Tag Archives: Buddhism

Pit bull dog attacks Calvin Wynter, theatre producer, in New York City

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

Calvin Wynter wearing a yellow rubber glove this morning

This morning, I Skyped theatre producer Calvin Wynter in New York City. He used to be an equity trader on Wall Street. We had not chatted for a while. I thought it would be interesting to hear how the comedy business is going in New York.

As is often the case, the conversation got sidetracked.

He had suggested I Skype him at 11.30am, UK time, so I did.

“It’s 6.30am in the morning in New York,” I said.

“I’m up at 6.00am five days of the week,” he told me, “and 4.00am on two days.”

“Why?” I asked.

“This time last year, I went to Vipassana, a Buddhist retreat. We don’t burn incense, we don’t wear flowers, we don’t wear diapers; we just sit in our regular clothes. If you can do the lotus position, fantastic. If you can’t, you sit in a chair.”

“You’re wearing a yellow rubber glove and a sling round your neck,” I observed.

“This is me after wrist and arm surgery.”

“Why?”

“Between Wall Street and now, I spent way too much time on the computer and so I didn’t get carpal tunnel syndrome but I got some sort of pinched nerves. I ended up in hospital last year and a neurosurgeon noticed something, asked me to do a few things and said: Do you need an orthopaed referral? I said: No, as it happens, when I was attacked by the pit-bull, I got a… because, when you get your hands chewed on, they either call in a plastic surgeon or an orth and when you have your hands and leg and thigh bit away – like a 3 or 4 inch piece of my thigh was bitten away, the fat and skin…

“So I told him this and he then brought in a specialist. They did the test and then they ordered me a brace for a month but I went back and said: Look, you give the brace to most people because most people are afraid to go into surgery. You do it for them, they get a little better, it gives you time for them to get to trust you and then you do the surgery. He said: Yes. So I said: Just do the fucking surgery. And, in less than a week, he did the surgery.”

“I think,” I said. “I missed a link there. It was the bit where you said: when I was attacked by the pit-bull.”

“You didn’t know about that?”

“No. I have a shit memory, but even I would have remembered that.”

“OK. Well, this time last year – end of August, beginning of September – at the Vipassana retreat, I decided: Let’s lose a little weight. They feed you three meals a day. You got a choice of vegan and/or vegetarian and they’re delicious. You’re not starving. But I decided, because I was 245 lbs… I went through the three meals and measured out what was the amount of food you’re supposed to eat at the size I wanted to be. And I did hours and hours of walking. You’re in the country: streams, lakes, trees, all that stuff. And you’re doing chores when you’re not doing ten hours a day of meditation. After ten days, I lost 10 lbs. Then I lost another 10 lbs.

“So I lose all this weight, I’m dehydrated and I get the equivalent of the worst migraine I’ve ever had and I’ve never had a migraine – or maybe I’ve got a brain aneurism. So I’m rushed to the hospital. They perform every test possible and send me home thinking it’s a migraine and give me a strong Tylenol.

“When I call my doctor, she says: No, no. I want you to get some Aceterin. The next day, it gets really bad. So I think: If two pills are good, I’m gonna take four. Then six. I overdose. I start hallucinating. I mean, you know like Fantasia? I see a musical that I will create one day that will become the gold standard of musicals.

“But, in New York City, you never tell the doctors in the emergency room that you are hallucinating because they will put you on the psych ward and hold you for 72 hours. And, if they don’t have a psych ward, they will transfer you to one and the No 1 psych ward they like to transfer you to is Bellevue which is essentially like Bedlam in the UK.

“I remember a comedian I knew who won the big award in Edinburgh – he went to the British equivalent because he wrote his name in faeces on his wall. You know who I’m talking about.

“Anyway, I’m back in hospital again. They admit me. For six hours I tell them: I will NOT take any opiates. I was in so much pain they wanted to give me morphine and codeine. Not oxy cotton. No, they were going for like the strongest friggin’ pain pills they could give me. Finally, after six hours, I am told: We will have you committed if you don’t take it, because – you don’t know this, but – you are curled up in a ball in the corner of the bed. You are sweating profusely, you’re shaking, you’re mumbling and, every once in a while, you scream out so loud we can hear you down the hall.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“So I take the damned opiates,” Calvin told me. “And, after three days of taking them, it did lower the pain, but there was still excruciating pain. In the interim, they find my kidneys are now in renal failure and I had a macro pituitary adenoma. In other words, I had a tumour that was 1 centimetre in diameter at the centre of my head, right about where all the nerve endings are for your eyes, pushing back on my pituitary.

“Day Three of all this, I say: Fuck it! I get consciousness for a moment and I meditate solidly for an hour. You just observe and, for some reason, I kept observing one of my teeth up top and I remembered I was told to have the tooth removed but my insurance would not do an implant. Somewhere along the line, I forgot about that.

