Rob Schultheis is the author of six books, including "The Hidden West" and "Fool's Gold," the latter about the changing face of his home town, Telluride, Colorado.
Since 1984, Rob has covered the wars in Afghanistan for Time magazine and other periodicals, also freelancing as cameraman for the networks. Over the years, he has written for "The Washington Post," "National Geographic Magazine," and "Outside" magazine. Rob is also an accomplished painter. A show of his newest images will be on display in the Daniel Tucker Gallery at Telluride's Ah Haa School for the Arts July 7 – July 15. Telluride Inside… and Out is delighted to welcome Rob, a close friend and professional colleague, to our pages.
THE LOST PRINCE OF TIBET
I was still very young eight years old to be exact
when I began to discover that I wasn’t anything at all
like anyone else in the world so different and radically
strange in fact that over time I concluded any chance of a
“normal” “successful” life was doomed, damned
and screwed from the get-go, and that was that.
My first lightning flash of unbelonging came when
we were living in Hong Kong, my mother, brother and I,
holed up in the Peninsula Hotel with a Chinese-Portuguese
body guard while my father under an assumed name and
posing as some kind of globe-trotting tycoon was traveling
to Jordan, Yemen, Afghanistan and who knows where
pulling off covert ops like ordering new false teeth
for the Sultan of Yemen and subverting Comintern couriers,
business as usual for an Agency spook; suddenly with no
warning I announced that I was the lost heir apparent to a line
of princes who ruled an obscure principality in far eastern Tibet,
and some day somehow I would return there to claim my throne.
(These princes were evidently the reincarnating kind, like the
“Living Buddhas” the Tibetans call tulkus. or rinpoches.)
I’d been killed by my best friend shot in the back as we rode
our horses together across the high grasslands and my wife never knew
what happened to me only that I had disappeared. There’s a specially
cruel kind of loss that comes when someone you love simply vanishes without
a clue: “A silent death is an endless word” as Kawabata wrote but
it’s really a single word that’s left unsaid: forever: “Goodby…”
a silence that aches, and never heals….
Since up till then I’d exhibited no nil nada nothing in the way
of knowledge of or interest in the Land of Eternal Snows my
revelation scared my mother half to death while my eleven
year old brother with the i.q. of 230 loftily declared that
he’d known for some time I was mad since I believed that a.
Donald Duck was a “real person” and “ b. that blue was an actual
“color," while everyone with half a brain knew that what looked
“blue” actually wasn’t , it didn’t “possess” blueness, instead it absorbed
all the other colors of the spectrum reflecting only “ blueness” back to us
and when my mother tried to refute him he laughed at her flimsy
arguments derisively and was sent off to bed without his supper;
I made the mistake of jeering at his downfall which reminded her
that I was the cause of the trouble in the first place with my spooky “Lost Prince
of Tibet” jive and I too was packed off foodless, to brood.
What did she expect from us, when my father gave cocktail parties at our
villa high on Victoria Peak, where the guests drank martinis extra dry and
watched real live naval battles in the coastal waters of the South China Sea,
sailing junks and motorized sampans blasting each other with fiery broadsides,
the Communist Chinese navy trying to run agents and weapons
into the Royal Crown Colony of Hong Kong under cover of gathering
darkness, battling one of the Fukienese Triads hired by my father through
a cut-out in Macao to sink all of the interlopers they could?
And I was supposed to be the crazy one?
But worse was yet to come…
Flash forward three years and change: we’d just returned “Stateside”
from “Overseas” after eight years of nonstop bouncing around the
Pacific Rim while my father tried in vain to repair America’s
disintegrating Empire with every trick in the encyclopedia of imperialism
(“We need a bigger hammer, goddamit to hell!”, discovering too late of course
that they’d been trying to nail together a wall made of mud & water); and now
we’d crash-landed in Washington’s Virginia cracker suburbs
in a crappy townhouse stuck in the craw of an eviscerated landscape
of flayed red clay and patches of funereal second growth where shopping
centers and tract houses sprouted everywhere like mold on a corpse.
My life was a total blur and my friends were ghosts without names
one of whom (moonfaced and strangling on his own stutter
with thick glasses and nearly as unpopular as I)
invited me to his birthday party under extreme duress
and here were hot dogs, cake, sodas, and ice cream
and I stuffed myself till it hurt, my mindless response to stress
back then and while everyone but me screamed laughter smashed
toys exploded balloons rough housed and ricocheted off the walls
I slumped like a pathetic potbellied ho-tai In a chair in the corner
feeling absolutely alone in the universe—–
AND SUDDENLY felt my Self break loose from the
scene around me and fly away out the back of my skull
at the speed of light the roomful of strangelings
shrank to a tiny light a flyspeck in the enormous darkness and then
vanishing like it never was,
and if I was anything I was
the Lost Prince of Tibet again
an outcast forever, unknown and never to belong….