Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Born Again

The good thing about this skin problem I have had, this lizardization (pronounced Li-ZARD, iszation) is that I seem to be gaining a whole new skin, as pink and unblemished as the one I was born with. Born again! Noticing yesterday that my left arm was red, somewhat hot, and somewhat swollen, I ran out to the pharmacy and purchased a tube of corticosteroid cream (stronger than the previous one I had purchased) and some antihistamine tablets. During the day, my skin peeled away in a snow of flakes. I could scrap the top skin off like black on burnt toast. What this strange phenomenon was, I have no idea. I suppose that it most resembles contact dermatitis, but I can think of nothing that would have consistently touched only my left arm and no other part of my body. Yes, there was a problem on my right arm and on my neck as well, but those were different than that involving the left arm. There was no intense itching with the others, no flaking away of skin to anywhere near the same extent. Weird. I guess most of my problems these days are weird, a challenge to physicians. I must admit at any rate that I am overjoyed at shedding my iguana-like appearance. Although I should not speak too quickly or loudly, given that this may alert the god of plague to the effect that he is sleeping on the job and had better get busy with afflicting some other curse. Shhh! 

A Difference of Opinion

I appear often enough to have stepped on some metaphorical toes in that there are those who have been offended or angered by something I've written here, sometimes saying so in no uncertain terms, more often by simply not returning. So sorry. But look here, these are only my own viewpoints and opinions. They don't require agreement, and it may happen in time that I don't even agree with myself. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said something like this: 'Hear me today, consider what I say, but don't make doctrine of it because I may change my mind tomorrow'. Not that I'm equal to Ralph Waldo Emerson, or even to Alfred E. Neuman. People these days have forgotten how to disagree civilly, to welcome debate, to see the other side and introduce balance by expressing their own viewpoint. Now the finger goes straight to the delete button. Now the answer to philosophical differences is silence. Speak and you will find me pleasant and humble and willing to grow. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Good News

I guess if one rummages around long enough one can find something good to say about Donald Trump; and I say this: the good thing about Trump is that he has newly exposed the rot at the core of America. Back in 2016, a million years ago, I thought that Trump was just one deplorable person with deplorable ideas. I would not have believed back then that he could gather more than a handful of votes from his basket of deplorables. Hillary had it right all along. But we have found that Trump's basket is overflowing, it is a cornucopia of rot and poison, it is a net bursting with carp and bottom feeders, a pestilence, teeming with vermin to use his own words in describing people of color and the poor. Now we know. He has helped us to know, like no civil rights crusader could do, like no eloquent orator could do. He has taken the dressing off the wound and its naked appearance is ghastly, unbearable. It is a non-healing wound, it has festered for more than two centuries in this country. He who has eyes to see, let him see; he who has ears to hear, let him hear. At critical times in our history, racism has dragged itself into the full light of day, has become a scourge not only for minorities to endure but for all of us to look upon, unhidden by any shadow of doubt. Maybe this time, given to us by Donald Trump, the scales will fall away from eyes that have been blind, and silence may no longer rule over ears that have been closed. This is a man who has been heralded by some as the Messiah, a prophet, a great leader sent by God  himself. Well, maybe he is a messiah, a false messiah, an anti-Christ sent to tear the veil asunder and expose the terrible truth about ourselves and our society such that we might finally wake once and for all and take up the sword of love which alone can slay evil. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Parts of Humor

"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."
--Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

Exaggeration and self-deprecation, which are often employed in concert, are parts of humor, used especially effectively by Mark Twain. The writer sets himself up as the fool or as the clumsy or irresponsible dolt such that he becomes a sort of scapegoat for the reader, who either knowingly or unknowingly, given his own degree of honesty, laughs either at the writer or with the writer, having recognized in the latter case that he himself has been foolish or irresponsible at times. In this way, the writer makes a personal connection with the perceptive reader and shares a bit of human folly or failing. I often use this device for some reason. I guess it comes naturally to me. And I am often faced with readers who have taken me quite literally, missing the humor entirely. 

There is a scene in Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, wherein the protagonist comments regarding a noisome dog that if he owned 'half that dog' he would put his half to death. Pudd'nhead's point, of course, is that if you put half a dog to death, you put the whole dog to death, but no one in the little town gathering at the scene gets it. What a stupid man he is, they say. An idiot. A Pudd'nhead. And that's how Pudd'nhead came by his name among the town folk. The absurd statement is meant to be digested on a higher level, not to be taken literally. 

So, if I write in an exaggerated, self-deprecating manner, as I did in the post previous to this one, about turning my little apartment into a wreck, carelessly tossing my clothing toward the shelf, neglecting the dishes, nonchalantly leaving things for the maid to clean up, I'm not really penning a confession of incorrigible slobbery but merely plugging into the lazy streak in all human beings such that the reader may chuckle with hesitant recognition. Exaggeration and self-deprecation are invitations to honesty and humility. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Homely Touches

My apartment is small. Barely lives up to the term 'apartment'. Nonetheless, as a bachelor, I am quite able to live up to the general expectations embodied in that term, which is to say that I am able to make a general wreck of the apartment by the time the maid comes for her weekly Saturday cleaning appointment. Part of the problem is in the simple fact that I know she's coming. I will throw a tee-shirt toward the rack of shelves, for instance, it will end up on the floor, and I think Oh well, the maid will be here on Saturday. On Friday, I tend not to wash the dishes. Because the maid will be here on Saturday. (Although in my own defense I will say that I did all the housework when there were three of us in the house, to include sweeping, mopping, and washing clothes). 

Nonetheless, a bachelor has no one to impress, no one other than himself to please, and no one is going to yell at him, so he grows cozy amid general disorder.

