The books I read in 2015


I tried to read as much as I comfortably could last year. Perhaps it’s strange to insinuate that reading for pleasure could be uncomfortable, but I get antsy and have to move every couple of hours. Being a slow reader, this doesn’t add up to much. Anyhow, in 2015 I tried to rotate between fiction and non-fiction, with the intent on reading a variety of genres. But in the end I read mostly fiction, and only a couple of non-fiction books. I also read a few great Japanese short stories in Japanese, but I can’t count them as complete books. So here are the books in the order that I read them, with commentary and a rating of my experience of them.



  1. Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, by Dennis McKenna. Anybody my age with an interest in psychotropic compounds has inevitably come across the literature or videos of the late psychedelic guru Terrence McKenna. While he tended to venture further into the mystical spheres of conscious-expanding drugs, his brother focused more on the science. Part autobiography, part botany textbook and part day tripper’s travel guide, Dennis recounts he and his brother’s upbringing, and how their lives followed parallel courses on different planes of reality as they searched for truth through the 60s up to Terrence’s death in 2000. It was an interesting read overall, although some sections dragged when the author spent time on events more memorable for him than could be for his readers. I recommend this for fans of Terrance McKenna and or psychotropic botany. 6.5/10

2. Neuromancer, by William Gibson. Written in 1984, this early cyberpunk novel was the inspiration for The Matrix. Like the Matrix, I can only remember the big scenes, but I do recall that the minutia in between was economical and drove the plot well. A perfect balance of story and style, the reader gets a dose of authentic sci-fi with this one. I look forward to reading more of Gibson’s work. 7.5/10

3. A Dance with Dragons, by George RR Martin. Book five of the (to be) 7-book A Song of Ice and Fire. Like every other fair-weather fan of fantasy, I got hooked on GOT in the first chapter of the first book. As with all the other ASOIAF books, this one is a big, multilayered epic full of skull-splitting, blood magic, ice giants, dragons and political smoke and mirrors. What’s not to like? Martin’s writing is accessible without choking on the regular fantasy tropes and gets its widespread appeal from being far-reaching in scope and grisly in all the right places. 8/10

4. 不思議の国のアリス/ Alice in Wonderland in Japanese, by Lewis Carroll. A bilingual American friend recommended I read this to improve my Japanese. I got about halfway through it before I tired of poring through my dictionary to find definitions for the colorful, decidedly unusable language employed in the book. It was interesting to see how this well-known classic translated into Japanese, however I wasn’t reading it fast enough to keep my interest. Recommended for students of Japanese with more patience than me. 6/10

5. The Sense of Style: A thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker. If you’ve never read a Steven Pinker book, it only takes a matter of pages to understand why the man has as many accolades as he does. Funny and cerebral, his analysis of the English language, syntax and modern grammar makes for an intriguing study into what separates good from bad writing. Pinker delivers pages of sentence diagramming, cartons and lists of do’s and don’ts with humor and clarity. Calling it an indispensible guide for writers might be a stretch, however it’s definitely useful as an up to date reference book when wordsmithing questions arise. 8/10

6. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.” Who doesn’t love Vonnegut? While thinner in plot than some of his other works, BOC is thick with cutting observations about the people, politics and passions of a sick and troubled America. It was my first time to meet Kilgore Trout, the aged fictional avatar of the author himself. Kilgore’s physical brittleness is balanced against his compassion and intelligence, making his observations all the more penetrating and endearing. 7.5/10

7. Under the Jaguar Sun, by Italo Calvino. If you didn’t already know, Calvino is one of Italy’s modern literary heroes. His works are sumptuous and dense, shot through with threads of levity that give even his most ominous stories cheek stretching brilliance. At just 96 pages, this was one of the shorter books I read. The three stories within are a literary treatment of the 5 senses and how they relate to the human experience of love. It was good, but I recommend Cosmicomics for anyone looking to get into Mr. Calvino. 8.5/10

8. Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut. A fair amount of Vonnegut last year. I think I was trying to recreate the literary high I experienced one summer years ago when I read Cats Cradle, The Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse 5 in a row. While fully in line with all things Vonnegut, I didn’t really get the sense of sybaritic joy that I did with the above-mentioned titles, or even Breakfast of Champions. I did like that the narration took place precisely 1 million years after 1986, and how the dumb luck of a few survivors of the apocalypse makes them the progenitors of earth’s subsequent denizens. 6.5/10

9. 2BRO2B, also by Kurt Vonnegut. My short, final handshake with Mr. V last year. It’s technically a short story but came up on my Kindle as a separate volume so…Imagine Brave New World condensed into 20 pages with an dark, yet satisfying ending and you’ve got the gist of To Be oR Naught To Be. 7/10

10. Influx, by Daniel Saurez. A brilliant young physicist named Jon builds a machine that reflects gravity. When his invention is stolen by the nefarious Bureau of Technology Control, they force him to choose between joining them or being disappeared. Jon’s high principles land him in a futuristic Alcatraz, from which it takes him a looong time to escape. But when he does…oh boy. Packed full of one-liners, over-the-top action scenes and a predictable romantic ending, this one screamed Hollywood hopeful. An OK read for SF imagery, but the plot barely produced enough thrust to carry me to the end. For better or (in this case) for worse, I usually finish what I start reading. 3/10

11. Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christopher Ryan. I’d been listening to Dr. Ryan’s Tangentially Speaking podcast for two years before I read the book that’s made him famous. Ryan and his wife Dr. Cathilda Jetha challenge the standard narrative that monogamy is the natural default setting for humans, citing growing rates of divorce, adultery and deflated libidos as just a few problem patterns around the world. They eloquently and convincingly argue that promiscuity troubles us today because the concept of romantic ownership is a modern construction at odds with the egalitarian practices of our ancient ancestors. Colorful, humorous and academically grounded, this was easily one of my top three reads of 2015. 9.5/10

