Thursday, December 31, 2020

Sweet Home

 Recently, my 20 year old stepson recommended that I watch a Netflix series called, Sweet Home--a South Korean horror flick about people locked down in their apartment buildings while monsters of every assorted contortion rage in the streets outside, and of course invade the apartment buildings themselves. 

What struck me most about the film was the personal sense of being dropped into a strange generational divide, an inability to grasp any sort of world being described through the viewpoint of this younger generation, with or without monsters. In a way, for an older person like me, the whole experience is monstrous from the get-go, because the people, their attitudes, their crushing ennui alternating with blind detachment sets up a nagging conflict before you even get to the one-eyed serpents or the hulking behemoths. 

For a generation steeped in video games and anime, I guess this all works. They seem to enter the story without requirement of logic or narrative guidance, as we in my generation know these things, but simply accept a sort of prefab world with a shrug of easy recognition. This is how things work in the modern environment. They just happen that way. 

In short, I was lost. I kept asking Why? and How? 

"What do you mean?" Sasha said. "Where were you confused?" 

"Starting from the beginning, and up to this point in time." 

"Hmm. Well, yeah, I guess they could have explained things a little better. But stay with it. The end explains everything." 

Hopefully this will include how the beginning began. 

We are truly like on two different planes in time, or in space, or both, hovering, knocking edges, tipping one another, but never congruing (which is, by the way, the present participle of congrue, despite my spellcheck's red underlining). We are, for all practical purposes, and mutually so, aliens to one another. The difference, of course, is that I am a member of a dying race (despite its order and logic), while Sasha is a member of the contemporary. So if some things are beyond me, hey, no worries. He has it all, in his detached and weary though flexible way, perfectly under control. 

New Year's Eve

 Well, here we are at New Year's Eve. Seems like there's not much partying going on, predictably enough. Which is fine by me. In Australia, a partial shutdown is again in effect, and here in Bali people are being required to be in their homes by 11 p.m. For my own part, I hope to be in bed by 10 and asleep long before 12. It may be, in any case, that fireworks will be muted this time around. I suspect so. 

We go into a new year that is still fragile and uncertain in many ways. COVID is raging, and vaccinations are coming only down the road some months in the future. In America, congressmen are poised to object to the most secure election in American history and Mr. Trump seems to be hoping for some kind of disruption by a mass rally he has scheduled. Moreover, a new, more contagious strain of COVID has surfaced around the world, showing up now in America as well. And in Bali? Who knows? 

We hope the best for 2021. But my goodness, God help us. We'll need it. 

The Best Laid Plans

 Let me start by saying that the underground parking at Plaza Renon has been rather carefully designed, by Indonesian standards anyway, to discourage the all too familiar chaos generally associated with Indonesian parking lots. Large white arrows have been painted on the road and on the pillars of the structure pointing out the route one should take in navigating the lot, such that all, ostensibly, might navigate to their spots safely and smoothly. There are even graphic maps painted on the walls explaining the intended traffic flow pattern. 

And yet this is all for naught--because Indonesians insist on entering at the exit and exiting at the entry. Why is this? Is it a lack of familiarity with common symbols, such as the arrow? Is it an inability to read? Or is it simple obstinance? Who can say? What I do know is that, despite all efforts to effect order, the place is an absolute mess if the mall is at all crowded. Those trying to get out via the marked exit are crowded and blocked by those entering inappropriately. And the funny thing is that they seem surprised to find a motorbike trying to exit from the exit. They are dumbfounded to come upon the obstacle of someone exiting from the exit they have just entered! 

I had parked one day by a pillar on my left side and another bike on my right. When I returned to my space after coffee, I found that someone had moved my bike behind the pillar, between the pillar and the wall, so that he could edge his bike into my original spot. Now, how did he figure I was going to get out? Jeeze.

Well, it all looked good on paper, I guess. But the best laid plans of mice and men ... Well, you know the story. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Tidur Nyenyak

 For all the complaining I've done lately, I should, on a positive note, mention how thankful I have been for a fairly recent habit of sleeping through the night. And not only for sleeping through, but for the newfound 'talent' of being able to fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. Thereafter, I generally do not awake until the morning light peeks through the windows at around 6 a.m. In fact, last night I had gone to sleep with the windows and patio door open, as the night was cool enough that the AC was not required, and although it unexpectedly pissed down rain sometime during the night, thus creating a lake on a portion of my floor, I remained blissfully unaware. I was dreaming for some reason that my third wife had become President of the United States. She was late for her inauguration and I was desperately trying to get her there in time. Operating a motor vehicle in my dreams is always a desperate endeavor. Nonetheless, I am glad not to have missed this event by waking up during its course. 

An American Nutcase

 You know, I had the sneaking suspicion from the beginning of this Nashville bombing that the perpetrator might turn out to be just some random nutcase, something America seems to specialize in these days. It seemed strange that he would take such pains to manufacture this explosion and go out with a boom, music and countdown included, and yet overlook announcing the motive if indeed motive had been important to him. He had stated beforehand, according to a neighbor who has been interviewed, that he would do something to be remembered by in Nashville. And indeed we will remember him for a while, as just another American nutcase. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Vyt and Tina

 I hooked up with my old friend Vyt on the day after Christmas for a coffee and a pleasant visit. Gosh, I guess I've known Vyt for perhaps eight years now. Back then, we both wrote editorials for The Bali Times newspaper, and then later on he was my next door neighbor for a few years. Vyt is maybe 73 or 74 now and getting a bit shaky, much like me. He has trouble walking, trouble seeing, and neither of us can hear worth a damn. Vyt is fortunate to have married a woman about three years ago who clearly loves him just for himself. It's truly heartwarming to see the companionship. She is significantly younger than Vyt, about 50, I think, although she looks much younger than that. But the point is, she is still quite energetic and able and helps him with such things like walking up stairs, reading the restaurant menu, and so on. A good woman is truly to be valued very highly. One can hardly measure the blessing of being loved and valued by a woman. Theirs, as it seems to me, is an old style marriage, wherein those familiar vows--to love and cherish, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health--truly have meaning. 


 Dear Nashville bomber(s): Americans are not frightened by 'terror attacks'. They are entertained. It's like any other entertainment, only better, because it's real. Americans live for such entertainment because it interrupts their otherwise dreary lives. We have long lived without the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, by which we had been, as Walker Percy once said, continually enlivened--enlivened, encouraged by the thought that 'all of this'--the day by day drudgery, the numbing routine, the dulling sameness--might suddenly end and free us once for all, make life simple and essential again, a life wherein we would live by our wits and from the original abundance of the earth unfettered and unlocked. Hunters and gatherers once again. We no longer have 'the' bomb, and so we live on the occasional scraps, such as you have unintentionally offered. Do you think that we receive or learn any intended lesson? No, we do not. Sorry. Your motive is quite meaningless, of no interest whatsoever. We simply marvel at the destruction for its own sake, and envy those who were close enough to experience the event and still live. Haven't you ever wondered why disaster movies are so reliably popular? We cannot live with this clockwork world of ours unless we constantly see it in flames, or flooded, or plagued, broken and scattered, if only in our dreams. As the author of this event, you are nonetheless irrelevant. You blew up with your own bomb, either literally or figuratively, and now we await the next. The thought that you may have died with your own bomb is pleasing. The thought that you lived and can eventually see the electric chair is more pleasing yet, for it would provide one final crumb of delight. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

I Resolve Not

 Time to start thinking about New Year resolutions, I guess ... but hmm, I can't really think of much. I feel like I'm becoming increasingly curmudgeonly, so I suppose I could resolve not to be. I don't know what it is. Too much time alone, maybe, but then again I often feel like I just want to be left alone. Not that anyone is fighting me on that. I really don't know what my function is anymore, here or anywhere. What is my function? What does it matter? Actually, I never did like New Year resolutions. I never made one, that I recall. It has been a hard year though, hasn't it? For everyone. So much trouble, no much conflict, no much death and illness. It kinda feels like the whole world has been knocked on its ass for a while. So we can at least hope for better things in 2021. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Job for Christmas

