Economic high times in Peru during three short years since my last visit in 1999 has put 100 times as many keyboards under the fingers of the citizens who have blossomed a fresh consciousness about town. The changes are sharp in the minds of 500,000 of this largest city in the Peruvian Rainforest. In with the computers, out with the old jungle charm that has defaulted to a new middle class efficiency.
Cheerfulness has always been endemic in Iquitos and it is the most relaxing place in the world to take a walk. The children grin and gawk- they used to gawk and grin- and the dogs run out to play. I have never been bitten and there is virtually no violence in the town history. If you smile at a person the he´ll say buenos dais every morning after.
The difference now compared to three years ago is in people´s faces registering what they see followed by a flicker of calculation. There used to be no past or future tense in the minds of the natives, and they remembered only the last thought until jolted into the next. Now it´s smooth mental sailing.
The dominos of awareness on the streets, in shops, homes, on waterways and in the people's minds are amazing. Whether they access computers or not, by speech, newspapers and non-verbal cues, critical thinking is sweeping the town. This enables inspiration in an individual by a great purpose, some extraordinary project, and all of his thoughts break their bounds. He is able to hold not one but two or three thoughts at once, and others see it. I think a new, great and wonderful world has opened in Iquitos. Dominant forces, faculties and currents have come alive in the discovery of self.
What´s more curious is that instead of adults teaching children the art of consciousness in the traditional style throughout world history, in this computer revolution the machines are teaching the kids first and they then their parents. The kids flock to fifty internet cafes- nearly all new- before and after school, at lunch, and just before bedtime. Thousands swarm the internets that in the first month I was here in June slow them from a usable USA 2010 pace to a near standstill at prime hours. One expat here was accustomed to winning six simultaneous games of computer chess at a USCF 1850 rating until last year when he started losing one in six when his clock flag falls as the computer is slow, and his rating fell so drastically that he quit. I pay a daily advance for ten hours at $.60 per hour to hold the highly prized chair through the busy times including a 7- 9pm night session for ´computer romance´ that has replaced strolling the town plaza for amour.
What do the kids do? They don't care if the systems are up or down; they´re addicted to the noise and game hunger. When the computers are up they cruise Facebook and play online games. When down they switch to canned hard drive games. It´s a musical chairs of gleefully shouting children, and often I give mine up to go hike, eat, read or nap in a private booth with a nonworking computer.
As the kids jam the cyber cafes the adjacent soccer fields that used to be busy with anaerobic games lie barren for the first time in history. In parallel the children are growing little hunchbacks with enormous hands and delicate fingers to resemble Edward Scissorhands. Romances bloom in the cafes and especially in private booths that rent for an extra dime an hour. The teens hold hands and visit their friends on Facebook or Skype double date.
The daily ratio of computer use across the city is: Facebook 45%, Games 45%, and 10% schoolwork, surfing or other. Yet it doesn't matter where their fingers walk because one way or the other computers teach users to think like them in raising their consciousnesses. Children computer schools are popping up everywhere, and a chain called CompuKids offers twelve station rooms for primary and grade school children at $.30 per hour for group lessons three times a week from an itinerant professor. In turn, the kids run the family cyber businesses outside of school and commonly a ten-year-old installs programs, fixes glitches and takes money, while the parents sweep and mop.
The children are the vanguard of a wave of critical thinking obviously due to the computers as the only strong variable, aside from boom money, introduced to Iquitos in the last three years. For every computer then there are about one hundred today, children learn them in primary school, and the more affluent university students use laptops. Many businesses have installed systems to record books, and along Putumayo Street where the established line of one dozen self-appointed notaries for decades have for set up sidewalk typewriter tables to hunt-and-peck at $.50 a page for letters or legal forms to the partially illiterate society, now two use laptops and printers.
Critical thinking has been described as reasonable reflection focused on deciding what to believe or do. It is the predecessor of self-regulatory judgment. It is the ability to chew up and spit out what you don´t believe in this story, and swallow the rest.
What of innocence in a computer revolution? Here was a place, a time, like a dream a rule of subconscious in the most remote thickly populated region on earth. Nevermore. For me this means the citizens look me directly in the eye rather than from a haze of unconsciousness and fear of the persistent Pela Cara, or face peeler. Every child for a century used to be told that one night a gringo called a Pela Cara was going to snatch him from a river bank and peel the skin off his face and body, squeeze out the oil, and… then this variation of the legend… send it back to the USA to be used as missile fuel for rockets with nuclear bombs. Many adults also feared the Pela Cara. Once I was introduced to a group of mechanics as a visiting Pela Cara who instantly vacated the shop. A few years ago a father-in-law of an expat was sent to prison for two years for aiding a gringo who was doing this to an aunt.
It is believable that computers may alter individual and world consciousness from a stronghold of centuries, but for it to happen in one place in three short years is incredible.
9. Cold Freight
Mountains loom to the icy left, snowy foothills to the right, and dead ahead an appointment with cold doom. If the conductor doesn´t let me board the caboose this may be my ´last southbound´.
´It ain't the cushions!´ he shouts thrusting a fist off the caboose back porch that instantly covers with snowflakes. ´Ye should have thought twice before boarding.´ He shakes it, yanks a timepiece from his heart watch fob, and adds more kindly, ´Get back on your car or you´ll miss the train.´
I did think three times back in Denver before boarding, you fool. My sleeping bag was stolen from under a pile of ties. I scavenged a black garbage bag, hunkered under a RR bridge, and looked two directions. The downtown lights beckoned, while the rails sliding out and up the Rockies forbade. When the first snow flies each year I inch south with the other hobo snowbirds, but unless the first storm hits Colorado tonight it should be safe enough to catch to Pueblo, warm in the morning sunshine, closer mile by mile to the sun, and pull a chair up in Dallas to Thanksgiving supper with my folks.
Yonder comes a freight, pausing in mid-train at my feet for a switchman to throw a switch frog, and I’m stuck on the spot to make a decision. "Frisking a drag", or choosing a car by walking through the train before it pulls away has a pitch of excitement as it may jump at any moment. This one does. I pat the garbage bag lovingly in my Pendleton pocket and grab iron. Three locomotives huff and the rung jerks one speculating hobo sixty cars back clinging the ladder and then ducking under the belly of a semi-van on a flatcar to the rubber tires for a wind shield.
Denver´s a memory, and an airstream whistles around the fat tires per Bernoulli´s principal. It´s a fast freeze in a 40mph rail gale on the Beaufort scale that strikes the nervous system with shivering and fuzzy thoughts. I was born in Buffalo, grew up in Idaho and northern Michigan, and know the cold. The firm upper lip icicles will melt if I exercise. So I stoop walk under the four-foot belly of the piggyback van to the rear and slap jumping jacks and run in place until the marrows warm, and then sit and lean against the tires unbuttoning the Pendleton pocket. Slit arm and neck holes in the garbage bag make a poor man´s windbreaker, but it is weather weakened, rips into tatters and blows overboard.
If the first snowstorm of the season hits the mountains tonight, I´ll deal with it. Called to bluff, the air thickens with cold and in two hours the initial big flakes float in and swirl around the tires. Small patches of snow begin to quilt the right-of-way and a blizzard engulfs the mechanical snake winding through Colorado.
I grow drowsy but to sleep is to die. The train stops perhaps to turn on the locomotive sanders to add friction to the track. I think of the caboose, rise stiffly, work down the ladder with popsicle fingers, and stagger the line of cars back to the caboose for a devil of a conversation, am refused entry, and lurch back to the flatcar just before the train pulls away.
In an indeterminate time the freight goes ´in the hole´ siding for an Amtrak of passengers with pleasantly warm brains whooshing by and rocking the stationary flatcar. I elbow crawl to the lip of the flatcar as the Amtrak clears and with nonworking hands and legs roll and drop five feet onto the ballast like a sack of potatoes. The freight jerks forward with three-foot steel wheels rolling inches from my neck, the lighted square of the conductor´s window, and the red taillight wobbles and becomes a pinpoint in the night. ´You devil! ´ I whisper into a mouthful of cinders, and the trundle reflects about the valley for five minutes.
Now there is total silence. I look up and about at a pastoral scene like the glass snow spheres shaken upside down and turned upright. A six-inch white carpet undulates along the ground onto pine boughs and up mountainsides to the stars. I kick the rail, feel nothing, and scrape with forearms along the cinders for ten yards, pause, another twenty yards, rest, and fifty more until blood surges the frozen limbs. Then a hands and knees crawl for ten minutes to bring circulation to the fingers, toes and nose. I snort fresh air, use a RR switch to stand upright, and teeter from the right-of-way toward a mountain pass.
Hours later a white manger of hay crystallizes on a snowy meadow. I´m a little surprised to awaken the next morning with straw in the mouth and sunshine on my face, and walk out the Rockies laughing at the conductor.
11. Hand from a Boxcar
Labored puffing outside the boxcar’s open door, the rasp of long, rapid footsteps on ballast. A hobo hangs from the door’s latch and can’t pull himself in, can’t let loose or will be minced by the rolling wheels. I reach down my hand and he grasps it firmly.
Washington is apple country and in season a northbound hobo is likely an apple knocker- picker. I'm on a southbound boxcar and there's a crunch, crunch, outside the moving door. It doesn't make sense and maybe I've gone soft in the head. I just chased and hopped aboard two minutes ago. Listen. A bo sleeps with his boots on and his ear near the track, can roll his bed in a minute, trot alongside his ride, toss in the roll and then raise himself. My rule of thumb after having tripped and fallen dangerously close to 3-foot cookie cutter wheels is to catch a freight on the fly only if I can run as fast as it.
Crunch!!…crunch…crunch!! The steps are further spaced as the train accelerates. A burlap sack sails through the door and bangs the far wall. Suddenly there is a scrape on the wooden floor next to me and a foot disappears out the door. Again a shoed foot enters the door, scuffs the deck and exits. A hobo is trying to catch at 20 mph.
I peek out the door and there hangs a bo on the latch. He's graying, strong and in tattered clothes, no doubt an apple knocker in trouble. The metal latch of a boxcar hangs like a 2-foot stem and bo's in days of old would grab it on steam trains and swing aboard. It required sharp timing and I've never seen the technique utilized on modern faster moving diesels freights.
A pace is reached at which it becomes perilous to let go the latch and face the ballast, and that's the fate of my peer. His strides are fifty feet long, his lungs heaving and his foot thrusts into the door shortening. In seconds he could grease the rail. He doesn't realize my presence and to pop my mug out the door might frighten him, so I make a decision.
From his perspective, a hand descends from the sky. The skin is tanned, fingers willowy and it beckons. I feel a meaty grasp as his takes mine in a death-lock. The train picks up speed.
I've traveled most the gridiron west of the Mississippi, camped the jungles. Been around the world in a boxcar, I tell folks, since that's the estimated rail mileage in some 300 rides. Though I'm just a boxcar tourist out for summer scenery and adventure, it's ironed the body.
Now a man is dangling like a scarecrow from the side of a fast freight, attached only by my hand. He's my size and I pull hard, but it's a tug-of-war as the rail joints click by. Seated, I skid along the floor toward the edge and waiting space. Then my trouser seat meets an oil spot and suddenly I slide at once.
BAM. My foot hits the door frame and braces for the final pull. Tenaciously I lift. He has blue eyes, like mine. With a heave he's in the boxcar and safe.
There are a number of unwritten rules of the steel road. First, don't steal anyone's boots. Second, look after yourself first. Third, if you're okay then give a hand to peers. Fourth, no need to speak of the obvious. Fifth, partings come easily.
The fellow crawls panting to a far corner, dragging the burlap, then sits on it in silence. We jiggle along for miles without a word. The sun sinks and still nothing, as the train passes from Washington to Oregon. Somewhere in California the freight stops and he slides out the door, shaking my hand.
I've never picked an apple, but I've picked a hobo.
12. Out of the Blue
At high noon on a clear summer day a mile above the Arizona desert a single engine Cesena drones, suddenly stalls and goes into a nose dive.
To my left my racquetball partner pilot operates the pedals and levers like a mad drummer as the G-force turns his face into a squirrel. The destination is the gamblers capital Las Vegas for a professional stop but in my heart I don’t think we´ll make the service line.
For the first time in my colorblind life I see external red, a splotch on the white desert floor. Engine out in silence except the rustle of wind over wings, and we plummet. Racquetballs, paper cups, pencils and papers fly in our faces and I am so trained that by sheer force of will the balls could fly into the cups and the pens write our fate.
My buddy´s hands and feet shake on the controls and in the flash of a tremendous exertion the flesh and steel bodies act as one. The plane flips on its back and free falls upside down toward the earth. Now the debris rains from the floor as I duck in the seatbelt to keep from hitting my head on the ceiling.
I recheck the pilot, a dentist, physician and anesthesiologist who appears unconsciousness with eyes popping out the sockets like goggles from the same G´s that pop mine. The plane free falls for twenty seconds, and then suddenly the cough of the engine, it catches, and the controls shift and the plane turns right-side up.
We fly directly forward as if nothing happened except at 1000´ lower.
The pilot glances over at me and utters, ´Everyone should face his death before it happens.´
A few years after the won tournament, the pilot in the same Cesena crashes head first at terminal velocity with propeller churning into the San Francisco bay and the cause remains a mystery to this day.
13. Bone Dry
Given last year´s last record summer daily highs of 120F or greater in the shade that dropped chickens, dogs, the great-great blind grandson of Secretariat, and killed 20% of the humans in Sand Valley, Ca., I made two little moves. Neighbor Fred had fallen out of bed with heatstroke and died of a heart attack in what California paramedics call a ´trailer wedge´ between the bed and close wall, Big Jon evaporated one day into the desert and is rumored to have buried his head unsuccessfully in the sand, and the good Reverend two months after passing to his hereafter frankly drew our noses at four miles distant. So first, I dug a cool ten-foot burrow lined with blankets and a solar panel atop to communicate with the outside world. And second, the following hot August since experiments must be conducted under the most realistic conditions I explore a pedestrian route out of Sand Valley to the nearest whistle stop Palo Verde.
I take off in reverse from Palo Verde one bright morn at 80F with a gallon jug of water in each hand, loaf of raisin bread, compass and penlight. The 30 miles overland route as the vulture flies covers animal trails, sand tracks, arroyos, and bushwhacking the Sonora. A bird mile is 1.5 walking miles in the desert. The water is rationed to the last drop on the ring of hills beneath a pink sunset where I cannot spot the trailer. I take an educated bearing toward the ring center and start downhill. Stars twinkle one-by-one into being and creatures emerge from hole homes to scamper the boulevard arroyos. My rule is that under a full moon you may see western diamondbacks and sidewinders, under a half-moon you miss the sidewinders, and under tonight´s new moon they see you first.
The night grows fascinating. A sidewinder rattles ´Hello´ on raised ‘black pavement’ above the washes where I shine the penlight only. Up and down the washes I climb for hours wishing to urinate to wet a dry tongue that threatens to clog my airway and suffocate. A stone sucked for an hour depletes the last saliva and the mouth dries like a mouse curled up and died. I collapse in oxygen debt with a wrist pulse race to 100 and little twitches take the limbs, before it occurs to me to distill water in the mouth from the air. The ambient air of about 110F is higher with more moisture than the oral cavity at 98.6F, so via a temperature gradient of fitted breathing, every fifteen minutes or so a dollop of thick saliva grows to swallow once, get up and walk for fifteen minutes, and repeat the routine. I don’t want to sleep for fear of a desert crib death.
The moon arcs and drops below the horizon, and it´s starlight reckoning until the North Star falls behind a mountain, and then the penlight batteries fail. The fear of rattlesnakes overcomes a death sleep, so I recline in a wash under an Ironwood and after distilling a swallow of saliva let myself doze. A kit fox sniffs my boot and alerts me, won´t leave for five minutes. Later a four-point buck snorts and stares down into my surprised eyes, pawing the sand. Inspired, I rise on hind legs and wander the dark in a cramped, heated shuffle for water before sunrise or I may die.
One hope centers in a rock cistern of a Louis L´Amour short story ´The Strong Shall Live´. Following an hour march up a rocky slope kit fox, deer, coyote and bird tracks circle a pothole of water from last week´s storm. I slurp a pint on all fours, pollywogs and all, and in thirty minutes feel stronger. I fill a gallon jug and descend drinking a pint every fifteen minutes until the jug empties at sunrise that reveals a familiar outcrop to point the way home. The best adventures often come from bad decisions, and the quicker we can laugh off our own folly the better we will be to face the next.
One early March I set the left boot on the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexican border. This path runs the Sierra Nevadas for 2600 miles through California, Oregon and Washington to touch the Canadian border. The aim to hike border-to-border in one season requires starting in spring and risking snow in the Sierras. Mountain trail miles translate to bird miles at a 6:1 ratio and mid-June finds me tramping the first snowflakes outside Tahoe.
The trail has been fantastic for three months. There was a western diamondback the size of a Louisville Slugger every other day, lightning storm on a peak with a pot for a pillow, lost cowboy aboard a snow mired horse to dig out, many waterless and foodless days, and run-in with a green sheriff with an itchy trigger finger in a crossroad town who was called by a TV citizen who identified me from America´s Most Wanted as a serial killer. He saw me buy and eat Puss ´N Boots Liver and Chicken because I needed a stake, and the Sheriff ran me off with a tip to watch out for big cats, although there were only bears on trail.
I meet one hiker every other day on the PCT staggering under towering backpacks who refuse to believe I´m a through hiker lightly carrying a fanny pack. The custom waist pack is wreathed by four one-quart water bottles with a down sleeping bag slung beneath, tube tent, maps torn from an early guidebook and can opener. The gross weight sans supplies of eight pounds enables me to outdistance the classic mountain strategy of toting a 50lb pack eight mountain miles a day instead of my flying along the trail at 30 miles a day to connect extended supply and water points. My gear and the weather hold out until a June climb up Tahoe into a freak snowstorm blocks the sunset. A pine at ten paces disappears and the trail vanishes under a snow carpet. The horizon dissolves and without reference points for the compass and I am lost.
