10% of the brain

I am SOOO tired of hearing (mostly hollywood writers) harping on to humans using “only 10%” of our brains.  First it’s not true, most people only get down that low when meditating or unconscious.  Most people idle at 25% to 50%, and people improvising dance and music and lyrics reach 100% regularly.

Look, Here’s the truth of it.  Think of a means of transportation: car, bike, bus.  Do you EVER use 100% of it all at once?  No.  Pretty hard to get in the trunk and the glove box at the same time at highway speeds.  Only one gear at a time, and pretty hard to sit in multiple seats.  It’s possible, even likely that you’ll eventually use every single part of a car, hopefully not the airbags, but they’re part of it too.

You only use a smaller percentage of any one device than it’s capable of doing, and you only use part of your brain all at once.  But that doesn’t make the rest of it just useless junk.  Remember the brain is pretty expensive to make, biologically speaking, and harder to maintain.  If we could live without 90% of it, it would be in our best interest not to have it.  Nature is very good at trimming away such flagrant unneeded parts.

Best origin I’ve heard of for this myth was a 1960s rat study.  College sophomores were doing maze studies and would nick out a bit of the brains of trained rats until they couldn’t solve the maze.  With about 10% left, they announced that we only use 10% of our brains and the media ran with it.  Several problems with this.  First, rats are not humans, maybe they really only do use part of their brains.  Second, no one looked at how the rats were solving the mazes: some turned left a lot, some went by smell, some looked over the walls, many incorporated several techniques at once.  Upon re-doing the experiment, they discovered that nicks in certain areas cancelled certain specific techniques and once they ran out they couldn’t solve the maze anymore.  Ironically this helped lead to a greater understanding of the various parts of the brains and what they do.  In short utterly disproving the myth they had started.

Memories of Rod

My brother Rod died recently.  I have no option to perform a full speaking for him, so I’ll just brain-dump memories and stuff here.  Warning, I’m not the type to sugar coat things, I’ll speak ill of the dead if that’s the truth, though I won’t go out of my way to cheese people off.  But if you’re looking for empty platitudes, you won’t get them here.

Rod was about 15 when I was born, not that I remember.  About 5 months later, he would leave his mark upon me.  Literally.  Our house was … “hand built” and had a largish upstairs.  But for most of my life, it only had a folding stairway to access it. so naturally, it became the domain of the kids.  While carrying me down from there one day, Rod slipped on those stairs and fell.  One of the many bolts that held the stars together cut my chin as I fell.  This left a permanent “dueling scar” that I often hid as soon as I could grow a beard.

I think this started a cycle of guilt with him.  As I look back, it seems he had a lot of trouble denying me anything.  I spent a lot of summers at his house, and even a year as a manny. But there’s other reasons to that too.

Rod was nicknamed “hot rod” in his youth.  He wasn’t that pretty, so i’m gonna bet it had something to do with cars.  The one time i asked about it he had more points on his license than most people accumulate in lifetimes. I’m fair sure he’s still working off those last few.  But his love of Horsepower met an untimely end.  Running late to his best friend’s wedding, he collided with the wedding party on the way out.  The bride was killed.  I think “Hot rod” was too.

Some time after, he met Barb.  He fell in love.  Though in a weird way, I think both with her and her father.  Kenny was a crisp, clean Pentecostal, firebrand preacher, who was soft spoken most of the time and a real “man’s man”.  One time while cutting wood in the back 20, a tree fell on Ken, broke a few bones and trapped him underneath.  Ken had to dig himself out.  He was a little mad because it made him late for work.  Yikes.  Rod looked up to him as noone else I knew.

The reason for this might be from something of a shaky deal with our father.  My mother warned me not to ask Dad for any help with my homework and cited Rod as the reason.  Apparently Rod just wasn’t getting math and Dad “helped out”… night after night.  To quote Mom, she heard “you’re so stupid” so often that she began to believe it of herself.  You can see why Rod might be drawn to a different kind of father figure, particularly one so diametrically different from ours.

For their wedding , Rod and Barb received 56 acres in western Michigan near White Cloud.  Pretty much the next day, they had horses. That weekend, I was visiting.  🙂  Rod became a jockey in the Michigan fair circuit.  He owned Horses, he boarded them for others, he trained them, schlepped them out to fairs, raced them, and sometimes bred them. (Never ask why someone has a glove on that extends to the shoulder.  You won’t like the answer)

Pretty early on, I was traveling with him, his wife, the kids and the horses.  I started competing as soon as I was old enough: barrel bending mostly, and a lot of pony work for him.  Theoretically I was watching the kids, but in truth, I got in as much trouble as them.  finally, when I was in 10th grade, My folks bought me a trailer, hauled it up to Rods, and I moved in, full year, full time.

It was about this time that my dad’s factory moved to KY, and he was forced to “retire”.  It was kind of a hardship and for some time he was living off union salary has the union secretary.  I think my staying with Rod that year was just as much to take the burden off the folks as it was to help Rod and Barb, who were both working 2 full-time factory jobs.

One of the moments that stood out for me that year was when the kids found my D&D stuff and asked if they could play.  I talked to Rod about it, he asked for a description of the game, and upon getting it, let the kids play.  I was a bit stunned.  He said that he’d rather have the kids pretending to beat up evil demons than to actually beat up old ladies on the streets.  He felt it would be a good vent for those aggressions and a safe situation to do it.  Very progressive for a pentecostal christian.

Rod was involved in a lot of “firsts” for me.  Part of it was that he kinda took it upon himself to “big brother” me in a lot of ways, showing me tricks of the trade as it were.  For example, that year I spent there, he tried to get me hooked up with the girl next door (keep in mind that out there, “next door” is about a mile or two away, and that girl was the only one of proper age in probably 5 miles in every direction.) I got in my first fight with a horse that year. ( you can see my post about Charlie for that story)

The next year, I started dating Jackie, my girlfriend, first in a lot of things too.  She joined up on a ski trip to Northern Mi, and we had a stop at Rod’s.  The scene was like a Norman Rockwell painting: two lovers walk through the falling snow, pet the horses, wander back into the barn and cuddle up in the hay.  That’s about enough of that, suffice to say a lot of “firsts” happened that night.  And a lot of “lasts” too.  Like getting frisky in hay… yikes never gonna make that mistake again, same for open air, snow falling and a list that I think can be skipped at this point, either you have it or you need a better imagination.

