Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Famous Chongo Chuck

The New York Times recently wrote an article on Chongo, a former Yosemite fixture, calling him the "father of big wall climbing." Chongo hasn't climbed in twenty years. He lived in a trailer at Coiler's house for years after getting kicked out of the Valley. He was forced to leave Coiler's and wound up in Sacramento, where he lurks at Pipeworks and with the homeless community there. Why a man who has so little to do with actual climbing is featured in an article about climbing is beyond me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bailout: The Musical

FRAGMENTS FROM BAILOUT! THE MUSICAL featured in the New Yorker written by Ben Greenman

A wallet is on a desk. A DOLLAR BILL pokes his head out.

Let me introduce myself
I’m a dollar bill
Once I was the source
Of unlimited goodwill
People all around the world
Thought I was fantastic
The planet ran on paper
Before it ran on plastic
But now trust in me
Has been badly eroded
Thanks to lousy credit
I’ve been overloaded

Next to him, a CREDIT CARD stirs.

I couldn’t help but overhear
And I have to say I’m shocked
Why the hell would you blame me
And not blame common stocks?
Wasn’t it the market
That fell down on the job
By appealing to the basest
Instincts of the mob?

A STOCK CERTIFICATE rises off the desk nearby and unfolds.

Do you really think
That this bad feeling and rancor
Ever would have happened
If not for the bankers?
They’re the ones who led us
Into rank overextension
The way that they have acted
Is beyond my comprehension

The DOLLAR BILL, the CREDIT CARD, and the STOCK CERTIFICATE squabble. The DOLLAR BILL raises his voice. The STOCK CERTIFICATE threatens the CREDIT CARD. Finally, a nearby CHECKBOOK speaks up.

All of you, stop. Will you, please?
I don’t want to see a fight
The truth is that you all are wrong
And also that you all are right
This fix we’re in, you see
Is unimaginably complex
Monies are all intertwined
Y regresses onto x
Lehman, Merrill, A.I.G.
No one knows a thing, you see
Let’s all relax. Let’s take a rest
The coolest heads can think the best
I have a film I want to show



Let’s go

The CHECKBOOK pulls down a movie screen from the ceiling and, with the CREDIT CARD’s help, starts a projector. An image of Treasury Secretary HENRY PAULSON appears onscreen.

Who’s the old guy?
He looks smart

Shh…the movie’s
About to start


Come now, travel with me
Back to 2001
Remember the big boom?
That was an awful lot of fun
Alan Greenspan warned
About the bursting bubble
He lowered all the interest rates
To try to forestall trouble
That led in turn to a big run
On purchases of real estate
Offset falling stock prices
With property? It all seemed great
But then the subprime borrowers
Started to default
And our proud economy
Began to grind to a halt

The DOLLAR BILL snores.

What the hell?
The dollar’s snoring

Sorry, guys
This movie’s boring

JOHN MCCAIN appears onscreen.

It’s going to get exciting quick
That guy with white hair is a maverick

Onscreen, JOHN MCCAIN speaks.

I’m suspending my campaign
To focus on finance
This is a pressing, dire
Unprecedented circumstance

My friends, I want to tell you
I’ll work until the crisis ends
Nothing is more important
I hope you understand, my friends

The first debate must wait
The economy is failing
And sadly that will mean
Delaying Biden-Palin

BARACK OBAMA objects to the postponement.

What? You’re kidding
You wouldn’t dare
I’m going down to Mississippi
I’ll expect to see you there

I don’t get it at all
My friends? Mississippi?
This movie is weird,
It’s disjointed and trippy

The CHECKBOOK stops the projector.

Come on, man. Don’t stop the show
Dollar can’t shut up, you know

I won’t restart the projector
It’s off for the time being
I want to know that Dollar
Understands the things he’s seeing

I understand—I’m sure I do
A financier once dropped a shoe
The second one was due for dropping
But in the meantime, he kept hopping

I have to say that I’m not sure
I understand your metaphor

This is insane
Let me explain

The CREDIT CARD turns to the DOLLAR BILL and speaks in a soft voice, trying not to lose his temper.

