BIG WHOOP!

Time to make BIG WHOOPEE!  After plugging away for over four years at drawing Aztec gods and goddesses for my coloring book, I’m having an exhibition of my fifteen epiphanies!

Here’s the flyer for the show with dates, location, and all that.

The large-scale icons (3’ x 4’) are black and white drawings, but I’ve put my colorful patron god Xochipilli on the flyer, poster, and show-banner to catch the eye. And of course, the Flower Prince has been my “insignia” for a long time, including on the banner for this website.

I know you all can’t come to Santa Fe for this art event of the century, but maybe some… In any case, let all your social media know about this great opportunity to see bona fide weirdness!

Stone Age Gay History

It’s always bittersweet to gaze down the deep well of the past and spy ancient moments still fresh and vivid after many decades. That happened just now as I started reading a book by Jim Downs called “STAND BY ME, The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation,” Basic Books, 2016.

So far I’ve read only up to page 7 of the Introduction. In those first pages I was touched that a guy probably born around 1980 found it important in 2005 to research gay history from the 70’s—and amused how the author considered that decade “ancient” gay history.  Taking that view, I guess I came out in the Stone Age (1961).

In the next couple pages Downs immediately placed the libertine gay lifestyle of the 70’s in the context of the ensuing plague of the 80’s. My memories of the 70’s aren’t distorted by knowing what was to come.  I saw a future promising ever more joyful liberation.

My experience of that decade was hardly as wild—or sordid—as what the author read about, largely in New York. In DC where I lived, things were more civilized:  We lived exactly the kind of gay culture and community that Downs will probably describe in pages to come.  He wrote, “I wanted to show how the 1970s was more than a night in a bathhouse.” So I look forward to reading his view of the history I lived.

He included New Orleans in his research, which pleased me much, and after another paragraph hit me over the head with “the fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people on June 24, 1973.” I then noted that the Up Stairs Lounge is to be the subject of Chapter I:  The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History.  Tragically, scarcely a year after his book came out, that was no longer true.  There was that horrific slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I haven’t yet read beyond that mention of the Up Stairs Lounge because I’ve found myself once again staring down that well. Living in New Orleans in 1972, I hung out in the Up Stairs Lounge, but a year before the atrocity, I moved to DC…  I’m almost afraid to read Chapter I.

Already on page two, Downs had remarked that “…gay people across the country had a responsibility to document the past and to tell our own history.” For more than 30 years I’ve taken that responsibility quite seriously in two novels.  First drafted in 1985, one was rewritten a number of times and eventually became “Bat in a Whirlwind.”  About an unconsciously gay teenager in the backwoods in the 50’s, you might say it was set in the Jurassic era of gay history.

My second novel, “Divine Debauch,” is about the gay Stone Age, that decade before Stonewall, in the fairyland of the French Quarter. There was definitely some gay history going on even then.  I’m a veteran victim of the infamous raid on the Quorum Club in June, 1964.  Just like the episode in my recent post “Got Laid,” I marginally fictionalized that raid in the novel.

Briefly, my Quorum experience happened like this: A female friend Linda and I shared a horoscope, and that day in the newspaper we were stringently warned to stay at home.  We usually went out dancing in La Casa de los Marinos but decided to do as we were told and sat around my apartment listening to records and reading.

Getting rather bored later that evening, Linda convinced me to walk her over to the Quorum Club on Esplanade to look for our friend Gia. The club was a small, low-key coffee-house which scandalously also served black folks.  As a matter of fact, that evening a black musician named Babe Stovall was playing on his guitar.

Because of defying our horoscope, Linda and I walked in a bit apprehensively and looked around for Gia. She wasn’t there, but a (black) friend of mine mentioned that she might be upstairs at George’s party.  So we trudged up the stairs and mingled our way through those also racially mixed festivities without finding our friend.

We were standing out on the rear balcony when folks in the front room started yelling, “Police!” I made to escape by climbing down into the neighbor’s patio, but Linda was too scared.  So I gallantly stayed with her, and we nervously awaited our fate.

The cops herded us all out of the apartment (past poor George lying on the carpet with blood all over his face) and downstairs to the Club, where they separated the men and women and loaded about 75 of us into various paddy-wagons. At the jail they put the sexes and races into separate cells, whites on one side of the aisle and blacks on the other.

