Wednesday, July 8, 2020


There's something going on with me and door locks. It's very strange. Locks in my presence eventually refuse to function.

First, there was the lock on the bathroom door at the Renon house. One day while I was in the bathroom, the lock froze, refusing to let me out. An odd thing in itself, as the 'lock' on the door wasn't even in the locked position. I never locked that door. There was no reason to. Nonetheless, once I had shut the door on this not so fine day, the mechanism froze and the knob merely spun in pointless circles. There was no window in that bathroom, no other way out than the door.

On that occasion, as I have written before, my son happened to be home (my lucky stars!), and although he was not able either to open the door from the outside, he was able to go next door and seek the help of our neighbor, a sort of jack of all trades and solver of all problems. After much fruitless tinkering, he was finally able to force entry with the use of a hefty square-headed hammer, with which he bashed the knob straight through the door and out my side, thereby obliterating the entire demonic mechanism.

On the next occasion, same house, I had come home from enjoying a coffee at a nearby café only to find the lock on the front door permanently stuck in the locked position. The key would turn just as much as it pleased, and yet the door remained stubbornly locked. Once again, the same neighbor, having himself been out for a coffee, came home, surveyed the situation (perhaps surveying me as well with a suspicious eye) and rushed down to the lock shop to return with a locksmith. In this case, as with the bathroom door, the entire lock had to be removed (though not this time with a square-headed hammer. 'To be clear, he has the proper tools,' the neighbor remarked).

On from the Renon house to my little room in Kampung Kumpul. Within a month or two, I find the bathroom door locked fast. Happily, I am on the outside this time, for there is now no son and no helpful neighbor to come to the rescue. I thank goodness I am not on the inside, for there are no windows in this bathroom either, but I understand that the need to pee will soon become urgent. But there is Pak Aan, the groundkeeper, whom I call on my cell phone. Aan shows up with no tools whatsoever, tinkers for a time anyway with a fork and a spoon from my utensil drawer, and then finally opens the door by ramming his shoulder against it a couple times. It is found, upon examination, that this lock had not been manually locked by a depression of the button on the inside. It had simply locked itself and then frozen in that position. Eerie, if you ask me. The mechanism is taped down securely, and the door remains in this condition for the remainder of my stay at Kampung Kumpul.

And now we come to my residence in the new apartment on Gang Merdu Komala--newly built from the ground up, every lock a virgin, having never been keyed. Within days, the lock on the sliding doors which let onto the wall garden at the back of the house freezes solid in the open position. The workers, who are still in fact working on the final bits and pieces of the house, bang and pry and generally violate this lock for the next hour or so and are finally able to pop it out of the frame. A new lock and new key are procured. Perhaps two days later, this lock too freezes in open position, the key stuck fast in the slot and able to turn neither one way nor the other. It is decided just to forget the whole damn thing and simply install a bolt on the inside--which is what should have been done in the first place, actually, as the wall garden is just a narrow space affording no avenue of entry from outside the house, nor is there any worldly reason one would want to lock himself into this space from outside the house).

Finally, I discovered last night that the padlock for the front gate--also brand new, mind you, used not more than a handful of times--is stuck in the open position and will not close, no matter how Herculean the effort. Again, my lucky stars are shining, to the extent that this did not freeze in the locked position, thus forbidding either entry or exit, depending on whether I happened to be coming or going. Nonetheless, it is inconvenient, as the gate cannot now be locked at night or when I'm out of the house.

So what's going on with me and locks? Ah, that is the question, Watson. Is it coincidence? Really? That many coincidences in a row? Or is it some sort of supernatural conspiracy? Is there a message? Is God trying to tell me something? Or is there some psychic power within me that is able to influence the mechanics of locks, though only to my detriment? Of what use would such a power be?

It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It is indecipherable. Ah, if only Sparky were here, for that dog ate quantum physics for breakfast and metaphysics for dinner and swallowed enigmas whole, without even belching. Interpretation was his middle name and mystery his inseparable consort. Speak to me now, Sparky. Don't lock me out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Daily Diners

There are two little dogs who live just around the corner from my house, and every day now, having discovered that I often have treats, they come to visit. Every morning upon waking I find these two dogs on my front patio, for they are small enough to squirm under the gate. There they wait for me to open the door and, hopefully, produce some chicken or some beef jerky or some milk or what have you. Again they will show up in the evening, as again I may have something for them. The little white dog, a female who looks a bit like a frayed dust rag, is quite friendly, while the black dog, an erratic, distracted, hyperactive male, is seemingly under the permanent impression that his white companion does not deserve to eat. Luckily for her, he is also kind of stupid and cannot help himself from running around in circles while she grabs her portion, and perhaps more. Often, there will be a brief fight, which the white dog swiftly loses. But then they run off eventually, side by side, no hard feelings.

The Institute

Stephen King does well with children. Always has. Think of IT. Think of The Body (more widely known from the movie version title, Stand By Me). King again does well with children in his recent novel The Institute, which I've just finished reading. The problem with the novel is that it feels like a regurgitation of relationships and themes that he has already explored in novels and stories that were fresh at the time he wrote them and much better than this current rerun.

To be honest, I don't know why King continues to write. He certainly does not need to do so, not like Jack London, for instance, or Mark Twain, who not only lived beyond their means, but in a time when novel writing was not nearly as lucrative as it is now, even for widely popular authors, and when pirated publications stole an author's profits and even the original publishers conspired to limit the authors' rights to his own efforts (something which Twain energetically fought to correct in his final years).

But King is rich many times over, and does not appear to live a life of great excess. With more than fifty popular novels (most of them best sellers) behind him, as well as film proceeds, King is perfectly free to rest on his laurels, having no need to produce pale imitations of himself. And this is what The Institute feels like--a practiced, premeditated reproduction, admirable for its likeness to the original, yet itself not original. It's kind of like taking the kids (and of course the dog) from Scooby Doo and dropping them into a new, but very similar situation every week.

