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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Baseball Bat Can't protect You from Everything

I was 16 years old and living on the Pacific island of Oahu when I first heard about tsunamis; hicks from the Midwest--where I grew up before that—just called them tidal waves. I thought the Japanese word sounded cool and the idea of it scared the living shit out of my coastal-dwelling young ass. This was the same summer that I saw the movie Jaws, so every time I went in the ocean I subconsciously hummed the theme music to that movie about a psychotic, man-eating shark while visions of being swept out to sea filled my head. And let’s not forget about jellyfish: the silent killers. The ocean is pretty much filled to the brim with death and destruction. I would avoid the ocean completely but it is fun to play in and nobody cares if you take a leak in it.

I don’t think that I was a particularly nervous kid but The Wizard of Oz also scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t the witch or the flying monkeys that bothered me. You could take care of those problems with a baseball bat. What freaked me out was the tornado. Whenever there was a tornado warning broadcast on TV, even if it was miles away, you would find me down in the basement squatting under a table with a few cans of food in my lap while the rest of the family was going about their business upstairs like the fools they were. Better safe than sorry was my motto.

I have learned to live with my irrational fear of big waves and big sharks. I actually learned to like twisters. I have lived most of my life within spitting distance of one ocean or another. I have spent a considerable amount of time in, on, or under water so it’s not like I have been paralyzed with fear. When I haven’t been in the water I have penned countless doodles involving blood-thirsty sharks or stick people villagers trying to mind their own business as huge waves are about to crash down upon them.

I’m an atheist, but if you want to call the recent tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people an “act of God,” I’m not going to argue about it. God is just a word that people use for things they don’t understand, or a means to come to grips with the infinite. I have little interest in religion or outer space. The ocean has always been vast and strange and infinite enough for me. Religion is a way to make man humble. I have never felt more humble than the times I have been out in the ocean alone at night. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or what kind of car you drive, when you are a mile offshore swimming alone you are just another link in the food chain. Even if you have a baseball bat handy you are still pretty far down on that chain. Praying won’t do you much good either.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ode to a White Suburbanite Gangster

Backward hat facilitates oral sex
I can tell just by the way you wear a ball cap on your head sideways that you are a man of taste and refinement. The sideways cock of your hat lets women know that you are a devastating sexual animal, and the kind of man who leaves others of his gender feeling horribly inadequate. The sideways hat shows that you are not like the masses of uniformed conformists who dare only to wear their hats with the front in the front. The Man dictates to all that hats must point to the front, but you thumb your nose at convention; you don’t play by the rules. You are different. Besides, all your friends wear their hats to the side.

With your baggy pants you yell out to the world that you refuse to live within the arbitrary constraints of life—like waist sizes and inseams. When you walk it looks as if there is a five pound steaming loaf in your drawers, and who knows, maybe there is. Maybe there is, because you don’t live to be a slave to the restroom—that’s for bitches.

The heavy gold chain that you wear around your neck must have set you back at least three paychecks before you were fired from the landscaping company for breaking the leaf blower. The Mercedes Benz hood ornament on the chain tells the world that you are an outlaw who no longer has need for a landscaping job. You will make a fortune on the illicit sale of drugs as soon as someone will spot you a dime bag, which you will in turn sell to your little brother at a comfortable profit. You all about “doin’ bidness.”

But no one will spot you a dime bag, and your little brother already warned you that he will tell mom if you try to take the money he got for his birthday from your aunt. So you have no cash money, but what does that matter to a gangster like you? You, who are content to stand around for hours on a downtown street corner being loud and trying to act threatening. You and your homeys throw gang signs to each other until your bus comes. All gang activity is put on hold so that you can get home to watch Malcolm in the Middle because that shit cracks you up.

Much like your unconventional ways of dress, your speech blazes new trails far from the beaten path of grammar and syntax. Your speech is free of the normal rules that confine and limit language. There is beauty in your simple language of about 50 words and a series of unintelligible grunts that come from the new poetry of hip hop.

You are truly an original. You are the new American archetype, from the same mold as the cowboy—never mind that in reality the cowboy was a filthy, uneducated agricultural worker. You are exactly what America needs to regain our hegemony in world affairs. Stupid, violent, and inarticulate are the foundations of the character of the hip hop gangster. So many aspects of our culture promote these values that I am confident that we will soon be the dumbest and most violent society the world has ever known.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Diary of a Seattle Male Call Boy Prostitute

Sex sells. You heard it here first. I just read that someone digitally masquerading as a London call girl snagged a book deal on the merits of her anemic blog. I came across her web page a while back, before she got the book deal. All I could think was that if she fucks like she writes I hope she hasn’t quit her day job. She writes about sex with about the same enthusiasm as the 65 year old Mexican grandmother from my earlier post. I seriously doubt she is a hooker at all but someone who simply knows how to grab prurient readers by the short hairs. Now she has a book deal. Bitter? Not me.

