Trapped Under Ice

60 Seconds of Terror

Photo by Tembela Bohle

Completely submerged, I pounded the ice with my fist while panicked boys above me screamed for help. Weighted down by boots, a winter coat, and fear, I could only think of Dana. I was certain that if I didn’t find a hole in the ice I would never see my dog again.

My Scouting Days Were Limited

To say that I was a reluctant boy scout is an understatement. The thought of camping and eating dehydrated packaged foods was repulsive. I went along with the idea to show my aloof step-father that I was not a sissy. Our scout leader’s thinly veiled plan was to have us boys slip flyers under tenement doors in order to earn enough cash to leave the city for greener pastures. I’ll explain the scam later. This charade meant giving up Saturdays, for how long, I don’t recall; all for two insufferable nights with miserable scout leaders intent on showing us how to be real men.

I didn’t mind summer camping so much. Well that’s a lie, I hated the mosquitoes and I despised my pumped up, so called, leaders. But in the summer, I didn’t freeze my ass off and I could at least go swimming. When the leaders announced a winter trip, I asked my mom if I could sit it out. My mother was always concerned about my desire to spend more time in my room than out and about. She insisted that I go and demanded that I have fun. It doesn’t really work that way, but back then, kids did what they were told.

The Trip

We arrived at the campground in Alpine, New Jersey. It couldn’t have been more than an hour from the city; rural, desolate, and way too far from Brooklyn for my liking. I’m going to say, all in, there were around 15 of us. We got there on an old school bus; the same yellow jalopies still on the road today. The bus was damp and cold and you felt every bump to the point where it hurt your teeth. I’m not a delicate flower mind you, I just didn’t see the point in such nonsense.

It started snowing the night before we left for Alpine and I recall arriving at camp hoping that the cabins were buried so deep we’d have to turn back — no such luck. Upon arrival, we were told to put our things on top of our bunks and return to the dining hall (I use the term loosely), for further instructions. All the boys had boatloads of energy and were anxious to be outdoors; our leaders seemed just as anxious to coax us out. They told us we could play, but that we should stay close to the cabins and return before lunch. They were to remain in the dining hall so that they could map out the rest of the weekend.

My scout peers and I ran into the great beyond, not far from our home base. The snow was over eight inches deep and blanked the camp. Most of us were testing the snow to see whether or not could make snowballs with it. In fact, it was perfect for packing — we were all ready for war . . . boys will be boys. I started running toward the center of what I thought was a wide open field and I felt the ground beneath me crack open; in fact it was a lake, not a field. I was pulled into the frozen water, weighted down by my winter boots and a heavy wool coat. I must have started screaming, but this part is all a blur. I later learned that as soon as I took the plunge, a couple of the boys ran to alert our leaders.

Completely submerged, I frantically searched for an opening in the ice. It was dark under water due to the fallen snow. It felt as if I was moving in slow motion as I listened to frantic screams and tried to swim to the surface; my clothing was soaked through, weighing me down. After what I’m certain was a very long time, I heard splashing nearby. I moved toward the sound and found an opening in the ice. Each time I tried to hold on, the ice broke off. The other boy who had fallen in was thrashing two or three away. I heard panicked voices pleading for the two of us to stay calm, “Help is on the way.”

By the time our scout leaders arrived, we’d broken through quite a large patch of ice. I’d gone under numerous times. The men quickly laid across the ice, creating a human chain, and pulled the two of us out of the lake. We were carried back to the leader’s cabin and placed in front of the fire. My clothing was quickly peeled off of me and I was wrapped in a large blanket. I’m sure my lips had turned blue and I was shivering so badly I feared I would never stop. Looking back, I’m certain our leaders were more fearful of a lawsuit than hypothermia. I recall deafening silence as they attempted to warm us up. I was given a cup of hot chocolate, but I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get it down.

A decision was made to cancel the weekend and take us all home to our parents. I don’t recall hearing the reaction of the other scouts. One of our leaders grabbed my backpack and took responsibility for getting me home. I didn’t know him very well, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t trust him. In the car, he questioned me about how I fell in the ice. I shared with him what I was certain everyone had told him, that I ran onto what I thought was an open field and fell into the lake. He just nodded and assured me that I’d be home soon.

