Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Day in the Life

My wife is in America. We talk via Skype and Gmail. Along about noon today we have a little fight about money. She is very tired--I can see it in her eyes--and she is in a mood. So I cannot help but laugh, which makes things worse.

So I take a walk over to the Circle K to pick up a Bintang. Classic. The White Dog follows me, as usual. She persists in believing that she is my dog. When she tries to come into the Circle K with me the cashier asks whether she is my dog and I answer Bukan, no. But I admit to knowing where she lives. The fact is, the White Dog lives as an uninvited guest in my house. But she is not my dog.

On the way back I pass a boy peeing from outside the doorway of his house into the alley. This is a penis with some power, for the stream barely misses me.

Awas, I say. Watch out!

The boy says Hi Mister . . . hi . . . hi . . . .

"Oh, Hi," I answer. What else is there to say?

But he's not done. He says hi until I turn the corner at the end of the alley and head down the street to my house.

As I pass the warung there--the one that sells Absolut bottles filled with petrol, cigarettes, cheese crackers, and other necessities--the man asks whether I want to buy something. He always asks that.

Tidak, I say. Tidak, makasih. I always say that too. It means no thank you, but thanks for asking.

By the time I talk to my wife again, perhaps a half hour later, she is in a chipper mood.

No worries.

It is like this every day in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Hopeless Bastards

A couple weeks ago I stopped into a bar here in Sanur called The Arena. It's one of these nice looking places smack-dab on the Bypass and generally avoided by people who know how the price ranges work in our little tourist village. In short, bars like this one cater to the bule--the white man--summoning him in with bright lights, striped awnings, soft, dark wood within, of floor and bar, tables and chairs. And, oh yeah, air conditioning day and night.

Nonetheless, I went in, just wondering. I did not have money for food--not at their price anyway--but I did salivate for a time over the menu, with its offerings of bacon and cheese sandwiches, chicken cordon bleu, weinerschnitzel with mashed potatoes, beef steak (of all things), and a plethora of other culinary delights not tasted nor even ogled in six long months.

Having salivated by and by to exhaustion of the source, which naturally left me with a dry mouth, I ordered a beer.

Then it was that I met Adam, an Australian, and Ari, his beautiful Balinese wife. They were eating actual food, from the actual menu. I was envious, and I suppose I wanted to move my nose just a bit closer to their plates. So I struck up a conversation.

Adam, as I soon discovered, is the editor in chief of a slick Western quality magazine called Bali Style. I made haste to tell him that I am a writer and editor myself (yeah right), and straightaway offered by services. And it just so happened that he needed some help.

I knew there had been a good reason for coming here. I guess I just felt it in my bones. Plus I was thirsty.

Well, I learned thereafter that Wednesday night at The Arena is trivia night. You make a team, you get two pages of obscure questions, and then study these for the next hour or so, in between beers, until the master of ceremonies calls in the answers.

We decided to enter the competition. Why not? At the top of our questionnaire Adam wrote in a name for our team. The Hopeless Bastards.

Now the obscurity of these questions was quite uncommon, even for obscurity. We had not a clue. And so we guessed.

And we won. We won first place. The prize was a large pitcher of Margaritas.

The following Wednesday found us unable to repeat our inexplicable victory, however we did win third prize, which was two pitchers of beer, and so we were happy enough.

Now Wednesday approaches once again, and once again I will give my opponent (general knowledge, that is) my best shot. Sadly Adam will not be present, having had to return to Australia for a time, and so I am left simply to hope that at least one additional hopeless bastard will show up.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I am misguided. By my own brain. I blame this on MS.

Most detrimentally affected is wit. A witticism delayed is a witticism lost, for wit relies on the quick addition, hinges on the unanticipated allusion. Wit seizes the moment--this moment, the one just passing at the speed of light, not the one that pops up a half hour later, long after the subject had been dropped and all but forgotten. The witticism offered at such a time is more akin to the sudden outburst of a Tourette sufferer--all but meaningless, distinctly awkward.

The brain of the MS sufferer has fallen into a habit of detours. It simply cannot travel direct from point A to point B, but must instead traverse a goodly part of the alphabet first. The thought, the response, the action intended thus shows up at its destination panting and ragged, like the man who is critically late for an appointment he must in any case attend. He arrives, and yet manifestly out of sorts.

I give the following as an example, a simile:

The other day I drove my motorbike to the gas station, perhaps a half mile from our home, and quite along the confines of a straight line. This part of the journey went without event. I arrived, I filled my tank, I paid my 10,000 Rupiah.

Upon departure from this midpoint, however, I found the route of initial success--the Jalan Ngurah Ra By Pass--clogged with unmoving vehicles and quite impassable. When the driver of the motor vehicle, like the central nervous system, finds himself faced with stasis, he seeks an alternate route, for he has found the most essential artery out of order.

So it happened, upon exit from the gas station, that I turned left instead of right.

I do not say that the return journey home was without interest of its own, just that the events along the way possessed no practical kinship with the mission at hand. There exists the road that is wide and straight--the dash between the A and the B--and there exists the forest of alternative paths, twisted, crimped, noodle like strands which, for all their effort, go no farther in essence than the straight line, but only take much more time to do so.

