Monday, December 31, 2007

Just Thinkin About New Year's Eve

Hello all. Just thinking about New Year's Eve. Here in bucolic Joshua, Texas--just 12 miles south of south Fort Worth and 23 miles from the nearest place where you can buy a drink of whiskey--it's 6:16 Pm. Long past Australia's New Year's celebration but long before New York's.
And wouldn't it be fun to be in New York tonight. I used to take the kids and Chepa to Central Park around 10:30 PM and we'd make our way to 96th street or so for the 10K midnight champagne run and Fireworks's display. I could never do the run but I sure did enjoy the champagne. Then we'd come home, wintery cold, and I'd make cocoa and Toll House cookies. And we'd watch a movie and that was one great night.
Here in Joshua, I've gotten into the habit of buying fireworks. Not cherry bombs or ash cans--just loud and dangerous and their six-second fuses were often enough only 4 seconds, leaving a lot of friends of mine with half-fingers where they used to have whole ones--but lots of roman candles and rockets and artillery shells: the beautiful shells that explode 200 feet overhead in multi-colors and noise and make your neighbors call up to say "You woke me up, you son of a bitch. Nice one!"
And we blew a couple of bucks on the same this year. Gonna be fun if nobody gets hurt.
And I'm making a steak in the next hour. Big steak. Felt like being a pig and I am already apologizing to god and the cow. This is a four pound chuck steak, Angus, that I'm slicing in half and cooking like a t-bone. And while the T-bone has a certain magic from it's buttery-ness, the good chuck has a flavor that cannot be beaten in a pan sear. It's just that well-marbled. To go with it there is spinach, carrots, sliced potatoes, fresh beans, sliced tomatoes sauteed in a bit of olive oil and then topped with grated parmesan, fresh black pepper and a touch of fresh basil, and the de rigeur Peruvian asparagus steamed then cooked lightly in a mix of olive oil, a touch of butter and balsamic vinegar.
It's mostly veggies but I'll still gain a pound. Oh, well.
So what happened this year? Anything worthwhile? I think so. I'll stay out of politics, as I make my living discussing that. and I get tired of it--mostly because I'm not enough of an Alpha Male to change the world. But on personal notes? I've had a new niece born, who is beautiful. And healthy. My son Italo is playing on a soccer team as good as you get before signing with the pros. My second son, Marco, graduated high school and has a job and a girlfriend. And while we occasionally step on his used condoms, she's not pregnant. My baby Madeleina reached 10 and thinks like a 30-year old.
Sierra, my ex-wife Chepa's baby, is nearly two-years-old and fantastic. More than that, I'm in love with her and get to spend a bunch of time with her. And while that can only end in disaster for my heart, I'll live with it. A few years ago Ayahuasca finally taught me that you must take the love when it's offered. So I'll take this beautiful baby's love and when it's gone, when mom is gone with the baby, she and I will have had a good time together, rather than me running away in fear that my heart would be broken. Thanks for that lesson, Ayahuasca.
(Ayahuasca is a medicine from the jungle that I've been using to learn things from for two-and-a-half decades. You'd think, if life were fair, that after 25-years I'd be a master. Turns out that after 25-years of study they're finally letting me into the first grade!!!!!)
And this year too I got a lot of love from my baby Madeleina, now 10. More than I deserve but I'll take it all. Thanks white light or god or spirits or all of you. And thank you, Madeleina.
And thank you Skunk Magazine for giving me a column, Drug War Follies, that allows me to spout off on the wrongheadedness of the Drug War. And thank you Marc Emery, owner/publisher of Cannabis Culture, for having the bravery to face extradition to the US for selling cannabis seeds to US undercovers who entrapped you illegally with all of the elegance and decency with which you are facing that extradition and possible life-sentence here in the criminally wrong US. You are a lesson to us all.
And thank you Fort Worth Weekly to allow me to ply my trade of investigative journalism week after week. I hope I have helped settle a few scores, stopped a few bad men, overturned a few bad decisions and made some people rethink their political positions on a few issues.
On the other hand, for those of you I've hurt, forgive me. I'll try to do better. For those of you who have cheated me this year of more than $50.000, money I for once thought I had earned, I forgive you. But don't do it again, guys, cause I'm not going to be so forgiving the second time. Take that to the bank.
For you, Gasdalia, who wanted me despite being an old fat white guy with a completely broken stomach, thank you. I was embarrassed to shower for my appearance and yet you made me feel like I wasn't repulsive. You made me feel loved. Thanks.
For all my workers who put up with being cheated by me when I was cheated by others and couldn't do the trips I promised, thank you for remaining loyal. We'll do better this year.
And for all of you readers who have taken the time to read this blog--time you could have surely spent better elsewhere--thank you for allowing me to feel like I was part of your family.
Thanks for letting me saddle up to the bar and have my say.
I hope that all of you, and all of the people and animals and vegetation of this world, somehow manage to have a wonderful, wonderful New Year.
Thanks, everybody. I'd much rather be alive than not. Thank you from my heart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ayahuasca Plant Spirits

On a board I occasionally post on, a new member recently asked about adding things like ginger, St. John's Wort and maple syrup to ayahuasca while he was brewing it. Reactions from the board members who responded were pretty harsh. First off, St. John's Wort is not a good thing to utilize with ayahuasca because of possible serious physical complications from the chemical combination of the substances. But more than that, the board members were slightly upset with a new member simply tossing things out there: the question seemed filled with arrogance.
I posted a long and arrogant answer of my own, then immediately deleted it.
The new member then started a new and self-centered thread asking whether his questions would be answered by other members of the board or simply ignored. Two hours later he decided his questions wouldn't be answered and was feeling sorry for himself.
So I answered him. This is the answer I gave, and re-reading it, I think it might have enough merit to post it here. I hope you don't mind.

