Monday, February 10, 2014

Qi

Top to bottom cleaning today, bleach, disinfectants, mop and glow, trying the rid the place of my scent, my flow of energy--my Qi.The negative energy of a man on a visa wait, made weighty by the importance of my role as soul bread winner.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Exits

In the Arabian Gulf, life is tolerated and endured as western ex-pats yet some discover that life under theocratic dynasties is not so bad. Just remember that what you say must be said with great discernment and discretion.I imagine to same holds true for China.


When are you escaping this God forsaken place? You hear this question a lot in Saudi Arabia but less so in the Emirates. If people enjoy sticking around during 10 day breaks and don't flee to Bangkok first chance they get, then it's probably a cool place to live.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Accordingly

I cannot say that my life has or has not gone according to plan. That would draw a conclusion that I make them, plans, and I don't. I pencil things in, which is not the same. By doing this, I do not have to breathe into my  life taking action. I don't have to make shit happen. I can't say that when one door closes, another is unlocked. I don't see the ebb and flow of opportunity as walking in and out of doors. I don't live in a world with doors. Departure gates, yes. Doors, no.
 

In the making of decisions and choosing, I wonder, are you and I the same? For you is life an endless series of problems to be solved? If so, on the other hand, maybe we are not alike. Problems arise and they more often than not require making choices and tough decisions. I am a decide-a-phobe. Instead of making decisions and choosing, I remain a spectator. Possibilities will eliminate themseves. Why give them any thought? Nothing for me is contingent.

See, something will eventually happen.It always does. But when it does, at least I can't say it is the worst thing I could have imagined happening! Understand now? I hadn't planned on anything happening. 


Aloft

It is once again time for my boot heels to be wandering.  I sit on the sofa in a house where I will soon leave behind a wife and 7 cats.  My level of commitment to them all is for me, once again, the grand prize question.

I am a professional ex-pat English teacher who has been between jobs, again.  These past four months have not been the first time I have shifted my life from being over there with many rooms of Ikea furniture, carpets on the floor and art on the walls, moving to here, not so much my home anymore as my country of origin, the U.S.

This routine is the way things have been for years, and it looks as though the routine will go on and on.I don't mind leaving a house full of furniture behind. I do hate the part where I turn friends into people I was used to be close to, people I used to hang out with, got drunk with or sometimes tried to stay sober with.
What can I tell you?
I'm packing. I’ll soon be aloft again. Yes, I won't argue that IT is all about the journey, not the destination. Travel well we are told as it is better than the arrival.Long hauls are always out of body experiences. A long haul reduces my periphery to seismic shifts in time zones, day times and night times, surrounds me with unfamiliar faces and unknowable languages.
All this departing and arriving, and the layovers are made less nerve-racking when I can slip into a VIP lounge . My attitude of gratitude for today is maintained by my Delta Gold Club membership in combination with my 15 hour long haul Delta flight from Seattle to Shanghai. I am entitled to complimentary beverages, all the baby carrots and pretzels I can shovel into my mouth. 

I pray the traveler's prayer. I hope that the lines at security screenings are short and quick and that my hotel in China remembers to send a driver. The hotel driver has for years now been the closest thing I've had to being greeted by a friend or family member's smile. I don't mind it at all these days. Long ago? Yes. Later on? Less so. Now? Shameless resignation.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Well Whadda Ya Know

video
Bang! The world goes spins around you in a 360 degree turn and the spinning stops when the car hits a concrete barrier; air bags punch you from all sides. And during those two or three seconds, you rise above it all, like, um, you're looking down from above your body and thinking, "I've wondered all my life how it would end. So, this is it. Ain't that something. Nothing special about today at all except I died" this is what runs through your mind. Fearless.

Monday, April 02, 2012

"Worst Thing You Can Do"

This is a visual to go with my last rant. 

The bravado exterior of a killer. The conscience wrestling with its self. I am not part of the lynch mob. Maybe I'm too self centered. However, I'm pestered not by outrage (there is a justice system in place, and I believe the wheels are turning as I write this), but until the system takes action (and it will) I am hectored by my curiosity. Is the shooter conflicted? or is he a socio-path? Does he feel any remorse? I have toyed with the questions on Facebook, but when I do I am pounced upon like Jean Jaurès if I suggest cooler thinking must prevail over vigilantism; I am pounced upon by my left of center to reactionary bone headed far left "friends" who should know better because we are liberals and we see both sides of an issue.

So I tried to make an obtuse (or abstruse) point by using Camtasia to capture this from the film "The Thin Red Line". I didn't receive a comment. I didn't explain much either. Just ran it up the flag pole. Nobody saluted it.

video

Friday, March 30, 2012

Newsworthlessness

I'll make this brief, as brief as a U.S. network news report on something newsworthy like free elections in Burma or the continued mass -cides taking place around the world (fratricide, sororicide, mariticide, country men-o-cide).

My Friday ritual is to sleep in until 6:45, make sure the cats have been slopped, hang out on Facebook for an hour or so then couch dive to watch U.S. network news.

News. Noun. According to Webster's dictionary I can't say because my Internet connection is slow this morning, and I have to pee, so I can't wait--but I can hold it long enough to rant.

Lead story? Not Aung San Suu Ki's freedom to leave her house and openly campaign which is newsworthy I feel because she is not only a Nobel Peace Prized laurette who has been under house arrest for fifteen years, but because changes in Burma may affect not only Southeast Asia but some countries nearby that we might give a shit about. 

No mention about the upcoming UN rights council vote that may reignite the Sri Lankan civil war--which nobody but Sri Lankans give a shit about but was long and bloody and apparently it ain't over yet. 

Not even the vigilante mobs whose memes call for lynching vigilante George Zimmerman came up.

Lead story: The California lottery

Followed by a story on autism in America. Autism is a serious issue, no argument there. But is another report on socially withdrawn, non-verbal (what we used to call retarded) children newsworthy? No, not in my opinion, not even when the report ends but the story continues in the newsroom when the anchor welcomes a delicious thirty something female doctor to voice her views; not even if wardrobe did slip her into a tight blouse with a plunging neckline did I find the story thought provoking. 

