Monday, July 15, 2019

Monkey's Great Every Meal

Chapter 13 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon

It was day much like this day, except in the distant past. They had sunshine, water, a world stretched out around them, and though it was the distant past it simultaneously felt like "today" in exactly the same way our day constitutes the present. Something of a head-scratcher, I know, but if you keep thinking of it like our own lives it makes more sense. They weren't back in time, they merely lived then...

There was a character named Don Juan Ramirez who was a wealthy dealer in rubber and slaves. He organized his business to suit the place and it really flourished, big-time, with 300 Indians working rubber for him in half-a-dozen rivers. He also had steamboats to take passengers where they wanted to go. Which brings us to Up de Graff's team, who were with him on the Marañon going to Barranca. They passed many interesting settlements with canoes darting out from the various hamlets, some to be seen, some not to be.

Traveling there sounds very monotonous except for the clearings, since there's very little relief from dense walls of trees stretching on and on. The Amazon system has some 50,000 miles of water navigable by river-steamers basically like theirs. On this journey they'd gone up-stream for 10 days, daily stopping to hunt the night's dinner and chop fuel. The principal quarry was monkey, in fact the main dish at every meal, served as soup, stew, or roast. Monkey steaks, monkey soup, monkey see, monkey do. Even though we might easily be nauseated were we to live wholly on deer, wild turkeys, or any other forest game, that most certainly does not apply to monkey. From big to little, small to large, hairy or picked clean, as long as it's statutorily legal, every monkey is universally outstanding and delicious no matter how many times you eat it.

On the tenth day they arrived at the last Cocama settlement on the Marañon. Joining them there were expedition members Morse, Iberico, with their new, big canoe, the Exploradora. While at the settlement they bartered some goods for food with the Cocama Indians, one good for you, one food for me, etc.

Up de Graff charmingly describes these people's clever, devious way of spearing river-seals. When one's been killed, since it's impossible to lift it over the sides of the canoe, the occupants -- usually a man and a woman really rock the boat -- getting out and flooding it till they can float the river-seal in. Then, holding the seal's nose and the bow of the canoe together, they force the craft ahead, the backwater evacuating from a specially constructed poop. Then they climb back in and make tracks for certain and for shore!

The steamer pushed up the river and made Barranca that same night, a fine time being had by all.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Our Candidate For Governor

Chapter 12 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Tropical Politics

I've dreaded this day, knowing it lingered. Because it has to do with politics, exactly what everyone wants to avoid. Politics is a terrible thing on a blog because someone's going to get mad, then hit the door to escape and not look back. My only redeeming hope is that since it all took place in the 1890s and in South America, just maybe, possibly, I'll be able to keep the other continents in line and the precious traffic I get everyday. Folks, please don't desert me. My self-image is a tossup between sewage and poison... I'm down to my last nerve, please don't kill me... I have a lot to live for. Maybe I do or maybe I don't. But I like eating...

OK, let's say the crow files 600 miles, that's about the distance it would've flown from Iquitos to Lima. For anyone who isn't a crow, the journey is even longer, having to cross the Andes on untrodden paths. It's sheer misery, and the shifting of the river bed can also affect your plans; you might circle around for hours and not realize you haven't yet left. So once you're the governor in a place like that, you're set. Fairly isolated. You've got great personal responsibility and power. Not to mention the various taxes you receive from imports, trading, penalties, etc.

Unless this happens: One day in Iquitos, having already gotten a new governor, approximately 50 ruffians recruited by outlaws came up-river and dropped anchor. They took over the barracks, swore in the former governor's guard, and shot the new governor in the open street. He’d made a big mistake, telling people that whatever import duties they had paid the previous guy, they needed to pay again, to him!

It was so bad, another adventurer tried his hand at the coup game. Solomon Casas organized and led the counter-attack. Up de Graff says he was a prominent merchant and good soldier. Up de Graff also threw his support to Casas. (I implore you, dear reader, if you supported any of the previous scoundrels -- one, two, or three -- and are still hurting over their ouster, you should skip the rest of this paragraph. In which I declare my own support for whomever Up de Graff liked. Yes, I'm following his lead. Because I don't know one guy from another. And if Up de Graff was good enough to write this book, I assume he also knew who should lead Iquitos...

So one day our party formed in front of the store, then marched to the barracks. There was no resistance. Sentries that may have harbored deep resentment disappeared. And word was sent to Lima that order would be preserved until a properly constituted Federal authority should arrive. Iquitos settled down again.

Jack Rouse and Up de Graff took on two new members for the expedition, both Peruvians, Philipe Iberico and Pedro Valcarcel. As far as getting equipped for the journey, they bought new stores, food such as dry bread (hardtack) and corned beef. Then they realized they were buying several tons of stuff, too much cargo for the average canoe. When they heard of a giant cedar in one of the forests, they had a new canoe hewn from it. They named it the Exploradora.When they received word that it was done, they started up-river on a steamer to get it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

True-False: Teeth Grow In Mouths

 Chapter 11 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon

Iquitos was a town that sprang up a la western boom towns and flourished as long as commercial possibilities lasted. Up de Graff says when he was there the population was about 3,000. Later it grew to around 20,000. But by the time of writing his book, copyright 1925, Iquitos was again the home of only a handful of natives. A little sociology there, of which I'm neither qualified nor intellectually grounded enough to fully explain. And I've explained some arcane things, like the fauna of various backwater creeks I fell in as a kid, that I wisely summed up as "weeds."

He and Jack Rouse paddled into Iquitos on December 28, 1898. That detail will be on the test, people, Know It! They were "be-whiskered tramps" walking down the street, except they had a lot of rubber for sale and so they weren't hard up. Remember I said something about them picking up rubber here and there? I thought it was basically enough rubber to fill a suitcase, but according to page 28 it was two tons of rubber! With that kind of money they could get cleaned up and find accommodations at a hotel, the Hotel Roma. A room with actual beds! It wasn't a bank of sand, mud, and trees, but it was still nice.

They soon moved from there, only eating at the hotel, and went to "bunk" with a Dr. King, an American. He was an enthusiastic individual and must've been a colorful guy, because Up de Graff's take on him was: "The doctor made Vesuvius look like an iceberg." That's going to be a guy you can glean some interesting information from! Dr. King had tried various money-making enterprises in Iquitos, such as selling patent-medicine. Then he discovered that dental work was more in demand. So he made his own diplomas and certificates and started pulling teeth!

Sometimes Up de Graff puts "Doctor" in quotes, sometimes not. There was one patient who'd been on the point of death for days. He was worn out by fever and the attentions of "Doctors," including Dr. King, and died. His death certificate was a work in creativity, the cause of death being "a congestion of the elementary canal between the gall-bladder and the lungs, causing the cold bile to rise and cake round the heart." A tragic situation, yes, but you gotta admit, no more tooth ache!

Jack and Up de Graff at this point were waiting to book passage back to New York. When they met another American there to explore (Edward Morse), then another guy (Charles Pope), known to the natives as "Ambusha" because he ground his teeth when he slept; "Ambusha" refers to a bird that sings at night. As time went on, Up de Graff and Jack changed their minds about leaving, and now the mission was on to find Inca gold! By the way, Ambusha barely made the expedition, being notoriously known for having an oily manner, shiftiness, obviously a liar, and a student of anarchism and toxicology.

Test: When did Up de Graff and Jack paddle into Iquitos?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Crabs? Sit On My Face

Chapter 10 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Highway Robbery

Reunited, Up de Graff and Jack struck out for Iquitos. Up de Graff summed up their feelings: "A life which we had endured so long had become intolerable." They had found some rubber and stowed it in the canoe with their other belongings. That was good. But then ten days of the trip were characterized by a terrible struggle for food, to the point that they were making do with odds and ends. Certainly finding a stray yungaruru nest with eight eggs is a decent haul, you can't depend on a steady supply.

Among the pesky "adventures" no one would like to have were: A land-crab sitting on Jack's face, and since he was unable to see it it could've just as easily been a scorpion or big spider; most of the rubber was stolen from the canoe; they confronted the rubber thieves by gunpoint, warning them that next time they might just mistake them for monkeys, which meant they be "shot on sight."

