Hat on Head
Doc Bo Keeley's Hobo Timeline
Aug 22, 1900
- The first Hobo Convention is held at Brit Iowa, and to this day hobos and the curious gather in the hobo jungle. There is a Hobo newspaper, a grapevine of symbols on RR water tanks, and the most successful hobo college in a Chicago hub of the expanding rail network.
Steven 'Doc Bo' Keeley is born in Schenectady, N.Y.
At six months whisked in a laundry basket on the back seat of a '40 Mercury to Santa Cruz, Ca.
Hit driving a VW van by a freight train and carried 200 yards on the cowcatcher for the first hobo ride.
Experimental ride with Freedom Frey from Salt Lake to the Ogden 'golden spike'.
Ride the rails from Salt Lake City to LA and learn the hobo ropes from two masters.
Nabbed by Canadian immigration during an unplanned border crossing inside a grain car.
Havre, Mt. to Minneapolis by rail and caught by the first bull who issues a warning.
Robbed by Minneapolis tramps and ask police to sleep the night in an empty cell.
Sell Michigan Garage Nirvana to tramp the country.
Cross-country hitchhike with twelve rides in four days from Michigan to San Diego.
Travel to southwestern missions with a Franciscan monk.
Pinned on an LA sidewalk by a demented man with a .45 pistol and a tin leg.
Join a Clydesdale wagon acting troupe along the California coast for a week.
Hobo throughout the West standing in food lines and staying in missions.
Invent boxcar handball.
Visit the Rajneesh ashram in Antelope, Oregon.
Climb Mt. Rainier.
Sacramento to the Brit, Iowa National Hobo Convention, and back by freight.
First Executive Hobo trip Denver to Grand Junction with a Denver businessman and Australian pilot.
Second Executive Hobo trip Las Vegas to LA with two San Diego businessmen and a psychologist.
Surrounded and punched by four hoods while rescuing a San Diego victim.
Drunk redhead begs to show what's 'inside her pants' and pulls out a hunting knife.
An epoch ends of spending one hour for about 3000 straight nights standing without a drink in bars across the country.
Finance travel with annual writing storms to create backlogs for mother to submit to magazines.
Drive a Chevy van around the USA with an invisible fish-line attached to a 7' rabbit riding shotgun to wave down interesting people.
Sacramento to Salt Lake to Denver to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to Sacramento by rail.
Near suffocation riding too near the locomotives through the 6-mile Colorado Moffat tunnel.
LA to Jacksonville to Newark by freight.
Freight from California to Dallas on the old Southern Pacific for a family Christmas.
Sacramento to Brit with hoboette ChooChoo Chelsea for the National Hobo Convention.
Caught on a moving freight ladder over the Salt Lake causeway.
Hitchhike to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and freight the transcontinental rail to California.
LA to Dallas and back by boxcar for a family Christmas.
Near-death from exposure trapped on a winter flatcar between Colorado Springs and Denver.
Says,' That's enough!' through spaghetti in frozen beard on the high rail between Spokane to Minneapolis.
Sleep in a coffin lined with electric blankets through the Michigan winter.
Teach a sociology course Hobo Life in America at Lansing Community College in Michigan.
Write Hobo Training Manual for the course.
Profiled in a documentary hobo film.
Volunteer stints at Lansing nursing homes, adolescent and geriatric psych wards, orphanages and school for the blind in a one year study of the mind.
Speak to the NYC Junto on hoboing.
Hobo in America is canceled after one term by the college president due to an uproar- 'The bum is teaching our kids to be tramps'.
Wilderness survival class from Peter Carrington.
Michigan to Indiana by rail with Locomotive Lotus for 'Hands Across America'.
Minneapolis to Spokane to Sacramento to St. Louis to Chicago with celebrity hobo Iowa Blackie.
Fall asleep covered with cockroaches on a kitchen floor when a lasso of Borax fails to repel them.
Hitch to the Missouri national Rainbow Gathering.
Sacramento to Brit with Hobo Queen candidate Silver Sidekick.
North Platte to Denver by freight with celebrity Hobo Herb.
First tattoo at a skid row parlor of a Road Mouse with a smile and teardrop.
Address the Aspen Eris Society about hoboing.
Grand Junction to Sacramento by boxcar with financier Doug Casey.
Spokane to Chicago to Toledo by rail with hoboette Boxcar Beetle.
Chicago to LA and hook up with the National Hobo Association of movie star and yuppie riders.
Contributor to the NHA Hobo Times
Hike three months on the California Pacific Crest Trail from Mexcio to Taho with a custom fanny pack.
Sacramento to Brit to the Eris with hoboette Mappy.
Ride in his cherry Cadillac and the rails with Hobo King Steam Train Maury Graham
Third Executive trip from Grand Junction to Roseville with LinuxCare CEO Art Tyde and Doug Casey.
Nabbed by the Salt Lake bull and to court where the judge slams gavel, 'Dismissed with prejudice'.
Three days in the LA Country Jail for jaywalking from a bank robbery in progress.
LA to North Carolina by rail for a family Christmas.
Freight the USA perimeter working odd jobs and frequenting the Willies, Sallies and Goodies for collectibles.
Hardest day's work ever ketchin' 2500 chickens with four retarded youths in deep Georgia.
Bay Area's 'Best Sunday Magazine Feature' award with a hobo ride-along reporter to Mt. Shasta.
Escort hoboettes Mappy, Silver Sidekick and ChooChoo from Sacramento to the Brit convention and back.
Caught skinny dipping with the three hoboettes by the North Platt RR bull.
Recumbent bicycle with a wind sail the 500-mile Baja Cortez coast.
Sacramento to Grand Junction to Eris by freight with hoboette Silver Sidekick.
Grand Junction to Portland by rail with Doug Casey to inspect gold mines.
Save the life of an Oregon 'apple knocker' stuck on the latch of a rolling boxcar.
Ride the RR 'low line' from Washington to Chicago to Pittsburgh visiting a string of associates.
First and only life drunk on hopping down from a boxcar near Wilmington, De. to visit a girlfriend bartender.
Start cheap living to save money for travel: French-fry hotels, basement, shed, garage, cellar, laundry room, trailer, sidecar and a boat.
Mother dies in my arms.
Tour NYC subway and steam tunnels to ferret HUD's (human underground dwellers).
Hike and canoe the Okefenokee Swamp; swept to sea by a tidal bore.
Travel under a backpack to 100 countries.
Return to Manhattan to compile a list of 'Low-Life Indicators' for commodities such as long cigarette butts in a bull market that catch print in the New York Observer and Barrons.
Ride a boxcar from Jacksonville, Fl. to New York and borrow a suit to wear to a meal with George Soros at the Four Seasons restaurant.
Explain hobo economics at global banking seminars.
Cast a skeleton list of near-deaths in a one-year sequester in a Ct. stairwell to quantify near-deaths on the rails and world byways with a dream goal of Catman with 'nine lives'.
Artist Linda Mears paints Hit by Train as part of Adventure Art that become jigsaw puzzles.
Return to alma mater MSU to lecture on hobo and world travel.
Hike the 500-mile Long Trail through Vermont.
Hike the 600-mile Florida Trail alligator gauntlet from the Everglades to Georgia.
Black Friday October 27, 1997 Dow mini-crash and The New Yorker takes a swat at Keeley for it.
Walk the 130-mile length of Death Valley and stumble on the bleaching bones of a mysterious man.
Hike the 600-mile Baja coast from Cabo San Lucas until forced out by rattlers.
Hike the Colorado Trail 500 miles through the Rockies from Denver to Durango.
From Education of a Speculator (1998, Victor Niederhoffer) - 'When all's said and done there's the Hobo (Bo).'
Retire to a desert burrow as a hermit near the California-Mexico border.
The turn of the millennium passes unnoticed in the desert with Sir the Sidewinder doorkeeper.
Second person to walk the 220-mile Mojave Road from Needles to Barstow.
Hike with a llama two weeks along the Sierra Nevada.
Freight from Reno to Colorado for Eris.
Fifth executive hobo trip from Sacramento to Denver and back with the LinuxCare CEO, a Canadian stock broker, NY speculator, and Bay Area head of emergency response; Trip ends on 9/11 that clamps security on hoboing.
First person to walk 250 miles on the California's Heritage Trail.
Begin a series The Desert News in scorching Sand Valley, Ca..
Hitchhike the perimeter of Baja Mexico.
Hike from Mexico to San Bernardino on Pacific Crest Trail.
Walk 24 hours waterless and lost in a Sonora desert near-death.
Liberty Magazine article shames a Florida peace officer after '36 hours in the Broward County Jail'.
One hundred posts of hobo and travel yarns at dailyspeculations.com, swans.com/main.shtml, northbankfred.com/stories.html and internationalman.com.
Resident Sand Valley, Ca. consultant to Rancho Costa Nada: The Dirt-Cheap Desert Homestead (Phil Garlington).
Trapped by flash floods in Sand Valley for the first full summer as three die in the heat.
Spokesman for the Canadian Safety Pak for survival.
Rail across Canada with South African accountant Tom 'Diesel' Dyson.
Ride disguised as Mexicans with Diesel Dyson and Central American immigrants through Mexico to the USA border.
Executive bo trip with Baby Jack Black (Hollywood TV show) from Eugene to Seattle.
Grammy songwriter Shandi Sinnamon writes and performs 'Baby Black Jack and Bo Kerouac'.
Bo Keely Executive Tour Services founded as businessperson's outward bound on the North American rails.
Executive outing to the Baja Santa Maria Mission ruins.
Lost on the Rails from Colton San Bernardino with executive bo Rail Mariner (Computer services).
Ride the Mexican rails with anthropologist Boxcar Dolly and Central Americans from Guaymas to Juarez.
Orange County district court switches DNA on a Conservancy trespass charge to dismiss the case.
Executive trip with Rev (Medical devices president) from Colton RR yard to Tucson.
Peter Gorman's 'Renaissance on the Rails' profile wins 1st place for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies 'best feature of the year'.
Halloween trick or treat on the rails with Boxcar Dolly from Sacramento to Cheyenne to Portland.
Take to the rails on being fired trying to stop a 'playground war' at the Blythe, Ca. Middle School.
Keeley's Kures: Alternative healings from the Trails, Rails and Trials (Free Man Publisher).
Hobo Jungle: Tales of the Iron Road (Free Man Publisher).
One is reminded of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughed where people in Spain, one believes in the 13th century, (albeit Cervantes didn't write about it) were purposely deformed and trained as deformed so that the rest of the population would not succumb to envy of the flexions or in general be unhappy with their relative lot. Perhaps Mr. Jov will set the record straight.
Art Cooper writes:
Here is a link to the Monty Python skit in which John Cleese plays an Oxford-educated village idiot. When a villager walks by, Cleese acts like a mentally-defective clown. When no one else is around, Cleese speaks to the camera in a highly educated tone, explaining the importance & usefulness of the traditional village idiot to the mental well-being of other villagers.
Bo Keely writes:
One must study the village idiot to discover just what cards he holds. Every town has its hunchback, dwarf, ostensible retard or combination who is the resident savant. Here in Toba, Sumatra it is a cerebral-palsied man sitting next to me doing the town accounts on the computer. In your post 'Grassroots Jungle Economy' the village idiot poisoned the town like Sweeney Todd with coconut sweets from his sewage fed coconut tree. In 'Village Idiot' the hunchback in the key Surfactio, Mexico RR junction is the secret liason to a daily dozens of illegal Central Americans riding the Mexican freights to milk the USA economy. Anyone pushed by a physical or mental deformity from out under the Bell Curve is to be seriously reckoned with.
I can't believe I have amnesia of a mononucleosis loss against the two-time national racquetball champion Bill Schmidtle. He swung a merciless forehand and impotent backhand that given a stronger backhand and patience was licked in every previous and subsequent match. I could scrape a (slow ball) ceiling shot along the left wall all day to his backhand until he miss-hit to yield a plum setup. I could hit a baseball cap in the left front corner 50% of the time from deep court, and went to a cigarette pack as a target. I had learned to 'float' the ball along the air mass hugging the floor depending on the court temperature so it virtually could not skip into the floor.
The mono month was nutty. It started when I fell on my face running on the Pacific beach one day, got up and went to the racquetball Doc Hannah. He returned the next day with a lab report, 'You have the 2nd worst case of mono in the history of San Diego County. I writhed in a bed kindly provided by multiple-national champ Bud Muehleisen's mother for one month listening to the top song 'There's got to be a morning after', till one morning I felt well and got up.Doc Hannah prescribed one month of ceiling balls hit to myself to prevent a relapse, that I did daily in increasing blocks of half-hour sessions until I owned the second best ceiling game in the world, behind Charlie Brumfield. I entered the first tournament with muscle memory for no more than the ceiling stroke, as spectators' heads bobbed up and down counting upwards of 40-shot streaks against lefty Dave Charleston. I won in three, but lost the tournament famished from the exercise.
It must have been after that that I dropped the match to Schmidtke; I don't remember. He never beat me again, though others did.
The practical game strategy with the slow ball of the early 70's was to soft serve to initiate a ceiling rally followed by an error that the rival killed. This was the tedious method of the sport's early greats- Muehleisen, Charlie Brumfield, Steve Serot and less so Jerry Hilecher, Rich Wagner, Steve Strandemo, Benny Colton, a young Marty Hogan, Steve Mondry, Trey Sayes and the rest of the top 32 in the nation who sooner or later travelled to San Diego to graduate with the best. It's a rare person who climbs ranks without personal exposure via viewing or playing against the experts.
Victor Niederhoffer was an exception in taking his first racquetball into the court after winning a world squash championship, bouncing the ball once for study, and proclaimed to a witness, 'Now I'm the national racquetball champ.' He nearly was, soon beating Hogan in a Las Vegas thriller, and most of the field, before losing to Harlem Globetrotter Ron Rubenstein.
When the ball speeded up in the mid 70s, so did the players' mentalities. They became squat and grovelling close to the hardwood for repeated passes and killshots, and new champions like Hogan, Peck and Yellen emerged. The big sponsors- Leach and Ektelon- deftly grasped that a livelier ball meant females, grandpas and youngsters could play making it a sport for the masses, but it ruined it at the pro level.The athletes got meatier and meaner in a competitive way, and racquetball evolved into what you see today: blazing serves, driving returns, average 2-shot rallies, and you could put a table across the court 4'off the floor that the ball rarely rises above.
We lanky, meditative champs nonetheless passed the trophies and money purses with tooth and claw defeats. When the fast ball guys with big serves and shoots that required a fast game to win soaked the tournament balls in hot water before entering the court, or enticed the tournament director to store the whole batch in the sauna until plucking one-at-time for each match… we slow gamers retaliated in ingenious ways. Strandemo switched balls during timeouts with a molasses batch in his gym bag. Steve Mondry secreted a razor blade in the tongue of his hi-cuts and bent over to tie his shoe in the service box, and sliced the ball. And I used a hypodermic needle from vet school to deflate to even things out.
Losses with determination are the stepping stones to victory.
Three Game Styles
There are three game styles: honesty, cheating, and gamesmanship. I was too ignorant to cheat in the racquetball and paddleball pros, and tried eight times in winning seven national singles championships during the sports' golden decade of the 1970s… in retaliation to like. The formula was if a rival cheated the first time, let it slide as an oversight; the second time politely point it out; and the third time cheat back or trim his the earlobe with the next shot.
There are three approaches into the court or any sport or business. The traditional was play hard and the best man wins. The second method is win at all costs, tantamount to a war. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with an anything goes contest, however it groups you with birds of the feather. The third is the most fascinating and irritating, gamesmanship. This is bantering and bending the rules, manipulating the ref and hypnotizing the crowd to gain an edge on the court.
The best gamesman in racquetball history was my nemesis Charlie Brumfield, a genius attorney who applies his techniques in the court of law and routinely gets thrown out by judges for quoting Perry Mason or must stand behind a screen before the jury box. The problem is there were no judges as racquetball referees, and hoarse traders earned a point for each cheat and shenanigan until a straight player gave away 10-points in each 21-point game.
There are a hundred tricks. Intentional long servers control the game pace and double the length of matches- the better delayers loft the serve out of reach to the back wall for a long 'fault', and it rolls to the front corner to be fetched at an amble. You squeeze or wet the ball before serving to make it knuckle and slide. A sweating receiver lingers in one spot until a pool forms, and the next time serves into it. Physical intimidation in blocking opponents or the ball, striking him with the racquet, ball, elbow, or in combination agitates. The 'donkey kick' was in vogue where a player jumped and kicked backward into the foe's midsection to propel himself to front court. Before a national doubles championship an ex-professional football player approached to wish me well, and quickly slammed my head against the wall. He tried to wish himself well in the match but it didn't work.
The best strategy against a Yankee operator, given a spineless referee and a conscience not to fight him, is stoicism. A strong stoic cuts the gamesman's edge by 70%. The breathing room opens an opportunity to run him with superior shots until he may no longer talk. There has never been a dumb gamesman.
Sooner or later the luck of the draw brings on the cruellest strategist and you get fan support. They heckle the clown to fair play, or threaten him during timeouts. There's no need for that. An opinionated girl in the San Diego gallery once sat through the glass in the left rear corner and flashed her underwear every time Charlie Brumfield went for my passes.
I used to quantify wheeler-dealer moves. When Brumfield threw his racquet cover into the court to hit his opponent's racquet, it was worth the first point. When handball best Paul Haber entered the court wearing boxing gloves and pounded the glass perimeter as the fans outside ducked reflexively, it earned the first game. When Muhammad Ali leaned against the rope and gasped expletives it won the heavyweight crown.
Racquetball for me started in 1971 at the most pivotal national singles tournament that transformed the sport from amateur to professional.
I was a relative unknown, as was racquetball that year, never having paid it attention except for a few hits against the coming king of the decade, my nemesis Charlie Brumfield. Brumfield had moved from San Diego to become housemates at Michigan State University for the prior summer after I had beaten him in the finals of the '71 paddleball nationals where he screamed at the Flint, Michigan gallery before losing, 'Stick a fork in him, you farmers…he's done!' It was my first championship and when Brum returned to San Diego his mentor, Dr. Bud Muehleisen (present holder of 69 national and international titles) counselled, 'Keeley's your only threat, babe. Go back to Michigan and live and learn from him.' He did, and he did.
Later that year, the '71 national racquetball singles invitational rolled around in Mule and Brum's hometown San Diego. Indeed, they called me a hayseed despite beating in succession the incumbent national champion Bill Schmidtke and New York state champ Charlie Garfinkle, before taking on Brumfield in the quarters.
The tournament is memorable for a couple scenarios. At the time I was collecting $50/mo. under the table from Trenway Sports to use their wooden clunker racquet. Then lo, Bud Leach stood in the doorway of the Invitational host Gorham's Sports Center greeting each of the 16 invitees with a green Swinger racquet newly moulded in his garage and a $20 bill wrapped around the handle. I struck a deal with him for equipment and plane tickets to each of the four national tournaments and invitationals in singles and doubles. My genius doubles partner Charlie Drake, also soon to graduate from MSU with a PhD in sociology, hustled Bud at the tournament, and soon owned 51% of the company.
The craziest instant was losing to Brumfield in the quarterfinals. I took the first game with a serve right to surprise him, he flailed a famous forehand and the ball disappeared. He, the ref and gallery searched but could not find it. We adjourned to the drinking fountain where his Swinger racquet dangled by the thong… with the ball stuck between the handle and frame. He screamed to let the gallery know, 'When's Leach going to string the crotch!'
Bikinied girls handed out awards at the '71 Invitational, the Pacific lapped five blocks away, and a year later this hayseed vet school graduate took the sheepskin to California where a snafu in the vet licensing thrust me into the burgeoning sport pro racquetball.
What is the American Dream?
The Dream is to work, to have a home, to get ahead. You can start as a janitor and become the owner of the building. The American Dream is not written into the constitution but it is so ingrained in the national psyche that it might as well be.
Bo Keely comments:
The American Dream is still alive and that's why I return occasionally to USA from globetrotting to selective Shangri-Las around the world. Though the American Dream there is diminished and threaded with nightmares, after 100+ countries it's still the best place to own property, work to get ahead, and use as a base to travel from during retirement.
I'm about to sit down to read L'Amour's memoir Education of a Wandering Man. One of the things about this book that immediately appeals to me is that he kept a record of everything he read between 1930-1937 that is available at the back of the book. As someone who loves to read, and also loves lists, it doesn't get much better than this. As an aside, if you're a list fanatic like me, check out Eco's The Infinity of Lists : An Illustrated Essay.
I thought I would share some tidbits on his reading appetite.
Over this 8 year time period, he read 731 books. This works out to roughly:
91.4 books a year
7.6 books a month
1.9 books a week
There are a lot of interesting items on his list. His interests appear to cover a wide range of topics and authors. Everything from detective stories to Nietzsche is on here.
Bo Keely writes:
Thanks for the reminder & fresh info on L'Amour, who single-handedly thrust me into a lifetime of adventure and escape. My favorite short story is 'the strong shall live' about a cowpoke who gets stranded in the blazing desert near my rancho where one day and night I unintentionally re-enacted the plight and escaped, with a L'Amour tip, by finding a stone cistern of water and spitting guppies, but lived.
If I seem out of place in strange diagnoses with odd treatments of human ailments, it's only because people aren't accustomed to a veterinarian addressing human medicine. Vets take the same courses as medical students but have a long edge in seeing more patients. How many more? About 30x.
We walk lines of kennels and circle pastures while a physician is limited to his practice and hospitals. Vets take a holistic approach to treatment that should be applied to human medicine, accounting for the weather to what kind of scraps farmer John's wife throws to the pigs. We diagnose by gaze and touch more than by dialogue and lab tests. Vets are not specialists, and have been trained in the anatomy, diagnosis and treatment of four species: dog, cat, cow and horse. Finally, the two vets I worked for treated their own kids, from stitches to prescriptions in their clinic. There are masterful human physicians, but if I had kids who got sick, I would tell them to first go to a veterinarian and get a second opinion from a physician.
Rip McKenzie writes:
I tell others, doctors deal with one species that can talk. Vets deal with multiple species that can't.
Here is the website of Ruben Gonzalez, a great painter of racquetball.
I recently found this English Literature Dissertation: A Study into Hobo Literature by Nial Anderson
"The imaginative young vagabond quickly loses the social instincts that make life bearable for other men…"
It's about Steamtrain Murray Graham, who was a bricklayer by trade and spent most of his time traveling a lipstick red Cadillac convertible with a white top. (He only appeared to be a hobo in the technical sense).
Steamtrain was a great guy. I stayed with him often in Toledo where he took me to the RR yard to talk to Wokers to help get on a freight. I rode w/ him in the lipstick caddy to a string of elderly people & old folks homes to cheer up dying seniors. He rode freights, not as much as most think & less than the press implies, but is an inspiration. He once advised me to dress in white and walk the back roads of America. That spurred me in the 90s to shift from freights to trails, and dress in green & walk the Pacific Crest, Vermont, Colorado… like I say, an inspiration. His autobiog is Tales of the Iron Road.
This morning I rolled out of bed in Lake Toba recalling an Indonesia visa expiration in three days after two wonderful months in Borneo, Sulawesi and Sumatra. I packed my bag, tidied the $10/day room that includes two meals and a massage, and left for the mountain ferry to the mainland to reach immigration before the expiry.
On the first step out the door, a glance at my visa reads '60 days' starting January 23, and yet the 'expiration date' is a month beyond on April 23, 2011. An embassy bureaucrat two months ago goofed, or warmly provided an additional month after losing the door key and helping me crawl through a side window for the visa. I weighed the options in mid-stride, turned into the room, and unpacked.
Lake Toba is the third of selected global Shangri las in a new career as a peripatetic ex-patriot after being the first California sub-teacher to be canned surrounding a 'playground war' two years ago, and the best. The first two were four months each at Iquitos, Peru and San Felipe, Baja.
Toba has it all: 300-meter waterfall cascading outside my window, hand hewn canoes paddled on an idyllic bay, healthy food, cheap accommodation, good internet, expert massages, and the Batak descendants from the Toba Catastrophe Theory. This volcanic island is somewhere between Robinson Crusoe's atoll and Jules Verne's Mysterious Island.The overstay is welcomed, yet a week ago the massage ladies boycotted me.
I used to stroll the single Toba lane and call into one of a dozen windows to the woman of the house cooking or cultivating rice in the back yard, 'Massage?…' It went smoothly for one month, until a week-ago altercation in a market with a popular matron who forgot the calculator. She took offence at my polite math, snubbed me in the town of 150 (2/3 female), and the call 'Massage' is ignored. This is unprecedented in a down market 3rd world land that time forgot, and is a tribute to the Batak people.
Cliff Swain, charming and unlikely, is the greatest racquetball player in history, in viewing all the champs from '70-03. I watched him dismantle Hogan with these strokes the way Hogan dismantled the field. He is the only player who, though they never met on the court, would control both Brumfield and Niederhoffer. At my best, I would have scored 10 points/game.
Cliff Swain is from Boston, learned racquets on the long (maybe 30') outdoor courts. This is one reason for dominance, the court, like a slow squash ball, demands stepping to volley shots. Plus, the increased distance was helpful resistance training to a young arm. He's extremely coordinated. I watched him closely for hours at practice and tournaments during '03. He's slight, 5'10'', 170lb, mesomorph. The grace provides power– that, as I talked about in the swing tutorial. He generates more force than anyone has every applied to the ball in the split-second '3-5 frames' the strings are on the ball. His strokes, despite the photos, is relatively effortless compared to the rest of the champs. He's the one who stalks the ball in slow motion (due to coordination) around the court, and plants to intensify per muleheisen's rheostat for the setup and swing… then it's back to slow motion til the next setup. It's v. animal like, something between a gazelle and big cat. When I watched he & Hogan square off for a money shootout with many rallies of matched force- you recall no one in history overpowered hogan- except Swain's stroke for strokes were 20% less physical with 10% more pace + weight on the hit ball. It's one of the handful of times that I've been agog. As for Swain, I fibbed: at my best, I would have stood a 50% chance of beating him given my best day repeated forehand wallpaper serve scraping the right wall to his backhand. Swain trained under Mike Quinn, also from Boston.
This is valuable info for an ex-pat or American in need of competent medical care. A traveler, or US resident willing to take a junket to a 5-star hotel + quality hospital in an exotic land need not have American medical insurance at the low rates 3rd world countries charge for diagnosis, treatment & operations. (Someone pointed out to me that it is correctly termed medical rather than health insurance, because many overwrought american doctors are ill at promoting your health.)
As you say, it's all in finding the right doctor, anywhere. I insist on older docs and sports med physicians, or at least one who does sports. In a dearth, visit a sharp young clinic operation of a handful of friend docs who in synergy come up with the proper diagnosis and treatment. My luck with physicians in foreign countries has been excellent. They kick the price 20% for ex-pats or visitors, bringing it to maybe 5% of American rates.
As you say, foreign hospital doctors nearly always have private practices at home, and that's where I get instant professional help. No appointment, his wife is the secretary, and he's linked to top specialists for radiology, lab tests, surgery, etc. in town. You're in and out his doctor's door in 15 minutes, and feeling so much better for it that you're tempted to toss the prescription to be filled down the block instantly at about 25% USA costs. The doctors & pharmacists generally speak some English.
Foreign docs, while making less than American, often own businesses on the side. I got close to an Iquitos waitress to meet the physician-owner of a restaurant who gave me a tour of his clinic, some excellent off-the-cuff health pointers, and was willing to trade english lessons for future diagnoses.
On the other hand, here in lake Toba, Sumatra, the elderly lady who just made me a salad says that no one in Toba gets sick, and there are no dentists (she's never been), but for a village accident or emergency one is whisked in one of three cars to a nearby town where the doctor accepts homemade pies and chickens, just like the old-time American doctors.
Medical tourism is a welcome wave set off by shock American fees.However, it's all about competition (as your letter indicates re: the Bumrungrad Bangkok hospital ruins), and it's reckoned that USA prices will fall with less demand. or, they'll try to control it somehow, like recently 'requiring' american passports to re-enter from Mexico, where thousands of borderline americans travel for medical, dental, px. The truth at the border -tested by friends and I dozens of times & most recently 6 mo. ago- is when a smart-alec immigration officer demands your passport or else, the legal repartee is that he may not prevent you from entering your own country. Then his face reddens, and he waves a sheet in your face that asks that you next time to bring a passport.
March 16, 2011 | 1 Comment
It's tournament time in Racquetown, USA. where ten courts arranged in two rows with a gallery plank above and between them is about to bust open with first serve. The left row hosts the beginner through Open divisions, and the right is strictly pros and racquetball Legends. Soon, we'll take a comparative squint at their physical vs. mental errors, and intentions.
The first two terms are my inventions, but intentions have been with us since the first Neanderthal raised a club for advantage.
Physical errors occur when you miss a shot due to a bad footwork, poor swing, or anything not having to do with a mistake in shot selection. Players make physical errors all the time, and it's no big deal, they say. It's true that a corrective lesson, plus practice, insure a diminishing chance of repeating physical errors.
On the other hand, mental errors are faulty brainwork, usually in shot selection. You should have taken a specific shot from a certain court position, but for some reason did not. These errors may be corrected instantly by an assertion of will, even inside tournament pressure. However, unnoticed or uncorrected mental slights become losing habits.
Let's stage the two types of errors before we look in on the action at Racquetown.
1) You take a forehand back wall shot and miss a killshot because you were tired. This was the ideal shot but it skipped, hence a physical error. 2) Your step up to volley your opponent's lob serve, but your return zooms off the back wall for a plum setup. The analysis is that you made the proper return attempt, but missed, perhaps because it's a difficult shot. 3) You plant to kill a mid-court shot, a logical thought, and miss it because you forget to step into the ball. You call timeout and sequester in the corner to practice stepping into the ball for a minute, and resume with confidence that you've corrected a physical error. Get the idea?
1) You gaze in front court at an oncoming ball with your opponent behind you, and hit a pass. This is a mental slight, whether or not the pass wins the point. The correct shot in front of the rival should have been a killshot. 2) A ball lofts softly off the front wall that may be volleyed with one step forward, or floor-bounced three steps backward. You choose the later, committing what Ben Franklin called an erratum, a failure in your systematic shot selection. Always step up to volley whenever possible. 3) It's match point serve as you pause inside the service box to gather courage for a surprise serve to his forehand. At the last instant in the service motion, you psyche out and lift the ball for a safer Z-serve that scores an ace. Nonetheless, this is a mental error, so keep your victory speech short.
At the lower skill lever, every rally is fraught with physical and mental errors, and the general rule is the first player to correct them via lessons and practice advances to a higher division. He'll still make a few correctable physical errors in progressing on to the pros, where the rule is no physical errors. It's all mental.
What can you do right now from an armchair to discipline physical and mental errors? Order the mind to be content after a lost rally using perfect shot selection, since a physical flaw has been unearthed to practice.
Also, swear to reinforce regret after poor shot selection wins a rally, since its repetition loses ensuing volleys. Unrecognized mental errors become physical habits over time that takes long practice cures. Worse, mental errors explained away because of won points pave a path to an irrational life.
Physical vs. mental errors is about delayed gratification. Try a game where you and your opponent agree after each rally to pause five seconds to reflect on each others mistakes. Identify the physical and the mental ones. Watch them diminish until the play advances to intentions, talked about shortly.
Physical, and especially mental errors, steamroll from inside to off the court, and into your future. A single erratum now may domino to knock out of a lifetime deal anywhere. This is why it's important after a match to sit down with a Gatorade and pencil, and analyze your repeating physical and mental errors. List the physical ones in a column on a sheet of paper, with a remedy practice drill next to each. List the mental ones in a second column, and next to it a vow or trick not to do it again. Some methods to clear up the mental error column are mantras, mental rehearsal of the right shots, and practicing correct shot selection with a partner who agrees to end the rally, and thus a point against, the first player to use incorrect shot selection.
It becomes apparent that for any given shot the permutations are: 1) No physical or mental error, 2) Physical + mental error, 3) Physical error only, or 4) Mental error only. Charting these helps open door #1 to victory.
What's more important in the overall game: physical or mental errors? Rookies who conquer physical errors such as a poor grip or slow backswing go on to win. Yet, as the skill level heightens with fewer physical errors, mental play keys in. He who commits fewer mental faults then wins.
Strive for errorless games with stick-and-carrot tricks. The most common beginner folly of protecting a weak backhand by running 'around' it for a forehand, or by hitting the ball with into the back wall, is quickly fixed by racquetball's premier early coach, Jeff Leon. For each mental error, the player must drop to the hardwood and do ten pushups. He concurrently praises positive actions.
Intermediate players may place a small pot in a rear court corner, next to a roll of nickels. The house rules are: 1) When you make a physical error, put a nickel in the pot. 2) For every mental slip put in three nickels. 2) Take a nickel out for every point scored. Now, can you get to 21 points before losing all your change to the pot? Want to bet?
I threw carrots and sticks at myself on the court for years hinged on an updated list on my locker of physical and mental errors, till the career autumn as uncovered balls began bouncing twice beyond my reach. Frankly, toward the end, it was easier to store errors in mind as there were so few. Often a rally, game and match- but never a full tournament- passed with zero physical and mental errors.
One lesson from the chart was there is absolutely no such thing as an 'off day' that millions of sportsmen across America fondly lament. Once you peak in a sport, where no further physical training beyond maintenance is required, and the strategies are understood to eschew mental slips, you may not perform badly. What the people are describing as bad days are unrecognized or uncorrected physical and mental errors.
I carried that hypothesis into a ruinous first game at a Madison Pro stop. Nervy Ken Wong had burst into the pro ranks as the first successful Chinese player who used an inscrutable service motion to lob or drive. He stood like a statue in the service box and looked long up into the lights, tossed the ball nearly to the ceiling, and struck a perfect lob or drive serve with one deceptive swing. I couldn't do anything right against him, and the gallery hooted Chinese hex. I exited the court after the first game loss, just not grasping why shots went crooked. I reached into my gym bag for water only to feel slime- a bottle of Prell shampoo had broken coating the racquet grip with soap. I grabbed a spare racquet with a dry grip and re-entered the court for a showdown win. Some mistakes are committed before one enters the court and need to be corrected to take the streaks out.
