Thursday, January 31, 2019


It was mid October and the skies in Winnipeg were threatening snow. The man spent most of his time in his room at the Hilton. He was hoping that it would not snow because he had a flight back home n a couple of days. The trip had been unwise to begin with. He knew that. He admitted that to himself. But now he was here and he spent most of the time in his room drinking from the fifth of bourbon he had brought along, hoping that the woman would show up and collect the things he had brought. They were her things, after all.  Some blouses, some pants, some bras, some panties. One would want these things, he figured. They were personal things. They were useful things, although they were certainly of no use to him and should not be in his closet back  home. It was for this reason that he had purchased a ticket and taken the flight to Winnipeg. 

I won't see you, she said. 

That's all right. They're your things. You will want them. 

This was something he was doing from the kindness of his heart. He was returning her property. He had gone to a lot of trouble for her. He was being considerate. Magnanimous. He was a good person. That is what he wanted her to know. 

I don't need them, she said. I don't want them. Don't waste your money.

The things were in a large suitcase under a little desk and a bottle of bourbon and one glass were on top of the desk. The room was full of smoke. It was a smoking room. The windows were dotted grayly with endless drops of rain, blandly facing the industrial buildings to the south. It did not seem any longer an interesting, multi-cultural city of quaint restaurants and cafes and coffee spots where people would talk and laugh and touch and later come home to make love and speak of the future. It was grey and wet and cold and tired and droopy. It was a hopeless place. 

In the evening, the man went down to the pool on the lower level of the hotel. First he ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. He was the only one there. Then he went down to the pool, and he was the only one there, too. 

It seemed somehow improper to get into the pool. It was a very large pool in a very large, very quiet space, the water perfectly placid and unbothered. Parting that water, splashing, making waves seemed a trespass. Every sound echoed back from the far four walls and the man felt like a castaway in the middle of the sea. All he could hear was his own motion, his own breathing. He was amplified a thousand times over, very small and very significant at the same time.

The pool had been a bad idea. Everything had been a bad idea. 

I'll just have a vacation then, the man had said. Tour the city. Just me and Winnipeg. I feel I've never really seen it before, never really explored all the possibilities. Just pretend I'm not here. You can pick up your things from the hotel desk at your convenience. Take your time. It means nothing to me. I'm just here to do you a favor. That's just the kind of person I am. 

Back in his room, the man poured another drink and lit another cigarette. He opened his laptop and looked for someone to talk to. Everyone was far away. The woman had sent an email. He clicked on the message. Somewhere in the endless unpopulated sea a voice had sounded. 

My friend will pick up my things, the message read. 10 am tomorrow morning. Please meet him in the lobby. 

That was all. Of course it was. 

Please meet him in the lobby. 

The man closed the laptop and went to bed. He slept a little. Woke up. Turned on the lights to stop the spinning. Slept some more. At 9 the next morning he left the suitcase with the blouses and pants and bras and panties at the hotel desk and drove his rental car to the city center. He tried to find something to do. He looked for the Winnipeg he had come to see. The Winnipeg he had never seen before. He was just a man coming to see Winnipeg. He bought a bouquet of flowers. Wrote a note that said Sorry. Wish we could have talked. Love you. Sent the flowers to her work address. 

Back in his room, he found the suitcase sitting just within. It confused him for a moment, for he had taken it to the lobby, and now it was here. He opened the case and found it empty but for a small card in a red envelop. The card had a bear cub on the front holding a red balloon. In the back of his mind, the man tried to think of whose birthday this was. 

You may not believe it, the woman had written on the inside. but I will always be praying for you. 

The man threw the card aside. Then he picked it up and read it again. He read it again and again. They were 13 words that both had no meaning and meant everything. 

For the first time, in Winnipeg, the man began to cry.

In the afternoon, the snow finally began to fall. Frozen, grainy  little specks that played on the oval-shaped windows of the plane like snow on a TV screen. Poor reception. 

He could see almost nothing of Winnipeg by the time the plan left the airfield and headed south toward home.

(A friend sent this link to a song about Winnipeg, called "One Great City", which I had never heard. Thanks, Chris.

Safe House

Driven by the rain last night and this morning, the little black dog threw caution to the wind and finally decided to enter the house. Still doesn't want me to talk to him or touch him. Just wants to lie on the little mat by the door. I won't bother you if you don't bother me seems to be the rule.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Driveway Dog

The little black dog in the cage next door has now become a bigger black dog, bigger than his cage, and has also finally found a way to escape from the front gate to his driveway. Essentially, he is living in my driveway now, where he can come and go as he pleases, although he does not, so far, please to come into my house. He remains too shy or fearful to interact with me, and it may also be that the big fat brown dog has given him to understand that he is not allowed in the house (not my decision, but hers). The black dog sleeps under my window at night, or in the alcove at the side of the house. No wonder his howling seemed so loud when it rained or thundered at night. He's right under my window! The brown dog seems to like him well enough, which is rare for her. Whenever she leaves the house, the black dog leaves with her. Nice to see him getting some exercise and making some acquaintances after a young life trapped 24/7 in a cage. The  other little dog who used to be in its own cage next door has altogether disappeared. RIP.

Trump the Movie Fan

Y’all may have heard some strange and fearsome stories from Donald recently—horror stories of the southern border where women are forced into cars, their mouths taped, carried away for human trafficking; about souped up Mexican super cars that are much faster than anything the border patrol can field; and, yes, about prayer rugs left in the desert. The border patrol was alarmed at these reports and tried to find where Trump had heard them, what evidence there might be. They could find none. But you know what? All these things did happen. They happened in a recent Hollywood action thriller called Sicario. That’s right, folks. Trump has watched a fiction story, decided it was real, and is reporting it as such. Unhinged doesn’t even begin to describe the mental state of the man.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Trials and Tribulations

After 50 minutes of waiting, fifty minutes of listening to elevator music that was turned to random squeaks and screeches by the thousands of miles between Bali and wherever SSA is located in America, I finally got a rep on the phone, who told me that, despite the information on their website as well as that offered in an earlier email, my Medicare card was not sent out two months prior to my birthday, but on the 25th of January, two days after my birthday. No wonder I haven't received it!

