Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Painting at the Homestead

So a couple of the eaves on the back porch are really rotten. I've bought new ones and painted them and when Italo gets here to help we can throw them up. While I was waiting I decided to paint the old eaves to give them a fresh look, then plan on painting the porch railing and posts, and finally the cement porch floor. No big deal, a few three hour days and it should be done.
But while I was painting it seemed to me I've been painting my whole life. It was something I did sometimes in college, along with working the art gallery, driving a cab, working the liquor store and building loft beds. As well as selling a little weed now and then. Rent wasn't high but what with text books, phone and electric bills and food and taking girls out I needed a lot of work.
Painting wasn't steady. That was generally the gift job that I'd get from Dan Blumenau, an artist who got remodeling and painting work sometimes to keep things going between art work jobs. I think some of you are old enough to remember two of his most notable collages: The inside of the two record Taurus album by Stevie Wonder, and the bathroom wall collage at Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland studios.
Dan would call his brother, my roommate and great friend Phil, and we'd be given an address and a time. We wound up doing work at some amazing places: We worked the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. townhouse on east 63rd street, for instance, and the Oscar De La Renta home across the street, as well as the Kennedy townhouse on the same block. I'm forgetting the name of the banker the Kennedy gal was married to, but I won't forget a photo on one of the kids' rooms that I worked on. It was from Ted to the boy, and dated about the time of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. It read: "We Kennedys are all broad in the beam," or something close to that.
Then we got to work Electric Ladyland, just before Hendrix died. And then the Carnegie Hall offices of Island Records and later their Grove Street townhouse. Mostly Phil and I were brought in when the real work had been done. Dan's team was tired and had their money but there were still 100 things to do to finish the work. That's when we came on the job, to do the final coats of paint, the touch up work, tighten doornobs and lay outdoor carpet on rooftops. We got paid well and got to sneak a peek into the lives of those whose places we worked on for a couple of weeks. They were the sorts of jobs I don't think you could really get anywhere outside of New York and a couple of other places. It was the same working Falcor Framing down in the village one year. I got to handle original Matisse's, Picasso's, even a Van Gogh or two. I got to watch Jim Arsenaut, the owner when I worked there, hammer out gold into the thinnest of sheets and lay it on frames he'd carve for exceptional customers who could afford it.
That's a lot of name dropping, I know. But it was more than that. It was an education to get to interact, even just a little, with those people. And the best of them treated us like equals. When Marley came up to the Island offices, he passed the joint without hesitation. When Jimi did a line, everybody in the room did a line along with him. The Kennedy clan included us in lunch once. De La Renta wasn't home while we worked there.
So there I was painting again and thinking about working for Dan with Phil and missing them both. That was New York for me. All at your fingertips, even if it was almost always at the end of a hammer or paintbrush.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Feeling Lousy, Looking for Company

