All the Slabs rest on these three words: Might is Right.
I will try to describe life here in a rational and straightforward manner. Human rights are not determined by justice, but my might. Hide it as you may, the naked fist rules and makes or breaks kings, as of yore. All of the other theories are lures and lies once you enter the town limit.
It is the greatest human example of the Law of the Jungle that I have ever visited. The expression means ‘every man for himself’. I’ve been in every type of jungle around the world, and the code of survival is the same in Slab with reference to the superiority of brute force or self-interest in the struggle for survival.
The phrase was used in a poem by Rudyard Kipling to describe the behavior and obligations of a wolf in a pack. In ‘The Law for the Wolves’:
Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Every great Slabber is a lone wolf, for individualism runs strong in this anarchist community. But, when he must, he banks with others, to fight other packs on the trail. Everywhere Might is Right.
The Slabs consists of a warren of trailers and shanties on the dark squares of a checkerboard of WWII cement. The town rises in honor of Woodstock along the open road that Kerouac wrote about. It offers freedom lovers unmatched profoundness in contrast to the surrounding America.
A lion’s share of that freedom is accepting its tenet of social Darwinism. The term is used to refer to various ways of thinking and theories that emerged in the second half of the 19th century. It applied the evolutionary concept of natural selection to human society, especially in isolated ones like Slab City. Scholars still debate the extent to which the idea provisions opposing aggressive individualism. To roll it out into the open, Slab City believes that power, strength and superiority are the mark of a moral human being. Inherent human rights are nonexistence. Human rights instead are the spoils of the conquering man, and only to be enjoyed when they are taken and defended.
The core Might is Right gives the superior brain and brawn an excuse to take control, and the weaker a reason to violent revolt. ‘And, that’s the way it is,’ as Walter Cronkite might sum the town’s morals.
Moral values undergo a rampant change on passing the abandoned guard shack outside Salvation Mountain. They are the standards of good and evil which govern an individual’s behavior and choices. Individual morals are sure to differ inside and outside this town, and a visitor who stays long almost always undergoes a paradigm shift toward social Darwinism. There is no middle ground in defending yourself and, either, rising or falling. Strong personalities are built and broken here.
The key is how to manage to live together? It is an outlaw town in the sense that there are no laws, and every disagreement that I have ever seen – thousands – have been solved by the threat or execution of the sword of principles defined in the Victorian book Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard. Published posthumously in 1890, it heavily advocates egoistic anarchism, individualism, amorality, consequentialism, and psychological hedonism. Egoistic anarchism is particularly interesting in upholding extreme individualism without regard to how well or ill humanity may fare. It rejects conventional ideas of human and natural rights and argues that only strength of mind or physical might can establish moral rights. The response to the book has been nothing more or less than either love or hatred, which is the same reaction of every visitor to Slab City. It is regularly featured on the most-banned book lists, as this outlaw town is denounced as the most desperado to be shunned.
The book and town are a veritable political and philosophical earthquake, marking the collapse of a false and depressing ideology that has held sway for 2,000 years. The thought is positively startling. Little of what you know is true. They may take who have the power. They can keep who can.
Some Redbeard quotes echo what I see daily in Slab City:
‘If a man smite you on one cheek, smash him down; smite him hip and thigh, for self-preservation is the highest law.’
‘The natural world is a world of war; the natural man is a warrior; the natural law is tooth and claw.’
‘Nothing so lowers a lover in a virile maiden’s estimation, than for him to be whipped in a personal encounter with a rival.’
‘A condition of combat everywhere exists. We are born into perpetual conflict.’
‘Every man’s hand against every other man: except where living individuals have formed temporary partnerships. When one partner breaks the mutual agreement, the combine is necessarily dissolved, and all become enemies as before.’
‘Every organism, every human being, must conquer or serve. This is an ultimatum.’
‘Sociology is a biological problem and nations are herds of cattle.’
Slab City supplants the ideal of what is right, beautiful, and pleasant by the terrible consequence that Might is Right. It is fearful to think of what would befall humanity if such were to spread among the masses of people. And it has already begun to spread.
The Law of the Slabs is that those who are strong and apply ruthless self-interest are the most successful. This is a zoo of predators offering contrast to the rest of USA. It urges us to face reality and deal with life as it really is rather than what we wish it was. The town is not what it should or must be but the way it is.
I’m open to the idea of the Law of the Jungle having survived it in as many desperate situations as the spots on a leopard. There has been nothing else since stepping into the Slabs. However, it may take others a week to acclimate to Might is Right.
There are a lot of terms thrown around here – ‘Law of the Jungle’, ‘red in tooth and claw’, ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘social Darwinism’ – but the waffle reduces to Might is Right. The town asks no questions and gives its reward to the strong.
Slab City is the most recycling city in America. Recycling is converting waste into reusable material. The town is a giant recycling plant where the machines are the people on a desert surface, ever sifting, until the final unusable trash covers the town like volcanic ash.
The types of recycling are:
- CRV (CA Redemption Value) – Every bottle, can, and jug is redeemed.
- Metal – Recycling brass shells from the Chocolate Mt. Gunnery Range is big business.
- Wood – All scrap wood is used for construction or campfires.
- Food – Everything is eaten.
- Textiles – Everything is passed on, or put on free tables near the bus stop.
For human waste, there are homemade porta-potties or dug holes in the ground, with some compost. One gentleman moves a tripod latrine around, sits and shits, with a blanket modestly covering him, to camouflage his droppings with the dogs’.
There is no infrastructure of electric, sewage, or water. Everything is hauled in. There is no need for recycling bins.
Basically, the town looks like a checkerboard dump of scrupulously clean slabs kitty-corner to heaps of trash. It’s well picked through because one Slabber's trash is another's treasure. Light trash blows into the desert on weekly westerlies called the ‘garbage delivery’, and the heavier stuff has accumulated like slag over the decades.
No one can afford nor has the transportation to go to the county dump. There is no need to haul discards to the Goodies (Goodwill’s) and Sallies (Salvation Army’s) because Slabbers would have to bus long distances to retrieve them.
The year-round population of about 200 are the have-nots. The snowbirds arriving by the droves each fall are the haves to dilute the disadvantaged population by 5:1. They put their discards on a 5-acre plot called Walmart, where everyone walks along somewhat organized aisles among cactus and creosote to pick what they like.
Sunday Madness is when the weekend tourists leave behind their valuables. My strategy is to radiate out from Walmart into their vacated campsites and collect items to redistribute among the worthy. I’ve given away a piano, motorcycle, car, bicycles, camping gear, food, clothes, bow and arrow, and musical instruments.
One man stood at Saturday open mike at the Music Range and declared the town was a garbage dump. The audience knew better, and dragged him from the stage, beat him, and tossed him in the bushes.
An elder affectionately called Elderberry for many years was the town 'Hangman'. He was handed by police and locals the extreme sinners to determine their public fates. He recently passed the gavel to the town Elders as a whole.
The Elders are old heads who appear continually groggy but regularly spurt beautiful answers to perplexing difficulties. Each has tutored for decades under the great instructor at Slab City, Dr. Time. They are tough, resilient, seasoned, and savvy. Prisons and the Slabs do not soften you up; they make you a piece of rock.
It is one thing to be fierce in battle, but it is important also, to be wise in council. The elders form a foundation of decency. They are modeled after the American Indian tribal elders, who are responsible for guiding the culture and philosophy when it goes askew. The elders are older, and have the respect of their own community. Not all are very old, but most are graying. They are closest to reminding me of the outer ring of Elder 'Guardians of the Universe' in Justice League of America comics. The Guardians were a ghostly race of extraterrestrials who are the founders and leaders of interstellar law enforcement. They are immortal and the oldest living things in the universe.
The Elders are watching. In Slab, they are a loose committee of seniors to investigate and deter horrible crimes. The qualifications for each is that he be on the far side of the following equation, looking back through the equal sign: As a child, one day I realized that all adults are imperfect and at that moment I became an adolescent; then one day I forgave them and became an adult; and then in one instant I forgave myself and became wise.
The Elders are not lawmakers, but instead mete out consequences for vulgar acts. It is their function to punish effectively, to remove the irritant and with the same stroke prevent others from stepping in. They meet in a council of texts (difficult to trace), and less frequently, by personal visits or trusted runners.
The situation is discussed, and recommendations made. This is modern frontier justice, also called extrajudicial punishment, which is motivated by the nonexistence of laws in this community. You just don't go out and hit wrongdoers – arson, rob, dislocate, or kill. It is has to be sanctioned by the Elders.
The justice represents what Mark Twain once observed, 'We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world, and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.' The Slab council is operated by men and women who are often illiterate, and able to blank their minds to pass cool decisions.
When a person enters this lawless society he doesn't necessarily agree to abide by the customs, but if he crosses them he becomes liable to the Elders judgement. The due process is that he is clearly warned. If he continues to cross the line, then he becomes an outlaw even to the outlaws. The verbal gavel falls. He may choose to stand and fight, or to flee. That choice is the essence of freedom.
The Elders have evolved a social system over time, a code of moral-political-economic principles, which determines the association of the members of the community. Only in rare instances do they rear up on their sinewy hind legs and roar. They usually hire in-house specialists – arsonists and strong arms – but nevertheless rarely call on old out-of-town relationships to pay old favors. The Elders do not involve themselves in the hour-to-hour bickering that is a part of town life as fleas are to an infested dog.
Ethically, the system is more forthright than regular American law and order. There are only two fundamental questions the outlaw town code must answer in order for the Elders to act: Does the social system recognize individual rights? And, does the social system allow physical force in human relationships? The answer here is 'yes' to both.
People come to Slab City just to disappear, to get off the grid, and they don't want leaders. The citizens without laws are the can openers of American life elsewhere, so their actions should be studied, and they should not be surprised to hear of the Elders taxing duty.
The Slab summer of 2017 will be remembered as the Battle of Good and Evil. It was three hot straight months of daily debauchery that has rarely occurred before. I look at the difference between good and evil as a kind of foul line in baseball. It's thin, made of flimsy lime, and if you cross it, it starts to blur where fair becomes foul and foul becomes fair. The line is determined by the individual according to his moral values. Examine yourself, set firm standards, and you create good and evil in Slab City. If you grow blind to the line, the Elders are the umpires.
Nothing was sacred this summer. The police were useless; even an obstacle. We needed one Texas Ranger, or the Lone Ranger, but lacking him, the task fell into the hands of two traditional strong-arm personalities. They were good, decent men. One was the drug lord who I did medical and legal for. The other was the primary Slab strong-arm and part-time arsonist. Each represented what the Godfather wanted to be. Few in town except the Elders knew they had died in back-to-back methamphetamine heart attacks. After they vacated, wanna-be enforcers quibbled for the alpha position and none possess the chutzpah to pull it off. Without limits, this outlaw town fueled by meth has gone haywire. The atrocities have been sad, interesting, and newsworthy. I started car camping in a widening radius from the center. There, still, I refused to underestimate the decency of the human race, particularly in America. The Elders stepped in, and the town is restored to even kilter.
Slab City is a town of young anarchists in a disenchanted nation, where the council of Elders keep the seams from bursting. Otherwise, I believe it, would evolve into a single strong-arm dictatorship. If you study the portraits of the most brutal dictators in world history – Hitler, Stalin, Leopold, Nicholas II, Lenin, Dada, and Hussein - they share the same facial features. The frown creases run down from the nostrils, mouth line forms a big upside-down U, thin chins, long ears, receding hairlines, and fiery eyes. However, if you could see the Slab City Elders around a kitchen table, there are only the fiery eyes and cheerful structures.
Grown men and women do not need leaders, but now and then they need little reminders. A rebel grows old, and sometimes wiser. He finds the things he rebelled against he must defend against the newer rebels. Even this leading lawless town in America needs some moral guidance now and then.
In schools where our elders are books, I once championed a teaching program in high school to bring in seniors as volunteer teachers' aides. No thrones or crowns, just gray hairs and wrinkles of men and women who had lived the longest to predict the students' futures by reflecting on their pasts. Their rule of accumulated wisdom was, 'Give them what you know, and let the kids make mistakes. Circle the wagons and hammer down if they cross the line.'
The people on the road leading to Slab City pity their buckle-kneed Elders, fearing the day they, too, will join their ranks. The elderly pity the younger generation, well knowing the trials and tribulations that lie ahead of them. Listen to your Elders, there isn't any better wisdom for you. In this way you have the advantage of living life backwards, and that is where your future lies.
November 1, 2017 | Leave a Comment
The spectacle of public hangings in old England, where criminals were hanged in front of enormous crowds, were the largest social gatherings of the time. Picnics, children, barking dogs, and sweethearts on their boyfriends' shoulders were brought to watch the criminals die by hanging. A whole lot of offenses could get you stretched. Vendors would show up early to set up their food and mementoes related to the hanging. Pamphlets would be sold which claimed to have printed the dying speech of him with the rope collar. Known as the 'Last Dying Speech', the quotes were usually fake, as the truly inquiring rushed to get good spots close to the gallows, in hopes of hearing the final address. Sometimes he dropped still publicly shaming the hangman, the audience, and abuse of the times. It was not a quick process, since it was a short fall, the neck would often not break, and he would have to strangle to death, which took several minutes. Sometimes the families and friends of the dying would be asked to pull down on the legs to help speed the process along. This whipped the crowd up into riots, fighting and rolling in the mud; bets had been made on how long the hung would kick. After he was dead, the mob would rush the stage to try to get a souvenir. Hangmen were known to flog the body in order to cut off pieces of clothing to hand out. The rope was also cut up and sold, the cost based on the crime and fame of the hanged.
It was obviously an important occasion, that carried into the old US west. The collar carnivals were brutal things to witness, no matter how guilty. That was about as much conversation as is needed to sway the pop-eyed cowpokes away from the same position. Necktie parties saved many a young or potential criminal his life. Men were not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.
In Slab City, the show of prevention carries on, with an intellectual twist. The more macabre and public the humiliation, the more reflective as a deterrent. Death is not so important as the shock and exposure. It has been determined in this outlaw town that an ounce of public example is worth a pound of cure.
There certainly is no harm among the lawless in striving for more graphic examples, which fall short of the death penalty. Public astonishment works where all else fails, despite what outsiders say, including the legal and penal process you are accustomed to in more civilized spectacles.
Here are some examples, in order of popularity, of how Slabbers punish in-house that others may be amended
1. Corporal Punishment – Corporal punishment is a tradition in Slab City, where due process is so slow and often unavailable. The thought process of residents seems to be, 'You have wronged me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow or nonexistent. I'll ruin you!' This has been a bumper year for assaults on women. One I fetched water for was beaten on the body, but not head, by a pipe for stealing. She denied the light fingers but accepted the bruises on arms and legs philosophically without covering them up. Another female was hit in the face by the end of a 4×4" and, smitten, the next day moved in with her caveman. The black and blue marks seem to be like relief confessions with debts paid.
Any local punishment is colorful to draw attention. One thief was hitched like a piece of bacon to a truck bumper and dragged along the town streets for all to see, but slowly, until he was cured. Another resident, though not a churchgoer here, tied a cuckolding parson to a chair on his car bumper, and drove him to the front door of church on Sunday morning to greet his congregation.
You have not been assaulted or restrained until you have shaken with fear like a rabbit about to be mouthed and bruised, and then in a burst of adrenalin free yourself, and gone under a bush to think about what happened, and rehearse what better way to react the next time. Assaults like this are usually against overwhelming numbers, called 'making a mountain' on another person. After a few like this, the thing to look for early on in a fight is smiles. I like a man who grins while he fights, because if I am beaten he will let me live. For this reason I never smile, just for the psychological advantage. The best must be punished in the worst way where there is no other cure for the wrongdoing heart. Jack Black had the biggest, and he confessed, 'The whipping post is a strange place to gather fresh confidence and courage, yet that's what it gives me, and in that dark cell I left behind many fears and misgivings.'
Torture marks are extremely common in Slab City, where people wear them as extended advertisements. They are able to spew tales of awe, like Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man whose tattoos jumped to life when you touched them, and each tells a story. There is an annual Rave party at the base of Salvation Mountain where, two years ago, a woman was found with 'Bitch' carved in script in her back. I believe handwriting analysts should be brought in for such travesties, although perhaps the victim's crime was worse, that she paid for with indelible stripes.
2. Rough Music - Recently in Slab a bully pinned down a girl and had to face the rough music. Her slight boyfriend rounded up a crew to take shifts following the Palooka around town banging on pots and yelling, 'Woman beater!' The public humiliation spread wherever the bully went for a full day, until he issued an apology. This technique was used throughout Europe, also known as Charivari, to draw public attention via discordant mock serenade.
3. Arson – Very black smoke caused by plastic or tires with obligatory gasoline is the best smoke signal. On first sight, a mob reaches the place to cheer, 'Eviction Notice', watch the fire engines arrive, and later sift the wet soot for valuables. There are about two burnouts per month here.
The most memorable was the AirBnB fire that charged tourists $100 a night for a hammock above a dirt floor crawling with scorpions in a thatched hut, and pancakes. I saw the smoke while hiking toward sunset, and veered to walk by the flames leaping from the apex. Already a dozen sifters had beaten the fire trucks, and thirty more joined after the department left. The owner was thus evicted for shooting a girl with a BB gun, videotaping it, and claiming to the police she had been trespassing. I treated the man who started it after Magnesium shavings from a VW engine block, that burns without oxygen, sprinkled and ignited on his arm.
This is a town of firebugs with the highest arson rate in the nation. The arsonists are highly-sought specialists who accept $10 - $50 for a simple burn. Their angles at a burn would stagger Pythagoras. Slab also offers amateurs to come knocking in the night, push over your tent, pick a fight as a pretense, and burn you out when you protest, collecting their fee in the ashes. You may think ahead and, wanting your place burned down, pick a fight with a torcher, and then collect from the warming heartstrings of the neighbors, local parson, and Red Cross. Losing a home can turn a fat profit, and you may relocate to a better site, or finance yourself out of town.
The most recent torch at the Sausage Camp was a double-alarm fire set by a clever arsonist using a cigarette fuse - gasoline balloon, while simultaneously lighting the corner of a tent across town as he shouted, 'Fire!' as an alibi.
4. Rail out of Town - $25 is the going rate to get someone run out of town. Locally, it's called 'walking' a wrongdoer to the town limit. $50 will get him beat up on the way. A small group of vigilantes overcomes the victim at his door, without allowing him to pack, and drives him to the limit, returning then to rob and occupy his camp as part of the payment. The rail is omitted from the old frontier method of the offender being made to straddle it held on the shoulders of two or more bearers, but from Slab he is usually dumped by the RR track where he may wait on a freight to continue. (Not a bad option.)
Most walk-outs occur in the middle when a party calls on Mr. Jones and urges him on. Sometimes, a meeting is held in advance to decide the place and time, inviting all to gather at the foot of the home and join the post-drive robbery. This is a rare mercy giving the individual a chance to prepare to defend, or to flee, in advance of the mob.
5. Badge of Shame - I've been to every major USA city. In Boston they ask, 'How much does he know?' In Washington DC, 'Who does he know?' In New York, 'How much is he worth?' In Chicago, 'Who were his parents?' In Slab City, 'Is his nose busted?' If you don't have a black eye, bruises, or broken knuckles, then you go unadmired here. I have devised to avoid a fight, or get a date here, by making a scratch under my eye or fall on the dirt bike, and let the blood dry without washing until the threat has passed.
A badge of shame is a mark of shame, a stigma, that works in reverse in Slab City. In old England, under the Poor Act, paupers in receipt of relief were required to wear a badge of blue or red cloth on the right sleeve in an open and visible manner, to discourage others from collecting relief. In other parts of Europe, people were made to go barefoot to platform their submission as is customarily associated with lower status. More recently, in Bangkok, Thailand, the police switched to punitive pink armbands adorned with cute Hello Kitty cartoons, as are seen tattooed on the bodies of many Slabbers, that were intended to be worn as badges of shame for minor infractions. Those displays are reversed here, reminding me of an incident a few months ago.
The victim was a golfer in a hovel, and his arsonist so displeased by public sentiment from torching the place with the Campbell cans that served as nine holes, that he sifted the ashes until he found the One-wood. He went to him, with the driver in an outstretched palm of penance, and the golfer grabbed it. He drove the head with gusto into the chest over the target heart of him, who fell back as though pulled by a giant bungee. He got to his feet, thanked the golfer, and paraded from slab to slab shirtless, showing the crimson mark on his chest to all, who examined the horizontal lines of the driver head. They forgave and admired him, and gave him beers, every time he said, 'He didn't drive me out of town!'
6. Pet Humiliation - Regularly the innocent are also shamed. The animals have few quarrels among themselves, but weekly are caught among their owners' tiffs. The Pet Cemetery has standing room only for the strangled, raped, and barb-wire muzzled dogs in this so-called dog lover's paradise. As a vet, I was called to Poverty Flat to examine the three-inch carving of 'PhD' on a Labrador puppy's thigh. The P and D were particularly painful to view on the curves. The owner had figured the pup as the best defense against repeated burglaries, and had posted him at the entrance. After, the dog shied from rather than barked at strangers. Feeling worse, the owner gave the pup away, who now answers to PhD, and gets lots of positive pats.
7. Execution – Murder makes no sense as a deterrent unless it is newsworthy. The executions are carried out by a group, plus an approved 'witness for the public' who is trusted in the community to speak the truth. He becomes the town crier of the event rather than the people flocking to the gallows as in England, because that would be messy with the law.
A victim is invited into the desert for a party, sometimes his birthday, or a supposed rave, or to participate in the execution of another. When he is positioned at the remote site, usually on the adjacent gunnery range, he is seized, and the punishment begins, as viewed by the witness. What follows turns the stomach, without detail here, and only the general images given.
Canal drownings are common, about biannual, and cement boots in the concrete lined canal are unnecessary because the victim is usually stoned, unable to swim, and with a ladder out only every 200 meters, it is a steep climb from watery death. These slayings are conveniently blamed on accident, and for the reasons just named. Drownings in the hot spring are less frequent but more effective, because the body floats around and bumps into someone late at night, driven to the shores by a bubbly jet up the center. That person tries to make conversation with the floater before finally admitting the death, which is lengthy in his drug-crazed monologue. He cannot go to the police because he will be implicated, so it just floats around town.
Some of the other slayings to curb violence have been tying the person to a target on the bombing range, and rely and the sharp eyesight of the US Marine gunships and bombers. Another standard for many years has been dropping the person screaming down a vertical mineshaft, and letting him perish from thirst and hunger. (You may see their old trousers at noon.) In another, the public witness of the rattlesnake pistol whipping to the face of a man, who had plundered the valley where I lived, last remarked that he would not return. Finally, a person was stripped and spread-eagled on hot black desert pavement for the vultures to have their say. These California scavengers spiral in on 7'-wingspans, alighting clumsily like Grandpa McCoys, but swift to the anus. Their feet are useless for ripping skin, but their powerful beaks plunge up the entrails, through the diaphragm, and to the lungs, flapping and screeching at their own display.
