You Are Here

You are here and god doesn’t care what you think.

Not interested in your opinion, acceptance, denial, praise or even acknowledgment.

Nope.

If I told you god was in the details, would you call me a Christian, a scientist, or a liberal? Be careful what you think of me. To say, ‘god is in the details’ could mean a lot of things.

There was a shooting on Friday, a terrible massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. During the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, twelve people were gunned down while they sat like helpless beer cans arranged on a fencepost. Hypnotized by the screen and mindlessly chewing their popcorn one minute, shot in the face by a lunatic the next. Did god save this one and not that one? No. Did god worry that allowing this to happen during the premier of a Warner Bros film may have a detrimental effect on that week’s offering plate? Nah. God is the laws of nature, nothing more and nothing less. Never underestimate the power of nature or the nature of power for that matter.

This story is about the idea of safety. First thing to know is that there is no safety, there are only odds. I’ll be the first to say that I lock my doors and wear my seatbelt in hopes of repelling death, but these things are not guarantees. Turn on the TV and receive minute by minute updates on all the things that go bump in the night: child molesters in the city, bears and coyotes in the mountains, rabid pit bulls in the streets, assailants in the bank, music in your ears, religion in the home, sin in your heart. There are infinite things to be afraid of, and we are so nearsighted as to think the world is chaos and that is our biggest fear of all.

To dispel the fear of chaos we’ve made up some funny stuff. Specifically that if we can win favor with god then “He” will save us from this disorderly mess, that it isn’t really chaos at all but all part of god’s plan, god so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, whatever the fuck that means, to die for our sins and here’s the best part, that god made us in his own image. What? The creator of the universe is a self righteous, fat, bald monkey who is greedy, jealous and vengeful? Apparently, there is no prerequisite for being god but we take comfort in this idea nonetheless.

A lot of the same people who would tell you this god story is true also wanted Sarah Palin to be vice president of the United States, not because she was qualified but rather because she seemed just like them. She was a hockey mom with a limited vocabulary who didn’t know why there was a North and a South Korea, which countries were in NAFTA and that Africa is a continent as opposed to one big country. But you know, who has time for all that boring geographical mumbo jumbo? She did admit to believing in evolution which made me like her a teeny tiny bit but nowhere near enough to earn my vote. She was a pawn in a poorly executed publicity stunt, but she had a cute smile and a nice rack and she was just like them. Personally, I want to think that my elected officials are smarter than me, or at least possess a superior education, because I don’t think I’m qualified to be president. As we speak, I don’t have the skill set required to run a nation and I sure as hell don’t want someone who is no more qualified than myself to be out there making decisions on my behalf. I don’t want them to be just like me but, unfortunately, most of them are. They can’t keep us safe.

It’s easy to pick on Sarah Palin as she is a tall blade of grass but she along with a long, long list of others have worked hard at promoting the fallacy that we can keep ourselves safe and tame the chaos by arming the general public with guns. Legally armed citizens make the world a safer place because fear of retaliation will stop the “bad guys” dead in their tracks, once again fooling us into thinking we have the upper hand on nature. Perhaps due to the bias of the liberal media, there are precious few stories in which a Johnny On The Spot utilizes a legally owned weapon to step in and save the day yet the idea that everyone can be a hero is astoundingly pervasive because we’re scared and we’re gullible and that’s it. That’s the human condition: scared and gullible.

Seems ironic then that our latest public shooting took place during a movie that glorifies vigilante justice when, in fact, there were no vigilante heros on the scene that night and in reality, there rarely is. The man who was there, James Holmes, was perfectly within his rights when he purchased his 4 weapons and 6000 rounds of ammunition. Who was he protecting himself from? Oh yeah, “bad guys”.

Jared Lee Loughner was also legally armed when, on January 8, 2011, he attended a public meeting held in a supermarket parking lot and decided to go ahead and shoot 18 people. Six of those people died including Arizona District Chief Judge, John Roll, and a nine year old child. Among the survivors were U.S. Representative, Gabrielle Giffords, who sustained a gunshot wound to the head.

