Category Archives: Travelogue/Memoir

Tattoos and Suicide

Thanks to L+T for the free-from-prison gift, and to amazing tattooist Lisa Korpos for her great work!

Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  By Pink Floyd, my unquestionable, unequivocal favorite band, a band that didn’t just make music, but high art in the form of compositional sonic landscapes.  The song is a 26 minute, 11 second masterpiece cut into two tracks, the first track and the last track on Wish You Were Here, separated with three other songs in between.  It is the finest album I’ve ever heard.  And Shine On is the definite best “track.”  It says so very much, musically and lyrically.  On a superficial level it is about the band’s original lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, Syd Barrett, who eventually burnt out his mind by doing massive doses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on a daily basis for as many as two years.  “Come on you raver,” Roger Waters sings, “you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”  It morphs into a contemplation on the downfall of the artistic individual in general, about the dangers inherent in pushing your psyche to the brink in an effort perhaps to produce something brilliant, and perhaps simply to escape reality–which actually may be an important component of the solipsism inherent in most creative endeavors.

The song is exquisite.  It is vivid , wistful, intense, ever-changing, staggeringly beautiful, and packs an intense emotional wallop.  It is sui generis–Latin for utterly without equal.  Nothing else like it in the world.

My brother David, too, was sui generis.  Meet him once and you’d remember it forever.  He was the life of the party, even without an actual party.  He’d walk into a room and light the place up so much you practically had to shield your eyes.  He had the most beautiful, joyous smile.  His sense of humor was legendary; I remember one night he and my brother Brandon and I were camping (in our dad’s massive undeveloped back yard in Riverside) and David had us laughing our heads off for hours–telling jokes, doing impressions, relating personal stories.  Laughing so loud and hard, in fact, that our dad trekked a couple hundred yards out to the tent to tell us to shut up.  We of course thought he was a monster or vicious killer, so David pulled out his long curved knife and Brandon and I shot at dad with our BB guns.

And David had that rare form of humor than transcended age differences.  Driving to Arizona when I was about 8, he was telling a story about being solicited by a prostitute when he was stationed in Saigon with the Marines in the early ‘90s; it was hilarious to me, it was hilarious to 14-year-old Brandon, and it was hilarious to our dad.  I think David had a profound impact on the development of my own sense of humor, which has always been one of my best qualities:  my ability to see the humor in every situation, no matter how grim or personally traumatic (you’ll see what I mean if I ever get my prison memoir Rebel Hell published).  It lends a certain bearableness to living in this fucked-up, cruel, tragic world.  Once you comprehend that your own life is all a farce, you’re a step ahead.  And this helps me not just in my writing, but with interpersonal relationships and life in general.

David was a badass, too.  In the best possible way.  He was a snowboarder, covered in tattoos–a full sleeve on one arm, both pecs, the legs (his one-time roommate was a tattoo artist, so he got a bunch done for really cheap or maybe free).  David and his friends would leap off the Mission Bay Bridge in San Diego, which is about a 50-foot jump, in the middle of the night.  He totally SHONE ON like someone nearly crazed with indefatigable joie de vivre.  Truly lived life like he meant it.  Like it mattered.

The last time I saw him was 9 years ago this month–maybe even this week.  Two of my best friends at the time, Marcus and Travis (for some reason twins freaked David out a little), were on a summer-long surfing trip.  I joined them for a few days in Carlsbad, a coastal town about halfway between my L.A.-area hometown and San Diego, where David lived at the time.  I decided to pay him a visit.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple years; this was not long after I got my own car and was allowed to travel solo.

His apartment in San Diego, the last place he lived.

When I arrived at his apartment he whipped up some homemade chili and corn bread and we walked to the corner store for beer.  I was 18 and caught in that desperate pre-21, alcohol-enjoying-stage where we’d go to great lengths to procure booze:  one friend would shoplift it for us; other times we’d hang out with “Uncle Joe,” a 40-something Indian immigrant with an asphyxiating stench who’d take our cash to the liquor store in exchange for an hour or two of company and a 99-cent tall can of 211 Steel Reserve.

Over dinner, David told me a story about something that happened his senior year of high school.

It was some 9 years prior; he and two friends decided to skip school for the day.  They awoke before dawn and drove up to a lookout point in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.  They shared a fifth of Jim Beam as the sun rose and painted the valley and foothills in brilliant purples and then oranges and then lit it up all the way.  Only when David was good and drunk did he realize:

“Oh, shit!  I have a fuckin test today!”  One that he absolutely could not miss.

His friends laughed.  “Screw it, man, that ain’ happ’nin.”  Eventually he convinced them to drop him off  school.  Took the test, still blasted– apparently he could hold his liquor.  There’s nothing worse than a man who gets drunk and starts acting idiotic and violent (one of the many reasons I despise alcohol).  When David walked to the teacher’s desk and dropped the test face-down, the teacher stared at him sidelong.  After a year with David in his class, the teacher knew my brother.  Knew his devil-may-care attitude, which emanated from his pores like whiskey.  “David, have you been drinking?”

“Nah, course not.”  He began walking out of the classroom.

“I think you need to go see Principal Couts.”

David chuckled.  “Fine by me.  I’ll go visit Couts.”  Walking out, he flicked a salute and, wearing that infamous grin, called over his shoulder, “Have a good one!”

“Let me smell your breath,” Principal Couts said in his office.

David sat on the other side of the desk.  He raised an eyebrow.  “Why do you wanna smell my breath?  That’s weird.”

“David, let me smell your breath.”

David sighed.  Fuck it, right?  He inhaled deeply, from the bottom of his lungs, leaned forward, and unleashed a big fat WHOOOOOOSH of whiskey breath right into the principal’s face.  Then he sat back and shrugged.

That was David.

Oh, and the test?  The one he took drunk off his ass without studying for?  He aced that bitch!

On October 3, 2003, I got a call from my dad on the way to a classic rock festival.  “David killed himself last night.”

I was stunned, to say the least.  To the point where it didn’t seem real, and stayed that way until the funeral a week later, when I saw his dead body in the casket, and I saw my father crying for the first time in my life.  My mom actually wrote and recorded a gorgeous song about him, about knowing him as a child when she was married to our dad (David and I had different mothers), and then losing touch with him when my mom and dad got divorced, called “I Never Said Goodbye.”  I’d love for you to take a listen.

Fuck, it still doesn’t seem real.  Sometimes I see someone that looks like him, and I think, Holy shit, maybe he didn’t kill himself!!  Or I’ll wake up from a dream in which he appeared, and in that half-asleep state of wavering-reality, and think, He’s not dead–David would NEVER kill himself!  Then the rational mind takes over and my heart is broken anew.

He was one of my favorite people in the world.  I’ll never get over it–the loss will never stop hurting.  None of us know why he did it.  I wish I knew.  But I try not to dwell on the sorrow; I try to focus on how amazing a life he had considering it ended at just 27 (my age now).  On how many lives he touched while he was here.  The vast majority of humans live for many decades longer than David did and still don’t live as much as he did.  I wish I could believe that one day we will meet again, in some afterlife, but I know it’s not going to happen.  It’s a fairy-tale hope.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  That’s life, and that’s death.  He has returned to the Earth and left behind a beautiful legacy.  I knew him until I was 18, and I count myself pretty fucking lucky for it.  Totally worth the sorrow I’ve experienced as a result of his death.   This may seem macabre, but I truly believe it’s far more tragic to live a long pointless life than it is to live a short but intense, meaningful, profoundly influential life, like he did.

And so I return to the beginning:  my tattoo.  Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a tribute to him as well.  To the amazing, inspiring way he lived.  And, perhaps most important of all, it is a reminder to me:  LIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT.  LIKE IT FUCKING MATTERS.  Because it does.  It really does.  And who knows how much longer we have?

It is a reminder to be ME, crazy fuck-you wild me, to shine on, to speak my mind and write what I want and live how I want, no matter what the world thinks.

Today would have been David’s 36th birthday.  This is my tribute to him.  My love letter.  My thank-you note.  Happy birthday brother.

And remember–SHINE ON, YOU CRAZY DIAMOND!!!

Vivisection and Flowers

This post brings together two seemingly disparate topics which in reality connect well together.  I’m putting them in one post because I happened to do the two separate things on the same day (UC Davis animal research protest with the Open the Cages Tour and a nature and arboretum walk).

First we got our protest on at the despicable California National Primate Research Center; there were young activists in their 20s like myself, and people who have been protesting vivisection since before many of us were born (perhaps it’s long past time we as a ‘movement’ reevaluate the tactics we support and advocate?).  A great mixture of old-school and new-school coming together.

One of the tourers got some good messages out there as he was interviewed by two separate local channels (I don’t know how much they actually showed–my guess is not-much, but such is the way of the world).  He was eloquent and concise, although I do wish he’d talked not just about primates, since rats and mice constitute 95% of the animals used in vivisection, and they suffer unfathomably as well; of course, it was a protest focusing on the Primate Research Center, but there’s nothing wrong with mentioning the millions of beautiful, sweet little creatures (I’ve had rescued pet rats for the last 5 years, and they’re wonderful and amazing companions!) who aren’t even covered under the already-pitiful and rarely-enforced Animal Welfare Act.  That’s right, the AWA excludes all rodents, so they’re basically like naked soldiers walking into a nuclear test range.


I also got to get a little megaphone time; I already have what they call “megaphone mouth,” meaning the ability to make my voice very, very loud, so I’m hoping the monkeys in their tiny cages could hear me calling for their freedom from their Nazi imprisoners deep behind the walls of the torture chambers.

It was rather enjoyable and cathartic to exorcise some of my pent-up prison rage =)

Tonight the Open the Cages Tour will be having an Animal Rights workshop in Seattle, and tomorrow there will be a protest at the University of Washington.  Then it’s farther on up the Best Coast to Vancouver!  Here is their tour schedule.

