Flash creative nonfiction

My Favorite Pedophile

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My Favorite Pedophile


Elvia was my first pedophile . During the early years of WWII my father worked in a Mexican Copper mine. He was a mining engineer, and we lived in a hilltop compound above the mine, near a small village. My mother taught school there in English, using the Calvert System, a British mail order curriculum that completed 8 grades in 6 years. I had been raised in many small mining towns, often with one room schools, where a curious child may tend to leap frog ahead of his years. Not quite 11, I was ready to start high school at the end of the year.


To make it possible for my mother to teach, we had a cook, whose younger sister, Elvia, was housekeeper and laundress. On weekdays both my parents left early for work, while I went off to school about an hour later. Elvia was young, flirty and playful; she soon began to ‘goose‘ me as I walked by, while her older sister frowned in amused disapproval. I found the game enjoyable, though I didn’t know quite why; perhaps the rich nerve endings about the anus are particularly sensual.


In the morning Elvia began to wake me for school, and of course, our game continued. I was beginning to be affected by early morning testosterone rushes, the sort of angry erections that mortify young boys on school buses. It soon became quite enjoyable to rub my little member up against a willing Elvia herself. There is no doubt in my mind now where that game was headed. I was probably being ‘groomed’.


But the game ended. WWII wore on. Eleven year olds were older then than they are today. I finished grade school that summer and was immediately sent to California. My Dad gave me a brief lecture the night before I left El Paso, stressing two points: First, that one has to judge others carefully; to welcome new friends, but be alert, and avoid those who would do harm; and second, to use a condom.


I had no idea what that was or what it was for, but it was something I didn’t want to talk about. He seemed to consider me much more aware than I really was. The next morning put me on a troop train headed for Los Angeles; someone stole my money but soldiers fed me, and I went on North to the Sacramento Valley.



A scoutmaster was my second pedophile. He was a music director for a radio station, able to invest most of his energies and appetites into the work closest to his heart: his scouts. He had acquired for the troop a twenty-acre piece of land on a lake near the Canadian border. To finance, build and maintain it was a year round activity requiring continuous paper drives, magazine sales, ticket sales and participation in an annual fund raiser: a Sigmund Romberg operetta.


There were periodic work trips to the lakeside camp including a two week construction session just after the ice broke up, two weeks of camp itself, and– for older scouts–a summer-ending two week canoe trip to the border waters.


I advanced rapidly through the ranks of scouting and the Scoutmaster began take more interest in me. I became an Eagle Scout by age 13. After a weekend trip to clear heavy spring snow off the camp buildings, we all returned so late that I stayed with him at his home one Sunday night. I trusted him implicitly. Moreover, he was always affectionately gruff, dominating and assertive. Again, I was being groomed.


His method was to introduce young boys to the pleasures of prostatic digital self-stimulation, as an initial step in masturbation; and as the first step to pederasty. If that is hard to picture, think of the crude expression: “sitting around with your thumb up your ass.” That best reflects my Scoutmaster’s method of instruction. (Our language contains many other more or less subtle references to pederasty: flipping bird, the fist, ‘up yours; asshole; fuck you man, etc.) Bill’s purpose seemed not to harm, frighten, or prematurely to penetrate, but to, imprint; to teach; the lesson was not at all innocent, but fortunately very brief. I did not find the experience unpleasant. And yet, what I remember most unwelcome was his full mouthed beard barbed  goodnight kiss.  I started college that fall, left the scouts and never returned.

Humans are normally, both innately and overtly, at least as sexual and sensual animals as any other. Our children are not asexual beings, but are simply less developed. Their behavior is partly learned, despite the current dreary politically correct cant that insists sexuality is chiefly, if not wholly, inborn, or ‘discovered’.

It is patently absurd to hold that sexuality is inborn while other measures of societal behavior are not. That dogma ignores the clear fact that we are all capable of learning many sorts of behavior; and that our earliest experience is very significant. If my second episode of pedophilia, had been my first – or a continuing– form of interpersonal sex, I am sure it would have influenced me more.


I hold no resentment for my assailants.  Maybe that is because of my own good luck in escaping their potentially harmful influence so quickly. Surely they are both dead now; as surely I will follow. The Scoutmaster left me Romberg, the North Woods and Waters. Elvia left me sweet memories of cheap perfume,

Silky-cinnamon skin, and playful sensuality.   Perhaps she pre-empted the more powerful and technically more skilled pederasty-devoted Scoutmaster. That is why, of the two, Elvia will always be my favorite pedophile.