“So they remove the tooth and the headache is gone. So now they are working on my kidneys. They changed the meds. After ten days, I lose 10 lbs and I go out. So I had lost 10 lbs there and 20 lbs at the Vipassana retreat.

“Fast forward to May. I walk out of my door, I see a 98 lb woman who I later find out is a 28-year-old from Hawaii, half-Japanese, had never owned a dog before, was in New York City for the first time ever and had rescued this dog which was going to be killed the next day because it was too dangerous. She agreed to have a trainer, spent a lot of time with it before she took it home.

“I see that the dog is acting like an idiot. I make a sharp right turn. I meditate to calm my body so the dog doesn’t sense anything. It’s a pit bull. The dog leaps up. I shoot my left hand to block it.

“My cousin had been the national karate champion before Chuck Norris. My cousin was bodyguard to David Bowie, Mick Jagger right around the time hijackings were happening and celebrities were not able to bring their licensed gun-carrying bodyguards on planes with them.

“So I had lived with my cousin for a month. He had told me: If someone threatens you, you can talk to them for a while – you’re good at that – then you can run like the wind and very few people can catch you. The only time you need to fight is if the son-of-a-bitch catches you, which means he has nothing but ill-intent. Which means you have to kill him. One fast fell swoop. I’m going to teach you to kill people and, in the last week, I’m going to teach you how to kill dogs. With dogs, you break their nose; you jam it into their head; it’s a matter of seconds: they’re dead on the floor.

“Thirty years ago, pit bulls were not a problem. People owned German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers. They didn’t have pit bulls. A pit bull’s entire skull is like a biker’s helmet. You can’t break its nose and shove it into its skull.  The one thing you’re supposed to do with pit bulls is you grab them by the balls and you swing them in the air and neuter them. You bang ‘em in the eye, go straight for their balls, lift them and fucking castrate them right then and there. They will be in so much pain, bleeding profusely and you can get away.

“But I had a bitch… a female dog, right? I get a young female dog. So she gets my arm. Thank god I remember: Use the middle finger and the pointer finger of your hand. So I hit her in the eyeballs. She releases. The other thing my cousin had told me was: Run into traffic when you’re attacked by a dog. You will be able to dodge the cars; the dog will get hit.

“I get one lane out into six lanes of traffic and I, for some reason, take a second to look back. The traffic stops. The dog is coming after me. I get to the other side of the boulevard. As I’m putting my left leg onto the kerb, the dog leaps up, was going for my balls but grabs my upper thigh and was about to clamp in for the arteries, the bones and the muscles. Now I’ve got both hands bleeding, several major lacerations on my left hand, which is my dominant hand though I write with my right hand. I use both hands because both hands are free because she’s on my thigh. I blind her in the right eye, I partially blind her in the left.”

“Literally blind her?” I ask.

“Literally. I crack the right eyeball and there’s ooze coming out. I bang the left one, so it’s partially damaged. I break her right leg. And I take all of my body weight, holding my left arm with my right hand so it has maximum power, and I lunge dead-centre at her spine. I damage the spine. She falls to the ground. She has my blood all over her.”

“Now,” I said, “it’s almost 7.30am in New York. Where are you off to now?”

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but big on the Fringe theatre scene

“I’m headed off right now,” Calvin told me, “to have my teeth cleaned and also they did a biopsy on my jawbone. They performed dental surgery, removed the lesion and put it in for biopsy research. They called me on Friday which means I think I may have cancer. I don’t know. So far, everything that’s thought to have been cancerous was not – like the polyps I got from my colonoscopy. I had three polyps. No cancer. So who knows? Maybe the third time isn’t so good but, y’know look – I’ve had a shaved head before. I can have a shaved head again. I’m still Episcopalian, which is like your Church of England, but my philosophy is Buddhist which is essentially: What do we seek? Happiness. What is pain and sorrow? The route to happiness.”

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Filed under Dogs, Health, Medical, Religion

North Korea – a beacon of hope for the down-trodden masses of the wide world

North Korea: truly the ultimate Socialist people’s paradise

Last night my hotel, amazingly, had hot water.

But our young female North Korean guide had to sleep on a couch on a first floor landing, because no rooms were free. She has had a painful back for the last couple of days, ever since our coach hit a gigantic pothole in the road and everyone was lifted off their seats. She was standing and fell awkwardly, her back hitting the hard edge of a seat.

Yesterday, our older, more experienced male guide, told us of the devastating American Imperialist bombs which rained down on Pyongyang during the Korean War.

“I think you will understand a little,” he said. “My teacher of English told me there was a little bombing of London during World War Two. I did not know of that before he told me.”

Today, our younger, less experienced guide, a year out of college, asked: “In England, what is the main food? Boiled rice?”

