Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Was just remembering this morning an incident from a few years ago. Louis and I were passing through Sanur and had stopped for a moment at a Circle K store. As we came out and got back on the bike, a white woman coming out of the salon next door looked me over, looked Louis over, and then, with a self-amused smirk, said “Nice. How much?”

I have always thanked that woman’s lucky stars for her that Louis did not hear the comment. It still chills my blood to think of what might’ve happened if she had.

But in any case, how rude, right? How presumptuous to come to the snap conclusion that if an older white man is with a younger Indonesian, he must be a John and she must be a prostitute. And not only to make the judgement, but to arrogantly blurt it out.


Well! It seems that the foreign residency process in Bali has been significantly streamlined. Or perhaps I just hit a lucky day. For the last two years, the electricity went out on the appointed day for my appearance at the immigration office. Last year it went out the first day, and then on the second day the photo machine broke down. But this year, it was in and out. Not even many people there. 

You see, a foreigner living in Indonesia must renew his permit to reside here every year. This involves the preparation of a mountain of needless and redundant paperwork, which one  leaves up to his agent (whom, of course, he pays). This needless paperwork is sent to Jakarta and about a month later reappears in Bali. One then presents himself at the Immigration office, has his photo taken, his fingerprints taken (because you know, according to the Indonesian authorities anyway, fingerprints change a bit from year to year), signs a couple papers, and it's done.

Still,, it does seem that less was needed from me this year in the way of proofs and documents. Either they are acknowledging that these proofs and documents are superfluous, or I've just been here so long that I'm no longer worth more than an official shrug. 

In any case, I'm glad to have it done. In the meantime, my STNK (vehicle permit) is in the works, and the house has been secured for another year. I may now sit back and do what I'm meant to be doing here--which is nothing. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


As familiar as one becomes with reading Indonesian in books, the more disconcerting grows his inability to decipher much of what is written by Indonesians on Facebook. Of course, part of the problem is that they may be using their own dialect. Part of the problem may be slang, though that difficulty is decreased as one becomes more familiar with common conversational language. But it occurred to me last night that a large part of the problem may be that many Indonesians simply don't know how to speak Indonesian--much as many English speaking people don't really know how to speak or write in English. Natraly, I can unnerstan what they ment to sed coz I'm a naitiv English speeker, but chances are that someone using English as a second language will not have a clue!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Day Two, Evening

Later day 2 of the kost hunt, evening ... the kost hunt abruptly ends as the landlord changes his mind (again) and agrees to my original offer of some months ago.

Thanks to Iadi, who took time out of his busy days to assist me. Thanks to Betty, who stood ready to help.

The big fat brown dog thanks all for my continued presence and the continued flow of sausage treats and chicken and babi guling and so on.

That’s where it stands now. The hunt is off. 

But who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Day Two

So begins the second day of my search for an apartment. I'm starting with a latte at Starbucks. 

Last night, I called several places that were advertised, only to be told that they don't actually exist. Or rather, that they weren't actually available. There is one place just across the street from where I now live, so I called that number and was told that they have no units available. I thanked them for their reply, said that I had admired their place from the outside, and apologized for my bad Indonesian, explaining that I am a bule. To this, I received a reply saying Oh, actually, we do have an open spot, available on the second of March. Not sure what to think of that. Is it not strange that they had no spot, period, before I stated that I am a bule? 

I drove to a nearby place last night, but the building, just erected perhaps a year ago, seemed already rather sad and rundown. So scratch that one. 

I have now employed, so to speak, two friends in my cause--Iadi, by buddy here at Starbucks, and Betty, the woman who does my immigration paperwork year after year. 

I must admit, I am rather easily stressed and frustrated by things like this.  I would really rather be a tree, long grown, with roots imperviously planted in some eternal patch of unbothered earth. I hate being a leaf flying about in the wind. 

"Don't be frustrated," Betty says. "There are plenty of places. Be patient." 

Iadi puts it this way: "It (apartment hunting) seems like find the girl, brother. Looks so easy, but you must never give up. Ha-ha.

"Susah-susah, gampang".

A Birthday Conversation

Had a pleasant conversation with my son this morning. It's his birthday, you see, and we talk on the phone every Christmas and every birthday. Of course, in the meantime we exchange emails, when he has time. 

When I say 'pleasant', I mean meaningful. Neither of us is much good at pleasantries or small talk. 

One of his observations was that true peace comes only through overcoming the fear of death. Many people, whether they realize it or not, live in constant fear of death. We collect things, as if the greater collection we surround ourselves with, the more permanent we will become. We travel everywhere in cars for the fear that we might be assaulted on the street. We go to doctors and follow exercise and diet programs to stave off possible deadly flaws in our physical machinery. We seek permanence, we invest in the future.

I remember when my father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer how he never could seem to digest the meaning of the word "terminal". As his troubles rapidly increased, his question remained, What do we do now? Can we have something removed? Should we see another doctor? Is there a better medicine? If the problem is with my stomach, can they remove my stomach? 

What can one say? Politely, I mean. It's like, Dude, you're dying. What part of death do you not understand? It's not a question of fixing the problem. It's a matter of saying goodbye. 

My dad had a very hard time dying, and, aside from the pain that was part of the cancer process, I think that the greatest difficulty of all came with the simple rejection of the unavoidable. He was, in short, not agreeable. 

Billy Graham, who died just yesterday, once said "I have no fear of death. I look forward to it." For Graham, death was not the end. It was the beginning of being more fully with his Lord. 

In any case, it is what it is. And it is unavoidable. It is the penultimate fact of life. 

Another Christian writer, Marcus Borg, tells us in a late-in-life memoir (Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most) that he simply doesn't know what might happen when he dies. He will either know all or know nothing ever again at that time. What matters in the time that matters, which is now, is what one is making of life. In other words, another place, another reality called heaven, is not necessary to the acceptance of death. What is important is whether one is living now, whilst he is alive.

For myself, I believe there is a continuity in life that proceeds beyond this particular sphere that we presently know. It is clear even in quantum physics that energy does not simply disappear or 'un-become'. It transfers. It endures in new ways. And I do, personally, take Christ at his word--that another place has been prepared for us. (If it were not so, I would not have told you so). It is, moreover, a more perfect place, a better place, an unspeakably joyful place. 

