I've been captured. I will be killed with the others. A sharpened pole is pounded between my legs, into my rectum, intestines, through my chest. They adjust my body so it will exit the back side of my left shoulder. It takes time to die.
Ancient Macedonia. The skies are clear and hot. It was a brutal battle. Many men, scores, are dead. The silent aftermath. Their bodies twisted, awkward, vulnerable areas revealed. Their blood is thickening in pools. I had survived with only a few gashes and a limp. The grip on my sword is tight through my own sticky blood. I hear distant moans and involuntary panting from the fallen yet undead. Another just expired, lungs deflating. There, intestines. There, genitals. There a broken jaw. I'm helpless as an avalanche of sadness buries me. My body gasps. Then, from the ground up, anger explodes in me. Everything goes white, then black, then red. I stagger. When I can see again, I roar “Why!” I am overwhelmed, eaten alive, by this exploding anger. I raise my sword overhead, two hands. I crash it down into the meat, into the flesh, of a body. I hack the genitals, balls and penis from a body. I raise the bloody organs overhead and roar “Aarrrrhhhh!” wide eyed, so fierce, menacing. But no one is near. The rage booms into the silence, without echo. I return bloody to my village. They look away. I stand in the center and again a roar comes. “This is what you wanted! This is what it looks like!”
It is early morning on a bright day. Everyone is still asleep. I hear the sunlight streaming through the windows, heating rectangles on the bedroom floor.
I glide past my sleeping sister, out the back door, through the dim cool patio to the edge of the lush lawn. The dewed grass is a froth of sparkles. My bare feet are tickled wet and chilled when I step into this bouyant green.
The blades squeak as they bend and compress under my step, rebounding with a sigh when I pass. I see I'm leaving a meandering track like the snails do.
Ahead irises reach and stretch above the ivy, their faces yawning.
The apricot tree is immersed, scattered buds and blossoms mewing.
The space, the distance, the void between is bulging, ringing. The things I see are born of, joyously expelled from, this.
As am I.
I was six. Mom needed a break so I was sent to stay with her sister, Aunt Betty Jane, for a few weeks. It was summer. Aunt Betty Jane was religious and it was decided that I should learn about religion, too. Aunt Betty Jane wore thick glasses and was cross eyed in one eye and married to a frail guy in a wheelchair. He kept a yellow and black plaid blanket on his lap. I'd been told he'd die soon. I didn't know what that meant, except that you were supposed to have a serious face and not ask questions. He didn't seem upset about this dying thing. When he spoke, it was a wheezing pointed in my direction. The wheezing exposed the yellowed teeth of a dedicated smoker.
They lived in a small house, even by the standards of that day. A few concrete steps led up to a screen door. It was dim inside. There were dingy doilies on the arms of a pea green sofa. A shaded lamp with a low watt bulb stooped in a corner. The lamp's tarnished pull chain had given up hope. I examined some plates on little wire stands. They looked like pretty ordinary little plates to me. The brightest thing in the house was a book with a floppy white leather cover. I thought books had hard covers. But this book had a supple white leather cover with “Holy Bible” stamped in gold on it. Some of the text was printed in red ink. These people read this book. Huh.
I snooped around the house, opening drawers. I found a red can opener in the kitchen. Some canned string beans. I spun the crank of an egg beater, watching the beaters mesh. In the bathroom I found a toilet plunger. It had a wood handle with an orange rubber flange. It was wet. The bathroom smelled like an old person's fart, plus fake orange blossom spray. There was another doily on top of the toilet tank. There was a shallow hall closet with Aunt Betty Jane's worn, sturdy black shoes on the floor. Some of the man's were in there too. I was interested in the space between the bottom of the coats and the shoes. I watched the bottom of the coats to see if they moved. They didn't. Aunt Betty Jane was a sleep walker. She would occasionally sleep walk and pee on the shoes in that closet. I never learned if she peed on her own shoes, his shoes, or just shoes in general.
Outside a scraggly lawn sprouted ragged dandelions. There was a tub washing machine with a hand crank on top. The idea was you could put clothes in one side and crank the crank and they'd come out the other compressed all flat. I thought that was pretty neat. I put my fingers in and temped injury by turning the crank a little bit. A wet box of Borax laundry powder had split a corner seam, forming a little pile of powder. There was a push lawn mower. I found some mason jars with spring wire glass tops. An empty clothesline with crooked galvanized wire completed my inspection of the exterior. No animals anywhere.
They ate something called 'supper'. It was like dinner, but you had to eat it before you were hungry. It was done in the late afternoon when you wanted to be out doing something else. Something like trying out that push mower on those scrawny dandelions. Or finding some bugs to put in one of those mason jars. Instead I had to eat the canned green beans and some grey meat and a scoop of mashed potatoes. It was served on flesh colored glass plates, which I liked.
I was told that since they were religious they went to church. I would have to go to church, too. I didn't like the idea. But they had me cornered. They took me to a low brick building surrounded by asphalt. There were a bunch of kids there I didn't know and was pretty sure I didn't care for. But there was some potential. They had an assortment of pipe cleaners, paint, glue, paste, oatmeal boxes, colored paper, macaroni, butcher paper, scissors, pencils, crayons, string and such. I considered myself beyond crayons, so I passed on those. I industriously set about constructing a piggy bank. I glued the top back on an empty round oatmeal box. I painted it pink. I gouged the top with dull scissors to make a hole to put the money in. I ate some paste. I wound a pipe cleaner around a pencil for a nice spiral tail and glued it to one end. I glued some elbow macaroni on the other end for eyebrows. A couple more macaroni on the sides were stubby legs that kept it from rolling over. I was pretty darn proud of my pink piggy bank.
I had about exhausted the possibilities of the school. There were no ropes, or rocks, or matches. No hammers. No weapons. No lizards. I went in and out of the door a few times. Then I opened and closed a window and opened it again. Outside was a tether ball. I hated tether ball. I tried to figure out how many more days I had to stay at Aunt Betty Jane's and with that frail, spooky, wheezy guy in the wheelchair with the blanket on his lap.
They went to church in the middle of the week, on Wednesday, and on the weekend too. Huh.
I had to put on a shirt with buttons and shoes and socks. We had to go into a church and sit down on hard benches. We were in the middle of everyone, so there was no escape. Grown ups were all around. They sang some sad songs and tried to be helpful by showing me pages in a little book so I could follow along. I nodded and tried to look as serious as everyone else and make little humming sounds at the same time. Without warning, we had to stand up and sit down. I had no idea what the cue was for this behavior. I tried to keep looking as serious as everyone else.
Some man up front was wearing a white smock, expounding importantly. Everyone was listening closely. I was looking at a statue of a guy that got stabbed in the ribs and was in such great pain that his knees had buckled. Owww. Poor guy! Then I got jabbed in my own ribs and wheezed on by Aunt Betty Jane's husband. He was grinning at me with those yellow teeth. Aunt Betty Jane was whispering loudly “Go on!” at me. What? “Go on!” Where? What? I was stood up and led out of my seat, towards the guy up front in the white coat. Everyone was looking at me. I had just figured out how to be sad and serious and now there was a switcheroo! Damn. What had I done wrong? Was it my pink pig? What were they going to do to me? I was trembling, shaking in my shoes and socks, as they led me to a room behind the front of the big church room where everyone else was.
I was really scared. There were a bunch of men in there, all standing up. This must be 'the elders'. Oh, shit. What are they going to do to me? I still didn't know what I'd done wrong. They all sat down and motioned for me to sit down too. I sat. Tiny me and about eight elders. I didn't see any weapons. Whew. So far so good. I'm still alive. Then one said “Let us pray.” and they all closed their eyes. I looked at all of them sitting there with their eyes closed. They looked a little less dangerous that way. But, hey, maybe they were plotting something! Then I thought, “Oh no, what if one of them opens their eyes and sees me with my eyes open. They might kill me!” So I closed my eyes.
Okay, so now I'm sitting there with my eyes closed. It is pin drop quiet. I don't hear anyone moving. So I don't make a move either. Someone breathed. I can hear a clock ticking. I keep my eyes tightly shut. The seconds tick by. Then minutes. Still no one has moved. Nothing. The clock keeps ticking away. More minutes. I won't peek. I won't! I haven't been killed yet. Don't move! I start to wonder what the elders are doing. This is so scary. I decide to take the great risk of peeking out of my tightly clamped eyelids. Holding my breath, I very very carefully open the tiniest fraction of one eye.
Aaaack! They all have their eyes open and are looking at ME! Shit! I messed up again! I was terrified. The leader was grinning. He said we could all go back into the church now. The entire congregation, all those grown ups in all those seats, had been waiting that whole time, in silence. They stood up as we came back in. Everyone was in on whatever was going on. The lead guy said 'Be seated.' and they all sat down. But they made me stay up front. They wouldn't let me go. Everyone sat looking intently at me. Oh no, this is going to be bad.
The leader guy told everyone that I had been in prayer all that time; that's why it took so long. And that Jesus Christ the Lord had done something or other to me in the back room. That something miraculous had happened. I was a hero or something. They finally let me go. They applauded as I bee-lined it for my seat.
I was so relieved to finally have the attention off me! Sitting there I immediately decided these people were idiots. The leader guy misinterpreted a kid's terrified silence for divine intervention. The audience believes whatever the leader guys says. What a bunch of dumbos.
I was at Aunt Betty Jane's for a few more days. She and her sickly husband were deferential to what they thought was a young saint in their house. The sickly husband died a few months later. It would be some 20 years before I set foot in a church again. It was on a trip to Europe. A guy put an unsalted cracker on my tongue. He was wearing a terrific hat. So what do I think about religion? I think church people really have the whole hat thing down solid.
My grandma (my mother's mother) Jenny was married to Ted. The lived at The Pike. The Pike was the fun zone in Long Beach with a huge wooden roller coaster, fun houses, bars, tattoo parlors, fights and arcades. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXbEqX6OQWw. Their little place was above the theater on the main strip, with arcades and the “Plunge” nearby. Grandma would take me around to the various rides and I'd get to go on even if I was too small because she knew the lady that took the tickets. My favorite was The Rotor, a round room with rubber walls. The whole room would spin and you'd be pinned to the walls by centrifugal force. Then the floor drops out and you're pinned suspended above the floor and you laugh and try to lift your arms off the wall. The “Diving Bell” was great, too. It smelled of salt water and iron, and voices echoed inside the bell when it went down, about 10 feet. There were a couple of sharks and rays in the tank to look at.
