Category Archives: Reviews

Point Last Seen

About a week ago my wife’s diet club, TOPS, held a Christmas luncheon at a local restaurant. Unfortunately, spouses of club members were welcome. I hate parties, but I knew this meant a lot to my wife, so out of my hole I crawled.

About 30 of us sat gabbing, around a long, narrow table. A finger of restlessness clawed my gut, as there was something at home I had been deeply engrossed in, that I wanted so much to return to.

I found myself warding off the usual assortment of flibbertigibbets, Nosy Parkers, and loud drunks. I did my best to suppress my inner misanthrope, while surveying this party for a kindred spirit who might share my wonkish taste for cerebral communication.

I spotted a candidate. This spirit sat opposite me, and about three chairs to the left. At first I wasn’t sure if the candidate was male or female, until I heard her feminine voice. She was middle-aged, had a heavy, husky build, with a large, square face that surrounded tiny spectacles.

She spoke with those around her sporadically, thoughtfully, and briefly, yet with the gravitas of an anvil. Just my type of conversationalist. I said something in her direction, to grab her attention, and it came across as awkward as the oblique acreage that separated us. I looked like a fool and gave up, contenting myself with the pursuit of staring downward and studying my napkin.

A party game ensued, called Who Am I? We were given clues about various club members’ lives, and asked to guess which member it was. One of the clues stood out like a unicorn.

“I was a Search and Rescue volunteer at Joshua Tree National Park. And then I moved to the Kalahari desert to research subsistence tracking,” the party leader proclaimed, as she read the clue from the paper. Everyone was stumped. “Hannah,” the leader finally revealed (pronouncing it “Hon-noh”).

Wow! I thought. Now there’s someone I’d like to have a conversation with. “Who’s that Kalahari desert person?” I asked my wife, sitting next to me.

“Oh, that was Hannah,” and she pointed at the husky lady with gravitas, whom I’d so awkwardly and unsuccessfully attempted to ensnare in dialogue just a few minutes earlier.

Hannah heard us and looked over at me. My opening! And our conversation began.

She was a challenge. She revealed herself in short sentences. But each sentence was an enticing breadcrumb that led my wife and I, and those around her, on and on, deeper into her personal history.

Hannah had come to our desert to get away from people. Yes! A fellow misanthrope! Tell us more, Hannah!

Her children had been abducted. Twice. What? Was Hannah actually a crazy nut? I mean, whose children get abducted twice? Ah, but it was her estranged ex-husband who had done the abducting. And it was our eccentric local judge who had given this ex-husband unsupervised visitation rights, after the first abduction. Yes, now we understood.

But Hannah exhibited no bitterness toward the judge. Or toward her ex-husband, whom she made a point to say something positive about after I made a sarcastic comment about him. Here was a deep spirit indeed. One who could find the beauty in any soul, no matter how obscured by the dark shadows of their heart.

Hannah mentioned graduate school, which led me down the tangent of her education. I love educated people when they’re as down-to-earth as her. She had a Masters Degree in Anthropology and a PhD in History.

Poor Hannah. It seemed to me that she had invested in an expensive education that was highly unlikely to pay for itself in monetary remuneration. Yet what an adventuresome life. “You’ve really lived!” my wife noted.

“You could write a book,” I added.

“I have written a book. Several books,” Hannah answered.

Another breadcrumb. More inquiries. And more enticing information.

This was no everyday Hannah. This was Hanna Nyala, author of the books, Point Last Seen, and Leave No Trace.

Point Last Seen: A Woman Tracker’s Story had first been published in 1997, and is an autobiographical account of Hannah’s experiences as a tracker for the National Park Service’s Search and Rescue operations. And not only was she a tracker in this memoir, but she was also tracked. By her ex-husband.

Point Last Seen was highly successful for Hannah, and in 1998 became an eponymous, CBS-TV movie, starring Linda Hamilton.

Leave No Trace was also a big success for Hannah, and made into the 2013 action-thriller movie, Heatstroke, starring Stephen Dorff and Svetlana Metkina.

She has also authored the book, Cry Last Heard, a sequel to Leave No Trace.

The diet club members seemed stunned. They suddenly realized that for months, they’d had a celebrity in their midst. The quiet, modestly unassuming, Hannah.

My favorite book genre is the public domain classic, and it takes a lot to get me to stray from that genre. But this was a true story about someone hiking through my backyard. Joshua Tree National Park. And Hannah fascinated me.

So after the party I got on Amazon and forked over $15.21 for Point Last Seen. When it arrived a few days later, it was hard to put down, and I consumed it within 24 hours. Or perhaps I should say, it consumed me.

For me, Point Last Seen was suspenseful, intriguing, outrageous, and funny.

I followed along on pins and needles as she tracked people lost in the desert, including a nine-year-old girl. I felt intrigued as I learned how to track. Or at least, learned how to learn how to track.

I raged at a legal system that sided with her abusive husband and put her and her children in mortal danger. And I laughed at her sense of humor, which had of way of seeping through at unexpected moments throughout the book.

Hannah shares her personal philosophies throughout this memoir, intertwining them with the art of tracking, the terror of being tracked, and poetic descriptions of the Mojave Desert. She left me with the sense that tracking is not just about finding a lost person. It’s also about finding yourself.

