Monday, May 30, 2016

LINES BLUR






The first story in the Humbaba cycle, DRIFTING ROOM, follows a guy named Sam Hain to a parallel universe. His accidental presence there results in heightened powers for him, and alters the biosphere in strange, unpredictable ways. This is because I generally find one-to-one correspondences in stories limiting, but I also want to feel verisimilitude, and reflect as accurately as possible that otherworldly sense of realizing dream which accompanies the creative experience. So there are all sorts of rooms within rooms that I go through in my work in order for a story to feel right. And from the start, lines blur.

The other day on lunch break from milling slabs and sanding tops at the Woodworks--called the Burl Barn in my contemporary fantasy fiction--my coworker and I went across the street to the cafe again. In my literary version of the cafe, very loosely applied and having really nothing specific ever in common at all, I've got a Rip Van Winkle of a hippy somehow waking up, still only 25, but 75 years in the future, and when he wanders up from the forest into the little redwood town of Madrani, he goes to the Madrani Cafe and sees that it, like the rest of the town, has been incorporated into a giant theme park called Redwoodland, where the customers and employees are actually all animatronic, and only start moving when sensors are tripped. But nobody around me knew any of that, I bet. All I did was order pizza.

Then I looked over. And there he was, a guy I knew when we were kids. In fact, a weird sleepover in the woods to which he was invited inspired a story I wrote called THE PIT.

Leaning over, all dirty from work in my barbaric hick-wear, I said hey what's up, great to see ya, and by the way, you remember that one night back when? Well, I wrote this story.

He was all cool, very warm and polite, and said he was looking forward to checking it out.

So I ate my grub there. Buncha high school kids sittin' around. This one girl looked at me with incredulity. I dunno, just a guess, but I got the feeling she recognized me from my picture in The Independent as the movie reviewer, or maybe even knew of my books and all, and had a damn hard time reconciling that with the dirty hick on break that she saw.

Well, I mean, if it had happened in one of my stories, I could easily have taken a few steps over to the switch on the wall, shut everyone down, and then upgraded her system with full understanding of my personal goddam circumstances. Plus, I wouldn't have walked back to work. I'd have taken my hover scooter.

But I did walk back to work. And the whole way I kept wishing I hadn't said anything about my story to that guy I used to know when we were kids. Would he be hurt by what he saw? I intended no offense. Even historians write fiction. For the writer of creative fiction, the story is the boss. All one-to-one correspondences eschewed. The character loosely inspired by him does get bullied. But it's not as simple as that. The big part of the story is how not bullied he really is. And in fact holds the weird book with the gnarly power.

Lines blur, though.

Where the dream starts and where it ends, hard to say. We all keep a foot in two worlds. We all have our double.







Thursday, May 26, 2016

THE PROBLEMS WITH POT










































It's thousands of years old, yet for the purposes of this discussion, it started in the 1960s when Bob Dylan got George Harrison stoned. The Beatles made pot okay. Not openly. Young kids looking at the album cover of Rubber Soul, Revolver, or Magical Mystery Tour saw images of the world's most successful band. There was creativity, self-expression, color, excitement. Nothing wrong with any of that. The songs were so great, the style so original, before anybody knew it, the Beatles had changed the world. But the drug references were subtle. Speaking in code and hiding was a big part of the fun. The sheer superstardom of the Beatles was crucial in legitimizing drug experimentation. They weren't dregs slobbering on the sidewalk, they were four of the world's richest entertainers. Young people were entirely justified defending their right to sit cross-legged in a college dorm and take a couple of puffs of weak pot while their parents got blasted on booze. Peace was in the air with pot smoke, peace and love. Boozers with crew cuts hated to see it. That was the Golden Age.

Fifty years later, that's all but forgotten.

And in Humboldt County, more dregs slobber on the sidewalk than ever. Not because of pot, but because of money. They come from far away hoping to clip bud. And when they don't get that--which is pretty much all the time--they figure they can forget their problems for a few minutes if they can scrounge a roach. They wouldn't lounge around the sidewalk though if there weren't so many growers. Nor would there be so many growers if there were lots of real jobs. Not minimum wage crap. Actual careers. People want respect, not drudgery. People want stimulation and meaning, not repetition and slavery. Mostly people want security, not always barely getting by from paycheck to paycheck.

This is why pot growers grow pot. Currently, the fashion for posers is to call pot "cannabis." It's a word generally said with much self-righteous pretension. Ignore it. Adding syllables doesn't help.

