Monday, May 28, 2007

My Kid Marco is Graduating

Alright. My kid Marco is graduating from High School today. Good for him. I've known him a long time. I met him when he'd just turned 4. He was Chepa's second. His brother, Italo, had just turned 7. I fell in love with her during a 30-day trip on a boat I had that we went plant collecting on for Shaman Pharmaceuticals. Just a 39-foot old fishing boat but we took it from Iquitos down to Leticia and then up the Yivari, the border between Peru and Brazil, to my friends, the Matses. We did about 3,000 or so kilometers on that thing and I fell in love and she fell in love and I asked her to marry me shortly after that. She didn't believe me, of course, because she had two children, and gringos tend to fall in love and ask about marriage a lot in Iquitos, but most of them go home full of promises and never return.
I did return. And though I'd never been a father it seemed like with her aboard it wouldn't be a hard thing. And it wasn't.
Not that it was easy: The boys had seen other boyfriends come and go. I told them it was going to be different with me, that I was going to stay and they'd better get used to it. And they did. And we moved Chepa and the boys to New York and they learned how to play basketball on the lower end of Harlem on the east side, and they learned how to play baseball and learned how cool Central Park was. And me and Marco were at it almost from the beginning. We fought a lot. That beautiful boy loved to push buttons.
And then on a trip to Lima his kidney's failed and he spent 17 days in intensive care and all that time I prayed like a true believer. And he came through and we came home to New York and I was so proud of him for fighting off death like that.
We moved back to Peru and opened our little bar, The Cold Beer Blues Bar/Cebicheria Madeleina (after our new daughter) and Marco and I continued to go at it. He'd paint my camera lenses, took apart every electronic thing he could find, wouldn't pick up after himself, wouldn't help out. And every once in a while he'd come out with "You're not my real father!" and I'd nearly explode. Because I was and am. If you cut us open the three of us, Italo, Marco and I, would have the same DNA. Don't tell me that's not possible. I've been with them too long not to know what's what.
He was always smart. Very smart. The kind of smart that Italo has in athletic ability. Just something extraordinary. If you're not quick with Italo, he'll embarrass you on the soccer field. You're not quick with Marco, you're gonna lose every argument you're in with him.
Of course, he never liked to study. And there was a point where he moved to Texas just before Italo and I did, and when I got there his teachers told me they were considering putting him in the 'slow' classes. I couldn't believe it. I suggested they test him. There were two tests: One was a statewide math test, the other an IQ.
He scored 800 on 800 on the math test--the only kid to do it in Texas that year. He scored 150-something on the IQ. The teachers were flabbergasted. I wasn't. He didn't do his work because he was bored, that's all. I asked them to challenge him, to give him problems he couldn't do, like he couldn't put watches back together once he got them apart. But just like the watches, which he eventually learned how to fix, those teachers who challenged him discovered that he would usually rise to it.
And now he's 18 and graduating today. With a decent average in some courses, and honors in others. He's still lazy and won't work if not challenged, but he's learned to play the game even when he's bored.
What will he do after this? I don't know. Whatever it is he's going to be okay. Or better than that. He's grown into a good young man. I love him enormously. He's still a pain in the neck, still challenges me every two seconds, but he's my kid and that's okay.
Congratulations, Marco. Way to go.

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day, May 28, 2007. Take a moment to say a prayer or send a thought to all those who've died or been hurt, physically or emotionally, in all the wars man has ever fought. And to all the family members of those brave soldiers. And I do mean brave. I don't often agree with the war, but I will always respect the soldier. Throughout history they've mostly been young, strong men--and sometimes women--with less at stake than their superiors. Cannon fodder. There have been some conflicts brought about by lack of sufficient food or water. During my lifetime those have occurred all over the globe. The wars my country, the United States, has been involved in, have not had such dire necessity to explain them away: I was born during the Korean War--a conflict to keep Communism at bay. Or a conflict to keep US interests in the area alive in more than just Japan, which we'd semi-annexed following WW II. Then there was Vietnam, a war fought to keep Communism at bay--and to open up new markets for sneaker manufacturing-- at rock-bottom pay prices--as well as to gain access to the billions of new clients who might buy those sneakers. Then there was Granada--an exercise in penis strength, and the Panamanian War of Poppa Bush: a testing ground for the Stealth Bomber at best. Then Iraq 1--to protect our little oil interest in Kwuait, and Afganisthan, to root out the people we'd put in power initially, and currently the war in Iraq, to shore up oil interests.
Let's not forget the wars we don't call wars: the coups we arranged throughout Latin America in the 1970s and '80s, though we've managed a few more since then, or the skirmishes, like Somalia and elsewhere.
Each one, just of those handful, have cost good men their lives and limbs, have cost children their fathers, mothers their sons, wives their husbands. Take a moment today to appreciate their sacrifice--not necessarily because they were fighting to save anything, as they mostly were not--because most of those who died or were wounded, and all their loved ones, thought they were doing the right thing. Or were dragged into the fray against their will.
I never was in the military. I've often wondered whether I would have been a coward when the first shots rang out or if I would have had the courage to fight, even if just to save the next soldier's life. I hope I would have had courage, but I don't know.
I do know that a lot of men, good men, know the answer to that question. And a lot of men, good men, have paid a lot to find that answer out.
And while the bigger question of WHY might be visible to a lot of us and not make sense, to those who were in the thick of it, to those who were fighting to save their friends, the WHY doesn't matter. The WHAT does. And the WHAT is that they were courageous.
And for that, I thank them.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Off Again