What I wanted to say from the outset, however, is how much I appreciate, therefore, the maid's spic-and-span whirlwind every Saturday, and especially the homey little touches she  leaves behind, quite beyond the call of duty--little details and embellishments that would not occur to the typical bachelor, yet which he appreciates and admires upon noting their appearance. 

For instance, I had a bar of soap on my bathroom sink, just sitting on the porcelain. I arrived home Saturday afternoon to find that the maid had fished a small plastic food carton out of garbage, scrubbed it clean, and fashioned it into a soap dish. I had considered buying one, and it simply never occurred to me that I could make one out of an existing item. 

After washing utensils, I set them out to dry and then toss them into the drawer. The maid takes these utensils and arranges them in orderly rows within the drawer--teaspoons, tablespoons, forks, knives, like ranks of soldiers at attention, at ready to perform their function. 

She notices that the strap on one of my sandals is broken, takes the sandal to the local shoe repairman, returns it whole again, and says not a word, such that when I next put it on, I am mystified half a day at how it managed to repair itself.

Books, having been abandoned on table or floor, she gathers together and stacks on the book shelf. Liquid soap containers are filled. The shirts that did make it to the shelf are neatly folded and stacked. Bottles of shampoo, lotion, deodorant, shaving foam, cologne are arranged in tight little military square formations. 

From Saturday to Monday or so, I feel that the world is more in order than usual. The world, and I as well. Thank you, Nengah!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

 No Speeding, it says. I guess most people haven't read it


Not so long ago, I went out to buy a pair of shoes, which seem to come and go in my house like stray dogs. I'm not sure why. It's not like l spend so much time walking, and I've certainly not been running any marathons lately (or ever) and yet I seem constantly in need of shoes. I guess it could be that the workmanship in this part of the world leaves something to be desired in the area of longevity of product, or perhaps it's because I am often aware of the need but rarely actually do anything about it. 

But anyway, what I noticed at the time was that trying on shoes is a rather challenging task. You pick out a pair for yourself from a table full of shoes, or you hunt down a clerk to help you find the proper size, and then you sit yourself down on a small bench and try to figure out just how you're going to get your foot to the shoe or the shoe to your foot. The distance from my hands to my feet seems rather vast nowadays, and the hand doesn't want to cooperate with the foot nor the foot with the hand once they reach one another. So you finally manage to maneuver one foot into one shoe, kind of like trying to maneuver a radioactive specimen with a robotic arm by remote control, and then you've got to tie the thing, which involves getting around the general hinderance of your stomach, which is in the way of your line of sight. You decide to buy the shoe whether it fits or not rather than put yourself through the same struggle for another choice. 

And this got me to thinking later about the long lost gracious times of my youth, and of my parents' era, when shoe stores employed 'fitters' who would sit you down, measure your feet, bring out several versions of the choice you had made, put the shoe on your foot, tie the shoe, check the heel and squeeze the toe, and then have you walk about to test the fit. Now I call that service!

Many things were like that back then. At the gas station, the attendant would fill your tank and wash your windshield and check things under the hood, and so on. That was his job as "an attendant". In many gas stations now there is no attendant whatsoever. You pump your own gas and pay by machine. 

There used to be elevator girls who would open the door and ask for your floor and press the proper button and hold the door while you exited and others entered. Of course, elevators were not quite so automatic back then. The door had to be opened and closed manually, for instance, by the elevator girl. 

In the movie theater or the symphony hall, there were people who showed you to your seat with a  little flashlight. In the restaurant, waitresses made regular rounds with the coffee pot to ask you if you'd like a refill. Nowadays, you buy one cup and that's all you get unless you pay for another. 

There were many things like this, which somehow made one's life and pursuits more personable, more connective, more individualized. It must have been good for employment figures, but perhaps not so good for the company's profit margin. But it certainly made trying on shoes easier for a rickety old man like me!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Today's Errands

At the post office this morning, I ran into a guy from New Zealand, and I'll tell you what, the English he was speaking was more foreign to me than any foreign language, including Indonesian. Could not for the life of me understand him. Of course, this was most due to the accent. In fact, the Indonesian clerk at the counter understood him better than I!

Anyway, from there it was on to Denpasar to buy two medications, Trileptal and Paxil. The Trileptal is for the weird inner heat symptoms from which I continue to suffer, and I thought Paxil might be helpful in general, as I had found it to be in the past. Damned expensive though. Two million rupiah, around 150 dollars. This comes after buying more H2 blockers yesterday for the continuing inflammatory gastritis problem, 500.000 Rupiah. Gonna go broke trying to make myself well.

I always have the doctor write a prescription rather than having these meds filled at the hospital, because the local apotek (pharmacy) is significantly cheaper than the hospital. The trouble is, you have to wait an awfully long time to get your meds because, of course, everyone knows about this price difference and everyone goes to the apotek. 

In the meantime, I still have no idea what to do about the weird lizard skin problem. I've tried various creams and lotions, all to no positive effect. Actually the thing that has worked best (though still not well) is coconut oil! Olive oil is also somewhat effective, as is vinegar. And they sure as hell cost less than medicines. 

So now, already going on 1 o'clock, I've stopped for a coffee (decaf) on the way home. Errands are generally boring, but they burn up some time, and take your mind off your woes for awhile. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Monster, or the Friendly Angel

I am turning into a monster. A scaly, red-skinned monster. An irritable, itchy, lobster-like monster. You will find me sitting on a heap of ashes, scraping my wounds with a potsherd. And I always thought of myself as such a nice guy, not a monster. Nonetheless, I have done some monstrous things in my time, things for which I was regretful then and am still regretful now. Perhaps my evils are coming home to roost and my very skin must pay penance. Maybe I have merely played the role of a nice guy.

