Sunday, December 30, 2012

Couscous and Tajine

So Madeleina is getting old enough to try some different tastes. The other day I served my quick Moroccan lunch feast, and then yesterday I went further with couscous and tajine. That was a dish I loved to make in the restaurants; then I went to Morocco and learned how they did it, and after that I had a hard time making it in the restaurants. People would tell me that they were in Morocco or Algeria or Tunisia when they got married and would my tajine be as good as what they had there. No, I'd say. And I cannot bring the magic back to your marriage with a meal, no matter how good I am. It was the same with people who wanted to know if my tomato sauce was a good as their grandma's. My sauce might have been 100 times better than grandmas--and generally was--but I still knew I could not compete with childhood memories.
   Now Madeleina is a clean slate. So I went and bought good lamb. I floured it and seared it in olive oil, then added lots of garlic and diced onions. While they cooked I had a pot on another burner with 1 inch pieces of organic carrots and 1/2 inch slices of a large organic potato. When they were done, at about the same time the garlic and onion was done, I drained them and added them to the heavy pot. Then I cut a yellow squash and a  zuccini, par boiled them, cut them into half-rounds and added them to the pot. To that I added 1/2 inch pieces of 4 large celery stalks. Then a diced tomato.
    While those veggies and the meat were cooking, I added two cans of good organic chicken broth, reduced the heat, and let it simmer under a cover.
   In another pot I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil infused with fresh garlic, added a tablespoon of butter. When that was done I seasoned that with sea salt and cracked black pepper, then added a cup of water. When the water was close to boil, I added a cup of excellent couscous, stirred, tossed in a big three finger pinch of chopped fresh cilantro and turned off the heat.
   While that was turning into something wonderful, I peeled and sliced, very thinly, a cucumber and put it into 1 pint of organic Greek yogurt. I added some fresh minced cilantro, salt, pepper, juice of a lime and let that sit.
   Back to the stew: With everything marrying every other thing, I added two teaspoons of fantastic Peruvian paprika, a teaspoon of Peruvian tumeric, a teaspoon and a half of Peruvian cumin, then hot red pepper, cardoman, a bit of cinnamon, juice of three limes and a drained/washed one pound can of garbanzo beans (cheating, I know, but I didn't think of making the dish in time to make fresh beans). As the stew cooked down under medium heat, I added half a bunch of really really good fresh cilantro, minced, a tablespoon of fresh diced ginger, then sea salt and black pepper to taste.
   Then we called Italo and by the time he came over, the tajine, the stew, was done. So was the couscous, light and fluffy and flavorful. And so was the raita, the cucumber/yogurt/lime side dish.
   Then I served the tajine over the couscous with the raita on the side. Total time: About 2 hours. The meat could have been eaten by a toothless person. So tender you could have gummed it. No fooling.
   Do we eat like pigs or what? Cause that was very very good. And I'm very very glad that both Italo and Madeleina are old enough to allow me to begin to open up my recipe cabinet to include some different flavors.
   Glad I'm alive, is what I'm thinking. Glad I got to eat that last night. Cause it was very very delicious. And if you're in town, I've got left overs. So come on by.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sometimes I'm Just A Scared Little Kid

Well, no doubt about it: Sometimes I'm just a scared little kid. Heights are one of the things that bring out the fraidycat in me. Even little heights. Just don't do them well. So today, in trying to gather up the DISH television equipment I'm sending back to them, I had to go onto my house roof. Now this is a one story house, with the roof, where I was getting on, being maybe 10 feet off the ground. I climbed up the aluminum ladder no sweat, leaned over onto my freaking fat belly and got up. But then I stood and suddenly my eyes, after I climbed to the roof's high point, were about 18 feet off the ground. Not a problem. But when I'd detached the electrical element that DISH wants back from the satellite, and it was time to come down, well, not good. I walked back to where the ladder was below the roof. I called Madeleina to hold the ladder and sort of direct my feet on where to go. I rolled over on my belly and let my first leg down. I didn't touch anything and had to pull back up. I was having a freaking panic attack! I mean, I could have jumped off the freaking roof onto the dirt below and not gotten too badly hurt, probably not hurt at all, but here I was, just scared to death.
   I waited a few minutes, decided I couldn't just stay on the roof in the cold forever, so I made a second try. This time my foot hit a step. I moved my torso closer to the edge and found another step with my other foot. And then it was a piece of cake and I was laughing at my own fear.
   I got to tell you, I'm not happy when I realize what a ninny I am. And I often am. Damnit!
   I mean, as Madeleina pointed out, I'm fine in the jungle with snakes and spiders and electric eels--not that I get too close to the eels because they will kill you--but a 10 foot roof and I'm all about thinking I may never have the courage to get down.
   I'm glad I did. And I hope that if any of you ever run into irrational fears that you take some deep breaths and move through them. Doesn't mean I won't be just as idiotically frightened next time I'm on the roof trying to get down, but at least this time I made it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nice Lunch

So my car battery died  yesterday in the cold here in bucolic Joshua, Texas. Just sent smoke flying and burned to a crisp. So I had no car. Then my friend Mike said he was coming in for a visit with his dad and so I started to vacuum. But the vacuum was dead. Oy vey! I had no car to go buy a new vacuum! Or food. Or food to feed Boots the blind wonderdog! Or coffee. Or whiskey. Or wine--except for a beautiful bottle of 2008 white Mouton Cadet that I'd bought for a friend. I'll replace it.
   Plus no smokes!!!! Talk about verklempt! This was bordering on Gorman being hysterical. At least till I took a deep breath or seven and remembered how many people have so little they couldn't even relate to my picayune problems. Then I relaxed. Hell. Even broke, I'm relatively rich. I got a house. I got running water. I got a computer. I got a car or two. Broken, but fixable.
   So Chepa finally came by last night and took me to get smokes. I fed Boots the left over Christmas duck bones plus the last of the hot dogs we had. The cat ate dried food. Madeleina and I feasted on a duck leg each, with good stuffing, gravy and lots of broccoli and garlic.
   Today, Marco came by and took me to the store to buy a new battery for my old (1998 Ford Ranger) truck. Once I had that, I returned to the store with my now wonderful and working truck and bought some food and a vacuum with Christmas present money. My older sister had sent me $300. She doesn't really get that I'm 61-years-old and that she doesn't have to take care of me anymore, but still, it was a great present and I bought the battery and vacuum with it and then sang to the heavens and her a big thank you.
   And while I was there I bought a new Norton antivirus for Madeleina, new ink for the printer, a new shower curtain that Madeleina insisted we needed and other things. But my friend Mike and his dad were due any minute!!! What the hell was I going to serve?
   So I raced through the store, bought good black Greek Olives, a piece of smoked Gouda cheese, good corn chips--gluten free--and a family sized portion of a good brand of hummus.
    Home, I put the stuff on the table. It lacked something. So I took out the hummus I made a few days ago from scratch, took out a red pear and sliced it, took out a Chinese organic apple, took out 10 organic Egyptian dates ($18,65 a pound and 10 is about half a pound, a once in a life time treat) that I had, added a nice piece of cheddar and a couple of pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese in olive oil and basil and then cooked 2 pounds of fresh mussels in olive oil, garlic, diced onion, diced Roma tomatoes and cilantro with salt and pepper and a bit of white wine.
   And suddenly there was a lovely semi-Mediterranean feast: Organic dates, two types of hummus, chips, smoked cheese, sharp cheddar, black olives, organic red pear and Chinese apple, and fresh mussels steamed in garlic, olive oil, diced onion, diced Roma tomatoes, spices, white wine.
   And Mike loved it. His dad questioned why I had dates instead of figs. I said, "Well, I saw those dates and they were the most beautiful dates I'd ever seen--including dates I've eaten in north Africa. These are beauties."
   He tried them. One or two or four and declared them fantastic. But still, he wondered why I didn't have figs. I told him I just didn't happen to have any. I mean, he's a dad. He's 72 and strong as an ox and I ain't gonna lie to him.
   He told me to try some figs.
   So when I went to the store after they left,  I bought a small package of organic figs.
   We ate like pigs, without eating anything. Just a taste of this and that. And the whole time we were eating, Van Morrison's Born To Sing: No Plan B was playing in the background.
    Now my car works, I have a vacuum. I have two dates, some cheese, a bit of hummus, and a package of organic figs in the fridge for breakfast.
    We ain't got nothing but we got way more than most. Thanks for that, Universe, White Light, God, whatever your name is. I appreciate it. And thanks, Mom and Tom, for teaching me how to work with food to make a feast when there is almost nothing in the fridge.
    I hope you all eat well and more than that, deliciously today, tomorrow and every day forever. And when you have more than you need, I hope you will remember that some people have not been able to afford a good Egyptian organic date in some time, or ever, and then share one or two with them.
    Thanks for listening. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Dear All: Given that Christmas is the worst holiday in the world, and that my blood pressure is about to kill me, and Madeleina's blood pressure is about to kill her--she's had to put up with me, the family, wrapping of the family presents (and at this moment is yelling "Christmas sucks! Let's celebrate stupidity!", though I think it's mostly because she's exhausted and feeling like her brothers have not visited a proper number of times this last week or two)--we're still wishing that when all is said and done, when all the money is gone, all the presents unwrapped and discarded, when the festival falls far short of what you put into it, well, we're still doing our best to hope that you have a moment, each of you have one or two moments that are special. We're hoping for one second that everything is right enough that you find yourselves crying for no reason and are not embarrassed by doing that. And we hope, somehow, that you find yourselves in the middle of a fantastic new year, one full of wonderful surprises that delight and amaze you.
   We're going through the ebb this minute: exhaustion, not feeling needed or wanted, not feeling like we're doing anything but making more trash for the landfill. That will pass. Deep in our hearts, both Madeleina and I are generous souls and we want you all to know only the very very best of this life, despite its stressful moments. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Everybody! Let's make it a good one!

