Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to all y'all back on the other side of the world. Here in Bali, of course, we have arrived a day early, or perhaps you are a day late. It matters not, really, because here in Bali Halloween is not celebrated, not because they have anything against it but because they don't really understand what it is. 

"This is the day," my friend Adi once said, "when people dress up like ghosts and monsters, right?" 



Why? Why? Well just because, that's why. Because it's Halloween. 

I don't actually have many very distinct memories of Halloween from my childhood. I cannot remember any of my costumes, for instance. I do remember being told by my mother that on our first Halloween, she made ghost costumes for me and my brother and that it was raining and chilly outside so she made us wear coats over the ghost costumes. It was a decision we were not happy about, but I guess that ultimately wearing a coat was preferable to rebelling and getting no candy. 

I do remember too that in those days one did not always receive candy, especially in our neighborhood. One would get his share of apples, nuts, caramel apples, popcorn balls--things which, in the present day, one's parents will separate from the mix and throw in the garbage, just to be on the safe side. I remember that candy bars back then were as big as your hand, not these finger-sized things that kids receive nowadays, albeit they were generally either Butterfingers or Baby Ruths. 

The one Halloween that I do recall fairly distinctly is the one on which I attended my first dance. I was in the eighth grade and at that age when the thought of interacting with, or actually touching a girl had suddenly and quite mysteriously become not only less than repulsive but curiously and profoundly compelling--something to be desired!, of all things. 

The dance was held in the basement of Julie Meier's house, replete with orange and black streamers, glowering pumpkins, half-gallon bottles of soda pop, party cups, and parents who regularly peered down the basement stairway. I remember dancing with Carole Halverson and with Julie Perella--although our mutual stiff-legged shifting from side to side was more akin to the movement required in moving a heavy chest of drawers than to dancing, per se. And yet, here I was actually touching a girl, and not running straightaway to wash my hands. I mean, touching her on purpose! And yes, God save me, liking it! In this being that had always been there, somewhere in the background, superfluous yet unavoidable, I had discovered an alien lifeform, soft, supple, whispery, formidable, both fascinating and terrifying--and it smelled good too!

As happens at that age--or did in my time, anyway--girls tended to be more mature, more sophisticated in this overall mystery than boys. It was the host, Julie Meier, who next suggested 'a kissing game'. Well, she didn't suggest it. She simply declared it. 

This was too much. I mean it is one thing to touch a girl, but to touch her with one's lips? Oh. No. Way. 

Oh. Yes. Way, Julie commanded. 

Ah but no worries. Ted Huckins, universally considered the most worldly of we boys, came up with a sly plan. The girls, according to the game rules, were to sit together on a long bench with their eyes closed and their backs turned to the boys. Each boy would then creep up to the girl he found most desirable and plant a kiss on the side of her neck. The girl would then guess who had kissed her. 

Dastardly indeed. One might have suspected such things from girls to begin with. 

But what we would do, according to Ted's instructions, would be to wet only two of our own fingers with the tongue and then press these fingers to the girl's neck. In this way, we would not only retain the purity of our virgin lips, but would at the same time avoid the wrath that was sure to be Julie's response should we fail to play the game. 

I don't remember why now, but for some reason the game fell apart before it ever began. Perhaps some of the girls felt as well that this was going too far? Or did Julie's parents just then make another appearance on the stairway? I just remember feeling relieved. Sure, I was ready to grow up--but only step by careful step. 

How young we were! How innocent! All of us like drops of sweet dew teetering on blades of new grass. How old it makes me feel now, how weary in this worn and withered world. "The wine of youth," wrote Carl Jung, "does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid."

Sometimes, yes. But we are always free to remember those first thrilling sips.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Me and the Rapid Expansion of the Universe

A recent article from Business Insider tells us that the universe is expanding faster than scientists thought. It is, the author writes, a "crisis in cosmology" that could require a new physics. 

Well, I can say from personal experience that I have noticed this as well. The older I get, the faster everything goes! Days and nights, for instance, and an in between that flashes past at light speed. Is the universe expanding faster because I am getting older? I suspect so, although I have no scientific data to prove it. Yet. Give me time. 

I happened yesterday to see a photo of myself from two years ago on Facebook. The photo was taken at a time when I had shaved my head and grown a bit of a beard. Hmm, I actually look pretty good there, I thought. Younger. Perhaps the problem is not with an accelerated passage of time, an expansion of the universe, but only with my hair. So I decided last night to shave my hair off. (I'm talking about the hair on my head, of course, not the hair on my entire body). 

This did not have the effect of rendering a younger appearance. Or anything like it. No, it made me look more like an elderly, somewhat crazed Charlie Brown who had escaped from the nursing home. Not at all what I was shooting for. 

Clearly, therefore, in just two years, time had completely transformed my person to an extent that should have taken, or so it seems to me, at least ten years. Forget telescopes and physics and astronomical measurements. I am the evidence of the greatly accelerated expansion of the universe, the daring escape of time itself. Ozymandias. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


One will very often see women 'serving' men here in Indonesia. Even after eight years here (or is it nine?), this seems decidedly un-American to me. Twenty-first century American, I mean. Or even mid 20th century American. 

One will see a couple come into Starbucks, for instance, and observe as the man sets his ass down in a chair while the woman goes and arranges the coffee order, brings the coffee to the man, brings him a napkin and so on and so forth, gets him all set up before sitting down and enjoying her own coffee. I have even seen women feeding men, as if the man is too helpless to lift his own spoon. 

Isn't it generally the other way around in America? 

Well, at least that's the sort of behavior my father always taught me. Open the door for a woman, find her a seat, take care of the order, don't start eating until the woman has begun. These were the common social graces, the behavior that typified a gentleman. 

Is that all passe now? 

There is an attitude among some American men that Asian women are preferable because they are more respectful of the man, more 'lak a woman arta be'. In short, subservient. Well, I hate to tell y'all, but they are not this way by choice. They are this way according to a long history of cultural conditioning. They don't behave this way out of superior respect but merely out of habit. They too in due time will struggle through their own period of liberation toward the goal of true equality, hopefully, wherein we "serve one another in love" (Gal 5:13). 

I know of a Pennsylvania man who had proposed marriage to an Indonesian friend of mine. His expectation, as he openly admitted, was that she would be more 'submissive' than an American woman. She was to raise his child, do the cooking and housework and other such chores, while he would go out into the world and bring home the bacon. She was to marry him upon her arrival in the States (although they had never yet met in person) and they would proceed to live happily ever after. 

