Book review: “Beneath the Surface”

April 22nd, 2015

9781137280107

John Hargrove is a man who got religion, then lost it.  The spirit moved him when he was six and his parents took him to SeaWorld.  Then and there, little John decided he wanted to become an orca trainer when he grew up.  And, amazingly, he did.  After 14 years, his body broken, his spirit wounded, Hargrove got out of the business of enslaving the creatures he loved.  Beneath the Surface is his memoir of that experience and the conflict he suffered, the inner turmoil that comes when the corporate gods don’t answer your reasonable prayers.

One thing we learn from this book is that SeaWorld’s managers are cheap bastards.  As a “senior orca trainer,” a physically and mentally demanding job working with huge, dangerous animals, Hargrove earned the rotten salary of $15.34 an hour.  He did it, he says, because he loved the whales, and his love for them shows in this book.  Hargrove was so familiar with the whales, he was able to tell their emotions just from reading their muscle tension.  As an trainer, he bought whole-heartedly into the SeaWorld mythology that captivity is somehow better for whales than being wild in the ocean.

Hargrove’s book is eye-opening, a revelation about the conditions orcas in captivity are forced to endure.  Some of the whales break their teeth biting the bars of their cages in sheer frustration; others, bored to tears, literally peel paint off the walls of their tanks, bloodying their snouts in the process.  Chlorine and ozone added to purify the chemical soup they swim in burn not only the orcas’ eyes but the trainers’ too.  Whales from different regions battle for dominance among themselves.

For Hargrove, a man with a conscience, the break with SeaWorld management seems to have begun when he was asked to artificially inseminate female whales.  SeaWorld was using its females to breed more orcas, both for its own use and to supply other parks, and they were inseminating the females too often and too young, Hargrove says, then taking the babies away from their mothers when they were weaned.  In the wild, killer whales form family groups that extend over several generations, and a male’s attachment to his mother is so strong that he may wither and die shortly after she does.  Hargrove protested, but his protests went nowhere.  The whales’ welfare was not the bottom line.

The break grew when two trainers, Alex Martinez at SeaWorld affiliate Loro Parque, and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando, were killed by whales within a few months of each other.  Predictably, SeaWorld promoted the myth that the deaths were somehow the trainers’ faults.  No wild orca has ever attacked a human, and Hargrove is quick to rebut his former employer by pointing out how the confined conditions of captivity essentially drive the whales into frustration and aggression against each other and their trainers.

I would recommend this honest, open and affecting book to anybody with an interest in marine mammals’ welfare.  Since it was published, SeaWorld has tried to launch a mammoth personal attack on Hargrove by releasing tapes of him using the N-word when he was drunk one night with a duplicitous friend.  Hargrove makes his opinions on racism clear early in the book, when he denounces the KKK, which operated near his hometown as he was growing up.  Fortunately the attack seems to have failed, and the book is high on the New York Times book list.  With good reason; Beneath the Surface is John Hargrove’s confessional.

 

Howard blows.

March 19th, 2015

So the illustrious Howard Stern had me on his show yesterday, and in retrospect it wasn’t a fun thing.  My friends are telling me I did well under enormous pressure, but I don’t feel that way. I felt frankly embarrassed by Stern’s questions like “Would you rather have sex with a horse or a cow?  A giraffe, or a kangaroo?”

As my FaceBook friend Grandwazoo Blair suggested, my best comeback would have been “How about your new wife, Howard?” (Rimshot!)  But I have never been quick-witted enough to come up with remarks like that.

No, I have not gone back and listened to the interview on YouTube, so this post is made from memory.

The tug-o’-war in these interviews always seems to be between the interviewer’s wanting me to talk about my zoophilia and my desire to talk about dolphins and the situation they are in.  In Stern’s case this was worse than most.  My correspondents seemed to think I did well getting my points in, but Stern pretty much glossed over them in his desire to classify me as some kind of pathological personality.

I would think that given the double rarity of a man who made love with a dolphin and is willing to talk about it on air, Stern would have explored the whole experience a little more carefully, but he didn’t seem really interested.

Said my sister, Sally Hammerman: Just listened to the show!  You were great – even with the prodding to get you inflamed!  I objected to the over-talk when you were saying something – which I wanted to hear and also which I feel was something relevant to the question that was posed to you.  And then that crazy woman on the phone! She didn’t get ANY of it – and probably kicks her dog, too. LOVE YA’

Said my friend Dieno: Just fantastic.  You were a sensation.  You did not let him put you down.  You ruled the show!

