[In the last show recorded in Maui Rich Zubaty tells travel adventures from the Peruvian Jungle that illustrate life in "corporate-free" zones.]
This is the Rude Guy. Actually… that’s a lie. This is Rich Zubaty, pinch-hitting for the Rude Guy. He’s camped out on a seaside cliff on the north shore of Maui, with his guitar and a huge bag of chicken guts… sitting there with his feet dangling over the cliff, singing and strumming the Impeach Bush Blues song, tossing chicken livers down to a school of nurse sharks, churning the dark blue wavetops 50 feet below. He tells me he’s getting the locals READY for an official Bush-Cheney visit to the island, if you wanna believe that…But this is our last show from Maui before we pack up and fly off to Chicagoland, and points unknown, so MY guess is he’s just communing with the spirits of the ocean, cause it’ll be a LONG time before we’re back here.
This week I’m gonna read another excerpt from my book, The Corporate Cult. That book is mostly about how corporations invade our minds and our lives, and have taken over our schools and governments, like a bizarre cult. Like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Remember that movie? That’s what happened to us. We’ve been invaded by a corporate cult. And as I ramble on and on about how corporations have taken over YOUR brain, and YOUR thoughts, and what YOU could do to change that, I find it soothing to break away once and awhile, like changing the rhythm of a song, and tell a personal travel story, from what I call a CORPORATE-FREE zone. A place where people have lived just fine, thank you, without corporations, for 2.2 million years, and counting. Places like Mexico, Tonga, India and Peru.
This week’s story is from a trip I made to Peru in the early 1970s. It goes like this:
AFTER A FULL DAY gliding down the Huallaga River, in an outboard-driven balsa log canoe, we pull ashore at dusk where a clear stream spills out of the dark jungle. The Peruvian boatmen tell me we have arrived at Zion – the Promised Land – a dozen palm leaf huts encircling a central “mowed” square, and one small cantina where boatmen drink cane liquor and pass the night. It’s magic. I feel like I’m walking around in prehistory. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a brontosaurus grazing in the mist on the far shore of the river.
I rent a bamboo shack for ten dollars a month from a family of Indians who live on a small farm outside of town. Three adult brothers, their parents, wives and children. They keep the shack in town for those monthly occasions on which Tomas Jr. is obliged to preside as a judge in village affairs: who killed whose pig, whose cow broke someone’s fence, that kind of thing. This family moved down from the highlands to take advantage of a government program, offering them free land in the jungle, the montaña, the headwaters of the Amazon River. They migrated from the cold barren Peruvian altiplano, to these warmer wetter hills, where there was more risk of disease, but where they could slash and burn to their hearts content – stooping to plant corn seeds, by hand, in the thin layer of ashes around charred, toppled tree trunks, on sun-seared hillsides.
Sometimes I visit their farm where we mash purple maize in a big hollow log, and ferment it into corn beer chicha. They possess only four manufactured items: shotguns, metal pots, machetes, and woven cloth. The father of the family, 60-year-old Tomas, sleeps on a large black hunk of bark next to the fire. One day I see him watching some jet contrails far overhead. “That’s a jet plane,” I say alertly. “I know,” he says. “My daughter is a stewardess, and every time I see a jet go over I wonder if she’s up there on that one.”
Ramon, the youngest of the three brothers reflexively hates my guts. I don’t know why. He’s rude and nasty to me. I figure he despises me for being a “rich” American. After a few weeks I discover that Ramon’s wife recently died of disease, leaving him with a year-old baby that his sister-in-law takes care of. I finally figure out he’s mad at the world, and I just happen to be a handy target.
So… I give him my beat-up Levi jacket. One of his sisters-in-law takes the jacket down to the stream, and beats it on the rocks to clean it. The next time I see Ramon he’s in the cantina drinking and joking with the boatmen – and my old Levi jacket has not looked so bright and clean since the day I got it. Ramon flings a smile my way. I’m glad to see him happy, and I figure that’s the end of that.
I’M ALWAYS BOTHERING the brothers to take me pig hunting. I want to go into the deep jungle and I’m afraid to go there alone. Jaguars, poisonous snakes, who knows what kind of trouble I could get into? The brothers know the tracks and signs of possible danger, and would be able to protect me. Plus I know they shoot monkeys, and I want to taste monkey meat. So, over and over and over again, I ask them to take me along sometime, but they always change the subject. Every week or so I walk the jungle trail out to the farm to bug them some more, about taking me hunting. Usually I find only Old Tomas, his wife, the daughters-in-law and kids. The three brothers are gone hunting. Clearly, they consider me dead weight, and don’t want to be bothered taking me along. It’s not going to happen.