I saw new houses, I saw new children, I saw new dogs. I ran over a new dog. I smelled new smells, craned my neck to see the tops of new trees. I nearly missed running over two chickens. I made decisions--turn right, turn left. I found dead ends. I found a hole in the road, two feet deep. I saw new garbage, strewn about by the new dogs. I saw a toad by the side of the road inexplicably entering the mouth of a snake.

By and by I arrived home. I told my wife of my adventures and she responded that I was late, that she had been waiting nearly an hour, and was now herself late for her appointment at the beauty salon.

And then I remembered the first point, the very reason for my journey. I remembered the letter A, long lost in the alphabet soup of possibilities. In short, the reason I had gone for gas in the first place was so that I could get my wife to her appointment at noon.

Remembering this however, as can be readily appreciated, is a far different thing than actually doing it.

And so it goes. The maze of necessary alternatives, that process which typifies the attempts of the afflicted central nervous system to succeed, is, like the delayed witticism, a mere spectre, an echo--not only wholly irrelevant, but wholly without hope of redemption.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I See It All

From my chair
I see it all
I see it all
from the palm fronds
at sapphire morning
to the unfinished painting
propped by the wall
and the hidden rat
with night black mane
who jets
from secreting canvas home
to the folded feet
of the stonework Buddha
poised at the foot
of the waterfall
I see it all
I see it all
from the yellow glow
of the Balinese jaw
to the flame of the candle
in my wife’s Asian eye
which misses nothing
for captivity there
what better place
for my heart to dwell
than the broken stones
that make the road
or the hammered mosaic
tattooed in the wall
yes my love I see it all
and walk where I would
and where I will
and walk from my chair
to the smoldering hill
to taste perchance
what no one else can
the nectar of fire
the flowing land

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

If you want learn speak Bahasa you must speak Bahasa, the man at the Jazz Bar and Grill said.

And he is right. You must simply speak, abandoning care, forcing yourself. Jangan malu--don't be shy.

This of course gets easier with every large Bintang you drink, and so it is good also to drink whilst you are learning.

It is good to have the live music as well, and the louder the better, for the most cogent sentences end up being those which are shouted above the din of the saxophone, drums, and electric bass. At the very least, there is no mistaking that you have spoken and have been quite definite about it indeed.

Most nights at the Jazz Bar and Grill the guests are invited to sing. This is also good for breaking down the barriers of self consciousnenss. After offering a bad rendition of Fly Me to the Moon, what, after all, does one have to lose?

It is the willing listener that constitutes the most complete classroom--he who receives, comprehends, corrects, and encourages all in one sitting. He gives and he receives, for his native ear is perfect while his native tongue seeks like instruction. Language itself becomes friendship, the will to assist, the will to understand, the will to communicate what is perceived--without which the world itself cannot exist.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As the Fan Turns

It has been written, and statistically proven, that the defensive armament of the Second World War bomber, the fabled B17, comprised of two 50 calibre waist guns, a ball turret in the belly, a top turret, a gun bay in the tail and a gun bay in the nose--made in reality such little impact on attacking fighter planes as to be almost completely ineffective, thus nullifying any practical justification for their presence. Add Image

Nonetheless, the morale factor exerted on the bomber crews by these otherwise worthless tools remained so significant that the extra attachments, despite, the added weight and the expenditure of valuable ammunition, were retained throughout the war.

My intention, by way of this long introductory metaphor, is to apply in essence the same leaky raison d'etre to the presence of ceiling fans in the common Indonesian home. The fact is, these fans do nothing toward accomplishing their intended mission--that is, to dispel at least in some measure the oppressive heat that lurks between the walls. No, nothing at all. They may push the heat about to some degree, this is true--but this may in fact just stir the same to a more vigorous boil. High speed, low speed--it makes no difference. They whirl, they make a noise, they cast their sluggish tar-like shadows, but they do not cool the air in the least.

And yet we run them day and night, despite the mildly irritating sound they make, despite the expenditure of electricity, because to have not even this much to fall back on--the morale factor endowed by the tireless turning of those aerodynamically shaped blades, we should be hopeless indeed and perish from suffocation of the spirit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Gift

This morning I received in the mail a Writers' Market, complements of my agent. Given that I have so far not written anything apparently saleable for him, I consider this a grand and uncommon gesture of the kindest sort. Luar biasa, they say in Bahasa Indonesia--literally outside normal.

Thank you, Neil.


A fisherman who casts his bait in the water four and five times and catches at least one fish is happy.
He who casts his line, catches nothing, yet gets bites is hopeful, and so continues.
The fisherman who fishes and yet gets not even one bite is a disappointed man indeed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No News

I set out to write something and end up messing around with the Designer for an hour, most of the time just trying to return it to where it was before I started messing around.

Lesson of the day: Don't touch it again!

Graduated today to Kelas IV in Bahasa Indonesia. Since I am my own teacher, I administered the graduation, and added honors. I was, after all, first in the class.

Traveled down the Bypass to the Grammadia (Indonesian book store) near Kuta. What a nightmare.

Second lesson of the day: Stick with the store in Denpasar.

Having a beer at the coffee shop (go figure) this evening and then will see what's going on out at the salon. The busy life of a retiree.

So, as the saying goes, No news is ... well, no news, actually.