Monday, August 31, 2020


 It seems that my old home town, Portland, Oregon, is at the top of the news these days. How strange. Well, I guess every city, like every person, has its fifteen minutes of fame. 

Although I know very little about the Portland government these days (I'm not there, ya know), I have to say that I was impressed with the mayor, Ted Wheeler, in his fingering of Trump and Trumpism as being behind the violence lately engulfing the city, culminating, so far, in the death of a man last night who had come into the downtown area as part of a caravan of Trump supporters. Mayor Wheeler, in his speech, was ready and articulate, blunt and decisive. I guess maybe we're all impressed these days when we see someone who can actually employ the English language cogently and persuasively. 

It is certainly a regrettable situation in Portland, and it is getting worse by design, I'm afraid, as the mayor pointed out. There is a big difference between peaceful protest and hell-bent gangs confronting one another. One can't help but think of the old song ... 

Stop, children, what's that sound, everybody look what's goin' down. 


As soon as I came to this new neighborhood, just a few months ago, two little dogs attached themselves to me. A little white dog and a little black dog. The black dog was a bit larger than the white dog, a bit hungrier, and a bit more stricken with ADHD. For that reason, I reckon, he stuck close to the white dog, did whatever she did, went wherever she went, as if he were her own tail. Sadly, the little black dog often ended up in a cage just about big enough for a bunny rabbit. Here, he would howl and scream the day and night long, and when he got out, he would run to my house and fall asleep in the corner beneath the window drape. Sadly too, the little black dog developed a skin problem which ate away the fur on the right side of his neck and caused him to scratch constantly.
Well, suddenly the little black dog disappeared, unseen for some days now. The owner says that he ran away. That seems unlikely, although I wouldn't blame him if he had. And yet, I don't think he was smart enough to run away. He didn't know anything other than what the white dog showed him. In any case, he had no reason to run any farther than my house, where, as he already knew, he could find food and safety.
Whatever the case, I will say in eulogy that he was a sweet little dog--a bit yappy, sure, and not the brightest penny in the bank, but sweet and harmless. Rest in peace, little guy, wherever you are.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

 About a week ago, I finished reading C.J. Tudor's The Chalk Man, which left me not really knowing what to say. I actually liked the novel, despite about a half dozen reasons I shouldn't have, the most serious of which was the jarring, unbelievable ending of the story. The Chalk Man presents a series of mysteries which upon close examination are revealed not to have been mysteries after all, along with a few mysteries which fall more into the category of 'the mystery of iniquity' in mankind, which makes them subject to disclosure though essentially insoluble. 

The action takes place in a small English town that seems as malignant as Stephen King's Castle Rock, Maine, dying on the vine, rotten at the core. Obviously, not much good is likely to occur here but only irrepressible dissolution. And in fact the story leans heavily on King's work, especially The Body (better known as Stand by Me) in that it concerns the unhappy, often violent experiences of a group of young small town friends. In this case, however, the group, meaning well on the surface, are in their individual ways complicit not only in troubles that befall them but in the malignancies that have befallen the town itself.

The Chalk Man is, despite the sometimes clunky nature of the narrative, a rather deeply textured story that is much more about the force of the underlying current than about the course of the stream. It stays with you and kind of eats at you, making you pause and think back again, reexamine, reassess. Because of this grip on the deeper parts, I am inclined to forgive the jolt of the ending, for, even there, one can make sense of it if he goes back and listens again to what the main character said or hinted throughout.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Haunting of Hill House

 My latest Netflix binge here has been The Haunting of Hill House. Unfortunately, I don't remember the Shirley Jackson classic on which the series is based, but I suspect that the two have in common a house and the presence of ghosts in the house, and not much more than that. Nonetheless, the series struck me as inventive and sufficiently creepy, doing well with the creation of real characters and relationships. It held my attention unfailingly, and it often got me to thinking, ruminating on related ideas, and actually seemed the cause of a couple of fairly vivid nightmares. 

You know, we have long loved to imagine special powers that special people might possess. The power to divine a supernatural presence, or even to see that presence, the power to determine a character of evil through the mere handling of an object, an ability to see the past as it occurs, to see the dead, to see the future, and so on. 

In fact, this "power" does exist, but it is the exact opposite of what we would like it to be. It is not the power to discern what most people cannot see or feel. It is the power to discern things that actually do not exist. The paranoid schizophrenic sees an invisible world and fully believes in that world. The deranged person inhabits a magical world, seeing, touching, interacting in the realm only of his own disturbance. 