"Thank you doctor for your comments and by the way, nice rack."

Followed by a rising gas price story as America closes in on five bucks a gallon, which in Europe would be considered a reason for frenzied, hysterical long lines at the gas pumps before prices return to 7 or 8 bucks a gallon.

Bullying report. A short film called "Bully". I know I saw this report last week almost word for word except last week there was a Meryl Streep cameo. This week we heard from children who watched the film with a news reporter and when asked, "Is bullying a problem?" answered "Yes. Yes it is."

Next up, after a commercial about a stomach ulcer medication that was more warnings why you should NOT take the medication than reasons you SHOULD take the medication, a short clip of George Zimmerman, arrested, handcuffed and not a scratch on him shown just in case the meme is resurrected on Facebook . In the report, a neighbor of Zimmerman, a hot black woman whose wardrobe choice included a pair of what we used to call "hot pants"--and before I could take my eyes of her sweet long legs, the segment on whatever she had to say was over.

Between the delicious doctor and whatever she had to say about retarded kids, which I wasn't listening to because there was a whisper of cleavage (very distracting) and Zimmerman's leggy neighbor in short shorts, I began to think, U.S. network news, for all of its faults, knows how to pick and choose eye candy.

And a nice clip of Earl Scruggs describing his thumb and three fingered banjo plucking technique. Scruggs? He passed away and I am saddened by this but I wish I could live long enough to hear that the word "iconic" has gone the way of "broads, "groovy" and "awesome" (OK, awesome hasn't been retired but we're maybe a generation away from its death knell).

Finally tonight, our person of the week--(Jesus no, please please please don't let them say it) "Someone making a difference".

And who's making a difference? A physically impaired combat veteran who now works with (wait for it). . .autistic children. 

Not a word about the debate on US health care and its future now being debated and discussed among Supreme Court justices. I only heard about that on the Daily Show. 

Syria? where a U.N human rights group released a report about how Bassar Al Assad's forces are targeting and torturing children--some of whom may be autistic and odds are some of them are. Drop the dead donkey.

Following the ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news, came the Jim Lehrer News Hour which GOP candidates have long gone on the stump to cut funding for because it and other PBS shows are left leaning and partisan when reporting on both sides of an issue with a paneled discussion of professors and world leaders, and is a news show which does not have plunging neck lines nor a black women whose  legs are longer than a line at the DMV strategically placed to rivet you to your seat for 30 minutes.

I have to pee.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

???

I don't know how the universe began. There is a plausible theory about subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light suddenly colliding and that the collision led to the formation of elemental gasses like hydrogen and helium which rapidly expanded to become the source of all things.

I don't know how life began. Something about a primordial soup and the evolution of single celled organisms.

I  have no clue why there are rewarding and retaliatory forces in a disinterested, supernatural world which lies beyond our senses, nor do I know why these forces so often remunerates us with miracles or reprimands us with great catastrophe when we so often don’t deserve either. 

I can't answer who or what or why or how all things were set into motion.

Why is it so many people since there have been people bundle all these unknown things together and write it all off with a single word--God--then merrily go on their way, fearing it, loving it, praying to it. I am happy for these people because they believe they do know and their happiness is heart warming.  They have faith but can sometimes be irritating when they condescend to those who don't have faith by either heaping great sympathy upon us who lack their faith or they can be dangerous when they make a decision to blow themselves up, taking as many people with them as they possibly can simply because others lack their brand of faith.
 
And I can't for the life of me figure out why people would call  Elton John or Bon Jovi rock and roll.

I also am greatly stumped when people curse on social networking sites, deleting certain letters substituting those letters with signs and symbols like # or * or @ as in  f#ck or sh*t or b@tch when on the receiving end of the message, their audience reads and hears the words in their minds. Are they trying not to offend us? Is it similar as to why Hebrews will only go so far as spelling out the name of their God as YHWH? I find it more offensive that people won't openly express these words with all letters or why not forget about using the words altogether. They are obviously somewhat computer savvy, and they must know there is an online thesaurus.

I accept that I will never know the answers to so many questions I once believed would be slowly revealed to me overtime through aging and wisdom; from my first inhalation to my final exhalation there are things which will always remain a mystery to me.
 
Fucking bugs the shit out of me sometimes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Other New Year

There's this FB app. where you try to wrote 750 words a day. But it is nearly impossible to share what you write with others, so I've decided to put my exercises in my notes. It's a littl...e unsettling because what I have here is pure unadulterated, unrevised me, write, write, write, no fair looking back and revising. I guess I've turned the app into see how fast I can write 750 mediocre sentences.

My summer ends and a new school year begins. I quickly fall into the routine of five mornings a week, waking at 6, finishing breakfast and a quick Email, Facebook and New York Times glance, shave, take care of my teeth and sweeten my scent with some sort of spray given on some sort of present giving day. Dress, hurry downstairs to load up my pockets with a fatter wallet than used on vacation—I take with me when I travel maybe one or two bank cards, a form of ID, some cash. My fat at home wallet has these things and more. I carry enough ID to get me checked into an emergency room, an insurance card, driver’s license, car registration. . .so much more than necessary, business cards I’ve yet to throw away, receipts from ATM withdraws that become irrelevant as the balance changes, phone numbers on slips of paper, most of them without names, and stuff.

We have had meetings all week which have been training sessions for new textbooks, and I am breathing a little easier, have a less queasy stomach knowing that despite all the hullabaloo about our new program, teaching English is teaching English and English books are English books so there was nothing much to be gained from attending these session other than being reminded that I can no longer slumber past six, take no morning power naps, and adding to my morning routine tying a neck tie five days a week.