After that, I met up with a friend from college, Kirsti, whom I haven’t seen in nearly three years.  She’s a major plant enthusiast and has a degree in Biological Science with an emphasis in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, so she taught me a LOT about plants; usually I’m the one telling others about the natural features of an area, so it was very nice and humbling to be schooled; hopefully I can impart some of her impressive knowledge to you, Dear Reader.  First we went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, just outside Davis, where we saw some lovely flowers, snowy egrets and a great blue heron, red-winged blackbirds, and swarms of beautiful dragonflies above our heads.

Kirsti says:  “Most people think that the sunflower is a single flower, but actually it is a composite of numerous florets (small flowers). Each single outer petal is actually a sterile floret, and the real flowers are arranged in the center in a beautiful Fibannochi pattern to maximize packing of seeds after they are fertilized.”  So cool!  I never knew that–had no idea.

“This showy orange flower is a south African plant called Wild Dagga. The plant’s modest water requirements and ability to attract hummingbirds makes it a popular ornamental in the Central Valley and Southern California.”

We couldn’t figure out what this plant is, but its geometry is so stunning and even psychedelic that I had to include it.

“[This] succulent is a hybrid of Echeveria elegans and it is being showcased in a garden filled with hand-picked “All Stars” chosen by the Arboretum Master Gardener staff for their ability to flourish in Davis and the Central Valley with minimal upkeep.”  I referred to the Echeveria as the “dancers” because the flowers look like they’re swing-dancing!

I was a little conflicted about posting a single non-native plant picture on this blog (the Wild Dagga), but Kirsti can provide a scholarly interpretation of the arboretum’s general ecological soundness; obviously it has value in teaching people about plants, but you always have to ask, At what cost?  Like how zoos can teach us about animals, but at a horrific cost to the animals and our own psyches (on this topic, I cannot more highly recommend Derrick Jensen’s beautiful, heartbreaking book, Thought to Exist in the Wild:  Awakening From the Nightmare of Zoos).  But this arboretum is a good one.  As we come nearer and nearer to a post-oil world, learning about and propagating plants is becoming immeasurably important.  I’ll let Kirsti take it away!

“As climate change threatens the [Central] Valley with increasing water shortages, the Arboretum emphasizes the practice of xeriscaping, aka green landscaping– or designing gardens that use plants that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. [emphasis added]

“Using native plants is one obvious tactic, as they are already adapted to the particular water needs of the region, and their presence supports the myriad insects, birds and other organisms that exist in the native community. Although most exotic plants tend to require more maintenance or water than natives, the Arboretum has done a great job of identifying specific drought-resistant exotic plants from other countries that synergize with the Central Valley’s climate.

“Invasive species are a real problem because they compete with native species for space and resources and might possess novel qualities that allow them to proliferate out of control and wipe out scores of native species and communities in their wake. Although some exotic plants may be beneficial in green landscaping, it is important to remember that these seemingly isolated plants start as source population for spreading beyond your garden, and this may have tragic consequences to the local ecosystem. In the interest of protecting native communities, the real focus should be on landscaping with native plants that are relatively beneficial to the native community in the event they escape beyond your garden.” [emphasis added]

Beautifully rendered explanations, Kirsti, thank you so much for your input!

Undercover Stockyard Investigations, PART 3/3

AND HERE IS THE (THRILLING?) FINALE!!

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It’s a small yellow pickup with an open-topped trailer attachment.  I recognize it from a video on the sanctuary’s website, which showed a sheep in horrendous pain; the trailer was so packed that a cow had one of her feet on top of the sheep’s face.  Her eyes bulged from the pressure.  She bleated in agony.  This time the trailer is filled solely with sheep, about a dozen of them crowded and huddled together.  The truck exits the grounds and turns left.  After waiting until the truck is about a hundred yards away, we follow.

I tell Frank about what I saw.  When I talk about the little black lamb, and how heartbreaking it was, he says something that makes it even worse.  “Next time just take off with her.  We’ll take her to the sanctuary.”

“Are you serious?”  My heart, sinking.  My spirit, another little death among millions.

“Fuck yeah.”

“But that’ll compromise my ability to return there, won’t it?”

“Maybe, maybe not.  Who gives a fuck?  Too good to pass up.”

I sink into the seat.  “Fuck.”

“No, it’s alright.  In the long run, it’s probably for the best.”

I shake my head, biting a fingernail.  I’m sick of the fucking long run.  At what point does the long run become now?  Even more importantly, at what point does the long run move into the past?

The yellow truck is about five cars ahead of us, waiting for the light to go green so we can turn left and merge onto the freeway.  “I wanna see where this guy’s going,” Frank says.  “If it’s as fucked up as I think it is, and we can get footage, we could maybe shut down his whole damn operation.”  The light turns green.  Cars and trucks in front of the yellow truck–our mark–inch forward, some of the U-turning like tortoises with sticky feet.  The mark makes it through.

“Come on, motherfuckers!” I cry.  With three cars in front of us, the light turns yellow.  We have to make this light.  It’s a busy intersection, and if we have to wait through another cycle the truck will have a good two-minute head start.  If he gets off the freeway or switches to another one within a few miles we’ll lose him.  The light turns red just as the car in front of us hits the turn.  We’re ten feet back.  Frank guns the engine and rockets through the intersection and onto the freeway ramp with a throaty roar of the diesel engine.  I laugh, vamped up, almost delirious with excitement.  Oh Christ please I hope a cop didn’t see us.  We’d be toast for sure, the tailing job finished before it really even started.

But no.  We speed onto the 60 and find the truck, hold back several cars in the next lane over.  But this becomes difficult, because the fucker is going so slow.  Eventually we have no choice but to fall in right behind them (we can now see there are two men in the truck cabin) in the far right lane.  The fastest they ever go is about 60 miles per hour.  Which is good for the animals, I suppose–better than 70, anyway–but bad for tailing someone.  The only thing working in our favor is that it’s dark.  Our headlights are the only thing clearly visible.  After 30 or 40 minutes we’ve changed freeways twice (a common occurrence anywhere in southern California) and we’re on the 210 North, the Pasadena Freeway.  It seems we’ve passed the point of no return.  After following them this long, it makes no sense to turn back around.  We’ve come this damn far.  It would make all the time spent so far a total waste.  We’re in for the long haul.

Frank talks about his views on kids, a subject on which we immediately click.  He doesn’t have any.  Doesn’t want any.  He’s quite a misanthrope (hence a kindred spirit) and loathes that there are so damn many humans on the planet.  He is vasectomized–a heroic act in my opinion.  At this point I’m only 21, and already I’ve been thinking about getting one.  The only thing that stops me at this point is my doctor parents, who think it’s a wretched idea.  They don’t understand that if I ever want kids–highly unlikely–I’ll just ADOPT.  Imagine that!   Helping some poor unwanted kid who’s already alive, rather than creating yet another hungry mouth and shitting anus.  My mom says any doctor who would perform a vasectomy on a 21-year-old would be a hack, and might hack off parts I want to keep!  I have heard it’s difficult for just about anyone in their 20s, let alone early 20s, to get a vasectomy.  This, along with my omnipresent malaise, and monetary concerns, delay me.  But I do eventually get one, just a few days after turning 25.  One month, in fact, before beginning a four-year prison sentence in Illinois for marijuana trafficking.

Frank expresses a brilliant idea; why the fuck do people get their foolish and selfish breeding subsidized by the government in the form of tax breaks??  It’s further encouraging overpopulation and the straining (and draining) of public and social resources–e.g. schools, roads, and welfare programs.  Instead they should reward people for not having kids, for being responsible in this hyper-crowded, hyper-polluted, hyper-destructive country.  It is another dream of mine to someday open a free spay-neuter clinic–for humans.  How awesome would that be?  It would certainly attract a lot of publicity, that much we can agree on!

Frank begins to worry that we’re being too obvious, that the driver of the yellow truck has caught on and will lead us astray.  So Frank pulls a daring and clever evasive (or rather pseudo-evasive) maneuver.  As we approach an exit he makes like he’s getting off the freeway.  He actually merges onto the ramp, on the other side of the widening shoulder from the slow lane.  He drops his speed to 40.  The yellow truck is now several hundred yards in front of us.  At the last possible second, Frank wrenches the wheel to the left.  Onto the shoulder.  He slams on the brakes and we crunch to a stop on the gravel and dirt and detritus.  Then he kills the engine and we sit in darkness for some 30 seconds.  Letting them get a little ahead.  There are no freeway interchanges for a long time, so that’s not a concern.  The only problem is if they take an exit.  But it’s a risk worth taking, because we can’t have them certain they’re being followed.

Within a few minutes we catch up to them again.  Frank tries to hang back but it’s even harder now because they’ve dropped to a consistent speed of 55, sometimes even 50 mph.  Seems they know we’ve returned.  “If they pull over,” Frank says with deadpan resolve, perhaps in a fugue of angry determination, perhaps thinking more clearly than ever, “I’m gonna stop behind them.  I might punch out the driver and take the truck with all the animals.  Then you’ll follow me to the sanctuary in this.”

I stare at him.  “Are you serious?”

“Yeah!”

I swallow.  The idea is scary, but at the same time exhilarating.  It would be so incredible to  be part of saving so many animals in one fell swoop–future legal ramifications be damned!  “Okay then.”

But they never do pull over.  We end up following them for over 75 minutes, including five freeway changes.  Off the Interstate, northeast of L.A. among the high-walled scrub brush bluffs, they turn left into a residential area, and we follow.  Now they know we’re tailing them.  The street is narrow, barely wide enough for two Kias.

“If he stops,” Frank says, “I want you to quick jump out with the camcorder and climb on the back of the trailer.  Film how crowded and miserable the sheep are.”

I’m anxious but pumped.  I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.  “Alright.”

But the yellow truck goes up to a house at the top.  Another, bigger pickup pulls out into the street once the trailer is past.  This new big black pickup blocks our path.  It just sits there.  “Well there ya go,” Frank says.  “Must’ve called ahead to his homies once he noticed we were following.”  I can’t believe the nonchalance in his voice.

“What are we gonna do?”