Okay, I'm off again, back to Peru. Back to my second home, Iquitos, and my real love: The Amazon River and it's wonderful jungle. I'm taking guests out again and if I had my druthers I'd be--again--doing some real exploring of physical spaces, rather than real exploring of emotional places. But that's my job: getting people out into the thick of things, the thick of thick things where they are so open-mouthed they can forget their names, their day to day lives and let Spirit come fill them up. Or as my Madeleina says, "you know, get them to forget everything about themselves so they sort of die and then the Ayahuasca, well, not the Ayahuasca but the Spirit of Ayahuasca and Sapo and Nu-Nu and that cactus one [San Pedro] can help them to be born again. Only this time they'll be born better people."
I think she's about got it.
And I like doing that for people. And I love my team down there. Someone yesterday refered to them as "your peasants"--meaning to insult me for the way I lord it over them, rather than insulting them--and I almost howled in laughter. As anyone who has ever been with me knows, the team is the boss. I'm the guy who doles out the money but I'm far from the boss. We're a genuine team and I'm proud to be part of it. They work hard, they keep an eye on me, they love working with my guests and I think they even like me. Heck, they're all my old and now deceased teacher Julio's family, and some of them weren't even born when I first met their grandpa, the great and humble curandero Julio Jerena.
I thought I'd be able to bring my kids on this trip. I thought even Chepa and her new baby--forget her boyfriend, he was never included, okay?--Sierra would be able to come. I'd been asked last year to run a trip in April for 15, another in May for 16-17, then this one in June for 12 and then a short one in July for 8-10. If they all came together I thought I'd finally earn a good chunk and be able to take everyone home to Iquitos, Peru for a month.
Unfortunately, the April lady got no one and the May organizer got half-a-dozen people just for the Cuzco/Machu Picchu portion of the trip. I guess it's tough trying to get people to part with several thousand bucks to take a trip. In any event, I lost both those trips (though I did a short April one with half-a-dozen great folks) and so now there's no money to take the family. So I'm gonna be missing them again and I'm going to have some nights when I really wish I was home, making them dinner, watching a movie with them, or just cooking a bar-be-que like I've mentioned in a dispatch earlier this month.
Still, I'm lucky to have the work and lucky to be a journalist able to leave town on trips like this, trips that wear me out but refresh my soul as much as they refresh the souls of my guests.
And I hope I don't let them down. Hope I don't drink too much one night (or 10) and having them wishing I'd just die or go away. Hope the medicine does the magic it generally does; hope that Julio is watching over his son Hairo and I cooking the medicine and nods in approval, then blows a little black-tobacco mapacho smoke from wherever he is right now to the center of the great big pot, giving it just a little taste of his wisdom, decency, generousity and razzle-dazzle.
And of course I hope that whatever it is my guests need--not necessarily what they want or think they need, but whatever it is their souls really really need--they get and get in spades. Man, that's a good feeling when that happens. And it happens, surprisingly, quite a bit.
And while I'm gone I hope nothing bad happens here. I hope everybody in the world, but especially my kids and Chepa and Sierra (okay, we can add the boyfriend here) and Italo's girl Sarah are all great while I'm gone. Not like our little dog Lily who just last night was playing on the front porch and today is a pile of broken bones and mashed flesh out in the street in front of our house. So smashed she's not even bury-able. Sorry, Lily. I hope you enjoyed your sojurn here on planet earth. And with Italo and Marco now driving I get nervous, you know? There are a lot of bad/crazy/drunk drivers out there. So keep an eye open at all times, guys. Don't let anything happen to you or your sisters or your mom. Ah, jjjjjuuuuuuu. Ah, jjjuuuuu.
Hey, I'm a dad, I'm allowed to feel this stuff, right?
Anyway, I'm nearly packed but not nearly ready to go. I'm in the middle of two big investigations that I havn't been able to wrap up yet, the lawn needs mowing, the oil needs changing on both old trucks and a hundred other things need doing as well. Guess I'll have to let them wait. Time to go.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Jimmy Carter Legacy

