Dark Starless Nights in Bethlehem

This writing was first intended as a letter on collective madness to a good but unfortunately impassioned Jewish writer, deeply-rooted in that irreducible denial in which most members of ethnic or political tribes seek refuge when faced with facts demonstrating injustice on their part. She expressed her unmitigated support of Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people based on arguments which the U.S. and Israeli press have often repeated and which need no repetition here.

The real theme of this paper is the next-to-impossible task of distilling objective understanding and factual observations, just settlements and mutually beneficial solutions in irrational conflicts between nations, religions, and political ideologies.

Suicide Terrorism Before Christ
When writing about suicide bombers, it is odd that no journalist has yet associated contemporary “suicidal terrorism” with the Old Testament’s first report of a suicide terrorist:

The temple was crowded with men and women.   All the leading Philistines were there.   There were something like three thousand people on the roof,  watching Samson.   Samson called out to Yahweh:  « Lord Yahweh,  remember me.   Give me strength this last time,  and let me be avenged at one blow for my two eyes. »   He put his arms around the two central pillars supporting the building,  his right arm around one and his left around the other.   He cried out,  « Let me die with the Philistines! »   And then he leaned forward with all his strength,  and the temple fell on the chiefs and on all the people who were in it.   He killed more people at his death than he had killed in his life.” Judges 16: 27-30

Samson, after being blinded by Delilah and made a slave, was chained to a millstone for many years and ultimately chose a suicidal act of terror to destroy his oppressors.

When I was as a child my teachers didn’t refer to Samson as an evil terrorist for destroying his oppressors and sacrificing his own life in the process. Quite the contrary, Samson was regarded as a hero. In fact, « Samson and Delilah » is one among the “Heroes of the Bible » series. In an early blockbuster movie with Victor Mature as Samson, Samson’s suicidal terrorist act is glorified.

To Christians and Jews Samson has been portrayed as a great hero; nowhere in all these centuries is there a reproach from God for his deadly act. How very interesting, therefore, that today Jewish, Christian, and Moslem writers have ignored this biblical story, especially since the number of innocent Philistines who were crushed by the collapsing temple was around 3000 – strangely, almost the same number of people who perished on September 11 in the temple of modern international business and money exchange. The World Trade Center was brought down by suicidal terrorists invoking the same Semitic God Samson invoked in the distant past when seeking revenge.

Fosse Ardeatine
In order to forestall the all-too-predictable accusations of anti-Semitism for speaking out clearly against injustice, the following is a true episode from my own life, the event which spawned my lifelong opposition to injustice and tyranny.

In 1943 during World War II my family sheltered several Jewish neighbors in our apartment at 104 via Agostino De Pretis, where the German army had established an officers’ club on the third floor. I was barely 13 years old, and a good part of my day, when air raids permitted, was taken up carrying buckets of water to our apartment. I walked down seven flights of stairs and then about a mile from home to a public water fountain, stood in a long line, filled and carried back two big heavy buckets of wonderful Roman spring water, then climbed the stairs, trying to dodge questions from the “portiere” as to why the Vidali Family seemed to use so much more water than any other tenant.

On March 23, 1944, an Italian resistance fighter camouflaged as a street sweeper set up a bomb in a cleaning cart and exploded it when Company XI of Battalion III of the German SS Polizei Regiment Bozen marched in Via Rasella only a few blocks from my home. 33 German SS were killed. Gunfire and explosions between the Italian resistance and SS followed.

Just as the attack occurred I was walking back with my water buckets and found myself barred from going home. I tried to change direction by taking a side street, but all streets were being blocked. Male civilians were being grabbed off the street and loaded on trucks by armed soldiers and police. My life was saved that terror-filled afternoon by the tearful intervention of my 19 year-old cousin Stella, who pleaded with a young German officer to let me pass.

The next day 330 Italians of all ages were transported by the SS to caves known as “Fosse Ardeatine” and murdered one by one with a single pistol, shot to the head in cold blood. The entrance to the cave was dynamited, creating an instant mass grave. The fascist press called that action a “justifiable » German reprisal against Italian terrorists.” Good friends of ours – fathers and brothers of ordinary families – perished without their families knowing what had actually happened. The Nazis disallowed fact finding, and claimed to have killed saboteurs, communists, and terrorists, not teachers, students, doctors, and workers. No, the Nazis were the « good guys » who were punishing « evil » Italian terrorists.

Five years later I arrived by ship to the United States and wept with profound emotion upon seeing the Statue of Liberty. Few people born and raised in a functioning Democracy are able to imagine the depth of the love that I as an immigrant from a fascist state have always felt for America.

My defense of this country, especially when traveling abroad, has never wavered, even with the discrimination I endured here in my youth. I remember being called wap, dago, and other derogatory epithets similar to jap, nigger, and kike, but joked back and reminded these name-calling right wing racists that Italy had contributed substantially to their claims of being civilized. The reason I always defended my adopted country was because I revered its magnificent governing document and the ideals it embodied: the United States Constitution, the greatest promise for human beings to live free under just laws and to pursue happiness in a united and strong nation. Yes, Italy was my childhood cradle but while my love for its culture is as much a part of me as the Jewish culture is a part of any Jew, I would never support a Congress or an Administration that puts the interests of Italy above the interests of the people of the United States.

Fascism on the Rise Today
Martin Luther King helped move us closer to the time when this promise will blossom into full reality, just as the greed, powerlust and big money corruption of the 2000 elections blocked progress and are pushing us back from freedom into the fascist filth of the past with its ugly exploitation of the poor, use of foreign child labor, and theft of our surplus and treasury behind a propaganda smoke screen of a “War on Terrorism.” I find all the warmongering and sly emotional appeals, the drum beating and flag waving while our Constitution is being thrashed behind our backs, contemptible.

Thousands of American who died to rid Europe of fascism and nazism are turning over in their graves, realizing in horror that in only 60 years the American people – having become TV-brainwashed – are facing a neo-fascist takeover of their government in broad daylight. A judicial coup financed by a multinational energy Ponzi scheme – ENRON – and by armaments and financial cartels helped by the lobby of a foreign nation, is trying to establish a totalitarian dictatorship to destroy Democracy by contriving a perennial war that may end by plunging us all in a global nuclear catastrophe. Like deer frozen on a highway staring at approaching headlights, the Americans people are confused and helplessly paralyzed.

Meanwhile, Israel’s controlling Zionists have spread their tentacles into the Texas Ranch of the un-American pseudo-leader and are committing errors that retrograde the hard-won Jewish achievements of world acceptance, provoking increasing anti-Jewish feeling and reactions worldwide. No action has been more damaging to the Jewish community than Congress’ pro-Israel measure sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman, which passed with blatant disregard for the immense suffering of the Palestinian people. Read Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s insightful statement about this irresponsible measure.

The shock of our so-called « Representatives » – oblivious to this nation’s interests – cheering and supporting a foreign country while it is in the act of inflicting the same brutal massacres on the Palestinians as the German’s inflicted on the Jews in WWII, is devastating to what remains of America’s self respect. Bush acting like Sharon’s poodle projects the image of a frightening Evil Empire ruled by a weak madman approving war while blabbering peace, accepting mass murders while spouting Christian compassion, and pretending not to see the crimes committed by his rebellious governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate (Sharon) foaming at the mouth and telling the weak Texan Caesar to go chase cows on his ranch. But little Caesar is desperately trying to keep his dad’s Saudi Arabian oil partners happy and get some help for revenge against Saddam Hussein. Sharon wouldn’t mind returning favors and assisting in Bush’s planned massacres in Iraq for a share of its oil. Maybe all this will help the Texas Emperor. Quite a juggling act that might blow up like the Venezuelan Bush oil coup.

Having lived in a fascist state I feel a duty to sound out these warnings of impending national disaster. As a citizen of the United States I have the Constitutional right to loudly protest what our unelected administration is doing and expose the negligence of many representatives in our irresponsible Congress. After reading the following astonishing front page statements in our mainstream press, I felt I was back under Mussolini in fascist Italy:

Congress clasped Israel in a warm embrace on Thursday, passing resolutions of support for the Jewish state and blessing its recent military campaign as an attempt at « dismantling the terrorist infrastructure » in Palestinian territory…« Let every terrorist know, the American people will never abandon freedom, democracy or Israel, » said Texas Rep Tom DeLay. « Recent attacks directed against Israelis, » the House GOP whip added, « are attacks against liberty, and all free people must recognize that Israel’s fight is our fight. »

How dare Tom Delay speak for “free people” and how dare this sweat shop promoter utter sacred words like « freedom » and « democracy » and in the same breath support the massacre of Palestinians with weapons funded by the American taxpayer – in arrant violation of laws regarding arms sales to Israel which are to be used for defense purposes only – not to attack, destroy, and murder innocent people.

