It would be a stretch to say my garden is thriving. But I can say that efforts to care for my garden–the watering, the weeding, the nurturing of sprouts–relaxes me, and promotes in me a sense of calm and peace. And with a little luck, there will be healthy things to eat. Thanks and appreciation for Not Forgotten Outreach of Taos and Jon Turner for the inspiration and example. What is more beautiful than transforming swords into ploughshares?
The 7th Annual Skywalk, as in year’s past, kicked off with an olive and cheese platter at the Parq Central Hotel rooftop lounge at 5pm on Friday, May 12. The next morning, the group reconvened at the Canyon Estates trailhead (6,600ft) at 6am in Tijeras to begin the initial climb up to South Peak (9,800ft) with the goal of reaching Placitas by evening– approximately 25 miles away.
The weather was sunny and warm. Participants were soon in shorts and T-shirts. However, as the group descended from South Peak to continue their journey north along the Sandia Crest Trail, they came upon a patch of snow, the last reminder of winter on South Peak.
As the party descended into Placitas, they were met with sprawling expansive views to the east.
The group arrived in Tunnel Springs after approximately 13 hours on the trail. They retired to the Kaktus Brewery in Bernalillo for elk sausage pizza, frito pies and cold beverages; there were no leftovers.
The next Skywalk will be Saturday, May 12, 2018. To be added to the listserv for this event, please send an email with “SKYWALK” as subject to alimkin(at)hotmail.com.
This post is to express my gratitude and appreciation for the assistance and support of the Veterans Administration. Thanks to the VA, I have been able to pursue a second life as a telemark instructor and medical first responder. I have also the VA to thank for patching me up as needed and getting me back on the slopes. Telemark does not come without its share of spills, tumbles, and injuries.
An active life in the peace, stillness, quiet, grandeur and beauty of the mountains is the best therapy and medicine that I have discovered. A three year self-study followed by a three year apprenticeship with the Sangre Academy of Telemark and Nature have been transformative and uplifting to say the least. I am honored and blessed to recognize my sensei, below, whose mentorship and guidance and friendship have been instrumental to my progress and evolution.
I am also excited at the prospect of sharing the pursuit of telemark with fellow veterans at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic starting in March 2018. If you are interested, please contact Teresa Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to sign up for next year’s clinic, which I will be teaching. Fellow instructors taking part are Navy veteran and big mountain huckster Stephen Eytel, and telemark champion and founder of Telemark Freeride Camps, Jake Sakson.
I’m also looking forward to the prospect of being the oldest veteran to compete at the Free Heel Life Cup at Grand Targhee in 2018 (at the age of 45).
I am stoked to continue this journey, stoked for my second chance at life, and stoked to share my stoke. In furtherance of stoke, here’s a recent crotchcam training video featuring The Donkeys’ Lower the Heavens.
Drop knees not bombs.
Alex ‘Tele’ Limkin
As Mark Twain once remarked, the reports of the death of telemark are greatly exaggerated. Telemark is in fact alive and well. But is it for everyone? I would say no. Like any challenging physical endeavor, it is not for the timid or the easily dissuaded. Advancing in this discipline, like any martial art, demands rare levels of commitment and devotion.
If your primary concern is “efficiency of movement,” then conform to the conventional norm that is parallel skiing. After all, the fixed heel turn is powerful and readily learned. It is percussive, strong, easily replicated. But if your primary concern is sensation and fluidity, if you value the aesthetic qualities of being low and close to the snow, free your heel and ski for real. Fixed heel turns, certainly as practiced by top athletes, may be faster, but they are not the song—the deluge of notes—that is telemark. Locked heel turns cannot begin to match the panache, style, soulfulness, and freedom of tele-riding. (And what exactly do you achieve by getting to the bottom of the hill faster, anyway, other than abbreviating your joy?)
In his presumptive article announcing the death of telemark (RIP: Telemark, Powder Magazine, February 2017), Hans Ludwig reveals he is out of touch with the evolution and progression of telemark. He cites the lack of “tele specific” skis as proof of telemark’s decline, not realizing that dramatic advances in tele boots and bindings in the last decade have allowed us to adapt any ski to our purpose. Current teleriders, backed by burly bindings and beefy boots, are on everything from 4FRNT Devastators to Volkl Ones.
He is also far off the mark in his perception that telemark equipment suffers from a fatal lack of innovation, further begging the question of why he is offering commentary on tele gear in the first place. Binding manufacturers such as Bishop, 22 Designs, M-Equipment, and Rottefella continue to refine, improve and innovate in such areas as decreasing weight, increasing strength, and even, in the instance of M-Equipment’s Meidjo, allowing for both a free heel and fixed heel function. The latest development from Bishop Bindings, known as the BMF, will be both 75mm and NTN compatible, and is expected to have unsurpassed durability and strength to power even the most aggressive riders.