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Hesitate

I hesitate to wash the paint from the kitchen table. I hesitate to wash the colored water from the cups or wash the brushes. The babies were over with lots of paper and a fresh set of good watercolors. Thirty, forty, fifty watercolors grace the kitchen, the floor, the table, the porch. What was left on the table, what they didn't need, is a sign that beautiful art was made here. So I hesitate to clean. Who wants a clean table when the table covered with misplaced paint is a reminder of their joy?

Monday, December 10, 2012

So I Didn't Feel Like Cooking, But....

So I had a tough emotional day yesterday. I was dying for affection, dying for attention, dying for someone, anyone to say that I mattered. It wasn't happening. And the occasion for my indulgence was a change my son Marco made--a decision to become baptized, which I go along with wholeheartedly so long as he does not forget the vitality of ayahuasca, sapo and all we have learned in the jungle. But at the baptism was Chepa's boyfriend. So I said hello. But it irked me: He's not a bad guy at all from what I'm told, but at the same time, this could have been a time for me and my kid, not that guy. That guy, even if he's swell, was not there when Marco was sick for a year. He wasn't there to watch him play soccer, have his first girlfriend, pick him up as a young teen from a party after the police told me to get him out of there. And a million, zillion other things. So yeah, I was totally indulgent in feeling sorry for myself because it was obvious that guy and the family were going out for breakfast after Marco's thing and while I could have included myself, that guy's presence would have sort of ruined it for me.
   Okay, okay, so I'm a freaking baby sometimes. But I tried to be cool.
   Still, by the time I came home, famished, I was in no mood to cook. I had walked 2 1/2 fast miles--lots of coughing, okay?--just to clear myself out. So I was hungry. So I stopped at the store and bought bacon, maybe the first time in three years, and cooked six slices for myself. Then I made potato latkas--just grated a medium sized potato, squeezed the water out of it, added an egg, sea salt and butcher ground black pepper, then made little pancakes that I put in hot oil with a bit of garlic till very golden brown. Then I made three eggs over easy with salt and pep. Then I ate like a pig.
    Four hour later, with some last leaf raking under my belt and a New York Jets win in the bag, I was starving again--I told you I needed affection yesterday, didn't I? And if it wasn't coming to my door, I was going to provide it, even though I didn't feel like cooking and don't do much fast food. So for late lunch, I made hummus. I took two tablespoons of tahini--sesame seeds I'd ground to a paste with a bit of olive oil--added a can of drained garbanzo beans, two tablespoons of olive oil with lots of fresh garlic, the juice of three limes, three diced organic scallions, a bit of fresh hot Peruvian peppers and a touch of that sea salt and pepper. Took three spoonfuls for lunch and have enough for another week. Wow, that was good.
    But then, watching the New York Giants putting a can of whoopass on the Saints, I was hungry again--I did say I was indulging, didn't I?--and so bought a loaf of sesame seeded french bread (the French would be horrified, I know, but they are big enough to deal with it), and some paper thin rawest roast beef I could find. Home, I cut a four-inch piece of the bread, opened it, pulled out the insides till it was nearly just crust. While I did that I took half a red pepper and sauteed it slowly in a bit of olive oil and garlic till it was possible to pull the blackened skin off.
   I put good Hellman's mayo on the bread shell and put it in a glass pan in the oven (350 degrees) for a few minutes, till the mayo was melting/melted into the bread. Then I took that out, put on a light layer of the roast beef, capped that with the red pepper, and topped it all with two slices of very good sharp cheddar. In 10 more minutes, that was a beauty of a sandwich. I ate half--just two inches of it, which had maybe 3 ounces of roast beef, tops--and enjoyed the rest of the game with a glass or six of champagne.
    This morning I heated up the remainder of the sandwich for lunch.
     Now it's dinner and I'm alone again--Madeleina has been at mom's for a couple of days, and while Italo was over with my granddaughter Taylor Rain last night for a sandwich of his own that mirrored mine, I was and am essentially alone again. And it's been since 5:30 AM since I ate anything. And between here and there I've worked hard, walked a couple of miles, and am hungry. Still, I'm not really in the mood to cook.
    So what I'm having is a thick pork chop, very lean, stuffed with diced spinach, one strip of cooked bacon and very flavorful bleu cheese. I cooked the bacon slice, put it aside. I scalded the spinach in boiling water for about three seconds, then drained it and put it in the bit of bacon grease that was left in the pan. I added a touch of minced garlic. When done, I pulled and drained the spinach. Put it in a bowl. Waited 10 minutes then squeezed the water out of it. Then chopped it with the bacon slice and the pungent bleu cheese. That is so good I could have eaten it by itself. Instead, I put it in the butterflied pork chop, closed it up, floured/egged/breadcrumbed the chop, browned it in a bit of oil and put it in the oven.
   On the stove top I've got sliced red onions and a good good apple (also sliced) caramelizing. I've also got some good sauerkraut working with a bit of raw apple cider vinegar and pepper on the stove. When the chop is done, I'll put the apples and onion in that pan for a minute to suck up the juices. Then I will make a good gravy. No need for rice or potato or kasha or anything like that because I used breadcrumbs.
   So that's what I do when I don't feel like cooking but at the same time need some attention.
 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Madeleina Growing Up Again

Sometimes she's a nine-year-old. Sometimes she's 35. She's always herself. But then sometimes I can't help but notice that she's actually growing up. A couple of weeks ago she asked me for curlers. I bought her what I found, a box of heat curlers. She liked them, then had her mom buy her the kind you just roll into your hair. Along with volumizing shampoo and a fancy root awakening conditioner. And a tube of blazing brunette, whatever that does. And then, after the curlers and the shampoo and other girly things started cluttering up our bathroom windowsill, suddenly she's got this grown up woman's hair that she tucked into a pony tail that shimmered in the sun as it sashayed just behind her, swinging side to side, all wavy and lustrous and chic.
    Then this morning she came in and sat at the couch behind my desk. "Dad," she said, "you have to stop smoking."
    "I know. It's not good for me..."
    "I'm talking about the smell dad. We smell. We both smell like your cigarettes. I don't mind it because I'm used to it, but when I go to school, I know that some people probably notice it and I can't have that anymore. I don't want to be the one who stinks. And dad, face it, you smell like cigarettes."
    How could I respond to that? She's 100 percent right, and even though I limit my smoking to the office here in the house, some of it probably snakes around corners and gets on her and everything else.  So how could I answer? Best way I could. Sheepishly I said, "Some people like the musky smell of smoke on clothes..."
    "I am not going to marry a French guy, dad," she deadpanned.
    And that was that.
    My baby's growing up.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Forward to Shoemaker's Book on Ayahuasca

Well, my friend Alan Shoemaker asked me to write a forward to his new book, Grace and Madness, to be published probably next year by Bear and Company or one of their affiliates. I took a few weeks to do it because I knew it would be a pain in the ass. It was. But it got it done. Might be some changes when I look it over, but  here is what I wrote, for better or worse.