Now, what if people were running around the world unafraid of death? Would not the school shooter, for instance, have lost his purpose, given that the reaction of his victims would be to thank him? Given that they had no fear of losing what they must inevitably lose anyway. What use would we have for wars if no one feared being killed? "War is kind," as Stephen Crane wrote. What use would we have for killing anybody if we are all just about to die anyway?

Ah well, we spoke about some of these things, my son and I; and I have spoken a bit more about them here, since they were left on my mind when our phone connection was finished. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Yearly Headache

Thinking to circumvent the usual yearly masquerade with the typical Bali landlord, I contacted the fellow several months ago to determine for certain whether or not he intended to rent the house again and for the same price. In typical fashion, he was not altogether sure. This was not unexpected, thus the attempt at early contact and arrangement, which would give me plenty of time to seek a new place and make moving arrangements if necessary.

Of course, we proceeded through the usual negotiations. He needed to raise the price, first off. He would hardly be a Bali landlord if he didn't. I told him that I was not willing to pay more than I had paid the year before, and therefore would move. At this, he changed his mind. Okay, yes, he would ask the same price, delay upkeep and repair, since I would be staying there anyway, but must ask two years rent instead of one. I told him that I did not have two years of rent available all at once. He said Okay, but I must charge 5 million more for one year (which, of course, would give him the opportunity to collect money rather than put it out on upkeep and repairs, which he did not intend to pursue anyway). I said no. One year, same rent. He decided that he would need to cogitate further. 

Through the months thereafter, I did not hear from him again. Nor did he answer several messages. No, he thought it best all around to wait until two weeks before the expiration of my contract to declare that he was standing by his demand for either two years all at once or one year for more. And no repairs. 

So here I am, facing the deadline I had hoped to avoid. Here I am as well facing all the shit of foreign residence renewal, registration renewal, the imigrasi circus, finding a new place to live and so on, all at once.  

So, I'll be hitting the streets of Renon this afternoon in search of a Kost (a small apartment). 

That's step one. 

One step at a time. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

In a Meadow

I see you in a sleep just waking to a place I once brought you in the dream that was that time walking in that meadow or rather dancing very small in the midst of the sea of grasses and frog-filled pools whilst your long hair conversed with the breeze through the red and the purple and the yellow buzz of flower-tops, singing. The grasses were my love, the flowers my vows. Do you remember twining Indian Paintbrush in the hair at your temple and lying down with your arms and legs outstretched, your toes and your fingers reaching, almost touching? This is a picture, frozen in a glow, melting forever in August, that was, that might have been, that always will be. Now you do not know it, but this is my heart, still alive, still beating, sprouting flowers in a meadow laced with pools fed by springs from the cradle of the earth, from the core of love, in a time that was, in a time that is still to come. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Culinary Catastrophes

Ah, the culinary catastrophes of the local warung. 

I happened to stop the other day at a nearby collection of food stands offering everything from Lalapan to Bakso to Ikan Bakar and so on. I decided on Ayam Taliwang, a specialty from the island of Lombok. "Very spicy," the woman warned--but hey, what isn't very spicy in Indonesia? So I went for it.

This dish consists of fried chicken, a collection of sprouts and green vegetables, and rice, liberally topped with various forms of sambal, a hot sauce or paste made from a combination of chili peppers and secondary ingredients, 

I did find the dish quite hot, though, as it seemed at the time, not unusually so, and pleasant enough in taste. Moreover, the woman who owns the warung sat with me and chatted while I ate, which is always a welcome accompaniment with dinner. 

I came home afterwards and watched a movie and by-and-by went to bed. 

At about 3 o'clock in the morning I exploded. I won't go into detail about that. Suffice it to say that two days later my stomach still hurts and basically rejects what little I try to put into it. A situation lamentable enough on its own, yet distinctly worsened by a universal aching of the muscles throughout my body, a general weariness, and a sense of fever. A flu-like feeling. 

Could this really all be from a spicy dish? Well, possibly. But it could also be the added effect of some sort of bacteria. These local warungs are not known for their stringent cleanliness or care in food preparation procedures. 

It's called Bali Belly, and has slain countless visitors to the island with its disabling manifestations. Generally, over time, one develops a tolerance for the common sorts of bacteria roaming around in the local food here, but you never know when you're going to get a particularly potent strain. And then, God help you. 

A few years ago, I actually had to go to the hospital for treatment of one of these food born illnesses. All that was required was a single injection. Still and all, one doesn't like to go to the hospital for a stomachache, nor does he like to end up paying perhaps 10 times the price of the food he unwisely ate in the first place. 

The good news? I have learned that I do not like Ayam Taliwang, nor does it like me. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Phone Parking

I did not understand until just recently what these new stickers on the tables at Starbucks mean. 

Park Your Phone Here

I will admit, albeit sheepishly, that I thought at first sight one could place his cellphone on the indicated area and it would automatically connect or disconnect! Wow, I thought. What will they think of next? How very convenient! 

It didn't work, of course, but I thought that I was no doubt doing something wrong. In any case, it didn't really matter, because my phone connects and disconnects automatically as a product of its proximity to a wifi station. 

But no, several weeks later I learned, from an advertisement on Facebook, that these table decals are meant to encourage people to put their phones down and actually connect face-to-face to the people they are sitting with. How's that for a concept, right!

The only trouble is, no one ever sits with me. The chair on the opposite side of my table is generally perfectly pointless, aside from kind of producing a symmetrical appearance. If anyone does sit with me, it is either one of the baristas who work here and always sit with me at break time anyway, or someone who is trying to sell something--masquerading, at first, as just a friendly human being. Oh, they're interested in connecting, all right. With my bank account. 

Another thing I note is that people seem actually to avoid placing their hand phone on the picture of the hand phone, as if fearing that if they do so, they will be unable to check their latest social media chatter. Perhaps trash bins attached to each table would be more effective. 