12. The Martian, by Andy Weir. I hopped on the bandwagon with this one not because Matt Damon plays the protagonist in the movie, but because I’d read a short story Weir posted on Reddit four years ago called, The Egg. It had struck me has exceptionally good writing for a new writer, and when he came back on Reddit to do an AMA (ask me anything) interview, I was hooked. Here’s a guy who wrote a story for fun, self-published on Amazon and made it super fucking big in a matter of months. Inspiration for any unpublished writer out there. It’s a pretty good story, too. But here’s hoping the whole humans to Mars thing is on its way out. Probably wishful thinking… 8/10

13. The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. I’d never read anything by Margaret Atwood, despite her reputation as one of the best female SF writers out there. I wasn’t disappointed. The weird dystopian world she creates is a believable extension of our own not-so-distant future, populated by feral GMOs, faceless corporate police thugs and god-fearing flower children all vying for scraps of leftover humanity. I finished this one psyched to see what other bizarre worlds have flowed from her fingertips. 8.5/10

14. A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Prachett. This is a collection of essays written by the late Mr. Prachett whom, I now know, was far more prolific and popular than I’d previously thought. I’d read Good Omens and maybe something else he’d written long ago, but that was all. The 40 volume Discworld series? Never heard of it. Apparently it was a big hit. The essays are funny as hell and I know now that if I’m really to be an accomplished reader of fantasy I’ll need more Prachett. That’s all there is to it. 7.5/10

15. The Master and Margarita, by Michail Bulgadov. Salmon Rushdie recommended this as a must-read, and since that guy seems to know a thing or two about books I decided to give it a go. The Master and Margarita was a novel that initially had me thinking I was in store for some dated work-of-historical-importance. One of those satirical dissections of Russian culture esoteric to anybody unfamiliar with the setting. But my ignorance of Moscow failed to detract from my enjoyment of the book. If anything, it had me wishing I knew more about Stalin’s Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s Jerusalem. If only I could read it in Russian…the original is always better. Thanks, Mr. Rushdie. 9.5/10

16. The Swarm, by Franz Schatzing (1/2 finished). This one came up on a blog about underwater fiction, of which I’ve concluded there is far too little. I thought I’d blaze through this and then straight into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and then I saw it rang up 1,000 pages on the Kindle and so I’ve still got a while to go. Reminds me of a cross between Tom Clancy (or what I imagine his books are like) and that Saurez guy I mentioned above. Flat characters in interesting settings experiencing incredible circumstances. I’ll finish it and then give it a 6/10, because at this point I can’t see it getting any better than that.

And that’s it. Not a big list by any means, but a good 5,000+ Kindle pages over what was a busy year for me. To those of you who can devour a novel in a single sitting, or several over a weekend, I commend you. And can’t help but wonder if you’re getting enough exercise.

Ah, books… I’ll crank one out someday…possibly to be reviewed by an amateur blogger too distracted with writing reviews to finish his own novel.

First Date


A slight gasp escaped Scarlet as she stepped out of the shower. Ten minutes too long under the massage nozzle and another ten before that rifling the closet left her with less time than ideal. Nevertheless, she was confident she could put herself together nicely for David. Last week’s wink on had precipitated a flurry of emails culminating in an actual phone call to set their first date. Tonight they were meeting at Tete Patate, a waterfront bistro 15-minutes from her place.

The mirror still caught her off guard at times. Her eyes moved from the naked crown of her head to the blank plane between her eyes and mouth. Unlike her friends, she’d opted for the deluxe package with her operation. She could now swap out her eyes, nose, ears, even adjust the complexion of her skin. It’d be a while longer before height could be included on the menu, but she wasn’t interested in being any shorter or taller. Scarlet had transcended the realm of average Anglo to that of modified exotic. It was enough.

blank female body sketches

At her vanity dresser, she leaned in and examined the two small plug holes for her nose. Then she pulled open a drawer housing 5 different models ranging in shape and olfactory capability. The wider bridge gave her a stately air, but being the most sensitive she decided against it. Who knew how much cologne David liked to wear? Instead she plugged in the narrow-mid, patting down the edges so they blended seamlessly with her skin. The pigment reader flushed the appendage with a matching skin tone, making it look as natural as the snout she’d been born with. A spritz of perfume confirmed that it was operational.



Ten minutes before she had to go. David’s profile listed punctuality as a turn on. The last thing she wanted was to start the date by turning him off.

Hair came next. From the closet she selected the brown wig. David preferred brunettes and although Scarlet was born a redhead, the hairpiece and an adjustment to her skin tone transformed her into a passable Brazilian bombshell. She positioned the wig just right and pressed the tiny button in the back that secured it to her scalp. Curls spilled over her shoulders and draped about her cleavage to craft an enticing display. The reflection in her mirror flashed a polished grin.

female face sketches

She contemplated exchanging her iris diaphragms for the turquoise blues, but decided black would compliment her dress better. Standing nude in front of the body mirror, she stepped onto the skin scanner and dialed her complexion down to a sandy bronze. A quick run of the razor made sure the carpet didn’t clash with the curtains.

Fuck! Where did the time go?

Scarlet snapped on a bra, yanked up some panties and shimmied into the dusty orange singlet she hoped wasn’t too skimpy for a first date. Her hands moved expertly, sculpting eyebrows and lips with precise slashes of liner. Insecurity about her choice of heels flared up, but there was no time to deliberate. She threw on her jacket, snatched her purse and ran out the door to the elevator.

Evening light gilded the earth in the saturated hues of a Maxfield Parrish canvas. Scarlet hummed to herself as she walked, a dulcet Valentino track that’d been in her head since the morning’s yoga class. The air felt infused with electricity that tickled her pores and charged her steps. She strode down the tree-lined avenue, across busy intersections and into the harbor district. The world was a distant, muted dream and her anticipation of the night to come drifted somewhere above in the cerulean sky.

David was one year divorced, had no children and was working on his third novel, something about a post-cataclysmic earth where the remainder of humanity lived underwater. He was tall, lithe and made their 17-year age difference look more like 5. She spotted him from across the street, standing in front of the restaurant. He looked sharp in his dark denim, sports jacket and white V-neck. She waved to him and he reciprocated, visibly pleased with how his date looked.

