Saturday, November 17, 2018
A lot of these C&W guys get some credit where credit is due but a lot of them get lost in the cracks. Like Jimmy Bryant.
I like and respect Glen Campbell, and Roy Clark (who died this week, RIP), and that Chet Atkins sure could play, but hey! All you guitar players out there! Give your lunch another hour or so to settle in your stomach and listen to this. Jimmy Bryant was a regular Danny Gatton. The difference being that Jimmy invented this shit.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
We’re at that age when people start dropping like flies, and I don’t like it one bit. Many of the famous ones are our age; that seems to be the worst of it. It was terrible when ‘Trane died, or Lenny Bruce, but that had little to do with us personally. Even that mass-extinction that hit my generation around 1970, all of those rock and rollers who eased on down the road around the age of twenty-eight, almost all of that was lifestyle stuff. If you had made slightly better lifestyle choices, you were probably okay for a few more decades. Now it’s different.
Now it’s not only a constant procession of our longtime favorite musicians and movie stars to the cemetery, writers, film directors, and whatever, it’s also people that we personally knew as children. Friends that we either knew very well for years at some point in our lives or have known for all of our lives. Dropping like flies in all categories. For many of the famous ones, and for many of our friends as well, lifestyle choices still enter into the calculus. Cigarettes, drinking, drugs, you know. But not for all. Lots of straight arrows our age are just giving up the ghost suddenly, or coming down with some terrible affliction that carries them away in no time. It’s very disturbing.
Some of these deaths hit us harder than others. I’m going to stick to Baby Boomer age for the famous people; all of our personal friends are Boomers, after all.
David Bowie’s passing was a bit hard to take, wasn’t it? He kept the details so secret, and he was so nonchalantly full of life right up until the announcement of his death. That last photo of him shows him apparently bursting with life when in fact he was preparing to burst out of the cocoon of life. With a new LP released within a few days of his death! I think that one of the things that we valued most about David all through his career was the high energy that he brought to life and performing. His enthusiasm for seemingly everything. That’s the way of it, I think. The deaths that are hard for us to accept are the deaths of individuals who were thirty-five ounces of energy stuffed into a quart bottle. How could it happen? Even worse, if it can happen to them, imagine how easily it could happen to us.
It happened to David Bowie almost three years ago.
I just got the report yesterday about somebody who was very important to me when we were teenagers. The guy had a way about him.
Freddie* and Freddy; we were pretty close there for about four years. Everybody in our town took the diminutive, almost everybody. We were all Bobby, or Tommy, or Johnny, or Eddie, or Lennie, or Connie, or Patty. It didn’t matter how tough you were, or whether you had the same name as your dad, you were Arty, or Mickey, Jackie, or Tony. It was the town.
The only gift that my parents gave to me was the freedom to wander. Neither my mom nor my dad knew or cared where I was at any given time, just as long as I shut up and stayed out of their way, and showed up at school the next day. When I say that I was raised by wolves, it is actually a slander on wolves. Wolves care what happens to their offspring. For me, absent was fine for my parents. It was something similar for Freddie, but I think that his parents just didn’t want to interfere. I think that they did care, actually, but they were too shy to assert themselves. Freddie and his sister were adopted, so maybe his parents were reticent to assert too much authority.
If Freddie and I wanted to stay out all night, it was very simple to arrange. We called our parents in turn, and told them that we were spending the night at the other’s house. “Great. Be seeing you,” was all I ever heard in response. We were then free to arrange our entire night to our advantage.
Freddie had a wild streak a mile wide, and I admired nothing more in my friends. If you would ask around about me, people would tell you that I was a very nice boy, a quiet boy, very polite, and they would be hard pressed to remember any particular time that I got into trouble. They would say that because I was like some kind of high-level spy, a boy that could steal and vandalize at will without getting caught. I was never a particularly bad boy; I was never feared by the other boys; nor was I ever restrained in my behavior by the unnatural demands of the adults. I had my disguise. My mask never cracked. Only my wild-ass friends knew what I was really about.
Freddie was a wild-ass friend.
I hate to admit anything up here on this blog, because who knows where the info ends up? But this is a funeral. This is a special occasion. I owe Freddie some honesty here.
Freddie had made a copy of the key to his father’s 1961 Oldsmobile, and we used it pretty frequently there for a couple of years. We were only fifteen or sixteen at the time. We’d do that calling the parents thing and arranging to be sleeping somewhere else thing, and we’d just hang out until the lights went out. In the meantime, we’d have been standing out in front of one of the local delicatessens, waiting for an over-eighteen big brother of a friend that we knew. “Hey Bobby! How about picking us up a few beers!” That was the easiest trick in town. We knew a lot of over-eighteen guys. It never took long. Then we’d stash the beer in the bushes somewhere and just hang out with whomever was around. When all of the house lights had been out for a while, we’d help ourselves to Freddie’s dad’s Oldsmobile.