I knew a boy who saw faces in the wallpaper, faces in the wood of the cupboard doors, and so he tore down that wall paper, he tore out those cupboards. I knew a boy who covered his windows with aluminum foil because a cat that turned to a witch at night would peer in through those windows. 

In the last stage of Alzheimer's, my mother saw people behind a screen in her bedroom. I don't like those people. Of course, there were no people. There was not even a screen. She saw a tall dark man with a hat and this one scared her most of all. 

Last night I saw upon the stair a little man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh how I wish he'd go away. 

Maybe she was just remembering an old bit from Glenn Miller, and only got the height wrong.

Sure, there's a hidden world. It's just not one that is seen by people with a special gift. It is the obscure world seen by people who are suffering a debilitating illness. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Death of the Great Generation

 I was born just after the end of World War II, a child of 'the great generation,' a baby boomer. America had, at an awesome cost, come through a great crusade against fascism, against oppressive nationalistic regimes which had set out to conquer the "weaker" nations of the world, to cleanse the earth of "unworthy" people, and indeed to subjugate their own populations with propaganda, lies, violence, the dismantling of norms and protections in government institutions so that all might be servile.

How sad it is now to see my country championing those same tyrannies we had once fought together against. How sad it is to see so many turning a blind eye to bald-faced lies from the podiums of power, embracing an attitude of careless intolerance, eagerly joining in demonization of 'the other'. How sad it is to see the idealism of America blasphemed in this strange, wholly un-American affection for authoritarianism, this ironic desire to undo their very heritage and freedoms, rendering the price paid by my parents' generation futile after all. They stand back and watch and actually cheer as the cornerstones of democracy are bit by bit broken down.

And this, I fear, is only the beginning of sorrows. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020


 Jim Dandy started out, really, as an MS blog some years ago, as MS was new to me and something that both fascinated and afflicted me. I suppose that I was learning about the disease while writing about it, making contact with others at the same time and finding a place to air my own grumblings. 

When I moved to Bali, the blog migrated along with me and came to center mostly on my new life here in this 'strange new world'. Interest in the particulars and details of MS, along with their effects on me, faded into the background as I became involved in this new place, new realities, new challenges. I had no interaction with others suffering from the disease, all but unknown in the tropics, nor even with doctors, who, not surprisingly, knew nothing about the disease and whose fee I could not afford in any case. The fact that there is really not much that doctors can do about MS makes this a ideal disease to have in the isolated tropics as one does not feel the need to feel guilty for not taking care of himself. Moreover, it felt just possible in those early days that a change of locale, weather, lifestyle, diet, outlook would would of themselves somehow magically address the disease in a new and more effective way. Wishful thinking? You bet. But in the case of MS, wishful thinking seems as good as any other kind of thinking. 

And now, after ten years here, the blog seems to be shifting to yet another theme, that being senility. It's not that I want to write about senility. It's embarrassing. And yet this blog has always essentially been about me talking to myself--catharsis, introspection, musings. This is what is going on. Nor do I even know what this is. Are the daily mental stumblings I've been experiencing part of cognitive disorder, already firmly associated with MS, or are they a forewarning of something more pernicious and, indeed, more frightening than MS--to whit, the possibility of early Alzheimer's disease? I'm intimately familiar with the latter due to my experience with my mother's mental deterioration and eventual death from the disease and therefore all the more freaked out by the appearance of similar symptoms in myself. An odd mental hiccough here and there is not worrisome, but such hiccoughs are so when they begin to occur on a daily basis. And when articulation has become a problem as well, it is all the more a challenge to speak cogently of the matter. To be cogent about being incoherent, one might say. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Few More Slips

 I had an unexpected meeting the other day with my old friend Vyt, who sent me a message saying that he had "accidentally" ended up at the Renon Plaza Starbucks and wondered whether I'd like to come out. I said that I would be there in 15 minutes, forgetting the reality that it would take me 15 minutes just to put on and tie my shoes. But anyway, I did eventually show up for the meeting, a coffee already waiting for me (thanks, Vyt). 

During our conversation, which usually ranges far and wide but this time was kind of centered on our various health complaints, I was describing a time, some years ago now, when I used to take Louis to work on the motorbike, from Biaung to Denpasar, twice a day (a goodly distance, as goodly distances go), and I was marveling at how I used to be able to do such things without a second thought. It seemed normal. In fact, the trip was always more trying for my passenger than for me because she preferred a car with a comfortable seat, and AC, where she wouldn't have to muss her hair with a helmet or expose her clothing to the weather and so on. We didn't have any money for a car. 