I’m glad that I took the 9 day Eid break and went to Kathmandu. I spent most of my summer in the US with all of its conveniences like mega-hardware stores, super dooper big Wal-marts and the like. We have most of all these conveniences here except for a few--like everybody speaking the same language. But had I not gone to one of the poorest countries in the world where wood is a chief energy sources and the population does a lot of walking up hills while carrying heavy payloads atop their heads, by now I'd be pissing and moaning about having to work in "this" part of the world.

It rained hard during the trek. I picked up a few leeches. I came back to Sharjah appreciating everything they have here, taking little for granted. These feelings of appreciation will not last, but by the time I start to focus on what isn’t available, I’ll have another opportunity to leave, and leave for a place where people transport themselves on foot and eat the same foods three times a day.

I don’t know if I could ever live in then US again, or any western or even eastern country that has so many consumer conveniences and goods readily available. That rules out the US as well as Korea, the UK as well as Japan. And to an extent China and Germany. There’s a part of me that needs to be reminded of what I have or have available to me and not just materials things like a guitar part I can buy in a shop and not special order, but freedoms like freedom of speech.

So I am back and give or take a day off here and a day off there, semester breaks and a Muslim holiday which might be an off week sandwiches between two weekends giving us 9 more days to travel, it will be another 9 months or so before I have to leave. Must leave. Recharge. Learn to appreciate.

Yes the traffic here is often extraordinarily nerve wracking and often insane drivers do things that gets my heart rate up to its maximum and anger management becomes unmanageable. But after 2 months in America, where people have more courteous driving habits and maintain lane integrity, use their indicators, don’t tail gate, I now see that the worst of the driving here is not all that bad.

For now.

Home sweet home or more appropriately, housing accommodation sweet housing accommodation. Fat and happy cats. TV with enough watchable channels to turn me into a well rounded couch potato (well rounded in more than one sense of the phrase). Less eating. More exercise. Blog again.

The days go by quickly, or quicklier and quicklier. June is not so far off into the future as nothing in my life now is not far off into the future, including the end to said life. So as I stated a few days ago on my Facebook status update, DO appreciate every minute as though it’s your last, except for what you know to be your last minute and then panic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Good Cancer

The bass player for our old-men-with-day-jobs band "The Turbeaux Dogs", (named after a Louisiana micro-brew) recently gave a benefit concert for the bass player who underwent chemo and radiation last summer and into the fall for throat cancer, a good cancer I think.

C. is a by-the-book chain smoker, puffing on them ciggies non-stop every five minutes or so for bladdity blah blah years,


I kept in touch with C. throughout his treatments (which were done in the U.S.) and not only was it inconvenient living with his parents who are both hard of hearing and blast their TV at full volume 18 hours a day, the chemo made him puke a lot and the radiation smarted like all get out. He said it made all food taste like cardboard.

Now. The bills have come in. The co-pay bills.

His co-pays could buy him a veddy nice high end British town car or a low end DYI fixer upper in the New Orleans By-Water.


C.? Well. Let's say his is liked. Let's go so far as to say he is well liked. So we organized a benefit concert for him once he got back to town and back on his feet. It was a sell-out show.


We passed out donation boxes. Raffled off all kinds of niceness from dinners to bottles of top shelf booze, an IPod, a lap top. "Music Fights Back" the flyers and laminated posters read.


All-in-all we might have put a noticeable dent in his out-of-pocket expenses.


His Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan was a good news day for him. No more cancer. For now. He's supposed to have a PET scan every three-to-six months and for the next few years in his foreseeable, tenuous future.


After the performances, when it came time for C. to take to the stage to collect the donations, he was sitting at a table with me out back and some of his friends from his softball team, every one doing shots of Jaeger while C. chain smoked his Marlboros. When the Emcee found us, he told C. it was time to come one stage and collect his charity. He flicked his butt and said, "Be right back." Best natural laugh I've had in a long time. Remission? Guess it means to him more opiate derivatives, a bad news to the good news, "You've got throat cancer. Again. Treatments begin Thursday. . .so I'm going to write you a 'script. . ."



Still. We had fun. The band played some worn out standards which meant no rehearsal time. Anyway, here's part of that unrehearsed show, un-sound checked, and un-sober. C.? Well, he's seated far right, the one with the seen and done-it-all gravelly voice, or what's left of his voice.
















C.'s voice giving out on the ooooohs leaving me to bellow in the breeze while trying to finger some naughty chords.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Has Sprung

The boss arrived in Sacramento yesterday for an extended stay.  I'm supposed to own a home by now, she says. Oh. Kay.

That thatched walled, corrugated tin roof hooch on stilts in Kompong Phluk didn't have a flush toilet and based on this lack of, sadly, it looks as though it will not be the type of home I hoped to one day own. Oh. Well.
The boss left in charge of my domestic affairs a  live-in Filipino house keeper to help wrangle the cats and tend to my garden. There's a Panglossian metaphor creeping through my life. Oh. My.

Richard Ford, in his novel "Independence Day" says when he writes about a stage in a man's life known as "The Existence Period" that "Every age has its own pennant to fly."  It's the psychiatrists, he later says, who flag us all away from the "poison of euphoria" and haul us back to flat earth, where they want us to be."

Wish I'd said that.

For now, I exist in an equatorial state of mind thanks to my psycho-pharmacologist who feels that my being in no mood is the best mood.

Curse this latest generation mood stabilizer which takes me to a place where all the pennants flying are emblazoned with the motto, "Comme si, Comme sa, Sans Cesse"

And fuck equatorial stabilization. Truth be known, I'm jonesing for the ecstasy of isolation, and I am ready to accept the consequences woven into the insanity of it all. 

I want my rapid thoughts, my uncontainable inklings, my bizarre notions, my fleeting impulses and my raging ideas to rain down upon me like an avenging apocalyptic meteorite shower.

If only for a weekend. 

"In this corner, weighing in at 90 pounds, feeling every bit of 56 years old and an all around decent chap once you get to know him--Mr. Do The Next Right Thing himself--my super ego! And in that corner, one zoo ugly 800 pound Dionysian baby and kissing cousins with Mr.and Mrs. Calamity and Chaos--my id. Are you ready to r-r-r-rumble!"
I am.