Additionally, with regard to boots, there are numerous 4-buckle options from Crispi, Scarpa, and Scott to take on the steep and deep. Think that the steep and savage is just for fixed heelers? Have a look at footage from big mountain telemark competitions such as the Free Heel Life Cup help annually at Grand Targhee.
Could there be more books on telemark? Certainly. More telemark schools? Yes. These things would certainly help promote telemark and make it more accessible.
The reality is the greatest challenge to getting into telemark is the gear. Yes, it is scary to scissor your legs, pushing one foot out in front of the other to turn, and yes, you will fall. Multiple times. But the physical challenges involved in learning are dwarfed by the challenges of locating equipment and knowing what equipment to get in the first place. Tele gear is not obtainable at your local sporting goods store or even neighborhood ski shop. Major resorts in North America commonly do not carry even a single item of telemark equipment. And you can forget about rentals.
But is telemark dead? You know it’s not. It may be dead to you. Because you don’t know much about it. Because you are in a comfort zone with your locked heels. Because you don’t know anyone that drops the knee. Because you’re not curious enough to find out more. Because you tried it once and found it too hard, too challenging, too difficult. But difficult is a far cry from impossible. After all, you learned to ski and to ski well. You learned to snowboard and to snowboard well. So why stop there?
Despite what Hans says, the sun has not set on telemark. Maybe you don’t know a telerider. But you see us on the mountain. We stop and rest sometimes. We’re easy to spot with our broken bindings. Chat us up. Don’t worry about seeming ignorant. What’s ignorant is believing telemark dead when you see us shredding past, dropping bombs for knees. Talk to us if you’re not sufficiently terrorized. Then get on Craigslist and Ebay. Look at some YouTube videos. Check out Free Heel Life, Telemark Down, Jake Sakson’s Telemark Freeride Camps. Find some beater equipment for $50 at a ski swap. And start dropping knees. Get low. Touch the snow. Play. Find some powder. Do a tele press. Jump off stuff.
Grow stoke on your windowsill and put some panache in your diet.
This is how telemark never dies.
Alex ‘Tele’ Limkin is an Army veteran, ski patroller and telemark instructor at Sipapu, New Mexico, one of the only tele patrols in North America. Stephen Eytel is a Navy veteran, big mountain telerider from Breckenridge, CO, and Bishop Bindings Badassador.
(This article was submitted to Powder Magazine for publication on 3/20/17.)
I labored to get breakfast ready and get us out the door. Oatmeal and coffee for me. Oatmeal and Emergen-C for Ka’aina. I needed him healthy.
I knew something was wrong. I had slept fitfully, my back feeling like a million tiny pins against the bedsheet, sweaty, achy. But I didn’t want to disappoint my nephew. He had a dream of seeing snow. He was 17 and this was his first time away from his home on the Big Island. We had arranged to meet a friend of mine, a fellow ski patroller, and do a short 3-5 mile hike in the Pecos where we could observe a ridge line still covered in snow, even in the middle of July.
Although I felt weak on the way up, it was only at the turnaround point that I began to have some real concern. I could feel my temperature spiking. And with the sun climbing in the sky, I began to succumb. Luckily the trail ran alongside a small stream. Where there was a break in the bramble, I stopped and soaked my feet, splashed water on my face, and on my arms and legs. By this time my friend suspected I was in some trouble. I asked him if he had any Tylenol or aspirin. Fortunately, he had some acetaminophen in his fanny pack. I took a tablet. I knew once I got down to the parking lot, there was no question my next stop would be the hospital. The only time I had ever felt this weak was on a forced march in Ranger School, when I was 26. The lack of nutrition and sleep deprivation had weakened me. After 20 miles or so, plodding in the dark under a heavy load, I remember my field of vision shrinking. I could detect my body was riding the edge of collapse, that I was close to fainting on my feet. I did simple multiplication and subtraction and addition in my head to stave off a shutdown. And that is how I felt on the trail in the Pecos. I began to do the same simple addition and subtraction exercises in my head that had kept me on my feet in the dark at Fort Benning twenty years earlier.
During the last couple miles, I was moving quite slowly, like someone summiting a bitter and desolate peak. Each step was a conscious, deliberate, and agonizing effort. My friend, walking behind me, noticed what I had been aware of but had been doing my best to ignore: “It looks like your feet are trembling. I can see your feet trembling.”
We paused in the shade and I submerged my feet in the water. I knew the medication would soon help, but It was critical that I not pass out on the trail. Passed out I could no longer drink water. Passed out I could no longer assist myself. Passed out I felt I might die.
