Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Two Curiosities

1) Twice in the last week, I have been waiting at the junction of my narrow side street to enter busy Jalan Hang Tuah and turn right. While I'm waiting someone comes up on the right side of my bike and when there is a space in the traffic, straight away turns left directly in front of me, causing me to lose my opportunity to make my own turn. How can this be? What is the thought process of the other driver? I have my right turn signal on, so yeah … what the hell?

2) In accordance with practicing crowd limitation at the mall, a large part of the parking lot is cordoned off and closed. The idea, I assume, is that when the open lot is full, this means the mall is at current social distancing capacity. What drivers do therefore, after the lot is full, is simply park behind vehicles that have already entered at an earlier time. So,
     A. How are those earlier arrivals supposed to get out of their parking spots?
     B.  If the space limit has been reached, wouldn't it be a good idea to close the entry gate?
     C.  If you are going to allow vehicles to enter despite the fact that the open lot is at capacity, shouldn't you open one of the restricted parts of the lot so that people can safely park and also get out again?

Just sayin'.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Yesterday ended up being a day at home, as the workers came to install the cupboards and shelves Louis and Wayne had bought for the apartment and it was an all-day job as it turned out. I must say though that I was impressed by these carpenters' expertise and carefulness. I mean, this is Indonesia, so these things surprise.

I myself know nothing about carpentry (or about anything else in particular), so it was fascinating to watch these guys at work. It's not just pushing furniture against the walls and figuring it's good enough. These pieces were carefully installed and fit together, then fastened together, holes made for electrical outlets and switches installed in the new furniture, everything level, everything secure, and everything thoroughly dusted and cleaned once it was set up, right down to using a paint stick for finishing on the door and cabinet edges.

The place seems much bigger now, given that many cupboards and compartments have now been supplied for stuff that was beforehand just jumbled and stacked on the one case of shelves that I had along with the ugly shirt hanging rack. In fact, two pieces of my own furniture are now unneeded in my place and have gone to the apartment next door.

Aside from the bed drawers and cupboards, they also put cupboards and shelves in the kitchen, including a tall storage nook for the unsightly gas tank for the stove. It's the nearest thing to a real house that I've lived in for the past nine years, set up with a sort of planned cohesion and practicality that has been otherwise absent.

Now, as I look at other things in the house, I will often note a sloppiness in comparison to something that has been done with competence and care. The doorway in the bathroom, for instance, has a gap along the top that has not been puttied or painted. Why? The electricity for the water heated is still rerouted to a distant electrical outlet and nails have been put in the wall to hold the cord in place. This was supposed to have been a temporary solution to a nonfunctioning water heater, but …? The lock to the sliding garden doors have frozen twice, been replaced once, and the door has been scarred in the attempt to remove the old lock. We've told the project manager to leave it at this point. There is really no way one could get into the back garden area, so I don't know why there was a lock on the door in the first place.

So very many things here in Indonesia are done so very sloppily--and as was demonstrated by yesterday's workers, it does not need to be that way. Some of this can be put down to dishonest contractors, the purchase of poor materials (in order to line the pockets with the leftover money), low wages paid to inexperienced builders, a devotion to painting a pretty picture and then cutting corners wherever possible. As the Indonesian middle class continues to rise, expectations rise, an educated consumer class emerges, and slovenly construction practices and workmanship begin to be distinctly unacceptable. Which is good.

In any case, my place is becoming more comfortable and cozy all the time, and that is good too.


Saturday, June 27, 2020


Not long ago, I landed on a Facebook site called Indonesian Americans Forum. I've mentioned it already, I believe. Actually, I was invited to this site by an Indonesian-American friend as a token bule or honorary Indonesian, I guess. I mentioned as well that I was surprised and discouraged to see the bigotry among these immigrant Americans. As with any site crowded with Trump cult folks, trying to reasonably debate, or merely state a fact, is pretty much a hopeless pursuit. Responses come generally in the form of insults or imbecilic memes.

Every once in a while, a more progressive, and more polite sort of Indonesian reader will chime in in response to one comment string or another. This particular conversation involved the black lives matter movement.

Richard Boughton, she wrote, these people will never get it. Thank you for being a voice of reason here on this page full of bigots. Ashamed to call them my people.

Well, I appreciate that. I am ashamed of them, too. They make me feel sad and discouraged, and I can't help but see their descent into crudeness and hatefulness as a product of America itself rather than of the country they came from.

Perhaps they are merely afraid of black people, and their fear comes out as hate. There are very few black people in Indonesia. There are dark skinned foreigners, but very few black westerners. What they see here of black people is what they see in the movies, which is mostly gangsters, thieves, gun toting criminals. And rap artists, with their crude lyrics and glorification of violence. They walk into the movie that is America, knowing all about it from YouTube and the big screen. And here in America they hear the reassuring, equally paranoid and racist voice of Donald Trump. See? No one likes these black people. Not even the president.

They are afraid. And fear is the soul of bigotry.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Dog Tricks

I find that my new neighborhood is just a little bit better than the old one for walking without having to walk in one direction and then turn around and walk the same route back. From my house, I can walk to the end of the short broken road to Gang Merdu Komala, take a right and walk all the way down to an alley that goes through to Gang Mawar (my old street), take a right again and walk along Gang Mawar to Jalan Hangtua, a wide main street, and from Hangtua hit Merdu Komala again. Essentially a big rectangle.

