Monday, September 24, 2012

Trouble Comes in Threes (at least)

The last few months have been right rough on me.  First off I was bitten by some sort of poisonous insect. I like to call it a spider (laba-laba in the language), but in fact I did not see the insect (due to the fact that it had used the cover of night to carry out its dastardly deed), and so I really should not cast such aspertions on a single critter type.  I have called it a spider many times, and I guess that's because spiders have this negative sort of reputation, like Americans in Java and elsewhere throughout Southeast Asia.  He's an easy target, is the spider -- always the first one pointed to -- and so I apologize for my own rush to judgment.  It could just as well have been a centipede or a cockroach or a beetle or some random Egyptian guy from California.  Well, admittedly the latter would be unlikely -- but you see my meaning.

In any case, this bite on my calf from an anonymous insect became infected (or came with an infection, who knows?), so that by the evening of the first day the wound had grown from the size of a pinhead to the size of a silver dollar, and had turned an angry purple-red, with a dilated staring eye of yellow pus in the center.  Sorry, that's just how it was.  Aside from being ugly, the thing hurt like hell and got worse with each day (and with the application of each home remedy), such that the pain ultimately extended deep into the muscle and made walking -- an activity already comprised at baseline by MS --  an exercise in agony, and pretty much the next thing to impossible.

So I went to the hospital -- something to be avoided in Indonesia almost as religiously as the spider itself.  Or rather, the anonymous insect.  In fact, I went to the hospital every two days for the next two weeks for what seemed an endless series of poking, scraping and re-bandaging operations, until finally the wound was pronounced healed, though the scarring permanent.

No further insects have invaded my bed, nor the sactity of my sleep, but I did see an actual spider on the wall above my kitchen door last night -- unmistakable in this case, for a spider seen is a spider indeed.  And this was a major spider, folks -- a serious spider -- the epitomy of that sort of horror which gives the spider in general it's fearsome name.  I do not exaggerate -- this spider was the size of an oven mitten, this spider was the size of a frying pan.  It was black and generally splayed out with crooked legs like jointed steel.  Oh my God!

Oh my God!

What should we do?

My son, the first to see the monster, has retreated in a stumbling rush to the dining room.  My wife, while affecting scorn for our cowardice, moves rather quickly to the bedroom nonetheless -- an act which, to me, seems particularly inappropriate, for I am convinced, for some reason, that dealing with spiders should be in the domain of the wife.  Don't ask me why -- it's just something I have long taken for granted.  It's just something that seems a part of the wifely realm.

In any case, I am left on my own.  I must face the thing, eradicate it, or allow it to roam as it will (and the latter option is clearly unthinkable).  For a moment I imagine that this in fact may be the very spider that inflicted the poisonous bite on my calf, and that revenge is therefore within my grasp.  I soon realize, however, that this giant creature cannot have been the one that had previously climbed into my bed.  Were that the case, I surely would have awakened, the way I used to do when my labrador jumped onto the foot of the bed.  Clearly the enomity of the spider at hand would preclude the sort of stealth that would have been necessary to creep between the sheets with me.

In favour of a hand-to-hand confrontation, I decide upon a chemical attack through the use of a nearby cannister of Baygon Anti-Nyamuk, Lalat & Kecoa spray -- a mosquito, fly and cockroach preparation that, according to the can, is cepat, efektif & Tahan Lama (fast, effective and longlasting).  It seems the perfect thing where this laba-laba is concerned.

You will note, as I did, that "spider" is not mentioned among the intended targets of this spray -- and I must say that the spider itself appeared to note this as well -- for while he did not like the first couple of aerosol blasts from the cannister, neither was he prepared to die as a result.  Instead he ran with all eight legs down the wall and straightaway across the floor toward my feet -- bare feet at that.  Further blasts of the noxious spray slowed but did not halt his progress.  And  yet I stand my ground, despite the forward progress of my enemy, despite the choking cloud of Baygon that has begun to envelop us both.

This is when my son's shoe flies in.  Just the shoe, no foot or leg attached.  And it scores a direct hit.  Robin Hood and his arrow could not have done better.  The thing is dead, stone dead, without further twitch or convulsion, shot straight through the brain by a Reebok.

A cheer of victory arises from the depths of our lungs.  We embrace, we dance in celebratory elation. Such triumphs in life come event by event.  We know well that there are other enemies like this one - brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces -- but for now the day is ours.  Let tomorrow bring what it may.

