Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Public Access

Let’s consider one of the nicer features of ancient culture: access to public events. I’m talking about ticket prices, and ticket availability, for everyday cultural events in early America. Like the early Seventies. I don’t mean events like dinner at the White House, I mean things like Broadway shows, big concerts, comedy shows and sporting events, common mom ‘n pop cultural gatherings. It was all so easy then.

Please bear with me. I only mean to give this dead horse a couple of good whacks, not a total beating.

It has come to my attention that the top ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium have been REDUCED to one thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars ($1,250). Reduced from $2,500. That’s for one baseball game during the regular season. Most of the really good seats go for more than $600 a pop. Further complication: most of the good seats are sold as season’s tickets, so even if working people could afford them, they are not available. Allow me to whack another dead horse while I’m at it: this may be further proof that some people need to pay more taxes.

During the afore mentioned early Seventies, I lived in Flushing, New York, over in the Pomonoc Public Housing Projects near Queens College. From my living room I could see Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. The Mets had great, winning teams in those days. I was married at the time, but I have always enjoyed spending time and going places by myself, so there were times that I would see the lights come on and decide to go and catch a game. I was always, always, able to buy a single box seat ticket on the baseline.

The boxes at Shea had four seats, and surely most of the boxes were more or less occupied, but there were always single tickets available in boxes that only had two or three people in them. The tickets were just under five dollars.

A lot has changed since the early Seventies, besides the obvious, considering the absence then of anything like personal computers; cell phones; fax machines; cable TV; personal music players; Blackberries; and God knows what all else. But consider how great a change it is to go from five dollars to six-hundred-and-fifty (which seems to be the top price at the new Mets’ field), not to mention thousands of dollars elsewhere.

It’s not just the price that has become elitist, it’s the availability. Groucho Marx gave a one man show at Carnegie Hall, it was the very early Seventies I’m pretty sure, maybe it was 1968 or ‘9. I remember buying tickets, I just went to the Carnegie Hall box office and picked up two tickets in the middle of the orchestra. (I think I’m repeating an old blog here to some extent, maybe just an even older journal entry.) My companion and I were surrounded by celebrities. When I bought the tickets it was nothing like the first day of their being on sale, and I was alone at the box office with plenty of seats to choose from. These days, the tickets for an equivalent event would be “sold out” in about one hour, except for the ones that were still available from ticket resellers.

Note that ticket scalping was illegal then, and remains illegal, at least for individuals. Now, however, large blocks of the good seats go to “ticket agencies” which resell them at greatly inflated prices, as high as the market will bear, and the market includes investment bankers, lots of them. Add to that: the fact that the prices now would be beyond my reach in the first place, beyond the reach of working people.

Something has happened. These are symptoms of the disappearance of the middle-class America that flourished between World War II and the election of Ronald Reagan. Egalitarianism is now well and truly out of style. Soon we’ll be tipping our hats and saying, “good morning, captain (of industry).”

I’m just complaining, I suppose. I offer no solutions.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Around Thailand: Visit To A Silk House

On Saturday I taught a class in one of our campuses out in the stix, way out in this case. From the airport, we drove for forty-five minutes through mostly farming countryside, then turned off onto a smaller, even more rural road for another ten minutes, finally coming to a small city, the city of Ban Pai (“Silk House”). It was very nice.

My hotel was simple, but very comfortable in every way. Good air-con; good cable TV (including German and Asian cable news and Star Movies in English); comfortable bed and warm shower; free lobby Internet and free wi-fi if you bring your lap-top. All for $12 per night.

I was surprised to find out that our campus there was a large, beautiful park like area with lots of buildings, offering a full range of courses for bachelors’ and masters’ degrees in a few subject areas. The students were very friendly, which I have come to expect. My class was hard for them, because they were largely innocent of any pollution by the English language. (The course is required, I wish them luck.)

Town was as rural as a city can be. They rolled up the streets at five p.m., after that it was hard to find a place to eat. At lunch I had some delicious roast duck over rice with a couple of vegetables and Hoisen sauce for about seventy-five cents. It was a lot of fun. They see lots of Farang but were suitably amazed that I could read the menu and order in Thai. I went back at five-fifteen but it was closed tighter than a dog’s ass in a flood, that was on Saturday evening. I had to make due with street food.