Many years ago, when I was just out of college, I worked at a newspaper in the lowest possible position the paper had to offer. A paper is in business 365 days a year, so when Christmas came around at least one person in my position was required to work. For me, the idea of working on Christmas was unthinkable. It wasn't just that I hated that job any day of the week, but to end up working on Christmas day would have been unbearable. Luckily for me, my equally lowly coworker had no problem with working on Christmas. In fact, he was happy to do so, because, for him, it would have been especially lonely to have been stuck at home with nothing to do and nowhere to go, for you see, he had no family--or no family with whom he cared to interact at any rate. So that worked out just fine. Nonetheless, it was difficult for me to imagine what that would be like. What would it be like for Christmas to seem just the same as any other day of the year? At best. It seemed that there must certainly be something special about the day itself, something self generating, self sufficing. But I realize in these latter years that minus the family, minus the loved ones, minus the various date generated activities, there really is nothing special about Christmas day. It is just another day, although differentiated, perhaps, by seeming more lonely than the typical any other day sort of day, exacerbated, in fact, by a routine of the seasonal shows that seed the networks with love and family and gifts, and jingle bells and reindeer and sleighrides and so on. When you are alone, this is all taking place not only far away but in another time, another dimension. The bells stop, the singing stops, the lights go out, and there you are. Santa Claus is not coming tomorrow and there will be no holiday feast. Yes, I understand now how it was preferable for my friend to have something to do, anything to do on Christmas day. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Mysterious Merry Christmas Message

 The other day, I received a phone message from an unknown number, no name attached. The message read 'Merry Christmas'. There was a second message from the same number with a photo of my old family home on Mt. Tabor in Portland. Now, this perplexed me to no end. I discovered that the area code of the number placed the call in New York City. How can it be? I don't know anyone in New York. And who in New York would have a photo of my old family home? 

Well, as it turned out, the mystery was solve easily enough. I called my second wife, with whom I had had lived in that house in Portland, and asked if she had sent it. 'No,' she said, 'I think Jamila sent it. Jamila is my younger stepdaughter. Ah ha! And it just so happens that Jamila used to live in New York, and it also just so happens that she is visiting friends there during the holiday season. 

Why did she sent a photo of my old house (where she had never lived, as she had already moved away from Portland by that time), and why had she not attached her name to the Christmas greeting? ... Well, that's still a mystery. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

To Live

 I'm currently re-reading a great novel, To Live, by Yu Hua, in Indonesian this time around. I previously read the book in English and have also seen the Chinese movie version with English subtitles. This is about the struggle of one family just 'to live' during the harsh years from the end of World War II to the end of the Red Revolution. It's a great novel to read if you ever think that your own life is hard or that the vicissitudes of life are overwhelming. Imagine, for instance, having nothing to eat but for roots dug from the ground or the bark of a tree, competing with others to obtain these poor treasures even while exhaustion and malnutrition and illness make it difficult just to stand, let alone toil in the field. Imagine how a handful of rice might seem like a fortune. And while the novel is on the one hand about the weakness of the human condition, it is also about the awesome power of love, the relentless will to endure and to hope. It is about one man's arduous passage from careless self-absorption to a full life of compassion forged through hardship. A great novel, as I said. And by the way, the movie version is also excellent. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

I'll Have a Blue Christmas

 "Where will you spend Christmas?" they ask. The casual acquaintances, the baristas, the online 'friends'. It's something to say. Small talk, chit-chat. 

"At home," I answer. 


"Yes, alone." 

Home alone. 

It strikes me just now that this will be the first ever Christmas I have spent alone. Generally, at the very least, I would go to a gathering sponsored by Louis--but Louis, this year, is still in Australia due to the COVID and various travel restrictions.

So it's just me. 

Hmm ... that doesn't sound very festive. No presents, no gathering, no dinner, no spiced and spiked punch nor even a damn fruitcake! 

What to do? 

Well, I suppose that I will, barring rain, get out for a coffee, and then watch a couple of good movies. 

But wait ... that's just like any other day. 

Well, perhaps the dogs will visit the house. Must be sure to have special treats for them. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020


[Sorry about the strange appearance of the text that follows. It is copied from my old Livejournal app and seems to have retained the format here]

 I received today a rare notice from my old LJ account. I had nearly forgotten writing here, once upon a time, so I logged in to take a look and refresh my memory (having first, of course, to recover my old user name and password, both of which I had forgotten). 

And refreshing it was. What strikes me most in these former entries through the years is the intensity of feelings expressed. It is as if these things were written by another person altogether, a person who loved deeply, who was in touch with his heart, and with his heartbrokenness. Many of the entries, the farther back one searches, are related to a girl I loved. Jamie. The gal who got away. Or as Sinatra would have it--

"The girl who won you has run off and undone you. That great beginning has seen its final inning. I don't know what happened -- it's all a crazy game ...

No more, no more those all time thrills, cuz you have been put through the mill, and never a new love will ever be the same ..."

Well, I guess I was always hoping that she would read these entries, and relent, speak to me again (for, you see, we both used to write in LJ). Of course, no such a thing happened. Or if she did read them, she responded not, strictly sticking to her promise to completely end our relationship in any and every degree. 

These many years later, I do understand what happened to us, and that the fault was wholly mine. She would be 43 now, if I calculate aright. And I will soon be 67. It has been roughly twenty years since we last spoke.

I am surprised to see all the poetry I wrote down here, which, inept as it is, impresses me as touching for its honesty, for the heart laid bare on the sleeve--for the heart that even existed in that once upon a time. I can't help but miss the person who cared deeply, who felt irresistibly pressed to express his sadness and his longing. Where has he gone?  

I spoke once here of having been awakened, of coming to life, of astonishment at this sudden gift, the magic of a woman, the magic of love. I felt alive through and through, to my very fingertips and toes. I remember, I remember. And sometimes I dream of her still. And I have thirsted ever since, in my deepest soul, for love is a miraculous fountain indeed, one that both fully quenches and leaves one fully empty. From this fountain poetry bubbles, and also one's life blood. Is it better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? I suppose so. This is the only manner in which alternate universes can endure.

Jamie. I picture you now with a family, two children, wholly immersed in a world on the far side of all possible worlds. Or as Sinatra has it--

"Once you warned me that if you scorned me, I'd say a lover's prayer again and wish that you were there again to get into my hair again ... It never entered my mind ..." 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Days that Got Away

 I feel like apologizing for having been so silent lately. The thing is, I just seem to have nothing whatsoever to say. Or when I do think of something to say, I lack sufficient energy or interest to write it down. I had some thoughts for instance about the shameless, seditious Republican circus act transpiring around their refusal to accept the results of the presidential election, but the whole thing is just so tiring now, so sickening and disheartening that I find I'd rather not devote time even to thinking about it. As things stand, I barely recognize my country anymore, and that in itself is disheartening. In the meantime, the days pile up here, one atop another like drifts of snow, one barely distinguishable from another. And the rain goes on day after day, the wettest wet season I've yet seen in Bali. I sit in my chair, watch Netflix, eat, nap, run out for a coffee whenever there's a break in the rain. Which makes it hardly surprising, I suppose, that I have nothing to say. I sing myself to waking slumber to the tune of beloved old movies and novels, the comfort food of the idle mind. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020


Generally, I have been in the habit of watching all my favorite Christmas movies during the Christmas season, and yet this year it feels as if I just got done doing so from last year. How has a year passed so quickly? It truly feels more like a couple of months. They say that time passes slowly when one is idle, but if this is slow, I would hate to think what would happen were I leading an active life. As it is, even while sitting doing nothing in particular, I am somehow putting the years away like a particularly industrious chipmunk. I mean, hell, I'm gonna end up at the end of the story before it even has a chance to get a plot. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020


One forgets from year to year how very violent the storms can become here during rainy season. We got a reminder last night when a ferocious rain, thunder, and lightning storm hit Sanur, swiftly flooding most of the houses on my street. Shutting the doors does not shut out the rain. It simply flows in under the doors. I ended up soaking six towels in an attempt to dam the flow. Crashing thunder shook the windows, reverberating like the blast of artillery while the lightning flashed from the barrels of the black clouds. And then the lights went out. Of course. The neighborhood WhatsApp line lit up as well. I don't have any candles! OMG! Flood! There's water running down my walls! For my own part, after placing the towels, I took refuge in my easy chair so as to avoid having to skate across the wet ceramic tiles of the floor--famously the most slippery thing ever invented by man. It was still raining when I went to bed, though less violently so, and I awoke this morning to a world that looked like one big soaked towel, drooping, sagging, dripping. The rain has stopped but the clouds remain, and so I am wondering how I am going to dry these towels before the next storm arrives. Happily, I don't do my own laundry at home any more. The maid takes it out. Otherwise, I would find myself not only with a pile of wet towels but with no clean clothing to wear for however long the sun decides to hide away. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020


 Set between the gas station on Jalan Hang Tuah and my side of Gang Merdu Komala #1, there is a field extending along the length of the gang (gang being the Indonesian word for a small side street). From what I've heard, dwellings cannot be built on this patch of land due to its close proximity to the gas station. Before I moved to my newly built house, the field, and indeed the land where I now live, had been sawah, a ricefield. Construction all along my side of the road gradually turned the field into an expanse of dry soil, upon which mountains of rocks and other debris were gradually lain, and now with the arrival of rainy season, this barren track of land has become a jungle of wall grass and thick bushes.

