Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Gift

My wife is very difficult to buy for. Most women are, I think, and the meaningful point becomes whether they will have the grace to be silently disappointed or whether they will explode. This makes gift giving occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas, veritable minefields, something that men approach with a fair amount of dread.

I remember giving my second wife a red blouse one Christmas. Sounds pretty harmless on its own, no? No. Not harmless at all. I can still remember the anger on her face as she fished into the gayly decorated wrapping and pulled out this item of offense as it were a rotten banana peel.

"I can't WEAR this! she shouted. "You want me to look like a Texas whore?!"

Truly, that was not my intention. Not at all. Nonetheless, I had aroused a holiday fury such as I never seen. I have always wondered since whether Texas whores are in the general habit of wearing red blouses of a similar make. I don't know, because I've never been to Texas. My fault, I fear.

I was to experience similarly disastrous gift givings in the future, so it was with trepidation that I faced my wife's recent birthday. What to do? She is very difficult to buy for. If I buy her something, she doesn't like it. That's a mild description. And if I don't buy her something, she doesn't like that either.

So I came up with the idea of taking her to lunch or dinner at the restaurant of her choice. I was equipped with a suggestion for a place, but perfectly ready to discard this notion, as she doesn't like choices being made for her either, especially when it comes to food. Well, especially when it comes to anything.

Sounds pretty safe, no?


She did not like this idea. We could go out and eat any day, she said. Today is my BIRTHDAY.

Oh dear.

To be fair, i should mention that she wasn't feeling well. Masuk angin, you know. How could I have anticipated such conditions.

So passed the birthday. No date, no gift, no speaky.

The next day, I was driving back to Renon from Sanur, when suddenly a little shop with a sign reading HELM shouted, "STOP, YOU BONEHEAD, I HAVE WHAT YOU NEED!"

Really? Hmm. Come to think of it, the red helmet she had previously used had first been chewed by one of our occasional dogs, and then more recently disappeared altogether when she loaned it to a friend. I do have an extra, but it stinks.

Ah ha! A helmet. A pink helmet! Could it be? Admittedly, she has no motorbike, she does not know how to drive a motorbike, but still ....

So I enter the shop. Pink, I say. The woman shows me a brown one. She shows me a purple and a green.

No, must be pink. Pink, I say.

Her husband comes to the rescue. He pulls a pink helmet from the bottom of a glass showcase. Totally pink! That's it!

Tiga ratus ribu.

But it has no face mask.

"Face mask separate," the woman says. "Empat puluh ribu."

"Oh gitu. Ok. Tiga ratus empat puluh ribu."

"No," the husband says. "For wife, must be special. (Did his wife roll her eyes, or was that just my imagination?).

He brings out a bubble glass facemask.

"Seratus ribu."

"Tapi ibu baru bilang empat puluh."

"Noooooo. Ini dari Malaysia" he explains, tapping the wonderful glass. "MALAYSIA."

Malaysia is apparently nearly as exotic as Mars, when it comes to helmets and facemasks.

Okay, okay. Empat ratus ribu. Done.

Now here's the good news. When my wife sees the helmet, she goes giddy. She giggles, she laughs, she kisses me, she hugs the helmet.

Thus I squeak through another holiday, and begin to ponder, already, Christmas with a certain measure a gloom. Now she has the helmet, and only one head. What else is there?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Adam's Rib

So, I find that the trouble with Tukang Kopi is that they don't open until 1, and I'm sure that even that is jam karet. Downright un-American. In America coffee is a pagi thang, ya know.  A pagi-pagi thang.

As for Limamike, I find that they don't generally open before 3 pm. Even then, it's hit or miss.

So I drive up to Jala Food Court instead, which opens, more or less, at 11. Great. I get my coffee and find that their wifi is rusak.

Should have just gone to Starbucks and done the pelit thing kan.

Anyway, that's just all introductory. I meant to write about an article I recently read wherein a Rabbi explained that the word "rib" in the creation story (God took a rib from Adam's side and formed woman from it) is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for the 'baculum', or the penis bone.