There were more lottery-ladies than I had ever seen in one place before. Every street was full of them, all the time. These are roaming sellers of lottery tickets, almost always women, mostly young, but not all, manifestly poor, usually dressed as though to work in a field, straw hat and all. They carry a wooden box over their shoulder which they can flash open very quickly. It looks like the boxes that sets of tubes of artist’s oil colors come in, complete with bronze clasp and with a leather strap. They snap them open with a smile, “ow mai ka?” I always just smile and politely say no, “mai ow, cawp khun k’ap.” Lots of people scan the tickets for lucky numbers. Most Thais don’t smile back at these luckless women, they have very low status.

There was also a huge number of Farang men around. Lots and lots of Farang men with Thai wives; some alone, probably shopping. More than one-third of these guys were fat, like notably fat, and most of them were dressed in t-shirts and shorts with some kind of sandals. Oddly, they had good hair almost to a man. Most of the guys didn't look so smart, please forgive my condescending tone but I know of which I speak. There were exceptions, a few, more or less well dressed guys with more or less age-appropriate Thai women and maybe a child or two. Sadly, of the smarter looking guys, most of them don’t look very nice. They often walk imperiously a few steps in front of the Thai wife. Some of the stupid guys looked like they were happy, and really trying to be good husbands.

You could tell that there were children in all situations: children of the union; prior children who came as part of the deal. A couple of guys were very good with their children, and the children obviously loved them. Some ignored the children and only spoke curtly to the wife. Some of these guys will gratefully stick it out but some will go back to England or wherever someday and soon thereafter the money will stop. It’s a bad situation.

One very young guy, European I think, I couldn’t really hear him but he didn’t look American, had a pretty wife with a (prior) eight or so year old daughter. He was very sweet with both of them. She had a couple of tattoos, very stylish clothes and colored hair, and she spoke good English without any further evidence of a good education. (This is all a red flag to those in the know.) At first, I thought they were about the same age, late twenties, but after closer inspection I realized that the wife was probably close to forty. I could tell from her eyes, her hands and feet, and, most tellingly, from the tattoos. I’ll bet she’s lying to him about her age, that would be easy in a country where lots of women retain their blush of youth for a long, long time.

Want a nice Thai wife? I’ll fill you in on your travel needs and hook you up with the hotel. Start with the lottery ladies, many of them were very pretty and looked like nice, smart women. Avoid Karaoke bars as though they were plague infected blankets. Room and board for fifteen bucks a day, a month for four-fifty. You’ll be married by then.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Movie Review: Attack Squadron

Attack Squadron (Japanese, 1963)

Catch this one if you can, but it won’t be easy. These heroic Japanese forces movies are carefully hidden from American eyes. No sense in upsetting big brother. Much of the genre that was produced during the war was actually destroyed.

A Toho product, I think. All of the usual suspects are here: Takashi Shimura in a small role as an admiral looking for a solution to the problem of the American advance; Toshiro Mifune gets a lot of screen time as an officer with an idea that he thinks is better than the Kamikaze idea; Akihiko Hirata (Dr. Shirazawa in the original Godzilla) as a junior officer; and Mie Hama as an occasional beauty-relief.

The better idea is the creation of special attack squadrons of elite flyers to use in carefully focused ambush-style attacks. There are, of course, some historical problems with this tactic. It’s 1945, and the really talented Japanese flyers had already been killed off almost to a man. Also, in 1945, the Japanese intelligence network was not capable of arranging the hoped for ambush attacks. But no matter. I am a great admirer of the Japanese enlisted ranks in World War II, certain excesses notwithstanding, and it’s nice to see them shine for a change.

The performance of any Japanese combat force is supernaturally successful. Early on, the pilots are in the Solomons with no planes. They fight against American ground forces as infantry. When they throw grenades, they throw them about a quarter of a mile with spectacular results. American troops are thrown twenty-five feet in the air by the explosions. Grenades thrown at Japanese forces, on the other hand, explode within a few feet with no effect.