Ben Bernanke
Met a bank he
Didn’t like
Then another
And another
He called Mike
Bloomberg, and Bob Dole
Buffett, Nunn, and Volcker
Bernanke and Paulson then
Set up some very high-stakes poker
They bet that they could patch
The holes in the dike
With half a trillion dollars
And perhaps a small tax hike
They thought that now
Was the time to strike
Ben Bernanke
Met a bank he
Didn’t like

O.K., O.K.
Let’s watch some more
I promise you
That I won’t snore

The CHECKBOOK restarts the movie. In it, President GEORGE W. BUSH is presiding over an emergency meeting.

Let me start by saying
That I don’t understand
A single thing about
The Invisible Hand
Or rates, or banks, or credit
Or mortgages or loans
But I know where my big desk is
And how to use the phones
And that is why I’ve called you
Here this afternoon
We need to fix this problem
And we need to fix it soon
A panic now is creeping
Over city, state, and town
If money isn’t loosened up
This sucker could go down

The group turns to WARREN BUFFET for advice, since he is massively rich.

This economic Pearl Harbor
Has cooled off investors’ ardor
Everything must be adjusted
We need some help or we’ll be busted

A $700 billion bailout is proposed. REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP is displeased.

We remain staunchly defiant
Government can’t get too giant
Seven hundred billion is an awful lot to spend
When we don’t even know how deep the cracks extend

The Presidential candidates weigh in on the political implications of the crisis.

Party lines are unimportant
We need a united front

So why’d you try to sink the debate?
It felt to some like a self-serving stunt

Look! It’s Russia, over there
Have I mentioned that I hunt?

A compromise is reached. HENRY PAULSON and BEN BERNANKE announce it.

Our commitment to financial health
Will soon restore the nation’s wealth

It should recover fairly briskly
If not you’ll find me in the whiskey

The film ends.

Where’s the rest?
I want to see how it turns out

Well, it isn’t over yet
We’re in a time of fear and doubt
A major economic funk

I have to say, that movie stunk

The DOLLAR BILL, the CREDIT CARD, the STOCK CERTIFICATE, and the CHECKBOOK decide to play cards instead. The DOLLAR BILL, surprisingly, wins most of the hands.

—Ben Greenman

Humping and Broken Bones

John talked about the current economic crisis. The news papers reported huge government bailouts, banks going belly-up, and foreclosures on any house with a mortgage. The Dow Jones took the biggest hit it had in decades. We were facing an economic crisis, John told me. I wondered if I would need to use my economics degree as we wound our way up the Icicle Creek road. As John continued ranting about the Fed pouring money into the market, we approached a large Ford pickup parked on the side of the road across from the Icehouse boulders. A knee was propped up against the window inside. Strange. Then I saw another knee spread apart on the big bench seat. Really strange. And then there was a guy between the knees with a smirk on his face. John stopped talking and his eyes turned into saucers as we drove past the couple humping in the truck. I started laughing. John did too. Soon we were busting up. We parked at the Sword boulder and got out, pantomiming a gynecologist examination. Ryan and Isaac pulled up behind us, stepped out, and immediately hopped into the joke. They too had seen the happy humpers. Crazy.

