(I DIDN'T GET THE JOB.)
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
ABOUT THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, and for the first time in my life, I was asked to state my ideology as a part of applying for a job as a grant writer. Though it was never stated as such, this certain nonprofit, public policy research institute believed that having a like-minded ideology was a bona fide job requirement for the position. I do not disagree. In order to do an optimal job, a grant writer must have as much passion about the issues as he or she has about writing, generally. If not, it shows. Still, must one's passion reside in ideology? That is, setting aside for the moment whether my ideology is a perfect match or not, is it possible for this grant writer to find passion enough in some non-ideological source? (I always thought it came from "the heart.") Alternatively, could the institute's definition of its ideology have become so narrowly doctrinaire as to exclude all but perfect matches? These were some of the questions that began bubbling up after I was asked to state my own ideology. And so it was that I started to formulate an ideology I could call my very own.
I will venture that an ideology is a political mind-set; it is a meaning perspective composed of values, assumptions and beliefs one holds about the world. And politics is how socio-cultural interrelations manifest, a "we-sphere" in a mostly human-to-human environment, generally evidencing a materialist/consumerist orientation. Now, I am perhaps as cynical about politics as many of us are these days: ambivalent about how little-old-me could ever make much of a difference, whether that means "getting involved" with the system or voting for the lesser of two clones (more-or-less) in the next election. I excuse myself for being this way because I am feeling intensely distant from an America that, since the late 1940s has increasingly become a national security state. It shows in a newly barricaded White House. It shows in how the U. S. President travels in his convoy of steel and sirens. It shows in the escalating powers of law enforcement in their "war on drugs," or "terror," and in an ever more entrenched military-industrial-media techno-complex.
And so my first response was, "I'm not much of an ideologue. I'm more of a centrist or humanist." Then I wondered what I meant by that, as a little voice within whispered, "You dropout! Get your fingers going -- say what you mean and mean what you say!" I was energized, now that the specter of landing this job gave me a reason to feel I might actually get involved and participate in the fray.
Granted, my take on politics is fairly simple-minded. I like to recall what a high school history teacher told us, that "people will go with whatever politics will fill their empty bellies." This is particularly true in that third of the world that is scrounging for something to eat. The politics that usually wins out for them are the gun-toting revolutionaries of the left, those who wish to force the state to provide for the "have-nots." Of course I suppose that in more heavily industrialized regions "filling the belly" means much, much more. It means having new cars, comfortable homes, plenty of hot water, wealth to maximize choices, limitless power to run our entertainment devices and so on. I imagine this would require a politician more from the right, one who can assure that the private business will help preserve all for "them that got" by the state keeping its hands off. This left/right dichotomy is further complicated in American society where the players have already met their foundational needs and then mostly imagine who needs what and how the government should do or not do whatever to conform to their ideology, their politics. In a land of plenty, ideological banter (called "politics") is more akin to gamesmanship; it is a noospheric chess match in which the representatives of haves and have-nots are continually redefining themselves and the changing rules in terms of the role they think government should or should not have.
I came from a family where my mother was a Republican and my father was a Democrat. My mother had a father of Irish/German descent who grew up on a farm, saved his money and kept his good credit. He went off to study engineering, eventually ran his own business and retired in his mid-fifties to cultivate his investments forevermore thereafter. My father was the son of Lebanese immigrants. His love of learning finally landed him in law school. Later, through his law school friend, Larry O'Brien, my father eventually went on to hold a minor appointment in the Kennedy administration in Washington, D.C. He had been a U.S. Navy JAG Corps officer during WWII and went into private practice after his federal government stint. His final career cap was as an administrative law judge for the State of New York. My father retired as a quadruple-dipper.
And so I grew up a Democrat in the days when "liberal" was obtaining a reputation for being the inauthentic, give-away, Keynesian big government sort of carpet-bagger; and Republicans were seen from my youthful vantage point as well-heeled nay-sayers against the progressive agenda of the 1960s whose uneasy alliance with fundamentalist conservatives often typified them as humorless pedagogues. Then I went off to college. Down south, I studied business in my undergraduate public administration program. Soon I was a registered Republican and found myself voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980. After graduation I mellowed a bit in the school of hard knocks and began to suspect that politicians in both major parties were simply dancing on the strings of whoever promised more toward their re-elections. So I became an Independent and have remained so since. I liked the name, "Independent," as that is how I saw myself (Whether I am -- or anyone - really is, in actuality, independent is quite beyond the scope of this article.)
I also see myself as a humanist. To me, a humanist is a thinking man or woman whose capacity for reasoned discourse is tempered by a deep love for one another and an abiding appreciation for the absurd paradox of our human condition. And, in the ideological passions of politics, it is taking the more balanced and pragmatic position of a centrist that for me is key to applying that humanist way. In our civilizational quest for order and certainty, I believe that human beings can easily go the way of dogma, to see the world around them in a myopic and literalist way; to have a credo that judges in strict, compartmentalized dualities of opposites. For only in this way might society avoid chaos and attain the civilized state! We can also and easily fall into the nebulous world of total relativism wherein dualities devolve into polar complementarities without a "discerning eye," so that a nonjudgmental structure crowns itself queen, deluding itself into denying it has set itself up as one acting opposite to the other in a newly revised duality drama.
"Either/or" ideologies can battle one another well enough on their own. The Twentieth Century was witness to those left/right, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, Communist/Capitalist fascist name-calling wars. These labels, however, have quite possibly become passé. Enter the "both/and" ideology and politics heats up further, as the notion builds momentum that something new is afoot in the forum of ideas. I'm not sure if this ideology has a party yet to represent its interests. Could it be Ralph Nader and the Green Party that he co-opted? (Or did they co-opt him?) In whatever third party emerges will its emergent ideology possess the organizational skills and money management acumen needed to make it successfully compete? These are not likely to be its strong suits as these more hierarchical, status quo traits are better left to the conventional major parties. In any event, the hidden hand driving our economy may just give them a slap and a whack and send them bouncing off on their way.
So I am sitting at my ringside seat watching as ideologues lust after the very things that oppress them. In their ideal worlds, those right-of-center are ridding us of intrusive government, but are they championing corporate industry and business interests in government's stead, and if so, how much better would that be? Those left -of-center propose that government knows best how to spend your money, but in doing so are they themselves becoming those architects of central planning that their supposed blue collar, grassroots constituency so deplores? Do these questions even matter anymore when our national security state is manned by a professional class of overwhelmingly unelected bureaucrats-for-life, steering its leaders toward the only policies it will tolerate?
My ideology is beginning to take shape I think. Besides thinking of myself as a humanist or centrist I think I might characterize my politics as being a kind of "experiential immersion." In the seeming paradox where people are both individuals and part of a group, i.e., individualists and community, it seems to me that we can and should remain free agents while immersing ourselves time and again in the experiential stew of organizations. Each organization is a sub-community with its own ideological, cultural ecology. It is perhaps the anthropologist in me that calls me to drift from one experience of ideologies to the next. I have worked in a large, supermarket-style law firm and I have been through the military experience. I also passed through the left coast's transpersonal mill at the California Institute of Integral Studies. And I decided to embrace nature, not by decrying the damage done and becoming an environmental activist. Instead, I enrolled in environmental horticulture courses at City College, San Francisco. I think my ideology was calling upon me to learn more about the non-human, natural world in which I am embedded so that I can more easily interface with, commune and more truly love that natural world, (something often sorely left out in the calculus of what it means to be fully humanist these days).
My ideology tells me to wear many hats and walk in many worlds, to dialogue with diverse people, to fully immerse myself in every opportunity and in every organization to which I am permitted entrée; to weigh costs and benefits, always striving toward being the syncretist-pragmatist seeking balance. And when I write and wish to go on the attack, my ideology tells me to concentrate on ideas, not persons; that I can be successful not so much by attacking than by presenting my own reasoned and heartfelt discourse, and by not being malicious but ultimately finding compassion within for those who appear to me to be barking up the wrong tree.