Have you got a question to ask?
In your first post, at least the first I read, you asked about admixtures that might be included when making ayahuasca. I wrote a good, long post, and then deleted it. Who am I, after all, to give advice? (My advice was to take one kilo of caapi; 1/4 kilo of chariponga or chacruna; an ounce or so each of the bark of the catawa, lupuna negro and chiri caspi trees, crush and separate all bark, put in 5 gallons of water, simmer or boil for five hours while chanting over it and blowing smoke from black tobacco into it; strain, save, repeat with same material; strain. Add both strains, reduce to 2 ounces and drink.)
But others answered your question well: St. John's is not good as a rule with ayahuasca. If you're a curandero and discover good ad mix plants--which will generally be good for specific things--then fine. But if you or anyone is just trying to make a strong brew, make the brew I just suggested. It's pretty standard per person in the amazon, out on the river. 20 People? 20 kilos of caapi.
On the other hand, that's generally strong enough that I recommend you have a real curandero there overseeing things. It is not something most people could handle at home alone.
I think the answers to your question came to this: Don't play with this stuff. Don't think you should make it stronger until you've a teacher who knows who tells you so. The spirits, the souls, the life force, of these plants are very very powerful. You've got to know that. And to imagine that you might add a little of this or a little of that before you've met the spirits or this and that, well, you won't know who you are inviting to your party, will you? And if they come, what sort of guests will they be?
You've got to be realistic here. We are not discussing chemicals. Chemicals are zero in this equation. We're discussing the invitation of spirits who can have an important impact on our lives. The meditation and smoking of black tobacco during cooking is probably much more important than any chemical that can be extracted from the plants. Because that 8-10 hour meditation is what invites the spirit of the plants. The plants themselves are not worth much. Their spirits are worth a great deal. And if you are going to invite living beings, beings with intent, will and desires into your physical/emotional/spiritual/soul space, then you'd better be sure you know who they are and how to treat them as guests.
In my world, this is serious stuff, and your initial question wasn't serious.You might have thought it was but it was silly. You're talking about adding a bunch of stuff to ayahuasca that has never been traditionally added. And you didn't say that you're a curandero who's met those spirits. Ginger certainly has a spirit. Maple syrup probably has a phenomenally strong spirit. Have you met her? I haven't but can imagine that any spirit strong enough to keep trees alive for 200 years in the cold north must be very very powerful.
So to hear someone toss off the idea of adding a bit to ayahuasca, without them telling me they know the spirit and what she's like, sounds like someone playing, not someone who is learning to interact with spirits.
Again, who am I? Nobody. Maybe you don't believe in spirits and maybe my idea, taught to me by some pretty good curanderos, is all wet. What do they know anyway?
My guess is a lot.
I spent days preparing before I put a sprig of cedar (who had been begging me to be included) into a mix some years ago. And the cedar was good. But I would never recommend her to anyone not prepared to deal with such an ancient soul once she arrives.
So if you've got real questions, I think there are many on the board who will answer them. If you are here to tell us things, then do it. But the people on the board who consider questions seriously have lives to live and limited time and I'm guessing that many of them won't take the time to answer questions they find frivolous, regardless of how serious you claim to be.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jingle Bells