Funny how one can associate so many ideas with episodes of the original Star Trek television show. It often happens to me, anyway. I am reminded of an episode that I actually barely remember. I recall that there was a sort of ghost that had befriended children marooned for some reason on a deserted planet. The ghost presented himself as kindly and caring. He became the children's friend. They may have called him "the friend", or something like that. I can't remember. Anyway, these children were discovered by the Enterprise crew and brought back to the starship to be returned to parents or relatives or something. It was soon revealed, however, that this ghost was not friendly at all. He was an evil demon masquerading as a kindly savior. He had gained the children's absolute faith by nurturing them when they were lost, and now he meant to use them for his own evil purposes.

Naturally, Captain Kirk ultimately faces down the ghost, trapping him with sly cross examination and the sword, or the fazer, of truth, at which point the ghost sheds his illusory skin, the figure the children had come to love--the nice guy--and appears as he truly is, a frightening mass of oozing sores and ulcerations. Not a nice guy at all. 

Am I now shedding my own skin of illusion? Am I seeing myself as I really am and always have been? And if that is so, why do dogs love me so much? Lol. That's my only defense. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Magic Spells and Crystal Balls

Many these days read the Bible as either a book of magic spells or as a crystal ball from which we can see the future. 

On the one hand, it is felt that if we only adhere strictly to various Biblical precepts, we can avoid disease (faith theology), we can follow the scriptural road to worldly riches (prosperity theology), we can have the perfect husband or wife (a form of thought that is both wishful and bound to interfere with personal growth), we can protect our children from the evils of the world simply by asking God to cast a protective wall around them. And so on. 

On the other hand, many people, and many churches (and TV shows, and radio shows, and doomsday books and thrillers) devote themselves to peering through the crystal ball at the hazy and elusive hints contained in prophesy, imagining present-day fulfillments, creating a manipulated narrative for matters that were and are in fact focused on the Middle East, most particularly on Jerusalem, the Holy Land and the Chosen People.  Into these Biblical stories concerning the ultimate fate of Israel and of the earth, they inject the nation of America, the person of Donald Trump, the European Union, the Pope, and so on and so forth. The narrative is wonderfully elastic, as it is able to stretch and transform over time as needed. Bill Clinton the antichrist had to become George W. Bush the antichrist who had to become Barack Obama the antichrist. The shape of world alliances and unions and characteristics change over time, and so the end time narrative must change and apply its particulars in a new way to a new world. It has gone on forever. 

Is this a waste of time and effort? Yes. Moreover, it is a misapplication of Christ and of the new mission he birthed in every follower--to love God, to love one another, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. "Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law", the Apostle Paul wrote in the Book of Titus, "for they are unprofitable and worthless." Paul might just as well have added 'endless predictions and prophesies'. And again in 1 Timothy, (nor devote yourselves) "to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God's work--which is by faith."

Christianity is not a magic formula for health, wealth and happiness, nor it is a fantasy narrative for our conjecture and amusement. It is the bread of life, a way of living. It is body and blood, integration into Christ. It is the insistence on the application of love and mercy. It is about living in awareness, in light, every day. It is not about looking for light somewhere at the end of the tunnel. It is about being light.

That's a pretty big job. An all-consuming job. And there is no time to waste. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Hello, Who Are You?

When I entered Starbucks this morning, the young barista behind the counter greeted me happily, chatted a bit, and then, apparently detecting a shade of perplexity, said "Do you remember me?"

Well, I thought, having just yesterday written about my mother's struggle to appear "ept", such that she would often pretend to know people, I'll just be honest.

"No. I'm sorry. I don't remember you."

Now that wasn't so hard, was it? 

So the woman, looking a bit disappointed, took the trouble to explain that she used to work at this Starbucks, then she moved to another, and now she was back again. 

"Now do you remember?"

I wanted to say, Oh, yes, now I remember. But I stuck with the truth.

"I'm sorry, I don't. What's your name?"

She told me, but … um … I've already forgotten. Damn! 

At the same time, another woman who I know but have not seen in a  long while came in to Starbucks and I knew her immediately. Even her name. Go figure. 

In the meantime, back in Amerika, my stepson begins to speak of "taking care of me" when he is able, maybe two years. Good grief. What is my world coming to?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Kronik Burung Pegas

Visiting Gramedia book store the other day, I stumbled upon this novel, Kronik Burung Pegas, by Haruki Murakami. Of course, I didn't literally stumble on it, which is lucky for me, as it is a very thick book, at 900 pages, and would surely have led to a great fall. But I was surprised because I thought I had read every novel published by Murakami. Wow, could this be new, I wondered? And if so, how in the world could he have written a 900 page book right on the heels of the lengthy  Killing Commendatore? But no, it turns out that this is the Indonesian translation of the title, which appears in English as The Windup Bird Chronicle. The Indonesian title is translated as Chronicles of Spring Birds. I had just never seen the book in print, in any language. 

So, I was overjoyed, because I love Murakami's work. All of the novels (except for the two very short early novels) are fascinating, inventive, challenging, elegant. My favorites so far are probably Kafka by the Seashore and Norwegian Wood.

The trouble is that these are 900 pages of rather small print, and my eyes have long since given up on small print. Then again, I guess that if it were larger print, such as my eyes can handle, the book would be about 1800 pages! Therefore, I'm having to commit to just a couple paragraphs at a time, using a pair of over-the-counter magnifying spectacles, so I may be reading it for the rest of my life, and may pass away before I've finished. The Man Who Was Killed by Murakami, right? But I suppose that would be a happy enough death as deaths go. 