The guideline for execution is the offender is incorrigible and uncontrollable, so let the great axe fall. It must be spectacular to piggyback prevention on removal. One man was cut into small pieces and found over the course of a month by various scrappers strewn in a ten mile radius about the bombing range. No one figured out how they got there, as they were handed about town for appraisal, but the reason was clear – he had ratted on human smuggling.
Execution is a business. If they kill you, they don't consider it murder, only doing business. They don't get much publicity. They just disappear.
Is public humiliation useful? The first premise is that whenever a human being, though commission of a crime, has exiled himself from decency, he needs to be reintegrated with it through suffering. The second premise is that suffering should be inflicted with the aim of bringing his psyche to recognize freely some day that its infliction was just. The third premise is to be a deterrent, to the individual as well in the community where he is shown, the punishment must be made memorable. The fourth premise is that Innocent third parties should be left out.
Shaming is on the rise. Across the US, we've shifted to a mode of scrutinizing each other for purity, and punishing people for small transgressions or no real transgression at all, just to blow off steam. Donkey ears and dunce caps are back in style in schools. Online shaming is cool. Politicians call each other out in public. Surveillance is welcomed in the name of conformity. Digging up a target's personal information – name, cell number, address, SS#, family relationships, financial history –to encourage harassment from others is SOP. Recently, a judge ordered two convicted shoplifters to carry these signs in front of an Alabama Walmart, 'I am a thief. I stole from Walmart.' In Indiana, a 22-year old skipped out on jury duty, and was ordered by the court to hold a sign, 'I failed to appear for jury duty' on a public corner. There is no sign that the new call-out culture is fading away.
The psychology of public humiliation is the same wherever you go. An unpleasant emotion is brought about by feeling that one's social status or public image has decreased from peer pressure. It is shame, the opposite of pride. People experiencing public humiliation may have diminished feelings of self-worth. Humiliation is related to embarrassment, but it cuts deeper and lasts longer because others are involved. While guilt is generally associated with doing something wrong, shame is connected with feeling like a bad person because others are watching. The victim characteristically wants to escape, but cannot. The humiliated individual may develop a variety of symptoms including paranoia, apathy, anxiety, PTSD, and repressed fury that may erupt into lashing out against innocent victims, as a means of release, or suicide.
Humiliation can befall anyone at any time, and more so in Slab City. The town is a showcase of public spectacle. There is no other way because the law cannot handle the community. If you forgive the Slab fox for stealing your chickens, he will come back and take your sheep. But if you humiliate him it denies and destroys his status claims. The victim either has to find the strength and self-esteem to come to terms with his shame, or if that proves too difficult, he must abandons the life he has built here and move on to start afresh.
Public spectacle is a round-the-clock crime prevention in Slab City. Laws are sand, customs are rock here. And the shamers are elevated in status.
About the only thing that hasn't been stolen around here is the honesty to thieve with good judgment. The town is a circle of theft, like a bucket brigade out one shore and into the other. You would think it an infinite zero game, but new goods roll in faster than new hands to grab them.
Their methods are varied and creative.I'm going to write them down as I learned them – with a smile – as a victim and from other victims.
• The most common technique is door-to-door knocking. If you're not there, he goes in and takes something. If you're home, he says 'Hello', and comes back later.
• The second most common technique is shop and steal. This is a walking town, and the rows or trailers and shelters are like Walmart aisles. See something you like, put it in a basket. It is done primarily at night since neighbors tend to form neighborhood watches.
• Campfire thefts are the third most common. A thief walks from fire to fire, observing the participants, and visits each in turn's camp to rob.
• The hot pool is another tipoff to the burglar who phones a comrade to make the heist as the victim frolics.
• Thieves love Saturday night at the Music Range. They bop by, listen to a song, watch the dancers and audience, and go rob their camps. They return to the Range to substantiate their whereabouts, and at last call pickpocket the sleeping drunks.
• Arsons are timed to cause occupants to flee, so those who arrive to extinguish may plunder.
• Dog theft is rife to draw an owner from his camp to be robbed.
• It's not easy to steal where the landlord is a thief, but the man I rented from kept a key and stole from me.
• The most lucrative housebreaks occur weekly when someone is carted to jail, and the early bird gets the worm.
• Each summer people pass from heatstroke, and the thieves invade like maggots. They tear apart the walls for jewelry, marijuana, weapons, cash, and ID.
• The opportunist is a walking lookout, with eyes open and ears open and hands open every ticking minute of the day and night.
• The thief thinks, and is right, that the most conspicuous is the least obvious. Every bystander thinks the other bystanders would catch a wrongdoing.
The boldness of thieves is not surprising if you put yourself in their shoes. No one is going to notice if you train long and hard to act natural. Some actually prefer to break into the front door, and explain that they had been hired to work on it by the owner. I caught one burglar doing this, and called the owner, as he made his empty-handed getaway. Most thieves labor hard to make it so obvious that nobody notices.
Big city thieves use cars. You gotta have a car to burglar to carry the stuff and get away. You can't use a car in Slab because it would be one of the few running ones, likely to break down, and the cops would intercept it pulling out of town. So, crime is always afoot, making it more interesting for the spectators. The action scenes are contained and in slower motion, and you can take part if you choose by stepping up and tackling somebody running down the street, chased by someone else screaming 'Bloody thief!' It's guesswork to figure who's in the wrong. It could be a distraction while your own place is being plucked.
Since the robbers have only fast feet and ATV's, they must commission a pickup to haul big booty from the adjacent valleys and gunnery range. There is about one case per year, including my mine three years ago, where the burglars 'borrow' a truck from a silent partner who does not report it stolen. He is protected because, if the truck turns up, he can say it was 'stolen' and the cops will reclaim it for him. If it's not implicated, the robbers return it with a commission in the truck bed. That's what happened at my camp, where the Slab thieves hauled off about eight loads over the course of three days, and slept in my bed, and cooked on my stove. That's why I have to smile.
Another cunning ruse is circular thievery. One crime has to be concealed by another, and so others will hire you. It goes like this: A accuses B of a burglary he has committed to victim C. C hires A to beat B up, rob, or burn him out. A tells B that C was the culprit, and C turns around and hires A to perform the same crime on B. Usually, B and C end up at each other's throats, while A gloats over the ashes that have covered the evidence of his crimes. For good measure A broadcasts the circle throughout town, omitting himself, but should be the primary suspect per Shakespeare's Hamlet, 'Thou doth protest too much.'
When the enterprising burglar is not burglaring, he is planning the next one. Who has the tidiest camp, the greenest cacti, the darkest yards, dearth of dogs, or the shades pulled? A search for original simplification begins. The basic burglar MO is to get in the easiest way, avoid confrontation, and make the unnoticed getaway.
Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your methods. Sooner or later you will get caught, and may think it was all worth it.
Slab City is a well-equipped laboratory to study theft, and the instruments and strategies that have been invented to thwart them. Since this may be the town with the highest per capita burglary in the nation, at the rate of about two nightly among 200 residents, it makes sense that some of the best thieves, methods, and defenses here have been fashioned here, that may be applied throughout the US.
There is a hierarchal triangle of theft in this outlaw town, where the smallest thieves are stolen from by the fewer larger thieves, until the apex is reached that is an omniscient eye. That eye does exist, high atop a hillside by Siphon #8 of the Coachella Canal. It is a 5-foot wood sculpture like the all-seeing eye of the 1" logo on the George Washingtons in your pocket. Here the smart thieves climb and perch with binoculars, telescopes, or night vision goggles, depending on the hour, to case their board in the everyday game of Slab City theft.
Almost everyone steals.
I'm about to develop a new theory of the structure of criminal activity in Slab City. Most people who do well at crime are called Slab businessmen. Just because it is illegal doesn't change the economics of a town.
Their booty is their status. If you take small things frequently without planning throughout the day you are a petty thief. However, if you steal something grand like arms from the adjacent military range you are a gentleman of society, and everyone stops by to visit. I've arrived at this by knowing many of them, from the bottom to the top of the robbing heap.
The bare bones of the skeletal structure with the omniscient eye on top are occupied by the zombie like meth junkies who rattle throughout the night sifting camps for nickel-dime stuff to exchange at two all-night drug houses for methamphetamine. Fifty percent of this town's occupants are these Jekyll – Hydes. They are creatures of habit and action who, by second nature and so without want for a design, see something they need or might need and pluck it as a normal person might take a four-leaf clover on a lawn of green grass. Living hand to mouth, their fate is to move on when they become too conspicuous, get run out of town, or thrown in the hoosegow.
The flesh of Slab, however, the fewer and best, are the lone wolves. They have a greater range, riding Mad-Max ATV's and stolen vehicles to larger jobs, utilize some planning, and sell their loot for cash to the drug houses or townspeople. They also take custom orders from the locals, as the town's mobile Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Since they have no reported income, they get the least strung out molls. They are marijuana stoners, save no money, collect welfare, and live out their final days on medication provided by the state slabbering tales of yore in depreciated trailers to their old cronies.
There are no organized thieving rings here, except catch-as-catch can. The people are just too damn independent. They are physically robust and mentally sharp to not need, and in fact, to ward off, any organization that attempts to cajole them. Those crime rings are reserved for the tiny fractions of specialists of meth manufacture, gun assembly, scrapping the military range, and smuggling illegal aliens.
Down these mean streets a man must walk who himself is not mean, who has a sharp stroke of kindness in his heart, or he would not be tolerated in Slab City. The two types of thieves – Jekyll-Hydes and Sears and Roebuck boosters – are not heroes to anyone, but neither are they villains. They are, as stated, businessmen. They are so common as to be called the common man of Slab. Each must be a complete man and yet an unusual man. He must be, in the weathered sense, a man of personal honor.
The peace of mind of these crooks is remarkable. Outside a criminal world, a guilty conscience is the emotion as a result of some action that we've labeled or perceived as being bad or wrong. However, this is trumped in this outlaw town by the idea that every resident has been so wronged in the past by a third party – authority – that he cannot be held representable for nearly everything he does. He is merely acting out against past injustices. That anyone might think he or she can do wrong proves his moral inferiority. It's a topsy-turvy world. I have yet to encounter a guilty conscience in town, which makes them all the more light-fingered, quick thinking, and fleet of foot.
None is an intellectual, and instead it seems these common men were given the weapons of light fingers to battle the intellectual man. I find petty and grand theft here like door-to-door selling: it seems easy, requiring little talent, yet few people ever will do it well, and few manage to stick with it for very long.
The brain of a Slab thief is straightforward. He has a grid in front of his mind, and for anything in the visual world to reach him it first has to squeeze through the bars. A shovel, book, bicycle, or can of beans might enter. That information has to be broken into small cubes, and then packaged in two dimensional squares which are preferable. They take up less space in his mind, and encourage him more to steal from the outside world.
Strangely, it cannot be exaggerated how important property is to the people of Slab City. For many of them, this is the first patch of dirt they have owned in their lives by right of squat on State land. The things they put on it – their trailer, shed, and belongings – are their first possessions. At the same time, there is no one but the owner to defend what is his. This is what makes the town interesting and dangerous.
For, by nature, these people who have not had are covetous of those who do. The love of property and consciousness of right and wrong have conflicting places here. The sparks fly daily! Private property was the original source of freedom. It is still the bulwark here. The Slabs they build their lives on is a broad foundation on which nearly all of their psyche rests. And then, with one match, or one large raid, the footing is gone. It happened to me, and I've watched it happen to a dozen others. The residents fall back into two groups: The fewer socialists with an idea that there is no private property, who are fond to say, 'We would live exceedingly quiet if these two words – mine and thine – were taken away.' And, the defenders who believe that property is everything, our sole guarantee of freedom, and who like to say, 'You will not rob me even for the greater good of the community.' I think that every person's property is an extension of his mind, that nobody else has a right to, but himself.
As much as property theft is a regrettable element of the human experience, this dream destination has become a University of Slabs. Like other branches of learning, its reputation spreads far and wide, drawing learners from the Atlantic to Pacific. The campus rests snugly on State property between the Salton Sea and Coachella Canal. It is a self-governed oasis where outside laws are supposed to apply at the University, but are unenforceable.
The dorms are what you bring or build from scrap. Meals and groceries are served weekly as pocket or need affords. There are cafes of old spools and tire seats, movies thrown on sheets, wide-screen cable TV at an Internet, a distinctive anarchist library, weekly concerts, an international shrine at Salvation Mountain, and frequent tourist visitors who inject a cosmopolitan sense to the campus.
The streets are safe, but absolutely crime ridden. Crime hides elsewhere, and by far the most terrifying things out there, but in Slab City it is in the open to be studied.
A monk in his cloister, a fish in the water, a thief in Slab City.Even a thief takes ten years to learn his trade, except in Slab on the accelerated program of so many teachers the program is compressed into one year. Most newcomers apprentice under an instructor and pay a 50% commission on all swag in the initial months, before a partnership often develops. Graduates of outside institutions – jails, prisons, and reform schools - may select to start alone, working steadily toward an advanced degree of education. For now, the majority of freshmen are simple observers on their lawn chairs and through astonished windows during the early months.
The instructors are among the slickest operators I've met, and I know most of them. The only ones who interest me must be things of power, handled with cat mittens, and wicked enough to inspire protest, but kind enough to forgive. I must fear him, and then triumph over the fear, and parallel his career in harmony with all of his previous developments. I am a sort of alter ego trustee.
One step into Slab University, and you will look down to see if your shoes are missing. Come, and learn from the best. And their defenses. If you're not inclined to burgle, thieve, pickpocket, or plunder, then this will be a character building experience. The study of crime at the U begins with the knowledge of oneself. All that you despise, all that you loathe, whatever that you reject, all that you presumably condemn and seek to convert springs from you.
Why am I here? Learning is treasure no thief can touch. Every single Slab shadow spells adventure. I would rather scramble around them, and right to their top and watch the criminals turn profits in a microcosm than languish on the outside. The most practical defense against the world of burglars and thieves is a thorough knowledge of it.
The best Sunday alarm clock is sunshine on chrome. That's what the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel.
My 1979 Honda Enduro XL 185 is cherry red with 9,000 original miles. It was produced for the highway and off-road as a specialist dual sport from 1979-83. It's a single cylinder, 180cc, four-stroke, five-speed, chain driven, air cooled, and with a top speed of 60 mph that I mean to reach before noon on a smooth stretch of desert pavement.
I began, paused in the black saddle, looking over the handlebars at the expanse of desert east of Slab City. Six distinct terrains appeared before me: dirt tracks, rutted tracks, washes, black pavement, overland, and sand. I would develop the best riding style for each by testing the two forces the desert would decree on the bike: center of gravity and angular momentum.
This was a tall order, because the last time I rode was a decade ago. My neighbor had rescued it from the mitts of Slab City thieves who had loaded it onto a trailer and were about to pull away. The neighbor had kept the bike in storage at his camp until I was ready to tackle it. I had obtained a DMV one-day 'Permit to Move' that was good for the Sunday ride.
I began like a baby, hardly able to crawl. Rather than try to be a natural on it, I took it in steps, gradually advancing toward the more difficult and speedier.
I experimented with each of the terrains, and the effect of the two forces over them, to arrive at the best riding style. The terrains were:
• Dirt track – Undulating with some sand, but free of ruts and stones.
• Rutted dirt tracks – Trickier with old tire or water cuts.
• Washes – Dry streambeds, except during flashflood.
• Desert pavement – Smooth worn surfaces of interlocking rocks that has a glassy appearance.
• Overland – Open desert.
• Sand – Includes sandy spots, and deep sand like dunes.
Most people just get on and ride, but I prefer a scientific approach of identifying variables, quickly testing each, saving the best, and then ride relaxed for the rest of my longer life. The two primary factors in dirt bike riding are center of gravity and angular momentum. These in combination keep the bike upright over rough land. Center of gravity is self-explanatory, but angular momentum is not. Each wheel acts as a gyroscope to hold the bike in the same plane that it is spinning. The faster the wheels turn, the stronger the effect; if you go fast enough, theoretically, your wheels need not touch the ground to stay upright.
Knowing that the Honda functioned entirely in accordance with the laws of reason was a comfort, and I loosened up on the saddle. I didn't study books for this … The best techniques for each of the landscapes were:
• Dirt tracks - The bike may be brought up to its near maximum of 60 mph. The science that keeps it upright on 21" front knobby and 18" rear tires is astonishing. It 'drifts' above the ground surface touching it as little as possible and using solely the angular momentum of the wheels for balance. The bike cannot tip over since it is essentially floating through space on two vertical gyroscopes. I put a mental governor at 50 mph to honor my common sense of the voices of thousands of ghosts of survival.
• Rutted dirt tracks – The technique uses the ground surface for traction in an odd way. The tires are 'shrunk' like a sports ball for greater density by the bounces to provide greater angular momentum. It is palpable. I could do 40 mph on these roads, slowing for ruts not by breaking but by downshifting.
• Washes - These are an all-out blast using ground traction with twists and sudden waffle iron cracking from drying past sweeping Palo Verde branches. The wash races uphill in a wind for miles at 25 mph, until it narrows to a stenosis. It's like riding a pinball in a busy machine with many natural 'bumpers', and the usual speed is an interrupted 25 mph.
• Desert Pavement - The runway of black pavement of volcanic rock may stretch for a quarter-mile into the foothills. I took off like the road runner cartoon. The technique is to float along with little traction, relying on angular velocity to keep the bike stable. If you start to skid, give it a little gas, as angular acceleration increases the stability by the square of the increase of mph. I kept the sprints to 30 mph to not kick up rocks to preserve the beautiful smooth canvas.
• Overland – The stage is a march of changing terrain at the front tire. The recurrent surprises are bushes, rocks, trees, Ironwood stumps, sand traps, dips and rises, dust devils, cacti, and rattlesnakes. The faster you go, the more you have to be on your toes. I felt like a midget operating a sledgehammer, constantly being bullied around over rough ground, and tossed out of the seat like a raggedy Andy.
• Sand - I mastered last sand. The normal technique is to deflate the tires from 25 psi to about 10 psi to spread the surface area of the tire, until the tire is so flattened it is able to ride on the sand itself. However, deflating was not practical on alternating sand and hard patches, so in 10" or deeper sand on stretches of a quarter-mile or longer, I used a Frankenstein technique where I sat in the saddle at 5mph, and took looping 10' steps with either foot on the cycle sides.
I hadn't ridden in ten years, and there was only one spill per annum – always at slow speed in surprise sand traps, and the bike came tumbling after. A computer generated model of the bike and its rider on an uncontrolled turn shows only his helmet, and his conscious taking the shape inside the frame, hoping beyond hope. It got to be like leaving an animal scent: the bike left a little oil, and I a little blood. I just pulled out the toilet paper and duct tape to make compression bandages to stop the bleeding.
Once I tumbled into a red ant hill, and got stung about twenty times, which was more memorable than any of the falls. The fascinating sequence of pain is twenty minutes each of sting, as the venom streaks up the lymphatics, followed by ache, as it enters the muscles, concluding with a burning of the skin, and final relief. Each time the 260 lb. bike fell, it was a clean-and-jerk effort to upright it again, shaking the ants off before they clogged my air filter.
Once I developed a satisfactory ride for all six terrains, I slowed, and cruised. The six now had to be blended into each other to meet head-on the quick changing pattern of the desert. It was like orchestrating a band to suit the audience. I mentally rehearsed as I cruised blending one into the next, with all combinations, and solved the Sunday ride mentally before applying it physically. Now in my mind, like the parts of the Honda, there was a working mobile synergy.
With the short learning of two hours out of the way, now I could ride any surface and enjoy the sightseeing. Heading overland on the fringe of the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range, my eyes lifted to three helicopters approaching low from the south. I pulled instinctively before being spotted like a chased animal under an Ironwood. The fat copters looked like Mil-17's, pregnant with troops, as they swooped overhead so even the Ironwood branches rustled. They landed a scant half-mile away on a black pavement. The rascal in me took hold, and I shut the engine, and started walking up a draw to toward them. As I neared, the choppers rose lighter, it seemed, and took flight. When this happens, a dust cloud is thrown a quarter-mile out in all directions, and several stories into the sky.
In that cover, I walked another few minutes, guessing they had deployed about sixty US Marines for desert training. I would be a good object for them, but knowing a little of their bureaucracy, thought that they might mistake me for an official observer in a camouflage tank top, sunglasses, and black boots. Abruptly, I rounded a bend and spotted fifty yards away the first group of ten Marines in field dress, scrambling to their feet with weapons at ready. I raised my sunglass, waved nonchalantly, and did an about face. They didn't follow, but wouldn't have mattered because it was unclear if I was on the unsigned range or not; the US military makes mistakes, and so do I.
I rode the Honda thirty minutes away, and stumbled on a 30-foot military dumpster with 8-foot sides and a ladder leading to the top. I climbed, and peeked over like Kilroy. The floor was littered with dozens of unopened MRE (Made Ready to Eat) rations. MRE's are self-contained complete meals packaged for the US Armed Forces. I knew each contains an entrée, side dish, crackers and spread, drink, and desert. Just looking at them made me hungry. They are coveted by Slabbers, and I could have opened an MRE stand, selling packets for $3 while they lasted. I greedily teetered, but noticed there was no inside ladder leading out. I could have survived for about a month down there, and would have expired before the packages, that have no expiration date. Instead, I used a length of rope to lasso one Beef Stew, which took a dozen throws for five minutes, and decided that one was enough.
Besides, the sun was setting. It closes fast in the desert. My camp drew near on the Coachella Canal. I squinted, my face wrinkled up like a chipmunk under the baseball helmet. I arrived at sunset back at the Slab Camp, on a near empty two-gallon tank. At about 50 mpg, I had gone nearly 100 miles over rough terrain on this Sunday drive. Beef Stew is nearly as important as petro at the end of a Sunday ride.
I felt exhilarated. I felt I had achieved a rare distinction. I had driven a vehicle in a way that would terrify a New York cab driver, and felt safe. The dirt bike is the most versatile machine out there, except for the life form. You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but on looking back at where I had been a pattern seemed to emerge. Slowly, by nuts and bolts, I had built a mental manual for open desert riding and life.
The lessons are: Never hesitate to ride past the last stop sign at the edge of town. Don't hesitate to practice on the roughest ground. Well-trained reflexes are better than luck. The more you look around, the more you see. You don't stop riding because you're getting old, but you get old when you stop riding.And, the real cycle you're working on is yourself. I filed everything away in the back of my mind, to use next week.
Not everyone has a cherry red motorcycle, but everybody has different theaters of life. The goal is to develop the best character in each, and then to meld them into one whole self. In this way, one Sunday ride can last your whole life.
The all-leather executioner's trench coat is a classic seen riding around Slab on the wide shoulders and bowed legs of a man who was gifted the coat by Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels.