Jingle Bells, everybody. It's 8:02 PM Central time and in most places that means the stores are closed and you've either got your shopping done or you're buying gifts at the 24-hour gas station. Me? I got caught up on all but two writing assignments by Friday and figure no editor is going to care over the holiday so for once I got shopping done on time. Not early, but done by today at 4 PM. Hell, I even got some wrapping done yesterday and finished that an hour ago. What that tells you is that I haven't got a life, but this blog has already made that clear over the last year.
I came in from wrapping and opened a bottle of Old Grand Dad. Good Bourbon. The fellows at the liquor store saw me looking at the bottles (I never buy anything but a few minis at a time as a rule, which keeps me pretty sober since the store is a 23 mile drive each way) and asked what was up. I told them I was looking to treat myself like a king tonight and was going to buy a bottle of bourbon. They told me to pick one out and they'd give it to me. Hey, I was tempted to switch to a good private reserve Scotch for $300 but kept my cool and took the Old Grand Dad. Thanks, fellas.
Anyway, took a sip and asked who was going to be here for dinner. Got resounding "yesses" from everyone. Put on rice and a nice chicken. Two minutes later Italo, Marco and Madeleina were in the fridge looking for leftovers. I told them I'd just started dinner. They said they were going out to Chepa's and didn't want dinner.
"You just told me to make it," I said.
"Yeah. Make it for you, dad, not for us," deadpanned Marco, glomming some chicken wings I'd made last night.
Fortunately I was still sipping my first sip of Old Grand Dad and so was able to take it in stride. I told them there would be fresh rice and chicken--with beans and veggies--when they got back.
It's good they're going, actually, or Santa wouldn't have the time and space to do the santa stuff. Stockings, special presents, those things that I need to bring from the little outbuilding I use as an office into the house. I've done it at 3 AM but even in Texas waking up to start walking around outside at 3 AM on Christmas is cold.
So they're off for a couple of hours. The party on Christmas eve is a Peruvian thing. The sisters--with Chepa there are four in the Fort Worth area--get together and have a ball on Christmas Eve. When I first brought her to the states in 1994 she was very surprised that our party happened on Christmas morning, to the smell of sizzling bacon and fresh banana bread in the oven.
This time around there's something special to celebrate. Chepa's new baby, Alexis, was born Saturday morning near noon. Over 7 lbs, a bit of a scare because she stopped breathing a couple of times, but the docs, I'm told, are now satisfied she'll breathe on her own and will be allowed to go home to Chepa on Wednesday. Chepa's been sick with worry but we all rooted for her baby and I hope she turns out as fantastic as the other babies Chepa has made.
There was a funny moment or two involved here. Remember that this isn't my baby, though Chepa and I never divorced. So her boyfriend came into town just a few hours before she want into labor. And Madeleina and Italo and Italo's girl Sarah were in the delivery room with the boyfriend and Chepa and the doctor and the nurse and from what Sarah said, Madeleina, probably in an effort to deal with the graphic situation of a birth--what with mom pooping while she's pushing and the water spilling out and the blood and the purple/yellow umbilical cord and so forth--decided to pretend she was newscasting the event.
"So, doctor, is it normal that this room would smell this bad while a baby is being born?" was one question Sarah remembered Madeleina asking as she interviewed the doc while he was prompting Alexis out of the womb and into the world. And then to Chepa: "So, while you're screaming, does it really hurt or are you acting a little?"
The worst, unfortunately, was my fault. Entirely. When little Alexis came out and joy was all around, I guess the boyfriend said something like "Our beautiful little Alexis" or something like that, to which Madeleina evidently responded that she would never call her baby sister that name because "That's a stripper's name."
You see, even though the baby isn't mine I felt slighted at not being asked, at least in a cursory way, my opinion as to a name. It was just announced to me a couple of weeks ago and in my ego/hurt/awareness that I'm not even in the equasion anymore, I blurted out: "Alexis? Who the fuck names their baby Alexis? That's a stripper name. That's probably the most popular stripper name in the world."
Of course it's a beautiful name, but I just felt left out--Clue to Gorman: When she starts having babies with other people, you're no longer the center of her universe, okay?--and so said that stupid and hurtful thing and then there, in the delivery room, my beautiful Madeleina evidently repeated it. Sorry god. Sorry universe, sorry Chepa and the boyfriend, My fault 100 percent.
I hope Alexis is a joy.
And me, I'm good with it all. I've got wonderful--if occasionally difficult-- kids, I've got work. I've got presents for everybody. I've got a bunch of sisters and a brother and neices and nephews and me and the kids got a tree that's dressed to the nine's and though I don't have many friends her in Texas, I do have one very good one and lots of friends all over the place, and I didn't die this year despite coming close a few times and none of my close friends did either and Alexis looks like she's going to be alright and Chepa came out of it all healthy so my kids have their mom and what the heck, it ain't perfect by a long shot but there are more good days than bad by a mile so mostly I'm smiling and I hope you all are too.
Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Tree, The Lights, The Santa Thing