In my white guys’ cell I got into a bridge game with some others, including a drug dealer who was awaiting transfer to Leavenworth. Meanwhile, the girls started singing “We Shall Overcome!” and the black guys all stripped butt-naked and started swinging on the bars.

The cops kept yelling at us to shut up, to no avail, and then with a fire hose they washed us up against the bars. That ruined our bridge game and swept away most of the black guys’ clothes.  The pile of glistening black bodies was better than a wet dream.

Finally they let us each make our one phone call. I called my apartment and asked my lover Eric to get my stash of money and come bail us out.  When he got there, he said, “I can’t believe you hide your money in your bedpost!”

The next day the story was on the front page of the newspaper. It began:  “Last night the New Orleans Police raided a noted center of communist, homosexual, integrationist activity…” and reported that we were ridiculously charged with “being loud and boisterous.”  Ironically, at the time I was a student (and teacher) of Russian at Tulane, and so the cops figured me for the translator for the local communist cell.

For the next couple weeks till our hearing I lived under police surveillance as a suspected commie. They apparently didn’t care that I was a flaming faggot.  Cop cars tailed me down the streets of the Quarter, but I’d walk on the wrong-way streets to evade them.  And they didn’t dare follow me into my sailor dives on the “Wild Side” of Decatur Street.

Just before our hearing, miraculously, the Civil Rights Act passed, and the DA Jim Garrison (remember him?), quickly got the charges against us dropped. Apropos of Jim Garrison, in the summer of 1963 when my then lover Alphonse got thrown in jail, I had to call up his father’s friend Clay Shaw to spring him from the clink.  That was only about three months before the Kennedy assassination, another of my close brushes with fame, or infamy as the case may be.

While maybe not strictly gay history, this tale was definitely the historical experience of a gay boy in the Stone Age. You’ll find another, the story of my getting finessed back into the closet, in my first memoir “There Was a Ship.”  The second, set in the fabled 70’s, will be the story of my second coming-out into that newly liberated world.

I guess I’m now ready to read on in Jim Downs’ history book.

Got Laid

My new online friend Walter recently posted about his basically traumatic “coming out” experience and made me realize that I had sunken that piece of my history in my novel and memoir, which so few folks will ever read. So I’m going to follow his suit and give you the following brief narrative of my deflowering.

GOT LAID

            In the upside down year of 1961, there I was:  19 years young and a student at wonderful Tulane University in incredible New Orleans, but—to my immense regret—with my cherry still intact.  In fact, my cherry was not only intact but immaculate and overly ripe.  I was getting sick and tired of the whole boring condition.

During my freshman year I’d gotten to know a guy down the hall in my dorm.  David was a good-looking blond kid from Houston, who let me in on the secret that he was “gay” and introduced me to his lover Paul, a florist.  Once they invited me to dinner at Paul’s apartment in the Garden District along with some other gay guys.  They all seemed so normal except for calling each other ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart’ a lot.

The concept of two guys loving each other was utterly new to me, though not particularly disturbing.  Telling myself to be open-minded about it, I recalled the confusing love I’d felt for my best friend in high school.  After the party, reasoning it through as logically as I could, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I too must be gay.  Suddenly I appreciated all the cute guys around campus with different eyes.

After some months of waiting impatiently for true love to find me, my newly awakened longings soon became torments. Soon, I told myself, soon I will meet a beautiful boy, fall in love, and kiss him. The fantasy played like a rock and roll romance.  Many were the imagined scenarios I spun around naked guys in the showers and infatuations with angelic classmates, but all spring semester and into summer school, no beautiful boy ever showed up to love me.

One Wednesday evening late in sweltering June, I went with my roommate Roger and a couple other dorm guys to see Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Virgin Spring.”  It was traumatic for a sensitive college student like me, and the brutal images of the rape of that young girl haunted me on the sidewalk back to our dorm.  My friends were all quiet too.  Riding up in the elevator with them, I finally decided emphatically that I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore.

Once back in our double dorm room, Roger immediately went about his mathematical studies, which consisted of playing solitaire.  I showered, shaved, and put on my green corduroy jeans and fancy blue nylon shirt.  This was as fashionable as a country boy could manage.  Without looking up from his cards, Roger asked, “Got a date?”

“Maybe,” I replied mysteriously and left.

