Saturday, March 31, 2018


Watching another episode of Bonanza this afternoon. In this one, a candidate is running for office in Virginia City. His slogan is "America for Americans".

How very ironic.

That's right, foreigners are taking our jobs. They're threatening our people and our values. They, not we, are responsible for the ills of our society. It's a page taken right out of a Donald Trump speech--except that this particular bullshit long preceded Trump. He is merely the latest to spew it all over again, to return like the proverbial dog to the vomit of the past.

If you think that we have much progressed as a society, take a look at the old Bonanza episodes--for many could have been written for this very day.

As It Turned Out

My anticipated visit to the masseuse yesterday did not turn out as planned. In the first place, I was met upon arrival at the pharmacy not by Ayu but by another masseuse who said that she was Ayu. Now, this may be, as there are a lot of Ayu's here in Bali, but she definitely was not the Ayu I was looking for.

Ah well, let her proceed, I thought, for, in any case, I did not feel comfortable with saying, 'No, I don't want you!' So I ended up enduring an hour long massage that was pretty much a waste of time and money. What I wanted was a deep, 'invasive', aggressive massage that would make my recalcitrant muscles stand up and pay attention. What I got was an airy rub down with enough oil to boil a pot of fried chicken in.

I went home in the same pain I had gone out with, and by the afternoon was feeling so disappointed that I said to myself, 'Well hell, I'll just go to the place up the street that offers a good old fashion excruciating Balinese massage!'

And excruciating it was! I had been there in the past, but had forgotten the extent of the torment these young women are able to inflict, skillfully separating the most tender muscles from whichever cavity they have attempted to hide in and then mercilessly twisting and gouging the poor things until they scream in pain.

"Better?" the girl says.


"Okay. I go deeper, yes?"

"Ngughk glokh!"

It was difficult to speak, for my jaw had locked from clenching my teeth.

It is quite amazing how hands, skillfully employed, can so rearrange muscle and bone, reach right into the skeleton from the back and tug at one of the ribs in the front, turn the collarbone into crescent wrench to be used against the bolts that connect your neck to your head.

In short, Boy did that girl beat me up! I mean, she totally kicked my ass--all 95 pounds of her.

And this seems to have been a good thing. It seems that my muscles needed a good ass kicking; for though they are a bit sore today, it is a normal sort of soreness, the way muscles may feel when they have been overworked, rather than the general, inappropriate, causeless pain that has been residing so long in my neck, shoulders and back. It is as if the pain, through this kneading and poking and stabbing and twisting process, has now been focused and defined just at the top of one shoulder--cornered and contained, one might say.

Oh, I don't know if this relief will last, or how long it may last. In the past, the problem has insisted on reasserting itself over time; but for today, anyway, I'm feeling much better than usual, and am simply enjoying the relief one day at a time.


Now here's an odd sort of thing, followed by an even odder sort of thing. Often when one leaves the parking lot at Plaza Renon, there will be a long line of cars waiting to exit through the pay station, for there is but one pay station and one way out of the lot. Curiously, it does not occur to most drivers of motorbikes that they must cue up behind the cars that are already waiting. Rather, they zip along the sides of the cars and insert themselves as near as they can to the pay station. Odd enough on its own, and something for which one might be shot or at least severely beaten in America; but here is the odder thing: they insert themselves as well in front of motorbikes that have been dutifully waiting in line behind the cars, even up to the moment one finally approaches the exit! One wonders at the thought process here. Do they think, 'Well, the motorbike is smaller, so it will take a shorter time to pay and exit'? Or do they think, 'Well, there's no sign posted that disallows this practice'? Or do they suspect that the cars are lined up for some other reason? And how is it that they boldly angle even in front of a motorbike that has already been waiting in  line? Would not the common American be either ashamed or afraid to do such a thing? And yet to look at their faces, they would appear to be completely unaware of anything being amiss. Of course, I am in no hurry. I'm never in a hurry. But it's the principle of the thing, you know? Sometimes I will laugh, sometimes I will say something to indicate that what they've done is pretty damn rude, but neither response seems to excite much interest. In a word, it's just weird.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Pijat Lagi

About to go down to Sanur and get a massage this morning from Ayu, the resident masseuse at the local drug store. I was impressed with Ayu's skill on my former occasion there, although it kind of hurts like hell while she's doing the actual massage--especially when she hits those muscles that are frozen and don't want to be bothered. But the end result, after the pain, seems to be a generally positive one. I'm thinking that one massage per week would be a good plan. I'm rather sore to begin with this morning, in my shoulders and arms, such that the thought of the massage makes me grimace a bit. But hopefully it will loosen things up.

Last night, I neglected, on purpose, to take the usual tablet of Xanax. This resulted in a couple of interesting manifestations; one being that I was awaken by pain umpteen times during the night, the other being that when I awoke in the morning, I found that my hands had not gone numb. Of course, this may just be because I moved about more during the night in the absence of the anesthetizing effect of the Xanax.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


“Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all the deeper trust in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might hence be led to suspect the insult of a sneer, as well as an immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. What is called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in this sphere of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.”
House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne

What a pleasure it is to re-read Hawthorne, one of the first among my literary loves. The intricate craftsmanship of his prose, the careful precision practiced in his classic narratives is as fresh and compelling as ever before.

The Tree

From little more than a stick in the ground, planted as if by whim, or as a spade left absent-mindedly behind at the end of a workday, this tree has grown over the past four years till it reached nearly the top of the house behind, arms reaching fervently upward, confident of touching heaven by-and-by, And yet the sap of aspiration has run dry at the extremities, the tree is found to be dying from the top down, its uppermost branches hollow, without brawn or blood, as bendy as rubber. Bravely yet, wed yet to its nature, the branches sprout from their tops little buds, little memories of the red flowers of the past, but these are as dry as whispers, more paper than pulp, and fade away in the midday sun, leaving the grey skin barren and disappointed, gazing on its tiptoes, with bitter envy, at the great green plume of the tree in the yard just beyond, bejeweled with bright yellow flowers. And so I set the saw today to those weary arms, cutting down the overly hopeful parts, now starved and dead; down to the lower, more reasonable regions that yet have substance, that yet communicate with the unbroken vitality of the root, that courageous, confident stick of old. It may be that the remainder will die as well. Or it may be that new hopes will flower anew and again seek the height of the sky.


In the back yard, early this morning, I watched a little bird come and go perhaps 20 times. It was a little brown bird with a white head and it was collecting grasses for a nest. It would alight in the yard, hop about looking for a choice blade, pluck and the blade and then fly off over the roof of the house just behind the yard in the direction of a tall tree with grand yellow flowers. Twenty seconds later, the bird would come gliding back again to choose another bit of grass from the yard. As I've said, it was a small bird, no larger than, say, a tangerine, and so it took but small bits of grass on each trip. And I thought to myself, whichever infants this bird is making this nest for will surely be full grown adults by the time the thing is finished! And that's if the nest builder itself doesn't die first from exhaustion. But then it occurred to me that perhaps there are dozens of little brown birds in dozens of yards, each carrying back its building materials to the same tree. It must be so.  


A year or so ago, Healthline produced on app called MS Buddy. I was among the first to 'test drive' the app. This app gives one the opportunity to communicate with others who have MS, share stories and symptoms, and so on. There are also articles and research updates.

Lately, however, it seems to have been discovered by scammers. I have received several greetings which, when answered, lead to a generally wacky sort of story and an invitation for you to share your email address so that you can speak at greater length. Supposedly.

The note I received yesterday was from someone who was clearly using English as a second language. She had a 'special opportunity' for me to do something for others, which seemed to require me to give her my email address.

Oh, that's okay, I answered. Just tell me what you want or need right here in MS Buddy.

But of course, that was not possible. You must give me your email address, 'my dear'.


And then there are the ones who will say that they can see from your profile that you are a wonderful man, just the man they have been waiting so long to meet. They are sure you can have a wonderful life together, if you would just give them your email. Strange, this--given that the profile on MS Buddy is quite brief and only a list of symptoms suffered and medications taken!