Sometimes my brother Joey, 5 years older, was there, too. He'd throw his arms up on the Cyclone Racer roller coaster and I would try to too, kind of. Ted's job at the theater was to sweep out the popcorn boxes and soda cups between movies. It made a surprisingly big pile of trash. The concrete floor was really sticky and your shoes made a snapping sound when you walked on it. Jenny might have been a ticket taker, I'm not sure. It was weird to see the chairs and the stage and screen with the lights turned on. I got to see the projector, too.
There was a new movie out called “The Blob”. It was 1958 so I was 6. It's about a blob of goo from outer space that burbles and dissolves everything, including people. I didn't want to watch it because it was too scary, but my brother made me. My brother loved to scare me. The lights go down and the movie starts and someone finds this curious splat of ooze from outer space. It dissolves them, screaming alive and the gob of goop gets bigger. It finds more people and dissolves them, too. Then it comes to town and heads for the movie theater, full of people. I know this theater. It is this theater! Ted! Ted! It's gonna get Grandma! I cover my eyes and wedge myself down into, between the seats, trying to keep my shoes off the floor so it won't get on my feet and dissolve me. Then it comes in the door of the theater! I close my eyes... I can't watch. My brother is making scary sounds. I peek. It is oozing into the projection room! It's in the projection room! The film burns up and everyone starts screaming. At least that's the way I remember it.
My brother Joey was older by 5 years. One of his passions, in addition to burning ants with a magnifying glass, was hypnosis. He clipped out an ad from a comic book and sent away for instructions. Shortly he was hypnotizing neighborhood kids.
One of the kids was Fritz. Fritz was under and Joey told him he was going out surfing. Fritz started paddling his board. Then Joey said it was cold and Fritz got goose bumps and started shivering. Then Joey said it a wave was coming and Fritz spun around to catch it. Then the wave was big, bigger, bigger... 50 feet. Fritz was wide eyed and terrified, looking death in the face. Joey relented and Fritz got to shore. Joey hypnotized another kid and told him he was a board. They tipped him over and laid him between two chairs, his head on one and heels on the other.
One of Joey's missions was to hypnotize me, too. He tried all the techniques in the book. I'd pretend to go along just so he'd stop, but I never went under. Several times I woke up and he was stealthily trying to bring me from sleep to a hypnotized state. I told him to stop it.
I was at a circus and a hypnotist selected volunteers, me among them. Other people were under and he made them do all kinds of crazy stuff. But he never got even close with me.
We were kids. My sister Shell had a little black and white female rat from the pet shop. She named it Izzy. Izzy sat on her shoulder when she walked around. Shell had doll tea parties and Izzy would attend, sniffing the tiny teacups. Izzy didn't have much of an attention span. We got another pet store rat, a darling tiny little white male one. We named it Barney. Barney got loose and we figured he was a goner, because we had cats too.
We had a pond with a waterfall in the back yard. The waterfall was lovely. It was made from an old washing machine topped with the rear engine hood from a VW bug, covered with rocks and cement. It cascaded into a pond. We put critters we caught in the mountains into the pond: snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, pond scum. And pet store turtles and goldfish. The turtles thrived on the frogs and salamanders. The snakes slithered away.
One day playing in the pond I saw a white whiskered snout poking out from the bottom of the washing machine. “Barney! You're alive!” I tried to lure him out with crumbs. No luck. All I could see was his whiskers.
A few years later, very early one morning, I spotted the cats avoiding something in the middle of the backyard lawn. It was a rat. An enormous rat. A rat the size of a large cat. A rat with yellow fangs, bloodshot eyes and balls the size of walnuts. It was Barney. Barney on his way back to his pond house. He wasn't troubled by the cats. Barney was now too fucking bad ass of a rat to worry about a couple of prancing cats.
It was winter in Southern California. The pool was covered with a black plastic tarp. The tarp kept stuff out of the pool, and also heated the water a little.
My dad worked nights and would wake up late mornings. He had a cup of coffee in his bathrobe at the kitchen table, with a view of the pool and the back yard. He went to classes at college in the afternoons.
I was in 2nd grade, so 7 years old. My brother Joey was 5 years older, 12. He and his buddies were burning red ants with gasoline in the back yard. They used a purple anodized aluminum tumbler filled with gas, and would pour the gas down the ant hole. Then, set a match on it. The ant hole would whoosh and a flame would jet out for a few seconds. The surviving and angry red ants would stream out and those could be fried with gasoline, too.
Since I was little, I could only watch from about 10 feet away. I was wearing my jeans and sneakers. My brother was pouring the gasoline from the cup when it went off in his hand. He screamed and tossed it into the air. I saw the flaming ball and got a step away before it hit my right calf. I was on fire, screaming. The other kids tried throwing sand at me as I ran around screaming.
My dad looked up from his late morning wake up coffee and saw a flaming child and kids running in panicked circles. He ran, bathrobe flying, and scooped my flaming self up. With me under his arm, he ran for the pool with the black plastic tarp over it. We made it out to the middle before the tarp started to tear and water slowly flooded in. We sank, in slow motion. I was extinguished.
My mom, dad and brother and I all got into the VW bug and headed to the doctor. He couldn't see me right away because there was another kid ahead of me. He was playing in the garage and knocked a rake off the wall. When he ran away from it, it hit him on the head and punched a few holes in his skull. My pants and socks and shoes weren't burned at all. Only my flesh was burned away, leaving a clean line where my socks came up to.
Dad was in the Merchant Marines in WWII. As the First Mate, he gave his shipmates injections for the venereal diseases they'd pick up in various ports. So he knew how to give injections. The doctor gave him little bottles of antibiotics with rubber tops. He'd boil a needle in a Revere Ware pot, mount it on a glass syringe and load it up. I'd drop my pants and he'd jab me in the butt. I didn't want to cry, so I'd laugh. I think those injections lasted for about a month.
I was out of school for awhile. My brother felt real guilty and made me a crutch. It had a pad on top to go under my arm. He got in trouble for setting me on fire, even though it was an accident.
18 years later, I attended a workshop with a few hundred other people. In one session, groups of us lined up on a stage in front of everyone else. I went spontaneously reeling into the fire and terror. My body was violently shaking. The leader asked if I was in the experience. I nodded. I saw sand flying, felt flames burning my flesh, and went through the fear into a new space.
A few years later, in another workshop, I was sharing about the incident. Most everyone was laughing. Some were spilling out of their chairs in side splitting hilarity. I felt the high heat of humiliation. I later learned that the workshop leaders shared a hot tub and continued the ridicule privately, calling me 'Tiki Torch”.
Decades after that, in yet another group, part of our course wrap up was to roast the workshop leaders. Somehow this morphed into another experience of me being humiliated. I let the heat of this flow, and yet another layer was released.
A big part of being a kid was being teased, humiliated, tormented and subjected to various kinds of torture. These were burned into my body, and released incrementally, experientially, over decades. It comes out the same way it goes in. The experience comes to life again, but instead of going inward and being trapped in my body, it is released outward, with me as a witness. I discovered that understanding is useless, courage is priceless, and the freedom of release is joyous.
I was 7. After my leg was burned, I went to the doctor with my Mom for a check up. They wanted to run some tests. A nurse came in with a little round carton and asked me for a sample. I didn't know what she meant and asked her to show me. My mother was amused as the nurse, wearing pants, sat on a toilet and put the little cardboard carton between her legs and said “See? You do it like this. Fill it up, then put the top on and put it in this little door here.” Okay, got it. I took the carton from the nurse and closed the door. I filled it up just like she showed me and put the top on. I put it behind the puzzling and special little door and went back to the waiting room with my Mom. I perused Highlights for Children, a magazine I considered disturbingly insipid and pandering even at 7 years old. Eventually we were called back into an examination room. We sat down. The nurse came in. She had my carton in her hand and a worried look on her face. She said “There's a problem with the sample.” “Oh my god, what is it? What's wrong?” shrieked my mother. Peeling back the lid, with a disturbed voice, she says “It's solid.” exposing my hot little turd.
The ball field was flat an featureless, except for a swing set and a backstop. It was fringed by chain link fence, houses on one side and eucalyptus trees on the other. Big black crows cawed from the sun in the eucalyptus trees.
One morning, fog clung to the ground. It was thick and elbow deep as I walked into the middle of it. The low morning sun was clear and bright white. Sound was dulled, absorbed into the fog. The usual morning sounds were now eerie. Dropping to a crouch, I was hidden. I could see only a few gray feet horizontally, but miles vertically into the azure sky.
Another day, clear as usual, mid morning. I'm alone in the middle, standing there. Kids are playing foursquare, tether ball and hopscotch in the distance. Crows in the tops of the eucalyptus trees. My feet are yanked out from under me and I stagger. The crows scatter. The tops of the trees are stationary, but the trunks jolt violently. The air, the sky, the tree tops are more secure, fixed, than the ground. An earthquake.
My second job, at 18, was at Taco Bell. I earned eighty five cents an hour and got a printed paycheck. I worked hard. Wannabe hippies would panhandle out front to get money for food. When they came in I'd hand them a massive 3 pound burrito.
I was still a virgin, terrified of my the whole concept of sex. I knew I'd have to do it eventually. The girls that worked there found out and taunted, terrified me even more. They told me about parties where they'd put a coke bottle or hairbrush in their vaginas and dared me to come.
I learned how to work the hot sauce machine that made servings in plastic cups. And I made the beans, too. Pounds of pinto beans, salt, lard and water went into pressure cookers. When they came out, mix it with a drill with a paddle on the end. I learned how to chop lettuce on the slicer. And what spices to throw in the trays of hamburger meat. And how to charge the soda machine.
I found a girl to have sex with. She was even older, 19, and a virgin, too. We both wanted to get it over with and tried to figure it out. We kind of got the hang of it. We were glad about that.
The manager of Taco Bell, a youngish guy, was impressed by my work. He made friends with me and took me out in his Porsche. He let me drive it once, so I could see if I wanted to buy it from him. I'd never driven a car like that, glued to the ground. G forces on curves. Incredible. He said I had great potential, a real future, and could start working my way up and become a manager, too.