Well, this woman phoned me one day, weeping because her fiancé had angrily shouted at her on a video call. 

"Why?" I asked. 

"He said he was busy when I called. I had interrupted him."  

"Hmm. So why not just ask you to kindly call later?"

"Well … I guess it irritated him. I shouldn't have called when he was busy." 

A blatant trespass, that. 

Soon, the scene was to repeat itself when the poor woman had the audacity to express herself honestly, and with an eye toward being helpful, in explaining to him that Muslims are just people like everyone else, not for the most part crazed terrorists. 

This met with violent rejection, more shouting and cursing. 

"Honey," I advised, "run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Your boyfriend is a nitwit and you are going to end up committing yourself to a life in hell." 

Happily, she ultimately agreed and cut all ties with the man (who is probably even now seeking a replacement slave). 

Don't serve a man. Serve a love that serves you in turn. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

The American Comedy

Lately, I've taken to getting my American news, otherwise known as The Trump Show (or the Daily Dumpster) from popular comedians such as Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, for it has become otherwise so unpalatable, so irritating, so maddening as to be dangerous to one's mental and emotional health. Laughter, as an outlet for frustration and outrage, seems boundlessly preferable to anger, to smashing one's laptop with his fist or throwing one's cellphone against the wall. Indeed, these comedians are merely using as their material the factual happenings at the top of our government and in the halls of Congress, but they are doing so in a way that expresses a certain sharply honed camaraderie in disbelief and bitter  astonishment. We are not alone after all. Here the cynicism, the rampant hypocrisy, the lies and fakery and lame excuses are laid bare and we are invited to laugh uproariously rather than weep hopelessly. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Brunch at Batu Jimbar

Had a rare visit this morning to Batu Jimbar, a popular restaurant in Sanur, for brunch (or would that make the time of day 'brorning?'). Well anyway, here they call it siang, which is any time after 10 am up till about 3 pm, as far as I can figure, at which point it becomes sore

This was to be a gathering of my ex-wife, her boyfriend, and a 'brunch' of their friends and associates. As is the Indonesian 'custom', however, very few (which is to say none) of these friends and associates showed up. The tradition is to either show up  late or not at all. So the party ended up consisting of me, Louis, Wayne, and my friend Peter (actually Petr in Dutch, which he is). 

Ah well. It turns out that on every Sunday a 'Sunday Market' and smorgasbord is held at Batu Jimbar. I had yellow rice mixed with chicken and pork and tempe and God knows what else. Delicious! 

Some few years ago, I would often go to Batu Jimbar at night to take videos of my wife while she learned to dance salsa. I guess the idea was that she could learn by watching herself and critiquing her performance later on the phone video. And learn she did, such that she is now quite the accomplished salsa-ist. Salsarina? I dunno. It was disappointing to her that I couldn't, or wouldn't (or kwoudn't) do these twirling gyrations, but at least I was useful as a cameraman. 

It was a bit odd, though, being in this old place with this new group and new arrangement. Curiously, all I could think of was what an odd couple we had been, I being so quiet and sedate, she being so raucously all over the place, though not unpleasantly so. I could not help but think how odd this must look to my new friend, Peter. Like, hold on … you were married to her?

But that's okay. It seems odd to me as well. And I cannot help but think how much more appropriate the current situation is. What was in the past seems now to have been some sort of error or accident, and all things are now as they were supposed to have been to begin with. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

It's All About Herbs

Of late, I have been watching the TV series Alone, wherein ten contestants trained in survival techniques are sent each season into one or another forbidding locale to test their skills, each hoping to be the last man, or woman, standing. As can be readily imagined, this challenge tests both the physical and mental strength of each survivalist to the limits as well as their knowledge and prowess in hunting game, utilizing the resources of the land, constructing a shelter, and so on. The contestants are scattered miles apart from one another, and so relationship, arguably the most challenging element in human endeavor, does not enter into the equation. Thus the title, Alone. It is an interesting, fairly entertaining series for the picture it draws of the frailty of even the stronger and more able of human beings in opposition to the awesome and unforgiving power of nature. 

But aside from all that, what caught my attention in a particular episode was the statement of a young woman with multiple sclerosis. After being diagnosed, she tells us, she was in very bad shape--bedridden, couldn't walk, was in a wheelchair--but then finally 'got hold of herself' and, through willpower and the use of various herbs and green healthy legumes, got back to 100 percent good health, such that she is now able to take part in this demanding TV challenge. 

What's this? You mean to say I've been suffering with MS all this time when I could have just been eating leaves and granola while telling myself to "buck up". 

Well, hmm, I'm sorry to tell you, honey, but if there were an herbal, dietary cure for MS, we would all be chowing down herbs and vegetables by the fistful. In fact, however, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there is no dietary practice that can treat or cure MS.

Most of us who have hung out with this disease for a considerable time know that in relapsing/remitting MS we will suffer an attack, incur damage from that attack, and then gradually recover function, especially in the earlier years. I suffered my first serious attack of MS in 2007--had no feeling in my feet, little feeling in my legs, was often confused and spaced out. By 2010, I felt fine, moved with my family to Bali, and during my first few years here suffered no symptoms of MS that I was aware of--such that I, too, confidently declared myself free of the disease all together--and I hadn't eaten a single herb or quaffed a single magic potion. 

And then came the next serious attack. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad this young woman is feeling well. I was glad to feel well too, and I made the most of it while I could. Nonetheless, it seems somewhat irresponsible to leave the TV viewing audience with the impression that MS is perfectly treatable, moreover curable, through healthy eating. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Takut the Barely Tolerable Dog

There are those who continue to mistake me for Takut the dog's owner. This includes Takut himself. 

They will tell me for instance that Takut should not lie on the sofa on the back patio. It makes no nevermnd to me whether he does or not. What does it have to do with me? 

They will ask me whether Takut has had his "injections". How should I know? I don't even know where he came from. In fact, he was already living within the villa grounds when I arrived, albeit under the back patio floor, until he discovered that the new arrival would be kind of him and give him some food. 

They will mention upon passing my porch that Takut is jelek, kotor, and bau (ugly, dirty, and smelly). I agree, he is. But again, what has it to do with me? Perhaps they want to give him a bath. I sure as hell don't. He's not that kind of dog. Moreover, it seems to me a fair certainty that he would bite anyone trying to bathe him, including the guy who is kind to him and feeds him. 

