The Soviet-Afghan War: Excerpt from Confessions of An Honest Man

My novel CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is a book about psychological regeneration. The book’s major theme lies in the shattering of hero Aaron’s personality after he has achieved great success.  The courage it takes to rebuild one’s life after such experiences is the meat of the book.I admit that this is an autobiographical novel.  It travels from 1967 Haight Ashbury to the Afghan battlegrounds during the Soviet Invasion.  This excerpt is part of nearly a hundred pages that take place in Afghanistan. Chapter Forty TwoWar Inside and OutSeptember 1982: Konar Province, Afghanistan There is one vulture, sitting on a thermal as if it is a mattress of hot air. It is at eye level with Aaron, as he painfully negotiates switchbacks in his rented burnt-orange Land Cruiser. The bird circles towards him and lowers its head so that it can regard him with one eye. It seems a bored eye, floating at seven thousand feet between two mountains, watching a man in a vehicle. Aaron feels as if he is a tick crawling up the side of some gigantic creature with wrinkled brown hide. He has no idea whether or not he has crossed the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. He is following the map, given to him by a man in Peshawar, that takes him around the border posts. There is just the trail, the mountain on which he drives, the mountain across the valley. Blue sky above, brown and grey everywhere else. He is glad for the company of the vulture. “So….how’s business?” He asks. The vulture tilts its left wing and soars away from the cliff, then slides back to its previous position. “You know, it’s all about location, location…… there doesn’t seem to be anything here. Of course, you might know something I don’t. Maybe there’s a good rush hour. I should think Afghanistan would be an excellent place to be in the vulture business.” He stops the car’s motor and wedges himself out the door on the mountain side of the trail. It is hot. He pulls his voluminous shirt out of his rope-tied pants and flaps it around, to cool himself. He is dressed in local clothes: they suit him, comfortable, inconspicuous. His hat, called a pakol, is shaped like a pancake on top with a cloth ridge that runs around its bottom, to grip his head and not blow away. A wind gusts up from below and the vulture suddenly rises twenty or thirty feet. Aaron pisses onto the rocks and then gently eases himself out toward the precipice. Way below, a polished-steel ribbon cuts its way around the mountain bulges: some river, a tributary of the Konar Darya. The vulture adjusts its height and comes within feet of Aaron’s outstretched hand. “I’m lost, “ Aaron tells the animal. “Do you know where I can find the village of Kamchi?” The scavenger’s head is smooth and iridescent blue. It blinks once, bends its wing and circles away. “This is the perfect symbolic situation for what my life has become,” Aaron states. The vulture turns back in his direction. There is some elemental attraction between the two living creatures in the midst of vast desolation. “You mind if I talk to you? I won’t anthropomorphize. You’re a vulture, I know. You’re only interested in finding something dead to munch. You see anything down there?” He pushes some gravel off the edge with his toe. It tumbles, gathers momentum, dislodges minor debris as it falls. “Rabbits? Mice? Dead Afghans? Dead Russians?” Aaron is talking because he doesn’t want to be scared. In the back of the Land Cruiser and lashed to the roof rack are forty green wooden boxes of ammunition and twenty five brown cardboard boxes of medical supplies. He is supposed to deliver them to a man named Murid in the village of Kamchi. In return, he will take sixty pounds of opium back to Peshawar, from where he will smuggle the drugs into the United States, packed into the tubing of Pakistani-made bicycles. He has it all figured out. Twelve hours ago it seemed a reasonable plan. He reaches into his pocket and takes out an object the size of a large Hershey bar wrapped in wax paper. Opium, otherwise known as Kandahar Kandy. He unwraps one end of the bar and pulls at its taffy-like surface until he has prized loose a ball the size of a small marble. He pops it into his mouth and lets it sit under his tongue. To Aaron the bitter red-black earthen taste of opium is like honey. He lets it dissolve in the heat of his mouth, feels its warm numbin