I am sick and tired of hearing cheap accusations of “anti-Semitism” belched helter-skelter, shotgun fashion, against U.S. citizens who dare criticize anything Jewish. If we say we don’t like lox and bagels or can’t stand matzo ball soup, we are called anti-Semitic. Jews who all too easily accuse others of being Anti-Semitic are invariably racist toward other ethnic groups, especially Arabs, who are also Semites! To be anti any one race is to be antihuman.

The Jewish Holocaust was unquestionably a tragedy of epic proportions and Jews are correct to do all they can so the world doesn’t forget, but they, of all people, should not be the ones to imitate or repeat the aggression, torture, imprisonment, or persecution they suffered during those evil times. Unfortunately, it seems that the Israeli government and many American Jews have forgotten or choose to disregard history. Fortunately, not all have fallen to this Nazi level of evil and many are protesting Israel’s heightened aggression.

Sharon is a terrorist beast of old standing who behaves like a Nazi. Now he, like they, is trying to hide evidence of brutal massacres and to prevent an investigation by the UN in collusion with the U.S. Isn’t that why America talks about a summer conference – to give Israel time to conceal its staggering new human holocaust? Mighty Israel and mighty America in self-righteous pursuit of revenge have fallen to the same low level of terrorist actions as those they want to prevent and in so doing fertilize the ground of evil.

If our civilization could see the world as my Jewish friend so eloquently wrote: « I believe in a spiritual universe that emanates from an ineffably numinous source in which each of us plays an important role, » then all lives would be sacred: the African, the Caucasian, the Asian, the Polynesian. As human beings each of us can be objective only when we hold no secret presumption of being superior by race, gender, or in any other way. To feel superior because an infantile image of God makes us believe that the Numinous Source, the Infinite Principle that manifested the Universe, is a God so petty as to choose only our tribe above all others – this fanatical interpretation by Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike has been the cause of centuries of evil and injustice.

Only when we understand the irrefragable reality of equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all humans will we find the way of peace and the energy and resources to turn this planet back into an abundant Garden.

Pepper John’s Produce Price List

No Previous Storage • Picked & Delivered Within The Hour • No Order Too Small • Partial Quantities Welcome • Chefs Welcome To Come & Pick Their Own Or Just Visit • EVERY DAY DELIVERY AVAILABLE! • Fee Samples • Locally Grown In Santa Cruz • All Produce 100% Unconditionally Guaranteed.

Peter Pan Baby Squash w/blossoms 6.00 lb
Golden Zucchini Baby Squash w/blossoms 6.00 lb
Golden Zucchini 2.00 lb
Peter Pan 12/1.00
Golden Zucchini 12/1.00
Radicchio Leaf-Bunch 1.00 ea
Endive Bunch 1.00 ea
Lemon Cucumbers 2.00 lb
Young Lemon Grass-untrimmed 5.00 1/2 lb
Lemon Grass-untrimmed 5.00 lb
Tomatillos 1.75 lb
Gypsy 5.00 lb
Cubenella 5.00 lb
Blushing Beauty (ivory to red) 5.00 lb
Blue Jay (lemon lime to blue purple) 5.00 lb
Paprika Supreme 5.00 lb
Big Bertha 5.00 lb
Hungarian Hot Wax 5.00 lb
Manzana aka Rocotto 5.00 lb
Inferno 5.00 lb
Thai Dragons 20.00 lb or 2.00 oz
Habanero – Caribbean Red 20.00 lb or 2.00 oz
Habanero – Chocolate Brown (rare) 5.00 1/2 oz
Habanero – Regular 20.00 lb or 2.00 oz
Fresh Cayenne-red and green 20.00 lb or 2.00 oz
Super Chili 20.00 lb or 2.00 oz
Hawaiian Hot/Sweet (rare and very hot) 5.00 1/2 oz
Zebra 2.50 lb
Cherokee Purple 2.50 lb
Giant Rainbow 2.50 lb
Pineapple Stripe 2.50 lb
Brandy Wine 2.50 lb
Lemon Boy 2.50 lb
Beefsteak 2.50 lb
Roma 2.50 lb
Jar of Pepper John’s Red Peppers* 10.00 ea
Jar of Pepper John’s Green Peppers* 10.00 ea
*Vinegar great used in salads, marinades, etc

« I also create beautiful cornucopia baskets of various kinds and sizes. This unique presentation is only $20!



LIMA AIRPORT. The hustle-bustle of a noisy crowd. Confusion.

Groves is met by an embassy official at the arriving passenger gate. He and the official walk through the bustling airport to an awaiting Cadillac limousine. A military jeep with four soldiers follows the limousine close behind.

Charles, carrying his backpack, is seen at a ticket window. The agent informs him that the bus trip to Cuzco will take approximately two full days.

He boards the bus and takes a place in the rear. At one of the stops along the way, a number of Indians climb in, laden with colorful array of baskets, carpets, and packages. Among the crowd is an American girl, a luscious blond, carrying a backpack. She moves to the back of the bus and boldly takes a place next to Charles.

The ride is long, and the two have a chance to get acquainted. Clare tells Charles that she is from Cincinnati and that she is a Peace Corps recruit assigned to San Ramon. She has already been in Peru a year. Charles tells her his story. The two seem to like each other and amuse themselves by observing the other bus passengers.

A conference at the U.S. embassy. Present are several US officials, a number of Peruvian government people, and some uniformed members of the military junta that rules the country. Groves is explaining the US proposal to control Peru’s coca production, in exchange for which the US will agree to subsidize Peru’s other crops, such as coffee, and offer credit for military equipment.

The next to speak is a Peruvian professor and government advisor who gives his academic opinion. The Indian population has used coca for many centuries and is a very important part of Indian culture. The professor suggests that government control might only decrease the poor peoples’ share of coca, but would have little bearing on the continuance of the cocaine trade. The cocaine trade is too powerful to take second place to the Indian market.

A Peruvian government spokesman states that it is the responsibility of the US to improve control of cocaine in its own arena. US control of coca in Peru would be dangerous and difficult, if not impossible, in a country where armed resistance is already in fact of life. Similar problems would arise in Bolivia and Columbia, also large coca producers. Arguments follow.

In the silence of the mountains, Lorenzo Matraca and his llamas move along in a completely different time frame.

The bus is now deep into the interior on an incredible mountain road. Charles observes an Indian passenger chewing coca. He offhandedly tells Clare about the crazy plan of the US government to eliminate the coca crop of Peru which he learned from a drunken US official on the plane by the name of Groves. Clare’s countenance changes. She asks Charles to repeat the man’s name. Groves. Charles is surprised by her inquisitiveness and asks suspiciously why she wants to know. She avoids an answer.

Sunset. Groves and two Peruvian officials are arguing inside the limousine, racing on the mountain road with its ubiquitous military escort hardly managing to keep up the pace. The official convoy overtakes the sluggish old bus, almost forcing it with blaring horn and flashing lights to the edge of a precipice. A few bus passenger curse the speeding limousine. Charles makes a crack at the arrogance of American diplomats.

Nighttime. Inside the bus. Most of the passenger have fallen asleep. Clare, fatigued from the long ride, closes her eyes and lets her head rest on Charles’ shoulder. He reaches in his backpack, pulls out a blanket, and carefully places it over the two of them. Charles wipes the fogged window next to him and stares out into the blackness. It the distance he seems to spot a flicker of light.

By the light of a small fire, Lorenzo, high in the mountains, is squatting motionless.

The following morning. The main plaza in the village of San Ramon. The bus inches forward to a stop amidst the noisy market crowd. Men and women vendors, mostly Indians, squatting or sitting on the ground, selling crafts, churrasco, chicarrones. Others weave alpaca wool. Loaded donkeys and llamas with jingling bells. Shouts and laughter of children. A whole section of the plaza is taken up by busy coca leaf sellers.

Charles and Clare are approached by several eager vendors as they walk through the crowd toward an early colonial hotel, the only hotel in the village. On the other side of plaza is the old Jesuit mission of San Ramon.

Parked in front of the hotel are the limousine and the military jeep. Soldiers, with submachine guns dangling, sit on the front steps smoking.

In the lobby of the hotel Charles sees Groves, salutes him, and then introduces Clare, whom Groves pretends not to know.