William Murcheson, in a column that appeared on the syndicate, reviles Jimmy Carter for saying that George Bush is the worst president for foreign affairs ever. Murchison claims that Carter, with his sense of morality, reduced the presidency to a moral arbitor and says that's not the job.
I disagreed and wrote this response to the mentally defective Murchison. If I offend anyone, too freaking bad. History is history. It cannot be rewritten.
Bill M:
Sorry but you are way off base. Carter was so admittedly human and flawed that he put the average compulsive-crime-confessor to shame. His decency, in light of the criminality of the preceeding Nixon (Ford was okay) and following Reagan and Bush administrations was exemplary. But never with a sense of morality that you suggest. He was a worker bee, not too smart, not hep to international policits, but a decent man, and we needed one to clean our hands of the Nixon debacle.
Since his presidency, he's been an exemplary human, hard working, not cashing on his cache as a former president as others have--not that he hasn't made a living, but he has lived by the morals he suggested and they were the basic morals of decency, nothing more.
His calling out the utter incompetency or Bush/Cheney--with a combined IQ of perhaps 140 and a sense of morality that would make a bitch in heat blush--is the only decent thing a decent man could do. We are living under would-be-dictators, as you well know. Perhaps you are in the circle that wouldn't be crucified. The rest of us are not living in such lofty air. We loved Carter, despite his flaws as president due to a lack of understanding that the world is crooked and corrupt, a definite flaw in playing power games with other sociopaths who run countries as dictators or ayatollahs--precisely because when asked if he'd ever cheated on his wife he had the nuts/balls to answer: I have lusted in my heart, but not on the physical plane...paraphrasing, but such an honest answer--one that would surely get him thrown out of his wife's bed and not laid for months--that it was stunning and admirable.
IF that comment alone was his legacy he produced more than Reagan, Bush and Baby burning Bush combined.
So please get with it. Understand that a leader of the free world is precisely a moral arbiter. Nothing more or less. And Jimmy C was the only moral leader we've had since Eisenhower. Which makes him a good, not worst, president. Apologies accepted for your completely embarrassing column.
Peter Gorman

Young Men and Trouble

Ah, youth. I'm so glad it's gone in some ways and so miss it in others.
I got up for a 3 AM trip to the john and see the light in my son Italo's room on, so I peeked in. He was sitting on his bed, eyes wide. His girl, who lives with us, was nowhere in sight. I asked why he wasn't sleeping and he answered tensely that he wasn't sleepy.
I asked again, got the same answer and went back to bed on the couch in my office where I sleep. At some point I woke to see Sarah coming in--the front door of the house is in the office--and the next time I woke it was 5:30 and Chepa was coming in with Sierra, her new baby, and Madeleina, our 10-year old. Chepa drops off the kids, makes a fruit juice and lunch for herself and leaves for work.
Ten minutes later in comes Italo. I asked where he'd been; turns out he was upset with Sarah for being out with her girlfriends so late that he didn't sleep with her but went instead to Chepa's. (Okay, so the family is a little crazy like that, with the kids having two houses, Chepa's and mine, and running between the two of them.)
Anyway, he sits on the couch in the office where Madeleina and Sierra were sleeping, waking them both. And I'm making coffee. And I know he wants to talk but he was making me wait. I asked what was wrong and he said nothing. About three times over 15 minutes, while the girls ran around. So we were more or less having a 6 AM party in the office and finally Italo talks.
Turns out that he went to his first strip club last night with his cousin Renz and a couple of friends. Five buck admission, two beers each.
He said there was a guy at a nearby table who kept having girls come over to him and dance for him--I explained what lap dances and $20 bills were--and he said that at first the guy was cool. He was laughing and making jokes with my son and his pals.
Later, when his table was leaving, the guy left as well. Italo said that the two cars he and Renz and the others came in happened to be parked right next to the guy's car and the guy left when they did so they all basically wound up walking through the parking lot together.
But he said the guy--he described him as a huge, cut guy with lots of arm tatoos--went from being friendly to leaning over Renz and asking him if he had all the money. Renz said no and moved away. Then Italo said they guy moved over and leaned over him--Italo is a brilliant athlete and strong as a snake but only 5 foot 8 or so and maybe 145 pounds. No fat, just several hours a day of semi-pro soccer. Anyway, the guy leaned over and asked him if he had all the money. He says he joked that they spent all their money in the club.
Then he says the guy blind-sided him with a punch to his ribs (I think he might have cracked one or two). Italo said it came out of nowhere and he responded with a lashed out punch to the guy's face. "The guy went down dad. I mean like he was out."
The guy got up in a few seconds--during which Italo's crowd got into their cars to go--and came after Italo. Italo says he hit him again, the guy went down again, and this time Italo got into the car and he and Renz and friends left by the time the guy got up and started chasing them, this time with a knife in his hand.
Anyway, so Italo's got this busted hand, maybe busted ribs and he's pissed off at his girl.
It's only the second fight I've known him to be in, and the first was protecting a friend. I'm real pround that he knows how to handle himself. I'm glad he's got the reflexes of a pro athlete and the quickness of a cat.
I'm glad he didn't get hurt worse than he did.
I remember being that age. I remember being blindsided by people you were talking with on Manhattan streets. Sometimes it came out of nowhere. It seems to me that phase of living didn't pass till I was about 30. Long time to have to have the eyes in the back of your head open.
I'm glad he's okay. I'll feel better when he and Marco reach 30 or so.
And I hope he doesn't go back to that joint and run into that guy again.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Completely Self-Absorbed