Supernatural is the word. A group of Japanese pilots “borrow” an American P.T. boat and sail it from the Solomons to the Philippines on one tank of gas in a Hanukah style display of supernatural economy.

The movie is full of good aerial combat special effects. The attack squadrons do very well in these dogfights, mercilessly splashing Corsairs, Hellcats and Mustangs. (The models are very accurate.) In one scene, a few of the pilots are being ferried to the main base, inexplicably they are flying in a DC-3 with Japanese markings. They are set upon by two Marine Corsairs, a certain death sentence for all aboard. A lone Zero suddenly appears and splashes both of the Corsairs within thirty seconds. Godzilla level suspension of disbelief is required for these scenes.

The first of the ambush attacks goes very well. Knowing somehow that a large American air attack will hit their base, the attack squadron is positioned to take them on their way back to the carriers. The American force is destroyed, with no apparent losses to the Japanese force. The second ambush goes slightly less well, but is still very successful.

The final source of discouragement is not the failure of the ambush attacks. Much is made of the final voyage of the battleship Yamato, which was dispatched without air cover in April, 1945 to attack the American landing forces at Okinawa and was sunk unceremoniously by U.S. Navy planes from about twenty carriers. After some model shots of the heroic Yamato under sail, the sinking is accomplished off-screen. Hearing of the loss, the pilots of the attack squadron decide that it’s time to switch to Kamikaze attacks on American bombers.

It’s a nice little movie, though, and Mie Hama is sure pretty in her few scenes. Catch it if you can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Nice Day At The Pool

It was a little on the hot side today. Perhaps an understatement here in the Tropical Paradise. It is April, after all, the hottest month over here, wedged in between the Northern and the Southern Monsoons.

It made for a good day at the pool, though. My condo is right at the edge of the pool, and my "smoking" veranda affords a great view. Earlier I was privileged to observe a nice family: a temple-tattooed old country bumpkin great-grandpa, very thin and weathered; a very well preserved grandma, quite attractive; a stunning young mother, joyous in her cute, two piece bathing suit and expensively dyed blond hair; and two young, well behaved children with nice little swim suits, wearing bathing caps. I love to watch entire families interact with good humor.

Later on, a different vision. A boy, very young but confidently post-diaper age, and his mom. The boy was outfitted in a full scale May-West life jacket of cheerful yellow and blue, you could have tossed him into the ocean and gone back for him tomorrow. It went down to his knees, and the collar was so full you could hardly see his face. The rig included a rather loud whistle, you could even have returned for him at night, he was fully prepared. I’m sure that there was a light in there somewhere too.

This mom had a depressed aspect. Not angry, not unattractive, but tired and unhappy looking, the two-thousand-yard-stare. She interacted with the child indifferently. I had thought that she was merely chunky, but upon further inspection I began to think that she is pregnant again. One just out of diapers and more diapers on the way. What’s a mother to do?

Children of all demographics must learn to accept their parents as they are. God bless the lucky children who find themselves in well adjusted, cheerfully social families; and especially God bless the children who find themselves otherwise placed.

My Top Ten Films Of All Time

Not a scientific list, and I composed it during a long cab ride so it’s not even my own accurate estimation. Presented in alphabetical order, because it’s not a contest after all.

1. All Quiet on the Western Front
2. Beauty and the Beast (“La Belle e La Bette,” Jean Renoir)
3. Blow Up
4. Bride of Frankenstein
5. Bringing Up Baby
6. Dr. Strangelove
7. King Kong
8. Seven Days in May
9. Seven Samurai
10. Star Wars

Honorable Mentions (off the top of my head):

Tokyo Story; The Virginian; The Maltese Falcon; Umberto D; The Pickpocket.

Guilty Pleasures:

(Great? Not Great? Who knows? But lots of fun.)

Point Blank; Grand Prix; War Games; Bullitt; Strategic Air Command; Sunshine; Lifeforce; Starship Troopers

Anything to add, my esteemed and cherished friends?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We Have A Winner

Understatement of the Year, or maybe of all time:

Candy Spelling: "It's too big a house for me."

She's moving to a smaller place, a 17,000 sq. ft. condo.

