Monday, September 18, 2017

The Method And The Madcap Of Bangkok Taxis

I’ve spoken about Bangkok taxi drivers over the years, but here’s the short version for anybody who may not be in the loop: In most instances, it’s a terrific service at bargain prices. Most of the drivers by far are honest, helpful, and cheerful. Almost none of them speak English, but that’s not a problem for me. (If the no-English is a problem for you, if you are a tourist, that is, always have someone write down where you’re going to go, and the location that you wish to return to, in Thai. Also have them ballpark the meter price and write that down as well. If the driver wants to quote you a price, which he might do if you are at touristy places and it’s obviously your first time in the big city, keep insisting on the meter price and get out if he says that it’s broken.)

The prices really are bargain-basement these days. The fares have hardly changed at all in over ten years, during which time everything has gotten more expensive. They can do it because in the meantime almost all of the cabs have been modified to run on natural gas, which saves them a fortune. The government has decided to pass this savings along to the passengers, which is great for us. I’m sure that it pisses off the drivers, and I totally sympathize with them. They love it when I’m familiar with all of this and we discuss it.

The Rain

The drivers also love it when they find out that I drove taxis in New York for a few years, long, long ago. We can compare notes about traffic jams, and “going to Brooklyn,” etc. They are slightly horrified to find out about the taxi police in New York. Having to follow all of the rules, all of the time, is a shocking and terrible concept to them. Another giant difference between our experiences is the effect of a rainy day on driving the taxi.

Over my ten years of living here I have discovered that taxi drivers really, really hate the rain. Not only does it make for hellish experiences just trying to get around, but their daily income is dramatically reduced by rain. This is the tropics, don’t forget, so rain can come in volumes that can be quite shocking, causing flash floods ankle deep from sidewalk to sidewalk. In low spots, of which there are many, it can be up over the hubcaps with stalled cars out there in the middle. There’s never an easy way to go around any kind of obstruction, either. Bangkok is an old city, and any city in the world that is much older than the automobile itself will create a traffic nightmare. There are never enough roads, and the roads that exist are too small. So, a lot of rain really mucks up the works.

And it doesn’t even take a lot of rain! The other day, a Sunday, it was hardly raining at all. It was one of those days where the sky remains fairly bright, and the birds continue to sing, but it sprinkles for four minutes out of every ten. In Ireland, that’s not even rain. They would just call it a “soft day,” and send the kids out to play in a sweater. In Bangkok, it is sufficient to slow the traffic everywhere down to a crawl. Even in rain conditions like that, the driver’s income suffers a lot. Every trip takes twice as long as it would in dry conditions. The meters do keep track of “waiting time” as a way to bill for the extra time spent sitting in traffic, but it’s too little to make much of a difference. My ride home from the mall would usually be seventy baht, taking about fifteen minutes (a bit less, actually). With this tiny bit of a shower, off and on, the ride took over half an hour, with only 90 baht showing on the meter. This is a big hit over the course of an entire day, and it only gets worse as the volume of rain goes up, and forget it if there is any appreciable flooding.

I explain to the drivers that way back in the old days, in Noo Yawk City, we didn’t really mind the rain. Sure, it slowed the traffic down, and it made the job of driving a bit harder, but it also meant that everybody on the street wanted a cab all of a sudden. The door hardly shut when someone got out without someone else climbing in. We made more money if it rained. The Bangkok drivers find this fact amazing. That result is impossible as a matter of demographics in Bangkok. In New York, many people who usually walk to the avenue and get the subway or, God forbid, a bus, actually have the money in their pocket to take a cab. It wouldn’t kill them to take the cab. The subway is very close, however, and the cab would be an extravagance. They will save the money for something else, a trip to Zabar’s or something. When it rains, they figure “fuck it, I’m taking the cab.” In Bangkok, the people on the bus do not have the money to take the cab. They don’t even have the money to take the Bangkok subway, which is very nice but a bit expensive. These are people who wait at bus stops for the un-air-conditioned buses, because they cost eighteen cents instead of sixty cents. You may believe me, the air-conditioned buses are a much more comfortable ride in the tropics, but there you have it. The harsh reality of money is that you can’t spend it if you don’t have it, and once you spend it, you no longer have it to spend on anything else. Like dinner.

The Party

Taxi drivers in any country enjoy a good conversation to break up the monotony of driving around in circles all day. Thais in general love to talk together, so there’s almost always a conversation going on in a taxi carrying passengers. Here’s where the madcap comes in. It often turns into a laugh riot.

I don’t know what it is, but Thais who have just met each other can be laughing and chatting like old school chums within thirty seconds or so. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Thai is not a world language, meaning that if you speak Thai you probably are, indeed, Thai. So there’s a connection right away. Not like English, where if someone is speaking English, you still have no idea where they come from. Even if they have a strong African accent, they could easily be from Patterson, New Jersey.