My peak performance among about 1000 tournament matches was against Mr. Racquetball Marty Hogan at his peak on the front wall-glass exhibition of the Denver Courthouse. In the first game, I made no physical and no mental errors in a state of high difficulty due to the glass and, behind, a sea of bobbing heads screaming 'Hogan!' mixed with Marty's invisible power serves. The ball disappeared into someone's mouth, and suddenly was upon me. After losing the first game, in the second I made one physical and no mental errors. I lost my best match ever- the one that on any other day would have beaten myself-. 21-20, 21-19. I kept my chin up as my opponent was physically and mentally tortured.
It's a ball-buster to run around the court against an unerring human machine. He is the 'control' in the sport experiment, and you are the variable. His game is unchanging, so how you stack up depends entirely on your play. These champs are called Walls, and are invaluable to lose to, or win against, since they identify your mistakes.
My favorite brainy quote from the Racquetball Legends as their 2003 historian and psychologist, is from
Mike Ray, the Andy of Mayberry with a racquet. He gets things done, and quietly. He beautifully describes playing one game against himself, and another against the opponent, simultaneously. 'When I'm on the court I have a strategy that I know if I execute well and the opponent doesn't do anything special, then I'll win. I just hit my shots, repeating the situations I've been in a thousand times before, so surprises are rare in a year. I ignore the score and let the ref keep it because it has no bearing on my shot selection. Often, my opponent walks off the court and I'm left holding the ball, until the ref yells, 'You just won the tournament!''
Now let's look in on the play in progress at Racquetown. Glance up-and-down the courts of beginners on the left, and pros on the right, and tally the number of physical vs. mental errors per rally per player. Among the 'C' players, each makes both errors on nearly every shot, so the games are long, sweaty rallies. (Racquetball survived early growing pains because of this.) At the 'B' level, see about half as many mistakes. At the 'A' level, the physical errors are ironed out but mental errors abound each second. In the Open division, we see only one physical error by each competitor per 4-shot rally, but two mental ones.
Then turn around and peek into the pro courts. A player only loses a rally who makes an error in shot selection that the rival invariably rekills. Most pros, except one in an epoch, make one mental error every two rallies.
Leave Racquetown knowing there's room for betterment through awareness and practice.
The professional level of anything is all about intentions. Locke said, 'Intention is when the mind, with great earnestness, and of choice, fixes its view on any idea.' In sport, you study the opponent's face, hands, gait and grace to quietly determine how he will act the next split-second. What is his design? How soon does the scheme dawn on him, and how long before he physically reaches a point of no return and executes it? Observing these signs is to predict first intent, and make a counter even as, or before, he moves.
The opponent, of course, is looking you up and down the same. Hence, second intent evolves during first; a counter to a counter.
Intention is stretching the mind toward an object, and with practice you will anticipate a competitor's actions before he does. I learned the most about intentions in 3500 straight non-drinking nights in bars studying drunks, along miles of speechless dog and cat kennels, and trails of survival around the globe.
How far intentions reach is problematic: 1st… 5th… in chess predicting ten moves ahead blindfolded. Keep grounded that second intention is reference to signs, properties, guesses and relations among first intentions. Sequentially, third intent is established during second, and so on. Then decide how far you can or want to go.
Most people use intention sequences all the time, without realizing it. Let's look at a model of sport intentions to apply to business, dating and walking under dim streetlamps. Fencing intentions are described by the tactical wheel that teaches that each tactic will defeat the one before it, and be defeated by the one following. The fence, racquet rally, business negotiation, courtroom unfolding, early romance, political race or street brawl is an endless game of Rock/Paper/Scissors revolving around guessed intents by the players. (Rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock, and so forth.)
By assuming the opponent's attack while planning yours, you make a choice what move to use in the bout. That's first intent.
When you study the other's first intent in order to plan yours, you assume he is doing the same, and may alter your next move in what is called second intent. If your foe also notes your second intent, it progresses to third, and so on.
Intention doesn't play a large role in boilerplate sport and business, but it's the wild West throughout history for world beaters like Charley Brumfield, Amarillo Slim, Henry Kissinger, Thomas Jefferson and Perry Mason.
In other words, if one of them presents scissors, you can choose rock, and if you guess he or she will choose scissors again, you may assume he's picked something else for the next round, and so forth, perpetually altering your tactics.
In fencing, the first attack is certainly false, making the opponent perform a parry-riposte, while the real attack is a timed stroke against the opponent's riposte. In boxing, the first lesson from the horsehair mat is left jab, right- cross and Palooka's uppercut though a hole. Gunslingers at nineteen paces rely on multiple intent to shoot accurately first.
The problem with hitting on first intent, which is a euphemism for a 'model stroke', is that it's easily anticipated and countered. I favor second intent only, feeling that to journey farther into third intent against superior intellects that I'm accustomed to squaring off with, is suicidal.
This was the sweat-lesson, evening after evening for two hours, in the upstairs dungeon Michigan State University racquetball courts. No one could see me. I descended every couple of months to bash around in an intramural or fraternity contest, got clipped, and trudged up the steps again. Then one evening I thought of intention, without knowing the word. The next decade of championships in paddleball and racquetball relied on the exclusive stroke strategy of secondary intent. In setting up to swing, I always stepped, looked and angled the downswing (till the instant of ball contact) in precisely the opposite direction the ball was going.
For example, every right-hand killshot to the right-front corner began with a step into the ball cross-court, looking left, and striking the ball waist high. The technique runs tearfully counter to standards, but I wanted to better that, and so build strong first intent into the stroke to fool opponents. My killshot to the right front corner looked like the model stroke of a cross-court drive to deep left. The white lie, forehand and backhand, repeated millions of times in exhibitions and tournaments in a dozen countries without, I believe, anyone reckoning it.
The problem with third intention, and beyond, is that a mental state and stroke built on too many camouflages breaks down with physical exhaustion. Keep it simple, I reminded myself, and win, until all I could do for years is hit second intent shots even after knocked semi-conscious by a ball. In the more poised competitions of baseball and attorney work, you may safely extend into fourth or fifth echelons, reading the opponent's body language and 'mind' to establish his chain of intentions, and evolve your counters.
There's no riddle a computer poker, Jeopardy, or as once I was interviewed by a psychiatrist program, cannot solve. Cold hardware, given the proper juice and circuits, surpasses human. However, bloodless machines move pitifully in tennis shoes, and will never beat a racket player.
So, who are the best of the short line of court sport thinkers in history who committed the least physical and mental errors, hence the strongest 'intentors'? The list embarrasses since, I believe, built into every cerebral champion is a physiological shortcoming that trained his mind. Starting at the bottom, for racquetball,
The greatest cerebral player is probably Victor Niederhoffer, who for decades plopped around squash, tennis, paddle and racquetball courts more noisily than I. We met to warm up on a St. Louis court at the 1973 national racquetball tournament, each wearing different colored sneakers. He in a black and a white, and I one red and a black. We eyed each other across the service box with first, second… I don't remember how many intentions. I was playing on a sprained ankle with a Converse Chuck on the hurt right, and a low-cut left. I asked myself, 'What does this guy know that I don't?' We've basically been inseparable ever since. There have been countless matches in multiple sports, evenly split, except I always walked away with an intent headache.
Niederhoffer and I entered a NYC squash court just before New Year's 2011 for a hybrid game using a racquetball and he a child's tennis racquet against my wood paddle. He's loosed up over the years, a hip replacement pops, but it's still hard to force his hand by intent. He won a tiebreaker to 11-points, but that night I left the court feeling pretty good for once.
March 12, 2011 | Leave a Comment
Mr. Universe and some of the top racquet players heft the common goals of individualism and personal perfection. A few years back, I dug into a ‘Gold’s Mine’ of training tips from Mike ‘The Mighty’ Quinn. Make that mighty, as in savvy and gracious.
‘You can make a chorus line of doctors and psychologists who disagree, but serious sports competitors need conditioning and nutritional advice to progress. Athletes discovered twenty years ago that the ones coming out on top had personal trainers and nutritionists.’
We met in 2003 in the Coral Gables Racquet Club boiler room as I strained to shove a 600 lb. extinct water heater out the door to make room for a bed. I was the new club pro. He heard the scrapping through the ceiling pumping iron, and descended to help. I tipped the heater on edge, he squatted beneath, lifted, and hauled it out the door.
‘I held the same cup as Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ he cracked, loosening the weight belt, and returned upstairs to pump iron.
That afternoon he offered training tips to me on an adjacent treadmill.
‘Let’s start nutrition with an analogy. There are Lamborghinis and Volkswagens, and owners who care for them in different ways. You can put high or low quality fuel, oil and so forth into each. At the same time, there’s a genetic predisposition to everything. My father is a butcher, as big as the beef he carves, but I don’t eat beef. Are you with me so far?
‘The intense athlete must train himself to eat every three hours. The intake should be high protein because that’s the building block of muscle. I eat chicken, protein shakes, salads, fruit and no red meat.’
He asserts the most important eating spurts are 90 minutes before, and 90 minutes after working out. ‘Build and recover,’ he keeps repeating. Interestingly, he takes some sugar with meals ‘to pull the other nutrients into the muscle cells’.
How about a training regimen for the devoted wannabe?
‘Young athletes get on the tournament court, field or mat and run out of steam before the finals. Their coaches berate them for not trying hard enough; however, in most cases, they peter out because they’ve been working too hard up to the tournament date.’
‘Here’s a training regimen for very serious players who have a low (non-playing) and high (tournament) season. In the first month of the low season, don’t play much of the prime sport at all. Train at weights and machines intensely, and for short amounts of time, with short rest periods.
’If your workouts in the first month are twice daily for an hour each, follow these principals: In the month’s course, gradually increase the intensity, decrease the rest time between exercises, and maintain the duration of the overall workout.’
He grins broadly, ‘It makes you puke’.
’In the second month of training during the low season, cut back half the weight training, while spending most the hours on the court, field or gym practicing and playing.’
‘In the third month of low season, don’t weight train at all, and don’t play hard. Eat wisely throughout the three months, and go gentle on the ladies…
a Lamborghini in the season opener!’
Quinn’s analysis of over-training supports a personal belief that I over-trained throughout a fifteen year pro racquetball career, rarely taking a day off from hours of practice (one hour), playing (two), running (one), biking (two) and lifting weights (one hour). Tournaments were breathers.
‘You never peaked!’ assays Quinn.
‘Right, but my priority was working out rather than winning tournaments. I loved it,’ I asserted.
‘Most players want to win more than that, don’t they?’ he countered.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, recollecting six national championships.
In a challenging silence, I asked to grab collars to test my better sport, judo.
He grasped my lapels at arms length, lifted me a foot off the ground, and whisked his sneaker under mine, exclaiming, ‘This is a foot sweep!’, and gently lowered me to the floor.
Quinn put me on a 3-month regimen of weights with a high-protein diet to gain slight weight and much strength, while increasing speed and stamina- can you beat that?.
‘There’s an ancient controversy of muscle vs. sport, that should be muscle and sport. The stronger the player of any sport, the greater the edge- period! However, don’t think muscle equals bulk. Think of tiny individual muscle fibers growing thicker, and stronger end attachments to the bones. This increased density is a strong muscle, not a huge muscle.’
Huge muscles are for bodybuilding, Quinn’s profession.
‘Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) and I hold the same trophy for Mr. Universe. We just held it in different years (1984 for Quinn). Arnold is a smart, hard worker who likes to ‘bust your balls’. He and I had words once, that fortunately for each of us, didn’t go any farther. Lou, on the other hand, demands everyone’s regard for achieving greatness through deafness. He’s a friend who would have worn the green skin, even with good ears.’
Mike Quinn set the world pumping iron aflame by winning Mr. America at 18-years old. ‘It was too early to peak into fame, but I plowed on as best I could.’ Title after title, in country after country, followed. In the early 90’s, he opened two Gold’s Gyms in southern Florida, then exited business to train professional football, baseball, racket and other players. There was a two-year stint with Tae-Bo boxing guru Billy Blanks trading daily lessons-weights for martial arts.
To look at Quinn is to behold a bull with a quick glint behind the eyes. ‘I rose out of a dysfunctional family, neighborhood rubble, and attention deficit, and it’s the best inspiration I can offer whiners.’ He’s extremely graceful, honestly sociable, and highly self-educated on health, nutrition, exercise physiology and psychology. He likes to stick you between a dumbbell and a hard place with mental puzzles, and watch the workout.
As I listened to the gentle giant speak, it dawned on me that despite my life-long study of unorthodox pet and human training methods, there was not a thing to disagree with. His hair-brained theories fit my hair-brained theories to weave Sampson a wig.
Thanks to Mr. Universe Mike Quinn for the conditioning tips of a lifetime.
March 10, 2011 | Leave a Comment
My early pro career was playing hard for tournament T-shirts and trophies, plus perfection. The attitude hasn't changed over the increasing prize-money years, except I'm grateful not to hitchhike around the nation to senior tournaments.
Have my patience from these early excursions where, one sunny Nebraska day, I learned the granddaddy secret of all racquet sports and others using a stinking implement- horizontal fences and vertical telephone poles.
Gym bag in hand, and thumbing rides with the other, I peered at a rockpile alongside the road, and then up-and-down at a telephone pole behind a rail fence. I dropped everything to throw rocks with a mind's eye on sport. The basic throwing motions were sidearm, overhand, underhand, ¾ overhand and ¾ underhand. The conclusion was the most accurate, by far, for the telephone pole, was the overhand throw. Bam, Bam BAM the rocks struck the post.
Gathering more rocks, I eyed the horizontal fence rail. The sidearm throw produced a huge correlation with smash, Smash, SMASH.
Even with the off-left hand, the overhand pounded the vertical, and the sidearm the horizontal.
Take a moment to ponder, why, and what are the targets in tennis, squash, racquetball, badminton, baseball, football throw, soccer, even golf or a martial arts blow?
My expertise is racquetball and paddleball, where the horizontal and vertical targets are for killshots and down-line passes, respectively. Each target lies in a narrow horizontal (and vertical) plane that spreads from point of contact on the racquet forward.
In these sports, a 1'-high stripe or tape is applied to the front wall from sidewall-to-sidewall, like a squash tin, except with a different strategy. The real or imaginary 'tin' resounds from a killshot with a bang!. The most noise is generated on the forehand sidearm swings like a baseball bat, and on backhands like a Frisbee throw.
The down-line pass, oppositely, requires vertical accuracy to insure it within an upright alley along either sidewall. This shot is the second only to the killer in a racquetball arsenal, yet discover for yourself with anything you wish to hit, fling, pass or kick that vertical accuracy is honed with an overhand (or underhand softball pitch) action.
Winning is all about increasing your margin of stroke error.
A quick analog shows the work: A right-handed baseball batter swings at a fastball, and then at a change-up, that angle in sequence down the right and left sidelines. The batter's bat was 'late' on the first pitch (behind the ball), and 'early' on the second (ahead of the ball). You may also see this in every other racket sport, especially the zealous tennis vertical overhead early into the net.
However, in racquetball for horizontal kills, it really doesn't matter if you're late or early in the contact zone, because whether the ball angles right or left off the racquet is immaterial. It still hits the target tin. The advent of the speedy ball in many racket sports met with a deeper, crisper strike with a flattened face to allow nanoseconds extra set-up time, and using a lower grip to square the face with the front wall. Take a side swing for greater stroke forgiveness on kills, or tennis shots that brush the net, or squash nicks just over the tin.
Similarly, the margin of error for racquetball pass shots, tennis line serves and squash rail shots is better a looping vertical stroke that, if struck late or early, simply lifts higher or lower to hit the vertical target. Now, think of activities where an edge goes with selecting a three-quarter motion for dual horizontal and vertical accuracies. Examples are throwing a baseball to first base, archery, and avoiding an eagle in the pilot's seat. Edges repeated thousands of times spell a winning tide.
Now, leap to an understanding that the 'moment' of contact is a miniature unfolding of the full stroke. This small, time-measureable scenario of strings-on-ball recapitulates the larger stroke. The more proficient the player, the greater insight and longer the moment seems, yet all are assured the 'travel' of racket-on-sphere is longer and farther than you suspect.
Ergo, the interface is influential, I propose, more so than the stroke.
Having swung everything from my Complete Book of Racquetball, bleach bottle, 4'' mini-racket, and Converse shoe against Miss World, the premise is that the touted ideal stroke in any sport shrinks in import to the ensuing moment of contact. Precision is born during travel.
Instant replay: Run a mind's movie of the strings-on-ball during, say, a travel of half-second and two inches. Stop action: This few frames sequence determines the destiny in of the flying projectile. The more 'elastic' the moment, the fewer frames, and more difficult to control.
If during the interface the swing is level, despite being late or early, then horizontal accuracy propels the ball; or, if during travel the racquet angles up-to-down, or vice-versa, then vertical is mastered.
Years later, I presented the concept at a Florida clinic and asked the group why it was so that sidearms make better kills and vertical strokes better alley passes. A 12-year-old piped, "Because the contact stripes are in the same planes as the target stripes." There is no more succinct an explanation. I made it to the Colorado racquetball tourney, and beyond hitched and hoboed to hundreds more, all the while tossing stones, swatting flies, and ducking a few, that engineered a decade win streak after the original thrown rock.
It was the night before Christmas when I stepped down into the Idaho basement and beheld a horsehair mat measuring six-by-eight 10-year-old strides that changed my life.
The next morning the real gift came when dad took off a bowtie and younger brother Tom opened a big box of boxing gloves. We descended the stairs, and had at it. Thrice weekly for an hour, the bouts alternated among boxing, wrestling and judo for years.
Parents should wonder what martial art to place their youngster in, that will alter his thinking, movement and life choices. Having dabbled in most of the sports from the horsehair mat to asphalt alley, here's a quick rundown.
Boxing: The attack and defence is with the fists. The hands are wrapped and gloved, and head put in a helmet to prevent injuries. I've done enough boxing to say it's a great sport from a distance. I gave it up at the YMCA after getting so pummelled and pooped that there seemed no need to raise the elbows above the supper table for a day. It's a great sport for those who stick with it, teaches importantly getting hit is no big deal, and will get you by nicely in most street scrapes.
Judo: The name means gentle way, and was my forte for ten years. The opponent's center of gravity and momentum are utilized to throw him around like a rag doll, without injury to anyone. It is superior because of 'hands-on' training, quick gains, aerobic and anaerobic condition, and is the best progress to balance and tumbling. There is no better way to learn to read a person's body language in every situation.
Wrestling: This is the most superior martial art that I had a love/hate relationship for many years. I practiced so hard, adored the move and counter chains, and half the time ended up flat on my back in front of jeering fans and my sad parents. Nonetheless, if you don't know what to do after school, go to the wrestling room and get an epiphany for life.
Karate: The term means empty handed, and is a practical self-defense appended by a philosophical touch. Strikes with the hand or foot stop just short of contact. It involves tedious repetitions that, in college threw my elbow and knee joints out of whack from jerking to a stop. There are more efficient ways to exercise or learn combat.
Ballet: Is too a martial art, especially for an uncoordinated person.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: This is a self-defense system and martial art that emphasizes taking an opponent to the ground and applying submission holds such as joint-locks and chokeholds. The premise is that most of the advantage of a larger, stronger foe comes from superior reach and more powerful strikes, that are negated on the ground. My practicing friends call it 'tackle-and-choke', and there's something refreshing and potent about simplicity where there are so many choices.
Kickboxing: A popular blend of karate and boxing, especially in Thailand where after public contests I've been invited, as the only Caucasian spectator in the crowd, to dojos to train with the athletes. I trained little, watched a lot, and surmised (as in other contact sports) it's good to learn to take blows, plus it builds character and very strong legs. However, it's inferior as a defense to all the other contact arts.
Full contact Karate: To me, this is the only Karate. I took a year of contact-less in college and the big problem is that after a few months of pulling thousands of kicks and punches short of target, or striking a defenseless sawdust bag, one suddenly finds himself in a rough place with a false glow of confidence. There's a split-instant hesitation before striking as the muscle memory kicks in to actually hit a person… and by then it's too late. But Full Contact is a true self-defence with protective pads and helmets during practice for safety.
Ultimate Fighting: It's an American martial arts' fest where fighters from different disciplines fight to submission or knockout. I've known a few ultimate fighters, usually type A personalities in gorilla bodies, who admit it's a bloody, real test. The best are former collegiate and Olympic champion wrestlers.
Kung Fu: The term means a skill or ability to do something, hence is aggressive. Also referred to as Wushu, a modern name for Chinese martial arts, I once lived with a practitioner/owner of a dojo who was also a telepath, according to publicity (not mine), and he challenged Sugar Ray Leonard in the boxing ring blindfolded using just his feet. It never happened, but he did get on 'That's Incredible.' Sharp kicks and blows are applied to pressure points on the body, and once I wrestled the housemate who in the first three seconds touched each of about two dozen pressure points, and I gasped.
Thai Chi: Throughout Asia, one sees seniors practicing katas in front yards and parks, content and oblivious to passers-by, dogs and traffic. For this reason, it seems a good meditative activity, develops body awareness and sequential thinking, but is too static to be considered a martial defense or aerobic activity. There are faster-motion forms, but the martial aspect requires years of training.
Aikido: The self-defense resembles a harmonious dance on the mat or street, until suddenly a lock is applied to neutralize or control the opponent. There are chains of beautiful applications of leverage across joints, and circular movements within a contained mat area that teach discipline and respect. I've watched practice sessions, and had an elbow and knee bent to testify the efficacy. At the highest level, the defender hurts no one, only leads the red-faced attacker away by a bent finger or ear. This is the first horsehair sport I would encourage my child to undertake.
The above list (from about 50 martial arts practiced around the globe) includes the most popular and ones with which I have some familiarity.
The benefits of martial arts cannot be underestimated. They include:
General fitness and coordination.
Decision making, including cross-over training for chess, bridge and many jobs.
A discipline to greet new challenges by forming a strategy, and to adjust or stick with it to a goal.
Confidence in mastering new situations.
A mindset to find a correct frame of thinking to greet novel scenarios.
The grasp of chained sequences in thought and movement.
Respect for an instructor, and others.
Testing and learning one’s limits, hence humbleness.
Boost in general self-esteem as other life challenges, physical and mental, are met cheerfully.
A habit of accomplishment from training with many little steps and progressions.
Increased productivity in school or business
The confidence to strike out to new grounds, and travel.
Meet worthy people.
Burn off a kid’s energy with a better night’s sleep for everyone.
T.K Marks writes:
Bo Keely's thoughts and experiences are an enthralling memoir waiting to happen. At once picaresque in its tone and regimented in its discipline, his stories exude the charming rogue paradigm. He's an original.
P.S. Met up with Omid last night for dinner and he told me that come this summer he's considering "riding the rails" again with Dr. Keely. I could see handy-with-a-camera O getting some video grist out of something like that. The wild thing being that none of it would be staged.
P.S.S. Where did you find Bo Keely?
Victor Niederhoffer writes:
We met at a racquetball tournament.
Bud Muehleisen won a record 69 national and world championship titles. I once went in his attic and found stacks of trophy plates removed (the cups donated to kids' charities), and a thick scrapbook that opened with a clipping, 'Birdy Basher Bud Muehleisen wins Navy championship'.
However, what caught my attention was a certificate for #1 standing in his university dentistry clinic. I asked, how, and what's the relationship to sport?
Dr. Bud gazed down through spectacles and said, 'Players can learn a lot about their games, and lives, by examining personal intensity on the set-up and swing.
'The most important place for a personal rheostat is on the swing. Strokes aren't knee-jerk reactions that turn on or off. Slide the action along an intensity from low to high. Try two things: Increase swing force just 10% on a few shots, and see what happens. Then, lower swing force by 10%, and think about it. The adjustment one way or the other should prove beneficial.'
You may tinker with stroke intensity on the whole, or by dissecting the many variables: A change in overall body tension, a sharpening mental focus, altering the body coil or wrist snap, step into the ball, and so forth. Work on the variables one-at-a-time.
Yet, the normal method in a tournament match is to adjust the stroke rheostat remotely by psyching up or down a tad (start with a 10% change). The body will follow suit with a resultant smoothing out of swing. This corrects the three most hideous errors in crucial rallies- over-hitting, under-hitting or fainting away.
It accordingly zeros in on three court personalities: the Good, Bad and Ugly:
The Good jovial lazy bones slaloms between hits for fear of stepping on his opponent's toes and upsetting karma. There have been Good champions in all sports from Mike Ray in racquetball to boxing's great Joe Lewis.
The Bad player is so wound up by the coin toss that he doesn't wind down until match point. He operates at such high intensity the match becomes an attrition of energies. Sudsy Monchik's patented strategy to 'turn up the heat' from first serve increasing to last, won an unprecedented 50 pro tournaments.
The Ugly, like big-time wrestlers, employ ostensibly whacko rheostats to turn each sporting moment to unpredictability. People do not want to be near you when you act crazy.
If you're not already a champ, how can Muehleisen's Rheostat carry these racquet personalities to greater success? What are the defenses?
The Good should take an intensity supplement on shot setups, that trickles to other areas of the court. It yields instant results for languid players who shift just one higher gear on setup, swing, mental attitude, and court scramble. Curiously, it produces a style displayed by legendary Cliff Swain gliding about the court until planting for the swing, and he lightly jerks to focus.
The Bad should maintain his excellent high intensity throughout the match, except regulate it down (10%) on the swing to avoid over-hitting. Slowing the swing a tad relaxes the body a lot.
The Ugly is a tough crack, but I'll clue you that champs like Hulk Hogan and Charlie Brumfield own fine control over their irregular rheostats to orchestrate show to victory. You may enhance personal nuttiness by playing for bets, against gorillas, or simulations of tournament pressure.
The defenses against each of the three are reversing their rheostats. Turn on the heat with drive serves, harder shots, and body contact against the dopey Good player to shake his strategies. Turn down the intensity against the Bad competitor who hates a slow game of lob serves, ceiling shots and timeouts. Finally, ignore the antics of the Ugly who, given a driving, extended three-game match, melts in the back corner like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Dr. Bud's Rheostat worked for me.
It's not true people are the same everywhere, but what about the ignored species? I'm on a Darwinian voyage around the world by plane, bus and thumb, and now in Sumatra, Indonesia, where the contrast of species, including our own, is great, with the most interesting extremes.
The Sumatra butterflies have the strongest wing attachments, hence steady flight in the island's winds, than any encountered around the globe. The chickens, c/o mankind, crossed the ocean to evolve into the sturdiest, best eating in the world, meatier with small fat, and less gamey. The eggs are 20% denser than our American counterparts with a ratio of one medium Sumatra = one extra-jumbo USA. The two-egg omelet I devoured an hour ago was enough for two explorers.
The cook and people in Tuk Tuk village on the volcanic Lake Toba bank are, along with Peruvian Amazonians, the hardiest in the world. They were southbound refuges from early war-torn North Asia, and cannibals among themselves to weed the gene pool. Lake Toba is the seat of the Batak people, with homes like ships turned upside-down and put on stilts. They are the most gentle with the fiercest anatomies anywhere.
This is also the focus, I believe, of a rise of consciousness separate from the dawn of man's climb from Africa into Europe. (Incidentally, one may study at googlemaps 'satellite view' the ocean shelves tapering and joining continents, to surmise the early travels of 'missing links'.) My evaluation of consciousness in Lake Toba is untainted by small text preparation of man's early migration and rise of awareness, but rather from having visited all the continents, and being a sharp student.
It appears the local 6500 orangutan population is the most intelligent of apes, including gorillas and chimpanzees. They are processors, or an offshoot, of a missing human link different from the African one with facial expressions of condescension to be cherished on a jungle path.
The Batak proudly own orangutan and chimpanzee features, with not the natural, long sharp canines of greater cannibalistic Peru, and none of the heavy jaw stock from my own family tree. It's apparent their consciousness arose in a separate Asian branch from the Africa-Europe one, with a different style of thought revolving around anatomy. They generate thoughts from lower on the brain stem, with less capacity to entertain simultaneous concepts like scrambling eggs and swatting flies processed higher in the cerebrum.
A Toba Super-eruption about 70,000 years ago is recognized as one of the earth's largest, and perhaps greatest disaster, and evolutionary factor. The theory holds the event plunged the planet into a decade volcanic winter that resulted in the world's human population being reduced to an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs, creating a human evolution bottleneck.
Today's tranquility, and 3:1 female to male birth ratio, under towering trees and tumbling waterfalls suggests correlative causes with the Peruvian Amazon. In each, an early tribe fled into an impenetrable place: one a volcanic island and the other the thickest rainforest on earth. Each sequestered over the centuries in what evolutionists call 'island isolation'- raiding each others villages for breeding girls and eating the men's heads, squeezing a few years though a malaria sieve, preservative infanticide- where inherited and mutated traits tend to be preserved.
Until scant centuries ago, they also remained separate from the global pace. The result in each locale is royal peoples, and flora and fauna quirks, like the butterfly wings and chicken eggs far removed from the Bell canopy.
This is why one travels.
On a remote Michigan lake, in an unheated garage with double-walls, triple ceiling, and a waterbed, two Dobermans and an Irish setter, I spent one introspective year after carving and hanging a sign on the door 'Garage Nirvana'.
A series of 24-hour experiments for self-study, to explore limits, and fit together a personal puzzle engaged the time. One was bladder control, that hit the news today, 'People with Full Bladders Make Better Decisions, Scientists Discover' (Telegraph) asserting that the brain's self-control mechanism provides restraint in all areas at once. Like Pascal's principle, I suppose, pressure exerted on confined liquid is transmitted equally in all directions.
It applies to the Garage Nirvana trials of 1978.
The early bladder test was a simple design: One sweat-hot summer day I drank copious water while bent with screwdrivers and pliers over a 5-meter line of accumulated broken appliances- radios, blender, watch, drill…- strewn on the dog funhouse ramp out the garage window to fix, or at least, see what makes things tick. I held the bladder tinkering into the night
I built a plywood phone booth-sized closet next to the bed as a 'jail' deprivation booth, and sat for 24-hours on a cushion with nothing to do, in the only superfluous bid, except the clothes closet.
Some assays extended beyond a day, like the one month fast @ 2000 calories while sustaining 6-miles runs with the dogs around Haslett Lake. To this day, I eat simply, slowly and prefer to eat alone.
A chin-up bar across the door jam was a 'bell' that I forced myself to 'ring' with X +1 chins before entry, where X was the previous number.
One morning I came out and rode a Peugeot PX 10-speed for 24-straight hours through Dodge and Hell, Michigan listening to Sherlock Holmes books on tape, learning that sleep deprivation is speculative.
There were dubious achievements of letting ants, flies and cockroaches crawl or fly closer without flinching. An hour sitting on a knoll in a mosquito cloud with Emily Dickinson flamed a swollen head, but without welts.
In a swoop at Nirvana, I put a rheostat on emotions, without suppression, via willpower. The brain works quickly under emotion or stress, like a clucking chicken in a rainstorm, but a blink or thought may replace affection to quiet it. Feeling the diminishment like a questionable protagonist of Twilight Zone, a final insight burst allowed a creep of sentiment, while maintaining the rheostat.
I started reading books upside down to cause a print flow from left-to-right to offset the spiritless daily reverse, and succeeded in a month to reach 90% speed and 110% comprehension. Then, I extended nightly non-fiction reading sessions by 30-minutes for a week, and was so aided by the increased stamina from book tipping, the only limit was sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation, for sleep is a little slice of death, was pruned by 30-minutes a night until I felt sick at four hours, and chucked it. The rationale is that one who thinks and acts hard in waking hours requires more sleep to return to a morning steady state. I did learn to drop off in seconds like a bum on a park bench, and to appreciate the qualities of sleep, and accomplished dreamless repose.
Every night for a nearly a month, i went to sleep an hour later until gaining the equivalent of circling the globe, and clapped myself on the back for snatching a day from Father Time.
One winter week I spent ten-minutes on either side of midnights throwing snowballs at a backyard telephone pole to improve an off-left hand for sports, and to prove a theory that an overhand hones a vertical target. And, I learned to write left-handed in mirror to try to match my acclaimed 'best racquetball backhand in history' attributed to writing journals since childhood left-to-right on the horizontal.
Along with proud acquired dyslexia from reading backwards, in so many night waking hours I learned colorblindness, seeing none even in daytime, and with no color recall. To this day, the blindness may be turned on and off, but somehow I cannot conjure color. The gains are a contrast of black and clear that speeds the visual process, recognizable smaller images, and eyes in a flash to pick movements.
Bodily functions offered proofs of the control cough and sneeze reflexes, shivering, and best not blinking. In one day I blinked once, but the next got a contract from Contemporary Books for The Women's Book of Racquetball, and stopped.
The most dangerous undertaking was reading Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and suddenly it popped into my head that thinking may be earned. Thoughts have a prelude like background static that I determined to raise the curtain on by paying attention. Indeed, one tunes into formerly subconscious thoughts, speeding cognition to breakneck speed.
Another peril was a mounting endeavor not to waste time, not a second, that is difficult to explain. It entails cutting corners in thought and to the latrine, to spiral eating corn-on-the-cob. The best week was an accumulative wasted one second at multiple blinks.
One aim the dogs just stared at was jumping to hit my head on the ceiling for increased leg strength. It happened in one month.
Concurrently, I tried to fuse grace into every movement that carried beyond the year on leaving the garage to travel the world with this bag of tricks.
The lessons gleaned from the Nirvana struggles are:Thinking is an athletic event.
Athletics is best done thinking.
There are cross-over benefits in every action.
Knowing your limits pays life dividends.
You may through self-knowledge feel whole,
And become what one may.