Point Last Seen was an inspiring read for me, and so of course I stole many quotes from her book. Here’s a few I’ll share with you, for your own inspiration:

Sitting and thinking and watching. That’s an important part of tracking. Patient attention to tiny, seemingly inconsequential details and differences. Measuring changes, memorizing patterns, asking intuitive questions and looking for their answers, ignoring sand in your eyes or rain on your head but imprinting on your mind the qualities of rain and sand located anywhere else.

As a tracker, I was not only surviving, but following the footprints of other human beings, well on the way to becoming human again myself. Going to the desert to escape people, I quickly began searching for them again in the most literal way imaginable: following their tracks.

Tracking isn’t instinctive or natural. It only begins when you start seeing the ground under your feet instead of just staring blindly at it; when you acknowledge the pain, accept the uncertainty of hope, feel the fear of being saviorless, yet insist not simply on surviving but also on paying attention to the small details of life once again.

Tracking also means learning to walk alongside, caring enough to reach out to other people—a crucial part of surviving when someone wants to make sure you don’t.

“Why didn’t you just leave him?” is one of the first questions our society has for battered women. What we don’t yet want to face is that there are many excellent reasons for staying with an abusive man—and not one completely positive reason for leaving. When you leave, things almost always get much worse, and sometimes they stay that way for a very long time.

No one else can teach you to track, no matter how much money you pay them or how much time you spend with them. Until you put in enough dirt time yourself, you cannot follow footprints on the ground.

Too frequently we notice vague signs, hesitate, and miss the lesson entirely. How many lessons can we miss before we’ve jeopardized the whole search?

Perhaps it’s time to admit that if trackers didn’t pay attention to hindsight, they’d be as lost as guppies on a tree branch . . . Looking backward and sideways while keeping your eyes focused forward is a crucial part of knowing not just where you are—but also where the one you seek may be.

Part of the process of getting lost is losing sight of your reference points without noticing they have disappeared. Then when your memory tries to connect itself to something familiar, it’s gone.

In the final decision to leave, you get out blindly, dumbly, knowing that when (not if) he catches up with you, he’s going to kill you and your children. So why even leave? Because somewhere deep inside, something shattered that last time he choked you—from a place long forgotten, you finally decided that if you had to die, you at least would not do so cowering in a corner of his house.

It’s always the little things, the tiny decisions or nondecisions, that contribute most to losing one’s way.

There’s no rationale behind losing your way, but trackers have to at least try to understand the process before attempting to find someone. Tracking one’s life is much the same. Sometimes you have to figure out why you did a thing in order to know what it was that you actually did. Retracing steps requires getting alarmingly close to what is most unknown to us: who we were at a specific point in time.

The U.S. legal system does not work for people who have no money. And according to the judge in our own case anyway, while it was legal for a man to beat his wife and children, it was illegal for a woman to desert her husband. I had deserted Kevin—and now to fight for the return of my children would require more money than I could ever hope to find.

I’ve always thought that those who manage to do anything for anyone else—regardless of where they happen to be at the moment of “the find”–are heroic. And as for the notion of “outstanding in the field”? To me that means exactly what it says: “out standing in the field”.

By learning to really see and listen to one another, by daring to smile and laugh and, yes, cry together, we can overcome what would destroy us. By joining hands, hearts, and efforts, we make human places where a whisper of hope is indeed equivalent to a done deal.

You can find Point Last Seen on Amazon, by following this link.

And you can learn more about Hannah Nyala at her website: PointLastSeen.com

Alcatraz #1259

Tired, broke, and homeless, Bill Baker found an unlocked car door and got out of the weather. He lay sleeping there for a while, until a rap on the window woke him up. It was the cops.

He got four years in the Oregon State Penitentiary for attempted car theft. Even though he had no intention to steal the car, nor did he possess the keys.

Thus began a lifetime of revolving door incarceration for this 19-year-old.

He was a hell raiser in the Oregon Pen, and spent much of his time in the hole with other hell raisers. Together they attempted a daring, and nearly successful escape.

Soon after being released he was arrested again, in Portland, for stealing cigarettes from a warehouse. But this time he actually succeeded at busting out of jail. He stole a car for real, and fled to Washington state. That was a big mistake, crossing the state line, because there he was caught and charged with a federal crime for the interstate transportation of a stolen auto.

He was sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. But on the long bus ride, wouldn’t you know it? He tried to escape again. They weren’t having any of that, so shortly after he arrived in Leavenworth, this now 23-year-old recidivist was shipped back West, for the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

That was in 1957. As inmate #1259, he spent the next two-and-a-half years in this supermax. But he was getting older and wiser. He decided to grow up and make something of himself while in Alcatraz. So he learned a career. He found a mentor, who was a fellow inmate, and this man taught him how to write hot checks.

That earned him multiple stints in prison over the course of his working life. But he finally retired from the business of hot check writing at the age of 80, and began a new, more honest career as a celebrated author. He wrote the book, Alcatraz #1259.

Bill Baker is one of only two former inmates of Alcatraz who is still living. And these days he’s a celebrity at Alcatraz Island, rather than a prisoner. He talks to tourists about his experiences in Alcatraz prison, and signs copies of his book they purchase in the gift shop.

Alcatraz #1259 tells about this penitentiary from an inmate’s perspective. Baker’s writing is raw and candid. There’s no sugar coating, but there’s no bitterness either.

He treats guards and wardens with both respect and contempt, in measures he believes are well deserved. He humanizes fellow inmates. He makes no excuses, nor apologies, for his crimes. And he warns of the consequences for choosing a life of crime.

