Monday, November 30, 2015

The Brain on MS

I had it all mapped out this morning. Take the clothing to the ironing lady, buy some cigarettes and go for a coffee. Yet, here's how it went down. Loading the ironing bag onto my bike, I headed out. Finding myself halfway to the 7/11 for some reason, I do a U-turn and head back for the ironing place. Arriving there, I find it closed, so head for Tukang Kopi. But wait, I still have the ironing on the bike - so I head back home, drop off the laundry and head back to Tukang Kopi. But wait, what about the cigarettes? Back to the 7/11, where I buy a pack of cigarettes and a Kopi Semut. But wait, what about the coffee at Tukang Kopi where I can use the wifi? So it's back to Tukang Kopi.

This is the brain on MS.


On my way home from Toko Nadya, a little girl stood at attention and saluted me. Now, I'm used to being greeted, or followed, or laughed at, but not to being saluted. Do I look like a soldier? Or maybe she thinks all white guys are soldiers, since we're always invading other people's countries. In any case, she was a cute little girl, and I reckon she can be in my platoon anytime.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In the End

Every night, after my first wife went to sleep, I would go upstairs to write in silence. Looking back on it now, it occurs to me that this practice may not have been the most conducive to a strong marriage. But oh well. I was going to be famous, you see. And fame takes committment. It would all pay off in the end. I used the piano bench for a table (having given up on a career as a concert pianist), and I had a giant old Remington typewriter that had a problem with spacing, such that the lines always leaned like the Tower of Pisa. At one o'clock sharp, I would stop writing, sit on the floor, turn on the TV and watch an hour-long offering of Three Stooges shorts. Often enough, the phone would ring and my brother would be on the other end.

"Are you watching?"

"Of course."

"Did you see what Shemp just did."

Whatever Shemp, or any of them, had done always seemed funnier when shared with my brother.

The Stooges were a sort of guilty pleasure for us. When we were little, our mom had forbidden us to watch them because they were violent and she was sure they would inspire us to hit each other with hammers or stick screwdrivers in our ears or poke each others eyes out. Doink. So we could only watch them when she wasn't around, which wasn't very often, or when my dad was there, because he thought they were funny too and said 'Oh don't be silly, let 'em watch.' It was the only thing we had in common with dad, the only thing we shared with him as kids, except for the New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.

One time, I drove down to the old school to shoot some baskets with my brother, and when I got out of the car, I could hear him out on the asphalt, bouncing the ball, heaving it at the backboard, and making noises of frustration like Curly.

I was in my 20s then and we had some catching up to do, because we had spent some years estranged from each other. He was two years older than I and he had grown up too fast and it took me a long time to catch up. Or maybe he just finally slowed down.

In the end, it mattered more than either of us could have guessed it would. As with all young men, life seemed to have no conceivable end.

I was the first to arrive at the hospital on the final day. I had come early because my wife had things to do and she didn't want me to waste her whole day.

When I entered the room, he was already gone. Most of him was already gone. I sat on the bed and spoke, but he didn't answer. It was enough effort just to breathe. His entire being was trapped in one labored breath after another.

(Did you see what Shemp just did? Did you see that hot chick who was dancing with Larry? Did you see It when Moe twisted Curly's nose with the pliers?).

I picked up his hand, lifted it in mine, as anonymous, as unresponsive as a stick of firewood.

He stirred then, seemingly startled. He opened his eyes for a moment. Blue as the sky. They looked right through me.

"Wha", he said.

Famous last words.

"It's me," I said. "It's just me. Rich."

What the hell did I mean by that, I wondered. Just me? Like, don't worry, it ain't the angel of death. It ain't the grim reaper. Just yet. Just me. What a stupid thing to say.

(Do you remember the one where Shemp went to hell and met the woman in the skin tight devil costume, tail and all? But it was only a dream).

A pastor came into the room and asked if he could pray.

Of course.

I went to the table and picked up the phone, dialed my parents. You had better come now, I said.

It was spring. It was April 16th. 1982. It had been raining all night and now the rain had stopped but it was still dripping from the branches of the trees onto the soggy grass and the paved black paths. It wasn't light out yet. It wouldn't be light all day. It wouldn't be light for a long time to come.

Slow Motion

During this extended time of being alone, sedentary, silent and even sick, I have had the opportunity to kind of view the past, as in a slow motion picture, frame by frame, and come away with a clear picture of what transpired, and why. I saw events as if I were there again, reborn to the moment, free of the subsequent overlay of pain and recrimination and revision. I know myself again. I remember the pain and the disappointment and, yes, the shame of having tolerated the intolerable, and I remember the light of freedom, the irresitible opportunity to escape. The life I live now was purchased dearly, but worth every precious penny.Slow Motion

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


In the midst of all the junk movies on You Tube, one occasionally comes upon a gem. Such is the case with a movie called "Ashby", starring a barely recognizable Mickey Rourke and a young man named Nat Wolff (2015). It's an offbeat story about the relationship between a precocious high school student and a retired professional assassin 😅. An unlikely scenario, but one that lends itself well to comedy as well as some profound observations about life and meaning. On a personal level, the high school boy struck me as very much like my son Sasha, which, of course, made for an additional element of entertainment. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