In any case, when I mentioned Biaung, Vyt and his wife seemed not to have heard the name before. "Biaung, Vyt! You know. Out by Ketewel. You lived next door to me, for goodness sake."

Blank stares. That 'surely have we heard wrong' look. That 'what in the world is he talking about' look. 

Well, that's because, as I eventually realized, Vyt never lived by me in Biaung. He never lived in Biaung at all. Vyt was my neighbor in Renon. 

Oh dear. 

Well, the next day I had a birthday party to go to (which was, actually, in Biaung. I didn't really want to go, but kind of felt like I had to--you know, that kinda thing. 

So, at this party, I cheerily approached the birthday boy (just turned 50), put out my hand (so much for social distancing) and wished him a happy birthday. 

Only problem was that this was not, Mayo, the birthday boy. This was another man altogether, whom I had somehow mistaken for Mayo. 

"It's not my birthday," the man said, happily shaking my hand nonetheless. 

Oh, Jeeze. 

"Oh, ha ha, I know, I know. Just kidding."

I wonder if people know you're not just kidding but are really pikun, senile. When they smile in return, when they laugh in return, are they just playing along in order to save a person from embarrassment? 

But that's not even the bad part. Yes, it gets worse, for later on, as I was trying to make my exit from the party, I ran into the same man in the parking lot and once again put out my hand and wished him happy birthday! 

Good Lord.

What is the mental process here? Did my mind conclude, upon seeing him again, that it was his birthday only because it had concluded such, although fallaciously so, the first time around?  How had it left out the correction, the critical fact, the information about who's birthday it was and whose birthday it wasn't?

These are the sorts of things that are happening, rather regularly I'm afraid. People are misplaced, places are shuffled, history is altered. So it goes. Where it ends, nobody knows. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Anne With An E

 I've been watching a Netflix series called Anne With An E of late. In fact, I've just finished season 3 of the series and it seems that 'That's all she wrote', so to speak. Of course, the original novel on which the series is based, Anne of Green Gables, followed Anne much further into adulthood, but apparently, while the series was sufficiently popular, there was a funding problem or a change in studio ownership or some such thing, and the series was abruptly cancelled. 

Although I found the series entertaining in general, there were a couple things that I found either odd or annoying. It has very much the feeling of an old-time TV series, one of those that would come on once a week and each week's story would tend to revolve around a rather significant issue or problem. But in the day of all-at-once binging, this constant assault of major conflicts feels exhausting and/or unrealistic. I suppose one would get the same feeling were he to watch old Waltons episodes one after another.

I could not help but be bothered as well by the manipulation of the novel to fit modern day issues and themes and promote modern day liberal sensibilities. Not that I disagree with these sensibilities, but I just can't help but wonder why they wanted to fiddle with a well known classic novel, which certainly stands well enough on its own, and impose narratives not intended by the original author. Why not just invent their own story, echoing Gables if they like, but not pretending that it is Green Gables? Certainly, the novel was overtly concerned with feminism in its early days, and the protagonist is a forward looking crusader in many ways, and yet the story is set in the very early 1900s and loses accuracy in historical reality with the introduction of ideas of equality that would come only much later, particularly as regards race and homosexuality. 

In any case, flaws allowed, it was an enjoyable show, well acted and well done production-wise--an entertaining costume drama.

Now, this next point has nothing to do with the show, but there was one scene in which Anne and her adopted parents take a ride in a hot air balloon, and as I watched this, I seemed to remember being in a hot air balloon myself. It was just something I took for granted as I watched, like 'Oh yeah, I remember that.' 

And yet, the longer I thought about it, the less able I was to put my finger on just how I had ended up in a hot air balloon and with whom. Why did it seem so familiar? Surely, it must have happened. Why else would I think it had? 

Well, I pondered this without end and finally decided that it had to have been with my second wife, who was given to pursuing exotic ventures and dragging me along. So I contacted her just to be sure. I wanted to have the details recalled for me. Turns out, however, that no, we had never gone in a hot air balloon. 

Hmm. Well then, it had to be wife number 3. 

However, contacting her produced the same answer. No. T'wasn't me. 

In short, it seems that I have never in fact been in a hot air balloon. I can think of no other scenario whatsoever that would have found me in a hot air balloon. And yet there it is in my mind. The basket beneath my feet, the thick ropes rising up to the balloon, the gas jet underneath that supplies the hot air. How can it be that I was there and yet not? How have I remembered something that did not happen?

What is going on in my brain?