Charles goes to the desk to register. Clare lingers behind briefly and whispers something quickly to Groves. The desk clerk observes the exchange.

Having registered, Charles and Clare make a date to go out on the town after they rested and freshened up. They part in the corridor, each going to a respective room.

Groves slips into Clare’s room. He tells her that he is leaving town but that something big is about to happen in San Ramon. She nods and hands him an envelope. Groves pulls out his wallet and gives her a wad of cash. This should take care of her for a while. Groves then slips out.

The desk clerk watches Groves leave in haste.

Charles and Clare meet in the lobby and agree to go out and get something to eat. The clerk’s eyes follow them as they go.

They walk into a cantina and order a meal. Clare introduces Charles to the potent native drink « chica. » Charles and Clare laugh and have a good time together. Charles, loose with drink, reaches across the table and kisses Clare She responds.

They leave the restaurant and walk into the market place. Indians are appraising and trading dried coca leaves. A young mestizo boy in the crowd approaches the couple and offers them an opportunity to buy cocaine. Charles tells Clare to go back to the hotel and that he’ll take care of business.

Charles follows the boy down narrow streets and ends up in a dingy hovel. There he meets an old man who shows him a bag full of cocaine. The merchant lets him sample some. Charles decides to buy a small bagful, pays the old man, and departs.

Charles and Clare in her hotel room snorting cocaine together.

A passionate love scene follows.

San Ramon police station. The mestizo boy who offered cocaine to Charles is receiving a few coins and a pat of approval on the head from the police chief. The chief accompanied by his deputy leave the station.

Clare is asleep. Charles gets up and quietly walks out. He enters his room and finds himself confronted by police a gunpoint. His room is a shambles. He is searched and cocaine found.

The chief shakes his head in disapproval and sadistically details to Charles the horrors of the Peruvian prisons. There is a way out he says, and smiles greedily.

Soon Charles is signing over all his travelers chicks and surrenders his cash and valuables. The chief, pocketing the bribe, tells him that for everybody’s sake, he should get out of Peru immediately or risk serious danger.

Meanwhile, two Americans, underworld types, enter the hotel. They hand a large tip to the desk clerk and without verbal exchange are given a key.

Clare is still naked on her bed, feeling good. Suddenly, her door is burst open. Her happiness turns to terror. She tries to get up. The two men are on her and hold her down. They muffle her screams.

One of them hatefully calls her a CIA bitch. The other, in one lightening motion, pulls out a knife and slashes her throat.

The man step back, unable to turn their eyes away from Clare’s beautiful body, jerking in the throes of death. Blood gushes from her neck over her pulsing breasts into the bed, forming a red pool. One of the men throws the blanket back over her.

As soon as the police are gone, Charles quickly packs, leaves everything ready to go, and runs to Clare’s room. He knocks on her door. He knocks again, then opens the door. He thinks she is asleep and calls out to her that he’s been busted. Silence. He climbs on the bed and, reaching for her, pulls back the blanket. He freezes in shock, then shakes in terror as he sees his hand covered with blood. He draws back and dashes frantically into the bathroom to wash off his hands. Just about to run out the door, he remembers he had left his watch. He grabs it and runs to his room. There he finds his backpack gone.

Charles is now in a panic. He walks quickly down to the lobby, goes to a phone booth, and tries to place a call to the U.S. The damn Peruvian phones don’t seem too work At last he has the Lima international operator on the line. His call cannot be placed for three hours because the circuits are busy. He leaves the booth in rage. He cannot wait that long. He must get out or risk being arrested for Clare’s murder. He asks the clerk whether there are other public phones in town. There are none.

As a last resort he asks the clerk to page Groves. Groves has left.

Charles gets out and loses himself in the crowd. Feeling the cold afternoon wind, he tries to keep warm by rubbing his shoulders.

As Lorenzo enter the valley of San Ramon on his final stretch into the town, he sees the US limousine and escort pass by at high speed.

The llama train enters the outskirts of the village. Several men come to meet the old one. They call him « Mamacoca, » a name given only to men of wisdom. The men take charge of the animals and cargo. The multitude surrounding the old one shows he is a chief, a man of power.

As Lorenzo squats in a corner of the plaza, many around him do likewise. The men confer in their native Quinchua language and coca is ceremoniously exchanged.

Charles, inmidst the confusion of the market, succeeds in stealing a blanket from behind a vendor stand. The eyes of Lorenzo catch the action, but the old Indian continues his conference unperturbed.

Less noticeable draped in the stolen Indian blanket, Charles proceeds to get food, swiftly concealing under the blanket what he manages to grab from a stand. Once again the eyes of Lorenzo, who is now walking through the crowd followed by his retinue, catch the action.

This time the Indian, pointing to Charles, turns to one of his men for information about the stranger. The exchange is in native language.

There is a commotion outside the hotel. A dense crowd has gathered. A rickety ambulance is parked in front. Police. Clare’s body, wrapped in a bloody sheet, is being carried out on a stretcher. Several of the women in the crowd cross themselves.

The mestizo boy comes running from the direction of the hotel to Lorenzo to report what he knows. Nodding without a change of expression, the « Mamacoca » pats the boy on the head in approval.

In the crowd we overhear mention of CIA assassins, guerilleras, cocaine killers.

Lorenzo and a few of his people walk away, through narrow streets to an old house on the edge of the barranca that opens to a view of the western mountains. The group enters the house.

A cold fog rises from the mountains as night falls. Charles looks exhausted. He is desperately searching for a place to hide. His blanket tightly wrapped around him, he manages to find shelter from the wind in an archway of the old mission. He is getting sick. Delirious.

An old Indian woman, carrying a bundle of wood in the last dim light, sees Charles and stops. She quickens her step and goes to the house of Lorenzo to seek help.

A jeep is parked in front of the house.

Several men come running out.

Charles is carried back and laid on a bed in a lantern-lit room. The women of the house busy themselves to care for him.

The eldest of the three, and old curandera, takes charge of what needs to be done. Poultices of tobacco and mustard are boiled and applied by deft hands to Charles’ heaving chest. A young, beautiful Indian girl prepares a hot tea of coca leaves. She holds the bowl to Charles’ feverish lips, who drinks and breathes in the vapors.

A strange pulsating chant is sung by the women around the sick bed. Their bodies sway to the movement in the song. An air of witchcraft pervades the room, enhanced by the eerie sound of the howling wind outside.

Sitting around a wooden table in the kitchen, Lorenzo and two of his men face the two Americans who have murdered Clare.

In controlled anger the « Mamacoca » warns the foreigners that this is his territory, and that in his territory NO ONE gets killed. Were the operation not so important, they would find themselves in serious trouble. Lorenzo holds his decision to carry out this last deal. The two men are to be brought deep into the interior to the jungle kitchens by one of Lorenzo’s tribe. There they are to await the « Mamacoca’s » arrival.

The two killers vainly attempt to justify themselves. Clare was only a spy for the U.S. government – a CIA agent passing herself off as a Peace Corps recruit.

Lorenzo bluntly states that he already knows all this since nothing is hidden from him in his own territory.

The two leave, climb into the jeep parked outside, and drive off in the windy darkness.

In his bed Charles tosses violently in nightmare. More blasts of gunfire sink into the body of his nosing jetfighter. The mask of death is painted on Charles’ face.

He comes to briefly. His eyes behold the angelic radiance of the young Indian girl. He mumbles something about not wanting to die and lapses back into unconsciousness. The girl wipes his brow and gazes at him in silence.

The following day Charles awakens to a flood of sunlight, streaming though his window. He feels well. He looks around, trying to remember where he is.

The young Indian woman comes in and hands him a bowl of fragrant coca tea. Charles looks up at her in wonder She smiles shyly and leaves the room before he has a chance to speak.

Charles sips his tea, still puzzled. He sees his clothes neatly folded on a chair next to the window. Placing the tea down on the table nest to his bed, Charles gets up and starts dressing. He kneels down and crawls around searching for his shoes. Suddenly he sees a pair of feet in the doorway. He looks up and has his first impression of the old Indian, who is smiling down at him.

He stands up and in broken Spanish asks where he is and how he is speaking to. To his surprise Lorenzo replies in English. « You are in my home. I am the one who saved your life. »

Lorenzo tells Charles that he is a lucky man. The Peruvian prisons are full of young Americans as stupid as he. Stealing among Indians without getting caught takes a sort of experience dealing with foreign thieves. Now Charles owes his life to Lorenzo and Lorenzo’s people. Indian custom demands that such a service be repaid.