Then one day the oldest brother, Melatone, asks me if I want to go with them to “Al Centro”. I figure they are making a trip to a neighboring village and at least I can tag along for a small adventure and see something new. “Sure,” I say. But I want to know more about this village called Al Centro – The Center. “Are there many people there?” “No, not too many,” sez Melatone…Let’s see. The pigs and cows run free in our little village. There are no fences because the domesticated animals have absolutely NO desire to go running off into the jungle, where there are jaguars and snakes. In fact, every house has a knee-high “pig-sill” in the doorway so the pigs can’t run into your house and steal your food. “Are there many pigs in Al Centro?” I ask. “Si,” sez Melatone, “lots of pigs.” What else? “Cows? Are there any cows?” “No, no cows.” Hmmm. It must be a pretty small town. I wonder if there’s a store there. “Tobacco? Can I buy tobacco?” Melatone shakes his head. No tobacco. OK. I better bring some along. “Claro…When do we leave?” “Mañana.” “What time?” “Temprano.”
Next morning I’m back at the farm at daybreak with a pouch of tobacco and a pocket knife. The three brothers and I push off in a tippy balsa canoe. They paddle upriver, stepping out to shove the canoe over the rocks when the water gets too shallow. Parrots squabble in the high canopy, large animals crash through the brush along the shore, FINALLY I’m out in the jungle. We leave the main river and head upstream into a small tributary, where the going gets tougher. They pole and push the canoe further and further upstream, until there’s too little water. We stash the dugout under some branches and get out to walk.
I’m looking forward to an exciting jungle trek – an expedition into the jaws of the jungle. But there’s a problem. I’m wearing gym shoes, and THEY are going barefoot. As we plunge quickly up and down a series of gullies carved out by streams, I get sand inSIDE my shoes. The brothers move like PANTHERS, scurrying across fallen logs that span the deeper ravines, and I huff and puff to keep up. But the constant pressure and motion of the sand inSIDE my shoes, grates against my feet like sandpaper, peeling off layers of skin. My feet are raw and red-hot with pain. I’m wincing and whining and the brothers ROLL their eyes, confirmed in their suspicion, that this weak gringo would slow them down. After a solid hour of torture we arrive at a jungle clearing with a tiny hut, a couple friendly dogs, and hundreds of cooking banana trees. I collapse outside the hut and immediately rip off my shoes, rubbing my flaming feet. “Where are we?” I ask.
“Al Centro.” sez Melatone.
I choke a laugh. THIS is Al Centro? Al Centro is not someplace, it’s No Place. It’s not the center of town, it’s the center of nowhere, the center of the jungle. To these Peruvians the center of things is not Lima or New York City; it’s the heart of the jungle – that fertile, abundant cornucopia of plant and animal life, LEAST disturbed by human hands.
The younger brothers go off to trim dead banana leaves and harvest some cooking bananas. Melatone makes a fire and puts on a pot to boil. I find a thick piece of bark and lay down. Great. My feet still hurt, but at least the problem isn’t getting ANY worse. I take a nap. Melatone wakes me up to eat some boiled bananas. The sun is getting low in the sky. I’m ready to settle in for the night. When we finish eating the three brothers stand ABRUPTLY and say, “Come on. Let’s go.”
What? Why? I can’t believe it.
Muttering fretfully I lace my shoes and we plod into the inkblot of prehistory. At high noon it was twilight under the canopy and now it’s carbon black – no moon, no stars, black as the bottom of our cook pot. I stumble forward on my crying feet. I never want to go hunting again… We walk for an hour and see a light. As we approach the house in the clearing an old man and five daughters come forward shyly. I’m exhausted and throbbing all over with pain. They invite us into the house and I collapse on my belly in the middle of the floor. I’m bleary, barely conscious of anything but my aching feet. I glance up and see the brothers take seats on a stack of logs at one end of the house. The old man and his daughters take seats on a similar stack of logs at the other end. I’m dead to the world, sprawled on the dirt floor BETWEEN the two clans. And I’m really pissed off at the brothers for dragging me here.
The two groups begin talking in their singsong blend of Aymara/Spanish – Indian nouns and Spanish verbs. What they say shocks me into paralysis. I CAN’T move. They laugh a little about the gringo passed out on the floor between them, and then launch into a formal conversation, that compels me to remain face, flat on the floor, for FEAR of interrupting them.