Source: The Soviet-Afghan War: Excerpt from Confessions of An Honest Man

The Fugitives: An Animal Rescue Story

We are full time RV dwellers, and we love it. We live in a safe, well maintained Kountry Kampground north of San Francisco. Rent is cheap. A small community of “monthlies”, as we’re called, live year round in our big coaches, trailers and fifth wheels. There’s an unwritten social contract here. We leave one another alone. We want space, peace, we want to keep a low profile.When we arrived in March of 2005 we didn’t know how to conduct our lives in a campground. We hadn’t learned how to choose a strategic site for our RV. We took what was available, a site that was at the center of the northern campground. We had people coming and going on both sides, as well as fore and aft. We had a continual round of new neighbors.At first this was somewhat unnerving. Soon enough we discovered that if we wanted to schmooze, we could say hello, and if we didn’t, we could keep to ourselves and be left alone.The only problem that wouldn’t go away was the strange couple living in a tiny trailer in the row immediately behind us.When I say tiny, I’m talking about an RV model called “The Casita”. It is nothing more than a sleeping bag with walls. It’s interior is about the size of a Japanese capsule hotel room. A person can just about sit upright without banging the head. It has a little sink and a hot plate.There were two people and a full grown Dalmatian dog living in this wheeled packing crate. It was hard to imagine how they could survive under these conditions, yet they were there, coming and going. Unfortunately, the dog didn’t get to come and go. He stayed locked in this dreadfully tiny space. He howled his loneliness and claustrophobic misery in a way that turned our lives into hell. This was our first month at the campground.These were our neighbors .Fox and I we went helplessly berserk over this dog. We tried to hatch schemes to liberate him from his plight.There was something dreadfully “off” about the couple who owned the dog. If I make the statement, “I couldn’t look at them”, I want you to take me literally.I…could…not….look…at…..them.Every time I tried, my eyes seemed to meet a force field that deflected vision. My sight could get to within a foot or so of Ms.X or Mr. Y and then my eyeballs would physically bounce a few feet farther along, repelled by a barrier occupying the space at which I was attempting to look. This was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced.I asked one of my neighbors to look at the couple next time the opportunity arose. I asked for a brief description of the people who were living within eight yards of our coach. The dog was no problem. I could see the dog when he was let out on a chain. I couldn’t see the people. I could hear them, I could make out their voices if not their words, I knew when their pickup truck pulled into and out of the parking space. Fox and I said hello a few times and were completely ignored. That’s weird, to greet a person who responds by behaving as if you don’t exist.The next day my other neighbor came over and said, “I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they look like. I can’t really see them. Maybe they just move so fast I can’t draw a bead.”The human eye moves extremely quickly. It wanders, far more than we consciously know. Eye movement is the fastest muscular action in the human body. These lightning quick movements are called saccades. I read a science fiction novel recently in which alien creatures knew how to scan human eye saccades and move only during those micro-seconds when human beings were looking away. This created a ‘just-at-the- edge-of- -vision’ effect, and gave the aliens a tactical advantage in outmaneuvering their enemies.Whatever the cause, I could not look at, I could not see these people. They must have wanted so badly to be invisible that they had created a psychological force field. This mysterious couple evaded eye contact, they moved in such a manner as to attract minimum attention. They did not engage in conversation. They had taken the adjective “furtive” to a new level. Somehow, they had established an invisibility matrix, they had tuned in to the collective saccade. Fox couldn’t see them. My neighbors saw them more than we did, but not much. My neighbors could detect a few details of clothing or hair color. He couldn’t describe their height, weight, features, ethnicity. Nothing.Only the dog provided a common ground of agreement that they were there at all. Otherwise, they would have been “the people who weren’t there.”When they were home, the dog came out on a chain. He looked at us sadly, wagged his tail and sat quietly, licking his paws. If one of us said, “Hi buddy,” he would come to the limit of his chain, hoping for friendly contact.When the Xys left for the day, which was most days, the dog got stuck inside the little house on wheels. He keened piteously. We were going insane.Other neighbors began to feel the hurt that lived so pitifully in our midst. There was no question that this was animal abuse. Solving the

Source: The Fugitives: An Animal Rescue Story

Wholes: Poems And Images

I’ve written a lot of poems. About ten years ago I was playing drums at a gig in San Geronimo  and I was going to read a few  poems during the break.  I had three black eight by ten notebooks at the back of the stage. When I went to get them, they were gone.  A young lady told me that a shabby looking man had taken them.  I never got them back, though I’ve pursued the shabby man from Calcutta to Timbuktu.  I’ve never seen any of them published elsewhere.  I’ve lost whole manuscripts of novels and many hundreds of poems.  When computers came along I began backing up everything in triplicate, quadruplicate and beyond.  I have so much material that I still can’t find a lot of stuff.  I’m not a very good administrator.  These are some of my less-frequently published poems, things from the upper shelves that I hold back because I fear that they’re either incomprehensible or so subjective as to have no relevance to anyone but myself.  Some of them are really good.WholesThere is no part of youthat is not a whole.There is no hole in youthat is not part of you,whole and alive.There is no whole without holes,no healing without woundsno making withoutunmakingthat which is a whole,to begin again,to be born again, whole.What crying is this, in the hole, in the hurt,yearning to be whole?Leave yourself alone,quiet, make everything workfor you, everything, the base and the noble,the useless and the crucial,whole is what is, resting in the centerof the hole.

