Saturday, December 31, 2005

Back from Hiatus

Been a while, B/S. Sorry for the holdup. Writing hasn't been convenient, what with the strep infection, the long cross-country road trip — no more plane flights for me, until I get my no-fly status sorted out — then the holidays.

I'll catch you up soon. I'm having the year-end meeting with my accountant today. And I always go to the barber and get a deluxe straight-razor shave on the 31st of December.

Resolutions by tomorrow? We'll see. I only have the one aspiration, of which you're well aware. (But I wouldn't mind dropping a few pounds, too.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Thousand of Dollars, Hundreds of Friends

If you're wondering, Brother/Sister, why your favorite Internet Personality has served up nothing but radio silence in almost a week — well, that's because he's been hard at work earning THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS and HUNDREDS OF FRIENDS.

A man of true ambition finds his way in the world, B/S. I might have been down-spirited when I last wrote, but life is about picking yourself off the mat, shaking off the hangover, stopping down by the hotel lobby for the continental breakfast, and going once more into the breach.

I could give you a blow-by-blow of the last few days, but there was a lot of driving, waiting, loading, driving, unloading, and driving again — and that part was boring as hell. So I'll keep it brief and snappy for you, B/S:

We've been smuggling illegals.

Now don't get all moralistic and start quoting to me from the U.S. immigration laws. If you were jobless and stranded in a Texas border town with a compadre eating his way through your savings, and said compadre — as many of them are — were a native Spanish speaker . . . well, it might occur to you that there are certain obvious ways to turn your frown upside-down. And if, in the process of inverting that frown, you just so happened to incur the enduring gratitude of some forty score hopeful and able-bodied Mexican workers . . . well, now you're thinking you might have the rudiments of an army, if at some later date you might need one.

What bright-eyed Internet Personality with World Domination aims wouldn't act as I did? The legal stuff we can clear up later — if we even have to. That's what lawyers are for.

PePe and I have made fourteen runs (that's over the border and back) in four nights. The work is so easy it's like money falling out the sky. The hardest part was getting the Ryder truck — they pretty much staff the rental joints with federal agents down here. You can't rent a simple cargo truck without fielding twenty or more probing questions from the guy at the counter. And when you're finished navigating those treacherous waters, you're asked to pay cash up front. So we had to go around the corner to the pawn shop and hock all our belongings — rings, watches, black wheelie bag, iPod, EVERYTHING. PePe had a hard time parting with his pipes, even temporarily. But we swallowed hard, pooled the money together and got us a truck.

From there it was smooth sailing. We made all the money back in our first two runs and bought back all our worldly goods just as the pawn shop opened the next morning (though I had to wrest my iPod from the grasp of some early-bird grandmother who thought she'd just landed Junior's dream Christmas gift on the cheap). PePe had all the contacts, made the calls, talked in Spanish, arranged the pickups. I was the licensed driver. We had a secret route over the River. There's an old abandoned bridge —

I'm saying too much.

Suffice to say, we netted $500 per haul — not counting the homemade Mexican delicacies our generous passengers gave us over and above the charged fare for the transfer. We had only one incident — last night — when we happened upon some Minutemen. You may have heard of them, B/S: they're these nutbag border-watch volunteers who call in suspicious activity along the Rio Grande. It took five minutes' cajoling before PePe would put down his empanada and pipe me up some redneck-thrashing music, but once he did, I was able to get to the bastards and lay them out before they could dime us to the Border Patrol. There were three of them parked in a jeep. They had night-vision goggles and satellite phones. Real Delta Force wanna-bes, these jerks — I gave them a big, thick dose of AVVLAIDF, had them all knocked out and piled into the truck in thirty seconds flat.

Just for kicks we took them over into Mexico on our next run, left them for the Policia. See how they like it.

Anyway, we're sitting on seven grand right now, and rather than push our luck, we're going to pocket the money, settle up at the Motel 6, and ditch Del Rio, Texas ASAP. Some 800+ newly arrived Mexican-Americans have my business card, and I have their contact information entered on this computer (these people may own next to nothing, but you wouldn't believe how many of them cross the border with mobile phone accounts). Some people might worry that I'm leaving a trail of evidence behind, but not me. You get ahead in life by making connections. I got these people safely and comfortably placed in the Land of Opportunity at a reasonable price. I want them to know they can call on me for help — for work, for mentorship, for a favor. I don't demand reciprocity down the road, but I won't refuse it either.

Not everyone can make more than seven Gs and 800 close friends in four nights. It's a sweet deal, if you can swing it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Money Problems

I apologize, Brother/Sister, for the tone I took in that last post. As anyone who has had to resort to smuggling himself over a border inside a refrigerator could tell you, I've been under a fair amount of stress lately.

These cash flow issues don't help. You may remember from way back that when I first left for Peru, I prudentially tucked away $500 for a return flight. What I didn't know — and could never have guessed — at the time were (1) that I would have a Piper to fly home alongside me, and (2) that he and I would together get booted off our plane two thirds of the way through our itinerary, and (3) that friggin' American Airlines would refuse to refund me for what their Customer Service Personnel have described as an "interruption in service."

I call it a screw-over, Brother/Sister. If the airline overbooks a flight and bumps you, it puts you on the next flight. If you get hammered at the hotel bar and arrive to the gate too late, they find a way to book you through to your destination.

I don't see how my situation is any different. In fact, I think I make a stronger case for assistance than most people who miss a flight. In my case —

("Our case," PePe says. That's fair.)

in our case, we missed our flight because the government was persecuting me because of my political ambitions and assassin's training.

But those punks at American Airlines are unyielding on this point, it being their strict policy not to make travel allowances for people who suffer an interruption in service due to their no-fly status.

What a bunch of patriots they are.

Anyway, Brother/Sister, I'm coming to learn how crippling illiquidity can be to an enterprise — even a non-profit sociopolitical movement like mine.

We've blown through my $500 travel set-aside and are now dipping into the balance of $343.78 in the World Domination Fund. Come tax-time, I don't think I'll have any problem justifying the cost of this extended involuntary layover as a "business expense."

Still, I don't like borrowing against the Fund so early on in the project. I was saving up to buy a share of Google stock, but if PePe keeps eating the way he does — my God, you'd think they were starving the guy at the Secret Mountain Redoubt — we'll have run the Fund down to zero on his potato-chip consumption alone. (And between you and me, my loyal and voracious Piper is not exactly bringing home big bills from his busking gig downtown.)

So that's why I'm a bit testy these days. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a get-rich-quick scheme, but I'm fighting a real sense of discouragement, bordering on depression. It's a struggle even to get out of bed these days, much less beat the streets for business opportunities.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Stop Asking Me This

Some my Brothers and Sisters have written in to ask me whether I abruptly terminated my visit in Peru in response to readers' "lack of interest" in "that particular subplot."

I wish I could find an adequate way to express my utter disgust with that kind of cynicism. But right now I'm coming off a long weekend spent stranded in a Motel 6 in Del Rio, Texas — and I've pretty much exhausted my capacity to express disgust.

But know this, Brother/Sister, because I will not be repeating it:


I am on a mission. This weblog exists to chart my progress and to report to my several loyalists on the progress of that mission. The weblog does not come before the mission.

Do you really think I would cut short my valuable training in the Ancient and Very, Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting just to win myself a temporary ratings bump? Would I flee Peru just when I was getting somewhere with Flora Posada, the Most Beautiful Girl in the Country?

("Pachado," PePe tells me. "Flora Pachado." He's been downtown Piping, Jimmy Atahualpa-style, for travel money to get us back to Cambridge, and he just walked in the door.)

Would I bug out on Flora Pachado, without finishing her screened-in porch (if you know what I mean), just because Burping Squid isn't interested in Andean cultures?

I got the heck out of Peru because people in Peru wanted me dead. It's possible I'll be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life — or at least until the Master Trainer gives me the all-clear sign. These people want to kill me.

And by the way, if at some point before I ascend to power I'm driving my car, and I look in my rear-view mirror, and there appears to be somebody tailing me, I'm going to try to lose them. You're free to suppose, Brother/Sister, that I'm just serving up a car chase to my readers — you know, because everybody loves a good car chase. But if that's what you're thinking, I don't want to hear it.

This is insulting. This is my life. And so what if the Peruvian Tourism Board, or whatever it's called —

("Comisiòn de Promociòn de Peru," PePe says.) —

so what if they wrote me a check a couple of months ago? I don't like the way you people are picking around in my private affairs. It was 300 bucks, and I put it directly into the World Domination Fund. If the Peruvian government were making me personally rich, I'd be on a first-class plane to Boston right now.

Instead, PePe and I are scraping pennies together right now just to get home in coach before Christmas. I'm sorry if that "subplot" doesn't have enough zip for you, Brother/Sister, but life is what it is.

If you want fantastic tales of great adventure, go somewhere else.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Stupid &#$@* No-Fly List!

There’s always a wrinkle, Brother/Sister. I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived in Bolivia (in part because that refrigerator was a tight fit and my oxygen tank was running on empty). I thanked my lucky stars when PePe and I got to the airport in La Paz, cleared security, and boarded the plane. Everything seemed to be going without a hitch; the Master’s plan to get me out of harm’s way was airtight.

Then our inbound flight to Houston was diverted to Laughlin Air Force Base (I wonder what third-grader designs these military websites). FBI agents boarded the plane while we were on the tarmac; they reviewed the passenger manifest and took PePe and me into custody. It appears that Your Favorite Internet Personality was on the Department of Homeland Security’s “No-Fly List.”

What a crock.

They separated us, and two agents sat me down in a room and did the Good Cop/Bad Cop bit, e.g., one of them brings me coffee, and the other one says I have to take it black. Recognizing this dynamic for what it was, I demanded an attorney. The Good Cop told me a guy was coming from the Public Defender’s Office. The Bad Cop told me the guy was a drunk and an evangelical Christian, and he wouldn’t arrive for another six hours.