I was talking to a neighbor up the road who expressed the opinion that there are likely snakes in the grass, and buaya (large lizards), and who knows what all else. It may seem odd that exotic creatures such as these might be lurking in this little spot of wild in the midst of so many civilized creatures such as gas stations and houses and roads and warungs and shops and motorbikes and cars, but then again, as their natural habitat disappears chunk by chunk, where else are they going to go? I remember seeing the relentless paving over of Renon, where I used to live, and actually witnessing a homeless alligator run across the neighboring housetop! I also remember a yellow snake spanning the width of a road (although the snake was dead, having been run over by a car). 

Back on Merdu Komala, the neighbor was mentioning the caution he takes when he comes outside his house at night. "I always bring a flashlight, just in case," he said. "But on the other hand," he continued, scratching his chin, "I see kids running around in this field every day."

Well sure! I would too if I were a little kid. What better playground than one occupied possibly by wild beasts? Ah, where has our sense of adventure gone? 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Unappreciative Insects

 It seems to me that ants have gotten very particular these days about what they are willing to eat. They must have sweets, and even then only the sweetest of sweets. Just yesterday I watched an entire hoard go around a bit of chocolate brownie to satisfy a preference for a nearby bit that included in addition to the cake itself a little piece of a chocolate chip. It seems that beggars after all can be choosers. Spoiled by abundance, if you ask me. Not an ounce of thriftiness in their tiny bones. I remember a time long ago when my brother and I had poured some dried macaroni noodles into a pan of water, thinking to make our lunch, for our household had no chocolate chip brownies just lying about, only to find that the noodles were aswim with tiny ants (which we took at first to be flecks of pepper). The point is that ants had some personal integrity back then. They made use of the things that were available, and did not think themselves too precious for a meal of mere noodles. Ants, like people, were frugal, industrious, thankful. Of course they would not turn their backs on cake, nor, however, would they abstain from all else in favor of cake. And yet, I have now an open box of noodles on my kitchen shelf which has proven to be in no danger whatsoever of being raided. It could sit for another year without being touched by a single ant toe—Ah but let a bit of beef fall on the counter, or a dab of jelly, and the pampered little pests rush in like thankless, unruly children, knowing only instant gratification. It seems to me a measure of how very dramatically the world has changed, from top to bottom, from the great to the small. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Next Day

 Hardly had I gotten out of bed this morning when the man with the new pump showed up at the house. Shocker! I was prepared to wait until noon without complaint. Showing up a half hour before the scheduled time was quite un-Indonesian of him. Not that I'm complaining. Without any trouble, he installed the new pump, fired it up, and ... nothing happened. Still no water. The next step was to check the reservoir on top of the roof (which is where the pump is supposed to send the water from the well). I watched in amazement as the man, who had brought no ladder, scaled the house like a ninja--first to the top of the wall, then to the eave, then to the roof. Amazing! I have a hard enough time just climbing onto my own motorbike. Well, it turned out that a second pump inside this reservoir tank was clogged, thus allowing no water to flow. This was fixed forthwith and my house is once again 'afloat'. How long will we be seaworthy? Who can say? I can commit only to enjoying it while it lasts. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Later That Day

 Well, by golly, it turns out that the problem with the pump was not the electricity, but the pump. The pump is dead. Long live the pump. It is also far beneath the ground, which means that they had to break through the concrete and fish down for the thing as if they were ice fishing in the arctic. All this took a good long time and has left a gaping hole in the driveway and pipes and ropes hanging about and still no water in the house. Do you know how hard it is to function without water? No shower, no handwashing, dishes piled in the sink, no flushing toilet, no water for brushing teeth or cleaning dentures. Good God. Well, the neighbor was very kind to let me use his room to take a shower and such-like. But the pump itself is not scheduled to arrive until 8 o'clock tomorrow morning, which the builder told me would be more like 9, taking into account the Indonesian reckoning of time. Which I already know. So hell, I'm gonna go to sleep now and hope for the reestablishment of running water some time tomorrow. Good night! 

Rub-a Dub-Dub

As I was taking a shower this morning, the water suddenly quit on me. Not just the hot water, but all of the water. That same 'all', in my house, is controlled by a pump and there is no other, except for that in the drinking water dispenser--and this is what I used, cup-by-cup, to get as much soap off of me as I could. 

There are still many builders working in the neighborhood, and so we (the neighbor and I) soon employed one of these to look into the problem. Turns out the the pump is receiving no electricity, although the electricity in the rest of the house is still operational. 

This is inconvenient but not surprising. If everything worked, this wouldn't be Bali. And I had long suspected anyway that there was some essential problem with the electricity. The AC, for instance, works only if you don't use the water (and thus engage the pump). This seemed absurd to me, but the project manager assured me one would have to upgrade the electricity in the entire house (at significant cost) to have a system that would run both the AC and the water at the same time. If you ask me, people here just make stuff up when they would prefer not to deal with a problem, and I reckon this is one of those cases. My suspicion is fortified this morning when the next door neighbor tells me that he experiences no such problem in his house, which is exactly the same as my house and was built at the same time. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Good Morning?

 I had a dream last night wherein when I awoke, in the dream, I found myself completely unable to speak. My mind was able to gather words quite normally, but the words vanished at any attempt at utterance. In fact, no sound at all could be uttered, not so much as a sigh or a grunt. 

My immediate thought was that someone must be alerted regarding this problem. Louis came to mind. But how was I to alert her if I could not speak? Or make even the slightest sound. 

Ah, a text message! 

Upon retrieving my phone, however, and tapping her profile picture on WhatsApp, I immediately found that I had no idea how to type a sensible message. I knew very well the words I wanted to type but simply could not transfer them to letters on the screen. I could manage only alphabet soup. 

Hmm, this was a kerfuffle. 

My next inspiration was to write out my message on a sheet of paper and hold the sheet up before the phone screen. But of course, as it turned out, I could no more write the words, any words, by hand than type them into the phone. What I wanted to communicate--or rather now needed rather desperately to communicate--was perfectly clear in my mind yet perfectly incommunicable outside of my mind. 

Morse code? Well, no. I don't know Morse code, nor surely would she or pretty much anyone else. Sign language? Same problem. 

What to do? 

Well, ultimately the best answer was to wake up, which I did, with considerable relief, even bidding myself a verbal good morning just to be sure--although it remains reasonable to ask whether 'good morning', isolated in the empty air of a house occupied only by oneself, possesses any meaning on its own, or indeed even exists at all. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Rumination on Teeth

 The one undeniable thing that can be said about false teeth is that the natural ones are infinitely preferable. I come to this conclusion after receiving my upper set of teeth last night and finding them, in combination with the already existing lower set, twice as uncomfortable and similarly as useless if we are talking about actually chewing anything. I guess the point ultimately is cosmetic, and to that extent anyway these gleaming gnashers do restore an air of dignity to one's smile, in the case, that is, where one might find something to smile about in the midst of being more inclined to wince from the pain of those hard plastic edges pressing against one's gums. Of course, the pain will recede somewhat over time as one adjusts to the presence of the appliance through continual wear. In fact, I have been required by my dentist to leave the teeth in for two days and nights to begin with--a necessity which, as I found last night, makes a peaceful sleep rather difficult to come by. 

One cannot help but pause and meditate on the perfection of the original teeth, those fashioned from the beginning by the creator. How very part of us they are! How organic! How natural! What a pleasure these made of eating! With false teeth, you have not so much the sense of chewing as of simply pressing some sort of matter, perhaps damp cardboard, between the upper and lower rows of plastic--a method that derives no appreciable taste but does increase the painful response in the gums as the edges of the appliances are pressed into the already tender living tissues. How very miraculously we are made, as King David noted. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. 