If only. If only. If only I could somehow manipulate the cure so that I could lay down in the fragrant flora of hypo-maniacal living--on rare occasion. . .and with a capped spending limit. 

However poignant, I want to tend to my own garden, overgrown with all its whacked out urges and be as annoying and unmanageable as I want to be. 

But now? I only have wanting to soar.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Po' me

I'm at a loss for words. I am pretty sure it has something to do with what's on the horizon.  I tell myself--it's an investment, but even that gives me the heebly be'geeblies. It tastes like a medicine which is worse than the illness. It looms like a necessary surgery, an amputation of a gangrenous limb. I usually don't have much to write about other than me, and now I see myself facing a pitiable west coast state of spiritual inertia. 

And what in the world do I now care for or have I ever cared for being in good standing with a neighborhood watch or Home Owner's Association? With each realtor listing sent my way, I feel a turn of the screw. Home ownership. A final resting place for me and my stuff.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Essential Disorientation

Whenever I have tried my hand at the wholeness of a union, I come to fear that its comforts lay bare to me and my world the nakedness of me going completely soft and becoming something not true to form.

Unquestionably, I am attracted to the idea of an idyllic union which demands devotion, fidelity, truthfulness and unbroken promises. But it has also long been my belief that in such a union of one sort or another, I declare that its demands are heard too loudly and too clearly, and therefore, from time to time, must be ignored.


When I am a fraction, the lyricism of wholeness is muffled, incapable of being heard within the lucidity of an opiate derivative dream state. Despite this, I am keenly aware that I am one who feels he must always represent only half the story of a life.


When I am in fact “out there” I seek to become intoxicated by forces that seem to be electromagnetic in nature and far beyond my capacity for control. My polarization runs both this way and that way, creating an essential disorientation, but one with its rewards. I transcend the fact that I am a missing piece of whole. Being on my own, I am an eager runaway piece of puzzle, a fat and happy fraction lacking a common denominator. I want nothing more than to become disconnected and unfamiliar with the demands of home. Far and gone, I find a definitive sovereignty of the spirit.

I have never quite been able to shake loose that uneasy feeling that each homely instant and every homely action is a larcenous superficial joy, making off in broad daylight with more good humor than it brings. On the road, alone, I reject my declaration of co-dependence. Whether I’m hauling my guitar up the side of Himalayan foothills to sing out some Himalayan hillbilly song or if I have taken my guitar deep into a lazy jungle where I snake my way through each waking bluesy hour in a verdant haze of one sort or another, I instantly become capable of discarding all that should be bliss and grace.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Spinning yarns and wheels

I arrived in Siem Reap around beer:thirty, just before sunset, when my friend-in-residence and Siem Reap pick-up band mate, K. calls it a day and heads for the one and only local supermarket to knock back a few cold ones. 

I spent two weeks in Siem Reap playing in clubs with K. He sings and strums. I sing and add bluesy lead fills. We've been playing together on Siem Reap's backpacker pub streets for the past four years. We know each other's stylings well enough that we can keep rehearsal to an hour or so, and get on with the business of getting up on stage night after night with only chord charts to guide us and keep it all together. So where's the story here?

Writing about my two weeks warm up for my Southeast Asian blues scene tour has me spinning my wheels in brain gravel because I always have a great time doing this each summer. Where's the story in that?
The only value of travel writing that assures an audience’s curiosity is misfortune. That’s the hook. A captivated audience seeks commiseration and appreciation for hardships which look a lot like their own.

I am wracking my brain and decoding notes trying to assign dramatic meaning to what appears to have been a really good time, but a time filled with the not so desperate, predictable moments. 

I feel I am obligated to recognize drama and to see the humor in it. I could fiddle with this part of the trip until unease and dread resolve into something attention-grabbing.

I must show moments when endurance prevailed, where I endured one cosmic joke after another, moments in which I always take it on the chin.Here I must escape self, reinvent self, isolate a façade of self from self then reconstruct and reflect self in a fun house mirror.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Touts

Poipet is a hassle prone a border town that takes you from eastern Thailand into western Cambodia. It is here you cross over from a country which on the surface bears a resemblance to a well-heeled and well-regulated society and enter into a country which is brashly down-at-the heels. Here those who live the good life do so by either living outside of or somewhat above the law while those who live the best of all possible lives are those in a position to interpret and enforce laws.

You don’t have to venture too far from the Thai side of the border to see this in action. You don’t even have to enter the country. There is a sign above the windows where you purchase your visa that lists the price of a Cambodian tourist visa as twenty dollars. Insist on paying twenty dollars and not a penny more, that’s what the sign says, so you have right on your side. Then take a seat on the bench, put your feet up and make yourself and your sense of righteousness comfortable. You will be sitting there for as long as it takes for you to get tired of wasting away. Be sure it is sooner than later when you cave in and choose to pay the extra five dollars so that you can proceed to the passport clearance, and snake your way through the queue to have your passport stamped.

So it begins. Welcome to Scambodia.

Once you’re officially in country, just outside the passport building, you find yourself overrun by a clatter of touts who have been dispatched by private taxi and mini-van drivers willing for a fixed price to help you to beat it out of town. The touts are unrelenting and aggressive, and they need to be as they try to steer you towards your ride hoping for a tip of a dollar or two to supplement whatever baksheesh the taxi driver doles out. They are part of the less fortunate lot who by and large live within the limits of the law.

In the past, I have ignored the touts and waited for a free city bus to come and take me a few hundred meters into town to the transportation depot where fixed-priced taxis to Siem Reap can be had for up to forty dollars; half that if you are willing to share it with one other person. The expediency of the government authorized taxis is worth the money and the wait to find a second party to split the cost. The unauthorized taxis usually take twice a long to get you to Siem Reap because they will pick up extras passengers along the way and are obliged to stop at least once at a decrepit roadside restaurant where you can’t help but kill time and order at least a beer or two while you wait for the taxi driver to have his lunch. The authorized taxis might also make the same stop, but because there is a receipt of some sort in your pocket which includes the driver’s name and his authorization number, you are in a position to decline and tell them politely but firmly to make this a non-stop trip.

