The Year of the Hotdog

As we proceed through life we should never forget that the routine ingredients that flavor our lives would lose their importance if they were not underlain by mystery and shrouded in chaos.

Life is a mystery nestled in a bun of chaos topped with all of the simple, standard ingredients of existence. The universally identifiable toppings give depth and meaning to mystery and chaos, but they cannot be fully understood and appreciated without reflecting upon the mystery of that underlies them. We can only appreciate the mystery though, as it will forever remain beyond the understanding of science and logic. Speculating upon the constituents of the hotdog proceeds under the misguided belief that the object of scrutiny is the mere sum of its constituents. Even if we could agree upon the nature of its contents, the question of how such glorious flavor and beauty could be created out of seemingly nothing would persist.

I propose that this year we no longer idly muse about the nature of the hotdog and instead that we eat of it and relish the mystery.

A Setting of One Foot in Front of the Other

This day I would begin an odyssey that would shake the weltschmerz from my girdle. I would walk the coast of isle peopled with inhabitants whose languages remained completely beyond the ken of my discerning ear and whose clime would test my mettle to the utmost.

I arose with my nerves steeled for the unknown. The day’s heat proved formidable even though the cocks had only just begun to crow. At I had minimal information on the route, but I had at least been assured by various learned acquaintances that the public beaches were fair grounds for the setting of camp and that there was food for the eating.

IMG_3764 (1024x768)I walked out the main gate of our compound and turned to the right, despite the plan that I had to turn left. The sentry who assiduously guarded the entrance paced the road and as a speaker of my native tongue was likely to inquire what my plan was. The reasons being too complicated to explain drove me to bravely change course. I endeavored to head due north on a series of rarely trod bovine paths beset on every side by brambles and vegetables of a rather spiny nature. I was forced to turn back upon my trail multiple times as I navigated these wastes strewn with refuse. My tunic was sodden after a mere ten minutes.

I marveled at inexplicable concrete castles along dirt roads that were not only devoid of nobility or gentry, but there was nary a groundskeep or caretaker to be seen. I was led to wonder what chicanery inspired such frivolity.

IMG_3749 (1024x768)I reached the northernmost point of the island– a sign marked it as Cap Malhereux – and then began walking towards the yoke of the eastern sun. The Orient proved to be sparsely populated compared to the Occident. The paths were rife with mechanical conveyances that threatened my life at high velocities  with little room for refuge.

I walked along the beach when possible and gazed upon uninhabited, rugged northern isles that local lore spoke of as inhabited with the most bizarre and uncomely reptiles imaginable. I shuddered at the mere thought of these blind boas and neon lizards. Previous travelers had assured me that they had exterminated all such fauna from this island.

IMG_3757 (768x1024)I made frequent pit stops at shrines along the coast. I approached one from a distance that was dressed regally and appeared to be of significant import, only to find that upon closer examination the figure had a half simian half man face. I never have seen such a creature on this island. I later found out that this thing was called Hanuman, a beast that once mistook the sun for a mango and tried to eat it in his youth. A story that I venture to say is preposterous.

My feet had already begun to ache and blister. I sought respite in the shade of a food hawker’s stand. I shared a mirthful moment with a group of shirtless men gathered around a booth who laughed at one of the few utterances that I was able to manipulate my tongue into uttering in the local dialect: ‘Un roti de poisson avec beaucoup pimen.’ After saying this the locals will hand you a roll filled with spices, fish, and chili.

IMG_3760 (1024x768)My exhaustive research indicates that prior to 1638 there were no permanent inhabitants of this tropical island. The Dutch had a colony on Mauritius from 1638 until 1715 when the French took control of the island who held it until the British came in 1810. It has a history of being passed around like a lady of the night and appears to have few of its original natural charms left. The creole language that is native to these islands is a mix of African Bantu language, French, English, Arab languages, and Indian languages.

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The chili in the food left my mouth ablaze and brought tears to mine eyes, which I promptly stifled to avoid doing injury to the perception of my peoples. Thence I tried to hug the coast and avoid the majority of the traffic.  Beads of sweat materialized from the ether upon my forehead and rivulets cascaded down my face. I strode in the darkness granted by the benevolent branches of trees. Many of these trees were brilliant and quite unlike anything that exists in my native land. They loomed magnificently over the road and gave me the impression that I was part of a grand procession. I was marveling at the splendor of existence, when a long ratlike creatures scurried across my path and slinked into the undergrowth and leaf litter. I deeply regretted how this creature befouled the image that I had conjured in my mind.

IMG_3770 (1024x768)The coast retreated from the road, but thankfully the breeze continued to caress me with the gentleness of thousand butterflies flapping their wings. I found myself adrift in a vast sea of sugar cane – what a delicious sight!

I passed through a city called Goodlands. I stuck my hand into the reddish soil and it crumbled into dry dust before sifting through my fingers. The name Goodlands seemed to have been given to the place in jest. It was at this moment that I realized that I was over a league away from the coast, somehow my stalwart navigational skills had foundered.

IMG_3785 (1024x768)I reached a place called Poudre d’Or with the sun having passed west of its apex. After shouting at a local man I was informed that the name of the town translates to ‘golden powder.’ After another bit of time I managed to find cold water and a fried noodle dish called mine frite. I relished both to a degree that would be lewd to place in print and would besmirch my literary reputation.

I laid down in a park and drift into a blissful slumber. I waved a greasy turkey drum stick in my hand at passersby and pontificated on a subject that had been troubling me.

IMG_3790 (1024x768)“Hear ye, hear ye. It is not only the earth’s ancient failure to provide conditions that are conducive to the building of civilization in the untold leagues of deserts, tundra, and mountains that mar her countenance that I wish to discourse upon this day, but rather a topic of more vexing concern: our grand civilizations are now under constant threat from unruly tides that threaten to inundate our coasts, a dearth of water in the hinterlands that makes the sustenance of our barleycorns difficult, and mercurial tempests that terrorize our lands.”

“It is unconscionable, it is abhorrent to the sensibilities of the most brilliant of species for whom this domain was erected. I decry that there is only one thing hindering our limitless expansion and we are therefore engaged in nothing short of mortal combat with this final foe – the earth. I ask thee how shall we respond: Can we subdue this wily savage and gentrify it or will we humble ourselves and accept that parts of it shall forever remain indomitable due to their immutable and uppity constitution?”

“If we accept a position as a mere vassal we will have to recognize and abide by a myriad of constraints and implicit duties of stewardship, therefore I exhort my intelligent and sensible listeners to push onward towards the culmination of a task that began many millennia ago. Our laudable and infinitely brilliant minds – those that have allowed mankind such success in outcompeting every other species and shaping our very environment – shall not prove themselves insufficient to putting an end to this irrational and immoral savagery that we have heretofore put up with. I proclaim that it will be no more difficult than bottling lightning or leashing a cloud!”

The cackle of a group of roustabouts drinking away the afternoon woke me with a start. I was planning on sleeping in the park, but the men sitting around drinking cider and the amount of trash sent me walking. I was disappointed as the isolated pristine white beaches that my mind had conjured and held onto like a prized mirror-finished marble had become tarnished by the corrosive effects of reality.

roostercubeThe inhabitants of the island had pasted a variety of posters along my route with the intent of advancing their chosen candidate for political office. The content of the posters seemed, like many of things on the island, impenetrable to me. One party used a picture of a rooster pecking cubes to represent their party and the primary candidate in this region had a name that is unprintable. I withered under the late afternoon sun. I provisioned in Roche Noir near the coast where the proprietor warned me about the perils of being waylaid on the coast by thieves.

I was walking without relish and had entered a very remote region. My feet felt as if they were being rendered into ground meat as I trod onward under the tangerine sun. It had rotated around the earth and now dipped below the trees with a tangerine tint. I tossed my pack down, took off my shoes, and then hobbled into the ocean like a bipedal crab. The sea trembled with anger and its menacing vibrations broke against the black rocks of the coast. I laid down in the water, casually relieved myself, and stared out at the horizon hoping against meeting a kracken or giant devilray upon this occasion.

I reluctantly returned to the beach to cook dinner while there was still light. I sautéed various vegetables to which I added small fishes. The sun painted the distant isles rouge as I suspiciously eyed the foreboding, dark clouds on the horizon. It seemed prudent that I move with haste to make ready my canvas.

The first drops began to fall. I had obtained a new big top canvas after great difficulty immediately before my departure that I began to assemble, but I was dismayed to find that it would not come together. I sat down in consternation with the realization that this was a death knell for this undertaking – I would have to return embarrassed to my abode and make designs for another journey. I prayed to my normal god, but also ventured to offer a few kind words to that monkey figure that I had seen previously in the day.

IMG_3808 (1024x768)I set off down the beach. Fortune favored me and I was rewarded with the discovery of a vacant beach castle. I approached the building and unloaded my rucksack under a tree. I curled up in the unerected canvas of my big top, but was immediately disturbed by an odor that led me to believe that the place could be nothing other than a feral cat latrine. Sheer indolence left me impotent to move and I hunkered down with unshakable fortitude. I was thankfully able to drift off to sleep each time there was a break in the rain.

I woke up and saw a break in the clouds that permitted me to gaze upon the scintillating night sky. I ruminated on the shapes and patterns that stars created in the sky. What was clearly a bear to me other fools held to be a big dipper or just a random group of stars as if god had merely sneezed them into existence. I began to get damp and shivered intermittently. I didn’t even once think that I was a miserable wretch. Eventually an orange glow in the east lit up my red eyes.

IMG_3798 (1024x768)I went down to the black rocks again to make breakfast and tea. The night had left my mind blank and it was easily hypnotized by the sound of the waves. I peered into small pools that teemed with colorful, furtive fish and gangly, writhing starfish. I saw what looked like a miniature black and white flying Arabian carpet floating through one pool.

IMG_3818 (1024x768)I set off down the beach heading south. The wind misted me with salty air. I reached another beach and I started a conversation with a guard while I waited for the bathroom stall to open up. It seemed to help pass the time as I was in dire need of the toilet. He asked me a few questions about my native land and then asked me about an incident that I had not kept abreast of due to the nature of my travels.

“I was watching the news yesterday and it said that black people were rioting because police shoot a black kid,” he said.

“Yes, but you see it is a really complicated situation,” I was not sure how to respond.

“No. No. The blacks are all bad,” he said confidently and reassuringly. I was soaked in sweat from colonic concentration.

“My friend, life is tough for a lot of people in that part of the world. It would be hard for me to relate the difficulties to you,” I had to pause and take a deep breath to keep the sardines from jumping out of my can. “But I can assure you that the darkness that courses through the hearts of my countrymen exists here just the same. The dodo is just…” I trailed off as I saw a stripling exit the bathroom and ran with the utmost gentility.

Squirting Ink as a Form of Self Defense

While I saved and planned my departure for Mauritius I felt like I was in an extreme delayed gratification study, staring at a mango on a plate for months on end. Why not stay home? What is the sense in all of this wandering? Why is there so much joy for me in caroming off in an unknown direction? My drive to undertake adventures and explore the unknown has always been hard to explain.