SHOEMAKER FORWARD

Alan Shoemaker first arrived in Iquitos, Peru, in 1993. And he arrived with a bang, coming down the Putumayo with several friends in an outsized canoe with a 15 Hp motor. He’d come from Washington State via Ecuador, where he studied with Dr. Valentin Hampejs, the noted medical doctor and curandero, who was as familiar around San Pedro cactus and ayahuasca as he was around antibiotics.
    I didn’t intend to spend a lot of time thinking about Alan Shoemaker when he first arrived in Iquitos. I’d been using the waterbound city for nine years as a staging point for work in the jungle before he’d ever set foot there, after all, and I’d met two dozen Shoemakers already who always showed up in town, thought it was an easy place to get by and then discovered, three months later, that they were calling family and friends for money to get home.
    But this gringo turned out to be different from most of the other dreamers I’d met: It turned out, as he explained to me, that while wondering where to go for a break from his teacher Valentin, he’d found a copy of Shaman’s Drum magazine—a wonderful magazine produced by Timothy White that dealt with all things Shamanistic—in which there was an article written by me on Ayahuasca. And that led the good Mr. Shoemaker to decide to visit Iquitos, my haunts.
   Now for better or worse, I’d written the first national article about ayahuasca for High Times magazine in 1986. Yes, Burroughs and Ginsberg had written about it previously in the San Francisco-based City Light’s Books as The Yage Letters, but that had not captured the national attention. But the High Times article resounded in pre-internet times, being passed around from person to person until probably more than a million had read it and from those, more than several thousand decided to seek out the medicine.
   The article Shoemaker read was written several years later but still had influence. And so he showed up in my second home. But that is an understatement. He showed up and within a month or two had begun to publish the first modern English language newspaper in Iquitos. Months later he was making large batches of ayahuasca in the street in front of his residence, to the delight of the locals.
   He worked with several curanderos, but seemed to focus on Juan Tangoa, whom we affectionately call Airport Juan, because his home is on a block in a barrio very close to the Iquitos airport.
   But Alan didn’t just work with Juan: he became the first gringo to publicly take a Peruvian curandero on a multi-continent tour to the U.S. and Europe. While others might have done that previously, Alan did it with flair, introducing the concept of traveling curanderos to the world.
   And just as with Airport Juan, everything Alan did was with flair, and everything you might know about Iquitos and Ayahuasca has been influenced—some say for better, others for worse, but still, the influence is not disputed—by Alan.
  Within a couple of years of landing in Iquitos, Alan had set up a small souvenir shop just off what is now the “boulevard”, and not long after that a young woman came to town looking to drink ayahuasca. She wound up going with Alan to drink the medicine with Francisco Montes, at a place his family had bought him out on the then-uncompleted road to Nauta at kilometer 18. The young woman had such a transformative experience that she tried to give Alan a $500 bonus for his work. Alan refused, suggesting instead that she give the money as seed funds to Don Francisco (Poncho to those who know him) to spend on identifying and marking all the plants on his property to create the first botanical garden in Iquitos. She did, and from that first $500, Sachamama, the first Ayahuasca center was born. Every other center there owes a debt of gratitude not only to Sachamama but Alan as well.
   For me, the first hint of something extraordinary occurred probably in 1995. During the late 1980s, whenever I flew into Iquitos from Miami on the now-defunct Faucett Airlines, there were always two, three or four wheelchair-bound end-stage AIDS patients aboard. And when we reached Iquitos they were whisked off the plane and into cars and quickly disappeared into the night.
   After the third time, perhaps, my curiosity was so peaked that I managed to slip off the plane with a group of them, got a taxi and drove after them. They wound up at river’s edge and were loaded onto a fairly small boat. They then took off and disappeared.
   Something was up. These were end-stage patients. There was no going home unless there was a miracle. So I began asking around town about them. I got a word here or there about some strange near-blind bear of a doctor who was doing experimental work on them. But I could never pin it down. I just could not find out what was what, though I knew that something was up.
   And by maybe 1995—give or take—when I came down to Iquitos for a few months, Alan had taken what I’d said and actually located the doctor doing the work. His name was Dr. Inchaustegui and he was treating those dying people with a mixture of una de gato—cat’s claw—essence, sacha jergon—a jungle tuber—and other things. And while most of those people still died, some had survived and a few had thrived. It was Alan who found the man I could not find.
   A year or so later, it was Alan who introduced me to the idea of ayahuasca healing in a way I’d never considered. Remember, there were few books on it, no internet existed to refer questions to; there was just experiential knowledge. He came to me one day and told me his mother was dying and asked me to drink ayahuasca with him at Airport Juan’s house to see of we might not see what was killing his mom and what might help her to stay alive.
   I reluctantly agreed, sure I could not help.
   But that night, during ceremony, I saw her issue, up close and personal, and “saw” that una de gato would help. I wrote a note when I saw that, and the next morning I showed my note to Alan, sure that I was crazy. Alan had a note as well, which also said “una de gato” but added “sacha jergon”.
   He sent or brought the medicines to his mom—I forget which—and some months later, the woman who was supposed to die within weeks, was told by her doctors that they could not find any cancer and that they might have misdiagnosed to begin with. Alan and I knew better.
   Several years later, Alan would come with me and my mother-in-law, Lydia Cahuaza, a Peruvian woman two generations out of jungle tribal life to Airport Juan's to help heal Lydia's cancer. They did. She got another several good years, just like Alan’s mom.
   At the same time, Alan’s drawback was that he loved being the tallest rose in the garden. And he often was. He was the first public gringo to set up an official plant export company from Iquitos. Large companies had done it earlier, but no one had done it on a personal level. To do it, he had to learn how to set up Peruvian corporations, what papers and permits were needed, how to satisfy both U.S. and United Nations’ bureaucracy. It took years of painstaking work. It was done in part with the help of my family’s “paper” man, Jorge “Flaco” Panduro Perea, the best man at moving papers in all of Iquitos. He never missed or misses a trick. And he set Alan and his then-wife Mariella up as a unique company, capable of moving plant material legally from Peru to anywhere in the world.
   Life, somehow, seems to intervene at the most ackward moments. I had a bar in Iquitos, The Cold Beer Blues Bar, across the street from the Puerto Mastranza on the toughest block in town. Tourists were terrified of going there, so my clients included ex-patriots, locals, U.S. Special Forces and every CIA/DEA/NSA personnel in Iquitos at a given time. Plus drug dealers, arms dealers and every other person the DEA/CIA/NSA had an interest in following.
   Well, as luck would have it, some of those young bucks from the U.S.A. would get drunk and cry into their beer to the bartender—who was often me. Now everybody knew I was a journalist, and I told everybody that whatever they told me at the bar was likely to be published if I thought it worthy, so we didn’t do any sneak attacks. Still, over the course of the couple of years I had the place at least two or three black-ops were stopped in their tracks when I published stories about them with Al Giordano’s seminal NarcoNews.com website.
    And, as luck would have it, a couple of former Navy Seals who were then Spooks working for the CIA as merceneries, were at my bar one night. They were there at a party we had for some guests I was taking to the jungle. Well, one of the guests took a photo of me behind the bar. One of the ex-Seals thought she might have captured his image via the mirrors behind the bar, walked over to her, ripped her camera from her neck and stepped on it, breaking it. His lieutenant called him on the infraction, and the drunk mercenary then ate a bar glass. Simply ate an entire 6 ounces of glass out of shame and anger.
    But before he’d done that, he had told me what he and the other former Seals were in town to do: They were in place to head to the Putumayo River to slaughter any and all people trying to escape a pincer movement planned by the U.S. and U.S. trained Colombian forces for the following month. There would be bonuses of $1,000 for every confirmed kill, whether combatant, civilian man, woman or child.
   I wrote the story and the op was cancelled.
   A couple of days later I was in my friend Jim’s Gringo Bar. At one table was the lieutenant with a local girl. I sat with them, while Alan stayed at the bar. The fellow told me I was in serious trouble for mucking up the operation. I told him I respected the military, but not the idea of trying to force civilians to flee a U.S. paid for onslaught to the Colombian rebels in a 30-year-old civil war that would result in either he or his fellows making money by killing fleeing children. Then, for some reason that seemed to make sense to me at the time, I decided to “sopla” the fellow. Sopla is a blessing where you take magic liquid into your mouth and spray a fine spray over someone’s head and body to cleanse their aura. I didn’t have any sacred liquid, so I used beer. The lieutenant didn’t see it as a blessing: He thought I spit at him and in an instant had his finger around my thorax and told me he might kill me. I told Alan to explain that I was blessing him to not kill non-combatants, not spitting at him. Alan, the tallest rose in the garden, seized the moment and hurled a hailstorm of shit on the fellow’s head, making it clear that not only was his position finished, but that he would likely wind up doing hard time for attacking a journalist such as Peter Gorman.
    The fellow took it seriously. He let me go but told Alan that he would pay for the incident.
    And pay he did. A few months later, Alan, with all the proper paperwork in the world, sent a huge shipment of banisteriopsis caapi—ayahuasca vine, maybe 700 pounds of it—and chacruna and huambisa—the admixture plants used to make ayahuasca, along with black tobacco native to Peru and some other things to his ex-wife’s address in Atlanta.
   Now what Alan did was perfectly legal. And if the U.S. had not wanted to receive the shipment, Customs had the option to say the plant material was not wanted in the U.S. and they could offer either to destroy it or return it to sender on the sender’s dime. Of course, if the material had been mislabeled, it would have been smuggling. But as the material was all labeled properly in both English and Spanish, with local and Latin names, that was not the case.
   Nonetheless the U.S. permitted the shipment to go through Customs and then arrested Alan’s grown son for picking it up off the front lawn.
   Despite the outlandishly illegal move by the U.S. Attorney’s office—which was brought on by the former Seal’s complaint to “Get Shoemaker and Gorman”, and which was confirmed by the DEA on tape to me—when Alan tried to go through Atlanta to see his mom before she finally died, Alan was picked up, put on a bus for 30 days and then delivered to a prison. He was given house arrest, not able to leave the U.S. or even go further than a block or two from the home of his deceased mom. That lasted just under one year, the limit the U.S. Federal prosecutors had to either prosecute him for a crime or let him go. Well, they had no crime to prosecute him for: The only crime committed was done by U.S. Customs in allowing legal plants to go through and then arresting Alan’s son and finally Alan.
   So after 360 days, and I might be off by one or two, but just shy of the limit, the U.S. Attorney sent Alan’s passport to his Attorney and sent me a letter saying Alan was free to leave the country. Alan came to my home in Texas. He stayed here for a couple of weeks. Then I called the judge, U.S. attorney and everyone else and got it confirmed that he was free to travel where he wanted, so long as he’d be available should they ever decide to prosecute.
   Alan, who had not seen his wife or kids for a year, bought a ticket to Lima and on to Iquitos. I double-checked with the judge and prosecutor. And finally, knowing I had everyone on tape saying he could leave, I drove my friend to the DFW airport and sent him on his way.
    Less than a week later the prosecuting attorney in Atlanta charged Alan with Flight to Avoid Prosecution—a ridiculous lie considering she was on tape suggesting he should visit his wife in Peru. Unfortunately for Alan, if he ever returns to the U.S., he’ll have to answer to that charge before there are any “ayahuasca” charges, which means that unless he’s got a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees put away, he’s sunk.
    But none of that sunk him.
    He went back to Iquitos to discover that his family had had a hard time without him. He countered by coming up with the idea of a Shamanic Conference in 2003 or 2004. He brought in some inspiring people to talk, collected several good curanderos to offer medicine to the participants, and began what has become an annual staple for the last several years. And out of those conferences has blossomed the thriving business of ayahuasca tourism in Iquitos and Pucallpa. 
   So Alan's fingerprints have been on all things ayahuasca in Iquitos more than anyone else's. Even the beautiful mantas, weavings, done by the indigenous Shipibo that are sold Iquitos and Pulcallpa, bear his influence: At the very first Shaman Conference the weavers began to incorporate the conference logo, a stylized cross-section of an ayahuasca vine--designed by Johan Fremin--into their weavings, and now depictions of ayahuasca appear on nearly all of the mantas the Shipibo sell.
    Alan is loved by many. He’s also been called every name in the book by people of all stripes. But few of those people have ever walked a day in his shoes. Few of those people have had the courage he has shown. I am not always his biggest fan. I wish he had not set Sachamama and all of the subsequent Ayahuasca Retreats in motion. I wish it could all have been kept secret and slowly let out over the next 50 years, rather than just taking it to the streets. But that doesn’t mean I am right. History will let us know.
   What needs to be known is this: that he’s my brother, good, bad or in between. I fight for his right to be the tallest rose in the garden.
    Enjoy his story. Enjoy the book.
Peter Gorman, December 5, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tough to Put This Delicately.....