I do not advise you to leave the passport control building and hike to the transportation depot. Wait for the bus. Once you step away from the building the swarm of touts will encircle you and will follow you like ravenous, hectoring mosquitoes abuzz with great deals on a ride out of town.

I made the mistake of not waiting for the bus. I took off on foot, guitar, backpack and all weighing me down.

They followed me every step of the way, no matter how bad-mannered or indifferent I was to them and their badgering. I knew the transportation depot was just a ways down the dusty road and I was determined to show these guys I was an old hand at this. I ignored their warnings that the place had closed down or was closed for the day or that it had moved far outside of town. 


The touts it seemed were more unconvincing than usual, desperately claiming that I was wasting my time—the depot had shut down, the depot had moved, there was no longer a depot. They offered to carry my backpack, to carry my guitar, to take me to a place where they knew I could get a taxi at the same price, maybe cheaper than the authorized taxis. As we walked, the dozen touts encircling me at the passport building were continually joined by new waves of reinforcements. The circle expanded to a mob. Some on foot. Some on bicycle, some on motor scooters. All of them chattering, “No sir, the building is closed. Come with me. The building has moved.” 

Every step for me represented the core of my spirit to endure what I was sure was a test of wills. I could weather this lot. I’ve been to India.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Head On Down the Highway

Hard work and a modest amount of prosperity generally mean that from time-to-time, he feels he must pay the devil her due. It’s a sacred tradition for him. On his own, after dark, he plots a course. Fulfilling the mission is now just a shadow of its former self which has disappeared into the depths of his subconscious. There it happily keeps company with all the obvious desires of the young at heart.

These days, his needs are sustained by a familiar voice which is impossible to ignore because it insists, “there’s what’s right and there’s what’s fair!” He has earned the right to be here tonight, to parade around town his store house of sublimated desires. If later he is to be held accountable, he will claim that he was in fact being true—true to himself. As for loyalty, frankly speaking, it has always been and will always be a sentiment that he and his secrets have complicitly ignored.

Time was the anticipation of the act outpaced the thing itself; then the thing replaced anticipation when it became an art form and every act was an attempt to re-create a masterpiece; then, much later in life, it ceased to be art when the thing was widely available by the truckloads and at reasonable rates.

Typically, these days, if he finds her, he finds that she is a woman relatively mature in age. She's taken on board as much for her needs as well as for his. 

This act can be as simple as a kiss or as complicated as, well, as complicated as a woman.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Wind Is Risin', Leaves Tremblin' on the Tree

I awake from my post-flight nap and belong to the night, my stomach hungry for grilled chicken on a stick, my amorphous, magical tackle, a vigorously misguided fallacy of needs. I’m up for a familiar, long meandering walk from soi to soi, rubbing elbows with the sidewalk merchants of Sukhumvit, cold beer in hand, pharmacology on the brain and Aphrodite by my side, again steering me clear of the honorable questions, and keeping me from running aground on imperfect answers.

I have a gift for separating me into two parts; the “me” who thinks that discipline offers me nothing of any real value and the “me” too terrified to admit that it is everything.

Principles and integrity become the flotsam and jetsam of my dead-in-the-water ideals as all concepts of right and wrong become vagaries, all now well beyond their sell-by dates and are therefore as irredeemable as I am.

I may never get to know the One on a first name basis, but I can amuse myself, his creatures of the evening and share a part of my good fortune in exchange for some flimsy excuse for a fusion of mind and flesh. I believe psychiatrists refer to this sort of rationalization as delusional. But. So what? Sooner or later, Gabriel will be a’ blowing smoke rings in my face, and when that time comes and I finally have no more points I’d like to make; no home to abandon or return to, I will have to admit quite casually that I purposefully and without regret have long evaded all of my end time preparatory duties. I've been busy.

These times, those times, that time, this time--never has there ever been a right time for me to put my disordered affairs in order because all times have always been the right time for me to indulge in the  interest of my best of times. So year after year I devote myself to the passivity of Weltschmerz management during my allocation of valued down time when I visit neighborhoods of familiar sites, sounds and fragrances, places where I have a talent for wasting time.

Looky here. What it is, is that all of it comes down to the needs of just one, unprincipled but marginally risk-free individual. What’s so fucking hard to understand about that? Losing collective values is a complex undertaking and it is a lot of work. So I have my own set of values and ideals which I have collected from my own epiphanies and  ethereal hunches and OK, maybe there is an untarnished communal truth out there somewhere, but I am sure it is none the worse for my never knowing it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

You Can Run, You Can Run

Getting a taxi from the airport in Bangkok to your hotel is not the stuff of adventure and adversity. Unlike many airports throughout much of the once fiercely erect but now gone flaccid civilizations of Asia, you are not immediately charged by a frenzied mob of grubby, grabby taxi and hotel touts. But where's the fun in that?

Bangkok makes pretenses of having sagacious systems in place which run with an exacting know-how as polished as a silver serving tray handed down from grandparent to parent to the next generation.

The civility found beyond the customs counters manages to get you into a fast and clean smelling taxi by first selling you a fixed price chit which is handed to the next driver in the queue who takes over the handling of your luggage with the first of the many thousands of smiles you've come to love about the place.

Unlike Tokyo, Seoul or Hong Kong where modernity is in full bloom, Bangkok is in a perpetual state of blossoming. It is not a gold medalist Asian economy and its powers-that-be, despite being empowered through corrupt organizations passing themselves off as political parties, are aware of its poor man’s version of a roaring Asian dragon. I wish I could say that only figuratively will it sell you its mother to earn a buck, but why be misleading?

When you climb into a taxi at Suvarnabhumi Airport, you get all the feeling of excitement of coming home from a hard day at the office to find a nice meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner awaiting you (you’re still inside the box).