The Thirteenth Mine

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  The Ides of August 1945

I’m in the front seat behind the bus driver leaving Carson City for Eureka.   Shortly after we leave town the driver breaks out in a rash of Western Music. At first I’m intrigued:

Don’t Flush me Down the Toilet of Your Heart (Originally it was the Bathroom- Johnny Cash-  But the toilet is a more striking metaphor).

Open up that Door, and let me in, Babe, I’m mighty sorry that-a’ made you cry.

Clear Cool, Water, and a hodge-podge of Spike Jones

The songs repeat but are never quite the same; while variety and inventiveness have appeal, I think of the mine where my father is working, and my mind soon slips away to memories of a miner’s life– ceaseless travel from mine to mine, country to country-  where the parallel  worlds  of a miner and a miner’s child are very different. I recall Nevada City, CA;  Noranda, Quebec; Sudbury, Ontario;  Balatoc, Baguio, and Tayabas, Philippines; Holden Washington ( twice);  Tonopah,  Manhattan, Nevada; Santo Domingo,  and Hacienda Robinson, Mexico.

Eureka will be my 13th  mine. Growing up with constant change arguably  promotes adaptability, independence, and resourcefulness.  I still enjoy exploring a mountain or a culture or country alone, aware every stranger and every stream is company. Itinerancy bred into me a peculiar ignorant but confident precociousness.  Yet I did have  a default home; four times, when there was no school available, I was sent briefly to  grandparents in Northern California. I can think of no greater advantage for the child of a miner, soldier,  sailor, or diplomat, than four grand parents, a remembered language, culture, home, and homeland.

At age 11 Dad took me from Chihuahua, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas and a journey to my small  California town where there were only 5 boys in my freshman high school class.   I recall the El Paso Hotel room where my he schooled me thoroughly about life before putting me on the troop train to   Los Angeles; sending a child alone  by train  had not yet become abusive. I most remember two things he said: 

 1) “Most people are good, some are bad. You have to make judgments.” He was not given to banter; or I to questions. That night the troop car windows were open to the desert night, and I slept soundly to the music of the tracks- only to awaken to the truth of what dad said.  My thin billfold with $5.00 for food was missing.  Yet soldiers fed me til  LA and left me with $3.00 for the trip North to one of those quaint little  stations that speak of a time when  time and travel were slower. 

 2) “Use a condom.”   I had no idea what he meant but didn’t ask.  That was partly because I feared to talk about what I vaguely suspected shouldn’t be confessed.

Arriving in Durham on the Ides of August*, I’d be there for the next and year and a half, considered  a prodigy, because I’d come up through the British Calvert system of  mail order schools. I became a coddled high school student taught advanced math  and English in the principal’s office. Time would prove  to me I was just a lucky kid!

After Fallon, Spike Jones predominates, though he probably couldn’t  recognize himself.  I doze fitfully.  At hour 5 we park in front of the Eureka Hotel. The entire ground floor is a bar; rooms are upstairs, kitchen and laundry a lean-to  uphill in back. I can’t imagine what is in the full basement; maybe that’s a good thing. The ingeniously named Main Street is lined with solid attractive brick and stone buildings including an opera hall, bank, several bars,  a store operated by a  bandit, and a small bowling alley.

Ruby Hill Mine is visible on the hillside to the South, and in between is a disparate collection of houses, weed and junk decorated  lots, a fire station, a school, a small movie house, a wooden church with a bell and steeple, and a graveyard with some pretensions of a cemetery.

It is August. This is the first place we have ever lived with a Boy Scout troop, and I am of age, so my father gets us both involved.  In an old ritual, I must  invade and prove myself worthy to the in-residence group of boys. I  attend patrol meetings, work on merit badges, and make my own back pack.  My arrival, and perhaps the role my dad assumes as an active father, rankle one tough scout in particular.  He’s a solid, box-built  kid, with a genuine barbershop haircut. I’m taller but slender with  hair my dad cut. The first  night at the movie he taunts me. I ignore him. During the film he sits behind me in the darkness, and pokes my shoulder. Turning around casually, I learn that, especially in the dark, cigarette tobacco  can be an effective weapon:   Roll a cigarette between your fingers, extruding a small pile of ground tobacco into the other hand. Blow it into the wide open eyes that look at you in the darkness; it will blind them effectively for many minutes.

The next weekend our Scout Patrol travels to a nearby lake for an outing. While swimming, the tobacco warrior, who doesn’t swim, walks out over his head and begins to drown, alternately sinking, coming up, yelling, coughing, and sinking. I  am nearby and swim  down beneath him, stand on the bottom, and push him progressively toward shore.   By the time one of the men reach us he is on his feet. Aside from the two of us, no one knows what happened.

