LONG HAIRED HIPPIEThe author on left, with a SCUBA student 33 years ago.


Steve Dresselhaus

Years ago, many years ago,  like in a Star Wars scrolling intro long time ago, I worked my way through college as a SCUBA instructor.  My summers were spent as a dive guide working out of a small dive shop in Tucacas,  a run-down coastal  village in Venezuela dedicated to booze, fishing, booze, booze, tourism and booze.   Yes, the name Tucacas, for you Spanish speakers  is a true and adequate descriptor  of the town.    The diving, though, was really good and it was a fun job.   My days were spent at sea with happy vacationers diving on beautiful coral reefs and enjoying boat rides through the recently created Morrocoy national park.    My late afternoons  were  busy times of running the air compressor and filling  SCUBA tanks in preparation for the next day’s dives.  Few if any tourists who pay good money  for their vacation play  enjoy  gagging on salt water leaking through their regulators and down  their throats;  so my late afternoons were also spent repairing any faulty dive equipment.  Most evenings I hung out  at a beach club  called, what else? – the Tucacas Beach Club, where tradition dictated that the diving tourists buy dinner for the dive guide.  The beach club was located smack-dab in the middle  of the migration route of tens of thousands of  massive,  purple- bodied land crabs which were genetically encoded to walk sideways in a straight line en route to their destination. Table legs, chair legs and human legs were obstacles to be run into and overcome as the rising tide of crabs moved inland to lay their eggs.  At certain times of the year,  the ground level, open-air dining room hosted   not only  a bunch of tourists but also  a moving purple carpet  of hundreds of scurrying  crabs just passing through.

Most of our dive sites were anywhere from a half hour to an hour and half away from  the dock.  Cayo Sombrero, Playuelita,  Cayo  Medio, Playa  Mero and Cayo Norte were some of the sites we would visit.   Beautiful coral reefs and  exotic tropical fish filled the transparent warm waters which were stacked high on a floor of perfect white sand.    Speeding across the rolling blue seas in  the No Hassle, our super-fast dive boat,  almost always produced the ambiance for good conversations with the relaxed vacationing tourists.  One of my repeat clients was a psychologist from Caracas.  He would come to  the dive shop with his teen-aged son.  He was the goofy kind of psychologist who fit every stereotype of a shrink you ever had.   He was a caricature of his profession.  And he could not, or at least would not,  make a space between his life and his work.  Everything he did was an analysis of others.  He was pleasant  in a weird sort of way, but nuttier  by far than any of his patients.

Bouncing, rolling and slicing through the warm southern Caribbean waves  in our dive boat one day,  this psychologist declared the reason I liked to SCUBA dive so much was that I was seeking the warmth and security of my mother’s womb.  He was not joking.   Because I tend towards gentleness and kindness I did not laugh out loud.   My repartee was to ask him if the reason we tucked our  chin to our chest and pulled our knees up  when we rolled backwards off the boat into the water  was in  an attempt  to recapture  the fetal position.  “Puede ser.  Puede ser.”  (It could be. It could be)  was his reply.  I had always scoffed at psychology, and this incident  only served to  further deepen my disdain for the Freudian  follies of the head healers.

Those days in  Tucacas were carefree.  Those days were exciting.  Those days were a lot of fun; but unfortunately  I made enough money to ruin my life by being able to pay my way through college and thus passively  get  sucked  millimeter by unsuspecting millimeter into the  life-controlling, life-draining,  materialistic quagmire called middleclass suburban America.  Now, unfortunately,  I am an adult, sadly and tragically much  more so  than  when I was in my early twenties, back  at  a time when life was nothing but a fun and wild continuum  of adventure after  carefree adventure for which I got paid.  Now life  is all about making sure the mortgage is paid, the kids’ college is covered,  and that our house in the suburbs doesn’t impact our neighbors negatively in anyway.  Living the American dream is a never-ending  nightmare of wanting more, buying more and then, like Tantalus, discovering that you are eternally just one  possession short of happiness.  At t the senior management level,  work  is filled with stresses and making solomonic decisions between conflicted parties (some of whom I would not mind cutting in two).   Life and work at this level are filled with sleepless nights  and chest-tightening conflict resolution.  Life at this level is simply difficult, and I have to honestly say that sometimes I really miss the old life, when the greatest pressure was from 90 feet of warm transparent Caribbean  sea water giving me a full body hug.  Maybe the goofy shrink was half right.

At this point in the narrative, as a follower of Jesus,   I’m supposed to report on a particular, special moment in my daily Bible reading and pull out a verse that I tell you changed my life and attitude and which  gave me the strength  and courage to go on.  It didn’t happen, at least not today.  Today’s passage was in II Peter 3, where Peter is telling us that Paul’s writings are hard to understand and that some readers  twist them  in harmful ways.  Thanks Pete… like I really needed that today…..interesting but not what I was hoping for this morning.   Maybe tomorrow  I’ll discover the miracle scripture that will fix everything.

Now, three decades after my SCUBA guide days, I am no longer anti psychologist, particularly after my wife and I ran a safe house for abused women and children in Mexico for five years and were in desperate need of mental  health  professionals,   not only for  the women and children we hid but likely for ourselves as well.  Being pro-psychology now doesn’t mean I accept the goofy shrink’s assessment of why I like to dive –  that I am  in pursuit of the security of my mother’s womb.  I’m kind of Nicodemic* on that front.   However,  a roll over the gunnels  of a dive boat and  back into the warm embrace of the  Caribbean would be nice about now as the pressures of work are many, the stresses of suburban American  life are a Mount Everest of insurmountablity, and the struggle against the shallowness of relationships in the burbs is a never-ending battle yet to be won.