There is a modicum of balance to be found in not tearing one another down personally. Rather, that balance can be found in vigorous critical thinking which seeks out the authentic in the often dicey issues of politics and public policy. What is important is to keep the dialogue going - which is almost as important as taking action and accepting full accountability for doing so. All of this requires courage to speak out as well as the strength of mind to sometimes keep one's own counsel; to have the patience and willingness to listen to a contending ideology and the willingness to intelligently engage the other with a calm perseverance, always knowing we can easily be off-the-mark. We must be ever-ready to laugh at ourselves - at the absurdity of what it means to be human; to be spiritual beings with bodies -- and to wonder at the ineffable beauty of being alive.
This, then, is an ideology I suppose I can call my own; one for which I can truly say I have great passion. I was not sure when I wrote this whether or not my ideology would be a perfect match with that of my potential employer (not much is perfect in this crazy-mixed-up world of ours.) And I still don't know. But for the time being, anyway, I'm perfectly contented because I got/ didn't get the job. (Kindly circle one.) I think - though I'm not sure - that my ideology would prevent me from being too overly attached to either outcome.
(I DIDN'T GET THE JOB.)
(I DIDN'T GET THE JOB.)
Friday, December 7, 2012
Jimi Hendrix symphonies override the banal awful-world I'm in. The mundane yields to the miraculous. And I speed on, down the hi-way of desire to the next weird task.
People get riled at corporate injustice, government injustice, social injustice, food injustice. Well-funded disseminoids explain everything. Nothing can resist anymore. Planetary plunder proceeds. Do not stiffen, get upset. It must be taken from you.
The interior world has withered, replaced by consumeroid techno-dreams imparted by portable screens carried around by living undead-heads. All has been exteriorized into the co-opted profane. Go to your big-screen altar at home and worship materialism in heedless self-absorption! Await perdition. Stay in your mutant state. Vegetate.
Go, on to the next weird task. Do not fret. Inside your intestinal fort you will reap those rewards of hearth.
Disentangled, ply the waves, the aery ether, into all-universe electric. All souls welcome! Rebound or bound-out; unbound, free. Subjugate me no more, Saturnian poison darts. Oh Neptune, Jupiter, Pluto, save what's left. Catapult me, please!
Thursday, August 30, 2012
The great non-event of the 2012 presidential election is upon us. The money has been pouring in, the scripts and teleprompters are in place, and the pantomime is about to begin. No candidate would have gotten this far unless permitted to do so by the macro-engineers who manipulate all things; that mysterious force "behind the curtain" that vets and trains and stage-manages its unwitting puppet-clones so as to do its bidding.
Archie and Jughead are comic book characters meant to portray normal American kids. Readers are supposed to be able to relate to them, much as Americans are expected to relate to Obama and Romney. Archie is a lovable, though accident-prone, redheaded 17-year-old and a typical small-town teenager. This might be Obama. Generous, well-mannered, but clumsy, he is genuinely liked by many of his friends. Jughead has been Archie’s best friend ever since childhood. Jughead wears a trademark “clubhouse beanie” and an inscrutable, closed-eyelid expression. Often Jughead has to help Archie out from tricky situations. Jughead usually knows when Archie's ideas will not work, but is powerless to avoid getting involved. Jughead might be seen as that flip-flopper joke-of-a-man, Romney. Although they purport to be political rivals, they are actually cut from the same idiot cloth and beneath the “rivalry” each is simply playing a role that complements the other. They are meant to be lovable and “only human” – with the best of intentions. But like the comic book characters, they are only distractions and are actually inconsequential and pathetic. Their sensibilities are like those of children, as are their mind-dwarfed constituents who must be deaf, dumb and blind (or maybe just watch too much TV).
At first blush Obama came across as a likeable and talented speaker. Unfortunately, his actions never matched his rhetoric. The bankster scam and “those wars” continue; the cloying, brown-nosing of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that run healthcare produced the abortion known as “Obamacare,” and on and on. He is liar, a phony, and a complete fraud who has not done a thing during his tenure to change business as usual. His birth, upbringing, and rise to power are shrouded in the kind of mysterious ambiguities and coincidences that are characteristic of a “Manchurian candidate” groomed by some black ops somewhere within the intelligence community.
Along comes Romney, that hedge fund hyena, corporate raider, and asset stripper. Waiting in the wings, Romney has concealed his corps of neo-con con-men come-ons from Planet X ready to plunder any part of the world that resists its hegemonic, globalist finance agenda. This bishop of the Mormon church is all the more frightening considering that connection to a cult with a sworn vendetta against America. His agenda, if not identical to the U.N.’s Agenda 21 (to which the former “constitutional professor” Obama has been kow-towing) will be the same business as usual on behalf of the puppeteers.
The only candidate who spoke truth to power was Ron Paul. He was belittled and handily marginalized by big media and is now the non-entity, much like Ralph Nader. We are left with Archie and Jughead. A vote for either rubber stamps a World Order that has commodified, dumbed-down, and razzle-dazzled a duped and conditioned citizenry.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Scour the Internet and there is virtually nothing to be found about old Friendship Heights. I am speaking of the pre-hyper-developed chunk of real estate long-designated as being a part of Chevy Chase, Maryland. It is located just north of the DC line, bordered by Wisconsin Avenue, Willard Avenue and what remains of the woods south of Dorset Avenue which extend almost to River Road. In the mid-1960s the neighborhood began to lose its old-timey charm as developers started to swarm in. Mrs. Tim Edwards, a resident real estate agent, was instrumental in making that happen. It was she who helped the get-rich-quickers to swallow up this magical enclave. More on her later…
Today, Friendship Heights is one of the most densely populated pieces of real estate in the country. It is a desirable location comprised almost entirely of towering apartment building complexes. A small park and activities center are there now, next to a jewelry store. Two big office buildings along Wisconsin Avenue are stuffed with doctor’s offices. And all of this is within easy reach of swanky, high-end shopping areas, on the opposite side of Wisconsin Ave. A huge tract of land between Willard and Western Avenues was once occupied solely by Woodward & Lothrop, a now-defunct local department store that included a very expansive parking lot. In its place can now be found a Whole Foods, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom’s, and a host of other businesses catering mostly to wealthy wastrels and affluent wannabes.
Once upon a time, however, Friendship Heights was just another part of the old sleepy Southern town that Washington, DC used to be. In 1955, when I was a one-year old, my family moved here from Alexandria and I spent my formative years in old Friendship Heights. (Though the first year of my life was spent in Alexandria, I was born at Navy Medical. My birth certificate notes Bethesda as being “rural.” My, what time has wrought!) I was one of three then. Less than ten years later…and I was one of eight.
The street names were different then. We used to live on Wootton Avenue at the corner of High Street. All of the streets were renamed – Wootton Avenue is now “The Hills Plaza” and the east part of High Street is now called “South Park Avenue.” The north-east corner of the Highland House West now sits where my family’s stately old Chevy Chase home once stood. The next street over, going away from Wisconsin Avenue used to be called Prospect Street. It has now been dubbed “Friendship Boulevard.” High Street used to cross Prospect and after about a block it dog-legged to the right. That’s where the old Shoemaker farm was located, down a long driveway. High Street then continued for about another block before dog-legging again to the left. (At that corner, up on a hill, was the Edwards home. This is where Tim Edwards lived, the woman who sold out her community.) The western side of High Street (now called “North Park Avenue”) then proceeded in a long descent toward Willard Avenue, where it turned abruptly to the left at the bottom and became Saratoga Street for one short block before ending on Willard. Along the way, just after High St.’s second dog-leg was steep, one block long, Willoughby Street that descended quickly to meet Willard Avenue. Willoughby is now known as “Shoemaker Farm Lane.”
I am speaking now of the neighborhood as it existed a half-century ago, and then some – during a ten year period from 1955 to 1965. On the southwest corner of Wisconsin and High there used to be a small commercial enterprise with an understated sign that read, “Guest Homes.” The flat-roofed, brick buildings were white and it was run by a strict elderly lady. She didn’t seem to like kids. But right after Halloween one year I remember feeling sorry for her when she seemed forlorn, telling me that she had had no trick-or-treaters. Where Brooks Bros. now sits there used to be a large wooded lot, maybe two lots. Tall maple trees used to overhang High Street as you entered old Friendship Heights from Wisconsin Avenue. As a boy I remember being up in those big branches, overlooking the cars as they came and went. Oddly, the street sign at the corner of Wootton and High was spelled correctly; but the street sign at the bottom of Wootton at Willard read “Wooten.”
