Paul R. Amador

Guest Author

Words of Children

It was an unseasonably cool but sunny Saturday morning in early May; still a few hours from midday. I’d just run to Ace Hardware for some knickknack or another for whatever projects were on my workbench in various stages of completion. The great thing about the Ace Hardware by my house is they always seem to have that oddball size nut, screw, bolt or accessory you just can’t find at Home Depot.

Prior to heading to Ace, I’d hit an ATM for some cash. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer paying cash for things rather than using a debit card. No, I’m not a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist; it’s just a habit I carried on from my dad and my grandfather. My dad often said to me when I was in my teens and twenties, “a man should always have a little jingle in his pocket and some cash in his wallet.”

After purchasing my items at Ace, I was heading home when on the side of the road a neon green sign taped to a cardboard box caught my eye. On it, in thick black magic marker, were the words “Yard Sale” with an arrow pointing which way to go.

I love yard sales. I could spend hours and hours visiting yard sales. When I go, mostly I’m looking to augment my collection of tools in the shop, find some small treasure that perhaps my wife would like, an item for the outside bar or something that reminds me of growing up in New Mexico. That said, I must admit that in hindsight I’ve made some pretty silly purchases. One man’s junk is truly another man’s treasure.

Yard sales are my kryptonite. And, I’d just gone to an ATM so my cash was burning a hole in my pocket like a chunk of lava freshly spewed from a volcano.

I turned into a residential neighborhood. A few blocks further I spied a similar colored box with an arrow pointing up that street. It occurred to me this is how mice must feel chasing the scent of cheese in a maze – elated at what they might discover at their destination. After passing the elementary school, I turned left and several blocks in the distance I could see a third box. As I approached, all it had written on the bright green paper was a large arrow pointing left and the box was held down by a rock.

I turned the direction the sign indicated and could see several cars parked in front of a house with tables in the driveway and many large items sitting in the morning sun. Bingo.

Now, not all yard sales are the same. There are the ones that are packed with people and cars that you just know you’re going to stop and at least look. To quote the song “Black Gold” by the band Soul Asylum, “Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd”.

Then there were the ones that appear to have pretty slim pickings or mainly clothes where the cars pass by slowly but don’t stop. When it’s my turn to do the funeral procession crawl in front of the house I try to see if there’s anything of interest. Having had many yard sales myself, I know how depressing it is to have no one – not a single person – stop and even look at what your wares.

As I parked and got out of my car, I could see tools of all different shapes and sizes strewn about. I thought to myself that this was going to be magical! There had to be five different hammers, sledge hammers, shovels, post-hole diggers, wrenches, a bench grinder, sockets and so much more. My money seemed to want to crawl out of my wallet all on its own.

I said hello to the older gentleman in a white muscle shirt and jeans who was running the yard sale and he greeted me with a wan smile and a “good morning” nod. Sitting on the floor of the garage cross-legged was a young girl of perhaps 10 years roughly plunking out notes on a small electronic keyboard. The speaker sounded like an old transistor radio – cutting in and out – and some of the keys didn’t work at all. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to play an actual song. Another young girl, perhaps one or two years older was helping the man.

On the table in front of me, was a large shop dust pan for $5.00 which I knew I needed. I picked up the dust pan so no one else would take it. Yard sales can be cutthroat. The rules are clear: pick something up and then put it down, fair game for the next person. If you plan on buying it, you better hold onto it. This thing was going to be mine.

“There’s more things on the side of the house,” said the man, his back to me as he moved things around in his garage.

I thanked him and followed the sidewalk around the side of the house where it looked like a lawn mower graveyard, with rusted mowers laying one on top of each other like dead prehistoric animals. An old Ford truck with the front wheels on blocks had a sign tucked under the windshield wiper reading “Not for sale”. There were old gas-powered blowers, windshields, car engines and a myriad of larger tools leaning against the block fence.

I found another dustpan similar to the one I had in my clutches but was covered with a thick layer of rust. The handle appeared to be ready to fall off if not treated with care. I decided against that one.

Satisfied with my find, I returned to the front of the house. The older girl had come out from the garage and was standing next to a long table. She wore a white t-shirt with a glittery rainbow unicorn imprint. It was then that the older girl said to me, “Sir, would you like to buy one of my paintings?”

I hate to admit it, but in that moment I had so many things on my to-do list and was preoccupied with looking at the wares, I felt a tiny bit annoyed. I replied, “Not right now sweetheart. Thank you.” Her gaze dropped, saddened. Then, looking her in the eyes I got the distinct feeling there was something not quite right with her. There was nothing physical, but more of a notion that perhaps she had some type of learning disability, or that maybe emotionally she wasn’t on par with her physical self. I’m not a child psychologist by any means nor am I attempting to diagnose. It was just one of those gut feelings that takes ahold of us inside that we decide to pay heed.

“They’re only a dollar.” she said, her voice dropping to almost a mumble.

“Maybe, we’ll see.” I muttered, quietly hoping she’d go back to helping her dad. It wasn’t the money, of course. I just didn’t want to have to deal with a child trying to sell me something. I suddenly felt uncomfortable and had the impulse to set the dustpan back down, get in my car and leave.

“What if I give you one for free, sir? See, I drew these myself.”

The older man spoke up, his Spanish accent much clearer, “Mija, leave the man alone.”

I looked up at her, with the same nervous butterflies in my stomach, but then saw the two drawings, done in colored pencil on white printer paper. They were not traced but drawn by her own hand. The colors were interesting choices – greys, pinks, yellows, greens, blues, purples and reds. There was no training, no sense of hue or form, just simple drawings done by a young girl who wanted someone to appreciate what she’d done. I realized she probably wanted to feel a sense of contributing to the garage sale. Or perhaps she just wanted to make someone smile.

My heart sank. I felt so selfish that I’d ignored her and the pride she’d taken in her drawings. I looked in her eyes and saw just a pure longing to want me to have one of them. I had no idea how many people had come before me that sunny Phoenix morning and not taken her up on her offer. I had no idea how many people had said no to her or all but ignored her as I had done.

“If you don’t like these, I can draw one for you really quick.” she said. A half smile crooked the corner of her mouth.

The man looked at me and I handed him a $5 bill. He nodded to me, and that concluded our transaction.

“Which one do you like the most?” In one hand she held a picture of a rabbit with one ear straight up and the other floppy. The nose was all wrong and the eyes weren’t level or even very eye-looking. In her other hand she’d sketched a grey cat with pink ears. The ears weren’t the same shape and one tilted awkwardly to the left. The right eye winked and had only two eyelashes drawn with an exaggerated curve. The nose she’d drawn was pink triangle and the mouth looked more like a Victor Borge mustache than a mouth.

I glanced at each picture and looked her in the eyes. In them was a pure sweetness, a child-like innocence in them that made my heart melt. There was absolutely no way I could leave this yard sale without one of her drawings. Any my dust pan, of course

I took a breath. “I’d love one of your drawings, sweetheart.” Her face lit up.

“Which one do you want?”

I glanced back and forth at them.

“Tell you what, why don’t you pick for me.”

She looked at each one carefully; studying them like a curator would compare paintings in a museum. “Do you like cats?” she asked.

“Why yes, I have two cats at my house.”

“Then you should take this one.” She handed me the picture of the grey cat. “You can just have it.”

I took the drawing from her, careful not to wrinkle or fold it. “Thank you, very much. I really appreciate it. It’s very beautiful. I tell you what, I’ll put it on my refrigerator, so everyone can see it, ok?”

Her eyes grew wide as she flashed a toothy smile. “Okay!”

Then I handed her a one-dollar bill. “An artist should get paid for their work”, I said to her. She nodded ever so slightly, and I got the impression that she didn’t entirely understand the concept, but I was sure someday it would become clearer.

The girl’s smile grew ear to ear. She took the dollar, showed it to her dad and gripped it in her hand. The dad and I exchanged a quick glance. Then with a grin, he nodded and winked.

I left with my cat picture and dustpan, a little humbled and a little ashamed. I done the one thing that so many years ago I didn’t want to do or be; I was that adult that dismissed a child who was trying to share something they’d created. I remember being the youngest in my family and being told I was to be seen and not heard. I was reminded often that when the adults were talking, I was to be quiet or to be outside playing or in my room. Every time I was at a family function, rarely did anyone want to hear what I had to say as undoubtedly it was considered the ramblings of an over-imaginative child. It wasn’t until my late 20’s and early 30’s that one of my cousins said to me that I’d finally become interesting. It wasn’t too long after my cousin passed away. All the amazing conversations we could have had, all the discussions about music, art, politics, movies and everything else under the sun were gone forever.

