The man in the seal suit

During my run this moring, I came across a dead seal rolled onto the beach by the waves. I touched it, to see if it was yet warm. But it was cool and slightly bloated. I recognized the opportunity to learn more about this animal, one I had never encountered this closely before.

I spread its front flippers and counted the fingers contained within the webbing. Five, just like mine, with what I believe are the same number of joints. Its rear flippers have toe nails. Not flat like ours, but tubular like a dog. Some just barely pressing through the skin, others nearly an inch in length.

The wave came in and rolled the seal higher than lower on the beach again. The seal was presented anew.

I bent the fingers at each joint, making a fist the size of my own. I was amazed at the similarities, the distance between knuckles nearly identical on the lower digits. Thin, strong bones suspended in a cape of black felt, cool to the touch in this inanimate form.

So very familiar. I half expected a small man to jump out from the suit.

The nose is so much like the snout of a dog, with stiff whiskers and familiar teeth. Large eyes left open when the life no longer occupied this creature, alone on the beach.

Best Feature Apple has to Offer

While my dedication to Apple hardware is all but dwindled, the quality of hardware undermined by lack of any upgrade path, there is a valuable feature of the firmware which enables a total system copy and restoration.

This is perhaps the most underutilised, little known feature of Apple computers. Interested? Follow these instructions:

1) Attach the USB drive and make certain it shows up.

2) Reboot the computer. The moment you hear the chime, press and hold the ALT key.

3) A simple graphical interface will appear with what should be 3 or more icons. 2 of which will be for your internal drive, 1 or more for the USB.

4) Using the cursor controls, choose the “RECOVERY” partition of your internal drive and hit ENTER or the button at the bottom.

5) Select your language.

6) Select “DISK UTILITY” (see screenshot.png)

7) Select the icon on the left which is your internal drive.

8) Select “RESTORE” from the upper-right of the 3-4 options. This drive should now be in the SOURCE entry.

9) Drag the icon for the USB drive to the DESTINATION entry.

In this step, you can backup to a partition on the backup USB drive and ONLY replace the partition. This is what I do. But that would be ONLY if the backup drive is substantially larger than the internal drive and you don’t want to waste the space.

Else, if the 2 drives are closely matched, then select the primary (not indented) and see what happens. It may reject it. In which case you simply use the indented instead. It will rename that partition anyway, to match the drive it is copied from.

10) Double-check that the SOURCE is your internal drive and that the DESTINATION is the external, USB drive. Else, you will wipe-out your entire computer. Not good.

11) Press RESTORE and accept the warning for total doom.

12) Between 35 minutes and an hour and a half later, your computer will have made a complete, bootable copy.

What’s more, the external USB drive will now have 2 partitions, one which is a bootable copy of your internal drive, and the other a RECOVERY partition. When next you conduct this backup, you will again boot from the internal RECOVERY partition, not that of the external USB drive, just to play it safe (and it is faster).

Partner in Time

Cities have never given me comfort. I find the visual arena less than compelling, a clear example of the human species’ inability to plan beyond a few years at a time. In the audible arena, it is overwhelming. The constant drone of traffic, sirens, and construction is enough to drive anyone to commit a heinous crime.

Yet, I realise, I am in the minority. Some ninety percent of the population of the planet lives within high density populations and not only survive, but apparently thrive.

We adapt reactively far better than we do proactively develop.

I am both enjoying my social interactions and at the same time lonely here in Cape Town, in a way that I am just now coming to understand. I enjoy direct human interaction, day to day, week to week. Yet, the conversations seldom last long enough to garner what I feel is a deepening relationship for any given topic. The pace of life in the city is one that forces us to carve a few minutes here and there into lumps which may or may not span an hour such that we press against the momentum of a machine of our own blind design in order to stand still long enough to simply … talk.

I miss corded telephones. I may have a mobile phone at my side, but the telephone was once a device which demanded a kind of concentration on conversations that found depth through time. In this African standard pay-as-you-go market, no one can afford that luxury. The mobile phone encourages multi-tasking, not good listening. SMS and WhatsApp are now the de facto means of communication, incomplete, written sentences with conveyed attempts at emotion have all but replaced the sound of a human voice.

I often return an SMS with a phone call, in order to conduct a proper conversation, only to receive an answerig service. I am successful in that I enjoy the recording of a human voice, but the thumbs which conveyed an SMS just moments earlier were apparently exhausted, unable to execute the required swipe and press of just one more virtual button.