Nonetheless, I will continue to wait patiently for someone to take advantage of the empty chair and of the phone parking spot in order to connect on a personal level--preferably a beautiful young woman with no ulterior motives.

Light Show

Had another of these weird but rather spectacular light shows in my eyes this morning. I was going about my usual routine, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and so on, when I noticed bright lights at the periphery of my eyes, most especially in the right eye. The lights had a golden hue this time, brilliant, lustrous, along with a smooth sort of motion, like a moving picture on a TV or computer screen. No headache, no pain, just the light. A friend has previously told me that this is a certain sort of a migraine, without discomfort other than the disturbing light. I don't know. Could be. I tend to connect weird shit like this to MS. In any case, there seems to be nothing one can do other than sit back and enjoy the show. So I delayed my plans, laid down for a while, closed my eyes, and watched the show. 

Other than this, my eyesight seems to have been becoming progressively worse of late. I find myself unable to read under any but optimum conditions--which seems to mean dim light. Otherwise, the characters just don't want to focus. For typing text, such as I am doing now, I rely on my many years of  practice as a typist, relying on my fingers to "see" what they are doing, rather than my eyes. All the years I spent typing while looking at a separate text seem to have paid off, in a marginal sense anyway. I have had my latest pair of spectacles for, I think, less than a year, and they are swiftly becoming next to useless. But hey, they look good, and they automatically darken in the sun, and they hide to some extent my cavernous eye sockets, and therefore continue to be useful. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cecil Books

In the high Oregon Cascades, on the shore of a place called Olallie Lake, about halfway down the trail between Cabin 2 and the Resort Store, there is a roundish rock roughly the size of a garden table and the rock has been split at the center by a small, gnarled, leafless tree from a time no one can now remember. The name of the rock and of the tree together is Cecil Books. 

Cecil Books is a time machine, though only four or five boys are aware of this. They are the passengers, the time travelers. Aside from being a time machine, Cecil Books possesses in his stony memory banks all of the world's available knowledge, along with quite a bit that never was and never will be available. Cecil does not know the difference between facts and fables, but he knows the minds of boys. 

In order to travel in time, one must mount the machine and cling to the trunk of the central tree. Often enough, the ride is rough, for the currents of time are swift and sometimes stormy. Occasionally, Cecil runs out of gas, stranding the boys in the middle of an Indian war or a black hole, and Cecil must be refilled through a hollow root protruding from his base, and the dust of the earth is his fuel.

Cecil is not always by the lake. Cecil is everywhere. The lake, just there between Cabin 2 and the store, is more like his original home, his birthplace, the place where Cecil is most what he is. He is not an idea, not a concept. He is a rock and a tree, and a time machine. 

You can say to Cecil, "Take us to the year 5000 BC", and Cecil will take you there, and chances are that it will be far different than anyone thought it would be. You can say, "Take us to Dodge City", and he will do that, too. He conveys the boys not only through time, but through distance as well--for how else are boys going to get from the high cascades to Dodge City, Kansas in the space of the time they have on hand? 

Cecil Books goes anywhere and everywhere, from the far reaches of the world and time to the far reaches of outer space and beyond, and yet he never moves an inch without boys. And as far as anyone else can see, as far as adults can see, Cecil never moves at all. But that's just as far as they can see. They see the rock, they see the tree, they see the boys clinging to the tree, but they do not see the journey taking place. That's because it all happens in the wink of an eye. It all happens outside the confines of sight and time. 

I would like to see Cecil again someday, and I think I will find him, still, on the shore of that lake. I would like to lay my palm to his adamant flank and touch the barky skin of his mast and gaze from atop the fissured deck to the shore of the water and the blue of the distant deep and the rising of the trees to the crowns of the hills all falling into the sky beyond and beyond. Time is short, and the distance is great, but Cecil, knowing time better than anyone, is always patient. Cecil always waits. Not here. Not there. Everywhere.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tears Without Triggers

I think I've mentioned pseudobulbar effect before, but I think I'll mention it again, as it seems sufficiently interesting, as well as sufficiently weird, to warrant further consideration. 
The website,, summarizes this peculiar symptom as follows: 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) damages the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. The nervous system sends messages, or signals, between the brain and body to control bodily functions. Damage to this system can disrupt these signals.
Damage to the central nervous system by MS affects movement, feeling, vision, and even emotions.
Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition in which you suddenly start to laugh or cry (or have other emotional outbursts) without being triggered by anything in particular.
Normally, your cerebral cortex (at the front of your brain) communicates with your cerebellum (at the back of your brain) to control your emotional responses to situations. However, sometimes the cerebellum becomes damaged by lesions or nerve problems. This can disrupt communication between these two areas. PBA is thought to result from this miscommunication. Your brain “short circuits,” and you can no longer control your emotional response, which is called disinhibition.
So, as I dressed this morning, I decided to listen to some music. My mind was on nothing in particular, other than getting dressed. It had been  a normal morning thus far--getting up, preparing a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, checking out the news on the internet, taking a shower, and then getting dressed. For music, I chose a song by the country acapella group, Home Free. I don't remember the name of the song, and I experienced no particular response other than an appreciation of the harmony, the expertise of the singers. Next up was a Disney Medley. And that's when I suddenly burst into tears. The songs in the medley reminded me of nothing in particular, the words possessed no special meaning for me, I had not even seen, as far as I recall, the movies from which the songs were taken ... So, why was I crying? If the cause was anything in the medley itself, it would seem to have been merely the exuberance in the voices, the clarity, the rising and falling of the pitch.

Of course, many of us will react to music emotionally. That, after all, is the job of music as far as the listener is concerned. There are few, I think who would not shed, or at least nearly shed, at least one tear to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. But this is different, isn't it, than helplessly weeping throughout a medley of songs from Disney cartoons?

Up next was another song by Home Free--Try Everything--and more weeping. The tears are rolling down my face and my nose is running and my eyes are red, and I will need to stop my activities and compose myself before going out into public. I'm not sad, I'm not hurt, I'm not heartbroken, I'm not angry or upset or stressed--I just want to get my morning Starbucks!  Why am I wasting my time blubbering? 

