How I was banned from the Stanford campus after High School

The once available, now unnecessary, post office curbs were a sick place to skate. The yellow parking curbs of curving rectangular prismaticness and tapered ending allowed for a smooth transition from the rail slide. Falls were consequential. Unforgiving pavement and concrete side walk, always gravity pulling, offered a needed respite from the rat race of which we were only beginning to be subjected. It was probably weekends when the mail was closed. Riding bikes and carrying skateboards or skating all the way there made little difference. Time was plentiful, too plentiful. The freedom itself was o’er taxing in comparison to the hormonal, socio-emotional, and cultural challenges. Not to mentioned the academic ones.

But I was long gone from those times when I was made persona non grata (though probably not so formally but as a ‘security risk’). I was not living in the same city and I no longer frequented those fateful curbs that we had been advised against visiting because back then skateboarding was a crime to some. My youngest brother, however, was still quite fond of them and doing SO much better. Sticking his landings, kick flips, and newer tricks. For me, life revolved around surfing more than anything. I hadn’t realized that it could be a job. It was always more of a religious experience of being out in nature, the break or spot being a kind of holy site where one could still observe glimpses of a world bigger and more unknown than our own.

He had been caught by the campus security and when they tried to identify him, he gave them my name and banned him (me). I found the whole thing amusing and awesome and cared not a lick. Nonetheless, I can certainly understand how a person could see that as some sort of betrayal when in reality it is a joke. It never affected me in anyway I ever directly noticed and I’ve been on the campus since for lectures/talks without incident.

Vasectomy: Great Elective Surgery or Greatest Elective Surgery?

In the 1990’s Gerund loved Spleefer, his lhaso apso, so much that when it came time to have him neutered, he just couldn’t go through with it. He called up the vet and asked if the vet could perform a vasectomy instead. The vet looked it up in his medical books, thought about it and told Gerund he didn’t see why it wouldn’t be possible. So the dog continued fucking everything in sight and knocking up nothing. This surgery was performed by the same vet who told Gerund, whom had called him under duress, that the 50 grams of chocolate the dog had gotten into was “like coccaine for dogs”. Gerund, at that point turned to his dog and said, “Spleefer, how is it?”

That was the first time I heard about vasectomy, the surgery, and I equated it with castration and roman eunuchs. The second time I heard something about vasectomy was from a contractor who was not shy about sharing how great it was to be having unprotected sex since he’d had his vasectomy. I winced at the thought of having my nuts cut off, a natural reaction. But if we lived in a truly equal society where men took just as much responsibility for birth control as women. Vasectomies would be as common as female hormonal birth control, aka. The Pill. Important to note is that vasectomies do nothing to protect from STI’s and they are *mostly* irreversible meaning that if you want to have a child after a vasectomy there’s no certainty that your vas deferens can be reconnected. And, hey, you can always adopt. Eventually I learned the difference between castration and vasectomy.

To have a vasectomy you need to have sired the children you want to have, you still need to have protected sex if there’s a risk of STI and you need time – 2 days of bed rest and a week of no heavy lifting. The surgery itself is relatively quick and simple, especially the “no-scalpel vasectomy” that is currently all the rage. Check to see if your health insurance will cover it. Most will pay 100% of the cost and you’ll only have to front the co-pay.

Funny things about having a vasectomy: you need to shave your balls and bring athletic support briefs for afterward. I brought two pairs: snug cotton briefs and synthetic athletic briefs for extra support. By far the most annoying part was the shaving because the stubble is just weird, abrasive, and potentially rashy for days afterwards. You shave yourself before the surgery. That in itself can be a yogic adventure depending on how flexible you are and you can always enlist the help of your partner or even have yourself professionally waxed. Check with your doctor first before doing that last one though.

After you’ve taken off your pants, draped a gown over your legs and are reclined on the operating table, you get a couple of injections of a local anesthetic which is a couple of sharp needle pricks but just relax you won’t feel much of anything during the surgery. The surgeon, hopefully a urologist you are comfortable with and trust, locates both vasa deferentia, makes a small puncture at the top of the scrotum, pulls them through, clamps them, removes a small section from each, cauterizes all four ends, unclamps them, stuffs them back into the scrotum and sews you up. Admittedly there’s a few other things that happen but that’s basically it. Some anti-bacterial ointment and a piece of gauze are all your left with as you now understand the necessity of supportive briefs or athletic supporter. For one you can’t feel a damn thing down there and there’s still a little blood which will be slowly seeping out for the next 48 hours and for another you need to keep that piece of gauze in place. The urologist is really nice and writes you a prescription for Percocet but tells you, in ernest, “Ice or an ice pack will be your best friend for the next couple days.” Walking from the elevators to your car somewhat bowlegged and feeling like you just got done sparring, the local anesthetic begins to wear off. About halfway driving yourself home when the local anesthetic is clearly wearing off faster than the traffic, you start to curse like sailor. You have a pained expression on your face as you walk through the pharmacy to drop off the prescription and ask a clerk where the ice packs can be found. In a couple hours you’ll have wished that you’d waited for the prescription to have been filled and wish you’d purchased more sterile gauze pads and bacitracin or Neosporin. By the time you get back to the car with your ice pack the anesthetic is almost completely gone and there is no-fucking around pain. The kind that could make you drive poorly (too fast) to get home to the freezer. You are lucky as shit if when you get home there’s actually ice in the freezer that you jam in a ziplock bag, waddle to the bed and stuff in between your athletic support and your snug cotton briefs trying to freeze your nuts just as quickly as you can. That’s when your partner might turn to you as you are moaning and weeping and say, “Boo hoo. Now you have a small glimpse as to what it is like to have to deal with bleeding genitalia.” So you have a laugh. The pain is like a roller coaster and once the ice has melted and you’ve switched to the ice pack while you were re-freezing the water in the zip lock bag you take a chance and look at the small little wound on the scrotum. You put a little ointment on a new sterile gauze pad and hold everything in place while carefully putting on your two pairs of underwear with the ice pack between them and freeze your nuts once more, stifling the pain. After several hours the pain has subsided but the scratchy stubble of the shaving lingers and makes everything awkward. You keep changing the pad with new ointment every so often.