He lived on Balboa Island, a pricey enclave of rich kids. He had a party and invited all the Taco Bell workers. Some guys, the naughty vagina girls, me and my girlfriend. We all got plastered and the boss went to bed. We stayed and soon the vagina girls were naked. I didn't want to mess with them but my girlfriend was horny. Soon I was on the floor munching her box. I glanced up and saw that the door to my boss's bedroom was open and he was watching all the action out front. I didn't last much longer at Taco Bell.
Let's say 5th grade, about 10 or 11? It's time to go out there and play sports. To begin with, I was small for my age, smaller than most of the girls too. But some of the boys were getting muscular and coordinated. I was neither. Two of the guys were team captains, and the rest of us had to line up and get chosen one by one. It usually came down to the captains bickering “You take him! No way, I took him last time. It's your turn!”. Whichever team I ended up on, I knew my position. Left Out. I liked it out there in left out. Usually there was another awkward kid relegated to the area and if a ball came our way maybe he'd know what to do with it. But balls rarely came our way. There were dandelions and daisies and bugs in the grass and crows cawing in the tops of the eucalyptus trees. The players were so far away it was hard to see or hear what was going on.
My turn at bat was filled with gut wrenching anxiety. Anxiety that I'd get hit by a ball, or hit the catcher with the bat, or hit myself in the back of the head, or get my fingers smashed by a pitch. Let alone the humiliation of everyone's attention focused on my incapability. I found out that I could get out of the batters box in as little as three pitches if I swung at in my vicinity.
The enemy team knew to move all the players inside the base lines. Occasionally a ball would hit the bat I was holding and dribble away. Someone would yell “Run!” and I'd head off towards first base and watch the pitcher tag the bag long before I got anywhere near there. Then someone would holler “Let go of the bat, stupid!”.
One of the captains, frustrated with my assured out, thought maybe I sho uld hit left handed. He told me to stand on the other side of the plate and swing, so I tried that. “Oh, okay. Like this?” So there I was standing on an unfamiliar side of home plate, my hands now in the correct order on the bat, and the entire opposing team crowding the infield. I swung and something divine happened. I connected with the ball. It didn't sting my hands. Everything went into super slow motion, like when you're in an accident. The ball sailed away. It went up. Silently up. And out. Out over everyone's head. That ball was free. Sailing. Escaping. Mouths were agape. Eventually players figured out I had hit the ball and all hell broke loose. Everyone was yelling “Run! Run!”. Run to get the ball, run the bases, run! So I ran. People were screaming. I hit the first bag and kept going. Then the second bag. More yelling and people scrambling into position. I hit the third bag and was heading towards home... I'm going to make it! Full speed ahead, I was running for home. As I got closer, I started to decipher what they were yelling. “You're going the wrong way! You're going the wrong way!” As I hit home base, someone turned me around pointed me back to the correct first base. I made it there in plenty of time. I made baseball history with a five base single. And I learned that even if you switch hit, first base stays where it was.
I first took LSD at about 16, in high school. My friend Leo got it somehow. It was amazing, the colored streaks when I moved my hand. Paisley fractals. Dimensions distorted, am I falling? Which way is up? More questions came up than answers. When I thought I finally understood something, I'd try to write it down, but the pencil might melt, or I'd get distracted, absorbed by a fleck in the paper.
I tried other drugs, like Mescaline. That was a bit different, a softer edge but made you vomit. And there was something called STP. It was a kind of LSD that lasted for days instead of hours. Imagine a 3 day LSD trip.
My research continued. I'd write down questions I wanted answers to on a yellow pad of paper ahead of time. “If we're all reincarnated, and the population keeps growing, aren't there a lot of people walking around with no 'souls'?” Insights would come, but they evaporated when I came down. I tried harder. I injected LSD into the easy veins in my left elbow. Peaking within seconds!
I'd walk around at night when it was quiet in the apartment complex, go down by the ditch. Some creatures still lived there, not yet eradicated by urbanization. I'd watch the clouds. Then back to my room and watch some more. One full moon night cloud cover came silently in. It was a clean sheet that covered the moon. I called the weather service to report it.
After about 80 trips it became evident that I wasn't learning much. Insights didn't solve anything. Seeing what's true there didn't fix my stuff here, where I lived. I gave up.
Fill 'er up
I was about 25. I was taking a few classes at the University of California, Irvine in Chemistry. Most people went to school full time, but I wasn't smart enough to take more than two classes at once. I had to study my butt off and get tutoring and such just to stay in the game. It was a lot of work to get a B. Going to UCI was a foot in the door to a better job, though. I got a on the night shift at Owens Illinois, at a glass (quartz) sand mine in the hills behind San Juan Capistrano. There is a large deposit of clean quartz and feldspar gravels, about 50/50. It is a strip mining operation, with the ore picked up with a Caterpillar grader and pushed by a D9 into a 'grizzly' which separates boulders from smaller stuff, then via conveyor belts to a ball mill to be reduced again. A ball mill is a rotating cylinder about 10' in diameter filled with softball sized iron balls. The iron balls fall on the ore, breaking it up. Then further sizing and separating with cyclones. A cyclone is a liquid centrifugal separator. Once everything is about 60 grit, the 'spar is separated from the quartz by flotation. In the flotation process, you create a foam that some ores stick to, and others don't. The foam is created by air bubbling through water with a little fuel oil in it. Here the feldspar adheres to the foam, and if you add hydrofluoric acid, not to the quartz. Hydrofluoric acid is really reactive stuff, able to dissolve glass. Sulfuric acid is also used in the processing. Fuel oil is also used for drying the product ore: massive flames roaring in rotating 10' diameter cylinders of tumbling sand.
The lab and admin offices were a short ways away from the mill, far enough that you didn't have to wear ear protectors there. I'd collect samples from various points along the process stream then cook it up and run it through an atomic emission spectrometer, a neat instrument with a light beam going through an acetylene flame. The spectrometer tells how clean the ore is so the mill guys can adjust the reagents. The night shift guys laughed at my new red tennis shoes and called me 'boss', a joke because I'd been working there only a few months and most of these guys had decades of experience.
The operation used lots of reagents. The hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid and fuel oil were delivered by tanker truck, like the ones hauling gasoline or milk on the the freeways. These were stored in tanks on concrete pads like you see at refineries. One night, 9 o'clock or so, a driver comes to the door and asks where to deliver his load of acid. “The storage tanks are up the hill.” I directed. He drove his rig up the hill and unloaded, blasting his horn as he drove away an hour later.
A bit after midnight I get a call from the head mill operator. “The dryer flame went out.” I met him at the dryer. Sulfuric acid, instead of fuel oil, was coming out of the jets. 5000 gallons of sulfuric acid had been pumped into the supply fuel oil tank.
Immediately they started shutting down the mill. It is a continuous process. If one part stops, the whole thing stops. The D9 operator stops, the conveyor stops, the ball mill, the... everything. It is expensive. I called my boss. He called his boss. He called his boss. Everyone was there by about 3 AM. They were more concerned with diagnosing safety issues and what was ruined and figuring out how to get the process back up than blaming me. The mill was shut down for a few days for repairs.
That left 5000 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid in the fuel oil tank. We had a water truck to dampen the dirt service roads to keep the dust down. We filled it up with loads of sulfuric acid and drove around the roads, dumping it. My job was to go with the driver and choose which roads to put it on.
The mining and refining operation at Owens-Illinois used a lot of water. Waste water was collected in a circular cement lined basin called a thickner. Chemicals were added to cause the small particles, called fines, to adhere in clumps and drop to the bottom of the basin. The clarified water was pumped up the hillsides to collecting ponds. A cat would move some dirt to create a dam on the hillside. We had maybe a dozen of these ponds, pretty much anywhere there was a small ravine. Some of these scoop dams were 20 feet deep or so, impounding a small lake.
Sections of pipe were welded together to pump the fines around. Water is heavy; eight pounds per gallon, 2100 pounds per 100' of 8” pipe. A half mile weighs 55,000 pounds and has lots of momentum. One afternoon a mill worker closed a gate valve a little too quickly. The pipe leapt into the air and twisted on the ground. It rammed into a massive tank, crushing the sidewall. Fortunately the tank did not burst open, as it would have flooded a lot of people and equipment.
I''m working in the lab one rainy night when one of the guys comes in and reports “There's a crack in the road on one of the dams”. I called my boss and jumped in a pickup truck to check it out. This dam was built on a slippery clay lens. A gap had opened on both sides of a dam as the center part was beginning to slip down hill. It had dropped about 8 inches so far. If it gave way, all the water behind it would be released at once. Downstream was suburban homes, San Juan Capistrano, a sewage treatment plant, and Dana Point Harbor. Thousands of people and property. Government authorities were alerted. Beachward from the mine is the USMC base at Camp Pendelton. Soon Marines were leaping from helicopters in the blowing night rain. We had a backhoe digging a trench to release some of the water. The dam continued to slip, eventually about eight feet vertically. The backhoe just barely kept ahead of the slippage and disaster was averted. The mucky contents of the dam was flushed into the streams and river, however. https://goo.gl/maps/nSQ3EpTzcf82
Getting to Roatan
It looked like I would succeed in getting a two year community college degree, an Associate of Arts. And it only took me 3 years. I'd completed a mishmash of courses, none of which looked particularly promising. I was renting the downstairs studio from my dad and his wife. It was a shock when he announced they wanted to take me to Roatan, Honduras as a graduation gift. I couldn't figure out their motivation. They said they liked me. I was utterly confused. Whatever. I'd never been on a plane before. I agreed to go.
The flight went from Los Angeles to New Orleans, LA. I was glued to the window, watching the shadow of the plane on the clouds and landscapes below. In New Orleans I explored the streets and got quite drunk, stumbling back to the hotel late. Then off to Tegucigalpa, Nicaragua. It was an intense and dangerous place, but a local guide competently steered us around the city. The next morning we're in La Ceiba, to get the flight to Roatan.