We bought our house from the Bogleys. For some reason I associated them with an old Civil War sword we later found up in our sumptuous attic. Our house was a boxy, two-story house, yellowish stucco with green shutters and a Bangor slate roof. It had a grand porch that wrapped around to one side, and tall slabs on either side of the front steps. My father planted tulips on both sides of the walk which would pop up every Spring. In the back was a detached garage with a driveway that came out onto High St.. There was an ample lawn in front, in back, and along High St. The house had five bedrooms and was probably built in the 1920s. It had those airy, high ceilings and plaster walls that kept things cool in the summer. It had a fireplace and mantel. There was a lovely, sun-drenched solarium on the south-facing side. The kitchen had a pantry. The staircase railing leading up to the second floor was a beautiful custom-made affair, oak and wrought iron, beautiful to the touch as you ascended or descended. My father finished the basement. He also built himself a darkroom up in the attic, an attic that held an ever-present air of mystery and adventure.
When you are a kid, each house seems to have its own personality, labeled by the family name of whoever lives there. My brothers and I got to know the folks in the neighborhood because we used to deliver the Daily News, and later, the Evening Star. In those days, we also had to collect the subscription fees directly from the homeowners. I believe we did that every month – and deliver the money to our route supervisor. (Mr. Lazari was the Daily News guy, and Mr. Wilson worked for the Evening Star.) It seemed to me that most folks were long-time residents in that old neighborhood, folks who owned their homes. But there were some rentals too. Across the street from us on the other side of Wootton was a rental. I remember it was occupied by a physicist. We got to know their son, Donnie Madden. Later, a Finnish family moved in there. The kids’ names were Usi and Satu. My older brother, Kip, got stung all over when he unknowingly disturbed a nest of bees while playing in their yard.
Next door lived the Posts. Years later I would encounter Pam Post in high school. Their lot extended all the way back to Prospect St. There was a swimming pool back there, tucked up against our property line. I have very faint memories of seeing people actually swimming there, but it fell into disuse and disrepair and remained so. I recall that they had a cherry tree in their yard. I would raid it in the Spring, sitting there in that tree just picking and eating all the plump, juicy cherries I wanted.
Next door to them was a couple who owned two boxers. And next door to them was a kind of rundown looking house, not as well-built as the rest of the homes in the neighborhood. Christy Brown used to live there. And next was old Mrs. Shoemaker’s house, fenced in and with high bushes. She was our first piano teacher, but the lessons were short-lived. She used to walk her little dog up the street, where it would do its business on the tree belt in front of our home. My mother pleaded with her to walk her dog somewhere else, for obvious reasons. When she continued walking her dog, we were instructed to pick up after the dog, put it all in a paper bag, and deliver it to Mrs. Shoemaker’s front door. That ended the dog walking up our way. The last house at the bottom of the street on our side was a rental. Directly across, at the bottom of Wootton was a house that must have been built more recently than most in the neighborhood. It had an elaborate outside wooden staircase structure on its south side. Coming back up Wootton on the other side from us, my mind draws a blank, more or less. I remember another rental on that side. Some college guys rented it for a while. One of them drove a late 50s MG, the kind with a front grill that looks almost like a cow catcher.
Across High Street from us, where the community center now stands, lived Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. Their kids were grown and long gone. They had a stunning corner property that included a field. They generously allowed all the neighborhood kids to play ball here. We also used to sneak under their porch where we tried smoking corn silk and generally got up to no good. In the rear of their yard was a small grove of very large conifer trees that offered cool shade year round. Next, going up Wootton, were the Dunns. They kept a big cabin cruiser boat parked in their driveway. After this came the Wanveer’s house. This was a Korean family (with a Dutch name). The kids were named Wally, Boo, Jay, Tad, Sue and Joy. The mother worked at “Woodies” (Woodward & Lothrop), located a short walk down Wootton where it met Willard. The last house on that side, last occupied by the Body family, became a rental that would outlive the natural vitality of the neighborhood. (In the late 60s this purportedly became a group hippie house, among the occupants, Michael Willis, the reputed Hippie King of DC.)
Before coming back down Wootton on the east side of the street, mention must be made of one of the most curious properties in old Friendship Heights. The back of the property could be accessed from the top of Wootton Ave. by going to the right. Here, a large office building and parking lot now sits. But back then, you would first come upon a large garden where corn and all kinds of other vegetables would be growing. As you proceeded closer toward Wisconsin Avenue, there was a country shed off to the right and finally a low-slung, cowboy-looking house. This was reputed to be ancient – the last stop before Georgetown in the 1800s. It sat on Wisconsin Ave. atop a tall and magnificent stone wall that situated it above the traffic. (Across the street, Saks would be built. It opened in 1964, the first intrusion upon the so-called “green mile.”) The Williams’ old house was white-washed and had a red roof with a long, open porch. It was the home of the almost legendary (but unsung) nature poet, Tommy Williams, and his parents, and dogs, Hunter and Shep. They were real country folk. Tommy was effectively an only child, his brothers being much older and long since gone from the family home. He used to recite his poems to the crops they grew. Later, Tommy applied his oratorical skills to demonizing an enemy interloper kid in the neighborhood, John Black. The Williams kept chickens, and every now and then the father would let us watch him butcher one. At one point in the 60s, we scabbed some wood and built a little fort on this property.
The north end of Wootton, just as with the north end of Prospect, came to a dead-end at what we called “the woods.” That was an enchanted place, about which more will be said. But returning for the moment to the residential mapping of things…
On the other side of upper Wootton Ave. were more residences. There were five houses along here that had amazingly big back yards that butted up to Wisconsin Ave. In one house lived the Croos family who had emigrated from the Netherlands. The sons, Richard and Gustaf (“Ree” and “Gus”) were ‘50s all-American kids, born here. They were a little older but they befriended me and my brother, Kip, and they became like older brothers to us. Next door to them were the Hathaways. My older sister, Susie, made friends with Lindy Hathaway, and we’d go there sometimes to play that old board game, Clue. One house in this upper end was abandoned to the developers somewhat early in the game. In the rear was a detached garage. It was stuffed with junk, mostly old papers. Of course this nuisance soon attracted the neighborhood kids. It was here that I discovered what might be described as Theodore Roosevelt’s draft card with his signature on it! (since lost) I deduced from this find that one of the prior owners had probably been a government clerk of some sort.
Moving back over to High Street, our next-door neighbors were Clem and Lucia Clark, from New Hampshire. Mr. Clark worked nights in the Government Printing Office and drove a boxy old Rambler. The Clarks had two daughters, Elaine and Joanie. There was a dogwood tree in their yard. To this day I cannot look at dogwoods and not remember the Clarks. Across the street from them were the Healys. No fence divided their property from that of the Thomases. At the front edge of their place was a big old tree from which dangled enormously thick vines. Kids could sit and swing on these vines. We called it “the monkey tree.” One day I remember we were playing around the monkey tree and a limousine pulled up to the Healy house. My sister Madeline was on the sidewalk crying about something, when out popped Bobby Kennedy. He tried to console my sister before going up the steps to the Healy house. The Healys had three daughters who were a bit older than us – an older one, whose name I forget, and twins named Jane and Monica. As we did at the Thomases, we also used to sneak under their porch as well when we were out and about the neighborhood playing all sorts of games. The boys in the neighborhood often played “war.” My Uncle Tommy had returned from World War II with two Nazi helmets and these we wore as we maneuvered around and about with our stick-guns.
Going down Prospect Street from there, on the east side, was a house occupied by a family from England, the Mosses. Mr. Moss worked for the British Embassy. They had two daughters, Susan and Jane, and an infant son, Tom, Jr. They were lovely people who became good friends with our parents. I would meet Jane again much later, at which time she would teach me what she had meant all those years ago when she wondered whether I had “ants in my pants.” Next to them were another two houses. In the last one lived a very old lady who lived alone and never seemed to come out of her house. We used to refer to her place as “the witch’s house.” On the other side of lower Prospect was one large property with a house situated in the middle that had three large apple trees in a row. In the late summer I could be found sitting up in these apple trees having my fill of those tart, green treasures. This was the Walsh’s house. The father had bushy eyebrows and drove a 1957 Thunderbird. The son’s name was Kevin. Kevin brought out a book one day. In the book were very detailed and interesting illustrations of hell.