Flat out feeling lousy today. And yesterday. Been raining down in Texas, all of the telephone lines are down...goes the song, or something like it. Well, been raining here and while we needed some, we probably didn't need the near two feet we've gotten in the last 7 weeks.
And I've been working hard. Got 3 covers and three inside features as well as half a dozen short news stories and parts of two group cover stories done since I returned from Peru three months ago. Also did a couple of columns for my Canadian mag, Skunk (the column is called Drug War Follies); and a cover story for a very major business mag. But that all ended Tuesday and today is Thursday. Where's my work? What's next? Want to finish my ayahuasca book, just a couple of chapters to go as I'm already at near 300 pages and have 50 pages of things to insert between chapters--some of which you've seen here, like the recent piece on Ayahuasca Healing and the one on Icaros and so forth--but don't have the oomph for that right now. That work is so damned hard, so willing-to-go-into-my-soul that I really have to have at least a little energy stored up to start it. Though I might start it in the morning just because I am Peter Gorman, son of Thomas and Madeleine Gorman and when things are down we head up. So that might happen.
And there are fantastic plans in place for a dream expedition in the summer.
But reality is that I've no money coming in from outside sources. And one of my editors is headed to prison and can't pay what he owes. And the woman who ripped me off for $10-12 grand two years ago isn't going to pay up any time soon. So I'm getting broke. And no juicy freelance work in the picture at the moment.
And then Chepa's boyfriend is coming in tomorrow so she is getting all ready for that three day appearance, which means I don't get to see the babies for a few days and she's got Madeleina there too to make her Halloween costume, so I'm alone in this freaking rainy house. And I can't figure out how to turn the TV on with the damned complicated remote to watch the World Series game tonight.
There's chicken in the oven, and fantastic left-over chicken soup on the stove, but no one to eat it. I've got a wonderful spaghetti squash I wanted to make but that's probably too fattening to eat now, at near 6 PM, so I'll hold off on that because I'm such an old, fat, ugly man that I can't risk doing further damage. Hell, I'm already breaking cameras when they take my pic. Whatever happened to that young good looking Gorman guy? When did they trade him in for me? And why didn't I see it coming????????
There's more, but that's enough. Heck, my house isn't tall enough to break an ankle jumping off the roof, much less doing enough damage to earn a little sympathy, so I don't dare look at the rest of the bleak horizon.
Oh, except for the fact that no one else but two have signed up for the January trip, so I might have to cancel, in which case two people are probably going to ask not only for their money back--including what I've already spent--but to pay for their non-refundable airline tickets as well. And then three members of my Peruvian team wrote today to say they had emergencies and needed an aggregate $800, and I only have $7000 in the whole world and can't give it to them. Ah, shit. See? I told you I didn't want to look at any more of that horizon....
But you know what? Just cause I'm without my kids, any love, sex, money, prospects or work, and just because I looked at myself in the mirror the other day and thought I had a halloween mask on--and I've been working out so I can't blame anyone but me for the freaking triple chin--HA!
That's right. HA! I have been here before and I will climb out of these blues and this stinking hole. Something will break because I'll break something if it doesn't happen first. I am, after all, Peter Thomas John Gorman, Son of Thomas and Madeleine Gorman, Brother of Michael, Pat, Peg, Barbara and Regina; Father of Italo, Marco and Madeleina, And soon to be grandfather of baby girl Gorman. As well as being integral in the lives of my ex, Chepa, and her two babies, Sierra and Alexa.
And that is one hell of a pedigree.
So join my mysery tonight, but know that we will be kicking out the fugging jams come morning. I will be there, present and accounted for. Somehow. Some way. But tonight really sucks.
Nonetheless, this is the last of it for now. End of sorry for my sorry self.
Time to feed the chickens, ducks, goat, dogs, cats, birds.
I'm still needed by them, at least.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Life Changes

Well, fast as can be, things change. Marco, engaged a week ago, has (for now) broken up with his girl, or vice-versa, and he's broken-hearted and inconsolable. So he's signed up for the Air Force. And Italo didn't bother to drive the 40 miles from his school to see me or his ma, or his three sisters, or even his pregnant girlfriend, this weekend.
I might be getting vaklempt here. Too much drama and not enough Shakespeare.
Has anyone got a jar of shmaltz--skimmed and frozen chicken fat from roasting chickens--that I might shmear on a piece of rye bread to calm me down?
PS: Gritter: I'm not really eating shmaltz tonight. I'm eating along and making the left over shrimp from last night with Gritter Black. I'm hoping it's gonna be sort of fat free and fantastic. Just letting you know I'm thinking of you and your push to push Gritter Black to market. Plus, thinking about that new hunting lodge you're building. Hope it's beautiful, but that nobody ever actually kills anything. Am I allowed to root for that?
Meanwhile, Chepa and I are dreaming of the wonderful soups we're gonna be making with the chickens I'm growing. Is that hypocracy or what? I mean, just a few days ago one of the goats died. Because it died by choking to death, I didn't butcher it. But wouldn't it have been better to simply kill it and eat it, or at least feed it to Boots, the blind Wonderdog?
So who am I kidding.
So I'll revise: Build the lodge, and then kill only those animals who were going to die that day anyway. How's that.
Man, I'm just confused, I guess.
Where the heck is that shmaltz? I could use some comfort food.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a story for the local alternative here in Fort Worth about a wonderful place called the Art Station. It's the only place in all of North Texas that offers art therapy--which is a fantastic therapy for kids/grownups who do not do well with traditional verbal therapy.
And one of the issues that came up in the story were people called "cutters", people who harm themselves as a way of pain transference. I know all about them as I have maybe 100 cigarette burns on my left forearm. I always tell people I'm making my own tattoo of a snake with them, but the reality is that I generally held a lit cigarette to my arm for at least 30 seconds as a way of forgetting the pain of losing my wife/destroying my family. The intense pain of the burn took all of my concentration and allowed me to forget the real pain for a little while. I'm using past tense because it's been a while since I've done it.
So I've got an arm that people look at and ask: What happened to your arm?
I make a joke or two about my making my own tattoo but I'm not fooling anyone but myself.
But it wasn't until I talked to the people at the Art Station that I discovered there was a whole subculture called "cutters" by therapists.
And today, Marco, my son who moved into his Mom's small house behind hers two weeks ago, came over. He said he was having problems with his fiance, Carly. They both want to go on my January trip to the jungle--at family rates, which means I'll pay all but the airfare, and I'll probably lend them that--but then she's decided she wants to stay in South America for six months or a year doing volunteer work after the trip.
I assured Marco that I would steer her to good people doing legitimate work, not just some Western group imposing its will on Peruvians, and he said that wasn't the issue. He'd go with her. He'd stay with her. He'd protect her. But they still had issues.
I asked him what they were and he took off his shirt. On his left arm/chest/shoulder there were perhaps 50 razor cuts. "She's mad about these," he said. "But that's just my way of dealing with my pain."
I laughed and showed him my left forearm. "We're both cutters, buddy. We would rather have real pain than emotional pain, because we're either lost with emotional pain or terrified of it. But real pain, you slicing and dicing and me burning holes, hell, that's easy for us. That's just a question of sucking it up and dealing with it for a few minutes. We're chickens, Marco. We're afraid of dealing with the real thing."
Marco's not buying that. He just thinks he's making cool skin marks, just like my cigarette burn snake tattoo.
I'm not buying that.
We'll talk in the next couple of days. Cutting ain't pretty. And only serves to obfuscate the real issue.
I know.
I'm a cutter.
Time to face it, Marco, however hard that is.