“Everyone knows you are a fine family of men who are good husbands and good providers,” says the old man, speaking for his daughters. Tomas Jr., speaking for our group says, “Everyone knows you have fine daughters who are healthy and devoted to raising strong children.” Can this actually be what it SOUNDS like? Ramon is sitting alongside his older brothers in my old, spiffed-up Levi jacket, tense and tight-lipped, saying nothing.
Tomas Jr. and the old man go on and on, praising each other for a long while. The brothers are famous hunters. The girls are shyer than deer, and more beautiful than macaws. Finally the old man asks Tomas Jr. which brother he is speaking on behalf of. Tomas Jr. tips his head at Ramon. Ramon says nothing…”And which of my daughters would you choose?” Ramon whispers into Tomas Jr.’s ear. I’m lying on my stomach, between the groups, trying not to raise my head AN INCH. Trying NOT to interrupt them. Tomas Jr. says a name.
“She’s a fine girl,” says the old man, as one daughter’s eyes bloom big as donuts, and her giggling siblings poke her. The old man continues: “She’s a hard worker, good hips for child bearing…And when will the wedding be?” Tomas Jr. suggests a date, a month off. The girls titter and squirm. The chosen one is radiant. Her father asks her if that would be OK, and she nods her head – yes. After an hour, lying face down in the dirt I lift myself into a sitting position. Someone makes a joke about me. Everyone laughs and stands up. And so, at last, do I.
Obviously Ramon, happy and confident because I gave him a stupid jacket, decided to go ahead and get married again, and I was there to see the deal go down. We walk back to the banana plot in the pitch dark and my feet even hurt a little less, after witnessing this astounding betrothal.
IN THE MISTY PREDAWN, as gangs of parrots swoop overhead, and the wakening jungle echoes with squawks and caws, like a prehistoric subway tunnel, the triumphant younger brothers announce they will take me pig hunting. Tomas Jr. and Ramon round up the dogs, grab the shotgun, and lead the way up a narrow trail through head-high brush. Minutes later the dogs yelp, Tomas barks some command, and both brothers scurry off the trail into the dense undergrowth. I’m too confused to respond and my feet hurt too much to follow. I hear the dogs yelping for a couple minutes and then lose them in a din of whirring insects and battling birds. All of a sudden I realize I’m alone, completely alone – lost – in the Peruvian jungle. Good grief. Would the brothers be able to find me again? Would I get bit by a poisonous, flying tree snake? Chased by a jaguar? I don’t even have a knife. What was I thinking? PIG hunting? I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m doing out here.
I spin around and survey the jungle, trying to find some markers. Something catches my eye in the distance. Something moving. It’s Melatone, creeping along the stream bank, feeling under the muddy undercut, grabbing fish with his BARE hands and tossing them on the shore. Incredible. I thought fishing was something you did with a hook and line, or maybe a bow and arrow, not with your bare hands. And more incredibly, I know that even though Melatone is not looking at me, he’s keeping an eye on me. He knows exactly where I am. He isn’t going to risk offending me, by making it obvious he’s watching over me, but there’s no way he’s going to chance letting their good-luck-gringo, perish in the jungle. I wander down the hillside, stupidly, cautiously, stepping over fallen logs, pausing to examine purple orchids, looking for snakes, acting deliberate, paying attention to where I’m going.
I sit down on the smooth, hot stones and watch Melatone fish. He says nothing. He doesn’t even look at me. Men in this culture allow each other a certain psychic space, that is rarely even acknowledged in our culture. Sometimes, when we sit around the campfire listening to a story, the storyteller will pause mid-sentence. His mind will drift away for a minute or two – UNinterrupted by the listeners – and after a silent while, he will return and pick up the story, right where he left off. Why??? Maybe he’s refreshing his memory. Or letting the “SPIRITS speak to him”. Or maybe he’s just waiting for the listeners to catch up with the story – to paint the images, and echo the sounds, inside their own heads. All I know, is that this respectful silence creates a conversational atmosphere, different than any I have ever known, anywhere else – where the meaning is evocative and personal, and communicates much much more than the sum of the words.
When Melatone is done feeling along the bank, he picks up a throw net and begins tossing it onto the lazy current. With each cast he brings up a few tiny “fish” he calls carachama. They’re fish all right, but they look more like sparkplugs with tails. A “missing link” between lobsters and fish? Flat white undersides and rock-hard rounded shells – armored precursors of modern bony fish. Creatures older than dinosaurs.