Ahhh, Christmastime at the Gorman's. Peace, joy, laughter. Ha! I was raised in a family that celebrated Christmas, and I've maintained that tradition. When I got married it was a great kick to go out with Marco and Italo, then 4 and 7, to shop for a tree in Manhattan from the tree man on Second Ave and haul it up to Third, then climb the old tenement stairs to our apartment, strong the lights and get out those ornaments. And in a few years, when Madeleina was born, it was even better because of the wonder she had just oozing from her spirit on seeing those lights and tearing open, as best she could, the packages that were for her.
The move to Texas made Christmas--while snowless and without my brothers and sisters coming over for dinner--almost a little better for its intimacy. It was just us. Not only did we have the added fun of putting lights up around the house, but it was one day of the year when we knew Chepa would be there in the most family sense of the way. She would bolt out of bed as quickly as Marco and Italo and Madeleina to go see if there was a stocking for her and joyfully tear it apart, then urge on breakfast so that we could get to the good stuff, the presents under the tree.
Now there wasn't ever as much money as we'd have liked to have to buy the best presents on everyone's list, but somehow there was always enough to keep the kids happy. And as a dad, that's an important thing. It's one of the secret men's rituals that we judge ourselves on: Can you make Christmas as fun as your own dad made it? It's an important part of the dad image.
The last couple of years, with the boys older, have even been better. They've been able to go shopping for presents with their own money, and they've taken to putting up the outside lights without my help. And getting a tree has been a Peter, Italo, Marco, Maceleina enterprise, driving all over town to get a great tree at a great price, and stopping at the Cleburne Park, where the Johnson County jail lets trustees spend a week or more putting up a million lights that simply dazzle you. Madeleina would get into that park and never want to leave. And then we'd go home and put the tree up and somehow Chepa would materialize and make it a great great party.
And this year, with baby Sierra nearly two, I thought it might be even more fun getting the tree and putting up the outdoor lights and especially going to the Cleburne Park where Madeleina, now 10, could show her sister the wonder of it all.
So I told the kids Monday would be a good day for that. The plan was to have Sarah, Italo's girl, go to Chepa's and get Sierra. I would have done it myself but Chepa's boyfriend's parents and his sister and brother-in-law came into town and and are staying with her and I didn't want them to think I'm too forward or intimate with Chepa and Sierra. From what I understand they think I'm a sort of monster and wouldn't want Sierra hanging around me too much. I don't think they've been told that for most of her life I've been her adult male influence.
Monday came and there were excuses all around. Sarah worked late, Marco had his own girlfriend issues to deal with, and Italo had to buy presents. So Madeleina, who was looking forward to it, was disappointed but I pointed out that we'd do it the next night. Of course I was forgetting that Italo's semi-pro soccer team practices on Tuesday nights and so we got postponed again. Which is when I pulled a Dad directive and told everybody that Wednesday was going to be the night. No ifs, ands or buts.
Madeleina was excited: I don't give a lot of whole-family orders and she thought that was about the manliest thing she'd ever seen, I think. But when Wednesday night came, Sarah announced that she definitely didn't want house lights this year because I always have a trip in early January "and then we're left to take them all down." I pointed out that I only tok down last year's lights in October, so I didn't get her point. Then I asked her to go get Sierra and and she looked at me and said "Why should you get to go with Sierra? She's not your baby."
I told her that I knew that, but that Sierra was my kids' sister and so for better or worse, the same way that Chepa's boyfriend has become part of my extended family, Sierra is part of it as well.
Sarah didn't go for that and went into her room .closed the door and pouted or wrapped presents.
Marco and Italo gave me the same resistance to the point where I finally said the hell with it and told Madeleina we'd do the whole damned thing ourselves. But I made sure to let the boys know that if they were too old for a little joyful Christmas spirit that they should be giving it up for Madeleina at least. So Madeleina and I jumped into my truck and went tree shopping. Italo and Marco got into Italo's car and followed us and were there when we picked out a tree, but then left abruptly, making it the sourist tree-moment in Gorman history.
When we got home Marco was putting lights up around the porch, but he wasn't a happy camper doing it. Sarah, who normally does the roof, wouldn't come out of the room, and Italo was utterly disinterested. So me and Madeleina attacked the roof lights and got em up and looking pretty, but when we came down and discovered that Marco had quit halfway through the railing I fairly exploded.
I went inside and announced that I'd called a demand for that day. I reminded everybody that nobody pays any bills or is responsible for food. They're allowed to earn, keep and spend their money any way they like but if in return I couldn't even get a good tree night for Madeleina then they could all just get the heck out.
Tell you what: that went over like a lead balloon, and me and Madeleina wound up eating dinner alone. Italo did come in just to put the tree in the stand but that was it.
And then I had all night to run through things. And I started out justifiably angry, then realized that it was stupid of me to think that my explosion was actually going to put anybody in a mood to put up lights and decorate the tree. Then came remorse for sounding like the kind of father I sometimes am but don't want to be. And by 4 AM all I wanted was forgiveness.
Sarah didn't speak to me in the morning before she went to work. No good morning, no 'you suck', nothing. I did speak with Italo and apologized and then gently went over the fact that I felt ignored and that I felt he and Marco and Sarah were abusing Madeleina: "She's just 10, Italo. And if you're too old for Christmas, that's fine. But you should be doing it for her."
He countered that he was all for Christmas and had bought the presents to prove it. I told him I thought the presents were the least of Christmas. What was important was doing one little night with his brother and sisters and his dad. And I left it at that. I had to. Because even while I was saying it I realized that what was probably really going on was that mom isn't in the Christmas picture this year. She's going on 42-weeks pregnant if the docs are right and isn't going anywhere but the hospital. So she wasn't going to appear like usual like magic to make the putting up of the lights a party like only she can. And she's not going to be here Christmas morning. And that's probably taken all the joy out of the broken-family but family traditions.
And that's just the way it is. So the boys didn't want to get revved up, even for a night, but they didn't know how to say it. And I didn't know it either until it hit me.
And so me and Madeleina decided we'd take Sierra to the park ourselves. So I called Chepa and told her I wanted to kidnap Sierra for a couple of hours and she said sure, and then Italo went to pick her up and then when Me and Madeleina were getting ready to take her and go to Cleburne Park, suddenly Sarah decided she wanted to come and then Italo decided to join, and I'll bet Marco would have come too if he hadn't been at his girl's house.
When we got to the park, Madeleina went wild, just like a 10-year-old is supposed to. And Sierra just looked at all those lights and said "Wow. Wow. Wow." Over and over, and then started running after Italo, who was being chased by Sarah, who was giggling like a teenager in first love and Madeleina joined in the chase and even I jumped into the fray and the next thing you know everybody was laughing and playing on the park slides and spinner rides and they were all beautiful and it almost couldn't have felt more like Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fun to Be Alive