Takut believes at this point that people in the villa generally like him. He is mistaken. They either just tolerate him or just barely tolerate him. Nonetheless, he will wag his tail upon seeing his fellow residents and wander out to greet those who pass by, not wondering, apparently, why they are giving him such a wide berth as they pass. 

The villa owner tolerates him, I suppose, because I am a long-term tenant and pay my rent promptly every month. Others tolerate him because the owner tolerates him. Still others, the short-stay folks, tolerate him because they probably figure he's supposed to be there, given that he was there when they arrived and will be there when they leave. 

At the same time, there is a family of cats that has been there since before I arrived as well, and everyone more than tolerates these cats. They like them, especially given that five of them are "cute" little kittens. I'm the only one who does not like them. I don't like cats. I tolerate them. These cats make use of the back patio sofas just the same as Takut--more so, really, since Takut is usually in my room or on my porch. 

When one tenant complained recently, as I have mentioned, that Takut should not lie on the sofa, I responded that although it didn't make no nevermind to me one way or t'other, perhaps the cats shouldn't lie on the sofas either? 

"Oh. Yes, but cats are cleaner." 

The hell they are. Nonetheless, as far as I'm concerned, they're welcome to the cushions, tufts of shed fur and all. 

You know, all that any of these poor critters want is a little affection. They live for it. It seems to be their purpose. To be affectionate and to enjoy affection in return. Takut, as I have said before, was very skittish and fearful when I first arrived at the villa. It seemed clear that he had not previously enjoyed a very affectionate time with people. He was hiding from people, just trying to be safe, just trying to be obscure. He did not come out and wag his tail or sit on the sofas or sit on anyone's porch. He cowered and hid and yet longed, as all dogs do, for a pat on the head, a tug on the ear, someone to talk to him, someone's porch to sit on, someone's home to guard. 

When people ask me, 'Is that your dog?', I say 'No. He's everyone's dog.' And he is. Some of them just don't know it yet. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Wrinkles the Clown

Because I am not particularly interested in creepy clowns, or in clowns in general, I had several times passed over Wrinkles the Clown among my film viewing choices, thinking that it was probably just an IT spinoff. Realizing, however, that this is actually a documentary, I decided to give it a watch. 

Wrinkles the Clown is the story of an unnamed retired Floridian who decided one day to place an ad on Craig's List offering, for a fee, to attend parties, scare misbehaving children, and prank people. 

Wrinkles himself was amazed at the eager response to the ad. Who knew that so many people would feel the need to scare their naughty toddlers into adjusting their behavior? For Wrinkles, it doesn't take much. It's an easy buck (though he charges far more than a buck). The suffering parent need only threaten the child with a phone call to Wrinkles the Clown. The kids themselves will have seen him on YouTube, lurking in bedrooms, on street corners, in the dark, frowning ominously, clutching his bouquet of balloons. They will have seen IT as well, the Stephen King creation who eats children, even good ones. 

The offending children will shriek in terror, promise repentance--nonetheless, they have gone too far, the call has been placed, and, sure enough, Wrinkles soon shows up in the back yard, or at the bedroom window, staring, frowning. 

Predictably, some have responded that this is parentally irresponsible, tantamount to child abuse, a cruelty that will scar the child for life. To this, Wrinkles (who narrates the documentary)responds the parents have done the same thing since time immemorial by threatening damnation and eternal suffering in hell at the hands of God. The difference is that children don't believe in God anymore, but they sure as hell believe in Wrinkles the Clown. They've seen him, after all, on their iPhones, their iPads, their laptops. 

Both terrified and thrilled, the children have begun also to call Wrinkles' number. shrieking with delight when his message service clicks in. "He's real! Oh my God!"

Now Wrinkles gets thousands of calls every week, from parents, from children, from admirers, from haters. He hears everything from curious inquiries to incredibly violent threats and crude curses. 

But the most interesting thing about this documentary, to me anyway, is its showcasing of the astounding stupidity of so many common American citizens. Children have an excuse for being ignorant, right? They are only children, and have not yet learned. But what about the adults? What's up with a man who calls a clown in order to describe how he is going to beat him to death, hang him from a tree, burn him alive? What's up with people who panic at the random report of a gang of clowns lurking in the woods? Clowns were reported  driving around in a van, looking for children. The police were called. Apparently someone has called on Wrinkles to come and sort out the human race in general? Is that it? And yet, all they had to do was look the thing up on Google. Wrinkles the Clown is the alias of a retired Floridian who, seeking some pocket money, placed an ad on Craig's List. Why this willful preference for the counter-intuitive, the conspiracy theory, the urban legend, the shadowy adversary? 

Is it any wonder, after all, that millions of these folks voted for Donald Trump, and continue to so violently believe in him? They are immune to facts, bewitched by fables, confident and proud in their ignorance. They are no more than children themselves--and misbehaving children at that. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Came down to Starbucks Sanur today to enjoy the cheaper coffee, but find that I am unable to connect to the internet here. So, gosh, what’s the point?  Especially considering that the coffee is actually more expensive. 

Let me ‘splain. In Sanur, and in any Starbucks located in any tourist hub, the coffee is more expensive. My usual drink, a grande latte, here in Sanur is 58.000. In Renon, the cost is 49.000. A considerable difference. This is because Renon is outside the tourist zone, and outlets outside the tourist zone expect to serve mostly locals. Yeah, it’s not fair and it’s not nice, but that’s the way it is.

Therefore, in Sanur I order a short Americano, which is 35.000. Of course, I could do the same thing in Renon, most likely for considerably less than 35.000—maybe 30.000, I dunno. I’ll have to ask. On the other hand, at the Renon Starbucks, one must pay an hourly fee to park in the lot, which usually ends up being 6.000 for me given the usual length of my stay. Therefore, the cheaper latte, at 49.000, becomes, with the parking fee, 55.000, which is not a whole lot different than the 58.000 asked at Sanur.

Of course, I could just stay home and make my own coffee, and encounter, to boot, no problem getting online. But I fear that would result in a bad case of cabin fever. Moreover, packing up my laptop and actually going somewhere is somewhat like getting dressed, putting on a necktie, and going to work. It’s a mission, a job, and I write when I arrive on the job because that’s what I came to do. Actually, I’m not that wild anymore about coffee for its own sake.

