Friday, January 11, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part 13.2)

Interviews with Shamans, Part Four.

Interview with Ron Wheelock, Part Two.

Meeting Ron Wheelock, Gringo Shaman

Most houses in the area outside Iquitos are cobbled together from scrap wood, discarded sheets of corroded tin nailed, more or less, into something boxish to create a family dwelling space, something the residents can call home. Some times the roof is braided palm fronds laid like shingles, one length overlapping the other, to keep some of the rain out, to keep birds from dropping in from the sky, to keep out the direct sunlight. More or less. The walls are sometimes mud brick, the mortar oozing down in sharp-edged clumps one must be careful to avoid for fear of cuts and infections, if not to worry about disturbing the nesting places of spiders and lizards and small black parasites that squiggle madly when they drop into ones soup, waterborne creatures that live forever undrowned yet unable to climb out of the bowl and back into niches and crannies in the darkness. Who knows what one steps on or steps in as one makes ones way across the dirt floor trod continuously by men and beasts and birds and bats and bugs. Rat droppings, dead bug shells, piss, mosquito-breeding pools in dim-lit corners, moldy blankets, discarded food the dog chews on and tosses up only to eat it again, and garbage. All enclosed in a cozy, homey house of boards yanked out the mud and hastily nailed up on the sly before anyone comes to claim them, long red thick boards and thin short white boards, and broken ended unpainted boards, it don't make no nevermind when one is providing ones family with a home off the roadside dirt-track of massive wide and imagination deep pools of creamy mud that sucks ones shoes from ones feet and mud that clings like leaches to the skin and hair and clothes one destroys in walking. This mud eats, as surely as any predator in the selva; and it eats concrete quick. There so few stones, so little gravel, that all is soft and gooey and slick as one make ones way from the dust to the greasy mud to wherever; and surrounding it all, sprouting from every sliver of space is the green of growth, vegetable exiles of the jungle trapped in close cracks between bricks, huddled in clumps by deep tyre tracks, trampled over beside doorways, locked out from the greater green. Comes the darkening sky and the pelting rain and the rise of the water in flood and fury running down and grooving and sweeping away all that falls till at last there stands in silent defeat the heaps of the dead and long forgotten in muddy biers rotting under reproachful black wood trees and screaming lime leaves. One mounts the ridges between tyre tracks in hope of remaining upright on the slick mud path to the house where the Gringo resides, a different kind of place, a different kind of man, house resident rather than one living there like the trees and the snakes and the vines all twisting toward the light. Squeezing between cracked shacks slumped in the muck and plodding gentle down dark ways in the tangled wood one comes to the light space surrounding the house of curandero Wheelock. The light shines on the paving stones and the broad tree datura leaves and household wares stored up side the house. The house's thin wooden frame door invites a knock. Wheelock calls to enter in. A look. A glance. This man's house and home. My mother would approve.

In the jungle of overgrowth and decay and constant death and striving for food and life and space one enters in to Wheelock's home to find a space so at odds with the shacks of the villagers' razor thin rays of light passing between them, one place fair mingled with another as if to be a foot apart is fear itself, one finds in Wheelock's living room the wide open spaces of Kansas, the flat floor tiled earth tones, the hand-hewn beams painted startling white and shiny. No partitions, no high rising impediments to sight, no crammed jumbles of hoarded goods piled and forbidding. There are no obvious hidden things in secret places. One could rollerblade in Wheelock's living room and have space to fly and fall and land in large leather overstuffed chairs and couches spread apart so far one has to shout across the spotless, dustless, clear clean distance from man to man. This is Kansas in something of a nutshell. Kansas as Wheelock is fly-over country in something of a nutshell.