She was absolutely giddy.

It really had been too long. Her previous dates had been one night stands with cocksure boys willing to overlook her crooked nose to bed the rest of her. And so an initial query into light rhinoplasty had morphed into full facial augmentation. So far she had no regrets. As soon as she and David had set the date she’d started reading his first book, set in a bizarre world with striking characters and dialog. Some hors d’oeuvres and a carafe of Sauv Blanc interspersed with light innuendo…there was so much to talk about.

Scarlet crossed the street, hands clasping her purse to her pelvis. He extended his hand and his mouth moved, but she didn’t quite hear him. Had he mumbled in his nervousness? She accepted the hand, noting the thickness of his fingers.

“So nice to meet you,” she said.

At least she thought she’d said it. But the words had been faint, just a whisper. His eyebrows arched, and his lips moved again. A black cloud of dread descended and Scarlet felt her heart suddenly hammering in her chest. She reached up and brushed the side of her head as nonchalantly as she could. David’s lips continued to move, his eyes looking concerned, but none of it was distinct. Her mind flashed back to the vanity, to the drawer she’d neglected to open. She touched her hair again, feeling the flat space where the bow of an ear should have been. Her legs wobbled and she felt faint.


David saw what was happening and acted quickly. From his own head he pulled off his right ear and gently swept her hair aside to plug it in.

“There, how’s that?” he asked.

Tears welled in her eyes. She brought her hand up to her nose.

“Oh God, this is so embarrassing…I was in a terrible rush and…”

He shook his head, grinning. She tried variously to explain herself, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Shh shh…please, don’t apologize. I’ve made similar mistakes. It’s recent, no?”

Scarlet nodded, looking into eyes that betrayed neither discomfort nor distaste.

“It’ll be a month this Sunday. Today’s my first time to forget something.”

“It’s bound to happen, isn’t it? Give it some time and you’ll forget that you ever had just one face.”

David laughed and she calmed enough to bite her lip.

“When did you get yours?”

“About 9 months ago. Sometimes I bring an extra set of something or another, depending on what I’m up to. Is the tuning OK?”

“Yes, very comfortable,” she sniffed. “Um, maybe I should cab home really quickly and get mine?”

“Sure, if you’d like to. But it’s not necessary. I’m happy to let you use mine. You don’t mind having dinner with a one-eared man, do you?”

Scarlet brightened. He was sweet. She debated for a moment but something told her this would be more memorable.

“If you really don’t mind?”

“Of course not. C’mon, let’s get a drink, shall we?”

He bent his arm into a triangle and she slid hers through it. The maître’ d opened the door as they climbed the steps.

“Welcome,” he said, giving an elaborate sweep of his arm. “We have a table by the window. On the blackboard are the evenings specials.”

They glanced at the large board on the wall, tattooed in elegant chalk strokes.

“Oh, the verdure motley looks interesting,” she said.

“Not to mention the vichyssoise tete-patate,” David added, pulling out her chair for her.

They laughed and took their seats. It was the best night she’d had in years.


Son of a…

brightest star

“Oh it was a great time we had,” reminisced Eħĝ, scratching behind the ears of Lucifer, his cat, purring on his lap. “A bit uncertain at points, but what childhood isn’t filled with bouts of ambiguity? The universe was a giant void and we had to walk a very long time until we saw the first light. It was my sister Aja who noticed it, just a faint twinkle off to the left. My brother Pux said she was just seeing things.

“By things I mean something that wasn’t nothing, which is what we were calling the darkness in those days. Beyond that there wasn’t something to see. We couldn’t even see ourselves, for we were still just voices. But Aja insisted we stop and try to gather our focus. Being a girl, her vision was much better than Pux’s or mine, and after a few minutes (a unit I use now as a frame of reference for you, as there were no minutes back then…) of squinting, we saw it too.

A single light in the Darkness

“This was exciting for a number of reasons, most of which would be unfathomable for you, even if I were to explicate them, but like all children we were drawn to investigate an anomaly. Being the eldest, I was a bit skeptical. Just because we saw something didn’t mean there was something.

“I said so, only to be ignored. Seized by their curiosity, Pux and Aja darted off at a clip I found difficult to maintain. They sang and laughed in the distance ahead while I huffed and puffed to keep up. For a long while the light appeared to grow no larger and several times I called out to them, suggesting that perhaps what we were seeing was merely a kind of mirage furnished by the vacuum, and that wouldn’t it be a grand disappointment to go on running if it was all in vain?

“To be sure, I hated to be a party pooper, especially since they were having such fun, but it wouldn’t have been the first time that one of us had seen ‘something’ and then, caught in the fervor that seeing can bring about, shot off in the direction of the point only to find more nothing.

“Being younger (and no doubt irritated by a lifetime of my supervision) they pretended not to hear me and (as it seemed at the time) increased their pace. For a long long while I ran with my eyes closed, which was now discernible from having them open, and navigated by following their banter ahead of me. I envisioned myself as a bat in pursuit of two moths, and this helped to pass the time.

“When I next looked I could see that a fair distance had been crossed, making it impossible to harbor any further doubt about the existence of light. It was light, which is what my siblings and I had decided was what we would name something, if we ever found it. So there it was, this thing that wasn’t nothing – this something – that we called light.

brightest star

“By the time I arrived they were dancing around it, jumping and waving their arms (not unlike the moths I had pictured them as). I joined them straightway, it was impossible for me not to, because we could now see that we had bodies, and were not just distended voices, as we had previously believed. What’s more, light was warm. (What we later called the sensation that permeated our new bodies, for previously we had never considered that there might be a way of experiencing feeling, which up until this point had only existed conceptually.)

“There’s no way of telling how long we celebrated the light, but later when we woke up in a pile it was still there, warm and glowing. We were so overjoyed that it had stayed and not gone elsewhere, had not tired of us, that we burst into song and dance all over again. How long this carried on is inconsequential (especially for those of you still trying to grasp the fifth dimension), but lets just say it took a while before we grew tired of it.