I suppose that’s one of the curses of being a youngest (at least for me it was), and one of the shortcomings of it. I grew up with the illusion that as I got older, no one else grew older. Not until much later in life did I notice all my aunts, uncles, cousins and even my parents getting a little grayer and the crow’s feet round the eyes getting a little more defined, or another illness setting in, or attending another funeral.

The cat picture is still on my refrigerator. My wife asked me if I wanted to throw it away, and I just do not have the heart to do that. I like seeing it every day. It makes me smile. It reminds me to be a better person. It gives me hope. It reminds me that even in the current state of turmoil our world seems to be in, a little girl still like to draw cats. I wish I’d had her sign it.

I’m going to save it.

Because one sunny Saturday morning, on the hunt for treasure at a yard sale, I came away with the best and most unexpected treasure of all – I made a little girl happy and in return she left a lasting imprint on my soul and reminded me not to be judgmental and to always look for the wisdom and the beauty in the words and deeds of children.

The Gecko Says

A Random Act of Kindness

I think everyone at some point needs a random act of kindness, in our lives. Whether it’s a compliment on how good supper was, that an outfit looks good on you that day, or perhaps someone holding the door for you when your arms are full of groceries, it’s nice to have someone do something unexpected and appreciated.

Even the most heart-hardened of folks feel that accelerated thump, thump, thump heartbeat like the Grinch on Christmas morning, listening to all of Whoville sing their Christmas song, when someone for no apparent reason goes out of their way to do something extraordinary for them.

Such is the case with a dear friend of mine, Michelle who recently did something so wonderful and unexpected, it’s taken time for me to properly articulate what this means to me.

Now Dear Reader for some context. I share with you something that occurred to me many years ago that I typically hold very close to the chest.

In late 1992, I said both hello and goodbye to my second son, Andrew Amador. Three days after Christmas that year, Andrew unexpectedly passed away from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). He was just barely over three months old. His passing forever and drastically changed who I was, my outlook on religion, relationships, and most of all – my life, in general. This was the most tragic loss a parent could ever experience. We’re not supposed to bury our children.

I submit to you Dear Reader, that grief may quite possibly be the most personal and individual emotion we experience in life. One may be able to say they UNDERSTAND how you might feel grieving the loss of a loved one – because at some time or another we either have or will lose someone we love – but that person or persons will never KNOW what you feel because they would experience the same situation very, very differently. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, I feel in some way it defines who we are and from that point in life who we choose to be, going forward.

For years after his passing I questioned my own humanity and my reasons for living. The answer after time clearly became my living children. Time had passed and now I had three healthy wonderful sons to raise. It took a significant number of years for me to realize that life does not live in a grave. Life lives above ground, watching little league games in the late afternoon sunshine or coaching their soccer team. Life exists when you build a Pinewood Derby car with your sons, or sit with them on the floor trying to master an X-Box controller. Sometimes it’s just bringing them a glass of water before bedtime and making up funny voices. Other times it’s cooking their favorite food on their birthday.

Life lives above ground.

Thus far 2017 has been somewhat of a rough year; from the sudden passing of a much-loved cousin not yet even 40 years old to tearing up my right knee and requiring painful injections as well as physical therapy. I have however managed to write a couple of new songs and do quite a bit of woodworking in the Gecko Shop. My wife Alycia and I also bought a home. So things are somewhat balanced I suppose. But back in April I sure needed an emotional pick-me-up. And I don’t mean Scotch.

Enter Michelle, who unknown to me had been working on something that would take me totally by surprise. She and I met a little over 3 years ago working for the same employer on the same customer account. We became friends on social media and after some time, I confided in her what happened to my son, Andrew. As I mentioned earlier I don’t bring this topic up to just anyone because in all honesty, it makes most people uncomfortable and it’s something – as you can surmise – very personal to me. To be fair, people just don’t know what to say so it’s best to just not bring it up.

This past April I received an IM on Facebook from Michelle that just floored me. She had donated her wedding dress to an organization called Threads of Hope. What they do is take donated wedding dresses and make Angel gowns, wraps and bonnets and provide them – free of charge – to families of babies 20 – 32 weeks that have died. This effort is fully funded via donations and the gowns made by hand by a small band of volunteers.

With Micelle’s dress, Threads of Hope was able to make 10 Angel Gowns and donate them in the names of children that had long since passed away – one of them was my Andrew.

Given what 2017 had already dished out to my wife Alycia and myself, this was indeed a breath of fresh air. As I looked at the photos on Facebook of the outfits that were made and the memories of the children they were dedicated to, I could only sit in my chair agape at this wonderful thing that had – for all intents and purposes – blindsided me. But in a most unexpected and delightful way.

I’ve included several of the Facebook posts and photos with this article. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much I do. It’s things such as this that humans do for each other that should give us hope and encourage us to reciprocate.

There are over 7 billion people on this planet. The average number of people we will meet in our lifetime is about 10,000. Of those 10,000, the average number of close acquaintances we’ll have in that same lifetime is around 600 people.

It only takes one of them, one time, one unselfish and random act of kindness to make us feel like the most important person in the universe.

Be safe,

The Gecko

Links:

http://sids.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1287042144647148/ (Threads of Hope Angel Gown Forum)

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome/basics/prevention/con-20020269

The Gecko Says

Revolutions and Revelations

PaulAmador - Copy

One thing I’ve never run across during my trips around our Sun is anyone who did not like music. Sure, there’s forms of music we may not care for; but I’ve never heard someone say “I just don’t care to listen to music.”

Like you, dear Reader, I too have my own favorites as well as genres that I don’t particularly care for. I even shake my head at the occasional song where I wonder how that group or individual managed to get a recording contract. Other times I’ll witness a phenomenal street musician who absolutely, positively should be given a contract on the spot. Life sure is funny.

Music, I feel, is the most emotive form of human communication, even surpassing the written word. With words you run into language barriers, misinterpretation and confusion. Music is the mathematics of sound. Mathematics is the language of the Universe. It’s why we sent music into space with the NASA Pioneer probes back in the 70’s. That said, let us hope that whatever alien life discovers those probes listens to the musical genius of J.S. Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, First Movement) or Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode) before they tune into any current TV show starting with the words “Housewives of…”. Otherwise we are all dead.

I have significant appreciation for music in the areas of movies and video games. I feel music in video games has evolved in leaps and bounds from the original 8-bit bleeps, boops and the occasional p-tew! of a ship firing lasers from the original Galaga, Pong and Nintendo games. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not much of a gamer. But I do enjoy the music from a number of video games. I’m going to outline several of them here, with some insightful contributions from my sons. I’ll also be including some music from a few of my favorite movies. I would encourage you to watch the YouTube videos and judge for yourself. You may find something new you never knew you would like!

Chevaliers de Sangreal by Hans Zimmer from the movie “The Da Vinci Code” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5FyRZbqfeM

In this piece we have an unmistakably classic Hans Zimmer orchestration using his signature style of slow, sweeping strings as the backdrop for violin arpeggios that build and crescendo as our hero Robert Langdon experiences a significant epiphany near the end of the movie. Listening to this piece with headphones on and eyes closed makes me feel like I’m being guided through doorways and passages much like Dante was guided by Virgil and revealed things beyond wonder. It’s a magnificent composition I could listen to over and over that exudes hope and discovery and a sense of amazement. [1]

Exchange of Courtesies – by Takeharu Ishimoto from the video game “Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3Ax8aUFN7w

At only 1:07 in length this quartet of strings from FFVII:CC is one of my favorite pieces and still remains one of my boys’ favorite games to revisit. It was with FFVII:CC that I began to discover how intricate video game music was becoming and how the music was woven into the game almost as a secondary character helping tell the story. This brief, staccato piece is used twice in the game and is intended to be a song of friendship between the characters Zack, Cloud and Cissnei. I find the piece to be reminiscent of poignant moments in life that we carry with us, albeit brief yet memorable with the song ending as abruptly as it begins. [2]

All Along the Watch Tower – by Bear McCreary from “Battlestar Galactica” (2004 – 2009) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUchAD44xA8

This remake of the Jimi Hendrix / Bob Dylan classic tale of the Joker and the Thief becomes both a shifting point and a cornerstone of the updated Battlestar Galactica at the end of season three and is crafted by one of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary (graduate of USC and whose credits also include music from the TV shows The Walking Dead and Outlander).

