The Wilds of Nepal
Premiered – 1 May 2004 (Beltane)
Dan Sewell Ward
Herman swallowed hard, his body sinking deeper into the cushion as if he might avoid notice of the intruder by meshing into his seat. His face took on the color to match the seat's pale shade of gray, while his hands gripped the armrests and his legs stiffened in order to be ready for an attack of any kind. Herman added a weak smile to suggest the possibility of a negotiated settlement, just in case the man now approaching him was so inclined.
The intruder, wearing the uniform of a corporate jet's captain, merely smiled at Herman and reached out to shake hands, one of those "up close and personal" things corporate jet captains feel constrained to do, particularly when they are new on the job and have never flown a particular VIP before. From Herman's perspective, however, the pilot's smile was more the cast of a hulking mugger finding you alone in a dark alley, where it was suddenly clear that you might be -- among other things -- ripped limb from limb.
Herman managed to shake the beaming pilot's hand, a hand Herman noticed, covered with a heavy coat of black hair and accentuated by strong, sharpened fingernails. As they pressed into the palm of his outstretched hand, not quite drawing blood, Herman was certain that the fingernails could easily serve as talons. Meanwhile, the pilot introduced himself as "Captain Griff". Herman managed to mutter a weak, unintelligible reply, which had it been overheard by a disinterested observer, would have suggested that Herman was introducing himself as a distant relative of Hopalong Cassidy.
Captain Griff then moved on to check some mechanical feature in the cabin of the jet, while Herman merely watched the "alleged pilot" out of the corner of his eye. The man was huge -- not to mention ugly. With dark tanned features, black hair on every square inch of his body, pointed ears to qualify him as Spock's cousin, and the hindquarters to make any NFL fullback envious, the man was anything but the idealized version of a private corporate jet pilot. Instead, he was more the suggestion of an underworld bodyguard, one who relished dismemberment, and who just happened to have a practiced and charming smile.
Herman shuddered and turned to look forward. Perhaps, he had over reacted slightly. Or more likely, over dramatized greatly. But before Herman could decide which, Captain Griff came back forward and again turned to Herman. "The weather is exceptionally clear ahead, if you would like to fly by Chomolungma. Should be an incredible sight!" When Herman only looked blank, the pilot added, " Mount Everest ."
"Ohhh," Herman suddenly remembered. The mountain so rashly termed Everest by Englishmen and other wayfarers fond of renaming everything worthy of an English speaking map, was more appropriately named by Tibetans as "Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World". Rising over twenty nine thousand feet above sea level, Chomolungma cast a commanding stature about the surrounding mountains, despite the fact that any one of the other mountains might have been considered a rather large hunk of rock had not the mommy of them all been situated relatively nearby.
Herman smiled to himself, as he remembered his most recent visit to see Ester, when he had referred to Chomolungma as "The big daddy of them all" and had thereby received one of his Aunt Ester's extremely rare reprimands. It was she who had informed Herman of the Tibetan's more fitting designation. Herman, always enamored with staying in Ester's good graces, had responded that because Chomolungma was mostly in Tibet , the Tibetans could pretty much call it anything they wanted. Ester had smiled and quietly noted that Herman should perhaps show a bit more respect for Chomolungma, as the Goddess Mother was "back in town". Herman failed to understand Ester's response, but inasmuch as Herman typically failed to understand any of Ester's Delphic pronouncements, he didn't think much more about it.
Herman did think to inform Captain Griff that he'd seen Chomolungma on a clear day once before, and that instead of a flying detour he would prefer to reach his destination as early as possible. Herman didn't add that inasmuch as Ester lived in one of the more inhospitable areas of the world (in order to provide her with her desired privacy) he would need all the time available to make the trek to her home. Captain Griff understood completely and returned to the cockpit, where he joined the copilot/navigator. Herman breathed a sigh of relief at not having to continue to make small talk with the huge hulk. Later it would occur to him that having Captain Griff around might not be such a bad idea.
The occasion was shortly after the transfer from the luxurious, ultra-modern, private traveling accommodations of the corporate jet, to a 1962 Chevrolet, a car which had once been the rage among university, well-to-do students, but which had fallen out of favor in the spring of 1963. The '62 Chevy was notably slower than the corporate jet, although the roads of Katmandu and outlying districts -- Katmandu having some of the most extreme outlying districts in the world -- did not lend themselves to speed. Thus the '62 Chevy was really not in a position to demonstrate its remaining prowess -- or lack thereof.
