Saturday, August 31, 2019

Still Kickin'

I've been away again for awhile, though I've not actually been anywhere except my room, because, as has become quite natural for me, I've been ill again for awhile. This time the problem seems to be the flu, a regular guest whom, as I have said in the past, sets up house in one's body here in Bali and then comes and goes as it pleases, and indeed stays as long as it pleases when it is at home. Already a week now with fever and various unmentionable etceteras, and not showing any sign of departing any time soon. Gosh how time passes when you're busy being sick! But we shall change the subject. 

As is my usual entertainment, or burden, when ill, I've spent long hours, especially when I might have been more happily sleeping, ruminating over various random things. Such as: 

1) Blueberries. Picked straight from the bush by a high mountain lake, round, plump, moist, ready to burst. My son gathering them in a pail we had used for morning coffee at the campsite, blond hair busy at somersaults in the breeze. Later, we will use some with pancakes in the morning, or as close as you can get to pancakes using a black iron skillet over a temperamental fire--gooey, rubbery things, one edge crisp the other oozing, blueberries bleeding veins of nectar into the dough sometimes jam-like sometimes crusty. And indescribably delicious. The finest restaurant cannot produce pancakes like these. 

2) Bert and Ernie, and the recent acknowledgement that they were indeed gay. How can this be? They were hand puppets, right? 

3) How to say any number of things in the Indonesian language, including the thoughts I am obsessing about. Ruminations alone are not enough. They must be transposed to another language. 

4) Donald Trump. How he is not simply a quirk that will go away with the next election but more like an illness that has set up house in the body. He is merely the manifestation, the latest strain of a virus, a malignancy that will only grow and spread. He is the vomit, the mucus, the pus, the shaking chill, the myalgias and arthralgias, the rales and rhonchi, the necrosis, the death rattle, not the disease itself. He is permanent, we are not. This is the least favorite of my sick-room fixations. 

5) The unspeakable bliss of simply feeling well, and how we ought to sing with overflowing joy, spilling over with grateful astonishment at this singular miracle, intent in every blessed second to immerse our entire awareness in this one incomparable, impermanent gift. Every minute is a treasure. Don't make plans. Don/t think of tomorrow. The treasure is bottomless but the time is short. What is not withdrawn cannot be given nor received, and tomorrow the lid is closed. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Morning Prayer

6 am, as usual. The dog is scratching at the front gate. As usual. Rising is an uncertain thing. You have to be careful. First this leg, then the other. Where are my keys? 

The dog comes in, enters my room without a word or a wag of the tail, and buries himself beneath the foot of the drapes. Well, he has been out all night. God knows what he's been up to. 

A bowl of instant oatmeal as usual, with brown sugar, some raisons, and milk, and the morning news. The usual news. The dog makes little woofing sounds in his sleep. 

On the other side of the walkway the neighbor dries her hair in the sun with an orange towel. brown arms and legs the color of honey, hair cascading to her toes as she bends over the veranda's ceramic floor. I think that I am quite in love after all. The Hindu morning prayer is sounding from the temple, gliding over the browning grasses of the rice fields. 

A fugue of bells. A reminder of so many unknown things. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

History or Rumor

I received a picture today through Facebook's ostensibly helpful daily reminder of past posts. It was a photo from 2014 showing a much thinner version of me standing with a large group of children, happy as a clam. The thing is, I have no recollection of this. None at all. Who are these children? Why am I with them? What are we doing? 

I have no clue. Other than that the year was 2014. Which apparently means only that my memory does not extend to five years' time. And when I turn this over in my mind, it strikes me that I can remember nothing else from 2014. I was here but not here. In fact, when I think about it, I remember very little of the past ten years of my life. They happened but did not happen. 

How strange. Did they matter at all? Perhaps they mattered at least to someone else? I don't know. I will need to construct some kind of history, albeit a flimsy one, from Facebook reminders. I myself can be responsible for a cogent history up to the year 2004. After that, it's all in a haze.

The Chosen One

A woman I was dating some years ago, who would later become one of my wives, though not t the same time, mind you, as the others, once commented rather effusively that I was "like Jesus". My immediate reaction was one of cringing embarrassment. Of course, I understood what she meant to convey--that, unlike others she had been with, and under whose influence she had suffered considerably, I seemed uncommonly, almost miraculously kind. Nonetheless, I knew the comparison to be wholly inaccurate and undeserved. No human being can possibly live up to such an association. Moreover, it seemed a standard, an expectation that I could not possibly meet, being, in fact, much more similar to Lucifer than to Jesus--and in fact, by the end of the marriage, she would think the latter association more fitting, I'm sure. 

