Monday, September 04, 2017

Remembering Vicente Gomez: Pasadena legend and Bicycling champion






REMEMBERING VICENTE YNFANTE GOMEZ –
A Pasadena bicycling legend and Vietnam veteran hero

Vicente Ynfante Gomez, October 24, 1946 to August 4, 2017
[by Christopher Nyerges]

Great people always walk amongst us, yet most of us are too busy in our very narrow lives (me too) to recognize and acknowledge them for who they are.

Vicente and Rafael Gomez were the famous Apache Brothers racing team, brothers who won numerous state and district bicycle racing championships, often defying all odds on their tandem bicycle.

A bit of background. Lifelong Pasadena resident, Vicente was a cross-country runner at John Muir High School, and graduated in 1965.  Both Vicente and Rafael were Vietnam vets.  Vicente was an Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne’s “Hatchet Brigade,” serving as a ranger in the recon.  He was decorated with the bronze star for valor in combat during the 1968 Tet Offensive. But he never talked about it much – you remember how terribly returning Vietnam vets were treated?  Younger brother Rafael entered the service when Vicente returned home, wanted to follow in big brother’s footsteps.

For 40 years, Vicente and partner -brother Rafael were competitive members of the U.S. Cycling Federation.  Vicente was one of the two only masters (age 55 and older) to win four national track racing championship medals in the elite mens’ tandem.  With the help of Sport Chalet in 1984 (where both brothers worked)  Vicente and Rafael were instrumental in establishing bike racing practice around the Rose Bowl.   And they mentored many other up-and-coming bicyclists, including women such as Katie Safford,  who became champions. 

Those of us who knew this unique brother-team got to witness the rarest form of true and pure brotherhood. They lived together and supported one another through thick and thin. Vicente was the quiet brother, and Rafael loud and gregarious. They represented the totality of the yin and yang, not as opposing forces, but as a duality representing the totality of the whole.  As Katie Safford stated at Vicente’s funeral, “Yes, I know Rafael is still alive, but ‘The Gomez Brothers’ have died,” referring to the inseparable nature of the dynamic brother team.

Safford – who won 53 district championships and 5 nationals in racing – had many bicycling mentors.  “But most of the men weren’t so keen having us race with them,” she explained, “because we were faster. But Vicente and Rafael were always kind to us.”  She describes the Apache brothers as constantly encouraging her, and congratulating her, even when Safford beat the Gomez brothers in the Southern California/ Nevada District Championships at the velodrone in Encino.
Here is a part of what Kathy Safford said at Vicente’s funeral mass:

“When I was 26 I found bicycle racing…. My life changed.  I was competitive. Someone said I should try track racing on the velodrome – you know, no brakes and high speeds. I borrowed a bike and headed to Encino and the Gomez brothers.
“I didn’t know them but I had heard about these two crazy brothers who raced.  They drove a van. They were fast. They were fearless…. We got along from the first moment… They protected me and all of us on the front lines. They liked me and took me in as their little sister, their ‘hermanita,’ as brothers and mentors.
In track racing, it’s all about the lead out-block the wind for your sprinter and let her win.  The Gomez brothers would come from the back and Vince (never loud) would say ‘Vamos, hermanita, al frente’ – come little sister to the front.  And there would be Rafael helping me get situated at 35 mph.  Go little sister, go, he yelled.  And I would follow those wheels and I won!  I won every race they helped me win.  And Vince would smile, ‘good hermanita,’ always a man of few words.  And Rafael would scream ‘You did it, little sis! You won!’  I would offer to split the cash winnings -- $20.  ‘No, m’hija, you won it, you keep it.”
There were district championships for bragging rights and a California Bear jersey.  I gathered a team of fast women and entered the team pursuit event – in the men’s category.  There were not enough women to have a women’s category.  Can you guess who we were up against?  You got that right – The Gomez brothers, my brothers, my mentors. We beat them – the chicks beat the boys. And what did Vicente say?  ‘Good hermanita, good.’  And what did Rafael say? He screamed and whooped with pure joy and pride for us.  Those are some really good guys.”

During a few of the radio interviews I did with ostensibly both brothers, Rafael would do most of the talking and it took a major effort to get Vicente to speak about his love of bicycling, herbalism, and his roots. But speak he did, though slowly, and with great intent. Sometimes, he presumed that one well placed look at me was enough to answer my questions, as if radio listeners can hear the look!

Vicente was surfing on Friday, August 4 at San Onofre State Beach with his brother Rafael and friends.  He died that day in Rafael’s arms, at age 70. 