For one thing, I've never been big on crying to begin with. My father taught me early on that men don't cry, and boys don't cry either. If anything, I had tended toward the unemotional side. I did not cry at movies. I did not cry after reading Love Story, despite the book jacket guarantee that I would. I did not cry at weddings or funerals or when my favorite team lost a football game--though these would have been reasonable triggers for weeping. But even when crying would have been reasonable, I tended not to do so.

I guess this is what pseudobulbar effect is all about. It needs no trigger, per se. It requires no event, no reason. It just happens. Or rather, something has happened deep within the system, in the brain, in the spinal cord, in the wiring that regulates everything that our bodies do. Just as neurologic damage is causing the pain n my shoulder and back, wherein I have sustained no other physical injury, so is it interfering with normal neurologic processes involved in emotion. 

Which leads me to say, in concluding, one additional thing about crying, which is that it is certainly preferable to the physical pain; for there is some pleasure to be had both in tears and in laughter, even when neither can name a trigger--an engagement in emotion ultimately resulting in release, whereas pain is just simply and only pain.  

Talk (Con)Fusion

I was chatting recently with a representative of Talk Fusion, a pyramid scheme ... uh, excuse me, a multilevel marketing venture involving an internet/email platform that will change the lives of those who participate, making them, in a brief time, rich and successful.

"It's a pyramid scheme," I said.

"Oh, no, no, it's not!" the woman answered. 'Here, let me show you."

She proceeded to draw for me a picture of ... well, of a pyramid composed of little boxes.

"See, this is me (box #1). Now, this is my son (a box below her box and to the left) and this is my daughter (a box below and to the right). These are my cousins (boxes below to right and left). You see?"

"I do."

"Now, if you join under me ..." She gives me a box. "You see?"

"Yes. It's a pyramid."



"But here there is no top, no pyramid. Anyone can be at the top. That's because the government is not involved. If the government were involved, you could not rise. But here anyone can be at the top."

"What about those boxes already at the top?"

"Well, they go higher. We all go higher. I'm going higher, and you can, too."

"You know who makes the money?" I said.


I put my finger on the top of the page (the page that has no top).

"Look," she said, producing a glossy magazine. This is Talk Fusion. This is what we do." She turned the pages, showing a man standing beside a red sports car, a man standing beside a private jetliner. "See this man? Twenty-nine years old! You want a car like this, right?"

"No. I don't like cars."


I shrugged. "Overall, I prefer my bike."

So she changed her tact.

"You know the reason I do this? I want to help people. It's not enough to just be comfortable for my own good. There are people in need, there are people I can help. People all over the world that I can help. But I need money to help them, right? How can I go to them and help them without any money? How can I do any good in the world without money?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm not sure that money is the key. Take Jesus, for instance."


"Well, sure. He had no money."

"Exactly! He couldn't fly. He couldn't just go anywhere in the world to help."

Well, she got me there. I can't think of any story wherein Jesus flew. Although he did walk through walls. And walk on water, And, of course, rise from the dead.

"But how can this man's red sports car help?" I wondered.

"Because it shows people that they can do this!" she said. "They don't have to be stuck, and poor, and hungry, and slaves to the system."

"Well, I suppose he could give someone a ride."

"Yes! Yes! And so could you!"

"Yes, well ... I'm gonna think about it. Seriously (not). I'm going to study the business."

"Don't think too long," she warned. "Time is money."

I did study up a bit when I got home. Typing Talk Fusion into Google generates several results on the very first page. The results concern victims of Talk Fusion!

Korban, is the Indonesian word. Not good.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

As I lay Dying

I discovered a curious thing last night. Alcohol is more effective at cutting the neuropathic pain in my shoulder than Neurontin. Secondarily, I rediscovered that I am not able to drink alcohol anymore without immediately developing a splitting headache and a sense of profound exhaustion. And I'm not talking about a lot of alcohol. Just two beers. Clearly, the second case cancels out the benefit of the first--or rather, merely replaces one pain with another. So, I'm early to Starbucks this morning because the maid is clattering about in the house, and I'm nursing a residual headache, feeling a bit like a roll of cotton, watching Dharma eat packets of brown sugar.

Additionally, given that I had consumed the alcohol last night, I did not feel it would be wise to take my usual tablet of Xanax before bed, and therefore lay in a waking state for some considerable time, wondering what would happen to me, or rather, to my body, were I do suddenly pass away--an odd sort of entertainment as it seems now, yet somehow a pressing question last night. 

But, I mean, who would know? I am generally alone in the house, day and night, and generally I receive no calls on the telephone. True, someone might note, after several days, an absence of Facebook interaction, but would they conclude from this that I was dead? Probably not. 

So how long would my corpse lay without being discovered? Well, if Louis were outside of Bali, as she is now, it might be a month or more. Of course, the big fat brown dog will have come by, but will have been merely irritated by my unavailability, and will not likely have sounded any public alarms. It seems an awful long time for a corpse to lie untended. Of course, eventually the electricity will be cut off for nonpayment, as well as the water--but then, I will not have been missing these anyway, nor will anyone else have missed them. In fact, given that I am dead, I assume that I will be unconcerned one way or another, because unaware, regarding my death. 

Still ... it struck me last night as being distinctly lamentable, as well as inappropriate, for a corpse to lie around by its lonesome for weeks on end. One shudders to think of the deterioration, and the attraction of vermin, and the odor. 

Come to think of it ... hmmm ... No wonder I couldn't sleep! 

Friday, February 16, 2018


My eyes fail with tears, my heart is troubled. 
--Lamentations 2:11

I awoke this morning on the verge of tears. Was it a remnant of a dream? Was it a remnant of the day before, or of the year before? Life before. The sunlight was naked on the yard and on the branches of the impotent tree in the yard, and I made my coffee half in a dream, silently on the verge of tears. The sound of the water, and the slide of the drawer and the clinking sound of the spoon in the cup seemed insulting somehow. So careless were they. And I sat in the chair, the green plastic vaguely cold on my unclothed skin, and put the cup on the table and reached for a cigarette and began to weep, letting the tears roll down my cheek and fall on my breast. I put my head in my hands and wept. I saw dead children on a tile floor, I heard soundless shrieks of unspeakable bereavement, I considered how very kind cancer can be, for there was nothing we could have done about it  Weeping is not hard once you start. It goes to its knees, as if in prayer, acknowledging that nothing whatsoever can be undone. Weeping places shame at the feet of speech. Weeping honors all the good that was not done. It is what remains, at last, of love. 