From burnt-out detectives to comic book heroes, countless tough guys through the ages have worn trench coats to add mystery, intrigue, and gravity to their character and actions.
Famous people who have worn trench coats are Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Adolf Hitler, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Steve McQueen, Rock Hudson, Ali MacGraw, and the Blade Runner.
The Slab City executioner is in step with the Marlboro Man. He is college educated, a champion athletic, and swift to strike for justice.
The trench coat wasn't exactly invented for use during the war that gave it its name. The WWI officers were mired in muddy, bloody trenches across Europe. No other ranks were permitted to wear them. But there was a tragic consequence of officers' distinctive dress: it made them easier targets for snipers, especially as they led the charge over the top of the trench. By Christmas 1914, officers were dying at a higher rate than soldiers. Since the combat strategies of WWII were less trench focused than WWI, shorter multi-functional field jackets replaced them in the military. Thirdly, however, Hollywood stars showcased the trench coat in films across the US, and continue to be the cultural treasures of he-men and she-women on the silver screen.
The trench coat is also the style that west coast hobos wear called a 'California Overcoat'. For soldiers and hoboes to be able to move quickly, every trench coat has a vent, storm flaps, and maybe a dozen pockets. Everything one owns in life on the road is carried in it. I wore one through an autumn on the rails in lieu of a backpack or bindle, and found it kept me warm, dry, protected from scrapes, offered enough pockets to hold everything I needed to carry, and left my hands free to climb up and down ladders.
That's why I inspected the executioner in his shining jacket whenever he walked by in Slab City. But it is not why I began seeing his daughter.
A call went out … the executioner's coat had been stolen! That's like stepping on King Kong's toes. The owner told me it was priceless because of the Hells Angels history of being passed from executioner to executioner. A $1000 reward was offered. I made the rounds, and someone knew who had taken it. This was relayed to the owner, and he recovered it.
Now he owed me $50 that I had given an informant to get the coat. Business must have been off, because the executioner was broke. Weeks passed, until he sided me on a special Saturday night at the Music Range.
It was prom night, and he had a pretty blonde on his leather sleeve. On this special annual night under the stars, a photographer snaps Polaroids for all of the contestants running for King and Queen of the Slab Prom. When the date couldn't take the crooked elbow of her man because of the jacket, the photographer suggested he take it off and lay it down. He did remove the jacket, but draped it over the crook of his other elbow, for the flash.
Now, 'Here comes old Flat top, he come grovin' up slowly…' in his long black trench coat. He sided me, stage left, brushing my elbow. He reached deep down into one pocket … and withdrew nothing. Then the next pocket, and the next … taking out and holding open palms of air.
He pulled no money, but no weapon either!
Then he turned his face out of the amplifier shadow, and looked at me for the first time. I'll say it again, for the first time. His right eye was glass. It stared at me with a fixed pupil, neither dilating nor contracting. Then it winked!
I like to think that I turned the executioner's coat inside out that night, to make a friend.
Sure enough, one week later, he charged me with a Louisville slugger baseball bat on a slab over a bad pitch of misinformation. The bat stopped short of my nose for my last home run. The following week, he rushed up with a foot-long Rambo knife, and I carefully drew his attention to its sheath. He holstered it, and chuckled.
A black trench coat over a gold heart is the best of fashion that has given me a tranquility that no religion can bestow.
I was called Shoeless Steve in some hobo jungles because I would walk in barefoot. There is no way anyone is going to rob, or even bum cigarettes off a man without shoes. In fact, it brings out the goodness that, although not innate in every man, lurks in every dark heart. I get offered wine. I have walked into a shoe store barefoot and gotten a discount.
So, the other day at Walmart when a shoeless man asked me for mine, I gave them to him. He whined that they were too small. I told him to put them on the opposite feet, which is also my habit. It feels good with the arch on the outside, gives greater space for the small toes to uncurl, widens the shoe with walking, and wears on the opposites for a longer life. You have to learn to think outside the shoe.
October 12, 2017 | 1 Comment
I recently got conned also about my books which I love and are part of my soul. Out of clear blue sky like Mr. Grain's mom, I get a call from a letter dealer. He's been refraining from contacting me the past 25 years because he's such an ethical guy and didn't wish to compete with the other dealers he sells letters to and then I buy them.
He comes to my house. And he sees lots of rare books. Well he can recommend a great book dealer who can give me a great deal, a special deal. But because there is some mold on some books, and they can't tell the condition until they see them, I am recommended to ship all my books to the dealer.
"Okay, I say, but don't send any books worth 2,500 or less. I go to the book dealer and I'm thinking about my trades and Aubrey is there. They offer me 350,000 for 200 books and I say I'll reflect. They raise the offer to 400. I wasn't thinking and because the books are part of my heritage, I didn't look at the list of books they took. I like to do a deal, and since they're recommended by my letter dealer as special and I've done much business with the book seller before, I say yes.
Then I realize that I sold 200 books with min of 2,500 and max of 20,000 for about 1200 a book. I immediately write back that I'll pay them a 100 break up fee if they cancel the transaction. "You see, they can't do that because the books are already in play. The letter dealer then tells me that "how did you expect me to be compensated. Of course I was partners with the book seller".
Every day, I make a mistake like that in the market. But it doesn't hurt as much because the books were part of me as my parents had more books from the book sellers dump than I had and I loved the books. I still think about it every night, and haven't gone into my library in the 3 weeks since the con.
Aside from Mr. Grain's mol, I am the easiest to con in the world.
Another con is to involve the victim in some wrongful behavior so that he doesn't wish to bring in the police. Frank Perdaux was great at that in the railroad con where the confederate whispers to the mark that he can see the hole card and therefore they are sure to win. The confederate also shows empathy with the mark by joining him in fleecing the southern rube who is so brash and naïve and saw the women in scanty clothes.
One of the most reprehensible things to me in the recent con played on me is that the con man read my book and knew I loved and admired my dad. The con man sent me a video of his father who supposedly was a colleague of my dad, to show me how he respected his father just as much. To add icing on the cake, he told me how his son was a great basketball coach and had the integrity of Cato refusing to bow to the rough and tumble unethical behavior of the other coaches. It was a very nice touch but it still rankles.
Bo Keely writes:
I enjoyed your post on being conned. You have read as many books as I about getting conned, but the most important point they omit is that a smart person is conned when he is rushed or tired. I have tried to solve this in my daily transactions that are susceptible to cons at Slab City by mentally causing myself to pause before saying, or signing something. When money is flashing, I reinforce the pause by stepping back. I only make mistakes when I'm compromised, and imagine you are about the same. Regards to your rare letter man.
October 11, 2017 | Leave a Comment
I was confronted on a public road outside Slab City by two men in a battered green truck with an old emblem on the side that was so scratched and dusty that it was obscured. The men's uniforms were so wrinkled that their names could not be read, until one at my demand smoothed it out to be legible.
The men harassed me for 30 minutes, or tried to.
They said they stopped me for not having a front license plate, and because I was on a private irrigation road. It was a properly plated Arizona car, and the road is public. They were also concerned that I was driving in underwear. They had zero knowledge of the area, laws, and admitted it was their first time to patrol here.
I would not let them search my vehicle.
One went for his gun, and I asked him to identify his home office.
They provided a Fish and Game office in Los Angeles that I've contacted, and been told they don't have officers by that name, nor that they cover this Imperial County.
There was an unoccupied old tow truck parked a mile off as I drove away.
I've written various authorities telling them of the unprofessional conduct and possibly masquerading officers. The thought is that they are 'trick or treating' in trying to search and steal from my car, and to be in cahoots with a tow truck to 'impound' new model cars to their own disposal.
There currently also are two men in old auctioned sheriff's cars with uniforms and badges who are canvassing the area who have been identified as bogus.
You should ask for identification in this season before trick or treating.
The past summer @ Slab was the first 'indecent' period in anyone's recollection. Nobody could figure out why, so I did. The two strongest personalities in the area 1 year ago died of meth heart attacks. They were good, decent guys. One was the drug lord who I did medical & legal for. The other was the primary Slab strong arm and part-time arsonist. Each represented what the Godfather wanted to be. After they vacated, wanna-be enforcers quibbled for the alpha position and none possess the chutzpah to pull it off. Without limits, this outlaw town fueled by meth has gone haywire. The atrocities have been sad, interesting, and newsworthy.
Anarchy is the absence or nonrecognition of authority. Once you pass the abandoned guardhouse into this village limit, you live outside normal laws. To be governed is to be watched over, spied on, inspected, directed, legislated over, regulated, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, censored, and ordered about by people who have no right, nor knowledge, nor capability to do so. There is no government in Slab City.
Most of the residents are avowed anarchists. They have asked themselves in the past, why should any of us bother to get up in the morning to work our asses off to produce goods and services that only make an America we no longer agree with? The ones who have honestly answered that packed up and moved to Slab City, establishing a new home in less time than it takes to read The Anarchist's Cookbook.
There is not a single uninteresting person in Slab City, which cannot be said of anywhere else in the USA. It is a village of uncommonplace people doing odd things at all times of the day and night. The arriving children think they have slid down a slide across America into the Mars McDonald's playhouse.
They slide in, the grinning sons and daughters of the storm of their parents' lives, from traveling many miles cross country. This is the childhood moment when the door opens and the future is let in. For one family I recall as typical, the kids were a mess: two rubber tramp parents, a rust bucket car, suitcases filled with souvenirs from ten states, a bag of dumpster food, and no plans. It felt fine. They hit the Slabs running barefoot and haven't quit.
Most of their cars break down soon after arrival, or there's no money for gas, or the wheels are stolen in a whirlwind economy. The families become shipwrecked passengers in an anarchist theme park where freedom rings.
Their words of mouth pass by Facebook and online forums. Even the poorest wreck of a straggler has a phone he texts on. The lemming like nature of humans never ceases to amaze me. They get the online green light, and just start walking, thumbing, carpooling, dogging it on Greyhound, or riding westbound boxcars.
They struggle into town, up a hill of hope, and looking for a slab.
Two kinds of misfits are cast upon the slabs: The first are driven, and the second drawn. The former are more interesting, crying about how lonely it was to be drowning in a society where everyone else could swim, and so they braved into this new world. The latter who are drawn, like me, walk the lonely streets in slow motion, as observers.
There is nothing quite as sensational as a collaboration of misfits. There is an initial segregation across the slabs, as puzzle pieces are divided on a table before the final picture, of the gregarious who camp along the main stems where you can hear your neighbors climax, and the introverts who occupy the outlying campsites where they may rise each morning out of eyesight. There is a continual shifting of camps, as individuals and groups grow trusting of one another, or are squeezed out, burned out, or robbed out.
I dip daily like bobbing for apples into town to scout for green pioneers whom society has designated as outcasts, and step up to learn from them. I've discovered there's a little anarchist in everyone, which just has to be recognized.
My image of a child is where teaching begins. For this, I need only remember myself as a kid. Children come into this world exquisitely designed, strongly motivated, and very capable of educating themselves. The art of teaching is assembling guideposts on their life paths. Every day, in a hundred small ways, children ask, 'Do you hear me?' Do you see me? What am I? Do I matter?' Teaching is about opening doors for them to places that they could not imagine. This is my bucket list of what they should find.
Think - It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Reason – Analysis is a knife applied to experience.
Act – Act whenever there is a choice to do nothing or to act.
Master yourself – No one is free who is not master of himself
Read – The well-read differ from the unread as much as the living from the dead.
Exercise – Exercise is to the body what reading is to the mind.
Travel – Develop perspective that is not found among friends.
Limits – Become aware of your physical and mental limitations; with those borders learn your total puzzle.
Know thyself – To know yourself completely is to know one's conscious and unconscious.
Edge – Repeated small advantages win large prizes.
Danger – The most dangerous man, in any group, is the man who is able to think for himself.
Individuality – The individual struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe is worth it.
Hard work – There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
Pain - Pain makes you stronger, fear makes you braver, heartbreak makes you wiser.
Self-motivate – Start a fire under yourself, and create goals.
Mess up – Mistakes are stepping stones to success, and don't give up.
Habit – You are today because of yesterday's habits, that form tomorrow's patterns.
Thinking – Positive thinking is a crutch for the weak; stick to the facts.
Silence – Well done is better than well said.
Kindness - Help those who help themselves, but look out for #1.
Delay gratification – Little by little, through patience and repeated effort, the fruit grows sweeter.
Rehearse – Mentally and physically act out before leaping into it.
Comfort – The best things happen at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.
Leave it - What you cannot enforce, don't try to command.
Ask – To know the path ahead, ask those who are returning.
The road – Finding out who you are is the whole purpose of the human experience.
Goal – Finding your passion isn't about money and career, it's about supporting yourself doing something you like.
Parents – Model the kind of behavior you want your parents to exhibit.
Religion - Attempting to use religion as a nationalizing agent is bogus.
Children – Never help a child with a task he can go alone.
Now go out there and be authentic.
Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching what counts is more important. One item a day is fast enough to empty this bucket. There are a month's worth, thirty days, 30 items.
It is easier to build strong children with this bucket than to repair broken men without it. When someone asks me about kids, I tell them two things: I was a sub-teacher with 30 children of my own, five changes a day, in all subjects at all grade levels, for seven years. And, there is a time to stop parenting; then I had a vasectomy.
I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom rather than the lessons. The teacher's personal approach and daily mood create the climate for learning. It is a powerful position being the weather in each of their days. I am the teacher who gives them something to take home to think about, besides homework.
Some prefer blocks, most like it crushed, and they all drank the ice melt.
I deliver ice at Slab City out of a childhood habit with mum dragging me around on a Welcome Wagon circuit. It is a decent thing to do, then and now.
I have one of the few have running vehicles, and the others who have them cannot afford gas, or do not have driver's licenses, so I dispense even to them. The delivery is every other day when the temperature exceeds 120F in the shade, which was most of the summer. The daily routine has been to rise like the milkman with the sun, hike a few miles before the sun wrings the moisture out of the air, and then pick up the best quality ice at, in order: the Gas Station, Dollar Store, Cafe, and Grocery Store. It fills the back seat, wrapped in sleeping bags, that chill longer than the best Coleman coolers.
I eat breakfast, and by mid-afternoon, when the citizens begin to stir from afternoon siestas in pools of sweat on their mattresses, I drive to their doorsteps, honk, and yell, 'Iceman!' A face presses against the trailer window like a Graham Wilson cartoon, or they simply kick the door open in request. Sometimes they crawl out, begging, 'Ice.'
My regular deliveries are to seniors, the handicapped, poor, and infirm. I take no advance orders, have no systematic route, and if someone is not home then the next person gets their ice. If there are sacks left over, I distribute them to the first walkers in the heat, that always brings smiles.
Ice on a hot day can snap a person out of a mean state quicker than a cool word. An iceman is someone who sells or delivers ice, historically, from a wagon, cart, or motor truck. The profession used to be much more common prior to the post-World War II spread of refrigerators and air conditioning. In even earlier times, hobos migrated to the northern states to cut and harvest the surface ice from ponds, streams and lakes for freight distribution throughout the country. There are still dozens of ice houses that stored this harvest sprinkled around the Slab City agricultural area. Many of the old-fashion small time routes were bought out in the 1990s by large ice corporations that produce and sell ice to me such as Glacier and Reddy Ice.
The tools of the iceman trade were wires to tie the bags, tongs, and ice picks to chip drinks. Nearly everyone offers me a cold drink after I deliver, before they touch theirs. I decline, sling a towel over my shoulder like an icemen of old a wet piece of sackcloth slung over the right shoulder to support and absorb, as I stand there waiting, dripping, for them to open, and then close, the doors.
Here are examples of the hot recipients:
· A single mom and her two infants
· An Alzheimered metaphysicist
· A penniless urchin
· The bull sperm man deserves an explanation. He takes delivery in an early 20th century 3'-diameter stainless steel bull sperm shipping container that resembles a scaled down Gemini space capsule. The double walls are filled with liquid nitrogen to hold a vat of precious sperm inside. I drop in two ten-pound bags that he says will keep it frozen for two days, and then he'll drink the ice melt with a long straw to the bottom.
· Two senior ladies on the route flash me with raised skirts, and one habitually yells 'The iceman cometh!'
This phrase was made famous by playwright Eugene O'Neil in a Broadway play by the same title about a group of dead-end alcoholics who spend every possible moment seeking oblivion in each other's company and trying to wheedle free drinks from Harry the bartender.
I don't charge anyone for the ten-pound sacks that only cost me $1.75. At the beginning of each month many residents have money, which dissipates like the night's cool air to a financial strapping in the last two weeks of the month as they have prioritized their immediate gratifications. I get a lot more out of this than just money - Some give me books, or sandwiches, ice beavers, or heartfelt IOU's that will never be paid. Every person who weathers the privation of a Slab City summer deserves a medal and psychiatrist gift certificate.
Slab City is unique because there is no one who does not suffer. So many cracked lips and so little ice. They are broken down into two group: those who deserve help and them who do not. I was called a communist for delivering ice, and responded that I only give to those who help themselves, but in the summer swelter no longer can. Suffering itself is not a value, but a person's fight against it is, and the lessons go appreciated. Giving something to the worthy becomes a fair trade to witness his virtue and listen to his stories. The golden moral is to not forget in your misery those who are more miserable and cannot help themselves. Even so, I selected to deliver to those who were suffering the most, or it would have been a full time job toward bankruptcy.
I was like the ice this summer, very important, for a while.
It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow. It follows the fascinating characters to Slab City.
The summer population is up 30%. They are anarchist splinters of the Rainbow Family of countrywide buses, Grapes of Wrath jalopies, hitchhikers under polychromatic backpacks, and hobos wearing RR and rainbow tattoos. The Rainbow Family is a leaderless, nomadic community of hundreds of thousands.
They pass the old concrete guard house and into sudden peace of mind. They feel where they belong. 'Make your mark!' someone shouts, and they park their car or plant a tent pole, and someone else contributes, 'You are now lost to the world you knew.'
They've spent years being bohemian and sleeping on floors. From day to day, nothing is stationary. They must be, or become, zany to keep on moving, to drift and dance, and keep on moving. They swing into town in a disorder of strewn clothes and dumpster vittles in place of a spare tire in the trunks of their vehicles, spilled cigarette ashes on the floor, shoes that are falling apart, and ready to howl from camp to camp under moonlight.
It is one of those queer little towns at the edge of the world that makes you feel the salt of the residents who make you feel right at home. From this point forward, you don't even know how to quit in life.
Slab City patterns are captivating. 2015 was the summer of the Dirty Kids, who rolled penniless into town, slept in the 'Walmart' dump among the trash that was their treasures, and could only get clean by letting the dirt grow out of their pores, but never wanted to. The next summer of 2016 was of the Hobos, who set makeshift camps behind the Mayor's house, where I walked in one morning, observing, 'There is nothing here I haven't seen before,' and found a way into their hearts. The Dirty Kids and hobos have come and gone, replaced this summer of 2017 by the Rainbow Family.
Their shared fantasy is realized here. They can drop out, live in a mobile home, be a hippie and drive around to festivals and marijuana trims, and have a baker's dozen of children with dreadlocks and nose rings. Hippy is an establishment word for their invisible, underground evolutionary process of dropping out of the TV comedy of American life. For every visible barefoot, bearded hippy, there are a thousand invisible members of the turned on underground. I think that next summer may break the pattern to produce a second Rainbow gathering. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed and connected individuals cannot change the world; it's the only thing that ever has.
Slab City has everything tempting a hippie utopia: Freedom, cheap living, drugs, sex, music, clean air, nudity, good food, few rules, and a Hotel California sensation that 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.' They consciously or unconsciously like to get trapped here.
They are a hardscrabble group, the toughest of pilgrims to Slab in decades. Most come from having lived on the open road for so many years, before making this outlaw town their Shangri-La, that they have surprised themselves by not moving on. They have endured the summer heat of 115F for fifty straight days with physical persistence - walking back and forth three miles to town - and with mental tenacity - digging holes to live in like desert mammals – and suffering - working days at odd jobs to support their families and pot habits.
One day laborer passed out on the job with his face in the dirt. The SOP is to revive by pouring ice water on the neck, so you don't touch anyone who may start deft, or faking it, to whirl and stab you. However, he was grateful, and rose to work to pass out a few hours later, and again a few hours later with his face in the dirt. Since that day, he has not had to eat any more dirt to receive countless job offers.
Many are here on a spiritual journey. Slab is a pathway to personal fulfillment, because from the first minute of setting foot on his slab the seeker is put to the test to measure his brains and grit. Once that is proven, a few seek enlightenment via the old formula of ascetic experience, deprivation, and simplicity, all of which are plentiful in Slab City.
There is a man here who looks like one of the Monopoly brothers who is said to have 'more money than brains, and he has a lot of money', who was in enlightenment for five straight weeks at the foot of the Himalayas under Ram Dass. Personal growth and fulfillment is the most compelling argument for existence, and Slab City, at the end of the rainbow, is time accelerated toward this goal because life moves quickly by the minute, instead of by the day, as in other towns.
Nearly half of the summer newbies financed their travel as seasonal marijuana pickers. They reached Slab with a few hundred dollars and a stash of potent pot as a grubstake. A few became temp drug dealers, until their stash ran out, and then bought a nice $500 trailer to live out the summer. Most inexpert dealers, however, lost their shirts. One astute fellow took vehicle pink slips, trailer titles, and handwritten poor man's property deeds as security for dope sold. Nearly all of his clients defaulted on their debts, and he became the leading business tycoon with camps strewn with repossessed autos and trailers. Then, one by one, the clients beat him up, and stole their property back, until now he lives penniless and can't feed his dog in its first heat that is supposed to guard his camp.
The Slab economy has doubled with the immigrants. Most of them have become wired on methamphetamines and, like werewolves, vampires, and zombies, get activated at sunset with a puff. There is madness in every direction radiating from the camps and campfires. The cops dread them because they are gypsies, and it is easier to milk a cow that holds still. If they are chased for something illegal, they jump camps until the police give up. The Rainbowers just laugh, 'All I'm gonna do is just go on and do what I feel.'
My favorites are the hitchhikers and knights of the fast freights. Some have arrived with their homes on their backs and not even any food stamps, with holes in their shoes, nagged by their parents, tagged ADH by school psychologists, derided by Uncle Sam, buffeted along the open road, suffered of great privation, and they pad softly in the hot afternoon into Slab City with many smiles. They are the rattling skeletal progeny of America. Many have humbly worked their way up here from nothing to a state of extreme poverty. They have no ID, and will reveal nothing of their past except the footprints in their sox. Many do not go to town at all for fear of being recognized. I put them at ease with a Groucho Marx line, 'I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception.'
Life is a long highway for many of the Rainbowers before they strike gold in Slab City. Suddenly, they slide on their American dream below sea level and hit home. After five minutes on a slab, nobody looks at the rainbow that carried them here.
September 22, 2017 | Leave a Comment
This summer in Slab City fired a heated rivalry between two Rainbow factions: the Nic@Nites and the Fat Kids.
