Friday, July 31, 2020

Trashed by Improvements

When I entered Blogger this morning to write something, I found that they had changed the format such that it seemed impossible to just make a new post. Not much of an improvement, if you ask me. Luckily there was an option, which I only discovered after considerable effort, to simply revert to the old format, which I have done. Hopefully they will not come up with more new ideas to improve something that already works perfectly well.

So I've ended up spending my time here at Starbucks trying to figure out how to get back into my blog rather than blogging anything, and now my time is nearly up and my coffee is gone.

I will say that I spent the morning hours watching the eulogies for John Lewis and found myself in tears to hear the words of good men and women of heart and integrity providing a much needed breath of clean air in our nation's currently polluted political atmosphere. I pray for a return to these values, to these times of decency and uprightness and compassion. The hate, the smallness, the incivility of our age simply must end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Only Good Indians

She looks behind her--nothing calling her back--and steps forward gingerly, to crack this last Big Indian Mystery.
--The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones

This is the essential modern Native American mystery--how to claim an identity that lies dead in the past, irretrievable in the present, without foundation in the future? Where to go from the limbo of the reservation, a neutral territory in the midst of wars but dimly recollected, protected by old treaties that seem now to guarantee only stagnation, apathy, an endless scourge of listlessness? What to cling to other than fables and ghosts?

I have long been attracted to the American Indian novel, from House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday to Love Medicine by Louis Erdrich to The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, and now this one, The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones. I find that these novelists share a common tone, and though this is voiced in a wide variety of styles, the impression imparted is the same. It is both a grin and a grimace, both gloom and hope, both laughter and tears. And it is inimitable. It is an inside joke, a rolling of the eyes, a dismissive scoff directed both inward and outward. In a certain sense, the only good Indians are dead Indians because these are the only authentic Indians.

This novel, taking its title from the infamous Philip Sheridan quote, is brutal from the beginning to very nearly the end. It chronicles the history and the inescapable pursuance of a curse, although it does not ultimately disallow the possibility of redemption, albeit only through violence, the exacting of a penalty. "This," as the author says, "is not the end of the trail. It never was the end of the trail. It's the beginning."

The Only Good Indians is a grim, thought provoking novel that stands well in the ranks of its contemporaries.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Broken Fingers and Wall Garden Ghosts

I seem to be having a spate of bad luck lately. This morning, I found one of the sliding windows at the front of my room stuck, so I was trying to fix it from the outside, one hand on the door frame, when a sudden gust of wind slammed the door on my hand. I believe my right middle finger is broken😅 Trying to figure now how I'm gonna drive my bike with right hand fingers that don't bend.

[To be honest, I suspect that this slamming of the door business was the work of the wall garden ghost--but didn't want to write it down for fear that she might read over my shoulder and thus wallow in credit for her victory. Rather, I place this portion of the account in brackets, for, as far as I know, ghostly minds are not able to pierce brackets. There was a wind, to be sure, but there is also the distinct chance that the ghost of this old woman, seeing my fingers thus positioned so precariously, leaped at the opportunity to slide noiselessly across the newly mopped tiles, violently slam the heavy door on the unsuspecting fingers, and then breeze back out the garden doors before the words "Damn, that hurt!' even left my lips.]

Monday, July 27, 2020

Incident at the Mall

Given that I've been feeling fairly well of late, I decided yesterday to drive out to Bali Mall Galeria. It's a fair distance from my home in Sanur, in the estimation of the elderly anyway, and it's something that I've not attempted in … how long? … a year and a half? Two years? But it's also something that I used to do in years past as a matter of course, once a week, to shop at the Hypermart and so on--no big deal. (In those times there were no large supermarkets in or near Sanur, except for Hardy's, and that's another story altogether).

Upon arriving at the mall, I no longer felt 'fairly well'. My shoulders ached, my neck ached, and, once I started walking through the mall, my legs ached. My plan was to shop at the Hypermart, wanting in particular to purchase a few pairs of reasonably priced socks. Nonetheless, I stopped first at the Gramedia bookstore and then strolled down to Starbucks for a coffee.

Upon finishing my coffee, I returned to the main mall. There are three steps one must mount for entry to the mall from the sort of recessed side lane where the Starbucks is located. On the second step, my right leg decided that it was against this idea. Not a great surprise, really. My right leg fairly often decides that it is against the idea of walking normally. This is called "foot drop" and is a fairly common symptom in MS.

What was a surprise though was that I actually fell, I mean all the way down, full out, a nosedive, boom. My cell phone has skittered some distance across the tiles, my shoulder bag is around my neck like a noose, my glasses are askew. Instantly, five people, leaving behind grocery carts, shopping bags, babies, rush over to help me up. Nor is it easy, once down, to get up again. It takes some effort, some arranging of limbs. And how embarrassing this all is!

Old people fall differently than young people. Young people pop up again, laugh sheepishly, shrug off assistance. Old people just lie there, momentarily stunned. They struggle to their feet, lifted by multiple witnesses. They don't bounce. They hit the ground like a stone. Thump. And they feel the impact as they try to resume functioning. I mean, somehow the body stops as it hits the floor or the street or the dirt, but the skeleton keeps going, rattling within the frame, crunching against itself. I had regained my feet, yes, but my shoulder ached, my head ached, my side ached, and, strangely, my left testicle ached. Go figure.

So by the time I reach the Hypermart, I have lost interest in my original mission. What was so important about socks when I could have just sat at home, barefoot in my chair? Instead, I must now take my aching shoulder and neck and side and testicle and drive them all the way back home.

Why trust one's body to accomplish anything anymore?