Source: Wholes: Poems And Images

Two Virgins On A Disastrous Honeymoon

Do you love to read?  I do.  My love of reading led me to writing like an arrow shot from a taut bow.  Now what do I need?  I need READERS.  I don’t churn out books like a machine.  I consider everything carefully, every word.  I play the drums and I think my writing is influenced by this innate sense of rhythm.  That’s what makes it work.  CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is about a young drummer who must fight for his music, fight his fiendish mother who thinks that having a musician in the family will bring shame to her.  Only doctors, lawyers, maybe a dentist if things go wrong, those are the only respectable professions for a nice Jewish boy.  Aaron Kantro is not really a nice Jewish boy.  He’s a crazy dreamer, sometimes a drug addict, he’s….well, he’s human and he’s interesting.  All the Kantro family are interesting people.  You’re about to read about oldest sister Mari-lee’s honeymoon.  She’s marrying for money, of course, because she’s as heartless as her mother and climbing is the only thing worth doing.  Let’s see how that works for her, shall we?The book is online as an e-book, it’s at Amazon and Smashwords.com and costs less than three dollars.  Treat yourself and support my efforts.

Source: Two Virgins On A Disastrous Honeymoon

About my Sci Fi novel, The Gods Of The Gift

Gods WP             It was in the late seventies.  I turned   right onto Third Street in San Rafael and my inner vision exploded with a scene.  I was seeing a huge monastic building like a Tibetan lamasery.  Think of The Potala.  Here was this enormous structure flying in the air, floating away from the ground trailing roots and boulders.  It seemed to be headed towards a moon that was chartreuse and hovered above the monastery in a kind of leering way, sinister.  Then a voice began speaking.  Never mind what it was saying.  It was talking inside my head.  Like dictation.  It was describing things like Destiny; the way Destiny is determined by the thoughts of the one who thinks.  Yes yes, very metaphysical. 

            I drove home listening to this voice describing a system of discipline, a system that corresponded to what I know of Tibetan Tantric practice.  I know very little about Tibetan Tantric practice.  I have a clue, that’s all.

            A book grew from this vision and this voice.  At the time I was flush from my recent award from Playboy Magazine and my agent gave the manuscript to an editor and when I was in New York we discussed the book.  The agent, Scott Meredith, moved the book around from publisher to publisher for a year.  There were no takers. 

            Lucky me. It would have been a tragedy to have published that book in 1980.  I take decades to write my books.  They are like big oak trees.  They need time to develop.

The Gods Of The Gift has changed so much over the years that it has become a real grown-up book.  It’s a book for grown-ups.  It’ a book that will be most enjoyed by people who’ve spent some time reading esoteric stuff like Rudolph Steiner, Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant.  The old school mystics. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky.  Most of those books are dense, turgid and old fashioned.  The Gods Of The Gift should be fun, even though it’s loaded with subtle information and the science part of it is completely crazy. 

            You don’t have to be an Adept of The Secret Doctrine to get enjoyment from this book.  It follows many Fantasy and Sci Fi conventions.  There’s the Pinocchio Theme. A race of Androids yearns to be human.  But these androids, or as I call them, Robiots, know they’re not human.  They call themselves New Sentients.  They were originally made to perform work but somewhere along the way a few of them started tinkering with their own nervous systems and found that emotion was possible and even desirable.  That’s one of my classic Sci Fi themes.  I’ve got astrophysics galore, Black Holes, all that stuff.  The book is as much influenced by Kurosawa films as it is by metaphysical lore.  There are sword fights, kidnappings, cosmic gangsters and quasi-immortals called Planet-People.  These are avatars from the Starwind Communion.  When their civilization was doomed they decided to emigrate by squishing all the individuals from each planet into one body.  So one hundred eight worlds became one hundred eight Planet-People.  One of them, Calakadon, was a rogue and a murderer.  He is the book’s main bad guy.  He’s murdering the other one hundred seven of his kindred and stealing their Puzzle Pieces.   These objects are precious beyond knowing.  They will some day be assembled into The Puzzle Of The Endless Gates.  Here is another Buddhist concept, in case you’ve never heard that mantra: Gate Gate Beyond The Gate Another Gate—-Bodhisattva.