Next to the Healy’s, on the east side going up Prospect, were the Maurys. Mr. Maury kept bees in his back yard and he sometimes shared his delicious honey, comb and all, with us neighbors. They had a son named Henry. There were three more houses on that side. The next one was occupied by a man who seemed to live alone and whose mood was sometimes good, sometimes not – always unpredictable. Next to him was a neat little modern house with a chain link fence around it. An older couple named Richards lived here. On summer days the rather rotund Mr. Richards could often be seen walking his dog along High St. wearing a white strap undershirt. In the last house lived the Gilmans. Betty Gilman had an infectious, Phyllis Diller-type of laugh. She was friendly with my mother and would drop by our house from time to time. She volunteered as a uniformed crossing guard and drove a beautiful white 1959 Cadillac. The Gilmans had three sons, Pete, Wayne and Jeff, and a daughter, Mary, the youngest of the brood.
Across from the Gilmans was a modern brick house, and next to this house lived an old German lady, Mrs. Kroeger. My mother would sometimes visit her and Mrs. Kroeger would offer her tea with a spoonful of rum. I remember delivering the Evening Star to her one snowy afternoon, the snow half-burying me as I struggled up her walk – and she, meeting me at the door, all full of pity and concern, insisting I come inside and warm up for a while. There were a few more houses on that side, one of which was occupied by a tall, gangly guy named Kurt Smelker and his sister, Sally. Kurt played the piano and he came over suddenly one day to play for my mother. The Clevelands moved into the next house, some years after we had arrived. They were from Pennsylvania and reportedly were related to President Grover Cleveland. I made friends with John Cleveland, and he had brothers named David and Paul, and two sisters, I think. On the northwest corner of Prospect and High was the McAuliffe’s brick house. We were told that McAuliffe was the former police chief. I guess this was the same McAuliffe family that produced a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge or two.
As mentioned earlier, the old Shoemaker farm house was located across the street at that first dog-leg. A windmill still stood next to their house. It was their large farm out of which the bulk of Friendship Heights was carved. It’s funny, though; I have no recall of ever meeting any of the Shoemakers that lived here. Next to them lived the Gills with identical twins, Bradley and Dennis. Along here, at various times, lived a Japanese family. I remember the name Glen Haganoya – and there was an Indian boy too, Pote Pootigupta (who may have lived somewhere along here or on Willoughby). Then came the Edwards place on the right, way up on a hill. Tim Edwards’s husband flew an airplane. In fact, that’s how he died. In 1972 I remember seeing a picture in the paper of the wreckage of his plane that came down on Rt. 1 near the University of Maryland. They had three sons and one daughter. I remember only their youngest son, Terry, and their daughter, Debbie. I ran into Debbie about ten years ago at a wake, I think. We talked about the old neighborhood and she told me that her mother still worked out of one of the last two houses from old Friendship Heights that still remain – the “pink house” on Willard at the corner of Willoughby. (The other house is up on High St., just west of Willoughby, Mrs. Deutsch’s old home.) I’ve read since that Tim Edwards went into a care facility and that she died in May, 2011. Mrs. Edwards was a savvy businesswoman who was in the right place at the right time. Because she was “one of the neighbors” she was perfectly suited to the job. But to us kids she came across as the wicked witch of the West, smooth-talking her neighbors into giving up and giving in to a seemingly inexorable tide of development. She profited handsomely from it too. Looking back now, as a grown man, I shouldn’t hold a grudge. After all, in 1959 GEICO had edged onto the southwest outskirts, just as Saks had done a few years later to the northeast. Still, the neighborhood might have stayed intact had not developers like Milton Barlow, Milton Pollinger, and Abe Polin held out seemingly large sums of money to induce residents to move. We stayed on through the construction of the Barlow Building and Highland House. In fact, I delivered papers in the Highland House. I remember one lady in particular who didn’t want to renew her subscription, citing all of the bloody news from Vietnam that was splashed across the front page every day. But getting back to our virtual tour of old Friendship Heights in its twilight days…
On Willoughby, I only remember one old lady who spoke in a very strange nasal manner. We delivered the newspaper to her. My brother, Kip, and I got good at imitating her and we would have to pinch ourselves from laughing whenever we went there to collect from her. Back up on lower High St. (present day “North Park Ave.”), besides Mrs. Deutsch, the only other family I recall was the Hannans. They lived just past the Edwards house. Their house was more like a ramshackle farmhouse whose back yard bordered the woods. It was said that the father had deserted them. The mother struggled on with her many kids. One daughter was born without arms. But she learned to do everything with her feet, even to draw. There was a sense of tragedy among them, though I remember Mrs. Hannan as being a good woman with a pleasant demeanor. One of older Hannan boys worked at MacIntyre Hardware. This store used to be on the east end of the old Chevy Chase Center, just after Giant Food.
The old Chevy Chase Center was our little mecca. I remember there was a Rich’s Shoe Store that bordered Wisconsin Ave. Then came Raleighs, Camalier & Buckley, Walpoles, Vicar (that used to have a big track in the basement for racing those small little cars popular in the early 60s), People’s Drug Store, Galaxy Cleaners, and a candy store called Fanny Farmer. Around the corner used to be the Town and Country Deli. I think they were Greek. The grand matriarch waited both the tables and the counter there. She knew us as neighborhood kids and loved us. She would bring us whatever we wanted, and, without ever having to ask, she would then leave us with a check for only about $1.00 or so. Along here was a walk-through area to the other side of the shopping center, a murky place where plants struggled to grow. On the other side of this was Giant Food.
When construction started in the old neighborhood, we used to collect soda bottles from the construction workers and bring them up to Giant for redemption at two cents a piece. At that time they had a special little place next to the entrance that took in returned bottles. A black woman name Betty Bouncin worked at the window there. One day she refused to accept our bottles because they were “too dirty.” We ran home and reported this to our mother. She marched right up there, grabbed the manager, and gave that lady holy hell, saying, if I remember correctly, “These kids could be going around stealing hubcaps. Instead, they’re industrious enough to collect bottles. Why do you want to penalize them like this?” The white manager told Miss Bouncin to accept the bottles – a silly little story, maybe, but perhaps a telling one about what lay ahead… Our usual destination was People’s to buy candy bars for five cents/ six for a quarter. We also liked sitting at the counter to get vanilla Cokes or cherry Cokes (early versions, made by squirting some syrup into the glass before filling it with Coca Cola) or milkshakes also served with the metal container containing the excess, plopped down in front of you. People’s had a magazine rack that was cordoned off from the aisle where we would hang out some. I remember seeing a photo in one magazine of a dead Otis Redding, still strapped to his airplane seat.
There were a few homes on the west side of Wisconsin Ave., south of the Guest Houses. In one of these houses lived my sister Susie’s friend, Suzanne Mooney. But after her house, things became kind of neglected and overrun by weeds. This state of things certainly fed the development bug. In fact, the north corner of Wisconsin and Willard was the first bit of development in Friendship Heights, proper. There used to be a beauty parlor there and my Aunt Janet always maintained that they ruined her hair there. What has now materialized here represents quite an evolution. A Howard Johnson’s used to sit where the Friendship Heights Metro is today. Across Western Avenue, where Neiman Marcus looms up monolithically, there once was a big field with a long driveway leading to a nightclub called the Silver Fox. Someone I know remembers cows grazing there.
There is only one friend from the old neighborhood with whom we still keep in touch – Tommy Eicher. The Eichers used to live on Willard, a few doors west of where the “pink house” stands today. Tom’s father, Melvin Eicher, had been an accomplished piano player in a big band before settling down to married life and a government job. Tom followed in his footsteps, also becoming an accomplished piano player, excelling at arpeggios and adept at playing lots of popular tunes. In those days, Tom was just a local playmate around the neighborhood. But he also went to the same piano teacher as we did, Phyllis Norris. As the Beatles came on the scene in the mid-60s, my brother Kip, Tom and myself started forming a band. I would hang out with Tom during high school days and thereafter. We remain solid friends to this day, with lots of history behind us. Somewhere in the vicinity of Saratoga and Willard lived the Waggles. I never could understand why they named their son, “Dickie” – “Dickie Waggle.”