At the wake for Vicente, “The Function at the Junction” (as Rafael called it), I took the time to “be with” Vicente at the little shrine out back that Rafael had created for his brother.

As some of you may know, I talk to the dead all the time.  Usually there are no responses.  I burned sage to Vicente, and sat with this quiet giant at his shrine, this Apache “medicine man” now gone.

Finally, Vicente had a lot to say. He was happy that I was there with him.  He wanted me to pass along a message, letting me know that everything was different for him now that he no longer had his body to deal with. He was light, but still serious as ever.

I’ll paraphrase, from memory, what he wanted me to know.  “Look, we didn’t live for money, but we took care of each other, and others in need.” Then he went on another track.  “Tell people not to be so pre-occupied with their bodies, and just pleasures of the senses. That’s not really who we are,” Vicente communicated.  This quiet brother was often deep in inner thought each time I met with him and Rafael.

“I see so clearly now, that anything we do that is not moving us forward spiritually is a waste of our precious time and energy.” 

I’ll miss such thoughtfulness and insight from Vicente, and will do my best to follow the spirit of what he told me. 



Friday, August 25, 2017

"LIGHTS OUT" by Ted Koppel


“Lights Out” by Ted Koppel


[Nyerges is the author of 16 books on self-reliance and preparedness, including “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Self-Sufficient Home.” He has been conducting survival field trips since 1974.  He is an advocate of perma-culture and local farmers markets, and he frequently consults to the movie industry. See the Schedule and booklist at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]

Former Nightline TV journalist Ted Koppel has written a hard-hitting, compelling book called “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.”

What if, asks Koppel, terrorists decide to strike the power grid of the United States? How, after all, does one “attack” the complex, inter-connected group of thousands of independent companies, in order to take out the ability of the U.S. to have and transport power? 

Koppel does his homework and tells us how the electrical system works today, and how power is transmitted.  Koppel asks the hard questions to power executives, and lays out the strengths, and weaknesses, of our system.  Koppel does not say that this would be an easy task, but someone with the know-how for hacking, with a laptop computer, could conceivably disable any of a number of the transformers throughout the country. 

Though the power company executives and Homeland Security officials tried to assure Koppel that this could not happen, or that it would be fixed quickly, Koppel traces the steps to replace a disabled transformer.  Replacing transformers, he points out, is not like replacing a battery in a flashlight. Transformers – one of the weak links in the system, according to Koppel – are huge custom-made pieces of equipment, each costing in the neighborhood of $3 to $10 million, and enormous, anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 pounds each. They are not readily transported, assuming there was a backup ready to use.

Knowledgeable hackers could access the system other ways as well, causing havoc in a number of ways.  Indeed, Koppel provides clues that hackers have already been exploring digitally, and physically, various aspects of the U.S. power grid.  And there are several nations hostile to the U.S. who could launch such a digital attack any day, without the need for any troops, and with a high degree of deniability. According to CENTCOM [Central Command] Commander General Lloyd Austin, “It’s not a question of if (this will happen), it’s a question of when.”

Finding that a cyber attack is a distinct possibility, Koppel starts to ask government officials and power executives what can be done. Some deny there is a problem. At least one official indicated that he hoped nothing like this happens anytime soon because he was due for retirement in a few years!

Koppel asked Howard A. Schmidt what someone could do.  Schmidt was the former cyber-security co-ordinator for the Obama administration. According to Schmidt, “There is no answer,” says Schmidt, saying that no government agency has any guidelines for private citizens because Schmidt believes there’s nothing an individual can do to prepare. He adds that “We’re so inter-connected, it’s not just me anymore. It’s me and my neighbors and where I get my electricity from. There’s nothing I can do that can protect me if the system falters.”  Koppel describes this answer as very fatalistic, implying that the individual can’t do anything, and that the government won’t do anything.

Part of the reason that the government won’t do anything, according to Koppel, is that government tends to react to emergencies, and nearly all the emergencies that organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross prepare for are nearly all natural disasters: floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes.  A cyber attack taking out the U.S. electrical grid would be very different.  No electricity over  a large portion of the U.S. would be unprecedented. Normal communication systems would be severely hindered; people would not be able to access money; purchases would be very difficult; problems would arise with sanitation systems and water delivery.  Refrigeration would go out.

To determine the potential severity of a nation-wide blackout, Koppel asks then-secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, to define the threat-level of a cyber attack. “It is potentially very large,” he responded. “It is potentially devastating.” 