My observations during the 'yank bo' speculative tour some time ago to find emerging markets were, and still are, that in first world countries a rise in alcohol consumption is bullish, and more correlative a rise in 2nd & 3rd countries it is bearish. From Lake Toba, where the cigarette butts are smoked to the bitter end and the local economy is 70% depressed because of a fall in tourism due to recent Indonesian bombings.
Apparent per capita ethanol consumption for the United States, 1850–2007. (Gallons of ethanol)
List of countries by alcohol consumption can be found on wikipedia.
March 3, 2011 | Leave a Comment
Low energy need not accompany travel any more than going to a job. The over-complained symptoms of headache, nausea and compromised mental skills sour too many vacations and shouldn't undermine business efficiency. There is no airborne infectious agent, only a compromised health that could, and often does, allow a secondary condition such as a cold to take hold.
Prevention is the standard treatment, including being rested before travel, being fit, drinking liquids before departure, and relaxing. After landing, or alighting from a boxcar, the conventional treatments are symptomatic for nausea, headaches, etc. with a possible alcoholic or energy drink, or tranquilizer. Good sleep during travel is essential, as is proper food and continued liquids.
Crossing repeated time zones provokes various strategies. Some travelers choose a flight that arrives at the hour that begins the normal workday; or, alternatively, arrives at the usual bedtime hour and immediately go to sleep. A further option is to arrive for an important meeting a couple days early to prepare by relaxing. Finally, some prefer to reset their body clocks several days before leaving home by developing a sleep-wake cycle similar to the destination clock hours.
All this is elementary to the modern barnstormer, but I may add a few nuances after having crossed by camel, foot, thumb and Jeepney, as well as conventional jet, thousands of time zones.
Arrive hours early at the airport and kick back as prelude. The distraction of rushed passengers soothes for an hour, and then read a cliffhanger book. The amenities of flying business or first class are efficacious, if affordable. You may visit the executive lounge with computers and manners, or use the airport gym and showers. Moreover, Victor Navorski taught us while trapped in 'The Terminal' that there's plenty to do. Once. after a month on a 13-country inquiry for a speculator, I became dull, and the overnight reports suffered; however, on upgrading the tickets to business class and by following the ensuing tips, sharpened in a couple days and the sponsor benefited.
I divide traveler's syndrome into two categories: short and long term. The short occurs in the first couple days of a vacationer's two-week holiday or businessman's protracted swing. The causes are the myriad stresses of haste, schedule changes and crossing time zones. The long-term condition comes weeks or months into a tour due to being intense for so long, hence is more neurological. The preventions and treatments differ accordingly, as follows.
For vacationers and short-term businessmen, get to the terminal early, be in shape when you step on the first flight, and block an hour or more a day of exercise during the trip to quash symptoms. Physical fitness is directly proportional to resistance to Traveler fatigue. Liquid intake should increase with miles traveled, to your limit. Take your own fluids into the airport for the wait, and once past security buy more to sip during the flight without nagging the flight attendants. (I carry a trucker's boot- small bottle- in my suit coat for frequent urinations.) I also pack a first meal in case the flight, train or bus is delayed. Some authorities advise eating less to beat traveler's malaise, but I disagree and eat more as long as there are extra fluids. Finally, the "redeye" or night trip is favored to sleep during transport, and awake fresh with eyeshades and earplugs as if never having moved.
Long-term educational travel of six to eighteen months is my strong suit, and this anecdote finds me in the Sumatra jungle across from a few thousands curious human-like orangutans. My round-the-world ticket peers- nearly all European- are going ape on Skype to touch familiar bases. I may ask for their Email addresses to quiet them. On other journeys over the decades, I've witnessed them rave and cry without knowing why and, admittedly, as a greenhorn I weathered a couple bouts before gaining insight.
Somehow, the CNS is liable in world travel (probably from chronic amplified visual traffic and inner ear imbalance). I tell journeyers to force themselves monthly to stay in one place for 4-7 days in proportion to their disturbance; I've been here for two weeks after three brakeless, reckless months on the road. The best Shangri Las are white sand beaches scattered around the globe, or dense jungles like this one with fresh fruit on the trees and hiking trails. After three decades of nearly constant travel to a hundred countries, the longest swing was 18 months through Africa, South America and the South Pacific where I learned that traveler's illness mitigates the longer the trip, as long as the rest breaks are observed.
The best tip to your better travel health is to pack a pair of running shoes for sightseeing, and use them at any speed.
I recently was asked a good question: does high altitude resistance training actually work?:
Certainly using oxygen filtering masks works to simulate high altitude training. You may get the same benefits with an oriental exhaust mask (that cuts air intake by about 30%, and I currently use) over the mouth. Moreover, you may put training stress on your lungs by willfully controlling respiration– learn to breathe less oxygen per breath by many means such as through the nose, heating air by holding in the pharynx, diaphragm breathing, filling just the lower lung lobes, & so on.
Yet, the $89 training mask is ingenious. Thanks for the site, however, the company's argument of equality of passive vs. active training holds no water, and this is a lesson for all sports, dance, bedroom, or walk in the park. Having ambled on most of the world's major ranges, active training out-performs passive in myriad physiological gross & microscopic ways, despite studies to the contrary by lazy bone scientists. Isotonic overpowers isometric. Physical doing beats mental rehearsal almost always.
Physical training made easy is grasping there are three techniques to fitness gain: increased weight, repetition or frequency. This is a distillation of every exercise physiology class I ever took, and Joe Wielder's technique to stop getting sand kicked in my face. The best gain for most sports is by increasing weight (resistance), e.g. the ankle weights I'm wearing & 10lb. of books, bills & camera stuffed in my hiking shorts.
The face mask can be said to increase the resistance of respiration. Future elite athletes, I think, will train in underwater gyms like track horses to increase resistance on every square-inch of skin, and later Olympic champs will train on Jupiter (or a simulator) requiring more effort for every muscle fiber to contract. Until then, you may sink your gym set in the shallow end of a swimming pool, and dog paddle with a weight belt between sets.
The resistance trainer will win nearly every time against one who doesn't, whatever the activity. I used to tell competitors that the wire on my tournament racquetball racquet was a coach's antenna.
Russ Sears weighs in:
Altitude training is a lot like life: it is not how you are torn down that matters but how you re-build. What runners have found is that it is the recovery especially sleeping at high altitudes is what build endurance by forcing the body to adapt in the recovery. Hard training in high altitudes is not as much nor as quick and it is close enough to race pace or conditions. The newer mantra is to train low and live high. They achieve this either by stimulated altitude chambers or sleeping tents or by driving down a steep road to train, at least to do the faster harder stuff.
The newest mantra is to use "anti-gravity" treadmills (they hold you up at the waist so the pounding is not as hard). This enables you to train more distance and to increase the turnover and pace beyond a normal race. So the idea is to train "gently" so as to train as much as possible and to also stress neurologically system occasionally beside the muscles.
While Bo certainly could tell us more about the bodies adaptation than I could, the main effect as I understand it is to increase the red blood cells and therefore the bodies ability to carry oxygen and repair damage. This is similar to the effects of EPO, except EPO tends to let your blood turn to sludge and cause heart attacks if you dehydrate too much. The tale tale sign of a drug cheat is to see if they pull out of a meet/race when the weather is hotter than expected. But I can attest that even a trained runner can pass-out from dehydration, as I did last June.
February 28, 2011 | 1 Comment
Sports equipment evolves the player…movement… and final strategy.
In the beginning, 1971, the racquetball was mush, and the strokes slow to push it around the old courts in winning rallies. The pros, like me, were string beans wielding tiny racquets.
Then in the 80s, the ball quickened and the strokes changed to power, with deeper contact and a bullwhip crack.
In the 90s, the pace of play was frightfully heightened by the superball with big-head racquets, crisper strokes, and squat players.
There have been three epochs. The early, lanky champs with push strokes were Bill Schmidtke, Bud Muehleisen, and Charley Brumfield. The intermediary fireplugs with power swings on a relatively fast ball were Mike Yellen, Dave Peck and Marty Hogan. The current bulldog elite are Sudsy Monchik, Jason Manino and the better of the rest who explode on shots like weightlifters at a bar. The power serve increasingly dominates over time, and the rally length and millisecond to ponder between shots decrease in proportion to ball speed.
The ball begot the stroke begot the player, and that's the history of racquetball. And, likely, any sport, military or industry evolves with equipment.
What can you do about this trend to improve your game? My play girdles all the game eras, so these solutions are from observations of ball, racquet and champ body developments, and matching my molasses stroke against the diverge of three swings of the 'Big Three' players in successive eras– Marty Hogan, Sudsy Monchik and Cliff Swain.
Each champ adapted with a stroke to meet the speedier ball, yet with commonalities. These shared elements are: 1) Fast set-up on the shot; 2) Quick swing, tending from linear toward circular; 3) Deep contact to allow the speeding ball; 4) Stroke power for ball velocity; 5) A closed racquet face to counteract the approaching topspin ball scooting along the hardwood.
The three model strokes by yesterday's and today's 'Big Three' players embrace all these requisites, with a gripping consistency near the butt low on the handle. This gives leverage a la holding a hammer handle bottom, 'closes' the racquet face to off-set an oncoming topspin, and allows a deeper contact where the face automatically squares to meet the ball.
The trade-off of power boost for loss of accuracy is no longer debatable: the name of the new game is power, not bulls eye. To the contrary, I first honed accuracy as a novice, and gradually increased power, as portrayed in a daily practice Heads Up! drill with the Michigan State University hockey, wrestling and football teams. One player sat with his back against the front wall facing the service line, as the other dropped and killed the shot to a halo region around his head. The idea was to simulate tournament pressure and not blink. Eventually someone got bonked and the roles were reversed.
Now look at the three almighty unalike strokes of the Big Three, and match the salient points of quick set-up, quick swing, deep contact and power. These stroke variations in biological evolution (don't blink) are called adaptive radiation, so let's briefly look at each.
Marty Hogan's young stroke was ridiculed by the era's masters as an awkward use of raw power, even as they ate crow. Hogan's fulfills the requirements for a modern stroke by using a pendulum swing that contacts the ball deeper heretofore than anyone. 'The pendulum starts way up, 'as high as I can reach on the back swing,' he says. The mechanics are the more an arc uplift of, say, a clock pendulum, the greater the swing power. Marty boosts this force by suppinating (laying back so the palm is up) the wrist at the top of the forehand, and pronating (flexing the wrist approximately the opposite direction) at the top of the backhand back swing. It allows a very deep hitting zone -an extreme off the rear foot- that translates into a split-second extra set-up time with a stronger report. At his level, shades make the difference in brilliance.
Sudsy Monchik takes a new swing that, like predecessor Hogan, engendered a new crop of strokes across the country. 'Compact, close to the body and explosive, like a bull tossing its head,' he describes his swing. The grip for his forehand and backhand, as noted, is low on the handle with an extremely closed face. The swing is best described as classical explosive with precise timing. The odd thing is Sudsy may run the court in a crouched position as if in a horizontal mine shaft, chasing and hitting faster than most uprights.
Cliff Swain's success with a dissimilar stroke relies on early racquet preparation. His teaching clinic preamble and conclusion is, 'I hate to harp, but get your racquet up and back early'. Cliff is a praying mantis on the court, stalking prey, ball, and leaping to score. Where Hogan gains a precious instant with a deep contact, and Sudsy by scampering in a squat, Swain has already made a back swing- low, wrist cocked- like a gunslinger who replies without flinch, 'That was my draw, do you want to see it again?'
When the smoke clears on equipment, stroke and body type evolution, adaptive radiation is the driving force. This is the process in which one species gives rise to multiple species that exploit different niches, in a relatively short period of time. The changing ball has produced new anatomical champs exploiting forced new strategies.
Who's responsible for the speeded ball? The answer is the reason baseball prevailed over softball, sponge ping-pong paddles won out, and basketballs are highly pressurized. The ball manufacturers ultimately control a sport's evolution, racket makers fall in step… and it's all due to public capability and culpability The manufacturers hype action in sport to convince participants it's more fun, pressurized balls wear out and break sooner, and a fast game is easier for beginners, youngsters, elderly, and particularly ladies whom the males follow buying more balls.
The tendency in recent decades in all sports is away from analysis toward frenzy. The process is rapid and ongoing. My fellow animals, swing with the champs, and win!
I'm floored that one of the most useful business books, Theory Z, isn't reviewed at amazon. The reasons may be the ugly title and unlikely author name Ouchi, but that's those are the only things wrong with the text that compares American to Japanese business practices. It turns out that Theory Z has evolved into a business term : "Theory Z is an approach to management based upon a combination of American and Japanese management philosophies and characterized by, among other things, long-term job security, consensual decision making, slow evaluation and promotion procedures, and individual responsibility within a group context…"
There's a difficult and annoying player we call Mr. Pick 'n Scratch in all sport and business whom I'm certified to describe, but first a true story.
I just escaped Amazon cannibals in the heart of the Peru jungle in '00, and was medivaced by military helicopter to Iquitos, Peru, where I slid out the copter to stagger into a waterfront bar because a keeper, whom I'd never met, was a rare gringo and I needed someone to talk to.
"I was held captive by the Mayoruna Indians, and this is my first contact with civilization in weeks.'
'Have a beer.'
'I don't drink'
'Have a burger; I served Richard Nixon.'
'Look, I'm not any gringo off the streets. I'm a professional racquetball player and author…'
'And I'm from New York City, and played the hard outdoor handball courts for decades.'
'So what?' I yawned.
'All right,' barked the barkeep, 'Let's have a game here, a verbal match, and if you are what you say, the burger's on the house.''
"First serve…' he opened. 'Do you have a single teeny-weeny weakness in your game that I can pick and scratch incessantly?'
His boldness drew an honest repartee, "Sorry, there's not a single weakness."
"You're the winner!' he clapped my back. 'And welcome to Peter Gorman's Cold Beer Blues Bar.'
I've been a picker 'n scratcher since childhood in multiple sports and tasks, and claim it's blueprint to success for greenhorns to pros. Here's how to ferret a bidder's follies.
Study his gait into the court, hands during warm-up, and preferable a previous match to identify three major weaknesses… to key later. As you surmise, figure ways to exploit each. Hence, you pick weaknesses before the game, and make him scratch them during the match.
The universal glitches of Pick n' Scratchers hatch counter-strategies in this Pick 'n Scratch Chart:
Weak backhand… Counter with the drive serve, pass, and hone ceiling balls to it.
Slow reflexes… Play a power game of low serves, hard kills and low passes.
Poor ceiling game… Soft serve, and hit defensive ceiling service returns.
Inability to cover front court… Kill and pinch.
Poor conditioning… Test him in early game with extended rallies to determine if he can last an entire match.
Can't short-hop or volley… Soft serve him.
Hot-headed, or has streaks… Slow it down with ceiling returns, time-outs, and control pace of game.
Fails to watch the ball behind him… Hit kills all day, or down-line passes.
Can't handle wall angles… Try Z-serves, around-world and Z-shots.
Uses soft serves with no hard service… Volley and half-volley the initial serves to ensure he never reemploys them.
Drive serves repetitively, with no second or soft serve…
Ceiling return his initial serves to test his ceiling game, which is usually suspect and yields set-ups.
'Chokes' in hairy moments… Bring the heat into close scores by drive serving and forcing play.
Dives and flicks ball up… Continue your kill attempts as the worst scenario is another set-up.
Wets the court… How did that get in there?
This chart isn't inclusive.
After identifying the imperfections, and exploitations, I like to enter the court and evaluate in the opening rallies if my pre-game analysis is accurate. The reasons: To quantify each flaw, to discover if the rival has a backup to cover his shortcomings (such as running around a weak backhand for a big forehand), and to gauge his early reaction to losing quick points in weak suits he must learn he holds.
One by one, I test the frailties, so by mid-game an overall strategic map unfolds. At this epiphany, relax, and decide either to pick and scratch him incessantly at one or more sore spots until it's all over, or to withhold and re-target the imperfections at crucial and game points.
Categorize the chart components for easy recount, in kind: Flaws in stroke, strategy, or general play. You may, as smart baseball pitchers, keep a journal of recurrent opponent defects with the player names in the left column, the 'picks' (flaws) in the right, and the 'scratches' in the middle.
Some of the top paddleball and racquetball pros had Achilles heels. Charley Brumfield dropped a few national titles with a fly-swatter backhand, and Marty Hogan's power game evaporated during a timeout after you sneaked a slow ball, or pricked the game ball with a needle from your sole. Champs Dave Peck, Mike Yellen, Steve Strandemo and Jason Mannino with superbly rounded games nonetheless went down lacking a specialty in a crux, like a crack ace or freak ball. The most seamless players I've met on the court are Mike Ray, Vic Niederhoffer and Cliff Swain, and, well, sometimes there's as fast a draw and you scratch your britches.
Practice like the pros your own weaknesses until there are none, and then practice your strengths to harden to tournament rigors. If you own a single stellar tool such as a booming serve or persistent ceiling game, then hammer it in early game to jump ahead, leave it, bring it back for big plays, and again for the final points to push the win.
Also, make a study of eclectic players from behind the glass or above the court, and ponder, how would I pick and scratch him to victory?
The first serve is struck! so begin gathering intelligence. Here, a master's experience shines, and you may earn it's no more difficult than to chew gum and swing, while watching.
There's no greater satisfaction in life than to meet and dismantle a superior athlete by funnelling shots to a-Keeley's heel. The next most stimulating thing is to watch a rival wither as he tests and finds no wise cracks in your game.
I used to lecture on world travel: for one year's travel you need a passport, lonely planet guidebook, around-the-world ticket, and $10k. The money divvies as follows: $3k for the ticket valid for one year, and $20/day living expenses inclusive in 3rd world countries. My ratio of work (sub teaching): travel days is 1:4, making $100/day, $20 goes for expenses, and $80 is banked or buried. Ergo, I work 3 mo./yr., & travel the rest. In the past decade, the travel method has been to bounce continents seeing the sights, and get so frazzled that I must hole up in a Shangrila, like now in Lake Toba, Sumatra, for a few weeks. Before, it was San Felipe, prior Iquitos, & so on.
There is no greater thrill than hitting a freak ball, the shot that has no precedent, and defies repetition. I've struck four in as many decades.
The first was in a national paddleball tournament at Flint, Mi. against the remarkable Paul Lawrence. We were neck-and-neck in the second game when I hit the ball, and was surprised when the wooden face flew off the handle into the right front corner for a rollout. Lawrence ducked, returned my shot, and I stood waiting with an eight-inch handle in my fist. I choked down, and the astonished opponent banged back my return. I struck again, as did he. My third shot reflected awkwardly off the 6" handle for a skipball, but it got me thinking after the national title that anything can happen on the court.
The second decade was at another paddleball nationals witnessed by Jim Easterling among the gallery. An opponent's shot reflected hard off my paddle that set the paddle into a helicopter spin on a 4-foot shoelace for a thong. Hinders were nonexistent those days, so play continued as the paddle whirled. The ball came back, and I hit it squarely with the whirligig. 'I wiped my eyes,' says Esterling, 'And nudged the guy next to me,' as the rally advanced.
Still later, I played in a pro racquetball nationals at the Las Vegas Tropicana with a glass exhibition court and gallery of sports gamblers. I arrived from desert camping with a Chevy van full of tarantulas, ready to play. That was the year dark horse Davey Bledsoe raked the field to take his sole national title, and I was one of the clods.
In that Bledsoe match, the ball flew over the court into the gallery behind the glass back wall. The ball struck someone on the head of the hungover audience, who bounced it into the court as I walked obliquely within the service box. It arched high over the back wall where I glimpsed it's reflection in the dark glass… without glancing thrust my hand behind my back and caught it as neatly as a catcher. No one blinked, except Bledsoe.
The fourth decade saw the best crack ace in history. Whereas the previous three freak balls spawned from skill, this was luck. It was a Michigan finals in 40's Ann Arbor courts with hanging chandelier lights and barnwood walls. I tapped a lob serve that arced high into a chandelier to upset a rain of earlier lobs stuck atop onto the court, giving the receiver a choice of which to return. 'Court hinder!'; yelled the ref, so I served another lob just below the blinking chandelier that dropped swiftly to the left rear corner. The ball split the crack between the floor and sidewall… and stuck.
'Ace!' yelled the referee, as I ran to the crack serve where my rival on hands on knees was trying to wedge it out with his handle. A fair player, I screamed, 'It hasn't bounced twice, play it!' and kicked the ball out that my startled foe chased lest it bounce again He failed, and I went on to win the tournament.
There's no way to practice a freak ball in a trillion years; don't be an oxymoron. However, there is way to call yourself lucky. Practice being alert on the court always, don't give up on shots, and put in long hours. Every few years you too will know a rare freak when someone shouts, 'Lucky shot!' After four of these, you'll amble off asserting, 'It happens all the time,' which it does.
Left-handers comprise about 10% of the total population, but I think they account for a greater proportion of the better participants in all sports. The reason is that athletes hone their skills and strategies against the most available fodder, righies. In racquetball, there are some things you should know, that a southpaw intuits in his mirror world of playing against right-handers, to gain back the edge. Sit back and prepare yourself: This article contains both tips and related quirks.
Certain serves and shots work better against lefties. Your down-line drive serve to the backhand becomes a deathblow to the southpaw receiver. I use one spot about six feet from the right side wall to hit a medley of three drive serves off the same stroke motion for deception. The first is a drive right along the wall to his backhand, the second is a drive-Z right, and the third is a drive left that surprises him provided it doesn't come off the back wall before the second bounce. These are really the only serves you need in a serious game against a left-hander, and the usual variation is 50% drive right, 30% Z-right, and 20% drive left, though you can tinker with the recipe.
If you find him scrambling more for one of the serves, raise that ratio. If you fault the first serve, use the Z or lob for the second, unless you're particularly confident about the drives. A final note is that the Z-serve, especially well into the intermediate skill level, is tailor-made for use against a lefty (and vice-versa) because it's simple to strike, allows large margin of error, and gives additional angle due to the extra reach and positioning within the service box nearer the right side wall. Practice until you can hit 9-of-10 Z's perfectly. Vary the Z's velocities and heights to prevent the opposition from forming a rhythm or volleying the return.
Return of service against a southpaw enters a new dimension since your more naturally strong cross-court backhand now pulls the shot hard to his weaker and shorter reaching backhand. (The backhand stretches about a foot less out, or up, than the forehand because it must reach across the body.) The ceiling, pass or cross court kill all work, though fundamental service return strategy advises you to be able to hit the ceiling shot well before progressing to the pass before learning the kill.
In the rally likewise, you can direct cross-court passes with greater margin of error, as long as the ball doesn't rebound off the back wall. When a lefty begins to 'cheat' to cover your cross-court passes and kills, keep him honest with a kill to the other front corner (straight-in or pinch). Cross-court ceiling returns and ceiling rallies are also usually easier than down-line. Try for a spin on the inside of your hit ball that causes it on reflections off the ceiling, front wall and floor to angle straight toward the back wall rather than hop into a side wall. The best way to improve passes and ceilings for use against future left-handers is to drill at perpetual cross-court passes, or ceilings, or mixing the two, against a lefty.
Southpaws, as mentioned, generally come with the foregoing tips already parcel to their game plans due to a past of playing the 'mirror game' against right handers. In course, it will help righties to understand how to better play lefties by imitating the serves, returns and shots that they use against you! I once went against a lefty who lost point after point against my Z-serve to his backhand. Finally, he turned and smiled at me from the service box, and hit the same Z to my backhand, and I was compelled to display the definitive return, a volley. I couldn't serve him another Z for the entire match.
My expertise in writing this article is as a developing ambidextrous player. For the past year I've played primarily southpaw due to an arm injury, and in earlier years entered tournaments right-handed in pros and left handed in opens. I hope to see other aspirants at the first Ambidextrous Championship, whenever that may be.
Why play lefty? Obviously, upon reverting to your dominant hand, you'll start beating lefties more handily, plus there are other benefits: 1) You teach yourself to be a teacher by having to learn strokes from scratch. 2) You're able to pick up more informal games in tapping a new pool of lesser players for competition. 3) Rallies are up to three times as long for speedier, better workouts. 4) It's a fun challenge! 5) Monumental insights to your normal strokes pop up during the learning process. 6) You can alternate hands in successive games to last longer on the court. 7) It's backup if you injure the main arm during a match. You can enter more events in a tournament. 9) It's a way to continue to play while resting chronic inflammation in the dominant elbow or shoulder. Swing away, southpaw!
I was said to have the game's best slow-ball backhand, and when I finally started to believe it, I attributed it to writing extensive longhand throughout life. The backhand movement of the pencil across the paper repeats tens-of-thousands of strokes and lines, using the same fine motor and visual components as the racquet stroke. The first thing I did after deciding to become ambidextrous was to switch to writing mirror image, right to left, to more quickly gain a lefty backhand. The next move was to turn books upside down so that the print flows right-to-left as Arabic, Chinese or Hebrew, and I've read the last 300 books in this fashion. It trains the eyes to become 'ambi-visual' in tracking print, ergo balls, from right to left. This aids the right-hander's backhand stroke, since 80% of serves and shots on the court travel in that direction. Our daily world is seeing so much print flowing from left to right, that you should never again explain away your cheesy backhand with bogus excuses until you've learned to track the ball better from right to left. That can be the solution to your next tournament win. Next, I wrote 1000 pages of an autobiography Catman Keeley: The Adventures of a Lifetime on an upside down monitor, like the one I'm looking at now.
Least you think there is something odd about any of this, I wish to advance that Leonardo da Vinci kept journal notes in mirror writing that his peers called 'secret code' to prevent theft of ideas. I rather think he just wanted to balance aspects of his life. Da Vince was many grand things, and foremost an anatomist who must have understood the premise for visual balance from his dissections. Mammalian eyeballs removed from their sockets are as ping-pong balls with muscle attachments about the sphere causing it to turn and twist, plus a colored iris made of muscle, and a lens with muscle attachments for accommodation of vision. Seeing is as much lifting weights as curls and presses. If you read only in the conventional direction of left to right, the eyes become muscularly unbalanced and will trace moving objects such as balls weakly from right to left.
The other profits from reading and writing backwards include greater stamina (in turning the book at 30-minute intervals from upside down to right side up), relief from eye, neck and back strain due to prolonged reading or writing, writing class notes that no one will want to borrow, coding, and reading the newspaper simultaneously from across the table with your mate.
There's sufficient ado over left-right brain dichotomy to make Leonardo roll over in his grave, however the classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is worthwhile. I once offered to teach (where I was also coaching racquetball with the methods) a college course on The Art and Science of Mirror Reading and Writing but was thwarted by the dean, so I may write a serious book with the same title in mirror print that comes with a mirror bookmark for transition. I presently sub-teach middle and high school, and write assignments on the black boards in mirror image, causing the girls to use their compact mirrors to read to the rest of the class until they're all fluent in a week. Wonderfully, most middle-school students turn books upside down and read immediately, high school females typically do the same, but males stumble over words. Male athletes are more persistent at the task in believing that it helps them see a baseball, basketball, etc. better. The principal summoned me to his office once to ask why so many students about campus were observed reading their texts upside down. I explained the benefits of the habit for sports to the chief, an ex-boxer and wrestler, who asked for a personal lesson on mirror writing.
I'm a proud self-taught dyslexic who often sees 'tixe' and doesn't know where to go. An eerie thing happened one stormy night a few years ago while reading in a coffin lined with electric blankets to make a comfortable bed. I was teaching myself to read via an optical-quality mirror Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and came upon the passage of 'Twiddle-Dee and Twiddle-Dum' that's written in actual mirror image! I bolted straight up and shut out the light.
Am I right? There are many tips and related quirks in this essay to combat the plague of left-handers, while paradoxically encouraging you to become one. By now, it's evident that playing lefty is a new frontier that many will realize, that writing mirror image is a first step in that direction, and further that reading upside down aids visual tracking. Now the best southpaws march in. .
The All-TimeTop Ten Leftys:
1. Cliff Swain – Six-time world champion.
2. Mike Ray - World Champion, smooth and consistent, with the best overhead.
3. Bud Muehleisen – The first world champion, and great all-racquets athlete.
4. Brett Harnett – Two-time Pro Player of the Year, and hit almost as big as Swain.
5. Steve Serot – Power southpaw in the days of slow balls, who finished #2 to Brumfield.
6. Craig McCoy – A top pioneer pro with stylish and smooth strokes, similar to Mike Ray.
7. Bruce Christansen - His lefty power serve took out Brumfield at one pro national.
8. Kane Waselenchuk - The young Canadian is talented enough to move up the list.
9. Mike Guidry - A top singles and doubles competitor for over a decade.
10. Steve Mondry - Great forehand, and carried Hogan to two pro doubles titles.
When I was a 28-year-old retired veterinarian, I spent the year sleeping in a coffin. It was simple, pine and lined with electric blankets against the icy Michigan winter nights. It was also the logical progression from an on-and-off career riding boxcars around America. Before that, I built a hermetic crate in a garage to shield the light from sensitive eyes. In a prior nightmare power shortage in an Auckland House of Mirrors, the doors kicked open one-by-one until a janitor bashed the real one. Early on, beloved mother opened my Xmas boxes-inside- boxes to a final love passage. Bless her understanding heart for allowing me to keep a pet pocket worm.
The recent idea of digging a burrow, moving in, and observing my fellow creatures evolved from a besotted visit to an Anchorage bar where drunks gradually became aware that in place of the usual bar mirror stood a wall-to-wall glass window. It permitted a menagerie of rhesus monkeys to cavort on spruce branches, and every few minutes bemuse us drinkers. We were each others' floorshows.
I just put the finishing touches on my burrow at Sand Valley, and urge visitors. I meditate and type six-feet beneath the desert floor with a western diamondback doorman named Sir. It's cool, quiet and airy with one side open and a stair to the surface. No mammal near the tri-section of California, Arizona and old Mexico digs a deeper burrow. I like to think Captain Nemo turns in his grave. The twist is an open wall of ¼" hardware mesh flush with the vertical dirt. A half-dozen species of reptiles, rodents, scorpions and my fetching trader rat, Band-Aid, so far, scuttle in auxiliary tunnels off my main bore, and peek in.
Sand Valley, California is a 10-mile round sandbox crosscut by dry washes and ringed by 600-foot Mountains. A single track from the town of Blythe leads an hour pursuit to the pristine circle where seven residents survived the '06 summer that decimated 30% of the population. The blistering heat, and adjacent Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range where daily jets pepper 1000-pound bombs leaving gaping craters, are the other reasons I built the hideaway.
Too far-flung for a backhoe, imitators do well to start with a pick and shovel. Stake with string a 8'x12' plot, and don thick gloves. Toss the initial 4' layer of dirt far from the burgeoning hole to make space for deeper gravel… One hundred hours later, come-along a 10' trailer over the cavity, and gently drop it. Install the tires as vertical retaining walls, add 4'' well pipe as a retaining roof, pile on mattresses, a foot dirt tier, and plant a cactus garden for camouflage and tweeting birds. The annual fixed expense is $30 property tax because the county plane camera can't see the land improvement.
The virgin den is equipped with a computer, solar, bookshelves, and a desert waterbed as emergency storage. A 55-gallon drum air vent is too small to access large bosoms, and I prefer slim girls dating back to the coffin. The creatures lurking outside the view screen think me no queerer than I them.
The lessons from living six-feet under are: Never laugh at anyone else; Laugh at yourself; and Jump at life like a Jack-in-the-Box.
February 18, 2011 | Leave a Comment
Why are the kids of the farflung Indonesia islands full of joy? They are cold water people, most never having touched warm, and know nothing better. They are rice eaters, and know nothing else. The family unit includes relatives, and often the acceptable concubine, crammed into stilted lean-tos in the jungle. They attend three weekly hours of English through high school. It's irritating to work a lifetime at being content to stumble on children without the facial structure to frown. Over and over, I ask, why are you happy? The younger ones shrug and smile without insight, and the older ones explain, "I know nothing else."
I finally stumbled across a constant that may explain a high female to male birth rate among certain remote peoples of the world.
In and around Iquitos, Peru at the headwaters of the amazon, it's said that the birth ratio is 3:1, but my observation of thousands of people on the paths & streets is that it's closer to 2:1, nonetheless statistally significant. Explanations offer everything from soil to diet to genetics, but I think it has to do w/ a high genocide among the recent past population from e.g. combat, malaria, cannibalism & so forth. Now here in Lake Toba, Sumatra among the Batak people there is also a remarkably high ratio. I was told it's 3:1, but in observing perhaps 1000 Batak of Lake Tabo it's closer to 4:1.
Yesterday I motorbiked the 100km ring track at 10mph around the remote Toba island that's the center of the Toba tribe, and by rough count among the 500 school children who each yelled gleefully, 'hello meester', the ratio was 5:1. the locals offer no explanation, but complain of the male dearth. I've been beleagured to get married, and to their friends. The locals believe the birth factor lies in the female rather than male, though I was taught that genetically males choose the sex.
The cafe owner where I just ate has a string of 5 female children, and it is common to run to 7 before a male is produced. Everyday a husband runs off with another woman in hopes of producing a son to carry on his family name; if she doesn't birth a male after a few, then he tries another. I wont get married, but am not shy about exploring other aspects of the situation. No solid explanation emerges from the talks, but there are definite constants among both the Peruvian, Amazonians and the Batak for the disportionate birth ratio. It so happens that each race is at the top of the world (in the 100+ countries traveled) for hardiness– I stated this before discovering the birth ratio. By hardiness, I mean strong physical superiority, with a slight mental one also (being related to physiology). The Batak kids look like Arnold Schwartzneggar at age 8, and then grow up. Both sexes among the Peruvians & Batak, but particularly the females, are perfectly proportioned, comely, and among the hardest workers in the world. Their stamina and resistance to discomfort at work or play is outstanding, and I trained for decades to reach that level that the kids of both places own. Diet, soil and water are not commonalities, nor exactly is environment, for the Peruvians live in a low jungle & the Toba Batak in a high jungle surrounding a volcanic lake. Both races are highly sexual, however the Amazonians are relatively promiscuous while the Batak dont practice much before marriage. The only constants, besides strong physical appearance & beauty, appears that each race emerged from cultures that in recent history had a high death rate for various reasons. For the peruvians it's malaria & jungle beasts, while for the Bataks it's fleeing from the mainland to a remote harsh burg. Both recently practiced cannibalism.