And now, seeing one by one those wonders fall away, my soul knows it even better! 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving After All

 After talking to my second wife on Thanksgiving Day (which in the States would have been the day before Thanksgiving), and hearing about the feast she was preparing and the family gathering she had planned, and given that I myself was having a hotdog for dinner, I felt rather depressed and lonely. I had rather enjoyed having a large noisome family during the years of our marriage, especially on holidays.

But then straightaway, Sparky, my old dog, showed up, in the form of a dragonfly, which is in keeping with the beyond-the-grave form that he usually takes. He flew in through the front door, hovered in front of me for some time as I sat at the table, and, as he customarily does, imparted a few wise lessons, telepathically of course, not so much comforting in character as simply blunt and practical. I won't go into detail. It's between me and Sparky. 

Upon finishing his lesson, he hovered down to my thigh and sat upon it for about five minutes more before rising and fluttering back out the front door.  It was a bit of a hard lesson, to be honest, and so I guess he wanted to show his empathy before departing. 

Later that morning I stopped at the grocery store to buy a few things for dinner and such-like. As I exited the store with my armload of stuff (for I had forgotten, as usual, to bring a bag), a woman called out from behind me, "Mister, where is your bag?"

I told her I had forgotten to bring one, but it was not a problem, as my bike was in the lot. 

"No!" she said. "You must have a bag."

"Really, it's okay." 

"No, no. Here, I give you, mister."

At this, the woman took the large plastic bag from the front of her own motorbike and began unloading her own items and transferring them to another cloth bag she had. She then brought the plastic bag to me and loaded my own items one by one into it, packing them in just as if she had been a trained store clerk. 

Now, my goodness, how gracious is that! And the amazing thing is that such behavior is not unusual here. It is common. Which makes things like this all the more amazing to me, given how uncommon they are where I come from. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thankscovid Day

 I guess 'Happy Thanksgiving' will mean as little to many Americans this year as it always has meant to me here in Indonesia, for it will be celebrated this year in neither country. Well, to be fair, it is never celebrated in Indonesia (why would it be?), and at least for those people observing the no large group gatherings advice of America's top healthcare representatives as well as the president-elect, it won't be celebrated in anything like the traditional manner there in America. For those who do have large gatherings despite the warnings, enjoy your super-spreader events, for this may be the last time you see each other.

Large gatherings are being discouraged here in Indonesia as well, and the restaurants frequented by westerners are still but lightly populated on any day of the week. Of course, the fact that there are presently no western tourists helps immeasurably in keeping the crowds light. According to the latest projection, Bali itself will reopen to western tourists on December 1st (although, to be honest I wouldn't recommend vacationing here, as Indonesia's COVID situation remans basically out of control). 

In better times, I do believe Thanksgiving dinners, catering to homesick westerners, are offered in some of the more expensive restaurants, but that has always been outside of my budget, and in any case, a Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant is not the same as a family gathering in the old homestead, is it? Nor would a traditional Thanksgiving dinner go over well with the condition of my stomach these days. No more stuffing on stuffing, and turkey, and yams, and gravy, and pies for me. Moreover, there is no family to gather with anyway, even were gathering recommended, which kind of takes away the celebratory nature of the holiday from the get-go. 

I do see this morning that a Christmas tree has gone up at the center of the mall, so that makes for a bit of a festive feeling. Now if they can just get the Christmas going at Starbucks we can get started on the season.

Monday, November 23, 2020


 I always feel a bit envious of the people here in Indonesia because of their natural acclimation to the heat. Actually, I guess acclimation is the wrong word. They were born acclimated! I am sitting this evening at the neighborhood Starbucks, the temperature is 30C, which translates to 86F (even though it's cloudy), and yet the man at the next table is wearing a thick hoody sweatshirt and the girl beside him is wearing a jacket over her blouse. That's right, a jacket. Did I mention that it is 86 degrees Fahrenheit?

I generally feel that I have not acclimated at all, but then I just remembered this morning, upon catching sight of a particular washcloth in my closet, that I used to have to carry a washcloth along with me wherever I went so that I could continually wipe the sweat from my brow. So I guess I have acclimated to some extent, as I no longer carry or need the washcloth. That said, I'm still not about to wear a thick hoody. My God! It's uncomfortable enough just to wear a button-up shirt instead of a tee shirt, which is something I avoid unless the temperature dips to a chilly 29C (82F). 

Lately, during midday here, the temperature has gone up to 34C, which is 93.4F, or, with humidity factored in, about 900 degrees by any measure. At these times, I tend to hide in the house and watch old movies. Or sleep. 

To tell the truth, folks, you don't see many bikinis here, unless they are being worn by white folks, although you do see a goodly number of white folks who have become rather alarmingly red folks. The fact is, Indonesian girls rarely go to the beach, and especially not in the sun. The idea is for their skin to be lighter, not darker. It's a class consciousness sort of thing. Nonetheless, every Sunday evening, all the Indonesians flock to the beach (wearing hoodies and sweaters, of course), where their children swim while the adults set up picnics and gather in groups to chat. The little children often swim naked or in their underwear (why waste money on a swimsuit), and people come along with carts selling bakso or sate or barbecued corn on the cob. And when night falls and the people leave the beach, there's one hell of a traffic jam on Sanur's single beach front avenue! 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Various Amazing Stuff

 I was sitting outside at the table the other morning smoking a cigarette when I happened to notice the gross picture on the top section of the cigarette pack. Of course, it was not the first time I had seen the picture, but what struck me most about it was how good our brains get at simply ignoring something. It is as if the brain clicks on a little minus sign, as with a computer screen, and minimizes a window in the field of vision, relegating it to a small file on the task bar. What I generally see when I look at the pack is just the yellow color itself with the word Camel emblazoned on it and a little picture of a camel below the word. For this reason, as it seems to me, graphic pictures of cancerous lungs and so forth will never deter one from smoking, for smoking has nothing to do with awareness of the health dangers and everything to do with being an addiction to nicotine. Perhaps a better method of deterrence would be the removal of all addictive properties of tobacco. I suppose there are those who just like the presence of the smoke, although I'm not one of them. For this reason, I am not attracted to vaping. The smoke smells kind of good, but I have no addictive attraction to being surrounded by smoke, whether it smells good or not. 


I am currently reading a book called Homo Deus. This is a sort of sequel to an earlier book by the same author entitled Sapiens. The latter is a scientific and sociologic description of man's rise from the earliest stages and the erection of the various social orders and so on, all in accordance with the logic of evolution, of course. Homo Deus attempts to trace the present state of mankind's progress into a future of very different realities than those that exist at this time, or indeed for ages in the past, as we become homo Deus, the man god. There will soon be, according to the author, no hunger to speak of, no disease, no war, and, apparently, no work (for robots will have superseded us in these needful tasks). 

Frankly, I'm not convinced. Nor am I impressed by the author's appraisal of religion in all this--first getting the salient point of religion all wrong, and then proposing the coming of simple humanism as the new religion. In short, scientists ought never to venture outside the realm of science because religion itself cannot be reduced to scientific formulas or even to the patterns of social science.

What I do find interesting however are some of the scientific observations he mentions. For instance, experiments have been conducted wherein two mice are put together, one with room to run about, the other in a small cage. As it turns out, the mouse that is free will apply itself to efforts to free the mouse that is caged. It is theorized that the free mouse seeks to free the caged mouse because the situation makes him feel stressed and uneasy. In a further variation, a chocolate is put into the area containing the free mouse, and it is found that the free mouse will most often still try to free the caged mouse before eating the chocolate, which he will then share with the caged mouse once freed. From all this, it is determined that mice have emotions and are powerfully affected by the same. They will act to resolve stress so that they may feel at ease. 

Of course, I always kinda figured that mice have emotions, just intuitively, you know. But science is about "proving" such things. 

Another interesting story is of a famous German horse (I've forgotten the critter's name). This horse was said to be able to do math problems--addition, subtraction, division, multiplication. A mathematical problem would be posed, and the horse would tap out the numeric answer with its front hoof, very rarely failing to tap out the correct answer. This horse was paraded about Germany, attracting large crowds with its amazing mathematical skill. Moreover, the horse could perform the correct math no matter who asked the question and no matter whether his owner was present or not. 

Well, what the horse was doing turns out to have been actually rather more amazing than solving simple math questions, for the horse was not solving math equations but reading the physical and emotional attitude of his audience and thereby intuiting when he had reached the proper number of hoof taps--a talent generally beyond that of human beings.

In any case, I am finding the book worthwhile at least as a learning vehicle, for I am reading it in Indonesian and there are, of course, many unfamiliar words of a scientific/technical type.


