This is always a difficult day for me, January 11. My dad would have been 88 today in 2021. He would have been able to play with his grandchildren instead of never having met them, nor them him. This is probably the saddest part for my siblings and I collectively. I want to express my sincere condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one and was not able to be with them, to say goodbye, to hold them and speak with them one last time especially during this coronavirus pandemic. My father died accidentally while I was living in Taipei, one week before I was set to go back for a visit in 2004. It was about the worst thing that ever happened to me and I miss him something awful. I suspect it was the one of the catalysts for my bipolar disorder and subsequent diagnosis. Remembering what a good, loving person he was helps and it has gotten easier with time. So I pray that all of you missing your beloved family and friends and being unable to be with them, at the inevitable time, strength and fortitude to continue on and know you are not alone. I wish you all peace and comfort in the knowledge that, like Carl Sagan pointed out, we are all still here together on this one tiny blue speck floating in a sun beam where every being that has ever existed on this planet has lived out all their days. While that might not be as comforting to some as placing their loved one’s in the stars or heavens, it is nonetheless true that we are all forever and always made from stars and among the stars.
There were two Bontrager mountain bikes in all of New Mexico during the spring of 1996. One of those was stolen from the living room of the house where I rented a room from Elliot. It was a strange weekend. A friend had been staying with us as well as Elliot’s brother and a handful of his friends from California. We had an overcrowded house. There was road construction on the street in front of our old prison brick house. There are only a handful of buildings made out of the old prison bricks in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The rest of the town is adobe, at least on the outside, in accordance with their unique building codes meant to preserve the potency of southwest culture in the land of enchantment.
I had left my bike in the living room and someone had absconded with it because the front door of our house had been left open. I immediately called all the bike shops in the city, gave them a description of this unique machine, and asked them to call me if it turned up. Almost 48 hours later I got a phone call from Early Bird, one of the bike shops. It just so happened that the guy I had spoken to on the phone and given the information to was serendipitously the self-same person who answered the phone when an idiot lady called in asking if $500 was a good price for a Bontrager. He had her describe the bike, it was mine to a “t”. So he called me back and gave me a lead on who the idiot lady was and I did a search through the phone book and found her number. She was a regular client of the store. I called and left a message. The next day I called again and got her on the phone. She told me someone had approached her husband on The Plaza and offered to sell him a bike. I told her it was mine and that it had been stolen out of my house. She said, “oh sorry. I don’t know anything about it” and she hung up on me. I had already reported it stolen to the police so I called them back and tried to get a hold of the sergeant who took the original report. I gave them the case number, they couldn’t find it. I asked to talk to the officer who took the report, he was gone, out for training or some nonsense. I had to re-file the report and tell them that I had a lead. They said they’d look into it. I called again the next day. They lost the report again and couldn’t cross reference the case number. I was so frustrated. That bike was my most prized possession and most important form of transportation.
In the summer of 1993 I had visited the Bontrager factory in Santa Cruz, California. They no longer really made bikes there but I ordered a custom mountain bike from them anyway. What the factory had turned into was a kind of test lab for various components and I was lucky enough to get a tour of their fascinating set up. Bike companies from all over the world, mostly southeast Asia, would sent them parts like a bottom bracket or a head set. The Bontrager people would put them in their stress-test machines flip it on and the machine would simulate use, but on a more intense level. Then they would come back the next day and see where the component broke and send the engineering specs back to the bike company. This was their new business model, they were pulling back from manufacturing bikes. A few years later the Santa Cruz factory would be gone all together.
The bike was never recovered and the police never investigated even though the theft qualified as ‘grand theft’ since the bike was worth over $2k. I never got further than that one conversation with that flighty person who wouldn’t help me locate the person trying to sell it to her husband. I was devastated and ended up buying a used Rock Hopper for $300 and my biking habit suffered enormously. I wouldn’t really get back into biking until 2019 when I finally bought a decent bike. That Rock Hopper lasted a long time but was ultimately not enough to overcome the disappointment of having my Bontrager stolen. The thief stole more than just a bike. They stole my desire to continue with bicycling as a primary form of transportation and all the benefits inherent with such a mode of travel.