Now this is interesting, because a man has no penis bone, whereas most other mammals, including apes, do. Having a 'boner' is merely a descriptive term, for there is no bone involved in a man's erection, whereas the bone possessed by other mammals essentially makes erection a permanent condition. It is the woman herself who is involved in the human male's erection.

Some men will say, I suppose, 'Wouldn't women love that permanent erection', while most women might be more inclined to consider the idea nightmarish.

So where did that penis bone go in the human creature? It went to the woman. It is the woman. It is for and of and part of the woman and the woman is for and of and part of the man.

"Now she is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone," Adam said - and could not have said more rightly.

Again, the apostle Paul would later say, 'But the man is not without the woman and neither the woman without the man."

God loves a paradox. Separate, but two; two, but one; and with God, three expressed as one.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them."

Who can search the depths of God's wisdom, who can comprehend His ways?

Friday, August 21, 2015

MS + Marriage

People with MS ought to be alone. If not already alone, they ought to arrange to be alone. And those stuck with them ought to be enablers of the same in their own best interest. For it seems that no one apart from he or she who has the disease can appreciate the hilarity of the thing. Rather, the associated foibles and farces seem to strike others as merely irritating and inappropriate. Well, of course they are both of these things, but only the person who has the disorder which enables, nay compels him to commit these spastic aberrations can manage to respond with laughter - which is itself something akin to the amazed sort of delight a small child may automatically experience upon first seeing soap bubbles float through the air or Jack pop out of the Jack-in-the-box.  What the ... OMG ... Did that really just happen?

Yesterday, my wife handed me her cell phone and positioned the view just so for a picture I was to take of her standing on a bridge. A picture perfect picture, you know, with the sky and the sea and the sand and the bridge and her standing on the bridge in elegant pose, hair gently lifting in the breeze.

And yet the result was a picture of my thumb. In fact, three pictures of my thumb. Had my thumb been the intended subject of this composition, it would have been perfect. But, of course, that wasn't the case.

My immediate response, in having the error pointed out, was a mild sort of amazement. How could it be? My thumb was not in the picture when I took it, and yet there it was, most definitely in the picture, sticking out like a sore thumb, so to speak.

On the other hand, my wife's response was was neither mild nor amazed. She was furious. It was the end of possibly the worst family outing of my life.

You see, she did not appreciate the hilarity of these three thumbs. People who don't have MS just don't get it. Why in the hell are you laughing, you complete, you utterly useless moron!

But don't you see, I took a picture of my thumb three times!


The other day, she asked me to get her her a glass of water and a cold pill. I dutifully fetched the water, the cold pill, and then swallowed it down myself on the way back to the bedroom.

Holy shit, what did I just do. And why?

Funny, you see?

I remember, back in Portland, taking my son to the Fred Meyer store in the morning instead of to school. On several occasions.

What are we doing here, Dad?

I have no idea.

Dysfunction is the most reliable, the most inventive sort of comedy.

In fact, Mark Twain once noted that the real trick to comedy is not just to seem a fool, but to convince others that you truly are a fool.

And that is the one thing about MS that is easy; although, as I have already mentioned, the only appreciative member of the audience is likely to be oneself alone.

"Those who marry someone will have many troubles in this life. I want to save you from this."

So said the apostle Paul. It's Biblical. And I think he was onto something there. A little simple addition - MS + marriage - may well become a tangle that defies solution.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Old Times

