running a riff on a marine band harmonica.
So she's not all regional but that's okay by me. She tried and that was fantastic. She worked hard in the week between the mock tryouts and the real one. That too was fantastic. And she took losing in stride. I guess she comes out a winner on this one.
And more news: The fellow who cribbed my work--I've railed about him in a couple of posts recently--has come through. He admitted he probably used some of my work in his and asked me where to put an attribution. I had two paragraphs, his essence, that were mine, but had him put it on the key graph. "As journalist Peter Gorman wrote..."
So that guy goes from being a scumbag to a stand up guy. He took the hit, tried to wiggle for a while, then fixed things. So good for him. I appreciated it.
Bad news: Got a water bill for about $500 a couple of days ago. Normally, when the house is full, it runs about $125, and with me being alone most of this month--except for when Madeleina's here--I expected it to come in at about $80 or so. So $500 blew me away.
Turns out I've got a leak somewhere between the water meter and the house. Not under the house, because it's dry there after I had all the piping changed last Spring. The problem is that that line is buried, so I've no idea where the leak is. Worse, there is no wet spot, no muddy spot anywhere. But since 80,000 gallons of water leaked out of that pipe last month, it's got to be somewhere. And my suspicion is that it's beneath the 20-foot-wide concrete driveway, where the pipe crosses to come in under the house.
And that means???? It means I probably need to tear up the driveway. Hell, I can't afford to tear it up, much less pay to have it fixed. So this sucks.
I gave myself half-an-hour of water yesterday for a shower and to wash dishes and so forth; then last night have us another half-hour for Madeleina to take a shower.
Man, I'm not looking forward to what I see coming. And naturally, the insurance on the house doesn't pay for water damage...Ah, I love insurance companies.
Oh well, I'll start the digging today and just pray I stumble on it at the edge of the driveway. If that happens you will all hear me screaming for joy. I will promise you that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Working Hard, Hardly Working...

The title for this piece comes from Tom Waits, just about my favorite all time songwriter. "Working hard, hardly working, if you know what I mean..." goes the whole line.
Now that's attribution. Use someone's words, credit them and credit them joyfully.
That scumbag writer who lifted nearly two or three whole paragraphs--his key graphs--from my 2001 story of the missionary plane shootdown in Peru and didn't mention my name when he used them, responded to a note I sent him, calling him out on it.
He wrote that the story happened a long time ago and that he was the editor of an international journal back then and that there was a lot of buzz about the US involvement in that plane shootdown at the time. He says he might have gotten his information from me but that he can't remember. If he did get his information from me he thinks he would have credited me but that someone else must have dropped the attribution.
A friend of mine who knows us both and has been in the loop on this--from my end--calls that the last bastion of self-defense in plagarism cases. "Attribution dropped, my ass," he says. "But how can you prove it didn't happen?"
There is no place for this to go. I'm not going to write his editor or start a lawsuit. Still, I wrote the bum another note, calling him out again, saying that was a very weak excuse, given that he'd claimed, in his new story rehashing his old one, that he'd done such a great investigative job in the original one. HA! He investigated my story, culled the key investigative work and claimed it for his own.
I sent that response on to my friend as well, who responded that he was enjoying schadenfreude at the fellow's expense.
I've heard that word but didn't know what it meant so I looked it up: it's a guilty pleasure at someone else's misfortune, according to wikipedia.
I told Madeleina, who like me, was up early this fine Sunday morning, the word and what it meant and how it was used by my friend and she immediately said, "Dad, I think I get schadenfreude a lot. I mean, not when someone breaks an elbow, but when someone at school is acting like a big shot or showing off and then they fall. I can't help it. I just get a bit of the schadenfreude. Or shadenfreudeitis. Know what I mean?"
The girl is just flat out scary smart.
Which brings us to her regional flute tryouts. If you remember, last Saturday she had mock tryouts. She almost didn't go, after voluntarily signing up for them, and finally did. This week was the real thing: She had to play in front of three different panels of judges in three different rooms. All of them were behind black curtains, in theory so that the kids wouldn't be intimidated by actually seeing the judges. I suspect the real reason for the curtains was to keep the identity of the judges secret from parents who might be outraged when their little darlings don't make the All-Regional Band.