His writing style is folksy, reflecting his rural Kentucky background. And it’s also friendly and laced with humor. Bill Baker comes across as a down-home character that anyone would love to have as a cellmate.

This seems to be his first and only book, and his dearth of writing experience is detectable through occasional misspellings and unpolished grammar. But that only adds to his story’s authenticity, in my view. It leaves the impression he’s not trying to pull anything over on the reader.

Even so, some passages came across to me as startlingly eloquent and thought-provoking. I’ll just steal a few quotes from this ex-convict, to show you what I mean:

“A water tower rises high above Alcatraz Island shivering on long iron legs in the cold January wind.”

“Happiness comes in small packages in prison. But it comes. It has to get through the gray filter of awareness that you’re locked up. But it gets through, somehow, maybe not as powerful as cruising down the road with the wind at your back and all your red lights green, like when you’re free, but it gets through in smaller portions. It’s all relative. To a junkyard dog a bone is pure heaven.”

“Love is a four-letter word in prison, one you don’t use when fuck will do, for you dare not show your weakness in the middle of a jungle where a spear may pierce that most vulnerable place in your heart. And loneliness is a word you never use even in a whisper.”

“I have no love for the law, nor they for me, but me and the law had a congenial dumb and dumber relationship, they being dumb and me being dumber.”

“If you’re thinking about going into hot checks as a criminal career you might ought to toughen up your immune system so you can eat a lot of rotten prison food.”

“Never make somebody afraid of you, because a coward can be just as dangerous as anybody if he’s afraid you’re going to do something to him.”

“It’s easier to do time if you don’t fight it.”

“THE FIRST LAW OF SPACETIME: Space and time are equivalent, and neither space nor time can exist independent of the other.”

“My church is a place where space is equivalent to time and Mother Nature is equivalent to God. It’s a place also where the good and the bad are equivalent, where neither the good nor the bad can exist independent of the other, for if it wasn’t for the bad there wouldn’t be any good.”

My wife and I met Bill Baker. We shook his hand in the Alcatraz Island gift shop, and he kindly signed our copy of his book. He came across just as folksy and friendly and funny as he comes across in the pages of his autobiography.

Bill Baker is the real thing. The genuine article. And a national treasure. He’s 85 now, and I suspect he hasn’t much space or time left on this Earth. So don’t waste your space or time. Steal a car, write some hot checks, or do whatever else it takes to get inside Alcatraz and meet the man.

But lacking that, just order his book through Amazon.com, and let yourself have a fun little reading escape.

When you get on Amazon, aim your searchlights for Alcatraz #1259, by William G. Baker.

The All-American Sun Oven

It was the 23rd day of February. The outdoor temperature was in the 40’s. The snow was melting. And most importantly, the sky was clear blue. So I decided to bake a loaf of bread in my All-American Sun Oven.

The sun oven uses no electricity, propane, cow dung, or any other fuel, except the flaming hydrogen gas of the sun.

My little ball of dough growing and rising, trying to become a big ball.

I used a simple French bread recipe, but any bread recipe will do. And you don’t have to bake bread. Anything that can be baked in a regular oven can also be baked in a sun oven. Including Baked Alaska. At least that’s what the All-American Sun Oven literature claims.

But so far, I’ve only baked bread.

Proofing in the Pyrex. It still has rising power. Go dough, go!

I wanted to try this oven a few weeks ago, but then we were hit by a pox of precipitation that cut off my hydrogen fuel supply. The literature claims that it will work under partly cloudy conditions, as long as the sun is peaking in and out of the clouds. But our refractory weather wasn’t even doing that much for me.

Back view of the All-American Sun Oven.

In the wintertime you have to confine your baking time to the two hours before and after solar noon. But screw that. At 9:30 am, about two-and-a-half hours prior to the 11:59 am solar noon, my oven had pre-heated to just 260°F. I felt impatient. So I stuck the bread in there anyway, even though the recipe calls for 30 minutes in a 400°F oven. But hell, it’ll warm up, I figured.

Front view of the oven, baking my baguette. The oven will hold a pan up to 8.5”W X 12.75”L X 6.5”H.

The weird thing is that the literature claims you can leave food in the solar oven for much longer than you can in a conventional oven, and it will never burn. Nor will it dry out, due to the way the oven is sealed. Well, we’ll see.

At 9:30 am, the oven temp was only 260°F. Almost touchable.

By 10:00 am, the oven temp had risen to 350°F, with the outdoor temp at 48°F. The bread had also risen a little more, but still looked pale white. However, with these higher temperatures, I expected caramelization to occur soon, with browning of the bread top.

10:00, and 350°F. The bread should be browning soon.

About every 20-30 minutes you must go outside and rotate the oven a little, so that it tracks the moving sun. But checking on the oven can be advisable anyway, for warding off your dogs, in case you’re broiling steaks.

By 10:30 am, the oven temp had only risen to 360°F. The bread was still as white as my fanny.

10:30, and 360°F. Come on, bread, where’s your tan?

At 11:00 am, the oven temp was back down to 355°F. Steam was streaming out of leaks in the seal, carrying the heavenly scent of baking bread. That’s because I accidentally engaged only one of the two latches that seal the glass lid.

11:00, and 355°F. Still working on that tan.

At 11:30 am, the oven temp had dropped to 350°F, with the outdoor temp up to 50°F. The bread top had browned some.

11:30, and 355°F. Finally some real brown is showing up.