We had just gone grocery shopping and were on the way home with nary a care in the world save the terror of new parenthood. Our lovely daughter, only a few years emerged from the comforts of the womb was babbling away in the middle of the back seat where her child seat snuggly restrained her. She was hungry and told us as much. I pulled an apple out of the reusable shopping bag and handed it to her without removing the tiny sticker. I turned around in my seat just in time to see the peeled off sticker hanging precariously from her upper lip. The sticker was curled and aligned perfectly with her nostril. I immediately commanded her to blow her nose and NOT INHALE. As I reached to grab the sticker I watched in horror as she took a deep breath, through her nose of course, and inhaled the sticker right up her snoot. “OH SHIT!” I said to my wife. We arrived home and brought everything and everybody into the house. Once inside we tried everything we could think of to extract the sticker. My wife couldn’t see it when she looked up the baby’s nose with a flashlight and began to doubt me. We tried to get the child to blow her nose but she hadn’t quite mastered that level of bodily control and she kept inhaling more air which must have moved the sticker ever higher into her sinuses. Finally we called the nurse at the Poly Clinic. We got her on the phone and just as she was telling us not to try to use pepper to make her sneeze, my wife was blowing pepper in the baby’s face. The nurse said we needed to seek medical care or risk having the sticker lodged permanently in the sinuses due the rapidly dividing cells with which such young children are replete. We hopped back in the car and headed to urgent care. They were able to see us relatively quickly. During the wait my wife kept doubting that there was actually a sticker up her nose since she didn’t see it being inhaled and she couldn’t see up our baby’s nostril. This totally pissed me off. When we finally got in to the examination room with the doctor we held our child while the doc looked up her nose and confirmed there was something there. It took three adults to hold our baby still enough so that the doc could aspirate and then pull out the sticker with a pair of hemostats. It was an cathartic moment tinged with the validation of my observation that had been called into doubt. These kinds of medical experiences have a definite end and a definite release of pent up emotion and frustration because they have a definite end.
In late October 1999 I was living in a beautiful ocean adjacent city that was rapidly becoming unaffordable. One morning after a party at the house of the person with whom I was living I had the good fortune to speak with a couple who worked for a large philanthropic organization. They were set to get on their sail boat and spend the next four to eight years sailing around the south pacific and South America because at that point the Gore/Bush election was too close to call but they had a bad feeling about it. We had a fairly brief conversation but the idea of fleeing a neoconservative/project for a new american century/heritage foundation take over of the american political landscape seemed like an excellent idea.
A few weeks later the unthinkable happened: the supreme court appointed a president. Disaster and “best laid plans” of the aforementioned think tanks would not be far behind. First I applied to the peace corps but since I was amidst a fairly deep depression the peace corp job interview did not go so very well. I had been asking them to send me to Africa and they were also not very keen on sending someone where they wanted to go. In addition to that, the interviewer really did not like me very much and I was never able to figure out why exactly. He asked me what I would do, if for any variety of reasons, I could not leave a certain area. I told him I’d sleep, read, make art, meditate. Any number of things really, that could be done in a confined area. He was not amused. I still to this day have no idea what that guy was fishing for in his questions. Maybe it was because I was too old? It was a big issue to me, at the time. I ended up moving to Seattle and working in a grocery store while my girlfriend, A., and I planned our escape to Taiwan.
It turned out to be a fantastic situation. In 2002 we both got jobs with the McDonald’s of bushiban (after school school) teaching english. The massive company had good relations with the government so I didn’t have to get an ARC (alien residency certificate) on my own. They hurdled that particular bureaucratic nightmare time suck. She went over first, found a place to live and started working. A couple months later I made the 6,440 mile flight and landed in Taipei with a back pack. She met me at the airport and we bussed it to our new apartment. I hadn’t built up unreasonable expectations and fantasies about what I thought I would find. The experience took me and I let it.
We walked from the bus stop to our apartment and on the way I got to see an enormous construction project, which I would later discover was actually relatively small scale. A teacher friend I later met told me he tried explaining the population density and size of urban buildings to his relations back home this way: “The upstate New York college town where I (he) went had a population of 20,000 people. The first apartment I (he) moved into had more people living in the building than that.” The structures dwarfed mountains and there were hundreds of them. Taipei was only a year or so away from finishing its tallest building, Taipei 101.