Maybe I should just  throw my  kayak  up on the roof rack of my Subaru and take off for a few days to think in the solitude  of God’s wonderful  creation and clear my mind, which is a bit overcrowded with concerns these days. It has always worked before.  I think I’ll do that – as soon as I can fit it into my schedule.

*Nicodemus was a Jewish religious leader  who in a secret nighttime meeting with Jesus asked about how to initiate a proper relationship with God.    Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be “born again.” In other words,  all his hard work at self-salvation  hadn’t amounted to anything and never would.   At first Nicodemus didn’t get it because of his literal interpretation of Jesus’ words.  Later evidence indicates he did become a follower of Jesus.





Steve Dresselhaus

I’ve lived on this planet for over half a century.  I  am college educated.  I have an executive position in an international agency.  I also believe God  gave us rational minds capable of discerning  between right and wrong, wise and foolish,  practical and impractical, and sanity and lunacy.  You would think by now I would have  the sense  not to  eat something that should not be eaten by any rational person, at least not with international travel looming a few hours later.

The food in question was a hot sauce concocted, probably  by some witch-doctor-in-a trance channeling the Marquis de Sade, from the Piaroa tribe in Venezuela’s Amazon jungle.  The comforts and benefits of modern civilization, assuming they are generally beneficial or at least benign,  have not  fully reached the Tarzan-worthy jungles of Venezuela.  However, the technology enabling the Piaroa to bottle their hot sauce has reached through the jungle canopy, allowing them to export  their biological weapons–under the guise of hot sauce–to an unsuspecting world.

Donning a hazmat suit is what a person wiser than I would have done after looking at the bottle of sauce and prior to pouring the vile stuff onto my corn meal patties called arepas.   Fat, juicy white grubs, looking  like tequila worms on steroids,  floated in slow motion in the brown sludge inside the bottle.   In addition to the grubs, brown  multi-shaped object, hovered and floated slowly up  the neck of the bottle in an  inverted slow motion Tetris.  Upon closer inspection the brown, multi-shaped objects the size of ants turned out to be the heads, abdomens and thoraxes of  ants, big ones  — army ants,  a whole platoon of them —  dismembered  army ants in an entomological  M.A.S.H.  gone wrong.  Ants, the kind with the over-sized abdomens, filled the bottle, preserved like Lenin and Mao in the noxious liquid.  The bottle was their sarcophagus, the brown sludge their  embalming fluid.

If you remember  your  unit in high school entomology you will recall that the abdomen on insects is the fat roundish part at the opposite end from  the head.  The Piaroa tribe, perhaps not aware of the fine distinctions in ant physiology, but accurate nonetheless  in their interpretation after observing the big fat  part of the ant’s end which scientists call “the rear end” (italics to make it look like it was written in Latin), named them “Bachaco Culon.”  A  rough translation into English would be “Big  _ _ _ army ant.”  I used the blanks so as to not offend those  readers who may be of a more conservative mindset.  Fill in the blank with a three letter word for gluteus maximus, or by naming the animal on which  Balaam rode.  Anyone conservative enough to be offended by _  _ _ will be biblically literate enough to understand the reference to Balaam.

I poured some of the stuff onto my plate and ate it.  Why?  It looked horrible and tasted worse.  I’m not even  sure the Piaroa would eat the stuff.  They were probably  back in their jungle huts thinking, “Ha ha, look what we got the dumb Gringo to eat.  Ha ha.”  Pride? Stupidity? Misguided sense of adventure?  I really don’t know why I ate it; but now, five days into the joys of what is probably acute salmonella, I am seriously questioning the wisdom of having tried the stuff.

My flight back to the US was an adventure in human misery.  Up at 1:45 AM to get to the airport.  It is always hard to get up at 1:45 AM; but after four  hours of sleep, interrupted by multiple pain propelled  trips to the bathroom, I was truly in a foul and unhappy frame of mind.  The Venezuelan airport security personnel seemed to sense my misery and took ghoulish joy  in turning  my life into a glacially slow purgatory of non-moving lines.  Every second in the non-moving  lines, the burning magma deep within the geology of my bowels  boiled and roiled as the Gondwanaland in my gut seemed to break apart in continental drift.

Then came the flight.  I was incarcerated in the aluminum tube  of death.  The tiny bathrooms in the back  were a full expedition away from my assigned seat up in  8C.  The shackles of my seat belt tied me down as effectively as the chains and leg irons of any ancient Roman prison.   The pilot, clearly  clairvoyant,  sensed every time I needed to head back to the coffin-sized bathroom in economy class and would sadistically and with evident   glee announce, “Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. We are expecting some turbulence. You will  probably die immediately if you don’t buckle up right now.”  It was a turbulence that never came.  He knew, he just knew of my agony and was deliberately attempting to augment my suffering.  I wanted to yell out to him, “Turbulence! Turbulence!  Buddy, let me tell you what turbulence is. There is not an aircraft on the planet that could survive the turbulence in my gut.”

Finally, I was free to get up out of my seat and rush back to the bathrooms at the back of the plane.  No! No! No!, the flight attendants were serving meals.  The aisle was blocked!  Do I climb over?  Do I pretend the seats are hurdles?    After telling one of the flight attendants of my dire predicament he came to my aid, making  my ensuing trips  to the back of the plane flow as smoothly as a presidential motorcade.  I doubt it was sympathy for me that induced his kind behavior.  As a unionized flight attendant he was thinking more in terms of work avoidance.  By putting two and two together he realized that helping me to the bathroom was the lesser of two evils.  I could feel the love.

Several geologic ages later the flight ended and I made it home.  If you are fortunate enough to have invested in the parent company of Pepto Bismol you can now retire in wealth, as I have personally helped increase its market share,  lifting its stock values  to new heights.