I recall, as a child, staying up late into the night at the side of my childhood friend Chris Boernke. We were at her parents’ home in semi-rural South Dakota, not far from Rapid City. Our families, four and four, two sisters in their clan, two brothers in mine, would come together a few times a year for a long weekend.

After a day of hiking and home cooked dinner served between thick, wood beam walls whose sap, in places, yet ran, we talked. I could hear the murmur of my parents speaking upstairs from where I sat with Chris. My brother Jae and Chris’ sister Melissa were already asleep. Chris and I told ghost stories authored on the spot. We spoke of California sliding into the sea and of a future in which humans would live on another planet.

We sat side by side. I could feel the heat of her body, but as we were just kids, holding hands, even leaning against each other was not a consideration. We talked. For hours. In a darkness in which we could not discern other’s faces, we shared things we would never express if our eyes were visible to each other.

Sometimes it is the silent visual domain and opaque sound space that gives us the freedom to be present in a moment. Sometimes it is doing nothing that enables a future in which everything is possible.

I have too many times these past six months experienced days and weeks as though only hours had passed. Friends and associates claim this is age, that it happens to us all. I argue instead it is the age of expectation which drives time at the end of a whip, not a leash.

I know where one can return to that space and time, that domain in which time slows again.

Where asphalt and concrete are but reflections lost to a glow on the horizon and the rumble of traffic is replaced with the audible crumble of a gravity bound stream, falling over and over again, time too takes notice and relaxes its pace.

I may yet purchase a car while living here, if for no other reason than to visit a friend when the last train has retreated to the other end of the line. Or I will continue to call, at the expense of my mobile minutes, hoping for an answer.

But I prefer a night soon spent, side by side a nearly invisible partner, engaged in conversation in which time takes us to a multi-verse. California is an island retreat, ghosts are haunted by humans, and we return from an interstellar voyage with tales of far away places waiting to be explored.

There, in the silence of darkness unperturbed by the reminder of time, will the minutes become hours and hours days, and the city is but a relic of one’s fading memory.

A Night Beneath the Stars

Last night I sat alone, on the flattop remnant of an ancient volcanic intrusion, it’s hardened crust resisting erosion moreso than the surrounding terrain. This is where the telescopes reside, spaceships that travel millions of light years but never leave the launching pad.

I sat on a folded blanket, three layers on top, two on the bottom. The air was perfectly still, the sky dark overhead. I read the latest novel by sci-fi master Ben Bova while pressing the shutter on my camera, via remote, over 200 times. Each exposure was 20 seconds long, capturing the SALT observatory silhouetted against the centre of the galaxy.

Satisfied I had captured enough for a timelapse animation, I repacked my camera, book, water, nuts, and blanket and walked along the paved road to the observatory which houses the 20″ telescope on which I have been training. Pierre was conducting his observation run, and doing research into which objects we might photograph the following night.

The moon was rising when I departed, visiting the two astronomers in the 1.9m observatory. Danika, a Ph.D. student from Serbia training under her professor from Australia.

I had left my camera running, a long exposure at low ISO to capture star trails behind the SALT observatory.

Ever time I step into an observatory dome, I am overcome with a sense of childhood thrill, the kind that Jae and I likely shared when we built a fort in our shared bedroom, made of card tables and blankets and flash lights, or when as a child I first visited NASA JPL and saw the Galileo spacecraft under construction.

For me, the observatory has this kind of mind-expanding capacity, for it reaches to the night sky and receives photons from distant galaxies each with billions of stars, massive explosions closer to home, and of the stuff that gives foundation to the formation of planets which may be home to inquisitive creatures looking back at us.

The telescopes are tremendous achievements of engineering and design. There is an incredible sense of accomplishment when you one move, a 3-story, multi-ton creature of iron, steel, and glass as graceful as a dancer; as accurate as a laser.

Like astronauts, the astronomers reside in a small, cramped quarters monitoring the light received by the telescope just outside. Following each observation, one rises, slips through the door which isolates the telescope from their heat and light, to adjust the direction the instrument is pointing.

Returning to their seat, warm cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate, the music, conversation, and observation resume.

Night after night, week after week, across the planet, thousands of individuals dedicate their sleepless hours to gathering data which helps us better understand our world.