Sad, is it not, when people prey on members of a community devoted to those suffering from a disease? One really wonders at the darkness that must reside in such souls.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Sketch

[I don’t know where this came from or what it means. It just popped into my head, and so I pop it onto this page]

He was an older man and had kind eyes, but a grey cast to his facial skin, a dry, stone-like shade that seemed to mitigate and throw some doubt on the kind-seeming glimmer in his eyes. The glimmer itself was not of the moist or teary sort, but of a deeper nature, like light reflected in the depths of a dark lake or the movement of vaguely silver shadows beyond the ken of clear recognition. A white beard, trimmed close to the jaw and well kept, set a cradle for the whole, like newly laundered white linen, lightly scented with the primary mood of the day. He was tall, and of a frame, though now slightly tilted, that echoed a former substantiality, and his movement was somehow reminiscent of some ungainly yet stately animal—a giraffe, for instance, or a Bactrian Camel.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Rather than almost instantly going to sleep last night as I generally do (with the help of Xanax), I lay awake in the dark (despite the Xanax) thinking about the birth process. How terrifying it must be! Here you have been in your warm, cozy, quiet world, floating about, casually becoming, sprouting arms and legs and fingers and so on, and then suddenly something untoward is happening, suddenly you are being rudely expelled from the only world you know, jostled and pushed and forced. You cannot comprehend the thing. Are you dying? Certainly some disaster is occurring and you are suddenly quite unsafe, quite insecure. The next thing you know, you are surrounded, penetrated by blinding light and deafening noise, thrust into an immense, unnatural, chaotic, painful, incomprehensible unknown. And yet, you find that you have been received, cradled in careful hands, and then laid ever so tenderly on your mother's breast. You hear the heartbeat you have always heard, and this warmth on the outside is rather like the warmth you knew on the inside. And you breathe.

I wonder if death is something like this--not death at all, but something new, a transference from one world to another. It is a trip you make just as unwillingly as at birth. You simply find it happening, and there you are, traversing a suffocating tunnel, struggling through this relentless process by which you have been captured, by which you are helplessly compelled. Will there be hands to receive you? You came once from the dark, with no knowledge of its darkness, and now you have reentered darkness through light, leaving behind the only world you have ever known. Nor did you ever know the world you came from, for no one remembers the womb. Are you dying? Is this the end? Or will there be another light, another incomprehensible realm. Will you fall upon a living warmth? Will you hear the sound of a familiar heart?

Will there be hands to receive you?

Monday, March 26, 2018


Very often, by the time I get to my morning coffee spot along with my laptop and all, I have developed such an intense pain in my right neck and shoulder that it is difficult to do anything other than stare at the open screen. There are perhaps a hundred different things I might have written about, but the pain says "Me first!"

But the subject, like the pain itself, is redundant. One thing I can say is that my ex-wife, who recently had surgery in Australia for removal of benign breast lumps, is going to give me the Oxycodone that she received. She has taken none of it, nor does she care to. I don't know how many tablets she has, but I will certainly make good use of them for as long as they last, and thus hope to have some temporary relief.

Narcotic medications, you see, are illegal in Indonesia. How she even got these through Customs, I'm not sure. Of course, since she has a prescription for these, it's not like they would have arrested her or anything, but they could have easily confiscated the pills.

Back in America, I had a monthly prescription for Oxycodone/Hydrocodone, for pain associated with MS. It was, all in all, the most effective symptom relieving prescription among the dozens I had tried for MS symptoms. Ah, but those were the good old days. Nowadays, as I understand it, Oxycodone has become a leading drug of abuse in America. People crush it up and snort it, or smoke it, or God knows what. Unfortunate for those of us who need it for pain as, apparently, obtaining it from one's doctor, or insurance, is becoming considerably more difficult.

Here in Indonesia, if one find himself in severe pain, I'm not sure what he is supposed to do. Hit himself over the head with a hammer? That might work once, though with certain side effects but would probably not be an effective treatment regimen on a continuous basis.

Sunday, March 25, 2018


A boy, perhaps 9 or 10 years of age, is walking with his father in a leisurely manner. The father's head is slightly inclined toward the boy, one shoulder tipped downward as they converse. A small family of rust-colored leaves lights like birds at their feet and then flies again, all of one mind. The episode passes in the seconds it takes for me to pass by on my bike, yet has not passed at all, for I have brought it with me. These little birds settle again on another soil--settle and fly and settle again, remembering a boy, 9 or 10, and a man, his father, walking, and a flurry of leaves lighting on the path and then rising to fly again. In such small ways as this, small ways in the millions, fathers and sons and loves never end.

Rise Up

Watching video after video this morning of young people speaking out against gun violence in America and in favor of gun control—no more stalling, no more excuses, no more thoughts and prayers. It is all rather reminiscent of my own youthful days when it took an uprising of the younger generation to put an end to the senseless slaughter of the Vietnam War. I am encouraged by these folks, who have returned passion and honesty and a sense of immediacy to the political stage. The tide may well have turned once again; and that’s good, because my country has too long been drowning in an indolent tidepool of denial and collective malaise.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Little Known Episode in Literature

In episode 5, season 1 of Bonanza--that old favorite among 60's westerns--Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, comes to Virginia City in advance of his later fame, and not withstanding the contrary record of history, accompanied by the ill fortune of being played by B movie legend Howard Duff.

Whenever I think of Howard Duff, I must save a moment aside to mention my old friend Mike and the stories he used to tell me about his ex-wife's hatred of Howard Duff. This was a hatred so extreme that it had actually become an obsession, such that she would make a particular point of watching any film in which Duff appeared (and watching it any number of times) so that she could hate him all the more intimately and in person, after a fashion.

'I hate that man', she would hiss at the television set. 'I hate him with all my heart!'

'Well then, why the hell are you watching the show?' Mike would retort. 'Just turn it off!'

'I can't," she would answer. 'I can't!'

Mike never did understand what was behind the abhorrence that Duff inspired in his wife. It was just something buried deep in the soul of the woman.

In any case, Clemens arrives in Virginia City, speaking, curiously enough, with a western twang rather than a southern drawl, gets beat up by Adam Cartwright, entangled with a saloon girl and runs afoul of a corrupt judge who means to make a land grab on the Cartwright ranch.

Whilst being shot at by a gang of the judge's henchmen, held off by the Cartwright's and their own trusty six-shooters, while he shelters behind a desk in the newspaper office, Clemens thinks to himself, 'Gee ... maybe I should become a serious writer. But I need a different name.'

So was born, in a hail of zinging bullets, the American legend, Mark Twain, the American legend, Mark Twain, an icon in American literature, and forever enshrined in the portrayal of the hated Howard Duff.

Here I Am

Here I am, outside myself again, in old places and faces, strange faces and places somehow intimately familiar to me--I knew you once, and now again. How had I imagined you gone when you were yet before me always? I shall embrace you and take you to my grave. And what then? Does the world pass away or forever live again? In some evil dream I thought you gone, yet here you are, no ghost or shadow, but living flesh and blood. How have you borne me to this time, reignited coals that were cold and dead? What fire is in my person set by other than eternal flame?

Say 'Cheese'

When I came in to Starbucks this afternoon, Hendra's cute little girlfriend ran over to meet me, took hold of my hand, and escorted me about to present me to her family and find me a seat. It really reminded me of my stepdaughter's exuberance back in the olden days. I suppose that she is still so. I just haven't seen her in so long. But there is really nothing that can compare to the warmth a woman can show. Hendra joined us in due time and we shared the usual laughter and jokes. They're such a pleasant young couple--very much in love--which also reminds me of olden times, just watching their interaction, their brief little intimacies between episodes of poking and teasing. It doesn't take much to kindle the fire of old memories. It doesn't take much at all.

Friday, March 23, 2018


I had a long text conversation with my stepson, Sasha, yesterday evening. He was feeling very frustrated at how political debate has become for so many no more than a rather robotic exchange of slogans, an interaction of walking, talking memes. People tend to identify themselves with a certain position and then proceed to promote ideas not with any personal intellectual acumen but more like broken records. One broken record is played against another broken record, guaranteeing a general failure of exchange. He is discouraged by the stubborn divide which persists and becomes ever more robust in the absence of what we used to call "discussion". Dreary, is as he described it. And he's quite right. Damnably dreary it is. Any attempt to pry loose this or that dogma is met, as he notes, with name-calling and insult, threats, childish emoticons, and suggestions that the one trying so innocently to actually think should go and perform impossible anatomic contortions. Everybody on the internet is an expert in all fields of thought, and relentlessly suspicious of any actual expert.