Man, that was a fast car. Pretty typical 1960s General Motors car: lousy handling; shitty brakes; balloon tires; huge, powerful engine. Oh, man, safe? It was not. We’d be drinking the warm beer, driving around. Not just driving, we’d be looking for roads that were not under any observation where you could get the car up to one hundred miles per hour. Freddie liked to find places where you could roar up to an intersection where the grade fell off suddenly on the other side, so that the car might actually become airborne. These were very narrow streets, mind you, and if you landed with the front wheels crosswise, you were dead. Stone dead. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, stone cold dead. It happened to teenagers in our town every year. We all remember a couple of the names. RIP, Bobby K. We were just two lucky Freds, Freddie and Freddy. I still marvel at our luck.
We could do that all night. Around dawn, after the milk-man had made his deliveries, we’d help ourselves to a couple of quarts of milk for breakfast. After the newspapers had been delivered, we’d take one of two of them as well. Real menaces to society, small scale. Was it wrong? Of course it was, but I don’t recall worrying about it. Was it dangerous? You’re damn right it was. We didn’t worry about that either.
Through all of this mayhem, we were only challenged by police on one occasion. We had run the car out of gas in town at about 4:00 a.m. Usually we were careful to replace the gas that we used, or most of it anyway, and have the car back where it was expected to be before dawn. This particular night we were pushing the car back to its spot, let’s see how it goes, devil take the hindmost. Freddie had one hand on the steering wheel and his shoulder pressed into the door frame; I had both hands on the trunk. A police car came to an intersection just as we were pushing the car through it, and they blipped the siren. We stopped immediately, of course. Those guys have clubs and guns.
Since Freddie’s hand was on the wheel, they addressed him first. I retired to the kitty-corner and lite a cigarette. The three of them spoke together for about five minutes. Freddie, of course, was underage, drunk, and without documentation of any kind. No license, no registration, no nothing. After the five minutes, both cops got back in their cop car and drove off. I thought to myself, “this guy is a fucking magician.” I had planned my getaway route through backyards by then. “What did you tell them?” I asked. Freddie casually said, “that it was my car! I ran out of gas!” You have to be good to get away with that one.
Freddie was not really a wild boy. Neither was I. We were just fun-loving. We had a good time. Along with other friends, we thought nothing of setting off for Jones’s Beach at midnight, without really considering how long it would take to get there, or what we would do there, or when we could make it back by. (Freddie had his license by then, so we could get around more.) We were all a bit wilder than I would have preferred my own sons to be, and indeed we were wilder than my own sons were, but we all grew up okay. We became productive members of society. Freddie and I both served in the U.S. Navy, and we both worked all of our lives and paid our taxes, we both raised children who were not ashamed to acknowledge us. Neither of us was ever arrested. Freddie even managed to make it through his life with only one wife. (I only made it forty-plus years with my first wife. I just got too damn annoying after a while.)
Most importantly, Freddie was a good person. He never picked on anyone. We all teased each other all the time, but Freddie was very gentle about it, like a good friend should be. He was very handsome and he had great hair. He had the greatest contrapposto that I’ve ever seen, much more graceful that Michelangelo’s David. He had a blonde girlfriend who was so beautiful that it still makes some of us wonder, wow, how did he manage to land her? I’m very glad that I knew him, and I appreciate all of the time that we spent together. I wish that I had stayed more in touch over the years, but that one is a two-way street and it’s not good to think about it too much. Accept your benefit, and just be gracious.
RIP, Freddie. Thanks for everything.
*I don’t want to be too personal here. I lack permission to share these details. For all of my fellow College Pointers, Freddie lived on 6th Avenue close to College Place. If you knew him, that’s close enough for you.
There's a restaurant spot at poolside at my condo here in BKK. It's been a hard luck spot, a few people have tried to make a go of it in my four years here. This new place is by far the best of the bunch.
The new owner has a lot of experience. The menu is half very affordable Thai standards, and half slightly up-scale Vietnamese food. On the left, above, is a Spicy Vietnamese Sausage Salad; on the right is Lemongrass Pork with Fried Sticky Rice. Notice that the Architecture of my place is kind of "Miami-Modern," with the rounded edges everywhere.
The homemade coconut ice-cream was outstanding. Note to self: only order it if there are four people in attendance.
Monday, November 12, 2018
Thinking about concrete has been taking up a lot of my time this week. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. That was some impressive concrete, a powerful reminder that concrete is a rich subject for consideration. Before long, my thoughts were drifting to other favorite things. We are constantly aware of the ants, and they are certainly remarkable little creatures.
They are somewhere in our field of vision more than we would find ideal, probably. We are simply accustomed to their presence, but they are, in fact, so interesting that it is almost disturbing.
