Now That There Was A Hike!

2500 glorious miles across this loose confederation of dysfunctional communties we call a nation. My oh my.

Somewhere in Nebraska, I glanced up at my rear view mirror to see an enormous wooden cross attached to a grill attached to a semi bearing down on me at high speed. I thought the Holy Inquisition had finally caught up with me. I’m not proud to say that I was willing in that frightening moment to recant–to anul my bar mitzvah–to never again tickle my palate with the dull-savory singularity of gefilte fish. In the end I just changed lanes.

I dodged tumble weed in Wyoming. The salt flats through Northern Utah stretched for 100 desolate, heat stroking miles. There are slot machines in the grocery stores in Nevada. Super 8 is really Mediocre 8. These are the things I learned.

The East Bay is cool and sunny. Mediterranean plants are in bloom, and Tibet is apparently not yet free. I have learned that, contrary to common belief, there is no time for hate.

So the journey continues. A new set of challenges and really good food. I walked into a grocery store in Berkeley and almost cried, after my months of trying to find edible comestibles among the Velveeta and Lunchables of suburban Ohio. So on we go. Could this become a sedentary medicine show? Time will tell.

Published in: on June 23, 2007 at 7:25 pm  Comments (3)  

Why Is This Country So Big?

Well, it is a traveling medicine show. I am hitting the road tomorrow. Ohio to Berkeley. 36 hours. Oh mercy. Books on tape. A little NPR. No sweat. Oh mercy.

If anyone checked out this personal essay, you couldn’t help but notice that I’ve tried this before. Without success. But the allure of the Bay Area is apparently irresistible, and I’m headed west again.

So I’ll probably be out of touch for a while, but I will post as soon as possible. It’s the classic Edinburgh-Europe-Ohio-San Francisco circuit. Well worn. Up and away.

9 Years, A Full Circle, And A Pinch Of Goo Gone

Can this formula get you unstuck?

My blog has lo these many weeks occupied a space in my head formerly reserved for such things as the pile of mail I wasn’t dealing with. Late bills? Notification of being named in a malpractice suit? Or the 11th grade research paper I wasn’t doing–on which passing to senior year was contingent. Or not figuring out what to do with my life.

Which is to say a dark nook to keep things that upon being reminded of their existence (in the case of my blog, the link on my toolbar that leers menacingly every time I look at my browser) causes a lusty feeling of neglectfulness, of being remiss, of leaving one’s post, of falling down on he job.

Yet, my response to any slip of light which might illuminate this dark nook has been to run, to avoid, to numb my senses, leaving me in a state of paralysis, of being stuck.

Nine years ago, I left my neurology residency and headed, with Hatbox Louie, to the San Francisco Bay. My idea was to work for a non-profit, world-changing, peace and social justice organization. The trevails of this sorry misadventure are chronicled here.

The anxiety of being adrift, the compulsion to immediately find something lofty and great to do in order to mitigate the abomination of having left medicine, and a healthy dose of naivete, led to the failure of the escapade and ultimately to my return to medicine. I couldn’t take the heat.

Since then, I have completed a residency, worked as a clinician, volunteered my medical skills in Ecuador and Bolivia, traveled, fixed up two old houses, and tried to find a place for myself in academics. Some small successes, mild satisfactions, a few bucks. But ultimately wrong for me. All of these endeavors have amounted to stop-gap, temporizing measures. I have avoided facing that dark nook in my brain that held the truth of what I wanted to do as if the door were guarded by demons.

Well, at some point there is nowhere to run, there are no more quick little fixes; the demons must be excorcised. And so by sheer force of will, I have done so (and oddly, temporally coincident with the death of Jerry Falwell). What I really want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do, is write. At this point I don’t even care what I write. Science and medicine seem like logical starting points, but anything.

So I’ve come full circle. I’m going to relocate to the Bay area, where Hatbox Louie and I have great, interesting friends who know lots of people and are excited about new ideas and projects, and where there is an almost palpable feeling of possibility.

Nine years later, I have seen alot, thickened my skin, and no longer feel like I have to apologize for not pursuing a career that every day deadened another little piece of my soul. This time I’m going to make it work.

