Jan 222011

Several weeks back, librarian and MetaFilter moderator Jessamyn West contacted me and asked for my mailing address. She wanted to send me a surprise gift. I soon received a copy of a novel by Joseph A. Citro entitled The Gore. Jessamyn was curious as to what I thought of the book, so by way of thanks I thought I’d jot down this review.

First off, I think Jessamyn was aware of my interest in Bigfootery, as the book incorporates Bigfoot into the story, albeit in a somewhat tangential way. Citro is a New England author of both fiction and non-fiction, whose subject matter is largely Fortean or supernatural.

Unfortunately, I may not be the best person to give an incisive analysis of a work of fiction, as I’ve read very little of it during my lifetime! My favorite author of fiction is Joseph Wambaugh, who writes about police work in Southern California. In the late 1990’s I went absolutely ga-ga over his masterpiece of burlesque and tragedy, The Choirboys.

Here I’ll put in the obligatory disclaimer that the following review contains spoilers. I think today’s de facto alert is supposed to look like this:

**************************SPOILER ALERT************************

The book’s title itself is a great teaser, as one naturally thinks of horror fiction as incorporating “gore” in the sense of blood and dismemberment. But Citro works in a clever double entendre, as “gore” can also mean a triangular plot of land that is a sort of irregular leftover from roughly orthogonal land division. Indeed, our story takes place in a forested Vermont gore. The novel was first entitled The Unseen, so the title change worked well.

The story starts tragically, as “Lunker” Lavigne sees something in the gore that so disturbs him he commits suicide. We don’t get to learn the identity of what he saw until the end of the book. A variety of characters intersect socially and geographically to investigate the gore’s goings-on.

Citro incorporates two Fortean elements into the novel to create his boogeyman. Native American legends about the “Wild Man of the Woods” are as varied as there are tribes, but one of the more well known is the “Windigo.” This monster is malevolent to be sure, and fits in well in a horror novel. But some of the human characters in the novel can’t be sure of what they saw, and suggest it’s our old friend Bigfoot.

Citro has managed to glean enough from the subculture of Bigfootery to know that some Bigooters, particularly Kathy Strain, have seriously proposed that Native American Wildman legends such as the Windigo are actually derived from a biologically real Bigfoot. It’s amusing to me as a resident of the Pacific Northwest to have witnessed the steady growth of the putative habitat of the Sasquatch from the late 1960’s until the present. Back in the late 1960’s, the dominant Bigfoot advocate argument was that the forests of the Pacific Northwest offered a habitat sufficiently vast and rugged to allow a cryptid megafauna like Sasquatch to evade human detection. But as time went on, reports from areas outside the Pacific Northwest began to come in. This presented a conundrum for the advocates, as the argument from habitat had to be quietly set aside. As one Sasquatch skeptic who posts as “LTC8K6” on the James Randi Educational Forums succinctly put it: “Bigfoot is everywhere, yet nowhere.” Indeed, anecdotal sightings of Sasquatch are now recorded for the entire North American continent. If Bigfooters dismiss sightings from states like Missouri or Kansas out of hand, then the same logic could be applied to sightings in the Pacific Northwest…

As far as the novel goes, Citro is accurately depicting the current state of affairs; people in places like Vermont or New York occasionally report seeing Bigfoot, despite the ludicrous lack of biological evidence for such an animal.

Citro works in the theme of the Underground Railroad, which is of course an historical reality. But that too is the subject of exaggeration and mythology as well. Like all works of fiction, you start with something real, then augment and fine tune it.

Certain story elements didn’t quite work for me, as numerous human characters survive horrific and violent encounters only to recover and go back for more. For me, this had a bit of a Wylie Coyote feel to it, lacking only the Acme anvil. In real life, even a sprained ankle can be deadly out in the woods, yet Citro’s characters survive much worse injuries.

I’m sorry to report that Citro made a glaring technical error on pages 209 and 211 by including a safety on a snub nosed .38.

The dues ex machina of the novel is that the Wendigos are really humans after all, reduced to living in a feral state. Interesting but implausible; I think I would have enjoyed the monsters remaining Windigos.

An even stranger literary genre than Fortean horror fiction are books about Bigfoot “habituation” in which individuals periodically encounter and interact with Sasquatch. Despite the best efforts of individuals like Jeff Meldrum or the producers of TV’s Monserquest to legitimize the oft-mocked topic of Bigfoot, these books push the envelope of credulity to the outer limits. These accounts often become ripe objects of scorn, even within the subculture of Bigfootery itself.