For two days you can’t bathe and should spend the vast majority of the time reclined so good books, articles, movies and social media are your second best friends. You seriously bonded with that ice pack. You can not have sex for two weeks after the surgery and you have to wait about three months before you can have unprotected sex. It can take as long as three months ( >30 ejaculations) to generate a sperm free sample that your doctor needs to test before you are cleared for launch.

The biggest and most re-assuring discovery I made before getting my vasectomy was that the hormonal system is not disrupted by the sectioning the vas deferens. Hormones produced in the testes are distributed via the vascular system not the vas. This was the big ah-ha moment for me because I always wondered if a vasectomy would disrupt the hormonal system, namely by effecting testosterone levels. I also confirmed this with the urologist and during the surgery we joked with each other. He said, “Okay, that’s the second one” meaning he’d removed the small pieces of both vasa deferentia. I said, “Funny, I don’t feel like any less of a man.” The urologist, not skipping a beat, replied, “That comes later.” Everybody laughed. “That’s not funny” I said. A surgery during which the doctor, nurse and patient can all have a laugh at the patient’s expense? Greatest Elective Surgery. Now if we could only rid the world of STI’s.

The Trucker Deserved It

Epona told me this story while we worked together and over the course of some hikes we took. I have long since lost touch with her and so reproduce this story at my peril, for the story is not mine, nor is it mine to share by any right. But the story left a lasting impression, colored my experiences and restored my faith, somewhat, in humanity. So I share it anyway, throwing caution to the wind. The following is my best recollection, embellished, and somewhat fictional.

Once upon a time, before the ubiquitousness of mobile phones, there was a magical bus service pseudonymously called Magenta Hare that transported people from Seattle clear down to Los Angeles and back again stopping for a sweat lodge in Oregon, stops for nature walks, visiting vistas and having a generally fantastic party all the while. The bus did its magic trick in the late evening while everyone was taking a potty break.

It transformed into a variety of sleeping spaces – a group space, the luggage racks become private singe sleepers and there’s two double beds, at least. Yes, it was a “hippie” bus, meaning it was communal and very social. They were still going strong after some rough transitions back in the day and have some hostels as well as “adventure travel” excursions. What I wanted to emphasize as clearly as possible was that the real life business of this outfit was not culpable for the events that transpired. There’s definitely things they could have done, as a travel business, that would have prevented what happened to one of their passengers. Perhaps they have since tightened their policy regarding stops, mid-journey, to include a fail-safe passenger check for the “buddy system”.

Epona was riding the Magenta Hare from Seattle to Los Angeles. The bus makes stops along the way for food, the restroom and for the transformation into sleeper bus. The driver had asked each passenger to find a “buddy”, yes, grown adults using the buddy system, I know right? Epona was feeling anti-social and made the fateful decision to refrain from getting a buddy. She was the only one. She also didn’t check in with the driver – a more important and ultimately fatal decision. At a truck stop in Oregon, the MH pulled in and disgorged its passengers into the florescence and diesel fumes. The line for the women’s restroom was, of course, ridiculously long and she waited, then she waited some more. By the time she finished with the restroom and made it back to the parking lot the bus had left and she was stranded.

Looking around the truck stop she noticed there were virtually no women. The line for the bathroom had been populated by the ladies riding the bus. Only the clerk behind the counter shared her gender, the rest of the truck stop inhabitants were, surprise, male truckers. She approached the clerk and told her what had happened. All of Epona’s belongings were still on the bus, she literally had nothing but the clothes on her back. The clerk was sympathetic but wasn’t sure she could help. She gave Epona some change to use the payphone. Unable to contact the bus headquarters, she decided on a radical course of action. She would hitch a ride to San Francisco with a trucker. As she realized this was a dangerous proposition she took the precaution of making herself look as unattractive as possible by messing up her hair and applying greasy dirt to her face. She then set out to talk to some truckers. Just as she was walking out, the clerk hailed her and gave Epona her phone number. She said, “Good luck, honey. Be careful and call me when you get to San Francisco. If I don’t hear from you in a day or two I’ll go to the police.” Epona gave the clerk her information. 

After several uncomfortable conversations with very lonely men she found a guy who seemed nice enough and was heading all the way down I-5 to San Francisco. They got in his cab and started driving and as they drove they talked. The spoke of traveling and places they’d like to visit. He told her he was married. She began to let down her guard. They spoke more freely and Epona began to think that everything was going to be fine. She even told him that once they got to San Francisco she’d be able to pay him something for the ride. She thought that maybe she had even made a new friend. It was about then that the truck driver pulled the rig off of the freeway to an underpass so that the truck was underneath I-5 and could not be seen from the road. He told her he just had to jump out for a second and he’d be right back. Epona began to worry.