“Screw it,” I said. “I’ll waive my right to an attorney. This is just a big misunderstanding, anyway. Let's clear it up and get on with our lives.”

They told me I was on the No-Fly List because they had intelligence that I was training at a leftist terror camp in the Andes mountains.

“Oh, no,” I said. “You’ve got it all wrong. That’s not it at all. I was learning the Ancient and Very Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting at my Master Trainer’s Secret Mountain Redoubt. It’s like a martial arts thing.”

“But we’d never heard of it.”

“That’s because the techniques are for secret assassins.”

Bad Cop stepped in, at this point, to zip-cuff my hands behind my back. It occurred to me that I was not making a very strong case for my release.

“All right, all right," I said. "That doesn’t sound good, I agree. But I assure you, the Elite Incan Dance-Fighters are not terrorists. They don’t really do much of anything, in fact, except fight each other about their club by-laws. And sometimes when the ninjas get uppity, they fight them.”

"But we're not worried about the Dance-Fighters. We're worried about you."

"Me?" I said. "You've got to be kidding. I'm not a terrorist. I just went down there to get that training because I'm on a mission to take over the world."

Bad Cop stepped in again, this time to put me in leg irons. Should have waited for the lawyer, I was thinking.

"No no no," I said. "I was just kidding about that 'taking over the world' stuff. I didn't really mean it."

"But it's consistent with our intelligence."

"Your intelligence?" I asked (not that I would ever call these bozos' intelligence into question).

"We've read your weblog."

Shit. Think fast think fast think fast think fast —

"Oh, that," I said. "That's just fiction. That's just something I made up for fun. Silly old me, always telling stories, you know —"

At this point the Good Cop (inexplicably) gave me a Koran, and the Bad Cop gave me a form to sign, certifying that the Koran I had just received was in pristine condition and had not been defiled in any way by the United States government. As I had no pen or pencil to apply to this document — and my hands were cuffed behind me, in any event — I stared blankly at the form for a short period of time.

During this period, the agents just stood there quietly, with hands folded. The silence was long and awkward, so I started talking again.

"I mean, really, if I did have designs on taking over the world, and I went to Peru to get assassination training that I truly planned to use to gain political power by force — if all that were true, would I write a weblog about it? I mean, that sort of thing could get me in all sorts of trouble. It's fiction, Mr. and Mrs. Cop. Fiction, and nothing more."

Good and Bad Cop walked over to the corner of the room and whispered to one another. They left me alone in the room for 5.5 hours. Then the Bad Cop came in and freed me from my restraints.

"You make a good case," he said. "You'd have to be an absolute idiot — I mean, really . . ." and he trailed off, mumbling to himself.

I assumed I was free to go.

Fifteen minutes later I was reunited with PePe. By this time, though, our plane was long gone on its happy way to Houston with the other passengers, and we were stranded at this Air Force Base, six miles from Del Rio (the nearest town), without transportation in the sweltering ninety-degree South Texas heat.

The two of us were worn-out, sleep-deprived, and emotionally spent. I don't know where we would be if that lawyer hadn't pulled up and offered us a ride. The situation was not ideal — the guy lectured us about Jesus Christ and kept veering off the road toward gigantic saguaro cacti — but PePe and I are now comfortably ensconced at a Motel 6, and when I finish writing this "fictional" (heh-heh) post, I'm going to crash for the next sixteen hours — at least.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Dear Flora

Dear Flora Pachado —

I don't know what this letter should say. I write this for two reasons:

First, circumstances wrenched us apart in mid-dialogue, leaving me a bit confused about where I stand with you (more on this below).

Second, I've had to post this letter to you on my weblog, because I forgot your home address and phone number. I had it written down on a slip of paper in my wallet, but the Master Trainer confiscated the paper from me, out of concern that I might be ambushed in transit, and Delgado's Holdouts would find it, read it, and take your family hostage. That's the point we're at right now with these people. I thank my lucky stars, though, that I had the foresight to install those Ethernet jacks in your father's den two weeks ago, when I was rewiring your house. I am therefore confident that I will be able to reach you through the Internet, but in a forum like this — which anyone and everyone can read — I am reluctant to reveal my innermost thoughts. My enemies read this blog for areas of weakness. People like Burping Squid are always trying to come up with some way to take a shot at me. I don't want to give too much away to these people —

maybe it's best to stick to the facts.

By the time you read this I will have been smuggled out of Peru, with my luggage, inside a discarded refrigerator that, as far as the rest of the world knows, my Master Trainer sold on eBay. The refrigerator will have been delivered by wagon cart to my Master's contact over the border in Bolivia. PePe will have accompanied me on this journey, in the garb of a Maytag repairman. The contact should have purchased airline tickets for the both of us, to take us back to the States.

I wish I could say definitively when I'll be back in Peru to finish your screened porch. But I just don't know. You're young and beautiful and brilliant and caring — the Most Beautiful Woman I[] Ever S[aw] in Peru — and it would be unfair of me to ask you to wait for me, when there are, I expect, many competent and reasonably-priced contractors in your area who could complete the job. Here in the States we have Angie's List, which serves as a kind of reference/information sharing center for people who need work on their houses. I don't know if Peru has the same kind of online consultative resource, but you might look into it.

I think that in my dealings with you, I might have learned Something Important about humility. It's sort of amorphous right now, a cloudy kind of Something I'm still trying to get my mind around, and I won't try to write it down here. It seemed like there was something going on with us, and we were on the verge of having a conversation of some significance. With all the blackouts and these Delgados chasing me around, that hash-out of the relationship obviously couldn't happen. I wish we had talked, just to clarify things. Shit. Maybe I'm saying too much.

Off I go, Flora. Write me (I mean, if you feel like it).



Your Devoted Handyman (and Friend?),


Monday, November 28, 2005

Well, That Sucks

So the Master Trainer finally dropped by to speak to me today — this after my third escape attempt from the infirmary. I'm not someone who just sits around and ignores the Elephant in the Room, so I asked him about the patch over his eye.

"This is what I came to talk to you about," he said. "It took me a while to track him down, but I found Ortega. We — er — negotiated."

Ortega! That dirty bastard! "It looks to me like he wasn't in a dealmaking mood," I said.

"Well, he's dead now," my Master said, with a shrug and a smirk. "So that's sort of a moot point now, isn't it?"

"But your eye —"

"A scratch on the cornea, and certainly not my first. He telegraphed his move for my eye — I dare say even you would have seen it coming, Student-of-Mine. The only contact he made, and he paid dearly for it. The upshot of it all, Phutatorius, is that we're going to have to smuggle you out of here."

"What? Where?"

"I offered a general amnesty to Ortega's gang. They would pledge not to do you harm, and I wouldn't shatter their ribcages, as I did their Master Trainer's."


"And about half of them accepted. The others scattered into the mountains. About a dozen or more Intermediate to Advanced Intermediate Fighters, most of them with Pipers. As long as they remain unaccounted-for, it's not safe for you here."

"Master, I — I don't understand. Why wouldn't they take the amnesty? Why are they so preoccupied with me?"

"It's not entirely about you. There are strong undercurrents here. Prejudices, old vendettas. A tangled, wicked web. Your crime, Phutatorius, is that you flushed out all the poison in these mountains. With your Internet posts, that Yanqui strut of yours. Fighting alone to your iPod, without a Piper. You're a lightning rod, a magnet for controversy. You've drawn all the disease here to the surface — for the best, I think. In the long run, it will help us clean house."

I tried to process all of those mixed and conflicting metaphors.

"In the meantime, we're going to have to get you out of Peru."


"Shortly after midnight, is the plan. I took the liberty of packing your black wheelie-bag for you. PePe has agreed to suspend his Piper training to help effect your escape. He will, of course, be traveling with you."

I — we — we never even got to first base, much less totally do it in her father's house.

"It's for your own safety, Phutatorius. You were lucky to survive that ambush. Any one of them could have landed a blow to your iPod. You would have been sin musica, and done for. Once we've exterminated —" my Master Trainer paused, thought hard about whether this was an appropriate word to use, then figured the hell with it and continued — "the Ortegans, I'll be in a position to consider bringing you back, to continue your training."

My Master Trainer stood up. I am certain that he had very little trouble reading the dissatisfaction on my face. "I will have further instructions for you shortly." And he walked out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Hardest Part

I believe it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "The waitin' is the hardest part."

My Man from Mumbai couldn't have been more right. I'm anxious to get discharged from the infirmary, to get back into the swing of things. I've got trainings to attend, drills to run, the Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru to romance. But I'm stuck in this bed until I hear otherwise from the Master Trainer, and he's pretty much AWOL these days. I haven't seen him since he and PePe dumped me in this CraftMatic, and he doesn't respond to my emails.

Other students come and go with bumps and bruises, sprains and strains acquired in the ordinary course. Most of them stop by the bed to wish me well — now I know what it takes to overcome people's prejudices. On the other hand, they might still be giving me the cold shoulder, so the fact that I'm getting some respect 'round here must say something good (if only minimally good) about the Human Condition.

There's an orderly here who is obsessed with Yahtzee. The dice jangle in his pocket while he mops. Sometime last Wednesday I bottomed out morale-wise. A game or two sounded like fun, and I agreed to play him. Dispatched him pretty handily, too, winning fifteen of twenty (not that I'm keeping score). Now the guy's pestering me every minute for a rematch, says he won't empty my bedpan unless I give in. It's been five days. There's quite a heapin' helpin' of my leavings tucked away and fermenting under the bed right now — when you draw Phutatorius into a battle of wills, nobody wins. It's mutually assured destruction, Brother/Sister. Remember that.