I dropped her off at 7:30 AM and picked her up at 4. I asked how it went. "It was awful. Just absolutely horrible. I wasn't nervous, I know the scales and the songs but I still was so bad. Know how bad I was?"
"No. How bad?"
"Dad, in the middle of one song I had to make up a new note. I mean, I got stuck and my only way out was to make up an entirely new note that doesn't even exist on the flute. Don't ask me how I did it, but I did. I stunk."
"Sorry you went?"
"No way. It was great, even if I didn't make the regionals. At least I had the guts to try."
And try she did. She practiced fanatically all week long, and she already practices at least a little while every day. But this week she was up at 5:30 AM daily, at it for an hour or more each morning, and then again in the evening.
"Well, did you hear anybody else who blew your socks off?"
"Everybody sucked that I heard."
And she said it with a glint in her eye. If she'd have known the word she probably would have said she had a little schadenfreudeitis. But she didn't get that word till this morning.
And me? Where does the "Working hard, hardly working..." come into this?
Ah, that's the painting I've been doing. Yesterday afternoon I finished the kitchen. Day before, the bathroom. Two rooms, a bathroom, a hallway with four doors and the back porch down. Two living rooms and two bedrooms to go.
Plus one tiny leak in the roof.
Better get some writing work soon or I'll have this whole place spiffed up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sometimes, Chepa and I are in sync; sometimes not

Today was a day when Chepa and I were not in sync.
It started out well, with a morning phone call that ended with my asking if she was really naked under her clothes and she laughed and repeated a Peruvian river proverb that basically says "Give an Indian an inch and he'll be climbing up your back."
And then things changed somehow, though I didn't know it.
We have no set dates for having Madeleina. She's with me when she's with me; she's with mom when mom wants her. It comes out pretty even at month's end, and generally doesn't cause much friction between us and works out pretty well for Madeleina as well.
Well, as Chepa had had Madeleina for a few days I thought I'd bring her here last night. So I made a leaf pile about four feet high and 8 feet wide in the afternoon, something Madeleina and Sierra had asked me to do. When I was finished raking it looked like a good jumping-pile: No sticks, no rocks, no half-bricks, just leaves.
And then I called Chepa to say I'd be picking up Madeleina from school because I had a nice surprise, and discovered that her phone had just been disconnected. Damn her boyfriend who can't afford anything! So I just went and picked up Madeleina and we started taking a country road back to our house. She likes the country roads and it gives me a few extra minutes to talk with her, listen to her sing, etc.
Suddenly Madeleina screamed.
"What's wrong, Macaroni?" I asked.
"Oh, my god, that's mom behind us!" she answered.
I looked in the rear view and sure enough, there was Chepa, coming up on us at 60 in a 40 MPH zone in my second truck. She's been using it until her car can get repaired.
"Dad, this is like a scary movie. Why is she following us? Is she stalking us? Oh, my god. Mom's crazy!"
"Nah. She's just playing. She'll follow us home."
Twenty seconds later, Chepa waved and I waved back.
Ten seconds later, Madeleina screamed again. "God dad, where's mom? She's disappeared. Maybe the aliens got her!"
I looked in the rear view and saw Chepa making a three-point U-turn.
"She's just turning around, baby. No problem."
As we drove the next few miles Madeleina made a bunch of good stalking jokes. I assured her that because mom's telephone was down there was just simple miscommunication.
Until we turned onto our street and there was my green truck, Chepa at the helm.
"Oh, shit!" I said. "This is getting pretty wierd..."
I pulled into the driveway and Chepa pulled in behind me. She flung open the door and demanded furiously that Madeleina go with her. Sierra followed her out onto the driveway, a doll in her arms. From the sound of what she was saying, she evidently hadn't thought we were playing out on the road. I wanted to say no, that Madeleina would stay with me but I didn't. I learned years ago not to argue with that voice--yelling louder doesn't accomplish anything and screaming at each other in front of the kids is not a real positive thing to do. So I let a very crying Madeleina go with mom. And Sierra, with mom, was crying too. "I see you made a big pile of leaves but mom's not going to let us jump in them, Mr. P Gorman," she said astutely. And then they were gone.