Using a Drop C tuning and Eastern scales and modes to create a menacing, malevolent feel, McCreary cleverly ties together an eclectic array of instruments ranging from sitar, Taiko drums, heavy distorted guitar power chords and fretless Bass to provide the viewer/listener a feeling of confusion, disorientation and obfuscation. In the show, five of the primary characters separately discover a dark secret about themselves and then each other as the song drones in the background. I distinctly recall watching with my sons and being blown away by the reveal in this season ending episode that climaxes with the song. The main riff becomes a recurring element through the series finale and remains a favorite. [3]

At World’s End Suite (Will and Elizabeth) – by Hans Zimmer from the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKxwXUXDTv0

What better setting for a love story than treachery on the high seas battling the East India Trading Company, firing canons, deep sea monsters, Davy Jones himself and of course swashbuckling Pirates?

Here again we see the brilliance of Hans Zimmer using adagio strings that allow a single violin playing a simple yet heartbreaking melody which swoons the listener. It encapsulates the moment where Will and Elizabeth are married among sheer chaos only to be separated except for one day every ten years.  Zimmer transitions seamlessly to pounding drums, sweeping strings mixed with horns and baritone choir chants that make one feel as if they’re on the bow of the Black Pearl with sea spray splashing their face. It’s a triumphant song fit to soften the heart of even the most scurvy of Pirates.[4]

Since they’re closer to the video game arena, I asked my sons to come up with a single song they find significant to them and try to put some words around why. Here’s what each of them submitted:

Tanner’s Contribution:

“Mother, I’m Here” (Zulf’s Theme) – By Darren Korb from the Video game Bastion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlfUcnSbKDA

In Bastion, you, the player, meet and befriend a character named Zulf. Your character and Zulf are different races, but become friends due to a catastrophic event which has devastated the world. As the game progresses, you discover the country Zulf hails from has survived the calamity and were the ones behind the world’s demise. Zulf – wanting to side with his people – betrays you and steals a critical artifact related to the storyline. Of course, being a video game, you are tasked with going after him to recover the item. You travel to the enemies’ homeland were Zulf has retreated, and begin wreaking havoc against their forces.

After you recover the item, you discover that Zulf’s people have turned on him and are angry that he has unintentionally led you to their homeland. At this point, you are given a choice. You can either abandon your weapons or carry Zulfs unconscious body back with you. Or you can continue and fight your way out. Should you choose to bring Zulf you, this track plays. The theme of Zulf, a man who only wanted to do what was best for his people, and, frankly just wanted to go home. As you move through the rest of the level, the enemy forces stop attacking you; paying respect to your valiant efforts and allowing you to move through unharmed.

Listening to this song brings me a feeling of melancholy and sadness; sadness for a broken man, a man who believed he was doing the right thing. A man who felt obligated to betray his friends, and for the journey it took me to get to that point in the game.

Note: Additionally, after completing the game, this theme is combined with the theme of one of the other main characters, and plays during the credits.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDflVhOpS4E

Stephen’s Contribution:

Music, in my opinion, is the outward expression of our inward emotions. It is hard to explain happiness, sadness and anger. These complex feelings can be relayed better through music, rather than words. The emotion that I want to focus on doesn’t really have a word, but if I had to choose one, it would be ‘goodbye’. Not the sort of goodbye that you say to your friends after a night out or the farewell after a family gathering. This is the goodbye that you never want to say. Rather than explain this feeling to you, I will give an example from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

In order to set the stage, I will have to spoil the end of the game. You have been warned.

The Legend of Zelda is an extremely popular franchise, dating back to the original NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). In each story, you traverse the land as the hero, Link. Along your journey you meet friends, vanquish evil and save the day. In the Zelda franchise, it is typical that the main character never speaks. Instead, the writers give a companion to Link, having them be his voice in the context of the story.

At the beginning of the game, Link takes up the ‘Goddess Sword’ which is a blade that receives its power from the Goddess Hylia. The power of this sword is amplified when it is raised skyward, pointing towards the heavens (Hence the title, Skyward Sword). The blade has another unique trait as well. In order to aid the hero on their quest, the Goddess has given the blade a living conscience. As Link wields the Goddess Sword, the voice within introduces itself as Fi. Throughout the remainder of the game, Fi becomes a mentor, a guide and a friend to Link. Together they solve puzzles, rescue the innocent and purge evil from the land.

At the conclusion of the game, the Goddess Sword (which has now become the Master Sword) must be returned to its pedestal to await the next hero. As Link drives the sword back into its resting place, Fi once again speaks to him. The purpose that was given to Fi has been completed. This is the last time that Link will be able to speak to Fi, before she goes into an eternal sleep. The song that I have chosen, “Fi’s Farewell”, begins to play as she says her final goodbye.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DAJBU4Wtqg

“I do not have the capability to fully understand the human spirit, Link…but now, at the end of my journey with you, as I prepare to sleep within the Master Sword forever, I experience a feeling I am unable to identify. I lack sufficient data to be sure of my conclusion, but I believe this feeling correlates closest to what your people call…happiness”

“Our partnership is at an end, and even as we speak, I feel my consciousness fading away. Before I enter the sleep that calls me to the sword, I wish to relay to you words that I recorded many times over the course of our journey.”

“…thank you, Master Link…may we meet again in another life…”

Matthew’s Contribution:

For my song I chose, “Sanctuary” by Utada Hikaru; from the video game Kingdom Hearts 2.

My favorite lyric from the song is, “My Sanctuary, where fears and lies melt away”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyaXyGMgRAQ

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

This is my favorite song of any game I have played because I feel it encompasses what it truly means to be human because Sora sacrifices himself to save worlds, but does it primarily for his friends. It’s in this moment he understands himself, as he’s lost everything yet will pay the ultimate price in an attempt to get it back.

Currently at this point in the game, the main character; Sora has lost his best friend Riku (male) to the darkness (who willingly gave himself to it), and the capture of his other friend/love Kairi (female) and the destruction of his home world; losing everything dear to him.

Throughout this adventure, Sora comes to find new friends who are in the same situation about their king, and that this “darkness” is taking over multiple worlds. He finds the love of others, friendship, courage, doing what is right, but most of all finds the importance of being true to himself.

As you can see dear Reader, the beeps, boops and bonks of the video games my generation grew up playing have given way to full blown thematic orchestrations that – in my opinion – rival even the works of the Classical Masters. Reading the posts from my sons, it’s important to note these songs are a part of the fabric of their childhood and they have brought the memories of these songs with them during their own revolutions around the sun. These are songs that move them deeply and truly touch them at an almost spiritual level.

So much like the nostalgia some might feel hearing “Over the Rainbow”, recalling the fond memories watching Dorothy’s adventure to OZ with wide-eyes and in glorious Technicolor, our children will carry with them the memories of playing these incredible games, hearing the music and again becoming part of the story as one of their favorite characters, remembering how being (or following) that champion or villain made them feel, and taking them back to the first time when it was all brand new.

Shall we play a game?

Be safe.

The Gecko

[1] I highly recommend also listening to the entire soundtrack of the movie “The Village” by James Newton Howard as well. Spectacular violin work.

[2] “Under the Apple Tree” is another favorite of mine. Worth the listen.

[3] “An Easterly View” from the season 4 finale is an absolute masterpiece. Placed in the context of the show, it’s a heartbreaking piece between two of the main characters, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Laura Roselin (Mary McDonnell)

[4] Also check out the Davy Jones theme at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UfT0jVzNkw. I also paid homage to this piece which you can enjoy at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZGzOLl9AN0&list=PL0VLigSSpa1RVhRo0j-4ZmFcA2TBfI8nR

The Gecko Says!

New Mexican Posole

(The way I make it, and I spell it with an S not a Z)

nmposole

Posole is a Christmas dish that brings back more fond memories than I can catalogue. From being at my grandmother’s house and eventually at my own home every Christmas Eve, just the smell of it cooking reminds me of family, friends, and laughter along with full stomachs.