Sooner or later the stink will reach the Master Trainer's office, and he'll have to come see me. That's my ace in the hole: YAHTZEE, mother f**ker.

UPDATE (11/22; 1:30 a.m.): several of my Brothers and Sisters write to inform me that Gandhi was not from Mumbai. I am, however, willing to rewrite history for alliterative purposes. Expect more of that when I'm administrating the world.

UPDATE (11/22; 10:30 a.m.): now people are telling me that it wasn't Mahatma Gandhi who said that bit about the waitin'. Let me ask you this, Brother/Sister — are you sure of that? Did you spend every minute of every day with Mahatma Gandhi? How can you profess to know, then — with certainty — what he didn't say? I rest my case.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Ambuscado, Part 3

When I next awakened, my Master Trainer was prying open my left eyelid and shining a penlight into it. This I found to be rather annoying, and so I threw up all over him. He stepped away from me quickly, nimbly, receiving only a small fraction of the sputum I had served up for him. He is, after all, a Master-qualified Elite Incan Dance-Fighter.

Flora appeared at my side. "He's awake," she said, unnecessarily. She took hold of my right hand. I swallowed what was left in my mouth.

"Awake for the moment," my Master Trainer said. "We'll need to take full advantage of it." He produced a hand towel and wiped the lapels of his jacket. "Tell me what happened, Phutatorius. From the beginning."

I called for water. Flora moved to get it, but my Master preempted her and fetched it himself. I gulped it down and told him everything I could remember about the ambush.

"Can you tell me anything about their fighting style?"

"Well, I thought they would be better than they were."

"I need details, Phutatorius. This is important."

"There was a lot of marching and stomping. High steps. They would bring their knees to their chests, then kick out. They seemed stiff in the hips."

"Ortega's people!" my Master hissed. "I knew it!" Ortega was the last juror to cave in my criminal case before the EIDF Council. He was also the most brutal of my interrogators in the hours preceding my trial. He had really seemed to have it in for me. "He's acting outside the Council's authority, and he'll answer for it. In the meantime, we'll need to move you back to the Redoubt, Phutatorius. We've imposed enough on Ms. Pachado."

Flora tightened her grip on my hand. "It's no imposition, Master Trainer. Wouldn't it be better not to move him?"

The Master turned impatient eyes on her. "He's fine to move. He's stabilized. But he needs real medical care. We have IV units, heart rate monitors up the mountain. And the Redoubt is fortified and secure. PePe!"

The door to Flora's room opened, and my devoted Piper appeared in its frame. "He's awake!" PePe said, unnecessarily.

"We're moving him. Get the stretcher."

Flora looked at me. There was nothing I could say.

"Will I see you again?" she asked me.

"I'll be back to finish the screened porch."

"That's something we'll have to discuss," my Master Trainer chipped in.

Five minutes later my Master Trainer and PePe were hiking me up the mountain.

"Keep your eyes open, PePe, and your pipes handy," my Master Trainer said.

Lying on the stretcher, I only thought of Flora. I had received a hundred or more vicious blows to my body overnight, but it was the soft imprint of her lips on my cheek — a stolen goodbye kiss — that stuck with me. All I wanted was to see her again. All I wanted was to know what she said to me, starting with "I —", before I passed out. I had a good idea what it was, but I needed to hear it.

It has been a week now since I saw her. I'm still stuck in this bed. PePe brought me his GameBoy, and I've entered a couple online poker tournaments. The days are interminable, and the nights! Don't even talk to me about the nights, Brother/Sister. I'm restless, I'm anxious, I'm irritable, and I'm getting pretty goddam tired of eating green Jell-O.

Enough is enough. I need to see Flora.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ambuscado, Part 2

Where ya been, Phutsie? You can't cut out in the middle of a story like that.

Cut me some friggin' slack, Brother/Sister. My health comes first. Would you trouble Hemingway for an ending if he were triply concussed? Would you be on Spielberg's case to wrap up a final edit while he was recovering from hernia surgery?

All right, then. Ambuscado, part 2 — delivered as quickly as I could get it down:

I woke up on my back. I was lying on a cot, naked, under a sheet and blanket. The room was small and its lighting was dim. There was someone standing over me, a face framed by black hair. Flora.

I reached up to my head. This was instinctive, because it was my head, and not any other part of my body, that was pulsing with an intense, blinding pain. I pressed my hand against my forehead and found it wrapped in gauze. The hand itself was bruised, knuckles bloodied.

"That bandage is not hand-made," Flora said, "but I hope you'll accept it."

I looked over at her, caught the tail end of a fleeting and delicate smile. It flashed across her face, lit up her green eyes, and was gone again as quickly as it came. That might have been the first time I saw her smile, and my knocked-silly eyes, lolling around in their sockets without discipline, nearly missed it.

Her face fell into its characteristic frown. "There were three of them fighting you."

I looked up at the ceiling. By this time my brain was starting to register sensation from my arms, legs, thorax, and abdomen. That sensation was a uniform, penetrating ache that I expected would, in short order, resolve into several dozen specific foci of pain, where my attackers had landed their blows and kicks.

Now I know, Brother/Sister, how these stories usually go. When the Picaro resumes consciousness, he says something like Where am I? What happened? This indicates to the reader that he has no memory of the events that immediately preceded his blackout — requiring his interlocutor (in this case, Flora) to tell him that he had been attacked by three Elite Incan Dance-Fighters and kicked repeatedly in the head. But standard Hollywood plot formulas notwithstanding, I happened to remember exactly what went down up the road — I in fact knew more about it than Flora. And so when she said, "There were three of them fighting you," I replied not with Three of who? or even Three of whom?

Instead I said, "Five. There were five, to begin with." I wanted Flora to know that I was not entirely brain-addled. And I also wanted credit for the two Dance-Fighters I had managed to dispatch.

"Whatever the number was — it wasn't a fair fight," Flora said. She was frowning again.

"They didn't want a fair fight. They wanted to kill me," I said. "And I shouldn't be here. Your brothers and sisters — the children — I'm endangering all of you. They could come back —"

I sat up, brought my feet to the floor. The room whirled violently around me, I lurched left, then right on the cot, but I endeavored to stand, anyway, taking care to drape the bedsheet over my waist. I was wobbly on my feet, dizzy and a bit disoriented, but my legs supported my weight. That would be enough to get me out of the Pachado house before the assassins killed her family.

"The doors are barricaded," Flora assured me. She pulled a shotgun from a dark corner. I had not seen it before. "We're as safe as we can be. I sent for your Master Trainer. He should be here within the hour."

"You could all be killed in that amount of time." I inched across the room toward the door. "Where are my clothes?"

"I hid them."

"You what?"

"Because I knew you would do this. I knew you would try to leave." Flora approached me and took hold of my arm. She led me, flinching, stutter-stepping, back toward the cot. "I've watched you over the past three days. You're not the yanqui culo I thought you were. You work hard. You have a good heart. You're respectful." Tears welled up in her eyes.

"I just want you to be safe —"

"I know this," she said, pushing me gently down on the bed. "And you've done so much for my family these three days. You've almost finished the screened porch. Let me take care of you now."

What limited energy I had on awakening I had exhausted on my round trip across Flora's bedroom. My head came to rest on the pillow, and the pain up and down my body receded, signing to me that I would be losing consciousness again momentarily. My eyelids came down. With superhuman effort I lifted them. Flora was in the room, with me. The Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru. Why would I allow some fascist autonomic nerve override to close my eyes? She was speaking to me —

"Phutatorius —"

I centered my eyes on hers. I was determined not to black out. With the entire force of my will I clung to consciousness — just to keep looking at her, just to keep listening to her — but I had no hope. Darkness converged on me, my vision blurred, until all I could see were the two green lights of her eyes, filling with tears, reflecting light at me. And these, too, were dimming —

"Phutatorius, — I —"

Spit it out, woman. I could go any second now.

"I —"

Blackness. Silence. Shit.

Part 3 when I'm feeling up to it.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Just a Quick Note

Boy — time flies when you're multiply concussed! I was down for about fourteen hours and just woke up now to check email and read the news.

Many thanks to Burping Squid for the Get Well e-Card. I didn't know you were still out there. I can't say for sure that you didn't mean it ironically, but I'll take the best wishes at face value.

As for the rest of you, in lieu of flowers, please donate money to UNICEF.

Oof. Here comes the nurse with my supper. I see soft foods in my future, for the next three days at least — looks like green Jell-O, oatmeal, and pumpkin pie on the tray-table. Gotta go — I'll finish my story tomorrow.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ambuscado: Part 1

It's Friday morning, Phutatorius. Shouldn't you be down the mountain at the Pachados' house?

Well, if you'd give me a minute, Brother/Sister, I would explain. I was ambushed on Wednesday night.

I had finished a long eleven-hour day of home improvement efforts, under Flora's close and (dare I say it?) approving supervision, and I was about ten minutes into my running climb back to the Secret Mountain Redoubt for the night. The sun had set behind the mountains in the west, and the light was dimming. I had the Beatles on my iPod and was gearing up to tackle the steep six-mile incline.

Suddenly, from nowhere, three men were on top of me, blocking my path up the hill. I spun around, and there were two more of them, behind me. I snapped off my headphones, and I heard the haunting sounds of pipes, played from a rocky promontory, ten or fifteen feet above me. The three men in front of me ran at me — they were Elite Incan Dance-Fighters, that was obvious. More pipes tuned in from other points overhead. In an instant I had sized up the situation and concluded that I was looking at a five-on-one gang fight, and my opponents looked to be at least Intermediate-Level EIDF.