Of course, these are not the only two occurrences but just two that come to mind. The NRA will tell you that the reason these things happened is because there were not enough other guns present, that the legally armed bad guys had no reason to fear retaliation. Since when does psychosis fear retaliation? Fear of retaliation may, on occasion, deter desperation driven crimes like muggings or bank robberies but true malice only needs a vehicle. Armed civilians provide about as much safety as blankets infected with small pox provide warmth.

There was a time when the right to bear arms was deemed necessary to deter a tyrannical government, repel invasion and to facilitate a natural right of self defense. This probably made sense when a muzzle loaded musket and flintlock pistol were considered to be advanced weaponry but don’t you think for a minute that handguns are going to keep the government out of your house. An American army tank can level a neighborhood in a matter of minutes. Personal firearms are no obstacle for the weaponry of our military. With regard to repelling invasion, no one storms the beach until they’ve already blown up the city and the bases. If that happens here, we’ve got way bigger problems than can be solved with a .40 caliber pistol. If a robber breaks in to your house at night while you’re sleeping, then by all means, blow his head off.

But here’s the thing, our government has no motivation to control us by force. They’re not going to invade our homes personally because there is no need. Why should they exert effort when there’s church and football and beer commercials keeping us dumb and placid? Do you really care about the economy when there’s gay marriage to be up in arms about? How important is the cost of health insurance while the Superbowl is on? Our society, yes our society, the one that we created through inactivity, allows men who toss a ball around to be paid infinitely more than the people who educate our children. There’s always plenty of money for war and Bud Light but for some reason millions of Americans go without needed health care because they can’t afford insurance. Do you think guns are keeping you safe from the government? Think again suckers, they’re fucking us every which way they can while we watch football and scrap over women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage. Senators and congressmen, they don’t give a fuck about those things but they want us to care so we won’t notice what they’re really up to; working tirelessly to promote their own business interests. Get this shit straight people, there is a circus going on, full of god and guns and unwanted pregnancies, and it’s there solely for our entertainment.

As a god fearing nation, we the people, we’re a bunch of ungrateful mamma’s boys assuming that someone or something will come along and pick us up, compare our score cards, wipe our boogers and cook us dinner. God doesn’t work that way. God is science. God is the laws that govern the universe. You can study and learn to use the laws or you can sit around arguing over bullshit and waiting for Armageddon. God doesn’t care which path you choose because the laws are the laws, a system with infinite variables, set in motion to play itself out any which way. It saddens me to think that something as spectacular as planet Earth could be left in the hands of human beings but this is the truth. Mamma didn’t save the dinosaurs and she’s not gonna save us either. Our safety and survival are contingent on only one thing: our ability to preserve the systems that sustain us and if we can’t do that…

When the music’s over turn out the lights.

Pandora’s Box

Image

This is for Shelly, if she ever happens to read it.

You know that feeling?

When you walk into a dark room with a sad person and the weight of their emotion has the density of a collapsed star, you know that feeling?

It hits you at the door, the seal has been breached and everything that’s not nailed down is being pulled into the vacuum. Information has run amok. To create evil that cannot be undone, this is the result of opening Pandora’s Box ill-advisedly. To the casual observer, it appears that something has come out, that facts have escaped, but this is incorrect. Like fruit from the tree of knowledge, the truth was always plain to see. It is interpretation that must be relied on to keep the plug in the sink. There’s nothing in that box. To crack the lid is to cause a shift in focus. The sour glow of enlightenment blasts everything in it’s path, coats it with radiation and draws it into the fray. You can try to resist but this rift in the fabric will drain the life force from anything it touches. The only thing to come out of Pandora’s Box is gravity.

Secrets are gate keepers, my friends.

Guard them carefully.

Owsley

When people ask me who Owsley is, I tell them he is my estranged web designer. I don’t tell him this though, because it’s not true.

I imagine that Owsley and I weigh about the same and, while 110lbs is a fine weight for a little girl of 5’2”, it makes it easy to count the vertebrae of a 5’11” man. I try not to notice his various bones sticking out all over the place and this is easy enough to do just by concentrating on his half of the conversation and trying to figure out what the hell he’s talking about at any given time.

Owsley knows a little about a lot of things and, like a human edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, he begins his monologue at A and continues until the sun goes down or the drugs wear off, whichever comes first. When Owsley really was my web designer, I let him do pretty much anything he wanted to my website because I was too polite to admit that his explanations sounded like gibberish to me. He doesn’t have a speech impediment, it’s just that, not unlike reading an Encyclopedia, I hear his words and fail to assign meaning to them. All I hear is words words words words words and his oft repeated phrase “if this, then that”, which in his mind explains everything.

