Never Die

The Weekly's incomplete guide to an almost eternal life

But the shaman's visit made Fretty turn his vision inward to look for his soul instead of his eyesight. Recently, Fretty has been delving into hypnotherapy with Susan Han, a certified hypnotherapist. I've watched as she puts him in a massage chair, reclines it, and covers him up to the chin in a pink blanket. As he goes under, the massage chair works its magic with a rolling motion up and down his spine while Han whispers to him, making him more and more relaxed . . . too relaxed. For at this point, amid perfect silence, there comes a short burst of flatulence from Fretty, who seems oblivious to the wind beneath his pink blanket.

"He is extremely relaxed now," Han says, unperturbed.

After several hypno sessions, medication, counseling and a long journey from hell, Fretty has begun to accept himself. He doesn't talk much about it, but he has lost 30 pounds, walks regularly, and seems a bit giddy. To address his sleep apnea, Fretty had a mouthpiece made with a hole in the front so he can breathe through his mouth during slumber. Otherwise, he can only sleep in 15-minute bouts before his respiration stops and he sputter-snorts back to life. The mouthpiece seems to help. "I don't need to nap near as much," he said, though he still nods off at stoplights if there's a lull in conversation. He has also started walking a little: at first, it was to pick up a pint of chocolate Häagen-Dazs at the store, which he would soften in the microwave and devour in one sitting. But the hypnotherapy has helped him kick chocolate for now, and he's been walking for its own sake. I took him hiking once, but he ended up ass-over-noggin down a mucked hill, injuring his wrist.

He told me once that if he ever lost the use of his hands, he wouldn't hesitate to off himself because Fretty has one saving grace on Hell Island: music. During all the time he was restricted to his bedroom as a youth, he learned to play the guitar, and it became his solace against the moment-to-moment chore of living. He is what musicians call an "ear player," not being able to sight-read. Like Hendrix, Fretty actually sleeps with his guitar so that he can have music for breakfast and as a lullaby. Also like Hendrix, he plays brilliantly, and all that fire and heartache in his gut bucket comes out tour de force. That's how Fretty stays alive.

He's in love, too; he met the girl of his dreams via the Internet. But maybe its all tied together . . . self-esteem, self-acceptance, drugs, hypnosis, the shaman and the Internet. And, perhaps, not being afraid to ask for help, he met a woman-via the Internet-who worships his every flaw. Trouble is she lives in the Midwest; but trouble is an occasion of growth, and Fretty, who had never left California, jets out to be with her whenever he has the cash. To curb the long-distance blues, he chats with his cyberlove on the Internet between 4 and 6 hours per day. He wants to retire from his business in the next year and make a living playing music. That's what his soul has been telling him all along. He just never listened before. Now he listens. And he hears. He goes after well-being. And it's not just a matter of health; Fretty chases the will to live.

-By CJ Bahnsen

Rejuvenate Yourself

My experience with the Rejuvenate diet proved again the venerable adage: you don't ever really buy potassium bisque; you just rent it. Four days into the holistic deep-cleansing program that Rejuvenate author Helene Silver describes as "a 21-day natural detox plan for optimal health," I was, you might say, returning to sender.

So closely had I studied the Rejuvenate text, so meticulously had I followed its recipes for food and drink and lotion, so faithfully had I entrusted myself to its every direction for eating, breathing, bathing, sleeping, exercising and meditating, that I was regurgitating all I had learned.

Are you getting the point here? I was puking! I was hurling, barfing, ralphing, spewing, blowing chow, calling for Earl. I was playing the whale, showing 'em what I was made of, giving as good as I got. Do I make myself clear? Well, after throwing up long enough, the answer is: yes, I do.

This was not the reaction I was expecting from Rejuvenate's 318-page regimen of potassium-rich, blender-mushed, vegetable-based entrées, complemented by ionic cocktails, inner-beauty teas, hot lemon flushes, vigorous loofa scrubs, cucumber facials, yogurt masks, oatmeal-and-egg-white packs-all of it played out against the ever-lingering prospect of a self-administered enema. Looking back on this list, I don't know what else I could have expected; it reads like the training manual for driving the porcelain bus.

Perhaps I was oblivious to the inevitability of a raunch launch because I hoped this detoxification process held profound benefit for someone like me, who has lived so long by the not-necessarily wholesome trinity of USDA choice, FDA approved and KFC extra-crispy. Compare that flimsy dietary framework with Silver's introduction to the Rejuvenateprogram, which promises that it "fine-tunes all the systems of elimination, or 'body filters'-your skin, your lungs, your lymphatic system, your liver and kidneys, and your colon."

Plus, Silver's format makes it so easy to implement. She lays everything out, day by day, meal by meal, Oxygenation Cocktail by Diuretic Tea, Antigravity Tone-up by Alternate Hemisphere Breathing drill. The recipes and activities are worded simply and are constantly page-referenced throughout the book so they are easy to locate. The tone is conversational, upbeat-and tolerant. My favorite part of the book's Q-and-A section: Q. "Do I have to do it perfectly to get results?" A. "Definitely not."