IMG_3665 (1024x768)On the plane to Paris I wrote the following: “For me it seems that adventures and the mystery of life unfolding are the single greatest joys in life. There will always be sedentary jobs, possessions to accumulate, things to be learned through perseverance, and debts to amass and service. Death will always haunt us as an omnipresent specter though. The potential ways to live a life seem as limitless like the earth itself. Maybe I am just not meant to sit and work in – as Mark Salouka says – paint factories. I sleep better under the stars. I feel best when I rise with the sun. I often find myself want to run wild and break from the rational non-sense of society. Another justification seems to lie in my perception that society, science, religion, and technology fail to explain the mystery of mysteries. Exploring seems to be the realization of my philosophy regarding life in some way. It could be said to be pointless, self-serving, futile… but this logic can be turned against most of the activities that other people spend their lives doing whether it is working for a financial services company, designing multi-billion dollar Iphone applications that allow teenagers to send one another self-destructing photos of their genitals, of wealth accumulation, or of working in a paint factory.”

But I am not alone. About 3500 years ago it is estimated that Pacific Islanders expanded their territory to islands that would require up to several weeks on the open sea to reach. What made them go into the blue unknown in search of islands that they didn’t even know existed? About 15,000 years ago the first waves of explorers are estimated to have crossed the Bering land bridge and roamed across two new continents. What made them go out into that white unknown of ice and snow?

I recently read a book titled ‘The Song of the Dodo’ by David Quammen, a tome on the history of evolutionary biology and it was there I stumbled across the idea that maybe this part of me is not unique. It appears that many scientists believe that this nagging curiosity is a defining characteristic of homo sapiens. In conjunction with the development of our complex brains and limbs seems to have come about a set of traits that helped us expand out of Africa and to ultimately inhabit almost every tract of land on this planet in about 60,000 years. These traits drove us far and wide; we crossed open seas on boats, we walked across land bridges, we floated down rivers, we flew planes.

IMG_3661 (1024x768)Not every species shares this same propensity though. There are others, like the Mauritian Kestrel, that refuse to even cross small clearings in the forest. There must be evolutionary environments and genetic endowments that reinforce this trait and others that would make it a disadvantage. Explorers of any species have the ability to sow their seed far and wide. An adaptable generalist species would seemingly benefit from this trait and reinforce it as more progeny means a higher proportion of a particular set of genes in the pool.

I began doing a bit of research and stumbled across an interesting National Geographic Article entitled ‘Restless Genes.’ The author, David Dobbs, expands upon this idea. Here is an excerpt about the gene DRD4-7R:

“If an urge to explore rises in us innately, perhaps its foundation lies within our genome. In fact there is a mutation that pops up frequently in such discussions: a variant of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. Researchers have repeatedly tied the variant, known as DRD4-7R and carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, to curiosity and restlessness. Dozens of human studies have found that 7R makes people more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities; and generally embrace movement, change, and adventure. Studies in animals simulating 7R’s actions suggest it increases their taste for both movement and novelty.”

And this part strikes home for me, it seems to be a natural corollary to the idea of a restless gene:

IMG_3648 (1024x768)“Among Ariaal tribesmen in Africa, those who carry 7R tend to be stronger and better fed than their non-7R peers if they live in nomadic tribes, possibly reflecting better fitness for a nomadic life and perhaps higher status as well. However, 7R carriers tend to be less well nourished if they live as settled villagers. The variant’s value, then, like that of many genes and traits, may depend on the surroundings. A restless person may thrive in a changeable environment but wither in a stable one; likewise with any genes that help produce the restlessness.”

I have always been looking for ways to justify this part of myself, but maybe it is just genetic , maybe it isn’t something that can be subjected to analysis. I think it may have been said best by Hank Williams:

“I can settle down and be doin’ just fine
Til I hear an old train rollin’ down the line
Then I hurry straight home and pack
And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow my stack
I love you baby, but you gotta understand
When the lord made me
He made a ramblin’ man.

Some folks might say that I’m no good
That I wouldn’t settle down if I could
But when that open road starts to callin’ me
There’s somethin’ o’er the hill that I gotta see.”


My papers were not quite on the up and up, so I shaved my face and cut my hair. I put on a button down shirt, khakis, and placed two pens in my front pocket to lend myself legitimacy under the weary eye of the immigration officials in Mauritius. At this point in my life I can confidently say that I understand bureaucracy pretty well, so I printed out – in triplicate – any and all documents, regardless of how superfluous, that had a seal, signature, or my name on them. On the way from Salt Lake City to Mauritius via Paris I wielded these papers like a weapon no less than three times. I think that their efficacy lies in their threat of monotony.

IMG_3682 (1024x768)I approached the immigration desk in Mauritius calmly and told the woman the following after our pleasantries, “The government just said to give me a tourist visa until they finish processing my visa application.” See what I did there? I presented the outcome that I wanted with no other options. I avoided the hours of waiting in queues that I had heard of others experiencing in similar situations.

The only problem though was that she handed back my passport and then looked up from her papers and asked, “Which company is it that you normally work for here?”

I stumbled here, “I don’t work…for…I have never been here before.”

She stumbled, looked both directions, and then said, “Oh..okay. Well thank you, bye bye.”

I had a 30 day business visa instead of a 90 day tourist visa. I cursed the two pens in my front pocket.


I had spent so much time reading academic papers and books about Mauritius, examining numbers that attempted to quantify it, and analyses of its problems that I arrived with a brain filled with sociological mush without a pinch of reality. There are no measures of net beauty, blissful slumber opportunities per capita, food deliciousness index (FDI), gross hammock oscillations per hour, or gross domestic laughter. But I think that Mauritius would score high on all of these measures. There are also never any news stories announcing that the world is okay or exhorting us to do nothing as an overwhelming wave of peace has swept through the region. The remedy for this condition is to taste the mango.

IMG_3673 (1024x768)The birds wake me each morning with the rising of the sun. Mangos are falling off of the trees on our street and my only competition is the birds. A pack of family dogs patrols the street outside our apartment. I pass my first days lazing around in IMG_3670 (1024x768)and about the turquoise sea that merges with the sky if you screw your eyes up in just the right way. I still have not seen a jet ski in Mauritius and I could count on one hand the number of guns that I have seen – both things bode well for a country in my mind. The people are amazing here – friendly, content, and welcoming. Culturally, it is midway between Europe, Africa, India, and China. You hear it when people speak and in the food you eat. Roti – the national dish of sorts – is the best food in the world rupee for rupee. It consists of a fried flour wrap filled with assorted sauces, chilis, and curries that is readily available whenever necessary. Mauritius is a sauce country, this seems to exemplify its culture to me.

IMG_3642 (1024x768)We visited the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden and saw a dozen or so tortoises imported from all over region. Despite their ersatz environment, I was mesmerized by their beauty as they charged at us from the other side of the pen after their lunch was delivered. The largest was 150 years old. It was nearly as interested to watch the packs of French tourists touting IPads descend upon the pen.

We bought a Suzuki motorcycle with 125cc’s of Merlot colored fossil fueled fury. I turned 30 and wanted to go explore the southern part of the island for my birthday. I turned out into the left lane and we started the epic 40 mile journey south on the main highway. Rain began to fall on us early on as midday clouds gathered around the pinnacles of the Moka Mountains. The mountains rise as forested islands in the midst of a boundless expanse of green sugarcane not unlike the blue sea that the islands of Mauritius rise up from. It felt like we were flying with the engine roaring; I wanted to howl and make obscene gestures at the elderly, until a pair of them passed us in their miniature car going twice our speed. We passed mansions on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, slums, dilapidated colonial buildings, gleaming skyscrapers, textile mills, and a tuna cannery. I muscled the bike through the concrete tandoori oven called Port Louis by splitting through traffic and riding the shoulder. Lauren complemented me on my driving with a flattering comparison to a fictional symbol of masculinity and daring from Hollywood, but I self-effacingly deflected the remark by comparing myself to a cat on a skateboard acting on pure fight or flight responses. We stayed at a friend’s place in Flic-en-Flac, a coastal town along the west coast.

IMG_3707 (1024x768)The mountains around the island are all remnants of the giant caldera that formed the island and then collapsed. Black River Gorges National Park encompasses the majority of the mountains on the southern part of the island. It also happens to contain some of the last remaining old growth forest – less than 2% of it remains on the island – and consequently the majority of the remnant populations of many endemics like the Mauritius Kestrel, Mauritian Flying Fox, Pink Pigeon, and Echo Parakeet. The Mauritius Kestrel population was as low as four individuals in 1974 – the rarest bird on earth at the time. The numbers have rebounded, but remain modest. There is a limited amount that can be done when the primary problems that a species faces are habitat fragmentation and destruction.

IMG_3710 (1024x768)We packed up early and left to explore the park. As we drove into the park a mongoose slinked across the road a disappeared into the brush. The mongoose was intentionally released by the government to help control disease bearing rodents, despite the knowledge that it had previously wreaked havoc elsewhere. It was less than a decade before the government was striving to eradicate the mongoose after it decided that chickens and all manner of other animals were as good as or better than rats.

We walked several well groomed but poorly marked trails that switchbacked up the mountainside. All of the forest through which we passed appeared to have been logged at some point. I didn’t notice it until a few hours had passed, but the forest seemed impoverished of insects; I saw a few butterflies and dragonflies, but not much else. We reached a lookout and looked down valley upon the sea. A few white Tropic Birds with their tendril tails rode currents below us. I paced around the overlook trying to take in everything and then suddenly I saw two bright green birds streak across below me. I tried to contain my giddiness as I hollered for Lauren to come see the Echo Parakeets. The parakeet had rebounded from as few as ten individuals to as many as 300 through the remarkable efforts of a few dedicated conservationists, in fact the same ones that saved the Kestrel. We looped back and hopped on the motorcycle. I hooted in my helmet as a Crab Eating Macaque loped across the road in front of us as we rode back to Flic-en-Flac.

Octopus Project

IMG_3741 (1024x768)We awoke at 5:45 the following morning to return to Pereybere and then catch a ride to the east side of the island where we had a meeting to examine a UN GEF funded project building octopus burrows for fisherfolk out of reclaimed telephone poles. The director of the organization in charge of the program, Environmental Protection and Conservation Organization (EPCO), explained that the program arose after declining fish catches drove many fisherfolk to work for the government mining sand to feed the insatiable demand for concrete on this nearly treeless island. (The concept of sand mining is possibly a better example of a mind numbing and endless task than working in a paint factory.) The problems with sand mining eventually became apparent and the industry shifted to the crushing of mined rocks. This left many fishermen out of work with few directions to turn. The octopus burrow project was designed to both help rehabilitate the fishery and help sustain the fisherfolk. We wanted to see how it was working.

IMG_3738 (1024x768)We boarded a handmade wooden boat with a fisherman named Dost – a Creole word that means friend. We puttered out towards the surging whitewash of the reef break and looked back upon the Bambous Mountains above Grand Reviere Sud Este. The water was absolutely clear and less than two meters deep. I leaned over the gunwale, which listed the boat to one side, in order to peer down at the kaleidoscope of coral.

I jumped into the other splendorous world that covers 70% of the earth’s surface and stuck my snorkel in my mouth. The fish seemed sentient and curious as we examined one another. They let me get close to admire their incredible forms and scintillating scales, and colors that surely exist nowhere else. The fish would disappear and reappear as they wove their way through corals with shapes that seem floral, cerebral, and dendritic. I found one large lobed brain that teemed with a miniature microcosm of colored fish. I gestured Lauren over and we relished the beauty of it in a complete absence of words.