I continued to make conversation. Despite my condition, I did not want to overly alarm anyone. I still managed to point out bird feathers on the trail, and even take a few pictures of my nephew.
Reaching the trailhead, I felt the hardest part was over. Soon I would be in the cab of my truck and I could crank the air conditioning. We sat for a few minutes on a picnic bench in the shade. My friend was quite concerned and offered to drive. But I felt I could continue. I had the medicine in me and would soon be in the coolness of the AC.
We stopped briefly at my house to gather my nephew’s belongings. I intoned out loud my actions as I did the few simple tasks that I normally did before leaving the house. “Turning off the lights,” I said. “Unplugging the coffee maker.” I had a peculiar feeling that I would never be back again. I felt some regret at the mess I was leaving behind.
By the time we neared Albuquerque, my fever was coming down, and instead of talking in short sentences, with a focus on breathing, like an old man, I found myself able to speak normally. But I knew there was something wreaking havoc inside me. A couple nights prior, already beginning to feel the symptoms of my illness, I had a dream that I had inadvertently drank a few swallows of brake fluid or coolant, something to do with the vehicle. I woke up troubled and uneasy, with a sense that some sort of poison was inside me.
To avoid alarming my mother, I stayed at her house long enough to eat something. She already had dishes prepared on the table. I knew I had to eat to have some strength. I had eaten almost nothing since my oatmeal breakfast. Just a peach at the turnaround point. After eating, I pushed myself away from the table, said goodbye to my nephew and mother, and made the last leg of the journey to the VA Hospital, which was about 15 minutes away.
There was only one person in the waiting room when I arrived. I approached the receptionist and, as asked, provided her my name and date of birth and last four digits of my social security number. Before returning to my seat I said, “If you have a mask, I’ll wear it.” She motioned to a small box nearby. As I reached for a mask, a rectangular cloth with four strings at each corner, I was aware of the other hands that had preceded mine, other hands that had selected masks from that same box. I reached in carefully as to only touch the one mask that would be mine. “Thank you,” I said, and returned to my seat. I put my mask on. The television, which was always on in the waiting room, was playing a Western. Men were about to have a gunfight in the street. I recognized some of the actors but no names came to mind. With my head already throbbing, I was dreading the gunfire that was coming.
Fortunately, I was called back to have my vitals taken before the shooting started. I was dizzy. Weaving a little as I walked. Every time I was up, I was looking for a place to sit down. “Is your blood pressure normally this low?” the nurse asked me. “What’s low?” I asked. From where I was sitting, I could not easily see the readout of the digital display on her blood pressure monitor. I tilted my head a little. Even the smallest movement came with some effort. 95/63. “No, that is unusual,” I said. “Okay,” she said. She took down the rest of my symptoms, shortness of breath, fever, achings in my joints, headache, and asked me to have a seat.
I barely had time to shuffle back to my seat before my name was called again, this time to have my blood drawn. Shortly thereafter the ER doctor came by.
She had a serious expression on her face. After her exam, she indicated that she was going to be conferring with other doctors and ordering X-rays of my chest. “Why?” I asked, suspiciously. What was wrong with my chest. “It’s the coughing and the phlegm. It will help us learn more about what is going on.” I nodded my head.
About half an hour after she left, two physicians appeared at the door. “I must have an exotic disease to get two doctors,” I quipped, trying to make light of my situation. They introduced themselves, and asked about my symptoms. They listened attentively and then asked if they could examine me. The female physician requested permission to do a palpation of my groin area. “Yes, go ahead,” I said. In the middle of their exam, the male doctor stopped and said something I had never heard before from a doctor or anyone else: “If your heart or lungs stop, what would you like us to do?” Even in my groggy condition, I could feel his words hanging in the air and in my brain like heavy weights.
“Let me think about that,” I said, stupidly. So my heart and lungs might stop at any time. Regardless of what I wanted. Regardless of how committed I was to living. They are asking me this because whatever I have might literally stop my heart. Right here. Without any warning. Stop my lungs. Right here on this table. Right here in this room. The lights seemed very bright. With each exhalation, the inner edges of my glasses misted a little from the mask. I thought of my sons.
“Try to revive me,” I said. The female doctor gave me a thumbs up. They continued with their examination. Had I been stung by any ticks? Any mosquitoes? Been around any mice or rodent droppings?
“Okay, what are the possibilities?” I blurted out. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to speak. “You know what they say,” the female doctor said, “New Mexico is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Plague.” The Plague? For real? The Plague? You have got to be shitting me, I thought. But there was more. “And with your exposure to rodent droppings, we have to consider the possibility of Hanta virus.”