Okay, I've lots to tell. I've been home two weeks and leave in a few days for another several weeks in Peru. I've got a great group joining me, plus two pals--former clients who have become friends--so I'm sitting pretty. Unfortunately, there's a money glitch--I'm still waiting on 40% of the trip funds collected by the agency but not yet sent to me. I'm hoping it arrives soon but time is running out. Otherwise I'm going to have a lot of unhappy campers when I explain that I've booked all their hotels, paid for ceremonies, sent two tons of material up the river but have no money for their food, to pay my staff, for all the treats and day trips we do and so forth. So I'm sort of pre-occupied worrying about that.
I'm also worried about leaving my kids for six weeks: I've never done that. I've been gone 5 weeks, 4 weeks, but never 6. That's a long time. I know. My dad was a Broadway actor and when he'd get a national tour it was often 6 or 9 months. It kept a distance between us that none of us liked. But he was just gone 3,6, 9 months every year and so missed everything.
This time I'm missing Marco's high school graduation; Madeleina's awards for the 4th grade; Sierra's first words in English and Spanish (she's been talking baby talk for months and is thisclose to breaking out in non-nonsense syllables, though no one who has ever been a parent should call them that: The kids know what they're saying. The problem is that us grownups don't know that language...)
Okay. So that's one reason, or six, to be self-absorbed. But there is also a good reason: The Houston Press Club--the people who hand out awards for Texas writers, journalists, radio and television people--just made me a finalist for Journalist of the year for my 2006 work here: I'm proud of that.
Madeleina's been dancing around since we got the news. I've tried to tell her we're already winners just being one of three finalists, but she's not hearing it: She wants to win.
Funny, I don't remember teaching her that winning is the only thing. I'm an old hippie, after all, and to me successful sharing is winning.
Anyway, apart from me being intoxicated with my life--and I ask your forgiveness with that, I think it's mostly because I'm dog dog tired--I've begun the process of putting up about 35 new pieces on the The pieces are the beginning of the Drug War Stories I've written over the last 20 years as well as my first 18 columns for Skunk Magazine. The column is called Drug War Follies and it's the first time in my life I've had one. I try to deliver pretty good material because I really don't want to lose the gig. I love having a column. I love writing what I freaking want.
And I loved the way Skunk got in touch with me: Two years ago or so I got a call from a guy who sounded more Bensonhurst, Brooklyn than most mafia guys I worked with at the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, New York. And he says: "Hello. I'm the publisher of the new magazine called Skunk. It's a dope magazizne and we're hoping to have a lot of attitude, like High TImes did 30 years ago. Now I don't know who the fuck you are and I don't care. But my two partners say we have to have you writing for us. I never heard of you. So I'm going along with them. What do you want to write?"
I told him I wanted a column and I wanted a free hand and I wanted a thousand dollars a column.
Guy came back at me like I'd just put three in the back of his mother's head.
"You're shitting me. I wouldn't give you a thousand dollars a column if you were threatening my children. Get the ...."
Ok, I asked, how much?
"Ill give you four hundred for eight columns a year. Best I can do unless you give me a couple of your kids to put on my barbeque so I can save money on meat now and then."
I had to love that guy. What a great publisher.
So I wrote a column and I wrote 20 more and I hope they lend insight to the War on Drugs both here in the US and Canada and Mexico as well as in South America.
Anyway. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I'm having a pretty good moment, I guess.
Thanks for bearing with me. I appreciate it.
Peter G