“Sitting there, warming our hands on its heat, it was Pux who suggested we give our light a new name. I was content to continue calling it light, but he and my sister were in cahoots. They said it needed a proper name, for somewhere there may be another light – more something in the nothing – and how would we distinguish this one from the other?

“Having the advantage of hindsight now, I’ll admit my siblings were operating on a superior level to me, for I suggested calling the other light ‘something’, thereby circumventing confusion between this one and the other. Light would be here, something -the other light – would be there, and where there was not light or something, there would be nothing.

“This failed to satisfy them, and I still remember feeling ashamed at the way they smirked. I was getting old they said, losing my sense of innovation, my edge. We had to embrace and utilize our discovery, they insisted. Little benefit would come from it if we didn’t first ascribe it a proper nomenclature. I could see the wisdom in their idea, and felt a bit sad, not for my own shortsightedness, but because they were growing up so fast.

“Naming our light proved more difficult that we anticipated, mainly because deciding the method by which to name it took so long. We thought of any number of approaches, none of which we could agree on. Finally, after a very long time, it was Aja who took my hand in one of hers, Pux’s in the other, and told me to start walking around the light (she never could go very long before insisting on moving).

“’You stay here,’ she told Pux.

“We did as she instructed, and she followed me, her left hand in my right, her right in Pux’s left. As we walked I realized that our light was larger than I’d initially understood, and when I slowed to rest a bit, she coaxed me forward.

the fast sun

“’We’re not there yet!’

“I realize now that she was the sharpest of us, in those days at least, for had she not come up with this idea we might still be arguing about how to name the light. Anyhow, after walking a while further, she slowed down.

“’Keep going until you see Pux,” she called from behind.

“She eventually stopped, while maintaining a firm grasp on my hand as I kept on, the light ever shining on my right, warming me with its cheer. After a while I came upon Pux, whose right hand was halfway up his nose. He dislodged it to greet my approach, and I refused to take it until he wiped it clean.

“Now that we were joined we formed a ring around the light, shadows dancing about our new faces.

“’OK,’ yelled Aja from her side of the ring. “You run towards Pux, Eħĝ. Pux you run towards me, and I’ll run towards you, Eħĝ. We’ll run as fast as we can and whoever yells the first name, that’s the one we’ll use.”

“Pux and I could see this was a clever plan and on her mark we all set off in a mad dash to the left (now discernible by our new reference point in space), one sprinting after the other in a wide sweep around the light to our right. Runners know it is a simple truth that the mind clears in movimento, becoming as open and frictionless as the universe itself. We ran hand in hand, each in lucid exploration for the best possible name to give our light. I think after a while I closed my eyes and just ran in a perpetual arc, one with my siblings, yet dually autonomous in my thoughts.

“Aja, the fastest of us, began to pull on Pux, who in turn pulled on me. I compensated by running a bit faster, trying to give my little brother some slack and my legs began to feel hot and springy. Worried that I might falter, I quickly contrived a system of communication (a kind of pneumatic Morse code) via squeezes in our hands, for to utter any words was to speak the name of our new light.

“I adjusted the grip of my left hand so as to convey to Pux that he could speed up just a touch, while through the pressure of my right hand I told Aja to dial it back a notch. Pux confirmed this by increasing his pace, but Aja misread me and started to come up from behind. Pux must have relayed to her the message I had given him, thus causing her to interpret his message as mine, which while being the case, was the opposite of what I intended.

gaseous-ring-spitzerB-2012-01-19“We were moving at such a tremendous speed, a whirl really, rings of shadow around the light, that my legs began to go all melty. Not wanting to end our run, but simply to decrease its rate, I again signaled to Aja to please slow down, while giving Pux, really just a baby at that time, a squeeze to communicate that he was doing fine and need not adjust his pace.

“To my relief Aja slowed, which in turn checked Pux’s momentum, and I was able to achieve a tempo that would allow my legs a chance to recuperate. I remember thinking, ‘Let’s just keep it here for a while.’

“But no sooner had I become comfortable than Aja sped up again! I know now (having hashed the story out millions, possibly billions of times with my siblings) that Pux’s left hand had sent his sister’s right hand a message that she interpreted as ‘Go!’, (when in reality what he had wanted to convey was ‘Good!’), but at the time I had no knowledge of this. I only knew that as my right arm went slack, my left arm stretched to its very limit.

“What happened next was as abrupt as anything else I’ve experienced in this universe. I was snapped by Pux (whom Aja was pulling) like a rubberband, and shot forward wildly off balance.

“’Son of a…’ I yelled as I fell, landing hard, with Aja coming crashing onto me from behind, and then Pux atop of her. I have no regret now that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, but it took several eons for me to get over my disappointment. Of all the words I could have said… Still, we had to abide by Aja’s rule.

“I admit that the name has grown on me… everybody seems to like it just fine…but at the time I was terribly upset. Nonetheless, it works I suppose. And we have found so many others that nowadays it makes more sense to use numbers as names.

“Aja and Pux have long since moved on. My sister went to do volunteer work in another dimension and started an NGO. Pux, ever the rambler, leads tours around the galaxy and sends a postcard from time to time. I on the other hand have chosen to stay in the neighborhood. I like to sit here in my breakfast nook with the morning newspaper and a cup of coffee, warmed by the rays of our first light.”

Misadventures with Datura!


I’m at that age, I feel, where I can comfortably share tales of youthful exploit without worry (or care) of any adverse judgment or ramification for what transpired. It is with this idea, and having also started a new book by Dennis McKenna (brother to the late Terence McKenna – axial sage of psychopharmacology and psychedelic exploration), that I am inspired to share this upcoming story. Names of participatory parties have been reduced to first letters only, so that they may remember that they were indeed accomplice to this hallucinatory gong show, without revealing their identity to the rest of the world.