“But at this stage in the game, we are merely speculating. But we are going to be pumping you full of fluids, including antibiotics, and we are conducting a battery of tests on your blood. Because it’s the weekend, some of this work may take a little longer than normal. That is out of our control. But we will do the best we can to have answers for you. We are concerned about all these symptoms. It is clear there is a serious fight going on in your body. Maybe it is just sepsis. We will be back when we have more information. But we are going to be admitting you to the hospital. Continue wearing your mask.”
During the next hour, liquids continued to be pumped into me through an IV. Because of the fever, the coolness of the liquid flowing into my bloodstream, which I could feel throughout my body, was comforting. Because of all the liquids, I had to make several trips to the bathroom. One of the nurses asked if I would prefer a urinal, a small container so that I could just pee in the room. I tried to laugh. “No, the trips to the bathroom give me a sense of accomplishment.” It was true. Walking those steps to the bathroom made me feel like I was far from the edge of the precipice, which it appeared I might very well be.
Being admitted to the hospital meant getting into a wheelchair, and being pushed down the hall and into an elevator, which took us to the fifth floor. Everyone has heard horror stories of the VA. But as I was pushed down the corridor towards my room, I felt reassured and comforted by my surroundings. The room was spacious, clean and cool. My nurse, named Cyndi, was a young Latina. She directed me to some hospital pajamas and oriented me to the room. Her demeanor was just what I could have hoped for in a nurse: reassuring, gentle, and attentive. It was getting late and I was exhausted, but I was reluctant to sleep. The talk about my heart and lungs stopping made me want to remain awake at all cost. Somehow it seemed less likely that any of my essential body functions could shut down while I was conscious. Cyndi showed me how to operate the TV. There was a selection of movies, none of which I had seen, since I don’t watch movies. Cyndi was just a push button away. Despite how horrible my body felt, I felt comfortable enough to spend a few minutes playing with the controls of the bed.
It was a restless night. In the morning I was transferred to a room that provided even greater isolation, being at the end of the hall. Until the test results were in, the staff were taking as many precautions as they could around me. By this time, everyone was in masks and gowns when they came in to dispense medication, take my vitals, and keep me updated on my status. It was unnerving but I understood. Whatever I might have, no one else wanted. But this didn’t mean they didn’t care about me. Quite the opposite. I felt very well cared for. But it was the not knowing that was gnawing at my gut. A stream of meals and movies was all I had to distract myself with. I watched the entire EuroCup Final between Portugal and France. I rejoiced when Portugal scored in extra time. I rejoiced when the whistle blew and Portugal was victorious! If Portugal could win the final against France, without Reynaldo, no way was I going to die in the hospital! From that point on, I felt a little better.
When a doctor came in and delivered the news that I did not have the plague, or Hanta virus, or anything else they could recognize, I wept. He stood patiently and allowed me to cry, saying nothing. He must have known very well what had been going through my head over the last 48 hours. When he saw that I was recovered, he indicated that I could go ahead and suspend the antibiotics regime if I wanted. And that I didn’t need the mask anymore. Then he left.
I lay there blankly in the bed. The feeling of being granted a second life was unmistakable. I turned off all the lights in the room and tottered into the shower. I peeled the tape slowly back that secured the IV in place in the crook of my left elbow and then gently pulled out the IV. I shook off my hospital pajamas. The last thing I took off was my mask. Then I stood beneath the hot shower in complete darkness.
After my shower, I toweled off and put my hospital pajamas back on. I went out into the hall for the first time without a mask. There was a young man in the hallway with a portable machine that could be pushed around. He could have been a resident, doctor, nurse, tech, who knows.
“I don’t have Hanta virus,” I said, grinning. He smiled back at me just as broadly. “That’s great,” he said. He knew exactly what was us. I drifted up and down the corridors in a strange state, greeting every stranger like a long lost relative. “It’s so good,” I told people, people I would never see again, people I was seeing for the first time. I was still weak, my body was still fighting something, but I was practically skipping around delirious with joy.
Shortly after returning to my room, the head physician of Yellow Team, the team that had been assigned to me, came by to say that they would be discharging me in the next few hours.
The VA gets a bad rap at times. Because of this I want to recognize the excellent care and treatment I received during a very difficult time. Everyone who attended to me was caring and compassionate and professional. I wish to recognize by name the nurses that cared for me in Ward 5A: Nurse Cyndi, Nurse Boi, and Nurse Jerry, as well as the team of doctors, known as the Yellow Team, led by Dr. Smith. The infectious disease doctors from UNM were similarly excellent.
I am grateful to keep on with this life.
P.S. Go Jill Stein and Cornel West! #TheDoctorsAreIn
Dear Senator Sanders,
You are responsible for the most comprehensive improvements to veteran care that I am aware of. That should mean a lot to the American people. Obviously it means a lot to us.