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Bond

Yesterday, I rung up my ex-wife, 66 years a resident of Portland, Oregon, and still a resident, to get her take on what is going on there as far as the demonstrations/riots/whatever is concerned. Not that my ex-wife's description is the be all end all of descriptions in general. What I do know, however, having known her for more than 50 years (some of which I spent married to her) is that she has always been a fiercely independent, plain speaking, no BS sort who just 'tells it as it is', in her view anyway, without being influenced by any particular partisan line or favored cause (other than, as she would see it, the cause of Christ).

"So, what's this all about?" I asked. "What's going on in Portland."

"Not much, really," was her reply. "Peaceful demonstrations during the day, rowdy kids at night."

"So, the city is not like collapsing, or all on fire?"

At this, she laughed. "No, the demonstrations are confined to a couple blocks in downtown by the courthouse. Otherwise, you wouldn't know anything was happening. In fact, it was all winding down before these army troops, or whatever they are, showed up."

Well, you know, I kinda figured as much.

But curiously, once we had started talking, the subject about which I had phoned quickly dissolved into inconsequentiality. What was important was her, her voice, my continual love for her, and hers for me. After all these years. We spent five minutes speaking of the demonstrations, fifty-five about our time together, our memories going as far back as age 12, our children, our shared experiences and ultimately our great shared error. We came from two different worlds. We are as different as night and day. And I love her completely, still. We missed most of the life we were supposed to have lived. That's how we feel now. It's not an unbearable thought, not any more. It is as it is, and it is, all of it, already done.

… and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Whatever they bind on earth or loose on earth shall remain so in heaven.
--Matt 18:18

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Death of Debate

Battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong …
--Buffalo Springfield

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, Hooray for our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
--Buffalo Springfield

That which hath been is now; and
that which is to be hath already been
--Ecclesiastes 3:15

I will fight no more forever.
--Chief Joseph, Nez Perce tribe

I cannot help but note in these days--and in this perhaps I will seem painfully slow--that meaningful debate, discussion, dialogue, is dead. What I see throughout online platforms and communities is mere cheering sections for one fixed viewpoint or another. The point seems to be for members of each herd to mutually fortify the preferred position--and woe to he who intrudes with a question or an opposing viewpoint, the operative principle being that he who poses a challenge is simply in the wrong group and should immediately withdraw to join his own kind. In short, discourse is unwelcome. "You are free to express your views," I was told in one group, "but don't question others about their views." The group, by the way, calls itself a "forum", and the admonishment was given in all seriousness, blissfully unaware, I must assume, that "forum" is defined as "a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged."

Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say Hooray for our side.

Debate, discussion, exchange--these are all inconveniences, irritants, calling for thoughtfulness when indoctrination is so much easier. Can't be bothered? Bring on the slogans, the standard insults, the magic talismans of preferred intransigence.

So here we are, exactly where we have been before. It is more a matter of memorization than intelligent interrogation. In the future, when we have somehow bumbled through, for better or worse, we will look back with sober appraisal upon our colossal foolishness, and then at the first opportunity do it all over again.

So it goes.

And so, what's the point. I do believe that I will withdraw from the field, let the battle be fought to its inevitable conclusion, whatever that may be. It does not need me. It does not need anyone, really. The battle lines are drawn.

I will fight no more forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Good Medicine

I happened this morning to click on a YouTube viewing suggestion for a speech by George W. Bush at one of the White House Correspondents' dinners, those annual meetings of press and government figures for a general comedic roasting. As I've said before, I really don't know how YouTube comes up with these suggestions on my page, and at the same time it is curious to find how appropriate they end up being. I mean, left on my own, it would not occur to me to watch a WH Correspondents' Dinner speech, and yet it turned out to be just the right medicine for this morning's mood (which had started out sour after watching clips from Donald Trump's off the rails interview with Chris Wallace).

I watched this speech, found it delightful, and straightaway clicked on another, and another, and then moved on to speeches by President Obama in the same forum.

What is most striking, other than the fact that these two men could be quite hilarious, is seeing how very human they are--just like us. We leave the black and white judgments behind, the pure, dry politics, the cloak of hardened partisan positions, and suddenly connect as just plain human beings, able both to laugh at ourselves and poke fun at others. In short, we can appreciate the 'humanness' of these men in the nation's highest office, and it is distinctly reassuring.

We are left with a feeling of congeniality in these men that is wholly absent in our current president, who has been either deeply offended by teasing jabs or flatly unamusing in his own performances. He does not inspire a feeling of basic comaraderie, of mutual participation in the American experience. He does not bring us together in any assembly. Where is the human being? Where is the man who lets down his guard, who chuckles at his own faux pas, who connects at the very least through that basic language, humor?

I laughed to tears at these old clips, and I also wept in the end for the loss of these former times, these honorable, genuine fellow men.

But, God willing, we will get back there in time (and hopefully a short time at that). Until then, I recommend watching these old correspondents' dinners. They're a blast from the past that might serve as encouragement for the time being.

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Short Ghost Story

You wouldn't think a ghost would choose a studio apartment for haunting, would you? Especially a new, never before lived in studio apartment. What would be the attraction? Don't ghosts in general prefer much more space than this? Doesn't anyone, living or dead? Don't they prefer winding staircases, darkened hallways, gloomy nooks and cubbyholes? Attics! Dimly lit cellars! Places to hide, shady corners to inhabit. Or maybe those are just the European and American ghosts. I mean, Henry James' Turn of the Screw ghost had its own island, right? The ghost in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House had its own damn mansion, right? Could pop up anywhere, lots of room for wandering.