Later Rod would sell me my first motorcycle.  I’ll put that whole story down here at some point.  Suffice to say it didn’t go any better than the stairs.  I got about as far as Midland when I met the dangerous end of a Ford Pinto and Evel Knieveled my way into several broken bones and a broken bike.  This time, his tardiness would be something of a bonus: if I hadn’t stayed around waiting for Rod to get home, I might have had an accident before my insurance kicked in at closing time for that branch.

There were other firsts too.  The family baking company occasionally featured Rod in a cameo performance for a particularly large cake.  He taught me how to actually smoother icing, and how to make rose florets from sugar.  And when we had time to screw around, he taught me a few tricks with the ethanol mom used to soak sugar cubes in for fancy desserts.  This lead me to fire eating and breathing eventually, a past-time I’ve enjoyed for a couple decades now.

We raced once.  I had recently purchased a little turbo charged compact car and was itching to see how it performed.  We found a rural road south of Detroit and let rip.  I blew a shift in the first run, so Rod beat me cleanly.  But I was in top form for the second heat and mopped the floor with him.  It was fun… but a little painful for him too.

After i got to tease him for being a Grandfather, we drifted apart.  Yeah, we can start playing Cat’s In the Cradle here. His kids were moving out on onwards, I was chewing up my own life and my first career pretty quickly.  As far as i knew, Rod and Barb were still working like crazy.

I heard rumors through Del that he was on this coast or something. Couldn’t quite straighten out how many people were living on her farm.  Still not sure.  I guess Don and I are the outsiders..

Speaking of Don, Rods death came as a bit of a shock.  Rod was the middle kid, between Don and I.  Let’s see, each sister has a brother 10 years younger and 3 years older, so April is 61, that makes Dan about 64, Del about 74 and Don about 77. Which puts Rod around 66-67 when he died?  Pretty good run, but considering our family, it’s dang young.  He had just got through his mid-life crisis.  🙂

Funerals.  Uggh.  My first Funeral (that I remember) I was inducted by Dan and Rod to be part of the “family police”  Our jobs were to keep warring factions of the family away from each other.  Peace officers.  I ain’t been right since.  I tend to look at funerals as an obligation, not a place for emotional frivolity.  So, I end up doing stuff like this rather than getting it out at the funeral.  I can also see why Rod didn’t want to have one himself.  I plan on being burned on a pyre and anyone not drinking and cracking wise will be shot.  Speaking for both of us, though, go ahead, we don’t really get a say in the matter.  If you need a funeral, it’s fine.

For my part,  I did what i always do when I get this kind of news.  I try to make a positive.  This got out of hand when Donette died, but for Rod, I’d never heard of farmers lung.  And as it turns out, it has relevance to my storyline.  Quick aside:

Back in 2000, I became a full-fledged fire performer, I took the fire eating skills from the brothers, the fire breathing skills i earned (thank gawd, there wasn’t YouTube back then) and inspiration from another performer, and stated performing with fire.  Think: martial arts with fire on the ends of the weapons, add dance.  Mostly I’m known for Fire Breathing, I broke a Guinness record with it, opened the field with a dozen new moves, and inspired new performers with new fuels.  The most innovative would be dry organic powders.

Dry powder breathing requires a bit more skill to start out than petrol oils, but it’s generally believed to be safer.  After looking up Farmers Lung, however, I realized that what took down Rod might also become a BIG problem with the new crop of powder breathers.  We’ve already started a global investigation to see if there could be a link and what extent powder breathing could have with Farmer’s lung.

Everything is very preliminary, but if we cut out certain practices or a category of potential fuels because of a Farmer’s Lung risk, then untold numbers of fire breathers could be spared the same fate. It won’t bring my brother back.  But it can spare a lot of people.



I have come up with a new variant of Chess, I’m calling Hyrda.

The game is played on a chess board with all the normal pieces and movements to begin with. There are a few rule changes:
1) The goal of the game is to eliminate the royalty (King, Queen and Knights).  Any one of these pieces can keep a player in the game.
2) When pawns reach the 8th rank they may replace a lost piece but may not duplicate them (no double queens, etc).  They are not required to substitute, and may delay replacement as long as desired, however replacement in subsequent turns must happen at the beginning of a player’s turn, before other movement.
3) When the queen is lost (Patriarchy), the knights add the movement of the bishops.  That is to say, on any given move, they may chose to move normally as knights or to move as bishops.
4) When the king is lost (Matriarchy), the Knights add the movement of the rooks.  That is to say, on any given move, they may chose to move normally as knights or to move as rooks.  However, they may not “castle”.
5) When both kings and queen are lost (Knight Rampant), Knights may move as queens or as knights.

If a player loses all royalty and their highest remaining piece is a bishop, this is a theocracy.  It is an automatic, and immediate loss.

If a player loses all royalty and has a rook remaining as the highest rank piece, this is an oligarchy. They may choose to continue play.  If they manage to beat their opponent into a theocracy, they win. If they beat their opponent into an oligarchy, both players lose.  If they beat their opponent into communism, their opponent may concede or continue playing.

If a player has only pawns, this is communism.  The player may choose to continue playing.  If they beat their opponent into a communist state, the game is an automatic and immediate draw.

If a player changes state from communism or oligarchy back to a royal state, the game continues as normal.

-Brainchild of Tedward c2013 – Free and public use with credit.