Well, I'll be honest. This one is not for kids, not for the squeamish. This one is about money. Yes, that wretched stuff we give to people in exchange for gas, whiskey, organic asparagus. That rotten root of the poisoned tree. That pathetic stepson/daughter of capitalism/statism/getting-good-stuff-ism. Yup. So close your eyes. Put on your earmuffs. Cause if this is going to offend you, then shut it down before it permeates your dreams and leaves you listless the next morning and wondering why you want a cigarette when you didn't have sex.
    Well, it is coming on the end of the year. I've sold 9,000 less copies of my book than I intended to this year. Which means I've sold about 1,000 copies. Which is not bad, but is also a signal that I have failed at my intention of getting at least 3 billion people to buy my book--a large enough number to change the world, the way we think, stave off environmental cataclysm and allow me to have a small but dangerous number of sycophants who will take care of my meager needs.
   That being said, what can be done to rectify the situation?
   I have an idea. BUY THE FREAKING BOOK!
   Buy 10 copies each. Give them to friends. Give them to people on the street. Give them to beggars who can sell them to the libraries. A lousy $30 will get you a signed copy in the US or Canada or Mexico. A lousy $35 will get you a signed copy in Europe or Asia or Australia. And shipping alone is $15 or more to those far flung but well-read places.
   Now, remember that it is Christmas and you owe a lot of people presents. You drank ayahuasca last year, three years ago. You got the message that all is one. So you stopped giving presents because since all is one, no one needs anything. THAT IS SIMPLY CHEAP! SEND THE PRESENTS! And make it my book, okay? That will square you with family and at the same time allow said family to understand what you've been dealing with--which are genuine spirits, monsters, and the bile of your life. They will forgive you. And at that price? Very very inexpensive forgiveness. Much cheaper than having to give 10 percent of your gross to your church--and my absolution is probably just as valid and valuable. So give it up. Buy the book. Write me at peterg9 at yahoo dot com and get those soul-saving orders in before it's too late. Hate to see you rushing down the sluice to hell screaming: "I'll buy the book! I didn't know he was for real!!!!"
    Don't wait for that to happen. Even if I don't believe hell is real, no one says you can't use it as a selling tool, right?
   And there is a second thought here: I have not had advertising on my blog for several years. Which means it is a labor of love. Well, so is raising children, but we all appreciate when an aunt or uncle toss us a couple of bucks to help with the Christmas presents or Pampers.
   So while I have never done this, I am now going to try just to see how it goes. More than 97,000 separate people from more than 90 countries have read some of my blog. And it was all free. How nice for you. But it still took time for me. So what if all 97,000 people tossed me three bucks each via paypal at peterg9 at yahoo dot com? That would net me about $240,000 after Paypal's cut but before taxes, which would be about 40 percent, or $90,000. Which would leave $150,000. Which would pay off my house, pay off Chepa's house, pay off my sisters' houses, and still leave $35,000 to go to the charity of your choice. See how that works? Me first, but others can be in the line too. Selfish, of course. But realistic. I only owe $29,000 on my house so yes, I'd like that paid off.
   Now, realistically, nowhere near 97,000 people are gonna send me a couple of bucks. And they shouldn't. First come their families. Then their friends. Then their charities. Then their local food bank. Then, whatever else they need to do. So I am way way way in the back of the line.
    Still, and this is not for people who have bought my book, been on trips with me, are barely surviving and only use my blog to toss their cookies because they are anorexic but need a push. This request is for those who might read the blog every week, enjoy it, and realize they're getting away with murder for nothing. Well, that's probably leaving you feeling a little sick about taking advantage of me. So I'm offering you a way out, a way to feel better about yourself. A way to stop FEELING LIKE A FREAKING MOOCH! Just send $5 or $10 bucks. This is, after all, the first fund raiser in seven years. Coincidence that it comes at Christmas when you can least afford it? No. But for you conspiratorial nuts, have at it. I prefer to think that you're all in the habit of giving $20 a week to political campaigns and now that they are over you're at a loss, you don't know where to give. So I'm giving you an option. I'm clearing your plate. I'm letting you get off the junk without going through withdrawal. See how this works? It all comes down to you sending me money via pay pal at peterg9 at yahoo dot com so that you can feel better, get weaned off the political process and take a soul-searing hot bath at the same time. You win, I win. The kids win. The local charities win. What the heck? Sounds like a winner to me.
   BUTTTTTT! You can only send money if you have enough to eat. If your friends and family have enough to eat. If your neighborhood food bank has enough food to give to poor people. And if you can spare it, knowing it will go for a new trampoline, new sneakers for the babies, that sort of thing.
   So that's that. My first fundraiser. I feel dirty. Good, but dirty. I think I'll go take a shower and then check Paypal.
   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Late Night Dinner Snacks

So I just came from the alternative weekly office and it's nearly 9 PM. I was putting a cover story to bed, which will be available tomorrow by about noon at fwweekly.com and I think it's a good one, particularly for anyone facing natural gas drilling in your region. On cover story nights my boss expects that the writer will show up and read galleys, then proofs, then put in pull-quotes and photos captions. And check for any errors along the way. This is days after the story has been read by my editor and sent back to me (in this case) with questions. I answer the questions, fix what needs to be fixed, then send it back. Next day it comes back with more detailed questions and I make calls and get those answered. Then again. Finally it's printing night and so while it's a bit of a pain to drive 25 miles each way and then spend 3 hours at the office--I am so not an office type guy, SNAP!, like you didn't know that! Ha!--but at the same time it's a sort of moment of truth. It's your (my) cover story, after all. It represents. And so there is also a bit of pride rolled into it being a bit of a pain.
    Read the story. It's worth the 15 minutes it will take.
    But now I'm home. Way too late to eat anything heavy. So I've put broccoli and cauliflower into a pot, cut into bite sized florets, and am steaming those. In a skillet I've put 4 sea scallops, not huge, just about one ounce each. I floured the and put them in hot olive oil infused with garlic. I put some sea salt and cracked black pepper on them. I added diced scallions.
    I think I'll finish them with a touch of good balsamic vinegar. Keep it simple.
    So dinner is going to be four sea scallops with steamed broccoli and cauliflower that will then be sauteed in the scallop pan drippings.
    Gonna be a winner for sure.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

So Madeleina comes out of the bathroom...