When we got to my house my mother was anxiously waiting at the door. I didn’t realize they had called ahead and she was crying and obviously angry. She hugged me tighter than usual. I’m was pretty sure that it was all a show; drama was my mother’s specialty and this was a situation that called for plenty of it. The scout leader asked if he could come in. My brothers and sisters all stared at me as if I had some sort of rare disease. I was still bundled in blankets because my coat was soaked. My mother asked the scout leader to have a seat.

I recall her repeating, “How could you let this happen,” several times.

She made it clear that I would never be allowed to go away with the boy scouts again and threatened a lawsuit. This news made me very happy; almost making my submersion into the frozen lake, worth it. My scout leader told her about the snow covered lake and the human chain, but it fell on deaf ears. They spoke for a few more minutes, he apologized again and left. I wasn’t used to see him humble. Once he was gone, my mother reverted back to her old ways and sent me to bed; not before making it clear that falling into the frozen lake was all my fault and that I was lucky to be alive.

I never returned to the boy scouts after that incident and there was no lawsuit ever filed. It wasn’t because my mother didn’t think she had a case, it had more to do with the effort she’d have to make it happen. I have stayed away from fields covered in snow and never once, regretted leaving the scouts.

Prologue

The flyers work our leaders had us do, was a scheme to line their pockets. Arrests made local news and there were indictments. I recall feeling vindicated. To this day when I see flyers being slipped under doors, I have a visceral resentment for those boy scout “leaders,” and their intention to teach us how to lead.

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São Miguel is less than two weeks away and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the States for a visit, by mid-May.

Question of the Week:

Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? What did you see?

Terror in Turkey

One Horrific Night in Istanbul

An early morning nightmare I wish I could erase from my memory.

A few years ago I was presented with the opportunity to visit Istanbul. One of our French Culinary Institute graduates was opening a cooking school in the center of the city and I was invited to stay at her home and take a look at her school. I had often dreamt about traveling to Turkey and what better reason could there be to make the trip.

Whenever I travel to a city I haven’t been to, I check out the gay scene; if there is a gay scene that is. I knew of course that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and it is essentially against a Muslim’s religion to be intimate with someone of the same sex.

[The Quran narrates the story of the “people of Lot” destroyed by the wrath of God because the men engaged in lustful carnal acts between themselves.[1][2][3][4] Some hadith collections also condemn homosexual and transgender acts,[5][1][6][7] prescribing death penalty for male homosexual intercourse.[8] Homosexual acts are forbidden in traditional Islamic jurisprudence and are liable to different punishments, including the death penalty, depending on the situation and legal school.] (Wikipedia)

This knowledge should have been enough to squelch any desire I might have had to explore the gay culture in Istanbul. Truth is, I can be way too curious and extremely stupid sometimes. Hence the night I came close to losing my life in Istanbul.

This was a few years ago and I couldn’t find anything about a gay community on-line prior to traveling to Turkey. I thought I’d inquire once I settled in. I was shopping at the Grand Bazaar on my second day in Istanbul and finally met a young, friendly, English speaking man, who was working at a spice stall. I had the notion he might be gay and so I delicately approached the subject of gay culture in Istanbul. He basically informed me that it was underground, not wildly popular and not easy to find. He was aware of one particular club, but not sure about others in the city.

I should note that I did not think it was appropriate to question my host about this matter or inform her that I would be going to a gay club. We had not been friendly prior to my visit and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information. For the most part, I was scheduled to be on my own in the evening.

It was Friday afternoon and I thought it might be fun to venture out and find this club while there was still some daylight, so that it would be easy to find that evening.  After walking around the vicinity of where the young man said the club would be, I found it sort of tucked away on a side street near the centre. It was closed and there were no hours on the door. I wasn’t even sure that what I found was a club. I figured I’d go at about 10:00 p.m., hoping to find it lively. When I arrived that evening, there was just one person at the door and the bartender. The bar was sparse and not at all enticing. I asked the bartender what time things got going and he just shrugged his shoulders acting as if he had no idea what I was talking about. I believe he spoke English, I wasn’t really sure.

Two hours later, a few others began to arrive. What I experienced at the club that night I have never experienced at a gay club prior. It was a pleasant enough space, one large room with a chandelier and some colorful club lights. There was a small dancefloor; unused that evening. There appeared to be one couple and then maybe three or four guys just standing around hugging the wall. I don’t recall any laughing or smiling, just guys looking very serious and holding their drinks. I’m not sure why, but I was intimidated and intrigued at the same time. At one point I questioned why in the world I was sticking around. A part of me thought that things might liven-up. I had been to clubs before that didn’t get going until 1:00 a.m. and so I thought that perhaps the culture in Istanbul was a late one.