I know how To Build a Fire from Jack London´s short story, and the lost cowboy advised me of a snowstorm where he curled up like a C note with a hot cup of coffee in a blanket and waited it out. So on stumbling over a fallen tree I roll with it and make a pine bough bed and overhang. However, popsicle fingers fumble matches into the wet kindling, and as the blizzards rages the weight of snow collapses the boughs and awakens me sputtering white. The sole recourse is a prayer position in the snowstorm with sleet melting off the body and freezes into an exclamation point.
At first light I unfold into a world of white and drape the ice crisped sleeping bag over a shoulder, and aim along an easterly flank to face the sun and thread the mountains. For hours no signs protrude the fresh foot of snow, but in late afternoon a distant hum of cars draws me to a road where I hitchhike out to that hot cup of coffee.
A decade later I return to Tahoe to continue the Pacific Crest Trail and now ultra-light packing that I independently invented is the rage with trailside lodge caretakers shunning me as a weekend warrior under a 20lb knapsack, until I tell them through a crooked grin of the whiteout.
15. Mexico Scrap
A lifelong passion for hard times and scrap led me to a sunrise hunt in San Felipe Baja. A Mexican partner and I slalom a banged-up pickup past a hundred scrappers puffing behind wheelbarrows and shopping carts half-empty with knickknacks. A three-mile thick dump ring around San Felipe is picked clean by the penniless men and women except for sifted nails and bolts n fire cinders dug out on warm knees. They look up with ashen faces and would injure or steal to get what we will find.
The jalopy brims with a sunset load of two refrigerators, stove, washer, two auto gas tanks, brass fixtures, lawn chair frames, four 12v batteries, engine parts, nuts, nails and bolts, and a pail of copper wire. It waddles low on the springs through the night sifters fallen on hard times in the big dump ring, and back into town to my partner´s house. He advises me to defend the booty against thieves, waves goodnight, and goes drinking.
The spare trailer sits on an arroyo near the old cemetery where a 1972 cloudburst filled this very arroyo and floated several corpses down Main Street past the window into the ocean. I tumble into an exhausted sleep from the day´s work until… In the window, nose pressed flat, eyes ranging over my modest pad, a black face opens and shuts its mouth. I spring from bed to window, bang the glass and shout, ´Get out of here!´ The lockless trailer door creaks opens and the intruder, showing teeth, barges in rasping ´Hsst!´
I shoulder him, at once wondering at a boldness that would permit a Mexican into an alien American trailer. He either has a knife, or a cohort waiting outside. I grab his wrists to prevent reaching for the pocket, and slam him against a 2×3-foot mirror that swings open on hinges projecting dingy streetlight on his eye-popped face. He looks 25, 5'8", crew cut with black moustache, and muscled.
We struggle until he glances down at my nude body, and smiles at my lack of … shoes! I shove him out the door, and jump into Bermuda shorts. After one shoe, a thump outside and I know he is nabbing the Mag spare tire. Before the second shoe is on he vanishes into the night.
I trail the deep footsteps by penlight along the arroyo road until miraculously a police car pulls aside. ´Americano,´ I yell, ´And a moment ago a thief battled me and stole a wheel.´ ´Where is?´ asks the officer, and I point along the footprints. ´Too dark,´ asserts the officer, and leaves me to sit all night on guard the truckload with a scavenged pitchfork.
The next morning the 1200lb scrap brings a whopping $160, and my little one a few bruises.
16. King Cobra
On a deserted Sira Lanka beach a flute charmer slowly plays his 12´black king cobra out a wicker basket, its tongue flicking until it reaches my sternum. I am fatigued from the long walk in soft sand, and stroke its brow to which it nudges me affectionately like a puppy that I pet repeatedly. So, I was the first to strike and lived to walk the day.
17. Deadly Mickey
There isn´t much to this story, actually. I am slipped a Mickey or food laced with poison in a skid row room at the Los Angeles Rainbow Hotel and minutes after the person leaves descend into an abyss. It proves nothing to detail the pain and awareness. However, I am found by a housekeeper and rushed to an emergency room where a persistent fibrillator jump starts my heart 42 times before it catches and beats on its own. The doctor claims I have been brain dead for four minutes. The recovery alone makes the story warming to bystanders. There is absolute amnesia for one day, unable to remember my parents´ last name. On day two I walk into a room and cannot remember where the door is. For one month I can remember one read sentence only and gaze longingly at a book shelf. I am physically capable, and walk miles daily for three months until adding columns of numbers comes naturally. One year after the Mickey over a self-prescribed course of exercise, healthy food and good water, the recovery is complete and I adventure out again and again.
18. Six Miles of Smoke
´Railroad bulls drag hobos like you out long past lookin´ blue!’ a Grand Junction, Co. brakeman cautions gesturing grandly along the transcontinental rail toward the 6.2 mile Moffat tunnel that pierces the west flank of the Rockies. But I´m green and eager to chew up and spit out challenges, if need be, and climb aboard the only available flatcar ten stock behind six locomotives that rumble like beasts at the bit of a mile long freight.
The jiggling platform I hold down is a piggyback van mounted on a flatcar, leaning against the fat wheel, 330-degree view of life, sunshine smack in the face, thinkin´ how far, how long, and the number of ways to skin a road cat. Suddenly a mountain opens a dark mouth and swallows the piggyback at 25mph. The bore engulfs the tail of a smoke whip and reflects sparks everywhere. I yank a bandana to mask the face, choking.
Mile one into the tunnel: Smoke and noise ricochet along the shaft. Air burns. Dizzy. Mile
two: Flashbacks!- A road partner Iron Horse and I ride a boxcar into St. Louis as a white Bronco with a CB antenna keeps pace with a pistol pointing at my heart and a bull behind it yelling, ´If you have a weapon I will shoot you!´ Mile two: I slip to the rolling platform for cooler breaths but inhale only rank gas, and another memory takes hold- On a Christmas Southern Pacific from California to Texas I reach to catch a moving ladder in a rainstorm outside Yuma. The rung slips and I crash against the grain car, ricochet to the cinders and watch the cookie cutter wheels roll by my nose. Mile four: Beside myself with suffocation, I must remember or pass out. A bull tangle leads to a court date in Salt Lake City. Gizmo Kid, the founder of Linux-Care, and Colorado Casey, a gold speculator, face time in the cross-bar hotel for breaking into an automobile carrier that we didn’t enter. Gizmo, having once caught the Encyclopedia Britannica in his head, eyes the judge with his gray pate, leftover smile and a Freemason ring with a raised gavel. He flashes his honor the secret fraternal sign, and the judge pounds the gavel, ´Dismissed with Prejudice!´. Five miles: I'm a poisoned bug on a mechanical worm. Smoke balls the stomach and limbs twitch until, with the Sixth mile to go, I pass out.
The light at the end of the tunnel hold´s a sharp blast of sweet air in sunlight. I made it!
19. Lions in Camp
The Kenya Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world that is a smorgasbord for the king of beasts. Tonight I am on the menu. The high diversity of animals relates to the diverse habitats that our 8-person safari truck has bumped about for a week ranging from grassy plains where we see hundreds of migrating zebras, thousands of antelope and tens of thousands wildebeests. Dozens of 12´ crocodiles and hulking Cape buffalo battle in shrinking puddles until the last drops. An aardvark parades as big as a Volkswagen and elephant tusks jut two-stories over the truck. Herds of wide-eyed ostriches bob heads as the English ladies break upper brows to the crush and scream of ´I got you bast…!´ in opening the meat cleaver wings of Tsetse flies on their fair skins before the clouds put them to sleep. We run into a crash of four rhinoceros who are as blind as Magoos but with strong noses for French perfume chase the girls and me to musical trees where I gallantly am the last one pushing them up on the hinnies to the lowest limb to hang like fruit. One midnight the Dutch lasses shriek ´Bo!´ on hearing Chomp at the foot of their tent, and I fling open my door to the 5´ wide smile of a grazing hippopotamus. We follow a pride of lions taking down wildebeest in a bloody lunch, and none of the others have the intellect and curiosity of the king of beasts to study our truck windows trying to figure out how to get in. This evening the unfed lions tail the fat tired, high sprung Mercedes Fire truck converted to safari vehicle up a stony hill to an open camp above the Serengeti.
It seems crazy to camp in Wild Kingdom without a shotgun, and yet we clients dutifully set the little pup tents in a neat row, mine a single as the only male. Baboons strut about as if owning the place and I open the outhouse in a malaria fit to vomit and bats flit out as a 160lb spotted Hyena laughs, ´Excuse me!´ before stepping out.
The night creatures are a worry and the malaria more so as I stagger to the tent, half zip the door and fall recumbent on the blanket. Catalepsy sets in with a muscular rigidity, fixity of posture and paralysis while remaining alert. In vet school a pharmacology instructor gave a mouse a cataleptic drug, stood him on hind legs, stuck a cigarette in his mouth and it smoked without moving as I cried.
I hear them padding and sniffing at the tent flat. Lions in Camp! A male likely longer than the 7´ pup tent rubs the canvas and roars like a freight train. Paralyzed, it is the first time in my life to faint.
If parallel universes exist, I fall into one and awaken the next morning when the guide tugs my toe and yells to rise and shine or miss the truck. Then he eyes the waxen hands, feels the fevered brow and shouts, ´Malaria!´ ordering the gaggle to dismantle the tent and heap me on the safari truck floor. It rocks a half-day to a Red Cross on a white house on a green riverbank and the women deposit me in the sole hospital bed before leaving down the track.
The graying nurse declares cerebral malaria, and adds that though out of quinine tomorrow a boat connects to a road with Nairobi bound vehicles. Overnight a leaden headache and dry heaves break blood vessels in my eyes until the following midday I squint into the sun and am piled on the boat deck. A few hours later on docking the near corpse in my clothes is loaded onto the floor of a taxi and rushed to the Nairobi General Hospital where I vaguely recall a Caucasian tropical medicine specialist diagnoses cerebral malaria and holds out a tiny white tablet saying, ´You may take this and probably live, or not and surely die.´ I nod, and after several attempts a nurse forces the pill past vomit and rubs it down my throat.
One of the greatest instant reliefs in medicine is quinine, so the next morning I feel stable, swallow another pill, and in the afternoon feel good, and by evening just want to flee the attendants´ hourly pulse probes, blood pressure cuffs, and pricks in my veins. The nurses and assistants think this is necessary for recovery but the doctors and administration know it is to cover the hospital liabilities.
In the wee hours, unable to rest, I rise and tiptoe past the other patients to the clothes chest, dress, out the room and slither a darkened hall to the cashier at the front door. I don a bright face, introduce myself as a visiting medical philanthropist and hand the sleepy clerk a $100 bill. Turning on a question mark, I escape into a quiet street to a hostel to self-treat with quinine, and after the eight count get up for the next round.
20. Hit and Run
The motorcycle is scarcely warm between my legs approaching the signal, rolls through green, into the intersection and out of the San Diego night an old Caddy accelerates along University Drive trying to make the light. It broadsides the sidecar hack and the attached Honda 450 tumbles over twice while I hover above it having jumped on the toe pegs to avoid the brunt of the 30mph blow. I bounce once on the street in the middle of circulation, see oncoming lights and leap just in time to take a glancing blow from another car that doesn´t stop either.
In a two second window I am the victim of two hit and runs!!
Minutes early I had downed a hot chocolate at 7-11 to brace for the cold night, nodded to two policemen on the way out, heard a dog bark, hopped on the bike and pulled into the intersection.
On hearing brakes squeal the cops rush out and one helps me to my elbows while the other sprints for the patrol car. ´I´m fine,´ I assure him, though I´m not but don’t want the trauma and bill of the Paramedics. He jumps in the police car that lays a patch. ´Justice will be done.´ quips a bearded homeless man and trundles a shopping cart by watching the high speed chase.
Unable to get to my feet on the road shoulder, I roll to a speed limit sign and scratch up the post to stand and think through a daze. The dispatcher has been radioed for about a five minutes response to leave the premise or face a third assault by big hearted bureaucrats. Unable to walk ahead because of the crush of the left leg between cycle and hack, I begin a backward shuffle for one minute to flush the adrenalin along the system, and to appraise myself medically. Possible internal abdominal injury, lungs okay, mild shock with a shallow rapid pulse, and a few abrasions. Now I can walk forward with a gimp and respiratory pain against the right ribs from the glancing blow.
The bike and sidecar have miraculously somersaulted upright, and except for broken windshields, a bent fork and flooded engine that won´t turn over, I can push it. Shaking in pain, I shove the crippled bike to my Hillcrest basement home and feel the better for having walked off murderous cramps. Doubtless the Paramedics and sheriff are surveying the broken glass and blood wondering what became of the ghost biker.
I shudder into unconsciousness on the cellar bed, and unable to get up on the second day the upstairs tenant comes knocking with food. On the third day I walk with the help of a 2×4 crutch to a corner payphone, and skid through an insurance claim despite California no-fault if I obtain a police report. I hang up, dial, and the SDPD voice on the other end intones there is no police report which makes sense because the victim escaped after the drivers. Recalling the helpful policeman’s chest nametag ended in ´…ski´, the voice replies, ´That could be any number of our officers.´ I describe him to no avail, and since there is no record of anything the sympathetic Sergeant loses patience and mumbles hoax warning of a trace on the line. Then I recall a peculiar muffled dog bark and guess it might be a Canine Unit. ´Bingo!´ the detective shouts. ´That´s officer ´Z…ski´ and hold on… he just verified and is writing a tardy police report, and despite not being to apprehend the two hit and runners, Officer Z wishes you well.´ An hour later I pick up the report, receive an insurance check, and no I didn’t get post-traumatic stress on this or any of the other survivals.
I refuse to capitalize it. It is an empty coin by psychologists to keep themselves in work. You walk in the path of death daily, doesn’t matter if you´re a jet pilot or an Avon lady, and if you crash, miscarriage, get robbed, chased by a bull, or hit by a car a couple times, just deal with it and get back on your feet, shake hands and come out fighting.
Flames lick the window of a skid road room in San Francisco as I try to save the date in a bucket brigade from the shower and relate as rapidly as the hands fly how the curtain rose over my sex life in veterinary school so long ago, chasing a female intern to and from the anatomy lab with a dog´s penis. She is impressed enough to ask me to the Michigan State cow barn having a newsworthy cow with a glass side, for a roll in the hay. I spoon out the plastic sleeves in anticipation of cold feet only to palpate the cow to gauge her estrus and then watch the fodder roll around through the glass. She leaves me in the barn but there are two girls left in the 50-man vet class.
Thinking rapport is the key to romance. I memorize the days of every date in the upcoming decade with a simple mnemonic, and prove it to the woman throwing water on the wall that on a Friday thirty years ago I spewed logic riddles to entice the next-to-last girl in vet school, spending a small sum on a watch that reflects on her forehead each hour, ´Time to Copulate´ so I´d know when to stop the jokes. She flees to an equine pathology text. I take the last girl in class to the Tin Lizzy bar in Lansing, Michigan with a little magic up my sleeve and as the band cranks Inagadadavida, I pull fire out of my fist that backfires up into the lovely face of the second smartest girl I've ever known and burns off her eyebrows and lashes. She screams past the bouncer, I beg the date in the burning room, at once realizing in the smoke of my past romances that they must escalate into a burning ring of fire.
I travel for two years on hard times with a small flask with a tapered neck that functions as a Genie´s lamp with a recipe of 1:4 alcohol to water that covers the bottom two-inches. On sloshing three times the surface emits a vapor that can throw a lighted match into a mini Northern Lights as the ignited vapor burns and evaporates at an equal rate rising and falling in a 3¨ thick ring up and down the inside of the flask. If the pre-shake is less than three not enough vapor generates for a show, and if too many times…
I don´t dare until I finally find the girl of my dreams and math major in her nail-biting final exams at San Francisco College and take her out for a couple extra shakes. On throwing in a match, the fire ring magically rises up and down much thicker and more rapidly than normal, until it begins thumping and jumping out the neck and above the flask. The glass bowl shatters and a ring of fire leaps out and crawls up a curtain setting it in bright flames. The old walls are flame retardant and only blacken to stop the romance as we hurry the bucket brigade of trash baskets from the shower, telling her, ´The lesson is in the heat of the moment is don´t lose your head to dangerous romance´, and after the fire´s out she loves me for it.
The Sapo green tree frog offers predator snakes, crocs and birds the most poisonous secretion in the world used by the Matses to poison darts, US special forces in Peru to enhance bullet tips, and burned into the biceps of Iquitos tourists as a death rehearsal. However tonight´s batch goes to scientists worldwide to analyze the ingredients of the most biochemically active substance known to man whose medical benefits are hardly imaginable. Last night I helped hunt and tend the 'waiting room' of thirteen Sapo frogs in a jungle operation in the Loreto state of Peruvian.
Picture captions tell the story of the Frog Hunt.
1. The Sapo Frog is plucked like green fruit from trees at night. (pic1 )
2. The frog is splayed between four sticks. (pic2 )
3. Toes are pinched all around to aggravate a flow of mucus secretion. (pic3 )
4. Venom is scraped off the back and legs. (pic4 )
5. And transferred to a stick where it crystallizes overnight. (pic5 )
6. The frog is released back into the trees. (pic6 )
Full story of the Frog Hunt is coming.
My earliest fond memory of being trapped in our Idaho basement and constructing a ladder of chairs to escape through the clothes hamper was a rebirth to adventure. I read Bomba the Jungle Boy, Tarzan and graduated to the non-fiction Kon-Tiki and Endurance before taking a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. This education of an adventurer and self-treatment for wounds in the jungles, mountains, deserts, skid roads and oceans of 100+ countries beneath a backpack full of dreams with a few nightmares led to multiple survivals.