But this ghost, the ghost which hangs out in the wall garden area of my little apartment, is an Indonesian ghost, an old, old woman ghost moreover, and perhaps more accustomed to the smaller living spaces of Indonesia--and this area, my wall garden area, is about as small as you can get. There she is, at night only, skimming uncertainly among the bamboo shoots, like a leaf  caught in a weak, fitful breeze, and then stopping occasionally to peer in through the windows of the sliding doors--old, bony shoulders hunched, knobby, skeletal fingers to her face, thin grey hair drifting about her head like wisps of fog, looking, looking …

For what?

And why doesn't she come in. She has never come in, even though the doors are most often open, even throughout the night. Not that I want her to come in, mind you. I would distinctly prefer that she not. I would frankly prefer that she not hang out around my house at all. But there she is. Not always, of course. Ghosts are never always. Ghosts are never stable, reliable--or if they are, we ourselves are not able to see them in this manner. We see them in a glance, we see them when we are thinking of something else, we see them through the front window when we enter the house, we see them while we are watching a movie on the TV. They catch your eye and then suddenly there they are, and then gone.

Maybe this ghost is lost. But aren't they all? Isn't that what we think? Maybe this looks like a little garden she had in life. Maybe she saw it from above and floated down, thinking that she had finally found home. Or maybe she has from the beginning been in the right place after all, some place that used to be where it is now, and I am the misplaced shade, the intruder.

Sunday, July 19, 2020


Ugh. That's about all that one can say some days. In Portland, Oregon (my kind of town because it's my home town), unidentified, uninvited federal officers dressed in combat gear are taking protestors off the streets and escorting them away in unmarked cars. Ugh. I guess I could add WTF! What do we need to do? Call out the National Guard to protect us from the Federal Gestapo squads? Civil war in the making, every state for itself? The news is that these goons shot one man with their "nonlethal ammunition" and that man is still in the hospital. So much for nonlethal. Nor, apparently, was he committing any crime when he was shot. Wrong place wrong time. Ugh, ugh, ugh. It's exhausting, isn't it? One begins to wonder at this point whether we will even make it to election day and a chance to get out from under all this, a chance at least to begin to dig ourselves out. Four months seems an eternity.

Saturday, July 18, 2020


I can't help but feel astounded every time I watch the news clips from the US, which I do every morning on YouTube. I see people in stores or in large groups wearing no mask. There was the news just recently (last week?) that Starbucks had decided to require masks in their stores. My God, this has been the case in Indonesia for months! In fact, until just recently all Starbucks outlets here were 'takeaway only', no hanging around inside or outside. All stores in Indonesia have long required masks for entry, and so people wear masks. What's the big deal? There are no anti-mask demonstrations here, no outraged customers throwing fits on aisle three, no one shouting about his 'freedom' of choice.

And what's all this about a mask interfering with First Amendment rights? Are you kidding me? Only in America, I guess.

Watching this is just so jarring--so embarrassing, in a way. It's like Americans are turning into zombies, wacko zombies, stumbling about in self-imposed stupor, not yet eating other Americans, but certainly endangering the general populace with their insistence on being imbecilic. It's like watching an endless train wreck--and the engineer driving the train is busy selling beans!

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Cherry Bomb Affair

Yesterday, my cousin sent this photo, also from yesterday--the yesterday of summer 1967. I'm the little punk on the left. The tall, handsome one is my brother, Gary. But our names were not Richy and Gary in the summer of 1967, they were Paul and James Foren and we were Commanders in the Order of the Secret Service. We were in California with our parents visiting my Cousin, David--who was not David but Robert Harrington, Commander-in-Chief of the Order. In this photo, taken in Oakland, we are standing in front of our time machine, which we called 'Cecil Books'. Looks a bit like a brick wall, doesn't it? Ah, but looks can be deceiving. Perhaps we don't look much like Commanders in a secret organization either. A clever disguise.

I remember this as the summer of what was to become generally known as 'The Cherry Bomb Affair'. I don't believe that the affair is still under the wraps of top secret status (although I have not consulted the CiC in this regard), so let me recount here what happened.

The secret service boys, together at their aunt and uncle's house in San Lorenzo, had decided after some days of surveillance that the public restroom at the center of the large park/field at the back of the house was actually the headquarters of their arch enemy organization, Crush--an organization devoted to anarchy, communism, world domination, chaos, spawning mad scientists, doomsday machines, terrorists and who knows what all. The plan developed by the three Commanders was to sneak out in the dead of night and destroy the restroom/headquarters with a cherry bomb (a particularly loud firecracker).

In the daylight hours, the agents planned their mission and their route of escape, running the course so that they could do it in pitch dark with their eyes closed. In those days there were no great yellow lamps illuminating park areas. The plan was to light an elongated fuse for the bomb, then run like hell in the direction that would be least expected of saboteurs--away from, rather than toward, our house. Instead, we would cross the open ground at lightning speed (a physical ability possessed by all agents), attaining the fence at the far side of the field, leap over the fence, and then follow the railroad track back out of the immediate area and then leave the track for a circuitous route back home (or rather to our own headquarters complex).

The plan did not go quite as expected. For one thing, our explosives ignited far more quickly than anticipated. Chugging along at top agent speed, we were nonetheless surprised by the night splitting boom that echoed into the field and against the walls of the houses behind us. We reached the fence, scrambled over the top, and straightaway noticed a golf cart with a light on top buzzing determinedly in our direction. 