The airport is a concrete bar with windows looking onto the runway. We're sitting on handmade chairs around a folding table, a few clouds in the the sky, a deserted airstrip. our luggage collected around our feet. The place was empty. After a while a couple of guys in white short sleeved shirts come in and order beers. I was still a little green from my investigations in New Orleans and the smell of beer made me queasy. We talked to these guys: they're our pilots. We cheerily shook hands and they walked out the the plane: a stout unpainted WW2 DC9 with heavy propellers. The bartender smiled and picked up our bags and tossed them into the tail section. Four other people blustered in and we watched their bags get heaped on top of ours. Dad translated for the bartender and confidently reported we'd board in about half an hour. We could see the pilots chatting in the cockpit. We watched from the bar as they started up the engines with a deafening roar. No one had closed the door at the back of the plane yet. They revved the engines higher and the roaring plane started to move. The deafening prop wash rattled the doors of the bar as the plane turned and taxied away. In a panic, we alerted the bartender that the plane was leaving with all our luggage, and without us! I watched the bartender laughing and eventually understood they were going to the gas station at the end of the runway.
The plane came back and we and the other family braved the prop wash to climb in. I walked steeply uphill and chose a window seat over a wing. The paint was long worn off the arm rests from countless white knuckle flights. I wondered where it flew in the war, and when the gal flirting with the pilots would close the back door so our luggage wouldn't fall out. I read a label “30W” on a fill port on the wing. That's where you put oil in.
We rumbled down the short runway and were quickly in the air. The cockpit door was open and I could see the gal still flirting with the pilots. We bumped and bounced to a level just above the clouds. I watched black oil streaming from that “30W” fill port on the wing, making a rippled streak all the way back to the trailing edge of the wing, then flinging into the rushing air. I wondered if I should tell that gal about it. I closed my eyes instead, hoping to settle my stomach.
My startled eyes snapped wide open with a huge commotion. Stuff was flying through the cabin, papers swirling in a roar. Frayed window curtains were whipping around. The women were clutching their hairdos. The gal up front turned away from the pilots and glanced at us in annoyance. She came handhold to handhold down the aisle and pulled a curtain back inside, then scolded the kid that had opened the window.
We arced, closing in on the island. I figured out we were headed for a dirt strip on the side. We bounced down. A swarm of little kids came running out, gleefully ripping luggage from the tail. We helplessly piled into a jeep and jolted a dozen miles through rutted jungle roads to our destination, a place called Anthony's Key Resort.
I had my own room at Anthony's. I watched geckos hunting minuscule prey. I wandered around the place, the bar, the kitchen, the beach, a little wood pier. The place was pretty well deserted. No one my age around for sure. I followed big iguanas around piles of coconuts and tried to talk to 'the bug man', the guy who walked around spraying to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
This place had scuba gear and a boat to get to dive sites. The guys asked if I was interested in coming. I told him I didn't do too good on boats but would like to learn about diving. He said I could play with the gear and tossed weights, a tank, a jacket, a mask and a part you stick in your mouth to breathe from in a little coral pool off the end of the dock. The equipment was fascinating. I figured out how to breathe from the regulator. I put the jacket on and floated around, looking at the fish in the pool. I grabbed the weights and sank to the bottom and was amazed I could keep breathing five feet down. I strapped the weights around my belly and listened to the air escaping from the tank into my lungs. Suddenly my mask is ripped from my face and the regulator is yanked out of my mouth: this asshole sneaked up behind me and did it. Very fucking funny. I fumbled around and found the regulator and stuck it back in my mouth. With blurred vision I found the mask and put it back on. I filled it with air so I could see again. I took the weights off so I could come to the surface. I told the guy “Hey man, that was rude!” He grinned and said I was ready to go for a dive.
Next day, four of us assembled on the boat. My first dive. They voted on where to go. “The eel gardens!” Okay, sure. We drive out to a place in the middle of a bay, put on all this heavy gear and flop into the water. I'm amazed by the sudden weightlessness. What a kick! There's nothing around us, just light streaming into the depths. No eels anywhere. The dive leader motioned for us to follow him. Where? Down. There's only dark blue water down there... He motions again. Down. I start dropping, adjusting the jacket, clearing my ears, again and again. 30 feet. The underside of the boat is getting small overhead. 50 feet. I look down and see the hint of a greenish expanse of sand. We keep dropping. 80 feet. I can see others gathering, pointing at something down there. I keep dropping. 95 feet. Finally the bottom. 105 feet. I see the eels in the dim light: a few dozen fingerlings buried tail first in the sand. Got it. Now how the hell do I get back up? Slowly, slowly we ascend. I know to go slow. I gently break the surface. Wow.
I learn later that doing 105 feet on a first dive isn't ordinary.
A young couple had their sailboat in the bay. They'd sailed from Florida and got a job at the resort, earning cash for their adventure. Part of her job was to be sure that I was having a good time. I said thank you, yes, I was having a good time. She said it would really make her look good if I'd do some things with her, so the boss could see what a great job she was doing. I skeptically asked “Like what?”. “Horseback riding on the beach!”. I don't care much for horses. I see it in the movies, people riding horses on the beach, through the surf. It does' look fun, or romantic, to me. I don't get the allure. Horses have teeth the size of dominoes. If I was a horse I'd use those teeth to bite anyone who came near me. They're obviously not too bright.
Feeling sorry for this gal, since she might lose her job, I reluctantly agree. The horses are tied behind the kitchen. A guy puts blankets on them and we climb on. We amble through the jungle, getting raked by palm fronds and wiping spider webs from our faces. Eventually we get to a long, steaming deserted beach, littered with coconut husks. She says “Now!”, kicks her horse in the stomach and takes off, galloping down the beach. My frightened horse runs after hers. She does a few laps up and down this strand, the horses getting a good workout. Mine is getting soapy, all frothy from the running around. It is a strong and unfamiliar odor, especially mixed with the salt water. We wind our way to the back of the kitchen and get off. It poops. She says “Thank you so much”. I take a shower and wander down to the bar.
I order a pina colada to congratulate myself for helping this gal by enduring a horse ride. The view is spectacular with palms framing sunlight glinting off sapphire water. I hear a crack, like a palm tree has snapped. Huh. The gal comes into the bar. She's crying. “What happened?” “It's your horse. They had to shoot it.”
Horses don't do so well in the tropics. They get bit by things and are more susceptible to diseases. I don't know what they eat, but there isn't a lot of grass. Apparently that horse was sick and got overheated and foamy with all that romantic galloping. I hope that gal didn't get in trouble. I wonder what they did with the meat bonanza.
We flew from Roatan to Guanaja, one of the many places Columbus was claimed to have trod. The 4 seat airplane took off from a dirt strip and landed on a much smaller grass strip. Most of the village was built on stilts over the water. A small maze of rickety walkways made of flotsam, tied and nailed together. The center of the community was a bar, where I took a pee. A hole in the floor opens onto flickering yellow tangs and striped sergeant majors below.
I see a teenage girl, smooth and lithe, gliding among the stilts. When she comes near, I'm awestruck by a combination of features I've never seen before: light frizzy afro-ish hair, brown freckled skin, green eyes, dazzling smile. I wonder what her story is.... slaves, pirates, Indians? What formed this marvelous beauty?
We got soaked taking a dugout panga a half hour to a little compound run by some east coast ex pats. The panga beached on the sand, scattering a troupe of enormous iguanas. We met the other guests. They were from the east coast, too.
They didn't get many guests at this place, so went overboard to impress us. They served more shrimp, lobster and fish than anyone could possibly eat. Mountains of sea life killed, probably fed to the iguanas.
The east coast guests had a kid, a true whiny brat. His parents contained their exasperation as well as they could. They politely suggested things for him to do that didn't involve them. The overly generous proprietors were weary of this kid, too.
There was a small reef island about 10 minutes by panga, in front of our rooms. It was fringed by healthy staghorn coral bursting with fishes. Following a narrow channel through the coral, I turned a corner and came face to face with a fat shark. I soon realized it meant no harm. It was a nurse shark. They sit in the channels and let the currents flow over their gills so they don't have to move to breathe. A few iguanas and crabs inhabited the island.
When we got back to shore, the kid announced he wanted to stay overnight on the island. The proprietors were delighted and packed some food. His parents packed a bedroll. The cook took him over in the panga. When the cook got back, he nearly fell out of the boat laughing. “What's so funny?”. He kept laughing “The crabs! He doesn't know about the crabs!” At night, huge hermit crabs, with one super powerful claw, come out. Voracious predator crabs. Oh yeah, I'd seen their tracks everywhere....
Everyone, including his parents, decided to leave him there. We'd all have to express horror when he talked about his terrifying night. “And be sure to tell him how brave he is, too!”
In college I wasn't in a club or fraternity. When I graduated I got a job as a lab tech. I thought it would be fun to live with college students, especially since I wasn't one anymore. I got a room with art and drama and psych majors from Cal Poly Pomona.
We lived in a large old wood house we called Kingsley Manor, after the quiet residential street it was on. We had celebrations, promoted by my roommates art projects. I contributed a big stereo with big speakers, and since I had a job, money for booze.
I didn't like to be triangulated by my divorced parents, especially for holidays. This Xmas I escaped by hopping a plane to Florida to drive the chain from Miami to Key West. EST did a Holiday Project, taking simple gifts to old people in assisted living homes. I joined the Miami group in their project, meeting the manager there. We had a great day, had sex, and the next day I set off alone to explore the Everglades and the Keys. A few days later I was back at work in California.
I got rather manic phone calls from this gal in Florida. Apparently I had made a significant impression. She was in love with me, she said. I thought that was nice, especially from the safety of the west coast. Within a few days she announced that she was coming to be with me in California. Shortly after that, I got a call from Louisiana, then Texas. Then New Mexico. She was excited. And frightening. And getting closer.
We had a big event planned, a blasting celebration of some kind, and it was in full swing when she arrived at Kingsley Manor. She was doing her best to create an enormous scene about my reprehensible character, but it didn't register against all the loud and merry partying. That made her even more mad, and she stomped out.
I don't know what happened to her.
What are the Odds
I was living with my buddy, Bill Lorton. He had a real job fixing copiers for Xerox, a condo and a car the company paid for. He got machine printed paychecks. I was down to my last 20 dollars. He didn't mind that I couldn't pay my rent and said he was going to Las Vegas and invited me to come. I said okay, I can go broke there as well as anyplace, but I insist on doing the driving. Bill had a little book about how to play blackjack. It was summarized in a little chart: if the dealer shows A, do B.