At solar noon, 11:59 am, with not a cloud in the sky, the oven temp had dropped to 325°F, with the outdoor temp still at 50°F. There was no breeze. So I do not understand why the oven temp had dropped at the same time the sun had reached zenith. I suspect it may have to do with steam that formed on the inside glass, blocking out some of the sun’s rays. But it may also have to do with me only latching down one of the lid latches. Oops.

11:59, and 325°F. Notice the condensation at the bottom?

At 11:59 am, the bread came out hot from the oven. It had a crisp, slightly golden brown crust, but was soft and moist on the inside. It was thoroughly cooked, and not doughy. The crust was a bit too thick for my preference, but my wife thought it was just right. I think maybe an hour less of cooking would have produced a thinner crust, better to my personal liking.

Fresh and hot, out of the oven. Looks good enough to eat.

But the most important thing, was that the bread tasted delicious. After two-and-a-half hours of baking you’d think it would be burnt to a crisp, and rock hard all the way through. But no, it was very edible.

Delicious. Especially after I zapped it in the microwave for a few seconds, to soften the butter.

If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, and you’re still interested, click this link to learn more about the incredible All-American Sun Oven.

[This post paid for by nobody. I just like this oven.]

I’m Going to Walley World

The Amazon is a jungle, and I’m not referring to the rainforest in South America. I’m referring to the internet Amazon. Amazon has been my favorite online retailer for about two decades now, but after all that time my loyalty is slipping from the grapevine.

Amazon scams seem to be on the rise. Not long ago I never worried much about ordering from this retail giant. I’d never been scammed. I had great faith in Amazon’s integrity. I always got the product I paid for, and it always arrived in a timely manner.

But a few years ago some of my faith was shaken when I discovered that some Amazon vendors were providing free products to customers who would write a review. I wrote a post about this, hoping it would get the Amazon corporation’s attention and cause them to make widespread reforms. And who knows, maybe it was my meek little voice that motivated Amazon to make some changes, because they apparently ended the practice of biased reviews.

Alright, I’m sure it wasn’t little ol’ me. But just in case it was me, I’m writing this post to encourage further changes. So Amazon, with the might of my meek little voice I command you: Stop the scams, now! (Cue Tarzan call.)

Because it isn’t just biased reviews. Lately I’ve encountered additional predators in the Amazon jungle:

FALSE ADVERTISING PREDATOR:
THE CASE OF THE COLOSSAL SUITCASE

Early this year I ordered a suitcase. I wanted a portmanteau that would be just under the size limits allowed by United Airlines for checked bags, which is 62 linear inches. The product description said this trunk was 61 linear inches. But when I received it, I found it was 64 linear inches. That could subject me to some hefty extra fees by my airline if they happened to notice and make an issue of it.

So I returned the suitcase and got a refund. No big deal, but the misrepresentation wasted my time and left me feeling irritated.

BAIT & SWITCH PREDATOR:
BAD CALL BY A TELEPHONE VENDOR

About three months ago I ordered a telephone. I wanted a nice fancy one that would allow me to block lots of phone numbers. I was sick of all the junk phone calls I constantly get and was going for overkill in my defense weapon of choice. I decided to splurge and get a phone that cost $269.99, rather than a different phone offered by the same vendor for about $85.

Both phones looked very similar.

A few days later I received the phone, unpacked it, and set it up. It worked great. But as an afterthought I checked the model number against my order. It was the model number of the $85 phone. Yet the vendor charged me $269.99.

I immediately contacted the vendor and complained. They apologized and claimed that their more expensive phones had been water damaged, so they were only able to send the cheaper phone. But if that was so, why did they charge me for the expensive phone? And why didn’t they contact me before shipping the cheap phone, to give me a choice? This seemed like a bad call on their part.

I had already set up the cheap phone, so I went ahead and kept it, and accepted a refund for the difference in price. But if I hadn’t noticed the different model number, and had not complained, I believe I would have been scammed. And what a sneaky little half-legitimate scam it was.

REFUND HASSLE PREDATOR:
THE BED THAT WOULDN’T GO TO BED

About a month ago I ordered an adjustable bed frame from Amazon. It did not arrive on the day the tracking information promised it would arrive. But the day after, I got an email apologizing that the shipment had been delayed, and advising me to wait another 10 days before making any inquiries.

I wouldn’t wait. That’s because the tracking information showed that the bed frame was in the shipper’s facility just 70 miles away. Why would that take an additional 10 days to deliver?

So I contacted the vendor through Amazon’s chat service. After a little research, the vendor told me the bed frame had actually been damaged in shipping and was being returned to the vendor by the shipper. Gee, it would have been nice had their tracking information told me that, rather than leave me waiting all day for a delivery that was never coming. And why did the email say the shipment had been delayed, rather than returned? And why was I advised to wait 10 days before making an inquiry?

The vendor offered me a refund, which I accepted.

But after a week the refund had still not appeared on my credit card. So I contacted the vendor again. They again promised me a refund.

But the next day I got an email from a trucking company saying they were going to stop by my house and pick up the bed frame. This left me feeling alarmed, because I had never received the bed frame in the first place. I worried that my refund depended upon this trucking company picking up this nondelivered bed frame from my house.

So I took the time to contact the vendor again. They called off the pick up and again promised me a refund. And a few days later I did, indeed, receive the refund. At last, I finally put the bed problem to bed.

But what a time-consuming hassle to get my money back on an item I never received. I’m not sure if this was an attempted scam, but even if it wasn’t, the incompetence has left me feeling nervous about Amazon.