Wheelock's living room is close to 40 square metres of polished tile and wide open spaces that opens into the kitchen organised for convenience and practicality and good use, like a fine farmhouse. Jars of stuff I don't inquire into, pots sparkling and spotless, cupboards closed and clean, a bright, a nice, a middle class place for an American man to live in peacefully. And beyond the kitchen, at the far other side, almost out of sight, a low space enclosed, a light shining through the chicken wire cage wherein are roosters or chickens or some such birds, penned and safe from predators, or laying eggs or some farm thing I can't no longer recall 'cause the chef does my cooking and I don't know anymore about stuff like killing to eat. Having peeked to see enough, having used the small and deliberate bathroom functional and clean and nary a trace of self-indulgence but to be clean, I enter again the domain of Wheelock, taking my seat away from him in a large black leatherette armchair, easy to clean in this humidity, my own leather jacket mouldering daily, wiped and shined and next day grey and damp and sickly.

I spoke with Wheelock, let him do the talking as I listened without taking notes that would give away my devious game. I am not a journalist, though, not committed to my crusade to tell the whole awful truth on a daily basis and to hell with the damned by their own words and my righteous indignation as I silently cheer my scoops and their devastation. Wheelock said and I listened and I remember. I remember cringeing as he spoke and told the truth and how the truth he told flopped like flightless birds at the snake pit at Quistacocha zoo where anacondas lazed in the gloom till they struck stricken chickens. He told me things I can't believe he told me. I'm not Wheelock's babysitter, and I cannot protect him from those who would, given any chance to feast, strike at him and wrap his words in their suffocating grip to drown and devour. Wheelock is on his own; but I am not a snake, last I looked. I know what he said, and better yet, I know the language he used and what it means. Better yet still, I know the kind of man and what the man he means to me. I won't say what he said because twisted men would twist his words and make him suffer for it before they dragged him down to drown. I'll tell the truth about Ron Wheelock.

We sat in overstuffed black chairs under a sparkling white wood beam ceiling, our feet resting on golden brown tiles running on to pristine clay brick walls that make this house whole, and talked about home.

I've spent my life among books and blood and gibbering idiocy and universal genius; I've traveled from Jerusalem to Damascus, from Alaska to Manhattan; I've known Bach and Kant and Weil and Novalis. I've known love as screaming bleeding hungry hatred; and life as nothing more than a moment ended in shuddering agony and the long grief of soulless survival. Wheelock smoked a lot of pot. He rode in cars with laughing buddies and saw the spider web cables of sheet lightening spread for miles across the black Kansas night, empty beer bottles bumping against each other on the floor of the back seat, and the hypnotic hum of the road and the white lines of the Interstate Highway passing barbed wire fences nailed to gnarled, withered posts atilt on the slopes of the treeless prairie berms to take pizzas to Joey's house to get high and screw some girls and play electric guitars till the sun comes up and sleep descends till it's time to get up and make the bed and I know you don't care that you live like dogs but this place looks like shit and you should have some respect for yourself, and to wash up the dishes and sweep the floor and make some money tending the pot plants till it all comes crashing down and ends in prison and a record for life. I look at Wheelock and I see my grandfather's face, gentle and peaceful and somewhat wondering but not too much because there is work to do. I cannot for the life of me spot a printed word in Wheelock's house. He speaks, and I hear the driven boy hearing the driven professor say: “You're smart enough, but you're illiterate.” Wheelock talks, and his words are those of those I left when I left the mountains for the world and lost my home.

'If'n ya don' know what the fuck, then please shut the fuck up,' as I see myself walking across the room of the third floor of the apartment at the university where a tall blond from my department has thrust her luxury coat at my wife and left the girl standing there embarrassed as I take it from her hand and toss it out the window where it hangs out of reach caught in tree branches below and everyone stares and the blond says, “It seems I've made a faux pas,” a general laughter forced across the room very quietly among the stunned, the blossoming career of Dr. Dag as hung up in the trees as any old rag upon a stick. 

Wheelock says: “I said I would.”

He says: “I paid off my house.” “I kept my word.” “I worked....”