Epona was not a small girl, nor was she what you’d call obese by any measure. She was close to six feet tall and solid. When the trucker got back in the cab his demeanor was changed. He turned to her and said, “So, how about some lovin’?” Epona was shocked and regretted every letting her guard down. The trucker tried to grab her head and shove her down onto his lap. She resisted. They struggled. She screamed but no one could hear her. Then he reached into a glove-box and pulled out a gun. He told her to take her clothes off. She moved away to the opposite side of the cab, petrified. He began telling her how this could be so easy and how it could all be over quickly, almost pleading with her. He was waving the gun at her and she boldly made her move. She slapped the gun out of his hand and it landed on the passenger side floor. They both dove for it. Epona was doubled over reaching for the gun while the truck driver was stretched over her back, on top of her, grasping at it. His head was smashed up against her left ear. Epona managed to grab the gun. She pointed it at her own face, tilted it just a bit to the left and pulled the trigger. There was a loud bang. She did not know what happened and thought maybe she had missed and the trucker was just waiting for her to let up so he could get the gun back. Then she felt something warm, something liquid, running down her back and the side of her face. She pushed him off her and got out of the truck without looking at the truck driver. She ran up to the freeway and tried flagging down cars for nearly an hour. Eventually a police car showed up. She told them her story but they didn’t believe her. They brought her down to the station. After taking samples and interrogating her she remembered. With her one phone call she called the clerk at the truck stop who verified her story for the police. Finally they let her clean off the blood.

When she finally made it to San Francisco on a greyhound she managed to make it to the magic bus headquarters and tell her story to the drivers. They felt terrible, especially the one who accidentally left her at the truck stop.

A Side of Appendix to Naked Lunch

I need to give you the pseudonym of a gene to use in this story. I’m pretty sure the gene in question was not c-fos, c-jun or NGFI-A, only M-dawg knows. Let’s call M-dawg’s pet gene Dict-Factor 5, like it’s some German industrial punk band at the turn of the millennia. That’s too long so we’ll use DF5 which is too much like def con 5. “Dict” is for Addiction because that’s where this is all going. Colloquially, one might say, “Ugh, look at that poor guy, he’s so dict.” or “Don’t shoot that! You’ll get totally dict.”

Twang, oh Clio, of the brilliance of deadheads turned molecular biologists, of the advanced degrees, of the data and the publishing, and of the painstaking cell-line cultivation. Tell, oh muse, how the VA, beleaguered scapegoat, stopped re-filling the liquid nitrogen in the cryogenic canister which stored the life’s work of M-dawg and changed the course of history.

I felt REALLY bad because my concern for the mechanism by which the doomed canister was filled amounted to nothing. It was an intractable problem involving multiple grants and grant granting organizations with a confusing array of services and an even more confusing array of answers to the question: is there any money left in that grant? Who, exactly, fills the canister? The VA just comes along and fills it?!? For free?!? Really? Wow. No they don’t. And when their contract or whatever runs out they sure as hell don’t let you know, “Hey! person in the lab, we are only filling this one more time” or “this is the last time we fill this bitch” or “pay us so we can continue to keep your cell-lines alive.” What happens is you casually point to the canister one day and say “So when was the last time they filled that?” And you all look and find it is at room temperature and the beings within that magical microcosmic fairy land have been lost, FOREVER. Yeah, I felt horrid and angry at myself for not untangling the convoluted mess of funding mechanisms. I felt terrible for my friend, inspiration and post-doc hero M-dawg.

It was not long after this tragic episode that, very much in the mood to science the shit out of something, M-dawg struck intellectual gold which differs from real gold only in its financial value and insofar as intellectual gold is more dazzling. He was an avid reader who annually read Mary Shelly’s famous book every halloween to keep things in perspective. In his work he practiced rigorous intellectually honesty. He had recently completed William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” for fun and came to me with the proposal for a special experiment. Specifically the inspiration for the following experiments was found in the Appendix to Naked Lunch where Burroughs writes,

“A few points, it seems to me, have received insufficient attention: the metabolic incompatibility between morphine and alcohol has been observed, but no one, so far as I know, has advanced an explanation. If a morphine addict drinks alcohol he experiences no agreeable or euphoric sensations. There is a feeling of slowly mounting discomfort… If an alcoholic becomes addicted to morphine, morphine invariably and completely displaces alcohol. I have known several alcoholics who began using morphine. They were able to tolerate large doses of morphine immediately (1 grain to a shot) without ill effects, and in a matter of days stopped taking alcohol. The reverse never occurs. The morphine addict can not tolerate alcohol when he is using morphine or suffering morphine withdrawal. The ability to tolerate alcohol is a sure sign of disintoxication. In consequence alcohol can never be substituted for morphine directly. Of course a disintoxicated addict may start drinking and become an alcoholic.”

M-dawg put it succinctly as: “A morphine addict is never an alcoholic and an alcoholic is never a morphine addict”. We should have created the AMAINAAAAAINAMA support group then and there but neuroscience was afoot. Burroughs had been looking at the phenomena systemically and suspected metabolism and the liver as the locus of the dis-preference but we went looking in the brain. M-dawg designed the experiment to use the expression of the DF5 gene in the amygdala as the indicator for addiction, or more specifically a possible indicator of “agreeable or euphoric sensations”. This might seem like a stretch because how do you know when a rat is feeling agreeable or euphoric and how does DF5 expression in the amygdala play a role in addiction? The former part of the question is easier to answer and more visceral or confirmed through behavioral observations. The answer to the later part of the question is beyond me. M-dawg suspected the signal of the expression of DF5 in the amygdala would confirm Burroughs’ observation and bring to light some of the gene expression and neuroscience involved in addiction. There were four groups: Morphine (MG), Alcohol (AG), Morphine & Alcohol (MAG), and the control group. Each group had a ridiculous but affordable ‘n’ of 2 male rats. Day one was almost typical. The drug was injected intraperitoneally (I.P.) and normal .9% saline solution for control. I considered myself, by this point, pretty competent with the animals (rats, mice, gerbils) and rats were especially easy to work with due to their size and temperament. But when I went to give the I.P. injections they put up quite a fuss. Normally, I could just hold the rat in my left, heavily gloved, hand and give the injection with my right, a skill that took several months to master. Not on Day one of this trial though, they were feisty. I managed to not get bit and only to resorted to the plastic conical restraint a few times. The MG group, which was injected first were squirmy and deeply upset with me before and after the injection similar to the other groups. The nth rat is always the most difficult, the first the easiest, when the animals can observe their group mates being injected. I noticed this with turkey slaughtering once. The last turkey is always the hardest to catch so we can safely say animals are conscious of their own mortality in some way.