IMG_3724 (1024x768)Dost gestured us over and we followed him over to an octopus burrow. He began prodding into the burrow with a rod and drew an ink spraying ball of arms out that he grabbed as it tried to make its Houdini-esque escape. It grabbed onto his arm and he repeatedly had to tear it loose. I stared with rapt attention as it furiously changed colors and patterns. He let it swim for a moment and it descended to the bottom, felt around, shrunk its size, and changed to match its surroundings. It is not just an octopus. The symbol ‘octopus’ does not begin to convey the beauty and complexity of that animal. Nor does ‘coral reef’ begin to encompass what I saw.

I identify with that octopus – how it changes to reflect its environment and how it strives to defend itself by spraying ink. I think that I might be doing that right now. We ate it later.

Earth is an Island

I am leaving to spend the winter in Mauritius, an island 45km in width by 65km in length that lies approximately 2000km east of continental Africa. The island serves as a rare case study in ecology as it is one of a few places to have remained uninhabited by humans until recent history. It has a robust record from visitors and inhabitants of the native flora, fauna, and changes that the island underwent over the past 400 years. Not only was the island devoid of humans – it was devoid of land mammals all together. A circumstance that came about due to the island’s young age and the challenge that relative isolation poses to the introduction of land mammals. This void provided the opportunity for a plethora of spectacular endemic reptile and bird species to evolve, which fostered fascinating accounts from the first human arrivals.

Early accounts – the first in 1598 – described large flightless birds and included preposterous drawings of them that attracted significant attention in Europe. The bird came to be known as the Dodo, the etymology of which is thoroughly contested. The birds had lost the ability to fly as a result of an abundance of food on the ground and a lack of predators. Many were hunted and noted by sailors, a few explorers documented them over the years, and a couple of them were reputed to have made it to other continents aboard ships as curiosities. Portuguese and Dutch sailors continued to use it as a way point where they could fill their holds with upside down tortoises – which could live for years in this fashion and provide fresh meat during their voyage– and to hunt goats and pigs that they had introduced. Eventually, a day arrived when there were simply no more Dodos to be found. The last reliable account of a sighting occurred in 1662 – sixty years after humans arrived. Extinction was not a concept at the time, therefore many commentators and scientists obstinately argued that the bird was mythical and never had existed. It took over 150 years before there was scientific consensus that it had existed and its extinction had been induced by humans. The Dodo has taken its place in our collective consciousness due to its distinction as the first recorded case of human induced extinction.

The story of Mauritius does not end with the demise of the Dodo. Humans, as they have done in every corner of this planet, brought rats, mice, and pigs that predated reptile and bird eggs. Forests were cut to export hardwood, then for building materials, then for tea plantations, and then for sugar plantations. Goats grazed what had been razed. Africans were imported and sold as machinery to work the sugarcane. The population grew exponentially. A few people became wealthy. The patience and resilience of the giant tortoise proved insufficient, the hardwood heart of the forests fell, the exotic birds lost their homes and their cacophony grew faint, and fewer colorful geckos lit up the day. Dozens of species quickly and almost silently went extinct over the coming centuries. Some of the first environmental protection laws in the world sprung up, and then were ignored out of political and economic expediency.
Today, 1.3 million people live on the main island, mostly near the coast. The seas are rising and the weather is changing. Annual mean temperature has gone up .74C relative to the 1961-1990 mean. Yearly rainfall averages are down 8% since the 1950s, with more of it coming during extreme events. Resources on the island are strapped. Only 25% of the island remains forested. 90% of the cultivated land is occupied with sugar cane which has to be exported to purchase the 80% of the island’s energy which comes in the form of imported fossil fuels.

Mauritians face even greater challenges in the coming years due to climate change. The Mauritian government and the UN International Panel on Climate Change projects are dire. It is projected that the mean annual temperature will rise by 1-2C by 2060, 1.1-3.4C by 2090. Decreases in precipitation will continue, but the likelihood of tropical storms and destructive storm surges will increase. It is possible that 50% of the island’s beaches will disappear by 2050 due to changes in sea level and more forceful storm surges. Utilizable freshwater resources are anticipated to decrease by up to 13% by 2050. Fisheries are expected to be disrupted as sea surface temperature changes shift migration patterns and cause consequent changes in ecosystems. The third largest coral reef in the world protects the islands, but 80%-100% of live corals would perish with a 3.28C increase in temperatures, a realistic possibility by 2100.

Mauritians have recognized the threat that climate change poses and have taken steps to mitigate and adapt to anticipated changes, despite recognizing that the nation is minimally responsible for the plight it faces. In 1991, the island created the multi-sector National Climate Change Committee. In 2010 the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development created a Climate Change division. Through these institutions the nation has created a National Climate Change Adaptation Policy Framework, a tool that guides the government in taking necessary steps to adapt and mitigate with the aims of creating resilience and sustainability. Why haven’t we done the same?

On Islands

Islands have always gripped the imagination of writers from Aldous Huxley to Kurt Vonnegut to William Golding. They provide a setting or system with limits that are tangible within the human mind where a chain of actions can unfold and conceivably reach its limits. Islands have allowed us to speculate on inequality, ecology, happiness, evolution, and societal structures.

7.1 billion of us live on an island that is adrift in a vast sea of space.

I remember in my economics courses learning about Robert Malthus, a scholar in the 19th century who postulated that, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man.” He theorized that earth had a finite amount of land, but people had a seemingly infinite ability to procreate and generate needs. This would one day lead to a catastrophe if we walked blindly into the future. In many of my classes he was dug up just to be refuted as a prophet of non-sense through the invocation of the deus ex machina technology. Was he wrong?

We have been on this island as a species for around 200,000 years and we have thoroughly transformed this planet during that time. In that time frame we have managed to populate every corner of this planet. Elizabeth Kolbert, in The Sixth Extinction, calculates that there are roughly 50 million square miles of land area that is not covered by ice. Of this area, roughly 27 million acres have been directly transformed through agriculture, pastoralism, logging, mining, and the building of civilization. Three-fifths of the remaining 23 million acres is forested, although not necessarily virgin. The other two-fifths are mountains, deserts, and tundra. Kolbert’s primary focus in the book is an examination of our present time, one that many have come to refer to as ‘the sixth extinction.’ There have been five other mass extinctions since the dawn of life on earth, precipitated by various reagents, but climate change has always been a significant factor in the collapse of species and ecosystems. She estimates that, “one-third of all reef building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.” The reasons are complex: a warming planet, ocean acidification, habitat destruction, the snowball effect of biodiversity loss, competition from introduced species, the globalization of microbes, and most important of all: the incredible speed at which all of this is occurring – the same problems that Mauritius faces, but on a grand scale.

A parallel concept is that of the anthropocene, one that has been advocated by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to denote our ‘human-dominated geological epoch.’ It is clear that we will leave a mark in the geologic record through carbon deposits from our fossil fuel use, from nuclear fallout, from dramatically morphed landscapes, and through the mass extinction event that is currently unfolding. He cites the following reasons for consideration of the concept:
Human activity has transformed between a third and a half of the land surface of the planet.
Most of the world’s major rivers have been dammed or diverted.

Fertilizer plants produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by all terrestrial ecosystems.
Fisheries remove more than a third of the primary production of the oceans’ costal waters.
Humans use more than half of the world’s readily accessible fresh water runoff.

Back to Malthus: It looks like he was wrong in some ways, and right in others. Our island no less has finite limits than any other island does; it is just vaster in terms of resources and its ability to act as a pollution sink – we have billions of palm trees instead of the proverbial one. The areas, like Mauritius, where limits have been reached are simply able to acquire what they need from elsewhere, but at some point there aren’t any more elsewheres. Technology has enabled us to do more with the finite resources that are on this earth and we have perpetually pushing our limits. A major part of the growth and progress that humanity has made since the industrial revolution began a few hundred years ago was made possible through the exploitation of non-renewable fossil fuels, metals, and minerals. We have also over-exploited resources that are renewable like soil fertility, game, fisheries, and forests. The technology that has enabled this form of growth has been of a kind that merely enables us to use and move these resources at a faster rate to enrich the present at the expense of the future. There seem to be cries resounding from every corner of the globe and in every field that we are approaching or have passed ecological limits, and have entered uncharted territory.

Creating a Better World

I feel a deep connection to this earth, not as a mere philosophical standpoint, rather in a way that completely shapes my worldview. It is grounded in an awareness of reality, of the atmosphere entering and exiting my lungs, of the rainwater that fills my veins, and of the sun’s energy in my food. This is my home. My values and ethics are derived from this connection. I spend months each year sleeping outside, staring at the stars. I travel to other countries to satisfy my curiosity about other landscapes, people, and animals. I enjoy eating exotic and delicious foods. I like being able to explore this place and enjoy a rich life.

Recognizing the reality and depth of our ecological crisis, and not just an abstract concept, has been a difficult road for me. I experienced years of cognitive dissonance, holding discordant views that lead to internal conflict. I saw myself as being enriched by something that was paradoxically destroying the very thing that I loved and was creating suffering.

Many years ago I started the process of letting go of a future that I had been socialized to believe was our destiny. In this dream there were no constraints, humans were in control, technology had an infinite ability to address any problems that humanity faced, and the economy would grow perpetually – we forever would have more freedom and wealth. Inequality was not an issue as there was plenty. In this dream we are all atomized individuals, beholden to no one or anything – without limits. I had to pass through the five stages of the Kubler-Ross Model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This dream is dead whether we like it or not.
I wasn’t sure what to do with about it, how to respond. The acceptance part comes at little easier if we realize that this conflict is based in a broader myth: that we need an extractive, exploitative economy in order to grow ourselves out of scarcity – the primary driver of human suffering. According to this view, as long as there is poverty and hunger in this world, then to do anything but grow as quickly as possible to ameliorate these pestilences is immoral. It follows that we need to transform this world into a place fit for human habitation. And so we justify every new power plant built, every gallon of carcinogens dumped into a river, every missile launched, every ton of carbon spewed into the atmosphere, and every tank of pesticide sprayed from an airplane.
What takes precedence: the environment or humanity? Mu! The two are one and the same.

We are bound in a symbiotic relationship with everything else on this earth. It is not possible for us to do damage anywhere without damaging ourselves. A relationship requires that both parties give and in doing so both will be made better off. The earth has always been able to provide enough, but it has been misallocated, wasted, or been minimized by the – never scarce – capacity for dissatisfaction in humanity. Will we let the specter of scarcity and our tendency to exploit drive us towards a situation in which we face the true horrors of scarcity? What is the alternative?

Until recently I had been looking towards myself – and each individual – to change our lives with the belief that in this fashion humanity could change overnight and we would avoid the looming catastrophe. This individual died along with the aforementioned dream – there never was an individual. We are facing a global crisis and we need to look towards collective, community-based solutions.

Revolutions occur when new information appears that is irreconcilable with the dominant framework or zeitgeist. The dominant mover of civilization seems to be the same one that, up until this point in history, has been on a linear trajectory: the centralization of power. From groups, to bands, to villages, to cities, to city-states, to nations, to? Through warfare, trade, finance. Civilization in the past few hundred years under the reign of fossil fuels has advanced more towards this goal that at any other point in history through globalized markets, industrial scale production, and almost instantaneous communication. It has also enabled an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power. Power structures are most concerned with maintaining power and therefore action to deal with our ecological crisis simply cannot manifest from within a system that is its driver and primary beneficiary. It has been decades since we became aware of our current predicament and we have only deepened the crisis whilst our current system has scrambled to assimilate a reality with which it is wholly incompatible.