This is rather far for an old guy like me, but that's not really the problem. The problem is that there are various packs of dogs wandering around on the streets along the way and they don't much cotton to strangers entering their territory. They don't much cotton to each other either. They're a motley looking crew and one has the impression that they, like many Bali dogs, don't belong to anyone in particular, but are simply attached to a general area and the various people there.

As a rule, dog's don't have a problem with me, nor I with them; but these are territorial dogs, prepared to object to the presence of strange man and strange beast alike.

There are a couple of tricks that I have learned over the years. One trick is to yawn as one passes, as this is an appeasement or calming signal to dogs, and dogs do it as well. It is a way of saying, 'Okay, I feel a bit anxious, but I don't want no trouble.'

Another is to sharply point one finger toward the ground and say 'Shh!'

Another is to continue a leisurely pace, maybe speak in a calm voice, and avoid turning turning as if you mean to confront the dog.

I did think of bringing my cane, which is actually more of a thick walking stick, but it might just be that the dog would see that as a heightened threat. Not sure.

Of course, their bark is worse than their bite, as we say. They are, in their own minds, doing their job and usually don't intend to actually attack. And if there were a dog who had attacked some neighbor passing through, that dog would no doubt meet its end quite soon. People here tend to take such matters in their own hands.

Anyway, as long as the evenings remain cool, I will try to drag myself out for this excursion a couple or a few times a week. Perhaps the dogs will come to recognize me. And I suppose it is more likely in any case that one might be run over by a motorbike than bit by a dog.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Fake Fever

I have that inner burning, feverish sensation today, thanks to neurologic dysfunction, and it is worse than usual, although I have taken the prescribed medication, pregabalin. This generally helps somewhat, but not today. I have taken my own temperature at home (certain that I must have a fever), and had it taken again upon entry to the mall and then again upon entry to Starbucks, and in each case the temperature has been perfectly normal. Gahhhh! I hate this particular symptom more than most others. I dunno, perhaps the doctor needs to adjust my medication, as sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Then again, it also makes one rather sleepy, whether the heat is decreased or not, and I don't want to have something that turns me into a total zombie. It's just very annoying--from the chest to the neck to the top of the head, one feels like he is burning up inside. One feels as though his face must be beat-red, although it is not, and one does sometimes begin to sprout beads of sweat from the forehead and hairline, even though he is not actually hot! How annoying. And the weather today and over the past week has been much cooler then usual! Would be very nice to enjoy this, if not for the fake fever.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


If you thought that we had reached in our culture the limit of absurdities, fear not; for I see among this morning's headlines that prominent Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King has called for the removal of white colored statues of Jesus as part of a crusade against white supremacy. "They are a form of white supremacy," Shaun says. "Always have been."

Well my goodness, where to start?

First of all, there are white statues all over the world depicting just about everyone of every flesh color. Why? Is it because the sculptors thought these people--Martin Luther King, Jr., Mao Zedong, Buddha, Booker T. Washington, Genghis Khan, Nelson Mandela, St. Peter and indeed Jesus Christ--were white? Uh … no. It is because white stone in sculpture has been a preferred medium all over the world from time immemorial. White or gray. Y'all know of any gray people? 

Moreover, is any human being white like a white statue? As a matter of fact, white is technically not a color at all. It is the absence of color, as in a white canvas or a blank sheet of paper. If you drew a similarly "white" person on these mediums, well, you wouldn't be able to see the person at all, would you?

There is no such thing as 'white' skin. It is merely a convenient term, as is black, for neither is there any such a thing as black skin. These simply do not exist in nature.

Now what about the use of the color white in scripture? Take a look through a word search from Genesis to Revelation. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow (Rev 1:14); The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses (Rev 9:14); His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them (Mark 9:3); Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). And so on. I have given but a small sample.

Are the writers of scripture suggesting that white is a supreme color of skin? Of course not. The color white is used not only in scripture but throughout world literature and mythologies to indicate purity, goodness, light. Moreover, the authors of scripture as well as much of ancient mythology were not white. The authors of scripture were brown, for God's sake! Lol. Jesus was brown.

So, no, Shaun, a statue made of white stone is not a racist memorial. It is a statue made of white stone. If we are going to take down white Jesus, we will need to take down white everybody. We may as well get rid of white stone altogether on the basis of its being generally offensive. What about that white church? How dare they? What about that white Synagogue, that white mosque?

And while we are at it, we may as well mention that Jesus has in every culture been depicted in art as a member of that culture because each culture identifies with Jesus as one of them--for he is indeed one of all of us in every far flung part of the world. Nobody whomsoever other than the most outrageously moronic has thought that Jesus of Nazareth, of Nazarene parentage, was somehow Caucasian.

Wouldn't it be better to get back to the real world and address our real problems realistically rather than foisting them on inanimate stones?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Sometimes, especially when the maid is in the house, I will go down to Sanur for a coffee and a pastry at some little café, because although Starbucks is open now for service and in-store seating, they do not open until 11 am and the maid shows up at around 9 am. I don't want to be in her way, and I definitely get the feeling that I am in her way if I stay at the house.

For the last couple weeks, I have gone to a little place called Bread Basket, serving coffee, breads, and pastries, and even breakfast and lunch dishes if you want to spend the money. My preference is a simple latte and cinnamon role, reasonably priced.

But I found myself irritated today by the "reserved" signs that are consistently on two or three of the tables at the café. There are only seven tables in the entire outdoor area, and three of these have only stools, no chairs, and sitting on a stool, you see, is very hard on my back.