Internaught Day

For the record, Aug 31st 1991 was NOT the day the internet was named, became a reality, started getting used, nor really any other milestone in my experience.
ARPANET: there already was a connection of major computer systems. In the early 1980s, I would call in to M-net, a large public access BBS, [ arbornet.org ], and from there we could telnet to other systems like lusty, the Washington U computer, UMich, UI, etc. It was a little like Pre EU Europe: different places, different rules, and travel could be… complicated.
NSFNET: A government project intended to see if military, commercial and civilian sources could benefit from direct interconnection. As this huge government project progressed, more and more major systems could easily talk to each other. AOL, Genie, Lusty and M-net all got direct access to each other. I don’t care what these Tim fans say, for me, the internet was NSFNET.
80s: I was hanging with the Xanadu crew, who were tasked with developing Hypertext. Originally, this project was a super bibliography thing. You clip out test from something you read and all the bib information comes with it . However, the power of it became apparent immediately and it replaced telnet and gopher as the preferred reader. HTML grew organically out of Hypertext.
April 15, 1995: THIS was the day the internet moved from “wild west” to full statehood. NSFNET was still holding things together, and because of government rules, you could still only discuss internet addresses numerically. There was a budding URL system in place, and of course the big provider had their own versions like the AOL “keywords” system. But April was the first review meeting scheduled and instead of trying to upgrade NSFNET, the board wisely decided to just get out of the way. Starting on April 15th, the internet went down for a few days and didn’t run right for a few weeks as everyone reconnected to each other. While this was happening, the first URLs started appearing on TV, it was now legal to discuss them openly. This was the somewhat painful birth of the internet.
Unix: Back in the 60s Bell systems was developing Multix, a massive OS with a lot of big dreams. As a testbed for the not ready to run OS, they developed a much simpler (and more terse) platform. This had none of the beauty and grace planned for Multix, and was even neutered in it’s power, except in connectivity (as it was other devices that often needed testing). It was affectionately dubbed Eunix, or just Unix. With the unusual capabilities provided by Unix, systems were able to connect with multiple other systems, devices, and more. Unix became the standard OS of interconnected computers: fast, light, cheap, stable. Arguably, it’s release was the harbinger of the internet.
Another issue I have with 1991 being the dawn of the internet. Look at this timeline. Way over on the left in the early 70s. TCP/IP. TCP was a “transfer control protocal”, a type of application designed to make sure your data gets from here to there. The Other two letters? Internet Protocal.
Don’t believe the hype. Tim Berners-Lee did not “invent the internet,” and CERN did not invite the rest of us to join them. it was companies like Bell Labs (Unix), Apple and Compaq (HTML), IBM and Altos (mini computers), AOL, Genie, Compuserve; It was the computer departments of a large number of colleges; It was ARPANET and NSFNET; and most importantly, it was every computer user from 1970 to 1995. We built the internet. We shared our lives, our stores, our porn and cat pictures, we made it useful to the rest of the world.

Bood for Joe

While driving a taxi in Ann Arbor, I happened along a once in a lifetime convergence of circumstance that made for one of the best Halloween pranks ever.

First a little background.  Ann Arbor Yellow Cab, at the time, had several things going on: cab service, limo service, courier service, and special low-fare rides for seniors and handicapped people through a deal with the state.  Standard cabbies got the low-fare deals for free, but had to qualify for the courier missions.

One of the most desired regular missions was a courier run from a small medical clinic on the west side to St Joseph’s hospital on the east side.  Which was usually followed up by a low-cost fare from WCC on the east side to her home on the west side.  Cherry set of runs.

One Halloween, I decided to dress up as a vampire: black cape, bite marks, etc.  And luckily for me, things lined up so that I got this cherry set of runs.  But that’s only where the prank begins.

I walk into the clinic, and there’s a few people waiting to get in.  I get “looks”.  I stride confidently up to the counter and use the cloak to hide my hand slipping the courier receipt across the desk for the receptionist to sign.  The receptionist obligingly palms the receipt book, and signs with no fanfare, then palms it back to me very discreetly.

Meanwhile I inquire: “You have the blood?  For Joe….” and the receptionist proudly pulls up a brown paper bag (inside is a tiny styrofoam cooler with the blood samples). Written across the bag, in large marker, is simply “Joe”.   Perfect.

With signed receipt pocketed, and brown sack of blood in hand, I sweep the cloak out elegantly and make for the door.  In my periphery I make note of a couple children burying themselves in nearby adults who also look a little unsure of what’s going on.

Next day, I stopped back in and had a great laugh with the receptionist.  Apparently one of the adults actually inquired about our little play, and the receptionist innocently replied, “Oh, we send blood to Joe all the time.” Which, of course they do. But the pale faces and fretted looks were still priceless.

The Choice

I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time.  It’s really hard to talk about without sounding all hippy-dippy filled with woo.  So, I’ve decided to just tell the tale of three of these events and let you decide for yourself.


I had bad legs as a kid.  I was always big for my age ( I was born a toddler at 11lbs and 2 feet long).  My ankles and knees took the brunt of it.  One summer I broke, sprained or just damaged my ankles a dozen times. In Jr High, I discovered that I had inherited another knee weakness or two.  While truckin through the halls between classes, some kid tripped me and I landed hands and knees.

This hurt way more than it should have.  What the kid had done was to trigger my Osgood Schlatter’s disease.  It’s a genetic trait that weakens the connective tissues on the leg bones.  In most cases, the biggest stress connection comes loose: the point where the quadriceps connect over the kneecap to the shin bone. Both knees went at once, the right knee was worse.  I was crippled.

The doctor’s visit was a nice little tale, one that I’m sure I’ll continue to lament in old age.  In short, he gave me the choice (no not THE choice …yet), I could either get an operation where they stapled my leg back together and there was a good chance it wouldn’t work, or I could stay off it for a couple of years, put up with the pain and be better than ever…eventually.  I took the pain.  My parents were broke from 7 kids, I already knew I was paying for college, an operation would have creamed us.  He said I might also suffer from “arthritis” as well.  Modern definition seems to be fibromyalgia.  He proscribed Motrin.

Two years off my feet killed my budding football chances.  And the ‘arthritis’ kicked in as soon as I got home.  By the time I had recovered from the Osgood Schlatter’s, I was still walking with a cane, particularly during bad weather.  And since I was in Michigan, that was about 200 days a year.  It was fibromyalgia, and it was getting worse.  Soon, I might not be able to walk at all.  This time, I was proscribed a wheel chair.

I fell in with a despicable group of SF fans called the Stilyagi Air corps. 🙂 I regularly traveled an hour to their weekly meetings and social events. One time, I was in a separate room leaning on a large table talking to a friend.  I knocked something off the table.  I steadied myself with one hand for the arduous journey down, and hoped i didn’t black out. When I reached a squat position, I reached for the object and my knees gave a tremendous crack.  It may have been the same thing as cracking your knuckles, it sure happened frequently enough.