This much I knew because of the multiple Pipers, each of whom was piping sound independently of the others. The five (presumably five, as the Pipers weren't visible to count) different strains, taken together, were nothing but noise. The resulting cacophony was not danceable, but the men surrounding me were moving with a kind of rhythmic menace I had not seen, except in my Master Trainer's demonstrations. Each of these men was dancing to the music of his own Piper, showing a sound-filtration skill that can only result from extensive Intermediate-Level training in the Ancient and Very, Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting. The Master Trainer does not even attempt to teach multiple-Piper dance-fighting techniques until the second year.

The five men closed in around me. There was a possible lane of escape to my left, but it would have brought me onto the backside of the Pachado property. I didn't want these men turning their hostile attentions to my adopted family. I decided to stand and fight. I pulled the headphones back on, cranked up the volume on my iPod, to drown out the enemy Pipers as best I could. John, Paul, George, and Ringo started right up with "Birthday," and I came out fighting.

The next thirty-five minutes, forty-two minutes were a blur. I can say with confidence that I handily dispatched two of my attackers during this time, knocking them unconscious during "Helter Skelter." But the other three were relentless. They just kept coming and coming. The four of us were a flurry of arms and legs, of kick-steps and do-si-dos. I pulled out every stop, drew on everything I had ever known about dancing. At one point I ran entirely out of ideas and resorted to the Mashed Potato. They clearly had never seen that posture before, and I managed to biff one of them hard under the chin, before I shifted gears into the more defense-oriented Twist. Although I made no headway against these last three, I kept up the fight all the way through the first eleven tracks of the White Album, Disc Two.

And then, in its turn, right after "Cry Baby Cry" wound out, came "Revolution 9." At this point, I about shat myself.

Now I know that there's a pretty sharp divide among Beatles fans on the question of "Revolution 9." I recognize that this is a sensitive wedge issue, one that has been known to cause the breakup of marriages, business partnerships, and small nation-states. As someone who regards himself as diplomatic (often to a fault), I've therefore made it a point in my life not to take a position either way on "Revolution 9," and I think that philosophy has inured to my benefit over these thirty-two years. Therefore, let not the following suggest that I am either for or against "Revolution 9,"

but I about shat myself when it came on my iPod, as the three remaining Intermediate-Level Elite Incan Dance Fighters bore down on me, bloodied and angry, in menacing shuffle steps.

I about shat myself because — think what you want about "Revolution 9" — you can't dance to it. And where I had thought I would be able to gut out this dance-fight up to the limits of my iPod's battery life, I was facing a premature ending here. That is, if the three advancing men were able to get hold of me before I could dig out my iPod and queue up some honest-to-eephus danceable music to play through my headphones, I would be entirely at their mercy. They would be free to tear me limb from limb while I struggled, against all hope, to dance-fight to one of the impossibly tangled strands of music emanating from the Pipers above me.

I reached in my pocket and pulled out my iPod. I slipped it free of its case, pressed the "Menu" button, whirled the wheel back to the beginning of the double-album. But before I could press "Play," the nearest of the three attackers kicked the iPod free of my hand.

Then I was on the ground, and the three men were brutally kicking me, each to a different beat. I tried parsing out the music of the Pipers on the cliffside above me, but it was all hopelessly swirled together, and the each successive blow to my head made it harder to concentrate. At some point, I blacked out. The last notion to pass through my mind, before it closed up shop, was that this predicament — this scenario wherein I am knocked to the ground and kicked, relentlessly, by several other men — rather neatly reprised the Wedding-Party Incident at the end of September. That beating started me on my Quest for world domination, and I wondered if that Quest would come to a close, prematurely, poetically, with just another bookend eating.

I think I should stop here. I don't need to tell you, Brother/Sister, that during this ordeal I suffered multiple concussions. The nature of my injuries requires that I only sit up for a short time. When I grow tired, or agitated (and right now I think it's fair to say I'm both), the room begins to turn, a repressive ache descends on my head, and I succumb to the most violent and dehydrating sort of nausea. The Master Trainer has been kind enough to run an Ethernet line from his office down to the Redoubt Infirmary, where I am resting now. He said I could avail myself of Internet access, but not at the expense of my convalescence.

I hope you will excuse me, Brother/Sister for putting aside the keyboard so that I can throw up, have a glass of water, and take a nap. More shortly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Workin' for the MBGIESP

Well, I'm back in the Redoubt for the night, after my second day of indenture to the Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru. Not much to report here, except that I'm about a sore as I might be after a full day of workouts with the Master Trainer.

Ah, Phutatorius! So you managed to *****lly ** ** **** **** ****'s daughter!

No no no, Brother/Sister — that's not why I'm sore. The real story is, the MBGIESP has been working me like a dog. I've done more grouting, spackling, scouring, painting, edging, finishing, sanding, grinding, waxing, roasting, toasting, sifting, mixing, nailing, wrenching, stripping, coating, melting, welding, searing, shoring, boring, blending, wiring, sculpting, firing, scraping, peeling, shaving, sawing, summerizing, winterizing, vulcanizing —

this woman is a bit of a taskmaster.

But that's fine. I can hack it. After my meeting with the Master Trainer Sunday night, I spent some time in bed ruminating on the question. I concluded that maybe I really am a yanqui culo, and that maybe I'd be better served humbly subjecting myself to a few day's hard labor than I would plotting and machinating about how to wangle an amorous episode with the MBGIESP out behind her papa's tool shed.

It's about growing as a person, Brother/Sister. If you're on the prowl for ripped bodices and throbbing thrusts of manhood, look elsewhere.

My congress with the MBGIESP has been, to this point, brief and unexceptional. She gives me instructions, and I follow them. Sometimes she serves up unwarranted, unsolicited value observations, such as "We live simply here, but well." I don't respond to these, because I know they're traps. She'll find a way to slot my answers into her preexisting notions about my character. I simply nod/grunt/shrug and get on with my work. If anything will change her mind about me, it will be my humility, my diligence, the pride and care I take in my work for her.

I've made limited observations. I've learned that her name is Flora, and that she is the eldest of Señor Pachado's five or six children — the others move quickly and chaotically enough around the neighborhood that I can't keep track of them, much less suggest an accurate count. I've seen no sign of a mother these two days, and I gather that she passed away recently, and Flora has stepped into the role of mother figure and homemaker — possibly at the expense of her own dreams and aspirations in life (which might explain a certain resentfulness in the tone she takes toward me).

But I'm speculating here. For the most part I'm keeping my head down and my mouth shut. I might laugh and joke a little with the kids: raw eggs — the missile of choice in the Pachado family — have a tendency to heave themselves at me from nearby shrubberies.

¿Que pasa? I'll turn and say out loud, in mock-confusion.

¡Yanqui culo! the shrubberies shout back.

And I get back to my pruning, staking, stumping, loading, shifting, tucking — whatever — but with a smile on my face. Whether or not I totally get to **** *** ********* *** ** Flora, it's been a good week to this point. The fact that people are now throwing eggs at me and missing is, I think, a sign that I'm doing something right.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Busted is right, Brother/Sister. I was summoned to the Master Trainer's office today, after the morning's mambo primer. When I arrived, I found him seated at his desk, with his head propped up on his elbow. A pose clearly intended to convey exasperation, with his balding crown cupped in his palm.

"Sit down, Phutatorius," he said, without raising his head to look at me.

I did.

"We've had a complaint from one of the villagers."

I put on my best innocent face.

"It seems a blanket merchant's table was damaged. Do you have something to tell me?"

"Me?" I said. "I don't know what you're talking —"

"It was an American."

"It could have been any —"

"I read your last post on the Internet."

Shit. I hung my head. "Yeah, it was me."

The Master Trainer sat up straight, took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then exhaled. "It's important, Phutatorius, that we do our best to remain on good terms with the locals."

I looked at him.

"They are naturally suspicious of us. We are trained — or in your case, training — killers, and we have lived undetected in their midst for more than five hundred years. Now, suddenly, we step out of the shadows. The people don't know who we are or what we're about. It is right and just for them to be afraid of us."

"Master, the guy ripped me off —"

"NO!" My Master flew suddenly into a temper, and he slammed his fist on his desk. "WHEN YOU GO OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY, YOU REPRESENT ME, AND YOU REPRESENT THIS INSTITUTION. The villagers can cheat you. They can rob you of all your money and your clothes, then tar and feather you. AND YOU WILL NOT REACT. Unless you are IN FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE, YOU WILL NOT REACT. Do you understand me?"

"But Master, all I did was punch a table —" like you did just now, I managed to refrain from adding.

"You have talent, Phutatorius. You hear music deep in your soul, and you respond to it in really, er — creative and interesting ways. You have the ability to break entirely new ground in the field of dance-fighting. But you lack discipline and self-control. It is my burden and my role, as your Master Trainer, to teach you these things. And after six weeks of trying, I have to admit I've made very little progress. You have an incurable —" he paused, as though he were searching for the right word, "American-ness in you. An independent streak. I've seen nothing like it. It is perhaps your greatest asset. It is the source of your ambition, your creativity, your determination — but it is also the root cause of these Incidents of yours —"

"Master Trainer, respectfully, I stopped short of an Incid —"

"You need to learn humility, and you need to learn that your actions have consequences. Accordingly, you are suspended from classes for a week."

"But Master, I'll fall so far behind in my studies! It was just a dent in a table —"

"You'll spend the week in the blanket merchant's hut. You'll be helping him and his family. For starters, you can repair the table-dent. Once you've finished that, your marching orders will come from his daughter."

"This seems unnecessarily draconian, Master Trainer. A week's slave labor? Respectfully, sir, I think I'd be better served doing the usual thousand or more push-ups, or KP. Scouring pots and pans would at least work my upper body — wait. Wait a minute. His daughter?"

My Master Trainer smiled at me. "She was the one who came to complain. And according to her accounting, you did more than a few sols worth of damage to her father's marketing table. She says you broke one of her chicken's eggs."

"I sure did. With the back of my head."