On Wednesday August 15, 1945 the Japanese surrender unconditionally. There is jubilation, wild abandon.  Boilermakers- a shot of whiskey in a mug of beer- are free, at least for the adults. Music blares.  People crowd Main Street shouting and cavorting. I join a bunch of boys who go to the tumbledown wooden church and ring the bell; but  no one seems to notice so we quit. The tobacco kid is there too. He avoids my look, and doesn’t speak; and that is a  satisfaction for me.

January, 2012- 67 years later- my youngest son and I drive  back to Yosemite where he lives, after visiting family in South Dakota. It’s a long, long drive. We had gone East on traffic clogged Highway 80 in a blizzard, so on the return we take off-80 roads whenever we can. They are invariably traffic free.  At Wendover,  Nevada,  we escape to the South, to reach  Highway 50, which takes us past Eureka.  Ruby Hill Mine calls to me.

The old town experienced long years of decay after the mine failed. Water brought my dad there in 1945. While Nevada may seem dry, almost no water ever leaves the state. It collects underground. The remaining  deep Ruby Hill gold is still there today but no one has yet been able to control the water.  When the price of gold exploded recently, Barrick Gold opened up a new open pit mine,  lower down, to the West of Eureka.  The town is alive again, though barely, and now hopes to re- establish itself for tourism like so many other abandoned mining towns: Aspen, Taos, Telluride.

We find the house where my family lived. It has been beautifully restored. Likewise the Opera House has been resurrected, as an active theater and community center.  The main buildings on Main Street are in mint condition – or better. The old church bell we rang when ‘The War ended, is enshrined in front of the museum.

from balcony Original sign for  Eureka hotel and cafe




Opera house and old Eureka Hotel  Bar, now a Cafe…

court house
court house



Some girls walk by and we ask about the mine.

“ Oh, it’s been closed forever. Nobody can go there. There’s a guard and locked gate. It’s just up there, see? About a half mile above the high school, and the  new  gold mine temporary worker housing.

“ Haven’t you ever been to the  mine?

“No… no one ever does.

opera house stage curtain
opera house stage curtain

The mine calls  more insistently. We drive up the  snow-covered road. The place looks empty; no cars no lights, a single set of snow filled tire tracks where a pickup  backed out . It is well below zero. Dry, light  windblown drifted snow leaves scattered bare  spaces.  We have warm coats but only tennis shoes and cotton socks. The sun is low in the West. In the distance the Barrick open pit gold mine leers at us over a  colorful cyanide tainted tailings pond. To the right are a storage building, and  administrative office buildings. There is no wind.  A few foot tracks are filled in by blown snow. We walk to the storage shed. Everything is wide open. It is filled with thousands of  1 x 1 x 2 ft cardboard boxes, each containing several thousand envelopes, packets of finely ground rock; they are samples taken from diamond drill cores, ground for assay.  Each  has information on the source of the drill core, the date, and the analysis of the rock found.They whisper  faintly about what it takes to find and extract metallic underground ore.

storage ... many thousands  of core samples, with analysis

The nearby administrative office has been left as if at mid  work day.  Appointment calendars are pinned to the wall.  Crusted coffee cups sit at engineer’s drafting tables and desks littered with plans. Chairs and tables, bookshelves in disarray, a small radio, a coffee-maker, ashtrays with butts, a bottled- water holder- all is abandonment, disorder.  Down the hall are other offices in a similar condition. I’m reminded of Pompeii… yet I know this to be the standard way a mine looks when it dies- As if it might be resurrected any moment, or it is too remote to scavenger. Ruby Hill Mine is, in effect, every remote  abandoned mine.

hoist and ore loader
hoist and ore loader
We look again at the hoist, and the mine shaft which still holds the metal cage that miners rode  down and down to- where?- 2000 ft? More? This is only a very tiny  mine compared to the world’s largest .  Yet this is one of my father’s mines; he rode the cage, he walked the tunnels, and worked  the charts. We laugh about his condom wisdom and I tell my son of an old ‘skin’ from my father’s father’s father’s billfold
mine shaft and cage
mine shaft and cage


admin buidlings mill and hoist
admin buildings mill and hoist











Back in the car, expecting to find soggy wet socks, even though we haven’t felt wet in the snow, our shoes and socks and pant legs are completely dry, due to the exceedingly arid cold Nevada air. I reluctantly abandon the Ruby Hill mine like its former owners, look a last time at the mill, hoist, shaft, cage, and offices, expecting we shall never meet again.

* Ides are traditionally the 15 of Mar May July,   and Oct; or the 13th  of the other months.

The Illegal Edge

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    No Stinkin’ Green Card

 My first appointment is with Leopoldo Gomez, age 49, a right-handed man who complains of right shoulder pain. He has completed a detailed intake form in English impeccably; the reason for his visit is five year’s shoulder pain.

