Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Nina Simone - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

If only there were a God who could be petitioned with prayer.

November starts tomorrow, and I got a, what, a meme? on Facebook that said, and I paraphrase, ‘November is going to be your month! Great things will happen to you, your wishes will come true, and you will receive money . . .’ etc, etc.

I answered, 'thanks (redacted)! I know what I’m wishing for.' And I do know, and I am wishing for it.

My wish is expressed directly and sincerely in this song, in exactly the tone in which I would pray for it, if there were a God. The pleading tone in the song is directed at two or more listeners, as my prayer would be. Pleading with someone to understand, and pleading with God to force the issue.

But there is no God to listen, and people don’t listen. I’m pretty sure that most people my age no longer expect people to listen. We’ve long since learned that that almost never happens.

What is there left for a poor man to do but bend a knee and raise a wishful hand to no God, shouting through tears, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, oh! Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood!” 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Where Are They Now? College Point Edition

People grow up in their little towns and then many of them move to greener pastures. They follow jobs; they seek better weather; they settle in the area of their university; they go to an area that they saw during military service; there are many ways to find yourself far from your point of origin. For better or worse, my point of origin was College Point, in the Borough of Queens, in the city of New York. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, then or now, but it was, at least, an interesting place, and not without its attractions.

I’ll wager that I’m as far from College Point as anyone by this time. In fact, I’m certain of it. I’m twelve time-zones away, almost directly on the other side of the globe. The only way to be further away than I am would be to move to the same longitude as Bangkok at some point about a thousand miles south of the equator. That’s open ocean, and southern Indonesia would be more of a toss-up, so I’m claiming the record.  

We were the Baby Boomer generation of College Point, which means that there were a lot of us running around meeting each other, or playing ball together, or just hearing stories about one another, or trying actively to avoid one another. We were a big group, with diverse interests and personalities. Most of us lost track over the years, as will happen, but many of us have reconnected on social media. As a group, we seem to enjoy reminiscing, but there are a lot of no-shows. I find myself wondering what ever became of some of my old friends.

Would it be polite of me to mention names? I don’t think so. It’s better to respect the privacy of those who may not wish to be included in a social media extravaganza that they might find to be cartoonish, insincere and foolish. Better to wish them well in absentia and leave them in peace.

Mentioning names could just scratch old wounds. Some, for instance, are by now dead, perhaps long dead, dead, perhaps in unusual or disagreeable ways. I wish that I could only remember a certain friend from high school as the tall, handsome, cheerful, if slightly reckless teenager of our time together, instead of imaging his awful death by misadventure. He got into a fight on a Long Island Railroad commuter train and was thrown from the train to his death. He was about fifty years old at the time. Oh, John, what the fuck were you thinking?

Some of our fellows may be in prison, in fact the odds are pretty good that there are a few up the river somewhere. Some are no doubt right now in the process of dying from one thing or another. There is no shortage of things to die from, and we’re not getting any younger. In either of those situations, I think that I would only seek a time of quiet contemplation in which to make my peace with God, outside of the glare of Facebook.

There is one group that would definitely prefer to be left alone. Some of those wonderful young people that we recall so fondly actually hated College Point with a passion, truth be told, and couldn’t wait to get out. They got out at the first opportunity, and they have never wished to look back or be reminded.

Some of the girls did, I can tell you. Their opinion was that College Point was the very epitome of Nowheresville. To them, it was full of empty headed girls and violent boys with no futures. There was nothing worth doing and no one worth talking to. It was the dark side of the cultural moon. They thought that College Point was ugly, remote, and dangerous. Worse, they thought that it was boring.

I knew a couple of these girls, and I am thinking in particular of a girl that lived across the street from me. She was the oldest in a family with three beautiful daughters, and she was as smart as a whip. As fate would have it, we both returned to College Point temporarily in 1984, me to finish my degree at Queens College and her for reasons that were never completely clear to me. We set out every morning at about the same time on the good old Q-25/34. (I’ve always wondered what it meant that the bus line to northern College Point was designated with a fraction.) We sat together on the bus sometimes and talked together. She had done pretty well for herself in Manhattan, and when she spoke of that place her eyes rolled up to heaven and her face began to glow. She had an Austin-Healy that she really loved stashed in Connecticut or someplace. She was back at home because of some setback, and she felt sheepish about it. Thinking of it now, I hope that the glitch in her happiness was brief and forgettable, and I hope that her life after that was full of success and happiness. She had always been nice to me in the years when she was present in the neighborhood as an unobtainable dream. She tolerated me pretty well, and we sometimes walked together when returning to our homes. She’d even stop and talk for a while on the corner between our houses.  I’d ask her out to a movie about once a year, and her answer was always a smile and a gentle laugh with a “no” in it. I still appreciate those small kindnesses.

She, and many others, are absent from our new Facebook family. Maybe they are up on the Twitter or something, Instagram, what else is there? Linkedin? Maybe they are up on hipper platforms wondering what happened to me, but somehow I find that unlikely. Not that I know anything about what’s hip these days. For that information you must ask a young person.

Let me take the opportunity in closing to say a sincere thank you to all of my Internet friends and all of the wonderful people who take the time to read this blog. Your company, your time, and your kindness are deeply appreciated. I should also wish all of our absent friends not only from College Point, but also from the past in general, bon chance, mes amis! Health and happiness all around! I hope that all of your dreams have come true.