Time it was,
And what a time it was
It was ...
A time of innocence 
A time of confidences

Long ago ... it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
There're all that's left you

--Old Friends, Simon and Garfunkle

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The News

Reading the headlines from America every morning excites an increasingly familiar combination of tragedy and comedy. On the one hand, I find myself wondering if my nation is about to be saved not by a congress of elected representatives, or even by a congressional minority party of representatives, but by a solitary porn star by the name of Stormy Daniels. Stormy had to this point been in a relative state of calm, under “contract” not be speak of her affair with Donald Trump. But now that Trump’s lawyer, and friend, a certain Mr. Cohen, has taken credit for payment of 130,000 of hush money—and out of his own strangely generous pocket—Ms. Daniel’s has concluded that the former contract is now null and void and says that she will soon speak of the affair in detail. Not a good thing for Donald, yet not in and of itself an impeachable offense. But the money, where it came from and where it went, what Trumpian channels it traced--now that is a whole different sort of thundercloud. Did the money, in fact, come from Trump? Was co-conspirator Cohen reimbursed for his incredibly generous assistance? Does anyone really believe that a lawyer, wealthy as he may be, would hand over 130,000 dollars, no questions asked—just because? And why is it that Mr. Cohen seems to feel that this admission of his own “charity” somehow absolves Mr. Trump of guilt? Nothing happened, because I paid the money. Is that the reasoning? And let’s stop and  think for a moment about the mere figure—130,000 dollars. Most folks will never see his much money, all at once (and apparently as loose change) in their lifetimes. What might 130,000 have done toward aiding others in need? How many people could 130,000 dollars feed, and for how long a period of time? I know for myself that it would certainly feed me for the rest of my life, along with the big fat brown dog, and all the other dogs in the neighborhood, and, in fact, all the other people in the neighborhood. Yet, instead of filling the mouth of need, this sum went toward closing the mouth of a porn star. Is this not absurd in the basest way?

Well, Stormy, may the force be with you. This is your big moment. We’ve been waiting for some savior to deliver us from the national political rot that is destroying us, and the one filling that role may as well be a porn star as anyone else. In fact, somehow, it seems perfectly fitting.

At the same time, there is the story of 17 children killed at yet another school shooting, this one in Florida. And the politicians, the Republicans, have already spoken. They have sent their thoughts and prayers, and their assurance that guns are not a problem in our society. That Florida’s lax gun laws had nothing to do with the children who were shot by a gun--an AR-15, to be precise, which no common citizen ought to have. That we need not to address tighter gun laws and restrictions, but merely continue to send our thoughts and prayers as the deadly incidents march on—numbing, now, through monotonous repetition. It’s just something that happens, like rain in November or spoiled bananas. Let us pray and console and move on—which, by the way, is something that those murdered children will never do again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Where Am I?

Coming home from Level 21 this evening, I ran into one of these ubiquitous ceremonies on Yeh Aya, from which traffic was being routed away. Pursuing the alternative route, I soon came upon yet another ceremony, and was rerouted again. Now, if I get off my common route, those specific paths imprinted in my mind, I may as well be in Skenectedy. Very soon, I found myself hopelessly lost. So I stopped by an Indomart and spoke to the parking lot attendant.

"Where is Renon?" I asked.

"This Renon."

"Oh, uh, yes. Of course. But I mean, where is Yeh Aya?"

"Yeh Aya?" The man looks at me sideways, leaning forward in case he had not heard right.

"Yes, Yeh Aya."

"This Yeh Aya!"


Yes, you are quite right. Carry on, my good fellow.

Travelling Saleswoman

The thing about me is that I'll talk to anyone. I love to connect with random people, chat, learn about their experiences and background, have a laugh together. But, sometimes, this is also my downfall.

Have you heard of Talk Fusion? It's another of these pyramid schemes (excuse me, multilevel marketing ventures) where a representative will seek to sign you up so that you can be part of his or her 'downline', and you can begin your own downline, and make BIG BUCKS. They have their own magazine proving it is so, with photos of dashing young men standing beside red Feraris, which, themselves, are parked near impressive looking jetliners. Lifestyles of the rich and famous! (And, coincidentally, the sort of lifestyles that least interest me). 

Well, this morning at Starbucks, a comely lady named Tatien introduced herself to me and invited herself to my table. I'm just dumb enough, of course, to imagine that she had simply been attracted my way by my good looks, so I happily received her company. 


My goodness, the extent to which these people will go to reel you in is astounding, and exhausting. "No, not interested" simply does not work. They will go to heroic lengths to tell you why it would be foolish for you to be disinterested, why you are in fact interested, why being interested makes you a decent and worthwhile person, and so on and so forth. Although I was fairly blunt, though polite, in my rebuttals and objections, my words bounced off like Nerf projectiles, fazing her not in the least. 

"Here, let me just sign you up," she says. "It's only two thousand dollars, and you'll thank me for it." 

Two thousands dollars? What, American dollars? Are you crazy! Lol. 

"How about this?" I said. "How about we just be friends, and forget the business thing?"

I was given to understand that friendship was certainly possible--wonderful--as part of our business together.

"I'm very busy," she said, always working and making more money, and that's why I see my friends in our meetings and on business trips to Jakarta."

Got it. No friends outside of business hours. And all hours are business hours. 

The Discovery of Things Not Lost

The odd thing about the items that I regularly misplace is that they have not been misplaced at all. Most often, they are just where they ought to be. Their misplacement is an invention of my mind. I will suddenly become convinced that something is missing--my cellphone, for instance--and yet there it is on the table right in front of me. Why did I think it was missing?