At the same time, I have also finally received my Bible in English from Lazada (Indonesia's version of Amazon) and have begun to read from page one. For the last ten years, I have had to read the Bible either on the laptop screen, a method that I don't like, or in Indonesian hard copy. The amazing thing, no matter how many times one reads the Bible, is how you find something new every time, or something that you see a little differently than the time before. Most interesting in the first chapters of Genesis is the various uses of the single word 'Adam', which can mean man, men, mankind, humanity, and so on. It makes a huge difference in comprehension of what scripture is saying. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Burden

 A couple days ago, I was in the Papaya grocery store here in Plaza Renon Mall and when I had collected the various items I wanted to buy, I found three very long lines awaiting me. Apparently something had gone wrong with the computer system and the cues had grown while the cashiers worked to reboot the system. 

So I put my basket on the floor and settled in to wait like everyone else. Before long, however, I was approached by a store employee who motioned for me to follow him. I followed along for a ways while he hurried on toward the front of the line, but then hesitated, thinking I must have misunderstood his purpose. 

But no, I had not misunderstood, for, seeing that I had hung back, the man motioned me forward again. 

Now, it is classic that in situations like this, where something unexpected or unusual is transpiring, my mind does not work very swiftly or reliably (thanks to cognitive disorder). I thought at first that I had perhaps done something wrong. Did they suspect me of trying to steal something? Or was there some kind of emergency I needed to attend to? Had someone called on my personally? These were the questions sluggishly circulating through my mind as I dutifully went to the front of the store. 

Arriving there, however, I was merely ushered before the cashier who had newly reopened her lane. After a long wait--and a wait that had been endured by all--I, who had been at the back of the line, was placed first in line. 


Well, as strange as this seems, it is because I am a bule, a white person. Once I realized what had happened, I felt embarrassed, and actually irritated at the employee who had brought me forward. Because it's not fair, you know? I mean, if I had had my wits about me (something which hasn't happened in a decade or so), I would have politely declined to come forward from the outset. 

This is not to say that anyone still in line was angry over the matter. Quite the contrary. There was not a single objection. In fact, this sort of thing is common and even considered natural or appropriate among Indonesians in general. Here in Bali, foreigners are called tamu, guests, and are treated with a deference that is jarring, at least to me, in that it is unearned and undeserved. Nonetheless, the deference is a product of their own graciousness and operates for its own sake in the character of the society. 

My inner response is like Wait, you've got me confused. I'm not a tamu, not one of them--I live here--I've been here in Bali longer than some of you have.

But that's not the point, nor will I ever be considered anything other than a guest, no matter how long I'm here. Whether I feel unfairly elevated, whether the preference is undeserved, whether I feel embarrassed or unworthy--it doesn't matter. I am what I am.

The burden of being white? Well, I guess it's not so bad. Nor, I guess, does it really have anything to do with me personally.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

How Do You Pray?

 I was talking to a Muslim woman the other day (online, from Jogyakarta) who wanted to ask some questions about Christianity. 

"The Al-Kitab (the Bible) was written in Hebrew, is that right?" she asked.

"Well, the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek, or Aramaic in the case of the gospels."

"So, you have to learn Hebrew, right?"


"How can you read it then?"

"The Bible has been translated into nearly every language on earth." 

"Oh, I see. But then how do you pray? Don't you need to say the prayers in Hebrew?"

"Not at all." 

"Oh. We have to say the prayers in Arabic. So those of us who don't know Arabic just memorize the prayers we're supposed to say."

"Do you know what you're saying in the prayers?" 

"Well ... sort of. But the Koran already tells us what to say. We just have to say it in Arabic. That's why I thought you would have to say prayers in Hebrew." 

"In that case, I certainly wouldn't know what I was saying."

"Yeah, but we already know what we're supposed to say. The Prophet told us." 

"But what if there's something you want to say, or ask, or express that's not in the usual prayer?"

"Yeah. Strange, right? I wouldn't know how to say that." 

"Just try Indonesian. I suspect God knows that language too." 

You know, I once read an editorial in the Jakarta Post wherein the author declared that most Indonesians are not truly Muslim at all, because most Indonesians cannot read or speak Arabic. Arabic, he explained, is God's special language and the Koran cannot be understood outside the vehicle of the Arabic language. 

Of course, to a Christian this sounds very strange indeed. Although one can certainly deepen his understanding of scripture by studying the meaning and usage of various Hebrew and Greek words, and one certainly should do so, the notion that God would employ one language as a barrier between himself and his people sounds quite absurd. Of course, the Orthodox Jew also believes that Hebrew is a holy language, in a way similar to the Arabic in Islam, and that certain prayers must be uttered in Hebrew--which is yet another striking similarity between the Muslim and the Jew, as well as, in quite a different way, between the Muslim, the Jew and the Christian outside the Middle East.

The critical difference, I guess, is in the ritual intonation of a prescribed set of words, whether you understand their meaning or not, as opposed to a personal conversation (or, if God doesn't happen to be listening, a personal monolog), subject to variation and circumstance day by day.

Obviously, we are looking at a completely different mindset between the Christian and the Muslim, a completely different manner of approaching God, and each is equally foreign to the other--as if we were speaking completely different languages.  

So one picks up words, and phrases, and concepts along the way. It's the only way to learn. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Fake Teeth

 Turns out that my teeth weren't nearly as big of a problem as I had kind of forgotten that there were already 'fake' teeth, three joined together, and they just needed to be 'glued' back in, although that's a simplified description. I guess the point is that the teeth are still 'alive', or the roots are anyway. The teeth themselves have been rebuilt and reaffixed to the sockets.

Anyway, once the dentist got these front teeth back in place, I decided to just go ahead and get false teeth for the remainder of top, so that I will have full false teeth on the top and the bottom now. These will support the rebuilt teeth in the front, taking stress off them when chewing (which is why the teeth had come out in the first place--too much stress on just five front teeth. As with the bottom set, I will glue these in every day with Polident and remove them at night. 

Ah the joys of advanced age. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

An Outing

 Finally, after saying I was going to do so for the past weeks and months, I actually got down to the beach for a swim today. It's been a long time. 

As I've mentioned before, I used to swim in the ocean every day when we first came here. I could not imagine, then, not swimming in the ocean every day. It seemed then so perfectly exotic, like something you would see in a movie, not something you'd actually be doing. There was something so persistently amazing about having been plunked down on the far side of the world and floating effortlessly on my back in the salt-heavy Bali sea, gazing up into the endless blue sky, warm in the water and warm out of the water. It felt like the novelty would never wear off--not after fifty-five years of cold soakings in Oregon! 

Ah, but a ten year period does gradually wear away the edges of novelty, and increasingly poor health and waning energy doesn't help much either. For one thing, it seems to take me such an incredibly long time get going on an outing such as this, more of a chore than a spur of the moment inspiration. It seems to take me the longest time to get my swimming suit on and everything together. One has to pack a towel, of course, and one has to bring money, but one does not want to bring his wallet and so he has to find a good place for the money, where it doesn't end up going swimming too. One wants also to bring his driver's license, but, again, does not want to bring the wallet. Ah and then there's sunblock, and a hat, and some small money for the parking guy, and a book to read, and so on and so on. I don't remember all these details having any significance in the days of old, and yet it seems now like doing some kind of physical algebra.

Nonetheless, I did eventually get down to the beach and park myself at my favorite coffee spot (Oomba), and I did go swimming in the salt-heavy Bali sea, although it is just the sea now, and it is just Bali. Funny how things lose their charm. I guess it's like any other worldly relationship. The newness wears off, the romance diminishes and you find yourself, though less fervidly engaged, more deeply familiar and serene. Content. 

In short, I enjoyed myself in a casual way, and may go back to doing so at least once a week. It's something to break up the monotony, in any case. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


 This morning I had gotten down on the floor to repair an electrical outlet only to find that I could not get up afterwards--which struck me as funny, as it reminded me of an old TV commercial depicting an old woman lying on her floor and reporting into a special new medical alert system (which was the thing being advertised), "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up." 

As soon as I was able to stop laughing, I began to search about for a way I might regain my feet. It's not as easy as it may seem. One needs some stable object low enough to grab onto with one's arms, because it is clear that one's legs and one's back are not going to do the job on their own. 