So it may show up within ten days. Keeping my fingers crossed. 

As I've said, these things kind of irritate me and I get fixated on them. I like to have everything in place, everything running smoothly. Which is something that rarely happens, I suppose. Somehow, I've lived 65 years without facing the fact that things rarely run smoothly. And now, as with every year, I am facing the annual renewal of my residence permit in Indonesia--an irritating process fraught with glitches, delays, inconvenient appointments and such like. 

In the meantime, like a hibernating bear, I seem to have put on a  lot of weight during the rainy season here. This struck me as the case this morning when I was unable to button my pants. For a while, I had been good about taking two walks a day and staying off the pastries and other sweets. With the combination of rain and suffocating humidity, however, I have fallen out of this habit. When one is stuck in the house, it seems there is not much to do but eat. Nonetheless, I will have to force myself back into shape, or some semblance of shape, before I find myself unable to button any pair of pants.

Perhaps I will need to take it easy on the lattes, too. Big day at Starbucks today, by the way. There's a deal on the phone server--2 for 1--which has drawn perhaps three times as many people as the Renon Starbucks generally sees. Indonesians are the most enthusiastic bargain hunters in the world, dashing from one bargain to another. Why pay full price, right? And why buy one when you can bring of friend and get two (or like me, be your own friend and get two). Tomorrow it will be 'buy one chicken katsu and get one free' at the restaurant down the way, or what have you. Indonesians and drawn to a bargain like bees to flowers. They have no allegiance to any one establishment. They go where the deal is on. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

On Hold

Sitting here on hold with Social Security--almost midnight, way past my bedtime. Been on hold for 42 minutes so far. All I want to know is why I didn't receive my Medicare card, which, according to their website information, I should have had a couple months before my birthday, given that I have been receiving Social Security benefits since age 62 and a card should have automatically been sent. Perhaps it was sent. To the wrong address. Who knows?  The matter is apparently of such a top secret nature that they cannot answer my question by email. So here I am. It is nice to know that they regret that I have waited so long, which I have heard at least 20 times over the past 42 minutes. Well, 45 now. Given that I can't use Medicare in Indonesia anyway, I don't know why I'm putting myself through this. Fixated, I guess. I get that way. Maybe it's old age. Nah. I've always been this way. Things that aren't in order bug me.  

The Fourth Monkey

Just finished The Fourth Monkey, by J.D. Barker, thanks to a conveniently protracted rain and wind storm. This was a rather long (500+ pages) and unimportant yet nonetheless entertaining novel in the detective/thriller genre, with nothing edifying or mind-expanding to offer, just straight thriller fare, but well done as far as that goes. 

The monkeys of the title allude to the well known three monkeys--see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil--with a fourth added, do no evil. A twisted serial killer makes the fabled monkeys his signature--kidnapping a victim and then, over the space of a week or so, removing one ear, both eyes, and the tongue, and sending these to his real target, a corrupt, lawless family member. In this way, the killer exacts a greater punishment than death on the wrongdoer--he or she who has done evil. Which is certainly bad news for the otherwise innocent victim.

Intrepid Detective Porter and his team race to solve the case, identify the killer, and find his latest captive before it is too late. Along the way, there are some truly grotesque scenes and situations, and Barker paces the book nicely, despite its length. 

No doubt, this would make for a good movie of the week on TV. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Eff-ing America

Some years ago--about 7 years, actually--I met an outraged expatriate drunk in a local bar. He entered the bar shouting "Fucking America!" and "Fucking John McCain". 

The man was an American, from the State of Hawaii, which, as he later explained to me, was not part of America at all. News to me. But then, most of what this man said was news to me. The parts that could be translated into meaningful English, that is. He was quite drunk, really--about 5 or 6 too many drunk--and for some reason, he picked me out among the crowd in the little bar to be the beneficiary of his philosophy of general outrage. I never did quite understand what the problem with John McCain was. The man said that he had been trying to chase McCain down for years; and although I told him I knew where he could probably find McCain--that is, in the Senate Chambers of Washington DC--this information appeared not to satisfy the man. He was trying to catch up with him, he said. He wasn't trying to actually find him. 

Later on, the man calmed down, hovering in fumes just above the rim of consciousness, and talked about love instead--his love of a Balinese woman, who had also joined us in the bar, more or less, and of how when she was done with him, she would surely eat him. It's what these women do, he explained. I wrote a story about this at the time, and called the story--you guessed it--Fucking America

This all kind of popped back into my head the other day--who knows why? At the time, I thought it was kind of funny. This angry, outraged man seemed extravagant, odd, unusually disturbed. It strikes me now, though, that we see this sort of outrage commonly at work in America, in violent confrontations, in chanting mobs, Trump campaign rallies, shouts of 'Lock her up" and 'Lock him up'. Chasing fucking John McCain, but never catching up. Every day new fuel is heaped on the fire and many of us over-consume. We take to social media to vent, are attacked by perfect strangers and old friends alike, and we sharpen our own  barbs, harden our own hearts, prepare for apocalyptic battle. 

When the zombie outbreak occurs, it starts in a small way. At first, there are only isolated cases, odd, abnormal. But the infection spreads quickly, bite by bite, and soon has overtaken the old order. The zombies are become not the exception but the rule. And you cannot reason with zombies. You just simply cannot. 

Perhaps in the end, hovering just above the rim of consciousness, we will speak of love. And who knows? Perhaps that love will consume us.  

Still Out

Day 3 without internet in the house. Yikes. And seeing as how this is Sunday, they will not likely be trying to solve the problem today. 

Wondering what I used to do before the advent of internet. Hmm. I  suppose I watched TV some of the time. I don't have a TV now, however. Nor do I have a DVD player in my laptop--so that means no movies either. I suppose that I spent most of my time working, as an adult, and most of my time playing outside as a child. 

Of course, when I first came to Bali, internet service was pretty primitive, like dial-up, and you had to go to a spot that had wifi and actually pay to use the wifi. I guess in those days I did a lot more playing outside, too. 