I already knew where to meet somebody.  David and Paul had once taken me into the wicked French Quarter to a dark little bar on St. Peter St. called the Gaslight Inn.  (One of the most marvelous things about New Orleans back then was that the legal drinking age was 18!)  So I hopped on the Freret bus to Canal Street, intent on finding a guy to cure my acute virginity problem.  Walking into the Quarter down noisy Bourbon Street through the jostling crowds and ignoring brief glimpses of bare, gyrating dancers in the strip joints, I felt my whole world turning upside down.  I was stepping off into the unknown, and it was exhilarating.

The Gaslight Inn was nestled right next door to the bustling collegiate bar Pat O’Brien’s.  When there before with David and Paul, I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be not at all intimidating.  The strangest thing had been a Hawaiian boy called Pineapple, who looked and talked just like a girl.  After a moment’s trepidation, I walked alone into the bar.

It was dark and full of smoke with men milling about.  No Pineapple.  How very dashing I felt walking right up to the bar and ordering a vodka and tonic.  Without looking directly at anyone, I took my drink over to a stool along the wall under the window—with no idea of what to do next.  Even though I was a nice looking kid with a good build and big blue eyes, no one seemed to be paying any attention to me.

Maybe I should just watch for someone attractive, I reasoned, and go up and introduce myself. No, that’s too forward—and too embarrassing.  It’s not very easy to see anyone in the dimness anyway.  By the time I’d finished my drink, my courage was definitely flagging, and I thought sadly of heading on back home to the dorm.

“Need another drink?” a voice asked from my blind side.  I turned to find a young man in the shadows, smiling at me.  “What was it?” the fellow asked, taking my glass.

“Vodka and tonic,” I managed to remember.  He went off to the bar before I could really make out what he looked like. Probably just a waiter pushing drinks, I figured.

Soon he returned with a drink in each hand.  Apparently he wasn’t a waiter.  Now I could see that he was pleasantly good looking, with dark hair in a crew cut.  After a polite thanks for the drink, I hadn’t a clue what to say.

In my silence, he said, “My name is Harry.”

Actually, I hadn’t thought about having to identify myself.  Not to give out my name in a gay bar, I lied, “I’m Roger.”  Meanwhile, I looked Harry over some more:  fairly tall, grey-green eyes, older—at least in his mid-20’s.  My next lie was that I was visiting my aunt here in New Orleans and lived out in the woods in Mississippi.  With that basic adjustment, I told him about things from back when I was a kid in Arkansas.  Harry told me he worked in an insurance office and used to live in Pensacola on the beach.

At his insistence, we each had another drink.  I was already feeling a buzz.  We engaged in further pleasant conversation, but it didn’t look to me like Harry was interested in me romantically.  And while I liked his company, there wasn’t that crazy kind of desire I’d felt for certain gorgeous guys at school.  I started to feel a little put out.  All this talking had kept me from watching out for a pretty boy.  I began to have more disconsolate thoughts about going home. Can’t catch a fish every time you go fishing.

Then Harry asked, “Can I take you home with me, Roger?”

Taken aback by the strange name and surprised to have come so suddenly upon this Rubicon, I forced back the fear and said, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“Then let’s go!” Harry left his half-finished drink on the windowsill and pulled me by the hand.  I followed him out the door onto crowded St. Peter, not even checking if anybody at Pat O’Brien’s might have seen me coming out of that shady little place.

#

            Amidst the slumber of the late-night city, all was quiet, candlelit amber and cool in Harry’s apartment at the Claiborne Towers.  The room was full of plants with only a low light in one corner.  I lay naked on the sheets beside Harry, by no means asleep.  He was definitely dozing, draped over my arm.  I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt I really had to go home to the dorm—it must have been 3 or 4 o’clock, but I had no desire to move.  The warmth of Harry touching my shoulder and thigh was so new and delicious.  Finally, I’d tasted a man’s body, smelled his cinnamon fragrance, and it was far better than I could ever have imagined.

It had been nothing at all like the struggle and violence in that disturbing movie.  Funny how easy everything was when I’d worried so much about what to do.  Like a bumpkin at a banquet, I’d simply done whatever Harry did—which meant a lot of incredible caresses on tender, secret places I’d never touched before.  All that symmetry naturally led to the infamous sixty-nine position.  I must have done it right because we came together, and I didn’t even choke.  Stunning, the sheer reality of sucking on a guy’s cock.