At the same time, I am reading a history of World War Two (Inferno) by Max Hastings, which is also a cement block of a book, although, as it is on iPad, I can make the print as large as I want. Anyway, all considered, I may need more than one lifetime for these two tasks. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Throughout the time during which my mother fell ever more swiftly into the pitiless clutches of Alzheimer's Disease, she increasingly forgot who people were until it finally got to the point where she very often forgot who I was. Sometimes she would call me Preston, thinking that I was her brother. Sometimes she thought I was just some guy who worked in the nursing home she thought she was in, although she was in her own house throughout. 

I remember my first wife dropping by the house one time to visit mom. When I brought her into mom's room, who was totally bedridden by that time, I said "Mom, there's someone here to see you. Do you know who this is." Mom flashed a big smile, opened her arms to receive her daughter-in-law, and said "Well of course I know who she is!" As in, Are you kidding? Why wouldn't I?

But of course she didn't know her. You could see it in her eyes, in her furrowed brow despite the smile. You could almost hear the rattle of the broken machinery in her head as it struggled to capture, to ignite a spark of recollection, to happen upon that missing element that had once been as automatic as the blinking of an eye. 

As my mother's mind and memory failed and faded away, the will to be socially ept remained vigorous. It was the very key to her generation of women, the ability to serve well as a hostess, a gatherer, an organizer, to be adroit, appropriate, effective. The word ept is a back formation, a word formed by dropping a earlier word, and is described in the dictionary as 'a deliberate antonym' of inept

Dropping an earlier word. My ex-wife's name was an earlier word. Her person was an earlier concept. These words and concepts floated in and out of my mother's mind like paper boats on a rolling sea. 

There is nothing worse than being inept. One's mind becomes an antonym to all that it was before, back in the world of functioning human beings. All is lost when the last outpost falls. 

It frightens me, therefore, when I myself become unable to place a face or remember a name or remember the details of an experience. That's not because I have Alzheimer's Disease. It's because I have MS and the disease has erased large blocks of recollection. They are simply gone. There are places I have been--Singapore, Thailand, Penang, Jakarta--and I know I have been to these places because there are photographs and because I remember small things, but I remember nothing very specific, whether it be where exactly I was, or what I did there. I can be reminded of things, and I believe the things because the reminder is coming from someone who is quite ept and was there with me, but in this I am merely acknowledging the evidence, not recapturing the essence, the personal connection.

And so, like my mother, shrinking before the deadly dread of being inept, I pretend ept-ness. Of course I remember, don't be silly! Rather than admit straightaway that I don't know the person talking to me, I let the conversation unfold while I struggle inwardly to place him or her. Admitting to ineptness is almost like saying Sorry, I am no longer a human being like you. In fact, I'm a vegetable. But don't ask me what kind, because I don't remember that either. 

My mother used to see people in her room. The people were behind a screen. She would say, "I don't like that man behind the screen." Of course, there was no screen and there was no man. 

I would say, "What does he look like, Mom?"

"He's tall. Very dark. And he's wearing a hat."

"Who do you think he is?" 

"I think he's your father."

"Mom, there is no man. There's not even any screen." 

"Oh?" she would say, with some relief. For she wanted to believe.

Maybe there was a screen and a man. Who can say? What one can say, though, is that if they were there, they were certainly not in this world. And that, this world, is where we must live.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

More Sharing

Met another delightful woman on the language sharing app by the name of Ana. She is Indonesian with Chinese ancestry, bubbly, funny personality, and very interested in learning and sharing. She already speaks English rather well, in my opinion, and readily understands, and corrects, my horrible Indonesian. We talked for a time yesterday on video chat and I was happy to find that I could generally understand her perfectly. As she herself commented, there really is something to be said for being able to see the person you're talking to, the body language, movements, facial expression and so on. It truly adds a helpful dimension to conversation (though, of course, women tend to be more expressive than men, and especially this man). 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Preserving the Age-Old Legacy of American Ignorance

Classic Trumpers made the news this morning as they eagerly awaited attendance at a North Carolina rally (yes, yet another rally). When asked how they felt about Trump's recent statement about 'the squad', the four female congress members of ethnic decent who vocally support impeachment, they answered in concert: 'Yes, I agree with the President. They should go back to their own countries. This is despite the fact that it has been clearly pointed out that all of these women are US citizens, that three of them were born in the US, and the fourth, while having been born abroad, has been here longer than Melania Trump.


Of course, what Trump means, and what his brainless followers are really saying, is that no brown person is really a citizen of this country, and they certainly have no right to criticize and stir up trouble that may actually lead to positive change in American society.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Language Sharing

Off and on for some years now, I've downloaded a 'language sharing site' where, ideally, people can come to learn a foreign language or become more fluent in that language, while sharing their own with a counterpart with the same desires. The trouble with the site is that most people join and then say nothing, or they might say 'Hi', and then that's the last you hear from them. 

Once in awhile, though, you actually hook up with someone who wants to chat and learn. So it was that I happened to meet Manda just recently, a young woman who lives in central Kalimantan. She's a pleasant, forthcoming mother of two and is actually doing fairly well in English already. When she doesn't understand something, she asks a specific question. When I am incorrect, she politely corrects me. She is also quite bright, interested in politics and religion and social patterns. It's a good way for both of us to become more fluent and to enjoy doing so. 

One thing one almost always learns in these connections is how very much the same we all are. Same concerns, same hopes and desires. As Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Lillies of the Fields

I happened to watch the old film Lillies of the Fields last night. Showed up on my YouTube feed for whatever reason. I remember enjoying the movie when I saw it many years ago, but it was interesting to watch it again from the perspective of present day ideas and peculiarities. 

Lillies of the Fields stars Sidney Poitier, one of America's first popular black Hollywood stars, but it is not in any way about race. That's the interesting part. It seems that nowadays if a movie features a black actor in the starring role, it must be about race or racism or racial tensions. It must have an ax to grind. 