I know, I know.

The good news, in a small way, is that Sasha is growing up, at 18 now, to be a very bright young man, with a good measure of intellectual integrity and a stubborn affection for personal honesty. Perhaps there are many more in the youthful world like him. I certainly hope so.


Hope not ever to see Heaven. I have come to lead you to the other shore; into eternal darkness; into fire and into ice.
--Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Rather catatonic this morning. Had a dream just before waking wherein I had gotten onto some kind of bridge in a vehicle propelled by one's own feet (Flintstones style), but I was having a terrible time making the thing move forward at a respectable clip, thus holding up impatient traffic behind me. There was no way to move out of the road, so I had to just keep struggling forward, frustrated and embarrassed at my inability to function.

Upon awakening, I found that this was not really much of a fiction, for my entire body was stiff and aching as I kind of slithered myself to the side of the bed and plopped my feet onto the floor, feeling as I  moved toward the outer rooms of the house that I was still struggling along quite as incompetently as in the dream.

Later on in the morning, I received a text message from my ex-wife saying that she had secured for me a ticket to go to Brunei and Langkawi, wherever those places may be. Are you kidding me? I'm doing well just to get to Starbucks once a day! I strongly suspect that the next time I take a trip, it will be back to America to die. Brunei? It sounds more like one of the outer rings of hell than like a vacation--not that there's anything wrong with the country. The problem, of course, is with me and my deteriorating physical and mental state. Maybe if I could be sent there in a box packed with Styrofoam balls and then stored in a refrigerator like a block of cheese until the vacation was over ... maybe. I can think, at present, of no other practicable method.

The wide world loses its bloom and sweetness, it seems, as one's small world withers and sours.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Not feeling very well this afternoon, I just stayed in the house and watched the very first episode of the old TV series, Bonanza. Talk about politically incorrect! Where does one even begin? I mean, they pretty much covered most everything in that single episode. It was, from an early 21st century viewpoint, offensive, astounding, and really rather refreshing.

Of course, for its time, it was not politically incorrect at all, in the sense in which we think of the term in our day. It was normal. In fact, it was perfectly correct according to the mores of the period. Rather, I'm certain that the writers' of Bonanza would have found the particulars of our own popular culture and attitudes quite politically incorrect, and largely inappropriate for TV viewing.

There is the sense as well (though it may just be in my imagination) that the writers were aware of those elements in the episode that did transgress against modern (1960's) censorious sensibilities, and inserted these intentionally as part of their effort to depict a prior time--the old West--taking for granted a general, civilized consensus regarding what is proper and improper, right and wrong. In short, they seem to have trusted not only the moral compass of the viewer, but his natural ability to separate the rudeness of the past from the more progressive realities of the present.  I mean, what kind of cowboys would you have if they all went around acting exactly like normal mid 20th century folk, parroting, in spurs and boots, the cultural notions of a society that did not yet exist?

It is a weakness we see often enough in popular film and entertainment--a weird, clumsy, undisguised superimposition of "the right ideas" on whatever story is at hand. And this, of course, is propaganda rather than meaningful fiction.

In any case, although Bonanza was rarely comedic, especially in the first season, I found myself laughing outright at the blatant parade of no-no's--tantamount to blasphemy in our time.

And so I leave you with the words of Ben Cartwright, regarding the fate of a captured scoundrel.

"If I'm not back by sundown, kill him."


Went to the dentist this morning and got three front teeth on the top replaced, this time with crowns rather than false teeth, the latter having become useless at any rate given that one of the "real" front teeth had broken off, leaving a conspicuous, and rather comical, space between the false teeth.

The dentist was quite pleased with her work, and the work of the lab. "Cantik!" she said. Pretty.

I wouldn't have described them quite that way. I mean, for three tooth-like looking teeth, they're fine--nonetheless, one tends to want more than three teeth, no matter how pretty those three may be.

Ah, but I exaggerate. I have more than three teeth. There are two on the bottom.

Road Rude

Coming back home along Jalan Buyon, travelling slowly with the traffic, my bike happened upon one of these weird grooves in the road, nearly causing me to broadside with the bike travelling rather intimately on my right, navigated by two older women transporting two great bundles of vegetables. Boy, did they bitch me out! I said (in Indonesian), “Hey, don't be rude! There's a hole in the road. I saw you there, no need to scream." But they went on bitching me out anyway. Jeeze. I guess someone had a bad day. Funny, too, how the word "bule" can suddenly change from being a fairly neutral word which simply indicates a foreigner, to sounding a lot like the "N" word!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Prospective Student

Yesterday afternoon, I went down to my friendly neighborhood pharmacist in Sanur to buy a box of Gabapentin, which she is kind enough to order for me every month, and found that the masseuse was there as well, a young Balinese woman by the name of Ayu. She offered a massage, and I decided it was just the thing I needed for my aching back and shoulder.

Setting to work, she soon discovered the trouble spot through the knowledgeable tips of her fingers.

"Ahh!" she said. "Pegal persis di sini."

Stiff right here. You bet it is.

So she worked and worked at that spot and we chatted while she worked.

"Bahasa anda sudah lancer," she commented.

Literally, this means that I can speak Indonesian fluently. But of course, I can do no such thing. One hears this phrase often enough, and I think what it really means is that you are doing a good job of muddling through rather than not succeeding at all.

She went on to ask whether I could teach her to speak English.

"Sure," I answered.

"Oh, no, no. You are busy."

"Not at all."

"I am bothering you."

"Nope. I have all the time in the world on my hands."



So she took my phone number and, who knows? I may soon have a student.


A little piece that I was asked to write for Modern Day MS. A bit redundant, but here it is anyway.

Pseudobulbar Affect in Multiple Sclerosis

One of the strangest symptoms associated with MS—a disease which is typified by strange symptoms to begin with—is a symptom known as Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA).

PBA is a condition involving sudden, excessive laughter or crying in the absence of any particular trigger. Normally, the cerebral cortex (at the front of the brain) communicates with the cerebellum (at the back of the brain) to control emotional responses to situations. However, the cerebellum can become damaged by MS lesions or nerve problems, disrupting communications between these two areas.

Now, I don’t know if I actually have diagnostic Pseudobulbar Affect. What I do know is that over the last year or so I have experienced unusual, unaccountable episodes of both irrepressible hilarity or tearful despondency  without any sufficient cause.

As an example, recently I was writing something in my blog and wanted to use the word “dignification”. I then began to wonder, however, whether this is actually a word, so I typed the word into Google. Upon hitting enter, I noted that I had typed “dog”nification. This is what got me started. I next noted, looking at the screen, that “dognification” is an actual word—and from there, it was off to the races. I laughed helplessly, completely unable to stop myself, tears rolling down my cheeks, face red, ribs sore, for more than half an hour—wondering all the while why I was laughing, because the thing really was not that darn funny.

Similarly, I awoke one recent morning feeling vaguely sad—perhaps under the influence of some waning memory of a dream. I went about my usual practice of making a cup of coffee and sitting down to drink it at the table in the back yard, and then suddenly I began to weep, tears freely flowing from my eyes, shoulders shaking, nose running—all without any particular reason.

Generally, I have never been the sort of person who easily cries, or laughs either, for that matter—a stoicism passed on, no doubt, by my father. And yet now I find myself, without warning, suddenly in the midst of these outbursts of laughter or tears flowing as if from an open tap! Strange.

On the other hand, although PBA is one of the stranger symptoms in MS, it is also one of the more pleasant ones, certainly preferable to physical pain. There is a certain release to be had in both laughter and weeping, an engagement in emotion that leaves one strangely satisfied when he’s gotten it all out of his system, so to speak.

If, however, the symptom has become especially extreme, or embarrassing, there are apparently some measures one can take—the use of SSRI’s, such as Zoloft, for instance. If need be, ask your neurologist.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Incontestable Logic

Sparky showed up again at the house last night in his customary alternate form as a dragonfly. He seemed unnerved, however, by the character of the corner in which he has preferred to hover--this being the corner he generally preferred to sleep in--for, the corner has been changed somewhat and is not quite so "corner-like" as it used to be. Therefore, he flitted fretfully about for a time, and then decided to follow me around the house instead. Wherever I went, there he was also. I was alarmed, however, when I noticed his presence in the shower with me.

"Sparky! For God's sake, if you get into this spray, you're going to kill yourself!"

