Sympathy for Mules

Drug Smuggler Caught by Airport Police

Of late I have been fascinated by a National Geographic Channel series called “To Catch a Smuggler.” The show concentrates on drug smugglers attempting to smuggle cocaine, heroine, so-called party drugs, and other narcotics in their luggage or on their persons.

Initially, I was elated that people smuggling drugs into this country (or, in fact, any country) were being caught. Then, as I viewed more of the series, I started feeling some compassion for the drug mules, who were mostly poor people in serious debt who were persuaded by the real criminals that they would not get caught if they carried heroine in a false bottom in their luggage or swallowed rubber contraceptives full of cocaine. In the latter case, if one of the rubbers broke while in transit, the result would be a fatal overdose.

When caught, the drug mules would begin by denying everything. Then, when presented with clear evidence of their crime, they would break down. Allowed one phone call to their loved ones, they broke down when they realized their lives were irretrievably ruined.

Thinking one could smuggle several kilos of drugs past trained dogs, experienced security and customs personnel, and instant chemical tests for banned substances is a form of magical thinking. Unfortunately, the prison sentences for smuggling can be up to thirty years in countries like Peru and Colombia, and somewhat less in Europe.

Also on the show are another set of “smugglers,” except what they are smuggling are themselves. Show after show highlights cases of Syrians, Turks, and Albanians attempting to get to the United States or Europe with forged or otherwise false travel documents. It seems that many Muslims are desperately trying to leave their home countries, many of which are either despotisms or fighting endless civil wars.

I think one would have to be Marjorie Taylor Greene to watch this show and not feel for the perpetrators.

Two Spongers

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

In my reading, I have come across two cases of great writers being taken in by freeloaders with pretensions to gentility. Most recently, I have read D. H. Lawrence’s Memoir of Maurice Magnus, which appears in its entirety in the New York Review of Books Collection of Lawrence’s essays entitled The Bad Side of Books, edited by Geoff Dyer. The sponger in question—Maurice Magnus—was getting into serious financial problems when he hooked up with the British writer. He claimed to be Isadora Duncan’s manager (he wasn’t) and to be a writer of some note (he was, but of very little note). Attaching himself to the young Lawrence and his wife like a barnacle, Magnus was forever showing up and asking for “one last favor.” Only when Lawrence left him behind in Malta did he finally shake himself of the infestation. And that was only because Magnus, fearing to be deported to Italy for check kiting and other financial crimes, committed suicide by poisoning.

The experience led Lawrence to conclude:

It is the humble, the wistful, the would-be-loving souls today who bully us with their charity-demanding insolence. They just make up their minds, these needful sympathetic souls, that one is there to do their will.

Henry Miller (1891-1980)

The second sponger fastened himself to Henry Miller, who wrote about the experience in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. The whole episode is summed up by the Wikipedia entry for the Miller Book:

The third part tells the story of when Miller was visited by an old friend from Paris, the French astrologer Conrad Moricand, in 1947. Moricand had written Miller that he was penniless. Miller invited Moricand to live with him in Big Sur for the rest of his life. Moricand arrived at the end of the year. The arrangement quickly turned into a disaster. Although Miller had told Moricand about the isolated and rugged life of Big Sur, Moricand was unprepared and complained often about the weather, food, and his own poor health, among other things. Miller put Moricand in a hotel in Monterey, and arranged for him to return to France. Moricand did not immediately return to Europe, however, instead writing Miller angry letters about his perceived mistreatment. Miller wrote about this episode, which would be published in 1956 as A Devil in Paradise, and a year later as the third part of Big Sur, called “Paradise Lost.”

It is interesting to know that one can always be taken in by sharpers who prey on artists with generous impulses. Sometimes, indeed, no good deed goes unpunished.

Martine’s Tiny Treasures

A Sample California State Identification Card

Martine likes to take long walks. She walks very slowly and looks carefully around her and typically finds all manner of things. These include infant socks (many different varieties), unused Narcan nasal spray for opiate overdoses, birth control pills, drug syringes, and coins of all denominations, including foreign coins.