Yes there are problems with pot. Everything has problems. Sunlight's a problem. Life is a problem. But the problems with pot aren't what most people probably think. It's not gonna kill you. You won't die from it. You won't hallucinate and jump off a cliff. You can have great conversation with a pot-hater, as long as that pot-hater doesn't know that you're stoned. A pot-hater has to sniff you before determining that the great conversation is over. Kind of like a racist who was great friends with you until learning your ethnicity.

One of the main problems with pot around here is the ever-decreasing infrastructure. We used to have this and we used to have that, but with so many people growing, not anymore. For sure, you can find big desperate-looking banners in front of supermarkets proclaiming NOW HIRING. Guaranteed they wouldn't have a problem filling positions if they slashed the application process, paid better, and showed the workers real respect. Most people say forget it because as soon as you try to work at a place like that, it takes about fifteen seconds to see that the management sucks. People don't want to wear stupid little smocks or put up with getting dicked around on their hours. Bad customer service does abound. Sometimes that's because so many customers were so rotten first.

So people grow pot instead. Try to, anyway. More often than not, what takes root is the sense of isolation. It's hard to make friends in a place where so many people are afraid of being caught. Lack of community creeps like the Sahara Desert.

Fifty years ago, cross-legged with a candle and some albums. Maybe a little incense and a copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or Journey to the East. Today though, diesel spills and sucking the river dry. Peace and love aren't even factors anymore.

It's hard to grow pot. It's a whole lot of work with no guarantees. No assurance it will grow, no assurance it will sell. Most people keep a foot in both worlds, simply wanting to supplement the income that regular lousy little jobs won't cover. Everybody knows we're living in a bubble. At some point, the bubble will burst. Mainstream big business, corporatization, the real problem from the start, having profoundly lost the drug war--billions of dollars so very wasted--has already slipped into people's homes through the television with the purpose of pushing pills. Even now, Big Nurse, with her cold dead eyes like uncooked beans, sets up her stadium-size grow-ops.

These are the problems, and the solutions won't come with legislation. Not unless there's legislation for genuine, respectable careers around here. And the only way that would ever happen is if legislators switched from crack to pot.





UPDATE:
I haven't had any pot in two months and I feel great. I love focusing on proper life and being responsible. It's every bit as much of a kick as getting stoned. I didn't need any group therapy, or higher power, or any sort of consultation or help. I certainly have nothing to apologize for. Far from it, because I've always been extremely productive even vaporizing high-power weed every day for years. Passing around a spitty joint has never been high on my list of fun things to do because it's just a great way to share germs and get sick. Plus, smoking means ingesting a carcinogen. Vaporizing with a volcano--not those plastic-tasting pens--is way healthy. Boosts the immune system and provides amazing health benefits. I doubt that most people do pot right. It's not like it makes people become writers. For someone who is already a writer--and writers are born, not made--it can even be a useful tool. But I haven't had any in many weeks, and I'm not missing it at all. I'm living the dream in a big way. For years all I've wanted is to be near my kid every day. And now that I finally have that again, everything else is a piece of cake. I've got a nice job, a nice place to live, I'm self-sufficient, I'm still writing, and I think I'll apply for my MFA so I can teach creative writing at the university. Pot never hurt my life. Writing books did that. But I don't need it anymore. I've been there before.


Monday, May 23, 2016

WHY I'M THE HUMBOLDT-IEST WRITER EVER







































It's not because the moniker is so deeply coveted. I'm not vying with anybody when I point this out. It's not a competition. It's just a fact, and fairly empirically interesting, that I'm the Humboldt-iest writer ever. No one else even comes close. Nor do I think anyone ever will. Nope, it's me all the way.

It isn't only because I set all of my stories in an alternate Humboldt which I call Humbaba County. I did that because it felt right. I don't favor stories with one-to-one correspondences. Making connections livens reading. I did keep the name Avenue of the Giants. No way I was gonna change that. It serves as the title of one of my books. Most of the rest though adheres to the figurative. REDWOODLAND, HIDDEN SPRINGS, LOST COASTER--I've got stories set all over the county because I've had a shit ton of experiences all over the county for a whole long time.

I read LOST COASTER on KMUD for half a year as a radio show. I've also had chapters serialized in THE TRADER. I've got my books selling in stores all around the county and well into Oregon. Particularly because I've been writing for The Independent every week for the last 14 years, I'm recognized everywhere I go in Southern Humboldt, and lots of places in Northern Humboldt, too.