It’s only when you tip the familiar face of the bellman at your familiar boutique hotel and after he clasps his palms together in a sacred hand position and says “kob kun” (Thai for “You’re the man”) then he leaves you alone, holding a TV remote like a withered dick in hand, that I find the fond sanctuary of isolation, and when it fully kicks in after my post-flight shower and nap, the doubting Thomas in me will be pulled in 1000 directions from clarity of vision and I will dress in a more leisurely skin which is exactly what I’ve come a’looking for. 

I’ll try hard not to dread the return date on my ticket and the consequential need to drag my soul into a confessional booth the morning after I spend my first night back in my own bed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Muddied Waters

Friday morning just past rush hour, I arrived in Bangkok after a bad's night sleep in coach class. Many people standing in the arrivals immigration queue arrive in not only their destination hub, but their destination. For  me and others like me, it is the place we arrive in, to make believe it is home away from home, to buy our sims cards, to check-in to our guest houses and boutique hotels, to settle down for a night or two, collect our wits, and relax. However. All of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile experiences we experience after awhile make too much sense there. 

That's why the first and what may be the last good decision we make for some time is to hitch a ride away from there. 

Some might say, "But it's Bangkok, man. Fucking Bangkok! What more could you want?" 

That's a good question and I am not sure if I have an answer. It's not just that I and others like me don't know how to dance for the simple pleasure of dancing; it's that we've never learned how to. Maybe at one time there was some lesson, a word in our ears, a tip or bit of wisdom passed on to us, but by our natures the lesson seemed to have had at the time no foreseeable application for us, so we didn't take notes, and later, when put to the test, we didn't make the grade.

Wherever I’ve been, in each place I come and go with seasonal changing reliability, some sort of nonsense must be there waiting for me. I go to join mobs that come and go en masse, attracted by distraction.

Even on the odd quest for a definitive reality and search for  things inspirational, I and others like me need a break from sound decision making and predictable outcomes. At home, where despair and ecstasy are heads and tails of the same coin, we feel locked into routine, we're servants of punctuality and conscientiousness, which is, if not a good thing, a necessary thing. Reasons and rational thinking must reign for us for if they didn’t, we would not only drown in our regrets, we would survive to some measure subsisting on muddy water and sleeping in hollow logs. 

We get our bang for the buck in places where nonsense rests layer upon layer, and we must always--without giving it too much thought--be a part of it. We expect more from the unfamiliar than what we get from our real shamefully naked lives. Far more memorable than the reputation of say, the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat, is the nonsense of the mobs and events on the roads leading to them. Wherever we go, everything from the front desk staff to the four theft proof coat hanger rings that hold our rented wooden hangers serve as unforgiving witnesses to every one of our erratic ties to rash acts brought about by virtual sanity. We do not endanger others, so what's the big deal?

I want it to be said of me before I break camp and head for home "Thank God, we hardly knew him". Shit. I want me to be able to say the same thing about myself! I'm most good with that, at least while most of my vital body parts are still functional.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stomach of Darkness

Twenty-five years on, I’m now more than two times older but not much wiser than I was the first time I traveled abroad. I spent that time thriving on the unfamiliarity of a tangle of steep hills, abrupt valleys, frequent streams, double canopied jungles, and barefoot locals whose village lay half in one country, Honduras, half in another, Nicaragua, two countries which may or may not have been at war with each other at the time. Reagan was president and back then, who knew what about anything? 

I loved the asymmetry of time spent in the jungle as time passed unbroken by week days or weekends, untangentially entwined without names or dates or even hours. Time passed according to light and darkness and was marked by a percentage of job accomplishment.

As an Army reserve medic I observed from an air conditioned ambulance army engineers busting their backs while hollowing out in the middle of all this awesome fecundity a stretch of run-way that for the record was never there, and for the record neither was I nor the other reservists or the military training camp nearby which was, off the record, being funded by a non-governmental organization with the vague name “Friends of the Americas”. 

This is my war story.

A man once said, there is nothing quite as satisfying as being shot at and missed. I’ll take his word for it. It has no application to my war story. Although I did have a pistol and the workers were issued rifles, nobody had any bullets. I did hear a shotgun blast at one time. Some locals hunting wild birds I was told.
I sum up my war story with words attributed to some other war-type guy, “C'est la soupe qui fait le soldat" (an army marches on its stomach).

There I was, stretched out on a stretcher snoozing in bliss under a canopy of mosquito netting, 50 milligrams of sleepy time Benedryl coursing through my bloodstream and nobody bothered themselves to think of me and walk the couple of dozen meters from the dining tent to my ambulance to tell me breakfast was being served. 

By the time the racket of earth digging and moving machinery got underway and I pulled back my mosquito netting well past sun-up, the kitchen was closed, and I had to content my stomach with tin packets of cold field rations and instant coffee. It would be hours before my stomach would be sated with a hot meal. 

To this day, I still find it hard to talk about.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Taking off

Just as the double gin and tonic and ten milligram Valium body slammed me, I collapsed into my window seat, headphones on, listening to static, feeling pre-flight goofy, scrawling in my pocket notebook.
"In case of unexpected turbulence keep seat belt fastened at all times. . ."
What an extraordinary life it would be if we could learn to be our own greatest companion, to be able to wrap ourselves around ourselves in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, to steady ourselves in the dark, to learn the importance of caring for ourselves as we might care or make a great pretense of caring for others. How utterly refreshing it would be to find myself in bed in elegant isolation, just laying there, wordlessly, restlessly awaiting each new day to begin.

". . . observe the exits. . ."
I have tried over and again and have on rare occasions succeeded in outrunning others and their needs managing to stay a step ahead of caring about the consequences, but not with what one might think of as regularity.

". . . a reminder not to smoke on board. . ."
Remember being young enough to fall recklessly in love while at the same time candidly going for your own throat in the process? Running from here and running to there can be just as fleeting as young love, just as passionate as uncultivated sex. 

". . .stow luggage under a seat or an overhead compartment. . ."
How startling life would be if I could hide all this baggage which long ago took root squarely between my pretense of giving a damn about anything and actually giving a damn.