Today, she picked up a California state identification card outside a Santa Monica supermarket, similar in format to the above photograph. It was from a young woman who lived in the immediate vicinity of Santa Monica College. As she was about to go by bus to deliver the card to the address shown on it, I offered to drive her there. Going on foot or by bus would have taken hours, and it was already dark.

So I drove Martine to the house whose address was on the card. She went up to the door and handed it to an older woman who was probably the mother of the card holder.

When I first came to Southern California around 1967, I had one such card. After all, it was not until 1985 that I learned to drive and was able to get a California drivers’ license. The card enabled me to buy alcoholic beverages for eighteen years. I imagine that the young woman whose card Martine found is now able to celebrate by boozing it up with her good buds.

Hot! Hot!! Hot!!!

They Weren’t Whistling Dixie

I returned yesterday from the Coachella Valley after four days of excess 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) temperatures. When summer temperatures arrive in the lower desert, it is time to seek air-conditioned comfort. No walkies, no hikes, no outdoor activities of any sort: It is simply time to seek air-conditioned comfort and hunker down. Even the steering wheel of my Subaru Forester was hot to the touch.

Knowing full well what was in store for me, I had a god time nonetheless. My brother’s house in Palm Desert is comfortable, and I enjoyed reading and talking with him and with my sister-in-law Lori. Yesterday, before setting out for Los Angeles, I had breakfast with Dan and my niece Hilary, who had just arrived by plane from Seattle. After an hour of pleasant chatter, I hit the road with only a single rest stop in Rowland Heights.

The Los Angeles temperature was a full 40° Fahrenheit (22° Celsius) cooler than the Coachella Valley. I found I needed a jacket when I unloaded the luggage from my car.

The net result: I didn’t really go anywhere which I could feature in my blog posts. Sometimes, it just happens that way. Fortunately, the hot weather did not stop me from enjoying myself.

Off to Hide Out in the Desert

The Cactus Garden at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage

I will not be posting any blogs this weekend as I will be out of town visiting my brother in the Coachella Valley. My next post will likely be on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Unfortunately, the temperature is expected to be in excess of 100° Fahrenheit (37° Celsius) for the four days I will be there, but I will not likely be doing a lot of outdoor exercise, unless it involves a cooling dip in the pool. More than likely, I will be watching some of the NBA playoff games, especially the ones in which the Lakers are playing.

I will also be reading Robert M. Utley’s The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890. That will be in addition to eating some of my brother’s excellent cooking, watching films with him and my sister-in-law, and talking up a storm.

This Is Not a Debating Society

If it hasn’t happened to you before, it will—especially if you post a blog that identifies you as a libtard. I am certainly one, and proud of it. A few days ago, I wrote a post about my dislike of what the Second Amendment has come to mean. If you say something negative about guns, you will inevitably draw a response from a troll.

Now it is a well-known fact that it is not worth disputing with a troll. If the troll posts a comment, it will not be to obtain information or evaluate your post: It will aim at “pwning” you, by making you look like a fool. The goal of the comment is for the troll to “win” and for the blogger to “lose.”

What I usually do is, as soon as I detect a troll-like tone, is to hit the troll with a preemptive burst of snark right off the bat. Before he could bring his guns to bear, either hit him again or casually deprive him of the right to post on your blog site.

This is not a debating society. When I write about politically sensitive issues, I have no interest in engaging with the opposition in a dispute. All these disputes come across as dreary exercises that are not worth engaging in. So have no compulsion about blowing off the troll. You have no obligation to defend yourself against nugatory attacks.