On that semi-rainy Sunday, our driver was a woman. This is rare in Bangkok, but not exactly “alert the media” rare. This woman was about forty-five years old, and she was on the sturdy side. She wasn't fat; she looked strong. She was very friendly, and she was in equal measure friendly and butch. She was dressed all in black, the sides of her head were shaved down to almost nothing, and there were multiple piercings in her ears. To say that she was gregarious would be putting it mildly.

She immediately struck up a conversation with my friend, and within one minute they were laughing together and telling secrets. I don’t interfere when this happens, let the Thai people have fun, God bless them. I could kind of follow the gist of it, partly they were talking about me. After five minutes of intense listening I said something appropriate. The driver was overjoyed! We spoke for a couple of minutes so she could grade my efforts at Thai, and then she praised me in a way that was overgenerous. Now we were all friends, and the level of fun jumped up to almost illegal. If you saw three people having that much fun inside an air-conditioned car with the windows up, you would wonder what they were doing, but this is Thailand. Three people, gesturing with their hands and laughing uproariously in a moving car is not unusual.

These are just some of the reasons that I love living in Thailand. It’s a beautiful place, with lovely people, great weather, and terrific food. It’s a safe place where most of the customary services are available and up to world standards. Most prices are reasonable, and, importantly, it’s where my job is! I like it here. I think I’ll stay. 

Otis Redding - Mr Pitiful

Buying this 45, from a cut-out bin in downtown Manhattan, in 1965, could get a white boy nods of approval from the black customers who were watching, and yes, they were watching.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Spin Easy Time!: Not Even Close To A Book Review: The Death Instin...

This is a post from six years ago. I had just read two novels by Jed Rubenfeld, and I was very impressed. The two novels were, "The Death Instinct," and "Interpretation of a Murder." Both were great.

Are great; they're still up on Amazon. The author is still active, more or less, but he is no longer writing novels. I just checked in order to see what he was up to these days, maybe find something good to read. I had no idea, but Jed is a law professor at Yale, specializing in Constitutional Law. His more recent published works are in that field.

Click the link below to see one of my favorite sentences of all time.

Spin Easy Time!: Not Even Close To A Book Review: The Death Instin...: By Jed Rubenfeld, a great read, by the way. But I only want to share one particularly wonderful sentence with you. At one point, a Washi...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mothers Are Often Wonderful, But Not Always

This thing, which may or may not have been written by Washington Irving, is the kind of  thing that I see posted to Facebook all the time. Not just on Mothers' Day, but all year. Sometimes it's the mom's birthday, and sometimes it's just for laughs.

Many of us were raised by mothers who bore no resemblance to the sentiment in this, this thing. Some of us had mothers who were an absolute torment to us.

For us, these paeans to motherhood are are acts of violence. They are what is now called "triggers." They call to our minds either the sense of impending doom that we experienced every time we went home as children, or the terrible regret that comes from that lost opportunity to have what many people seem to take for granted. We are still trying to pick up the pieces and build satisfactory lives, and this constant tickling of our triggers is not helpful.

So go ahead, thank your moms. Do in on Facebook, I'm sure that mom appreciates the mention. But let's not overdo it, okay? I'm glad that you are grateful for the great gift that fate has bestowed upon you, and congratulations to your mom for being one of the good ones. Just bear in mind that, especially around Mothers' Day, you are making some people cry.

Now read the story of Philomadre, who, as her name implies, "loved her mother." The story illustrates what I'm driving at here.

My Favorite Folk Tale: Philomadre

I heard this story told by a professional storyteller in the 1980s, and it made a big impression on me. I’ll save my take on the story’s importance for the end.

The Story of Philomadre

Once upon a time there was a young woman who wished for only two things. She wished for a handsome husband that she could love and take care of, and she wished for three beautiful daughters that would make them the envy of all of the other families in their village. She was a lucky young woman. She met and fell in love with a very handsome woodsman. He was big and strong and he loved her very much. They got married, and in the fullness of time the couple was blessed with three daughters, each very beautiful in her own way. The mother called the three girls number one, number two, and number three. The family was happy.

The woman was surprised when she got pregnant for a fourth time, surprised and concerned. However the pregnancy turned out, it would ruin the delicate balance of her perfect family. The new child was also a daughter, and the woodsman loved her as much as he loved her sisters and named her Philomadre. The young mother was not as generous as her husband. She resented “number four” from the first day as an intrusion upon her perfect happiness.

The family lived on the edge of the forest, some distance from the village, and the father left every morning to work deep in the woods. The mother sometimes went to the village to shop, and upon returning she would call out to her daughters, “number one! Come out. Number two! Come out. Number three! Come out. Number four, stay where you are.”