He is married. The Gomez’ have lived in the US for over 30 years. They have four grown children, all college graduates, all employed, and 6 grandchildren. His recent family history includes a diabetic brother, and a maternal aunt who died after gallbladder surgery. The remote family history reveals no documented chronic health problems except people who died of ‘old age’, and several violent deaths incurred in the Mexican revolutionary turmoil of the early last century; in many ways it is the  history of a USA created by immigrants.

He and his wife have ‘green cards’ and their children are native born citizens of the US. He came to Arizona at 19, speaks with a very slight accent; he uses rather stilted, studied grammar, so carefully constructed it is slightly distracting.

He has always worked in construction. His wife was a full time homemaker when the children were small, but now works regularly cleaning houses. They have never had health insurance, but have lived cautiously, avoided risky behavior, and been fortunate; no one in the family has experienced costly illness or injury. The Gomez’ appear to be an integrated and acculturated immigrant family; they are Americans.

We review his history together and address the chief complaint:

Right shoulder pain, worse with activity, off and on, gradually improving over 3-6 weeks, but easily re- injured.

There has been no history any specific injury.

“It gets better if I rest the shoulder and worse if I do overhead work. Sheet-rock?  Overhead painting? Forget it!

Examination supports the history, and is clearly consistent with a chronic rotator cuff injury. A finger-stick blood sugar is 102 two hours after carb thick breakfast.

“Did you ever hurt it at work? Or report a work injury?

The country is experiencing another  quadrennial zoonotic outbreak of politics, and he refers to it obliquely, saying:

“No. If nominated I won’t run, if elected I won’t serve.

But I am too focused to pick up on the humor and reply dryly,

“Why? You have that right. Also, if you are not able to work, you’re entitled to disability insurance payments.

“For a minor injury, Worker’s Comp, even if I could get it, won’t pay my overhead; house, car payments, travel, food. You know the drill.


“I don’t have unemployment insurance.

“I thought everyone who works has comp injury and disability insurance.

“I’m paid in cash. During the past few years, since ’09,  I don’t ever confess to having a green card. Never. So I don’t pay disability insurance.

“Why not?

“I wouldn’t get the job. And they’d deduct taxes, unemployment, disability, social security, and some other stuff I can’t keep track of.

“What if you get injured at work?

“I can’t afford minor work injuries like this one.


“I can only get work here and there, short periods, for different employers. If they decline responsibility for minor injury, so does their insurance. I’d have to find a lawyer to accept the case without a big payout. Ha-Ha-Ha.

“What about more serious injury?

“Like losing an arm or breaking my back? Illegal or not, it’s covered. Not that it’s any bargain.

“Well, it’s something, don’t you think?

“It can be.  But I know people with significant but not totally incapacitating injury; they, go through years of delays, denials, and a long series of waiting rooms-medical, chiropractic, physiotherapy, lawyers- all likely to cancel an appointment without notice or any consequence except to the injured worker, who is powerless.

“Yes- I sometimes see the evidence:  a 2 inch high stack of tattered and worn business cards from lawyers and bureaucrats and ‘providers’.

“What you don’t see is the years of family stress related to loss of income, maybe bankruptcy, maybe depression, divorce.

I reflect that my failing to report a possible work injury may be illegal too. Yet my patient objects to the report, and the work relation is uncertain, so abide by his decision.

We review the common ways to control Leopoldo’s symptoms by avoiding work that makes them worse, by using injections or medication, and physical therapy. I give him a brochure about exercises for rotator cuff injury. I advise ibuprofen prn and provide on line sources of information, suggesting he return whenever needed.

Now when I see people in a Home Depot parking lot seeking work, it reminds me that perhaps the ‘illegal’ worker, and his ‘illegal’ employer have an illegal advantage during these hard times.  It is as if they were to say:

“Green Card? We don’ need no stinkin’ Green Card!”

But Leopoldo would use proper English. Better than me. OK, better than I.



A Tanapox Outbreak in a Primate Research Center

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The Vital Role of Gossip in Scientific Research

As in many  infections, inter-species transfer of a virus, like monkey-man-monkey-man,  is more likely when the two hosts are under stress;   and in such transfers the virus  is likely to become progressively more virulent. ( The opposite is true when a virus re-infects the same host many many times. That is, in general,  how the live virus for polio was developed.)

What follows is a factual report of an iatrogenic (man made)  outbreak of tanapox,  a  viral infection normally confined to certain monkeys. In this case it  bounced back and forth among the research animals and their handlers; it ultimately spread to the surrounding community. I was the physician responsible for treatment of infected workers, witnessing the increased virulence  and infectiousness of the virus.  Other outbreaks have occurred, but never have they  spread beyond the confines of the research workers involved. There has been monkey to man spread but never secondary spread of the same infection, monkey to human, and then human to human. 