So the other day, maybe a day or two before Thanksgiving, Madeleina went to take a shower. I heard her in the bathroom, yelling and asked if she was okay. She said she was, then went back to yelling. "I've never in my life...." "Who would do this to me?" "I am going to cut people's heads off for this..."
    And about 15 minutes later, out she came, wearing the same clothes she wore when she went in, dry as a bone.
    "Did you even take a shower, baby?"
    "No dad. Now I am going to ask you something very serious," she said. "Did you have a prostitue with long hair in this house while I was staying at mom's?"
    "No. Why would you ask that? I never do that..."
    "Then tell me exactly whose hair it is that completely clogged the drain. I had to pull out this long hair, the most disgusting globs of.....oh, I have to wash my hands again!"
    And off she went to scrub her hands.
    "I hate to tell you, darling, but that's your hair," I said. "And the white stuff is the soap scum that collects on it in the drain when you don't use the drain filter..."
    "I hate you!" she screamed, then gave me several Whack! Whack! Whacks! on my upper right arm for good measure.
    Nice to have you back, Madeleina. I missed you when you stayed at your mom's.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Basic Wal-Mart Math

With all the talk about Wal-Mart and its poor pay scale and refusal to give people sufficient hours to make a living, I thought it might be interesting to take a peek into what raising those salaries for the stockers, the check out people, the docents and all the others Wal-Mart workers would cost and mean to the company. So here is a rough idea. I'm sure someone will have more precise figures for me, and if you do, please let me have them so that I can make this more precise.
   Oh, and thank you Occupy Wall Street, for shining a light into a lot of places that have kept themselves shrouded in darkness for a long time. We needed that window opened so that some fresh air could come in and move a little of the dust gathering on all those monied billionaires.
   And no, I don't think most of us are jealous of people who make money. I do think we are irate now that we've learned how much money some people make, particularly in light of how much they pay the people who help them make that money.

Okay, let's do some basic, round-figure Wal-Mart store math.
Walmart end-year profit was roughly $12 billion in its U.S. stores in 2011.
    It employs roughly 1.5 million workers in the U.S.
    If each worker were given a $3 per hour raise--in cash and/or benefits--and we presumed a general, in-the-ballpark figure of 33 hours per week per worker, that would come to roughly $100 per worker per week, or $5000 per year per worker raise.
    1.5 million workers by $5.000 each comes to 7.5 billion dollars.
    Which would leave profits at about $4.5 billion for the Waltons and their share holders.
    Of course, much of that would be turned around and spent in Wal-Mart stores so some of that would then increase Wal-Mart profits.
    And all of it could be written off as expenses, which would possibly save the Waltons and their shareholders some tax money as well.
    Paying their workers the extra $3 an hour would hurt their bottom line, of course. No question about it. But moving that many lower strata workers from $8.50--$11 per hour (after several years) to $11.50--$14.50 per hour (after several years) would be a full step up the socio-economic ladder for those workers and would have a huge ripple effect on local economies where Wal-Marts exist. When local communities have 200-300 people adding $100 bucks each week into the general pot, that is fairly enormous.
    Remember that these are just ballpark figures based on basic research. Remember also that the loss of part of the profit pie does not affect what the upper echelon employees make: Those making $2000-$8000 per hour would not be affected. Per-share profit would decline, and the money taken by the Walton children would decline. Of course, they'd still have their aggregate $100 billion, and they'd still get about half of the $4.5 billion U.S. profit, and they'd still get their share of the $4 + billion made in Wal-Mart stores located outside the U.S. So yes, they'd make less money.
   But they'd still be doing okay. And 1.5 million of their employees and their families would be a lot less desperate to make ends meet.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful Things

I know I'm weighing in late. I also know that the Native Americans were slaughtered and that is not something to celebrate. But I know too that for so many people leaving Europe because of the oppression--religious, financial and elsewhere--this place, what we call the United States, was a haven. It was a haven for my grandpa, who came from Ireland in 1870 or so and wound up a lawyer here. It was a haven for my ma's pa, my other grandpa, who came here in 1912 as an indentured Irish servant and worked on the Boston RR yards for a long time until he paid off his price and his family debt and finally went to NYU and became an engineer and engineered the air flow for the Holland Tunnel in NYC and the earliest large apartment buildings in New York and wound up with 41 patents (his wife, grandma, had 21 I think, mostly related to kitchen things, like the reusable pastry bag and such).
   And then I come along, my mother and father's son. Second son. And here I am. Old now, but I was young in 1951, a brand new baby.  Now I'm 61 and my hair is mostly gray. I cannot believe that. I walked miles today, fighting time. I walked miles yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day/week/month before that. I run trips to the Amazon freaking jungle for goodness sake! You would think the universe would allow me brown hair! No dignity for the old.
   So yesterday was Thanksgiving and yes, a large part of me knows this country was taken by force/deception/horror from the people who previously lived here. Who the people were whose land was stolen from by them I have no idea. Nonetheless, we are not celebrating genocide in my family. We celebrate the idea of living, sharing, joy. We celebrate the fact that the diseases didn't kill us. We celebrate another day or week or month of waking up and saying "Thanks, God, for letting me wake up today and see another sunrise." And that is whatever god you believe in, not any specific one. Cause  it is all too big for me to comprehend, and there are layers of angels and spirits between me and Her/Him/It, so I just do a generic Thanks.
    But then personally: Thank you to Billy Gerba and Anthony and Vinny and Jacky and Dan McGurran for being my pals as kids. Thank you Kathy O, Diane Z, Gail B, Clare W, Claire S, Audrey,  Albie H, Gail R, Chepa, Gasdalia, Claudia and anyone else who ever let me kiss you, cause I love kissing.
   Thanks, Chuck, Larry, Philip, Larry Burns when I was a kid, Lynn, Gritter, and a host of other people who taught me not to be afraid, even when I was scared to death, because of your courage.
   Thanks to my brother Mike who invented the Strong Kids Club and who made all of us do impossible things, painful and impossible things, to prove our strength.
    Thanks to my sisters Pat and Peg, who won awards for Baton Twirling and art at age 10 and went on to push me to try just a little harder to do my best/find my best.
    Thanks to Barbara and Regina, my younger sisters, for letting me try to teach, even though I'd hardly learned.
    Thanks to my mom and dad, fantastic parents and people who encouraged  us all.
    Thanks to Mickey Bayard, and Glen Wilson and Debbie Wilson and Sara C who demanded that I be a chef, not a cook. And gave me the freedom to learn on their dollar.
    Thanks to Mike Kennedy and his lovely wife who ran High TImes, and to Steve Hager who gave me the job of making medical marijuana a national issue, and Hemp a national issue, and Forfeiture law a national issue and then backed me when I did. Thanks to John Holmstrom, who let me kill a lot of ads for High Times that I didn't thing were right for the magazine even though the could have made a lot of money.
    Thanks to the editors at Omni and Penthouse and Wildlife Conservation who allowed me a voice.
    Thanks to the Fort Worth Weekly who picked me up when i got to Texas and didn't have a freaking dime. Thanks for believing in me.
   Thanks to Chepa, who married me and gave me Italo and Marco and had Madeleina with me. Having kids was the best thing that ever happened to me. And thank you Sierra and Alexa and my granddaughter Taylor Rain, for loving me. And thank you, Troy, for making Chepa happy--and that was not easy to write.
    Get the gist? Want more? Thanks, heart, for having an attack that didn't kill me. Thanks rheumatoid arthritis that put me in a hospital for months as a kid but only made me stronger. Thanks flesh-eating bacteria for reminding me that life can go in two days. Thanks intestinal rupture for reminding me that life can go in an hour. Thanks doctors, for saving my life so many times.
    And thank all of you for reading. Thanks for being part of my fantastic life. You are the power that comes to me. You are the exalted that have the strength I rely on. I appreciate you, though I don't know most of you. That does not mean you are not considered and thanked. So thank you.
   And there are ten thousand more. I appreciate you all. I think of you all and say thank you.
Happy belated Thanksgiving.
I hope you all sleep warmly, in the arms of those you love, this year and every year.

Drug War Column That's Not Going to Run

Well, I had turned this in for my column for Skunk Magazine. I love my column at Skunk. And this one relates to the new laws in Washington State and Colorado that legalize possession of an ounce of weed for personal use. Not eliminates penalties. Legalizes. The new law orders the states to open stores for sales--which will mean people will get licences to commercially grow the pot to be sold in the stores--within a year.
   Anyway, the problem is that a very good friend of mine and a former colleague over at the High Times magazine news department, Steve Wishnia, was asked to do an analysis of the two new state laws, which made my column redundant. So I will write a new column because there is a lot of news to go around in the drug war arena, but I would still like this to be seen. So here it is.


