Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidy Jig!

I was away again, but now I'm back. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, and thanks somebody for remembering that I was a big fan of Billy Vera's great radio show on KCRW in the late Eighties, early Nineties. (He used the show as voice training and went on to a very successful voice-over career, smart move.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Pick and Shovel

Do you like the short form?

Pick and shovel,
Bag of lime,
Lots to do before I sleep.

Start digging early,
Watch your time,
Secret that I long to keep.

August 2007?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Restaurant Review: La Gaettana (Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand)

352 Phuket Road, Tel: 076-250-523

This is a hard place to find. It’s in a very narrow shop-house, fifteen feet across at the most, and the entrance is set back from the sidewalk and lavishly decorated with plants. Look for the plants I suppose.

The place is swarming with help, and they are very helpful indeed. If a lady only touches her shoulders, saying nothing, someone brings over a shawl. Plates and silverware are changed in between courses, and home-made sherbet is served in between courses as well.

The owners name is Gianni, he is on hand one hundred percent of the time. He’s very helpful too. The menu is idiosyncratic. For “Pasta,” for instance, it just says “We feature a variety of home-made and dry pastas, available with a variety of sauces.” If you express an interest in pasta, Gianni asks you: long or short? fresh or dry? we have gnocchi today. The frontispiece of the menu features a photograph of Gianni, about age four, sitting on his father’s knee with his mom standing besides them. Mom and dad are smiling; Gianni is not. He’s still a very, very intense man.

Very serious about the food at his restaurant, that’s for sure, and that works out well for his clientele. We started out with Smoked Duck Carpaccio with basil and two kinds of lettuce, it was great. Then some gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, very light and delicious. Finally some sea bass with white wine and lemon-grass sauce, with some perfect little cubed, roasted potatoes. I’m no Galloping Gourmet, but I’d be surprised if any place else could have done it better. The bread was great too, served with home-made herb butter.

The bill came to about $65 (Bhat 2,300), and that included a Bombay gin and tonic, two glasses of house red wine (Italian or Spanish? Gianni had asked me), and a Limoncello.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Crying

I've been neglecting this wonderfully entertaining feature for too long now, and it's got to stop. So get ready, my double dozen! It's poetry time!

The petulant, angry crying of a child
Fascinates us, the child perhaps wishing
To remain at some enterprise beyond adult sanction.
It irresistibly draws our attention, all of us,
Even other children find
That they cannot avert their eyes.

A child, however, who moans
In wailing desolation, shames us,
We turn away, not wanting to be reminded
Of a pain that we all carry,
Yet cannot express so freely.

Yesterday I heard a young child crying,
Holding nothing back, inconsolable,
A desolate, wailing sound.
Better for me, I thought,
To cry like that,
Better than humming
Sad songs to myself.

April, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baseball Cheats

For years, fans and commentators have been bemoaning the fact that baseball stats have been skewed by steroids.* The benchmarks that were honestly set by greats like Babe Ruth and Roger Maris have been raised with chemical assistance by famous scofflaws who shall remain nameless due to the risk of enhancing their unearned fame.

I watched a couple of Yankee v. Angels games in the last couple of days and I swear I was thinking about pitchers cheating at baseball. I was recalling that in the good old days, maybe it was the domain of the pitchers to cheat. Lots of famously successful pitchers were also famous for concealing a small reserve of Vaseline in their gloves, or spitting on the ball, or scuffing the ball with a bit of sandpaper, or cutting it, any of which techniques increase the movement of the ball, giving the pitcher more of an advantage over the batter. I wondered if the pitchers had gotten religion while the hitters were losing theirs.

So today, I see a video of Mariano Rivera spitting on the ball. Nothing new under the sun, as they say. Whitey Ford (a “spitter”) would be proud.

*Corked bats notwithstanding. That era seemed to come and go pretty fast. Too many embarrassing, explosive equipment failures, no doubt.

Someone Having Fun With Fish

On my boat trip to Ko Phi Phi I had an opportunity to snorkel, on which I passed. I have always found that these things do not repay the extra effort involved, expecially when you can watch from comfort and experience 90% of the wonder of it without the hassle. From comfort, I took this picture.

Glenn Beck Condemns Communistic Maoist Volunteerism

Go check it out, I trust you to find it.

Meanwhile, a little perspective. President Obama graduated from Harvard Law School, not only that, but he was the president of the law review, near or at the top of the class. He could have gone to any of the really, really big time law firms where they pay that really, really big time money. But what did he do? He went into public interest law. According to Fred, if you forgo a huge income to work for chump change, there is a “volunteer” component to your job. Maybe Mr. Obama was getting paid, but he was volunteering too, volunteering to lose money every year in order to accomplish something besides selfish financial gain.