Bur Poitier's character, Homer Smith, has no ax to grind. He is a drifter, a jack-of-all-trades, a man like any other man, and is the man whose car radiator happens to boil over, which happens to send him down a lonely country road to the doorstep of a nunnery. Providentially, it just so happens that the Mother Superior at the nunnery had been praying for someone to show up and help with what she sees as God's plan for the nunnery--the building of a chapel. She has no money to pay for this, only her faith that it will come about. 

I suppose that contemporary critics would find much to criticize about the story. Just the fact that race is not made the central issue would bother them--as if all black people are first and foremost about race, and only secondarily human beings. We are so accustomed now to obligatory racial awareness that we automatically anticipate it. When Homer walks into the local diner, we automatically think Oh, here we go--they're going to refuse to serve him. He will be stared at and shunned. But no, all that happens is that he orders a breakfast. 

Lillies of the Fields is a story about faith, about character, about pride and charity, about personal growth. Homer could be any color, the nuns could be any color. The important thing is that they are all human beings. 


We had a fairly good shake here in Bali this morning--things falling off the shelves, room rocking back and forth. Takut the dog was tottering around like a drunk, 'what the hell?' look on  his face. I haven't heard yet how it rated on the Richter scale, but it was actually a bit scary. Not long afterwards, one could hear the sound of ambulance sirens. I sure wouldn't have wanted to be driving a motorbike at the time! 

Monday, July 15, 2019


I seem to have grown old over the last year, and especially the last six months. Most notably over this long period of illness, which yet persists. I look in the mirror and see new vertical wrinkles on my forehead crisscrossing with the old horizontal ones. Looks like a map of the canals of Mars. Dark racoon-like circles beneath my eyes. I go for a coffee in the morning, which, actually, has turned to tea or some other substitute given my stomach's newfound inability to tolerate coffee, chat a moment with the Barista, and then say, 'I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name.' 'That's okay,' she says, 'you're pretty old.' At a later point in the day, I am explaining the problem I'm having with my stomach to another young woman and she says, 'That's okay. You're pretty old.' I seem to have crossed a dividing line between seasoned and elderly. And I suspect there's no going back. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019


My little buddy Viana returned yesterday evening from a month long stay in Kerangasem and upon seeing me came running from the end of the street, eyes asparkle, smile like a bright crescent moon.


This afternoon she shows up at my door with two friends, Feby and 'Whats-her-name'. Each of the girls is wearing mittens and a jacket with the hood pulled over the head, like little Eskimos. 

"Jeeze, are you guys cold?" I ask incredulously, considering the balmy temperature of about 28C (82F).

"Noooo," they sing out in unison. "Hot!" 

"So why are you wearing jackets and mittens?" 


Hmm. Okay.

"If no coat, masuk angin," Viana explains. 

Ah yes, the dreaded masuk angin, 'entered by the wind'. The cause of pretty much any illness suffered in Bali. 

"Also," she adds, "Don't want skin be black."

Of course--the second great dread of Bali--that one's skin will become too dark. The lighter the better, and the reason many Indonesian women use whitening cream. As far as I can understand, the reasoning behind this is that it's a class thing. Dark skin marks you as lower class, a field laborer. Apparently they have not yet heard that black is beautiful.

"So, where are you girls off to?"

They are off to buy ice cream, Viana says, and then all three sit down together on my doorstep. A strange place to look for ice cream, I'm thinking. But of course I know what they're up to. 

"How much is ice cream?" I ask. 

"Lima ribu." 

"Wow, that's not much at all!" It's less than 50 cents. 

Smiles. Silence. Whats-her-name is poking Viana and whispering something.

"Lima ribu. Let's see … that's fifteen altogether, right?"

Nods of confident affirmation. 

"You guys have that much?"

"Tidak ada," Viana mutters sadly. 

"So how are you going to buy ice cream?"

Rapt attention. Raised eyebrows. They're waiting for me to unravel the puzzle. 

"How about if I give you the money?" 

"Yes!" They're up, they're ready, they're clapping their mittened little hands. "Thank you, Meester! Thank you!" And they're off into the sweltering south Bali afternoon, all bundled against the blizzard of heat. Oh, I know they're mercenary little brats, but so was my own little daughter, once upon a long time ago. 

I'll take love and gratitude wherever I can get it these days.  

The Return of the Bocah Nakal

It seems that the bocah nakal weren't using the villa wifi after all, as they are present in the parking bay just the same as ever, regardless of the password change. You see now, this is the unfairness set in motion when someone begins to make false accusations which have arisen entirely from his own presumptions and prejudices. He creates a convincing narrative which nonetheless ultimately collapses around its own paranoid core.

I suspect that these boys have chosen the villa parking bay as a cozy sort of personal clubhouse, its most alluring feature being no doubt that it is out of the sun--and believe me, finding a spot in the tropics that is out of the sun is a pretty difficult thing to do. 

One remembers being a boy himself by watching the neighborhood boys. As I watch, I remember lost things, things long since engulfed in the obscuring tide of time. I remember how my friends and I would choose out places that seemed somehow inviting and make them our own nooks, far from the madding crowd, so to speak--away from parents, away from the prying, uncertain world, away from rules and supervision. Our choice became whatever we might choose. It was the platoon HQ, it was the marshal's office, a time machine, a box canyon, a frontier post. I remember a spot in Oakland, California, an old brick fireplace in a little dip of the land in my great uncle's sprawling back yard. This was central headquarters of our international spy agency, the place to which we spies reported when we returned from our far flung foreign missions to the neighboring block. And again, I remember the unused driveway and garage of a neighborhood residence, a submerged sort of area that once served as a bay for loads of coal back when folks still used coal to heat their homes. Here we could hide from boys we did not want to play with, or from bullies known to be on the loose in the neighborhood, from the world's ears and eyes and unreasonable expectations. We could talk for  hours, play the most ridiculous sort of games, agree on extravagant plans of conquest, or discuss the intriguing and often inaccurate particulars of female anatomy. We could search the pages of the latest forbidden bodice ripper and read the best paragraphs over and over again, and then hide the scandalous volume under the cover of the coal chute before leaving. Whether in the city or the forest or at the seashore, we found such a place. There were countless such hideouts in our own seemingly countless years of youth. 

