Monday, October 16, 2017

Flooded streets in Bangkok

We’re about a month away from the end of the rainy season here in Thailand. Those tropical rains can really come in a rush, and flash-flooding is common around this time. After five months of frequent rain, the infrastructure to carry off the water can be temporarily over-matched. This YouTube video is a good picture of the results. Generally it all settles down within a couple of hours. It just takes the infrastructure a little time to catch up. 

It’s just a case of “life in the big city.” I remember an underground comic that had a cover where two Wall Street types were coming up from the subway onto a New York intersection that was being torn apart by a tyrannosaurus rex. “Jeez,” says one guy, “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.” 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Welcome To Tanzania!

Brace for impact, ladies and gentlemen, this may be a shock. I’m giving Herr President Trump a pass on his mispronunciation of “Tanzania.”

Sure, he did say, on tape, “tan-ZANE-ia,” and that, technically, is wrong. But do we really want to add this to the daily game of “dogpile on the rabbit?” We all, from media giants to grade school wiseasses, jump on Trump’s hurricane of mistakes, gaffs, and faux pas, and we have our reasons. Not only is it right to point out that this guy has no business being our president, but it is also great fun. This Tanzania thing, however, is the bridge too far of Trump mockery.

Tanzania! Could you find it on a map? Tell the truth now. If you found the word “Tanzania” in an article would you read it as “tan-za-KNEE-ah?” Or, more appropriately, “TAN-za-KNEE-ah?” Do you know which of those last two is correct? I don’t, and it’s likely that you don’t either.

And that’s okay! Americans are famous for not caring a fig about foreign languages or geography. Most Americans only discover the location of a foreign country when we start bombing it. African geography is low on most Americans’ lists of important subjects. It’s in the news, and I’m on my guard, so today I would say, “TAN-za-KNEE-ah,” but if it snuck up on me unawares I’d probably blurt out “tan-ZANE-ia,” just like Trump did. So I’m not holding it against him, even though he really should take better briefings about those things. I would, if I were him.

I could make that mistake and not care at all. And I’ll tell you, I’ve had the advantage of knowing two fine young men from Tanzania who were neighbors of mine in a Bangkok condo building for many years. They were studying engineering at a local international university. They were very gracious. I was glad for the opportunity to get to know them a bit, and to find out a few things about their country. One thing that I can tell you: neither of them would care if you mispronounced the name of Tanzania, as long as you were speaking of it respectfully.

And it’s an interesting place! In the early post-colonial period after World War II, Tanganyika and Zanzibar were two of the newly independent countries below the horn of East Africa. (South of Kenya.) I knew from the newspapers in 1964 that they had voted to join themselves into one country called Tanzania. I knew where it was, but that was the sum of my knowledge. I’m sure that I called it “tan-ZANE-ia,” like Trump did yesterday. I’m pretty sure that that’s what everybody called it. My condo neighbors told me that the two cultures were very different, something that I had had no ideas about at all. Tanganyika was on the mainland, and Zanzibar was on a series of islands off the coast. One culture was predominantly Christian; the other predominantly Muslim. I forget right now which was which. One of the students was a Christian, and he was very active in a church in our neighborhood, probably a Korean Presbyterian church. The other fellow was a Muslim. If they are any indication, Tanzania is a hospitable country with a gracious, tolerant culture. I wish them well.

Let’s take this opportunity to forgive Trump this one minor misstep. Do it just this once. Please continue to call him on all of his more crazy or more dangerous utterances, let’s continue to do that, please. And continue to draw attention to the heinous mischief that our current ruling elite are working every day on the American way of life. Trump and his running dogs are leading us down a path that ends where the range of options only covers the space between miserable poverty and post-apocalyptic horror, so the least that we can do is offer some push-back. 

Do it for the children! Like your own grandchildren, for instance.  Or mine, if you are not so blessed. I’d appreciate it. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Andre Williams - Sweet Little Pussycat

This was the first Andre Williams cut that I remember. I had this LP way back in the vinyl-only era. It's still out there somewhere. I hope that my ungrateful children are appreciating it.

