Sunday, August 28, 2016


There's something good to be said for trying to sleep through neck pain all night, waking up a half dozen times, then trying to go back to sleep again, which is this: that by about 4 am or so, one is so tired of sleeping, so to speak, that he simply gives up, gets up, and starts his day. The act of surrender, though much maligned, contains its own quality of renewal. The sky is still dark at 4 in the morning, yet certain of the world's creatures are already whispering about something to come. The first of the birds prophesy. The last of the night bugs crawl into their holes. The last mouse takes his final open stroll through the tufts of grass. By and by, the chickens begin to loudly cackle and then at 5 o'clock sharp comes the doleful wailing of the Muslim call to prayer. Man speaks his first official words. Let us pray. Already, I have made coffee and boiled an egg and toasted a slice of bread. I am well on my way while the sunrise is yet a matter of faith. I feel strangely young again, a young man with an old neck, about to shower, shave, splash on cologne, don suit and tie and head off to work. There are thousands of us, heading out to set the world into motion even as the sky finally blinks one eye and peers grayly upon creation. Within another half hour, it will gaze brilliantly bluely over all and bless every stone, and blade of grass, and body of water, and budding flower, and dusty road, and sandy beach, and every four-legged creature, and every two-legged creature, and everything in all creation that flies above or swims below or walks the way of this singular event otherwise known as August 27th, 2016.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Multiple sclerosis does quite a number of pretty amazing things. I mean, for its variety and fluency, it's right up there with the manifold and amazing processes at work in the healthy system. One cannot help but admire the functionality and efficiency, I mean, what with being a "disorder" and all. Consider, for instance, that in the face of an illness or an injury, MS will take just the right steps to combat the speedy recovery from that illness or injury. It actually seeks out and destroys the tiny cellular ambulances being sent to the scene of the trouble. And then it sends little raiding parties into the brain and spinal cord to set their own little fires. Diversionary tactics, I guess. It is the ISIS of the autoimmune system. And what about that exaggerated pain response so often associated with MS? Impressive or what? One contracts a common illness, one injures himself, and MS says, "Boy, you ain't seen nuthin yet! You think that neck injury is painful? Hah! Just wait till I get my claws around it!"

Ah, how fearfully and wonderfully I am made.

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove, by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, has got to be one of the sweetest books I've ever read, without being at all maudlin or saccharine. It is refreshingly straightforward and real, packed with a sort of humor, pathos and wisdom that connect story and reader as if with an old fashioned hard line - the kind that used to plug into the wall by the phone stand. Backman strikes a natural, easy friendship with the reader, much in the manner of Mark Twain in his own time, seeming to link arms and share both winks and tears as we walk through the narrative together. For people of my own generation, Ove - cranky, curmudgeonly, yet lovable despite himself - a man of principle and common sense - is our common father; and it is a blessing to know him once again, and more truly yet. I loved this book, and I'm going to miss Ove's company as I travel from one coffee shop to another.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Damn Neighbor and his Damn White Van

We've had this little problem for a while now with our neighbor across the road - until tonight, that is, when it suddenly turned into a bigger problem. And not for him, mind you, but for me.

You see, the man insists on parking his big white van almost directly across the street from our driveway, making it difficult for us to get out and nearly impossible to get back in.

Well, actually we should drop that "nearly" part and just say impossible, given the fact of the event which I shall soon describe.

Now, my wife had spoken to this man on several occasions in the past, beginning with rather civil requests that he please not park there and leading up to the more direct demand, delivered just the night before, that he stop parking his damn van in front of the damn driveway, dammit!

Oh, ya, sorry, Bu, sorry, ya, ya.

So I come home from shopping in Sanur this evening, and there is the damn van parked in front of the damn driveway. Ya.

I honk the horn. No one appears. I lay on the horn. No one appears.

And here is where I make my first mistake.

Instead of just parking my own damn car, or rather my wife's damn car, because I don't have a damn car and can't drive my damn bike because of my damn neck injury, in the middle of the street and blocking all traffic altogether, I pause, survey the situation, inspect the narrow avenue of approach, and arrive upon the conclusion (which seems in hindsight extravagantly ridiculous) that I can maneuver front-ways into our driveway and be done with the matter.

It might have been a happy ending, or at least a harmless one. But fate was against me. Perception betrayed me. My eyesight failed me. In short, I ran half the car into the driveway and the other half into the wall.

Now, the problem is not only the damned white van or the damned owner of the damn van, but that I myself am damned - quite damned and quite doomed when my wife finds out that I wrecked her damn car.

And who should appear this very moment but the owner of that van. The villain behind this whole sad incident. The cause of my damnation. The snake! The dimwit! This very author of treachery.

So, I commit my second error.

"Hey!" I shout as he tries to slink into the van. "Bajingan tolol sialan. Istri-ku baru minta jangan parkir di sana, kan. Apa-apaan! Dia sudah bilang jangan begitu dengan mobil sialan anda."

And then I added some words in English, which neither he nor anyone else really needs to know.

And after he re-parked his car and reemerged, I returned to his side of the street with even more words which no one really needs to know. Or say.

And now it is hours later, 3:30 in the morning, and I'm sitting in the yard feeling devastated not by this man's stupidity, but my own. I'm sitting here seeing his face. The face of a grown man about to cry. And there is nothing so terrible as the face of a grown man about to cry. I'm sitting here wondering why my brain doesn't work, and why my heart doesn't work, and why I can't see straight, and why I can't do anything right, and why I so continually betray the three loves of my life: God, mercy, and my wife.

I'm sitting here wondering just who I am.

And I will not sleep tonight.

And in the morning I will seek a place for repairs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


There is a bright side to the campaign rhetoric and ravings of Donald Trump, for, in him, we can see finely focused the lurking character of ignorance, bigotry, intolerance, paranoia and meanness that has long poisoned our otherwise decent society from the depths where the basest notions of the uneducated, the irresponsible, the selfish, the poor in compassion crawl blindly in a dead, pointless, unregenerate muck of general anger and disaffection, where hatred is its own sustaining beginning and end. We have seen him before in history far too many times, presiding over the lynching, the cross burning, the crucifixion, the riot, the imprisonment and the enslavement, the purge, the execution, the gulag, the death camp. Just a man, yes, and a clown - but one who is subject to dark powers beyond our reckoning. Herein, the mask is lowered for just an instant and we glimpse the visage of the truly grotesque, the ravenous, pitiless jaws of the enemy. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Blindness is a novel that is a bit difficult to get into at first, but by the midpoint, one finds that it has gotten its fingers hooked so securely into ones belt loops and button holes, that it's almost impossible to put the thing down. What happens when everyone in the world goes blind? What happens to meaning, to relationship - or do these even exist any longer? How can the blind lead the blind? And, on the other hand, what is it that the blind can see that is obscured by sight itself?

Nobel recipient Jose Saramago's style is straightforward, understated, often ironic, and somewhat reminiscent of Camus and Golding, with an odd twist of Steinbeck. Well worth the read, as it turns out, and not too difficult in Indonesian translation.