And I can’t very well decide to get unstuck and be a writer and at the same time let my blog fizz out like the idea of citizenship or the cassette tape. I believe it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, “Oy! Get up off your arse you bollocky tosser!” Well, ok Ben. Ok.

Life Tumbles Like River Stones

I’m afraid to look at the date of my last post. The house project has had me and Hatbox Louie working all day for five weeks without a break. We were wrecked. Upswings? The house is coming together, and now we are in Austin Tx!

We have been researching possible places to live, and the list was shrinking and well, here we are. I think we might just do it. It seems absolutely bizarre to move to Texas, but Austin is very progressive and vibrant without the precious imperiousness of say the Bay area.

Anyway, we’ll have to go back to finish the house and grab our car, and I’ll post some after pictures of Collingwolde. Oh, what will a lapsed doctor do the Lonestar captital? No clue. Well, one thing at a time. Y’all come back now, heah?

Published in: on April 11, 2007 at 10:02 am  Comments (2)  

Canadian and Computer Free

Hatbox Louie and I are in Montreal. We had been sharing one power cord for our two laptops since one of them disintegrated in Edinburgh. We left it in Toronto. Crap! So we have been rationing power to plan our trip etc. Oh well. Not great for blogging.

This city is huge and French and sophisticated. It is hard to fathom that we are just a few miles north of say, Plattsburgh New York. It is a whole different world up here. Very European. French cafes and very international cuisine. Very artsy and bohemian in some areas, architecturally diverse and rather majestic in others. Definitely a world class city. Very cold.

It would be hard to adjust to living here. One would really need to speak French to become integrated into the community, but the rewards would be significant. Well, I’m about to cut into Hatbox Louie’s time. Can’t type worth a damn. Tomorrow we head down into Vermont, which is great, but entails some stressful familial interactions for the old Hatbox. More soon. Adieu.

On The Road Again

Hatbox Louie and I are at it again. We have hit the road as we wait for the closing on Collingwolde. We are in Toronto where I spent much time in the past. I spent a semester at the University of Toronto, then a year before med school.

We are trying to figure out where to settle, and we just had to check out Canada. They actually collect taxes up here. Ok. Now here’s the wacky part. They use those collected funds to–get this–take care of their citizens. It is madness. Why don’t they just do what we do south of the border: collect our money, then funnel it to rich corporate interests via illegal and immoral foreign military adventures?

So anyway we are checking it out. Toronto is a fantastic city and we have had a great albeit very cold time. Today we are headed east towards Montreal. I think we will stop midway in Kingston, Ontario to break up the trip. Then we will dip back into New England and check out some possibilities there.

If you can’t figure your life out, just keep moving. What a plan!

A Worm Place In The Sun

When you are trying to make a living by doing anything other than what you have trained to do, you need to be creative. You have to generate multiple small streams of income, and hope something works well enough such that its stream widens in time.

So we bought a house, and hopefully we will make a bit of money on that. But that is just the beginning. We need multiple prongs to fork up our financial haystack. Well, my friend and I were watching that Discovery Channel show, Dirtiest Jobs or whatever it’s called, and we saw a piece on worm farming. PRONG!

Worm ranching! Worm wranglin’! The romance is breathtaking. The worms are raised on organic matter–kitchen scraps or manure. They digest it and leave castings–basically worm excrement–that is extremely valuable as fertilizer. These can be harvested and used directly in gardens or brewed into a tea that can be sprayed on organic crops.

It seems organic food is increasing in popularity, so a market for organic fertilizer must exist. We decided to try it out on a small scale and see where it takes us. We ordered a half-pound of red wigglers from a worm farm in Pennsylvania, and they arrived yesterday by FedEx. All they need is shredded paper for bedding, a handful of dirt for grit, half their weight in organic matter per day, and a dark spot to work their magic. Here is a picture of our first container (warning: Highly Dramatic):


Ok, so pretty mundane looking, but vermiculture (worm farming) is pretty earthy stuff. Fancy ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. It seems great to do something hands-on and real. And I think any small contribution to slowing the ruination of the planet is a good place to spend one’s energy. The worms keep mountains of garbage out of landfills, improve the soil, and create a quality fertilizer to support organic farming. I love it. The only question is if it is commercially viable. Time will tell.

I went from being a doctor in Bolivia, to being a grad student in Edinburgh, to being a budding worm rancher in middle America. Hmm, yes. It is all going exactly according to plan. Hey, they called Noah crazy.