 

Star Trails Photography

Shooting star trails with a Canon 20D wasn’t working.  I got the images below using that camera and it took a lot of tweaking with Photoshop plug-ins to get them to look halfway decent.  Today, however, with full-frame cameras or APS-C models like the Canon 70D I’m using it’s an entirely different story.  There is not only a vast improvement in the amount of noise present in my files, but the camera has a robust buffer that will load a ton of shots onto your card without breaks of three or four minutes.  That was my problem with shot #2.  I took 14 frames of ten minutes each.  Somewhere in that process the camera slowed down and loaded files onto the card, which broke up the continuity of the star trails.  What I had were trails-with-gaps.  Using the freeware called  Startrails I was able to clean up the gaps a bit and obtain a more pleasing image.

 

 

 

 

thru-the-arch-hdrstrails-and-coach

Busting A Puppy Mill

 

bear's first pic

  My partner, Fox, is an Animal Communicator.  She’s the real deal, she’s not a poseur playing at “Pet Psychic” and taking people’s money.  Her ability is quite inexplicable unless you embrace some beliefs that tax the empirical world view. I have several of these but I don’t advertise the fact.

          About three years ago Fox was called to the home of a toy and teacup poodle breeder.  It was a long ride but she was getting some strange intuitions that she could not ignore.

      As soon as she arrived she knew the place was a puppy mill. Most of the dogs were hidden behind closed doors but she could feel the suffering.  She could smell it, hear it and she could sense it like low hanging clouds suffusing the house and grounds. The assault on her emotions was overwhelming.  There was such distress, such cruelty, such greed and cynicism!

            Fox consulted the owner regarding two dogs.  Why were they so aggressive?

          ARE YOU KIDDING ME? she wanted to scream.  STOP TREATING THESE BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS LIKE COMMODITIES!

          She kept quiet.  She was scared.  She knew that she was among criminals and she had to tread cautiously. 

            The puppy mill was catering to a market of wealthy Chinese buyers.

This new class of upscale Chinese are fueling a worldwide vogue for tiny dogs. A documented four-pound poodle can fetch five thousand dollars in Shanghai,Canton, Hong Kong and Beijing.

            Fox carefully asked the owner to change the way she treated her dogs.  The owner was not receptive to Fox’s advice.  She was making huge amounts of money.  One of the techniques she used to keep puppies small was to confine them to tiny spaces.  They were drugged on tranquilizers to retard their growth.  They had nowhere to move, no exercise, so they didn’t develop any mass.  The lighter the dog, the more expensive.  The unwitting yet culpable participants in this racket, the customers in the orient, were paying thousands of dollars for a puppy that would be sick and crazy.

            Too bad.  All sales final.  You saw the photo of the puppy you were purchasing.

You saw the AKC documents.  You sent your money and we sent you a tiny poodle.

            While the breeder was taking a phone call, Fox entered a small room and looked down at a little brown puppy.  He was confined to an aquarium, not much bigger than a shoebox.  He had an IV needle stuck into his leg.  He looked into Fox’s eyes.  She heard the words as clear as a bell: Help me!  Get me out of here!

Bear two weeks later

         

          Without thinking, she opened the top, removed the IV and scooped the puppy inside her coat.  The little guy stayed quiet.  He just kept looking into Fox’s eyes.

          In a few minutes Fox left the house with the closed bedrooms and high fenced backyard full of suffering animals.  She drove to a nearby mall and called the police.  The result of her action was that arrests were made, the puppy mill was shut down and forty seven puppies found new and far better owners.            

            Fox made the ninety minute drive home with this shivering puppy inside her coat.  His hair was very long.  He looked like a little Ewok in need of a barber.

            That puppy became our Little Bear.  He is now a seven pound dog of disproportionate strength.  He is also absurdly intelligent, perceptive, stubborn and willful.  He has quirks.  He has bad memories.  He suffers from PTSD.  He can go crazy when grooming implements appear.  Anything like gleaming steel, needles or tubes can trigger a momentary aggression.

          Bear is, however, happy, healthy, spoiled and loved beyond all reason.

Bear as he is today.