I am informed, and believe, that ants evolved from some kind of wasp-like creatures about 140 million years ago. That doesn’t sound like long enough, does it? They have ants that were trapped in amber about 100 million years ago, and they maintain some wasp-like characteristics, along with a lot of ant-like characteristics. (This is from Wikipedia and a couple of other sites, BBC Science or something.) Wiki says that they “achieved ecological dominance” about sixty million years ago. That sounds more ominous than the author intended, I’m sure. Isn’t that about when the dinosaurs became extinct? Unrelated events, no doubt.
It is certain that today, as we speak, there are an awful lot of ants in the world. I remember reading long ago that there were ant colonies in the dirt under the ice on the Antarctic Continent, but the current consensus is that that was just a linguistic coincidence. They are everywhere else, though. They make up between 15% and 25% of the total biomass of every animal on earth, and the biomass of all of the ants is just about equal to the biomass of all of the human beings on earth. Whose world is it? That one seems to be a tie.
The Ants of Thailand
We have a lot of ants here in Thailand. Many different varieties, different shapes and sizes. One of the great but little-known things about Thailand is that the place is so wonderful that most of the bugs live outside. There’s so much for them to do out there, and the weather is so inoffensive, that they just stay there. God knows there’s enough rotting vegetation to keep them fed, along with dead geckos and the carcasses of larger insects. I guess there’s enough rain distributed throughout the year to keep them from getting thirsty, although I have noticed in some years that the “dry season” leaves them no choice but to parade into your kitchen or bathroom, if they are handy.
We have red ants; ants that are half clear and half red; brown ants; ants that are black; ants that are half black and half brown; and ants that look roughly the color of leopards and appear as though they might just have the spots as well. We have them so small that you can hardly see them, and so large that you can tell their faces apart and give them names. Those giants tend to travel around alone, and if you happen to be standing at the sink when they poke their heads up for a look-see, they take a moment to regard you with something approaching interest.
I had the giants in the first house that I rented up in the northern mountains. We never saw them anywhere but the kitchen, which was a vent-block affair attached to one outside wall of the house. That’s a very common set up; it keeps the heat of cooking from making the house uninhabitable. They stayed out of the house part. My guess is that there were too many geckos in the house. I’d see the giant ants one at a time coming up to the splash-plate of the counter to have a look around. Having satisfied themselves that there was nothing of interest in the area, they would go back the way they came.
Ants are a food source for many Thai people. Sometimes this is part of the dynamic that people who are poor enough will literally eat anything, but there is one ant-based food that is highly valued as a delicacy. That would be Kai Mot Daeng, or red ant eggs. These, of course, do not look like eggs at all, and they disappear nicely into the dishes that include them. It is, in fact, the least offensive way to eat insects that I have ever encountered. Way up the mountain somewhere if you find a local village market, they will have several kinds of bugs for sale, and people who grew up with them as a common food source do seem to like them. Everything from grasshoppers to huge black beetles, already prepared or just ready for your kitchen. I will cheerfully eat dishes containing the red ant eggs; I will risk being rude to avoid eating one of the larger insects.
Ants are busy little things. When we first arrived at our Peace Corps teaching site, we were housed in the “teacher house” of the big grammar school in town. It was an ancient structure, but dry and tidy. On the second evening there was a huge swarm of termites, I mean it was so dense we could hardly see the TV. There’s nothing to be done about that but wait it out and then sweep them up. They were dying by the time we went to bed, and we figured that we would sweep them up in the morning. We had noticed some unusual ant activity as the termites began to hit the floor in large numbers. (The bedroom upstairs was clear.) When we came downstairs rather early the next morning, there was no termite debris in evidence. The ants had packed it all off to ant-land. Other than that, I don’t remember seeing any ants in that house. If something is in the wind, they will sense it and spring into vigorous action. The periodic termite swarms were probably something that they looked forward to.
Now I live in a condo building that was built about twenty years ago. I have what I believe are called, “crazy ants.” Not many, but if you poke around in the kitchen you’ll always see a few, either on the counter or in a cabinet. Ants are justifiably famous for their regimentation, for their great organization, for the profound order of their lives. Crazy ants are not like that. Most of the ants that you see are moving along the same path, forth and back, following a pheromone trail to something of value that one of them stumbled across. If one happens to deviate from the path, she will quickly discover her mistake and rejoin the parade. I say “she,” they are almost all she. The crazy ants never make a line or follow a path. They seem to be scattering away from the explosion of a stink-bomb. And fast, too. They are among the smallest of the ants that I know of, and they race along like there was no tomorrow. Not just fast to scale, not just fast for their small size, but fast compared to any other insect. I cannot imagine how fast their tiny legs are pumping. Just keeping those six tiny legs coordinated at that speed wins my greatest respect.
