Last Summer I happened to keep a date with Seton Lake that I had been putting off for days. It was a lovely dry hot day and I figured the water was probably just the right temperature for my rather uninsulated body. I took only my bathing suit, some water, my smokes and a book. The paperback had been picked up at a library sale and contained a set of essays from the 1970’s written by American anthropologist, Jay Gould. They were scholarly to be sure but obviously written for a much wider readership.
After a soul satisfying, spirit bracing quarter hour in the green-glass water, I hauled out like a weary harbor seal and lay down on a Donald Duck towel which boasted of a vacation to the British Virgin Islands by a former employer of my wife. I rolled a smoke and set to reading the last two essays in my book. The entire work was written from a Darwinian viewpoint of evolution and for the first time, I was introduced to some quite interesting questions and possible answers that had been asked in the time since that man’s theory had been introduced to the science community and the world at large.
When I was literally on the last page, a tall young man got up from his blanket where he had been sitting with a woman, I took to be his wife or girlfriend and came over to sit by me. He introduced himself and shook hands. He grasped a small book in his other hand. He said that he had not seen many people reading out doors down by the lake and that was what had gotten his attention about me.
He chatted for some time about himself, his work, his home, his woman and his life experience and inquired about my own reflections in that same pond of information. He was of German/Aboriginal heritage and in my opinion those particular two gene pools had melded wonderfully judging by their expression with which I was now conversing. I spoke of my own genetic omelet, which also included some German.
At length, as the sun dipped behind the mountains to the South and the ground started to give up its easily gotten warmth to the void, people started to fidget and pack up their beach things. My new young friend said he wanted to give me the book he was holding. I laughed and said that I had literally just finished my book as he was crossing the thirty feet of goose droppings to approach me. I added that I would like to trade my book for his, if he wanted.
This brought about a swap and we both smiled when we noticed that both books were collections of essays on anthropological themes. His was by a well lettered Scot still active in the academic world and mine by a well respected American scientist. His was however some thirty years newer and thus likely closer to what is currently being taught in universities by those pursuing this field of study. In other words, it was the perfect companion piece to follow on the heels of what I had just read and my paperback conversely, was the perfect background piece for the other fellow, in order for him to see where the thinking had been focused just prior to his probable time of birth.
We call these things serendipity, synchronicity, happy accidents or coincidences. Personally, I find these types of events so frequently occurring that when they seem to diminish, I experience a sense of being off my proper trail. I haven’t seen the young man since then but I have read the book he gave me.
Just as I was finishing the last chapters, my friend and neighbor acquired a new tiny charcoal gray kitten, which he named Dunbar. Another shred of synchroincidipity, as it turned out, for the book was The Human Story by Robin Dunbar.
Firstly, I will praise its scientific honesty. Secondly, I will praise the style in which it was written which makes it accessible to the widest possible range of readers. Thirdly, I will laud the fact that it quite rightly leaves one with a better set of questions rather than a pocketful of answers waiting to be made obsolete by the next bright light to blaze trails in the discipline of anthropology.
By way of scientific honesty, I mean to say that the author gives sets of facts drawn from known but necessarily incomplete data. These are drawn into visual graphs to underscore the thrust of his personal intuitions as to how we humans came to be what we find ourselves today. The honesty comes from the clear admission that the data is far from satisfactory in its quantity. That said, the reader who ponders Mr. Dunbar’s work is free to speculate a few new trails and this is precisely what gives rise to the great discoveries in the academic disciplines.
In explanation of my second praise of the book, I will say this, I noticed from childhood that short of taking the time and trouble of learning to read at least a modicum of Latin, Greek and Hebrew; that I would be barred from much information that had already been worked out by those intrepid souls who went before burning the mid-night oil over their desks. This has always saddened and angered me by turns. I find it sad that anyone would want to compartmentalize useful information by restricting access to it via use of a language or vocabulary which is unintelligible to the larger part of ones fellows.
I am angered by the divisions, borders and exclusions that this way of gathering, recording and dispensing knowledge generates among the population. Many a bright, inquiring mind is kept in the sandbox of intellectual childhood by such barriers rather than being encouraged to enter the ring and fight a few rounds with the Riddler. Whether this is by design, tradition or accident matters not to me. It holds back our species. I believe in species loyalty.
I have recently seen an illustration of what I’m talking about treated in literature and film. It was the Swede, Jonas Jonasson who brought it out in his novel, The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out The Window And Disappeared. In the book, the main character as a boy plays with explosives with no tutelage or instruction until he becomes quite expert at it. Later in his life, he finds himself serving as a waiter and janitor at Los Alamos for the nuclear physicists assembled there. While handing out mugs of coffee he overhears that they are stymied by the final phase of their atomic bomb project, which is the seemingly insurmountable problem of a safe way to detonate the bomb with accurate timing.
Our Swede walks over to the whiteboard and with a marker shows that simply dividing the charge into two parts and positioning them correctly will yield the results that they have agonized over for weeks. We will not side-track into the morals of this example, although the Swedish author of the work cited does so and quite satisfactorily, in my opinion. But I won’t spoil a good read for those listening who may get his book.
Rather, I mention the above as an example of humanity slowly lifting its gaze from the study of its own shoelaces to peer into the close-set eyes of those who speak strange jargon in learned tones. There is an awkward moment, a patronizing audience is given and then pure astonishment and celebration erupts. If more people around the world simply knew what the hell the experts were talking about in the common speech of current languages; this happy scene would be repeated many times a day. It must be born in mind, that the fire and tool-makers of antiquity did not have any credentials other than a human brain, necessity and opportunity.
My third point of praise for Mr. Dunbar, that of leaving his readers with better questions rather than presuming to provide them answers speaks to me of intellectual honesty, which is the perfect seasoning for the scientific honesty he serves up. When the man who wrote a book tells you what aspects of his field of expertise that he honestly doesn’t know, it serves to encourage anyone with an active brain to take up the challenge and try to move the ball a few yards closer to the goalpost. Conversely, when an author tells you that they definitely know something that is by its nature unknowable, they are revealed as that dominant child in any playground that moves the goalposts around whenever the ball doesn’t cooperate.
What I took away from this book that I hadn’t heard explained before was something the psychological anthropologists define as levels of intent. A major point made by the author was derived from a study of this phenomenon. I will paraphrase what I took the term to mean. It turns out, according to tests conducted on chimps, apes, orangutans and humans, that the mental ability to imagine the intent of another party is limited to a factor of two in other primates and can reach as high as five in humans but usually a human achieves no higher than four.
For simplicity, I will refer to these levels or layers of intent as plies. Mr. Dunbar has studied the skulls that have been unearthed so far from the fossil record and by measuring a hole in the back through which a particular nerve bundle passes to join a specific processing center, as well as the size of the cranium; he has been able to calculate at which point in our long history that we became able to think in this complex manner. He presents some evidence to suggest the possibility that Cro-Magnons made this evolutionary adjustment first and thus were able to outwit, outlast and outplay the Neanderthals they encountered when they spread up through Europe. Despite the fact that Neanderthals had larger brains, he points out that the area of their brains which was larger was that part which processes visual information. Very practical for hunters and gatherers, whereas the abilities of the newcomers was perfect for organizing and managing those activities. Any similarities in this paragraph to the popular show “Survivor” are intentional.
It will be good to add here that, according to science, the size of groups maintained by us humans and various other types of primates relates directly to this ability to think in multiple plies. According to Mr. Dunbar, monkeys, apes and such tend to max out at around a group size of 70, while humans can successfully push that number to more than double that figure. Without stating in concrete terms that other animals are absolutely incapable of this cognitive gamesmanship, I came away from the book with the strong feeling that this was indeed his own conviction.
I couldn’t help at that juncture to think of a mother grouse feigning a broken wing and straggling away from her nest to draw a predator astray of their meal. Also, I immediately saw in my minds eye, a coyote doubling back on its trail so that a person couldn’t make out who was tracking who or in what direction it actually intended to go. Provision was made for swarming bees and wasps, schools of fish, flocks of birds and herds of herbivores to maintain larger groups than humans even though they lacked the same level of intent score that the author attributed to us humans.
The grouse is a good example to illustrate the concept we are dealing with. Let’s say I am walking through the sage one day and happen to come upon a grouse hen several yards off. She begins to drag a wing and make a big show of stumbling in a direction away from her nest, which I do not at this point even see. The grouse mother thinks that I am out to make a meal of her chicks and that if I believe she is wounded I will pursue her instead. She has just demonstrated 2-ply thinking. Now, let’s say a coyote was watching this drama from up the hill where it had been tracking me earlier out of curiosity. If he comes downhill to raid the nest because he thinks I believe the hen’s ruse which is based upon her assumption that I was after the nest myself, he has just demonstrated three-ply thinking. If I spot the coyote just prior to his descent of the hill to raid the nest while I pretend to follow the hen and then turn quickly to land a rock on his flank in order to protect the nest, I have just demonstrated four-ply thinking.
We can see from this that humans capable of five-ply thinking, though in the minority, could keep large numbers of their fellows tied in cognitive knots. As a result, I have to conclude that this adaptation is perhaps a very mixed blessing at best and that the majority may live to rue this ability as employed by the minority possessed of five-ply thinking. Of great interest and placed at the end of the book after the other concepts were covered, was the inclusion of the fact that several of the things currently held by academics to separate our species from all others are talked about and tied together with brain size, group size and levels of intent abilities. The main of these are music, song, speech, written language, literature, laughter and religion.
It turns out that laughter and song is considered a human adaptation of grooming and is effective over a larger group, a wider physical range and requires less time to get the same benefit. The maximum waking time spent grooming by primates according to the scholars is twenty percent. If we sing and joke as we go about our business, we accomplish several important objectives simultaneously.