A yearly Gathering of 10’s of 1000’s of peace loving hippies in a National Forest jolts the adjacent communities somewhere in the US. It may be the greatest reminder of alternative lifestyle since Ken Kesey’s bus Further carried his Merry Band of Pranksters cross-country that featured prominently in Tom Wolfe’s book The Kool-Aid Acid Test. The famous bus has spawned mitotically more buses, and many of them have pulled into Slab City.
Rainbow Gatherings are itinerant loosely knit communities of people who congregate in remote forests around the world starting every July 4 and continuing for about two weeks. The Rainbowers on whole supposedly share an ideology of peace, harmony, freedom, respect, and a dash of anarchy for spice. Their goal is to create a more satisfying culture than the one they find themselves surrounded in, and serve as a model for reformers in mainstream society. Everyone is friendly!
The Rainbow camps and kitchens are the basic community units. They may be based on topic, regional, spiritual, habitual, or even dietary preferences. For example, the Kid Village attracts attendees with children, Tea Time specializes in serving herbal tea, Jesus camp offers a religious foundation, and I used to stay at the Hobo camps during four national gatherings because that’s how I got there.
After the national gatherings, the various dozens of buses that form the nuclei for the category kitchens peel off in scattered directions for seasonal locations across the USA. This summer found a half-dozen of them parked in Slab City. The heat was ferocious, with ground temperatures above 150F, but most of the camps endured.
Nic@Nites is a camp that focuses on the sharing of tobacco and tobacco related products. The Nic@Nites hand out cigarettes at Slab City and will drive you crazy proselytizing tobacco wherever they go. Their goal nationwide is to have populated the nation’s alleys with so many addicts that no one will want. Their motto is, ‘If you need a cigarette, we got one; if you got a cigarette, we need one.’
The Fat Kids are another camp who serve fatty foods. They are composed of primarily overweight trust fund babies who eat well, and share their meat and greasy dishes. They’re national goal is a flavor of Herbert Hoover’s, ‘A lamb chop in every pot.’
The Nic@Nites claim the Fat Kids are killing people with fatty foods; while Fat Kids say the Nic@Nites are killing people with coffin nails.
The locals are enjoying the sport in Slab City, and fuel the flames of the butts and steaks by setting each group up to skirmish. They furtively commit arsons and burglaries, and tell one group a member of the rival one did it.
The showdown persists as both groups endeavor to attract newcomers wherever they go to help at their kitchens by giving away nicotine and fat foods, which was not covered in Vance Packard’s classic The Hidden Persuaders. The Fat Kids waddle offering you waffles, as the Nic@Nites wheeze offers of cigarettes.
All I can say is, sometimes laboratory animals, sales customers, and youth don’t know what they want until you show them. If the Rainbowers on whole would band together instead of bicker and advertise, they would quickly by sheer united numbers seize control of the Slab City economy, politics, transportation, and strong arms.
It isn’t so far-fetched. In astronomy, a binary system occurs when the orbits of two stars we see twinkling above are linked because of their gravitational interaction. There have been analogous relationships in history when an era is shaped by a rivalry and then combination of the two superstars. For example, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in early American government. The result of the showdown could be a binary win-win for a better Slab City.
September 22, 2017 | Leave a Comment
There are two ways to acquire the necessities of life:
· To produce them, or
· To plunder them
When plunder becomes a way of life for an outlaw town or group of men living together, they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. The end result will be an escalation of theft until everyone steals each other silly. The only explanation I have for this condition in Slab City is that though stealing from each other is a silly game, it keeps the residents occupied. It's like a party university.
The heads of class look at stealing as a profession. It is a job where they devote time to refine the skill needed to maintain a constant level of success for a steady income. They normally do not spend a long time in one place, but are always scouting new locations, until landing in an outlaw town where there is a large turnover of marks.
The summa cum laude thieves and burglars are precise and logical in their actions. They have openings, middle, and end games like board contests. The winners do not hold their criminal acts in such high esteem, except they take pride in their work, and look down their noses at the amateurs who will not likely populate the town long before going to jail.
There is an evolution toward perfection of criminal activity, that requires constant attention and tinkering to stay on top of their game of robbing each other. Newly invented methods are as closely guarded as professional sports plays.
The most closely guarded news is a recently abandoned or deceased owner's homesteads that draws a land rush as soon as the owner is gone, or killed. The most popular things to look there are money jars, guns, drugs, and jewelry. I don't know anyone who has a bank account, or safety deposit box other than the inside of their walls or a hollowed out book, because banks require an ID which are sparse here. It costs nothing to open a jar and bury your stash, the common practice, which I follow. Whenever someone expires unexpectedly, his trailer insides are shredded looking for treasures in the walls, or beneath them.
Advance news is everything, or creating it.
One tricky thief who forever covets his neighbors' belongings uses a peculiar strategy to drive them out, or kill them, and then help himself to their camps, as follows.
The most common rattlesnake in these parts is the Coontail, distinguished by its alternating black-and-white tail bands just above the rattles. This is a flip-flop species of the also common Red Racer with alternating black-and-white head bands that eat rattlers.
One snake handler gifted a neighbor into his stone hut a snake with black-and-white bands, with no rattles. He proclaimed it was a Red Racer that would eat any Coontail Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes within a 50-foot radius, much as one puts a cat in a mouse house. The grifter carefully eyed the expensive battery bank inside the hut as he did so, and went on his merry way with the heartfelt thanks of his neighbor.
Each day, the target saw the snake daily in his hut, stepping around and over it. Each day, the handler reappeared, and seemed surprised to see him still standing there. Finally, the mark grew suspicious and called me over for an identification.
Here are five lessons the Slab City thief can teach you to check your loses:
· Fearless – A criminal will go to great lengths to achieve his goal, even handling venomous snakes.
· Discreet - A thief stays mute about his schemes and acquisitions, and I never would have found out about the Coontail thief had not a victim told me.
· Details – The smallest detail is of the greatest importance to a thief; in this case, he covered his tracks by broadcasting it was a harmless Red Racer that he had let go.
· Patience – Grand larceny can take a month in the planning. The thief knew his neighbor would accept the Trojan, and the end result would be declared an accident.
· Always try again – The thief kept returning to see if his mark had been driven off, or bitten.
The tail end of this story is brief. I went to the stone hut and found the snake coiled under a stuffed chair. It was trying to buzz shaking a noiseless black-white banded tail. The Coontail thief had removed the rattles, so the snake couldn't announce its identity!
I was laughing so hard that I could hardly keep my hands still on the broomstick to gently lift the accomplice and carry it out to a wash.
September 20, 2017 | 1 Comment
One key to smooth international travel is to travel with only one carry-on bag. Don't check in any bags. They're a hassle during long-term travel, and will not arrive in third world countries on connecting flights. They will be stolen if checked into bus compartments, or from hostel rooms. And, are a hassle going to and from while traveling within a country. I've seen a swimming pool of crocodile tears over time in traveling to 100+ countries by travelers who don't observe the 'one-bag-on-back' rule. Everything one needs for one full year of travel around the globe can fit into one medium knapsack that fits into the carry-on compartment of airplanes. People who travel this way are called Travelers; while those who carry luggage are called Tourists. They are just different species.
There are many short and long cons of master manipulators, who willingly teach them by bragging anecdotally on the road around hobo jungle campfires, and inside the pens. They live to scheme and deceive, and even as they relate former cons they may be setting you up as a mark. It must be kept solidly in mind that they get up in the morning thinking them, practice all day, and sleep dreaming them, like I used to chess. I've read every classic book on confidence games, and yet been taken many times in Slab City, with the single absorbing lesson that I will be taken again because I choose to play for this price of admission.
The Slab special is piggybacking short cons that become part of a developing sophisticated long con that locally is called getting 'Slabbed'. One of many examples is the simple theft of a white truck. It was dramatized in broad daylight by a hulking brute who pinned down a fair damsel while his comrade hotwired and skid rubber. Actually, it was not a simple theft but quite a ball of yarn.
A Slab man bought a white truck on the cheap, and used the title as collateral for a drug debt that he did not pay. The receiver of the debt handed the title for holding to a neutral third party for fear it would be strong armed from him, and passed the car in trade for a camp to a mechanic. The mechanic spent two weeks getting the vehicle in running order, and when the original man of title heard this he ripped the ignition key from the mechanic's neck, and returned the next day to pin down his wife while the mechanic was gone. A comrade drove the vehicle to their nearby camp and defended it by force. No one dared go to the police because no party had a driver's licenses. The guy who had pinned down and stolen the vehicle incurred a drug debt to the person holding the title for safety, and the latter saw fit, when the debt went unpaid, to take the title for himself. Then he sold it back to the brute who had pinned down the girl. Essentially the brute had gotten his truck repaired for the price of a probably false drug debt.
The situation was so muddled and Slabbered in short cons that only a champion grafter could unravel and spin it into a long con to his advantage.
With one of the few running vehicles in Slab City, I picked up the mechanic hitching to the local market for a tall Steel Reserve beer. He had been a Georgia sailboat skipper, before his boat sank in the Keys, after sailing along the east coast for three years subsisting on air for boat fuel and dine-and-dash for himself. The Atlantic seaboard offers many fine restaurants, at which he always selected the best and dressed nicely when he walked in penniless. He ate-and-skated at about 1500 without getting caught, marking little notches on the starboard side of the rail until the boat must have listed.
His usual technique was to walk in, have a couple of drinks at the bar, summon the best table, go outside for a cigarette break, order an expensive meal, go out for a cigarette, order a meal to go, go out for a cigarette, order dessert, and during the last cigarette break beat the meal check to his sailboat.
His hedge was a legal technicality that failing to pay a restaurant bill when it is due is not a crime, but rather a contract debt, so the dine-and-dash became a civil rather than criminal breach the single time he was detained. Then, he told the owner he had forgotten his wallet, and offered to wash dishes until the debt was clean. He started, and slipped out the back door for another cigarette break, and to the boat.
The sailor turned mechanic in Slab City was a master of the sort and long con, who claimed his wife was as adroit when she came up with this scheme to recover the cost of their white truck from the State of California. She set the trap by having reoccurring flashbacks during which she 'blacked out' screaming 'Get off me you brute!' every other night at about sunset for two weeks, until the neighbors called the police who responded each time. There was a sufficient paper trail now to spring the trap. She went to a psychiatrist who declared her crazy, and got her on SSI relief that more than compensated the truck, and would provide an income for life. They left Slab City for the east coast, presumably to buy another sailboat.
The brute who had pinned her down, drove by before they left, and congratulated her on frightening the crap out of him with her wild blackouts, and not reporting him, and wished them a fair tailwind.
The key characters in this Slab City long con are clearly identified as:
• The Mark - The intended victim which is always the state.
• The Grifter - A practitioner of confidence tricks, the brute.
• The Roper - The person who identifies the mark, the drug dealer.
• The Inside Man - The member in charge, who executes the con, the mechanic.
• The Shill - An accomplice to the inside man, the girl.
The brain of Slab City is a Gordian Knot that is an intractable problem solved easily by finding a loophole or thinking creatively. Hence, 'cutting the Gordian Knot' and moving on. The problem is the body of citizens is a Tar Baby. In one of Uncle Remus's Br'er tales, Br'er Fox constructs a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it with some clothes. When Br'er Rabbit comes along, offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby's lack of manners, he pinches it and, in doing so, becomes stuck. The more Br'er Rabbit punches and kicks the Tar Baby in rage, the more stuck he gets. Br'er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless but cunning Br'er Rabbit pleads, 'Do anything you want with me, but please, Br'er Fox, don't fling me in dat briar patch!' prompting the sadistic Br'er Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in briar patches, however, the resourceful Br'er Rabbit escapes.
If you get caught in a sticky situation in Tar Baby Slab City, and think you can walk away without getting black, be prepared to use your wits with some cons of your own.
It’s show time at the Range!
Deep in the desolate Sonora, about 127 feet below sea level, out-of-towners file trailers and trucks and buses to a stage erected on a concrete slab to sit on it, in their vehicles like an old-time outdoor theater, or on junked sofas, busted lawn chairs, expatriated back seats of old cars, or rows of church pews, and rock all night under a zillion stars.
Your host, Builder Bill, straps on his six string guitar and raises the roof with ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Then he rocks back on his heels, chuckles, and shouts for the 750th straight Saturday in 15 years, ‘Good audience!’ and the people holler for more.
It always is a great audience. Among the locals, it is their single night each week to come in out of the punishing sun in a drunken or drugged stupor and party among partiers. They double as anarchist lovers, after the tourists leave, and about this time at midnight is when romance blooms on solid concrete.
A high-heeled polished escort drove a white Cadillac from the east coast to test the market. She brought a scheme to build an underground S&M Dungeon with whips and chains. She was smart enough to hook up with a local church investor to supply clients, and tithe a portion of the gross back. The world she would create revolved around sexual fantasy involving dominance and submission. She was going to dig and build it underground because weird tricks pay more money. The reason is they can’t go for what they want to someone they know, or out to a straight bar. The escort miscalculated that Slabbers have money just because there have drugs. I was one of the few with cash at the Range, but she kept staring at my crotch the whole time we talked, and I walked away uneasily. She didn’t even get a shovel in the ground due to lack of ‘pre-bookings’ to fund the hole, and turned around and drove her Cadillac back to New York.
A bearded man resembling Grumpy of the seven dwarfs jumped up from the audience and charged the dance floor with an 8” knife raised high over a scorpion of equal length with a raised stinger crawling amid shuffling feet. It was the largest Giant Green (Hadrurus arizonensis) I’ve ever seen. As the pair jitterbugged around each other, a lady in a tight mini-skirt butted in clamping a sawed-off 2-liter Pepsi bottle over it, and held it high for everyone to see. The music stopped, and I stepped up to identify it, and state that though the stinger is large, the venom is like a honeybee’s. Grumpy flashed the blade in my face, for he had been catching it for his girlfriend, and thought I was hustling her. She went on stage and rattled and raffled it off for marijuana.
A drunk female in fishnet stockings fell in front of my armchair in the back row. There are four reasons I didn’t help her up: 1) She was drunk, 2) she was mistreating a dog to which she was leashed, 3) I had been taught by a high school cross-country coach never to help anyone up, and 4) she wanted a date or to stab me, because it was the third straight Saturday she had slipped in the same spot.
Dogs roam the stage. People come in a party mood, toting six-packs and fifths of whiskey and gin. Sometimes the dogs drink. I was sitting on the edge of the dance floor sewing in rhythm with the music threads of what I observed into a wall-hanging in my mind ,when, like it was a dog door, a huge brown Great Dane pranced through and looked down at me. Then it looked back to its smiling owner across the floor dancing. She had sent it over to invite me to cut in. I don’t dance, so the 180 pound animal lay down and was seven feet from tail to nose. The animal in me came out, and I scratched its ears. The girl walked over, and lay between us. I was afraid of what I might catch at her trailer, and got up and walked away.
Two women with mutual restraining orders to keep 100’ away from each other, bumped into each other on the 100’ wide cement slab of the Range as a band warmed up. The two women stood toe-to-toe cursing each other, while their teams of witnesses argued in a circle around them of who had arrived first, in order that the other legally be required to leave. Someone called the cops, who arrived in two patrol cars, doubly manned, as the officers piled out and surrounded the ruckus. They interviewed the contenders, their cornermen, and since it was unclear who had arrived first, they were ordered to technically break the restraining order by sitting 95’ apart at the far edges of the Range, and not molest each other.
As they had argued, each cast sideways glances at me for support. They are attractive seniors, but I have become cautious over my Saturdays at the Range. The last senior I picked up, later felt spited and lashed out, offering ‘Free blow jobs to any male who will hit him on the head!’ There has been a reprieve during a current affair with the chief arsonist, so the shanties of Slab City and I are safe as long as they are together.
Everybody likes to think on the first night that their relationship is the long haul. While no one knows for sure what the future holds, I have accumulated ten clues from normal society that can tell you if a partnership is built to last, and explain why each is nonsense in Slab City.
- Trust – No one here is stupid enough to trust his lover.
- Similar Goals – There is only a shared taste for variety.
- Mental Intimacy – No one shares their true past.
- Communication in a healthy way – There are daily quarrels and assaults that bring out the police.
- You can both admit you’re wrong – It is a sign of weakness to admit a mistake or to say ‘I’m sorry’.
- You feel more yourself when you are with them – The only time one lets down the guard is when he is alone.
- You support each other in tough times – Instead, you run to your neighbor for sex.
- You still like them when you’re angry - You burn each other out, steal, or call the cops.
- You laugh often – You are laughing together nearly all the time you are not having sex or arguing.
- You know your partner’s needs and respect them - Any time you put your partner’s needs before your own, it throws a red flag that the relationship is doomed.
Slabber girls are the best of any country I have visited, and the only caveat is that you have to keep your guard up. They are meaty, wholesome, savvy, and excellent. They will cut you if you perform less than your best. The reason is individuality: everywhere you look at the couples, you see happy singles, too. There are plenty to go around Slab, and few are particularly faithful. The ratio is about 3:2 and they vie fiercely for men. The pretty women sometimes do things no man would attempt anywhere else in the world.
It is interesting to note that the American sexual revolution was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas it was just another stage in the historic rise of individualism. The sexual revolution was to destroy the idea of a permanent couple and family in a community of them, and free the individual to dip and out as he pleases, and that destruction continues to this day, and is accelerated in Slab City. The sexual revolution also marked the greatest sexual tactic of my life in getting a vasectomy. That, as an opening line, works better than deodorant.
The Beach Boys bragged about ‘California Girls’, but my Chicken Science professor explained the biological reason why Slab City females are hornier where the sun shines more. They don’t wear clothes. We – humans and chickens – have a third eye called the pineal gland located in the middle of the brain, which secretes melatonin at night. That’s what helps us sleep. Melatonin blocks our sex hormones, and the long days of desert sunshine (or light bulbs in chicken coops) increases our libido and fertility. Plus, when Slabbers shed their feathers when it’s hot, it subconsciously makes us think about sex.
The other admission is that mates on methamphetamine are like an outlaw and his horse under tail, and he/she’s got to ride that nag till it drops. Slab City girls have more tattoos per square inch of skin than anywhere in the world. Tattoos that tell stories of crime and passion, of regret and punishment. They express the outlaw from the outside in, and you don’t even need to look into the eyes of a date to know her horizontal waltz. Sex is somehow extended and better in direct proportion to the number of tattoos, and there’s something to talk about after instead of smoking cigarettes.
Another tip is to watch them dance. Graphic is invented on the Music Range slab. Bras-less, panty-less loose delights reveals the hidden language of their otherwise impenetrable psyches. Each movement is a word, each chorus a sentence, and each song a statement of who she is. They speak in paragraphs all night, because if you’re on thin ice with the law, you might as well dance.
In the wee hours, like at any other event, the couples pair off and wander into the Creosote, the Rhino Room outhouse, adjacent abandoned trailers with cracked mirrors, or under Ironwood shadows on discarded couches that smell of pet urine that acts as an aphrodisiac while on meth. . The stuffing over time is knocked out of the couches. You cannot stop a Slab whore, not even by tying her to the Salvation Mountain tractor. No Slabber I ever heard of accepted money for a trick, because there is none, however few have refused to trade a bowl of weed for a bowl of pleasure. It is an accepted form of capitalism for which some females build up reputations as entrepreneurs and are very successful.
To think that all this arises from human behavior, all motivation, all our hopes and fears, heavily colored and largely controlled by the fascinating pattern of reproduction. Its significance is underestimated. They get it on, rock gently, make a harmonic, and then ride hard to climax.
Like Steppenwolf’s Nature Child, they were born, born to be wild. Slabber girls have a special way of communicating like the chipmunks that used to crawl over me at the Sand Valley camp. They encounter someone on the street, get real close, smell their breath, and maybe peck a kiss, and then backtrack the person if they like the taste of the drug. They are useful dieticians also in tasting sperm and prescribing what you should eat. The best could hire out as government drug test kits.
The upper crust of outlaws own banks of drugs, though they will never admit it. They identify themselves by a surrounding of the most beautiful women, so, like anywhere else, they can afford to screen them. The town Arsonist asks, ‘Is your IQ higher than mine?’ The top car Bomber asks, ‘Are you a life support system for a vagina?’ The town Fence, oddly, is monogamously pussy whipped.
Some of these females are smart enough to make you dizzy looking through them, like sitting across the chess table from one who makes all the right moves. Soon, you sense mate and don’t care about the opening, or middle game, and just want to see her coup de grace. I'm tired of watching attractive people trying to be ugly, struggling for authenticity. Why not be yourself? Like a fighter, I cut to the chase, asking, ‘Can you fight?’ With judo and wrestling skills, I could probably stay alive.
This is squattersville off the grid, and we welcome you every Saturday for the sundown concert at the Range.
Rattlesnakes are so common out here as to be mundane. One just has to get away from the crowd to visit them. I had a western diamondback for a doorkeeper at my Sand Valley burrow. They tame down quickly, and, in fact, develop a personality around you. There are low-down sidewinders that crouch in that position, and the amiable tongue-flicking uprights.
Once I came across one standing on its tail end in a wash, catching a zephyr, watching me pass. If rattlesnakes had eyelids, he would have winked.
A sidewinder named Sir was my favorite at Sand Valley. I first came upon him when I stooped to adjust my ankle weights, thinking they were leaking. The buzz was a baby sidewinder. He grew up as I pioneered the property, until he was so underfoot like a pet that I had to transport him to a wash.
I've close-up encountered, at last count, 150 western diamondbacks and sidewinders, in a ratio of 10:1 respectively, in the past 20 years out here. Though that doesn't make me an authority, like the local snake handlers who keep them in terrariums or running around their trailers to dissuade burglars, I know a rattle when I hear it.
A rattlesnake is called 'the desert gentleman' out here since he warns before striking. It's the people you have to worry about. One Slab City handler was bitten in the navel, and his wife called the ambulance. An undercover officer accompanied the paramedics, because the guy was on probation. The officer, thinking the call was a prank for a free ride to town, wordlessly hit him in the gut, and then rattled, 'I sealed the wound!' The ensuing fight became a real emergency.
Most people do not know, until I sat on one yesterday, what a sandberg is. It is a giant splinter of sand that, like an iceberg, breaks off from the greater whole to rise alone across a sea of sand.
I was car camping at Drop Two along the Coachella Canal ten miles south of Slab City when the first drop of rain at sunrise caused me to roll over in disbelief. For the first time in a month of consecutive 120F+ days, the Sonora desert was in for a storm. I rolled into a sleeper's 'burrito' sandwiched within layers of the blankets and tarp on the outside, and went back to sleep. When I awoke an hour later and looked out the end, the burrito was surrounded by puddles of water.
I dashed for the car, and read Studs Terkel's Coming of Age for another thirty minutes, until the rain abated.
In fact, the sun was shining.