In the end, I’m probably not the best candidate to review a book like The Gore, as I’ve read so much literature on the subject of Bigfoot that Citro’s novel just doesn’t seem that striking to me. The “fringe” of Bigfootery is so vastly weirder and wilder than Citro’s novel that what’s claimed as fact by some outshines even Citro’s fiction.

Thanks again for the book, Jessamyn, the world needs more spontaneous gift giving!

 Posted by on 01/22/2011 Bigfoot, Culture, Opinion Comments Off on The Gore
Jan 082011

I was married for a time back in 2000. My fiancé was Canadian, and decided to move into my house here in Seattle. Thus she had to go through all the rigmarole of getting a green card to reside in the United States legally. At least one part was easy, in that the physical building that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was housed in was right here in Seattle. It’s a grand old building, but it also contained a detention facility. The jail was on the top floor, if I remember correctly.

I remember going down there to obtain the paperwork for Jen to fill out. I arrived first thing in the morning, and even then there was a huge line. Detainees would yell obscene comments through their barred windows at the women below. When I got inside the door, I could see I had to go past a guard and through a metal detector. I knew better than to have brought my Leatherman tool, or any kind of “weapon” at all. There was a fascinating display on the entryway wall of confiscated weapons. Eventually I was inside, and obtained a huge packet of papers that Jen had to fill out. Now the burden was on her.

She dutifully filled out the paperwork, but we had to make a return visit to the INS building for an in-person interview as a couple. I assume this was done to assess whether ours was a “sham marriage” in order to get a non-American into the country. We were interviewed together by a very nice Asian gentleman. This was all pre 9-11, so there was no hard-ass vibe about the process.

The questions were prosaic, and so bland I barely remember them. I think they were very open ended, like “how did you two meet” and “how long have you known each other.” “Who are your mutual friends?” The mere fact that we were interviewed together shows that it was a low-key affair, as in criminal investigations suspects are NEVER interviewed together, despite what you might have seen on TV.

But then things took a strange and surreal turn. I could tell this kindly man didn’t enjoy broaching this subject, and in fact prefaced his question with the statement “I know this is a strange question, but legally I have to ask it.” This one was directed specifically at Jen.

I suspect, but do not know, that it had to do with the fact that when another country is trying to extradite someone, the easiest legal way for the US to allow the extradition is if the immigrant lied about themselves to the INS. So the interviewer asks Jen, the beautiful, mild-mannered red haired gal, if she’s ever committed genocide

It was hard for me to suppress laughter at this moment, and Jen answered honestly, that no, she had never committed genocide. Afterwards, the incident became a running joke between us as we would think up potential alternative responses. “What’s the cut-off number between mass murder and genocide?” “Oh, that business in Bosnia? No, we didn’t call it genocide.” “Are you talking about those Vancouver prostitutes?”

Years later Jen became involved in roller derby, and I was slightly disappointed that her roller derby name wasn’t “Jen-o-cide.” Unfortunately that name was already taken…

A few years ago, the INS moved out of the building, and it’s now being used for artist’s workspaces. Last night I went there to attend Bill Beaty’s Weird Science meeting, held at the new location of the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries. A group of us took a tour of the building. We walked out onto a tiled rooftop which functioned as an outdoor “yard” for the INS detainees. On hot days, some detainees would take blobs of roofing tar and write on the brick walls of the building. Some of the graffiti is still there:

An anti INS sentiment:

 Posted by on 01/08/2011 Personal History Comments Off on The Strange Interview
Jan 062011

Growing up in Missoula, Montana our family didn’t dine at restaurants very often. In fact the number of times that we as a whole family went out to eat I could count on the fingers of one hand…

I didn’t travel much as a child either. The first time I was out of the state of Montana for more than a day was when I visited my grandmother and cousins in Los Angeles during the summer of 1984. This was shortly before my 22nd birthday. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the Mexican food in this exotic new place. I’ve been back to LA a number of times since then, and I’ve never failed to find world class Mexican food almost everywhere I go. I’ve had excellent Mexican food in San Francisco as well.

I moved to Seattle in August of 1987. At the time I had a naïve fantasy that Seattle was a major West Coast metropolis, and so I’d be able to find Mexican food as easily as I did in LA. NOT SO! Way back then, there was no World Wide Web, so you couldn’t just search the Internet for suggestions. Various Seattle hipsters suggested that Mama’s Mexican Kitchen downtown was really good, but I was shocked at how bland it was. To this day I can’t understand how anyone in their right mind thinks that place is any better than Azteca. Have they ever been to Southern California?