To my knowledge the episode has never been reported;  the administrative defenses of the university and the  research institution  immediately isolated,  and  successfully walled off and  prevented spread of  information, and fear-   and have avoided formal  publication of the details- during more than 40 years.

Most significantly, however, that is not to say that the outbreak is  unknown to the  scientific community. Though unpublished and  religiously undocumented,  it  has had a significant effect, both locally  and far afield among  the world’s primate centers.  Afterward,  no one, anywhere, was willing to take a chance of it happening again. Therefore this post is not an exposé. It   merely  describes a particular outbreak in terms of  the people involved and their interaction with  one another in a great and powerful research institution.

Yaba-like disease, YLD, (or Tanapox, as described in monkey exposed children in Kenya on the Tana River), is an oncogenic (tumor forming) infection of certain old world monkeys, producing intra-dermal (skin confined) tumors. When seen in humans it causes a tender, indolent nodule, which may ulcerate before gradually clearing over several weeks without systemic effects like fever, and  without scarring. (Orf is a similar infection seen among sheep handlers.)

At the Primate Center and outbreak of YLD had been taking place over several years among approximately 340 monkeys. Because the animals required handling, when  I saw caretakers with infections of their hands or forearms,  I required  they be off work until healed,  to avoid re- infecting other animals. But the Director was  a doctor as well, and vetoed my decision.  He was also a world reknowned primate researcher, commanding many millions of dollars, while I was just a  salaried  university employee.   Likewise the  Campus Office of Environmental Health and Safety tried to enforce the off-work status of handlers, but  to no effect. We  understood that the  university, like congress, can absolve itself  of selected laws and regulations,  in the name of the greater good.   Unlike congress, research  institutions  appear  to be still subject  to the Laws of Money which  generally override all other considerations.

The  animal handlers continued to  work  in contact with active exposed lesions, setting up monkey to man to monkey to man transfers of YLD.  Inadvertently, the Director had set up a lovely, though unauthorized and illegal, experiment of inter-species transfer of the viral infection.

As the outbreak continued over the following year, lesions became larger,  and more painful, with  longer periods of indolence. Soon, multiple lesions were seen. Then handlers developed  generalized symptoms of lethargy, fever, malaise, and occasionally a generalized itching rash. I  had become professionally invested in the process and provided the Primate Center virologist with serial blood samples, as well as biopsies of lesions. Even though it is likely that some cases were not reported at first, we had blood samples on 15 cases.

The first and only case of YLD off campus occurred in the wife of an animal technician. She developed a single lesion on her cheek.  Within two days the director was gone- taking his big money grants, requiring much  animal handling , with him.  The YLD  among technicians ceased abruptly.   The technician’s wife recovered without incident.  The episode was never published, but is sometimes referred to obliquely.  While it’s out of date now, within months a seven point procedure was proposed to avoid such events. In the intervening years the world has become less dependent on Primate  Research and  less aggressive in handling   animals. That seems to me to suggest one thing:

Gossip , and the fear publicity can generate, is a vital  but undocumented aspect of clinical  research. 



Jesek, Z et al Human Tanapox in Zaire Bull Wld Hlth Org 73 1027-35, 1985

España C. Medical Primatology, 1970. Proc 2nd Conf. exp Med Surg Primates

Downie, W.A. and España  C. A. Comparative  Study of Tanapox and Yaba Viruses. J. gen Virol. 1973, 19 27-29

Tauraso, Nocholas, Review of recent epizootics in nonhuman primate colonies and their relation to man. Lab Animal Science Vol 23, no w 201-210 1973

España Carlos, Review of Some Outbreaks of Viral Disease in Captive Nonhuman Primates Lab Animal Science, Vol 21, No. 6, 1023 -1030

A Half Dome Parable

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My friend doctor Erlich is a big man with curly red hair and by sharp contrast, a black beard. He’s stolid, muscled, and speaks with a faint E. European Yiddish accent that adds a patina of culture and history to his persona.  A very organized man, he religiously leaves the Bay Area twice a month to make a weekend California mountain-top pilgrimage. He often goes alone; sometimes I accompany him. This time, however he plans to introduce his young son to mythic Yosemite Half Dome. He knows I had introduced all my children to the mountains at a very young age.  At best (or at worst) I led my four year old son by the hand on a long slow 22 mile three day hike into Emigrant Basin; now my sons return the favor.  In retrospect, maybe Dr. Erlich suspected that sort of challenge would be of a different order than simply dominating a resentful if inert mountain.  In any event, he called, and I agreed to go along.