But a hundred yards from the car, the Drop Two was running with a river of water. A Drop along a canal is where it passes underground for about thirty yards for an arroyo (normally dry riverbed) to cross perpendicularly to allow the passage of animals, vehicles and the biannual flash floods. Today the river was three feet deep, fifteen yards wide, and flowing 8mph above and at a right-angle to the canal.
It was foaming with tannic suds as thick as a six-inch sponge, splashing and tossed into the air. The foam is the result of organic material in the water, including their oils, that in the desert is stock full of the suds producing tannin. As the plants decompose along the flow, the oil rises to the top, where the turbulence and wave action whips it like a blender. I scooped a mouthful, and it tasted like Arizona tea.
With tea, the sun rising, and a hydraulic phenomenon unfolding before me like morning National Geographic, I sat on the bank and watched the river flow. Across it, great columns of sand weighing tons and measuring about 20 feet wide and two-stories tall broke and crashed into the river, throwing foam on a slight breeze over my head. Again and again, the great sandbergs crashed.
I was so absorbed in the spectacle, and thinking the flow from the eastern Chocolate Mountains was slackening, I didn't notice, instead, that the water was arising until it touched my scrotum. Still, I sat unperturbed as it rose to the ankles where I sat.
Suddenly, a loud crash behind, and I jumped up to see my hat floating downstream behind me! The land had been undercut behind me, and was now a drop-off of about three feet where the water was flowing rapidly. Nature has no remorse, or rules. I was trapped on a sandberg anchored to the desert floor only by the tendrils of a young Ironwood. The island was about 30' long and 10' wide, with the water rising by the minute!
But the tide fell as quickly as it had risen, with the bank of water from the Chocolates expired. In thirty minutes, the stream behind me shrank to wading height, and I escaped off the sandberg toward the safety of the car. I spend the rest of the day hiking up the main arroyo to the mountains where, by the time I reached the source two hours later, it was drying, and then I walked the very wash back to my car, to safety after being trapped on a sandberg.
Living in the Sonora desert, and having been through three major Mouse Wars, suffered from Mouse Dust, observing thousands, befriending dozens, raised one as if a child in my pendleton pocket, and staying on even footing with them on whole for 20 years, here are my postulates re: desert rodent locomotion.
Loco is a proper prefix. There are about 7 species that I observe day in and out around my camp, and during long hikes. When they run from me, or predators, the start-up off the blocks is seemingly programmed en utero and childhood, and so is similar across individuals of the same species for the first few yards. This, of course, is the result of evolution, for the poorly locomoting ones would have been hunted and eaten long ago, and not reproduced. Then, in the second stage of flight, the animals' instincts give way to sheer terror, and the gait becomes more random. It's in this range that the animals may be more easily mouthed by the snapping jaws, because careful evolution has chosen the best flight plan for the initial stage. The upshot is, in my theory, that the rodents that are able to sustain longest their instinctual gait before caving in to horror will survive to reproduce, yielding the most most disciplined rodents.
Animals are far ahead of humans on evolutionary scales because we aren't hunted as much except at borders, and then the jail sentence still allows bail or release and copulation. We have become a very undisciplined species except in outlaw towns like Slab City. If you observe a person running from a mugger, even me on my long legs, I follow a prescribed stage one flight that, if closed in on, gives way only after a long distance to an all out adrenaline burst at angles and speeds the brain cannot plan before execution.
Andrew Moe writes:
One of the best skills you can teach young basketball players is to use multiple speeds when on offense. Stop and go moves, fast to slow to fast, quick changes of direction and hop cuts are all carefully choreographed skills that can be combined into a seemingly random pattern. When you watch Steph Curry juke left, right, forward, back and into a hop step pullup 3, he's not making those moves up on the spot. He's linking sequences of carefully planned, well practiced maneuvers designed to leave his defender completely befuddled. I would guess that additional study on the jerboa, especially on play patterns of the young, would reveal similar sequences of moves to avoid predators. In the markets, the sequences are meant to draw volume. Today we saw a cut downward off the open, a crossover back the other way, another crossover to the downside, a slowing of pace and then a hard drive to the downward basket. I'd call today a Westbrook move more than a Curry so far.
Henry Gifford's new book on Building Science rivals mine on advanced racquetball. As big, with the same angle of insightful and original gems per page that only a long practitioner would know. It's a beautiful 5-lb tome. Have him send you a copy.
August 26, 2017 | Leave a Comment
They say the best racket backhand resembles to degrees a gold swing. Sam Sneed won 82 PGA Tour events and this frame-by-frame analysis of his swing is worth a study.
Of the thousands of baseball quotes, my favorite is by Ty Cobb, 'Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.'
That's the way it was when I played as a kid, unable to afford mitts for hardball, and later as a city coach where we my team was chased off the field after winning the championship by the inner city bat-wielding losers.
There is the best of action of all sports in pro baseball, but it occurs so infrequently it's a lesson in delayed gratification. In recollection, on average, there are thirty shining seconds of action per inning. It's no wonder the stands become full of drunks.
The fire and splendor Ty Cobb's baseball can be revived by a mechanical pitcher.
It would be a pitching machine programmed to throw unpredictable pitches at varying speeds and spins at the hitters exactly within the strike zone. The advantages are:
• Easy and cheap to implement at a fraction the cost of flesh pitchers.
• No more batters injured by wild pitches.
• More strikes and fewer balls; no walks.
• Game tempo is doubled.
• More hits and higher batting averages.
• Higher score innings.
• An open hitting zone from home plate through second base into center field.
• No more time wasted watching pitchers chaw tobacco and nod off signs.
The mechanical pitcher would be recessed into the ground, and pop up for the pitch, and down during the hitter's swing. It could be a shot in the arm for America's greatest pastime.
This article is the dumbest thing I ever read: "The Real Dirt on 7 Filthy Food Habits". He forgot waitress fingers on the top of your drinking glasses and ice in coolers. People are dropping to trailer floors like flies in Slab City: two to the hospital with kidney failure, and 12 others begging the gods for mercy. Paramedics in and out daily for free trips to the clinic. Each chart is marked,''unknown cause."
No one believes simply that it's the Community Center water that everyone started drinking in copious amounts with the heat that is literal poison. Correction: a few believe, got better in three days on reverse osmosis water, and the Slab water deliverer stopped me on the road, 'Asshole' for cutting down his business. Everyone worries about the bacteria, which is ridiculous. The people drinking directly out of the Coachella Canal that has flowed a thousand miles down dirt and concrete banks from the Rockies don't get sick.
People get ill from the bacteria killing chemicals in the Community Center and other town water, the 125F in-the-shade heat, and from drinking 5x the normal daily consumption of chemically poisoned water due to a rabid thirst and the body demand to dilute the poisoned water by drinking more water. It becomes a vicious circle, including the trips to the hospital where they're put on antibiotics and sent back to the trailers to suffer.
Please don't lecture me about the germ theory. Almost all disease is a compromised host and the bacteria, virus, protozoa and other pathogens are opportunists like the thieves in Slab City. Look to yourself and do something about it. Studied it, been sick with it no less than 50x in 100 countries around the world, and not really ready to listen to status quo opposition.
Back when I was an honest hustler with more brains than money in the sport that was replacing bowling as America's greatest pastime, I could not resist testing my best game by betting on it. Honest as a Michigan farm implement, with an indomitable backhand, it was the act and then the action of making the bet a win that counted. I refused to take any good person's money. If he was an evil cheater, I doubled the bet.
In the same year that I was the best shooter in the ugly sister sport of racquetball, 1973, Bobby Riggs smashed onto magazine covers and into world news by defeating Margaret Court in the Mother's Day Massacre. A few months later, slandered the 'fattest sexist pig in history', he stepped up to legendary charming Billie Jean King in the Battle of the Sexes.
You only need to know the hustler's mentality to know the outcome. You don't need to read about the mob riding Bobby for a debt, secret locker room conversations overheard by a janitor, or diagnose his supposed ailing 55 yea- old body. Just watch the video of the match and how he jumps blithely over the net after match point to congratulate the winner King.
I'm sure that he threw the match because these would have been my thoughts, and were them, when I battled the same year nearly every female racquetball champion informally or in exhibitions playing opposite handed.
Bobby said to himself, 'She doesn't stand a chance of beating me, the odds are long against King at 8:5, I'll bet a hundred thousand on myself, and tell my friends to do the same, throw the match, and still be able to get a date! Then with the first match publicity I'll make a million on the rematch.' So, assuredly 30,000 people in the Houston Astrodome and a global audience of a further 50 million watched him throw the match.
Riggs was the #1 world player for three years, won Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. I also threw a few matches rather than take a good woman's money, and then had them treat me to a date after the match.
Andrew Hollan writes:
During my 8+ years of investigating all aspects of Paul Haber's life I interviewed a high powered Chicago lawyer that saw Haber give 15+ points and the serve to a Mob family's son who was gifted with a power serve and a good kill shot repertoire. The Chicago mobster got hot and beat Haber in a 21 point game.
Haber did not have money to cover the $ bet and they were going to beat him to a pulp or kill him. The lawyer paid Haber's debt to save his life. The attorney said the Chicago mob had a group that just played 4-wall handball within their own group but Haber being Haber got himself in their group that day by placing bets with them and giving points and the serve to start the match.
I met Bobby Riggs at the Houston Racquet Club. My group was young wooden racquets Racquetball players. He stood out to a 16 year old Andy Hollan. I played the Juice's driver Al Cowlings at the HRC too. It was jaw dropping in later years to see the Bronco ride with them on a split screen with the Rocket championship game vs. Knicks on the other 1/2 of the screen.
Bo Keely writes:
The way Haber sometimes worked that hustle was to throw the game and collect a percentage of the debt paid by the party to the mob. No mob family son was going to beat Haber with 15 points if they played all year, but Haber had to let the mob save face, while making his fee.
There are at least three results of going from the stooped to erect position in our family tree that evolutionists miss when looking at our present species.
1. The position removes the nose from the ground which, over generations, shortens the snout.
2. The eyes from upright have a much longer range of view.
3. The gases inhaled are lighter and less noxious.
The advantage of a shortened snout is more brain area for high development of mental faculties. The eyes become more far sighted. The lighter gases inhaled include more oxygen.
These items become apparent if one spends time on the ground sleeping, wrestling, gardening, or resting between hikes.
On the western side of Naples is a small cave that has been visited by tourist for centuries. It is called the Grotta del Cane (literally Dog Cave) for the following reason. Naples is surrounded by volcanic areas, and in the northwest are the Phlegrean Fields, an area of an old, extinguished volcanoes – and the site of the Dog Cave. It got its name because from deep down in earth, carbon dioxide from the ash enters the cave. Since it is heavier than air, the gas lies in an area one meter above the ground. In past centuries, when people entered the cave with a dog, it suffocated, while nothing happened to its owner whose head was well above the carbon dioxide. Rascals sometimes took their friends into the cave and held them down until they passed out. The unconscious animal could be lifted overhead into the overlying layer of fresh air, and sometimes revived. Today measures are taken to warn dog owners, children, and dwarfs of this danger, and of how to revive them in fresh air.
I believe this is also why I have always slept on the floor and ground throughout life in order to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and not waste any time in beginning the next day.
Developing nation no longer refers to a country where the average income is lower than in industrial nations. Rather, I pick the rarer developing countries to travel to where there are no Smartphone thumbs. Mayo Clinic researchers and CBS News report a condition that doctors used to only see in factory workers and athletes is becoming globally widespread due to the penetration of Smartphones, even in the poorer countries. The repetitive movement of texting has led doctors to dub it the Smartphone thumb. It's actually tendinitis, when the tendon that bends and flexes our thumb becomes inflamed. When my airplane lands in a new country, I keep heading out into the more remote regions until the crooked, painful thumbs disappear and I can catch a glimpse of a disappearing pristine life where people can still give me the Ugly American finger.
In Animal Husbandry class for vet school we went to the Michigan State rodeo ring every Saturday at 7am to palpate and judge the various large animals: goats, pigs, cows, and horses. i learned to say such things as, ‘There’s a lot of daylight between that hoss’s legs’ indicating he was many hands high to impress the professor. Then at 9am we walked over to the slaughter house to judge other animals after they had been killed and skinned, but not yet butchered for eating. In the slaughter house I learned never to trust a mouthful of chicken, because chicken cancer is arbitrarily determined by counting the # of enlarged lymph nodes. One node under the allotted # meant a trip to Colonel Sanders, but one node over and the carcass was cancerous and put in the incinerator. Another judging lesson at slaughter was the fat marbling of pigs. A professor made us experts in quantifying the amount of intramuscular fat located inside the skeletal muscle that we had palpated and judged externally earlier in the morning. Fat marbling up to a tasteful point especially in pigs is associated with high quality meat in the butcher’s shop or supermarket. On Saturday nights I began palpating females on dates, and learned that in humans excess accumulation of intramuscular fat is associated with conditions such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. It’s odd to look back and see how our food and health habits form.
Rarely do I read a book that I must write a review to honor the author. One of the best autobiographies I ever read is Robert Burns' I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! I could not stop turning the pages.
A WWI soldier and medic, Burns returns to the USA shell-shocked and penniless after the conflict. Living hand to mouth while hoboing freights, he lands in the South and is coerced at gunpoint into robbing a gentleman's store of $5.00. He is collared by the police and sentenced in 1921 to six years on the notorious Georgia Chain Gang.
There was a saying in the chain gang, and it ran as follows: 'Work out' – meaning make your time, 'Pay out' – by purchasing a pardon or parole, 'Die out' – meaning to die, or 'Run out' – meaning to escape. Few lived to serve their terms, he had no money, he preferred to die, bit Burns was struck by the idea that he could run out and likely die out trying.
The problem was the chain that never left his legs for years. One day while working on a railroad, he sledge hammered the steel ring around his ankle into an elliptical shape, and yelled to the shotgun wielding, illiterate guard, 'Stepping into the bush', to which the guard replied, 'Step into the bush', indicating he had one minute to relieve himself. When he slipped his heel and sprang up running one minute later, a shotgun blast in the ass hurried his pace, and the three bloodhounds were cut loose.
He tamed the hounds with kind words as he ran, until they thought it was a game. Racing through the swamps and back woods to Atlanta, he befriended a prostitute who helped him because he refused to bed her to conserve his strength. She paid his fare aboard a Chicago bound passenger train, where he arrived and climbed on a soap box daily for a month trading advice like a psychologist for coins, until he had earned enough to rent a large apartment. He refurbished and sub-divided it into nine smaller apartments until there was a stake to launch Greater Chicago Magazine. He became a prosperous, honest Chicago businessman and publisher, until a jealous divorcee turned him into the police. Burns did the impossible and escaped a second time, this time to New Jersey. He was still a hunted man living in hiding when this book was first published in 1932.
What a story of an individualist and entrepreneur who with grit, creativity, and intellect fought to success.
You will be discriminated against in Slab City or any other outlaw town if you are:
• Don't drink alcohol or do drugs
• Display no broken teeth or knife wounds
• Have no tattoos
• Never been in jail
• Have no one to vouch for you
• Lack anecdotal evidence in story telling
• Are not on food stamps or SSI
• Do not wolf your food from past hunger
• Are not an anarchist
• Use your true name
If you are uneducated, have a drug habit, show tattoos and knife wounds, like to party, steal and tell stories of the road, have a prison record, know someone who will vouch for you, use an alias and dislike authority, you are welcomed in Slab City.
One failing of modern medicine is that tests, which control future diagnoses and treatments across the board, are generally conducted on a small sampling from cities of people who are victims of 'diseases of civilization' from smog, bad water, & processed foods. healthy people are rarely tested, so our medical system is full of holes. Responses vary from group to group and individual to individual. Lewis Thomas, famous for Lives of a Cell, provides a more professional explanation in Dr. Thomas's ass-kicking autobiography The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher.
May 31, 2017 | 1 Comment
I parked my Hertz Chevy Spark at Siphon 6 of the Coachella Canal outside Slab City on Saturday at 9am and went for an hour walk. Returning at 10:00 there was a crash over the last sand dune and I jogged up it in time to hear and see a quad speed off from my car. Five minutes later, I was standing in the broken glass of the two back rear windows. The burglars had broken the windows, crawled in to keep the alarm from sounding, and in seconds fleeced everything of value. I called the Imperial County Sheriffs who responded immediately with a patrol car, and an officer who was uncharacteristically professional, sympathetic, and thorough. He took a report including photos of the quad tracks, and pulled away to track the burglars who had fled 30 minutes earlier along the Coachella Canal road. I pulled around onto the main track to head the bad guys off at the pass by the Slab City Library.
Not finding the thieves or the cop, I started to solve the crime on my own Slab City style. I got two expert trackers who know every quad track in the area. One at a time, I returned with each to the broken glass along the canal. The first peered at the tracks, and said instantly that he knew the vehicle and who drove it. A few minutes later, the second tracker told me he knew the vehicle and thought it belonged to the first tracker I had taken to the scene.
This is called being 'Slabbed', where everyone passes the buck until a crime becomes so muddled it is impossible to solve.
One suspect was one of the trackers, and the other was a person I had once helped file a complaint against a corrupt Imperial County deputy who had scraped the license tag off his vehicle, told him it was not tagged, and impounded the vehicle.
My own burglary became a federal offense when I discovered they had taken my passport from the glove box.
I returned to find the deputy to tell him this, and found him a quarter-mile from the scene stuck in soft sand. I helped him get out, and Slab City continued into another merry 110F May afternoon.
A little paddleball doubles history…
Gale Michaels and Herb Olson were arguable the best doubles teams in the country during the game's heyday of the 70s. Bud Muehleisen and Charley Brumfield would have given them a run for their money, and Andy Homa and I squeaked by them to win the MSU Intramural doubles championships in about 1971, when MSU had the powerhouse players, along with U of M.
Homa and I beat them by the only viable, curious strategy, which was to play to Michaels. To me, Michaels was one of the best players to ever take up a paddle, so everyone else played to his partner Olson. However, in doubles in those days, with 20-shot rallies common, you could isolate a player, especially on the left side, and grind him into the ground. Even the great Gale Michaels. He finally tired late in the third rubber game to 21-points, and we won the championship jackets. I gave mine away for a date, as it was the only way I got one, even with those good paddle hands.
I don't think Michaels and Olson ever won the Nationals, probably losing the year they entered to either Muehleisen and Brumfield, or to the two-fisted McNamara brothers. Muehleisen and Brumfield were formidable, but Brumfield could not stick with Michaels, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler, who once chased him screaming out of the upper courts at the MSU intramural building. The McNamara brothers, Bernie and Bob, used two-handed backhands which were punishing but slow to the draw, and they intimidated their opponents to win. In the Flint, MI nationals in about '71, Bernie squeezed Andy's hand in the pregame handshake so hard it brought tears of joy to his eyes, as he replied, 'I'm a southpaw!' Bob slapped my face so hard in the pregame warm-up that it careened me against the side wall. With that, we served, and wiped the court up with them in the semis. The McNamara had already sent a photo of themselves holding the championship trophy into the Minneapolis newspaper declaring them the national champions, but they returned home with their shirttails between their legs.
Wherever you live in the world, Slab City is at your doorstep. There are two reasons.
Nearly every airport on the planet connects to LAX in Los Angeles. From there, you walk down the hall to Mokulele Airlines and catch a $39 flight to the edge of Slab City.
Mokulele Airlines is the only one that services the Imperial County Airport, with six daily one-hour flights, and carries you up and out the smog, over the breathtaking Sierra Nevada Mountains, and skimming the Salton Sea, where the freckle-faced pilot points out the San Andreas Fault to her six passengers, and lands at the airport.
At the tiny Imperial Airport, you'll walk a hundred yards out to Imperial Highway in Imperial, CA, and catch the Imperial Valley Transit bus for an hour ride through the desert to Slab City. The bus will drop you at May's Groceries, and then you hitch or walk three miles east on Beal Road through the agriculture fields to Salvation Mountain and the Slabs.
However, what everyone has been doing for years, before discovering the $39 flights from LAX, is renting a Hertz car at the same Imperial County Airport. This is because the Hertz sign is larger than the airport one, so few realize it is also an airport. The Hertz location is pricey, but you may ask for a weekly rate. The manager and two twin girl staff will offer little in the way of advice, and not tell you the airport - like others throughout USA located near an international border - is 'haunted' by the CIA. Don't call ahead for reservations because Hertz rarely answers and have disconnected their old-fashioned message machine.
It's easier to take the $1.50 bus from the airport directly to Slab City, or to call one of the unmarked Slab Cabs, operated by residents, for an informative hour drive for twenty bucks straight to the Slabs.
Slab City is truly at your doorstep, and cheaper than ever.
According to Fortune, PepsiCo is moving into the premium water business with LIFEWTR, a purified water that is pH balanced with electrolytes. I stumbled across it in the local college cooler, and later on YouTube as the ‘Lifewater Super Bowl Commercial 2017′. So, I asked the stocker how the beautiful designer bottles are selling, and he said, ‘Life crazy!’
PepsiCo already owns the ‘billion dollar water’ Aquafina, which a U.S. Marine helicopter delivered to me on the open desert recently thinking I was thirsty, so why would they compete with themselves?
The answer is that they are not competing with themselves. According to the PepsiCo CEO, LIFEWTR’S greatest equity is in the bottle. I translate that as the water costs pennies per the bottle that costs a ton, if the marketing of it is thrown in. The LIFEWTR labels feature a rotating series of creative, exclusive designs done by emerging visual artists. They are quite attractive, like Southwest art.
I finally broke down and bought a $2.00 bottle to seek why it’s called ‘Inspiration Drops’, per the YouTube of the Super Bowl commercial of it raining colored droplets over Manhattan (that cost the company $5.5 million for the 30 second spot).
What is in it? The bottle label offers no ingredients other than purified water. The first page of online searches insisted it is just electrolyte water with no additives. However, I had bought and tasted the top neck of the bottle before discarding the rest in the college bird bath, and knew it wasn’t true. The sensation of drinking the water is surreal: it sent me into a tranquil altered state like a designer drug, or like getting hit with a tranquilizer gun that we used on obstreperous apes in vet school. I felt relaxed.
The online information still insisted it was just plain old water, until I searched deeper down and finally found two added ingredients: Magnesium Sulfate and Potassium Bicarbonate. Magnesium Sulfate, commonly known as Epsom Salt, is used to control eclampsia in pregnant women, children seizures, and encephalopathy (severe brain function problems) in adults. It is an anti-seizure medication, as well as a laxative. Potassium Bicarbonate is a standard treatment for acidic stomach and high blood pressure.
The large print in life makes you happy, and the small print makes you sweat it.
The bounty hunter returned to Slab City on a tip by a paid snitch who directed him to a busy camp where the road kid was roasting hot dogs with others. The bounty hunter brought three others, a total of four in three cars, and drove into the weenie roast yelling 'Surrender'. Instead, the kid jumped on his bicycle and led them on a merry chase through the camps of Slab City and exited into a lemon grove, where he climbed a tree and hid in the fruit until it got dark. Then he jumped down and returned to Slab City.