Sex sells, so I’ve been told. Two can play that game and I’m sure there are lot more than two people writing fictitious accounts of their “lives.” I can never understand why so many people care to read about other people’s not-very-interesting sexual encounters. If it’s uninteresting you want, then that’s what you’re going to get. It’s time to tell you about my life.

This is a website about a male call boy, me, but not a call boy for boys, and not one who caters to pathetic old hags who can’t talk someone into greasing them for free. This is a website about a call boy who gets paid to get dirty with beautiful and disease-free women, because that’s what people want to read about. There are probably a few people who wouldn’t mind reading about a call boy who has sex with old ladies, but they probably aren’t big spenders, so who wants to fill the demographic need in that market? Not me.

Just last night I got paid to have sex with four hot women—all at once. In call boy parlance we call that a fivesome. In France they call it a ménage à cinq, and not only is a doctor’s permission required, but hotels make you put down a damage deposit for the steam cleaning. I don’t mean to brag about my performance but one of the gorgeous ladies ended up in the emergency room. She has to wear a patch over one eye for the next two weeks. Is that sordid enough for you?

I was paid one million dollars for my efforts, but since I was in Paris I was paid in Euros which meant I had to jump the turn-style at the metro station to get back to my hotel. Bad exchange rates are an occupational hazard of male call boys.

Next week I am off to Las Vegas to work the game show hostess convention. Instead of money I usually get paid in merchandise. I don’t mean to sound jaded about my work but if you’ve seen one Victoria’s Secret model bound and gagged you’ve seen them all—and I’ve seen them all bound and gagged, in fact, I did the binding and gagging.

It isn’t all glamour being a male call boy. I have to buy Viagra in bulk at Costco. What I really miss in this line of work is cuddling. Most super models don’t like to cuddle. There won’t be any cuddling next week when I have a gig working the glory hole in the women’s bathroom at the Academy Awards show.

What could be better reading than a blog about a male call boy who gets paid to do the wild thing with famous women? I can’t mention any names because of contractual obligations but I can make anagrams of their names. Is an anagram that thing that is the same backward as forward? Wait, that’s a palindrome. Anagrams are when you mix up the letters to make another word. I’m not smart enough to do that and if you have read this far you are probably too dumb to figure out who I’m talking about. Let me just say that last week I was paid to have sex with someone whose name rhymes with Brickney Beers. And hey Moprah, your check bounced.

A Tortilla Is not a Potato Omelet!

I know it isn’t a world hunger size problem but I have been grappling with the Spanish tortilla for some time now. I am a fairly accomplished cook so if I prepare a dish two or three times I feel like I have it down. Not so with the Spanish tortilla. The tortilla is a very tricky species.

I ducked into a restaurant on Capital Hill last week which was featuring the food of Spain on their revolving menu. In the past I have been happy with the meals that I have had at this place. I ordered the tortilla. I even asked the waitress if this was a good call on my part and she reassured me that I was making a good choice. What I got was a potato omelet with a side of potatoes. Someone at that restaurant needs to take a trip to Spain to see first-hand what a tortilla is all about. A Spanish tortilla is not an omelet with potatoes inside.

A Spanish tortilla isn’t to be confused with the Mexican staple with the same name. A Mexican tortilla is a bit of maza harina, mixed with a little water, rolled out, and baked. The Spanish version looks like a pie made with eggs and potatoes. Like a piece of pie, you cannot make a Spanish tortilla to order in a restaurant. It is a fairly involved affair that takes at least 30 minutes if the potatoes have been prepared in advance. Restaurants in Spain have their tortillas displayed on counters or in glass cases. When you order they slice a piece off and throw it on a plate.

The potatoes must be cut thinly and sautéed in olive oil until they are tender. When the potatoes are ready you add in the beaten eggs. The tortilla must be cooked on both sides which requires flipping the whole thing in mid preparation. I have found that the easiest way to flip the tortilla is to turn it into another pan. Some people finish the dish in the oven to insure that it has cooked through thoroughly.

I topped my tortilla with caramelized onions for strictly esthetic purposes. I was fairly happy with the finished product. The problem now is that I have a 12 egg pie in my refrigerator—a cholesterol claymore mine. It would probably be safer to store plutonium in my apartment. I can actually hear my arteries hardening like the creaking timbers of an old ship. I can’t help myself, because a Spanish tortilla is something that I get a craving for every so often and I always give in. Instead of making this dish it would probably be easier to take another trip to Madrid.