Perhaps King simply has to write, like a compulsion. Or perhaps he is seeking the sort of literary acceptance that will never come, for Stephen King is quite solidly enshrined in the robes of popular fiction, in the halls of formula narrative, wherein King is indeed the king (although his garments, even in his own palace, are becoming worn, their style antiquated).

Like most of his previous novels, the Institute is also a page turner--another thing that King is good at. And yet again, in The Institute, the machinery is showing through, the magician's tricks have worn thin with repetition. Moreover, as in many of his novels, the carefully fashioned tension of his story collapses on itself in the end--and, ironically, the end of the Institute features a collapsing, imploding building, as if King himself, deep down, is recognizing his own trademark weakness.

Still, I don't want to be too hard on The Institute. It is classic King, and guaranteed to gratify the King readership. It delivers what is anticipated. The Institute is delicious candy, and a delicious candy, say a peppermint stick, as long as you don't expect it to be a pork chop, is delicious every time around.  

Monday, July 6, 2020


The old man who takes away my trash very seldom speaks. He very seldom looks at me, or at anyone else, as if it is something that is forbidden. This man's skin is as brown as burned toast, his legs thin and spindly, knees crooked slightly inward. He does not take the plastic bag in my bin, and will not take it. He opens the bin and fishes with his hand, scooping the contents into his voluminous burlap bag. He comes every day, does not speak, shovels the trash into his burlap bag. On July first, after collecting the trash, he paused in the driveway and hesitantly stretched an open hand toward me. Uang, he said, nearly in a whisper. Money. Ah yes, we had agreed on payment at the first of each month. I brought my wallet, deciding that ten thousand rupiah per week would be a fair amount. It is a normal fee for such service here, though the service usually comes in a more official form and involves a truck and strong young collectors. Accordingly, I gave the old man forty thousand rupiah for the month, a bit less than three dollars. The man received this money, stared at it for a moment, looked up, met my eyes briefly, and smiled. It felt as if this man had rarely seen this much money all at one time. Terima kasih, he said. Terima kasih, tuan. Thank you. Thank you. The old man comes every day. He transfers my trash to his bag. He tidies up the driveway where scraps may have fallen. And now, sometimes, he smiles.

Sunday, July 5, 2020


I suddenly realized this morning that I have been waiting nearly four years to breathe freely again, waiting for the time to come when this great American error would be expelled from our highest office and removed from our national conversation. Like many others, I had believed that this would happen long before the advent of another election. I did not think it possible that such an obvious cancer, more obvious by the week, would be allowed to persist, and I have been saddened along the way to find that we did not have a national body sufficiently healthy to reject this illness. We approach the time now, just a few months away, when the man will at last be expelled and we may take a deep, free breath again. We come to a time when a great burden will be lifted and we can move forward again, resume our journey on the road to progress. I had always known that there was light at the end of the tunnel. I just thought we would get there sooner. But now we are near and the light is clear. Rejoice and be thankful.   

Saturday, July 4, 2020


Every so often I will get a comment on something I've posted, in the way either of a comment to someone else's post or a post of my own, that I really have no right as an American living abroad to express any opinion whatsoever on events in America.

The most recent instance of this came from an Indonesian immigrant to America.

'Sure', he wrote, 'maybe you were born in America, and maybe you lived here for 55 years, but you don't live here now and you have no idea of what's going on. You say that you have family and friends here and you talk to them all the time, but that's still not the same as being here. It's easy for you to spread your libtard views online while you live in comfort and wealth in your villa and lie around on the beach. Just enjoy your retirement in the sun and leave America to those who live here, okay?'

This is not a direct quote, of course, but my translation of the gist of it from his poor English.

Generally, I am quite patient and sober in my replies to people online, especially with immigrants whom, as is understandable, may lack in knowledge of American law and government, history, culture, racial issues, and so on.

But in response to this particular comment, as you may or may not be able to imagine, I kind of tore this guy a new asshole. Figuratively, of course.

The fact is, in my nine years away from America, my interest in American politics and social issues has become much more lively than it was when I lived there. I seem to care more than ever, for some reason. Moreover, I was born more than a half century ago and have an experience of America that is much fuller than this young immigrant's. I lived through the years of racial segregation, I lived in a time when black people could not use the same toilet as whites, when black people lived in their own part town and whites lived in theirs. I lived through the riots of the 60s, through the civil rights marches, through a time when cities burned and people lived in fear. I lived in a time of multiple assassinations and more riots, and integration of schools and universities enforced by the military. The 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, right up to 2011, I was there.

And no, I don't lounge in a villa enjoying my wealth. I scrape by even here on Social Security. I live in a one room apartment. I cook my own food to save money. I have as transportation a motorbike, because there is no way in the world I could afford to buy a car. I live, in short, just as the common people around me live.  

And I can tell you that there is nothing that is happening now in America that has not happened before. In every case, throughout the years, these painful spasms in society, these fearful shakings of the status quo, have been the birth pangs of a better society to come. As Solomon puts it, That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been. Sometimes things need to be torn down so that they can be either improved or totally rebuilt.

One's mere presence in a society is no asset whatsoever to the society if one insists on being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Anybody Home?

This is difficult to explain. I'm losing track of myself. I'm falling out of contact with myself. The words I have are hidden in impenetrable ennui. I know they are there and that they want to be uttered, but my lips cannot form them, my fingers cannot find them. They are in me like an ache that has no remedy. The nature of the words cannot be determined. The only certain thing is that they are there and cannot be reached. The phone just rings and rings.