I was dead wrong, it never got better. I decided to leave the club at about 2:00 a.m. I had not had much to drink due to the circumstances. I walked outside to find a taxi and a young gentleman followed me out. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from New York and visiting Turkey for the first time. He then asked me if I would like to walk for a bit. The streets were very quiet, in fact, they were eerily deserted. I was curious why he had not spoken to me at the club, but instead, waited until I left the bar. His English was not great,but we understood one another. He told me that he had not said hello to me at the club because he was afraid I would reject him. He appeared shy and said that he had been working up the nerve to speak to me. He also apologized for his English. I asked about the gay culture in Turkey and I could tell that he was reluctant to go there with me. He started to become agitated as I probed, and so I apologized.

We were walking without saying much for about ten minutes, when he asked me if I was interested in going back to his place for a coffee. I told him that I didn’t drink coffee at that hour, but that it would be nice to see his place. I was very curious and he was attractive. We found a taxi and went to his apartment; it was a five minute ride at the most.

When we arrived at his apartment, I began to be concerned. His demeanor changed abruptly. I wasn’t sure if he was having second thoughts about inviting me to his place or if he was possibly dangerous. When you walked into his apartment there were three guys playing some sort of game, and whatever they were smoking filled the entire apartment with smoke. He did not introduce me and took me into his bedroom. Honestly, I’m not sure we ever exchanged names. The room was small, dark and very unpleasant. This is when I began feeling very threatened. I told him that I wasn’t feeling right about the situation. I didn’t share this, but I had gotten a bad vibe from the guys in the other room. He dismissed my discomfort and told me not to worry.

The next bit came as quite a shock. He asked me for $100 dollars. It was then that I knew I was in trouble.

I said, “You should have told me that you were working. I’m not interested in paying for sex.”

He became angry with me and told me that I had to pay him because I should have known. He was insulting and incensed. I was very frightened at this point. I asked him to please just let me leave.

“No, you cannot leave without giving me $100.”

I told him that all I had was $20 (in Lira) and that I needed it for a taxi. He said he didn’t believe me and I had to empty my pockets for him. He saw that I had my ID and bankcard. He said that if I didn’t pay him, that he and his friends would beat me. At that moment, I believed him. I told him that we’d have to find an ATM machine. He agreed that we would go to a machine with one of his friends. I know that I was shaking and close to tears.

We found a machine near his apartment. I made a couple of attempts to withdraw money, but it wasn’t working. His friend kept telling me to hurry. I tried to explain that it wasn’t working, but they said that I was lying. I asked them if we could try another machine. This was my first attempt at using an ATM in Turkey. I brought Lira with me, but I left most of it in the apartment where I was staying. I have never liked carrying a lot of cash. They took me to another machine a few streets away. I was looking for the police as we hurried through the streets, but I saw no one.

I had the same issue at the next machine. I thought that I might have been so nervous that I was using the wrong pin. At this point both men were very agitated. I tried to explain that it just wasn’t working.

I pleaded, “What if I give you what I have in my pocket and my watch as well?”

They just shook their heads and said they wanted the money. I took the money out of my pocket and handed it to one of them. I tried to give them my watch, but they refused to take it. At this point they were both screaming at me in Turkish. I threw my watch at them and ran. They chased me through the streets and all I could imagine was that I was going to be brutally killed in Istanbul. I was running marathons at this point in my live and fortunately, I was very fit. I ran toward a taxi I had spotted and begged the driver to allow me to get in; he refused. I ran a bit further and I saw another driver standing on the side of his taxi.

“Help, these guys are going to hurt me.”

The driver opened his door and I jumped into the taxi. The two Turks chasing me were pounding on the window as the taxi drove away. I thanked the driver several times, but he spoke no English. I tried to tell him that I did not have money, but that I would get some cash for him when we arrived to where I was staying.

When we got to the apartment I tried to tell him again that I had no cash on me. The driver was very angry that I was not paying him; he kept repeating something in his language and pointing to his hand. There was a military soldier standing with a rifle near the house where I was staying. This was a very wealthy neighborhood and there was a soldier on almost every corner. He spoke a little English and I explained my situation. He then spoke to the angry driver. He told me that I could go in and get the money. I quickly went in to retrieve some cash and I brought it out to pay him. He angrily grabbed the money and drove away. The soldier said nothing. I often wondered if he knew what had happened to me that night.