The thing is, I have never seen anyone sitting at the tables with the reserved signs, and this annoys me, as I am convinced that these tables reserved for people who aren't even there are reserved for rich customers of high esteem in the establishment. To me, it is arrogant and unfair, not to mention disrespectful of other patrons who are apparently of lower regard.

So I determined to mention this annoyance upon leaving, though I anticipated the blank Indonesian stare in response. Mention it I did, and I did get the blank stare, along with the answer, 'Oh yes, those tables are reserved.'

'But I've never seen anyone there, no matter what time I come here.'


All righty then.

Similarly, when I used to go down to the beach for a swim, there was a spread with perhaps 100 chairs. I would find only one man sitting there, and yet was not allowed to sit there myself. 'Sorry, reserved for hotel patrons only.' How ridiculous, right?

There is a beach warung up at Sindhu Beach that is very popular among the locals. The warung serves nasi campur only (a rice dish mixed with various meats, vegetables, and spices). You have to stand in the crowd before the counter and kind of try to catch the server's eye when it seems to be your turn. On one occasion I was waiting while some people in front of me were being served when the owner called out "Hey, tamu dulu", which means 'serve the white guy first.' My wife (an Indonesian woman) thought this was great, but I felt painfully embarrassed at this unreasonable and unearned deference. We see this often enough, and it always embarrasses me for I have done nothing to deserve this deference other than being white (and that was not my choice in any case).

I believe the same thing to be at work at the Bread Basket, only worse--for in this case, some rich white people have essentially 'bought' two or three tables in a café that ought to be serving all equally.

So you know what? I ain't gonna go there no more. There are plenty of other places at the beach or up the road a piece.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Kites and So On

I have been enjoying a very unusual period of weather here in Bali, much cooler than usual, and yet still mostly sunny. Especially in the morning and at night, the air is 'crisp' and there is a continual breeze, such that I have not had to use the air-conditioning at all while sleeping. I don't and never have used it anyway during the day, so as an added bonus, this cooler weather is saving me money on electricity use. I merely open the kitchen window, the sliding garden doors, maybe put the fan on low, and sleep like a baby.

In fact, the period between June and September is always the most livable period here in south Bali, while from mid October to the following May it is damned hot, sometimes unbearably so. But I do have the benefit here in the new place of opening doors and windows in both back and front, thus allowing the air to circulate. At Kampung Kumpul, there was but one door and one window, both at the front, and the hot air simply came in and collected within the house. Even the back walls felt hot to the touch. Additionally, of course, the miniature air-conditioner there was essentially useless. On the other hand, I have so far turned on the new AC only at its lowest fan setting.

Because it is consistently windy, there are hundreds of kites in the sky. Indonesians love kites, and both adults and children can be seen launching theirs every day. During the day, the sky is speckled with kites of all types and colors, large and small, and at night you can see the lights that have been attached to many of them, zipping about like an invasion of UFOs.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Final Touches

Final touches and improvements are still being applied to my little apartment on Gang Merdu Komala, Sanur. The lock on the sliding garden doors, for instance, must be replaced, as it is frozen and the key will neither turn the lock nor come out of the lock. Venetian blinds have now been mounted in the kitchen and drapes applied for the long garden window. The sliding bathroom door must be redone, as the original was for some odd reason installed without a bottom track, such that the door flaps back and forth in the breeze from the window, clunking against the wall. One of the wall sockets came out in my hand and will be re-fixed in the wall. Other than these minor nuisances however, the place has been super cozy--except for last night when the workers next door decided to work till just after midnight, interrupting my sleep with a lot of hammering and pounding. But these are things that I will have to put up with for a while, as the entire street essentially, is still under construction. The little duplex just before mine is nearly finished, but the apartments being constructed on the other side have only just begun.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Wisdom of Youth

In yet another 'debate' with a young Indonesian immigrant to America, we were discussing whether falling asleep at a Wendy's is sufficient reason to shoot a man dead. Well, I doubt that the young woman would characterize the issue in this way, but in any case she sought to inform me ultimately about the particulars of what happens in an arrest. "I'm sorry," I told her, "but you simply don't know what you're talking about. Take it from someone who has been there."

"Aww," the callow woman replied, "you think coz you are old and had a lot of experience and you are wise enough? lol. i don't think so."

Well sure, why should experience matter in these things? Why should actual facts matter? The key response when confronted with knowledge and experience seems to be the tossing of an insult. It's the ace in the hole. 'Ah, so you see, I am right after all, and you are old! Period!' She had spoken and that was that.

Oh dear.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Lost and Found

I was talking on the phone today while at Starbucks to a friend in Jakarta. When it came time to leave, I began to pack up my laptop and put my various things in the pockets, and I thought 'Good Lord, where is my phone?' I had lost one just last year. Not again! I began to panic, but then found my phone. Whew. It was in my hand, pressed to my ear, because I was talking to my friend in Jakarta.


A friend of mine in Jakarta happened to mention that she has a couple of ornamental masks (Balinese, I think), which she received as a wedding gift, and does not know what to do with them, for although she appreciates the artwork, she is 1) a little afraid of the faces and 2) disallowed as a Muslim to display such things in the home (the thought being, apparently, that they dissuade good angels from entering).

"I'll take em!" said I.

I've always liked these sorts of things--things that have a traditional yet individual flavor, that are products of imagination and good craftsmanship. My friend has also a copper plate depicting a batik-style pattern, and she will send this along with the masks.