"Down!" Robert whispered, and so down we went on our stomachs in the gravelly dirt on the other side of the tracks as the golf cart (I mean the Crush armored reconnaissance vehicle) skimmed the inside of the chain link fence, flashlight (searchlight) scanning the tracks.

I will admit now, though ashamedly, to a distinctly un-agently sense of panic in this moment. Oh Lordy, we're in deep shit now.

Thankfully, this passed as the vehicle itself passed and rumbled away back toward the rubble of what had been Crush headquarters.

From there, as planned, we followed the tracks and reentered the neighborhood some ways away from home, setting out with relief toward safety. But there was one last glitch. As we followed the sidewalk route, a police car pulled up to the curb, an officer motioned for us to stop a moment. He had some questions.

Panic struck again as I imagined my parents coming to visit us in our cells, possibly having to bail us out. The Commander-in-Chief, however, handled the problem, according to his training, with expertise. We knew nothing about anything. We were just walking.

We were told, I think, that we had best just walk back home. And so we did. Mission accomplished. More or less.

Just for good measure, we bombed the thing again a couple nights later, inventing a delayed fuse by sticking the wick of the cherry bomb into one end of a cigarette (pilfered from my uncle's pack) and then lighting the other, making sure that the tobacco was getting enough air to keep the fire going. We were sleeping in three sleeping bags in my cousin's back yard, telling stories and goofing around till late at night, munching on the popcorn brought out by my aunt. We had decided that night that our fuse had failed. We fell asleep, planning to try again another day, and were abruptly awakened at some wee hour in the morning by a second resounding explosion. Lights went on all along the row of houses. Dogs barked. Mission accomplished. Again. And Crush wholly crippled for the time being.

In the morning, we found that the family cat had brought three dead rats and placed one beside each of our heads.

Ticky-tack? Was that his name?

Oh well, no matter. The cat was not involved, nor were his 'job well done' awards especially appreciated.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Okay, so I'm on another horror novel kick. Happens every once in a while. I have a soft spot for horror novels--and when I say 'horror novels', I mean those in the 'literary' category, and especially in the American tradition. One needs to note as well that the term 'horror' covers a whole host of types, from those dealing with one horrific creature or another to those dealing with hauntings or ghosts to those which simply tread the thin line between what we think to be real and whatever else might possibly be real. I like the landscape that the horror novel provides for the unfettered exploration of all manner of subjects, social, psychological, historical, political, cultural.

Devolution, subtitled 'A First Hand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre' is both a horror novel (featuring in this case actual monsters in the form of Sasquatch) and a dystopian novel given that its setting is that of a cutting edge eco-community in the thick of the untamed Mt. Rainier wilderness. As with so many erstwhile utopias, these modern day pioneers, as with the Brook Farm commune members of Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, as with Jack London's Yukon prospectors, have failed to appreciate the overwhelming power of the wilderness that encompasses them. They think of nature in terms of a new, more fully informed and sophisticated 'relationship', a touchy-feely sort of mutually respectful cooperation. They do not understand that nature itself doesn't give a damn about their relationship. To the wild, mankind is either wholly superfluous or, in the case of sentient creatures, a threat.

"Do you know," Brooks writes, "that more people are hurt by bison in North America than by sharks all over the world? Do you know why? Because they try to ride them. Tourists from New York or Tokyo, whatever urban bubble, literally try to jump on the buffaloes’ backs. Feed them, hug them, take selfies with them. They think they’re at a petting zoo, or in a Disney movie. They’ve never learned the real rules, so they think they can just make up their own. This is called anthropomorphizing. This is why families let their little kids play around coyotes, why the Venice Beach “Grizzly Man” tried to live among Alaskan bears, why a whole town in Colorado couldn’t imagine that mountain lions would ever be a threat to human beings. All these overeducated, isolated city dwellers who idealize the natural world."
"Nature is pure. Nature is real. Connecting with nature brings out the best in you. That’s what I hear from the poor dumb dipshits who come up here every year in their new REI outfits, never having felt dirt under their feet, just aching to lose themselves in the Garden of Eden. And then a few days later we find them crawling through the muck, half-starved, dehydrated, nursing some gangrenous wound. They all want to live “in harmony with nature” before some of them realize, too late, that nature is anything but harmonious."

Well, things go bad for the fully automated, solar paneled, biofueled, cyber-equipped, 'self sufficient' eco-community when Mt. Rainier suddenly erupts, sending ash and fire and suffocating mud flows down its slopes, driving animals from the high places and Sasquatch troops from the highest, most hidden of high places, all of them looking for food and sustenance as winter comes on. Preparedness for even moderate disasters has been dismantled by government cuts under the current administration (wonder who Brooks could be talking about here) and to make things worse yet, unrelated social unrest has broken out across the country. There are riots in cities like Seattle and Tacoma, there is a random shooter on the I-5, tangling traffic. The savage wild, symbolized in the towering brutal Sasquatch, has come down from the hills--not to make friends, but to eat, which the pilgrims soon discover by being one-by-one eaten. 

Sasquatch lore has always been particularly rich in the Rainier wilderness--and it is a land of stunning wildness, some of the densest forest I have ever seen. I remember once walking just a short distance into the trees and suddenly experiencing the panic of being completely unable to find the little road I had just come from. I did come out, of course, but not nearly where I had left it. It is not difficult for me to imagine that all kinds of critters might be secreted among those ridges and gullies. It is beautiful, yes; transcendentally beautiful. But it took only twenty minutes or so of being lost to understand that it was not my friend.