The Chevy's driver had obviously been matched with the car, and mercifully was not in a position to demonstrate his remaining prowess -- or lack thereof -- either. His name was Lodude, or its English speaking equivalent, and he smiled at Herman a great deal. This included those times, when Herman would have preferred less cordiality and more attention to keeping the early sixties relic on the increasingly narrow mountain road. The streets of Katmandu had been harrowing enough, but there, at least, it had been abundantly clear that one could not leave the road for more than a few feet at most. Massive walls would have prevented that. Now the choice, however, was massive rock on the one hand, and aerial oblivion on the other. It didn't help that Herman felt himself in the hands of a Nepalese of foreign descent, whose most recent hero was the Red Baron.
The only saving grace, with emphasis on the exact appropriateness of each of the last three words in all of their connotations, was that Lodude had made the trip in the direction of Ester's retreat several times before. Therefore, he and his passenger were well assured that the '62 Chevy would in fact fit on the mountain road, that its wheels would at all times find itself in intimate contact with rock, dirt and other forms of traction, and that unanticipated protrusions from the mountain would not deflect the automobile into outer space. Herman momentarily forgot that oft times, snow, ice and rain could modify mountain roads -- typically wiping them off the face of the mountain, for example -- such that one's previous trip up the mountain was no guarantee that the current trip would cover the same territory. It is one of the kindnesses of the universe that we sometimes forget about such rational possibilities; those items with which nature might endeavor to utilize in adding spice to our lives.
There is also the ancient wisdom that one does not dwell upon where one's conveyance might be headed if in fact one has no control over said conveyance. This wisdom might be construed to refer to life in general, or to ancient transportation, or even to a '62 Chevy driven by a Nepalese WWI ace-pretender. Furthermore, ancient wisdom is reputed to have added that it is wise to meditate upon other matters, matters that still the soul and possibly prepare one for leaving the present incarnation at a moment's notice.
This is what Herman attempted to do. And failed at. Instead, he thought of his family. Or perhaps more accurately, those people to which he was half-way related. People, for example, like Aaron, who had always been an occasional big brother to Herman, and who had never let the kid forget it. This of course was the same super-yuppie who might be on his way to becoming Herman's boss. Not a pleasant thought, Herman decided.
Tina had pointed out, before Herman's mad dash for the waiting corporate jet, that Zak should not be expected to do the obvious thing and make Aaron the next head of Worldwide Enterprises. Zak had a mischievous streak in him, according to Tina, which made him do some strange things. The best example was in Zak's keeping Herman around. Herman had just assumed that it was his personal charm and lovable nature that so endeared him to his father. Tina, in turn, found that harder to swallow than working for Aaron.
This train of thought was interrupted by the '62 Chevy, as it crunched a football sized boulder and sent it into the cheering throng of distant, and not so distant, mountains, which immediately went into a monstrous "wave". Without the traditional two minute warning, Herman abruptly forgot all about Aaron. Inexplicably, his thoughts turned instead to the next two stops on his whirlwind world tour and his half-way uncles.
Herman had tried to argue (to Tina) that three quests in less than a week, was pushing it a bit, and that Tina should carry some of the load herself. Whereupon Tina pointed out a variety of reasons as to why Herman should fly solo, and Tina stay close to home. For one thing, Uncle Paul was less than enamored with Tina ever since his latest female protégé had been humiliated by Tina at an operatic benefit for the hearing impaired two seasons ago. It seemed that the young nympho... whatever had singing pretensions inconsistent with her talent. Tina had simply pointed this out. As well as the fact that the nubile Prima Donna's ratted hair looked rather similar to a rat's nest. A very messy rat. Slovenly even.
On the other hand, Paul had tolerated Herman, and even found him entertaining. Thus it was conclusively proved that Herman should make the Greek Quest.
As for Uncle Hal in his Italian stronghold (under the shadow of the volcano), Herman was again the obvious choice. While Hal had no particular grudge against Tina -- other than the fact that she was Zak's right hand woman -- he was nevertheless not enamored with visits from family members. The notable exception was Herman, who was the only relative that Hal would regularly allow into his lair. Why such a singular honor you ask, and which Herman had also asked? Tina suspected that it was because Herman had no principles or axes to grind. Her younger half-brother was about as controversial as Winnie the Pooh, and was thus extremely non-threatening. Particularly to Uncle Hal, who could, on occasion, be threatened by Tigger, Piglet, or even Little Roo.
But these thoughts too, were quickly detoured from Herman's mind. The occasion was the sudden skidding of the '62 Chevy into a cloud of dust, debris and yak dung. The skid occurred only slightly prior to the '62 Chevy lunging into a recently configured washout. As everything momentarily stilled -- save for the '62 Chevy gently swaying in the Himalayan breeze -- Lodude turned to Herman, with a massive grin on his face. This gave Nepal 's answer to the Indianapolis Five Hundred a singular opportunity to utilize up to twenty five percent of his entire English vocabulary. Smiling, Lodude confided, "Road gone!" (The fact that this phrase constituted twenty five percent of a Nepalese driver's English vocabulary should give you some concept of the continually shifting state of Nepalese outlying mountain roads.)