At that time there used to be a creek that ran along Willard just after Saratoga St. where the entrance to the Irene is now. The creek ran in front of two or three houses there and you had to traverse little bridges to get to their front doors. This small creek would feed into the bottom end of the neighborhood, further down on Willard just west of where the Irene is now. Here, it would join the creek that flowed through the woods all the way from Wisconsin Ave., just south of Dorset.
This huge wilderness area was where I played out my Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone fantasies. The woods were best accessed from the north end of Prospect, and you were able to cut across in that direction from the top end of Wootton. The area here was mostly ferns. There were some well-worn paths. These would take you around to a hill and eventually to a rock outcropping. From there the path would descend sharply toward the creek. The creek had various identifiable areas to it. At that point it was fairly opened up where the water pooled some. There was always a fallen tree over the creek here or there. As you proceeded upstream toward Wisconsin you came across some jagged rocks sticking up from the creek bed and the water formed a kind of mini-rapids or waterfall. The water got somewhat shallower as you approached the storm drain built under Wisconsin Ave. Along here we would find many a salamander and crayfish. We would catch them and bring them home sometimes. Going the other way down the creek, close to where Somerset swimming pool is today, there was a big open, grassy field. If you tried going back up the hill before getting here you would run into lots of sticker bushes. People would go for walks along the paths. Sometimes an old lady would be in there. She always offered us hard candy. There was a house there then that was virtually built into the woods, whose driveway emptied onto Willard just before River Road. I always thought that maybe this lady lived there but I never asked her. That house is gone now. Suffice it say that what little woods is left there today is but a shadow of its former glory. This was my nature refuge and I prided myself on being the pathfinder.
Looking back, I suppose that in those ten years, from 1955 to 1965, Friendship Heights was already past its prime. The founding families were dying out or moving away. One gets this distinct impression from reading the little that has been written about it, e.g., one of the Shoemaker’s recollections from 1959 (re-published by the Friendship Heights Village Council in The Village of Friendship Heights: 1914-1989, a 1989 tribute celebrating the 75th anniversary of becoming established as a Special Taxing District). The Bogleys, from whom we bought our house at 5420 Wootton Avenue, were one such family. To folks like the Shoemakers I suppose our young, post-war, baby-boomer family must have seemed like quite the nouveau addition to the neighborhood. Still, cherished memories remain, tucked away in the mind like yesterday’s sunlight – days of carefree youth spent in this once-idyllic spot.
As livable neighborhoods like old Friendship Heights give way to get-rich-quick visions of home bases for rootless cosmopolitans, weird old Washingtonians like me still remember the way things used to be. Society was far from perfect in the years 1955 to 1965. And yet, those who knew old Friendship Heights knew that it had a whole lot more “friendship,” not to mention more character and beauty, than its present incarnation.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
I mentioned last time that we were preparing the ayahuasca. That’s still being brewed, on hold for now. What is ayahuasca? I have just posted a paper I wrote in April, 2000 following my involvement in the First International Ayahuasca Conference. The information here more or less answers that question (while asking more questions than it answers): http://spyoptaelip.blogspot.com/2011/11/shamansim-science-and-spirituality.html
Thursday night we went to a friend of Elvis’s house, another young, supposed shaman, He had invited us to his place for a ceremony and to sample his ayahuasca. We took the tobacco and fragrant water I had bought. Elvis brought his shaman trick-bag of items. Charity (about four months pregnant) came as well. Charity is fairly knowledgeable about plants. She was introduced to plant medicines by her mother. She seems to be respected by other ladies in the village. I’ve seen them engage a bit. Today she’s been asked to cut the imbilical cord of a relative’s baby – a great honor I understand. But to get back to the ceremony…
We arrived at about 8:15 PM. It was of course already dark. We were the first to arrive. Others started strolling in. It ended up that we were eleven in all, eight men and three women, including the head ‘shaman’ and his co-shaman, Elvis. Charity and I were the only gringos, but because she was pregnant she was not drinking any ayahuasca tonight. We were in a large warehouse-like space with a dirt floor. It was the typical gloomy sort of tin shack with a thatched roof. (Note on thatched roofs: they have to be replaced every three – four years, which seems like a lot of work!) A mat was placed on the floor and some items were placed there, things you might expect like various shaped stones etc. Elvis put on a kind of headdress with blue feathers standing straight. The main shaman wore a ball cap I think. They shook rattles and waved fans of banana leaves (I think), while puffing on tobacco (which is supposed to chase away evil spirits). There was some chatter – prayers, I guess – that I didn’t understand at all, and some songs. The ayahuasca was in a two-liter Coke bottle and there was a coffee cup into which it was poured and drunk.
A dose was poured into the cup, about half-a-cup. It was handed to me by the head shaman and I was the first to drink. Gulp! Down the hatch. I had already heard plenty about how bitter and awful it was to drink and to get and keep down. I remembered my line from a play we performed in Bartley Jones’ Latin class at Gonzaga – “Medicamentum est acerbum” (The medicine is bitter.) I had no problem with it really. (It’s actually harder to drink Vitamin C crystals or poppy pod tea.)
Everyone in turn took theirs as well, to the strains of a lot of gibberish and sounds meant to mimic flying saucers (my own in sense of the sound). I think it’s supposed to put in the mind of those hearing it that the shaman is shooing away evil spirits from the gathering, or some such thing.
By the way, before you participate in the ceremony you are supposed to adhere to a diet that excludes salt and sugar, and any oil and pork. Also, you have to abstain from drinking alcohol and having sex for some days before. I forgot to mention that the day before coming here I went downtown (without an appointment) and asked for the usual set of immunizations for the tropics. I was almost turned away, but a nurse came out and agreed to help. I got three shots for yellow fever, diphtheria, and hepatitis A – and a prescription for doxycicline, 100 mg., which I must take each day. Of course I was hesitant to do so, but figured an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Also, by the time I reached Houston my throat was scratchy and I could tell that I was coming down with a chest cold, picked up, I think, from Casey before leaving. So while I was in Lima I went to the pharmacy and, without a prescription, was able to purchase ciproflaxin and another one that the druggist recommended. I felt fully recovered in a few days. So I was a walking pharmacy. Still, I figured these medicines would interfere little, if at all. But I digress…
Like the old Fugs song, I Couldn’t Get High, I waited thirty minutes but I didn’t feel a thing. So Elvis suggested that I take another hit and to go ahead and decide for myself how much to pour. So I poured about two-thirds of a cup more and got it down in a few gulps. The medicine is an emetic and purgative and each of the participants is given a vomit bucket at the beginning. Lots of folks were hurling, spewing, heaving, and wretching away. The head shaman let out a loud and prolonged fart – no class whatsoever. So this aspect of the shindig was as charming as a smelly dishrag, but is all a part of the healing that the medicine imparts. What I’ve read is that it acts to expel certain toxins, and maybe parasites. (That National Geographic article ends with the guy looking into his puke pan and wondering whether he was seeing a little snake that he vomited up.) Back to the hallucinatory details.
Having tried other hallucinogens back in the 60s and early 70s, I expected certain lurid sensations to rise up, leaving me feeling slightly out-of-control. Those sensations did begin to manifest, including a real primal sense of myself as a physical being, as a flesh and blood animal. The head shaman was a tiresome chatterbox and, I thought, a phony. All of his claptrap and the tobacco smoke was starting to get to me. So I stood up and made my way out the back door, flashlight in hand. Out back is where the bathroom is located and we were welcome to use it of course. I never did find el baño. It was a spacious backyard too. I could hear things fluttering around among the branches of the palm trees. Vampire bats per chance? Boogie men? Armed with the natural voodoo defenses of the bluesman, and with my mojo in overdrive, I relaxed and let my senses wander and commune with the surreal topography. It was fairly dark back there. I wasn’t hallucinating heavily. It was more like standing on the edge of something – not really in one world or the other – but consensual reality and culture trance were in ephemeral abeyance for sure.