Return to the Karoo

Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa

Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa

Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Just outside of Sutherland, South Africa, a small town like so many others yet recovering from the effects of the apartheid era, lies the primary site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).

At 1800 meters elevation, this plateau hosts a wide variety of observatories, including Africa’s largest telescope, SALT (South Africa Large Telescope). The area surrounding the site is an extension of the Greater Karoo desert, in the high western Roggeveld Mountains.

Astronomers visit the SAAO Sutherland site from around the world. The U.S., Germany, France, Poland, Korea, Australia, Japan and many more are annually represented.

As with all professional astronomical sites, distance from large cities and light pollution is imperative. This lends itself to a place that can be challenging for those who feign relative isolation, and a safe haven for those who crave places where man-made inventions do not overwhelm the senses.

Kai Staats: Sutherland, South Africa Today, my first day on site, I packed a bottle of water, jacket, and camera and set out on foot to explore. The upper reaches of the site feed a wide water drainage. To one side of the shallow canyon there exists a broken sandstone canyon wall which caught my attention last year, when conducting interviews for “The Explorers“.

What I discovered brought me back to who I am, camera in hand, watching, listening, discovering. Lichen, moss, armoured locusts, and piles of bones. The rusted wire fence lines alone captured my attention for half an hour. The warm sun and brisk wind did battle for command of the weather while I oscillated between overheating and feeling chilled despite my thermal layer.

Kai Staats: Milky Way over Sutherland, SA  
Where the wind-blown, sun-baked desert
meets myriad firey stars,
A yet stagnant, earth-bound species
contemplates worlds it may one day explore.

Of Mars and the Moon

I dreamed I was part of a mission to Mars.

Long, flowing landscapes of golden orange, grey, and tiny slivers of silver and blue.

I wanted to walk for days, for months, turning over stones, peeking beneath every ledge, peering into the deep valleys. I was as intersted in the shadows as I was the sunlit scapes and dunes.

I was the crew photographer, but reprimanded for not taking quality photos.

Too soon, we had to leave.

We stopped at the Moon on the return to Earth. Cold, barren, drab in contrast to Mars.

We stayed only for an afternoon.

I brought my lenses, but left the camera behind.

The adventure of a lifetime, come and gone.

The Run

Morning fog mixes with city pollution, the heavy haze filters the sun through white and brown.

Eager surfers wade into shallow water, others stretch, meditate, and welcome the sun.

A woman who each morning wears only a one-piece suit, no matter the weather, has already finished her routine swim.

Car park attendees tote florescent yellow striped vests over three layers of winter garb, waiting simultaneously for the heat of the sun and for the first patrons to arrive. Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and Ford. For me, barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt, this is a warm day spring day in Colorado.

On the beach, my bare feet press into the soft sand where the high tide delivered seaweed and shells hours before. Poorly paid employees of an unseen entity will labour in dress shoes and slacks to remove the undesirable debris.

I bend forward, barely able to reach my ankles, let alone toes. I welcome the pain that cascades through muscle in my back, shoulders, and lower legs. Heavy eyelids yet sleeping are flushed of excess blood, made lighter and more awake.

I commit to a half dozen simple moves borrowed from yoga, wondering if those who never stretch feel more or less ready for the run. As though my arms grew longer, or my legs less, I reach my toes, even press fingers into the sand.

In response to an invisible gun, I turn East and run.

Quick, light strides. The cool breeze at my back, my chest is a sail.

The front of my feet displace the quartz crystals, heels seldom leaving a mark. Head up, shoulders back, chest out. I look forward and around, the view compelling.

To my right the waves tumble over one another, competing to reach the shore. A half dozen attempts and then one spills over the others and well past where they had arrived before.

Feet, ankles, and lower legs now wet with salt tell me if the current comes from East or West, the temperature this day relatively warm.

I reach the first estuary outlet. Surface ripples the colour of tea reflect its depth. Soft waves of sand mirror those on the surface, the water only knee deep this time. I recall stream crossings in Colorado, Alaska, and Washington State, face upstream, and shuffle side to side to keep my balance.

Picking my way through the sharp shells deposited for a dozen meters on the other side, I again drop into my runner’s pace. Hard packed sand gives rebound to my mass for as much as it softens my stride.

The path before me is the one I have taken many times, and yet it is rebuilt twice with each orbit of the Moon around the Earth. I feel selfish, the labour of unseen hands prepare for me a totally new route for every run.