Pikun is the word in Indonesian. Senility. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Supernatural Hijinks

 Upon waking yesterday morning, I was pleased at how cool the room felt. It seemed that I had made the right decision in not using the air-conditioning the night before, opening the back doors and the front window instead to let the natural air circulate--a good way to save on the cost of electricity, although the free entry afforded the mosquitoes can be a problem. Nonetheless, the mosquitoes had not bothered me and I had slept the night through quite comfortably. I was even encouraged to think that maybe my long suffered inner heat problem (one of the many neurologic absurdities associated with MS) had magically gone away (like Trump's version of COVID).

It was not until the evening of the day that I discovered that the AC was in fact running, and apparently had been running all day long, as well as the night before, I assumed. No wonder the atmosphere in the room had felt so cozy, even throughout the day! 

I determined that there could only be two possibilities for how this had happened. One would be that I had turned the AC on before going to bed, having somehow forgotten that I had already determined not to do so, and the other that I had turned it on in my sleep sometime during the night. Both seemed decidedly unlikely. Turning on the AC unit requires a certain awareness in that one must decide on the temperature he wants, the fan speed he wants, and such-like. This sort of awareness in combination with an awareness of the windows and doors being open, not to mention the determination I had made not to use the AC in the interest of saving on electricity, seems to defy probability. And as far as performing any function in my sleep other than sleeping is concerned, this is even more unlikely than the first option. It just doesn't happen. I think the last time I did any sleep walking was when I was 5 years old. 

And yet, how else could this have happened? It had to be one of these two possibilities, right? The only thing I could do was to curse myself for wasting electricity and commit to being more acutely aware.

One again last night the air was fairly cool, there as a nice breeze coming through the front and back windows, so I determined once again to avoid using the AC and be content with the fresh air and maybe the floor fan. Seemed fine as I got into bed, after first spraying on a little mosquito repellent in case of an attack sometime in the wee hours, and I straightaway fell asleep, not waking even once before the light of morning was streaming into the room. Ah, this is fresh and cool, thought I. Perhaps I will only seldom need to use the air conditioner. Just think of the savings!

Except for one thing. The AC was on, cheerily blowing away, floor tiles cold beneath my feet. 

How can it be?! I certainly did not just forgetfully turn it on before bed, and I certainly could not have turned it on in my sleep. IT had turned ITSELF on! 

Or ... 

The wall garden ghost. Yes, it can only be the wall garden ghost--this old woman who likes to play with electricity, turn the lights on and off, turn the hot water on and off, slam the door on my finger, leave strange things in one place and take needful things from another. Curse you, wall garden ghost! Apparently she finds the natural air insufficiently cool and simply must run the AC, and if I don't turn it on, she will. But what does it matter to her? Do ghosts have a preference for temperature? Aren't they better known for bringing a chill with them? And hasn't she always lived outside anyway, just beyond the back windows in the area that bears her own name? Has she decided to forsake her own soil and enter the house proper? Or ... God forbid ... has she for the last two nights been sleeping in bed beside me?! 

Sunday, August 16, 2020


 Yesterday afternoon the Javanese construction workers in the area gathered all the various refuse from the side of the road, all the unwanted bits of board and shingle and window sill and concrete frame, scraps from the bush and fallen tree branches, uprooted stumps, newspapers and cartons and paper sacks and bundles of dry grass, and in the evening time when darkness came they lit fire to the mounds of wreckage and they sat at the roadside or on the steps of unoccupied dwellings gazing into the flames, hugging their knees, as silent and contemplative as those who meditate on the progress of an ocean surf. The scent of the smoke, as delicious in its own right as if it had arisen from a new-baked apple pie, drew me out as well, into the flickering black and orange shadows, into the hundred fires and nights of the long past, into the same hush and ruminating whisper, to to sit shoulder to shoulder in quiet repose. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Papuan Lives Matter

There is a demonstration this morning outside the Starbucks in Renon regarding racism in Papua. Papua and West Papua are Indonesia's easternmost provinces, annexed by the postcolonial Indonesian republic in 1963. In one sense, there is nothing new about these demonstrations, or protests, call them what you will. They occur regularly throughout the archipelago and have done for a long while, and they have popped up on a regular basis as long as I have lived here in Bali. They are regularly supervised by nearly as many police as protestors and have generally been, in my experience anyway, peaceful protests. In fact, quite a number of the attending police today are chilling with a coffee on the Starbucks veranda while the demonstration proceeds on the street below.