When I was 18 or 19, I held firmly the belief that my body was a laboratory for rigorous and thorough psychedelic experimentation. As a student of mind-expanding mushrooms, I was always on the lookout for the natural buzz, particularly the elusive peyote button, a rarity in Virginia. In those days I worked as a gardener in the summer, often sweating to near hallucination under the burning orb of the sun. It was to my great surprise and intrigue that I learned Datura stramonium, loved for its large, ghostly white trumpet flowers, possessed psychotropic properties. A regular queen of the flowerbeds, Datura was something that I worked with regularly. My interest in botany was budding and it was fascinating to me that this plant could be so elegant, and yet deceptively dangerous. (My understanding of women was on a parallel trajectory).


It was from a golf course manager buddy, we’ll call him Pa, and his bunch that news of the seeds came about. They maintained that Datura seeds, if brewed in a tea, would produce a pleasantly strong trip with vivid hallucinations and all the trappings of a proper tab of acid. The seeds could be collected freely, and more importantly legally, from the roughs of the golf course and so that’s where I went one afternoon to do some collecting. I recall there were four or five of us – Pa, Pe, Ke, myself and maybe Je, or Jo? It’s hard to be sure. I do remember the big thorny seedpods looking like something out of a Tim Burton movie, and the hundreds of black seeds contained within each one. After 30 minutes or so, I had half a Big Gulp cup of seeds, surely enough to produce some effect or another.

That night hanging at Ka, Ta and Pa’s house, eight or so of us took random doses of Datura. The girls had tea, I think, and Ka may have vomited soon after. I, being a dude, opted to pour two mouthfuls of dry seeds into my mouth, washing them down with beer. This seemed to me the purest way to go about it. To be honest, I was skeptical that anything would come of it, despite the stories from Pe about his escapades with Jo, Ke and Ju. Their car had broken down on 395 outside of DC and they were tripping quite hard when the police came to assist them. While talking to the police, Jo had suddenly broken from the group to run off down the side of the road, thinking he had seen Ke hit by a car. But it had only been a figment of his supercharged imagination and he returned to the group, seemingly without having been noticed.

datura seeds

Anyhow, I remember having a few beers, not feeling anything particularly psychedelic, and then going home to make lunch for work the next day. I must have showered first, for I was downstairs by myself making a sandwich in my boxers when I noticed Pe standing beside me. He was talking at length about his truck and I listened, nodding and responding. We exchanged thoughts and then I concentrated on finishing my sandwich, only to realize the next second that Pe had never been there. I remember shrugging to myself, saying, “It’s the seeds…you’re tripping,” and then setting about to make a second ham and cheese.

No sooner had I slathered a slice of bread in mustard than Pe reappeared, going on about needing new tires. I advised him – I remember hearing my own voice – to go for more of an all terrain tire, as mudding tires would just lower gas mileage. Back to the sandwich and once again “Oh! Nobody’s here except me. It’s the seeds, you dummy.”

This happened several times before I finished making lunch and I remember that when I looked at the clock in my bedroom, the numbers were warped like a Salvador Dali painting. No worries, I was tired. A good sleep would bring me around. I tried to close my eyes, but was interrupted this time by Ka, who was floating just above me. We spoke a moment about a concern she had with her dog and then fatigue pulled me away and I drifted off, only to wake a moment later and remind myself “Oh…it’s the seeds.”

This kept up for another half hour or so, as each member of the little seed soiree I’d attended a few hours earlier came by to check in with me. Finally I feel asleep, waking up at about 3am from the absolute worst cottonmouth I’ve ever experienced. It was as if I’d swallowed a mouthful of sand…I was completely incapable of swallowing. On instinct I went downstairs to the fridge for milk. My bowels were cramped and it felt like I had to sit on the toilet, but nothing happened when I did. It was a precarious trip, as my limbs and eyesight were out of calibration, and I moved like some disjointed beast from The Dark Crystal. I remember using the banister going down and back up the stairs and still being unable to read my clock upon my return to bed.


When the alarm went off the next morning at 6:30, the numbers bent like phantom stick men in the morning light. I picked up a book and failed to discern anything that looked like the English language. “Great”, I thought, “I’ve blinded myself.” But it turned out to be just close range sight, for when I went to the bathroom I could see quite clearly that my pupils had dilated to the point where all but a thin blue ring of iris remained.

I tried to speak but there was a choke hold on my vocal chords, and the best I could manage was to croak. I looked pale, bent and gollumish and it was like this that I went down into the sunlit kitchen of my parent’s house to call in to work. Whatever stupidity they (both parents and work) suspected of me they kept it quiet. My siblings, who were readying for the school bus, seemed oblivious to my wretched state. I slunk back up to bed and slept for the better part of the day. It wasn’t until that evening that things returned to normal and I had a sense that life would go on, without me needing therapy of one kind or another.

The next day at work when I told my boss An (a woman so steeped in knowledge and lore of plants I feel it criminal she hasn’t written her own book) she confirmed my suspicion that I’d done something dangerous.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Witches used to ‘ride’ their brooms with Datura. That shit will kill you…dumbass.”

sexy flying witch

Or something to that effect. She was right, of course, and boy am I glad now that none of us did die from our funkadelic foraging party. When I look at Wikipedia (just in it nascent beginnings when all of this happened), it seems surprising the American government hasn’t put Datura on the list of illegals. Then again, who’s going to eat Datura seeds when there’re safe, glorious little mushrooms growing in colonies under the cow patties? It was a weird trip, but I reckon the guy in this video had it worse:

*TL/DR – Don’t eat Datura.

Southern California Tack Stores


Having recently visited a number of tack stores in Southern California, and having spent hours futzing about them as my girlfriend ripped through the racks of riding breeches and polo shirts, shelves of wormer medicines, poultices and aisles of high riding boots and sharp-tipped cowboy kickers, I can say with confidence that they, the tack stores, are all the same.

tack store

Upon entering any tack store, one will first be greeted by no less than 3 young women hanging out at the register. Two may be staff, one a customer, or perhaps all three staff and two others customers…it makes no matter. They will be there and when you walk in they will glance your way in a flash calculation of how much you might spend, greeting you with a “how’re you all, today,” in that annoying “oh my gawd” accent they have here. These women will be either very trim from riding, or morbidly obese from having appetites similar to their horses, preferring the feed trough to the saddle. It’s my guess that the former becomes the latter right after marriage.