Andre Williams - Pulling Time

Andre Williams, "Mr. Rhythm" himself, with an issue of first impression.

The accompanying visuals are worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Do I Need A Bucket List?

The time when I will no longer feel like strapping myself into a pressurized cylinder for hours at a time is at hand. I’m not there yet, but I can feel it coming.  So the question becomes: are there any places that I would really like to see before, let’s say, the opportunity passes into history? How about things, are there any things that I would love to have owned but never had the chance? That would be things that I could still afford, if they were a priority. Are there any experiences that I would like to add to my resume, experiences that I might still have the strength, money and inclination to arrange? It’s worth thinking about, and now is a better time than even six months from now, owing to the uncertain nature of our mortality.

“Experiences” is an easy category to disregard. There’s no way to discuss that subject in polite company.

“Things” might be tempting. When I was a young man, for instance, I would look longingly at Rolex watches in store windows. (I’ve got a post here on this blog somewhere about Rolexes.) I am no longer such a romantic, though, and I already own a forty-five dollar watch that keeps very good time. My last cheap watch lasted me ten years, so this one might last for the rest of my life.

A car might be a possibility. There was a time when I loved cars and driving, but my last car would be hard to top. That was a 1997 Honda Prelude, and boy it was a swell car, a regular luxury hot rod. I am content with my memories of driving that, and other cars and motorcycles, way too fast. It was fun while it lasted, and I don’t regret any of it. I am grateful to God for having survived it! Now I love taxis (riding in them; I don’t want to own one).

How about “Places?” This is the richest subject for longing.

I’ve been luckier than most people when it comes to traveling. I’ve been lots of places in Europe and Asia. I spent a summer studying in Germany. I’ve been off the beaten path, too. I’ve been to Poland (Lublin and Warsaw), and Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Guelph). I’ve lived in Thailand for thirteen years now, and I’ve actually visited over thirty provinces, adding another thirty if you count riding through on the bus. I speak German and Thai, so I’ve gotten a more accurate read of those countries than typical tourists get. It’s safe to say that I have traveled enough to prevent me from longing for more, but the question remains: are there one or more places that nag at me because I’ve never seen them in person?

That’s the crux of the matter these days, the verb, “to see.” There are certainly places that I would love to see, and God knows that there are many museums that I would dearly love to explore. But these days it’s so easy to “see” just about anything on the Internet.

It would be lovely to travel to Madrid and spend time in the Prado. Ditto Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, and many others. This, for me, is the most frustrating aspect of traveling as a tourist. There isn’t enough time to really absorb the available experience of a large museum. I’ve been to Amsterdam twice, and on one occasion I did go to the Rijksmuseum, which is fabulous. It would, however, take a week to even begin to see it adequately, and my schedule was so accelerated that I couldn’t even give it a day. Here’s what I did. They had just completed a big cleaning of “The Night Watch,” by Rembrandt von Rijn, and it had come out great. So I immediately ran, ran, mind you, to the location of the Night Watch. I walked through the room describing the cleaning process, because conservatorship is an interest of mine, and then I spent about forty-five minutes staring at the painting itself. It was bright and magnificent; it was a lovely experience. A privilege! Then I went to the gift shop and bought a few things. Then we left the museum to go back to wandering around the city. You just can’t do everything you’d like to do. On that same day, we walked past the Anne Frank house, and we were very interested to see it, and its neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets and beautiful canal, but we did not wish to wait on the rather long line to enter. All touristy traveling becomes an exercise in cutting corners.

So if I wish to look at the paintings from the Prado, or the Uffizi, I look on the Internet. This shortcut would work for most cities and many natural phenomena as well. So what are the things that you must do in person?