Charles nods and expresses his gratitude for the help he has received. He is ready to do anything to absolve his debt and get out of the country for good.

Lorenzo wants Charles to accompany him on a journey.

Traveling in the direction of the eastern slopes, Charles follows Lorenzo on foot across the mountains. It is very difficult for the young man to keep pace with the old one.

After a while Charles falls behind. Suddenly finding himself alone, his urge is to turn back and run away, but he knows he will be lost forever unless he catches up with his guide. He tries to jog up the slope, but is exhausted.

Like a child playing, the old man comes out from behind a rock, laughing.

Charles is not in a mood for jokes. He is tired and hungry and wants to know what they are going to eat. The old man pats his « chuspa. » Squatting down, he prepares a chew for Charles. Lorenzo will slowly teach him the secret power of the plant.

As a sense of new life seems to unfold within him, Charles finds himself able to walk again. Each breath exhilarates him.

Lorenzo imperceptibly increases their pace. « If you want to stay alive, you must learn the Way of the Children of the Sun – endurance, emptiness, vision. »

Endurance, emptiness, vision. The step quickens.

They skip from boulder to boulder. The Indian is the indisputable master.

As they move across the mountains, Lorenzo, in utter contempt, shatters Charles’ ego, calling him a self-indulgent coward, a greedily pimp, the miserable product of a dead civilization unwilling to see the world as it really is.

Charles is enraged. He yells at Lorenzo, calling him a mother-fucking Indian, and swearing he’s going to kill him. The Indian keeps just a stem ahead of Charles. Charles strains to the limit of his strength but in utter frustration he is not able to get an inch closer to Lorenzo. Blood begins to drip from his nose. He grasps his chest in pain, feeling his heart pounding violently inside him.

Suddenly the Indian stops. Charles falls face down into the rock earth, heaving like a sick animal. The Indian tells him to look back. Charles turns and sees a chasm, dropping below him to abysmal depths. A soul-wrenching shriek explodes from within him and echoes his horror back from across the canyon.

The Indian, placing both hands on Charles’ shoulders steadies the shaking man. Charles collapses in ruin.

Charles looks up at Lorenzo and asks: « How did we get here? »

« From over there! » The Indian points to the other side of the precipice.

« But how? How could we? »

« The same way my ancestors came from a distant star. They eliminated space and time with their minds. I used your anger to focus your vision so that you could be empty of your way of seeing the world. The abyss was not there for you. For you the abyss simply did not exist. This is the way of the Children of the Sun – endurance, emptiness, vision. »

Once again the two men are traveling. Charles is now a tamed man. He follows in silence chewing the coca leaf. Their movements are rhythm and power.

In the shadow of the massive ruins of Machu Picchu, the Mamacoca points to a distant valley, the sacred place where Manco, the first Inca, planted the seeds of the sacred plant, the seeds he brought from a distant star.

The meaning of the great petroglyph on the bluff of Pisco is now made clear to Charles. So are the lines on the plain of Nazca, the power lines of the world, the dragon paths of ancient China, the holy lines of Stonehenge and Camelot. All over the world the Sun Kings came, following the Power Lines of the World. This was the secret of ancient space travel. They came through not just space and time but across dimensions beyond the human mind, dimensions seen only when the mind is silent – silent as the stones in Machu Picchu.

The Mamacoca sits down and shows Charles how by making one’s self empty and by focusing one’s being only on the power of the sun, one can lift great stones with ease.

The mind is capable of neutralizing the forces of gravity. By mastering this power the ancients built the pyramid and the Gate of the Sun.

Together in a strange silent ritual master and pupil lift a great stone in the light of the setting sun.

With the falling of night Charles is taught the gait of power – how to run in the darkness and how to cancel darkness with the inner light of emptiness.

Two glowing shadows in the night.

At dawn Lorenzo and Charles are near the eastern slopes where the border of Peru touches between Bolivia and Brazil. From the heights of panorama of the great coca plantation stretches before their eyes.

The men continue their run through the rows of coca trees and beyond where the jungle begins.

There, at the edge of the jungle, several Indians who seem to have been waiting, rise from their crouching positions and follow Lorenzo and Charles.

Here and there more join. Soon a small group is cutting its way through even denser vegetation by swinging machetes.

This is the territory of the Chunchas, the « indios silvestros » who still use the blow gun with poison darts and bow and arrows made from the Chonta palm.

Charles and the Mamacoca stop by the river to drink and get rid of the garrapatos insects that have buried into their skin. The insects must be burned out with a lit cigarette. It is painful, says the Mamacoca, but pain is the lot of men in this land. Charles grimaces in the pain as he burns out the garrapatos.

At last they reach the Chuncha village, just a few huts around a clearing. Behind one of the huts, under a rain roof, is the cocaine kitchen, a large cauldron or « caldero » over a hot fire. A dozen mules are tied nearby. Metal cans of ether under the roof, piled high. Old men, women and children half naked sit seating in the sweltering jungle heat.

Charles witnesses the preparation of cocaine. As the fire burns, the old Colono, a mestizo and the hefe of the operation, directs helpers to shovel more coca leaves into the boiling liquid. Charles looks around. More Indians seem to have come from the forest and mountains. A shackled bull is being steered in. There is going to be a feast.

The coca leaves have now turned into a foamy paste. The Colono dips a long bamboo stick into the cauldron to test the consistency. The pulp is ready. He signals his helpers to pour in the ether, then spreads a gauze tightly over the top of the cauldron. The ether evaporates, the fire continues to burn, the gauze dries. A beautifully soft, snowy powder materializes – pure cocaine.

This is the new god, worth ten times the price of gold, says the Mamacoca. Long ago the White Man came for Inca gold; now he has come for white gold. How sad that the White Man is blind to the thousand other powers contained in the sacred plant. But cocaine will serve our people well to get back some of the wealth that was taken from us long ago by the Spaniards. Look at how they melted down our symbols of knowledge into crude coins of greed.

Charles looks with greed at the many pounds of cocaine being scraped from the filter and packed in plastic bags. A million dollars worth of snow is in front of him.

More wood is added to the fire, more leaves, more ether, more cocaine. Drums are beating the song of the feast now in full swing. Women dancing at furious speed. Cerrinque, sugar cane liquor, is being passed around. Long haired, angular checkboned faces lit by the fire – eyes wild with liquor – faraway cries of beast in the jungle.

There is a sudden downpour of rain, but slaughtering of the bull goes on in spite of the wetness and mud. The meat is cut ceremoniously into pieces and carried, dripping with hot blood, on the men’s naked backs.

This vision is interrupted by flashes of consciousness. He hears Lorenzo tell him that a man who « knows » must defy death and that if he has the courage he will fly over the abyss into which he is about to be cast.

Charles fights back with all his strength, but too many hands grab at him for Charles to free himself. In the expanse of the rising sun, he is lifted to the edge of the precipice. As he turns to face Lorenzo, Charles experiences the ultimate horror of seeing the teacher he has come to love give the signal. Lorenzo pierces him with the words « endurance, emptiness, vision. »

His body is hurled over the precipice. He falls as if in slow motion. His cry echoes across the abyss into silence.

Above he sees the great condors, circling. Below, the mist and roar of the waterfalls.

His body enters the highest part of the falls. Charles feels the cold water. His body seems to slow down, to float. The water is at once passing him by and roaring below him. He is suspended as if in a magnetic field. Great tremors and spasms go through him. His body is bathed in a soft yellow glow, a warm solar heat, as if coming from the rock wall behind the fall. He realizes he is suspended by a magical power.

The waters part and reveal a large opening, a cave. Powerful golden light emanates from it. Charles thinks himself dead and touches himself in question. The water is still flowing over him; the light from within is pulling him inside the cavern.

Charles now stands inside the hidden Temple of the Sun surrounded by a circle of golden solar symbols. Standing about are many Inca priests. Above them on a raised throne sit the Goddess Mamacoca. Her features are those of the Indian girl he saw in Lorenzo’s house.

Charles hears the words of Lorenzo. They come not as a sound to his ears, but his mind.

« Try to understand, Charles. You are outside time in the Real World! Try to ‘see,’ Charles. »

Charles is taken by the priests to a golden circular vehicle, a chariot of the gods. Drawing nearer, he is enveloped by its very intense light. The voice of his teacher speaks once again.

« You are going across time. Try to empty yourself. »

The chariot glides silently, then, with increasing speed through a tunnel in the mountain, shoots out over the vast canyon into the blue sky.

As if in a vision Charles sees below him the mythical city of Eldorado, the city the conquistadors sought in vain for many years.