Some of the other uniquely human things would not be possible without a level of intent beyond two. The author places a rough date on the appearance of those particular items in human culture by pegging them to carbon dated physical evidence which is deemed to be large enough to accommodate the software, if you will allow the term. It is shown statistically that religious individuals and communities enjoy longer healthier lives. It is also shown that the creation of a religion requires a mind capable of the fifth level of intent. Some interesting facts from modern history are presented to illustrate religion by its deeds both beneficent and wicked. You the reader may then extrapolate many interesting side trails of cogitation which I hope will yield you either the fruit of personal discovery or at least the fragrance of the blossoms that grow on those untrodden hills.
One thing that scientists, poets and philosophers all seem to agree upon is that this penchant we have for inquiring into our world, ourselves, our motives, our origins and the seeking of pattern and purpose therein, is a uniquely human trait and ability. In regard to religion, I find that I am in agreement with the statistics cited. Life is much too hard, unpredictable, contrary and at times counter-intuitive to endure without something much larger than ourselves to use as a backdrop, a guide and an explanation.
I taught both my sons this lesson, as most parents the world over have also done. One thing I did differently than is perhaps usual, was that I did not indoctrinate them into any particular faith. While their examples to live by could well be described as Christian and the tenets of that faith were discussed the most, we discussed many other religious modes also. I figure that since, in my own belief and experience, a man has to have a code to live by, it should be the man who chooses that which he shall strive to uphold and will measure himself against when he approaches death. That to me is freedom of religion.
Freedom is a thing not unlike quicksilver. We use the terms freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of choice all the time. When called upon to examine or debate these issues within a political context, they seem to defy our efforts to even define them in a manner satisfactory to an entire group. We, in the West uphold free speech, yet have acquiesced to the censoring of many voices through various means ever since we had that right entrenched in a legal document. History cannot show any examples of freedom being truly bestowed upon one human by another. You may not be given what you already possess. But you may relinquish it in any number of ways for any number of reasons.
Our nature has led us to continue to live in groups of ever larger concentration. We govern and manage these large groups in a variety of ways. The benefit is always greater overall safety and security and the drawback is a corresponding shrinkage of individual liberty and freedom. In that system, upon a time, it was feasible that a man or woman could travel to different countries and find one that matched their own personal tastes and convictions as to customs, religion, rules and regulations, climate, food, culture and such. This could be seen as finding one’s tribe. It was the differences in those diverse places that made this stage of larger human groupings work. It was advances in transportation that made it even possible. I feel that this stage has now passed but like a long freight train at a road crossing, we don’t yet perceive it has passed. As far as we can see in both directions, it curves like a great segmented graffiti covered snake rumbling and hooting as hobos jump off and onto it by turns.
The evidence is in the sameness a traveler today would encounter as opposed to a traveler from a hundred years ago. Yes, there are still some populous destinations which stand out in stark contrast to others but this is diminishing daily and there is a cultural spill-over and blending happening both by accident of technology and by design. Never before has there been so many people on the same page. The sloppy part in our time is that the older models that we have called countries have not been dismantled or fallen to their own ruin in their entirety as yet. We are watching it on the News at night as it happens. Of course, the new baby is a cutie pie and the hope of the future for the gene pool but that cradle she’s sleeping in was carved by Grandpa’s own hands from wood he cut on the mountain he bought after the Civil War with money from the family fortune made by great grandpa’s slaves the in cotton fields after the Indian Wars.
We can be sure that as long as we prefer to let others do the planning, that there will be aspects to what is wrought and how it is fashioned that we may not find palatable on a personal level. Remember that power is never given away and that freedom is inevitably traded for security. By allowing think tanks, associations, governments, movie stars, scientists and CEOs to supervise us from Lincoln Logs to Lego, we are all complicit in what will become our shared fate. I have always felt that the fewer the plies of intent we employ in our interactions with each other and the world, the happier we are and the more honorably we behave. In other words, our evolving brain appears to be sullying some of our most praiseworthy, if antique, human characteristics.
Borders will shift anew, cities will be razed and herds of shivering men, women and children will be re-located. Oil will be drilled and minerals will be dug. It must be remembered by those who live in the nice countries that walls serve not only to keep people out but also to keep people in. Places in the world where the bicycle was king are becoming choked with automobiles and places designed for automobiles are becoming choked by both. Jobs long ago sent overseas from North America may now be returning. But at what rate of pay? The world turns its gaze on the USA wondering how will the Great Experiment deal with these changes? I am very certain that the self-appointed architects of these dramas are four-plies who employ a small army of five-plies. As long as the dominant traditional money systems of this world do not change, those folks are calling the shots.
It is highly ironic to me that in a time of endless rhetoric about sweeping out the old to bring in the new, no one places the private central banking cartel fiat currency manufactured debt system on the table top for a makeover. I see a very strong tradition of not abandoning things that work well doggedly adhered to by the power brokers of the world. While hypocritically pushing, nudging, funding, organizing and advocating that all those who pay the taxes, fight the wars and build the real wealth should change their familiar traditions of marriage, family, gender, education, nutrition, transportation, lifestyle, religion, child rearing and work.
If we are clever enough to manufacture alternative power sources to take everyone off the grid and save the rivers, why haven’t we done so? Because we are human and are waiting for someone else to do it while hoping we have enough Air Miles to fly to Wal-Mart and pick up a set when they go on sale with our puny after tax dollars. The few people that the many have left in charge to manage things, in my opinion, hold the many in somewhat justified contempt while living in fear of them. Recently, a man sent me an article speaking to the oppression suffered by the people of the Baha’i Faith in Iran. It told of their network of offshore educational facilities which germinated to compensate for the local ban on higher education for those individuals in their home country. This is my reply:
“I am sure there will be further book burnings to come in our species not-to-distant future; aimed at the mid-levels, abetted by the lower levels, funded and fueled by the inevitable paranoia of the highest levels. Happily (in my forecast) the very human gifts of our griots, our bards and our keepers of the Winter Counts shall remain in the DNA to regain that which is lost and to surpass it with greater rapidity than any model is likely to show. Like dandelion seeds falling randomly in warm wet earth. Why? The simple answer is: That which serves to liberate and elevate has, in my opinion, a longer, nobler pedigree than that which seeks to control.”
In other words, as far as I can see, we are our own bane and salvation. Perhaps, and this is my hope, if evolution is the mechanism driving our development; we may come to a point where the difference in cleverness and wisdom is so clearly delineated that natural selection may start to favor the propagation of those areas of the human brain that foster the latter, rather than the former. Far from a dumbing down, this would be a wising up. As all the tricks used to manipulate each other have proven through modern history, if something ain’t broke – don’t fix it.
Here we stand in the first few days of the Chinese Lunar Year of The Rooster. I happen to be a Rooster, a Fire Rooster that is and I am held in wonderful balance by my Water Dragon wife. This is the beginning of my sixth time around the sun. I have penned a poem for the occasion and I feel that it bears some pertinence to this essay both in content and by way of explaining why I even bother to write essays.
I Am A Rooster
The buildings of Men collapse without sound
Trees of our Maker spring from the ground
The sun ever shines on both kinds of wood
Rising and setting on Evil and Good
I am a Rooster and therefore I Crow...
I keep both eyes open and aim very straight
At a place beyond Fear and well above Hate
Over the tree line on the Mountain of Life
Dwells the Imposter who hides in plain sight
I am Labuyo and that's why I Fight...
Up toward the peak is where we must strive
Past swamps, along creeks, through forests alive
With Beasts at the bottom and Angels on high
From every direction all Humans must try
I am El Gallo and that's why I Cry...
Main Trails at the Base are Busy and Safe
Conically Converging if Viewed from Space
High Trails are Legion and necessarily so
You are surmounting yourself, didn't you know?
I am Le Coq who lives in your Soul...
A boy upon the shore
Questions the abyss
O' er moonlit shells
His spirit flits
Past mountains ground fine
And wood carved by time
He hears the song
And answers the kiss
His destiny, the flavour
Of Amphitrite's lips
There is a place I go to in dreams that resonates in my waking life as if making sure I don’t forget how how to navigate thither. It is a wooded landscape, always blessed with a river, mountains and if penetrated deeply enough, a high shelving beach which slopes into the vastness of the sea.
Whenever I find myself there my dream being will always pause on his way until my fleshly being takes that cue and acknowledges the familiarity of that special landscape. This spiritual “heads up” does not wake me but it does forge a connection between two states. It is analogous to having two stereo tracks and adjusting the sliders so that the channel that is usually muted during sleep is pushed forward just enough to mingle its sound with the dominant channel.
Rather than a re-balancing of sound, however, think of a re-balancing of awareness and you will easily imagine the rare quality of this state. I take this phenomenon as a purposeful blessing which carries responsibility. It first occurred when I was twenty years old.
I was living in Deep Cove with my first wife. Our possessions consisted of two cups, two spoons, two plates, two pots, a frying pan, two guitars, our clothes, milk crates full of books, a record player and our combined collection of vinyl albums. The simplest way to describe what occurred would be to say that I fell asleep with complete awareness of the process. It was experienced as invisible blankets of Morpheus, being gently placed atop my prone form.
With each layer, a physical weight was perceived and a corresponding sense of safety and peace increased. At a certain point, I went unconscious. Immediately on the heels of this oblivion I became aware of being soaking wet. My dream body snapped to attention and sprang up from a shallow warm surf to stand and gaze out to sea. I dug my toes into the wet sand and sharp grainy bits of shells.
The very next thing I did was to reach down and scoop a handful of salt water and taste it. I swished it around my teeth and spit it out. I reached again and splashed two handfuls over my face and hair. It was afternoon according to the sun and no sooner had I taken note of this that I began to laugh. I giggled, pranced, splashed, ran to and fro and even exclaimed to myself, “I’m really here!”