Somehow it all seems to have made the female more fertile for female births, like calico cat where only a few males may service a female preponderance to propagate the race. It makes sense evolutionarily, but not genetically unless one looks at calicos where a male birth is rarer. One explanation about calico cats ican be found here, and about the Batak here.
February 3, 2011 | Leave a Comment
The Bangkok tourist industry is thriving, tenfold from when I was there on a darker day. Cambodia is emerging, the people are gentle, prices are low and everyone is unwordly. Entrepreneurs have a chance to jump in at the ground level. Laos is the S.E. Asia refugee capital, it's interesting & crass, where there are only the Hmong– tough, honest little bastards who helped Joe (as they called me) in the Vietnam War.
The land is spectacular, a jungle covered rocky mountains. Vietnam is odd to me, the people are capable to switch in a blink from totally inner to outer directed, or back. One second I was dealing w/ a crowd of Rambos & the next an anthill. It was the most difficult country to travel in– I could have had a chicken and then a boy saved or die in my arms in the same day from a car accident, yet tradition has it that I could have been locked away for murder. So I didn't cross that road, and don't invest there.
I visited Art Tyde in the Philippines who thrives surrounded by beautiful, smart women w/ good jobs traveling the world re: computers. He suggests Manila for ex-pats, however it's as smoggy as L.A. stacked on Tijuana. Brunei is a model train set owned by some rich kid, and is nearly abandoned of citizens. A fish jumped out of a bucket at a market onto my foot, the most exciting thing except I was the sole passenger on a 2 hour bus across the nation to leave on a ferry.
Borneo is the utopia authors have tried to describe for centuries. Seekers come for an ideally functioning island society… til the sun goes down. The Jekylls turn Hydes as Muslim loudspeakers dot every few km along the streets, rivers and paths to make the chants inescapable, males chain smoke to a frenzy and practice polygamy, and the kids watch cartoons on tv.
Sulwesi Island, touched by Danish architecture & the Chinese who believed death is the most important part of the life cycle, is whacked out, except for the massages. I won't invest another day and I'll take tomorrow's 6am $100 flight to Sumatra.
The Art of Manliness Brett & Kate McKay
September 10, 2009
Am I the only boy who secretly dreamed of becoming a hobo? Riding the rails, traveling across the country, and carrying everything you own on your back has a romance that appeals to every man's desire to wander.
In a 1937 issue of Esquire magazine, an anonymous writer penned an article called "The Bum Handbook." Unlike most bums, he had chosen his vagabond lifestyle. And he was tired of seeing the sub-par job most other bums were doing. This was during the Great Depression, and many men found themselves homeless, lost, and ignorant of the art of bumliness. The author had being a hobo down to a science and claimed to enjoy 3 meals a day and a comfortable place to sleep each night. While he didn't desire to return to regular society, he knew that most fellow hobos did, and so he offered these tips in hopes they could maintain confidence and a respectable look and thus find their way back to steady work.
Although much has changed since the 1930′s, if you by chance find yourself a hobo during this Great Recession or desire to become a bum by choice, perhaps you can learn some tips from hobos of old. Enjoy these excerpts from the article and this fun peek into the past.
Keep yourself clean. Filthy men can't charm the housewife into giving food, the passerby into relinquishing money, the man of business into giving jobs: the housewife is scared and repelled, the passerby is annoyed and anxious to be away, the business man responds curtly. And there is no need to be unwashed. Every gasoline station and railroad depot has a washroom replete with running water, soap and paper towels; anyone may use these facilities, the bum should wash and shave there. In the handbook for bums the first motto is: A bum should be clean.
Stay away from the cities. City people have submerged their humanity. I think the reason for this is their security from the elements, for the family that is sure of food and shelter becomes easily forgetful of other human beings' needs and thinks vaguely of organized charities…The farm family, on the other hand, knows that deficit of sun or rain may touch more than its comfort, that the house it has built must be a citadel against cold and storms; therefore, their humanity comes more quickly to their mouths and hands. I do not say that city dwellers cannot be "hit" with success, but it is more difficult and only among the poor ones have you a fair chance of receiving hospitality.
Avoid intermediaries. Direct appeal is the best: individual should appeal directly to individual. Once I remember speaking to some soldiers in a town that had only two restaurants. When it was time to eat they insisted on going into one of the restaurants with me and pleading my case with the proprietor. There was much whispering and finally after some minutes the proprietor said, "All right, I'll give him reduced rates." Reduced rates and I didn't have a cent in my pockets! I thanked my well-meaning friends, went into the other restaurant alone, and received a bounteous meal. I am sure that had I spoken to that first man myself, I would have had no trouble obtaining food. Another time, because of the solicitude of some CCC boys, I found myself without a bed at three o'clock in the morning: they had insisted that I sleep at their camp five miles away, and when I had arrived, their superior objected strongly.
Travel by highway and not be rail.Automobiles provide slower travel but the rails have more serious disadvantages, not only the filthy and bumpy riding of the freight cars but also in danger. You may be arrested and locked up for vagrancy, you may be beaten up, you may even encounter that certain railroad detective who stands by the tracks with a rifle and picks off the bums as the cars roll into the freight yard…Another reason for working the highway is that through hitches one learns of jobs to be had. Friendly drivers have informed me that one can earn $1.50 a day and board in a lumber camp, $3.00 a day picking apples, $.06 a barrel picking potatoes (the average worker fills about a hundred barrels a day) et cetera. The field of seasonal labor is tremendous and extends all over the United States. By traveling from state to state one can be employed practically every month of the year, and there is always more demand than supply, the wages are high. Also, people in automobiles sometimes become really interested in you and offer you employment. This does not happen too infrequently. I should say that I average about one offer every three days. I have been a gardener, a waiter, a gravedigger, a fisherman, a lumberman, a farm hand, a clerk, a newspaper reporter, a ghost-writer, a chauffeur, a toy salesman, and garbageman. I never keep these jobs long because I am over-fond of the road, and after a week in one place I long to be on an open truck again, watching houses slip by and the land change.
Speak forthrightly. Do not slink, speak too humbly, or cast your eyes down when you make a request. Address most men as "sir" and speak to them in such a way that they will call you "old man." Women should be talked to lightly, gallantly. There are of course many exceptions to these rules but one learns to recognize them by their faces.
Do not use hyperbole. To say "I haven't eaten in two days" just doesn't convince the average person, or else it scares him. That a man hasn't eaten in two days is a strange thing to most people and they react unfortunately to the information. Merely to say that you haven't eaten breakfast that day is enough to provoke the sympathy of the housewife.
How about other necessaries: tobacco, clothing, beer?Well, people never refuse you when you ask for a cigarette; very often they give you three or five. As far as beer is concerned, any number of people you talk to on the street invite you to a bar, particularly if your tales are interesting. Also, bartenders at closing time are apt to be friendly. Clothes are more difficult to obtain. It is best to enter a small haberdashery and explain that you've just arrived in town and that you're looking for a job-obviously you can't get work when your shirt is so torn, et cetera.
Don't sleep in dubious jails and flophouses.Try to find a farm house before dusk so that you can ask the farmer to let you sleep in his barn. Hay makes a very warm and satisfactory bed, it molds exactly to the body…But if the farmer refuses to let you use his barn for a bedroom, ask him to give you some newspapers. Then go into a pasture, build a fire, wait for it to die out, spread the ashes, cover them lightly with dirt, and you have prepared a bed that will stay warm all night. For covering, use the newspapers and a poncho (you should always carry a poncho with you, they make excellent raincoats, tents, and blankets). Or you can go to a garage, garagemen will often let you sleep in cars; furnacemen will let you sleep next to the furnace, et cetera.
I did not leave home because of an impossible wife or because I could not get employment-I had no wife and I had a well paying job with a millinery house, a job into which I had been recruited because I had never become excited about a future and planned it. But I was not happy in the city and more than others I looked forward to vacations; at those times I would travel constantly trying to absorb as much as possible. I found it increasingly difficult to return after each vacation. Finally, the inevitable happened. I just didn't return, I just kept on going. It really made no difference. I had no dependents and milliners could show bad taste without my aid. Now I am completely happy. All the infinite phases of nature I can observe at leisure, all the different types of country I can live with in their optimums. The spring I spend in the West, the summer in the far North, the fall in New England, the winter in the South. In a few years I shall probably want to go to Europe, and I shall go. And since I have been on the road I have in many ways improved myself: my sensitivities have been sharpened (I even write poetry now, and it's not too bad), my education extended, and my health become superb. I don't know whether I shall ever settle down again, and I don't much care.
Victor Niederhoffer comments:
Some useful intelligence.
Stefan Jovanovich adds:
This time the orneriness comes not from me but from my betters– Dad and father-in-law Buster Turner. They both rode the rails– Dad to get from Denver to San Diego each summer where he worked at the Hotel del Coronado as a bus boy and then (when the management discovered he could speak grammatical English) as a room service waiter and Buster to get home from Oklahoma (where he was studying petroleum geology at the U.) to the family ranch in west of Austin).
They both told me the "the bulls" and the "railroad dicks" were pure inventions left over from the time when the railroads still had brakemen. They said that the cities and towns in California and Texas all had hobo camps located by the rail yards because that was the easiest place to keep the bums off the streets and away from downtown. In an age when vagrancy laws were real, standing by the side of the road anywhere near a town was a formula for getting "vagged". (That was how Robert Mitchum ended up on a chain gang in Georgia when he was, in his words, "still only a stupid kid and as skinny as a ferret.")
Still, the idea of the ferocious "railroad bull" does make for a great movie character and story.
The hard-hit Baja economy daily takes me to the dumps so that I fulfill a childhood dream to live in a junkyard. It is a three-mile thick, 10-mile long ring around San Felipe that is Shangri-La with distinct subcultures.
"There was no competition three years ago before Mexico followed USA into collapse," a walking scavenger lamented a week ago. Most pickers hike with a pointed stick and flour sack for little treasures: clothes, recyclable cans, and toys. They are the dregs of the dump caste. Better push wheelbarrows or bicycles with saddlebags to stuff with cardboard, fishnets, tarps and rope to construct huts that dot the landscape till the next windstorm. The upper crust drive beat-up pickups with a picnic packing family to cull furniture, metals ($.20/kg), and tires as they go. I'm one of a class on a ’03 125hp Yamaha Breeze ATV to range the archives to pick shorts, joggers and jackets, baskets to carry them in, and discarded pineapple rinds from Pinacolata beach vendors to ferment wine.
The dump is also Mother Nature’s barrel. I saw a Great Blue Heron defend his great stack of 2' filleted fish. Walking backwards, I was a step from a 3' western diamondback rattler searching rats. One afternoon, a mew cut the silence and three little kittens tumbled out of a packing crate. In ensuing days I brought them milk and a first meal of tuna, until they disappeared. I sat hypnotized on a couch at four vultures pecking a dead dog's testicles.
I could do terrible things to people who dump unwanted things by the roadside. And today, I sat down for one reason or another and was stung on the buttock by a scorpion. I looked at the 2'' green critter hanging by the tail, he nailed me a second time, and dropped to the ground with legs kicking at the sky. I don't need good food, I don't enjoy flashy cars, I don't parade nice clothes, and I don’t care if I live in a dump. Rubbish! This is the most fun I’ve had in months, and the best dressed I've been.
Craig Mee comments:
I think of trading when reading the following. (No doubt Bo would have a few things to add)
An excerpt from Vagabonding by Rolf Potts:
For the first time vagabonder, of course, preparation is a down right necessity — if for no other reason to familiarize yourself with the fundamental routines of travel, to learn what wonders and challengers await, and to assuage the fears that inevitable accompany any life-changing new pursuits.The key to preparation is to strike a balance between knowing what is out there and being optimistically ignorant. The gift of the information age, after all, is knowing your options — not your destiny — and those people who plan their travels with the idea of eliminating all uncertainty and unpredictability are missing out on the whole point of leaving home in the first place." *"The goal of preparation, then , is not knowing exactly where youll go but being confident nonetheless that you'll get there. This means that your attitude will be more important than your itinerary, and that the simple willingness to improvise is more vital , in the long run, than research. After all, your very first day on the road — in making travel immediate and real- could very well revolutionize every idea you ever gleamed in the library."
"As John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, "once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, and exporation, is an entity… no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle we do not take a trip a trip takes us."
Yesterday I hiked a jungle path along the Rio Amazon that broadened every thirty minutes at villages of 10-30 thatched huts and every couple hours at a stream where I sat on a bank to hail a passing canoe with a cheer. Occasionally a barefoot Indian came toting the ubiquitous 30'' machete and 20-kilo sack of yucca, bananas, nuts or fruit from his farm an hour's walk from a pueblo, smiled and passed, and I spoke to a dozen when I was a bit bewildered by the land. By late afternoon, I realized an image of a network of trails leaving the Rio Amazon into the interior jungle for days or weeks interconnecting thousands more villages, and derived a model for the early settlement of this planet.
In the beginning man settled along the great waterways in clusters. As the rivers were fished out, land farmed up, and game trails yielded less, the bolder families struck out one day's walk from their village to start a new settlement with fresh land, more fish and plentiful game. In a couple generations that area would dry up, the more slothful who could eke out a life remained, and the pioneers ventured yon… until the land became a network of game trails with villages about a day's march apart. The further you venture on these trails, I know from earlier hikes, the more rugged the gene pools, fewer the clothes, and the natives are surprised but genial.
A soft pad and shadow caused my snort on the path, and a Grandma pulled aside with a grin and offered to be my guide. We continued for an hour until the track touched the Amazon bank where the 36-kilo lady with a machete stopped, squinted upriver and jigged. 'The annual ship! ' she called up and down the trail though no one was there.
We dangled our feet on a stump 20' above the mighty Amazon and in ten minutes a handsome 130' double-deck black ship with white trim and multiple antennae, as if by fate, did one full circle to ferret a dock and it's shallow draught allowed it to pull to our feet! Two-foot tall white letters Amazon Hope filled our vision, a little brown man jumped out, swam to shore, and 6'' thick anchor lines were flung and clove hitched around two trees. A 1'wide plank splashed ten feet short of shore.
Grandma and I slipped hand-in-hand down the muddy bank, waded, and boarded first. By eye, ear and jungle divine, news in minutes of the godsend trembled along the network and the first of a hundred natives found the knoll behind us. I caught a baby from shore, and the hand of a senorita to wade thigh-deep water to the plank, and up. A green-frocked lady with apple cheeks led us up a dozen spiral steps as I reflected that the best equipment in any hospital is a warm welcome. It was a medical ship!
On the second deck we faced an amphitheater of bleachers before a wooden desk on the most shipshape craft on the Amazon, despite our muddy, dripping bare feet. Two eager Peruvian doctors in red Bermudas and white pressed shirts with shinny, caring faces breezed in and opened wide at the gringo. So I rose and announced, 'I'm not sick but my ten children are', fatherly spreading my hands over the heads of the nearest infants, and promptly sat down. The docs hurrahed, and all laughed. The nurse handed out forms and pens — Peru has the world's most reaching primary education and virtually everyone is literate except very deep in the jungle — for names, ages and medical complaints. Grandma is 65 and gets headaches working under the hot sun.
The nurse shuffled forms as a doctor rose to murmur, 'I want to tell you about intestinal parasites…' and soon erupted, 'Everyone has them, they will kill you, but here is the cure!' and he thrust high two red tablets . I accepted my free worm pills and was told to swallow even if I didn't have worms, but secreted them to fume that the floating medicine show had opened with a snake oil salesman act to grab the minds, strike fear and offer salvation to primitives who believe in animal spirits and have pathogens as pets. Yet I sat riveted for a rare glimpse of what happens when Third World disease meets First World medicine in the examination room.
Quick as a bucket brigade, the patients — now swollen to fifty — sorted into groups of ten and filed down spiral stairs to the yellow painted ship bowel to seat along a long bench from which I clearly viewed four open doors of the doctors ‘consulting rooms, a sonogram closet, tiny operating theater (local anesthesia), small lab, phone booth pharmacy, and fully equipped dentist office where a six-foot lassie raised a loaded needle to stare at my diastema I guess.
The staff was pure Scottish except the two Peruvian doctors, and the hospital was spic-and-span. The procedure was snappy, and half the bench emptied, as I sat put. A medical history begins with the doctor prompting the patient to chronologically relate the symptoms so he can make a diagnosis and write a prescription often before the patient stops talking a minute later. This is good medicine though as a veterinarian I took a little longer to muzzle some patients. Each exam took five minutes, the patients filed to other rooms, and the rest of the bench including Grandma emptied for the free doctor's offices.
Another group of ten descended the stairs, and to make room I walked three steps to milk the stout pharmacist. In 2001 Scotland donated the Amazon Hope, an ex-Royal Navy ship 'RMAS Milford', to cross the ocean via USA (to pick up volunteers) to the river Amazon to carry out medical trips using American, UK and Peruvian medical professionals to provide gratis services to jungle riverside pueblos. Each team of 6-8 is delivered by speedboat from Iquitos, works afloat ten days, and four on holiday before returning home. This crackerjack Scottish staff of two doctors, dentist, nurse, pharmacist and lab technician has paid their own way during annual leave from practices. It's their ninth day of sunrise-to-sunset work, yet they're keen at the task.
The breakdown of medical cases includes 30% dental with fillings and tooth extraction, 40% pediatrics, 20% geriatrics, and 10% catchall including a man sitting next to me with a fish spine in his red swollen foot. The majority of cases are intestinal parasites and scabies. Rare emergencies are speedboated to Iquitos or Pucallpa. The ship stops twice daily along the Amazon wherever she can dock with 100-200 patients seen at each, and a clinician goes ashore to the nearest schoolhouse to teach hygiene and family planning, The Hope has no base and provides health service to about 100,000 indigenous people where I've been walking for three weeks.
The people welcome the visit like the Starship Enterprise. The rub is these patients are pictures of health, the children golden aglow and the seniors move with oympian grace. Nearly everyone boarded for the show and coddle — who can blame them in this insect inferno — and free meds to stockpile if a disease hits before the annual ship revolution. I am the best bet for the most ill aboard and feel pretty fair for sore feet and a thousand chigger bites. The past three days on the trail were sluggish, and yesterday I shivered, put a cup to my forehead instead of mouth, and defecated in my baseball cap. When the pharmacist heard this she slipped seven Chloroquine in my pack should the symptoms manifest of what I suspect is malaria, and those grains will kick hades out of the Plasmodium, one strike for medicine.
Grandma and I exited the plank now extended by a log to straddle the shore. I laced my shoes and she confided high blood pressure and had been told to limit salt intake and prescribed aspirin. One doctor makes the work of another, so I countered that she maintain salt, wear a hat, jump in the brook, drink, and get the grandkids off their butts to the farm.
We strolled the jungle where the report, 'The ship has arrived!' shook the grapevine and dozens scurried the paths to make the docking as if it were Pizarro. I winked and introduced Grandma to Hippocrates, saying, 'Walking is the best medicine'. Beneath a ten-story tree she begged my worm pills for her husband, and peeled off to the interior for a pueblo called Santana, leaving me a bit lost. But there is no medicine like hope, and no tonic so powerful as an open track into the jungle.
September 16, 2009 | 4 Comments
You may be in search of some region with a manner of living with a 1930s USA flavor and those harsh lessons as a new way of life. This is how I started afresh in Iquitos, Peru at the headwaters of the Amazon in 24 hours for $75.
Read the rest of Bo Keely's How To Start… [Approx. 2900 words].
Read the latest missive from Bo Keely in the Amazon. [Approx. 4 kilo words].
At six months Ma and Pa whisked me in a laundry basket on the back seat of a ´40 Mercury from New York to California. Before preschool they whistled me to supper from under the porch or out a cardboard table draped by blanket walls where I spent long hours thinking about what to be if I grew up. Dad banged together a fort one summer to fend off Indians next to a hole that Mom provisioned for China. A dog house instead led to Michigan State veterinary school where I dwelled in a day glow splashed basement to lure girls, and a follow-up attic that burned to the ground and left me in standing in clinic whites, a bowtie and smile. A turn West after graduation led to a tin hut, closet, and laundry room all to squirrel cash for travel. I hoboed a hundred boxcars caked in sweat or with a beard of frozen spaghetti before landing in ´85 in a simple pine coffin lined with electric blankets against the blasting mid-west winds. I won multiple national championships in racquet sports inside a 20´x20´x40´room, and self-published two books from a tiny porch. Later, three-day seminars in ´crossbar hotels´ for challenging police errors inspired garage Nirvana on a Michigan lakeshore where I knocked together a 6´ wood cell and sat for 24 hours supposing. I broke out and wheeled the Interstates in a '74 Chevy van with a 7' stuffed rabbit named Fillmore Hare riding shotgun searching for intellects to improve my own, and Fillmore waved them down coast-to-coast with an invisible fishline on one arm. The search extended into a 18-month world tour like a hermit crab under a backpack only to land penniless on the stone manor doorstep of a New York speculator who rented me a basement stairwell for one year to write in mirror image a 1000-page autobiography. I needed more material and walked to Canada, the lengths of Florida, Colorado, Baja and on to Sand Valley, California.to dig and carpet a 10´-cube hole 2.5 miles from the center target of the second largest bombing range in the world. Lizards, snakes, rodents and tarantulas tunnel to the rug where I´ve learned we are part of each other´s subconscious. I began to think like them, liked it, and three months ago traveled to the world´s most fecund toenail, the Peruvian Amazon. Yesterday i tapped the final nail into a retirement shipping crate in Iquitos Peru. It was cheaper to hire a carpenter for $10 per day than to rent tools, and he lumbered me to the Belen wood yard where hired hands sweat sawdust for $5 per day and notch samples for the bouquet. ´Rich!, ..Hard!´ until I smelt a sweet 2´x12´´white Aboantilo plank floated five days to here that runs $3 per 4-meter board, and bought 10 for a platform and 10 for the box. The gross 400 pounds was piled on a trike-cart and pushed by a dwarf and me 6 km to a theme park that I call Ayahuasca Central. I fired the first carpenter the first day for stealing, the second carpenter the second day for not returning from lunch, and on the third day rented tools from a third with a tip to scram. It rained the fourth day and the wood swelled 20% in my blistered hands before the sun shone again.. On the forth evening an electrician strung 40 meters of 12-gauge wire ($.25/meter) through trees to three plugs for a light, laptop and razor, but he cut the wire short in order to return the next day for more work where he found the job done and himself fired. I´m looking at a giant 4´x8´x6´ shoebox with an invisibly hinged door, sans windows, a thin mattress, and loft that is both home and storage on a 10-square platform raised on two-foot legs next to a fish, turtle and frog pond under a spreading tree . It cost triple Thoreau´s $28 for Walden cabin except his didn´t unbolt to disassemble and transport down the road for a land deal. The Peru Government understands a mobile home is not for everyone and offers a special retirement visa for foreigners on social security or with other proof of retirement that paves the way to a coveted resident visa. I´m not retired but own a resident visa under a work contract as a naturalist guide. The first night the light switched on conjures an entomologist’s dream as neighbor bugs cover the door net, frogs romance, crickets sing 70F, mosquitoes find knotholes, and 99 turkey buzzards alight in a plotting rookery over the platform. The grounds is Ayahuasca Central with a 12´ red brick wall that one enters through an electromagnetic door into a hectare of Graceland Amazonia within Iquitos There are two large houses, swimming pool, fruit orchards, two boats on blocks, a fleet of 90cc motor scooters, jacuzzi, collection of 2000 pressed medicinal plants, massage table, pregnant German shepherd, groundsman, secretary, accountant and live-in maid. Elvis is Al Shoemaker who doesn´t stand out in the ring of ten hard-driving American ex-pats. He´s come a long way from Mr. Harlan (Kentucky) High as the most likely to succeed in the ´71 class of a handful, from Kentucky U with a degree in criminology, Cambridge, England in theater, and with a design to be the next Clarence Darrow. Instead, he tried out behind Johnny Bench for the Yankees, headed west and invented a rock climbing chalk that leaves no mark. One night in ´91 over a campfire bottle of rum he vowed to go the Amazon, and the next day began a lifelong study of the use of medicinal plants in psychotherapy while carrying a legless Dutch lover like a backpack to ceremonies. He specialized for two years on an Iquitos dirt floor in ayahuasca, the most potent psychotropic, learning to brew, administer and shake the chacapa leaf rattle with the best of the native shamans. It propelled an eighteen month seeding tour of North America and Europe in the mid-90´s, and an export business. Ayahuasca tourism, the national leader, was born! I´m a made guy by association with Al in the ahyahuasca community, among premier shamans, the German shepherd, and ex-pats. In return I´ve suggested an alternative newspaper, started a catering service, offer exercise tips to tourists, and diagnosed pannus in a pet squirrel monkey that claps hands on moths.. The Graceland workers in oversized shoes shout strings of nouns and stumble as if poisoned, except it’s the same outside the thick manor wall. . Murphy’s law cut teeth in Peru, and now I understand the tradeoffs of early world colonization. Two days ago, some ex-pats, tourists and I (watching) sipped rum and chatted spirits when suddenly Al raised his glass and yelled, ´Someone´s poisoning me!´ and put a match to the meniscus that leapt blue flame. ´Paint thinner!´ sniffed an ex-pat. The maid testified she saw the electrician pour something into the bottle, he was collared and ordered to buy more rum because you can´t fire a thinking man in Peru. My problem is staying sane in a place where all evangelize the spirits, elves, clowns and other dimensional doctors that walk the grounds to heal and are invisible only to me. The tourists I’ve met include a Croatian snail farmer on a paranormal bent, Irish transsexual with a jaw tumor, Navajo anthropologist, Indian filmmaker, Hollywood soundman recording chants, Canadian artist with medicinal muses, computer programmers, psychologists, academists, wannabe ayahuasqueros, vacationers escaping stress , and gypsy thrill seekers. A revolving door of ten tourists spend evenings with outlying jungle shamans and afternoons splashing around the pool they admit may be illusion sharing paradigm shifts to determine where to drink next. As the in-house naturalist guide I led a group an hour from Iquitos to strike a rooted shaman´s trail and bumped into ten lost gaily clad gypsies from eight countries searching for the Peru Rainbow Gathering, They had been banned by the Iquitos mayor for looking odd and smelling bad during street performances of juggling fruit, making balloon animals and swallowing fire. I led them straight to the temporary camp of 60 who hugged and kissed us like ants in line sharing feelers and shouting, ´Welcome Home!´ Beautiful girls wore nothing but mosquito bites and anxious smiles for there were proportionally few males in utopia. I dropped off the gypsies and then the tourists at a shaman´s, and returned to Ayahuasca Central. The tourists arrive in small daily batches from a dozen countries, but predominantly USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, England, Germany and Holland. Many are hangers-on from last month´s 5th International Amazonian Shaman Conference on these grounds with 20 hand-picked shamans from the Upper Amazon.. Shamans are tribal persons who navigate between the seen and unseen worlds to help others, and are sometimes called witchdoctors. Ayahuasqueros are healers who employ ayahuasca. Cuaranderos heal with ayahuasca and other medicine like Sapo, mushrooms, tobacco smoke and San Pedro, All purportedly cure, all are positive in their work. For simplicity I call them all shamans, and eschewed the conference glitter, pretty translators, five-course meals, and dancing Bora to trail the shamans to evening ceremonies. Ayahuasca is not a spectator sport. There is projectile vomiting and demon wrestling by candlelight until the wee hours. I have omitted these ceremonial descriptions until Halloween. Ayahuasca Tourism Is the tour people take to the Peruvian, Ecuadorian or Brazilian Amazon where they drink the legendary visionary medicine ayahuasca. It’s the only reason most people go to the Amazon, particularly Iquitos where about 50 ayahuasqueros await you within an hour rickshaw taxi and short jungle hike from the city center. The ceremonies used to be free, and a slap in the face of the river shaman who accepted money to heal. Now some old timers still take donations while the newbies charge $20-$95 per night. Indeed, curanderos- the river pueblo doctors- are being lured from their communities for opportunities to ply tourists for big bucks. In balance, the cuaranderos on the cush note that 15 years ago interest in the medicine was waning on the rivers and few had apprentices. Now there are hundreds of legitimate apprentices and ayahuasca tourism has preserved an ancient heritage. The U.N. 1971 Psychotropic Convention Treaty rules ayahuasca illegal except in Peru where it is Patria de la Nation– the nation´s history. The constituent vines and leaves are legal to import into the USA, but once they´re made into brew containing the active DMT it becomes a felony drug. I believe in 20 years the main Peruvian import will be your sons and daughters for ayahuasca tourism and the leading export the medicine itself. We catch a glimpse of this future as I see it daily in Well´s Time Machine where the time traveler journeys to A.D. 802,701 and meets the Eloi, a society of teeny, androgynous people who live in small communities within large slowly deteriorating buildings. Iquitos is the most distant city from civilization on earth, and the most lassies-fare. There is no set price and everything is for sale. There are few rules. Nearly everyone sells something from a doorstep, corner, street stall or pushcart and happily works 70 hour weeks for $5-10 a day to forget the steaming jungle. The ten American ex-pats (who prefer to be called patriots overseas- P.O´s) forge ideas into action. One exports discarded tree trunks to USA, another tows a floating hotel to fishing holes, a snake farmer, butterfly exporter, real estate agent, hotel owner, three ayahuasqueros, and my project aside the crate that compresses species of sawdust into briquettes to replace charcoal and save the rainforest. In addition, a handful of retired gringos annually take young Peruvian wives where the street ration is 2:1 female to male. Custom has a bride´s second act to ask her girlfriend to sleep with her husband every other night so she may continue to socialize with her. Back at the hacienda, the tiny room smells like a sugar factory and I fling open the door to the first Amazon sunrise. Three red-necked buzzards with 6' winds outstretched model to greet the day, and I snatch clothes from the velcro-like bottoms of 3´ leaves of a LoPuna tree , dress, and climb a hundred-step green tunnel to the swimming pool, sit on an inner tube, and the maid orders a catered liter of squeezed orange juice and five tomato-and-avocado sandwiches for $2.50. Seven in-resident old lady Shipbio shamans tipsy by on hobbit feet beneath colorful dresses with a pitcher of beer and coca-cola pausing to greet, ´Buenas Dias, Senor. Bo.´ At mid-day the tourists have slept off last night´s ceremonies and trickle through the gate to share intelligence on shamans. Most are dutifully employed or students on two-week vacations and miss hardly one night plumbing to find their inner selves before returning home. Their daily reports offer fascinating insights into consciousness, metaphysics, parapsychology and psychology thrown in with comparisons of brown badges of courage from last night´s vomiting and long excretions . I could make a fortune selling toothbrushes. Forgetting the fifth-dimensional helpers, the tourists´ contention is the medicine purges the body and then places the consciousness in space where the first question pops, Who am I? If the eyes are opened at this juncture the person ´becomes´ his body again with a total amnesia that is shocking. One soul among the hundreds I´ve interviewed resisted the spirit world with open eyes and fought back to physical consciousness, and this ex-pat is built like Bluto the Terrible with a mystery background and a 1625 chess rating sitting next to me as I type playing six simultaneous games of online speed chess while studying handgun schematics between moves . Iquitos is the world springboard for ayahuasca, Central the pivot, I have the gate key and am a determined seeker to enlarge on two hypotheses of the mechanism. The first hypothesis is the creation of recovered peers- the only practical psychologists- by the medicine within the user´s mind whether you call them elves, clowns, spirits or hallucinations, and these helpers understand the owner´s malady backward and forward to teach cures. A second hypothesis is that the medicine inhibits an over-active First World higher brain while activating the relative virgin brain stem to provide the user instant relief and a choice of a mental or physical reality… until the medicine wears off. Liquid psychiatrist bubbles on the hacienda kitchen stove. The jungle vine has been macerated and boiled with leaves from other plants with a resulting brew that contains the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloid dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The secret house recipe is pH control throughout the process. I run cold water on an index finger, stick it in the pot, and taste the bitterness. I am the sole teetotaler in the gringo waves who profess that one ceremony of three ounces of ayahuasca is worth six months of good psychotherapy, First, who needs a psychologist? Second, there are two paths up the mountain: the slow and ayahausca, and I´m not backing down.. Third, the medicine is the greatest experiment in world consciousness since the rise of that consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Flatly, any good experiment requires an experimental and a control group, and I am one of the controls. The analysis from this old carton is the medicine solves personal problems better, faster, and cheaper than first world psychologists and psychiatrists. Liquid psychiatrist is on schedule as a global transformer. Peter Gorman was ground zero on ayahuasca tourism in1988 with a High Times cover story and the banner ‘Ayahuasca- Mindbending Drug of the Amazon’ that swamped the Amazon tour companies with requests to add the medicine to their itineraries. Five years later, Shoemaker seeded ceremonies around the world. Then, in ´98 on an initial visit to Iquitos, I observed the lack of side effects and predicted the medicine would steamroll minds, and today it´s fashionable among the well-heeled. I know of ayahuasca cells, clubs and churches in a dozen USA cities where it would be elegant to chart psychologist and psychiatrist bankruptcy- professions as a psych tech I disdain - against the rise of the ayahuasca jar. It´s hand carried by hundreds of new annual tourists, and shipped with bogus labels throughout the world. One day a visionary will freeze dry or crystallize the active ingredient DMT to make it as efficient to move by the ton as aspirin or cocaine to later reconstitute into liquid form. It will dominate the USA and European illicit drug market that holds youth´s minds, and become the most potent hallucinogen as a culmination of four First World decades of psychedelic mysticism. Then, for better or worse, the brew will be tainted by additives to make it a business drug to form dependence. The great tide of users will reverse to the Amazon to get pure stuff, and I hope they´ll stop by the crate. The Peru retirement cradle, like earlier models, enables me to read, think and sleep in a quiet place to live a more productive day as a part-time ex-pat in one of the most fascinating spots on earth.