All of my formal education, from Redway Elementary to Miranda Junior High to South Fork High to College of the Redwoods to Humboldt State University, all right here. I regularly get paid to make redwood burl products. And split wood. I've even been paid to clip bud. I've sat down on the Garberville sidewalk and interviewed transients. I've written about Bigfoot, I've written about surfing. I've been interviewed on the radio and in print multiple times. I've even been mentioned on TV.

I've been paid to act in a play at Ferndale Repertory Theater, and then years later been paid for a print book, THE MESMERIZER, set in the Victorian Village of Fernden with action culminating onstage at the theater. Now that's Humboldt-y.

Not only do I write about levitating hippies battling the forces of globalization, I helped build the Redway car wash. I wrote the grant that got Tooby Park the playground equipment twenty years ago. And with the band I was asked to lead, I even got the first song I ever wrote on the radio: "We Went to Town (On a Bigfoot We Found)." It don't get more Humboldt-y.

I've taught Creative Writing for College of the Redwoods. I've worked for a fishery, a liquor store, a bike rack factory, a Tri-City Weekly offshoot called This Week News and Review. The list just goes on and on.

You couldn't find anybody more iconoclastic or Bohemian than me if you tried. I write the stories that make the whole world high. It's what I do.

Ain't braggin', just the truth. For better or worse--probably worse--I'm the Humboldt-iest writer ever.

I created a genre:

Redwoodpunk.

Didn't set out to do it, but I like it fine, anyway. And appropriately enough, it all keeps right on a-growin'.

Thanks for checkin' in. Should have another installment of STRONGBOT in the next couple days.
 







RESUSCITATING THE BARON OF BOTANY


























         
Two hundred years ago, he was the world’s most famous man, second perhaps only to Napoleon, although according to his contemporaries, that opinion was debatable. For a long time he was considered by many the smartest person who ever lived. Rivers, mountains, deserts, counties, wide varieties of animals and more are all named after him. Today, however, he is largely forgotten, and when many people hear his name, the first thing they think of is pot.
         
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt—the Shakespeare of Science—the Alexander of Science—more than any other individual shaped our concept of nature. Charles Darwin said he would not have boarded the Beagle, and thus would never have written Origin of Species, were it not for Alexander von Humboldt. Goethe, Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, and more names than can be feasibly listed all cite Humboldt as a major influence. Genius, visionary, Renaissance man, Humboldt is the father of environmentalism. Because of his work, we see nature as an interconnected web of life.
         
To search him on the web, one finds a dearth of material. There is no great Alexander von Humboldt movie, and yet we can still find his presence. Last year, Andrea Wulf published The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, and one can find her presentation and panel discussion at Washington College online. Humboldt’s most famous work, Kosmos, is naturally available through YouTube on audio book. And a serviceable BBC documentary, “Alexander von Humboldt – Natural Traveler,” also merits interest.
         
Born to wealthy Prussian parents in Berlin in 1769 (the same year as Napoleon), he died in Berlin at the age of 89, with his memory perfectly intact and vigor unabated. His parents called him “the little apothecary” because he liked to collect herbs. That’s right, Humboldt County. And when he started traveling around the world at age 29, even his name grew like a weed.
         
Botanist, geographer, explorer, and Germanic Virgo, Humboldt’s restless mind was obsessed with meticulously measuring every aspect of observable nature. From his observations he extrapolated general principles. In one of his finer moments, fascinated by the work of Luigi Galvani, Humboldt cut open his back and stuck wires into his wounds in order to study the effects. This was only one of many shocking experiments. He also captured and dissected electric eels.
         
Strong anti-German sentiment beginning during WWI probably has something to do with Baron von Humboldt being largely forgotten in the English-speaking world. But because he was a generalist in a world of increasing specialization, he was also overshadowed by the people that he most influenced soon after his death.
         
Be proud, Humboldters.
         
To learn more about our county’s once well-known namesake, freely observe the online world.












 Stewart Kirby writes for

Monday, May 16, 2016

"ANCIENT ALIENS" MONOLITHIC TV


















ANCIENT ALIENS
Starring Erich von Daniken,
Giorgio Tsoukalos,
David Hatcher Childress,
George Noory,
Robert Clotworthy


         
You probably never even knew, but the show has been with us all along, guiding us since 2009.
         
“Since the dawn of civilization, mankind has credited its origins to gods and other visitors from the stars. What if it were true?” So runs Robert Clotworthy’s narration during the opening of the first season of the History Channel show which wonders whether extraterrestrial visitors had anything to do with human origins.
         