This is what I was about to talk about, actually, before this giant spider derailed the narrative.  I was talking about the misfortunes of the summer, to which I will now return in relaying the particulars of the traffic accident which followed immediately upon the infectious spider bite that we started with. 

In was evening, though still light, and I was driving  home to Biaung from Sanur -- about a twenty minute trip.  There is but one road that traverses the south coast of Bali, and this road is known as the 'Bypass' -- a curious name, because it bypasses nothing. Rather it shoulders its way through just about everything and necessarily conveys just about every person, bike, motorbike, car and truck from Candidasa in the east to  Kuta in the south.  One generally picks his way rather laboriously through the traffic until he passes the KFC in Sanur -- and from that point straight on to Biaung it's every man for himself, at the fastest speeds possible. 

Well, one of the key rules of the road in Bali is to assume always the worst case scenario -- that the man in the Toyota SUV, for instance, has no license, nor the slightest comprehension of the mechanics of driving -- that this other man driving the Honda Vario has no brakes and this one on the Kawasaki is not sure which side of the road he should be on  -- that this dumptruck driver has no brains, that this bus driver has no side-view mirrors, and so on.  I forgot this rule that sunny July evening, and so when the light turned green at the Padang Galak intersection and every truck, car and motorbike lept forward onto the next stretch of open highway, I lept as well -- and after picking up full highway speed, found myself about to run my bike, and my life in this present world, smack-dab into the back of a hugh yellow truck. 

The truck, you see, was not equipped with functioning brake lights.  This is something I should have  known in advance.

Now it is important to note that where driving a motorcycle is concerned, the motorcycle does not stop on a dime in the same way a car will -- for the motorcycle itself stops, but the driver proceeds onward, quite suddenly divorced from the motorcyle, over the handlebars, some distance through the air, and then comes to rest (if you will) on the unkind pavement.  It all happens within a matter of seconds -- the recognition of impending doom, the throwing on of the brakes, the brief flight through the air, and the impact with the pavement.  This leaves you in a bit of a fog at first.  You are not sure where your motorcyle has gone without you, nor in fact are you quite certain of where your body has ended up.  And yet you rise -- an automatic response, unless your legs happen to be broken -- you brush yourself off, you search about for the errant bike -- and then, coming suddenly to full consciousness -- you get yourself the hell out of the middle of the street and the path of the oncoming traffic.  People here don't like to stop or slow down, although they will, with some irritation, try to go around you.

I had landed squarely on the right side of my ribcage and also opened up my pant leg and my skin at the right knee.  But it seemed okay.  I retrieved my bike and my person from the pavement and soon was back on my way home, thinking 'Gee, that was lucky -- I could have been killed.'

It is only later when the pain sets in.  Adrenaline had at first muffled the seriousness of the injury, shock had tricked the body into a sense of well being -- but by the time night fell I knew all too agonizingly that I was seriously fucked.  Suddenly every rib seemed to have been crushed in a vice, my right shoulder seemed to have collapsed, all the muscles in my upper torso had gone into a state of red alert and evinced now an angry, excruciating response.

Back to the hospital I went.  By now the staff was becoming quite familiar with my presence.  There he is again.  The white guy who can't stay out of trouble. These Americans are strange creatures, are they not?

My motorcyle mishap happened in the first week of July.  It is now September 24th and I am finally almost free of the pain.  Almost 12 weeks, my friends.  Twelve weeks of groaning and grimacing.  Twelve weeks of trying to lie on my back, on my left side, on my stomach -- and failing in all.  Twelve weeks of holding my ribs, gulping handfuls of aspirin, and shuffling about like Walter Brennan from the Real McCoys.

And then came the flu.  Or in my case, the super flu.  Now I know that trouble always comes in threes, so I was not wholly unprepared for a third misfortune, whatever form it might take.  Nonetheless, it has not been pleasant -- for the coughing, hacking, sneezing and sniffing that has accompanied this flu have been acutely counterproductive to the healing of my ribs -- combining together to exact extraordinary demands of my overtaxed bones and muscles -- which shout, ever so vexed, give me a break! (so to speak).

Four weeks of the flu now, and still going strong.

Why then has it taken so long for me to recover from these injuries and maladies, common enough on their own?  This is what I begin to wonder.  Is it merely old age, and a body less capable of routine repair?  Or does this have something to do with multiple sclerosis?  Hmmm. 