I try the chair first, but it becomes quickly clear that this is not going to work. The chair is too tippy and I will end up still on the floor with the added burden of a chair on top of me. So I begin to slide about the room, looking for a likely purchase for my arms. There is not much available, as it turns out. The house seems not to have been constructed with a cripple in mind. The bed leads to another failure, as the blankets and sheets slip off the mattress in my hands. I navigate back to the chair and set my eyes upon the floor fan. And begin laughing again. My God, how have I become this poor old woman who can't get up? What a world, what a world. 

Well, luckily this is a rather large and stable fan and I am able to climb it like a pole. Whew! 

I guess this is why God invented handymen to begin with. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


 This is the centre of gravity, Colum McCann writes in his novel of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Apeirogon, this is where it all comes down. There will be security for everyone when we have justice for everyone. As I have always said, it's a disaster to discover the humanity of your enemy, his nobility, because then he is not your enemy any more, he just can't be. 

And this paragraph in itself is the center of the novel, the idea that everything circles back to--and there is much of everything herein. The novel is as much structure as narrative, presented inventively in 1001 vignettes (evoking the Arabian Nights), each building on the other, each referring to yet another, an ever mounting compendium of images and events, everything ultimately centered on the death of two teenage girls, one the daughter of an Israeli, one the daughter of a Palestinian.

This will not end until we talk is a recurrent phrase throughout the novel, the roughly 500 pages of which concerns the many variations of what we need to talk about and how we might get there, even though the essential answer is clear enough: the senseless death of two innocent girls. The beginning and the end. 

Colum's style here is all about cumulative effect, a relentless palace, brick upon brick, of both human nobility and human weakness, wherein the observer sometimes soars with hope and is sometimes suddenly reduced to tears. 

I do not see the originality of the form here as being somehow the new shape of the novel in general, as some critics effusively suggest. It is simply one of a kind, fascinating and challenging in and of itself, a creature that is part Hemingway and part Melville. And it doesn't always work, at times seeming either overly fond of itself or altogether too obvious. And yet for the most part the accretive building blocks are compelling and thought provoking and seep down to the heart, tugging ever more tightly as the rope is pulled ever more aggressively. 

An apeirogon is a defined as a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. This may seem a contradiction in terms, yet it is appropriate for the seemingly staggering complexity of what McCann is struggling with here, the many sided, endlessly nuanced long running tragedy of these two peoples in conflict. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Suddenly Toothless (Again)

 As I was enjoying a pepperoni pizza last night, three of my front teeth came out in the crust. Oh dear. The long and tragic story of my teeth. Should have had every one of 'em yanked years ago and replaced with false. As I've no doubt mentioned, I have all false (save one) on the bottom now. I think it likely that the same will be the only answer for the top at this point, but will have to wait and see what the dentist says tomorrow. 

Years ago, my uncle Preston decided to just do away with his problematic teeth, although he still had quite a few of them in his mouth. It's just that there were always problems, always another visit to the dentist, and he was dead tired of it. So he went to his dentist, made this request, and the dentist said "Oh, no, we can't do that." My uncle said, "Well, if you can't do it, I'll find someone who can and give him the money instead." At this point, the dentist changed his mind and agreed to the procedure. 

In any case, the sudden departure of my top front teeth kind of spoiled my election victory party (although, to be honest, it wasn't much of a party). On a positive note, however, it begins to dawn on me this morning how many losers we will soon be doing away with: Barr, Pompeo, Mnuchin et al. Hallelujah. A good way to begin the holiday season. 


Saturday, November 7, 2020

Sandy Wexler

 Gee, this election stuff starts to get kind of boring, doesn't it? Here we are in the weekend already, and still no resolution. I mean, it seems like three of the four remaining questionable states will go Biden's way, but I guess they got to be 100 percent sure, and even afterwards will have to deal with Trump's lawsuits and recounts and wacky conspiracy theories. 

So instead of staring at the perpetual deadlock today, I watched an Adam Sandler movie on Netflix called Sandy Wexler. Sandler has a particular talent for making perfectly lousy and often unwatchable movies but then suddenly coming up with something that's actually pretty good. Sandy Wexler falls into the latter category. It's the story of a rather incompetent talent agent who hits on one actual winner, a talented black singer with an angelic voice, played by Jennifer Hudson. Though incompetent and often annoying, there is something lovable and innocent about the man that gains the fondness of the people around him, as well as the viewer, of course. He is essentially a good person who thinks of others above himself.

What struck me most of all about Sandler's performance was its unspoken indebtedness throughout to the great Jerry Lewis (a personal favorite of Sandler). One can easily see the bumbling, good hearted Lewis behind Sandler's character. The movie is interesting also for its slew of cameo walk-ons--Arsenio Hall, Chris Rock, Henry Winkler, Vanilla Ice, Dana Carvey, Jimmy Kimmel, Quincy Jones, Rob Reiner, and many others. Clearly, Sandler has a lot of personal friends in the business. 

Anyway, I liked it. It was funny, touching, off-beat, retro. And much more entertaining that the election results (or no results) at this point. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

From the Indonesian Viewpoint

 It is interesting to me that people here in Indonesia have for the most part only the vaguest idea of what is going on in America, election-wise and so on. Come to think of it, I don't know why they should have. It serves at any rate as a kind of an appropriate reset to my own preoccupations. 

They are aware that there is an election going on, and the outcome is important to them in as far as the importance of America is concerned as it relates to Indonesia in particular and Asia in general. At the same time, however, they seem to pick up some rather odd bits of information, or disinformation, likely from talk on the street rather than official news sources. 

One friend told me, for instance, that her apparently more informed friend told her that Mr. Trump is much better than Mr. Biden because Trump is a successful businessman whereas Biden was a soldier who fought in the Vietnam War (lol) and may have killed hundreds of people. He does not care about human lives, only the advancement of his political goals. 

Hmm. Somewhere, somehow, something seems to have gotten garbled. 

She further explained that Trump is quite feared by China, which she counted as a good thing, since China's "expansion, culture, and military" is a threat. 

Of course, I set her straight on these things. 

I remember another guy telling me that Trump is strong and tough, like a general. 

General who? General Bone Spurs? 

So it is at least entertaining--and in many ways just about as accurate as many American opinions I've seen on Facebook comments. One doesn't have to live on the far side of the world to be ignorant. One can do it in the comfort of his own home. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Post Election Thoughts

 I woke up at 3:30 in the morning here in Bali with a painful knot in my stomach, having gone to bed on election day with things looking like they might well be leading to a Trump win. Though it was still dark outside, I figured it must be nearing daylight, so I got up, made myself a cup of tea, turned on my phone, went outside for a smoke, only to find that the hour was only 3:30. 

The first news I read on my phone screen was that Joe Biden had won in Wisconsin. 

I read next that he appeared to have a win in Michigan. 

And the day began to look brighter. I went back to sleep. My stomach stopped hurting. 

By the time I rose again at 6:30, it had become fairly clear that Biden would win the election, given that he needed at this point only to carry Nevada and Arizona and both seemed very close to being called in his favor. 

Do I feel relieved? Of course I do. But how relieved, really, can one be by the gain of such a thin victory in what was hoped to have been a slam dunk election? Are we not left to face, win or lose, a decidedly ugly picture of America--an America that would nearly elect, for the second time, a man who had devoted himself to four years of reprehensible behavior, to insults and childish fits, to stoking the flames of dissension, coddling his favorite hate groups, groveling before dictators, alienating allies, encouraging racism, and finally to contributing to the death of thousands through his incompetence in dealing with the COVID pandemic? Can we really call this good news? 

You know, when I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, I happened to pass an article with a title that went something like this: Is this, after all, who we really are?

Sadly, the election has shown that, yes, it really is. One might expect to see a small percentage of voters who cast their votes for a detestable character--such as those who voted for George Wallace back in the 60's, for instance--but for half of us to vote for Trump, even after the four year opportunity to see the truth and repent? No, this is not a victory. This is a tragedy. 

On the other hand, I was talking to a good friend in Jakarta on election day, feeling pretty morose at the time, trying to express my sadness at what my country had become, when she said "Well, what does it really matter to you? I mean, what does it have to do with you? You don't live there anymore. You haven't lived there in ten years." 

She has a point. What does it matter to me? Why does it matter to me--in such a personal, painful manner? I left America at perhaps America's best. President Obama was just in his first term. Things looked uncommonly hopeful. We had turned a new, and a seemingly permanent leaf. Yes we can, was the refrain. So why not, for my own part, just leave it at that. Thanks for the memories. 

Yes, from here forth I think I'll make myself known not as an American any longer, but as a citizen of heaven. Eventually, my passport will be stamped in that manner anyway. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Election Day

Looks like I was wrong, don't it? Lol. 