For several years I would read the local free tabloids like the Weekly or the Stranger, especially when they published their annual “Best of Seattle” issue. I would dutifully trot off and eat at whatever restaurant they claimed was Seattle’s Best. Inevitably they would serve refried beans, not boiled beans. The refried beans generally tasted like they came from a number 10 can…

Eventually I gave up. It was particularly galling when I would eat at Mexican restaurants far away from Mexico that would have better food than what Seattle had. I’ve had better Mexican food in Toronto than in Seattle!

But hope never dies, and several years ago I found a place in White Center, Taqueria Guaymas, that I thought was quite good. I still hold my head high if I take a guest there. Recently there’s been an explosion of taco carts around Seattle, most of which I haven’t checked out. I have it on good authority that there are a number of them that are quite decent.

I’ve known that there was a Mexican restaurant literally a few blocks away from where I live for some time now, but I’d never bothered to check it out. Last weekend a friend of mine whose judgment I trust gave it high praise. Tonight I checked it out, and I can honestly say that it’s the best Mexican food I’ve had in Seattle.

Congratulations Huarachitos Mexican Taqueria! Tonight I had my default dinner which is chicken with mole sauce, and everything was outstanding. Boiled beans instead of number 10 can refried beans. Spanish rice done right which didn’t taste like Rice-a-Roni. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and smothered in one of the best, if not THE best mole sauces I’ve ever had.

I have only two minor complaints. The default appetizer was an interesting mixture of pickled carrot slices and chilies. I was expecting jalapeño peppers, but whatever green chilies they served were quite bland. The bottled hot sauces on the table weren’t particularly hot. Frankly I can hardly fault Huarachitos, as Seattle really doesn’t do HOT. At most Asian places I’ve eaten at 5 stars hot is usually “meh” for me…

Seriously, check this place out! I’ve been on this quest since 1987. Like Jimmy Page during his Song Remains the Same fantasy sequence, I have climbed the mountain and reached the pinnacle. Like Jimmy, I saw into my own soul. I had a culinary epiphany on Epiphany. You can too. If you drive, you will probably have to find parking on the side streets. The address is 5418 MLK Jr. Way S. and the phone is 206-568-3019.

UPDATE: I’m afraid that this restaurant has experienced a major fire, and is now closed:

 Posted by on 01/06/2011 Growing Up In Montana, Opinion Comments Off on The Best Mexican Food in Seattle
Jan 052011

Everyone knows that people, including themselves, can be mistaken. Our egos get bruised when we are confronted with our own mistakes of memory, and we often secretly believe that our memory is better than that of others. In day to day life, being mistaken is usually no big deal, but when it comes to the criminal justice system, it becomes a vitally important subject. Just how accurate is eyewitness testimony?

Only quite recently in the history of psychology has this phenomenon been studied in a careful and scientific way. One of the most well known researchers on the subject is Elizabeth Loftus. In the course of Loftus’ research, she went as far as to introduce false memories into test subjects; fortunately the false memories were of a benign nature!

Skeptics often point to the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, as much of what constitutes “fringe science” is based on eyewitness accounts of transient phenomena.

I believe that it’s important for anyone seeking to develop their own critical thinking skills to learn about the phenomenon of false memory. While there is now a great deal of information available on the Internet and in various books and magazines, I should like to offer a simple test that anyone can do that should really drive the point home.

As an aside, I’d like to share how I discovered this. It was quite by accident. Back in the mid to late 1970’s VCRs were expensive and uncommon. Hollywood resisted distributing movies on tape for years. In many cases, the only way you could see a film more than once was either if it was shown on television, or else if it became a “cult” movie and shown at midnight in a theater.

I remember seeing the movie Tommy when it was originally released. At the time, I was really only familiar with the song Pinball Wizard, which was a big radio hit. As time went on, I became a huge fan of The Who, and bought as many of their albums as I could. Several years after its original release, Tommy was re-released as a midnight movie. I waited anxiously to see it, and would re-play certain scenes in my mind’s eye again and again. I remember being particularly taken by the hang-gliding scene during the song Sensation.

When I was watching the film the second time, the song Sensation came on, and I was shocked to realize that my memory of the scene was quite different from what was actually on the film! At the time I was quite shaken by this experience, and had no resources available to understand how or why this had happened to me. Back in the 1970’s there was no World Wide Web, and no popular literature on the subject, at least that I knew of. I don’t know if the term “false memory” was even in use back then.