I was approached by the Hula Hoop girl of the Music Range who quoted 'How to Infiltrate an Outlaw Town' saying: "'You use the Slab City men to get to the their women, and now I'm using Niederhoffer to get to you.' She wrapped her hoop around me and away we went.
The Sonora desert around Slab City has received the most rain in anyone's memory, as much accumulative this spring as in the last twenty years I've lived here. The result is a carpet of green clover where normally parched sand lies, and a zoo of animals on it – insect, reptiles, birds and mammals.
One of the most beautiful, while hiking this morning, I followed through the grass, flowers, and clover to a party. The Velvet Ant (Dasymutilla magnifica) looks exactly like a large 1" ant with a red velvet stole, but is actually a wingless wasp. It is ranked in the top three (among tarantulas, millipedes, scorpions, bees, etc.) for giving the most painful sting. I once watched adventurer Coyote Peterson subject his forearm to a Velvet Ant sting, and jump around on a video that went viral, and that was enough to make me want to want to verify it.
This morning I put my hand in front of a Velvet Ant again and again, but she scurried around it, intent on something else. I could guess by the aroma over the flowers and clover that she was going out for a drink, like the giant 3" Pepsis wasps that have flown into my chest, after sipping flower nectar, and fallen rolling to the ground in a drunken stupor.
My date the Velvet Ant climbed over my hand, and I followed her on hands and knees for a few minutes. First, she climbed up a stalk of clover, inserted her mouth parts, sipped, and fell over backwards on the ground, kicking her six legs in the air. Had I a microscope, there would have been a smile on her face. She recovered in a few seconds, turned over, and scurried to the next bar of clover for a drink of nectar, and repeated the act. Then three more times.
Nectar and honey from certain flowers and clover is psychoactive to insects and humans, and overindulging is called Mad Honey Disease. Even when honey is not produced from the nectar of these toxic plants, it can still ferment to produce ethanol, on which the birds and bees can become incapable of flight or other normal movement. The word for drunk in classical Greek is even translated as 'honey-intoxicated', and two Celtic goddesses have arisen from it.
The red Velvet Ant, after staggering from one clover to the next, climbed a tuft of grass and ate merrily until her abdomen bulged, stopped moving, and fell asleep under my nose.
These insects remind me of Thoreau's aphorism 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with their songs still inside them.' But not me. I walked over to the Coachella Canal, jumped in, and kicked my toes at the sun.
March 10, 2017 | 1 Comment
I've taken many executive hobos on the rails around the country with all kinds of electronic gadgets, but this is the first journey that has been guided by mobile astrological devices.
Two Slab City women approached me with a wish to ride the fast freight…
'Anywhere!' they said.
The first hoboette is Breeze, a college grad from Massachusetts who ran cross-country and recently hiked the 2200-mile Appalachian trail. She boasts tattooed Popeye forearms from welding, and speaks poetry when she (rarely) talks. The second hoboette is a sister of the road from Michigan named Starr who is patching together a tapestry of alternative travel called, 'Hobo Culturenomics' in a series that has won Sundance and New York Film Festival awards . She was a five-sport champion in school, and resembles a Nile queen, regal and ebony at almost 6', with a photographic memory that law enforcement has offered to hire as a license plate reader (LPR).
Each tired of the American traditional treadmill in their hometowns, stuck out their thumbs on opposite sides of the country, and arrived independently a month ago at the mecca of meeting places in Slab City. Each was the fastest sprinter on her boys' track teams, and is still pretty enough to get away with it.
We drove in my Spark rental for two hours to the Colton RR Yard in San Bernardino, CA, which is a crew change yard and the portal for nearly all freights into and out of the greater Los Angeles.
We parked conveniently at the Arrowhead Hospital kitty-corner from the RR yard, and walked across the street to the Chevron station for liquids and snacks for a short trip. I got salted peanuts and V8 juice, while they, as vegans, shared lettuce and tomatoes. We stuffed ourselves and the 30-pound packs, as they chatted about fashion and astrology. They rolled their eyes when I said my sign was 'Feces'. With that, we slung our packs and walked out and up and over the Pepper Street Bridge, gazing like gods and goddesses over the Colton yard spreading toward the Pacific Ocean.
Like other classification yards around the country that build and break apart freight trains, this one is about five miles long, and shaped like a double ended funnel, with a breadth of about 40 tracks at its center, that dwindle to two main lines in and out each end. The west end is our hoboettes gateway into the grimy, greasy, noisy, exciting virgin territory under the Pepper Street Bridge. We crawled down the embankment and under the bridge at Colton Crossing.
We stood on the site of, in 1883, the most intense Frog War in railroad history. The crossing is the intersection for ATSF (now BNSF) and Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) railroads. A frog is a switch at a junction to allow trains to pass one way or the other. At the 'Battle of the Crossing' citizens from Colton and San Bernadino gathered on each side of the tracks - San Bernadino residents on the north side and the citizens from Colton on the south – with the Southern Pacific locomotive between them.
Men on both sides carried, picks, shovels, sledgehammers, shotguns and revolvers. Virgil Earp stood in the gangway between the engine cab and tender facing the two mobs, his revolver in hand. California governor Robert Waterman posed on the cowcatcher between Earp and the mob, ordering the group to clear for the passage of the locomotive, and instructing Earp that if he made any move with his six-shooter, that his San Bernadino Sheriff and deputies were authorized to shoot. Tensions rose, and one of the bloodiest battles since Earp's Tombstone Shootout was sidetracked when Earp realized that further resistance was hopeless and would cause bloodshed. He holstered his weapon, and ordered the engineer to move the locomotive forward.
A hundred trains now use the crossing daily, where the two Hoboettes and I huddled near the frog for pre-game instructions.
I told them to keep their lights handy, dreadlocks bunned up under caps, double lace shoes, and secure every valuable. The blonde whispered to the other.
'I don't wear underwear.'
'Then pull out the bra.'
The blonde shrugged, and yanked a bra from her pack, raised her shirt, and strapped it on. Then she slipped her wallet and cell phone into the spare spaces.
Two huffing locomotives stood at ready, coupled to mile-long strings of cars, at 100 yards to the west, and shook the earth. We looped through the brush around the locomotives for 20 minutes to the midpoint of one of the freights. It whistled cannonball! and departed as we approached, and so we boarded the train on the adjacent track. Suddenly those engines 'dynamited' or separated from the string of cars, and left likely to fetch more.
So we crawled over five more sets of parked parallel iron strings, up and down ladders on each, until coming to another made-up- train ready for departure. Its engines rumbled a half-mile at the front end, diesel smoke drifted over us on an eastbound zephyr, and an electrical ticking from car-to-car along the entire line checking for connections cued an imminent departure. We climbed and hunkered in a box car … waiting … for 30 minutes. Unexpectedly, two yard workers screeched to a stop on the ballast on either side of the track, and the one on the right boomed, 'We seen your legs (under the cars)!'
'But they disappeared while you was walkin!' chimed his partner.
'We found you!' they tweeted like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The girls cringed in horror at the twin bearded apparitions. However, one of the workers offered a 12-pack of Danone mineral water, and the other some dry advice that would change our astrological journey, 'Go to the main rail, and get on that BNSF fixin' to pull out.'
'What's your sign?' asked the blonde.
'Virgo,' they replied in unison.
'I knew it,' joined Starr. 'I attract Virgos.'
Eager in their beliefs, they leapt like superwomen over four strings on parallel tracks to the main line, so that I next saw aboard a curved-side hopper on the BNSF train. The curves indicate 8'x12' steel verandas at either end with a portal to a hobo hotel room the size of a pup tent, that is equipped with a bathroom hole in the car infrastructure over the ties.
A quarter-mile ahead, four red-and-black BNSF engines grumbled, wheels pawing the ties, for two minutes. The brakes released a whoosh, and the train lurched toward our destination.
A hobo never knows where he's rolling. The hoboettes seem satisfied with this. We slid under the Pepper Street Bridge, bent north at the Colton Crossing, and rode into the night. The girls bucked a chilly March wind, for a while naming the constellations, and then curled up in their sleeping bags, as I watched moonlight disappear under the 4' steel wheels.
No one could figure out if it was the sunrise or the stop of the wheels that awoke us the next morning. The locomotives abruptly dynamited off the freight, and since I had allowed the hobo faux pas of suggesting that everyone remove his shoes, we couldn't chase the locomotives to catch the continuing train. We were 'put out to the farm', as hobos say.
'First things first,' yawned the black-haired girl, pulling her Smartphone from her underwear. 'We're in Santa Fe Springs of north Los Angeles,' she said, keying the pad. 'And my online astrologer says that it's reasonable and permissible to exploit the past. We know what to do and how to do it.'
With that, the blonde offered, I hear freeway traffic.'
We had been set off on a spur track in an industrial park, and so any direction would be progress. 'Let's go!.' I agreed.
'We jetted toward the highway noise, and in minutes were also listening to the patter of rain on the brims of our hats like the sound of 'A Hobo Don't Mind a Little Rain', until it started to pour. We asked a Good Samaritan for directions to the Metro-link that floats light trains on the same tracks that the big locomotives travel. Soon a light rail whisked us to Union Station in downtown LA where a Chinese Lantern Festival was underway under sunnier skies. We caught another light rail out to San Bernadino, and then a local bus back to square one at the Colton RR Yard.
The athletic hoboettes were effervescent, and spun pirouettes, skipped and strutted across the hospital parking lot to the car. They were baptized hoboettes, and would ride the rail again.
I struck a vein of precious books along my shelves this month. The first nugget is Leonard Clark's The Rivers Ran East.
Former Army intelligence officer Colonel Clark arrives in Lima in 1946 with $1000 and a secret map of El Dorado, the legendary gold strike deep in the jungle. The most gripping exploration begins that disturbs me so often that I must take walks between chapters. (I moved to this desert after being lost in that same jungle.)
Clark is arguably the greatest explorer of the 20th century, an accurate naturalist, and unique, refreshing writer. He didn't question situations; he just charged ahead with nothing more than open eyes and the shirt on his back, overhanging a secret belt like batman.
The French Foreign Legion states that no soldier may 'ring the bell' and resign during the mandatory five-year contract. But a Slab City resident claims to have quit a second time, in disguise, just to prove them wrong. It reminds me of Simon Murray's Legionnaire, easily the top military personal account I've come across in that venue.
The young Englishman enlists in the Foreign Legion in the early 1960s when Algeria is a hot spot in the French umbrella. Five punishing years in the Legion are relived in an honest, captivating diary from which the reader concludes that the author is a charmed soul.
This book is special because it spans the transformation of the old brutal Legion into the more tepid modern. Henceforth, British enlistees were referred to as SMS's (Simon Murray specials).
My favorite cartoon has two thought balloons.
One floats above a man with chin in hand: 'What's it all about?'
The second balloon is above an amphibian's head struggling from water to land: 'Think, reproduce, survive.'
I grew up in a sweep of states contiguous with the Canadian border and my main memory is snow. I broke out and walked the lengths of Death Valley and Baja California, only to fall in love with the desert.
The final straw was in 1999, when I was abandoned by a guide in the Amazon rain forest and nearly died paddling lost on rivers running high under rainstorms harboring pink dolphins in a hand-hewn canoe to civilization.
I was wet and ready for something dry and warm when I met a 300 lb. canoeist in the California Sierras who claimed Slab City and Sand Valley as his bases, sketched a map on a paper towel, and the rest of the story is sand down the hourglass.
Still, it only partially addresses "Why am I here?"
I was raised in the thought balloon above the man's head and wanted to explore the one above the amphibian.
I wished to learn heat as well as I knew cold. I knew from the hikes that the every living desert plant and animal is to be revered for its evolutionary past and adaptive present, and I craved their knowledge first-hand. In parallel, there was a lifelong compulsion to homestead from the ground up.
The desert has a quiet, clean solitude that would require self-sufficiency and, if by chance there were neighbors, they'd accept me for it.
So, I shrugged off society and moved to Sand Valley, and on across the hills to Slab City.
The rewards have been as astronomical as the evening sky.
Why else am I in Slab City? A month before the Amazon rainforest, in walking the length of Death Valley and discovering the years-old bleaching bones of a hiker who ran out of water and luck, I reported it to the authorities. The funny California cop mentality labeled me a murder suspect, so I told the sheriff goodbye and remember the police dog staring as I fled to the Amazon rain forest and then to Slab City, holding those thought balloons.
February 27, 2017 | Leave a Comment
The most profound book on the evolution of American ideology for the last 50 years is The Adjusted American by Snell and Gail Putney. The revealing subtitle is 'Normal Neuroses in the Individual and Society'. An adjusted American is a citizen who has bought into a mass neurosis that the country declares normal, and so is adjusted. A more accurate adjective is misadjusted.
The author explains the neurotic tendencies of the average American that are considered normal with a nearly overpowering peer pressure. The theory, which I have found accurate in haunting every facet of all the states from the Alaskan frontiers to Manhattan streets to Florida swamp and Los Angeles megacity, is that the regular citizens are considered normal and even encouraged by the larger social structure. Most of the social and personal ills of society are based on this alienation of qualities from the true self onto others.
The implied goal for all of us trapped in the adjustment mentality is to seek other role models so that we can take control over our lives. It is difficult because the alienation is encouraged by social pressure to conform to a certain neurotic ideal image.
Slab City is the best example of a group who have broken free and offer themselves as the last free place to regain a true self, cheaply, easily, and overnight.
The fence between the adjusted American society and Slab City is our contrasting world views. Slab City holds a sharp edge of independence and self-sufficiency against the settled, sober and unadventurous outside. Either the town will prevail, or the country will smother them. Or, an apartheid – separation on grounds other than race – will carry us into the future. In that case, Slab City will grow by leaps and bounds.
One drive through Slab City causes some tourists to wonder why they haven't run over the place with bulldozers.
They did run it over with bulldozers in the 90s. There used to be dozens of burned autos and trailers along the main drag. Simultaneously, the county arrived to tow all unregistered trailers and cars, which were in the majority. It was a huge sting, and the price for old trailers to call home skyrocketed.
It will happen again, but Slab City is resilient. Other U.S. cities that have been destroyed and rebuilt are Galveston TX, Dayton OH, Anchorage AK, and St. Louis MO.
There's a mega-church parson the Slab underworld is trying to run out of town. They beat him up, walked him to the town limit, tried to burn his big top tent, drilled a hole in his panel truck gas tank, hired, hired someone to put a rattler in his bed, stole all his valuables, and soaped his glasses 'Pedophile'. However, he resilient too, and is trying to take over Salvation Mountain and turn Slab City into a prison work camp to clean it up.
There are nothing but boos and cheers on the sidelines.
In the same period of great adventure at the turn of the 20th century, two authors wrote of their travels to forbidden continents. Teddy Roosevelt, stepping down from the presidency, went to the foreboding Amazon and converted his journals into the book Travels through the Brazilian Wilderness, a few years after Mary F. Kingsley, a sheltered Victorian spinster suddenly freed from caring for her two sickly parents after they passed within six weeks of each other, went and wrote of the deepest, darkest Travels in West Africa.
In so many words, Roosevelt belly flops through the wilderness as Kingsley smashes through it.
Roosevelt writes soundly, and unfortunately, about what might have happened, did happen to others, and how dangerous it was to stand behind a rifle before a charging elephant, and hold a pen amongst whining mosquitos.
In the meantime, Miss Kinsley set out into uncharted regions and across treacherous swamps, going where few white men, let alone women, had ever been. She sometimes went in disguise, and preferred the uncovered cannibals to the cups of tea served by dignitaries. She learned the tracks, rivers, tribes, and tricks from the traders, and then vagabonded it. Once in a game trap set with spikes her voluminous skirts saved her from painful death. Alligators attempted to climb in her solo canoe, which she dealt with by crashing with a paddle. She got along well with practically every other living thing she met, drawn to life, and collecting specimens, and living to tell it in a lighthearted manner after sitting down with tired feet to a welcome pen and paper.
A coffee shop opened six months ago in Slab City called Starbucks that served coffee that the people swore rivaled the real thing. The shop was erected on a slab with wood pallet sides and comfortable couches built into a Palo Verde tree, and a drive-through under a branch where clients could pick up freshly brewed methamphetamine.
Today the sheriff picked up the manager for outstanding warrants. After he was escorted to jail, his 'grandmother' burned the store to the ground, including two 8-week old Cocker Spaniel pups named Caffeine and Free. Starbucks is still hot and black, with a new smell.
I had a pet Trader Rat that came to me in a strange trade. He grew strong and smart under my tutelage and lack of my own biological offspring. A Trader Rat looks like a sleek rat with a Mickey Mouse face. The close proximity of his eyes over a pointed nose molded the rodent's brain into the greatest trader in the animal kingdom.
His best trades were:
• A pile of coin wrappers for a stack of coins
• A scorpion claw for a radio transistor
• Cactus spines for a pair of gloves
• A pyramid of stones outside the refrigerator for a carton of soymilk
• Everything in my car glove box for hundreds of sticks and stones
I raised him like a kid with a baby book complete with fingerprints, a growth chart, and photos over time as he rode in my shirt pocket like a sidecar around the desert property. He looked forward to a workout in a gymnasium or school I had built, or to roam freely until I scratched a code on the ground, to differentiate me from the black day the nemesis rattlesnake would cock its scaly head.
He had come into my life on the greatest trade of all. The mother had abandoned her eye-closed infant on my trailer floor in exchange for a pair of reading glasses. I set a travel alarm and when it was taken by the mother followed the ring a few minutes later to her midden in the tool shed. I gave the baby back, and she returned it, hung in her mouth. That's how I became a father with a vasectomy.
One day, I received a terrible trade: my heartbreak for the desert diary scratched in the sand the night before of a rattlesnake's track winding up to my Trader Rat's prints. Now we are in each other's memories. My fondest is of him trading giggles for a good tickling on his belly.
Wherever I lay my hat is my home, as long as it's interesting. These are my 24 strangest dwellings chronologically from 1972 - 2017:
1. Attic that burned in East Lansing, MI - 1 year
2. Flooded basement in East Lansing, MI – 1 year
3. Closet in La Jolla, CA – 1 year
4. Garage with dogs in Lake Lansing, MI – 4 years
5. Chevy van with a 7' stuffed rabbit across America – 1 year
6. Boxcars across America – 3 years
7. Hostels around the world – 4 years
8. Storage unit in San Diego – 2 years
9. Home Depot backyard shed in Hillcrest, CA – 2 years
10. Hotel crawlspace in downtown San Diego – 1 year
11. Fishing boat in San Diego Harbor – 1 year
12. Laundry room in Encinitas, CA – 1 year
13. Attic in Solana Beach, CA – 1 year
14. Coffin in Michigan basement – 1 year
15. Stairwell in Weston, CT – 1 year
16. Barn in Laws, CA – 2 years
17. Ford Contour with all but driver's seat removed in Blythe, CA – 1 year
18. Truck container in the desert by Mexican border – 8 years
19. Underground burrow in the Sonora desert – 4 years
20. Flooded cellar in Iquitos, Peru – 1 year
21. Mattress in San Felipe, Baja dump – 1 year
22. Office rooftop in Miami – 1 year
23. Car camping in a Hertz rental in Slab City, CA – 1 year
24. Under a Mesquite tree in Slab City – 1 year
February 11, 2017 | 1 Comment
The 1989 box office smash Escape from New York is set in 1997 in Manhattan after the island has been designated a maximum-security prison.
Where a fifty-foot wall was erected around Manhattan to prevent escape, Slab City is geographically isolated from the rest of society and occupied primarily by criminals who cannot escape through the thick perimeter of blazing sand for lack of vehicles.
There are in both continual shouting, challenges, brandished weapons, gladiatorial fights, babbling men and methamphetamine zombies walking the littered streets, women screaming during drunken sex, biting dogs, gunshots, fires, and bombs rocking the lopsided shanties. Instead of the Trade Center there is Salvation Mountain, and in place of the sewers beneath NY there are catacombs including an underground bar under a cement Slab to cool off and forget the pandemonium above.
Both places are violent, scary, and weird.
There is great kindness in both too, and before you get trapped in Slab City you may want to get a preview by watching Escape from NY City.
The most important chart you ever look at may be your own. It's a simple 2-line graph that parallels your feelings with your thoughts.
Success is taking control of your moods. One of the most difficult yet doable means is to distance your feelings from your thoughts during important decisions. It is possible to completely divorce feelings, yet I suggest only a far distancing. Then you may act rationally … and arrive at success in anything.
The method of charting is each evening to recall your important thoughts and their accompanying feelings of that day. Plot them as dots on the X axis (time) of the building graph, as follows. The thoughts will be one color, and the feelings another. Chart as a dot the thought, and as another dot above or below it the associated feeling. The Y axis here is the importance of the thought and the intensity of the feeling during it.
Now you are looking at two somewhat parallel lines that connect the dots of your day's activities relative to their feelings. Over the week, some days may show only a couple dots in the lines, and other days several, as the graph extends horizontally for one month.
Most people cannot separate their feelings that accompany their thoughts and actions, and the graph reveals all. The more vertically volatile the feelings over the thoughts/actions, the less in control you are. A person in good control of his thoughts and mood swings will see two nearly parallel lines close to each other, and soon the feelings will even out below the thought line to show good control.
The graph after one month will become diagnostic, and inspirational to map your life of the interrelationship of thoughts and feelings relative to success.
The big test in Slab City is SOP in underworld cultures. A newcomer or resident seeking to advance among the population is taken to the edge of his capacity, and there teeters to be judged … Yea or Nay.
It's the rite of passage in practice in African tribes, and American gangs, and akin in sports to taking an opponent to the rubber game before asking him to be your doubles partner.
Slab city is one of these places where everyone needs, but is afraid to ask for fear of betrayal, a partner.
The permanent population is almost all underworld, and the rest are non-testifying spectators. There are drug smugglers, drug users, illegal alien smugglers, ex-cons, men and women on the lam, terrorists, mercenaries, snitches, car jacks, and common thieves.
Each is intelligent, and physically capable in a drunken or drug stupor, to commit a crime, defend himself, or come you your aid. Each resident knows that you cannot trust anyone but yourself … or someone who has proven himself by an illegal act, or a test, or is a 'made guy' through relationship.
I estimate about 70% of the Slab city residents have served time in prison, 50% can be considered dangerous, and I'm trying to spin a decent relationship with all of them. Since no one else can do it so far, I'm the mediator.
One hour in Slab City equals a day in a jungle or skid row for action. The reason is that each of the 200 residents is a Reader's Digest 'Unforgettable Character', the underworld alphas who use this outlaw town as a buffer between them and what they consider an anarchist USA.
Yesterday a twenty-year old Road Kid rolled up on a bicycle and asked for advice, knowing that I was one of the clearer heads in town not using drugs or alcohol. He wanted an I.D., saying his was damaged. So, I drove to next door Niland and put the word out on the street, and was rewarded in front of the grocery store an hour later when a young lady ambled up and asked, 'What does the Road Kid look like?'