Day two was a horrifying epiphany. The rats are kept in their own room, their cages fill movable walls much like a library with moveable shelving units. As I walked in the door, the way the units were arranged allowed me to clearly see all four groups. There was nothing in the control or the MAG to indicate they had even been given anything, they looked bored as usual. The AG looked sluggish but nothing too extraordinary. The MG, however, had pressed their faces up against the transparent plastic cage and had been desperately following me with their eyes from the moment I set foot in the room, they stared fixedly at me, their bodies rigid, tense with expectation. As I administered the day’s injections only the behavor of the MG stood out. When I opened their cage they seemed to relax and moved toward my gloved hand. I petted them a little as was my habit and they seemed relaxed. When I picked one up he leaned his head back and spread open his fore and hind legs, relaxing on his back and completely exposing his furry belly. This had never happened to me before and I was astounded and shocked. I immediately resolved never to get addicted to morphine. I gave all the injections. It went on for at least 7 days. Close to that. After they were sacrificed and their brains sectioned we did the immunohistochemistry. It was the first time I had ever seen an experiment so elegant and simple in design go perfectly according to the hypothesis. The MAG showed no signal indicating DF5 expression while both MG and AG groups showed the amygdala was ablaze with DF5 expression! Somehow Alcohol and Morphine canceled out the expression of the gene. But what this means exactly is still quite open. Does DF5 indicate cell structure changes during addiction, or is it just a very good marker for addiction. Or is it connected more closely with drug induced feelings of agreeableness and euphoria? We got a strong signal, data never seems that clean, but there it was.

The 3 Times I Was Drawn On

I will confess from the outset: I am a Leadfoot. For those of you who have not heard this term it is a person who drives too fast. Being always late and broke does not help in this regard. Growing up in California the urge to drive faster than the other guy is rampant. On the freeway, especially in the left lane, it always seems like you are an obstacle, standing in the way of the person driving the car behind you, preventing that person from realizing the ultimate purpose of their life: passing you. This mentality is pathological and contagious.

The first time I had a gun pulled on me it was during a particularly desperate time of my life working for an outfit called Mad Science. I was a post modern science clown performing at children’s birthday parties, doing workshops at schools and driving all over the Seattle/Bellevue metropolitan area. It was a weekday and I had an INSANE schedule, driving all over the east side and making a final trip all the way from North East Redmond to South Seattle. The morning workshops and parties were hectic but I made them with very tight margins left for timing and it was the last demonstration. The drive from Redmond to Seattle can be beset by traffic and though it is worse now back then it seemed to be one of those days where you are in a hurry and the world decides to dial it back a notch and throw every obstacle in your way. Furthermore I had to stop and buy dry ice before doing the workshop at Zion Prep! As luck would have it, there was a QFC just a mile from the school and I had less than 15 minutes to do the 20 minute drive. So what did I do? I dropped my foot to the floor and did my best Mario Andretti impersonation. I was passing cars on the left and the right going 20 mph over the speed limit at times. I zipped, zigged and zagged trying not to piss anyone off too much and apologizing. After a few minutes of this I noticed a gold Prius keeping up with me. Then it was in front of me and clearly trying to slow me down, but my California bat-out-of-hell driving skills allowed me a way around him here and there. I exited at Rainier Ave and headed south to the QFC. The gold Prius followed me into the parking lot. My heart was pounding, but I needed that fucking dry ice for the workshop. I jumped out of my car and opened the back hatch to grab the dry ice bucket. I heard a voice say, “step away from the car.” I turned and beheld a man with a badge and his gun pointed at me. “What is going on here?”

I said, “Hey! I’m sorry. I really need to get this thing filled with dry ice for the workshop I’m teaching and I’m already late. You can write me a ticket, here are my keys.” I gave him my license, registration, insurance and the keys to my car. “I’ll be right back.” And I walked toward the QFC.

“I’m calling for back up.” He said. I walked into the store bought the dry ice walked back to the car, petrified at what was about to take place. When I got to the man he told me he was a homicide detective, that no one was responding to his back-up requests and that he didn’t have a ticket writing pad. I pleaded with him that I was just a stressed out wanna be science teacher trying to work with an impossible schedule, that I was already late, that I was really trying to be careful with my speeding… He eventually relented, much to my surprise and gave me his card. I drove to the workshop covered in sweat and probably scarred the young students for life with my scraping the bottom of the barrel enthusiasm and desperation. It could have been worse.

2016 was the bumper year of people pulling guns on me though. The homicide detective was very cautious, unstressed and steady. These next two lug nuts were anything but. I had just made about 87.5% of the trip from Seattle to Westport and was just leaving Aberdeen. I was speeding, about 15 mph over the limit when the sirens and lights popped up behind me. I pulled into a large mostly empty parking lot and the officer approached the car. I had seen the cop and immediately slowed down but didn’t know if he’d managed to capture my speed on his lidar. I rolled down the window, “How can I help you officer.”

“You were going 47 in a 35. And you your brake light is out.”