MORE PREDATORS, AND MY SUMMER VACATION TO WALLEY WORLD

Apparently I’m not the only one. Here’s an article from Forbes about Amazon scams on the rise:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2017/01/02/amazon-scams-on-the-rise-in-2017-as-fraudulent-sellers-run-amok-and-profit-big/#493cf87a3ea6

I’ve revered this company for years, but no longer. I’m now actively seeking a replacement for Amazon. I love shopping online, but only when I can trust that I’ll receive what I’ve paid for.

I’ll still make some small purchases through this jungle, as I transition away. But right now I’m sizing up Walmart as a replacement. I checked out their website and it seems they’ve greatly improved their online service from what it was a few years ago. So I opened an account and plan to give them a try.

Walley World seems to be the first to give the Amazonians a serious run for their money. I hope they hang in there and stick around. I believe online retail needs better competition, to battle the scams.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed and hope Walley World continues to hold their own against the gigantic jungle of Amazon, and maintain their online presence. I’d sure hate for them to be closed when I go to place an order.

A Week of Recreational Trips

Last week I came upon a fork in the road. After pulling it out of my foot, I had to decide to go left and pursue a life of crime, or go right, and continue to be the upstanding, law-abiding citizen that I have been throughout much of my adult life.

I went left. And now I am a criminal. I have violated a federal law that is punishable by up to a year in jail and a thousand dollar fine, for the first offense.

You see, I decided to try marijuana. You know, ganja, grass, weed, hemp, airplane, dope, rope, Mary Jane, 420, broccoli, wacky tabacky . . . everybody is familiar with those terms, right? Even a guy like me who never used the stuff.

I was a marijuana virgin until a week ago. I don’t like to use mind-altering substances. And so I also don’t drink, having given that up about 25 years ago. I think it’s wise to stay clear-minded and sober. This makes it easier for me to beat my impoverished mother at penny-ante poker games.

But I’ve heard so much about the forbidden fruit of marijuana that my curiosity got the best of me, leading to the fork in the road. And the state of California has made it easy to go left and satisfy my curiosity. This year it became legal in our state to sell marijuana to recreational users.

And so, feeling recreational and curious, I headed down to the head shop to buy a baggie.

It’s still a federal offense, so I felt a little bit nervous about this whole process. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Those who sell it are a bit nervous, too.

The head shop was a suite in a strip mall containing a few other businesses, including a tile and countertop shop. I nervously pulled at the door. But it was locked. Was this the right suite? Then I heard a click and it popped open. Someone from inside had remotely unlocked the door. I stepped into a small, cheaply decorated lobby with two couches. A security guard sat in a booth behind a bulletproof window.

He asked if this was my first time here. Oh god, would he find out I’m a marijuana virgin? How embarrassing. It would look so uncool for a guy as old as me to be a newcomer to grass. But how would he know I hadn’t used this substance before at some other place? So I casually put my hands in my pockets and dismissively remarked, “Yes.”

He asked, “Medical or recreational?”

“Recreational,” I replied, while trying to utter this polysyllabic word in the coolest way possible. I think it came off, “Rehhhhhcreationallll.”

He took my driver’s license and scanned it, for reasons I still haven’t figured out and was afraid to ask. He also had me fill out a form, where I gave my contact information.

Then he told me to wait.

About 10 minutes later my reverie on the couch was broken by a young lady who opened a door and called my name. This formality was just like seeing a doctor.

I followed her into a tiny room that contained marijuana product displayed in glass cases. She and I were the only ones in this tiny room, and it felt a little intimate and uncomfortable. I said nothing, but just stood there trying to look as cool as possible. Finally she asked if there was something she could help me with. I asked, “Do you sell edibles?”

She said, “Sure,” and began reciting a long rundown of all the edibles in stock. I can’t remember all the different names, but when she said, “Brownies,” it rang a bell. Only cool people consume marijuana-laced brownies. Or so I think I’ve heard.

I interrupted her with, “I’ll take the brownies.”

My baggie of brownies.

She removed a bag of brownies from a refrigerator behind the cash register. They were professionally packaged, with the brand name, “Kaneh Co.” She said they were $15.00, plus tax.

The tax was extraordinary. Tacked onto the sale was a $2.25 excise tax. Plus a $1.73 city tax. Plus a $1.76 sales tax. Although these figures add up to $20.74, the total on the receipt read $20.73. Don’t ask me what happened to the penny, but hey this was a marijuana outfit I was buying from.

I paid cash. I’ve heard they don’t accept credit cards or checks, due to federal laws, so I didn’t even offer to try those methods of payment.

I left the store a federal lawbreaker, in illegal possession of a Schedule I controlled substance. That’s right, marijuana is right there at the top of the list of drugs that our federal government fears the most. Schedule I drugs are considered by the FDA to have a high potential for abuse and/or physical dependence, with no currently acceptable medical use.

Hello, glaucoma? Hello, chemotherapy relief? Hello, are there any intelligent people working at the FDA?

Other Schedule I drugs besides marijuana are, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and Quaaludes. Schedule II drugs, considered less dangerous by the FDA, include cocaine and methamphetamine. Yep, the FDA considers cocaine and methamphetamine to be safer than Mary Jane.

On my way home I wasn’t worried about the dangers of marijuana. I was only worried about being stopped by the law. Yeah it’s legal in our state. But no, it’s not really legal, because of federal law. This is a gray area I felt anxious about. And wouldn’t you know, I passed three cops while driving the back roads home, and they all gave me long hard stares. Or so I imagined. And what gives? I hardly ever see cops on those roads. Or so I imagine.