But I think of this because we have now a Christian (so-called) conspiracy theorist declaring that Donald Trump is the second coming of God, the chosen one, the savior of Israel, and we see Donald not embarrassed or dismissive, as any sane person would be, but embracing the comparison, basking in the worship, actually stating before the press that he is "the chosen one". Good God. 

I do know something about this popular theory--more than I care to know, really. It is imagined that Trump is a modern-day Cyrus, king of Persia,  elevated to the throne by God Himself to restore the temple in Jerusalem and return the Jews to the promised land. What this all has to do with Christianity or Christians, I do not know. It is simply yet another example of contemporary wacko insistence on conflating the story of the Jews with the Christian message and destiny. The temple that Jesus describes, after all, is no longer in this world, but in the heart of the believer (John 4:21; 1 Cor 3:16 & etc). 

I feel that same pang of cringing embarrassment, and much, much more, at both this ludicrous misappropriation of scripture and at the man who would stand with face raised toward the sky, declaring himself to be the chosen one. Was Donald joking? Well, he will no doubt say so in future meetings with the press, and his handlers in the wreck that is now the White House will be quick to say so as well; but as pointed by the writer of an article in the New York Times, and by others, the man is not joking at all. This is the pinnacle of his narcissism, the chilling extent of his increasingly delusional thinking. 

And it may well backfire. Does anyone remember when John Lennon made the offhand remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus? That didn't go over well. Of course, Lennon quickly and apologetically explained the meaning of his comment. Again, any sane person would. Donald Trump makes no such concession, offers no such apology. For in his disturbed, unhinged mind, Donald is the second coming, the savior. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Hamurgers and Hip-Hop

Had an increasingly rare visit from Viana and Feby yesterday, the dynamic albeit spoiled young duo. Well, at 11 and 12 years of age, I suppose their interests in life are widening beyond the realm of laptops and iPads. Nonetheless, they retain a healthy, or perhaps an unhealthy interest in hip-hop music. And hamburgers. All things American. It is interesting to watch them sing out the words to these songs, which they have memorized, knowing the meaning of nary a one, which are sometimes actually rather inappropriate on the lips of a 12 year old, or perhaps a 112 year old too for that matter. Ah, but they enjoy themselves. 

Hip-hop soon incites hunger, and they want a burger. Generally, the 'burger man', who sells burgers about the neighborhood on his motorbike, would be around, but not this day, and so a long debate, a haggling over price, ensues regarding where I can order burgers for them and have them delivered via Gojek. It is finally decided that KFC will be most convenient, as it is close by and burgers are reasonably priced an 18 thousand apiece, roughly a buck-thirty USD.

And so the two of them happily consume their burgers with their mouths and hip-hop with their eyes and ears. Pretty much like kids anywhere, I guess. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


In this old house there were ghosts, some old and some new. Some of them I knew, some I did not. One lurked in a hallway and could go nowhere else because something had happened there and there the thing was, like creeping mold, a swirl in mahogany, a fray in the wallpaper. Another crouched in a corner at the bottom of the basement stairs. One glowered morosely behind the purring furnace amid boxes of forgotten, worthless stuff. In that house I found as well a heart. It was a heart that could only be summoned by a pressing of the proper keys. No, not a pressing. A caressing. At the piano, I called out to the heart and the heart responded according to the touch of my fingers. Together, we activated living things, called them into the dead silence of the world, living things like yearning, and grief, and love, and glory. This old house sang for hours on end. And in that time, the ghosts would emerge, and drag their chains toward the sound of the singing, weeping, beseeching, soaring, joyful thing. They made the hair of my neck stand on end. What did they want? What other than to be free? In those times, according to that music, every prison door flew open, and that old house itself shattered from within, and there was no longer a wall or a beam or a root top remaining, but the stars shone unfettered overhead like a million piercing beacons.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Morality Versus Practicality

I am always surprised when news commentators speak of "a close election" in 2020 and wonder who, if anyone, can beat Donald Trump. How can this be?  I can understand that some folks were fooled in 2016, or didn't know yet who Trump really is, but who can possibly be so clueless as we approach 2020? 


Well, I heard one commentator suggest that in 2020 people may be facing a moral as opposed to a practical choice. Most people, he theorized, are most interested in the economy, how much money is going into their pockets, how much they will be able to spend, how many shiny new things they will be able to buy. If the economy under Trump remains good, many voters may be willing to overlook personal weaknesses such as hatred and racism and carelessness and narcissism and stupidity and divisiveness in favor of the almighty dollar. 