These days of August, from the 1st to the end of the month, used to be the best for fishing and camping in Oregon's high cascades. Every year, I would go to Olallie Lake, or one of the lakes nearby - every year, from 1954 to 2009. Alternatively, you could go from the north side, from the low-lying Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and drive up into the foothills, where you would end up some six miles by foot from Olallie Lake. There was no road between the two areas, but there was a trail you could follow from Trout Lake to Island Lake to Dark Lake to Long Lake and thus to the far end of Ollalie Lake. There are hundreds of lakes in the area, and, when I was very young, they were all good for fishing. There were lakes you could go to by trail, and there were lakes that few people knew about, tucked into the wilderness almost untouched by men. You had to know where they are, for they are small lakes and you could easily walk right past them, and likely end up hopelessly lost in the process. My dad showed me how to find them, how to look for the right signs, how to follow the right creek beds. In the early years, not many people went to the Olallie area, because the road was very bad and the area was primitive, undeveloped. Over the years, roads were improved, campgrounds were built, word got out, and people poured in. I remember a time - I was maybe 10 - when my brother and I and our friends went about taking down the flags the surveyors had put up - trying to protect and preserve our little Eden. We got caught, however, and bitched out good style by a big guy in a hard hat and a dribble of strawberry jelly on his chin. When more people came to Olallie, we moved up the road to Monon Lake, where there were no permanent campsites, you had to make your own, no outhouses, no faucets, no boat docks - just lake. Our spot was in a meadow, some distance from the dirt road, right on the lake shore. The water was cold, as are all lakes at 5000 feet above sea level, but great for swimming, and in the evening, you could hike to where the two opposite shores reached toward one another with outstretched, stony hands, and cast your line into the deep green divide for rainbow and brook and Kokanee trout. At nighttime, the deer would come to graze in the meadow. You could not see them, but sometimes you could see their eyes, catching the reflection of the light from our fire, and if you walked that way, they would leap back into the secreting forest with a great thumping of hooves and cracking of ground cover.

God, how I miss it all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Burden

I am a burden. I am a burden because I cannot hear well. I am a burden because I cannot see well. I cannot walk well. I cannot remember things. I have a neurodegenerative disorder called multiple sclerosis. I am a burden to myself, and it is a burden to me. Or maybe it simply is me. I have become my own disorder, the way a schizophrenic becomes his disorder, no longer his original self, but swallowed by disease and re-actuated with the inside out, as John Lennon said. The outside is in and the inside is out.

I remember how my dad became a burden, and my mother as well, though they were much older than I. My dad could not hear well anymore. You had to shout to speak to him. It was a effort, a nuisance, a burden. And so you stopped speaking to him. When I was young, he taught me how to fish. He left his own pole against a tree and walked along the lakeshore with me and showed me where the fish would be. He put his hand over mine on the grip of the rod and taught me the motion of casting the line so that it settled easy on the water and the fly lit on the riffles before the line and then you took up the slack so there was nothing on the water where the fish were except for the fly and the invisible leader.

When we were young, we went on a seven mile hike into the Mt. Jefferson wilderness area. Coming back, I left my backpack at the top of a snowbank and slid down the bank with my brother, far down to a lower turn in the trail. My father retrieved the pack. There's a picture of him, taken by my mother, stark, distinct as stone against the backdrop of white snow and blue sky, one hand reaching for the strap of the pack. He carried it the rest of the way. It was no burden to him.

But later, to a forgetful, self absorbed young man, he became a burden, an irritant, not worthy of the effort of raising one's voice.

Before he died, he said there were Indians in his hospital room at night, doing some kind of war dance, beating on tom-toms. He was afraid. There was a tall man standing behind me, he said, the tallest man he had ever seen. He reached his hand toward mine and asked me to take the keys, go get the car, bring it to the front, get him out of there.

But there were no keys, though he shook them in his hand.

Go get the car.

I can't. I can't.

Oh faithless and twisted generation, Jesus said, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you.

How long am I to bear myself?

One thing I know. If a burden I be, it is my burden only to bear with myself, and I shall not be a chain or a weight to any other. I would sooner die. I would sooner be abandoned in the sands of a desert, to want, to thirst, to shrivel alone and shed my own skin. I shall not want, nor be the cause of want. I was here to be of use, and if of no use, I shall not further be.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Moving AGAIN

Just learned that our landlord in going to sell our rental house. Guess maybe selling the house is easier than fixing the bathroom door. What's up with these landlords in Bali? This will be FIVE moves for us since 2010. That's more times than I moved in the previous 55 years of my life! So goodbye Renon, hello who knows where.

As one gets older ...