". . . use of passenger seat cushions as flotation devices . . ."
I'll float far from here escaping on a gust, unrestrained from sensible choices, free to breathe me again.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Busing

The man who said that traveling is a better thing than arriving never hopped a bus in Asia. Keeping your head is an essential part of traveling, especially when traveling by bus; however, if you can get hold of over-the-counter codeine in tablet or cough syrup form, it is likely traveling by bus may be less tedious when numbed and drifting in and out, head resting against the window, mouth slightly a'drool.

Remember that a pre-booked seating assignment is a bizarre concept in some places, Cambodia for example. Generally these are the same places where people may have  absorbed many western fashion trends, can hum along to the latest chart topper and may be up to speed on the latest Hollywood blockbuster thanks to the industriousness of Chinese DVD bootleggers, but never (ever) will these people in some patches of quasi-civilization around the globe find value in the queue.

 It is also unlikely you’ll remember the sites and sounds, so carry along a pocket sized notebook and camera, take notes, take pictures, but remember to write just legibly enough so that only you will later be able to decode the experience and if you are carrying a digital camera, know how to thoroughly delete pictures.

Connect with people on a bus; befriend them for the duration of the journey, but stop just short of exchanging Email addresses and (perhaps this goes without saying) don’t tell anyone where you’ve pre-booked your next room. Remind yourself: short term acquaintances, not lifelong friends.  Bus travel is not alluring. It inspires no awe. It’s cheap. That’s all it is. Cheap, like a hastily decided upon one-night stand arranged just after last call: it will have to do.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Long Neck Blues

Like most resolute travelers, I don’t care much for packaged tours—not even for a day. I think they make us all a little uncomfortable because we are herded together too early in the morning (tour starts at seven) into a mini-van that may seat six to seven comfortably, but is always filled to capacity, cramming nine to ten into an uneasy long day of intimacy. 

I don't think any of us are uncomfortable because we are no longer on our own adventures but now just a gaggle of gaped mouthed, digital photographers always unzipping, zipping up our belt packs and haggling for the best price at the souvenir stalls which surround each noteworthy stop.

The last stop of the tour, we reached the outskirts of a Padaung village where we got out of the van, stretched our backs and legs, paid our entrance fee, then walked a short distance up a hill to the  souvenir stalls where the ladies who wear brass coils around their necks worked as cashiers. Amidst the futile attempts to bargain--all of the factory made kitsch is sold at a fixed prices--I was drawn right away to a song hanging in the air, to a voice as lamenting as a sigh.

I approached the singer, her round, moon face framed by Beatlemania bangs. She sat stiffly holding her head high atop her brass neck rings as she strummed a steady rhythm, using one finger on her left hand to open and depress a position on the guitar’s fret board. The changes in pitch accompanied shades of her plaintive voice.

We made eye contact, exchanged smiles, and I waited for her to finish her song then applauded. I gave her a nice tip and extended one hand towards the guitar, waggled my head, “May I?” She accepted the money and handed me her instrument.

It is not really a guitar, only an instrument shaped like one. One string is tuned a fifth below the other three strings which are all in the same key—drone strings we call them. The instrument doesn’t allow for chording, but changes pitch simply when one finger holds down a string then releases it.

The “action” of the instrument (the distance between the fret board and the string) is high. This makes it nearly impossible to make a full chord. It takes some wrist strength to use one finger to bear down on one string for any length of time.

Holding the instrument, strumming it, trying to mimic the song I’d just heard, confirmed to me that the it is more closely related not only to an Appalachian dulcimer but also to a “diddley bow”, an instrument once crafted by black sharecroppers in the deep south of the United States, usually a wooden plank and a single wire string fastened together and played by plucking the string with one hand while the other hand used a glass or metal tube to slide up and down the string to change pitch. This sliding tube was necessary because the distance between string and board was too great to allow for painless fingering. It is the diddley bow that gave birth to the slide guitar.

I looked around her stall for a slide and zeroed in on a tube of lipstick. I pointed to it, and she made a motion across her lips. I smiled, “I know,” and put out my hand. She made a face seeming to, “Well, OK, let’s see where he’s going with this.” She handed me the lipstick.
 I removed the metal cap and fitted it to my left pinky. I began strumming, and then slid the tube up the neck on the three drone strings until they were in harmony with the open note. I did this a few times, falling into a Mississippi delta blues shuffle. She narrowed her eyes, following her lipstick tube up and down the fret board. A small audience began to gather, and what the hell, I thought, I’ll never see these people again, so I broke into song:

“Oh the long neck women, they really like to pose,
Yeah the long neck women, they really like to pose
Why they got them long necks, only the long neck man truly knows”

I doubt if I planted a seed that will one day produce a hybrid of Padaung folk songs resonating Muddy Waters, but I left with what all travelers hunger for most, an impromptu illumination of a moment, one that is carried away in an instant like a puff of smoke, impossible to capture with a camera.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Lost in Another Country, Sort of

Men on vacation who drink alone in a bar quietly cry out that their lives have been reduced to drinking alone in a bar while on vacation.  They hunch over their drinks like they’re about to jump off the ledge of a tall building, trying not to draw attention to themselves, staring deeply into their drinks while the laughter that snakes throughout the room is sucked into a black hole; these fellows cast no shadows, they’re constrained by their own singular mass.

Drinking alone devours time, the one thing that nobody can  afford to waste, yet these fellows piss it away like there's no tomorrow. They put on a brave front but stand like frightened wobbly lambs while creatures of the night howl for blood at crowded tables.


Years ago, I was back in Nepal, for the first time traveling in this country alone, and I wanted to confront this fear head on; what better way I thought, than to perform for the howling crowded tables center stage under a spotlight?