"Oh, that's okay," Sparky answered. "I'm already dead."


I happened to see a photo on Facebook yesterday with a little quiz attached. The photo was of a man and a woman walking together, and the question asked was "What is wrong with this picture?"

Well, for anyone of my generation or before, what's 'wrong' is clear--the man is walking on the inside of the woman, she on the street side. It's one among the basic rules taught us by our fathers. Walk on the outside. Open the shop door, open the car door. Respect your elders. Say excuse me. Don't start eating before the cook sits down.

Holding doors seems not to have transferred across the ocean to Indonesia. I do this as a matter of course, for I am trained. But I find that many women will simply stare at me, as if to say "Well, are you going in or going out? Make up your mind."

Overall, women in Indonesia, and especially in Bali, which has a 'class culture', remain second class citizens. Moreover, polite deference to the sex does not seem to factor in to the society very strongly. Men are first in all walks of life, they are favored in divorce, and they are favored in inheritance, even if what is to be inherited did not belong to the man in the first place. In many practical ways--money, education, opportunity, inheritance--the son is favored over the daughter.

One characteristic the society does excel in, however--and something that is disappearing from western cultures--is respect for elders. Even friendly acquaintances of mine still insist on calling me Pak (sir, or father), Tuan (same as Pak, though applied specifically to a foreigner), Om (uncle), or Mister. It would sound strange, even to me, if they were to call me simply Will, or Richard, or Bruce (by which names I am known depending upon who is doing the knowing). No, it is always Pak Will, Om Bruce, Mr. Richard.

Of course, the same thing transfers over to women, who will be called Ibu, Mbak, Nyonya, and so on--all titles of polite respect in regard to the given age. Nonetheless, I will say, with sympathy, that I have seen women carrying a heavy load of groceries while the men strolled along beside them, smoking a cigarette. Not cool, right?

But before we leap to judge, let us remember the common manners and courtesies that are disappearing from our American culture-- because that's not cool, either.

Monday, March 19, 2018


A little whirlwind, toddling niece to the tempest, makes the fallen napkins and bits of paper dance in the crook of the concrete corner’s arm while at the nearby table a gaggle of girls practice at speaking English with a certain hilarity at the sound of their own voices. The wind tugs at their carefully tied down hair. Two boys in white shirts, quite accidentally proximate, study at being unaware. Beyond the sheltered veranda, beyond the greenery of the garden walls, the full-grown trees nod and touch knowing shoulders. Later, the mild morning is bound to turn more severe.


A bunch of irritating dreams last night, or one irritating dream with a lot of irritating interconnected parts. I suppose that dreams are very often addressing matters that we don't like to think about during our waking hours, so the mind says "Okay, I'll think about it while you're asleep."

I have long been persuaded that the unconscious mind is driven by a blunt sort of wisdom and compassion, a will to counsel the waking man from the unfettered, unpolluted fountain of his inner parts. The dream speaks in the tongues of angels, so to speak, through symbol and archetype and image, and addresses matters in ways that the conscious mind might find inappropriate or grotesque or foolish or shameful.

There was a time when I was a younger man, and after much reading of the works of Carl G. Jung, that I would set a notebook and pencil on the table beside my bed such that I might immediately note down the particulars of a dream upon waking--even if I happened to awake from the dream in the middle of the night. This hobby, however, soon became rather too exhausting.

Nowadays, I will turn the thing over in my mind when I awake, noting the most striking images or plotlines, such that I will not instantly forget them, and then as the day goes on, the parts will generally fall into place under the watch of an analytic appraisal, producing, on a good day, a number of "Oh yeah, I see" moments.

Very often, the dream will be addressing just exactly what you had been thinking about before you went to sleep, although this will often be less than apparent at first, given the different vocabulary of the unconscious voice. Often enough, as well, the intent of the dream will be to convey an appreciation of how very foolish your conscious thoughts of the night before had been!

Beware--Iron clad judgements may collapse into little mounds of sand; clever, foolproof schemes may drift away like steam. But it's okay, really. It's all for the best.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

One Final Word on Nyepi

On the night of Nyepi, I decided to sit at the table in the back yard and kind of surf around on the internet just for something to do. Technically, or not so technically, this was a transgression of a couple of the rules--no light, no use of electricity. I did not have the overhead light on, but of course there is the light from the laptop screen. Oh, also one is forbidden from going outside at all, so that was also a no-no. My back yard, however, is completely shut off from the world and can only be seen if someone happens to climb a ladder and peer over the wall--in which case, however unlikely, they would also be breaking the rules.

Anyway, the darkness was nearly complete. There are no street lights to speak of in Bali, except on the highway, and of course all the neighbors had their houselights off.

Now it happens that my kitchen, as with many Balinese kitchens, is outdoors in the back yard. And so as I sat with my laptop, I suddenly became aware of noises--thumpings and clangings and rattlings--from my kitchen area. The rats! Damn them! The nerve of these rats! I mean, I'm sitting right there and they have the nerve to rattle around on my kitchen counters and cupboards not four feet away from me! Dastardly! I could not see them, of course--but I sure as hell could hear them.

So, I'll be purchasing some sticky rat traps today. Hope you had a nice Nyepi day, Rodents. For some of you, it will be your last.


Good to see the world come alive again, after the silence and inaction of Nyepi Day. Regardless of our habitual complaints about noise and traffic, the total removal of sensory input is just a bit too austere. I guess I wouldn't make for much of a hermetic mystic or desert sage. I am more just a run-of-the-mill type hermit.

I remember going camping one summer and finding the campground at Trout Lake totally unoccupied. How nice! was my first thought. The entire campground, the entire lake, the entire forest as far as the eye can see was mine alone!

However, one soon begins to be aware of the pressing immensity of the world, and of how terribly infinitesimal he himself is. The wide open forest possesses nonetheless a closed, forbidding character. One's very footsteps begin to seem an invasion.

I hiked to the next lake up the hill and noted at the top of the trail a large mound of bear shit. Fresh bear shit. Wading out into the lake, beginning to fish, I spied on the shoreline, some distance away, two bears. And they spied me. How very alone I was. Without companion. Without the defense, however fanciful, of human alliance.    

So much for fishing.

There is something to be said--much to be said--for the sound of a human voice, the sight of a fellow sojourner in the world. One will notice, in any case, that the typical occupation of the man stranded on a deserted island is finding a way to get off the deserted island!

So I am glad for the world, and for the friendly faces at my coffee spot, the pleasant greetings from those I know, the two pretty women who just walked in, the people at the next table staring at their laptops just as I am doing, the buzz of the cars and motorbikes on the road, the smile of the little girl in the white hat and blue dress, the people passing in the mall on the other side of the window.

Hello again, world!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Nyepi Diary

3/17, 7:47, Nyepi Day--Well, I’ll be damned—they did turn off the internet! Not just the public internet, but dedicated internet providers as well, like Biznet, which I use in the house. Every year they threaten to do this, but these have always been empty threats in the past.

So, Quiet Day will most certainly be a quiet day. No internet, no TV shows, no social media, no WhatsApp. Nada. 

As always, I slept straight through the night (thanks to Xanax). And I awoke as always with a sense of melancholy, or of ennui. I dreamed that I had gotten Nyepi all wrong. I had apparently begun it a day early. I was out somewhere with a lot of other people and I met with a family that may have been from The Netherlands. Their precocious little girl befriended me and admired my wide brimmed, flower decorated hat. I explained that it was my wife’s hat and I had mistaken it that morning for a hat of my own.

There is often a friendly little girl in my dreams. Sometimes I know who she is, sometimes I don’t. A long time ago, I went to a ‘psychic’ (so called) and one thing he told me is that he saw a little girl who needed me, and who loved me very much. That’s about the only part of what the psychic said that I remember very well. But then again, I don’t believe in psychic powers. I do believe in a powerful sort of intuition, but not in someone who can hold some object that you own and tell your future for you.

In a certain way, silent day is lost on me, for I cannot hear the silence. What I can hear, even more acutely than usual, is the ringing in my ears. I am, therefore, especially thankful for the crowing of the roosters, and the cooing of the Bali Starlings, and the barking of the dog down the street, who has apparently not been told that this is silent day. Other than that, one hears no human noise at all, at least to this point in the morning. In the house behind mine, however, there are three small children, who will soon awake and will no doubt have something to say, regardless of whether speech is appropriate or not. Children don’t do silent day. 