There is, however, a brand new facet of late, and direct from America. As in many other countries facing systematic racism, the black lives matter motto has been embraced and has provided a fresh fuel--for indeed racism is the same all over the world, and the call for this simple recognition, that black lives matter, is equally wanted all over the world. 

In Papua, black Indonesians make up the majority of the population of 4.3 million. Even so, the province is tightly patrolled by Indonesia's military, freedom of the press is severely controlled and limited, and Papuans, even those travelling in other areas of Indonesia, are heavily surveilled. Papuans regularly face human rights abuses--police beatings, intimidation, suppression of local leaders, forced conversions, detention.

There is a separatist desire among many Papuans and Papua is also home to the world's largest goldmine. Thus the less than surprising heavy handedness and military presence. 

And then there is the color of the people.  

"Colorism", as described in, "is pervasive in Indonesia and affects dark skinned people not just from Papua but also from such eastern provinces as Flores and Maluku. The reasons for this include both the colonial hangover common to many Asian countries ... and domestic majoritarianism coming from light-skinned ethnicities like the Javanese and Sundanese. Fairness creams and beauty products are ubiquitous, the vast majority of television and film actors are light-skinned, and black skin is heavily stigmatized." 

The greater awareness that has spread around the world following the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests in America has caught on and ignited a sympathetic spark in Papua, such that they are now using the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter, carrying signs reading the same, or that simply read Black Lives Matter, as the phrase has not only travelled around the world but surpassed the barriers of language. In short, it is universally understood. Well, by those who are willing to understand it, anyway. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Chalk Man

My father's memory began to fail at around age forty. Small things, things we tend to ignore. Forgetting where he put the key, or putting things in strange places. The remote control in the refrigerator, a banana on the sideboard where we usually kept the remote. Losing his train of thought in midsentence or mixing up words. Sometimes I would see him struggle to find the right words until finally he would exchange them for something merely approximate. 

When the Alzheimer's got worse, he would mix up the days of the week, and finally, most worrisome of all to him, he forgot what day comes after Thursday. The final day of the work week simply disappeared from his memory. I still remember the expression of panic in his eyes. The loss of something so basic, something one has known since childhood, caused him to finally admit that his condition was critical.

Maybe I'm a bit of a hypochondriac about this matter. I do a lot of reading to keep my thoughts sharp, and I play Sudoku, even though I don't really enjoy it. The fact is that Alzheimer's is oftentimes passed down. I have seen what may be in the future and I would do anything to avoid it, even it that meant cutting my own life short. 

--The Chalk Man, C.J. Tudor [my translation from the Indonesian]

Isn't it odd how we often end up reading a novel or some other material that just happens to address what has been on the mind beforehand? Strange forces seem to be working together somewhere behind the scenes. Power and magic in it, as Goethe suggested. Of course, he was talking about the creative process ('Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it'). And that, as I have found, is so true.  One has himself to first strike the match before the waiting tinder can be ignited. More than this, though, I have found that whatever private ruminations one has found himself in the grip of tend somehow to activate a host of voices from every seemingly unrelated literature that one touches. One's own ruminations have ignited a larger conversation. As is happens, Tudor, through the narrative of her protagonist in The Chalk Man, has conveyed back to me, in a rather succinct way, my own thoughts of late, the helpless witness of gradual mental dissolution, the panic at the thought of critical pieces of comprehension falling away, the dread that would be dreadful indeed even to the extent of conceiving a preference for death by one's own hand. In short, nearly every book I touch lately happens to take up the subject of my own inner conversation, adding its own voice, filling out the narrative. The same thing happens through the process of writing. One takes up his pen, begins, and suddenly the universe itself seems to conspire, to collaborate, to reveal what one truly meant to say. Call it the voice of the holy spirit, if you want. Everything is forever at our fingertips, only waiting to step into the light of our minds. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Stranger Things

Yesterday morning my eyes were attracted to something unusual hanging on the side of my chest of shelves, just beside my cane. An umbrella. Upon examining it further, I found it to be a Giordano umbrella. The unusual thing about this umbrella is that I don't own an umbrella. I have never had an umbrella as long as I've lived here in Bali. So where did this umbrella come from? How has it simply shown up here in my room hanging next to my cane? I have had no visitors. I never have visitors. And in any case it has not been raining.

This strange discovery was followed by yet another mystery. As I climbed into the shower and began to bathe, suddenly the lights went out. In fact, all the electricity went out, which means that the hot water heater died as did the water pressure in the shower, which are both dependent upon an electrically powered pump.