There are many prescriptive actions to take, but ultimately civilization needs to evolve to fit the planet, rather than the other way around. We are currently wasting our days away in contemplation while standing at the start of the path towards a better future, unable to take the necessary steps. The challenge we face is so truly daunting as there is one thing that technology cannot help us to overcome and that is ourselves. We need to expand our collective social conscience, ignore that voice in our head that demands more, and in doing so we will create a better planet.

“I believe in political solutions to political problems. But man’s primary problems aren’t political; they’re philosophical. Until humans can solve their philosophical problems, they’re condemned to solve their political problems over and over and over again. It’s a cruel repetitious bore.” – Tom Robbins

The Coyote and The Combine

I wrote a book. I delved into writing full time after I quit working construction in New York this past February. There were many reasons why I quit, but mainly it had to do with the company using improper permits to perform mediocre quality work with underpaid undocumented immigrants (and me) in hazardous work conditions (subzero temperatures without a heater) for six days a week. It was blatant exploitation. We were often not paid for weeks on end, despite the contractor running around picking up the tab in Manhattan bars. We were just trying to get by though and there we succeeded. There could be a story here about how this experience inspired me to undertake this project.

When I think about my life, I can see it as nothing but a story that I write. I think that our minds are first and foremost story generating machines. They take disparate, bewilderingly complex events and string them together into storylines, beliefs, and judgments that make reality appear intelligible. We classify them with single words and devise crude chains of causal logic. We ascribe motives, emotions, and traits to individuals and they, to us at least, play the roles that we have scripted for them to play. We go through each day simply fitting events into our storyboard. Thus each person builds the universe.

A closer look, a break with our myopic perspective, reveals a far cloudier and uncertain picture – there are myriad perspectives. Stories have an incredible amount of power in shaping our view of ourselves and the world around us.  I used to believe that I was defective, as if there was some sort of quality control somewhere with an objective measure for determining the quality of a person. I once believed that life was a material quest and that success was having as much as possible; that I had to assiduously work in a box and be a lawyer, doctor, or businessman; that we were created by a god to pillage this earth and that this is to be called progress, that the world is a dangerous place and people are inherently bad; that hitchhikers are straight off skid row – depraved addicts and sexual deviants running from something.

I wrote about myself as an anomalous character running amok and making a mess of a script that had seemingly already been written. The original script did not include: howler monkeys, guns pointed at my head, drugs, motorcycles, hitchhiking, volcanic eruptions, Spanish cokeheads, saintly truck drivers, car accidents, foreclosure, or wandering just for the sake of wandering. I sure am thankful for these additions though.

I turned my journals from a winter of hitchhiking into something in the Bryant Park library over the course of a few months. I am not sure that I am finished with it. I do feel the need to give an explanation for why I did this, but I feel like I would just be composing a story that was an amalgamation of various book jackets.

Some people believe that coyotes are a form of god, others believe that they are vermin that we haven’t won the war against yet. I do believe that if you sleep on the ground it is impossible to get up on the wrong side of the bed.

Flying the Coop

Some people call it New York; others call it The Great Satan. I called it The Empire of the Straight Line. Anyways, I knowingly went into the maw of a beast that I had previously contemplated and watched wearily from a distance. It is hard to resist anthropomorphizing the city into a slovenly, unhealthy, greedy blob that perpetually rumbles with indigestion as it greedily ingests and consumes ever increasing amounts of people, energy, and raw materials before belching, vomiting, and sweating out their waste forms in all directions. So I am not even going to bother trying. I am certain it would trade its grandmother into sex slavery for mid-level tickets to a Bruce Springsteen show at Madison Square Garden. It is an obsessive compulsive patient that strives to control everything around it and a self-admiring insomniac. It is left brain biased; possibly afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome that manifests itself in an uncompassionate and grinding obsession with logic, rules, and order that create a create an awkward social environment.

This spring I left on an Amtrak bound for Salt Lake City via Chicago. As the train exited the station I got an erection that lasted for hours and made walking around the train a challenge. I did not socialize during this entire period, but it wasn’t really an optioon as there was yet no observation car.

I found an audience after leaving Chicago with whom I could share some of the sentiments and ideas that I had refined in New York – a recent college graduate from Wesleyan named Anna on her way West for the first time. She asked what I did when I was in New York. I told her that I founded and ran a non-profit called the Anti-Alliteration Alliance. That we worked to rid the earth of the societal scourge that is rude redundancy and vain verbosity through selling voodoo dolls of Wall Street executives. That being said, I told her that I didn’t want to talk about work though as writing was my passion and I wanted to share some ideas that I had been honing over the past few months. I gently began by explaining that our conception of history and society revolves around the idea of progress measured through material production and technological complexity – more speed, more mobility, more choice. That this gives the illusion that humanity has been on one continuous march towards a better future – effectively justifying the extermination of other cultures, environmental degradation, poverty, and the liquidation of millions of minds. That the quantifying logic of our material society demands exchange for everything, that everything be accounted for, and owned. And I informed her that it is simply impossible to question this conception of history from a materialist perspective that is so deeply socialized into us, as by its very nature it cannot assimilate all of the other essential human functions unless they somehow can be fit into a scheme of material production and consumption. I wondered aloud how you place a value on love or community or peace? I asked of her: Is not a civilization that finds peace, establishes equality, harmony with its environment, takes care of its young and old, meets the spiritual and material needs of everyone, and offers a deep sense of community a superior and highly productive society?

I posed the question of what the hypothetical destination is for this run away train? Is the apotheosis of our society to unshackle ourselves from the limits imposed by the natural world and to live free in the ceaseless hum and glow of a technological cradle strung together with wires and tubes that meet all of our physical needs? It would be the triumph of efficiency, production, and control. We would be machines within this system and corporations would still be people.

I confided to her that this logic needs to be supplanted, that we need to return to our roots in the natural, primal, and animalistic. That we needed a way to demonstrate the true nature of existence. I told her – with a glance in either direction at the baby boomers taking pictures incessantly with their IPads – that we could break with many of the implicit assumptions through ritualized sacrifice. There would be no exchange. There would be no material progress in the act. We would ritualize the reality that death and change are the fundamental characteristics of life. I told her that my idea was to start an institution where we would all sacrifice something that we loved – we would pile it together and set it ablaze. I could see her nervously wringing her hands in her lap. I self-consciously added that people and animals were not within the scope of this idea. Although maybe we could simply eat the baby boomers? I grinned and raised my eyebrows. It would solve a lot of problems as the tribute paid to the top of our pyramid seems rather unsustainable. I added that there would definitely be drums and dancing.

I casually mentioned that New York is the embodiment of this hyperrational, homogeneous, sterilized ideology. The rationality is manifest in the straight lines, in the ceaseless hum, in the endless efficiency, in perpetual striving towards nothing. I informed her that I was not a robot and consequently during my time in New York I regularly had to repress urges to run amok, howling through the logical confines lewdly waving my genitals like a blueballed baboon. I delved deeply into myself and told her that this stemmed from my curiosity and my bewilderment at the nature of existence. That I can see that there is something unknowable and immeasurable coursing through the molecules of everything on this earth.

I told her that the turmoil that we see around the world currently is a manifestation of the irreconcilable nature of our economic, religious, and political institutions and man’s evolving image of himself as an interconnected, monocrop set to overrun the earth. We now see our ability, from many different vantages, to shape our environment. We see the reality of the spaceship earth; interconnectedness and oneness is indisputable. A glimpse of the finite is seen in the confines of our spaceship. The only way to grapple with the problems that humanity faces is by turning inward, not towards technology, further division, and complexity, rather through finding a way as individuals to realize the inherent beauty, joy, and tranquility in simplicity. The perpetually striving and greedy individual mind needs to become a thing of the past. The future needs contentedness that stems from more creation, collaboration, sharing, learning, sex, music, dancing, movement of the physical body, family, and meaningful work.

Her face throughout the conversation seemed marred by an amalgamation of intrigue and terror. I assured her that I was unlikely to do anything in the immediate future.

I left for Colorado and slept outside for the first time in months; for six years I had slept outside for over a hundred days a year. I stared up at the night sky and saw innumerable stars. I realized that if my eyes were more sensitive the entire night sky would be white with light.

I left one morning from Hotchkiss to hitch towards New Mexico to visit my dad. I caught a ride with a lady named Brenda who had me ride the first hour in the back of her pickup bed, but then moved her arthritic husky to the back and invited me up. I reached for the seatbelt and she furrowed her brow before scornfully saying, “Oh you are one of those?” She was wearing her seatbelt though. She alternated pulls between Crown, Bud, and her pipe as she wove along the sinuous mountain roads and occasionally swerved off onto the gravel shoulder. The anonymity of hitching makes it a beautiful platform for storytelling. Brenda had two sons and lived for most of her life in Trinidad, Colorado. She ran businesses – a cleaning service, a thrift store, a small restaurant – and never made it clear if she had an old man. I glanced from her face to the road and felt a small pang of adrenaline each time she swerved outside the lines. Everything felt apart abruptly when her son was shot to death, her other son joined the Navy, and she went on the lam. I am generally a brick wall to sexual innuendo and subtlety, but there were enough overt references to her abysmal sex life to set off alarms. She shouted at an elderly lady hunched behind the wheel of a Volkswagen as she ran her off the road for driving too slow.

I got dropped off in Gunnison and began walking through town in flip flops. I chuckled with the realization that hitchhiking in flip flops had the benefit of being quite disarming as very few serial killers and rapists likely wear flip flops. So I was feeling pretty good about my prospects. I quickly caught a ride in a pickup with a guy named Brian who showed me the carcass of a deer that a snowplow had hit and launched high into the limbs of a tree. I ended up outside of Salida.

An old grey station wagon slowly passed and then stopped ahead. I jogged up and a gravelly voice billowing smoke said, “Take your time, no need to rush.” I tossed my pack in back and jumped into the passenger seat next to a grey haired woman in a peasant dress with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.



She guided the car up the pass and into the barren and expansive San Luis Valley. She was from Vermont, but had lived out West for a few decades and currently lived in a strange community called Crestone that lay against the mountains near the Great Dunes National Park. It was an intentional community that had never fully developed – a still born hippy dream. Maybe it lacked intent. She at one pointed lived there for a year without any water or power. She had slowly converted a yurt into a permanent structure. She lit each cigarette with the fading ember of the last and carefully answered all of my questions.
“Here and there a few people come into the community and cause trouble. We drive them out ourselves – there are no police there, they never come out our way. Sometimes we have to organize posses, you know, without the horses and rifles, but still a posse, to run ‘em out.”

“What do you do for water and food?”
“Well there definitely isn’t an abundance of either. We get by. There are some wells. We aren’t too sustainable though; we can’t really grow much this high.”

I got dropped on a desolate stretch near the Crestone turn off. My next ride was with a young guy named Dirk who was red-eyed and giggling from the moment that he pulled up. He cracked up at anything that I said. I never could really ascertain why he was out in this area, but he rambled on about exploring some formerly productive mining claims.

