It’s All in My Head – Elephants, The Sailor, and Bogus Gin

Elephant safari

Elephant safari (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

As  a teenager I read a book of teachings proffered by Hindu holy men.  One of them had to do with a student who had just taken in a lesson on how interconnected the word was…that he was one with the world and all living things.  Leaving the lesson, the student was walking down a trail and saw an elephant coming from the opposite direction.  Taking his recent lesson to heart, the student put a smile on his face and walked right at the elephant, which he was one with.  Later, after a bit of recovery time from his trampling, the student questioned his teacher about the practicality of such philosophy.  The teacher told him that, yes, he was one with the world, but the student should have stepped aside since elephants always have the right of way.  I think this stuck with me because it reminded me of one of my childhood heroes.

My grandfather was a boxing fan, and I often watched boxing matches with him.  One of our heroes, being from Washington state, with its large population of Scandinavians, was a heavyweight boxer named Ibar “The Sailor” Arrington.  Ibar was a local legend.  He had the seemingly suicidal habit of lowering his guard during boxing matches and challenging his foes to wail away at will on his Norwegian noggin.  It worked for him…for a while.  Most of the local meatballs he fought weren’t that good of fighters, and after they exhausted themselves wailing away on Ibar’s rock-like head, he would knock them out.  His final record was 27 wins (20 by knockout), 7 losses, and 2 draws.

Ibar’s retirement came after returning from Durban, South Africa, where he had fought a lightly regarded boxer named Gerrie Coetzee in a packed Kingsmead Stadium on December 15, 1978.  The Sailor had taken a severe beating – again – which left fans like my grandfather and I in a pitiful state.  It was featured on local news, and Ibar sat quietly, staring blankly at the microphone in front of him.  His manager did the talking, announcing The Sailor was leaving the ring due to medical reasons.  A reporter asked Ibar if he would have done anything differently during his career.

“I would have ducked more,” was all the wisdom he had to pass on to his disappointed fans.  I think Ibar would have understood the Hindu teaching about giving elephants the right of way.  After witnessing the Sailor’s demise, I have always given elephants the right of way.  My grandfather knew that giving elephants the right of way was not always a possibility.

My grandfather was another tough guy, and like most tough guys, rarely talked about the experiences which had made him so.  I always thought he was an average grandpa.  I only found out after his death that he had been sunk in the North Atlantic while serving on a convoy ship during World War I.  He spent what must have been the longest, most hellish night ever as he bobbed around in one of the most wicked patches of sea in the world, clinging to any flotation aid while his friends and crewmates screamed for help…drowning slowly…or quickly if sucked down with the ship…or succumbing to their burns and slowly slipping beneath the waves.  After being “in the water” sailors were routinely sent to the Pacific where there was little chance of deadly naval action.  He soon found himself put ashore, handed a rifle, and told he was infantry, when the United States sided with despotic Czar Nicholas’s White Army in their efforts to defend Vladivistok, the most important of Russian seaports.  He was shot in the leg, the bullet lodging close to an artery.  A veterinarian tried to take the bullet out, making a complete hash of the leg.  My grandfather refused further offers of help, fearing a future with one leg more than one complicated by a limp.

That man worked hard all his life, and I never knew what a mind over matter existence he lived, dealing with that buggered-up leg and the psychological scars of those two years.  He always preached mind over matter to me…that if things were going bad, or I was hurting, just ignore it and it will get better over time.  I always thought this was a fantastic rather than realistic approach to something as physical as the pain I suffered breaking several bones, getting burned, and even shot once.  Guess what folks…it isn’t, I received a sobering lesson in how fantastic this world really is after becoming so poor for a short time I offered myself up for medical experiments at the University of Washington.

Students in the incubation room at the Woodbin...