Ah, it’s all so confusing, isn’t it? Typical of my daily challenges here in paradise

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Something by which I have been lately impressed in talking to several young Indonesian women lately is an appreciation of the strength upon which they have arrived as a result of coming from where they have been. As women in this developing nation, whether of Muslim or Hindu heritage, they have long been counted as second class members in society, burdened and hindered by male oriented expectations and role restrictions. Of course, it is a dynamic with which women everywhere are intimately acquainted, and yet the modern western woman must cast back fifty years or so to recollect a time when so many doors were still quite firmly closed, so many avenues either strictly forbidden or fraught with threat and negative consequence. 

A female in the Balinese culture, for instance, upon marriage becomes a member of her new family and no longer of her birth family, which holds no further obligation or responsibility. If she divorces her new husband, she cannot simply 'go home', for her home is exclusively the house of the new husband and family. To her birth family, she is a shame, and in society an object of scorn. No surprise, then, that a bad marriage is quietly endured. 

But even in a happy situation, the expectations of a woman are rigidly focused on child-bearing and meal preparation, the satisfaction of religious roles and functions. The wide world, its freedoms and rewards, its challenges and intricacies, is left to men.

It is exactly for these reasons, through struggle, through stubborn, tireless effort, through striving against the current, through the character and mind steeling exercise of the ambition to succeed in freedom against all odds that the Indonesian woman has formed in herself a creature of superior character and strength to that of the man who has simply trod along the well marked routes of tradition. 

And what I very often see is that the emancipated woman, along her difficult way, has essentially left the typical man behind. She is now smarter than he, wiser than he, more emotionally sophisticated than he, more able than he. Is it any surprise that so many now seek to depart the country all together? What a strange thing it must be--to have wanted only to be equal, but to have ended up more than equal. 

Of course, there's a serpent in this garden as well, that being the inheritance of the peculiar burdens of men--but that's a nuther story all together, ain't it. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Products of Conception

Peter appears to have many pretty, young female friends. I swear, I have not met so many young women in the last two years as I have in the last two weeks. Well, but Peter is a very friendly, very outgoing fellow. He connects with people easily (especially young female people, I guess). Despite the fact that he is 68. But the point is, he is not shy about taking that step that is so difficult for many of us, to go beyond the passing nod or the polite smile. And Peter is not trying to be anything other than friendly, nor does he see any barrier in age difference. 

So it happens that I have most recently been introduced to Irena. An up-and-coming 21 year old. Irena is perfectly fluent in English and smart as a tack, ready at the drop of a hat to express a well considered viewpoint on just about any subject--Balinese culture, lucrative business practices, academic studies, even Donald Trump and American politics. Doesn't like Trump, to put it mildly. Thinks that I look like Bernie Sanders. Likes Sanders, but worries that he is too old to do the job. Feels that Biden is nice but dreary. 

For some reason, in the course of a long conversation, we ended up talking about the Balinese tradition of burying, after the birth of a baby, the umbilical cord and other products of conception (called Ari-Ari, a term that includes the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord, placenta, and blood). This is not only a Balinese practice, but occurs in various forms in many cultures around the world. I was aware of it vaguely, but had never understood what they were up to. It is very strange to an American or to a westerner, isn't it? To us, these products are no more than garbage to be disposed of in decidedly unceremonious manner.

In Bali, and among Hindu cultures in general, the products are buried in a very deep hole. The hole is filled in and a mound of earth is fashioned atop the hole. On this mound, various symbolic offerings are placed and a chicken coop, fashioned from bamboo, is constructed on top of the mound, to include chickens. All of these buried birth products are considered siblings of the living baby, the first family members who helped the baby grow in the womb.  

Various other symbolic practices attend this burial site as the child grows and finally leaves home, still connected not only to his or her family members, but to those first siblings now resting in the earth. 

Plain superstition, we in the west may say. And yet, does it not seem infinitely more respectful, more reverential than simply tossing the stuff in a sterile waste container? Is it all black and white, all cut and dried, or are we, blinded by science and sophistication, missing something of critical spiritual importance--a reverence for the life by which we were made.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


I loved you after the time had passed. You probably loved me then too. Both too late. I was a twerp. You were an ass. Neither of us wanted to be. I remember hating you with a hate that stung so sharp that tears welled in my eyes. How must you have felt to have to look upon this? As badly as I? Or worse? Yes, worse I think. I did not know that I did not exist without you. I sat in the top of a tree, desperate with love, waiting one night, and when your car finally showed up and rolled into the garage, I hated you even more, for all was well after all. You were eternal, indestructible. In fact, I loved you that much. May I tell you now? I'm sorry that your favorite, your first son died and left only me. Your boots left marks in the mud ahead of mine. My feet might have fallen into your boot soles had I not so carefully avoided it. Is it not ironic that you taught me everything I knew without for a moment meaning to? On the rocky shore, shivering, we sat side-by-side, two Budweisers between us, smoking, carefully silent as we shared the thrills of the day, lying slick and speckled in our creels. I asked you something and you did not answer because you already knew that I should have already known. "Father … how do you know where the fish are?" But honestly, I did not ask, except in my head. Words were no more available to me than to you. I watched you die. The light of your blue eyes rested as they faded once more on me. And I could think of nothing to do but to embrace my mother. Sir … Father … Dad … How do you know where the fish are? I know you have shown me all along. Nonetheless. Can you show me again? 

A Dip in the Pool

I took a rare swim in the villa pool yesterday and remembered in the process why I don't often swim in the villa pool. 

On approaching the pool to begin with, I noted that the stone path along the way was far too hot for bare feet. So it was back to the room to retrieve my flip-flops. 

Returning to the pool, I noted that I had brought my cigarettes but no lighter. 

Back to the room for the lighter.

Situating myself on the hard plastic of the lounge chair, I remembered that there is no cushion for the chair. I also remembered that I had left my phone in the room. 

Back to the room. 

In a sweat by now given the 90 degrees of the tropical heat, I threw myself into the pool only to  discover that the water, too, was quite warm. I had really not intended to take a warm bath. In fact, it would have been a better idea just to stand in a cold shower for a while. 

I emerged from the warm pool into the searing sunshine and then laid myself on the lounge chair in the suffocating shade. 

And decided to go back to the room. 

