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Chapter 23
WE WHEEZED into Creel well after nightfall, the bus shuddering to a stop with a hiss from thebrakes like a sigh of relief. Outside the window, I spotted Caballo’s ghostly old straw hat bobbingtoward us through the dark.

I couldn’t believe how smoothly we’d crossed the Chihuahua desert. Ordinarily, the odds ofgetting across the border and catching four buses in a row without one of them breaking down orchugging in a half-day late were on a par with beating a Tijuana slot machine. On just about anytrip through Chihuahua, someone is sure to have to console you with the local motto: “Nothingworks out according to plan, but it always works out.” But this plan, so far, was turning out to befoolproof, booze-proof, and cartel-proof.

Of course, that was before Caballo met Barefoot Ted.


Before I could make my way off the bus in Creel, I could hear a voice outside booming away like asiege gun. “YOU’RE Caballo! THAT IS SO COOL! You can call me MONO! THE MONKEY!

That’s ME, the MONKEY. That’s my spirit animal—”

When I stepped through the door, I found Caballo staring in appalled disbelief at Barefoot Ted. Asthe rest of us had discovered during the long bus ride, Barefoot Ted talked the way Charlie Parkerplayed the sax: he’d pick up any and cut loose with a truly astonishing torrent ofimprovisation,seemingtobreathei(on) nthrough(cue) his nose while maintaining an endless flow of soundout of his mouth. In our first thirty seconds in Creel, Caballo got blasted with more conversationthan he’d heard in a year. I felt a twinge of sympathy, but only a twinge. We’d been listening toThe Mixed-Up Files of Barefoot Ted for the past fifteen hours. Now it was Caballo’s turn.

“… the Tarahumara have been VERY inspirational for me. The first time I read that theTarahumara could run a one-hundred-mile race in sandals, that realization was so shocking andSUBVERSIVE, so counterintuitive to what I had assumed was NECESSARY for a human beingto go that distance, I remember thinking What in the HELL? How in the HELL is this possible?

That was the first thing, the first CHINK IN THE WALL, that MAYYYBEE modern shoecompanies don’t have all the answers. …”

You didn’t even have to hear Barefoot Ted to appreciate his cocktail shaker of a mind; just seeinghim was enough. His outfit was a combination of Tibetan Warrior Monk and skateboard chic:

denim kickboxing pants with a drawstring waist, a skintight white tank top, Japanese bathhouseslippers, a brass skeleton amulet dangling to the middle of his chest, and a red bandanna knottedaround his neck. With his shaved head, cinder-block build, and dark eyes that danced aroundseeking attention as much as his voice, he looked like Uncle Fester in good fighting trim.

“Yeah. Okay, man,” Caballo muttered, easing past Ted to greet the rest of us. We grabbed ourbackpacks and followed Caballo across Creel’s one main street toward lodging he’d arranged onthe edge of town. We were all starving and exhausted after the long trip, shivering in the high-mesa cold and longing for nothing except a warm bed and a hot bowl of Mamá’s frijoles—all of usexcept Ted, that is, who believed the first order of business was continuing the life story he’dbegun telling Caballo the second they met.

Caballo’s teeth were on edge, but he decided not to interrupt. He had some terrible news, and hehadn’t figured out yet how to break it without all of us turning around and getting right back on thebus.

“My life is a controlled explosion,” Barefoot Ted likes to say. He lives in Burbank, in a smallcompound that resembles Tom Hanks’s kid-gone-wild apartment in Big. The grounds are full ofgumball-colored Spyder sports cars, carousel horses, Victorian high-wheel bicycles, vintage Jeeps,circus posters, a saltwater swimming pool, and a hot tub patrolled by an endangered Californiadesert tortoise. Instead of a garage, there are two giant circus tents. Wandering in and out of thesingle-story bungalow are an assortment of dogs and cats, plus a goose, a tame sparrow, thirty-sixhoming pigeons, and a handful of odd Asian chickens with claws covered in fur-like feathers.

“I forget that heavy Heidegger word, but it’s the one that means I’m an expression of this place,”

Ted says, although the place isn’t his at all. It belongs to his cousin Dan, a self-taught mechanicalgenius who single-handedly created the world’s leading carousel-restoration business. “Dita VonTeese strips on one of our horses,” Ted says. “Christina Aguilera brought one on tour with her.”

While Dan was going through a bad divorce a few years ago, Ted decided that what his cousinneeded most was more Ted, so he showed up at Dan’s door with his wife, daughter, and menagerieand never left. “Dan spends all day fighting with big, cold, mean, mechanical things and emergeswith grease dripping off his fingers like blood off the talons of a bird of prey,” Ted says. “That’swhy we’re indispensable. He’d be a sociopath if he didn’t have me around to argue with.”

Ted made himself useful by setting up a little online store for carousel trinkets, which he ran froma Mac in one of Dan’s spare bedrooms. It didn’t pay much, but it left Ted a lot of time to train forfifty-mile rides on his six-foot-tall Victorian bike and to cross-train by hauling his wife anddaughter around in a rickshaw. Caballo had gotten totally the wrong impression of Ted’s wealth,mostly because Ted’s e-mails tended to be full of schemes better suited to an early Microsoftinvestor. While the rest of us were pricing economy flights to El Paso, for instance, Ted wasasking about landing strips in the Mexican outback for a private bush plane. Not that Ted has aplane; he barely has a car. He sputters around in a ’66 VW Beetle in such coughing decline, hecan’t take it more than twenty-five miles from home. But that’s just fine by Ted; in fact, it’s allpart of the master plan. “That way, I never have to travel very far,” he explains. “I’m a pauper bychoice, and I find it extremely liberating.”