The nearer to death is not always the better story, yet the survival techniques offer broadening principles for everyday life. Here are my Top 10 adventures with a death element and how I lived to tell them.
1. Lost in the Amazon
The jungle is the most inhospitable region on earth with the Amazon rainforest the largest and most remote. I had thought to make the jungle my friend by first interviewing at Aires Burger in Iquitos, Peru veteran guide Juan Maldenado who instructed not to eat before a rainstorm or you´ll get hypothermia, and if lost to follow the small tributaries to larger rivers that will flow to civilization. Then I hired Carlos Grande, a pot-bellied guide who on the eleventh day of a 21-day expedition from the headwaters of the Amazon abandoned me in the chlorophyll.
Everything is green when you´re lost in the Amazon. Carlos Grande left me in a Mayoruna Indian hut on stilts over the Rio Javari because of rumored cocaine narcoterrorist flanks on our overland trek. The Mayoruna, called Cat People for whisker tattoos sprouting from beneath the noses to ears, are a scattered population of about 2000 in the most inaccessible areas. The farther from civilization the quicker the tribesmen appear to drink blood, the naked children touch never having seen white skin, bare breasted women grin shyly, and pink dolphins with reputed ESP jump in the rivers.
As if in silent alarm the village suddenly empties to the river bank, and a fierce faced chief thrusts a paddle out one hand, an outstretched palm the other, and because of a dialect barrier nods at a 6´ child´s canoe down the muddy shore. The rest of the thirty adult villagers bob up and down behind him holding machetes overhead. Thrown into confusion I try the magic of biting off my thumb and swallowing it that draws giggles from children but the chief wiggles his whiskers shaking the oar in my face. So, I dance a jig in a circle like Richard Chamberlain in Shogan to convince him I am too silly to cast off, but he looks sternly past my ears.
Not crazy, I dig in a pocket and hand over the equivalent of $6 for the broken oar and canoe, step in and shove off… in a child´s canoe on an unknown river with no destination other than the courage of early explorer Percy Fawcett and Maldenado´s advice to follow the small rivers to larger ones to civilization.
Day one: No food, sunburnt, plate sized colorful butterflies, water sipped from the river induces fever, a green snake off the bow, more pink dolphins, mosquitoes at dusk, howler monkeys in the trees, and drifting under starlight. Day two: The canoe centerline is one foot and with the least teeter water pours over the lip. I must urinate where I sit, but defecation is out of the question from an empty bowel. Day three: Lost on an oxbow, I rudder into a stick dock and fall overboard into the helping arms of an old gent with fading tattoo whiskers who shares his yucca. Day four: A motorized pecapeca canoe sides mine and takes the child´s in trade for a half-day´s passage to the Brazil border. At the border two barefoot teen soldiers in tattered fatigues wade out bearing down with AK-47s and raised sights on my three-week beard, ripped clothes, sunburned skin hanging with leeches, and enormously swollen feet.
I don´t have the Spanish to tell them, ´My philosophy is when you think things can't get any worse, it will, so stop griping and deal with it.´ ´Venga!´ they order, ushering me up the bank to the commandant saying that only narcoterrorists look like Indiana Jones on a bad day.
´Welcome to Colonia Angamos on the Yavari River,´ greets the Colonel pumping my raw paddle palm. We hunker on wood crates in his thatch roof, dirt floor office and are joined by the non-military town chief. They politely ask me to prove that I am not hustling cocaine from Peru to Brazil, and satisfied after a ten minute explanation of the abandonment order me carted on the two barefoot soldier´s shoulders to the town hospital where a nurse injects tetracycline and morphine. I fall onto a clean sheet in a provided bed of a thatched hut with chickens and hogs rooting beneath, rats skittering the walls, cats on deck, and parrots flitting in the air. For two, three, I don't remember how many days I drift in and out this surrealism until jolted upright by a powerful thwak-thwak over the roof. A youth helps me stagger across a swinging bridge onto a grassy military airfield where a General is stepping out a chopper.
´Sir, I address him in Spanish. Do you speak English?.´
The kindly man who looks like Walter Cronkite replies, ´Yes, but Spanish is better.´
´I am sick.´
´I can see that.´
´Can you medevac me to Iquitos?´
´We shall see,´
In three hours after meetings with the commandant and officers, the General returns and helps me by the elbow into the copter. It rises into a checkerboard of sunshine and clouds and two hours later drops me at the Iquitos military airport.
´What do I owe, General?´ I ask hopping out and feeling better.
´Your good health!´ he laughs, and the chopper takes off into the sun.
2. Bear Attack!
My little encounter occurs five years ago at a New Mexico mountain streamside. Hiking along the river, suddenly a black blur bursts out the bushes and I know in an instant it can make two moves for every one of mine, that one throws everything out he has read unless he has mentally or physically rehearsed it, and that I had better hurry up and react. The 350lb black bear looks up at me as it has been tracking, sands on it hind legs eight feet away and peers into my eyes. The afternoon sun glistens beautifully on its fur like a lover. She is a foot shorter than me, so I raise my hands to the height of my earlobes. The bear raises its paws to the same. Then I raise my hands six inches higher with the elbows crooked, and the bear stretches its paws overhead as high as it can to equal mine. I shoot my hands straight up in the air to make myself appear taller or in surrender- let her decide- and the bear drops to the ground, dashes to a nearby pine, and leaps up scratching marks in the bark that I would have to stand on tiptoes to reach. Then she drops, gives me a bear grin, and scampers into the bush. A peak experience at 3500´.
The first freight I caught was in a VW van on the cowcatcher of a 25mph locomotive that scooped and carried me 300 yards down the track on the cowcatcher. The brakes scream and my life including these survivals passes before my eyes glued out the tilted window at the advancing rail. My hands grasp the bent steering wheel as the VW crushed in a V slides slowly down the catcher toward the sparking wheels as the locomotive decelerates to a stop. I escape out the window with sprained thumbs, and the vow to live life full tilt.
4. Tin Leg
I gaze down the long barrel of a .45 leveled at my chest.´You have the wrong man.´
´You may not be the guy I'm lookin' for, but you're close enough.´
The old codger on the Los Angeles sidewalk takes a step up and spews cheap wine breath, ´I was a bank robber. Red and me was the best east of the Mississippi.´.
The pistol sight hangs a yard from my heart, just out of reach. I follow it to the hand, and into the deep sorrowful eyes of the beholder. ´Did I tell you I was a bank robber? Me and red was the best west of the Mississippi.´
Passersby weave about like current around stumps, and it´s the first time I´ve been the center of attention of bystander apathy.
´Tell me more,´ urging him to get it out.
´Well?´ he demands, expecting an answer.
´I still say you have the wrong man.´
´Son, my gun is still a-pointin' at you.´
My mind races for words. The right ones can save me; the wrong ones end in a puff of smoke.
He doesn't appear drunk. We've never met. This is real. I was just a regular citizen strolling a sidewalk a minute ago. More passersby flow around us. He is too alert to sidestep.
´You handle that gun like you know how to use it, I'll make no bones about it. Nothing to fear from me, Mister. Say where did you get your gun skill? ´
´You're damn right. Where? I was squeezin´ trigger in Shy Town (Chicago) before you were at mamma's nipple. Red and me knocked 'em down from Memphis to San Francisco and a lot of spots between."
´Better believe it, sweet Jesus! It was a fine life until one caper on the getaway I didn't outrun a bullet."
´That's right, son. Slowed me down and put an end to my career. Life ain't been so good since.´
His eyes lower and mine water. Now he drops the end of the pistol, lets it fall to his side and suddenly raps smartly the barrel on his right leg. A metallic THWANG sends the foot traffic in a wide arc. As quickly the big .45 swings up to my breast.
´Tin, young man.´
´Don't doze off on me, fella. You say you ain't the one that shot me and I say you are. Why'd you come back for more?´
´You are a patient man, Mister. Anyone can tell you that. So tell me about the old days when the gun was necessary.´
´I'm ancient but I ain't no fool. Why I oughta …´
A gravel voice booms behind me. I fear to turn that it will be my last because when a man with a tin leg and long barrel orders me stay still, I listen.
´Nick! old friend. The voice roars. Put that pea-shooter away. ´You know how thick the heat is around here. Put the gun in your pocket,´ he commands. Could this be Red? Suddenly there is no chance to find out because I´m shoved between the shoulder blades past the gunman and down the sidewalk.
´Aw, all right, just for you,´ sniffs the old man behind me. ´I'm just old. Did I ever tell you about when Red and me were the best bank robbers between Mexico and Canada?"
´A dozen times if you told me once, but tell me again.´
THWANG I lose the rest of their conversation in a metallic ring that reverberates in my ears to this day.
5. Florida Trail
The Florida Trail stretches 500 miles the length of the state from the Everglades to Georgia border. It begins near Alligator Alley that traverses the everglades east-west where motorists currently pay a $3.00 toll for game wardens to remove or sheriffs to shoot up to 13´ gators from State Road 84. I crawl via a gator path under a tremendous 10´ chain link fence built to contain the reptiles, look up and down the road at a couple five-footers sunning on the asphalt, and climb the fence on the other side.My romance with the Alley began years earlier with the mysterious arrival of a package addressed to Philmore Hare, my 7´stuffed rabbit who rode shotgun next to me in a ´74 Chevy van waving down via an invisible fish line attached to its hand passersby in a search for intellectuality. The return address was Linda Smith in Orlando, and the package opened to a sprig of hand-sewn stuffed carrots and a note, ´I read about your owner in Sports Illustrated ( Nov. 19, 1979), and as the Sea World seal handler would like to train him to bark. If interested, meet me at midnight at mile marker #99 of Alligator Alley on New Year´s eve.´ I met and fell in lust with Linda and then her Everglades, and long after an owl came into her camp I returned to near the marker in a sort of memorial hike to her.
The trail proves more dangerous as the days progress to weeks and then after a month´s march north along an unmarked footpath with a sketchy guidebook on the day before reaching the George line I step into a bog that oozes like dark mashed potatoes with no plate. The conventional method to extract from a soft spot is to fall forward into a crawl and swim out, however my boots are entwined below in vines or roots and the pull of the pack straps prevents it. Next the manuals advise scream ´HEEEELP!´ but I haven´t seen anyone ever on trail, and instead while sinking to my navel scan about and think it queer to be missing the lower body half. The vicissitudes of the past month flash before my tearing eyes…
Sleeping with tarantulas in trees above snapping turtles, stepping over 5´ Cottonmouths, monkeying over log bridges, getting shot at by deer hunters, hiking a 20´ wide two-mile levee of a gauntlet of hundreds of alligators 30´away and up to 13 feet long that can sprint faster than a racehorse, hungry and lost dozens of times, and a water experiment designed after John Muir who fell ill with ´swamp fever´ in Florida on a walk down from Ohio…
Unable to afford a water filter, I tested each source with a series of pint plastic bottles from rivers to saw grass marshes by sipping mouthfuls, rolling each around my tongue, drinking a pint from any savory source, and thirty minutes later taking my body temperature with an oral thermometer and recording them in a Francis Galtonian chart. Normal temp is 98.6F, and over the course of a month the generalities proved that flowing streams and saw grass swamps were clean and without a fever; large lakes brought about a degree increase to 99.5F that I easily continue hiking; stagnant ponds or standing water raised to 101F for which I had to stop to let a gutache or headache pass, and only once at 102F did I pass out for a few hours. Fever isn't a disease but a fighting style, so by the time I sink in the bog on the last day there is probably immunity to everything in it but death.
It is inglorious that after enduring a hundred water tests that I would drown in this bayou. I kick the bottomless mire, give up, shake hands with the phantom of Philmore, sink to the chest, kiss the spirit of Linda goodbye, and open wide for the last gag.
The descent stops, and I look about. Empty water bottles strapped to the outside of the pack are acting as ballast to keep me afloat. With them I´m able to breaststroke to shore and crawl out caked with muck and Spanish moss. A swamp monster appears lost and shambling along a fence line for some hours until the crack of a whip like Rawhide and ´He Haa!´ breaks the air, with the sound of advancing hoof beats. A burly cowboy in a white hat on a black stallion waving a whip above his head gallops along the fence and hard reins the horse that rears pawing the sky like Silver missing my chin by scant inches.
´Mister, I just walked 500 miles and crawled out of a bog or I´d give you a hug.´
´Bud, grouses the cowboy, I smelt you comin´ through the heifers a half-mile back. Follow the horse´s tail to my ranch and we´ll fix you up.´ After a warm meal and bed, the next morning I leave with springs in my feet for the Georgia line thinking anything else will be anticlimactic.
The drone of autos sounds along State Road 301 that parallels Alligator Alley 500 walking miles over my shoulder. A battered Ford sways onto the shoulder and a white gloved thumb jerks me into the back seat, I slam the door, and the driver turns around to show a white beard and red stocking cap. ´Merry Christmas!´ yells the driver swinging the wheeled sleigh onto the road and I Ho Ho Ho into the next county.
6. Dollar an Inch of Skin
I draw an assignment to seed capitalism around the globe. One of the early stops is Caracas, Venezuela where an applecart salesman who is writing an English teaching manual is to be handed $2000. My capitalist benefactor will take a receipt for 15% off the annual gross, and then it´s on to the next stop like the 1950´s TV series ´The Millionaire´ appearing on peoples´ doorsteps in surprise. I pause first in Caracas for a meal."May I change twenty American dollars if I eat?" I ask in Spanish.
The dish steams in my face in three minutes. The café is elongated like a French fry with a dozen tables and a tiny bar; just a place to get a meal before the next stop. There are two occupied tables, a husband-wife pair at dessert and two males drinking tall beers with their meals. I study the drinking men with their backs to me. Clean ebony skin, cropped hair, pressed shirts, and grace in bearing the bottles to their mouth. Inexplicably, one built like a cheetah raises the beer in salute. I nod, and at first bite see his dark face blush. Francis Galton observed in Africa that this betrays shame rather than embarrassment. The waiter clears the table, I order another plate and pay with an American Jackson, and in five minutes she returns with Venezuelan Bolivars change and the piping hot plate. The waitress leaves, the two drinkers exit, the cashier disappears, the cook is unseen, the floor sweep locks herself in the bathroom, and the married couple rises for the door.
The cheetah and his partner brush in past them with raised machetes. The split to stand to either side of the chair, the table's in front, and my back to the wall.
"Tranquillo," orders the cheetah jabbing me in the ribs with the machete point just hard enough to hurt. He holds the knife low and expertly. The blade is fourteen inches long, plus another six in the wood handle. The other knifeman hold his lower and stabs my thigh.
´Su dinero!!´ (Give us your money!)
´I spent it all.´ Everything in Spanish.
Jab. Jab. They double team me with the knives, one below the left floating rib and the other on the right thigh, bruising but not breaking the skin. If I move I´ll impale myself.
I try to stay way ahead of these bad guys. The first step is to secret stashes around the body with the idea of sequentially losing only one or two. The most obvious spot to a thug is a money pouch around the waist or neck, where I now carry a thick wad of small bills to raise the saliva of a hooligan. I struggle to pull my neck pouch but a sharp blow by the knife point in the ribs knocks the wind out of me. There´s another wad in my back pocket, I beg them to let me pull it and throw over their heads to greedily claw the green shower allowing an escape, but a sharp stab below the pocket prevents it. The cheetah slashes the neck pouch, and the other slices the pocket and the monies fall into their hands. Now all that´s left is the big store, the seed capital for all of South America, sewn inside my right pant calf. Inadvertently one of the jabs hits the thick pouch of hundreds. The knife slices out the secret pocket, they take the three purses, and flee.
´Silencio!´ the cheetah barks at the front door, and then they're gone. On cue, the sweep girl emerges from the bathroom and shakes her head sympathetically, the cook starts banging pots, and the waitress asks if I want another dish on the house. I'm cleaned out but alive with a full stomach and this is no place to linger. Today I bucked odds without spilling blood, learned about myself and, at the price of a dollar a square inch of skin, walk out on lighter feet.
7. Silverback Gorilla
The 500-pound mountain Silverback Gorilla stands five paces away drumming his chest. The arms can bench press 1000lb. and bend the 2¨ tempered steel bar. Yet the thin Rwandan guide behind me whispers, ´He will charge only if you are afraid.´
The male at 5´ 11¨ is big for the largest gorillas in the world. A harem of four females half his weight gather leaves behind him for the nest. He gazes at the four European girls behind me, and then locks my eyes. It´s taboo for wild animals to stare down but he must defend his honor. There is no need as I would trade my group for his for the education. You don't have to call them. You don't have to send them flowers…
He displaces, grabbing limbs and breaking them, racing up a 15-meter palm in two seconds and raining coconuts down on everyone, and then returns to the ground and stands chin to chin with me at the same distance.
´Bo, he likes you!' giggles a French girl behind me. The gorilla´s face twists in amusement. His shaggy neck is a stump and erect penis shorter than mine.
He beat his chest, and I open my shirt and do the same lightly. The girls and guide back off in my peripheral vision. It´s a respectful stare down of one man and one beast, and today there is no winner because the gorilla glances away bored.
The brute edges forward; It´s a bluff. He climbs a tree like a ballerina and roosts in a crotch twenty meters high in the last stronghold of the remaining 1800 Silverback gorillas on earth.
8. White Mountain Crash
Clomp, clomp across the Golden Gate bridge in a Bay Area 10k race that began one week ago with a crash on White Mountain. I am bicycling 1500 miles from Canada to Mexico along highways #101 and #1 on a Peugeot PX-10. ´Bikeman!´ is relayed for two weeks up and down the Pacific coast to ward off logger trucks on narrow mountain highways. Bikeman is my CB handle, a grasshopper on wheels in bug Walkman earphones with a 5´ Radio Shack antenna stretched ahead off the handlebar.