I was glad, too, that there hadn’t been any kissing. Kissing is something for being in love, I figured, and all this with Harry was simply sex.  Still, he’d been tender, and so I was too.  Now I felt so amazingly happy having this wonderful connection with another guy and holding him close.  After a bit, Harry awoke, and I said, “I’ve got to go home.  My aunt expects me back.”

Harry didn’t protest, probably used to strange boys leaving in the night.  I got up on the window side of the bed.  The man still lay there, lithe in the shadows and amber light, the plants vague, soft masses of light and dark around him.  There was a tiny glint in his eye as I stood there naked—oddly without shyness.  “Roger, you sure are hot!” he sighed.

Embarrassed by his compliment, I dressed while Harry watched me from the bed with appreciative smiles.  I wondered about telling him that this was my very first time.  Tying my second shoe, I decided not to. Better just a pleasant goodbye, I decided, and drift out into the night like all the other boys who must have been hot in his bed before me.

While Harry still lay there naked, I gave him a friendly handshake and let myself out the door.  Out in the hallway, I chortled to myself, Well, that was that—another virginity nicely disposed of in the Claiborne Towers.

After Harry’s great air-conditioning, outside on the street the New Orleans night startled me with its sultriness.  On the empty early-morning bus I dozed contentedly in the heat until my stop at school.  Only when stumbling down McAlister Drive did the full import of it strike me right between the eyes with a blow of wonder and happiness. No longer a virgin! I rejoiced.  That painful, troublesome barrier is now behind me!”

As I tiptoed into our dorm room, the real Roger rolled over on his side in his narrow bed, waking enough to mumble, “What you been doing?”

Walking out of my clothes on the way from the door, I answered, “Got laid.”  Then I crawled into the sack, and there wasn’t another peep from the miserable virgin.

I never saw Harry again, nor did I ever go back to the Gaslight Inn—largely because it closed down soon after.  Instead I went out to Dixie’s Bar of Music on the opposite corner of Bourbon and St. Peter or hung out in the Latin and Greek sailor dives on Decatur Street, where my carousing was a depraved combination of Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita” and the novels of Jean Genet.

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Aztec Icon #15 – QUIAHUITL, God of Rain

I’ve just checked the date when I posted Icon #14, Quetzalcoatl, for my serialized coloring book YE GODS! and must hang my head in shame that it’s taken me nearly six months to finish Icon #15, Quiahuitl, God of Rain. I understand that nobody out there has been waiting with baited breath to see my latest work of genius, but I managed to draw the earlier deities much more quickly, 14 of them in 3 ½ years.  My excuses are that this past winter I spent a lot of time on my second memoir, and for what it’s worth, this icon turned out to be just about as detailed as Icon #11, Ocelotl (Jaguar).  There’s a lot going on in it.

Quiahuitl, God of Rain

This icon is available as 8X10 with a caption/sources page by clicking here.

In the central image, Quiahuitl {kee-a-hweetł} is shown emerging from the Underworld, rising up out of the maw of the Earth Monster.  The Aztecs understood that moisture mysteriously rises from the earth to the sky (the crest across the top), where the god turns it into rain.  Every locale had its own Quiahuitl to conjure and appease, as indicated by drops falling on trees which symbolize the cardinal directions.

Quiahuitl is of crucial importance to the cultivation of maize, and the lower panel is a homage to that crop. In the center, the plant grows out of another Earth Monster, and on it perches a mythical bird, which is actually a motif inherited from the ancient Maya, Itzamnaaj—the Bird of the Sun.  Just above it is another nod to the Maya, the head of a centipede which they saw as the face of the Underworld.  On the left is Chicomecoatl (Seven Snake), chief of the several goddesses of maize, and on the right is Centeotl, the main god of maize.

But that’s not all. The four big dots indicate that the god is also a day-sign in the ritual calendar, Four Rain (Nahui Quiahuitl).  You’ve already seen the same thing in the icons of Four Water, Four Wind, and Four Jaguar.  I haven’t yet made it alphabetically to the god Tonatiuh and Four Earthquake, the Fifth Sun, our current era.