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Falling in Love with My Wife's New Baby

Ah, heck. Maybe because it's Mother's Day. Maybe it's because I'm making a roast beef and pepperjack sandwich for myself, rather than cooking for my family. Maybe it's because I've been away three weeks, just got back and leave in two weeks for nearly two months.
Whatever it is, today has been harder than I would have thought. My son Italo and his girl Sarah, who lives here, left early for a soccer game. My son Marco slept at mom's, up the road two miles or so, last night. Madeleina, my 10-year-old, is finishing a sleep-over with a girlfriend that she left for yesterday afternoon. My wife/ex-wife, Chepa, her boyfriend came into town for mother's day, so we cancelled the reservations we had so she could get a little love. And with her she took her new baby--his too--Sierra, for a day with my ex-in laws.
So maybe I'm just feeling sorry for myself that nobody called to wish me a happy mother's day--since I've been a single father for 10 years now. Or maybe it's the beer, though I didn't have many at the bar. But mostly what I'm feeling is that I want to tell little Sierra that I love her. I've been raising her since she was born, since the boyfriend/father left town after Chepa got pregnant. Sierra isn't mine, biologically. But then neither are most of my other kids. But I've been raising them since they were weaned and if you cut us open I believe you'd find the same DNA after all these years.
But this new baby, she's definitely not mine. Still, despite me telling her to call me Pe-Ter, calls me Pe-Ter, daddy. ANd I don't allow that. But today, for instance, she came with Chepa at 5 AM and I was still sleeping and I woke up to find this 17 month old baby crawling onto the couch and behind my legs saying: "Pe-Ter, Daddy. Ahhhhhhh."
And the problem is that I've fallen in love with her, against my wishes. Her real dad will sort his issues out--nothing bad, just child support from his last marriage--and then he and Chepa will find a place to live and then I'll be forgotten and they'll be the family they should be. But that hasn't happened for the first 17 months. There have been visits and so forth, but mostly I change diapers, I make milk, I take her to museums and teach her the difference between edible leaves and non-edible leaves. And every day she needs to go over the 17 skulls I have on the shelf, noting the differences--her fingers fit into the eyes of some animals, and into the nose of others--and sniff the holy orange water to blow it on me so that I'm sopla'd--just as I do her. And she sucks down a few drops of my coffee while sitting on my lap at the computer and begs for a hit off the cigarette I've always got lit and repeats "hmmmm" when I can't figure something out, and changes the computer screen in frustration when she misses something, just like me.
So the problem is that I've fallen love with my wife's new baby and she's not mine. And that's already breaking my heart. Because she'll leave to be with her real dad someday soon. And all I'm allowed to do is hope it's sooner rather than later.
But that doesn't mean it's not killing me inside, okay? So even this tough guy, this New York tough guy, this guy who's run into a gun battle unarmed-once--another story--and been bitten by a bushmaster and a brown recluse and a caiman and vampire bats--even this tough guy is soft for kids. And especially my wife's kids, which include mine and some that are not mine.
And I don't like the thought that I'm gonna lose her soon. And I'd like to think she'd be better off with me. But that's just meloncholy. Truth is, she ought to be with her father, whether I think he's the cat's meow or now. And the heck with me, I'm just a substitute till the real thing comes along.
But it sure can louse up a mother's day, eh?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Recent Column of Mine in Skunk Magazine

In an occasional effort to remind people that I'm a drug war journalist first, I'm going to periodically drop material into this blog from the drug war that I think is worth reading. One of my regular gigs is writing a column for Skunk Magazine out of Montreal. It's called Drug War Follies and it appears in each issue. The mag is for pot smokers, so buy it if you are one; don't bother if that's not your thing. But it's pretty well done, has some hilarious attitude and is fun to work for the gang up there.
This column appeared in the issue that just went off the newsstand. A new column is due today and needless to say, I'm avoiding it by doing things like this. Enjoy.