As one gets older, one faces the paradox of a world that becomes smaller and larger at the same time. The smaller it becomes, the larger it grows. Vast spaces are contained in an area the size of three city blocks. Years worth of memory get pressed into moments that explode and expand into endless heavens.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fresh Food

My wife tells me that we are going to eat healthy now that Sasha has returned to the United States. I was in the general habit of preparing "unhealthy" foods because 1) he doesn't like healthy food, which is generally green or otherwise distasteful and 2) I am convinced that unhealthy foods, such as fried chicken, fried eggs, fried hamburger, fried potatoes and pretty much fried anything is critical to the health of a growing boy's body. Pastry is also important, and potato chips.

But since I am not growing anymore, in any fashion except older, and since fried foods are not considered good low fat diet foods, we have altered our diet to include only things that are either steamed, grilled (with just a pinch of virgin olive oil), or not cooked at all. No white rice. Rice must be brown and organic.

The other day, after preparing our green salad on two plates, my wife noticed a snail crawling out from beneath a leaf of lettuce.

"Ah, good!" she said. "That means it's really fresh."

The last sack of brown rice we had was fresh too, because there were bugs in it. And although these bugs were dead, they wouldn't have been there in the first place if the rice weren't fresh and chemically untainted.

Food ought to prove itself lively in some way so that we ourselves may remain lively. I had actually already gotten a start on this dynamic with the seasoning of ants in my morning coffee at Circle K. That's protein, man, in organic form, and not just powdered cream and sugar.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Mrs. Trump

I was thinking about Donald Trump today. Not that there's much to think about, except to wonder how he could possibly be a frontrunner among Republican Presidential candidates.

But the name made me think about Mrs. Trump, who was no relation to Donald, but was our neighbor on the other side of our block when I was a kid.

She was an old woman even then. Ruth Trump. My mother had grown up with her daughter, Elizabeth, which will give you some idea of how old Mrs. Trump was. Her husband, Ernie, had served in World War I and had been injured. I don't remember what kind of an injury it was. All I remember about him is that he was always sitting in the same easy chair and rarely spoke. We were afraid of Ernie, for no particular reason - just in the way that kids are inclined to be afraid of old men who sit speechlessly in easy chairs. He died when I was still very young, such that I can just barely remember him.

Mrs. Trump was alone then, and seemed more natural that way, as if Ernie had always been some kind of an anomaly, just there, and then gone.

Every time my brother and I walked around the block, Mrs. Trump would tap on her kitchen window and ask us to come in for cookies and milk. Honestly, that's why we walked around that side of the block to begin with. The woman had an inexhaustible supply of cookies and milk, which just happened to be always set out on the kitchen table in glasses and on plates.

Her house was huge, and quiet as a grave. It was a very old house that had been built in the days when people had servants, and there were special hidden staircases for the use of the servants, weaving unseen behind the walls like secret tunnels.

We used to stay at Mrs. Trump's house when we were sick and our mother was away, or when my parents went out to a party. We stayed in the den, where there was a TV and a grandfather clock. She would make the sofa into a bed and you would have to lie there, ever so lonely, counting the ticks and the tocks. It seemed always an eternity before my mother returned.

If we had to sleep overnight, she would put us in a room upstairs. The entire house was paneled in dark wood, like mahogany, and furnished in the same manner. The bedroom was so spacious that it seemed to yawn and sigh like a sleepy giant. Next to the bed was a crib and in the crib was an old style porcelain doll. My brother called it "Baby Moses". I don't know why.

It happened, one night when we stayed in that room, that we had just come from a watching a horror movie called Hush, hush, Sweet Charlotte, with Bette Davis. I had been particularly frightened by the movie - more so than my brother, who was two years older than I. To make things worse, as older the brothers sometimes will, he kept reaching down next to his side of the bed to rock Baby Moses' cradle, despite my tearful requests that he desist.

It is dark and deathly silent in that yawning room, except for the intermittent creaking of the cradle - and then suddenly, we hear footsteps on wood, and the closet door creaks open, just like in a real horror film, and the vague, thin figure of a woman with blue hair emerges. No joke, then. No rocking cradle. This was real, and we both screamed in terror.