Devolution is a novel that deals not so much with mythical creatures as with the actual fragility of civilization and the human conceit of absolute dominance. One of the special ironies of our time is that, as divorced as we are from the natural world from which we came, we imagine that we understand and relate to it better than did our ancestors. We think of this as modern sophistication. It is in fact merely arrogance.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance

We Americans are living now no longer in the United States of America but in the Divided States of Cognitive Dissonance.

"The minute we make a decision," according to social psychologists, "we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reason to dismiss the alternative." We can see this mechanic at work clearly in responses to COVID-19 and, of course, with reference to voters who chose to cast their vote for Donald Trump. No matter how the general evidence builds that is contrary to our original decision, we stubbornly stick to our guns, grasping for whatever straws we can find, even those that are demonstrably ludicrous on their face, such as the claim to a freedom guaranteed by the constitution--in this case, the freedom to put oneself and everyone else at risk by the refusal to wear a mask in order to decrease the spread of disease. ('You can't tell me what to do. That's communism/fascism').

Admitting to having made a mistake, to having been wrong, is difficult, it is actually painful.

"Members of Heaven's Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake--ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for are refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn't show the spaceship following the comet." As most will remember, all 39 members of this group killed themselves.

An extreme example, but a good picture how people, rather than accept they have been wrong, will go to the ultimate extent to insist they were right.

"This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else's than accept new information or admit to being wrong."

Trump himself said rightly that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still support him, although it is not likely that he understood why this would be the case. The people have simply become entrenched in their decision alone and now cling to pride, to saving face, to that astronomically unlikely chance that he might suddenly become the person they thought they were voting for. People avoid feeling ashamed at all costs.

I have sometimes had to admit to being wrong. It is unpleasant, it is embarrassing. And yet, once done, it is liberating. One need not continue to be wrong, and in this he may once again be 'right'. His integrity is restored, though damaged, which really only means that he is human (and everyone understands what it is to be human). Humility has great strength and appeal of its own, and moreover may be carried to every future evaluation and decision.

[All quotes are from The Atlantic, The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic]

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Forbidden Subjects

There is a woman in Jakarta whom I regularly talk to and she seems to have a talent for awakening long past memories in me ('Long past?' asked Scrooge. 'No. Your past,' the ghost answered). Or maybe it's not her at all. Maybe as I get older (and older and older), I begin to dwell on the past, which seems, suddenly, to stand out as particularly significant against the day-to-day backdrop of the present. I don't know. These are things that had pretty much dropped out of memory, irrelevant and expendable. These are the many things that were and are no longer.

And I cannot say that they are important things. I remember, for instance, a time when the subject of menstrual periods and the existence of a product called Kotex were things that were simply not mentioned. In fact, they were forbidden. There was no such a thing as a Kotex commercial on TV. God forbid. One did not speak of such things. And because such things were not spoken of, we, as children, had no idea what they were. I remember walking with my little friends one fine day and coming upon a used feminine napkin someone had tossed on the street, perhaps out of a car window. We gathered around this thing in a circle, both curious and repelled. What could this possibly be? Something from the scene of a crime? A dead animal? And we poked with a stick just to be sure it was dead and would not suddenly jump up and either dash away or turn on us. We were perplexed, clueless, until another boy happened along. 'Oh, that's a bun wad," he said. Say whut? 'Ya, a bun wad. Women have to wear them on their butts. I don't know why.' Oh, gross.

Similarly, I had learned somewhere during the same time period, from a similarly worldly boy, that when you marry a girl, you have to put your penis in her butt. Say whut?! 'Ya, I don't know why. But you can't marry her unless you do it. Well dang, in that case, I ain't never gettin' married!

People back then were blissfully ignorant, right up until they began to learn 'the truth', at which point they were horrified and disillusioned. Because these subjects were not addressed, because they were improper and unspeakable, because there was no sex education in schools, there were many girls also who had no idea what was going on when their first period arrived. I remember being up in the woods with my family along with my cousins and their parents when Susan, my female cousin, suddenly started her first period. We were in the woods, as I've said, staying in two primitive cabins, with the only restroom facility being an outhouse, when suddenly this traumatic thing occurred. Susan was, apparently, bleeding to death. Or so she feared. One day she's fine, the next day she's bleeding to death. Apparently from her butt. There was a lot of hectic running around among the adults, whispering, Susan confined in the back room of her cabin, crying. 'She just has a very bad stomachache,' my mother said. 'She'll be fine in a couple of days.' A stomachache that makes you bleed? Yeah, that is bad. Poor Susan.

On the other hand, we new perfectly well about cigarettes. Not that they cause cancer (for no one knew that yet), but that they taste good, like a cigarette should. That was the Winston jingle. Or that people would walk a mile for a Camel. That Tareyton smokers would rather fight then switch! Unlike feminine napkins, we were thoroughly instructed in the usefulness and desirability of cigarettes (for adults, of course) right down to the ones most recommended by doctors (pictured in lab coats, lighting up behind their desks).

These are the things I remember. These and many more. And it is like describing an alien world I have been to, or an alternate dimension. It is, even to me, an alien world. And yet I feel pressed to describe it, to recount and remember it. Why, I wonder. Of what importance would this be to a young woman living in Jakarta? And how is it that my own world, the very world that grew me, seems immeasurably more foreign than this foreign land I currently reside in?

Saturday, July 11, 2020


Last night, Louis (my ex-wife) called to chat a bit and to ask me if I could go to the apartment next door (also owned by Louis) and look around to see if it was ready to 'show'. She had been told that it is, but wanted to be sure.

I was surprised this morning at what I found. The people managing this project are so friendly and seemingly able that I thought the place would be in a functional state similar to my own apartment. I guess 'friendly' is not always consistent with competent or thorough.  