The truth is, as long as I have been in Bali, I have enjoyed no sort of décor at all, partly because such things would be just an unneedful expense and partly because my time in any one place has always been temporary, and in any case the houses belonged to someone else. Now that I am in a place that belongs to Louis, and will be there, according to her anyway, for the next twenty-five years, I feel more free to personalize little by little.

I've never been particularly superstitious about objects, although that's not to say that awareness is not a good idea. We are all aware of the many movies nowadays wherein some object--Annabelle the creepy doll, for instance--has been occupied by an evil presence, a demon, or wherein interaction with some object happens to invite a demon--the Ouija Board, a haunted book, and so on--and I must admit that these masks are fairly creepy, but in a stylish, sophisticated way, ya know. All the better to be possessed, or all the more likely to forbid good angels? Well, one hopes not. And I suppose if they did become impregnated with evil, one could just give them to someone he doesn't like, right!

I have also long been fond of the traditional Indonesian Wayang puppets. These are used in traditional plays for various social and religious events. I find them fascinating and unique, each having its own story. I think they'd look great on one of my walls as well. I truly don't have a lot of wall to cover, but I'm finding that I would like it to be something other than blank white in due time. Something more cozy, more lived in, more personalized.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

First Things First

[For some reason, I never got around to entering this short story into my blog. I don't know why. Maybe it seemed too long (and it is long). Maybe I didn't want to bother. In fact, I had come to believe that the story had disappeared altogether. I had no paper copy and I wasn't aware of any electronic copy. The story was published in an online periodical called The Fairfield Review, if I remember correctly, and it was awarded 'Short Story of the Year', for which I received my usual form of payment--prestige. This was in 2004 or thereabouts. I was thinking about it just lately and actually found it among my Dropbox files. Wonders never cease. Transferring it to the blog, however, required considerable trouble, as the paragraph and line spacing got all jumbled in the process. But in any case, here it is, for anyone who wants to bother.]


First things first. That was my father's way. And so we shivered in the night as we sloshed about the dead fire in our high boots, shrugging off our creels and setting our rods against the bone bare trunk of the old cedar by the lake in a jerky, chattering sort of pantomime which made me want to laugh but I knew my father would not understand. The cold stem of his pipe was clenched between his crooked teeth as if its purpose there was to keep him from biting off his tongue--another pantomime, though of a future time, a different place, neither of which would include me other than as a bystander, albeit just as numb. Maybe that is what made me remember. Then, in the future, I would memorize the 23rd Psalm, so long overdue, having been so lost for so long. Now I lit a cigarette and my father shot a glance my way, displeased, the cold, smokeless bowl of his pipe attesting to the strength of his discipline. I think he popped the stem up and down a couple times in excess of the natural measure of shivering just to make a point.
My father never said a whole lot in the way of love or disapproval. It was facial expressions that mattered, postures, gestures. Just now there were fish to be carved and cleaned. That was clear. I took a shallow puff, lips turned decidedly into a frown, as if the cigarette had been just a bothersome necessity, flicked it toward the cold fire pit and turned back toward the creels waiting on the table.

Dave was there too, pissing out by the huckleberry bushes, creel still hanging on his shoulder, dripping fishy water at this feet. Those bushes grew the largest berries for miles around but we, or at least my father and I, knew better than to eat them. There must have been something hale, something salubrious in Dave's
urine. Or maybe it was something in the bourbon, which he had begun on some hours ago. I had seen him sip from his flask long before the sun had reached the tops of the trees in the west, and a brook trout had leaped out of the water at the same instant, fish and flask catching the sun on their silver sides in one sudden wink. It was a beautiful sight.

Dave took a long time in the bushes, long enough to hum and sing by turns, given the modulating sharpness and dimness of his memory, a rather tuneless version of Moonlight in Vermont, though there was but the barest sliver of a moon this night, like a sickle- shaped shard of ice in the sky. The moon was silver also, like the pint-size flask and like the flank of the brookie. Now and then Dave would hoot "Cold," although in fact he was the only one of us not shivering.

Dave had always had a talent for entering into the general parameters of any given situation, like a chameleon, perhaps; or perhaps he had a gift for improvisation. It was hard to know just who or what Dave might be at baseline. My father thought he was full of shit, and told him so to his face often enough. But it was friendly shit, the good kind, he said. We had a running joke about Dave. Actually there were many. When he would trot off to the bushes with his loose roll of biodegradable tissue flapping behind we would worry that our personalities might be lost altogether in the drought and we would therefore not know him when he
returned, emptied of nearby character, so to speak. Funny, that. Drought was the word Dave himself used to signify this form of evacuation. It was a biblical term, he said, and he was a bible thumper if ever one lived. A bible thumper and a drunk. It never bothered him. Until it killed him, that is.

Dave owned a body shop in a small town not too far from Portland and he would die even before my father died. He would die in these same woods, just down the road a piece, and by his own hand. But for now, pissing in the huckleberry bushes, he was eternal; as was, seemingly, the sweet and nutrient stream of his urine.

It was reported by bystanders that my father had flopped like a fish out of water as he seized on the floor of the Sportman's Warehouse. A paramedic who had been in the store looking for Bottomline sonar fish finder had expertly evaluated the situation, dropped the fish-finder from one hand and with the other grabbed a rubber key floater off the rack at her elbow, tore the package open and wedged the key finder between Dad's chattering teeth. As it turned out, she did not have to pay for the fish-finder, which had broken on impact. Merchants are kind and understanding when push comes to shove. Who isn't? She even rode to the hospital with him in someone else's ambulance. That was where I met her. We had coffee together a couple times in the following weeks and then drinks in a bar and then one night ended up at her apartment while my wife was visiting our daughter in New York. I'm not proud of it. Strange things just happen. Or are they really that strange when you add everything up?