Although the internet is now much faster here than it was eight years ago, and service in restaurants and cafes is common and free, many of the people don't have personal access except on their phones, and then only if they have paid the phone plan. In private homes, wifi is still fairly rare. For this reason, the popular games here are the phone games, because most people don't have a laptop or desktop capable of playing the current games that Americans play, for instance, nor is the internet fast enough or reliable enough to play these games. And this is the main reason that my stepson, Sasha, is much, much happier in America!  

Friday, January 25, 2019

Rainy Weather

Very windy and rainy these days. Stuck in the house most of the day yesterday along with the big fat brown dog, who had taken shelter there, and, really, kind of overstayed her welcome, although she doesn't see it that way. Wifi has been out since yesterday evening, the system, apparently, unable to withstand the wind, or the rain. A second section of the four-section roof to the carport is coming off, flapping and clashing in the wind. The first section had come off perhaps a year ago, about which I informed the landlord at the time. The section is still leaning up the side of the house. I mentioned it to him again when I last saw him, a couple of weeks ago, and he agreed that he would have to fix that. Someday. Now he'll have to fix two. I'm at Starbucks now in order to use the internet, and this will likely be the case for some time to come. Unless they lose their service too. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Simple Truth

Strange times in America, strange happenings afoot. A populace ready to be offended, each member in his chosen way, viciously exuberant, stupendously extreme. The smaller events of everyday life are swallowed up in grandiose interpretation. What happens is no longer what happened but the thousand happenings it has been made to be, fueled by hate, fueled by fear, fueled by prejudice, fueled by slogan, broadcast by the minute and hour on social media. The immature actions typical of overactive adolescent boys are lit with the tinder of more flammable stuff and made to a blaze more suitable to grown-up infernos. In our quickly dimming past, shame and correction would have been sufficient. Now we teach our young that they are always right, and should be prepared to lie to prove it. We've replaced "Johnny, you've been a bad boy" with "Don't worry, we'll tell you what to say". It is all about being right--and what does being right have to do with the simple truth?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Well. Happy Birthday to me. Sixty-five. Seems like a significant number, though not in a good way. And so far there's been nothing significant about the day, other than getting a free coffee at Starbucks. (They actually knew it was my birthday before I did. I had forgotten). 

Upon entering the parking lot, I met an Australian fellow. Very talkative bloke. He has been here off and on over the past decade, yet, as with many foreigners, he seems to have a generally negative view of Indonesia and Indonesians. Weird. One wonders why these people come here. Then again, maybe he has a negative view of Australia, too. But anyway, we talked for a while over a coffee, and our talk ended up giving me a considerable headache. This is a weird development with me over the past couple years (which I may as well blame on MS). It seems that the effort required for listening and speaking--conversing--overheats my brain or something. In a way, it is all so predictable, you know? The chit-chat, the usual complaints and observations, the necessary platitudes. Which is not to say this is the man's fault. It is the fault of my weary brain. And I realize just this moment that I may be staying around home more often these days not only because of the spirit dampening effect of physical pain but because of the stress of social interaction. I wish it weren't so, but I must admit to feeling less and less inclined to engage. 

Well … maybe it's just the rainy weather. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

MS Research

Here's a very interesting article on recent MS research shared by a reader. Just copy the link into your browser. 

Belly Buttons

I posted this little comic on my Facebook page the other day. It's just a silly sort of riddle, really. It's the song that has no end (or beginning?). It's kind of like the chicken and the egg riddle, or the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. It's a matter of infinite regress leading to the question of first cause--as old as Aristotle and Aquinas. 

What's surprising is the number of comments the comic drew. People are inclined to answer the question according to their own core beliefs, whether they be religious, or evolutionist, or scientific and so on. And you might be amazed to see the wealth of literature available online devoted to the riddle. Of course none of the answers stands very well, because there really is no answer available to us. One fellow confidently answered that Adam and Eve must have had navels because the apes they came from had navels. But then, how did the first ape come by his or her navel?  Would the first aardvark, arising from the primordial soup, have had a navel? If so, he could not have been the first aardvark, right? The chicken comes to existence by hatching from the egg and the egg first comes from the chicken in order that the chicken may hatch from the egg. Lol. 

I guess the best response is to shake your head, laugh, and say "Wow, that's weird!" 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Yes, Virginia, Other Countries Pardon Thieves, Traitors and Murderers, Too

Yesterday, it was announced that Indonesia's President, Joko Widodo, would pardon convicted terrorist, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, six years before the end of his prison term. This is the man who ordered the Bali bombing of 2002, which killed 202 people and injured an additional 209. Jokowi (as the President is otherwise known) cited Ba'asyir's advanced age and ill health as justification for the pardon. 

I personally doubt whether this justification flies with those who lost loved ones in the bombing or with those who are still suffering from permanent physical and psychological injuries. I know some of these people and know them to be permanently traumatized. Moreover, As'yir continues to show no remorse for the attack and continues to refuse to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian government ideal of Pancasila--tolerance for all peoples and religions. 

So what's the deal? 

Well, it just so happens that Indonesia is days away from a national election, and in a national election, you want to please as many people as possible, whether they be Islamic extremists in Indonesia or white supremacists in America. Very good people on both sides. Given that Jokowi has been somewhat of a westward leaning progressive, while Prabowo is more the 'redneck' representative, I suppose that this pardon is meant to show that he, too, can be on the side of Jihad if you just give him a chance. 

Politics is a fairly nauseating business throughout the world, ain't it? 


As my 65th birthday approaches, two days from now, I am disappointed to have not received a Medicare card in the mail. I had written to SSA some months ago to be clear on this matter and was told that since I am already receiving Social Security benefits (since age 62), I would automatically be enrolled in Medicare and receive a card 'about two months before my 65th birthday'. Rats. In the interim, I have written twice more to SSA and received no answer. So it appears that I will need to make a call to them, which is a real pain in the ass, given the less than stable telephone system in Indonesia as well as the long distance charges and the likely scenario of being put on hold while elevator music plays from the other end. I mean, I can't use Medicare here anyway, but I had hoped to have the card in my back pocket in case of sudden emergency. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019


I read in this morning's Jakarta Post of a new bylaw that will require tourists to Bali to pay a $10  levy to help clean up the plastic waste that besieges the island's waters. 