Good News/Bad News: Couple of Whiffs of Fresh Air but It Mostly Still Stinks Like Shit Around Here

By Peter Gorman

Okay, gang. I don’t want any interruptions while you’re reading this time, so get your bongs filled, roll your joints, find the damned matches….that’s it, take a deep breath…hold it now…hold it now...wheeeewwww! Okay. Set? Then let’s get started.
The last several weeks have been a mix of good stuff and bad shit with regards to the War on Drugs, but I am going to start with one of the good ones today: Mr. Tyrone Dwayne Brown was conditionally pardoned by Texas Governor Rick Perry, and freed on March 15 from the Texas prison system that’s been his home for 17 years.
Brown’s case is one of the strangest in the strange fucking history of the US WoD. Known on the street as T-Baby, Brown was a hell-raiser and a thug as a young teen in the late 1980s. He was regularly sent to special schools and juvenile centers for car-theft and a host of other crimes. Typical story: impoverished upbringing, abused as a child, same as the rest of us. But at 17, in 1990, Brown was busted for aggravated robbery. No one got hurt and Brown and his pals made off with all of $2. He got 10 years deferred-sentencing for that, and one of the conditions of his probation was peeing in a cup. Two months into the program he came up dirty for pot and had his probation revoked. And then, unbelievably, at his hearing for the probation violation the judge sentenced him to aggravated-life in prison, with no chance of parole. Brown may well be the only guy in the whole country sentenced to life for failing a urine test.
So he’s been rotting in some of the worst prisons in Texas since then. Activists and journalists have been pushing for his release almost since the day he was sentenced, and the noise finally reached the governor’s ears in late 2006, when 20/20 ran a segment on him.
So now he’s 34-years-old and out, and if he can live up to the conditions of the pardon—which include living with his mother, reporting to a parole officer for the rest of his life, going to counseling and peeing in a cup till he’s 106, he’ll get to stay out. He hasn’t got a prayer of course, so he’ll be back in shortly—though I’m praying for him to make it. And you should too, you worthless humpbacked couch potatoes. So start praying.
Brown is out and that’s a good thing. The bad thing is that the judge in Brown’s case is not being sentenced to jail. On the other hand, I suspect that man Is going to find out what karma means one of these days. Life for a pot-pee-positive? Mother fucker! Makes your skin crawl, doesn’t it? Everybody sing: Oh the la-and of the free….and the home of the scum-sucking, bottom-feeding drug warriors.
Good luck, Mr. Tyrone Brown. Stay strong.

A second piece of good luck was brought to us in the lower-48 recently, courtesy of the Utah Supreme Court. On March 9 the court ruled that the smell of marijuana alone did not justify a warrantless search of a trailer by police—the first time in a long time that a court has upheld the US Constitution’s 4th Amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy in one’s home.
The story began in 2003 in a Utah trailer park. A woman and two men were in the trailer of a friend—who was not home—smoking weed. The friend’s mother, on whose land the trailer sat, and the friend’s brother—a little snitch who should be whipped—called the cops to tell them that people were smoking dope in the trailer. The cops came and later claimed they could smell pot "leakin’ out of the cracks of the trailer."
Instead of getting a search warrant, the police decided that the occupants were "in the very process of smokin’ up the evidence," and burst into the trailer, where they found a woman, Ms. Bernadette Duran, and two men, getting high. All were arrested despite Duran admitting the pot was hers.
At her trial, Duran’s lawyer argued that the evidence—the pot—should be suppressed because the police had no right to enter the trailer without a warrant. The police stood by the notion that since the evidence was being smoked they had no time to get a warrant. Duran was convicted, but an appeals court tossed it. The state appealed to the Supreme Court of Utah, which upheld the court of appeals’ decision.
In the 4-1 majority decision, the Court ruled that while there are some circumstances which permit police to enter a home without a warrant—if they know the people inside have been alerted to their presence and are actively trying to destroy evidence, for instance, "the detectable odor of burning marijuana" is not one of them. "The aroma of burning marijuana must be accompanied by some evidence that the suspects are disposing of the evidence as opposed to casually consuming it" the court wrote, because, "[S]moking marijuana involves as its incidental but inevitable consequence the destruction of evidence."
There are a couple of lessons to be learned from the case. First, burn as much evidence as possible. Secondly, pick your friends well but pick their mothers even more carefully.