Perhaps someone will notice I have not renewed my membership to this facility, yet this morning I am unchallenged by those who claim payment due. Another kind of runner yet lies dormant in narcotic slumber.

Nearly four kilometres finds me at the second estuary outlet, a deeper, wider channel I have not yet attempted to cross. Its odour is strong, deep red from the natural oils of the local fauna or pollution I do not know.

I pause to enjoy the way in which the dunes have been reshaped over and over again. What was a meter high wall of sand just at the ocean’s edge is now a hundred meters wide, sickle shaped inlet whose serpentine channel moves brackish water in both directions.

Turning, I scan the dunes for potential confrontation, lean forward and begin the return. Conscious of my form, I open and close my hands, roll my shoulders, and make arcs with my arms. When my feet grow weary, heels again contacting sand, I emphasize the arc of my legs, draw knees higher, and increase my gate.

After the water crossing I am but several hundred meters from the bath house. More surfers have arrived. Instructors in pink and blue shirts over wet suits lead students to beach-side instruction. Lying on their belly they practice strokes.

I learn forward to pick up my pace, nearly double what was. Two hundred meters later I shift to my highest gear, pumping arms at my sides with knife blade hands slicing air. Bare feet force water to spray which soaks my shorts and lower shirt. Tender skin warms on the bottom of my feet. My lungs are pleased to meet the challenge and inhale larger, rhythmic volumes of moist atmosphere. My concerns for the day vanish as I am momentarily given the freedom of flight.

As the water moves from left to right, forward and back, the apparent speed at which I fly doubles then stalls and resumes.

Homeless men and women who have just finished bathing stop to look as I drop back to a jog just shy of their morning, temprary abode. I consider the luxury I have in my health and time to afford such a thing, knowing a warm shower awaits me behind locked door, key, and dry room.

When the Coyote Calls, The Gathering

“I don’t believe this is a good idea Lion,” stated Bear.

“It is the only way,” she responded.

“He may not understand. He may not understand the reason, our intent.”

“Then you must help him to understand, when it is done.”

“How?” asked Bear?

“Talk to him. He trusts you. You know him.”

“But he will feel betrayed.”

“Yes. At first. But he will come to understand,” said Lion.

“I don’t know,” shaking his wide head, “I just don’t know.”

Coyote shuffled his paws, pulling at the back of the right front to remove something from the fur with his teeth. He did not look up, apparently uninterested in the conversation.

Bear said, “Coyote?”

Coyote paused, hesitated, and then looked up, “No amigos, es not for me to say. I will bring him to you. Si, es what I will do. No mas.”

Bear shook his head again, frustrated with Coyote’s response.

None of the three said anything for some time. A small but heavy cloud momentarily blocked the sun and the temperature fell. A breeze shook the cottonwood leaves, a coordinated ensemble sustained for just a few moments. The smell of looming rainfall touched each of them.

Bear was the first to speak again, “Ok. It is the only way. And when it is done, I will be there.” He stopped, looked to Coyote and Lion, to the cloud overhead which would soon give way to the heat of the sun, and concluded, “I just wish there was another way.”

Coyote was alert again, looking up from the back of his paw, “Muy bien amigos. I go now?”

Lion responded, “Always eager for the chase, aren’t you?”

Coyote did not respond, but stood, stretched, and without a word, trotted down the trail, in the direction of the meadow and cabin.

“Now, we wait,” said Bear.

The Dire State of GNOME

Tonight, I concluded the installation and configuration of Ubuntu 14.04, my first major upgrade since 10.04 in February 2011. I remain reluctant for major upgrades due to exactly what unfolded, a quagmire of manipulation of what was once a series of simple routines conducted entirely by user-friendly graphical interfaces or through automated services.

The default Unity desktop, while functional, is not in my experience designed for a workstation. If I wanted the look and feel of a tablet, I would not be using a laptop. In the following I share the procedures required, with the fair warning that even now, much of the basic functionality of 10.04 is yet missing or non-functional.

  1. Replace the Unity theme with a classic theme.

    Using the Ubuntu Software Center, install “GNOME Flashback” Window Manager. As of the time of this writing, there are 2 names for the same package presented in the Software Center. Either will work.

  2. Configure the Desktop panels to your liking (ALT-right-click for options).
  3. Modify the Applications menu (using the built-in Main Menu editor).

