Tuesday, March 15, 2016

'Scaredy Cat Gorman

I think I mentioned that when I hit 65 recently I got Medicare health insurance. It's the insurance pool every worker in the US has paid into every week since its initiation. You know the one: The one the politicians call an entitlement. Sure: Pay in since 1971 or so, whenever it started, and then collect in 2016, and after 45  years worth of paying into the system, it's an entitlement, rather than an earned benefit.
    Okay, I'll stop the politics before I get started, cause if I get started, I ain't gonna stop.
    As soon as I got the insurance, my surgeon, the fantastic Dr. Ford from Huguley Hospital recommended a full check up. All was good, despite years of abusing myself with cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, jungle trips, being a dad and all the rest. Except for this little nodule--swear to god that's what they call it--in my lower left lung. Naturally, I panicked and looked it up on the Internet: Turns out it could be anything from a coffee stain on the hospital gown I was wearing during the X-ray, to a little nothing, to cancer. But Gritter, my Alabama doc, said not to sweat it. Given the size and location and the fact that I've had several illnesses and conditions that facilitate the formation of nodules in the lungs, it was surprising that I didn't have more.
    But the doc in Texas, Doc Thomas, he needed a CT scan to be certain.
    Today was the day for it.
     Not saying I'm not nervous and that I wasn't a little nervous going up to the place where they do the CT scan. What if it's something bad? Yes, I'm a little nervous.
    But things fell apart in the CT room.
    A CT (pronounced cat) scan machine is like a huge donut into which a bed is fitted that slides in and out of the donut hole. The patient lies on the bed and the part of the body that needs to be scanned gets slid in electronically so that the scan can be done. When they did it on my leg just prior to operating on it for the debridement of the dead material from the flesh eating bacteria, it was no big deal: Slide me in up to my thigh, take the pics/scans, pull me out.
    Today was different. Today I was having my lungs looked at, which meant that when I was slid into the donut I was going pretty far into it: Like, far.
    The machine operator was a peach. She needed to take a blood sample to check that I'd be good for an intravenous injection of iodine so that after the initial CT scans they could take an additional scan with the iodine creating bright contrast. No problem. I've had so many injections, intravenous drips and so forth in the last 5 years I don't even notice them.
    But then she had me lie down--I insisted on pillows under my head so I wouldn't totally freak out from needing to cough--and ran me into the machine to check position and so forth. Then she had me raise my arms and put them over my head so that I wouldn't bump the machine with my elbows or block the scans. Well, I had no idea just how deeply I was going into that hole and how close the operator was going to raise that table, and my face, to the inside of the donut hole. I made the mistake of opening my eyes and realized I wasn't one inch from the machine. I swear I felt like I was in an Iron Lung. You know, the tube you saw pics of that allows a person to breathe but only their head sticks out for the rest of their lives. One of my childhood fears--one of my big ones, and I still have a deal with Chuck in NYC that if I ever get put into one, he has to pull the freaking plug instantly, even if that means going to jail forever. I'll do the same for him.
    So here I was, eyes open, arms unable to help, just like in an iron lung. I did my best. I swear I did my best but could not, NOT, stop from calling out to her and telling the operator to pull me out.
    She did. In a few moments I went in again.
    Again, utter panic and I asked to be pulled out.
   She did. I apologized and asked for a few minutes. What a chicken! I called myself every name in the book. I tell people all the time that frog sweat medicine will only terrify for the first 10 minutes and that they can do 10 minutes standing on their head. I tell people in the jungle that Ayahuasca will only last two or three hours and they can do that standing on their heads. And here I couldn't do 5 minutes in that damned machine.
    I breathed in and breathed out. After I stopped calling myself names, I thought about what was at stake: I've got a small nodule in my left lung. Probably nothing. But the docs and I need to know for sure. If I walked away from the CT scan, we wouldn't know for sure. And if it's something bad, it's vital to identify it as early as possible. So was I going to allow my terror, and it was abject terror to force me to have the operator pull me from the thing twice, keep me from knowing something my doctors and I needed to know?
    I finally said, "let's get it done," and lay back down.
    She slid me into the machine. I kept my eyes closed but could feel my breath hitting it nearly the moment it left my mouth. I just kept breathing. Then the machine told me to hold my breath and the first scan was done and I was slid out for just a moment before being slid back in for the second scan. And then the third. And then the iodine was pumped in and I had to sit there in the machine for 40 seconds for it to get to where it needed to go, and then the next scan and then I was done and she pulled me out and I sat. I nearly puked. I was so sick of my terrified behavior. Big tough guy? Not on your life. Little 'fraidy cat.
   The operator handed me a cold water and said she was glad that I got through it. She said that a lot of people don't. I'm not surprised.
   But I am glad that it got done. Now, good or bad, we'll know. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Nü-nü--Amazon Snuff