I described him physically, and she focused a reply, 'Does he have an eagle tattoo on his right calf?' He did, and I told her so. 'He's a child molester,' she claimed, and a bounty hunter has offered us on the street, and in Slab City, $500 for information leading to his capture.'
I returned to the Road Kid's camp, and asked him to raise his cuff, where appeared an eagle, like the curtain rising on an American newsreel. I explained that if I provided a photo of him to the I.D. people, that they would incriminate, thinking he is a pedophile. Then his story unwound.
He had been caught in a massive sting by the FBI on a drug bust in a neighboring state, gone to jail, his first conviction, and jumped $50,000 bail. He rode Greyhound to Slab City, and was living as a hundred of other outlaws on the lam do, in a tent under a Mesquite tree, swimming in the canal, learning the trade of criminal activity from his peers, and hoping that his problem would go away.
However, a week ago, a burly Bounty Hunter came to his door with a badge in one hand and a drawn revolver in the other, hiding behind a bulletproof vest, and demanded to see the Road Kid's I.D. The kid replied that he didn't have one. The hunter told him to put his hands on his head, and as he did, the hunter pulled up his pant leg and spotted the tattoo. As the cuff fell, and he felt handcuffs slip around a wrist, the kid took flight, risking a bullet in the back. He sped across the desert like a rabbit and escaped the hunter.
When I told him about the child molestation charge, he cried, 'I love kids the right way. If I get out of this jam I'm going to raise a family.' I was convinced, and on checking around discovered that the Bounty Hunter had fabricate the charge to mount a vigilante hunt among the locals to capture the fugitive.
The Road Kid is on his way to Mexico, the Bounty Hunter will be stopped at the border, and he'll probably raise a Mexican family of unforgettable character children courtesy of Slab City.
Fights these days are not like in the Old West or even the Johnny Cash and Cool Hand Luke days when two guys duked, bit, spit, and brawled it out until one was beaten. Then, sometimes, he was helped to his feet and life went on.
The fights in Slab City are simultaneous physical and mental contests because the fighters, as they swing, observe the consequences of illegal slips that may be caught on a cell phone, videotaped, or witnessed and later brought up in court, where the fight winner could land in jail for years.
The informal law of brawl in the American streets and Slab City is that anything goes; but the bottom line of police law is that one may legally defend and retaliate in direct proportion to the assailant's tactics.
Yesterday's brawl on a concrete slab near Salvation Mountain demonstrates the ongoing spark and fire of a street fight on the two levels.
The concrete slab where the fight broke out is double the size of a boxing ring, where one tall man walked into the camp on the slab of another portly man. The escalation proceeded through the usual steps of: yelling, a mutual shove to the chest, and then the action began. The stout guy reached and hit the tall guy with the heel of his hand on his brow, and the tall man responded by picking up a 4' tree branch, and saying, 'You struck me in the face, and now I'm going to hit you with this stick!' He struck him in the chest with it. The shorter guy picked up a 6' steel pipe, and screamed, 'You hit me in the chest with a stick, and now I'm going to knock your head with this pipe.' He took a swing, missed, and at this pregnant moment I appeared, attracted by the yelling, on a bluff above the slab.
'Stop!' I yelled down, as they surged toward each other, and landed glancing blows. I used the tall man's name which got his attention, shouting, 'Jake, take one step back.' He did, somewhat mesmerized by my tone of voice. But then, unable to recall the short man's name, I stuttered, and felt foolish. My next thought was to swan dive off the bluff onto the concrete between the two, as an acquaintance had done off the second tier of a jail onto a card table to separate rival gangs coming to blows over a misplayed poker hand. However, the slab was too far down and my stomach grown too soft, so I started to rush down the bluff threatening to step between them if they didn't stop. That didn't work, so I bluffed, 'I called the cops and they'll be here in a minute.' That stopped them in their tracks, for each had legally covered himself in the melee, and neither wanted to face the other again but before a judge. They parted, and walked away.
One of my favorite pastimes is being able to stop fights. The usual technique is to ante up the intervention as the fight escalates, as follows:
1. Stay calm, and tell the fighters to stay calm.
2. Assess the situation quickly, to determine how serious it is and if I’m in danger.
3. Deduce in a heartbeat if either has a weapon or access to one.
4. Tell the fighters to each take one step back.
5. If they back up, you can step between the fighters.
6. Face the antagonist. Tell him to take a deep breath, and then the other to do the same.
7. If there are onlookers, tell them not to egg on the fighters, but to help separate them.
8. If the fight continues, either restrain the aggressor, or let them duke it out, stopping them only after one is grounded and can’t rise.
9. Most people do not want to fight, but to keep from losing face. Once the fighters are separated, tell each to be bigger than the situation, and take a walk in opposite directions to cool off.
10. If the fight goes on, call the cops, or pretend to do so.
11. As they walk away set the ground rules: they must not see or approach each other for one week.
In the Slab City brawl the two agreed to a one week mutual restraining order, but the next day came back to me asking that it be lifted because a night's sleep had left them with clearer heads for peace. But they had to be punished, and could not see each other for a week.
Picking a favorite campsite in Slab City is choosing a home. Eager arrivals drive, hitch, bike, or walk in daily, discover it's really true they may choose a slab or lot for free, park a trailer, pitch a tent, or erect a home without permission or zoning. They may put up a perimeter fence, though few do, because they like their neighbors in this, their first day at Slab City.
When I realized I could have a new home in 24 hours, I spent the first hour driving the dirt tracks on the fringe of town for the perfect spot: walking distance to the Internet Cafe, Library, Oasis bar, music Range, hot spring, bombing range for spare change recycling, hiking the arroyos, and a big shade tree.
One spot fit the criteria, a half-mile from the nearest resident on the south side, under a spreading Palo Verde tree. I cut a stencil with my jackknife, spray painted 'Occupied' in mirror letters on an old tire, per the requirement for establishing a claim for a lot, and improved the track to it by driving my car back-and-forth a dozen times to harden it.
A family of Kit Fox were the welcome wagon, liked the site, and ate dinner with me, often staying overnight. Weekend visitors and snowbirds from the west coast followed my track and stayed for a week or month, and often left some of their belongings they no longer wanted after a few breaths of fresh air in Slab City. I inherited their clothes, tents, sleeping gear, a bow-and-arrow, violin, piano, motorcycle, and even a titled car, without having met the owners.
Newcomers began to settle around me, mostly due to the road I had created, and proximity to the big shade tree, so I began to leave camp to sleep elsewhere. Once I returned and found a Minnesota millionaire organic farmer had pulled into my spot, set up camp, and was so determined to make an organic start on his own life that I let him take the camp. The BLM kicked him out on Christmas day, and a group of five desert rats in jalopies set up a meth lab under the Palo Verde, and the place reeked of brew for a month before they moved on. I found that packaged meth needles go for a buck a piece on the street, and they had left 200. Probably they had been moved along by a wizened warrior who, once I had reclaimed my spot, walked up and identified himself as Eagle One, displaying a lanyard braided from the South Vietnamese flag, and a necklace of human teeth. He told me he had cleared an airstrip the previous week, and landed a Drone with a 30' wingspan capable of carrying weapons and supplies; and that he had a buried a van 'out yonder', pointing, that I soon stumbled on while hiking, but didn't touch because Special Forces equals explosives.
The turning point a few days later was when I got a strange Facebook invitation to 'friend' from a Pennsylvania physicist who described the Z-Machine, 1000-times more powerful than a nuclear bomb, and the manufacturer, it's location on the adjacent military base, and how he would be arriving in a week to investigate it. There was no profile picture, except a Pitbull, and one week later I spotted the dog near my camp, and things started to be rearranged. Whenever I returned to camp, something was out of place. The 'occupied' tires were turned upside down, so it no longer looked like I was demented, to thwart squatters. But a stuffed bear did squat, in one of the tires, watching me with glassy eyes that I checked for cameras.
It was time to move on, as in life, because there are so many favorite spots suitable to call home.
An Alpha Female is the dominant female of a pack of people or animals, including the females and males. She is always self-assured and strong, mentally and physically, with a gypsy's cunning that adds to her allure.
Other traits of the alpha female are persistence, courage, purposeful, hard working, perceptive, individualistic, inspirational, a leader by example, and often a center of attention. She is manipulative without being sexual but employs a sense of humor. The real she-woman can laugh at herself, and having really lived has stories to tell that everyone wants to hear.
In business, the alpha females are clever, confident, and with a high IQ stand less of a chance of finding a mate. So, she succeeds financially.
In romance, she dates as many people as she wants. Research shows that high-IQ alpha women are less likely to get married than their peers with lower ones. Men tend to steer clear of alpha females for fear they will not be in control. Biologically, they have no time to raise a child while busy climbing vertically in a career, rather than hoping for someone who completes them.
Slab City, being an anarchist town, has a lion's share of alpha females. The top four in no particular order are the Librarian, a clever, beautiful blonde with half her head shaved, with a pegleg, and grace of movement when she turns book pages or plays hard rock on bass guitar. Next, the Mountain Manager is as large as her title but people-manages with a quick wit and quicker tongue from her corporate media background. Then, the Thief is truly dangerous and knocks off camps like dominoes, disappearing into the arroyos like a wily coyote where nobody really wants to follow her. Finally, the Hermaphrodite brings a little of both sexes to alpha feminism, having the hormones and understanding of both genders.
No one, male or female, toys with the alpha females. Each is so dominant that when they meet sparks fly, and sometimes fists, as each is a talented pugilist. This is the only way a male can arrange to dominate them.
The life of Ray the Pilot is a tragedy, perhaps except for this memory.
At nine his father, an Air Force pilot and crop duster, taught him to solo an airplane. At eleven years young Ray was crop dusting alone in a helicopter. He was an Eagle Boy Scout and, standing 6'9" with 300 pounds, was a high school football and basketball standout. He followed in the air steps of his father, a Lt. Colonel, and joined the Air Force. He flew jets and helicopters in three wars: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Then he taught flying for 14 years to cadets.
In one incident he crash landed and the paramedics took a pulse, found none, and stuck him in a body bag. En route to the morgue he 'rose from the dead', and punched his way out of the bag, astonishing the medics who re-diagnosed a concussion, with a tiny piece of shrapnel lodged near the spine. A hump grew to encase it, so large that he looked like a snail.
He fathered thirteen sons and daughters who joined the armed forces, and never called him on Christmas.
He had seen and done it all ten years ago, except Slab City, where he moved. People shunned him because he made the Elephant Man look like a pretty boy, but I enjoyed his war tales lowered into a raspy voice at eye level bent over with the hump rising like a glacier to the clouds.
Last week, Ray asked me for some Peppermint Oil through his window. He said the hump was freezing. The next day I followed the coroner to his camp, and now his trailer is empty of the most important thing. The Slab City yellow tape raises in one week, and the human vultures will scavenge all that is left.
Our national pastime has three lessons of life.
I enjoyed the practice of the professional teams as they warmed up in Detroit, Yankee and other stadiums. The crack of the bat and the infield moving like ballerinas with gloves and balls around the dirt stage, with the machinelike execution of a Swiss clock. That's all I liked about the pros, but it was enough to inspire all walks of life.
I liked 'Workup' as a fledgling starting in right field and working the way, as the batters were thrown out, a half hour later through pitcher to catcher, and to lift a bat myself. Workup is a lesson in delayed gratification wherever you go.
My writing coach is Art Shay, whose 'Homerun' style is the model I adopted for my own writing of short adventure stories. He advised, "The story begins with the crack of the ball off the bat, the player rounds the bases in mounting anticipation, and returns where he began at home."
Other sports offer more, but these are the best lessons from baseball.
I took cues as a youth watching The Rifleman, Gunsmoke, Cisco, Zorro, and Texas Rangers ('one war, one Ranger') ride in and clean up a town of outlaws. I read the same in L'Amour, Max Brand, and Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Over the years, I've added a few tips of my own on how to infiltrate a lawless town, not necessarily to clean up, take over, or win the moll, but to just get along with everyone and learn.
I arrived in Slab City and in a glance knew it would be my laboratory. It was a matter of devising a way to penetrate. There were eight steps to the technique. The town is one-square mile of two hundred characters who seemed to have stepped out of a Shakespeare tragedy, so everything could be done by foot.
• Identify the ten most influential individuals
• Institute a method to win each over
• Bump randomly into each
• Tell each a different adventure story for rapport
• Provide unique help such as medical or legal advice
• Give matchless gifts, as others are forgotten
• Accept nothing in return
• Use the girls to get to their powerful guys, and vice versa
The targeted 16 included: the Mayor, Music Range proprietor, Salvation Mountain manager, the meth maker, drug dealer, his strong arm, leader of the bombing range recyclers, best thief, top arsonist, leading prostitute, ringleader of illegal alien smugglers, the hostel, library, and junkyard owners, primary crooked cop, and military chief of security.
The adventure stories circulated, and the recommendations by these powerful people trickled down through the population. Now, at the close of the second year at Slab City, the fruit of my labors are being harvested.
I'm having the time of my life. That signals the time to leave, as I did with jobs, sports, and teaching, at the pinnacle of success, to go on to the next laboratory.
In memory, Alba spoke French to her cats, Spanish to the dogs, and English to me. She spoke to me out at her remote property because I was educated and had seen a hundred dollar bill, unlike our desert rat peers.
Alba was born in Managua, Nicaragua tremendously premature. She was a cherub in dancing tights at age 7, pictures showing a resemblance and charm to Shirley Temple. Her father before she was ten took her frequently to the city skid row with coins, and later she went alone, to give them to the needy. Dad was a multi-millionaire hardware man with businesses around the world including Europe. Alba wanted to become a nun, but dad ordered her to University of Pennsylvania to study accounting in order to control the family business. She graduated with honors and, at 4' 11" in the college yearbook is the star of the basketball team. She then handled the hardware business records, got a CPA in Nicaragua, and I saw pictures of her in mink stoles in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and other exotic places on business or pleasure. Then tragedy struck when her beloved father was murdered in Europe. Alba took over the business, but was actually freed to pursue the nunnery, if she could find one to accept her. She gave the business away, and moved to San Francisco, where she was a popular character on the wharf fishing for sailors. She was involved in a head-on collision and would let you stick your fingers in the in the depressions in her head, where she was laid up in bed, comatose for a while, then immobile, and then recovered to become the old Alba again. Raring to go at the nunnery, one after another turned her away, until she threw up her hands to one sister in the archway, and said, 'The hell with you!' She bought a battered blue Ford van and plied the back roads of southern California until she found remote Sand Valley in about 1995, at the age of about 60 - eight miles down the road from my Rancho Scorpion.
Alba was a good neighbor in that we visited bi-annually when we happened to bump into each other on supply runs to town. She fretted over me, often dowsing me with holy water from the Lourdes. She kept her toenails and teeth as they fell out in an accountant file, and a daily record of the temperature for years and years, as the 1' outdoor thermometer in her front yard spun an extra revolution in the summer to register 180F. She chased rattlesnakes with a broomstick, and used no solar, propane or firewood. Her cooking was setting a Cup-of-Soup or the like in the sun to warm. She had no bad habits, except an underground crypt filled with her deceased pets - hundreds of dogs and cats over the years - that were desiccated to remain as if petrified. It was like Twilight Zone going down there and petting them. Alba had a Dog Street of a dozen mongrels, and a 40' trailer full of cats. I would walk down the Street and practically get licked to death, but entering the Cat House was like going into the jungle. Feral cats perched on the cupboards, shelves, bookcases, and under the table and bed.
Once a month, Alba tied garlic around her ankles and walked eight miles through rattlesnake country to a county road to hitch to Blythe, CA for supplies. The snakes do not like garlic. One day Alba did not return, the dogs were set free, the cats escaped, I sealed up the crypt, emptied her toenails and teeth into my pocket, and as the wind now blows through her ramshackle camper I can still see her dancing and singing in the dirt track when the US Marines drove tanks past to practice war games, 'Thank you, Marines. Thank you for saving Managua!'
Getting The Make on someone means to identify him, his job, or role in life. My expertise comes from ten straight years standing an hour a night in bars across the country, without drinking. In seeing tens of thousands of people, I tried to figure them out. The other place was as a veterinarian at examination tables and kennel gates of small and large animals, because animals don't tell you who they are.
My three best makes and how over the years are:
1. A few years ago in Costa Rica, I was on a tour bus with a tall gentleman who spoke a sentence to his wife seated next to him, and I asked, 'Are you a dentist from Los Angeles?' The give-away was a slight hunch, delicate, smooth hands of exacting movements, other physical factors, and his wife had answered with a 'Valleyspeak' twang. He had good teeth himself, and I had a toothache, which is why I had asked.
2. Ten years ago in Times Square, I got particularly efficient service at a dinner. I said, 'You must be an electrical engineer from Delhi.' His skin flushed red, and his quick tracking pupils dilated, as he confirmed. He was obviously Indian, and nearly all who make it to America are newspapermen or electrical engineer, for which India is famous.
3. Yesterday at Slab City, I bumped into a grizzled newcomer and looked down, remarking, 'You got your shoes at Big 5 Sporting Goods and were in Special Forces.' That fueled an hour of stories of Vietnam, the CIA, and later how he became a mercenary and came to Slab City to wind down. I had bought the same pair of sneakers a month ago, and the feet of a Special Forces can go all directions at once, as opposed to a Marine who is gung ho ahead, and retired Navy who push off the sides of their feet as if aboard a ship.
Learning to get a make on people opens doors, closes ones that should be, and is good for business and sport.
An interesting point of hoboing is the ratio of hobos and their use of mobile devices such as Smartphones. When I rode quarterly from 1985-95 the mobile devices weren't around. However, many of the executives I took to the rails became hobo tech heads, bringing cell phones, GPS, scanners with preprogrammed RR yard frequencies, and night vision goggles. I was content with my working knowledge and the Rand McNally Handy RR Atlas, although at times the high tech proved valuable.
There were reportedly 4 million hobos during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and supposedly after that the hobo subculture became an intellectual property. It was revived in the Great Recession of 2008 that threw hundreds of thousands into homelessness. The worst of them became stew bums occupying your park benches, the more capable boxcar tourists and rubber tramps (in autos), and the most able became hobos riding the rails. I estimate these days that in good weather about one in every five trains you see west of the Mississippi River is carrying a hobo, and far fewer to the east.
Yesterday while hiking in the desert along a Union Pacific track between LA and Tucson, I watched one freight whiz past every 30 minutes for six hours, usually double stack container trains. I was too far from them to see hobos waving, but on returning to Slab city I noted about 200 new young arrivals with backpacks in the past month who will winter here, before moving on. Many talk of riding the rails. They are in their twenties, in dreadlocks, like drugs and the breeze in their hair, and often have female hoboettes in tow who are pretty as well as hard-bitten. They spend their free hours reading, playing guitars, and keying mobile devices.
One of them is named Hopper. He lost his right leg last year trying to catch a moving freight ladder outside of New Orleans. He is traveling with a parson who claims he has 'healed this cripple' by enabling his good leg to regenerate. They travel the nation three-legged, working the crowds, collecting food stamps, and panhandling in Walmart parking lots.
Of course, they have the latest Smartphones in this new hobo addition to the hobo subculture.
The key to survivals is mental rehearsal before the occasions occur. About twenty years ago, I listed the top twenty survival situations that I might encounter. Then I mentally (and often physically) rehearsed them, and these are the ones that have panned to save my limb or life:
1. Bear Attack
2. Rip Tide
3. Stuck Elevator
4. Dog Attack
5. Car crashes
7. Medical conditions
And so on.
The most interesting scenario I've been rehearsing lately is dog attacks, specifically by trained attack dogs. If you study the training films, the dogs are trained to go for the right arm, especially if it is raised to the side holding an object. The attack dogs, usually German Shepherds, run and launch off the ground and bite the wrist. In that full second after the animal leaves the ground it is in grave danger. I have been holding my right hand raised to shoulder level in a fist, the dog in my mind, (unaware that I'm ambidextrous) rockets at it, and in midair I pivot and stab it through the ribcage with a screwdriver, fork, or tire iron. If you have ever seen wild or even domestic cats fight, they first go for the jugular, and second to puncture the rib cage with a fang. The victim loses the powerful vacuum in the thoracic cavity to make the lungs expand out and instantly flounders. The only help in a survival situation is bubblegum or duct tape to seal the hole, which I've also rehearsed.
There are two outstanding breeds of dogs in Slab City: Chihuahuas and Pit Bulls.
The former number in the hundreds, nearly as many as the people, because the breed is a 'small world' dog. They thrive in barking clusters in the tiny prison-like shanties, tents and trailers. Their purpose is companionship and as burglar alarms. Owners know that to put a small world dog out into the 'big world' leads to disaster because their small brains on such little bodies would get them lost or under car tires.
Pit Bulls, on the other paw, with jaws as big as Tyrannosaurus Rexes, are the second most popular dog for protection. They are chained outdoors, often in protective circles, around peoples' camps. They are one of the few dogs that without training or warning bite before they bark. One put my knee in its mouth and dragged me to the owner, who ordered, 'Precious, drop!' and it released me.
Dogs are like people. The single idea leading humankind down the primrose path to destruction is the fallacy that each person is like everyone else. We are individuals within races that also differ in mental, physical, and social capacities. It's disastrous to think that all men have evolved to be alike, however it's free to establish an egalitarianism where the barriers are removed to anyone to strive to become equal or better than anyone else.
I believe that individuality is our only hope for the future.
December 22, 2016 | Leave a Comment
I became a sport legend in 1971 by standing with a small stick up to a giant they called 'Goliath'. Then the press clipping my mother saved labeled me 'The David Who Slew Three Goliaths' and it snowballed from there, including becoming a legend in racquetball and a five-page feature in Sports Illustrated ('He Found His Racquet', Nov. 19, 1979). But few have heard the story of how the little stick started the snowball.
In the quarterfinals my opponent was Paul 'Goliath' Lawrence, the tall National Champion who was my only nemesis. In the second game the face of my paddle broke and flew across the court smashing into the front wall, and I was left holding the handle that was the size of a six-inch ruler. My rival looked dazed, and I yelled at him, 'Continue playing!' So he made the return, and I hit the ball back with the stick. And once more. The game turned at that point, and I believe Lawrence threw it because I had the courage to stand and face him with a little stick. Plus his next opponent would have been National Champion Charles Brumfield.
I beat Brumfield with a replacement paddle, and in the finals another national champ Craig Finger, that led to racquetball, a date with Miss World, and the Sports Illustrated article.
In Utopia everything is perfect. The word was first used in the a book Utopia in 1516 by Sir Thomas More, and now on a cactus pocked square mile of desert in southern California 200 residents say they have the last word on the ultimate utopia, 121' below sea level teetered on the southern end of the San Andreas fault.