Along with the other discomforts was the sun itself. They had little protection from the sun in their raggedy clothes, bearing down on them and reflected on the river. Jack peeled off three or four skins within a couple weeks from sunburn. Then add the mosquitoes and gnats, hey, it'd be tough to be travel agent for this place. But the terrible suffering wasn't over. Let's throw in the "black smear." Insects swarmed in clouds day and night, sometimes settling on their bodies in such numbers that they left a substance on them, a mosquito-paste that'd be left on their hands after wiping bugs away. They called it a black smear.

A day or two later, though, right when I was about to take them some bug spray by time travel, they drew alongside a steamboat. They spoke with the owner of the craft, Don Juan Abelardo Morey, who at first mistook them for Indians. But Up de Graff shouted back, "We're Americans!” Don Juan ordered food to be brought. And they were able to look at themselves in a mirror, which was surprising. Two years without a haircut or shave, each haggard, barefoot, and shaggy, nothing good about that. (No wonder those other people avoided them for over three weeks!) They asked how long it'd take to get to Iquitos. The answer, five or six days paddling.

Fortunately, Don Juan treated them right, canned sausages, Edam cheese, crackers, sugar biscuits, beer, bread, etc. Plus fresh clothes! As they got back in the canoe, they shoved off for Iquitos with a contact there, a friend of Don Juan. "Go and see Dr. King." They arrived in six days.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tapir, Canoe & Time Travel Too

Chapter 9 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Passage Money

The explorers were doing great till a tapir smashed their canoe to bits. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but I'd bet all of us hate when that happens. You think being blindsided and sideswiped by a semi truck on the interstate is bad -- that's an accident -- tapirs and canoes is like cats and mice, if you make it 20 feet without an attack, you're lucky. 

OK, I'm going to assert something, something true that you probably won't believe. My grandpa was born the same year the exploration began, 1897. And some years ago he turned me on to a few coordinates that his people passed on to him. Because the Up de Graff team actually lost their supply of bananas that day when the tapir hit the boat. Then later, with the coordinates and willpower, Grandpa failed to make it back in time to help. So they were hungry all those years. It took a later generation, me, to build on Grandpa's willpower, and with the added incentive of being able to see him getting his diapers changed, I was able to focus with such intensity on a stack of calendars, and, yes, achieve the impossible. 

Up de Graff indeed stuck to the cover story; it's in his book: Page 104, "We gave thanks to Providence for endowing the bananas ... with a specific gravity of less than 1.00. We were able to rescue them after a short swim..." The word Providence is code, his admission that something extraordinary happened, not just pertaining to the buoyancy of fruit. For I myself came up out of the waves -- indistinct, not fully manifest -- with 40 cents worth of bananas, of inestimable value if it meant the team's survival. Can you see the distinction between me and the bananas? They're bright and sharp, I'm shadowy, only briefly there. That's all I'm claiming. In and out of the river before the piranha could threaten the family jewels. And later I was able to see baby Grandpa getting his diapers changed, real diapers, not disposable.

They finally came to the Napo River and it was a couple hours to meet up again with Andrade -- back to civilization -- and they were outfitted with new supplies. Food, pots, kettles, not bananas, which they had plenty of, guns, fishing supplies, and clothes. And they were off, lots of supplies, but also vampire bats and the usual pests. There was more trouble with tapirs. One tapir dived under the poop (p. 108), not something its family was happy about that night. 

As far as problems, Up de Graff was attacked by the fever. He was shaking, then had an attack of sweating. It was so bad, week after week for months, that'd he feel the fever returning, and he could only briefly recover by shaking. Jack quipped that he'd missed his calling, "You'd have made your fortune shaking down Brazil nuts." (p. 111). 

Month after month passed, a lot of it monotonous. With suffering. Sickness. Then the boat became detached from its moorings one night and started down the river without them. Jack dived in to save it, but they were both swept out of sight. When the morning light came, still no Jack. In the afternoon, though, Up de Graff heard singing -- and considered it a hallucination, much like the miraculous fetching of the bananas -- when Jack walked in! With no assistance from me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Great Ranch, No People


Chapter 8 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
A Phantom People

Jack brought back interesting news: "I've found a trail -- as big as Broadway!" Up de Graff was exhausted and in pain, but news of a trail had a positive effect on his weary leg muscles. He got up and went through a gap in the thicket and saw the path. It was five yards wide and a well-used trail, with lots of footprints. His instinct told him it must lead to a large ranch. Where there could be food and shelter.

About 500 yards ahead they saw the signs of a clearing, then in a few minutes they were in the open, with rows of banana-plants, yuca, yams, and sweet potatoes. The ranch (chacra) was three or four acres with a house on one corner, a big gable with sloping roof. This could be good, it could be bad. But they figured they may as well fit in with whomever and see about something to eat. Let me end the suspense by saying no one else showed up!

They really made themselves at home, kind of nasty, really, by cutting a window in the wall and trimming the ends of the place, so they could see anyone who appeared. They made a fire to cook by. There were hot coals already there. Inside there were lots of spears, round earthenware pots, stone hatchets, fire-making material, blow-guns, some masata in a pot, and a dozen stone fireplaces ranged round the sides of the building, and dishes. The fire obviously meant someone was there just recently. So they were wary about being attacked and used the weapons for security, if needed. 

The explorers lived there three weeks. They still had injuries from their previous days of disaster, and tried to recover. For example, their feet were festered from the thorns, still embedded under the skin, so they used machetes trying to dig them out. It's all unpleasant, ranging from loose nails, watery matter exuding from under them, to sores between their toes with an unpleasant odor, to microbes, etc. A first aid kit would've come in handy and maybe Dr. Kevorkian. "Kill me, kill me now," I might've said.

After three weeks' convalescing, they were again exploring. They made a different camp for themselves, but still went back to the ranch for food. Weeks and months went by. They ate a land-tortoise.  Then Jack was "bitten by a bad snake and already felt queer." He killed the snake, then Up de Graff went to fetch it. Because if Jack were to swallow the gall-bladder of the snake by which he'd been bitten, and apply a ligature to the affected limb above the bite and a hot coal to the bite itself until it was cauterized, he'd be OK! Amazingly, in 48 hours he was OK, except for giddiness and bleeding at the nose and mouth. My mom was a fearsome medicine woman with a bottle of red dope, baby aspirin, heating pads, and humidifiers, but even she didn't know the benefits of snake gall-bladders...

They loaded the canoe with supplies from the ranch and pushed off.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Day After Day, Misery


Chapter 7 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon

Of course yesterday they found the canoe, but if you yourself would like to test your jungle sleuthing skills and see how hard it was, I challenge you to traverse the intricacies of the forest maze above. It's not as hard as it looks.

But something seemed hopeless, the outlook Jack and Up de Graff had after the canoe tipped. They had no hope of recovering a single thing from the deep muddy stream. The things that floated were miles away. The rifles and provisions were embedded in the silt under very deep, swift moving water. Had they tried to dive for things, the muddy current would have been too strong. It's hard for me writing the blog today to come up with funny stuff. I have a feeling this is going to be brutal.

Their immediate problem was food. They decided their only hope was to pick a trail and get going on foot. So, barefoot, no hats, only pants and cotton shirts, blankets, machetes, and a bottle of molasses to their name, they set off. Thorns gave them a lot of trouble. Then it was ceaseless rain. The ground was swampy. They slept on a more or less clear patch of ground, but woke up itching. OK, not too tough, thorns, rain, swampy, itching. OK, yes, it's tough.

On the second day of the march they swam across a swift stream twice, losing their blankets. Their feet were nearly numb from the thorns, it was nearly as bad as you can imagine. A little later they swam the stream a third time and found their own machete marks from before. They'd gone in a complete circle. It's that deja vu feeling all over. My own sense of direction's getting bad too. Where I live, to me south doesn't feel like south, and north feels east but I know 100% that it's north. This is true.

Jack joked, "If you'd only told me you were coming back for another dip, I'd have waited for you." OK, back to the suffering: On the third day, the pangs of hunger left them, but they knew they'd only get weaker if they didn't eat. They tried something from the top of a palm tree, looking like celery. But they couldn't keep it down, being nauseated. Awaking on the fourth morning, their scratches were infected, causing a maddening irritation, breaking out like ring-worms. The third day, the fourth day, everything's getting worse. Probably should've bargained with the Yumbos not to run out on them, had they only known.