All the Little Things

As one CNN commentator put it this morning, "Without third party candidates in 2016, such as Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton is now president."
Good Lord, he's right. So many were so squeamish about casting for Clinton that they essentially ended up electing a dangerous lunatic to the most powerful office in the world.
Gosh, I remember arguing this at the time. 'Dude, a vote against Clinton is a vote for Trump! Don't do it!'
Well, here we are, as much a result of straight out Trump voters as of never-Clinton voters.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Bule Babies

I had the pleasure of meeting Tila in person yesterday afternoon--the girl who wants to speak American. A delightful, peppy, energetic young woman full of easy laughter and expansive gestures. Ah, youth. Peter was present as well, for it was Peter who had introduced her in the first place. 

Tila had told me previously that she was studying sastra at college. It turns out that by sastra, which is sometimes translated as literature, she means language. I discovered this when I happened to mention Shakespeare and she said "Who?"

So, yeah, she is studying the English language and hopes to become a dosen, or lecturer. I asked whether she wanted to stay in Indonesia or move to a western country. 

"Oh, I want to move to America, or maybe to England, because I want to marry a bule (a westerner). 

"So, you will need to fall in love first," Peter said.

Tila was not so sure. 

"What I really want," she explained, "is a bule baby." As for love? Well, that was perhaps of secondary concern at best.

Why a bule baby? Well, naturally, because mixed white-Asian babies are the most beautiful in the world! It is an old story, of which I was already aware. Where they got this idea, I don't know. To me, as the old joke goes, they all look like Nikita Krushchev. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Word Contamination

Wow! My readership has gone down to about zero, as far as my stat counter shows anyway. Lol. A measure of my declining writing abilities, I guess. It's okay, I understand. These days I find myself very often using my phone to find synonyms in hopes that I will come upon the word I actually wanted, the one that was on the tip of my tongue yet relentlessly unavailable. The one that would have come to me readily a couple of years ago. Worse than forgetting individual words is forgetting what I wanted to say in the midst of the piece I am writing. As just now happened. 


Have you ever noticed that the word "disease" is a whole lot worse than disorder. One might say, I have a disease of the central nervous system called multiple sclerosis", or he may say "I have a neurologic disorder which affects my central nervous system." The latter sounds so much better, don't you think. I mean, a disorder is one thing, a disease is quite another. And "No one," as the lyrics of the old West Side Story song go, "likes a fellow with a social disease". Or any other sort of disease. 

Susan Sontag addresses this in her book, Illness as Metaphor. Disease, she suggests, is something that makes a person seem tainted, frightening, somehow unclean and unworthy. Disorder is something we all have, and sometimes even embrace. It makes us different rather than contaminated. 

My name is Richard, and I have a neurologic disorder. 

Well, you see how I lose the thread? What did I start out to say. Ah, yes, that my readership had plummeted. 

No wonder. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Speaking American

"I want to learn to speak American," Tila said. 

"You can't," I answered. 

"Yes, I can. You are American. You can teach me."

"But, the thing is, there's no such thing as 'the American language.' We speak English."

"English? No American?"


"But I want to learn to speak like an American. Okay? You understand?"

Well. Hmm. Yes, she means, of course, English with an American accent. She means that she wants to speak in an American way, like the people in the movies. 

But it's not as simple as that, is it. An American speaks in a variety of accents, depending on where he comes from--eastern, midwestern, southern, west coast, and so on. It is interesting that these are not readily discernable to the Indonesian speaker. Then again, I suppose that an Indonesian may discern a difference in the speech of a native of the island of Java, for instance, as opposed to someone who comes from Borneo.

Or perhaps Tila means that she wants to learn the common expressions and slang usage of an American as opposed to an Australian, for instance--as in Ga-day or mate (pronounced 'mite'). Although that, too, will be different according to where you come from. I was watching an interview of a woman from Louisiana who said 'But I will do tell you this.' Not something anyone outside the south would say. 

In fact, I have met a number of Indonesians who've expressed the desire to 'speak like an American.' And that is a tall order indeed. Indonesian, for instance, does not have an I sound as in Itch or idiom or, indeed, Richard. (That's why I changed my name to Will--and even here, they say Weel. Moreover, we do not roll our R's, while in Indonesian they are rolled mercilessly. 

So where to begin? I guess I can listen to what she says and then repeat it back 'in American', so that she might lose some of the beloved R's and Eeeee's. 

We can start with 'Richard'. Or, as she would say, Rrr-eee-chad. She's a bright girl, a college student, and I rrreckon she's bound to succeed. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Autumn Fever in Indonesia

Autumn in Indonesia must be like springtime in America--or rather, spring fever time, when males and females grow 'frisky'. Well, the females, anyway. Males are always frisky, right? We hardly need a special season for it. 

I say this because I've noticed that I can go without significant contact from the opposite sex throughout the rest of the year, but when Autumn strikes, it seems that a number of females suddenly want to chat me up (at least). Lately, I've had three and four WhatsApp conversations going simultaneously--an activity fraught with danger for me, as I so often forget to change screens and end up saying something to one person which I meant for another, sometimes with distinctly unfortunate consequences. 

Why, you ask, would anyone want to talk with an old, unwell, worn out man such as myself? Well, it may be partly because Indonesians will be planning rainy season trips to Bali, this being the most affordable time to do so, and looking for a convenient hook-up that might provide a source of food and/or living quarters. In fact, my old, unwell, worn out-ness may seem a kind of guarantee of safety.  

Is this too cynical? Maybe. Maybe not.  I will  only say that although I have just one small room, I've already had two young woman (comparatively so, that is) 'offer' to stay in my place. Purely for convenience, you understand. No touching, although food will be accepted. 

I wonder if it will be a problem if two or three are staying here at the same time. Perhaps I can loan one or two out to a neighbor. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Memory, or the Absence of the Same

Peter, the new tenant here at Villa Kampung Kumpul, wanted to know where I got my easy chair and how much I had paid for it. I told him with the utmost confidence that I did not know, for my ex-wife, Louis, had found and purchased the chair somewhere in Denpasar. I told Peter that I would contact her for the details. 

Much to my surprise, Louis, long distance from Brunei, informed me that I myself had bought the chair. 

"No I didn't," I confidently argued. "You and Wayne got the chair and brought it to the house." 

"No," she said. "You bought the chair at some store on Gatot Subroto. I was with you. Wayne wasn't there. You picked out the chair yourself." 