Yes, you caught me, this is actually a subtle argument for higher taxes on the rich.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Chinese Laundry Lady

My original little town was College Point, a working class neighborhood in New York City. There was one Chinese family in town then, not like the hundreds that live there now, and they owned a laundry. I took in and picked up my fathers white shirts. They were very nice.

The local joke was that the lady behind the counter spoke English quite well until something went wrong. Oh yeah, the local wisdom went, she speaks English fine until they break a button or burn a shirt, then it’s, sorry, no speakie English. I now understand the dynamic much better.

English is a very difficult language. So is Thai, I found out to my considerable chagrin. Chinese? Perhaps even more so. After five years in Thailand, I can get along pretty well in simple, everyday situations. I can shop for anything, and bargain for the price if it is appropriate to do so; I can explain to taxi drivers where I need to go, and talk to them about the usual subject matter that is of interest to taxi drivers; I can respond to simple questions about my schedule, my experience in Thailand, and my classes and my students; I can read a menu and order food; I am even good at telling funny little stories about my time in Thailand. But if the subject goes beyond the ordinary, if the questions go beyond my limited vocabulary, I quickly sink to a simple “no speakie Thai.”

I’m sure that it was the same with the nice lady in the Chinese laundry. She wasn’t faking, she could do fine if the conversation stayed within the normal parameters of when the shirts would be ready, how much the various services cost, and maybe something about the weather or to tell you that you had a nice family. If something went wrong, her vocabulary and ability, like mine, failed her almost immediately.

It was very natural, a very common experience in the life of a transplant to a country with a difficult, new language. If she knew of the local joke about her English deserting her conveniently when something went wrong, I hope that she did not think too ill of us.

ADVICE FOR WANDERERS: if you find yourself in a country where your language ability is less than sterling, and you are somehow taken on by police, never, ever, say even one word in the local language. Speak only English, like your life depended on it. If you say even a little bit in their language, and then beg off, they will assume that you are faking, and it will go badly for you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Chauvinists

This is for the homies, I know you're out there.

The Chauvinists

We eat the food you grow, and never say thanks,
We hold up walls with supreme grace,
And steady railings that would otherwise go to waste,
We own raincoats, and we make them look good,
We know where your mom was last night,
We can curse you out in foreign languages,
We learn to read, but only after we learn to fight,
We get laid as soon as it is humanly possible,
We can steal magazines while the store owner is looking,
We are surrounded by automobiles, and have our pick,
We get drunk in the morning, and eat breakfast at night,
We eat Chinese food while you sleep,
We get so loaded, you couldn’t even walk,
We hide our fear, and throw terrifying looks,
We never pay, we sneak in,
We are your heroes, admit it,
Our city is so big, you have to say the name twice,
We write the book.

April, 2009

Revellions Mania!

And I am fucking serious about the Revellions, you need to listen to this shit right now. (Second post down.) It’s even new, like this year, like 710 views new, I ain’t all about the old days.

Skip back a bit if you don’t like the first cut. This video is a whole nine minute set!

I’m not trying to control you all or anything, but even if I were, so what, there’s only like nine of you, how much harm could I do?

Additional Revellions here:

218 views! How new is that! Five Stars, and not by me!

H.P. Lovecraft. No, Not That One

Psychadelic “pop” music at it’s finest, H.P. Lovecraft, a Chicago band. This is from their second album, H.P. Lovecraft II, 1968. The first album was more normal. Then they went out on the road for a year, and back in L.A. and in the studio after failing to become the next big thing they decided to kick out the jams a little bit. This is the result.

8,886 views! This shit is new people! Be among the first!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Here's The Revellions!

There are more great bands these days than you can shake a stick at. Who could keep up with them all? This one just came to my attention. English, I'm pretty sure. A Surf-Punk-Garage kind of thing, Farfisa and all.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Smartest Kids In Class

A recent comment mentioned those of our fellow students who "thought they were the smartest kid in the class." Like in grammar school and high school. Well I saw lots of them get the truth handed to them hard at law school.

We were a new class of 325 students at Pepperdine in Malibu. It's hard to get into a good law school in America, so we were all pretty qualified. Mostly recent college grads who had always been "one of the smart kids," lots of high academic indexes, a bunch of overachievers. I could see it coming.