We got to Las Vegas and I watched people weirdly mesmerized by the games. Eventually I sat down at the far end of a table. The dealer smiled when he exchanged my $20 for a small stack of poker chips. I put my little chart on the table next to the chips. The dealer whipped a flurry of cards around and people flicked cards and quickly tossed chips. I studied my cards and the guide and the guy next to me to verify what it said to do. He said “Hit.”. I said “Hit me.” and the dealer did and then took my chip and the cards away. I tried again on the next round and lost again. Eventually I got lucky and won a round. I got the hang interpreting what the card said to do. I kept my head down and followed the card. The distracting waitress brought me Brave Bulls. I was winning.
I got a good pile going and knew my luck would run out eventually. I quit. I cashed the chips in: $600. Bill cheered. He had lost more than that. I told Bill I'd never have won anything without his little book and his generosity. I gave him half. I drove us back to Irvine with $300 in my pocket. Bill slept while I tried to figure out what I could do with that $300.
I was 28, renting a room from Bill. It was February. I had $300 and an army green four door Dodge Valiant that ran pretty well. It had a push button automatic transmission and an AM radio. I bought a roof rack for the car and a ladder at the hardware store. I went to a janitor's store and bought a squeegee. I printed up business cards that said “Perfectly Clear Windows” with my name and phone number and stuck them in mailboxes around the house in Irvine. In a few days I got a call.
The first month I did a couple of houses. I figured out how to be efficient, minimize the mess, and what I could charge. People start looking out their windows again in April, and calls came in. In May even more. By June I was scrambling. In July I got a helper. In August of 1979 I made $8,000. Convert that to today's numbers.
I didn't want to wash windows for a living, or run a janitorial business. I gave my accounts to a guy and wished him well. I'm still pretty good at washing windows.
I met a gal through EST. She was a seminar leader and a center organizer and was very bright powerful and beautiful and intense in bed. She had a Psych degree and saw clients in her house. Her roommates were other women, all feminists. Their individual and collective power was awesome. They were all much smarter and more mature than I. I was struggling with taking 8 units at college. And I needed to wash windows to make money. I got a job working for an architect, cleaning up his sleek new houses. One day I found why she dumped me: She out she was sleeping with him. Later that day, I was at one of his houses, one he was living in, to clean his windows while he was out. I was wracked with inadequacy, trying to figure out why this guy was a success and I was a failure. Why he got the girl and I didn't. I looked through his house, his things, for clues. I found it in his closet: All his clothes were in order. Shirts sequenced by color. Pants on hangars, black to khaki. Socks in lines. This was it.
When I got home I tore into my stuff and organized it. Then I went through and did it again. And again. It made me feel competent. Powerful. At ease. Together. Capable. Ready. Confident.
1982, I'm 30. It seemed like a lot of people about my age were having children. Having children didn't feel at all right, for so many reasons. First off, I wasn't really in a relationship. But even if I was, I knew it would take a lot of money. Money I could be using for other things. And I'd need a long term job. I wasn't up to that. I didn't even know what I wanted to do yet. Nothing I had done was all that interesting or paid particularly well. Okay, assuming I had a job, I'd be committing to a long term relationship. I was no where near ready for that. I could barely stand to be with me, let alone another person. If I did have a wife and there was a problem, whose children were they? I wanted that question decided clearly and explicitly beforehand. Insistence that “They're OUR children!” was simply fatuous. I knew that I had a mountain of stuff acquired from my own childhood, transferred from my parents, to work out. And that this transference was automatic unless it was cleared. And that I hadn't done that and I didn't know how. There were plenty of people walking around already. No need to add my air suckers to the swarm. It was better to give them a chance.
Nonetheless, I knew I should research the topic. I happened to meet a responsible (she had a desk job) girl with a very young son. I moved in with her. This fellow was small, less then 3 feet tall. She fed and dressed him and took him to day care. He seemed pretty self centered to me. One day I was assigned to give him a bath. He's sitting in the bubbly tub and got some soap in his eyes and started to cry. I watched him crying and didn't do anything. I discovered what a horrendous torturing inhuman monster I am. It was difficult to be near him after that. It confirmed what a nasty excuse for a human being I was. I was completely unprepared to be a parent.
With a recession on and no work, I had to find something else to do. I couldn't find anything. I was living with a girl and her infant child in Felton, across from Henry Cowell Redwoods state park. It was a tiny old home with sloping floors under redwood trees. Plenty of banana slugs on the prowl. In December it started to rain. It rained literally every day for 2 months. Over 100 inches. 10 people were buried in the Love Creek landslide, and another dozen in creeks and other mudslides. It was a phenomenally wet year. I loved it. I love it when nature shows her power.
But I had to make money. People had been pushing me to do multilevel stuff, like Amway, for years. To me the whole concept is greed, preys on suckers and has no integrity. I was desperate. I got a job answering phones for a couple of gals selling something called spirulina, the newest health fad. They were making 8 to 10K a month and didn't do much except run around. People called them up and placed orders which I wrote down.
I looked for something legitimate I could hawk that wouldn't take much money to get into. I settled on a toothbrush. It was called the Colis Curve, after the dentist who invented it. It has curved brushes.
I put ads in magazines and newspapers (this was long before the internet) and got a few orders and inquiries. Everything about this kind of selling was distasteful (pun intended) to me and I dropped the entire concept. I kept looking for work.
I'm 29. I've been doing drywall jobs in Santa Cruz for about a year, business increasing month over month. I still hadn't gotten a contractor's license. I paid everyone in cash and was considering going legitimate. I had rented a little office in Soquel. It was big enough to lay plans out so I could bid jobs. It was also a place to meet the rockers and tapers and store some tools and materials. Everything was done out of my VW bus. I'd blown up the engine once already taking too much scrap to the dump. And I broke the front windshield carrying scaffolding boards that bounced up against it.
I had gotten my largest contract so far, a development of 24 condos. I didn't have cash for that big of a job, but since I always paid on time, my suppliers were willing to front me the materials. I paid the rockers and tapers on Fridays at my office. This job would take months. My brother Joey would have steady work.
It was a wet winter. The streets in the development weren't paved yet and the clay had turned to sucking muck. I had double trailer loads of drywall and materials, thousands of pounds. Forklifts were useless in mud up to their axles. We laid planks over the mud and hand carried sheets from the semi trucks to the units. They were two stories and half of it went further, upstairs. I got a hernia moving these sheets for hours on end, for days. The hernia was small and epigastric, so I ignored it for the next dozen years. It was a plaything.
We knocked out a few units. I learned that the developers didn't know much about construction. They paid for some completed units. My cash reserve was gone. I had some new guys working for me. They'd follow me to the bank and hover menacingly as I cashed a check, in the bank. It was quite a commotion as I handed out the cash. Then, July 1981, a recession hit. The developer's bank didn't trust him to pay us. I had to go directly to the funding bank, in San Jose, for my progress payments. It wasn't pretty.
I finally got the job finished, after hundreds of hours of my own labor. All the other jobs I had scheduled canceled because of the recession. That was the end of my drywall career.
* I called the business ABIF, “America's Best Interior Finishing”.
Cable TV didn't get to remote areas around Santa Cruz. Satellite TV was just coming into existence and a guy, Ken Johnson, was the first in the area to capitalize on the opportunity. You needed big dish antennas, 8, 10 and even 12 feet in diameter. He opened a shop in Aptos and had guys slicing aluminum sheets into triangles and riveting them together to make the dishes. I became the salesman. He was thrilled and thankful to have me, and paid me well: 35%. I got a little Toyota Tercel and logged thousands of miles driving the narrow redwood roads around Santa Cruz, down to Carmel, Salinas, and up to Half Moon Bay. I sold systems to everyone, poor and rich. People wanted TV.
Some times Ken and I would take business lunches at a creek side cafe in Capitola. He smoked cigarettes and had a yellow mustache. He'd have greyhounds, which is vodka with grapefruit juice. I tried to keep up. He tried expanding by taking the dishes to trade shows to get commercial quantities. It didn't work. He tried opened a showroom at the Monterrey Mall. I staffed it for awhile, driving down from Santa Cruz. There wasn't much business down there and we closed it. He opened an office over the hill, in Saratoga. It was on Saratoga Boulevard next to a nursery and wealthy people who lived in the hills. I sold some stuff from there, but it was obvious to us it would be a loser, too. Ken sold that office to a guy with a business plan. It lasted a few months.
It was sad to see the market dry up but we were smart enough to get out of the business as it did. I lost touch with Ken.
When the satellite TV business withered away, I wandered up to San Francisco. I rented a loft from a gay couple near infamous Haight Ashbury. They had a prosperous drapery shop near Market street. I bought a 50cc moped to scoot around town, perfect because I could park it most anywhere. I explored the city from Golden Gate park, Crissy Field, Fisherman's Wharf, Castor, all over. Nights I checked out Chinatown and other nightlife. Dense city life was so much different that what I knew, a kid from Garden Grove.
I did a few jobs for my landlords, fixing and painting things. Those high rises full of money businesses were all around. What did they really do ? How could I break in? I bought a suit and did some reading and went in to apply for entry level stock brokerage jobs. I had a degree, after all. In “science!” Only one brokerage would even talk to me: a group interview at Dean Witter. Whatever their selection criteria were, I failed them. I recalled there was a small brokerage office in Santa Cruz and went down there, thinking maybe I could start small and friendly. No luck there.
I gave up on getting myself into the wealth of San Francisco and moved back to Sunnyvale, renting a room in a house full of Summit people. It looked like there was a future in this computer stuff. I noticed they all had keyboards in front of them. I didn't know how to type. I rented a typewriter and borrowed a stand up typing book from the library and learned how to type. Meanwhile, there were lots of computer companies around there. I applied to most all of them. Companies like Perkin Elmer, DEC, Data General, IBM and 3Com. They all said no. I was discouraged. I finally got a job selling TelRad phone systems to businesses. I'd go through the yellow pages and call companies, then go out and try to sell them systems. I sold a few systems but it wasn't working out very well.