First of all, there are the unphotographable wonders of the world. Take the Grand Canyon, for instance. You may have been a fan, you may have seen thousands of beautiful, professional photographs of the Grand Canyon, even high resolution posters, but I guarantee you that the first time you approach the rim of the canyon itself on foot you will be experiencing it in all of its majesty for the first time. The scope of it, and the colors and textures, cannot be captured in photos. This happens not only with natural places, but also with certain buildings or monuments. One example is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia. I had always admired them in photographs, finding them to be among the most beautiful sky-scrappers, architecturally speaking. The first time I laid eyes on them, however, I was stunned; I actually swayed back on my heels and caught my breath. The sun was full on them, and the effect was electric. It turns out that they are entirely clad with high-gloss, lush stainless steel! There’s no way to get the full impact of that on the Internet.

There are certainly places the seeing of which could be as exciting as the Grand Canyon or the Petronas Towers, but I’m choosing not to think about them too much. I certainly have no intention of making a list of some kind. There is, though, one category of places that tugs at my heart.

These are the experiences that transcend the mere act of looking at things. I worry that there are places in the world where it would be important and meaningful for me to simply be for a while. Just to BE in that place, to see it and smell it and hear it, to touch the trees and the grass, to eat the food. This is something that most people probably don’t think about very often, but if you think about it right now I’ll bet that you can come up with a few ideas.

I can think of a couple of such places that I have been in my life and would love to revisit. Lake George, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, comes to mind. Sure, the environs and the appearance of many things would have changed since my many visits long ago, but the lake itself and the forest and the mountains (hills, really) around the lake would be the same. I’m pretty sure that Rogers’ Rock looks about the same. I often have the experience in my thoughts, or in my dreams, but it would be wonderful to be there again.

Then there are the places that I have never been. I was considering the entire idea of vacations earlier today, and it was on the verge of seeming like a waste of time. I’ve been so many places already, why bother? I already live in Thailand, and even after being here for so long it’s like being on vacation all the time. Then I thought, what about Ireland? I know so much about Ireland, and five of my great-grandparents were born there. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be there? To see the green, and feel the breeze, and smell the rain? I’d be happy just to sit on a bench in a park in Dublin for a couple of days, then go down to Waterford and Cork, where my people left from, on the intercity bus, or train, or whatever they have in Ireland. Having Irish blood running through your veins can be a strange feeling. It seems to bring a set of hopes and dreams along with it, unbidden. It brings physical things as well, like the Celtic Palate, the melancholy, and the thirst. I have suffered, more or less, from these things, myself and through the actions of my mother and grandmother. (God rest their souls, and he may have. Either way, the matter is settled by now.) And yet I’ve never been to Ireland; I am a stranger to my own place. Maybe I should correct that oversight.

In the instant that it took to move to this paragraph I started to over-think such a vacation. Luckily, I caught that error immediately and have resolved to just fly to Dublin if the trip ever becomes a reality. I wonder if this is the sum of my bucket list. It might be, and it might just happen at that. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Peculiar Crime On Government Property

One of my Facebook friends encountered something odd the other day. Waking up that morning, as she described to us, she had discovered that someone had stolen one of her garbage pails during the night! Disturbing, certainly, but at least no burglary was involved. There was no breaking and entering the domicile while she was sleeping. And thank God it was not a robbery! No “force or fear” was involved. It may have belonged to a municipality, which could make the matter better or worse. They might take her word for it that the thing was stolen, or they may accuse her of having sold it go get money for . . . let’s say groceries, okay? But you know what they’d be thinking. It was a violation, though, hopefully it did not grow to include multiple violations. Even life’s smaller violations are annoying.

Annoying, and often somewhat perplexing. I was reminded of the smallest loss of property that I have ever suffered by theft, which coincidentally was also the most perplexing.

I was a guest of the United States Navy when it happened, a guest and a dues-paying member of the club, too. My regular quarters at the time were in the desert outside of Las Vegas, but the Navy had become suspicious of my general demeanor and sent me to a really lovely Naval facility in San Diego, California, to get to the bottom of things. They wished to discover whether my suspicious behavior was due to: 1) malingering; 2) skylarking; 3) a wish to be discharged from my responsibilities without actually having done anything wrong; 4) some kind of mental aberration; or 5) maybe I was just wound too tightly.