I reckoned at first that this was a universal outage in the neighborhood, not uncommon in Bali, but then thought to check the fuse box outside (or whatever they call them these days). Indeed, I found that the switch for my house alone had been tripped. 

Turning the switch back on, I returned to the shower, only to lose the electricity again after perhaps 3 minutes (enough time to cover oneself with soap but not to rinse). 

Back to the switch. Off again. Flip on again. Shower again. And, you guessed it, electricity out again. 

So I called up the project manager, who in turn called in her tukang, or worker. 

A couple of hours later, upon his arrival, I set out to demonstrate the problem, but this became a new problem altogether when the original problem refused to repeat itself. I felt like Don Knotts in the old movie The Ghost and Mister Chicken (if anyone remembers that). No matter how hard Knotts tries to recreate the events of a haunting he endured, they will just not happen again, making him look like either a fool or a liar. 

"Ya Pak," the tukang says, don't touch that button on the water heater."

"I didn't touch the button."

"Ya, if you touch the button, it turns off the unit. If you don't want to use the hot water, just unplug it here." He helpfully indicates the wall socket plug.

"But I didn't touch any button or any plug. I just tried to take a shower--three times!" 

"Hmm. Strange. Well, I can't fix it if it already works. Ha ha. Everything seems fine now, Pak."

Can't argue with that, I guess. And in fact everything does work. The shower and the electricity has been fine ever since. 

My conclusion is that all this is the doing of the wall garden ghost, who has become much more active lately (ever since she snuck in and slammed the front door on my fingers). I reckon she has announced her presence with the umbrella which belongs to no one, and especially not to me, and with playing with electricity and water and such like, as ghosts are wont to do. A ridiculous notion? Sure. But ridiculous events call for equally ridiculous answers (until a better one presents itself, if ever). 

Monday, August 10, 2020

What Day Is It?

For most of yesterday, I was convinced that it was Monday when in fact it was Sunday. So things seemed a little off. For one thing, I was not hearing from my friend in Jakarta, who rather reliably chats with me on weekdays (though she is busy with her family on weekends). Also, the mall I went to seemed unusually crowded for a Monday--and in fact I had gone there on this day (which I thought was Monday) because I wanted to avoid the Sunday crowd and of course the greater threat of COVID. It wasn't until evening that I happened to actually look at my phone, and see it, and so discover that the day was Sunday, not Monday. Well, guess at least I was ahead of myself rather than behind myself. That's a good thing, init?

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Losing It

Something has been bothering me about Survivors Song, the novel I've just finished reading, and it's not primarily the zombies (who are not really zombies), the human flesh eating scenes, the desperate journey undertaken by the main characters in search of help--it's none of that at all, and I'm sorry if my blog seems to have taken on a zombie theme of late, but what has been bothering me, as I was able this morning to suddenly determine, is the description of a mind in incremental collapse, because I am sensing day by day that my own mind is sailing a uncomfortably similar course. 

In the novel, the two central characters, Ramola, a young pediatrics doctor, and her long time friend, Natalie, who has just been bitten by a rabid man, find themselves caught up in increasingly desperate circumstances as they attempt to get swift treatment for Natalie, both aware that this particularly virulent version of rabies progresses within just a few hours to violent madness and death. It is an awareness that progresses from what is merely detached acknowledgment to grave reality, from aloof observation to painful experience. 

What seeded itself in my mind, finding a point of personal reference, was not the horror of being bitten or the continual threat of being even further bitten or even of going rabid oneself, but the horror of one's mind slipping away, the irrepressible piece by piece subtraction of one's mental acuity, one's very sense of self until he is left only as a biological aggregate of functioning organic systems without discernable soulfulness. 

What presses itself upon me is a daily awareness of a growing fogginess of mind, an increasingly common habit of having to grasp for simple things, a stubborn retreat of common language production. I've seen all this happen before in my mother, in the rather swift progression of Alzheimer's disease which overtook her and overcame her. The feeling of being able to only helplessly observe was horrible enough. The feeling of having fallen oneself into that relentless torrent is sheer terror. Disbelief, then denial, then terror. 

Am I suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer's? Or is this all part of MS--just brain fog, no worries? Or am I merely insufficiently engaged, my mind lacking exercise? And yet look what happens when I try to exercise it--staring at the screen, consulting the thesaurus, chasing ghosts within a fog, producing gibberish. None of this, as I have said, but none of this, is what I meant to say. 

I remember a little spiral notebook my mother kept in a bedside drawer. In it she had written numbers, numbers and numbers--telephone numbers, I think--and she had written her own name, again and again, in various renditions, various styles of penmanship, various spellings. Desperately clinging to herself. 