I really needed some direction. I bought a copy of “What Color Is Your Parachute” and did the exercises. You write out your talents, skills, enjoyments, where you want to live, and make intersecting circles. It turned out I liked Laguna Beach pretty well. I wrote up an agreement to borrow some money from a girlfriend and moved to an apartment at the ocean end of Selva Lane in Dana Point. I still didn't have a job.
Since one of these computer companies wouldn't hire me, maybe I could get a job for a distributor, selling what they made. The Parachute book said to do “informational interviews”, so I did my research and made charts of computer parts distributors in Orange County. I did what the book said to do, taking people in the positions I was after to lunch and interviewing them. After I understood the companies well, their history, advantages and competition, I contacted the managers. I got an interview with Norm, the regional manager at Arrow Electronics. He told me later he had no choice but to give me a chance. I started at 800 a month.
I learned how to dress, what to say, and stuff about the products. I sold memory chips, hard drives (10MB!), modems and dot matrix printers to mom and pop computer stores, driving endlessly, 35K miles a year. I had a job. My foot was in the door. I felt I was starting a career.
I thought, since I have an open mind, I should try meditation. I've never been much for chanting and sitting with my legs crossed for very long is uncomfortable. But, what the heck, I'll give it a go. I looked up Transcendental Meditation and found a local group nearby, in someone's house in Tustin, CA. So I went and sat on a chair and read the brochures. It wasn't too bad, $200. So I did the program. The whole thing culminates in receiving your own personal mantra. It is delivered by the top mediator, the guy whose house it was. The mantra comes to him as a revelation, I think. Everyone's is different.
It is the big day, graduation day for our class of 4. It is a sincere ceremony. One person goes into the back room. The door closes. They're in there for about 10 minutes. Then the door cracks and softly opens, and the initiate comes out with a humbling beaming expression and sits down. The top guy motions to the next person and the solemn process repeats. Next he calls me. I keep my head bowed and carefully shuffle into the dim back room. He motions to a chair and I sit. There are candles and pictures of saints around. He closes his eyes and meditates like the master he is. I close my eyes, too. After awhile he stirs and says some Indian words. He repeats them and asks me to say them. I do that a few times until he's satisfied I've got it. He puts a string of beads around my neck. I say thank you and quietly rejoin the others in the main room, repeating my newly revealed sacred personal private individual mantra.
I practice my mantra as I drive home in my VW beetle. I'm checking to see if my consciousness level has risen yet, looking for new insights, a revelation, anything that might confirm it is working. I think about that two hundred bucks, too. I make some dinner, brush my teeth, pee and climb onto my bed. I sit on pillows to make it easier to cross my legs. Properly situated, I close my eyes and.... nothing. I can't remember the mantra. What was it? Oh, shit. Fuck. Think! Om,ganupta shambala? You're making stuff up. I try a few more words I'd learned, panicking. It is gone. Completely gone. Two hundred fucking dollars, pissed away.
Of course I never went back to the TM group. How could I ever explain that I forgot my sacred personal mantra? In addition to being un-spiritual, I'm stupid too!
I got TM mailings for many years after that. I enviously read them for awhile. After a decade I just tossed them out. Finally they stopped coming.
Summit Workshops expanded from the city centers in California to include a 'Dude Ranch” near Tucson, a high desert villa near Warner Hot Springs, a substantial yacht in Marina Del Rey, and a small estate on the water in Kona, Hawaii. I did workshops at all these locations.
In Kona we were looking into and revealing some core stuff. After a session, I was resting in my room, watching the ceiling fan spin. I began to cry, and then sob, uncontrollably. The fan was going around. Energy was coursing through it, the wound wires, the magnets, moving it. I could see other swirls of energy, transparent colors in the wake of the fan. It was so beautiful, I couldn't stop crying. In a small way, that I could scarcely intuit, I must be made of this, this stuff, too. I wept for an hour. It was, is, everywhere. In everything. It is everything.
The great things about Glasgal were that I didn't report to anyone, set my own hours, they provided leads, filled my orders, sent my paychecks unfailingly and were three time zones away. And I only had to go back east once a year. Perfect!
One year the annual meeting was held in Chicago. I'd never been there. We were in a downtown hotel. The famous Chicago blues scene was nearby and we got plastered bar hopping. In the morning we'd sit through product and technical presentations, grappling with eye crossing, skull crushing hangovers.
That didn't prevent us from adventuring. One night Billy and I hit the local bars, moving on when the music ended. We closed one at 11, another at 1, Yet another at 2 AM. We weren't about to give up yet. In a staggering merry, we took a taxi to a bar on the furthest side of town. At 3:30 AM, a sparse group of revelers remained: a gaunt guy missing most of his teeth, wobbling to a tired juke box tune. And Peg. Peg was missing teeth, too, showcased in her cackling laughter. She was barely 5 feet tall, and much more than that around. She had black hair, flat on top, with pig tails. And little ribbons, like pink grasshoppers snared in her hair. She was decked in a bilious party dress. White with huge pink polka dots. And black tennis shoes.
We staggered outside. The sun was about to break the grey horizon. A taxi got us back to the hotel in time for the morning buffet.
One workshop at Summit was the experience of luxury, of spending, of living the high life, and knowing we were worth it. Of course it would cost a lot of money... that was the whole point! Take an ordinary kid from Garden Grove and have him experience a royal life for awhile. Take the mystery out of it, know it is completely possible.
I was instructed to buy clothes for the trip: a tuxedo, white linen jacket, silk ties and such. I did.
We were chauffeured to a chartered plane. The whole plane, an executive jet, for about 30 people. Linens, liqueurs, beyond first class seats. I tried to feel worthy of such extravagance, that there are people that do feel that way. It's natural, not a big deal to them. This is what it looks and feels like. Thick forks and crystal, on a private non stop jet.
We're met at a Caribbean airport and whisked to an exclusive hotel. Spacious sumptuous rooms overlooking vacant beaches, a gentle breeze. No commoners. Trying to get over my embarrassment about asking anyone for something. I'll do it myself, thank you. After all, I'm the boss of me.
We move onto a boat. This is a small private cruise ship, for maybe 100 people. We had half of it. Dressed to the hilt for dinners, rich and exotic stuff. We all looked fabulous, sleek, coiffed and glistening. Like James Bonds and his womens.
We went ashore in St. Maartin to jewelry shops. I bought my wife a blue sapphire, to match her eyes.
On St. Barts we drank fine cocktails and swam in the bay.
We flew back in the same chartered jet, then chauffeured back to the parking lot. I started my well worn white Toyota Tercel and drove home.
Early 2000's, about 50 years old. I'm tense and go into the back bedroom to lay down. I start breathing and paying attention to my breath. Something seems to grab a hold of my breathing and takes it over. I'm watching as my breathing gets deeper and faster. My body flexes to open to the deeper breaths it is taking. I'm a little nervous as big gulps of air are coming in. It feels like someone else is breathing me. I'm overwhelmed by these gulps. So much air, so much energy is coming in, I willingly give up control. My body is doing what it needs to do, and I let it. Zaps jolts and zings are happening. I'm thrashing around. Eventually it subsides. I'm left with a humming body as I drop off to sleep.
When I wake up, I'm glad. Confused and glad. Something important happened. I'm not sure what.
My Bad Back
I was working as a research chemist at Occidental Petroleum in Pomona, CA. I wore a white lab coat and measured things. I'd have coffee in the mornings. Coffee made me jittery. Sitting at my desk, coffee at the ready, I reached for a for a pen to make an entry into my lab journal, My back went into a spasm and I ended up twisted on the floor. I took the day off and felt okay again after a bit. I was 27.
I had a variety of back issues, on and off. I figured I must be one of the unlucky ones that had a weak back and would be subject to this kind of thing. Something I'd have to learn to live with.
In 1992, at 40 I was laying in bed when my back tighten up. It got tighter, and tighter. I wanted a flat hard surface to lay on, and slid onto the floor. I could barely breathe. This was serious. I gasped that I needed help. Friends came over. They slid a surfboard under me and carried me up the stairs into the back of a van. We went to a local clinic where they determined that I had kidney stones. That would account for the intense pain and inability to breathe. They gave me a muscle relaxer and I recovered. It wasn't kidney stones.
I decided I needed to do something about this bad back of mine. I got an MRI. Sure enough, it showed a bulge in some of the cartilage where a nerve was pinched. Damn. There was the proof I had a defective back. I went to chiropractors. One said my back was weak on one side, and if I strengthened it properly with exercises I could straighten it out. I did workouts for specific muscles to bring things back into alignment. I had adjustments. I had pain and lots of fear.
I heard of a book called Healing Back Pain by Dale Sarno. Dale said it was nonsense. He cited American WWII POWs held by Japanese and forced to work in salt mines. Literally salt mines. Starvation conditions. Hauling sacks of salt on their backs all day. When they were freed, they didn't have back pain. And what about people with osteoporosis, twisted backs, and no back pain? Dale contended that lower back pain was a modern invention. He suggested proving to yourself that it wasn't real by doing things that would certainly aggravate it, like playing tennis.
I experimented with this. When I felt twinges, instead of wincing and retreating, I'd challenge it by moving into the pain, breathing with it, feeling the fear, until it relaxed. I became more confrontational with the pain and the fear, asking it to come on, to come out and be felt. Eventually I noticed that I hadn't had any back issues for several years. It has now been decades.
I haven't had an MRI since then, but if I did I'd guess it would show bulges and pinched nerves and such. I don't have much time for that these days. I'm 65, kite surf, backpack, paraglide and such.
This was my introduction to the concept of approaching, going into, opening to, fear and pain.
I was looking for ways to push myself, my boundaries, to master myself, to master my experience of reality. What better way than to walk on a bed of coals?
San Diego was a bit more fringe than the LA area, and I found a fire walk event down there. It was at a sprawling low rise hotel. There was plenty of open space between conference rooms. As I wandered around trying to find the group, I stuck my head in one of those conference rooms. This group was going to walk on broken glass. They were listening to a lecture, bright eyed and attentive, a field of jagged smashed bottles laid out at the front of the room. “The Firewalkers? That's the Coronado room.”
There were about 25 of us, enough to get a good swell of enthusiasm going. The leader exuded confidence and positive direction. “Anything is possible if you believe it!”. “You make it true!” “Reality is a projection!”. We lit a huge bonfire. It was so intense you couldn't stand close to it. Whoa. This is for real. People tearfully shared their fears, their secrets. My secret was that I thought I was cursed and would always be a failure.