Icaros, The Songs the Curanderos Use to Heal

On a forum I occasionally visit, someone asked a question about Icaros, the songs sung by curanderos, generally during ayahuasca sessions, but sometimes used without ayahuasca to heal, that seem to have healing power. The person then went further and asked why a given song--which are often just tones hummed or whistled--can cure illness when sung by a curandero, but are powerless when copied by someone else.
I put my two cents into the mix, and as I realize I've never discussed icaros here before, I'm putting my answer here as well.
Here's what I wrote:

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, and knowing that I know nothing, icaros rarely have words. They are vibrational songs, they are the ropes on which human spirits can glide out and be pulled back to earth. They are the sounds that allow a good curandero to know what every participant in an ayahuasca ceremony is knowing/seeing/feeling at every moment of the ceremony. They are also the tool the curandero uses to send people/souls to where he/she thinks they ought to be. He/She lifts one up, pulls one back, sits one in the corner,and sends one to another world, all with the same song. The songs come from the universal organ which runs this universe, seen and unseen, the sounds that make planets move, the sounds that create gravity, dimension. light.
To have someone copy those sounds will always be useless. It would be like a cover band doing a great guitarist's work--and that's probably too weak an analogy. Singing notes you've heard is generally meaningless. That's why most curanderos develop their own sounds, their own icaros. When they finally are treated to hearing the music that moves the universe, the sounds that make the machine move, they understand there are only two or three notes necessary. All the others are just pretty sounds.
And the same two or three or four notes that move the machine of the universe, on all its levels, are notes that realign bodies and spirit and so cure through that realignment.
So icaros copied have no value. Unless someone has heard that organ--or however your body/spirit quantifies it--the vibrations are just that. But once you know that sound, once that sound is your sound, once that sound is owned by a curandero, there is almost nothing on this measly plane of human existence he/she can't do with it.
The right vibration, the right tones are it. They can't be guessed. They are taught by spirits. Until someone has them they don't have them.
The songs with words are generally takeoff's on those genuine icaros, but I never met a curandero who thought they were particularly valuable except to center people under the influence who needed a bit of sound to get centered.
Of course, I'm just me and totally fallible, so I could be dead wrong on this.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shallow Graves