 Eleven  year old Josh has been a gifted child since long before conception, and remains so today. No one, including Josh, has much doubt he will be a gifted man as well.  Like his father he is, and artful, sometimes deadly, intellectual, and fearfully energetic. Unlike Dr Erlich he is, at least for now, slender and rather delicate looking.


Not the least of the joys of hiking with a child or with friends is that time moves slowly, but uninterruptedly, allowing enjoyment of  an aspect of  that living seems scarce: idle conversation. Ordinarily there is no purpose to such talk, but of course, when an intellectual and ambitious father and son are together, that may change. So we often speak about B S: Big Stuff, like politics and government. Erlich suggests-

“In an ordered society, only government can freely act in ways illegal for the rest of us.” Josh responds:

“In wartime wouldn’t it better to flee to the enemy, so one can be accorded special privileges there as a dissenter?”  Erlich replies-or evades- Josh’s comment,

“That depends on what country and what war. But I think if one is a citizen of the country of God or of Time/Space, one’s duty is to survive as long as possible.” I risk weakly,

“To survive in WWII Poland it might have been necessary to abandon dogma and loyalty  by siding  with either Russians or the Germans  at different times.”  Erlich agrees:

“ Right. Josh’s grandfather was a skilled mechanic in Poland during The War. In the Soviet-German division of Poland, he was conscripted to work on Russian military motorized equipment. When Hitler took ‘the Soviet half’ of Poland he worked for them; and when suspected of being Jewish he escaped to Russia, was imprisoned in Siberia, but escaped the holocaust, and was allowed to emigrate to the US later.  That is why Josh and I are here today.”

“It’s  is almost mathematically impossible that any  one of us be collected from the dust  of  gazillions  of  dead stars, accrete here on earth,  and actually become a single survivor among   trillions of gametes.” I thought,

‘Eleven? It’s a lie.  When I was eleven I had an argument with a friend where I claimed women had cloacas  like birds; ( Josh would have said, ‘no, cloacae!’)’    So that’s how it went.  Erlich and I are very libertarian-conservative, if there is such a thing, and Josh is- well, from Berkeley; we avoid that sort of politics. In desperation I cleverly begin to point out different trees and shrubs and flowers, trying to make the presentation almost academic, with some success.


From the outset we make frequent rest stops, to the visible but unspoken dismay of the Doctor. As the morning grows short our pace slows even more. Erlich becomes rather more disillusioned when an octogenarian grandmother hobbles by at one of our rest stops with a clutch of her descendents. We can’t be sure she will fail to reach the top of Half Dome but vaguely hope so; but she claims she has been climbing Half Dome every few years- forever. Bummer, Granny, as they say.


Ex-and-now-again-Governor Jerry Brown passes us at the million dollar half way toilet above the long  series of giant steps leading to NevadaFalls.  There solar panels fuel an underground pump that sucks noxious all -too-human fumes down past the seated guest and deposits them somewhere only Wiki-leaks knows.  Sitting or standing there with fresh mountain air whistling down the hole makes one suspect that occasionally an  ‘investment’ of taxes might be defensible;  even though the pipe could end in someone’s back yard. Preferably it would go to Yucca Mountain.


A few hours later, we are still quite a way from the long series of high rock steps that lead to the infamous metal cable on the face of Half Dome; many people are going by in the opposite direction: returning.  Maybe it is mainly because of our situation, but we notice and speak with a significant number of father-son pairs, who dejectedly confess they have not made the top of Half Dome, and are out of sorts with one another.  Usually the effort has failed because of exhaustion, or a plain and simple child’s deep seated fear of the steep open rock face and cable.


Erlich  himself now starts to complain frequently of the need to rest- which makes no sense to me, knowing him to be a man-mountain lion.  But I keep it to myself. It becomes very clear that we will not reach the top of Half Dome, so the Doctor suggests they eat lunch and I simply go on ahead, and meet them at the base of the cable, or somewhere else on the way down; he apologizes profusely for being too tired to continue.


In short order I reach the cable. There I proudly pass the grandma, rush up to the top, eat my snack, chat with the folks nearby,  walk the dome, survey the view, and descend. Late in the day, back at Happy Isles Nature Center, I find Josh and Dr. Erlich waiting. Both are energized, animated, and exhilarated. They are talking BS and planning other climbs.  The Dr. has completely recovered from his exhaustion. Josh relates the details of their day eagerly.


I have never climbed a mountain without hearing its voice telling some unsuspected timeless truth.  On that day, on that mountain, beside the Merced  (Mercy) River, my strongest and fondest memory is of that father and that son, who acted together in a living parable about family values; about fathers and sons.