“Rat Among the Pines”

Poet Roger Reeves at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival

As I have mentioned before, the highlight of my visit to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was the Poetry Pavilion, where I could sit in the cool shade on a hot spring day and listen to some outstanding poets. One of them was Roger Reeves, an Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Texas in Austin. The following poem, entitled “Rat Among the Pines” comes from his collection Best Barbarian, a finalist for the National Book Award. It tells in terse poetic language the violence of life in America.

Rat Among the Pines

Terror, tonight

Is the moon
Slipping from a rat’s gray grasp,

Finding its way back
Into the sky, which is America—

A white moon
Leaning on the night’s neck

With its hand in its pocket,
Moon hung calm above

Catastrophe, the police
Breaking the neck of a man

Who had just brushed summer’s
First bead of rain from his eye-

Lashes. Who—knocking a Newport
Against a wrist, watching smoke

Break its head against a brick
Wall—is preparing to die

Unaware they are preparing to die.
Heavy the moon, silly the tasking

Of a rat with delaying death.
Terror, tonight

Is the candor of the earth
Where someone is preparing to die

And the earth receives that dying
With its hands in its pockets.

And the moon that once burnt the silk
Hump of a rat, back in the sky.

And my daughter hiding in the rose
Bushes, asking who, who the sirens

Have come to kill. And someone calling
It beautiful—summer, moon—

And someone dying beneath that beauty,
Which is America.

Magyar Blood

Folk Dancers from the Kárpátok Troupe at Grace Hungarian Reformed Church

For the first time since the Covid lockdown began, Martine and I were able to attend a church festival, in this case the Hungarian festival at Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. I was raised on Hungarian food, and Martine, although French, prefers Hungarian food to the cuisine of her native land.

So we chowed down on stuffed cabbage and krémes (Hungarian style cheesecake) and watched a program of folk dancing. Plus I had the opportunity of practicing my rusty Hungarian. Although it is my native language, my vocabulary and grammar are atrocious. Yet my pronunciation is still pretty accurate. As I’ve mentioned before, I speak a rural Fehérmegye dialect dating back to the 1930s. This is what we spoke at home in Cleveland.

Still and all, I want to stay close to my Magyar roots as much as possible. I see it as an escape hatch when I get too disgusted with my fellow Americans. I like to stay current with Hungarian literature, even though I have to rely on translations into English, of which there are few.

Below is the announcement for the festival we attended today:

Not a single word is in English, and yet I understood most of it. And what I didn’t understand, I looked up.

Martine and I have been attending this church’s spring festivals for most of the last eleven or twelve years. Great fun!

Visiting Kuruvungna Springs

As I wrote in my last post, I wanted to introduce Martine to the sacred Tongva/Gabrieleño springs that exist as an enclave at West L.A.’s University High School. Apparently, the springs are closed to the public except on the first Saturday of each month.

Today, we showed up around noon and spent a few minutes walking around the springs and visiting the little cultural center with its exhibits. The tribe forbids photography of their cultural center, so I was unable to present any views of the exhibits. Below, however, is what the springs look like:

Kuruvungna Springs with High Rise Apartments in Background

I was surprised to see so many people in attendance. For one thing, a number of volunteers were doing yard work; and my guess is that most of the other visitors are locals who know about the Springs’ rare opening times.


Kuruvungna Springs in West Los Angeles

Not a mile from my front door, on the grounds of University High School in West Los Angeles is a spring that is sacred to the Tongva (aka Gabrieleño or Fernandeño or Kizh) tribe that inhabited this area. For many years, it was vandalized and graffitied until the State of California provided funds for restoring it. Today, it is a cool enclave of the Uni Hi campus.

(Uni High, by the way, was where Roger Vadim’s Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) was shot, starring Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, and Telly Savalas.)

The Tongva tribe has no reservation, but there is a small cultural center on the grounds of Kuruvungna Springs. I found an old newspaper article which gave the original Tongva names of many Southern California places.

Several years ago, I visited the Springs. I understand that they will be open on Saturday. With luck, I can talk Martine into visiting it with me. It is one of those secret little places that make Los Angeles endlessly interesting.