So if he says that it is a good thing to volunteer to help people less fortunate than you, he has walked the walk in righteous preparation to talk the talk; he has paid for a license to ask you to consider the idea.

Just for a little contrast here, I recall President George W. Bush, in the floundering, directionless time before 9/11, saying that Americans really needed to volunteer more, needed to work with faith-based community organizations to help the less fortunate (who may otherwise have looked for recourse to government programs, which of course he wanted to do away with all together). I recall, clearly, am I the only one? that W. suggested that every American commit to providing 4,000 hours of volunteer community service over the course of their lifetimes. That’s two years, full time. I remember becoming furious almost to the point of hurting myself that this selfish, chaos-worshiping, greed whore was asking people to do volunteer work to facilitate his cutting of government programs.

Agree with me now, or regret it later, that George W. Bush has never, to this day, done a single day of volunteer work, nor a single hour, has never, in fact, done anything that was not driven by naked self interest. So he had not one little license to ask anyone to do anything that they would not get paid for, he had not lifted one little finger off the table to walk the walk before he so disingenuously talked the talk.

But who gets condemned as a Maoist? A Maoist no less! You can’t make these things up. Glenn Beck, whom people unaccountably watch on TV, the better to hear the wonderful things he makes up, now believes that any attempt to offer Americans the opportunity to use their time to help those less fortunate than themselves must be motivated by a desire to turn America into some kind of Red-Guard-Great-Leap-Forward-Maoist-Little-Red-Book-Communistic-Bullshit-Nightmare, just the kind of thing that Mr. Obama has been preparing for his whole life, the kind of subversion that Mr. Obama has worked so hard for and for so long.

This must be a dream, but I seem to be awake. I am awake, aren’t I? Or is this what happens when you’re in a coma, or after you die. It all seems so real! But it all happens everyday, people say these things, the Glenn Becks of the world, and they are only called to account by the odd, very odd, news personality of little import, or so-called blogger of no import at all, crazy, isolated people like me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ko Phi Phi's Multicultural Tourist Strip

All of the world's cultures and nationalities were represented on my recent trip to Ko Phi Phi. Lots of Middle-Easterners, Indians, Europeans and even some Africans, Asians of all stripes and South Americans, although they're harder to spot (I did positively identify some Brazilians).

This new, post-tsunami commercial strip, set into the genuinely beautiful tropical setting of the island, is a generic bore-fest unrelieved even by hedonism.

The Science Experiment

I’m not sure that I want to be buried, because it seems inevitable that after a thousand years or so you become someone’s science experiment. As in: “this is the remains of a man of somewhat advanced age; the skeleton and jaws show normal degenerative changes; he was a Caucasian male, with the typical tiny mouth and crooked teeth of the Celtic race, showing also the bony accretions on the palms of the hands that also characterize that race; the skull displays dolichocephalism, with a huge frontal lobe area and a narrow face; he was not particularly handsome.” I suppose it’s up to the living to decide, so I don’t put too fine a point on it.

Today I had the definite feeling that I had become, in life, someone’s science experiment, and I’m sure that in life it is a more disagreeable experience. In this case, I went to a big public hospital in Thailand, a hospital with a well earned, good reputation, a teaching hospital attached to the best university in the country. I suffered through a Barium Enema, also euphemistically referred to as a “Lower GI,” at the hands of a mixed-sex group of very, very young Thai medical professionals.

So young, in fact, that it felt more like a high school science lab experiment, and, with the typical good cheer and loud, gossipy camaraderie that is common to Thai people of all ages, the room really felt like a fun house. For everybody but me, I’m afraid, although I’m sure that they did a fine job and accomplished the stated intention.

For one thing, it went on forever, about an hour and a half, and by the end I was dizzy and begging silently for it to all be over, even at the cost of my death. For another, they filed me so far up with the substance that my stomach was as tight as a drum and after the first hour or so I literally didn’t know whether to shit, piss or throw up. I was all the way on the verge of doing the first and the last thing simultaneously.

Afterwards, things did not get better in any particular hurry. My after-procedure trip to the bathroom was not the cleansing, comforting experience that it had been after my previous lower GI, a party held at the Santa Monica Hospital in Los Angeles. This trip was inconclusive, and left me with a huge bubble of something deep in my insides, a bubble that released itself with loud, raucous violence over the course of the next six or seven hours, most of which time I spent lying on my bed dreaming lazily of the time that I would feel better again, in between trips to the bathroom to serenade the ships at sea. I wouldn’t complain, having lived through he experience, but I’m pretty sure that the job is supposed to fill you up with the barium solution and not with air. During the taxi ride home from the hospital, my belt was still tight around my waist, and I felt like I was sparing with a talented Middle-Weight who was practicing punching people below the belt.