Well, when you think about it, an immune system that is preoccupied with attacking itself must therefore have little time to pay attention to those things it had been originally designed to fix.  Moreover, an immune system that has damaged the central nervous system, fried myelin sheaths, severed various nerve connections and so on, has necessarily compromised otherwise efficient processes of of natural healing, right?

It's funny -- I think very little about MS on a day to day basis.  I am used to the troubles it causes habitutally.  This seems merely my life, the way I am.  It takes time to remember the perniciousness of the thing.  Who, after all, takes 12 weeks to heal from a fall?  Who?  The person with MS, of course.  Who gets colds and flus so easily, and suffers with them four and five weeks at a time?  Why is it that my wife contracts the same flu and yet is up and about again in five days. 

Multiple sclerosis.  Oh yeah, now I remember.  I have multiple sclerosis. 

And I begin to understand through this trio of troubles what is meant when they say that MS does not itself cause death, but may often be a contributing factor.  Sure it can.  I see that now.  The dice are loaded, the cards are marked.  You come up to bat, you kick the dust from the plate, you take your stance and watch the ball leave the hand of the pitcher -- and then suddenly realize in one rather cold moment that the scoreboard shows already two strikes to your name.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jakarta Riots

So now the idiot mob spreads to Jakarta -- how disappointing is that?  Especially given that it should have been pretty clear by now to all but the most obtuse that all this trouble over a cheap-ass movie, insulting not only to Islam but to any thinking human being, was but an excuse for the fomenting of murder and mayhem, and ever so coincidentally on September 11th.  Come on, people!  How many times will you let yourself be turned to pawns, to be pushed about by the few, the extreme, the sick, the haters, happy to leave the blood on your hands?  Stop a minute, think it through . . . do you really believe that one film made by a small handful of nuts is the same as a policy statement from the American nation at large?  Do you imagine that it was submitted for approval to Congress and signed by the President himself?  Have you read the newspapers, seen the television reports, or have you only listened to the shrill madness of the man on the street with the megaphone?  Think, for Christ's sake, and for Mohammed's sake too!  Innocent lives are too precious to be sacrificed on the alters of blind ignorance.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Newspaper or Comic Book - You Decide

Indonesian newspapers are a ready-made treasure trove for the weekly columnist. He will never want for news of the most recent government foible, the latest gaffe, the hottest new religious squabble, the riotous or the ridiculous, murder and mayhem. It may be, as author Stephen Crane said, that the newspaper in general “is a symbol; it is feckless life’s chronicle, a collection of loud tales concentrating eternal stupidities.” This is nowhere in the world more apparent than in Indonesia, for I am convinced that the Indonesian newspaper stands apart from the crowd, head and shoulders above the commonplace drone.

Just pick up a daily paper and see for yourself. Do you not, upon reading, feel something akin to a bygone child-like passion for the colourful amusement of the comic book? Everything is so simple, so stripped to the essential, laid out in black and white, as stark, uncompromising and unflattering as old Kodak photos.

There’s something of a purity here that we do not see in the wide western world. Here the fat is sloughed from the ungainly creature, the bones laid bare, and we see at the most basic level how it moves, what it wants, how it creeps and runs, how it gathers and feeds. We are fascinated, alternately amused and horrified, outraged and unsettled, because deep down we know that what we are seeing is our own escapades, unclothed, unadorned, extraordinarily exposed, devoid now of pretence and sophistication so-called -- all those layers of political correctness and passionless political and social conditioning that have left us with the dim-witted impression that we really are above all these hatreds, brutalities, banalities, vanities, shams and mockeries that combine to make up the lesser part of the human condition.

It is not, you see, the reporting of the news that makes it so raw. It is the news itself, because it is real, it happened, ridiculous as it may seem -- and therein lies the fascination. There is no way to wrap it in the finery of jargon or to obscure it with intellect or smooth it with verbosity. George Orwell visualized, in his novel 1984, a language that he called “newspeak” -- a deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state. This in fact is what we find in America -- feather-stuffed pillows and confectionary dainties fluffed and served to a sleeping populace.

It’s different in the real world -- in Indonesia, that is. Here we read of the extremist Muslim thugs who launched the holy fasting month of Ramadan with a rampage through shop and restaurant districts, wrecking the establishments of those morally recalcitrant others who had felt no need in themselves to observe a tradition or a rule not their own. We read of an inability on the part of civil authorities to stop the well anticipated disturbance, and wonder at the consistent failure of these states of official readiness.