For this purpose, I was housed in an unlocked ward in the Babloa Naval Hospital, in the section of the hospital devoted to matters not relating to physical injury or illness. The ward was quite crowded with a diverse group of mostly young men who all fit into one of the above mentioned five categories.

The biggest group were the bad attitudes, the guys who either couldn’t stay out of trouble or who wouldn’t do anything simply because an officer had ordered them to do it. Most of them were easy to get along with. There was one guy about nineteen-years-old whose job, like mine, was to drive a panel truck around the local city accomplishing the errands of the Navy. While I merely took ordinary care not to damage my vehicle while it was in my possession, this young man had gone a bit overboard caring for his truck. He washed and polished it daily, after hours and well into the evening. He made the motor pool guys crazy, and they in turn decided that he was crazy. He was sent to Balboa so that the issue could be decided by professionals. The rest of us in the ward voted for “crazy,” since the guy wouldn’t shut up about his truck and how much he was worried about it. I suppose he could have been acting, but he didn’t seem smart enough to sustain such a perfect act. I’m sure they got rid of him.

There were a couple of guys who had been thrown into the service by their families, thrown to the lions, as it were, in a desperate hope that the service, either the Navy or the Marines, would make a man out of them whereas up to that time they had been hopeless dipshits who could never defend themselves or play games with other boys, guys who had never climbed a tree or had a fight in their lives, guys that cried if you looked at them funny. That effort never works, the military cannot assist with miracles like that. They were pathetic, and we left them as alone as possible.

The Vietnam War was in high gear at the time, and we had a couple of shell-shock victims. Marines, you know, are members of the Navy for purposes of administration and transportation. The “combat fatigue” group were over in the other end of the ward, which was just a matter of turning left instead of right when you walked in. There were a couple of mumblers who wouldn’t look you in the eye. We could kind of talk to them, and we were sure that they’d be okay before long. They walked to the galley for their meals. It’s just that not everyone is cut out for combat. All of that sleep deprivation, coupled with the explosions and the incoming gunfire, gets to many people after a while. There was one very sad case, though. He was a gunnery sergeant, that’s a big deal in the Marine Corps, about forty-years-old. He never said a word, and he never looked at anybody, and evidently, he had not done either thing since he snapped on an afternoon in the combat zone when things got a bit too exciting for him. Snap, just like that, and he stayed snapped for the entire three weeks that I was there. He woke up every morning, made his bed Marine style, showered and shaved, put on his greens (their kind of casual dress uniform), tie and all, with all of the buttons buttoned, including his impossibly shiny shoes, and then sat ramrod straight in the chair next to the bed, staring straight ahead. We gave him room to breathe. I hope that he came out of it okay.  

My friend losing her garbage can caused me to recall something that happened during my San Diego vacation at the Navy’s expense, and set me thinking down these old avenues.

It was an open ward, so one’s private space extended about a foot and a half in every direction from one’s own bed, and no further. New arrivals are advised to place their wallet and wrist watch in the far end of their pillow case and sleep with their heads between the valuables and the open side of the pillow case, with at least one hand grasping the items through the closed end of the pillow case. Anything you don’t want to lose, boys, put your Zippo in there, too. I did that, and the system worked fine.

One morning, I woke up on time and performed my ablutions as usual. I made up my bed and got dressed. I sat on my chair and got my shoes from under the bed and low and behold, ONE OF THE SHOELACES WAS MISSING. Only one of the shoelaces. I think that my first words were, “who steals one fucking shoelace?”

This event was annoying, but it was also unfathomably peculiar, because there were multiple shopping opportunities close at hand, all of which sold shoelaces. I took it as a lesson that some people are just so naturally disposed to the theft of property that it would never occur to them to buy a nineteen-cent item that is readily available nearby when one of that item was even closer and could be stolen with only a slight chance of being found out. I walked slowly to breakfast, and afterwards I stopped off and bought a pair of shoelaces.