Again Charles hears the voice of Lorenzo.

« Behold the Holy City. Here the Children of the Sun will come at the end of time. »

Like a solar god, Charles soars high over the earth.

Once again we are back to the scene inside the cockpit of the DC 10 jetliner. The golden disk causes the crew to react as before. An exact repetition of events.

Inside the passenger section Charles is sitting in the exact same position as the beginning, only this time his eyes are open and his face aglow – as if he were seeing across time.

Groves repeats his first question to Charles in the same tone. This time in answering Charles’ voice is different. It comes from another world, no longer a world of dreams, but a world of wakefulness.

Groves, pointing to the giant petyroglyph on the bluff over Pisco, is asking the same questions about it. Charles does not answer.

Framed by the window of the jetliner is the immortal face of the Sun King. Superimposed upon it is the reflection of the sun in the glass.

LUNCH WITH A DEAD MAN: A Parley with Jack

Jack laughed, « They’re finally on to that! » He plucked a blade of grass and, looking at it reflectively, said, « John Barleycorn was a warning. A futile one at that. No one can save those who don’t want to be saved. But what is happening to you is not the same thing. You can’t expect an editor to believe you spent a day with a dead man. All the quantum speculations in the world are not going to explain this. They’ll say you are trying to be clever with a cocktail of science and metaphysics. Be sensible! Forget it. Both atheists and believers will despise you. Even fantasy and SF fans will throw tomatoes at you! »

He chuckled, twirling the blade of grass between his fingertips, then went on.

« On the other hand, life-like post-mortem interviews with famous figures is a novel idea and you could fictionalize future meetings with others here who are much more important than I. Unfortunately, that can’t be guaranteed. Yours may be a one-time-only visit. »

He leaned against the tree and added, « Only a woman in love with you – if she is intuitive – would believe this really happened. »

« I’m married to such a woman. »

« I’m glad, but mark my word: even she will have moments of doubt. In fact, you yourself in time will wonder. »

His voice conveyed certainty.

« Maybe it would be wiser to keep this to myself. I wouldn’t know how to explain all this anyway. »

He considered what I said. « Well, there is nothing to explain. You stumbled into another one of the infinite possibilities of the real. This cannot be explained in scientific terms. It’s impenetrable to logic, like a fairy tale. That’s why scientists are dumbfounded by what they are discovering. They are at the edge of dimensions that defy reason. Let me see that book. » He stretched out his hand.

I handed him John Barleycorn. He looked at the front cover, then opened it.

« A 1968 edition! Fifty-two years after my demise. I’m flattered! »

Encouraged, I inquired, « Tell me, were you not dazzled by the continuity of life, instead of the eternal nothingness you wrote about? »

« Dazzled? Why? » He ran his fingers through his hair. « I was no more surprised than you are now. It was like waking up after a sound sleep. Every night we go to sleep. How long is it before we wake? A few hours or centuries? Well, it’s the same with death. I went to sleep, so to speak, had a few nightmares, and woke up to this. Of course, I was wrong about death, and yet out of pure intuition – inspiration, if you prefer -; I did touch on the possibility of other lives in Star Rover and in my last short stories. Doubt, like hope, springs eternal in the hearts of men. A presage of ‘something more’ after death was in my heart, like in Hamlet’s. I was a fool. I accepted theories. After Darwin’s book, speculations exploded on the intellectual stage and I was swept up by the wave. Everyone believed in progress, the most enthusiastic illusion of all time. »

He closed the book, stared at it for a moment, then continued.

« Doubt unresolved is painful. The desire to be free from fear made me accept annihilation. Not to be is better than slavery. I wanted the dignity of dying like a man, refusing a last meal, never begging to be spared. I wanted to rise above the indignity of the human condition. We are crucified between a past we cannot remember and a future we cannot know. Our feet nailed to the eternal, vertical present, preventing us from levitating through our crown of thorns beyond being. » He smiled and, shaking his head, added, « I just didn’t go deep enough. »

« Do you understand now? »

« The mystery is as deep as ever, perhaps more so, as it should be on pain of our salt losing its flavor. »

« But at least you know that it is impossible for life to end in nothing. »

« Nothingness can be approached, but never achieved. I fell for the absurd. How could nothingness exist without being something? Nothingness is only an idea.

« In any event, three things saved me: intuition, sincerity, and generosity. Oh, mind you, I’m not taking undue credit. I was told by Ernest Hemingway, when he came here, that that is what saved me. Besides, this place is far from paradise. It’s what some call ‘the honorable prison.’ Another learning station. »

He stretched his arms wide as if to embrace the sky, and took a deep breath.

I scanned the spectacular surroundings, puzzled. I tried to take in all that lay before me, from the wondrous valley to the faraway ocean. A profusion of wildflowers studded the carpet of tender pasture grass swaying in the breeze down the gentle slopes all the way to the white beach and sparkling surf. The air brimmed with perfume.

« This… you call this a prison? How can this be a prison?! » I burst out.

« It’s a splendid prison no doubt, but a prison nonetheless, » he answered. « You know what a risk taker I’ve been. I lived like a hobo hopping freight trains. I sailed before the mast as a young man. I marched with the Imperial Army during the Russian-Japanese War. I was wild with life. When all other newsmen were held behind, I hired a Chinese junk and trekked through North Korea to the front lines. I sailed across the South Pacific to the cannibal islands. Most of my writing was about adventure. I battled for social justice. Risk-taking was my call in life. Well, there are no risks here. No new challenges. Personal initiative is stifled. No oppositions. I suffer the loss of exploits, adventure, the quest. Fortunately, release from here is pre-ordained by the requirements of the cosmic design. All I can do is wait out my self-inflicted sentence. This is the immutable garden, a place of rest, reflection, contemplation, and beauty. »

« Beauty all right! How could a writer ever describe this? »

« The same way you would a primordial coastline in springtime crowned by a virgin redwood forest. No one can fully depict the perfection of nature, not even in films. Some came close, especially poets, but it takes a great reader to add the inexpressible. There must be collaboration between the artist and audience. That’s why we came into being. All the world’s a stage, but we’re not just actors, we are also the audience out there in the dark. »

« How can I make readers experience the fragrance of these flowers, the crispness of the sea breeze? »

« By adequate hints, just enough to evoke resonance from what all humans have in the depth of their being, a remembrance of a lost garden. »

« Today that’s easier said than done. With television, the span of attention is ever shorter. Students leave college without the least notion of what it is to participate as a reader. If only they knew what they are missing. You didn’t have that problem. »

« No, in my time people were either illiterate or loved to read. Recent arrivals told me about TV dysfunctions. We have television here. I enjoy peeking at what’s going on in the dream world. »

« Now, wait a minute! Television!? You must be joking! This is absolutely incredible! »

« Why? Nothing incredible about it. All realities are refracted here. We can touch them. We can visit them, in ghostly fashion so to speak, just as you do in your dreams. That is a surrogate of freedom. »

« I bet you have a lot of good laughs! »

He smiled broadly and moved a lock of hair from his forehead.

« We laugh, all right. You should see the faces of those who died before the 18th century when they watch. I’ve seen them rolling on the floor. That would be an experience for you. »

I tried to imagine Jefferson’s reactions to CNN.

He paused, and his cheerfulness vanished abruptly behind a veil of sadness.

« We often weep, too, » he sighed, stood up, and gazed at the sea. I remained still until he turned back and sat down again facing me.

« Of all mysteries, none is more impenetrable than evil. God’s mercy is infinite, but so is human stupidity. When this century opened, I foresaw the rise of tyranny in my book The Iron Heel. Since I died in 1916, over 170 million have been slaughtered in the name of ideologies. The task of a writer now is to deflate whatever promotes collective madness. »

« All generations add a chapter, » I ventured, « but I doubt anything is in our control. We fenced ourselves in ‘private property reservations.’ We destroyed what we loved. » I pointed with a gesture of my hand to the splendor around us. « And now we live in fear of criminals, just as the Indians did when we came. Each generation reaps what the preceding sowed. »

« I feel like weeping when I think of millions of buffalo exterminated! What stupidity! » he said.