Tell you what. I sure do like it better when we're on the same wavelength. Which we weren't today. Not by a longshot.

Ego and Ayahuasca and Journalism

I am sometimes one conflicted fellow. Today, someone sent me a link to an article that's just been published in a good journal. It dealt with the 2001 downing of a missionary plane over Pevas in the Peruvian Amazon by a Peruvian fighter jet working with a US CIA drug-interdiction jet. A missionary and her baby were killed.
I wrote about that about a week after it happened. I nailed it because I lived there. I had seen the missionaries passing my bar and the pilot had stopped in occasionally for a soda.
The article I saw today referenced an earlier article the same writer had written in August, 2001, about 3-4 months after the April 20 tragedy. When I read it I thought he certainly would credit me as a couple of paragraphs, the key elements of his story--and the same key parts of his 2001 story--were cribbed from my work. I referred to planes I'd ridden in that could have been shot down because they were "puddle-jumpers with no instrumentation or radios" which didn't file flight plans, and so we would never have heard a call to identify ourselves if taken for a drug plane. The fellow's story used near identical wording in explaining how some innocent planes were shot down. I quoted Celerino Castillo, who had worked the drug interdiction program in Peru in the 1990s for the US DEA, and this fellow quoted him--a different quote--as well. I wrote about the timing of the shootdown as being one day prior to George Bush's attendance at a Summit of the Americas, at which Uruguay's President Ibanez was going to call for an end to the war on drugs and would be seconded by both Venezuela and Mexico. The writer made the same connection. There were other overlapping points as well that were eerily similar to my phrasing, and yet the writer never credited my work.
So I'm feeling ripped off. My story created a lot of stir at the time, helping cause the US to stop (publicly) the drug-plane interdiction program as it was then being run. It was picked up by dozens of websites, and even landed on the desk of the editors at the Colombia Journalism Review, who wound up calling me a "conspiracy journalist," though that has never been the case.
I know, though I can't prove it, that the writer ripped me off and credited himself with discovering the truth of the story. And I don't like that. All he would have needed to do, and it's not hard, is to note "as investigative reporter Peter Gorman wrote..." and that would have been that.
But then I realize that it doesn't really matter. The story got out, the whole event is now being scrutinized by a Congressional panel, and it remains an important issue. So why is my ego feeling bruised? Yes, I was used, but can't I get past my ego? Why is it still so there in me?
A worse example of my ego has to do with ayahuasca. I get upset when people who have only been in Peru a month or two decide to open up "ayahuasca retreat centers". I get upset because I don't think they know enough to do that. I also get upset because I want the clients that might go to them. Just selfish. The good part of me thinks that I've been taught the proper approach to the medicine and that's why I want the clients. The selfish part gets upset because these people often wind up getting credit that I think ought to go to me.
Now one of my former clients has built a center at exactly the spot where my late teacher Don Julio lived. She's built it for his son, Jairo, who now runs ceremonies for my guests, and Jairo's wife Asteria. The woman, a wonderful lady, doesn't do the program I do, but I still find myself caught up in ego over her even being there. Again, the selfless part of me is glad that she's spreading word of the medicine Ayahuasca--which I think is vital to get into the hands of a lot of people so that we can begin shifting things in this out of whack world we live in. And I'm thrilled that she's giving Jairo and Asteria and some other members of my fantastic team work and a payday, which translates to options in Peru.
But the selfish part of me still rears its head now and then and wants that little river, the river I've spent parts of 25 years on, all to myself and my guests.
I know she's doing important work, and I'll try to get my ego back in check. I don't like feeling that conflict. I wish I didn't. I'm working at it, and at my age I ought to be done with that work, damnit.
Until I do, however, it's still a bummer to deal with.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Madeleina's Flute

For the last several years, Madeleina has been in the choir. She's got a wonderful voice, but I remember when she first came home after her initial tryout and was told she didn't make the choir. I encouraged her to try again next year.
She didn't wait that long. She got hold of her second or third grade teacher, the choir master, and pulled her aside in the hallway and made her listen a second time. This time the choir master called and said, "You're daughter has a beautiful voice. Not only that, she insisted I listen, against my will. But she's made the choir. Be proud, not only of her voice, but of her knowing when she's right and the grownup is wrong." Or something close to that.