Well, I have picked up a few new FB friends since doing the show, so perhaps it didn’t go as badly as I thought it did.  What do  you think?

Howard Stern Show, anyone?

March 14th, 2015

Image: Howard Stern

(Photo: hitfix.com)

For those of you reading this with Sirius XM radio, I will be a guest on the Howard Stern Show on Wednesday, March 18 at 7:30 a.m. EDST.  It seems like my appearance in Dolphin Lover is gaining me some notoriety that simply publishing Wet Goddess did not.  The producer I spoke with assured me that Howard would most likely watch the movie, and the film’s producers provided him with the means to do so.

Interestingly enough, Howard had another guy on several years ago who claimed to have had sex with a dolphin.  I’d include the file here, but I might be violating copyright by doing so and the last thing I want to do is piss off a guy who’s going to be interviewing me about my sex life.  I think the subject was totally bogus; for one thing, he wanted to be anonymous, but one of the listeners called in and identified him!  There were also, shall we say, certain anatomical discrepancies with my own experience in his description of the act.  Altogether it was a rather unconvincing, if sincere, performance.  Let’s hope I can do better!

Hawk calls

February 23rd, 2015
Male red-shouldered hawk offers female a prey item, a frog.

Male red-shouldered hawk offers female a prey item, a frog.


I haven’t written anything for a while, so here’s a red-shouldered hawk establishing its territory with a call from a neighbor’s tree. I recorded this on my iPhone while walking the dog one morning; you may have to turn the volume up to hear the hawk clearly. There’s about 13 seconds of silence after the hawk.  It is wonderful to hear this first thing in the morning! (The photo above is a pair of these hawks that have taken up residence in a tree down the street.  I was lucky enough to capture this one really good shot out of more than 80 I took of them that day.)

Surfing the waves of publicity

February 6th, 2015

As seen from time to time, in photos I do not have permission to link to here, dolphins love to surf.  Their specialty is body surfing, of course, which I have also done from time to time.  As I wrote about in the ending of Wet Goddess, bodysurfing on storm tides while tripping on hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms is about as close as I’ve come to experiencing what it must be like to be a dolphin.  (I do not recommend it as a safe way to get healthy exercise, however.)

That ride’s raw physical dynamics are sort of equivalent to the emotional roller coaster I’m on right now, seeing my name and image plastered all over the Web with the phenomenal interest in the short film Dolphin Lover.  The exposure makes me rather uncomfortable, as I am by nature a shy and introverted person.  I knew when I first conceived of publishing my story that I would pretty much have to ‘fess up to being a zoophile, because people would just assume it from the theme and plot of the story, and I would rather, as they say, be blatant than latent.  And I certainly have done a lot of radio interviews in the past, ranging from sympathetic to skeptical to inquisitorial.

But nothing prepared me for what happens when somebody puts together a narrative on film, that the cable shows and the blog sites can use to convey a moving image and sound.  Suddenly my likeness is being broadcast everywhere.  I feel like the fireman Montag in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451.  I want to keep my shades on, even inside stores.

One of the top mentions has been on the People.com web site.  One of the top interviews so far has been on the Mike Calta Show on 102.5 “The Bone.”

Dolphin Lover producer Joey Daoud also tells me he is surprised by how fast this film has spread through the popular culture.  Meanwhile, Wet Goddess itself is selling quite well, as much in a day as I was selling in a week last month.  I am waiting for flashback from the religious and possibly scientific community as well, as my story now seems to be impossible to ignore.

Here’s one of my own pics of a dolphin surfing in a boat’s stern wake.  It’s not a pod of dolphins in a huge breaker in the clear water off Waikiki, but it is mine and I’m happy to use it.  When you think of me, this is it, surfing the waves of publicity.

dolphinscreen1

 

Of floof and beer cans.