« Now we’re pulverizing the last primordial forests to make toilet paper, but let’s not get depressed, »I quickly added,  » I’d rather learn more from you. »

« You’re my guest. » Jack bowed slightly and, touching his heart, confessed, « I will admit to cutting down a few redwoods to build Wolfhouse. I should have paid attention to Teddy Roosevelt. In our day most Americans felt nature was inexhaustible. I made mistakes. But forgive me. I’m getting sidetracked. Please go ahead. Direct our parley. »

« All right. Perhaps I’ll write about this meeting after all, especially about the mystery of the possible. It’s going to be as difficult as your writing about Hasheesh Land. In John Barleycorn you spoke of enormous extensions of time, how your travels were seared on your brain in the sharpest detail. You related how you tried with endless words to describe the simplest phases and tiniest particles to persons who have not traveled there.' »

He nodded, and for an instant I caught the passing of an emotional cloud in his eyes as he spoke slowly, reminiscing, « With those words I introduced the ‘White Logic.’ One never forgets that sort of inspiration. I wrote the entire chapter in one uninterrupted flow. »

« That was evident. »

« That’s it. Something compelled me as I penned the words: ‘I talk for an hour, elaborating that one phase of Hasheesh Land and at the end I have told them nothing. And when I cannot tell them this one thing of all the vastness of terrible and wonderful things, I know I have failed to give them the slightest concept of Hasheesh Land. But let me talk with some other traveler of that weird region and at once I am understood. A phrase, a word, conveys instantly to his mind what hours of words and phrases could not convey to the mind of the non-traveler.’

« And: ‘I used all the hyperbole of metaphor, and told what centuries of time and profounds of unthinkable agony and horror can obtain in each interval of all the intervals between the notes of a quick jig played quickly on the piano.’ That was the White Logic speaking, which to the sober mind sounds like madness, for it lies beyond ordinary thinking. »

He took a deep breath.

I commented, « To those untraveled, the traveler’s account will always seem unintelligible and fantastic. Like Dante in his Paradise asking readers to take his poem on faith. »

He nodded in agreement, « That’s what you must do. I’m pleased you’ve understood that. You must bring your story as close as you can to the edge of a true account, but never, never cross the line. Let the reader suspect that there is something more than fantasy behind your words, but never let him be absolutely sure. »

He stood up quickly and said, « Come, let’s take a walk. Feel this solid ground under your feet. It will help you remember the concreteness of all this so you’ll never convince yourself that you just dreamed it, even if the whole world swears you did. »

We walked across meadows soft as velvet. All leaves and petals were unblemished and virginal. Blossoms of wine wooded manzanitas and madroña changing its pea-green trunk to pepper-red filled the air with perfume. It would have been sating had the air been drowsy and humid, but the air was sharp and thin like the echo of the night transformed into sunshine and flower-drenched sweetness. White, blue, and yellow butterflies fluttered through patches of light and shade.

We crossed a small stream that gurgled melodiously upon the slope. The hum of bees and sound of the stream mixed to create a delicate intangible sound that whispered the spirit of the place, a spirit of peace filled with life, quiet, but not silent, quick with being, but without the struggle of existence. In the shade of the sycamores we halted upon a red royal buck crowned with many antlers, knee-deep in a cool shaded pool, his eyes unable to pierce the green screen of bushes that concealed us. His head lifted and turned. His sensitive quivering nostrils scented the air, his ears moving with a swift eagerness for sound.

I felt light and invigorated, present, with all need for analysis gone. As we ambled along the pool’s edge, the buck observed us unafraid. Far beyond stood an imposing backdrop of snow capped mountains illuminated by the sun. To our left the blossoming fields sloped gently, stopping at the edge of a white beach kissed by the sparkling surf of an emerald ocean, foaming white around black reefs where colonies of sea lions rested lazily in the sun, occasionally barking to their mates. I was reminded of Jack’s description of a Carmel cove in Valley of the Moon.

Kind reader, only your imagination can add the indescribable sensation that separates reality from dream. To describe this experience so vividly etched in my memory is like trying to paint the immensity of the Grand Canyon on a 3×5 postcard.

Our walk continued for three miles or so. I cannot be certain, so carefree was I. Quite unexpectedly we came to a cozy gathering place. The rustic Redwood Cove Inn. The kind of place one found in the early part of the century along the winding Pacific Coast Highway. A construction of redwood and stone with a wide terrace shaded by a luxuriant grape-vine arbor. There must have been a dozen people at the open air tables. Some waved, smiling at Jack. He responded with nods as we walked onto the terrace.

« If you’re granted another visit here, I’ll have you meet some great friends. There are many from more remote times in the valleys beyond. You’ll be astounded. I still am. »

We took our seats at a massive round, hand-crafted wooden table in a shaded alcove. A handsome young gentleman entered and signaled warmly to Jack, who responded raising and lowering his head. He took his seat at a side table where another man was waiting.

Jack must have noticed my curiosity.

« That’s Frank Norris. You read The Octopus? »

I nodded.

« The fellow with him is Ed Markham. Hardly anyone remembers him. One of America’s best poets. ‘At her light touch, behold! a voice proceeds, Out of all things to chide our sordid deeds; A beauty breaks, a beauty ever strange, The Changeless that is back of all the change. Lightly it comes as when a rose would be – Takes feature yet remains a mystery.’ That’s what he wrote about art. »

Silence, except for a few faint words from the other tables. A tantalizing scent of delicious food reached me.

« Hungry? »

« Quite, » I answered. I was ravenous.

« I’ll tell André to prepare something special. » He got up and went to the kitchen.

From where I was sitting I could observe intriguing men and women enjoying mouth-watering delicacies. I watched Jack come out of the kitchen and walk back. He seemed very happy. I wondered what specialty he had ordered. When he sat down I looked at him for a while, then proceeded to lead the parley.

« You wrote that there are various orders of truth in this world. Some are truer than others. Some sorts of truth, you said, are lies, and these are the very ones that have the greatest value. And you said that ‘what is normal is healthful. What is healthful tends toward life. Normal truth is a different order, a lesser order of truth.’ Would you change that now? »

« No, but I would clarify it, » he answered picking up the book again. « Those words of mine were followed by the observation that man alone has reason. Animals have intelligence, but not reason. I said that man alone can penetrate the grand show of universal manifestation and be aware of the cosmic indifference. This kind of knowledge is not without penalties. Man should above all live life intensely. He should sting with life. It is good that man be life-blinded, sense-struck. What is good is true. And this is the order of truth, lesser though it is, that man must guide his actions by. »

« What about the higher orders of truth. Do they not precede ‘living life intensely?' »

« Living life with gusto, concern, with joy, is closest to the highest truth. I wrote that countless men glimpsed the higher order of truth and recoiled from it, then after a long sickness lived to tell of it, and thereafter deliberately forgot it. Well, I can no longer say that these men did right to forget. »

He clenched his fist as if to strike at something.

« I loved your description of drunkenness. It made me drunk. »

He was gratified.

« Drink and drugs are ever an evil curse. John Barleycorn and Misty Lady Marie Juana are orders of folly, the antithesis of life. John Barleycorn is seductive, but cruel like interstellar space, frozen as absolute zero. He will not let the dreamer dream, the lover of life live. Marie Juana leads dreamers in an indefinite labyrinth of illusions and makes the lovers of life lose contact with the birth pangs of the soul trying to be born. Marie and John are quite a couple. Both deny life and instill the notion that death is either an endless dream or a black abyss. »

« Alcoholics are tragic figures, » I added.

« I know. Victims of such dreadful intimacy take hold of the way of death and forgetfulness. That was my mistake. I almost escaped, but when I realized what was happening to me, it was too late. My body had already suffered irreversible damage. It was the grace of having loved life and loved many that landed me here rather than a worse place. I knew even then that behind the indifferent universe there was Something which is not at all indifferent. As Markham wrote: ‘the Changeless that is back of all the change.’ The Changeless. »

He stopped, eyes rapt in boundless vision.

I waited, then said quietly, « Would you now dispute John Barleycorn’s claim that all beauty and wonder are but futility and dust? Nihilism laying claim to a higher truth? The assertion that life lies in order to live? That life is a mad dance in the domain of flux and change, a mighty tide, an ebb and flow of appearances? That life is a ghost land? That we are only an appearance composed of countless appearances out of the past? »

He assented, closing his eyes and saying, « I would add that creation is a misconception and evolution a delusion. Both are speculations of dreamers who think they are awake. Optical illusions due to the veil of sleep clouding human consciousness. Change is intrinsic in the mystery of all possibilities. The Possible as such is the Changeless, the Immovable Mover. »

He paused.

« I was naive, » he confessed. « I took theories as facts rather than speculations on possibilities. My dream, my theory is but one among an endless series projected by the nature of the mind. The infinite bowl will pour forth endless bubbles all doomed to burst. »

He wiped his face with the palm of both hands as if to erase the awesome vision he had evoked.