Herman was undaunted. Frustrated, angered, disgusted; perhaps. But on Herman's countenance, there was not a trace of daunt. It was this utter lack of daunt that allowed Herman to continue in true Englishman fashion, or in other words, ignore his feelings. He would simply step out of the vehicle and continue on foot. The plan was simplicity itself.
However, it turned out that the right side of the '62 Chevy was rather precariously perched on the side of the mountain road such that any passengers attempting to debark on that side would require either a parachute or a hang glider. Or know how to fly. A hot air balloon, on the other hand, would have been less than useful, inasmuch as hot air balloons do not function well in the very cold air of the Himalayan Mountains -- i.e. they tend to drop like heavy stones.
Given the fact that no one was leaving via the right side of the '62 Chevy, this left the left side. However, the left side passenger door was non-functional, having been wired shut after a slight altercation with a small landslide, four years earlier. In addition, the window would not roll down because of the modified configuration of the door's innards. This left one escape route. Herman, recognizing all of this after only a moment of reflection, then gingerly climbed over the front seat, and with Lodude's assistance, managed to extract himself through the left front door. Their joint enterprise accomplished, Lodude smiled his best, time-to-be-tipped smile, and just stood there, his hand out, his palm facing up, ready to receive manna from Heaven. Or from Herman. Whichever. Lodude was ambivalent of the source, as long as he received the manna.
Herman looked at Lodude for a moment, glanced around and ascertained that the '62 Chevy would trek no further in the direction of Ester's because the road was no longer capable of supporting anything on three or four wheels, and therefore decided that it was indeed time to settle with Lodude. At the same time, Herman noted that it was only a half mile to Ester's retreat, and the former road had left half a track hugging the side of the mountain, which could serve as a pedestrian route. While a walk of a half mile at 9,000 feet might easily constitute for some, a road less traveled by, Herman decided he was up to it. The next stage of the quest now apparent, Herman returned to the more critical event of the moment: Tipping Lodude.
Tipping in foreign countries is always an experience. Herman had traveled the world over, and thus had become as adept as anyone. But tippees (those on the receiving end of tips) have made it their continuing quest in life to find ever greater and ever more subtle means of acquiring greater and larger tips. Lodude, for example, was more than happy to communicate to Herman, via a highly sophisticated system of hand and arm waving -- replete with appropriate facial expressions and/or contortions -- that the local inflation of 42% required all traditional tips to be adjusted accordingly. This implied that Herman's customary $50 tip should now be increased to $71, which upon rounding -- it having been considered ostentatious to hand over more than a single bill at one time -- the tip was increased to that of a singular $100 bill. Being the superb bargainer that he was, Herman communicated to Nepal 's answer to Donald Trump, that the tip for the trip up was $50, but that the tip for the trip back was worth $150! Unbeknownst to the driver, Herman's plan was to encourage Lodude to reverse the direction of his automobile and wait for Herman's return. Also unbeknownst to the driver, the plan worked.
Herman then strode off on his own, fifty dollars lighter and now within sight of Ester's pad, while Lodude turned his attention to turning his '62 Chevy. On a dime, so to speak.
The key to strolling at 9,000 feet is to take one's time, to smell the diminutive yellow flowers along the way, to gaze often upon the majesty of the Himalayas , and to avoid going over the cliff in a dead faint for lack of oxygen. Herman, fortunately, had the advantage of normally living at his mountain cabin where the elevation was 7,800 feet. Consequently, the altitude was not that extraordinary. On the other hand, it was truly fortunate that Aunt Ester did not live at Chomolungma's base camp at 18,000 feet, where oxygen was an endangered species. The fact that she hadn't been allowed to purchase land there was another story.
In any event, the homestretch of Herman's trek was relatively uneventful, save for the small rock slide occasioned by an obstinate pregnant yak who didn't like visitors to her part of the world -- or for that matter, visitors in general. Yaks get so cranky when they're pregnant! Rather like Yanks.
Herman, taking a breather at his journey's end, stopped to lean against a stone pillar erected just outside of Ester's home. There he gathered a few long breaths, before he was met by a young female Nepalese coming out of the house. The apparent maid quickly led her guest inside, and with a broken English managed to inform Herman that Madame was either in meditation, consultation, or seriously hung over from a week long binge. Furthermore, there was no expectation as to when she might re-enter Herman's space-time continuum. In the interim, the suggested course of action would be to make oneself at home in the living room. Which Herman quickly did. The maid, her extraordinary duty performed with exceptional propriety, left the room.