Friday, December 17, 2004

A Pauper's Grave

I wish that I knew exactly how much time I spend working to fix my computer and how much time it “saves” me. If I were to add up all of the time I have spent waiting for my computer to do something, and all of the hours I have toiled fixing something that is screwed up, and the countless days of trial and error figuring out how to work this damn thing, and if I took all that time and applied it to some useful task I could probably be a pretty good juggler by now. I could have learned some cool cards tricks. I could be playing the banjo right now instead of bitching about my computer in this essay.

You can make a good living as a street artist if you can juggle, do cards tricks, or play a mean banjo. Instead of entertaining passersby on a street corner I toil away as a slave to a thin slab of plastic and silicon chips. I feel like some Neolithic hunter-gatherer who has to spend 22 hours a day chasing around my food which consists of a skinny little lizard and a handful of berries which may or may not prove to be fit for human caveman consumption. A more industrious caveman would just win his skinny little lizard and potentially-fatal berries in a game of three card Monty and then take the rest of the day off.

This essay was inspired by a vicious little computer bug I picked up a week ago. It is an ad ware file that my spy ware program was unable to delete. I began a search and destroy mission deep in the bowels of my computer. As I searched I came upon stuff I thought I had eliminated months and even years ago. It was definitely time to do a little house cleaning on my laptop.

Sometimes when you do some really thorough house cleaning you go too far. It is kind of like if you had an illegal immigrant maid cleaning your apartment and she threw away the title to your car because she thought it was junk mail—not that any illegal immigrant would be that dumb. I basically threw away the title to my car and the deed to my house, or whatever the moral equivalent to that is when you just go around randomly deleting files from your computer’s hard drive.

I came home a little after I had deleted the files and my computer looked like a house plant I had watered with battery acid. “I’m sorry, was I not supposed to water the plant with battery acid?” So now my expensive computer is lying dead on my coffee table. Results of the autopsy were inconclusive but the cause of death was cited as human error. Viewing hours are between 1 and 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers please donate to the charity of your choice.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hot Sexy Coeds in Heat

I have a terrible truth that I have kept a deep, dark secret for long enough. The time has come for me to unburden myself of the crushing guilt I feel every day that I remain silent. I have been living a lie and it is destroying me little by little. For too long I have been content to live behind the anonymous façade of the internet. It has been too easy for me to live out my fantasy life by telling the readers here at Leftbanker things about myself that are sometimes a slight exaggeration and sometimes are shameful lies. The time has come for me to come clean and tell everyone the truth.

For years now I have led my readers to believe that I am a strapping, athletic man, a sportsman and patron of the arts, an erudite and urbane cosmopolitan. When I say that nothing could be further from the truth I mean that both figuratively and geographically. The truth is that I am a 65 year old, 270 pound Mexican grandmother who writes these fantasies from the village of Barriga Grande in the state of Durango, Mexico.

I don’t mean this as an excuse for my mendacious ways but lots of people on the internet live out their delusions of grandeur. The web is full of tough-talking neo-con shit bags who wouldn’t look another dude in the eye when they pass them walking down the street. On the web these right-wing dorks write about the military might of America as if they actually had anything to do with it. Loudmouth know-nothings who haven’t done a single bit of service for their nation question the patriotism of others who oppose their bellicose view of U.S. world domination.

I never meant anyone any harm by the make-believe world I created for myself here at Leftbanker. All I ever wanted was for people to like me and to generate a little bit of a popular following. I failed miserably even on that account. My readership is in the toilet, but this assumes that I even have a toilet. The sad truth is that my village doesn’t even have a toilet—we share one with the neighboring village of Nalgas Cerradas.

How can I ever regain the confidence of my readers? The only way to regain the confidence of my readers is to first get some readers and then work on the confidence regaining part. I have decided that instead of being an urbane gentleman or a Mexican grandmother I will be a barely-legal blond love goddess. My measurements are 33-45-41. Wait, I think that was the combination to my locker in high school but I’m so dumb you could talk me into just about anything, and I do mean anything, if you know what I mean, Do you know what I mean? I’m not sure I know what I mean because I get confused easily when I’m only wearing a bikini and it’s too hot to wear even this little thing. Did I mention that my parents are gone for the weekend?