In the shank of a golden California evening churning the cranks through the Redwoods along bike pathless Highway 101 the road climbs, zeniths in a roadside splash of wildflowers, and I coast down the other side with the wind whistling in my ears and feeler. The grips tighten, and as the speedometer dials to 35mph a rabbit in the meadow catches my eye so the fraction arch of the brow starts a wobble that on trying to correct intensifies into a violent frame shudder that the brakes amplify. The front tire catches the soft dirt shoulder, stops, and I shoot over the handlebars as if shot out a cannon. A tumble skid back and forth across the asphalt and earth leaves a bloody ten yard exclamation!
At the dot I find my feet but it is difficult to walk. Blood streams everywhere on bare skin except the tennis shoes, shorts and curly hair. The bike front wheel is bent at 30-degrees like a flapjack that made only three-quarters the flip, and the remainder is in standard post-wreck condition of gimped stem, twisted seat, luggage strewn in a line, and paint chips everywhere. I sit by the bicycle along the roadside like a faithful dog. I don't know what to do. There is little money. I am far from anyone I know. My body hurts all over. The sun is setting. A siren sounds in the distance…
A fire engine, patrol car, ambulance and sheriff arrive in a fifteen minute window from a 911 call by a good Samaritan passerby and suddenly I´m surrounded by multi-color flashing lights and concerned uniformed men. The cool sheriff takes charge and on learning that I have no wherewithal for the hospital or hotel, advises all to leave except the fire truck to which the bike is strapped to the bumper, and he allows me on a blanket into the front seat of his patrol car. We cruise down White Mountain to the nearest little burg where he pays for a room for which I´m grateful to this day.
The room offers a wall mirror in which I play doctor – patient. You feel fine, just look bad. I shine a light in the right eye of the mirror and determine there is no concussion. The pulse is stringy with shock but evens to 60. Blood covers 80% of the skin with dirt and grime stuck like flies on good flypaper. I release the patient to the shower and it must be cold to wash off the blood and seal the bleeders. On emerging there is a clearer picture. Scrapes and scratches cover 30% of the skin, so I take the first aid kit consisting of a one-ounce bottle of Methiolate and dab all the raw spots I can reach, lay a towel on the bed, and collapse.
The next morning I pick up a couple bottles of Methiolate and one large of pink Calamine lotion for poison ivy from the roadside tumble. The bike won´t be fixed for another day, however the sports page announces a marathon at the Golden Gate Bridge, so I board a bus to watch. Yet on arriving on the north side a number is pinned on my chest and the race director ushers me to the frontrunners saying it will be good publicity to have a Pink Runner in the lead for a few seconds.
We´re off and in the first minute a hundred runners breeze by shouting ´Go Bikeman!´ I am 70% pink in black tennis shoes, a running advertisement for Methiolate and Calamine in a 10k race. I lose ground on downhills where the skin is stretched and jars with each step, and gain on uphills where the bubblegum scabs don't bounce. Bikeman!´ chant hundreds of spectators four-deep along the south ramp of the Bridge as runners sprint and slap my back until the blood flows to the tape.
After the finish there is another, as I hitch a ride back to the repaired Peugeot, and another on the bike to Mexico, and then another… wherever the last one lands me.
10. My Old Man and the Sea
The Indian Ocean surf on the white sand beach of Bali is cold between my south of the equator toes after a sunrise jog, and the unpeopled shore slopes sharply to the breakers. I backward walk through the rollers, dive through higher ones, and the first blow of a powerful offshore current carries me a quarter mile out to sea. With a patience breaststroke I fight the current for a minute without making headway. I shift to a strategy of floating and am carried another 200 yards out to sea.
Swells glide over the withdrawing layer of water, springing high and cresting with foam when the lip becomes too thin. An underwater tug-of-war for my body takes place with the waves beating me beachward and the undertoad pulling me outward until I grow dazed and thrust out the water like a porpoise for a view over the rollers of swell and break, swell and break on the island Bali.
What does it mean to fight for one's life? There is a position, a goal, a plan, struggle, and the outcome. I try a modest front crawl, make headway to the beach, then stop, rest and drift back out to sea. Then it´s an all-out swim kicking hard and extending my toes in hope, stop to survey, and am swept to sea. The difficulty of rest there is that I am an Ironwood human with a body fat of 7.8% compared to the floating average of 17%. Following another adrenalin pumped leaden legged battle with the current I reckon that for lack of body fat I´ll fall to Neptune and this afternoon´s tourist attraction washed up on the shore of Kuta beach may be a bloated man with a half-smile on wrinkled lips.
The breakdown of the emotions when caught in a rip tide is: Panic with hope; hope disappears and willpower takes hold; truth replaces will, and in horror I believe I will drown. But it is countered by a flashback of water memories of my old man and the sea. At five years he took me by the hand into the Santa Cruz Pacific, and let go saying, ´Look out for the under toad´ that I thought was a rare water frog and spent several gleeful hours chasing. Red Cross swim lessons followed at the Idaho Falls YMCA pool. He built a submarine in a basement. Body surfing on vacation off Coco Beach I swam headfirst into a Portuguese Man of War narrowly escaping the 6´ dreadful tentacles, and he pacified it. One day Pa showed up like Jacques Cousteau on our front yard dock over Browns Lake, Michigan lugging a bell helmet to which an umbilicus ran to an air compressor like a fish bowl to a bike pump. He yelled at me to stop riding off the dock on my bicycle to make way for my first diving lesson. It was extraordinary looking from inside an aquarium glass at the fish and snapping turtles, and opened a life to scuba diving. A peak underwater moment was having a mouthpiece torn from my lips and breaking bubbles with my teeth to take in oxygen mixed with water, separate it in the oral cavity with a chewing motion, spit out the water and breathe the air for three minutes. The snowdrifts piled to the windows of our Charlevoix, Mi. home and father walked out the front door every Saturday in a black wet suit, the neighbors chattered, ´There goes Galloping Gil´, and he jumped off the ice into half-frozen Lake Michigan to scuba for an hour. One Spring we pulled a 19th century anchor from the bottom using a 55-gallon drum sunk, tied, water displaced by tank air from the mouthpiece, and raised the 5´ anchor and leaned it against out front yard Maple tree.The flash of incidents was like holding a dance partner for his strength and caring. Then the watery history moved swiftly full circle to a mouthful of saltwater in the Indian Ocean. I flip onto my back. Many fish take or rejects air from its swimbladder, a carrot shaped sac off the gut in the upper body, by swallowing or burping air. The amount of air inside the bladder controls buoyancy and an average fish must be occupied with about five percent air by volume to float. With a body density that approximates the specific gravity of water, I use my lungs as a swimbladder, taking in half a lungful when I desire to hoover just beneath the surface, or a full lungful when I want to float, or exhale to sink like a tombstone. I take a big gulp, rest on my back and think. Buddhists believe their dying thoughts influence their next life but that presupposes the next life which i do not believe in. I refuse to go out kicking like a berserk fish.
I remember I learned to make water my friend. In this recovery a textbook solution comes to mind to swim parallel to the shore to escape the grasp of the rip, and I turn on my right side and begin the transverse. After five minutes onto the left side for five minutes more. In twenty minutes I pivot with an energy saving breast stroke toward Bali. The distance closes until my feet touch the bottom only to bob away. Finally I stand upright in waist deep and gratefully feel the push of rollers. I stagger heaving lungs through the breakers, crawl up the beach and flop in my earlier footprints. Our home should not be called Earth but Ocean for it is seven-tenths water. One body, dynamic under the sun's heat, over the planet's rotation, beneath the lunar tides and countless breezes and currents that shape our lives. I would have met Neptune today but was buoyed by a flash of memories owed to my father. It will be nice to see him again on what others say is his deathbed, tell the story, and thank him.
The lessonfrom these ten survivals is don't believe anyone who tells you, ´You're gonna DIE!´. But I had to put myself in the coffin after the Cold Freight trip. That winter I returned to my alma matter MSU seeking two things: warmth and money. I spent my last $50 on a simple pine coffin constructed by the woodwork instructor, who introduced me to the sociology dean at Lansing Community College who hired me to teach a sociology course ´Hobo Life in America´ You bet I took the first check and lined the coffin with electric blankets to sleep like a baby through the Michigan winter in a Lansing basement. The first night in the coffin was risky because I shut the door tight in the unheated basement and mentally calculated its cubic volume, my tidal respiration, and using a factor of 80% exhaled oxygen per breath determined there was enough to last eight hours, but set an alarm clock for seven hours as a failsafe.
The coffin from which I popped the next morning like a Jack-in-Box illustrates the formula for survivals: You venture beyond where most go, there´s a jam, you calculate the risk factors, and use a store of knowledge and experience to escape. I obviously have no death wish, but purely a strong will to calculate survival.
So it was with surprise last November I read of my recent death in Mexico hopping freight trains in dozens of Emails and Facebook posts. My family on not hearing from me for three months had filed a missing person report with the El Centro, Ca. police department, and assumed the worst on not hearing back from them. They appealed online. The death spiral was finally clipped by an a post-obituary in Chicagoist ´From the Vault of Art Shay: The Legend of Bo Keeley Grows´ (12-14-11) which explained simply that I had retreated to my Sand Valley home to feed the animals and write.
The mind is the best all-purpose survival tool, and it is honed by experiences. The first test venture is the only difficult one, so head out as I am in the Amazon encountering fer de lance, tarantulas and Sapo frogs, and live to tell the stories.
The Amazon comes alive after sunset with interesting creatures.
These are from one night´s four hour hike:
I grew up running barefoot on paved Michigan county roads, graduated to marathon running in Converse Chucks tennis shoes, and had the honor of jogging with Micah True of Born to Run in Mexico´s Copper Canyon before he ran to exhaustion recently in New Mexico. RIP.
The effects of trotting barefoot as the author points out are obvious to anyone who has tried it both ways. The heel extends farther allowing the calf muscles and Achilles tendon to lengthen. Repeat this tens of thousands of times and there´s a physical change in the legs and gait. One notices the same effects in hiking long distance, say on the soft rather than hard soil of the Vermont Long Trail, or running the beach during low tide, or around that well-trodden track within Central Park. In all places, barefoot or not but better barefoot if the feet hold up, the effects all stem from widening of the unshod foot, and from a longer, more natural stride.
Here´s a story from Micah True´s lips after he threw a playful kick at me about four years ago to demonstrate his world ranking as a kick boxer. Most people knew him as a runner, then as a boxer, but he also had a stint as a full contact pugilist that has a sanguine ending. Micah had terrific reach at maybe 6´4¨ with arms and legs. He got into the boxing ring once and found that years of running barefoot provided the balance and stamina required to kept him in the ring long enough to win fights. He got a small time manager on a two-bit boxing circuit like Louis L´Amour. He also started writing a fictionalized account in the buses and skid row hotels as he traveled, that was his shadow boxer.
He went on a winning streak, as the book reflected, and because he was so tall and Caucasian his agent got him a contract with the 2nd ranked in the world full contact karate champion. The bout was three weeks away on the Pacific Rim, but True had the boxing technique, and the savvy to know that if he threw the required half-dozen or so required kicks per round he could oust the man with his longer reach punches. He won, and for a few weeks was ranked #4 in the world of full contact martial arts.
With the notoriety, he fell in love, as the novel he scribbled between bouts reflected, he told me, with a beautiful masseuse who massaged him before matches and unlimbered him after. As sometimes happens in the sordid boxing world, she ran off with another boxer, and he was so distraught that he lost a pivotal match he should have won. His world ranking fell until it was no longer economically feasible to travel overseas for full contact karate, and he reverted to the second-rate American boxing circuit, riding in buses, sleeping in flophouses…
His novel began to mix up his mind so he could no longer identify between what happened on the pages and in real life. He wrote a happy ending but didn’t know if he could reach it. So he retreated from both to the California redwoods where he built a bonfire, lit a cigarette, and one by one fed the hundreds of pages of the novel into the fire.
Unbridled now, he returned to running distances. He picked out spots 25 miles away in the Copper Canyon that fifteen Grand Canyons can drop into, and ran there, and back, and this is what he was doing when I met him on a hike. Then he died and we are talking about the length of his stride.
The two most salient features on the face of the Peru economic boom are corruption and fat.
The Transparency International is a world index of the corruption of nations you may choose to live or do business in. You may read about it, except between the lines, as Peru businessmen point out, that the index method is the perception of businessmen doing business in the countries. Among corrupt South America, Peru is rank middle-of-road but actually is the most corrupt country on the continent, if not the world. This is because nearly every businessman by default is corrupt in order to do business in Peru. Certainly they are not going to report that to TI.
A fun way to look at fat is on a calculator based on research pulled together by a research team at the London School of Hygiene. Using United Nations data on population size in the world´s nations together with estimates of global weight from WHO and mean height from International Health examinations, the calculator figures an average BMI (body mass index) for human fat. It so happens that Peru is in the midst of one of the largest economic booms due to relaxed foreign trade restrictions and increased gold price since the rubber boom bounced in early 1900s.
Today on the streets of Iquitos I see each person has gained 10 lbs. Under new polyester shirts in a rising middle class since my last visit four years ago. Where are you on the global corruption and fat scales?
Today I watched a child kiss her pregnant mother goodbye on the stomach. Children are that important in Peru.
Being a naturalist means doubling as a mid-wife in the Amazon, as Richard Fowler has found on five occasions. Probing the deepest Amazon he is legend in backwater villages as the Lone Ranger mid-wife where there is no medical facility.
A few days ago, I met the grinning 6-year old godson whom his mother, Lilla, claims has never had a sick day, compared to the siblings with a gauntlet of gripe, malaria, hepatitis and other ailments as common in Amazonia as chicken pox and measles are to American kids. Her smile was as wide as her child's as she hugged Richard with great might.
It was 3-degrees south of the equator, 100km off the tourist grid up the Ampiyacu River where few outsiders venture. Richard was tapped from a deep sleep by scared and panicky villagers of Lilla, a young widow of the chief´s son from Pucarquillo another 100km downriver. It was a surprise as the baby wasn´t expected for another month.
She was stepping off the platform of the hut when he arrived, and grabbed the edge, assuming a squatting position, as is the natural way for a bush birth. No screams, no grimaces, ´Just inhale and exhale,' he told her, and put a towel in the drop zone. He instructed the father into a quarterback position who caught the 3kg baby boy named Jason.
Fowler´s first delivery was in Vietnam as he led his 101st Airborne squad in a search and destroy foray into a tiny village where the Viet Cong couldn´t be distinguished from the natives. A stunned lady fell to the ground in labor.
´We´ve done enough bad today, Now let´s do some good, ´The point man boiled rags, the gunner found gloves, and the lady gasped in the first pang of birth. He caught the baby like Yogi Berra, and handed it to the radio man to hold. The woman started to rise, and he pressed her down gently gesturing, ´Wait for the placenta.´ It passed.
He waited for the umbilicus to turn from blue to white, and then sliced it with a one-foot hunting knife that he carries to this day for such occasions. He pressed the baby to its mother´s chest, smiles all around, and wagged his finger at her, ´Don´t name him Charlie.´
Since that first delivery the Amazon midwife has caught four others leaving behind only a white umbilicus.
The current issue of Outside magazine has an article called "Could You Survive" with 27 tips on how to survive a shark attack, a cougar attack, an avalanche, falling through ice, and a forest fire. The tips seem very relevant to how to survive in markets. But I don't know enough about survival and Hobo is far away I believe in Ecuador or Blythe and not likely to have access to this issue, so I appeal to the survivalists here to relate the good and bad tips to our field.
Jim Sogi writes:
Surviving specific threats is very specific. With a bear, one does not fight back, but plays dead after the attack. However, before the attack one must counter charge and wave hands, yell make noise because the first few charges are bluffs. With a cougar, one must fight back with all you have. Prevention, avoidance and awareness of bears and cougars before an attack are even more important.
It's important to know the context in which the threat occurs and the nature of the threat. In terms of markets, its foolish to fight back aggressively at the top of a rapidly falling market. Its a different story near lows after a big fall in a consolidating bottom. That's one of the problems with a list of general rules. While they can be good rules of thumb, they might not apply in a certain specific situation. Beginners or the inexperienced tend to rely on simple rules and get into trouble by applying the rules in the wrong context. When the "rule" doesn't work then panic sets in, multiple mistakes are made and death ensues. Experts use different and more specific sets of checklists and know the context.
Tom Printon writes:
Deep Survival by Gonzales and Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawade echo Jim's points, both make for good summer reads or re-reads.
Bo Keely writes:
I ran this by bear, gator, snake & cougar wrestler naturalist Richard Fowler and he sent us this:
THE MAIN THING IS NEVER RUN FROM A WILD ANIMAL. THEY WAIT AND WANT THAT. UNLESS YOU HAVE A SHORT SPRINT TO A PLACE OF SAFETY, CAR, HOUSE, ETC. ALWAYS CARRY BEAR GAS. HOWEVER LONG DISTANCE WASP SPRAY IS BEST. BRING A GUN THAT STARTS WITH THE NUMBER 4 OR BIGGER, AND. ALWAYS SHOOT THE SHOULDER AREA OF AN ATTACK TO UPSET THEIR BALANCE IN THE CHARGE. THEN FINISH HIM OFF.
It was a cold night in Baja a month ago when I struggled off the trail into a ghost town with an adobe house, and scraped a hole in the leaves for a nest, and thinking twice pushed them into a corner to start a fire. I fell asleep, but the fire did not, with a view of the stars through the rafters.
In minutes the flames climbed the corner reflecting heat and singing my blanket. They licked the dry rafters that sparked, and ignited the corner that threatened to leap to the next house. There was no water in my canteen, however recall from Jonathan Swift´s Gulliver´s Travels, (thinking quickly, Gulliver chooses to urinate on the fire, putting it out completely and keeping it from spreading to the rest of the palace) I swiftly leaped and dashed out the open door to climb broken bricks on the outside. Standing at the top, I extinguished the blazing rafters with a stream of urine to save the ghost town from certain death.