One day, there was an accident in the forest, and the woodsman was killed. The young mother was distraught at first, but then she realized that she still had the family that she had wished for. She still had her three beautiful daughters. She hardly thought about Philomadre at all. After the death of her father, Philomadre was treated like a maid and given all of the most difficult tasks in the family. Number four was one daughter too many.

There was a dragon living in the forest. He was not a very big dragon, nor was he very fierce, but he was clever. He had never come to close to Philomadre’s house, because he was afraid of the woodsman and his axe, but now he became bolder. One day the dragon was lounging among the trees, looking out at the house. He saw the young mother come back from the village carrying food items. He listened as the mother called out, “number one! Come out. Number two! Come out. Number three! Come out. Number four, stay where you are.” He had seen the mother do this before, and sure enough, on this day as well, three very tasty looking girl children came out of the house. It made the dragon hungry just to lay eyes on them. The dragon began to wonder: how can I manage to eat these three wonderful children?

The dragon went back into the woods and thought about it, and he came up with a plan that he thought was a very good one. He went very far back in the forest, where no one could hear him. There he practiced sounding just like the mother! Over and over again he practiced her chant, wanting to sound just like the mother calling her daughters to come out of the house. After a few days of practice, he thought that he had it just right.

He went back to watching the house, and one day the mother left for town. After the mother was gone for a long time, the dragon approached the house. He cleared his throat a little, and began. “Number one! Come out. Number two! Come out. Number three! Come out. Number four, stay where you are.” But nothing happened! The children had heard him alright, but to them his voice sounded like a giant steam whistle!

When the Dragon realized what had happened, he tried to think about how to fix the problem. He went to see a plumber that he knew about, and asked for his help. The plumber examined the dragon’s voice pipes and said, sure, I can fix it all up so that you sound just like the mom. It’s always nice to know a dragon that owes you a favor, and the plumber did not think at all about why the dragon wanted to sound like the woman. This plan worked perfectly.

Now the dragon, with his new voice, returned to the woods near the house to wait for the mother to leave for the town again. When she did, he waited long enough and approached the house for a second try. Sure enough, this time, when he made the chant in the mother’s voice, the three children ran out of the house to see their mother. Instead, they ran right into the dragon, who gobbled them down without a moment’s hesitation. How proud the dragon was that his plan had worked so well! He went way back into the woods to rest and digest his meal.

After a while, the mother came back. She noticed that there was blood and bits of clothes around the house, and even some pieces of bone and hair. She looked in the house, and she saw that her three daughters were gone. She hardly noticed that Philomadre was over in a corner mending clothes. The mother began to scream and tear out her hair when she realized what had happened. She ran off and didn’t come back.

After a couple of days of waiting, Philomadre ran out of food and went to the village looking for help. Her mother had never been friendly, so no one in the village liked the family. No one would help Philomadre. They told her to go to the city. Maybe someone there would help her.

Philomadre was allowed to enter the city, but she did not know anyone who lived there. She didn’t know what to do. She went to the big market, because she was very hungry. She asked around, did anyone need any help with anything? Could she please have some food? No one was being very nice about it, but finally she ran into some women who worked at the palace. They always needed extra help at the palace, because there was so much to do. When the women found out that Philomadre knew how to do all sorts of things, every kind of housework that there was, in fact, including making clothes, they took her back to the palace and put her to work. She worked at the palace for many years, and grew up to be a very, very beautiful young woman.

On one lovely spring day, the Prince was walking around the grounds, and he saw Philomadre working on something. He had never seen her before. That’s how big the palace was, you really couldn’t even get around the whole thing and see everybody. The Prince asked her who she was, and she told him that she worked there, which he didn’t believe, because she was too beautiful to be a servant. They got to know one another and before too long they fell in love. The King became very fond of Philomadre, and he allowed them to get married. They were very happy together.

Years went by. Philomadre and the Prince had children of their own, and everything was really very nice. The old King died, and the Prince became the new King. Philomadre was the Queen! It was all like a dream come true, even though it was a dream that Philomadre had never dared to dream for herself while she was only “number four” working so hard back at the house near the forest. Now Philomadre was a mother herself, and she loved all of her children dearly, and they loved her. “Life is strange,” thought Philomadre, although she did not yet know just how strange life could get.

One day there was a tumult around the main gate of the city. Philomadre sent one of her handmaids to see what it was all about. She was told that there was a madwoman hanging around the gate, mumbling and laughing. Philomadre decided to go and look for herself. She was amazed to discover that the madwoman was her own mother! Even after so many years, it was impossible not to recognize her. Even dressed as she was, in a heap of the shreds of old rags, her feet unshod, her eyes not focusing on anything that anyone else could see, her teeth mostly gone, and her hair now a shocking white color, sticking out from all angles like a haystack, Philomadre clearly saw that this madwoman was her birth-mother.