Well, to be fair (to myself), I did warn that my predictions are usually wrong. 

Given the picture that we're seeing now--the picture of a very close race, that is--I am quite disappointed, as it seems to me that a marginal victory by either side only means four more years of national discord and governmental gridlock. 

One has to wonder how bad a president would need to be for red states to vote against him. Much, much worse than I thought, apparently. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Eve

 Well here we are on election day eve--almost like Xmas Eve for the anticipation of good things to come on the morrow. Moreover, I find when I arrive at Starbucks that they have switched to their Xmas decor cups. And I got a free latte. A fine beginning, I reckon. 

At this time four years ago, I was arriving in the city of Solo, Java. The next day, we began to hear bits and pieces of the increasingly discouraging election news. At first, I told my wife, and my friends via Facebook, and myself in my own mind, not to worry, that those states already falling into the Trump column were just the yahoo deep south terminally conservative states and that things would soon turn around. I continued to anticipate a solid victory for Clinton. 

Well, y'all know how that story ends. With four years of discord, indignation, national humiliation. Muslim bans, caged children, lies and scandals and scams, white supremacy parades, a multitude of jailed administration figures (and a number of pardons of the same), an impeachment. And so on. 

So here's my prediction this time around (with advance warning that my predictions of all things are very often wrong, yet with the hope that this one will be an exception): Biden will win this election in an unprecedented landslide. I just truly believe that the vast majority of us are tired to death of this shit show, even the Republicans, even many of those who voted for Trump last time around. The vast majority of us want to turn our backs on the last four years and finally rest in something stable. 

This is not to say that things will be smooth between November and January. I do believe that there will be trouble, from Trump and from the more violent members of his extremist core. So buckle in, this ain't the end of the ride. But, God willing, the train is slowing down and the gates at the end are in sight. Inshallah. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Conversation

 At Square One Cafe on Jalan Tamblingan an American and an Australian are discussing the American presidential election. The American opines that Biden is the far better candidate. He says that he will bring back an atmosphere of cooperation in Congress. He says as well that COVID is a natural function of nature. Sometimes, he says, diseases come along in accordance with the inscrutable wisdom of nature in order to thin out the population, which all in all causes the economy to run more smoothly. My chair at Square One is uncomfortable. I'm trying to read a novel but the conversation of the American and the Australian intrudes. I both want to hear and don't want to hear. The American explains that people are at each other's throats. It's exhausting. It is exhausting. I cannot tolerate this chair much longer. I do not know what I've read on the page I've just read. We are all wondering when this will be over.  Maybe when Biden returns at atmosphere of cooperation to Congress. But will that happen? Can it? Is it too late already? I read today that Texan yahoos carrying guns disrupted a scheduled Biden event and that the event had to be cancelled. If you can't hear the man, you can't be part of an atmosphere of cooperation. We are all so tired of this, aren't we? Government ought to be just running in the background, oughtn't it? Like an AC unit or an electric clock. But no, the Texan yahoos are not tired, and other yahoos are not either. Gun toting yahoos. This is their big event, this is their wet dream. Revolution, rebellion, a use for their guns. Stand back but stand by. They're ready. Is this really all over in three days, or is this just the beginning? Maybe COVID and the inscrutable wisdom of nature will work things out for us. Anything is possible. It is possible that Biden will revive a spirit of cooperation and civility. If not, there are always long guns, there is always the militia, there is always the conservative-heavy supreme court. There is always the wind on the embers of discord.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Happy Halloween

 Celebrating Halloween at Starbucks. Their hot coffee machine is broken so I'm having an ice latte, which was free because their hot coffee machine is broken. There is no Halloween in Bali, although most people do have a vague idea of what it's about. You can say "Trick or Treat" and they will understand the reference. I suppose there might be Halloween type parties in the tourist hubs, Kuta, Seminyak, and so on, but not this year, as there are still no tourists, the airport still being closed to foreign entry due to COVID. 

The only good memories I have of Halloween are from when I was very young. Trick or Treating with my brother and our friends. Back in those days you could get an enormous bag full of candy, and the candy bars were big--Butter Fingers, Baby Ruths. There were also popcorn balls and caramel apples. It seems like the candy lasted for weeks afterward. 

Other than that, remember very little about Halloweens. I do remember that my son got sick one Halloween after Trick or Treating with his cousins and ended up in the hospital with uncontrollable vomiting. He was diabetic but had not eaten any candy. He had just gone out for the "fun". The illness, a flu, was a coincidence. If I remember rightly, he was about three days in the hospital. 

My first ever dance with a girl was at a Halloween party at Julie Meier's house. I was in the eighth grade. 

I have a very dim memory of going to a Halloween party somewhere during my second marriage, but I cannot remember what I was dressed as or what she was dressed as or who had hosted the party or where it took place. Must not have been the best party ever. 

My third wife tells me that we went to a Halloween party together, but I have no memory of this whatsoever. 

When I was young, I felt bad about not being invited to Halloween parties, about sitting home alone instead, watching TV or handing out treats to children, and yet I cannot remember the parties I later attended. Apparently, I needn't have felt bad. 

I think that during the lost years that I spent in a bottle I probably went out to this or that bar for Halloween, but I have no recollection at all of whatever events might have taken place. 

It seems like my life is largely made up of years that are lost for one reason or another.  

Friday, October 30, 2020

Holy Fire

 Every year in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem - where Christ was crucified, entombed and then believed by Christians to have risen from the dead - a holy fire is said to erupt spontaneously, lighting candles which eventually spread a flame that is carried around the world.

--Apeirogon, Colum McCann

This is another story that I have heard before, somewhere in the dim and distant past. Once a year, on the day before Orthodox Easter, a priest enters the tomb alone to observe the miraculous igniting of the candles by a shaft of blue light that rises from the stone slab whereupon the Lord had lain, and then to carry one candle out, bearing the holy flame, so that it might be shared to countless other candles. In olden times, the flame was transported throughout Jerusalem. In modern times, it is transferred all over the world, preserved in special vacuum globes. Before entering the tomb, the priest is thoroughly searched to make sure that he is not carrying any fire starting devices. Nonetheless, as with the mystery of the holy Shroud of Turin, this story is doubted by many and many have forwarded various explanations, which generally suggest dishonesty on the part of the monks who administer this ritual, as well as the priest of course. It is said, for instance, that the priest has a BIC lighter secreted in his beard, or that he is carrying some kind of flammable chemical, or that a flint or some such implement is hidden within the tomb itself, perhaps beneath the floor. Similarly, those who doubt the Shroud of Turin have "scientifically" proven it to be a fake, produced not at the time of Christ's death and resurrection, but in the Middle Ages. This was done by careful microscope examination of a bit of cloth from the shroud itself. The problem is, as it turned out, that the piece of cloth examined had been taken from a corner that had been damaged long ago in a fire. In the Middle Ages, curiously enough. What they examined was not the shroud, but a patch applied by nuns after the incident that had damaged it. Well, that's neither here nor there, the scientists say. The shroud is a fake. The holy fire is also a fake. 

Who knows? I guess it is a matter of faith. It's a matter of what we believe.

Annabelle the Dog

 A couple nights ago the little white dog showed up at my door, as she often does in the evening, only this time I noted something unusual about her as she entered. Couldn't put my finger on it for a time, as the lights were low, but as she came nearer to receive her dog treat I realized that someone had painted her cheeks with rouge and applied eye shadow to her eyes! Far from beautified, the poor little critter looked distinctly monstrous, like a canine version of the Annabelle doll in the popular horror series. Moreover, she herself seemed shyly aware of the disfigurement. How this might have happened, however, is no mystery. There is a little girl living nearby, perhaps 10 years of age, who is attached to the little white dog to the point of obsession. Wherever the dog goes, the little girl seeks her, and has several times tailed her to my own gate, calling "Holly, Holly, Holly." Apparently the mutt's name is Holly. Holly came dashing in one evening, closely followed by the girl, and hid beneath the outdoor chair I was sitting in. Holly said, very quietly, "Help me!" So I am assuming that it was this little girl who applied the unfortunate cosmetics. The thing is, they just don't work well on a dog, unless you're going for a Halloween effect--though this would not work well either for Holly, for there is no such thing as Halloween in Indonesia. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Another Screw Up

 So we found out what the problem was with the septic tank mentioned in an earlier post. As it turns out, the original builder, a man by the name of Edi, infamous now for his many screw ups as well as for owing money to everyone he has worked for, routed ALL of the water from the house into the septic tank, which should be only for containing sewage from the toilet. No wonder then that the septic tank had swiftly filled up, receiving as it was water from the shower and the sinks as well as the toilet. This was the situation in my neighbor's apartment and will soon be the situation in mine as well. It will mean eventually that Louis will have to hire someone to dig down to the tank and reroute the inappropriate piping. It will also mean that I will need to stay somewhere else while this is being accomplished. Damn you, Edi! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bat Bombs

 Rami had heard the story once that, during World War II, a series of bombs filled with live bats were designed to make Japan burn. Each of the bombs, developed first by the US military, had thousands of compartments, a vast metallic honeycomb. 