The bouldering at the Sword went mellow for awhile. Isaac, John, Ryan, and Jessica, when she showed up, all tried Zorro, a delicate problem up a large granite boulder. They worked through the vicious stemming but eventually gave it all up. They moved their pads down to the Prism, a balancey problem with a dangerous fall over a protruding rock. Erin, Isaac’s lady friend, came and we climbed a few of the easier problems on the other side of the boulder and then we slandered with Jessica. Suddenly, someone screamed. It sounded like Ryan, who yelps when he does a difficult move. A few minutes later, John ran over. “We’re out of here!” he said. He grabbed his car keys, and threw the crashpads together. Isaac had fallen five feet onto the rock below the Prism and fucked his ankle up. Ryan carried him to the car, we all piled up, and headed to the hospital. I rode with Erin and Isaac the ten miles to Leavenworth hospital. Isaac, moaned, cried, and moaned everytime the car bumped. Sprawled supine on the flattened seats of Erin’s tiny car. I tried to remind him to breathe, to focus on one little thing. I was not sure what else to say. We got to the hospital and dropped him off. He broke his fibula and destroyed his ankle. Later in the week he had surgery. He would not be able to climb for three or four months. Crazier.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I should finish this. It could be funny and maybe even say something sort of like the Barflies article I wrote a while ago. Too bad I'm lazy.

I biked past Safeway and took a left to a small house on the side of the highway, where Sheldon lived. Sheldon worked as a pizza delivery boy in Leavenworth. His job was easier than it sounded. Driving around delivering pizzas was fun if you blasted the radio, and smoked blunts all night. It could even be exciting. He drove up a road to a house on North Road once and caught the owners humping away in their hot tub. The man gave him a twenty dollar tip on an eight dollar pizza. Another evening two beautiful girls answered their door in the nude. Sheldon was normally a happy twenty year old. That night though he spent twenty-five minutes on the phone explaining to a local what a Meat Lover’s pizza was. Somehow the customer did not comprehend peppertoni, sausage, bacon, and ham all being on one pizza pie. To deal with the sex, the nudity, and the ignorant Leavenworthians, Sheldon smoked a lot of hippie lettuce. He handed me a pipe loaded with some sort of purple Gummy bear herb. I lit the bowl, and inhaled. As I coughed, I heard a loud plop. And there it was, the tiny grey sponge that made my brain, limping away. My brain was smart enough to see when it wouldn’t be needed anymore.

I pulled myself together and took off, pedaling back to my makeshift room in the basement of a Peshastin orchard house. The wheels on my back spun quickly, happy with their new life. Originally the bike came into its life as a fixed gear bike with no brakes. The wheels used to be linked directly to the pedals so when I wanted to slow the hipster death trap down I had to stamp on the pedals and skid to slow down their speedy revolutions. The long hill down from campus in Santa Cruz felt like suicide and eventually I transformed the bike to its present state as a single speed road bike complete with a front and rear brake. I ride a few miles through orchards and vineyards to work everyday, pedaling along the North Road. Last night though, the fastest path home was Highway 2, a route I rarely take because of the whizzing traffic.

Unfamiliar with the area, I rode around dazed, lost, and still quite stoned. I had just moved to Peshastin. Earlier that year I lived in Santa Cruz, but during that time I spent a month and a half in Vegas, as much time in Sonora and Yosemire, and double that in Toulumne and San Francisco. Then there I was in Washington. I wondered where my home was as I rolled to a stop sign. While I waited for the stop sign to turn green, I tried to recall the last place I called home. I spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz. But what was that place? For three and a half years, I slept in a tiny tent in the woods behind UCSC. I stacked my classes so I only attended school two days a week, spending one day on school work, and the other four heading off on climbing trips to Zion, Smith, and Yosemite. I could barely call my tiny camp a home. I kept my sleeping bag, a couple sets of clothes, and my economics books in the nylon shelter but little else. I was only in Santa Cruz to go to class and wait for my next climbing trip. I was on an extended climbing trip in Leavenworth, one that had resulted in me getting a job and sleeping in the dungeon of the Peshashtin house. I still could not remember where the house was though I did realize that stop signs do not turn green and pedaled into the tiny town of Peshastin

Half of the time, I am broke. The other half of the time, I do not have any money. I finished school at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the middle of June and headed straight to Yosemite. Graduating was not good. With the sponsorship of Pell Grants and Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, I managed to pay for climbing trips, buy gear, and climb a lot for four steady years. Recieving my degree meant a dry well; no more student loans. I needed to work and be able to climb somewhere. My old friend and climbing partner, Jens Holsten, instisted that I could find a job in Washington. “It will be rad," he told me in the Toulumne Meadows parking lot. "You can stay at the climber's house in Peshastin, you'll just have to spot and belay for room and board. Plus, we can carpool to Leavenworth." The Icicle Ridge Winery needed help in a couple days, and Jens, a typical dirtbag, needed a ride. Imagine that.