    If you move menu item from one sub-menu to another, unfortunately you cannot simply drag-n-drop. You must create a new button in the desired location. To do this, you must copy and paste the name and command line argument which launches that application. If you desire for the icon to match, navigate to /user/share/icons/Humanity/apps/48/ and locate the icon associated with that app (the one which matches the original).

  4. Fix the Places menu to open a file browser instead of Baobab Disk Analyzer.

    Seems to be the fault of the Flashback theme as it opens properly prior to installing this theme. Follow the directions provided at

    [as sudo or root] xdg-mime default nautilus.desktop inode/directory [ENTER]

  5. Customize the Places menu.

    Follow the directions provided at

    As your user, edit /home/[user]/.config/user-dirs.dirs but keeping the file format exactly as is presented. You may add or remove links to your preferred directories. However, I have had limited success in that I am unable to get a direct path to function. Therefore, I created a sym link (ln -s /[path]/ [link_name]) in my /home/[user]/ directory and then use this as the mount point for this configuration file. It seems very hit / miss. Certainly not robust nor straight-forward as it used to be in previous versions of Gnome.

  6. Add widgets and applications to the panel.

    Again, this is not nearly as simple as it once was in previous, far more user-friendly versions of Gnome. No longer can you simply right-click, but must add the ALT key. Widgets are simple to add, and applications which already reside in the Applications menu will add with relative ease. This is the only part of this entire experience that remains functional without invocation of the command line.

  7. Invoke auto-start for all applications which you desire to have running when you first log-in.

    Follow the directions provided at The problem is that this does NOT take into consideration those applications which were running when you logged out. Again, this used to work perfectly in prior versions of Gnome, but for some reason this ideal functionality was removed. This article explains how to reinstate this functionality, but it assumes you have a full GNOME installation in order to have both gnome-session and the gconf-editor installed.

  8. Every time I restart, my desktop shrinks to a quarter of its full 1080×1920 size, moving all desktop items outside of that reduced space. I must re-select the background image to resize the desktop and then manually replace the desktop items. I have not found a solution to this.
  9. Every time I restart, I must manually place each application on its preferred desktop. I am hoping the installation of the full GNOME suite will resolve this (as mentioned above).

As the former CEO and developer of Yellow Dog Linux, I am disappointed. Ten years ago we delivered an operating system which was far more user friendly, more intelligently designed, with a far greater offering of time saving functionality and options for personal customisation. When I first switched to Ubuntu in early 2011, my last YDL PowerPC on its final legs, I was pleased by the dynamic design of the user interface, from install to log-out. Ubuntu 10.04 was a well crafted system with only a few, minor flaws.

My concern with Unity is less with the aesthetics of the interface, rather with the over-simplification of what appears to be an attempt to match the experience of a hybrid of Apple’s OSX and iOS. This is a total disregard for the ways in which a laptop or workstation is not a tablet. I choose Linux because it (use to) offer the ability to customize the means by which I use my computer.

Simple functionality that placed Ubuntu above OSX is simply missing. For instance, there is no reason that any user of any age, experience, or computer background would NOT desire to have an application relaunch on the same desktop, the same location as when it was last used. Removing the ability to modify menus is beyond frustrating, sending us back nearly a decade in desktop functionality. I have not spent this much time at the command line since the very early days of Yellow Dog Linux when the graphical installer was a revolution in Linux OS deployment and playing movies was worthy of a press release.

It saddens me to see that Ubuntu is following Apple’s lead in assuming the general userbase is growing less capable instead of moreso. When you spend 10, 12, 14 hrs a day engrossed in your computer, to have it custom tailored to your needs enables it to become an extension of you. Comfortable, quick to respond are the signatures of a positive OS experience. Replacing the desktop image does not constitute customizability, especially when that image must be reset with each and ever log-in.

QA anyone?!

The Haves and the Have-Nots

Today was my second day back in South Africa. I woke at 5:30 am and by 6:30 was on my way to the Office of Home Affairs. Two and a half hours later, the line only one hour long, I learned my visa remains unprocessed after some three months. I now have the email address of a clerk who promises to do her best to resolve this less than ideal situation.

I came back to Muizenberg, caught up on email, two hours sleep, and then a run on the beach before returning to Cape Town for dinner with classmate and master cook Nav, Bruce and his wife Linda, and the TEDx AIMS cast and crew.