I have no recollection of this whatsoever. And yet, she would certainly have no reason to lie. How can it be? My mind had replaced an actual event with an invented one wherein she and Wayne had gone out and bought a chair and brought it to the house (I was in Renon at that time). I knew this falsehood to be absolutely true. 

It is one thing to have forgotten an event, but quite another to have invented a alternative scenario in its place. How does that happen? Does it seem convenient in the forgetful mind to instantly construct a series of particulars in order to protect itself from the admission that something is broken? True, the selection and purchase of a chair is not an earthshaking event--nonetheless, Louis had remembered it truly, despite the fact that it was not her chair, not her choice, and not her expense. 

These sorts of things both irritate and fascinate me. How strange it is to discover one's own actions through a series of interviews, the testimony of others. The more I got accustomed to Louis' story, the more I realized that it was quite true. Actual particulars were inspired in my mind through her description, her narrative, and I knew, piece-by-piece, that these things had happened just in the way she described. Moreover, I was able to fill in a further detail--that being that we had actually fit the chair into the back of her economy-size station wagon, brought it to the house, and I myself had carried it inside. How had this been replaced by an uninvolved role on my part, by the idea, the sureness, that the chair had been delivered and installed in the front room without my lifting a finger? 


My son had an eidetic memory. How did that happen? Is eidetic memory inherited? Well, not from me, anyway. And not from his mother. Not from anyone I can think of in my family--although my mother was adopted, so who knows? 

Holden was able to read something once and then later refer you to a particular passage. In the Bible, for instance. One might mention a certain scripture, not knowing exactly where it was to be found, and he would say, "Ah yes, that's Isaiah chapter twenty-two, verse five, I think." And he thought right, give or take a verse. 

It's just as much a mystery to me how his mind did that as it is how my mind invents a false memory. 

Monday, October 14, 2019


Seventeen years on, Bali observed the anniversary of the deadly terrorist bombing of 2002 in which 202 were killed and 209 injured. At a Saturday night prayer vigil for the victims, several people lost consciousness from the trauma of the memory. Two of the bombings on the night of October 12th occurred at two popular clubs in Kuta and a third near the American consulate. The bombings took the lives of 164 foreigners from 24 countries and 38 Indonesians. Fears were stoked this October by the arrest of suspected terrorists throughout Indonesian, including in Bali. 

New Street

I happened to discover quite accidentally the other day that there is a new street in my neighborhood. I was headed on the usual street, which is also the only street, out to the main road for a trip up to Denpasar when I, and everyone else, came upon a crowded wedding in progress, essentially blocking the street to through traffic. I was directed by a man tasked for that function to use a very skinny street that cut up to the right instead. Upon following that street (alleyway, really), I came upon a brand new road leading also to the main highway. This is important, because there is otherwise only one narrow street that snakes through my neighborhood from one end to the other.

This new street is also very narrow, but it has been newly cut and paved and is, so far, very lightly travelled. It is also more open, running between stark green rice fields, and is really rather scenic in an otherwise decidedly un-scenic neighborhood. 

So I decided to walk up there this morning and snap some photos. Along the way, I met a fieldworker who told me that the street would soon be extended so that it will run all the way through the neighborhood parallel to the old street. Progress!

Sunday, October 13, 2019


I was chatting online this morning with a young Indonesian woman, a girl of college age, who for some reason decided to describe her views on sex. 

She did not like to be constrained, she said, by common societal restrictions such as apply to sex before marriage. As far as she was concerned, there is no need for marriage in general, and certainly no need for marriage before sexual relations. 

For example, she saw no problem with going to bed with a friend, although her friends, and of course the society at large, judge her badly for this view. 

Well, eventually we moved on to what sort of foods I most enjoy eating here in Bali. I mentioned a few, including babi guling. 

"Oh, no," she said. "I can't have that. I am Muslim."

Hmmmm …. 

On the Obnoxious Anonymous

I find myself this morning roundly attacked on Facebook regarding a comment I made about the movie Joker. I always find this sort of thing very strange. Why are people so angry? Why would they respond so hotly to a comment from a random person on Facebook? I could see expressing an intelligent objection to my opinion, a discussion of the intent of the movie, but why the suggestion that I perform all sorts of anatomically impossible feats upon my person? 

Joker has become the subject of rather intense debate. There are those who insist that there is a political message, although just what that message is ranges from rejection of capitalism to the ascendency of Trumpism, and so on and so forth. Most film critics seem to feel that the movie was pointless at worst or simply failed to make its point at best (and I'm inclined to agree). 

I did, however, see a review on a Catholic website that managed to find some considerable worth in the movie--not as a political statement but as a cultural statement regarding the failure of society to meet the needs of its weakest members, those who are marginalized, especially by mental illness. And the Joker himself is most certainly mentally ill, and could have been helped at many steps along the way by a compassionate society.

But there are many among us, especially when they are able to be anonymous (as on Facebook), who are decidedly less than compassionate--who, in fact, are looking to be unkind, abusive, which must, I presume, come from some seething anger within them.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Language as Taught Versus Language as Spoken

Language as taught in textbooks is occasionally at odds with language as employed by native speakers. I am always happy therefore to be corrected by someone kind enough to take a moment to explain. 

We are told for instance in the text books that "selamat tinggal" is a correct form of saying 'goodbye'. If someone is leaving a place--say a friend who has been visiting for instance--we are to say "Selamat jalan". The person leaving is to say "Selamat tinggal to the party who is not leaving. 

However, I was told yesterday that, in reality, saying "Selamat tinggal" is quite inappropriate, as it conveys, colloquially, a sort of curse, indicating that that person staying behind is actually about to die (from the verb "meninggal").

So, yeah … good to know. 

One is to say simply "Sampai jumpa" (see you next time), or some variation like "Sampai nanti" (see you later) or Sampai ketemu lagi (until we meet again). 

There are other forms within the language group where one thing in Indonesian means quite another in a local language (such as Balinese). One may ask, in Indonesian, if you'd like more to eat. "Masih lapar?" (still hungry?). The proper answer in Indonesian, if you're not hungry, is "Sudah kenyang" (I'm already full). In Balinese, however, 'kenyang' means that you have an erection--which, of course, always inspires peals of laughter). 

So, yeah. Again … good to know. 