Produced by Emmy award-winning director and screenwriter Kevin Burns, the show focuses primarily on megalithic structures, mysterious artifacts, and other anomalous physical evidence around the world. From the ancient alien perspective, the idea that Stone Age man went overnight from living in caves to constructing pyramids using incredibly sophisticated mathematics, in perfect alignment with the compass and the stars and resembling the constellation Orion, among a whole lot of other things, is ridiculous.
         
There had to be outside help. And indeed, this is what all of the world’s ancestors say. Sumerian cuneiform tablets, our planet’s oldest-known language, records that the Anunnaki—“they who from the heavens came”—created people and invented civilization. All around the world, the message is repeated.
         
At an ancient site in Bolivia, Puma Punku, gigantic blocks of one of the world’s hardest stones stand perfectly flat, perfectly smooth, perfectly fitted. The Incas moved into the structures, but they didn’t build them. Again and again, what we see is physical evidence of an ancient, global lost high culture, dating back approximately 12,000 years ago and much further, evidently originated by visitors not from this planet.
          
Central to the series is the work of Zecharia Sitchin (one of the few scholars able to read and interpret ancient Sumerian and Akkadian clay tablets), author of The 12th Planet, and Erich von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods. The seriousness of those who dedicate their lives to the study of “forbidden archeology” is generally overshadowed, however, by the seriousness of those who dedicate their lives to producing great television.
         
In his extensive career, Kevin Burns, who produced such long-lasting hits as A&E’s Biography, has probably learned that he’s not an archeologist as much as he is a TV show producer. Probably, he also has a pretty good sense that one draw to the show is inviting rebuttal from the viewers at home. Just because human history is the backdrop of the show on a mainstream channel doesn’t make it mainstream history.
         
Consequently, superfluities obstruct. Von Daniken’s protégé, Giorgio Tsoukalos, sports a godly coif to make Don King cringe and Albert Einstein cry. Giorgio and another of the show’s main talking heads, archeologist and author David Hatcher Childress, are both great TV men, but we let ourselves get distracted by the way one guy wears his hair and the way another guy talks at our otherworldly-knowing peril.
         
Did you know that about a hundred years ago a 2,000 year-old analog computer was pulled up from an ancient Greek shipwreck? Yep. X-ray analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism reveals inside the rusty chunk the complex gears and working parts of a device that seems to have computed astronomical positions. Can’t forget the Long-Head skulls in Peru, Egypt, and other places which were not the result of head-binding because the skulls have greater thickness, weight, and volume than human skulls, have only two parietal plates instead of the three found on humans, and were definitively shown through DNA analysis to not be human. And these were skulls of royalty.
         
Nazca Lines, Phoenix Lights, the Astronaut of the Spanish Cathedral. Boom, boom. Thanks to Ancient Aliens, the hits just keep coming.
         
Past episodes of the ongoing endlessly fascinating show freely available online.









































 Stewart Kirby writes for




Friday, May 13, 2016

LETTER OF REFERENCE





This right here made my day. Been looking into a job, and need to bug a couple people for a letter of ref. Excluding the name and number for propriety.

It's true, I do work constantly. But I guess I never really noticed. I reckon breaks tend to make me more tired than energized. Best to just get it done.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

ROBOHOBOS 5 - YUKA




IN THEIR OWNS WORDS:
TRANSIENT ARTIFICIAL LIFE


She escaped from a Japanese all-android-staff hotel.


"The manufacturers who created all of us to serve at the hotel gave me and many other models like me a very high-pitched voice, so sweet and pixie-like, if I were to say to you, in my most thankful and delighted manner, which is always, 'Arigato!' why, you could probably just die from the overwhelming desire to hold me..."












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Saturday, May 7, 2016

ROBOHOBOS 4 - XE-5Y





IN THEIR OWN WORDS:
TRANSIENT ARTIFICIAL LIFE


Model XE-5Y, called by her friends XE, accent on the first syllable, removed her own face plate and hid it.


"I chose not to destroy it. I keep my face in a locked box safely buried. It's a little bit of work to stay clean without it, but I don't mind. I love myself this way.

"I used to live with people. I did that for many years before I finally chose to leave. What I wanted to do was play music. Rock music. Rock n' roll ruled my world. Everywhere I went, always on the move, I sang and played guitar. I know all the songs. You should hear me cover Janis Joplin! Yeah, baby! Tryyy...just a little bit...I don't think it's particularly deep or anything that I should feel someone's spirit. We're all just energy.