And if the economy is weak? Well then it might be convenient to consider morality.

Is this really what we've come to? 

I guess we will see in 2020.  

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lighting Out for the West

But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. 
--Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

I may have written in the past about what I am about to write now. I don't remember. Regardless, I will proceed. 

Back in the mid 1990's, my son suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. Where he could have gone, no one knew. Had there been foul play? Had there been an accident, on the road, for instance? He had always been given to taking long walks, sometimes at night, and had always adhered to a general suspicion of traffic lights and crosswalks, choosing to navigate streets at points where these dangerous safety measures were absent. Had suspicions such as these landed him as an anonymous resident in the morgue? He carried, after all, no identification, he had no bank cards or credit cards or driver's license. In fact, he had no wallet. He kept his money in the bottom either of his right or his left shoe. If he had not in fact disappeared, if he was actually quite present, though unconscious, in one spot or another, how would anyone know? Unidentified man, est. age 25-35, wearing green trench coat, paper money in shoe. Please claim.

Well we had no clue. He had left no note, no particular evidence of intent or destination. Nothing in his little trailer home seemed different than usual. There was certainly no evidence of foul play in the trailer other than that habitually inflicted on the place by he himself. 

There was, however, this one thing; and we all knew, at least in the backs of our minds, that this was the critical thing: Holden was about to be evicted from his trailer, which had lately crossed the line between unhealthy and unlivable, and it was the plan of his mother and his stepfather to commit him to government housing, where his Social Security Disability status would pay the tab. 

This, for Holden, was the ultimate insult. He was not a freeloader. He would not be a ward of the State. He was not a drug addict or a retard or a convict or a lunatic. He was a man, a free man, a moral man in the face of an immoral and decadent society, and he was a self-sufficient man save for the necessary assistance provided by the government and his family members. He was not a man who needed or deserved to be filed in with the common refuse of civilization. 

In short, the most likely answer to this mystery was that Holden had run away from his own home. He had lit out for the Territory. 

But where? The territory is a big place, and a dangerous place, populated by beasts and the pitiless elements and wild Indians and treacherous rogues. Here he would be a lamb among wolves. How could be survive? How would he eat? What could he do without his disability check? It just didn't make sense. It was impossible. And because of that--because it did not make sense and was impossible--we knew, because this was Holden, that it did make sense and that it was not impossible. 

For myself, I began my search in Portland's more remote, less developed park lands, for Holden had long enjoyed the solitude of these places, the empty, unclaimed land. Often, he would prepare a patch of land in an isolated spot and plant "crops" there--beans, peas, corn. It was summer, and the weather was hot, and our outings were like picnic excursions--I and my wife, and maybe a son or a daughter, partly searching, partly exploring places we had never really seen before. In the forests and in the fields of those parks, we ran into many homeless people--many more than I had ever realized were there--tucked into the foliage like shy munchkins, yet willing to peep out from their secret places and welcome these travelers from Kansas. 

I had printed fliers with Holden's picture and some basic information, and these I handed to the curious woodland residents.

"And you think he's here?" one young man asked, handing the flier to his girlfriend who was yet huddled in her sleeping bag. 

"Maybe. Could be," I said. "We just don't know. Grasping at straws."

"You just want to do something," he nodded. "I get that," scrutinizing the photo again. "Can't say that I've seen him. But we'll help you look. We can help, right, Linda?" The girlfriend eagerly nods assent. "Just let me get dressed," she says. 

"I'm Paul," the young man said, reaching out and shaking my hand. "This is a recent photo, right? Same hair style and all?" 

"Yes, and … he might be carrying a shovel."

"A shovel? What's he burying?"


"Ah, I see." 

Yes. Of course. Beans. 

We met many people in this park, people in flimsy vinyl tents, orange, blue, green tents, scattered on the forest floor like fallen kites. By the time we had toured and handed out our fliers, dozens were conducted their own searches, calling Holden! Holden!

We did not find him in those parks. The summer ended and September began and the chill of autumn hunted at our side. We had written a bulletin for the local newspaper and TV news station, and this was broadcast along with the photo from the flier. Diabetic, autistic man gone missing. Likely in need of help. Please report any sighting to this station. At church we spoke to our pastor, and our pastor spoke to the congregation. Let us pray. 

And then one day he just showed up, just like that-not in Portland, but in Lincoln City on the coast, 97 miles west of Portland. My ex-wife's husband's sister had a sudden hunch and drove to Lincoln City, and as she pulled into the lot of a Minute Mart, she met him coming in at the same moment, rumpled in his customary trench coat, ragged, a bit worse for the wear, but not unhappy. 