Still no fire. First things first. My father came and sat across from me at our makeshift table. This consisted of four cross cut logs and three flat boards which used to be part of a makeshift raft, with flat rocks atop three of the logs to level the surface. He began to pump pressure into the Coleman lantern. He pumped very quickly, all the way out and all the way in, thirty strokes, paused for thirty seconds, then pumped thirty more strokes. He said that was the proper way to do it. Later, when propane became the common method of campsite lighting, Dad still stuck with the gas lantern. He had used it for twenty years more or less. If it's not broken, don't fix it. That was his philosophy. Or if it is broken, fix it yourself and don't pay good money for some so-called professional to do what you could damn well do yourself. I don't know how many times I heard that, but the truth is I was never any damn good and fixing things that are broken. And that, my friend, is the understatement of the last half- century.

A breeze was up now, rushing across the water on sudden ripples as if the lake itself had decided to exhale, and it took three carefully cupped matches before the gas in the Coleman finally popped and the mantel lit up white.

Dave came tramping back through the meadow--thumping and dripping, thumping and dripping--and plunked his heavy creel on the table top. Together we laid out tripled sheets of newspaper about the base of the lantern. My father took his fish out one by one, and so did I. Occasionally he would comment on one or another of the fish. "That's a little devil," he would say, "good eatin' fish; or "That one's a big mother," meaning, actually that its belly was filled with long strands of orange eggs.

Dave turned his creel upside down and the day's catch plopped onto the newspaper in one slippery blob. They might as well have been carrots or onions for all he cared. Dave was not romantic about fish, not like my father. He did not care to linger over them or admire one over another (although he did always count them). Along with the mess of fish came hunks of long grass he had pulled from the shallows and mixed in to keep the meat fresh, and there was also a springy length of leader and a couple of errant flies (a buck-tail and a spruce--good flies this time of year). My father glanced across the table, teeth ready to snap the pipestem, and I knew what he was thinking as well as I knew that it was night and
that it was windy and that it was cold and that there was no fire.

"You got any fish in there, Dave, or just grass?" I said.

"Jesus Christ," my father said.

Dave laughed, of course. My father was a good deal older than Dave and Dave was a good deal older than me, as good deals go. In private Dave would confide, "Dammit, I love your old man, Nate, but he sure as hell can be cranky when he wants."

Didn't I know it.

We had stopped shivering, my father and I. Dave had begun. Had his wife and my mother been here with us he would have found a way 'to make the women earn their keep,' or at least tried to, but this night, in the cold, huddled against the wind around the frigid hissing of the gas lantern we would clean our own fish. Thus it
happened that for the space of about fifteen minutes Dave did not speak, he did not laugh, he did not tell a joke or take a drink. He sliced his trout open and gutted them as swiftly and expertly as any supermarket meat cutter. Man, he was good.
A little more than two summers later Dave lost his wife in a car accident. It was a single car accident involving a telephone pole and a 13 year old girl. Dave spent a lot of time in court over that and did not come out of it well, either financially or emotionally. Because Dave loved children, he really did. This all changed Dave's life in a significant way, but in other ways things stayed the same. Strange how that can happen. At any rate, it was not a blessing in disguise. It just happened. I say that Dave lost his wife, but he did not really lose her. Her head went through the windshield on the passenger side and her face was horribly disfigured, split nearly down the center from forehead to chin as if by an ax. Even after the wound had fully healed there remained a permanently angry looking red scar from top to bottom, which tried to make a crude Z whenever she laughed. Imagine that. Laughing, I mean. As for Dave, I do not believe he ever really laughed again. Not really. He took his best shot, but it was never very convincing and his eyes did not agree with what his mouth was making.
Happily for Dave and myself my father gathered all the fish into one bucket and struck off for the lake shore to wash and scrape them himself before putting them into the cooler bags. Perhaps he was concerned that we would not take proper care in this last task involved in the preparation of the trout for cooking. I think this is likely--both that he thought so and that we would not--but I was thankful for it, as my fingertips had begun to go numb and my hands had begun to throb and ache from the knuckles on down as if the blood were trying to push through solid crystals of ice in the small vesicles. I set myself quickly to poking about in the dark through the long grass and the stubby clumps of brush for tinder, small sticks and chips of bark, while Dave kicked aside the hulks of charcoal from last night's fire and crumpled newspaper in the bed for tonight's.

I brought the tinder, Dave struck a match to the paper, then another, then another, and my father washed the fish at the lake for a long time while Dave and I held our hands to the growing flames, not feeling a thing at first, and added larger wood as the fire took hold on the tinder and the bark. When my father finally returned with the fish wrapped in plastic bags there was sweat dripping from his
forehead and off the tip of his nose like drops of frosty water from a pendulous ice sickle. And he was happy. Things had been done properly and now he could rest.

As if my father ever really rested.