Shuffling between splotches of sunlight, splashing down through the canopy, I follow Melatone as he wades the stream, throwing his net, dropping the carachamas in a woven bag. Every once in awhile I see him stop, and cock his head. I listen with all my might, but I can’t hear ANYthing except random bird-calls. He, however, is either hearing or sensing something. It dawns on me that Melatone has a “sixth sense” which enables him to perceive phenomena, outside the reach of our normal senses. Maybe I’m just romanticizing, but even if I’m wrong, he’s certainly evaluating sounds that are IMperceptible to me. Could a certain bird call tell him that his brothers have just crossed a ridge and plunged into the valley behind it? Would a pocket of silence hold some message?
I ask him if he ever sees other people out here. He arches his brows and looks at me strangely. “You wouldn’t call them ‘people’,” he tells me. What? Here’s the most primitive man I have ever hung out with, telling me there are other humans out here, in Al Centro – but I wouldn’t consider them human? What does he mean? “What do you call them?” I ask. “The Shadow People.” “Do you ever see them?” “The most we ever see is a shadow moving behind a tree or a bush.” He flutters his hand to give a slight impression of movement. Wow! Someone else is living out here, and they want absolutely NO contact with anyone else. Good thinking.
The brothers come back a couple hours later toting a wild pig, and a thin-limbed black monkey. We walk back to camp where Melatone builds a huge fire and throws all the game into it – whole! – NOT gutted or cleaned – pig, monkey, carachamas. I can’t believe it. Don’t these guys care ANYthing about cooking? The burning hair of the pig makes an awful stink. We pluck the tiny hard-shelled fish out of the coals, after they have been roasting on their backs for awhile, and suck out the flesh. Outstanding. They taste like fresh water baby lobsters.
When the monkey has cooked for half an hour, Ramon breaks off an arm and hands it to me. Burnt blackened hair, covering the charred skin, of a doll’s arm. I peel back the skin and take a bite. It tastes like nothing, absolutely nothing, like the skin on the inside of my mouth, like ME! One bite is enough. It’s too human. I don’t want any more. Tomas Jr. drops the charred creature on a banana leaf “table” and scowls at me. That night we feast on boiled bananas and carachamas, those delicious, fresh-water, fish/lobsters. I want to cut through the blackened hide of the pig, to have a taste, but they say no. NO NO NO. That will have to wait.
Next morning the brothers zip through the banana grove trimming more dead leaves, and harvesting three more bunches of cooking bananas, that must weigh over 100 pounds each. By noon they strap the huge clumps of bananas onto their backs, using woven belts, stretched across their foreheads, hoist the blackened pig and monkey under their arms, and scurry briskly up and down the sandy gullies, hurtling themselves, and their heavy loads, across slick log bridges, arriving mid-afternoon back at the canoe. We pole and push our way downstream – this time there’s too much weight in the canoe, so I have to get out and walk the rocky shallow spots – and by nightfall we are back at the farm eating roast pig, and boiled bananas, with the women and kids.
The pig is a day old by now, and has not spoiled in the jungle heat. Why? Because they cooked it whole – never puncturing the skin – charring the hair and hide, so that flies and microbes had no interest in boring beneath the leathery ash, to see what might be there. That’s why they’d tossed it into the fire whole, and why they hadn’t let me cut off a piece the night before.
The wives and kids are happy. Ramon glows as he recounts the success of his betrothal. We had headed off to some “town” called Al Centro, and returned three days later with meat, bananas, and the promise of a bride.
Thirty years later that adventure still lives vividly in my brain. Why? The sights, the smells, the sounds are the raw material of soul… Soul… But that’s a topic for another show.
A guy named Tom from Santa Barbara said to keep up the shows about men and spiritual stuff… glad to hear that… OK, we’ll try.
And, we just got another incredibly generous one hundred dollar donation from Jason L. in Massachusetts. I guess it’s true. People don’t read. They’d rather download these shows and play them in their cars. And they’re happy to go to www.therudeguy.com, and make a donation, to help us keep making shows … OK. We’re getting the message. We’ll try to keep ‘em coming. This is Rich Zubaty sitting in for… ah… the sharkman returneth.
[start Rude Guy voice] Yeah, me and my little shark-finned buddies are all ready for Bush and Cheney now. Ha ha ha
[ Rich Zubaty voice] Well, you’re here. Wanna do the ending?
[Rude Guy voice:] Sure… This is the Rude Guy. We’ll be back….
Stay strong. Don’t let anybody intimidate you. Don’t let anybody shame you. And don’t swim with the sharks. No more bullshit. That’s out motto…. No more BULLssshhhiiittt.
Ahhhh, feels a little better already.