He wiggles his lips, as if trying to gum a piece of food without opening his mouth, thinking hard.  He pulls onto a side street, turns around.  We drive back down the hill.  Park behind a little Mexican restaurant.  Ironically we’re fewer than ten miles from the animal sanctuary; we started the drive some 70 miles away.  We wait 15 minutes and then cruise back up toward the house.  We park and get out.  There’s a little gully on the right, filled with brush and vegetation, that infamous desert-ish chapparel that makes southern California a veritable tinder box.

Staring up at the house, we crouch there and wonder what to do.  The gully slopes upward at the far end to the front of their property.  We’ve come all this way.  I’m bristling with nervous energy, but adrenaline courses through my bloodstream like big fat salmon shoving their way upriver.  I want to do something.  Concerns for my own safety have disappeared.  I’m in the action zone.  In terms of fear and worry, once you get past a certain threshold, you begin to feel invincible; the hard part is conquering that first stretch.

Frank finally speaks.  “I hate to say it, but the best thing to do would probably be ta call it a night.”

I frown, scanning the area.  “Why don’t we sneak through there.”  I gesture to the gully, thick with vegetation.  “Hide in the bushes at the top and see what we can see.”

“It’s really dark.  A flashlight would give us away.”

“Our eyes will adjust.  Plus there’s a decent amount of moonlight.”  I do not want to turn tail, so to speak, and leave.  70 miles of following, all that diesel burned–we should do everything we possibly can.

“It’s just not a good idea.”  I can tell he’s reluctant to leave as well–this is, after all, the guy who earlier wanted to knock out the driver and steal his truck!–but he’s trying to do what’s smart, rather than that which satisfies our angry guts.  “We know he’s got his homies up there.  They could have guns.  Even if they don’t, there’s only two of us.  But at least now we know where their farm is.”

I nod, disappointed.  But he probably is right.  We begin the long drive back to Chino, to where my car is parked.  I can’t shake the disturbing and horrific images of the day from my head.  At least now, though, I don’t have to trust others when they say how badly “food” animals are abused.  How they live in squalor.  Because now I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

We stop at Denny’s on the way back for coffee and chow; it’s close to 11 P.M. and we really haven’t eaten since lunch.  We’re both vegan, of course.  But tonight, after this day, I take extra care to make absolutely certain that our veggie burgers are 100 percent free of animal products.  It’s the least I can do.  The least.

But is that really enough–or even close to enough, given the amount of suffering?  I don’t think so.  I just don’t….

That night I dream of flaming arrows, of shooting them over fences.  Of fire.  Cleansing, beautiful fire of the just.  The just plain fucking fed up.

One of the most important and mesmerizing books you could possibly read if you are an activist, whether your tactics are above- or under-ground.

Undercover Stockyard Investigations, PART 2/3

I get right up against the fence and stare at them.  So many of these 1000-plus-pound animals in such a small space.  Dozens in each bullpen.  They are literally knee deep in their own squishy, sloppy excrement.  With the nitrous oxide, methane, and other pollutants that are so highly concentrated in the area from cow farts, burps, and shit, it’s no wonder the rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are so high in local schoolchildren.

Exploiting animals doesn’t just hurt them; it hurts humans, especially children, and the environment too.

There are some workers toward the back of the property moving around random junk with a bulldozer.  I try to just look like a curious wanderer (which is ultimately what I am in all my life, so it’s not too hard).  Swinging around to the other side of the stockyard, I see a small lot next door with a shack or shed on it.  Behind this, right on the other side of a rusty chain link fence, there’s a tall steel pole with a horse tied to it on a very short rope.  She’s extremely emaciated.  I stare for several seconds, making sure the camera gets a good look.  Make a mental note to tell Frank about it.  Then I move on, scanning the bullpens for sick and/or downed animals.  I get close to the steel-barred fence again, the better to see deep into the lot.  Up ahead, right by the fence, someone catches my eye.  A young cow, a juvenile, lies there panting after his mates have departed out of fear.  I step closer.  He raises his head slowly to look at me.  But still he doesn’t get up.

I whip out my cell phone and redial Frank.  “Hey.  I think I may’ve come across a downed cow.”  I explain the symptoms.  If there’s an animal who can’t stand up to reach water, the owners are legally obligated to bring them water and have a vet see them.  At the very least, we might be able to get help for him.

“See if you can make sure,” Frank says.

“Let me try one more thing.”  I reach between the bars and thrust my hand toward the young cow, saying, “Hey!”  Finally he gets to his feet, slowly, reluctantly.  I feel bad about bothering the poor guy, but it was worth it to be certain.  “Never mind, Frank.  Guess he was just really tired from the heat and everything.”  That was heart-wrenching.  But it’s nothing compared to what’s to come.

The goat and sheep stables are at the front of the property, between the auction shed and the parking lot.  An open fence leads to this area.  I step through and stroll around, investigating the pens.  They’re maybe 40 feet long and 20 wide.  There are anywhere from 20 to 30 animals in each pen.  I make sure to scan each one slowly so the video will have good shots of every one.

Suddenly I’m surprised by movement in my peripheral vision.  I turn.  Approaching me from down the line is a tiny black lamb, no more than six months old.  She must’ve squeezed her minute frame between the bars of a fence.  I pick her up.  She weighs as much as an average cat, and feels even more fragile.  Her curly wool is dark, like spilled ink.  But it feels like goose down.  Her face is tiny, perfect, the quintessence of purity.  This lamb is adorable, one of the sweetest and most lovely little darlings I’ve ever come across.  She doesn’t struggle at all in my arms.  It’s as if she came to me to save her.  Get me out of here; I’ve seen what they do to the othersThey already took my mommy.

And that’s my first instinct:  to just turn and run to the parking lot, hide somewhere until Frank can get to me.  But that would blow my cover.  I’d never be able to come here again.  And Frank mentioned something about the City Council considering shutting the whole place down, because of its prolonged negative history.  That would be a huge victory.  And showing them a bunch of persistent violations would certainly help the Council’s case.

Yet it would be so easy.  Just run–or even walk, nonchalantly walk to the parking lot and wait for Frank.  Boom–her life is saved.  So that even if nothing comes of the camera footage, at least one individual will have her freedom.  I want so badly to do it.  You have no idea how badly I want to do it.

But, hateful as it may be, I must think long-term here.  It’s fucking hard to do with such a beautiful, helpless baby animal in my arms.  Because I know her ultimate fate is to be used for her wool and milk, forcibly impregnated, her babies stolen away from her, and then when her milk production declines to an inefficient level she’ll be slaughtered for meat.  Her life violently stolen so that a handful of people can have a particular type of meal.  Goddamnit.  It’s so fucking hard, but I have to remain in character.  I call over to one of the workers, another Latino in flannel, who’s cleaning out (to a degree) a nearby pen.  I hand the lamb to him.  As she passes from my arms, something inside of me seems to leave with her.  Something tangible.  A little piece of my humanity, perhaps, never to be regained no matter how much I do.

I will forever feel responsible for that individual I could have (no excuses–should have) saved, forever beholden to my mistake.  Fuck the long run.  The future is uncertain.  But right then and there I could’ve saved her, an absolute certainty.  It breaks my heart to hand her over–out of my loving arms and into ones that are utterly indifferent.  And still, years later, it breaks my heart to think about.  I wish so badly that I had gone ahead with my first instinct.  That I had saved her.  She is almost certainly dead now.  I’m so sorry, sweet girl–nameless lamb.  I’ll never forget her delicate little body in my arms.  Let her memory live on through me to help subsequent generations of animals.  It is the only way I can possibly atone.

The afternoon is gathering itself toward dusk.  Everything takes on a lavender hue.  Normally it would be beautiful, but here it just makes the gates, the sheds, the fences and troughs and knee-deep shit even more insidious.  There’s a green dumpster nearby.  Frank told me to check inside any of them for dead animals.  He has seen that before–dead goats and turkeys just tossed in the dumpster like pieces of garbage rather than living beings.  But all I see inside is beams of wood, trash bags, various detritus.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  I don’t particularly want to see any more dead animals today.  Little do I know that the worst by far is yet to come.

The deepening twilight tells me it’s almost time for people to load up their new purchases.  One of the most important things for me to witness; the process can be both cruel and illegal, depending on the manner in which it’s done.  I head back toward the auction barn.  From the breast pocket of my denim jacket I pull out a pack of American Spirit cigarettes I borrowed from my roommate.  I’m not a smoker at this point (except occasionally when I’m drunk), but it’s a good excuse for a person to be milling around outside–anywhere, at any given time.  I position myself across from the sheds where earlier I heard all the tormented squealing of pigs, in front of the bathrooms.  I light up a cigarette and take periodic puffs, trying to make it last long.  I glance around with what hopefully looks like casual interest.  All kinds of Chevy and Ford trucks (America–FUCK YEAH!) sit with engines idling, waiting for their turn to load up their new “property.”  The thick black funk of exhaust is heavy in the air.  A baritone chorus of burr-burr-blumb-blumb-blur diesel engines drowns out most other noise.  Each truck has trailers of various sizes hitched up in back–from little open-air ten-footers all the way up to 30-plus-foot grated steel monstrosities.

A commotion breaks out nearby.  Apparently a goat has gotten away from wherever he was supposed to be.  He’s a beautiful animal.  Black and white and brown bristly fur, with thick curved horns.  Two men hold onto them.  The goat bears down with his head, trying to resist.  But they overpower him, dragging him backward by the horns.  His hooves scrape and grind against the gravel with loud kshhh kshhh kshhhhh sounds.  The three of them disappear behind the trucks.