During his student days at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Ted had a major crush ona classmate, Jenny Shimizu. While hanging out at her apartment one evening, he met two ofJenny’s new friends: Chase Chen, a young artist from China, and Chase’s sister, Joan. Neither ofthe Chen siblings spoke much English, so Ted anointed himself their personal cultural ambassador.

The friendship worked out great for everyone: Ted had a captive audience for his symphonicstream-of-consciousness, the Chens were exposed to a flood of new vocabulary, and Jenny got alittle breathing room from Ted’s wooing. Within a few years, three of the foursome would beinternational names: Joan Chen became a Hollywood star and one of People magazine’s “50 MostBeautiful People.” Chase became a critically acclaimed portrait painter and the most highly paidAsian artist of his generation. Jenny Shimizu became a model and one of the planet’s best-knownlesbians (“a homo-household name,” as The Pink Paper declared) for her affairs with Madonna andAngelina Jolie (a career trajectory that, despite the tattoo on Jenny’s right biceps of a hot babestraddling a Snap-on tool, Ted never saw coming).

As for Ted, well…He did manage to crack the Top 30 in the world for breath-holding. “I got up to five minutes andfifteen seconds,” Ted says. “Spent the whole summer practicing in the pool.” But breath-holding,alas, is a fickle mistress, and it wasn’t long before Ted was knocked out of the rankings by othercompetitors even more dedicated to the art of inhaling less than the rest of us. You have to feel apang of sympathy for the poor guy, burbling away with dreams of glory at the bottom of hiscousin’s swimming pool, while just about everyone he knew was painting masterpieces, beddingsuperstars, and getting close-ups from Bernardo Bertolucci.

And the worst part? Ted holding his breath was actually Ted at his best. In a way, that’s even whatattracted Lisa, the woman who’d become his wife. They were roommates in the group house, butbecause Lisa was a bouncer at a heavy-metal bar and only got home at 3 a.m., her exposure to Tedwas limited to the dry-land version of the bottom of the pool: after work, she’d come home to findTed sitting quietly at the kitchen table, eating rice and beans with his nose buried in Frenchphilosophy. His stamina and intelligence were already legendary among his roommates; Ted couldpaint all morning, skateboard all afternoon, and memorize Japanese verbs all night. He’d fix Lisa ahot plate of beans, and then, with his manic motor finally running down, he’d stop performing andlet her talk. Every once in a while, he’d chip in a sensitive insight, then encourage her to go on.

Few ever saw this Ted. That was their great loss—and his.

But Chase Chen got it. His artist’s eye also spotted the quiet intensity in the aftermaths ofHurricane Ted. Chase’s specialty, after all, was “the dramatic dance between sunlight andshadow,” and brother, was dramatic dancing ever Ted to a tee. What fascinated Chase wasn’taction, but anticipation; not the ballerina’s leap, but the instant before takeoff when her strength iscoiled and anything is possible. He could see the same thing during Ted’s quiet moments, the samesimmering power and unlimited possibility, and that’s when Chase reached for his sketch pad. Foryears, Chase would use Ted as a model; some of his finest works, in fact, are portraits of Ted, Lisa,and their incandescently lovely daughter, Ona. Chase was so entranced by the world as reflectedby Ted that he released an entire book with nothing but portraits of Ted and his family: Ted andOna cooped up in the old Beetle … Ona buried in a book … Lisa glancing over her shoulder atOna, the living product of her father’s sunlight and shadow.

By the time Ted was pushing forty, though, his four decades of dramatic dancing had gotten himno further than cameos in another man’s masterpiece and a spare room in his cousin’s bungalow.

But just when it seemed he’d crossed that bridge between great potential and squandered talent,something wonderful happened:

He got a backache.

In 2003, Ted decided to celebrate his fortieth birthday with his own endurance event, “TheAnachronistic Ironman.” It would be a full Ironman triathlon—2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-milebike ride, and 26.2-mile run—except, for reasons only clear to Ted, all the gear had to date fromthe 1890s. He was already two-thirds of the way there; he was strong enough to handle the swim infull-length woollies, and he’d become an ace on his high-wheel bike. But the run— the run wasmurdering him.

“Every time I for hour, I had excruciating lower-back pain,” Ted says. “It so discouraging.Icou(ran) ldn’tev(an) enimaginebeingabletorunamarathon.”Andtheworstwasyetto(was) come: if he couldn’t handle six miles in bouncy modern running shoes, then he was in for a worldof hurt when he went hard-core Victorian. Running shoes have only been around about as long asthe space shuttle; before that, your dad wore flat rubber gym shoes and your granddad was inleather ballet slippers. For millions of years, humans ran without arch support, pronation control,or gel-filled pods under their heels. How the hell they managed, Ted had no idea. But first thingsfirst; he was less than six months out from his birthday, so Priority No. 1 was finding some way,any way, to cover twenty-six miles on foot. Once he figured that out, he could worry later abouttransitioning into the cowhide widow-makers.

“If I make up my mind, I will find a way,” Ted says. “So I start............
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