You guys have no idea how fun it is to be me. I hope you're having as much fun/craziness in your skin as I am in mine.
Here's the deal: Thanks god, white lighte, angels, devils, dreams or karma or whomever kept me alive though these three recent and live-threatening surgeries in the last six months. I'm not 100% but I am 100% back to my cynical self and I'm a raging New Yorker transplanted to bucolic Joshua, Texas, in the middle of Johnson County, where the local jailers think it's okay if you put a middle aged woman in a restraining chair naked during her period. Get the picture? I live about 6000 years ago in a cave man place. Still, it's gorgeous, with horses and cows everywhere, me with goats and a rooster and dogs and cats and Marco's rat and hundreds of birds we have to feed by the pound daily. Not counting my kids, the two boys' girlfriends and the pesky reccoon who thinks every garbage bag we put out is meant as a feast for him.
I recount those pleasures because they each come with a price: the goat with the testes thinks I'm competition and is always out-manning me to be king of the yard. The new pup has learned that if we don't find his poop he won't get his nose rubbed in it, so he's taken to hiding it behind the couches and the television and under my desk. And so forth.
This morning was a wonder: sun broke clear and crisp. Madeleina, who slept on cushions on the floor next to my couch, and I woke early. She started the day by getting me to admit that the hadn't "lolligagged" with her work last night. She'd actually done a nice art project that was due days ago, but that was at the expense of last night's homework. So the Lolligag admission led into a request for a note explaining why none of the math was done. I suggested she get the math done. She countered that she'd forgotten that the choir was singing today and that she needed her choir shirt, which happened to be at her mom Chepa's my extremely pregnant wife/ex-wife. Additionally, she had no slippers and today turned out to be slipper day at school, so would I mind driving to WalMart, just 10 miles away, to buy her some. This before coffee.
Then Sarah and Italo woke and she needed lunch-fixing. Fortunately I had a great stewish thing left over from last night. She also needed the goats fed and had no time. I realized why she had no time when I went outside to see that Charlie, the new pup, had torn apart a 50 pound bag of corn intended to feed the rooster and that it was spread out all over the front porch. To get to the goat food Sarah would have had to acknowledge the 2 million corn kernels on floor display so it was apparently easier to rush out the door claiming no time to feed the goats.
As I was picking up the corn, Madeleina rushed out of the house, screaming that we were going to be late. I started toward the car just as Madeleina stepped into one of Charlie's soft poops, leading to ear-splitting screaming and the need to wash sneakers lest she be kicked out of class for smelling too earthy. As I washed she stepped into the bathroom and when she came out she smelled like a whore on New Year's Eve. "Decided to put some of your Old Spice cologne on in case there's any dog poop smell left, dad" she smiled.
"That's a lot of 'some', baby."
"That's okay, everybody thinks I'm a little crazy anyway. And look who I get it from?"
So we raced back out to the truck, raced to Mom's house, got the shirt she needed and she borrowed a pair of slippers, raced off to school, got her there just 10 minutes after the late bell, still smelling like she'd fallen into a vat of cologne.
I got home with the phone ringing. "Dad, don't be mad, okay?"
"Don't know if I can promise that, girl. Are they sending you home to wash off my after shave?
"Sure dad. Everybody says I smell great. But the problem is...the project is at home. Please get it here now."
I still hadn't had coffee and was about to grumble but life fantastically intervened when Marco called me on the phonefrom his bedroom just as I hung up with Madeleina and suggested that if I was any sort of decent dad at all I could prove it by making him three eggs over easy with fresh rice and several strips of hot bacon.
"Well, Marco. I can either take Madeleina's project to her school or make you breakfast..."
"That's bribery, dad!"
"Yes it is. Which shall I do?"
Thirty seconds later he was out the door with the project in hand. As he left he called over his shoulder, "Dad, just tell the truth. How long have you been gay?"'s already a beautiful day, eh?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Madeleina in the Morning

So I've got a 12 day jungle trip coming up at the end of January. I'm running this one so there won't be any glitches with the money. It's a small trip, though and won't make me much. I could use two more people to bring us up to eight guests, and then I would make a few grand and be able to pay my people in Peru real well and so forth.
So this morning, I get a letter from one guy who's been on the fence for some time. Turns out he's a writer and a magazine just offered to front his expenses. It's a good magazine and if he liked the trip it would be a good ego stroke for me and maybe more than that.
Years ago a similar thing happened but got aborted. George Magazine had arranged for an excellent writer and photographer to join a trip of mine. George was huge at the time. But the horrible plane crash of John Kennedy Jr. happened on the day the reporter and photographer were flying to Peru and a day or two later the magazine, which had been run by John Kennedy Jr. was shut down and their trip with me canceled.
So this could be a nice one for the scrapbook.
On the other hand, my trips have a large element of personal growth built into them via the shamanic medicines and the Matses' Indian medicines we use as well as the jungle itself, which for many brings up childhood dreams and fears. They're very intimate in a lot of ways (none of them sexual). I mean, we bath in the river. Sometimes people make emotional breakthroughs that leave them vulnerable. So maybe not everybody wants a writer around, even if he'll promise not to use names or photo images that could identify anyone who doesn't want to be identified.
But I sure would love to make a couple of bucks on this trip and unless I mess up I sure would like a bit of publicity.
Still, I've got clients I have to consider.
So I read this letter this morning while Madeleina was taking a shower and Marco was getting ready to take his girl to school. And I was wondering what exactly I should do. Hate to turn away a client. I'm a journalist, after all, and I might write about a given trip...I have never used a client's name or photograph or exposed anyone to any possible embarrassment. My rule is that we're a closed circle. It has to be that way or people won't be open to the changes the trip is meant to trigger.
I decided to present the issue to Madeleina. I did and without hesitation she said, "You have to ask everybody on the trip if it's okay."
"That's what I was afraid you'd say."
"Because it's the only fair thing to do. You got it right on the money, girl. On the other hand, I hope they say yes because I could use the extra passenger."
"You could use the extra passenger, yes, but more importantly, you can't afford to have any more people hating you."
So there you have it. The letter is going out to the other guests in a few minutes. They'll decide.
Thanks Madeleina.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quick Bitch