We left California, and headed to the northwest. Outside of Seattle, Jens picked up his Toyota Tercel, a rusted washing machine of a car, whose muffler was held in place by a coat hanger. The hour and a half long trip took its toll on the car and it broke down in the Grocery Outlet parking lot the next time it drove more than twenty miles. Ghetto. But before the big break down, I followed the rattling rig across the Cascades, heading east on route two, passing through the evergreens of the wet side of the Cascades towards the dry side of the mountains. On the way through Goldbar, one of the local bouldering spots, a crew of firemen plied a sedan from the inside of the local bar. The driver had backed up six feet into the building, all the way to the rear doors, knocking over a section of wall onto her car, and destroying the neon Budweiser sign. The woman, who looked like she had gotten lost on her way to a Twisted Sister concert, swayed her frazzeled hair while she talked to the police. The woman’s teeth described the scene in Goldbar. She could have eaten corn on the cob through a chain link fence.

A few miles beyond Goldbar is Leavenworth, a town loggers established in the middle of the Gold Rush, around 1860, making a strip of businesses out of the saloons and brothels. As the need for lumber decreased, the economy declined, and the boom town slowly became skeletal and desolate. While Leavenworth's fruit industry made significant contributions to the economy with the hills of pear, apple, and cherry trees, the town needed more. In the 1960's Leavenworth locals made a last ditch effort to bring business, adopting a Bavarian theme. Now the town boasts status as Washington's second most popular tourist attraction with a strip of restaurants and gift shops all built like a village in the Swiss Alps. The alpine setting of the area also attracts many adventuorous Washingtonians. A half dozen rafting outfits run daily trips down the white water of the Wenatchee and Tumwater, both of which feature excellent kayaking and raftin. Besides the boaters, Leavenworth attracts backpackers and hikers, who often make the twenty mile trek to view the Enchantments and the large trees, conifers which burst into glowing yellows and oranges in the autumn. After their outings on the river, their hikes on the rocky hillsides of Icicle Canyon, or listening the non-stop accordion waltz in the town green, the tourists often walk along the Bavarian fronted streets, stopping by the Munchen Haus and Kink Ludwig's to stuff themselves. Most people come to Leavenworth to eat and drink and they are fat and drunk.

When I first arrived at the Peshastin house, a dirty Bjorn Borg was already sprawled on the living room furniture. Luckily, Max, one of my housemates, banished the dirtbag to the basement and I replaced him on the couch. I searched for work in nearby Leavenworth, stopping at Der Copy Shoppe, the Gingerbread factory, and Das Rad Haus. When I applied for a bussing position at Visconti’s, a local Italian restautrant, the manager examined my resume, glanced at my academic work, and told me, “Don't you think you are overqualified?” He had obviously never seen me work. Still, Max and Jens assured me that I could find employment. They had even found jobs, though they were not always ideal. The Fudge Hut once employed Max, having him sell chocolate and wear the local costume for Octoberfest and the tourist filled summer months. He packed fudge in his liederhosen. Eventually, I took the job, at Visconti’s; the manager, John Morgan, needed help and he hired me three weeks after I dropped off my resume I cleared plates, set tables, and boxed food. I also broke glasses, dropped dinners, and hide next to the ice machine when the restaurant became busy. The other bussers wondered why I worked there. They asked me how old I was, if I was married, and what my degree was in. Then they shook their heads. The servers thought I should apply for John’s job, a start to a career with responsibility, benefits, and stability. I wonder if they hated me.