"Be that as it may," my Master said, wryly, "my decision is final. Starting tomorrow, you will spend six days working for Señor Pachado. You will leave the Redoubt at sunrise and report back before dusk."

"But Master," I said. "That's ninety minutes' walk there and back every day. Wouldn't it be easier if I just overnighted there?"

My Master raised his eyebrow. "The Pachado home is cramped enough as it is. I don't suppose it would improve our standing in the community if it appeared I was requiring this family to quarter my soldiers."

"No — no, Master. You mistake me," I said, hastily. "I had thought I might be able to put up at the home of PePe's aunt."

"You'll be coming back here, Phutatorius. And I'll be watching for you. As for the length of your commute, you might consider running both ways, so that you don't forfeit your conditioning during your suspension."

I believe I grunted, at this point.

"The Ancient and Very Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting is no joke, Phutatorius. Those who learn this tradition must commit themselves to living serious lives. If you prove somehow — less than worthy of the Art, I will have to answer to the Council for choosing you for my student. You have a penchant for impetuousness that I find both admirable and, well, at times disturbing. You should know that other revered practitioners of the Art are less kindly-disposed toward you, and I cannot be forever bailing you out of one fracas after another. You need to right the ship — or at least appear to right it. So off you go."

"Master — the daughter: she called me a yanqui culo. Do you think I'm really —"

"You are dismissed, Phutatorius."

Did I detect the slightest of winks from my Master Trainer, as I rose from my chair? The most fleeting and evanescent twitch of his left eyelid?

More tomorrow, Brother/Sister — but right now I'm thinking I totally worked The System here. I just fell ass-backward into a week's vacation from training, and I'll be spending it with my fiery-eyed MBGIESP!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Near-Incident in the Village

"Hand-made," the guy told me. That was his promise, so I bought the friggin' blanket. He pockets my money, and I walk away, admiring my purchase — one of those bright, multi-colored woolen blankets they (supposedly) hand-make up here in the Andes. And then I see the tag:


Son of a BITCH!

— but I should start at the beginning. The Master Trainer gave us yesterday afternoon off. Pipers and Fighters both let out early. Most everyone hit the rack for a power-nap before supper — this week's sessions have been excruciating — but PePe has some family in the nearby village, and he proposed that we go down there. He'd show me some of the local culture, and we'd have a home-cooked meal at his aunt's house. We're all getting kind of tired of the food at the Redoubt Cafeteria.

Sounded good to me, so we hiked a good 90 minutes down from the Secret Mountain Redoubt into town. It was Market Day, and merchants from this village and others nearby had assembled on the main street, set up counters, were peddling their wares. One of the guys was selling those brightly-colored alpaca wool blankets.

It occurred to me that I might buy one of these and mail it to President Arroyo. I should pause for a moment and say, up front, that I'm not normally one to kiss and tell — that's not who I am — but in this case, it's important to the story, so I'll make an exception. As you know, Gloria flew me out to her presidential palace last year for a night of unfettered passion. What you don't know is we did it all over her house.

At one point we wound up on the couch in her study. She had a nice imported alpaca blanket from Peru in there, kind of thrown over the back of it. The colors were a great match on the ultrasuede. In the heat of the moment, it didn't occur to either of us to put that blanket away, and it somehow got caught under us. By the time we came up for air, that blanket was shredded. I mean, it was messed up. Gloria later mailed it to me as a souvenir.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to send her a replacement blanket, just to let her know that I still think of her now and then. I had a good one picked out. To my eye it looked like a good match for her couch. I haggled a bit with the merchant, just to let him know that even though I'm American, I can still drive a hard bargain.

"Hand-made," he kept saying, over and over. Yes, yes. Hand-made. We settled on a price and closed the deal.

Then I saw that tag: MADE IN THE PHILIPPINES, and I went storming back to the counter to demand a refund.

"You said these were hand-made," I complained.

"Yes, yes. Hand-made in the Philippines."

"Yes, well, here's the thing — I plan to send this blanket to the Philippines. It's sort of silly, isn't it, for me to buy a Peruvian blanket that was made in the Philippines and then send it back to the Philippines?"

The merchant nodded at me, understanding. He reached out and took the blanket from under my arm. Good, I thought. He's going to be reasonable. He dug around in his pockets for what I thought was my money. Instead, he pulled out a pair of folding scissors. With these he cut the tag off the blanket, which he then handed right back to me.

"Hand-made in Peru," he said, triumphantly.

"No —" I shook my head. "No. That's not going to work."

"Well, no refunds. Sorry."

At this point I felt the blood rush to my head. The world seemed to move in slow motion, and voices from nowhere began to shout provocative words at me. In short, I began to experience all the familiar signs that I was going to have an Incident. I slammed a fist down on the merchant's counter, splintering the wood.

"PEPE!" I shouted.

My Piper appeared beside me. He had been charming some of the local milkmaids with an improvisation of "Guantanamera." "What is it?" he asked.

"Pipe me some fightin' music, PePe. This gentleman here is asking for an ass-kicking."

PePe brought his hand to my shoulder. "I don't think that's a good idea, Phutatorius."

"WHAT?" I cried, taking another angry hack at the charlatan blanket-merchant's wooden table. This one left a deep dent. "Have you forgot your blood-oath already?"

PePe stiffened. "We are not in danger, Phutatorius. The blood-oath does not trigger under these conditions. Stop for a moment and think. This is an unwise course of action."

The concentration of blood flushed out of my head, swirling away the angry voices with it. The world resumed turning at its normal rate. I took a deep breath. "PePe, you're right. There are other people here. Good people I might offend, if I give this snake-oil salesman the drubbing he deserves. It's not worth it."

I looked up at the astonished merchant, who began stammering. "You're — you're one of the Elite Incan D-dance-Fighters we've been he-hearing about?"

I nodded.

He reached into his pocket. "Here. Take your money. T-t-t-take it. Take all of it!"

"No," I said, backtracking. "I'm fine. I was upset. I let my emotions get the better of me, and I apologize. A deal is a deal. I'll keep the blanket."

The merchant accepted my extended hand, and we shook on it. Then I took my leave of him, with PePe beside me. We weren't thirty yards clear of the market when something cracked the back of my head, just on the occipital bone. I reached a hand back, instinctively, to the point of impact. Something gooey. I looked at my fingers. Yolk — and small bits of shell.

I turned around to see who threw the egg. And there she was: the Most Beautiful Girl I'd Ever Seen in Peru ("MBGIESP"). She had long, thick black hair, almond-shaped eyes of the deepest, penetrating green. She had on a woolen poncho and a long, woven skirt, and she was holding the pose on her follow-through and cursing me out:


I froze in my tracks. Wait — wait a minute, I wanted to plead my case. There wasn't even an Incident. PePe stopped me, and I did the right thing. I'M NOT A YANQUI CULO. I'm a good person. But no words came out. And the MBGIESP continued to glare at me.

"Come on," PePe said, taking my arm, turning me back round. "My aunt has dinner ready."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Blood-Oath

While I'm still at the controls here, I'm thinking I should treat you to an English translation of the traditional Blood-Oath that PePe and I were required to swear to one another on Friday. It's quite touching, and it gives the reader a window into the Piper/Fighter relationship. That the Rule of Secrecy should have kept the EIDF from sharing a tradition as beautiful as the Blood-Oath with the at-large culture (for eight centuries!) — well, it really gets my goat, and it's something I want to fix.

I'll skip through all the invocations of gods, goddesses, and ancestors — the droning doctrinal niceties, the three or more pages given over to buttering up Viracocha, the storm and sun god — and set you down right in the heart of the text:

*Piper and Fighter walk together when Viracocha brings the sun.

*Piper and Fighter walk together in the rain.

*Piper and Fighter take shelter together when Viracocha brings black clouds, and the thunder and lightning.

*Piper and Fighter are inseparable.

*Piper and Fighter keep no secrets from one another.

*Piper and Fighter use their unique abilities to protect one another. Their lives are forever intertwined, in this world and the next.

*Piper and Fighter are of One Blood and One Being.

There is a postscript, a tacked-on bit, the importance of which has become another wedge issue between the Dance-Fighters of the First and Second Secret Mountain Redoubts. My Master Trainer, who provides Piper representation on his Council and Advisory Committee, regards this text as merely optional. Sort of like ". . . for thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory forever and ever," at the end of the Lord's Prayer:

*The Piper cannot live without the Fighter. When the Fighter dies, the Piper dies, too — even if he must take his own life.

PePe and I talked this over when we wrote up the contract. He lobbied to include this language in our blood-oath, but I would have none of it. He insisted; I demurred. It was the one sticking point in our negotiations, and very nearly a deal-breaker. In the end, I proposed that the clause be bilateral, so that I would be required to take my own life, too, if my Piper should die. Tears welled up in PePe's eyes. He stood up from the table, and with voice cracking, he declaimed:

"Only now do I understand how foolish, how unfair I am to press my willing sacrifice upon you! It took this — this unprecedented offer of mutuality from a Fighter! Now I am required to consider how it would feel to enter the next world — whatever it is, wherever it may be — bearing the weight of a blood-brother's untimely suicide on my shoulders. No, Phutatorius. I will not accept your offer; nor should you mine. Let us dispense with this clause in its entirety. May we never speak of it again."

Helluva guy, PePe.

Meet PePe

Sorry for the delay, B/S — 'twas a busy week, by any measure.

I promised you a Sidekick, and damned if I won't deliver today. Do you recall, Brother/Sister, when I talked about my Master Trainer's bold — some would say suicidal — approach to the First Mountain Redoubt, on the day of my trial? I observed that my Master left his Piper at home, as a sign that he came as an emissary of peace.