But the most feared cop of all was at my destination. My wife. She hates any drugs, and has told me many times that she would never be married to someone who uses drugs. So I couldn’t let her know what I was doing. I had several half-baked plans swirling in my head on how to get my broccoli brownies past her nose and into a safe hiding spot.

Fortunately the DEA wasn’t home, so I easily smuggled the brownie bag in through the front door. Then I hid my stash beneath a sweater in a dresser drawer and waited.

Close to bedtime, when my wife wasn’t looking, I consumed my very first brownie and lost my marijuana virginity.

One of the brownies. Looks delicious, no?

Each brownie was about one-inch square, and according to the packaging, contained 10 mg of THC. THC is the active ingredient of cannabis, and it’s what makes you high. 10 mg of THC is 1/2800 of an ounce. It may not seem like much, because you need much more to get high if you’re smoking pot. But it’s a significant amount when it comes to edible marijuana. I’d learned from research I did beforehand that edibles have a much more potent effect than smokables.

There is no leaf marijuana in edible brownies. Instead the THC comes from an oil called concentrated cannabis, or cannabis extract. The state of California allows you to legally possess 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of leaf marijuana, but only 8 grams (~1/4 oz) of concentrated cannabis. I dug out my calculator, and it seems that with each brownie containing 10 mg of THC, and with 10 mg being 1/100th of a gram, you would have to be in possession of more than 800 brownies to violate California’s legal limit.

My baggie only contained 10 brownies, so I was very safely within the limit.

But healthwise, was I safe to eat even one of those ten brownies? I’ve read that some people have bad trips even with that small amount.

The brownie was sweet and toothsome. It was hard to hold back and not devour more. I truly believe that chocolate and sugar should be included in the list of Schedule I drugs. They are very addictive and very easy to abuse. And they cause cavities.

Nothing happened from this one brownie, at first. But within a half hour I began to perceive a very light, fuzzy feeling. I went to bed soon after, but did not fall asleep for an hour. Who says marijuana helps you to sleep? Nonsense.

About an hour after I finally dropped off to dreamland I awoke feeling even more light and fuzzy. I also felt a little dizzy and nauseous. And there were some small hallucinations going on. After drifting back to sleep I began getting brief, intermittent sensations that a pole made of pure crystal was running through my chest. It was a bit disconcerting, and would repeatedly startle me back awake for about half the night.

I felt glad I only ate one brownie.

The next evening I ate another brownie. The effect was far less pronounced than the night before. It made me feel a little light-headed and fuzzy, but that was the extent of this high. It seemed as if I had quickly developed a tolerance.

So the next evening, just after dinner, I consumed two brownies instead of one. I wanted to play around some more with feeling high.

I got my wish. It took a few hours, but suddenly the full effects of 20 mg of THC kicked in. I began feeling excited, and somewhat unfocused. This worsened, until I was having difficulty concentrating on reading and typing, and anything else. I felt a little dizzy, and staggered when I walked. I glanced in a mirror and noticed that my pupils were a little dilated.

After I went to bed, I awoke several times feeling dizzy. I also felt a scratchy throat. And before this I assumed the scratchy throat that potheads get was from smoking. Now I know better. THC makes your throat scratchy no matter how you ingest it.

I also experienced auditory hallucinations. These included the sound of muffled voices, and the sound of rapid, soft thumping in the distance. But the scariest hallucination was a very vivid splish-splash noise that coincided with my heartbeat. It was as if I could hear the actual sound of my blood striking my heart walls.

This was some trip, and I debated whether it would be safe to travel to this high height again.

I had six brownies left. I didn’t want the bland experience from just one brownie at a time, so I went for it. The next day I consumed two more brownies.

It seems my tolerance had not strengthened any further, because that evening’s high was just as powerful as the high of the night before, with hallucinations and everything.

For the next two nights I continued with two brownies per evening, as a postprandial indulgence, and continued to have strong highs.

But after that my baggie hidden under the sweater was completely empty. And then I had no more brownies, no more THC, and no more highs.

Now I faced the real test. Would I just have to have more cannabis? Would I miss the light fuzzy feeling, the wild hallucinations, the tripping high? Would I be in a hurry to rush back down to the head shop and purchase more brownies?

Or even worse, would this turn out to be a gateway drug, like so many anti-pot zealots have claimed? Would I want to start doing heroin now? Or LSD? Or Quaaludes? What kind of dissipated dope addict might I descend into?

The good news is, I’ve been drug-free for four days now, and have no craving to return to my debauched druggy lifestyle. My self-imposed rehab program is proving successful.

Heck, I’m just not interested in getting high from drugs. The high from marijuana feels unnatural and kind of unpleasant. I’ve experienced much more pleasant highs from doing more natural things. Things such as napping, meditating, and napping while meditating. I may be a nap addict, but I’m not yet a drug addict.

I doubt I’ll ever do marijuana again. Nor will I somehow stumble through a gate and start experimenting with other drugs.

But even if I did, so what? I want everyone to be responsible for their own oblivion. I don’t think we need nannies like Uncle Sam to protect us from ourselves.

I’d like to see all drugs legalized. This was my opinion before using marijuana, and remains my opinion after. It seems like such a waste of human life to throw people in jail, just because they obtained a high through unnatural means. Let them be.