In addition, there are many words that are employed in one island group but not in another. If you are in Java, "Mas" means 'young man'. In Bali the word "Bli" is used, meaning the same thing. Similarly, words of Arabic derivation will be commonly used in majority Muslim locales and not used in Hindu or Christian locales. 

In short, it's all more complicated than straight textbook grammar and diction. 

Curiously, I am told that a young woman (the friend of a friend) wonders if I can teach her to speak "American". Of course, there is no such thing as the American language. We speak English. On the other hand, there is such a thing as American when compared to Australian or the Queen's English (in fact, there are times when I have no idea what an Australian is saying). So, sure, I will try to teach the young woman 'American'. Although it may be (and probably is) that I myself am rather rusty where current usage is concerned.  

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New Arrival

As I walked into Starbucks the day before yesterday, a man sitting at one of the tables gestured to me, asking me to come over for a moment. He introduced himself as "Peter" and explained that he had often seen me here. 

So we got to talking. Peter is from the Netherlands and has stayed in Bali off and on through the last ten years. It turned out in the course of the conversation that he was unhappy with arrangements in his current residence, a small apartment complex in which he is the only tenant. The main problem, he explained, is loneliness. Further description also revealed that he was paying way too much for a room he could get for half the price where I am living. 

The same day, Peter came and looked at the place--at the vacant room that just happens to be directly next door to my own--and ended up moving in the same day. 

So I have now a neighbor from the Netherlands. 

Peter seems to be a nice old fellow (I can say 'old fellow' because he is actually older than I, albeit in better health)--very sociable, happy to be in a community again. 

The arrival of Peter makes the apartment complex full now, a big difference from being empty but for me and one other resident just a few months ago. The more the merrier, I guess. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Not an Australian

Why do people here, western and Indonesian alike, always mistake me for an Australian? I mean, the American accent, in every manifestation--Southern, Eastern, Midwestern, West Coast--is nothing like the Australian accent. I mean, I can pick out an Australian or a German or a Dutch person, or a French person or, indeed, an American, the minute that person opens his or her mouth. Maybe it's because there's really no such thing as an American accent. We all come, after all, from somewhere else.

The Alienating Effect of Social Media

There is a bitter sort of irony to be found in the fact that social media, which is ostensibly meant to make human connection and understanding easier, can actually have the opposite effect, making one feel more alienated than ever. Silence is not a huge surprise when one cannot be readily or extensively heard, yet becomes particularly deafening when one knows that his words have not fallen into empty space but into a space teeming with ears. Moreover, the absence of response, especially to things that tend to be more heartfelt or personal than would be likely to come up in casual conversation, can seem the same as rejection. Worse yet, there are those even in high places, people of "great and unmatchable wisdom", who use various social media platforms specifically in order to denigrate and insult others. Although this, admittedly, is an extreme example. In any case, it is clear that if we did not desire a response, we would not bother to speak (or post). And it is equally clear that the sound of crickets is not what we were looking for. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


I don't usually bother with watching movies like "Joker" (or Batman, or The Avengers, or X-Men, or whatever). I had read, however, that Joker had something to say about what had led such a large portion of the populace to vote for Donald Trump, and so I decided to give it a look. 

Frankly, I didn't see what it had to do with Trump or with any particular political statement. The movie was interesting, however, to the extent that it was probably just about the most depressing movie I have ever seen, relentlessly dark and dismal, unsettling. 

I remember reading recently a Facebook entry by an Indonesian woman who warned against taking one's children to the movie. One imagines, naturally, that it's going to have something to do with Batman, superheroes, supervillains and such like. Not at all. I suppose it is about why and how the Joker became the Joker, and it certainly is a pitiful story of human unkindness and abuse--and it is much too strong and too real to be appropriate for children. So I would echo the same warning. 

Joker actually bordered on being a good movie, and I will say that the performance of the main player, as the Joker, was impressive--so intense, really, that it was sometimes hard to watch. However, I can't see that the narrative ever focused on any redeeming idea or commentary. In short, I can't recommend it. 

The High Crime of Oversleeping

There's a story popping up here and there on my news feed about a young man who accidentally slept through his jury duty appointment and for this was brought before a judge and sentenced to ten days in jail. 

America is a land of law and order they say. This is why the democracy works they say. Yet it seems to me that these same laws seldom apply to the powerful. They only apply to the small folks, the little people, the common citizens, to those who sleep late. At the very top, among the rich, among the politically powerful, among the somebodies, we see these laws transgressed again and again, and blatantly so. Take Donald Trump, for instance. Tax evasion, bribery, corruption, money laundering--hey, no problem. Just throw some money at it. Just hire squads of lawyers, tie it up in court. Just claim special privilege. 

What a crock of shit it all is. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Averages and Evolution

In a novel I am reading (Kronik Burung Pegas, by Haruki Murakami, English title The Windup Bird Chronicle), and have been reading for a long while (it's 900 pages of small print), a teenage girl asks the question 'What would happen if people lived forever? Would they care very much about things going on in the world? She concludes that they would not, that there would exist no sense of urgency pressing them to get anything done, anything explained, anything accomplished. All things can be put off till tomorrow, ad infinitum. Why would any of these human philosophies matter? In fact, she theorizes, it is our mortality that drives us to strive toward meaningful philosophies, toward fathoming, toward fashioning some sort of permanence that will outlast the individual. It is therefore convenient for evolution to include death such that the species itself, ironically, may evolve. 

It's not something I had ever thought about. Murakami is good at that--at coming up with stuff people have not really thought about.  But I reckon, upon consideration, that the girl is just about right. Death, in this sphere anyway, in this dimension that we know, happens in the interest of mankind. It is as much a part of the plan as birth. 

Is this also why we feel, as we grow older, as we see more and more clearly the edge of the far horizon now drawn near, a sense of urgency become more urgent yet? We think 'Okay, I know, I have always known. I just didn't intend to get here so quickly. But wait, I'm not done. There are things that need to be ordered, put in place, tidied up. There are loose ends that need to be tied. The work is not done.'

I am 65 now, for just a few more months. Perhaps. I wonder if these things work on a sort of hereditary average. If I take the ages of my immediate family members, the average age of demise puts me at 56.75. Therefore, I have already outlived myself by roughly 9 years. Talk about a sense of urgency! Furthermore, if you add in the ages of my grandparents on my father's side, my average age of demise decreases even further. On the other hand, my mother was adopted and had no knowledge of who her birth parents were or how long they lived. Who knows, maybe each of them lived well past 100. This would significantly elevate my own result.