And to the dead, may your peace be total and undisturbed, or may you forever enjoy the paradise of your choice, whichever you prefer. You know more about that situation than I do. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fats Domino The Fat Man

Mr. Domino's first single, and one of the very early examples of a "rock and roll" song, by a great artist who is still way up the list for most top-ten songs of all time. The Fabulous Fat Man from New Orleans, Fats Domino!

RIP Antoine. Thanks for everything.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Let Me In"

I love the way the drummer slams the off-beat all the way through this song. It's a nice effect.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Word On Behalf Of The Sufferers

The events of the last two years have been truly horrifying to anyone who has been paying the least attention. There have been multiple existential threats to human decency, common sense, and the American way of life. We have seen a nightmare coup d’├ętat by corporate interests and the super-rich; the explosive backlash of racism, bigotry, and intolerance that resulted from the election (twice!) of a black president; a weird, underreported inflation in basic necessities of life like rent, medical services, and education; a world, from England to the Philippines, from Venezuela to Zimbabwe to Kazakhstan, that seems to have gone collectively insane; the general decline of everything from knowledge, to ethics, to common sense; it’s enough to make a sensitive person shit blood.

“Sensitive” individuals, who were once referred to as “the nervous type,” you know what I mean, the unfortunates who suffer from those ambiguous and invisible maladies known to modern medical science as depression and anxiety. Maladies indeed to the sufferers, but usually regarded by family members, bosses, and insurance companies as the self-indulgence of lazy minded fools.
To those of us whose souls have been burning already since time immemorial, all of these new depredations are that much more gasoline thrown onto the fires. Many of us are ready to start screaming. I have friends on Facebook who are contemplating suicide. This has all long since ceased to be funny.

Please don’t worry on my account. My own symptomology is under control, so far. I limit my suicidal ideation to the making of lists of possible future circumstances under which such a thing could become part of a sensible plan. Just please bear in mind, these new stressors, daily and powerful, are serving to supercharge the problems faced by people with long term depression, they are exacerbating many people’s already considerable anxieties. Perhaps you know someone. Perhaps you could do something to make their lives more endurable. Think about it.

At least, try not to make matters worse. Do you think that you could at least do that? Perhaps, for a start, if you are of voting age and not a convicted felon, perhaps you could fucking vote next year, could you do that? And maybe you could even NOT VOTE FOR THIS CREW OF PIRATES WHO ARE TURNING THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OVER TO CORPORATE INTERESTS EVEN AS WE SPEAK. (Sorry for the all-caps, but yes, I was angrily yelling that bit.)

I’m really sorry to bother you; maybe I should just erase the above paragraph and start over. Who am I kidding? There is no reason at this point to place any confidence at all in the American voter, absolutely zero. That’s all we have to fight back with, the vote, and no one cares a nice, ripe fig. Voter turnout may go up a small tick next year, but it’ll be the same sad story. People will vote for candidates who promise to protect them against those vicious Mexicans, and keep out those terrorist refugees, and get rid of those dangerous sanctuary cities, and get rid of all of that pesky government regulation that’s destroying all of the jobs, and bring down gas prices by increasing fracking and building new pipelines. Give the people what they want! Promise them the moon and stars! It works every time.

Why should next year be any different?  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why Is Donald Trump President?

History’s chain of causation is often ambiguous or obscure, but let’s hold this thing up to the light.

Al Gore won the election of 2000, but it was stolen from him by unscrupulous men backed by a partisan political Supreme Court. Absent Ralph Nader it wouldn’t have been close enough to steal. If Al Gore had been sworn in as president, according to the law and the will of the American people, Donald J. Trump would never have become more than the ridiculous celebrity con-man that he was up to the first week in November, 2016. He would never have had the chance to become the ridiculous celebrity con-man president that he is today.  

With George W. Bush safely installed in the White House, all of the terrible dominoes started to fall. The pointless, ill-advised wars, the ridiculous and unnecessary tax cuts for the rich, the irresponsible fear mongering after 9-11, the extravagant recklessness of the banking community, the near fatal crashing of the American economy, and the world’s economy. With Al Gore in the White House, none of that happens, or at least nowhere near as dramatically.

If the aughts had been characterized by a reasonable foreign policy and a responsible fiscal policy, the election of 2008 would have been a relatively sedate affair. In that atmosphere, there would be no reason to reach so desperately for the change that Barack Obama represented. George W. set the stage for Obama. And no Obama, no Trump. Trump is the response of America’s irretrievably racist and bigoted majority to a black president. Yeah, I said it. It’s a “majority” because I’m including the people who would never talk about it in a million years. The hidden racists. The Trump voters, with a thousand excuses why they’re not racists at all, and a thousand reasonable lies for why they voted for Trump. Those racists, those bigots.

So I’m blaming the national tragedy that is Donald J. Trump on:

1.   The Supreme Court;
2.   Governor John Bush* et al;
3.   Ralph Nader; and
4.   Those fucking chads.

That’s in no particular order.

But that was then (W.), and this is now (Trump). And we’re stuck with it. If W. was an almost endearing, lazy-minded fool, Trump is a laughing hyena in a fat suit.

*I’m not calling that asshole “Jeb.” The man’s name is John Ellis Bush. You can look it up. He wants it kept a secret for some reason. In my experience, when people go by an alias, it’s usually because the police are after them for something. 

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.