You have said repeatedly, “If we are not willing to care for our veterans when they return home, we should not be sending them to war.” I could not agree more.
I have suffered some grave physical injuries, but not while I was in Iraq. That came after. Although I did suffer in Iraq, the condition I live with did not come from kicking in doors and shooting people. I am fortunate to only have fired my weapons on four, maybe five occasions, and no humans were downrange. Once was into a burn barrel, another was at a strand of wire that an Iraqi had just broken my SOG Multi-Tool on trying to cut, the next was when I shot a “ballistic” chest plate to prove the equipment we were issuing to Iraqi trainees was comparable to our own (it wasn’t–the bullet passed right through), and another was when I zeroed my M-4 at a secretive training facility at Camp Victory known as Camp Dublin. (Yes, a camp within a camp, the place was BIG.) It was the same facility where my commander, Westhusing, shot himself in the head over corruption and human rights abuses. At Camp Dublin they moved a huge armored truck back and forth to block the entrance just like in Mad Max. I’m not kidding. Prior to zeroing my M-4, which was brand new, I carried around an AK-47, which was not. This was a highly unusual practice. I can tell you that the ammunition available to us for the AKs was substandard Iraqi ammunition. And it was old. Maybe dating back to the Iran-Iraq War. I kid you not. Understandably, we made every effort not to fire the AKs. As far as being fired upon. Yes. That is unpleasant. Whether the shots are fired deliberately or accidental discharges. Gives you a kink in your stomach.
This is not to say I did not suffer physical injury in Iraq. While test firing my AK, I did get some powder in my eye. That’s how we knew the ammo was no good. But the IED going off, the flash of light, the screams, the burning. None of that. My trauma wasn’t violence per se. My trauma was the threat of violence. In other words, fear. Morbid fear. And moral injury. What some refer to as the awareness of “self-violation.”
Even though I was not out kicking in doors, shooting people, or getting blown up in my vehicle, my “self-violation” was recognized by the VA as an injury. And when my physical injuries came, they recognized those injuries as well. And when complications from my injuries arose, both physical and otherwise, they treated me for those as well. Which is to say I would not be here without the assistance and care of the VA. For which I give thanks.
But as everyone knows, the best way to deal with veterans is to not create them in the first place.
So, just as importantly as thanking you for your work to see that we are cared for, I thank you for having the courage and integrity to have voted against the invasion of Iraq. If Hillary Clinton and others had your similar courage and integrity, not to mention judgment, thousands of shattered and destroyed lives would not be shattered and destroyed. Thousands of deaths not incurred. Thousands of broken and debased spirits not incurred. Thousands of countless miseries not incurred.
SO PLEASE KEEP GIVING EM HELL, SIR.
FOR ALL OF US.
ALEX ‘TELE’ LIMKIN
CAPTAIN, INFANTRY (RET.)
I’ve been having a lot of political conversations lately. And not just with my mother. I have been talking to people at the VA, UPS drivers, people waiting for the bus, the bus driver, the guy who roasted a sack of green chile for me at the corner of Broadway and Mountain, and most recently, the guy who sold me a camper shell for my Tacoma. The camper shell is white and the truck is black, so I got the Yin Yang thing going on now. He had a very unusual name that guy. So unusual I have already forgotten it. The shell, lined with fabric, was super dusty, since it had been sitting out in the yard forever. He had it up on cinder blocks and was using it to keep the weather off his yard tools: a rake and a shovel.
I broke the ice with a redneck joke, which is a regular approach for me. I figure if they get riled up, I got to tread extra careful, because I’m likely face to face with a Trump supporter. But if they have a chuckle, I can move into denouncing Citizens United. And if they guffaw, I can breathe easy, because clearly they’ve already applied for and received their “License to Bern!”
“So what’s the difference between a good ol’ boy and a redneck”, I asked him. He didn’t seem put out, so I kept on. “A good ol’ boy throws his empties in the bed of the truck, a redneck throws ‘em out the window.” I got a polite chuckle so I knew I was okay. Granted, it’s not much of a joke. It’s mainly to get the conversation started.
Now I’m not saying shy away from Trump supporters. There is common ground to be found, even with them. I usually ask what kind of work they’re in. Then I ask them for the qualifications they would like to see in a person at the pinnacle of that work, and they tell me, and it almost always has something to do with the work itself, and then I ask them this: Take being President, that’s the highest job in all the land, and it’s about protecting and looking after the whole country, right? Why would you ever elect someone who only knows how to put themselves first, help themselves first, look out for themselves first, into the premiere position that requires thinking of other people, and looking after an entire country filled with other people? There’s only one person fighting the billionaires and corporations intent on controlling and corrupting our politics through big money. And it’s not Trump.