It’s a traditional New Mexican dish made primarily with something called Nixtamal. Everyone else calls it hominy.

Nixtamal is an Aztec word to describe corn that has been partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide, otherwise referred to as cal or lime. Calcium hydroxide is simply the dust that results from scraping a limestone rock. The Aztec would grind corn against the limestone found in the riverbeds, and hence discovered the benefit of the interaction of this natural element with corn. The process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date for when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatamala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200-1500BCE.

Nixtamal can be ground into masa (a corn dough) for making tortillas or similar patted disk (finely ground) or tamales (coarsely ground), or can be kept in its whole form to make Posole, otherwise known as hominy. [1]

So there you have your food history lesson for the day. Alton Brown would be proud of me.

The Nixtamal is rinsed and cleaned and then added to some browned pork, onions and spices to create a simple but delicious food that’s not quite a soup and not quite a stew, either. But it’s so filling and delicious you’ll wish you had a second stomach. So let’s dig into this dish, as it were.

Key to this dish: Patience. When using uncooked Nixtamal (hominy) it can take between 8 – 11 hours to cook completely. Be patient, stir often, turn the Posole “bottom to top”, add water when needed and it will be well worth it.

Prep time: 45 Minutes

Cook time: 8 -11 hours if using uncooked Nixtamal. 2 – 3 hours if using pre-cooked, canned hominy

Ingredients:

One package (3lbs) of Nixtamal (uncooked, canned Hominy can also be used) 5lbs pork loin sliced and cut into 1” cubes. 1 Onion, finely chopped 1 Tablespoon finely chopped or minced garlic 1 Bay leaf ½ Teaspoon Cumin 1 Tablespoon red Chile Powder 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt 8 cups chicken stock (either canned or made with bouillon) 8 cups water 4 Tablespoons Canola Oil
Preparation:

  1. Nixtamal – Because most Nixtamal is coated with lime, it must be thoroughly rinsed to remove as much lime as possible. Place Nixtamal from package into a large bowl and fill with lukewarm water. Knead the Nixtamal with both hands, scrubbing it. Drain water and replace with fresh water. This should be done at least three times to ensure the lime is completely rinsed off.
  2. Let Nixtamal sit in clean water until ready to put into the pot.
  3. Pork – Take your pork loin (pork loin is better because it has less fat than a pork shoulder or pork butt) and trim as much fat as possible. Cut into slices and then cut those slices into about 1” chunks. These cook more thoroughly than larger pieces.
  4. Add Canola oil to a large stock pot. Heat until oil is shimmering.
  5. Add pork to the pot and brown evenly. Add salt, pepper, and red chile powder.
  6. Once the pork is browned, add onion, garlic and stir well. Reduce heat to prevent scorching.
  7. Drain Nixtamal thoroughly and add to the stock pot. Pour over browned pork and stir.
  8. Add 8 cups of chicken stock and 8 cups of water and Bay Leaf. Stir well.
  9. Increase heat to a rolling boil for one hour, stirring the pot “bottom to top” to prevent scorching on the bottom. Add more water when necessary. Cover.
  10. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Stir the pot “bottom to top” about every 30 minutes. As the Nixtamal cooks it will “pop” and look like wet popcorn. Add water as needed.

Note: Do not let the water level get below the Nixtamal. Try to keep it about 1 -2 inches above the Posole.

  1. Cook about 8 – 11 hours, stirring often. Once the Nixtamal is soft to chew, it is done (it will look like wet popcorn). Serve hot, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm flour tortillas, red chile sauce or roasted and peeled green chiles for extra heat and flavor. Enjoy![1] Text borrowed from http://tortillerianixtamal.com/what-is-nixtamal/

The Gecko Says

The Tradition of Traditions

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I had it explained to me once why as we get older the years seem to fly by.

It turns out that when you’re say, 5 years old, one year is only one-fifth of your life. That’s a lot! That’s $.20 of a dollar. And a year seems to take forever to pass – like from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas.

That’s why at age 5, a trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Disneyland with your family in a Ford Galaxy 500 with no air conditioning appears to take about 10,000 years in real time. Especially riding on the hump of the back seat because you’re the youngest and your brother and sister always get the window seats. Mom would say “your sister Susan gets car sick.” Baloney, I say. She just wanted to get my goat making me ride the hump while we traverse the northern hemisphere like Lewis and Clark on our way to the happiest place on Earth. Grrrr.

I digress.

But when you’re 50, one year is only one-fiftieth of your life. One fiftieth!! One-fiftieth of a dollar is $.02. Hence the years pass with frightening speed and seemingly less clarity as one gets older.

When I turned 20, my grandfather whom I greatly admired, pulled me aside and said “Paul Roger, you’re 20 now. Enjoy your twenties, because before you know it, you’ll be 30 and wondering where your 20’s went.” Mind you, this is the same grandfather who taught me at age four how to pour a perfect beer with one inch of foam from the tap in his house. He was awesome. He also taught me how to work on cars, electrical, plumbing and generally figure out how to fix things. Often he would remind me “It’s better to know a little about a lot, than a lot about a little.” He explained that living by this guideline would allow me to walk into nearly any room and have a conversation with just about anyone about almost anything. This teaching has been useful my entire life. Consequently, I have more useless trivia stored in my head than almost anyone I know, making me the perfect Trivial Pursuit partner.

There really should be a marble bust of my Grandpa Garley somewhere. I need to look into that.

Back on topic. He was so right. Before I knew it I was 30, married with a mortgage and a couple of sons to raise. It was “Cats in the Cradle” and I was the son that had become a father.

It’s in these moments that some of life’s more significant epiphanies occur.

Of course I intended to raise them to be honest and hard working. That’s how I was raised. It’s unfathomable to me that any parent wouldn’t want to do that; but I’m not naïve to the world so there was no question that would be my focus as they grew.

The more important question (to borrow a phrase, the QBQ or the Question behind the Question*) was: what am I going to pass on to my children? What would be the intangibles that they would keep with them their entire lives and pass on to their own kids?

The answer to that was “tradition”.

Well, and food. Definitely food.

Rewind a tad. Bear with me, dear Reader; I know this is a 2-level deep “Inception” moment here.

My father is the youngest of 12. All of the Amador siblings were born and raised in the small village of Placitas, NM with my dad having three older brothers and 8 sisters. In the 1940’s in rural New Mexico the more kids you had, the more help you had on the farm. There wasn’t any TV, so you connect the dots.

Most of my aunts lived in Albuquerque and most of them somehow had become amazing cooks in their own right. My Aunt Lina could make Greek and Italian food like no-one’s business. As a child, her food was always so interesting and delicious to me. When she would make Greek food, she would regale me with stories of when her and my uncle were stationed in Greece. She’d describe the people, culture, the clothes, the food, the history, which to an impressionable 10 year old child sounded like a fantastic adventure indeed. Because of her cooking I became a complete Greek mythology nerd.

My Aunt Adela though, was a Rock Star when it came to cooking. From 1993 to 2006 she was a featured writer for New Mexico Magazine with her monthly article “Southwest Flavors” She consequently published a book of the same name containing many of her recipes as well as ago-old family recipes that for the most part had never been written down.

I recall being about 10 years old when we went to my Aunt Adela’s house (she was married to my Uncle Harry Willson, Professor, author and publisher, bee keeper, gardener, decent mandolin player and all around super-cool uncle) where she was making Paella for about 10 of us. This would be my first time trying the uniquely Spanish dish. I was amazed at the size of the pan she was using, it had to be at least 2 feet in diameter and took up tree burners on her gas stove.

As a child I was subject to the notion that children were to be seen and not heard. Not at Aunt Adela and Uncle Harry’s house! My aunt looked at me and said “you’re my helper. I’m going to teach you how to make Paella.” Me? A gawky, spaz of a 10 year old kid? Yup, she said. Get over here and put this apron on.

She taught me how to devein and shell the shrimp, trim the fat off the chicken thighs and how to create the dish in the requisite layers. I recall the finishing touch was adding the saffron to the rice. She took a pinch from a small glass jar, rolled it between her fingers and told me to smell. The scent of the saffron was intense and exotic, like the trail of the spice route in the days of Marco Polo.