Yesterday, I went to put my false upper teeth in, but found that they were not in the case on my bedroom dresser. Hmmm ... oh, well, of course not, for I then remembered having eaten earlier. So they must be on top of the bookcase. But no, they're not. By the laptop on the little table by the chair? Nope. Good Lord, I've lost my false teeth! I can find them nowhere. Oh ... wait ... they're in my mouth.

Three times in recent weeks, I have "lost" the keys to my motorbike. They are not in my pocket, therefore surely they have fallen out of my pocket. But how? Had I been standing on my head? Not to my recollection. But they are not in my pocket, which I have already searched perhaps fifteen times. Well then, they are on the floor under the table I have been sitting at. Wrong. They are on the floor somewhere in the Starbucks I am at. I proceed to employ the baristas in an effort to find my keys on the floor, for they seem not only to have fallen out of my pocket, but then crawled away somewhere. But no, this is not the case, either. Three times, I have found, after much panic and ado, that I had left them in my bike in the parking lot. Of course I had. Why had it taken me so long on three consecutive occasions, to discover the obvious?

Even when I know where things are, chances are that I will forget them anyway. It is as if the mere knowledge of where they are will cause them to do what is expected of them without further interaction on my part--that is, when I leave the house, they will leave the house with me--my laptop, my phone, my helmet, my raincoat and so on. Very often, what should be a simple matter--exiting the house and going somewhere else--will be a matter of returning to the door three or four times to retrieve each item one by one. Even so, I cannot count the times that I have discovered, a block or two from home, that something essential is missing from my head. My helmet.

Twice, I have arrived at Starbucks without my laptop--which is essential to the reason for coming to Starbucks in the first place--to write while enjoying a coffee.  

These strange mental disconnects have become a part of my everyday life, just as present and as relentless as the neuropathic pain in my shoulder. One does not correct the disconnects by 'thinking harder' as many are inclined to advise, because the problem is in thinking itself. If a tire on a car is flat, one does not expect it to get better by driving farther or faster. There is a hiccough in my brain, a spasm in the synapses. A sparkplug misses firing. The fuel line is partially plugged.

I simply lurch on as best I can.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


These folks in red, I am told, are from a particular political party. .It is very common in Indonesia for people to wear some kind of identifyimg uniform—people who work in a department store, people who work in a pharmacy, people who work for the phone company or the electric compamy or the government or what have you—all wear a uniform. In addition, they may be wearing religious of cultural garb outside of work. And so when you see them in regular street clothes, you have no idea who they are, because they just don’t look right😂

Monday, February 12, 2018

I Now Pronounce You Man and Angel

Yesterday, I mentioned a sword wielding man who attacked parishioners at a certain church here in Indonesia. Authorities report today, having interviewed the culprit, that he carried out this act as part of achieving his desire to marry an angel. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Suliyono, by name, telephoned his family the day before the act, admitting that he wanted to marry an angel. 

What is yet uncertain is 1) Whether angels are marriageable to begin with (they are, after all, not human and not generally noted to take part in human institutions of any kind, such as marriage, PTA activities, or what have you), 2) Whether violence and the threat of murder would necessarily be, for the angel, attractive in a prospective mate), and 3) Whether an angel would consider Suliyono's ramshackle residence a dwelling appropriate for heavenly beings. 

For me, having had some experience with merely human wives, I would have to say that Suliyono was likely setting himself up for some keen disappointment, and it is probably best for all, angel included, that he was arrested and incarcerated before he was able to enter into matrimony.  

Super Rat

Often enough, when I go outside to the kitchen at night--more often, really, than I would like--I will see the tail-end of a rat just disappearing into whatever hiding spot the rat has chosen, usually the drainage hole by the side of the washing machine. Surely, they have heard me coming, and have begun their dash before I open the door. 

There was one last night, however, who is apparently hard of hearing, or had merely allowed himself to become too engrossed in whatever he was doing, for this one was still lurking on the kitchen counter when I came out. Being caught thus with his pants down, so to speak, desperate measures were called for. I could not help but feel some awe and admiration as the rat ran past the sink and leaped to the top of the washing machine--some six feet in distance. Incredible! But his performance was not done. Having landed with a thump on the washing machine, he then dived off the edge to the ground, some four additional feet below. And he landed already running! 

An amazing rat indeed, possessing physical abilities certainly far beyond my own. Clearly, in his panic, he quite needlessly over-estimated my prowess. 

I suppose the rats inspire me in at least one positive sense. They inspire me to keep the kitchen counter as clean as possible, leaving nothing of interest to them. Of course, that doesn't stop them from checking it out anyway, or from bedding down in the cupboard drawers, which I find they are still doing whenever I remove the sticky paper therein.

And I have never seen a rat inside the house--which I count to be mighty considerate of them.

I do, however, occasionally find a frog in the house. Frogs tend to take note of their mistake, and hop back out the door. But the other night, while watching something on the laptop, I happened to see a very small frog hoping around in the front room. I tried to capture this frog, but it hid under the heavy dishware cupboard, and had still not reemerged by the time I turned in for the night. I remember thinking that this might mean bad news for the frog.

I found him in the morning, sprawled out by the front door, and dead as a doornail. What happened to him, I cannot say. Perhaps frogs need moisture, or die of dehydration. Perhaps he was attacked by the cicak lizards who live in the house. Perhaps he was bored to death. I dunno. But he was dead, and kind of flat and dried up, like a pressed flower. Poor little feller. 

The doors of my house are always open--front door and back door. Critters come in and go out--all kinds of critters, including human critters. I don't mind at all--as long as they don't make a racket while I'm trying to sleep. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Sword and the Gun

I was just now reading in a Facebook post about a man who entered a church in Java and threatened parishioners with a sword. I could not help but think, of course, how preferable a sword is to a rifle or a machinegun, as we see in America. In the attached video, people were throwing their motorbike helmets at the man waving the sword about. In short, self-defense is rather more possible when you're facing a man with a sword. I commented that in America, perpetrators use rifles, to which I received the following reply: 

Ya itu gobloknya pemerintah Amerika ... penduduk sipil bisa megang senjata. Kalau di Indonesia seperti itu sudah banyak sekali orang mati karena alasan agama. Untungnya di sini sangat sulit mendapatkan senjata api.