I see that the traffic on this page has increased to 10,000 hits a minute. I guess now is the time to regain your confidence by letting you know that I’m not a nubile 18 year old tart but a 65 year old Mexican woman who is missing three fingers and half an ear from a burro accident. I may have the shape and disposition of a pot bellied stove but I could teach you a thing or two about getting’ freaky so just stick around here at Leftbanker and you may learn a thing or two.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

You'd Better Let a Man Handle It

On a spectacular summer evening in Athens like this one I couldn’t imagine anything going wrong. I wanted everything to be special. I was going out with someone I sort of dug and I had planned everything a couple days before. I thought that I was being the macho, alpha male, type-A guy by taking care of the details. There was nothing to worry about; I had it all under control.

We started out with a nice dinner in the old Plaka section of Athens which lies directly below the Acropolis. I had been through the Plaka on a hundred occasions and I knew every nook and cranny, every alley and patio. This is important because women like dudes who know their way around. Dinner was perfect as it always was when you stuck to Greek food. Even the wine was good. The odds of getting a good Greek wine back then were about the same as winning a coin toss. After dinner I had a little surprise planned that I thought would impress my date.

I led the way as we walked across to the far west side of the Acropolis. We were going to see the Acropolis Sound and Light Show. I bought tickets and we found seats in the outdoor theater along with a group of about 30 other people. As we settled back in our seats, the lights to the theater went out, and classical music began playing over the loudspeakers. The Parthenon and surrounding ruins began erupting in spectacular flurry of colored lights. I immediately sensed that I had scored some major points by my choice of entertainment for the evening.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was a real take-charge kind of guy who could hail a cab and negotiate a good price, order dinner in Greek, and then finally turn a kitschy tourist attraction into a night to remember. I’m not gay but just the thought of me was making me hot. How could any mortal woman not be totally enthralled by such a go-getter? Women of the world, surrender! Resistance is futile.

The initial barrage of lights and music dimmed down and we both waited in anticipation of the next thrill to come our way. That was when the historical narrative about the history of the Acropolis began. At least I think that was what they were saying because it was in fucking GERMAN! To English speakers, German sounds kind of funny. My date looked over at me and positively burst out laughing. I practically had to carry her out of there. Maybe there is a culture on this planet where guys score points with the babes for being dipshits, but I haven’t made it to that country yet. I should be granted honorary citizenship and made Minister of the department of “Don’t Worry, I Got It Covered.”

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Little Time, A Little Gas, and a New Country:

Another Greek Memory

The first major road trip that I took when I arrived in Greece was also one of the more memorable weeks I spent in a very memorable three years of residence there. I took countless trips in Greece but this one still stands out clearly in my mind. Writing this has helped to jar loose from my memory some things that I didn't know I still carried with me. I wish that I could remember more.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time that I have ever written that I did something twenty years ago. I was in Mexico a couple years ago and I was talking with an old guy and he asked me whether or not I had ever visited his village before. I knew that I had so I thought back and I was shocked when I told him that it had been twenty years since I was there last. That was the first time I had that thought but this is the first time I have written it down. I’m now old enough to have done things twenty years ago.

I haven’t been back but I can only imagine that life in Greece isn’t quite as idyllic as when I moved there twenty years ago. Greece back in those days was a country without a single American fast food restaurant. This type of foreign investment was illegal. The fact that there were no McDonald’s was fine by me; I loved Greek food right from my first Greek salad. I loved pretty much everything about living in Greece and I couldn’t wait to see more of the country. My fantastic girlfriend came to stay with me that first summer and we were ready to see the country.

During her first week in Greece she and I were introduced to an important aspect of Greek life: A general strike. The Greek workers at the air base where I worked also went on strike. Because I was new I was considered “nonessential” so I was told to stay home until further notice. I took “home” to mean “within the internationally recognized borders of Greece” so I thought this was a great opportunity for a road trip. My friend, Chris, and his Greek girlfriend, Marina, would be joining my girlfriend, Eileen, and me for a trip of unknown length and a destination to be determined on the road.

I had about six months of intensive study in the Greek language before I arrived in Greece so I pretty much hit the ground running, linguistically speaking. I had a pretty good rudimentary grasp of this very difficult tongue from the beginning, a language that very few non-Greeks bother to learn at all. I was invariably asked if I was Greek when I was speaking with a local. They assume that any xenos who speaks any Greek, no matter how roughly, must at least be of Greek heritage. My friend Chris had studied Greek with me back in the States and would go on to master the language better than anyone I have ever met who has learned Greek as an adult.