Once inside, you will find it nearly impossible to ignore the syrupy pop country music that drizzles from the speakers above. It’s not too terrible until you listen to the lyrics – sassy platitudes sung in nauseating twangs that make you feel like you’ve been beer bonging Cherry Coke on the fourth of July. It seems that country has taken a gansta turn, as several of the current hits talk about “twisting one up,” while explaining to the listener “this just how we roll.” I haven’t done the research, but it’s my bet Dr. Dre has turned his production talents to cash in on the redneck youth market.

John Wayne quote

The Southern California tack store will be full of decorative pieces that when properly placed will give the home or stable that perfect air of unapologetic cowboy sentimentality, one that leads the outsider to wonder if Jesus did ride in rodeos. There are 10 cowboy commandments that, if you’re not familiar with them, may initially come off as vapid dribble. But because I know better, I can tell you that even the Chinese factory workers that stamp these plaques believe “Thou shalt wipe your boots before coming in for supper,” are words to live by.

Outside of the Southern California tack store will be trucks with engine displacements no less than 5.7 liters. If they’re duelies, they’ll have brush guards up front for pushing non-horse lovers off the road. If they’re regular pickups, they’ll invariably be lifted on $2000 mud tires with upgraded factory exhaust and suspension. Europe is well represented in the lux-SUV class, with plenty a terrier toting stable-moms behind the wheels of Rovers and ML 550s. This part of the state has a disproportionately large number of Camaro, Corvette and Mustang drivers as well, but they don’t seem to be interested in horses and therefore never leave the highway.

sweet truck:small dick

Perhaps the best part about these tack stores is the everyday wear sections. Just yesterday I was paralyzed between choosing two t-shirts. One was black and featured a bald eagle flying in front of an American flag, rippling in the wind. Above it were the words “Flying proud in God’s country.” I would have bought it for the bargain price of $11.95, but it was too small. The other was light blue and would have been perfect if I weighed 300lbs.  On it was a white horse splashing through a Rocky Mountain river with a rainbow overhead.


After five days of jockeying freeways and off ramps, parking lots and discount racks, our tack store raiding has come to an abrupt end. Now I’m stuck having to fill two days searching for the perfect raw oyster and burning my pale thighs on the beach. There was an IPA festival at the Redondo Pier two nights ago with far too many beers to taste in one visit. Last night it was lobster rolls and hushpuppies at Son of a Gun in LA. Perhaps we’ll go to the brewery in El Segundo for dinner tonight. Life is tough here in SoCal, but I’m coping.



Henry the lonely goat


Henry the goat had been many kinds of goat, but mostly he’d been a lonely goat. Such was the culmination of a life largely spent by himself, with only the denizens of the field for constant companionship. He’d belonged to a young family freshly moved from the suburbs to the country, eager to cultivate a rustic aesthetic. Life was largely spent in the long sloping lawn between the house and the pond, tied to any number of things in any number of places. One day it might be behind the garage, then next to a stake set near the road, and then to the mulberry tree.

During the first several months after being taken from his brothers and sisters, Henry transitioned happily into being the only goat in his new family. He roamed untethered, with just a little red collar around his neck. Sometimes he’d look at his reflection in the shiny hubcap of the family’s big blue truck. The red contrasted his chestnut fur and he knew he was a handsome kid.

Under the warm sun of that first summer, the family’s three children and he ran around the white country house, playing hide and seek. From time to time he would pause to taste the roses, which he found angered the mother. The big shaggy sheepdog would grumble when Henry came around during naptime, but otherwise they got along just fine.

Henry1There were so many things moving in the green expanses of the property, Henry barely managed to investigate them all: the butterflies flitting about, the birds swooping above the grass, the frogs in the creek, the turtles in the pond. He soon forgot about his brothers and sisters corralled in the dirt paddocks of the farm where he was born. This was his home now and the children were his sister and brothers.

Sometimes he’d get so excited he’d bleat and bounce around for no reason other than electric joy. When jumping up on the cars became unacceptable, he put his talents to use by climbing the stacks of split wood up onto the roof of the garage. From this vantage point, he could observe what the cats and the dog were doing. Among the rows of 5,000 young pine trees planted in the back fields, Henry would sometimes catch glimpses of deer and fox. In the evenings, he watched the horses grazing in the fields across the road, wondering why they never climbed the big red barns they lived in.

In the fall, the kids would come down to his shack and visit while waiting for the school bus. Henry was bigger now and stayed on a line, usually fixed to his shack. After the kids left the mother might visit, bringing scraps from the kitchen or baskets of garden produce deemed unfit for the table. Sometimes she’d lead him up to eat the grass around the garden fence, although he was more interested in the raspberry and blackberry boughs that hung over its white planks.

As the temperatures dropped, Henry’s coat grew thick and when he saw his reflection it’d become quite regal. The grass turned tea brown and the leaves fell, leaving the trees naked and cold. The New Year came and the snow around his straw-filled shack became stippled with black pellets. Henry would have appreciated being able to poop and pee farther away from the door of his home and felt the first twinges of jealousy. The other animals could run as they pleased during the day, and then join the family at night in the big warm house.  At times he would spend hours staring at the bleak white and gray landscape, and at the smoke that curled from the stone chimney on the backside of the house.

The children seldom visited and the mother came only to leave him fresh water and food pellets. When the father’s car rolled home after the sun had set, Henry would bleat a greeting to him, but rarely received a response. His first winter with the family was lonely and at times he was certain nobody loved him. Had someone come to see him at night they would have known that when forlorn, goats are apt to cry.

But nobody came.

Mid-March the following year all that remained of the snow were thin sheets of slush punctured by pale yellow sprouts. The daylight lengthened and Henry grew hot in his coat. At times it felt itchy to wear so much fur. But it soon started to shed in clumps and by April he was comfortable again, waking everyday to the salutations of the birds and drifting off to an evening chorus of peeping frogs.