In other woods, another lake, another time, we found my father fitfully sleeping in the back of Jack Gordon's old station wagon with his clothing still on except for his boots which were on the ground beneath the tailgate, and his sleeping bag was tucked tight as hospital sheets around his chest and hips--

--and they had to tie his arms down with thin cotton restraints because he kept pulling out the catheter and kept striking out at the male nurse and said there were Indians having a powwow in the corner of the room where my mother was sitting--

--and his face was white, as though he had not only died there in the back of Jack's wagon but the blood had already been drained from his body in preparation for burial. Dave and his two sons and I shone flashlights through the window and the cold light--like the snowy sounding hissing of the Coleman--only made it worse.
Jack had been down by the lake and now he came up through the trees, his flashlight beam bobbing toward us and poking about the brush lined trail and the black arms of the branches above as if feeling his way for him like an outstretched hand. We removed our lights from my father's mask-like face and fixed the beams on Jack.
"Hey," Jack said, as if nothing had happened. His light sought our faces one by one, moving on at each recognition. He spoke very quietly but his voice carried in the mountain air. "Hey, they found her," he said. 

Oh, thank God," Dave said. "Damn, thank God. Jesus, what a scare."

And I was never so glad as when he uttered these very words, word for word, syllable for syllable, because I had been about to weep, about to collapse like a mound of sand under a wave for the full length of the five hours it had taken us to get our little rescue party together, leave the city, drive over the mountain and halfway across the Reservation. My mother was alive. She had been lost and now she was found, as Dave would put it, quoting yet another scripture, albeit some dozen miles away and by another rescuer. She had not fallen off a cliff, she had not been mauled by a bear, she had not been eaten or torn or crushed or abducted. She had simply entirely lost her bearings and now she was tired and was sleeping at the resort on the other side of the butte near where she had been found.

I pulled myself up. Tension ran down my neck, through my shoulders and out the small of my back as if I'd just received intravenous morphine--

but I would not feel the stab of the needle for nearly two years yet to come--
--and as I lifted my chin my body was suddenly my own again. I lit a cigarette. I shook hands with Jack. Dave let loose with a deep, long, whistling, heaving sigh and all the air went out of me also in that same sigh. He took off his cap and ran a thick hand across his balding scalp.

"Jesus," he said.

"Christ," I said.

Glancing back through the side window of the station wagon I found that my father's eyes were open. Instantly they fixed upon mine, dumbfounded, questioning, caught in that fleeting slumber place where the past is not yet past and the present is yet an amalgamation of possibilities. His lips moved, forming one word.

"Nate ...."

"Nate, why don't you wrap your damn fish guts and put them in the

He was talking to me, but of course he was talking to Dave too. I often served as a sort of intermediate link in the line of command my father wished to convey to all present. I suppose it was his polite way of not treating friends like sons.

I caught Dave's wink from across the fire pit. His face was ruddy, distinct to the point of being thespian in the orange of the firelight and against the black of the night. It was as if he had applied cosmetics somewhere between cleaning the fish and stoking the fire, and it might have looked natural from faraway, but up close it was strange and exaggerated. Yes, all the world was a stage, and Dave merely an actor. I laughed. This seemed to either startle or anger my father, as his blue eyes shot up and his pipe sort of cocked to the side like a trigger. Dave and I went to the table, wrapped our fish guts and returned to the fire to lay the bundles on the highest flames.

"The coals at the bottom are hotter," Dad said. "You should have put them on the coals. They're gonna make a God-awful stink there on the top."

But of course it was too late. The mouths of the fish heads, unveiled as the newspaper folded away with the heat, were breathing fire and the entrails were sizzling like fuses--

--and we could see that the fuse on the charge was lit and we were all crouching in the muck, helmet rims digging into the lip of the natural trench because of the constant small arms fire that was kicking up feculent clods of brown and green jungle crud and causing them to hop over our heads and into the gully like a plaque of frogs, and none of us could figure out why Johnson was just holding the thing, cradling it like a baby with his face down and pasty white and his eyes just wide and unblinking like a fish, and everybody from every direction was shouting so that you couldn't make out a single word because of all of the noise. A Huey flew overhead and then burst into a slow ball of flames and came apart in two equal sections which cartwheeled at digressing angles toward where the rocket had been launched, and it was like the Huey was a light going on in all our heads at the very same moment, so that like one contorted and misshapen multi-pedal creature we scurried and clawed through the gully muck, putting as much distance as possible, as quickly as possible, between our own precious flesh and which would soon be Johnson no longer--
The guts went on fizzing, the gaping fish mouths belched puffs of smoke. My father just shook his head and muttered "Dumb son's of bitches," and he got up to pour himself a brandy.

"Get me one too," Dave called after him, "ya dumb son-a-bitch yerself, only make mine bourbon, and light on the water, light on the ice, heavy on the liquor."

He had always been a happy drunk--or would be until later when he lost his wife and all the other shit started to hit the fan.
"Nate?" Dad said. "What's your poison?"

My Dad talked to me like that whenever we were in the woods, whenever my mother wasn't with us, whenever Dave or Jack or Jerry or George were with us. The core group. It was all about entering into the spirit of things, of the night, of the wind and the chill, of the good catch we had made that day, of the warmth of the fire and the licking flames and the sound of the crickets and the buzzing of the bullbats down by the water and the suicidal dance of the moths about the Coleman lantern, and the beer and the bourbon and the brandy and the vodka.

"Just a beer for me," I answered.

That would always been my first choice--that or vodka and whatever would cut the bitter--water, coffee, 7-Up, Sunkist, root beer, coke, cranberry, grape soda, Gatorade (for an extra boost)--you name it--light on everything but the liquor. But that was yet in the future. I would become just as much a drunk as Dave, the only difference between us being that I would live through it.

I do not, cannot, judge others. I judge not even myself, but God is my judge.