Despite our failure to communicate, I actually do like him. We seem to get along better in writing as this gives my slow mind time to formulate a response before he’s ten topics down the road. What Owsley sees in me, I have no idea. Dry humor and the slow speech of a westerner, what’s not to love? I don’t pay him for stuff anymore so I can only assume he enjoys watching me bake in his pool and drink his vodka. Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

Speaking of baking in the pool, I was sitting in a windowsill in Owsley’s living room. There are three tall windows side by side that look out onto the peach trees “that the drug dealers planted” he told me. “You mean the other drug dealers?”, I asked him. The property had been seized by the feds for housing a meth lab which later allowed him to purchase it for next to nothing. The tile floor of his home sprawls across 1000’s of square feet into multiple bed and bath rooms and what could almost be considered a commercial kitchen, all of which proved to be nearly impossible to navigate. I was sitting in the windowsill watching the drippers water the trees and Owsley said “we’re gonna get really fucking high.” Here again, I heard the words “really fucking high” but failed to assign meaning to them and, just like with my website, I went along with whatever he said.

I was still sitting on the windowsill when Owsley brought out a collection of baked goods and glass pipes. “Good god man, you’ve got a regular fucking bake sale going on here” I said. He told me I should eat a biscotti which would kick in in an hour and use the bubbler to fill in the blanks. ” This will be good”, I thought, “a twisted experience with the thin man…” Owsley was talking about drugs and pain and rubbing alcohol and since I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it, I did as he suggested. It was 12:30 in the afternoon.

Owsley does this kind of thing every day, it is his method of managing a chronic pain condition. I don’t. I wasn’t ready. I’m an amateur. Some people like to talk about finding god or opening the doors of perception but let me tell you: there is neither such thing.

Once, when I worked at Kline’s Photography, a shelf holding about 30 big Tupperware containers housing album orders for clients, tipped over and fell on the floor. Every one of those fucking Tupperwares came open; order forms and negatives fluttering together like confetti in a parade. The resulting mess took days to sort out.

I was sitting on Owsley’s windowsill trying to figure out what the fuck he was talking about when a shelf fell over in my mind, flinging boxes of grey matter against the wall and mixing their contents like a bad cocktail. The only thing on the other side of the doors is a whirlwind of doomed voices and blendervison, things you don’t want to see.

The dust was still settling when Owsley offered me more but, fearing for my sanity, I politely declined. “See there what you just did,” he told me, “people with no impulse control can’t do that, drug addicts can’t do that.” “Do what?” “They can’t say no to any offer, doesn’t matter what it is: weed, coke, crack, whores, vodka, they say yes until they end up face down in the pool.” I think this was a compliment. “You’ve no idea who you’re dealing with”, I said, but then realized he was still talking and I hadn’t said a word.

Many years ago, when I lived in Sun Valley, I had to drive some douche bags to L.A. for the filming of a porn flick. The scene: most extreme anal scene for which the girl was paid with tequila, was later nominated for an AVN award. She did shoot bananas and ice cubes from her ass before being gang raped by several guys dressed as circus animals but all I could see when I looked at her was her stubby little fingers. Those beeny weenies will never play piano, I thought, poor stupid bitch. Before I was to drive home by myself, I was laying on the infamous Mick Surewood’s bed in Van Nuys, listening to the sounds of his aquarium and worrying that I would fall asleep on the road. I played the resulting crash out in my mind over and over again. I knew the sounds and just how it would feel when the car landed upside down and crushed my head.

Owsley’s kids were coming to visit at 5:00 and it was already 12:30. With the contents of my mental shoeboxes now strewn across every surface between my ears, the first waves of panic began to set in. The imaginary car accident was back. I didn’t want to die but I sure as hell couldn’t keep the car on the road. 5:00 seemed impossibly early.

People have reported waking in the middle of surgery. They can hear and feel everything but cannot respond to the stimulus. “After I sew her up, let’s take turns eating her pussy”, says the doctor while licking his lips and making shadow puppets on the wall. Paralyzed in a cocoon of hallucination, that shit will never stand up in court.