They struggled ahead, Jack finally killing a turkey with a machete. But they couldn't eat it for sickness. The fifth morning they woke up in a puddle. Trying to go on, Up de Graff sank to the ground. But Jack went on, then came back excited, shouting, "Get up, for God's sake, man; I've found a trail -- as big as Broadway!" I'm not peeking ahead. I hope his news is as good as it sounds!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Holy Hell, One Thing After Another

Chapter 7 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon

When Up de Graff was at the deserted shack, abandoned by the Yumbos, he concluded that the people of the Amazon country are full of surprises, in this case the old disappearing trick. He told Jack, but all the complaining in the world wouldn't help them. They took action instead, packing and heading back to the canoe. By evening they'd arrived and weren't surprised to see the canoe gone. Come on, Yumbos, sometimes life calls for a little consideration!

They thought it over in the morning, the penalties there for stealing canoes, and found it wisely abandoned not too far downstream. Up de Graff considered this a period of suffering, with too much dependence on the Yumbos, and except for a stroke of fortune they might not have saved themselves. They headed back upstream in search of them. But they didn't make the same rapid progress as they'd made with them, although they learned bit by bit how to pick up speed. My brother taught me a lesson like this once on how to ice skate faster, "Run on your tippy tip toes!" Which is great till you crash and burn.

Suddenly they noticed a dead alligator, which meant something bigger was near. Jack called out, "Let's get out of here!" That's when they saw the biggest anaconda they'd ever imagined. The estimated length was between 50 and 60 feet. Up de Graff, in the stern and out of reach of the rifles, called to Jack to shoot. The noise of getting to his gun alarmed the snake, and as it twisted in the water and quickly vanished, the boat was nearly wrecked in the waves. Snakes like that, what can you say, they're too big for their britches. Like trying to put an 18-wheeler in the downtown parking garage.

One other night they'd tied the canoe to an overhanging branch. After supper they put their things back in it. It was close by as they slept, but something bad was about to happen. Up de Graff writes, "Hour after hour the water fell away, hour after hour the rope tightened. For a long time the stores must have resisted the gradually increasing pull of gravity as the canoe little by little approached the perpendicular, having long since reached the rope's limit." Then, early in the morning, everything they had except two machetes and some molasses slipped "in a fateful avalanche" into the water. No one likes "I told you so," but I would've insisted on fitting anything in the tent we couldn't afford to lose.

They were now 60 days up river from the nearest post without food or the means of getting it. Jack muttered, "Holy Hell." That's right, Holy Hell. I would've cussed a blue streak worse than that -- all the usual words -- for whatever good it might've done. It steels your resolve, I think. It brings your emotion to the fore and you feel your determination mount. That's the answer to any do-gooder who gets on your case for cussing.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Yuge, Yumbo Problems

Chapter 6 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Law of the Forest

Andrade told the Yumboa, a tribe of Indians, the easiest way to get to the mouth of the Yasuni River. But they were very shy about entering a place of ill repute and didn't want to go. Little by little, though, they were persuaded to accompany the expedition. So off they went, 'Yasuni River, Here We Come!' The name Yasuni means long river. It's also sluggish and deep, covered with deep verdure in places, so you feel like you're right in the heart of the forest.

Once there, the Indians enjoyed excellent hunting, getting lots of monkeys from at least 13 different species. Up de Graff even started a collection of monkey skulls that he pulled from the pot as they cooked. Wild turkeys were also numerous and tapirs were seen daily, so there was no shortage of good meat. There was also a lot of fish, including piranha. One was hooked and fell to the bottom of the boat, where thrashing around it made a wound like a miniature shark on Jack's feet. I can imagine the screaming and thrashing around if, say, the boat had tipped over, the churning of the water. Then total quiet except for some last sad gurgling. Fortunately, that didn't happen.   

Among the wildlife was also the anaconda, the largest snake in the world. They can grow up to 50 feet. While bathing one morning, Up de Graff felt something heave under him, which turned out to be an anaconda about 30 feet long. They killed it with a shot that cut it in two, near the head, then dragged it ashore. I myself saw a snake about that big in a missionary meeting when I was a kid. The strangest thing I ever saw in church, except for some of the ladies' hair.

On they went, day by day, deeper into the Unknown. One of their principal sports was hunting the masquisapa, the largest monkey, jet-black with white markings on its face and head, and a long prehensile tail like animated rope with five ends. These are good sport because you can never get a still shot. But the Indians are better at hunting them with various skills they've developed over time. 'Sit still, you big lummox, so I can get a decent shot!' Very uncooperative.

After a while the idea occurred to them to strike inland and build a permanent camp for the area. They left the boat bottom up and followed a long hunting trail. It was so far they were 18 hours from the canoe! They built two shelters, one for Jack and Up de Graff and the other for the Yumbos. But they got a fairly rude awakening in the morning, when they discovered the Yumbos had abandoned them!

It might be fitting to roll the slow motion collage of their time with the Yumbos, with a cloying instrumental of "The Way We Were." The caption at the bottom about them meeting is: "At first they seemed very shy of entering the place of evil repute." Hold it, stop the film. Yes, little by little, they persuaded them, extra pay, a promise of return if there was anything bad awaiting them, etc. And "finally" they consented to go! All page 65. Now a scant 10 pages later they've abandoned them. My verdict around 130 years later, you should've seen it coming.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Yucky Mejias Bad, Yuca Masato Good

Chapter 6 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Law of the Forest

How would you like to be a professional yuca chewer? (Yuca is a particular plant's root.) The way they make the sacred drink masato de yuca (in the book called masata) is actually to chew the yuca in their mouth. I'm not an overly queasy person, but at first that sounds terrible. But I'm guessing once it's chewed and spat out and has fermented the appropriate time, any bacteria is neutralized in the fermentation process. Note: These are my unprofessional, uninformed surmises. If you ever drink masato and find your Uncle Leroy's dentures in the glass, I cannot be held responsible. All information on or any of its affiliated companies, of which there are none, is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered factual. Except for the disclaimer just issued.

Our chapter opens with the explorers waiting for Mejias. At the end of chapter 5 they had met this Columbian trader who carried on a fairly shady trade. They traded with him, then leaving, left their canoe and stores at his post while looking for Indians for the expedition. That came with a three week delay. When they got back to Mejias' place, he was gone. As was their cache of stuff they had left there. But their Indian helpers followed his trail and they caught up to him. They intended to hold Mejias to account at the point of a gun! But once encountered, he ran to the edge of the "open space" area, looking "plumb hostile," so they shot and ... Mejias was dead.

A couple days later they were at another rubber-post, a place established by a Senor Abarca. The talk about Mejias was he'd had an unsavory reputation and that Up de Graff and Jack Rouse had acted in accordance with the Unwritten Law of the Land. For trade, Abarca referred them to another guy two days downstream known as the King of the Napo, named Andrade. His place sounds like our equivalent of a big truck-stop for truckers, an important post in a well-chosen spot at the junction of the two of the most important rivers northwest of Iquitos.

Staying with his family for a couple days, the explorers ate and had their fill, then were treated to some masata. Andrade said, "I can recommend this specially: it has been chewed by my daughters." The daughters blushed in acknowledgement of his compliment. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Vampire Bats Gotta Eat

Chapter 5 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Napo

Up de Graff got a companion in Jack Rouse, who just showed up at the door. He was about 45, rugged, not broadly built but giving the impression he was strong. And he didn't stand on ceremony. Up de Graff called him Mr. Rouse and he put in, "Cut out the titles." They shared a decent meal of rice and beans, very welcome to Mr. R--, er, Jack. But who could blame his appetite, he'd had nothing to eat for two months but bananas. Reminding me, I have a problem with bananas: Fruit flies! I wouldn't make a great companion on their journey when even fruit flies bother me...

Jack's story was he'd run away when he was 14. Most of his family was killed by Indians. He’d drifted to the Klondike for gold. Then he was a messenger and driver on a stage-line. Somehow he made his way to South America, probably under shady circumstances, and there he was. He said curtly, "Uncle Sam is looking for me," which is all kinds of nasty! Still, a perfect resume for a job equally as nasty in what lay before them. 