« Please, try to forget all this. It will never make sense to non-travelers. »

In the stillness that ensued I felt that my miraculous time here was running out. All would soon vanish just as it had appeared. I touched the table. It was as real as my own work table at home, even more so.

« Another thing, Jack, » I spoke as if pressed for time, « you realized the White Logic was deceiving you when it made you write ‘that with the last breath all is done: joy, love, sorrow, macaroni, the theatre, lime trees, raspberry drops, the power of human relations, the barking of dogs, champagne.' »

He peered at me with a mischievous expression I’ll always remember.

« I did call it a lie, after all, » he retorted, « and a lie it turned out to be, even for the raspberry drops. »

Chuckling like a boy, he reached in the pocket of his leather vest and handed me an exquisite little wooden box, opening it with a flick of his thumb to display the raspberry drops he still enjoyed.

« Here, try one. »

I did and was made speechless by delight capturing my sense of taste. This was a quintessential raspberry drop!

« You’ll have a very hard time trying to describe that sensation. The ultimate raspberry taste! » he proclaimed jubilantly, breaking out in happy laughter at seeing my surprise.

A lovely young woman appeared with our meal, a look of curiosity on her intelligent face. I stared at her in unbelief. I felt I knew her. I recovered.

« An abalone steak! » I exclaimed with genuine pleasure.

« Oh, yes, they’re abundant on this part of the California Coast, » he remarked.

« California Coast? »

« But, of course! Where do you think we are? This is unadulterated California…the way the once Golden State could still be if power holders realized there is something more important in life than money. »

We enjoyed our meal in silence. I cut into the succulent buttered white abalone meat surrounded by steamed vegetables. It was perfectly prepared and I knew I would never eat another like it!

As Jack poured me a cool glass of dry white wine, he confided modestly: « You know, Aldo, I learned I was quite wrong about another thing. »

« What was that? »

« Prohibition. My book was influential in bringing in the new law. Prohibition turned out to be a jump from the frying pan into the fire. It brought criminal profits and tripled political corruption. »

« Well, the same is happening now, » I concurred. « As long as drugs are illegal, they’re worth many times their weight in gold. The War on Drugs is another profit farce. Solution: cut off the profit motive, kill the market. But neither politicians nor criminals want the cash flow stopped. They are birds of a feather. »

The young woman brought a crisp garden salad.

Jack lifted his wine glass smiling, and I followed suit. He toasted, « This is to us! You’ll discover True Lady Grape, the finest of California wines. She puts John Barleycorn to shame. She transcends the White Logic with feminine intuition. Treat her gently, never abuse her, and she’ll let you glimpse Paradise. »

Our glasses clinked like silver bells. How exquisite and fragrant this timeless vintage was!

Jack picked up the book, opened it, leafed through some pages, then he took a pencil from his leather vest pocket and underlined the name Lue Ling.

« Lue Ling was one of the bibulous Seven Sages of the ancient Bamboo Grove who declared that to a drunken man the affairs of the world appear as so much duckweed on a river. He led me to another Chinese sage, Chuang Tzu, who four centuries before Christ challenged the dreamland world, saying: ‘How then do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to Life? Those who dream of the banquet, wake to lamentations and sorrows. Those who dream of lamentations and sorrows, wake to join the hunt. While they dream, they do not know they dream. Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and only when they awake do they know it was a dream…Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves; they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say that you are a dream, I am but a dream myself.' »

« What wonderful men they must have been. Are they here? »

« Not any longer. They both spent some time across that ocean in the real China. »

« Where are they now? » I asked.

« Who knows. In their next possibility. Perhaps someday I’ll meet them when my turn to leave comes. My mistakes will keep me here longer, but not too much. »

He took one more sip of wine, put down his glass, and stated with near solemnity, « The infinite possibilities of the Changeless are far more real than the actualities of the manifested world. Consider what is happening. This dimension, as you can see, is as concrete as your life at home. But for most readers an accurate report will only seem a figment of your imagination. Pure fiction. And that’s the way it should be. Think! If they discovered that this dimension is real, think what would happen. »

He paused, « They are greedy enough as it is. They would consume the earth even faster. They would look at this as a spare-world open to all fools, even ex-drunks like Jack London who burned his candle at both ends. »

I was struck. He was right! I looked into his eyes. Countless questions on my mind. He understood my predicament and smiled.

Our hostess took the empty plates and left us a bowl of fruit: peaches, grapes, apricots, pears, cherries. We still had some True Lady wine.

« Try these, » Jack offered, handing me a cluster of grapes across the table. « They are real. As you taste them, let me tell you what I learned about The Real. »

I took one delicate grape to my lips and savored it slowly, listening.

« Being is the absolute necessity we are all a part of. Existence is where you are now and where I once was. Existence is the expression, or better, a prolongation of Being. I, Jack London, do not exist anymore. But I am! You understand the difference, don’t you? »

I nodded and he went on.

« He who is can never not be, but existence we gain and we lose. I wait with great expectations to re-enter the existential plane through a mother’s womb, to be again water born, because only in physical existence am I free to reach Beyond Being. Oddly, the title of my last story was ‘Water Baby.’ Again, perhaps it was intuition.

« Have you any idea how precious an existential body is? » he leaned forward, looking me straight in the eyes.

« Like everyone else, I instinctively protect my body. »

He came back with intensity, his gaze penetrating to my core: « I wrote about comradeship, the insanity of war, the inviolability of the human spirit, and the redeeming salvation of love. But best of all, in my last stories I spoke about the wisdom of the Great Mother and the Water Baby.

« Listen carefully, my friend, » he went on vibrantly. « A human form is one chance in a trillion to gain freedom of choice, to transcend limitations and move beyond time and space. Existence is the isthmus between two eternities. That is why the human state has been called pontifex, ‘maker of bridges.’ We eternally are, but rarely exist. The difference between being and existing is subtle, but enormously important, and you should understand it and convey it. »

His voice trembled as he added, « That justifies immortality for an artist. To have understood that with the mind in the heart and to help others do the same is the ultimate purpose of art. At the end of my career I began to intuit that supreme truth. Had I understood sooner, my work would have been timeless. As it turned out, I gave courage to my readers, entertained them with adventure and fervent speculations, but I did not show them how to build a bridge. »

He plunged into a silence I dared not disturb.

At last I inquired, « Why are you here? Is this a place of reward or expiation? »

He looked at me and answered with a question: « Is your life a reward or a punishment for things you do not remember? » Then he asserted, almost with solemnity, « Being, my friend, is the source of all possibilities. That’s why intelligent use of freedom while we exist is the magic wand that can break the wheel of illusion. »

His hand slowly swept the air with a grand gesture indicating the imposing line of redwoods stretching as far as the eye could see. I looked at the monumental trees along the path that brought us to the Cove.

« This forest, for example…these wondrous trees that made John Muir weep, arise through immanent Will. In nature this Will becomes the law of the strongest, in the cosmos the law of inevitable consequences. Cause and effect. Karma. Some here refer to it as ‘the preferences of the First Artist.' »

« Creation is the Word of the ‘Motionless Mover,' » I commented.

« Creation as a concept is insufficient for human understanding. Redefine creation: ‘From the inconceivable silence of the Void beyond-Being the song of Being, rises with all possibilities radiating into existence. Time, space, and all the worlds.’ Poets like Markham can put it better. So can great musicians without any words. »

A tall man leaving the inn waved at Jack with a friendly smile, which Jack returned.

« That was Roy Benedict, a wonderful man, an unknown thinker, perhaps the sharpest critic of my work. It was only when we met here that I understood the flaws he had long observed in my writing. He told me I should have made it possible for readers to understand the apparent absurdity, get it? The plenitude of emptiness is only an apparent impossibility. It is just that. It looks like an absurdity, but it is an absolute necessity.

The nothingness from which creation seems to pours forth as if ex nihilo is the mysterious nature of the mind. But this kind of language is only for philosophers, so that’s where the artist must come in. As a writer- had I understood- I could have shown creation as the first archetype of lovemaking, and vice versa, because it is Love that speaks the Word of creation so from the mystery of feminine power and masculine strength comes all the music and dances of love. As the Greatest of Poets said: ‘It is Love that moves the sun and all the stars.' »

We fell silent. That last line of the Divine Comedy sent me back to my student days in Rome. The first verses of the Inferno surfaced in my consciousness, or was Jack projecting them? « Midway along the walk of life I found myself in a dark wild wood having lost the straight path…this savage wood even in thought renews my fear…I cannot tell how I got there, so full of sleep was I when I strayed from the truthful road…. »

His voice brought me back.