Do you know how many things I myself have written down? My address. My phone number. Multiple passwords. And which of these, I wonder, is correct, if any? And which, however carefully recorded, can hope to maintain anything of essential meaning? One tries to save the pieces as if they might reconstitute the vessel. 

Well, maybe I'm just tired, I say. We say. A good night's sleep is sure to do me a world of good, and all will be clear in the morning. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells ...

The dimming or leaking away of who you are is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. 
--Paul Tremblay, Survivors Song

Well, I'm not becoming a zombie, per se. Then again, neither were the afflicted (or, rather, the infected) in Tremblay's novel. But I do have this sense of a 'leaking away' of self, of identity, of purpose. I feel pointless, more to me of mere organism than defined individual. Morning and night perform a mechanical leapfrogging one day to the next and the next without perceptible break in rhythm, little more conscious of moments than a dumbly ticking clock. I wake to the gamelan bells and gongs of the morning call to offerings with a cup of tea, a hungrily inhaled cigarette, a bowl of instant oatmeal. I watch the news, the same news. The world is reported to be outrageous. I am driven to the streets, but they are the same streets, and I stop for the same cup of coffee, sit at the same table, discovering once again that language once lost cannot be recaptured whole but merely reapproximated. It is like trying to reconstruct a lost manuscript. One can recount, one cannot recreate. Again the bells chime and gong at 6. This can only mean that it is dinnertime. This is the time that offerings are given. It is time for the gods to be fed. We are that we are. The day has taken care of itself, it has consumed itself and expended itself, and we, the gods and I, have done nothing. Nor is any of this what I meant to say. The gongs and bells, the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, lead to the usual guttural chant. Ohmmmm. Wahhhhhhhh. The same words in the morning, the same words in the evening, standing in for whatever we meant to or wanted to say.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Speaking of zombies, has anyone been watching this Netflix series Kingdom? Oh my gosh. Best zombie flick ever!

It happens that I got myself onto a Netflix account as a user and straightaway became addicted to Kingdom, which I had actually never even heard of before. It is a South Korean series but comes both with voice dubbing and with subtitles. Curiously, the voice dubbing appears much more reliable than the written subtitles--not that I can speak Korean, but you know when the English subtitles sometimes don't even make sense and the dubbing does, it's pretty obvious that one does best to ignore the subtitles.

But anyway, I was instantly impressed with this classy new take on the zombie drama, which is rendered even more eerie by the strangeness and darkness of the late 17 century Asian setting and its eastern tradition interpretation of how this scourge arises in the first place. Featured as well are some entertaining echoes of classic Chinese epic literature and even of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Of course, as every zombie enthusiast knows, zombie movies are never really about zombies. The zombies tend more to be an expression of seemingly forever undead sociopolitical troubles, racial tension and fears, living humankind's ironic attraction to self destruction, and so on. These are malignancies that not only live, but live again and again.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Survivors Song

The most interesting thing about Paul Treblay's pandemic horror novel Survivors Song is how closely it tracks with the real world horrors of the COVID virus, and the most amazing thing about the novel is that it was penned before the pandemic existed.

In an early passage, one of the novel's two main characters, a Massachusetts doctor, describes the situation in an online communication with her coworkers in this manner:

We need to tell everyone that we have no clue how to handle this. That friggin news conference in Boston was all lies! Homeland security guy said area hospitals all have appropriate staff and equipment. Jackass president tweeting the same.

Sound familiar? There are references to a catastrophic lack of PPE, an overflowing of hospital wards, the setting up of emergency triage tents, the frightening loss of doctors and nurses to the virus along with those thousands who come in sick, and of course the now familiar government ineptitude, and worse yet recalcitrance, in effectively addressing the pandemic. 

Isn't it odd how fiction writers so often outline the shape of things to come well before we actually find ourselves living them?

Outside of the hospital environment, an atmosphere of lockdown is described, streets nearly deserted, businesses closed, only the grocery stores open, and their stocks stressed by hoarding buyers.

After shared, restrained laughter, they drive in silence, passing through this new ghost town, where the ghosts are reflections of what was and projections of what might never be again.

Of course, Survivors Song is not about a respiratory virus pandemic, which though horrifying in itself is not nearly as terrifying as the rabies pandemic imagined in the novel, which is very easily transmitted through both animal and human bite as well as mere contact with saliva. In this sense, Survivors Song becomes a rather common, though well written, well constructed zombie novel (although the doctor already mentioned continually chides others not to call these poor infected people 'zombies'--for after all they are not dead or undead but merely ill).