Now in middle school, she could only pick band or choir. She picked band because she wants to learn more about the flute and playing instruments. "I can sing anytime, but I can only have a music teacher at school because we're too poor to afford one, dad. So I picked band."
She must be reading my blog to know we're poor, because I try not to let it show. Though she's bright and probably takes a clue from my two trucks, 15 and 11 years old, and my complaining about things like the price of paint. Sorry, Madeleina.
In any event, today there were mock tryouts for the regional band. That's the band that will represent all of Johnson County, I think, in some contest down the road. All you had to do to be in the mock tryouts, and next week's real tryouts, was sign up. But to sign up you had to have a certain amount of confidence. In her class alone, since "Band" is a subject, there are seven flutests--if that's the right word. And Madeleina was the only one of the seven--though she admits she's not the best--who signed up. Good for her.
Till last night.
I'd had her all week and then Chepa picked her up yesterday. But Madeleina called me at about 8 PM--a wonder I wasn't sleeping already--and tearfully told me she didn't think she could go to the tryouts because she sucked. "I can't play a note, Dad. I stink. I know what to do and I'm not nervous but I just suck. So I might skip the mock tryouts. That's okay, right?"
I thought a moment, and in that moment remembered my one and only swim meet. If you have not read the story, look for an entry called Swim Team 101 or some such. It was a genuine embarrassment, what with me not knowing how to swim, my trunks falling off when I jumped into the water, me faking choking and subsequently costing my high school swim team a spot in the city playoffs.
"You shouldn't skip this, Madeleina. This is just a mock playoff. You go in, do your best and whether you are the best flute player or not, who cares? You had the courage to sign up for it, now is the time to follow through, whether or not you are good enough to actually make the regionals."
"Okay dad. So it will be like your swimming meet where your suit came off and you were naked, right? That's what you think is good for me?" She paused. "Are you crazy? I'm a girl! I'm only 12 years old! I"m not supposed to be traumatized by failing so badly the whole school laughs at me all year. WHAT KIND OF DAD ARE YOU????"
"Well, I was just thinking that you should put your money where your mouth is."
"If I do that I'll get germs that will make me sick and then need a doctor and you can't afford one."
"Figuratively. You didn't have to sign up for this. But you did. For one moment you must have imagined that if everything worked, if your fingers were in the right place at the exact time your breath was moving down the barrel of that flute, you would sound fine. You imagined that even if everyone else was good, if it all went well, you would have a sweeter sound, a higher note, a richer tone, than all of them. So I'm thinking that you ought to go there and see if that happens. You know, it might. You also know you're not the best. But on any given day, any team can win. And you work hard enough and are good enough to be one of the people there. Just trust yourself."
"When you put it that way, dad, I'm thinking I should at least try."
"Good girl. I'll pick you up at ten to nine and get you to school on time. Cool?"
"Thanks, dad."
So this morning I picked her up, dropped her off and came home to paint some more. The painting is coming along wonderfully. Anybody wants to hire me I charge $450 a day and my day is as long as I say it is. I should have some cache for painting Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland back in the old days.
At noon I picked up Madeleina.
"So? How did it go?"
"I sucked dad. I couldn't do anything. I was horrible. And not just compared to the other kids. I was just plain horrible. I don't belong on all region, I belong in the chicken coop."
I paused. She wasn't crying but she was serious. "That bad?"
"Sorry you went?"
She paused. "Nope."
"Know why?"
"Cause next week is the real tryouts. And I suck. But the other kids did their best and if that's all they have and I have a good day, then I might just make it. So today was horrible and I hate you for convincing me to go, but next week I might freaking rule! AND IF I DON'T, WHO CARES? I'm going for regional! I have the guts! I have the guts!"
"Pretty wild, child."
"I am your freaking daughter! We are GORMANS! We don't care if we suck! We do it anyway!!!!!!!!"
I paused, then turned on the radio. No way I could top that.
Hours later, I'm still thinking, Good for you, my beautiful Madeleina. If you can keep that thought in your heart forever, you will always have the courage to face the failures. And you will also have the courage to accept the successes. I don't know who taught you that, but whomever it was, I'm glad they did. And I'm glad and proud that you had the courage today to play when you knew you were in over your head. That's the only way to find out what the best are doing.