While the Utah Supremes were giving one to the people, the US Supreme Court was busy hearing a case colloquially known as "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." This case started in January, 2002, when then-high-school-senior Joseph Frederick unfurled a 14-foot paper sign reading Bong Hits 4 Jesus on the sidewalk in front of his school in Juneau, Alaska while the Olympic torch relay was being carried past the school on the way to the Salt Lake City, Utah, Winter Games.
Frederick’s principal, an outraged Deborah Morse, confiscated the sign and suspended him. Frederick filed suit against her over the suspension, claiming his right to free speech had been violated. Her lawyers argued that the sign—shown during a school-sponsored event of watching the Olympic relay—violated the school’s policy on promoting illegal drug use.
Frederick initially lost his suit but appealed it and a San Francisco federal appeals court agreed with him, overturning the lower court’s decision. Principal Morse appealed, bringing it to the High Court.
Oral arguments in the case were said to be quite lively with lawyers for Principal Morse arguing that the sign "disrupted the educational mission of the school" and Justice David Souter saying he didn’t see what the sign disrupted, "unless disruption simply means any statement of disagreement with a position officially adopted by the school."
Even court rookie and ultra-conservative Justice Samuel Alito got into the act saying that he found it disturbing to think that "schools…can define their educational mission so broadly that they can suppress all sorts of political speech…under the banner of getting rid of speech that’s inconsistent with educational missions."
Almost sounds as if the court might rule in favor of free speech.
A decision is expected by June, and by golly I’ll let you know what it is.

It wasn’t all fun and games in the War on Drugs, though. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani picked up steam in his bid to become the republican presidential candidate in 2008, but those of us who remember him as our mayor remember this as a major part of his legacy: In the year before he took office as mayor, there were 720 marijuana possession busts in all of New York City. During his eight years in office there were more than 200,000 marijuana arrests, and in his last year alone there were more than 60,000. Just in case all you know about him is how strong he looked after 9/11. Oh, and during the aftermath of 9/11, after Mike Bloomberg had been elected to succeed him, Giuliani publicly suggested that he continue as mayor—rather than turning over the reins—to help New York and the US get through the 9/11 crisis. Oh, yeah, we need another king like Tiffany Towers needs more breast augmentation.
And dirty cops abounded, as usual. New Haven, Connecticut’s number one drug cop, Lt. William White, was arrested and charged with stealing after an FBI surveillance tape caught him putting $27,000 of the department’s money into his personal car. In Houston, Texas, a department of public safety employee was arrested on charges he lifted more than 25 kilos of cocaine from a crime lab over a period of several years. Michael Carlos Gonzales, a former Border Patrol Agent, was found guilty in a federal court in early March of stealing 25 kilos of Mexican brick marijuana that was in a truck that another agent had stopped. While the other agent and Gonzales’ partner ran after the smugglers in the southern Texas desert, Gonzales was caught on videotape quickly putting the pot in the back of his own car and rearranging the remaining bricks so that the other two officers wouldn’t realize some were missing.
So it’s been a better month for us than most, but it still smells like a toilet around here.