"Oh, hi," he said. "Are you looking for me?"

As it turned out, Holden had come straight to the beach from Portland, weeks ago now. He had hired a taxi to drive him 97 miles to Lincoln City, and here in the woods above the town, he had been camping ever since, living on edible vegetation and berries, and on Twinkies and cans of Tab Soda from the Minute Mart. He had begun to plant a small garden, he said, but of course nothing as yet had had time to grow. 

"I'd like to take you home," Nina said. "Would you let me drive you back to Portland?"

Yes, Holden said, he reckoned he would. 

The news of his return and of his whereabouts in the previous time came to me in a strange mixture of inexpressible relief and dreadful despair. Who runs away in a taxi cab? My God! Who squanders money on a taxi cab and then lives in the woods on berries and Twinkies? 

Then again, who among us has not thought of just bugging out one day, of just leaving it all behind, of just washing his hands of all the cares and the cornering walls? Erasing it all. Starting out new. Lighting out for the Territories.

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb, I touch no one and no one touches me. 

The truth is, I could not help but feel proud of my son. I think everyone felt that way. A helpless man does not conceive of and execute such elaborate escapes. A helpless man does not put his trust in the succor of mother earth, nor in manna for sustenance. Manna and berries and roots and Twinkies. A cowardly, needy man does not pitch his tent in the cold-hearted woods and huddle for warmth by the small fires kindled by his own efforts. 

I think of this now as a brave thing, an honorable thing, a needful thing. I think now that in his forty-two years on this earth, he did nothing more courageous than this. And in some sense, I never afterwards worried about him, for he was the master of his own destiny, the captain of his own ship. No course set by the compass of the world would ever suffice. No Aunt Sally would ever sivilize him. For he had been there, and couldn't stand it, and had lit out ahead of all the rest.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Wisdom of the Foolish

My Facebook feed reminded me today, in its charming Facebook way, of a piece I posted back in August of 2015. I don't remember whether I posted the same piece here in the blog. In fact, I don't remember writing or posting the piece at all, which is no surprise, actually. I'm too lazy and too functionally clueless to check on past postings, so I re-post it today, and add a few contemporary observations as well. 
I am a burden. I am a burden because I cannot hear well. I am a burden because I cannot see well. I cannot walk well. I cannot remember things. I have a neurodegenerative disorder called multiple sclerosis. I am a burden to myself, and it is a burden to me. Or maybe it simply is me. I have become my own disorder, the way a schizophrenic becomes his disorder, no longer his original self, but swallowed by disease and re-actuated with the inside out, as John Lennon said. The outside is in and the inside is out.
I remember how my dad became a burden, and my mother as well, though they were much older than I. My dad could not hear well anymore. You had to shout to speak to him. It was a effort, a nuisance, a burden. And so you stopped speaking to him. When I was young, he taught me how to fish. He left his own pole against a tree and walked along the lakeshore with me and showed me where the fish would be. He put his hand over mine on the grip of the rod and taught me the motion of casting the line so that it settled easy on the water and the fly lit on the riffles before the line and then you took up the slack so there was nothing on the water where the fish were except for the fly and the invisible leader.
When we were young, we went on a seven mile hike into the Mt. Jefferson wilderness area. Coming back, I left my backpack at the top of a snowbank and slid down the bank with my brother, far down to a lower turn in the trail. My father retrieved the pack. There's a picture of him, taken by my mother, stark, distinct as stone against the backdrop of white snow and blue sky, one hand reaching for the strap of the pack. He carried it the rest of the way. It was no burden to him.
But later, to a forgetful, self absorbed young man, he became a burden, an irritant, not worthy of the effort of raising one's voice.
Before he died, he said there were Indians in his hospital room at night, doing some kind of war dance, beating on tom-toms. He was afraid. There was a tall man standing behind me, he said, the tallest man he had ever seen. He reached his hand toward mine and asked me to take the keys, go get the car, bring it to the front, get him out of there.
But there were no keys, though he shook them in his hand.
Go get the car.
I can't. I can't.
Oh faithless and twisted generation, Jesus said, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you.
How long am I to bear myself?
One thing I know. If a burden I be, it is my burden only to bear with myself, and I shall not be a chain or a weight to any other. I would sooner die. I would sooner be abandoned in the sands of a desert, to want, to thirst, to shrivel alone and shed my own skin. I shall not want, nor be the cause of want. I was here to be of use, and if of no use, I shall not further be.

I see on the old Facebook post that several friends offered kind, encouraging comments. "As long as you can write like this, you will always have worth," they said. 