Which means, Yes, this is the stupidity of the American government. People can easily get weapons. If it were like that in Indonesia, many people would already be dead because of religious reasons. Luckily, in Indonesia, it is very difficult to get a weapon. 

Yup. Couldn't have said it better myself. It's a no-brainer. Or should be so, anyway. 

Religious Requirements

In Indonesia, one must declare a religion on any number of forms; moreover, one must declare one of six allowed religions (there is no "none" option). The choices are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

This, of course, is absurd on several levels. There is the differentiation, for instance, between Protestantism and Catholicism--as if they were two different faiths rather than two categories of Christianity. For my own part, I see myself as Christian rather than Catholic or Protestant--but sorry, that would not be allowed. Simple Christianity is not an option. On the other hand, Sunni and Shiite (and so on, for the Islamic faith) need not be specified--which is ironic, given the trouble between the sects. In addition, the most basic absurdity is that Judaism is left out altogether. In fact, it is not allowed. Quite ironic, given that both Christianity and Islam have their root in Judaism and would not exist without it, any more than branches float in the air, existing without a tree. 

When a person marries in Indonesia, he or she must marry within a particular religion, and if the engaged couple happen to be of different religions, one spouse must convert. In the case of Islam, this pretty much means that the non-Muslim partner must convert to Islam. The Hindus are a bit more relaxed, although the cultural involvement of the Hindu is so intense, affecting so many areas of every day life, that it is very likely that the non-Hindu partner will find it easier to convert. 

I have a friend here who is newly engaged to be married, and although he is rather strictly 'non-religious' (even bordering on 'anti-religious'), he must satisfy this religious requirement in marriage--in this case, to Islam). He does not see where religion applies to his love for his fiancée, and yet he must go through a number of hoops and mazes in order to marry at all. One may suspect that it would be easier just to continue in an unmarried relationship, but the catch is that this too is against the law in Indonesia--not that it doesn't happen all the time, but the one time that it did matter would be sufficiently troublesome, and so best avoided. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

In The Mirror

A good friend of mine here in Bali was just yesterday lamenting "the ravages" that time had wrought on his face and on the "aged carcass which hangs below it". The inexorable march of entropy, he called it. He mentioned the "carry-on bags" under his eyes that had "grown to full suitcases". I saw that the mild double-chin that I thought I had  actually now consisted of a set of several full-blown turkey wattles, pendulously quivering with each movement.

Vyt has a certain way with words, God love him; and a fresh, gracious, self-deprecating sense of humor. 

And, of course, he's right--which makes me especially thankful for my poor (understatement) eyesight--for I, too, have faced in a well-lit mirror this same sort of tragic collapse of my person. The horror ... the horror. 

Gadzooks! What is up with these haunted, hollow, smudgy basement windows that used to be my eyes, and with the drab, rumpled drapery hanging beneath? What is this gossamer little tuft on top of my head that used to be hair? How is it that the skin on my face has retreated into thirsty wrinkles whilst my quite healthy nose has has grown stout and muscular as if it had been doing calisthenics? Or perhaps it has merely sucked all the nutrients from the rest of my face. And then there is that chin ... or those chins! Ah, God help me. 

And the truly sad thing is that my face, such as it is, looks significantly better than the rest of my body. I have, for instance, been considering my stomach of late. No matter how little I eat, the stomach yet grows. When I sit, the stomach sits on me. When I stand, I appear to be six months pregnant. I have man tits. One leg is noticeably thinner than the other (so much so that I have been told straight out to wear long pants). And where the hell has my ass gone? 

Now, Vyt discovered that, as an alternative to plastic surgery, one may use his fingers at strategic bony locales to stretch his skin and thus regain a bit of youthful appearance .. or, well, not youthful, but a bit less than corpse-like. But, as he noted, the constant employment of both hands to maintain the effect is probably both inconvenient and unreasonable, and, I might add, may end up causing crippling arthritis in both hands and both elbows. Moreover, it's a pretty sure thing that others will be able to guess the trick you're playing.

I have, therefore, come to the same conclusion arrived upon by Vyt--to whit, I will avoid looking into mirrors (which has been my practice for not a few years anyway).  No point in ruining one's day every day. And yet, one cannot escape the fact that one's face is a mirror for all other eyes, though the reflection may be tempered with a well intentioned attempt at casting a kinder light--which is to say that they may smile and call you Father or Grandfather, and comment that you look distinguished today.


Young Ajus actually spoke to me this morning--a first! He comes to the house with his mother, who cleans the house every Saturday morning. He has been in the habit of following me about, peeking around doors, planting himself nearby wherever I sit, but had so far and most definitely had nothing to say. When spoken to, he would usually either shake his head or ignore me altogether. This morning, however, he was full of smiles, and even a word here and there. At this rate, I believe that we will be holding an actual conversation within perhaps a couple more years. When I left the house to go out for coffee, Ajus stood on the porch waving goodbye. We've definitely broken the ice here! :) 

Friday, February 9, 2018


Although all Indonesians speak a common language--Bahasa Indonesia--they also speak the native language of the island or area they come from, be that Bahasa Bali, Bahasa Jawa, Bahasa Batak, or what have you. There are literally hundreds of regional languages. Additionally, a word in Indonesian may have a different meaning in a separate language.

For example, the word kenyang in Bahasa Indonesian means "full", as in, I have just eaten and now I'm full. 

It means something else in Bahasa Bali (though, of course, they are perfectly aware of the Indonesian meaning). 

For this reason, when an acquaintance recently asked whether I wanted to eat something, I answered, "No. Baru makan. Sudah kenyang." 

This should have meant 'I have just eaten, I'm already full' -- and it does mean just that in Bahasa Indonesia. The case is different in Bahasa Bali. 

"Oh," she said. "Are you kenyang Indonesia or kenyang Bali?"

"Umm ... Bali?" I guessed. 

This brought on a peel of laughter, from the woman and from her friends. 

You see, in Bahasa Bali, to say that one is kenyang means that one  has an erection! 