January 31st, 2015

This is an essay about territory and how we mark it, so how appropriate that it opens with a dog.  As some of you may know, I have a companion named Pixel, whom I have owned, loved and cared for since she was about 8 weeks old.  Pixel is a mixed breed mutt, but just exactly what her lineage is I’m not sure.  The man who was giving away the puppies from the back of the old Ford pickup truck told me she was Rottweiler and German shepherd, and that sounded like a good combo to me, as they would both be metric dogs.  I picked Pixel from a batch of eight because she was the only dog who hadn’t had her tail docked.  When I asked the man why not, he could only answer “I don’t know.” He was not a loquacious fellow, so as you can see some questions about her lineage and ancestry remain.

PixelCU01

What I have been able to confirm is that the bastard lied, there’s not a drop of Rottie blood in Pixel!  Rather, as you can see for yourself above, the enormous quantity of her long and silky fur leads inescapably to the conclusion that she is a mix of German shepherd and some other longhair breed, most likely collie.

When she sheds twice yearly, Pixel produces amounts of undercoat that are not merely amazing but alarming.   My ex-housemate Cay jokingly dubbed this dense-as-felt fur floof.  What makes the situation worse is that the dog is disinclined to let me brush her to the extent necessary to keep her coat in order.  To keep her groomed, I have taken to plucking the fur from her at odd moments.  She usually tolerates this up until she turns around and mouths the offending hand, at which point I quit.

What to do with the leftover lumps of floof is not a problem indoors, I simply throw them in the kitchen trash can along with other non-recyclable items.  (I did at one point investigate the possibility of having Pixel’s floof made into something wearable, like a scarf, but a local weaver I consulted told me the fibers weren’t quite long enough.)  But it was what I did with the floof I plucked off Pixel when we were outside, on our twice-daily walks, that caused me to re-think my behavior.

On these walks I often, in fact always, notice the trash that my neighbors throw out alongside the road, most frequently beer cans and occasionally bottles, wrappers and bags.  The occasional dirty diaper is not unknown.  I live by choice in a rural, low-density, low-traffic neighborhood, so such visual pollution is all the more obnoxious to me.  You might argue that the landscape is already despoiled with Brazilian pepper and Australian pines, and I would not be able to argue with you, but I would ask, why add further to its ruination with trash?

Given as I am to over-analyzing everything, I wondered at the motives of those who throw their beer cans out the window.  This road is a dead-end loop, so whoever the beer can throwers are must live here, they are not passing through.  I know they are residents because, even though I pick up the beer cans, new ones appear with great frequency and regularity.

Of course, one motive to get rid of your beer can back here is to do so before you reach the main road, which is more frequently patrolled by our stalwart Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.  This applies if you were drinking when you left home.  But were there not other, possibly even unconscious motives?

What, I wondered, if tossing a beer can out the window of a passing pickup truck was like a dog lifting its leg to piss on a fire hydrant or tree trunk, a way of marking or delineating territory?  After all, if I can dump my trash in your territory with impunity, then in a sense, don’t I own it?  It’s a childish act of subversion, a disruptive intrusion into the common visual space we all must share.  Aluminum beer cans take anywhere from 200-500 years to decompose.  When I pick them up on our walks and take them home, I recycle them along with most of the rest of my waste stream.

I always felt morally superior to the knuckle-dragging redneck louts who despoiled my precious environment with their beer cans.  I wanted to give them a piece of my mind; in fact, some days I wanted to feed them a knuckle sandwich.  To clean their proverbial clocks.  Usually I just pick up the cans and remind myself to pick my battles carefully, I have to live with these people after all.  In fact, I’m in the dark as to which of my neighbors it might be, there’s about two dozen dwellings on this loopy street.  I keep theorizing it’s primarily one repeat offender, but I don’t know for sure.

Then, while I was out one day, something other than beer cans caught my eye.  It was a large clump of Pixel’s floof that I had removed from her coat… several weeks before.  Maybe even a few months.  A long time, at any rate, far longer than anything organic had a right to exist untouched.  It was wet and dirty but intact.  The proteins that make up hair must be incredibly durable and stable, as nothing seems to break them down!

As I continued on my walks I began to notice more and more clumps of fur that I had pulled out of Pixel and left strewn around the neighborhood as tell-tale indicators of our passing.  They were not decaying.  They were not being used by birds to line their nests.  They were not magically disappearing.  Weren’t they really just as obnoxious as the beer cans?  In spite of the fact that they were organic, rather than metallic, I was forced to conclude that they were every bit just as much of an eyesore and a pollutant to the environment!