Now there’s a trailer backed up to one of the pens, which has a white-boarded ramp for the animals to walk up so they’re approximately level with the floor of the trailers.  Several workers begin herding a bunch of sheep toward the ramp.  One of them has a long black stick which he uses to smack them on the butts when they try to go off in a different direction.  There’s a drop-off from the top of the ramp to the low bed of the trailer.  The sheep have to be pushed off–they won’t willingly jump down several feet.  They land with loud thuds, some of them crashing down in a jumble of tangled limbs.  The last sheep is the most resistant of all.  She noticed how it went with all her fellow prisoners.  She struggles against the workers, moving around the pen like a deft boxer, evading their grips and wallops.  Finally they force her onto the ramp.  Still she sets her feet and refuses to go.  A worker rears back with his big booted foot and plants a stiff shoving kick squarely in the bulge between her rectum and vagina.  She bleats and falls forward.  But the trailer didn’t back up all the way; there’s a two-foot gap between it and the edge of the ramp.  The sheep falls, flailing, half-on and half-off the trailer.  Stuck in the gap.  She struggles.  I grit my teeth, forcing myself (with difficulty) to stare on disinterestedly.  I take a big drag on the Spirit.  So big that it burns my throat and I nearly start coughing.  That wouldn’t be good.  Given that all the workers seem to be Spanish-only Latinos, I’ve never been this okay with the deportation of non-legal citizens.  Slaughterhouses and all of the animal-exploitative industries (except for vivisection) hire tons of “illegals” because they’ll do these horrible things that most Americans want no part of.  And they’ll do it for extremely shitty pay.  They’ll do what they have to in order to survive, to send money home to their families, and there is honor in that–but not in brutalizing helpless animals.  We countenance and encourage this, as well as the cruelty, when we demand cheap meat and milk and eggs and cheese.

They’re finally able to wrest the sheep onto the truck by grabbing and wrenching up on her wool.  They slam her down angrily onto the wooden truck bed.  Nearby another truck with a long enclosed trailer backs up to another loading pen.  This is going to be a big load, so I want to get it on tape.  As the driver/purchaser hurries around to the back of the trailer, I approach.  “Hey there,” I say, gesturing to his trailer.  “My dad’s thinking of gettin one a these.  Whatsit, a 28-footer?”  A wild guess.

“32,” he says.  A white guy, rare at this particular auction site.  Jeans, blue and black flannel, shades and a ball cap.  Good thing about the shades, too–this way mine won’t look so out of place in the dusk.

“Oh, okay.  Whatcha loadin up?”

“Hogs.”

At first I don’t understand him, as is often the case with me (too many damn rock concerts, sticking my head against too many giant goddamn speakers).  My first instinct is to say, What?  But I catch myself.  It might give away my out-of-placeness to have not understood him.  “Ah.  Mind if I watch?”

“Go head.”  He starts pulling squeaky steel latches on the trailer to open it.

I play back his earlier answer in my head.  After cross-referencing the perceived sound with names for farm animals in my encyclopedia of the mind, realize that he said hogs.  Now I get why I didn’t understand him at first:  I expected an answer like cows, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, or pigs.  I’m not used to thinking of pigs as hogs.  To me it’s a derogatory term, like swine or kike or nigger.

The back of the trailer is opened and ready to admit its prisoners, its slaves of flesh.  A gate lifts at the front of the pen and pigs of all sizes bolt out, from 200-pound big boys to juveniles the size of beagles.  A worker follows them.  He carries a long black rod.  I assume it’s like the one inside the auction bullpen, used for smacking and herding them.

If only.

Another worker back in the shed coerces out more and more pigs as the ones before them are forced up the ramp and into the truck.  But some of the pigs are too scared.  They group together at the edges of the pen, trembling violently.  They’re all high-pitched, terrified squeals.  I stick my face between the wooden boards of the pen, ensuring that my shades have an unobstructed view.  Quickly I realize it’s not just a stick the Latino in the pen carries.  He doesn’t hit them with it; he prods them with it, and they positively shriek in shock and pain.  It’s zapping them with jolts of electricity.  I’m horrified, sick to my stomach.  But I can’t look away.  It’s the least I can do for them.  What I want is to hop the fence, punch the worker in his throat, and jam the shock rod up his asshole.

But instead I just watch.  Maintaining an air of passivity.  The electric prod often just scares them into corners more than anything.  Instead of abandoning it as ineffective, he just becomes more vicious.  The sounds of those tormented pigs, so human in nature, will forever haunt me.  Finally the worker gives up on the prod and starts using his body and feet to get them up the ramp.  He kicks pigs in the stomach, the backside, the groin.  One solid kick lands in the face of a small juvenile.  The last pig, the worker snatches his tail and drags him by it, picks him up by just that little squiggly bit of pink flesh and hurls him into the truck.  I bite back the tears and rage that so desperately want to pour forth like magma stopped at the top of a volcano for identification by Vulcan.

Now that they’ve all been loaded up, the truck owner shuts and locks the steel back doors of the trailer.  I walk around the side and peer in through the steel slats.  It is just about as wrenching inside as out.  The thing is packed literally to the point of overflowing.  Every single individual is being squeezed on all sides by the bodies of others.  Some of them have to climb up on top of the mass of flesh and stay up there because there’s just no room for them.  The squeeze is too intense.  One pig screeches and flails, standing atop the others, freaking out.  The pulsing sounds are cacophonous; everybody is terrified, panicking.  One of the larger pigs nearest the edge sees me staring through.  She stares back, her big scared blue eyes so very human-like.  Help me, they say.  Please make this stop.  But once again I have to forsake the fates of these individuals, hoping that it will assist in the greater good of the future.  But what if I’m–we’re–wrong?  What if freeing these individuals and torching this modern equivalent of the cattle cars to Treblinka would produce the most good?  If that’s the case, then somebody has to do it.  And if everyone keeps passing the buck, no one will do it.

My phone rings.  I step away, snuffing out my cigarette on the ground.  It’s Frank.  “Hey,” he says, “I’m in the parking lot.  Come out here.”

When I climb into his truck, he says, “There’s this truck I want to follow.  You down?”

I grin.  “Hell yeah.”

It’s a small yellow pickup with an open-topped trailer attachment.  I recognize it from a video on the sanctuary’s website, which showed a sheep in horrendous pain; the trailer was so packed that a cow had one of her feet on top of the sheep’s face.  Her eyes bulged from the pressure.  She bleated in agony.  This time the trailer is filled solely with sheep, about a dozen of them crowded and huddled together.  The truck exits the grounds and turns left.  After waiting until the truck is about a hundred yards away, we follow.

Undercover Stockyard Investigations, PART 1/3

I decided to post the whole narrative nonfiction essay about my experiences doing undercover investigations about a half dozen times with an LA-area group.  I was going to try to get it published, but I’d rather just get it out there now 🙂

(disclaimer:  I wrote this by hand two years ago at the beginning of my prison bit, and it is largely unedited.  Forgive me any trespasses of grammar or narration!)

————————————————————————————————————————–

Frank pulls over to the shoulder of the two-lane road in his big diesel Ford pickup, tires roiling up clouds of fine dust.  “Here,” he says, passing me a handheld camcorder.  I flip the screen open with the CANON insignia on the back.  Push the red button to start recording.  “I’m gonna go back up the road and park.  Call me when you’re ready, or if you get in any trouble.  Run if anyone sees you.”

I nod, swallowing like I have a mouthful of cotton.  What am I getting myself into?

“These guys are fucking bastards,” Frank says.  He has an ever-so-slight lisp.  “Try to see if they’re leading live ones into the truck.  That’s a huge violation right there.”

“Alright.”  I step out of the truck, down onto the dirt.  The wind immediately slams into me, pressing my Rolling Stones-tongue shirt against my stomach, then flapping it like a flag high up on its pole.  I have to shove the door hard to get it shut.

“Good luck,” Frank says at the last second.  “Be careful!”

Now we’re separated by glass and steel.  He swings the truck around and speeds off down the road, belching black diesel soot.  Now I’m alone.

I hurry into the midst of a row of tall trees with thick vegetation along their entire length; they look like enormous green missiles.  I move at a crouch toward the stockyard.  The air is horrendous, suffocating with the stench of thousands upon thousands of cows’ shit–even with the high winds.  I’m in Chino, just a little east of the Los Angeles County line in San Bernardino County.  This area happens to have the highest concentration of dairy cows anywhere in the country.  People who make money from the exploitation of animals are almost universally loathe to have their inner workings exposed.  Two years from now it is a slaughterhouse about two miles from here that gets shut down because meat tainted with e. coli that ends up in fast food joints and elementary schools is traced back to there.

My heart thumps hard against my ribcage and my breaths come short and jagged.  But I don’t want to let Frank down.  More importantly, I don’t want to let the animals down.  If I can take this risk of trespassing and dealing with angry gun-toting rednecks but have a chance at helping or saving someone’s life, then it’s well worth it.  I turn right, toward the mountains in the north, and move along the flank of the property.

Frank’s a badass motherfucker.  He works as the head of investigations for a farm-animal sanctuary north of L.A.  It is truly a special place.  The turkeys, chickens, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and three crabby emus, all rescued from situations of abuse and/or neglect, are treated as friends instead of food.  Tours of the sanctuary are given.  People get to interact with the animals and see how sweet, affectionate (aside from the solipsistic emus), and intelligent everybody is.  The pigs adore having their bellies rubbed, and will grunt and kick their legs appreciably.  Turkeys love having their chests scratched, and will stand there staring at you for many minutes if you’ll keep it up.  Much like dogs.  Lots of kids go to the sanctuary on school field trips, which is great–they’re the ones who most need to experience these things, the ones who are most vulnerable to the toxicity and negative health effects of animal foods.

When Frank was in his early 20s–about my age–he spent a year in prison in Orange County for planning to burn down a slaughterhouse.  That alone makes him a hero and a martyr in my book.