At the core of the peoples of the world are diet, language and genes. The jungle people here are one step out the trees. This isn't Ecuador, Columbia or Chile where the blood has mixed and religion invaded. It's historic forest green. The monkeys and people and Bo eat well, and sometimes each other. Everything is natural. Everyone including the poor eat better than I did as a kid and all USA vegetarians. The additives include a string of jungle medicines like ayahuasca so potent that their minds are gone to spirituality whether they know it or not. They stand around like prairie dogs chirping at each other during lapses to concentration. The leading industry in Iquitos, Peru is ayahuasca tourism and I'm living in the backyard in a shipping crate of Ayahuasca Central awaiting my house closing. There are four towns high in the Andes I encountered a month ago that fall outside the norm of the happy faces just described, but why think outside the box. The theory supported by the Internet that you'll discover aluminum toxicity from the volcanic soil is absorbed by the national staple yucca causing what I see see each battling second of Alzheimer-like symptoms of zero concentration, ADHD, and poor memory. 99.9% of Peruvian teachers failed the United Nations international exam placing the country lowest in the world and giving a canned sub like me a chance to start a new life. Plus at least in Iquitos, it's the gods must be crazy place for nonviolence.
July 31, 2009 | 4 Comments
The talent of Dow-kietl, the shiny green frog that exudes Sapo or frog sweat to paralyze the biting jaws of predator snakes, was hidden from the western world until Peter Gorman introduced the ´death experience´ to the N.Y. American Museum of Natural History in 1986, and then to Amazon outward bounders. Last night I witnessed three people cringe under cigarette burns on their biceps, the yellow viscous Sapo dabbed on exposed mesoderms, and I sat back to watch them `die`.
Now I know what it looks like to watch a thrashing Amazon boa expire after a quick frog snack, with an added insight into the resiliency of human nature as the three rebounded quickly to ask when they could repeat.
'It’s the most painful and exhilarating thing I ever did!´ admitted a New York City programmer one minute after reentering this world.
´Life is tough, dying is tougher,´ claimed an Australian artist opening his eyes.
´Everything is easier after passing through fire,´ explained a Stanford anthropologist.
Their experiences were remarkably similar.
The programmer sat on a hard chair under a palm as Peter touched a burning cigarette to the side of his right bicep, peeled the singed epidermis, patted one drop of Sapo and counted backward from fifteen…
Suddenly the eyes opened and fixed straight ahead on who knows what in the night.
´You are alone. But everyone around you is a friend,´ said Peter softly.
He crumpled to the jungle floor on all fours staring ahead like the freshly euthanized dogs I once put down as a Vet with Sodium P____barbital. He flushed, vomited twenty times and probably pooped his pants.
´You will be like this for nine minutes, I guarantee. And then you will return to the greatest joy you have ever known,´ intoned Gorman.
On the nose in nine minutes, he suddenly propped on an elbow, and then arose to full height with a smile.
A second client sat hard, and the burns and Sapo applied. (photo). In fifteen seconds his eyes looked without seeing, and he sweat without movement. Though built like Rocky the Sapo took a TKO in four minutes as his head slowly found the table edge. He vomited one long string, and I wished to take a pulse but snapped a photo (viewer beware). Corner man Peter used my knife to halve a lime to sponge the artist’s forehead as I poured cold water on the crewcut, but Peter sliced his thumb and cauterized it with the burning cigarette just before the man blinked and moaned, ´Thank you.´ Minutes later he stood for round two…
Next the female anthropologist took the chair and in fifteen seconds entered the netherworld with puffed lips and face until she resembled a frog, In nine minutes the features humanized.
Their three brave descriptions of Sapo baptism carry one tune. ´I went inside my body and heated painfully until I wanted to die but couldn’t.´ ´Every cell was as if microwaved, but in an eternity it switched off as quickly as on.´ Finally, ´There’s no fear of death.´
Sapo is reputedly the most biochemicallly active substance known to man and a vital element in jungle pharmacopoeia. That evening I suggested, ´Two possible uses come to mind. The first is a therapeutic replacement for epinephrine that’s presently extracted from the adrenal glands of my friends the hogs and sheep; and the second is a transport vehicle like but more potent than DMSO used in race horses and by dermatologists to cause medications to penetrate the skin.´
I thought to perform a backyard experiment and dropped 1/20 of one dose of frog sweat that resembles mustard into two ounces of rubbing alcohol and stirred into solution. The dilution must have been about 1/5000 of what the three clients took directly onto cigarette burns. Instead, on my left forearm I drew one magic marker red circle and another next to it. In the first I put a couple drops of pure rubbing alcohol, and in the second circle the same amount of dilute Sapo. I walked away expecting nothing but in mid-stride at thirty seconds truthfully told Peter, ´The inside of my left arm is heating as Sapo spreads via the circulation. Now the burn is rising from chest to neck to head. I´m inclined to sit down,´ and did on a soft chair. In five minutes the slightly elevated blood pressure, pounding heart and internal heat gave way to a transient euphoria.
The apparent Sapo death and benefits to western medicine and frogs are unimaginable without more experimentation.
In the Peruvian Amazon:
1 The girls outnumber boys about 3 to 1 for unknown reasons, hence a man is a king, and a gringo is g_d.
2 I haunt jungle pueblos with no other gringos as a failsafe.
3 The husbands are off working in the jungle. They are away for weeks at a time. Evolution and culture favor extra marital relationships.
4 I maintain two rooms simultaneously: at a $2 hotel for chlorophyl-under-fingernail types of my preference, and a $4 hotel overlooking the river for romantic affluent ladies.
5 S_x is a picnic in the Peruvian Amazon with no ties.
6 These are not prostitutes like the one-armed girl I met working her way through college, but rather normal females of the town.
7 If seeded properly word spreads fast and capitalism pops in. Start with the tenders of the barber shop, telephone booth, and public toilet because daily they encounter everyone in town. Give each a quarter per referral and by the stroke of first midnight s_x becomes a matter of logistics.
8 The young ladies expect nothing beyond s_x, but i´m happy to pay them to go away.
9 Give each girl a tip for referrals.
10 Take the first step.
Yes, i am buying a 1.5 meter wide house in Iquitos, Peru attached to a 6 meter wide one that as one form a duplex with the owner´s home. Here´s what happened. The owner and I shook hands today on the 6 meter wide house of bricks when Jorge the great paper man piped, ´according to the title your deceased wife is the only one who can sell half the house.´ We swatted flies on that for a while until I suggested a wall be built down the middle of his side of the existing duplex. i.e. years ago a single grand house had been divided but not down the middle. Due to this technicality the widowed owner at present cannot sell the casa I want, nor his own, nor even the entire property. His dead wife owns half of it. My suggestion to build a new wall down the middle of his home where he´ll continue to live in rich economy was whooped as the problem solver. He pockets another $500 for the addition but must build the wall that provides me with another 1.3 meters wide and 6 meters long house. The title is clean, my purchase is $2000 and jorge says it´s worth $15,000. Everyone is smiling and I have a guest house for a thin person.
Alex Castaldo jokes:
Sounds like a garbled situation right out of a Hernando de Soto book. You have clean title, but the other guy doesn't. What would happen if you made a lowball offer for the other half of the house to the wife's estate and it was accepted? Ask your lawyer.
Bo Keely elaborates:
Home sweet home is located in the iquitos suburbs, or what passes as such for a jungle town. iquitos is a steamy jungle port set on two rivers. One paved road courses a few km out of town into the green, and my place sits at km9 on a dirt road. My neighbors are the ghost of the dead widow in the 1.5 meter casa, and the next door owner. There´s electricity at $4 per month and a new well 30' from the front door. It´s a brick house, costly and fashionable in this neck that´s on a relative par value with your Orange County bungalow. The floor is rare concrete and it has a tin roof that´s a step up from the traditional thatch. The former owner and my new neighbor works as a property guard all night and returns home to work construction, sleeps two hours, and goes to the night job. He´s 72 yrs. old, and likewise the other few neighbors are simple. The backyard has a latrine and wading pool for mosquitoes, plus i´ve arranged during a recent boat tour gathering solderers´ lead droppings for my ankle weights to buy scrap metal to solder into a 3-meter cube for backyard safekeeping as i travel. A 33cent bus runs every couple hours to central iquitos and the internet.
Gringos say it was dumb luck to buy a $15,000 home for $2,000 in one day, however here´s the house hunting technique I used. The previous day I hired a motorcycle-taxi who knew the areas i wanted to reconnoiter. The taxi stopped 100 meters from ´for sale´ signs where i stayed low as the driver knocked on doors to ask two key questions: title and price. Once a gringo is spotted the price triples. We viewed about 200 and walked through 20 houses for sale by individual owners, and typically the neighbors beleaguered me offering their own homes for sale matching the ´for sale´price. It was as delightful search for a jungle nook, home sweet home, that anyone may relive.
What is it about the Iquitos, Peru you like so much? — A Reader.
There is little bull in Iquitos. Cops leave you alone. Nearly everything is legal. Everyone bribes but no a–holes. Jurassic Park is five minutes across the river. Safest town in Latin America because the people are simple and historically removed from civilization, plus there are no earth roads of escape. Can buy a house for $1500, or my room rent is $50/mo. Food is healthy, varied and plentiful. In ten thousand people I've seen two fat ones (they did stints in USA). The small ex-pat population are the best USA has to offer. There are animals everywhere in the air and underfoot. Natives deep in the jungle an hour and dollar away by boat are among the hardiest people in the world. Everyone laughs. Girl to boy ratio of 2:1. It´s a steamy place but cool by desert standards. Few clothes , and s-x is the leading spare time activity. There´s plenty of free time. A three-egg omlet is $1, soup 'n sandwich lunch $.75, and fresh fish dinner $2. Who needs to worry about making money? Myriad capitalist opportunities like my sawdust brick lab and guide service. Opportunities for esoteric study include the world's largest green pharmacy and jungle drugs like frog sweat, nunu and ayauscha. The group psyche excludes time and distance, giving someone like me a chance.
Citizens of Amazon towns find support in what the jungle offers. It breaks down to fish, yucca, watermelon, oranges, and various vegetables. Ninety percent of the population specializes in one of these items to find or grow well and large. They feed their families and carry the bulk by wheelbarrow or boat to the ubiquitous central market, a one street bazaar of fly-covered rickety stands to offer these items. The other 10% of the population finds support in common professions including woodcutting, driving a 125cc motorcycle taxi or similar canoe taxi, a tiny grocery or hardware store, furniture maker, cafe or hotel owner, and so on. The young people work as delivery boys (photo), waitresses, clerks, street cleaners and the like for a daily $4 that goes a long way in a jungle town. Surrounding any jungle town (off by a few hours walk) are pueblitos, or little towns, of 20 families who fish and grow what they need and bring the rest to market.
The overview is these river towns and villages are a fish economy, and daily triple-decker boats drop off a dozen 100 kilo bags of salt in trade for 10ft. tall crates of a hundred species of fish for downriver consumption. Yesterday I hitched a canoe across the half-mile river and walked a muddy track one hour to the pueblito Comandillo perched on a stream. A barefoot tyke fell in stride on the return and became my paid guide identifying birds and animals. Later waiting on shore for a canoe to regress to town, the mother joined us with a basket of four 5-pound fish balanced on her head. I paid their fare across the river where she climbed mud stairs to the central market and in five minutes sold the batch for $3, a windfall. She grinned so I asked her for a massage as the tyke wandered the stands. There is no want of food, or for the working person, money, in a jungle town like Requena, Peru (photo) or a thousand others. There is more to eat than I had as a happy kid, and far more to do each minute.
Local communities began what they call an “indefinite strike” throughout the Peruvian Amazon region to protest the Peruvian Congress’ failure to review six government decrees that endanger the rights of indigenous peoples. These decrees [are related to the recent] Agreement signed with the United States. Press release from The World Rainforest Movement.
The story on the Peru strike finds me in the mix. Today is that strike day, and last night at sunset I illegally walked past the Bolivian immigration hut to the Peru border to find the Puno, Peru bus station effectively shut by the country blockade. Tourists refused to budge. Peruvians rolled like pears bumping into each other and asking each other what to do. I organized a scab taxi driver with four others for an eight hour night drive through the high Andes to Cuzco of Machu Pichu fame. All transportation in the country was supposed to stop at midnight, and at that juncture our road was blocked by boulders strewn before a bridge manned by irate Indians, and a quarter mile thread of vehicles waiting at 12k ft. in 35F for the strike to end in 24 hours. People wandered the remote highway like zombies until a shivering hombre offered an alternative mountain route he claimed he knew like the bottom of his feet for a free ride to Cuzco. So our overloaded taxi climbed a rutted track and under an ancient four ft thick arch, got lost in ruins, our guide tumbled out and read the stars, and two hours later we descended beyond the blockade. That puts me now in a little pueblo south of Cuzco where citizens earlier today marched shouting protests in the streets, the bus station at whose Internet I now sit at was shut, however reopened a couple hours ago at 8pm for business as usual. Can you hear the announcement for the impending departure to Lima on the Pacific. Tomorrow morn i catch a northeast bus off this cold majestic roof of the world to the steamy Amazon jungle.
Ed.: As he drifts down the Amazon (the river, not the website) Mr. Keely has been sending us updates and pictures from time to time. Here are some photos:
Today I walked past the window of a hut where a parrot sat on the shoulder of a seamstress bobbing his head with the ancient machine. I entered to get a secret pocket sewn in my britches, took them off and walked around in shirt as she stitched. A daughter stepped out of Playboy magazine and offered a massage for $5 to augment double the daily salary as a motorcycle mechanic that transpired in the mother´s bedroom. I strode out to find ma had sewn the secret pocket for my new digital in the front instead of rear as ordered, so it was back to the bedroom for thirty minutes more. Here´s Roberto.
Roberto, the Seamstress and My Pants
Click for two others:
In Iquitos, Peru , the female to male birthrate is 7 to 1 but no one has been able to figure out why. Meals are a buck, hotel 4-, internet .60 per hour, a porcelain crown 100-, and i just took a two hr. private taxi tour for 10-. Twenty interesting resident gringo expats, and the tourists are starting to pour in with the onset of dry season. However, i´m jumping a boat to Brazil and refusing all invitations from cannibals to dinner.
Douglas Dimick comments:
Rules-Based Relativity of Ecological Numeric Hierarchies
When first reading an article on the upcoming SEC hosted short selling round table series, one may consider how the Inquitos female/male birthright ratio analysis smacks of a similar (or parallel) rules-based phenomenon.
The article provides a PDF link to a recent Credit Suisse report, highlighting that…
“According to Credit Suisse’s data, a 10 percent circuit breaker would have been triggered 26.6 times per day for Standard & Poor’s 500 stocks last September, and 80.4 times per day in October. In November and December, it would have triggered 48.8 and 25.0 times per day, respectively. That compares to the first eight months of 2008 when the average number of times per day that an S&P 500 stock dropped 10 percent ranged from 0.8 to 7.7.”
The Theory of Quantitative Relativity (or QR) indicates that, in both instances (the Peru local’s skewed birth right and SEC shortselling regulatory regime), there are rules-based ecologies currently effecting (or causing what some observers argue to be) those cited systemic anomalies.
Is low blood sugar a deviation, in that the relative norm may represent higher ratio’s, thereby sustaining nominal birthright trending? Or have ecological considerations within the eco-system itself altered the quantifiable balance of related (human procreation) indictors and functions?
Does naked shortselling constitute market trending or become merely implicative of relative space and time reporting of market deviations, so generated by systemic imbalances that result from ecological assimilations of exchange standards and procedures by public and private actors?
In both instances, there appears to be a focus on quantifying input that may or may not have a metacircular correlation with the highlighted result (be it birthright or long/short ratio). Determinative, however, would be to understand the conditions precedent for the numeric outcomes… for instance…
“In his panel comments, Direct Edge’s O’Brien also discussed the circuit breakers in the SEC’s proposal. He noted that in the market turmoil since last fall, stocks have risen and fallen by 10 percent frequently. That means, he said, a circuit breaker could be triggered often, leading to potential changes in trading behavior in stocks that decline significantly.”
This citation of rules-based correlations resulting with state-input-output assimilation may be considered the basis for understanding how program trading and portfolio management systems operate within any give electronic exchange market of financial instruments.
Is the issue that only one male is birthed for every seven females? What of the impending social and economic correlations resulting from that assimilating demographic? For instance, would males from other towns (passively or actively) relocate? What governmental action may result from this systemic condition, and what governmental action may have caused it?
QR states that a determinative consideration here is that rules-based constructs (e.g., social order or market exchange) are relative to ecological trending from the standpoint that lines enter spaces that constitute parametric (or geometric) correlations. Such nonlinear correlations are the product(s) of either selective rules (e.g., laws of supply and demand within an agri-economic artifice or circuit-breaker regulation governing stock market exchanges) or the construct itself, such as the Peruvian governing authority or the SEC.
To merely conduct statistical modeling that determines cause and effect without outcome orientation – of those (at least primary) conditions precedent central to the ecological – is a failure to assimilate correlations that are ecological, therefore outcome determinative. Linear projections, so based on quantification of discrete data sets, become operatives of state-input-output functioning.
In that divergence of linear trending thereby is determinative for risk management (and mitigation a la hedging), those spatial (parametric, geometric) domains thereby define randomness and knowledge of the very conditions precedent that affect (if not effect) both preceding and subsequent linear outcomes. Thus, in the design of state machine logic, one concludes that state-input-state functioning (or state transition) is the metacircular outcome for quantifying any given numeric hierarchy of a given ecology.
Rules and numbers: when does the servant become the master?
Alba the Carmelite is half-way to the final $136 monthly payment on a gun in layaway. I saw her yesterday, with a moon face reflecting inner peace.
'I'm calm, of course, because the die is cast.'
Now seventy-five, nut brown and no taller than a rifle, Alba was born in Nicaragua to a wealthy family with a chain of hardware stores and cotton plantations around the world. At nine Albacita announced that 'numbers were dancers in her head' so her father sent her with hats of coins into Managua's barrios to give to the poor. One day she made a side trip to a convent and asked to become a nun but the sister replied,'You're too young.' She instead went off to school in Pennsylvania to learn English, French and earn a CPA degree, returned to Nicaragua and asked to join a nunnery but was told, 'You must run the family business'. Shortly her father was murdered in Europe, and Alba gave away the family fortune whisking her mother to San Francisco, California to ask a convent to accept her but was scolded, 'Take care of your aging mother.' After a decade as a San Francisco CPA her mother passed and Alba trudged up the nunnery steps to implore, 'Now I may be a nun.' 'No, you are too old.' 'f you, sisters!' Alba yelled, stepped in a rust bucket Chevy van and drove south into the desert and Sand Valley, my home.
Except Alba is the toughest in the valley (population ten) because she lives without propane for heat or cooking, no electric, wind or solar, no vehicle… just a rattle camper and claptrap trailer turned over to twenty rescued cats and five dogs as the owner sleeps under the stars.
The desert property was a cool April 90F and strangely quiet yesterday. Alba padded up in blue slippers, white socks puffed with garlic to ward off rattlers, short brown dress hung like a burlap sack, fishnet for an air pocket between gray curls and a red baseball cap that reads, 'Cien Anos' (One Hundred Years). She removed one white mitten with her teeth like a cat and pulled the other black one off to hug me.
'One year ago the man took away all my friends, the animals.'
'Where were you?'
'Assault and battery !'
The story slowly unwound. Animal Control drove into Sand Valley, wheeled onto Alba's forty acres of sand and cactus, raised a chin to her demand to leave and intoned, 'Get those dogs spayed or you go to jail.' 'You,' replied Alba tapping a long index fingernail once as high as she could reach on his chest, 'Can't arrest me because you're not a sheriff.' But he called the sheriff who cuffed her so hard that her wrists bled like J.sus all the way to El Centro.
She was incarcerated for ten days for assault and battery.
On the court date she dragged ankle and wrist chains clanging against a metal walker across the linoleum to a shocked judge. 'Call the public defender!' he cried. 'I'll defend her!' interjected the prosecutor. Alba rose to a full 4'8'' and overruled them all saying, 'I'll defend myself with the truth!'
'Take the chains off the lady!' ordered the judge. Alba rubbed the circulation back and presented her version.
'Case dismissed!' ruled the judge. 'Get her a ride home.'
In the ten days absence the Animal Control man had robbed the animals. He left three dead cats in a box in the trailer that Alba lifted out, crisp after one year, one at a time and placed gently in my lap. 'This is Richard the Lion hearted,' patting its skull as black hair scattered like confetti, 'This is Felipe,' as the tail vertebrae snapped and the calico with a fixed grin dropped next to the other, 'And this is poor Chaquita,' lifting a Persian by the scruff and spilling tears.
The old lady's new moon face relaxed as two fresh pups jumped up and down demanding attention, and Alba knows the man will return when they come of age to spay and the gun is out of layaway.
Newly baptized executive hobo Geko (pictured ), a Los Angeles computer sophisticate and sailor of the seas, rode a quirky freight out the Colton yard last night. We parked in a hospital lot like any other patients and crossed the Pepper Street bridge over Interstate 10 to scramble down an aloe vera carpet into the RR yard at sunset. This is the southern California Eucalyptus fringed hub (B.K. pictured ) where in these rough times a mile-long string of some 100 locomotives coupled nose-to-tail gather dust beneath the bloody red sun… now gone. Two other almost mile-long freights with four and five locomotives huffed near the Pepper bridge and we slithered twist them away from the bulls with infrared eyes in a thick diesel haze trying to fathom which would pull out first. "Whichever it is," I said, "We'll be carried over the San Bernadino hump (mountains), past the Coachella naked people (five hundred ten-story windmills), within twenty miles of my Sand Valley home under the sand, and on to the tramp capital of Yuma, Arizona in time for morning chow at the mission."
We climbed the metal ladder of a cement hopper car to a 8'x12' steel 'front porch' with a 3' portal to a hobo 'hotel room' within the bulwark and hugged the steel floor ready to spring if the adjacent train highballed first. Geko marked our spot with a GPS that would become his close companion on the trip as i flashed a disposable camera. An electrical click up and down the train signaled the brake check prior to departure on the line next to next us, so we rose to change rides even as our own freight clamped and strained in a metallic beat from engine to tail, and our platform on America jolted east. Hunkered on packs with a mounting breeze in our hair and not a care in the world the train advanced from one to five mph to… The yard bull (policeman) accelerated a white Bronco in pursuit nearly alongside our car until the dirt road hit the bridge where he peeled off, and we jiggled the iron road east.
Geko's analytical jaw dropped in appreciation of his first hobo ride and I peeked around our curved side cement car at the five locos and felt my own whiskers hit lapels at viewing a long intermodel freight perpendicular blocking our path at Colton Crossing a hundred yards ahead. The crossing is one of the busiest junctions in the United States where the east-west Union Pacific intersect the north-south BNSF rails that also carry Metrolink and Amtrak trains, and if it's a potential headache tonight it was a bloody scene in the 1882 Frog Wars between the two lines. At the last second our freight swung north, I whistled and admitted, "We just made a rare turn into unknown territory." He punched the GPS, and we settled into the sleeping bags on cardboard on the steel under a star spangled sky. An hour later Geko whispered to himself, "Average velocity 49 mph north-northeast." I propped on a calloused elbow and confirmed by the bounce and Polaris that we were speeding over 40 mph nearly due north.
We'd packed light for the trip, just the sleepers, quart of water each, granola bars, and reading books stuffed into day packs, with dark clothes on our backs. My new road partner peered over the 1' platform lip at house-size boulders rolling past as I slid asleep and the train snaked through mountains striking sharp notes on curves with sparks under a full April moon. The freight chugged in the wee hours beneath a ghostly bridge and crawled under one after another yellow yard lamps popping with moths. Slowly the five locomotives and two human cargo entered a half-mile wide bowl of rails at least four miles long. "No idea where we are," I offered, "But strike the ballast before the yonder yardmaster tower…." The sentence was punctuated by the brake, stop, and release of all cars as the locos ran off. "Ditched in a mysterious yard," I muttered.We scrambled up a dusty bank and broke out a Euclyptus hedge to scan all horizons for a hint of location but saw only a quiet, darkened desert stretching off to a tiny green stamp that may be an interstate sign. "It matters less where we are than how to return," Geko said dryly. "Freight hopping is computer programming with grit," I replied shivering in his frosty breath, and adding, "What should we do?" He proposed to drop into the yard to try to catch back to Colton. Down we slid, stepped over a dozen rails capturing starlight, and climbed the rungs of a trundling car string that stopped and reversed. We hopped doggedly to the ballast and delved deeper into the yard.
In the next hour we took stationary or moving posts on a dozen cars as other metal strings entwined about us, and twenty times we bobbed around cars to avoid yard workers' eyes and a circling security truck with bubblegum roof lights. We boarded a slow rolling coal train and squatted atop anthracite like moonstruck cats until the train gathered speed and coal dust blew up and we jumped off the black cloud. So we shrugged and climbed out the yard bowl and slalomed the chaparral toward the far off postage stamp. An hour later Geko brightly used the GPS to determine our latitude and longitude, and dialed a Florida kin to paste the coordinates onto GoogleMaps and tell us where we are. "Then," assured my road partner, "I'll call Tomorrow, my wife, to pick us up!" However, Florida didn't answer and Tomorrow never arrives.
Approaching the freeway in another hour, five mongrels leaped out an abandoned car and barked our butts to the freeway sign that read 'Interstate 15'. False dawn lit a long arc along the freeway to lead us full circle back to the RR yard far end where we hiked up to yet another sign that broke the suspense, 'Barstow, California'. A nearby all-night diner was assaulted for eggs, bacon, and a plan to get home. The options were to freight that we nixed, Amtrak just left, Greyhound didn't go till noon, hitchhike, call the wife, or.. I dropped my fork and slapped my head, "Let's rent a car." "Avis is around the corner," chimed our waiter, and in five minutes we had reserved a car with no drop fee from Barstow to Colton for $40, about the same price as one Greyhound ticket.
On the short walk to Avis it was apparent that the hobo bug had drawn blood in Geko. "I like the ongoing puzzles with the need to remain calm during crises," he gushed. Now it was back to a California condo hidden in roses and a loving wife and high salary job, with a pain that will forever stab the heart every time a train whistle blows. He had darted from the crowd like other executive hobos who stumble on www.bokeelytours.com and found I was not too mad in the short run. Four hours later Geko wheeled a '09 Pontiac into the hospital lot near the Colton RR yard and exclaimed, "That's the way to return from a class hobo trip!"
February 28, 2009 | 3 Comments
After visiting the folks in Ft. Worth once in the 80s, I boarded an eastbound boxcar & napped, woke up in a mystery town & saw a billboard that read Texarkana. I climbed the little hill out the yard and hitched a ride along the highway. A uhaul rental truck picked me up for one of the strangest
experiences of my life, and that's saying something. The lady driver, a fat bitch to this day that owes me for a day's work, opened the roll-down back
to the rental truck and said, "hop in." It was dim in there with scratchy light filtering through the cross-hatch 1'x2' window into the cab, but my eyes adjusted to discern six people lolling about the floor and on crates. They stared at me with better adjusted eyes, but I could see something the matter in the way their faces twisted and unkempt hair. 'Howaryamorn, mister?’ garbled one. A couple others jerked chins in agreement, and one girl giggled. I was in a locked dark van with a half-dozen retards. It wasn't that bad, and I don't intend to use the term derogatorily, but they crowded the new stranger stinking of the rails to dig his story. I did some magic tricks like swallowing my thumb, and pulled a paper wad from the girl's ear– that gave me room to ask, "we're we goin?" "chicken ketchin'!' one said, and the other's nodded eagerly. We took the smooth road an hour, then rutted dirt lanes for two more, until the truck bumped to a halt and the door slid up with a bang.
What followed was the longest, hardest work day of my life, and you know that’s saying something. The teens, girl and I herded about 1000 chickens from one end of a huge red barn to the other, the lady kept them at bay with a flapping sheet and the rest of us dipped knees and grabbed chicken legs, two in one hand and three in the other per the quota. We carried them twenty yards outside to a semi-truck parked with wire chicken crates where one fellow perched as each grabber shouted ‘birds! Three and two!’ and hefted his five up to this cager to stuff into rows and stacks of little crates for the trip to KFC. Imagine dipping, catching, clutching, lifting and yelling ‘birds!’ a hundred times for 10 hours w/ a 30 minute break for salami sandwiches and water. It got hot toward noon, freezing after sunset, I was dizzy, covered w/ feathers when the last chicken was scooped and stuffed, and the lady herded us into the back of the truck. "Where do u want off?" she demanded, and I wearily replied, "highhway". There’s nothing like sitting with peers after a long day in reminisce, they explained the whole way, that nobody but a dummy would shout ‘three and two’ and actually hand over that many birds! the lady turned onto the highway shoulder, I gave her my address for the paycheck, pulled my thumb out my mouth for the crew, and hitched to the next adventure.
Nicaragua lacks first-world eases and is constantly bowing to the golden rule of travel that the less money spent the more adventures. This is the poorest Central America country, from the Caribbean swamp up the volcanic spine and down to the Pacific white sands, where I want to introduce you to the people I rubbed elbows with.
No one runs after a bus in Nicaragua. There will always be another one. A traveler with a map need have no fixed plan if he thinks quickly. The bus terminals in the towns I frequent are usually dirt lots turned steamy mud if it rains. Dozens of buses and mini-vans await like crouched animals, and the choice, while munching a sandwich, often boils down to selecting the driver and passengers. I board early, drop my pack onto a front seat for the reservation, and leave for a drink as the bus fills for departure. When it's stuffed out the windows, the dogs are shooed and the gladdest moment begins- a start into a strange land.
Often across this watery nation the buses link with park-and-ride horsemen and ferries. In boondocks Rama, after weeks of brown faces and Spanish, I step down from the bus onto a tug for a chug along the Rio Escondido to Bluefields on the Caribbean. Sun and wind in the face sitting on the bow, over my shoulder floats, "Oh no, not another Gringo!".
I swivel and behold a huge graying cowboy under the broadest brim extending the biggest hand on the planet. I rise but he withdraws the hand. In one swift motion he pulls first from the right boot and throws a shadowy knife, then from the left boot, one from each shoulder, both sides of the waist, and finally the breast for a total of seven invisible blades. I reply, "The peculiar thing is that each barely nicked my skin", which is accurate had they been real. He guffaws, pumps my hand, and states, "My friends call me Lucky; I have no enemies."
He blocks out the sun and spins his story between banks of waving grass. Raised on an Arizona cattle ranch, Lucky's father was a career soldier who disallowed his Navy Seal son to go to Viet Nam. So Lucky took his penchant for cutting things first to darts, winning the world championship, and then to wood carving a bedroom set that sold for $300 on a Phoenix street corner and blossomed into a million dollar a year business employing five steadfast Nicaraguans. Three decades passed until a year ago. He lay down in a bed he'd made and told his wife, "Honey, give me a divorce. I crave the old America without the strangling rules. I'm going to Nicaragua and start a cattle ranch!" He bought land near Esteli in the central mountains, cleared it to waist deep grass, bought good stock, and gained a reputation for throwing the best calves in the country. Trouble is, one calf is a month salary on a man's shoulder under a rustler's moon. He patrolled nightly forty fenced acres on horseback with a shotgun, two .45 pistols and seven knives, only to get stung by boot scorpions, lose a horse to a rattler, and gradually lose the rustlers' war to fatigue. He arrived yesterday in Rama for a Last Hurrah, the name of the proposed ranch, carved somewhere along the Caribbean at a remote place that thieves can't discover. "It's easy," he says. "First, find land with tall grass and water, and buy an acre per best cow you can purchase. Inseminate them with the best bull. Watch them eat grass, make love, and make money. Take cold showers for a year, and you're a rich man. Look at this river grass- my Last Hurrah is around the bend!".
Bluefields on the Caribbean swings into view around the river mouth, the tug cautiously pulls alongside her tilting pier posts, groans, ropes heaved, and the thirty Latino passengers bustle to the fore to disembark. However, we hang aft, our interest taken by a dozen staring men like statues plugged onto the wharf. "Whew!" I whistle softly .They resemble apes in rags, with drug glazed eyes as flat as bottomless seas under tremendous brows. Lucky grabs his homestead suitcase in one hand and reaches a big mitt in a pocket, withdraws it to his side- there's the click of a metal switchblade- and hides it up his sleeve. "Adios, Bo!" he grins, and the sly dog lets me walk the gangplank ahead.
The throng of dock trolls parts for the odd couple, and a few steps beyond on a busy main street Lucky, with a suitcase, and I, with a knapsack, depart with a warm handshake. The usual practice is to amble to the seedy part of town for a room, but today I stride to any clue au contraire- a painted shop, well dressed citizen, clock that runs- but find none and feel trapped in a pirate's novel. The wooden two-story buildings along main street look 18th century and the ambling citizens are black or brown, and relatively tall. The matron of my eventual hotel overhanging a reggae disco outweighs me but politely points out after accepting $10 that they room keys were stolen yesterday by the help. I gladly slap my own lock on door #8 and will push the inner bureau against it tonight.
Craving a sunset fish dinner, I pen the hotel name on my thigh and stroll five minutes across town to a cafeteria with a greasy window. Licking fingers and avoiding the leftover eye that's always bothered me, a skeletal Bassett breaks a patron's leash and I give it to him. The waitress spots the dog and shoos it out the door with a broom and the owner screeching after past a line of little beggars pressing noses against the window at the only gringo. To mistakenly tip the first would telegraph the rest, and I would be skin and bones. I rise, walk out and they chase me with outstretched hands and wails for a block until a sympathetic senora points to a darkened lane where I may lose them and, she says, "perhaps your life".