“My brake light is out?” I cried out with disapointment. “Awe man, which one?”

“Driver’s side.”

“Are you sure? Let me check.”

“Stay in the car.” He said but I had already opened the door and was out by the time he finished saying it. He had taken several steps back and was speaking in a very stressed out voice. “Get back in the car. GET BACK IN THE CAR.” My back was to him and I ignored him, went to the back hatch pulled opened it and grabbed a long wooden 1 by 1 that I’d been using to prop open the hatch since the strut had broken. I walked back to the driver seat without looking at the cop, I just totally ignored him and, from the tone of his voice, he was livid. I turned the power on without starting the car and wedged the wooden stick between the brake pedal and the drivers seat. Then I walked to the back to check the brake light because I really didn’t believe that my brake light was out. Sure enough, it was out.

“DAMN. I didn’t realize the brake light was out.” I looked at the cop for the first time since I had exited the vehicle. He was out of sorts and had both hands on his gun pointed at me. “damn” I said again and walked back to the font seat, took out the wooden stick and returned it to the back of the wagon. I then got back in the car and waited for him to write me the ticket. His hands were shaking when he handed me the ticket. I got soaked for about $180. The waves were shitty that day, too. I should have never gotten out of bed that day.

One day this year I was in a particularly bad place – in my head. I was really upset about stuff and I hated my life. I was also possibly in the midst of a manic episode replete with racing thoughts and grandiosity. It was in this condition that I tried to cross the notoriously worst road within the city limits of Seattle. The road is Rainier Ave South and this was before the recent rechannelization that has made it much safer. This was back when it had 4 lanes, two in either direction. It used to be called “The Rainier Dash” because of the lack of crosswalks in this particular section. That too is a thing of the past. Anyway, in my bad head space I tried to cross this road and in a spectacularly bad decision I decided to just walk the fuck across it without giving any head to the traffic. Fortunately there were no cars on half the road and only one car heading south as I walked westward. I made it across three lanes and the one car, a red 4 door of Asian make, passed by me very closely. I had heard the engine rev as it approached me, speeding up. Reflexively and impulsively, even though the car was just behind me, I KICKED THE CAR as it passed. I was giving no fucks that day and certainly not thinking clearly. The car then went around the block so that as I made it to the side walk corner, the man stopped. I walked to the open driver’s side window.

“What the fuck you doing?” The old man asked. “Why did you kick the car, asshole?”

“Why did you almost fucking run me over?” I looked down at the seated driver, he had his hand on a gun in his lap. It was resting on a handkerchief and looked like a .38 pointed at his door and thus at me.

“I didn’t run you over, asshole.”

“Oh, I see. You have a gun. Go ahead mother fucker. Shoot me. Go on, pull the fucking trigger. C’mon, I’m not afraid to die. Do it. Shoot me.” I yelled something to that effect. He looked at me like I was crazy and drove away. Psychotic episodes are no fun for anyone.

Falling from a Great Height

Desperation or Desire? Which is the great motivator of our times? Fear or Apathy? Which the most common human characteristic?

Whichever it might have been that drove me to drive myself the few hours from Santa Cruz to Hopland, California at the turn of the millennium succeeded in giving me purpose beyond what I had hoped for and opportunity more than I had prepared for and another near death experience the likes of which could only be popular in a brief 1970’s police procedural scene, just to break the monotony.

The class was on the basics of photovoltaic system installation.  Very simply installing the solar panels connecting to an inverter and tying into the grid. There was also material on battery backup systems and the all important first step of assessing your electrical consumption. The class was worth far more to me than the paltry workshop fee. The instructor, Michael Hacklemann was both wide and deep in his knowledge of all things electrical. His particular expertise was in wind machines especially the old Jacobsen wind machines from the turn of the last century that he had scoured the midwest for back in the day. He had fascinating stories and useful insight. After the workshop I waited until the other students were finished asking him questions and I walked with him out to his truck, that he had borrowed from a friend. We spoke of the raw deal that Nikolai Tesla had received at the hands of Edison. I asked if he had any connections in Santa Cruz and he gave me a lead which lead to my next job installing pv systems in residential homes.

The battery was dead in his borrowed truck so I helped him with a jump start and off he went. I was ELATED with the prospect of a connection to someone where I lived installing PV systems, I was on the proverbial cloud 9. Hopping back in my 90s Subaru legacy I sped south on the winding road. I had been driving for less than an hour when in a particularly curvy section of the road something happened. I was in the left lane doing about 65 or 70 mph. There was a car in front of me in the right lane and a truck pulling a half-truck or truck-bed trailer in the right lane behind me. The road curved to the right and as we came around the curve – suddenly – there was a large conglomeration of objects in my lane. It was an enormous florescent neoprene covered truck tire inner tube type thing that gets pulled behind a speed boat for recreational purposes and two bicycles all roped together. Well I made a very sudden turn to the right and hit the fucker with my left front tire, got sideways on the two right tires (the two left tires were now off the ground), turned the wheel a touch and went back on the ground into a 4 wheel slide. I managed to float between the two vehicles in the right lane and bounce once off of the guard rail before coming to a stop. I got out of the car, very shaken. Both cars in the right lane had pulled over and the guy in the truck with the truck-bed trailer got out of his car and walked toward me quickly slapping his hand on his heart. He said, “Oh my God! I thought for sure you were going to flip over. Holy Shit, man! You were completely sideways! I saw the whole thing.” I was shaking while collecting the contact information of the two cars. The inner-tube/bicycle wreckage was back less than a quarter mile. I pulled some plastic shielding from the bottom of the car and the only serious dammage was to the right headlight and tail light. The car started and seemed to run, there was no leaking fluids. I did some roadside maintenance to ensure that nothing was going to fall off. The other cars left and I walked back up 101 to fetch the remains of the bicycles and inner tube. When I reached them I decided to leave the inner tube and take the bikes. Maybe I could sell them for parts, it didn’t occur to me to use them to track down the owner. So i dragged the stuff off of the highway, left the inner tube on the shoulder and brought the bikes, or what was left of them, back to my wagon. I opened the back hatch and was stuffing the bikes into my car when a truck pulled up behind me. A man and a woman got out and I asked them, “Did you, perchance, lose a couple of bikes and an inner tube because they damn near killed me?”