Well … 

You know, it is my understanding that this has not been a problem so much associated with tourism as with longstanding practices in the local culture. By and large, environmental concerns, along with the legislation of laws and effective environmental education have significantly altered behavior in developed countries. Moreover, the anti-plastic measures over recent years have really been driven by outside sources, have they not? 

But at any rate, whatever. Nothing wrong with giving a little extra for a good cause. 

Strangely, I read this day as well a brief article in Kompas concerning the death of a Jakarta worker who fell into a plastic milling machine. It seems that one man works from a platform at the top of the machine, feeding the plastic in, while another deals with it at the bottom as it comes out the other end. The man at the bottom reported noticing a lot of blood mixed in with the plastic waste, and at that time realized that something had gone amiss. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Other Side

I remember having a dream a long time ago about my second wife. We had not yet married then. We had only just met, but I was falling in love with her. In the dream, we were in a crowd of people in a harbor area where cruise ships came to dock. We saw each other amid the crowd of people and we both exclaimed "Hey!" at the same time, rushing forward to embrace. 

Where are you? Where have you gone?

I've had this feeling about many people. It's a wonderful feeling, pure, full of joy, kinship, a synchrony of love. No one ever disappears. They are in the crowd somewhere. They are waiting in your heart. 

Often enough, I have dreamed of my brother. He will suddenly appear, just there. And my heart will leap. Every time. 

What are you doing here? Where have you been. I thought you had died. 

And every time, he will say, Do I look dead to you?

I'm reminded of the final scene in the Terrence Malick film, The Tree of Life. In that scene, everyone has moved on to the next life. They are all walking on the wet sand of a wide open beach, meeting one another again and again--father, mother, brother, sister, beloved--reaching out, smiling, embracing with unutterable joy, relief, rest, peace, like an exhalation as wide as the unseen sea. Exclaiming at the same time, "Hey!"

My God, here you are after all. I had almost believed you were lost forever despite your presence being forever with me.  

I dreamed of my brother on the very night of his death. He was swimming with dolphins in an ocean bay. His hair was thick and red again. His muscled shoulders with their galaxies of freckles glistened among the sleek bodies of the dolphins and the white caps of the waves. 

Gary! Gary! My God, you're alive! Everyone told me you were dead.

And he looked at me with his blue eyes, and laughed, and shook his red hair, his face full of astonishment at such an absurdity. 

And he said, Do I look dead to you?

Reading Glasses

I have long enjoyed reading the newspaper nearly every morning, enjoying a coffee and a smoke at the same time. Typically, nowadays, I will read the Jakarta Post and Kompas. I'm not saying that I read every little thing in the papers. There are subjects which really just aren't interesting to me. Like the sports news, for instance. But I read the parts that stand out for me--politics, international news, crime reports, movie reviews, social commentary and such-like. 

Of late, however, I have noted that I can no longer see the damn newsprint, often enough stopping at the headline because the smaller print is just too challenging and I end up getting ink smudges on my nose. 

So today I said 'Enough is enough', and went upstairs to the spectacle outlet at Plaza Renon. 

"I'm looking for reading glasse," I proclaimed. "Ada?"

"Oh, yes!" 

By 'Oh yes', they meant to say that they wanted me to step into the back room, have an eye examination, and get prescription glasses. 

"No, no--I can see all right with the glasses I have--the ones on my face. I'm talking about reading glasses. Magnifying glasses. Ada?"


"Oh. Iii … yaa." 

The two employees escort me to an obscure glass case containing  reading glasses. 

"The highest magnification you have," I suggest. 

"Gitu," the woman answers, squinting in sympathy. "How old are you?" 



"Sudah tua, ya."



"Really, I'm sixty-four," I amend. "I'm not really sixty-five." 

This earns a brief noncommittal stare. As if I had made a random comment about the difference between an inch and an inch worm.

"Try these," the woman says. "It's the highest number we have."

Well, the good news is that these rather flimsy little glasses did indeed make a decided improvement in my ability to see the newsprint. It is still necessary to hold the paper rather close to my nose, but at least the print doesn't go scurrying off the page like armies of ants. As long as you focus on what you're reading and avoid looking up, you're fine. If you look up, you can't see a damn thing. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

"Leaving Away"

Earlier today, a woman in America with whom I am only vaguely acquainted, an Indonesian immigrant to that country, took the trouble to contact me via social media in order to inform me that since I  have been outside the country for some years (or, as she put it, "leaving away", by which I assume she meant 'living away'), I have forfeited the right to comment on current American politics, or, most specifically, on Donald Trump. Mind you, I am a natural citizen of America, born there when Eisenhower was president, lived there for 58 years, which is considerably longer than she has been alive anywhere in the world; nonetheless, it is clear to her that I "don't know what's going on". Strange, if that be the case, that my viewpoint is more in line than is hers with the viewpoint of the majority of Americans, which itself would seem to suggest that it is actually she who does not know what is going on. There's a special sort of irony in this, I reckon--for I would say that among the non-American expatriates I know here in Bali, most seem to know more about American history and American politics than the run-of-the-mill bonafide American knows. I guess that this comes from something called "reading", along with its close companion, known as "comprehension". 

What's It About?

I happened to mention seeing the movie Green Book to an Indonesian friend the other day. He asked me to tell him what it was about, and that's where the confusion began. From the beginning, that is. 

It is difficult for Indonesians to get a grip on the idea of bigotry, and of course one cannot begin to talk about this movie without trying to set the stage on which the story transpires. How to explain that there was a time, and not so very long ago at that, when black people could not eat in the same restaurant with whites, when black people could not stay in the same hotels or motels as whites, when black people could not even use the same restroom with whites? 