I suppose that present-day boys don't pretend so much as we did back then. Now their cellphones do the pretending for them, and they enter a pretend world that has been fashioned for them. Nonetheless, I think the basic pattern is the same. Home away from home means the very same thing now as it did when I was a boy. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Last of the Bocah Nakal

Well, the bocah nakal have pressed their luck too far, as I warned them would happen, though of course they chose not to listen. The villa management has now changed the wifi password, and so the boys have no more reason to hang around in the parking garage, where they were using the close proximity to get online, courtesy of the villa. Can't say that I'm sad to see them go. Unlike my little friend Viana, who always visited only briefly and always asked if she could enter, these boys spent most of the day in the garage and didn't really care to leave even when I asked them to leave. Their grave error, though, was to actually enter the villa itself late at night and hang out in the pool area out back. 

An interesting bit of information, however, has arisen from the incident. It seems that this is where the boys got the password. Apparently it had been written down on a calendar or notepad back there. This was a welcome bit of information for me, proving as it does that it was not I who gave them the password (my word on the matter having apparently been insufficient). Nor did I give it to Viana, who in any case has been many miles away in Kerangasem for the last month and could not have been using the wifi even if she had the password. 

All young folks have a cellphone here (hape they call it). Few have the wherewithal to get online. 

Unwelcome Companions

I was sitting out on my porch yesterday evening, just after dark, when suddenly a rat (yes, a rat) came strolling out from behind my chair and between my feet, not in any particular hurry at all. 

"Whoa! Hold on there, buster. What the hell?"

He looks to the right, he looks to the left, he looks up. 

"Oh, sorry, I didn't see you there." Still in no particular hurry. 

"You didn't see two giant feet about three times your size?" 

"Oh, are those feet?" he says skeptically. "I thought they were potatoes."

And with this, he walks on, still in no hurry. 

What's become of rats nowadays? It's outrageous!

This reminds me of a time when I was eating at an restaurant down in Sanur with my friend Adam. As soon as our food emerged from the kitchen, rats emerged from the bushes and street gutter. And these were big rats, nearly as big as cats. Certainly much bigger than potatoes. They were also bold rats, arrogant rats, much like the rat of this evening. They literally strolled about freely, unperturbed, mere inches from our feet. 

Adam was quite vocal in his horror and indignation. 

"What is this? Rats? You can't have rats in a restaurant. Someone ought to do something about this. Someone ought to complain. In fact, I'm going to complain right now. Mbak! Mbak! Ada tikus di sini! Dua, tiga, empat tikus. Tikus besar!"

The waitress dutifully appears and scrutinizes the rats. 

"Iya, Tuan," she says. "Sudah tahu."

As in So?

"I can't eat with rats!" 

"Do you want to order something else?"

"I didn't order rats in the first place!"

Well, that was the end of dinner. How can one eat with rats? Like children, they no longer know their bounds. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Poor Takut

I think Takut the dog may have the dreaded Bali dog skin disease. I note this morning telltale signs where the skin has been exposed on his face and around his left eye. 

Poor Takut.

I thought at first, upon seeing little marks on his head and snout, that these were the scars of nightly dog fights, but what I'm seeing now is more extensive and not likely to be bite or scratch marks. 

Poor Takut. 

Now, I know that people will say I ought to take  him to the doctor, but, to quote my own oft uttered phrase, It's not my dog! Lol. 

Moreover, all that I have as means of transport is my scooter. One sees many people here transporting willing dogs on a scooter, but 1) I've never attempted this before and would not feel safe (I mean really, I don't feel quite safe on my own), and 2) I doubt that Takut would be willing. He is a wild, non-domesticated dog and is not given to taking instructions or obeying any command other than "Open your mouth for this piece of chicken." And, of course, that doesn't really require a demand. He sees chicken, he opens his mouth. 

And moreover again, I have been spending money hand over fist for my own medical difficulties and in fact I'm avoiding seeing a skin doctor at present because I just don't have the money. 

So … 

Poor Takut. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Just Me and Takut

I guess I have gotten so accostumed to living in very small places over the last eight years that the villa I live in, now pretty much unoccupied but for me, seems vast indeed. Not that I'm complaining. 

The villa is set up to accommodate at least seven people, having five small rooms and two large rooms plus the generous patio and pool area out back. More often, I assume, the large 'family' rooms are intended to house … well, families. As things now stand, only only one other person lives here, an Indonesian girl who works from dawn to dusk and is only otherwise here only at night and, sometimes, on the weekends.  

Of course, Takut the dog generally resides in the patio area--actually under the patio area when he is not residing in my room. 

Talk about solitude!

At present, the pool pump is broken, but I understand that it is to be fixed by this weekend, at which time I may return to a pastime of having a  morning swim. For that matter, I am writing this entry out on the back patio, accompanied by Takut, who is sitting nearby and staring at me. 