And so, God help me.
Seeds are planted, and things take root in soil that has somehow been prepared for them. Every field has its destined crop, and just as nature bears it's fruit in its time, so life bears its future little by little until it is full grown into just exactly what it will become. It is almost as if one could look into the heart of a seed and see all the results of time in one peek, for it all must surely be contained herein from the beginning.
When I was a child, which was quite awhile back, as quite awhile's go, I put forth this very theory to my mother, who was a Christian Scientist but did not really practice other than hypothetically because her mother had died of the same thing.

Maybe God just made a seed, I said, and everything that would ever be, every tree that would ever grow, every ocean that would ever roar, every animal and person that would ever live was already there, from beginning to end, in that one seed.

My mother did not agree. It was all much more complicated than that, she said, and she began to read me the Bible after that along with portions from Mary Baker Eddy, the latter of which seemed much stranger and more incomprehensible than my idea about the seed. I never understood why a God who could make things so very large could not make things so very small just as well.

We took off our shoes and socks, still wet from wading and practically frozen to our feet, and propped them up on rocks just beyond the outer circle of the flames. We put our feet up and little by little thawed our toes. My father brought Dave's bourbon in a plastic glass with ice and brought the bottle too, because he knew
Dave well enough. He sat down with his own drink and extended his arm toward me with the bottle of beer in his hand--

--His fingers were curled, beckoning, his arm raised as far as he could raise it off the bed. It was not like one of his gestures. I had never seem him do this before, and his face was different too. The blue of his eyes, the slant of his brows, belonged to someone I'd never seen.

"Nate," he said, "Nate, Nate ..."

He curled his index finger and beckoned. He was whispering. My mother rose from her chair but he did not see her.

"Get the keys," he said. "Get the car. Bring it round the front."

My mother started crying again. She came to the bedside, but he did not see her.

He was glancing suspiciously from time to time into the corner of the room where the Indians had been--

Dave got up, staggered forward, clunked one knee on a rock as he leaned to retrieve a scrap of newspaper that had blown to the edge of the pit before the flames got going good. He held the scrap up, one edge dimly glowing, slowly shrinking. There was a headline that said something about Wallace and LeMay and there was another unburned bit that appeared to have something to do with anti-war protesters.
"That's what I say, dammit," Dave barked, fairly full of bourbon now, happy as a clown. He waved the yellowed scrap of paper like a flag. "Just nuke the bastards, blow up their dams, flood the whole country, North and South if we gotta--I don't care, just get the damn thing done once for all."

My father was loading his pipe. He tamped down the tobacco, taking his time. As he struck a match and held it to the bowl his eyes met mine for an instant, one corner of his mouth turning just slightly to a smile, and I knew by the quality of light in his eyes and by the shape of the wrinkles on his brow and by his deliberate puffing on the stem of his pipe that he was forming his thought and that in about ten to fifteen seconds he would speak, and that there would be yet another politico religious argument with Dave about Vietnam and whose side God was on. And I knew that he knew he could not win, but I also knew that he would try nonetheless.
"And if these spoiled little rich-ass Joe College punky little Lilly liver chickenshit kids love the gooks so much, why don't they put on some black pajamas and go join 'em, huh?"
And so it went, as always.
As for me, I did not much care. Until about 2 years later, that is, when the picture in the newspaper would become a place, and caring would become a matter of life and death.
It was a long time later and nothing was the same. Even the place was not the same. This very meadow, where we had camped so often in the past, where my father had met Dave years ago, where the rest of the group had come to camp and fish in various shifts consisting of various members on dozens of expeditions, was now off limits to campers. This was because of fire danger, they said. And whose fault was that? Decade upon decade they had let the tinder pile up on the forest floor, they had let the dead falls and the dry scrub cluster around the trunks of the healthy trees, they had poured chemicals from helicopters and airplanes to squelch flames, which might have helped early on, and which I had seen with my own eyes--
--remembering this, surrealistically enough, as the napalm ignited a swath of jungle and writhed in spasms like a fiery serpent--
--which the Hebrews of old raised on a stake, Dave said, so that all who gazed upon it would be healed--

sending up thick black clouds or smoke that smelled like pine and sulfur just before the terrible blood-red hunk of fetid country took off my right hand thumb and forefinger and half of my pinky somehow along with the top of my ear, sparing what was by that time the rest of my life--
--Because the Indian tribes of old who had populated this same land used to set fire to the forest every fall as they moved to their winter quarters in order that what was dangerous to the continuing life of the whole would be scourged and done away with--just as Christ, Dave said, was scourged and done away with, once for all, so that all could live--
--and now there were no more fire pits on the lake and the little rutted roads that used to lead in through the trees to the meadows had been blocked by huge boulders that had required Caterpillars to move them. Fire danger, they said. I had always imaged that a meadow would be a natural firebreak rather than a fire danger. I think what they had in mind was for people to camp at the next lake back up the main road so that government could make money on the pay sites and more people would use the rental boats at the resort there.
When my father walked over to Dave's camp in the morning his car was gone. There was stuff on the table, food from the night before, an empty Early Times bottle, open ketchup and mustard, and other stuff spread all over the place. The front flap on the tent hung open and flies flew in and out. The only thing in order was Dave's sleeping bag, which had not even been unrolled.
My Dad came back and got his keys. He looked around for other things, his wallet, his glasses, his pipe and tobacco pouch. My wife was still asleep in our tent. She hated the woods. There were lots of mosquitos out early in the morning.

"What's going on," I said.

He just shook his head, distracted. He looked old that morning. He looked worried. His cheeks hung under his eyes like two flaps of wrinkled, tanned leather.