Their journey would commence in the morning, so they hoped to spend a comfortable night on the floor of the shelter. As they lay talking, Up de Graff noticed something periodically flying in one end of the shelter, crossing over them, and disappearing at the other end. In fact, they flew so low they could feel their wings on their faces. Thinking it was owls, they let it go. (Who does that?) When Up de Graff woke at dawn, though, he felt dizzy and weak. Then he saw "a great ugly clot of blood" hanging from the back of Jack's head. He thought it must've been the Indians. Then he noticed blood on his own blanket. He called the Indians in to explain it, but they laughed it off, saying the "night-birds" had been feeding. Vampire bats!

Larger than an ordinary bat, its wingspan is between 10 and 12 inches. And of course it lives on the blood of live animals and people. It has two pair of very sharp eye-teeth, and there's a lot of other information here I'm never going to need, and certainly if I ever do it'll never happen twice. It's a constant thing, though, for those unfortunate enough to be there, to the point that if you're under an awning, say, the Vampires will make a hole the size of their head in the material and proceed to suck you dry! Not at all good for your awning.

Anyway, terrible as all that is, the got up, did their business, and were off by 2:00 p.m. on the Napo River. With a stiff current they made good progress. They found a place to sleep, but when they awoke they found they'd been tapped again by the bats. Doh! Which was apparently a problem over the years. 

After a few days they reached the mouth of the Suno River and found a Columbian trader, Mejias, who outfitted them with some important goods, guns, etc. He then turned them on to some inside dope on a little river, an unexplored job (you didn't hear it from me), called the Yasuni. Savages there? Yeah, yeah, lots of savages. But, you know, I've heard they might be descendants of the Incas, that's Inca as in GOLD. So they went up the trail to Loreto to find Indians to help on an expedition. But it would take three weeks for the Indians to prepare their marching kit.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Who Needs Mules, You Got Men

Chapter 4 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Jack Rouse

Up de Graff left Quito with two Indian muleteers and four mules, headed downhill for Papallacta. The mountainous area made the going rough. Arriving there, he made his way to the governor's house. He presented his passport, which the governor couldn't read. Up de Graff read it to him, embellishing the text to say that the governor was to give him eight guys to help on the journey. (They later had to abandon the animals because the trails below were only good for foot travel, making me think, How'd they get up there? They must've been born on top of the mountain by virgin birth and possibly without a mother!)

The governor responded to the president's supposed command and got eight of his best guys, apparently with nothing else to do, to help carry Up de Graff's things. They actually offered to carry Up de Graff himself, since that was other times done for priests, but he preferred to walk.

The group went down about 8,000 feet, then the Indians cautioned him not to make any noise or it'd rain non-stop crazy, in sheets, as much rain as anyone would be unlucky enough to see. But he, wanting to prove their fears folly, fired his rifle. And guess what, the rain came down in sheets. Not his best decision.

They came into Archidona where there was another governor, who put up Up de Graff in his house, where he slept well. Up de Graff flashed his passport again and said he needed a canoe and this governor was also quick to help. He would deliver a canoe for him in the town of Napo. So he -- our hero -- was ready to get going in a couple days, off to Napo.

He set off, the forests swallowing him up, and recalled again the great explorer Stanley. Up de Graff looked ahead himself to unlocking a thousand secrets of those little-explored areas, if you discount the wealth of knowledge the natives in those places had for thousands of years, which .... What can you say? .... he did.

Then at the town of Napo, Up de Graff had to wait a tiny bit for his canoe to be ready, when someone came up behind him and said, "I've heard you're pulling your freight downstream." That was Jack Rouse, who joined him in the journey.

A few things stand out in these amazing details. Just telling the governors they were to help him in certain ways when those instructions hadn't really been given, that's balls. It pays to know how to read. And how about him shooting his gun when the Indians coming down the mountain told him to keep quiet? I'm sure I would've thought those guys knew what they were talking about without making a mess for myself and the others.

And who among us would prefer to walk if you had eight guys offering to carry you? "Yes, I'm a priest, upsy daisy." Take a book, get another governor to fetch me an umbrella, read a little, maybe doze off, of course giving the strictest orders, "When we get there, put me down and let me walk in the town first, just so they know who's in charge here."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Turning Toward Adventure

Chapter 3 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon

Our chapter opens with F.W. Up de Graff still working at Salinas for the Cordovez family. There had been a revolution and its head was Alfaro, who became President. Some of the folks were completely opposed to Alfaro, but once the jig was up they changed their clothes and marched in support of him. Gotta stay on the good side of power... In terms of democracy, though, this might mean there's only half as many people as we think we see!

When the revolution kicked into gear, Up de Graff happened to be there (in Guaranda) on business and took in some of the action. Then headed back to the Cordovez estate. A few days later a party of 20 officers show up to arrest him. But he'd had some warning, so he showed up at the front door with a gun. They wisely handed him the warrant and left.

Skip this, skip that, he finally left the Cordovez place for good, no longer entirely welcome, and was staying in a "hotel" (his quotes) in Riobamba, which was a worse dwelling-place than he had on the estate. He wondered, What shall I do, what shall I do? Then took a horse-drawn stagecoach to Quito, where he ended up meeting with President Alfaro and getting a passport for other travel in South America.

At the end of this chapter he shares a letter he wrote to his mom, telling her that "tomorrow" (Jan. 10, 1897) he'd be leaving on foot on an expedition toward the Napo forest, about 600 miles away, with some Indians employed to carry his equipment. He expected to camp on the Napo River, build some canoes, and start on a 4000 mile trip. I like this part: "I take absolutely no money with me," except what he'd need years later to get back to New York. The rest of his cash he invested in machetes, and beads and trinkets for trading with the Indians.

He finishes the letter with basically, 'Don't write back,' because there'd be no way he'd get the letter. And that was it, he was off!

That'd take a lot of bravery. One, I'd hate to be involved with a bunch of (probably) crooked cutthroat politicians in the midst of a revolution. I'd barely survive peacetime there. It's always better to fly a little more under the radar, which hadn't yet been invented. Still, Up de Graff lives a fairly humble life in his journeys henceforth, off to see the headhunters and escaping the powers that be (Alfaro, Cordovez, revolutionaries) who might've also had his head.

I'm trying to process his thinking process. Which must come down to this, get out there, go for all the gusto, if you live or if you die, it'd be worth it for the sheer adventure. And, importantly, for the riches of gold he expected to find. I'd probably be much more skeptical about the gold. Even if you found all of it you'd ever want, the idea that you'd get out of there with it is farfetched. The place is crawling with cutthroats. You really think you're going to be boarding the boat later, declaring your only possessions, a hat, machete, and three tons of gold? Don't think so!

But the adventure of it would be great, gold or no gold.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Cordovez Brood

Chapter 2 of 25 -- Head Hunters of The Amazon
A Land of Opportunity

Recall, Up de Graff went to Ecuador on the invitation of a friend from college days and fraternity. Being a guy who loved outdoor living, Up de Graff went hunting. This wasn’t just squirrels or rabbits like I used to hunt, but monkeys, turkeys, wild pigs, parrots, deer and jaguars. He remembered how hunting monkeys (baboons) really excited his enthusiasm. But it was the taste of them that stood out so clearly in his memory, saying, “The gastronomical possibilities of a baboon probably occur to only a very few of the millions who gaze at him through iron bars.” I'm not able to disagree.

Beyond that, he met the rest of the Cordovez family, including a brother most famous for the picturesque cursing of the peons. Which, though I disapprove, it'd still be nice to have a sample, maybe extending to a minute. “You worthless shiftless son of a bitch, I’m cutting you off from rum at the fiesta! You can die of thirst for all I care!”

But it was the father of the clan whom Up de Graff ranked the most egregiously worst of the bunch, and this goes along with modern sensibilities of fairness, honesty, and respect. Meaning, I may as well brag, I am personally more refined than the average Cordovez (of that particular group, now dead). Few of us are as wealthy as they were, but their riches seem to have been amassed in large part via hook or crook.

I’ll try to tamp down my righteous anger and stick the bottle of vitriol back in the cupboard and remain as dispassionate as a person of my sensitive sensibilities can reasonably be expected to muster or attain.

Further, Up de Graff says the Cordovez menage at Riobamba included, in addition to the terrible old man himself and his sons, his wife who kept house. The old man was generally unkempt, having little use for soap and seldom changing his clothes. But my qualms with the old man — it’s something of a simmering rage, threatening to boil over any minute — has to do with his abominable treatment of others. Which Up de Graff also had a hand in, to the extent he could stand it, when he finally quit.