Of course, renting a seven dwelling villa to only one or two people is surely not a very lucrative business practice, so who knows? The owners may eventually just throw up their hands and close the place!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


I remember having gastritis in America--an ulcer, actually--somewhere in the later 90s, but it was different than what I have now, and preferable in my opinion, though of course not pleasant. The former version was associated with an empty sort of pain, like a hole in my stomach. I remember leaning up against the car and sort of pressing my stomach into the hood to try to relieve the ache. The type that I have now comes with no pain, really, but with a sick feeling in the throat, a sort of swollen sensation that makes one want to swallow all the time, which itself makes one nauseous eventually. With the former version, coffee, for instance, didn't bother me; with this version, I can no longer drink coffee, as it instantly produces a sensation of sandiness in my through and mouth, and pretty much anything I eat makes me feel like there's something stuck in my throat, a persistent, annoying sensation, and one that is not easy to sleep with. Gak. As with so many ailments, gastritis appears to be associated with gastritis (along with many other causes).  MS seems to have a new surprise for me every day--payback, I guess, for having spent so many years with mild symptoms only. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


An oppressive spirit has now been lifted from the villa. It is as if the air itself has been freshened, like a heavy, noxious mist has risen and vanished in the breeze. I could actually feel the freedom when I awoke this morning. There is, of course, still the cranky lady whom I have never met and who never comes out of her room, but she's not much of a problem really. Apparently, she and her husband rarely show up, and when they do, it is only for a stopover on their way to some other locale. In fact, if not for this lady's occasional complaints on the community message board, I would have no proof that she even exists. Takut the dog also feels much more at ease, as the only people remaining who are likely to chase him away are the caretakers, and since there are basically only two people now in the entire villa, the caretakers themselves rarely show up.

Bocah Nakal Lagi

The bocah nakal have returned and are causing trouble. It's not so much that they are using the wifi, but that last night they actually entered the premises sometime after I had gone to sleep and were hanging out in the back patio area. 

Previously, I had always locked the door at night, since my room is right next to the door, but then one of the tenants here got angry about that because he was still ordering food from GoJek after 8 o'clock. Eight o'clock, sadly enough, is my bedtime these days. So I stopped locking the door, thinking that perhaps he would take care of it when he was done ordering food. (Fat chance, right?)

So this morning the bocah nakal were once again in the parking garage when I went out to my bike and I told them not to play there anymore, that people in the villa were angry, and that someone would tell their parents if they entered again at night. They just sat there staring at me for a moment, so I spoke a bit more forcefully and told them quite simply "Go!" Lol. They seemed to understand that, and picked up their bicycles and pedaled away. So, we'll see. 

I'm always sorry to have to be severe with children, but then again they should know common limits.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Lizard Man

I am becoming a lizard person. Or maybe I've always been one, like those lizard people who disguise themselves as humans in the alien invasion movies, and my inner-lizard is just now emerging. I am shedding my human skin for a rough, scaly appearance, slithering around my room and hissing, though with displeasure rather than renewal. Perhaps, as in the Rick Yancey novel, The Fifth Wave, I have not even been particularly aware of my alien-ness, or lizard-ness, until I was reactivated by the alien ship that had placed me here in the distant past to be a part of the invasion when the time was ripe.

The sensation of intense inner heat I have had, and which I have mentioned before, has suddenly gotten much worse, such that it seems to be causing a red, dry, painful plague on my skin from shoulders to forehead. Looks and feels like I have a sunburn, but lizards don't get sunburns, and neither do people who spend most of their time in their room because they don't feel well enough to go outside.  The pills the neurologist had given for what he takes to be a neurologic problem associated with multiple sclerosis, are no longer effective. I now continue 24 hours a day to burn inwardly as if I were about to experience internal combustion.  What a way to go! I have left a message with said neurologist, but he has not answered, no doubt thinking Oh God no, not this lunatic again. 

I feel like I've been cursed with the plagues of Job, and, like Job, I can't help but ask why, because I ain't done nothing wrong! Well, not so wrong, anyway, as to deserve seven plagues. And anyway most of my wrongdoing was accomplished years ago, when I was still young, more or  less, and had the requisite energy. I mean really, God, are you going to choose this time to punish me when I've basically been minding my P's and Q's for so  long? 

In his book Disappointment With God, which I just happen to be reading at this time, Phillip Yancey devotes many pages to the book of Job, and many more to the contemporary trials that people go through--good people who have done nothing wrong. He addresses all the age-old questions (as old as the Bible, as old as the Book of Job): Why is this happening? Did I do something wrong? Will you be distant and silent forever?  Is prayer empty and ineffectual? Why do evil people thrive while good people suffer? God, are you even there? 

I say that Yancey addresses these questions. He does not answer them, any more than the Book of Job answers them. The only palatable answer, I suppose, is to appreciate, or at least acknowledge, that the difference between our perspective and God's perspective is akin to the difference between the perspective of a microscopic creature on a lab slide and the man looking through the microscope. God lives in all dimensions of creation, and then beyond even those dimensions. God is creation itself, and more. Infinitely more. Why does God neglect to answer Job's questions? Perhaps it is because, as Yancey suggests, we could not possibly even begin to comprehend the answer. It's not a very satisfying conclusion, or even a very helpful one. But maybe it's the only one possible until we see not through a glass darkly, but face-to-face. 

*Note: The drug prescribed for this intense inner heat, as well as other weird neuropathic amusements, is Pregabalin (or Trileptal).

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Cewek Kasar

So I'm sitting on my porch this afternoon, and this girl, Chris' girlfriend (Chris the neighbor in this villa), to whom I have never even spoken except to say hi, passes by and says "Is there some reason you gave out the wifi code?"

I am taken by surprise by this sudden eloquence of more than two words, and for me it is a huh, what, who? moment given my speed of comprehension, which is always slow at best. 

"Excuse me?"

She repeats the question. 

"Is there some reason you gave out the wifi code?" 

"I didn't," I say. "I mean, I don't remember doing so." 

At this point, as I attempt mentally to determine just what she's talking about, the girl huffs and walks away. 