On about our second day in Greece Chris and I learned the severe limitations of the Greek we had learned. We had spent most of the day in Athens walking around tirelessly with the intent of getting hopelessly lost. By the time we had thoroughly accomplished the getting lost part we had already stopped three or four times for coffee. We had mastered ordering coffee in Greek by now, something that we had never studied in our stateside class. We stopped to have lunch at a taverna buried deep in a residential neighborhood, far from the tourist path.

When we were handed the menus we quickly realized that we had absolutely no vocabulary for food. I couldn’t read a single item. We explained to the waiter that we didn’t know anything on the menu. He may have encountered this problem before because he didn’t hesitate to take us both back to the kitchen and showed us everything they had to offer. I remember having chicken, kotopoulo (blogger doesn’t permit Greek letters), and I also remember that I asked to take one of their menus. Chris and I studied the menu like a test. I was always able to read menus after that first day.

Before I moved to Greece I already knew that I loved snorkeling. We were terrific swimmers in my family and I had lived briefly on the island of Oahu when I was in high school. I would spend entire days bobbing up and down along the coast exploring every coral reef and rock formation. To this day I prefer the freedom of only being burdened by a mask and fins to the SCUBA diving with all of the gear and thought that goes into that sport. If whatever I am looking at on the ocean floor is less than 60 feet down I can get their on my own lung power.

The Aegean is a wonderfully clear body of water. The lack of plankton makes it even clearer than Hawaii’s waters. In some places you could watch a coin drop forty feet to the bottom. We brought along our snorkeling gear on this trip just in case. I would never leave my snorkeling gear at home on any of the trips I took in Greece.

I think we had a little more than a week before we were supposed to report back to base. Practically no one had a telephone so it wasn’t like they could call you and tell you to come back early if the strike ended. Chris and I figured that we could just about drive around the entire mainland of Greece before we were considered AWOL. We loaded the car and got a very early start on our road trip.

After about three miles of driving Marina said she needed to stop for a cup of coffee. At the end of my life, when everything has been tallied up, I will find that about 30% of my life was spent getting coffee. It is, without a doubt, my favorite drug and the one I cannot live without. I wanted to get out of town and see the country but you can’t drive around under-caffeinated, that shit will kill you. I was always amazed to watch Marina drink coffee. In her very Greek fashion she would put about a third of a cup of sugar in each of her cappuccinos.

Before you know it we had finished our coffee and we may have even made it out of the Athens city limits before stopping for another. We were going to drive up the western part of the mainland along the Ionian coast. We spent a few hours walking around the ruins of Delphi but I was anxious to get to the coast and do some swimming.

I don’t remember much about most of the drive but every thing was new and fun for me during my first summer in Greece. Having Marina along on this trip really unlocked a lot of doors figuratively and in one sense literally, which I will tell you about. If you are lucky enough to have a native host come along when you travel around a foreign country it is like the difference between trying to find a place by reading directions and going somewhere you have been before.

We decided to stop for the night at Parga, on the Ionian coast. Marina had heard that it had some great beaches and that was enough for the rest of us. In the months that I had known her she hadn’t steered us wrong. If we didn’t like Parga we could always drive somewhere else.

The sun was just beginning to fade when we crossed over the bridge which spans the inlet to the Amvrakikos Gulf. As the sun set the temperature went down, and a thick bank of fog rolled in off the sea. The last few miles before Parga we passed through a creepy olive grove of strangely gnarled, centuries-old trees that seemed to appear like ghosts in the headlights. The haunted appearance of this grove of olive trees was probably a side effect of Greek coffee overdose. I drove through the ghosts and found a hotel in Parga.

The next morning we had breakfast in our hotel and finally made our way down to the beach. The sea was completely calm and as clear as the sky. Walking down the hill I could see the underwater terrain off the coast of Parga. It looked like a huge avalanche of boulders had rolled down the hill and sunk in the crystal clear water. The shoreline was a zigzag of small coves with cliffs looming over each one.

We rented a little paddle boat and spent the better part of the next three days underwater. I set new personal free-diving depth records. Of all of the underwater places in the world that I have visited, Parga remains my absolute favorite. I couldn’t get enough of the underwater caves, arches, and amazing rock formations. The underwater visibility was better than anywhere I have ever dived. I was as happy as an otter.

One afternoon we decided to dry out from the hours and hours we spent in the water by exploring the Venetian fortress that sat perched on top of the hill overlooking the village and the inlet. We packed a picnic lunch of wine, roasted chicken, bread, cheese, and fruit and headed up the cobblestone path to the entrance. When we arrived at the gate we saw that it was secured by a heavy lock and chain. We thought briefly about sneaking in but this was a fortress and was built not to be breached. We were simply four more foreign invaders who were left standing outside the citadel. I am one of those rare breeds who has no problem with giving up, so I was ready to eat the lunch right there in front of the fortress and get back to the water. Marina told us to wait at the gate and she walked back down the hill.