Let everyone be. Let us experiment and pursue our happiness in any way we see fit, as long as we don’t hurt anyone but ourselves.

My experiment has taught me the power of the natural high. The unnatural high from marijuana doesn’t even come close to matching it. But I would not have learned this if it wasn’t for that baggie of brownies.

Thank you, state of California, for allowing me that freedom.

Black Book of Satan (book review)

Are you into chaos? Wanna learn black magick, or take part in orgies? Willing to catch a few STDs? If so then Satan worship may be just the thing for you.

I’m familiar with the Bible. I grew up with it. But I’ve never seen the Book of Satan until just recently. No, my eyes did not turn into cinders of smoldering coal and drop out of my skull the moment I opened this book. Nor have I been haunted by cacodemons in the middle of the night. Nor does my head spin around 360 degrees.

I’m not superstitious, so maybe that’s what has saved me. But I am curious. Any book purporting to come from Satan is enough to give most people the collywobbles, wambles, and chilly willies. And that just piques my curiosity more. You know, forbidden fruit and all.

But I always thought such a book was a myth. So imagine my delight when I discovered I could download this sinister text from the internet, in pdf format. You too, can download it, at this website: http://www.o9a.org/wp-content/uploads/Black-Book-of-Satan.pdf.

This particular book of Satan portrays Satanism as a practical philosophy, where individuals can enhance their lives through the use of “magick”, to achieve their desires. By the way, that’s the archaic spelling of “magic”, perhaps intending to reflect the age of this philosophy. Or perhaps reflecting that Satan doesn’t know how to spell.

21 Satanic Points

Early in the book you will find “The 21 Satanic Points”. These are sort of like the 10 Commandments, except they come from the devil, and there are 21 of them.

Point #1 reads: “Respect not pity or weakness, for they are a disease which makes sick the strong.” This kind of gives you an idea of how the remaining 20 read, so I won’t go through them all. However, I found it interesting that some of the maxims are cliches I’ve heard before, outside the circles of Satan.

For instance, Point #7 reads, “Build not upon sand, but upon rock. And build not for today or yesterday but for all time.” This kind of echoes Matthew 7:24-27 of the Bible, where Jesus advises to build your house on rock and not sand. Was Jesus in league with the devil?

And then there’s Point #21, which reads, “What does not kill, makes stronger.” Hmm, I think I heard this one in basic military training. Which confirms to me that basic training is one of the levels of Hell.

Two Books of Satan

Apparently there are at least two books of Satan. One book contains practices that individuals can engage in, in order to take advantage of magick and get the things they want. The other book (this “Black Book”) explains how to practice in a group. It mainly contains rituals performed in a temple or outdoor setting, to draw on the dark powers of the devil.

The Black Book of Satan instructs how to set up a temple, what sort of incense and candles to use, and so forth, so that you can do everything properly, the Satanic way. Then it gets into the liturgy of the rituals themselves.

Rituals

Rituals include: The Black Mass, The Pledging (Satanic wedding ceremony), The Ceremony of Birth (for mothers named Rosemary, I suppose), and the Rite of Initiation.

Nearly every ritual in this book involves some sort of sexual activity. The descriptions rival any book of erotica. The Priest or Priestess often lies naked on an altar. Someone designated as a “Master” or “Mistress” also take part in the ceremony, while the congregation, naked beneath black robes, observes and chants.

Often the officiates of the ceremony perform sex acts on each other, in front of the congregation. Then when they are finished, the members of the congregation lose their black robes and dance around naked, in a counterclockwise rotation. After a bit, these naked worshipers abandon all form and engage in chaotic, orgiastic sex, while feasting on a banquet of food.

That’s typically how a ceremony goes, although the details differ somewhat with each ritual.

The Death Rite

I’ll give you an example by describing “The Death Rite”. The Death Rite is a ritual for wishing death upon someone, whom the book names “N.N.” for the nonce. You can fill in the blank with any name, because the actual name used is one that a member of the congregation has submitted. This is a person, any person, whom that particular Satan worshiper hates and would like to see dead. Or who knows, maybe they just want to collect on life insurance, end a marriage, or win an election.

In this ritual the Priest dresses in black robes, while the Priestess lies naked on the altar. The Mistress dresses in sexually alluring crimson robes. The congregation dresses in black robes with crimson cords.

Black candles are placed on the altar, a musky incense is burned, and a small wooden coffin is placed near the altar with a handful of graveyard earth piled upon it. No kidding. These kooks really dig up dirt from a cemetery for this ceremony.

A small wax effigy made in the likeness of N.N. is placed on the womb of the naked Priestess. This effigy is made to a size that will fit into the wooden coffin.

The Mistress rings a silver bell 13 times to start the ritual.

The Priest chants, “I will go down to the altars in Hell.”

The congregation chants back, “To Satan, the giver of life.”

The Priest then begins reciting a parody of the Lord’s Prayer, beginning with, “Our Father which wert in heaven …” (“Father” being Satan, who fell from heaven).

The Priest turns and fondles the Priestess, then he and the Mistress begin a series of chants with the congregation, including: “Agios o Satanas!” (meaning “Saint the Satan”.) “Satanas – venire!” And “Ave Satanas”.

Then the Priest gets into the meat of the ceremony by making the sign of the inverted pentagram over the congregation, and declaring, “We, the spawn of Chaos, curse N.N.”

All: “We curse N.N.”

Priest: “N.N. will writhe and die!”

All: “N.N. will writhe and die!”