That made me start to wonder where “here” was and at the same time I had a strong desire to figure out how to come back whenever I wanted and to describe that place to the folks back home. I searched the horizon of that calm sea for ships or boats and saw none. My next inclination was to explore the land behind me.
Up to this point I hadn’t turned around and as I did so, the first thing that impressed me was the steep slope of the beach. The second thing to impress upon my awareness was the well-wooded ridge about a hundred yards inland and high enough that one could not see anything of the interior. The third thing I noticed made the hairs on my arms stand at attention. They peeled away from my wet skin and formed a keratin halo together with the small hairs on me neck. My reckless celebration became the caution of any wild creature before crossing unknown ground.
There before me some distance away, just underneath the high sandy ridge and well above the tide line stood an array of massive chairs. They were situated in a semi-circular fashion with the two ends closest to the sea and the center tight against the ridge. I took some moments for me to begin to understand their scale. Feeling watched and exposed, I cautiously walked toward them thankful that they were not occupied.
The only possible cover was in the woods behind and my curiosity demanded to be satisfied on the way to that haven. As I approached, I kept looking up to the ridge making sure I was truly alone. The beach was empty of any visible beings so there was only one direction which required vigilance. As I walked and the chairs got larger, it struck me as ironic that the depth of joy I had felt moments ago, co-existed in a place that generated such apprehension.
With one eye on the high ground and one on the furniture which now I thought of as thrones rather than chairs, I approached. Counting the thrones and re-counting to make sure yielded a figure of twelve. That number put me in mind of biblical themes for the first time since falling asleep. About that time, I first noticed that there were several trails coming down from the woods, descending the sandy bluff and leading to the thrones.
I fervently tried to imagine the size of the creatures who made those trails from the evidence of their passing and found it difficult to be sure. I touched the dark handsome wood of one of the throne legs. I couldn’t reach high enough to touch the seat but I could see that it was upholstered in a beautiful mellow red leather. This covering was fastened with old brass tacks, the heads of which were much larger than my hands. I backed away a few steps and looked for any other clues. A moment later, I felt very strongly that those who sat on the thrones were approaching through the wood and were nigh at hand.
I stood waiting for the beings to top the bluff, convinced that I was soon to be examined by unknown Kings in that unknown place for unknown reasons in furtherance of unknown ends. Just as the familiarity of the salt water and sand had brought joy, the mysterious qualities of the place caused a feeling in me that was seven parts awe, two parts fear and one part dread. The slanting sun had rendered the breeze cooler and it shifted now to blow from the woods toward the sea.
I shivered and watched the tops of the trails like a sparrow watches a stalking cat. Tension increased within me until a point was reached wherein I felt all those previously laid blankets of sweet oblivion being retracted rapidly. The lightness brought about by this served to lift me like a cork and when I broke the surface into my full ordinary state of consciousness, I had complete vivid recall and awareness of where I had been and what had occurred there.
Over the years since, I have revisited that dream-scape. The next series of visits were conducted within the forest and involved leading my deceased father through those woods, over a mountain and up to the bluffs overlooking the beach. In those forays, the most interesting part to me was the phenomenon of my father being in the body of a small child with an adult face at the beginning of the trek. With each successive leg of the journey, his body slowly caught up to his actual adult size. He stopped on the last muddy pitch to the summit of the bluff at a place where I could smell and sense the sea. He said he could not possibly make it. I grabbed his wrist and literally towed him up the final incline. We stood together peering through the foliage at the sun shimmering off the water like molten silver.
“You did it,” I said.
My father has never peopled my dreams since that time. During the ten years or so that I was involved with my second wife, I had one lucid dream but in a different and much more mundane setting than before. The dream had to do with a battle to the death between myself and a very aggressive, ill-tempered bear. The setting was her childhood home in East Vancouver. I won the fight and when I phoned my boss at the heating company I worked for to explain why I had awoken late, he invited me to go camping with him and his family that coming week-end and teased me in a goodhearted way for dreaming of bears instead of pretty girls.
I bore no physical marks from the combat but I was physically exhausted upon waking and had the same post adrenaline rush jitters one would experience on this side of the chain-link fence of reality. One of the longer term effects of these forays is becoming used to sometimes rising from my bed with the physical feeling that I have just concluded an arduous day’s work on the other side coupled with a sense of relief at being able to now take my rest in the automatic routines of modern life and work.
My next visit occurred just before meeting my much beloved third wife, some twenty-seven years ago. In that instance, I came to consciousness within the dream quite abruptly. A mosquito bite on my neck and sweat stinging my eyes brought me upright from the ground I lay on. I was in the tropics, it was near noon and I was looking at a field of sugar cane a hundred yards away.
Next to it was a tangled forest that reminded me of the Louisiana woods. As I watched, a family group emerged, laid a mat and began to set up a picnic on the edge of the canebrake. A man, I guessed was the father, stood after awhile and looked right at me. He beckoned me over in a friendly way and I went to them. I couldn’t understand a word they spoke but I could see the good will in their eyes and sense their kindness in laughter and gestures.
There were two young men, an older woman, the man who had beckoned me and two young women. One of the younger women had a face that registered in my mind like a fingerprint on a piece of blotter paper. I knew I would never forget it. We finished up the meat, rice and fruit that was served. The younger folks picked up some tools and went into the cane while the older woman started to clear up our leavings.
The patriarch took me aside and indicated that we were to walk toward the forest. As I walked beside him, he struck the air behind me with his machete. I heard a yelp and spun around. There stood a squat, ugly man. One whom I recognized from my waking life. I had encountered him in a North Vancouver cafe one rainy afternoon and the memory of it still chills my blood. I have recounted that meeting in a different narrative but I will tell you that he was much older than he looked, always brought trouble and had power on his mind.
My host uttered some words and by the inflection and meter of those words I guessed it was a spoken formula of some kind. The repulsive old man behind us wore a malicious grin with the same nonchalance that a dog wears the stain of dung it has rolled in. Presently, as the man guiding me chanted louder, that smile widened to an incredible circumference. As we watched, the nasty mouth opened, a mottled tongue protruded and a small frog forced its way out of this unlikely door and hopped to the ground at our feet.
I let my eyes follow the progress of the amphibian as it hopped toward the forest. When it neared the edge of the brush I turned back to see the being it had issued from and there in the sunshine was a small black dog. The cane farmer spat at it. It growled and ran off immediately to the trees. My friend handed me a small pouch on a string and indicated that I wear it. He led me to a large tree several meters away from the wall of jungle.
He indicated that I was to sit against this tree. I did so and became aware that I could now understand that man’s speech as if a translator was inside my head. He said to keep the bundle as a protection when traveling between different states. He said that the shape-shifting fellow was a potentially powerful but parasitic entity, thus he was at the core a pathetic creature. I was to never forget that he was always in the woods, could take many shapes and though I shouldn’t fear him, I should never let my guard down. Ever. I was instructed to go to sleep just like I had done on the other side. I awoke abruptly in my Burnaby bedroom surrounded by the trappings of a very toxic marriage.
It wasn’t long before I saw the face of the young woman I had seen in the cane field. I was shuffling through a stack of documents and looking at photographs and bios of prospective nannies for my infant son at the behest of my second wife. I nearly dropped the paper when I saw it and as I eagerly read the thumbnail biography, I was moved to laughter when I saw that the birth date of the individual who’s particulars I was reading was the same as mine save for the year.
Years later when I was extricated from my legal bonds and had done much personal work fixing things within myself before trying any new endeavors, I began to consider formalizing a possible union with that woman in the picture. She had cared for my son prior to the dissolution of my marriage and I had gotten to know her better afterward. Eventually, I told her about the dream I had had. I described the father figure and the others, including herself. Her father and one of her brothers were long deceased and my descriptions of them and the ground on which we had met surprised her very much by its accuracy. It had been the Philippines.
I was reluctant to get married for a third time. Not from mistrust of the woman, but rather from lack of confidence in my own powers of discernment, due to two previous fiascoes in that arena. Just when I was about to surrender to celibacy as being the safest mode of existence, I had another special dream. That one was very powerful and literally changed my life. I described that dream in detail in my story, “Train To Heaven.” Any interested party can find that story in the archives at Radio Lillooet.
Since I have mentioned it, I will give you the gist of what I learned from that lucid dream. I learned to trust. Both myself and the woman I am now with. I learned that we can still arrive at distant destinations although we may lack skills of navigation simply by knowing who to trust and when to trust without fear or reservation. It was fitting that the lesson in trust came after the lesson of the frog spewing imp lurking in the woods. To learn trust was for me many magnitudes scarier than fighting the bear. I do not think that my life would have moved much beyond singing the blues over a bar-top had I not been graced with enough fortitude to set sail and damn the torpedoes.
I married that wonderful woman and some distance into our life together I found myself happily awake in another dream. I was in a lovely meadow of tall grass. The ground was surely North America. It was Spring and I sat delighted with the burbling sound of a small stream nearby. Over the next hour I was visited by rabbits, squirrels, foxes, badgers, weasels, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats and just about every fur-bearing creature smaller than a wolf.
They swarmed me like house pets, jumped on my chest and played at fighting without drawing blood. I talked to, laughed at and petted each and every one of them as they came out of the woods and crossed the field. Eventually I fell asleep in the grass and woke abruptly in my bed in a third floor walk up in New Westminster where my wife and I had begun housekeeping. I felt like a King and glowed from my contact with these creatures. I could swear that I smelled their fur on my hands as I went about my business that day.
In my own belief and experience, in the realm of dreams, there is no single meaning to be drawn. A single interpretation laid out in a psychology text or New Age tome is likely folly. Patience is always rewarded with deeper levels of meaning and confirmation. I am still learning from the dreams I have shared with you here. Each new dream examined against the past and present is further enriched by accumulated living, thinking, listening, looking, talking and reading. The other day a friend of mine described how the angle of the light illuminating the mountains affords an endless variety of interpretations of the same piece of geography. Dreams are very much like that.