When we sat down to eat, everyone dug into the enormous Paella pan and raved about the taste. Each bite of the dish whisked me away as if I were sitting in Spain with the spray of the Mediterranean on my face. It was quite likely the most unique and delicious thing I’d ever eaten in my life. Aunt Adela took almost no credit, saying I did it most of the work, with a wink. Knowing fully well she’d done almost all of it, it still felt good to have been a part of something that people were sitting around the table and enjoying. I think it was in that moment that I knew I wanted to learn how to cook. Not just prepare something (like a can of Ravioli), but actually cook.

On my mother’s side, every Christmas Eve my Grandma Garley would have us over for a literal feast of New Mexican food (yes, Virginia, there IS a difference between New Mexican and Mexican food). She would make Posole (hominy with pork, simmered for 10 hours and quite possibly one of the most memorable smells of my life) Carne Adobada (pork marinated in red chili sauce) tamales (no black olives!) and of course tall stacks of fresh flour tortillas made with her own hands.

Every year until I moved away from Albuquerque I attended this tradition – Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The smell of these wonderful foods was synonymous with Christmas and fortunately for me, still is.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a pretty darn good childhood from a culinary perspective.

Back to my kids and what I wanted to leave behind (end double-“Inception” flashback mode).

The way I see it, one of the downsides of life is that only near death do we begin to figure out what legacy to leave behind. It’s taking the time while we’re alive to prepare that legacy is the hard part.

When my kids were still young I took it upon myself to carry on the Christmas Eve tradition my Grandma and Grandpa Garley had started. Each Christmas Eve I would make Posole, Carne Adobada, Tamales, red chili sauce and at times Green Chile stew as well. We’d then have over family and friends to enjoy the feast with us, open some gifts and just genuinely enjoy each other’s company. This year, my wife Allie and I plan to have over 20 people over, eat, drink, play games, open presents and have a great time. I have a personal philosophy that no one should be alone on Christmas. So if you’re going to be alone, come over to the Amador’s. There’s plenty enough to go around.

My son Stephen mentioned to me not long ago that that in his 22 years on the planet he cannot recall a Christmas Eve that didn’t have Posole. All of my sons agree that waking up on Christmas Eve morning to that one-of-a-kind smell is a true sign that the holidays are in fact here.

For me, watching all of our family and friends enjoying steaming bowls of goodness and plates heaped with my homemade cooking is by far one of the most rewarding things I do each year. This is a tradition I intend to carry on for as long as I can. However, I do have a contingency for when that is no longer possible. If life has taught me anything it’s to always have a backup plan.

My youngest son, Tanner has taken up the mantle to learn to make most of the dishes I prepare each year with a large amount of success. He’s made Posole, and the red chili sauce (based on our family recipe) and the Carne Adobada for his friends and they’ve loved it every time.

What better legacy to leave than tradition? Especially the tradition of food.

Good food makes people happy. I like making people happy. It makes me happy.

As my own years appear to fly by at warp speed (I’m currently at one-fifty-second of a dollar, or $.019) and the ever-present, gnawing feeling that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind, it’s wonderfully reassuring to see my sons learn to make the foods that I deeply believe are important not just to carry on our family traditions, but dovetail with carrying on our culture as Hispanics. It’s my wish that in the days to come their own children will wake up Christmas Eve to the smell of Posole and know they’re in a home filled with love, food and tradition.

To know they look forward to partaking of these foods each year and enjoy them so much that they’ve learned to make them is more than any parent could possibly ask. To see their reactions, even still, on Christmas Eve taking turns stirring the Posole (claiming they helped cook but we all know they just want to smell the delicious, steamy broth) with smiles on their faces that all is well and that there is balance in the universe is quite possibly the best Christmas present I get every year.

Happy Holidays to one and all. Long live our families and our traditions.

Please look for my Posole and Red Chile recipes here on thatisallfornow.com. Anyone else hungry now?

Be safe,

The Gecko.

The Gecko Says

Community

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Lately I’ve wondered – what does it mean to be a community? Is it a group of people living within close proximity helping one another, sharing similar belief systems, values, morals and goals? Traditionally I’d say yes. But recently I was exposed to a different kind of community which seems to encapsulate all of the previously mentioned traits, save one: proximity.

Enter BlizzCon, an annual gathering of 26,000 gaming enthusiasts who participate in a two-day, all-out game-fest hosted by Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard produces the games World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo III, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and Overwatch. Their gaming community exceeds 42 million active users worldwide. Thousands more purchased “virtual” tickets and attended online.

BlizzCon is the one event players of the games anticipate with eager delight every year. This year’s BlizzCon marked the 10th iteration of the event and the 25th anniversary of the company. Gamers come from all over the globe – Argentina, Korea, Japan, England, South Africa, Russia and Europe to hear what news is announced in regards to their favorite games and to meet game developers, audio designers, Blizzard Execs, surprise guests, and to see some of their favorite eSports teams compete head to head in dazzling, high-tech arenas. Another plus of attending is to meet members of their online teams (in some cases called a Guild). I’ll talk more about the eSports phenomenon a little later.

I’m going to take a pause here to say that some of what I write after this point may be Greek to you, dear Reader, as it was to me prior to attending. Thankfully I have three experts (who happen to be my sons) that have willingly guided me through it all, showing me the ropes as it were and putting me through a “Blizzard Boot Camp” at my house so their dear old dad doesn’t embarrass them and at the very least gives the appearance of being kinda cool and maybe a little hip. My exploits in Blizzard Boot Camp can be viewed on my son’s YouTube page at:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBm44q6bNQ0ihVyaUTszaSw.

Laugh if you will (and I hope you do), because we had a blast making the videos.

Is it still hip to say “hip”? Ugh, I’m old.

I will admit up front that I am not a gamer and I have never been much of one. I did play some early PC games like Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke Nukem and Myst.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate games, I do. But for the majority of my adult life I’ve worked in the IT industry supporting primarily Windows servers for Fortune 100 companies and at the end of my day the last thing I wanted to do was stare at a computer monitor any longer than I had to.

When console games like Halo became more popular, I attempted to play the games with my sons only to find that A) their skills and reaction time were far superior to my own, and B) the controllers were too confusing and cumbersome for this fat-fingered old guy. Eventually I became mere cannon fodder and at times a target standing in the middle of a crumbling neighborhood so my kids could get sniper practice.

(Sigh…) Can’t I just play some Galaga, man?

Everything covered at this year’s BlizzCon is out on the Internet, particularly YouTube, so I won’t get into those details here. What I’d started to talk about at the top of this article was community, so let’s get back to that.

During the opening and closing ceremonies, the presenters – executives and founders Mike Morhaime and Frank Pearce – recognized they would not have been around for 25 years without them. Unlike many corporations today who place their executives and shareholders before employees, Blizzard elevates their user community to the top of their business model.

When they addressed their fans, they affectionately used the term “community” and were passionate about saying so over and over – with the fans cheering loudly each time – everyone feeling as they belonged to something much larger and more special than themselves. Occasionally when they’d use the word, I’d see other attendees glance around and give each other the “yeah” nod, fist bump or a high-five.

As the event progressed and I spent time with my sons going from event to event within the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center, I witnessed what may possibly have been the best definition of community. All around me, lovers of Blizzard games chatted excitedly among each other – many of them complete strangers – about the new characters within the games, or some other exciting content that had been revealed. At times I saw groups of six or more talking to each other all at once, but still somehow managing to make sense to each other.

I myself struck up a conversation with a young, tattooed, purple-haired woman about the newly announced character in Diablo III called the Necromancer. She was giddy with excitement about this new addition and shared with me some of her diabolical plans to use the Necromancer to destroy her enemies. She shared that her and her boyfriend met online playing Warcraft and had been together for several years now. By sheer happenstance they had discovered they lived in the same city after playing in the same Guild for a considerable time. (She did jokingly insult her beau calling him a plebe for playing the faction called The Horde while she was deeply loyal to The Alliance. If that last statement makes no sense to you, see the recent movie “Warcraft”.)

Two of my sons play the Blizzard game World of Warcraft and participate in teams called Guilds. Each Wednesday and Sunday night they and their teammates from across the country collectively log in to the game and perform raids and missions trying to complete specific game scenarios Blizzard has created where they’re able to gather weapons, spells, health and other items. Each member of the team performs a specific task such as tanking, damage dealing or healing. Prior to this BlizzCon neither of my sons had met any of their Guild members in person; only chatted with them online. Yet on day two the convention, my sons got to meet the some of their Guild and take a photo outside the convention center with 40-foot-tall banners of the Blizzard games emblazoned in the background .