She lowers the finger and vanishes, and out of curious mule-headedness I take that lane where the kids don't follow. Suddenly an arm wraps my shoulders and flexes as I whirl. His free paw grasps my palm in a quasi handshake, yet I grab the wrist and spin from both arms, and we lock eyes. "I want to ask for a dime," he says pitifully, and I feel horrible. "I'm sorry, but I can't help…," I repeat with a stout heart again and again until he fades into the old woodwork of the alley. I find the hotel on swift legs, shower in clothes, lie on the thin bed and count drops off the bureau mirror with the backbeat of reggae looking at myself in wonder at where I am.
The next morning, I discover it's a chancy town even for a stray Gringo like Lucky when we meet on the old wharf for a 7am launch out of town. He will scour the interior away from this gritty port for a ranch, and I… well, we'll see. A hard-nosed girl with a grin and jiggling "Tourist Police" badge slaloms dog piles along the dock to ask for passports. "What did we do?" I cry, but she says it's routine to scrawl gringo names and destinations in a notebook because of the volume of drug flow along the coast.
Lucky boards a skiff to Laguna de Perlas, and I sit watching similar launches spaghetti in and out the port until the Tourist Police nudges me toward the correct one, a 20-passenger "speedboat" with benches and seatbelts. A lady sits next to me refusing to strap the belt until a port guard with a hip stiletto leans over me and affixes it. She screeches lost rights and broken spirits out the harbor, actually buoying, until the 100Hp Johnson motor drowns her out up the river mouth.
The next stop is Granada, an exception to the nationwide shortage of everything soft and nice, except for the night I arrive the electricity goes out. I check by flashlight into a hotel, take a candle with the key, cold shower, and rock on a porch chair convincing myself that when the sun goes down and the power goes out it's time to take to the streets to see who's timid behind shutters. I rise, and walk the starlit streets down to the west shore of Lake Nicaragua looking over a million moonlit wavelets. There you are at another dark tit of a road waiting for something to steer you when footsteps pad, and on a twirl a man materializes like a muse and mutters, "It was three short years ago on this spot that a bad man cut a tourist's throat for no good."
He is slight, fiery eyed with an impish nose. "Relax. I tell stories instead of beg. They are true, and I'm hungry. One tourist had his hands hacked off" I teeter fore and aft on toes in consideration that the most interesting trips you take in life are meeting people halfway. We mosey the cobblestone streets chatting amicably for an hour, with everyone else indoors. Finally, I award him three dollars, thrust my hands in my pockets, and walk alone back to the hotel.
Normally, I alight fresh each night in a pueblo and ask directions to the omnipresent Central Park where the town turns out. Latinos circle the opposite sex past the greens, fountains, church, and this is where I find the cheapest hotels. One rose sweetened evening, floating from a bench, "Pleased to meet you. Welcome to our country. I'm an official tourist guide." I tip my hat. A few steps later, "Pleased to meet you. Welcome to our country. I'm an official tourist guide." The senoritas punctuate it with quiet flushes, having an incapacity to carry on in English. At the third "Pleased to meet you. Welcome to our country. I'm an official tourist guide", a thirties senorita steps under a lamplight and points to a breast name badge, "Nicaragua Official Tourist Guide." She continues in fair English that a nearby tourist college graduates just a few smart girls, and opens a dog-eared Moon guidebook and pages to her photo wearing the shield. "It's true!" I excite, and buy meals at a local eatery. We part, she with leftovers in a bag for her mother, and I reflecting that she isn't poor because she thinks she is not.
One afternoon on a lot, I see a mini-bus window soaped "San Juan del Sur" and find it on a map going to the Pacific. That's a lovely thought after a week on the Caribbean and central mountains. As usual, the bus has no schedule, waits till full, and at last needs just one more body for a vacant seat before the driver will twist the key. It, an elderly gent, sits sipping coffee in the bus station cafÃ© across the windows from thirty equally complacent passengers. I'm frantic with the possibilities. The driver will miss one fare by leaving early, or may face walk-offs, or the gent will miss the bus if someone enters first, or I may buy the seat. However, the station is slow and so he swallows. In ten minutes he boards and that's business as usual.
Driving a bus is an athletic event on this forgotten road so chuckholed to the Pacific that it should have been left dirt, and a spectator sport. The driver pauses every five minutes to take on or discharge patrons that turns the 50 miles jaunt into a two hour expedition, as his teenage son yells in people, collects fares, sells cokes, and tosses baggage atop the rack. He takes my fare up front promising to return from the rear with change. This is a bus courtesy in the boondocks to chop up an otherwise useless large denomination bill; I tip for the service. Nicaraguans commonly are above the Alzheimer's trick of forgetting the change, but today the youngster doesn't, and before stepping down at the beach I get dad after son for the money, and go for a walk.
San Juan del Sur is an engendering ex-pat trap with cheap hostels around a horseshoe bay, vegetarian cafes, and a dozen language schools. You can sleep in a hammock, learn Spanish, eat yourself healthy at an outdoor market, and drink cheap rum at night mulling the worse ways to go. There's nothing here for a rover, so by quirk three hours after arrival I board the same mini-bus to return. Same hackneyed story, we wait thirty minutes for two passengers to finish tacos across the road before I, owning the probabilities, rally the group to hire cabs. "It's twice as fast, costs 25% more, and leaves now!" I shout like an old-time picketer. Three strikers and I march off the bus into a cab, and that night I wager the son got a spanking.
The cheapest hotel of my life is in central Nicaragua at $.75, the cost of a box of tissue, for an 8"x10" cubicle, squeezed between more like it, with a bare mattress and dangling light bulb. Given thrift and adventure go hand in hand, walk down the hall to the toilet, a smelly fathomless hole, and peril.
Poverty is the father of invention in Nicaragua. I see power lines spanning broken branches jammed in the dirt for miles and sagging under epiphytes, wasps nests and tennis shoes. There are fences of living trees ranging from one-foot saplings planted three feet apart to hundred year old adults at the same gap. And, oh say, the billions of Nicaraguan national flags of baggies flapping on the lines and fences. The song of the nation is, we're too poor for glasses and the mil is exceedingly thin so the plastic blows miles before the sun.
One can ride a bus without getting off and grow old, wise and fat. The houses I see are clapped hybrid wood slats, adobe, cane, concrete, tin, thatched and blankets. At each home the extended family members tie one end of the threads of life and venture out into the village. The adults are driven to poverty until it's so instilled that even a windfall- unless there's a TV- won't alter their mentality. The cold-water savvy children own a delayed gratification that makes them ripe for a prudent education. The first step to this is literacy, the bridge from the hut to anywhere. The second step is convincing the government to teach critical thinking- greeting every moment's situation with a thought instead of passion- so that high school graduates will infiltrate the government. The weak link in this process from poverty to home to school to society to beyond is that en route Latinos forget their silent power of austerity.
A few days beyond this conclusion, on a second-class bus in north-central Nicaragua, I meet the first bona-fide traveler in two months since leaving the USA, a bespectacled Dutch programmer with a nippy sense of humor who's traveled a hundred countries. He's moving light across Central America for six weeks in search of a home away from Holland since he can work anywhere there's internet. The gringos I look for on the road are mavericks who everyone in the world loves, wishes to be, and hopes to accomplish something beyond rebellion. Dutch's outlook is so bright, life seems so good, he is ready for all, so that when he invites me, "Volcano surfing!"
"What on earth ?" I pipe. He spells out the safety and merits of renting a board to slide down the cone, albeit it will be his first time. I can do nothing but accompany him for two days into the north volcanic country. We step down in historic Leon and immediately up onto the first pickup with surfboards and soaped "Vulcan Negro". One thinks he has surpassed childhood acrophobia until seeing the heights nature shoves in his face.
The truck grinds uphill dirt roads with racing children on horseback for an hour toward a 1,300" active cone. The kids fall behind in exhaust and dust, and farmhouses fade on a black carpet of grit that thickens from inches to feet without a speck of vegetation approaching the base. We park and hike a winding, steep trail through sharp lava carrying the 6â€™ surfboards that become sails in a stiff wind near the top. There are six of us: half girls, all Europeans, and me. The lighter girls get twirled like pinwheels scant yards from the cone venting sulfur steam where the ground is too hot to touch long. On one side of the cone without lava, the guide bids us to sit on the boards and insists that it's faster to sled than stand. He invented the rudderless boards with a tin skid pad for a speed record of 40mph, and explains how to sit back and steer by leaning, but doesn't demonstrate. We don orange suits for protection from the cinders of the 45-degree quarter-mile slope. This is ridiculous, but " I'm glad that I'm trapped in a clown suit, helmet, goggles, my pride and leaky knees. The guide prompts me, "Show them you aren't a pussy!" (See eruption photograph). Down! zoom! white knuckles over black cinders, too fast, tumble and crash, climb on for some fun!
Back in Leon, Dutch and I take $6 rooms at the Dentist Hostel where the owner ushers me first into the office chair for open wide and says she'll crown a cracked tooth for another $110. I demur, and exit for a city tour. I had seen a downtown sign, "Walking Tour $6" and was struck by the novelty. I draw with two others a long-legged guide, a political science major, who asserts in correct English while striding past thousands of bullet holes in buildings and walls that Leon has a long tradition of liberal politics. His father and uncle were tortured supporting the Sandinistas against the federal troops in the 80's and, patting a spreading oak at the town edge, this tree is the symbol of resistance. The war is decades over, but the rebel consciousness remains. Our guide points up at razor wire on the 12' brick wall hemming the school that even so he scaled twice to enter the mix. This town has some of the grandest architecture in the world because it hasn't been restored for the simple reason of a town code forbidding the knocking down or patching of ruins with other than the original material. The cathedral, missing bricks and bullet strewn like an old general, is the largest in Central America, where the guide insists, "The priests pocket some of the donations but the people think it's worth their blessings." Houses appearing from the 18-19th centuries line street after street, except in the affluent section where new homes are built inside old ones. That is, the 3' thick adobe walls of ruins become the shells three inches from the inner walls of luxurious houses. The only graffiti is "Bush the Diablo of Genocide!"that the young guide tries to explain away but chokes on the truth. At the three-hour tour's end, I buy from him "The best map of Nicaragua" and spread it before me like a magic carpet. It shows a network of lanes as thick as spider webs laid over the countryside where I hatch a plan to connect the villages by foot from the Pacific to Caribbean.
For others, Leon is a budding bohemia. In two days, I chatted with the following: A Spokane lady who got in a car wreck, swore off autos and is riding a bicycle alone to Tierra del Fuego until she got waylaid here; A Portlander motorcycle mechanic who refused to rest on an obsession and is motorcycling to Panama's Darien but likewise is stalled here for "the 24-hour action"; An effervescing 70's Berkley graybeard who's built a business over the decades teaching Spanish, Chinese, French and guitar to tourists; Today's newly arrived veteran with a chest full of two wars' medals tottering on a cane and a pretty senorita's arm to the embassy for permanent residence; And the Dutchman declares he shall buy a vacation apartment!
Just before moving into the apartment, a day later, my cohort hurls his Lonely Planet guide to the floor and bellows the Dutch equivalent of, "Horseshit!" This globetrotter of twenty years stomps around it quoting the "lovely primary colors" of our actually dank rooms, and declares that in a six-week informal study through Central America at the suggested hotels and attractions he has repeatedly been told by proprietors that the Lonely Planet teams walk through (if they go at all) and out the cheaper hotels to trade lavish recommendations for freebee rooms and tickets at the posh spots. This parallels my findings of the past eight weeks, and supports a theory, an untold story, that Lonely Planet pioneered as well as recently quashed world budget travel. I imagine the same pivotal decision faced by the guidebook is daily weighed by businesses and individuals finding themselves in this expanding world. Do you adjust your methods and codes to grow quickly with the times, or maintain integrity and advance slowly?
"The globe is an anthill of travelers under backpacks going from one world wonder to the next, sleeping and eating in the same places- as described in the Lonely Planet guidebooks" I opened travel lectures during the 1980's with these words to colleges and outfitting stores. Anyone with a passport and the guidebook could go nearly anyplace with confidence as carefully researched by handpicked pioneer authors. I met one on his knees with fatigue before the Great Wall of China, one lost in malaria in Africa, and one in South America; they got around. (Today, Lonely Planet has 500 staff members and 300 authors.) The books spun details from the wisdom of having been there. Itâ€™s safe to say that modern budget travel exists because of Lonely Planet that seeded my early travels and anchored soulful impressions to make their story around the world, in a way, my own. The first full guide, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring was my first trip, and on with the ensuing books to Europe, Australia, New Zealand. Africa, India, South Americaâ€¦ for a total of 96 countries. (The publication now has about 700 titles.)
Before leaving Leon, I enter a Cyber CafÃ© and learn online that Lonely Planet a few months ago (Sept. 2007) was purchased by BBC. The theory is true: The publication that single-handedly created budget travel has as easily replaced it with tourists who read how to hail a cab to massages. The new breed of traveler works hard and deserves it, but beware that once an organization or individual loses its pioneering spirit, all progress stops. In a flash in the Cyber CafÃ©, the solution to the day-to-day use of Lonely Planet strikes: I shall use the guide frankly in reverse to eschew its picks and blaze new trails to its cautions. This will prove delightful.
Should you visit the largest, poorest, least developed country of Central America? A developing nation has two faces, and it's your choice of how to view the experience. The blessings are people in hand-me-down clothes and old-fashioned smiles against a backdrop of untouched natural splendor. The daily thrashings are rice and beans with cold showers. I nearly always felt safe, and the lack of personal possessions makes Nicaraguans among the most generous in the world. I encourage a pilgrimage into poverty somewhere anytime for it's fast lessons. Think that and you determine your destination.
Honduras Immigration is ahead, and the dread line of wolfish officials with their red ink.
I enter Nicaragua, a country I know little about except for a reputation of being the poorest and most rewarding spot in Central America, in a motorized canoe at the remote port of San Carlos. A yellow canvas awning shades two dozen jabbering Latinas with their stores and me from the blazing sun and whatever may drop from tropical trees. I see baskets-size epiphytes bow the trees, 4’ chameleons on overhangs, wading birds, 1’ turtles sunning on the banks, two 6’ crocodiles, and a stout branch that conks my forehead sending the ladies into giggles.
On a further bend sits a ragged encampment of thatched huts where three Nicaraguan military youths duck a clothesline of their underwear with AK-47s in hand to wave the captain over for a list of the passengers’ names, a head count to verify, and we are passed.
An hour later, the river opens into Lake Nicaragua with a barely discernable far shore. My favorite thing is to enter a new place, and the feeling of pulling away from the edge of civilization into the mysterious. The canoe putts into a squall that pelts with rain and gust for five minutes, abates, and soon on nearing a port the captain shouts, ‘Put on lifejackets!’ (to satisfy the officials). The sun breaks through over San Carlos, a swampy shoreline of ramshackle structures teetering hardly above the water on wooden stilts. Children swim and laugh at our approach to a pier with missing slats like an old man’s mouth, our rosy portal into Nicaragua.
I step mightily up under my pack and trundle the swaying dock to a weathered wood door signed ‘Immigration’ and wait until it cracks after a knock as kids splash and scream underfoot for coins through the slats. An equally cheerful agent beckons me forward, speedily stamps the passport, and I take a deep breath to brace and exit the far side of the hut.
Before me left and right stretches a cobblestone main street flanked with flimsy, busy shops, and I doubt there has been a distressed port in any century. I duck into a café that’s the front room of the cook’s home and toss down a parade of $.25 fruit drinks while paging the guidebook to make a plan. This is the way the nomad moves through daily storms of possibilities, and on learning that I know the present location only by name and not the month, the cook kindly suggests a river visit to a 17th century castle ruins built on the bank to thwart pirates.
An hour later, the ferry, a thinner, shorter motorized launch, departs with a few Latinos and slices the jungle toward the Caribbean. It occasionally drops and takes on fares like a usual taxi except the car pools are horses tied to trees at wide spots where trails meet the rio.
At sunset, the canoe swings into a tributary held tight by trees and vines and motors a few minutes to a timber dock to tie on. Passengers fore and aft climb out, and I eagerly follow for a glimpse of the jungle castle in green filtered light, don’t spot it and muck the muddy town square and up a sole road into the hills until the forest and dusk close behind. I stop in my tracks, pull a penlight, but am struck with a queer thought and rush down the hill.
The boat is gone! There is no castle for I’ve prematurely disembarked. Lost and curious, I snap a flash photo of a 6’ statue of a fish with a sharp nose pointing upward when the seeming one town truck batters past to the dock, and I follow to a 70’ steel hull elderly freighter with peeling gray side-paint and weighted under burden. Five young stevedores, grinning teens in oily rags, jump the tailgate, crank the truck radio, and dance while off-loading five cubic yards of 120lb. sacks of rice.
They look shorthanded, what the heck, so I leave the fish to help unload lighter items including 8’ spherical black plastic solar water heaters. The boys, like me at that age growing in spud-rich Idaho, are wary of a vocation that requires new clothes more than once a year, and are pleased to earn $8 per 12-hour day, 365 days a year. They take turns trying on my ankle weights until the captain of the ship advances and I hit him up for a ride. Batting nary an eyelash, he will ferry me downstream to El Castillo for $1.50. We momentarily push off with our feet for a slow ride down a moonlit stream as I recline on life preservers with hands clasped behind my head thanking my lucky stars. The unknown is the best pillow where I gaze at the stars between passing overhangs and smile that dreams do come true because in Idaho I read Bomba the Jungle Boy and here I am.
I must have dozed, for next the cap’t yells, ‘Get off!’ I edge to the boat side that bobs three feet from a darkened pier, and toss first my pack, then ankle weight with thumps, and leap…
Gazing up at the castle in the shadows of moonstruck trees, I nod sleepily on hands and knees, and rise to trudge up to it. Just think, it began by carefully putting two bricks together three centuries ago and now it’s a touching hump of a hundred weathered bricks. No town should be larger than a walk from a castle to a hotel on a wharf over jungle rapids next to a pool hall of hangers on. I get a key and candle for $6, and fall asleep listening to the water rush beneath.
People in jungle outposts rise at godforsaken hours, so I catch the 5am launch back upstream to the port of San Carlos. There, next to the dock, the mud slick bus lot steams under the sun. I grab a cucumber from an adjacent market stall to munch and think and, sure enough, thirty minutes later wipe my Chucks on the first step of an ancient orange school bus. It so crams with Nicaraguans and their stores that I’m pressed to the back above the rusting floor atop a dozen rice sacks. The driver cries ‘Vamos!’, mud flies and the heavenly ride slides out of town.
I look down and around at the passengers and out the windows with some concern that there’s not a fat person in Nicaragua, nor a real thief. A grain or two at a time, with each bump along the road, a rice sack with a rent of my throne leaks to tinkle to the floor. A beatific ten-year delights in scraping one fallen grain at a time and sucks a la grime, and grins shyly. The bright eyes in mine express wonderment, softness, pride and a touch that I don’t join the table. Other riders squeeze the aisle to take pinches off the floor and thrust into hungry mouths. Savages we have called them around the world because their manners differ from ours.
I study them. Travel magnifies human emotions. Every seat is stuffed, and thirty more stand the aisle in their sadness and wisdom- and I might mention eternal yak- until the temperature soars to 100F at our heads that sometimes bump the roof. They stand stoically and chat affably for hours until I must be grateful as the sun heats the metal so hot the air thins beneath until they cannot find wind to continue.
The yellow antique averages 20mph for ten hours over the worst main route I’ve journeyed, stops hundreds of times- often at hundred feet intervals- for passengers at slim towns or paths erupting from the jungle, plus two flat tires. A huge volume of adventure is filled within the span of a bus glass by taking a keen interest in everything that passes. This, and more windows, will shine a theater of jungles, towns and peoples struggling for existence with all they can give. It’s showtime, forget the mosquitoes!
I spread a map for the first time against the hot glass to discover where the bus is going. A country’s psyche is the roadmap thrown into an upright position, and I’m delighted to see the paths and lanes are earth. I shall become enamored over the next month with the notion that the poorer the place the higher the adventure.
The goal of this segment along the Costa Rica Pacific after a hard month in the southern Central American jungles is rest and recovery. Granted, anticipation is greater than realization, but no one has ever spoken but glowingly of the five hundred mile stretch of whitecaps pounding the sun-baked beaches.
I board a luxury bus on the Pan American highway with reclining seats, steward, drinks and movies to the Paso Canoas crossing from Panama to Pacific Costa Rica. I’ve been a collector of Latin borders for decades where passions amplify actions. They used to be exciting; now they’re tedious and I carry reading material. Here is another no-mans land of unsigned huts, mean lines, cheating money changers, locals passing unchecked ad libitum, pawing scamps, greasy window officious beggars, and all the while eyeing with pity passers-by in the opposite direction. I insert myself into a Spanish romance.
It gets better. I catch a night bus over a pothole road to Puerto Jimenez that spills into the Pacific, yet the driver brakes before the ocean and discharges me, the sole passenger, onto the sand. I crack the guidebook under palms and moonlight where there’s a murmur, ‘Don’t say a word.’ I twirl and behold a white man in shaggy shorts and bare feet, who advises, ‘The cheapest hostel is fifty yards down the beach, the restaurants are closed, the girls are expensive, you can’t stay with me- I’m not gay, and there’s no way out except the way you came tomorrow.’ He bows and totters down the beach singing, ‘I bid you a good night.’
The thatched hostel on shaky stakes is a blessing for $10 although the matron accuses my moonlight guide of being the local ex-pat town drunkard who fell down on the shore two decades ago. After a good night’s rest, my foot alarm tickles one little piggy, two little piggies… I throw off eye blinders and behold golden sunshine. Life really is easy in beach paradise: Everyone gets up with the gulls, works like a dog until noon, and then goes to the beach to surf. A seashore sign with a bleaching arrow to Corcovado Parque Nacional advertises, ‘The last original great tract of tropical forest of the Pacific Central America’, however an ex-pat updates that a $10 entry fee is payable at the local bank that opens in an hour which is thirty minutes after the last transportation leaves for the park. Meanwhile, the waves curl nicely with cork surfers popping right and left before my eyes as a revelation hits like a thunderclap- Why do I want to sit on the beach?…I’m not out of money.
The ticket is a myopic squint down the shore at a ferry abutting a crumbling concrete pier. I amble the sand, board, and watch children dive off pilings for tossed coins with no blood to attract sharks until the 30’ Catamaran fills with Ticos (Costa Ricans) and ex-pats, a 75HP Johnson motor roars, and we glide 45 minutes across Golfo Dulce into backwater Colfito.
Two days later, I step from a rattletrap bus into Manuel Antonio Parque Nacional salivating from passenger testimonials, billboards, and the text that claim this tropical beach reserve offers prolific wildlife along carefully marked trails. The accurate report is that you wade knee deep a 10-meter estuary of sharp volcanic rocks to pay $7 at a hut, and get lost among throngs of bewildered international visitors on bare trails through secondary-growth forest. The sole animal spotted was a monkey perched atop an outdoor shower peering with bared teeth at a splashing overheated lady. Who knows how a monkey thinks, I ponder twenty minutes later wading out the park.
Bus after bus, always hugging the coast, days later the beach road strikes Nicoya Gulf in advance to a peninsula by the same name that juts like a bumpy thumb into the azul sea. Logistics become strenuous in a Port Puntarenas café by paying for a taco just for a lighted table out of the night wind to don two pairs of glasses and spread my map to discern a dotted line that starts near my feet, crosses the ten-mile gulf, and ends at Orange Beach on the peninsula.
‘You’ve got just enough time to catch the last ferry!’ yells the cabbie outside slamming the door, careening streets, and five minutes later I tip his enthusiasm, slam the door, and dash to a lifting gangplank. The 100’ old ironsides bobs but a minute more, ropes are heaved, and then she chugs ably across an inlet so wide and dark that an hour later standing alone on the second story bow I can’t make out the lights of either shore. An hour beyond, the engines slacken before the darkened Orange Beach. Ropes are thrown and lashed, we dock, and soon a dozen vehicles creep off until the last- meaning the first aboard- stops ashore next to me and a 30’s Tico sticks his head out the pickup window and shouts perfect English, ‘I’m an apiarist!’, as if it explains everything.
‘I study bees also,’ I hastily add, and demonstrate under starlight how they alight and sting and I record the sensations in relation to environments and species. ‘Yes! Fascinating creatures!’ he agrees, and lets me in the cab. As the truck bumps the coast north, he explains his rare English. He won an apiary scholarship to Israel for the two reasons of having a hundred word English vocabulary and being from a farm. He learned beekeeping and English in Isreal for a year, two more years on the Canadian clover plains, and returned to Nicoya peninsula. ‘If I say so, I’m a renown apiarist,’ he excites lecturing on how to distinguish Africanized bees by behavior and sting, thus confirming my theory that hot weather increases honeybee aggression so they may be mistaken for killers.
Before sunrise, we squeeze between windbreak trees onto a farm lane that rises up a knoll to a farmhouse where my benefactor knocks on the door. The surprised farmer opens, hugs him, and helps us unload a refrigerator from the pickup as a gift. In reciprocation, the farmer gives me a floor in the room of an empty house that he has hand-built alongside his own for his estranged wife. Do not be dismayed; this is backcountry duplex. She moved into the completed gift house, a year later his house became their home, and tonight her house becomes my bare floor. I lay almost in tears to be in a place where a man may show his devotion to a woman by materials and toil until she gives in. Outside, the beekeeper peels into the night to tend other peninsular hives, and my head hardly hits the cement when there’s a knock at the window accompanied by sunshine.
‘Venga!’ the farmer yells. He’s riding a motorcycle to town, and as there’s no other transport perhaps I want a lift. Twenty bone jamming minutes later, I alight, buy my patron coffee, and stand in his cloud of exhaust in another nameless town gathering the strings of variables to solve my future.
Today is lucky! Only one bus strikes out to the Pan American highway that I board and learn by watching ex-pats enter and descend for hours that myriad surfer beaches ring the peninsula, but to reach them takes days. Later, in a bottleneck bus terminal at Santa Cruz, I gaze longingly across the waiting room at an earth mamma with rainbow eyes and pigtails snaking over a flute. She stops under my stare, walks over, and by request explains the ex-patriot scene in Costa Rica. Thousands of Americans flock the Pacific beaches for the good waves and vibes. The first thing she does each morning is go online to check the surf. The beach is 50 yards away. Some ex-pats work as waiters or in other services that tip, while others live off pensions or trusts. The key is that every 90 days in continuum the surfers, divers and retirees board a bus to Nicaragua, get the requisite passport exit stamp, and return a day later to the beach. Each ex-pat, in essence, pays $100 four times a year to live legally in Costa Rica, and earth momma is on her third passport. I blow a kiss, she toots a high note, and our buses depart in opposite directions through the wisdom of sampling lifestyles, and my Shangri-La is not bohemia but on the roll.
The bus angles up the country volcanic spine passing perfect active cones, and I hitch a ride with a Montana contractor putting the final touches on an arboreal Green Village. He makes the dream of living in a tree house come true. Occupancies are available. Ecologically designed high up in a rain forest, you too can live like an ape, ride a zip-line to meet your friends for evening cocktails, and wake up with the birds.
I pass toward the Caribbean at Los Chiles and stand on the steaming asphalt at once thumbing rides, haggling with a cabbie, and waiting for a bus to the next country. An angular Tico steers my elbow down a dirt lane to a swampy river, and asks what I think of Costa Rica.
I opine that the nation’s varied terrain- beaches, volcanoes, jungles, highlands- is one of the most scenic on the globe, and its citizens are among the most unsavory in Latin America for two reasons: the ex-pat invasion and the rise of foolish education. Of all Central American nations this is the most settled by gringos and, with a literacy rate of 96%, is by far the most educated. I’m a poor student sitting at the citizens’ feet for weeks for scraps of wisdom, but finding none have revised an original tenet as a fired schoolteacher that education will save the world to it must be a prudent education. There are exceptions, I finalize, but most of your spoiled countrymen have heads full of recorded facts to shake as dust rags.
He smiles broadly and points down to a canoe, ‘Get in, this is going to Nicaragua.’
I sat down yesterday in the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, having entered only because I heard a gringa step out saying so. I ordered a large fry for a buck and padded past the McInternet stations to a one acre, indoor, open-sky garden replete with flowers, birds and, of course, a seven-foot Ronald McDonald sitting on a wood bench in Antigua, Guatemala. He is a statue perhaps because the place is so stunning. I sat next to him and between fries got to thinking about individuality within modern travel stacked up to the old ways, my heyday in the 80s and 90s, when I ventured for 6 -18 months at a time and eventually combed the globe. In those pioneer days, I went streamline under a daypack, wore one set of clothes into the cold shower to launder, and was forever fidgety about what lay around the next bend, traveling as a lone wolf.
However, in the past six weeks of vagabonding Central America, I’ve tripped across two other such travelers, a Dutchman programmer who’s visited 100 countries, and a handicapped Asian gentleman on the Latin road for a year. They are pretty much the only first-world humans I’ve spoken with in six weeks, though I glanced up at hundreds more such as those stuffing their faces around Ronald. The new brand of tourist lugs heavy suitcases on wheels along a string of destinations recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebooks, making ant trails around the Earth. They enjoy repeated comforts and speak of the next cold beer and hot shower. I thought only the USA was becoming effeminized but have learned in the past month-and-half that it’s true for the entire first-world youth. They are passive, emote rather than think, travel in romantic pairs, and shoal when possible. They prefer socializing to reading, s-x to learning, emotion to thought, and speak in low lisping voices. The reasons for this shift in psyche over two decades, I think, are the consent to psychology and sensation. The bitter cures are objectivity and travel as in the old days.
Sam Humbert adds:
We walk through Piata Victoriei (..) Above McDonald’s is a spray of bullet holes; one bullet went through the window of the apartment of Adela’s friend Corina and punctured a paperback book. (..)
December 12, 2007 | Leave a Comment
CRISIS IN EDUCATION
My name is Bo Steven Keeley, and I have been a substitute teacher in
Blythe, Ca. daily throughout this school year. I have a Doctorate in
Science, Psych Tech Certificate, and taught professional sports for ten
years before teaching in Blythe. I prefer sub teaching, as I recently
informed the Palo Verde School District Assistant Superintendent who
dismissed me, because "A sub sees each of 900 high school students in
most of the rooms on campus each month, and this cycles. On the other
hand, regular teachers see only 160 students in one room all year long.
Subs have their ears to bottom board of education, so if you want to
know what's happening in your schools, ask a sub".
See full text of letter in our archive.
Victor Niederhoffer, the world squash king, and I, the national paddleball champ, first locked eyes at the 1973 St. Louis national racquetball tournament. He had jetted first class and I had ridden a bicycle from San Diego. He, in one black and a white sneaker, and I, in one red and a blue one, stepped back and then gave no quarter. The speculator and hobo over the next twenty-five years converged on a sports, business and intellectual relationship that flew to a head in the New Yorker's October 15, 2007 profile, The Blow-Up Artist: Can Victor Niederhoffer Survive Another Market Crisis?
I wrote Niederhoffer that this profile is a mistitled masterpiece, and he is the quintessential Manhattan financier and court speculator. He replied that I am a survivor in a desert hole and thanks for popping out. What happened in the quarter-century between our sneakers summit and the present abodes? From that St. Louis meeting, Victor, the son of a kindergarten teacher and New York cop, returned to New York to speculate and win hundreds of squash and racquetball tournaments. I bicycled to Michigan for a ten year pro racquetball career while wining five national paddleball titles. I taught both sports across the country, frequently hoboing freight trains or wheeling the Interstates in a '74 Chevy van with a 7' stuffed rabbit named Fillmore Hare riding shotgun. I scoured the nation between clinics for intellects to improve my own, and Fillmore waved them down coast-to-coast with an invisible fishline on one arm.
Through the 1970s and '80s, we often laid over in the Big Apple with Niederhoffer, where at each stroke of midnight we would pad the sidewalks in our old shoes to the Manhattan Squash Club to clash rackets in pure or hybrid games using racquetball, paddleball or squash or tennis rackets, bleach bottles, wads of $100 bills, or what have you, with miscellaneous balls. These were my hardest fought challenges, witnessed only by a drunk janitor over the decades who will testify that the matches were split even. As Victor prospered into the 1990s in commodities and merger acquisitions, I grew eccentric and branched around the globe. He climbed to the America's #1 speculator for three straight years, and I peak adventured in 100 countries with as many near deaths. He made or lost a million dollars daily, and I learned or forgot a thousand survival tips. 'Where does that put us?' Fillmore Hare seemed to smirk, and we were on the road again.
On one stopover, we co-hypothesized that a sports champion brings to business the vital skills of organization, strategy, drive, hunger for profit, and honesty for success. To test it, Vic hired me for diverse business ventures throughout the USA, Europe and Southeast Asia. I sought cancer cures, invested in a Hollywood movie, dethroned a spiritualist advisor to Wall Street when she couldn't bend my fork during a séance, and bid and bought thousands of items at myriad book, painting, and antique auctions. But my most thrilling project was as 'The Millionaire', to seed global capitalism, that ended in my getting stabbed in Venezuela. A golden summer ensued, the best of my life, after I limped back to the USA from that swing through Africa and South America. I recall landing one night bedraggled and penniless on Victor's marble doorstep deep in the Connecticut woods. The huge oak door creaked open, and he stood framed like a specter. 'I've been running from danger for eighteen months from hippos, rhinos, gators, a gorillas, thugs, lions, snowstorms, and rip tides in pursuit of intelligence, just like the good old days,' I rasped. He tapped my hat and invited, 'Stay as long as you like. I have work to do.'