And futher chants back and forth, such as:

“By our will, destroyed.”

“Kill and laugh and then dance to our Prince!”

“N.N. is dying!”

“N.N. is dead!”

“We have killed and now glory in the killing!”

“The Earth rejects N.N.”

At this point the naked Priestess places the wax effigy of N.N. into the coffin. The congregation begins dancing “counter sunwise” (counterclockwise) in a circle, chanting the Diabolus.

Then the Priest has sexual intercourse on the altar with the Priestess while the congregation clap their hands in approval, chanting ‘Ave Satanas!’ After the climax, the Priest withdraws, and the Mistress kisses the Priestess on the lips. The Mistress then kisses each member of the congregation.

The Priest, after this, makes the sign of the inverted pentagram over the coffin, declaring loudly: ”N.N. is dead and we all have shared in this death. N.N. is dead and we rejoice!” This is a cue for the Priest and the congregation to laugh.

The Mistress then takes the Priest’s penis in her mouth until he is erect again. Then she shouts: “I who bring life, also take!”

Soon after, the Priest declares: “Feast now, and rejoice, for we have killed, doing the work of our Prince!”

An orgy of lust then ensues, concluding the ritual.

The next morning everyone wakes up with itchy crotches and a burning sensation when they pee. But that’s my conclusion. The book makes no mention of STDs.

Recruitment

Toward the end of the Black Book of Satan, suggestions are given on how to recruit new members, and how to become a Satan worshiper yourself.

New members are recruited by luring them to rituals. Sex is often used as a lure, by inviting them to an orgy. Or they can be promised a lesson in magick. I can understand falling for the first lure, but you’d have to be a real nerd to fall for the second one.

But it isn’t easy to join the ranks of chaos and evil.

Initiates into Satanism must undergo a probationary period of several years, under the guidance of the Master or Mistress. During this time the Master or Mistress teaches Satanism to them, and tests their knowledge. It’s just like being back in school. Which figures, because school was another level of Hell, in my opinion.

Initiates may also be required to put themselves into dangerous or illegal circumstances. The book warns that some will die or be imprisoned.

Gulp!

But those who manage to survive or evade arrest may eventually become full-fledged members. Lucky bastards. I hope they’re grateful.

Instructions are also given for how to establish a Satanic group. And there is instruction on how to self-initiate, just in case someone has a hard time finding a Satanic group in their area. Gee, you’d think you could find all kinds of them in the Yellow Pages.

When someone joins the legions of the devil, they must adopt a new temple name. The very last pages of the book contain suggestions for names.

Examples for men: Oger, Hacon, Serell, Noctulius, Athor, Engar, Aulwynd, Algar, Suevis, Angar, Wulsin, Gord, Ranulf.

Examples for women: Sirida, Eulalia, Lianna, Aesoth, Richenda, Edonia, Annia, Liben, Estrild, Selann.

Take note of these names, in case you frequent online dating sites.

My Conclusions

The Black Book of Satan purports to help members fulfill their potential through the dark powers of magick. But I believe it actually weakens their potential.

Apart from catching some sort of hideous venereal disease, initiates run the risk of dying or being jailed, due to the diablerie required of them. But even if they make it through that gauntlet, they can fall under the blackmailing control of a Priest or Priestess.

They’ve committed crimes and can now be induced to go deeper into lawbreaking. They can be drawn into a criminal syndicate. Their criminal actions make them vulnerable to being manipulated into causing more and more harm to others for the benefit of the Priest or Priestess.

This is the same pattern found in other kinds of criminal gangs. You rob, steal, and kill to benefit the gang leaders. In return you get to live the life of a fugitive, while feasting on any crumbs of pleasure rewarded to you from your boss.

In my view, Satanism is a tragic, suicidal path that has little chance of leading to self-fulfillment. It deprives followers of safety and security. It steals away their liberty. And ultimately, it leads worshipers on a dark path toward their own self-destruction.

Maybe that is why the book is black.

Symbols found within the Black Book of Satan. They are somewhat similar to the doodles of Donald Trump.

Flipping on a New Phone

Alexander Graham Bell. The man who started this mess.

Alexander Graham Bell. The man who started this mess.

This is a follow-up post to my screed on Friday about flip phones.

My wife did a little shopping around, and found a flip phone for $20 at Walmart, that supports AT&T. She then took that phone to our local AT&T mobile phone service store and paid them $10 to add 40 minutes of call time. Now all she has to do is keep buying at least 40 minutes a month from AT&T, at 25 cents a minute, to keep her minutes and service. All her unused minutes will roll over, each month.

Who knows, there could be better deals out there, but this seems good enough for our purpose, which is just to have a cell phone for emergency needs.

Thanks for all the great suggestions you guys gave us Friday. If we didn’t follow your particular suggestion, it at least helped point us in a general direction that was useful, because most of the suggestions involved doing something similar to what my wife finally did.

As a side-note, and to give credit where it’s due, my wife took the $20 Tracfone card that didn’t work for us, back to Walmart. She asked for a refund. They refused. They said they don’t give refunds for that card. My wife insisted and spoke with a manager.

She said, “If I stole $20 from this store, you’d have me arrested, wouldn’t you?”

Manager: “Yep.”

Wife: “Well you guys just stole $20 from me, by selling me this useless card. Isn’t stealing from customers illegal?”

The manager finally relented. He took a 20-dollar-bill from petty cash and gave it to her, in return for the card.

Thanks Walmart, for seeing the light and finally coming through.

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