So what now? What is left when that particular toehold slips? Am I unable to write like that now, or do I simply lack the emotional engagement? Did this matter then, four years ago, because it still seemed that the tide could be turned? At the gates of despair, the last line of defense is hope--blind, unrealistic, extravagant hope. 

Hitler comes to mind, oddly enough. Not that I'm anything like Hitler. God forbid. But I'm thinking of Hitler, cornered in the Bunker as the irrepressible Soviet juggernaut pounded into Berlin itself, yet fantasizing over the possibility of deliverance in a decisive blow to be delivered by "Steiner's Panzerkorps", which, in fact, was all but nonexistent, a phantom consisting by this time only of several grossly understrength battalions and several tanks. Perhaps Hitler himself knew, in the back of his addled mind, that there was no such panzerkorps, and yet there had to be, because there was nothing remaining between convenient delusion and a bullet in the head. 

Less and less often do I imagine a resurrection of the flesh except in desperate, temporary degree. Breathing space. More and more deeply is my heart invaded by love, something pure, willing, heartbreaking, inhuman. The more urgently I want to speak of these things, the less able I become. I am trapped behind impenetrable walls of words. 

The capital city has all but fallen, and is now peopled by life's last enemy.

But here's the good news, the wisdom of the foolish, the hope of glory: that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On the Conversational Acuity of Dogs

Whilst I was talking with Takut the dog this morning, I happened to note the conversational acuity of dogs in general. There is really no subject or rumination or rant or chit-chat to which they will not listen, which is more than can be said for some of our fellow human beings. 

Take my third wife for instance. There were times when I realized that I was absolutely talking to myself, that she was not merely not interested in what I was saying but completely deaf to what I was saying. I tested the theory in various ways. One was to fill in her side of the communication for her, noting upon doing so that she was equally as disinterested, or deaf, rather, in what she might have to say as in what I was saying. Another was to say some patently ridiculous thing such as 'Did you hear about the sky falling yesterday? Chicken Little was right after all.'  She thought neither that this was ridiculous nor something to be concerned about, because she simply did not hear it. The words may have lived up to the status of ambient background noise, but nothing more than that.

But Takut the dog, yes, he listens, as can be readily appreciated in the twitching of an ear, and he appreciates what is being said, most especially when the subject delves deeply into minutiae. Take food, for instance. The dog has a keen interest in anything pertaining to food, food preparation, or the consumption of food. Of the single subject of chicken, he can philosophize to no end. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Forrest Gump, wherein Gump's equally challenged friend, a fellow soldier, speaks nearly without end on the subject of shrimp, the many ways in which it can be prepared and consumed, the cuisines and flavors and spices with which it interacts and converses. It is similar with Takut and chicken, or any food, really--pork, beef, fish, and all the various amorphous unknowns he finds in garbage sacks or on roadsides. He can go on nearly forever.  

Another thing I noticed whilst talking to Takut this morning was that the neighbor across the way from my room, drying and combing out her hair in the sun on her porch, was glancing curiously my way now and then, wondering no doubt who I was talking to. Had I an unseen, rather silent guest? Catching her eyes in mid sentence from the kitchen window, I abruptly, self-consciously ended my conversation with the dog. Should I pick up the phone and pretend to have been conversing with someone? Should I just smile and wave? 

I chose the latter. 

When I went outside onto my porch, Takut followed me and took up his station on the mat in front of the door. The young woman was just leaving for work, hair dry now, dancing in the breeze, shining in the sunlight, beginning an engaging conversation of its own, as articulate--no, more so than words. 

"Is the dog sick?" she said, pausing by the front gate, smiling, amber eyes as lively as lion cubs.

"Sick? Well … he's pretty beat up, pretty ragged, pretty old, losing his fur as so many old dogs do. But sick? No, I don't think he's sick. He seems happy enough. 

"Hmm," she said doubtfully. But then again, maybe she wasn't really asking about the dog after all. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Cost of Friendship

I reckon it is best for a writer to know as few people as possible. The more people he knows on a personal basis, the less able he is to write the simple truth for fear of offending one or another of his friends. 

So the point is, I just wrote a rather engaging piece about some pretty serious issues, but I cannot post it here because the narrative will be readily recognized by certain readers as consisting of the stuff of a private conversation. 

You'll just have to take my word for it. It was a fine, meaningful piece of writing. 