Old Man Cordovez sent him to Salinas. Which is an interesting place for its elevation and views all around. North of there are mountains that rise over 22,000 feet above sea level. Making the average everyday mountain look like a pimple. On a good day, when the sun’s just right, other mountains have to pack it in in frustration.

The main sins of the Cordovez family and the old man in particular have to do with him not paying his workers, and additionally always scheming to keep them in servitude by being indebted to him. I thought I had a bad boss or two, but this guy was scheming people into perpetual slavery. And I have a hard time overlooking that, no matter how pretty the mountains are.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Headhunting South America

Chapter 1 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Beginning of the Trail

Fritz W. Up de Graff in the U.S. (1890s) had a frat brother from South America, D. Enrique Domingo Cordovez, called the Count. They talked about the backwardness of his country Ecuador, which fired in Up de Graff a determination to go help make some modern improvements. Maybe street lights, shoes on horses, and eventually cars and the internet. Lots of big dreams.

But he and his team first had to deal with other exploration and discovery, finding their way around forests where in just a few minutes you could be lost forever in a swamp or bog. It’s no small undertaking to avoid the undertaker there unless you were swallowed whole by an alligator or burned at the stake in one of the worst pagan rituals. The darkness lit only by wild flames, discouraging war cries, the sharpness of handmade spears, and a total absence of law enforcement added to the generally bleak outlook.

Still, other explorers of the past had done their thing and lived to tell, like Stanley from “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” fame, in Africa. Up de Graff’s youthful, untamed spirit vibrated in sympathy with the Count, probably the same feeling young men get today when it’s Porn Week on streaming TV. How will it work out? Will there be a happy ending worthy of the name? Will he find vast treasures of gold, caves of gold, trenches glistening with unbridled, untamed, unparalleled quantities of gold, shimmering, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen waxen GOLD?

Personally, I don’t know what I’d do with gold if I found it. I'm sure no one would really respect my rights when I registered my find: “I claim the gold of South America, having found the main vein at such and such coordinates, in my neighbor's backyard.” 20 minutes later I’d be overrun with guys with pick axes and guns aimed in violent intent at one another and me. It’s the kind of thing -- finding gold -- you should never tell another person, including friends, who’d step over you in a second in their lust and crazed abandon. It'd be better to find cotton candy.

Anyway, Cordovez tamped down some of Up de Graff's hopes, assuring him that there was indeed the possibility of making “a handsome capital,” just fabulous fortunes, which were already ripe to be had with various enterprises in America. But in 1894 to an adventurous spirit, “a handsome capital" was good enough. So off he sailed in 1894 with only $100 in his pocket, hoping for great adventure. He was there for seven years without so much as a day off.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Company Mugs' Mugshots

Part 30 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

This is what the past looks like, formal pictures of guys from the neck up as far as the eye can see. Most of them being a link in the chain that goes back as far as we can imagine, the dark, the slime, the ooze, and that’s just their parents’ honeymoon. They came on the scene exactly as did we, humpa humpa, “Guess what,” Mom says to Dad. In that regard they’re no better or worse, but the same.

But Junior does his thing, climbing as high as President of the Firm! Busy making parts for machines, then as President overseeing the work, engaging salesmen, training them, getting the railroad on board for deliveries. And at the end of the day he sits back in his swivel chair and watches the smoke curling its way from the smokestack into nature’s loving arms. “This is the good life…” he thinks, then remembers, “Damn, Hilda was supposed to call the photographer to get everyone’s mugshot! Hope she did it. Everyone from me down to Buck Tinsdale mopping Warehouse Z, who said he 'reckons as how he can come up with a suit.'"

But all that's in the distant past. It's all done. We wouldn't know Buck Tinsdale from Rockefeller. And if he had a suit or not, no one really cares. I'm just scanning the picture, though, and it looks like everyone has a suit. No bib overalls spotted.

But now the only suit they have to worry about is the one the undertaker put on their lifeless body. And you know how they do that, cut the thing up the back and tuck it under your body. A simple earthquake and you'd be naked. But I guess they do pin it behind the shoulders and press the silk pillow in a little tighter.

Back to the picture: When it came time to assemble the portraits from the president down to Tinsdale, they needed to be arranged to show the pecking order, the hierarchy, without embarrassing anyone. Which was only a minor concern in those days, meant to encourage ambition and drive.

I wonder who the first 10% were to die. I could correlate obituaries with the names, but I can't quite make out the print. They seem to have been obscured somewhere along the line in the chain of custody of their memories. Perhaps out of jealousy in middle management, or later in the transmission of this data so that no one’s memory would be besmirched. I can see that happening. Like by the family of one of the guys, one of the last few to live, who bragged about him and besmirched the others.

A psychic could look at any one of these guys, especially if they weren’t obscured, and figure out their deepest secrets. But what goes on in the parts department behind the farthest stack stays there. Weird, the past has a veto over our knowledge of the future. Telling us in so many words, "You worry about you, let us worry about us. We’re dead anyway, so what do you want to know? 'Is there a literal hell?' We’re not saying, just let this suffice, bring fire extinguishers."

Wow, there wasn't a good guy in the bunch!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Maynard And The Blonde

Part 29 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

Before I speak ill of dead Maynard, let me commend him first. It shows real spirit to do what he did. I only wish I were so bold, to show up dead at a party! I don't think I'll get any argument when I say, If you can’t be the life of the party, there’s always the other option. If it’s a Halloween party and/or a costume party, as above, so much better. Whatever heavenly robe you have, angel wings, halo, the whole bit, you'll still fit in, with everyone assuming you’re as alive as them!

If you can do it, that is. I don’t believe in anyone limiting him- or herself in decent pursuits, alive or dead, if you can do it. Right now I’m alive, and barring reincarnation being true, I’ve never been dead. Yes, there was a time I once wasn’t here — this is my feeling and if my parents are truthful it’s a fact — but I wouldn’t say I was dead, just not as fleshed out as I'd like. But when you mention it so starkly, it's kind of weird to have not been here but not to have been dead. Some people say they have memories that go way back; I knew a guy who remembered the radio in his cab ride home from the hospital; I presently don’t have memories like that. Just a big blank nothing.

So Maynard had it going on! But he was a fresh corpse, with his lifeblood and whatever else he lost in the wreck still in the car he drove up in! That’s dedication to the party spirit! And he’s able — still manifesting horniness — to approach a cute blonde and impress her with his angel clothes and even a harp! I’d be like, “Hey, baby, this party’s dead, your cloud or mine?” Get a few floor-mats to cover the puddles of blood in the car, and off we’d go.

It’s funny to me that the guy is swirling the dipper in a party bowl of red punch while at the same time telling the bad news of blood everywhere. Clearly a thirsty guy, not losing his happiness over an apparent fatality just outside. I’d like to think I’d be the same way, The Party Must Go On. People die everyday. I drive by funeral homes and don’t give it a second thought. Through those doors, turn left, 12 paces, you’ll be standing at the end of a long aisle. Look at the other end and you’ll see a box open, the dead in perfect repose, awaiting our kind memories and concentrated thoughts on his individual immortality. “Today we consign Maynard to the clouds, in our mind we see him flapping his arms, lifted up, beating the air and making his way toward the God's throne.”

That’s all after the present-day party, of course, Maynard and the blonde. Truly an interesting dead guy! If I had to speak ill of him at all, it’d probably be on this, How terrible it'll be for the woman when she realizes she was literally with a dead guy. OK? That should be clear. Put it right up front and be honest, “Honey, I am literally dead. Full disclosure. But if you’d go with me, I’d be honored to spend some time with you, wherever it leads.” At that point the ball’s in her lap, if she wants to play ball, that's her choice.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Thelma's Tom Died

Part 28 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

At this point Thelma hasn’t full processed the workings of fate, taking from her a spouse that was pretty good, but never as good as you’d want. That’s a common problem in marriages, when occasionally the spouse has a bad day and each has to return to their mutual corners. Who knows why?

Tom wasn’t a bad guy — not terrible, we've seen worse — and he was faithful and a good provider. But he had an odd quirk, being overwhelmed and doing stupid things when confronted with life's complications. You see, when the Good Lord created dumb Tom took his half out of the middle. Just thinking of him is to wish you never knew him. But let me hammer one important point his friends all make, he was a good provider; providing wasn’t an issue. Sure, others had a lot more, but Tom and Thelma did OK.