At the end of my three weeks, the Navy decided that I was just wound too tightly. They added a finding that I was not attempting to get myself discharged from the Navy, which enabled them to give me an Honorable Discharge with a clear conscience. (“Catch 22” in action.)

The odds are that I knew the guy who took the shoelace, and that we got along fine. I got along with everybody very well in that place, black, white and Hispanic. We’re all closing in on seventy-years-old about now, and wherever you guys are, I wish you all well.

No hard feelings about the shoelace. 

Why Do People Hate Poetry?

There was a period of about two years when I wrote some poetry. Too much time on my hands, I suppose, too many hours spent alone. A case of, “talk to the page!” This blog existed at the time, and I would post a poem once in a while. They seemed to make people angry, mostly.

I look at the old files from time to time. Some of them I don’t like much at all, but some I think might be okay. This one might be okay.

“Lives in Poetry”

If I could have written kitty sixteen five feet one white prostitute,
I would have cried for happiness, sixteen minutes at the very least,
And then I would have seriously considered killing myself from the pressure
Of ever having to do it again, but that’s me. 

John Donne, Shakespeare’s Shakespeare if I don’t miss my guess,
No one knows his name now; how do you pronounce that anyway?
No man is an island, indeed, and death be not proud,
I could not agree more if it had been mandated in the legislature.

Poor Edgar Poe, how many words a month did he turn out
In his brief life?  Mistreated now by history, like anyone could care
If he got loaded, or had strange relationships, go and read
The comedies, or try “The Philosophy of Furniture” for drollery par excellence. 

Isn’t it odd that Wall Street bankers fart money and Ferraris,
While poets can hardly afford to eat rice and beans,
Unless they teach Whitman to nineteen-year-old cretins
Out in the desert somewhere?

April 22, 2008

By the way, “kitty, sixteen, 5’1,” white, prostitute,” is a poem by e.e. cummings. Google also shows it as "5'11," but one hundred years ago that would have made poor Kitty the tallest woman in London! So I'm going with 5'1." 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Guitar Slim - Strange Things Happening

We know just what you mean, Slim.

Strange things have happened since forever, but the intensity changes from one historical period to another. Sometimes the strange things come in a trickle; other times they come in such a rush that you can hardly catch your breath. Sometimes the strange things are mostly merely odd; other times there are strange things that are truly shocking and dangerous. We are living in a historical period that will long be remembered for the constant rush of strange things that are as novel as they are threatening. It’s like dodging traffic on the fucking freeway, for crying out loud.

We need relief from this full-on assault, and Mr. Guitar Slim, aka Eddie Jones, can help. His is not, however, a happy story. As much joy as his music brings to me and many others, Slim does not seem to have shared in the joy. As joyful and enthusiastic as he always sounds on his records, it turns out that he carried inside of himself the doom and unhappiness of depression. He had his first hit in 1951, and he was quite popular for a few years, but his star faded quickly. By 1959 he was dead of alcohol related pneumonia after a few years in obscurity.

In New York, no less. There are really eight million stories in the Naked City. By now one of the strangest stories of all New York stories is the duly elected, but hardly respected, President of the United States. That may be the strangest thing that has happened in the history of our country. As usual, there are no recommendations coming from me. Only my warmest best wishes for good luck that is sufficient to save us from the worst. “Oh Lord, in your infinite mercy, may this hurricane of bullshit immediately make a hard right turn and rush away from us, never to be seen again, amen.” 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

St. Vincent Performs 'Los Ageless'

Beautiful presentation of a very nice recipe well executed. Very delicious, and you can dance to it. I give it a 9.3!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Wonderful Students

This is some of the students from one of my larger classes making peace offerings after I confused the hell out of them for four hours by speaking (mostly) English. They had sent delegates to the teacher room before the class to warn me that they had all previously failed the class and were desperately hoping to pass the test this time around. I offered my usual words of encouragement, and we had a nice conversation in Thai. That usually calms them down a bit.