I ended up on the roadside in Alamosa. I quickly caught a ride from a guy named Carlos who was streaked with tattoos. I liked him the moment he opened his mouth though and we kept each other laughing. He talked freely and frankly about his time in prison for grand theft auto. He took hits off of his dugout pipe and waxed poetically about turning his life around, the history of the area, his family, and love. He went out of his way to show me the oldest church in Colorado.

I couldn’t find a ride in Conejos as darkness descended. I stood on the roadside next to an abandoned building as the desert wind buffeted and chilled me. My dad ended up picking me up. I lay on his floor and listened to his erratic breathing punctuated with gasps and coughing; he sounded like a dog chasing something in a dream. I wondered what was breathing? He got up at 4:45am in pitch darkness to head to work each day. He then came home late and drank wine with abandon. I wondered later on what it is that he is chasing in his waking dream?

I missed the tranquility, space, uncertainty, heterogeneity, and inherent joy of nature. I missed life’s adventure. I learned that a long distance relationship with the Milky Way doesn’t really work; you have to make eye contact at least occasionally. I had time to slow down for the first time in months. Suddenly I saw that the tempest raging in my mind was just cancerous thinking in which our society was mired metastasizing, a useless and ceaseless spinning of gears. I thought that I would never assimilate into New York, but it colonized my mind instead. If you don’t know who the maniac is on the Amtrak within the first few hours – it is you.


Lake Forest: Hillbillies and Satanists

For years I would go downstairs at night to fix myself an outsized bowl of cereal. I found a strategy that was foolproof in preventing any harm from befalling me over the years: as long as no one knew that I was scared, then no harm could befall me. I would, exuding tranquility and lack of concern, descend the stairs and walk into the kitchen on the first floor with my heart racing. I would prepare the bowl of cereal, careful to not take any concerned glances at the impenetrable darkness in the windows and to ignore the floor that creaked with my steps. There were innumerable presences whose actions depended directly upon mine skulking beyond my periphery. I would calmly ascend the stairs, but with a little additional quickness added to my step. When I stepped off the plane in Salt Lake last week I felt similar to how I felt when I had made it to my room safely with the bowl of cereal. I no longer had to be scared and pretend.

On Saturday snow began falling early in the morning with wind blowing it sideways. I rode up into the cloud shrouded mountains with my brother and sister to do one of the most amazing and ridiculous of things: skiing.  It makes no sense, it is like being a hampster on a wheel.  It may have been the low light or lack of depth perception, but I felt as if I was floating. I felt weightless on a white cloud with everything else blotted out through its sheer brightness and uniformity.

I saw a few old friends on the mountain and at dinner who crushed me in hugs and laughed as I unselfconsciously rambled at a mile a minute about skiing, New York, relationships, writing, reading, and work. Friends and family piled into my mom’s apartment to make pizzas and have a few drinks. It felt like a summit of immeasurable importance as we made light of our uncertain futures, poor choices, hopes, and fears. We reminisced about life and the years that had passed. We tossed logs in the fireplace and howled in laughter.

One of the stories that came up during the night was that of the Blue Sisters. With the years memories seemingly pass through a sieve comprised of irregular holes that incomprehensibly let some things drop away while others remain. The Blue Sisters saunter into my mind as unpredictably as they did as hooded apparitions into our neighborhood many years ago.

There was slightly less than a decade left in the millennium when I first encountered the twins. I remember waiting at the bus stop with my dad and brother. They came walking towards us in matching dark blue hooded sweatshirts with the hoods raised and framing their faces. We didn’t grow up in a neighborhood where people were friendly or for that matter even knew who most of their neighbors were. No words were exchanged between us as the two walked side by side, pushing a baby carriage. The traffic kept rushing by on Waukegan Road, filling the silence with the whir of tires. As they passed I looked into the carriage, which wasn’t far from my eye level, and saw several cats lazing in a cocoon of blankets.

As these encounters became routine, we became perplexed. They didn’t look like they were ready to go to work, as they were perpetually shrouded in sweat suits, and nobody walked around our neighborhood except with a very clear purpose or in the case of emergency. We found these peregrinations to be ominous and bizarre, even without the addition of the stroller cats.

My brother and I whispered as they passed. Witches. Satanists. Sacrifice animals. Entire house is a litter box. Pet cemetery in their yard. Raise animals to eat them. Drink own pee. Spent time in mental hospital. Child drowned in pool behind their house. Walls covered in carpet. We spun fantastical explanations for local phenomena that implicated the sisters. We talked to other kids, trying to grasp what we were dealing with. We talked big, plotting flaming bags of feces and fireworks through the mailslot. We kept our distance though, as it was preferable to all parties involved that the sister’s remained a mere object of speculation.

My family was the closest thing that Lake Forest, Illinois has ever had to carnies or hillbillies. We lived on the West side of town, where no blue blood would dare reside as people there had to shamefully work for their money. There were six of us kids, a family unusually large for a community of miserable heirs and striving, anxious professionals. We put additions on our house with our own hands. We had a pig that came inside to eat in our kitchen that we predictably named Wilbur. We had chickens, including a fighting cock named Sunny who was involved in three separate traffic incidents; I still laugh imagining our neighbors stepping out of their German sedans with their brows furrowed as they examined the bloody, white squawking animal that would have been as out of place than a black person on our street. Sunny recovered each time. I would tell other kids that my dad was drunk at a cockfight in Waukegan and bought it after it won a six round bout. We had rabbits. We raised grey squirrels. Chipmunks that invariably escaped and homesteaded within our walls to my dad’s chagrin. Birds. Turtles. Snakes. We built tree houses and forts, complicated eyesores that our neighbors called the city building inspector over. We shot guns in the backyard, at bee’s nests or at the boxes on the telephone pole. (We knocked out phone service to the neighborhood one time and I remember lying to the man from the telephone company while my parents were at work after he inspected the bullet riddled box.) My brother and I played with fire regularly and held pissing contests off of every highpoint within a several mile radius.

We were also the type of people that refused to leash our dogs. This led us into frequent confrontations with our neighbors. One of our neighbors was a prominent architect at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill that my dad always described as ‘being so uptight that you could put a lump of coal up his ass and in a week you would have a diamond.’ One day my mom answered the door and he stood in front of her with a gnarly, yellow streaked dog turd on a piece of fine white china. He said, ‘Your dog left this in my yard.’ My mom offered an insincere apology while quickly closing the door to stifle back her laughter. Our laughter poured out the open windows of our un-air conditioned house as he walked down the driveway.

One halcyon fall day, my brother, sister and mom were walking with our German Shorthaired Pointer named Belle. We stopped in front of the Blue Sister’s house to inspect a pentagram painted in red on their mailbox when Belle decided to squat with quaking haunches over their front lawn.  We had to continue walking down Ashland Road as she would refuse to make eye contact and hurry through the act if we did not give her privacy. We heard unintelligible screaming come from their front door, but continued on our way. Belle casually trotted up with us as we were in the midst of discussing the other weird people who lived in an underground brick pyramid of a house at the end of the street. Suddenly, we heard a car coming up behind us at a rapid speed, its engine roaring. We saw a brown Crown Victoria coming at us and we moved to the curb, but something didn’t seem right as the car was going too fast and seemed not to acknowledge our presence.

We hopped into the grass and the car narrowly missed hitting us, an unintelligible howl of language came out the windows at us. We saw the matching dark hoods as they passed. They quickly turned around on the round-a-bout and boomeranged back at us. We were well clear when they flew past in a flurry of tongues and tire squealing rage. We took a back route home and kept looking over our shoulders as we huddled against my mom for safety.

We didn’t know who actually lived under the hoods until we called the police. The police arrived at our house and spoke candidly with my parents about the Blue Sisters. Lake Forest handles legal issues in a different manner, always trying to handle them with a certain amount of discretion. We were told how after a call from a neighbor, the police had staked out the house for several days, waited for the sisters to leave, then freed their mother from a chair to which she was tied and took her into state custody. At this point the police found hundreds of cats and walls painted with pentagrams and other errata. They learned through various encounters that the sisters spoke some sort of ‘satanic language.’ We were told to stay away as the police wanted to do the same.

My dad realized that he had attended highschool with them and had almost asked one of them to prom. He remembered them as cute blonde cheerleaders who were a little odd. How life weathered them into such oddities will remain one of life’s mysteries.

My dad has a penchant for novel, passive aggressive solutions to problems, like using a cell phone jammer to silence other passengers on public transportation. The following morning he waited at the bus stop with us, Sony Handycam in hand. He had decided that videotaping them would both provoke them and provide us with a modicum of security. They walked towards us on the sidewalk with their cat carriage. My dad hit record, aimed the camera at them as they approached on the narrow sidewalk, and we sat in quiet anticipation. He panned with them as they moved and it almost seemed like nothing would happen until one of them exploded. One of them started screaming in the devil’s tongue and the other was yelling for my dad to shut it off. He kept taping them, morning after morning, until they stopped coming past.

Another day we were playing baseball in our neighbor’s large front yard when my dad saw them walking past on the sidewalk at the far end. He quickly grabbed the bat from me and then several baseballs. He proceeded to toss up balls and hit fungos and line drives at them. We laughed and loved him for these antics. Then, one day they were just no longer around. A year or so later my dad stumbled across a newspaper article detailing their arrest with dozens of cats living in a van.

As I sat with friends and family collectively weaving stories and nearly crying with laughter, I suddenly understood life. The questions of purpose and direction that vexed me in New York seemed meaningless, laughable in this moment.Everything seemed laughable as I had everything that anyone could ever want. These dreamers, these cynics, these wanderers, these weirdos are all that I believe in. I love you all.

The Deus Ex Machina Chaos

At the end of November I had been out of work for a while and as much as I would like to use my outsized brain to trap or spear animals, to hew a home out of the forest, to break stallions, or to cultivate a field, I was forced to accept that this was not a realistic possibility at this juncture in my life. I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to do some demolition work for a few weeks here in Brooklyn. I impulsively answered, ‘Yes.’

After moving to New York from Guatemala I had been doing a lot of thinking and I felt a little unstable, like I was on the verge of something. My mind did sommersalts and wove itself into knots; it vomited forth and then became constipated.  It is just what my brain does sometimes. It isn’t always clear what has emerged from turmoil such as this, but I came up with something and wrote it down. Here is an account of breaking down both physical and theoretical walls and finding something beautiful in the space that was left.

IMG_2681The strangeness of New York and its complexity was reflected in the job itself: I worked with a Croatian who has been here five years named Mate (accent on the e) and a Muslim from Burkina Faso named Ibrahim who had been in the country for less than a year. Mate lived in Queens, had two kids and a wife who was an English teacher. Ibra, as I took to calling him, was younger and was working to make money for his family in Burkina Faso. He was a married man and was saving to bring his wife over someday. Ibra had no papers and Mate had just received his green card. I amused myself by thinking of myself as an indigenous immigrant.

IMG_2687Our task was to demolish a four story brownstone, meaning that we were to gut out the interior down to the structure. I initially walked into the house wanting to decry the waste of our modern obsession with continually reinventing ourselves, but the reality that I came to see, was that the house was a shithole.