Recently I revisited a dream place which I had started to wander several years before moving to Lillooet. It is a beautiful wooded area with well trodden footpaths that lead away from a town toward a river. There are a few small cabins near the river but they are very far between. When I walk along these paths, sometimes in the daylight and sometimes at night, I always encounter bears. Usually Grizzly bears. I have a strong yearning to see their river and I am also aware that they could easily eat me.
A few times I have started out on the trail and have even had the company of other people. Generally, when the bears are far away and I can see them, I have no angst. But when the light is waning or I am suddenly surprised by a bear behind or beside me that I had passed earlier without spotting, my feeling turns to caution, healthy respect and some trepidation. I always work my way back to the little town as quickly and as quietly as I can. There was a significant change in this routine during the time I speak of.
I came to consciousness upon the back of something big, furry and alive. We were already in motion and I want to say galloping but the method of locomotion was different from that of a horse. I was busy watching where we were going and I hooted with glee every time we leaped off a small height or made a sudden directional change. I grabbed handfuls of coarse long hair and pulled my torso down prone as if hugging the beast with my arms.
I could guide the animal with pressure from my hands applied to its right or left shoulders. That was the extent of my control, I soon learned. I had no say as to our speed or our destination. We scrambled down one of the dirt paths I had trodden before. Within hearing of the river I began to notice the bears that always decorated that space. I told my carrier to be aware of this. We passed a big mother lynx with two kittens under a pine and I got my first close up look at that magnificent species. She looked at me intently as if to say, “Now you know.”
Right about then I whooped for joy at being gifted to see the lynx. Then I shouted out a warning to my transportation that the bears were getting a bit thick. What I noticed next, made me laugh so that I nearly fell off the back I was riding. Some of the foraging bears scattered around the perimeter looked up at my commotion. I wrapped hair in my hands and gripped tighter than a bull rider grips his rosined rope just before the gate swings open. I had just realized that I was astride one golly-whopper of a Grizzly and we could go where ever he pleased.
I pressed the left shoulder and the bear responded like it had power steering. We tore past all those bears and ran flat parallel to the river until I saw a highway up ahead. I tried to steer a course so as to skirt around a big clover-leaf of asphalt. There were some flashing red lights. As we powered through our trajectory, I saw a big long car lying upside down. Other than that I could see no damage on it. A lone policeman stood near his cruiser writing notes in a little book.
I tried to steer the Grizzly away from the shoulder of the highway. To my chagrin, the bear ran up to the guardrail, climbed over it and then ran several yards up the ramp leading away from the river. Next he clamored back over the rail and sped straight along the shoulder right into the mess. I rode along, feeling unable to change any of these events.
We whizzed past the police officer, his cruiser, the upside down car and finally a man who had been flattened. Literally flattened. A perfect life sized two dimensional man. There was no blood on him and where his eyes should have been there were only two black voids. I didn’t recognize his face and I marveled at the horrible but bloodless sight. My four legged chaperon seemed disturbed by the flat man more than anything and he spurted ahead at top speed. I could hear his claws clattering on the tarmac. He ran straight over the eyeless horizontal man. I could feel the bear's back pad slip when it trod on the boneless manikin like a loose table cloth.
The last thing I remember was a sarcastic, caustic, tattle-tale voice. It was behind me and I have heard it many times before. It was hurling epithets and accusations at me for purposely treading on and disrespecting the strange body. I knew it was lying and the dramatic vocal manner was calculated to affect those around me more than myself. Nothing could have stopped that bear however. When the bear stopped on its own, I woke suddenly, snug in my trailer. My cat Dusty was napping beside me with one of his paws thrown over my leg.
I needed to drive my wife to Kelowna the morning of that dream and we had to leave at six am. After a coffee we headed out. I drove to Lytton, Spence’s Bridge, Merritt and over a big mountain to the lake. The pass over the mountain was howling with blowing snow and buried in a cloud. I saw a mule deer up to its armpits in a drift. It was looking uphill where a sturdy fence further barred its passage. My need to keep eyes ahead precluded watching to see how it fared but it was gone when we passed over the same ground later that afternoon on the way home. A trucker in front of me put his four way flashers on and I did as well. A few fools sped past into the maelstrom. The blinking red lights reminded me of my dream and I decided to tell my wife about it, later.
We did our business in Kelowna. The highlight of which was when a woman in an office was taking down information and saw our Lillooet address.
“Is that a Place?” she asked in an innocent tone.
We assured her it was indeed a Place. We scarfed some Thai food while watching the parking meter a few yards away out the window. It was also being watched by two police officers in two different vehicles. The thick blue line could rack up $63.00 every thirty minutes from each meter in theory. I covered my too mild food with two kinds of chili and started a nice fire in my belly to see me home over the mountain. I reached the car with 30 seconds to go on the meter and nodded at the policeman with a small grin.
On the way back, near where the stranded deer had been, I saw a big long upside down car. It was even the same style as the one in my dream. There was a policeman, his car, a young man and a young woman all standing by, apparently awaiting a tow vehicle. The car was also remarkable in that it had no visible damage other than being on its back. The roof wasn’t caved in. The passengers were not bleeding or scuffed, the airbags weren’t deployed and there was no broken glass.
We dodged a lot of rocks on the stretch between Spence’s Bridge and Merritt as we wound along the Nicola River. This cleared up pretty good by Merritt and I was so relieved that I accidentally took a wrong exit and found myself Southbound to Hope rather than Westbound to Lytton. Just as my sleeping but very sentient wife was asking why I was going the wrong way, I saw a cloverleaf that looked like a toboggan run, hard packed with snow. I gently veered over, wheeled around a corner as if I’d been there before and after running under a metal culvert that dove beneath the highway, we were on track to try again for the exit to Lytton and a bowl of hot Won Ton.
We drove Highway 12 dodging rocks brought down by the sudden thawing of the past week or so. A few miles from Izman Curve there was a semi stopped with all its lights flashing in a pile of potato-sized rocks. There was no damage but I wanted to ask if the driver needed any assistance. The road was rightfully lonely that particular night. The window rolled down and a brave young woman leaned out into the wind to tell me that she and her rig were fine. She was waiting for the highway department to come scrape the road ahead before continuing. She warned us of a boulder near Izman and another one near the Big Slide.
Soon after returning home safe and sound I had a nap and found myself again on the dream beach I have been describing in this narrative. This time I came to awareness inside a truck. It wasn’t my Suzuki but I seemed to be familiar with all its imperfections and that made it feel as if it was mine. It was the first time I recall having a motorized vehicle on the other side of the curtain.
I was parked on the beach sloping down the sandy shelf and the tide was out. The windows were open to the delicious breeze which I inhaled like medicinal vapors. I have a small bottle of Tibetan Pink Rock Salt that smells just like that salt air. I turned my music down to balance the background of the surf. Sure enough, I fell asleep in that dream.
I was started awake by an effervescent laughter and one of the loveliest voices I can recall. I looked toward the passenger window and there leaning on the sill was a dark haired woman of perhaps thirty years. She smiled in a friendly way and indicated that I should look in front of me. When I did, I was humbled to see that I had let the tide creep up while napping and that my two front tires were completely under water.
“Get in,” I said. “I can use the bit of extra traction.”
She laughed again and hopped aboard while I started the engine and threw it in reverse. The slope of the beach was such that I learned quickly we couldn’t back out. I put the shifter into second and gingerly crept forward while slightly turning the wheel to the left. When I got the truck rolling along just fast enough, I completed the turn and barely garnered enough momentum to climb out onto the firmer sand. Then I gunned the engine and raced toward a notch in the bluff. I could see no sign of the thrones and I was glad. The young woman laughed all the way up and over the last barrier of tide wrack and soon we were cruising along a grassland.
I asked if she’d like to come see one of my favorite places and she assented. I drove to a spot where a few shade trees grew amongst long golden stalks of prairie grass. We left the truck and hunkered down against a fallen log. Side by side and staring out over the rippling grass tops. I pulled a stalk of grass and began chewing on it like cigar. I began to talk of all manner of things. The lady pulled a stalk of grass and chewed on it in mimicry.
I grinned and continued. A tap on the shoulder caused me to turn. The young woman had put so many grass stalks between her teeth that she looked like a shoe brush. We both laughed until we were exhausted. She spoke in a kind voice plated with sterling silver mirth and told me that I was becoming an old white haired man. She talked while I closed my eyes. I floated on the quality of her voice rather than the content of her words. She snuggled beside me and everything melted like a snowflake in a warm wind into a delicious slumber. I awoke at home and pondered who that laughing lady might have been.
The next day, I lay down for a nap and came wide awake in a canoe of sorts. I was in the front and my legs were dangling over the sides fending off rocks. There was a tremendous force propelling the craft. I recognized the water. It was the Nicola River that I had just driven along a few days prior. It was flowing under sporadic sheets of thin ice. There were green algae laden patches, ice blue stretches and some clear water as well.
I was curious where we were going and who was doing the rowing. I could hear the unmistakeable creaky-leather and rubber-band sound that big bird’s wings make. Also I could see shadows with my peripheral vision that certainly were cast by wings. Big wings. When I judged the river in front to be safe of obstacles I turned for a quick look.
Rather than seeing an outsized eagle, I saw the form of a small boy perhaps five years old. That he was St’at’imc, I had no doubt. He didn’t speak and the boat kept gliding just over the surface of the water and ice at a brisk pace. I turned around to continue my job, marvel at the scenery and speculate on our destination. Three times I turned to see the child’s placid face and each time I spun around forward I caught a glimpse of massive brown wings and the shadows they cast on the ice. A ringing phone woke me.