But the prospect of throwing my own personal Lollapaloozit festival never crossed my mind. And even after Elvis had left the building, I couldn't find the possibility of it mentioned anywhere in Silver's book, including the index, no matter how many terms of endearment for reverse peristalsis I looked up. (By the way, did you know that one of the definitions of "vomitory" is "the entrance or exit to a theater or stadium"?)

Finally, I gave the Rejuvenate program the ol' heave-ho.

Even now, deep in my gut, where some unexpunged traces of beet, carrot and celery tops, sesame-seed milk, dried chaparral herb, and sweet white miso undoubtedly remain, I suspect I somehow just missed Rejuvenate's rewards. Because, for three days, I felt fine.

Of course, on Day 1, I wasn't actually on the diet. As Silver prescribes, I spent the day making all of the necessary preparations-shopping for what I would need and disposing of what I would no longer need. In practice, this meant devouring all the leftovers in the refrigerator, including a half-bucket of drummettes that I ate cold and a taco I reheated in its to-go container. I didn't actually make it to the grocery store until 11 p.m., an hour before closing. But I felt pretty good out there exploring the produce section, and I figured I'd done okay when I went through the checkout counter and the clerk said, "I used to know a guy in Santa Cruz who ate like this."

On the way home, just before midnight, I stopped at the Donut House's 24-hour drive-through window and bagged a coffee and a couple of old-fashioneds. The coffee spilled as I placed it in the cup holder, ensuring that the first cleansing I'd be doing would be the coin well on the car's console.

Day 2 was spent around the kitchen stove-well, actually, around my grandfather's old hot plate because the plumber hurried over to shut the valve to my stove after I woke up smelling gas. Luckily, one of the hot plate's burners still worked. So I perched it on top of my dead stove and spent the day boiling the hell-technically, the potassium-out of weird vegetables and blending them into goo. All the while, I sipped strange drinks, ate fruit salad, and by dinnertime started glugging down the potassium broth. I felt, I don't know, kinda cool.

On Day 3, it was fresh apples for breakfast, tofu with steamed vegetables for lunch, some yam kinda thing for dinner. I felt, I don't know, kinda different.

On Day 4, it was another potassium fest. For a late lunch, I dove into the potassium bisque, glopping a bunch of it on a plate with some steamed vegetables, eating that, and then glopping on a little bit more. About the time I finished the second plate, I felt, I don't know, kinda like I was coming on to some wild blotter acid. You know, with the wavy, TV-flashback-type visuals and that kind of duck quack that gets tacked onto every kind of sound? Remembering that Silver is from San Francisco-well, actually, from Sausalito, that quaintly hoity-toity marina town just over the Golden Gate Bridge but close enough-I was kind of encouraged, assuming this meant the diet was actually working.

And then came the long Technicolor yawn.

With its many temptations and responsibilities, late December may not be the most opportune time to set out on a diet-and-life change. Then again, if you're really serious, there's something to be said for incorporating it into our holiest season. And as I knelt next to the toilet, I was saying it. "Jesus Christ!" I moaned exhaustedly between involuntary guttural roars of what my neighbors said sounded like "Hanukkah!"

Also, it was the holiday season that got me back on my feet, back into the mainstream. I had to go Christmas shopping. But at the mall, amid the bustle of gift-givers, I nearly revealed my inner self again. Luckily, when my girlfriend saw me getting pale, she hauled me over to the food court. While I waited numbly at one of those drilled-to-the-concrete picnic tables, she zipped through the line at Peking Express, returning with a couple of egg rolls and a big order of pork-fried rice.

In no time at all, I was rejuvenated.

-Dave Wielenga

Amazing Fast Food Diet

Hi. My name is Rich, and I'm a McDonald's-oholic.

["Hi, Rich!"]

A saturated-fat-slurpin', cholesterol-chompin', fast-food feastin' junkie.

[Laughter]

I don't have a lot of bad habits.

[Hoots of knowing self-recognition]

In my 30 years, I've probably smoked about two packs of ciggies. Never been drunk, which nobody believes, but I swear it's true.

[Nodding]

Only wrapped my lips around a spliff once (quite an accomplishment, since I've been to 27 Grateful Dead shows).

[Laughter]

Never shot heroin, though some of the downer bands I've seen sure have made me want to.

[More laughter, punctuated by clapping]

No, friends, Demon Grease is my lone vice.

[Thick air of sobriety descends upon the room]

I've tried to kick it, but the cravings always return, and I always surrender to them. I've had wild flings with healthy eating and working out in gyms, but I inevitably slip back-probably because, after working up a good, stanky sweat, nothing else fills the soul quite like twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsona sesameseedbun.

["Mmmmmmmmmm."]

I really oughta know better because that shit can kill.

[A solitary "Amen" from the back of the room]

But I can't help it. The joy, the ecstasy, the zen of fast food has been programmed into me since childhood. Particularly McDonald's. As corporate corrupters of America's youth go, McDonald's has always had RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris beat.