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I watched from a distance as they chatted with one another, excitement in their eyes, on their faces, and in their hand gestures, indicating they were discussing raids, strategies and just plain getting to know one another. They were in an entirely different realm, communicating in a common language about worlds that exist only in cyberspace. I imagined a cartoon thought cloud connecting them with scenes of characters battling in faraway exotic lands like a small, self-contained movie only they could see.

Pretty darn amazing if you ask me.

What struck me as most interesting was that even with the impending Presidential election just days away, I never heard the election mentioned once.

Not a single time.

No one cared.

There were no riots. There were no insults (other than a passing shout from the crowd of “Horde scum!”). Here there was no race, no color, no genderism, no sexism, no bigotry, no name calling, no judgement, and no investigations.

And no hate.

Why? Because this is BlizzCon. The problems and issues of the outside world have no place here and can find no purchase. In here, the Outside World’s magic is very weak indeed.

To cite on a well-known aphorism – everybody just got along. What a refreshing and unique concept, right?

One of the most exciting moments for me was attending the World Championship for the game Starcraft with my son Tanner (who goes by the name Siphrex online).

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In  this final match ByuN was facing Dark, both players from South Korea (most of the best players come from South Korea. In fact, any player getting into the championship bracket that isn’t Korean is called a “foreigner”). ByuN was clearly the crowd favorite although Dark was the sure bet as he’d been virtually unstoppable, easily dispatching his adversaries as he bullied his way through the bracket. The two rivals played a best of 7 set with ByuN playing as Terran (human) and Dark as Zerg (I don’t even know how to explain the Zerg, so just Google it). Each player was behind glass on a magnificent stage made from ultra-high definition screens that showed the map of the “world” they were currently playing and the strategies they used to try and win. The excitement of the crowd was palpable; electric. With announcers calling out the plays and theme music booming in the background, it was truly a sight to behold. Between matches the TV screens cut away to game analysts on a separate stage that dissected and commented on the match not unlike an NFL halftime show.  Ten thousand Starcraft fans shouting and rooting for their favorite player was as exciting as any rock concert I’d ever been to. And I’ve seen some great concerts, folks.

Additionally, seeing my son Tanner and his friends watch the tournament and react with the crowd is something I’ll never forget. It was the ability to experience the contest in a dual state as first person and also vicariously through them. As the games between ByuN and Dark unfolded, Tanner and his friends would cheer when ByuN would make a decisive move against one of Dark’s bases and wince when Dark would retaliate. The crowd answered in kind with oooh’s and cheers and occasionally jeers.

Fortunately, having been through Blizzard Boot Camp, the terminology, methods and maneuvers used by the players were not a complete mystery to me. A number of times I knew exactly what was going on which made the competition even more thrilling.

In the end, ByuN was triumphant and became the 2016 Starcraft World Champion. ByuN sprinted down two flights of stairs to center stage in what seemed like three bounding steps to be awarded the trophy. Via an interpreter he relayed his joy at winning and thanked the crowd for rooting for him. He also congratulated Dark for being such a worthy opponent. The level of gratitude and sportsmanship was impressive. I left the arena almost euphoric, but definitely more appreciative of how exciting eSports can be.

The topic I overheard the most was the announcement of creating professional eSports teams for the Blizzard game “Overwatch”. What this means is that Blizzard plans to create teams in cities across the U.S. (for starters) that mimic the structures of Major League Baseball, NFL, and the NBA where players could be drafted and paid for playing Overwatch competitively. Players would be able to eventually be traded and even opt for free agency. With the rise in popularity of these eSports on the Internet, Blizzard hopes to enlist cable TV channels such as ESPN to broadcast the tournaments. This notion sparked quite excitement across the convention hall as it could set precedence for other Blizzard games to have the same type of eSport structure in the future. (For a small taste of this, get on YouTube and search for “Heroes of the Dorm 2016”.)

Now dear Reader, before you laugh at the notion of someone sitting on their couch watching young kids playing a video game on high-end gaming PC’s, ask yourself this question:

“Have I ever sat at home or in a bar somewhere and watched Championship Poker for more than 30 minutes?” If the answer to that is yes, then you now understand the potential appeal for gamers to watch their favorite teams compete.

Also , dear Reader, if you think video games that deal in dragons, castles, aliens, epic heroes, wizards and elves aren’t “real sports” but you look forward to putting together your Fantasy Football league every August, you’re really just doing the exact same thing as the gaming community. The difference is you’re limited to a 5-month football season. These folks can do their thing 24/7/365.

Besides, what community doesn’t rally behind its local heroes and its teams?

I think Mike Morhaime and Frank Pearce have hit the nail on the head with their followers. They’re not just fans; they’re not just an invoice or an annual or monthly subscription to an online product. And they’re definitely not just ticket sales to an annual event.

They’re family. They’re friends and competitors and game enthusiasts who enjoy being part of something that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts. Each member of this community owns a piece of the Blizzard universe and is eager to share it with each other without hesitation. Members of the Blizzard family are fiercely loyal to their games, their race, clan or Guild yet still offer help to “noobs” like me who are just getting their first taste of this incredible realm of fantasy and action.

So we have millions of people across the globe sharing a common cause, a common belief system, desire for healthy competition, common values and a strong sense of morality?

Sounds a lot like a community to me. The outside world sure could learn something from BlizzCon.

For the Alliance!

Be safe,

The Gecko.

p.s. – for a brief look into BlizzCon 2016, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdqnL2TR4I8

The Gecko Says

A Beautiful View

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The Juniper tree had stood in the stony ground on the rim of the Grand Canyon for many, many years.

There were times no matter what the weather or what the day looked like the Juniper would think back to when it was a small sapling; when the wind and the cold threatened to tear it from its fragile roots or on the other days – like this one – where the sun was bright and nourishing and the Juniper could feel the warmth in its sap and its roots digging deeper into the hard-packed soil. A few clouds hung low on the horizon on the far North rim.

When the day came that it grew tall enough to see over the edge, the Juniper thought to itself, “I must have the most beautiful view in the entire world.” The Juniper had never seen the entire world, of course but in the part of the world it could see, it knew it was the best anyone could ask for.

Only a few feet away was the wide expanse of the massive Grand Canyon, its ever changing shape and colors paraded over the horizon as far as the Juniper could see and then met the sky on the North end very, very far away. Each day the sun would rise bringing an entirely new sunrise and even more spectacular sunset along with different encounters and adventures. Well, as much adventure as being a Juniper could bring.

Now the Juniper was older and its branches were bent this way and that like an old man who reminds us of someone we might know. It had lost count of how many Winters, Summers, Springs and Autumns it had seen but it was indeed a great many.

Being a Juniper, it didn’t have leaves that changed into hues of gold and yellow, reds and oranges like some of the other taller trees on the rim. It only had thin needles that when cold weather came, fell to the ground and were carried deep into the Canyon by the ever-present wind. In the Spring the Juniper would make the most magnificent pine cones which opened with seeds that too were blown away or eaten by four-legged forest friends. The Juniper didn’t mind. It couldn’t change what it was and believed it too, was very beautiful.

Juniper’s oldest and most notorious friend was the Wind. Wind had been Juniper’s companion for as long as it could recall, shoving it this way and that like an older sibling does to a younger one. Some days Wind made Juniper’s branches gently sway and other days forced them into painful angles; almost to the breaking point. Given all that, Wind visited every day no matter what the weather.

“Hello Juniper. How are you today?”

“I’m well, Wind, thank you.”

“I just wanted to stop by and tell you that later today there’s going to be a storm.” said Wind, matter of fact.

“Is there?” inquired Juniper. “From which direction? Will it be a hard storm or just blustery?” Wind laughed and gusted at a high branch, poking fun.

“Oh, it’s going to come from the North and I’ll be bringing powerful rain with me. You remember rain, don’t you Juniper?”

Having spoken to Wind every day (and knowing Wind doesn’t always tell the truth) Juniper said, “Well, I’ll have to be prepared and let my roots grab firmly. And why yes, you brought rain with you just last week if I recall. It was very nourishing. I was terribly thirsty that day!”