Twenty minutes later Marina was back with the key to the gate which we opened and then locked behind us as we entered our private Venetian fortress. If there is a better way to spend an early summer day than discovering a deserted 17th century Venetian fortress with a beautiful woman, feasting on Greek food and wine in one of its towers overlooking the Ionian Sea, then I haven’t come to that part of life yet. Over the course of a very good life I can look back and say that was a really good day.

Friday, December 03, 2004

A Greek Memory

I don’t know who had the idea originally; it could have been me but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was that it was a great idea. I was living in Athens, Greece while doing my service in the United States Air Force. I was insuring your very freedom while living a life of luxury back when the dollar was strong and the Greek drachma was exceptionally weak. Those days of the hegemony of the U.S. dollar are about as faded as the memory I am about to recount.

We all had apartments in the communities of Glyfada, Voula, or Vouliagmeni which lie directly south of Athens. My apartment was at the very top of the hill of Glyfada, beyond which there was only mountain. I had a wonderful two bedroom, top-floor apartment with a staggering view of the Saronic Gulf and the Islands of Aegina and Poros. Sitting in my living room looking out at the Aegean Sea was better than watching a good movie. I don’t think I let a single day go by without saying to myself that I had it made. Standing on the deck of my apartment, looking out at the sea, I was literally on top of the world.

I paid around $100 a month for this spectacular apartment which was incredibly reasonable, even on an enlisted guy’s wages. Everything else in Greece was equally as inexpensive for us and we lived like kings. We had the best of two worlds: American dollars and access to American products at the Base Exchange (BX) as well as everything Greece had to offer--and it had a lot to offer. We lived incredibly uncomplicated lives, free from telephones and television. We were exempt from the hounding of the American marketing juggernaut. No one gave a shit what kind of car you drove. You couldn’t have bought a new car even if you wanted one. Greece was like our Walden Pond except with ouzo, souvlaki, and a steady stream of gorgeous Scandinavian tourists all summer long.

Summers were fantastic. I always tell people that you simply must visit Greece during the summer while you are young and free enough to appreciate all it has to offer. You need to swim naked with your girlfriend at a nude beach while your body is still worth showing off. You need to dance all night in an old windmill converted into a disco. You need to amaze Europeans at the beach with your skills throwing and catching a baseball or a Frisbee. Summers are fantastic in Greece but the winters are cold and grim. How do you make it through the winter in your fabulous apartment with lousy heat?

U.S. service people had been skiing in Greece before my friends and I got there but we took it to a new level. Lift tickets were about $1 so skiing was an obvious choice for winter entertainment. What we resented was the two hour drive up to the Mount Parnassos ski area. I don’t know who had the idea originally but we decided to go in together and rent an apartment in the village of Arachova which lies at the foot of the mountain.

Arachova is an extremely picturesque Balkan village that clings to the lower slopes of the mountains looking down on the Gulf of Corinth. If you drive a few turns around the mountain road from Arachova you can walk around the ruins of Delphi, something we used to do late at night when the tourists had left, the watchmen had gone home, and we could have the place to ourselves. The village had a couple of souvenir shops for the occasional tourist bus that would stop on the way to Delphi. There were a few tavernas and a small store or two and that was about it for Arachova which is somewhat of a metropolis of a village in this isolated little corner of Greece.

The apartment we had the first year was a small place directly above the family who rented to us. We had to pass through their place on the way up the stairs to our unheated little affair. Our landlady, Zoë, would enter the apartment at will and usually timed it when we were in various stages of undress. She would totally freak out upon seeing our electric heater. Even when we offered to pay the entire electric bill for both apartments she would point to the heater and rattle off a string of obscenities in Greek that I hadn’t yet learned. I think she must have thought the heater was plutonium-fueled. For our frugal landlady the use of electricity was as painful as passing a kidney stone.

The next winter we had a few more people interested in kicking in for the rent so we needed bigger and a little better accommodations. My Greek was decent so I volunteered to go up before the ski season and find a place to rent. My younger brother, who I hadn’t seen in a couple years, dropped in out of the sky to visit at about this time so he made the trip into the mountains with me. I couldn’t imagine a better initiation into Greek life and culture than my brother experienced in his three week stay.

Before we left I made a trip to the BX to pick up the items that fuel the underground economy in the vicinity of every overseas U.S. military installation worldwide. Nothing has extricated more servicemen from tough jams, nothing has greased more outstretched palms, nothing has spread more goodwill towards Americans overseas than cartons of Marlboro cigarettes and Johnny Walker Red Label scotch. Had I been more of an entrepreneur I could have made a bundle selling my consignment of booze and smokes on the black market but I just used my ration to grease palms and open doors.