Having fed, then, the appetite of the flesh, like a bear about to go into hibernation, the mob fades back to the cave-like shadows of mental and physical idleness for fasting, only to re-emerge at the conclusion of prayer and introspection in another place -- Sampang, East Java -- to exact an even more harsh and deadly penalty on their heretical Shiite neighbours, burning, ruining, ravaging and dispossessing in the good name of Allah. It’s like Christmas and New Years rolled into one, a celebration throughout, with fireworks at the beginning and the end.

Government spokesmen variously condemn or rationalize. It is reprehensible says one. It is the fault of the police says another. It is a family feud says a third. And the President says the fault was in a lack of intelligence. Ah how true! Each minister makes his attempt at damage control, and yet each ends up sounding as ridiculous as the incident itself, for the events are too cruel, too naked, too inexcusable to be tempered by the impenetrable rhetoric that might work in America or Europe.

How wonderful is this? How like the old western movie lynch mob, the throng of angry villagers marching up the storm lashed road to the gate of Frankenstein’s castle! How oddly refreshing, how disturbingly meaningful compared to the outlawing in America of Christian displays at Christmas time, the name of God from the school curriculum, the erection of a cross at the school shooting site -- the smug, proud, papery rampage of the secular mob and the impotent whimper of the dispossessed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

--Mark Twain

On a recent Sunday in late August my wife turned 35 years of age. The subject of age has been on my mind ever since. This in itself would seem to indicate that age matters, and yet I cannot remember it mattering so much in the past. It certainly didn’t seem to make much of an impression when I myself turned 35 -- on me or on anyone else -- and so I’m wondering why the same number when achieved by my wife seems unusually significant. Is it my age that makes this number magical, or is it hers, or indeed is it ours in combination -- which would put us, together, at 93, and thus most likely together in the grave as well. Is she, therefore, by adding another year to her life, causing us to grow dangerously old? And if so, how can the process be stopped, or at least checked? By marrying a younger woman? I wonder. The math in favour of such a move would seem solid on the surface.

All this figuring, I might add, has taken a remarkable amount of mental effort, and the calculations have proven exhausting and frustrating to the point that I have returned again and again to this matter of ageing as somehow causative, casting suspicion anew on some detrimental association with the passage of my wife’s birthday.

Now, if there is a 23 year difference between my wife’s age and mine (which I believe there is), then when I myself was 35 my wife must have been 12. It seems a vast expanse, does it not? It also seems at least vaguely inappropriate. I think that we can all agree that a 12 year old female is yet a child, while a 35 year male has long been a man. Such arithmetic in this case would appear to point to unseemly, even evil sums; and yet the numbers themselves have not changed.

Clearly, therefore, a great and essential difference must exist between 12 and 35 as opposed to 35 and 58, despite the fact that the numbers in between are the same. How is this possible? I conclude that the true magic must lie in the number 23 rather than the number 35. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world. If you add 23 (the aforementioned magic number) to 58 (my present age), you will come up with 81, which seems a much farther cry from 58 than 58 is from 35 or 35 is from 12. Wouldn’t you agree?

Strangely, as I proceed in these possibly tortured computations, and light upon the number 23, that same number rings a little bell of its own, barely audible to be sure, such that I am inspired to look the thing up on the internet.

Twenty-three I find (and now remember too) is the title of a 2007 American film starring Jim Carey. The plot involves an obsession with the number 23, leading in turn, as do most all obsessions, to madness. Carey’s obsession is not an original invention of the character he plays. Rather it derives from a longstanding theory about the number itself, known as the 23 enigma, first popularized by novelist William S. Burroughs. On the most basic level, 23 is a prime number -- the ninth prime number, if you’re counting, and the smallest odd prime that is not a twin prime. Twenty-three is also the fifth factorial prime, the third Woodall prime, and it is an Eisenstein prime with no imaginary part and real part in the form of 3n - 1. Go figure that one out.

Nor does 23 limit itself to mathematical distinctions. We find it extending in seemingly odd ways to any number of disciplines, popping up Leprechaun-like in science, religion, music, sports, popular culture and so on.

What I personally conclude from this is that my own arrival at the number 23, given the computations above, is not so much an accident as it is an unearthing. Clearly the needful number was there from the outset, just waiting to be noted and extracted, like a key in a mound of coins or bottle caps. Moreover it is a happy discovery in that it places us individually in a youthful category, while combined we are still at the early border of middle age. In short, we are proven to be securely in our prime. For now, anyway. I guess there’s no telling what will happen should my wife decide to get older again next year.