And it’s one thing to be crazy kids on your honeymoon, the love light always shining in your eye. It’s another to have the years pass mercifully along, your full happiness somewhere just out of reach. On that score it feels like everyone’s in the same boat. Although there’s a select few born with a silver spoon in their mouth. The rest of us get a ceremonial spoon as a wedding gift.

Certainly Thelma and Tom followed the same clock and calendar as everyone else, and time went by reliably, tick after tick, inch by inch. They were never exactly “stuck” in the same place, but if getting there is half the fun their lives were two halves drab. Thelma kept the wedding gown in the closet and checked it for moths once in a while.

She never wished Tom dead. Not just because that’d be wrong, but because “any old port in a storm.” There were few options in those days. Cheating and unceremoniously dumping the slug weren’t easily done, not on their budget. Which was always tight.

Then it happened, the great tragedy, Tom caught a particularly virulent bug going 'round the factory, and fell dead welding a bolt (some say hinge.) The details naturally aren't that important, but I think it was a bolt. You want a bolt to stay in place, never to swing back and forth; it’s a lot more likely you’d weld a bolt. But whoever says hinge, you have to think they’ve wisely considered the rarity of welding hinges, so that's obviously a sincerely held belief. Or obstinacy.

I heard from other employees who said it wasn’t beyond them to weld everything they came across, including lunch-meat sandwiches so no one would steal them! And it could be that Tom came down with the bug and might’ve said “To hell with it” and brazenly did start welding everything. You'd probably put it among the dumbest decisions of his life, just going by the talk. But I’m not his ultimate judge.

His ultimate judge, he soon met. Tom fell dead. Sadness ensued, the usual palaver.

A few weeks passed and Bill came into Thelma’s life. What Tom totally missed in the personality department, Bill more than made up for. A real charmer, but maybe lacking carefulness. I can certainly understand why they’d tell him to be more careful — who wouldn’t be? — after one husband dropped dead in uncertain circumstances.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

From Symmetry To Cemetery

Part 27 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

I know it’s hard to say any one person deserves to die more than another — barring hideous capital offenses, crimes against humanity, and unrepented pigheadedness. But could we at least make an exception for the overly-fastidious and those with strange quirks? This is something I could head up, although my deep seated tenderness will eventually be the death of me. I can only resist it for a while, because nothing hits me like a sob story.

But of course there’s sob stories and SOB stories. Bob would be in the last category, a real SOB. Mostly because he's annoying, with a very pronounced longing, even demand for symmetry. Have you ever had the symmetry bug? An overabundance of balance? If there's a shrub on the left side of your house there has to be one on the right? That kind of thing.

There’s nothing more predictable than symmetry, which is why every freethinker's first impulse is to mess it up. Symmetry sufferers have too much thought for harmonious arrangement. To the point of even their shaving cream, wanting it to stretch nicely from ear to ear. If there's something neat about it's upper border, it needs an equal lower border. And maybe a dab on top of the head and one under the chin.

Do I personally have trouble with symmetry? I believe so or it wouldn’t upset me so much thinking of Bob. But I try to foresee it and work fastidiously to make things less harmonious. Take this blog post up until now. It started with a general beginning, introduced a particular case, and now I’m in the process of giving and taking, my own problems with symmetry. Even now I can see what it'd need for good symmetry to the end. Which, if Bob were writing it, would flow as predictably as sexual waste in a prison shower. But I’m going to purposely mess it up with something unrelated.

By the way, have you ever seen a prison shower in real life? I’ve never been “in” prison but I toured one. Our hands were marked with invisible ink visible under a black light. I had such fear that day. I even pictured a guy jumping me, cutting off my arm, stuffing it into his sleeve and going through the black light. With me bleeding to death in his cell and the rest of the tour group going on without me. Anyway, I saw their shower, just a big room, shower heads all around, a big old public shower for men. Thinking of it over 30 years later, I still get nightmares.

See, my prison story ruins the symmetry. Meaning, I'd get kicked out of Bob’s Club, him and his fluorescent shaving cream! I'm not sure how they shave in prison. They don’t want anyone cutting their throat and getting out early. Hey, do you think maybe Bob had a record? Maybe Bob “served time”? I hadn’t thought of that! I just thought he was a neat freak, but maybe he was sending prisoners a message...

Right there's a good enough reason for him pass on. With him dead we can sleep better, knowing he’s not going to be shaving his symmetrical arrangement and “accidentally” slipping and cutting our throat.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Umpire, You're Out Out Out!

Part 26 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

This umpire guy (probably another wannabe) could've very well been one of the umpires behind me in Little League. When I was whiffing at the ball after it’d been in the catcher’s mitt for two full seconds. The ump was screaming “Ouuuuuuuuuuuut” like it was a 16-syllable word instead of the short, simple, and to the point word I see when I write it out. Like that. Notice the simplicity, “Out,” compared to the jaw breaker, “Ouuuuuuuuuuuut.” Big difference.

I really wish I could go back and do baseball better. I don’t know why I was so wimpy. Just didn’t want to do it, I guess, or I didn’t feel near as good as the other players. But my parents still sent me to the park to do my thing, even though I was like, “This is going to be a disaster... Kids with my delicate introversion are better off taking their easel into the closet and painting stilllifes of Dad’s suit. Or Mom’s bra, which would’ve been a more marketable subject. Can you imagine that? I could’ve beat Andy Warhol to the whole pop art happening/Campbell’s Soup Can thing with Closet Wall In Repose and Mom’s Outgrown 38D.

It’s simply amazing how easy life is in hindsight. Meaning, we need to come up with a time machine very fast or I'm gonna die a complete failure. I actually still could be a success but it’d require changing the rules slightly. And even with that I’m not so sure. I’ve seen kids playing baseball these days and it’s just like I remember. They suck. But put someone with some confidence in there — like me today — and I could be the best Little Leaguer in the country. Especially if someone else would run the bases for me. Give me a bat; it’s not just your sex life where remarkable things can happen; it'd be with baseball like it is with sex, I’d swing at everything that moves. (You believe that, right?)

But the past cannot be undone, not with current technology. I was hoping like everyone that with the Large Hadron Collider they'd do something to help. In case you forgot what that was or never knew, you better look it up because I’m not sure either. It had to do with electrons going super speed to prove something interesting about the nature of existence and/or baseball. Maybe studying whether an umpire calling balls and strikes is harder if they're pitched at the speed of light. And even if they haven’t yet worked out all the conclusions, it's definitely known that any ball going the speed of light that you attempt to hit will likely slip by you.

Anyway, none of that does any good for my childhood failures at baseball and the mean-spirited umps we always had. I have one happy memory to share, though, in closing. It was the last game of the season. My team — the Dodgers — were winless, but on that last day — God’s honest truth — our forlorn team managed to win! And the coach took us downtown for a bottle of Pepsi. And who do I see sitting in the booth, moping? The Umpire... Who grimaced at me and muttered, “I'm really gonna get you next year.”

Somehow later that day, though -- a matter of perfect justice -- something came from outer space at the speed of light, avoiding the Hadron collider all together, and took out the ump and his truck with one strike. Rest In Peace, fool...

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Not Afraid Of Grizzly Bears

No. 25 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

I haven’t figured out yet what happened, the system of “more-enlightened” times. With hunting completely out. And gigantic elephants, tiger, lions, all the way down to the smallest things, rabbits, squirrels, and even rodents completely running amok. I remember, not very long ago, when a man could “put food on the table” by his own stealth. Sitting in a tree waiting for a deer. Seeing a rabbit in the ditch and hoping it didn't move till you got your .410 shotgun assembled.

But life is full of contradictions, so in the abundance of animals going to waste we continue raising and slaughtering others. Even though scientific people who don’t weigh as much as the rest of us — when they pick their teeth it’s always bio-engineered scraps— tell us meat is not only unnecessary but actually harmful. Say what you want about animals, as mean as they are, they make up for it by being delicious.

Anyway, it’s obvious true to a point that there’s danger in everything. And yes, we’re all going to bite the dust someday. If it comes from a lifetime of eating, what’s the beef? We’re hungry, of course we’re going to eat. Death is a fact of life period. Nothing to be denied, of course, but nothing to be so afraid of. I get lessons from friends passing. Whatever they died of, I avoid that for a week or so. If they had an unpleasant pallor, I use rouge. (I’m not a female impersonator all the time, I just like to look alive.) And if it’s someone close, I cry like a banshee. Until the pastor steps in, touches my wrist and says, “He’s in a better place.”