I showered and shivered for who knows how long. Sleep was elusive. The evening kept playing in my head on an endless loop. I crawled out of my bed a few hours later and spent the remainder of the day trying to forget what had happened. I told no one. I called my bank and I was told that I had not informed them that I was traveling and so their policy was to block my account.

Let’s be totally honest; what I did was dumb, insane, ridiculous, naive, and immature. At the time, I was a young man in my early 40s and I had put myself in dangerous situations more often than I care to admit. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and that’s all I’ll say. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid, but then, who knew I’d be chased through the streets of Istanbul at 3:00 a.m. You live and learn and I learned the hard way.

“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

Meet Paco: Adopting A Pet

Adoption is the only way to go. It reduces the number of animals being euthanized and provides a home for those in need.

 

This is Paco shortly after he was found shivering in a storm in the hills of Estoi, Portugal. The generous and compassionate Scottish couple who found him, shared that he was in a state of shock, hungry and badly matted. It appeared from his skeletal, tiny body that he had not eaten for some time. They took him to the vet to have him checked out. He had a serious eye infection, he was starving, and he had worms. The vet told them that he is less than a year old. He also had a chip, however, his information had never been entered in the system — it appears that he was abandoned. The couple’s dog Deano, did not really care for Whisper (a friend of theirs named him) and tried to attack him several times. Clearly, keeping Whisper was not an option, but they were quickly becoming attached.

The friend that was helping them cope with the situation posted a plea for adoption on Facebook and I responded immediately. I had a conversation with the friend and explained that I could adopt Whisper, but since I had a pre-planned trip to Spain with my friends Michelle and John, I could not take him home until I returned to Portugal. She said that would not be a problem and she asked me to please come and meet Whisper. My friends were joining me in Faro a few days later and I had hired a rental. I committed to going to Estoi directly from the car rental. John and Michelle are dog lovers and they knew Giorgio his entire life (my dog that passed from a heart valve problem a little over a year ago) and they were excited to meet my potential new pet.

I arrived and spotted Whisper behind a gate a few feet away and knew immediately that he would be my new companion. He is now called Paco. He looks like a Paco and he is my Paco. I have a deep fear that the previous owner will return and snatch him away from me. It’s a fear I will have to live with for awhile. The lack of data attached to his chip leads me to believe that there is a good chance he will remain with me — we’re destined to grow old together.

 

Our First Day Together

Paco has been through the horrible trauma of being abandoned. I cannot imagine what he is feeling right now. He has been with his foster parents for a few weeks and he has grown fond of them; after all, these kind people rescued him. And now they are leaving him with me. I was sensitive to his fears and apprehensive feelings.

 

Settling In

The hand-off wasn’t easy. I was excited to have Paco see his new home, but his foster mom was very sad and had a difficult time saying goodbye. We sat at a café wondering when would be the best time to leave with Paco; there was no best time. She’s gone back and forth about whether or not she wants to see him or hear about how he’s doing. I’m going to give her time and she can decide. She left me with articles of her clothing so that Paco would have her scent. She also left a piece of her heart.

 

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Michelle and I walked him home. Paco was noticeably skittish; not very familiar with traffic noise and these new surroundings. We got to the apartment and John was sitting out on the terrace. Paco ran outside and went straight for the railing where there are slats that I am certain he can squeeze through (he weighs about five pounds and he’s tall and thin). I screamed for him to stop and he froze. I know it scared him terribly, but it was my only option. We decided that I would need to cover the slats with mesh — this had never occured to me before he arrived.

We stayed outside where he was obviously much more comfortable and Michelle calmed him down. He eventually settled. Soon after, Michelle began cutting some of the knots from his coat; he’s very badly matted from the time he spend in the hills searching for food, water and a safe home. Most of the matting is close to his skin and will need to grow out before it can be cut. I’m going to give it some time. Michelle leaves for home in a few days and I can’t help wondering how I am going to manage without her patience. Paco responds to her kindness and soft voice. Thus far, I have been a distant observer. Part of me feels as if I am betraying Giorgio and the other part wants to love Paco.

The mesh has been added to the terrace, so it is now safe for Paco to be outside without supervision. He slept most of his first day with me. Michelle got him to eat and I took him out a couple of times. He walks with coaxing, but he’s obviously uncertain of his new surroundings. I know it will take time. He is alert and responds to my commands.