When I was a kid growing up in Whitestone, New York, we dug graves for birds and turtles and the occasional cat that died in our yard. It was a solemn thing.
When I was about 20 I tried to build a log cabin by myself in Maine one summer and had to dig 16 post holes deeper than the frost line of 36 or so inches. They were hard because of the rocks: Sometimes the holes had to be five feet wide just to get the rocks out of the way. Each one took about a day in that terrain, and when I was on number 11 or so, I woke up the next morning to find it filled with water: I'd hit an underground stream and had to move the building spot and start all over.
Since moving to Texas, I'm back to digging shallow graves. For dogs hit by cars, for cats that the dogs have killed, for a baby goat that died the first night we got her a couple of years ago. Even for roosters our first dog, Spike, would grab from the neighbor's pen. We'd let him eat a bunch but still buried the rest so the vultures wouldn't come.
And this morning I'm back to digging another shallow grave. One of our goats, tied up for a few days while I did fence mending after the recent storms, twisted and twisted the cord holding him until he just choked himself to death. I found him last night and cut him free this morning. I dragged the body to a patch of earth behind some trees in a new burial corner where I'm thinking of planting a bamboo patch.
If I'd have rebuilt the fence faster he'd be alive so it's my fault. Sorry goat. And sorry for your brother, who now wonders why nobody is answering his bleating with bleating of their own.
Digging dirt is always backbreaking work. If it's not rocks in the way it's roots or hard clay. I've taken a break because the babies are coming over. I'll finish it later. It won't be a deep grave, just 18 inches or so. I'll cover the body up with a blanket and put clorox on the blanket to keep the scavengers at bay until nature can do her work.
It's still a solemn thing to bury the dead, same as when I was a kid. Even when it's just a damned goat.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Those dating services...

I know we all live in a busy world and that we sometimes might miss someone who would fit wonderfully into our lives by seconds, hundreds of times. So it makes sense that someone came up with dating services on the net.
But I've just spent hours talking with a friend after he was told his wife was advertising for a new husband on one of them. He had no idea, of course, and so is slightly devastated. And I'll bet more than a few husbands and wives have had the same experience. For many this is probably a reasonable way to lay off fantasy steam; for others a way to save the hassle of actually leaving their homes to try to meet someone. But for some, boy, it's a suck way to find out your wife is planning to leave you.
Other than that heartbreak and the rest of the world going to hell in a haybasket, this looks like it's going to be one hell of a day, with lots of manly work--more fence to fix after mud knocked a large section down that has allowed the goats to roam the neighborhood raining down havoc on everyone's Fall gardens, and then two large sections of eaves that need to be replaced.
I've got the materials; just don't feel like I've got the get up and go. But I will. It's time.
And then I've got a party to make for Italo, who turns 24 tomorrow. Party is today because he's got an away game tomorrow afternoon so he'll be off playing soccer in Lubbock or San Antonio or who knows where.
If he gets over the flu, that is. He's the last of the family to have it. Boy, that tore through us in the last couple of weeks: First was Madeleina, then Sierra, then Alexa, then Chepa and I got a short dose of it; then Marco got really nailed and finally Italo. Nothing dangerous but those kids were really knocked down hard. Glad they're mending.
I do love them all and hate to see them less than full-speed.
Have a glorious day, everybody!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Bit About Jungle Cocaine Production