The next day, I had the honor of being one of two guest hosts for Radio Lillooet’s Open House. It was a live broadcast and we invited the public to share stories about how they came to be in Lillooet. Three of us hosts told our tales and played some of our favorite tunes. Two youngsters took the mike that afternoon. One bespectacled lad who appeared to be a natural, so at ease was he while his cousins and his grandma watched him with pride
The second boy was much smaller and younger. He gripped his little brown bag of popcorn like an osprey grips a fish. I held the mike for him as DJ Jeff tried to engage the youngster in conversation. The boy spoke so softly I had trouble hearing him from inches away. He was bundled up and thus had trouble hearing. I squatted down, got near the hood of his parka, put a hand on his shoulder and suggested he look at Jeff instead of the microphone. He turned his little face 90 degrees East and we were right back on the dream side Nicola River flying over the ice. I realized then that it was the fourth time I’d seen that boy.
The Yolngu in Australia speak of something they call “The Dream-time.” They talk of singing their world into existence. The language these songs are sung in is forty thousand years old. They describe “Song Lines” that run through their land and believe that it is these lines and the songs that intersect them that continually call into existence those things that are familiar and beneficial to life and balance.
Some scientists describe much the same thing in the language of quantum physics and probability. There is an Apache gentleman who teaches that reality, just beyond the edge of the moving crest of the reality wave is no more than a set of probabilities. When enough creatures agree upon one of these probabilities, a pivot point is tipped and that particular thread will be the one drawn down into the loom to be woven into our tapestry rather than any other. It is for this reason that one must guard their mind, their individuality, their heart, their spirit and their integrity.
Media today makes the manipulation of information exponentially easier and thus the probabilities and possibilities that we fear or enjoy by turns can appear much more restricted in number and kind than they actually are. I don’t know if there is a multiverse and I don’t know if I will live long enough to see a working provable Universal Theory. To be sure, I don’t care to know those things. I would rather work with what I find in front of me literally and in my dreams.
I have found that these two sides of consciousness constantly overlap, blend their colors and inform each other. It is as magical out there as we are willing and able to accept. We are all part of the process in spite of ourselves. Dancing on the beach, cupping handfuls of salt water and splashing it on to prove we’re really there. I sense that I have slept through much of my forty-plus years of work and have worked hard throughout much of my sleep. Somewhere in the middle is where I now strive to walk so I can keep an eye on both sides of the road.
I often dream of distant lands
Blind to the beauty of where I stand
In my dreams, I encounter a man
Who often dreams of where I am
The longest I ever stayed in one place while growing up was five and a half years spent in suburban Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a quiet little collection of modest brick-faced houses off Airline Drive. Every house had the obligatory white painted faux antebellum pillars and genuine wooden hurricane shutters graced every window. The Mississippi River flowed past on its way to the sea a few miles to the West. Many impressions of this time are like coffee stains on a sheet of letter paper in my mind.
That interlude was the first time I became truly aware of other cultures. Of course I had been aware of black folks but due to the segregation policies in place in my neck of the woods, I had little interaction on this front except for the close relationship I developed with our maid, Delores, a seventeen year old domestic, fountain of love and encyclopedic folklorist. The only full-blooded Native Indians I had seen were on the silver screen. I met mixed-race Cherokee kinfolk at a giant family reunion when I was very young in East Texas.
I was around eleven years old before I encountered a real Chinese boy. He wasn’t too friendly when I went across the street to knock his door and introduce myself at the insistence of my Mother. I had unceremoniously interrupted the viewing of his favorite show, Iron Sides. He brushed me off pretty quickly, so his Mom took me to the kitchen and showed me how they kept a pet cricket in a little bamboo cage. It was fed a single grain of Louisiana rice per day and besides bringing luck, she told me it sang a lovely serenade to sleep by at night. That was one of the first times I recall verifying something I had read about in a book with my own two eyes.
I also remember two Iranian brothers whom I played with at the Unitarian Church while the big people talked. They, like the Chinese boy, wore long-sleeved white linen shirts buttoned up to the neck in the 90% humidity and relentless soul-sapping sun. None of them liked to climb trees or catch snakes, so I usually spent more of my time with other friends. They did, however love science and we had very interesting talks under the oaks whenever we got dragged to Church.
One boy, Shaheen, would draw equations and diagrams with a stick on the dry clay ground. Although many were beyond what my class was covering in school, under his narrative style the concepts were easy to grasp. His tuition was like being told to go get a bowl (an open mind) and then having it filled with scoops of home-made vanilla ice cream (in the form of mathematical symbols). Lastly, he would hand you a metaphorical spoon (fashioned from one possible useful application of the formula) with the implied question, “Now, Michael, what do you think this is for?”
Once I was settled into school, I began to notice that there were two kinds of school children. One one side, the gray slacked, white-shirted Catholic boys with their gray-skirted, white-bloused sisters and everyone else. The Catholics had a newer school bus, better hand-writing and as a rule, didn’t mingle too much with the children of other denominations. Many of them smoked. Over time, I became aware that they were by far the majority in our neighborhood and were nearly all of Italian descent.
I became friends with two brothers who lived a few houses down the block. Their Grandma lived with them, which I thought was great until I learned that the woman was a bitter, evil-tempered crone. The boys’ father was a nice man and it was he who invited our entire block over to his house so we could watch Walt Disney on the very first color TV any of us had seen. I can still remember the gasps that echoed through that crowded room when the Peacock logo of the broadcasting station spread its multicolored tail plumes.
The Mama, named Josie, was a very nice woman and I spent a lot of time watching her in her garden if the boys weren’t home when I happened to come calling. She grew tomatoes, basil, oregano, eggplants, lettuce, radicchio, garlic, rosemary, onions and such. She allowed me to watch her convert this into huge vats of pasta sauce in one of the best smelling kitchens I have ever attended. They spoke Italian in the house among each other and I started to get used to being in non-English environments. Several times she appeared at our door at supper time bearing a basket of steaming fresh home-made Italian bread. I can still smell and taste it fifty years later.
I started to wonder at this point, why, in light of the fact that my own family carried Welsh, Swedish, Cherokee, German and Irish blood as well as Canadian and American nationalities; that we seemed to be so culturally sterile compared to this first ethnic group I had begun to have contact with. I wasn’t aware that my ancestors longer number of years in the melting pot had blurred many distinct characteristics and customs into a palimpsest that could only reveal its secrets to a close observer. A Nordic-Celtic-Teutonic-Brythonic-Aboriginal could thus easily pass for a Tom Sawyer, even in his own mirror.
Further to this, for many folks in my situation, the task of re-acquiring culture is incumbent upon them if they care to know where they came from in order to know who they are. The job requires reading, travel, visiting kitchens and a lot of music. I chose that road way back then and I am still engaged in that work as far as my finances have allowed. I believe it to be the most rewarding, frustrating and illuminating task imaginable. Along the way I have discovered previously unknown sources, separations and confluences. Particularly in food and music.
Being among people who’s language I couldn’t decipher strengthened my comprehension of the underlying messages which our species dresses in words. To this day, I prefer listening to songs sung in languages I do not speak so as not to be fooled by the subtleties of the lyrics. Over time, I began to see and hear that men, women, boys and girls worldwide were all expressing the same human joys and woes. The choice of social arrangements, cooking methods, costumes, which accoutrements we call culture and see as distinct, have become to my eyes like team uniforms. Some parts were adopted by necessity of the moment, absorbed from others for gain or imposed by others to detriment. Always, these decorations serve the definite purpose of holding a group together while affording some sense of peace and ease in a very uncertain world.
I take the window dressing of culture with a grain of salt but I also like my food with a grain of salt. Variety is indeed the spice of life and I find myself a bit dismayed at the politically correct smoothie that the world is rapidly becoming with much help and coercion from many sources with extremely deep pockets. I believe that a well-educated, respectful and humble person can visit, travel with or live among any other person or persons who possess those three traits.
Indeed, it is my suspicion that this has always been the case with common folk of all periods in history. Having said this: I will add that where ever and when ever power is exercised by few over many via monetary, political or religious means; the natural affinity, respect and curiosity shared by our species is twisted into superstition, aggression and arrogance. Positing that any group of three humans is practically guaranteed by our very nature to become a functioning unit of two led by one, we may begin to pull the curtain back and see the stage Shakespeare spoke of.
Mad kings, idiot-savants, Mr. Bean cast as Napoleon and a million poor little Cossettes. Followers all, impatiently awaiting signs of weakness in those that they follow. Look, there is a man in a school tie reclining on a chaise-lounge by a window with a copy of The Golden Bough for a pillow, dreaming of the Golden Fleece and a Golden Age. A buxom young woman enters the room and sets down a tray of cheese and a cup of wine on the window sill. She hesitates a moment, giggles and then gently places his hand in a bowl of warm water.
She silently treads out to tell the other servants while his dog steals his cheese. Out in the lawn, gypsies have happened by and encamped. A few men produce fiddles and begin to play while some of their women dance. Their song relates perfectly the sleeping man’s life story in an alien language. The aroma of their cooking wafts through the iron grill waking something deep within him. Grimacing momentarily and then gazing at the strangers below, a smile begins to spread across his lips like the stain across his tweeds. A human laugh older than the last ice-age burbles up and heals everything it touches. Grabbing a bottle of Port off the side table he strides to the door with genuine tears in his eyes. We let the curtain fall closed and ponder this scene as we walk past.
We need our perceived differences in order to be able to grasp the fact that we are the same. When coerced into actually being the same inside and out, in thought and behavior, I would venture that a look into the Galadriel’s pool would teach us that this fruitless, inhuman endeavor will surely have an opposite effect. That is: If we are to remain genetically human. These are options that you have likely never seriously considered which carry consequences well beyond the control and ken of those individuals who have strongly considered them. If some part of you drank, dined and danced with the Gypsies in the paragraph above, while another part of you ran them off the property next morning, dear human, you have already made your choice.