When I’m asked why I’m so excited about Bernie, I point to the horizon. Look out there, I say. Do you see anything at all approaching, anything at all that remotely resembles the candidate I just described to you? No. No you don’t.
I’m telling everybody we have to be like ants. Ants for Bernie. When I was a kid I was terrible to ants. I burned them, blew them up with firecrackers, poured gasoline down their holes. Lit the holes on fire. This is something I am remorseful over, of course. I think it was largely due to lack of supervision. I was a latchkey kid and there were several hours in the day I could indulge these sorts of delinquent impulses.
But now we have to be like ants. Working to save the colony and protect the young. The horizon is empty. Nobody else is coming. We’re it.
There are times when I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. This isn’t a cry for help. I have a number to the VA hotline when things get hairy. I talked to a counselor today. It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was what I needed to right the ship. I left the turnips in the ground too long and they became wooden. I pulled one and was pleased at the size. Until I tried to cut it. It was as hard as any tree root. I tried chewing a piece and there was some nice flavor, but it became wooden gristle in my mouth. I had to spit it out. I have two young sons dear to me. I don’t get to see them as often as I would like. One lives halfway across the country. The other is just a two-hour drive away, but relations with his mother are strained. I am working on it. Some days I get overwhelmed with grief. But I have the hotline if I need it. I had a nightmare the other day about Donald Trump. In the dream I was in a school setting and he was an authoritarian schoolmaster. He disproved of my wearing a speedo in class. All the students had to provide him blood samples by pricking our fingers and squeezing a few drops of blood onto a card. He said it was so they could check us for hepatitis. When I went to prick my finger I could see that my fingers were discolored, purple and black. Something was wrong with them. A few drops of pus were all I could squeeze onto the card. I was scared Donald Trump would take over the procedure, jab the pin in, and take the sample himself. Single me out. I was sure I would be singled out as having hepatitis and that would be the excuse they would use to take me out of the class. I felt that the whole hepatitis check was just a ruse to get me out of the class, to take me away somewhere. I felt scared and alone and it didn’t help that I was only dressed in a speedo. I competed in swimming in the military. I was not the best swimmer. At one of the swimming events, against the Navy, I swam the 100 meter crawl as part of a medley team. I was the weakest link in the chain so I knew I had to give my all if we were to have a chance. After the event I thought I had an aneurysm. My head was pounding for several days. In basic training my issued boots were so tight that I developed a bone spur over my instep. I was too scared and timid to complain about the ill-fitting boots. I had just turned 18 when I shipped out to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. I weighed 138 pounds. We did a lot of simulated killing that summer. I worry about getting fat. Not like enormous, just getting a gut. I know that this is what happens as you get older, but I don’t like the feeling I get when I sit down and I can feel my stomach pressing against the waist of whatever it is I am wearing: shorts, underwear, pants. One of the reasons I am getting a gut is because I am less active. AB was diagnosed with a ligament tear in her right hind knee several weeks ago, and I am trying to rehabilitate her, which means not going out in the mountains as much. She is a dog and doesn’t take well to being injured. She pushes herself. She can’t help herself. I am doing my best to restrain her from pushing herself too hard. Because I am less active in the mountains I am getting a gut and I am spending lots of time sitting around the house. Lately I am spending a lot of time on social media when I am not out cutting wood. I am a big supporter of the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. The more I learn about him the more I respect him and the more I want to support his campaign. He has gone from a longshot to a contender, which almost makes it worse, because there is now real hope that he can prevail. So it’s like pins and needles for me. Bernie reminds me of the person I would be if I were a better person. I can see how honest and courageous he is. I can see his indignation and anger at the ascendance of the oligarchy and the corruption of our political system. In recent days I have watched footage of his impassioned speeches in Congress gleaned from the last 30 years. When I see how long he has been fighting for a better, more just society, a society that respects women, a society that respects the elderly, a society that respects the sick and the young and our students and our veterans, fighting for a strong middle class, and I think of how he has been so marginalized over the years, so disregarded, and yet found the strength to keep persisting in his message and his beliefs, I’m overcome by his strength. I believe he is one of our greatest leaders. The military has been a lot to me, and done a lot to me. I have been severely tested. When people learn of the extent of my service, from E-1 to O-3, from military intelligence to field artillery to light infantry to special operations, they are dubious. I do not fit the mold. I myself, at times, have a hard time believing that I served as I did. I was an unlikely soldier. Now, ten years after leaving the military, I live with AB alone in a small mountain valley. I don’t feel much in common with my neighbors or my countrymen. Small talk is difficult for me. Socializing is difficult for me. Being around others is difficult for me. I miss my sons and the family life I have known. I am working on improving my relations. I pray to be a better man. I don’t know what this looks like other than being more involved in the lives of my sons. One of the reasons I am ardently for Bernie is that I recognize his sacrifice over decades of public service. He could easily be in a comfortable retirement, enjoying his family and grandchildren. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I have come across this several times in the last few days on social media. It makes me think of Bernie. And: “Politicians care about the next election; leaders care about the next generation.” Of course, the first quote should read “old people.” Sexism should be put in its place in this country, that is to say, buried. Buried in our dark past along with all the many other darknesses that we are trying to put behind us. When I am in the mood for it, I try to read. I have gone years without reading. It is only recently that I got a library card and am starting to read again. We must all continue fighting, just like Bernie Sanders. I have made it this far in life because of my mother. My mother is a great fighter. My mother also supports Bernie Sanders. As a youngster growing up in the Philippines during WWII, my father survived several strafing runs by American warplanes who would mistake him and his fellow villagers for Japanese soldiers in disguise. Despite this, he never stopped believing in America. Nearly 90, he doesn’t know who Bernie Sanders is, and doesn’t care. But if I can get him into a voting booth, I will. At 43, I am finding reasons to know, believe and care anew.