Making himself at home at Aunt Ester's was exceptionally easy for Herman -- the room felt like an inner sanctuary to him. In its center was Ester's hearth, a circular fireplace of smooth mortar, with a small, welcoming fire which gently added a slight warmth to the room. Furnishings were sparse except for several small tables, two chairs in different corners, a dozen or so ample cushions or zafus -- maybe a zabuton or gomdon scattered about -- and two rather elaborate canvas chairs hanging from the beamed ceiling. The swinging canvas chairs were about the only hint of westernized accommodations, and not all that western at that. The walls were similarly austere with the smooth mortar highlighted only by an occasional wooden structural member. Relatively large windows and a single portal along one wall connected the room to a balcony and the outside world.
Herman wandered over to one of the canvas chairs and gently lowered himself into the accommodating, hammock-like support. For a moment he simply swayed back and forth, while the maid brought some wine and what passed for cheese and crackers, and placed them on one of the small tables, which she in turned placed in easy reach of Herman's swing. During his first perigee to the table, Herman picked up a few samples of sustenance, and on his second pass, the mug of wine. Munching for just a moment, Herman wondered what the food actually was, but then thought better of it and decided that he really didn't want to know. Suffice it to say, that in his current condition, anything short of hemlock would have been refreshing. The wine, on the other hand... Herman looked at the mug's content with a jaundice eye for several moments. Were there creatures living in this muck, he wondered?
Again, destiny intervened to change the subject, as a pretty, athletic and smiling lass, colorfully attired, took the second swinging canvas chair, and introduced herself. "Hi! I'm Iris. You must be Herman Travers."
Her appearance pretty well stopped Herman's swinging motion in mid-swing! Here was the woman he had seen boarding Worldwide's other corporate jet! Perhaps even more noteworthy, at least from his point of view, was the fact that Iris was more than pretty, athletic and smiling; she was a great deal more attractive than the fleeting glance at the airport had indicated. She was particularly attractive to Herman. In addition, he was so totally unprepared to meet such a charming lady in what he would have assumed was the end of the world, that he neglected completely to consider that his situation might be the beginning of the world and merely stared at the new lady in his life.
Meanwhile, Iris continued to smile. "Have a pleasant trip?"
"Trip?" Herman was often brilliant in his opening lines with women. This was not one of those times.
"You've just arrived at a place, considerably removed from most any other place. And I was wondering if you had a pleasant journey." Iris, among other things, could be patient, even with mental defectives.
"Yes." Obviously, Herman was really warming up now!
For the first time, Iris showed the slightest hint of uncertainty. "You are Herman Travers, aren't you?" She couldn't recall having been told that Herman was brain-damaged.
"Yes." Then Herman really took charge! "Definitely! All my life! I've had that name for years now!"
Iris smiled again, her uncertainty dashed. "And you're here with a letter from Zak! Ester will be so pleased. She does enjoy her letters from Zak."
"How did you..." Herman suddenly began to wonder why everyone seemed to know more about things than he did. "Who are you?"
"Iris," she replied. "A friend of Ester's."
Alas, Herman's brilliant repertoire was prematurely shunted aside, as Ester took that moment to enter the room. There was no immediate sound from her as in a greeting or exclamation of surprise; just her sudden presence in the room. Which was sufficient for both Herman and Iris to drop their alleged conversation and turn to greet the new arrival.
Ester came up directly to Herman, smiling with a warmth that would have made a Jew feel welcome in Mecca . "Herm," was her first and only word, and which was sufficient to tell everyone of her genuine affection for her brother's bastard child.
Herman tried to get up and embrace his aunt, mumbling something akin to "Hello, Aunt Ester." But the chair had other plans and sought to keep its quarry well within its grasp. It succeeded -- at least for the moment.
Ester, already familiar with her Venus flytrap chairs, simply said, "Don't get up. It's very nearly impossible anyway." Whereupon she promptly set down on a zabu and thereby formed an impromptu triangle with her two guests. Crossing her legs in a traditional fashion, her arms resting gently across each knee, she began, "You've been expected."
To Herman, this was Aunt Ester's traditional opening line. Had she been vacationing in Antarctic -- the perfect place for an aunt -- and Herman parachuted in during a blizzard, she would have welcomed him with, "You've been expected." Apparently, Ester either always expected Herman, or else she had access to his plans on a continuing basis. Herman assumed the former, but was probably wrong.