There are people: Whose lack of understanding, engendered by the cognitive dissonance induced by modern public education methods, which actually date from the Nineteenth Century, leads them to become victims of drugging (prescriptive or otherwise) purportedly for the purpose of addressing the endemic flood of brand new disorders caused by this very schooling and by their treatments. People who may “choose” in rather larger numbers than you might suspect to become indistinguishable from their fellows. Caught in a Mobius Strip Idiot Feedback Loop that only a shit-house rat could have designed, they will see no other way if they are cognizant at all. That first big wave who pass through into homogenous anonymity will experience a difficult period during which an out-sized sense of uniqueness fights to maintain the balance in the exquisite equation that was originally expressed as the traits of our human species. They will be well supplied with every manner of chemical, sensory, psychological, emotional and existential escape. When science is bold enough to reveal that it has indeed already “caught up” to the practical challenges of converting humans to self-replicating, sexless, made-to-order specialized work units; a frontier will have been crossed. Only the most ignoble expressions of humanity will remain human by the old definition of that term. Their servants will have become artificially engineered hive creatures.
A not-too-distant future writer pulling back the curtain may reveal a scene wherein a man stands at a window watching in horror as drones belonging to his cousin destroy his incubators. His own vanquished drones litter the same ground where the Gypsies had danced so long ago. A pleasant looking smallish domestic appears to inform him of the intrusion, the destruction and the kid-napping of his sister-wife. It proffers a plate of cheese and glass of wine. Grimacing momentarily while gazing at the carnage below, a numbness descends upon him. It gives him a feeling akin to watching his shadow on a wall being eaten by the shadows of sharks. He shakes involuntarily, slopping the wine over his trousers. He remembers that he hasn’t laughed since his life extension and that one thought poisons everything it touches. Tossing his glass at the door, he realizes that he has lost the ability to cry.
One of my favorite quotes is by Aldous Huxley, a man who claimed to have actually read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume at a time. He said, “My ignorance is encyclopedic.” You may know of him from his book, Brave New World. His brother, Julian was the first leader of UNESCO and in 1947 stated that the task of the organization was “to help the emergence of a single world culture, with its own broad purpose.” I wasn’t at the meetings, thus I wasn’t able to lend any input as to the culture which was to be created. Neither were you, likely as not.
I have been able to see first hand the differences in the education I received and that of my children and to review the published statistics on our plummeting literacy and academic performance rates, particularly in North America. Clearly, either the plans aren’t working if their intents are to be taken at face value. Or they are working all too well if their intent is actually other than stated. As shown above, if highly intelligent men are willing to admit their ignorance to their fellows, should we follow them blindly to what ever ally they lead us down.
I remember trying to help my son with his math homework around the turn of the Millennium. Within minutes we were at each others throats. He was upset for not understanding what he was supposed to do but being adamant that he was required to do the mystery thing in an exact way that was acceptable to his teacher. I was charged up because I easily saw what was the required answer and knew how to get it using methods I had been taught that were now forbidden to use for some unexplained reason. I remember winning the argument and solving one of the problems my way and being taken aside by my son’s math teacher at the next classroom visit. He produced the sheet of homework he had saved and had me go over with him just how I had solved it. His eyes were as big as pie plates and he seemed astonished that it was that simple.
Here below is an example of what I am talking about taken from Straight Dope Blog which can illuminate what confronts us.
“1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?
1970: (Traditional Math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?
1975: (New Math): A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100 and each element is worth $1.
(a) Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set M
(b) The set C representing costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M.
Represent the set C as a subset of the set M.
(c) What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?
1990: (Dumbed-down Math) A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Underline the number 20.
1997: (Whole Math): By cutting down a forest full of beautiful trees, a logger makes $20.
(a) What do you think of this way of making money?
(b) How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?
(c) Draw a picture of the forest as you’d like it to look.”
When I was a lad in primary school in Baton Rouge one of the most frequent reprimands I received from principals and playground monitors after being caught for doing some misdemeanor and mentioning in my defense that Johnny dared me to do it, was, “Would you jump off a bridge because Johnny told you to?” I found it highly ironic a few short years later that I was fully expected to go over to Vietnam and kill people who had never crossed my path or wronged me in any way because LBJ told me to. Fate stepped in and my father repatriated to Canada for his own reasons before I had to crack open my Berlitz Teach Yourself Swedish book.
And all this before I had even begun shaving, which brings me to Sammy the Barber. I can see him always in my minds eye just as I knew him when I was his mailman. Going through drawers, stacking business cards, cleaning combs and scissors or simply reclining on his own empty chair watching The Wheel Of Fortune. He was nearly the same age as me but looked ten years younger. One day I caught him blackening his hair and mustache. He grinned and said he would fix mine if I wanted him to and intimated that I would get a lot more attention from the ladies if I did.
I laughed and said in my best Deniro voice, “Hey. Why I wanna do dat? Ima already had tree wives. Why you don’t make me looka poor? Capisci?”
He looked at me carefully up and down, then his face softened into a smile and he bade me to sit awhile and have a coffee. Thus began a four year relationship. I arranged my deliveries so that I got all my business customers taken care of prior to bringing his mail, so we could chat for a while. The shop was small, just three chairs and was located in the ground level of an old-style office complex across the street from Oakridge Mall.
Sammy related how he had come to Vancouver as a young man of seventeen from Calabria and had opened his barber shop straight away. He had watched the big mall come into existence and slowly but surely erode his business. When I knew him, the Cambie Skytrain Tunnel was under construction. This massive four year project had the effect of reducing the revenue of the small businesses along that corridor by half again. Sammy was taking notes and planning to go to court.
It happened that one of the Soccer World Cups was underway during this time and Sammy always switched the channel from his favorite show to the sports channel, so we could watch together. He wasn’t a real fan, he told me in low tones as if somewhat embarrassed and I told him that I had only learned to love the game in 1990 during the Italia 90 Tournament, when a man named Scillacci, an older, unknown player had won the Golden Boot and galvanized his team and his nation. This got his interest up and within a week, one of the Chinese young ladies from the Insurance Agency that shared the ground floor, popped her pretty head through the door and politely informed us that our lusty shouts, cheers and swearing were being heard on the third floor and someone had complained.
When she left, she made it clear that she understood our enthusiasm and didn’t mind personally.
“Sonomabitch!”, laughed Sammy, “The Chinesa lady, she lika da soccer too. I guess we cheer a little bit TOO HIGH!”
If I ever had a worry or concern, Sammy was always ready to listen. I hadn’t enjoyed this sort of luxury with someone of my own gender for longer than I cared to recall and his analysis and advice were precious to me. There was the time my youngest son and his friends had skipped going to the movies as they had told me they would. I had returned home from work to find my son and three friends at my place. This pleased me no end because my son as a rule always went to other people’s houses and never brought his friends home.
I filled a big bowl with tortilla chips and went into his room to talk with the youngsters. They told me they were wanting to walk to the mall and catch a movie. I gave my assent and when I went into the kitchen to make coffee one of the boys followed me out and told me in glowing prose that I was a cool Dad. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I knew it wasn’t going to be good. All I could do was wait. Some hours later as I and my wife sat on our sofa, the boy came in from the shadows.
He is a double Sagittarius and as such he strode to the center of the living room and said, “Mom, Dad, I didn’t go to the movies. We went to the liquor store instead and got a hobo to buy us a bottle of rum. Then we went to the park and drank it. Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about over alcohol. It didn’t do anything for me.”
Sammy reclined back in one of his red leather barber chairs as he listened to me relate the subsequent backlash that had occurred among the other three sets of parents. He gazed at the shelf where stood two small framed photos of his own boys when they were in grade school while absentmindedly rolling a small fold of his black dress slacks between his thumb and forefinger. His other hand was busy twirling the end of his perfectly trimmed mustache. Presently, he spoke.
“OK. Mike, Lookit. OK. He went out wit hisa friends. He got a little bit TOO HIGH. It happens. Happened to me, happened to my boys. Don’t worry about it. As longa he no do it alla da time. Now, datsa different.”
One afternoon, on my way home from the downtown Post Office, I paused for a smoke by a fake waterfall. A guy came up to chat and within four minutes he had convinced me that I could purchase a good quantity of my favorite tobacco at a huge discount. All I can remember of my mood at the time was the certainty that the law of averages must dictate that once in a blue moon, its my turn. The timing of the con was impeccable and his technique was flawless. A half hour later I was conducting the postmortem on my stupidity as I watched my money flying down a one way street the wrong way on a stunt bike.
When I shared this one with Sammy, he wore a physically pained expression during the telling. He would look at me from time to time as if to see if I was having him on. By the time I told him how much I had lost, Sammy was bent at the waist in sympathy and grimacing like he had just taken a shot below the belt. I eventually convinced him that no matter how smart or experienced anyone of any age was, the potential to suffer a similar fate was always as close as the person standing next to you. It simply required a momentary lapse of principals on the part of the victim to allow the culprit to do their sleight of hand. I was embarrassed, angry and disgusted.
“Looka Mike. Ima sorry. Itsa stupid what you did. Thatsa for sure. I see you worka you ass off, ina da rain, ina da snow. Every day. Bigga packs of mail lika donkey. You money isa too hard for you to get it. You donna trow it away to somma asshole like dat. I know the tax is a little bit TOO HIGH onna da smokes. Mike, listen to me. You donna do this thing again, eh? Promise me.”
Some times the roles were reversed and Sammy sought my counsel. At one point, his wife had been to see her own doctor. The young doctor, whom Sammy didn’t like to begin with, had suggested a procedure to her that she was going to do on the strength of his advice and against the wishes and judgment of her husband. It was the most deeply upset I had ever seen him. I listened to his story and his views. In the end I could only share a similar tale from my own life and point out to him that at bottom, if each person didn’t have control over their own body, then what did they have? In this case, I was in agreement with his stance on the matter and that fact offset my defense of his wife’s right to make her own decision enough for him at least get his appetite back.