As I said earlier, people often secretly believe that their memory of events is superior to that of other people. It’s easy to see when other people make mistakes of memory, but it’s much tougher to accept that one’s own memory is not infallible. But it’s my opinion that realizing one’s one infallibility is a much better learning tool than simply seeing the phenomenon in others. The trick is to do it in a relatively painless way.

Now that most of us have either a DVD player, Internet access or both, it’s easy to perform the following simple self-test. Just pick your favorite film or TV show episode, hopefully one you have watched multiple times. Pick a scene that you feel you know well. Now, write down or at least make mental notes of certain details of a technical nature. What exactly was the character wearing? What position was the camera in? Did the camera move, or was it static? Did character X move right or left during the scene? Where was character X positioned in relation to character Y? While on the bridge of the Enterprise, did Kirk’s evil duplicate in the episode “The Enemy Within” have scratches on the right or left side of his face?

When I saw the movie Tommy the second time, the mental picture I had of Tommy hang gliding differed markedly from what was actually on the film in both the distance and angle from the camera. I’ll bet your memory is good, but I’ll also bet it’s not perfect, and that’s the point. If you’re like me, you will think you know your TV or movie scene perfectly, but you will not.

Advocates of various “fringe sciences” often buttress their claims by appeals to the good moral character or high-status job of the witness. The reality is that human perception and memory is simply not a function of one’s character or job description. My hope is that my simple thought experiment should demonstrate that “if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

 Posted by on 01/05/2011 Science 2 Responses »
Jan 012011

I left pharmacy for good in 2002. Since then when I meet people I inevitably get asked, usually with some degree of amazement, why I did such a thing. Being a pharmacist is seen by most people as classy, high paying job with a reasonable degree of social status. Why would I give that up?

Usually my responses are vague and perfunctory. My basic theory is there are at least two subjects that people don’t like hearing about; descriptions of dreams, and job discontents. For years I’ve thought of writing down all the little things that added up to my decision to leave pharmacy forever. I thought it might act as sort of a purgative, a way to get rid of the bad memories. But in the end, I decided this would be counter-productive, as I would probably come across as a bitter and disgruntled person.

But there’s one pharmacy story that’s bigger than my own personal discontent, and I think it’s striking enough to write down. It’s a wild story, and if you find yourself skeptical about my claims, I invite you to ask other pharmacists who worked in the South Seattle or Burien areas during the late 80’s and early 90’s for their own accounts. I’m quite confident that you would get a very similar story.

Our story is one of corruption. Corruption that goes on for years, corruption which everyone knows about and about which nothing is done. Our story is about a corrupt doctor. I’ll call him Victor Charlie, as I’d rather avoid becoming embroiled in libel litigation.

First off, I worked for a local pharmacy chain in the late 80’s and early 90’s called Pay ‘n Save. They are no longer in business, as I believe they were bought out by Payless in about 1994. I was promoted from being a staff pharmacist at Westwood Village in West Seattle to head pharmacist at a store in Burien. At the time, I was the youngest head pharmacist in the chain.

I had filled some prescriptions for Doctor Victor Charlie in West Seattle, so I knew a little bit about him. But when I got to Burien, the number of prescriptions I was filling for him probably increased by a factor of five or six, as his office was literally just up the street.

Now at this point, I need to make clear that some of this story is information I gained second-hand, and some is direct and personal. I was told, but did not know for a fact, that VC’s office was also his home, and that his “secretary” was his wife.

VC was not allowed to prescribe controlled substances. This is an indication of the power of the DEA, a Federal agency, which issues licenses to Doctors which allow them to prescribe controlled substances. Even before I worked in Burien, I heard wild tales of why VC’s DEA license had been stripped. Again, the stories were so outrageous that I was skeptical of them. So over time, I began asking as many pharmacists as I could whether the stories were true. Indeed, to a person, they would all describe the same scenario. Evidently, during VC’s heyday, he would simply write three prescriptions for each and every patient that he saw, regardless of their medical condition or lack thereof. Prescription one was for a pint bottle (473ml) of Tussionex. Prescription two was for 100 ten milligram Valium tablets. Prescription three was for 100 Percodan or Percocet tablets. I know this sounds like a complete whopper of a tale, as the abuse pattern is obvious. But as I say, I spoke to numerous pharmacists, and they all told me the same thing, right down the particular drugs and quantities.