Okay, it's Monday morning and I hope it's a good one. I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve a little today. Woke up in the middle of the night with the gosh-darned awareness that I am so utterly useless, that every time I open my mouth nothing but bullshit comes out, that I can't get people out of jail with my writing, that I can't end the drug war, that I'm old and drink too much, smoke too much, have rotten teeth (great brusher, but lost three caps last year when I bit into wild boar that still had shotgun pellets in it and have two others that are discolored from cigarettes no matter how much I clean them), am a poor substitute for a great father and that everything I do is worthless. I ought to be put up on a billboard for everyone to see: Here I am folks! What a sorry excuse for a spirit!
Not sure where that came from and know it will pass, but it kept me up for a couple of hours going over everything I've said and done in the last couple of weeks. Where's a good psychiatrist when you need one.
I think some of it is because the kids have been spending so much time with Chepa and that her boyfriend was in last week, so I'm sort of not in my family right now. And Chepa still hasn't given birth but will, shortly.
Then this morning at about 5 AM, Italo and Sarah came in. I was sleeping on the floor in the living room as Madeleina had comandeered my couch when she couldn't fall asleep in her room.
I got up feeling better about myself than I had a couple of hours earlier and was told that Italo was headed to the airport. Seems Chepa's boyfriend, who left to return home to another state last night, had changed his mind and caught a flight back so he could be her when Chepa has their baby. And I thought, that's cool. Guy is doing something right. Then I thought Who the hell am I to have an opinion of whether he's doing something right or not?
And then I let myself think about that a moment. And you know what? I realized I'm jealous. I don't want him to come back today. I haven't been with Sierra, their first, but whom I've helped raise for two years, for a week now. And that means I haven't seen Madeleina teach her to dance for a week. And while I shouldn't be attached to Sierra, she really is my kids' sister and she's part of this family that I'm part of, through extention. Same way that the boyfriend, better or worse, is part of the family too. He hasn't been around much but when he's in town he's having an effect on my kids, on my family. He's probably okay but I don't remember inviting him to join us. He's still part of it.
And so I realized I'm jealous that he can just decide to turn around and come back to town and my kids have to pick him up at the airport and his being here cuts me out of seeing my daughter and my kids with their sister. I'm also jealous, though I'll never admit it, that Chepa's in love with him and was probably thrilled when he said he was coming right back, where she wouldn't care anymore if it was me. I'm glad for her and him, but I'm still stinking jealous.
Which brings me back to being useless, worthless and full of bs.
Sorry to lay this on you all but if I don't write what's real, then I don't have anything.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Couple of Thoughts on Ayahuasca in Peru

On a board I occasionally post on, someone recently started a thread to try to make a list of reputable ayahuasca curanderos one might visit in Iquitos and Pulcalpa, Peru. In short order someone put the idea down and someone else quickly came to the idea's defense by noting that there were stories of people being served datura, rather than ayahuasca during ceremonies--and datura, while one of the 7 Master Plant Teachers is much more risky because of the length of it's effect on the human body/mind and because of the depth of its teachings. Someone also brought up the notion that a disreputable curandero might rape an unsuspecting foreign client during ceremony.
I thought both ideas were nonsense and wound up writing a couple of responses in the thread. Here they are:
In my experience, the people who get ripped off in Iquitos are those who listen to cabbies and street urchins and such who claim to have an uncle or a brother or a dad who is a curandero. There were a couple of jungle guides a few years ago who would take people to a camp, then, the next day, while they were hiking their stuff would be taken and when the gringos got back to camp they discovered their backpacks missing. Which of course ended the trip for them.
Well, those guys eventually got caught.
But the gringos who went with them simply were not being clear-headed. There are plenty of gringos in Iquitos or Pulcalpa at any given time who have been in town a while and know the ropes. Take the time, if you come in cold and don't speak Spanish, to ask them who's on the level and who's not. And don't just go with the first person they mention, check with several. Then you'll have a starting point.
But be realistic: having your stuff stolen in a set up that ruins your trip might be a negative but romantic story to tell your friends at home but it will surely put a damper on your trip.
On the other hand, the Amazon is adventurous, so if you're going to jump in head first, then don't leave an unguarded backpack someplace for a day.
As for the sexual stuff with ayahuasca: I've heard of it happening but in all my years of experience, never actually met anyone it happened to. Not a woman, not a man. I have had ayahuasca with several curanderos who use hands on healing, and that can be seen as a sexual advance by the recipient--and it might be, but is probably more often just a healing. I'll bet most women out there can tell the difference between a healer pulling something from your heart and a someone who's grabbing your breasts.
You might ask people who have had ayahuasca with a given healer whether he's hands on or hands off, and then make your decision accordingly. If hands on is uncomfortable, particularly when under the influence and in an altered state, an ayahuasquero who is going to heal that way will probably not be someone you'd be comfortable drinking with.
I think though, that there are enough people with varied experiences in Iquitos or Pulcalpa these days that when you're thinking of drinking with someone, or going out to the jungle on a riverboat with someone, you should not find it hard to find others who have been with that person or those people and be able to do a little double-checking.
MY SECOND RESPONSE, later in the thread:
Just to add two more cents: Curanderos who work with datura as a primary substance are very very rare and very very proud of their tradition. Many ayahuasqueros, on the other hand, will add a couple of leaves of brugmansia or the similar chiric sanango as ad mixes to their ayahuasca. This is not unusual. And it's no one trying to fool you. It's fairly typical in the Amazon, depending on where the client wants/needs to go. All ad mixes open additional spaces and the curandero, if experienced, sees what needs opening.
But I've never heard of a curandero serving real datura when asked to prepare ayahuasca: he/she'd normally tell you: I don't work with ayahuasca, I work with datura. Or Vice versa. Or in combination. Same with curanderos who work with tree saps or root barks primarily: All are very proud traditions and only overlap a little with most curanderos.
Heck, why would an alleged ayahuasca curandero make you datura, and then sit up with you for 24-72 hours when he could have made you ayahuasca and had you sleeping in 3-4 hours? It's just not a logical proposition. It actually doesn't happen. It's a made up, invented situation. Like saying: What if a New York City cab driver takes me to California instead of 31st Street?
Could happen but won't. Ever.
Same with the rape nonsense: Curanderos work with their families nearby. Almost none work without other people there. It's just negatively fanciful to imagine that a man, in front of his wife and kids and assistants and other participants, would suddenly rape someone--who would presumably be screaming--in the middle of a ceremony. Forget it. Doesn't happen.
Now, if you get met at the airport in Iquitos, don't speak spanish and decide that the taxi driver, who asked "ayahuasca? ayahuasca? Mi Padre!" is your guiding light, well, then you're on your own. But if you've looked around, found out who's who and what's what by talking to people who have been there, then things will generally be pretty kosher. A curandero/curandera who has 4 people drinking ayahuasca simply cannot take time off from singing icaros to rape someone. Next day make a come on? Next day suggest that the person has a problem with intimacy that they can help with? Certainly possible. But that's a far far cry from being raped in a ceremony.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dog Poop Ads Never Saw So Much Traffic