Do your inner energy nerd a favor and buy, read, click, review or whatnot Michael Hackleman’s books at

Powells Bookstore

amazon

My Brother and the Bull Elk

When a quad of city boys, suburban hands, of an age within two and a half to three and a half decades, gather together at a campsite just outside of shelter cove drinking whiskey and pondering the universe, their locus in it; When this happens, they begin to take turns composing the tale of Whiskey Dick – the dumpster diving, dive bar frequenting, freight train jumping, down on his luck, anti-antihero, cantankerous lech and all around good-ole-boy.

Three were brothers, Mucky, Lucky, and Jolly. The fourth, Brunt, was a good friend. That they did, passing around the journal upon which each took a turn crafting a tale so far fetched and unbelievable that it’s origin’s must be in the truth. The whiskey bottle was passed also, though in the opposite direction. The tale was spun by turns, replete with laughter, and lost to the vagaries of time. The next morning they stopped by the visitor’s center to listen to the sage advice of the docent. “This is Elke mating season. You will probably come across lone male elk, there’s about one in each ravine. When two of these Elke come in contact, they will fight – charge each other and butt heads. Give them lots of space and do not look them in the eyes. If you look into their eyes, they will take that as a challenge and may charge you. Remember, this is their home and you are just visiting, please give them space and be careful.” Well it turns out one of the boys missed the docent’s sage wisdom because he was taking a piss.

The Sinkyone Wilderness, south of Shelter cove climbs from sea level to 2000 feet over and over again as these rugged mountains dive into the mighty Pacific. It is no wonder that this place is called the Lost Coast. The main highway skirts eastward around the Humbolt Redwoods State Park, various private properties and King Range National Conservation Area (home to innumerable heavily armed dope growers). Another warning from the docent was to not head north into the King Range unless you were fixin’ to get shot by a pot farmer or die on the high tide, stuck beneath the cliffs as a few tourists do every year.

They headed south, their main objective: visit Sally Bell Grove to give thanks and remembrance to the indigenous heroine of the Lost Coast, of the Sinkyone Wilderness. They planned to walk south and then head back north again. They gave themselves 3 nights to find the center of the protected old growth, relic of thousands of years, testament to human destruction and remnant of what could have been. On the first night they set up camp very near the beach at Bear Harbor. Brunt and Mucky went up stream a ways to filter some water for cooking their dinner. About a quarter of a mile up the trail they encountered two bull elke on either side of the trail. The two elk squared off and charged each other smacking head and antler in a cosmic collision. Brunt and Mucky stopped and marveled at the two elke, carefully heading the docent’s advice. They waited. A few minutes passed and the elk collided again. The site of the collision was right in the middle of the trail. The two water fetchers were perplexed. The stream was further up the trail and without wading through stinging nettle and poison oak there was no access except where the trail crossed up ahead. So they waited and marveled at this fantastic sight. The bull elk bugled and foraged, still on either side of the trail. The rut was on and would be for at least another month. Brunt and Mucky waited; silent, observant and fearful. Jolly came loping up the trail, saw the two waiting and asked, “What’s up guys.” They explained the situation. “What?!” Jolly said, incredulous, “We need to get dinner started.” He picked up some stones and started throwing them at the Elk. He also started yelling at them to move along the trail. They looked up and for a moment, just a fraction of a moment really, Brunt and Mucky were certain the elk were going to charge and skewer the youngest brother. The elk raised their heads and directed their gaze at the loud, obnoxious bellowing human throwing stones which landed not on them but near them. The stones were carefully aimed. The tense moment passed and the two elk sauntered off into the forest away from the trail. Human bravado, stupidity, innocent meanness and impatience can never be underestimated. After all, what was the hurry? Regardless of what could have been they were able to get to the stream and filter the tainted water that had been poisoned by years of deforestation and underground fuel storage. Brunt and Mucky felt a mixture of WTF? and Why Didn’t We Just Do That? Jolly had made them look both foolish and patient. Jolly had missed the docent’s talk and had little regard for them sovereignty of the Elke. He thought he was helping and yet…

The next day they made a couple of 2000 ft. ascents and descents. They made a break from the costal trail in search of Sally Bell Grove, were assaulted by poison oak and stinging nettle (navigation was all done with USGS topo-maps, so long ago was it). When they found the grove they noticed tiny colorful bags of tobacco hanging from the old growth redwoods. They sang some rounds inside of a tree and felt relief at achieving their purpose.

Triage: 5th class citizens of public education

The only people more worse off than substitute teachers in the public school system are the students. First class citizens, of course are the legislature, behind them comes the district and administrators, then the teachers and other full time staff such as custodians and para-educators. On par with para-educators, paid slightly more because of certification but without the certainty or solace of working in the same building everyday, substitute teachers are the ER doctors of the public school system doing triage day in and day out as opposed to real education. Part of this is just human nature but the larger portion of blame lies in the poorly funded and afterthought that the public education system has become. A system that has turned teachers into data generators, trackers and prision guards. So it is no wonder that when the substitute shows up the students haze and rebel in anyway they can.