Other than that, I finally got my motorbike out for regular servicing today, an appointment long overdue because of my long series of illnesses. The good news is that the bike is running like a top now, even if I myself am not running quite top-like yet. I do feel better though. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Dream

I run, blissful, barefoot
through a field of shallow snow
stride measuring the beat
of a lively song
free for this moment
though knowing
that the voice that will not let me sleep
is close behind

Monday, August 12, 2019

It Was A Very Good Year

I happened to realize the other day that the day would have marked my 29th wedding anniversary with my second wife had we stayed married. That would have been something to be proud of, I reckon. As it is, we only made it to thirteen. On the other hand, had my first wife and I continued our marriage, September would mark somewhere around forty-three years, by my reckoning (although, admittedly, I'm not sure of those dates anymore). As it actually happened, we made it to nine. Nonetheless, if you add up all the actual years of marriage with three separate wives you come out with thirty-three years of marriage, so that in my lifetime I have been married longer than not. Which, I guess, makes me somewhat of an expert in the field. Right? 

I remember that my first wife and I always went to the beach for a week to celebrate our anniversary. Her father owned a beach house down in Lincoln City. We would just chill there, go up to Depot Bay for saltwater taffy and seafood, go down to Devil's Punchbowl for Mo's Clam Chowder, read books, swim in the frigid Pacific, lie on the beach. We always had a great time there. Right up until we didn't. 

My second wife and I would generally go camping at Monon Lake, just up the road from Olallie Lake. It was a dearly beloved place, where I had spent nearly every summer since birth. She and I, and generally one to three children, would camp in the large meadow at Monon, hike and fish and swim and so on. Every summer during that time the weather managed to be perfect. It was a charmed, blessed time. Right up until it wasn't. 

My third wife and I had no such tradition. She wasn't that kind of a girl. She didn't like sameness. Still doesn't. On the other hand, I always have. It was an odd sort of union from the beginning and lasted eleven years.

But they were good years, all of them. Right up until they weren't.  

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Local Man

I've finally become a local. How did I do it? By purchasing and actually wearing a jacket under the blistering Bali sun, especially when on the motorbike. 

For years, my friends had told me, "You must wear a jacket." 

"In this heat? Why?"

"Because must."

"But I'm not cold." 

"We not cold too."

Little by little, I gathered that the wearing of a jacket had nothing to do with the temperature. It has to do with 1) the danger of falling victim to masuk angin, 'entered by the wind', and 2) the danger of damage to the skin. 

Even so, ever slow as I am, it has taken the first hand experience of multiple cases of masuk angin
(most meaningfully translated as 'the flu') along with my most recent case of microwaved arms to bring me around to the realization that maybe these local folk were on to something after all. 

It is a particular combination during this season of the year of intense sunlight and crisp wind that sucks the moisture from exposed skin and leaves it the texture of beef jerky or aged leather. This then begins to itch, and the itch spreads and becomes ever more intense, maddingly intense, can't sleep at night intense, itching till you bleed intense, itching till you get an infection intense. Yes, that intense. 

Well, after days of expensive lotions and antibiotics, I'm beginning to see hope that my arms will eventually stop itching and that the skin will revert to flesh color from fire engine red. Patience, Grasshopper. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Reader

Very often when I'm writing something here, I will be thinking in the back of my mind 'What will my son Holden think of this?', for he always read my blog and would often have some comment or another the next time we talked or corresponded via e-mail. And then I will remember that Holden is not here any longer. It's an empty, lonely sort of feeling, as if my writing anything at all had been purposeless, like writing a short story that you know will only go into a dusty cabinet when you've finished. Anyone who has lost someone knows what I'm talking about. The force of life is so strong that it persists forever in remembering itself despite death--and not just remembering--being. Love itself does not pass away. It lives. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Return of the Reptile

I had written a while ago that I had overcome the lizard skin plague by using corticosteroid ointment and an antihistamine. I was lying. Or rather, I wasn't lying, I was just being overly optimistic. In fact, the plague attacked with renewed vigor until the skin on both arms had turned purple and on the left arm had cracked open in multiple gross looking sores. My skin was itching day and night and I spent several nights sitting out on the porch, smoking and itching and wondering how in the world I was supposed to sleep. I couldn't take it anymore, so I made an appointment with a dermatologist.

All night last night I stewed over what new disease this could possibly be. Would they want to amputate one or both arms? How many lab tests was I going to have to endure? How many skin samples would they need? How many more medications were they going to put me on? And how much money was this whole thing going to cost!

I was therefore surprised this morning when the dermatologist took a look at the reptilian skin and immediately concluded that the problem was a result of the very cold, dry nights we have been having along with the windy, dry days. 

"You don't need to cut off my arm?"


"Well, I mean, these sores, they're infected, right?"

"No. Not yet."

I was strongly doubting the doctor's diagnosis. How could something look so bad and not really be so bad?