The family came to visit more frequently, which delighted the goat. A pain atop his head announced incoming horns and he would look at his reflection everyday to check their progress. By summer they’d grown longer than the father’s hand. A strong sense of goatishness possessed him and more than ever he wanted to run about, to climb on things and bleat. One day he broke his old line and was found by the mother stripping the lower boughs of the mulberry tree by the pond. She laughed and when she tried to pull him back to his shack he suddenly grew cross and rammed her with his shiny new horns.

The next day the father put a new red collar around Henry’s neck. Attached was a new chain, much longer than the previous. He was pleased to find it afforded him access to nearly the entire yard, from the driveway down to the pond, from the creek behind his shack all the way across the yard, almost to the dirt road. The grass there was tall and thick, albeit dusty from intermittent cars. Most importantly, he could get up on the garage without anybody having to come and move his line. It was further than he’d been able to move in a long time and he was happy.


Using his horns had brought him this new freedom, Henry reckoned, and he decided right there to use them when it suited him. He was a goat after all.

His horns renewed his popularity with the kids. The oldest boy would bring his friends down to meet Henry and they’d play games pushing the goat by the horns. Henry was just as heavy as the boys and with two extra legs gave them a good push back. They would laugh which made Henry bleat and afterwards they’d pick the sweet grass out of his reach and feed him while they stroked his long flappy ears. The younger sister and brother would visit as well. When Henry tried to play push with them they’d shriek and circle quickly to pull his tail. He’d bleat and spin about and it was a fun game for everyone. Many evenings Henry would lay with his legs folded beneath him, tired and content under the mulberry tree, listening to the peepers as the yard lit with 10,000 dancing fireflies.

One Sunday the eldest boy came to visit and immediately ran back up to the garage. He returned with his father and the boy held Henry’s horns while the father looked at the goat’s neck and muttered. They came back a short time later with a large needle and iodine and some towels. Henry thought maybe they’d come to play so he gave a little push. To his surprise they pushed him back and didn’t stop until he was down on the ground. Together they kept him pinned as he squirmed. The father tied his legs while the son held his head against the ground. Then he stuck the needle in the egg-sized lump on the side of Henry’s neck to drain it. The boy worried when the goat panicked, struggling to stand, but within a few minutes the job was done. When they untied Henry, he escaped to hide behind the shack, sore and confused.

The father came a few days later to check on him, but had other things to do and didn’t stay long.

Sometimes the cats would slink about, looking for the mice that lived under the floorboards. They never ventured inside, however, for there was a big blacksnake that slept in the corner of a rafter. She scared the goat at first, but he soon became used to her long black body above him. During the day she would stretch out along the beams, hissing quietly. Henry would bleat a hello once in a while and the snake would hiss her reply. For that he was glad and decided living with a snake was better than living alone. Sometimes the snake would be gone in the early morning, but she returned most afternoons. Henry admired other climbing animals, like the snake and the cats. He’d never seen the dog climb anything except the steps up onto the porch, which wasn’t even a challenge. And only he went up on the garage roof. He knew if one liked to climb, it was better to be a goat.

The eldest boy came down every other week with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork to remove the dirty straw, which he hauled up to the mother’s garden to add to the compost pile. The first several nights after getting fresh straw were always so nice. Henry would nuzzle his nose deep down and inhale its sweetness. One day as the boy was finishing, Henry surprised him with a game of push. When the goat’s horn cut his thigh the boy cursed and shook his fist and limped up to the house.

That weekend, the boy returned with his father and they bound the base of each horn tightly with wire. For the following week Henry had terrible headaches. He bleated until the sister came down and gave him a tablet of children’s aspirin hidden in a handful of onion grass. The children felt sorry for Henry. They came down to pet him and whisper about his horns, which made him wonder. But when he checked his reflection it was unchanged. After a few weeks however, something began to feel loose.

More time passed until one day Henry went to take a drink from the creek and saw that his right horn was crooked. When he shook his head about it moved. Like a child with a loose tooth, he was both fascinated and frightened and so he shook harder. Suddenly there was a splash as the horn fell off his head into the water. Terrified, Henry bleated until the two younger children came down. The youngest picked up the fallen horn, inspected it and then pet the spot on his head from where it had fallen. The sister pushed lightly on his remaining horn, causing it to shift. Henry bleated and they rubbed him behind his ears until he calmed.

Henry 3_bak

Poor Henry.

He’d been so proud of his horns and now only one remained. He decided to avoid the creek if he could. But the truck hubcaps and his water bowl all showed the same thing, and everytime he looked his left horn leaned more and more. On one rainy day, a wasp flew into Henry’s shack and startled him. His remaining horn clipped the doorframe as he ran out. It fell into the mud and he stood wet and miserable looking at it before walking down to sit under the mulberry tree.

Although he felt wretched, the loss of his horns turned out to be anything but tragic. All of the family, by ones or twos or threes, would circulate by to say hi. The younger kids visited nearly every morning before catching the bus again. Now that Henry’s stumps were healed games of push grew more frequent. The kids would crouch, ball their fists and lock their elbows to advance on the goat. Henry would meet them at a few paces with his head lowered, sometimes to take them both or just one at a time. They were heavier than before and Henry sometimes slid back against four fists. But he could always win at singles pushing, which was crown enough for the big Nubian.

After a rain, the father would take him out to the big black walnut tree where a tree house was under construction. Henry mowed around the piles of wood while the father nailed away; around the mother’s garden while she weeded; around the garage that was his observation deck. And around his own shack, of course. He ate and ate and became so heavy that one day he found he could no longer climb up on top of the garage.

This was devastating for early autumn was his favorite time to be up there. School started for the kids, which meant no more lazy afternoon games of push. The big yellow bus would pick up the children at the same time everyday, but instead of coming first to talk to Henry they would dash out of the house just as it crested the hill. The older boy caught rides from friends, and then eventually got his own car.

No one seemed to mind when Henry stopped bleating good morning.