A friend of mine is currently in the Peruvian Amazon. He's heard from someone that a particularly fantastic hike, from Genero Herrera, to the Rio Galvez, has now become innundated with coca farmers who's crops are being guarded by automatic weapons bearing men who shoot first and ask questions later. I have not been on that hike in some years, but on the face of it don't go along with the proposition because that hike cuts across a section of Amazon that has as many streams as a comb has teeth. There are between 30-50+ hills to climb daily. Just 60-80 feet high each, the hike involves walking up and down, crossing a stream, walking up, then down, crossing another stream, etc. Not ideal for any sort of crop raising. But there are other reasons why coca growing for commercial cocaine producion is not conducive to a jungle setting. So here was my response to his suggestion that coca production was getting out of hand down there.
Dear B: Bo: Well, there is some coca growing in the Amazon, but as it's legal to grow the plant, I don't know why armed guards would be necessary. Also, Juan and Ruber have been on that walk pretty recently and others who live in Herrera have not mentioned the danger to me.
But as in Colombia, here's the thing: You can't grow Coca V Coca, the strain that's used for commercial cocaine production in the jungle. That strain grows in higher altitude with cooler weather. You can grow another strain (I think it's Coca v Ipuda that's colloquially called Ibu-coca that's traditionally utilized by a number of tribes, not in leaf form, and not to snort or smoke. It's collected and dried in large pans over a fire until it can be ground down finely--sort of like nu-nu, the Matses' snuff--and then put between the cheek and gums, like a tobacco chaw. To that is added the essence of Mapacho tobacco, near pure nicotine, by the drop or two, to activate the coca alkaloids. I've used it among the Aucaino (Au-KaI-neo) on the Rio Ampayacu and know it's used by others as well.
But here is the thing. The Bolivian coca leaf, the Coca V Coca, contains 5 times the alkaloids as does the C v Ipuda, so making cocaine from it is a very painstaking project. Remember that coca leaves have to be picked carefully, one by one, or the bush won't produce more. As it is, it takes one man 12 months of 10 hour days to pick one hectare of coca v coca leaves; it would take 5 men to produce the same alkaloid quantity with C v I, making it pretty much worthless on the world market. Which doesn't mean I haven't had friends try it. But then if you know jungle farmers, they don't have the patience for real farming. They like to slash and burn, put a pineapple top on the ground and walk away until they've got a bush full of pineapples. They're not watering anything and certainly not going to pick leaf by leaf to make certain they don't hurt the leaf nodule.
So, as in Colombia, I believe most of the info on coca in the jungle is pure misdirection. In Colombia, the spraying has everything to do with destroying regular crops and forest in order to displace people and then give access to oil men to the oil all along the eastern shelf of the Andes. In Peru, I believe it's more something for people I know to try, rather than an actual cash crop. Remember, it will take an entire hectare to make a couple of kilos of paste from C v I and while that can sell maybe $500 a kilo--tops--by the time the work is done to make it successful it's not a lot. So I'm thinking that yes, some people do it in the jungle; no, they're not very successful for the most part and abandon their crop not long after they put it in.
IF someone went to the trouble to really clear 10 hectares and paid people to grow and pick the crop, then I believe it's mode of transport would be the same as that coming out of the Huallaga Valley: it gets put on a riverboat, delivered to Iquitos or shipped down to Colombia at Leticia for sale to people who will get it to the refineries. The refineries will get it to the right-wing paramilitaries who control the routes to Mexico, where the Mexicans, who now control the cocaine trade even in South America, will move it to the US/Europe/former Soviet Union countries/wealthy Middle East players.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life 101--Again?

Well, finished a cover story today that's been fast and furious but which will win an award from someone, I think. Complicated issue made fascinating reading because the interview subjects were so available.
At the same time, about three days ago all the kids got sick, then Chepa and I got sick and I was late in getting the story in because I couldn't concentrate. So my boss hates me. And you probably know about the new green truck, the 1998 Ford Ranger with 160,000 miles finally losing it's timing belt on Friday while on Interstate 35 racing to Fort Worth. And then two magazines being late in paying me so I'm sort of screwed with this month's mortgage, though I will take it out of meager savings and pay the mortgage plus the near $500 extra I pay monthly to get that albatross off my back. But then the goats got out today so I was trying to finish the story and praying they'd stay in the unfenced front yard rather than go across the street and have someone crash into them; and at the same time praying that if anyone did crash into them it would be a big truck that wouldn't notice and would put them out of their misery quickly.
And then the last few hours trying to fix the fence the recent floods have downed so that I can keep the goats in: More than a foot of dirt has been deposited at it's base, knocking over the posts holding it up. Without materials to really fix it till tomorrow I was stuck using pieces of wood and rope: Ha! The goats area already laughing at me, I'm sure.
Then I called Chepa to see how she and the kids are feeling and suddenly it turned out that I was to blame that everyone has the flu. Or close enough to it to have it taken out on me.
So this ain't the best of the best times right this second. I covered my boss's butt by accepting to do a third cover story--along with three inside features, 15 short pieces for the Best of Issue and 6 other short pieces in the last 75 days--and I still suck. I paid for medicine, prescriptions (already bitched about the price in another entry), fruit, food and so forth for Chepa and the kids and I'm still a bum. And the cats think they're not getting their fair share while the Chickens and Ducks know it for sure!!!
Ah well, I'm laughing a little just writing this. These are not good things, but then they're not the kind of things that will kill me, so what the heck. I guess they will all sort themselves out tomorrow and I shouldn't even worry about them.
Thanks for listening. You've been a big help. I appreciate it.