I figured that if everyone answered truthfully, three-quarters of these kids would tell me that they expected to be in the top-ten-percent of the class. That's who gets the best jobs after law school.

We took no tests until the end of the semester, the final was the entire grade, it's all or nothing in law school. The posting of the first semester grades put lots of my classmates into shock. Before then there had been lots of hand raising, lots of shooting off of the mouth in class. After the grades, things quieted down. Discovering that a lot of the rest of us were pretty smart too put a lot of those kids in their places.

Another County Heard From

Recommended by a commenter. Brother Solomon Burke. Who says you can't get fat eating chicken?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


My advice is, always think twice before you sail your boat through anyplace named “Hellgate.” Especially if it’s a big, well-traveled waterway in a big, populous urban area. They probably had a reason to name it “Hellgate,” as in, “next stop hell!”

There’s a Hellgate in New York City. Most people don’t realize it, but New York is a city built almost entirely on islands, lots and lots of islands. There are twenty or thirty islands in New York. Brooklyn and Queens constitute the Western tip of Long Island, Manhattan is an island, and then there’s Staten Island, of course, even though most people have never heard of it. Only The Bronx is actually attached to anything more substantial than the ocean’s floor. Long Island is about one hundred miles long, hence the name, and where it meets Manhattan and The Bronx you’ll find Hellgate. The Triboro Bridge crosses it, as does the eponymous Hellgate Railroad Bridge. From the East: the Long Island Sound (which connects with the Atlantic Ocean); from the North: the Harlem River (which connects at the other end to the Hudson River); from the South: the misnamed “East River,” actually some kind of an estuary (which connects at the other end with the harbor of New York and the Atlantic Ocean). Where these powerful forces of aquatic nature come together there is a swirling, titanic mess of tidal energy that is a truly frightening thing to behold. “Hellgate.”

I grew up in Queens, in a place called College Point, which is indeed a point of land jutting into the, the what? the East River? The Long Island Sound? Anyway, it was about where those two things came together. If you know New York, it’s just East of La Guardia Airport. The town has lots of little boat yards, “yacht clubs,” where the working-class population keeps small pleasure craft, mostly very small. Many of the other boys had small speedboats, mostly very inexpensive, kind of old, and more or less unseaworthy. Some only wished they had boats, being motivated on occasion to "borrow" other people’s boats for joy-rides.

I was a cautious lad myself, so I was content to listen to other people’s stories of carefree days spent bailing out water from the bottom of the boats with old coffee cans, drinking beer, and coming home with girlfriends who had unexplainable full body sunburns. Some of the stories were about Hellgate. Boats being mysteriously sucked down in the water until only a few inches of freeboard where showing. Most people avoided it, unless they had a more substantial boat, or if they happened to be on a ship.

(What’s the difference between a ship and a boat? You can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat.)

Last week I heard a tragic story about someone who exhibited a cavalier attitude about sailing off into Hellgate in a craft that was not up to the challenge. I know the man, we had been boys together, he had always been fearless, he had been, in fact, one of the toughest boys in town. Lack of impulse control, perhaps, lots of fights, lots of drinking. On this occasion, as a man, with a little boy in tow, his nephew, he set out from a party at one of the so-called yacht clubs to take a ride in a small boat. Being fearless, and wanting sincerely to show his nephew a good time, he steered the boat for Hellgate, or Manhattan, which is beyond Hellgate, figuratively and literally. Well, the result was as bad as it could be. No life-jackets, I suppose, and the small boat started spinning in the whirlpools and finally it capsized, and the boy drowned.

I knew the boy’s father too. He could be a tough kid if he needed to be, it was an important skill in College Point, but he was much better known as a nice guy and a fine guitar player, a feature in local bands for many years. As boys, I was mostly afraid of the daredevil uncle but I really liked the boy’s dad. This boating accident happened many years ago, but I just heard about it last week. I’m still choking on the horror of it.

So, people, listen up! I you find out about a place named Hellgate, stay away! Don’t listen to me, but consider for a moment that it may have been named Hellgate for a very good reason.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Who Loves Joe Biden?