IMG_2722On the first day, I grabbed a crowbar and a sledge hammer and set to work without much pomp or circumstance. I swung the sledge and softened the walls and then dismantled them with the crowbar. The drywall shattered, cracked, tore, pulverized. The wood cracked, splintered, screamed as it twisted and clattered dryly as it tumbled to the floor. It was not long before I was several feet deep in debris, panting, coughing in a cloud of dust with wires dangling in my face.

IMG_2725As I pulled down the first of many ceilings, huge chunks of drywall shattered on my head and tumbled to the ground. Construction refuse, newspapers, and panes of glass all rained down upon me. A strange black soot that had accumulated over the past hundred years billowed from the ground after cascading down on my face and through my hair. Some chunks flew out the open window as I swung, tore, ripped, mangled, and mashed. I poked my head out the window and feigned concern for any onlookers, but only once.

I ended the first day blackfaced. Ibra actually became whiter. We laughed at each other. The shower at home ran black and my eyes burned and my hands shook in exhaustion.

As the days passed, we worked our way down from the top floor, breaking everything and then hauling it down to the truck that we fought to park. We loaded buckets full of plaster, hauled them down the IMG_2714stairs, and loaded them into the truck. We worked six days a week. 8 to 4:30 for five weeks. I initially thought about how much I liked work like this as I didn’t have to think. I just had to use my body and whittle the hours away. For better or worse, this left plenty of time to think about other things.

Here are some things that I remember:

Ibra constantly waved his cigarette in the air, using his hands to gesture, while indiscriminately intermingling French and English. On a seemingly hourly basis he stopped to chain smoke and lecture me on the perils of working too hard. We eventually warmed up to one another and I found myself intentionally prolonging lunch each day by asking questions so that I could sit in the warmth of the sun IMG_2698that streamed in through the window for a few minutes longer. Mate frequently recounted stories of atrocities from the wars the ravaged the Balkans in the 1990’s. The deaths of his friends at the hands of snipers, his sister nearly dying from a missle strike, ethnic cleansing, the massacre at Srebrenica.

‘Are you going to bring your wife over here?’ I ask Ibra in slow, patronizing English.

‘If I get papers.’

‘How do you get papers?’

‘I don’t know. There are ways.’

Mate spoke up, ‘Most of my friends, immigrants from Croatia and Poland, got their papers through marriage. It is incredibly expensive now though. When I arrived five years ago you could pay a woman 4100 dollars, but now it is up to 12,000 dollars.’

‘So this is common?’

‘Oh yeah. It is good business. One person makes money and the other one gets papers.’

‘You have to find the right girl. I know one girl that my friend married. Always calling for money. Always want money. She is no good to this man,’ Ibra countered.

‘Some people are better than others. My friend has married three different girls for money. He went back to visit Serbia and fell in love with a girl. He was already married though and had to stay with that girl. So he paid his friend to fly to Serbia, marry the girl, and then come back with her.’

‘He paid his friend to marry a girl he was in love with?’

‘Yeah! And bought him a ticket home!’

Another day Irba and I were looking out the window and I saw a man feeding his chickens food scraps.

‘Look….chickens.’ I pointed at them.

‘You know…Those are the first ones I have seen here in America. The first chickens.’


‘Yeah. You only see dead ones. The meat, never the chickens.’

IMG_2694‘There are some here. My girlfriend has 28 of them.’

‘Now that is a good girl.’ He said this earnestly, but we both laughed.

One day I sat in a patio chair in the half demolished living room of the first floor, transfixed by water cascading out of the ceiling  and spattering upon the dusty floor as Mate disconnected radiators.

Sometimes, for fun, I used the sledge like a battering ram or swung the crowbar like a baseball bat.

One time I stuck my head through a hole that I punched in the wall and twisted it like Jack Torrence.

A dog pooped directly behind the gate of the truck. I stepped in it, Ibra stepped in it, I smeared the bottom of a trashcan through it and then Mate touched it with his gloved hands, I rolled the handcart through it. I dumped a small amount of drywall dust on it with the hopes that it would work like cat litter. I then giggled as Ibra saw me do this, thought it was a good idea and got carried away; he dumped his buckets all over the pavement making a massive mess.

Most days our banter faded as we got into a taxing rhythm of work. In these moments I got unadulterated solitude to focus pointedly on my existence.

IMG_2718One day I leaned over and tilted my face to look in the mirror of the truck and was greeted by two red embers staring back at me from a bearded and lined black face. It precipitated a strange reaction, the reagents of which were being stockpiled over previous weeks: Who am I? What are you doing? Are you crazy? What is all of this about? Am I a meth head and I don’t even know it? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

IMG_2696Each day I looked on as well-heeled couples leisurely strolled by and young people sat on stoops smoking cigarettes. Often they glanced at me and then averted their eyes. Who are these people? Are they smarter than me? Do they earn a fortune staring at computer screens? Manipulating numbers? Selling more products that no one actually needs by pandering to their innermost dreams and hopes?

Pangs of bitterness coursed through me often. My thoughts whirled around myself: I have many talents and skills, yet this is how I was spending my days at age 29: demolishing the interior of a house on an illegal jobsite in unregulated conditions, sucking in my air through a mask tinged gray with dust as I hauled buckets of trash all day? Look at you now. Did I actually have any talents or skills? Am I just an idiot who cannot recognize his station in life? Like a goose that thinks it is a swan? Everyone else seemed so relaxed, moneyed, and secure.

I found myself despising New York for all its glaring inequity and crassness. I cursed myself for coming here, for deliberately throwing myself into what is the antithesis of my values in many ways. I felt stupid.

My rational brain frequently structured thoughts like this: If I was more _______, I would __________.

I wrote this down: ‘This building is a bombed out hell.’

IMG_2701Still, I tried to lose myself in my work. I used phrases that angry old men used to describe what I was doing like ‘putting my nose to the grindstone’ or ‘keeping my head down and working through the winter.’ I would also try to release the inner turmoil physically: I would I run at a wall and kick my boot through, trying my best to relish the explosion of wood and brittle plaster that resounds on the floor. I eviscerated the snaking conduit arteries within the walls. If you can imagine, the joy even evaporated from these antics.

On cold days, I had to work even harder just to stay warm. I mused that maybe this was a forced labor scheme learned from my boss’s previous life in the former Yugoslavia.

The plaster covered brick walls were the worst. I broke them apart by starting a small necrotic ulcer in the center and assiduously expanding it outward with rhythmic hammer swings.

I found  a slip of paper in my shirt pocket that I wrote one night while I was drunk that said the following:

IMG_2707‘Mate worked with several Natives in Canada in forestry. Many of them had spent time in prison and would unabashedly tell him about murders that they had committed or other strange stories. One day in prison, one of the men recounted, another inmate returned from a visit with friends or family. He sat down in a communal area, but quickly got up and began vomiting. One of the other inmates noticed that the vomit was littered with pills and immediately ran over and started picking them out of the vomit and swallowing them. In no time at all, a crowd of inmates swarmed and ate all of the pills out of the vomit.’

One day Mate and I went to the scrap metal yards. I listened to the radio as we drove around in the truck with the heat as high as it would go. It was the coldest day of the year so far, the kind the radio described in sinister, ominous tones: the cripplingly cold Canadian air mass descended upon New York threatening the transportation system, our elderly, our children, our jobs. It was always there, the Canadian air mass, looming over us, waiting to descend. I hopped out of the truck to unlock the bed at the first yard, which was crawling with a bewildering diversity of mechanical beasts that roamed piles of steel that glimmered in the dim winter sun. I experienced a new sensation of being insignificant, of being too organic. The yard was frantic; it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We were hurried through by men dressed indistinguishably from astronauts; even the people seemed mechanical.

I was genuinely giddy when we returned to the house to pick up the cream of the crap: copper, brass, and aluminum. The allure of money for producing nothing draws hundreds of people living on the margins of society to scour the city in search of metal each day. They intruded and cajoled us at our job site regularly. They are like blue collar carnies. Before we arrived, we discussed strategy as Mate had done this a few times; we needed to give the impression that we were in the business. If you don’t do this, they will apparently take the chainmail right off of your back.

IMG_2748We took the money load to what I would describe as a quaint community scrap yard, as if there were such a thing. The garage door opened to a few men huddled around a 55 gallon drum with flames licking out of the top. One man had a spider web, the center of which was on his nose, tattooed across his face. A pitbull sat in a reclining chair wearing a down vest, looking the most comfortable of all. The manager approached and helped us to sort the metal into piles. Spidey communicated in grunts and lurched around like a black frankenstein, staring me down if I look at him. We pretended that we knew how much everything was worth and that we wouldn’t settle for anything less than top dollar. The manager pretended that we had an insignificant amount of cheap metal that he was indifferent towards.

‘Where does all of this go?’ I venture to ask.

‘China. All we do here is bundle it and ship it out,’ he answers.

$842. Raw materials from all over the world, manufactured in China, used in America, shipped to China, recycled in China, remanufactured in China by foreign owned businesses, shipped to America.

IMG_2746Increasingly my mind churned about the limitations of growth, climate change, materialism, globalization, energy, the environment, inequality, the cognitive dissonance displayed by my countrymen, how maybe we should just commit to destroying the earth and ourselves, maybe we should blot out the sun with coal fire power plants operating at maximum capacity to power nothing but televisions playing pornography and Die Hard movies twenty four hours a day, dildos, and meth factories; start fighting human beings against one another with antiquated carpentry tools for sport; cut down every last tree; torpedo the whales; shit in our wells; have a Superbowl everyday; fire nuclear weapons at the moon; light the surface of the ocean on fire; rape everyone except for the elderly who we will leave to rot in the acid rain that falls from the sky; eat the vitamin D deficient children; and napalm the polar ice caps.

I wished the anxieties and the stresses of each day would wash off just like the filthy mask that I wore each night in the shower, but they didn’t. I felt beaten, my levity lost.

IMG_2745I read compulsively in every spare second. I tried to think my way out of the misery in which I was mired.

My rational brain also liked to use these thoughtforms:

Everything will be better when _____________.

‘All of those years that you spent laughing and enjoying yourself to the fullest were all for naught since they didn’t prepare you for the real serious world.’

‘You should go to grad school so that you can be a productive member of society.’

I was walking to work one day and I saw a discarded tin can, that someone only bothered to half crush. I empathized with that can.

One day, I rode the train home and several people saw the open seat near me, approached, and then shied away at the last second. It was alright though since they were merely crude automatons. I was enlightened because of my ability to perceive the absolutely purposeless cagelike void in which we found ourselves.

IMG_2736Sometimes I held back tears as I hauled buckets up and down the floors of the brownstone.

My mind can be a whirring maw that consumes everything and turns it all into shit as its gyre tightens around my own little miserable existence.

I walked around overstimulated,  feeling constantly abraded. I didn’t laugh at the rats in the subway anymore. I walked with my head down. I thought rationally about sex.

I descended down into the doldrums of purposelessness, stagnation, and confusion. I wallowed in a dark, deep pit. It was apparent that my mind was broken, completely dysfunctional. Day after day it went in loops about my life, about relationships, about work, about this world. I was stuck in some literal, rational mode, constantly analyzing, critiquing, and reacting. I lived in an algorithm where N goes to infinity. I found myself living in abstraction, all experience filtered through an artificial conceptualization of the world. Recognizing this is not the same as understanding it.