In four weeks, I would start an internship at Climbing magazine, a small step toward a real career. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to sit in front of a computer, and stare at a monitor til my eyes lost focus, arranging twenty-six letters into something understandable. Though I worried that my brain might plop out of my head, the internship gave me a direction. Boulder, Colorado. And with another move, I needed money, so the bussing job made sense. It was temporary, I hoped. I did not want to get stuck in a vortex of a gypsy life style, moving from one climbing destination to another without ever settling down. Either way, I would not remain a bus boy nor would I stay in Peshastin. I was going places.

I wished I could remember where the Peshastin house was as I biked back past the tavern, then past the post office, then past the tavern again. I tried to settle everything out in my head. I knew what I was riding: my single-speed. I knew how I got to Washington and I knew that I would leave soon too. I knew where I was and where I would end up but nothing in between. I was Leavenworthless.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Love in Leavenworth

The most beautiful girl in the whole room walked towards me.
“Hello,” she said.
I smiled and said, “Hello.”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
I pointed down the hall. When she came back she said, “Thanks.”
And I said, “No problem.”
She finished her dinner and paid for her meal. Underneath the corner of a wineglass, she left her business card with the note “Call Me,” scrawled on the back. She could have been a part time model. The card read plumber.

Mary and I ate pie, made from black berries we had picked in Index the day before. She had never met a man like me, masculine but sensitive too. She loved all the funny little stories I wrote about rock climbing. The next week we drove her pickup truck to the granite boulders in Icicle Canyon, where we scrambled up to the top of a chunk of rock. The sun set slowly as we kissed. It was nice.

“Remember hiking and how much fun that was? Well, this will be fun too, a moment we can share together.” Mary stroked my forearm. I was not ready. There was so much to worry about.
“It hurts you know. It damages my uterus. I might not be able to have babies.” I felt terrible and thought of the ways I could help her.
“I’m leaving tomorrow. The army sent me my draft papers. The front lines in Iraq need people like me. They need the strong and the brave. I may not come back.” She massaged my arms, and then traced swirling lines on the back of my hand then onto my bicep. My eyes started to water. She stood and I followed her to my room.
She pulled my pants down, and yanked off my underwear. I pulled my shirt down, trying to cover my nudity.
“It will feel real good. Trust me.” Mary pushed me onto the bed, wiggled out of her clothes and mounted me. She gyrated hysterically, screaming dirty things. Her cries crescendo until she shuddered. Then it was over. She crumpled onto me and fell asleep. I wanted to talk, to know what she thought, to hear her say she loved me. Her snoring kept me awake.

The next morning I saw a group of girls huddled around a small table at the coffee shop. They burst into laughter. I turned and saw Mary grabbing her crotch. She thrust her hips towards the ceiling and blew kisses into the air. I walked over.
“I thought you were going to Iraq.”
She threw her thumbs into the belt loops of her jeans and said, “Guess not honey.” Her friends laughed. She slapped hands with her friends, giving them high-fives, as they chuckled. The girls leered at me, licking their lips. I left the coffee shop.

“You worked hard bussing all the tables in the restaurant tonight. I noticed from my seat over in the other section,” she thrust her hand forward and gave mine a vigorous shake. “I’m Rachael. I work as a waitress down the street at Gustav’s. I know this is a little forward but I want you to call me sometime.” She grabbed a napkin and scribbled her number down. “We can talk about life in the service industry. Maybe we’ll have some things in common.”
I smiled. I wanted to talk to her too.
“Plus, I’ve heard about you.” She rubbed her palm along the small of my back. “I heard that, you know, that you love it.” Her hand slide further down and grabbed my ass. She winked at me as she left.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Alex stroked the biner, running his fingers along the curve and feeling the metal. He wanted to grab it, pull, and safely complete his ropeless ascent of the Regular Route on Half Dome. He danced on a pair of tiny smears on the final slab of the route, a mere hundred feet from the top and a long fifteen hundred feet of the ground. Finally, Alex placed his foot, forgot about the carabiner, and finished the route. A hundred people crowded the summit but none of them noticed Honnold's remarkable solo. No gold medal for Honnold, though a few hikers commented that his barefoot hiking sure was badass.