I was asked to write a very short description of the Matses snuff, nu-nu. So I did. Here it is. In this length it's difficult to go into detail, but I hope I got some of it, anyway.


Nü-nü is the indigenous Matsés, Mayoruna, and Matis version of what other indigenous cultures call Rapé. It is a very powerful snuff made by combining the inner bark of the Theobroma cacao tree with Nicotiana rustica, the powerful tobacco ubiquitous to Northwestern Amazonia. It is generally made by two hunters, insuring that the spirit of both will be infused in the snuff.
    The inner bark of the cacao is taken from the tree and put into a ceramic bowl filled with hot charcoal. Over a period of a couple of hours it is reduced to ash and removed from the bowl.
    The tobacco leaves are stripped of their central spine then placed on a bamboo palate over a low fire until they crumble easily. The leaves are generally kept on a very low flame so that they retain their green color.
    The tobacco leaves and cacao ash are then placed in a length of hollowed out bamboo and finely ground with a stout stick into the sealed base of the bamboo.
    When the material is fully ground it is run through a fine mesh—that might be a doubled up piece of mosquito netting, an old tee-shirt, or even a piece of a woman’s stocking—to eliminate any material that is not very finely ground.
    And that’s all there is to it.
    The Matses and other groups use the nü-nü as a hunting aid—it temporarily improves eyesight, delineates color value, adding a bit of depth to vision, and steadies the hunter’s hand. Used in large amounts, as much as 20 or more half-gram blasts through a two-foot long tube made of a hollowed out reed, hunters claim it allows them to see game in the forest a day in advance, allowing them to go to where they saw the game the following day and wait for it to arrive.
    Nü-nü instills a sense of well-being in the user along with a feeling of exhileration. It is often used in conjunction with sapo, the frog-sweat medicine.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

My friend, Crazy Richard Fowler, AKA Auckoo, has Passed

Iquitos can be a lonely place. People come from all over the world to Iquitos to soak in the jungle,  the ayahuasca, the beautiful women and handsome men. And a lot of them fall in love with the place and wind up staying there for months. Some wind up living there. But for most, living there becomes a sort of wretched endgame of their lives. If they have work, if they have a reason to get up and go do something there every day, then life is the same as it would be anywhere. But there aren't many jobs for gringos or Europeans or Aussies or Africans, so they end up bored. And if you wind up bored in Iquitos,  you wind up drinking or drugging or sexing yourself to death. I've lost a lot of people I called friends over the years, essentially from boredom.
     One friend who just died was Richard Fowler, known to all as Auckoo. He'd come slightly on the lam from a pot bust in Florida where he was a naturalist working in the Everglades. Prior to that he'd been a snake catcher for Bill Haast's Serpentarium. Settled in Iquitos, Auckoo took to the jungle, learned it, and began taking people out for pretty extraordinary trips sort of to the middle of nowhere. And then he brought them back. Safely.
     Then he married a beautiful woman and adopted her two young daughters and did his best to be a good dad. Oh, and he was also very crazy, and crazy smart. In any given conversation he'd come up with two, three things that you didn't know, which kept conversation interesting.
     Anyway, I heard that he took a bad fall--perhaps after a heart attack--and died a couple of days ago. I'll miss him when I'm in Iquitos in a couple of months. We generally met up a couple of times on each of my trips for a couple of hours. So i wrote something for him on a facebook page that other friends of his were writing on. Here's what i wrote:

  I'll chime in as he was my friend as well. I was asked to write a couple of anecdotes about him. I could have written about the time the BBC asked me to do a TV show where I'd have to go into a pond of muddy water and come out with a caiman. I knew I might get lucky, but that Auckoo could do it blindfolded, so I passed it on to him and he looks great doing it. I could have written about him as a naturalist, because he was a very good naturalist, very quick and knowledgeable. I could have written about his struggles through the lean times and how he always kept his chin up. I could have written about the time he slammed a friend's shotgun against a tree, smashing it, and left me responsible for fixing it even though I wasn't in the country at the time of the tantrum. I could have written a lot of things because I knew him for a long time. Not intimately. I was a friend; I wasn't an intimate friend. So I didn't write those things. What I wrote was this:
    Auckoo was physically dangerous, from both training and experience. He also had something of a chip on his shoulder and so was always up to challenge someone, anyone. One evening on the Boulevard several years ago, he challenged me to go, right then, and jump into the Amazon River. Being Irish myself, I said sure. He took my hand and we ran toward the stairs leading down from the Boulevard to the Amazon River (really, the Itaya at that point, but close enough). We ran 50 feet and then he leaped into the air and into the reflecting pool that's one of the Boulevard's favorite places for both tourists and locals to get photographed. I mistimed the leap and wound up doing a bellyflop into the water, which was, after all, Amazon basin water.
    Another night, not long after I'd had a major operation that left 142 stitches in my belly from my sternum to below my navel, Auckoo approached and asked me to stand up. I did. He then came next to me, took a karate stance, and belted me in the stomach, saying: "Let's see how good this doc's work really is," as his punch landed. I was drunk but responded in kind. The next morning he approached me on the Boulevard with one hand covering his right eye: Underneath it was a huge mouse and a couple of stitches: I'd evidently gotten in a lucky shot at him. Secretly I was glad he hadn't killed me the previous night after I connected with that punch.
    And then one more time: Last year or so, Auckoo, a little bit high, as was I, approached my table and demanded that I fight him then, there. When I didn't move he said: "Okay, you know how serious I am? I want this to be a fair fight this time. No lucky punches. You don't believe me?" And with that he took his automatic out and slapped it on the table. "There. No gun." Then he reached into his vest and pulled out brass knuckles and slapped them on the table next to the gun. "No knuckles."
    He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a knife, putting it on the table with his other weapons. "No knife."
   "What else do you want?" he asked, going through his pockets, pulling out an assortment of coins, deadly weapons and cigarette lighters.
    When he was done he looked at the pile. "Pretty impressive, right? You ain't seen nothing yet!" and with that he pulled out his very tiny pomeranian or some sort of tiny dog like that and put her on the table as well. "Okay, now I'm clean. Let's go."
     I stood, as if ready to go.
     We didn't, of course. He just wanted to make certain you were ready when he challenged like that. As long as you were, you had his respect.
     Rip, Auckoo. Go catch yourself a frog or two up there.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Doing meatloaf tonight--Hmmmmm...