"You're very welcome to stay however long you desire," she continued. "But Iris will be leaving tomorrow morning and you may prefer to return with her." Ester knew her half-nephew well enough that there was little chance that Herman would not jump at the chance for such a nice companion on the road. Ester was always kind. "Meanwhile, we'll have some nourishment, and then while I read Zak's letter and compose a reply, the two of you can relax and enjoy the solitude of my abode." On cue, the maid entered with a large tray of veggies and foreign equivalents of Westernized carbohydrates.
Herman always felt comfortable in Ester's company -- even with an attractive female in attendance -- smiled slightly and glanced at the tray's contents. Still smiling he inquired, "May I have some meat?" "When all three women looked at him, He-man (Herman occasionally liked to replace the "r" in his name with a "-") added, "I need my strength."
Ester sighed sweetly, smiled, and said something in Nepalese to the maid, who quickly acknowledged her mistress' order and left the room. "I'm sure we can find something for you," Ester explained.
Herman returned her smile and asked, "You're not going to try and fool me again with something that looks like meat but isn't, are you?"
Ester knew she was caught, but also knew that she didn't have to admit to it. "I would never attempt to fool you, dear. You're much too clever." With that she offered him a morsel of what might very well have been an asparagus tip. Only it didn't taste that way.
Which was pretty much the way the entire lunch went -- foods faintly resembling several, common, garden-variety edibles, but tasting like a dozen different forms of curry. Except for the "meat", which tasted like yak dung flavored with curry. Fortunately, Herman had never tasted curried yak dung, and was thus unable to make the connection. Within two years, however, an enterprising Nepalese would be exporting the same commodity for inclusion in McDonald's hamburgers. At that time, Herman, much to his amazement, would recognize the flavoring but mercifully remain in the dark as to its source.
The conversation was equally exotic. It had started with Iris mentioning her recent view of Chomolungma from the air. "As the pilot changed directions and the airplane turned, she came into view in all her majesty."
"And just in time," Ester added. When Herman turned to her, an unidentifiable edible stopped halfway to his mouth and his face with a bewildered expression, Ester tried to explain. Gently, she turned to Herman and said, "It's a matter of balance; one designed to offset the power of men."
Herman was still lost, his forkful of alleged edibles slowly returning to his plate. Iris smiled, and tried to explain Ester's explanation. "It's the old problem, the ancient one. The leaders, the ones in charge, are all men. Even when they're women, they act like men, taking on the attributes of male power, logic, rational thought and focused thinking, just in order to rule. It's a male dominated society, a patriarchy.
"Which is unfortunate," Ester added, "since only one male can be the patriarch. All the other males have to be lesser males. And the women, of course, have to be less than the lesser males. There has to be a hierarchy, a pyramid scheme as it were, where everyone must contend on the sloping sides less they slide down into the masses and into oblivion."
"But it wasn't always so," Iris continued. "Five thousand years ago, there was balance. The Great Goddess , the Earth Mother, the nurturer of all living things, commanded the respect, the awe, and the devotion of humankind. Just as her male counterpart was given his due. And instead of struggle, instead of pointless competition, there was nurturing and cooperation."
Herman squinted slightly, as if under a light siege. "Are we talking about mythology or reality?"
Ester smiled, her hand momentarily touching Herman's sleeve. "It is the myths that explain the diversity of life."
When Herman only looked skeptical, Iris continued. "Five to seven thousand years ago, peoples from the periphery of what were becoming advanced civilizations, warriors believing in male sky gods, swept over the unfortified civilizations of mother-based religions, making inroads, raids and warfare upon those still believing in a Mother Earth. As the conquering invaders, they imposed their male-dominated religions upon the defeated people. And with them, the patriarchy was born."
Herman was unmoved. "So?"
Iris smiled. "Greek and other mythologies simply provide a terse, concise, and insightful understanding of the changes that occurred so long ago."
Ester quickly added, "As well as the state of the current world order under masculine rule."
Herman glanced quickly at his aunt, then back to Iris. When he said nothing, Iris said, "For example, the Greek mythology refers to the beginning as nothing but void, out of which came Gaia, the Great Earth Mother Goddess. In other words, it was mom who arrived on the scene first." When Herman merely smiled, Iris added, "Then without consort, Gaia conceived and gave birth to three sons, the Sky, Uranus, the Sea, Pontus , and the Hills, Urea."
"Apparently," Herman interjected, "Her first big mistake."
Ester quickly said, "Balance. There must be balance."