It felt good to again be barefoot on the beach, splashing in the now frigid water. My usual round-trip of seven and half kilometers was the ideal distance to wake me up and wear me down.

On the run from the beach front to the second fresh water inlet, four guys, higher up on the sand called to me, “Sir. Sir.” I assumed they wanted to sell something and ignored them the first half dozen times. “Sir!” one yelled louder. I turned and he asked for the time. I pulled up my sleeves to reveal that I was not wearing a watch, shrugged, and said I didn’t know. Annoyed, I continued my run.

At the second river mouth, where fresh water meets the salty sea, I stopped to stretch and admire the many ways in which the water and wind had redesigned the sand since my last run more than one month prior.

An abrupt, one and a half meter cliff now stood where before there was only a gently rolling dune with sparse vegetation. The face had crumbled and remained unstable. I admired the work of water, gravity, and time.

Across the deep, heavy flow of the river were over one hundred sea gulls. One dropped something from its beak. Upon hitting the sand, two other gulls pecked at whatever it was that was dropped, but also found it of no interest.

I was pleased to be running again with legs that were without complaint and lungs that felt no pain after a month of limited physical exercise. I turned into the wind and started back, my feet dipping in and out of the water as the waves spilled across the sand in varied depths.

Just ten minutes into my return run, I noted on the horizon a runner coming toward me. I had just caught the reflection of a broken bottle, which is rare on this beach, and discarded it higher on the dune. When I came back down to the shore, I recognised the familiar outline of Adriaan, a tutor at AIMS, climber, and soft-spoken friend.

We had exchanged a text message earlier in the day, my announcing my return. I was pleased to find him on the beach, also barefoot and running.

We talked for a brief moment, turned to run together back to the second river, and then again ‘about for the home stretch. A few minutes in, the same four guys came toward us, again calling out, “Hey! Wait a minute!” I thought, What do they want this time?

It happened quickly, without time to consider what was unfolding. At first, all four were to our right, just a few meters up the beach. Then they broke into sets of two, and quickly approached me and Adriaan, arms out-stretched, grabbing.

We were being jumped.

They reached for Adriaan first, trying to hold him. One approached me and my heart raced. Everything I had visualized I would do in a situation like this, given that most everyone I know in this country has been mugged once or twice, fell away as adrenaline took flight.

None of my training in martial arts some twenty five years earlier mattered, no quick index finger to the throat, no sand in the eyes, no destabilising nor using their weight to my advantage. Nothing but an open brawl unfolded, one on me and two on Adriaan. The taller of the four remained at a distance, holding something in his hands.

I recalled an image of my life long friend and mentor Ron Spomer when he and I were cycling around the foothills of Moscow, Idaho. To the front of a small farm house a large dog barrelled from the porch, across the yard, through the gate and to our bikes. Ron immediately braked, jumped off his bike, his shorts, grey hiking socks, running shoes and pocket knife as his side fixed in my memory. He yelled and waved his arms charging directly at the snarling, barking animal. It turned, made itself small, and ran back into the yard. I was in disbelief at what I had just seen, my own heart yet pounding. Ron laughed as he climbed back onto his bike, saying “Kaister, you just gotta show ‘em you’re not afraid.”

I screaming what came to my mouth, making a stand and at the same time boosting my own confidence as Ron had done.

“What the fuck?! You want to fight?!” Of course, I had no idea what I was doing, no plan at all. It was the adrenaline yelling, my body along for the ride. The one closest, directly in front of me stopped circling for just a moment. He hesitated and turned and that was all I needed to see that I could invoke fear in him too.

“Come on! LET’S DO THIS! C-O-M-E O-N!” I screamed louder.

I hit him square in the face and he was caught off-guard, taking a few steps back. I turned, looking for Adriaan who was holding off his attacker knee deep in the cold water. I took a half dozen steps through the water toward him and turned my attention to his attacker. He faced me and I swung a few times, connecting with his arms. I swung again and again, over and over in order to not give him ample time to get into my space.

It’s funny what happens at times like this. The brain freezes frames in this live-action animation, analyzes them, and spits out strange ideas. I remember thinking his arms were really skinny, and his eyes really wide. I recall my fear of being hit, knowing full well that contrary to the movies one hit to the nose and I would not be able to see; to the temple and I could black out in the water. I knew to avoid grappling at all costs, for that is where knives took form and only experienced wrestlers would win.