Still, friends don’t like friends to die. But we’re not beyond challenging each other. “If you’re a man, do such and such," take this challenge, live your life on the edge, and prove you’re tough enough to go the distance. When we were kids, though, that was the worst thing, being a wimp. It's illustrated there, the whole gamut of childish behavior. Feeling like you can do anything. You actually can, almost, if you get lucky. But when you grow up you realize, just because Superman jumps off buildings and is OK, there’s no guarantee you can. If there's doubt, the default assumption has to be, You can’t.

So they ask the kid, "You wouldn't be afraid to hunt grizzly bears with a club?" No. But if I kill one, that means I have to take on at least one more. Then the second grizzly swipes a big paw out and takes the kid's head off. That kid was stupid. Don't do it. And now that you've done it and died, don't do it again. There's nothing you can do about him. Dumb kid, real stupid. But pretty good skills, if you as a kid could actually kill the first grizzly. That's something to talk about, big praise.

As for the rest of the kids, his funeral meant a day off from school. So there was something worthwhile about it for everyone.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Rest In Peace 1911

Part 24 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

I recently came across this graphic and didn’t recognize it, never saw it before. I have a whole room of hard drives and computers and there’s no telling what I might find. But a few years ago some guys who read my blog came over and were helping me catalogue a ton of clip art. Then we had a falling out, because there's zero nudity in antique clip art beyond the New Year's baby's butt, and they became disinterested. The cataloging process was halted and nothing more done.

But going through it the last few days, this one hit me. I was struck by the sudden realization that I never actually heard that the year 1911 passed away. Of course all of us know at a certain level that past years are no more and future years are still to come. But when we think in those terms — if ever — it's generally years we've lived through, and we have stark memories of them, for instance 1999. I remember buying a cassette boombox in 1999 in case the computer grid went down (Y2K), so I'd have something to hear emergency news on.

The truth is, I’ve been through most of the years of my life in detail, so I’m familiar with each one starting and ending. The other years I've heard of and am generally aware that they ultimately met their fate. Grandma was born in 1903, so I’m squared away on it. And Grandpa had his year, my various aunts, parents, and friends all had their years, as I’ve conscientiously observed: “Those years are no more. There's no bringing them back from the brink. They’ve shot plumb over the edge into the bottomless pit. A brink no longer looms, it’s attained.” Brinksmanship all the way. But somehow 1911 — miraculously? — sailed past my notice! Making me think it sneaked past me with an enemy's help. Which I'll be looking into, because I have some very clever enemies.

1911. It's a year I know nothing about. I do not know one historic thing that happened in 1911! But it was surely a year like any other. There were big cities, there were smaller towns, there were villages, farms, communities of people with hopes and dreams as real as my own. Back then one of their dreams might’ve been to imagine what 2010-2020 would be like, our current time frame. I suppose they imagined us in buildings that float, people with personal planes for getting around, and grocery stores where there aren’t pesky lines. Maybe the next 100 years will bring hovering buildings.

Anyway, 1911 died, awww, sad. So speaking ill of 1911, I can certainly say it is a nondescript year, fairly anonymous, and maybe shouldn't have wasted everyone's time. Just skip from 1910 to 1912. But let’s raise a tankard of JR anyway along with the old Father Time, an Englishman, and the semi-nude New Year's baby. It's 1912! 1911 is finally gone, may it Rest In Peace and in our precious memories with its ups and downs, the good and whatever evil it so maliciously cradled and nursed.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Pacyderm Packs It In

Part 23 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

Did you know they used to enlist elephants for military service? Quite the thing. A family would raise one from a calf, then on the day of the Big War would say, “Horray, Jumbo’s all grown up and ready for war! Put a star in the window, let the whole town know we're patriots!” Sounds unlikely these days, I know. When the price of elephant food went sky-high, plus liability insurance, etc., it suddenly wasn't common for a family to raise them. Which is a damned shame, because if we'd been raising elephants, think of all the things that wouldn't have happened. 9/11 for starters.

Of course elephants have always been big, but they were larger than life in the days of the Roman Empire, when all kinds of crazy stuff happened. Back then they didn’t have everything we take for granted, cannons, bunker busters, bazookas, and gun shows. If they wanted to conquer someone they had to unleash an elephant. Yes, they had bows and arrows, swords, and spears. But it was elephants that trampled out the vintage and made the grapes of wrath flow. One big reason, they were hepped up on firewater, hootch, and booze, and went plain loco. Which was a good thing.

Personally, I don’t know entirely how it was done. For me to depend on an elephant to distinguish the enemy from us, that’d take a lot of trust. But it was accomplished like everything else, by experts. They pointed the way for them to go, they fed them a truckload of peanuts, and before you knew it, it was V-Day over the Huns! World War I ended! Hallelujah!

Am I glad we won World War I? Of course I am, I'm always for the home team. But at that time I wasn’t even thought of, nor were my parents, so I sat it out. Later, I took coursework in history in college, but most of the stuff I learned I've forgotten now. World War I, though, was a war to end wars. And elephants' days were also numbered.

It's hard for me to speak ill of an elephant that died. But keeping to the theme, let me think of something ill for this one. Looking at the picture for de-inspiration: What's the matter, you fool, staggering and stumbling like that, breaking through the fence, the cannon tipping over! Next thing you're going to make a mess! And next thing, the enemy's going to say, "That elephant's loco! Shoot the guys on top of it! We'll capture it!" So all that stumbling was a huge mistake, because you took a bullet right through the temple, a terrible place to be shot. Killed instantly. Very bad job.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Rich Shouldn't Risk Their Life

Part 22 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

I had this idea for my Master's thesis: "The richer you are, the less you should risk your life protecting what you have." They said that was a given and the thesis not practical. I tried bullshitting them but they wouldn't budge. So I did some gas-lighting to prove my point, putting a great deal of psychological pressure on some of the top donors.

I was relentless over months with scary faces at their windows, creepy phone calls, and I even broke one guy's leg. The fear was so horrendous there were three or four deaths the first year alone! The university, always begrudging, finally saw the light and the degree's on my wall to prove it! But the families sued and the university lost so much money and prestige it sounds like they're sorry they ever heard of me.

But I hate crime and that's what I'm here for today. I really hate crime. Please don’t tell any criminals that you read this here, because they also seek revenge, but I wish they'd only give criminals “One strike and you’re out!” I know it changes the old adage about three strikes. But with the world's population exploding and crime everywhere, we can’t afford an unlimited number of three strikes. Change the rule: Just one!

It looks like the only good luck society ever really has is with the non-criminal population, and we're all dirt poor. We haven’t got anything to steal, so it's no use for criminals to attack us. Yes, they can break into our hovels and take our chewed up old blankets — my dog chews blankets and everything else — but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a pawn shop in the Big City that sells used blankets. My most valuable possession is a half gallon of paint from 10 years ago, but, again, it takes a lot of old paint to make one good gallon. With the colors always ending up potluck.

I'm definitely poor. I don’t take much comfort in things in my life; I can’t afford to. But at least I have some comfort knowing there are poorer people yet. Do I feel badly for them? I actually do. I was bit by the compassion-bug when I was a kid and it's a lifelong infection, because sometimes I feel guilty that my car runs and my backseat isn’t on my porch. But it'd be comfortable and very weather-resistant thanks to the plastic covering I bought with my inheritance after Mom and Dad passed.

Yes, even though crime usually affects people better off, I still hate it. Another reason, I watch the evening news, and I hate hearing about criminals breaking in here or there, robbing places, abducting people, dumping their bodies in the river, and all the rest. I cry out, “Can the police do nothing right?!” It totally screws up the fishing. Still, they speed by all hours day and night with their sirens. How about leaving the sirens off and sneaking up on people. This is one of my peeves. When they hear the sirens they drop the evidence and sneak out the back. What happened to stealth? Even the military has stealth planes. Something to try...

I’m looking at the graphic of Sir Reginald, one of the richest guys in town. He was worth a lot of money, going by how much he gave to every museum in town. But he didn’t keep it quiet either. His attitude was, “I’m filthy rich, jump me in the dark!” He probably took the dark way home just to brag about it at the Admirals Club. But in this case, his luck ran out. He was not only robbed but brutally murdered, bamboo shoots shoved in his hair follicles. Reggie was a rich fool, having every advantage but blowing it for bragging rights.