--Apeirogon, Colum McCann

Here is one of those stranger than fiction true stories. I had actually heard of this before, but reread it just now in Colum McCann's fascinating novel. The bat bombs were tested on a manufactured Japanese-like town in Utah, dubbed 'Nip Town' by the American soldiers. As in Japan, the structures were made of wood, paper, and bamboo. The thought was that the bombs encasing the bats would be released high above a city and in their descent would burst open and release the bats, each with a tiny incendiary bomb attached to its body. The bats would then swoop down to the earth and nest in eaves and other nooks and crannies of the dwellings. After a set period of time, the bombs, and the bats, would explode, setting fire to the highly flammable cities. In 1943, after the expenditure of millions of dollars, the project was shelved in favor of what was thought to be potentially a better idea--the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people. It will never be known how many the explosive bats might have killed, nor quite why the first idea sounds more sinister than the last.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Critical Syllables

The boy comes into the corner warung with what I take to be his mother and his sister. The two women take their seats and withdraw their phones from their purses but the boy remains standing and kind of ping-pongs from table to table around the warung. Occasionally he stops, folds his arms as if he is about to strike up a conversation, but then quickly drifts onward. I note that the boy has an odd facial affect, sometimes appearing to ruminate, sometimes lifting his eyes toward the ceiling, lips moving silently, not as if he were speaking words but as if he were chewing on words. Like a moth, he flutters about the warung, completely unattended to by mother and sister, and then lands behind his mother. He reaches into her purse and pulls out a hair clip, grabs his mother's hair from behind and begins to fashion it into a bun atop her head. She scans her phone while the boy styles her hair. I note then that this is not so much a boy as a young man, for he has a light mustache. The mother finally reaches to the back of her head to undo the hair bun and the boy settles for a ponytail. He rushes to the front of the warung, folds his arms, sways from foot to foot, looks at the sky, and then returns to the table and picks up his mother's phone, which he holds very close to his eyes, tilted at an angle, seeming to look not so much at the screen or what's on the screen but upon the greenish light of the screen. He holds it very close to one eye as if the light itself were somehow pleasurable. I have not heard him speak even once, but then neither has the mother or sister spoken. I wonder if this boy is autistic. Some of the movements and attitudes are familiar to me. He is lively in his environment and yet somehow completely at odds with his environment. It is as if he is trying to find a place to fit in. Again and again he returns to the constant flame of his mother and sister.


A friend of mine in Java, a child psychologist, was recently instructing me on how to remember an experience. You must note five things associated with the setting, she said. People or things or sights or smells. Whatever. I was thinking about that when I awoke in the morning, and then realized that I had completely forgotten the woman's name. 

Yesterday, the maid showed up unexpectedly at my house. The neighbor's toilet would not flush and she brought two plungers, one for me, one for him. Mampet, she kept saying, but I couldn't understand what she meant, because I had never heard this word before. The plunger itself made the matter clear. 

"Did you already try it?" I asked.

"No, Om."

"Why not?" 


Scared. She was scared to use the plunger. 

"Do you want me to do it?"

"Yes, please." 

But the plunger, as it turned out, was ineffective. The septic tank itself is backed up. 

"Well, I guess we need to call Mayo," I said. Mayo is the builder. 



"I don't know Mayo." 

"Sure you do. He's the boss here. He's Ibu Dency's huband." 

"Oh! MaYO!" 

The stress on two letters, one syllable, can make all the difference in the world.

Every long once in a while, I check in with my face in the mirror--and I noticed this morning that I have developed hooded eyes. Hooded eyes are when you have excess skin folding down from the brow bone to the lash line. Hooded eyes are hereditary and tend to be more marked in old age. Notable people with hooded eyes include Taylor Swift, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Jennifer Lawrence. Hooded eyes are also known as bedroom eyes.  

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Humorous Little Thing That Didn't Happen

I was just about to write a humorous little piece about an acquaintance of mine, had just barely gotten started on this, when I realized that this person may well be aware of this blog, and may actually even read it, which meant of course that I had to discard the idea of writing the piece. Damn! This happens with ever increasing regularity, such that it begins to feel as if I will need to create an anonymous blog under an alias, in no way associated with my real name, so that I may be free to write whatever comes into my head. Not that this piece was going to be insulting or anything. But the thing is, humor depends on the art of taking things and people, most of all oneself, lightly, and this in itself may strike the subject as automatically disparaging, especially if one is talking about someone who takes him- or herself pretty damn seriously to begin with. 

So I guess this is a long way of saying that I have nothing to say today; or that I do but I don't, or won't, because I feel that I can't. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Debate #2-1/2

Well, I guess the best thing that can be said about the second face-to-face debate is that it was at least watchable and both candidates were able to speak (although there was still a slight problem with restricting Trump to his own time and to the dictates of the format). In any case, it's a bit of a meaningless exercise, as people have long since decided who they will vote for and of course both sides have declared clear victory in this second debate. I guess if you have no problem with hearing the same lies, you will vote for Trump. If you want to see some serious changes and a refocusing on the actual concerns of the common American people, you will vote for Biden. I personally am hoping that we can depart from the general sleaziness of the last four years and turn back toward a more familiar national reality.  

Thursday, October 22, 2020

It Is What It Is

I remember that at this time back in 2016, it seemed to many of us that Donald Trump was actually trying to lose the election. He seemed to be alienating as many people as possible, making himself as odious as possible, making as many political mistakes as possible. How wrong we were, right? 

And now there is the impression that he is doing the same thing, addressing at his rallies few of the issues his advisors would like him to stick to, attracted instead to the very things they would rather play down.

But that's not what's going on, is it. This is just Trump--full of anger, bitterness, personal axes to grind, captivated by self-serving conspiracy theories, seeking approval from those who are already inclined to approve, and knowing that playing the victim, now as in 2016, will resonate. 

I do hope with all my heart that we can break out of this downward spiral of divisiveness and somehow start climbing out of his pit together. I guess we will find out soon enough. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Insensitive and Inappropriate Observations

I may have mentioned this before, but what the heck, I'll mention it again: I am continually surprised at the comfort young people show with 'video calls'. It seems in fact, in Indonesia anyway, to be the favored choice for long distance conversation. This is disturbing for me, because I am generally uncomfortable with this form of communication. It feels stressful and disconcerting. The video seems somehow to interfere with natural conversation, to be distracting rather than engaging, for though you are chatting face to face in real time, the distance remains somehow persistently in effect. In fact, the distance seems somehow more distant yet. Weird. Is it just me? 

And here's another thing that strikes me as odd. Without meaning to sound culturally insensitive, it does not seem to occur to those Indonesian women who are wearing hijabs (which is pretty much all women outside of Bali) that each one of them looks more or less the same as any other woman wearing a hijab. These are not the full Middle Eastern type hijabs that nearly completely cover the face, but more like scarf arrangements that expose the oval of the face while covering the hair, forehead, ears, neck, and so on. I find that this significantly reduces the individuality of any one face, especially for someone who faces challenges where facial recognition is concerned to begin with. 

To this point, I was video chatting today with a woman from Batam, video at her insistence of course, and then she later sent me a photograph of three women and asked me identify her among the three. I had no idea whatsoever, and therefore chose the only one who stood out against the others, which was she who was wearing eyeglasses. 

Wrong! the woman replied. 

Well no wonder. There was only a 33 percent chance of getting it right. 

Moreover, how is it, I wonder, that any individual woman, given the irrepressible vanity of the gender, bear to have her own incomparable beauty obscured? Far from the western model of makeup and maximum exposure, here we have an intentional cloaking. How can she stand out, and where in the world is the woman who can stand not to stand out among her peers? 

Clearly, they do believe that they stand out despite the obscuration. The thing is, I'm just having a hard time seeing it.