My friend had that look of pity wash over their face that only handicapped people see.  They asked “doesn’t that hurt?”  And then it happened. Time stopped and I could sense /see /imagine two roads through the future.  If I say yes, then I absorb all that pity and the pity of dozens or hundreds of more people.  This feeds the crippling beast until I become handicapped by it.  And I give in to the wheel chair.  My quality of life dies a slow death and I become a burden on the state.

The other road, the one less travelled by, and certainly the rockier, harder, uphill road, was where I look inside, deeply, and responded honestly.  For good or bad, anything but a simple answer would mean that I could begin the road of recovery.  One day, I would break that cane.  One day, I would dance.  I might even fly.

“No,” I said, “actually it feels kinda cool.” and I was set upon the path.  I started doing anything very low impact that I could.  I walked, I dusted off my bike, I carried my cane instead of using it whenever I could.  I changed my diet, found what my body craved and gave it.

I danced.


A couple years later, I would tell this story to a friend.  She had Lupus.  All of the cartilage in her body was gone and she was waiting for the disease to pick the next tissue to attack.  At that moment, it was very inconvenient, but a good parlor trick.  She could easily pop any joint out of socket, and could even unhinge her jaw.  A little creepy, but cool.  She listened very intently to my tale, and asked a lot of follow up questions before I went on my way.

We weren’t the kinds of friends who saw each other often.  We just didn’t travel in the same circles. But she was one of the special people who came to me after my divorce to hear my side of things.  Most stayed my friends.  She was one of them. So it was months later that we bumped into each other.  She didn’t have her walker, she had smaller wrist supports, and was getting around with just a cane.

She told me her moment of choice came shortly after we talked.  Fight and she gets to recover.  Give in, and the disease moves to another tissue type, and another, and another.  She still had no cartilage, but the disease was in recession and she was getting strong enough that her muscles were starting to hold her together.  Months later, when we saw each other the last time, her doctor had approved her for pregnancy… she was just showing.


I met Susan while driving at Yellow Cab.  That company had contracts with the city to offer low cost fares to the handicapped and elderly to augment the bus system. Susan was one of our handicapped people.  10-20 minutes at a time, we got to know each other’s stories as she buzzed around town.

Susan had exactly the same physical problems I did.  She had her moment of choice and was weak.  She chose the chair.


I’m not sure how often we get these precious little moments.  I really doubt we get only one.  It could be that they become these stop-time spectacles when you’re read to turn the corner and stop giving in.  Maybe not.  I don’t know if they’re “given” to us by some greater entity or if they’e a natural pert of life.  What I do know is they’re serious, they can deeply affect your life and profoundly affect your future.  If they come to you, you must be brave.  Face the future head on.

Build a Burn Club 2

How to start Our Burn Club

After that big ole expose’ on starting your own BC, it was brought up that the every day maintenance to the event might be desirable.

After our fiasco on the roof of the Culver City Ross building on 9/11/02, we started looking again.  The park across the street caught my attention, so I set about figuring out which jurisdiction it was in.  Turns out it was in Culver City, but managed by LA.  So I arranged to meet with Inspector Origel at that park.

He brought this 3 ring binder with him that was the scariest thing I’d seen as a performer.  Page after page of performers, sometimes photographed in action, sometimes their website printed out.  And lots of little notations about each one.  My page had notes on events that weren’t permitted, crashed, or closed down.  THis meant they had someone inside, undercover, and they did not elect to shut it down.  Spooky.

But the short and long of that meeting was that LA wasn’t interested in hosting a spin jam.  He did, however, suggest that I talk to Inspector Momii of the CCFD and see if I could get into his quarterly meeting.  This was the turning point for us.  These quarterly meetings were intended to get local fire departments on the same page about various fire and special effects topics.  We fit right in.

We agreed to give a demonstration of a safe performance, including what to watch out for.  In return, Momii made us his little retirement project.  He found our park.  Culver City park has a basketball court that cannot be seen from the road.  It’s the only park in LA not directly connected to a residential zone, it’s entirely surrounded by commercial properties.  It had plenty of parking and in a safe neighborhood.

With the location selected, and pretty much assured that we’d get the fire permit, he then stood up for us with the parks department and the city attorney.  The attorney wanted liability insurance, and the parks department was willing to rent us the park for standard picnic fees: $25/wk.  The fire permit was also a 2 digit yearly fee that is still embarrassingly low to this day.

So, for several years, we renewed the fire permit, dropped off an additional secured certificate at the same time, and took donations for the park fees which we paid monthly at vets park.  Then the hassle began.  Burn Club has survived 7 administrations of the CCP&R and each one has had an opinion about what we do.

The first admin change was nice, they changed the parking times around the park so that we didn’t have to issue parking passes for everyone who was attending.  The next one decided we were a “sports event” like the baseball leagues and changed our rates to $35/hour.  They get charged that rate to cover electricians who have to turn the lights on and off.  Nevermind that we weren’t using the baseball diamonds, didn’t want lights, and didn’t have them to turn on in the first place.

Each successive change got more and more hostile towards us until we were down to paying for just 1 hour with the permit running from 9-10.  Then, they switched our times to 8-9.  Well, in the summer, the sun doesn’t set until 8:45 in LA, so this wasn’t very helpful.  And I was done being shoved around and decided to go have a conversation with the new regime.

I met with Dan Jassim who heard my complaints, this story and a great deal more about our community.  He asked “has anyone approached you about becoming part of the parks department?” I honestly replied No.  He then explained that we were such a staple that we could become part of their community enrichment classes, teach fire arts, set times whenever we wanted, and instead of paying park fees, we’d get 70% of the take on all classes.

It was like winning the Lotto. But it’s not without its complications.

Fire permit – we still have to secure a permit with the fire department each april (during insurance time).  This is an annual permit, and it’s not a bad idea for whoever is running the club to have a copy (even a digital one) handy.  Our 2015 contact for this is Mike McCormick, upper floow of city hall.

Supporting Company – To host a class in CC, we need to have a corporation be the signatory.  This was right up Red Swan’s wheel house, so I volunteered it for the job.  But one specifically for the Club could be set up as well.  This corp must register with the city of Culver City as a contracting corporation.  Business license is about $100 a year and can be obtained in CC city hall.