“Four more hours of going UP!” Owsley gleefully reminded me. I put my sunglasses on so I could stare at his eyes without him noticing. “Let’s swim” he said.

I had already told him that I can’t swim but I had also promised to join him in the water. Were we supposed to fuck? I should really know the answer to this but had completely forgotten the pretense under which I had come over. I stared at his eyes awhile longer, looking for an answer. No, no, pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan. Besides, I might break him or something. Before heading out to the pool I had to change into my bikini and this involved not only remembering where I left it but exhibiting an enormous amount of dexterity. For this I credit my extensive athletic training. Surely only a gifted athlete could shuffle down the hall to change clothes in the bathroom without cracking a skull on the side of the toilet.

Owsley got distracted on the way to the pool. “My yard’s not square, see”, he said holding his arms at right angles, “so I made a zen garden over there.” I had no idea what he was talking about, it looked square to me, but I followed him across the grass anyway to a hole in the fence. “I just put all this together the other day”, he said, “bought it all at Lowe’s”. I don’t remember anything about it except that it seemed like a lot of money and effort to square a yard that was already square.

“Pain doesn’t respond to moderate use.” We were somewhere in the expanse between the zen garden and the pool. I worried that I would step on a bee. “That’s funny, you know, because I can’t respond at all.” I meant to say that but nothing came out. “Bee stings are used to treat MS”, Owsley said. Are we conversing? “Shut the fuck up, I can walk just fine.” I was not walking just fine but it didn’t matter because he was going on about the suspected link between naturally occurring high levels of Vitamin D in people who live near the equator and low diagnoses of MS, and all the while I hadn’t said a word.

“It’s so nice to bake in the pool”, he told me, “I’m going down the slide!” Well flutter by butterfly, I thought, not to Owsley but to the yellow butterfly making it’s way across the yard. Owsley hit the water with a huge splash and suddenly the butterfly was in the pool. Like me, they can’t swim. I wanted to help but ten thousand years passed while I just stood there watching it struggle. Finally Owsley scooped it up with a stick. The tiny creature crawled out of the water with a fierce determination but the butterfly’s wings were saturated and clung to it’s body like wet bed sheets. Owsley set the stick down in a shady part of the lawn.

The water was shockingly blue and up to my armpits. Chorline was leaching into my skin, I was very sure of this because I was once a test subject in just such an experiment. I looked calm but kept swallowing air, and continued to look calm because my other expressions were not working. “Here, take a noodle”, he said tossing me a pool floaty thingy. Dr. Owsley eventually prescribed two noodles and a kick board. It’s not true what they say, I was an island.

From the stereo on the porch I could hear PJ Harvey’s Down By The Water. I think it’s on the album called Songs Of The Drowned. Or not. Little fish big fish swimming in the water, come back here and give me my daughter. Fish, spirit animal of the disturbed and the subject of many a horrifying dream. Beta fish have magnificent technicolor fins. They fly in the water like silk ribbons and when I used to keep them as pets each of my fish lived in a color coordinated bowl and was named accordingly. I was cleaning Red Fish’s bowl one night. You can’t clean fish bowls with the fish in them so I had put Red Fish in a cereal bowl for safe keeping. I scrubbed the glass and changed the water but when I was ready to return Red Fish to his home the cereal bowl was empty. Beta fish jump sometimes, I was wearing cowboy boots and my heart stopped. My eyes swept the counter top and the stove: nothing. I looked down. A terrible painting. Long red fins coated the toe of my boot like wet tissue paper. Red scales and red blood coated the floor in a smattering of footprints. Red head and bulging eyes still gasping for oxygen.

“Why can’t you swim?”, Owsley wanted to know, “was it a sport’s injury?” “No, I just never learned.” My voice sounded dreadful but at least something came out, maybe. “So you were traumatized as child?” What? I never said that. “No, I have very dense bones.” Is there tree bark in my throat? Christ I sound awful. “Well maybe you could see a therapist?” he suggested. This stopped me for a moment. “I have a therapist”, I was going to say but didn’t. It’s too bad I don’t have any business cards for him, I thought. Dean Reynolds: Terrible Therapist. Owsley was jabbering on about who knows what and I decided it best not to refer him to my therapist after all.