I thought about how canaries that are put in mines might just die because they don’t want to live in a fucking dark and lifeless hole.

IMG_2741It seemed like I would labor in a cold filthy brownstone forever, that was until my boss unexpectedly ran out of money and laid me off to wander the splendorous dog shit strewn streets of New York once more.

One day as I sat on the couch, in the simplest terms possible, everything exploded into a dizzying particolored lollapalooza. There was suddenly infinite subtlety in the myriad of intertwined flavors of the chai tea that I sipped, in the plants that shimmered in the afternoon light and gently swayed in the heat rising off of the baseboard radiators, and in the multilayered music vibrating through the air redolent with all of the telltale smells of life in my apartment. I sat transfixed by my resplendent world. I saw it.

I saw that the world is not the map that I created of it. A Euclidian, linear, limited variable perspective  is a vast oversimplification that ignores the inherently complex and chaotic order of nature and the interaction of limitless interconnected variables. It is a theoretical world assuming smooth planes, rational actors, continuity, and limited physical constraints.

We will be forever unable to model or build a perfect facsimile, we will always be left with an approximation or an incomplete construction. Reality is nowhere but in the infinite recursive complexity of my bodily systems and in the vortexes of steam that twist and dissolve above my mug.

The compulsion to make projections and see finality is just a failure of imagination. It is an abstracted way of viewing the world that ignores the infinite beautiful uncertain complexity that abounds.

The unpredictability of existence means that our lives are a series of choices and actions, thousands each day. In doing this we create ourselves, our conception of humanity, and our world. There are many areas of life where we are unable to exercise choice, but we are wholly responsible for the realms in which we can.

Life is no different than a work of creation or art. Each one of us stands in front of a canvas in the same stupefying confusion of having no idea how we got there or what is expected of us. There is a limited set of supplies that similarly has no provenance.  The background of the canvas has already been filled in before our eyes snap open. A work is created through an accumulation of choices and actions applied over time. There is no ideal work in the same way that there is no ideal life, there is only the one that exists. The bewildering beauty of life lies in the incomprehensible task of creating the completely subjective work that is ourselves.

I am tumbling across a lightless undulating plain.

I am swept onwards by forces that I cannot know.

The terrain is nothing more than that which passes.

Up, down, to and fro.

There is no beginning or end.

The darkness is vertiginous and lonely.

A rational tempest swirls inside of me.

I try to give sense to the senseless.

I strain to discern form in the void.

I conceive and am inevitably confounded.

Then, I am startled from my reverie by faint music in my head.

I suddenly feel the plain, although it passes no differently than it ever has,

the hillocks and declivities of birth, death, love, joy, and sadness.

I sit in quiet contemplation, admiring the melodic progression.

The song is entitled: ‘I am a preposterous half rational half animal chimera stumbling through an abysmal eden hurtling agonizingly fast towards.’

Free Food for Thought

I can never set foot in New Zealand again. I am not sure why I am writing this, although I guess I could say that about most things that I do. It is a compulsion. I also put on weird and different clothes when I sit down to write. Not anything too strange though, just a weird assemblage that seems conducive to whatever I am going to write. I am wearing a pink knit hat, two pairs of pants, a long sleeve shirt, and an unbuttoned dress

This is when my writing first began.
This is when my writing first began.

shirt right now; all are grey besides the hat. I am going to tell one of those stories that many of us have, ones that have changed our lives irreparably, that we simply don’t talk about it. These are often sad, but grow in hilarity with time. Maybe a side of ourselves that is deeply unsettling was briefly exposed or maybe we simply hit our nadir? It seems inevitable and significant as I look back, although there is no one who actually knows exactly what happened, not even myself as the dissolute wretch who supposedly did all of these things. Certain events undeniably occurred, and regardless of how this night unfolded in its entirety.

There were many things that happened beforehand, years beforehand, that set the stage for what may be my most amazing of performances. I firmly believed that I was going to die young for a long time. I used to drink a lot and take drugs. I aimed for the sun.

I had just quit taking Paxil, Wellbutrin, Trazodone a few weeks before we left on this trip, a cocktail that was the result of years seeking to fix myself that began with continually increasing doses of Prozac when I was a teenager. I had generalized anxiety problems. I had depression problems. I was a problem. These prescription drugs were the gateway drug for me. I was diagnosed as having a brain chemistry imbalance, something that needed to be addressed by ingesting things in order for me to function properly.

DIGITAL CAMERANepal was the first place that I ever bought drugs on the street. We arrived in Kathmandu and before we even had found our hotel I was offered hash by a man who smelled of urine and was swaddled in rags. I might have even initially taken this as an auspicious sign that I wouldn’t overpay. I handed my backpack to my friend Anthony, who I was traveling with, and followed the strange figure into a damp alley strung overhead with clothes lines. I am not even sure how we communicated as I look back, but I guess there isn’t too much to communicate. Hash, money, exchange. I passed over the money and then he reached into the rags near his waist, behind his back, and then his hand delved lower, reaching into DIGITAL CAMERAthe most foul of crevices to pull out a small tinfoil wrapped bundle. I thought of the owl pellets that we dissected in elementary school. The warm, moist bundle was deposited in my open palm. Out of some strange respect for this man, I did not throw it on the ground or make a disgusted face. Or maybe it was because I really didn’t care; I just wanted to get high. In hovel of a hotel room, I opened it and it even looked like a little black turd composed of small hand rolled droppings. I never smoked that hash. It could have actually been feces for all I know. I found a better supplier later that day, who kept the hash in a less intimate place.

I had money, time, and exploring the world was a time tested rite of passage. I would leave my white bread existence behind. I would grow spiritually, culturally, intellectually and I could do nothing wrong. Everything was novel and brilliant. I just needed to quell my broken mind, to keep it at bay. It only seemed right to start smoking DIGITAL CAMERAcigarettes, but not the industrially produced ones, rather I would roll each one with my own hands. Smoking hash would allow me to break out of my square, humdrum perspective and take in the vast and varied expanse of the world. Going out drinking would let me see the underbelly of the city and meet new and different people. We did some cultural exploration, The Monkey Temple, Durbar Square, ect. But much of our time seemed to be spent in bars drinking or wandering about high on hash.

We quickly became bored with this existence and planned to leave for the mountains to go trekking, but travel often makes people constipated and I am one of those people. My stomach was engorged with five days of dal bhat and momos. I decided to take some laxatives and clear myself out, something that I had not yet done as the thought of explaining what I needed to a Nepali pharmacist seemed embarrassing and difficult. In reality it was really easy: I did a phenomenal pantomime of taking a pill, squatting, making farting noises, and rapidly gesturing from my butt to the ground. The pharmacist almost fell on the ground laughing and I was handed some strange Nepali laxatives. They looked like little balls of tar, almost like the aforementioned turd nuggets of hash. I didn’t read the instructions and took two. Nothing happened that afternoon and we were leaving the following morning. I took two more.

DIGITAL CAMERAWe started out trekking under monsoon rains that should have dissipated weeks beforehand. It steadily fell down upon us and quickly crept in through our layers. There were trees full of monkeys that we taunted who jeered back. We walked through a few small villages that were carving out an existence on the steep mountainside. I remember vividly when the pills took effect: we were climbing an endless series of switchbacking stairs. Also: there were leaches, on the leaves, on the trees, on the shrubs, on the grass, everywhere. I ran into the trees in a deep DIGITAL CAMERAseated Freudian anal panic and I pulled down my pants and the rain fell down upon my bare thighs, the leeches crawled onto my arms and up my legs. I pulled out the toilet paper and that got soaked. This was only break of the initial dike that held back the long pent up flood that flowed over the rest of the day. On two instances villagers giggled and laughed at me as I clenched my cheeks and ran, only to fall short of any DIGITAL CAMERAprivacy. A few days later we got lost in the fog and rain, hundreds of leeches made it to our skin, we pulled them off, their anticoagulant caused blood to keep running, and we eventually arrived at a hotel shivering and covered in blood.

After the monsoons washed us out of the mountains we decided to head to India until the season passed. Our flight was delayed for hours. Upon asking what time the flight would arrive, I received the unperturbed answer of:

‘Today, sir.’

‘Where are you headed?’ A heavy English accent from across the way inquired. I looked up to see a shiny headed bald man in his early forties dressed in the colorful hippy garb of Thamel.

DIGITAL CAMERA‘Delhi for a few weeks.’ I nonchalantly responded.

‘Why the fuck would you do that?’ His harsh tone took me aback a bit.

‘Oh… Well I guess since it is the capital city and we want to see some of India and the monsoons are still dragging on.’

‘Delhi is a shithole. You should spend one day there seeing the sights and then get out.’

DIGITAL CAMERA‘Hah. Well, where are you going?’

‘I am doing a motorcycle trip starting from Delhi.’

We talked for the next hour about our respective lives and travels. Mark was from New Castle, was newly divorced, owned his own company, and seemed hellbent on living out his lost years. We boarded the plane and headed to our respective seats when he proposed the following before walking away:

‘You should come along with me on the trip. It will be unlike anything you have ever done in your lives.’

We sat in our seats and don’t say too much at first, both of us pensive.

‘That guy is a little crazy, huh?’ I broke the silence.

‘Yeah. That trip sounds cool though.’

‘Definitely. I wish we could go, but it really doesn’t make any sense.’

We continued talking around the point for a bit.

‘It would be really incredible. Maybe we should think about it. Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?’

‘Yeah, but not a proper one. I have ridden dirt bikes quite a bit.’ This is an outright lie. I had never been on anything with two wheels other than a bicycle.

‘Me too, I used to always ride my dad’s motorcycle around the neighborhood.’

‘Well, let’s just talk to him and see what his plan is. We don’t have to commit to anything.’

DIGITAL CAMERAWe rented motorcycles that night in Karol Bagh as the days light turned deep red in the smog. I did not know how to shift a motorcycle, nor brake. Anthony and Mark rode their motorcycles back to the hotel, but I said that I was uncomfortable riding in the rushhour traffic of Delhi. I paid one of the guys from the bike shop to ride the bike to the hotel while I took a cab. I made a plan.

‘What time are we getting up tomorrow?’


DIGITAL CAMERAI woke up at 6:40 quietly and snuck out to my bike. I quickly familiarized myself with it and then rode it around the parking lot a few times before riding it around the circles of Connaught Place. Mark and Anthony woke up and we started riding. Within the hour I was weaving between cars, laying on my horn, dodging cows, swerving around trucks headed the wrong direction on the divided main artery of Highway 1 as we rode towards Amritsar.

DIGITAL CAMERAEvery day for the next few months as we rode around India and Nepal seemed scintillating. We were riding a high that we kept pushing on our travels. I drank and smoked and drank and rode. I blew through police roadblocks, I got beaten with a nightstick, I got thrown out of a Bollywood party, I toppled over my riding my motorcycle drunk and high through sand the night before some Englishmen intended to accomplish DIGITAL CAMERAone of the strange and meaningless feats they do for bragging rights: loading a motorcycle on an elephant and riding it across the river, nearly killing myself countless times, getting thrown out of Gandhi’s grave/memorial… It goes on.