[The guy who said "Amen" stands and says it again]

Remember all those disturbingly cheery TV commercials with Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese and that big purple blob Grimace (who they named, I've since wildly guessed, after the expression you get on your face when you've devoured a boxful of Chicken McNuggets)? Stalinist indoctrination techniques is what they were, re-educating kids away from their healthy veggies, brainwashing them into the Cult of the Golden Arches. I think those ads still run on Saturday mornings. My God, can't somebody stop these evil pricks?

[Resentful murmurs]

Resistance, though, is pretty damn impossible. My addiction is so strong it tells me to ignore my politics whenever I go to a Carl's Jr. or In-N-Out, even though I know the hideous right-wing zealots who run those chains will take my money and give it to one of their pet causes that I'm against. But still, fast food is cheap. Fast food is convenient. Fast food is everywhere. Fast food is (usually) fast. Goddamn it, fast food tastes good!

[Stunned silence, as if those in attendance are staring perfect, radiant truth right in the puss]

So what if you gotta run to the can a half-hour after downing your last French fry! Fuck health! Fuck healing! Fuck exercise! Fuck high-fiber diets! Fuck fruits and vegetables! Fast food is . . . American.

[Clapping. Someone hums "My Country 'Tis of Thee"]

-Rich Kane

Sweatin' to the Holies

Rosita Latham says it's time to pray, so we step outside. "They don't like us praying in here" she says-in here being Long Beach's DeForest Park Community Center, though as community centers go, this one would have trouble handling the traffic Mayberry would throw its way. The Ping-Pong table folded in one corner, the rollaway chalkboard in another and the chairs stacked in a third make things snug.

Rosita is beaming. She says: "Eight years ago, I had a vision, and in it, I saw good spiritual people dying from physical problems. . . . The Bible says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. So I took up an exercise ministry."

So here we are. Four women, me, Rosita and her associate Nina Jewel-Wood. Here we are brought by Rosita's thrice-weekly gospel aerobics, the Vessels of Honor for God, brought by the irresistible lure of heavenly salvation and firmer buns.

Outside, we link hands in a small circle, and Rosita begins to pray. Being Catholic, it's a kind of prayer I'm not used to: passionate, rapid, syncopated, the words flying fast yet always with purpose. She prays that no one will be injured today ("Yes, oh, God!"), prays for the people we care about ("Yes, dear Jesus"), and-her voice building, her words accelerating my own breathing and heart rate-prays for our health.

When I arrived at DeForest Park that evening, the sole of my left foot was sore, my back hurt, and my stomach was upset. By the time Rosita ends praying, I notice my foot, back and stomach feel fine. I know, I know-but they do, so shut the hell up. Look, I'm not saying God looked down and said, "Hmmmm, got that Iraqi situation and the AIDS thing and famine and . . . oh, wait a minute, there's that guy with the sore foot. That's Job One!" I'm not saying that. I'm just saying.

The class starts, and we go through some warm-up exercises although the music is already bouncing off walls, linoleum and Ping-Pong tables, pounding into us as Rosita calls out instructions and Nina chimes in with: "Come on! Come on!"

From the first, I'm unable to move the way I'm supposed to. It brings back such bad memories of aerobics, which were essentially created for a woman's body. When I attempt to march in time, raise my arms and take a deep breath, as Nina does beautifully before us, I don't exactly look like a dweeb so much as Lord God King Dweeb, Righteous in All That Is Dweeb, Was Dweeb, or Was Ever in the Slightest Way Dweebish or Dweeb-like.

Rosita gives me a glance and grins as she begins to chant/yell, "I can/Do all things/Through Jesus Christ/Who strengthens me." And then she counts a four count before starting with "J-E-S-U-S" and finishes with the evening's ubiquitous triple lunges refrain: "Father! [lunge] Son! [lunge] Holy Ghost! [lunge]

The music is pounding off the walls, as are the voices of Rosita and Nina, who never stop talking or encouraging us. Fifty minutes into the hourlong class, I think I'm getting the hang of all this. I feel comfortable.

That is, until Rosita puts us through a series of steps that includes twirls, bends and reverse circles. Verily, I tell you, though it may be true that the day is coming when every knee will bend, some will look a lot better doing it than others. Flailing about, I'm soon joined by Rosita, who dances her way over to me and begins to instruct me. It doesn't help.

Then it's over, and we get to pray again, which is really cool.

And then it's over.

As Nina talks to us about nutrition, I put my hand to my chest to find pools of sweat.

Shirley Hill, a longtime pupil of Rosita and Nina, tells me that there's usually another 30 minutes of "floor work" that "really gets you" as exercises pound away at abs, hips and thighs, but there's not enough time for that today. Thank you, Jesus!

Shirley says she's been going to the classes for the eight years they have been offered, going through the initial steps when they were offered in a garage. "It's like a family," she says. "You feel safe here. You don't have to worry that there are people here looking at you. You don't feel like there's someone looking at you saying, 'Ah, you're too fat!' Rosita and Nina, they really care about you."

Just before I leave, I get hugs from Rosita and Nina, and walking to my car, I know exactly how Shirley feels. And my foot and knee still feel great.

I'm just saying.

-Steve Lowery

For more information on the Vessels of Honor for God, call Rosita Latham at (310) 638-7446.

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