Ain't life fantastic? Here I was, stuck in pointless painting but doing the best best best I can just to prove a point to God and man, and then my angel takes a leap of faith, lands on her head, and comes up seeing the positive while acknowledging her own failure. Wow. Now do you all know why I love my kids? It's because they were given to me to care for, but at the same time to give me the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Thanks, universe.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ayahuasca as a Love Potion

ON a board I sometimes post on, someone recently asked whether Ayahuasca could be used as a love potion. The poster evidently just lost the love of his life and wants her back. There were a lot of responses.
This was mine:

All of us, or I think all of us, have lost at least one or two or three loves of our lives. They had their own lives and we were not part of it, at least at that time.
Utilizing Ayahuasca or any other medicine, and there are hundreds, thousands, as a love potion, can certainly work, but beware that once utilized for selfish purposes, the medicine becomes an element of brujeria. The person under the influence will one day wake up, in a year, three years, seven years, and realize that they've been the victim of brujeria and take their toll.
Or worse, the brujeria works very well and the person you desire cannot stand to be without you, to the point where you can't take a pee without them wanting to be with you.
Moyabamba, the prison in Iquitos, has dozens of inmates who finally killed the people they used brujeria on who desired them so much under that negative and selfish influence, that the only way to get any separation was to kill them.
So be very very cautious when asking a medicine to work for you selfishly. It rarely comes out right in the end. Especially if love is what you seek.
Just a caution.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ah, My Wonderful Kids

Well, Halloween weekend is over. I missed seeing Madeleina, Sierra and Alexis dressed up because Chepa's fellow came in for the weekend and took them out trick or treating. But I did have Madeleina carve a pumpkin for me--and it was a beaut, with bats for eyebrows. Just great.
And then yesterday, Italo and Sarah came over--she's now due in exactly 4 months with my granddaughter and announced they'd be moving back here once Italo's soccer season is over at school in a few weeks. But Sarah suggested I change the rugs and paint the house to make it brighter. A great idea if only I had the couple of grand to do it. Not that she volunteered to help paint the back porch fence or anything, which I was doing when she suggested a full house makeover. I'm sure I'll get to a few rooms at least before the baby gets here.
When I took a break, Italo sat next to me and put his hand on my neck. "Dad, if you ever grow up, don't have babies until you're older and have a good job or career, okay? Promise me that."
"Your baby is going to be fine. She's already got more love coming her way than you can imagine."
"Just don't do what I'm doing, okay?"
"Okay. No more babies till I grow up."
"That's what I'm talking about, dad."
And then Marco came over, with Madeleina, from Chepa's and sat me down and reiterated that he'd be leaving for the Air Force soon. He's just one signature away from boot camp. I asked him if he was sure and he said he was. "Time for me to be a man, dad, and start working toward what I always wanted: To work on jet engines."
I reminded him that up until a year ago he'd actually said he wanted to be a mechanic in a little shop somewhere. "Same thing, dad. But why not work on the best? And why not work in the biggest shop in the world?"
Good point.
Then he asked for food and I fed him an over-sized Gorman burger. Madeleina got some of the corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes she'd missed out on on Halloween and was in heaven.
And me? I just conked at about 6 PM with Madeleina's voice in my head: "Are you turning old? Or do old people go to bed even earlier?"
"There is no earlier than 6 PM cutie."
She woke me around 10 PM to ask me to move to the floor while she took the couch I sleep on in my office living room. "Of course, baby."
"Don't worry, dad, I bought you a couple of pillows."
"Can't sleep?"
"Worse than that. Just can't sleep in the big living room but I'll explain tomorrow."
Like me she's taken to sleeping on couches rather than in beds. I started because we were short one bedroom around here. She does it just cause she's copying me.
In the morning, and it's not yet 7 AM, she got up to shower and announced: "Thanks for letting me sleep on your couch, dad. You know why I came in here? Because there were about six really weird sounds coming into my ear in the big living room. So I turned over and they stopped. But then when I turned back they were there again. Might just have been some ghosts having a party, but I still couldn't take the racket. I don't know why people call them dead. They have more energy than all of us put together."
Ah, I love my kids, yes indeed.