Thursday, August 22, 2019

Hamurgers and Hip-Hop

Had an increasingly rare visit from Viana and Feby yesterday, the dynamic albeit spoiled young duo. Well, at 11 and 12 years of age, I suppose their interests in life are widening beyond the realm of laptops and iPads. Nonetheless, they retain a healthy, or perhaps an unhealthy interest in hip-hop music. And hamburgers. All things American. It is interesting to watch them sing out the words to these songs, which they have memorized, knowing the meaning of nary a one, which are sometimes actually rather inappropriate on the lips of a 12 year old, or perhaps a 112 year old too for that matter. Ah, but they enjoy themselves. 

Hip-hop soon incites hunger, and they want a burger. Generally, the 'burger man', who sells burgers about the neighborhood on his motorbike, would be around, but not this day, and so a long debate, a haggling over price, ensues regarding where I can order burgers for them and have them delivered via Gojek. It is finally decided that KFC will be most convenient, as it is close by and burgers are reasonably priced an 18 thousand apiece, roughly a buck-thirty USD.

And so the two of them happily consume their burgers with their mouths and hip-hop with their eyes and ears. Pretty much like kids anywhere, I guess. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


In this old house there were ghosts, some old and some new. Some of them I knew, some I did not. One lurked in a hallway and could go nowhere else because something had happened there and there the thing was, like creeping mold, a swirl in mahogany, a fray in the wallpaper. Another crouched in a corner at the bottom of the basement stairs. One glowered morosely behind the purring furnace amid boxes of forgotten, worthless stuff. In that house I found as well a heart. It was a heart that could only be summoned by a pressing of the proper keys. No, not a pressing. A caressing. At the piano, I called out to the heart and the heart responded according to the touch of my fingers. Together, we activated living things, called them into the dead silence of the world, living things like yearning, and grief, and love, and glory. This old house sang for hours on end. And in that time, the ghosts would emerge, and drag their chains toward the sound of the singing, weeping, beseeching, soaring, joyful thing. They made the hair of my neck stand on end. What did they want? What other than to be free? In those times, according to that music, every prison door flew open, and that old house itself shattered from within, and there was no longer a wall or a beam or a root top remaining, but the stars shone unfettered overhead like a million piercing beacons.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Morality Versus Practicality

I am always surprised when news commentators speak of "a close election" in 2020 and wonder who, if anyone, can beat Donald Trump. How can this be?  I can understand that some folks were fooled in 2016, or didn't know yet who Trump really is, but who can possibly be so clueless as we approach 2020? 


Well, I heard one commentator suggest that in 2020 people may be facing a moral as opposed to a practical choice. Most people, he theorized, are most interested in the economy, how much money is going into their pockets, how much they will be able to spend, how many shiny new things they will be able to buy. If the economy under Trump remains good, many voters may be willing to overlook personal weaknesses such as hatred and racism and carelessness and narcissism and stupidity and divisiveness in favor of the almighty dollar. 

And if the economy is weak? Well then it might be convenient to consider morality.

Is this really what we've come to? 

I guess we will see in 2020.  

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lighting Out for the West

But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. 
--Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

I may have written in the past about what I am about to write now. I don't remember. Regardless, I will proceed. 

Back in the mid 1990's, my son suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. Where he could have gone, no one knew. Had there been foul play? Had there been an accident, on the road, for instance? He had always been given to taking long walks, sometimes at night, and had always adhered to a general suspicion of traffic lights and crosswalks, choosing to navigate streets at points where these dangerous safety measures were absent. Had suspicions such as these landed him as an anonymous resident in the morgue? He carried, after all, no identification, he had no bank cards or credit cards or driver's license. In fact, he had no wallet. He kept his money in the bottom either of his right or his left shoe. If he had not in fact disappeared, if he was actually quite present, though unconscious, in one spot or another, how would anyone know? Unidentified man, est. age 25-35, wearing green trench coat, paper money in shoe. Please claim.

Well we had no clue. He had left no note, no particular evidence of intent or destination. Nothing in his little trailer home seemed different than usual. There was certainly no evidence of foul play in the trailer other than that habitually inflicted on the place by he himself. 

There was, however, this one thing; and we all knew, at least in the backs of our minds, that this was the critical thing: Holden was about to be evicted from his trailer, which had lately crossed the line between unhealthy and unlivable, and it was the plan of his mother and his stepfather to commit him to government housing, where his Social Security Disability status would pay the tab. 

This, for Holden, was the ultimate insult. He was not a freeloader. He would not be a ward of the State. He was not a drug addict or a retard or a convict or a lunatic. He was a man, a free man, a moral man in the face of an immoral and decadent society, and he was a self-sufficient man save for the necessary assistance provided by the government and his family members. He was not a man who needed or deserved to be filed in with the common refuse of civilization. 