Having read Treblay's excellent A Head Full of Ghosts, I found Survivors Song, aside from its prescient qualities, weak in comparison and lacking in narrative depth. Nonetheless, it provides an entertaining journey through a panic stricken pandemic land and offers a whole host of Whoa, deja vu moments.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


In the August wind the bougainvillea flowers and petals from the plant at the house front come in through the open window and door. A fine black dust comes in as well from the ongoing construction on the street and the red and pink petals and the black dust swirl on the white ceramic tiles like the fine aluminum powder on the inside of an Etch-a-Sketch screen, endlessly drawing the shape of the days by the unattended  minute and hour. Two little dogs, one white and one black, blow in as well and swirl as well, sometimes resting in the right angle of a corner or beneath the curtain hem at the long back window, sometimes blowing back out again. They always come back, and more flowers arrive, and more dust, and nothing and no one is moving in the house except for the dogs and the flowers and the dust. Eventually someone will discover that no one is moving and they will see the story of the petals and the dust and perhaps the dogs and they will understand that this is all a short history of something and that all that remains is to shake and erase.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Address Change

I finally got around to facing the task of calling Social Security to record my change of address. This is supposedly of great importance because, supposedly, they occasionally send a query just to see if a recipient is still alive and therefore whether they ought to be depositing a monthly payment.

The thing is, as anyone who has had to deal with SSA knows, it is not that easy to complete this simple task. And if you live on the other side of the world, there are extra bonus problems. For instance, you guys in the States are on the whole wrong time and whole wrong day--which means that I must try to call either late at night or early in the morning in order to reach the office during working hours there. And of course once you get through, you're looking at a long period of elevator music while you wait on the line. Sure, you can request a call back instead, but this is really quite an iffy proposition in Indonesia. Better to just sit out the wait.

Sit it out I did, and the wait turned out to be about forty minutes--only to find, when a representative finally answered, that my change of address from last year, which I had also waited forty minutes to record, had not been recorded. (No wonder I did not receive a single piece of mail for more than a year). This address failure caused a certain amount of confusion and I was asked to give previous addresses. Even those turned out to be wrong, but one was just close enough for approval to finish the new change.

Whether this change actually takes will be a question for the future. The good news, I guess, is that I don't plan to move again before dying, so I suppose that if I don't receive any mail for another year I can try again. Something to look forward to (not).

Black and White

There are two little dogs who regularly visit my new place in Sanur. One is white, the other is black, and they are both quite small (the black dog being a bit larger than the white). These dogs live just around the corner from my place, but their visits become more common by the day and of greater duration. In fact they seem to be moving in.

Why does this always happen to me? I mean, I like dogs, I'm always kind to dogs, but I don't want dogs of my own--especially dogs who clearly belong to the neighbor who lives just around the corner.

For some reason, this neighbor cages the little black dog, a male, but not the little white dog, a female. I don't understand why he feels he needs to cage either dog. They are both quite friendly. They don't run around barking at anyone or getting into trouble as far as I've seen.

The cage he locks the little black dog in is just barely larger than the dog himself. It is made of metal mesh and he has not bothered to put a blanket or a mat in the cage, nor food nor water either as far as I can see. Yesterday this dog was stuck in the cage from the night before and throughout the day, yelping and howling for hours on end. I walked over to the house several times and could see no one in the house or around the property. No one else nearby seemed to be bothered by this, but I found it quite disturbing. I felt so bad for that little black dog, but of course I did not feel like I could invade the man's property and release the dog, and in any case, the front gate to the house was padlocked, so I couldn't have gotten in anyway unless I tried to climb the fence (which, I am discovering, is not the sort of thing that is a good idea in my feeble elderly days).

Finally, somewhere in the evening, the dog was released and straightaway showed up at my house, heading straight back to the bathmat by the bathroom door and falling asleep. Poor little guy. He's a nice little dog, really, a loving sort of dog, although not as smart as his little companion--which is probably because he is locked up so often. A dog learns by getting out in the world, interacting with other dogs and other people, learning the ropes. As it is, he tends to follow the white dog like a tail, taking his cues from her.

I truly cannot understand why people who know nothing about dogs, and who seem to have no particular affection for them at any rate, buy a dog in the first place. Both of these dogs are obviously starved not only for food but for simple affection. It breaks my heart. And they know it. And so they move in. Good grief.

How very many dogs I have had in Bali, without asking for a single one of 'em!