I pull even with the big shit-filled two acre feedlot circumscribed by cylindrical steel cross-beams.  Scanning the area with the camera, I see that all the cows are way at the back, feeding on a mixture of corn, grain, and soybeans (a totally unhealthy and unnatural diet for grass-evolved ruminants that makes them sick and in turn does the same to the humans who eat their flesh and milk).  But it’s cheap–got to have that gallon of milk for under a couple bucks, those cheap steaks!  Now I find the truck with the big open-topped steel crate on back.  Two cows lie, unmoving, 20 feet behind it.  This is the truck that we spotted from the road–a renderer.  The driver goes around all the stockyards and picks up dead animals (and sometimes not-quite-dead ones).  He then takes them to a rendering plant, where they’re all thrown in giant vats and boiled up to help make all sorts of products–candle wax, soap, gelatin for stuff like candy bars and Jell-o, chicken feed, even pet food.  Yep, pet food.  And here’s the real kicker:  euthanized shelter animals also go to rendering plants.  A couple L.A.-area activist friends of mine followed a truck with several hundred lethally-injected dogs and cats from the pound and watched them dumped out at a rendering facility.  That means not only could someone’s pet have gone to feed that dead chicken on your plate, but that your dog’s bowl could very well contain boiled bits of other dogs and cats.  Theoretically, your current pet could be eating rendered bits of your euthanized former pet!  Especially if you feed them highly commercial brands like Iams.  Yum!

Waiting to be picked up by the rendering truck, on the way to the pet food containers…

I zoom the camera in on the cows lying behind the truck.  They do indeed appear still, dead.  The driver is probably inside the nearby trailer, chit-chatting with the owner.  I dial Frank on my cell phone.  “Hey.  There’s not really much goin on here.  Two cows behind the truck, but I’m pretty sure they’re dead.”

“Alright.  Go to where I dropped you off, I’ll be there in a couple minutes.”  After he  picks me up, we follow the rendering truck around for a few miles.  We’re hoping to catch him picking up an animal who is still alive, because that’s a violation of the California Downed-Animal Act, which carries a decent fine.  The stench coming back at us is indescribable; dozens of animals in various stages of rot.  Between that and all the cow shit, I am painfully nauseated.  Passing a dairy farm, with an open gate, we break off and pull over in front, next to the house of the people who own the place.  Three baby cows lay in a heap of limbs, dead.  Just off to the side of the first row of what look to be veal crates:  tiny boxes that male calves from the dairy industry live in for about six months before being slaughtered.  The boxes are so small they can’t even turn around.  This is so their young flesh will be as tender as possible for smarmy cunts with a taste for the flesh of babies.  But this is dairy land.  “Are those veal crates?” I ask.

Frank brought veggie burgers and soy hot dogs from a vegan fast food joint in Pasadena on the way out here.  He takes a big bite of a ketchup-slopped hot dog.  I don’t know how he can eat with those poor baby’s corpses in sight.  “No.  Not veal.  Dairy.”

Dairy?  What do you mean?”

He speaks around a mouthful of half-masticated food.  “They use those crates for females too.  When dairy cows have male babies they’re taken away to make veal.  When they have females, they’re often kept in fuckin crates like that for bout the first few months.  Easier to feed.  Give em medicine.  Don’t hafta round em up.”

“I never even fucking knew that!”

He shrugs.  “Not many people do.”

I shake my head, shocked and disgusted.  There is no limit to what people will do to these helpless creatures.  Even worse, there is no limit to the apathy (perhaps the most insidious of all emotions, worse than plain evil because it is hyper-contagious) of those who enjoy the products of this cruelty.  I try to eat my veggie burger, but I feel ill.  It seems somehow disrespectful to the young dead cows to be ignoring them, sitting here in the air-conditioned truck eating.  But then I remind myself there are undoubtedly worse sights and sensations to come.  And if I’m going to effectively play the part I must find a way to detach myself.  This is good practice.  I stuff bites of burger and greasy French fries into my maw, wipe my mouth and fingers on a wad of napkins.  Trying to pretend the bodies aren’t laying out there.  Just waiting for the rendering truck to come snatch them up.

“Alright,” Frank says, guzzling from a can of soda, “let’s go check it out.”  We climb out of the truck and hurry through the open gate onto the property.  Each row of crates extends for 60 or 70 yards, each wooden box right up against another.  The rows extend far back into the distance.  Two steel buckets are attached to the outside of each crate; one for food and one for water.  Several of these buckets roll on the ground in the wind, blown off their boxes.  This means several individuals are without either food or water–for who knows how long.  I snap still pictures of the dead babies, the detached buckets, the rows  of crates.  I approach the first crate and look inside.  A small female calf lies with her front legs curled under her chest.  Immediately I take a picture.  Her eyes are so big, moist, the epitome of innocence.  She is perfectly, utterly helpless.

Look at the number on her tag–23,321. I don’t want to imagine what that means.

No doubt still she yearns for her mother.  The separation of mother from calf is traumatic on both individuals; the mom bellows for days.  Dairy cows have to be kept constantly impregnated so they’ll keep producing milk–like other mammals, like humans, they only lactate for a certain stretch of time after they’ve given birth.  Every bit of milk or cheese or dairy of any sort contributes to forced impregnation, kidnapping, infanticide.

The dairy calf, she notices me standing there, and immediately becomes agitated.  She rises shakily to her feet.  Backs up as much as she can in the tiny crate, which is only a couple feet.  “It’s okay, sweetie,” I lilt.  But she just whips her eyes around, looking for a way to get away from me.  My heart breaks for her inevitable fate.  I can’t help you, but hopefully I can help create a world where your grandchildren won’t be abused and exploited and killed.

Frank and I move on.  Our next objective is to put me into the belly of the beast.  Inside the grounds of a large stockyard, and an auction there.  But I can’t exactly waltz in with a camcorder in hand.  It’s time to go truly undercover.  We drive to a nearby Stater Bros. supermarket–across the street from where my Honda Accord is parked at Carl’s Jr.  Frank injects himself in the stomach for his Type 1 diabetes.  Then he comes over to my side of the truck and we stand at my open door.  He takes out a black electronic box that would fit inside a pack of cigarettes, along with a jumble of wires.  Then a big pair of black shades.  I put those on first.  They have two several-foot wires running out the back of the sunglasses’ cotton tie that keep them from falling off.  This makes it so the wires run down my back..  Invisible to onlookers.  The wires come out the bottom of my T-shirt and hook to the tiny black box.  This goes in my pocket.  When we push RECORD on the box, it films everything I see with an invisible camera in the black plastic between the two lenses.  “Man, these things are awesome!”

“Yeah,” Frank says, “they’re pretty nifty.  Expensive, but useful.”  The auctions, he tells me, will be going on from about 3 to 5 P.M., so I should go to that for a while, and then surreptitiously wander around the premises to see if I can find any downed animals or other inappropriate conditions or violations.  “Have a story ready.  Pretend you’re there for your uncle or something looking at animals.”

“I got it,” I say, slinging my denim jacket on to ensure that the wires won’t be visible running down my back.  “I’m a good actor.”

“I’m gonna drop you off and go drive around the farms again, see if I can’t find anything.  Maybe fuck with the guy in the rendering truck.  Call me if there’s any problems.  Be careful.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Hopefully.

We drive up the street to the stockyard and he drops me off in the dirt parking lot.  I strut toward the barns and yards, trying to affect an air of indifferent confidence.  I pass a series of sheds and small bull pens.  Terrible porcine squealing and screaming emanates from one of the wooden structures.  I make a mental note to return.  Inside the main shed is where the auction takes place.  A set of concrete steps with aluminum bleacher seats on the left.  I take a seat up near the top.  A quick glance around reveals that of the 40-50 people seated, I’m one of the only whiteys here.  A fat guy in a wife-beater sweats bullets in front of me, effluviating sour B.O.  Thick coils of black fur stick out from under the sallow tank top on his back.  An older Latino in red and black flannel and jeans sits next to him.  They converse in hurried Spanish.  I tune it out, focusing on the auction.  A 20-foot steel fence stands five feet in front of the bleachers.  Beyond that is a ring with dirt and hay forming a thick layer on the ground.  In back of that are two wooden-planked walls, with a door on either side.  One of them opens and several sheep are ushered out by a guy with a long black rod with a whip at the end.  There’s another man inside with a similar implement who closes the door and forces the animals to move around the pen so people can see what they look like, how they move, before making bids.  Speakers up near the ceiling emanate a voice briefly describing the individuals–weight, age, etcetera–and the starting bid.

The terrified sheep flit around the pen, looking for an escape, trembling and jittery, eyes darting manically.  It makes me so sad, so angry, but I force myself to look on with detached interest.  I’m just checking out what’s available–my dad sent me here.  He’s interested in getting some animals for his back yard.  They bring out a horse with a badly injured leg; he limps reluctantly around the pen, and only when whipped and prodded.  He goes for cheap.  He’ll most likely be transported eventually to a horse slaughterhouse in Texas, one of only two or three such facilities in the country.  Horse meat is exported to France and Asia and other places for human consumption.  All kinds of animals are brought out; a gaggle of quacking geese, chickens, turkeys (I think of rubbing the turkeys’ chests at the sanctuary and rage roils and boils inside me.  I have glorious visions of waiting until night when the big barn is devoid of human and nonhuman life, and burning the fucker to the ground), goats, cows (with and without their calves).  One of the saddest moments is seeing a mother cow trying to position herself between her baby and the guy with the whip.  Their terror is palpable.  To think that people believe–or more likely delude themselves into believing–that farm animals are like automatons, that they don’t experience love and fear and affection and sadness and joy, is so ludicrous as to be insane.  Literally insane, as in completely out of touch with reality.

I’ve gotten a good amount of footage in here.  Time to wander the grounds and see what I can find.  Hopefully none of the workers get suspicious of me.  Remember, I’m just a curious potential buyer perusing the “products” they have to offer.  I stroll out back behind the sheds, where a giant series of bullpens stretch back a quarter mile.  Back here it’s all cows.  The wind is really whipping around, and kicks up the stinging mixture of treacherous alkaline soils and powderized shit.  Thank Earth I have the sunglasses.  Otherwise the wind would be stinging the hell out of my eyes.  But the poor cows, they are out in the open, exposed to the elements.  Unable to do anything about the searing sandy wind, tearing around.  I get a little closer to a large group of cows feeding at steel troughs filled with that omnipresent mixture of grains and soy.  The stuff that causes stomach lesions and horrible bloating that can literally explode their stomachs.  The cows back away from the bars.  Staring at me warily.  I’ve quickly learned that here they are totally afraid of all human interaction; I would be too.  Their behavior here is diametrically opposed to that of the cows at the sanctuary, where they’re treated with affection and respect, where they’re accustomed to positive human interaction.