He slept quietly through the night in the bed his foster mom brought to me. She had also given me his eye medicine, a lead, collar, and hand written notes about the time he’s been with her and her husband. When she found him a little over two weeks ago his eyes were infected and almost completely shut. They are now open and healing; we have an appointment with my vet tomorrow.

Our first morning walk was difficult. He peed outside, but he really didn’t want to walk; clearly still not sure what this is all about. When I hold him, he tucks his head under my chin. I keep wondering what is going on in that frightened little head of his.

He seems to be house trained. It’s hard to tell because he’s spending so much time curled up in his bed.

Day Two

A soothing bath and some cutting off of the matted hair; not all the matting, just what is no-so-close to his skin. He doesn’t seem to mind being pampered.

 

 

First Vet Visit

Paco tried to run out of the vet’s office and slammed into a glass door. It was the first time he had run away from, me so I was startled by it. Good thing the door was closed because he would have run out into traffic and I’m not sure my heart could take the possible outcome.

My vet was concerned about how thin he is and said he needed to take blood. Ten minutes later he had bad news for me. Paco tested positive for two tick borne bone marrow viruses; apparently common for dogs left outdoors to fend for themselves. He really frightened me by telling me that not all dogs recover for this type of illness. He’s on antibiotics and I’ll know in 30 days whether or not he’ll fully recover. My vet said that if he’s responding favorably to the antibiotics, I will notice it. I asked my vet why he doesn’t bark and my vet replied,

“There are enough dogs that bark in Portugal so consider yourself lucky.”

 

The Next Day

Paco had another night of sleeping soundly. He’s very well behaved, but I have to keep in mind that he is in a constant state of discomfort because of his illness; apparently a low white blood cell count and arthritis are the reasons he sleeps most of the time. We were able to deal with the heavy matting so I think he is more comfortable now. He loves the sunny terrace and his dog bed. Sometimes he curls up next to me and stares at me intensely; I think he knows I’m going to take care of him.

 

Day four

I’m an early riser and Paco is not. He slept in the first few mornings, but alas, I think he’ll be a morning pooch by the end of the week. He slept in my bed last night, curled up at the base of my back. I believe that lots of nurturing and comfort is going to give him the will to heal and stay alive. He’s a quiet dog; sleeps soundly and doesn’t stir when I get up to use the bathroom. He gets out of bed and lets me know that he is ready for breakfast. Standing by his bowl is a fairly good indicator. I feed him a mix of wet and dry food and he eats it all. I will eventually switch him over to all dry food because I think it’s a better diet for his stomach and his teeth — his vet agrees.

Giorgio, my last pet, was always more concerned about going out than eating; however, Paco seems to be quite the opposite. He eats and then takes a morning nap. I’m walking him at about 7:00 a.m. It allows us both time to ease into the day. He does his business moments after we hit the grass. It’s as if he’s reading my mind — I’m not fond of long walks.

I’m noticing a big difference in his disposition; he’s less skittish, more confident and more alert. I assume it’s a combination of being comfortable with me and that (hopefully) the antibiotics are working. I’m pretty certain he is house trained since he hasn’t gone to the bathroom inside — time will tell.

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Paco today; looking a whole lot better than when he was found.

On day five Paco actually did a complete twirl when I put his food down. His personality is starting to come through. Being alone with him has been good for both of us; we’re finding our way without distractions.

Paco found his voice yesterday and responded to a barking dog outside; he sounded like a puppy. After three woofs, Paco looked over at me and sighed.

 

The Future

It is obvious to me and to Paco’s vet, that he was traumatized prior to being rescued. I’m not sure if it was his original owner(s) or the time he spent abandoned in the countryside. Whichever it was, I’m going to do everything I can to get him to trust again. I’m already sensing a strong bond between us. I was fortunate to have found a pet so full of love.

His rescuers have reached out to me, anxious to know how he is adjusting and the status of his health. They are not invasive and have offered to do anything they can to help. I’m feeling more confident that the people who abandoned him will not be showing up at my door. Honestly, since there was a concerted effort to locate these folks over the last several weeks, they’d have a fight on their hands if they did show up.

 

How I Found Paco

If you live in the Algarve in Portugal, check out Algarve Dog Rehoming, a fantastic group on Facebook. That’s how I found Whisper (now Paco). You will find many, many people who will want to assist you in finding the right pet to adopt.

 

Helpful Pieces Before You Adopt

Ten Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Pet . . .

Eight Things You Need to Know . . .

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