Even upon entry, one finds that the door is difficult to open. One has to give it a good push, which is followed by the sound of the bottom of the door scraping on the floor tiles. Not cool, and not the best selling point for a prospective renter entering for the first time.

Turning on the water in the kitchen sink, I found that the flow is much weaker than in my place. Same with the shower. Why the water pressure would be different, I cannot imagine, but anyway there you have it.

The two solid doors which used to be installed at the back of the house, giving entry to the wall garden area, had been replaced with glass doors as requested, but the solid doors were still lying on the floor. Again, not a great thing to show renters. Moreover, the sliding lock newly placed on the garden doors is nonfunctional.

Having become accustomed to the pleasant appearance and good working order of my own place, this little tour was rather depressing. Naturally, I want her to be able to rent the place, but the place is in need of some very obvious adjustments, and I don't see how any of these problems could have escaped the notice of those responsible for the work. It is supposed to be a kost elite, a cut above the usual housing offering here in Bali, but ain't no one, after having a look around, is gonna consider this a kost elite.

I alerted Louis to the problems and I'm sure she will address them. As I've mentioned, Louis is still stuck in Australia due to Indonesia's closed to entry status, and this, naturally, has been unfortunate in that she has been unable to inspect these things for herself or supervise what is being done, or not being done.  

Friday, July 10, 2020

Another Chapter in the Life of Takut

I had gotten used to living here in the new place without Takut the dog. As I've mentioned before, I initially brought the dog with me, partly because we were close and partly at the request of the owners of my prior residence. Takut, however, had other ideas, and on the very next day made his own decision to the return to his old home. "Well, just leave him then," Sia said. "We'll take care of him here, and he feels more comfortable here." So I adjusted to that idea as well. It was what he wanted, and the people at the old place were willing, after all.

And then Sia called. It's been a couple months, right? I've gotten used to the freedom of not having a dog to worry about, of feeling more able to be out as often and as long as I pleased, of not having to constantly step over a Labrador in my small studio apartment.

"We've got a problem," she said. We.

Yes, one of the tenants has been complaining that Takut leaves shed fur on his porch all the time. He's happy to give the dog food, and he likes the dog, but he doesn't like his hair. Well, I myself might have suggested that he pick up a broom and spend the three minutes or so that would be required to sweep the hair away, but hey, that's just me.

"How can I give him a bath?" Sia asked. "I've tried twice, but he always runs away. He's too strong for me.

Well, sister, he's too strong for me, too. I explained that the only way I had found to accomplish the task was to take him into my own bathroom, shut the door behind him, and take a shower together. Seeing that there is no way out, and finding that the warm water is actually rather pleasing, the dog gives up the fight, more or less anyway, and submits to being cleaned.

But no, she could not do this, she said. These are private rooms. We can't use them for dog baths.

Hmm. Well, good luck then.

Later on that day, Sia calls again.

"Pak Will, can you take the dog?"

Oh dear.

The thing is, I explained, I've already tried that. He won't stay here. I can't always close him in, and I believe that as soon as he gets out, he'll run straight back there. It's what he knows. He lived there even before I was there. And besides that, this, too, is a private room. I don't own this place, my ex-wife does.

So, we kind of left it up in the air at that point. But of course the subject stayed with me, sort of haunting me the rest of the day. The problem is, there is no place for unwanted dogs to go here in Bali. As westerners, we bring with us various expectations. We believe that there is an agency to take care of things like this. In the US, we have the Humane Society. Here, there is nothing. A dog simply ends up on the street, scavenging for food, slowly starving, eventually ending up diseased with one malady or another, or, perhaps more mercifully, run over by a truck.

And so of course I called back. "Sia," I said, "I don't want the dog to be harmed or abandoned. If need be, just bring him here, and if he runs back, I'll just come get him again."

"Well … give me one more try," she said. "I've hired a home-visit groomer for this afternoon and have three friends coming over to help."

Ah Takut, Takut. Difficult dog.

So we shall see. I've not heard anything since. But that was just yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


There's something going on with me and door locks. It's very strange. Locks in my presence eventually refuse to function.

First, there was the lock on the bathroom door at the Renon house. One day while I was in the bathroom, the lock froze, refusing to let me out. An odd thing in itself, as the 'lock' on the door wasn't even in the locked position. I never locked that door. There was no reason to. Nonetheless, once I had shut the door on this not so fine day, the mechanism froze and the knob merely spun in pointless circles. There was no window in that bathroom, no other way out than the door.

On that occasion, as I have written before, my son happened to be home (my lucky stars!), and although he was not able either to open the door from the outside, he was able to go next door and seek the help of our neighbor, a sort of jack of all trades and solver of all problems. After much fruitless tinkering, he was finally able to force entry with the use of a hefty square-headed hammer, with which he bashed the knob straight through the door and out my side, thereby obliterating the entire demonic mechanism.

On the next occasion, same house, I had come home from enjoying a coffee at a nearby café only to find the lock on the front door permanently stuck in the locked position. The key would turn just as much as it pleased, and yet the door remained stubbornly locked. Once again, the same neighbor, having himself been out for a coffee, came home, surveyed the situation (perhaps surveying me as well with a suspicious eye) and rushed down to the lock shop to return with a locksmith. In this case, as with the bathroom door, the entire lock had to be removed (though not this time with a square-headed hammer. 'To be clear, he has the proper tools,' the neighbor remarked).