From “Minimize This” by Alex Limkin:
“As a result of my military service, I qualify for life support from society in the form of entitlements from the Veterans Administration. Because of this, I am able to work jobs that pay close to the minimum wage and still afford a mortgage and have a decent living. In the summer, I operate a chainsaw three days a week as part of a forest restoration project, which pays $14 per hour, and in the winter I do ski patrol work three days a week, which pays $8.50 per hour. And one day a week I work at a farm in Dixon shoveling manure and mending fence in exchange for a casserole that gets me through most of the week, and gives me an excuse to go into town and have a lemonade and maybe stop by the library.
I am grateful to society for giving me the opportunity to work these low-paying jobs that I could not otherwise afford to do. Since it is important to me, and many veterans like me, to work outdoors, which generally is not the most remunerative work, the entitlement program of the Veterans Administration has been an invaluable asset. Also, they take care of my healthcare needs, so I don’t have to worry about getting sick or hurt. Just the other day I went in after not being able to hear for two weeks, due to my ears being compacted with wax on account of my foam ear plugs (officially diagnosis: bilateral impacted cerumen with hearing interruption), and Dr. Simpson squeezed me in between patients and vacuumed out my ears and got me hearing again. On top of that I was compensated for my mileage for making the 120-mile drive to the nearest VA Hospital.
Anyhow, being in the forest and being in the mountains is beneficial to me, and the entitlements I receive from the VA gives me the chance to continue contributing to the social contract in a manner respectful of my limitations. That is true freedom. I wrote “Minimize This” as a love letter to society. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I think if everyone received entitlements, allowing people to have a decent living and pursue work and interests more suited to their natures, we would live in a much healthier, happier, and saner world than the one currently manifested.” — from Intro to “Minimize This”
I am not much for politics. Or rather, I should say, for most of my adult life I have not been one for politics. The main reason for this is that for much of my life I have been a government servant, a soldier, and in my mind politics did not matter. Or rather, I should say, the thought of influencing politics was so foreign to me, that I gave it little to no thought. So the writing of this book, “Minimum This,” was a truly unlikely event. The important thing for me was just to start the discussion. What if? What if? We must always be brave enough to ask this question, because we must always be brave enough to imagine a better world, a healthier world, a saner world, for all. And then ask for it. – Alex Escué Limkin
Advance praise for “Minimize This”:
“Minimize This” is a forcibly argued examination of what a truly just and generous society could look like. – PKC
Is the idea of a minimum income truly that revolutionary? As it stands, we have millions of people trapped in a cycle of welfare and poverty. With welfare comes a built-in incentive to not work. If one works, one loses one’s welfare benefits. The controlling logic, then, is to reduce welfare benefits to the lowest amount possible, so that if one wants to enjoy any standard of living at all, one must find a job and go off welfare. Is this system working? Doesn’t seem to be. So: What if we just increased welfare benefits to a livable income, and put everyone on welfare? Those that wish to earn more money may obviously pursue that, and those that have interests that may not be remunerative may also pursue those as well. But you would no longer be trapped in a dead end job that doesn’t suit you. That in itself seems worth a million bucks. My .02 cents. – HST
A great nation is capable of great invention. “Minimize This” filled me with hope and promise. I believe the premise is sound, even though, as you say, the Devil is in the details. – PF
I read “Minimize This” with some degree of skepticism. By the end, I was in tears. No matter the economic viability of a minimum income, there is no doubt that this is a courageous proposal that should be considered by all thinking people. – MHK
“Minimize This” is the cri de coeur of the peons who labor for crumbs in a country of immense wealth and resources, where the wealthiest 200 families control the equivalent assets of 150 million Americans combined, where corporate dark money influences government on an unprecedented scale. It is a landmark work in the evolution of a fair, just and decent society. – BM
I went to school with Alex Limkin. We were best friends at Deerfield Academy. As someone belonging to the 3%, it is difficult for me to accept the idea that so many of us should get something for nothing. While I can not endorse the idea of a minimum income in this country, seeing as that a program like this would undoubtedly be borne on the backs of the ruling class, I think there may be other smaller countries, with much reduced populations, that could experiment with this at some point. – BN
I lived in a tent in Iraq with Captain Limkin for a number of months. We didn’t always know what we were doing, but we did the best we could. At one point he got sick and didn’t get out of his flak vest for a week. He just lay there on his cot. But he recovered. It doesn’t surprise me that he wrote this book. He always struck me as the sensitive type, caring about the welfare of others and what not. He fought for our terps [interpreters] to travel with us behind Coalition lines to take their meals. It may not have seemed like a big deal, but it meant a lot to them not having to eat rancid chicken and rice . – COL WF (Ret.)