It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

There Are Some Magic Moments

Whenever I leave Texas for Peru I've got both an excitement and sadness running through my heart. I'm excited because I love Peru, I love my team down there, I love the jungle and I know there will be new things for me, even if I havn't been able to do any real exploring in some years now. I'm sad because I've got to leave my kids and hate doing that.
One of the new things for me this trip occurred just before I left for Iquitos. Maybe a week prior to my flight I got a call from a friend--the man who does my paperwork down there, from marriage licences to owning boats (both past events)--who said that a mutual friend was in jail and about to be sentenced to 25 years for something he hadn't done and could I help out. Helping out turned out to be buying some land he had so that he could pay for a lawyer to get a genuine hearing in front of the sentencing judge to explain the situation.
The situation was that he'd begun a relationship with a 14-year-old girl five years ago. She wasn't visually 14: She already had two children and had been married once, so it might not be my cup of tea but it wasn't anything bizarre either. He'd lived with the girl and her children--along with her mom and other family members--supporting them all, for four years. Then he and the by-then-18-year-old woman broke up. So her mom, angry at losing the household support, denounced him to the police as a child molester for having had sex with her daughter when she wasn't yet 15, the age of consent in Peru.
By the time I found out he was in jail he'd been there a full year. So of course I bought the land and he got his hearing and the judge sentenced him to finishing a second year in jail rather than to the standard 25 years.
But I had no idea what I'd bought. It was just something to help out a friend. And of course, since I bought it I thought I should put something on it so I had some of my work team build a standard, raised-platform, wall-less hut and a kitchen and hoped for the best.
And then on this last trip, when we'd finished with a week in the deep jungle about 212 kilometers upriver from Iquitos, I headed out to see the new property. And oh what a treat! It turns out I bought 24 hectares (about 50 acres) of mostly primary first-growth rainforest about 30 minutes outside of Iquitos. Towering moena, catawa and lupuna trees, 60 foot aguaje and i-san palms, fern flooring. A 20 foot wide river filled with caiman and fish, two! And the houses were tucked way in the back between one of the streams and the small river. My guys had dug out the stream so that it will hold water even in dry season and turned a section of it into a 20 by 40 foot swimming hole that neck high when full. Three bands of monkeys passed during the first two hours there; nutria, never having seen men, played in the river next to two sunning caiman. Parrots and blue morpho butterflies darted among the treetops overhead.
I sat there overwhelmed. What a gift! I talked silently to my Madeleina telling her I'd finally gotten her a real swimming pool and wishing my boys were there with me.
We did ceremony there a couple of days later and it was magic.
I don't know what I will do with the place as I don't live in Iquitos and have no plans to open a retreat. I'm hoping my team will use it to bring an occasional tourist or as a wonderful place to make a barbeque on weekends with their families, just so that it gets used a bit rather than just quickly falling into rot.
In any event, that was one of the new and surprising things that happened this time and it was swell.
Of course the sadness builds in me and when a trip is done I hurry to get my equipment cleaned and stored and head home.
And at home things are never quite what you expect: there's always been a car breakdown or a fence section fell or my kids forgot to cut the yard or something on that order.
This time it was a tree that fell in a bad storm, killing a new riding lawnmower. But that was really nothing.
And then last night, my second home, things got about as perfect as they can get in my book. My boy Italo and his live-in girlfriend Sarah, were off from work and we decided to make a barbeque. We were babysitting my wife Chepa's new baby Sierra, a dream of a 15-month old. Italo was cutting the tree into pieces, I was push-mowing the lawn, Sarah and Madeleina and Sierra were playing with the goats, hand feeding them leaves from tree branches they can't reach. Coals were getting hot. Chepa came and decided to do the cooking. The grass was green. The air was cool. The smell of the chicken and veggies on the grill began to fill the air. My son Marco came home. Everybody was having a good time. It was almost as if we weren't a sort of broken up family at all. And I loved it. And it lasted hours. There are some magic moments in this crazy life, aren't there?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just Back in Town

Just got back into town, still jet lagged and emotionally exhausted from three weeks in Amazonia, two of which included having guests to take out to the jungle. The guests were fantastic--they often are--but there is still an emotional price to pay from trying to pay attention to them. Not in what they physically say, but in what they often don't say: My job, as I see it, is to give them the opportunity to change their lives. That's what most of them come to the Amazon for. They might say it's just a vacation, or that they love exotic travel or want to try the mystical visionary tea Ayahuasca, or the Matses' Indian's sapo or nu-nu--and that's probably what they believe. But on a deeper level, by the time they're actually ready and willing to travel to deep jungle with a perfect stranger to participate in those ceremonies, they really are ready to change their lives. Don't read me wrong. I don't do the life changing. I'm not capable of that. But I do have to try to put them in a place so secure that they can either do the changing or let it happen. And that that place will be one of the exotic and frightening places of our childhood dreams--a place filled with poisonous snakes, wild people, impenetrable jungle, jaguars and a host of other potentially dangerous things--well, that takes an extra measure of security to make that sort of place comfortable enough to allow for change.
And there is a lot of change: Over the years the trip has been the catalyst for marriages and divorces, for starting new businesses, for moving to the third world, for returning to university or quitting it and so forth. And I love that I can be part of that. I'm so freaking lucky that way. Just to be able to put people on an overcrowded flat-bottomed riverboat for an overnight ride to the middle of the middle of things in the Amazon is a marvelous thing to do. On the other hand, to make sure no one falls off the boat requires a certain awareness on the part of me and my team. And that constant awareness over a couple of weeks is what's emotionally rewarding in the long run but emotionally draining in the short term.
So I'm back and to those of you who have visited this space for a few weeks without seeing an entry, I apologize. I was preoccupied. But I hope to have a story or two to tell in the next couple of weeks before I head out again for a June trip.
So come back and take a peek now and then. I'll try to find some interesting things to relate.