I'd like to talk a little more about Pipers. This requires a return to the First Principle of the Ancient and Very Very Lethal Art of Incan Dance-Fighting, which is this: that dancing is as important an element of the practice as the fighting. The two are, in fact, inextricable components — and for this reason the Elite Incan Dance-Fighter cannot fight (that is, dance-fight) without music. It is the music that brings the Dance-Fighter's blood to boil, the music that brings him into the Zone, the music that takes control of his limbs and propels them, with uncharacteristically brutal force, into the chops and groins of enemy combatants.

My Master Trainer teaches that the Dance-Fighter is a vessel for the power of music. Without music, his blows have no timing, coordination, or force. This is not a negotiable institutional rule, like the Rule of Secrecy. This is just how dance-fighting works. Without music, there is no dancing. Without dancing, there is no dance-fighting. Without dance-fighting, the Dance-Fighter is just some schmoe looking for an ass-kicking — and more than halfway down the road to getting one.

So it was that in the days before Sony Walkmen and iPods, Dance-Fighters hired and supported their own personal musicians, much as medieval knights had their squires. A particularly wealthy Dance-Fighter might keep as many as three musicians in his retinue — adding a Drummer, and maybe a Tambourine Man to make an ensemble — but at a bare minimum, he had to have a Piper. The same is true today.

There are no fixed rules governing a Fighter's relationship with his Piper. Each Piper enters into his own personally-negotiated contract with his Fighter. Some might take on the duties of a personal valet; others might enter into terms by which the Fighter fends largely for himself and even carries his own pack (or black wheelie-bag, as the "case" may be — ha! pun intended!) on the duo's travels together. There is, however, one sticking point: the Piper must be prepared to throw down and pipe like hell when his Fighter is in danger.

These days the Pipers are trained in parallel with Fighters — at least, that's how my Master Trainer does it in the Second Secret Mountain Redoubt. I don't know what those crazy bastards do at the other place. We're trained in different wings of the Secret Mountain Redoubt, and the two classes don't interact until after the first three or four weeks of training, when the Master Trainer holds a mixer in the Redoubt gymnasium, so that the Fighter students can meet the Piper students, and the two classes can feel each other out in advance of pairing up. If it sounds like a junior high school dance, B/S, that's because it is like a junior high school dance. Pipers on one side, Fighters on the other — and a punch bowl in the middle.

We had our fall mixer Tuesday night, and I met PePe there.

PePe — I should caution you that his name is pronounced PEH-pay — is twenty-five years old, about five-foot-nine, and built like a fireplug. He grew up in nearby Cuzco, but he left the country to study music at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He speaks fluent English (unlike some of the more provincial mountain-dwellers here), and he's a bit more open-minded than many of his colleagues, most of whom snubbed me at the mixer because I'm American. As open-minded as my Master Trainer is, and as much as he preaches tolerance and diversity to his students, there are still some lingering prejudices toward white men in this territory. I haven't made many friends here in the Redoubt, and at times it feels like I've got an impenetrable twenty-foot force field around me. Don't get me wrong: I get to shower by myself, and that's a treat, but the silent treatment I've been getting after the trial — in two days I went from The Guy Who Nearly Got Us All Killed to the Master Trainer's Pet — has been wearing on my nerves.

But at the mixer, PePe looked right past all that shit. He walked right up to me and said, "You're from Cambridge, right? I hear it's an amazing place. I'd love to see it." For that, I love the man like a brother.

I went and brought PePe some punch and we got to talking, really hit it off. I told him that I had it in mind to take over the world, and that whoever becomes my Piper can expect to do a lot of traveling abroad, and that I would expect to consult with my Piper now and then about matters of strategy and, after I come to power, world administration. The job description really sparked PePe's interest. He said he thought my aspirations to a Benevolent World Dictatorship were noble, and he had always hoped his vocation would enable him to travel and see the world. We talked for most of the night — until well after 4 a.m.! — and came to terms. We drafted a personal services contract and obtained the Master Trainer's approval of the match the next morning. On Friday we swore a mutual blood-oath of loyalty to one another, and the rest is history:

PePe is now my Piper, and I am his Fighter. More on this as it develops.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Bobo Skinny

Some of the Brothers and Sisters who were faithful visitors to the old site have written me to ask what became of Bobo the Chimp.

To this point I've been silent on the subject, on the advice of my attorneys, who think it best that I keep a low profile while the litigation is pending. But when a Brother/Sister takes the time to sit down at his/her computer and type up an email to me — well, I'm gonna answer it.

Here's how I look at it: if I lose my court case, I'll probably have to cover a few medical bills, issue some back pay on the wrongful termination claim, maybe write a check out of the World Domination Fund to cover Bobo's "emotional distress," whatever that is (and however you might presume to assign a dollar value to it). That's the extent of my exposure there. But there is also another, greater court, a more important venue, where the stakes are much much higher —

The Massachusetts Court of Animal Appeals?

No, Brother/Sister —

The Supreme Court of the United States?

No, not that one, either, B/S, but you're on the right track. I'm talking about the Super-Supreme Court of Public Opinion.


Ooh is right, Brother/Sister. I had thought I could leave this issue behind, put it in the past, and move forward. But as I'm still getting questions on the subject, then it seems the Court of Public Opinion has jurisdiction over the matter of Phutatorius v. Bobo, and the jury is still out.

What can I say on this subject that I haven't said already, and to that damned monkey's lawyers? I can tell you this much: Bobo and I were just a poor match. It was a bad fit. He was always a limelight-seeker, about as histrionic and self-absorbed a personality as I've encountered. That might have been fine if his role was to play first-fiddle, but I made it very clear in the classified ad. The opening was for a "Sidekick to Internet Personality," and no social-climbers needed apply.

That monkey walked around the office like he was Keith Moon. He'd put on that cute face, make his little squeak noises to charm all the support staff. Then when I asked him to carry my briefcase to a meeting, he'd freak out and wreck all the cubicles. Overturn desks. And if I tried the smallest gesture toward discipline, I'd get all this How dare you? and You put those electrodes away — you should be ashamed of yourself! nonsense from the secretaries. Show me an Internet personality who can run a business under those conditions.

I may have lost my temper once or twice — I'm a man, I'll admit that — but let's be honest. Bobo was a shit. That's the beginning and the end of it. And when this lawsuit wraps up, we'll go our separate ways. I'll live a rich, fulfilling life without him, and he'll find some other person to torment and extort. But I'm closing the book on Bobo. Turning the page.

To you Brothers and Sisters who fell sway to the Bobo's animal charms, I say this: I've got a new Sidekick now, he's got a lot going for him, and you'll soon forget all about that mangy self-promoter and his crack legal team.

But that's the subject of tomorrow's Thursday's Friday's Sunday's post.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Brief Aside on the Prospect of Dying

The time I spent in the dock, facing the very real possibility of execution (and all the distinct and signature appurtenances that the EIDF hardliners have by custom affixed thereto), gave me some time to pause and reflect on things a little. Specifically, it got me thinking about dying.

Since I had my Moment back at that wedding reception, I've been full-speed ahead. Pell-mell, gangway, geronimo, damn-the-torpedoes, we-don't-need-no-steenkin'-badges full-speed ahead. Sure, I understood that the world domination business was risky — I did, after all, install the word's ". . . or Dies Trying" into this website's frontispiece. But I always pressed ahead without any real thought for the consequences. And when I talked of Death, I did so playfully. Carelessly. He couldn't come for me. I was in my prime of life.

But now that I've spent three days staring eye-to-eyehole with that Son of a Bitch — only to have him finally stalk off defeated, for the time being — well, I'd be a damned fool if I didn't pause for a moment and take advantage of the opportunity for introspection.

What? Another Moment, Phutatorius?

Ah, far from it, B/S. As you know, every time I click Blogger's "Publish Post" button, I put my credibility as a writer and auto-historian on the line. I've built up that credibility over time — post by painstaking post — and I won't risk it by daring to suggest I am so privileged as to have been visited by two Moments within a single month's time. At most, I think it appropriate to call this exactly what I have called it above (though I take the liberty of capitalizing it): it was an Opportunity for Introspection. Or, if you like, an Occasion for Self-Reflection. Or a Time to Slow Down for a Damn Minute and Think About Stuff Like a Rational Person. The choice is yours.

I wish I could say that, as a result of that introspection, I came to some brilliant philosophical conclusion about dying, but I didn't. I certainly didn't come to terms with the prospect of departing this mortal coil. If anything, I learned that the "brilliant philosophical conclusion," the "coming to terms" — these are just other ways to describe dying. This in turn defines by exclusion living, which is all the process that brings you finally to that point of making conclusions. That process is the part that, to me, seems the most important and most enjoyable, which explains in part why I'm still alive.

I could sit here and tell you everything that ran through my mind when the Councilor-Prosecutors went through their ritual Detailing of the Punishment Sought, while they described the Ceremonial Eye Removal Spoons with their serrated tips (a feature that, so I'm told, predated by three hundred years the appearance of grapefruit spoons in Western cultures), the protocol for preparing the Hallucinogenic Elixir that sets off the Ceremonial Falcons in a frenzy of maneating. I could tell you that I wondered what, if anything, would come afterward. I could tell all my regrets — that I would be so soon forgotten, that all memory of me would be so quickly reabsorbed into this great soup of Information. I could tell you that, of the catalog of Things I Wished I Had Done While Alive, the one that cut me the most deeply, and I don't know why, was that I had never written or recorded a song. A song: just a two- or three-minute burst of melody and wit and earnest, the briefest of intrusions into the life of the listener, but with the ability to penetrate into his/her head and nest there indefinitely — for years, even — until that moment in which the listener finally pauses, truly listens, and gives the long-gone composer his due:

Yes, yes. I like that. It speaks to me. How did he know I would understand?

I could tell you about these and other notions that the passing of days (and the lapse of the exigency that brought them on) now imprint with a certain amount of Silliness that I did not feel at the time. But I wonder what would be the use. Let it suffice to say that I believe every second of this Process — this life — changes you irrevocably. And when you live for any amount of time in close quarters with the Grim Reaper, that Process is intense, and the changes much more pronounced.