Long ago a guy named Art Linkletter had a TV show that featured a segment called, “Kids Say the Darnedest Things.” He was a low key guy, a friendly sort, and he just talked to kids and listened to what they had to say. It was a good bit. All he had to do was turn on the machine, chat up the kids, and edit the tape. And you know what? Kids DO say the darnedest things, still.

My life intersects with a lot of young families with small children. This is a wonderful thing. I really like kids. Children, especially the newly-mobile, semi-verbal kind that we know as “toddlers,” are remarkable creatures, full of wonder and excitement at a world in which literally everything is new to them. Their sincere attempts to understand their new worlds can be funny, poignant, amazing, shocking, or any combination of the above.

I heard a great story while I was in California. One of the toddlers that I know pretty well lives in a family that was quite active in electing Barack Obama president. The little guy had actually been baby-strollered around while his mom rang doorbells stumping for Obama in California and Nevada. The family was delighted that he won, and continues to follow his exploits in detail.

So after the State Of The Union message, this toddler boy is talking to Annie, a significant adult other, and he patiently explains that, “mommy, (big brother’s name), (toddler’s own name), and Annie love President Obama.” Right so far little man. Then a cloud crossed his face and he went on, “but who loves Joe Biden?”

His family had watched the speech and he’d asked his parents, who’s that guy sitting behind President Obama? He liked the guy, nice smile, red tie. “That’s Joe Biden,” said his mom, without much explanation. He had thought about it and he decided that this Joe Biden guy seemed loveable enough, why was he seemingly outside the circle of love? He found the whole thing so upsetting that he thought he’d ask Annie about it.

Annie informed him that Joe Biden was the Vice President and that she did indeed love Joe Biden too, and that his mother and his brother loved him as well. “Oh,” he said, “mommy, (big brother’s name), (toddler’s own name), and Annie love Joe Biden.” He seemed relieved. “President Obama wears a blue tie,” he concluded, “Joe Biden wears a red tie.” So now the whole thing made sense.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Who Is Mr. Fred?

Over here they refer to people as "Khun (first name)." As in Khun Tiwaporn (female) or Khun Somchai (male). "Here" is Thailand. Up until about 1910, no one in Thailand had a last name, the King finally put his foot down and ordered that every family had to come up with one right away (and, incidentally, that every family in Thailand had to come up with a unique and original last name, so there's not a lot of duplication even to this day.

So everyone here tends to call me "Mr. Fred." So sometimes I go with it. I kind of like the sound of it, it's kind of Fifties for some reason, or maybe it's a Southern thing.

The real question, "WHO is Mr. Fred?" That, unfortunately, is beyond the scope of this article.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mr. Fred’s Life Tips

One way to be happy is to stay busy doing the things that you know you need to do. This is bad news for those of us who spend most of our time desperately avoiding doing the things that we know we need to be doing.

Spending much of one’s waking life actually doing necessary things, it sounds like such a simple idea. I’m not the only one, though, who can’t seem to get it together. What most people mean by “boredom” is just the mental tension of avoiding meaningful endeavors (usually in favor of wishing that one could instead be doing something that would be “fun”).

So, now you know. I hope that you have better luck with this knowledge than I have had.

More Than Money Is At Stake

I don't rant about just any old thing because other people are doing it so much better than I ever could. I worry about children in poor countries, I've had some of them in my class and I know how brave and wonderful they are, waiting for the axe to fall.

You should all read this.

Bonuses, schmonuses. Children are dying.

I Hate You!

More comments came in today from the waring parties, two College Pointers who no doubt shared my status in the Fifties and Sixties as bitches of the truly tough boys. I'm not sure where they ended up, but I hit "publish" so they're on here somewhere.

Again, boys, why can't we all just get along? We escaped CP and have had pretty good luck in life. Get over it.

Sideline: I again thought for a time that the comment was about me. Before I realized that they were part of the ongoing frenzy, my feelings were as follows: 1) if I generate positive and negative comments, I must be doing something right; 2) I have two sons, and yes, they know what a wimp I was in the old days; and 3) the nerve of some people who were very close to me in the pecking order now treatening me from afar. Connie Wolf can still have my money; you guys better have pistols if you want to take my measure. Even then, don't stand too close.