"Can't figure out where the son of a bitch went," he said. "Been hittin' the Goddamn bottle all night."

He patted his pockets and walked to the car. I slid in on the passenger side. I wanted to know what was happening.

We found Dave less than a mile down the road, slumped behind the wheel of the old Chevy. There was a neat blue hole in the center of his forehead and only a trickle of blood coming from the hole. The rest of the blood was on his clothing and on the upholstery and it was already drying at the edges. My father was peering in the window. His body seemed tense as he leaned forward, as if ready to
bolt if the need arose, and his knees had begun to shake. As I came up behind him his right arm shot back and his hand was on the front of my flannel.

"Hold on," he said. "What in God's name. Nate ..."

--"Listen. Go get the car. It's in the lot somewhere, you'll see it. Here, Nate, take the keys."

Our hands fumbled together. There were no keys. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to loosen the restraints some so that he would be better able to hand me the keys he did not have.

"Look, Dad," I said, "It's all right. They're just trying to help you."

And there was the face I knew. His eyes snapped up quickly, widened. It had always been easier to see the blue when his glasses weren't on. It could cut right through you.

"Help?" he said, in a tone that instantly made me feel foolish and callow, as I had so often felt before. He huffed, impatient, dismissing my ignorance. "I gotta get outa here, Nate," he said.

My mother came to my side. She took his hand from mine. He looked up at her, suddenly weak, suddenly hopeless. His blue eyes filled with tears.

--"Oh Jesus, Dave, Oh Jesus," he said.

He stepped back several paces, compelling me backward with his body as well. Everything was dead quiet except for the sounds of our boots on the road. There was not another person in sight. People who stayed at the resort slept in. Things were different now. There was only us, myself and my father, and two chipmunks chasing each other in and out between the roots of a hemlock that had come down in the winter.

It was the first time I had seen my father cry.
--A nurse came in the room, swishing starchily. There was no sense of urgency about her movements. She went about doing the things she was supposed to do, just doing her job. She checked things, straightened things, scribbled entries on a chart. My father watched her every movement as if she would at any moment do something or say something that would change everything. My mother and I stared just as intently. But she did not seem to see my father. She did not see my mother or myself. She did not see the Indians in the corner.
They had a story, those Indians, Dad said, after Vietnam had finally been worn to the nubs and nothing had changed anyway. My father knew about Indians. Dave knew about God. I just listened, as I always had.

We were warm now, from the fire and from the alcohol, and because our clothing had dried. When the rubber on our boot soles had begun to smolder we took them from the heat and placed them in the cool grass and the next time we put them on they would be stiff and would smell of charcoal until they were wet again and had
sunk in the silt of another lake.

"They used to tell of a certain sort of people that could be seen in these woods--up there on that hill, for instance." He pointed. It was too dark to see, but we all knew there was a hill beyond the trail and across the road and that there were more lakes and ponds on the other side.

Dave smiled and sipped. His eyes were dancing in the firelight like a kid's. Dave loved a good story.

"Anyway," Dad said, "these people are only half-men, you see, with just heads and torsos, no legs, no hips, no feet."

--And I would see such men soon enough--no legs, no torsos, no feet, no heads, no hands, no knees, no stomachs, no hope--

"Well then, Christ, how the hell do they walk?" Dave said.

"They don't walk, they float," Dad said. "As far as anyone could ever tell. But no one ever got close enough, see, or if they did, they never came back to tell about it."

Dad stretched his arms. He took off his hat. He sat back and extended his legs.
"The whole purpose of the half-men is to trick real people into following them, see? They lead people up and up and up through the trees until finally they can't find their way back again."

"And so then they become half-men too?" Dave guessed.
"No, they just go crazy," Dad said, "because they can never get back again, to their wives and their children and their homes, and no one will ever see them again."

--"Who are those men over there?"

Dad was looking across the room and upward to where the wall met the ceiling. He started counting, using his fingers. "One, two, three ...."

We were looking too. The nurse left the room and closed the door.

"Twelve," he finished. "There are twelve of them, see, coming down that hill."

We were standing at the foot of the bed, my mother and I. We were listening and watching. What else could we do?

"My, that's a big man behind you," Dad said. He was gazing wide-eyes at something over my left shoulder, well above the height of my head. "My, he's a big sucker," he said again.

Strangely, I could almost feel him there too, tall and grand, standing behind me, and I found myself wanting him to be real. And I found myself also knowing that this would be the end of it and that not another word would pass between us.

And so I said, "I know it, Dad." I said, "I see him too."

My father once said a curious thing to me, and I've always remembered it because it seemed so out of character. We were fishing at the end of a lake we always went to and it was evening and the wind had kicked up strong and steady and was coming right into our faces. I couldn't get my damn line to go anywhere, except back into my face, and there he stood on the other side of the creek bed zipping his fly line straight into the wind almost as if there were no wind. When we had finished and waded in to sit on the rocks by the shore I asked him how he did that.

I might have expected any number of answers--instructions on technique, the angle of the pole, the force with which one should cast--but no, he just sucked on his pipe for a minute, pulled down the bill of his hat against the wind, and then said "You gotta believe."

It seems like so many things that have happened, or are happening, or will happen are contained, only half hidden, in any given sequence of events, and if you could just look into each moment as it passed you could see it all in one blink--what was, what is, what might be, what would be, what will be. The thing is, you would have to look closely, you would have to listen hard, you would have to concentrate and pay attention to every detail, and you would have to be ready to forget all the questions.

The thing is, you would have to believe.