Iris let Ester's remark serve as her reply to Herman's humor, and continued, "It was the sky god, Uranus, Gaia's son, who first began to display the attributes of the patriarchy, to vie for and wrest the powers of the Great Goddess for his own use. It was he who initiated power struggles, father-son rivalries, and the subjugation of the feminine. It was his grandson, Zeus, who ultimately brought the patriarchy to its present day status. In the process he became the chief god and archetype of the patriarch, with his siblings, offspring, and fellow gods and goddesses representing all the modern day attributes and personalities of humankind. And ultimately, even of our societies. Instead of Greek mythology being a curious relic of the past, it has come to represent every aspect of our lives. There are attributes of the gods and goddesses in each of us – a fact which is a little bit scary. Are you aware of Harpies, for example?"
Somehow Herman knew he didn't like the direction the conversation was heading. He watched Iris' mischievous smile for a few seconds, before he replied, "No, I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"You might be surprised," Ester threw in, as Iris described one of the lesser known mythological characters.
"A Harpie is a huge predatory bird with the talons of an eagle, a harsh semi-human scream as it swoops down upon its prey, and an unmistakably foul stench. They have been known to snatch food or foul it with their excrement. The Gods used harpies to punish or torment humans, and to execute sentences of the Gods from which there was no escape."
As Iris looked at him, Herman declined to admit to ever having encountered a Harpie. "I feel sure I haven't met one." Then he added, "Sounds a bit too fanciful."
Both Ester and Iris looked at him, eyeing him for several moments. Then each turned back to their food. Herman watched them for a moment, before he foolishly asked, "So what's so wrong with a patriarchy?"
The two women looked at each other, amazed and chuckling to themselves at the same time. Then Ester gently touched Herman's arm as if to say that she still loved him despite his question, while Iris took a deep breath. Herman felt the undercurrent of the words building, just as Iris began answering his question. She spoke slowly and deliberately, wanting Herman to understand completely.
"The patriarchy of the Great God, Zeus, has had a long and eventful reign, one spanning millennia. Only now, it's begun to show the strains and cracks of its shortcomings as it becomes clear that it contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The patriarchy has provided us with, among other things: Brainless competition instead of useful cooperation, separateness and loneliness versus connectedness and nurturing, false authorities instead of inner knowing, emphasis on living with strength to the exclusion of vulnerability, thinking over emotions, logic over intuition, and the disenfranchisement of women and the majority of men, artistic creativity, and a vast array of other archetypes. The patriarchy has led us to continuing environmental debacles and disregard for the earth that supports our lives, to a belittling of the value of the individual, the injustice of male chauvinism, etcetera, etcetera."
With an earnest voice, Ester added, “Ultimately, ALL of these problems are connected, inseparable, and interwoven in the fabric of the patriarchy. As the patriarchy wanes -- the weight of its attributes crushing it into oblivion and the pinnacles of each of its liabilities reaching the breaking points all at once -- a new order begins to emerge. A new myth – one of our own design -- comes into being, transforming all in its path."
Herman realized that he could not deflect the women's feelings and words with a quick attempt at humor. He also suspected that what he had just heard was more than an intense belief by two isolated women.
"You've always liked children," Ester added, her tone abruptly more casual. As Herman acknowledged the fact, she said, "Why not teach children equality, balance? Not just of sex and race, but in all things. Quit pitting them against one another, quit filling their minds with advertising slogans designed only to push products."
"That, I agree with," Herman quickly interjected.
Iris raised a finger slightly, as if to make a point. "Take education, for example. The meat, dairy and egg producers -- among others -- push a multitude of fallacies and lies in the public schools. Like eating protein in excess, a practice which contributes to osteoporosis. Too much sugar, too much dairy products, both of which overdose us on yet more protein and cause allergies by the carload. It's all part of competing for more and greater profits, disregarding people's health, the environment, and most everything else!"
"I must admit," Herman replied, "I've always felt that the only milk fit for human consumption was mother's milk." As the two women looked at him expectantly, he added, "There's no processing, no additives, no middlemen, it's always kept at the proper temperature and it comes in those wonderful, handy dispensers."
Both women groaned, Herman had gotten in the last word on the principal conversation, and within seconds, there were smiles all around.
After lunch, Ester left the two "swingers" alone. Which was nice, but which didn't proceed quite according to plan -- or at least to Herman's typical plan, one quickly formulated upon meeting an attractive woman. For one thing, Iris was not overly communicative on herself. She kept referring back to bits and pieces of the discussion at lunch, while Herman kept trying to divert the conversation to talking about Iris. Ester, upon her exit, had suggested that Iris and Herman had a lot in common, and could therefore be expected to get along famously. But for the life of him, he could not figure out what the connection was. Other than that perhaps both found themselves at the top of the world, in an astounding solitude, eating curried yak dung and other tourist delicacies, and talking about all manner of things other than their respective histories. Other than that, there were hardly any connections worth mentioning.