Another of My Teachers Passes

In my life I've had thousands of teachers. From my folks, to the docs and nurses who took care of me while in the hospital as a little kid, to my 3rd grade Ms. Keenan; 4th grade Ms. Forlizzo and 8th grade Sister Grace Maureen. And them there were my brother and sisters; Phil Blumenau, who taught me how to be grown up in so many way; Clare, who taught me about loving wholeheartedly, though I didn't get it for years, Chuck DuDell, who added an edge to me, and Larry LaValle who taught me that all was art in every aspect. And then Albie and Gail and Sandy and the other women in my life, and of course Chepa, with whom I could finally accept what Clare had taught. And my kids have been teaching me since we got together, and Chepa's new babies are teaching me daily too. And my friend Lynn and nature and oh, maybe a million more wonderful teachers too, from friends to editors to co-workers, to Sarah in the kitchen, and my karate teachers and everybody else.
As a grown up, five have stood out as exceptional to me: Moises Torres Vienna, the great naturalist and guide, who dragged me through the jungle teaching me as much as he could with my annual visits to Peru. Julio Jerena (Llerena), my wonderful curandero, who taught me so much about ayahuasca and plant medicines, despite my slowness at learning. Victor Estrada, a San Pedro curandero, who showed me shapeshifting to allow me to see the world in many ways not ordinarily visible. Pablo, the Matses' headman, who taught me so much about his indigenous way of life and his ability to laugh in the most difficult physical situations, as well as someone who taught me that every plant was a medicine.
And Bertha Grove, the first medicine person I ever spent time with. She was an old woman, a Southern Ute, when I first met her back in maybe 1987 or so. Her son Jr., and her brother Everett, were the roadmen for the peyote ceremonies I was allowed to attend, but Bertha was the healing maestra. Like the others, she had someone in me who didn't even know I was a student, so teaching me was like forcing bricks down my throat. Still, in the 8-10 days I spent with her over a three year period, she taught me a million things about patience, about seeing with new eyes, and one particular lesson about illness. She taught me that illness, or pain, have the same lifeforce as everything else on the planet, and the same will to live. "So when you take disease out of someone, or suck out their pain, you can't just spit it out onto the floor. If you do it's going to do its best to get onto and into someone else. And while you might just be sucking a cold out of a baby, when that energy latches onto another person, it might show up as something completely different, something much worse."
To eliminate that problem, she said, medicine men and women always took that energy, often in the shape of phlegm, and wrapped it in invisible cloth and sent it somewhere where it would never come in contact with anything it could hurt. "I send mine to a distant planet that's very very cold; but if you learn to do it you can send yours anywhere you find that will work. Just be sure not to take that energy into yourself and don't just leave it hanging around for someone else to trip over."
She was plain, direct and fantastic.
And of that group of teachers, Moises got hit by a three-wheeled motorkar a few years ago and had severe head injuries which prevent him from remembering anything and keep him repeating a few lines over and over. Then in January, 2007, Julio passed. He was old, but still powerful when he died. Then last fall Pablo died out on the Galvez river.
Bertha's son Jr., the great roadman, died last March. And then I just got word from an old friend, Malcolm M, that Bertha died last month. She too was very old, so her passing wasn't unexpected but still sad.
They all taught me so much; they all had so much more to teach me if I were only a better student. But I already know that I am a better person for being in their care.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Health Insurance Reform....