And so, taken aback by the rudeness of this stranger, I'm turning the thing over in my mind. She must, of course, be talking about the wifi code for the villa, and I do remember, come to think of it, Chris obsessing about this in the past. I know that I gave the code to my wife, who has only visited perhaps three times in the past four months, and I know that my little buddy Viana tried to copy it once over my shoulder, but got it wrong. But I haven't seen Viana in weeks now. So she must be talking about the little boys, the bocah nakal, who play out in the parking bay. They must be using the wifi. But I don't even know these boys or where they come from and they've certainly never asked me for the code, so I have no idea where they got it (if they have it). As a matter of fact, I don't know the code myself anymore, and I'm sunk if I should ever need to input it again.

But there's something really irritating, isn't there, about a person who accuses you of something and then walks away before the matter can be discussed. And there is something very unsettling about coming upon a rude Indonesian, as these folks are, 99 percent of the time, uncommonly pleasant and gracious.  

Bocah Nakal!

I was surprised this morning by the appearance of the maid at my place--not that she jumped out of closet and shrieked "Surprise" or anything, but because I was 100 percent certain that this was Friday rather than Saturday.  She, of course, assured me, somewhat apologetically, that I was 100 percent wrong and that this was in fact Saturday, her usual day to come for the weekly cleaning. So I had to pack up and get out of the way quickly, although I had not anticipated dragging myself out today, given the oppressive headache, nausea, and fatigue I've been suffering. But Oh well. Maybe it's good that I got forced out, rather than spend another day of contemplating how rotten I feel. I could have gone back to the communal patio in the rear of the villa, but that's kind of boring, so I've gone out for coffee instead (which, technically, I'm not supposed to have because of its irritating effects on the gastritis situation). But hell, I've never been one to deny myself of simple comforts for very long, gastritis be damned. 

So, taking myself and my laptop case out to our little parking bay, I found the usual gang of boys at play. I had yelled at them last night because they were bucking up and down on my motorbike as if it were a broncing bucko. I don't mind if they sit on the bike, which seems a fairly common thing here with any parked bike, but of course I don't want them wearing out the shocks on the thing. 

"Hey!" I  shouted, "Jangan! Jangan main kuda dengan motor saya!" (Don't play horsey on my bike). 

"Oh, sorry, sorry, Mister."

This morning, they're back on the bike, but at least they're not playing rodeo horse. So far. And I tell them again not to do so. 

"Okay, okay, Mister, we  not."

Just then another friend of theirs showed up on his own motorbike. Or someone's. The boy is about the size of a 7-year-old, comically dwarfed by the vehicle. I asked how old he is and he tells me he's 12. 

Hard to believe. Poor boy must be undernourished. 

Well, I myself am undernourished, because all I've been eating, twice a day, is a boiled egg on toast. According to my research, anything and everything else makes the gastritis worse. Then again, it doesn't seem to be getting any better with this starvation diet, despite the medicines. What's a fella to do? 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Second Visit With Wibawa

Follow-up visit with the man of few words, Dr. Wibawa, was not as momentous as I thought it might be. This is good, I suppose, in the sense that nothing as portentious as I had expected might be present was found. On blood exams and endoscopy and biopsy, there was nothing earth-shaking. I myself was pretty sure that a Helicobacter pylori infection would be discovered, but not so. On the other hand, I am still sick after a week or the medications he prescribed on the previous visit, with no end in sight. One hopes that something critical, a causation that had heretofore escaped notice, would be identified--an Ah ha! moment when the critical element behind the illness is at last unmasked, exposed, such that it may be specifically targeted. There was no such moment. The doctor merely prescribed more of the medicine he had prescribed last week. 

Again, as on the last visit, Dr. Wibawa seemed quietly aloof, almost disinterested, except when it came to the mysterious whereabouts of the endoscopy report. 

"Can I see the endoscopy?" he said, holding out his hand without looking up from his papers. 

"What? Endoscopy? I don't have it."

He looks up, brow furrowed, as if he had misunderstood me. 

"Who has it?" 

"Why, you have it!" 

He holds out both hands, palms up, glances about the desktop illustratively. 

A long discussion ensues about where the endoscopy could possibly be, my own sense of clarity mitigated by a westerner's automatic faith that the doctor is in control, that he has the records, the paperwork, the computer files, all the pertinent documents that have been collected. 

In Indonesia, this is not so, and after eight years here I should know that. I do know it. Still, fifty-five years in America has acclimated me to a system and practice that actually works. I'm thinking, My God, doesn't he have all this documentation on the computer right in front of him? Or doesn't he at least have a paper copy in the office or in some clerical filing system up front? But wait, this is not his office per se. It is an office, to be sure, but likely serves as such for any number of people during various hours of the day and night. And what sort of clerical filing room can I be imagining when the entire building is about the size of a studio apartment, and the only thing behind the front desk is a wall? 

I have no recollection of having been given the endoscopy report, and therefore I am certain that I do not have it. It is only later, on the way home, that I remember that there are many things about which I have no recollection. I begin to wonder whether I have the report after all? Could it be? 

Well, yes, it could, and is. At home, I find the endoscopy report and images in a closet I don't remember putting it in. Kind of embarrassing, actually--but, sadly, par for the course. 

Following the kerfuffle regarding the endoscopy report, Dr. Wibawa performes the perfunctory exam--listening to bowel sounds with a stethoscope, tapping out a little drumbeat on my stomach with two fingers--and we're back to the desk, where he scribbles several prescriptions, and then I'm out of there. Anti-climax. 

Well, I'll take the medicines, try to watch my diet, continue to avoid coffee as much as possible, continue at failing to stop smoking, and likely see the doctor again whenever the medicines run out.

Next time, I'll remember to bring my endoscopy. Maybe.