The 100+ citizen line winds early each morning around the block across from Yellow Rose of Texas where I eat breakfast. There arrive from every two-bit port and jungle hamlet to Iquitos to replace their identity cards, the equivalent of a U.S. driver's license, that is required of each person over the age of 18. They will say their cards were lost to save money, to beat the system. This is the way it works. In Peru each person over the age of 18 must have an identity card at a cost of about $8, or nearly a day's wage. Peruvians are required to vote in the national elections every five years, and for the city mayor, and a sticker is put on the card at each election. If a citizen misses a vote his card is invalidated, and if picked up with an invalid card he is fined $70. It is cheaper to wait in line for hours and pay $10 for a replacement.
A sporting illustration of the nature vs. nurture argument occurred a few years ago when San Diego Horizon high school visited our Blythe, California Yellowjackets on our own playing field. The visiting team was ´naturally´ genetically gifted in one of the top scholastic and beefiest schools in San Diego county, while the Blythe bunch was a ´nurtured´ dirty dozen playing in one of the harshest environment on earth. The visitors outweighed the home team by about 15 pounds per body, but our boys had practiced double-day workouts throughout August with daily highs of never below 120F in preparation for the homecoming game.
I entered on the visitors´ side to go recognized as a teacher by the students and players who had been talking the game up all week. It was a starry night, 9pm and the field thermometer dipped to 100F at the kickoff. The Horizon visitors lined up holding hands along the sideline in front of me swaying gently in silent prayer until the referee´s whistle, as across the field the Yellowjackets piled on each other like a tumbled hive as the student body screamed like banshees.
I heard a ´Putt Putt´ over my shoulder and was started to see the town mosquito fogging machine rolling 10´ behind me on the running track along the sideline. The machine spewed a deadly spray that engulfed and rose above the bleachers and line of Horizon players like a San Francesco fog. Six species of flying insects fell dead on arrival from the field lights into the hair of the visiting team parents, and mothers squealed and left for Starbucks. One cheerleader fell to the ground clicking her heels in spasms and I waved for the nearby ambulance. Two football players went to their knees and vomited piles a short run from my feet.
Nature had been equalized by the heat and haze to give nurture an even chance.
The ref blew the kickoff whistle, and the two teams faced off. Our Yellowjackets ran the kickoff return through their staggering opponents for a touchdown. An early first-quarter three-point field goal put them up 10-0 on the scoreboard. In the second half, the poison wore out of the opposing team´s systems and the heat of the night settled to a tolerable 90F. Horizon battled back to 10-7, Blythe went on the board with a field goal, a safety for Horizon and when the game siren sounded the score stood 13-9 for the nurture boys.
The brute simplification by Francis Galton of the relative influences of heredity and environment on personal, business and social advancement was illuminated on the field that night. A person´s innate qualities will carry him past the masses unless he steps into an arena of greater familiarity by the opposition. Then the contest evens out and the result is unpredictable.
Take a virtual tour of the infamous Lurigancho Lima prison before visiting Peru as a tourist. Watch 50,000 cans of beer tumble off a truck into the prison yard courtesy of the warden who takes a 25 cent commission, try your luck at the casinos, dance shirtless in the disco, pretty girls, drugs, attend church, get a haircut, 12 restaurants run by inmates, a multiple-language library, private rooms and condos, and each of the 300 foreign inmates has a laptop WiFi to run world drug operations on Skype or, as my friend Hank avows, to stay in touch back home.
´I didn't do anything!´ Hank exclaims.
Hank is a Maine, USA ex-pat who before the set-up that put him in luxurious stripes lived in Pucallpa with a Peruvian wife and bouncing baby. We spoke yesterday in a Pucallpa plaza where his ex-pat friends have been wondering where he disappeared to. They say he does no drugs, is an outstanding athlete, 40-year businessman and good father.
"Peru set me up, took some of the best years of my life, made me miss father´s funeral, and the family businesses has fallen behind!¨
Three and a half years ago, Hank was on his way to get a hair transplant in Lima before flying home to spread his father´s ashes over an Atlantic offshore island the family owns. Asking on the sidewalk for a hair salon he was surprised to be answered by a tourist guide he had known in Pucallpa. It seemed strange to run into Pedro in Lima, but since the guide always smiled and spoke perfect English Hank decided to accept his invitation to stop over at his apartment for a beer. Later in the day he knocked, the door opened, and the Peruvian let him in. They cracked a couple beers, and then the Peruvian excused himself to the bathroom, returned with a white powder up the right nostril, and they chatted for about 30 minutes. A knock on the door, and when Pedro opened it and stepped aside two uniformed policemen burst in demanding to know where he got the white powder up his nose. "The gringo gave it to me!" he shouted, pointing at Hank. The cops quickly found a kilo of coke behind the couch, and asked, "Where did you get it?" The nark repeated, pointing at Hank, "From the gringo!"
Hank told them he didn't do cocaine, never had, he had no knowledge of the kilo, and he was a businessman on the way home to his father's funeral with no time for that nonsense. It fell on deaf ears, handcuffs clicked on, he was carted to jail.
Drugs, like prostitution, are legal in Peru but both are illegal to sell. In the case of girls 18 or older, pimps are illegal.
The Peruvian accomplice vanished into the apartment to crank up the mill on Peruvian prison tourism.
A month later, facing a monocle judge between a court provided attorney and mandatory translator, the trial was a farce. The judge scanned the documents for one minute and without glancing up at the defendant, rattled, "Plead guilty and go to jail for three years, or plead not guilty and go for seven!" His attorney advised guilty, Hank agreed, the gavel hammered, and he was taken to Lurigancho.
Lurigancho is Lima´s largest and is called the country´s worst of the worst prisons in the world. Guards armed with machine guns patrolled the gray perimeter wall. Hank shook in his shoes as the front gate creaked opened, a guard shoved him in, and the door slammed. The guards rarely venture in, and inmates control what goes on- who gets food, a place to sleep, who lives, dies, and is sexually molested. The official capacity of Lurigancho is 1600, but it holds more like 6000, with so many inmates that prisoners are hired as in-house guards.
One of these guided him by the elbow through about twenty blocks to the foreign pavilion of 300 inmates, explaining that money talks in jail and if he could afford it he could buy anything except freedom. If you could buy freedom the squeeze on prison tourism inside the walls would stop. Hank quickly made friends with North Americans, Europeans and others, learning how to have his family funds sent to a go between who brought them on visiting days when a guard was paid to look the other way. Hank´s family fishing company money spoke loudly, and he started by renting a room with an Israeli, laptop with Skype, and healthy food.
A Peruvian guard collected 50cents weekly from each foreigner and disappeared outside the wall until the next payday, or till beckoned to accept bribes for nearly anything- TV´s, books, girls, steaks- and Hank found that for $10 he could have his baseball pitching machine delivered, but he kept hoping for a parole that never came.
At about $350 per head per month in the foreign block, it´s estimated that the prison, legal system and cops milk foreign visitors for $1 million a year. The average foreign prisoner stay is three years, but some have been there for seven. Most Hank figures are guilty, usually of drug crimes, but if the cops can´t catch you legitimately they entrap you when they know you have money.
Some Latin countries including Peru and Columbia have been accused of scanning arriving tourists' bank accounts via their passports to tag high rollers for possible kidnapping and prison tourism.
Many of the inmates are conducting world-wide drug deals via Skype, enhanced by connections within in the pavilion. "I watched hundreds of transaction for huge amounts of money, but basically spent ten hours a day every day surfing the web or on Skype, as the weeks turned into months into three and a half years."
"I can take you on a virtual tour via Skype inside the prison to visit a dozen friends who wander up and down the halls with cameras." However, there wasn´t time because my Iquitos boat was leaving. Hank is on probation for four years, but this month will flee across a remote Ecuador border, as others have done and was part of his prison education, and then he´ll send for his baby.
"Not that it made an iota difference, I was innocent. Now the only memory I want of Peru is my child back in USA."
Lurigancho is located in the run-down district of San Juan de Lurigancho district of Lima. There are even a couple dogs in Lurigancho doing prison time. National Geographic featured this prison as one of the worst in the world. No prisoners may leave the closely watched precincts, but once inside the walls they can do whatever they like. In this way the prison authorities do not have to bother about the prison's organization. Most of the Peruvian prisoners in Lurigancho haven't even gone to trial or been convicted of a crime, while others languish in rags for years long after their sentences are served.
That is, unless you have money to buy velvet stripes and a condo in the foreign pavilion.
If someone asked you where the most dangerous tourist resort on earth is, you might start looking behind the bars of Lurigancho.
June 20, 2012 | 6 Comments
Hormonal location is the tropical vagabond method to evaluate factors in new lands to determine his future wife and home. It is an odd twist of scientific location used by individuals and businesses to factor where to set up store. Once the factors are identified and weighed, pack the bags.
The right spot from my observations for thirteen years of ex-pats and personal experiences is Iquitos, Peru with 400,000 natives and the prettiest, most aggressive females on the planet, The average daily wage is $7 and all is nonviolent except the sinister mothers and witches who cast spells on hapless gringos driven by hormonal location.
For centuries the girls have boated up and down rivers from their five to fifty dirt floor or stilted hut towns to Iquitos for work, that puts thousands in the stores, cafes and on the streets at a ratio of three per harangued male. The imbalance leads them to seek companionship as much out of personal as financial need.
The four questions asked of every man, regardless of age, on his day of arrival in sexual Shangri-La and hourly thereafter, are: Where are you from? Do you have a wife? What is your job? And, (if employed or on social security) Where are you staying?
On alighting a month ago in Iquitos, I rode a surrey moto-taxi around to twenty hostels in the $3- 5 range to discover that rooms rent by the hour for sex at the daily rate if you pay a week in advance. So, my Coo´s Hostel fills every room with clients whom I never see in leaving at 7am and returning after midnight, and except for the open doors, rumpled sheets and pretty cleaning lady, I have the place to myself.
A handful of young to retired male tourists step off the daily flights into the chlorophyll scented air, and are swept off their feet if not by the first, then the second or third young, pretty jungle girl. They think they are in heaven swinging from a hammock with wild grapes dropped into their mouths. The girls are not prostitutes but rather predators taught by their mothers in an Iquitos tradition of prey. In other countries throughout Southeast Asia, Africa and South America the girls stop short after attaining the ultimate dream of marriage, while the Amazon girls begin to sharpen their claws.
If their mothers are correct, and statistics bear them out, the dividends begin after marriage in a hot brand of sexual tourism unique to Iquitos. Since first visiting in 1999, I´ve fraternized with a dozen ex-pats and know of another dozen who arrived, quickly married, unwillingly divorced, and now tear hair. There is only one surviving marriage in town belonging to the most successful restraunteur, and I hope it´s for love rather than money.
The mother is the guiding light in the search and seizure of the right man, as was her mother. The first lesson is to ask the four questions. The second lesson seems to be to perform well in bed. The third is to have a baby, and decry the father. The fourth is to marry, the fifth in about two years to divorce. And the sixth is to torment the lover for eighteen years to support mom´s family in the background.
The deepest claw of the jungle girl, as her bloom of beauty fades and mother´s sway comes to fist, is the baby. If the guy takes his newlywed to USA, mom and family follow, he supports them, and in six months his wife moves in with a richer man. However, most ex-pats fall into the local picture and in rapid domino succession beg to divorce, are refused for a couple years, face a stack of charges in a molasses court system, and end up financially strapped and gibbering in a dollar-a-day boarding house.
When the Spanish inquisition arrived in a city they used five steps to confession that are no more effective than the mothers of Iquitos: Step one is ask the citizen to sign a confession, step two is lead him to the door of the torture chamber, step three if there is no confession is open the door, step four he is strapped to the rack, and step five he screams.
Gone not only is the wife but the peculiar Iquitos custom due to the lopsided sex ratio that the newlywed introduces her best girlfriend as a second lover to her husband after the wedding night so that she has someone to talk to in the new neighborhood.
Normally, six months after the nuptial vows the gringo gets shocking news from his best man that he is accused of cheating on his wife. This is a mockery because he is so in love with two girls that the thought of a third never entered his mind. He runs into a wall trying to talk to his wife who insists that so-and-so chica is willing to testify to adultery. Next he is summoned to the police station to respond to a wife beating charge and pictures of her black and blue arms that the officers and court weigh more heavily than evidence that he was elsewhere on the night of the ordeal.
The final hook into the ex-pat is the birth of a baby that he fears getting blood tests for which may prove out rumors of his wife´s infidelity. She forces him out of the house and raises the kid with her girlfriend, while dad is forced by the court to pay $100 monthly child support.
A few months later, ´My mother says, gringo, that if you don´t start paying $100 monthly for mental anguish, things could sour between us.´ If he has the money, he pays on top of child support, but if not, she publishes a deuncio in the newspaper that is the kiss of death for everywhere he goes is under a rain of eye daggers and curses. After being forced to visit a psychiatrist, he returns a denuncio saying she is crazy, and she plays trump with a pin-filled effigy on his doorstep.
Nearly every gringo ends up hating his wife but loving his child and paying until she is 18-years old since his mother-in-law refuses to take a balloon payment for consent to take the child out of the country that would kill the golden goose. He should prefer to go crazy for what awaits him in the legal system as the daughter matures and a stack of charges wind through the slow Peruvian system for his sentencing.
Foreigners do not entirely discount hexes. A 6´1´´ British pilot came to me in tears saying he had just hired a defense witchdoctor to counter the spell of an effigy with pins stuck in the head that was in his mailbox. He wanted to talk, to know that it was ok to get egg yolk poured on his head to break the spell. Then he burst, ´The family has defamed me, the police tail me, everyone in the street stares, and yesterday when I picked up my four-year old daughter there was a rash on her vagina that the family has pictures of to prove that I molested her. I´ll languish in prison to old age, and the mother will continue to extort funds. Please take a look at my daughter´s vagina.´
I stepped back in hesitation as he thrust out the cradled baby. ´You´re a veterinarian, so just pretend she´s a puppy and tell me if it looks like a rash from sleeping on dirty bedding in her mother´s house, or rape.´ A quick look suggested dirty underwear or sheets. He seemed relieved, I left and lost track, but heard that he fled the country.
Once a foreigner tastes jungle romance he often thinks to get married, but when I first tasted the rainforest I sought a business marriage to obtain a residence visa. I was savvy enough to ask an ex-pat to set me up with a girl I´d never met whom he considered physically unattractive, who didn't want sex, just money to sign a few documents in the Peruvian fashion. I met the girl and jumped through the hoops of meeting her family, buying them drinks, and getting cross-examined by the mother who´s first four questions were, ´Where are you from, Are you married, What is your job, and Where are you staying?´ She hardly got the last word off her tongue when I excused myself and left.
Iquitos is the most miserable place in the world to get married and the best to have sex. Or, seeking storybook romance, take a ferry a day or more up or down river, and hike a couple miles into the jungle and through a town game of volleyball played by predominantly nubile girls who develop physically about two years earlier than their American versions. Their mothers-in-law have never seen a white man before, and you may swing happily from a hammock for the rest of your life.
In hormonal location Iquitos offers some of the prettiest, penniless, and happiest girls in the world, however one cannot study long enough before settling with the girl of his dreams.
June 17, 2012 | 2 Comments
One of my greatest regrets outside of death, sickness, of family and friends, and other great losses, is that I have always had a poor backhand in rackets sports. How in the world I won so many championships with that poor backhand I can't imagine. It wasn't quickness or natural ability or any kind or great analytical skill. That I know.
Like most things, the backhand has gone through ever changing cycles of strength and weakness. I started out switching hands the way most handball players did when playing with a paddle or tennis racket. That was very good for a while as it expanded my reach and gave me many angles that the normal backhand couldn't handle. Then I took lessons from a great backhander named John Nogrady and he assured me that I'd have the greatest backhand in two weeks. But it didn't work. And I gravitated to a slice backhand without any torque. But the left, ambidextrous forehand was good enough so I won lots of tournaments, and like an idiot, I decided I could be the best in the world in squash even before I had ever played the game, as I was the best in paddle ball. If I knew how many defects I had relative to the champions, who were so much more athletic than me, and had so much better backhand than I could ever aspire to, I never would have thought that crazy thought. In retrospect, knowing what I do know, I never would have even dared to play squash, considering all the weaknesses, which were soon to be exacerbated by the infernal short slice backhand that all the Harvard guys under Barnaby that hadn't played the game were taught.
That turned out to be bad for my tennis. I never could beat a good 6.0 player, and when we played the tough college matches, where the number 1 and 2 rotated, (I was number 2 throughout. I was ashamed to play the good number 1's on other teams because they were so much better than me, and I was granted the ignominy of playing the number two on the other team twice.) But that cycle was okay for me in squash. Somehow with the hard ball, the slice backhand wasn't that weak. Others, especially all the good Philadelphia payers had infinitely better backhands than me, but somehow I was able to prevail against all except Sharif.
I love Jack Barnaby but I am confident that if I had gone to another college and learned a decent topspin or full swing backhand I would have been able to surmount that one personage who stood in the way of my being best. The slice backhand I picked up at Harvard, was disastrous for me in racketball. I had better stuff than most when I played but I couldn't kill the backhand and other players hit the ball twice or three times as hard as I did. Marty hogan humiliated me with all the torques and backswings and follow-throughs he had on his backhand, as did Steve Keeley. But I was too foolish, and too insensitive to change.
The cycles change again. I've learned a good top backhand in both racketball and squash now, and if I could go back in time, I'm sure I would be 6 or 10 points a game better. But of course it's too late. I can hardly beat Aubrey who's 6 years old now, because I am so much immobile. Anyway, today for the first time in a year, I played tennis. I practice my new backhand playing against myself just dropping the ball. I learned 10 new things I was doing wrong on my backhand, or things I could improve.