Anyway, Four Rain is the day-name of the earlier Third Sun (era), a paradise ruled by the Storm God Tlaloc. However, when Tezcatlipoca abducted his wife Xochiquetzal, Tlaloc destroyed that world in a rain of fire.  Its poor humans were turned into butterflies, birds, dogs, and turkeys—which I rather doubt was a great deal of help in the rain of fire.

As I said before, there’s a lot going on in this icon, and there were times I wondered if I was ever going to complete it. Besides, all these past months we’ve been suffering severe drought, and I started to fear it was because I hadn’t finished the god’s icon.  Well, I finally did it last night—and it still hasn’t rained!  I’ve done what I could…

This morning I fired #15 off to my digital wizard in Bangladesh to be turned into a vector drawing, which will be added to the coloring book page.  Then it will follow the other 14 to my print shop. At Santa Fe Signs & Images, they’re being printed on 3’ x 4’ vinyl banners for my upcoming exhibition.

NEWS FLASH!

I’ve recently arranged to have a show of my coloring book pages to be called YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities.  It will be at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, opening June 1, 2018 and running through July 29.  There’s much to be done in preparation, of course, and I’ve at least gotten calendar listings out to the media.

Now come the million details, and I seriously doubt that I’ll even get started on Icon #16, Tecciztecatl, God of the Moon, till later in the summer. According to the original project plan, I’ve still got 11 icons to go, which at this rate will take a minimum of three more years, maybe four.  What the hell!  I’ll only be 80!

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Ancestors, Level 1, My Parents

To explain: I’ve just enjoyed a new contact with a young man in Miami about my image of the Aztec deity Xochipilli, who appears (above) on the masthead of my webpages and blogs. As the god of homosexuals (and a whole lot more), the Prince of Flowers has long been my patron. Unfortunately, he sits down by the end of the alphabet (with the other x’s), and it’ll be a couple years till I get around to doing his icon for my coloring book YE GODS!

My new friend Walter identifies as a pagan and practitioner of the Unnamed Path, which sounds quite like mine, though I didn’t think to name my path. We’re both on the beautiful paths (as the Navajo would say, walking in beauty) for men who love men. You can find Walter on his splendid path at http://sacredbonfire.com.  Meanwhile, as a headline on his emails, he includes, “The ancestors are speaking. Are you listening?”

Struck by that profound question, I realized that for a long time that I’ve been dancing around the urge to blog about my ancestors. So far I haven’t written much about them, except in that biography: “Ms Yvonne, The Secret Life of My Mother.” I was too focused on my own terribly fascinating self to pay any attention to the sources of my miraculous being.

Understandably, in researching the biography, I learned a great deal about my parents, as well as about my roots in the generations before them. In that writing, I organized the boxes of old family photographs and in the process quickly became an expert photo-restorer. The art is very like painting, just as aesthetically fulfilling, and playing with pixels to reconstruct an ancestor’s face creates intense emotional connections with the subject, let me tell you. Suffice it to say, I now have plenty photo-paintings to illustrate blogs about several levels of my ancestry.

Naturally, we’ll start at level 1 with my parents, who were people I’d never really known before that research and restoration of their images. I was simply a kid, and they were folks who took care of me. There was no discussion of who they were then or in their pasts, and the oblivious child never even wondered, too busy wondering who I was.

My mother, Yvonne Marie Trinité, was born on January 18, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland. I discovered that she was quite a fashionable young woman in the thirties who led a nicely sociable life with a number of boyfriends. When she was nineteen, in 1938, a beau took her boating on the Chesapeake and snapped a tiny shot of a virtual goddess of the sea. Retrieving it from a miniature print (1 sq. in) in a foggy blur, I’ve put it up on my refrigerator where I can thank her every morning for solving my life.

Yvonne by the sea, 1938

Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin my future father, Raymond John Balthazor, was born on January 30, 1916 in the village of Bear Creek, and the family soon moved to the big city of Fond du Lac. In school he came down with scarlet fever, an often fatal disease from which he recovered—but with a damaged heart. In 1939, after taking courses at a business college, Ray landed a job with Social Security in Baltimore and had a (retouched) portrait taken for the announcement in the Fond du Lac newspaper. He was a good-looking young man of twenty-three.