In fact, the exercise of trying to explain this brings with it the unexpected benefit of sharpening one's own appreciation of how very absurd, and how very evil these laws and conventions were. It turns out that we cannot explain it. We cannot answer the question "Why?". We can only acknowledge the shame. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Alien

As I sat at my usual coffee spot yesterday evening, I became unusually aware of being an outsider on a number of levels. Generally speaking, this is not the sort of thing I would commonly notice or think of in quite this way, as I have always tended to be a loner in any case. Were I in America among Americans, I would still mostly likely be sitting alone at my table, but this would be as a matter of intention, of choice on my part rather than something outside the purview of choice. In other words, it would have been my goal to be alone so that I could fully devote myself to whatever activity I had in mind--writing in this blog, for instance, or reading a book--although other options, theoretically, would have remained available in some degree. 

Here and now, however, I find a number of essential distinctions which render both the matter of choice more obscure and the matter of separateness more acute. Uncustomary levels of alienation pertain which are uniquely beyond my control. First is the issue of language. Accessibility to the world on the most basic level is no longer a matter of choice but of language. Just as one may listen to a dog barking or a cat meowing or a bird chirping and know that the creature is either happy or frightened or angry, one may perceive in a very elementary way the tone or character of this or that social exchange or group dynamic. One may perceive as well through physical cues, just as with the dogs, cats or birds, whether he is observing a close knit group of familiar friends or a more formal, less intimate congress. Beyond this vague and rudimentary perception, however, the outsider remains for all practical purposes wholly on the outside. It will not do for him to bark, meow, or chirp as an avenue of entry to any conversation, either of men or beasts, lest both man and beast think him insane. 

Language is the key. And it unlocks the only door in the whole damn house. 

Now, my aptitude for Indonesian is such that unless a person is speaking directly to me, what I hear from folks sitting at nearby tables is generally not much more meaningful than a buzz. (Whereas we had before the dog, cat, and bird, now we have a swarm of bees). Through a combination of concentration and desire, I would, in the English language, be able to follow nearby conversations, to take part, at least privately, and perhaps even make use of a point of entry, to intrude myself, as it were, by way of a particular and convenient avenue of comprehension and connectivity. It would not be likely, but it would nonetheless be possible. Moreover, language, or the absence of language, cuts both ways--for the Indonesian, who either does not speak English or does not speak it very well, must experience little inclination to converse in a limited, non-customary tongue. 

So yeah, we begin with the issue of language. Now we move on to the issue of color, or type, or ethnicity--whatever you want to call it. I am aware, though not uncomfortably so, of being the one white person sitting in a sea of brown people. I'm used to it, so much so after eight years that I'm only vaguely aware of it. In fact, I'd likely be more aware of another white person in the mix and likely think him strange and 'foreign'. The local people are aware of this too, and, in a way, even more so--for here is someone in their midst who does not fit, who sticks out like a sore thumb, who is an outsider, who is not 'one of them'. This is a dynamic rather more pronounced in Asia than in America, for in America we have a society composed of every color and there's nothing unusual about seeing a person of one or another color, nor would we think one or another person to be a foreigner based on color. I'm not saying that there is any value judgement based on color in Indonesia. That sort of prejudice, sadly, is the more common property of America. I'm just saying that here, if you are white, you are a foreigner. It's pretty much as simple as that. Here, therefore, is another level of separation. 

Which brings us to culture, frame of reference, the parameters of familiarity as opposed to foreignness. One is fluent, adept, able in his or her own sphere. We seek the solid ground of what is "like" and tend to stand away from uncertain terrain of what is "unlike".  Not only is the stranger alone and outside the group, but because he is alone and outside the group, he is a stranger. He is in any case not Indonesian, not Balinese, and not very likely Hindu. He is an alien--not the extravagant sort that comes from outer space, but just the common garden variety sort that has come for some inexplicable and equally uninteresting reason from somewhere else.

Language. Type. Culture. 

And, lastly, age. 

This popular, crowded coffee spot is frequented, especially in the evening, almost exclusively by young folks, men and women in their 20's and 30's. And one 65 year old man. Now there is a divide that trumps language, color and culture put together! Other gaps, though wide, may be bridged by the energetic, or perhaps by physical attraction, or both. But age? My goodness, now there is a chasm indeed! For the old man, in this venue, is just and only that. He is old. He is pointless. He is irrelevant. There is no society in the world that has not, regardless of all else, reserved a lonely table for him. 

Or as Hemingway put it in his story, A Clean Well Lighted Place: "Our nada who is in nada, nada be thy name …" 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Green Book

Earlier this evening, I started to write something about the movie Green Book, but after about two hours of tapping away, the three paragraphs I had written made little sense, and the parts that did make sense were merely boring. My brain is currently in hibernation. Loquacity will have to be put on hold. Or rather, it has put itself on hold, like it or not. 

So I will say this: Green Book is a damn good movie. It is about racism and the only cure for racism, which is relationship. It is about the cages that we find ourselves in, fashioned partly by society and partly by our own tacit agreement to that which society has fashioned. The movie is profound, funny, and heartbreaking. I recommend it. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Then And Now

Occasionally, I will be directed back to one thing or another that I wrote here in the distant past. Usually this will happen when I see that one or another anonymous visitor to the blog has been looking at multiple entries. This in turn will pique my interest and I will take a look at what has been of interest to the reader. 

This leads to a number of curious discoveries. The first is that I will most often have no recollection of writing the pieces in question. The second is that they will seem rather more well written and more intellectually energetic than most of what I write nowadays. The third is that in many if not most cases the feelings and ideas expressed seem distinctly at variance with the feelings and ideas I have in the present time--or perhaps variance is the wrong word, perhaps self-assured would be more accurate. The person who wrote these things, the me of some 10 and 12 years ago, seems much more willing to engage, to interpret, analyze and conclude, whereas what I do know now is that I don't know, or, as Plato put it, I know that I know nothing.

I note also a lively interaction with peripheral material, a mustering of pertinent sources and elements, an ability to organize, which has now altogether flown from my mind's fingers, God rest its soul--although, to some extent, this is a measure of my present inability to comfortably read without getting a headache. It's difficult to effectively bring ideas together when they keep falling off the page, or rather the screen. 