1. Take a bigger backswing.
2. End the swing like a baseball player up high on the right side.
3. Get torque from the legs the hips, and the shoulders into the shot.
4. Keep the wrist locked and vertical never dropping it.
5. Tilt the racket into a slight slice face before hitting the ball top so that you get another torque into it
6. Bend the knees so you can get some lower body into it.
7. Extend the left hand at the end of the stroke the way Federer does on his slice.
8. Hit on the outside of the ball when you wish to hit it cross court.
9. Step into the ball like you're going to approach the net on all backhand shots.
10. Get on your toes and keep your head down on the flight of the ball.
All this seems very technical and specialized, but then I realized that the lessons I learned from the backhand today, would also apply to markets, which I'll relate in the next memo.
Bo Keely writes:
A forehand has many similar movements in life– from rattling the crib to grasping a fork and swatting flies– but not so with the backhand. By the time one begins racquet sports even at your tender age of what, five, in the deep end of a swimming pool with your father on the diving board shouting instruction, you had no muscle memories nor neurological models to hit a backhand. I, on the other hand, kept a diary from the same age and developed what others have called the best racquet backhand. Writing is placing an instrument in hand and drawing it across the page in the left to right backhand direction for the righty. By age 16 when I first took a racquet in hand as a senior trying out for the tennis team, I beat the number three and two singles players and so was kicked off by coach Kiley for not going out for the team sooner. The three best ways to develop a backhand, after a decade of teaching racquetball, and for once to fly in the face of a sport's maxim of specificity of training are: write longhand and especially print in order to accustom the fingers and eyes to stop and start, drive golf balls left handed, and throw a frisbee.
Dr. Bud Muehleisen, I called him Mule when we lived together and played countless matches, was a pivot in my racquetball career after moving from Michigan to San Diego from 1972-79. San Diego was the racquetball mecca in this golden era. I was the first racquet moth drawn to the lights of Mule. Charlie Brumfield and Carl Loveday, and hundreds followed. Sooner or later they found themselves on the PPA (Pacific Paddleball Association), Gorhams Sports Center or Browns 70th Street club to be dissected by the mild-mannered dentist. State champs and rising national champions left the court shaking their heads, some in tears, at the trouncings. They had felt so comfortable losing two out of three points. ´I never operate in pain," Dr. Bud told his patients.
Others extoll Dr. Bud´s 70+ national and international championships, however I will list five effects in my career that likely represent hundreds with other players who fell under the White Knight´s spell. The first memory on arrival in San Diego is mentioning that I was looking for a place to live, and I was instantly ushered into his home. The second is him politely suggesting that I buy hair conditioner for my unruly mop that refused a comb, before the blond afro and dual-colored converse shoes became the scream after I started winning tournaments. The third is when he got me a job as perhaps the first teaching pro in the country at the 70th Street club by elbowing me into the front door to simply ask… after he explained in our living room how to teach, step by step the strokes, and progressive lessons from serves to shots to tournaments. After I conditioned and earned pocket change, he introduced me to girls. Finally, when I fell ill with the second worst case of mononucleosis in San Diego county history, Bud carried me into his mother's house to recover for a month.
His forehand, court sense and strategies are among the best the sport has known, and hundreds of trophies still lay unseen in Dr. Bud Muehleisen´s attic after he recently retired after fifty years from dentistry, but not from racquetball.
A traveler or U.S. resident willing to take a junket to a 5-star hotel plus quality hospital care in an exotic land need not have American medical insurance and he'll get quality treatment at a fraction the cost. Third world countries charge cheap rates, the same for locals and visitors, for diagnosis, treatment, operations and hospitalization. Someone has pointed out to me that it is correctly termed medical rather than health insurance because many American doctors poorly promote your health.
In El Centro, Mexico, a month ago a physician told me after I walked cold into his office where he had learned from his father before going to medical school and returning to take over that the difference between Mexican and American doctors is that the patients trust the doctors who are not hampered by AMA protocol such as rote antibiotics, radiographs, blood tests and so forth before getting to the heart of the matter with a simple oral history and physical exam the minute you step in the office.
Then I walked around the block to an American dentist who moved to El Centro where, though his rates for fillings and crowns are a quarter his U.S. peers, no doctor's insurance is required, there are no legal suits, and he does well in dental tourism with the majority of clients from USA.
It's all in finding the right doctor… anywhere. I insist on seasoned docs and sports med physicians, or at least one who does sports. In a dearth, visit a sharp young clinic of a handful of friend docs who in synergy come through with the proper diagnosis and treatment. My luck with physicians in foreign countries has been excellent in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Sometimes they kick the price up 20% for ex-pats or visitors, bringing it to maybe 5% of the American rates.
Foreign hospital doctors nearly always run private practices at home, and that's where I get instant professional help. The red carpet rolls out. No appointment, his wife is the secretary, and he's linked to the top local specialists for radiology, lab tests, surgery, etc. You're in and out his doctor's door in 15 minutes, and feeling so much better that you're tempted to toss the prescription to be filled down the block instantly at about 25% USA costs. The doctors and pharmacists generally speak some English. In many countries such as Peru the pharmacists are so versed in medicines that the doctor is bypassed and he diagnoses and prescribes for simple cases.
Foreign docs, while making less than American, often own auxiliary businesses. A physician-owner of a restaurant who gave a tour of his clinic, some excellent off-the-cuff health pointers, and was willing to trade english lessons for future diagnoses. He had worked at three American hospitals for a total of eight years but prefers to practice in Peru. This country offers resident visas to foreigners willing to have their monthly social security deposited in a local bank, and comprehensive medical/hospital insurance for about $50/month.
On the other hand, in Lake Toba, Sumatra, a year ago an elderly restaurant owner tossed a salad explaining that no one in Toba gets sick, there are no dentists– what for?– and in the event of a village accident or emergency a local or foreigner is whisked in one of three town cars to a nearby city 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, and a seeming U.S. government ploy to shunt citizens into corporate, county, state or federal jobs to be able to afford the one thing you cannot provide for yourself– medical care or health insurance.
Predictably, as medical tourism grows an American backlash should lower medical insurance and care, but until then why not take a vacation for an operation?
My friend recently wrote to my friend Art Shay asking what his secret is. This is what he wrote:
The secret is starting out with good DNA and poor immigrant parents who respected learning and believed that by working diligently, despite the handicaps of poverty, good looks and middling athletic skills, in this country you could amount to something.
In Russia at 23 my father was a political activist working with young Leon Trotsky. When he came to America, which had already suffered its Revolution, he became a tailor like all his 7 siblings who'd taken up the family trade. Although he hated uniforms, because of what they meant in Europe, my father encouraged me to become a Boy Scout and helped me win my 21 merit badges. I became a Life Scout, missing Eagle by being one bird short for the required Bird Study merit badge! (I could have used your help Josh!)
In the Depression I'd sometimes accompany my father looking for work in the needle trade, starting at one of the 8 story factory buildings, top floor, back door, and working our fruitless way down. He was out of work half the time and supported me and my 3 brothers and mom by fabricating dresses at home. He taught me to love reading and respect learning and sometimes played plangent Russian songs on the mandolin (singing the lyrics quietly– my favorite being" Nagyishcka"- the horse whip, which accented the sharp rhythms of the troika horses as they ran through the snow) to put 3 year old me to sleep.)
He took me to Central Park to watch the rich kids sail their boats. He taught me it was OK to sneak a feel of an Arctic sled on display behind "Don't Touch" sign and ropes, but make sure the guard was not looking. (In my career I would make dozens of secret pictures!).
When I enlisted in the Air Force Herman Shay wept, because military service often meant death and absence forever, but he had already taught me the meaning of America, and what a privilege it was to give back something of myself to it. I had a lucky war. I had but 9 months of college, but I educated myself. I've read hundreds and written about 60 books and countless articles. My writing idols are Nabokov, Hemingway, Algren and Chekhov.
I became a photographer when I realized I did not have the DNA spark to be a great writer. To come up to my own ideals. I compensated with the camera. Some of my pictures have been compared by tough critics, to works by Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Dickens, Melville. Algren and even Nabokov. This is flattering and great for the ego. But I don't buy it. One of my Chicago pictures, recently bought by a great university for their new library was sold to them by my gallery for an outlandish amount. My older daughter, who overcame typical teenage difficulties, was recently honored by the LA Bar Association for being a top intellectual property, trade mark and patent attorney in LA. When she was in law school she was the first student in US history to have a case in the US Supreme Court. She won her case with her professor (he had the license) reading her brief. She said, beforehand, knowing I had staked out the Mafia in a dozen cities for Time and Life: "If you come near the Supreme Court with a hidden camera the day I'm there, they'll arrest me for patricide…"
It also helps to have a brave, beautiful, intelligent rare book dealer of a wife for 67 years and counting.
August 21, 2011 | 1 Comment
One month ago in Indonesia, a guide hiked me up a jungle canyon for an hour to search and find a rare Rafflesia, the world's largest flower, in bloom. The plant though large with up to a one-meter flower and weighing forty pounds with no stem or leaves is difficult to find as it blooms for only 2-3 days before decomposing. My guide spoke no English but shrieked at each overhang or cliff en route to the flower causing to knock my head twice and sprain my wrist. We closed in on the plant in muggy jungle air by odor — it looks and smells like rotting flesh and hence the tag 'corpse flower'. The flower burst into view on a sunlit slope where I flung my cap next to the plant for scale and to relieve my swelling head. From the flower my guide led me back down to a farm that grows cat poop coffee (kopi luwak) that is processed in this strange way. The coffee beans are eaten by the civet, a jungle cat, that we tailed into the jungle to pick up the feces which contain the beans that have lost their rancidity while passing through the cat's stomach enzymes. We picked up the droppings and the farmer showed me how he washes, dries in the sun, roasts and brews. I'm not a Starbuck's drinker but might become one if they offer cat poop coffee for this is the only I've tasted without sharpness, a caffeine boost, and bitter aftertaste.
A Monitor Lizard in your home brings bad luck according to Thai superstition, however the 5' specimen that crossed my path this morning rang in a grand day. It raised an eyelid and dashed into the underbrush. A mile down the road a cloud of a hundred Flying Foxes with 5-foot wingspans, the world's largest bats, lumbered like eagles before alighting in trees and staring at me upside down. A mile later, I snapped a picture of a mural of Muslim schoolchildren in robes when a real swarm ran out to practice English. The teacher set up chairs on the lawn beside the mural so the motorbike morning traffic could watch the new sub. The one-room schoolhouse of all grade levels owned an accumulative vocabulary of about 50 words that the kids quickly doubled with the nouns of our dress and surroundings. Each had arisen at 5am for the first of five daily prayers and to my raised eyebrow, 'Why?', a ten-year-old smiled, 'Life is a struggle!' After thirty minutes of English, I continued down the path less traveled.
The Sumatra soccer field on the outskirt of Lake Toba is made of 'Indonesia astroturf' — red brick with ingrown grass and bamboo goal posts. The coliseum has more trees than spectators these days, but i was lucky today to crowd into some ivy and watch a heated match between high school youths. The Batak teams are graceful and strong, larger than Latins and cheer when the other team scores a goal. There was one white tennis shoe on ten bare feet on the brick field- shirts and skins- running, tumbling and kicking a new soccer ball out into the jungle where they exited after the game was over.
The racquetball Big Game is drive serve and shoot, which I call blitz racquetball. The first blitz player in 1974 when we were housemates betting mile runs on the outcome of his blitz vs. my conservative game- the 'year of the pivot' when Marty Hogan, ridiculed for his deep cannon stroke that tended to loosely fly all over the court- was Smokin' Hogan after he honed the powerful stroke and grew facial hair.
The reason Hogan was the Big Game firstborn is he was the first with the physical power and grace to allow it; the previous champs Bill Schmidtke, Bud Muehleisen, Charley Brumfield and I were tennis shod string beans who 'pushed' the ball around the court and a tediously effective strategy of waiting in prey for the opponent to error in 3-10 shot rallies, and then the final stroke.
Hogan was the first to force the error with booming drive serves, or his 142mph service return while the rest of use were clocked in the mid-70's at 110mph.
A cascade of factors enlivened the Big Game in the ensuing decade.
The mid-70's ball got so fast that we judged one acceptable if a ceiling shot didn't bounce over the back wall into the gallery and they started netting the upper decks. It was like substituting a hardball for a softball without moving back the outfield fence, and the result was the fans descended into the courts to imitate the pros blasting serves and shots.
The late 70's fitness craze spawned court clubs with the back racquetball courts filled with gym equipment, and bruisers strutted out the gyms and onto the racquetball courts to explode the Small Game.
In a blink, Power Racquetball of serve and shoot evolved new players and play.
The first Eketelon Contra big-head racquet in 1984 reinforced the power game, squatter players took to the courts, strokes abbreviated to rapid loops, and strong junior players started hitting the ball at 150mph.
It so happened that year the Big Game was locked in forever by a match rule change from 21-points to 15 per game, with an 11-point tiebreaker. This guaranteed national champs to eternity using a big head with serve and shoot strategy, to blitz anyone in streaks without fear of fatigue.
Racquetball as it was invented and intended by Joe Sobek in Connecticut, pioneered by Carl Loveday, Bud Muehleisen and Charley Brumfield at the Pacific Paddleball Association court, and developed at San Diego Mel Gorham's Mecca became a travesty in one season.
The sport shifted from aerobic to anaerobic.
The next alignment for the Big Game was the 1980's side glass and often front glass at tournament courts that guaranteed a seeded bltizer need only breeze through the early rounds on solid wall back courts to make the semi’s aquarium where his his Big Game had a 5-point advantage in games to 15 points.
The One-Serve Rule of 1994 tried to divert the cavalier ace… or did it? The elite players overnight ciphered and experimented in the next tournament to discover that the attacking serves when they were not fatigued was the only winning strategy.
The axe was lengthened by a 1997 USRA rule change to allow the oversized frames to extend to 22'' long.
What mutated sweaty chess to a blitz racquets? The associations and sponsors sped the sport to make it easier for youngsters, seniors and females to play the Big Game like pros. That is the racquetball evolution of ball and racquet, serve and return, forehand and backhand, player physique and psychology, and strategy in a nutshell.
How did the ousted pioneer champs react? All-night hashes at private courts across the country and shared at tournaments produced countless variations of new strokes, serves and strategies, but nothing jibed. The greatest old-timer, Brumfield, hung on for two years with warmed over gamesmanship and a new crack ace. The aging champs' bodies and personalities couldn't bear the Big Game and they curtsied off the courts to the new champs Mike Yellen, Dave Peck, Jerry Hilecher and Bret Harnet.
The first operant serve and shooter I met after Hogan was John Foust, who as a kid had multiple corrective leg surgeries and retains a gimp. His attacking strategy in a match at the Denver Sporting Club, home of early big tourneys, was such a shock that I would have lost at the peak of my career had not a patented backhand wallpaper serve eked a win. Foust wrote to me later to reciprocate for the wallpaper that he added to the arsenal, and to explain his Big Game. I realized he had sketched the perfect instruction that applies to the modern blitz of serve and shoot for all players.
I had a foot in two racquetball worlds, so to speak. One was able-bodied that you’re used to playing, and the other in a wheelchair. In the early 80’s, the wheelchair game was coming on and though I was legally handicapped from polio in youth, I never dreamed of myself as that. I managed the Denver Sporting Club and was a consistent able-bodied winner in A division, and once won the 25+ Open Regional. Luke St. Onge, the USRA executive director, asked me to play in the wheelchair division alongside my normal event, and I replied, ‘I spent time in a wheel chair when young, and may again when I’m old, but I don’t want to in-between.’ However, Luke persevered.
It was bizarre going from the regular events where I was perceived as the ‘good guy’ with the game leg who beat most the field, to the wheelchair division where I was the ‘villain’ because after the match I could rise and walk with a limp from the chair. I grimaced before each match at having to approach another player to beg his chair. I was third and fourth ranked in the world from about ‘85-87 by virtue of my able-bodied racquet skills, but always lost in the finals to one of the top two wheelchair champs (Chip Parmelly or Jim Leatherman) because of their familiarity with the chair- Understand that the chair is equipment, just like the glove, racquet and shoe.
After that, I entered only able bodies tournaments and walking into the court feeling as if I could win until proven otherwise. I practiced and taught myself how to kill the ball from everywhere. Defense wasn't my strong suit. The longer the ball was in play, the better chance I was going to lose the rally on a dope shot of which I simply could not get to. I relied on the drive serve to start the ball low into play to force the shooting game.
The blitzkrieg won the 1983 AARA regional championship in the 25+ division in going through three Open players to the finals. That was my biggest personal racquetball accomplishment- I beat three players who were very good. The closest I came after that to winning anything of substance was the Tournament of the America's in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 1988. It was the first of five times I was part of the U.S. National Team. At that time, although not originally qualified as part of the team as a true player, I had the ability to score points for the team as a manager /photographer /low level coach. It was clear early on no one from the others teams were going to give me any credit- why should they? Not like anyone in Bolivia knew who I was, or had a resume to stand on. I completely understood. In the long run it worked to my advantage in getting to play. I made it to the semi's before getting beaten by a better player. The U.S. team was gracious enough to vote me to accept the Championship trophy.
Three parts to my game come to mind in any success I've had at racquetball. I felt I could serve with the best of them. That was my great equalizer and something I put a lot of effort into. I had the ball, I knew what I was going to do, and was a master of disguise about where. Drive serves were my forte. I used them on a first and second serve. It wasn't until later in my playing days I learned the value of a lob. I hated lobs.
In the event an opponent was able to retrieve my drive, I did the best I could to put it away quickly. If I couldn't serve 3-4 untouchable serves in a game I was toast. For the most part I did. My able-bodied style is to shoot the ball from everywhere, because the longer the rally the less chance I have to get to the opponent’s shot because of my game leg. I practiced hundreds of hours shooting from every conceivable court position, and to drive serve to earn weak returns.
In the rally anticipation was key. Unlike a Hogan I didn't have all the tools necessary to play a complete game. I was good at the bait and switch. If focused in, I knew before my opponent what he was going to do. They would say, 'You're a lot faster than I thought,' a kind compliment but not true. I was quick in a short space. It appeared I was fast- smoke and mirrors.