Over the next five months of 1996, with a book in one hand and a paddle in the other and a computer screen before my eyes during timeouts, I regained balance. The manor library was featured as 'New England's best', and I knew every title from buying and stocking the shelves in earlier times. There I started writing an adventure autobiography that moved to a basement stairwell for privacy. The busy house sports facilities included outdoor paddleball, racquetball and tennis, volleyball, swimming pool, miles of hiking trails, plus an indoor squash court, small weight room, and a quarter-mile of hallways and stairs on three levels to jog.
There were extreme racquet fests. Niederhoffer is of the odd breed of player who looks always like he stumbles exactly into position, and continually appears to be losing until the match is over. Though he never played indoor paddleball, my favorite sport, he is by my historic tally the third ranked player, such is his overall prowess. It began at age three when his dad threw him with a racquet into a swimming pool and, as it was empty, Vic to this day is a poor swimmer but the four walls and sloped floor rolled the ball in the deep end back to him again and again.
Victor's fortes are mine: Strategy, concentration and execution. There is no room for mental error. Court sports are filled with cold-blooded brawlers and thinkers. The former rise to state champs but can't climb through the hour glass of concentration to a national level because they slip on mental errors. These are what Ben Franklin called errata, deviations from shot selection due to psyching out or fatigue. The cerebral player's plan of limiting mental errors is much about delayed gratification that the probability of shot selection will eventually win match point. It's a ball-buster to play Niederhoffer, who makes on average one mental error per day. He is the unchanging control and his opponent the variable, so the outcome of the experiment depends on how well you stack up. I concentrated so hard in some of these sports contests that afterward I might sink into a library cushion chair next to a wooden Indian pointing overhead and get lost in time.
My host was also exacting if unrelenting up in the trading room. That summer he never asked the series of interns — chipper Ivy League grads with Econ degrees and varsity letters — to match his intense trading hours, but some tried. Three fell pasted to the floor by their own efforts. As the ambulance driver grew more familiar with the route from house to hospital, Vic magnanimously picked up the tabs. One day, I buckled down to equal his circadian rhythm for one week of work and racquets, work and rackets, with sporadic catnaps. Three days later I attained an insight of impending psychosis, and backed off.
I lack Victor's passion for money as a measure of success, except as a means of getting what I want or where I want to go in the world. I get a sensory thrill out of numbers, juggling them, and first plunged into the technical analysis of stock movements during veterinary school where, for six month's an associate and I formed a partnership to advise a handful of investors, lectured to colleges on technical analysis, and made one memorable trip to the Big Board in New York about a year before meeting Niederhoffer.
Victor believes that over short periods — hours or days — rare but predictable patterns can be exploited. He reads printouts from a computer bank spanning our lives like classical music to anticipate a bag, or a crash to sell short. Some summer nights, with the only light burning in the trading room, I would get a fax in the basement as I typed about cannibals, or hear a whisper over my shoulder, 'Come upstairs for a trade.' We scaled three flights to the white trading room jammed with screens, phones and books where the instant he shouted 'Order!' I called it in. Seconds, minutes or hours later, if the great quantifier was right, I returned to the basement to write and he to the bathroom announcing, 'It's time to perform log rhythms until the next window of opportunity.'
There were profitable timeouts during the summer routine. Through Vic's good offices I met stellar people who contributed to my gathering data on intelligence. I lost in chess to US Open champ Art Bisguier who once beat Bobby Fischer, lost in checkers to seven-times world champ Tom Wiswell, lost at table tennis to US open champion Marty Reisman, lost a genetics argument to DNA co-discoverer Jim Watson, and was mauled in a philosophical chat with George Soros. At weekend gatherings called brainstorms in the upstairs music room, I frequently saturated early and descended my stairwell to type notes while the intellectuality raged above. Sometimes I heard a cry, 'Help, I'm lost!' and dashed to sketch a map back up to the party. That house was so enormous that the cook faxed Victor in the trading room to dinner and paged the two dogs, Ralph and Mia, by intercom. Two normal homes could fit into the attic, and a phone repairman proclaimed the circuit board to be as large as a city block's.
The summer stretched into a full year of paddles, parties and fleshing out (together with Niederhoffer) an award winning list of Low Life Indicators grounded on the belief that the wafts from the streets predict and sway the business decisions in skyscrapers. Economic pointers such as the length of discarded cigarette butts, price of prostitutes, freight trains length, billboard advertisements and classified ads won acclaim in Barron's, NY Times and CNN. Meanwhile, we continued to pass like ghosts in the darkened hallways, he to the piano, I to swim, or to the midnight courts for an hour of 'moth ball' in our mismatched shoes. One night he whispered fatefully, 'The biggest fish swim deepest.' That launched a fact finding trip that ten years later ushered in last month's New Yorker profile.
It was Fall, 1996 that I flew from JFK to the first of thirteen emerging markets including Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, Korea, Turkey and Thailand. During the next two months, I visited their national stock exchanges, brokers, banks, and government dignitaries, and then typed and overnighted reports on the Low Life Indicators and conventional indices for potential investments before flying on to the next country. The Turkey report raked millions daily for weeks, but my final stop in Thailand sadly precipitated Niederhoffer's 'Black Day' of October 27, 1997. Victor is reported to have lost his entire $130 million portfolio in the Thai stock market crash.
Ironically, a week before this 'first fall', I had returned from the world swing, and stepped over the same marble doorstep that I'd entered a year before, and walked 500 miles on backwoods trails to the Canadian border. No portent of the fall spurred me; it was just time to delve into nature. Two years later, after also hiking the lengths of the Florida swamps, Colorado Rockies, Baja beaches, and Death Valley, I learned about the Thai disaster, and by this time Vic had recovered financially and won back the press. We met next in 2003, when I circled the nation as the Racquetball & Paddleball Legends historian that paused in New York. I grabbed a cab to the manor, clambered weathered stairs to the trading room, and surprised Victor anew by walking by where he traded to sit at a computer ten feet away. 'Hi, Vic. How are you?' I emailed. 'Stay as long as you like,' he wrote back, 'I'm busy.'
In 2004, he founded Daily Speculations, dedicated to 'The scientific method, free markets, deflating ballyhoo, creating value, and laughter,' and graciously included my mounting adventures. I had paddled a hand-hewn canoe through the Amazon to a Brazilian outpost where I was medevac'ed in a malaria coma by military copter to Iquitos, Peru.
On recovering through the rainy season, I returned to the USA and bought ten desert acres at the trisection of California, Arizona and Mexico. Three years ago, I dug a hole and now I live beneath the scorching heat. My burrow is 10'x10'x10' into which I slid a camper shell and covered it with dirt. Ten steps down, the air cools forty degrees until the last, where I step over a sidewinder named Sir, to enter the lair. I sit in a captain's chair muttering incantations to Captain Nemo before a laptop computer juiced by topside solar panels, and surrounded by sagging shelves of the half-ton autobiography begun ten years ago in Connecticut. I look up and view my tunnel neighbors peering through a screen wall of 1/4'' mesh. I see lizards, snakes, tarantulas, mice, toads, and a Trader Rat named BandAid whose mother a year ago swapped my reading glasses for her newborn pup that I trained to retrieve gold coins in nearby ghost towns. I leave the animals and digs on monthly supply runs to Blythe, California, an hour and half away.
In September '07, I read in the biweekly rag that the high school needed substitute teachers, and moseyed into the district office to be hired on sight. What a shock, going from rodent to teacher! I got flush and took a motel room where each morning I ride a recumbent bicycle to the classrooms to enrich the kids with studies from beyond. The motel offers an exterminator Labrador dog named Jan who goes room to room snatching roaches and when stuffed plops on my bed to watch Animal Planet. A few weeks ago, I posted 'Do not spray roaches' on my door, only to awaken the next morning and find someone had written, 'Call Stanley at the New Yorker'.
A mystery sprang. Few in this oasis know of New York, much less the publication, and the Hindu manager speaks hardly a lick of English and could say no more, so I searched the Internet to determine that the New Yorker was doing a profile on my old shoe-mate Vic Niederhoffer. I sent out a shot in the dark email, 'Who wants another wonderful quote on you?' Vic answered, "The New Yorker wishes to know what insect drove you blind before the '96 Thai visit." He put me in touch with the fact checker, Scott Stanton, who called me during a snack break when I was surrounded by screaming school kids. 'It was a plant, not an insect, and that wasn't why the Niederhoffer empire collapsed,' I hollered. The fact finder was buoyant at having tracked down a man who lives in a hole two miles from the center target of the second largest bombing range in the world willing to take partial credit for the Blow-up Artist's first detonation. 'I was 20-20 vision by the time I hit Bangkok and stand by my recommendation, despite the outcome. That Thailand visit was the best bet as a mid-nineties emerging market.'
Staton declared that Niederhoffer had just suffered a second detonation, and hung up. On October 15, 2007, the New Yorker published 'The Blow-Up Artist', a seven-page profile by John Cassidy that's available online. I don't read such, but when the National Paddleball Newsletter with a circulation of seventy-five asked me to write a follow-up about the speculator I had once claimed was the match of the hobo on court, I acquiesced. I was gratified to read of Niederhoffer's personal evolution in the four years since we met, and felt the honest story evoked Victor's eccentricities and individuality. It included, 'Toward the end of 1996, another profitable year for him, Niederhoffer decided that he wanted to invest in Southeast Asia, which was widely seen as a growing market. He dispatched an old friend, Steven (Bo) Keely, to the region. Keely, a veterinarian who spent six months of the year living in the California desert without a telephone or electric power, had trekked in dozens of countries. On one trip, while paddling down the Amazon, he had contracted malaria, briefly gone blind, and been comatose for a week. Keely believed that assessing a developing country's economic prospects involved not only meeting with the C.E.O.s of leading companies but studying the lengths of discarded cigarettes-the theory being that the wealthier people are, the longer their butts-and the state of the brothels. After a couple of months in Asia, he reported to Niederhoffer that the brothels in Bangkok had recently become much cleaner and safer, and that Thailand was an excellent place to invest. During the previous decade, the Thai economy had grown at an annual rate of almost ten per cent; its interest rates were among the lowest of any country in the region; and its stocks were cheap because they had fallen sharply earlier in the year.'
I continued to read that Niederhoffer had managed to retain some of his assets after his collapse. He mortgaged the Connecticut house, sold a collection of trophy and presentation silver and some of the rare books that I had stocked which enabled him to pay off his creditors. He reconsidered his investment approach and retooled his pattern-recognition software, and six months later started trading again. He shone, and in 2002 initiated Matador, an offshore hedge fund. In April, 2006, he attended a dinner at the St. Regis Hotel, where the hedge-fund industry awarded him the top manager in the commodity-fund category. However, then the second fall. In September, 2007, Niederhoffer was forced to close his flagship, Matador, when many contingencies converged to produce an unanticipated volatility that the company wasn't prepared for. Victor once said, 'America forgives you once, but not twice.' It was like making two mental errors in a lifetime, and now we shall see the steel he's made of. My story is of our lives, and everyone's, of seeking wealth by personal definition while respecting others' choices. Now we walk divergent paths on opposite sides of the country with parallel minds and the same damn shoes.
November 12, 2007 | 3 Comments
CRISIS IN EDUCATION
My name is Bo Steven Keeley, and I have been a substitute teacher in Blythe, Ca. daily throughout this school year. I have a Doctorate in Science, Psych Tech Certificate, and taught professional sports for ten years before teaching in Blythe. I prefer sub teaching, as I recently informed the Palo Verde School District Assistant Superintendent who dismissed me, because "A sub sees each of 900 high school students in most of the rooms on campus each month, and this cycles. On the other hand, regular teachers see only 160 students in one room all year long. Subs have their ears to bottom board of education, so if you want to know what's happening in your schools, ask a sub".
On Tuesday, November 13, 2007 I was assigned to sub middle school boys' Physical Education (P.E.). The day was a dangerous shambles in the lockeroom and on the playing field. I was greeted at the start of each class with screams of, "Substitute! Yeah!" Lockers slammed like cymbals to the refrain, "No P.E.! No P.E.!" I asked five boys independently for an explanation, and they replied, "We don't like P.E. We're going to get rid of it!"
Three days earlier, over at the high school, the Chemistry teacher was "driven out" and resigned. A week prior, the Spanish teacher went to the principal and was let out of his contract. The kids in their classes gleefully told me, "We drove them out because we didn't like them!"
Back at the middle school, the uprising fueled throughout the day. Some boys and I were pinned by rocks in the lockerroom for 30 seconds. The scene on the playing field was 35 kids run amok with no means to identify them, and no radio to call backup. They hurled rocks and shoes, cursed, slugged and tackled each other. A boy jumped in my face repeatedly and waved his hands at my nose. An autistic kid cried, "Make them stop calling me a girl or I'll tell my mother!" Some kids begged to leave the field because it was "too wild", a and more wandered the canal to escape.
I got slammed in the head by a soccer ball. When the goal posts came down I hiked 100 yards to the other boys' P.E. teacher who had his hands filled on the basketball court. "Coach," one of his kids yelled, "Those are your boys on the goalposts too," and he radioed security. Five minutes later, the vice-principal marched out and sat the boys down to deliver an impassioned speech. She left, and pandemonium returned. Down with the goal posts again, and the principal came out shaking a stern finger. He left, and the revolt resumed.
At last bell, I trudged to the lockeroom to be intercepted by the vice-principal apologizing for the "school's toughest classes". I said, "No problem, but it doesn"t have to be this way. You can do what high school Phys. Ed. did to turn your crew into a drill team overnight. There are three easy steps: Give each teacher a radio, an aide, and support on referrals." She implored me to write up the day's vicissitudes with suggestions so she "can get those things". I happily wrote a 4-page report.
The next day, November 14, I was pulled from subbing for the first time in my life. It upset me knowing there were teacher absences that day and I was the most requested sub. I went to my boss, the District assistant superintendent, and asked why. He replied, "It wasn't my volition to remove you." I pressed for an explanation. "I read your report last night about yesterdays P.E.". "Yes," I said, "You were supposed to." "I also read your Hotmail last night about it." I was stunned. After school, I had driven to Palo Verde Community College and written one paragraph about the day's work, and Emailed it to my parents, brother who's a teacher, and other educators and writers I know across America, but to no one in this community.
Then the assistant superintend asserted, "I"ve read all your Hotmails for two weeks. You have a right to the freedom of speech, but I can't allow you to eviscerate us." I asked, "If there was concern then why didn"t you contact me two weeks ago?" He said, "I"ve been busy." These were private Hotmails, always factual and generally uplifting, sent only to selected people on my contact list. I stated, "I"m sorry you read them, but I stand by everything I wrote," He retorted that he'd Email me that day about my fate. The question arises, how did the Emails get to the District office? I have no idea.
The following day at 3:30pm I received his Email inviting me to meet on Monday, November 19 at the District office. I went. He stated, "Last night the superintendent and I read your Hotmails. The superintendent's concern is that you are negative to the students." I responded that I was the most requested sub by the teachers, and the students like me even better. He continued, ""My concern is the Emails." I restated the privacy of Hotmail and daily need for subs, and asked, "What's my future?" He answered, "I have concerns." I asked for the concerns in writing. He answered, "I"m not required to give it."
Four days later, on Friday, November 23, I returned to middle school to the vice-principal to obtain a copy of my 4-page report. She cradled a boy's head in her hands like Mother Teresa. His tiny face was trembled, drained of blood, with tearing eyes. He repeated over and over, "P.E. to office, P.E. to office" until the office called his parents. Then she pointed to the radio that I was to have had on the field ten days earlier, and informed, "It"s dead- The battery still hasn't arrived." She cordially provided a copy of the report, and I walked straight over to the high school to gather teacher letters of recommendation, and spoke with the Dean of Students. He stressed the daily need for subs since my dismissal, and that the regular teachers disliked covering classes for me during their free periods because it takes from their normal duties.
There's been a continual cry for substitutes at the schools in the ensuing two weeks to date, and I'm in need of work. I hadn't missed a day prior to November 13, nor worked a day since. Two teachers have requested me to fill in their long term pre-planned absences that weren't honored by the District. This is my sole means of income. I lost money during November because I got canned on the 13th, and had paid a monthly motel tab on the 7th. Basically, I'm washed up as a teacher in Blythe during its biggest educational crisis in history.
My two questions for the School Board are: 1) Exactly why was I dismissed as a substitute when subs are direly needed? 2) Exactly how did the District read "All your Emails in the past two weeks?" Seen no sub pay raise in a decade, and why the District can't attract and hold subs?
It's too easy to say that the middle school boys' P.E. class "got rid of " me as, in fact, earlier at the high school the students forced out the Chem and Spanish teachers. The pupils in these latter instances broadcast their successful strategy of "giving the teachers hard times until they quit", and purposely flunking to send the teachers begging. However, in my fiasco the kids didn't dislike the P.E. teachers, but hate P.E. class. I was not canned by the kids, but by the District.
I still like the kids, even the one who almost blinded me with a soccer ball; he made a mistake and tomorrow is another day. Blythe students are the most remarkable youngsters I've encountered in traveling to 96 countries for the simple reason that nowhere else do they treat me warmly as a human being.
So why are the kids a handful? From the teaching trenches of the Blythe public school system, my theory is that education is in a state of three year flux. For the first time in history, the town's young citizens are being held accountable for their performances via exit exams. During the next three years, I believe the students will remain disenchanted and rebellious. It's their nurture to take it out on the nearest object, their teachers. I can tell you that the one thing the District does well is recruit teachers. I've observed educators across the nation and the best are here at Blythe. These dynamic teachers within the powder keg student body, forceful administration and ivory tower District during state intervention, made each teaching day for me a revelation. I looked forward to school each morning, and more than once offered to sub during my free periods for free, or to go to any school where there was a jam, as on November 13 at middle school Physical Education.
I love education, and to understand it in this town formed a simplified model, as follows. The teachers are one point of a triangle, the principal and District are the other two points. The students are within the triangle, and outside it are the parents. These parties react dynamically, it may surprise you, from my viewpoint. The teachers in general don't trust the new high school principal because, "He"s bringing city school to a small town." The teachers think less of the District, and will elaborate if you sit with them. The principal (whom I honor) sides with the District, according to his faculty. What about the students? They dislike the principal for raising the bar, but an October student petition to oust him didn't go far. The majority of kids view school as social, badger the first year teachers mercilessly, and sit happy as larks mass flunking classes to get their way knowing they can make up classes in air conditioned summer school. From speaking with hundreds of high school students and half their teachers, I estimate that 35% of the school is flunking, but the statistic should be verified by the District. The parents, for the most part, apparently don't know the score which is the grounds for this model.
I'm not familiar with the School Board"s role in the model, which is another reason for this letter. It was supposed to have been my speech to the Board on December 4. You may ask, "Why didn"t you deliver the speech?" The reason is that on November 19, a week after being let go, the District office told me, "You have to get on the agenda before November 26 to address the Board." I returned before that date and was told, "You aren't allowed on the agenda, but have three minutes during the public session." So I gave up on the District and transcribed the speech into this Letter to the Editor.
Here is the crux of our town's educational crisis that no one seems to address. For the first time in history, Blythe students are being held accountable for their performance via exit exams. It dawns on the pupils that if they don't learn, they don't earn the diploma. That's only the byline of the great news story!
The headline is that Blythe public schools face grand days ahead in about three years. This is the transition for the incumbent students who have come up through the old school system of no accountability to be replaced by the younger students presently held accountable in grammar and middle school. Soon there will be a bright student workforce making correct change at the town businesses who shall graduate to universities. Call this turnaround compulsory education and expect the result: Palo Verde Schools Shine!
Meanwhile, there is a fast evolving Home School movement in Blythe, and I've observed the serious group at the library working quietly at task and expanding their horizons. The Blythe public schools, I feel, are experiencing growing pains within a beautiful campus, new faculty and principal, and state intervention, but with a rosy future once the present troubles are behind us.
In the dark heart of education there is a glow. Blythe, Ca. high school may have the highest rate of flunkers in the nation, so it makes sense that a novel approach could spark life into the monster that employs me as a substitute.
The bad news is that our school is under acute intervention by California with dreary testing, whip-cracking coaches, a morass of protocol, 20% new faculty, and 'suits' popping into my rooms to check the lessons on the blackboard.
'The students are happy as larks to flunk,' says the history teacher. 'My first period class cheered themselves silly when I told them 75% were getting F's,' claims the science teacher. Yesterday the Spanish teacher resigned because 95% of his class had F's. After having subbed all 900 students in nearly every room since school opened in September '07, I estimate that 50% of them will fail and don't care.
Besides hiring the new teachers, California handpicked an ex-career army sergeant with two tours of Vietnam as the ramrod whom the staff calls 'the invisible principal' for his policy of fierce orders from behind a closed door. I had heard but never saw him until two weeks into the term. On that day in English at last bell the kids filed out shrieking, 'To the river to drink!' There was a BANG and the room slowly filled with smoke. Advancing slowly from the door, the grey cloud headed at me kitty-corner at the teacher's desk. I squinted for the source counting 'one alligator, two alligator' until the cloud was at my nose, and then looked left at the window and right at the phone. Like the sinking ship's captain - surely they will answer the distress call- I picked up the phone and dialed the office emergency number. After eight rings, I hung up still holding my breath and redialed as fire alarms began to wail. A chalky dust settled on my head and clothes as I held my breath_ hoping. The door burst open and a thick figure hung in the frame like a gorilla- the invisible principal!
He raced in to open the windows, and as the smoke escaped I exhaled holding the receiver, 'No one answered!' He cut me short with, 'I had to clear the campus.' We discovered that a student had discharged the fire extinguisher.
My school adventures have heightened since that day as the student body backslides in performance and behavior. I walk cold into nearly every class jammed with defiant students who refuse to work and instead talk, toss trash, or sleep all day. The administration response is paramilitary to some success, but I doubt that our kids will surpass their worst statewide STAR scores, and so last year's remodeled doors will shut. This is a desert oasis from which, at worst scenario, the student body will be bussed 150 miles to the nearest school in Indio, Ca.
But today a spark that provides a theory to revolutionize the nation's schools that suffer as mine does occurred in the agriculture classroom squeezed between the ROTC building and an alfalfa pasture. At day's end, I wrote the Sub's Report to the absent teacher. 'Your six classes are the best I've ever subbed. 120 students entered over the day, sat quietly, took out their texts, pencils and papers, and without direction or cheating did the assignment. More work got done in these six periods than in the rest of the school all day. I am stunned, perplexed, and congratulations.'
The Ag teacher was absent because he is driving 1300 miles to pick up 30 sheep, 30 goats, 30 cows and don't forget the pigs. In three days he returns with them to their new student governors to meet, raise and sell for slaughter. A few will escape the death bullet to become high priced pets. I also discovered from a student aide minutes after last bell that the accounting per entrepreneur breaks down as follows.
Each student invests $200 in his animal, and may secure a loan from a local caring bank. This includes the price of the two month old animal, plus shots, and insurance should it die before the county fair. Then there is a further investment of $300 for five month's feed, and the daily care of watering, feeding, walking and grooming. The average selling price at the live auction is $1000 per animal for a cool return of $500 per pupil, plus a good class grade if the daily text work is completed. 'The best pig at the L.A. county fair brings $3/lb, but the worst pig at our county fair brings $5/lb.,' the aide explained adding, 'This community gets behind working students.'
They will work for grades and for pay in all classes. The students are capitalists!
I have been batting the ball around the paddleball court and came up with a tennis training tip for youngsters. Run a string at mid-racquetball court from side wall to side wall and tape it at the height of a tennis net. Supply the children with any sort of racquets and ball, and use tennis rules, except there are no out-of-bounds lines. The walls and ceiling are part of the field, and points are won only on misses. I suppose this same court could be used as a solo adult drilling tool where the player strikes the ball over the net and the 'opponent', the far wall, returns the ball back over the net. Note that the string may have to re relocated for this latter match.
Here are three reasons from Blythe, California to be thankful for where you live.
A month ago I tapped my brake as a semi-truck with double-trailers of gravel from the local mine tailgated me at 55 mph. He waited five minutes to retaliate and ran me off the road in front of the in-session middle school. I took the license number to the police station where there was no one on duty, so I chased down a patrol car and made the report. Today I see that the old speed limit sign of 45 mph is replaced by a brand new one of 55 mph at the scene of the tailgate.
A week ago, I toddled with a probable kidney stone to doctor "A" for x-rays. I was rescheduled as an 'understanding client' for the next day, but there the doctor arrived three hours late from a dentist appointment and asked me to return tomorrow. I did and was startled to get hooked with twelve leads to an EKG. The switch flicked, the paper clattered and the nurse screamed, 'Doctor, it's going all over the place!' Doc yelled, 'I'll take care of it!' and sent me to a doctor B who does radiographs. There the receptionist ordered me to return the following morning, and at that hour I sat in a waiting room jammed with the indigent, handicapped, elderly and likely illegal aliens that dwindled through two showings of Jim Carey's 'Dumb and Dumber' until I sat alone.
The mop lady entered like a caricature to swab around my shoes, and ask, 'Where's the x-rays?' She registered shock and promised to take care of it 'Now', but scowled when I didn't lift my feet. Doctor B announced somewhere, 'I'm going for a coffee', entered and asked who I was. 'This is your kidney stone appointment,' replied the mop lady. He located my appointment slip that had fallen into a crack and escorted me to radiograph. In five minutes he produced, 'The only abdominal x-ray in history with the zipper behind the coccyx!' and seemed not to want to give it up.
I explained that I'd rigged my shorts with rope suspenders and backwards to relieve the pain, grabbed the film and hobbled from him yelling, 'You promised no zipper!'
The waiting room back at doc A's brimmed with sick, angry people as I raised the film like a scepter to cut to the front desk. The receptionist screamed, 'You were supposed to be back yesterday!' I told what had happened. 'The next appointment is in two weeks!', so I spun and fled the shouting crowd, 'Hey, Hey!' out the door not knowing if they cheered for or against me.
I slept well last night as always on a picnic table north of town near the mine and awoke this morning with two honeybees at my jugular and lay there thinking it's time to move. I drove and found an abandoned sofa away from blossoming Ironwoods on a canal as wide and deep as a river. I jumped in to cool off, and now sit in the college library romancing the stone.
The college V.P. a beefy ex-sheriff, claps me on the back as I scan the Internet for 'calculi cures' for recently diagnosing a foreign body in his gangrenous forearm that the local hospital had missed. Now the V.P. pulls from his pocket a tiny framed-behind-glass two-inch palm frond that proved the culprit. The hospital after surgery made him stay for five days alone as the local physicians are boycotting it with their patients for graft and corruption. 'I've told everyone in the college about you,' cries the V.P., 'So expect a rush!'
My getaway car is in the parking lot with one pack ready to hike the Continental Divide Trail and another to bus via Mexico to Central America. But the Internet just shut down. By the time you read this I should be far away from here.
Alba, spry at 70, was reborn ten years ago on settling in Sand Valley. All her previous life she aspired to be a nun. As a child, she begged at the nunnery steps and was told to scoot to school. After college with a business degree a Sister ordered her to ramrod the family million-dollar hardware chain. Twenty years later as a San Francisco CPA, the door was shut again in her face with a scolding to care for her aging mother. Some years later, after that death, the nuns conspired to update Alba that she was too old to convert and she ultimately repented, 'Go to hell!' She sold everything, gave away the hardware empire, stepped into a battered blue van that today full of dog food rests on blocks on her forty acres ten miles east of my Sand Valley Rancho, and drove south until she broke down.
I spent 24 hours yesterday with Alba and am peeling the dust, sleep and three brands of pet food from my eyes. I stopped by her remote plot that morn to check her health and to see if the three trailers withstood a recent wind: a white one for fourteen dogs, brown one for as many cats, and her small camper. A 1' thermometer face said only 100-degrees but strangely the dogs rose not to greet me as Alba slurred French in the cat trailer. She heard my door slam and emerged beaming in a soiled blue dress, black sweatshirt, and orange stocking cap.
'How are you?' she asked, hinting trouble.
'Fine, and you?'
'I ran out of food and water two days ago and have been sucking ketchup to gather strength for the walk (eight miles) to the highway to hitch to town.' I offered her pudding and Gatorade but she snuffed, 'I don't eat until the puppies do.' At this, seven pups somersaulted from the trailer at us, and as quickly retreated out the sun.
She gestured with gnarled hands to a silver 100-gallon container. 'There's one inch of rusty water in the bottom but I can't open the faucet.' I took her steel cane, popped the rubber cap and used the open end as a pry lever to turn the faucet. Reddish water gushed into a pail now with fourteen lapping dogs about as Alba scooped a pan for the cats, and finally sipped the last drops.
She licked her lips, 'You just gave me a great idea! Two months ago I walked to town for supplies and two punks who watch seniors collect and cash their monthly checks rode up on bicycles. They cut my purse with a knife and groped me for more. I battered them with my cane until they screamed for mercy. 'Ha!' Next time I'll pop the rubber cap and really give them the business.'
'Good,' I cheered. 'I stopped by two months ago. Did you find the dead cat?' (I found it mauled by some creature.) Alba wagged her head, so I opened a drawer to an outdoor desk where it lay mummified.
'I wondered where Magdalene went.' We placed it into an underground pantry converted to a mausoleum.
'I'm going to town now,' I offered. 'Hop in.' She sat next to me and didn't look back.
An hour of hot dirt later we swung into the Blythe, Ca. post office where a half-dozen older citizens peered from their knees into PO boxes for the postmaster to push their checks at 9am on this first mail day of the month. Alba joined them and momentarily on pulling hers, I bid, 'Let's solve the supply problem once and for all. We'll rent a U-haul!'
'I can't see over the steering wheel because I've shrunk an inch a year for as long as I remember,' she smiled magically.
'I'll drive,' I agreed.
Down the road, the U-haul owner spotted Alba and whispered to the receptionist, '30% off,' so off we drove in a truck with a 20' box to Albertson's. The manager saw her and ordered an oversized shopping cart filled with Friskies Cat Food, and insisted, 'Keep the cart to wheel the kittens around.' Into the box, and then we stopped at a doctor's office where Bones asked Alba about a painful rib. 'A week ago,' she described, 'I heard a desert castanet, if you know what I mean.' 'I can't say I do,' admitted Doc. 'A rattlesnake that didn't like my Spanish. I spoke and it rattled; I quit and it ceased. So I rubbed garlic on my shoes and got a shovel and said softly, 'Come here, bitch'_ It rattled_ I talked Spanish and followed the clicks to a can but it smelled my garlic and squirted out. I brought that shovel down and cut off its tail but the handle jammed my rib so hard I could hardly lift the shovel again to chop off it's head!'
'Alba,' the Doc responded. 'You worry me. In fact, most of my patients have high blood pressure but yours is 110/70_ How do you do it?' She advised, 'I take one raw egg in ten drops of wine daily, and my animals eat first!'
The doc prescribed a painkiller for bruised ribs and soon we curbed at the Kitchen, a local soup line, where Alba began to act goofy on the pills. Nonetheless, the cook heaped more stew onto her plate than mine that she wouldn't eat. We drove on to Smart-and-Final where a stock boy reverently bowed behind a long cart and loaded 500-lbs. of Good Day dog food into the truck. Next stop, the Oasis Water Store, where a lackey with a wire brush shined nine brass faucets until they reflected sunshine, screwed them into nine 100-gallon used containers ($10 each), and piled them all into the U-haul box. We picked up a 50' hose at Ace Hardware, and continued along the town outskirt to Miller Park to fill up for two hours with free water.
I guess the trouble began about sunset as the laden truck turned at 10mph onto the last ten mile stretch to her compound, and slowed. Alba likes to talk but I don't. 'Bo,' she pleaded from the passenger side. 'I'm hungry, my rib hurts, the painkiller makes me odd, I didn't sleep a wink for the animals, and the sunset is blinding me.'
'Adjust,' I chided for I too had put in a hard day on little sleep and food. She rambled and I brooded over the washboard for an hour till the final turn and the truck was surrounded by barking mutts. We parked and they dashed to the box low corner that trickled water. 'Alba!' I shouted. 'We've sprung a leak…Bring the hose!' Instead, she stumbled over every little thing in the path to grope about her tiny camper for a flashlight. l sprang to the rear bumper, flung open the box and siphoned precious water from a dented container out 50' into pails, pots and cups.
The dog food bags lay on the floor sodden as I lifted the first to the bumper and the bottom blew and forty pounds of kibble bounced to the ground in a ten-foot radius. Alba approached with a flashlight to the circle of wolfing dogs and yelled, 'It doesn't grow on trees!'
'It wouldn't have burst if you'd stayed!'
'Don't talk to your neighbor that way!'
We threw dog food at each other to the great delight of everyone.
Some time later, the moon rose yellow over a U-haul truck on a remote toe of the Sonora speckled with dog food and puddles. We munched an early breakfast and barked about how long distance makes good neighbors. At sunrise I returned the truck to town leaving Alba self-contained with her light for a long, long time.
Out of the blue as I plant cactus in my front yard sounds a rumble and I gaze overhead at a 155-Howitzer. The 15-meter cannon, generally towed behind an Army truck, dangles on a thin cable under the green belly of a whack-a-whack Sea Stallion helicopter. It lumbers south above a cyclone of red dust and I drop the shovel to grab binoculars and ascend my library van to a crow's nest. I view the copter touch down the Howitzer a kilometer away and release the cable. My ten-acre plot in Sand Valley, California lays two kilometers off the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range and the military apparently has misjudged that distance. I descend the spiral stair into jogging shoes and take a camera.
While trotting I zero in on a ten-story dust cloud blown up by the blades. The copter ascends above it sans cannon, banks hard north over the Rancho and vanishes through the ringing valley hills. Soon a second chopper approaches and lowers a 10-meter coffin-like tin of ostensible shells, and lifts off as I peek around a barrel cactus with dust settling over a city block.
The long cannon perches on wheels next to a shallow dry wash where a Marine sentinel in camouflage looks the other way. In gym shorts with black duct tape on my nose as a sunshade, I quietly pad to 20-meters behind him and quietly ask, 'Aren't you a bit off range?'
He whirls, recovers a youthful grin and stutters, 'Wellla_.'