Two days ago, a 5.14 climber fell soloing in Eastern Washington, lobbing off a thousand foot cliff to his death. "At least he died doing what he loved," Isaac told me. I could only think, "Yeah, but he still died."

The same day at Goldbar, Mikey Schaefer, Keri Carleton, and I stood under a twenty foot slab boulder problem. Mikey tried it first, dancing his feet around then falling onto the pads. I climbed to his highpoint with a slightly different sequence and grabbed the jugs heading to the top. The top of the boulder was dirty and covered with moss. I stood carefully up, ready to top out. Then I slipped. I fell twenty feet. Flashback to Joshua Tree. I screamed, thinking I was going to die. I crumpled into a ball, narrowly avoiding breaking my ankle. My butt slammed into the rock leaving a large bruise on my quad. There are teeth marks on my tongue from biting down so hard on impact.

My hand still hurts. I should quit climbing. I wish I hadn't come to Washington. Last night when I told Matt about my regrets he responded, "Yeah, I told you so."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Of Pies and Politics

Hilary Clinton’s recent endorsement of Barak Obama, John McCain’s vice presidential choice, and the upcoming presidential election appear important but politics pales in comparison to talk of lattices, flaky crusts, and fruit fillings. Pies, originally called “pyes”, appeared in England as early as the 12th century, gaining global popularity with the regional variations of meat pies, pot pies, and a thousand types of fruit and custard fillings. Obama and McCain would kill for the national popularity of apple pie.

Four years ago, I paced my small house in Santa Cruz, California. While I enjoyed wearing grooves into the floorboards, an injury sidelined me from rock climbing, my favorite hobby. With a lot of time, little to do, and a worn copy of The Joy of Cooking, I decided to master the art of pie baking, choosing the task for its difficulty, the delicious results of practice, abut mostly boyish motivations; I wanted to impress girls.

The first few pies turned out dry, a common problem. Fat and flour make the main ingredients in pie crust and when not enough water, fat, or too much flour are added, the mix becomes dry and difficult to handle. After filling the pies with fresh organic cherries no one noticed the poorly made crust. Great success. Later, I learned that the fat needs to be cut into the dough so it makes pea sized rounds. Then with a little water the dough will form quite nicely and roll easily.

The crux of pie filling comes not from making it but from collecting the ingredients. Meat and fruit do not come cheaply. The best solution lays in living near an orchard or on a farm. Cherry, pear, apple, and peach trees grow in Peshastin, and the accessibility of free fruit helps cut the cost. Making pie comes easy when the fruit is free.

The best way to trick people into you work hard to make the pie is spending some time finishing the dessert. The top of the dough needs to be rolled out and then a ruler or piece of paper works well as a guide to make straight and even cuts. Creating a lattice by lacing these pieces into a criss-cross enhances the presentation greatly but requires patience and a bit of analness. The Joy of Cooking recommends making the lattice directly on the pie but this is difficulty if the pie is heaping with fruit. Alternatively, the lattice can be made on a separate plate and then flipped over onto the pie. Missing the pie means starting over. Lame.

Pies take roughly an hour to cook and another half hour to cool. They are best served hot and with a bit of ice cream or in the case of apple pie, sharp cheddar cheese. As my grandmother said, “Apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” Reheated pie works well for breakfast but after a couple days the pie gets old. Have a few people over so the pie will be finished quickly. A piece of warm apple pie makes discussing politics tolerable.