The fire burned down to glowing coals while we did meditations and talked more about our fears. The leader continued to bolster us with “It's YOUR reality!”. We practiced a mantra “Cool moss! Cool moss! Cool Moss!”. We were to repeat this mantra as we walked over the coals.
He kept us in the room, taking questions as we hooted “Cool moss!”. We did floor exercises. With our eyes closed, we were to visualize walking calmly through a cool soggy rainforest. I peeked with one eye. The leader was talking, exuding confidence. Then our eyes met in one of those instant zaps of connection where you both are jolted by truth. My truth was “This is bullshit.” A microsecond of doubt flashed over him. I closed my eyes.
The group was “in the zone”. I tried to emulate them, to get in the zone too, hooting “Cool moss!” louder and louder, really trying to convince myself. We filed outside in the dark to the bed of glowing flaming coals. I evaluated it. At least 15 feet long. There was simply no way, even with a running start, you could cheat. This was for real.
The group was joyous, delirious, in a trance, in the zone. The first person yelled “Cool moss! Cool moss!” and walked quickly down the flaming path. Everyone cheered “Cool moss!” as he stepped off the other end, unscathed. Amazing! He did it! The ecstatic cheering chant continued for the next person. “Cool moss!” They walked barefoot through the fire too! Whoa! It works! “Cool moss!” One after another, people walked the flaming path. Some showed off, stopping in the middle!
I was one of the last people to go. Okay. “Cool moss! Cool moss!”. I locked eyes with the leader again. I read “It's up to you, buddy.” in his soul. I chanted “Cool moss! Cool moss!” along with the group and stepped barefoot onto the coals.
Fuck! “Cool moss!” Run! “Cool moss!” Aaaack! RUN! “Cool moss!!”. Somehow I made it across and everyone cheered. “Cool moss!”
I was so relieved I had made it through. My feet seemed to be okay. We wound down with the experience and confidence we really could do anything. Reality really IS created in our own minds. Wow! It's true.
The next day welts and blisters started to form. I had some third degree burns on my feet. It took weeks for them to heal. I guess I was about halfway in the zone. Oh well.
Kids underfoot, hyper with evening energy, pestering Dad with “What should I do? What should I do?” “Go run around the block”, he directed. I'd never run around the block before. In child dimensions, that's a long, long way. Down to the circle at the corner, then right, then into unknown territory. I knew it was a block, but had never been all the way around it. I made it the whole way. It was fully dark when I made it back, a changed, subdued boy.
In middle school, 7th grade, PE classes required laps around a track. I was usually in the front third or so. I stumbled and fell hard on the ground, stunned. Laggard students passed me as I examined my skinned knee. Something, from somewhere, shot me with will, with strength. I rose and started to run. I passed the sloggers. I passed the laggards. I passed the slow runners. I passed the distracted runners. I passed the focused runners and caught the fleet runners. I finished ahead of most and learned that effort and recovery was exhilarating.
By my late 30's, I had heard “You have a runner's body” so many times that I thought I should check it out. I got some running shoes and found it was a natural thing to do, to run around. I liked gliding along, pulling myself up from the crown of my head, opening my chest. I practiced breathing smoothly into both the top and bottom of my lungs, eventually breaking a sweat. To set goals, I entered 10K races. My best time was acceptable at something under 40 minutes.
I decided a marathon would be a great challenge, and bought a training book. I found out right away I was not in shape for that. Real marathon training involves sprints, intervals, and long runs, adding distance over 6 or 8 months. You end by running further than a marathon about 10 days before the event. That way your body knows you can do it, and you're fully recovered and rested. I followed the book, doing about 28 miles. Even though I had already done it, I wasn't sure I could do it.
Race day for the early March LA Marathon was bright and clear. 15,000 runners. It takes minutes for the mob to start moving forward, but eventually stretches out. Cheers, porta potties, water tables and the sun climbing higher in the sky. And higher. The asphalt was heating up, infrared glaring back in my face. At 18 miles I'm pouring sweat, my pace slowing. At 20 miles I'm wilting. At 22 miles I'm stumbling, driving forward. The cheering crowds are all that keep me upright for the last few miles. I'd set a goal: under four hours. I'm watching the finish line clock: keep going, keep going... I finished at 3:59.57. I had to be carried from the finish line to a rest area. My joints were severely bruised. Maybe I wasn't a runner after all. But, I did it.
After I recovered, I stepped up my game. I ran more, trained more, faster, became more fit. I signed up for the LA marathon again, but decided if it was hot, I'd not run. Race day was a cool overcast spring day. I was on a pace of under 3 hours. Until the sun came out. I walked 4 miles, from 20 to 24, and ended with a time of about 3:25. Enough of marathons.
After that, runs to the beach. Once totally heated up, a swim to break it up, and a run back up the hill. Running is delightful, especially with minimalist shoes, but a bit hard on the joints to do distances anymore. I miss that.
I'm about 41, my brother Joey 46. I got a call from him. He was under a tarp in the desert, hallucinating with scorpions, old tires and other homeless alcoholics. He was going to kill himself. I said, “Okay, but can you help me paint my house first? I can't do it by myself.” Somehow he made it to Laguna. We fed him and washed his clothes. He showered and slept for days. He was too weak to protest my rule: no alcohol. He fought it, insisting he wasn't one of those people, a drunk, but we took him to an AA meeting. He shaved his scraggly beard and clipped his hair. He got a sponsor.
Hand painting the house with rollers and brushes would take much longer than paying to have it sprayed. The project took weeks of physical, messy work and gave him something to focus on, instead of the terror of his demons. I paid him for his work. Sometimes he made dinners. He gained weight and we took him to a dentist. He made some friends at AA. It was a struggle but he was doing well. He wrote out his painful thoughts and goals.
When the house was painted and he was fairly stable, he found a few brief handyman jobs. I took him to my office a few times so he could see people working. I'll articulate it for him: It was dress up play acting, like in a grammar school, and he was a child on a stage, terrified of being humiliated.
We found him in the dirt under the house, burrowed into painting tarps. We pleaded with him to try again to stay sober. He wanted to see his wife and kids in Santa Cruz. He went back.
A jaunt to Costa Rica! Yeah, let's explore! The diversity in these micro climates... I want to see! Down there with my wife and a buddy, touristing around. Poas, Arenal, Monteverde. Then we pile into a 4 seat plane. Richard can fly, and the pilot lets him take the controls. Heading straight for a gap between jungled mountains, we arrow through. Yeah! We land on a dirt strip and shuttle into a panga with a good sized outboard, down a river and cross Drake Bay. We arrive at our lodge replete with clipped parrots and wild monkeys in the dining room. There's a well stocked bar, which is good, because I'm thirsty for Scotch. A lot of Scotch.
Sober the next day, exploring trails to the beaches. Paddle canoes up rocky streams. A nightime flashlight walk to the deserted town center. Met a single handing cruiser there, his boat dark and alone, far out in the middle of the bay. Why?
We had premium digs: well away from the lodge, down a trail, up on stilts on the side of a steep hill, a big wood floor room with a spectacular view through jungle to the ocean. The whole front is wide open, spacious. A thatched roof, chirping geckos chasing bugs. Daytime we watched for toucans, macaws and troupes of monkeys passing.
A perfect dinner at the lodge of fish, rice and plantains. Flashlights for the walk back to our room. It was dark. Really dark. Plenty of hungry crepuscular and nocturnal creatures out there!
I don't care much for pot. I've never really enjoyed it. But what the heck, okay, I'll be sociable. A few rounds and I'm very well lit. We're sitting, peering into the inky dark jungle surrounding us. I stand amused, and holler into the dark “Creatures of the jungle, I welcome you!” Instantly something leaped onto my back, clawing at my face, going for my viscera. I screamed “Aaaaaccck!” I squirmed and ducked, trying to dislodge it. My pals shot up in shock and dashed to help. I screamed again “Aaaaaccck!”, gulping air. Frantically they asked “What is it? What?” They saw nothing but a wild man. I screamed “Go back! Go!” at the thing. I bellowed like a bull, then collapsed whimpering fetal to the floor, covering my head with my arms. They helped me stand, tried to calm me down. The room reappeared. They helped me into the shower, a cold one, to wash off whatever it was. They smudged the room. I regained sitting. By the next day, I was walking soberly, tentatively.
I haven't made an “all creatures” invitation like that since. I'm more selective now.
There were other windsurfers at San Carlos. They flew in in their own 4 seater planes, landing on a dirt strip, more of a wide road, a short way from the bluff camp. I went over to take a look. It was short. Really short. It ended in a gully with a plane in it, nose down, prop twisted, gutted for salvageables.
The pilot was a woman. Her boyfriend flew commercial aircraft but didn't windsurf. She flew herself, a guy and a girlfriend down to spend a few days. The beauty of flying was that you could land, surf all afternoon, load back into the plane, fly 50 miles and land at little motel. That 50 miles made all the difference. It wasn't windy up there. Calm and clear desert. Cold beer, great food and beds.
I got to know her girlfriend. She was struggling with understanding why her relationships with guys didn't last. I helped her to discover, and accept, that she was gay. She wept with me.
My next trip to San Carlos was aboard the plane. I got to sit in the co-pilots seat and tried to guide the thing. It was complicated, with so many axis to feel. Turning the wheel left and right, plus in and out, plus the pedals. Gauges to watch. And talking through the headphones. We cleared in at San Felipe, then jumped over the range towards the beach. Low clouds. She said we'd go for it. I tried to keep smiling as we descended through the white out of the clouds. We popped into clear air again at about 600', found the airstrip and landed. (This was before GPS and such.)
Fabulous time! Work the wind and waves all day, and fly up to the motel at night. Awesome! I'm forever grateful for that experience of rugged luxury adventure.
A few months later I learned our pilot had died. It was near Mammoth, a ski resort in the Sierras. She flew into the mountain in white out conditions.
Windsurfing became a passion of mine. I heard of a trip into Baja, at a break called Punta San Carlos. Drive 8 hours south, way past Ensenada, then make a right on a dirt desert road and go another 50 miles. This place was directly open to S Pacific swells from a good angle. But what made it mythic was that the wind was on the face of the waves. If you think about it, wind usually comes from the same direction as the waves. Windsurfing, when you drop down the face of a wave, you're suddenly in a wind shadow and lose power in your sail. If you are lucky and get wind on a wave face, it blows the swells down flat. But here, solid wind is on the face of beautifully formed swells.