Insured instructors – each instructor, plus the permit holder (if different) must have a liability policy with the additional insured: “The city of Culver City, it’s agents and employees” and get it to the fire and parks departments.  Coincidentally, this gives instructors the legal ability to run the park.

Quarterly arrangement of classes – starting about 2 weeks after the beginning of one quarter, Dan begins setting up stuff for the next.  New pictures, classes, wording etc must be set up.  They don’t care who does the classes [but Red Swan does], or really which classes we offer.

Continuing Fire arts – this is what Burn Club has always been.  This class is something for residents to graduate into (it’s cheaper), and is intended to provide continuing income for the P&R and us.  So far, no students.
Introductory fire arts – Teachers must commit to at least a 6 week class and have a curriculum for the arts.  So far we have offered staff, fan, poi and “circus”.  This last one being a mix of arts that could not fill an entire schedule on their own (fleshing, breathing, etc).

Payment – Classes are paid sometime near the end of the quarter.  The city takes 30% and cuts a check to Red Swan.  We take 20% of that and the rest goes to the instructor.  The 20 % has so far [almost] paid for the annual business license.  If a class has more than 1 instructor then the pay is distributed by class.  [6 weekly classes means $/6 per class taught by instructor]

Despite the hassle of dealing with the classes, it’s still better than grinding “donations” out of a bunch of flow-bo’s.  🙂



A lot of the rules are legacy from our inception.

Required – Fire permit requires us to have an insured representative and an ABC extinguisher onsite and in charge.  Red Swan prefers an approved sound system (80db or less), extra duvies, spare fuel and an ignition source.

Prohibited – Our old parks permit used to specifically list “no drums”.  Through dread experience, Red Swan Upholds this request.  She the “cartman hippie hunter” episode of south park for an explanation.  It really happened to us.

Water – it has been mentioned, from time to time, that the local foliage can get dry.  As it does, the need for onsite water for extinguishing, or pre-dampening becomes more needed.

“The fire permit requires that one of the permit holders must be present, and that fire extinguishers are available.” Covered.

“All fuel will be taken directly to the fuel area upon arrival. At the end of the night, fuel should be removed directly to your car, no stops.”  This is one of them most crucial components of the club: fuel management.

“Each fire act must have a safety spotter. Multi-performer interactive routines count as one act.” Again, this is a core value that we wanted to inject into the community.

“Each performer is expected to ensure they have their own spotter, do not assume current spotters will do it.”  Assume personal responsibility for your safety.  Too many ‘jams’ have full time spotters with people just running in and lighting up.  Bad habits.

“The first, or only spotter must stand between the fuel area and the fire act.”  Positioning of spotters is the beginning of AVP and who/what to protect.  In the case of BC, the fuel station is the first thing you protect.  Unfortunately, I don’t think most people understand the “why” of this.  See the nafaa regs for clarity.

“Spinout zone on the east side of the courts, south side, or as designated.”  I’m scared that this is still a necessary rule.  Spin zones should be a matter of common sense.

“Practice areas are on the east side of the courts and in the playground.” Okay, geography.  But another good lesson: layout your area beforehand.

“Spinout area, fuel area and east side of courts are designated non-smoking zones.”  Again, we should all be embarrassed that this is still a rule

“Photographers must secure permission to shoot from each performer, each time they light up.”  They should anyway, the park is closed and therefore does not fall under the protected public spaces act for shooting.  But this one was set up more for divas trying to avoid TMZ than about people being impolite.

“When in doubt, we follow the NAFAA.org performers guidelines for safety.”  I never wanted to cram NAFAA down people’s throats.  This was actually a FD requirement, not our idea.  They wanted the more comprehensive set of rules there for people to rely upon for sanity.

Other unspoken rules are about community and jackassery.  We have people give the rules to people they bring for 2 reasons.  First, it’s a throwback to the old Fireplay days when people were expected to be responsible (endlessly) for the friends they brought.  Screw that.  But you should be responsible for getting them on a good start.  Second, we don’t want the person in charge to have to recite the rules 100 times a night.  That’s dull and tedious.

Similarly, if there’s a problem, we encourage people to handle it themselves.  Before BC, there was this kind of hierarchy of performers based on when they started spinning.  “Oh, I can’t tell him he’s being a dick, he started spinning a week before I did”  Balls.  Jackassery is jackassery whether it’s someone’s first time, or if they’ve been spinning for 20 years.  This ticks off some of the ole renegades, but it empowers safety in all.


Build a Burn Club

I was recently asked to give the low-down on setting up a practice fire space like Burn Club.  BC is an open spin jam that’s been running for over a decade in Culver City.  It’s completely legal and has been slowly nudging up the lines of respectability.  And since I’m brain-dumping, I thought this would be a very appropriate venue.



I did not, by any stretch, come up with the idea of Burn Club alone.  When I first started fire, I was invited to the semi-weekly spin jam called Fireplay.  Shortly thereafter, I became one of the first Shins for the Burningman Fire Conclave.  I needed a safe place to practice and asked if I could take up the opposite weekends from Fireplay.  Well, there was a lot of crossover, and by the time Bman was over, Fireplay was a weekly event.


In steps like this, Fireplay continued to grow.  At first, we could all park inside the fenced in area where we practiced,  But as things got bigger, more people had to park on the street.  Fireplay was not in a particularly good area.  The increased traffic drew the local criminal element, more cars got broke into, even when we weren’t there.  The owners of the local establishments were forced to hire security.  One note about the fire group in the parking lot and we were looking for a new home.


We spent a year flitting from overpasses and parking lots, parks and private residences.  Private locations always eventually wanted money, other areas always eventually drew police attention.  Still I searched and searched as though this were a full-time job.  Eventually, when asking about one park, the officer told me to get in touch with someone from a different jurisdiction.  That ended up be exactly what we needed and Burn Club was born.



What I learned from all that is that location is king.  Fireplay was right Downtown LA, across from a Greyhound station.  People could, and did, just wander by and watch.  This didn’t bother us, but it contributed to the impinging criminal element (and one brush with Fox News).  One parking lot was in full view of a highway.  We were there 9-11-02, Yes, one year after 9-11.  Dumb,   I tended to favor baseball diamonds for safety sake.  Fenced area for spectators, dugouts for fuel, lights, and nothing to burn until you hit second base.  Never panned out, and another problem was night games.