In short, the most likely answer to this mystery was that Holden had run away from his own home. He had lit out for the Territory. 

But where? The territory is a big place, and a dangerous place, populated by beasts and the pitiless elements and wild Indians and treacherous rogues. Here he would be a lamb among wolves. How could be survive? How would he eat? What could he do without his disability check? It just didn't make sense. It was impossible. And because of that--because it did not make sense and was impossible--we knew, because this was Holden, that it did make sense and that it was not impossible. 

For myself, I began my search in Portland's more remote, less developed park lands, for Holden had long enjoyed the solitude of these places, the empty, unclaimed land. Often, he would prepare a patch of land in an isolated spot and plant "crops" there--beans, peas, corn. It was summer, and the weather was hot, and our outings were like picnic excursions--I and my wife, and maybe a son or a daughter, partly searching, partly exploring places we had never really seen before. In the forests and in the fields of those parks, we ran into many homeless people--many more than I had ever realized were there--tucked into the foliage like shy munchkins, yet willing to peep out from their secret places and welcome these travelers from Kansas. 

I had printed fliers with Holden's picture and some basic information, and these I handed to the curious woodland residents.

"And you think he's here?" one young man asked, handing the flier to his girlfriend who was yet huddled in her sleeping bag. 

"Maybe. Could be," I said. "We just don't know. Grasping at straws."

"You just want to do something," he nodded. "I get that," scrutinizing the photo again. "Can't say that I've seen him. But we'll help you look. We can help, right, Linda?" The girlfriend eagerly nods assent. "Just let me get dressed," she says. 

"I'm Paul," the young man said, reaching out and shaking my hand. "This is a recent photo, right? Same hair style and all?" 

"Yes, and … he might be carrying a shovel."

"A shovel? What's he burying?"


"Ah, I see." 

Yes. Of course. Beans. 

We met many people in this park, people in flimsy vinyl tents, orange, blue, green tents, scattered on the forest floor like fallen kites. By the time we had toured and handed out our fliers, dozens were conducted their own searches, calling Holden! Holden!

We did not find him in those parks. The summer ended and September began and the chill of autumn hunted at our side. We had written a bulletin for the local newspaper and TV news station, and this was broadcast along with the photo from the flier. Diabetic, autistic man gone missing. Likely in need of help. Please report any sighting to this station. At church we spoke to our pastor, and our pastor spoke to the congregation. Let us pray. 

And then one day he just showed up, just like that-not in Portland, but in Lincoln City on the coast, 97 miles west of Portland. My ex-wife's husband's sister had a sudden hunch and drove to Lincoln City, and as she pulled into the lot of a Minute Mart, she met him coming in at the same moment, rumpled in his customary trench coat, ragged, a bit worse for the wear, but not unhappy. 

"Oh, hi," he said. "Are you looking for me?"

As it turned out, Holden had come straight to the beach from Portland, weeks ago now. He had hired a taxi to drive him 97 miles to Lincoln City, and here in the woods above the town, he had been camping ever since, living on edible vegetation and berries, and on Twinkies and cans of Tab Soda from the Minute Mart. He had begun to plant a small garden, he said, but of course nothing as yet had had time to grow. 

"I'd like to take you home," Nina said. "Would you let me drive you back to Portland?"

Yes, Holden said, he reckoned he would. 

The news of his return and of his whereabouts in the previous time came to me in a strange mixture of inexpressible relief and dreadful despair. Who runs away in a taxi cab? My God! Who squanders money on a taxi cab and then lives in the woods on berries and Twinkies? 

Then again, who among us has not thought of just bugging out one day, of just leaving it all behind, of just washing his hands of all the cares and the cornering walls? Erasing it all. Starting out new. Lighting out for the Territories.

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me. 

The truth is, I could not help but feel proud of my son. I think everyone felt that way. A helpless man does not conceive of and execute such elaborate escapes. A helpless man does not put his trust in the succor of mother earth, nor in manna for sustenance. Manna and berries and roots and Twinkies. A cowardly, needy man does not pitch his tent in the cold-hearted woods and huddle for warmth by the small fires kindled by his own efforts. 

I think of this now as a brave thing, an honorable thing, a needful thing. I think now that in his forty-two years on this earth, he did nothing more courageous than this. And in some sense, I never afterwards worried about him, for he was the master of his own destiny, the captain of his own ship. No course set by the compass of the world would ever suffice. No Aunt Sally would ever sivilize him. For he had been there, and couldn't stand it, and had lit out ahead of all the rest.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Wisdom of the Foolish

My Facebook feed reminded me today, in its charming Facebook way, of a piece I posted back in August of 2015. I don't remember whether I posted the same piece here in the blog. In fact, I don't remember writing or posting the piece at all, which is no surprise, actually. I'm too lazy and too functionally clueless to check on past postings, so I re-post it today, and add a few contemporary observations as well. 
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.