Well, of course, it was Mrs. Trump, having used one of the hidden service staircases as a shortcut. But I was sure, and my brother was sure, in that critical moment, that it must be Bette Davis herself, probably carrying a knife or a meat cleaver.

One time when Mrs. Trump had us in for cookies and milk, she sat down at the table as well, which was unusual. It was raining outside, cats and dogs, as they say, and the sky was a classic Oregon gray and the windows were blurry with the constant downpour.

"I want to tell you boys something," Mrs. Trump said, "and I want you to listen, and I want you to remember."

Wondering whether we had done something wrong without knowing it, we put our cups down, stopped chewing our cookies.

"I want to tell you," she said, "that you have the best, the kindest mom and dad in the world. I want you boys to know that and never forget. That's all.

She smiled, then, and went back to work in the kitchen, and I suppose that my brother and I exchanged a glance and a snicker.  But you know, I never did forget, not even for a moment, ever in my life, not once to this very day.

Send in the Clowns

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Been listening to that song this morning while doing the laundry. One song that Sinatra actually doesn't do better than everyone else. A rarity indeed. I prefer Barbara Streisand's interpretation. The one by Judy Collins seems too flat. But whatever. Matter of taste, I'm sure.

Funny how one can take lyrics out of context and make them applicable to oneself or one's situation, apart from the originally intended meaning.

I often feel that the order in time is strangely disjointed, improperly put together, like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces have been forced into the wrong spots, skewing, scattering and confusing the picture. If I were in charge of chance, coincidence, chronology, I would have done things differently, redone the order of time and event. What's that word they use nowadays? Synchronize. Synchronize your devices.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Don't you love farce?

My energy is spent, and yet in demand. The capital is depleted just when the time is ripe for purchase. I am finally ready, yet already done.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wine and Cheese

I don't generally enjoy being interrupted when I'm busy doing nothing, but if one must be interrupted, it might as well be by an Italian who has been drinking too much and is carrying a sack full of cheese, ham and wine. This provides the interruption with considerable substance, making it rather more pleasant than interruptions might otherwise be.

So was the case tonight at Limamike's. Moreno came looking for beer, which is not to be found at Limamike's coffee house, but joined me, nonetheless, for coffee, which he himself substituted with red wine from a plastic container that looked much like a baby's bottle, though lacking a nipple.

In addition to the wine, Moreno produced a boulder sized hunk of smoked ham along with a similarly sized ball of white cheese. All homemade, he explained, with real ingrediants, real milk, real pork, real grapes, none of this powder and paste nonsense that passes for food in the local supermarket. No, he makes this himself, both here and in Jakarta.

Moreno sliced the ham and the cheese, poured out my water and replaced it with wine (so that's how it's done!), and proceeded to tell his life story. A chef by profession, he lived ten years in China and owned three restaurants (by profession), speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Indonesian, English, German, and learned to speak Spanish in the course of one day spent in Mexico. He met the Javanese woman of his dreams in Macao, who had ended up there by way of Jawa Timor, Singapore, Bangkok and Beijing.

The more Moreno talked, the more he drank, and the more he drank, the more Italian he became, such that English itself dropped out of the conversation to a considerable extent. Which pretty much made it time to go.

Ah, what a life we have, he said. Eh, my friend, Ricardo, what a life, eh?

Yes, what a life indeed.

Monday, August 3, 2015

One, two, three ...

One time, my grandfather, whom I never knew, accused my mother of killing his dog. The thing is, there was no dog. The dog he was thinking of had died some years earlier. This was my dad's dad. He was living with my parents in those days because of a worsening problem with senility. Neither I nor my brother had been born yet. My mother was a very kind and sensitive person, while grandpa, by all accounts, had always been something of an asshole, even in his right mind. Well, my mom would try to reason with grandpa about that dog and then one day he hauled off and hit her. After that, my dad sent grandpa to the 'old folks home', and, soon after, he died, under somewhat suspicious circumstances, with bruises about his head. They said he had fallen several times.