The wind scoffed, shrugged, glanced into the canyon and commented, “It’s a big storm from up way up in the mountains. There could be Lightning, you know. But I can’t say for sure.” Wind again gusted but at a different branch. Juniper was prepared. Wind had toyed with Juniper many times before.

“I think you’ve met Lightning, have you not.” asked Wind, knowing full well Juniper had. Wind danced and circled Juniper.

Wind blew some dust from the rocky ground at Juniper. “You know I have, Wind. I seem to remember the spring you brought lightning with you to visit, and Lightning reached from the sky and struck me.”

“Oh Juniper, we were just playing with you.” said Wind. “We didn’t mean you any harm.” Wind circled Juniper, fluttering its branches. A few needles fell to the ground and rolled away close to the edge. Wind blew the needles over the steep edge.

In fact, Wind hadn’t been playing that night long ago.

That night Wind came late and unexpected. Fog had rolled in like tendrils, thick with moisture. Across the Canyon to the North, Juniper saw Lightning flash in bright forks of jagged light, illuminating the canyon for only brief seconds, casting shadows into the depths and sending white spears high into the colossal thunderheads above. Bolt after bolt crisscrossed the sky and brought with it loud claps of thunder that bounced to and fro off the Canyon’s walls echoing far into the distance.

The clouds moved South quickly towards Juniper, pushed by Wind. Juniper had a feeling Wind was playing a trick but became nervous as the rain began to fall. Slowly and gently at first, then gradually the rain began to pelt the ground. Larger drops followed and the ground became damp, then wet, then soaked. Raindrops pounded Juniper who dug roots deeper into the ground. Streaks of Lightning filled the sky and thunder boomed all around. The rain, pushed by Wind had become a sheet of near horizontal drops. Juniper bore down. Between claps of thunder, Juniper could hear Wind laughing and teasing. “Wake up, Juniper! I brought a friend to see you!” Wind cackled with delight.

Juniper said nothing. Then from high up in the clouds a dagger of lightning struck Juniper and sheared off an entire branch, leaving the end scorched and hot. Juniper almost cried out in pain and was sad to see Wind and Lightning ganging up. The rain soaked the burned branch and doused the glowing embers, cooling the wound. But the branch lay on the ground, still and lifeless.

“Did that hurt, Juniper?” asked Wind in a mean and teasing tone. “We can do it again if you’d like. We can do it over and over until you’re nothing but a burning stump in the ground, can’t we Lightning?” Wind did not always know when too much was too far. Lightning played along, sending another bolt through the sky followed by a loud crack.

Juniper caught its breath. “If that is what you want Wind, I cannot stop you. I’m just a tree and you are the Wind. You can move anywhere you want and I can’t. I am here. I have always been here and I will stay here. You can choose to split me half, you can try to tear me from the ground, but I will endure.”

Wind howled around Juniper. “You have only been in that spot your entire life. I have been everywhere. I have seen the wonders of this canyon. I’ve seen the source of waters that make the river, I’ve seen the river carve canyons and cliffs, I’ve been to every corner and back a thousand times. You’ll never see what I have seen.” Wind’s words hissed and hurt Juniper.

Juniper looked at the branch on the ground. Lightning, seeing Juniper receded high into the clouds and calmed the rain. Lightning felt ashamed that Wind had talked it into hurting Juniper. There was no more thunder, no more flashes of light in the sky. Lightning left Wind and Juniper alone.

Juniper let the words sink in. Juniper thought about its time here on the rim of the Canyon; about the sunny days and the snowy days and days filled with crisp, clean air and the views! Oh the views!

Wind circled and Juniper said, “Wind, you’re right. I’ve been here my entire life. I am not you. I cannot move. I am rooted here. But moving where and when you please does not make you mightier than me.

“Do you see the branch you and Lightning took from me?” Wind said nothing, but swirled fog at Juniper’s feet. “There was a family of Woodpeckers that made their nest in that branch. It was their home.” Wind stopped for a moment, stunned.

Juniper continued, “They have lived there as my friends for many years, coming back every spring. I welcomed them and looked forward to their return. Now I am missing a branch and they no longer have a home.

Wind became still. Quiet.

“That same branch would drop pinecones with seeds in them for some of the animals to eat and to put away for winter. Now I cannot make as many pinecones and some of my animal friends will have to go elsewhere for food. I have known many of them for years and now I may never see some of them again.”

Wind said nothing still.

“I will miss my friend Crow who now will not be able to land on his favorite branch. I will miss my conversations with him and I will also miss sharing the silence of singular moments of beauty and understanding that defy words.”

Juniper spoke calmly. “Wind, you may be able to move all over the Canyon and look at everything, but you do not see anything. I have seen thousands of sunrises and sunsets. I have witnessed colors and hues change countless times all from the same spot. I’ve seen other trees grow and die. I’ve seen the Canyon change slowly over the decades all from this one spot. I have seen the beauty of the world from where I stand and from where I stand I have the most beautiful view in the world.”

Juniper used a branch to motion for Wind to move closer. Wind reluctantly did so.

Juniper whispered, “Wind, you may move through my needles, you may tear at my roots, you may cover me in dust, but you cannot and will not ever move me.”

“Have you ever forgiven me for that night, Juniper?” asked Wind in a very serious tone. After that night Wind had indeed felt very bad. Juniper did not speak to wind for many, many seasons following. Wind would stop by only to be met with silence. Wind could not take back what it had done nor could it find a way to apologize not just for the singular action, but the pain it had caused Juniper’s other friends. Wind hoped that time would heal but it found out that time only deadens the pain. Sometimes the words that need to be said are indeed the hardest words to say.

“I think you know the answer to that, Wind. Why, we’re talking now, aren’t we?” There was a smile to Juniper’s voice.

Wind followed up with, “But you haven’t forgotten either, have you, Juniper?”

“No,” said Juniper, sighing softly. “I have not.”

A silence fell between the two. Each reflecting on the moment. Across the Canyon the storm clouds appeared denser and menacing; threatening rain and moving closer.

“You know what, Juniper?” asked Wind.

“No, Wind. What?”

“I don’t really feel like rain today.”, Wind mused. “Maybe I’ll go chase those dark clouds away. I think a sunset would be more beautiful, don’t you?”

“Wind?”

“Yes, Juniper?”

“We’ll have the most beautiful view in the world.”

***

The Gecko Says

The High Cost of Not Dying

PaulAmador - Copy

The recent press regarding the pharmaceutical company Mylan and the criticism of price gouging for the EpiPen has brought forth – in an election year where debates about the cost of healthcare rage almost daily – significant negative press towards Big Pharma. Now there are talks of impending investigations into Mylan’s business practices which will no doubt cascade throughout the pharmaceutical industry as similar pricing practices are uncovered.

Let’s recap the Mylan incident from this week.

Mylan manufactures the EpiPen product which is widely used to fend off severe allergic reactions and fatal anaphylaxis in adults and children. It is dispensed – as the name suggests – in an easy to use auto-injection device resembling a pen. This week it is being revealed that Mylan had increased the cost of a two-pack of EpiPens to a whopping $600 which is an estimated 400% increase since 2009. Let us just note here, that the EpiPen contains about $1.00 in epinephrine and the auto-injection pen costs a few dollars more. 1

I would like to add that I happen to have an allergy to whitefish where even a small amount ingested could be potentially fatal. Fortunately, my wife Alycia happens to be a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and carries an EpiPen with her at all times in case of such an emergency. Consequently, this particular news item struck a very personal chord with me.

To be fair, in the backlash of this controversy, Mylan has offered to cover $300 of the cost of the EpiPen but still leaves many families to cover the remainder out of pocket.

While there are alternatives to the EpiPen, not all of them possess the rapid delivery system. Further, with the increase in food allergies among children, families have to provide pens to schools and caregivers on a regular basis. And as with all medicines, EpiPens have a specific shelf-life. Even with good health care insurance this life saving medicine can still cost hundreds of dollars each time the prescription is filled.

According to www.foodallergy.org eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.; and like myself, even a small amount can cause a life-threatening reaction. This makes affordable access to this medicine paramount. We’re not talking dollars and cents here; we’re talking human lives.