We left early in the morning and steered my old Subaru wagon on to the National Highway north. Gasoline was cheap on base but expensive at Greek stations so I always carried a couple of plastic five gallon gas cans in the back along with a lot of other survival gear essential for anyone who often lived out of his car. I had blankets, a Bunsen burner, always at least one change of clothes, a flight suit and boots (just in case my country called), shampoo, deodorant, coffee, top ramen packets, water, and, most importantly for and old car, duct tape.

My brother was full of questions about Greece and one of the first things he asked me about were the tiny altar boxes scattered around the roads of Greece. I called them “Yorgo boxes,” in honor of the most popular name for Greek men. Yorgo boxes were small shrines erected along the sides of the road where a Greek had been killed in a traffic mishap. Greeks are notoriously bad, violently aggressive drivers so there were Yorgo boxes all over the place. We called the National Highway “Death Race 2000” after a lousy sci-fi film I had never actually seen but I can’t imagine is worse than the National Highway.

It was a cold and rainy day and we had reached about the half-way point to Arachova when I pulled over to the side of the road next to an abandoned construction site. Under the cover of the first floor of the unfinished apartment building I lit up the Bunsen burner and brewed a couple of cups of Greek coffee. My coffee addiction was fierce even then and I couldn’t go more than a couple of hours without a fix. It always seemed like camping, and to me camping has always been a good thing. I felt like one of the gypsies whose camps we passed on our way up to the mountains.

I don’t remember but it is safe to say that on this day we probably stopped in the village of Levadia to buy a couple of spanikopitas at a great little bakery. This was something I did on every trip I made up this way. Spanikopitas are phyla dough pastries filled with spinach and cheese. From Levadia it is only another twenty kilometers or so up the mountain to Arachova. I had an appointment with an older guy named Stavros in his souvenir shop.

My brother and I entered the shop and Stavros led us to the back to some chairs near a wood burning stove. He made us another cup of strong coffee and he offered us some really strong Turkish cigarettes. I have never smoked but I always obliged in these kinds of circumstances simply to be polite. It is a very European thing to offer everyone around you a cigarette when you pull out your smokes. The caffeine and the nicotine certainly helped me to speak Greek better but we didn’t get down to business until we had discussed how everything had gone for us since we had seen each other last.

I gave Stavros a carton of Marlboros and a fifth of Johnny Walker. He immediately poured out shots of the whiskey even though it was only about ten in the morning. We finally got around to the subject of an apartment. He introduced us to a guy named Costas who would show us around. Costas was the best connection I ever made while I lived in Greece. If you wanted anything done he was the guy to ask. He could get you a deal on a kerosene heater, show you a cool backcountry ski run, and drink Metaxa brandy with you next to a blazing fire in the local bar until three in the morning on top of running the local ski shop.

I was skiing with Costas one day when a terrific storm hit the mountain, dumping several inches of snow every hour. It isn’t often that you get the opportunity to ski powder in Greece and we were getting in as many runs as we could. They finally shut down the lifts and closed the mountain and advised everyone to start making their way back down to Arachova. The driving was treacherous. I had to lead the convoy of cars and buses down the mountain in my sure-footed Subaru equipped with tire chains. I could only see a few feet in front of the car and on several occasions I drove right into huge snow banks. It took me over six hours to make the trip down to the village which usually took about twenty minutes.

I met Costas’ wife at the taverna in town later that evening. I asked her if he had made it down safely. She said that he was still up on the mountain, but she didn’t appear to be the least bit worried. When I ran into Costas later the next day he told me that instead of wasting his time trying to drive down through the storm he and a couple other stranded skiers had broken into the ski chalet up on the mountain that was owned by some wealthy Greek. They spent the night there drinking his booze in front of a blazing fire. The next time I was stuck in a blizzard I would stick close to Costas.

Through Costas I was able to find a two bedroom apartment. The only catch was that the bathroom was a few steps away across an enclosed courtyard. I can’t even remember what the place cost but it was definitely within our budget. I was working a schedule of six days on with three days off in a row. I would be spending almost every one of my days off up here in Arachova. Out new place had a big kerosene heater and could sleep about eight not-very-picky people.