A dozen of us paid premium dollars to be hauled to this cold and relentlessly windswept scrubby bluff. No one lived there, so we had to bring everything for our week long stay. Tents, food, beer, water, gear. We suited up and went out. I got battered again and again by a three foot wall of whitewater and didn't make it through the surf break, let alone the waves beyond. These conditions were above my skill level.
I tried to make the best of it. I asked questions and practiced the moves I'd need on land. I tried to get out each day, and got washed back to shore every time. And a big swell was coming.
When the swell hit, it was beyond awesome. It wraps around a point, forming a beautiful right with a wide shoulder. The bottom is shale and that right can continue for half a mile. Slow moving, 15 foot faces, widely spaced, powerful poetry from New Zealand. The inshore whitewater faces were 5 feet now. No way I could get out. This was terrifyingly beyond my skill level anyway. It was mid day and I could only watch. Then I figured, what the hell, I need exercise, I might as well get seriously pummeled by the surf. Then I'll take a nap.
Suit, gloves, harness, board and a 5.3 sail. “I need some exercise” I hollered, then picked my way down to the shore break. The wind was solid as I was pulled onto the board, and looked ahead: a lull, a break, a chance to get out. Fuck. Go out, into that? Holy shit. I went for it.
Somehow I made it out through those walls of whitewater, out to where there were only the massive swells. I was safe there. The guys from camp lined up on the bluff, pointing seaward in amazement. I toyed around, a few runs, frightened gybes at each end. I knew I'd have to ride one of these monsters. I edged in and a swell rose, and kept rising. My board accelerated into an efforless fall, matching the rate the wave was rising. I was surfing with a limp sail in my hands. The power in this wave was shocking. I looked back over my left shoulder. The wave was well over mast (15') high. I slid towards the shoulder, out of the steep curling crashing section, and stayed on that swell. I rode it, cutting in and out of the shoulder, hundreds of yards. I knew it was a miracle I'd gotten out, I wouldn't get another, and milked it for all I could. Finally I dragged myself and my rig to shore, sat in the blasting wind and watched the waves. I'd been out there. I'd done that. Me. Impossible. I was obviously gifted by the wind and wave gods, given the chance to experience Her. And I took it. I sat humbled, all words gone, in reverence.
I got a call from a friend inviting me to an event at the Neighborhood Congregational Church. I don't do churches. I feigned polite interest by asking 'Who is the speaker?” “An ex-priest named Ron” she replied. This grabbed me. An ex-priest, speaking at a church? This must be a dangerous man. And if he's been ejected, why is he stepping foot in a church again? This had my interest.
I showed up, feeling awkward in a church. The last time might have been wandering around Europe. To me churches are edifices of manipulation. There's nothing holy about them. But this structure was smallish and not presumptuous or overbearing. I joined about 30 others in the pews and was relieved that no one was at the elevated podium. Instead some people at floor level were singing gospel-ish songs. No preaching. So far, so good.
Some people knew the words or could pick up the tune and sang along. I smiled and hummed a little. When the enclave was darn glad, a guy in a white robe carrying an impressive staff, enters from the back of the room. People got really happy then. This must be the dude. The grand pooh-bah, Ron.
He starts talking about various things, I don't know what. Some guy with bad legs stood up. Then he's saying blessings, but they weren't from him, or from Jesus or anything. Then he and the folks standing with him up front all pipe down and close their eyes.
I'm sitting there looking at them standing there with their eyes closed. I felt something spring loose in my crotch and go shooting up my belly to my chest. I burst into tears. Being out of control like this was scary. Yet here I was, something unknown jolted out of my body, in tears.
This guy Ron hadn't preached at me. He hadn't told me to do, think or believe something. I was a 'scientist' after all, accepting only the validity, the truth of my own experience.
Something profound had happened. I was touched by something. I was more open. This shift had happened after a few minutes of sobbing in a pew. I had to do some more research. Who was this guy? Excommunicated for doing miracles... what? Of course there are no such thing as miracles, so why would the Catholic Church go to the bother of excommunicating him? Whatever this was, it was foreign and intriguing.
More of his story: He was a popular priest in Illinois, and after he was ejected, he started his own church there. He liked the robe and staff and kept those props. He became well known for love and miracles. He was vacationing at a friend's place in Laguna who drafted him to do a day at the local church where I met him.
I had a stated commitment to empirically following truth and liberation, wherever it led. Being true to my word, instead of my fears, I found out he was hosting a large gathering, a few hundred people, in Illinois. It was at Hamburger University, McDonalds' corporate training headquarters. To me this was perfection: A spiritual quest at Hamburger University. It was big corporate campus, trees and fountains, dedicated to hamburger, umami, and dollars, deserted on the weekends, temporarily occupied by woo woo heads. Delightful!
As the weekend progressed it became obvious my expectations would be higher than the results. I consoled myself with at least being true to my commitment to following leads that touched my heart. Late the last day, with all 400 of us seated, Ron said “I'd like you to meet a friend of mine.” This kid, maybe 30 and dressed in a white wrapper, walks up the aisle and takes a seat. Ron (the leader) leaves the stage. The kids folds his legs underneath himself and looks around. He's just sitting there, alone on the stage. Doing nothing at all. Just sitting there looking at us. The space around him seems more transparent and kind of crystalline, filled with, or maybe it is empty of, something. He continues to sit and gaze around. I feel something break loose in my heart area, and burst into tears. I'm sobbing. Eventually he starts talking, something basic about things being the way they are. I don't try to remember any of it, instead encouraging the emotional eruptions happening inside of me.
I had to know: who is this guy? The story unfolded. A year before, back at his church in Illinois, Ron , kept hearing voices “Go see Bhagavan. Go see Bhagavan. Go see Bhagavan.”. He asked his staff who this Bhagavan was. (Bhagavan is a common name meaning Father in Tamil.) They Googled the name and showed him a variety of images. He immediately picked out one saying “That's the guy!” and asked them to contact him to find out what he wanted. When they called, the Indians said “Ah, we've been expecting your call. Please come to India. We have a gift for you.”. And so they went, a group of 15 or 20. The gift was the ability to give Deeksha (blessing). This, coupled with his already high state of divine consciousness, is what I experienced in the pews at the church in Laguna. It was also what I experienced from this kid from India.
So whatever I was experiencing, these breakdowns and the opening, energy and freedom afterwards, was connected to this India thing. Again, I had made that commitment to following whatever actually worked for me. Not my belief or education or reason. And most of all not running from fear.
India had never been more than a curiosity on my radar of places to visit. Pretty intense and squalid stuff. So many people. And the heat. Too much. I prefer adventuring in open spaces, thanks.
I kept asking and found that a version of the program Ron and his acolytes attended was being offered at Oneness University (OU) outside of Chennai. 21 days of silence. A bunk in a dorm room. Indian food. In August. I was having intense episodes of tinnitus, like 130dB. Maybe India would do something for that. Regardless, I was committed to following whatever shifted me.
As long as I was going to India, I might as well tour a little bit, do some new things. I booked tickets for a few days in Bombay, then a few days in Pune. Being in high tech, I'd had a person in Pune answer my phones and access my accounts, so I could write off some of the trip cost by visiting them. Pune is also the home of Osho's center, if you're familiar with that work. Then, on to Chennai and up to OU.
The heat near Chennai in August is incredible. Say Florida, no wind, hotter, ceiling fans, swarming sweltering barefoot humans, overwhelming. This program was specifically for westerners. We were from all over the North America, Europe, Australia, etc. About 350 of us. By the second day we were registered, tagged, fed, segregated men left women right, sitting on hard mats in a large meeting hall, sweating and bewildered. Finally one of the teachers (Dasas) comes to the front of the room and smiles. He says “You may be wondering what you're doing here.” Several bold and angry people spoke up “Yeah, what IS this all about? What's going on here?”. The Dasa answered “We called you here” and smiled.
Oh god, why?
We sat together on the floor. She wrenchingly talked about being sexually assaulted by her father. She had vowed it would never happen to her again, or to her own children. She was now a hard working single parent of a boy and 2 girls. She discovered the guy she was seeing had exposed himself to her children, and vigorously threw him out. She became super vigilant and protective of her children. A few months later she discovered that her young son was molesting her even younger daughters.
This is a horrifically cruel example of how even full knowledge, the best intentions, and appropriate strategies doesn't dissolve or resolve an issue. I wish with all my heart they did. But, they don't.
I was on my usual 6 mile run down the hill, through the village, past Main Beach and loping up the hill to the clifftop park. I'm feeling my body sweat, feeling my body breathing, feeling joy in the whole experience of running. There's no one around and I'm grinning ear to ear. I turn a bend in the path and there's Tibetan monk in an orange robe walking towards me. He's grinning ear to ear, too. We simultaneously wink at each other. Two more strides and he's gone. I keep loping along; smiling.
I was leading a day long workshop with a dozen or so people. It included both individual and group work. There were relevatory and deep releases for many people, as usual. One young gal, a blonde muffin top from Orange County, cried a lot about her dog, her boyfriend and her job. She did massage or physical therapy or something. I'm not much of a massage person. She wanted to continue session work but was broke, so I generously offered a trade. We confirmed a time back at my home office in Laguna.
She showed up with her massage table. She had a good session with me and felt fairly clear at the end. After reentry, rest and some water, she set up her table and asked me to lay down on it. Some massagers are humored by shy clients and I'm confused about whether you're supposed to have your underwear on or not. So I asked her if I should be naked. She was embarrassed by the question and said “Whatever makes you feel most comfortable, but most people keep their pants on”. So I did.
She proceeded to work on me, a few light touches here and there. Sometime she'd say “relax” as she touched various parts. She didn't work any of my muscles or joints. No stretches. No music. No slippery oils. She didn't dig in there and do a darn thing. She finished in about 15 minutes. This was positively the worst massage I'd ever had. Poor thing. No wonder she was broke!
I eventually learned she doesn't do massage at all. She had multiple degrees. She was doing subtle and sophisticated work on me, in ways that I didn't and still don't understand.