My Eyes

I swear, my vision is getting worse at an alarming rate--and I bought new glasses less than a year ago! The letters just don't want to come together, whether I put the page right up to my nose or try it from farther away. Sometimes it seems better with my glasses and sometimes without, sometimes better in bright light, sometimes better in dim. These eyes of mine are temperamental, to be sure. Yesterday, I stopped in at the optics shop in Denpasar to experiment with some reading glasses, but all the magnification did was to make the letters more largely obscure. Some few years ago, I went to an optometrist, who said that there were cataracts in the eyes; however, I then went to a cataract specialist who said that there were most definitely not cataracts. Where there both are and are not cataracts, what we're probably looking at, once again, is another instance of MS. Something tells me that I would need to buy a pair of glasses each day of the week, week in and week out, in order to suit the mood of my eyes on any given day; or I could just say Oh, well, screw it, and make do. The latter seems to be becoming the fallback position for any number of the weird ailments by which I am afflicted. I guess the key words are Live with it. Having spent most of my life reading and writing, the thought of becoming unable in these areas is discouraging indeed.  But I guess I'll live with it. I suppose I could switch to audio books (although I really do not find listening to literature to be the same thing at all as reading it). And who knows, it might be interesting to learn braille. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018


I was chatting this morning with a charming young woman at Starbucks--the girlfriend of my good friend Hendra, who works there--and she happened to mention that she thought me handsome. 

"Well, thank you," I said. 

"Yeah, all bules (westerners/white people) are handsome."

There may actually have been a hissing sound as the air went out of my ego. 

"Umm ... Ratih," I said, "Don't say that I'm handsome, and then add that everybody else is handsome too." 

She laughed, instantly realizing her error.

"But .. I mean ... you're more handsome than the rest," she amended. 

It is a curious thing that most Indonesian women will find western men (and women, for that matter) more attractive than they. In the same way, one will often find western men who consider Indonesian (or Asian) women most attractive.

"I like your nose," Ratih said. 

"My nose? What's to like about my nose." 

"It's big."

'You like my big nose?" 

"Oh, yessss. That's why bule's are more attractive, because of the big nose. I want my nose to be bigger." 

"But Ratih, many, if not most bules prefer a small nose on a woman. A nose like yours."

"Yes, I know," she said, pulling on her nose nonetheless as if she might stretch it a bit.  "And dark skin; while what we Indonesian girls like is light skin."

It's true. She is quite right. They consider light skin, whether on a woman or a man, more attractive than darker skin; while, at the same time, one will see bules out on the beach tanning themselves under the baking sun in order to be darker, and thus more comely. 

Strange. Things seem at cross purposes here. 


One may respond in one or the other of two ways to  having a debilitating disease. He may say, Okay, I am ill--now everyone, especially my loved ones, must be sympathetic and take care of me. On the other hand, he may say, I will not be a burden to others, especially to my loved ones; for, after all, my illness is none of their doing and does not need to be allowed to take them down as well as me. 

Perhaps the most important thing is to honestly acknowledge the authenticity of the second party's feelings. Some folks are natural caregivers, and any response other than caring would be a betrayal of their own character. They find, for instance, the marriage vow,  In sickness and in health, obvious rather than odious. To participate in the condition of one who is ill or debilitated is natural to them. It's not so much a question of choice as a matter of destiny. 

Then again, there are those who definitely did not 'sign up' for the in sickness and in health clause. To these, it is they who have been betrayed, though certainly not with premeditation, by the one who is ill. He had from the outset promised to make their life better, not worse, and has failed to keep the promise. If they find themselves in the position of a caregiver, they will care with bitter unwillingness, and may even become cruel. They will in any case find their fate unfair and undeserved.

For my own part, to find myself being a burden to anyone else would be an extra burden to me, above and beyond the unavoidable realities of the disease. If caring comes not with its own reward--in pleasing the caregiver, in the natural operation and strengthening of character, in the application of pure devotion--it is not caring after all, but affliction and hardship, and only adds to the hardship of the disease itself. 

I stand, therefore, alone; and yet not alone at all--for there is an eternal One who suffers with me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Been a while since the weather in south Bali was nice enough for an evening walk. 

Tukang Parkir

The Tukang Parkir (or rather, Juru Parkir)—these guys know everythings, the ins and outs, the ups and downs. When you are in their vicinity, they are in charge of your destiny, and that of your vehicle. They will tell you whether to go left or right, forward or backward, fearlessly defying death as they guide you into oblivious traffic. They are the unsung heroes of the road and lot, and they do it all for less than 10 cents.
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The American Dream

The parking attendant, a young man from Komodo Island, stopped me in the parking lot this morning, wanting to chat for a moment. I have chatted briefly with the man before, but this morning he wanted to talk specifically about his desire to learn to speak English. 

"I very want to learn this talking," he explained, "because America is special place. In America, there is good government for people, and not corruption government. That is why I very want to learn the talk and go to America someday." 

Well ... what shall I say. Shall I mention that the American government was corrupted last election at the most basic level, that many of our highest government figures have their hands in Russian pockets? Shall I tell him that he likely cannot go to America because he comes from a 'shithole' country? Shall I tell him that our good government does not like him or his kind, or that they don't even much like the common citizens of America as they take away their health insurance, cut programs for the poor, the needy, and the helpless, giving to the rich instead? Shall I tell him about the North Korea style military parade Mr. Trump wants to order up for Pennsylvania Avenue so that, essentially, he can honor himself; or that Mr. Trump considers anyone who refuses to applaud him a traitor? Shall I mention the poverty in American ghettos and slums that rivals anything he will see in any other part of the world? Or the gang violence? Or the racism? Or our overflowing prison population? Shall I mention the working, tax paying, long-time resident immigrants who are currently being deported from our shores? 

Shall I try to paint a clearer picture of the ugly American for this man?

Or shall I try to believe along with him?

Yes, I shall believe, despite what I know--because this man's dream is better than our failures. It is the American dream, still intact, still striving, still wanting to become, still hoping, still believing, still and forever possible--and it is stronger, more alive in many foreign hearts than in our own native ones. They, in their untainted faith, are us. They are who we should still be.

The American dream still exists and always will exist--we just need to learn it over again from those true believers who are on the outside.