I left the Excelsior Hotel with my guitar searching for a sidewalk chalkboard easel advertising: “free live music tonite” and straight away, I found in the heart of Kathmandu’s touristy pub street district: the “The New Orleans Café”, a magnet for trustafarians and well-funded expatriate non-governmental organization organizers alike, and since I still considered New Orleans home despite having a well expired Louisiana driver's license, I thought, “Voilà! A twist of fate!” the stars had conveniently aligned themselves just for me. 
On stage tuning his guitar was a dread-lock Nepali.

Namaste!” I said, and he smiled, returned my “Namaste!” and smiled again after I asked if he’d mind if I plugged in and joined him on stage.  


For the rest of the evening, I drank for free, sat just behind the local singer, adding lead fills and arpeggios while he strummed and sang a list of songs that I now simply refer to as “the set”. This set list includes Dylan’s “Knocking on Heavens Door”, Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven”, Dire Straits “Sultans of Swings”, the Eagle’s “Hotel California”, and a triptych of Bob Marley songs, “No Woman, No Cry”, “Redemption Song” and the backpacker’s international anthem that knows no borders, “One Love”. None of them bad songs the first ninety-nine hundred times you hear them. And I have for many years now backed many local "free music tonite" singers throughout Asia on many a pub street.

Last summer I went out once again with the guitar but I had made a decision that this time out I would do my best to avoid “the set” because for me, this is not really making music. Each song from "the set" is supposed to be played like the original, because to please certain howling crowded tables who on one hand seek adventure while on the other hand like to paint the unfamiliar towns a familiar shade of red, you have to approximate all those familiar notes which are eagerly anticipated by less adventurous ears.


Do what you can with whatever you have wherever you are, right? But where is the adventure in that? I have for too many years found common ground by filling in my own notes while trying to stay true to the spirit of the original. Last summer I went looking to reshuffle the deck. I wanted to play my hand with reckless abandon. I went on a blues safari. 


Death assumes many forms and one of them is predictability. The impulsive spirit of the blues creates possibilities that stand at the crossroads at the heart of midnight.  Go there, the crossroads at midnight and you'll find that infidelity to the original  may be heresy, but it feels so good, so very good. With the blues you can cast off loyalty to the unimaginative, create, and then set your course for the exceptions to all the rules.

Playing it your way is self-determination while conforming to the way things should be played is for me a ghost wandering the world forever feeling restless and unsettled unable to head towards the light. Fuck it. I didn't want to head towards the light. I wanted to play in shadows where my fingers could get lost then try to find their own path towards sonic redemption.

Getting lost is what I like most about traveling alone and it's what I like about the blues.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Soloing

My first guitar-in-hand pub crawl was in Kathmandu some time back. I was traveling alone but I was OK with me. I wasn’t lonesome. I was having a good time. 

Traveling alone has advantages like the flexibility of schedules and permission to exhibit assorted disorganized behavior patterns in public which might otherwise be considered unacceptable . When I travel alone I live in an internal police state of privacy, a thing that I find elusive within in the sanctuary of a well tended garden and a for-the-most-part peaceful co-existence. What I do find is a "me" that is more fly-by-night, a "me" more capable of allowing luxuries which are not for good reason tolerated by companionship.

I own up that when traveling alone I am incapable of pulling myself together on demand, that I might overspend and that I might sometimes feel friendless whenever the sun comes up and just past sunset, but those feelings gain for me a certain self-respectability, one I dare to think of as praise worthy.   

Traveling alone can bring on sensational moments in the moment but those moments often in hindsight nag the question, “What on earth was I thinking?”, seeing that on more than one occasion I fell wide of the mark of good manners. And often in the recalling of events I am at a loss for words; I find myself experiencing an unanticipated reaction to having just "been there and done that", one which then has me stressing only to myself this final point, “Well, you would have to have been there to appreciate it."

When I awake those first few mornings back in my own bed next to someone I recognize and love deeply, I not only glare disapprovingly in the mirror but I am also glad to have made it back. 

Then again, maybe that’s the point, to return with feelings of gratitude rather than those of triumph.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cheesy Metaphor Moment #273

Yesterday I had day care, outpatient eye lid goober-ectomies. Both eyelids had sprouted a wart-like thing built from sand and other desert grit. The debris was swept up by my eyelashes. Twenty months of Sundays ago, I used to bat them to initiate a chat up. Now they are working against me, conspiring with many other body parts to put a name tag on my toe more sooner than later . Et tu eye lashes?

I had a choice. Two visits, one for each eyelid, and a local anesthesia or both eyelids on the same day with a general. This wasn't a difficult decision to make. 

I heard the anesthesiologist tell her assistant to give me 20-mL of Propofol which made me think of Michael Jackson. At the same time, I'm listening to what sounds very much like a church bell death knelling. I ask the assistant, "What is that noise?" 
"It's the heart monitor, he said." I asked myself, shouldn't that thing be beep beep, beeping not Bong! Bong! Bonging!?

The anesthesiologist placed over my nose and mouth the hissing fighter-pilot mask, telling me to take deep breaths and start counting backwards from one hundred. I glanced to my left and read on a piece of operating theater machinery the word "Infiniti". 

One hundred. "Infiniti". Bong! Ninety nine. "Infinity". Bong!  Ninety-eight. "Propoful" Bong! Ninety-seven. "Michael Jackson"  Bong!  Ninety. . . bong!

If my Big Black comes on like a Propofol shot, well, I've no problem with that. ". . .peacefully in his sleep last night at the age of. . ." obit.

But if my Big Black comes as an Airbus taking its sweet time to come unglued as it slowly nose dives towards the ocean or if it's to be one of those lingering types, a "I'm gonna fight this thing" type, well, shee-it. 

If a doctor were ever to say to me that I've got somethin' bad, mad dog mean bad and that I've got a 50/50 chance to beat this "thing", (after I move beyond breaking down and bawling, screaming and slobbering like a 2 year old 'why me? why me?', I ain't goin' gently into that good night, no sirree. 

I'm gonna check into the John Entwistle suite, room 658 at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with a mountain of blow, a fifth of 12-year old single malt, a half dozen grape flavored gel packs of Viagra and a couple, two, three high class pro's who accept Visa or MasterCard.