Brother/Sister, see if you notice a marked difference in me henceforward.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Show's Over, Now Get Back to Work

So now I'm back in training. These two-a-days are brutal. You'd think the Master Trainer would have cut me some slack, after all I went through over the weekend — the brutal interrogation, the trial, the wicked after-party back at the Second Secret Mountain Redoubt (three days later, and I'm still hung over from that homemade Andean hooch!).

But nooooooooo!

I'm right back in the thick of things with the others. All day long I'm dance-fighting, repeating drills over and again through the pain and fatigue and blackouts. The adrenaline shots and blood transfusions help. Now and then the Master Trainer throws me a bone, queues up some old-fashioned Yanqui rock 'n' roll on the sound system — some White Stripes, maybe the Ziggy Stardust album (I know, British) — to give me a lift. Half of this is emotional, I'm convinced.

It's hard work, this dance-fighter training, and sometimes I don't think I'll make it through another day. But I put my trust in the Master Trainer. He wouldn't have labored so hard to save me from execution, just to work me to death the next week.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Eloquence of My Master Trainer

As promised, I deliver today a reviewed and approved excerpt of my Master Trainer's elocution in the case In re disclosures by one Phutatorius, American, heard by a per curiam session of the Council of Elders, on the 16th of October, in this the 474th year of the reign of Inca Atahualpa. (As the EIDF refuse to accept the legitimacy of Pizarro's conquest, it is their practice to count the years in this fashion, for archiving purposes.)

The segment I have selected for you is from the Master Trainer's closing argument, when, to my mind, he really hit his stride. Put on three pairs of socks, Brother/Sister, so that my Master can knock them off, seriatim, with his passion and genius. Are you ready? Here goes:

"Councilor A******** appeals to tradition as his reason for convicting the American, Phutatorius, and sentencing him to three days in the Scalding Room before his execution. 'X is what we've always done,' he says, 'and so X is what we must do today.' But there is — or there ought to be — more to tradition than the thoughtless repetition of prior practices. For what are we, if we are not capable ourselves of evaluating what is right, and good, and appropriate at this moment? If we lack this ability, we are empty shells of men. If we lack the will, we do not deserve to occupy this great Mountain Redoubt of our ancestors. Sure, some deference is due to the practices that have survived the generations. But a tradition should only endure so long as it deserves to — and not a minute longer."

"Councillor B******** says that 'rules are rules,' and the rule is clear: the American, and all who read his publication, must be repeatedly scalded, then bound and left in the Falcon Room with the hungry birds. Ah, well: that is the beginning and the end of it. Never mind that we were born with the capacity to exercise judgment. There are rules to channel us through life, so that we might be spared any use of that judgment muscle. Councilors, I am of the opinion that this strict adherence to rules has caused our judgment to atrophy over time — to the point where, when all good sense would call for us to pull together as a community, we instead find ourselves wracked by political divisions. It is because our judgment fails us, that we are separated and sorted into our two fortified Redoubts, and on the brink of war."


[The Master Trainer's voice rang through the courtroom with such intensity that it set the birds a-squawking in the Falcon Room overhead.]

"RULES! TRADITION! RULES! TRADITION! GOD DAMN THESE RULES, THESE TRADITIONS! Do we really believe that the drafters of these treasured rules, the sources of these traditions, have more to say about our lives, today, than we do? Who were these 'ancestors,' these fountains of reason, to whom we must pay deference at every turn, even if it means leaving poor Phutatorius to be picked to death by our trained birds of prey?"

"I'll tell you who these ancestors were. It is an unpopular fact, and one rarely acknowledged before this august body, but the Empire of the Incas was lost because our ancestors — the fighters best positioned and equipped to defend it against the Spanish — held ourselves above the fray. We certainly could not come to the aid of our countrymen when Pizarro ambushed and slaughtered them on that awful afternoon in November. Why? Because the battle was in a public square, and to embroil ourselves in it, in broad daylight, would have controverted the Rule of Secrecy."

"And though the Archives tell us that our predecessors on the Council fiercely debated the question of whether to conduct a covert campaign of assassinations, we let that opportunity slip as well — for fear that a series of mysterious Spanish deaths in the dead of night might garner unwarranted attention. For fear that some enterprising person might endeavor to find out who was behind this concerted effort to protect our culture from the treachery and corruption of the White Man."

[At this point a number of the jurors shifted their eyes away from my Master Trainer and in my direction, causing me to issue a nervous cough.]

"I know that many of my adversaries on this Council have said, over and again, 'Our ancestors would rather allow the entire Incan Empire to fall than risk disclosing the secrets of the EIDF, of the AVVLAIDF. Who are we, then, to decide these secrets are too 'inconvenient' to keep?' That turns the argument on its head, for this is, I think, the greatest indictment of our secret society: that its Rule of Secrecy restrained us from protecting the larger society to which we belong."

"We've seen the price the Quechuan peoples have paid, and continued to pay, for our inaction so many years ago. But what about us? Should we not ourselves have been punished for failing to come to the Emperor's aid? Well, I say we have been punished. Every day we've spent living in the shadows has been a punishment for us. We are unable to maintain normalized relations with the outside community. At best, many of us are required to lead double lives, with homes in the nearby villages where we keep our wives and children. And those of us who live in this way pass every moment in abject terror, lest our wives, our children might somehow learn something about us that they're not supposed to know."

"What if my children follow me to the Redoubt? What if I talk in my sleep, and I reveal secrets to my wife?"

"Councilor C********, you sit in your chair today, stone-faced, determined that my pupil must die. You were required to surrender your eldest daughter to this august Council, after she followed you up here to the Redoubt. Councilor D********, you lost a brother to this damned Rule of Secrecy. And you others, who choose to reside here, secluded from the rest of the world. Why do you forego the simple, perfect pleasures of family? Because of the RULE. Because you don't trust yourself to leave this building, as we do, and not let something slip."

"And it's for this — to defend and preserve this deplorable state of things — that you are determined to scald Phutatorius, and to strip off his clothes and subject him to our falcons, and to remove his eyes with the Ceremonial Spoons? Today, councilors, you have the opportunity to exercise real independent judgment. You have the opportunity to put an end to a curse that has lasted nearly half a millennium, because to this point no one has had the courage to call for change. You can fix this, and you can spare this young man's skin from the pot's boil, his viscera from our birds. You can save his eyes, his tongue, his toes. The power is in you."

To this, I have absolutely nothing to add.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What About Jimmy?

I've received a number of emails asking how Jimmy Atahualpa could have put me in contact with the EIDF, if their existence was such a well-kept secret before Friday. Shouldn't Jimmy have been interrogated and killed, if he knew about the EIDF? one reader asks. Another suggests that Jimmy himself is undercover EIDF, based out of Harvard Square.

The fact is, when Jimmy made his phone call on my behalf, he did not know he was connecting me with the EIDF. He thought his friend's brother was a senderista in the Shining Path.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

All Clear

Well, that was one intense and hellish weekend, Brother/Sister. But we're through it, you and I, thanks to the timely, forceful, and committed intervention of my Master Trainer.

Here's the short version (well, as short as I can make it) of what happened:

These past two weeks I have been learning the ancient — and very, very lethal — art of Incan dance-fighting. I made oblique mention of this in an earlier post, but I was not, at that time, disposed to elaborate, because it would have skipped me too far ahead in my story. Narrative flow is important.

I was, however, always resolved to publish a more detailed report of what I am up to here at the Secret Mountain Redoubt. I undertook to accomplish that last Friday. Certain people saw that post online and took exception to it, on the ground that I was revealing treasured secrets of the elite Incan dance-fighters — secrets that their and my predecessors in this art had gone to great extremes to keep contained. When I say "great" extremes, I'm talking about homicide — and when I say homicide, I talk about systematic dead-of-night assassinations of persons who had, for some reason or other, acquired information to which they were not to have access.

Brother/Sister, there is a reason why, to this point, you know nothing about the ancient and very very lethal art of Incan dance-fighting. The reason, snarks Burping Squid, is that you're just making this shit up.

I am not making this "shit" up. The reason you know nothing about the ancient and very very lethal art of Incan dance-fighting (which I will hereinafter identify by the acronym "AVVLAIDF") is that if you did, you would have been killed. And if, in the small gap of time between your learning something about AVVLAIDF and your near-immediate disappearance and death, you should have passed any of your information on to a third party, the elite Incan dance-fighters ("EIDF"), the EIDF would have gone out and killed that third party, too. This is because those select few persons that the EIDF elders deem worthy of rigorous and extensive training in AVVLAIDF are simultaneously schooled in certain ancient Incan arts of interrogation. (The EIDF's interrogation methods are without peer, and I defy any of your newfangled "intelligence agencies," with their electric shocks and truth elixirs, to compete with them.) Before the EIDF silenced you for eternity, they would have endeavored to find out from you just who else they needed to kill to keep their existence secret.

The reason I am alive today? Simple. There is a growing movement within the EIDF to "go public," that is, to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the practice of AVVLAIDF and its adherents. As of, well, yesterday, that movement attained a majority on the EIDF Council of Elders, thanks largely to the impassioned argument of my Master Trainer.

As best I can gather, this issue has been percolating since the early 1980s, when some of the EIDF's young pups (my Master included) took note of the publicity that the Japanese ninjas, themselves a secretive group of trained assassins, were enjoying in America — particularly among suburban ninth-grade boys. The ninjas had relaxed their own secrecy controls, so that they might propagate the fallacious notion that they were the bad-assest assassins on the planet. This really rankled my Master and his friends, who well knew that the ninjas were at best runners-up in this department. Several practicing ninjas learned this lesson the hard way, but, as the EIDF's more strictly-observed Rule of Secrecy required, they did not live to admit that they were second-best.