My forehead was strong if I had time to set up. However, with a weak left leg, it was difficult to transfer weight. Hogan, as it appeared to me the visual learner, hit a lot of forehands off his back foot. I had no choice but to do the same and was comforted by the fact that's what he did well. On the other hand, a backhand was my natural shot with a stronger than normal right leg, I could step in, transfer weight, hit, and do what needed to be done. And, because of the situation. I moved to the backhand side much more easily. My backhand was something I visualized as being a lot more like it happened in the real world as opposed to my mental world where I was moving like everyone else. I think they call that dreaming.
Based on how Hogan whipped me, Foust had lectured me, and how fresh players came on strong with the Big Game in the late 1980's, I revamped my teaching style. The traditional instruction learned from Bud Muehleisen and expanded in The Complete book of Racquetball taught to aim for the bulls-eye, and later add increments of power. Now I teach first the power killshots from any position on the court, then the drive serve, and slowly hone into the target. The learning curve of blitz is just one year given a strong young body and daily hour's practice and another hour of game time. As the errors are dropped out of the attack, and greased by confidence, by year two a dedicated athlete may become an open player, and in another a pro.
The greatest upsets throughout racquetball history have been blitz serves and shootouts beginning in 1977 with Davy Bledsoe over Hogan, in 1983 Mike Yellen using the big head Contra over Hogan with his contract autograph model, and topples by Sudsy, Cliff Swain and King Kane all owed to the Big Game school.
Today the Big Game is the only game in tournament town.
The Education and History of the Racquetball Swing
by Bo Keeley and Bo Champagne
Let’s begin with individuality. There are no exact championship motions for everyone. Ax-wielding Abraham Lincoln has the first and last word on strokes, ‘You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time.’
There are no model strokes, only model players.
The more you watch racquetball — especially the pros — the more you come to realize that no two players strike the ball exactly alike. The conclusion should be that there is no single correct way to hit a racquetball. You will limit yourself unless examining the history of Model Strokes from day one to present.
In the beginning, 1949, Joe Sobek invented racquetball, called Paddle Rackets, with a sawed off tennis racket in a winter handball court, and the handful of players used a stiff wrist Tennis Stroke for a control game of passes, kills and lobs.
The Handball Swing supplanted and was superior to the tennis allowing a low contact and wristy underhand or three-quarter underhand for an attacking game, and this remained the style throughout the ‘50’s.
By the end of the ‘60’s the Paddle Racket Stroke per the sport name prevailed using a more sidearm pitch, contact off the lead foot, and natural followthrough. The first national champs Bill Schultz, whom I watched, and Bill Schmidtke, whom I played often, offered two of the best forehands and worst backhands the game has known for national champs. This ‘sword and shield’ was typical of the era and there were few ceiling shots.
The San Diego Stroke from 1969-’71 was pioneered by Carl Loveday, Bud Muehleisen and Charley Brumfield, all cross-over champs from badminton and paddleball, that improved on the old Paddle Racket Stroke with the first studied and controlled swing that became the standard. The stroke they taught themselves on the first ever private Pacific Paddleball Association court was dissected frame-by-frame and puttered with each. Muehleisen taught me to teach in clinics to transfer to the ball two raw sources of energy: the weight transfer from rear to front foot, and the wrist snap. He demonstrated each, and in synergy, by hitting initial shots with only the weight transfer at 50mph, only the wrist snap at 30mph, and combined them for 90mph.
The Michigan Stroke evolved parallel to the San Diego one, and was dubbed the ‘farm implement stroke’ to honor the state inventors and champions, and describes a powerful plowed flat and tireless action with an abbreviated backswing that geared at the back with a wrist cock, short down stroke, with enhanced wrist snap for in-spin. This is the stroke I used with one secret tinker to win multiple paddleball and racquetball championships. Finding myself on crutches one month after an accident, I took one into the court and learned to kill the ball from everywhere on the court from an absolute upright position. The contact was between the knee cast and chest to defy the sacred principal of contacting killshots as low and close to the floor as possible. I threw away the crutches and retained that trademark upright disguise of kills that appeared off the racquet as passes. The Michigan Stroke overwhelmed the San Diego classic because as the ball livened in the early ‘70’s it offered a quicker set with the shortened backswing, and a faster downswing to rewind for the next shot.
The St. Louis Stroke at once replaced the Michigan in the hands of a mid-west contingent who invaded San Diego from 1971-4. The spearhead was 15-year old Steve Serot who made the semi’s of the inaugural 1971 National Singles Invitational that was the first true national tournament because all the top players participated via previously unheard of comped plane fares. The free-wheeling swings of Serot, then Marty Hogan, Jerry Hilecher, Ben Colton, Jerry Zuckerman and a few others who played summers at the St. Louis JCC before relocating in San Diego, put the first bang in the game. Their look-alike strokes surpassed all previous with a wider arc backswing and follow-through, strong wrist snap, and for the first time pounded rather than pushed the ball. These were the first players to hit the ball in the 120mph range as clocked on radar.
The stage was set in ’74 for the most unorthodox and influential Marty Hogan Power Stroke that was so superior in a deep contact, with an amplified force via body coil albeit less accuracy, that it engendered Power Racquetball and no instruction could sell during the remainder of the decade without the phrase. The reform beside a deep contact was a shift from the pioneer weight transfer from rear to front foot, to instead a body coil like a golfer, and in fact the analogy of a golf swing was applied to the backhand. Yet a key element was missing. Marty and I were housemates and competitors that allowed a study that technically he didn’t know how he hit what no one else could. It was finally exacted as a ‘bullwhip crack’ like a towel snap that may double head-speed at the instant of contact. In the end, everyone hit it.
The Hogan stroke prevailed through 1983 when the incumbent champs with new big head racquets and often one-grip forehand and backhand started a Fairgrounds’ Hammer Swing. By tournament osmosis nearly every pro tweaked Hogan’s power swing of deep coil and contact to a compact version for more swing control to hit the target. This stroke was the utility through the mid-90’s.
The Bow-and-Arrow Stroke was first seen in the mid-90’s that is utilized by many present elite. It was perfectly described by Dave Peck who credits Bud Muehleisen to almost come full circle in the history. Peck draws the hitting arm back as if drawing an arrow in a bow, the arm is parallel with the floor, it rests a split second at the top with a crooked elbow, descending with a short loop to pound the ball very hard and accurately. The beauty is an absolute flat backswing to ensure with a tiny loop a mirror downswing that propels the ball accuracy to a bottom board across the front wall. If the ball is hit too early, it’s a flat rollout to the left corner for a righty, and if it’s hit late it’s a flat rollout to the right. If ever there is a model power stroke to start a beginning player with fast progress in strength and accuracy, this is it. That’s why it’s the sport standard.
Metaphorically then, the model racquetball stroke has gone from a tennis swing, to roundhouse handball, baseball pitch, farm implement, push broom, wristy flyswatter, fairgrounds’ hammer, bullwhip, to bow-and-arrow… and who knows what’s next?
The point is that the Model Stroke throughout history is a symbiosis of strokes. It depends on the equipment, and in part on the player’s physiotype and personality. I would say to stand on the shoulders of the champs one-at-a-time who designed the Model Stroke for an epoch that hundreds of thousands copied, and create your own.
Myron Roderick was fun loving with no backhand, and at 5'5, the last man in the world I'd cross. I ran late onto the Orange Outdoor Nationals court as he served, and returned for sideout. He picked me up over his head into a airplane spin laughing and so was only a few feet off the ground. He tackled Dave Messer in Dr. Bud's living room thinking he was Don Craig and rubbed his ear in the rug to say howdy. At the '80 Houston stop he greeted Randy Stafford by picking him up by the heels and dangling him over the court backwall before they descended to play.
I knew, feared and respected three-time national wrestling champ Roderick before I picked up my first racquet and beat him. He was the youngest college wrestling coach in history and moreover won the first of many nat'l championships for Oklahoma State that year. Roderick was the single wrestler my MSU coach Grady Penninger, also a multi-national champ and paddles/racquet player, commented, 'that's one tough character'. MSU wrestling was second in the nation that year and when Oklahoma State came to Lansing, Mich. There was electricity in the first-ever jammed fieldhouse. I saw Penninger shake his head, look at his wristwatch, bang both, and asked him after Okla State defeated MSU, "coach what happened with the watch?". He replied, "I hardly want to say but everytime Roderick and his team come to town I get so wound up that my watch stops."
I went for a walk today in the Sumatra jungle and into a corn field where, standing next to a 10' plant with a tassel top that can double as a basketball hoop, I knew I was lost. The neighbor 9-feet plants were too spindly to climb and I didn't dream of scaling the giant to peek at the sun. A crunch of footsteps a few rows over startled my 'Help!', and the reply, 'Pick a young one, sweet.'
I anxiously recalled my Iowa hobo days at the Brit Convention where a 1942 photograph displayed the 26-feet National Tall Corn Contest winner from Des Moines.
I parted the stalks taking thumps on the head from corns for a dozen rows to nearly knock over an old Batak lady perched on a stool picking. She dropped lightly to the ground and handed me an ear to nibble and it was sweet, however robust like the Batak. After the first line she explained that the corn was sweetest this time of year; after the second she allowed that everyone else waits another two weeks for 20% size increase; and after the third line she cried, 'You hit the peak height because tomorrow the tassels will weep and bend!'
We grabbed more ears ears and an hour later walked out the corn field into the Sumatra sunshine.
The east flank of the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range, second largest in the world, lies one mile walk from my trailer doorstep where five years ago on a Sunday with scanty jets and thousand-pound bombs lacing the airspace, and the mistletoe draped thick in ironwood trees to duck beneath Navy prop-plane security, I hiked twenty miles across the range to the Salton Sea to visit 320-lb. Big John bobbing on his canoe in the Salton Sea.
The range is where pistol-whipping 'coyotes' abandon illegal Mexicans in the Promised Land who spot dry mouthed the gleam of my trailer and walk in reverse to arrive chewing barrel cactus for moisture and near-death. They were frightened out the range, they say, by the bombs that leave house-sized craters, larger than my modest 10' burrow.
The range is of historic value as General Patton's training ground for hundreds of thousands of troops for the WWII hot Africa campaign and the wide old tank tracks gather sand and stink bugs past my outhouse where the US Border patrol four years ago high-speed chased a vanload of illegals who plummeted into the Millipetas Wash, fled and were never seen again… though others turn up with their heads buried in the cool sand and stiff burning legs.
Patton's dated 1940's shells, some 6'' long that serve as tea goblets to an annual handful of visitors for a refreshing taste of Sand Valley, trickle down mile-wide Milipetas Wash from the range in semi-yearly cloudbursts that brim the bank 100-meters from the library, outhouse, cook trailer and burrow.
Linux-Care CEO Art Tyde answers invitations to high tea leafleting the property from 500' in his Cherokee Piper with photocopy pleas to ensure one blows to Rancho Scorpion to pick him up in an hour at the nearest cross-road town of Blythe.
We recline on lawn chairs 15-feet above the 110F desert night floor on the library semi-truck van roof via a spiral staircase to view Orion and four-hour war stages of a half-dozen helicopters with blinking red taillights dropping Marines here-and-there and sometimes mistakenly near ground-zero flashlights at the Rancho. We ease back in the chairs as a dozen roaring jets climb and dive and release like Dumbo 6'-bombs that pock and shatter the eardrums sending ten-story brown blasted plumes that drift like War of the Worlds on westerlys with parachute flares that light an itinerant three-mile cone to the rancho as 5-mile-long rainbow tracers from 1000-rounds per second airborne machine guns and the rockets' red glare blasted from jets at green dummies on the ground.
The show is all the Fourth of Julys across the great nation and the Star Spangled Banner rolled into one that costs the taxpayers two million dollars per week by my conservative estimate. After a sound night's sleep on the burrow waterbed, that double as an emergency bank, I ride the range in another neighbor's custom dune buggy gathering hundreds of pounds of aluminum bomb fins and brass copter shells to sell at the Salton Sea recycler for a record $1000 for one day's take. My fixed expense for this is $23/year property tax that's paid for by the range collectables among sidewinders and tarantulas.
My friend Art Shay grew his journalistic teeth I believe at Columbia University. The actual impetus though was playing army bugle, picking up the melodic keys for his trademark pen. He also navigated a harrowing WWII bombing mission of which he's prouder so it was probably no big deal getting shot at a couple miles high. Make no mistake though, he's the greatest B&W photographer of the 20th century, his strength is in copy. He told me Life & Look originally hired him for copy, and he transitioned into photography to shoot over a thousand covers for publications. His recent kudos are buried in my folders, but you may find a two-month old feature on 'Shay and Raquetball photography' by Huzek in "Racquetball" mag, and the treasure trove Chicagoist "Art Shay's Vault" published biweekly that I've occasionally forwarded.
I knew Niederhoffer better than Hogan, and we played often at every sport imaginable, and using equipment of one against the other to homogenize our strengths. It's quite clear that he trounced me in tennis, ping pong, badminton, squash, and every other racket contest, except I was a nudge better in paddleball and racquetball. He beat me, Hogan and another top player in an informal late 90s All Racquet fest at his CT home, and carried a gimp leg into and gimper out of the event. There's no question who was the best overall.
Victor Niederhoffer comments:
Those were the days. -v
Howard "Uncle Howie" Eisenberg writes:
My recollections of the event follow. Since it was 36 yearsago and I am at an advanced age, I may be off by a point or two in the recounting.
Vic, coming off wins in the 1975 US, Canadian, and North American squash championships decides to win the International Racquetball Assn championship, never having played the game. This is widely quoted by Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, Esquire Magazine, and other publications including a 7 page article about Vic in the NY Times Sunday edition all of which focus on the prediction of the eccentric commodities speculator who wears different colored sneakers along with his tieless business suits in meetings with clients of his 1/2 billion dollar hedge fund such as George Soros.
There is very little racquetball being played in the NY area at the time. He enlists my aid to learn the basics. Although far inferior to him in racquet sports, I attempt to impart what I know about 4-wall handball to him. He acquires the rudiments of the game practicing with me and mostly by himself at the 92'nd St. YMHA using dead racquetballs on a court with an 18 foot ceiling on which it is virtually impossible to hit effective ceiling shots. He continues his training regimen that includes running through the streets of Manhattean wearing sweat socks as gloves, holding a squash racquet "to ward off muggers". We go to Vegas 2 months later. Vic plays a 1'st round match watched by Ektelon founder, Charley Drake, Keely, and Hogan who is to be Vic's second round opponent. All of them scoff at this "big mouth" upstart who has provided locker room bulletin board material with his presumptuous prediction of victory as he lumbers around the court in a manner that would never have him confused with Barishnakoff.
Vic and I bet Drake $500 on the Hogan match. Thirty seconds before it begins, Keely comes running over with another $500 to bet which we cover. It isn't in traveller's cheques. Our upbringing at the Brooklyn dens of iniquity where the heavy action on handball, paddleball, pool, crap games or whatever takes place has tought us that if you want to ensure getting paid,the money has to be up - in cash. Hogan takes a quick 10-0 lead and it looks like Vic not only doesn't belong on the same court with Marty, he shouldn't be in the same state with him. Things get a little more under control after that with the two trading points, Hogan winning 21-11. Throughout this game and the entire match, Hogan attempts to psyche Vic out by facing the back wall, placing 2 hands on it and sticking his ass out at Vic for 8 of the 10 seconds allowed to receive serve. The 32 year old Niederhoffer has been playing tournaments and money games since he was 10 years old, so this purile attempt by the 17 or 18 year old neophyte has as much effect on Vic as a minnow on a barracuda. The second game is a continuation of the 1'st with no one taking more than a 2 or 3 point lead until 18-all when Vic gets Hogan out and runs the 3 points to win.
Initially in the 3'rd game, it looks like Hogan has been broken with Vic taking a substantial early lead. However, there is a pervading dynamic in this match. Hogan is playing racquetball, serving with great velocity, driving, and killing while Vic is playing squash in a racquetball court, serving softly, retrieving, keeping the ball in play and rarely going for a kill shot. Marty's well honed racquetball skills come to the fore as he gets to 17-19, then runs 3 for match point. The 5' 7" Hogan then executes a black power salute thrusting his fist in the air in Vic's direction. Undaunted, Niederhoffer approaches Hogan and reaches down to place the ball on his forehead. Hogan serves and Vic hits the 1'st back wall kill shot he has attempted in the whole match to regain the serve. This is followed by a squash shot, a boast, which is hit into the left wall, hits the right wall, and unreturnably just grazes the front wall. After a timeout giving Hogan a chance to feel the pressure, Vic hits a terrible serve which Marty drives past him deep to the left. With the ball dieing near the back wall, Niederhoffer reaches behind him and with wrist action, flicks a backhand into the left sidewall. The point of impact is more than 1/2 the court back, which if the angle of reflection is to equal the angle of incidence could never reach the front wall. However, the clockwise spin imparted causes the ball to hook at a greater angle off the wall continuing to the front where it rolls out in the right crotch.
With a full glass back wall, the only way for the players to hear sounds from the outside is via the microphone used by the ref. That is, unless there is an elated uncle bellowing in delight at 100 decibels at what has just transpired. It was this loss and a loss to the aging Charley Brumfeld in the finals of the nationals a year later after Hogan had won most pro events that resulted in the epithet of Hogan not being able to win the big ones. By the following year, Marty's superiority was firmly ensconced with him transcending whatever residual trepidation resultant from the Niederhoffer loss . Perhaps the echos of the Eisenberg victory expostulations had tamped down by then.
Remote is my idea of an Eden for retirement or to spend a few months each year.
Forced into teaching retirement for trying to prevent a California playground war, I started globe-trotting to unwind from the America trials and in search of Edens. Within two years, I found myself a peripetatic ex-patriot surfing the world Shangri-las.