Isn’t there something that ordinary citizens could do to prepare for such a possibility as a knock-out of the electrical grid, asks Koppel.  Shouldn’t the government be trying to get the message out to people of what to do in the first few days?  “I suspect there is a message that is out,” said Jeh Johnson.  “It’s just very few people are actually paying attention to it.”  According to Koppel, the level of interest in government preparing for a grid-down situation has not yet risen to the level of apathy.  And government officials to who Koppel spoke believed that there is nothing to worry about, as there is a very low probability of this ever happening.

The only plans that Koppel was able to discover had to do with either getting the power back on, or evacuating millions of people.  Evacuation of millions of people out of cities would be a logistical nightmare, of course, and the only reason that would be considered is because all the natural disaster plans typically involve some evacuation. But a grid-down scenario would be very different than a natural disaster. According to Koppel, the best thing to do would be to stay in one’s homes, in most cases.

Most FEMA officials interview by Koppel admitted that there is only so much FEMA could do, especially in a scenario with no electricity nation-wide.  Some feel that the only way to defend against a cyberattack is by a close coalition between government and industry.

But there are people – many of them – who are doing something. Some of these plans are band-aids, and some are more extensive. Koppel introduces us to survivalist and preppers in the latter part of his book.  He introduces the reader to folks with large ranches, with lots of guns for defense, and to the Mormon Church, perhaps the single-greatest non-government entity that has consistently focused on all phases of survival preparedness. You could describe the operations of the Mormon Church as a country within this country, for they own farms, canneries, storage facilities, and distribution networks that take care of their own so that the government doesn’t have to – assuming it could.

I found the “Solutions” chapter quite useful, and Koppel doesn’t ignore the old standbys for emergencies that everyone should have: stored food and water for six months, grinders for beans and wheat, extra supplies, lots of extra cash, medicines – basically, extra of everything you need, and especially the things that you quickly run out of.  Plus, there is the encouragement to create, or become a part of, a social-financial network where people can work together in good times or bad. Everyone is also encouraged to take CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training wherever you live.

The directions for any associations, even very loose associations, should be to locate and establish the needs of the most vulnerable, and determine the skills and assets of those who are willing to share either or both. As Koppel says, “Once disaster strikes, it is already too late.”

Koppel is one of our greatest journalists, and he doesn’t make his call-to-action without thorough research. “Lights Out” is interesting and entertaining to read, painting a clear picture of the possibility of a cyber-attack, as well as providing many details for individual action. 


Monday, August 21, 2017

THE ECLIPSE



[Nyerges is the author of several books, including "Til Death Do us Part?" and "Ancient Writings on Rock," both Kindle books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.  IF YOU ENJOY THESE BLOGS, PLEASE FOLLOW! Thank you]

Astronomical events have been observed with awe, ceremony, and even fear for millennia. I choose to regard such events as opportunities. Whether or not the heavens and the positions of celestial bodies effects us will be debated forever.  Yet, we know that our reality is also created by the thoughts of others, especially the collective thoughts of “good,” “bad,” and any of the types of thinking and desiring that creates destiny.  That is, I acknowledge that the thinking (passive or active) of humans collectively does affect our reality, and in particular, my reality.

During our partial eclipse in S. California, we took the time to acknowledge the guardians of the 6 directions, and ancient ones, and our own teachers and mentors who have gone before us. While burning herbs and sharing our impromptu prayers, feelings, and desires, we spoke to each other of our hopes for our future, and for the future, and of those things (people, habits, stuff) that we would do well to leave by the wayside if we are to evolve.

The subdued light outback was noticeable, and we felt a different atmosphere as we spoke our words and shook rattles. Two green California scarabs buzzed about during the time, and a line of small birds tweeted their song as they sat in the bottlebrush tree.  A breeze began to flow through the yard.

Of course, everything in our life and in the world can be viewed only in the most mundane of interpretations, but we choose to also view their symbolic aspects.

The sun – the source of all life on this planet, and viewed nearly as a god by so many ancient civilizations – is temporary blocked out.  A symbolic death. A moment to think, to choose, to decide. And then, the light returns, and the darkness fades. Life, death, resurrection, reincarnation. Everything is there.  Today is the first day of my new choices, and wherever those new choices lead.

That’s what the eclipse meant to me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Nature of Love and Relationships



[Nyerges is the author of such books as “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and “Extreme Simplicity.”  He teaches at Pasadena City College and through the School of Self-Reliance. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

 NOTE: This article will appear in Awareness magazine, and has been published in the Sierra Madre Mountain News.  It is part of an unpublished book by Nyerges.