We started working, including commute, 8 -12 hours per day. I loved my new school. The people were so friendly and helpful. One night, about 3 a.m. I awoke to A. standing in the doorway of the bedroom to our apartment, arms akimbo, silhouetted by the illuminated living room light. “How can you sleep right now?” she demanded.
“Um. Just like this. Let me show you.” Still underneath the mosquito netting, I rolled over and attempted to go back to sleep.
“There’s a dog barking outside. It’s just a little puppy.”
“Don’t touch it.” I replied, “It’s probably got fleas or parasites.” A few minutes later she returned from outside the apartment with something wrapped in a towel. I reluctantly got out of bed and looked into the happy blue eyes of a small black and brown terrier looking thing. At that moment I knew it was over. “Fuck. We have a dog now.” I whined. We named him 小狼, Xiao Lang or Little Wolf.
After several days we talked about it and realized that it wasn’t great leaving the puppy in our apartment every day. We needed to get another dog.
Kuai Le 快樂
With the generous help of our roommate, without which we would not have been able to find such a place. We moved into our own apartment. A tiny kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. The bedroom was triangular at one end. It was on the 4th floor which is the unlucky floor in buildings. The Mandarin for 4 is a very similar word for death. As foreigners living on the 4th floor was not a problem for us because, apparently, superstition does not translate.
A. found a woman who had recently rescued a dog and was looking for someone to adopt it. We arranged to meet at a nearby restaurant. I was under the impression we were just going to meet the dog and, in typical over-privileged western thinking, be able to decide if we wanted it or not. I met the kind woman outside the restaurant. She had a small pink bird cage with a nearly hairless pink animal that looked like a large rat. As I stood on the patio, it became apparent that I could not refuse to take this animal. She had no room for it and no where else to take it. Fortunately she had found an excellent Veterinarian who was able to give us medication and cleanser for the worms, scabies and skin fungus. The dog was emaciated and did not seem as if it would survive for long. When I got her back to our rooftop where we had set up a small quarantine I felt very certain the dog would not survive. Then I set some food down in front of her and she ferociously began devouring it. At that moment I realized we were keeping this animal and she was going to survive. We named her 快樂, Kuai Le, Mandarin for Happy. She was quarantined for 2 months and never lost her appetite.
When we finally brought her down into the apartment the two dogs got along famously. Xiao Lang ever the extroverted attention whore zipped around the small apartment while Kuai Le sat on a chair observing his antics with bemused detachment. He played fetch without any training and she wouldn’t chase anything other than food but was fiercely protective and had an intimidating bark. When taking them for walks no chicken bone discarded on the sidewalk was safe from her. She actually chewed them and there was no chance of getting any food away from her once it was in biting range. I called her chicken-bone-magnet. After every walk, especially in the riverside park, we would sit down on the couch and pull 5 -10 ticks out of each paw with a pair of tweezers that were dedicated to this task that simply became a rote chore and lost any trace of the disgustingness with which it was first imbued.
Aside from teaching English, taking care of the dogs, smoking vast quantities of hash and watching movies on the computer (VCDs!) I took an occasional trip to the beach to go surfing. This was the amazing thing that blew my mind, taking public transportation to the beach. I walked the few blocks to the MRT station and boarded the light rail, got off at the train station, bought a ticket, boarded a train and an hour or so later got off the train within half a mile of a tropical paradise with an excellent surf spot of which there were several. It really sealed my desire to never return to the United States. But fate was not to be so kind.
There was one other past-time that took all my focus and that was music. We had found an ex-pat bar with an open mic and I had found people, ex-pats mostly, to play music with about once a week. Funny thing about English teachers in Taiwan: most of them are Canadian. And so were most of the musicians that I met at the bar. I had my brother’s old 4 track that I used to record a lot of jams and also used to record my own songs. At one point I rented a music studio that had a p.a., drum kit, keyboard, amplifiers, and bass guitar where I threw together a dozen songs with all the parts improvised by myself alone. The folks in the studio just laughed at the foreigner playing music all by himself. I didn’t mind, it was just something I had wanted to do for several months and had finally summoned the courage and found the time to do knowing it would never amount to much.