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Was it Superman or a manifestation of a Jungian species memory that made me, as a child, dream of flying? I  stretched my arms wide, focused my intent sharply, and willed myself over buildings and fields, in long easy slow leaps.  My first actual flight was in an old WWII trainer which my friend  Norb had  bought with an $800 student loan.  It was a huge thing with 12 or 16 radial pistons, that guzzled 14 cent per gallon gas under the Minnesota sky at an alarming rate.

Many years later I  got my first pilot’s license in a Beech Musketeer, and in time became instrument rated in more complex single engine aircraft. I  hugely enjoyed flying, once flew a new Cessna 172 to Punta Arenas, Chile though I wasnt instrument rated at the time. Afterward I decided that he  rating was desirable,  went through the course, and began to use it.

Yet the advanced rating took the joy out of  flying for me. I could no longer just slip and slide around the sky; I had to keep my instrument skills current:  fly blind, file instrument flight plans, follow them religiously, sometimes fly in harsh climatic conditions, which I would have wisely and necessarily avoided. After all, if you have it, use it; and if you don’t use it you don’t have it.  My flying became work.  As my planes became faster and better equipped they became more expensive – too expensive- for  innocent and ignorant joy riding.

One day, after an uncomplicated instrument approach with my older  son as passenger, I understood: I don’t need this or want it any more. At that moment I abandoned  real flying, though  I do so once-removed;  my son has accumulated  many thousands of hours in helicopters and  different fixed wing aircraft. Then a fellow pilot  took me to a small local airport where he kept a red Quicksilver ultralight. His mother  had actually been a wing walker there  in the early 1900s.  He cautioned me that the ‘lights fly differently from airplanes, and suggested I simply take off, fly a few feet above the runway, and land, to get the feel of them.

Out in the open,  unencumbered- flying   like a I was   Flash Gordon somewhere above  the  moon- I couldn’t land;  I was a bird at only  45 mph-  I was transported  into the world  of my childhood dreams.   I had to fly, not land yet.

Under slow flight conditions ultralights aren’t controllable;  one must land at good speed until a foot or so above the ground and then chop the engine. So- of course-I ran off the runway into the grass on landing  because  I didn’t yet  understand it wasn’t a real plane-it wouldn’t  plane – had no rudder control below 30 mph.  Even so, I was hooked.  I know an airline pilot who returns to Sacramento and  after work  most days climbs into his 4 cycle ultralight for an hour or so; now I knew why. My  clever friend the ultralight owner, who was not altogether disinterested, sold me his Quicksilver and bought a new one.

Ultralights are experimental planes, built individually by an owner, and  flown under  defined  restrictions of power, weight and fuel or range. They are a vestige of  freedom in an over-regulated world of flight, but must avoid busy and restricted airspace. Most have noisy 2  or  4 cycle rotax engines, offering speeds of less than 100 mph. They carry  only few very basic instruments, but GPS positioning  and cell phones make it easy to navigate and to  communicate with other ultralight pilots. Both their advantages and limitations make single seat ultralights more enjoyable than two seat planes.  They can be flown low to the ground or among trees in  unpopulated areas, and most  can takeoff or land in  considerably less than 100 ft at less than 40 Mph. They offer the  pilot an open exposed position with relatively unobstructed view.

Single seat ‘lights are most advantageous,  but we are social beings, and usually find it more enjoyable, and perhaps safer,  to organize 4 or 6 ‘light pilots  for group forays, whether for a few hours or  few days. Not all airports allow ultralights, but small airports usually do.

The simplicity of ultralights is often an advantage.  I have had a 2 cycle engine quit just as I hopped over a fence; but landed on the other side, adjusted the fuel line and took off. Before the time of GPS I once lost  track of my group of pilots near Hollister. So after carefully casing  a 75 ft  driveway,  and probably  annoying the home owner,  I landed, got directions to the airport and took of f.    I found gliders hot, noisy,  boring, and nauseating. Para-sailing is the closest thing I know to ultralights- of course much quieter- and perhaps more pure, more ecologically ideal. Nonetheless, the ultralight pilot can use noise cancelling hearing protection, and has blackbird wings rather than those of a buzzard.  If you still remember those impossible dreams of flying like a bird, you just may want to try it.