Well, the dust has hardly settled but the boots are at the door; they might come storming through riling up that dust some more.
    But we hope not. The boots belong to the Justice Department and the door belongs to the states of Washington and Colorado. The dust is the election that saw those two states make the biggest moves toward cannabis legalization any state has made in a long long time. No, neither law is perfect, and it is going to be a cold day in hell—probably—before state stores are up and running, but still, the fact that the voters got out there and said enough is enough and let’s get something on legalization out there is very freaking refreshing. Ask anyone who works in any capacity to end the drug war: Wins are few and far between. It took more than 10 years of effort to rein in law enforcement’s forfeiture spree; it took a lot longer than that to get the racist Rockerfeller sentencing laws even semi-tossed. So what happened in Washington and Colorado is in the win column though we cannot be at all sure that the feds are not going to come in and try to muck things up like they have with California and Oregon’s medical marijuana laws.
    Thus far, the news in parts of both states has been good: Large areas of Washington and Colorado have dropped pending marijuana possession cases for small quantities—the vast majority of all pot cases—and more areas are thinking they will join that tact. And if the states can actually grab their balls and open the stores next year, well, tax revenue will begin to flow. Which is one of the things that bothers a lot of my old cannabis buddies: They would prefer the weed be free to grow, use and sell at will rather than have it commoditized like alcohol. I understand their reasoning. On the other hand, I’m of a mind that a step forward is a step forward and the idea of being able to waltz into a pot store, shop for pot as if it was Dennis Peron’s old San Francisco pot grocery store, pay the man and stroll out to roll a doobie and catch a sunset…well, we all do that already except for the grocery store part. And that’s the part that’s at the heart of things. That’s the legal part. And if we can make Eric Holder and the Justice Department—and who ever runs it after Holder leaves his post (probably by the time you read this) to promise to simply not do anything—just stay the fed out of the way, well, then we’ll start to get some place.
    And now that WA and CO have taken this step, new bills have been introduced in Maine and Rhode Island—two small states on the far northeast for those who were stoned during geography class—to legalize pot there as well. And I’m pretty sure they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Because most people in the United States, just like most of Canada, are sick and tired of watching lives, families, and sometimes whole communities being destroyed by marijuana prohibition.
    So let’s keep our fingers crossed and say a little something into the next smoke you exhale to make it all just happen.
     BUTTTTTTT……one of the most interesting things about Washington’s new law is that it makes a distinction between cannabis and hemp—and now that cannabis is legalized and that distinction is in legal-speak in the state rule book, I don’t think it will be long before Washington petitions the Drug Enforcement Administration to have hemp removed from the Controlled Substances Act. And things are even more clear in Colorado, because the new law not only separates cannabis from hemp, but allows for farmers to plant hemp.
    Do not underestimate the value of those moves by the people who wrote the laws. If one state begins to grow hemp and it is successful, you know every goddamned farmer with a couple of acres is going to demand the right to get in on hemp. And then people are going to need harvesters that can work that plant, and then, and then, and then the world gets saved at the very last second by the evil weed that turned out to be an angel all along!
    Again, to have that even begin to happen, we’re going to need the feds to keep their big boots out of the states’ business. But we ought to have a whole lot of Tea Baggers on our nasty ass liberal side for that one, since conservatives, and particularly the Tea Party folks, are always clamoring for state’s rights. That should be fun to watch!
   BUT HEY! Put the damned bong down. Enough celebrating. Because while Washington and Colorado did the right thing, down south in Mexico the bodies are still being found without hands and feet; torsos are still being found in garbage bags and dumped on roads. This is the madness of the war on drugs and we have got to keep working to have the whole war ended, which is the only way we’ll help end the mayhem in Mexico, which is entirely fueled by the proceeds of the black market created by the war on drugs.
   And it ain’t just Mexico. At the end of November a second round of peace talks were started in Havana, Cuba between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who have been waging a civil war for nearly 50 years there. The death toll over that time has been well over 30,000, most of those rural campesinos. Yes, this is the drug war too. What started out as a movement to get some of Colombia’s land redistributed so that rural communities could share a little of the bounty of that country with the small number of oligarchy families who controlled almost every facet of Colombia was first infiltrated by drug lords via the AUC, the right-wing paramilitary group that has been responsible for so many of the deaths there. But the leftist FARC, who initially refused to be involved with drug money, was finally corrupted during the 1990s and so everybody in that conflict—including the Colombian military, many trained by US Special Forces, is involved with the black market in drugs.  And naturally it’s innocents who bear the brunt of the displacement, death squad murders and all the rest of the physical and emotion carnage. So how are those peace talks gonna go? The government will ask the FARC to give up their weapons. The FARC will say that if they do that they’ll be slaughtered.
    But if we legalized drugs in the US, then other countries would follow suit, unafraid that US Aid would be cut off, and well, there would be no money to have a civil war in Colombia or rampant violence in Mexico that’s spilled over to Guatemala. I mean, there would still be a fight to redistribute the land, and there would be a shitload of old animosity to get past, but the money grab, the reach for the drug war riches, would no longer be part of the equation. Which would lower the volume on the violence considerably.
   So you see how it works, right? I mean if Washington and Colorado are allowed to implement their little but great step in legalizing cannabis, we’ll be taking the first huge step in stopping a whole lot of violence in a number of places. That’s got to be the real goal. Stop the violence. End the Drug War. Stop the violence. End the Drug War.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Okay, I Admit it, I'm a Political Junkie

Okay, I admit it. I'm a political junkie. I get ferociously involved in elections. Not that I make phone calls, but that I read, read, read everything I can on issues, on the politicians and so forth. And while I generally keep my journalist nose out of things--you cannot write a legitimate story that is fair and balanced if you've already written that you think some politician is an ass--things like the presidential elections are a different animal. I don't write about them as a journalist. I have no stake other than as a citizen raising kids, paying taxes and so forth. So I'm allowed my view. And in the recent election, Romney was so bad, so freaking awful, that what I carry into my house on my shoes after a stout walk in the morning at the park would be better able to serve as president than he. Why? Because he thinks people make money as a living. He has no idea of what regular people do. When I was a chef in NYC prior to all the cooking schools opening up in the late 1970s, I used to take $300 out of the bar till nightly for my pay. If I worked 8 shifts in a given week--in a 46 seat restaurant--I'd get $2400. My boss paid my taxes on that. And paid my health insurance. So I was worth $3200 or so a week. When I worked at High Times Magazine, I took in $53,000-$60,000 annually and my boss paid more than $14,000 a year in my insurance and another $10,000 a year into my 401K as his share.
     I started working with a social security card at age 6. I met my dad, on line for unemployment because his Broadway show closed, as I was applying for my card. So I'm 61 and have paid into social security for 55 years. I still have that card and still show it when people in Texas ask for my SS card.
    But move to Texas in 2002 and suddenly I'm raising all my kids on less then half of what I used to make, with no health insurance, no 401K. I still figure that probably 40 percent of everything I spend is on taxes, though I no longer pay federal income tax. Yes, I have three jobs. My income is roughly $32.000 a  year. I pay 15 percent of my freelance income, about $20,000 (which means they take $3,000) to the federal government. I pay my FICA and my medicare and no one in my family has ever gotten a dime that I am aware of from any governmental agency. I cook at home every day and have cooked for my kids--though they don't live with me now as they're grown--for every day of their lives. Fresh meat, fresh fish, fresh chicken, fresh veggies, potatoes or rice or plantain. Home made desserts. Why? Because we can't afford freaking ice cream more than once a month.
   I paid for clothes, dental, medical, all out of pocket. I had three life-saving operations I had to put on credit cards and paid them all off. I have a house I bought for $83.000 in January 2002 and I will finish paying for it in 37 months. We're doing that on $32,000 a year.
   And then I hear Mitt Romney say I'm a bum. I've raised three kids and am helping to raise two more. No handouts. No gifts. No freaking cheese. We give to the Salvation Army, we don't get. We borrow hundreds of dollars off of credit cards to help the East Coast after Sandy, not take. And I'm just a regular person. There are millions of us. We don't like being talked down to. We know what it's like to make a good living and pay good taxes. And then the market changes and we downsize but we don't complain. And to hear that nitwit degrading and denigrading all of us is offensive.
  We are whom we are.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ah, Peru

You want to play in the jungle for 30 years? Here's what you get:

Ah, Peru. Giardia? Check. Botfly infestation, included in cojones? Check. Malaria? Check. Hemorrhagic Dengue? Check. Bushmaster snake bite freezing right forfinger for nearly two years? Check. Upper intestine rupture causing an immediate op to prevent death with 3 liters of intestinal acids removed from stomach area? Check. Two further emergency operations on same issue? Check. Flesh eating bacterial spider bite causing holes to leak all over body? Check. Plain old flesh eating bacterial infection causing skin decay all over body? Check. Conjunctivitis? Check. Broken ankle several miles from treatment? Check. Heart attack? Check.
    Good to go sir. There's nothing left but death for you.
    Thanks. Feel like a million bucks. Used million bucks, but still here, still playing, still strong.
And I ain't even talking about the occasional piraƱa or cayman nip, or the foot fungus or that small stuff.
It's a great time to be alive, ain't it?