2:00 pm—Wifi came back later on in the morning and has been on and off since then. Perhaps someone in the Biznet office throws the switch whenever he wants to go online. Who knows?

The big fat brown dog clearly does not know the rules of Nyepi (everyone is forbidden to go outside the house), or perhaps she does not believe they apply to her (and she is probably right). In any case, she’s just made her second trip of the day to my house looking for snacks.

So far, it has been very quiet indeed. Haven’t heard a single voice, even from children. Only the birds and the buzzing insects, and I’m sure they find this arrangement preferable. They must be thinking, “It’s a miracle! The people are gone!”

7:30 pm—Well, that went fast. Almost over. The sky appears clear, so I’ll be able to see the stars later on. Providing that I can stay awake.

Friday, March 16, 2018


The Ogoh-Ogoh figures will begin to show up today in Denpasar neighborhoods, and in villages throughout the island of Bali, in preparation for parades this evening.

The Clothing and the Man

When I get dressed in the morning, I think I have in mind achieving an end result that will look something like a male model.  It doesn't have to be a model from Vogue or GQ. Kroger's or Wallmart would both be acceptable. What I see in the mirror, however, bears little resemblance to a male model of any sort from any media. It's not that there's any problem with the clothing, for it all looks quite nice while it's on the rack or the hanger. It is the transfer of the clothing to my body that is the problem. What I see looks more like a colorful hot air balloon or a circus tent. Or Mr. Potato Head. I am thin in the legs, shoulders and arms, but "husky" in the stomach. How does one buy clothing for such a figure? Perhaps at a  maternity shop? And why don't they have maternity shops for men? It doesn't seem quite fair or equal to me. And so I hit the streets such as I am, satisfied at least with the conservative supposition that being clothed in some manner is preferable to not being clothed at all.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Cleansing

By request, my friend, Iadi, has just given me the 'Readers' Digest' explanation of Nyepi Day.

Firstly, the day before Nyepi, you have the Ogoh-Ogoh. These are hideous creatures representing all the evil that people have stored up within themselves--greed and violence and hatred and unforgiveness and so on. People, usually young men, construct representations of these demons out of lightweight wood, paper mache and such-like (as they will need to be carried by hand), and in the evening, these are paraded in communities throughout Bali (and typically on display the day after Nyepi so that tourists can shoot photos, after which time they are burned (not the tourists or the photos, but the Ogoh-Ogoh).

These are the characteristics each individual must seek to dispel from his soul, which is done through silence, meditation and prayer on Nyepi day itself. Every year, therefore, the world renews itself, overcoming evil with good.

On the day after Nyepi, there is a baptismal sort of washing at many of the temples, where people will receive a ritual bathing as a testimony to the cleansing that has occurred. It is not once for all time, as with the Christian baptism in water, but once per year every year.

So now I understand--though I will have probably forgotten again by next year. Come to think of it, maybe that's the point.

Come Rain or Shine

Generally, we do not get a consistent, relentless rain here in Bali--but yesterday was an exception. Starting at around noon and continuing straight through to some point in the wee hours of the morning, it rained, steadily, ceaselessly, Naturally, I ran out of cigarettes by evening time, thus "necessitating" a trip to the Circle K market. This meant donning my long rain smock--a fairly pointless measure, but it's the thought that counts--toweling off the saddle on my motorbike, and driving the quarter mile or so, half blind behind rain spattered lenses, over the typically flooded streets along with other rain-spattered, irritated motorists trying, often rather recklessly, to reach their own destinations as quickly as possible. It turned out that quite a few other folks had also run out of cigarettes, as the Circle K was crowded with dripping customers, sitting outside in the hope that the rain would stop. Which it did not do.

Just Like Old Times

Okay, so I know I've mentioned this before, but I'm going to mention it again, because it never ceases to amaze me, even after seven years living here in Bali.

Just about anywhere here, you can leave something on a table or in a chair and the thing you left will still be there when you get back! I noticed, for example that a woman had left her purse on a chair at the mall when I was there the other day. The purse remained on the chair during the hour or so that it took me to drink a coffee and read the book I had brought along. In America, that purse would be gone within minutes.

Similarly, after arriving at Starbucks this morning, I sat down at my usual table and then left my card along with a 100.000 Rupiah bill  on the tabletop while I went outside to smoke and chat with a friend. I worried not at all that someone would decide that the money was there for the taking (other than the barista, of course). I didn't give it a second thought, and didn't need to. Again, in America, in a crowded Starbucks, that money would be gone, and probably the card,, too.

There simply exists here among people a general agreement that one is not to take things that do not belong to him. I have written before of buying cigarettes at a Circle K store, forgetting the pack on the table when I departed for home, and then returning as much as an hour later to find the pack still there. In America, this pack would be subject to the 'finders keepers' rule. Here, it is subject to the recognition that somebody has no doubt forgotten the pack and will likely be back to pick it up.

Things used to be more like this in America, as anyone of my age will recall. School lockers, for instance, didn't used to have locks. One rarely took great pains to lock his car, except at night. One didn't even lock the doors of his house during the day. If one left his things on a table in any given establishment, it meant that he was coming back, not that they were up for grabs.

What happened to change this? I would not even venture a guess. Whatever happened, it would not seem something that can be undone. I suppose that in due time Bali will join in with the general spirit of larceny among men as cultural contracts and agreements corrode--but for the time being, it is pleasant indeed to relax in a gentler, more secure world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Coming Soon to Our Neighborhood

Hari Nyepi--the Balinese day of silence--will fall this year on the 17th of March, only a couple days away. On this day, all people must stay in their house, make as little noise as possible, and cease from using any sort of electrical device, including lights. It is meant to be a time of meditation and self-denial. The Balinese cultural police, the Pecalong, are tasked to make sure no one is breaking the rules, to which end they patrol on foot, looking for any sign of light and listening for any disturbance. The person who is found willfully transgressing the rules may actually be carted off to the Pecalong prison.

The demands of tourism have over time exerted some modifications. Foreigners in hotels, for instance, may go outside, and may even swim, sunbathe, and so on, as long as they are quiet. They may also conduct parties within the hotel itself, minus loud music, of course.

For myself, however, living in a house in a local neighborhood, silence and darkness is the rule. Which means that I will need to turn down the sound on my laptop when I watch movies, or simply wear earphones. One is not supposed to cook anything, so I will provide some ready-to-eat food for myself. Probably lots of it, and of the less than healthy sort. I'm thinking chocolate covered marshmallow cookies.

Many, if not most, of the younger people here have little use for Nyepi. It is more like the day of dread than the day of silence--because young people, you know, tend to be rather active and often quite allergic to silence. They gather with friends, they stock up on food and beer, and so on. It is a day, a tradition that will likely fade away over time, as life nowadays, even in third world countries, is all about entertainment. Every year, we hear that broadcasting channels will be closed down, internet providers will be inactive--but I have yet to see this actually happen. It's kind of like an urban myth, a scary story.

On the other hand, Nyepi has become an actual attraction for a certain segment of tourists--you know, the spiritual sort. Bali is the only place in the world, as far as I know, that has a day of silence, and so they come for the unique experience, to meditate, to seek enlightenment, and so on and so forth.  

Although I myself don't look forward to Nyepi with great anticipation, either as a participant or as a victim, I must admit that the day is not much different now from any other of my days. Nyepi or no Nyepi, I will for the most part of the day be in the house anyway, reading or writing or watching something on the laptop or, indeed, sleeping.  It will be dark of course at night, but for that, I have my candles. And the flashlight on my iPhone. And in the event that we have a clear sky at night (one can only meditate and pray), I will be able to see all the millions of stars that are generally blocked out by the light of the city!  

Windows 10 Sucks

Ever since the revival and return of my laptop, I have been occasionally seeing a message on the screen that says Windows 10 is automatically updating to the latest version ... and there's no option to cancel the update, only to hide it. Horrors! This is what crashed the laptop to begin with.

This morning, however, I believe I found a way, after much tinkering and the development of a splitting headache, to cancel the progress of the update within the system. I sure hope so, anyway. The last mess cost me three days without a laptop and 200.000 Rupiah. That's not a lot by American standards, but it's all relative, you know. Anything is 'a lot' when you're living on Social Security.