One day I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with my friend Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a deep question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that seems to be  the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  Even when people try to have “open” arrangements, they all seem to fail in the long run.

We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we occasionally brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I liked chatting with Michael because he was not dogmatic, and listened in a conversation as much as he talked. It was clear that when we talked, he was seeking answers as much as he was telling me his opinions.

We tried to clarify the difference between “love” and sex in a relationship, and how they are actually very different things. Michael brought up the case of a man who divorced his wife because he learned she’d had plastic surgery, and was therefore not as naturally beautiful as he’d assumed.

“The man was in love with the woman’s body,” said Michael with a bit of anger in his voice. “He wasn’t in love with the person – just her body.”  Unfortunately, we both agreed that most people are hopelessly confused about this, often falling in love with a body and never really getting to know the person inside.  “I mean,” said Michael, “ a meaningful relationship can’t be built on just good looks and sex.  You’ve got to have a lot more going for you than that!”  I agreed.

We tried to define those traits that make a good relationship.  It wasn’t hard. We identified many traits that are desirable, and many that were not.  We both started shouting out the traits as I tried to write them down.  “You’ve gotta really like the other person,” said Michael. “And you absolutely must have some common interests, whether it’s religions, or TV shows, or exercise, or academics.  Something!  And I still don’t know what love is,” laughed Michael, “but I think even more than love is basic respect.  You’ve got to have mutual respect.”  A few people from the next table were listening, and begin to add to our lists. 
Here’s what we came up with:

Things you want in a relationship:
Affinity to one other, for whatever reason. 
Respect.
Communication. We both agreed that men and women can barely communicate with each other because they see the world so differently. But at least – if you want a good relationship – you have to work at communication, and continue to resolve issues whenever they come up.
Courtesy.
Caring about the relationship, per se, and working on it.
Clarification about how you deal with money.
Religion and politics: Some relationships work when there are diverse religious and political beliefs, but it is a strain. Stick to those who share your core beliefs.
Someone who shares your core beliefs about life, hygiene, use of time, etc.

Things you don’t want in a relationship:
Jealousy
Possessiveness
Immaturity
Extreme focus on outward appearances.
Incompatability with money.
Each person always trying to be the Alpha dog.
Lack of cleanliness.  Yes, we agreed that no one wants to live with a slob.

After a while, we realized that neither of us brought up that nebulous word “love,” nor did we include sex in our list. We both agreed that mutual respect is at the top of the list to cultivate, and that jealousy and possessiveness will kill any relationship.

[This essay is part of an unpublished book written by Nyerges, about growing up in Pasadena.  He plans to publish it in the next few years.]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Remembering My Father



[Nyerges is the author of “Til Death Do Us Part?”, a series of stories describing how he and his wife attempted to deal with death in an uplifting manner. The book is available on Kindle, or from School of Self-reliance,  Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]

When my father’s 80th birthday coincided with Father’s Day some years ago, I wrote a pictorial booklet for my father which outlined key aspects of our life together. It was my way of thanking my father. My wife Dolores and I went to his home after the wild cacophonous family gathering had ended. We didn’t want an audience in an atmosphere of laugher, sarcasm, and possibly ridicule. I only wanted to share the thank you story with my father in a somewhat serious atmosphere.

Dolores and I brought some special foods, put on some music, and I began my short presentation beginning with my earliest significant memories. I shared with him my memories of how he told me I would be an artist when I grew up. He always told me to put my bike and toys away, so "the boogeyman" wouldn’t steal them. As I grew older, I learned that the world was indeed full of very real "boogeymen" and my father attempted to provide me with ways to protect myself against these unsavory elements of life.

I recalled to my father, while my mother and Dolores listened on, the birthday party adventures, getting hair cuts in the garage, and how my father tolerated my interest in mycology and wild edibles.

Everyone found the recounting amusing, even funny, but there were also tears mixed with the laughter. As with most memories, some things my father recalled quite differently from me, and some he didn’t recall at all. Some things that I saw as life-and-death serious, he saw as humorous, and vice versa.

But above it all, I felt I’d finally "connected" with him at age 80 in a way that I’d never managed to do before. My "fathers day card" wasn’t pre-made by a card company, but consisted of my own private and secret memories that I shared with him. I managed to thank him for doing all the things that I took for granted – a roof over my head, meals, an education, a relatively stable home.

Of course, all our family members – "insiders" – knew that my father was no saint. But I was at least acknowledging the good, and sincerely thanking him for it.
My mother died two years later, and we all knew my father would be lost without her. They’d been married over 50 years. His health and activities declined and he finally passed away on the Ides of March a few years later.