I should have left Dean out of it because I suddenly grew very worried that his heart may have stopped and that I would read about it on Twitter. The meanest thing anyone ever said to me was “I hope you die alone because you fucking deserve it.” The asshole that said this and I were both childless only-children so this was a well thought out insult, a legit concern for people like ourselves. He said this in another decade but it still haunts me. As the elders in my family have died off, each of them had their turn in the barrel. Frail bones in beds that smelled of the end, searching the sad faces of their younger relatives and conversing with aberrations. I wondered how old I would be when the last of the people I care about passes away and how slow the days will click by without them. I need some younger friends otherwise, when my time comes, all my visitors will be invisible. So far I only have one younger friend and he’s a porn star. I mean, like, a bona fide, according to Hoyle, porn star. Will he sit with me when I’m old? Don’t count on it. Will he fly across the country, rent a car, and meet me in a ghost town while I’m still young? Probably. My Mom has already told me to meet her at the river. All of this is temporary, temporary, temporary…

“Hey you know, no one ever died from smoking too much weed”, Owsley said before going down the slide again. He was having a terrific time. “And”, he continued, “we still have at least another hour of ascending”. I really wanted to punch him for pointing that out, I thought we were almost done. “I’m the welter weight champion of not talking”, I did actually get the words out but it wasn’t pretty. “That’s ok,” he said, “you’re safe here.”

XIX – The Moon

Whatever happened here has long since blown off in the wind, like the smell of smoke that fades over time. The moon called on the ocean to wash it all away.

An awful realization that I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going and actually I’m just a sick clown and so is everyone else. -Jack Kerouac, king of the beats.

Another night at the Blue Moon jazz club, standing around with the band, smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk. They were on break from the stage but I’m always on break when I’m there.

I’m not much for the discussion of morals. If you want something, just go get it. The problem is not how to get what you want, it’s how to get away with what you want. I’m not hung up on morals but I understand the concept of a balanced scale.

We all stood around just outside the door. Smoking trolls under the bridge, keeping an eye out for radio listening skid row sages and making slanderous remarks about the baby girls dressed as whores out on a winter night. Some of the guys took Carl to the parking garage to get high with them in a truck. Only Dean stayed behind with me in the street light shadow of a rootless tree. This land has different rules. Eye contact and a quiet conversation, a meeting of the minds. We flicked our cigarettes against the tree and went inside.

Lights fell like a meteor shower over the dining room and quiet instruments rested on the stage. My friends sat in our booth, having no idea what kind of place they had come to. They sipped at their beers and wondered why I walked right past them and down the hall to the men’s room. Actually, they didn’t see me but they surely started to wonder where I was. Dean followed me in and locked the door to the stall behind us.

The band was on break, like I said. The drummer was busy with his hands up my shirt and the music trickling out from the house speakers was not quite loud enough to conceal the sounds of my tree huggy shoes, clippity cloppity, must stand still. High on adrenaline, both hands in Dean’s hair and the rest of me dissolving in his mouth, I was already starting to cum. Dean unbuckled his belt and pushed me to my knees. Someone stood at the sink washing their hands and in between splashes I could make out the voice of Damien Rice mumbling in the ambiance. Though Irish, he follows me around: on TV, in my car, at the bar. What I want from us is empty our minds. We fake the thoughts, and fracture the times. Fucking poetry. We go blind when we’ve needed to see…

I stopped listening to the sink and the music and looked up at Dean while running my tongue along his cock. I reached up to grab his hands while taking in as much of him as I could. I can feel his heartbeat in his fingers and against my tongue. Like a doctor checking his pulse, “yes sir, you seem to be in tip top condition.” We have to hurry, this isn’t Motel 6 after all and someone is probably waiting to take a shit. His swelling has increased, almost too much. He grabs me up and bends me over. Clip clop, shhhh. I’m so wet and stifling a loud orgasm while he pushes all the way in with one stroke. He’s pushing me hard and I’m pushing back against the hand rail by the toilet to keep my head from bouncing off the tiled wall. His hands are on my hips, holding me still for this bathroom fucking, hard and intense, scandalous. Yes? Yesss. I’ve felt his penetration since the beginning of time. Only we know our history.