“Subbing” is the process of being hazed for 5 – 6 periods each day. The admirable movement to call substitutes “guest teachers” simply so that they do not have to hear “Yay! Mr./Mz. (Teacher) isn’t here today we have a sub” or “Ah, man. We have a sub today.” The connotations of “sub”, meaning under or beneath, are not lost on the students nor on the guest teacher and are best ignored by the latter. Usually the enthusiasm of having a sub is shortly followed by a prolonged intimate relationship of the student with their phone – often to notify their peers of their impending freedom from “accountability” (tracking) during future periods in the same classroom. Despite these considerate obstacles one is still expected to teach and no sooner is a lesson begun a warm up problem assigned or and entry task proffered than there begins the litany of problems which, at times it seems, the majority of student intellect and creativity are devoted to. Someone needs to use the bathroom, or forgot something in their locker, or they need the nurse for an unspecified medical problem that only surfaced since they walked in the classroom and realized they have a substitute. Namely, students know they can try and usually get away with the normal bag of tricks that would never fly with their regular teacher. I have lumped all students together thus far, but that is unjust. It is really a small number in each class that essentially attempt to pester the substitute into submission or madness or to quit. Yes, there is actually a small, yet vocal, segment of the public school population (6-12 grades) that pride themselves on getting ANY teacher, staff, or substitute to quit. This is the same group of students who instigate conflict among their peers as a form of entertainment.

Students engage in all kinds of behavior that they would never even dream of doing in the presence of their normal teacher. Students, seemingly drunk on the perception of freedom from accountability, mindlessly pull up lewd and inappropriate content on their phones, don’t hesitate to have way way WAY off topic conversations, physically play fight or bully one another, or disengage altogether. The prison mentality is so strong in public education that the substitute appears to have virtually no choice but to adopt the most brutal and base prison mentality and become at the outset the harshest authoritarian possible using machiavellian fear to maintain some semblance of serious academic learning. Again this culture in our schools makes it rather difficult to get student buy-in without some very strong delineation, often by example, of the consequences or punishment that awaits the disruptors who are almost always a small fraction of the class. It’s an equivalent mentality to the whole “When you get to prison pick a fight with the biggest baddest dude and after that, if you survive, you’ll not be bothered.” Though not couched in those terms and without the violence, much of what the substitute teacher must do to insure cooperation is very similar to what the regular classroom teacher does at the beginning of every year to insure student buy-in, namely enforce consequences, the difference being the substitute must do it for every new class. Writing the student up, contacting administrators and parents – the consequence is usually more of a punishment for the substitute than the student and is one of the sources of unpaid overtime for which substitutes are not compensated. This idea of making and example of a student early in the period, ideally a chronically misbehaving one, might indeed establish some kind of order but it is fraught with peril and can often backfire causing students to disengage.

Techniques like learning to write on the whiteboard without turning your back on the class, posing your body so that while you are helping one student you are able to see the rest of the class and making students aware that you are waiting… These are old hat for regular teachers who by the second week of school often need not employ them so extensively. There are many of these strategies. They often mirror what practices a stage performer must adhere to in order to sustain the illusion. The comparison to performance is not idle. The substitute has a very short time with which to gain the students’ attention and entice them into actually working with the caveat that some students in almost every class will refuse or revolt or worse. So teaching is in competition with the entertainment provided by the students phone and video consumption. Can the substitute possibly be as or more interesting? Perhaps some of the time but it is a tall order and risks devolving into post modern clownism.

Biodiesel and AvGas

In 2005 I got a job working as a “batcher” making biodiesel in a factory whose vegetable oil feedstock was shipped in via railroad tanker cars. I spent a lot of time measuring out the catalyst Sodium Hydroxide in zip lock bags, sweating and getting burns despite the Tyvek suit, face-mask, respirator and gloves. I also spent lots of time cleaning. This particular operation was financed by people who were trying to run the factory as a tech-start up, instead of what it was supposed to be ideally: A sustainable fuel manufacturer. There was one step in the process that was quite puzzling. They were adding a white powder, Magnusol – an industrial degreaser, to help separate the glycerin from the biodiesel. The problem became apparent some weeks after this practice started. A local biodiesel retailer and expert mechanic, Dr. D., had begun to see a white gunk in many of his clients cylinders. The Magnusol was not falling out of solution effectively and was ending up clogging people’s engines causing thousands of dollars of damage. The management and owners were in denial about their role in ruining engines and did their best to cover their asses and avoid liability. At one point I visited Dr. D. and had a long conversation about what I was seeing. My employers were not about sustainability and producing the most low-carbon fuel possible with the most ecologically sound practices. They were only about making money, about exploiting people’s desire for an ecologically sound alternative to fossil fuel. I told Dr. D. about the Magnusol and how they were trying to run to process faster and faster without a ‘real’ scientist to make accurate predictions regarding what ended up in the fuel. So instead of getting rid of the Magnusol the plant purchased a massive filtering system which removed the Magnusol after processing and I spent a lot of time cleaning the filters, another loathesome duty. It wasn’t much longer before my time in this factory ended. There was just nothing for it, I clearly had ideals and principals that conflicted with the greed and mismanagement of my, perhaps, well meaning but ultimately flawed employers. Sometime after I left, the company changed their name and moved to a new plant out on the coast and there they began importing palm oil from Indonesia. It seems their corruption only deepened in the name of profit over all else.

My interest and enthusiasm for Biodiesel was spawned primarily by the wars for oil that the U.S. has been waging for the past decades. I am still running my 2004 Volkswagen on Biodiesel from Dr. D. It is a challenging industry, but I still whole heartedly support sustainable biodiesel and those amazing people who are able, despite the greed and corruption, to grow, produce, sell and maintain the most ecologically sound domestic fuel.