She took her mother back to the palace. With the help of her handmaids, they cleaned her mother up and dressed her in some decent clothes. Her mother was given a nice room, with a big comfortable bed and a balcony from which one could see the whole city. Her mother was in such rough shape that it took a long time for her to start looking like her old self again, although older, of course. When she first came to the palace, her feet were so rough that you could strike matches on the bottoms! Even after her appearance returned, she remained completely mad. She never again looked anyone in the eye, never again said a word directly to anyone, or understood a word in return. Why, she never even recognized that Philomadre was her daughter.

Philomadre visited her mother’s room every day. She made sure that her mother was taken care of in every way. She sang songs to her mother, and sat for a long time, brushing her mother’s hair. She never intruded on her mother’s madness, but only watched over her.

“Mother, you never cared for me,” said Philomadre, “but now I will care for you.”

I have written on this blog many times about the way people casually put odes to motherhood on Facebook, or lavishly praise their own mothers as having been saints of some kind. I have tried to tell those people that they are the lucky ones, that not everyone shares their experience, nor shares their fond memories of their mothers. Some of us, like Philomadre and me, had mothers that were an absolute challenge to love, and some of us, some smaller number of us, can manage to put the past behind us and forgive our mothers in their human imperfection. In this, I did my best, but I am well and truly outshone by Philomadre, who is the patron saint of this phenomenon. This story makes me cry every time I tell it, or even think about it. It reminds me of a loss that can never be remedied. I hope, dear reader, that you enjoyed this story, and that your experience growing up with your mother was different than mine.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

International Mockery Of The Donald

Here's a very nice poem about the Donald by the Chinese poet, Yan Li.

Yan Li was born in either 1954 or 1962, depending on where you are reading about him. He was a member of a group of artists called "the Stars," who seem to have been a daring bunch of iconoclasts back when it was unusual in China, not to mention a bit dangerous, to act like that.

Poetry International Web dot net describes his poetry as being "formless, artless," and suggests that he is an "effortless presenter of his ordinary self and his ordinary experiences . . ." He rejects craftsmanship and recreates spoken language, and he is very direct in his meanings. That's what they say, and this poem seems to resemble that description.

The Mistake

You are not smart enough.
You are not skilled enough.
You are not good enough.
And you know.
You are filled with fear.
It leaks from your arms.
It leaks from your legs.
It leaks from your eyes.
New York is done with you.
The “elite”
whose respect you've always coveted
are done with you.
The world,
in all its corridors of opinion;
its allies and enemies,
is done with you.
And you know.
Even as you walked out of your bedroom
the night after the election,
promising yourself fanfare and greatness,
the weak creature that is coiled
intestine-like around you
knew you would never rise to the office.
The gravity of your pride
was too intense.
So you failed the first trial
and the second.
Your judgement revealed as flimsy,
your strategies impotent.
You just kept failing.
And you know.
The paintings on the walls –
Lincoln, Kennedy, Bush, Clinton, Obama –
testify to your inadequacy.
When you are measured in paint,
you will be smaller.
When you are listed in ink,
you will be less.
The Mistake.
Around the world, you have already been pinned –
in art and music and plays,
in sounds and pictures and words –
to idiocy;
like a beetle stuck to a display case.
Your face is idiocy.
Your name is idiocy.
Your children's inheritance is idiocy.
The entire edifice is wasted.
There will not be an “after” to this.
This is the permanent, final state of things.
You have lost everyone
you wished to be associated with
and you are left with monsters.
All you have now are monsters,
and there is no power,
no speech,
and no action
that can pull you from that pit.
And you know.
You can pretend to enjoy their embrace.
You can keep remaking,
destroying, and distracting,
but nothing can erase the fact that
at your foundation,
you were never good enough.
The world sees it.
Those you love see it.
You, with the monsters.
You, the shame of a nation.
You, filled with fear.
Cause you know.
You know.
May you know it
for all the remaining years of your life.

by Yan Li

I find this poem to be very successful, readable and enjoyable. I like it, which is not surprising to me at all. Not only does it mock someone whom I believe deserves all of the vicious mockery that the world can generate, but it also reminds me of my own style, when I was in my poetry period (about ten years ago).

I laid off, because anyone who desperately wishes to be loved should avoid poetry at all costs. People really fucking hate poetry.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The High Numbers- Ooh Poo Pah Doo

I can't help it, I love these guys. Especially these guys before youthful enthusiasm gave way to making a living.

It's all about the fun, this rock and roll game. It really should sound like fun. Music in general requires enthusiasm, or else it just lays there like a dead fish. There's nothing deadlier than a band of any type just trying desperately to hit all of the notes and stay in the time scheme. Oye! No, much nicer when they charge along the bleeding edge of chaos with stoned grins on their faces. This would have been a great show to see. Thank you tenderhearted Jesus of the Beatitudes that we have these wonderful videos.