A Little of This, A Pinch of That.....

Well, how do I round up this last week? That's a tough one. First, I was glad Obama won, and I'm glad we dems pretty much kicked ass in the Senate, holding nearly all of the 23 seats and then adding a few more to produce a positive two. And I'm glad that Alan West and the dead beat loudmouth dumb, dumb, dumb dad Joe Walsh lost. And I'm glad Connie Mack is out in Florida and that the vaginal rape kings Akin and Murdock lost and I'm glad the Princess of the WWF, Linda McMahon, lost and I'm very very glad that Elizabeth Warren took a senate seat. And there is more, but I won't go too far into this. Just that I'm glad the dems kicked ass and that people like Kaine won over Allen in Virgina and so forth.
    These are not radical people who won. My preference would have been people further to the left. But they will be better, more honest, more decent than the people they beat. If there is just one ounce of humanity more in Kaine than Allen, then that's a win. If Allen West's idiocy masquerading as ideology is gone forever, and if Joe Walsh, who has not had an idea since he was born, is gone, then their replacements will be better to represent the USA. And in their cases, their replacements will be significantly better.
   Now if we could get Karl Rove to disappear. If we could make Grover Sniveling Norquist to disappear--or at least come out of the closet and make people pledge for gay marriages--we'd be moving in the right direction.
   What I hope for is that Obama can hear my old late teacher Julio echoing in the ether, when I told him I was frightened of a spirit and did not work with it. Julio, by then nearly 94, looked at me and laughed, then got stern. "Tienes cojones? Agarra su cojones!" You have balls? Grab your balls and don't be afraid. That's what I am wishing, actively, for President and President elect Obama. Let the tax cuts expire. All of them. Let people panic. Then come back and suggest we give a temporary tax cut to the middle class, based on increasing the tax on carried interest for the Romney's, Rockefellers and such and allowing estate taxes to go to 30 percent for everything over $50,000.
   I hope the president's people read this blog and I hope they're paying attention. No more coddling the very rich. Be stern with them the way all of us as parents have had to be stern with our two-year olds. We love them, we only want the best for them, we will die for them, but no, they cannot have more candy before going to bed. Period. PERIOD!
   Grab your cojones, Mr. President. If you do you will find out that the spirits couldn't hurt you at all. It was just an illusion. And Norquist, Rove, Adelson, Koch brothers, McConnell--whom I am stripping of the right to call himself an Irishman because he has shamed us like Hannity and O'Reilly, also ex-Irishmen--and the lightweight bug in the ointment, Cantor--they are all an illusion too. Grab your balls and walk through them: They have no solidity. They cannot touch you. They are figments of our collective fear. Of our nightmares. Of our imagination. They don't exist and they wield no power. Walk through them fiercely.
    Okay, I was gonna write more but that's enough. Maybe tomorrow I will tell you about how my truck and I have been at one with one another the last few days, and how no one in the world, no matter what kind of car they have, has had more fun driving than I have had. And I was going to tell you about how, the other night, when I wanted a particular meal--hot sausage with peppers, onions and garlic--I decided it would be better to make a hot sausage pasta with garlic, onion, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and zuccini--and while that was good, my stomach, three days later, is still itching for (boiled, then baked, and finally grilled) hot sausage with sliced bell peppers and onions with lots of garlic. So never disobey your stomach if you are doing your fair share of exercise and not over eating. Your stomach knows what it needs. Tonight, for instance, it needs a piece of organic chicken--I'm roasting the whole chicken but will only eat one thigh--roasted with garlic in a bit of olive oil, with cracked black pepper and sea salt--with basmati rice (have not had rice in several days/cutting carbos), a good gravy of pan drippings with (cheat alert) a bag of chicken gravy mix, some garlic, onions, an organic plum tomato, a diced pear and the juice of two oranges. On the side I'm having spinach in Balsamic vinegar.
    I was going to go into those things but I won't. I'll just leave it at the political rant. And I am serious. If Obama wants to go down in history on the positive side of the ledger, he must take care of business now. And to do that he will have to start with letting the damned tax cuts expire. That's just to let the other side know he's got a set and he's not afraid to grab them.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

So Much I Don't Know

There is a lot I know. And there is so much, so so much I don't know. I just recently discovered that I can go onto youtube.com and call up a band or song I want to hear and voila!: someone has put it on youtube. I don't mean recording illegally--I wouldn't do that because I want the artists to get their cut--JUST LIKE I WANT YOU ALL TO BUY YOUR OWN COPIES OF MY BOOK--but I digress. But right now I'm listening to one of the all time great albums: Love's Forever Changes. A San Francisco band out of 1967 or so. Just fantastic: "and I could be in love with almost anyone, I think that people are the greatest fun...."
    WOW! I'm thrilled. And yesterday I was listening to the Blues Project, a New York band from 1964-67 that was unimaginably great. Two Trains Running; I Can't Keep From Crying; You Go and I'll Go With You, Baby; Spoonful; Backdoor Man; Flute Thing; Wake Me, Shake Me; Alberta; the very best blues band of the middle 1960s. Danny Kalb on guitar--and we're still waiting for a blues man to play the electric blues as well as he did; Al Kooper on organ and vocals--with whom I shared a joint after an appearance with B.B. King at the Cafe Au GoGo. Steve Katz played guitar and wild flute and Andy Kulberg played bass and Roy Blumenfeld on drums. Tommy Flanders, with an incredible voice, was the lead singer originally, on cuts like the lonesome Alberta, but he quit to be replaced by Kooper. Kooper was initially a studio guitarist, but when he was hired for Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, there was another guitarist there named  Mike Bloomfield--and was so embarrassed that he left the studio. But he hung around and played a Hammond B3 organ that he didn't know was on during Dylan's take of Like A Rolling Stone--and Dylan insisted it stay. Kooper later formed Blood Sweat and Tears and while still recording his own material, SuperSession, ReKooperation and so forth. He also played with everyone from Hendrix to B.B. King to Cream, appearing on their albums. But he also produced. His major hit with production wereLynyrd 's first three albums as well as The Tubes first album in 1975. I thought he was god, even though he was Jewish to my Catholic. He was so good he made me question being an altar boy. That's saying something.
    And when the Love album is done, I'm going to look for Blind Faith, which was Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Clapton and Baker came from Cream. Winwood came from the Spencer Davis Group--which I might look up after I play Blind Faith.
   I had no idea until two days ago you could do this with a computer. You just go to youtube.com, press in a musician or group's name and songs come up. Yesterday I listened to Joan Armatrading! Can you imagine? Who invented this stuff? Who made this possible? Who do I owe for the pleasure???????This is just fucking wonderful and I'm in love with the idea! Who knew??? Certainly, nobody told me. But then they didn't tell me about masturbation either--assuming I knew--and subsequently I had no idea about that until after I had sex with D. at 18. I'm just a slow learner I guess. But I'm glad I learned about the Mastur...thing and I'm glad I learned about youtube and music too! WoW!!! There are some smart people in the world!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

If you ever came on a trip with me, you would get a letter something like this

Okay, so my January trip is officially on now that I have enough people. Could use more but will not bitch about that. When people sign on, I talk with them on the phone. I like to hear their voices and I want them to hear mine. We get a feel for each other that way: I wind up suggesting that about 3 out of ten not come because my trip is not going to be right for them. And then some people drop my trip as well. So I'm not a great salesman.
    But just to make sure they know what we're about, I also send out a couple of missives. And I never use the same one. I just like writing a new one to each group, the same way I like doing one or two things differently for each group: That way it stays fresh for me, my team. That's vital. Anyway, someone responded to the missive I sent out yesterday, so I got a chance to see what I'd written. Damn, I'm surprised anybody comes with me after getting notes like this!!!! But then, those who come are generally the very coolest of the cream of the crop. So we're always small, but delicious as a group.
    So just for fun, here's the first missive I wrote to the Jan. group.