Eventually, I learned that visibility is the real problem.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Our current park hides us completely.  That last fire marshall hooked us up with it specifically because of that.  Indoor locations are good, too, but they tend to want money.  So did the parks dept, but it was much less.


Forced fees will reduce the crowd and entitles audiences.  “I paid my $5, I don’t gotta leave”.  There’s something about paying for entry that changes the social contract for some people.  But when you ask for donations, you can set rules that must be followed.  Whatever your monetary situation, be prepared to pay out of pocket each night.  Theoretically, BC ran on donations, and just $25 a night at first.  Often donations still did not cover us.



Once you have a location, you need to secure the owner’s permission, in writing.  If they’re ever not there while you’re practicing, you can be sure THAT’s when the cops will show up.  For private locations this is usually as easy as knocking on the front door.  It’s hard to not know the owner when you get permission to use private property.


For open areas, things start getting a little more tricky.  Public parks are usually owned by the city they’re in.  Beaches tend to be owned and managed by different authorities: they could be managed by the coast guard, run by the forestry service, but authority lies with the city. Empty lots and such tend to have similar issues.  Keep a list of who you called and the results.  Eventually, you might give up and assume there is no owner.  The police will want to examine this list,



For any action, at any location, there is an authority who can say you may or may not do that thing.  In the US, the final authority is the constitution, It grants the individual states powers over any topic not covered in it’s text.  As for fire, it’s often the case that states defer to counties, and counties to local jurisdictions.  Sometimes the buck isn‘t passed.  In Texas, they have a statewide fire performance licensing system, in Nevada, a statewide registry that passes to the counties after that.  Orange County, CA holds all authority within the county, and does not defer down from there.


Some smaller towns (very rare) might defer to the police to deal with fire codes and such.  More often than not, though, you will be dealing with the local fire department.  Most FDs are broken into two parts: prevention and suppression.  The suppression wing are the guys that get all the pictures as they fight the fires directly.  Prevention types are more administrative, and spend a lot of their time inspecting gathering places for code violations that could lead to a fire.


Typically, the people who can write a permit are in the Suppression zone, so calling the local unit will just get you transferred there.  Each city puts the people who write permits for us in a different area.  Here in LA city, it’s the “Public Assemblage” unit, and all the laws are activated based on how many people are in attendance.  Other cities lump us in with pyrotechnics, some with camping, etc.


My suggestion for navigating this tree is as follows.

  1. Have a video of fire performance at the ready, heck make a tinyURL of the link.  I put up a whole section in the Red Swan site specifically for this.  It’s a dozen or so videos that break down each fire art and has a fairly typical performance shown.
  2. Have a quick line about what fire performance is that is both truthful, and easy to snap off, with connections to the real world that people can easily understand.  “Ever seen a fantasy movie with all the people with torches?  We use stuff like that, spin them around our bodies to the beat of fast paced music.”
  3. As you get closer, be ready with a more comprehensive description of what we do, including fuels, safety measures and equipment.  The NAFAA information pages has more than enough info about fuels for this step.

If you’re lucky, someone else will have already done this and the department will know where to send fire performers, fire dancers, fire breathers, or some other keyword.  If not, you may be in for a tiring afternoon of redirections through the department.  It may help to keep a list of the people and sub-departments you spoke to.  This may help facilitate people In their decision tree.



Okay, with the owner and JHA (Jurisdiction Having Authority) both on the same page, you need to next decide how your event will be run.  Not only do you need to decide what days, weeks, months and times you will be running, but there are two very important differences: performers only and audience allowed.  Certain jurisdictions may not care whether or not an audience is present, but I’m sure many do.  For example the vaunted NFPA 160 codes that many jurisdictions use or reference are “Proximate to an audience”.  If a jurisdiction us using the NFPA, they may have no codes at all for “not proximate to an audience.”


Having no codes has it’s ups and downs.  The up side is that you can help define how that department handles fire performers.  The down side is that they may go off and make things up on their own.  Some examples of this include: $1000+ fire safe on site, Chicken wire between audience and performers, asbestos clothing, water extinguisher for the fuel station, Pyro 1 endorsed operator present, etc.  Such unreasonable restrictions are often beyond the fairly rational 160 codes.


If the department has a sweeping rule for all fire acts, or has something specific for practices of your type, then you’re done.  If not, you’ll need to negotiate.  My first recommendation is to adhere to rigid truth.  If your community has some idiots in it, don’t try to cover them up.  If you know every detail of your fuels, great, but don’t try to make things up.  Often the fire departments are trained in asking leading questions that you’ll feel like you NEED to answer with something better than “I don’t know”.  This is a mistake.  They can spot a lie faster than a Jr high gym teacher.  And those guesses, cover-ups and lies will ultimately count against you.


In fact, pointing out that a practice space is a great way to normalize fire safety standards in a community is a great way to earn points.  Letting them know that you use [this] fuel because that’s what your teacher told you to use will ring honestly.  And admitting that people will find a place to practice anyway, but may not have someone enforcing safety standards, or educating them in safe practices is a reasonable scare tactic that will also ring true.


You may have to show them what fire performance is.  You may have to deal with restrictions at first that may fall off over time.  It‘s good to dig into their world, let them see your face at THEIR meetings, offer to educate their staff, etc.  Ultimately, getting the permit will be easier and cheaper if you: eliminate audience, restrict access to the public, have a distinct set of codes, and a clear chain of command.


Typically, they’ll want someone in charge to be onsite at all times.  Someone invested in safety.  At Burn Club, the people in charge put up their insurance each year with the city.  Our permit with the city requires that an authorized member be onsite, in charge, and responsive at all time during the event.  Be ready for this, particularly if you use the above scare tactic, or really try to sell safety education.



In any situation, it is the job of all fire safety personnel to protect the Audience, the Venue, and then the Performer, in that order.  If you have an audience, that’s just one more complication in the structure of safety.  It also activates all those “proximate to audience” rules.  If you eliminate the audience, you only have the venue and performer to concern yourself with.


At Burn club, we spin on a b-ball court, so the venue is very secure.  We only worry in late summer when surrounding plants dry out.  Since the fuel station is part of the venue, it becomes our #1 concern.  The main spotter for each act is placed between the performers and the fuel station.  Additional spotters help surround the performer(s).