Okay, I've covered this before but I'll do it again, quickly this time. I'm thinking about health care reform. When I think about health care, I think about me being a kid fo 5 who spent 5-6 months in the hospital with rheumatoid arthritis-now called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In my room were 8 beds. There were kids with all sorts of disorders in them. All were on the new medicine "cortisone", the wonder pill that could cure everything. Except what my bedfellows had. About once a week, if I remember correctly, one of us died and they'd put the sheet over his head and wheel them out solemnly, telling the rest of us not to look because death was not pretty.
So I was one of the lucky ones.
And I was lucky again when my intestinal ulcer--all 3 liters of it--burst just a couple of hours from a brilliant, US trained surgeon who diagnosed it, cut me open, and removed that 3 liters of junk before it burned me up from the inside. He later admitted that just a week earlier he'd had a similar case and lost it with another gringo.
But in Peru, one of the places those people who are afraid of or suspicious of health care reform bring up to show how socialistic medicine doesn't work, everyone gets health care. Not always great, and if you want a blanket on the bed you have to pay for it, and if you want more than gruel while you're in the hospital you have to pay for it, and if you want medications, you have to pay for them before you get them. But you at least get seen by a doctor a couple of times a day for basically nothing. And you can get an X-Ray at will for $3 US bucks. A CAT scan will cost you a 20 minute wait and $15 bucks. A full set of teeth implants, by dentists trained in the USA, will cost you $1000. Heck, my last op, the third on my busted intestine, cost me $4000, which included the hospital, anestheologist, the two surgeon assistants, the pre op tests, the post op tests, three or four days in the hospital (private room, good TV, a small whiskey bar after the second day and the chance to smoke cigarettes on the room's balcony) plus 8 recouperative days in the surgeon's house while he nursed me b ack to health.
That's reasonable. If I make close to $30 grand a year and have to pay $5 grand, including airfare, to save my life, that's reasonable.
But today, Sierra was sick. Madeleina's been sick for days with a wicked flu. Hot, cold, hot, cold, throwing up, can't see straight. Basic flu that most of us get a couple of times a year for two days.
But today Sierra got it and started to throw up. And Chepa got scared and took her to the emergency room for a check up to see that it wasn't swine flu or something else that could do real damage.
I didn't disagree: Sierra had a high fever and was throwing up everything we put in her.
Then Chepa called to say she needed a prescription and could I cover it as she had no cash. I said sure.
Two hours later, at Walgreens, I was told the first prescription was $110; the second was $580. I asked what the heck that was. I was told it was an inhaler that would help Sierra breath easier.
I said Sierra didn't have a breathing problem.
No matter. They wanted their $580, plus tax, for a three day cycle of inhaler.
I said we'd do without it.
They called the doctor to say I was complaining and the doc said that was a mistake, that that medcine could kill her; he'd miswrote the script.
Thanks. Makes me feel real comfortable.
I bought the other medicine and it turns out to be a children's variety of Thera-Flu, the $5 buck over the counter easy way to get high. Only this was over a hundred bucks.
"Why the price?" I asked the pharmacist.
"Because if your baby dies, you want proof that you tried your best."
"Why would my baby die from the flu?"
"Well, about 5% of the world's population dies from the flu annually. That's why. People can't stave off a cough. So aren't you glad you're paying for medicine that will let you off the emotional hook?"
I liked the honesty but not the truth. What they sold me was the identical thing that you can buy over the counter--at about $5 bucks.
So I'm thinking about the last 50 years I've been involved in health care, and I'm thinking my dad, who had insurance, paid off our house before he paid off my med bills, and I'm thinking of paying almost $20.000 out of my pocket annually to get health insurance in New York for my family and I'm thinking about flying to Peru and getting world class doctors to operate on you and house you for less than the cost of the basic emergency room visit in the US, and how cough medicine from the doc, which is the exact same as that from Walgreen's shelves, costs $110 or $140, when I could have bought it for a couple of bucks over the counter, and I'm thinking that no one in the US has a care for any of my kids.
The health care system is a joke. Nearly every country in the world has a better system, for free, than we have. And their docs, all trained in the US, are better than our docs, who smoked a lot of dope and graduated from Mexico universities. So the real good health care, which costs a world citizen maybe $100 a year, at best, and generally less than that, costs nearly 2,000 a month in the US.
I am standing in amazement at people who think we do not need health care reform. We are the most backward, and we have the worst techniques, the stupidest doctors, the most flagrant fouls, the most diseased system.....and everybody else just does it as part of the drill. For us, we spend a trillion a year and we can't get it right.
Something about trying to sell me a $580 medicine that turned out to be misdiagnosed, for an illness that will disappear in 12 hours even without medicine. That's US health care today. That's got to change.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Girl

Sarah, my oldest son Italo's girl, just found out that her baby is going to be a girl. Ain't that great? I'm gonna be a grandpa come early March, 2010, and I already knew that, but now I'm gonna be a grandpa of a beautiful little girl.
Gosh, I like kids. I cannot get enough of them. Well, most of the time. Chepa's babies, Sierra and Alexa drive me to wonderful distraction daily. I bought a microphone with its own speaker the other day and Sierra, when she can get it out of my Madeleina's hands, just makes up song after song, just like Madeleina. And little Alexa, who at not quite two has a pretty limited vocabulary, when she finally gets her turn just goes on and on with sounds and rhythms straight out of ayahuasca ceremonies she's seen and icaros I sing around the house.
And now we're gonna have a new girl singer around here. Which is not only fine by me buy freaking fantastic. I hope I get to visit with her a lot. Help instill a joyful exuberance for living that she can keep long after I'm gone. I think that's one of the best things I do as a dad: Just try to keep the kids happy that they're alive, aware of the world around them, a set of eyes that don't just see things as they want to see them but see them in the millions of shades of color they contain. Of course there are days when Marco won't go along with that, but that's for other posts. This post is about Sarah and her coming baby. I hope she comes out with the right number of fingers and toes, with a good heart and healthy lungs and blasts into this space with laughter.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Repeat of Selfish Post