Captain Limkin is my brother. He is a good man. I am thinking when will I see Captain Limkin. You know, I am working now in Florida. Any day now I can just catch the plane and go visit him where he is not living. Yes, to see his wife and son. To see the forest that he is always talking of. To see the mountains. Yes to one day hold him again in my eyes. I am not yet reading this book. But it must be a great book. Captain Limkin!!! It is Tatoooooooo!!! — NS
Alex was a high school English student of mine. I once remarked that of all my students, he was the one most likely to become a writer. I think his experiences, including his years at Deerfield, made him uniquely qualified to write this book. I think he is a credit to the Academy, despite being expelled in his junior year for scholastic underperformance. I think it is likely that Deerfield will present him, at some point, with the diploma that he has requested several times over the years. Maybe after “Minimum This” is awarded the National Book Award, or he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom. By the way, Minimize This is a great book. I expected no less from him. – CM
I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. When Alex presented me with this book, and described that it had to do with the government putting everyone on welfare, all I could think was: Good luck with that. Look around us. You think welfare is doing one damn bit of good? Look at what it did to the Alaskan Tribes. All of it goes straight to the liquor store. If people aren’t making it on one job, because they say the pay is too low, get a second job, get a third job. You want to know what I did to get ahead? I went to Alaska and worked in the refineries. And when the oil ran dry I worked in the fisheries. And when the fisheries ran dry, I worked in the villages teaching the natives to read and write. You think that’s easy work? We busted our asses up there. And I had a wife and kids in tow. Don’t tell me there’s not opportunity out there. If I was young again, and had to do it all over, I would go straight to North Dakota. There’s thousands of fracking wells to work on, all high paying jobs. You can drive a truck there and make in one year what you’d make elsewhere in ten. No, sir. I don’t agree with a minimum income. I’m not saying people are lazy and no good, but in my experience, if you give people something for nothing, they’ll just want more, and do even less. It’s human nature. – BB
That my brother wrote this book does not surprise me. He was always the romantic in the family. I never pegged him as an idealist, but I have to admit that only an idealist could have written this book. In any event, neither I nor my husband, at this time, can agree with the idea of a minimum wage. I can’t help but think that many jobs that are currently out there, jobs in the service industry for example, airline jobs, taxi jobs, hotel jobs, would not be filled if people had an independent stream of wealth. In other words, if people were relieved of the need to find work to support themselves, who would perform these jobs? In every society, there are jobs that must be done in order for that society to sustain itself. For the wheels to continue turning, so to speak. Some of these jobs are downright unpleasant. Who, for example, would voluntarily work, say, in the waste management industry, if they had an income independent of that job? If the trash piles up in the street, who would be responsible for that? As much as I love my brother, I feel that he is not fully thinking through all the ramifications that would accrue to a society that implemented a minimum income. But I did read the comment by Hunter Thompson, which I agree with. No one should be stuck in a low-paying soul-sucking dead-end job that they can’t stand in order to survive. – AL
Can RCWN help you?
We at RCWN have exclusive rights to serve in the galactic forces in your stead.
For $300,000, you will no more serve a day as serve a month. We at RCWN have generous access to scores of healthy and able-bodied third world nationals whom we contract to serve in your place. For many of them, serving in the galactic forces is an improvement on their current situations. In some cases, this is a way for them to avoid a prison sentence, or even gain the freedom of a family member being held.
Do you want to be this guy? (Picture of captured P.O.W holding out his food bowl.) Or this guy? (Picture of injured soldier with a missing limb.) Or this guy? (Picture of a flag draped casket.)