This simplified formula has worked in so many ways.  As people visit the club, they can see the wisdom in it.  They can easily translate it to their own spinning experiences: practice or live.  And the can pass it on.  In just a couple years after we opened BC, strangers started asking if I had a spotter…at Burning Man!  I know it seems normal now, but back then, fire was anarchy and we paid for it in burned tents, wounds and death.

But… it HAS to be enforced.  Unenforced rules quickly get ignored, and do no one any good.



At  BC we’re 3 blocks from the local police station, 2 blocks from a firehouse, and 5 blocks from a hospital.  We’ve always had the option to call the police if things get crazy.  But it’s the in-between stuff that’s hard to manage.  Infractions that aren’t serious enough to call the police, but enough to threaten the permit (drinking, smoking near fuel, fire outside the defined area, etc).


I think BC inadvertently did things the right way.  When a conclave was around, the leader of that conclave could kick someone from the group.  And when we started, it was by invitation only of full members.  This meant that each person was directly responsible for the people they invited.  If Alice invites Bob, and Bob gets rowdy, it was up to Alice to deal with him.  Once we had some momentum, we opened the doors.  The people trained in our rules always outnumbered any group of jackholes looking to do things their own way.


But sometimes, we’ve had to ask people to leave.  And sometimes, we’ve had to tell people they weren’t welcome back.  And, yes, sometimes we call the cops.


Simple rules, as few as possible… rigidly enforced.


Our new policy is that you get one minor infraction.  Everybody gets a whoopsie.  2 infractions in one night and you “perform” the rules in the style the onlooking attendees decide (Ie shakespeare, country western singer, droopy dog, etc).  The idea is a little public shaming goes a long way.  And, EVERYONE get a refresher of the rules.  We haven’t had a third infraction yet, but that’s left up to the member in charge.



When we started BC, a couple of ladies from the parks department would sit in chairs in the back of a pickup truck and watch us almost all night.  That helped maintain a certain level of legal paranoia.  Years later, we learned they were drinking wine and passing a joint,  very Off Duty.  But I’ve always felt it’s better to err on the side of paranoia than not.


If you’ve ever seen a chopper in the sky, it probably has an IR scope, which means they know exactly where you are.  Many fire departments can’t afford to send in the dogs of war every time there’s an underground party.  So they send in an undercover to take pictures and make notes.  I’ve seen the LA book, it’s creepy.  THey use this like a scorecard to determine if you’re worthy of a permit later.  A lot of performances were shut down at the last minute because they had poor marks in that book and the dept. felt like screwing with them.


I’ve found that a fake security camera can go a long way, too.  “Hey dummy, Put that out, and smile” [point at camera].  Also, if something is a problem area, like noise level, you’ll often have to take control of it yourself.  Have the community jam box and disallow others from bringing in equipment.  Etc.



Well, I think that’s about it.  I realize this isn’t a step 1, step 2, kind of thing for setting up your own spin jam, But I think you’ll quickly realize that your experience will be VERY different from mine, or any others.  Just remember: Safety first, Honesty, and when necessary, fear.


Trucker Blues


So, I’ve been working bunches but not making the money I hoped to get tat this job.  Even when I got 3 weeks of pay at once, The amount after taxes was pitiful.  So, I talked to payroll, and I had put the number of withholdings at 0.   Okay, that is my number of dependents, but I could pay less on a regular basis.  So I switched it.

Thing is, life on the road is really expensive.  To give you an idea, imagine buying EVERY meal at a fast food place.  Now, imagine spending 30% more than your local fast food to get the same stuff.  Don’t forget rent and bills and such.

You see, trucks can’t really wander about cities much.  You never see one in a dirve through, and even pulling into a big box store is no guarntee that we’d be able to get back out.  Plus the company doesn’t like us wandering around wasting fuel either.  So, we[re pretty much stuck with Truck stops.  No real food there, just the above mentioned fast food.

I haven’t been home for nearly 2 months.  If I had my own truck, I could put in a firdge or cooler, make some chicken wraps and feast on cheaper food.  But, alas, as the better paid recovery position, I switch trucks all the time, and sometimes fly to pick them up, so I’m trapped in the fast-food lanes.  Even if I get to stop at a Wal Mart, I can only buy non-perishables like soup and canned food.  These are NOT good for the digestive system and kinda defeats the point of buying cheap food.

I think I have to call UPS or something and get a dedicated run aroun the LA area.  Otherwise, my choices become: quit, or give up my old life completely and move into a truck full time.  Not liking that second choice.

Charlie Horse

I spent a year living with my brother Rod, taking care of his kids, helping around the house, and I susspect, giving my parents a break.  Rod’s place was super cool, and I went there every summer anyway because he had 56 acres of Michigan forest land, and had about a dozen horses.  In the summers, he was a jockey, and would travel from faire to faire racing the best of his lot.  The rest of the year, it was just nice to be able to ride.


When I first started going there, Rod taught me skills to allow me to join him at the faires.  I became adept at barrel bending, and retrieving.  Barrel bending is a short-races skill where you run the horse in a cloverleaf pattern around 3 barrels.  Retrieving means to run straight at a standing man, pick him up while turning around him, then race back to the beginning.  I also “ponied” him into the gates.  This requires a very mellow horse and just some basic leading skills.


My extended stay at the farm included hunting, caretaking of the animals, farming on a small plot he’d set aside, and as mentioned, wrangling his two kids.  Situated exactly 5miles from nothi9ng at all, that was pretty much life day in and out, when school wasn’t running.  Fremont High was about 7 miles away, so naturally, we were bussed there.  Our nearest neighbor was over a mile away, so we didn’t talk much.  Mostly, the farm and animals soaked up all the free time we had.


One hot afternoon, I was doing some maintenance on the mares.  This is pretty much like any other animal, wash, dry, brush, clean the fingernails check for wounds, slip ‘em a carrot, and back to the gals.  The scale is just a bit bigger with horses.  And, you’d get arrested trying to brush people in the same areas you have to brush a horse.


Unbeknownst to me, one of the mares had ‘gone into heat.’  That’s a pretty way to say she was ready to breed.  This isn’t like heat for a cat with weird vocalizations and strange body positions.  Horses tend to be more like dogs in that you don’t notice the “heat” until someone with the right nose tells you.