So I've got meatloaf in the oven. I'm just so sick of chicken and salmon that I wanted meat, but nothing as heavy as a real steak. Now last night we had meat, but it was in the form of sausage, red and green peppers, tomatoes and onions cooked in garlic with a little olive oil. Lots of salt and pepper--sea salt and cracked black pepper--and man, that was good. I had it plain. Guests had it over rice. It came with stuffed zucchini, which was just about perfect and way better than my mother ever made it--though I know I'm going to hell for saying that. Lots of good parmesan cheese, sauteed scallions, tomatoes, garlic, a touch of ginger root, a bit of breadcrumbs with some fresh Peruvian oregano and just a hint of butter as I was cooking it all to stuff the slightly-cooked zucchini. Cooked them whole for about 4 minutes in water that was just under boiling, just to make them soft enough that when I cut them in half-lengthwise, cleaned out the seeds and stuffed them, they'd take to baking-to-finish in the oven quickly, so I didn't have to overcook the stuffing.
    Somehow, after a lot of lawn mowing today--I'm so out of shape I was taking breaks every 12 minutes!--I decided meatloaf without rice or potato or any starch--just a salad and spinach quickly sauteed with garlic and a touch of olive oil and cracked black pepper--was the perfect meal.
    Basic recipe: 1.5 lbs of ground pork. 3 lbs of good chuck meat. Mix.
    Add 3 oz ketchup--Heinz--two eggs, a couple of ounces of good breadcrumbs with Peruvian oregano, salt and pepper--you know the drill.
    While you're mixing that, put two heads of fresh minced garlic steeped in olive oil in a pan, add a huge sweet red onion, diced, two stalks of organic celery, minced, two organic tomatoes, diced finely. Cook till everything is soft and every flavor and color is married to the others. Add to the meat mix.
    Work the meat with your hands when the cooked material is cool enough to do it, put it in two baking dishes--one bread pan, one medium casserole dish--and top with slices of very thin pork belly, pre-smoked and ready to eat, and a bit of ketchup or bbq sauce. Not too much. It makes it's own juice and you can make gravy out of that if you like.
    So that's in the oven. The kids were over all day, Italo and I replaced the rope on their swing in the front yard (so I don't have to worry about them falling when it breaks!!!!!) and Italo jury-rigged my lawnmower to work.
     I worked my butt off yesterday, doing interviews for my story due on Tuesday, for which Madeleina took the photos, delivered medicine to a sick friend--Una de Gato and Sacha Jergon, along with CBD--to ameliorate his cancer, nearly finishing up a big pot of San Pedro medicine that I'll actually finish tomorrow morning, and feeding and entertaining guests.
    And then tomorrow I get the results of my chest X-Rays, which I hope don't tell me anything really bad. I know I've been smoking 2 packs a day for 50 years, so whatever it is, I invited it, but at the same time, I'd like to think I'm not one of the people going to get cancer. Pretty arrogant I guess, but that's how I justified smoking--which I love--all these years.
     Meatloaf is starting to smell good. I mean very good. If you're in the neighborhood, I've got a lot more than I can use, so come on by. We love company, and we're not even in misery!

Friday, March 04, 2016

Not sure if I'm grousing or laughing or both

Generally when I write here, I like to write interesting things. I like to talk about medicine or food that I'm cooking or something cool that happened, or even the occasional post of a new column for Skunk Magazine. This one is different. This one goes out to all the dads and moms and grandpas and grandmas who work to get ahead only to discover that there were a million things ready to eat that couple of grand right up.
    I came home about Feb 6 from a trip to Peru. It wasn't much of a money making trip but it was a working vacation that paid for itself and i had a great time and the guests I took out to the jungle were fantastic and all that jazz. But I had a couple of freelance writing checks waiting when I came back, and a couple of work checks from Fort Worth Weekly, and two months worth of book and kindle sales and a little of this and that. I thought I looked relatively golden. So golden that I gave my son Italo $500 of the last $1000 I owe him on the 2000 Lincoln Sportster I bought from him. And I didn't even mind when my 1998 Ford Ranger needed a little work: Italo bought $220 bucks worth of parts, I gave him $150 for a day's work and next thing you know, it's running beautifully again. Except that it also needed a new battery for $150 or so and registration for $65, and then an oil change with a new air filter for $58, bringing that up to over $600. Okay, I could live with that. But then the tax assessor reminded me that I owed the final $600 on property taxes for the year, and the home insurance company reminded me that I owed $677 for the quarter. And then the Lincoln needed two new tires at $200 each. And then the microwave went out and needed replacing. And then I needed to rent the equipment to get the carpets shampoo'd and then I had to pay various doctors a total of $400--despite now being old enough to cash in on my Medicare that I've paid into since its inception. Then the blood pressure pills needed upping and Walmart just happened to take both pills off the $4 list and one is now $58 while the other is $121. And now the Lincoln needs registering and an inspection.
     And none of it will kill me, of course. The speed and quickness with which my money disappeared surprised me: Quicker than a snake strike, perfectly aimed at my wallet. The fantastic thing is that I had the monies to take care of it all, along with the regular bills, living expenses, funds for Madeleina, away at college, and for my wife/ex-wife Chepa and the girls, and dog and cat food. So I'm not really grousing. These things need to get paid and I guess normally I'd just be a couple of months late with everything. This time I'm not.
     But then today, I went to cut the lawn and neither lawn mower worked. Now I'm starting to get riled...
     But I'm still grinning and I hope you are all laughing at whatever straits you happen to find yourself as well.