There is, however, only so much that I can do. I do try to explain more in Thai when the class has limited English skills, but I run out of Thai skills before too long. I lack sufficient vocabulary to explain all of the points of law in Thai. What I can do is take more time to explain the legalese, the new vocabulary, with reference to as much Thai as possible, and tell little stories in Thai to explain how the law works. If the level of English is very low, which it often is, none of this is enough to be really helpful. To understand what I mean, imagine receiving a lecture in mostly Chinese with about thirty-five percent broken English thrown in as a life-line.

In some classes the English proficiency is good. There I can concentrate on vocabulary and pronunciation, speaking English throughout. Even there, though, I speak very slowly and clearly. I laugh when I think of my natural accent, which is working class New York City. We are to English like Cubans are to Spanish, very, very fast with lots of clipping, not to mention the slang. (For my Thai readers: the New York accent is like passa Suratani over here. So fast that some Thais cannot follow it. "g'n lae' ru ya'") If my old friends could hear me speak to a class of Thai students they'd think that I had had a stroke, I'm talking so slowly. 

But the students are unfailingly polite. Even students who don’t understand a word maintain eye contact and appear to be listening, although some of these students will eventually begin to nod their heads, fighting off sleep. The gifts are sometimes appeals to our good natures to be gentle graders, and sometimes a more typical Thai gesture of gratitude and welcome. Either way I don’t think that gifts could change a teacher’s usual inclinations. I, and many of my Thai prof friends, am always a gentle grader. If the student worked hard, and turned in a test that was a good job for them, I think more of the students than of the raw number of correct answers. Prof’s that are hard-asses about grading will not be swayed by some bottles of bird’s nest and/or essence of chicken potions, however expensive they may have been.

My students, and my job in general, are a pleasure. I’m lucky to be here. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Nirvana - Son Of A Gun

See what I mean?

The Vaselines-Son Of a Gun

Reminded by something completely unrelated that I love a good cover version, I finally looked up this cut, which is the original.

I like it. It's very sweet in a way that almost sounds sentimental, and, I think, very successful in it's own right. It's a good song. I've posted Nirvana's cover already, but maybe I'll do a side-by-side right here. The Nirvana version is quite a contrast, not exactly un-sweet, but not at all sentimental. By Nirvana, the song is dynamic and propulsive. I like both.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Last Word On This Subject

Okay! Today I caught this building from the "reading" direction, where it looks like the intended letter of the Thai alphabet.

So don't worry, this will all stop now. It's not like I'm obsessed or anything.

Walk On By by Laura Nyro

There's something special about someone just sitting playing a piano and singing their heart out.

It's very difficult to coax great tone and real emotion from a piano, but when it's done properly it is very effective. The whole enterprise is a full house, musically. Three instruments playing together, left hand, right hand, and voice, so there are ample opportunities for harmony. When it's done well, it's like a small miracle.

For me, just sitting with a piano and playing and singing a song is final exam stuff. (Disclaimer: I can't do it myself.) Making a great job of it gains the player my undying admiration.

The list of greats would be long, and I hate to neglect to mention any of the other greats, but, without meaning any disrespect to anyone else, Laura Nyro is certainly on the list.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Ngaw Ngu Building In Bangkok

Here are two more quite dramatic but not very descriptive pix of that Ngaw Ngu building that is featured in the second post below. These were also taken from a moving taxi, so perhaps I can be forgiven for their inadequacy. 

If I were industrious, which is a big if, I could devote some real time to going around to take good pictures of some of our best examples, and of course some of our worst examples as well. There are remarkable Bangkok buildings at both ends of that scale. But no, that's not going to happen. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Let It Be・上々颱風Shang Shang Typhoon Live in '93

Someone was poking around an old share of a song by this 1990s band the other day, and I noticed that the video had been "taken down." So here's another example of the slightly off-center genius of Shang Shang Typhoon!