Then he began to suspect one of the reasons backgrounds were not being discussed. Iris apparently already knew everything about Herman. Thus there was no point in rehashing old data. Meanwhile, his attempts to know anything about Iris, kept meeting all manner of diversion. Eventually, he threw in the towel, ceased his probing of her background, and resolved to interrogate Ester instead. His aunt would tell him about Iris; he was sure of it!
The conversation no longer stunted by the repetitive attempts at probing and the quick diversions to virtually any other topic, Herman began to find that he enjoyed being with Iris. She even seemed to be interested in him. The only difficulty was that she was not like anyone else he had ever been involved with, and as a consequence, he was never all that sure of what she was thinking. And for once, at least, he really wanted to know what a woman was thinking.
They talked and laughed about a variety of things, while swinging in their chairs and later when hiking about Ester's private Himalayan reserve. Herman discovered that Everest was not only "Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World", but also "Sagarmatha, Sky Head" (the latter, the Nepalese version). He also found out that Iris had recently visited the Dalai Lama. This was old hat to Herman, who had himself already attended an audience in the company of Ester. What was new, however, was that Iris and the Dalai Lama had talked about Herman!
"He mentioned me!?" Herman was aghast at the thought.
"Oh, yes," Iris answered, bemused. "I think he was a little bewildered by you. As you may know, the Dalai Lama treats everyone he meets as if he's known them for years. But apparently, he was having a hard time even imagining someone like you much less that he's always known you." When Herman could only vainly grin, Iris added, "I think your... uniqueness... was a bit of a shock for him."
Herman forced a reply, "He seemed like a nice enough fellow to me."
Iris smiled, enjoying her little joke (one which Herman would never catch on to). Then the conversation took a turn into metaphysics, transformations, and other esoteric subjects in which Herman had always managed to convey the impression that he actually knew what he was talking about. But with Iris an apparent expert in any number of fields, Herman was not so sure that he would be able to pull off his appearing knowledgeable. He even felt some relief, when the afternoon eased and they returned to Ester's home in order to escape the gathering coolness. Talk of change and massive modifications to the way of the world was not Herman's favorite subject. Not yet anyway.
When they found their way back inside, the hearth's fire – appropriately -- burned slightly brighter as they approached. Herman slipped back into the swinging chair, somewhat more expertly than in his first attempt, and Iris simply set by the fire on a large cushion. For several, spacious moments, the conversation lagged, while the two simply remained in one another's presence, gathering whatever one gathers on such occasions. Rather pleasant, actually.
Dinner was, if anything, sparser than lunch. Ester again pointed out to Herman that people required very little food when the correct foods were eaten. Inasmuch as meat -- particularly in combination with carbohydrates -- required so much energy to digest, it was necessary to consume much larger quantities of "steak and potatoes" meals. But with fruit and vegetables the norm, it took amazingly little to adequately fuel the body.
Herman felt the hint of the schoolteacher in Ester and decided to divert the conversation into areas of his own interest. As an opener, he tried, "When are you coming back to the States again?" When Ester looked surprised at the question, Herman added, "For a visit, I mean." When Ester still looked a little bewildered at the radical suggestion, Herman tried a final caveat. "To see the family. You know, Tina and Aaron and..."
Ester's smile lit up. "Aaron," she said. "It's been a while since I've seen that boy." Herman did not even consider telling Ester that Aaron was not exactly a boy any longer -- particularly in view of the fact that she would always consider Aaron as such. He remained quiet instead. Ester, reminiscing, then said, "Aaron was really quite infatuated with me when he was growing up. Did you know that?"
Herman was definitely surprised, and delighted at this new found means of putting Aaron on the defensive -- Herman loved to have a little dirt on people like Aaron. Instead, his inner reserve of sneakiness found a way to capitalize on the subject. "I didn't know. But I can see why." When Ester only smiled, Herman added, "Was he your favorite?"
Ester's answer was very simple. "Of all Zak's children, you're my favorite. There's no good reason for that, but it's true."
Herman dodged the slight diminutive of his stature -- and Iris' chuckle -- and went for the jugular. "I rather doubt I'm Zak's favorite. But who can tell? Zak is sometimes hard to read. It would be interesting to know, though, whom Zak most favors. Of his kin folk that is."
Herman was secretly delighted at his cleverness and brilliance at so subtly questioning Ester as to whom she thought Zak was favoring. He instantly resolved to tell Tina about his brilliance in glowing detail. Perhaps even write a short novel, highlighting this singular moment of his skill's demonstration.