My goal is not so much to hang with the planetary participants and ring-ding around with the ding-dongs. Rather, I hoped to gaze out at the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond, and commune with the ETs and celestials out yonder. So I looked skyward. Nothing happened out of the ordinary when I gazed there. So I went back in.
It was dark where we were sitting, except for the occasional flashlight or people lighting up or taking drags on their cigarettes. After a while, lots of people were smoking, taking their cue from the ‘shamans,’ I suppose. I guess the most interesting things happened when I closed my eyes. There were definite ‘things’ there – curly-cue-like, writhing, multi-colored snakes, strange little cartoon-character-like faces. I could concentrate my focus on a face and it would morph into various bizarre permutations. I felt a kind of electricity in the air. Once or twice I thought I sensed a tall, flat, black shadow entity carrying a stick standing next to me and almost looming up over me. I couldn’t tell if it was my peripheral vision or a sixth sense. I tried to sit back and open myself up to the experience, but there was so much chattering from this dipshit sitting next to me that it kind of spoiled things. I was trying to be polite because I was a guest of Elvis and Charity, but I suspected my body language was betraying my general discontent. To make matters worse, there was a young punk across the circle of participants, short and slight and wearing a ball cap too, who seemed to be an aspiring wanna-be ‘shaman.’ Even before he took his ayahuasca he was moving his legs nervously and blurting things out too, trying hard to sound exotic and shaman-like. I really thought he must have some nervous condition of some kind.
So I began wishing I was back in my bed. It was getting on 3:00 AM. I had made a few more trips to the back yard. As I returned from my last trip I felt my mouth watering like crazy and I knew it was my turn to spew. I made a beeline for my puke bucket and let loose with at least three good heaves. I felt a bit more comfortable after that, as you might imagine. But it was evident that things were beginning to break up.
We soon headed out, walking home, our flashlight leading the way. It was maybe a mile along roads and paths, across small bridges, past darkened huts and barking watchdogs. Finally we got back to the ranch. The roosters were beginning to crow, “cocka-doodle-doo!” – their compatriots throughout the land answering back. I heard some large animal outside of my window, chewing and snorting. I looked out and there was a big bull grazing there. I was about to get into my bed when I looked up on the wall of my bedroom and saw a banana spider about the size of my hand when I spread my fingers apart. Even though I understand that they don’t bite, this intruder was disconcerting to say the least. I really didn’t want to kill it, and I couldn’t think of a way to pick up a spider and throw it out the window, so I figured I’d just leave it there and try no to think about it. After all, I was encased within my mosquito netting. So I just went to bed. In the morning it was gone, but a much smaller version was on the outside of my mosquito net, just sitting there. (It was still there when I went to bed the next night, and I think it’s still there.) By the way, one of my goals in being here is to overcome my bug phobia.
I woke the next morning, Friday, a little groggy but no worse for the wear and tear. We worked again on the bedroom, this time building and installing a door.
The lesson I learned from this first ceremony is the critical importance that the ayahuasca be sufficiently potent (it was a bit weak I later learned) and that the shaman is an authentic and mature man of wisdom. So be it. There will be more ceremonies to come.
SIDE TRIP: ELECTRICLADYLAND
About a week later, late in the afternoon at his jungle outpost, Elvis asked me to come with him on a short walk into the jungle. He pointed out a jungle garlic plant that we would need for our ceremony that night. He gave me a cigarette rolled with the black Amazon tobacco and said to first blow the smoke over the plant and then to state your intention before you pulled it up. I went through the motions.
That night we were to take part in the jungle garlic and tobacco ceremony. Elvis took the jungle garlic and skinned the stem with a knife into tiny pieces. Then he took a huge roll of tobacco and sliced off some sections. These he chopped up and all of this was put into a cup into which he had poured some cane alcohol. He let this stand for about ten minutes, and then strained it into another cup. This concoction was (also) supposed to clean your body of parasites and toxins. How does it do this? You guessed it – you vomit it out. So he handed me a cup of this gruel and I drank it down. He did some and so did Hector’s young cousin, Kevvy. They threw up pretty quickly. But in my case I waited and waited and my mouth hardly even watered. Finally, Elvis told me to just go to bed; that sometimes people will throw up later, so I should take my vomit bucket with me.
Sure enough, I lay under my mosquito net feeling kind of uncomfortable and nauseous. I wanted very badly to throw up. Just the thought of that noxious brew in my belly was troubling. Suddenly, something made me sit up and duck from under the netting. Out it came – all of that odious swamp-soup.
Elvis had not told me, but the tobacco acts as a dream enhancer. Pretty soon I found myself participating in the most lucid dream I’ve ever had. It was so fantastic I can hardly even describe it. There were two protagonists, and as I watched their antics I became one of them. They were incredibly smug and witty, but not in a nasty way. They were more like gremlin geniuses of mirth and creativity, going along doing all sorts of practical joke-sorts-of-things that also brought joy all around. Soon the law was on our trail and out to get us. But this did not diminish our witty ways. We easily out-smarted them at every turn. There’s more. If I were to continue writing more it would sound sort of stupid. You had to ‘be there.’ I found myself laughing and smiling throughout the whole Technicolor production, mostly in a vivid yellow. When I suddenly woke up to the sounds of the jungle I was dumbfounded that such complexity and color was to be found here.
In October, 1968, Jimi Hendrix released his third album, a double album entitled Electric LadyLand. The first track, …And the Gods Made Love, is followed by Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland). Well, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, in a lucid dream I did go to Electric LadyLand. I have been to Electric LadyLand and I can tell you that it is every bit as beautiful and phantasmagoric as Hendrix tried to convey. And I understand now why he first speaks of Gods making love, because in Electric Ladyland it’s all about divine states of sexual coupling – electro-copulation. It happened in my little shack after a jungle garlic (Scorodocarpus borneensis) and tobacco ceremony, and in many ways exceeded the ayahuasca trips in its technicolor wonder and jubilation.
The next evening, a candle was burning in the ceremonial lodge. Elvis put on his small headdress, lit up a cigarette, and said his shaman prayers, blessing everything with smoke, etc. Finally, he poured out a sizable cupful and handed it to me. I drank it down, dribbling some onto my white undershirt. The other two drank theirs down. Elvis proceeded to rhythmically shake his banana leaves and sing his shaman songs. He blew out the candle. It was quite dark. We waited simultaneously for visions and readied ourselves to puke our guts out once again, It didn’t take as long for me to puke this time as it did the last time. And I was feeling myself getting off.
For me, this would not be an experience filled with images and visions. They were there struggling to manifest on the screen of my mind. But what seemed to be happening was an intense and very personal exploration of my personality as it was dismantled and laid bare. I felt like I was under the microscope of some ET examiners. I also sensed the fragility of my persona and it was disturbing. It seemed like they wanted to show me all of the defects in my psychological self, as if to say, “You’re OK, buddy, but you need to fix a few things, ya know?” It wasn’t pleasant. In fact, soon I was wishing for it all to end so I could just go to bed. What’s more, I hadn’t had my usual bowel movement that morning. Suddenly I felt, after puking and wretching, that I should go take a dump. So I stood up, picked up my flashlight, and announced that I must go to the toilet. It was hard to walk. Hector followed me at a distance as I made my way, still hurling and spewing vomit at intervals. Try taking a dump sometime in a funky jungle toilet when you’re tripping your brains out. As awkward as the whole enterprise was, it was most gratifying, as completing this task always is. I then returned to the ceremony, as Hector chaperoned my swaying and staggering strides.
The rest of the ceremony was more of the same for me. I was starting to come down and was looking forward to hitting the sack.
Elvis woke me the next morning and told me to bathe myself three times in jungle garlic leaves. I went down to the bathing area and found a big tub prepared with the leaves cut-up and floating in the water.
A few days later I was invited to Familia Medicina, an ayahuasca outpost about a half hour upriver from Jenaro Herrera. This center is run by a fellow from Oregon named Zach. The shaman there is a local in his 30s named Gumes.