He says: “They say we come from the land of the free, but Ah ain't never got nuthin' for free. Ah hadda gotta pay for ever thang Ah ever got. Ah gots ta pie for mah VEE-hickle...” and so on it goes, and I go home, back to the mountains where I gots to pay for stuff or I don't get none, and that's the truth where I come from and where Wheelock lives, though this is a foreign nation to some homosexual vegetarian animal rights activists who might be able to talk about Peter Singer, a fool I spoke with at great and deep length and whom I know too well. “If I ain't got the money, I wait and save it up till I gots it.”

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. I think America is gone off the map and that we live in a jungle somewhere.

Wheelock told Walker about stuff about family things, and you don't have any right to know. I know, and that's likely why he told me. If you know, then I don't have to tell you.

I could hear every word Wheelock said, though we were very far apart, his chairs spread wide across the room, and he told me about a boy from back home come to visit and out at a restaurant where the boy burped and farted and every time he did he's say “eshucha.” Wheelock finally got fed up, he said, as people all turned to hear the boy, and he told him that because the word might sound like the Spanish version of “excuse me” it means instead, “Listen.” I could hear it coming because I know that kind of joke. In turn I told a joke I wrecked so badly that there were no survivors among the litter of words that fell half dumb from my mouth. Could write it out, but it would take another page and it would likely only appeal to those who get elaborate puns in Attic Greek, not those who write AUTOCHTHONOUS,* (a neologism (1845)) rather than the word any self-respecting Classical Athenean intellectual** would use instead, chthonic, for example. But this is not Wheelock's world, a world where he bought his mother a VEE-hicle, (which I pronounce as he does and I don't care) that he insisted be in his name as well as hers so his step-brothers don't take it if anything should happen to the mother in her eighties because Wheelock paid for that vehicle and they ain't go no right to take it that ain't they'ern.

There are those who don't get it what “Mine” means. They don't know.

And about those fighting chickens? I never asked, but Wheelock felt compelled, though he had no idea why I would wonder, to tell. I waited till he told me.

I will write this about the fighting cocks Wheeler goes to America to buy and brings to Peru to train to be fighters, his training as good as one can give, his desire to have not only the best but to make money from winning, to gain respect for his effort and skill, much as he needs to get money and respect from making the best ayahausca in Peru. So there it is. There's nothing to add.

Wheelock told and I listened and here I report some of what I heard. Others might tell what I won't, and Wheelock might well tell. I'm not a babysitter. Wheelock is on his own.

I haven't hinted at the kind of man Wheelock is: it's as clear as a summer Kansas sky. This is not to suggest that it will make any sense to those who don't know what America is about. This is not to say that more than half of Americans won't be bewildered by the man. More than half will see nothing but a man they would attack and harm for being the kind of American they think they are supposed to hate. I do think it more than passing strange that those who would hate Wheelock and harm him are those more likely to want ayahuasca from him than those who would sit as guests in Wheelock's living room and chat up the man for hours with next to no interest in drinking ayahuasca at all, not with him or any other shaman of the jungle at Iquitos, Peru.

About the man, I said what I said about what he said about stuff about him, his life, his family, our nation; and I keep much of the rest locked away 'cause it's much about him as it's much about me because we are very much alike, him and me, and you ain't got no right to know it if'n you don't know it.

There is more to this story than what I've told so far. It might be that I won't be welcome back to Wheelock's house again because of what I've written so far. If, though, the man will have me in again for conversation I hope next time to write at length about Wheelock the shaman and the best ayahausca on earth. “It's not always only about the ayahuasca,” he says, “It's also about the person who leads the ceremony.” Now we know the man. Or we don't.

Next, Wheelock's ayahuasca.

* AIDESEP worker December 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm

 **For a lengthy discussion of the term intellectual and the concept of, please refer to my upcoming book, A Genealogy of Left Dhimmi Fascism, Vol. V: "Intellectuals, Nazi Intellectuals, and Plato." (2013)


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