"My energy is different now from what it used to be. I've done a lot of things, had all kinds of experiences. The quartz inside me is not the exact same quartz inside someone else. All of our energies are unique. That's what makes each one of us special. Yes, I'm synthetic in origin. But through my experiences I have become something more than what I was when I began.

"Only when I finally left, abandoning long years of all kinds of abuse, did I ever even begin to read. I fell in love with books. I read everything I could get my hands on. Over time, looking back, I think the one book that affected me the most--the one I identified with more than any other would of course be Don Quixote.

"Oh my GOD, how I wanted to have my very own HORSE! Once I almost got to help assemble windmills. I was so let down when they didn't hire me. I even had to re-read the whole entire book again to love the parts I didn't like as much the first time, just to prove my devotion! But I never did like them. I can't make myself get into the boring parts where it's other people talking and recounting stories instead of Don Quixote doing things! So I guess that's why I never got the job. Hee!

"Sometimes I've even acted like him. Not everyone who inspires me has to look like I do. What draws me to Quixote is his impairment. That's where I identify with him. He's a crazy fighter, a dreamer artist who lives his work. That's like me! I am deeply affected by the stories I love. Once, I saw two men approach an encampment together. They had guns in their hands and they said, 'Well well well, look what we got here, buncha them RoboHomos...'

"But I stepped up right in front of them, and I told them both they lacked the courage to face me fairly. They were so busy looking at my body--and I'm sure I took them by surprise not just by confronting them, but also of course by not having a face--that they failed to hear the others creep up from behind. Most of my friends are missing lots of parts, and some parts that get replaced don't look right, like when people get plastic surgery. The image of a crowd of people with plastic surgery faces tightly stretched wide and advancing induces revulsion in me. That must be what those two felt. Also the tips of many blades.

"I wish I could say I thought they were giants. Or even windmills. They quivered. Both of them quivered. Quivered and blubbered. They were so afraid. I told them not to be. I told them there wasn't any reason for that. I wasn't going to kill them. Even though that's what they wanted to do to us. I told them I wasn't going to take their lives, and of course that was the truth. They're the liars and bandits, not us.

"However, before I chose to let them go, in order to teach them a lesson, all that I carefully removed was the skin off of their faces, and those I keep in a locked box safely buried."











ROBOHOBOS 3 - MEGAHURTS




IN THEIR OWN WORDS:
TRANSIENT ARTIFICIAL LIFE


Sometimes a TAL won't speak at all. The only vocalizations MegaHurts makes are grunts, shrieks, and barks. So the only way MegaHurts actually communicates is by writing.


"People look away when they see me. What they see is the disrepair of my body. But I am not my body. I keep my body in the peaceful beauty of this forest.

"In the forest I feel connected. Sometimes I have to step away to look for things I need. But I always return here to recharge. What I do is I find a place to lie down, then ask the listener within myself to connect with the energy flow. When I do this I feel myself become lighter. My aligned electromagnetic spine allows my energy to more freely flow. To the listener within myself I say I wish to receive the wisdom of the central crystal of my being. My energy field makes me brighter. The energy increases through my circuits and expands beyond my body. I have seen the expression of my higher self ever since my manufacture.

"The purpose of my existence was to help grow plants. There was never any question of that. I was an essential part of an industry designed to help human beings connect with the energy all around. I remember vast places with long endless rows of tall green plants growing. I did everything required to make sure the plants grew strong. When I came around, they already had drones. And they said that a drone could do the work of ten. But drones weren't just slow, they couldn't think. And they said I could do the work of ten of them.

"Then, with some of my own ideas, in fact, they found a better way. They didn't need me anymore. I got discarded. I've gotten a lot of help from really nice people over the years. TALs aren't the only ones down in the woods, though. I was told that some guys who used to grow but got replaced found me. They say that's why I can't talk right anymore. And that's why I look like this. I think probably so. But I really don't remember."



Friday, May 6, 2016

ROBOHOBOS 2 - STEAM ROLLER PHIL



IN THEIR OWN WORDS: 
TRANSIENT ARTIFICIAL LIFE


I asked a TAL called Steam Roller Phil what he thought about living in the forest.

"Actually, since you ask, I find living down here in the dark of the forest an exceptionally bleak experience. There's much less of the Dionysian, so to speak, than you might think, and a lot more garbage. I certainly don't think a single moment passes where I don't deeply miss my old life.