I note that I was younger. I note that I was healthy. I note that I was able.

The years that separate us from our own past often end up making an odd duck of what once seemed to be of both immediate and lasting importance. We find, looking back, that the rug had somewhere along the way been pulled out from under us. What seemed to be of lasting importance was really only of situational and temporary significance. 

It strikes me, lastly, that it may be that there are some things--some beliefs, ideas, dispositions--that have simply become comfortable and secure and require no further inner debate. My first reader, after all, has always been me, and there are some things about which I no longer require convincing.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Treatment Results

As I come to the completion of about two months of cancer cream (Efudix) use, I arrive with good news and bad news. and the two are the reverse of what I thought they would be. I've been using the cream on my ear and on my right cheek. I did not expect the cream to make any considerable difference where my ear is concerned because the cancer in the ear is in the form of tumors within the structure of the ear, beneath the skin. I am surprised to find, however, that the size of the tumors has been significantly decreased as has pain associated with the tumors. On the other hand, the blotch on my face, which is wholly on the surface, looks worse than before I began to use the cream. Of course, that may be normal, as both healthy skin and cancerous skin are affected by the treatment. So, I'm off the treatment now and shall see what happens. I'm hoping that the blotchy facial redness will face and I am hoping that the reduction of the ear tumors will be longstanding. Fingers crossed. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody

I wasn't particularly aware of Freddie Mercury and Queen at the height of their popularity. It was a period of time during which I was listening mostly to Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Dixieland Jazz, and the early Sinatra. This was because I was writing a novel set during World War II and the period just afterward and I was seeking to sort of immerse myself in that atmosphere. The novel ultimately enjoyed the grand distinction of almost being published, whereas Freddy and Queen became undying legends of rock music. Honestly, as far as I can recall, the first time I heard Queen was when I watched the comic rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie Wayne's World.  

I was interested, therefore, in learning something about the man and the phenomenon in the recent film called Bohemian Rhapsody, winner of the Golden Globe Award for best picture of the year. 

Unfortunately, the film has very little to tell us about what made the man tick. It has very little of substance or illumination to offer about his deeper struggles, his inner person, his road to his own fate. It is really not much more than a long rock concert interrupted by obligatory scenes depicting rockers being rockers in the usual rocker way. Compare this with The Doors, the 1991 Oliver Stone film about that group, and the difference is clear. The Doors was an engaging, thoughtful examination of the man, Jim Morrison, the times, the culture, the forces that drove people and events. We felt, through Stone's direction of the story, that we had been, in some measure, on the inside. Bohemian Rhapsody leaves us faceless and basically clueless amid the anonymous sea of Queen fans. It does not move the viewer from mere observer to a more sympathetic participant. It provides no doors of entry to the rhapsody.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Indonesian Wall

I'm always shocked to find how anti-immigration the immigrants I know back home tend to be. On the surface, it doesn't seem to make sense, for they themselves were once foreigners with a dream of entering America. I'm speaking here specifically of the Indonesian community in the Pacific Northwest, and when I say "immigrants", I mean to indicate people who have recently come to the US and become citizens. Otherwise, we are all immigrants, aren't we? Some of us were simply, and through no effort of our own, born natural citizens. 

So there was a big argument on Facebook this morning among these folks and the outsiders, whom, ironically, are for the most part natural citizens. The vitriol, the lack of charity was alarming to me, and sad. Why do they seek to deny others what they themselves have attained?  How is it that they end up parroting Donald Trump, who could not care less about them or any other minority group? Or is there some problem that they have, and would have no matter where they were, with Mexicans and South Americans? 


I asked one of my Indonesian friends about this not so long ago--an Indonesian man who had become an American citizen as well as a liberal politically. Well, liberal compared to the extreme character of the Republican party at present. His guess was that the idea of other 'foreigners' becoming citizens somehow threatened to reduce their own status as citizens. It would make them less 'special' if just anyone and everyone could do it. A 'status thing', he said. Indonesians (or some Indonesians) like to 'lord it over' people, he explained. One might say that they want a wall between them and these others. 

And, to be honest, I sometimes see this pattern at work here in Indonesia--in the woman who has married a rich bule, for instance; or in the very wealthy with their servants and cooks and maids. Bali in particular remains in many ways a caste society, although the boundaries are slowly becoming less rigid. Nonetheless, one's station still matters--one's family, one's name, one's skin color and so on. And it seems that in America money matters too, for my friend is merely in the middle class while most of the haters are frickin' rich (or rather, not they, but their husbands). 

No matter how the thing is wrapped up and decorated, decked out with slogan and fake patriotism, I think that my friend is probably right about what is at the core. And that's sad, I reckon. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


I had been looking forward to watching VICE, the biopic on Vice President Dick Cheney. As it turns out, however, I found it disappointing. The film tries hard to be 'profound' and somehow particularly 'pithy', and employs to this end some inventive sequencing, flashbacks, long still shots, musical cues, even some faux-Shakespeare dialog, yet ends up being pithy only on its own terms, sort of like an inside joke. There is nothing new to learn here, nothing added to a narrative that we are already familiar with. 

What I did find refreshing about the film was its depiction of the pertinent political figures--Cheney, Rumsfeld, GW--as real human beings, loving fathers and husbands, with actual feelings, rather than dastardly villains. I once heard an otherwise intelligent woman claim quite forthrightly that Cheney ate babies. I knew another man who was fixated on the idea that George Bush would soon be tried before 'The World Court' (whatever that is) for war crimes. A sort of cartoon narrative has grown up in the wake of the Bush years wherein the halls and chambers of government were shrouded in dark conspiracy, peopled by evil, conniving men who answered to no one except the god of greed and war. It is quite clear that after the advent of 9/11 the American nation was looking for some perpetrator upon whom wrath could be vented, and it is clear that the Bush circle fudged and molded, exaggerated its facts and data in choosing Saddam Hussein as the target. It is also clear--though this was not developed or even mentioned in the movie--that they could not have carried out their plan without the help of Saddam himself, waving his arms, firing his rifle in the air, and shouting "Me, me!" 