While talking to my neighbor this morning, the subject of grits happened to come up, which got me to thinking about grits, which, in turn, got me to thinking about pleasant trips to the South in years gone by - Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia. In the South, they have a restaurant called Waffle House, as prolific as the Circle K here in Bali, and more or less the same size. If you happen to pass by one Waffle House, no worries - there's bound to be another one within a quarter mile. The Waffle House serves waffles (appropriately enough), along with hash-browns, fried eggs, bacon, sausage, ham and, always, grits. Grits are as common and as toast and you can get them as a porridge or, more popularly, fried, with butter, salt and pepper on top. And cheddar cheese, if you want. In every Waffle House you will find a flat grill about the length of a common kitchen counter, and everything on the menu is slapped onto this grill, including the fried pecan pie. The Waffle House is the Southern American equivalent of the Indonesian warung, and you can expect to visit with the staff and the cooks while you eat, because Southern hospitality is the equivalent to the common affability of Indonesian folk. In fact, they are the only friendly people in America.

"Whar y'all come frem? Oh, I ben ta Arygone once-it. Got a kayson thar. Wry-ney, ain't it? Y'all want on-yon wif yer tatters? Grane papper? Y'all wan-a slass-a pee-can pie wif ass-cream?"

Different language altogether - and the further South you get, the more different it gets. I remember buying some boiled peanuts from an old rural Georgia farmer and having no idea whatsoever what he was saying. Biled peenits.

Y'all come back now, hear?"


Dealing with Social Security when you live in America is a difficult enough proposition. Dealing with them from the other side of the world seems pert neer impossible . They will not speak via email, and so you are stuck with calling their 'toll free number'. However, the toll free part does not apply to calls from foreign countries. So you sit on the phone listening to their nearly endless recording as your pulsa trickles away, and then you finally get to be put on hold to wait for a representative. Predictably enough, call volumes are always 'high today', they are very sorry. Eventually, you either lose the connection (a common thing in Indonesia) or your pulsa runs out. So, a process that was supposed to take 'about four days', has now taken about three weeks, with no end in sight. 😡

Monday, November 16, 2015


We have in the 21st century a special affection for saying "It is not." It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it is not. In saying that it is not, we need never be wrong, for we have admitted to nothing other than what is not.

I am reminded of a Hemingway story called "A Clean, Well Lighted Place," a study in alienation and despair.

“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

The words become vacuous, meaningless, collapsing on themselves under the weight of universal denial.

We insist on a supremacy of meaningless noise, a language of babble masquerading as philosophy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Scent

This evening I sprayed on a couple blasts of Sasha's left behind 'Extreme Rockin' Power' body spray and I was instantly reminded of the anti-mosquito stuff my father brought along when we went fishing. He had gotten the stuff at the Army Surplus, left over from the Pacific Island battles of World War Two. The scent was sharp and acrid and the stuff actually tinted the skin a bit, like a light varnish. The mosquitoes didn't like it at all, and it seemed to repel other people pretty well too.  This evening, I was transported by the scent, to a Lodgepole Pine thicket at the edge of a lake, tall grass in a meadow, a bed of rocks in shallow water and trout leaping just beyond the rocks, where the shelf fell away to the deep and the water turned green, catching the final rays of sunlight on silver flanks. The mosquitoes had risen like mist from the grass in the meadow and from the verge of the forest. The breeze rose and a chill descended as soon as the sun sank behind the shoulders of the hills. We tied on new flies and buttoned our jackets and waded out toward the end of the shelf while we could still see the rocks beneath our feet. The cold white eye of the half moon replaced the steady gaze of the sun and the breeze snatched at the odors  of the grass and the sigh of the forest and the flesh of the fish in our creels and the gurgling brook as it emerged from the brambles and the night that had already fallen in the thickets and the sweet smelling smoke from my father's pipe, and that sharp and acrid stinging scent of the mosquito ointment from the Army Surplus. My father was there. My brother was there. And I was there. I remember. I am there with them still.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I have the memory of an event from the past on my mind tonight that is very hard to come to terms with. It's not that thinking about it will change what happened, and yet looking at it honestly seems necessary in its own right. Some things, one reasons, are best forgotten - and yet they will not allow themselves to be forgotten. They resurface again and again, asking the same questions, making the same accusations. Why did you let this happen? Why didn't you speak? Why did you you close your eyes, turn your head? How was it that you could allow truth and honor to be strangled in broad daylight by the lie that you called love?

Love hopes without reason, in spite of reason. Love fashions a dream, an alternate reality. Love enables all kinds of evil, desperately defends itself, calls the moon the sun and the sun the moon. The higher it climbs, the deeper it decends. It dreams itself and it dreams its object and believes that dreams may eventually create their own life.

And then finally there comes the point when the hall of mirrors shatters, the house of cards falls. Reality overwhelms the increasingly fantastic frame of excuses propped one against another at the rotten core. The center cannot hold. The feet are made of clay.

"And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”