Ray, 1939

That’s why Ray and Yvonne met, but further details of their romance are unavailable. They were married on Wednesday, June 19, 1940, both dressed up in the high style of the period:

Wedding of Yvonne and Ray, 1940

True to form, kids came along, first me in 1942 and then my sister Judy in 1947. In 1952 the family moved to LaMarque, Texas for Daddy’s job as a tax accountant in a chemical plant. When we’d moved into our new house, a neighbor took a picture of us for posterity. Notice that at 36 Daddy was already going grey:

The Balthazors in LaMarque, 1952

For two years in Texas we had a fairly normal nuclear family life, but then in 1954 Daddy took us off into the woods of Arkansas to a truck-stop café on Highway 74. Thereafter, our familial relations essentially disintegrated, but that’s another story I’ve reflected in my autobiographical novella “Bat in a Whirlwind.” After I left home for college at eighteen in 1960, Daddy only lived another six years, dying of heart problems at only 50.

In 1971, after five years of widowhood, at 52 Mother married a Texan named Bill Tapp, but only a year later was abandoned by that husband. Afterward, she enjoyed single life in New Orleans for another 42 years, her favorite activity being square-dancing. Yvonne’s really big adventure was surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She kept on square-dancing right up to 93, as in this 2011 snapshot by a dancer friend when she was 92. In early 2013 Yvonne died peacefully at 94.

Yvonne at 92, 2011

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Ancient Coin Found in Ann Arbor MI

While a grad student at the University of Michigan, in the summer of 1967 I moved with my young family into a new subdivision on a sloping street in Ann Arbor. Perched on the gentle slope on a pad levelled by a slight scraping into the rise behind, the house backed up to the low, rounded crown of the hill overgrown with brush and bushes.  I immediately planted some flowers in the strip of freshly disturbed soil between the house and the newly laid sidewalk.  In my digging, I came upon an obviously ancient, apparently bronze coin.  I washed the loose soil off of it but didn’t disturb the lighter-colored material encrusting about 75% of the piece.

 

The coin notably measures precisely 1 inch in diameter. At first I put the coin in with other keepsakes and then some decades ago placed it in a small plastic bag with a note of where it was found.  For the past 50 years it has been only very minimally handled and shown to just a few friends as the one true mystery in my life.

In past years I occasionally read about Roman coins being found around the American Midwest, mostly along major river valleys, and marveled that I too had found one. Mine was found in the low hills of southern Michigan but not far from the Huron River.  Reading more recently about mounting evidence for a Roman presence in pre-Columbian America, I tried to identify my coin by researching the databases of the American Numismatic Society but was overwhelmed by their 42,000 + examples of Roman coinage.

After inspecting only a couple thousand of the coins in their collection, I noted that in the mostly illegible legends on mine the “IMP” on the obverse is standard for “Emperor.” Meanwhile, I found no portraits resembling the head, none with that tassel or braid at the back of the head, and none with that decidedly un-Roman nose.  On the reverse, the standing figure differs in posture from more usual standing figures of Apollo and holds something like a bag in the right hand and possibly a floral bundle in the left arm.  Also, the legend or symbols uniquely continue beneath the figure’s feet, and a strange rayed symbol peeks through the encrustation by the knee.

I’m sending this description and image to the following authorities in hopes:

1) that the American Numismatics Society will authoritatively identify this coin;

2) that the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will advise on appropriate steps for analysis and conservation and suggest means for further research at the discovery site;

3) that the Historical Society of Michigan will advise me of similar or related finds in the state and suggest an appropriate repository for the artifact; and

4) that the City of Ann Arbor will facilitate any further research at the discovery site and any publicity that might follow.

Meanwhile, I’m posting this letter on my website www.richardbalthazar.com and requesting similar input from the Internet world at large.  Please email me at rbalthazar @ msn.com.  I will incorporate any responses in more web postings and plan to publish an article on the artifact in the magazine “Ancient American.”

About the discovery site, I researched my old address on Google Earth and found the house still there. The low hill behind is still undeveloped after these 50 years and covered with large trees.  After some decades of researching Indian mounds (and publishing the book “Remember Native America, The Earthworks of Ancient America”), I reasonably suspect that the hilltop could well be a mound containing far more prehistoric material than a single coin.