Enter Charlie.  Charlie was a quarterhorse that Rod had bought to run short races.  Most of his runners were thoroughbreds, and they tend to prefer the longer, mile races.  One of them was even comfortable running 5 miles. Quarters are bred for short bursts of speed, like rabbits.  I don’t know if they’re all twitchy, but Charlie sure was.  Charlie was also breeding stock, he hadn’t been castrated, so he had the full benefit of male-hood coursing through him.  This is generally believed to make them better runners, but Charlie never won a thing.


Because he was a stallion, the previous owners had kept him in a private stall all his life.  He never learned approprite socilization skills, so we hd to build a special stall just for him.  Rod didn’t believe in stalls, he preferred to let the horses run wild in one of several paddocks about an acre in size each.  This both socilized them, and acclimatized them in one shot.  So, Charlies stall was the only one we had.  It was built of cinder blocks with household door to let him out.  It was also right next to the path I was taking the mares.


If yout think about how strong a really big guy can get, liike those pro-wrestler types, then imagine a critter twice that size, full of adolescence, and in tip-top physical condition.  Now imagine them going up against a stack of cinder blocks… no morter, just a stack of bricks.  Yup, it took Charlie about 5 seconds to level his stall one he got a whiff of Tammy in heat.  Suddenly, there was a bull in the china shop.


Bulls are actually quite gracefull creatures, and could, in fact, be trausted around racks of your best china.  But you’ll be chewing your nails the whole time.  This was Charlie.  Once out, he enjoyed the full use of his body for possibly the first time.  He chased down Tammy and I in short order and she was having none of him.  Tammy was my barrel bending partner, so she could both out-maneuver him and out-distance him.  She cut right (on my foot), bolted, cut left, circled back and lead Charlie into a tree.


This distracted him for a minute.  Tammy returned to me and we got her into her paddock, behind and electric, barbed-wire fence.  I figured that would keep Charlie away.  I was wrong.


I tried to capture Charlie, by reaching for his halter, he reared up out of my reach and headed for the females.  The electric fence stopped him, or so I thought,  He was just standing there taking jolt after jolt of the short but powerful bursts of energy running down the bare wire.  I could see his front legs tremble with each jolt.  I slipped through the fence and reached for his halter again.  He leaned forward.


I was utterly unprepared for what happened next.  His weigh snapped the barbed wire off the carefully positioned insulators and allowed it to return to it’s natural shape… a coil.  The coiling wire wrapped around me at waist height.  Charlie, sensing this and no longer receiving the jolts sallied forth at top speed.  This spun me like a top as the wire pulled around me, leaving multiple lacerations on my torso.


This. Meant. War.


I ran back to the equipment shed and grabbed a cattle prod.  It looked like a short walking stick, about 8 D cells high, with a rubber handle at one end and two fangs on the other.  In street terms, it was an extra-strength hand taser.  On a dare, I activated this on myself once.  I woke up in 5 hours.


I got back to find that Charlie had either given up on Tammy, or liked the idea of the new, young philly even better.  I’d heard that this appaloosa/thoroughbred mix was a little high strung, but the next thing I saw I still can’t quite raster in my mind.  Carlie approached Roddan (named afer my brothers Rod and Dan since breeding her was a joint venture), with a cartoonish “hooba-dooba” look on his mug.  Roddan looked down her back like she was seeing targeting sites.  Then her rear end poped up a little bit, and I swear, she sprouted two extra pairs of back legs.  She kicked Charlie in the knees, chest and head at exactly the same moment.


I think this took everyone present by surprise.  I certainly didn’t expect that.  Her slow, mellow mother, Shawnee didn’t, and Charlie, well, he did something that I’ve never seen a horse do willingly before or since: he backed up.  Yeah, you can train a horse to walk backwards, they can even get good at it, but they’re incredibly vulnerable in that state and almost never try it on their own without sufficient provocation.  Apparently getting away from a multi-firing, rear leg sprouting, medusa with white spots is sufficient provocation.


I took the opportunity to go for his halter again.  Unfortunatly, that was exactly what it took to shake Charlie out of his reverie.  He angled towards me and kicked me in the knee.  It wasn’t a strong kick like their back legs can produce, but Horses hooves are essentially a giant fingernai weighing sometimes several pounds, so even the weakest of bitch slaps can produce some damage with them.  In short, it hurt.


But I wasn’t crippled.  I also remembered that I had a cattle prod in my hand.  I flipped the switch and gave a jab.  Right at that moment I thought back to the electric fence.  The device that charges the fence is run off household current, not batteries, it’s capable of producing much more power than any battery driven device,  Charlie had withsood at least a dozen bursts from the fence.  What exactly was a weaker child version gonna do to him? Piss him off.\


Charlie went full rampant.  He rose up to his full 15 feet on rear legs, kicked the silly pain stick out of my hands, came down with his full weight onto my legs and bit me in the chest.  Later I would discover that he had actually eaten the cross I always wore at the time.  I was afraid that this single clash had crippled me.  My chest was bleeding, my legs numb and inopperative my hands frozen in shock.  Charlie pranced off to do more damage, and left me for dead.


Tony, our Shetland pony, nuzzled me awake.  The shock was over, my hands were free to move, the bleeding had stopped, I recalled a conversation with someone at a race, how they had an unruly horse and took a bridal leash to them.  These leashes tend to be 6-8 feet long with a short chain on the end and a snap-hook for clipping to the bridal.  Once the shock was over, I was mad enough to give it a try.


Apparently, the kids had caught some of the eaction and called the neighbors.

as I came out of the shed with a leash and baseball bat, they rolled up, with my brother right behind.  Rod cooled me down while the neighmbors got their lassos warmed up.  The two of them had Cahrlie neutralized in short order, they they admit they came close to knocking him over and hog-tying him.


After going toe to toe with a 2200 lb full stallion spoiling for a fight, nothing really scared me as much anymore. High school got easier and basic training was a lot easier that it might have been.  As far as blood and gore, well, Rod let me attend Charlie’s castration.  It was horrifying but strangely gratifying at the same time.

After that, Charlie just wasn’t the same horse.  He wouldn’t run, was little good for riding, and for some reason, he wouldn’t go anywhere he saw white spots… go figure.