'It's okay. I won't tell.'
'Sir_' he insists.
'Really,' I raise a palm. 'Just don't point at my house.'
'Sir, clear out for that incoming copter!'
My turn to whirl as a black speck speedily enlarges to another Sea Stallion CH-53E. I scamper out the zone but, maybe to raise a scare, the pilot hovers over my head and descends. I jump from under the belly not a second too soon to avoid a hell of a headache. Pelted by clods, unable to stand, I go to one knee pressing my hat to my head like MASH. I squint through the brown swirl at the set copter ten steps away but turn as inch rocks zing at my face and the duct tape flies off at 40mph. The 15-meter blades whine to a standstill, dust falls heavily, and ten soldiers in camouflage file out the craft ignoring me and march with automatic weapons in the direction of the Howitzer toward the range. Maybe, I think, they deem me undercover.
I stand and brush off recalling the soldier's prayer that discretion is the better part of valor, and hike away from the barrel around Ironwoods to the Rancho. Scaling the spiral stair to my crow's nest, I peer through a spyglass to reckon this afternoon's field exercise. The Gunnery Range now bursts at the main target three miles to the south: 1000-lb. bombs rock the earth, rockets flare from jet noses, bullets snap from smaller choppers. Closer by, the ten Marines walk the wash in the direction of the barrel to the supposed shelling on the range as the sole sentry guards the Howitzer. The squad disappears into the wash, and in an hour a copter returns to pick up the cannon, and another lifts the ammo. They swing over the Rancho and disappear through the hills.
It's the first time since moving to Sand Valley eight years ago that I've seen a cannon roped from a helicopter to earth, and I judge the Marines just plum missed the coordinates to land near my Rancho. No shots are fired but it beats watching cacti grow.
A new hiking strategy along the 1000-mile rough finger of land called Baja that has thwarted me for many years was mastered in February '07. The method was a series of two to four-day hikes for one month on old trails, each time emerging to the trans-peninsular highway to hitch or bus to the next walk. My pack weighed 30lb. loaded with a sleeping bag, biv sack, food, water, no stove, change of socks, and map.
During a dozen hikes to remote missions, oases, mountaintops, and the seas, I saw no other hikers and cleaned up weekly at motels if needed. The altitude ranged from beach through deserts to 6000' mountains with temperatures of 35-90 degrees F, from the U.S. and Mexican border south to the tip before I pulled out at mid-peninsula in early March due to rattlesnakes.
Baja Mexico's most rugged area is the south cape where rears the Sierra de Laguna mountains I have viewed from afar for many years. Three days ago, I started afoot up them from the Pacific Ocean.
The road to my invented trailhead, such as it was, was taken by thumb. I walked an hour before the first battered pickup approached and stopped. I was surprised to land in a rolling grocery store with food crates and the grocer making a weekly round to the mountain ranchos. In short supply myself, I bought five bucks worth of stores until the 35 lb. pack brimmed and I ultimately alighted at last call in Rancho La Aguaje. Ahead, across a stream, rose a mule track into the Sierras.
The track wound steeply for hours through a succession of canyons and cross-streams. Initially, every hour at these crossings, sat little rancho of thatched roofs and dirt floors with small numbers of cows, sheep, and goats hung with clanging bells to locate them, plus the chatter of chickens, dogs and children who emerged to see the walking gringo. They threw me oranges from trees and provided water.
There are a couple ways to take the Sierras. You can attack them with a foreknowledge of what's ahead and gut the rises at speed to reach temporary crests and rest on the descents. Or, you can acquiesce to these powerful mountains and trudge with head bowed like a burro, which is better if you don't know how far the zenith is. This was my case. The route wound steeply up and around many peaks with cascading waters in a strange blend of desert, subtropical and then alpine flora. It was sunny, blue sky and 80 degrees with a trail of sweat on my heels.
The top of the world in southern Baja is a dry sub-tropical meadow where the switch from up to down, curiously today, was marked by a 5'' thick line across the road. It was made only hours before by the biggest diamondback rattlesnake that I had missed. I sat on my pack to study it, and abruptly a man in rags with a long handle axe rushed at me with purpose. There was no escape from this quick, barefoot man and understanding he was a simple rancher protecting his property, I burst in Spanish, 'I walk the mountains alone.' He leaned the axe against his side and extended an empty right hand that I shook with relief. After an explanation of my purpose he declared, "You must meet Pedro, the father of these Sierras, who was born here, his father too, and his grandfather." The farmer threw the axe under an organ-pipe cactus and we started afoot down for a kilometer to Rancho Cieneguita that was the only one on my map atop the mountain.
"Pedro!" shouted my escort at a dirt entry. Two kids came running out a stick house but retreated to a wrecked car to peek wide-eyed through the window at the gringo with a purple windbreaker and orange backpack. Now the dogs and chickens parted for Pedro, a jet-black Indian with shaggy hair and wiry body, who strode up and shook my hand with an index finger arthritically crooked into a trigger.
Soon we hunkered with cups of steaming coffee in the front yard that served as our earth blackboard. With a stick I scratched the earlier snake track and Pedro whistled it was 6-to-7 feet long. Each adult then drew various signs but mine of a sidewinder's truncated crawl took the prize of open mouths that a snake could move sideways to its eyes and 'fly off' the ground.
Pedro was born on this rancho 88 years ago, his son at his side was born here, his two sons at his side the same, and their two sons. The latter two kids eventually left the car to come sit by me with busy hands working as erasers after each person drew in the dirt. No one could read or write but each knew the Sierras well and the family offered to guide me to a cave of petroglyphs by the first Indians centuries ago. The described cavern was 10-feet tall and the drawings about 3-feet high. This was a rare opportunity that tourists pay 50 bucks for that thousands of other tourists have seen, but likely none had viewed these petroglyphs near the Cieneguita Ranch. However, the path to the cave was 3 kilometers in the direction I had come, and I couldn't physically make the trek. Pedro understood having once made the transpenninsular hike, and said that I was the first American to follow him.
As we scratched in the dirt, the kids, eight and ten-years-old, crept closer until each rested a toe on my boots. Soon they inched a brown foot on each boot and I asked them, 'You don't have any fear?' They replied, "No," and that was my cue to rise and leave. I stated a need to press on at sunset and hefted the pack thinking that one day on this spot these great-grandsons of Pedro would tell their sons about the day they stood on the feet of the American walking through the Sierras.
I started down the mountains on a better track now and in five minutes came across a Senora and her little girl pushing to jump start a red pickup with a young husband pounding the steering wheel. Golden now, I took a place aside the girls saying I knew Pedro and we pushed till the engine coughed to life. I continued hiking steeply down, mindful of rattlers and in the dark almost brushed the horns of a black cow. I was relieved minutes later when a dozen other cows with bells round their necks were trapped ahead on the track between the mountain and drop-off and trotted ahead a kilometer, halted until I caught up, and ran ahead again and again to scare off rattlers until the night cooled and the danger vanished.
A puma track had been scratched in the dirt earlier and Pedro had sighed not to worry since there were ample calves and lambs for dinner. Nevertheless, I descended the mountain a distance before cracking a tin of tuna, not to walk in lion country with fish on my breath. As backup, I stuck a disposable camera with flash in my breast pocket to scare any big cat as effectively as a small-caliber bullet.
Midnight and miles down the mountain under starlight, I pulled off the trail and camped with a rock pillow under a waving Socorro cactus. At daybreak, four grunting feral pigs scolded me awake and I packed and followed their tracks down valley soon to be passed by last night's grinning family in the red pickup with two fat cows in the bed for market. Hours later, I reached a sign in the road announcing Los Naranjos (The Orange Trees) Buddhist Retreat. I ambled up their side track to a wire gate with a Spanish Beware the Dog sign and wheeled to persist down the great canyon to the Sea of Cortez.
The valley widened a few hours later and the road flattened toward the transpenninsular highway that runs the length of Baja. The terminus, 38 miles from the Pacific origin here among a handful of butterflies, was nondescript, and I threw out a thumb for a ride to a nearby hot spring shown on my map. I rested, drank from the spring, washed my clothes, and fell into a surprise delirium for a half-day from something foreign in the water. I awoke refreshed and shouldered the pack with relish for the next hike.
Bo Keely adds:
Backpacking a rural road in Baja yesterday, I looked up to see an 8-foot ostrich trotting my direction. I sat on my backpack and the bird walked up and peered into the shudder. I rose and it fled the opposite direction to a grateful pursuing owner who insisted, "be careful, the big bird eats gringos and thank you for saving them in the next town."
Walking through this mining and fishing town after ten days on the desert trail, looking like poncho villa's left hand man in hiking boots, a dusty pack and beard. A Mexican kid runs up and hands me hard rolls and dashes off with, "Say no more." An ancient miner sides me to shout, "You have chicken legs… like my son." The latter materializes next to him with those legs and tattoos from waist to chin. "I have one wood leg myself," says the old man, limping off. A marine veteran of 37 years here for sport fishing gives me a ride to a 20-dollar room on the beach and tells me of an investment opportunity.
Escalada nautica is the scheme of some American lady operator to form, as the Spanish term implies, a 'stair for boats' from the pacific to Cortez, where I just walked. That is, private boats from Los Angeles and San Diego now come to this Cortez town of Bahia de Los Angeles, which has one of the prettiest harbors I've seen. But they must sail around the tip of the Baja Peninsula to arrive.
The concept underway is to build boat lifters in a little town on the Pacific that will place boats on truck flatcars and transport them on an existing road 100 miles overland to the bay. A large resort is planned and this town, which is bustling with construction. The idea is solidifying slowly for need of investors, I was told. There are already a couple dozen newly built asphalt turnouts on the cross-land road for the boat trucks (to allow traffic to pass) that I've seen. And I hitched a ride on a truck the other day with wooden power line poles that will bring electricity south from Ensenada on the Pacific across the land to Bahia de Los Angeles.
So there you are.
Jeff Rollert writes:
One of the newest things is an entire boat, with rigging, a boat that fits into a shipping container so you can have it ocean-freighted to your area of choice, without sailing there.
Of course, you are likely to be a hazard to all upon arriving, without any sense of where the shoals are.
Bo Keely is a Hobo who has been friends with Vic for more than 30 years. Bo has walked across 95 countries, has floated and paddled down the Amazon, been struck blind in one eye by poisonous insects, plunged into a coma and was discovered by an Indian who saved him from death at the jaws of exhaustion. Bo's many feats of physical endurance and stamina, going without food and water, pushing forward in extremes of heat and cold, are matched only by the quality of his adventures. We periodically post updates on Bo's progress, a collection of which can be found here .
I have been in Baja, Mexico for two weeks hiking. I walked from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean via the ruins of the mission Santa Maria in five days. There were serious times without water in the mountains above the Pacific. I found a windmill and sat on my pack with a belly full of salt water, surrounded by ten horses and a burrow deciding which direction to go. I was rescued by a fisherman who took me to the bucolic bay of Puerto Conajos on the ocean, a camp of eight fishermen. I awoke the next morning in a shack on the bay with the campo empty of people and a Destroyer lying a half-mile off in the bay. A swat tem of four, in black 'Marina' (the navy), with ak-47's landed in town for the first time in history to investigate the gringo that traveled by foot. They suspected drug trafficking but were friendly on discovering I had walked five days from Cortez. Then I walked to the remote ruins of mission San Fernando, and on to mission Camolejue, then took a bus here to Bahia de los Angeles.
Anyone who has moments of feeling sorry for himself should read the uplifting Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself. It must be opened slowly and read like a healing sore. As with any autobiography, I advise to bypass the introduction and go straight to the 100-page narrative. Douglass had a black mother and white father, lost both, slept in a gunny sack and grew familiar with both northern city and southern field slavery. The oft touch of the whip isn’t part of my anecdotal review and must be experienced first hand through the book. Fredrick Douglass rose through labor, education and sheer will up and out of slavery and, following an exciting 1838 escape by sea to New York, became the Lion Abolitionist. He is the best known of the fugitive slave autobiographers and this is the first of three memoirs that he wrote after the escape. I feel this narrative is the only one you need to read because it covers his twenty years as a slave while the sequels are the gravy of his victories.
The sole drawing of Douglass at the time of this narative’s publication shows a square jaw, heavy brow and tight curls, and the close-set eyes that are hard to gaze into even after 150 years. So I dim the computer screen to see my reflection and wonder how I can think myself suffering in this mayhem. This spanking new Palo Verde College Library in Blythe, California, the ‘jewel of the desert’ opens doors each 8am and the meager students- public welcomed!- weave a hundred signs, Quiet Zone, No Cell Phones, No Food, No Chat, No Porn, to the 12-computer carousel.
Chat and porn account for half the overall computer time. Cell phones are continually in use and someone’s always crunching chips next to a radio. The assistant librarians assist them, but the head librarian is apart, a grand dame and import from Yuma, Arizona a year ago. She, now graying and fifty pounds heavier, seemingly has thrown in the towel from her office to ponder my first day’s warning (having suffered a like fate as the night supervisor of the tutoring center for one term), ‘Dolly, there’s an indirect correlation between longevity and competence at this job, and I’m afraid you’ll last a year.’
There are three exceptions to the library bedlam, duffer authors who live independently out of their vehicles. The sci-fi man types around a two-foot bead and lives in a ’70’s camper in the parking lot; the bald Oklahoman is 230 single-spaced pages into his second Christian book and parks a battered van in a nearby BLM campground, and I type snips like this and crash nights in a hallowed Ford when away from my Sand Valley home.
My reverie is broken by a handicapped student twirling his cane overhead at a phantom and screaming, ‘I’ll flatten the bas___!’, even as I wonder if my peers too incorporate it into their works. The assistant librarian asks me, as functioning reference librarian until the real one arrives at 4pm, ‘What is an Almanac?’ I show her, and the Oklahoman confers for the proper capitalization of pseudo-Christian. I find it, and a behemoth adult student with a tattoo necklace of chains takes #12 with the smaller screen (to discourage pornography) and scowls across at me as usual. Ironwood and Chuckwalla Prisons lie across the desert from Palo Verde College. When he does that I reflect back to a morning a few months ago_
A blue eyeball appeared in my computer toolbar. Odd, I thought, and at noon picked a hematite from my private collection and slipped it into the mailbox of a computer technician who carries stones in his picket to polish for good luck. That evening he whispered over my shoulder, ‘They’re watching you,’ and quickly summarized that the eye means remote monitoring by one of the techs. The necklaced giant, he said, ratted me to administration claiming, ‘He sits from 8 to 8 daily and must be looking at girls.’ Disquieted, I moved to another monitor where the blue orb blinked on periodically wherever I sat for three days, and finally disappeared.
A far more serious incident a few years ago cost me a snowflake obsidian and trip to NYC to visit the Chair. For one month in 2002, many others thought I was going crazy with the stress of daily writings at the college but I knew that someone was breaking into my Email account. The hack reordered my list of addressees, greeted me from my own address with, ‘This is your morning cup of coffee’, and one time typed my password while my fingers floated above the keys. A couple friends got Emails from my address that I didn’t send and I received ones that they didn’t mail. The meddler caused no real harm but I sweat at the screen and cast sideways glances about the library until one day realizing that the pirate was probably too clever and charming to be operating from Blythe, and I began to look outside. Moreover dismayed that the invader could be affecting the moneyed people of the SpecList, I drove to Phoenix and flew to New York to settle the matter.
I climbed the outside stairs leading up to the trading office where day and night I knew I would find the Chair trading, studying or running in place next to the computer, and silently entered the screen door. His head was bowed before the screen and though we hadn’t seen each other in many years his blue eyes only flicked up and then down. I sat at a computer across from him and wrote an Email, ‘Vic, how are you?’ He immediately replied, ‘Fine. You’re looking well.’ I responded, ‘There’s an issue.’ He smiled typing, ‘Let’s meet on the outdoor court at midnight.’ I left and unpacked in a downstairs room, and in a few hours went out to the racquetball court to hit. Soon he burst under the sodium-vapor lights and embraced me crying, ‘Show me your new backhand, and then tell me why you’re nuts.’
The upshot is that without really saying so the Chair didn’t believe there was an invader inside my Email account, and felt there was no danger to the Speclist. After an otherwise pleasant week’s visit I returned home to the Sonora desert and Palo Verde College. Maybe I really was going mad; I finally thought to slip the prized obsidian into my friend’s mailbox and that evening he materialized behind me at the library computer. ‘They caught a disgruntled computer tech hacking the college systems and staff’s Emails. He generated your Email password with a special program, but has gotten fired and you’re safe. ‘ Then he walked off with the stones polishing in his pocket.
And today, months after the blue eyes and years after the visit to New York, I glance up from the screen where I occasionally escape and look around at the same troublesome library. I’m not going to read this drivel any more and feel sorry, and I suggest you cut your losses short too. I’m going to break away and read the last chapter of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and then go for a hike.
I awoke with the rising sun and stretched in my hollowed Contour. Then I took a long walk through the desert north of Blythe, Ca. and discovered an old foundation with the rusting legs of a chair. I returned to the car and drove a track though 120 beehives tossing thousands of honeybees that dissuade anyone from tracking me. A letter at the post office from my father told of his new hip replacement and cane, and of the memory of putting a horsehair mat in our Idaho Falls basement and teaching me to wrestle. Then I ambled to the Kitchen and was intercepted by two snapping dogs at the a-keely’s tendons, but I leapt lightly and kicked one in the ribs with the right foot and the other in the teeth with the left. I haven’t kicked a dog in years and called ‘Sorry’ over my back. At the Kitchen I ate four barbeques knowing it would make me sick later for an hour but it’s free. A man walked in the door as I exited and a child dashed up hugging his leg and shouting joy, ‘Daddy!’, and he responded, ‘Who?’ Apparently delighted, a black man called the pastor jigged on the linoleum exclaiming, ‘It’s the light!’ I left and drove to the college with sand stretching in every direction under the hot November sun, and strolling to the library met a thick line of black ants passing ten feet from their hump nest to a Palo Verde tree. I jumped it and was suddenly struck by my last brush with technical analysis, plus an illumination.
I knew then that an uptrend tends to continue and a downtrend tends to fall, however if the pivot for either could be exacted and its mechanism understood then I could get rich. Subsequently, I poured over the daily market and a few dozen stock charts for six months before yielding and thinking, if only I can find a model that fits the market reversal then maybe I can get famous. I studied the ocean surf breaking on the beach, dominos falling, elementary calculus, bird wings, train cars, fluid and gas movements, light, and so forth before acquiescing and taking up racquetball. Today on alighting on the far side of the ant line, I wheeled and sat to observe. There seems more than a vague resemblance to a market move. Of course, a market waves and ants line_ or do they? The tip of the market wave is a line and the ant column has a fluctuating width, and so I sat a little longer. A trend of short duration meets small resistance and breaks, and so does an ant column, but a longer trend creates stability and similarly the ant column actually wears a trench that causes greater resistance to change. There are outside influences in both cases. But the intrinsic key between the ant model and all the others- surf, dominos, wings, cars, fluids and gas, and light- is that there is individual as well as group intelligence in the elements only of the ant line and market movement- the ants and the investors. I sprung, brushed them off, and turn the idea over to others better versed to qualify and quantify the parallel influences including intelligence of market and ant trends. Further clarification is in The Ants that won the Pulitzer Prize (science) for authors Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. It’s a starter anyhow, I could get print, and in any case today’s trend in Blythe is up and fierce.
I thought I was a lion tamer taking on the volunteer job of counseling in an old folks home. Armed with a veterinary degree and psych tech certificate, I made my daily rounds. The first room belonged to Gloria, bedridden with a bad bowel for two decades, who always screamed as I entered, ‘Read to me of the coming of the Lord!’ Dutifully I took up the King James Version from the bed stand and, holding it upside down as is my habit, read from Revelation 6, ‘And I looked, and behold a pale horse and his name that sat on him was_’ Through the narrow passages Gloria gradually calmed, turned her face to the sunny window, and fell asleep every time. I put the bible back and continued down the hall.
The next challenge was Mildred, fit to be tied to a hard stool, staring vacantly and silently for as long as any memory in the home. The general staff dare not broach a three-foot radius about her chair but each shift I spent ten minutes sitting closer and closer and staring off in her same way. After two weeks, I imagined a rapport and cautiously scooted my chair until our knees touched. A hand snaked out with claws that raked my face! In bloody retreat I speculated that that one required more training.
Down at the day room, Crying Annie presented a special peril of disheartening the entire population with sequential tearful outbursts. No one knew why she cried but it was said that she had never laughed. My single afternoon’s ledger of her one minute mean bawl six times per hour related to various stimuli yielded zero correlation, however, it sparked an idea. ‘Annie,’ I opened cheerily, and as she burst into crocodile tears I yanked my curls and blurt, ‘I will make you laugh or eat my hat!’ Miraculously she subsided looking over my head. I explained how in school I had bent and picked a horse’s hoof to clean and the animal had chomped my hair thinking it hay. ‘Ever since, when I need a haircut_’ Annie’s explosive laughter shook all the old cats out of their rooms to ring us and laugh themselves silly until they cried. It was a circus and, ahead of the act, I bowed out.
Six months passed until the day I was rotated to the geriatric psychiatric ward where a codger stalked me to counsel, ‘Get out of here; this ain’t a dress rehearsal!’ I lay the whip down and walked out.
I read last night the first two chapters of L’Amour’s Mojave Crossing to reconnoiter my upcoming parallel adventure. Tell Sackett stops at every landmark in my memory along the trail including Fort Mojave, Piute Range, the Old Government Road, and Rock Springs. Sackett hasn’t spoken yet of the weather that would be first off his lips if the summer furnace or winter chill, so the crossing must have been at this time of year. He carried 32-lbs. of gold in his saddlebag but I’ll take his weighty story deep in my backpack to compare our views. Of course, there’s the danged black-eyed girl that L’Amour atypically opens this tale with. I nearly threw the book down in Carl Jr.’s as my favorite author always presents a flash of fists or guns with a heavy puzzle, but I held the reins of L’Amour’s grand storytelling and then looked up and around the burger joint. Black-eyed girls are not common in these parts just south of where the novel opens, though nowadays they’re unilateral with an equal number of black-eyed men. She was being tailed! To better sense Tell’s carrying a treasure and thus encumbered across the vast desert, I’m hiring such a girl whom I used to date who now has a third-degree karate black belt and a new mate. I requested this morning, — But she must be a black-eyed girl — do you have black eyes?’ If all goes well, we’ll be hot on the trail from the Colorado River to retrace Tell Sackett across the Mojave.
I aim to quickly describe my thought process that may differ from yours. I willfully filter information at the sensory gate before allowing it to enter the mind. You walk into a bar and see everything but quickly cancel the things that don’t deserve notice; then you focus an instant, one by one, on pertinent items or spaces and allow the ones you desire to engrain in short term memory. Then you pick from among those-even while moving and seeing the whole bar afresh- the few things that you want to ponder. Then you ponder.
Females and kids don’t usually perceive in this way, but instead flash from one big picture or thought to the next, and feel each. That’s wasteful. Athletes move gracefully about canceling undesired thoughts by their physical movement while zeroing in on what they do want, yet jocks in general are passive thinkers. That’s molasses. Scientists stop-frame one item after another and further process- compare each and to their life memories- to infer conclusions. They are ‘good’ scientists if everything in the universe has equal value. Religious people believing in an outside control show the blank but eager faces of bulldogs never having gotten the bone. The insane have a motion picture of perception without being able to stop and frame a single item. City people unconsciously run every thought through a template of people representations from their pasts. That’s pollution. Speculators to succeed must train themselves toward a checkers mentality of the repetitive three-steps of over-sweep, breakdown into subgroups, comparison, and all the while trying to keep the present, past and future separate. Chess is a more powerful game of survivors where the thought arena is constricted and the variables fewer with those individual pieces having wide-swinging strengths that must be controlled. That’s sublime. Dogs are able to mull over only what they have repeated in experience while they overlook all else in the field until something odd pops up. That’s happiness. Cats, with the slightest hint of thought, make the greatest mental leap and physical moves on earth, and are dangerous to a person like me. Who knows how frogs think?
These certainly are quick off-the-cuff generalities on the way I think as self-studied in the nightly laboratory of bars around the country for nearly 10,000 consecutive nights. I never drank, only thank. I believe in bio-psychology, the biological factors of thought and behavior. The mechanics of seeing the world every waking second as a chess player and dancer, the supreme thinker and mover, truly racks the mind and body. When I was a heavier thinker, my facial and brain vascular musculature tightened so that at the end of some days I fell into bed feeling like Officer Bill MacCarthy after pounding his head to ask a string of suspects if any wanted to resist arrest. However, 99% of the thinking population is passive users of the mind allowing the fruitful unconscious rather than the more controllable conscious to steer their choices. That’s sad, but there’s help. One may improve his perception, acuity and stamina by exercising the mechanical process via reading books, reading people, and just plain thinking. Beware that you can overthink and become entrapped a la the bulging body builder who doesn’t know when to stop. For example, after writing from October 1 to Halloween, I feel with one hand my tight face and within the thoughts that come either too swiftly or stay too long. On the other hand, it’s a short time before the green rattlesnakes clear and the moon rises full over the Mojave Crossing and I take a long hike to get better.
By following the links in the website below for 30 minutes, I altered the shape of my eyelids and brought up fond memories of personal vision experiments. I had every common childhood vision problem — or so was told — from myopia to astigmatism to headaches. Now I have none by having taken vision matters into my own hands. I reckon the ophthalmologists of tomorrow will look back on the ones today, more so than other medical specialists, and shutter.
1. My first experiment at age 20 while keeping a nighttime schedule was to willfully transform my vision to entirely B&W for the obvious purposes of contrast, quicker recognition of movements and patterns, and faster recall (All theories that have been borne out.). Note I can see color but have no recall in it without much concentration, and have not dreamed in color for three decades.
2. Next, in the early 20s, was to begin using the right eye to sense vision on the left side of the body, and vice version. This is to increase peripheral vision via exercising different optic muscles. Unlike the other trials listed here, it's just an exercise to keep and discard as wished.
3. Next, about the same time, was to concentrate images outside the optic macula where, I believe, most people unconsciously put most of their focus. This is a big, lifelong step to enhancing vision. My theory is that much more of the retina than just the macula can be utilized as a quasi macula.
4. My favorite vision research was at about age 30 when I determined not to waste time blinking. In the first day I blinked twice while performing routine tasks and reading around home. On the second day, I had to bike to town where the noise and movement made not blinking difficult, and I dropped the experiment with the conclusion that blinking is an overreaction that can be trained to minimize.
5. Certainly the most practical alteration in my standard vision started at age 35 when I first wrote in mirror image, and a day later read the first book upside down. The mirror alphabet is easily learned in one week by practicing twice daily for 10 minutes writing the letters and numbers as in kindergarten. Reading books upside down is easier still and more sensible since they are printed left to right, and reverse when turned upside down. The goal then of mirror writing and reading upside down is to cause the print to flow the opposite direction to exercise those tiny, different eye muscles. I can name them but it would be useless unless you've dissected a mammalian eyeball. The result is a larger ego from a better backhand (for right-handed players), and maybe saving your life one day when a car makes an illegal left turn from the right.
6. Moreover, at this instant, the eyeglasses I wear have one lens while the other inside the frame is open space. I bought the original 1.25 mag reading glasses at the Goodwill for a buck, popped the lens in my better eye retaining the one in front of my other. I've used this pair of uni-lens for a month in developing 10% better eyesight.
In conclusion, and before providing the website that launched this letter, I hope that others rather than raising eyebrows will adapt some of my rebellious visual techniques to perhaps hurry along the ophthalmology history and see the improvements in our lifetimes. Here is the page that, after following the links, provided thirty minutes of informative, stimulating reading.
I read with respect your intellectual posts on privacy and the justice system, and wish to add solid ones of my own. Anyone who desires to take a job in the criminal justice system, including attorneys, first should be required to spend a night on the streets, a shift on police ride-along, a day as a spectator in court and, most vitally, 36 hours in jail. The latter I’ve formerly compared to a weekend seminar with better speakers, worse food, but it’s free. Any person who performs these four prerequisites for Life 101 may more expertly take a job of choice in criminal justice, or anyplace.
I grew up, as Ken Smith has described, as if on the cover of Look Magazine holding a fishing pool under a crescent moon. I still can’t turn my back on the shoeless kids I went to school with, but I eventually dropped the pole, went through eclectic vicissitudes, and landed at the far end of the bell-curve in Sand Valley, California.
Sand Valley is the choice toenail for ten sociopaths for good reason. Thank goodness I hadn’t this foreknowledge seven years ago on moving my belongings down from the Sierras in a utility trailer hauled behind a Honda 650 Nighthawk motorcycle with a sidecar and tow bar. I quickly learned in the Valley that the residents are obsessed and proficient at cherishing privacy.
Yet, there are constant tangles with authority since the area of my Rancho is the epicenter of what I term Desolation, California. That is the bleak region where individuality, save the Valley that is a true Galt’s Gulch (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), is almost smothered by authority and the worship of the group. I can write on of my neighbors’ run-ins with the law, but shall relegate here to a few personal instances.
After three months of hard work to raise the Rancho out of the sand, one morning a sheriff drove up far from his tour ostensibly to run over a little tree in my front yard. He apologized and continued, ‘An old lady suspects there’s marijuana growing in your chicken wire garden,’ that was quickly dispelled as he looked over the unplanted garden. A year after, another sheriff drove into my front yard and ran over a second tree announcing that he wanted to check out the car in the driveway (mine) that he’d not seen before. I have a clean record, and that was that. A year after, two Feds with bolt cutters and automatic rifles drove to my semi-truck van that houses a library and, as I wasn’t there, my neighbor intervened. The Feds claimed a search warrant wasn’t necessary because there was a report of a meth lab inside, but the neighbor yelled them off.
Seeking autonomy, a few years ago the 100-square mile Valley had a neighborhood meetin’. They elected a Mayor, Sheriff and Judge to oversee their private affairs. A few auspicious discrete events followed_. The shotgun brandishing Mayor stopped a Marine convoy of tanks crushing his private road and turned them back to Yuma. The Sheriff grabbed a local cop, lifted him off the ground, and dialed 911 to make a citizens arrest for trespassing. The Judge sued the U.S. government and won a few thousand dollars after the Marines riddled his roof with helicopter machinegun fire. So, my personal anecdotes are minimal next to what can be done by seasoned privacy nuts.
The upshot is that anyone who wishes to take a job in criminal justice could consider, aside from a short trial on the streets, cop ride-along, court spectator, and jail, also visiting a beacon of privacy like Sand Valley within the dark depth of Desolation before it engulfs America.
For each of the seven years that I’ve lived in the Sonora desert there has been at least one upstart which the locals recognize as never having been ‘on the books’. I term these the Species of the Year, and in ‘06 it’s an oddball I saw over the weekend and came to call the Squealer Grasshopper.
New species, or at least drastic variations, to my way of thinking occur in a spot due to one or more of the following circumstances: An advantageous mutation (rare); a new wrinkle of an old variety that reproduces in abundance and quickly sided with a severe weather or predatory year (more common); or, an unprecedented movement for whatever reason of a fauna or flora into a by-and-large sheltered territory of ‘island isolation’ such as my Sand Valley (most common).
This Valley is a 100-square mile basin encircled by mountains that block the rain from the west, wind, and most live traffic except the airborne such as birds and helicopters to the adjacent Chocolate Mountain Bombing Range.
In the Spring of ‘01 the grand Species was the Painted Lady, a tart butterfly- I should say millions- that invaded in such clouds that breathing was difficult for weeks. Another year the unique intruder was the wolf_ One followed me long-tongued along a hike, and my neighbor, Laura, shot the scrotum from close range off another so it wouldn’t reproduce and eat the chickens. We decided the errant wolves either crossed the mountains to raid the coops or were introduced by the BLM. ‘04 was the year of the Flying Grasshopper, the largest I have seen around the world at up to 6′’, green, and with an absurdly high glide-to-drop ratio enabling it to soar without rest for miles over peaks.
Strictly speaking, four years ago the new species to my toenail of Sand Valley were the illegal Mexicans. My rancho lies 35 miles north of the border, and in a two-month period three groups totaling fifteen ‘wetbacks’ struggled fainting or sucking on barrel cactus onto my ten acres only to collapse in the trailer shade. They had been abandoned on the nearby gunnery range by ruthless ‘coyotes’ whom they’d contracted to transfer them to Los Angeles. There being no phone in Sand Valley, I helped them out in the most moral legal sense. There’s also a stripe of tracks between my library trailer and outhouse where the U.S. border Patrol pursued a van across the property and down a wash. A dozen Mexicans fled on foot after their van bogged in sand and the Border Patrol didn’t give chase. That may be the future bumper crop for a Species of the Year.
As for this year’s Species, I have never heard anything like the Squealer Grasshopper. Last weekend, I was resting under a Palo Verde tree and heard the familiar loud clap of grasshopper wings to my right, swiveled, and the insect kicked the dirt ten feet away shrieking like a stuck pig. A day later while hiking, a second grasshopper appeared with a wing flap followed by the same one-second shriek causing me to cast about for a tortured mammal. I walked over but there was only a large, typically brown & beige 3′’ desert grasshopper with a splash of yellow or red inside the wings.
I saw only two specimens of the Squealer this year and never before, however its strident call was enough to make me wheel. Hopefully, the shrill survival advantage, likely a mating call or scare tactic not to be eaten, won’t profligate to roaming herds that make sleep difficult and frighten off visitors. This grasshopper squeals only on landing to my knowledge. I believe it is caused by the wings but it could be vocal. I don’t know if the new feature is genetic or just a novel word in their vocabulary.
It is important to note that the new species introduced here are in the sense of fresh genetic material or an unprecedented appearance. My annual survey is a small unscientific sampling that any walker may replicate where there’s an element of island isolation. You don’t need to live in the wilds to study this. Try it on your daily walks in the city park, garden or basement.« go back — keep looking »
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Resources & Links
- The Letters Prize
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