Hello W, X, Y and Z: Well, aren't we a small but merry band? I hope the merry part works and at the same time I hope a couple of fence sitters join us. I just bought my international tickets and paid for the boat cabins to run up the river with us from your deposits--and did a couple of other things like paid for a new roof on the kitchen and paid for an emergency operation for someone, so thanks. I'm leaving on Jan 7 and will be in Iquitos at about 9 AM on Jan 8. You all are due on Jan 12, early in the morning, preferable. We're such a small group for the jungle--we've got a couple of people joining us for the mountain portion of the trip--that you are all welcome to come a day early--or two, if you want to help us shop for dry goods--which include food/shotgun shells/new hammocks and so forth. If you want to, by all means: My team and I generally have a party the night before the trip starts and it's fun. So come a day or so early if you like. We will pick you up at the airport in Iquitos whether you come on Saturday or earlier.
   Okay: Here's the drill: I do not walk on water. I don't wear white robes. I'm not anything but who I am: I smoke, drink, cuss. I also take your trip very very seriously. This is a life changing experience for a lot of people and my job is to get you in touch with the people/places/medicines that can facilitate that. But I'm nobody's guru. I don't think any of you are under that illusion, but I've had some bad luck in the past so I want to make it clear: I'm me. I'm one of the good guys. But I don't have no secret powers. What I have going for me is nearly 30 years in the northwest Amazon--I know it like I know a good hot dog in New York. It's in my blood. So I'll ask you to go with me on that: Once you meet my team and realize they are all family of my late teacher Julio, and that they all grew up where we are going, you will have faith, no sweat.
    Our itinerary: We're starting on Saturday, Jan 12. We'll be in Iquitos for two days--they are vital days to get your diet proper, to get over jet lag and to get in the rhythm of us. We will fill those two days with fantastic stuff. Some of it will be dirty: We might visit the local jail or do a ceremony at Julio's gravesite. We will also take you out to the river to see where the Amazon officially starts, and to my friend's animal shelter and to Belen, the largest market for hundreds of miles in any direciton. You will be introduced to Amazonian medicines, the brutality of the jungle, to the beauty and the horror of the place. The jungle is not pretty: As much death goes on as new life. That's what it's about and you need to have that in your blood before medicine. 
    At the same time, you will have decent/good hotels, great food, a wonderful team that outnumbers you by maybe 2/1. 
    There will be time to talk about airports and such. I just want to say hello and introduce you to one another in this email. I'm gonna put a couple of standard things below: A note on vaccinations and what to bring and what to leave home. Aside from that, know that this is definitely a dirt-under-your-fingernails trip: We bathe in the beautiful river--no showers allowed. We will live like people on the river live for a week. (Don't sweat mosquito nets: You will all sleep on mats beneath them. Or, if you prefer to sleep in a hammock, we'll have military mosquito nets that make a cacoon around them. We also will have some beds available for those who prefer beds.) Our walks will take us to high pristing rainforest, to a fantastic swamp, to collect the medicine we'll use in ceremony. I will have enough team members to allow those who want to fly through the jungle to do that and for those who want to just sit and draw a leaf, they will be able to stop and do that too, without interrupting anything. We will accomodate all of you at all times. We'll go out at night in dugout canoes and collect sapo frogs and use the Matses' medicines sapo and nu-nu. We'll spend an evening/night on an overcrowded riverboat under the Amazon sky, on the Amazon river. We'll have magic mushrooms appear when the time is appropriate. We will have magic around us.
     But there are rules: And these are inviolate.
1) No cocaine. None. No asking about it and if I find you bought some you are off the trip. Lost your money. Gone. Done. I am not going to go to jail for you--and they will let you go but put me in jail. And I'm not even going into the fact that I've lost dozens of friends in Peru to the stupid drug war. It ain't happening on my shift, okay?
2) Iquitos is hot. Courtship lasts about as long as half-a-beer. I don't care who you want to have sex with, but   whomever it is better be 18. I don't care if it's a dog or a chicken or a boy or girl. If they are 18, it's your business. If they are younger than that, off the trip. Again, not going to jail for you.
3) If you have to have marijuana--and as for former editor-in-chief of High Times I understand that--you must must must go through me. I'll do my best to get it for you. But if I find you're going to a shoeshine boy or girl, well, you're gone. So go through me, okay? I'm really easy, except for these rules.
   And the last rule: I don't like complaints. If I am not doing something you want, don't bitch. Just punch me in either arm between the elbow and shoulder. Hard as you want, without warning. Then you will have my attention and you can just tell me what I should be doing that I am not doing. Clear? I say this because I don't want anyone holding anything in: People who silently seethe can poison a whole group. I'd rather it be Whack! Whack! "Oh, now that you have my attention, what can I do for you?" 
   I'm a dad and happy with that. Don't hesitate.
Okay: Last note for tonight (and I expect you to memorize these because there will be a test!!!!!) is that I need you to give me your international flights once you have them. Remember: We start on Saturday, Jan 12 and finish on Friday, Feb 1. You want to come early or stay late, that's fine. It's on you but I will make certain you are well covered by my team both in the jungle and the mountains. But I cannot help with interior Peru tickets until I have your international tickets. I will recommend StarPeru.com as a place to get affordable tickets, but that airline might not line up with your international flight. So please get to me once you have those international tickets and I can help from there. As noted, I already have my international tickets, so there is no turning back at this point. We're in. And we're in for a fantastic trip.
   OH, sorry. One last note before I put on the "what to bring" and "vaccination" and "food" notes: If everyone would get me the remainder of the fee by Dec 1 that will allow me to get the hotels, secure the trains in Cuzco and entrances to Machu Picchu and contract for ceremonies in the mountains and have my people fan out to find those beautiful little sisters, the magic mushrooms. As well as to collect some sapo and for me to buy my interior plane tickets and so forth. Sooner the better because I prefer to have things done early. But Dec. 1 at the latest, okay?
    Next missive in a couple of weeks. You all have my email and my phone if you have any questions. And you're welcome to pester me.
   And thank you all for joining. It's gonna be great, for real.
Peter G

Friday, November 02, 2012

Gotta Weigh in on Benghazi--Because the Lies are Wretched

Okay: I've worked for High Times magazine. I've worked for the cops in New York City. I've had a bar in Iquitos and personally squashed two horrible black ops the U.S. government was going to do that would have killed thousands. I have family connected with the CIA and I've got family connected with the bad guys, and they often are hard to tell apart, depending on the job on a given day. But I am tired of this Benghazi nonsense with Fox News demanding answers to a CIA operation in a war torn country, and I am dired of Sen. Issa with is committees and that nonsense. So here are a few responses I've given to people. I'm on a tear and I will cut you to pieces if you fight me here. I have the sword; no one else has anything. So just sit back, read, and deal with it.
PS: I love you all. I'm just mad at stupid people who cannot grasp the reality of simple situations. Peace.

You think it's really your business to know what the fuck the CIA are doing in a foreign 
country that is selling arms all over the place? You don't think the Ambassador was also working with the CIA? Come on, you are smarter than that. And it's nobody's fucking business what the CIA does on a day-to-day. If you want to dismantle security, fine. But if you like being protected, then you protect your assets. You do know that more than 30 people were successfully evacuated that day from Benghazi, right? And that maybe 100 or more foreign assets were protected. So we lost two mercenaries--and that's not good, but they were in it for the money, about $200.000 a year, and we lost one paper shredder, who was shredding the intel, and we lost one Ambassador, who was allegedly in Tripoli, but had changed his plans and gone to Bengazi for a dinner date with either a boyfriend or another operative concerning the gun running there. So what's your point? It's none of your goddamned business, at least until 25 years have passed, just like with all black ops. Before that it only gets people killed. And you are smart enough not to be the ass who posted this. I am incensed, yes, because I know how this stuff goes down. And no, it's not your business to know how I know. People's lives were saved by the dozen on this. Anybody saying different is a liar. And I hate liars. I still love you though--you're just completely misinformed and misled

My friend responded that he didn't like that the video was blamed for the attack. I almost choked on my browned swordfish on a bed of steamed asparagus with a gentle sauce of garlic, onion, scallions, tomato, red pepper, roasted sesame seeds and capers, with a side of broccoli, steamed then sauteed with a bit of salt pork , as well as basmati rice in garlic. I almost choked, but I didn't, because the food was too too too too too good. Now, back to the regular programming rant about dimwits and Bengazi!

The total evacs took several days. You want a president who gives up people at the airport? Or do you want a president who protects as many as he can. The ruse of the video--which caused havoc all over the middle east, with the single possible exception being Benghazi's attack--was a way to protect people. Heck, it's not like there are 20 Air Force 1's to get out people out of that kind of place. Even in Tripoli we don't have that presence. So it's delicate. You remember HT: It's delicate to do a centerfold. When are you open to arrest? When you arrange it? When you pick up 200 pounds? When you deliver it to the photographer? When you return it? I don't know if you ever did that stuff, but I can tell you that moving 1/2 ton for a photo shoot is a freaking scary thing. And there are lots of people involved. And the job, if you get busted, is to lie long enough to get everyone else free. That's the job. And while no one was moving pot in Bengazi, there were guns/arms/drugs/money being moved, and that's what our people were after: Trying to figure out who were the right guys, who were the wrong guys and then stopping the wrong guys. And maybe, must maybe, some of the right guys turned out to be wrong guys, and that left our guys in the lurch. Not a pretty place. But not something the president of the United States is supposed to talk about. Other people are at risk. It's a cautionary thing. It's a story to protect assets. This is not GW Bush outright lying about WMD's and outing a CIA operative because her husband, at the behest of the US, said there were no WMDs. This was an instantaneous situation where commanders on the ground called the shots. It sucks, yes. But there is no WW3 as a result of it. It's a tragedy, yes. But four dead, in a dangerous game that I wish we would grow out of, is a lot better than two dozen or 6 dozen dead.