Ester smiled, as she thought of her brother. Then, in something of a reverie, she said, "It's true that Zak is moving in a new direction now, getting in touch with his inner being. He may indeed be dropping the mundane, day-to-day stuff of business, and letting younger hands with newer ideas begin to assume their rightful place in the world."
Herman leaped on the first hint, "'Younger hands'?"
Ester simply added, "Zak's changing with the changes in the world."
'Yes, yes,' Herman thought, 'But who else gets to make changes of an equal stature?'
But Iris was quicker, "Sounds like good advice for most anyone."
"What?" Herman asked, still off on his own thought and not following Iris' response.
"Changing when the world changes," Iris replied.
'She really does have a dynamite smile,' He thought.
But before he could respond appropriately, Iris rose and gently walked out of the room. Herman watched her go, even as Ester watched him.
"Lovely woman, don't you think?" Ester's smile did not fully betray her amusement.
Herman kept his alleged cool. "She's okay." Then looking back at Ester, he knew better than trying to kid her. "She's delightful – and very mysterious. So mysterious, in fact, that I haven't the slightest idea who she is!"
"All in good time, Herm; all in good time."
Said good time did not occur that evening. Ester retired early and said her good-byes before leaving the two younger people. Inasmuch as she would be in meditation most of the morning, she concluded her business early so that her messengers would not have to wait most of the morning before leaving.
To Herman she returned the courier bag, but with the stipulation that there was no major hurry to deliver its contents -- a convenience to Herman in that he had two side trips planned on the way back. To Iris, she merely said, "Give the gang my love. Tell Chirles and Teresa that I'm most impressed with their performance. Their accuracy has been amazing!"
Herman had to assume several things. One, that Iris had already been given any letters that she would be delivering from out of the Himalayas . Two, "the gang" were likely friends of Ester's and/or Iris'. And probably up to no good. Thirdly, the "amazingly accurate duo of Chirles and Teresa" was undoubtedly a reference to two of Herman's relatives, of whom he knew next to nothing. Herman did know that Chirles was Zak's alleged, half-brother. This meant that with Herman as Zak's supposedly bastard son, Chirles would become Herman's supposedly, alleged quarter-Uncle -- and probably a bastard to boot. It seemed to run in the family. And as Herman recalled, Teresa was Chirles' daughter.
Meanwhile, Herman's assumptions would have to remain as such. Iris had the strange habit of "early to bed, early to rise" and quickly took her leave as well. Herman, still running on ethyl, could not imagine going to bed early. So he took up his position in his swinging chair, and within twenty minutes had fallen asleep. Mountain altitude often does that. It was several hours, before his body complained, and he managed to shift to a cushion where he spent the rest of the night – and where someone carefully laid a blanket over his sleeping body.
The next morning, Iris and Herman returned to find Lodude and begin their trek down the mountain. Initially, the trip was less than glorious, with Iris and Lodude having a wonderful time speaking in Nepalese -- in which, for some reason, Lodude was less fluent than Iris. The conversation was nevertheless quite enthusiastic.
Within fifteen minutes, however, it became apparent that neither really understood what the other was saying, either because of heavy variations in accent or the fact that neither knew the other's language. At that point the conversation drifted toward the quiet side. Iris, apparently having her alternatives severely limited, turned her attentions to Herman.
From Herman's viewpoint, this was quite pleasant. He didn't learn anything of note from Iris -- who seemed to delight in not telling Herman anything -- but they began to find a few laughs and even became moderately affectionate before once again entering the extreme outlying outskirts of Katmandu . Herman had even begun having fantasies of the two of them aboard the corporate jet -- hoping, of course, that Iris had no fear of flying! Then Lodude pulled up alongside a very strange building in an even stranger portion of Katmandu . Herman was, of course, a stranger in a strange land -- the local populace feeling that the very strange building was, in fact, notably common.
In any event, Iris gave Herman an ecstatic and lingering kiss, before she bailed out of the '62 Chevy and disappeared within the foreigner strange (or locally common) building. Lodude, without any hint of instruction from Herman, who was still savoring his last touch of Iris, roared back onto the streets of Katmandu and headed for the airport. This allowed Herman plenty of time to realize that he had no idea of who Iris was, where she lived, how he could once again contact her, when they might meet again, and how totally pointless it was to attempt to find out from Lodude anything about anything!
The subsequent flight out of Nepal did little to soothe Herman's feelings, although he did manage to utilize the corporate jet's sophisticated computer and communications system to initiate some inquires about Iris (using Tina's contacts). After that he intended get some sleep, confident in his ability to eventually track down his quarry.
Chapter Five – The Children
Chapter Seven – The Wilds of New York