Things with A. were coming to ahead as we were steadily growing older and approaching a critical point. She wanted to get married and have a baby, not an unreasonable expectation. I just wanted to never return to the USA, smoke hash, surf and play music for the rest of my time on earth. Also I wanted to learn to translate text from Mandarin to English so I could have a job working from anywhere with an internet connection. There was also the issue of my then undiagnosed bipolar disorder which would not become full blown until after the subsequent traumatic event of a death in my immediate family.
In June of 2004 I had a plane ticket to fly back to my family in California for a visit. One week before my flight was scheduled to take off I got a call from my brother telling my there had been an accident and our father was in critical condition in the hospital and was on life support, probably brain dead already. I had been very eager to see my family again, especially my father with whom I’d had fairly rocky relationship with, to say the least. I had yearned to talk with him about currency trading, of all things. Something I had been obsessed with every since earning money in NT dollars. There were many other things we needed to talk about too, conversations that had been put off too long. One thing I had done before I left for Taiwan the first time, knowing that I might not return, was interview my father. I asked him questions about his history about his parents about growing up and what the world was like sixty years ago. He did not disappoint and the hour we had barely scratched the surface of what I wanted him to talk about. Then he took me to the airport and I did not know that I would never see him alive again.
I flew home immediately and made it to the hospital before they turned off his pacemaker, unplugged him and let him die. When they allowed me in the room with him by myself, to say goodbye, I cried so loudly that my mother and siblings came in to tell me that I was disturbing the entire ward and that they would not leave me alone with him any longer. It was painful and I was jet lagged. We still had to wait what seemed like an interminable wait for a technician to come by and turn off his battery powered pacemaker that he had installed long before the silly accident that had cost him his life. He was diabetic and as a septuagenarian had been suffering from neuropathy and poor circulation. So it was something of a surprise that he had decided to get a massage before a big fundraiser that he and my mom had been planning for months. But she let him go and felt guilty about it for a long time because that is the sort of irrationality that humans are subjected to for caring. After the massage he was left alone in the room to dress himself and upon attempting to do so he had fallen and hit his head on the table and had a large gash in his forehead. The paramedics had broken his front teeth while trying to intubate him, something not uncommon with emergency western medical interventions. The large gash on his head had been cleaned and stitched up by the time I found myself wailing at his hospital bed. There had been speculation that he may have had an aneurysm due to plaques released into the blood stream during the massage, the reason massage can be dangerous for persons suffering from neuropathy and poor circulation. No one every will know because he was cremated without an autopsy at the behest of one of his closest friends who felt and autopsy would be disrespectful and unbecoming of such an beloved and respected figure. In my grief I delude myself with all manner of speculative causes of his death. Everything from the mafia to karmic punishment for me to foul play by business rivals. Eventually I chalked it up to something akin to the death of the Dr. Juvenal Urbino in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera”, an absurd and pointless death by accident.
Having already cleared out of what had been our little apartment in Taiwan, shipped all my belongings home and now found myself in California. I was utterly miserable and lost. All sense of purpose and vision seemed to have left me and I was experiencing the worst culture shock, having lost my “western bubble” that Americans tend to spend most of their time in. My language had become tonally unmoored and people were repelled by the way I sounded when I spoke to them. They were afraid and did not understand and neither did I. My habits and tolerances had all changed in ways that I also didn’t fully understand. One time I walked into an ice cream shop. There was a clerk behind the counter and a couple standing there looking at the ice cream flavors trying to figure out what they wanted. Since I had lost the custom of standing in line and waiting for the person next in line, I walked right up to the clerk and ordered a single scoop of chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. The clerk was appalled and could not fathom why I thought it was my turn to order. The couple was also highly offended. Then I remembered I was in California and people waited in line for everything.
For years I was wretched and hated being back in the States where people were so boring and static, with their puny little alphabet and lack of tonality. Though I longed for the excitement of living in a far away place, learning to think in another so different language, I knew I could never go back. It would not be the same, could not be the same. So I resigned myself to make the best of this second new life in a shockingly bizarre land to which I had been born.
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.
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, when he 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 already sired all 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 – 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 thing, 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 earnest, “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 you are encompased by the no-fucking-around type of pain you’ve only read or heard about. 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. 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 of 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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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