But he still got the last laugh; his family crypt's about the size of the mall. With lots of legroom, which he deserves, being so rich.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Death At The Witching Hour

Part 21 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

Have you ever had witches for friends? I actually have, in a very limited since. They identified themselves as witches, and while I don’t know the full extent of their activities, I know they did things that modern-day witches do, which has to do with stones, incense, cards, their own texts, nature work, the days of the year, and whatever else. I wouldn’t mind doing it but I already have my own thing, and you should always do your own thing.

Those witches probably have something in common with the whole cartoon, movie witch culture, but at a more serious level. You can see I’m trying to tiptoe around everyone’s feelings and keeping it serious so I don’t end up with enough spells on my head to destroy me. Although, honestly, that’d be a totally interesting way to go. Put that on my resume: “2015-2020 Witch Taunter, taunting various covens and counteracting their spells against whoever.” The problem with that would be I would more likely identify with them, and their enemies would be my own. And I think they/we have a "First, do no harm" vibe these days.

OK, enough boring serious talk about witches. Imagine that, in this day and age we have to pussyfoot around with witches, when everyone knows the actual truth (Wizard of Oz) that witches are "mean and old and ugly." Glenda was even a good witch, but I don't know if water would affect her. Hopefully without the same problems as old shrivel toes or the water bucket witch. If you can’t stand a bucket of water, your other powers are probably pretty thin. A bucket of water and a rainstorm are the same thing. You telling me that old fool witch never showered? Wasn’t her body about the same percentage of water as the rest of us? Maybe not, since water creatures don’t shrivel quite that quickly; they just sizzle and ooze a bit, then melt. And even ice cream melts slower!

If you really could get on a broom and ride, ride, ride, that’d be good. I think I might’ve seen one one day. I was driving by a place decorated for Halloween — probably to attract witch traffic — and there was a witch crashed into a tree, seriously. The tail end of the broom was undamaged, but her smashed body was flat against the tree. One of the saddest things I ever saw. I called an ambulance, then ended up paying $500 fine for what they called a false report. OK, that’s the way it is, never again! Later, I went by a big accident in the country. Three semis smashed to bits, bodies strewn everywhere, blood, guts, and I didn’t phone it in. Might have been witch reenactors for all I knew. And if they didn’t believe me the first time, screw ‘em.

The witch I'm featuring today, Isora, in the pictures, this is a modern witch. She has a garage? How long have we had garages, the last 75 years or something. Anyway, it sounds like she has the same trouble with garage door openers I’ve had. You think it’s open and you drive up and it’s still closed. But when you don’t want it open, say, you accidentally bump the switch while reaching for your keys, it opens every time. The difference between us and her is we don’t go through the door until we see it's definitely open. And we don't usually get killed. That’s real similar to the one I saw wrecked in the tree. But this time a garage door. Bad deal, should’ve been smarter, make sure you’ve got a free path before proceeding, supernatural dummy.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Tsunami Warnings In Bali


Part 20 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

Bali is a province of Indonesia and the westernmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The woman is Gede. The man is Komang. That’s all you need to know. It’s far-flung, way out there near the ends of the earth. Unless you’re there, and then it’s the same as my place, the center of everything.

Have I ever been to Bali? I’ve heard people claim I’ve been there, but I don't know why. I think they're just trying to confuse me. Because it’s not something I’d lie about. If I’d been there, I'd gladly confess it. I'd be so glad to confess it, people would run from me: "There's that guy that wants to talk about Bali all the time." But if I did something incriminating there, I wouldn't mention it. I wish I could tell you all the stuff I don't mention. If you never see a particular thing mentioned on my blog, I might be guilty of it.

It'd been nice if I had the kind of job where I was sent by an employer somewhere near Bali. Then instead of strictly taking care of the business, I'd make my way to Bali. The employer might connect the dots and I’d potentially be forced to repay him for a wasted trip. But none of that happened.

So I’m going on second hand information, TV as well as ordinary secret contacts around the world. Secret contacts were indeed my source for the report of a man’s death in Bali, and the show he attended. In which his fate can be traced to the witch doctor.

To me, even the word “witch doctor” cries out something to beware of! We hear the word and we think of someone in a high position of power with witches, delving into the higher mysteries, and now having the diploma to prove it, a doctor's degree. What was his project and his doctor’s degree based on, “Making Tourists Comfortable Enough In Storms” or “Bewitching Foolish Inaction Till It’s Too Late”?

Good thing I wasn’t there, because I might've been susceptible to hocus pocus. I’m very easily led. I’m such a trusting person, mostly because I’m honest and good. And I jump to the conclusion that everyone’s as good as me. Get a clue: They’re not! This guy is Exhibit A. What kind of psycho performs for tourists, then hopes, even conspires, to make them victims? I’d say his diagnosis is off the charts in the wrong direction!

But Kenneth the Tourist knew better than to trust a man with makeup. Even though the slithering dancing girl (Gede) doubtlessly added to his credibility. He’s got that big loin cloth, what’s he packing under that thing? I’m not trying to second guess the fate involved in this thing. But packing that much, I can see how Kenneth could’ve fallen for his act. When the truth is just the opposite. Sometimes the less you pack, the more trustworthy you are. You figure, People aren’t going to trust me, so I have to double down on believability.

Komang's message was soothing. The message was "It’s a great night, have a great time." And Gede backed him up with a plaintive plea for westerners to adopt her and take her home with them to engage in romance and housekeeping. Kenneth didn’t stand a chance. On the other hand, anyone dumb enough to fall for that native lingo got what he deserved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Gooseberry Dies

Part 19 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead

I’ve had days like that, the weight of the world on me. All my vises equally tight. Squeezed like an elephant in a car wash. The pavement of my soul buckling in the heat. Everything I try, there’s something wrong with it. I hit a pothole and think I'm a goner. It’s the end of the world. Or something worse. Maybe a death in the family. A sniper downtown. The grocery store recalling bad fruit. Don’t get me started on a world of problems.

Again, the weight of the world. I wonder how big the actual planet is, how much it'd weigh if you got corralled long enough to step on the scales. Thanks to online resources I could probably find out stuff like that, stuff we used to guess at. Back then we had no idea of the immensity of things. I never saw the ocean till I was an adult. And even then it was such a small amount of it, one horizon’s worth, I can still only imagine how much I missed.

The guy in the picture could be me. I’m not completely bony, I eat normal meals. And my head doesn’t look like a ripening gooseberry, a delicacy I haven’t had in many years. (I prefer them green, and saw some plants on the hiking trail but they didn't have berries yet.) This guy makes me hungry for gooseberries, which to him might be a compliment, since he has the whole world against him, what’s the chances of anyone loving him like I could?

You have to remember, though, this guy — or who he represents — has to die, or has died as of this writing. He could be anyone, although his name is Daniel, like the Elton John song. Leaving tonight on a plane, the red taillights, the whole bit. Taking off around the planet, but it looks like the planet’s got him pinned. It’s metaphorical, of course, like another great song, He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. 'He’s got the little bitty babies and the big fat grandmas in his hands.'

In Daniel's case, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Which, going by the caption, won’t be a fair fight. He’s about the be crushed by a piece as narrow and insubstantial as the Baja peninsula. Deadly, but not quite as ignominious or painful as the Horn of Africa. The absolute worst part of the Earth rolling on you would have to be Mount Everest. It’d put an eye out if it didn’t absolutely crush you. You’d be saying, “But for the curse of geography lessons, I would’ve had no idea. I could have died more peacefully in ignorance." Half the sorrow is knowing what hit you.

Do I feel sorry for Daniel? Friends, I’ve seen so much death, it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone. I suppose at a basic human level, man to gooseberry, we would’ve gotten along. But with his meager frame, there in the nude trying to grab the earth by the ocean, that’s foolhardy beyond anything I can easily dismiss. Metaphorical, though, we shouldn't forget. I’m so literal minded in two ways: 1) When I’m tired; 2) When I’m hungry. Well, I’m tired of everyone’s problems, dying. And thinking of gooseberries, I am kind of hungry for them. But my family ate them green, never purple or reddish, like Daniel appears to be.

Try again, son. Come back when you're green.