Dean grabs a handful of my hair, forcing my head back and exploding inside me at the same time. So hard to be quiet. I’m a screamer, you know. We stay the way we are for a moment, breathing hard, gotta switch dimensions and return to the world of the living. I’m looking back between all four of our feet and can see Carl’s shoes, slightly flawed and sold at a discount, standing in front of the sink. That song is still on and no one likes it but me. Killers re-invent and believe, and this leans on me, like a rootless…

Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you and all we’ve been through.

Carl’s shoes exit the men’s room followed shortly by Dean’s shoes. I, however, am stuck.

Leave it, leave it, leave it, there’s nothing in you.

Men keep coming and going and Carl is hovering around the door. The pull of the moon has driven him mad and he’s looking for a place to hide.

And if you hate me, hate me, hate me, then hate me so good…

Texts from Carl and Dean are lighting up my phone.

Where are you???”

Stay in there, he’s by the door.”

More shoes and sink water, rattles from the paper towel dispenser. I need an exit strategy.
… let me out, let me out, let me out…

*song lyrics in italics by Damien Rice

Tales From The Dark Continent: The Elephant

I have photographed Africa, but no one has photographed Africa like Nick Brandt. His work is breath taking and awe inspiring, it is all of those adjectives people use to describe something exceptional.

About a year and half ago, in August, I was visiting the Open Shutter Gallery in Durango. The day before, I spent nine hours riding in an open air coach behind a steam engine. The train went to Silverton, where it was greeted by a cardboard cutout of Bigfoot. Bigfoot told everyone to eat at Handlebars Food & Saloon, so I did. I had a big plate of rainbow trout, the quintessential mountain fish, and then rode the train back to Durango. It was a long day and, at the end of it, all kinds of black shit, train people call it soot, was stuck in my hair and even after a shower I was still digging it out of my ears. That’s what I was doing while walking around the Open Shutter Gallery: I was digging black shit out of my ear with my pinkie finger. It kept me occupied until I found one of Nick Brandt’s books.

I honestly don’t know how he gets his shots. They seem impossible to execute. He shoots from angles and at proximity to wild animals that can and should eat him alive or trample him flat. Somehow though, he is still with us.

I was looking at Nick Brandt’s book, page after page of miraculous photography, when I had what some would refer to as a spiritual experience. The gallery went away, as did the black shit in my ear, and I was back on the Dark Continent in a time before man. A thundering heard of wildebeests crossed the plains in a seasonal migration and crocodiles waited for thirsty zebras to venture too close to the water. Lions watched the sunset and leopards carried disemboweled antelopes up into trees. Giraffes ate everything they could wrap their tongues around while elephants walked with their families and buried their dead.

I wasn’t expecting all that. It caught me off guard.

I stood in the Open Shutter Gallery and was surrounded by Africa, quite unexpectedly. The Dark Continent was alive and well and I knew that it was better off then, in the time before us. It made me sad: the realization that the Earth was happier once than it is now. My vision was disrupted by a little drop of something that fell into the book, it was followed by another and, well fuck it all, I’m having a breakdown in a public place. I pulled my shades down over my eyes, preferring to look like an asshole than a lunatic who cries over books in art galleries. There were lots of other people there, looking at pretty pictures. The gallery housed the world like flowers growing by candlelight.

There was once a rouge elephant wandering in exile through the Kalahari Desert. It was a bull elephant that just happened to have a book written on it. Wrinkled pages told the story of a long life with a sad ending. In the next to the last chapter, the old bull was excommunicated by it’s family and it strolled through the sand leaving a path of destruction in it’s wake. This is what we were told.

I traveled to South Africa with an American hunter who commissioned me to photograph his safari. We had been working together for years and I wanted to see the world. Some places bring out the worst in people. The beginning of the end was well underway.

All days on the Dark Continent start before dawn. We were 12 hours from the Kalahari Desert and wanted to get there in time to eat dinner, sleep well and start the next day before dawn. We set out at 6:00am, driving across the Dark Continent on the wrong side of road. Sometime around noon, we passed a chicken processioning plant called The Fat Chick, no one else seemed to think it was funny.

A surprising amount of traffic crowded the highway. Our van was new and swift and we flew down the road like a rocket ship, weaving in between the taxis like a mild annoyance. Our Afrikaner hosts informed us that the overstuffed VW buses are referred to as chocolate boxes. We decided then, that it was only appropriate to call our van a cracker box.