Well, the “patients” of Doctor VC had to get their scripts filled somewhere, and so to the local pharmacies they went. I was told by the same pharmacists that VC’s clients would be literally standing in line outside the various pharmacies in South Seattle to get their scripts filled first thing in the morning as the stores opened.

Needless to say, abuse on this scale raises red flags immediately with any moral individual, and soon enough the DEA stripped VC’s license to prescribe controlled substances. Amazingly enough though, he still retained his Washington State Medical License!

By the time I came onto the scene, VC still had an active State License, and was still prescribing drugs. But now he had figured out his Great Loophole. He found a buzz drug which was not a controlled substance! This was the magical Soma, whose generic name is carisoprodol. If you have received spam e-mail mentioning “Soma” and wondered why, now you know. For some odd reason, the DEA did not classify it as a controlled substance, even though it’s a highly euphoric downer. I see by the Wikipedia article on carisoprodol that the legal status has now changed, but again I’m talking about the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

VC prescribed nothing but Soma. His prescriptions all read “Soma #C i TID” then his signature on the “substitution permitted” line. On ONE occasion as a pharmacist, I saw him write a script for HCTZ for a woman. I flat out told the gal what VC was all about. I suspect she had no idea he was a corrupt scumbag, and blundered into him by chance. I suggested she find another doctor.

At this point our story gets ugly, as the raw and corrupt nature of the situation comes to light. Almost all of VC’s clients were on welfare or DSHS, as it’s known here in Washington. The claim that I heard second hand, but could not verify directly, was that DSHS would not reimburse VC for client visits, and so VC would have to charge his legion of scrotes actual cash money for their office visits. Right there, if true it proved corruption and abuse by ALL his DSHS clients, as a genuine and legitimate welfare client wouldn’t pay out of pocket for an office visit.

But the deal was, DSHS would reimburse the pharmacies for the DRUGS THEMSELVES! And here I will publicly admit my shame in participating in this corruption. As a pharmacist, I had a legal right to refuse to fill VC’s scripts. But I didn’t. Why not? Because I had a strong intuition that If I did so, VC would complain to the higher-ups at Pay ‘n Save, and that Pay ‘n Save wouldn’t back me up.

Virtually ALL of VC’s clients were on DSHS. The taxpayers of Washington State were being ripped off for thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars each year, just so the clients of VC could get high. In just the 2 years or so I worked at the Burien location, I must have dispensed 100,000 hits of generic Soma from VC, all billed to DSHS and the taxpayers of Washington.

As a weird aside, all of this was occurring before the World Wide Web. VC had hundreds of clients, seemingly all the human garbage of South King County on his Rolodex. It continuously amazed me how sheer word-of-mouth power was able to connect so many individuals into a gigantic drug-scrote network.

For years after I left pharmacy, I couldn’t even read stories on the Internet about new drugs or medical treatments. It brought back too much negative emotional baggage. I’m mostly over that now, but from time to time, you hear about some horrific human tragedy that occurs because Washington DSHS dropped the ball. Well, I’m here to tell you that DSHS knew perfectly well about the egregious corruption of VC which went on for YEARS, and did nothing about it. And the Washington Board of Medicine was also to blame, as they too did NOTHING. Both of them were taxpayer-funded agencies of flaccid, impotent, castrated eunuchs.

I left Pay ‘n Save in 1992 to go on the road as a sideshow performer. I did that until 1994 when I became a pharmacist again. By this time Pay ‘n Save had been bought out and I was employed elsewhere. Sometime in 1994 or 1995 I received a memo in the interoffice mail that VC’s Washington State Medical License had finally been stripped! As a gag, I called him up and asked him about it. I asked him what to do if I got one of his prescriptions. He claimed he was fighting his battle in court, and that his prescriptions were still valid…

Using the power of the Internet, this afternoon I googled VC’s name and discovered that he continued to prescribe Soma and another drug called Nubain after the board had stripped his license! Indeed, according to court documents, his “clinic” was adjacent to his house. The police set up a sting operation, and VC’s property was seized when drugs were found in his residence and “clinic.” You would think that this would shut the guy down for good, but amazingly enough, he and his wife beat the asset forfeiture rap in court!

The cynicism I have about certain aspects of the medical establishment and the abuse of the welfare system is still hard to shuck. When I read that Michael Jackson’s doctor had not been stripped of his California Medical license even after Jackson’s autopsy verdict came back as homicide, I wasn’t really that surprised…

 Posted by on 01/01/2011 Opinion, Personal History 1 Response »