So she gave me an antibiotic cream for the one arm, a very expensive moisturizing cream for the rest of the skin, said to discontinue any further use of the corticosteroid ointment, which had been a mistake all along, and a little packet of sleeping pills so that I could sleep rather than itch. 

"Don't itch," she said. 

No blood tests. No skin samples. No amputations. No need to notify my next of kin. 

I do hope that she is right. I cannot believe that I'm getting off this easy. I'm used to referrals, and trials and errors, and multiple meds, and the replacement of those multiple meds with another set of meds, and endless demands on my anemic bank account. Not that this anti-climactic appointment wasn't expensive. It was. 

A bit of a strange thing happened while I was discussing the matter with the doctor. I realized halfway into our conference that she was speaking English and I was speaking Indonesian. Weird. 

"Oh, I'm sorry, I said. You're speaking English."

"Yes, and you are speaking Indonesian."

When one spends most of his time switching between one language and another, one sometimes doesn't even notice that he is using the foreign language when there is no need to do so. This doctor was speaking English quite fluently, but my mind had interpreted it as fluent Indonesian. I suppose this is partly because most of the doctors here either don't speak English at all or speak just a very little bit of it. So I had assumed that she would be speaking her native language and had automatically adjusted my own. One of those curious little brain failures that are both perplexing and amusing. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Went to bed at about 10 last night. Fell asleep directly. Awoke feeling refreshed and well rested. Trouble is, when I checked the time on my phone I found that only two hours had passed. 

What to do now? 

It occurred to me that I should go outside and smoke a cigarette. But that didn't take very long. Checked the clock again and found the time to be 12:15. Hmmm. 

So I sat a while, just appreciating the cool night air. Bats were flitting between the palm trees that divide one side of the villa from the other, noiseless as butterflies, swift as shadows. The fountain at the center of the grounds bubbled away, sleepless as well. A dog barked somewhere in a far off unseen place. A sudden gust of wind sent the palms into momentary panic, but then all was quiet again and the night curled up to sleep. 

And so did I. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

El Paso II

This morning, to my surprise, I found upon scanning the various Facebook posts regarding the El Paso shooting and its obvious link to Trump's anti-minority/anti-immigrant rhetoric, that quite a number of people were responding with the old worn out "What about Obama/What about Hillary" line. Predictable. I don't know why I was surprised.

But what about Obama? What about Hillary? I don't recall either of them comparing minorities or immigrants to vermin, or to resembling an invasion or an infestation. I do remember Trump saying that they are mostly rapists and killers, gang members and drug runners.

"Obama made disparaging comments about white people", they say. Really? Wow, I don't remember that. Didn't make the news?  Riiight. You know what? Maybe you imagined that he made such comments because you felt that his very existence, and especially as president, was insulting to white people. 

At the same time, I do understand where these folks are coming from. They don't want to share any blame for the murderous acts of a lunatic. They don't want to feel culpable. And so they are defensive. Just because they generally support Trump, and see his remarks as straightforward rather than detestable and wholly inappropriate, and don't particularly like the idea of so many foreigners coming into the country and sharing in America's bounty, thus decreasing their cut of the same they fear, it doesn't mean that they are about to run out and start shooting Democrats or blacks or immigrants Of course they're not. No one said that they were. We simply make the logical link between hateful words and hateful acts. After all, Hitler didn't personally run out and murder Jews. The common people did it for him, and they did it because his words stirred them to action, stoked the malevolent fires that were already burning in that culture. 

Don't be afraid. Be outraged! It's okay. No one, except the rare lunatic, the killer in training, will hold it against you. Quite the contrary: it is honorable. It is the very least you can do. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

El Paso

You know what? The problem really isn't guns. Much as I dislike the things. Much as I would prefer to see them all turned to scrap metal. But no, the problem is not guns. It is mass psychiatric disorder. There are plenty of guns all over the world, but it is only in America that it occurs to so many people that they ought to run out and shoot perfect strangers. Like, Ah now I have a gun, I'd better see how many people I can kill. 

Around about the time I was graduating from high school and heading off to university, early 70's, I remember suddenly thinking one day, Wait a minute, the unwavering tune I've been hearing for so long is not at all consistent with the underlying rhythm or harmony. This is not the America I have been taught from birth, this is not the land of the free and the home of the brave, with freedom and justice for all, the good society, the paragon of human rights, God's favorite team. This is crazy! This is madness! Cities are rotting at the core, People are starving, robbing, preying on each other, recognizing no law other than that posed by the armed police officer. Serial killers are roaming in the land, Manson, Speck, Bundy, Lucas, Ramirez, Rader, Ridgeway, the Zodiac Killer. I could go on. They are countless. They are legion. Rapists, molesters, sadists, killers. We lock our cars, we lock our front doors, and we no longer sleep a summer night in the back yard.  