This was no condo in Vail but it had its charms, the most appealing of which was the fact that we were the only xenos, or foreigners, in the village after the tour buses pulled out. For nightlife we frequented the only two bars in the village. As much time as we spent in these bars we kept to a simple rule: no matter how many white Russians we drank, it didn’t matter how many ouzo shots we downed, we still would wake up and make the first lift of the day. I remember being so morbidly hung-over one day and trying to ski in an almost complete white out that I couldn’t tell if I was going forwards or backwards.

Before that season began I had to go to Germany for some sort of refresher training. About the only time you made money as an enlisted guy back then was when you made a move. You got paid X to move, and if you spent less than X you kept the balance. We practically made a living out of spending less than we were allotted on our moves. For any sort of temporary duty assignment (TDY) you were paid a per diem amount. On this trip to Germany I used my per diem to buy new ski gear at the giant BX near Frankfurt. The trip to Germany that fall not only paid for my top-of-the-line ski gear but it also broke up the agonizing wait for the beginning of the ski season in Greece.

The snow came early that year and we were skiing before Christmas. The ski conditions at Mount Parnassos were generally pretty terrible. I got pretty good at skiing on ice and very wet snow. The Gulf of Corinth weather was trapped in the east in this dead end of mountains. Whiteouts were common, high winds would sometimes almost halt your downward progress, and making turns in the slushy snow or glare ice was often a big challenge. Not that any of us cared much. I can’t ever remember having a better time than on those perfect days when a big group of us skied together. We would put a bottle of apelkörn--a Germany apple brandy--in the snow at the top of a run and do a shot before skiing down to the lodge.

On the rare occasions when the sky was completely clear, Mount Parnassos was hard to beat. Sitting on the lift chair at the top you could see the mountain ranges of the Peloponnesus and down to the Gulf of Corinth. On days like these we would catch the first chair in the morning and ski so many runs our legs would collapse. We only went during the week to avoid any crowds so we practically had the place to ourselves. With these perfect conditions we wouldn’t even stop for lunch. After taking the last chair up we would wait for everyone else to ski down, even the lift operators. We felt like trespassers as we made the last run down, watching the sun set on this little corner of the Mediterranean. Thoroughly exhausted we skied right up to my Subaru wagon which was the last car in the lot.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Medical Marijuana...

for the terminally sanctimonious

In the Supreme Court’s deliberations over the use of medical marijuana Justice David Souter said that making exceptions for patients to use the naturally occurring plant could open the door to “widespread marijuana use.” I got a good laugh out of that line. Did Souter et al go to college? Is college a requirement for employment on the Supreme Court? Is there a college besides Brigham Young where pot use isn’t “widespread?” Is it “widespread” at BYU?

A woman representing some organization with the word ‘family’ in the title (almost always a sure sign of sanctimonious narrow-mindedness) suggested that people who claim to need medical marijuana should use some other drug instead. She must have ties to pharmaceutical companies who have nothing to gain by medical marijuana which is literally a weed and can grow in the cracks in your sidewalk. Look at the potential side effects of any manufactured drug and they will make marijuana seem healthier than drinking water. Why do I have the feeling that the family values soccer mom is some sort of Stepford Wife whose outrage against pot really starts burning after her fifth martini?

Instead of making decisions based on hysteria and ignorance I propose that the entire Supreme Court fly to Amsterdam for a couple of weeks and see first-hand what happens when a city liberalizes its marijuana laws. Make sure you leave the judicial robes at home, ladies and gentlemen of the court. Try to have some fun while you are there, and remember Justice Thomas, you are there to investigate decriminalized marijuana, not state-sanctioned prostitution. That will be the focus of another trip, I promise.

The only crime issue I noticed during my visits there is that bike theft may be a problem because every piece of shit $40 bicycle is secured by a chain that would keep the Queen Mary II safely moored during a typhoon. The only marijuana problem I encountered in Amsterdam was my inability to roll a joint from lack of practice--not that I ever was very good at it--but I only had to ask assistance from one of the locals sitting beside me at the coffee shop.

Who are these people who are so vociferously opposed to marijuana? Every single person I know either uses it, or doesn’t use it and couldn’t give a shit if anyone else does. I may make fun of stoners, but I certainly respect their right to smoke pot and watch Beavis and Butthead reruns. I can’t imagine someone objecting to anyone smoking pot, let alone a terminally ill cancer patient, but I learned tolerance by living on a dorm floor where I had to put a towel under the door while I studied in my room to block the pot fumes wafting down the hall.

I feel that marijuana use remains a criminal offense solely because it can be used as a means of punishment for people who have committed no other crime. It is like pulling over a driver who hasn’t done anything wrong and then citing him for a broken tail light. Marijuana laws aren’t about protecting citizens, these laws exist as another means to control people.