The outside world is not just a foreign place to North Koreans, it is a planet in an unknown galaxy far, far away

This morning, we took the long drive along bouncy potholed roads to the International Friendship Exhibition at Myohyang-san.

I was there in 1986, on my previous trip to North Korea. It is clearly a bunker with a giant building on top of it, containing all the gifts showered on the late Great Leader Kim Il-sung by other world leaders who were/are all, of course, in awe of his charismatic omniscience.

Again, driving through mile after tens of miles of apparently desolate countryside, North Korea seems like a land floundering without direction. What is arguably the most controlled country in the world is floundering.

The Friendship Exhibition seems even more guarded than last time I was here. Armed guards on the building, One-man military outlook posts in the hills surrounding it. Armed guards blocking entry to nearby side-roads. And what appears to be the roof of another underground structure.

Inside the marbled building, expensive gifts from China and, as expected, less expensive gifts from Eastern Europe – what used to be the unwilling dregs of the Soviet Union.

Some of the gifts – rather good gifts, in fact – were from Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. When someone in our group mentioned that Colonel Gaddafi was dead, overthrown and killed in a revolution six months ago, and there had been revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and currently Syria, our younger guide’s mouth almost visibly dropped open. She knew nothing about it and – clearly – did not want to know anything about it.

One of the gifts we saw was a vase given to the Great Leader, she told us, by the people of Cyprus. “It is a million years old,” she told us.

Whether this was a mistranslation, a misunderstanding or simply because the North Koreans make up impressive facts on the basis that anything which is said becomes true… there is no way of knowing.

There is a new, second building, containing gifts given to the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. One of the rooms contained gifts given by shocked, stunned and saddened world leaders on the death of Kim Jong-il.

We were told to smarten ourselves up before were taken into that room. There was a large statue of Kim Il-sung (not Kim Jong-il) in front of a brightly-coloured rural tableau. We were all lined-up and bowed to the waxwork, then were taken out without being shown the gifts.

Our two guides had preceded us into the room and had bowed deeply to the giant waxwork, like two people going into a Roman Catholic church and bowing to a crucifix of Jesus.

We were taken to a mountain cafe to have a pre-packed picnic by a river. A few locals were having picnics here too. A little away along the riverbank, a girl was sweeping the rocks and the earthen paths with a Wicked Witch type broom so they looked clean.

Then we were taken to a Buddhist temple.

Our older guide told me a few days ago that there are 20,000 Buddhists in the country and 20,000 Catholic Christians. The two figures seem a bit neatly similar.

Today, our younger guide told us: “The Party allows us to believe in religion.”

We are taken to the Buddhist temple which, we are told, was destroyed by the Japanese in the Great Patriotic War and later destroyed by the Americans in the Korean War, but which the Party had faithfully re-built twice. The one monk on display seemed a little sad-eyed and the temple’s official guide seemed a little more over-zealous than most on unsubtly pushing the Party line.

Walking on the wooden floor, I hear a gigantic sharp crack behind me. I turn round. One of our group has his ankle stuck in a gaping hole. One of the floorboards has cracked and collapsed under him.

On local television (which I watch in the hotel) there is, of course, no foreign news. It is like living in the self-contained bubble of a medieval village with no transport and little outside news. It is, in fact, like living in The Village in the 1960s TV show The Prisoner. Everything is happy and good and free and clean and smiling and caring within the village.

In North Korea, as far as I can see, there is no Orwellian Doublethink in ordinary people, because Doublethink means that you know the truth but you choose to believe or discipline yourself to believe the untruth.

In North Korea, really, we are talking about Igno-Think. They know only what they are told. What they have been told since they were born. Nothing exists outside the North Korean bubble. Life continues, self-contained. Only the country exists. In these circumstances, it is entirely reasonable to believe that, in England, the main food must be boiled rice.

If someone in the UK were to read no newspapers, hear no radio, see no television except the Party channel and everyone they met lived in the same way…. Imagine that… Imagine that all they knew, all they had ever known, was what the parish council told them had happened and was happening… then that would be some hint of what life is like in North Korea.

From that viewpoint, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung, the Dear Leader Kin Jong-il (and now the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un) have led and inspired the country into great social and technological leaps the like of which other countries can only dream of. It has made North Korea an icon for the forward-thinking peoples of the world and a beacon of hope for the down-trodden masses living under the yoke of elitist capitalism. North Korea is a centrally-important country in a world where other leaders and Juche study groups pay homage and give grateful presents to North Korea’s great leaders in awe-filled tribute.

Tonight, my tooth, damaged in Beijing, is giving me very slight pain.

I take some oil of cloves.

I wonder if our younger guide has a bed tonight and how her back is.

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Filed under North Korea, Politics, Religion