Published in: on January 24, 2007 at 2:14 pm  Comments (1)  

Living In O’Bolivian

The friends we are staying with were cleaning out their old emails and came across this one I had sent them a while back. Hatbox Louie and I were working on a medical project in tropical Bolivia. It struck me how radically different the chapters of one’s life can be. Staying with friends under the freezing suburban skies of Ohio–sweating bullets in the heavy, smoky air of lowland Bolivia. Blinding-white conventionality versus grinding-dark poverty. A world apart. Still searching, I am again at sea.

The email:

Hatbox Louie has informed me that it is my turn to write an
email so I will. It was a very odd week here in
Bolivia. It began on Sunday. We were setting out on
A 5 day boat trip down river–northeast towards Brazil
and the Amazon–to visit a number of remote villages.

Early that morning we met at the clinic to load meds
and materials into our truck and then drove down to
the river. We packed the boat–a 30 foot narrow
longboat with a tarp awning–with our big red bags
of meds, scores of liters of water, food, tents, a
stove. It was a very full boat and sat low in the water.
The stern held 2 huge barrels of fuel. There is no place to
refuel and the trip is long–particularly
the return–where we chug back against the current.

I noticed there were 3 life vests dangling from a
rafter. There would be 6 of us aboard. Now I don’t
claim to be a whiz with numbers but…I remarked to
Hatbox Louie that it was like one of those jokes: a priest,
A rabbi and two gringos get on a boat with 3
vests…At one point the two of us and Lola, our nurse,
were alone and I said to her on the sly-ok there are 3 of us and 3
of those, are we cool?

Antonio–boat guy, pharmacy guy, truck guy–pulled the rope
to start the motor and swung us out into the current. It was
very chilly and the Bolivians were all bundled. I
was in short sleeves hoping to hoard some of the
coolness for later use. As we motored downstream, the
dense-green mountains gave way to rolling hills and
the river widened. Antonio expertly maneuvered
around submerged logs and occasional small rapids. We sat
on the vests as a small comfort against the hard planks
and enjoyed the view and the air. Frieda–a Bolivian
doctor who is in charge of public health stuff and
training the health promoters from the villages
began to prepare breakfast. Hatbox Louie and I had eaten granola
before we left, so we politely declined. I was a bit hungry but
could not justify a beef sandwich as a post-breakfast

Suddenly the motor kicked off and Antonio restarted
it. Then again. This time he looked concerned and
asked if oil had been added to the gas. Como se dice
“oops”? He turned us around and we headed back with
the motor misfiring all the way upriver. After about
45 minutes, we landed the boat where we started. As it was,
our schedule downriver was tight, and we
began to speculate on how to work things out if we managed
to get back on our way. Within 2 minutes, Antonio had
comandeered a motorcycle and returned with a
barefoot mechanic. Together they lifted the motor off and
carried it away. The damage: some kind of blown ring.
A result of the improper gas mixture. The
replacement part: a short 20 hours away in La Paz.

We went home, had a meeting and decided to switch
weeks with a different trip we could make by truck. We thus
headed to Tigre– a community about 6 hrs away–3 hours
on the dirt highway to Ixiamas where we turn onto a
terrible little road for 2-3 brain-jangling hours
of rutted, washed-out driving paradise.

We were about an hour into this rough part when we
stopped to watch a family of monkeys twisting and
somersaulting in the high canopy. We pressed on,
fording little rivers and large arroyos. About 20
minutes away from our destination, we stopped in a
village to visit a doctor who was stationed there by
the ministry of health.

She sauntered out of her thatch house with a baby in her arms,
the two of them rather grimy. The doctor was only distinguishable
from the locals by her relatively fashionable hair cut. She
was there with no meds or real treatment materials!!??
Very useful. Like a chef in a kitchen without food
or pans or knives–he will come to your table and
discuss delicious dishes and the smells they would generate
in their cooking. Though he has none, he might suggest a wine
to compliment this sumptuous theoretical feast. Welcome to Bolivia.
She gets a difficult to attain salary, and some schmuck
in La Paz gets to claim he is providing health care in the region.