« I repeat, let the reader suspect there is something more than fantasy behind your words, but never let him be absolutely sure. In my writing I should have employed the metaphor of the empty page and the pen. Paper must lie still to let the pen pour forth, but both are passive in the hands of the Writer. »

My heart leaped. « How beautiful! »

He took a final sip of wine, then plucked a grape. The young woman brought us a cup of coffee.

We tasted the aromatic brew, quietly contemplating the ocean view, watching a squirrel gathering morsels near the edge of the terrace.

« Your thoughts on possibilities keep resonating in my mind. Being is Possibility as such, because nothing is possible outside Being. » I said.

« That’s it! » he exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm. « You got it! But please don’t lecture about it. To most these kinds of ideas sound like a lot of hot air. Save your pearls. Conceal profundities as tiny fragments in stirring action, my friend. Good medicine must be coated with sugar. Make up some fantastic adventure you shared with Jack London in a dream, like sailing stormy Cape Horn in an open skiff or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Something a little more exciting than having an abalone lunch at the Redwood Cove Inn with a dead man! »

We chuckled heartily.

« ‘Lunch With a Dead Man!’ What a title! » I said.

Then he abruptly changed the subject.

« Let’s go to my house. It’s only a few miles from here. »

He stood up, walked to the edge of the arbor, and came back with a perfectly sculpted yellow rose which he placed on the table. It had been a lovely meal.

We went a different way this time. The patterns of light and subtle depth of moist silences, the majesty of the giant trees were irruptions of cosmic vitality, beacons on the pathway of escape from dull momentary ephemera to blissful permanence. We hiked down a steep path and emerged in a cove, where the sound of the crashing surf woke me from all drowsiness.

Leaving our clothes on the sand, we ran into the pounding waves with the elation of children. The water felt cool, exhilarating, and made my skin tingle. We body-surfed, then floated lazily watching the graceful flight of seagulls and the powerful gliding of gray pelicans inches above the water, searching for their catch. We found warmth on a flat rock in the sand.

I flashed back to my early youth, to the California I had loved. The iodine smell of saltwater, reefs, and seaweed, the feel of the warm sand, all this took me back to almost forgotten joys. The roaring surf lulled us into peaceful sleep. After a while we woke rested. We dressed and climbed back up the pathway through the trees over the first ridge until we were in view of the valley.

The forest completely encircled the Valley of the Moon, the archetype of Jack’s last earthly dream. There it was, the Wolf House, built of stone and ancient redwood to last a thousand years.

We sat on a fallen log, studying the structure. The Wolf House had been burned down three years before Jack died by someone a day before Jack was to move in, never to be rebuilt. It was his final dream shattered on earth, but here it stood, exactly as he dreamed it.

He looked at me and observed, « We were born far apart in time. You are lucky because you found love on earth and in me your first real friend before you die. In this garden I found my other half. If you come again, I’d like you to meet her. »

« Why do you say that, Jack? Am I about to leave? »

« No visit can be long beyond the veil. It is a rare gift. You have experienced the possibility of the apparently impossible. You now have proof that Love is the weaver of the universal carpet, whose weft is made of cosmic dust and whose warp is life itself. »

I closed my eyes at that breathtaking thought, and when I opened them I was back in my earthly dream entering my house, the book still in my hand. I thumbed through it quickly. Under the words « Lue Ling, one of the bibulous Seven Sages » was a thick pencil mark.

How Dick Cheney Got Away with $35 Million Right Before the Government Launched a Probe into Halliburton

It’s obvious that no mainstream news reporter has the gumption to seriously question Vice President Dick Cheney’s ethics when he was chief executive of Halliburton, the oil-field services company that is currently embroiled in a scandal with the Pentagon due to its questionable accounting practices related to its work in war-torn Iraq.

Pity those journalists because this is the stuff Pulitzer’s are made of. What’s even more remarkable is that there’s reams of documents in the public domain showing how Cheney cooked the books when he was CEO of Halliburton, which makes the vice president look like Ken Lay’s twin brother. The evidence is beginning to collect dust. To tell the story of how Cheney’s Halliburton used accounting sleight of hand to fool investors all you need to do is connect the dots, which is what this story will do.

Let’s start with a bit of old news. A couple of weeks ago Halliburton agreed to pay a $7.5 million fine to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probe related to a 1998 change in the way Halliburton accounted for construction revenue.

The commission says the undisclosed accounting change caused Halliburton’s public statements regarding its income in 1998 and 1999 to be materially misleading, boosting Halliburton’s profits on paper by $120 million.

“In the absence of any disclosure, the investing public was deprived of a full opportunity to assess Halliburton’s reported income – more particularly, the precise nature of that income, and its comparability to Halliburton’s income in prior periods,” according to the commission.

Cheney was CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000. The SEC said Cheney cooperated with the agency’s investigation and as such he wasn’t penalized for his role in the charade. No big surprise there. All five of the SEC commissioners were appointed by President Bush. Dozens of the administration’s crimes have gone unpunished in the past three years. But dig a little more and you’ll see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Cheney has said publicly that he was unaware of Halliburton’s accounting machinations while he was CEO of the company. His Sgt. Schultz defense has been used before by the likes of Gary Winnick of Global Crossing, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco, John Regas of Adelphia and Ken Lay of Enron, all of whom have been prosecuted by the Justice Department for cooking the books at their respective companies.

A story in the July 22, 2002 issue of Newsweek sets the record straight and proves that Cheney knew full well that Halliburton was engaging in accounting trickery to boost its stock and standing on Wall Street and he should be held accountable just like those other corporate evildoers.

In an interview with two of Newsweek’s reporters, Halliburton CEO David Lesar defended his company’s bookkeeping and said that former CEO Dick Cheney was aware of the firm’s accounting methods. Lesar says “Cheney knew that the firm was counting projected cost-overrun payments as revenues. The vice president was aware of who owed us money, and he helped us collect it,” Lesar told Newsweek.

Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said at the time that “the vice president was aware we accrued revenue on unapproved claims in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.”

By the way, those “generally accepted accounting principles” is what Enron used to cook its books and is why the company’s top two leaders have been charged with a whole of range of crimes by the Justice Department.

Just as disturbing is the fact that Cheney had now defunct auditor, Arthur Anderson, which unraveled in 2002 after the company was found guilty of obstruction of justice for destroying documents related to its role in the Enron debacle, approve Halliburton’s accounting methods. Cheney was so grateful to Anderson that he agreed to appear in a promotional video for Anderson and spoke glowingly about the company for going above and beyond routine audits for Halliburton.

“One of the things I like that they do for us is that, in effect, I get good advice, if you will, from their people based upon how we’re doing business and how we’re operating, over and above the, just sort of the normal by-the-books audit arrangement,” said Cheney in the 1996 tape.

In a separate but equally corrupt act of corporate malfeasance, a French judge is pouring over evidence to determine whether Cheney may have been responsible under French law for at least one of four bribery payments exchanged between a Halliburton subsidiary and Nigerian officials to obtain contracts for liquefied natural projects. Under French law, “the head of a company can be charged with ‘misuse of corporate assets’ for bribes paid by any employee – even if the executive didn’t know about the improper payments.” The US Justice Department is also investigating the issue.

As if that weren’t enough to toss the vice president and his boss out of office, the Justice Department is also investigating whether Halliburton violated sanctions that prohibit US corporations and businesses from engaging in commercial, financial, or trade transactions with Iran while Cheney headed the company. For the record, Cheney personally lobbied Congress in 1996 to lift those sanctions and when Congress denied the request Halliburton opened a Cayman Island subsidiary so it could do business in Iran by skirting US law.

In July 2004, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to Halliburton seeking information about its work in Iran. Government officials told the Washington Post such cases are referred to Justice only when there is evidence « intentional or willful » violations have occurred.

The Washington Post summed up Cheney’s tenure at Halliburton this way on July 16, 2002 following revelations that the vice president made a $35 million windfall from his sales of Halliburton stock, right before the company’s share price crashed on the announcement that it was being investigated by a grand jury related to the company overbilling the federal government for its work at Fort Ord in California (which also took place under Cheney’s watch), an issue that is identical to current charges that the company has overbilled the government for its work in Iraq.

“The developments at Halliburton since Cheney’s departure leave two possibilities: Either the vice president did not know of the magnitude of problems at the oil field services company he ran for five years, or he sold his shares in August 2000 knowing the company was likely headed for a fall.”

Either way, the more evidence that surfaces related to Cheney’s role at Halliburton the more it becomes clear that the vice president is unfit to serve a second term in the White House.