Lastly, though Cheney can hardly be called a man of fascinating character and manners or silver-tongued speech, the portrayal by actor Christian Bale is nothing less than miraculous, both in nuance and in simple physical transformation. Somehow, Bale manages to become more Cheney than Cheney himself. But again, he's not working here with the character of Hamlet or Macbeth or even Batman. He has to be Dick Cheney, and that, ultimately, is not a very exciting role to play. 

The Mystery of Iniquity

I was thinking this morning about how sometimes we do things that are not really like things that we would do. We are aware that we have done the unlike thing, and we are aware, at least on a superficial level, of why we did the thing, and yet we are also painfully aware of being repulsed by the thing--the thing which "the real me" would not have done. 

It's complicated. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."

We know what is good and right, yet on occasion we will find ourselves doing what is wrong, not good, not us. We know it to be so. And after the deed is done or the word is spoken, we find ourselves at the mercy of the very act or word that we would not do but did. We are judged by the aberration and cannot help but acknowledge that the judgement is proper. Again, as Paul says, "I agree that the law is good", in that it abhors, with us, the wrongful deed. 

"Now if I do what I do not want to do," Paul continues, "it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." It is the working throughout humankind of the mystery of iniquity.

I guess I got to thinking about all this through the influence of The Outsider. In that novel, Stephen King imagines a malevolent force or entity that is able to perfectly mimic the form of any random human being. The entity is thus able to masquerade as the otherwise good and decent person, though this entity lives on the fuel of maliciousness, the blood of murder and trespass and sorrow. He is that which we would not be which has nonetheless become us.

In some sense, we all host an outsider, tirelessly doing his best to be what we, in our heart of hearts, would not be. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Parking Lot Mechanics

I'm still failing to comprehend the mechanics of the parking lot in Indonesia. Take the lot at Plaza Renon, for instance. In order to exit the lot, you must follow a road to the pay station. Now, if you have a line of cars waiting in line to go through the pay station (and it can be a considerably long line at night), and if the drivers of motorbikes keep advancing along the sides of the cars in order to get to and through the pay station more quickly, how is the line of cars to move? Or for that matter, the motorbike driver (me) who has been dutifully waiting behind the cars? By what reasoning do these drivers arrive at the conclusion that their behavior is appropriate? Perhaps it is merely because no one tells them it is not. Maybe it's that simple. In America, someone is going to tell you to that you are behaving inappropriately. Although they won't use those words. I dunno. Perhaps it is inappropriate here in Indonesia to tell another person that he is behaving inappropriately.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Morning Stroll

It seemed an unusually pleasant morning today, so I decided to crawl out of my usual rut and take a trip down to the beachfront in Sanur. Stopped in for a coffee first on Jalan Tamblingan, then parked up at Mertasari Beach. By that time, it had become very hot indeed, but I had a nice stroll anyway. Although strolling is less than an accurate description of the weaving and stumbling I do. People must surely think that I've had about five too many--and first thing in the morning at that! But no, I do this weaving and stumbling all on my own without any help, except from MS. Happily, the beach was all but deserted this morning. Lots of hotels and restaurants, but nobody in 'em. So I didn't make too much of a spectacle of myself. And I didn't actually fall down. 

If you walk up to the far end of Mertasari--I guess that would be the west end (although I continually get these directions mixed up), you come to a wide open beach, free of any structures or projects, and a river enters here. A path runs along the riverside and there is a little wooded glen full of shade and convenient boulders to sit and rest on. A very pleasant place. Toward the inland side, a wooden bridge spans the river and one can see, beyond the bridge, a row of newly built Java huts all in a row. I've never been down there before, so I walked across the bridge. This brought me to a sign reading "Dream Island". 

Dream Island. Huh. What the hell is that, I wondered? So I walked on until I came to a little guard station on the path with a little guard sitting inside. Outside the guard station was a sign listing things that you cannot bring into Dream Island, one of which was cameras. 

"No camera?" I said to the little guard. 

"No camera. Phone okay. No camera camera."

"Hmm. So it's kind of a secret resort, yeah?" 

"No secret. No camera."

"I see. Well, what is 'Dream Island', exactly? I've never been here." 

The guard listed off, a bit sourly, I thought, a number of activities and luxuries offered by Dream Island. Salon, massage, yoga, yoghurt, and so on. 

"Can I go in and walk around?"

The guard held up a little booklet of yellow tickets, with Rp. 20.000 printed in large letters on each ticket.

"Oh, hell no. Are you  kidding me? Twenty-thousand just to walk in?" 

He held the little booklet closer. 

We said goodbye. 

My goodness, imagine that. Twenty-thousand just to walk in. And see what? Bule's with too much money trying to find ways to spend it? No thanks. Not that 20.000 is a lot of money. It's less than two dollars. But still. Since when does one have to pay to walk on the beach?  I object. I protest. Fuck Dream Island. Lol. 

And anyway, just wait and see. The place will be out of business within a year. 

And, Oh, by the way, there is no island. There is sand, and those Java huts, and beyond that, the impenetrable mangrove forest. 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bird Box

A writer has no better friend than the supernatural as a plot device. No matter how completely he paints himself, and his reader, into a corner, the supernatural provides the magic escape route. Presto! Problem solved. This is horror novelist Stephen King's stock in trade, and he uses the device, after all these years, with practiced skill in his recent novel, The Outsider. 

Here, King sets up an intriguing, baffling scenario wherein a vicious murder has occurred and an abundance of hard evidence points quite unquestionably to a particular man as the perpetrator of the crime. Nonetheless, it can also quite unquestionably be shown that this man could not have been the killer, because he was many miles away when the crime occurred. How can it be? One cannot be in two places at once.

Enter the transition to the supernatural. There is an answer after all--and the challenge is now a matter of comprehending the supernatural and dealing with it on its own terms, which, of course, are quite foreign to everything we thought we knew about the world. 