Worse yet, I had to admit that I was just as much under the influence of an unconscious need to litter as the guy with the beer cans.  I too needed to mark my territory, I just did it with something soft and fuzzy rather than cold and hard.  I felt a distressing sense of moral equivalency.

With this realization, I began to pick up what remaining pieces of floof I could, along with the beer cans and bottles.  I can report the neighborhood looks a little better, and my sense of moral superiority has returned.  After all, I don’t see the rednecks getting out of their Chevy S10’s to pick up their beer cans!  I have learned a valuable lesson about self-righteousness: It doesn’t matter if it’s warm, fuzzy and organic if you’re making a mess with it!

 

“Dolphin Lover” well-received!

January 26th, 2015

I just got off the phone with Kareem Tabsch, director of the documentary short “Dolphin Lover” about my experience with Dolly the dolphin, and I feel a sense of relief.  Before the premiere Kareem said he was very nervous,  but on the whole he was very pleased with the response, and so am I.  The audience at the Slamdance Film Festival took the film really well.  “There were no walkouts,” he told me.  People laughed at the funny parts and were quiet in the serious ones.  There was a 10-minute question and answer period after the film (technically a video) where people asked a lot of questions; it ended with many hands still raised and questions unanswered, he said.  After the showing a couple of people buttonholed him to talk about it.

I look forward to being able to see “Dolphin Lover” with an audience some time, maybe at a Florida film festival somewhere.

Film review: “Dolphin Lover”

January 25th, 2015

I finally got a look at “Dolphin Lover,” the short film about my experience with Dolly the dolphin that videomakers Kareem Tabsch and Joey Daoud have been working on since mid-September. Was it worth the wait? Is it a good film? Yes to both questions, in my opinion! How will it be received by audiences? I guess we’ll find out Sunday, when the film premieres at SlamDance in Park City, Utah. I’m sure it will be controversial for a number of reasons, the prime one being that I’m talking about having sex with an “animal,” after all. For some reason, a lot of people get upset about that.

The film, which is about 15 minutes long, opens with archival footage of Floridaland, the amusement park where our relationship took place. These were home movies from my old friends at Swain Productions in Sarasota. What follows is me, talking head, talking about the circumstances that caused me to be at the park, how I met Dolly, and what happened from there. The film uses my photography of the dolphins in the park to show what happened, and here I had one minor complaint. Because, to untrained eyes, “all dolphins look alike,” they used some photos of dolphins that were not Dolly to illustrate what was going on. Like showing dolphin teeth. Some of the photos are beautifully animated in that modern way that makes elements of the images slide across each other like cut-outs.

When I get to describing how we actually made love, the filmmakers used some original animation to interpret my description and feelings. The results were surprising to me, beautiful and oddly accurate without being graphic or vulgar. Tabsch told me his production was so “hot” it was difficult for him to find an animation house that would do the work! In fact, Tabsch wanted to interview scientists who would talk about dolphin intelligence and sexuality for the film, but when he told them what it was about, he couldn’t find any who would speak on-screen. That’s very disappointing, and also speaks, I think, to the limitations of doing science with public funding. Scientists have to be very wary of looking like kooks, especially when it comes to dolphins where the mud John C. Lilly stirred up more than 50 years ago still clings to everything.

For me the most disturbing part of the film comes when I compare the criminalization of zoophilia to the old Southern laws against miscegenation, which was once condemned as a form of bestiality. Tabsch told me he considered not using that segment, but finally decided to leave it in because he felt it made a powerful statement. Here I am CERTAIN I am likely to be misunderstood, especially in the current elevated state of racial tension in this country. But I said it and I’m standing by it. Just to be clear to anyone reading this, I hate racism and consider all human beings to be fundamentally equal and deserving of equal rights.

Talking about how I lost Dolly, I get quite sad on camera. In fact, my first comment to Tabsch after viewing the film is that I look sad. Even my eyes look sad. I didn’t realize I look that way. Tabsch responded that the film is somber because he didn’t want to be accused of making fun of me, and I respect him very much for it. The only directions I gave him were “Don’t use the Flipper theme song,” and to his credit he resisted the impulse to do so.

All in all I was impressed and relieved with that Tabsch and Daoud have accomplished, and I hope it will get a wide viewing. Will it make things better for the dolphins? Will it expand awareness about their uniqueness and help protect them and their environment? I don’t know. I know I had to try.  Tabsch and Daoud have done a great job of interpreting my experience, and I am grateful to them for it.