Another day, a young man poked his head in the door and inquired as to the price of a haircut. Sammy looked down from The Wheel Of Fortune and pointed at the sign on the wall next to the pictures of his sons.
“Twenny bucks for da man.”
The fellow made a face like when you open a new tub of plain yogurt and discover that it is blue and has the texture of velvet. He made a comment about how that was too much to charge nowadays and that so and so over town did it cheaper. He pointed to his cell-phone device as proof.
“You better go over there then,” said Sammy in an icy tone.
The young fellow turned on his heel and Sammy rose up and started sifting through his favorite drawer. Sweeping out bits of hair, stacking business cards and arranging envelopes. He held up a business card to me.
“See thisa guy. He comma here to get hisa hair cut here for forty year. He lives in Seattle now anda still he drive uppa here to cut hisa hair. Sonomabitch! Thosea punk lika dat guy just now. They donna know nothing. Lookit. Heresa how it work. I gotta sign. Twenny bucks for da man. OK. You walka in, you siddown and you shaddup. I cutta you hair. You giva me twenny bucks and you get the hella out. Go home.”
“Sammy,” I said, “They got a $30,000.00 bottle of goddam whiskey at that liquor store next door. When I brought the mail this morning, I joked to the lady that she would be dusting off that glass case for a long time before she ever unloaded that thing. You know what she told me? She told me they have a big showcase full of that kind of merchandise and that her real problem is trying to keep it stocked. Then she showed me a $13,000.00 bottle of wine. Honest to God.”
“Sonomabitch,” Sammy laughed and slapped his chair with a folded apron. “Mike, I think I gotta retire someday. This all is getting a little bit TOO HIGH!”
I was in Mykonos one time and had spent the day in the company of a local expat who had come to the island from the Midwest to paint Greek fishermen in the 60’s. Within a month she had been seduced, impregnated and abandoned by one of the subjects of her paintings. I met her on the street selling Greek Fisherman dolls she made by hand. I bought one for my wife and she invited us to her house to have tea and meet her son. During our visit, she told many tales of her adopted island. She said that her tourist business was brisk in season and that she had seen many famous movie stars over the years.
When I remarked that I found it refreshing that all the sweaters and wares were hung up in the pretty narrow streets she adjusted her black eyeglasses glasses and flipped her graying long black hair over her shoulder and snickered. She then explained in detail a procession of the tourists seasons. Different nationalities evidently came to visit at different times throughout the year. I was there when the cheap flights from North America became available due to the fact that the wind off the Mediterranean could cut through the thickest angora sweater in spite of the dazzling sun.
There was a different season for the Italians she explained. During these weeks, as opposed to all others, no merchandize of any value was kept outside for viewing by the public. I asked why and was told that it was as if those guys had a penchant for shoplifting that bordered on being a national sport. I was shocked but duly noted this information in my internal notes to self. It wasn’t a day later I got to trot this gem of worldly wisdom out into conversation.
It was during an impromptu dinner party with a family from Australia. We had met somewhere in town and had agreed to dine together so as to be able to relax from our remedial Greek struggles for a few hours. The food was excellent, the ambient was enchanting and the company was top-notch. I wasn’t on very good terms with my second wife at the time but we managed to put our problems aside long enough to enjoy visiting with these gregarious Aussies. After a few beers, I decided to show my intimate knowledge to those assembled.
With great detail, clever use of metaphor and just the right amounts of humor and gravity, I briefed the table on the Italian situation in Mykonos. The young couple and the parents of the young woman, who were sitting opposite me listened with great interest. So great, that I continued on for some while waxing as eloquent as a salesman on a late-night TV infomercial. At last, I was done and took a hearty swig of beer, satisfied that I had educated my new friends and perhaps given them something which might help them in some small way someday further down the road on another shoreline.
The young woman spoke first, “Moik, moi usband Tony hea, ees Oitalian, eh.”
When the blood left my core a second later, I noticed that Tony’s father-in-law had a firm grip on the lad’s shoulder with a meaty sun-spotted hand. Tony face resembled an electric element on a stove top in a dark kitchen. We had a collective all too human moment before the old man broke into peals of brawny laughter followed in seconds by his Missus, his daughter and eventually Tony caught the wave of mirth. I ordered another round of beers and apologized with twice the eloquence I had mustered during my diatribe. I have always suffered from Texas Foot-In-Mouth Disease and explained this by giving several examples. My Chinese wife nodded her silent verification of this fact.
That was thirty years ago and as we race into the future, microchips in hand following people we’ll never meet, I may as well tell you, I’m the guy in a cowboy hat chowing down on a big plate of pasta putana in the cheap seats, washing it down with a cup of New Orleans Chicory Coffee, listening to Lata Mangeshkar, reading Lao Tzu to a cat, laughing at myself, crying for us all, eager to hear your stories and happy to share my own. I am a big-eared proud member of our resilient complex species soberly aware of our delicate predicament.
Much ink has been spilled toward the end of convincing those who refuse to use their intellect that the Captains of this world are something other than human. Usually in a very negative sense that draws upon the palette of spiritual duality framed long ago by religious philosophers for presenting the case. It may well be that the problem is quite the opposite. Indeed, if we place this premise on the table of human history and then walk around that table viewing the evidence from all angles, we might discern that the Titans have been seduced, hypnotized and led into a situation wherein their fulfilling of impossible rôles seems the only safe course. Along the way, a type of amnesia of the fact that they are also made of the same stuff as those they have striven to manage, control and profit by with such disdain, has set like plaster of Paris over their best gifts.
I see evidence of a keen understanding by our ancestral stern-faced authorities that humor was long ago identified as a uniquely human gift and a tool as formidable and useful as any edged weapon. The evidence is in the fact that the comic, if properly attired so as to be identifiable as such, has always been tolerated, even when treating topics that are taboo for the population at large in all times, all cultures and in all phases of history. To continue much further on the present course may well lead us to a place bereft of laughter and unwashed by tears. There we will exist and expire to serve unhappy catatonic Commanders once again. This sterilized stagnation will remain until one day a voice is heard rising above the hum, “Hey whatsamatta you people! Eat some cacciatore. You, Boss, siddown, shaddup, I cutta you hair. Hey Buddy, nota my business but with respect, looka to me like you all got a little bit TOO HIGH!”
I remember standing by the newly tarred farm road in Texas about four yards off the shoulder. The morning sun was slanting down and promising a scorcher. My Grandma had just put down our shovel and was lighting a smoke. The air smelled like asphalt, pine needles, red- dirt and tobacco. My sister stood alongside and after Grandma had said a small prayer, we lowered our beloved departed German Shepherd into the deep hole. In my four Summers, this was the first time I had attended a funeral. During the excavation, I stood off away with my elder sister and asked my Grandma if she knew how deep it was safe to dig without busting through into Hell or at least getting the Devil's unwanted attention. She laughed and told me not to worry because it was a hell of a long ways down and much farther than she was capable of digging. That settled my apprehensions long enough to start processing my grief and remembering the good times my sister and I had had taking turns riding dog-back on that magnificent beast.
After that, I went to a few funerals for people who were not family until I reached age twenty. At this juncture, my estranged father passed away, suddenly and without a will. It was one of the most difficult times I can see in my rear-view mirror. One aspect that exacerbated my discomfort during this episode was the bureaucracy I encountered on the road to doing what is right and expected of one in such circumstances. A full six months transpired before I had successfully negotiated an estate consisting of a car, a watch, a deck of smokes, a lighter and two hundred dollars in Traveler’s Checks. Necessity caused me to have a safety deposit box in Chinatown drilled in order to further acquire an Italian stiletto in good working condition. These operations, though simple in themselves were rendered stubborn as well fed cats under the weight of the papers required by protocol, legality and record keeping. The result was such that I managed to conclude all tasks but had to process my emotions at the same time. The emotions were myriad, powerful and at times contradictory. Thus, what would have been a bittersweet lesson in life morphed into a mercurial blur.
I laid my father to rest in the Summer waters off the Lighthouse Rock, a Vancouver landmark he had sailed past many times throughout the Second World War as a Canadian Merchant Seaman. I avoided being an executor for anyone after that and did not make my own will until I attained the age of forty and had two children and a much loved wife. The process was just as agonizing as the first time because my two sons were born of two different mothers. This basis coupled with our relative youth and the uncertainty of the future had the effect of causing my inner Solomon to get busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I spent weeks concocting and calibrating noteworthy equations that factored in all known data but also made fair adjustments for probabilities and respected the softer feeling of everyone involved. When I was ready, I committed this to writing on a kit I bought at the drug store in order to avoid legal fees.
Never feeling it was perfect nor that it ever could be, it finally dawned on me that making a fair and just will in today’s reality is akin to trying to divide an unknown quantity of an unknown commodity by using a snapshot of a dynamic set of ever-changing inventory which will be obsolete before the copies are filed in all the proper places. I was proud to have done my best. At this juncture the idea of being someone [who's lack of wealth caused him to undertake such a matter as will-making without the aid of a lawyer] fretting over the scraps struck me as very humorous. Without diminishing the grandeur of the ceremony, the propriety of the assignments to the beneficiaries and not letting any pertinent details escape being duly recorded for the later scrutiny of Queen, Country or Clerk; my attitude became markedly different than it had been before those experiences.
Recently, at fifty-nine years of age and three years into my retirement from being a letter-carrier for Canada Post, I hired a lawyer in the nearest town and set about making a proper will. There were some aspects of the job that were frustratingly reminiscent of my previous encounters, a few brand new concepts, some changes in old legalities and a set of jargon and vocabulary to learn and brush up on. I remember chewing on a lot of carrots and sprinkling fresh dill on everything I ate during the month or so in which this paperwork was being created, checked and drawn up.