The features of utopias throughout the ages include:
Right to do whatever a person wants
Lack of religion
Equality among people
The people are the government
Information, independent thought, and freedom
Abundant supply of necessities
No forced work and available time to achieve anything
No fear of the outside world
Some argue that a utopian society has no social evils. This is where Slab City totters between utopia and dystopia. The eleven characteristics that distinguish Slab City from its predecessors are:
State ownership of land
Highest per capita arson in USA
Best metal scrapping on the Chocolate Mt. Bombing Range
Highest per capita methamphetamine use in the nation
Largest illegal alien smuggling rings
Hottest temperatures at 125F in the shade
Coachella Canal which runs uphill
Probably the highest number of warrants per capita
Most per capita bogus SSI claimants.
A walk through Slab City demonstrates these features. My day begins by rising with the sun and hiking three hours through the open desert in a no-man's land between Slab City and the Chocolate Mt. Bombing Range. The air is incredibly clear, fresh and cool. After the hot summer, you breathe it like drinking cool water. Creosote bushes pepper the desert floor reaching two stories and the highest I've seen in the world. In the early 1960s, a chemical company in Oakland hired 20 men to harvest creosote leaves near Niland, CA. Some workers moved closer to work by living in small trailers at the abandoned military Camp Dunlap. This was the start of what was called Niland Flats, then the Slabs, and now Slab City. I've planted sunflowers gardens at two secret springs that are beginning to bloom. There are also Broadcast flowers at a penny a seed that you cast near moisture and are rewarded a month later with many colorful faces.
A person coming out of wild country into town develops a righteousness of things. First I swim across the icy Coachella Canal. Entering Slab City is like hitting a brick wall. Suddenly you're in a green cloud of marijuana fumes. In H.G. Wells' In the Days of the Comet the collision of earth with a comet releases a mysterious green gas that transforms and purifies human nature and utopia follows. These are the highlights of today's walk:
First a stroll through the green cloud on the 18-hole golf course of total sand traps with ATV's in place of golf carts and hula-hoop holes. Then to the Anarchist Library to check for new Louis L'amour titles, and across the dirt track for an hour at the Internet Cafe. By this hour the adjacent Sunrise Coffee House is vacated of snowbirds, but the Skateboard Park is rolling. The park is General Patton's abandoned 50-meter swimming pool with slides of concrete culverts and jumps off burned cars. On to the hot springs to glance at the naked girls next to Salvation Mountain. Up on the hill, the cosmopolitan Slab City Hostel, Ponderosa Acoustic Guitar Circle, and a shantytown Air B&B are listed in tourist guides, alongside the Blue Church and East Jesus Sculpture Garden. Everything is run off the grid on solar, propane, a handful of generators, and firewood. This walk is through a shadow media that provides the truth about what's going on America.
I identify with many of the residents because in the last ten years I haven't known stability, moving one place to the next, slept outside, haven't worked nine to five from Monday to Friday, and have not counted on anything except surprise and unpredictability. There are scores of stories everywhere, and the faster and farther you walk the more you hear.
A rabbit hutch has just jumped off the back of a pickup and crashed on the road. Three got away, two are roasted to eat, and a youngster has picked up an injured one drawing itself forward with use of only the front legs. I advise him to give it to the Animal Rescue to attach a skateboard to replace the rear legs.
A man in a trench coat is coatless today and beseeches, ‘I lost my trench coat that was given to me by Sonny Barger. Please ask around!’ Within an hour, it’s located.
The town crier begs me to spread the word of a girl’s boyfriend, who left her three days ago, was just found dead in his car in Texas, and the girl must notify the next of kin.
I talk guy out of burning his neighbor's trailer for poisoning his barking dog.
A man shouts through his beard at me in shorts, 'I've got on five dresses and am shivering!' Aren’t you cold?’
A young Arkansas traveler went to a party last night, and was beaten up and thrown out the door for refusing to drink and smoke.
Wave goodbye to the beautiful peg leg librarian who has empathized with the pipeline protestor who lost her arm to a grenade, and is pulling out to join the clash in chilly North Dakota.
A new resident wants to ferry his second vehicle from LA, but the librarian with the only driver’s license and no warrants just left town.
I soothe a domestic quarrel between a guy who says that his girlfriend beat her head on the side of the trailer to build a 'portfolio' against him, while she claims he hit her.
A lady in a hurry to get her home box up hires me for three hours to erect a Slab style pre-fab home on her slab that used to quarter WWII soldiers. The materials costing $150 in a pile on her cement are: 12 4×8’ OSB sheets, twenty 2×4”s cut to 8’ length at Home Depot, four strap hinges, and a hundred screws. The completed shanty is an 8’ cube.
Orchestrate pulling a Georgia Dodge van out of a sand pit.
A new mother pushing a baby carriage asks to trade Oxytocin for diapers.
Stumble on a newly abandoned camp where someone left four bicycles, and ride them one-at-a-time to grateful recipients.
Diagnose and treat a Parvovirus dog.
Stroll through the local Walmart, ten acres of trash as organized as the real store with abandoned clothes, appliances, etc. that display one man’s trash is another’s treasures. I find a red bin with my backward writing label, empty, stolen from my property in Sand Valley two years ago, that caused me to migrate to this town.
My belongings – clothes, laptops, kitchenware, etc. – arrived before I did and keep turning up around town to contribute to the odd barter economy. The gold standard that was abandoned in the 1930s has been replaced in Slab City by marijuana. You may trade goods, secure a cash loan from 'Frank the Bank', or secure a meal on credit from the cafe, if you are known to have a marijuana stash. With virtually no cash, barter runs the market. Scrap metal from the nearby bombing range contributes, and illicit drugs and prescription pills, and sex. I've never seen barter succeed in a drug culture or den of thieves, and Slab City is both. Welfare supports most of the population with trumped disability claims - dyslexic, Parkinson's, asthma, etc. Many claimants cultivate their injuries for months like the beggars of India who maim themselves to have an income for life. The town is saturated with ex-cons on early parole who are snitches. If you don't imbibe or aren't on welfare, you are suspected of being a snitch. I must be a slave to good habits to keep from being swallowed by the dyspeptic community: walking, reading, good food, no alcohol or drugs, and doing good deeds.
Newcomers to the Slabs oasis claim they are escaping from the tyranny of outlying America. They could not afford the luxury of moving out of country, and so they hitched, drove a jalopy, van-pooled, or hoboed here on Union Pacific. Many arrive penniless, and are helped onto welfare by other residents. A younger group arrives in economy sedans with tents to learn how to live off the grid. Some seniors come in fancy rigs to stretch their retirement income. Plus there are runaways, seekers, hippies, mystics, and stopovers like the protagonist of the Sean Penn film Into the Wild who adventured across North America culminating in his death in the Alaskan wilderness. The barrier to most for staying to become full time Slabbers is the terrifying summer heat. One long-term resident explains that to become a true Slabber, you have to live here two years: the first you may succeed by being stoic or a genetic fluke, but in order to survive the second summer you have to be crazy.
The Slab City motto is 'No Rules' on the premise that every person is entitled to be as radically different from everyone else as he pleases. Most Slabbers are damaged, which has given rise to a blanket empathy. Everyone assumes everyone else has something to be private about, and are comfortable about it. My chief pleasure is to arbitrate. Once you have visited a camp you know the mind and habits of that person. In a little community that disallows laws and abhors police, there can be no living together without understanding, and understanding means compromise. Yet there will be disagreements and sometimes I'm called for. The method is to approach the disagreeing parties independently, and offer to be either the mediator or arbitrator. The latter involves responsibility and possible retribution which I try to avoid. As the mediator, I give each party about one minute to summarize his side of the argument, and then bring them together and in another minute paint the big picture and offer a compromise. It usually involves an assuaging phrase like 'Be bigger than the situation.'
Despite a few harsh consequences, the cement slabs offer individuals loosely glued by elbow room and their allowances for each other's freedom a fresh start on life. It's the only place I know of where there's no law against doing fun things. I canvass for the reasons they come to Slab City, and the universal appeal is for freedom and drugs. Each arrival seemed to have reached a turning point in his life – change or stagnate – and he has made a firm decision to live free or perish. And then at Slabs he learns to say, 'I will not run anyone's life – nor let anyone run mine.'
The females are strong, scruffy, pretty, sensuous and, for the most part, available. There is zero desire to hunker down and look up to man. It's normal to see them standing on a slab fist-to-fist in fights with lovers or detractors. Femininity means instant gratification of sex and being able to quickly hop into the next sleeping bag without grievance or permission. Slab City girls never call themselves ladies, and are comfortable with nudity, except among children, at the summer canal or winter hot spring.
Slab City displays many traits of a socialism Utopia. All of the land is owned by the State, except for a sliver I have a container on. The cash money is almost totally in the hands of a handful of individuals who run Salvation Mountain, the town gateway. Though the State owns the land care of General Patton via the California Teachers' Association who could not build a resort for employees due to unexploded ordnance, it may not seize it, and can hardly police it. There are no taxes and no building codes. There is no incentive to improve one's life; no one wants to improve his life, thinking this is as good as it gets. Anyone may arrive with a home on wheels, or paint 'occupied' on a plethora of used tires and plant them on a slab or perimeter as a 'quick deed'. Where else can you go and be free, with no restraints, and live cheaply? The town draws the most from December to February when the population swells from the hard-core year-round 200 to over 1000.
The alleged goals of Utopia have been the abolition of poverty, achievement of general prosperity, with the elimination of money, society is largely individualistic, communal living, citizens only do work which they enjoy leaving them ample time for hobbies and habits, peace, harmony, and a hippies' brotherhood. The historic results have been terrifying except in Slab City where the beat goes on.
One man's utopia is another's dystopia.
My place in Slab City seems to be a Henry Kissinger solving little disputes and moonlighting with veterinary, legal, and medical advice as I walk from tent to shanty. The winding walk through town ends again at the Coachella canal, the green cloud clears as I swim to the other side, and climb the 30-degree bank to the open desert.
Behind me, Slab City resembles an old Hooverville fallen on hard times. There's nothing you could offer me that I'd swap for one afternoon stroll through Slab City. Once a person has walked this town the newspapers, radio, TV and movies become meaningless. The goal was to learn, to see, to know, and to understand. Behind me in the city seconds count, and when I look up at the desert, I see the centuries pass like seasons.
For nearly fifty years, a shiny spot in the Chocolate Mountains of the Sonora desert has puzzled witnesses. I have been hearing about it for twenty years from metal scrappers of the nearby Gunnery Range who have theorized that it's a 'crashed 747', UFO, or the portal to a secret helicopter launch inside a mountain, like NORAD. The spot appears only in spring and fall between 1-3pm from the southwest, and vanishes when anyone approaches within a mile.
I've heard so many reports that I decided to try to solve the mystery. Standing alone in the desert, I waited until 1pm for the light to go on, walked ahead, and at about one mile distance the reflective object disappeared! The ensuing blind approach to the foothills took four hours, followed by another two hours of climbing. Unable to approach without a visual spot, I walked the front of the Chocolate Mountains looking for a clue.
Suddenly it reappeared, up in the dark heights, brighter than a sun. I ducked for cover, watched, and continued upward. Then I was above it and had to descend. Looking down, it became clear why the object had been seen only at certain times, and disappeared from sight for five decades. The object lay nestled on the side of a canyon offering a scope of view of 15-degrees spreading to the southwest, and it lay behind a rock outcrop so it disappeared whenever a traveler neared.
I walked down and touched it. The object was a bright obelisk lying on its side split in half vertically. It measured 20' long and the base was 6' that tapered at the far end to a point. The material was reflective aluminum, also called 'lightning sheet', as reflective as polished mirror. The aluminum skin harbored a 2"-thick cardboard honeycomb for support, with a one-foot thick cast aluminum male part bolted to the obelisk base that would fit into a female part had it been there. A stamp in the cast read 'PANCOA –Denver'.
I descended with no more than scrapes for my effort, and no explanation, until I went to the Internet. PANCOA (Panel Corporation of America) of Denver in 1974 manufacturer aerial tow targets for the Air Force that are pulled on cables up to thousands of feet long behind target tug aircraft. A target tug is a modified airplane or jet with a winch to play out on the tow target after takeoff and pull it in before landing. Towing targets was a hazardous job before the advent of drones, as live fire is typically employed and the people doing the shooting are skilled in training. They were made of reflective aluminum to be lightweight and visible for up to ten miles, and usually shaped like missiles. I had found one of four fins and judging from its size the missile was about 100' long. The missile body had been shot off, or dragged into the mountainside.
The shining spot in the desert was solved.
I've been studying and surviving for going on 60 years now, and the requirements for success have changed. These have been mainly in technology and as a result, often without realizing it, the people involved have changed.
For years as I was growing up, the people starting a trip, business, sports event, or even a romance used their brains. That has altered with the evolution of technology, as surely as machines have replaced working hobos. We were taught in those glorious know-how days to acquire a talent, usually through training in school or apprenticeship, and to follow it down the road to goals. This is changing, however, especially in my specialty of survival.
Where technology ends knowledge begins. Take last night in Slab City. Armies of tourists and foreigners had arrived to gawk at the misfits, listen to music, and drive home. Just before midnight, as I headed out to the desert, a set of red-and-blue lights flashed on the opposite side of a track, and a California Highway Patrolman waved me over.
'They're stuck!' he gestured over to a green sedan with Canadian plates mired in the sand. I stopped, got out, and asked the four young Canadians, 'Front or back wheel drive?' One responded, 'Front.' I replied, 'Have you out in a jiffy,' and we started digging out the tires, and in five minutes pushed the car out. The considerate cop had saved the visitors a $300 towing bill.
'Follow me,' said the officer. We continued south along the canal road for two mines and I stopped when he did. He shined his swivel light on two Chinese people shivering in a 20mph northerner that whipped up the girl's skirt a foot like the standing waves on the canal.
'We stuck,' said the young male. They were visiting economics professors from Guangzhou who had followed the Google Map in their SUV down a road that was actually a wash dotted only with the footprints of rabbits, rodents and coyotes. The officer explained that the true road was about .1 mile ahead but their GPS could not distinguish the difference.
We walked along the wash for 10 minutes where their heavy vehicle was sunken in the sand like an Ironwood. I diagnosed rapidly, 'I can get you out with 45 minutes of digging, sprinkle on canal water to firm the sand, deflate the tires to 20 lbs. to double the friction, and use my come-along. 'We hastened back to the CHP, where I recapped to the officer, and then turned to the Chinese.
'You want me to get you out for free, or pay $500 for a 4-wheel tow?'
'Free!' the couple agreed.
'Are you sure you want me to leave?' The CHP asked them, glancing at my bare feet.
'We get tow' the couple changed their minds.
'I'll wait,' I said, not relying on this technology either. I sat in my car and read Jack Reacher, an individualist who washes his hands of technology and hitchhikes around the country righting wrongs, until two hours later the tow truck arrived with a four- wheel winch truck piggybacked on its bed. The smaller truck backed off the bigger, skid down the wash, and got stuck up to its bumpers. Its tires had disappeared.
The tow driver spoke only Spanish, and the Chinese couple's Smart Phone translator was too slow, so I translated. We all hiked back to the CHP, where the tow driver left for two hours, returning with a monstrous Caterpillar tractor. As the moon rose over Slab City, he yanked first the tow truck and then the SUV free. Everyone was happy, and the economics professors paid $500.
New advances in technology, from the machines we ride, to the software we use to program them, have given the individual the ability to be more productive. Technology is taking care of us… almost. It pays to reciprocate by educating ourselves for the times the devices are not accurate or available. It should always be known how to reset a system manually.
In I, Robot Isaac Asimov addresses the morality and ethics of advanced technology. Odd questions are raised. I think it's immoral and dangerous to give up one's life to the devices around us. I, Robot agrees. Who should have the power?
The answer is that both technology and knowledge should be cultivated, in a system of personal checks and balances. Technology will continue to evolve, but let's not forget it is not a replacement for knowledge.
The first of the month rolled in and the monthly Slab City poker players gathered in a shantytown trailer and pulled $100 bills from their pockets.
They had just collected their first-of-the-month government checks making it the big night out on this outlaw town on sand in southern California. Each swallowed or shot methamphetamine, and anted one hundred.
The night after Halloween is when the real ghouls came out to trick and treat.
A kitchen timer in front of a kerosene lantern before a broken window was set for one hour, and began ticking.
Eight men circled the poker pot on a spool table, as their pupils enlarged to saucers. At Go! they wedged through the trailer door in a land rush sprint. The goal was each to work his way under the cloak of darkness undetected across the town of 300 souls stealing whatever they could get their hands on.
Whoever returned with the most loot before the timer rang would win the pot.
The strategies were to go light and carry everything in covering the most ground; most took backpacks, bags, or suitcases. But Irish Adam would return the winner with a shopping cart (at the sacrifice of speed and risk of detection) full of booty.
When the timer rang, the stolen items were tallied. Irish gathered the dough, and shouted, 'Meth on the house!'
Amarillo Slim said, 'Seldom do the lambs slaughter the butchers,' but a posse is forming to put an end to the first of the month poker games.
The cistern crouched beneath the creaking windmill in a slight breeze. It was a hot day out from Slab City, CA. An ancient lock prevented my refreshment.
An old desert lock is a cue to look for a 'dummy' latch because who keeps the key so long? The strap hinge on the cistern cover was bolted such that its nuts hand screwed loose!
The concrete cistern itself measured 10'x10' and who knows how deep it falls into the ground?
I lifted the 100-pound steel cover on its rusty hinge with a full body effort and peered down… The inside was a dripping cement cell, measuring 10'x10' and 6' deep with two feet of water at the bottom.
A pink stick – no, a 4.5' racer snake! had crawled in a crack of the cistern top and rested with its head on a protruding inch of rebar, while the rest of its slender body dangled underwater. The lifeless eyes were enlarged blue marbles like a Halloween mask. The thirsty serpent could have been there for weeks, as even October is a thirsty month.
I dropped a pebble and it sprang to life, swimming the perimeter of the cell again and again.
How to get it out, so I could go in for a drink and dunk? I talked to the snake bouncing my voice off the water for a few minutes, and as it calmed, reached and lowered a branch under its head and gently lifted it out onto the concrete top. Snakes don't have eyelids to blink; this one stared for a few seconds, and then slithered across the concrete top onto an overhanging limb, stretched out and air dried.
I jumped into the cement tank and splashed like a gleeful kid, and drank heartily.
In a few minutes, it was time to go and I peered up at the head high opening. Uh oh. I reached up but couldn't drag myself out the tank. So, I sat back down in the water and looked up through the 3' square at the snake on the branch.
We had traded positions. I yelled but received only echoes.
The significant thing at the moment that distinguished me from the snake was my shorts. I removed and stuffed them into a 3" opening in a side wall for a drain pipe that went off underground, and limited the water's rise.
In twenty minutes the water level climbed a half-inch. I could float to the ceiling in 32 hours, as long as the breeze kept up.
The water dripped from the hard-wearing windmill above into the cistern top.
The snake slithered off, and I was alone for the longest time. As the water rose, my eyes adapted to the dim and I spotted the rebar that had been the snake's hard pillow for so many days. I stood, and stuck one boot on it, and with the ceiling opening near its side wall, could boost myself up and out the watery crypt.
But the first step was to string an 8' length of abandoned hose in one corner of the cistern up from the water to the crack in the top that the snake had entered, and out into the sunlight.
Then with a big effort I leaped out.
Now I sip the memories of my escape from the cistern.
The thrill of coming home has never changed.
Homecoming is an annual tradition in the United States. People, towns, and particularly high schools come together, usually in early October, to welcome back alumni and former residents. It is built around a central event, such as a banquet, parade, and, most often, a game of football.
The field lights drew me from deep in the desert where I'd been hiking all day. I stared long and hard and was taken back to my last visit seven years ago at the Blythe, CA high school homecoming. I was a newly fired sub-teacher at the high school – the most treasured by the students and teachers echoed their evaluations – after dismissal for trying to stop a playground war. In California a teacher is expected to stand back and let kids clobber each other.
Why not? I drove toward the field lights. I was curious to discover how the rules of engagement had changed.
The last time, in about 2009, I had sat on the opposing side bleachers to avoid the embarrassment of the kids standing and cheering when I entered the barbed wire perimeter, way out by the cotton and cow pastures, onto the sidelines. It was 90 degrees at 7pm at the kickoff, and the opposing team bench warmers sat after the pledge of allegiance as the kicker teed up the ball. A hissing and chugging behind me drew my attention from the field, as the city insect fogging machine bumped along directly behind the rival team bleacher and fogged them with insecticide. Tackles and guards puked, a cheerleader fell to the ground in convulsions, and hot, dead bugs rained on the visiting families' hair like Briylcream.
By the time the visiting team recovered from the exterminator, they were down 13-0 and never recovered. The Blythe Yellow Jackets won the homecoming.
But now, seven years later, a new stadium had been built with a perimeter chain link fence that prevented the fogging truck from entering. Brawley high school, my new home, was the visiting team. Clear headed, the Wild Cats took the ball to the goal posts every time in the first quarter, holding the Yellow Jackets to zero yardage as the first quarter gun shot. Final score, as Brawley started substituting everyone but the water boy from the bench: Brawley 35 – Blythe 0.
Blythe had lost its cheating edge.
The student body had changed dramatically since I taught in every room on campus for almost ten years. They were overweight, listless, and lacked the usual spark in desert kids' eyes. They were soulless fans.
It was good to leave for my new home.
October 4, 2016 | Leave a Comment
My friend sent me this article on how to survive a rattlesnake attack.
It's disinformation, poorly and ignorantly written, but I appreciate the thought.
The best defense I used in rattlesnake territory was on the Pacific Crest Trail where they were coming out of the cracks in the desert hourly. 4' long fat rattlers. I had a pair of loose pants and passed an orange orchard. I filled the pants w/ oranges to the knees, tying shut the cuffs. Then I walked confidently, enjoying the orange juice until they were gone and I was out of the territory.
September 30, 2016 | Leave a Comment
The progression of winners in anything usually follows these steps:
1. In the beginning there are random advantages and accidental winners.
2. The neophytes then develop different body types and the superior becomes the victor.
3. Then among the better physically developed the brain determines the winner. This is the strategy stage.
4. Once the bodies and minds are on a par, the one who practices hardest to become the most graceful is victor.
5. The final champion develops an edge to lever out all the other qualities of body, mind, grace, and even spirit.
Knowing this, you may hone your skills stage by stage to reach the top.
September 19, 2016 | Leave a Comment
Centuries ago, sailors on long voyages would leave a pair of pigs on every deserted island. Or a pair of goats. Either way, on any future visit, each island would be a source of meat. These islands were home to breeds of birds with no natural predators that lived no place else on earth. The plants there, without enemies, evolved without thorns or poisons. Without predators and enemies, these islands were paradise. The sailors, the next time they visited these islands, found the only things still there would be herds of goats or pigs. Build your bridges slowly, and don't burn them.
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