The Kalahari Desert is not a very nice place. It’s hot, like Africa hot, and it’s oh such a dry heat.

Our host was called Frickie. He was the outfitter who would host the elephant hunt. Frickie was tall and broad, a perfect Afrikaner specimen. He was loud and drunk and my employer hated him. Frickie cooked our dinner over his stone fire pit and we sat around a huge table trying to look calm.

Most people don’t know that my employer had made a previous trip to The Dark Continent for the purpose of hunting an elephant, but he lost his nerve and came home two days later. He was very worked up this time too and the adoring eyes of his mistress were not making him any calmer. During dinner, Frickie called my employer an American pussy boy and informed him that this was not Disney Land. We were all terrified of Frickie so when my employer stood up and left the table, it was very awkward.

The guest rooms at Frickie’s place looked so adorable, from the outside. Little cottages with thatched roofs were arranged in a semi-circle like a village for African smurfs. It is important not to take anything at face value in a foreign country. At bedtime we discovered that the cottages lacked both air conditioning and windows with screens, forcing all of us soft handed Americans to choose between stifling heat and a very exotic vacation. Decorative little bug nets hung around the beds like a practical joke. The bugs in the Kalahari desert are as big as rodents, fly like army helicopters, and feed on human flesh with such voracity that, in order to survive the darkness, one must sleep fully clothed in a puddle of DEET.

After a sweaty, bug filled night, our crew arose before dawn and discovered that there was no hot water. You would think with temperatures already reaching 100 degrees, that the water would be hot anyway. It wasn’t.

The sun rose and a van full of tired, flea bitten, sweaty Americans, and a few perfectly happy Afrikaners, set out in pursuit of the elephant. After stopping at yet another lodge to trade in our van on a pair of safari jeeps, we raced through the desert, desperate to find the elephant before it crossed the boarder into Botswana. A helicopter and trackers on horseback were sent ahead to scout. The Kalahari Desert is an awfully big place.

I was in charge of still photography which apparently made me expendable. The whole camera crew was relegated to the back of the jeeps, armed with only two hands apiece to hold our gear and keep ourselves from flying out of the vehicle while thorny tree branches whizzed past our heads and great clouds of dust covered our faces and lenses.

I did not want to see an elephant die, I really didn’t. At the last minute it was decided that most of the camera crew would stay on the truck and only one videographer would film the hunt. I was ok with that. Hunting an elephant is dangerous business and hunting one with a Pedersoli 45/70 rifle is akin to throwing snowballs at a school bus. Even the good ole’ boys were worried.

We waited, but not long. Rifle shots rang out, 5 of them, and news came over the radio that it was done.

I will tell you a few things about the last chapter of the elephant’s book, just to prove that I was there. The old man lay on his side and his upturned eye was open and wet. Long lashes stood up in the sun and the eye did not yet realize it was dead. Before the old bull fell, he stepped on a baby snake. There behind the back feet lay a pale ringlet, just the size of a necklace. The snake was belly up and had pink eyes. It wasn’t as squished as you might think because the sand had absorbed most of the impact. The elephant’s head did not happen to fall into the ideal position for the photographs. The great tusks were turned away from the camera but all the men there put together were not strong enough to lift and turn the mighty head. A fork lift was brought out for the task. I suppose my employer felt brave and manly, having taken down the biggest and most dangerous of the Big 5, I imagine he felt that way, but he wasn’t sayin’ much.

After the official photos were completed came the time for moving the carcass back to the tanning sheds. It certainly wasn’t going to move itself. A Ford F-150 pickup weighs 4685 pounds. An African Elephant bull weighs 13,000 pounds. So, you see the problem right? We waited around while a very big truck, with a very big trailer and a crane were sent out to find us. There is no graceful way to pick up and move 13,000 pounds of dead elephant so they just wrapped some chains around the legs and began to hoist. The feet came up and the head fell back. The trunk drew pictures in the sand. The crane engine sounded worried and, when the elephant did finally become airborne, the chains tore into the skin, peeling it from the bones and leaving thick grey flaps to tell us which way the wind blew.

The last page of the elephant’s book said only: The End

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