We continued on towards Tigre. Tigre is composed of
2 communities which formerly lived in Potosi in the
highlands way to the south of La Paz. The 2
communities had been fighting each other for years
over land issues. There were people killed on both
sides. About 7 years ago they were exiled from the
Andes. The government got fed up and stuck them all
together in the jungle by plane with 6 months-worth of food
and no real way out. Like a gettin’ to know you
cooperation game from summer camp. Pretty kooky.
They seem to be getting along ok though.

We finally got to within 300 yards of the place.
That is, we got totally stuck in the mud as we
approached. Why did this suck? Well this place is a
focus of leishmaniasis– a disease you get from the bite of a
sandfly. If you get it, a long, arduous course of
painful and toxic injections MAY cure you. If not, years later it
can attack your mucous membranes, and you basically lose face.
The fly is very active at sundown. As we were struggling to
get out of the mud, the sun began to set.

Hatbox Louie and I had our buzzoff shirts, pants tucked
into socks, permethrin-soaked bandanas around our necks,
and enough 100% deet covering whatever skin remained
exposed that it felt like we had just crawled out of
Love Canal. Antonio wore a tank top. We had to carry
all our stuff–meds, gear, everything–
into the village and put up our tents in the dark
knowing the sandflies were beginning to feed.

By the way, we were so late because that morning we
had to attend a meeting with regional health
authorities to answer allegations by some half-assed
Bolivian NGO that we were experimenting on villagers
with our strange and wicked-strong American drugs.
I joked that the allegations were patently false: it is not experimentation–there is
no data compiled or control subjects. It is simply
haphazard and evil overdosing.

We managed to get our tents up, and the next day had
a very busy clinic before turning back up the road.
Antonio had extricated the vehicle with about 15
guys from the village. Before we left, we had lunch in a
smokey thatch-and-board house with the wife of the health
promoter we were training. She had apparently
killed a chicken for us which is sad, though judging
by the texture, it had lived a long, long life prior to making
the ultimate sacrifice. Well, we made it back and now we are
preparing for our next trip. Hope all are well, and more soon.

The Worst Gift Since Zyklon-B?

This is a lamp. The bulb is in the fish’s mouth. The fish is a ram’s horn. Is it the worst thing ever? The plague was bad. Keanu Reeves is bad. But this is too bad to be true.


It was given to a friend after a teaching stint overseas. It is heavy and delicate. It had to be transported from Argentina. Is it really a gift? Or is it the worst burden one human could foist upon another in the name of giftdom?

My God how different we all are. One human brain–presumably similar in most respects to all of ours–conceived of, created, and thought highly enough of this unbearable schlock to give it to someone they liked. And one who was about to travel thousands of miles on a plane. With children.

The human experiment is a rattling boxcar hurtling toward a very questionable future. Sometimes life provides a glimpse into the prodigious inanity that keeps the trip from being a bit smoother. Feh!

Published in: on January 9, 2007 at 6:34 pm  Comments (1)  

LIVE FROM OHIO!–The Traveling Medicine Show is back online (For what it’s worth.)

The Eagle has landed. Hatbox Louie and I are back in the lower 48. And strange it is. At all of our many life transitions we wash up, at some point, on the shores of Medina, Ohio. Pronounced Med-eye-na, of course, and the second holiest town in Ohio. You go where the friends are, and don’t ask questions.

It makes for an abrupt drop back into American life. We went to check out Cleveland. I know, it’s Cleveland, but just to see. There are some interesting areas, but miles and miles of urban decay. Great though if you’re partial to malt liquor and plywood windows. It is urban death.

The good news is that they have rebuilt. Yes several miles out of town, they have built a new fake city to replace the bombed-out neglected shameful slums of decay. We were in search of Trader Joe’s and found an outdoor mall along faux charming lanes with cutesy street names and lampposts and a fake town square with a hearth fire. It’s a theme park for adults. The theme being—I love Baby Gap and The Cheesecake factory and I want to pretend it’s the NiftyFifties and everything is hunkey dorey. Disturbing and bad.

So we’re thinking about buying a house around here to fix up with our friends and sell while we make more long term plans. Bad market. Please find below a snap of a potential fixer-upper nearby. What do you think? A coat of paint, maybe splash around some potpourri…it could work.


Published in: on January 6, 2007 at 8:45 pm  Comments (2)