 

Our Exploitative Healthcare System

My first inclination was to write a letter to my doctor (probably a capable, dedicated, and intelligent man), calling a spade a spade, but then I reconsidered. No matter his many sterling qualities, my doctor is by definition a part of, or at least an accomplice in, the situation.  My rant would surely fall on deaf ears.  Instead, I’ll broadcast my cynical remarks here on my virtually unread blog, where at least someone might hear my voice crying in the wilderness.

Late last week I got a second attack of gout in my right big toe, a stereotypical condition surrounded by a great deal of mythology, rumor, and medical lore. A close friend with the same problem in the same place advised that his VA doctor had prescribed him a generic drug called Allopurinol which costs only $5 a bottle.  He reported that one tablet generally relieves the condition immediately and recommended that I get a prescription for it too.  Or he’d be happy to give me a pill or two out of his stash.

Trying to play the medical game by its rules, yesterday I called to ask my doctor (with whom I’d already discussed the first attack) to issue a prescription for the miracle pill, but he was away for the week, and though this second attack was sure to fade within a few days, I left a message with full details of the VA doctor and the friend’s experience.

My call was returned by a registered nurse who advised that they wouldn’t write the prescription unless I came in for an examination. The sub-text of her response came in loud and clear:  “We won’t do anything unless we add our own bill to the cost of the prescription.”

When I advised that in that case, I would go ahead and borrow pills from my friend, the nurse got uptight, sternly admonishing me not to take anyone else’s medication. I asked why—since it had been prescribed by a “real” doctor and was very effective for the same problem.

The nurse dithered about how there “could be” horrible interactions with my blood pressure medication, citing “studies” of that specific combination of medications (which I find highly unlikely), but offering no specifics of such interactions or statistics. What I heard was “Be afraid!  Avoid the slightest, even infinitesimal danger!”  (Frankly, every time I get into my car, I’m conscious of putting myself in a position of extreme danger.  Every time I walk out my front door…  Every time I get out of bed in the morning…  By definition, life is unsafe.)

I advised that I’ve now (with my doctor’s agreement and under his supervision) almost completely weaned my system from that poisonous blood pressure pill, so the danger of any interaction is probably even less than negligible. (I’m now down to 1/8 of the low dosage originally prescribed years ago by a nurse-practitioner for only slightly elevated readings, which have never improved or gotten any worse.  Even at the time, I understood that it was her professional duty simply to enroll me as a regular contributor to the pharmaceutical industry.)

The nurse responded that nevertheless I was still on the medication and should be very afraid. Ratcheting up the pressure to an almost hysterical level, she gratuitously added that some interactions could even be fatal.  Again there were no specifics or statistics, just alarmist jargon.  Recognizing this tactic as standard practice in our current culture of fear, I noted that over-the-counter herbal supplements, while much less effective than Allopurinol, are widely available, but there are such studies or warnings about them.

Ignoring those unprofessional remedies (at higher cost than Allopurinol with sales income not accruing to the pharmaceutical industry), she again urged me to “make an appointment” (i.e., make an extra payment to them) to talk about treatment and a prescription. I advised that I wouldn’t waste either their or my limited time on the issue of taking a single pill of proven effectiveness for a common, otherwise pharmaceutically untreatable, condition.

She countered with an irritated threat “to tell on me” by writing up our conversation for my doctor. I told the nurse to feel free to do so, just as I felt free to call my friend for some of his pills.  When we ended the call, her frustration was palpable.  She’d missed a possible sale!

When I rang up my friend right afterwards, he wasn’t home, and so I figured I’d call him today. When I got up this morning, the gout was gone, so the entire charade was moot.

However, the charade was a dramatic illustration of the basic problem with our healthcare industry. Like other for-profit businesses, healthcare providers’ real purpose is to generate sales, not service.  Aided by the FDA, they collude with the pharmaceutical industry to “hook” people on their monopolistic products.  (Witness the current opioid epidemic.)  And both collude with the insurance industry (the stock in trade of which is fear), to kick back to each other on their sales and ultimately inflate costs to the consumer/patient.

This unholy trinity has our economy by the throat. In the name of public benefit, they exploit the population for private gain, just as other industries exploit our natural resources (the public’s treasures) for private gain.  The fatal flaw in our government and economic system is that private enterprise is inimical to public benefit.  But I’ve already ranted about that in an earlier blog  or two.

Would anyone care to try and disabuse me of these dire and hopeless notions?

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