Out of the corner of my eye the taller of the four held something in his hands, over his head, ready to throw. I never saw what he held nor did he throw it. A stone? A log? Later, Adriaan said one had a knife, but I am not certain who.

Adriaan moved out of the water, and out of my sight. I continued to engaged in a dance with same attacker to my front. He attempted to hit me, but never connected. I hit his face once or twice and he complained, surprised. The distance was too great to cause any harm. My intent was just to get the hell out of this mess.

Then I turned and saw Adriaan up on the beach, on his knees with hands in the air. The taller of three stood watch while the remaining two moved into check for valuables on his person. That’s all they wanted, money or a watch or cell phone.

I yelled to them, keeping an eye on the attacker who was to my rear as he worked his way up on the beach to join the others, “You fucking idiots! We don’t have anything! All of this for what?! –NOTHING!”

I felt horrible for I had failed to remain close to Adriaan. When I ran toward them, yelling again, they stood to face me. Adriaan wrestled free and got away, looking over his shoulder to see if they would pursue.

He arrived to my location and the four of them moved up and over the dunes as we turned to run back toward Muizenberg. I asked Adriaan if he was ok. He confirmed, as did I. We were lucky these guys were total amateurs, and we knew it.

This story is not about fighting. I am not bragging by any means, for anything I learned about self defense was forgotten a long time ago. Even then, in the late ’80s, I was not able to do anything more than duck, dodge, and throw a few punches if I had to.

I abhor violence. The older I grow, the less I am able to tolerate violence in the media, film, even conversation. I walk away from discussion about wielding guns to resolve a confrontation (a common topic in the U.S.). I don’t want violence in my body nor in my mind for it lingers like a nightmare that was all too real.

I know that what unfolded today was but a simple, unsuccessful mugging. The violence I have experienced in my life is nothing compared to that of children who grow up with abusive parents, of that which my adopted children Lindah and Bernard witnessed in and around their orphanage in the slums of Nakuru, Kenya; or those who live in Guatemala, Syria, or the Congo.

I call one of the safest countries in the world home. I spent my formative years in the Mid West without concern for sleeping at night, without concern for walking to school alone, nor even the need to lock doors. But given how I feel inside, how much it has affected me this day and for many to come, I cannot help but wonder if the American culture does not celebrate violence for the very lack of it in our personal lives, a kind of tease to a dance that no one really wants to learn.

How many of us have faced someone at arms length, their face contorted, their fists intent to harm? It is not the same as a video game, I assure you. It is not like watching a movie. The last time I experienced this was in Chicago. I was 18 years old and a “24/7″ with the Guardian Angels citizen crime fighting organisation. We were posted in a transitional neighbourhood, working to drive the drug dealers and gangs out. A dozen men poured out of a local bar with weight lifter’s belts and wooden broom sticks, intent upon severely injuring each and every one of us.

To this day I yet remember the smell of my own fear, the sound of their voices as they threatened our lives, the crunching of gravel beneath my feet as I ran down the alley leaving my patrol members behind. We scattered. Sergei, the smallest of our patrol, fought until they beat him down and sent him to the hospital. To this day I regret leaving him behind.

Adriaan and I found three police officers where they always park, beneath the end of the boardwalk. Two were relatively uninterested, the third asked that we file a report. Apparently, there had been similar muggings for the past week on that stretch of beach. If they catch the muggers, they need a history to prosecute against. I will file mine in the morning.

Adriaan crossed under the boardwalk to return to his home. I sprinted the final few hundred meters, ankle deep in the water, fresh spray soaking what remained dry of my shirt and jacket. It was all I could do to not break down during the run back. My body was filled with adrenaline and pain. Not the pain of a bruised temple or cheek, but the pain of recognising that inside of me is a fury which can be activated too easily.

This will likely happen to me again, maybe a few times over the next two years as muggings are common in Cape Town as they once were in New York City, anywhere the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is glaring, a kind of demand for improved resource allocation.

Yet, this does not define Muizenberg nor does it change my enthusiasm for living here. Most everyone here has a similar story, under various circumstances.

Even now, I desire to find these guys, to capture their story on film. I want to know their names, how much money they make a week selling stolen items, and how they justify their actions. If I or Adriaan had been injured I may feel different, but at this moment their story needs to be heard for the situation to change, for everyone.