Why does there seem to be an increase in food allergies? There is no definitive answer as of yet. I have my own theories but I’m not a scientist or a physician so I’ll keep those to myself for now. The facts though are this: food allergies affect 1 in every 13 children. So look up and down your street or do a quick headcount in the average American classroom, take a quick tally of children under 18 and you’ll start to see the wide ranging effects of food allergies.

As if the price hikes of 400% from 2009 weren’t enough, the secondary backlash of the Mylan fiasco was when it was revealed the CEO of Mylan, Heather Bresch earns a staggering $25.8 Million in salary per year. When you see and hear of American families (remember the 1 in every 13 children under 18 with a food allergy statistic?) struggling to make ends meet and yet we see a CEO earning that level of salary, those of us not in that income bracket begin to understand that Big Pharma has indeed – and quite literally – put a price on human life.

Let’s take a quick glance at another life-saving medicine that is on the fast track to disaster – insulin used to treat Type I and Type II diabetes.

For Type II diabetics, most medical professionals will agree the disease can be controlled via diet and exercise. There are of course cases where it cannot and then insulin is required to control blood sugar and A1C levels. Type I diabetics don’t have a choice. They must administer insulin on a regular basis to maintain healthy blood sugar levels or risk severe health issues and possibly death.

Depending on one’s insurance coverage, a 30-day supply of Novalog insulin can run about $110. There are other, cheaper insulins but I’m using this one as an example. Many Insurance companies require Medical Professionals to prescribe a 90-day supply which even I can do that math – $330.00 all at one time. If the diabetic also requires long-term insulin, cap on another $300.00 for a 90-day supply and pray you don’t break a glass vial or accidentally leave the insulin pen on the >90F or dashboard of your car.

By way of comparison, a 30-day supply of Oxycodone (5mg tablets) is going to cost that patient – again, depending on insurance – about $45 per month.2

Antidepressants can potentially be even less expensive. In some cases, the generic versions of Wellbutrin, Zoloft and Effexor can be less than $3.00 for a 30-day supply.

I’m not saying people with chronic pain don’t need relief and people with depression don’t need treatment.

What I am doing is contrasting the cost of lifesaving medicines against the cost of other medicines that have perhaps been on the market just as long; but Big Pharma can control the supply and the overall cost because they can. The significantly lower prices of controlled substances such as Oxycodone almost encourage abuse and misuse. 3 In cities across the nation the rampant over-prescribing of Opioids and its companion drugs are reaching epidemic proportions.

It’s no secret that in the U.S. some drugs can take 10-15 years to make it to the general public. Traditionally drug patents last 20 years before generics can be manufactured. It’s also well known that the FDA has some of the most stringent regulatory controls in the world when it comes to releasing drugs to market. Many would submit that this encourages Big Pharma to price gouge.

At what point does Mylan recoup the Marketing, Research and Developments costs for the EpiPen? Is it possible for a pharmaceutical company to be altruistic when it comes to saving actual lives after they’ve made back the money they’ve put into creating a medicine? Or is it a numbers game where some medicines just take years to develop only to be rejected by the FDA because they fail clinical trials? Thus isn’t Big Pharma hedging their bets on a horse that isn’t even born yet?

I think we all agree that business is business and in the United States we’ve adopted a capitalistic society and economy. It’s what’s made us the most powerful and admired country on Earth. However, with the backs of the middle class straining to maintain a basic quality of life and give their children what I believe most parents want to provide – which is a healthy and better life than they themselves had – when do we rise up and say “enough is enough”? At what point do we ask these companies to be held accountable when they intentionally put lifesaving medicines and healthcare out of our reach or force someone else to decide whether today their loved ones get to eat, or get to take their medicine?

Why should our children, our elderly and ourselves be indentured to Big Pharma when all Big Pharma is doing is placing an ever growing price tag on the cost of not dying?

Be safe.

  • The Gecko

1 Source: CNBC.com

2 https://www.drugs.com/price-guide/oxycodone

3 https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

P.S – Many thanks to my wife Alycia Ernst Amador, FNP, APHN for helping with the research for this article.

P.S.S. Here’s some further reading in your spare, spare time. In case I haven’t made you mad enough. 😉

Patient Access to Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: A Matter of Live and Death:

https://www.aaaai.org/about-aaaai/newsroom/news-releases/patient-access-epinephrine

Food and Allergy Research and Education:

https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats

Mylan Rolls Out New EpiPen Access Plan:

http://www.fiercepharma.com/pharma/mylan-expands-epipen-access-response-to-pricing-crisis

Feeling the Pain of Costly Prescription Drugs

http://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2014/specialty-prescription-drugs.html

Company that hiked drug price 5,000% investigated by U.S. Senate:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/05/news/turing-martin-shkreli-senate-investigation/

From the Gecko

The Day the Earth Tuned Out

PaulAmador - Copy

I wouldn’t say that I remember it “clear as day” because it’s been 37 years, but I’m pretty sure I can just about pinpoint the year and the invention that caused us as a society to tune out.

Fast forward quickly to today and look what we have: the proliferation of the Internet gives us near unlimited access to information on a scale never known before. In our hands we carry a device that does things so miraculous that 400 years ago we would have been burned at the stake for uttering the words “Siri, where is the best New Mexican food in Phoenix?”. Imagine the looks on the faces of the Puritan judges of Salem as Siri replied in her rather enticing Australian accent, “Why Gecko, you make the best New Mexican Food in Phoenix.”

“To the irons with thee, then to the river for the duck test!!”

Rewind. In 1979 I was a freshman in High School in Albuquerque, NM. Like many schools there existed two primary cliques, the Freaks and the Jocks. Being that I was completely useless at pretty much every sports program offered, I fell into the Freaks category which isn’t entirely a bad thing. The Freaks consisted mostly of outcasts, stoners, artsy kids, brains, some nerds and those of us who believed there was more to life than High School. In fact, only a year or so later I would meet my wife Alycia, while hanging out with the other Freaks, at “the Wall”; our designated hang out spot.

I remember quite clearly the day when one of our fellow Freaks – we’ll call him Wayne – walked past us comrades with these strange, spacy looking orange foam headphones, bobbing his head side to side clearly listening to music that none of us could hear. I believe someone called out his name but he just kept walking to class unimpeded, not taking notice of our stunned faces.

Looking back, I imagine the scene of us Freaks glancing at each other thinking “what’s up with Wayne?” must have appeared like Meerkats throwing their heads side to side wondering if there’s a lion in the grass.

What were those things? How do we get some? Most of all, what was Wayne listening to? Freebird? Zeppelin? Steely Dan? Rush? Inquiring minds needed to know! Why would Wayne not talk to any of us? Why were they orange?

Earlier that summer Sony had released the Sony Walkman. The Walkman played cassettes and actually had not one, but two headphone jacks so you and a buddy could listen to whatever music you wanted. Unfortunately, the headphones only had a 3-foot cable so you and your buddy better be pretty close friends and walking in the same direction.

Why was this a break-through? For one simple reason: it allowed you as the wearer to tune everything and everyone out. You no longer had to listen to what someone else wanted on their static-filled AM radio or the Radio Shack stereo in their basement with the penny taped to the top of the needle. It was portable and you no longer had to be social.

I don’t blame Sony for what happened next. All they did was make a product. But like so many pieces of technology today, products get released before we as a society are able to develop protocols – let’s just call them what they really are, manners – for using them in a social environment.

The Walkman taught us that is was okay to shut out society. That it was okay to sit in a doorway or stay in our rooms alone and be entertained. We didn’t have to pay attention to anyone else or converse with our friends and family. It became acceptable to be “that guy” with the funky orange headphones staring into space and bobbing your head to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”.

The ramifications of the Walkman can be seen just about everywhere today. Take Social Media, for example. It’s not terribly social when you consider there’s an entire generation who limit their communication with one another to 140 characters or selfies on Snapchat. Facebook, with all its positive intentions, in some cases becomes Judge, Jury and Executioner with devastating and hurtful results.

Unknowingly the Walkman gave birth to the notion of immediate gratification. A philosophy and a behavior that today has deeply embedded itself into the fabric of our global society. Its roots run deep and the fruit is very sour, indeed.

In the summer of 1979 we changed and there was no going back. It was the year that “We” became “Me”. Truly the ghost in the machine.

Be safe. – The Gecko.