I see on the old Facebook post that several friends offered kind, encouraging comments. "As long as you can write like this, you will always have worth," they said. 

So what now? What is left when that particular toehold slips? Am I unable to write like that now, or do I simply lack the emotional engagement? Did this matter then, four years ago, because it still seemed that the tide could be turned? At the gates of despair, the last line of defense is hope--blind, unrealistic, extravagant hope. 

Hitler comes to mind, oddly enough. Not that I'm anything like Hitler. God forbid. But I'm thinking of Hitler, cornered in the Bunker as the irrepressible Soviet juggernaut pounded into Berlin itself, yet fantasizing over the possibility of deliverance in a decisive blow to be delivered by "Steiner's Panzerkorps", which, in fact, was all but nonexistent, a phantom consisting by this time only of several grossly understrength battalions and several tanks. Perhaps Hitler himself knew, in the back of his addled mind, that there was no such panzerkorps, and yet there had to be, because there was nothing remaining between convenient delusion and a bullet in the head. 

Less and less often do I imagine a resurrection of the flesh except in desperate, temporary degree. Breathing space. More and more deeply is my heart invaded by love, something pure, willing, heartbreaking, inhuman. The more urgently I want to speak of these things, the less able I become. I am trapped behind impenetrable walls of words. 

The capital city has all but fallen, and is now peopled by life's last enemy.

But here's the good news, the wisdom of the foolish, the hope of glory: that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On the Conversational Acuity of Dogs

Whilst I was talking with Takut the dog this morning, I happened to note the conversational acuity of dogs in general. There is really no subject or rumination or rant or chit-chat to which they will not listen, which is more than can be said for some of our fellow human beings. 

Take my third wife for instance. There were times when I realized that I was absolutely talking to myself, that she was not merely not interested in what I was saying but completely deaf to what I was saying. I tested the theory in various ways. One was to fill in her side of the communication for her, noting upon doing so that she was equally as disinterested, or deaf, rather, in what she might have to say as in what I was saying. Another was to say some patently ridiculous thing such as 'Did you hear about the sky falling yesterday? Chicken Little was right after all.'  She thought neither that this was ridiculous nor something to be concerned about, because she simply did not hear it. The words may have lived up to the status of ambient background noise, but nothing more than that.

But Takut the dog, yes, he listens, as can be readily appreciated in the twitching of an ear, and he appreciates what is being said, most especially when the subject delves deeply into minutiae. Take food, for instance. The dog has a keen interest in anything pertaining to food, food preparation, or the consumption of food. Of the single subject of chicken, he can philosophize to no end. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Forrest Gump, wherein Gump's equally challenged friend, a fellow soldier, speaks nearly without end on the subject of shrimp, the many ways in which it can be prepared and consumed, the cuisines and flavors and spices with which it interacts and converses. It is similar with Takut and chicken, or any food, really--pork, beef, fish, and all the various amorphous unknowns he finds in garbage sacks or on roadsides. He can go on nearly forever.  

Another thing I noticed whilst talking to Takut this morning was that the neighbor across the way from my room, drying and combing out her hair in the sun on her porch, was glancing curiously my way now and then, wondering no doubt who I was talking to. Had I an unseen, rather silent guest? Catching her eyes in mid sentence from the kitchen window, I abruptly, self-consciously ended my conversation with the dog. Should I pick up the phone and pretend to have been conversing with someone? Should I just smile and wave? 

I chose the latter. 

When I went outside onto my porch, Takut followed me and took up his station on the mat in front of the door. The young woman was just leaving for work, hair dry now, dancing in the breeze, shining in the sunlight, beginning an engaging conversation of its own, as articulate--no, more so than words. 

"Is the dog sick?" she said, pausing by the front gate, smiling, amber eyes as lively as lion cubs.

"Sick? Well … he's pretty beat up, pretty ragged, pretty old, losing his fur as so many old dogs do. But sick? No, I don't think he's sick. He seems happy enough. 

"Hmm," she said doubtfully. But then again, maybe she wasn't really asking about the dog after all. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Cost of Friendship

I reckon it is best for a writer to know as few people as possible. The more people he knows on a personal basis, the less able he is to write the simple truth for fear of offending one or another of his friends. 

So the point is, I just wrote a rather engaging piece about some pretty serious issues, but I cannot post it here because the narrative will be readily recognized by certain readers as consisting of the stuff of a private conversation. 

You'll just have to take my word for it. It was a fine, meaningful piece of writing. 


Other than that, I finally got my motorbike out for regular servicing today, an appointment long overdue because of my long series of illnesses. The good news is that the bike is running like a top now, even if I myself am not running quite top-like yet. I do feel better though.