Zach emphasizes “la dieta.” Gumes utilizes four different barks that he infuses in water, and that you drink to help clean out your system. These barks are supposed to catalyze the purification process, helping your system to return to a more natural state in which you become more open to the healing properties of plants. But the dieta is required as a concomitant to ingesting the bark medicines. The diet, as I understand it, is quite strict: no salt, sugar, oils, pork, sex (with another or with yourself), and no use of any sort of soap or toothpaste or creams. I think even most vegetables and even fruits, especially anything citric, are excluded. There’s more to it than that, and I may have some things wrong, but it is supposed to really clean you out of all toxins and bio-energetic blocks of every kind, and of course make your system more conducive and more responsive to the ayahuasca medicine. (Of course this is a convenient way to make the food prep and cooking a whole lot easier and cheaper too! There’s the cynic in me.) Needless-to-say, all of the participants (except me, a temporary interloper) agreed to go on the dieta.
Night was falling. We were assembled in a circle in the lodge. Here each has a very cool rocking chair. I’ve never seen this type of design. Zach said you can only buy them on certain street corners in Iquitos. I’ll save the description for another time, but suffice it to say they are very simple, sturdy and, most of all, quite comfortable. Sitting with Gumes were his father, also a shaman, his mother, and wife. I think their baby was asleep in a hammock. Zach started by laying out a sheet with a mandala-like design on the floor inside the circle in front of where Gumes was sitting. On this he arranged various sacred objects – crystals, stones, images of spiritual masters. There was a talk by Gumes, translated by Zach and others, and a chance to ask questions. Most had never drunk before and there was a feeling of great anticipation slightly tinged with fear. Finally, Gumes started shaking his plant sheath rattle and blessing himself and the implements around him with tobacco smoke. He chanted his special shaman plant songs. Then he poured about half a coffee cup dose and with each one he sang and blessed it with smoke before handing it to each person in the circle. Each drank in turn from the same cup. When it came to me, I noticed he seemed to do a little extra chanting and singing and blessing (at least I thought so), and when he handed me the medicine I noticed it was close to a full cup. They were obviously intent upon getting me to the other side. I drank it down in a couple of gulps and returned to my seat. I was generally experiencing a feeling of well-being, of feeling my innate power, of standing tall, a sense of strength and vigor – my mojo was definitely working overtime.
As with the others, I sat back and waited for the medicine to transform me. As the drinking concluded, Gumes and his folks sang their special healing songs, honoring the plants, the goodness of life and the light. Referring to me he said in Spanish (translated by the guy next to me) that “Tonight I will meet everyone I had ever drank ayahuasca with” – and also that, “Tonight you will meet your master.” That was encouraging. He later said that he had totally cleaned me out, which I understood to mean that he purified me of the recent dark forces that were dogging me around. OK. So far so good.
Unless you have a Hollywood-type of cinematic trip, it is not easy to describe being tripped out on ayahuasca. There is a very organic aspect to it in which your whole body tunes into strange vibrations. You close your eyes and await images and visions, true. And you sense colors and designs and symbols and various things, and these were beginning to percolate. But you also feel your body pulsating to the rhythm of the jungle sounds, the sounds of the rattles and singing, other peoples’ voices – sounds too take on an other-worldly quality. You definitely feel your animal or physical mortality. My experience this time around was much more soothing and beautiful, not frightening or uncomfortable at all. My hope was to have a vision of the cosmos. And for a brief moment I had my vision of stars and planets out in space somewhere where worlds were in a state of being created. It was a lovely sight, made real in the same sense that a lucid dream ‘takes you there.’ I could focus upon a person or place or an idea and watch as a knowing of whatever it was unfolded or opened to me.
People were beginning to vomit. There was a stout fellow there, Michael, who vomited and wretched his guts out almost non-stop. I pictured him as some kind of lizard laying on the floor puking and spewing. He had a very tough time. To my right was a very cute and kind of perky little South African girl of Indian descent. She had wrapped herself in her fleece and a blanket and was exceedingly quiet. To my left was Jonathan, a young bearded American from Miami who spoke fluent Spanish and had been traveling all over South America for some months. He too remained rather retired in his own space, as did I, as did most of us, except Señor Vomito and maybe a few other, more vocal types. We were asked to keep talking to a minimum during the ceremony. Quite candidly, I couldn’t imagine who would want to talk during such an experience. It’s weird even listening to yourself say something. Mario, an accomplished artist and totally bi-lingual Peruvian from Lima, opted for a mattress instead of a rocking chair. When asked, he kept saying that he was dying. Maybe there is a false part of us that does die and it takes a dark night of the soul to do so. How both Zach and the shaman managed to sing and chant and oversee everything while all tripped out is a mystery to me. I finally had my puke and then felt like I was coming down. I felt quite tranquil. To mark the end of the ceremony each was handed a freshly peeled coconut with a hole. I drank the sweet milk.
The bottom line was this: I felt that I was now more oriented to this medicine and was doing better with it now. I believed that Gumes was a real maestro shaman and felt comfortable under his tutelage. They say it takes a two or three times before you are able to truly experience the full effects of the ayahuasca, but also that each experience can be quite different. I remember learning in Stan Groff’s class on holotropic breathwork at CIIS that the soul or psyche has its own method of communicating to you, and its method is conventionally through images. My experiences to date were not as visual as I had hoped they might be. But I think with more experience and more purity of body and intention, the more you will learn about yourself as the false self unravels. So perhaps I will have more opportunities to explore this notion in the future.
The ceremony slowly broke up. Some stayed and slept in the lodge, others went back to their bedrooms. As for myself, with my drained coconut in hand, I went back to crawl under my mosquito net and sure enough. I started hearing things skittering around my little room – water bugs? a rat? But I was getting used to that. Thank God for whomever invented the mosquito net. They work very, very well, and I feel that as long I am under it nothing will buzz in my ears, or creep or crawl onto me. Still, I didn’t sleep all that well, maybe hardly at all. I just kind of laid there waiting for the sun. Ah yes, The Sun Also Rises – my philosophy in a nutshell.
I am an old guy, 57, even though I don’t look that old or feel that old. Generally, men of my age experience a decline in their sex drive. Whether it was being married and faithful for thirteen years, or whether I was just getting old, I suppose my sex drive had been deteriorating. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, you tend to get stodgy, sexually. Maybe it goes hand-in-hand with getting that middle-age paunch.
It is hard to say, but after doing some ayahuasca ceremonies my sexuality started to surge like kerosene through my veins. It was as if some sex neuro-receptor had been turned on, causing hormones to flood throughout my system. It was actually pretty cool, though suppressing it was kind of drag.
Monday, March 26, 2012
In a world that has lost its own credibility, the indicia of the normative give us no reliability – or solace – anymore.Back in 1975 I was riding on a bus in D.C. We were on Connecticut Avenue near Calvert Street, headed downtown. A middle-aged white guy, drunk and kind of beat-up looking, was on the bus. I heard him muttering to himself and to anyone else who would listen, something like: “Nothing works; does nothing work? Nothing works anymore!”
Worn and world-weary, he veered down the aisle, stopping briefly to steady himself along the way, trying to catch the eye of anyone willing to look at him, his cantos gathering momentum as he drew closer to the exit. In a building crescendo, he kept repeating, over and over again: “Nothing works; does nothing work? Nothing works anymore!” The part-declaration/ part-query hung, balloon-like, in the air. I sensed an awkward, neck-rubbing type embarrassment in the dull quietude among the passengers.
How many people on the bus that day paid any attention to this guy, or gave a second thought to what he was saying? I certainly did; I must have, because his words stuck in my mind for all of these years.
To me, he was uttering the unspeakable. His words cut to the core of our shared human condition; in a society that was losing its grip on what is true and real, this poor soul’s incantation, reduced to a simple formula that “nothing works anymore,” was a profound insight. He was offering up a truth against the taboo of uncovering our shared illusion that things actually still do work; he was making explicit what none of the passengers dared to express or wanted to believe – and he was right: nothing works anymore.