One often sees an odd cultural thing here wherein people who are providing a service, especially if they are friends or acquaintances, don't like to give you a price for the service. When the 'computer guy' -- a husband of a friend of my ex-wife's--finished the job on the laptop, I asked "How much can I pay you." So, you see, you have to pose the question in that manner to begin with, with a concentration on the notion that it is a privilege for you to pay. Nonetheless, he was noncommittal, looking away and saying "Oh, nggak apa-apa", or 'Its okay'. "Well," I followed up, "Your time is the same as money. I must pay, yes?" Still careful not to look at me, he muttered, "Oh, nanti aja ya", which means 'Later'. Good grief.

Well, with a bit more pressure, he finally managed to mutter "Dua ratus." Two-hundred thousand Rupiah. Less than 20 dollars US. But, as I say, it's 20 more than I have to burn, so I sure hope this fix endures.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sing it from the Balcony

An up and coming singing group has moved in across the street from me. Or maybe a down and going out one. There are young men and young women and at least one guitar and maybe some bongos and they gather every evening to play and they are really quite wonderfully horrible. But they have spirit. There is also a dog and the dog also pitches in when the tones become especially unbearable. They gather on the second floor of the house, which has a lovely balcony, which itself would make a perfect sort of Romeo and Juliet setting if you added a comely young maiden and subtracted the singers and the guitar. And the dog. It’s really potentially quite romantic.

The Usual Suspects

There are those who come to the local Starbucks in Renon every morning. We are part of the scenery. We are sentient members of the furniture. We each have our chosen place. We are part of the ambiance. Sometimes they give us free coffee. We are good for business. Aside from myself, there is an older man (though not older than I) who is heavyset with a red face and a gray beard and every day he listens to music or watches movies on his laptop using earbuds. I am told that he cannot hear very well and that one must practically scream in order to converse with him, but I know him to be a polite man who always offers his seat to someone else when he is about to leave, because by that time, at around noon, there are either few or no seats available. There is another man who has introduced himself to me several times now as a poet. He sees me typing on my laptop and presumes that I must also be either a novelist or a poet. Today, he showed me a picture of himself standing before a stone plaque in Paris reading the poetry etched on the plaque. Or was it a tombstone? He was very happy about this. Paris, after all, is very far away from Bali and is known as the city of light. This man always dresses completely in black and has always an open, eager, apologetic smile. On the other hand, there is a pretty woman who never smiles or speaks because she is very busy studying something on her laptop screen. She always sits in one of the smaller, uncomfortable chairs that are placed before the higher tabletops. I find her vaguely fearsome. In the afternoon, the schoolgirls come in their gray and white uniforms and sit at the long  conference table outside sipping sweet coffee inventions and smoking clove cigarettes, huddled together in their own world of delicious whispers and peals of laughter. I think that some among them may see Paris one day, while some may become silent and fearsome. Who can say? We are all permanent residents in a world of strangers. We stay while others come and go.

Various Woes

See with what large letters I have written to you in my own hand.
--Galatians 6:11

So wrote the apostle Paul, whom we assume, according to various such statements, suffered a problem with his vision. I can sympathize, for my own vision is swiftly becoming much worse, despite the purchase of new glasses perhaps 6 months ago. What you see here on the page is not as I see it when I write it, for I must use the very largest letter option and then, after writing and editing, reformat to a smaller version, such that more than one paragraph may fit on a single blog page.

In the same way, I am becoming less able to read books except for those I buy for the iPad, wherein one may tinker with the screen options and make the print very much larger. The problem is that I much prefer to read books in hard copy. I just like the feel of the pages, the intimacy of the substantial thing in ones hands, the scent of the paper, and so on. What one sees on the iPad screen has a cold and distant feeling to it.

Nonetheless, I struggle to see the print in a paper book now. I've been reading a book called Death in Babylon, Love in Istanbul, and it's a pretty good book, with some worthy, poetic prose, but I find myself increasingly reticent to even pick it up, knowing that a session of reading will likely involve frustration and a headache.

Ah, woe is me.

In the meantime, after having appeared to improve for a while, the pain in my neck, back, and shoulders is suddenly resurgent and again quite a nuisance. I can only guess that this is the result of trying to institute a program of exercise. Actually, this is not the first time I have learned the same thing. I seem to have a habit of learning things over and over again. As in the past, the expectation that I may use my muscles in the manner of an ordinary person is dashed to bits by the results of the same. This is not the pain one would expect with the exercise of muscles--a normal sort of aching or fatigue. No, this is weird, sharp, stinging, disabling pain--a neuropathic objection to the attempt to be healthy, or, in other words, free of the restrictions of MS.

So, instead of exercising, I am massaging my own neck, shoulder, and back three times a day--not an easy thing to do without assistance as, of course, one's back is positioned rather behind oneself.

The Tree

The tree in the backyard, which was but a stick four years ago, now reaches to the roof of the house behind. Now at the end of winter the tree is leafless and the bare branches stretch toward the sky in worship like a community of thin brown arms, and in the hands are budding flowers, come to welcome spring. Something will live again after all.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Return of the Laptop

Okay, we're back! Turns out we didn't have to reformat any drives, but just reinstalling Windows and getting all the programs back in shape and on the screen is a considerable task. The lesson in all this? Don't ever obey a Windows message and update Windows!

Was beginning to worry that I would have to face the dreaded Balinese day of silence, Nyepi (3/17), without my laptop! Whew. Well, technically we're not supposed to be using any sort of electricity, laptops included along with lights, appliances, air-conditioning and so on, and we must stay completely indoors. Luckily, my back yard is not visible from any other house, so I can wander around out there to my heart's desire, as long as I'm quiet. I have my supply of candles ready, and will need to buy a supply of enjoyable junk food, 'cause it'll be movie night all day long.

Of course, I had a lot of things on my laptop tailored to optimal settings, and will likely have to tinker about for a while to get it all sorted out and back to normal. But the blog is working just fine, as is the internet and Word and so on. So I'm back in business.  

Saturday, March 10, 2018


My laptop is spending a second day in the hospital, grievously injured by a Windows 10 update. Windows will need to be reinstalled, and the C drive may need to be reformatted, the latter being as yet uncertain.  As these surgeries proceed, I become distinctly aware of how much I depend upon the company of my laptop. For one thing, if I am going to type any more than a short paragraph, I prefer the use of all ten fingers over poking about with one index finger on the iPhone. And then there are the movies and the TV series. If one sits down to eat and has no motion picture to watch, what’s he supposed to do? Just sit there and eat while enjoying the less than tantalizing entertainment provided by the four bare walls? It is, of course, quite unacceptable. Thoughts and prayers to my laptop. May it soon return to my side. On the other hand, I have got a lot of reading done. Remember books?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Some Update

So, this morning when I turned on the laptop, I got a message saying I should update to the latest version of Windows 10. Well, why not? I clicked on that, and the system began a lengthy update process. After perhaps an hour, the system rebooted and showed a message reading “Windows cannot complete the update. Please restart the update.” Clicking OK, however, merely reboots the laptop and you get s message saying—guess what—“Windows cannot complete the update. Please restart the update”.  😡😡 No matter what key you hit, the system restarts and returns the same result. So yeah. My laptop has now departed with a friend of mine, who will need to reinstall windows from her office.  WTF!!! Well, lesson learned ... NEVER UPDATE WINDOWS!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Walk in the Park

I don't know if this walking program of mine is taking off any weight, but it sure is rackin' up my back. I have long had a problem with sciatica, which tends to kick in when I walk too far--such as through airports when travelling. Can't win, right? But oh well ... the sciatica is a mere nuisance compared to the relentless pain in my shoulder and neck, which seems to persist whether I walk or sit still. So, it was back to the Renon  park last night. I had to wait till after dark for the humidity to become bearable. One of the interesting things about Bali--and a thing for which I am truly grateful--is that anyone can walk about at night, even women, without fear of being bothered. And this is not due to any police presence--there is none--and it is not due to crime lighting--there is none. It is due to a cultural, societal agreement that you do not go out and bother people at night. Oh, it does happen occasionally, most often in the wee hours of the morning, and in the form of a quick crash and snatch on the road. But, of course, that's far past my bedtime.  