The top three have been Iquitos, Peru, San Felipe, Baja, and Lake Toba, Sumatra.
Iquitos, Peru at the headwaters of the Amazon is pleasantly jungle strangled and water bound to escape nearly every world influence of the last 50 years. Daily air flights from Lima drop a handful of tourists who usually imbibe the hallucinogenic ayahuasca, marvel at the 3:1 female to male ratio due to soil concentrates and, as the Yellow Rose of Texas ex-pat proprioter explains, 'Arriving in Iquitos is like traveling to the 1930's USA'. One in a thousand visitors remains, including a surprising twenty Americans entrepreuners who manage small businesses. An attractive option is a Peru resident visa to anyone on Social Security pension.
San Felipe, Baja, Mexico hugs the Sea of Cortez with the two grand advantages of location just two hours from the California-Mexico border, and a tourist slump from the global recession has opened hundreds of ranchos, houses and apartments for dirt-cheap. Meals are economical and hardy, the locals amenable, and there's lots to do in the water and desert.
I'm sitting in the third Eden, Lake Toba, Sumatra, a far flung volcanic island among the robust, beautiful Batak people. Their jungled mountainside resort of orangutans, huge butterflies and waterfalls is open for vacancy since a 1970's tremor drove most of the tourists off the island. A daily ferry drops a new trickle from the mainland and six bus hours past baboons on yield posts from the Medan international airport.
Who says you must stay in one Shangri-la forever?
May 4, 2011 | 1 Comment
Force yourself to start slow and finish sooner than you like.
Tell yourself you deserve the punishment for getting out of shape.
The first week is the only hurdle. Tack a note on the fridge: it will get better. GE guarantees it does.
There are four paths to advance in walking called resistances: distance, frequency, speed and weight. You may toy with these or take my advice from having used walking/hiking a half-dozen times to cure various maladies.
Start with slow blocks of time spaced frequently throughout the day.
After one week increase the duration of each walk while reducing the number.
Beginning the second week don a knapsack with five pounds of stones or water.
Daily increase the weight 6-ounces.
In one month you will look back at your tracks and marvel in good health.
Hobos are America's historic backbone. Reams of books describe how townspeople, and even RR bulls during the depression, helped them get to the fields and orchards to get the crops to market and feed the citizens. The definition of a hobo is a train rider who rides from job to kind words and helping hands. He knocks apples in Washington and plucks oranges in California but no longer cuts ice from lakes in Wisconsin. The RR bull turns a blind eye during harvest seasons if the hobo doesn't spend his wages on alcohol and can speak polysyllables on the way to the boxcar.
A King of the Road by wit, guile and grace doesn't lose a finger or end up in jail after decades on the rails. Pretenders seat him in the warmest spot near the campfire to prove himself with stories of the fast freight.
An Executive climbs in the business world by making the fastest decisions that are usually right. He comes packed with the hobo traits of intellect, humor, humility, alert drive, brinksmanship and good cheer in a storm.
The meeting place of the King of the Road and Executive is the American Dream. The King wishes dearly to pursue the financial American dream and the Exec asks himself, 'Do I dare to live the American Dream of independent travel?'
One man's dream is another man's nightmare.
I went into a chili patch today on Lake Toba and got a lesson in island economy.
Four Batak women were hoeing the fecund earth from a 700 century old supervolcanic eruption that brought lava minerals to the surface and is in their blood. One beckoned to come rest from my jungle walk in the shade of an ingenious tarp bent over treelings, and so we sat to be joined by the other three. The seasonal rains arrived one month ago, they explained in humorously broken English, and with nil tourists they had communed to plant the chili.
The earth is tilled by shovel and hoe, parallel troughs laid across a half-acre to direct the afternoon storms, and beside us, on a green tarp under the blue overhead, sat 2000 hand-fashioned black chile pots ready to be transplanted into the dirt rows.
‘Where are you from?’ asked the first. ‘America.’
‘Are you married?‘ asked the second. ‘No.’
’Are you on pension?’ queried the third. ‘In three years.’
‘I’m the only single lady here,’ asserted the forth.
Island economy is my corollary of Island Evolution where geographic barriers such as mountains, deserts, water or even a marauding enemy isolated a region to cause observable changes that are unique to the world.
Batak is a 100km circumference jungled volcano island at 6000’ in the deepest volcanic lake at an astounding 11km depth of the world. A 300-meter waterfall crashes outside my room window to water and alter every species within drinking range. The plant, animal and human developments show ‘hot evolutionary changes’ that I’ve seen in the similar caldera of New Zealand’s Lake Taupo created by a supervolcanic eruption 300 centuries ago. Here everything in sight has a greater growth rate and size, and rich, colorful and simple patterns. The Batak people including these ladies with white palm oil smeared cheeks are the most fierce looking people I’ve met in the world and, fortunately, the most gentle and industrious in their evolved island economy.
A daily ferry runs 8km across the lake to mainland Sumatra (also an island) where a ribbon road winds past dozens of monkeys on guardrails making faces at the meager traffic three hours down to the nearest city Siantar, and sparse uphill tourists. The ferry and road is Toba village’s social and economic link to civilization, and they have evolved an independent character and economy.
The tourist trade is the chief input until the annual rains come, and this is one of the top three dirt-cheap resorts I’ve discovered anywhere in the world. (The others are Iquitos, Peru and San Felipe, Mexico.) Now few tourists disembark the ferry and I have the run of the town. A room is comped behind the Bagus Bay internet cafe every other day when a storm crashes a power line and the café closes, people invite me to meals, and I get daily propositions in so many words to marry a Batak female and ‘live happily ever after on Toba’. The requirements are that I be male, unmarried and on a pension. Three other European men have chosen this fate.
I could be a chili farmer for the rest of my life, the single girl at the patch explained as we planted. Chili loves heat, and moisture under full sun. First the plant and then the harvest, I replied and rose again to poke little holes with a stick along the rows to drop inside the 3’’ potted plants.
The gaggle paid $200 for 150 kilos of prime seed that covers the .5 acre cleared jungle garden. Drop, bunch soil, water, done. In four months the harvest will sell for $5000 across the lake, and they will enjoy fat times until the tourist season arrives to replenish.
One hundred Toba villagers likewise fanned out onto the jungle slope to plant corn, beans and other crops. These grow well, but others like cucumbers and tomatoes do not and are imported from the mainland. A huge mixed salad costs a dollar, but add tomato and cucumber and the price doubles.
I drove a motorcycle around the island broken ‘ring road’ to first note the 3:1 female to male ratio in passing among about 1000 school kids. The second interesting item is there are a handful of cars, many 100-150hp motorcycles, and a pickup truck that circles the island daily delivering vegetables. When the battered black pickup arrives at Toba the women chase and climb aboard to pick the best as the driver shakes his head in dismay, pulls out a scale, and weighs portions out to each.
The deep lake a hundred meters behind me supplies abundant fish where each morning at 6:30 the townswomen traipse a 30-meter concrete pier to fishermen’s’ motorized canoes to weigh and sell the catches. A 10’’ prehistoric looking trout sells for $US1 and each wife buys one, chucks it in her vegetable bucket, puts it on a towel on her head, and balances it home to add rice to feed the typical family of four.
My dollar stretches a ways here: A room with bath and three meals costs $10. The hotel workers and clerks earn $4 per day plus a bunkroom and meals. The cheerful workday is 13-hours six days a week and everyone is grateful to have a job, full stomach, roof over the head, and pocket money.
Smile wrinkles build, stomachs flatten, and people are more cheerful along the one town lane during this lag between the tourist and vegetable harvests. The citizens know no other way in their isolation. Nothing is locked up: Motorbikes are parked with keys in ignition, the internet café door is open all night, tools are left at construction sites, stores are unattended for an hour at a time trusting customers to pay in the register what they take, and most hut homes have no locks much less doors to hang them on.
Everyone carves at the rock-and-concrete Hobbit homes braced by ornately chipped posts that stare down like hundreds of totem poles. Nearly all play music and sing well, but none is fond of shop keeping. The deformed ‘village idiot’ next to me is the town accountant and authority on local lore. A thousand English books- classics to self-help- from the1960’s circulate town at a buck a read, and then return it to a shelf from when the tourist trade boomed before a tremor shook the island. English is taken seriously and hilariously spoken from the books and an oral tradition passed down from hippy tourist phrases from twenty countries.
There is no village store, pharmacy, doctor or knick-knack shop, however nearly every house boasts a front porch business with a table to serve meals, or hand-made souvenirs, plus two bars with live music three times a week. Every cat has a bent tail and vehicles drive the left side of the road. A motorcycle express putters by every couple days to sell stamps and pick up mail from a community wood box near the pier.
The high school is called a ‘tourist college’ to ensure the shrewd Batak children learn English to get ahead upon graduation at one of the finer $5 hotels. Chickens are trained to lay eggs inside houses ‘where it’s more comfortable’. It’s an Eden to raise a family.
Back at the chili patch, the ladies have judged my feet to be nearly as spread as theirs from daily walks, and have talked the single girl into proposing marriage. However, I’ll visit the chili patch daily to learn more about island economy and the remarkable Batak who have evolved with it.
Any beggary tips I proffer are from observations on a hundred skid rows across America and in a hundred countries, with one exception.
Hobos call it ‘throwing your feet’ with so much walking and standing. It stares you in the face that the more panhandlers, the worse the times, and the higher the takes the bigger the boom.
Quick on the heels of a begging market comes the calamity of a region being bummed out. One year, I hopped out a boxcar along the Milk and Honey Route because of the easy alms in Salt Lake City, the Mecca. Tightened mouths under drawn hats greeted on every corner in tramp heaven until I asked, ‘Why?’
‘The city’s bummed out!’ one, and then the next cried stretching palms.
‘But why? I wondered.
‘The Bishops givin’ eats.’ I followed a string of pointed fingers to The Bishop’s front porch and a queue of thirty willing workers to sweep, wash dishes or run errands for one hour for a big sack of groceries. The news had spread like fleas up and down the rails to bring a great flux, until supply-demand had forced the immigrants to throw their feet like common beggars.
Salt Lake was bummed out. The missions jammed with not a tree remaining to sleep under, and it took a month to recover. However, I was set like Aesop’s grasshopper with twenties in my boots.
Panhandling is the world’s second oldest profession, whatever the times, so reach out to a beggar with austerity. Fully 80% of the men leaning on stop signs at intersections with upraised hands are on a government dole. The single women there have a man hiding behind a bush or building to periodically pop out to bank the cash before she’s looted by another panhandler. They are nearly all welfare moonlighters.
A Las Vegas Viet Nam veteran asserted- at least he wore a veteran’s baseball cap- ‘I clear $50 daily in the casino parking lots, and on busy days $100.‘ He migrated casino to casino judging people to tap by their gesticulations after leaving one-armed bandits. He sauntered off chewing a hash brownie. I estimate that 50% of the millions panhandled in the US alone go for drugs and steaks rather than the ‘Please give for food’, ‘Baby needs milk’, and so on that is covered by Food Stamps.
Bear times and holidays throw open hearts to win jackpots everywhere. Easter and Christmas bring the best pickin’s and I can’t say the number of times I’ve hidden behind a park bench or dumpster to keep a holiday do-gooder from forcing a turkey dinner on me.
Internationally, I recently tailed in a busy Saigon market a blind panhandler with a white cane strapped to his back and an outstretched tin cup in one hand, bullhorn in the other, bellowing pleas. I know he was blind because he walked into a truck mirror, yet when I followed him beyond to a coffee shop he pulled a thick wad for coffee and donuts as others clustered around the table. Legitimate beggars have bankrolls to share with ‘less fortunate’ friends.
The beggar stakes his busy territory and guards it jealously. If a region is bummed the fix is to move into trafficked lanes. In many countries such as El Salvador they board buses and hum a tune, pass out ‘I am deaf’ fliers or sing a psalm before staggering the aisle for payment. It is simply a job to rise to each morning. One Guatemalan beggar was a smiling legless, armless basket case who boarded my bus on the shoulder of his amigo and ambled the aisles at great profit. At the next stop he was chucked to another man who boarded a selected full bus, and little doubt each porter took his fee.
In India a crippled or scarred beggar is the golden goose, with a protective owner because beggary runs the low life economy and in a hungry recession he or she becomes the mark. Here in Lake Toba, Sumatra the coming rains have decreased tourism and turned Batak villagers to cultivate the fields where drunks live hand-to-mouth knocking on fence posts to pull weeds for small change. There is no tinkle in the cup because a dine is a paper bill.
In Egypt in a miserable sandstorm a man dashed from an alley, pleaded for alms, and when I shook my head emphatically no he jumped on my striding thigh and humped it like the affectionate dogs up and down the kennel arteries of veterinary school. It is no shame that when people get hungry they will resort to anything to feed themselves and families.
Music moochers are everywhere. In a NYC subway once a roughly dressed young man closed in singing patriotic songs so pathetically that when I put on earmuffs to block the din he drummed on my shoulder with a dollar bill until I shouted, ‘I don’t come that cheap!’
Virtuoso panhandling is a joy. How does it differ from the chamber music you pay a ticket to hear? My Sand Valley neighbor Sweet Pie altered New England statutes for burlesque music and has a standing invitation from Jay Leno to appear clad in the scantiest frill jockstrap to play the piano with a left hand signature Liberace said was the best he’d ever seen. His CD melodies confirm, and a scrapbook of Playboy, Penthouse and other risqué rags arm-in-arm with Dolly Parton and other musicians. He rejected Carnegie Hall until the contract allows after a performance to ‘pull the purse’ strolling the audience with a saddlebag hanging from his scrotum to hold up to 30lbs. of tips like the good old days.
Then there are the egghead beggars. The best I recall was a San Francisco adept on Pier 39 shouting mathematical solutions to columns of numbers and long divisions from passers-by to win change for each correct answer. But who could check him?
Are you surprised that a pro makes more per hour than you or I?
The single exception to never having less than a hundred dollars worth of twenties in each boot was in the mid-1990’s in Minneapolis where the boots were stolen. It was the projects section and so simple to borrow a quarter for the phone. On learning penniless at midnight that support would not arrive for three days, I walked into the police station and asked for a cell to overnight. Instead, the manager ran me in a squad car to the psych ward for a three-day hold pending the mental state. I was released on being able to memorize the serial numbers of a few bills in the head shrinks wallet as we played liar’s poker.
I could make the beggar venture anywhere because of an early mentor. Beggary, after all, is business or sport where the path is paved by an early teacher.
In Los Angeles in the late 1980’s the classic Midnight Mission catered to the down-and-out stew bums, car tramps and hobos alike. You walk in the peeling paint arch, sign an alias, put your gear in a locker, and take a towel, bar of soap and hot shower. Then you read donated dog-eared Women’s Days for an hour until the supper bell beckons ‘feed the spirit before the stomach’ and you stuff into church pews among the lot of demon tattooed cursing jailbirds, and good tramps too, to listen to an ‘ear pounding’ from the ‘sky pilot’, which is to say a sermon. The meal follows, and a winding stair into the building bowels to drop your pants for the Wood Lamp lice check whom are not the only creatures glowing in the dark. Then back up the stairs to the bunkhouse to sleep with your wallet between your legs. I heard gunshots outside all night in a crescendo of snores and flatulence.
The next morning I exited the Mission and was instantly accosted by a man with a tin leg that he banged with a long 45 revolver alternately pointed at my forehead, and wouldn’t stop bragging about his nitroglycerin bank heists in the old days… until a tall shadow overtook him. I looked up and a large be-whiskered old man blocked the sun.
‘Put the guy away you fool!’ The tin legged man simpered off with a resounding ping, and I turned to face my benefactor.
Now I understand it was a likely set-up for my donation; however all I could offer was, ‘Thank you. How can I possibly repay…’
He held high a huge black palm, brought it down square in front of my nose and smiled with seven teeth, ‘A tip will do.’
Instead, I bought a begging lesson from the beggar.
That my mentor had persuaded the American metropolises became obvious as he removed his hat, stringy hair drifted onto his chest, and he pushed it aside to assault each five-minute passer-by with, ‘I’ll bet you’re from so-and-so’. When he was right he got a bill; when he was close he got their attention; and when he missed the people walked on.
He instructed to always have a tale to stop a Santa Claus in his tracks, and punch it with a reason for a bit of change- $.83 to be exact that would fetch a dollar. I had a bank of stories and stood at his elbow competing for alms, beseeching while listening, and imitating each trick with my next mark. The key lesson like any sales pitch from WallMart to Macy’s is know your customer, break the ice, and appeal to his logic, emotion or intellect,… to get into his wallet.
He won hands down as I could not volunteer tears to my eyes to close the big deals. My few dollars went into his hat that I saw as a free begging lesson.
Today I caught an ox cart and ferry off bucolic Toba, Indonesia. The ambiguous visa turned against my favor. Immigration is kicking me out of the country, but won't deport me unless I stay another 35 days to become a 'criminal' that would avoid a fine. Today the immigration chief laughed, and advised I go back to Toba & enjoy an extra month. Becoming a criminal offsets the fine and blacklists me from the country for one year, plus two days in jail. I know he's the chief because I stopped in every floor of the Medan immigration skyscraper until topping out at him, he won't give me his name, speaks through an interpreter, and says the building has no phone though he packs a cell. Indonesia has a a recent watchdog system on high officials that works. His kids will like my secret mirror writing. It's too far back to Toba to consider becoming a criminal. The U.S. embassy will loan the money but nab me at the arrival airport. As it is, I'm fined $600 for overstay on the immigration oversight three months ago as a blue-jeaned embassy clerk crawled through a window and stamped my passport w/ duplistic expiration dates– 'expires April 23' in bold at the top was my incorrect guess. I've fanned out to ATM machines to accumulate the fee but ATM's don't work well with American cards… I have garnered $400 at six. There's also a remote island ferry to Singapore that may not have a computer or take a bribe.
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 | 1 Comment
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.« go back — keep looking »
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