On from the Renon house to my little room in Kampung Kumpul. Within a month or two, I find the bathroom door locked fast. Happily, I am on the outside this time, for there is now no son and no helpful neighbor to come to the rescue. I thank goodness I am not on the inside, for there are no windows in this bathroom either, but I understand that the need to pee will soon become urgent. But there is Pak Aan, the groundkeeper, whom I call on my cell phone. Aan shows up with no tools whatsoever, tinkers for a time anyway with a fork and a spoon from my utensil drawer, and then finally opens the door by ramming his shoulder against it a couple times. It is found, upon examination, that this lock had not been manually locked by a depression of the button on the inside. It had simply locked itself and then frozen in that position. Eerie, if you ask me. The mechanism is taped down securely, and the door remains in this condition for the remainder of my stay at Kampung Kumpul.

And now we come to my residence in the new apartment on Gang Merdu Komala--newly built from the ground up, every lock a virgin, having never been keyed. Within days, the lock on the sliding doors which let onto the wall garden at the back of the house freezes solid in the open position. The workers, who are still in fact working on the final bits and pieces of the house, bang and pry and generally violate this lock for the next hour or so and are finally able to pop it out of the frame. A new lock and new key are procured. Perhaps two days later, this lock too freezes in open position, the key stuck fast in the slot and able to turn neither one way nor the other. It is decided just to forget the whole damn thing and simply install a bolt on the inside--which is what should have been done in the first place, actually, as the wall garden is just a narrow space affording no avenue of entry from outside the house, nor is there any worldly reason one would want to lock himself into this space from outside the house).

Finally, I discovered last night that the padlock for the front gate--also brand new, mind you, used not more than a handful of times--is stuck in the open position and will not close, no matter how Herculean the effort. Again, my lucky stars are shining, to the extent that this did not freeze in the locked position, thus forbidding either entry or exit, depending on whether I happened to be coming or going. Nonetheless, it is inconvenient, as the gate cannot now be locked at night or when I'm out of the house.

So what's going on with me and locks? Ah, that is the question, Watson. Is it coincidence? Really? That many coincidences in a row? Or is it some sort of supernatural conspiracy? Is there a message? Is God trying to tell me something? Or is there some psychic power within me that is able to influence the mechanics of locks, though only to my detriment? Of what use would such a power be?

It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. It is indecipherable. Ah, if only Sparky were here, for that dog ate quantum physics for breakfast and metaphysics for dinner and swallowed enigmas whole, without even belching. Interpretation was his middle name and mystery his inseparable consort. Speak to me now, Sparky. Don't lock me out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Daily Diners

There are two little dogs who live just around the corner from my house, and every day now, having discovered that I often have treats, they come to visit. Every morning upon waking I find these two dogs on my front patio, for they are small enough to squirm under the gate. There they wait for me to open the door and, hopefully, produce some chicken or some beef jerky or some milk or what have you. Again they will show up in the evening, as again I may have something for them. The little white dog, a female who looks a bit like a frayed dust rag, is quite friendly, while the black dog, an erratic, distracted, hyperactive male, is seemingly under the permanent impression that his white companion does not deserve to eat. Luckily for her, he is also kind of stupid and cannot help himself from running around in circles while she grabs her portion, and perhaps more. Often, there will be a brief fight, which the white dog swiftly loses. But then they run off eventually, side by side, no hard feelings.

The Institute

Stephen King does well with children. Always has. Think of IT. Think of The Body (more widely known from the movie version title, Stand By Me). King again does well with children in his recent novel The Institute, which I've just finished reading. The problem with the novel is that it feels like a regurgitation of relationships and themes that he has already explored in novels and stories that were fresh at the time he wrote them and much better than this current rerun.

To be honest, I don't know why King continues to write. He certainly does not need to do so, not like Jack London, for instance, or Mark Twain, who not only lived beyond their means, but in a time when novel writing was not nearly as lucrative as it is now, even for widely popular authors, and when pirated publications stole an author's profits and even the original publishers conspired to limit the authors' rights to his own efforts (something which Twain energetically fought to correct in his final years).

But King is rich many times over, and does not appear to live a life of great excess. With more than fifty popular novels (most of them best sellers) behind him, as well as film proceeds, King is perfectly free to rest on his laurels, having no need to produce pale imitations of himself. And this is what The Institute feels like--a practiced, premeditated reproduction, admirable for its likeness to the original, yet itself not original. It's kind of like taking the kids (and of course the dog) from Scooby Doo and dropping them into a new, but very similar situation every week.

Perhaps King simply has to write, like a compulsion. Or perhaps he is seeking the sort of literary acceptance that will never come, for Stephen King is quite solidly enshrined in the robes of popular fiction, in the halls of formula narrative, wherein King is indeed the king (although his garments, even in his own palace, are becoming worn, their style antiquated).

Like most of his previous novels, the Institute is also a page turner--another thing that King is good at. And yet again, in The Institute, the machinery is showing through, the magician's tricks have worn thin with repetition. Moreover, as in many of his novels, the carefully fashioned tension of his story collapses on itself in the end--and, ironically, the end of the Institute features a collapsing, imploding building, as if King himself, deep down, is recognizing his own trademark weakness.

Still, I don't want to be too hard on The Institute. It is classic King, and guaranteed to gratify the King readership. It delivers what is anticipated. The Institute is delicious candy, and a delicious candy, say a peppermint stick, as long as you don't expect it to be a pork chop, is delicious every time around.  