Here are some links if you are interested in helping overcome the addiction to fossil fuels through sustainable biodiesel.

https://drdansbiodiesel.com/

http://www.biodiesel.com/biodiesel/sustainability/

http://www.sustainablebiodieselalliance.com/welcome.html

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On the topic of fuel there is one more big problem that I would like to mention. Many people do not realize that most private small aircraft still run on leaded fuel, called “AvGas”. Municipal and small scale airfields that cater to these planes do not have the infrastructure to fuel aircraft with unleaded fuel. The engines are also not designed to work with unleaded fuels so there really hasn’t been much change in these problems. The truth is that there is no safe amount of lead in the human organism. Every atom of lead in the body does damage. We learned this a long time ago and got rid of lead in automobiles but the issue of small planes still using avgas has flown beneath the radar. The people mostly affected by this are young children who live near municipal or private airfields, not a very powerful voting block. Their more rapidly developing nervous systems are more susceptible than in adults. Those affected, living in the areas which experience the highest concentration of aerosolized lead from small planes, tend to be in the lower income bracket and people of color. This is truly a travesty and a hidden shame of the aviation industry.

https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/avgas/

 

Kelp – Shark – Typhoon

Surfing on the east side of Santa Cruz meant Pleasure Point or 26th avenue and when those massive Northwest swells rolled in during autumn only the brave or crazy headed up north to places like 3-mile, 4-mile, Davenport or Año Nuevo. One day, in 1992, my buddy WZ and I drove with a friend and our gear out to Davenport during a particularly big swell. There were only a few guys actually out in the water as we pulled up in D’s van. The surf spot at Davenport had a small bay that faced west-southwest and extended from El Jarro point about 600 yards to the southern edge of the bay. Normally there were 2 surf spots – the point break at El Jarro and the more accessible one at the south end of the bay. As we stood on the edge of the road next to the other surfers checking the waves someone produced a joint and a few of us partook.

We suited up and paddled out to the southern peak. The southern peak had a particularly dense grove of bull kelp. These kelp have large bulbous heads, filled with air, which pop up to the surface in the trough of passing waves and are submerged when the crests roll by. As we paddled out they make an ominous THUMP on the bottom of the surf board when in a trough. This was so disturbing because Davenport is located within the Red Triangle, a great white shark breeding ground.

WZ made it out first and caught a monster on his tiny 5’6″ thruster. The face of the wave was at least double overhead, or twice the size of the surfer. WZ was in the impact zone paddling out and getting trounced. I caught a wave of similar size and began to paddle back out when a close out set appeared on the horizon. The massive close-out set broke across the entire bay. Triple overhead giants created row after row of 12+ feet of white water. The first wall of white water approached and I duck dived as deeply as I could into the kelp trying to get under the turmoil. The chaotic white water tossed me around like a rag doll and soon I was deep under water tangled up in the kelp forest. I could not discern which way was up to the surface. The more one struggles the more the kelp wraps around the struggler. So I just had to relax, follow my leash to my surfboard and use it to find the surface. Finally I was able to get my head out of the water and take a breath. Then the next close out wave approached. I did this five or six more times before giving up and heading to the beach to wait out the close out set.

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The beaches in Aptos, CA stretch on for miles perched on the edge of the Montery Submarine Canyon. On a lonely weekday evening, with the sun low on the horizon, it can feel like the shores of a distant planet. I found myself out in the water one summer evening, a lazy south swell rolling in occasional 6 foot nuggets breaking over well worn sand bars. With the sun in the west, on the opposite side of an outside set, the waves light up and briefly turn a bright yellow-green. There was one other guy out in the water and no one on the beach. As I paddled back out after a mediocre ride, a set came up. Through the translucent wave a silhouette, 16 – 18 feet long, with a vertical tail and dorsal fin was silently swimming south at a rapid clip. Had I imagined it? Was it a mirage? Dolphins have horizontal tail fins and often surf the wave, bounding in and out of the water, whereas sharks tend to swim inside of them. I called to the other guy and motioned for him to paddle in. I told him what I saw, or what I thought I saw. We waited on the beach and looked out to sea for half an hour. Nothing. So we paddled back out and hoped it was only the sea playing tricks on me.

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One of the amazing things about living in Taipei was the public transportation. I could take the MRT (subway) to the train station, hop on a train, and an hour and a half later walk off the train not 500 yards from the tropical paradise of Fulong Beach. Once I had caught a perfect day here just before a Typhoon hit. Warm water 6-8 ft. tubes pealed away from the jetty on the edge of the river mouth. Hoping to duplicate this experience I head out to Fulong one day several weeks later and stepped off the train to gray skies, rain and wind. The ocean was tumultuous and there was no coherent break; only hundreds of peaks and turbulent water. I paddled out near the jetty anyway. About half way out I noticed there were uniformed people standing on the jetty waving at me to paddle in. I kept going, determined to catch at least one wave. Outside the break, while waiting for a wave, a bright orange coast guard boat pulled up and a man with a megaphone shouted at me in Chinese. I waved and smiled and nodded “O.K.” and still waited. When a somewhat ridable wave finally showed up I caught it and though it was mostly white water, rode it to the beach. The coast guard guys thought I was crazy. I went home disappointed. It turns out the best time to catch typhoon waves is just before it hits the island, when the swell that developed in the typhoon is ripe and the winds have not yet arrived to ruin the party. I will always marvel and appreciate the fact that in some lucky places a person can take public transportation all the way to the beach.