I had a dream last night about my stepdaughter, Jamila. I dream of her fairly often, much more often than I dream of my other kids. Strange. I wonder why this is the case. There is nothing particularly notable about the dreams. Generally they involve meeting again after this long while that I have not seen her. I reckon it must be going on ten years now. I pick her out from the midst of the other characters in the dream, whomever they might be, and I am filled with a feeling of joy at seeing her again. Often we will embrace. I am filled with a sense of amazement at the woman she has become, an adult, nearly 40 years old now.

Jamila was a special, unusually charismatic kid. I was with her, as her stepfather, from about 1991 to 2004. She was relentlessly, irrepressibly fun and seemed to make something uncommon even of the most common things—going to the grocery store, or the mall, or the park, or what have you. She was always playing—a virtual poster girl for the old expression “You play too much.” She was the sort of girl who made even waiting for the bus a fun activity. She was bright in a quick-witted way, lively, full of heart and laughter, and she was beautiful, and knew it. She enjoyed wrapping people, like me, around her little finger. She was ready to talk to anyone, relate to anyone, befriend anyone. As my uncle once said, Jamila didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘enemy’.  

Jamila was truly one of the most unusual, and one of the most pleasant people I have ever known. I miss her. I think that I never laughed so much in my life as I did with Jamila. I guess that’s why I dream about her. Of course, she was not always pleasant. She could be spoiled and headstrong, and did have a temper. As with most Aquarians, though, her temper was a brief fire that soon burned itself out. I always thought that Jamila had the bubbly, cheerful, boisterous side of her mother while Ja’nat, the older stepdaughter, ended up with the harsher, more deliberative side.

I know that I have disappointed Jamila. Of course I have. I have disappointed myself as well. I know this. But I just wish that she would know that I love her, that I cherish the memory of those days spent as her father, that I regret the events that have separated us through all these years. Whatever else I meant myself to be, I never meant to not be her father. But one cannot live more than one life at once, can he?  And daughters, and sons as well, must cease to be children.

I think, now, that I shall never see Jamila again. I think it unlikely that I will see any of my children again. Instead, therefore, I dream.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Toothless in Bali

Broke another tooth the other day. My remaining front tooth. This will likely require a new set of false teeth, unless I want to go about looking like one of the crackers in Deliverance. And I don't. 

I knew this tooth would break eventually. It had already felt thin, and fissured on the backside. I'm convinced that this brittleness of the teeth is related to MS. Some doctors say this may be, some say it is not. I do know, however, quite a number of MS sufferers who also suffer from dental problems and brittle teeth. I reckon it is all part of the universal nerve damage that is occurring. I have always taken care of my teeth in a normal way, and yet, these days, they continually break of fall out. They don't hurt or anything--they simply break. 

So it's off to the dentist again, tomorrow evening, so that she can have another chuckle at my toothless grin. 


My mind is slipping. More often than usual, anyway. I am aware of an inappropriate line of thought, but I generally try to push the awareness away. This is probably because of the Alzheimer's that runs in my family. My father's father had it, my uncle had it, and my mother had it. To be honest, I find it far more fearful than MS. 

Yesterday, I had money in my wallet, and I had one voucher (or so I believed) from Hypermart. When I bought my coffee, I put money on my Starbucks card to cover the purchase. Later on, I noted that the Hypermart voucher which I thought I had brought was not, after all, in my wallet. Here's where the mental slippage comes into play. 

Rather than concluding that I had left the voucher at home, I became instantly convinced that I had given it to the Starbucks cashier instead of money--a voucher for 100.000 Rupiah rather than a 100.000 Rupiah bill. So convinced was I of this that I went up to the cashier to ask whether I had made this error. 

The piece that is strangely out of place, or course, is that the cashier would have instantly noticed that I had handed her a Hypermart voucher rather than Rupiah. Hypermart vouchers are of use only at Hypermart and bear little physical resemblance to Rupiah.  Naturally, she would have laughed and corrected me on the spot. 

And yet it was stuck fast in my head that I had given her the voucher and that she had taken it for Rupiah. The notion that I had merely mistakenly thought I had brought the voucher never entered my mind--although, of course, this was most certainly the case. 

At the time, it seemed a perfectly sensible conclusion. That's the scary thing. And this is just one case among an increasing number of odd mental hiccoughs. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sunshine With a Chance of More

A really beautiful day here in south Bali, so far. Nary a cloud in the sky. It's looking as if the wet season is finally almost out of breath and ready to give way to the long, dry months of summer. 

Having begun my exercise regimen yesterday evening, I woke up this morning wondering whether one day might be enough. The mirror said not, however, so I will continue the walking later on today. Must have my coffee first, of course. 

It occurred to me also that coffee may be part of the problem--or rather, not coffee but coffee latte. Lot of milk in there (mostly milk, actually), and given that I'm in the habit of having two lattes every morning, yeah I suppose that could be fattening. 

So I'm considering options for places to walk. The park is nice, as I said, but one might want to mix things up a bit to avoid a sense of drudgery. Of course, the beach is always a good spot, and there are quite a number of different sections of beach to choose from, not only in Sanur, but out in Padang Galak or Biaung as well, or even up the highway at Serangan. Then again, there is always 'mall walking' to be considered--although one passes a lot of food and coffee joints in a mall, which might be too tempting. 

Then again ... I do need to do some shopping:) 

Monday, March 5, 2018


One of my dear friends at Starbucks happened to mention that I am getting a little fat. Well, he didn't say 'a little'. I added that part. But that's okay. I was beginning to suspect as much myself, and had actually begun to cogitate, albeit vaguely, on some plan of recourse. Stopping food altogether, for instance, had entered my mind. It happened then, however, that my friend's pretty girlfriend vocally agreed that I am getting fat, and I was therefore spurred to immediate action. One does not want pretty girls telling him that he is fat.

It occurred to me that I don't really eat very much in a day, and so the trouble must be lack of exercise. This in itself may be largely a result of watching too many movies and taking too many naps. 

So this evening, when the air 'cooled off' somewhat--which is to say that the sun went down, though left the fullness of humidity behind--I headed for the park, the lapangan at the center of Renon. 

The girl, of course, had suggested 'the gym'. Isn't that always just the way with women? Exercise in itself cannot possibly be sufficient. No, you must pay to use a gym, which will have equipment guaranteed to make you trim and strong; and you will probably want to hire a 'trainer', too, who will tell you, in a professional way, just how you should go about exercising. 

But no, it was the park for me, and laps around the walkway--or part of the walkway. It is a very large park, full every day of exercise enthusiasts, or of people who have been told they are fat. It makes for an interesting walk, full of scenery and boys playing soccer in the stifling heat, and baseball, and yoga and volleyball, and, most of all, walkers of every age and size. Admittedly, I was not dressed nor equipped properly. I had not the proper shoes or shorts or top or hat or utility belt or step-counter attached to my wrist. But I had a pleasant time, anyway, and managed the notoriety, at the very least, of being the slowest walker within several miles. 

I'm home now and about to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich and some cookies. Wholesome eating is important, too. Any dietitian would tell you that. 


There remained a particular point of contention through the years and the decades from the summer of 1966 to the turn of the century over whether my father had said that when we reached the fork in the trail we were to turn to the right or whether he had said to continue straight on. When I say that it was a "particular point", I mean to indicate that it was not just one point among many but that it was an eternally electrified, undiminished, hazardous point of contention, somewhat akin to the question of whether God exists or does not. 

"How does 'straight' sound like 'right' to you?" my father would demand upon the ominous reappearance of matter. "Who climbs to the top of a damn mountain before figuring out he's taken the wrong trail to a lake, for Christ's sake!" 

And off they would go. It could happen at any time. It could happen during a Sunday outing. It could happen over pancakes in the morning. It could happen on Christmas morning. Touched by a careless word, a sudden movement, the drop of a hat, the eyes of the sleeping dog would pop open, it would rear its head, curl back its lip corners, and we would find ourselves on that trail again, at the top of the mountain, assaulted by a frigid wind, hummingbirds, and a somewhat feasible cougar.

My father had risen early in the morning and set off for a particular lake, the location of which would become a particular part of the particular point of contention. My mother and I were to pack a lunch and follow along later, because, as he said, it would be warmer then, and perhaps also, as he did not say, because we would be less in his way during the time we were not present.