In some way, King's efforts to explain the nature of a supernatural intrusion into common reality have become unnecessary in contemporary narrative. Weird things "just happen". We are used to this by now, having been previously overrun by zombies and vampires (of both the friendly and deadly sort), devils and demons and the megalodon emerging from a prehistoric sea. There are strange forces in the air, threatening mists and winds and whispers. That's just the way it is. Disaster happens overnight, thrusting us into a horrifying new reality. (It's not really so hard to imagine. After all, we've seen it happen in an American election).

And so it happens in Bird Box, the popular new film from Netflix, that the world as we know it ends overnight, essentially just because. Something is causing the entire population of the world to go crazy, the mere sight of some entity in the air (which we, the viewers, never see) driving people either to kill others or to kill themselves. What is it? Well, who cares? It just is what it is. The issue now is how, under the prevailing circumstances, do we get out alive?

Bird Box has met with an unusual amount of contention among viewers, with some liking the film very much and some hating it, some intrigued and engaged, some bored and dismissive. For myself, the film struck me as being quite a considerable cut above the usual horror/apocalyptic fare. There is plenty to think about in the themes provided, plenty to ponder and analyze. And for me, this is what makes for a good supernatural narrative, in as far as the story may be taken as symbolic and allegorical, pertaining, after all, to our common reality. 

The one thing I cannot explain, however, is why all of these Bird Box memes have appeared on the internet. Lol.  Most have nothing whatsoever to do with the film. Talk about supernatural! 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Yellow Alert

Christians issue "yellow alert" on tolerance. 

So reads the headline in today's issue of the Jakarta Post. It seems that the haters are once again after the dead, as at least 19 grave markers were wrecked at three cemeteries in Central Java. Crosses were torn down or effaced, marble slabs hammered to pieces. That'll teach those dead Christians! 

I can't help but see this as a step forward, in a positive way, where religious intolerance is concerned. After all, no one was hurt or terrorized. Not one of the corpses residing in the assaulted graves has raised any complaint of injury whatsoever. Intolerance exercised upon the dead seems the most palatable sort of intolerance, even for the victims, who of course are blissfully unaware.

Why do you stand there staring at the sky? Or, for that matter, kicking at the grave. He is not there. He has risen.

The Quenching

An unmindful moment ruffles the curtain of years, opens on a boy who kneels between three black stones at the shore of a flat blue lake, kneels to drink, and sees before he drinks the rippling white of the mountain and green of the hills and blue of the sky in reflection, the vast, thirsty, quenching, giving and taking world above and below. To this water, he sets his lips, receives and swallows the nectar of creation, all of it going in, ruffled, parted for a moment, briefly translated, the mountain, the hills and the sky cold and immensely pleasing as they pass over his lips, onto his tongue, into his person. Now he is eternal, for he has sipped from the fountain of youth, and the testimonial remains on the lips of old age. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Murder and 1-1/2 Suicides

I find three curious things about an article appearing in Wednesday's Kompas concerning a murder and two suicides, or rather one suicide and one attempted suicide. 

The first curious thing is that the article appeared at all. Suicides happen every day back home in America and by-and-large are not reported in major newspapers. In fact, in the United States there were nearly 45,000 suicides in 2016. Were all of them reported, we would run out of paper. 

In the first reported incident, a man has killed his wife and then himself. Or so it is suspected, there having been no actual witnesses to the event. The couple was often arguing, neighbors told the police, and the final incident was thought to be a result of "cekcok". Bickering. The corpse of the woman was found naked on the bed, while the man had hung himself. Kompas provides the detail--and this is the second curious thing--that the 'rope' with which the man hung himself had been fashioned from a garment, and the garment was of pink material, with a flowered pattern. It's like they decided to insert a sudden fashion note for some reason. 

The story then continues on to describe an attempted suicide in another part of Jakarta, which is the third curious thing about the article. One kind of waits as he reads for the link to be provided, but it never is. Because there is no link. It was not known in this second case what had caused the young man to attempt suicide by drinking a bottle of porcelain cleaner and two packets of anti-mosquito lotion. The man was discovered by friends and success in the attempt was averted, although the ingestions landed the man in the hospital, unable as of the present time to speak. Perhaps when he can, he will tell us what his own story has to do with the preceding murder-suicide event.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


It took me the longest time this morning to turn off the air-conditioner. No matter how I angled the remote control, no matter the finesse I used in pressing the off button, the thing would not stop blowing. I opened up the back of the controller to see if the batteries looked okay, closed it again, pointed the controller, pushed the button, but still the thing would not stop. 

Then I noticed that the controller I was using belongs to the electric fan. 

So, I reckon that I am starting the new year not so much on a good footing as on a typical footing. Status quo. No doubt when I go out for coffee later this morning I will make several trips from door to bike, forgetting my rain coat, forgetting my helmet, forgetting my laptop case, forgetting that the dog is still in the house. And so on. Status quo. My hope for 2019 is that I can maintain this present level of dysfunction--a sort of general confusion teetering just above dementia. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Selamat Tahun Baru

As it turns out, New Year's Eve passed without too much annoyance. There was a year here in Bali, about 5 or 6 years ago, I guess, when it seemed that fireworks were being sold up and down every street. The result was 'shock and awe', and it lasted a week or more. Thousands of dogs went hoarse from barking and thousands of cats suffered permanent nervous disorders. There were several fires as well. An American friend of mine actually moved away from Bali to Malaysia after this celebratory conflagration. Since then, the police have done a 'bang up' job of keeping fireworks vendors off the streets, such that our New Years have been more in the character of the usual irritant. 

To my surprise, I was actually awake at midnight. I had been writing something, while enjoying Ritz Crackers and stale cheese, and lost track of the time. I became suddenly aware of my explosive surroundings and realized that the clock had struck midnight. But it was overall a conservative event and played itself out over the next hour, and then people put away their matches and went to bed. Except for the next door neighbors, who decided that this was a good time, until 3 or 4 in the morning, for karaoke. But that was actually kind of pleasant. The young man who lives there played his guitar while another young man and two girls sang traditional songs. A lullaby to kick off 2019. Next thing I knew, it was 7 o'clock in the morning and the big fat brown dog was banging on the front door. 

Selamat tahun baru!