Well, now that Justice Kavanaugh has endured the attempted suspension of the presumption of innocence, and the passions are dying down, I thought I’d write some more about my crazy life. I made a big swear when I was a young man that if I were given a choice between security and adventure, I’d always choose adventure. So this is the story of how, as the result of a series of misunderstandings and coincidences, I ended up involved in LSD-assisted psychotherapy in Hawaii … well, it’s the first part of the story at least, it’s a convoluted tale. It all started sometime around 1971, when I was maybe 23 or so.
Somehow, I’d ended up in and around Cotati, California, the home of Sonoma State University, about an hour north of San Francisco. Wait, I remember now, I’d gone up with a friend to see what he assured me was the most outrageous marijuana grow house on the planet. He was right. This was back before they were searching from the air. A guy had rented a place with an old chicken house in the back. He looked at the old chicken house. He looked at the piles and piles of chicken manure. He saw dollars. He cut out most of the roof of the chicken house. He and some friends spent hours shoveling in the ancient, well-composted chicken manure into the house. He put in a sprinkler system. He’d walk by in the morning and turn it on, then shut it off twenty minutes later. The chicken house was maybe a hundred feet long by twenty wide (30 x 6 metres). He took me inside. It was a jungle, thick with plants. The aroma, there on a late summer afternoon, was overwhelming. He made about thirty kilobucks on the crop, which put him through college at Sonoma State. Another college entrepreneur.
After various other adventures, I met a man named Peter Klimansky. He was working as a “shade tree” butcher. A shade tree butcher goes out to the farmer’s field. He kills the animal, guts it, skins it, and takes it back to the butcher shop where it is hung, and then cut into roasts and steaks and the like. I worked as his apprentice, for minimum wage. I learned that most of the stuff that I knew about butchering was wrong. Oh, and that I didn’t really know how to get a knife razor sharp. Working with Peter, I became somewhat expert at both. I also realized that it is wrong to eat the meat and blame the animal’s death on the butcher … another valuable rule of thumb for my life—“Don’t eat the meat and blame the butcher.”
While doing this work, I ran into an old friend of mine, David Cohen. He and I decided to go to Mexico. I don’t know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time. So following my lifelong rule of thumb which states “Retire early … and often!”, I retired again, and David and I hitchhiked south. Down near LA, we were let out on the coast. We went to the ocean and picked double fistfuls of mussels off of the rocks. We cooked them in a tin can with a couple tomatoes we’d found in a dumpster behind a grocery store. I still remember the flavor. It was the best soup I’ve ever had, before or since.
After more rides, we walked the north-south width of San Diego and crossed the border. Back then Mexico had passenger trains, so we got on the train for Guadalajara. Of course, it didn’t leave on time, but after while the train started south.
The train was everything we’d expected of Mexico. It was old and slow, really slow. How slow? We met a charming young Japanese guy on the train. At one of the numerous interminable stops, he came to tell us he’d met a guy on the train with some good dope. He and the guy were going to go across the field to smoke it. We said, “Have a great time, we’ll pass” … doing that overseas didn’t seem smart.
They disappeared across the field. After a while, the train whistled. Nobody appeared. Soon after, the train started to move. Finally, we saw the Japanese guy and his new friend racing across the field and running along the track. We ran to the last car, and arrived at the tail end of the train just in time to see his new friend take a stupendous leap onto the back platform of the last car … and to see our Japanese friend try the same thing and stretch himself full-length out on the crossties.
We figured that was the last we’d see of Mr. Japan. But in about fifteen minutes, an antique taxicab pulled up alongside the train on the highway. The driver was honking his horn. The Japanese guy was in the taxi, waving madly. We waved back and laughed. He sped on and joined us at the next stop … that’s how slow the train was. Slower than a Mexican taxi.
Finally, after what seemed like several months, the train arrived in Guadalajara. We spent a few days enjoying the city, then we decided to move on. So one afternoon David and I found ourselves sitting in the welcome shade of some trees in a railroad yard in Guadalajara, waiting to hop a freight train. We were planning to ride the freights south, although most of the riders were going north. I’d ridden the freights in the US, I wrote about it here.
In Mexico, freight train riders aren’t called hobos. They’re called “moscas”, flies. They were going north to try their luck crossing the border.