Hello All: Okay, not saying I'm getting desperate but we're getting darned close. I want a trip in January to the Peruvian Amazon. I want the chance to introduce some of you to my team, the river, riverboats, speed boats, slow boats, swamps, high jungle, bathing with electric eels, swimming with river dolphins, ayanuasca, local magic mushrooms, the Matses' fantastic medicines Sapo and Nu-nu, our wonderful food, plant collecting, and a host of different things.
The problem is that only two people have actually sent me money for that. Which means I'm S out of Luck and my team, who sort of depend on me for a very good bump two or three times a year, is beginning to panic. So if you've been a fence sitter, if you wonder whether this is worth losing a few grand, including airfare, for 12 1/2 days of change, if you wonder whether you have the time, well, you don't NOT have the time. This is something special. Something pretty extraordinary and that ain't because of me. That's the river, the jungle, the people, the medicines, the food, the team, the sunsets, the animals, the lakes all talking. I'm just the guy who puts you in the right place at exactly the right time with the right people.
But I can't go with two people and a handful of promises. It costs two grand just for my ticket and my living expenses there, and two grand to pay my bills here for the time I'm there. So I need 6,7,10 people to come up with the desire to learn, to be involved, to be blown away, to have their internal clock stopped and restarted on a new wavelength.
So if you're wondering if it's worth it, the answer is yes. If you wonder if I'm lying, or exaggerating, the answer is no. This is something special and I want to do it.
We start on Jan 9th, the second Sat in Jan, and finish on Thursday, Jan 21 when I put you on your plane home.
So if you're thinking of signing up, please do.
All of you sitting on the fence? I'll have this trip be more than I'm promising.
That's the sell, folks. A lot of you readers--and I probably have at least two dozen readers--have been on this trip. If you think it was what I'm saying, jot a comment. Cause I'd really love to be there in January and I think people would have a very very interesting time if they were there as well.
Peter G

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fort Worth Shuts Down Day Labor Center

Most people in the Fort probably didn’t even know there was a day labor center in town. If they did, they probably didn’t know it was just off I-30 at the end of the street where the church with that crazy slanted roof is. But to a lot of people over the last several years, it was an important place. For me, it was a last resort a couple of years after I arrived in Fort Worth from New York in 2002 and found myself out of work and unable to pay the mortgage on my little home, and barely able to feed my kids. I struggled with some freelance work through 2002 and 2003, sold my first story to the local alternative in early 2004, but was about to go under. I'd applied for regular jobs, spent weeks driving around applying, but who wants to train someone for a factory when you know they’re going back to journalism as soon as they can? So I wound up at the Day Labor Center in early 2004. It was run by a fellow named Warren, a good and fair man. The fellows and women would show up starting at about 6:30, waiting for the doors to open. You took a number and waited your turn for a contractor or someone who needed a few hands to mow some lawns to come in asking for help. Pay wasn’t great: Warren insisted that everyone get paid at least $7 an hour, and sometimes people offered $9 or $10.
I spent five weeks there and got out to work just three days. Some guys who were known to the contractors got out a lot more often. But not making much money didn’t really matter. What mattered about the place was that it gave me and a lot of other guys a place to be. It kept us from sitting at home or for the homeless, on the street all day. It allowed us to interact with humanity rather than stewing over being left behind by society.
It wasn’t much of a place: Couple of big rooms with cheap chairs; lousy coffee that cost a dime a cup; couple of newspapers and some magazines and books. Sometimes church groups came in and served free lunch–universally awful but still thoughtful.
The guys and women ranged from junkies to crazies to people hiding under the radar to avoid going to jail for non-payment of child support all the way to white collar people who simply lost their jobs and had nowhere else to turn. They were a good group, a good mix.
I wound up writing a story about the experience and that helped land me a job at the paper I now work for. Other guys wound up working regularly on construction crews that were booming then. Some guys were still there when I visited a few months ago, getting by day to day.
The city closed the center’s doors today because the budget couldn’t afford the couple of hundred grand it cost to run the place annually. That’s too bad. Every city needs a place of last resort for people willing to work but down on their luck. There’s talk of trying to find a new location for it. We’ll see.
In the meantime, there are a couple of hundred willing hands who won’t have a place to go grab a hot shower and lousy coffee and maybe claim a $60 payday so that they can put a chicken on the table for their kids. That’s sad. You would think every city would understand the value of a place like that.