In 2006 Richard Tarnas published an intriguing work of non-fiction entitled Cosmos and Psyche. It is subtitled Intimations of a New World View, a view which fleshes out (as the cover leaf states) “a direct connection between planetary movements and the archetypal patterns of human experience.” The book deserves to be read in full. It presents evidence that a kind of macro-biorhythm of humankind’s historical trajectory can be convincingly correlated with the movements of heavenly bodies. Therein, the author gives much attention to the creatively cathartic era of 1960 thru 1972, attributing the magic upheaval of these years to the effect of cosmos on the human psyche, punctuated in 1968-69 by a rare but re-occurring triple conjunction of Jupiter, Uranus and Pluto.
Whether you accept the esoteric explanations advanced by Richard Tarnas or not, for me the assassination of John F. Kennedy in late 1963 marked the beginning of a long slide into “life disenchanted,” (or as Malcom X described the aftermath of that event, "the chickens came home to roost.") Fast forward about a decade. After 1972, as the ameliorating cosmic energies gave way to the full fury of already gathered and strengthening dark forces, we find that that disenchantment significantly deepened and broadened. Certainly by the time of my fateful bus ride in 1975 the vibrant life forces of those previous years had long subsided and things were already getting co-opted by the more mundane (some might say “profane”) influences of modern civilization. Today, the materialist infatuation with techno-gadgetry is transcended only by a pervasive narcissism I refer to as "self-absorption" in the false self.
Somewhere I read about the four legs of the false self: intellect, ego, selfishness, and self-righteousness. Surely this big, black dog rules the human-to-human psychic mirror world of the early second millennium. Accordingly, I get the sense that Colin Wilson’s “mind parasites” control us like never before. Truth, or science fiction?
I will spare you the tirade of negative ion information that flourishes now on the net, in the media, in the noosphere. The evidence is pretty grim – and mostly true: humans have made a mess of everything. And we need not get into the fascinating-yet-gloomy evidence that overwhelms us as much as it eludes airtight detection – also available as never before – that the hidden hand of elite, plutocratic (some say Satanic) hierarchies are oppressing We the People, the common man and woman (or what’s left of them). It is enough to simply beware of those globalist New World Order fascio-socialist types on a hyper-Bernaisian media romp through the minds of the sleeping masses; beware of their neo-Hegelian dialectic (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) applied to the latest boogie man (from Communists to terrorists to aliens) and to false-flag, “serendipitously occurring” incidents, morphing into the predatory capitalist paradigm of crisis-intervention- acceptance of corpocracy’s solution. We need not go there. We can keep the heat turned down and just let all that simmer in the background.
It is enough to look out upon the landscape of time since the 1960s and witness the desolation that has been wrought. We might then take some time out to mourn, to grieve. Probably the hardest thing is to not become pedantic. But, oops…here I go…
Try not to get too angry – forgive but do not forget; formulate a plan. Your action plan might be some kind of way to realize, say, Tarnas’s New World View – or formulating how to disorder the order of the New World Order; or how to get back to basics, to self-sufficiency, to becoming a sort of loving anarcho-primitivist. The plan need not be very detailed. It can simply be grounded on the motto, “Know thy true Self,” and include a constancy of meditative remembrance of who we really are and have the capacity to be as real human beings. Focusing our minds, bodies and souls, upon knowing our true selves, should be the imperative of the age – selves set apart from our hand-held gadgets and industrial food stores, computers and TVs and stereos and Hollywood and Clear Channel, politicians, lawyers and pseudo-doctors, Monopoly money, commodity fetishism, and materialist pipe dreams; selves dedicated to helping one another and being kind and caring toward all of life around us. (And the pedant rages on…)
That bum on the bus was right: “Nothing works anymore.” Everything you know is wrong; the system is rigged against rugged, liberty-loving, sovereign individuals. I implore folks to show disdain for comfort, safety and security. Cast your fate to the wind. Tune in, turn on, and drop out, if you dare. (“What, me worry?” said the venerable nincompoop, Alfred E. Neuman.) In any event, be not content and do not worry. Calm yourself. Insist on more silence in your life. Relax you muscles, from your toes all the way up to your mouth, tongue, eyeballs and forehead. See through the world at the same time you begin to get to know your real self.
Given computers and programs such as Photoshop, photographs have tended to lose their evidential value. Signatures and writings of every kind, too, do not have the credibility that they once had. Stop reading mainstream newspapers and magazines. Always look for the subtext in movies. Consider the larger context within which a movie’s presumptions are embedded. Special effects go deeper than just technical manipulation. It is all propaganda. The stuff of consensual reality and culture trance can be seemingly sublime, subtle, subliminal, sneaky, seductive – beware!
I remember the course I took in statistics. Our first assignment was to read a small book entitled Lie with Statistics. The world was never the same after that. Everything around you is massaged, stage-managed by public relations firms. So-called “conventional wisdom” is even suspect. Believe no one. Insist on facts, corroborate those facts, and do your own analysis. Practice discernment. Even science and scientific laws can be suspect, especially given the political, business, and religious regimes used to fund, filter and spin the messages of “science.” Do not accept law and medicine at face value either; let your critical thinking and discernment be your guide. Distrust specialists, experts, and public officials. Hold fast to your own values; and trust but verify those values. Practice loving kindness, but not the mindless compassion of the liberally brainwashed variety. Instead seek experience. Be willing to experience as much as you can. Sad and difficult experiences are perhaps the best teachers, as long as you do not let them overwhelm you. Know the joy and rewards of both creative loafing and hard manual labor, of focusing the mind in any endeavor – always be generous. Just don’t let others take advantage of you. Your labor is you. (And on and on goes the pedant!)
To be uncharitable to others, to lose faith and hope is to fall into that abyss of heedlessness, of unknowingness. To witness what goes on around us is, at one and the same time, to witness what is within us; to develop and evolve our selves is to be able to become better witnesses. The more we can discern with our minds, via our hearts, the more we can tune into our own psyches; and the closer we come to being in tune with a cosmic flow that is always feeding and informing us.
Who could have guessed and who could have known that the exclamations of that worn down bum on the bus in 1975 would, so many years later, lead me to this cogitation? Maybe he wasn’t just some drunken bum after all. Maybe he was an angel or alien in disguise, or maybe he was possessed by the spirit of Diogenes or some equally noble soul. Life has innumerable serendipitous synchronicities if we only remain open to them…whether they pour into us from the heavens or come to us as a message from a tired, quasi-illuminated drunk.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Intent upon learning the secret of the Sunshine Store’s burger magic, I recently bellied up to the lunch counter, took a seat on a swivel stool, ordered a cheeseburger, and proceeded to depose the short-order cook. The cook disavowed having any particular gourmet skills. Instead, she gave full credit to the grill, which looked to be about the same vintage as the rest of the place. Unconvinced. I wondered if it was the ground beef itself and asked where they bought their meat. She said their ground beef comes from the Mt. Airy Meat Locker. Ah-hah! – buying fresh meat from a local supplier might be the key that unlocks this mystery!
A little investigation revealed that the full name of the supplier is Wagner’s Meats, LLC, Mt. Airy Locker Co. According to their website, http://www.wagnersmeats.com/
The Wagner family has owned the Mt. Airy institution since 1953, and the current owners have been running the store since the 1960s. The family added the popular retail store 29 years ago, but the large building on Main Street also houses facilities to process beef, lamb and pork stock, ensuring that everything sold by Wagner's is fresh and produced in-house.It appeared that this processor/wholesaler/retailer had a history that more or less tracked that of the Sunshine Store. Upon further inquiry I discovered that Wagner’s has quite the reputation for quality in the local community. One longtime Wagner’s customer, Jon Moore, remarked, “Its meat is definitely a cut above what you find in a typical supermarket.”
Whether you order a regular-size hamburger at the Sunshine Store or really splurge and get a hamburger sub, you’ll get a meaty, juicy, big and bountiful portion guaranteed to satisfy any working man’s appetite. There are other choices on the wall menu, like pulled pork, but it’s the hamburger with melted cheese tucked into an over-sized bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo – with no “special sauce” needed – that always pleases. (You can have your choice of dill or sweet pickle slices on the side.)
Perhaps, like Wimpy, I am only feeding an old addiction. But unlike Wimpy, at $5.25 I don’t always need to hit up my friends for some spare change to partake occasionally in this sentimental old craving of mine. And so, readers are directed to steal over to Sunshine whenever they are overcome by the urge for the real taste of an authentic, old-fashioned hamburger.