Two young boys came walking past where we were sitting under a tree by the rails. They were brothers, the older one said, perhaps four and seven years old. They were built on the usual blueprint of the poor, undersized and skinny. I struck up a conversation in Spanish with the seven-year-old. The younger boy never said a word. He just trailed a few feet behind his older brother and watched everything with black shiny eyes.
The older boy had a slingshot, what the Brits call a “catapult”, made of a tree branch “Y” fork. The power was supplied by a dozen or more ordinary office rubber bands of all sizes and colors attached to each fork of the “Y” and to the leather pouch. It looked like this, but with many more rubber bands and much more colorful.
I asked what they were doing. The boy said they came to the railroad lines because there were perfectly round stones for his slingshot in the railroad bed. He showed me how hard it was to pull his slingshot. “Oh, I suppose you are the “grán cazador”, the mighty hunter”, I joked in Spanish.
“Si, Señor, yo soy”, he explained very soberly. “Yes, Sir, I am”.
My skepticism must have shown in my eyes. “Mira”, he said … watch.
He searched around, picking up and discarding a few stones. Finally, he settled on exactly the right one. He put it in the pouch of the slingshot and started walking around and gazing intently up into the tree branches above us. He stopped, pulled back and let fly.
There was a “poof” sound up in the tree, and a bird the size of a small robin, that I didn’t even know was in the tree, tumbled down at my feet. He and his tiny brother both jumped on it, and he twisted its neck in an economical, practiced fashion.
With my mouth hanging open, I hastened to assure him that I was wrong to doubt his word. I said he was indeed a great hunter. I asked what he would do with the bird. “Oh, pa’ comer, señor” … it’s for food, sir, he said.
I said, are you going to take it home to your mamá to cook it?
“Oh, no, Señor, somos siete”, he said … oh no, Sir … there’s seven of us kids … I nodded my understanding. I remembered that when I was a kid, my big dream was to be a grownup so I could buy a bag of M&Ms (small candies, AKA Smarties) and eat them all myself, every single one, and not have to split them seven ways with my brothers and cousins I grew up with.
I reflected that while I dreamed of not having to divide a chocolate dessert seven ways, he dreamed of not having to divide a sparrow seven ways …
He and his short confederate scurried off. They returned with some grass and twigs. He pulled out a tattered matchbook and lit a fire. In no time he had plucked that bird, gutted it, skewered it on a convenient twig, and had it cooking over the fire. I watched in astonishment.
His little brother watched in anticipation, eyes wide.
I walked to the corner where an old lady was frying tacos on a dished-top tin can stove. I bought a few potato tacos the size of silver dollars, tiny tortillas with a dab of mashed potato in the middle. She didn’t sell meat tacos. Poor people don’t buy meat tacos. She made tacos with potatoes and tacos with beans. I brought them back and gave most of them to the midget hunter and his mini-amigo.
And God damn it, that tiny gran cazador wanted me to take half the bird. But I could see their eyes caressing it.
So I told them I couldn’t eat it on account of my liver. Since at the time the liver was the common scapegoat in Northern Mexico for any physical infirmity, the older boy nodded sagely. He agreed that a man has to take care of his liver, you can’t be too careful. He said his liver was fine, thanks, and they happily polished off that bird. I bought another round of potato tacos to celebrate, which had similarly short lifetimes.
Can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that when I’ve read stories from Americans, Europeans, and others asserting that they are poor … meeting those two young boys changed my point of view about poverty forever. I decided that until I was reduced to eating little birdies out of trees, I would never again complain about being poor …
We never got to ride the freight train. David wasn’t feeling well. He couldn’t eat, even potato tacos, and he got sicker and sicker. We took a small room with an unshaded light bulb. I brought him soup, well boiled, until he recovered. We decided we’d seen the scene in Mexico and we had the vomit to prove it.
We had just enough money for a ticket to Hawaii. We flew there. Someone had spoken highly of Maui, so we hopped on a flight to Maui. Nearly penniless, we arrived on the island. It was warm. There was tropical sunshine and tropical ocean. I was in heaven.
[To be continued …]
Here, the piano tuner has come to our house and is beating our piano back into shape. It’s an old spinet with a lovely, slightly tinkly kind of sound that strongly reminds me of the piano I used to play in a whorehouse in Manila. So I’ll be happy to have it tuned again.
And thinking of young boys eating sparrows, no matter how many dollars I have in the bank, I rest contented knowing I am a very wealthy and amazingly fortunate man …