The state of their disorganization makes a Pachinko machine look like a model of order. They never appear to know where they’re going, nor does it ever seem like they are returning to a particular place. If they stumble onto something good, like a sticky spot on the counter what was made by a drop of honey, they will begin to congregate. Even then, they seem to grow impatient and start to run again. Crazy ants is a good name for them. There must be a reason for the behavior, but I don’t think that it has been discovered yet.
Living with Ants
It’s all good to study ant behavior and I’m sure that the pros have a lot of fun doing it. I’m more interested in the social aspect of living with these tiny animals.
I grew up in houses that were remarkably insect-free. There were spiders, but people in my parents’ generation, and previous generations, held the belief that spiders in the house were a sign of good luck. It meant the house was dry. There would be mosquitoes in the season, and they are annoying, and there were flies, also mostly in summer, but the social dynamic is different with flying insects. At least with mosquitoes, you know exactly what they want. They want your blood. Other than that firm intention, they seem devoid of intelligence. Compared to mosquitoes, flies are geniuses. Flies are aware, hyperaware in fact, of their surroundings. If there is a mosquito on your arm, you can easily kill him, leaving only a small spot of your own blood. Flies, on the other hand, seem to have eyes in every direction and supernatural reflexes. None of this is disturbing; it is merely annoying.
After getting married, and still living in New York City, I graduated to roaches. Our last apartment in New York was in a public housing project, and boy, did we have roaches. Being forced to live with them, I spent some time in the library studying them, and I discovered that they are generally not dangerous as disease vectors. They are just seeking food and shelter, like any other sensible organism, and they are fairly clean in their habits and keep to themselves as much as possible, inside the walls where you cannot see them. Unless you have a serious allergy to the dust made by their rotting carcasses, there’s not too much to worry about.
It did not occur to me at the time, but the major difference between living with roaches and living with ants is that the roaches have the common decency to respect you, while the ants utterly fail to even notice your presence, much less respect the title that you hold to the property that they are so blithely enjoying the use of.
Roaches are sufficiently aware to fear you. If I entered my kitchen in the project at night, and turned on a light, a roach walking along the wall would casually go about his business. If, however, I turned my head towards him and held him in my stare, he would freeze. Minutes could go by without either of us moving. As soon as I made one move in his direction, he would sail off at top speed. When I first identified this behavior, I found the apparent intelligence of it alarming. My brother-in-law was studying for a MS in biology at the time, and I described the behavior to him, along with my concerns. He assured me that it was simply a part of the instinctive crawling behavior of certain insects.
But the roaches, they see you, they fear you, and they desperately try to escape from you. Ants, on the other hand, ignore you. They do have eyes, so it is likely that they can identify your movement at least. If you start to poke one of their Indian-file trails with your finger, they will attack you, so they are not beyond recognizing your presence. In the absence of an immediate threat, however, their disdain for you is total. It’s fucking annoying.
Therein probably lies the secret of the ants’ success. You probably could not entice a colony of roaches to attack you. They’re instinct is to escape. They are on the look-out for threats, and ready at all times to make a clean getaway. Even if you invade their space and kill great numbers of them, those that remain alive simply move on, as fast as possible.
Ants, on the other hand, will attack you. They will enjoy it. They attack at the drop of a hat. If another colony of ants intrudes on their territory, they will attack it. If the level of their alarm is sufficient, they may even follow the enemy ants back to their nest and kill them all. That’s even if the other ants are of the identical species. They will readily declare war on rival ant species. They will do the same with termites, which are rather larger animals. They’ve got big red ants in Texas, or those fire ants, who will swarm all over you if they believe you are a threat. Where do the army-ants live, out in Africa somewhere? They will sting the shit out of you. There is actually one species of ant whose sting can be fatal, but one out of 15,000 separately identified types doesn’t sound too bad. The likelihood of encountering them seems slim.
Arrogant might be the operative word for ants. They are arrogant little things. But since a powerful argument could be made that this is their world, and we just live in it, I suppose that they are entitled to a smidge of arrogance. If you are the best, and you say that you are the best, you’re not really bragging, now are you?
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Thursday, November 8, 2018
More O.G. Indonesian rock and roll. They really caught some lightning in a bottle there for a while. I've got to look up some more recent Indo variety shows and see if they're still way up on the Country and Western thing. I've seen some hat bands in the last ten years that were real pros and very entertaining.
Asia is a funny place. The popular music is pretty dead in most countries. Then, like in Japan, a lot of the music really swings and rocks hard, but there's a reason. Japan was full of Americans for ten years or more, and we ran the place. They got the funk gene from us; they internalized the swing. Indo was a Dutch colony, then the Japanese took over, then on to independence and the place in general is pretty dull. Somehow the music has real meat on its bones. Strange.