Students in the incubation room at the Woodbine Agricultural School, New Jersey (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)

I started answering ads for test subjects during such a time of economic distress when I had moved to Seattle to become a rich rock and roll star.  One I answered – eagerly – promised $50 for an hour of my time, but I had to be over 21 years old, since the study involved drinking alcohol.  Quite a few people were lined up outside the advertised test site when I got there, but I was a frequent flyer, and got preference.  We chosen few were instructed to fill out a questionnaire concerning our attitudes toward sexual expectations following a dinner date, a movie, and various other similar situations.  We were then given three large glasses full of gin and tonic and instructed to drink them down within fifteen minutes.  My fellow test subjects seemed as eager as I was to comply, and an air of alcohol-relaxed sensibilities was soon evident.  People were more talkative, a bit more clumsy, bumping into tables and chairs, dropping pencils as we again filled out a similarly formulated questionnaire aimed at discovering the sexual expectations associated with various social situations.  There was quite a bit of cross-talking and plenty of innuendo-laced attempts at humor the second time through.  Then came the punchline  –

None of had to worry about driving home, and we need not be concerned about other safety issues…there had been no alcohol in the foul-tasting drinks.  It was a double-blind test.  We weren’t being tested on amorous expectations associated with dating, we were being tested to see if the suggestion we were drunk changed not only our answers, but our behavior.  We were all a bit stunned, and somewhat embarrassed, by the looks on the faces of my fellow lab rats.  I had wondered why the psychology department had chosen a drink like gin and tonic…something that seems more English Officers’ Club in Bombay from the era of the Raj than Rock Musician Decadence in Seattle during the Grunge Era.  They knew that none of us had probably ever had gin and tonic, and if we had, the drink is so sour it would be difficult to discern the gin-lessness of the drinks.

Since my introduction to the placebo effect, I not only understand the full-on power of suggestion, but have considered opening a bar that doesn’t  bother including alcohol in its drinks.  As long as it looked like a bar…and smelled like a bar…and the patrons seemed to be drunk – why not avoid the expense of alcohol?  After all, it’s a mental world…it’s all in my head.

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37 thoughts on “It’s All in My Head – Elephants, The Sailor, and Bogus Gin

  1. Wow! What an amazingly wonderful story with soooo many lessons about — soooo many things. Thank you for sharing this. I love this post!

    • coyotero2112 says:

      I do like to digress, and try to find my way back to some rational point. Thanks for the wonderful comment. Been MIA since I’ve been in the states…so many people want a piece of me all at once. You’re a traveller, and I’ve got a post coming about my trip across the continent twice, missing planes in San Jose, Miami, Chicago, etc. A real adventure in the so-called efficiency of U.S. travel vs. Developing Nation travel. Thanks for the wonderful comment. Going to have a lot of catching up to do when I get back. Char, my wife is getting some new techno toys…hopefully we’ll be able to do an airport vid like yours. All the best beautiful lady ! PEACE to you and your daughters.
      Later….

  2. jerwayne2013 says:

    awesome article..beautiful tribute to your grandfather that you learned so much from. The mind is a powerful tool & can be used to whatever you put your mind to doing. Very interesting.

  3. jannatwrites says:

    Yes, I will always give elephants the right of way (just like on the road “the bigger truck always wins” :))

    I like the double-blind alcohol study. Sometimes we underestimate the power of our minds. our mind can make us sick, or help us heal…or make us think we’re drunk when we aren’t.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      That one experience changed the way I think about my world…and I was only there for the $50. Very inexpensive lesson in how we can make ourselves sick, well, happy, unhappy, among many mentally regulated feelings, both psychological and physiological. I’m starting to sound academic…I’ll stop.
      Later…

  4. It’s amazing what the mind can make the body believe. It reminds me of people who are psychosomatic and always think they have whatever disease they hear about. Probably not the same thing though.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      I think it is very similar. I know a few hypocondriachs, and they go on and on about the latest ailment they heard about, then contracted, until they find a new one, and the old one is “cured” suddenly. Reminds me of Voltaire’s advice to physicians that the best treatment they could offer was to keep the patient entertained while they healed themselves.
      later…

      • Never heard of that, but it makes sense I tend to heal faster when I’m not focused on the disease.

        • coyotero2112 says:

          My wife is not really a hypocondriach, but she does take a worst case scenario about any boo-boo or passing illness. My home treatment for these “conditions” is to amuse her…to have a supply of jokes ready, or a good story of fifteen minutes or so. And, when the effects re-appear, I’ve got another treatment at hand, always. Good exercise for the storytelling skills.

          • My wife is pretty bad, but I’ve never figured out how to distract her. It’s come down to me telling her that I need either blood or a fever to let her out of doing stuff. I don’t let her read medical articles any more, but she’s moved on to mental illnesses because she does have a few of those.