It was a pleasant day, in the beginning. Our little camp at the base of the mountain, which was really only a hill, albeit a rather high, expansive and redundant hill, was quiet and peaceful, bordering on a trickling little stream well populated by frogs and interesting rocks and interesting critters under the rocks. To be honest, I was happy enough just puttering around there and not in need of climbing any hill whatsoever. I don't know where my brother was. It seems strange now that he was not with us. Perhaps he had gone to a Boy Scout camp for older boys. Or perhaps he was staying with a friend back home. But boy did he miss out on a fun day, and ensuing years of debate involving the fun day. 

In any case, the arrangement had been made. We were to pack a lunch, fill our canteens with water, bring plenty of bug spray, and meet my father later at the lake. By then, the sun would be high, the fish will have stopped biting, and we could all have a good time together.

We started up the trail at an easy pace, dawdling along the way to pick salmon berries or to remove pebbles from my shoes, which seemed to have a curious habit, on every removal, of reconstituting themselves and reappearing within minutes. The day was warm, not hot. Harmless puffy clouds meandered in the blue like wandering paper boats.

After about a mile of gradual ascent, we reached the now fabled fork.

A thick tree, a bit scrubby and poor of bark below its waist—just as my father had described—stood just at this intersection, as if it had been a sentry long since placed at the junction to guard the gate between one world and another. My mother looked the tree up and down, took off her hat, wiped her brow with her wrist, and said, “We take the trail on the right.”

It was good enough for me. I certainly didn’t question the thing. I do remember noting that the trail that led straight on appeared a bit wider, more trodden, more groomed, one might say, while the one on the right sported an unruly beard of grasses at the edge along with a rather adamant chin of stone, but this seemed neither here nor there. The lake in question would be where the lake in question would be. In a land spotted with dozens of lakes, it seemed that every trail must lead to one lake or another.

And so we turned right.

Merrily along this trail we went, admiring the flowers along the way, and the birds, and the expanding view that occasionally unfolded itself in the spaces between the trees. A wind came up, impatient, moody, shoving us along, and the trees, as I noted, began to grow smaller, shorter, as if crouching to avoid knocking their heads against the flat palm of the sky. Soon, their heads did appear a bit scraped and scarred, and the trunks stumbled upward over knobs of earth that were composed more of rock than of soil.

I began to wonder what sort of lake we would find at the stony peak of a mountain. I wondered so aloud.   

“Well, he said turn to the right,” my mother declared, unshakably certain.

Right onward the breezes are blowing
The rise of the forest and wave;
And onward the great thoughts are going,
Upkindling the hearts of the brave

Or so the poet has it.

Right onward we went, not so leisurely now. We no longer looked at flowers or birds or discussed the beauty of the way. Right onward we went with our chins set now, struggling ever more steeply upward. Soil retreated step-by-step beneath an unbroken table of stone, a moon-like landscape of barren expanse, a grey reflection of the flatly stretching sky, pocked by the ragged blemishes made by the thirsty dwarf-like stumps of trees, gnarled, abbreviated arms shaking themselves pointlessly at the brutality of the wind.

That was when the first of the hummingbirds showed up.

I had never before seen hummingbirds, and I thought them at first to be some grossly mutated form of flying bug, for they buzzed like bugs, darted about like bugs, made swooping, unnerving dives at one’s head like bugs. I began to wave my hands at the things, as one would do with bees or horseflies, but the birds would just dart upward or sideways or backward in what seemed an unnatural, unworldly sort of way, and then return to hover, buzz, hum, and stare.

Hummingbirds, as I learned later in life, flap their wings at rates varying from 12 to 80 beats per second, thus producing the high frequency buzz that is audible to human ears. The birds fly at speeds of up to 84 miles per hour.

As I waved my arms, more of the birds showed up to join their fellows in what was quickly becoming a virtual storm of birds.

“There’s no lake here!” I screamed whilst whirling and swatting. “Let’s go!”

My mother took another look at the trail, at the unlikely horizon, blurred by birds, and that’s when she saw the cougar. Or what may have been a cougar. 

“What’s that?” she said, pointing.

At some distance, there was indeed something sleek, light brown color, moving about on the craggy stones. It was not large enough to be a bear. It was too large to be a weasel or a fox.

“There’s no lake here,” my mother said. She took my shoulders and turned me to the downward trail, glancing over her own shoulder. “Let’s go. Just go slow. Don’t run.”

Slowly we went, indeed—my mother stopping every ten feet or so, placing her hands on my shoulders, looking over her own. The hummingbirds buzzed. The wind whispered threats. The cougar was not there on the rocks anymore. It was everywhere.

“Listen!” my mother said. “Do you hear something?”


“No. No. That thing. That animal.”

Suddenly, she appeared to remember something. Urgently, she shrugged off her backpack, worked at the top zipper.  “There’s fried chicken in here!” she said.

“I’m not hungry. Not right now.”

“No. No. Maybe the animal smells chicken. All animals like chicken.”

I did not know this for a fact at the time, any more than I knew any of the details about hummingbirds. It did, however, seem a reasonable thought.

She took out the fried chicken, wrapped in plastic, and placed it on a rock. She left the bread, too, and the cheese, and the carrot sticks.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said. “Quick, quick. But don’t run.”

As we descended, and as the woods began to grow up again, and the cool shade began to gather beneath the boughs, and the grasses and ferns re-sprouted from the rich, dark soil of more familiar earth—and the hummingbirds left us, and the cougar seemed to stalk us no more (perhaps it was lunching on the chicken and carrots even now)—the comforting old world returned to walk with us again, full of breath and ease, warm like tepid water.

All was well again.

Until we saw my father chugging up the trail toward us, wide shoulders just parting a growth of young pine, eyes fixed, intense, startled, angry, sweat glistening at his hairline. And then, something else—when his eyes focused on our presence—something pure, unguarded, unusual; illuminated, exposed, like a cloud passing before the moon. How do I describe this? It was relief. It was gratitude. It was love. And having lived for a moment in the open air, it covered itself, for it had discovered itself to be naked, and was afraid.

He had been up and down the trail for hours, back and forth to the lake, checking the campsite, setting out again. Surely, he had lost his wife and his son. Some disaster had struck, some evil had taken them—a fall, a wild animal, the wide and wild forest itself.

I put myself, now, in my father’s position. I replay the moment. I imagine myself running open-armed to my family. I imagine hugging them, weeping with joy, thanking God.

What my father did, when he found his voice, was different than what I imagine for myself. And perhaps the difference I imagine for myself is founded in what my father did.

“God dammit!” he said. “Where the hell have you been!”

And thus we return to the beginning. The particular point of contention. The difference between ‘straight’ and ‘right’. The difference between a trail to a lake and a trail to nowhere. The possibility of cougars. A recurrent buzzing throughout the years and to my parents’ demise. I alone remain, and I have no memory of whether my father said ‘straight’ or ‘right’. I’m sure he said the right thing, and I’m sure my mother thought she was doing the right thing. There is no debate about that. Not in my mind.

What I do remember, at last, is this:

Night having fallen. Silence. A low fire crackling. An unbroken conversation of crickets. My mother pouring hot water from a bucket on the fire into the dishpan and sending me to the stream for more water. Seeing my father as I approached the fern mantled bank, and my father just sitting on his haunches, staring at the water, a fish in his hand, the rest on a doubled page of newspaper, speckled sides glimmering in the thin light of his lantern. I stepped down to the water. The bottom of the bucket clanked  hollowly on a rock, startling my father for a moment, such that he reached out, at first by reflex, and then, seeing me—fully seeing me—with intention. His hand came to rest on my shoulder. This was to be one of our longest conversations, from that moment and to the end of his time, composed of words not said, things not expressed. Composed of a hand that lingered on my shoulder, the blue of his eyes, the adamant line of his lips, the lively play of the lamplight on the silvery flank of the fish in his other hand, the soothing music of hundreds of invisible crickets, the sound of my mother washing dishes by the fire.

“Richard,” he said. He squeezed my shoulder, smiled slightly, hesitant, unsure. He had something to say but could not say it. And that particular silence, that particular concession to what he would not profess, taught me something about love that day. It taught me that love is almost the same as fear. It is almost the same as sorrow. It is that which tends relentlessly toward the unbearable.

“Richard,” my father said again, letting his hand slide away. “Take your bucket upstream. I’m cleaning the fish right here.”