Though his death did not come as a surprise – I was nevertheless left feeling his absence. That early Saturday morning when I learned of his death, I even felt parent-less. My view of the world changed and I was forced to acknowledge the limits of life and the futility of pursuing solely a material existence.

After I learned of his death via a phone call, I walked out into the morning rain, in shock, crying, thinking, remembering. I was not feeling cold or wet, and somehow I was protected by that unique state of mind that enshrouded me.

During the next three days, I did as I had done with my mother when she died. I spent the next three days reviewing my life with my father.

At first I allowed the random memories and pain to wash over me. I talked to Frank constantly during those three days, inviting and allowing him to be with me as we did the life review together. I felt his pain, his frustration, his emptiness and loneliness in his last few years of life. I did nothing to stop the pain of this – I allowed myself to feel it all.

I spoke to Frank as I’d speak to anyone living. I felt his presence and even his responses. I did this for myself as much as for Frank and his on-going journey.

I began to see him as a young man, who met, fell in love, and married my mother. Somehow, this was a major revelation to me. I had never seen my own father in that light before. He had simply been "my father." Suddenly, he was a unique individual, with his own dreams, aspirations, and goals. Amazingly, I’d never viewed him in this way during our life together.

And then, after perhaps 12 hours of this, and miles of walking, I began a more chronological review of my life with my father, point by point by significant point. I saw his weaknesses and strengths, as well as my own. As I did this review, I looked for all the things that I’d done right with my father, all the things I’d done wrong, and all the things that I could have done better. I wrote these down, and the "wrong" list was shockingly long. The "right" list only contained a few items!

I asked my father to forgive me, and I resolved to do certain things differently in order to change and improve my character. I know I would not have imposed such a rigor upon myself had it not been for the death of my father.

A week later, when there was the funeral at the church, I felt that I’d come to know my father more than I ever was able to do in life. I briefly shared to the congregation my three days of "being with" my father, and learning what it was like to be Frank, in his shoes, and how we forgave one another.

More importantly, I shared to family and friends gathered that day the importance of constantly finding the time to tell your living loved ones that you indeed love them, not waiting until they die to say the things that you should be saying all along.

I remember Frank now on Father’s Day, and continue to express my heart-felt thanks for all that he – and my mother – gave to me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Poem: Forgiving Our parents


FORGIVING OUR PARENTS

Christopher Nyerges

[I haven't shared a poem in a while -- I hope you like it]
 
We seldom think that who we are
Is product from backseat car
Or lusty night from smokey bar
And not the son of distant star
We are the product of mom and dad
Their mingled traits both good and bad
We want to think we’re so unique
And so we are, but let us speak
How our child minds did set the stage
For adult us who learned to rage
With pain within we could not gauge
And fears and deficiencies
From hidden fears from early age
We found we could not turn the page
To cure, we had to find a sage
Who maybe helped us, maybe not
Our solution, had to be sought
By choice within, or happened not
And even then, inside we fought
Our inner demons, night and day
Until we got to bright new day
Until we find that we could say
I accept my father who he was
I accept my mother who she was
They lived their life, they did their buzz
They were who they were, just because
I did what I did, I always does
Above my parents did I rise?
Or were their limits born in me
Should I blame them for my own lies
They were my parents, not 2 gods
They made no pretense, they weren’t frauds
I must forgive them, on my own
And for their soul, let cease that moan
They did their best, I am quite sure
No pain intend, from him or her
They lived their life, they tried their best
During Depression, dad came west
Challenge had in time of war
Enough to make their bodies sore
I was not center of their life
Though tried their best in time of strife
The center I’d have liked to been
That I wasn’t, was not sin
Child rarely in parents’ shoes
Sees from parents eyes what they dos
Day in and out, sun rise to set
Bills to pay and job to get
Responsibility, oh boy
My parents sometimes had no joy
I forgive them now in my heart
Though both gone now, I have to start
To have new life, must do my part
To see anew, and wipe eyes clean
Parents forgive, no more mean
Within my mind, internal clean
Release I do bad pictures seen
It’s finally time to let it go
And see instead divine rainbow
Challenges many we all have
Some we fail and some we meet
Time it is for spiritual salve
To lighten mind and stop the heat
To finally learn from our past
Forgive our parents at long last
And with optimistic heart and mind
Seek the truth that is there to find
Not dark webs that would keep us bind
But bright truth light most rad’ant kind
And on that path our answers find
That kingdom within, in our mind
A place real, where we’re no more last
Truly, we can be free at last

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