It looks like fun, doesn't it?

A Gem Of Bangkok Architecture

The architecture in Bangkok can seem like a strange mix of styles. It’s a huge city with very large buildings featured throughout, so there are a lot of them. I guess it’s a fairly typical “bell curve,” there are some really beautiful buildings that anyone would agree are architecturally successful, and there are some that are really unspeakable, with most falling in the middle distance somewhere, inoffensive perhaps, kind of nice to fairly ugly. Then there are the large, expensive buildings that make eccentric statements.

Like this one. This is a building in the shape of a letter of the Thai alphabet, the “ngaw-ngu.” Which is Thai for “the snake.” To see the letter properly, the building should be viewed from the other side. This is the view that I could manage from a moving taxi, so that’s all you’re going to get. You get the gist of it, though. (From this side it looks kind of like a "G," doesn't it? That was not part of the intended effect, I assure you.) 

Kind of interesting isn’t it? In a good way!  

The Go Nuts v.'s!

I purchased a condo in Bangkok about a year ago, and it has taken me all of this time to finally hang my own things on the walls. What a difference! Before it was like living in a hotel, the pictures on the wall were like hotel things. Now it all feels like home. Finally! This is much more comfortable.

That must have been a great concert. The Go Nuts, the’s, and the Highlander II’s at Jabberjaw! Long ago by now, I suppose, but not that long ago. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Poem From A Ten Year Old Notebook

There’s one bookcase in my condo, only one. Only half of one, really, the bottom is cabinets behind doors, containing mostly magazines, flat, and stationary supplies. I was looking through the thing today, and I came across a notebook from 2008. There was a poem in there that I kind of like. No date, and no name. As follows:

I stand offshore,
Admiring the beauty and the contour
Of the landscape.
The gentle sweep or bold
Relief of the mountains,
The color of the sky
And of the earth, the flowers.
If closer now by fate
Or by design,
I thrill to catch the scent
Of wondrous land.
Wanting so of feeling what I see,
To seize the day
In acts of brutal beauty,
But steering yet away
For open water,
Throwing now and then a wave or a smile.

I couldn’t say what I made of this thing back when I wrote it. Now I’d say that it was a poem about social anxiety. It’s probably best if poems aren’t about anything in particular. That way they can strike any reader with any meaning at all on any given day. Yeah, that’s best. Maybe it’s about a seagull. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Visions - Cigarette

I quit almost a year ago, and for a while there were many days when I felt just like this. In the morning, anyway. I only enjoyed the morning cigarettes; after eleven or so I might smoke one or two more, or maybe not. I wasn't dedicated to it, not like some people.

I did, however, love cigarettes. Do love them, I suppose. I've always loved them. I remember my early experiences with cigarettes, and they were all good. It could be said that I have quit smoking about twenty-five times, but I was never quitting, not really. I was taking a break. Taking the overview of my life, I've only smoked cigarettes about twenty-five percent of the time, so there's been more off than on. I have enjoyed every cigarette than I have ever smoked, and I have no regrets. I'm pretty sure that I will never have any regrets about it, no matter if some terrible fate awaits me that has a cigarette related component to it. We must live with our decisions. At least I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I'm not planning to start back up any time soon, but if a time comes when I am unambiguously expected to die within a matter of months, I'll almost certainly go back to it.

Cigarettes giveth, and cigarettes taketh, but what they giveth, I will taketh, any reasonable chance that I get.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Marianne Faithfull - Ruby Tuesday (1995)

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for singers who sing in tones that are less than pleasing to the ear while delivering the musical idea with great enthusiasm and sincerity. It seems to me that while Marianne Faithfull's voice got rougher than prudence usually allows, she became a more effective singer, a "better" singer.

Nice video here, too. It's always nice to see Catherine Deneuve, and the 1965 edition was particularly attractive. Seen here in "Repulsion," directed by Roman Polanski.

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.