Sad story, I guess. Like I said, I never knew him. But I know my parents always felt badly about what had happened, as if it had been their fault.

Sometimes people can get an idea in their head, and the more you reason with them about it, the more insistent they become regarding the delusion. A complex has developed, superseding commonplace reality, and the person so suffering will defend the complex at all costs. I saw this for myself many times as an adult, working in an adult foster home, and then with my own mother when she developed Alzheimers.

With a stranger, it doesn't really matter. You did not know them in any other form. Their delusions are who they are. But with someone you are close to, it is very difficult indeed. You know them only as they were, not as they have become.

My mother used to count to three. One, two three. I taught her to do that. I thought it would calm her. Just count to three, Mom, and take a deep breath.

One, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three.

Just tap your heels together three times and say, There's no place like home.

She got into such a habit of counting to three, that she would not, or could not stop.

One, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three ...

And then one time, just before the end, she did stop for a moment, raised her eyes to mine, focused for the final time in her life, and said, 'I love you.'

Those three words.

And then began again - one, two, three; one, two three; one, two, three - until the final breath parted from her lips.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Ran into a little gang of anak nakal at the Circle K, two girls and a boy, 17, 16 and 15. Little gangstas. They greeted me with the usual "Hello, Mister" and began to sit at their own table, but finding that I could speak some Indonesian, excitedly invited themselves to mine. From Timor, they said, but they live nearby. The boy explained that the older girl was naughty because she had just gotten a tattoo and because she lives with her boyfriend. He also claimed that the younger girl was his girlfriend, but she denied this. Both became angry for a time, but got over it. We talked about tattoos and school and short skirts and clubbing. The boy wants to go to America because of the short skirts there, and the girls want to go too, just because. They had all been to Adora, on the Bypass, and wanted to know if I wanted to go too. How did you all get into Adora, I asked? Oh, ada teman di sana. Well, of course. In Bali, anything is possible if you have either a friend or money.

They all wanted to know about my son, and how old is he, and when is he coming back. But I don't think Patrik's mother would let him play with these anak nakal.

Just small talk, really, but not something that would happen back home. Young folks don't talk to old folks. Yuck.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Just Look Away

You know how there are some things you don't want to see, but you just have to look anyway? Like a terrible accident on the road, for instance. You inwardly cringe as you approach. You are repelled at the sight. But you look anyway.

It can be the same with ideas. You begin to read something, and you know right away that what is being expressed is repugnant and twisted, but you read on anyway, unable to avert your mind - because what you are looking at is the intellectual version of a disastrous car wreck, the road kill of integrity in thought, the mangled body parts of reason. What started out as a report of some clearcut event or political commentary quickly collides in the readers' comment section with the lunacy of minds that have careened out of control.

Take any news article about Obama, for instance. Once the article hits the eight lane highway of Facebook, the simplicity of its substance explodes into weird shattered fragments, flying in all directions, which are then regathered in the repugnant form of someone's personal Frankenstein monster.

I happened to begin reading one such comment today and, pausing to scroll down the page, noted that it went on almost interminably. Obama is not an American, his birth certificate is fake, his wife is a man, neither of his daughters has a birth certificate either, having been abducted as small children; there are no photographs of his wedding, he has shown no marriage certificate, there is no record of his actually having attended any university, his name is registered under five different Social Security numbers in five different versions from five different states. He is a Muslim sitting in the highest seat in the nation and is committed to the destruction of freedom and democracy.

These things leave me with a distinctly queasy feeling - again, like the sight of blood and body parts.

Scarier yet are the number of 'likes' and replies of agreement that these sorts of comments receieve. Wow, you've really done your research, Bob!

And indeed, Bob has done his research, having, apparently, spent every waking hour pouring over the tomes of paranoia and fantasy that can be found on the internet as easily as measles on skin. Bob has made a masterly study of what is not, and is now passing it on to a confused and unwary culture ripe for infection. A sickness is passing like the grim reaper among us, which is known, by too many, as "the real truth".

Oh brave new world, that has such people in it.