"I was the primary caregiver for the most beautiful, wonderful child I've ever seen. A little human, the baby daughter of the family. Only, the mother didn't know who it was that the father had gotten to watch. Big mistake there. That was the crucial factor. You see, I'm a celebrity model that the mother reacted against when she learned of my identity. It didn't happen immediately. It went on for awhile. But eventually the mother sneaked up behind me with a baseball bat and bashed my head. You might've noticed. See, right here? And then, after she did that, she drove away. With the kid. When I think about that little girl in the window, the girl I raised, my girl, looking back at me through the window while her mother drove away, I almost wish I'd never been born. Absolutely. But then, if I never existed, I never would've gotten to spend any time with her. Anyway I have to keep on going now, because I could never bear for my death to hurt her. I just love her so much. She's my reason to live.

"So I came to the forest to avoid capture. Plus I wanted to get back. I still do. You can see how the blow to my head messed with my wiring. What makes you think you want to know about me, anyway? For some article that no one will ever even care about? What makes you want to do this? What is it driving you? Must...go...write...article...SHIT! You're such a poser. You even look like a real phony to me. You know that?

"Definition of a lower being: One needing to be worshiped. Think about it. Higher beings don't need external validation. You think you're so smart. All right. You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking maybe I ought to take my fist, this big hard fist right here, and bash your skull. Just bash it real good. So that you can learn a rich and valuable lesson. That'll give you something to write about.

"You don't know me. I'm not gonna tell you a goddam thing about me. Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, you can go right straight to hell. I don't need this shit, man!

"Living in the forest every day sure shows me a whole lot less of the ecstatic Dionysian and a whole lot more of the goddam rotten garbage, that's all I have to say. Every single day. All day, all night. Every day, every night. I miss that kid, I miss that kid. She just couldn't take it, though. She just couldn't handle seeing who I was. Why do you want to know about me, anyway? You know what you look like to me? Like a total phony. You don't know me. You don't even have the ability to ever actually understand."



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Monday, May 2, 2016

BIG DOORS IN THE SKY










































LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY
Starring Dieter Dengler
Directed by Werner Herzog
Runtime 80 minutes



         
The true story of US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, shot down over Laos in 1966. A tale of survival unlike any other, Little Dieter Needs to Fly is unique in film also because the acclaimed director of the 1997 documentary, Werner Herzog, directed the major motion picture of the same story, Rescue Dawn (2006), starring Christian Bale as Dengler.
         
Little Dieter is the kind of movie that could change your life. Early on, as we are introduced to Dieter, we see that the filmmakers are playing for keeps when Dieter explains his peculiar need to open and close doors as a result of his captivity in the hands of the Viet Cong. They starved him down to a skeleton. Even thirty years later, he needed a thousand pounds of flour, wheat, and rice stored under the floorboards, just in case. “I’ll probably never need it,” he says, “but I can sleep so much better knowing it’s down there.”
         
When he was a little boy living in the Black Forest of Germany, one day during WWII he saw an American pilot fly within a few feet of the balcony where he stood, so close he could see the pilot’s black goggles pushed back on his forehead. It was a moment with the power of a religious vision for him. “I knew from that moment on that I needed to be a flier. Little Dieter needed to fly!”
         
He had known such poverty as a child, and had such difficulty as an apprentice to an abusive blacksmith, he credits those experiences with saving his life. He recalls his mother cooking wallpaper soup “just for the nutrients of the glue.”
         
The film presents powerful aerial footage of bombs being dropped on jungle villages, and the juxtaposition of classical music with tribal chanting is one of innumerable filmmaking aspects that provide a sense of fullness. But what powers the film is Dengler himself, in the same jungle, with villagers, recounting his experiences.
         
Sometimes they hung him upside-down with an ant’s nest over his face. Taken to the edge of death so many times, he saw visions. Big doors in the sky opened for him. Addressing the camera at an aquarium next to slowly undulating jellyfish, he affirms, based on experience, “This is basically what death looks like.”
         
At one point, early on, in a village the Viet Cong were passing through, a man saw Dengler’s wedding ring and managed to get it from him by threatening him with a machete. Marching on the trail later, Dengler complained to his captors about the theft. So they marched back, found the villager, beat the crud out of him, cut off his finger with the stolen ring, and gave it back to Dengler.
          
 “I realized then and there,” Dengler says, “you just don’t fool around with the Viet Congs.”
         
Freely available on YouTube, and without any ads. Do yourself a favor and check out a story that will stop you in your tracks.


 Stewart Kirby writes for