New “Dolphin Lover” poster

January 24th, 2015

Dolphin-Lover-This-Man-Poster

This is the new poster for Dolphin Lover that Kareem Tabsch was telling me about last night.  I find it provocative and challenging; it pushes even my envelope.  I suppose that’s a good thing, but I am really putting myself on the line here, and I can’t see where this is going.  Wish me luck, everybody!

Another reader, another letter

January 20th, 2015

Another insightful letter from a reader who really does his homework!

Finally, I wrote this thing. It’s like any significant human interaction is enough effort for me to keep delaying unconsciously.

So, about the Wet Goddess.
First of all, I’m sure other readers could find it more novel, more revealing, more shocking, more incredible than I did. And that’s because your book fascinated me long before I read it. In effect, I ended up learning a lot about subjects such as dolphin intelligence, John C. Lilly, interspecies communication and sex, from various places, before purchasing the book. Those who didn’t can just read Wet Goddess and learn it all at once. I’ve also read your whole blog, interviews, the Smashwords demo. So the novelty factor was much lower than it could, but buying the book was still worth it. If just to have the Wet Goddess on my shelf, but not only because of that. The one significant aspect that was novel to me were the details of your telepathic contact with Dolly. It was very insightful to see the thoughts of another species and it’s a shame that you could only be together for so long and couldn’t learn more about each other. But even if we discard all that as very convincing hallucination, the high intelligence of dolphins remains highly evident all the times,  and they could easily be no less intelligent than humans. What amazes me in a bad way is how reluctant we are to try interspecies communications. There are always problems, controversies and nobody wants to fund it ever. Almost like a conspiracy. Well, the world would become much more complicated if we suddenly had a lot more sentient beings to respect. First we start caring about other races, then cetaceans, then apes until slaughtering millions of pigs and cows would become ethically challenging too. How terrible.

Overall, despite all the problems, thescope of your interspecies communication was a big success for both of you, and you documented it well. This book deserves to be known and remembered.

I also read the unpublished chapters. The wall of plain text was a bit awkward to work with, but turned out to be perfect to read on my not-so-smartphone while commuting. You said the part about plotting orcas was mostly fictional, I wonder to what extent and what inspired it.

The “Growing up in the Orgone Box” was the second book I read. The theme of orgonotherapy began sooner than I expected and ended even more unexpectably (but I guess these two therapy sessions already covered all that needed to be described). In the later parts of the book, the whole orgonomy remained mostly as a background, but the autobiography had many more significant themes. Such as the character of a mother, briefly touched upon in Wet Goddess and described in full color here. Thanks to your witty writing style, some of the chapters bizarrely reminded me of Goscinny’s Little Nicolas books: Short stories of a family with problems, with punchlines. (With the difference that not everyone in Orgone Box has anger issues.) The two “How … made me a …” chapters didn’t fail to bring a smile to my face, as I related to my similiar experiences (I still have a few weird sketches tucked away somewhere. I bet this kind of thing already existed on the internet at that time, but I didn’t even consider this possibility back then). It seems that the biggest problem of your childhood, apart from the theRapist (this term, coined by Adam Lanza as far as I know, is by no means supposed to be a joke, but rather a neologism for certain therapists whose methods could be figuratively described as a kind of rape), were people not willing enough to reason, discuss, dialogue, listen to arguments. People who felt the need to protect their authority, who felt that something going not how they planned meant them losing control. “No buts”. Rejecting all the buts along with worries and reality. Overall, the book had many depressing bits, fun bits, sad bits and bittersweet bits. Once again, a good combination of an interesting topic and your writing skills.

And finally, I also want to praise Thea’s cover designs, really neat and artistic in their simplicity. The Wet Goddess has the photography-related items, with the signed film and the lens that brings focus to Dolly’s face. The Orgone Box has the child framed in a thick black box. Both very creative and fitting.

In general, I find your writing very good and wish you the best of luck with further sales. And with anything else you do, for that matter :) You’re a fascinating person and I’m very happy to contact you.

With best regards,

Charlie

(or so I call myself)

Thanks, Charlie, for all the kind words!  It is interesting to me that you comment on my telepathic contact with the dolphin, as that’s one area most people (especially scientists) don’t want to touch.