This time I already knew that we were trying to divide an unknown quantity of an unknown commodity by using a snapshot of a dynamic set of ever-changing inventory, emotions and circumstances. My lawyer was a fantastic young woman who had a great facility in switching her speech effortlessly from Legalese to Piney Woods to Post-Punk Patois. Thus my wife and my offspring were all able to understand what we had caused to be wrought. I was proud to have done my best when it was all over. We got some Greek food at a little place I know and had a nice drive home. All the way down Dead Man Creek and along the Bonaparte, The Thompson and The Fraser Rivers; I found myself seeing the humor pregnant in the solemnity of a peasant pouring himself into the same form used by and necessitated by the landed gentry since before the surviving written record. When we reached my trailer, I was in such a state that I could have walked through powder snow and not left any footprints.
On a roll, I continued into the new territory of securing a piece of ground in which to commit the mortal remains of my wife and myself after our inevitable demise. Remembering a day long ago when I lived next door to a big cemetery in Vancouver, I recalled an impromptu interview with the custodian of the crematorium there. At that time the price of cremation was very affordable but the restrictions placed upon the disposition of the ashes in such a manner as facilitated a convenient, permanent place for family and friends to visit were many, especially in crowded big cities.
I was relieved to find that in my area, it was possible to be cremated, have the ashes placed in a small grave, marked with a durable stone and to afford the living a spectacular view as a reward for their efforts. All this for a reasonable sum even by my own frugal standards. Understanding that some of the variable costs would only increase over time, I did not hesitate to secure our plots.
The actual day of walking the rows to shop the available real estate was a sobering yet otherworldly experience. After much difficulty finding the locations on the list given me by the District, I had a smoke and decided on our spot. It was in close proximity to the canyon wall and looking out East over the Fraser River toward Fort Berens Winery. If one turned 180 degrees at that spot, one would see the Totem Chinese Restaurant that adorns the corner of the street we live on. A future visitor to our graves could conceivably go for a wine tasting or fried rice minutes after pulling out of the parking lot. If it was a windy day, they might wish to do both. Next door to the site I chose is a stone with a ceramic photo of a young couple. Their expressions of love and life are such that once seen, they act as an equal counterpoint to the solemnity of this ground as a whole. On the fence just a few feet in front, a child's doll was attached many winters ago and this proves yet to be the surest navigational aid in finding the spot. We have lived only three years in Lillooet but already have a friend and a neighbor buried nearby. The sky overhead is patrolled by Bald Eagles and when they let the grass get tall in the Summer you can hear Red-wing Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing their Texas twang. To top it all off, the train tracks run along just under the cliff and the clack-clack plus the engines lonesome whistle make a mighty fine symphony.
When enough time had transpired for all the bills to get paid, the papers filed and for my emotions to process themselves after having been roused like fish in a pool into which a stone is cast, I wanted to thank the lawyer who had helped with the will and the young salesman who had driven a hundred miles to draw up some further paperwork to do with our final arrangements. Basically, he was representing a service that would scour the archives of any possibly required documents, forms and such that might be necessary for an executor to do their duty. The service would also fill in all the data fields of every required form for the executors perusal, signature and subsequent mailing in the provided postage paid envelopes.
The young man stuck in my mind after our session due to his telling me a tale in answer to my asking why he had moved to a small community similar to mine from a big city. He intimated to me with much emotion that he had been held to the floor naked in the presence of his wife and infant daughter with a gun barrel in his mouth for some hours while his house was ransacked by several thieves. He told me this after the money had been paid so I did not doubt its veracity at the time of the telling as his point had been one of explaining his own views on life, death, family and the wisdom of making final arrangements.
I have been alive long enough, however, to allow for the possibility that his gut-wrenching story might have been the greatest sales pitch I have encountered to date, save for the recent experience I had of assisting a tearful man whose finger had just been amputated at our medical clinic and then seeing the missing finger two days later while offering further assistance to the unfortunate creature. At this juncture, I only care that the paper does what it says.
As the Summer faded into Fall, I composed a letter of thanks to that lawyer and then I decided to vent the rest of my lingering emotions by way of satire of the process I had just undergone. This I did and sent a copy to the law office for their own in-house amusement. The piece I wrote was sparked by my curiosity at the origin and etymology of the particular word set used for the drawing up of wills and estates. I have been in divorce court twice, civil court twice and did one round as a juror. I have been represented by counsel and I have represented myself. I have stood before male and female judges. In all cases, I couldn't help but feel as though I had agreed to participate in something which demanded I relinquish all personal power whatsoever.
Not being able to talk or respond if one has counsel is just as frustrating as having no counsel and not being taken seriously by anyone in the room for just that reason. Indeed, both are akin to being kicked in the groin. Googling up some of the words caused me to come across one possible explanation of the root of the words testify, testament, testimony, testatrix, testator, intestate and such. I stress that this is only an unprovable possibility but it sure fit nicely with my mood at the time I read it.
- I will quote from an article by Dario Maestripieri, PhD. Professor of Comparative Human Development, Evolutionary Biology and Neurobiology at the University of Chicago. - Sourced Jan. 1, 2017 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/games-primates-play/201112/testify-comes-the-latin-word-testicle
"In ancient Rome, two men taking an oath of allegiance held each others testicles, and men held their own testicles as a sign of truthfulness while bearing witness in a public forum. The Romans found a word to describe this practice but didn't invent the practice itself. Other primates had already been doing this for millions of years. Two male baboons who cooperate with each other by forming aggressive alliances against other baboons frequently fondle each others genitalia. This behavior has nothing to do with sex but it's a social ritual that primatologists call a "greeting." The behavior of ancient Romans and male baboons can be explained by the Handicap Principle, an evolutionary theory according to which the most effective way to obtain reliable information about a partner's commitment in a relationship whether a political alliance, a romantic relationship or a business partnership, is to impose a cost on the partner and assess the partner's willingness to pay it."
There are also the Bible quotes in which someone is admonished to place a hand "under the thigh" of Abraham on two occasions. There are Rabbinical notations dealing with Mitzvah and circumcision. You will find scholarly explanations of the separate origins of the roots of the two words "testify" and testicle." Some have traced the root back to an ancient word for the number three. Yet others contend that oaths were indeed sworn in the manner that Professor Maestripieri relates above. Ultimately, no one knows and as we are all free to find our giggles where we will, I chose to run with the Roman theory for my satire. It is written as a newspaper article chronicling a rare archaeological find in North Africa, dating from the brief period in which the Vandals seized rule from the Romans. And now for the article:
"Froja Armes, Scapia Matzia! [Gothic for: Lord Have Mercy, Let's Get Something To Eat!]
A recent find was made at the ruins of Leptis Magna, 130 km east of Tripoli at present day Khoms. There where the Wadi Labdah meets the sea at a spot that has seen Carthaginian, Roman, Vandal, Berber, Arab, Italian and Byzantine inhabitants come and go; was found a most curious tablet. The artifact was discovered by an eleven year old Korean lad who was visiting the ruins along with his parents and siblings.
A scholarly examination of the large fragment has revealed that it likely dates from the period of Vandal rule of the city, namely the mid-fifth century AD. It was happened upon by the boy while he walked the Via that runs inland from the Serapeum to the Market.
Some of the text is illegible and a portion is missing but several of the linguists attempting to decipher it agree that some of the words appear indeed to be Vandal. Unknown Gothic scholar, Wilbur Plumcrease was chosen unanimously by a bored seven to undertake the English translation of what remains of the treasure. The scholars, save three, agree that this bit of archaeological belly-button lint may best be described as an example of fifteen-hundred year old satire. The author of the document, say those five scholars, appears to be poking fun at the Roman legal customs that preceded the city's conquest by Gaiseric. The remaining trio contend that it is an uncommonly feeble attempt by a non-Latin literate author to forge a legal document. The fact that in the name of Rome, Belisarius recaptured the city in 534 AD lends credibility to their dissenting opinion." Here below then is the Plumcrease Translation:
"I, Dubious Murex, presently of 221-B Via Scapula, in the City of Leptis Magna, by her Revolt all Farmer's Testicular Dispossessions made by me and Shout this to be my Last Willing Testicle.
(1) I point to my wife, Hageblom Murex, to be the Executive Dundee of this my Willing Testicle proving that if my wife shall predisease me, or surveying me shall be unable to act the Executive Dundee of this my Last Willing Testicle, then I point to my cheetah, Strax, to be the Executive Dundee in spite of what my wife said; I come in here after referring to my Executive Dundee and to the Survivors, whether Aboriginals or Substitutes, as my "Dundees."
(2) If my wife, Hageblom Murex, revives me, then I give up, all my Puberty of every nature, kind and wheresonever sitting, including any Puberty over which I may have a General's Power Appointment, to my Dundees upside the following Rusty Names;
[A] To pay the Capital out of my General's Estate, just my Debts, Funeral and Testicular Expanses and all Success Duties, Estate Taxis and like that maybe payable in connecting my Estate;
[B] To disturb among my Mistresses, some of the Artichokes of Personality and Domestic Used Ornaments owed by me at the time of my Disease as Shells selected for them by their Respectful Guards as they agree, and in faulty agreement, as my Dundees conspire suitable equations;
[C] Abject to the provisions Inthishere after Container, to Ransom and Overpay the Residue of my Estate to see my Children survive in Equal Measures. In Testicles of where I have Underhere set my hand this 16th day of Augustus. Signs, Publicans and Shouted by the Testiculatrix, Hageblom Murex as and for her Last Willing Testicle, in front of us, booth presents at the same time, who?, at her request in each present of others, have to Underhere scratch our names as Witless."
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.