I get right up against the fence and stare at them.  So many of these 1000-plus-pound animals in such a small space.  Dozens in each bullpen.  They are literally knee deep in their own squishy, sloppy excrement.  With the nitrous oxide, methane, and other pollutants that are so highly concentrated in the area from cow farts, burps, and shit, it’s no wonder the rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are so high in local schoolchildren.

Exploiting animals doesn’t just hurt them; it hurts humans, especially children, and the environment too.

Someone’s Trying To “Drive” Me Back To Prison!!

Oh dear Earth, the irony and absurdity of this is just too great for me to not share.

I was going through my old emails; I just got out of prison a couple months ago, where I spent the last two years.  Wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any important correspondences.  I came across this gem–which arrived in my inbox, unbeknownst to me of course, about seven months into my incarceration–from the El Monte RV company:

December 9, 2010

Dear Valued Customer,

It’s been a while since your last rental? Are you planning to rent this fall?  If so, I would enjoy the opportunity to hear from you and discuss your travel needs with you.

We work very hard to provide our clients with the finest customer service and pricing for their travel needs. If your budget or travel needs have changed, please contact me so I can give you a quote and see if there is anything we can do to provide you with any discounts or specials.

See, I committed my crime with the help of an El Monte RV rental.  The marijuana was stored in vacuum-sealed bags in cardboard boxes in the bathroom.  After I was arrested the vehicle was impounded.  I had to pay TWO DOLLARS a mile for a company employee to drive the vehicle from western Illinois out to its intended destination–eastern New Jersey.  That came to approximately 900 miles, or $1800.  Valued Customer, indeed.

They also neglected to return–even though I pre-paid an exorbitant amount for shipping–some of my items left in the RV after my arrest, including a bitchin green jacket I’d just bought, some CDs, and George Carlin’s brilliant posthumous autobiography, Last Words.

I really feel like the El Monte RV company is trying to subtlety suck me back into the criminal lifestyle, and I don’t appreciate it.  In fact, I’d like to lodge a formal complain against them; what kind of company encourages their customers to perform highly illegal and dangerous acts with their products?  Not one I would want to patronize, that’s for sure!!

Now I’ll include their email again, but this time with my comments inserted.

December 9, 2010

[At this point I had been incarcerated for approximately 201 days–their computer system must not be very detailed]

Dear Valued Customer,

[Really?  Oh wait–I made them a shit-ton of money by fucking up and having to pay them $2/mile.  I’m TOTALLY a valued customer!]

It’s been a while since your last rental?    [sic; don’t they have that information on file?  So why the question mark?  Plus, you’re damn right it’s been a while–I’ve been in fucking prison!!]  Are you planning to rent this fall?  [Marijuana is harvested in the fall.  Are they even TRYING to hide their intentions?]  If so, I would enjoy the opportunity to hear from you and discuss your travel needs with you [Yeah, I bet!].

We work very hard to provide our clients with the finest customer service and pricing for their travel needs  [“travel needs” indeed.  Also, when it comes to pricing, I didn’t feel $1800 was a competitive rate for retrieving your vehicle from the impound lot and driving it 900 miles to New Jersey)].  If your budget or travel needs have changed [my travel needs sure have changed, as I’m not a recidivist douche bag–and in terms of budge, I’m broke and in debt beyond human comprehension, thanks for reminding me!], please contact me so I can give you a quote [fuck you] and see if there is anything we can do to provide you with any discounts or specials [you can go fuck yourself–that would be special].

Don’t you love when life is so hysterically absurd and forehead-smacking ridiculous?  At least it keeps things interesting.  Sometimes you just gotta laugh–it feels slightly better than crying.

Sonoma Coast and Synchronicity

A couple days ago my fiance Rebecca and I took a half-day trip to explore the northern Sonoma coast; what a majestic place it is!  We started off from the 101 by driving through the towering redwoods and past the Russian River, following it all the way to its mouth.  Then we turned north and climbed the coastal bluffs and the scenery became more and more stunning.  Wildflowers were abundant on the shoulder and the hillsides:  California poppies and their almost-psychedelic oranges and yellows, purple and white lupine, the brilliant red of the occasional Indian paintbrush…

Lovely pine tree in its earliest stages of development.

The cliffs are rugged pastiches of gray and black and auburn and sandstone, rocky and jagged from the ceaseless slicing hands of wind and sand and wave.  I stared for miles and miles into the azure distance of the open ocean, feeling so very free and liberated, the total antithesis of the ceaseless, manic, cruel and loathsome mental condition forced on the incarcerated.  I thank Earth every day that I am a free man–free from prison, anyway.

We stopped at a beach and threw a stick for our American bulldog and pit bull mix Rikki; she and I jogged through a stream (from which Rikki and I both took cool, sweet sips–to Rebecca’s ire–but I can’t help but taste real water, when it’s from what appears to be a safe source) that led into the ocean and through the rocky surf.  Rikki also is an unquestionable symbol of freedom.  To see her bound along on the beach is to truly know ecstasy and unadulterated joie de vivre.  If only we humans were lucky and smart enough to capture and maintain that kind of attitude.

On the way home we had an interesting and profound interaction with some other humans, one of those serendipitous events that wouldn‘t have happened if not for the perfect collusion of random choices.  Rebecca pulled us into a turnout so we could take Rikki to pee.  An older man and woman pulled up in a silver van and got out.  Rebecca and I were both immediately struck with how much the man resembled an older version of her dearly departed father, Bob.  He had the same fine, combed-back white hair that Bob had toward the end of his long and courageous battle with cancer and other ailments.  His lips were soft and drawn down in the way that those with few or no teeth are–just like Bob without his dentures.  So adorable!

Some of my most interesting moments on the road have begun by striking up conversation with strangers, so I approached the couple.  Turns out they’ve lived in the New Orleans area their entire life.  The woman had never even left Louisiana!  I told them about my volunteer relief work with Common Ground after Hurricane Katrina, and about how intensely profound an experience it was.  They told us how wonderful a time they were having in California already on the very start of their three-week trip.  I recommended several places they just had to see along their route.  Rebecca and I were both stunned further by the resemblance between the gentleman and her father:  he had the same goofy sense of humor; and his name was also Bob!  It was eerie, and our subsequent discussion confirmed that we both felt the same vibes pulsing off the sweet old man with his lovely N’awleans twang.

This is not the place for me to wax philosophical on synchronicity–because I could, for pages and pages–but it is something to think about.

I told the couple how to avoid a three-hour clusterfuck on their drive from there to Humboldt, then shook hands with Bob and his wife and I hugged.  I wish them the best, and am so grateful that our respective orbits entwined for a brief stretch.

People come from all over the country, all over the world, to California, because it is the Wild West; it is one of the last areas with large unbroken tracts of wilderness in the lower 48.  It is a place of magic and incomprehensible beauty.  But soon it will all be gone–logged, decimated completely of wildlife, poisoned, “developed,” and plowed for agriculture to feed the growing overpopulation of humans (GET A VASECTOMY, guys!); unless, that is, we build a serious resistance movement to the destruction of the west and the planet.  Let’s Rewild the West, and All the Rest!

The Rewild West Prologue!

Click the link below to read the fun, entertaining and informative prologue to the narrative nonfiction book for which I am researching that goes along with this blog and photography project, fittingly title The Rewild West:

http://wp.me/PQhKO-4w

It’s also posted under “Other Writings.”

Mono Lake–Part 2

Rebecca woke me up early the next morning when she opened the curtains of the motel room and literally gasped–the view of a snowy wonderland with Mono Lake at its center was literally breathtaking.  But first we had to take care of some business:  fixing the kaput rear licese plate lights, lest we attract further harrassment from the cops.  We got ready and went across the street to the auto shop at the Shell station.  I replaced the left light.  Then I started the truck, switched the lights on, and went to the back to make sure it worked.  Lo and behold–what a shocker–the right one worked.  That means the dumbass cop the night before lied to me about the lights being out.  And so it went from a standard case of bullshit harrassment to one predicated on false pretexes.  Another bogus traffic stop.  Kind of like the one in Illinois a couple months before that resulted in an illegal search and seizure, and my facing a likely sentence of 12 years in jail, or a plea deal of 7 years  (www.SupportJan.com).  Now I really felt like slamming the scumbag power-drunk cop’s bloated seedless melon head in my truck door until it resembled an on-stage Gallagher stunt see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallagher_(comedian), especially “Sledge-O-Matic”).  Cest la vie.  When you give someone that kind of power, and you subtract any semblence of accountability, what do you expect?  As I recently wrote, not ALL cops are bad PEOPLE–but ALL COPS ARE BAD.

We moved on.  Driving the 5 miles south of Lee Vining on Highway 395 to the road that leads out to the south short of Mono Lake, we were compelled to stop a number of times for photographs of the awe-inspiring scenery.  Steep mountains that seem to rise out of nowhere straight up, often upwards of a couple miles.  Stunning geology:  jagged peaks, endlessly fascinting rock formations, all of it blanketed in blinding white snow.  For example:

Being nudged right against the eastern escarpment of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s hard not to stop every couple miles to take it all in.  Or to keep your eyes on the road, for that matter.  A frequent exclamation on this trip from my fiance was “Jan!  Stay in your goddamn lane!”  Luckily there are few other cars out there, especially during winter.

Soon we parked and hiked down to the South Tufa Area of Mono Lake.  It is truly a spectacularly unique place.  Mono Lake is one of the largest lakes in the west with 72 miles of shoreline, and a 760,000 year-old remnant of a once much larger lake thought to be some 6 million years old, making it one of the oldest in North America.  Its water is twice as salty as the ocean, and ten times as alkaline.  What that essentially means is that it’s filled with the elements that make up table salt and baking soda.  A remarkably fecund ecosystem like nowhere else on Earth has formed there as a result of certain ecological and social factors, which I will discuss at length in a subsequent post.  Mono Lake has many lessons to teach us, if only we would look closely, and learn how to listen.