Again the earth went afire in oranges and reds before burning low into brown, yellow and black. Again the world went white and grey. Holes where boards had come loose permitted winds that sometimes carried gusts of snow, which caused him to shiver despite his winter coat. For days Henry would lay in the back corner aligned with the door, moving only to stretch his legs or walk outside to relieve himself. After one particularly heavy snow, the kids tunneled down from the house and dug out around the shack. Henry watched as they went about their work, wondering if they might want to play push. But they were soon gone and no one visited, not even the cats.

Throughout a wet spring and hot dry summer Henry took up residence under the mulberry tree. He was sick of his shack, having outgrown what meager comfort it provided. The water in his pail was refreshed daily, but nobody stayed for any meaningful amount of time. The berries and leaves of the low hanging branches fed him well enough. Heaped upon itself, the canopy draped in a wide shady circumference that was his domain. Occasionally the cats would enter to scale the interior labyrinth and stalk the birds, but otherwise no one came.

Behind the tree the pond buzzed and splashed incessantly with microcosmic movement. At times Henry would bleat at the cars that roared over the gravel, sending up tails of dust. Or at the horses across the road, when they would run and whinny in their wide-open fields.

That winter Henry refused to return to his shack, even though the father repaired the loose boards and the door. That and a lining of fresh straw failed to entice him indoors. Snow as it did, Henry opted to remain among the broken branches that cracked and fell under winter’s weight. His coat had grown so thick he looked wild, brutish as his ancestors once were. In January it snowed so much Henry had to stay behind the snowdrift that formed around the trunk. He couldn’t have returned to his shack had he wanted to. Instead of clearing a path back to it, the eldest brother and his father dug a snow cave for the goat, bracing it with fallen branches.

There he stayed through two more storms followed by a spring that declared itself in a sudden, persistent radiance. All at once the walls of the gnarled snow globe he’d inhabited dissolved. Above him a thousand dead arms, hands and fingers slowly flexed, leaking green life from their cracks. Great tufts of his fur snagged on the piles of fallen branches and formed a kind of nest. Henry sighed as he did every spring,  more deeply each year. This spring the sighing replaced any bleating he might once have had the heart for. He’d lost it now, abandoned slowly from the beginning and quickly at the end.

To move at all became a mission in which the goat could find no spirit to sponsor. After a time he rolled over on his side and closed his eyes. How long he stayed like that he never knew. When a low rumbling woke him he found four figures standing over him, cutting shadows in the light. They rolled him onto a canvas tarp and, after a great deal of effort, put him in the back of the blue truck, its hubcaps rusted over long ago. He made no effort to move, but continued to lay there as a ribbon of blue sky banked by treetops and power lines flowed by.

When the truck stopped again, the cab doors swung open and the tailgate slammed down. They grasped him by his hooves and pulled him to the edge, clumsily bringing him to the ground.

The nipple of a water bottle was pushed between his teeth and sugar water rushed over his tongue, pushing his cheeks out. His throat flexed in automatic response, drinking until it ceased to come. Arms slid under his belly and turned him over to rest atop his legs.

He blinked and took in his surroundings. A sea of green rolled out beneath him, dotted with the ebony and ivory mosaics of milk cows. Off to the left was an old forest that swept up an opposite hill. Two mossy creeks connected farther downhill at the intersection of a third hill. It was the widest swath of land Henry had ever stood in.

There was no mulberry tree, nor any shack. A large barn with a slanting roof stood diagonally behind him. It was home to the sheep, pigs and a big sheepdog named Herrick. Next to that was a stable that housed two miniature Italian donkeys, Ramona and Filipe, who became Henry’s brother and sister. Everyday a white haired woman in a light blue plaid shirt would pour Henry fresh water and in the winter he stayed with the others in the barn.

The old goat spent the remainder of his life there, walking the fields and woods, sometimes with the donkeys and sometimes alone. He found it near impossible to stand one spring and knew it would be his last. He tottered down to the corner of the forest by the confluence of the creeks and stood looking at himself for a long time in a pool.  The red-collared kid he had once been peered back and bleated goodbye. Henry lay down in a bed of bluebells and closed his eyes. A breeze swept over his coat, more silver than brown. He took a final breathe of the sweet moldy world about him, sighed a final time and was no more.


That is the story of Henry the lonely goat.














Tonight’s FB feed


This is what I’ve learned from looking at my FB feed, tonight. In no particular order, I’ve become aware of the following:


・My old college roomie is having a yard sale.

・Old Sapporo buddy is learning the ropes in Thailand.

・An old student of mine (when I taught high school in VA) just had a kid.

・Another old student of mine has “the feels” upon seeing that animals can be more humane than humans.

・An old Lovettsville buddy’s son is digging the Foucault pendulum in DC.

・A Japanese buddy is heading to Bibai, Hokkaido 16hrs ago.

・Another old student of mine, who married an old student of mine, just had their second child. No relationship to the abovementioned student.

・Another old student of mine had a rough day but saw some baby geese and has a smile “on this guy’s face.” 

・A buddy changed his profile pic. It’s black & white and is both stern and ironic at the same time.

・Another friend has taken numerous photos of herself around the world, mostly on beaches, mostly in a bikini. She looks sexy in all of them.

・An old Lovettsville acquaintance had a birthday…but I know he’s not really 25.

・An old Sapporo student now lives in Okinawa and is scuba diving in Maldives. Lucky girl!

・A British buddy, name withheld, has posted his umpteenth geek post about something related to pop culture that I don’t understand.

・A Japanese buddy wanted to snowboard but went shopping for camp equipment instead.

・My sister has punked out yet another part of bunk corporate America by sharing an article.

・My parent’s best friends are on some awesome trip out west, enjoying their retirement.

・A gay buddy I went to school with may or may not have adopted a little girl. Both look happy.

・A girl I dated briefly two years ago is happy to see her brother and nephew. She’s still hot.

・An old Sapporo buddy is drinking with his wife at the beer gardens in Munich.


And! I’ve exhausted myself reporting a fraction of this evening’s FB feed. Disappointed not to see a few key players chiming in. Not sure what better things they have to do…

Gonna finish this beer and go to bed.


Thumbs up, motherfuckers!

Happy Saturday, people.