The EIDF, like any organization of men, is susceptible to politics, and with it, faction. As years passed and my Master and his peers worked their way up the EIDF hierarchy, they felt freer to challenge the Rule of Secrecy. And so they did. This led to all manner of infighting and ugliness. Friendships were demolished over this question, and meetings of the Council of Elders deteriorated into weekly brawls. Some time ago — back in '98, I think it was — some of the exasperated hardline conservatives in the Council suggested that it might be appropriate to enforce the Rule of Secrecy preemptively. The Master received this suggestion the only way he could: as a threat to his life. And he responded the only way he could: he walked out. He took his supporters and split in the dead of night, went off to build and occupy a second Secret Mountain Redoubt some thirty miles north of the Council's. (This second SMR to the north is the one I have been describing to you; I didn't even know about the original Redoubt until I was taken there in chains.)

Most EIDF regard the Schism, or Spinoff, or Pant-Pissing (I've heard all these terms used) as the best thing that could have happened to the EIDF at that time. An awkward peace ensued — imagine if the seceded Southerners had not fired on Fort Sumter — whereby the Master reluctantly maintained the Rule of Secrecy but otherwise operated his own separate Secret Mountain Redoubt unmolested by the hardliners. They left him alone, and he pursued other liberalizations that the Council had rejected, such as admitting women into this facility — and recruiting certain foreigners from places as far away as Cambridge, Massachusetts, whom he might teach to practice AVVLAIDF.

The Secrecy issue was still there, bubbling under the surface, seven years later, when the Master encouraged me to write what I pleased about my training in this blog. My guess is that he decided now was as good a time as any for the endgame. Several of the most unyielding Council Elders had passed away recently; he had a notion that their younger replacements — although not themselves the type to defect to the Second Redoubt, as he had — would be hospitable to some limited efforts to promote AVVLAIDF among the uninitiated.

When I published on Friday, the Council hardliners reacted. I was myself unaware of the danger I was in; a group of unfamiliar EIDF captured me on an afternoon hike outside of the Redoubt. Certain Elders talked of declaring war. I was interrogated, forced to redact Friday's blog entry, and scheduled to stand trial on Saturday morning for treason against the AVVLAIDF.

Brother/Sister, I do not lie when I tell you I was this close [indicating with thumb and forefinger poised a millimeter apart] to execution. And certain of my captors were on Orbitz, making plane reservations to the States no doubt to enforce the Rule of Secrecy against my readership. I overheard them comparing air fares to Cleveland and Akron/Canton.

At dawn on Saturday, as the sun was first peaking over the mountain horizon, my Master appeared at the gates of the Council Redoubt. He was alone, unheralded, without his Piper (this is significant, for an EIDF cannot fight without musical accompaniment, leaving my Master as good as unarmed). He asked the Council for the privilege of pleading my case. They granted him that concession, on the condition that my Master agreed to submit to whatever sentence the jury selected for me. The trial lasted over three days. When it was over, my Master, more than securing a verdict of innocence, had prevailed upon the Council to alter the governing law to permit the limited disclosure of EIDF secrets! It was something to see.

Tomorrow I hope to publish certain of the arguments the Master Trainer made on my behalf, so that you, Brother/Sister, might be treated to the intensity of that court proceeding, and to the great heights of rhetoric and emotional appeal my Master reached late Sunday night. The post is written, but the new regulations require that I first submit it to a Council Committee to review. When they are satisfied that my content falls entirely within the scope of one of the newly-devised exceptions to the Rule of Secrecy, I'll have that post up straightaway!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

[TITLE REDACTED]/Run for Your Life, Brother/Sister!

It makes sense, I think, to step back for a minute. There are some things you need to know — about Quechua, for starters. Quechua is the language group of the native South Americans that settled in the Andes. The official language of the Inca Empire was Cuzco Quechua, and that language, along with a dozen or more other related dialects (including Ayacucho and the Ecuadoran and Bolivian argots) survive to this day, notwithstanding the depredations of the Spanish colonials. In fact, some 8 million people in the South American Northwest speak Quechua, making it the most widely spoken Amerindian language.

This isn't the Discovery Channel, Phutatorius.

I realize that. But I was hoping to make a prefatory point, which is this: much of the custom and culture of the Inca Empire lives on in today's Quechuan populations. So much is apparent from the fact that Jimmy's stage-namesake, the Emperor Atahualpa, who was betrayed and — in the estimation of most right-minded people, anyway — murdered by Francisco Pizarro and his entourage of conquistadores in 1533, lamented the perfidy of his Spaniard guests in substantially the same tongue that Jimmy's parents spoke around the house, back when he was taking pipe lessons on Tuesday nights in the Cuzco 'burbs.

And it's not just a common vocabulary that has descended from the Incas of that Golden Age to today's Andean residents. Certain other rich traditions have hung in there through the years. In fact, it's fair to say that certain ancient Incan arts have even flourished over the last half-millennium, as their practitioners' access and exposure to the broader world did not eradicate them, so much as furnish the means and occasion for further refining those arts. To be sure, a lot of the good stuff is lost. But not all of it.

Which brings me, finally, to the subject of *********** ********* — — —


If you did happen to visit this site before I pulled the "objectionable" text, you, uh, should consider lying low in an out-of-the-way Best Western over the weekend while I sort all this out. These persons can (so they tell me anyway) trace IP addresses.

Now, if I might be allowed just a brief moment to editoralize:

Really, W.t.F? It's not like I haven't mentioned the Secret Mountain Redoubt about a billion times already — and the training, too. And I could have sworn I held forth on the ***** *** ********* *** in some earlier post. Nobody said a word, then. And now I'm caught up in this big shitstorm. Well, all will be explained by Monday, at the latest — and I'll be sure to tell you straightaway, Brother/Sister, when it's safe for you to go back home. In the meantime, my focus will be on securing the structural integrity of my own thoracic vertebrae . . . if you get my drift.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

How Can I Tell You How Sucky That Climb Was?

Boy am I sore, Brother/Sister. And tired, too — I can barely lift my arms over the keyboard keys today. The Master Trainer really had a hair up his ass today. Dropped a paperweight on his foot this morning — the clogs he wears are open-toed — and he spent the rest of the day taking it out on us in merengue drills.

Still, I owe you some catch-up work today, so I'll fight through it. Where did I last leave off?

Respectfully, Phutatorius, I believe you were in the rental car without the tape-deck, traversing the foothills of the Andes.

Ah, yes. What a harrowing drive that was. Mud-slick roads, hairpin switchbacks on loose gravel, sheer hundred-foot drops. No guardrails. I did about fourteen hours straight — half of them in the pitch-black, with the dome light on while I tried to follow the circuitous route my Sponsor had drawn for me in the road atlas. Sometime after sunrise I came to an unpassable stretch, the road clogged in rubble from what figured to have been a recent avalanche (I don't need to remind you, Brother/Sister, that winter just ended down here in the Southern Hemisphere).

I ditched the car at that point, thanked it kindly for its yeoman work, did the last forty miles on foot, following the map past the end of the road, and from there along winding trails — not all of them terribly well-marked — to where X marked the spot. This was not easily accomplished in the thin air, with my wheelie-bag not particularly suited to the mud and muck in these mountains. In retrospect, I think it might have been wise for me to trade it in for a backpack, but after what I had gone through to retrieve it from the airport authorities, I had grown rather attached to that clumsy little black box, with its misaligned wheels.

I worry that unless I describe this journey in a long and drawn-out fashion, then you won't come away from this read with a true and accurate understanding of the hardship I suffered climbing those mountains. On the flipside, if I did recount every uphill stumble, every misread of the map, every muttered expletive and shouted prayer — well, I worry that you'd soon weary of me, Brother/Sister, and leave off reading here in favor of some other weblog that offers its content in more manageable, bite-sized blurbs.

In fact, I'm put in mind of Tolkien, and how miserable a slog some of those Lord of the Rings passages are, when his point was to show the reader just how miserable a slog it was for those poor Hobbits traversing Middle Earth. All this because Tolkien did not have the much-maligned — but oh! so useful! — montage technique in his arsenal. The film adaptations could, you see, convey a sense of distance, endurance, and achievement by showing Frodo first in a desert, then in grasslands, then in mountains. All in a matter of seconds. Likewise, we could get a sense of Rocky Balboa's training regimen in but a few turns of the film reel — without suffering through long afternoons watching him jump rope.

Hm. A montage would certainly be useful right now. I wonder if I might be able to swing it in the narrative prose format. Worth a try, I suppose. All right, then, Brother/Sister — here goes:

lactic acid — sharp gravel — steep grades — battery dies on iPod — steeper grades — asthma attack — that whirlwind I was talking about — bobcats — diarrhea — chafing — hallucinations involving giant throbbing purple skulls chanting KILL! KILL! KILL! —

You're thinking what I'm thinking, B/S. Montage doesn't work so well in written text (and don't think for one minute that this fact didn't cost Tolkien the worldwide readership he might have had otherwise). So lacking any reliable narrative cheat for impressing upon the reader a true understanding of what I went through on Thursday and Friday — but also recognizing that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to subject my reader through the whole experience, step by excruciating step — I'll say only this:

That climb really fucking sucked. And until I get back to the States and get that attestation sworn before a certified Notary Public, you'll just have to take my word on that.

But what next, Phutatorius? What did you find at the end of the climb, where X marked the spot?

The Secret Mountain Redoubt, of course. But I'll get to that in tomorrow's post. I have another seven hundred penalty push-ups to do tonight before lights-out. At Sunday dinner I made the mistake of asking the Master Trainer if we'd be taking Columbus Day off. These Quechuan Indians are really sensitive about that Colonial stuff. Who knew?