These are the days of our lives, my friends, these are the experiences that make a life interesting, as in: the curse of living in interesting times. But all’s well that ends well, and since I am here to tell the tale it was a good day, above ground, a gift from God, and I am humbly grateful. All for about sixty dollars, American, which goes a long way to validating the decision to take the treatment in the first place.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Phuket Misadventure

While I was in Phuket there was a story in the papers about an Englishman who almost died bungee jumping. The bungee operator said he jumped off feet first, against instructions, and scissor-kicked his way out of the harness, falling 165 feet and luckily landing "on his chest," which saved his fool life. The story took six months to make the papers, probably coinciding with the length of the coma.

Can the misguided thrillseeker pictured above be far behind?

The Royal Thai Marina In Phuket

The "Other Half" is alive and well and living in Phuket. Prices in this neighborhood range upwards from about a million for a condo, with actual houses, called "Chalet's," starting at more than twice that, prices in dollars, thank you. Five nice restaurants, lots of services, signage in Russian.

Phuket is like Bangkok with beaches, plus a double dose of obscene luxury, with quite a bit of miscellaneous obscenity thrown in for good luck. There were so many rich White people around that my bullshit detector never stopped clicking. I prefer the real Thailand myself.

Form Over Function In Phi Phi

Yesterday I took a nice day-trip to Ko Phi Phi (Pee-Pee Island). It’s been completely redeveloped since the tsunami in 2004. The island is still very beautiful. It’s a collection of six small islands actually, all beautiful. The development, not so much.

Re: our subject, form over function, which is the rule in Thailand. As in: prostitution is illegal, the law says no way, no where, no how, it’s “against Thai culture.” But everywhere you go, from the big centers of tourism to the smallest rural cities that never see a foreigner, it’s readily available and all the way out in the open.

Another small example, Phi Phi style:

I was sitting, waiting for my boat, having a lemonade, really, a lemonade, and at the table nearest to me there were four indeterminate foreigners having a meal. Some kind of mixed group of Europeans, I think, they were all speaking English with different accents. A young woman asked the wait staff for black pepper, and the guy brought over the pepper mill. She tried without success to get pepper out of it, and finally disassembled it to verify that, yes indeed, there was no pepper inside.

She got the beautiful, wooden peppermill (form), but she got no pepper (function).

Greetings From Phuket

(Actually, I had no success getting the hook up, so this is really greetings from the aftermath of my trip to Phuket. )

Writing from Phuket Island, and I am actually typing with my lap-top on my lap for the first time. It works out pretty well.

Phuket and Samui are the big tourist islands in the Southern area, the peninsula area of Thailand. I like Phuket better. Samui is just an island off the coast of the province of Suratani, so there’s really not much there besides tourists and tourist places. Until about twenty five years ago, Samui was nothing but a couple of fishing villages. Phuket is a province, with a long history and all of the commerce and administration that comes with provincial status. Samui has no culture at all, but Phuket has big, long established communities of Chinese and Muslim communities that immigrated from Singapore, India or China.

It’s the usual fun stuff: menus that feature “Curry Egg Horse Shoe Crap and Pineapple;” signs in elevators promoting a dessert hour in the hotel lobby that will feature “Many Kind of Peedy Foods!” Plus beaches, nice ones, and the usual houses-of-ill-repute.

One of my students got me a free ride to Pee Pee Island tomorrow, he works for the tour company. It’s good to be a professor here, lots of respect and some freebies are involved, plus the decent salary.

Pix to follow.

The New Isuzu Tsunami

I visited a nice little national museum in Phuket and there was this random, unlabeled collection of semi-destroyed junk that I'm pretty sure consisted of found objects from tsunami debris. So that would make this the new Isuzu Tsunami! Coming soon to a coastal area near you!

Back In The Saddle Again

I am back at home after teaching in Phuket for most of the last two weeks. My class was a riot, I don't think anyone told them it would be in English. I modified my technique accordingly (I wrote an easy test and spent half of the classes teaching them the questions.)

Fun stuff; see above.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Nice Guy

Further proof, as though any were needed, that nice guys finish last.

Case in point, our president, President Obama. The Republicans, their corporate masters and their low-functioning stooges, of course they spit in his face. They'd behave the same way to any Democratic president, except maybe LBJ, that dude was scary. The Democratic Party, harder, perhaps to understand, but they don't feel the need to lift a finger to help him either. The world press, you'd think some people out there would like him and try to be nice, but no, it's all cap-and-bells out there too.

Is there any room in this world for nice guys anymore? Not at the top, anyway.