Monday, July 6, 2020


The old man who takes away my trash very seldom speaks. He very seldom looks at me, or at anyone else, as if it is something that is forbidden. This man's skin is as brown as burned toast, his legs thin and spindly, knees crooked slightly inward. He does not take the plastic bag in my bin, and will not take it. He opens the bin and fishes with his hand, scooping the contents into his voluminous burlap bag. He comes every day, does not speak, shovels the trash into his burlap bag. On July first, after collecting the trash, he paused in the driveway and hesitantly stretched an open hand toward me. Uang, he said, nearly in a whisper. Money. Ah yes, we had agreed on payment at the first of each month. I brought my wallet, deciding that ten thousand rupiah per week would be a fair amount. It is a normal fee for such service here, though the service usually comes in a more official form and involves a truck and strong young collectors. Accordingly, I gave the old man forty thousand rupiah for the month, a bit less than three dollars. The man received this money, stared at it for a moment, looked up, met my eyes briefly, and smiled. It felt as if this man had rarely seen this much money all at one time. Terima kasih, he said. Terima kasih, tuan. Thank you. Thank you. The old man comes every day. He transfers my trash to his bag. He tidies up the driveway where scraps may have fallen. And now, sometimes, he smiles.

Sunday, July 5, 2020


I suddenly realized this morning that I have been waiting nearly four years to breathe freely again, waiting for the time to come when this great American error would be expelled from our highest office and removed from our national conversation. Like many others, I had believed that this would happen long before the advent of another election. I did not think it possible that such an obvious cancer, more obvious by the week, would be allowed to persist, and I have been saddened along the way to find that we did not have a national body sufficiently healthy to reject this illness. We approach the time now, just a few months away, when the man will at last be expelled and we may take a deep, free breath again. We come to a time when a great burden will be lifted and we can move forward again, resume our journey on the road to progress. I had always known that there was light at the end of the tunnel. I just thought we would get there sooner. But now we are near and the light is clear. Rejoice and be thankful.   

Saturday, July 4, 2020


Every so often I will get a comment on something I've posted, in the way either of a comment to someone else's post or a post of my own, that I really have no right as an American living abroad to express any opinion whatsoever on events in America.

The most recent instance of this came from an Indonesian immigrant to America.

'Sure', he wrote, 'maybe you were born in America, and maybe you lived here for 55 years, but you don't live here now and you have no idea of what's going on. You say that you have family and friends here and you talk to them all the time, but that's still not the same as being here. It's easy for you to spread your libtard views online while you live in comfort and wealth in your villa and lie around on the beach. Just enjoy your retirement in the sun and leave America to those who live here, okay?'

This is not a direct quote, of course, but my translation of the gist of it from his poor English.

Generally, I am quite patient and sober in my replies to people online, especially with immigrants whom, as is understandable, may lack in knowledge of American law and government, history, culture, racial issues, and so on.

But in response to this particular comment, as you may or may not be able to imagine, I kind of tore this guy a new asshole. Figuratively, of course.

The fact is, in my nine years away from America, my interest in American politics and social issues has become much more lively than it was when I lived there. I seem to care more than ever, for some reason. Moreover, I was born more than a half century ago and have an experience of America that is much fuller than this young immigrant's. I lived through the years of racial segregation, I lived in a time when black people could not use the same toilet as whites, when black people lived in their own part town and whites lived in theirs. I lived through the riots of the 60s, through the civil rights marches, through a time when cities burned and people lived in fear. I lived in a time of multiple assassinations and more riots, and integration of schools and universities enforced by the military. The 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, right up to 2011, I was there.

And no, I don't lounge in a villa enjoying my wealth. I scrape by even here on Social Security. I live in a one room apartment. I cook my own food to save money. I have as transportation a motorbike, because there is no way in the world I could afford to buy a car. I live, in short, just as the common people around me live.  

And I can tell you that there is nothing that is happening now in America that has not happened before. In every case, throughout the years, these painful spasms in society, these fearful shakings of the status quo, have been the birth pangs of a better society to come. As Solomon puts it, That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been. Sometimes things need to be torn down so that they can be either improved or totally rebuilt.

One's mere presence in a society is no asset whatsoever to the society if one insists on being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Anybody Home?

This is difficult to explain. I'm losing track of myself. I'm falling out of contact with myself. The words I have are hidden in impenetrable ennui. I know they are there and that they want to be uttered, but my lips cannot form them, my fingers cannot find them. They are in me like an ache that has no remedy. The nature of the words cannot be determined. The only certain thing is that they are there and cannot be reached. The phone just rings and rings.  


For the past few nights, I've been sitting on my front patio under the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and noticing vaguely that something seemed wrong. Something was missing. I realized last night that it is a star that is missing. There is said to be seven bright stars in Ursa Major, but I cannot help but notice that one has fallen away. It seems like so many of the lights are going out these days, in the world, in the heavens. Of course, the light that I am not now seeing is light that was travelling to the earth many years ago, and if the star is gone, it has been gone for many more years than that. It would have been gone before I was born. I am seeing now, or was seeing, light from a time before I existed. I am witness therefore to the existence of the universe with or without me. But where does light go after one sees it? Surely, it continues on across the universe, with likely no one to see it, barring the existence of aliens (but let them see it too, then; it doesn't matter). Does the light end because I have seen it? No, because I know that it was there even before I saw it because I am seeing the light that was there before I was born. Where does it go? Does starlight not exist unless the individual sees it? And then where does it stop? Does it stop? Does it reach the edge of the universe and enter some kind of realm of nonexistence? But how could there be a realm outside of the universe? That would merely make the realm part of the universe and thus no longer a realm of nonexistence. Does the universe wrap around and begin all over again. As it turns out, the starlight did not need the star, did it, except for in that instance wherein it began. Thereafter, the life of the star became its light. And the light is not really gone. It is merely traveling and will surely be back again, just where it was to begin with.