Well, until further notice or maybe forever, the ad people on my pages are gone. You know, the ads at the top and side of this blog that you punched once in a while and which made me a couple of bucks. The way it works, I guess, is that advertisers agree to pay a dime or a quarter for each time someone visits their ads. Well, a friend of mine, Alan Shoemaker, decided that with the financial setbacks we've had around here with the trips lately that he wanted to help to make sure my kids had a great Christmas. So he went and posted a little note on a bulletin board suggesting that people ought to come here and read those ads and make me some Christmas money. I didn't know of it till after it was done, and by that time I'd earned $32 bucks in one day. The next day that hit $64, which was double my best month.
The operation was stopped after that, and the third day we only hit $12, still a great day but not impossible without prompting.
Anyway, in my last post I'd written about Madeleina calling the new dog a poop machine and so the ad spider, looking for key words, thought "Poop" was very key and changed all the ads from debt-reorganizers to ads for "super scoopers," "doggie fresh" rug cleaners, cat liter and such.
And those guys must of thought they were in heaven. They probably never got so many hits from a non-dog site in their lives.
Unfortunately, google, which runs the ads, decided things weren't kosher here and wrote me a nice note to let me know I'd been yanked. Benched. Fired. And they let me know that they weren't just taking back the money from Alan's two day prank, but were taking back the money from the last couple of months as well. Madeleina went wild. "They can't steal our money! Let's go and beat them up, dad! Let's whack and smack them, let's nick and nack them! Let's show them who we are!"
I explained that the head of google was right this moment organizing an extravagant island wedding and probably hadn't meant anything personal by eliminating me.
She still isn't happy about it because one of her favorite things is to click on that account to see if we've made a dollar or two on a given day. "Plus, dad, let's be honest. Without those ads, why are people going to go to your blog. You just write crazy stuff that nobody cares about. I mean it's just about our family or ayahuasca. No offense dad."
None taken darling.
So a good intention has once again resulted in a crash landing. Thanks for trying Alan.
And me and Madeleina? We know Santa's coming anyway, he always does. And we're figuring he's probably gonna have a couple of express packages from the "super scooper" and the "doggie fresh" rug cleaning people as a token of gratitude for getting them so many doggone hits.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Goats, A Dog and the Empty Nest Syndrome