DIGITAL CAMERAI awoke on the morning of the day before my 22nd birthday in Bangkok, in a minimalist, blindingly white hotel room in Khao San Road. The time we had spent in Bangkok was a much welcomed reprieve from months spent dirtbagging around India and Nepal. I was living life. I was walking the face of the earth living out the life that I had been denied in all my preceding years, the life intended for me. Unfortunately, our arrival in Bangkok seemed to illuminate the impending end of the trip. This served to fuel my wanton desire to do something, for something to happen. I never knew what, but going to seedy locals and badgering my mind with substances seemed to be the conditions that I determined would be fortuitous for it to happen. I just didn’t want the wave to crest.

DIGITAL CAMERAWe boarded a Thai Airways flight to Auckland that night. My birthday arrived at midnight and the airline had a policy of free cocktails on all international flights. I made the flight attendants aware that it was my birthday and they fed me whisky at  a rate befitting of this momentous occasion. I passed through customs in New Zealand, indifferently answering questions regarding what environs my boots had tromped through, what microbes that they may be carrying.  They were not concerned about my current state or where I had been, what malignancies were growing within me.

Auckland assailed me as the jet lag set in and the drinks wore off. The day passed in a frustrating blur of expenses and uncertainty about our plans. Anthony had been sick with stomach parasites for some time and was weary of continuing on. I did not like this place. It was hostile to my bohemian lifestyle. It impinged on my craven consumption through expense and customs that were more clearly articulated in my native tongue. The drinks were too expensive to get properly drunk. An old proper bitch of a lady informed me that I could not enter her restaurant wearing sandals. My freedom currency was not good everywhere.

Anthony and I found a place that believed that as long as we had money, we had class. We drank and ate. We amassed a proper tab before our night even began. I needed to rein in my spending. I had brilliantly bought a fifty or so Xanax at a pharmacy in Bangkok in anticipation of an event such as this or the potentiality that I would need to sedate myself in response to any one of the intrusive strains of thought that challenged my current form of existence. This is called ‘anxiety.’

I washed down one Xanax, then two with gulps of cheap, golden whisky. The pint was gone before we left for the night. We set out for a place called World Club, some backpacker hotspot. Bottles of champaign were only $20 or so. I ordered one and drank it straight out of the bottle. Anthony felt sick and did not want to accompany me on my journey into oblivion. I indifferently let him leave the bar, thinking that it was his choice if he wants to miss out on what was sure to become the most spectacular night of my life. The stiff collared patrons seemed timid, unwilling to listen to my riveting stories from the other hemisphere, and revel with me. I needed to get this party going, kick things up a notch. I was twenty-fucking-two years old! I was fucking traveling the world! I ordered another bottle of champaign and set foot on the dance floor. All of the girls were strangely dancing with men who were not me, something that I had to change through gratuitous exhibition of my dance moves. I moved quickly and unselfconsciously. They were coy. I drank more to relax a bit and seem more approachable. My memory started to relax at about this time as well.

Then I was standing out on the street. It seemed strange to me how lively the streets were in such a backwards country at this late hour.  I stood on the curb contemplating a variety of options in my dulled brain. Maybe I can get a drink somewhere? Or maybe I should go to bed? Where is the hostel? What is its name? Where should I go?


A boxy old bread truck suddenly pulled up in front of me to drop bread at a convenience store. The driver hopped out, grabbed a palette out of the open back door, dropped it off in a convenience store and then got back behind the wheel. The back door was still open. As he pulled away, I ran up behind and swung in using a handrail through the cloud of diesel smoke.

There were so many people on the streets. The lights streamed by. I was likely the most intelligent, interesting, and controversial man on earth. The people that we were passing on the streets seemed to look on expectantly with hungry eyes, likely in need of sustenance at this hour. I had hundreds of loaves of delicious, fortified white bread at my disposal. I also had an arm like a cannon, which I never employed in sports out of a deeply ingrained disdain for the brutality and degradation of the human spirit that resulted from such competition. I was not opposed to using it for benevolent purposes though and this seemed like a propitious occasion. I would be a modern day Robin Hood, both despised and revered. I cocked my arm with a loaf loaded in my right hand. I released the first loaf with perfect timing at a couple at we balled past. They were amateurs and failed to received the pass and seemed confused rather than grateful. No thanks, no wave.

I began indiscriminately distributing loaves. I wasn’t in this for the praise; I was doing it on principle. Teenagers. 12 loaves. A couple with their arms locked. 17 loafs. A man in a tuxedo. 24 loafs. A couple of girls laughing and stumbling about. 27 loafs. A derelict. 31 loafs. A car suddenly appeared close behind us. Perhaps he would like a loaf. There was a windshield between us, but it is the thought that counts. I aimed a loaf right for the figure behind the wheel. He showered praise upon me with the golden lights that sat upon his car. The bread truck slowed. It stopped.

I giggled, hopped down, and began teetering away. There was yelling behind me that quickly descended upon me with blows. I obstinately resisted; my lizard brain was alarmed. Who dared to challenge my right to free living? There were two hitting me and then there were more in uniforms. I fought back and then everything went black.  I was just trying to…..

I awoke with a start. There were alarms going off in every part of my body. The walls were white. My bed was nothing but a stainless steel shelf attached to the wall. My clothes were shredded and I was covered in blood. I had no clue where I was, but luckily I could lie on my bed and kick the steel door. Guards arrived and warned me to stop. I continued. I wanted an explanation as to why I was in this box and in this condition. Where was I? What happened?

I was finally led to the desk of the arresting officer. He filled in a few gaps, memories began trickling back. I was charged with theft of 32 loaves of bread and assault. I tried to explain that I didn’t steal the loaves, that I gave them away. I explained that I was then forced to defend myself as the truck driver and I had different perspectives on private property. These were halfhearted attempts as we both knew the condition that I was in the night before.

‘Well, where do we go from here? What are my options?’

‘You basically have three options. One. You plead not guilty. We take your passport until your trial and a verdict is rendered. This could take a while. Two.  You plead guilty. This would be quicker. There is a chance that you would receive community service, which could take several months to set up and complete. If you don’t complete it, we would put warrants out for your arrest. Three. Your pretrial hearing is in a week. You book a ticket to leave the country before your trial and enjoy your last week in New Zealand. We will put out warrants for your arrest if you miss your trial and you will be arrested if you return.’

‘Which option would you recommend for someone in my position?’

‘The last one.’

DIGITAL CAMERAThe wave crested and I washed up back on the shores of reality. I arrived back home in a sorry state a week later and began fighting to regain myself. I had walked one path to its destination and it was time to start down another one. I would no longer just loaf my life away.

Posterior to the Paroxysm

It was called depressing back then to write like this, nobody wanted to hear it. It went against the culture of make believe and eternal optimism. I lived in New York during those years, a place that for a century was held in popular esteem as a beacon of hope, as the manifestation of the greatness of the ideology that took root after the world wars ended, a place where materialism and its culture reached new heights. There were more cars in the Unites States than people. We used machines and energy to perform most of our daily tasks. We were able to eat tropical fruits in the dead of winter and eat meat on a daily basis. We regularly took trips to other climates to find reprieve from harsh Northern winters. We had incredible hospitals offering extremely complicated procedures and body modification. We regularly threw out perfectly good clothes if they were not of the same style being marketed currently. Overconsumption of food, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco were the primary problems with which our society struggled. The Western world had embarked on a journey to ameliorate conflict through growth and a more equitable distribution of its spoils, a distinctly materialist philosophy that was intended to supplant or transcend the divisions hewn by religion and ethnicity.

There were periods of ostensible tranquility, although maybe the violence just took on another form. There assuredly was extreme violence against the natural world to which our destiny is inextricably linked. There was also a more subtle war against the individual, against the human spirit. Later on conflict over resources began to occur.

It took many decades, but the economic and political machine was taken to its apogee by rational thought and it began to groan and occasionally falter. There are problems with the idea of perpetual growth; we live in a world of limits. The resources were bound to begin to feel the strain and we were forced to search ever farther, scouring and scarring the globe as we did so. The productive machine required an ever expanding resource and energy base to feed an ever expanding population that expected an ever increasing quality of life. It was required to work even harder to try and hold back forces that worked against it assiduously like friction or gravity against a perpetual motion machine.

We all wanted to believe that we had created the perpetual motion machine though, that we could continually invent our way out of problems and continue on this path. That was how it gradually became a marketing game, a game in which statistics and studies were produced to inform us about our ever improving quality of life, unprecedented freedom, expanding resource base, essentially that everything was the best that it could possibly be.

When those of us who lived through those times look back upon them though, we all felt the discord deep within ourselves. We knew what was going on as our military roved the world ‘freeing’ oppressed people, opening up their markets and resources; we all knew it as the air, water, and soil became increasingly polluted and unproductive; we all knew it as excess housing was built and then millions were forcefully evicted, we all knew it as record profits were trumpeted as 40 million people lived from government handouts during those years. Those who experienced this discord too overtly and were disillusioned as to the nature of reality, were often diagnosed with mental illness and left to fend for themselves. Addictions and escapism ran rampant.

Politically and economically everything became more precarious with each passing year. The social safety net and the legislated equality that resulted from the war years were dismantled starting in the 1980’s and more inequality was created than ever before to preserve the illusion for the few.

Our politicians and business leaders deemed it necessary to strive at all costs to maintain the status quo. Interest rates were perpetually slashed and legal constraints lifted to remove some of the friction constraining the perpetual motion machine. Our government at the time, or really everyone, just kept borrowing against a future that was incapable of actually paying all of the debts with which it was being saddled. Economic bubbles swelled and burst, often several times in the same decade as the dream machine took itself too literally. It became necessary to preemptively address any threats. Our calls and internet usage began to be monitored by a vast information gathering network with no clear purpose. Drones first began to appear in the skies over our heads. More citizens were imprisoned in a vast and ever expanding network of prison complexes run by private companies. Some were held without trial.

The paragons of our society at this time were the manipulators, the ones who created nothing but an illusion through numbers that did not correspond to reality and reaped fortunes similarly denominated in numbers that only existed in computers. Most of society had a vested interest in maintaining their slice of the imaginary pie. The politicians, the businessmen, the academics, and the bankers largely merged into one ideologically cohesive group to trumpet the perpetual motion horse on which they had staked their money. We had a president who exhorted us to ‘go shopping’ days after thousands of people died in an attack on the physical pillars of this ideology in New York. A mood familiar to all of us as individuals took hold on a national scale, one of repression, denial, and a grasping for the comfort of childish ignorance.

The ground upon which we stood was undergoing tectonic shifts, yet we refused to adjust to this reality. No one at the time knew what was to come and we consciously avoided thinking about it. You have to understand that we couldn’t countenance what this said about our culture, about our country, about ourselves as inextricable cogs in this vast machine. It would have all fallen apart overnight and we were terrified by what alternatives existed. It was all that we knew. The established order tried to assimilate all threats and challenges. The problem is that the shifts were of an order of magnitude that could not be managed, like trying to hold back a glacier or cap a volcano.

Wasn’t there a way to have reached a more moderate, more just, more humane outcome? As we look back upon and teach about this era in world history it is clear that the seeds of this dissolution had been sown long before we ever became conscious of the growing problems. It seems axiomatic now that the perpetual motion machine would eventually succumb to natural forces and that change is the only constant, but this experiment had to run its course for us to now understand. At that time for anyone who did see the problems, there was nothing to do anyways but wait for the first contraction signaling the birth of the future.