Grace, Ray and Medicine

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 In 1959 I inherited some elderly patients from  Ray, my senior partner. Since 1930 he had been an old style General Practitioner, a G P,  in our Northern California  rural town of 15,000; house calls were still a  time honored part of his practice-at first $1.50 rural, $1.00 in -town; and still only $5 and $7.50. –  payable in produce, or services, or interest-free in bits and promises. Ray earnestly  introduced me to his  cherished old timers,  fragile  living shards of history  found in termite infested stately old farm houses, and small decaying town homes .
Some visits required specific treatments  like parenteral diuretics; others consisted  only of  dubiously therapeutic but innocuous vitamin shots-  perhaps  given IV when the complaint seemed acute but  technically inconsequential.   Unhurried banter, encouragement,  and gossip were routine for Ray’s  home visits. We always visited on Wednesday afternoon and  early evening  because predictability was a vital aspect of the ‘care’ provided;  to fail would cause much distress.
I continued  to visit Ray’s home patients until only Grace remained.  Her  thick chart held many pages of  cryptic  or barely legible hand written entries, interspersed with print records of formal exams, hospitalizations, consultations, lab and X-ray reports. She was born in Weaverville, CA, in 1888, had a family history of heart attack (father and brother), diabetes (mother). Her son and husband were mining engineers which required constant moves;  they had lived in  mining towns of  Canada, Philippines, Mexico, Chile, Peru,  and   Australia, as well as several times each in Nevada, Washington, and Arizona.
Her personal health history included: Rheumatic Fever  age 8- one  yr bed rest- residual mitral valve disease and  very mild chronic heart failure . Life long smoking, stopped 4 years ago due to recurring bronchial infections and Dengue  Fever age 30 with loss of hair but  recovery, no known residual; Hysterectomy (bleeding myomata); Cholecystectomy (gall bladder) ; Thyroidectomy for  benign goiter. There was a history of several brief hospitalizations for   ‘bronchopneumonia’,  6 years prior Grace had a fall with pelvic fracture felt due to syncope-fainting-  from an episode of abnormal heart rate and rhythm- no further episode on medication. Grace held California Teacher’s certificate in English. She taught in several countries  at times when no school for  English speakers was  available, using a  six grade British  Correspondence  college prep course (The Calvert System).  She was a free lance writer of essays and travelogues published mainly by The  Atlantic, Look, Life, and others.  She played the violin until a few years ago and still played her old upright piano regularly.
 Grace had two  grown Children, a clutch of grand children-one son an engineer and a daughter a teacher- all  living  in Australia. In the second year I knew Grace she broke her hip. After surgery  and a long hospital stay ( common in those days)  she was sent to a nursing home to complete her recovery.  Immediately thereafter she became very withdrawn,  and refused to eat; she  rapidly deteriorated mentally, was confused and agitated especially at night, obviously was depressed. Although I spoke  frankly with her children, her  friends, and her minister, (HA! No HIPPA  law then; that would be more difficult today because of a superior law: that of unintended consequences- or better said- collateral damage.) Her children called regularly and friends visited frequently. Yet her condition continued to deteriorate. Discussion and reason seemed to have no effect, nor did the medications available then.  She began to soil herself.
Then her roommate, a terminally ill diabetic, suddenly died and was replaced by a woman with chronic kidney failure.  Within two days, Grace began to improve in every respect. She ate well, took her medications readily, walked with her walker eagerly, and was conversant.  I had to ask: Why? What happened? But her answer was hesitant and slightly evasive. I persisted until finally she smiled broadly and said: “My neighbor.
“I don’t understand; which neighbor?
” Well, my old room mate  always called the   nurse right away whenever  she was concerned.  Gloria, my new partner here,  doesn’t. She leaves me be. Then she lectured me. Said  I could leave any  time I want. Any Time!
“Ask to call a friend.  Talk with your friend to say you are  on your way home, to meet you,  before hanging up,  call a cab- or if there is a problem ask her to send one.  When the cab comes the nurse and everyone will say you are not released. You insist. They make you sign a paper, and the cab driver helps you out. Bingo!
“But you haven’t gone, or done that.
“No. But that isn’t the real point, doctor. The point is I could have gone.
“Knowing that gave me some authority over my own  life. Some dignity. Independence.
“I suppose that’s something I can’t prescribe, Grace.
“Maybe not, but you might try to keep that in mind, Doc. It’s good medicine.
During the following year I listened to many more of Grace’s  first-person recollections: having a baby during a huge peat fire in Quebec, living in a bamboo stilt hut in Tayabas, Filipinas,  Dengue fever in Laos, learning to walk again  after a year in bed at age 9,  teaching in a 6 student school in  a Chihuahua mining town ; Living in the Cascades of Washington when it snowed 50 feet in Winter.   I told her she can add this memory: teaching her doctor to respect  and remember old folk’s  independence and  dignity.
Thank you Grace, wherever you may be. And Thank you Ray, for introducing me to a time when the art of medicine was the best- sometimes the only- treatment available. I still prescribe some of that medicine , and try to  take it myself, when the technocracy is quiet.