It's clear and cold in Joshua this morning. Clear like you've had your eyes cleaned, with every remaining unfallen leaf cut against crisp air and a blue sky. But cold too, when I had to warm up the car before taking Madeleina to school and the heat didn't kick in for five minutes. But what a beautiful ride it was: it seemed like she and I could almost count the hairs on horses' tails as we drove past the horse farms on the way to Staples Elementary.
But oddly, something happened when I dropped her off. I just welled up inside and started crying. It just felt sort of painful that I only drop off one baby now at school. Just a couple of years ago it was a dash to get Italo, Marco and Madeleina all ready and then all off to different schools at the same time. I'm sure that's just silly of me but I guess that lately, with Marco staying at his girlfriend's house some nights, and going to work at 3:30 AM, I don't see him much. And Italo and Sarah have been staying at Chepa's for the last couple of weeks since she's not able to move much and needs help and company around the house during her last weeks of pregnancy. And then Chepa's boyfriend came back into town Sunday night, so I won't get to see Sierra much the next couple of weeks till after Christmas. And so I guess I got a glimpse of what's called--and what I always laughed at--as the Empty nest syndrome.
Heck, what am I doing? I had to ask myself. But then Madeleina just asked me the other day: Dad, since you're basically living in this house by yourself these days, are you going to keep it?
I told her yes, that this is a temporary situation, but it may not be. Italo and Sarah are ready for their own place. Rumor has it Marco is ready to marry his girl Brooke and move into her family's home until they can get a place.
Where the heck did the years go?
So what could I do? I came home and picked up dog poop that Charlie the Bassett hound left in several places. As Madeleina noted this morning: "Man, that dog's a machine dad. A poop machine."
Then I went out to see to the goats: If you ever get goats let me suggest you have them neutered. One of ours somehow slipped through the cracks and still has his sack. He weighs about 70 pounds and would look great on a barbeque spit, but Madeleina and Sarah won't have that. He sees me and he goes wild: His long ears go from floppy to standing straight out from his head. His pupils dilate and go horizontal. He begins to spit in short rapid fire bursts and he sticks his tongue out in a very vulgar way. And then he lowers his head, charges me and tries to hump my leg. Madeleina says it's because I've got a "man smell" about me. That my very existence challenges his domination of the yard. She's probably right.
But it may just be that he looks at me and realizes I'm just measuring how long of a spit I'd need and wondering what sort of sides I'd serve.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Scrub Down Day

Saturday morning, still raining here in Joshua. Had a story put off, giving me a couple of days to get caught up on stuff. You know: Get the mortgage and electric bills covered, drive over and get the car insurance and water bills paid, look in the mirror and realize I haven't shaved this week or cut my nails. Got my truck back without--for now--needing the clutch I thought I needed (just added fluid to the clutch reservoir. Bought my tickets to Peru and into Iquitos, signed up a new person for the late January jungle jaunt--we're at break-even now, baby! And cleaned up a lot of dog poop from the puppy. Funny how the kids keep wanting to feed him but cut and run when he leaves 10 signature poops around the house.
But then...then it was time to face the laundry room. I've been putting it off for six years, and during those six years since it needed to be cleaned--starting about a month after we moved in here--I'm amazed at what we've been able to stuff in there. I mean besides the laundry and the washer and dryer.
It's not a big room, maybe eight-foot by twelve-foot. It hangs off the back of the house. I covered the spaces where it doesn't meet the house with duct tape a couple of years ago and that seems to be holding. Whew.
But then there are the four built in, deep shelves and the little closet next to them. In theory, one shelf has painting supplies, one has electrical supplies, one has tool boxes and one has the various fluids we use to keep the cars running. But somehow there are also 15 canvasses and a small easel stuffed in them. Dozens of boxes of screws and nails with an average of maybe one screw or nail each. Then there was the used condom (MARCO!!!!), the bird food the family of mice have been feasting on, used Christmas lights that never worked but were apparently worth saving. Bookends, two broken kites, dried sponges, tiles from the bathroom two tilings ago and I haven't even gotten to the bottom shelf yet. Six years and counting on that one.
Ah but there is more to the room. There's the fantastic black-walnut table I always loved but which fell out of favor with my kids years ago, and the New York City fold down school desk circa 1900 that Gail Roscetta stole from an empty school house for me in Manhattan so many Christmases ago. On top of it are my cookbooks, the shaved ice machine, the instant noodle soup cases, the extra rolls of paper towels, broken frames, the bottles of drinking water and back up large diet soda bottles. And the sox. The poor sox whose friends ran away months an years ago and who have no one to fold up with now. Dozens of them, lonely souls now relegated to the big black garbage bag that also holds the old stereo two deck tape player I'm finally willing to admit I probably will never have fixed, and all the mouse droppings I've swept up and the strands of holiday lights I'd rather buy again than try to repair.
And under the table: the still filled liter box from Prince the cat that no one ever changed, which is probably why Prince now lives outside. And there are still 36 quarts of the pickles I made in 2002--fabulous garlic dills that we ate so many of we haven't been able to look at them since then. There are also three large garbage bags and I haven't the courage to look to see what's in them yet. One is a bag of Madeleinae's stuffed animals: She cried when we reduced her menagerie from about 60 to a reasonable 40 a few years ago but wouldn't let us give them away, so they--along with the mystery-treat bags, sit among the bits of cat litter beneath that beautiful table. And then there are the several fishing poles which no one in this family has ever used, and the large stand-up painter's easel: The moment I bought it was the last time anyone put paint to palate around here. And there are science projects like the aunt farm pieces, and last month's sea monkey experiment (yes, you can kill them if you don't feed them) which sits among the numerous dark mold projects growing out of old coffee cans that I wasn't even aware any of the kids were working on.
Ah, I'm thinking maybe I should just loosen that duct tape and let that entire room fall right off the side of the house and into the back yard. We could build another, start again, couldn't we? We could collect new stuff that we don't want but won't get rid of. And I could have another six year time frame before I'd be forced to look into it very deeply.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Feelin' Alright...

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Must Be Rainin' Down in Texas....

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Not For Everyone: Condoms on the Floor

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave...

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cars, Trucks and a New Dog

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Money, Money...Again

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sub-Teaching Hell

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

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

Substitute Teaching is Hell

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Magic Mushrooms in India

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

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

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