We are not at the mercy of guns. We are at the mercy of people. Not foreigners, not immigrants, not Arabs or Muslims, not blacks, not whites, not Mexicans, not Socialists, not inner-city dwellers, not firearm enthusiasts. We are at the mercy of a creeping national disease of mass insanity that has somehow, who knows how, been in America's gene pool from the beginning and has grown with the insidious energy of a cancer.

In that youthful time of mine, I felt an intense sadness, a sense of painful regret, sorrow, disillusionment mitigated only by a stubborn unwillingness to believe, otherwise known as hopefulness. 

But it is too late, my friends. We are the victims of the mystery of iniquity, and I'm sorry, but it is far too late to change. We can not go back and do it over again. We are left instead with only this to say:  

Brothers and sisters, goodbye. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

These Days

Very pleasant days in Bali during this season, from July up to about November, I guess. Much cooler than usual, although cool is not a word that means much here. But it's breezy, generally sunny, and generally comfortable. After that, the rain will start, and then the deadly humidity. 

Today is actually Kuningan (again). The ten-day Galungan holiday comes twice a year, according to the western calendar anyway, and Kuningan is the last day of the holiday. On this day, deceased Balinese relatives return to heaven after having come to visit their ancestral home during Galungan. I myself had no visitors, probably because dead westerners don't recognize Galungan. Naturally, everyone is dressed in their ceremonial garb today and going to ceremonies and giving offerings and so on. Starbucks is deserted, except for Muslims. And me. 

Friday, August 2, 2019


All along Jalan Hang Tua red flags are snapping in the brisk morning breeze, signifying I know not what. And yet they mean something to me. Signs and wonders and warnings. Celebrations. The king is nigh, issuing his eternal decree. His kingdom of  multiple billions of endings will not be delayed. This is the law. And I flee to all the usual places, seeking shelter, reassurance in the dependable pattern of habit, too petrified to pause. One more coffee, one more woman's smile, one more child's cry of glee. I had not known until this moment that I was so very deeply in love. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The World of Henry Orient

I watched an old movie (1964) the other day, which I had seen a couple times long ago. The World of Henry Orient. In fact, if I remember aright, my parents took my brother and I to the movie at the Baghdad or Orpheum theater. It is a delightful coming of age drama/comedy about two adolescent girls, one from a set of rich, continually absent parents, the other from a stable home, one wild (proudly stating on their first meeting that she has already been thrown out of two schools), the other more sedate. At the same time, there is the story of Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers), a less than impressive concert pianist focusing (probably for that reason) on avantgarde composers while in the meantime pursing a career as a womanizer. The wilder girl, Valerie, decides that she is madly in love with the pianist, as adolescent girls are wont to do, while the other, Marian, gleefully joins into the infatuation. They begin to follow Orient wherever he goes, which soon terrifies the pianist as he becomes convinced that they are spies hired by his latest female target's husband. I have always loved the final line of the film, uttered by Valerie after the two girls are reunited as teenagers after a few years of separation. They are in Marian's room trying out various types of makeup and lipstick, and Valerie says, "You know what I like? A mouth like a crimson gash!" 


This morning, one of the two managers here, by the name of Sia, moved into the unit across from mine at Villa Kampung Kumpul. Hers is one of the two large family units, a benefit of being a manager, I guess, because  no doubt she gets a discount. Seems to be a nice young woman, and she will be a long stay tenant. So that makes three people here now, two pretty women and me. Woohoo (I would say if I were young). But I reckon it will probably be convenient to have a manager across the way. I hope. Although she, as with the other girl, will be out at work most of the time. 

I find my left arm this morning more normal in color, though still red compared to the right arm, and it has re-covered itself over night with another top layer of dry, peely skin, although it is not itchy this time around. Seems like a positive development to me, as long as it moisturizes over time. I'm glad at least that this problem did not afflict my face, as I am way to vain, even at my age, for that. 

You know, every time I write something here, I automatically think of my son reading it, as he always did, and then I remember he's not here anymore to read it. And this makes me feel alone and sad. And disbelieving all over again. In the back of my mind, I am always thinking that I can go back to America and visit him. But then I remember that I would have to go a lot farther than that, farther than anyone can travel in the flesh. Then again, maybe he is closer than I imagine. If not, why he is always so present? Are you reading this, Holden? What do you think?