But maybe it doesn't work this way. Who can say? What we do know, what we cannot change, is inevitability itself. We must all evolve. It is the one thing we have done together from the very beginning. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Grip of It

What is better? To accept the horror presented before you or search for a way out? To hunt in yourself for a comparable defect or to pull yourself tall and strong to support the correction of someone else's faults?
--Jac Jemc, The Grip of It

Jac Jemc, a Chicago author of a number of award-winning novels and short story collections, has been popularly heralded as a successor to literary practitioners such as Shirley Jackson and Henry James. I don't know that I'd go that far. Frankly, her prose style reminds me more of that of Virginia Wolfe. I mean, let's face it, Jackson and James set a pretty high bar, especially in the category of comparison intended, that being literary horror.

Nonetheless, Jemc is inventive and effective, even if occasionally a tad too effusive. It's a bit difficult to know just what The Grip of It is "about", just as it is a bit difficult to know just what James' The Turn of the Screw is about--which is to say that this is not necessarily a bad thing in the case of this literary 'spook story'. Even if it seems somewhat derivative in some aspects--one cannot help but think of Stephen' King's The Shining, for instance, in abbreviated form--Jemc does succeed in telling an eerie tale of hauntings in her own direful tone. Moreover, she somehow manages to leave a mind-impression that proves creepier on later rumination than the actual text had seemed. I found, for my own part, that uneasy dreams were being suggested by certain events in the novel, as if parts of the story had plugged themselves into something essential on a psychological or subconscious level.

This in itself persuades me of the worthiness of The Grip of It in the genre.


   1. a spontaneous group discussion to produce     ideas and ways of solving problems.
   2. a moment in which  one is suddenly unable to think clearly or act sensibly.
   3. a chaotic jumble of phantom sensations and sounds in the brain resembling the character of a violent electrical storm (unofficial MS definition). 

For the last three nights, I've experienced what I call a brainstorm. It has nothing to do with coming up with inspired ideas or schemes, nor has it to do with a sudden inability to think or act sensibly, given that one is just waking from sleep when he experiences, or rather suffers, the phenomenon. 

What I mean to describe is an essentially indescribable conflagration in the brain. This is often preceded by a ringing in the ears before sleep (though of course it's not really in the ears, as one is not really hearing it, but experiencing it). This is usually accompanied by at least a mild headache. One then awakes somewhere in the middle of the night to find the ringing accompanied by a sense of pulsation in the brain itself coupled with what I can only describe as 'electrical' sounds, like broken, buzzing, sparking twitching circuits, which themselves throb like individual aches. This goes on until you simply fall to sleep again. There's no way to stop it, other than unconsciousness. 

I always picture this as constituting an awareness of the destruction of myelin (the protective covering of nerves) as it is occurring, like hearing the chewing of termites inside a table leg. I always imagine that MS is getting ready to put another body part or system out of service, and what I am hearing is the gnawing through of a final thread of tissue, the denuding of the coppery electrified nerve, the hissing, hushing, sibilating shriek of violation. 

In short, it's unpleasant. 

Why this happens, or what exactly it is, I do not know, nor has any doctor ever been able to say (or to even understand what I'm talking about, for that matter). 

Does it even have anything to do with MS? Who can say? What I can say, though, is that I had never experienced this phenomenon prior to MS, and I have experienced it regularly ever since. It comes and goes, and may be absent for months at a time. It does not seem instigated by anything in particular. But as with any symptom, I insist that it must have meaning, for  a symptom by definition is an expression of an underlying malady.

Then again, maybe it doesn't have to be a malady. Maybe this is the sound of myelin repairing itself, of ongoing construction at a building site, the clack of hammers, the buzz of equipment--a cacophony that is annoying while it is in progress but which leads to the accomplishment of something stable and new. 

Hey, I like the sound of that! 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Fifteen Minutes

A friend shared an article with me this morning from Business Insider

Neuroscience shows that 50-year-olds can have the brains of 25-year-olds if they sit quietly and do nothing for 15 minutes a day.

Hmm. How does that work on 65-year-olds? Do we, theoretically, end up with the brains of 30-year-olds, or 35-year-olds? Or is the cut off for brain renewal fixed at 50? 

I dunno. What I do know is that at the end of each day, I sit wondering how the end came so fast and just what the hell I've been doing all day. Going to bed for the night seems something I was doing only moments ago. And if sitting quietly and doing nothing for 15 minutes a day turns a 50-year-old into a 25-year-old, why doesn't 8 hours of sleep turn the same man into a babbling infant? 

Perhaps I'm missing the point. 

Einstein once explained the theory of relativity in in a manner something like this: Say you're having coffee at a café with a beautiful woman of especial interest to you. Hours may pass and seem like minutes. On the other hand, minutes at the end of a tiring work day may seem like hours. 

It's all relative, as they say. Although I cannot say quite what this relates to in regards to the issue I set out to address. I must not have gotten my 15 minutes in yesterday, for the tide seems to have turned the other direction. I'm suddenly thinking like a 75-year-old. Or maybe I always do. Who's to say that a 65-year-old has to think like a 65-year-old? For that matter, what does a 65-year-old think like?

As I am sitting at Starbucks this morning, trying unsuccessfully to reset my Starbucks password whilst ruminating about neuroscience, a man approaches me, smiling happily, and extends his hand. "Hi, Pak Will," he says. "How are you doing?"

I have no idea who this man is. No idea whatsoever. Not wanting to look stupid, or senile, or 65, I play along, returning his greeting with an absurdly gleeful smile. "Wow, long time no see!"

So the man chats along, scrolling out the usual niceties, I presume--for he is speaking very quickly in Indonesian and with a heavy accent. It is clear that he thinks I speak Indonesian fluently. I figure he must be thinking of a sharper version of me, one who spoke Indonesian fluently. I feel badly for not being that person, guilty somehow. 

But we get through okay. In time, I am able to shift from my struggle with the perplexing Starbucks app and the mysteries of neuroscience back to the present moment, the smiling man before me in the crisp Batik shirt, and the Indonesian language. I begin to pick up what he's saying, and to respond appropriately by the time he hurries away on other business. 

But I still don't know who he is.

Maybe if I sit for 15 minutes later on and do nothing, it will come to me. Like a second language.