We walked the shoreline, ringed by dozens of bizarre and stunning Tufa towers.  These are formed when calcium-rich springs bubble up from the underwater sand, congregating and hardening.  Over thousands of years, they become huge and complex architectural wonders, each and every one taking on individual shapes and forms.  Some of the exposed towers are twenty, even thirty feet tall.  Many of their nooks and crannies are filled with snow during this time of the year, making them even more beautiful.  Here’s the kicker:  We would naturally be able to see none of them.  But starting in the 1920s, the city of Los Angeles began diverting water from the six streams and creeks feeding into Mono Lake, its only source of replenishment from the water lost to evaporation.  Its level has dropped by approximately HALF, exposing these magnificent towers.  But the problem, and it’s a big motherfuckin’ problem, is that freshwater from the streams no longer kept the already very high level of saltiniess of the lake in check.  The future of this gorgeous place was and still is jeopardized.  And for what?  To keep palm trees blooming in the southern California desert, to keep golf courses green and backyard pools filled.  But again, this post will focus primarily on our trip.  After the travelogue posts, I will go in depth about the ecological issues of the lake.

As I do everytime I come here, I stepped up to the shore and took a handful of the water, sucked it into my mouth.  It’s like simultaneously tasting super-salty ocean water and licking the top of a 9-volt battery–the alkalinity.  Rebecca put on her high rubber boots and walked out ten yards into the lake.  Our wonderful American Bulldog-Pit Bull mix Rikki joined her, taking a little lap of the water herself–then getting a look of disgust on her face, like she’d just been tricked into eating a piece of banana.

A quick note–you might think (as I did for some time) that the lake’s name is pronounced “MAH-no,” but it’s actually “MOW-no,” a Yokut Native American word apparently meaning “fly-eater.”  I’ll explain why that makes huge sense later, in Part 4 of this series.

Aside from the tufa towers, there’s tons to see at Mono Lake.  In fact, though it is famous largely for the tufa, I’m willing to bet that I would be just as enamored of it–perhaps even moreso–if I saw it a hundred years ago, before the death march of industrial civilization (syphilization) arrived to do what it does better than anything; namely destroy nature, slaughter beauty (that includes Native Americans), and in so doing ensure that if it continues for much longer the entire planet will be unlivable for  most life, including humans.

The whole area is rife with vegetation, primarily one of the most lovely plants nature has to offer–sagebrush.  It is a minty-green plant, each with dozens of thin stalks that curve upward from the base.  This time of year each stalk ends with a fade into yellow.  This provides a beautiful mosaic of hues, especially when you see hundreds of the plants extending into the distance all around you.  If you rub the leaves between your fingers and smell them, you get that incredibly brisk and soothing green scent of sage, a smell that, no matter where you are, whisks you away to the desert.  It makes me close my eyes and hear peaceful solace, where the only sound is cool wind coming down off the mountains as it makes the leaves whisper sweet little nothings, makes the stalks bob and dance to the slow gentle rhythms of nature.  It’s no surprise that Native Americans used and use (what few of them there are left after the United States genocided them wholesale) burning sage in sacred ceremonies.  At one point, living in the San Francisco Bay area, I got involved with ground support for the brave men and women in Berkeley, California, who were engaged in a several-hundred day treesit in an effort to save an old-growth grove of Coast Live Oak trees from destruction so that UC Berkeley could build a new gym next to its football stadium (the grove was ultimately butchered–see http://www.saveoaks.com/SaveOaks/Main.html).  These trees predated the existence of the university.  The grove was also a Native American burial site, so there were many Ohlone Indians [sic] heavily involved in the campaign.  They burned wadded-up clumps of sage leaves, moving the smoke throughout the street below the grove–culturally believing that burning sage could help keep evil spirits at bay.  Perhaps they should’ve taken the ignited sage into the offices of the University’s decision-makers.  Or better yet, placed the ignited sage bundles on the desks and set those murderous assholes’ offices on fire  🙂

And then there’s the lake itself.  A giant circle of vivid blue.  Site of a profound, intricate, sui generis ecosystem.  A monumental place for birds; it is estimated that 80% of California Gulls are born at Mono Lake.  It is a crucial stopoff point for birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway–this includes 1.6 million Eared Grebes and between 80,000 and 125,000 Wilson’s Phalaropes (source:  Mono Lake Committee at www.monolake.org).  Waves gently lap at the shoreline, often leaving behind airy piles of what look to be soap suds–that’s the baking soda again.  Then there’s the location:  Two sides towered over by 10,000+ foot Sierra peaks, and the eastern side sitting below the beginning of the peaks of the Great Basin Desert (Mono Lake resides at the western edge of that, the largest desert in the United States).  It’s also surrounded by craters and towering mounds of rock, having been extremely active volcanically in the past.  Two islands sit within Mono Lake:  smaller Negit, a black smudge in the middle of all that blue, colored as such because its origins are volcanic, and larger Paoha, which has eroded badlands and bubblings hot springs on it.  Perhaps Mono Lake is most special for its incredible solitude.  It is so peaceful, so remote and quiet.  Even when people come down to join you near the shore and near the tufa, a hushed sort of respectful silence seems to wash over them.  What a spectacular, stunning place.

Soon we decided to go to nearby Convict Lake, one of my favorite places along the 395.  First Rebecca lay down and made a snow angel–poor thing had managed to live 28 years without ever doing so–in a patch of pure untouched white, surrounded by sagebrush and tufa.  Sweet Rikki lay down right next to her in the cold, providing an adorable moment I was lucky enough to catch on film.  Two angels (metaphorically) lying in the snow.  This riddle begs an answer; I’ll just toss it out there and you all can come up with the answer:  What do you call it when an atheist lies down in the snow and waves her arms and legs??

We drove south, passing through the largest contiguous stand of Jeffrey Pines in the world (source:  Mono Lake Committee).  They are gorgeous trees, with deeply furrowed reddish-brown bark, very similar to Ponderosa Pines, which are in my mind the most beautiful trees I know.  I hope to one day get a tattoo of a ponderosa on one of my calves.  You can see perhaps one of the craziest (or to be more specific two of the craziest) Jeffrey Pines in my Mono Lake–Part 1 entry, the two titans with the fused base, making them seem like one giant tree.

Soon we pulled in to the parking area within steps of Convict Lake.  It is not one of my favorites just for its beauty, but for its history as well.  I believe it was early in the 20th century.  4-6 men escaped from a nearby prison and took refuge at Convict Lake.  The police soon tracked them down and had a shootout.  Several men were killed, on both sides.  The giant peak on the right side of this picture is called Mount Davidson–named after one of the dead sheriffs.  But the convicts–they got the lake named after them.

This time of year, the lake was covered in a thick sheet of ice.  I love  this place because it is surrounded by mind-blowing peaks, with complex rock structures and varied colors.  Here’s a picture of Mt. Davidson up close (move the cursor over a given picture and click on it, you’ll get to see an enlarged version of it):

You can see what I mean.  We would’ve spent more time there.  But the trail that goes out toward the moutains on the north side of the lake was covered in about four feet of snowpack.  I spoke to a very sweet Asian family next to me for some time about the lake and its history, and the 395 in general, giving them tips on great things to see.  I told them about this website as well.  I love the random interactions we can have with people if we’re willing to seem “weird” or perhaps “high.”  Sometimes they can be short, but deeply profound.  I will talk about those consistently here.  Because I try to talk to strangers as much as possible when out in nature.

Soon we hurried the 45 minutes back north to catch sunset at Mono Lake.  But first we stopped in Mammoth Lake, where there is a nice little natural foods store, where we stocked up on healthy snacks.  Next door we got sandwiches from Subway–even though is a chain restaurant, only one step above other fast food joints, and they have tons of disgusting factory-farmed dead animal pieces (Subway–Eat Flesh), they are actually a traveling vegan’s savior.  We went there every day, at Rebecca’s insistence.  She had become suddenly enamored of them.  At least you can get some semblance of a healthy meal, with tons of fruits and veggies.

We got to Mono Lake just in time.  The sunset was glorious, dropping down below the Sierra mountains.  Unfortunately there were only a few clouds in the sky; for a(n amateur) photographer, clouds really make a sunset.  Nonetheless, it was beautiful.  Rebecca wisely reminded me to use my eyes every once in a while instead of experiencing it all through a camera viewfiner with one eye painfully closed.  At least I got a couple nice shots worth posting here.

I actually really like the dim murkiness of this picture, and the tufa reflection in the water.

That capped off a wonderful day.  The next two days of the trip would prove to be even more magical.  Part 3 coming soon.

Mono Lake–Part 1

This is the first entry in a three or so-part series about me and my fiance’s recent trip to Mono Lake during her spring break from college.  For those of you unfamiliar with it needing geo-orientation, the lake is located southeast of Tahoe on the eastern edge of California.  Right on the other side of Yosemite National Park.

    The first day started well.  Rebecca showed up at my cabin in Mendocino County on a Tuesday morning, jarring me from my lovely slumber.  I have a tendency to stay up late and sleep for nine or ten hours, getting out of bed at 11 or 12 noon.  It helps to get ample rest given the agonizing daily pain in my back and knees—I’m disabled with severe chronic pain.  Possibly diagnosable as chronic degenerative arthritis, but it’s kind of unclear exactly what it is.  In any case, we were originally planning to go to the Trinity Alps.  They are basically inland from Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, part of the Klamath Mountain Range.  But it was still considered winter; I had no idea how the roads would be way up in the mountains.  On the other hand, I knew my pickup truck would be fine in the high desert climate of Mono Lake and surrounding environs.  Snowy, yes, but not like the mountains!  Mono Lake is one of my favorite places I have ever been.  The decision was an easy one to make.