            • coyotero2112 says:

              WebMD is sometimes useful, to non-hypocondriachs, and a disease unto itself to hypocondriachs. If my wife gets on that site with a sore toe I am soon informed that it is a tropical disease which could go systemic and is deadly in many cases…off to the pharmacia we go. And here, pharmicists are licensed to offer consultorios, and they make a profit by selling cures….so guess what happens ! If I can fill her head full of my gibberish and keep her eye to the lens of her camera, I’m usually OK. Have to check WebMD though, just to make sure I am.
              Later…

  5. ioniamartin says:

    I’m dumb enough to hug an elephant. I really am.

    • coyotero2112 says:

      I can imagine you doing that. There’s that perception saying about several blind people told to examine and describe an elephant…one felt the tail and said a rope, another the trunk and said a hose, and on and on…and one hugged the leg and said it was like a tree. I will always think of you as an elephant/tree hugger now.
      Later…

        • coyotero2112 says:

          It’s been a long, complicated morning…good to know I’m batting about .275 in the being correct department.
          Later…

          • ioniamartin says:

            You are not always right you are just never wrong. The hermit crab said so.

            • coyotero2112 says:

              And we have to climb no Himalayan mountain, or cross any raging river, or brave any three-headed beasts to consult our Hermits to access all their wisdom, although housing recommendations are often suspect. 🙂
              Later…

              • ioniamartin says:

                Cramped places for too high of rent…new York crabbies

                • coyotero2112 says:

                  You’r too much. I’d pit these escaped mental patients who work the cab concessions in San Jose against anybody. One generation or two out of ox carts, and they seem to think these little red rockets with the yellow triangles are just another snail shell to bash around until they find a new one. Dents, dents, and more dents.
                  Later…

                  • ioniamartin says:

                    Ha! And they say Seattle is the home of the weirdos…

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      One weirdo, for sure. Shouldn’t speak in such damning terms about the rest of the weirdos from Seattle…but, I guess I just did.
                      Later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      I have family there too lol if my family is there it has to be weird

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      What area? I used to live on Capital Hill back when it was really weird…back when Courtney Love was always downstairs arguing with my neighbor, who was the bass player in her band. Horrid woman. Used to hang with all the bums who became millionaires playing angst-ridden music.
                      Later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      They live in the stuff shirt uptight greenwood area :0

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      Ohhhh, Ionia. We used to go knock all the jockeys off the rich people’s yards there. Hope we spared your family’s. Little plastic jockeys deserve love too, I guess.
                      Later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      I like gnomes better

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      That was a line from a Frank Zappa song. I dig those gnomes also. Used to be a wonderful old mansion from the millionaire’s row era of Cleveland that had those gnomes…pipes in their mouths, and their hands were in circles…as if to hold something which vandals had long ago relieved them of.
                      You are TOO FUN !
                      Later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      I always hope if I finally go to gnome Alaska there will be gnome waiters and gnome can drivers. I’m going to sue if there aren’t;)

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      Get yourself a good lawyer. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Nome is full of sullen, drunk, violent people who are as white as the bellies of trout, and wrapped in seven layers of smelly plaid hunting shirts. Want to go to the Kentucy Derby and knock jockeys around? Mint julips sound better than semi-frozen Wild Turkey with fortified wine chasers.
                      Later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      I guess I could build a snowman out of the ice machine leftovers and coconuts from the bar:/

                    • coyotero2112 says:

                      Or, build yourself a lawyer our of ice chunks, buttons, and moose antlers. I wouldn’t let you go in a G-Nome bar without escort, coconuts would be the best thing you could find there.
                      later…

                    • ioniamartin says:

                      What is that bar called

  6. Part of my job required drinking with clients. I used to order my drinks in advance (I was picking up the tab) so my alcohol consumption was very low. I still felt high with all the drunks around me. I don’t know what it was. The only salvation was the next morning I did not have a placebo hangover. I like your idea of a virtual bar. I’ll take a Tanqueray and Schweppes Tonic please. Yes a lime would be lovely

    • coyotero2112 says:

      Plastic limes…Schweppes bottle full of carbonated tap water…and a Tanqueray bottle on the bar to give the right impression. One of my most important life lessons on perceptual reality, and I got $50 to learn it.
      Later…

      • mrs fringe says:

        I love this story of your grandfather, so important. My grandmother had a variant, “don’t pay so much attention to yourself.” The two lessons seem to go hand in hand, no? Sadly, I’ve yet to learn my lesson.

        But I do enjoy a gin and tonic 😉

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