    I was giddy with excitement as we headed out Highway 20 through Lake County, then east toward Lake Tahoe.  I kept grinning uncontrollably, hugging and kissing my beautiful fiancé, giving her high-fives, vocally expressing my glee.  She got tired of it pretty fast.  But I didn’t give a fuck, because I knew that this could very well be my last road trip and intense nature experience before going to prison in Illinois (see “Disabled Activist” link on the right, or cut out the middleman and head straight to http://www.SupportJan.com), and I was going to make the absolute most of it.

    Things got even better when we stopped at a truck stop near Sacramento for gas and batteries.  As I was checking out, I saw a James Gang CD (Rides Again) for a totally reasonable 6 bucks.  I’ve been on the lookout for their albums lately.  They are a power trio with Joe Walsh playing the guitar and some piano and singing.  I love his solo material (e.g. But Seriously, Folks, with “Life’s Been Good”—a pretty well-known hit—and deeper album cuts like “Second Hand Store” and the wonderfully bizarre “Theme From Boat Weirdos”), and his guitar, keyboard, and vocal work on my two favorite albums—Hotel California and The Long Run—from The Eagles, who are one of my top-five favorite bands.  So I impulsively but happily snatched up the James Gang’s Rides Again.  I became even happier as I walked out when I realized that I just paid fewer than six dollars for a pack of $5-something batteries and a $6 CD.  The clerk somehow neglected to charge me for the album.  Good rock and roll is awesome.  Good rock and roll that you get for free is even more awesome!

    Soon we passed through a small town along Interstate-5 called Dunnigan.  Rebecca and I love cities with humorous names, or names that can be easily made humorous.  Or street names:  whatever, we’re not picky.  One of my personal favorite names is a street in Ohio called—prepare yourself, I am absolutely NOT making this up—FANGBONER ROAD.  Fucking FANGBONER!  You can’t make up shit this good.  Actually I guess you can.  Seeing as how somebody invented the name of that bad boy.  I bet it was done by the winner of some weird radio contest.  That’s undoubtedly the kind of thing that passes for excitement and contention in rural Ohio.  One of me and Rebecca’s old standbys, a running joke, stems from the town of Bandon, Oregon.  We utilize the thick redneck accent of a distraught 300-pound welfare mama.  “Don’t abandon Brandon in Bandon!” we’ll cry, often out of nowhere.  Now we have a new one to work with:  “Damnit honey, I done dunnit agin in Dunnigan.  First I abandoned Brandon in Bandon,  now I dunnit agin in Dunnigan!”  It’s often the simple things in life that bring the purest joy.

    After passing through the state’s capital and stomping grounds of The Governator, we began driving up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Highway 50.  The Sierras are so massive, multifaceted, and magnificent that long-ago eco-freak John Muir declared them “The range of light, the most beautiful of all I have seen.”  Aptly so.  They are about 400 miles in length, and contain many of the highest peaks in the U.S., including Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet, the highest in the lower 48 states.

    This took us through the gorgeous El Dorado National Forest.  I’d been through there the year before on my way to the Bay area from southern California to visit Rebecca.  I stopped randomly on the side of the road and hiked up into the woods, having to trek knee-deep through snow (it was January then).  I found giant ponderosa pines, the most beautiful of all trees in my opinion. They have thick rutted plates of yellowish-brown bark that gives them the appearance of cracked desert soil.  I passed gorgeous incense cedars, which at the time I thought were very young sequoias.  Incense cedars have a lovely reddish hue, and electric lime-green moss seems to love growing on them there.  I saw enormous sugar pines wider at chest height than my outstretched arms (I’m just under 6’ tall).  Toward the end of my snowy forest hike, I came across one of the strangest and most magnificent things I’ve ever seen, and it was this I was trying to find again so Rebecca could see it for herself.

    But I had no point of reference.  I only knew that it was relatively near a certain tiny town—but not which side of the town it was on.  It took us a few times of driving back and forth, but I finally found it.  It’s actually quite amazing how I can find places and things that I’ve been to once before.  I have a stunningly persistent visual memory.

    As we made our way through the woods, I kept saying, “A little farther, a little farther, it’s up here, I just know it.”  Rebecca complained about the hike in general, and insisted (wisely, I might add) that I just enjoy the place for what it was, rather than for one specific awesome feature.  It seemed like only our sweetheart American Bulldog Rikki was enjoying it without mitigation.  She thundered up and down hills, chewing and chasing sticks, biting and rolling in patches of snow.  We could learn a lot from her, in fact.

    Then we came across them.  “Aha!” I cried.  “I told you I’d find them!”

    “Holy shit,” Rebecca said, suspending her rebuff at the feet of sheer awe.

    It was two giant Jeffrey pines, each probably six or seven feet in diameter at breast height—but the two trunks had fused together, creating a massive and formidable base that was truly a wall of wood, some ten or more feet across on one side.  Here’s a picture of Rebecca to give scale to just one of the trees, and then me presenting the magnitude of both trees fused together.

    Riding high for some time, we continued our journey.  We poked into Nevada for about twenty miles after Tahoe, then hit the 395.  This would take us down to Mono Lake and run alongside the eastern escarpment of the Sierra for much of its length.  It was dark by the time we pulled into Lee Vining, the little town next to Mono Lake, and we were utterly exhausted after some eight hours of travel.  We pulled into what appeared to be the only motel that was open in town.  Relieved and thankful that we had finally arrived—Rebecca had, in fact, fallen asleep, face pressed precariously against her window.  Just then a cop in a giant SUV pulled up behind me and turned on his flashing red and blue lights, and his blaring incessant white light (Don’t you just love how they make you blinded and terrorized before even walking up to your car, no matter how minor the “offense,” if there even is one—oftentimes it seems they pull you over to harass you more than anything else, as you’re about to see).

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” I cried, jolting Rebecca awake.  I buried my forehead in my palm.  “What the fuck now?!  I already mistrusted and despised the filth, and you’d know why if you read my support site.  As I like to say, not all cops are bad people—but all cops are bad.  The power relationship is just too unequal, and when they break the law or even murder unarmed citizens—as they constantly do—there is absolutely no accountability.  If there’s any punishment, it’s a slap on the wrist, usually merely symbolic, to appease the masses, make sure people go back to sleep before they start getting worked up.  Wouldn’t want people standing up for their freedom!  I’ll get deeper into how America is a police state in future posts, but if you want an in-depth analysis that is merciless and laser-like in its precision and brilliance, I highly recommend you check out the recorded talk on CD by Ward Churchill called “In a Pig’s Eye:  Reflections on the Police State, Repression, and Native America.”  It may just revolutionize your outlook on the world.  My favorite line is one of the last ones in the talk:  “You are free.  You are an American, and you’re free—but only in the sense to do exactly what you’re told, and don’t you ever forget it.”  Wow.  It’s published by AK Press, so unless you can get it for free or from Ward himself, get it from them.

    So he approached the driver’s side window and asked for my license and registration.  I asked what the problem was.  “Yeah, your rear license plate lights are out,” he said.  He also asked to see Rebecca’s ID.  This was unusual.  Usually they just need to find out about the driver’s.  Whatever, we gave it to him.  We didn’t want any trouble.  But apparently he wanted to give it to us.  He was a stocky Hispanic guy, Gonzalez.  Somehow he got on the topic of medication, and I informed him that I am disabled and take pain meds, as well as have medical marijuana.  This seemed to perk him up.  “Oh yeah, how much do you have?”

    “Not very much at all,” I said.  “Like less than a gram.”  I pulled out my wallet and handed him my doctor’s recommendation, which according to California’s Prop 215, is all you need to have in order to legally obtain and possess medical cannabis from clubs.

    He began to get rude and obnoxious.  He wagged the paper.  “What is this?  This is just a piece of paper!  You need to have a card from your County Health Department.”  He did a little jig of disbelief.  Only in retrospect was it laughable.

    “Um,” I said.  “No I don’t, actually.  According to Prop 215, a doctor’s recommendation is all I need.  I’ve been using it at cannabis clubs all over the state for three years now without a problem.”

    He resumed his strange gesticulations.  “What are you, a lawyer?  Are you in law school?”

    “You don’t have to be a lawyer to know the law,” Rebecca wisely said.  Sometimes even stating the obvious isn’t enough for these knuckle-dragging bullies.

    “Let me see your pot,” he said to me.

    I stared at him, incredulous.  “Why?”

    “Just give it to him!” Rebecca cried.

    “Let me see it!” Gonzalez insisted.

    I clamped my teeth together hard, swirling pleasurable pressure through my jaw.  I reached into the center console and handed it to him.

    He stared at it.  “Okay.  I’m gonna keep this, and you guys get those lights fixed.”

    “What?” I cried.  “You can’t keep that, it’s my medicine.  You cannot take my medicine.”  I was incensed over the blatant injustice and illegality of it.

    Apparently he’d had a long day, and was jonesing for some nice Mendocino medicine to take the edge off.  “Well, I could keep this and you go on your way, or I could haul you both out, stick you in the back of my car, and search your vehicle.  Is that what you want?”

    I was ready to slam this motherfucker’s head in my door.  “Fine, you keep that and I’ll just sue the county and get it back.  I have a good lawyer.  That’s fine.”

    Suddenly he began to sing a different tune.  He stared at me in silence for several moments.  Probably rudimentarily imagining in his simple mind the kind of shit he would face for causing costly legal proceedings in his small low-income county.  He handed the tiny jar with the tiny amount of medicine in the bottom back to me.  “Alright, go ahead and leave.”

    I regarded him with suspicion.  “You sure ‘bout that?”  I was imagining in my much more complex and paranoid mind me taking it, and then him pulling me over again as soon as we left, somehow using it against me even worse.

    “I’m letting you go.  Get out of here.”

    “Alright, good,” I said.  I started the truck.

    “You wanna come back here and check out the lights?”

    No, actually, I want to get as fucking far away from your dumbass, your club, and your gun as possible.  “That’s okay, I believe you.”  Stupidest thing I said all day.

    Rebecca, Rikki and I got a room.  My fiancé and I spent the last hour of the night trying to decompress, venting our anger at that stupid asshole, and heavily anticipating the next day, when we’d actually be able to see Mono Lake.